Dr. Sylvan Schaffer
Dr. Sylvan Schaffer
Dr. Sylvan Schaffer

By Rabbi Michael Weichselbaum

As the saying goes, the biggest misunderstanding with regard to communication is that it has actually taken place. How many times have you stood up from an hourlong meeting certain that you and the person on the other side of the table know precisely where each of you stands on an issue, only to find out that nothing could be further from the truth? In an effort to short-circuit this vexing problem, Bnos Malka Academy, a school long recognized for its goal of working together as partners with its students’ parents, recently held a workshop in the art of communication.

Leading the workshop was Dr. Sylvan Schaffer, renowned clinical psychologist, attorney, and lecturer. Dr. Schaffer stressed that in order for a teacher or administrator to communicate effectively with a parent, it is incumbent upon the teacher to first gain a more comprehensive picture of the events that are taking place in the life of that family.

For instance, baruch Hashem, frum families tend to have a larger-than-average number of children. Just imagine what homework time looks like in many of our students’ homes! Dad is still at work and Mom, who has just come home from her own job, now sits down with four or more children bli ayin hara and tries to become an expert in fourth-grade math, sixth-grade Ivrit, eighth-grade Yedios Klalios, and, for her high-school child, Regents preparation. This doesn’t take into account the fact that in 20 minutes she has to rush out the door to pick up her other children from afterschool programs. Perhaps we as teachers should take a slightly more understanding tack, Dr. Schaffer advises, next time Sarah’s homework doesn’t make it into school.

The newest hurdle is the new Common Core Curriculum. If you really want to feel inadequate, just step into any fourth-grade math class. Math is now Greek to almost all parents, even those who rely on math skills in their livelihoods.

The goal of communicating with a student’s parent is truly to work together in partnership towards the benefit of the child and not simply to tell the parent that they could be doing a better job raising their daughter. If so, then the teacher/administrator must look into other possibilities that are causing this child to struggle, such as shalom bayis issues, economic struggles, or a serious illness in the family. All children react to these life crises, but each in their own particular way. The teacher often has to “do her homework” in order to bring these issues into the light.

Dr. Schaffer believes that the most successful school model for communication, which I am proud to say we at Bnos Malka have been using for the past 15 years, is the team approach. In this model, the school holds regularly scheduled meetings led by the school’s mental-health professional (social worker or school psychologist) together with one of the principals and the classroom teachers. In this setting, each professional brings his or her unique educational outlook to the dilemma at hand. Together they weigh the options available and discuss the best way to help the parent move forward to allow the child to reach her potential. Needless to say, this is a tremendous undertaking but one that is certainly worth great effort when it comes to producing wonderful children and the future of Klal Yisrael. v

Rabbi Michael Weichselbaum has been the menahel of Bnos Malka Academy for 15 years. He received his semichah from Yeshiva Torah Ohr in Yerushalayim and has master’s degrees in educational leadership and ESL.

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