The Whole is Greater than the Parts

Anyone who has been to school knows it is a microcosm of society that allows children to practice becoming successful adults. It is where they learn not only facts and figures, and other academic skills, but also where they learn and apply social-emotional skills. At Hillel, we emphasize the character aspect of development as key to a student’s ability to interact in the world. Being a person of good character helps one to actualize living a life that incorporates Torah and mitzvot.

Social-emotional learning is equally vital to a student’s ability to be successful in school. Difficulties in this area can naturally impede learning while success in this area has great benefits! As experts in the field note, when we are able to manage emotions, achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy to others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions, our students, and society, win.

Empathy is of primary importance at Hillel. Whether professionally or personally, it is an ability we all need in order to interact positively with other people. One of Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes allows you to understand another person’s perspective and to tailor your words and actions to reach a goal of common understanding. For example, to improve her practice, a doctor might think, “What must it feel like for a patient to wait a long time in my waiting room?” or, to avoid a clash at home, a spouse might think, “What must it be like to stay home with the children all day and not have any adult time?” In asking these questions, people can better understand the feelings of another person, and by doing so, they are more likely to land in a positive place with one another. If we take Covey’s advice, and seek first to understand, we can employ empathy, and subsequently have less conflict in our lives. By helping our students to express empathy for one another, we are setting the stage for their future success in life.

The ability to collaborate is also imperative for future success, especially in this-century schools and workplaces. As one of our 7 Cs, one of our learning objectives at Hillel is to facilitate collaboration among students and among faculty. While collaboration is often thought of as synonymous to teamwork, it isn’t just about working with others cooperatively. In actuality, it is the practice of interdependence. When people work together toward a common goal, they rely on one another to contribute to the process. Like the adage teaches, the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, the more project-based learning we incorporate, the more interdependence will be required of students. To tie it all together, we must employ empathy in order to be fully interdependent. It is imperative that we understand others’ thinking, work to have positive feelings toward others, and be able to adapt our behavior according to the needs of a given situation.

Because the development of empathy and collaboration both at school and at home are critical for social-emotional well-being and future success, teachers and parents must commit to role modeling and reinforcing these skills. As the Torah teaches, we get more out of giving than receiving, and whether by giving tzedakah, or giving someone the benefit of the doubt, we perform a mitzvah when we stop to think of someone else, and not just focus on ourselves. When our actions are driven by empathy and interdependence, we truly can achieve the greatness of “the whole” that is Hillel Day School!

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