Head Notes - Dr. Barbara Gereboff's Blog


Navigating Your Child’s Social Life

A child’s self-esteem and social skills are a function of how we, the adults in their lives, react to their communications to us. This was one of the “takeaways” from parenting specialist Sheri Glucoft Wong’s lecture last Thursday night. Instead of writing a blog that captures the main ideas of her talk, I am including below Joel Scott’s very thorough notes from that night as well as this link to the video-recording of Wong’s presentation. Sheri’s presentation was filled with so many interesting tips and understandings about children’s social life. The notes capture the main ideas and the actual lecture has many examples drawn from her practice.

We hope to bring Ms. Wong back to Wornick in the fall.

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.

Notes from Wornick Talk – Sheri Glucoft Wong
April 16, 2015 by Joel Scott

Raising children requires a combination of the right Attitudes & Practices

Parenting is a continuum of managing your kid’s life. The ultimate goal: if you’re really, really lucky, you end up with a seat on the advisory board of your child – that is, they will share with you what is going on with them and seek your advice. Your goal is to increase the odds that this will happen.

Peers are very important.

  • Peers offer more give and take required than vertical (parents). That is, parents will allow for a lot of things that peers will not tolerate. For example, if your child is acting out, you may tolerate this; a peer will not.
  • Peers offer a child an opportunity to try on different roles/personalities than the fixed menu role that the child adopts at home.

Kids are just trying to figure out how the world works. Even with misbehavior.

The optimal settings in which people coexist are those environments where people bring their best selves AND ENCOURAGE others to bring their best selves. It is not good enough to be a good role model for your child. You also need to encourage your child to exemplify optimal behavior as well.

Brain development is accentuated by short-term stress. Long-term stress is bad but short-term stress is actually helpful, so do not try to shield your child from stress in a given situation (e.g., having challenges with homework or a social situation) it will help them learn.

A child’s ability to get along well with others (collaborative, cooperative, ) are the best predictors of success, even more so than great grades.

Popularity and friendship are not one and the same. The key to success is the quality of one’s friendships, not their popularity. A couple of very strong friendships is far more important than being a “popular” child.

The medium is the message. How you relate to your child is very important. Your messages can be inadvertent. Example: your child tells you than another child was being mean to them and you reply that you will speak to that child’s parent. You are inadvertently giving a message to your child that you do not think that they can handle this situation on their own, even though your intentions were just to help. The key is to LISTEN to what your child has to SAY and to stay focused on what is going on FOR YOUR CHILD (and not turning your attention to the other children in the episode).

Rather than using “If (you don’t behave)… Then…” use “When (you behave)… Then…” The former sets your kid up to be led around by others who may have different motives from your benign ones. The former threatens your child that if they do not do what you tell them to do then they will face consequences. The latter positions that if they do do what you are asking, then they are able to continue to participate. It is a positive message rather than a negative one.

Inclusion cannot be legislated. It is fine to not include others and to say ‘no’ to another’s request to join but what’s important is HOW you say no. So if your child and their friend do not want to include a third child, that is ok. You cannot force them to want to play. The key is to teach them how to communicate with the third child. For example: “I would like to keep playing my game with X right now, but I would be happy to play with you later, once I am done.” This is the optimal way to handle such a situation for all involved and to communicate.


  • Kids need 2 things to feel good about themselves: (1) that they are special and unique and like no one else and (2) that they are just like everyone else. The art of parenting is to figure out when to deliver which message.
  • Self esteem is having regard for yourself and others at the same time. Just the former is narcissism. Just the latter is being a doormat. The combination is the basis of intimacy.
  • Home is the training ground for the real world and how your children treat you will set the tone for how they will behave in the real world.
  • Seek and welcome feedback from other grownups about how your child behaves when you are not around. You only see one personality of your child. They wear other personalities when you are not around and it is critical to learn about and understand what is going on with them when you are not present.
  • Notice when your modeling does not align with what you want to encourage. Young kids think their parents are rational, so when you behave a certain way, they believe that you have thought through why you did what you did and that you behaved that way on purpose. When your modeling does not align with what you want to encourage, then you should observe that and call it out so that your child understands that your behavior does not reflect your intentions.
  • Recognize your own issues and how your own buttons get pushed. Be mindful of your own history. Your history can impact how you interact with your children. For example, if you were always shy and struggled with that, you might be inadvertently overly aggressive with your child about socializing. It is key to not transfer your own issues onto your child.
  • Be thoughtful about interpreting things through the lens of the child (e.g., when a child says “get your brown hand out of my lunchbox” the operative words there are “out of my lunchbox” rather than “brown hand” so while you can educate your child on the sensitivity to different races, note that their intentions are not the same as someone using this language when they are an adolescent or adult).
  • If your child tells you about an experience where they were upset by someone else, avoid the reflex to blame the other person and focus instead on what your own child’s experiences are.
  • Support kids finding the GOOD in things - support tolerance of others and themselves.
  • Teach the difference between Impact and Intention. You can take responsibility for your impact even if you didn’t have the intention. For example, if you do something and your child says that you are being mean, rather than saying “No, I’m not mean” you can respond that “It is not my Intention to hurt or upset you, but I am sorry that my request makes you feel bad/upset.” And likewise, teach your child to acknowledge the other’s apology for Impact.
  • Monitor interactions.
  • When kids mess up, help them make it right. Punishment does not work well. It is ok for you to impose Results for actions, but just punishment for punishment sake is not helpful. Giving a child a “time out” for cool down / reset purposes is fine, but giving them a “time out” just to punish them for bad behavior is pointless. So, for example, if your child ends up playing with toys in their room during a time out, that is fine. There is no value in trying to enforce the “punishment” by denying them the ability to play with their toys during the timeout. The key is to help them reset so that they can try again.
  • Teach the difference between tatteling vs reporting. There is no value in tatelling.
  • Help kids realize disappointment is just a feeling, not an Event. Don’t make a disappointment experience an event. Kids get through disappointment and all other feelings very quickly. It is good for them to experience disappointment. Adults tend to dwell on disappointment and that is not helpful. Do not assume that your child will dwell on the feeling the same way that adults do, because they won’t.
  • Entitlement: there is good entitlement and bad entitlement. Good is when you get what everyone else gets; bad is when just you get it (often at other people’s expense).
  • Children experience success when you recognize and praise with how they cope/deal with what they are dished out. Have an identity around ‘I can cope’.
  • Resilience: the key is that they are in a situation where communication is clear and open both ways. You should lead with empathy and yet set clear limits. Talk in a way to have them want to talk to you. How to make it safe: when your kid comes to tell you something bad that happened, just say ‘Oh’. Then they will talk more. Then say ‘Oh’. And so on. In sum, let them talk to you and give you as much info as possible. Don’t react.
  • There are no villains and victims in your child’s life; rather, there are just relationships and dynamics. Be sure not to reinforce a feeling in your child of being a “victim” of someone else. This has a huge impact on their self-confidence. Rather, help the child understand that the other person (the “villain”) has something going on inside of them that is driving their behavior and that the key is to not take the other person’s behavior personally.

Misplaced Emphasis: The Atlanta Cheating Scandal

This week, eight of the more than thirty Atlanta educators who participated in standardized testing tampering were sentenced to prison on racketeering charges.  They were part of a wide-ranging conspiracy to artificially inflate student standardized test scores. The prosecutors claimed that the educators were driven by personal gain, as improving test scores were tied to bonuses and job security. They also argued that the students were subsequently denied services because of the falsely inflated grades.

We have yet to hear the entire story. But the early reporting thus far has painted a picture of greedy teachers who cared little for their students. Yet, I remember reading an article last July that told the story from an entirely different perspective. The author of that article, Rachel Aviv, writing in the New Yorker about this very scandal (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/07/21/wrong-answer) depicted a story about civil disobedience.

In Aviv’s treatment of the story, the teachers were motivated by a relentless culture of fear and intimidation in a most inhospitable setting where there was little chance that students would ever succeed. Her essay focused on one particular school. Teachers and students at that school always felt like failures. Aviv notes, “There was litter in the hallways, and students urinated in trash cans.” Fourteen years ago, under the direction of a new principal the litter was cleaned up, children’s laundry was processed, meals were served regularly, after school and weekend activities grew and flourished and parents were brought into school events and planning. The school had begun to feel like a community that cared about each student. In spite of the progress in the school environment, there was a high probability that the school would close and the students would be sent to another school because they kept missing the education testing target goals by several points. Suddenly there was a relentless emphasis on meeting numerical goals (test scores) at any cost.

There is no disputing that the teachers violated the trust of the community in participating in the cheating scandal – yet that early reporting and debate around whether the judgment was too extreme is the wrong focus for this story. The story is really about the mistake of thinking that cultural and academic test scores can overcome social forces that profoundly affect the intellectual growth of youngsters. That answer poses a more complicated reality - quality education includes not only measurable educational outcomes but also obvious and measurable school environment indicators of success.

Our school is currently embarking on our yearlong self-assessment in preparation for our re-accreditation by CAIS (California Association of Independent Schools) and WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) in the spring of 2016. The process for measuring success is a comprehensive process where all stakeholders weigh in on various aspects of the school. The final document that is presented to the visiting accrediting committee includes academic measurement as well as school environment indicators (safety, governance, finance, human resources, etc.). This leaves me wondering – if the emphasis in evaluating Atlanta school success had been more balanced, would the cheating scandal ever happen?

Shabbat shalom,
Dr. G.


Too Jewish, Not Jewish Enough?

That question pops up in every Jewish day school. According to my Independent School colleagues, it also appears in other religious day schools – notably Episcopal and Catholic schools – framed as “too religious or not religious enough”. So, how do we address it? Is there another question assumed by this question, is there an underlying value statement embedded in that question, and what data do we need to answer it?

The underlying question for those who say it is “too Jewish” is often – are we losing valuable learning time of core academic areas while we focus on religion throughout the day? For some of those people, one of the value propositions that may be assumed in the question pertains to their discomfort with all things pertaining to religion. For those who fall at the other end of the continuum (not Jewish enough), there is the latent fear that what is being offered doesn’t look like a more familiar traditional Jewish education – hence it is being “watered down”.

In order to truly answer the question, everyone needs to know the school’s goals and what the school is actually doing in religious studies. I can’t speak for all schools, but I can shed light on what our intentions are at R.C. Wornick JDS. Let’s look at two areas that are overtly “religious” – morning prayers (tefilot) and Judaic Studies classes.

Morning tefilot at Wornick involves upbeat singing and movement to songs and melodies that tap into important school values. Some of those songs are traditional Jewish prayers and some of them are contemporary folksongs. It follows the typical progression of a Jewish service – with an acknowledgement of the power of the group (Ma Tovu) and with welcoming of a new day (Modeh Ani) and continues with setting our intentions for the day ahead of us (Sh’ma and Amidah). It follows the exact same format – greeting, sharing, group engagement - that is recommended as a “best practice” in all educational literature about social emotional learning and the beginning of a day. (L. Debbs “Power of Morning Meeting” in Edutopia 9/18/13; R. Kriete in The Morning Meeting Book). As the children move from the early elementary service to the upper elementary and ultimately to the Middle School one, the format remains the same as the content evolves to add more Hebrew and more traditional prayers. The outcome is the same – the morning begins with calmness and a sense of “I belong”.

Jewish Studies at Wornick includes Jewish Social Studies and Jewish text study. In each case, classes are framed around the same Common Core standards that connect the core academic subjects. Just as students in the usual language arts class must learn to find supporting evidence for claims in the narratives that they read so too they must do this when looking at a Judaic Studies text. In language arts classes, we ask children to locate information and cite the source of it – in Judaic Studies the quest is the same. In Social Studies and literature, students are taught to understand multiple perspectives and how to analyze and to evaluate those perspectives. The same holds true in Judaic Studies. In Jewish studies we teach Jewish culture – values and practices. We frame cultural understandings in a global context. Starting in kindergarten where Sukkot (the Jewish harvest festival is compared to a Korean, an African and an Indian harvest festival) we introduce this idea of global ways of celebrating.

In all cases, students are engaging in deep learning in these areas, and they are learning to understand Judaism and its various components. As they do this, they are encountering the same Common Core standards that they must work through in general studies. In fact, students are not losing time in religious studies, they are actually gaining time and emphasis in the same core competencies promoted in the core academic areas. The part of the day that is designated as prayer is tapping the socio-emotional check-ins that are promoted nationally as best practice for student well-being.

I urge parents who still may not be sure about this value-added to spend a morning with us. Our Tuesday and Wednesday lower elementary morning service at 8:30 a.m. is particularly upbeat and often filled with visiting parents. Come join us – it is certain to set your own morning on a pleasant path.

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.


What is Academic Excellence Exactly?

When I began my work at Wornick Jewish Day School, I was charged with assuring academic excellence. That year, 2010, we convened focus groups to establish clarity around the concept of academic excellence. We ultimately based our understanding on the most current and most compelling education research. Our curriculum decisions have remained rooted in current research. Among the theorists that we have turned to are Tony Wagner (Harvard), Carol Dweck (Stanford), Ron Berger (Author of An Ethic of Excellence), and Alan November (Thought leader in Education Technology). During the summer of 2011 our staff read An Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger, and we further refined our understandings about excellence.

Here are the standards of excellence we committed to in 2011:

  • explicit standards in all work (exemplars of excellence)
  • recognition that excellent work requires continuous improvement
  • knowledge that continuous improvement requires frequent feedback (formative assessment)
  • understanding that feedback must be specific and supportive
  • use of tools for self-critiquing and for peer critiquing
  • exploration of and the solving of authentic problems
  • summative authentic assessments that include performance assessment

Since developing those standards, our staff has developed clear rubrics to assess student work. We know that children need frequent feedback and that they should have the opportunity to rework their products until they achieve excellence. We’ve agreed that all feedback needs to be specific. For example, in place of weak terms like “well-written”, the child will see notes on their work that specifically explain what is well written and what specifically could improve the work. We’ve agreed to separate executive function from the attainment of academic standards; thus, a child will not lose points on an essay for turning work in late. If indeed the work is of superior quality it will be so noted, and if it were late, that will be noted in a separate grade. In 2012, we introduced new standards-based progress reports. These progress reports represented the above thinking about specific feedback.

Three years ago we agreed to abandon the classic standardized tests that do not accurately assess the complexity of the education that we promote in our school, and we piloted in the middle school new standardized tests that measure what we do teach – critical and creative thinking. Traditional standardized tests call for quick factual recall. Our new assessments ask students to use facts in the service of higher order thinking.

As we are embarking now on our re-accreditation where we take stock of our progress over the past six years and we engage in strategic planning for the next five to six years, we’ve begun to look at where we may have fallen short. We also look to other models of excellence that we want to emulate.

One area that we will be addressing more comprehensively in the coming years is “excellence” with respect to the social-emotional climate of the school. Somehow this whole category was missed in our initial thinking about excellence. We did introduce important schoolwide values, and conflict resolution protocols, but we have not shone a bright enough light on this area of the school. Somehow we missed the point that academic excellence cannot be separated from social emotional excellence. Indeed research claims that the latter actually drives the former.

We’ve come a long way in a couple of years – and have a distance yet to go. There are several ways that you can partner with us to encourage the excellence that we are promoting at school.

  • Share with your children things that you observe that reflect excellence – an outstanding ball game, a beautifully crafted sweater, an elegant science experiment, a well-written story – help them know in specific terms why the item you selected is excellent.
  • Talk to your children about the ways in which you must constantly edit or rework something at work or at home until you perfect it.
  • Support your children by encouraging them to take risks, to fail and to learn from their failures.

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.


Anger Management 101

I’m sure that during the past few weeks, you experienced anger about something...a recalcitrant child, a nasty salesperson, a difficult business situation. If there are no vehicles for articulating the different layers of understanding in these disagreements, we run the risk of festering wounds that can create a toxic environment. This generally takes the form of people complaining and blaming rather than expending energy addressing issues productively.

What then is the best way to redirect anger? The conflict resolution protocols that we teach at Wornick are among the most effective. They help participants frame their conflict in terms of feelings and competing needs. In expressing feelings, children begin to develop empathy for others, and they learn to take a stand about their own feelings. They learn that it’s okay to feel angry, hurt, or disappointed. But it is not okay to act in anti-social ways because of these feelings. We teach children that there are productive ways to channel anger, hurt and disappointment.

Last Thursday afternoon, I observed two middle school students and a teacher help two young children walk on our peace path. The peace path is two parallel painted sets of footsteps on the cement between the lunch benches and the playground. Students having difficulty resolving a conflict find the middle school peacemakers – identified by their green vests – and walk the peace path. Each step on the peace path has an expected communication – I feel...when; I know that you feel...when; I need...; What can I do to make it right?; I know that the problem is over because...; The middle school students coach the younger children through this conversation.

This formula is a very effective teaching tool for so many reasons. First, it gives children the language that they need to express needs and feelings. So many conflicts are generated by competing needs and feelings. Sometimes we are unaware of our own and our friends’ feelings, and this protocol directs students away from the typical “blaming” by finding a way to communicate about the conflict in terms of needs and feelings. Just as it is sometimes difficult to express feelings in words, so too thinking about competing needs is challenging.

The peace path serves another important function. Because older children are trained as peacemakers and therefore are the ones to whom the younger children turn to help them work out their disputes, this becomes a powerful lesson in leadership. The student leaders are empowered by this process, and the younger children aspire to these leadership roles.

One of the most powerful Jewish values that speaks to the issue of conflict resolution is the traditional Jewish text from Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) that says “Judge everyone on the positive side of the scale” (ve’heveh dan et kol ha-adam l’kaf z’chut). Basically, it is asking us to assume that most everyone makes choices with best intentions. It is this value – that separates intention from action - that underpins our peace path and allows us to set a conflict resolution in motion.

When you next experience anger, think about the conflict resolution strategies that we teach at school – what needs and feelings do you have and what needs and feelings is the other person expressing. Is there a way to address both? If not, is there a way to appeal to a larger, unifying “good”?

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.