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From the Field

A Classroom that Reflects Values: Susan Wall’s Visit to the Gross Schechter Hebrew Academy in Cleveland

When you enter Cheryl Stone's (Cohort 11) classroom at the Gross Hebrew Academy in Cleveland, you are immediately struck by the “decorations.” They project two strong messages –  this is a classroom that is serious about learning, and  this is a place where one’s actions make a difference.

Cheryl teaches 6th, 7th and 8th grade. There are numerous reference charts on the wall that remind students about key concepts and basic information. But Cheryl has equally emphasized the “human values” in the classroom.  The 6th graders each created a personal collage of their best selves under a sign that says “Torah teaches me to be my best self.”  Large, laminated and prominently displayed are two wordle posters (one for each section of the 7th-grade class), that are composed of tools and characteristics students would like to see in their classroom. “Active listening,” “communication,” “compassion,” “fairness,” “non-judgmental” are some of the words that stand out in each wordle. Finally, thanks to what Cheryl learned from her student-teaching mentor and now colleague, Hayley DeLugach*, the 8th graders wrote their own statements to complete two connected thoughts:  “If I ever do X, please do Y,” and “If you ever do X, I promise to do Y…” (For example, “If you ever say something stupid, look sad or hurt, need help… I promise not to laugh, to help you and cheer you up.”) Students submitted their thoughts, and Cheryl created a chart from them. The chart’s center is a summary of their statements regarding what they, as individuals, challenge the group to do (such as “respect one another,” “work as a community,” “keep it PG,” etc.). One of the core values of the school is unity, and the school’s definitions of unity appear on a poster near Cheryl’s chart.  Finally, a big banner presents the three attributes that form the foundation of Cheryl’s classroom – creative, compassionate, committed to learning. (Hmm – do we think she chose C’s because it’s Cheryl’s Classroom?)

A final chart originated in an illustration from the book The World of Rashi, which Cheryl enlarged and adapted. It shows the class on the shoulders of giants, with various commentators arranged in chronological order and the class at the top. It is a large chart, which conveys a strong message regarding what Cheryl expects of her class.

*(PEP alumna Hayley DeLugach [Cohort 5] teaches at the High School of the Bay in San Francisco.)