The Power of Elul: Adding Reflection to Our Lives

School has started, and we can begin to feel a shift in the weather (some days)...which can mean only one thing: the Jewish holiday season is upon us. Before we worry about making our round challahs and building a sukkah, however, we first encounter the month of Elul, which provides a much needed time for some reflection.

Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer writes, “Although the month of Elul — the sixth month of the Jewish year, which immediately precedes Rosh Hashanah — has no special importance in the Bible or in early rabbinic writings, various customs arose sometime during the first millennium that designated Elul as the time to prepare for the High Holy Days. Because these days are filled with so much meaning and potency, they require a special measure of readiness. We are called upon to enter them thoughtfully and to consider what they mean. As the Maharal of Prague said, ‘All the month of Elul, before eating and sleeping, a person should look into his soul and search his deeds, that he may make confession.’”

But what does this mean? How does one “look into his soul” and once he does? Why is this important, anyway? And how does this connect to school and learning?

At Einstein Academy, the “R” in “REAL Learning” stands for reflection. John Dewey (20th century philosopher and educational reformer) once said, “We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience.” Reflection is a vital component of the learning process, both formally and informally, providing the framework for growth.

American sociologist Jack Mezirow stated, “Critical reflection involves a critique of the presuppositions on which our beliefs have been built. Learning may be defined as ‘the process of making a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of an experience, which guides subsequent understanding, appreciation and action’.” In order for learning to truly occur, one must internalize it and reconcile it with previous knowledge in order to impact future action; this is an active process.

As a continuation of that, author Sean Michael Morris shared, “Critical reflection is an important part of any learning process. Without reflection, learning becomes only an activity — like viewing a reality TV show — which was never meant to have meaning, but was only meant to occupy time. Critical reflection is not meditation, rather it is mediation — an active, conversive, dialectical exercise that requires as much intellectual work as does every other aspect of the learning process, from analysis to synthesis to evaluation. But in reflection, all the learned material can be gathered about, sorted and resorted, and searched through for greater understanding and inspiration.” Reflection is the process of making meaning of the learning that has occurred in order to do something with it.

At Einstein Academy, we believe reflection is a vital component in the growth of students, helping them to become active learners and thoughtful people and members of our community. By emphasizing the reflective nature of learning, we also focus on the social-emotional growth, fostering students’ self-awareness, empathy, and general emotional intelligence.

And what better time to focus on reflection than during the month of Elul? Elul can provide a much-needed space for reflection and growth, not only in academic areas, but personally and spiritually as well in order to set the tone for the new year.

Rabbi Sigal Brier shares, “During Elul I spend time alone in a daily practice of reflection and prayer with the intention to open my heart and awareness to love, compassion, and to meet myself more fully. If you want to do the same, it is best to dedicate a regular time each day to engage in this practice between now and Yom Kippur. Begin by reflecting on your life in the past year; inner life, state of mind and heart, work, school, health, relationships, well-being, etc. Then, note what worked and what did not and where you need to make adjustments. Dream up a new year with a new vision, take a chance and go for it. Articulate some commitments to live with more awareness and to manifest the life you wish to experience.

In the classroom, we encourage reflection through including providing lesson components that prompt inquiry and curiosity, fostering independent exploration, involving reflective thinking aspects that ask students to consider what they have done or learned and what they still need to do and learn, and including activities such as think-pair-share, exit tickets, journaling, and blogging.

At home, you can continue this process of reflection by asking your children questions such as the following:

  • What was your significant learning this past week?

  • What did you learn or what was reinforced about yourself?

  • What can you take from the class activities to use in your life outside of class?

  • What was the good/bad/ugly of your day (could also be phrased rose/bud/thorn)?

  • What are your goals for tomorrow?

  • Additionally, our kids learn from what we model for them, so consider modeling reflection for your kids in your actions and conversations.

Wishing everyone a sweet, meaningful, and reflective holiday season!

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