Creating Rituals for Educational Impact

If there’s one thing that Jews are good about, it’s ritualizing experiences. From candle lightings that mark weekly transitions in time to the daily prayer cycle and the annual holiday rituals of Passover, Chanukah, Sukkot, Shavuot (etc., etc.), and the rituals of a full lifespan, we are highly skilled at using blessings, community, candles, and our own bodies to designate certain times, objects, and spaces as sacred. There’s something amazing that our collective ancestry tapped into about the crucial importance of intentionally marking moments of impact. Because as all of us who live in the constantly plugged in, Netflix binge-watching world can attest to, it’s all too easy to glance up after being in a virtual trance for hours upon hours and to shake off the cobwebs only to realize that a day has passed with reactiveness and passivity, rather than intention and mindfulness.

Rituals enable us to create community, develop shared meaning, and mark space and time as sacred and intentional. How can we as educators use Jewish + DIY rituals to create moments of impact?

Journaling - I use journaling with learners of all ages. Before the start of a session, I love kicking off with a prompt that either reflects on previously explored content or sets things up for the new lesson. But even just having some time for free writing at the start or end of an educational encounter can be a space for everyone to get in a headspace that opens them up to participation, and enables them to gather their own thoughts before engaging with the rest of the group.

Opening/Closing Check Ins - This combines ritual + the eternal visceral desire that I have as an educator to constantly ‘check for understanding.’ I regularly end sessions by doing a quick go-around of one thing my learners are taking away from the class - something they learned, a lingering question, or an idea they’re eager to explore. With teens, I sometimes ask them to summarize the class with how they would hashtag it, which always leads to some great results. #JewishEducatorProblems much?

Candles - Less child-friendly, but the women’s groups that I work with have come to know that I’m a candle aficionado. We usually start with a group candle lighting - sometimes accompanied with just our names, and sometimes by going a little deeper, such as offering a blessing or intention as we create a literal and metaphorical circle of light. This ritual often serves as an opener and a closer, as we blow out the candles at the end to mark the closing of our time together with another set of blessings, or closing intentions.

Meditation/Mindfulness - Taking a moment for breathing and centering has countless measurable and intangible effects for learners and creating the educational environment we’re all striving for. You don’t have to be a meditation expert to do this - I’m speaking as someone who has definitely spent my fair share of time making to do lists in my head or thinking of song lyrics when I’m supposed to be focusing on my breath, and hasn’t actually gotten through the free trial version of Headspace. But novice/rebel that I am, even I can see the beauty in sitting with a group, closing our eyes, and breathing in peace/intention, releasing the stress of the rest of the day, and entering the educational space with fresh perspective.

Hevruta - This age-old Jewish study method of pairing with a peer and feeding off of one another can be adapted to any/all of our modern educational needs. Whether it’s an opening text study to consider with a buddy, a spiritual check-in, or some other moment of paired learning, hevruta enables learners to build personal connections and have a chance to be heard and seen on a 1:1 level. Hevruta requires everyone to be physically, mentally, and emotionally present, which is crucial for meaningful educational encounters.

What kinds of rituals, Jewish, or otherwise, do you use to create community in your work as an educator?