by Lisa Friedman

Since starting my blog, Jewish Special Needs Education, I realize that I am noticing inclusion – and the absence of inclusion – all the time. It kind of reminds me of being pregnant and noticing other pregnant woman everywhere you go! But more on this in a moment.

I spent this Shabbat in Los Angeles at the URJ Youth Engagement Conference and NFTY Convention. To be honest, I was a little bit skeptical about coming to the conference. I wasn’t sure what to expect. As a full-time educator, my role is certainly one of engaging our youth. I understand the value of supporting our youth director and our program. I am vested in the value of seamlessly fusing our formal and informal education models together and creating multiple, meaningful entry points for all of our kids. But I was worried that in the sessions themselves, we might get stuck. I was concerned we might not be able to move past programming to tackle some of the bigger questions and that we would find ourselves perpetuating more of the same – just coming up with new ideas within our old structures. 

Then I had the good fortune to spend an hour and a half learning with Jon Hausman in his workshop was called “Forget the Phrase ‘Think Outside the Box.’ There IS NO BOX!” Jon led us through a significant exercise that taught us to empower our children and teens in a new and exciting way. But the truth is, the content of his workshop wasn’t that important. What he did in that 90 minutes was to model intentionality. Everything he said and did, from his silly noises to get our attention to his quirky stories, was shared in a way that brought us, the participants, into his world and made us feel safe, important, and connected.

We played a game and did some word associations, and in the end, we had some neat ideas for potential new programs. But if the participants go home saying, “I went to this fun workshop and here are some new ideas for great programs,” then they will have all missed the point.

The gift that Jon gave to us was a process. He brilliantly modeled how to empower his participants and in doing so, he brought energy, excitement and engagement to the room.

So here’s where my eye for inclusion kicked in. His model left room for every learning style and every ability. He leveled the playing field making it possible for everyone to participate, for everyone’s contribution to matter.

That’s it. It’s that simple. It doesn’t always take complicated lessons with differentiated instruction. Sometimes all it takes is a willingness to be sure every voice is heard.

yec-badge Lisa Friedman is the Education Co-Director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey. This position includes overseeing an extensive Special Needs program within the Religious School with programs designed to help students successfully learn Hebrew, learn about their Jewish heritage and feel connected to their Jewish community. In addition, Lisa’s works with families, staff and clergy to ensure a smooth transition for special needs students from Religious School through the b’nei mitzvah process and beyond.

Originally posted at Jewish Special Needs