Saturday, September 3, 2011

What is the Best Environment to Teach Davening?

Welcome to all of the new followers of the blog. A reader shared the following thought, "Actually, I think schools are probably the worst environment to foster tefilla!"

If true, then this is a harsh reality for the upcoming school year! What is the ideal environment to foster tefilla? For those educators who have spent the past few months at summer camp - do you feel this is true?

How can we overcome the grind of the school schedule and academic environment that often make tefilla a particularly difficult sell for students? One idea is to find ways to disarm the students - have them release their fears or self-consciousness about tefilla. This can be accomplished by starting with a song or video that asks for a reaction or poses a question. Naturally there is a tension between accomplishing the davening of the day and explaining/expounding the meaning behind the prayers; educators must identify this balance and leverage it to their advantage as teachers. Thinking of the principle that sometimes Less is More, how much can you "cut out" of the davening to "add" to the content and feeling of the time spent in the tefilla?

I want to make one more point on this methodology of disarming students' aversion to davening. Teaching the skills to cope with the momentum of davening on a regular basis has to be one of your meta-cognitive goals. In the real tefilla world, there are highs and lows, seasons where it is easy to feel the meaning and times where it feels empty/regular, mornings where it feels overly scripted and numbing and others where your tears appear at a single word in the siddur, days when it is easy to get up to pray and others where you pray that you don't have to go - you want your student to be able to navigate all of these situations, not just on the easy days. That is why one of my favorite trigger movies for a conversation on tefilla is Bill Murray's Groundhog Day (1993) which has interesting parallels for experimentation with a ritual that is performed everyday and explores a possible outlet for a transcendent experience. Check out the movie and let me know what you think.

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