Fanning the Inner Flame

Sarah Gordon, Principal of Seminar Shalhevet

Mrs. Sarah Gordon, Principal of the new Seminar Shalhevet girls’ high school in Ramat Beit Shemesh, wrote this article for her local magazine “Connections”, sharing her educational philosophy with parents at the start of the new school year.

Picture this: With a bang the door is thrown open. Shoshanah bounds into the house, full of energy and excitement.  Her words running at a mile a minute, she feels she just has to share what she has learnt today. What they did, and how. And she must go out now and hunt up materials for the project she hasn’t finished yet. And… and… and.. “Bye Mom!  I love you! See you later!” And the door bangs shut.

Now picture this:  With a bang the door is thrown open.  Shoshanah slinks in.  Dumping her bag on the floor, she slumps into a chair. 

“How was school?”


“Doing anything today?”


Shoshanah stomps off to her room, leaving a paper on the table, a test with a good grade.  Shoshana doesn’t care, after all she didn’t get a perfect score and “Why do we have to learn this stuff anyway?”

If I were to ask you to place these stories on a timeline, how old would you think Shoshanah was in each one? Most of you would probably place the first story at kindergarten or first grade, and the second during the high school years. What has changed in those years? Where has the enthusiasm gone?

Children are born with emunah, wonder and curiosity about the world around them, and a healthy dose of self-confidence. These are nurtured throughout the pre-school years, where independence, curiosity and individuality are respected. As a child grows and matures, he travels through a system that encourages uniformity.  Success is determined by abilities in specific areas and measured across the board by an almost global yardstick. These same traits – the ability to stick to a schedule, perform under pressure, and excel at certain subjects, will determine one’s success in the world of work.  Curiosity, wonder, and that zest for life take a back burner, but do they disappear?

No, they don’t. But they might get buried deep, deep down. 

Looking around at teenagers today, there seems to be a  shared feeling of despair, of defeat, a lack of hope for the future, and a sense of worthlessness. The light that filled their eyes with childish wonder seems to have gone with their childhood years. How can we, as parents and educators, bring that back? How can we fan the inner flame, the flame that drives hope, a thirst for knowledge, and the will to succeed?

A person’s self-image is very closely tied to what is expected of them. When a student feels that the school expects her to succeed – not by pressuring her and not just hoping she will – but really truly expects it – she will live up to that expectation. The same holds true in all areas of behavior; every student will live up to what is truly expected of them. We need to expect our students to succeed.

When we recognize our students’ potential, they start to believe in themselves.  When we emphasize their strengths and treat them with respect, they will hold their heads high and stride forward with confidence.  People learn best when they are utilizing their strengths and feel a sense of accomplishment. We need to teach our students how to recognize their successes and build on them.

Oftentimes as educators, we feel our job is to shield our students from disappointment. The only way to fully shield someone from disappointment is to cancel all opportunities. But the experience of success can only come together with the experience of disappointment. So, we need to engage in optimism, to inspire our students to dream BIG! Not to recklessly throw caution to the wind, but to find their strengths and teach them to flex their creative muscles. To build up a strong foundation of hope and trust that will allow them to look forward, while keeping their feet planted firmly on the ground. 

When Hashem created the world, He seeded the earth with potential and waited until Man came along and davened for it to be released. Then the world burst into color, scent, flavor and life.  Hashem has embedded within each of our students seeds of greatness, seeds of growth.

Children enter this world with an inborn curiosity and sense of wonder, coupled with a yearning to understand the world around them.  Our job as educators is to nurture, expand and help to channel that. Our job is to fan the flames.

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