Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Positive education for a positive New Year


September 20, 2019

Alan Rusonik

This year, Jewish Academy of Orlando has embarked on a new initiative that focuses on Positive Education, an approach to education that draws on positive psychology's emphasis on individual strengths and personal motivation to promote learning. 

What drew our school to positive education is how similar this approach to learning is to so many Jewish teachings, particularly the teachings of Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Musar movement. The Musar movement is the Jewish science of character that developed in 19th century Lithuania. While Judaism has focused on character development since its inception, it was codified more recently through the Musar movement. The Hebrew term "Musar" is from the book of Proverbs and means moral conduct, instruction, or discipline. The term was used by the Musar movement to refer to efforts to further ethical and spiritual discipline. 

Both positive education and Musar focus on character strengths we all possess. In Musar, these are called Middot, which are universal character strengths that people across cultures and history agree lead to a healthy life. The discipline of positive education states that there are 24 character strengths that, when practiced, could lead to those virtues. If the science proves that we can develop who we are, Musar offers us the tools to do that. At the same time, positive education provides the framework for us to do so in an educational setting.

Positive education and Musar also focus on the whole child, where the child's social, emotional, and spiritual growth are considered along with their academic development. Research demonstrates that skills required for success in the 21st century include emotional intelligence, not just traditional academic goals of learning. In our increasingly complicated and technologically driven world, using the lessons from positive psychology and learning about character strengths is an important way to build both self esteem and empathy, two important aspects of emotional intelligence. At Jewish Academy of Orlando, we believe that a whole child approach to learning is the key to success not only academically but in all aspects of life.

As we prepare for our new year, let us consider our Middot and how we can focus on our character strengths in the coming year. In doing so, we will improve our community and the world around us. While we can and should change our world for the better, we must first look deep into our own souls and recognize the many character strengths that make us unique and special. This is our responsibility as we prepare for the New Year, to perform Chesbon HaNefesh, an accounting of our souls or our inner selves (i.e., our own character strengths) so that we can approach the New Year with clarity and purpose, refreshed, and renewed, strengthened and positive!

My wishes for a happy, healthy, sweet, and POSITIVE new year!

L'Shana Tova Tikatevu!

Alan Rusonik

Head of School

Jewish Academy of Orlando


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