Can I Get a Witness?

by Michael Brody, Assistant Head of School

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to witness it, does it make a sound?  An answer to this age-old question relies on how sound is defined. If you think of sound as a physical phenomenon of vibrating air molecules, the falling tree definitely makes a sound. But if you think of sound as what people hear, the falling tree does not make a sound, as there is no one there to witness it.

This idea of the importance of “witnessing” is integral to this week’s Torah portion, Ha’azinu. Ha’azinu contains Moses’s final teachings to the Israelites on the last day of his life. Before delivering his speech, Moses calls out: “Listen, O heavens and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth!” (Deuteronomy, 32:1) Rashi explains this opening by pointing out that Moses, facing his own impending death, needed an enduring witness to his message that could be there in the future to remind the Israelites of the covenant that they had accepted. It was not enough for Moses to simply give his teachings; he needed to ensure their enduring impact, so he solicited the heavens and earth as his witness. Moses needed to be sure that there could be some accountability in his absence.

Similarly, the Professional Community at JCHS bears witness to our students’ learning daily.  In classrooms, in the theater, at sporting events, on Journeys, and in other less formal settings, the adults at JCHS are present and can attest to the growth and learning we see.

In that spirit, JCHS has implemented a new structure for teachers to work with students by formalizing the way we run Office Hours. Office Hours now occur weekly during flex block, typically on Thursdays.  When students are behind on work or need extra support, teachers use Google Calendar to invite students to an Office Hours meeting. When students have not received an invitation to meet with a specific teacher, they are free to drop into Office Hours as needed. In our first Office Hours session of the year, over 40 students received invitations to meetings.

These small group and one-on-one meetings can be very powerful. They serve to build relationships between students and teachers, allow for a more private venue for students to ask questions, and provide time for students to complete work in a supervised environment. It is our hope that Office Hours can become part of the week at JCHS in which our teachers can truly witness, and hold students accountable for, learning.

While each tree falls only once and Moses can only give one final speech, learning happens daily. This is all the more reason why learning, like these other sacred moments, needs a witness.