Sunday, January 30, 2011
Just what was it that made 200 Jewish educators, 30 vendors, and 21 technology theater exhibitors so enthusiastic? Everything. We had four phenomenal keynote sessions, led by incredible speakers and visionaries: Deborah Nagler, Lisa Colton, Caren Levine, and David Bryfman - each one really made us stretch our thinking and helped many break out of their "fixedness" and begin thinking out of the box. Our breakout sessions were led by the leading experts in their fields. And our innovative, hands-on technology theaters helped attendees learn what is out there that can be used in the classroom, or for communicating, collaborating, sharing, or even collecting data!
And through it all, it occurred to me how much of the success was due to the chairperson (that's me) being in the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellowship Program, run by our fearless leaders Shalom and Esther from the Lookstein Center in Israel.
The obvious tie-in between the JJFF and the successful conference was the planning process, all done as an on-line Community of Practice, which was the main purpose of the fellowship. I ruminated on this fact in my last post of January 17, so I won't go there again.
But there are a few less obvious things that are byproducts of the Fellowship that were equally important in the success of the conference. It wasn't until this conference, for example, that I realized that the JJFF has in fact turned me into an expert in technology. I am certainly not a technical wizard like Caren Levine or Lisa Colton - I don't even tweet very well, and am still not certain what an RSS feed is. But, after 18 months, I'm confident that I know what's out there in web 2.0 land and can give good advice. I understand how and why to use a social network, I know what can be accomplished with the variety of collaborative tools available, I can run a web based conference, and can tell you what applications are both educational and fun to use in a classroom. And most importantly, I have a deep appreciation and understanding of how technology is transforming education - whether we like it or not. JJFF has made me feel well equipped to engage in meaningful dialogue with some of the major Jewish educational thinkers of our times.
Not only has JJFF given me the tools to swim with the big fish, but it has also given me access to them. We have learned with Nancy White and Nava Frank, major players in the world of on-line CoPs. We have studied the use of certain technologies with Caren Levine from Darim Online. Most of the leading thinkers of our times are well aware of the fellowship and what we have been learning, and, not surprisingly, think of us as their colleagues. I found myself up late at night, sitting around a table with David Bryfman, Caren Levine, Lisa Colton, Deborah Nagler, Peter Eckstein, Robyn Faintich and others, engaged in really exciting and meaningful dialogue about the future of Jewish Education. I couldn't help but think whether this ever would have or could have happened if I were not a Fellow.
And, most importantly, JJFF has created an incredible network for me. My 13 colleagues are all good friends and tremendous resources. Robyn Faintich came to the conference and led a great workshop on teens and the balance between face-to-face relationships and technology. Howard Blas presented a fantastic workshop on working with students with special needs. Elana Rivel taught our early childhood educators all about digital portfolios. And while Lisa Micley couldn't be there, her presence was felt as BabagaNewz was one of our presenters in the technology theaters. And many of our other speakers came to my attention due to their relationship with my colleagues - they were part of my own network's networks! Rick Recht, for example, an absolute highlight of the conference (he led a workshop one day, exhibited his new Jewish Rock Radio internet station in our tech theaters, and even led some singing one night) would not have been there if not for Robyn Faintich.
So it was indeed a great conference, and I owe so much of it to this wonderful fellowship - from my ability to plan the conference in a totally unique way to the quality of speakers. Thanks to the foundation, the Lookstein Center, and most of all, to the 13 best colleagues anyone could ask for!
As I reflect on the Jewish Educators Assembly conference that just ended, the lyrics of an old song pops into my head: “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” It’s not that we’re clueless when it comes to us knowing what Jewish education will look like in the future; it’s just that we’re not sure in what direction we’ll be traveling.
So in this embarrassment of riches with which we were blessed at the JEA, we must ask the hard question: What is truly necessary in our work and for our constituents? And here is where we get to the hard stuff.
Next week the Reform movement's educators are meeting in Seattle for their conference: called "Imagineering Jewish Education for the 21st Century". They too are exploring the frontiers of technology and Jewish education. I can't help but think that we are at a serendipitous moment, when we all are on the same page of Talmud. We all know what needs to be done, we're just trying to figure out how. I believe now is the time for Jewish futurists, educators,and leaders from all movements to come together and explore tomorrow. If I may borrow Jack Wertheimer's imagery, we need to break down the denominational silos and finally collaborate.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
In The Networked Non-Profit, Beth Kantor and Allison Fine point out that when it comes to Social Media, the important word is SOCIAL not MEDIA. In other words the technology is a tool for bringing people together, and in our case, making Jewish learning happen.
Joel Grishaver has posted what I think is a very interesting idea about futuring on his blog, The Gris Mill, and I am glad he wrote it now so I can think about it while I am learning in Seattle. - Ira Wise
We are at an interesting moment in the world of parenting. This parenting chaos directly impacts the way we present ourselves as Jewish “schools.”
The first voice is Amy Chua, author of "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," who says give your child no room to do anything but succeed. The other voice is Wendy Mogul, whose long overdue second book, “The Blessings of a B-Minus,” cajoles us to accept our child as human beings. Both books are now coming to prominence. One is about high achievement, the other is about resilience. Both take a swipe at the long over emphasized issue of self-esteem.
Chua wants us to be tougher on our kids and demand “perfection.” Mogul understands that “failure” is a useful growth opportunity. Both of them wind up as commentary on new reports about the failure of American schools to even teach the difference between facts and opinions and the overall failure of American Universities to make any impact on the learning of many of their present students. Richard Arum, lead author of the study, “Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” (University of Chicago Press) came out in January, too, is the third voice putting the foundations of the way we parent at risk.
Believe it or not, all this comes back to the role and optics of Jewish schools, particularly Jewish supplemental schools. Who we are as a school has a lot to do with what our parents believe a school is.
We are simultaneously being told be like regular schools and become technological. At the same time we are being told, don’t be like a school at all (we’ve had enough of that) be a camp or a program or something interesting (and do that using a lot less time). What is common knowledge every where but in our classroom, is the universal belief that the present Jewish schooling system is a total failure.
Here is a radical idea. We ought to play to our own strengths. We know that the Jewish tradition centers on learning how to close-read texts. (Think reading comprehension!) That we use a thing called “Talmudic Logic” that teaches you how to evaluate evidence, reason, and know the difference between fact and opinion.
Jewish schools can and should do camp pretty well. We need to get better at technology. For sure, our tradition centers on building both self-esteem and resilience. But, what Judaism really is good at is learning—deep learning.
In the future, when the alternative (for example) is 10 minutes of Skype a week plus one informal event a month probably involving families, we will brag: “We help our students become better learners.”
Camp will do camp better than we do. Other schools will always have more money to spend on technology than we do (and Web 2.0 apps only go so far). But what we can really brag about is “let us teach your children the Jewish tradition and they will do better in life.”
We will incorporate the camp selling point: “You children will make friends to last a lifetime.” We will have the technological appeal: “We allow your children to remix the Jewish tradition.” But our unique promise is about learning skills. Right now we teach not language but mechanical reading. Language provides useful insight. Mechanical reading is self-serving. We are geared to teach names and facts, but “meaning” and “insight” are what are precious. We have to work to make our classrooms both challenging and responsive, and those are goals we can achieve. It is perhaps the only truth that will keep us in business.
To stay on the weekly schedule, to make it worth the carpool time, Jewish Schooling has to have advantages. The good thing is that we own them: Friends, Remixing, Creativity, Resilience, and Academic Excellence. We know how to do this—we simply need to become good Torah teachers and not a pale imitation of secular schools.
Cross posted to The Gris Mill and Welcome to the Next Level
Sunday, January 16, 2011
In January of 2010 I was asked to co-chair the Jewish Educators Assembly (JEA) annual conference. The theme was to be technology, and due to both my position on the JEA Board and my "studies" and expertise gained through the Jim Joseph Fellowship Program, the leadership felt I would be the natural co-chair. I accepted the appointment, with the understanding that I would plan the conference by creating an on-line CoP to do so. Until this point, every conference had been planned by a very small committee, whose members were almost exclusively from the host city.
The CoP began officially in July of 2010. I began by creating a structure, which consisted of several teams, each led by a facilitator, and each to deal with a specific area of the conference: programming, marketing, ritual, entertainment, etc.... There was also a coordinating team, which was composed of the facilitator of each team plus the JEA president, vice president in charge of conferences, and the Executive Director. We discussed the CoP at our July JEA Board Retreat, where I asked for volunteers to join the teams. I also sent out an announcement to all our members through our listserve, explaining the idea of a CoP and how we would be planning the conference, and asked for volunteers to join the teams. In the end, we had over 20 people in our CoP, divided amonst the various teams.
Each facilitator was trained in the use of an asynchronous platform (we used google groups), asynchronous collaborative tools (google documents and wikis), and a synchronous platform (we used DimDim). The facilitators then provided training to their teams. Over the last 8 months, each team has been busily using the tools to complete their charge. For example, the programming team used the synchronous platform to suggest topics and speakers, then used the asynchronous platforms to discuss the topics, suggest speakers, share videos of the proposed speakers and articles they had written, etc....
I won't bore you with a blow by blow description of how we used technology to create our conference - you can probably imagine it based on the short example above. What I will bore you with are some conclusions I have drawn about using the CoP model to plan a conference, and how the model has contributed to making this (hopefully) one of our best conferences ever.
- The CoP model allowed for and encouraged much greater and broader input than the traditional small committee model. Our CoP had great diversity in several key areas: technological expertise and experience, geography, and age. We had many opinions and ideas to consider, not just one or two. We were able to consider the needs of almost every JEA member. Many new and highly qualified speakers were brought to our attention. We discovered that CoP members had areas of expertise that we could tap into, and several members will be presenting keynotes, workshops, or presenting in our tech theater.
- Because it all took place on-line, and due to more people involved in the process, potential presenters from all over the country who we never even thought of somehow got wind of the conference and actually contacted us, asking us if they could present. Many presenters on the final schedule are only there because they heard of us, rather than vice versa.
- The CoP, because it engaged more people than the traditional process, was in the forefront of marketing the conference in so many ways. One member decided to set up a twitter hashtag in order to tweet about the exciting speakers and topics. Another chose to set up a facebook page for the conference. Yet others chose to do weekly posts on our listserve.
This particular CoP will have no reason to exist past this week. But several of the CoP members will be joining me as a design team to create a new CoP for our JEA members who are interested in further pursuing the use of technology in their professional lives. I'll let you know how it's going next time I post!
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
When I think of pivotal memories... Tu B’shvat always emerges as one of the clearest. I am sitting in my Talmud Torah class, licking the backs of the JNF “green stamps” working my way down the card to purchase a tree in Eretz Yisrael.
I, not unlike many American Jews, imagined someday visiting Israel and seeing “my tree”. I planted trees in honor of relative’s special birthdays, anniversaries, and most notably, in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King. Recently, while visiting my parents I came across the letter, dated in the spring of 1969 from the desk of Coretta Scott King thanking me for honoring her husband in this special way. Re-reading this note reminded me how significant this tree planting exercise had been for me and my generation. It connected us in a very tangible way to the State of Israel. We were the first generation who had not known a time without a Modern state and we appreciated the importance and significance of this faraway place in our lives.
I don’t imagine a single child in my 1960’s Religious School did not plant a tree. It was a given. No one had to prod or cajole any of us. It was just what Jewish kids did. Over the years, I think we have lost this connection. Yes, we continue to send tree forms home with our students each year prior to Tu B’shvat but only a minority plant trees and I imagine it is at their parents’ behest.
Two things have happened that have convinced me that time has come to renew our efforts in encouraging children to plant trees. The first is our international growing awareness and support for the green movement. We are all far more aware of the need for protection of natural resources and the roles trees have in that effort. JNF has reinvented itself in order to provide a context for extensive green education through a Jewish lens and they are not alone. Hazon has produced a myriad of resources that any family or institution can take advantage in an effort to spread a green message and connect our families to Israel and our tradition.
The second are the recent Carmel fires which devastated northern Israel destroying conservatively 5 million trees. I am the kind of Jewish educator who consciously tries to avoid linking all of Jewish history to tragedy and endeavors to engage my students through the accomplishments of our people. This event, however, is a tragedy with healing - healing that can take place at their hands through the planting of trees.
My congregation’s lay leaders have picked up the gauntlet and beginning on Tu B’shvat and continuing through Yom Ha’atzmaut are raising funds to plant a grove of trees. These trees will be a small effort to begin to replenish the lost Carmel forests. I am so proud and excited to be a part of a community that is ready to take action in such a meaningful manner. I look forward to incorporating the children in our schools in this effort, renewing the excitement and pride I felt so many years ago, licking those stamps, filling that card and planting that tree.
This past weekend we lost the voice of American Jewish music. Debbie Friedman wrote music that gave access to both liturgy and Jewish celebrations by creating the musical backdrop for generations. Debbie wrote an iconic song for Tu B'shvat for very young children the title of which is "Plant a Tree for Tu B'shvat". I couldn't have said it better myself.
Lori Sagarin is the Director of Congregational Learning at Temple Beth Israel in Skokie, IL. She is the former president of the National Association of Temple Educators (NATE), and is also past president of the Chicago Association of Temple Educators. Lori is an educational consultant to the iCenter.
Crossposted from iCenter and to Welcome to the Next Level
Monday, January 10, 2011
This is from Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz of Bridgeport, CT
I am truly at a loss to share words at this time. Debbie Friedman touched the hearts and souls of thousands with her music and her presence. She was among my dearest friends for these past 12 years and I am deeply mourning her loss. I have no words.
I simply wish to share, for those who have not received the information through other channels, that the gathering for Debbie last night at the JCC Manhattan, which was streamed live, was also recorded and can be viewed here.
In addition, the funeral will be broadcast over the web. It is taking place on the West Coast tomorrow morning, at what will be 2:00 pm EDT. If you wish to attend the funeral in this way, the link is here.
Her memory is forever a blessing. May she be blessed as she goes on her way...
Friday, January 7, 2011
We will wake through the night.
We will nurse them to health.
We will do homework to all hours of the morning.
We will wait up until we hear the door open.
We will also defend our children under attack...
As a mom of a special needs kid, we also become CEO's of our kid's intervention teams.
We become chief worrying officer.
We become familiar with hundreds of acronyms like cpse, ei, pt, ot,si, st.
We also sometimes have to defend our kid's right to existence...
Our beautiful princess was just four days old and my husband was holding her when a "friend" came to visit and said, " I don't understand how could you have not done an amnio and aborted."
That was our wake up call - welcome to reality. When we applied for a spot in a two-year-old class in a private Jewish day school where her siblings attend, we were told NO. 12 kids, three teachers, and we offered the school a full-time shadow and told them we would cover all expenses not provided by the city. We soon learned about more realities - the lack of dignity for special needs families, the fact that people in power could threaten us, the fact that very few people truly cared. Everyone says "bad bad, sad, sad." Very few people will leave their comfort zone and take a stand for what's right.
We soon learned our story was not ours alone. The harsh reality is we live in the wealthiest Jewish community in the world in one of the largest communities and our special needs children have no access to an Orthodox, Jewish education. No inclusion programs in synagogues, no physical access to many synagogues and schools. No empathy from the community at large.
My husband and I soon realized if we wanted the world to change it would have to be us who fight for the change. If we wanted real change, this needs to be a community issue, something on the community agenda. We embarked on a campaign of advocacy and education. We created a fan page, www.facebook.com/cailysworld. We speak at events, we meet with all the organizations in the special needs area to determine how we can effect change. Community forums educate, they create discussion, increase communal pressure...they attract media and they force this issue onto the community agenda. We have a vision of a series of forums. Our first one was titled "What is the Jewish community's responsibility to special needs children?" At our next forum, on Sunday, January 9th, at 7.30 pm Accepting the challenge: Towards a fully inclusive Jewish Community
We plan to build a series with communal support. We insist that we will be heard and have a rightful place in a community that is charged with the role of being a light unto the nations.
As Martin Luther King so aptly said, "We begin to die when we are silent about the things that matter."
Thursday, January 6, 2011
All you've got, all your brand has got, all any of us have are the memories and expectations and changes we've left with others.
It's so easy to get hung up on the itinerary, the features and the specs, but that's not real, it's actually pretty fuzzy stuff. The concrete impact of our lives and our work is the mark you make on other people. It might be a product you make or the way you look someone in the eye. It might be a powerful experience you have on a trip with your dad, or the way you keep a promise.
The experiences you create are the moments that define you. We'll miss you when you're gone, because we will always remember the mark you made on us.
There's a sign on most squash courts encouraging players to wear only sneakers with non-marking soles. I'm not sure there's such a thing. If you've going to do anything worthy, you're going to leave a mark.
We changed some of the focus of the committee from the classroom to the parents. We decided that the most important factor in determining whether a child grows up to be a Jewishly functionally literate adult connected to the community are his or her parents. And our focus is not initially on improving parents Jewish knowledge or even expanding the range of their Jewish practice. It has been on developing and deepening relationships between adults.
Monday, January 3, 2011
I like to think of myself as a genuinely positive person. I also love sleeping late.
These two facts came in conflict for me this morning, as I know from Facebook they did for most of my friends and colleagues. Whether coming off a 3-day weekend (as I am) or a 10-day school break, this morning was the first day back to “reality” for many of us.
Thinking about this morning, two things came to mind: first, my whole life is my “reality,” not just those hours spent in my office – and not just those hours spent at home with my family. And second, I can choose how I approach my life, choosing my attitude – positive, exasperated, frustrated – rather than letting it choose me.
If I’m to have a fulfilled life, I must be fully present, fully engaged, and fully positive (not Pollyanna-ish, but approach life with a positive attitude) about all components of my life. On the recommendation of a friend and colleague, I recently read Fish by Lundin, Paul, and Christensen. The book is a parable, based on the Seattle Fish Market. I did find it a little hokey at times, but I liked the core message of placing responsibility on each individual for creating the environment he wants to work in.
Fish identifies four core concepts for creating a positive work environment:
- Choose your attitude
- Make their day
- Be present
Each of these could be their own blog post, exploring how these concepts play out in our own individual work environments – or how they could! – but right now I just want to look at the first and last, choosing your attitude and being present.
Choose your attitude. See two Facebook postings from late Sunday night:
- Ugh...I have not worked a 5 day week in over a month. I am not ready for tomorrow :-( Maybe the storm predicting for this Friday will bring another blizzard!
- Instead of looking at it like crap I gotta go back to work I'm going to try to look at it like I'm glad I have a job and glad I have a job where I get time off on holidays (well most) and get to spend that time with two awesome kids.
I am guessing one of these two people was able to get going this morning much easier!
In Fish, one of the characters challenges this concept:
In Fish, one of the characters challenges this concept:
‘“Suppose I’m driving my car and some idiot cuts me off in traffic. That causes me to get upset and I may honk or even make a gesture, if you know what I mean. What’s with the choice thing? I didn’t do it; it was done to me. I didn’t have a choice.”
“Let me ask you something, Steve. If you were in a tough part of town, would you have used that gesture?”
Steve smiled. “No way! You can get hurt doing that.”
“So you can choose your response in a tough part of town, but you have no choice in the suburbs?”’
We often think we have no choices – or limit what we see as our choices – because our situation is influenced by the actions of others. But what we control is our behavior, our attitude, our responses. Do you give a gesture to Monday morning or do you come in with a positive attitude?
Be present. This concept shows up in basically every life or management coaching guide I’ve ever seen. Be present tells us to focus on where you are right now and who you’re with right now. How many times have you been frustrated by a conversation where the other person jumps in with an answer before you’ve even finished the question? How about being on a call where the other person takes just a little too long to answer, or seems so distracted you just know their attention is divided.
Twice last month I got called out for not being as present as possible. This was a hard pill to swallow, because I’ve focused on being present for many years and seen the great response I get from everyone. I started to feel defensive (everyone checks email during conference calls! Of course I’m paying attention to my kids, I’m just also checking my facebook!) but what good was that actually going to do? I realize I had put “being present” onto autopilot a little too much. I spent the weekend really, fully engaging with the people around me – friends, kids, family, all got my full attention when I was with them. It meant less multitasking, and I was probably slower at responding to emails than usual, but I also got to watch my daughter’s eyes light up when she figured out how to get a puzzle piece into the right spot. Now, back at work, I am going to be conscious of being present, focusing fully on the person I’m speaking with or the project I’m working on.
Was it hard to wake up at 6 am this morning? Yes, it was tempting to roll over and go back to sleep. But I decided that this week will be the beginning of a refreshed focus on being positive and being present. And so far, so good!