Sunday, January 30, 2011

The JEA Conference and the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellowship Program

I'm finally sitting in my home in Rochester, New York, still with an incredible buzz from the recently concluded Jewish Educators Assembly Conference, which had the theme From Sinai to Cyberspace: Exploring the Impact of Technology on Jewish Education. The accolades, which began on the second day of the four day event, keep rolling in. Virtually everyone in attendance agreed that it was the best JEA conference in quite some time. Even the keynote speakers and breakout session facilitators have made it clear that it was an amazing conference for them as well.

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!

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