As 2013 winds down, I found myself poring over past JewPoint0 blog posts. A LOT of stories, insightful moments, cool tools, and practical wisdom has been handed down in these pages. I thought I'd take a moment to share some of my favorites from the year that's passed...
Four Lessons for Maturing Your Social Media Practice: Evidence from the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy - All of our social media academy and boot camp participants share amazing moments, and it's tough to choose one or two to highlight...so here's a post that brings you some great moments from not one, not two, but ten different institutions. What a bargain, eh? One of my favorite take-aways from this post is the idea that social media is about people, not technology. Keep that in mind and you're already ahead of the game.
Using Social Media to Strengthen Culture of Welcome - I especially love this small moment shared in an overall lovely and reflective post by Rabbi Ed Bernstein, "...we then went right to the issue of creating a culture of welcome at the synagogue. People were asked to complete the sentence: “My first time being welcomed to Temple Torah was…,” and there was great response. One older congregant was bold enough to post that she didn’t feel so welcome, but I utilized this opportunity to reach out to her publicly and privately, and she appreciated that.”
This must have been such a powerful moment for this woman, for Rabbi Bernstein, and a potentially meaningful one for dozens of others who saw the interaction. I commend the Rabbi not only for his actions in this situation, but for sharing this story here; it’s a great example of transparency and what it means to live and learn in the connected age.
Two posts about thankfulness: Thankful and Being Thankful - Ellen Dietrick's post "Thankful" is not only a great story, but shares some clever tools for generating, and repurposing, content from and with your community. Michael Hoffman's "Being Thankful" is a super practical guide to showing appreciation to the people who help make your work happen, all year round.
We're looking for new stories and new voices to share in 2014!
Have a bit of insight, a great case study, a cool resource or tool and interesting implementation, a personal reflection, or a big question you want to pose to the community? We'd love to hear it, and perhaps share it here. Be in touch with Miriam Brosseau in the comments or over email to find out about guest blogging. Here's to another year of learning together.
All this talk about ‘developing a network’ and ‘organizational change for the connected age’ can feel both daunting and vague. But really, it’s just like starting a band! (And you’ve always wanted to be a rock star, right?) Here’s how it works in five easy steps.
- If you don’t already have a band/network, what kind do you want to start? Ah, the all-important question of purpose; the question we so often avoid (or forget, or ignore). Whether you’re starting a band or a network, you’ve gotta know why. For a band, the goal may be to have the equivalent of a Saturday night poker club, or it may be to spread a particular message, or it may be to hit the Top 40 and win a Grammy or two. Whatever it is, the whole band has got to be on the same page in order to meet that goal. For a network, what is the change you are trying to make in the world? It may be to push through a particular piece of legislation, to revitalize a neighborhood, or to overhaul an entire educational system. The answer to this question - ultimately a question of your communal DNA - will have bearing on all the other questions you’ll need to ask yourself moving forward. Look at your community; how would you define your communal DNA?
- What instruments/skills do you need to make the music? Who do you already have, and who do you need? (And does everyone know their role?) To answer this question, it’s important to reference tried-and-true templates, but also to think outside the box and be open to serendipity. A rock band may typically be drums, guitar, bass, and vocals, but magic can happen when you throw in an electric violin or, dare I say it, an accordion. A network focused on housing issues needs governmental connections, lawyers, activists...but what happens when you engage those benefiting from the work of the organization? Or schools? Or artists? You may also want to ask what other skills folks bring to the table. It’s exciting - and useful - when you find out the saxophonist is also a graphic designer, or the artist in your network has a background in urban planning. What ‘instruments’ are already making music in your community?
(Photo credit: Flickr user ryry9379)
- How are the musicians/members going to work together? The logistical bit. Basically, what does band practice look like? How formal are your gatherings? What kind of space, physical and/or virtual, do you need? How often will you meet? Does everyone read sheet music or do you need to pair people up to teach one another the tunes? And, of course, how will performances (if you perform at all) be arranged? The same is true for networks. Some are like closeted chamber choirs who work diligently at their craft but are rarely seen in public, while others are punk bands who use gigs as rehearsal time. This is also the place to consider folks’ other obligations. Is the drummer the only one in town who can keep time and is playing weddings with other groups every weekend? If so, what does that mean for the band? Are there other organizational affiliations or time constraints among the members of your network you need to consider? What are your community’s priorities, and where is the overlap with your goals? How can other priorities be a challenge, and how are they an advantage?
- What other connections do you need in order to be successful? A danger in both bands and networks is that the core becomes too tight. The group only looks inward and becomes an echo chamber. This often doesn’t make for good (or, at least, popular) music because it doesn't produce what the audience really wants to hear, and never makes for a healthy network. Therefore, it’s important to develop what I call peripheral vision; the ability to see the edges of your network and bring in new ideas. Who’s at the edge of your network, and what role can they play? Or put another way, of the things you need, how much of that can you get from your close connections in your current network/band, and how much do you need to look for elsewhere (build new connections)? For a band, it might be fans, venues, other musicians, or social media marketers. For a network, these folks might be network strategists, thinkers in parallel fields, like-minded groups in other geographical areas, or folks from other faith traditions, ethnic backgrounds, or age cohorts. Take a peek out of the corner of your eye; who’s in your peripheral vision who can help your community make real change?
(Photo credit: Flickr user Ross Mayfield)
- Is it working? As always, ya gotta go back to your goal! Are you accomplishing what you set out to do? In order to know that, you have to think about how you can measure your success. As with all measurement, there are quantitative and qualitative approaches, and both are necessary. The quantitative element may have to do with how many people are hearing the music, or coming to shows, or whether people are sharing it with their friends, or which songs are getting the most airplay, etc. Qualitatively speaking, you want to think about other things. Does the music sound good, does it feel good? Are the personalities meshing and the communal DNA evolving? Are you making people dance? Is your song getting stuck in people’s heads? It’s the same with networks. Take a balcony view of the folks in your group. Are the right connections in place to make great things happen? Where can you leverage existing connections, and where can you work on building new ones? And, perhaps most importantly, who can help you make it even better?! No network weaver is an island, after all. How do you measure the health and effectiveness of your community?
Regardless of whether you’re starting a community of practice for Jewish educators or the next great 80’s tribute band, these are a few crucial questions that will help make the whole enterprise sing.
What are the other key ingredients? What else has made your network (or band!) successful?
Many thanks to my bandmate and husband, Alan Sufrin, for being awesome and helping me think through this post.
This post is part of a blog series on Connected Congregations being curated by Darim Online in partnership with UJA Federation of New York. Through this series, we are exploring what it means for synagogues to function as truly networked nonprofits. Connected Congregations focus on strengthening relationships, building community, and supporting self-organizing and organic leadership. They are flatter and more nimble, measure their effectiveness in new and more nuanced ways, allocate their resources differently, and use technology in a seamless and integrated way to support their mission and goals. We hope these posts will be the launching pad for important conversations in our community. Please comment on this post, and read and comment on others in the series to share your perspective, ideas, work and questions. Thanks to UJA Federation of New York for supporting this work.
What happens when 40,000 college students suddenly realize they can email everyone on campus? A lot of crowded inboxes, first of all.
For those who may not have gotten wind of the “replyallcalypse,” here’s the gist. A message went out from the NYU Bursar’s office using an old listserv system. One student, intending to email his mother asking how he should react to the news, accidentally hit “reply all” and shot out a message to the entire student body. He immediately realized his mistake and sent an apology, but it was too late. Replyallcalypse had begun.
The emails that ensued varied from friendly to funny, from inane to downright angry. I highly recommend you check out some of the cream of the crop on this Buzzfeed article and this report from NYU Local.
But beyond the inevitable, aforementioned nonsense that ensued, there’s a lot to learn from this avalanche of emails and their aftermath. Here are a few of the key take-aways:
- Transparency rules. Skipping to the end of the story, the NYU employee who originally sent out the email using the faulty system sent a timely and genuine apology out to the student body. He admitted his mistake, took responsibility, and informed the campus as to what was being done to take care of the last of the mess. It brought the whole meshuggas to a classy close.
- People want to be heard. I always stress in my coaching and presentation that engaging in social media is an iterative process that begins with listening. While the social media revolution may be about talking, the social media revelation is about listening. That’s where the magic comes from. The fact that so many students sprung on this unusual opportunity to make a joke, ask a question, give a shout-out, or (ironically enough) to tell the others to stop talking and stop crowding everyone’s inbox, proves that ultimately everyone just wanted to be heard.
- Don’t underestimate the power of playfulness. The majority of the emails that went out were just, well, silly. One (a personal favorite) asked if anyone had a pencil the sender could borrow. Another sent around a picture of Nicolas Cage, referencing an old internet meme. While that playfulness may seem like nothing more than a waste of time, it also represents the beginning of self-organizing. When Twitter first came out on the market, it was filled with all kinds of foolishness (and that foolishness still exists, no question - just hear me out on this one). But those messages about finding a parking space or having a cheese sandwich for lunch demonstrated the power of the medium. Since then, Twitter users have raised millions of dollars for important causes, helped coordinate uprisings, and even saved lives. I can’t help but wonder: had the replyallcalypse been allowed to continue, what might the students have started? (As an interesting contrast, check out this story.)
- It all comes down to connection. The student who accidentally began this whole debacle said, in the end, “I think the best thing to come out of these emails is a rekindled sense of community at NYU (even if it’s based on being stupid).” While we may love technology, and new and shiny things make us happy as crows, social media is all about people and relationships.
Finally, dear readers, choose your technology wisely. Know how it works. Understand what tool is best for the job. And for goodness’ sake, be careful about hitting “reply all”!
As a newly minted “Technology Integration Educator” in my community, I’m struggling with the definition of my job title. What does the phrase “technology integration” really mean? How do we integrate technology? I can’t help but wonder if, when the overhead projector, or the radio, or even the blackboard for that matter, were introduced into the world of education, taskforces and positions were created to explore how to “integrate” these new technologies. I think not.
What may be unique about our time is that there are so many new learning curves for us to scale that many folks don’t know where to begin. We’re afraid, or are overwhelmed. Or both. To prevent the onset of this future shock, we create the idea of “integration”, of gradually weaning ourselves from the old so that we can embrace the new. Unfortunately, we may run the risk of prolonging this process: We might get so caught up in how we adapt and adopt innovations that we forget that we need to actually “do it”, and use the new technology. So how do we overcome this “fear of flying”? What do we really mean by “integration”?
Maybe by understanding the process of learning new skills, we can prepare ourselves better as we take the next steps. Thinking about how we learn helps us to understand that it doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. There’s a process, a pattern. Wendy Passer, in a piece posted here, describes the “Four Levels of Competence” – Unconscious, then Conscious Incompetence; followed by Unconscious Competence, then Conscious Competence. The idea, on one foot, is that we start out not knowing what we’re doing, and then go through a learning spectrum of being aware of, and at times overwhelmed by, our knowledge deficits. We might freeze, becoming ostriches with our heads in the sand. We then gradually gird our loins and learn the skill, thinking about how and what we are learning, and ultimately master the task so well that we stop thinking about what it is that we are doing, as it becomes second nature. For you visual folks, here is a graphic of the process I found at MindTools.com.
When we climb this ladder we create something new. What we learn becomes part of who we are and what we do. We are transforming the world and, therefore ourselves. We are integrating these new skills into the way we act, in AND on, the world.
So when we talk about “technology integration” we mean that we are integrating these new skills and approaching the art of teaching from a different direction. This type of integration is not merely incorporating new tech into pedagogy. It's something far more profound: it’s the act of weaving connections between the educational practitioner and sources of new skills that can transform how the educator interacts with material and the learner.
In the context of the literacies of the digital world (read Howard Rheingold’s Netsmart to learn more) a crucial component is collaboration. No longer is learning something that is performed by an isolated individual building a one-on-one relationship with content and the instructor. Today content is collective. Knowledge is built through collaboration with a crowd. No longer is there just one teacher -- there are many. By necessity, then, teaching is not just transmitting information, and thus educational uses of technology are not simply about transmission of information. Teaching is weaving strands between content and learners, all in the context of connected educational communities.
And that’s the point. Technology integration is taking new, ever-changing technology and seamlessly incorporating it strategically to aid in the construction of knowledge. The teacher becomes the learner; the learner becomes the teacher, and tools of the trade facilitate this process.
So getting back to our pedagogical fear factor. Learning new tech isn’t really hard. It’s just that we are so inundated with updates and new products that we get intimidated. We suffer from what I call “Technology Fatigue”. Too many emails. Too many tweets. Too many Facebook updates. And too many new widgets and gadgets. All of these “distractions” get in the way of our advancing the art of teaching and learning; preventing us from seeing the big picture. We need to get a handle on it, taking one step at a time. We build on what we already know. That’s the key - that’s how we help ourselves incorporate what we have experienced and will soon encounter in our craft. Rather than concentrating on the tool, let’s focus on what we want our students to learn and how we can help make that happen. That way we see the whole process in a less off-putting light. We’ll stop being afraid.
Integration then, means that the teacher is able to focus on the true goal of education: Not the subject matter and not the means. Technology is a tool that helps us to focus on what’s really important: on learning and the student.
In The Connected Educator by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall, I found a great piece of text that says it all: "…we do not focus on the hammer or the nails, but on what we can build with the hammer and the value of what will transpire inside the space once we've created it". Technology integration means leveraging our knowledge of how we learn and develop our competence, applying it to how we train one another to achieve the real goal: Creating environments enabling our students to expand the frontiers of their competence.
Let’s Just Do It.
Peter Eckstein is the Director of Congregational Learning at Temple Beth David (Conservative) in Palm Beach Gardens and is the Technology Integration Educator for the Friedman Commission for Jewish Education. As a volunteer, he currently sits on the Conservative movement’s Jewish Educators Assembly (JEA) national board and on the the Reform movement’s National Association of Temple Educators (NATE) Professional Development Committee. Peter has been participating in this summer's Social Media Successes for Jewish Educators webinar series produced by Darim Online. He tweets as @redmenace56 and blogs as The Fifth Child at http://jcastnetwork.org/5thchild
Thank you to Rabbi Hayim Herring for sharing his expertise with us on a webinar last week and on our online book group throughout the month of June, as we discuss his book, Tomorrow's Synagogue Today.
Over 50 people registered for our webinar to learn from Hayim and discuss the concepts he shared and their application to their congregational settings. We discussed the very tachlis details of who leads change and how, and big (and sometimes purposefully theoretical) questions like "will synagogues as we know them continue to exist in the next few decades"?
You can find the recording of the webinar and related resources shared during the webinar here.
Our online book group -- held in a Facebook Group -- continues, and we welcome you to join us! Current conversations have been around testing and piloting new ideas, what has changed in synagogue life in the last 10 years, and how do we retain a sense of sacred community while still being respectful of the desire for individualism and self-directedness? Come on over to the book group to respond, and/or to pose your own questions too!
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