Jewish Journey Photo Books: Capturing Positive Jewish Memories

I was thrilled to be accepted into the Social Media Boot Camp for Educators. It was on the heels of the NATE conference on technology and Jewish education, which I had the honor to co-chair with Rabbi Melissa Buyer. I was eager to take the theory and apply it to my educational milieu.

I began with, what I thought, was a simple project – using social media to improve communication with families. I had moved from posting “what happened today” on our website to a blog. And I was the only one reading the blog (I’m pretty sure).  I figured I would get some strategies, a few pointers, and be well on my way.

Wow was I wrong! With the constant guidance from Lisa Colton, I think we continually took two steps backwards for at least 6 months before moving forward. We had a lot of prep work to do before bringing the vision to life.

But the success of our work became clear when I had a conversation with a mother who just joined our congregation so her 1st grade daughter could attend our educational program. She said they looked at our website and blog together (her and her daughter) and could see all of the activities and how interactive our program was. And they wanted to be a part of that experience.

So what happened? Lisa pushed me to think about not just the how, but the why. And I began thinking more long-term than just one Sunday morning to the next. This became the focus of our school’s professional learning:

One of the goals of our educational program is making positive Jewish memories.

I decided that we needed to be documenting these memories (because we tend to remember things if we have images). And that documentation could be used to communicate with families as a secondary benefit.

I worked on getting teachers to think about documenting the learning in their classroom through images. We had professional learning sessions where we analyzed photographs and talked about objective and subjective (inspired by the Jewish Lens program we were using in our 6th grade). We reviewed pictures of our program and selected good pictures and identified why.

I worked on how to manage the hundreds and hundreds of photos we started to accumulate. We needed to be able to easily store, tag, sort and retrieve images gathered over many years.  This was a systems question that we had to solve before moving forward. After analyzing MANY programs, we are using Picasa – with the Picasastarter add-on (which allowed multiple people and computers to access the database). We can tag people, there is face recognition, and we are slowly working our way through our collection to tag and organize all of our photo assets.

We are using Shutterfly to create photo books that will be presented to students when they become Bar/Bat Mitzvah. I am currently creating the first photobooks for students who will be celebrating in October. In a sense, these are student portfolios, allowing them to reflect on their Jewish journey at our school.

And we took these pictures to create a better blog – where we showed, instead of told. And this allowed at least one family to see themselves as part of our community.

There is more work to do…we are looking to increase the variety of “artifacts” we collect of students. We are trying to share the microphone on our blog and bring more voices in to the conversation. We are starting my profiling new faculty members. Then students who spent the summer at Jewish camps. And then…well, we’ll all have to wait and see!

I am eager to hear from others – are you creating “Jewish” student portfolios? What are some of the tools that are useful?

Beth Ellen Youngis the Director of Education at Temple Judea in Coral Gables, FLwhere she enjoys blending love of education, Judaism, and technology.  She participated in the 2011-12 cohort of the Social Media Boot Camp for Jewish Educators funded by The Covenant Foundation. Her personal – and very novice – blog is  


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