Launching Teacher Blogs at JCDSRI

 

This year we were lucky enough to be accepted into the Social Media Boot Camp for Jewish Educators. We were provided with a coach to help us achieve our goal of school wide classroom blogs.  We met with our coach, Shira Liebowitz, about the milestones we met, the challenges we faced, and to chunk up our goals for month to month, measurable, small successes. Shira was a great sounding board and provided us with wonderful suggestions to help us reach each objective.  

Through a combination of the Darim Boot Camp and our school's own 21st century learning initiative, we have made great strides in teacher blogging.  We used WordPress to create an overall cohesive structure and designed look where we share classroom news, student work, and ideas with our parents, community, and the greater educational world.   With our blogs, parents, and grandparents, without stepping foot in the classroom, have been able to see what we do and engage with their children in a meaningful way. 

“With Darim's guidance, we were able to bring blogging to a new level,” said Sari Guttin, 2nd grade teacher.  “Not only have our blogs replaced newsletters, but they have become a forum for discussion between parents and students, students and administration, and students and teachers.”

Blogs help to extend the school day by providing discussion topics for families to think about at home.  Because all our blogs are hosted on the same platform, it allows for uniformity and connectedness between individual classrooms and the school.  

jcdsri_blog.png“Starting a classroom blog this year has allowed me to be a reflective practitioner and invite others into the classroom,” said Jessica Perlman, Kindergarten teacher.  “By composing the blog posts and questions for readers, I have been able to truly reflect on the learning and goals of each lesson, as well as the steps taken, allowing the curriculum to become a living document.” 

Initially, our blog postings were weekly summaries. As the year progressed, they emerged into detailed accounts of classroom activity, complete with photographs and direct student quotes.  Additionally, teachers incorporate questions aimed to encourage parents and students to want to engage in further discussions. 

“Our blogs have enabled me, a part-time, specialty teacher, to stay connected with class happenings,” said Karolyn White.  “I can easily check the blogs to learn what’s new. I especially appreciate the depth of the blogs, which frequently include explanations, goals, results and descriptive photos. Our blogs encourage me to reflect on the class updates, collaborate with teachers and modify content or format of my library lessons, making them more informative and pertinent.” 

Our blogs have become valuable resources that promote our students, families, faculty and administration to stay connected.  The mentoring provided by Darim has helped scaffold this process as well as provide a great sense of comfort and support.  As a faculty, we are feeling excited about this "21st Century" way of communication and collaboration and we thank Darim Online and The Covenant Foundation for launching us on our way.

Shari Weinberger is the Curriculum Coordinator at the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island, and wrote this post with input from team members, Sari Guttin, Grade 2, Jessica Perlman, Kindergarten and Karolyn White, Librarian and Communications Manager.  To view our blogs click on the link http://www.jcdsri.org/podium/default.aspx?t=142596&rc=0

This year JCDSRI participated in the Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, a year long program generously funded by The Covenant Foundation.  This series of blog posts this spring chart the learnings of the 10 teams in this year's cohort.

 

 

 

 

The Reform Movement Should Make the Most of this Moment

As far as Rabbi Eric Yoffie is concerned, Reform congregations need to get with the program, technologically speaking, and they need to do so now. At the recent URJ Biennial in Toronto, the movements head delivered his annual sermon and used the opportunity to encourage every congregation to think seriously about harnessing the power of the internet to enhance their communities:

[T]he web potentially at least empowers our members and democratizes our synagogues. The synagogue is the grassroots address of the Jewish world, and the web gives us an instrument to involve and include Jews as never before. Are our synagogues doing great things in this area? Absolutely. Are we making the most of this potential? Not even close.

Yoffies challenge to congregations is to be applauded. Too many synagogues and Jewish schools have an attitude towards tech thats generations (a relative term, I know) behind their congregants and students who all have Facebook accounts, use Twitter, and are never more than an arms length from their Blackberries and iPhones. But the movements approach to addressing this issue an organized program to train lay leaders to create and maintain congregational blogs is only a first step. The Reform movement has an incredible opportunity on its hands, a chance to take the next steps and to get a lot more serious about using technology to build and strengthen communities.

Four suggestions for maximizing this moment:

1. Congregations should form committees (or task forces) to develop thoughtful strategies for using technology to increase the efficacy of communication. Rabbi Yoffie is right that blogs are a great way for synagogue members to connect online. But there are lots of other technologies social networking, microblogging, podcasting, mass texting that also might be useful to synagogues. And there are those congregations for whom blogging might not be the best fit. Every synagogue should gather their most technologically savvy members (and some socially savvy connectors, if were going to take Malcolm Gladwells advice) to make these sort of decisions for the community. Should the temple have a Facebook page, and if so what kinds of things should be posted there? If the synagogue has a Twitter account, who should be charged with maintaining it? And how often should they tweet? The URJ could be indispensible in providing consultants and experts to help congregations get on this path.

2. Technology can help Reform congregations do an even better job of running organizations that live up to the highest values of the movement. Imagine if a synagogue lived up to its commitment to environmentalism by going totally paper-free. The synagogue staff uses Google Docs to collaborate on projects. Rabbis project Temple announcements (and other administrivia) up on a screen during services so that programs dont need to be printed every week. Instead of spending lots of paper and money on a newsletter, members receive a monthly email newsletter, as well as frequent updates on Facebook and Twitter. Lots of congregations are using all these technologies, and theyre preventing lots of paper waste in the process. The Union can support congregations new to these technologies by teaching professionals to use these tools, empowering congregants with tech skills to be leaders in their communities, and by pairing temples at the beginning of this journey with those whove already found success.

3. Technology is an important part of the future of Jewish education. Im not talking about educational video games. Im talking about using tools to help learners connect deeply to Jewish text, about helping schools better communicate with parents, about using inexpensive video conferencing to bring diverse teachers to isolated Jewish communities. Education is a central part of a synagogues mission, and we need to be asking new questions about how learning is changing. How can we utilize new technologies like Google Wave, Twitter, and YouTube to allow for collaborative (hevruta for the new generation!) learning? How can the internet help us engage (and empower!) parents and families in new ways? How can we use technology to open up the world of Jewish education to better integrate the arts, science, and communication?

Thirty years ago, innovative Jewish educators were using filmstrips, slideshows, and video to bring Torah to life. Now, equally innovative educators are using Flash animation, social media, and hypertextuality to accomplish those same goals. The URJ should nurture and support these sorts of projects and help to bring those tools to congregations and their learners.

4. Technology is an excellent opportunity for collaboration. In the few days before the URJ Biennial, a group of educators gathered for a pre-conference symposium on Jewish identity. One of the teachers at that gathering was Professor Ari Kelman who shared research that suggests that the current generation of young, involved Jews (many of whom are digital natives, if you dont mind sweeping generalizations) are redefining affiliation by resisting joining a single organization, and rather participating in lots of diverse parts of Jewish life. For these Jews, no single institution is the center of Jewish life.

Institutions that pay attention to thinkers like Kelman realize that successful Jewish organizations of the future will be marked by cooperation and collaboration. They also know that efficient and financially responsible Jewish organizations are the ones that dont insist on re-inventing the wheel but rather seek out partner organizations with different types of expertise. To truly move forward to empower member congregations to embrace a 21st-Century social-media-savvy technologically-engaged existence, the Union should seek out organizations, educators, clergy, innovators, experts, academics and thinkers who can help congregations do their best work.

Perfect example: Darim Online has lots of experience helping Jewish organizations effectively utilize social media technology (including blogs!), and that expertise could really help (and in fact already is helping) Reform congregations look at new ways of communicating. Instead of trying to invent their own wheel, the URJ should seek out partners whove already invented pretty good wheels.

Lets be clear: The Reform movement is taking unprecedented steps forward. Rabbi Yoffies sermon and the related URJ initiatives launched this week mark the first time a major movement is encouraging and supporting member congregations to take this trend seriously. This is an important moment, and it would be a shame to waste it.

Josh Mason-Barkin, director of school services at Torah Aura Productions, is a member of a Reform congregation and a graduate of HUC-JIR. He blogs at tapbb.com. You can find his twitter feed at www.twitter.com/barkinj. He frequently contributes to a conversation about Jewish Education in the 21st century on Twitter under the hashtag #jed21

30 Days to Being a Better Blogger Teach42s Blogging Challenge

Steve Dembo, aka Teach42, is the Online Community Manager for the Discovery Educator Network (check out their terrific resources for educators at DEN), and the former Director of Technology at the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School in Chicago, IL.

Steve recently proposed a challenge to bloggers new and veteran who are seeking opportunities to freshen up their blogging skills and cross-pollinate new ideas: 30 Days to Being A Better Blogger. He developed a series of 30 activities and ideas, as well as tips, techniques, and encouragement which he cross-posted on his blog and his wiki.

The challenge originated in November, but participants are encouraged to drop in anytime and work according to their own time frame. In addition to posting on his blog and wiki, Steve sent daily updates to his feed on Twitter.

Planning on jumping in? Join the 30 Days community by tagging your posts so that others can find them: 30D2BBB. (More about tagging can be found here)

There has been a growing trend in self-paced online learning opportunities with community components such as this one, on a variety of topics. What would a community challenge look like in your organization or community? Is this a model that might engage members in different ways? How would it extend your notion of community and how to be a member? What would it take to experiment with this? Imagine the possibilities!

Learn More:

Blogs in Plain English: Common Craft Show – Video
How to Create A Blog with Blogger: Video Tutuorial
See other video tutorials in this series by BloggerHelp.
Why Start a Blog and 25 Tips to Make it Work
from Conversation Agent
Not Just for Educators:

The Edublogger: Tips, tricks, ideas and help with using web 2.0 technologies and edublogs
Using Blogs to Promote Authentic Learning in the Classroom from Transitioning to Web2.0