Learning to Like Facebook


“How do you get people to ‘like’ you?” is not usually a question of much concern to a group of academics, but that’s exactly the challenge we took on when our team at American Jewish University’s Graduate Center for Education endeavored to create a new communications channel to expand our online community of alumni, students, colleagues and friends through Facebook this year. Without a communications department or dedicated staffer to build our social media presence, it’s been hard to consistently lean in to our Facebook ambitions without getting carpal tunnel. That being said, we’ve come away from Darim’s Social Media Boot Camp for Educators with some great strategies for managing and promoting the page, with the valued input of our fantastic coach Debra Askanase:

1) Develop and implement a content calendar.

2) Keep experimenting with different kinds of content, and check the analytics regularly to monitor what the fans want.

3) Based on #2, we discovered that our fans love and share photos, videos and announcements of awards the most.

4) Post regularly and consistently to keep up the flow of traffic.

5) Don’t feel sheepish about buying likes (which we haven’t tried yet).

While we are proud of what we have developed so far, a challenge is that there are members of our community missing out on our shiny new vehicle for sharing content, good and welfare and relevant education news and links. Not all of our constituents (alumni and Jewish education professionals) are on Facebook. Not everyone who is on Facebook uses Facebook for professional interests. Not everyone who is on Facebook checks Facebook. And so on.  We are still wondering: how many of our constituents use Facebook for really engaging with professional content?

Personally, I entered Darim’s Boot Camp committed to a pretty solid boundary between the personal and professional when it came to Facebook, resisting the invitations to post professional content and reserving my Facebook use for sharing photos of my kids with actual friends and (and viewing photos of their kids). Now I’m kvelling over the latest accomplishments of our students and alumni, sharing education news items and op-eds of interest, reflecting on the teachers who have inspired me, and posting photos of my students and campus, all with a couple of quick clicks on the Pages Manager app on my droid.  My new use of Facebook has become a vehicle for work/life integration in surprising ways.

So after a few months of work, the Graduate Center for Education’s Facebook page now bears the unique stamp of our learning community and the personalities and professional interests of the faculty leadership. We discovered that Facebook is a medium that can easily convey our institutional culture of intellectual curiosity, passion for creative education, sincere caring for members of our community and deep appreciation for the hard work and commitment of educators. We can be serious and playful in one space.

We’re a boutique graduate school of education, and we take a lot of pride in the warm and nurturing yet rigorous and professional learning culture that defines the “in-person” experience of being an AJU student. With the help of the Darim Social Media Boot Camp, we have slowly begun to transmit that culture online through our Facebook presence. Our next step is to share the love with an ever-growing circle of fans! You don’t have to be an AJU affiliate to join; anyone passionate about Jewish education can “like” us at www.facebook.com/educationmasters.AJU.


Dr. Miriam Heller Stern is Dean of the Graduate Center for Education at American Jewish University. Follow her on twitter @mirhstern. The Graduate Center for Education 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.


80-20: Work on Whatever You Want

Netbooks, Document Cameras, Google Apps, Educational Apps, Student blogs, we floated all of these ideas around as we tried to come up with where to focus our technology training this summer. There are so many opportunities it is often overwhelming. With training being a fundamental component of our technology plan at the Stanford Eisenberg Knoxville Jewish Day School, we struggled to determine a school wide technology goal for the coming year. As we spoke and brainstormed, inspiration from the NAJDSC, and our recent participation in the Darim Online Jewish Day School Social Media Academy came together, and an idea formed based.

One of the famous benefits of working at Google is the 20 percent time program. Google allows its employees to use up to 20 percent of their work week at Google to pursue special projects. That means for every standard work week, employees can take a full day to work on a project unrelated to their normal workload. At Hewlett-Packard, 3M, and Google, "many" of their best and most popular products come from the thin sliver of time they granted employees to work on whatever they wanted to.

We decided that instead of us choosing a school wide goal we would allow each teacher to choose a technology based project that they’d like to implement in their classroom. We’d take the money we would have spent training and pay our teachers to spend the time to research, create and implement a project that they were passionate and excited about. We have a treasure of knowledge, experience and skill amongst our staff and with so many learning opportunities readily available on the internet we know we will have a rich, informative and exciting journey. The program has no outcome benchmarks but process requirements. The focus is on the experience. Because we are offering the freedom to “work on whatever you want” we are also offering the freedom to fail, without failure there can be no innovation or true experimentation. Regardless of whether the project plays out as we hope it to we know there will be valuable lessons learned from the process.

In addition to choosing and implementing a project there will be a reflective and reporting process where teachers will reflect, share and teach each other about their project and what they have learned. Not only will teachers benefit from their projects and experience they will learn from everyone else’s research and projects. And at the end of the project we will have a staff where each teacher is well versed and experienced in different areas of technology and available to support each other in their area of expertise.

Miriam Esther Wilhelm is the founding Head of School at the Stanford Eisenberg Knoxville Jewish Day School. She has enjoyed the journey of taking the school from a start up to a growing and thriving Jewish Day School.
The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy
The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.




See3C: Scheck Hillel Reinvents, Stays Connected


As a school who strives to be on top of the latest and greatest forms of social media, this year was the time for Scheck Hillel Community School to explore one of the most popular outlets used today: Instagram. With one click on the app, you can quickly see what is going on around campus and in classrooms. In the past, Scheck Hillel has used Facebook and Twitter to reach out to the community and share what is going on at school. Now we have taken the jump not only with a school account (@eHillel) but also individual classroom accounts to reinvent photo sharing, making it easy for families and students to stay connected. Instagram also links to other forms of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. This allows our followers to branch out and explore eHillel across the social media world.

instagram.jpgIn the classroom, Instagram has taken a different turn. Students as early as third grade are excited and eager to explore the social media world with their iPods, iPads, and iPhones. What better way to do it than linked to school! With followers in many grade levels, we are sharing our classroom with the rest of campus. Parents are slowly but surely starting to follow and engage in Instagram by liking and commenting on photos. Siblings and former students are among our greatest followers, and are encouraging their teachers to jump on the bandwagon.

photoclose.jpgAs a third grade teacher, I was unsure of how Instagram would impact my class. Would parents be interested? Would students want to follow their class?  My worries were quickly erased as I have only seen a positive response! Students are excited to be involved in writing captions, adding filters, and creating appropriate hashtags to share our photos. Another third grade teacher was persuaded to create a page when her students started to follow my class page @see3c. She found that her students were eager to get involved as well. Teacher Jennifer Cohn, @3bpics, says “Students are commenting on photos after school. It gives them a chance to go back and reflect on what was happening in school that day.” Scheck Hillel’s third grade was recently empowered with a couple iPads for each class, so the students can get involved with our Instagram page more easily. It has become a class activity and the students are deciding what is important to share with our friends in the community. We look forward to sharing our achievements as we engage more teachers and classes to connect to social media!

Jenna Kraft is a Grade 3 teacher at Scheck Hillel Community School in North Miami Beach, Florida. Taking a lead beyond the classroom, she recently co-authored Scheck Hillel’s Social Media Guidelines & Policy with the School’s Advancement department.

The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy
The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.


Contractually Blogging: Maturing Systems in a Congregational School

Shearith Israel is a conservative congregation in Dallas with a strong religious school, approximately 200 students.  We have pre-k-10th and we are in the midst of developing a HS component through 12 grade back into our program. 

The biggest challenges we face are related: apathy and communication.  Over the last couple of years we have tried to address both of these issues.  Each of our teachers was required to communicate with parents on a bi-weekly- monthly basis, giving them information about what their children were experiencing in the class. 

We also have a weekly newsletter from the school, but this is more general information, and not usually specific to classes. We also decided last fall to use a text system for updates for parents: Remind 101.  We had many parents sign up for this- but not all. 

Ellen Dietrick has been our mentor in the Darim Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, and she has guided us through various explorations.  Each year Dallas has a Yom Limmud- day of learning where all of the educators come together and this past fall one of the featured presentations, from November Learning www.novemberlearning.com , was about tech in the classroom, featuring Twitter.  So we eagerly joined Twitter as luddites.  Ellen helped us explore what to do with it, but learned that our best bet was to set up blogs for our classrooms.  This would be a better focus for students, parents, and even our teachers to interact with and learn from each other.  Back in February we presented this idea to our teachers at a professional development session.  At first they were reluctant, but they grew very interested when they found out about the various ways to communicate, engage and share the content of what goes on in their classrooms.

Showing the various steps of the learning process, as well as what the students take away for it will definitely serve the students better, and help their parents understand and hopefully engage them and us a bit more.  We decided to make this compulsory as of the coming school year and it is written into the teacher contracts that they need to submit a post each week we have school.  At this point we are exploring whether to use the template we created on Blogger or to invest in using Edublogs (which is part of WordPress).  We are very excited about this and will be suspending our weekly newsletter that we send using Constant Contact in lieu of this improved and interactive tool.  I am already thinking about who will be our ‘plants’ on the blog- hoping to quietly designate parents to generate/comment on posts to build and keep the conversation going.

We should tell you as well that back in the fall as part of a separate grant, we began creating a teen Israel blog which is a blog about Israel by teens, for teens.  This has been a great learning experience for the teens and the professionals working on this project. 

In addition, we are fortunate to have smartboards in our classrooms, as well as iPads for teacher and student use.  Our students have been working to create apps…. Now we can actually tell the world about this and use them to enhance our blog communications.

We hope that this project will improve parent communication, as well improve the students’ engagement with what they are learning.  We want to thank Ellen Dietrick for her assistance and Darim and The Covenant Foundation for the opportunity to make our school a better learning environment.


Shearith Israel 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.


Using Collaboration to Create Content


Our goal upon entering the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy was to utilize social networks as a means to tell our story.  So many wonderful things happen at the school every day, and we felt with Facebook, in particular, that we had a great opportunity to re-energize our current parents and to reach new audiences in a visually compelling and easy-to-share (or “like”) format. 

We took a very strategic approach to launching our Facebook page, from the type of content we wanted to post, how we would promote the page, and who we would target.  We found our social media strategy to be an outgrowth of our website strategy.  When we launched our new website nearly three years ago, we took very deliberate steps to tell the story of the school through photos on the internal (password-protected) pages of our website.  So whereas many schools struggle to produce quality content on a regular basis, we had already laid the groundwork that would become essential to our success.  Our experience with the JDS Social Media Academy pushed us to refine this process of collaborating with our community members to drive the content that tells the story of the school.

Our content curation strategy began with us trying to figure out where the story was, and realizing we would need input from faculty members, administrators and parents.  We have to rely on these key players to let us know the compelling events and stories happening day by day.

We felt the best way to truly paint the picture of life at CESJDS was through cultivating these relationships.  I reached out to faculty members individually, urging them to let me know when they had special projects taking place in their classrooms.  And every time a teacher contacted me, I went to take photos which would later be posted to the Facebook page and school website.  It didn’t take long for them to get excited about being featured; it validates their hard work in the classroom and gives our community a window into life at the school.  It soon became second nature for them to email with interesting classroom news or projects. 

A great example of how parents contribute to our strategy is Families in Action Day, a day of service where 800 people volunteer at more than 20 projects in the area.  I coordinate directly with the parent volunteers to generate photos from the various locations, something I could not do alone.  We use this approach for many of our larger events–Dor L’Dor, Color War, Arts Chai-Lights—and find it works well because people are excited to be a part of the story.  I also work with our student photographers (from the student newspaper and photography class) to feature their work online.

Many other individuals in the school have news to share, and we have worked to make sure this news gets passed to us to post to Facebook and the school website.  The athletic director, guidance and college counselors, development director, and other members of the administrative team routinely share news, accomplishments and other updates.  All of this helps to tell the story of CESJDS.

By changing the dynamic of the school, we established a network of collaboration where others create content and invite me to the story, rather than me searching it out.  This process has been vital to accurately portraying life at CESJDS through our Facebook page and school website.


Kimberly Dudash is the Marketing Associate at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School.  The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy
The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.


Networking the Unintentional Network: RAVSAK as a Case Study in Progress

Are there limitations to networked thinking? Can networked learning be taught and learned? Rabbi Hayim Herrings's blog post last month on eJewishphilanthropy, "How to Minimize the Risk of Network Un-Weaving," questions whether a relationship-based network approach to community building and shared learning might be too antithetical to the hierarchical systems embedded in much of our institutional structures. We believe the two are not mutually exclusive. Schools are certainly places where institutional hierarchy remains important in ensuring educational excellence and the fulfillment of mission and vision, yet in our work we have found that formal and informal networks as well as networked thinking provide tremendous opportunities for shared learning and growth.

RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network offers an opportune case study in the evolution of networks and networked thinking. Founded as a grassroots network of Jewish community day school leaders, at a time when the fax was the latest technology, we have nonetheless only recently begun to recognize the implications of the word network and its centrality to how we fulfill our mission. As each of us separately began to realize the power of cultivating networks to satisfy our personal and professional goals, we started to consider how this way of thinking could stimulate change in the field of Jewish education.

Today, RAVSAK understands the need to embrace strategies and tools to maximize the potential of our Jewish community day school network for the broad cross-section of our 130 member schools and their own internal networks of professionals, board members, students and stakeholders. Over the past year we have been working with Darim Online’s Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, a program generously funded by The Covenant Foundation, which has invested in the development of many networked approaches across the field.

When we started with Darim, we thought it was all about finding the right technology, but as we’ve worked with our internal team (made up of committed professional staff and lay people) and our terrific coach, Lisa Colton, we’ve realized that it’s actually about finding the right people and building the right relationships, and only then figuring out what the right technology might be to help these relationships thrive. As a network, RAVSAK is in many ways an unintentional one. Its members share certain affiliations, yet often have interacted primarily through the professionals in the RAVSAK office. In our attempts to change the culture of our network from a hub and spokes model of learning, we are promoting new ways to decentralize knowledge and increase peer-peer learning and interactions, through the creation of a variety of network sub-groups.

We understand that successful networks emanate from relationships that inspire trust and are considering new ways to engender this trust, by emphasizing common interests, pre-existing relationships and shared needs. We know that learning stems from listening and we are beginning to implement new ways to hear the conversations that are happening within our own network and those that intersect with ours, as well as finding opportunities to generate new conversations. Beyond just providing the technology for a network conversation, we are experimenting with various approaches to designing and facilitating the learning experience in the network. By engaging in an intentional process of trial and error, we can measure the effectiveness of different tools, platforms and facilitative strategies. By training and supporting a network facilitator, we can simultaneously design the network, deepen relationships and cultivate a network culture of reflection amongst the network’s members.

Critical to this culture shift’s success within our network is to shift attention from the network as a product, and focus on cultivating the individuals who build these relationships and think deeply about how networks work – the network weavers. That’s why RAVSAK recently brought Yechiel Hoffman on board to work with us on transforming our unintentional network into an intentional one. Together, we hope to elevate RAVSAK's network engagement by understanding the nature of the network's member's needs and positioning within the network.  We are working together and with our members to create a model that reflects RAVSAK's strategic plan, and embodies and inspires the values and learning goals of the network’s participants. We need to recruit, train and coach the network facilitators to support RAVSAK’s networks and become part of a new cohort of network weavers impacting our field.

Eventually, we may not need individual network weavers woven into our institutions and networks. Eventually, every Jewish educator, communal professional, board member and Rabbi will naturally gravitate to fostering, nurturing and facilitating those in their networks to connect, grow and collaborate. But as referenced in Rabbi Herring's blog post, until institutions embrace networks and systems thinking, we depend on those who gravitate personally and professionally to this mode of thinking and behaving.

At this moment when technology has created disruptive opportunities for decentralized systems and shared learning, questions like Rabbi Herring’s are important opportunities for interrogating what formal and informal networks offer to Jewish organizations, the field of Jewish education and our work as Jewish professionals. We have found the theoretical and historical frameworks underlying network theory as well as the demonstrated learning and growth that comes from utilizing and activating natural and designed networks to be valuable in our own work. Rabbi Herring may be accurate in determining that many organizations rely on vertical hierarchies operating under command and control, and are more activity driven than mission driven. We believe the horizontal platform model of networks, oriented around influence rather than power, is the very reason we need networks and network weavers in our system. We should not be afraid that new models demand a shift from old paradigms, but rather explore how these new models prepare us for the inevitable new paradigms. The question becomes less how we un-weave our networks, but how we cultivate a field in which learning through networks becomes commonplace and as essential to leadership as any other skill.

Dr. Idana Goldberg is the Associate Executive Director at RAVSAK. You can reach her at [email protected]

Rabbi Yechiel Hoffman, is an Educator, Nonprofit Leader and Community Organizer, who is working as a consultant to RAVSAK on their network-weaving efforts.   He can be reached at ye[email protected]

RAVSAK 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.




You & Your Technology: Making the Right Shidduch

Technology wizard is not a name that the three women behind Mensch Modules would bestow upon themselves. Both The Women’s Jewish Learning Center and The Learning Shuk – the two organizations that came together to build Mensch Modules – have relied on others to build our websites and suggest software that will be useful for our organizations.

When the two groups came together on a project through the Darim Online Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, it was time to fumble through the intimidating process of selecting the proper piece of technology for our online project. Our mission was to create flexible, digitally friendly, do-it-yourself learning kits designed to help facilitate learning around Middot (qualities of character) and, specifically, the trait of gratitude.

Under the guidance of our mentor, Miriam Brosseau, we began to consider the seemingly endless options that lay before us. Were we going to create a website as a platform for curating content, designing context around it and package it for the self-directed study of Hakarat HaTov? Were there better methods for delivering our materials to educators and parents to use with their 3rd through 5th grade students?

We examined many possibilities, tried out a few, and, in the end, we determined that MentorMob was the best platform to deliver our Mensch Modules. We appreciated its flexibility, the ease with which we could make changes, and the ability to embed a live site or video directly into the playlist we created on MentorMob.

Selecting the right technology for a project can be daunting. We have a few suggestions we think will help:

Know your strengths. At the beginning of our project, we envisioned animated video clips to help introduce the topic of Mussar and character development to children. We quickly realized that video production was not our forte and that we would be spending too much time (and money) to put together the quality of video we wanted to provide. An examination of our strengths – individually and as a group – helped lead us to a better choice.

Know your needs. It is difficult to select the proper piece of technology if you do not know what you need it to do. It is important to consider your needs today, how your needs might change in the future, and the needs and skills of the people you are designing your project for.

Talk to others.Not only did we seek the guidance of Miriam, our treasured advisor, but we sought out other organizations and projects that we could learn from. Some of those were Jewish educational institutions but many were not. When we saw a website using a technology tool that we thought would be useful for Mensch Modules, we contacted them, asked questions, and played around on their site.

Experiment and be willing to change.Once we moved away from the desire to create videos, we explored several different pieces of technology. Often times, we would find something that seemed like it would work but after using it for a few days or weeks, we discovered that it was lacking some of the features we identified as needs. While it’s difficult to throw away “all that work”, moving on helped us find something even better. Assessing a technology platform based on a list of what it can and cannot do will not provide you with all of the information you need. It is important to get your feet wet and play with it.

Repurpose the tool.  Once you are comfortable with the technology you have selected for your project, it is easier to envision additional ways you can use that piece of technology.  In our experience, for example, we created the Mensch Module of Gratitude (HaKarat HaTov) on Mentor Mob and shared it with local educators who piloted the program. The Learning Shuk went on to use Mentor Mob to create curated online learning playlists on a variety of Jewish learning topics that are now being shared with parents and educators on local and national levels.

Selecting the proper piece of technology can be a daunting task – especially if you are not the most savvy of techies. We hope the guidelines above will make your process of selection a peaceful and successful experience. We invite you to share additional considerations for technology selection, software or technology platforms you use and love, or your thoughts on non-techies trying to look techie.

Lisa Pinkus is a member of the Mensch Modules team, which 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.



Becoming Social: Risk Taking, Transparency and Innovation

Prior to participating in the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy, our school culture was pretty conservative when it came to social media, so many ideas that we brought home from the kick off meeting felt very risky and foreign to us.

Within the first week of this program, we turned on the tagging function on our Facebook page to allow for interaction and transparency. At the time, letting go of this control felt unintuitive and scary.

zumba.pngThat same week, we noticed a student-led Zumba class happening in the courtyard and we impulsively took a 30-second video. We never would have posted something like this previously because it felt personal and exposed in terms of the students, and it was also an activity that was wholly social and not connected to any mission-specific message. In short, it was just fun. In response to the post, we received an unprecedented number of likes, comments and shares from students, parents and community members. This “experiment” started a ripple effect in terms of taking risks.

The only video that had ever been leveraged for fundraising at JCHS was very high-end, in that it was professionally shot and produced. So Lisa Colton’s suggestion to “be brave” and do quick and dirty videos was intriguing and exciting. The discussion at the kickoff meeting about how to deal with negative online feedback made us feel as if we could jump and go for it with our own videos.

We shot a short video with teachers and students that showed areas the Annual Fund supports at JCHS such as athletics, drama and science.  We shared this video on our web page, through eBlasts and on Facebook which added a much-needed spike in parent momentum/interest. The video resulted in 12 online gifts the first night we posted it – which was also unprecedented. From here we became addicted to both making fun, creative videos and the momentum they inspired. We got sillier and people liked it.

As the year progressed, through the Annual Fund and into our Darim fundraising challenge and spring fundraising event, we became comfortable – and quite happy – with this new cultural norm of risk taking, transparency and innovation. Our “capstone” project for the Academy was a fundraising challenge to our 271 alumni. The greatest percentage of them to give in one year to date had been 9%. We challenged ourselves to receive at least 50% participation from our alumni during the month of April to receive a matching grant from AVI CHAI. JCHS is only 12 years old. Most of our alumni are still in college and not financially independent, so this was a big challenge for us.

teacher.pngWe kicked off our alumni campaign with a slide show of 8 JCHS graduation ceremonies.  This video created our first wave of momentum, but we noticed immediately that the “fire” required constant stoking to keep gifts rolling in. We then came up with a teacher campaign asking students to give Our alumni mavens were key in tagging these photos and creating a buzz that increased with each new teacher photo. During this photo campaign, one of our alumni mavens suggested that what would really work with older alumni is to see photos of their teachers from the early years who are no longer teaching at JCHS. As one of us has been here for 10 years, reaching out to these teachers on Facebook was easy and they all responded quickly and enthusiastically.  See an example of the reactions on Facebook. 

Not only did we achieve our 50% goal, but in the final push, which was very targeted from alum to alum, we achieved 61% alumni participation (166 alums). The impact from this challenge continues to show through feedback about how much they enjoyed talking to each other and reminiscing about JCHS, to a record number of alumni attending the spring fundraising event. This year of social media was educational, fun, and it truly shifted our culture in a way that supports community at JCHS.

Julie Vlcek-Burke has been at JCHS since 2003 and is the Director of Development. Maura Feingold has been at JCHS since 2007 and is the Marketing Manager.

The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy

The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.

Using Social Media to Strengthen Culture of Welcome

Temple Torah’s executive staff utilized Darim’s Social Media Boot Camp to strengthen the culture of welcome at our synagogue. Over 25 years, Temple Torah evolved from a seniors-only congregation to a full-service, multi-generational congregation. We now operate a pre-school and two after-school supplemental religious programs.

Our challenge is that there is a sense of bifurcation in the congregation and a lack of a  holistic sense of community. People in different segments of the congregation often express a “fee-for-service” mentality. Furthermore, many feel that the expenditure of financial and human resources on one segment of the community means that other segments will not get served. Older people often complain that “all this money is spent on young families who never come to synagogue.” Younger families complain that they don’t feel welcome in other segments of the congregation and that programs and services offered outside of the school wing are not relevant to their lives.  Our staff team sought to use social media as one tool to break down barriers and spark conversations online and offline that would increase the sense of community.

Initially, we sought to embark on this endeavor through short YouTube videos. We succeeded in making one video that re-oriented people to the main synagogue entrance in a post-Newtown, CT, concern for security.  We were unable to sustain the energy, creativity and commitment to produce more videos, so we switched gears to focusing on Temple Torah’s Facebook page. The page had been under-utilized and was overshadowed by Facebook groups run by various arms of the synagogue.

It took some time for us to find a groove where people would like and comment on the page. Pictures of events that were posted received positive attention, but event announcements might as well have been invisible. In March, we fine-tuned our efforts to revamp our Facebook page with a contest asking people to share the manner in which people are welcomed at their seder. Whoever received the most likes would receive a prize. It seemed like a good question that people could relate to, yet we received only minimal response.

A couple weeks later for Yom Haatzmaut, we discovered a secret sauce: Constant Contact. We were able to drive much more traffic to the Facebook page by sending a Constant Contact email to the congregation, posing a question and directing them to the page. We received more lively online dialogue on why people love Israel.
boyton-beach.jpgHaving discovered Constant Contact as an effective means to drive traffic to the page, 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.  That same week, I gleaned from the discussion to deliver a “social sermon” on Shabbat, one in which congregants take part in the writing through their online comments before Shabbat. The sermon was then posted after Shabbat to allow the posting to continue.

For the rest of this spring, each member of our staff took a turn posting a question for discussion that was rooted in his or her area of expertise. The result is more traffic on our Facebook page and more interaction among different segments of our population. We hope to continue creative ways to drive traffic to the page, spark conversations and build real live relationships among our congregants.

Rabbi Ed Bernstein is the rabbi of Temple Torah in Boyton Beach, Florida.  He also blogs on The Huffington Post.  This year Temple Torah 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.

Its not just about the money

As participants in the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy, we have faced many exciting challenges this year.  Getting our social media presence up and running was the first hurdle – daily posts, monitoring the likes, the reach, the insights overall – it has been a whole new world of lingo.

Once we had established some social media “cred”, we then ventured to the next madrega (level) – social media fundraising.  While initially we were most excited about the potential funds raised through the campaign, in hindsight we realize that we gained much more from the experience than the funds.  The obvious benefit was the prospect of raising important funds that could be matched an additional $10,000 from the AVI CHAI Foundation.  The side (and possible more useful?) benefit was watching as our school transformed into a community of PR ambassadors and fundraisers within a matter of hours.

Here’s how we did it:   

  1. Strategically craft a campaign – we spent a considerable amount of time deciding specifically what the campaign would support.  Once decided upon, the next step was to ensure that the administration “bought in” to the idea and would follow through on the expenditure of this money.  We made sure to select programs that would benefit the entire PreK-12 student body and would have broad appeal. Hence, our campaign was dubbed the “Music and Movement Challenge” supporting enhancements to the athletic and music co-curricular programming at RMBA.
  2. Create a fundraising campaign on Crowdrise.com – a social media fundraising website which allows individual campaign champions to set up their own pages and tell their stories to their personal social networks of why our school (and this program in particular) is a worthy cause.
  3. Tell the world – send out messages to the entire school community letting them know about the exciting matching opportunity and seeing who would rise up to be a champion of our campaign.
  4. Train the champions – in a Powerpoint presentation, we told the campaign champs how to create their own personalized crowdrise.com pages.
  5. Incentivize the champions – by announcing amazon.com gift cards to the champions who raised the most money, and who secured the largest number of individual donations, we created a more energized team.
  6. Watch the money roll in – within hours, our champions were talking up the campaign and bringing in gifts.

The rewards:

a.       $15,000 toward the enhancement of our music and athletic program.

b.       A dedicated group of champions who spent their time talking up the school and encouraging others to donate to our cause.

c.       Virality – champions were talking about our school to their cousins, employers, college roommates – anyone who might support them and their school.

We were overwhelmed with the positive response garnered by the campaign.  The utilization of our champion’s personal social networks created a fun, yet competitive, vibe which motivated all to push themselves for success. 

The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy

The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.