Guest post by Pam Barkley, Director of Education at Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown, NY
Did you know that people have a lot to say about where to buy challah?
When we began the year as Social Media Bootcamp participants, we had big ideas about building community online, creating an open forum for questions, and having meaningful conversations outside of the classroom.
As it turns out, parents weren’t particularly interested in our big ideas. As others have described here, people read our posts but did not often comment. They would look to see the student work I had posted, but not feel the need to continue that conversation on facebook. This left us feeling enormously frustrated and wondering what we were doing wrong. Were we not asking the right questions? Did parents just not care? Was this whole thing just a bad idea?
And then, following a post I read someplace about keeping things really simple, I posted the following: “Anyone know where to get a really good challah?”
Mind you, my children, through their school, bring home challah every Friday afternoon. I didn’t actually need a challah. But I wanted to see what would happen. And wouldn’t you know it? Turns out people have a lot of advice about challah buying! I got lots of comments and even an offer to pick one up for me and deliver it to my office.
After discussing this with the team, what we have discovered is that grown ups want to feel competent. They like to tell me where to buy a challah because it is something that they feel they really know about. They have tasted the challah and think it is good. But when we asked, “What is one Jewish thing you did this week?” They are silent because all of a sudden it’s like they are in 5th grade and Mrs. Shaw just called on them when they didn’t know the right answer. It goes something like this: “If I write that I visited a sick neighbor, is that enough? No that’s too stupid for me to write. Is that even a Jewish thing? It’s probably not Jewish enough. But I didn’t light candles on Friday or anything like that which is what they are looking for…oh forget it I won’t say anything.” And so, not only is the comment field blank, but we have actually made someone feel like what they are doing is somehow not enough.
Not exactly our goal.
This is not to say that people can’t be moved into deeper conversations eventually. But for the moment, when trying out the use of social media, it seems best to keep things reasonably light and simple. There can be no perceived judgment about what is the “right” or “wrong” kind of response. I think it is hard for those of us steeped in Jewish education to see that sometimes even the most innocent questions are in fact laden with judgment to the average reader. As we move forward with a brand new website, weekly blogs and the rest, it is important for us to remember that we have to build our online conversations around topics everyone feels comfortable discussing. We have to make people feel like they have something to add to the discussion and that their contributions online are valuable. This is not an easy task, but it is the first step towards those bigger goals we started with.
In the meantime, since it is summer now and my children are no longer in school, I have plenty of new places to get challah from!
Pam Barkley is the Director of Education at Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown, NY. This congregation participated in Darim’s Social Media Boot Camp for Educators over the past year, generously funded by the Covenant Foundation. You can find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tbatarrytown