Reclaiming My Social Media

As a rabbi and Jewish educational leader, I have used social media, including Facebook and Twitter, extensively. Sadly, in recent weeks there was an epidemic of the use of my social media in ways that I considered to be negative or insulting. We’re all had that happen:  someone posts an insult or an obscenity and we have to decide how to respond to the situation and to the individual.

Cleaning up my social media mess is becoming a bit like a mikvah immersion.  For a month, I am holding off my usual weekly routine of posting, and re-purifying and reclaiming my social media presence not only in reaction to a particular set of circumstances, but in a proactive way that will help me to lead that presence, both as an individual as well as professionally.

During the month, I’ve been renovating my Facebook and social media presence and creating, in effect, my own social media policy, so that my Facebook and Twitter presence reflects my values. The guidelines and day posts, which can be followed on my personal Facebook or on Twitter (@JewishConnectiv), with the hashtag #reclaimingmysocialmedia:

Social Media Cleanse

  1. Social media is social. Cleaning out people who watch but don’t share.
  2. There’s enough hatred in the world. Cleaning out people who consistently add more hatred, and deleting sarcastic comments.
  3. My social media is safe place for expression. Cleaning out anything or anyone who makes it unsafe.
  4. Done with narcissism. Cleaning out narcissists and limiting “selfies”.
  5. Respect. Fostering respect for one another on my social media.
  6. Humor. Adding humor and joy to my social media, and inviting others to do so.
  7. Music. Adding music that will make people smile or dance and inviting others to do so.
  8. Educating. Posting something that people will learn from. Making everyone a teacher and learner.
  9. Repairing the world. Adding something to social media that will make the world better.
  10. Adding passion. Inviting everyone to share their passions on my social media.
  11. Sharing something personal and inviting others to do so. Taking risks is part of social media.
  12. Setting limits. Prioritizing the 3 most important things to post daily, 5 comments I want to make to others and 10 things to “like” each day.
  13. Learning silence. Not every comment needs a response. Respecting people’s comments by letting them be.
  14. Exercising ownership. Nobody has an unlimited right to post or comment on my FB wall. Granting the privilege to those who are respectful and removing comments or people that aren’t.
  15. Reaching out to someone new. Adding a new contact regularly. You should try it, too.
  16. Looking backwards. Some past posts no longer reflect who I am today. Cleaning up and trashing what no longer fits.
  17. Stop using general posts when what I really need to do is to talk to one or two people about something. No sense in broadcasting what is really an issue that only involves a small number of folks.
  18. Posting something that doesn’t do anything for me but could really make a difference for someone else. Like a piece of wisdom or experience.
  19. Promoting someone else today. Maybe their business or career, or their value as a friend.
  20. Reducing use of my social media as free therapy for others. Being an online psychotherapist or relationship counselor does do them or me justice. Being a friend does.
  21. Letting go. I don’t watch to see who’s “unfriended” me. I figure anyone who does has a good reason and I respect that.
  22. I use Shabbat to turn off for a day. I encourage you to take a weekly social media fast.
  23. Setting a face-to-face or Skype or Hangout with someone I usually see only on social media. If the vast majority of your friendships are only on Facebook, it’s worth turning that around.
  24. Practicing humility. The insight I share on social media might be valuable. But considering the possibility that it isn’t.
  25. Stopping reading between the lines. A comment is a comment. If you think a comment needs exploration, ask. Most often, people say what they need to and that’s it.

Talmudic law speaks of our responsibility for any potential dangers that may lurk on property that belongs to us. Our online presence is no less our responsibility. I am neither the first nor the last to clean up his/her social media presence.  I have found inspiration in those who have practiced greater mindfulness in regulating their social media involvement. And I am honored to know that many of my Facebook friends and Twitter followers have found value in my campaign and have begun actions of their own to take greater charge of their social media activities.  In closing, I invite you to consider:

  • What actions do you take to protect your social media presence and to assure that it reflects you and your values?
  • How do you keep interactions (and the participants in those interactions) safe?
  • If you were writing your “ten commandments” for your social media presence, what would they be?

 

Rabbi Arnie Samlan is executive director of Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education in Miami, FL and founder of Jewish Connectivity, Inc.

2014 NTCjews

I have attended the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) three times, but this year's conference was my first time participating in NTCJews.  Jews have been gathering at NTC for the past several years. Since I have always been active in the Jewish community – from BBYO to Hillel to Jewish organizations in the DC area, I was excited to have the opportunity to learn about technology with other Jews at the conference.

This year's theme was technology integration, and we heard three mini-case studies from organizations working to get technology out of the IT and Marketing Departments, and in use in service of wider organizational goals.

Alex Kadis from Repair the World shared the strategy behind their volunteer management system.  After selecting and implementing the system, they were faced with issues including staff not making it a priority to enter the data and feature confusion. They learned through this experience the need to devote lots of time and energy to training.  Their key lesson was to make it fun.  They nicknamed the system "Spot" and called the trainings "Talk Nerdy To Me".  Crisp design and a clear message helped get their fellows on board and created the tools to onboard new fellows each year.

Karen Alpert from Hillel International shared how they needed a way to measure impact, analyze which programs work best, and to not lose data. Hillel developed
REACH , a tool for local staff to keep track of how many students they are engaging on college campuses, which also allows Hillel International a wide view of the field.  Even though the database has been successful in meeting their needs, they have been faced with challenges including user input and cultural shift.  Their key lesson was to be clear with staff about why they need to use it.  Younger staff especially will do it if they see it to be part of their job.  Hillel listened to user input and made adjustments such as simplifying the user interface and limiting fields that overwhelmed users visually.

Yaniv Rivlin from The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network shared their experience with Friday Night Hack, an event that was held this past July.  Programmers in both the Silicon Valley and Israel participated in a concurrent hack-a-thon to build two apps. One app was a Jewish college roommate finder for BBYO, and the other app was a continuation of a web application Hasadna started previously to promote the accessibility and transparency of budgetary data in Israel’s municipalities. 

Perhaps the most valuable part of the session was the chance for NTCjews to dive deeply into themes raised in the presentations and submitted by participants prior to the event, such as

• Planning for mobile
• Developing an agile and iterative culture
• Moving people from online to offline engagement
• Technology to engage volunteers
• Technology integration across the organization

I really enjoyed my first NTCJews session and it was one of my favorite sessions at the conference.  It was a great example of a session at NTC as the first two presentations showed a problem the organization had internally, how technology was used to help them solve the problem, and the challenges they faced.  Understanding how leaders recognize and address a problem is much more educational than learning only about best practices.

Finally, it was a delight to be with many of the same people for Shabbat dinner on Friday night and hearing the funny d'var from Rabbi Laura Baum comparing the lessons of Purim to nonprofit technology.  It's nice to be around other Jews.

Emily Weinberg is a nonprofit blogger. Her blog, The Nonprofit Blog Exchange, is a resource for nonprofits where she writes monthly roundups linking to nonprofit blog articles and has been recognized as one of the top 150 nonprofit blogs in the world.  She also writes about nonprofits and social media on her blog, Emily's World. You can learn more on her LinkedIn profile.

A Place for Us to Listen

JCDS started off the 2013-2014 academic year with what I would have considered a strong social media presence. While the school has been active on many social media channels for some time (Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn), most of my focus had been on Facebook, as it is a quick and easy way to share photos, videos, and important updates with our parents, grandparents, donors, and alumni.

Looking back, I wasn't thinking about social media in the right way. While I posted nearly every day, the most engagement I got was a couple of likes here and there. I was posting, not connecting.

Through experimentation over the last six months, I've learned that my role, as the voice of the school on Facebook, is not to be a news source, but to create an environment that starts conversation. Once I was able to get the conversation started, Facebook became a tool unlike any other. It became a place for me to listen to what our audience values, which in the end, is the most important thing of all.

By analyzing the engagement levels and analytics of our recent posts, here are the top 5 Facebook strategies that have been successful for JCDS:

1. Tag those who are involved, and those who you want to be involved.

When you tag someone in a post or photo, it will show up on their Facebook page. Not only will it directly call attention to the person you want to be involved, but your post will also be visible to their network, and therefore, reach many more people who you otherwise would not have access to! I’ve had success asking people to tag themselves and their friends. The benefit of this is twofold: they are actively engaging with the post, and they may tag people who we are not yet connected with.

2. Ask questions.

Asking specific, pointed questions is a great way to get the conversation rolling. Sure, I’ve had a few flops, but those helped me learn what our audience likes to talk about. I've seen success in action in many of my #ThrowbackThursday posts, where I've asked (via tagging) people in the photo specific questions about what's going on in the picture. One comment leads to the next, and pretty soon anyone who sees the photo gets a deeper understanding of what was happening when the photo was taken, and hopefully feels more connected to story I am trying to tell.

3. Be genuine.

In January, JCDS students were surprised with a visit from the 2013 World Series Trophy. First, I posted that we had big news with a photo of one of our staff members dressed as a Red Sox player. The next day, I posted a photo of excited kids (and tagged their parents) and shared that the trophy would be coming. Then — the most successful post of all — was a video of a 4th grade teacher telling the kids that the trophy was coming. Seeing their pure and genuine reaction definitely resonated with our social media audience: 38 likes, 19 comments, and the jackpot, 12 shares. The video was even written about in the local newspaper, the Watertown Patch. This kind of engagement was unprecedented for us.

4. Repeat successful themes.

Between the regular daily posts, I've committed to a few repeating themes. One universal theme, #ThrowbackThursday, has been a great way for us to connect with our alumni and alumni parents. I’ve gotten a tremendously positive response from our throwback photos. Because this is a weekly theme, the audience knows to expect it. And because there are usually a lot of comments, people are not shy to participate.

I also created a new theme, called #JCDSCharacter. I felt it was important to celebrate our students through short stories that capture the spirit of our school. Parents love to see that they are sending their kids to a school that helps them grow into mensches. It's also a great tool for prospective families. Every time a #JCDSCharacter post is shared, a whole new audience is exposed to the great things that happen in our school.

5. Engage with other organizations.

Celebrating successes of other schools and organizations is a beautiful thing! Just as much as we want people to engage with our school Facebook page, it's important to interact with others. While I am on Facebook, I make sure to take the time to look at what other organizations are posting. If they post something that relates to our school or community, I share it on our page. Fostering good-will between organizations is priceless, and the favor is almost always returned.

 

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 2013-14 nationwide cohort of 15schools 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

Also, check out the Jewish Day School Social Media and Video Academy website, which includes a free self-assessment to help your school focus on key areas of growth in your social media work.

Is Your Day School Ready To Take the Social Media Leap?

Originally posted on the AVI CHAI Foundation Blog

Enhancing your social media and video use can be hard and sometimes daunting work. But never fear: if you are curious about how to up your online presence across platforms, you can now access the collective resources and learnings from The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy and Jewish Day School Video Academy programs on a new website!

The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is a year-long intensive program now in its third cohort which helps schools mature their social media use to achieve specific goals, such as recruitment, alumni engagement, community building, and fundraising. The Jewish Day School Video Academy is a contest and program created to help schools use video to support their goals. Since the inception of these programs, we’ve seen some patterns emerge that lead us to two important lessons about advancing your school’s work.

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know. Often, schools will think they’re doing a fine job with their Facebook page when, in fact, they aren’t using it to the fullest to accomplish their goals. Consider this: you can be proud of yourself when you’ve just memorized your multiplication tables, but you have no idea that there’s more to learn in algebra, or how this new knowledge could actually be useful.
  2. It’s easy to stick to what you do know. Staff (and in some schools, volunteers) who are excited about social media and video often focus on activities that they know and love, doubling down on what they are already doing well while ignoring other areas that need maturation. Perhaps you’re really good at live tweeting events and photos in real time, but haven’t yet ventured into creating purposeful and high quality videos to market your school. Or you love telling stories, but haven’t been tracking metrics to understand: What tone of voice (for example: serious or funny?), time of day, or visual content gets the most engagement, or farthest reach?

After working with Academy participants to help them understand these two points, we wondered: How can we help you understand where you have room to grow and mature, and then help you take important next steps? How can we support you in trying new things, integrating digital tools into your communications and development work, and rounding out your social media skill set to advance your school’s mission and goals?

To help you and your school advance your work, this week we are launching the Jewish Day School Social Media and Video Academy website, which includes a powerful assessment tool that will help you identify what you’re doing well, where (and how) you can improve, and in which areas you should be investing your time and energy. After completing the assessment, you’ll receive personalized recommendations from the Academy designers and experts from Darim Online (an organization dedicated to advancing the Jewish community by helping Jewish organizations align their work for success in the digital age) and See3 Communications (a digital communications agency that works with nonprofits and social causes to engage and activate people) to help guide and inform your next steps.

The website also includes a wide array of resources: recorded webinars where you can learn to tell your story through video and develop strategies to engage alumni, helpful articles, award-winning videos made by day schools, and examples of best practices in social media.

We’ve designed this site for you to have ah-ha moments, to feel excited and inspired, and to think, “Oh yeah, I should do that!”  We also hope the recommendations it provides will be great guidelines for your team and administration to prioritize which approaches to pursue, what professional development is most necessary, and where to focus your social media investments.

Want to connect with other Jewish day schools using social media in creative ways? You can also join the JDS Social Media Academy Facebook Group!

Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About

Originally published in EJewishPhilanthropy

During Open House season, schools are looking for ways to stand out among the crowd of institutions trying to reach prospective parents. Talking about a school’s “warm and nurturing community” and the “academic excellence” is only going to get the school so far.

So what else can schools do to rise above all the noise?

When we are faced with many choices, we often rely on word of mouth from friends in our social networks to help make our decisions. So it was clear to us at The Jewish Education Project that in order to promote the school in a unique way, we need to have the parents involved and we need to get the parents talking.

As Bonnie Raitt writes and sings, “Let’s give ‘em somethin’ to talk about.” Or in the 21st century version of this, let’s give parents something to Facebook about.

Parents who are part of the Parent to Parent (P2P) network have been learning about the power of social media to share their stories about Jewish day school education, and adding their voices through local parenting blogs and the Parent to Parent site. The challenge has been to keep them talking, especially during peak periods, such as open house season. Here’s where the campaign approach comes in.

The P2P campaign model organizes parents for a specific time period to talk about a value, an idea, an event – any focus point unique to the school that will help prospective parents get a better idea of what that school, and the community it fosters, is all about.

A very creative campaign can promote the school, without necessarily talking about academic excellence or the nurturing environment. Take for example a marketing campaign for Mercy Academy, an all-girls’ Catholic school in Louisville, Kentucky. In an article about the campaign, the writer explains “The campaign, created by Doe-Anderson, a Louisville-based advertising agency, is meant to reflect one of the school’s core goals: to help its students become independent, productive women in the real world.” And as you can see in the ad, they didn’t need to show science labs or innovative technology to get the message across.

Jewish day school education is first and foremost about imparting positive values to our children. You know it when you experience a Jewish day school education. We need to give parents a framework to convey those values with their friends.

A P2P Campaign in Action: Mazel Day School

The highly engaged and motivated parents of Mazel Day School (MDS) of Brooklyn were the brave pioneers who first experimented with this approach. When I asked the parents what they love about the school, most of them had a real, emotional reaction to the question and talked about the school’s successful approach to imparting positive values. They are extremely proud to see their children grown into mensches.

It was no surprise that they suggested a Photo Mitzvah Campaign promoting the value of the children doing good deeds by inviting parents in Brooklyn to submit pictures of their child doing a mitzvah or good deed. The Mazel parents wanted to reach parents from Jewish early childhood centers in the area, so they partnered with several of them on the campaign. The submitted photos were shared on Mazel Day School Facebook page. The photo with the most “Likes” on Facebook won a $400 Amazon Gift Card.

Mazel Day School parents gave out fliers in the early childhood centers, emailed their friends, sent Facebook messages and talked to other families. The parents now had something to talk about.

The campaign ran for five weeks and opened new doors for the school to reach prospective parents. For the first time, Mazel Day School officially partnered with early childhood centers in the area: KingsBay Y, JCH of Bensonhurst, and Shorefront Y. These new relationships can now be leveraged for other partnership opportunities and for reaching prospective parents. The campaign increased exposure of the school to the broader community. Mazel Day School Parents overheard parents who were not part of the school talking about the contest. The Mazel Facebook page experienced a significant boost during the competition period, including 50 news likes on the Facebook page. The last time they had so much traffic was when their school was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy; now the attention was due to a positive story that truly highlighted the school and the community. In their reflection about the implementation of the campaign, the Mazel parents wanted to organize a larger group of parents to lead and implement the campaign to reach an even larger audience of prospective parents.

At their upcoming open house, the school will ask prospective parents how they found out about the school. At this time, the Mazel parents will be able to evaluate more specifically the reach of their campaign and where they need to focus their future outreach efforts.

Action Steps: Running a P2P Campaign in Your School’s Community

Consider experimenting with this campaign approach to promote your school. Here’s how you can get started:

  • Invite a minimum of three parents in your school to run a campaign.
  • The parents should identify a value, event, or other unique aspect of the school that excites them and would be appealing prospective parents. If it doesn’t galvanize your current parent body, don’t do it, because they won’t be talking about it with their friends.
  • Identify your target audience; be very specific on who you want to reach with the campaign. Mazel parents aimed specifically for parents of children in local early childhood programs, for instance.
  • Get talking! Play around with different social media tools to spread the word about the campaign. Empower parents with the tools they need to keep the conversation rolling.
  • Most importantly, make it fun! Turn it into a competition, make it into a game. Let the parents get really creative and make it their own.

Best-selling author Seth Godin writes: “Stories are the way we navigate our world, our chance to make sense of who we are and what we do.[…] Nonprofits make change, and the way they do this is by letting us tell ourselves stories that nurture our best selves.” Creating a buzz and chatter around your school requires giving parents a great story to talk about. Day school parents are part of a movement committed to giving their children the greatest Jewish education possible. Let’s build that movement; let’s help parents get their stories out.

What will your community share?

Parent to Parent is an initiative of The Jewish Education Project and is made possible by a grant from UJA-Federation of NY. Learn more about Parent to Parent on our website, blog, Facebook and follow us on Twitter. If you are a New York area day school and would like to get staff assistance to implement this project, contact Irene Lehrer Sandalow, Project Manager in the Day School Department of The Jewish Education Project at isandalow@jewishedproject.org.

3 Rules for Buying New Technology

Originally published on Sage70.com

Whether you’re just switching over from Constant Contact to Mailchimp, or taking the plunge and implementing a custom Salesforce solution, change is hard. For all the promised benefits of new technology, the success rate for adopting new tools is low, and that’s frightening.

What can leaders do to help staff adopt new technologies successfully?

Technology change isn’t easy. Workers need to adopt a new workflow, re-learn how to perform familiar tasks, sometimes on new equipment that they’re not familiar with. To help ease the transition, here are three rules for IT change management.

 

3 Rules for Users and Technology Change

  • New tools must be generous to the user. If users need to put information into the system, then they must be rewarded with useful and relevant information out of the system right away. If users need to interact with the system frequently, it should be user-friendly and accessible from within the user’s normal workflow.
  • Systems that are used prospectively are adopted more easily than systems that are used retrospectively. In other words, tools that ask people to report on their work are less attractive and relevant to users than tools that make their work easier to do.
  • Everyone who uses the new tool has the right to give feedback and receive training. If you need a lot of people to stop using one system and begin using another, getting their feedback about the move, providing training, and then getting feedback again is critical. It helps buy more people into the process, allays some fears, and can help identify unexpected problems or issues. Remember, some users will need training for even the most intuitive tools.

Technology change is really about people. New tools should help them do their job by providing new data and insights, simpler workflows, and more time leverage. If you’re considering a technology “upgrade” that doesn’t provide that to your organization, you may be headed down the wrong path. Listen to your employees, provide training up front, and let users experience the benefits of the new tool as soon as possible.

Isaac is the president and founder of Sage70, Inc. Isaac brings over a decade of experience in the non-profit and for-profit venture ecosystems. Isaac has served as Executive Director of Storahtelling, COO of Birthright Israel NEXT and is an experienced technologist and strategist.

Monday Web Favorites: A JewPoint0 2013 Retrospective

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.

Network Weaving is Like Starting a Band

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.

Just Do It-Getting Over the Integration Hurtle

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