Design Thinking for Tech-Curious Educators

 

To say we do things differently in Portland (Oregon) is a given.  Unlike many of the groups participating in Darim's Social Media Boot Camp, Portland Jewish Academy's small but mighty team was made up primarily of teachers. It was therefore not surprising that with our individual classroom needs in mind, we looked for ways that this concept of social media could be used to educate ourselves, our students, or both.

Our journey began in October when we were charged with thinking about the kind of project that would be beneficial for our faculty and the children we teach.  PJA is a community day school with a Preschool, Lower School, and Middle School.  We have General Studies and Jewish Studies teachers all with differing levels of interest in and comfort with technology.  How could we identify a project that would have meaning for all of us?  Given that our team included a Lower School General Studies teacher, a Middle School General Studies Teacher, a Middle School Jewish Studies (Hebrew) teacher, our Principal, and our Technology Specialist, we believed it made the most sense for us to focus on the needs and desires of our Kindergarten through 8th Grade program while being sure to address the General and Jewish Studies dual curriculum and the various readiness levels of our staff.

ideate2.jpgIn keeping with our team's wish to develop a student-centered approach, our initial essential question centered on how we could leverage social media to enhance student learning and engagement across the curriculum.  Recognizing that our faculty has just finished our first year of our new technology integration plan and was ripe for additional opportunities for learning, we tweaked our inquiry slightly by asking, "How can professional development support teachers in their integration of social media in classroom instruction?" 

We were delighted to be matched with Boot Camp Coach, Andrea Hernandez, Director of Teaching and Learning at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School in Jacksonville, Florida.  Andrea's school had been successfully using a "Ning" for faculty idea-sharing as well as a blog entitled "21st Century Learning."  Seeing these forms of social media being used so effectively as a sharing tool, we considered reframing our question once again.  This time we wondered, "How can we use social media to promote sharing and professional development among our teachers?"

"Design Thinking for Educators" became our model for creating a project based on our essential question.  Being at its core a method that emphasizes collaboration, optimism, and experimentation, it seemed like the perfect construct for moving our work forward.

Design Thinking begins with a period of DISCOVERY, so with this idea in mind we decided to develop a survey to determine what our teachers want and need when it comes to integrating technology.  In our informal conversations with our colleagues about our project, we found that the term "social media" was limiting and sometimes confusing.  Thus, our team began to view "social media" as any collaborative, new media tool that supports learning in the digital age.

Teachers were asked to comment on prior professional development experiences as well as their current use of equipment, ease of use, impact on student learning, and technical support and training.  Ultimately, 25 faculty members responded to our January 2013 survey. 

As part of the INTERPRETATION phase of the Design Thinking for Educators model, we found it most surprising that teachers were less interested in using social media for idea sharing (as we had proposed) but rather wanted to learn about student resources.  Our teachers are looking for "how-to" workshops featuring the use of various Web 2.0 tools for learning and the opportunity to share successful digital age teaching practices "face-to-face."  They are interested in a wide range of topics and are generally open-minded about trying new things.  Not surprisingly, the teachers see time constraints as the number one challenge for participating in this kind of professional development but are willing to do some learning online outside of the regular school day.  To paraphrase Field of Dreams, it is clear that if we build a professional development program that focuses on real classroom applications, they will come.

ideate1_0.jpgIn April, we honed our essential question once again.  This time we asked, "How might we support teachers in professional development on our journey towards digital age teachers and learners."  We then participated in the next phase of the process: IDEATION.  Using brainstorming rules outlined by Design Thinking for Educators, our Darim Team began to generate a list of ways to go forward with our professional development initiative.  We then took this brainstorming process to our Lower School and Middle School faculty knowing that their collective wisdom would help guide our next stage: EXPERIMENTATION.

Within weeks of beginning our Social Media Boot Camp work, our team ultimately did away with the conventional understanding of what social media means to most.  We were no longer talking about Facebook or Twitter, Blogs or Wiki Pages, but rather we were widening our lens to include all the potential that learning in the digital age represents.  Our project evolved into something quite different from the other participating schools but one that is just right for the needs of Portland Jewish Academy.  As we look ahead, we hope to create the kind of training that our faculty desires to make learning in the digital age relevant, engaging, and meaningful to teachers and students alike!

Elana Cohn-Rozansky is a member of the Portland Jewish Academy team that 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.

 

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.

 

Using social media to enhance student learning

Q: What do you get when you cross a former social media nerd turned marketing guy with a couple of tech-savvy teachers and instructional technology coaches, plus an expert at integrating social media technologies into Jewish education?

A: A toolkit of social media case studies highlighting how teachers can use common social media and Web 2.0 tools and technologies to facilitate student interaction, collaboration and learning.

At Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, a community Jewish day school in the city of Chicago, we came into the school year with a healthy knowledge of what social technology tools were out there and a thought that we'd like to identify a few of those tools for widespread teacher and student use. Thanks to our participation in Darim Online's Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, we're heading out of the school year with some key technologies identified and faculty members who have designed learning experiences around those technologies that are scalable across the organization. In fact, after some in-house professional development, we already have teachers trying new things that have worked in other teachers' classrooms.

Specifically, we've recognized the power of simple platforms including Twitter, Skype and YouTube to both facilitate interaction within our school community (among students and teachers, for example) and to facilitate interaction with students, classrooms and experts in other states and countries.

A handful of case studies highlight how our faculty members have used these technologies to drive cross-cultural communication, collaboration and learning. If you've never heard of or conducted a Twitterview, or an author-Skype session or mystery-Skype session, or if you've never Explained Everything via a Youtube "flipped classroom" video, we can help…

These things don't just sound fun—they are fun, and, per the title of this blog post, they enhance student learning. Once teachers see what these tools can do and hear from colleagues about the excitement created around learning by incorporating these technologies, we're pretty sure they won't hesitate to try their hands with social media. Here at BZAEDS, after hearing from another faculty member at a professional development session about an eighth grade / author Skype session, one of our third-grade teachers set up an author Skype for her students, much to their excitement and enjoyment.

So if you'd like to hear more about our success with a social media toolkit of case studies, or read more about any individual case study and see photos or videos that accompany these, please don't hesitate to reach out to that former social media nerd (if you check my Twitter timeline you'll see how rarely I use it anymore–even Facebook is no longer a regular thing)—he's here to help!

Derek Gale is the Director of Communications at Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School in Chicago.  They 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.

 

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 [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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Becoming the Leader of a Networked Nonprofit: The Jewish Enrichment Center

Right before Thanksgiving, Caren Levine (Darim’s Learning Network lady extraordinaire) suggested that I write a blog post about how we think about out work at the Jewish Enrichment Center as a networked nonprofit. We are not a networked nonprofit, I thought. At least not yet. But now, months later, I can see that we’ve come a long way.

Early in our planning, a few of us read The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change, by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine. I was inspired by the book’s vision of a nonprofit that’s connected with its volunteers, transparent in its business, and nimble – able to shift internally, quickly, to meet emerging needs. “Do what you do best, and network the rest,” Kanter and Fine told me. As a startup with limited resources, it sounded heavenly to have a community of volunteers sharing the workload. I was hooked.

But I'm not naturally a network person. I'm the kind of person who reclassifies emails as unread, pretending I’ll answer them someday. At the time I read the book, I had never written a blog post, was never chosen by my family to take pictures (who wants a blurry, back-lit photo?), and couldn’t imagine why facebook was a good use of my time.

But Kanter and Fine had held out this tantalizing vision of what the Jewish Enrichment Center could be, and I was certain we COULD realize it in our community, if only I’d learn some new skills – online and off. So I applied for help through Darim’s Boot Camp. How would my much younger sister-in-law put it? Oh, yeah. Best. Decision. Ever.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far about being a networked nonprofit:

  • Listen. The most important thing I can do is go out and listen, online and on the ground. I’ll find out what people in my community care about. I’ll discover where parents are already online talking with each other, and I can join in the conversation.
  • Permanent beta. It’s a gigantic (and rewarding!) task to create an innovative new model of Jewish enrichment. Our mindset has to be permanent beta: what matters is that we stay true to our vision of partnering with children in Jewish exploration. The logistics of it all – they’re fluid. So we experiment, trying new ways to partner and new online tools to build relationships around Jewish engagement. We embed regular reflection into all aspects of our work. And when something doesn’t work, well, it’s frustrating, but also okay, because we knew from the start that not everything would sparkle. We move forward.
  • Be transparent. Speak authentically. As nervous as I was about opening up our work to the public, creating a blog that details our day-to-day partnership with children may have been the single most important step we took in connecting with our community. Those pictures of children really DO tell a thousand words. Parents, grandparents, folks local and national – all can get a true taste of what it’s like to be part of the Jewish Enrichment Center.
  • Listen harder. Because our deepest human desire is to be seen, to be known for who we are. I want every child, every parent, every person who interacts with the Jewish Enrichment Center to know that their contribution matters.

The response has been extraordinary. It seems that the more we share and the harder we listen, online and in person, the closer people grow to the Jewish Enrichment Center and to each other. When I share our needs or struggles (now THAT took some getting used to), people offer their help. Or at least their empathy, which I appreciate, too. We seem to be developing a communal sense that we’re all in this together. Our success is shared success.

We still have a long way to go. I want to do a better job facilitating relationships around Jewish engagement, and I don’t yet understand how to use our Facebook page and tweets to keep in-person conversations going. I also want us to be braver, making even more parts of our organization transparent. For example, I love this dashboard at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and wonder how we might make our own finances and stats more transparent (and generate a little more financial love in the process).

What have you learned on the path to becoming a networked nonprofit?

Rabbi Rebecca Milder is the Director of The Jewish Enrichment Center, and was a participant in the Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, which is generously funded by The Covenant Foundation.  She tweets at @remilder

Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation: Adventures in Social Media and Community Building

 

As my children were beginning to leave home, we read a poem by Sheri Linder at our seder each year. In it, Linder describes each generation as leaving its own Egypt, which was, in fact, the parents’ Promised Land. Near the end, the author paints this picture of watching at the Sea of Reeds:

We will watch you for a long, long time, as you cross to the other side.
We will be more wise than Pharaoh: we will know that where you go we cannot follow.

Being an education director in a progressive synagogue is not unlike being a parent. We give children and families a strong foundation and the tools we think they’ll need, and trust that they will build lives we cannot even imagine but anchored by enduring values.

This analogy proved to be true with our social media project this year: we recognized a need, provided support and tools, and watched as our families took ownership and adapted the program over the course of the year.

The Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation proposal to Darim was to create a chavurah of religious school families who would gather monthly to experience a variety of aspects of Shabbat, from a Friday evening Kabbalat Shabbat to a Saturday evening havdalah service. A social media component would enhance the monthly in-person gatherings by allowing for ongoing conversation and idea-sharing between Shabbatot. This idea originated out of a year-long school study group in which we identified the need to educate parents in Judaism – in particular, Reconstructionist Judaism – and to nurture relationships between families so parents would model for their children their own engagement in the community.

It came as a surprise to us that few turned to social media to enrich or supplement their personal connections with each other. Rather, chavurah families invited one another to shabbat dinners and gathered in the lobby during religious school classes and choir rehearsals. People seemed more ready to make time to be with each other than to connect via technology.

We learned that people read the announcements on the Facebook page but rarely commented or posted. This even applied to members who update their own Facebook page regularly and frequently. Facebook is being used to post dates for upcoming events, coordinating such things as meals or children’s activities, and to send out reminders. After each event there are one or two parents who post a sort of shout-out to the group, usually to say thank-you. Our project leadership team was not successful in our attempts to remind participants that the congregation was looking to them as a test group to explore social media applications within the congregation. I do want to say, though, that Ellen Dietrick, our Darim coach, was a great resource to us, with a knowledgeable grasp of our concept and terrific suggestions.

Chavurah participants quickly developed ownership of the group and new leadership arose. The chavurah took control of programming content and scheduling. Beyond the original scope of our proposal, a majority of chavurah families attended JRC’s Memorial Day weekend kallah, and continue to meet to plan future events and outreach.

We were disappointed that we failed to actualize our vision of chavurah blogs, online discussions and links to relevant articles. However, although the method was not what we envisioned, we were successful in our goal of creating a tightly-knit, committed community of school families that is more Jewishly knowledgeable and has the motivation and the tools to function independent of the school.
 
Based on what we observed in the chavurah and what the participants reported, JRC is going to launch a Meetup.com account so congregants can post suggestions for getting together at venues outside the synagogue. Meetup.com offers enough flexibility as to be useful to all demographics. Someone might suggest an activity that is size-limited or age-limited, such as a block of tickets to a children’s theatre; or it can be open-ended, such as a general invitation to any JRC members who want to congregate at a free concert in the park. We do not know yet if Meetup.com is the right platform, but we are optimistic that we are on the right track, balancing leadership and responsiveness.

Terri Ginsberg Bernsohn has been Director of JRC’s Religious School since June 2003, and a member of JRC since 1992.

This post is part of our special summer series highlighting stories shared by our 2011-12 Social Media Boot Camp for Educators Cohort. The SMBC for Educators is made possible through a generous grant from the Covenant Foundation.