What are you thankful for this week? I'm thankful for this catchy Facebook post from Shannon Hall and her team at the Sarah & Irving Pitt Child Development Center of JCC Metro Detroit. With the discovery that the most popular posts on their page were the photo collages, and knowing that the children would be focused on giving thanks in celebration of the upcoming Thanksgiving (and Chanukah!) holidays, the team developed this creative idea. Using smart phones, the team snapped a few photos of children, noted what they were thankful for, and added the speech bubbles using the free PicSay app for Android phones. For iPhone users, the free app Bubble works great, too.

Then, in order to attract more attention then they would have by posting the photos individually, they collaged three responses into one photo using PicsArt, another free app for Android, iPhone users, check out the free and easy to use PicStitch. The result was a playful, eye catching photo.

They combined with photo with an invitation to a week long game. Comment on the post and they'd ask your child next. And comment they did! Parents responded with curiosity about what their own child might say, and also added their own grateful comments. The result is a community expression of gratitude, perfect for the week before Thanksgiving.

What was the strategy behind the team's thinking? As part of their work in this year's Jewish Early Childhood Social Media Academy organized by the Alliance for Jewish Education at the Jewish Federation of Detroit, the team wanted to celebrate the children and families within their preschool program in order get the word out to the larger community about their offerings. Their strategy is to encourage their current actively involved on Facebook parents to inspire others to join the fun. Focusing on organic, fun, and engaging posts, their Facebook page has been a model of successful early childhood engagement.

In addition to achieving this immediate goal, creating social content that gets people to comment increases your "weight" in the Facebook algorithm.  Your content is therefore more likely to show up in the newsfeeds of others who have liked the page, which leads to more engagement, which sets a very positive snowball in motion.

How are you stewarding a culture of thankfulness and engagement on your Facebook Page?

Social Listening: A Rap Star Exercise

Cross-posted with permission from

The social media revolution was – is – all about talking. It’s about putting your ideas out into the world to see how they connect and collide with others’.

But if the social media revolution is about talking, the social media revelation is about listening. (See what I did there? Eh, eh?)

Social listening is a hugely important piece of successful online engagement because it has everything to do with understanding our audience(s), developing a sense of empathy, and speaking to our customers in a language they can relate to. Unfortunately, though, it’s also the step that’s easiest to ignore. Why is that?

I think we ignore it because it’s genuinely hard, and it’s often overwhelming. It’s easy to get lost. For what should we be listening? To whom should we be listening? On which channels?

These are difficult questions that deserve thoughtful answers. Yet, to butcher an Oscar Wilde quote, social listening is too important to be taken seriously. So let’s have a little fun with it, shall we?

Interactive Social Listening Exercise

The following is an exercise to get you and your team excited about social listening, and ready to think about it strategically. It might also make your colleagues blush (win-win!).

Step 1: Listen
Gather your team. Anyone involved in social media, communications, marketing, etc. Play them this song: "Overnight Celebrity" by Twista. Resist the urge to giggle as your colleagues squirm and contort their faces out of confusion.

Step 2: Analyze
Explain to them that they’ve just heard “Overnight Celebrity,” a song by one of the fastest rappers on the planet, Twista. Ask: what did you hear? What was the song about?

Step 3: Organize for listening
Break the group up into three sections and ask them to listen for the following things:

  • Group 1: listen for every time Twista says the word “girl”
  • Group 2: listen for names of brands and other celebrities
  • Group 3: listen for items you may find in a home

Step 4: Listen again
Play the song again (yes, again), asking each group to write as they listen.

Step 5: Analyze
When the song is over, refer to the lyrics of the song, posted here. Which group did the best? Which got the most results, which got the most accurate results, and which got the most interesting ones?

Step 6: Reflect
How did it go? How did people feel about this exercise? How did this new framing change the way everyone understood the song?

Step 7: Take the conversation to the next level
How does this experience compare with listening on social media? Well, Twista, as mentioned above, was once known for being the “fastest rapper” – so it’s hard to just hear the song and try to get the big idea. But when we focus our listening, we can “hear” better. The same is true for social listening.

Step 8: Consider this question
How do we focus our listening?

Note that answering this question has a lot to do with why we’re listening in the first place.

There are lots of reasons to “listen” online. A few are:

  • Brand management: understanding how, when, and why people talk about us
  • Community engagement: understanding our people and what they care about
  • Content curation: finding good “stuff” to then contextualize and share

Ask: why are we listening? Which reason takes priority? What comes second? How do those reasons tie into our greater goals and strategies?

From here, take the conversation home. Think about what you need to listen for, and why. And don’t take yourselves too seriously. Let the playfulness of the activity spill over into this discussion; know you can – and should – adjust how you listen.

Folks have a lot to say on social media and it’s up to us to listen. Let’s learn to listen well…and not get lost in the lyrics.

Are you using social media to listen? If so, how? What have you heard, what have you learned, and how has that effected your work?

When Failure Isn’t Failure

Too often we get hung up on THE NEXT GREAT IDEA that will save or transform the Jewish community.  Following stark headlines birthed by the recent Pew study, I suspect the urgency around this may even grow.  Yawn.

I'm more interested in looking at the world and our challenges opportunities through new lenses.  Sometimes a tweak here and there is a great approach for improving your work. Sometimes we need to think bigger. But as the scale of the idea (and the investment required to make it come to life) increases, the risk of possible failure increases as well.  Our fear of failure therefore often acts as the glass ceiling of our biggest ideas and freshest thinking.

Those making really profound progress in our rapidly evolving world aren't afraid of failure.  As detailed in The Lean StartUp, it's not always about the A landslide victory of your idea, it's about developing it in a smart and nimble way. It's about seeing the small failures and improving upon them.  Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy started by making videos for his family, and realizing the value, scale the idea to help others.  Rarely are great, big ideas great or big right out of the box.

At The Nonprofit Technology Conference a year ago, Beth Kanter led a panel discussion called "Placing Little Bets" (based on the book, Little Bets), where the discussion turned to failure.  Fascinating.  Of course your little bets (experiments) can't grow into big discoveries unless you fail.  Like in a science lab, you learn as much (maybe more) by the experiments that don't turn out as you hypothesized.  My take away:  the tech/innovation field understands this, and encourages, rewards, and invests in this cycle.   They think big (but start small), know how to let go of the mediocre ideas, and how to identify failure, learn from it, and improve upon it. 

In the Jewish community, I am afraid we're too afraid to fail. In fact, we're so afraid of our own failure (writ large — declining numbers, declining engagement, struggling institutions) that we embody that fear of failure in everything we do.  Sure, there are people placing bets, people with fresh ideas, and a whole 'innovation' sector.  But I'm speaking to the collective ethos of organized Jewish life. We need to think (and feel) differently about failure.

The Jewish Education Project, in partnership with Upstart and UJA Federation of New York, is hosting a FAIL FORWARD CONFERENCE in November, with  Ashley Good, the CEO of Fail Forward.  I'm thrilled to see this issue rising to the surface of our communal conversation.  We need to be talking about this, sharing our 'failures', collaborating to decide where and how to invest in the places where we can improve on that failure, and how we can learn from it.

But here's what I think it really boils down to:  We have many connotations with the word FAILURE that we need to let go of.  Or maybe we need to fine an alternate word (suggestions welcome in the comments).

  • For Jews, failure signifies the END of something.  That's a concept all too real, and very traumatizing to leaders of the Jewish community.  So let's get this straight: Failing forward isn't about extinction of an idea (or a whole people). It's about refining and strengthening that idea so it will flourish.
  • Failure often carries connotations of blame — of negligence, or stupidity, or defeat.  And of course we (personally or organizationally) don't want to be associated with that.  We need to write over those connotations with positive associations.  What will those be?

How do you think about failure?  How do you talk about it in your work (or why do you struggle to talk about it)?  Do you or your organization have practices that help embrace, celebrate and learn from 'failure'?  Where have you failed and learn from it? What new associations can we add to the word "failure" to help us embrace failing forward for all of its goodness and potential benefit to our community?

I'm giving away two great books from people who have looked at this idea, or challenged it in profound ways.  Share your experience of and ideas about failure and enter to win with The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner, or The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan.  (Make sure to note which book you prefer, and follow the comments so you'll know if you won.)

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.


Jewish Day School Social Media Academy 2013-14

For the past two years, Darim Online has produced the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy to help schools advance their work in the connected age.  Through the Academy, schools learn about new tools and strategies for fund development, recruitment and alumni engagement in the social media age, and then put their new skills to work, and mature their internal operations.   Schools that have been accepted into the 2013-14 Academy participate in an intensive year of training, coaching and project-based learning, and are encouraged to share their learning and accomplishments with the field.   

“We have changed so significantly how we do everything. We communicate so much more effectively. For us it’s been an incredibly dramatic improvement.  I would do this Academy again in a heartbeat.” –- Denver Academy of Torah, 2012-13 cohort

“Our coach acted as mentor, cheerleader, consultant, expert and supporter.  It was invaluable.  It made all the difference.”   — San Diego Jewish Academy, 2012-13 cohort

Other schools and day school representatives are welcome to learn along with us.  We have a webinar series that is open to all, and we invite you to join and participate in the discussion in our Facebook group:

Interested in joining our webinar series?  Sign up below!






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.



Getting Over the Content Hurdle

In the winter of 2011 Carmel Academy underwent a name change, as well as a rigorous and successful accreditation process. The name change, in particular, was a unique experience – one that required a great deal of forethought, leadership, careful planning and implementation. With a new branding campaign, a stellar accreditation report and the excitement that electrified our school community, we embraced this as an opportunity to also become part of the social media landscape. Coinciding with our new name and look, Carmel launched four social media platforms: a newly redesigned and robust website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a blog.

Carmel’s initial success with these platforms – particularly with Facebook and our website– was mostly attributed to the newness of our brand and the excitement that went along with it.  It soon became apparent that launching the platforms was the easy part. Keeping them updated, meaningful and relevant to our followers, as well as growing our social media audience, was the bigger challenge. With some experience under our belts — that included experimenting with Facebook and Twitter content —  our administrative leadership took on a more strategic focus of providing the type of content that would push our introduction to social media to the next level.

A key challenge – like many schools — was resources. Photos, videos, content takes manpower. Our small communications office quickly realized it needed to tap our outlying resources. Our best source of culling engaging content was from the “people in the trenches” – our creative and hard-working faculty. We began by first asking our faculty to help provide us with the details of classroom activities, unique integrated learning experiences and special events that shape our students’ experiences throughout the year. Very quickly, we no longer needed to seek out information, but our faculty was readily providing it. We also identified several faculty members who enjoyed photography, and tapped them to help photograph events.

We started with our website and the transformation of our web-based newsletter. In September we re-launched our school newsletter with a new name (Kol Carmel), look and content. Our goal was to provide our families with engaging articles, features, photos and video across all grades and subjects. We very quickly saw our readership increase from less than 20 percent a week to over 50 percent each week.

Taking on this major undertaking required a great deal of organization, as well a time commitment. Monthly and weekly editorial calendars are necessary to plan each weekly edition. With the help of staff photographers and details for articles coming in from our faculty, we soon had plenty of content to choose from.  This also gave us the opportunity to share content across platforms. Features and photos for Kol Carmel could easily be re-written as Facebook posts, placed as news on our website homepage, and turned into a tweet. Not all content is shared across the board. We do create content solely for Facebook, Twitter and the website. However, a majority of our content is shared and recycled – making it much easier to post meaningfully and consistently across platforms.

Jumping over the content hurdle has been encouraging for our social media growth. We have seen increased engagement from current families and alumni, a greater following, a marked increase in community interaction on our Facebook page, and a terrific buy-in from our faculty.

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.



Designing for Social: Nefesh bNefesh New Contests

Marketing is one thing.  Designing intentionally for social engagement is another thing all together.   This is a story of a very fun creative process that has resulting in two contests announced this week.

Nefesh b’Nefesh (the Israel org that promotes and facilitates aliyah by minimizing the financial, professional, logistical, and social obstacles to doing so) approached us eager to “amplify the conversation about aliyah in the American Jewish community”.   While they have helped bring tens of thousands of new immigrants to Israel, discussion of aliyah isn’t really normalized in the American Jewish community. So, what can social media to do help?

The key to social media is the social more than the media.  The challenge was to create content that wasn’t talking AT people, but talking WITH people.  And further content that people in those conversations would want to share with their friends and family, leveraging networks to spread the word. That’s designing for social.

First, we identified key target audiences who are ripe for considering aliyah and are also highly engaged in social media.  While many who are retiring may consider moving to Israel, they are not the target “highly social online” demographic we sought.  The two we landed on: Those getting married and starting to shape a new life together; and those seeking exciting employment in a tough economy.

Next, how to get those groups talking about aliyah?  We helped Nefesh b’Nefesh design two contents: The Best Job Contest and The Wedding Gift Challenge.   In the Best Job Contest winners will be awarded paid jobs with top rate companies based in Israel such as SodaStream, IBM, and The Times of Israel, among others.  In the Wedding Gift Challenge, winners will prize money to help start their life in Israel, and/or IKEA shopping sprees and vineyard tours. 

In the contests, participants are evaluated based on votes on their contest page, and in the Job Contest, also on creating online content (blogs, video, tweets, etc.) about their process of deciding and planning to make aliyah.  By incentivizing those considering aliyah to make their thinking and planning transparent, the participants themselves are amplifying the conversation about aliyah in their social networks.  Which, we assume, largely also fall into the target demographic we seek to reach.

Every organization has a mission, but that doesn’t mean the staff alone are responsible for bringing that mission to life.  If your goal is wide communal action, change of perception, or something as bold as amplifying a conversation about aliyah through the American Jewish community, you can’t rely on direct messaging alone, whether that’s by mail, email, Facebook page or otherwise.   It’s time to engage your constituents as your ambassadors and evangelists.  How are you doing it?

Know someone considering aliyah?  There’s loot to be won!  Check out the Best Wedding Gift and Best Job Contest and spread the word!

Surprisingly Easy to Quit My Synagogue

This blog is crossed posted from Living Lomed.

I belonged to a synagogue for twenty years. This year we made the decision not to rejoin. The reason? I was feeling less connected to a place that was putting control over choice. Concretely: Leadership would not permit the Shabbat morning prayer class I had attended for the past eight years to continue on a weekly basis. We could hold the class twice a month, but not every week.

Leadership's reason? "The main arena of the synagogue is the sanctuary. When other things are happening that takes attention away from that (even though the class was happening prior to services starting) it is a problem.” Like the Cantor said, "I went to a basketball game and everyone was talking or buying food. They weren't watching the game. That is what it is like here on Shabbat. Instead of people focusing on the main event they are distracted."

We did the process thing. I personally met with the rabbi. I explained why the weekly rhythm of coming together in prayer, Torah study, and story sharing was so important. I tried to convey that the ritualization of every week mattered in my life. I also said that as a member of the congregation I had a responsibility to give back. If there were additional ways I could volunteer, mentor or teach to contribute, I would do that but hoped we could continue our class.

Additionally, the twenty some people who attended the weekly class at 9 am met with the rabbi. They told their stories about how the Jewish teaching and sharing deeply impacted their lives. Men and women cried equally sharing the power the regular ritual had in their lives.

If it were a matter of money…of course we'd pay the salary of the teacher.

In the end, the clergy, and I'm not sure who else, decided NO.

They wanted more people to come to the sanctuary and not have too many side services or learning.

Holding so tightly is choking, not inviting.

I left. After much thought I couldn't reconcile being a member of a community that didn't reflect a core principle: Each person finds his/her connection to God in different ways. Congregations need to find a balance between the whole and the individual. I don't, I confess, like sitting in services from 10-12:30 Honestly instead of connecting me it bores me…for the most part.
However, the 9-10 learning experience mattered. Shouldn't there be space for the guy who likes sitting 10-12:30 and the lady who gets her religious high in one hour?

When we left I called the congregation’s office to let them know we wouldn't be sending our check. Ok, you are always welcome to come back. And that was the end of that.  Really?

I was there for 20 years…at Hanukah we got a Xeroxed copy of a note from the clergy wishing us a happy Chanukah.

I wonder if there could have been another ending? What is the ritual that congregations use when folks walk? Would it make sense for someone in the congregation to come visit us? “I'd like to hear your story? We still will see you as part of the community. Are there ways that we can help you connect to other Jewish organizations? We will still send you yahrzeit info and other events. You will always be a member of our community…it will look different now but we are here for you. How can we support you on your next leg of your journey? Your story will remain with us and we are here for you” Or something right? Could they reinvent membership…like ok you don't pay 3000 dollars, but we are still connected to you.

Who is paying attention to the life stories of congregants?

What makes it hard for a congregation to allow the space for multiple entry points?

Where am I writing this blog? I'm sitting in the Apple Store in Suburban Square. Someone borrowed my power cord by accident and I have no power in my computer.

Do you think I could sit here and just charge my battery?"

The salesman said, "sit here and if you need anything just ask".

I just looked up and the lady in the blue shirt who is supposed to be selling stuff just smiled at me.

Really? Hello synagogues, what's it look like to make room for someone to sit for what they need, not just what you need.

Cyd Weissman is the Director, Innovation in Congregational Learning for Greater New York, for The Jewish Education Project where she leads a team to support the creation of Jewish learning environments that positively nurture the lives of learners. She blogs at LivingLomed.


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.


A Post-P.O.S.T. Post – Strategic Thinking Case Study

This blog post is a reflection on something that hasn’t happened yet.  Whoa.

The reason I can do this is because of the remarkable opportunity I currently have as the Network Weaver for a project of The Jewish Theological Seminary’s William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education called “ReFrame.” And because I decided to use the POST model for my network weaving and marketing plan.

First, a bit about ReFrame. It seems like everyone in the field of Jewish education these days holds the following truths to be self-evident: (a) Hebrew School stinks, and (b) summer camp is fantastic. This is especially true in the world of Conservative Judaism, where the Ramah camps are exceptional when it comes to experiential Jewish education, and where supplementary religious school attendance is generally dropping off at an alarming rate. JTS has a close association with the Conservative movement and is uniquely positioned to take the awesomeness of camp and inject it into Hebrew school. Ultimately, JTS aims to offer a “Boot Camp” style training in making pilot schools more experiential in their approach, and this work may start during the coming summer. 

I applaud Dr. Zachary Lasker of The Davidson School at JTS for recognizing early in the process of developing ReFrame that since many Jewish educators are already trying to create an experiential framework for their complementary schools, we need to have a conversation about it. It’s like an ongoing, national meeting of Jewish educators, where we all talk about successes and failures when it comes to creating opportunities for our students to live the omnipresent experience of being Jewish. That’s where POST comes in.

I had 3 reasons for using POST in implementing this “National Conversation” phase of ReFrame:
JTS is an institution with deep roots and a long history (127 years). It has been hard for institutions like this to keep pace with today’s climate of change and innovation, especially where my job in communications and the use of social media is most concerned. This led my partners, Dr. Lasker and Jane Shapiro, and I to focus way too much on making sure we’d have easy access to the tools we’d need. As a result, there was very little emphasis placed on the objectives of this “National Conversation.”

So POST seemed like a natural fit. We decided that due to the tight time constraints, we’d have two meetings. I called the first one “PO(ST),” and the second “(PO)ST;” the letters of the stages we’d focus on in each meeting being outside the parentheses.  Here’s the email I sent to my colleagues in advance of the first meeting, with my notes on how it actually went:

Hi Zach and Jane,
This email should help us prepare for our PO(ST)* meeting next week, with the ultimate goal of creating an editorial calendar for what I'll call "The Big Push" (i.e. the next 6 months).  For the Cliff's Notes version of this email, you can probably just skip to the bullet points.

But first, here's a written reminder of POST:

P = People (In our case, "person," a.k.a. "buyer persona." Who is our target audience?)
O = Objectives (What are they?)
S = Strategies
T = Tools/Tech
And here's a visual reminder of POST

We need to identify our target audience for ReFrame.  Who are we conversing with in this "national conversation"?  Teachers? Students? Women? Men? Jews of a specific flavor?
As I've mentioned before, I think the best way to go about doing this is to have a single person in mind.  It helps if this person really exists.  It might even be one of the three of us. That way we can design our campaign around the likes and dislikes of this person, thus really grabbing their attention, creating a relationship, and ultimately being m'daresh (extracting) her/his help for the rest of the ReFrame project in some way (see "O" for more on this). 
This person will be at the bullseye of our target audience, and there will be many, many people on the rest of the target.  In other words, our goal is NOT to enlist the ideas/opinions/helpfulness of only one person, rather it IS to enlist the ideas/opinions/helpfulness of all the people who fall anywhere on the target. The reason I insist on choosing only ONE person is because it will help us focus our efforts when devising our O, S, and T.  For example, with one person in mind, we only have to devise one S (=strategy), and on a practical level, I am only one person, and only part-time after all.  If it helps, no one ever has to know who this person is, other than the three of us (***cut to the three of us in a dimly-lit, smoke-filled room***) 
Zach has already mentioned that this person should probably be an Educational Director of a complementary school, so that helps to narrow the field.  In this vein, here's the first Action Point:

Let's each bring one name (or two names at the most) of someone who might fit best at the center of our target.  It would be extra cool if this person is currently the Education Director (or the equivalent) of a complementary school.  We'll spend the first part of our meeting teaching each other about the person we suggest, and pick one winner.
Hopefully, this part of the meeting will only take a max of about 20 minutes.

In the end, we chose a “buyer persona” that was not one of the three of us.  It took exactly 25 minutes, thanks in part to the fact that we did actually come to the meeting with some suggestions.  However, the focus on “one ‘P’ person = one strategy = way easier in the long run” took some convincing, and is something I feel strongly about from my business education and background.

These are our SMART goals – the most difficult part of the POST.  Ultimately, we should have a 10 stanza document in a table: column #1 pertains to the SMART goals we have for our person, and column #2 pertains to the SMART goals our person has for him/herself.  I've attached a table here for your review.  Since we don't have our "person" in mind right now, let's just begin to think about how we might fill in the columns.  A lot of work has gone into the summary document that's been put together, and which goes really far in outlining ReFrame's objectives.  Let's spend part of our meeting putting that in POST terms.  Here's our second Action Point:

Please review the attached table (it's the MS Word doc) and begin to think about how we might complete the columns.  Where do the ideas put forth in the summary document fit in?  Where do your own ideas fit?  Are your answers to the "guiding questions" similar to the ideas in the summary document?  Feel free to use the doc to help when filling in your ideas; if you do, you can bring it with (digitally) to the meeting or email it to me beforehand.

I think this will probably take the rest of our meeting time.  But just in case it doesn't…

It did indeed take the rest of our 1.5-hour meeting, but it was well worth it.  We completed the table (see attached template), and clarified our objectives.  I think it was also helpful to categorize the objectives as “our goals for the ‘P’” and “‘P’s’ goals for him/herself,” and then focus on those goals which overlap.

S, T
I've attached a sample editorial calendar template (Zach and I have already gone over this one a bit).  With whatever time is left in this meeting, I'd be glad to do some iyyun (in-depth study) on this with you, but in the meanwhile, feel free to peruse and send questions.  I'm sure we'll have many more meetings in the future about S and T, as indeed we already have :).

And we did.  Here’s the second email I sent, notes included:

Hi Jane and Zach,

As I mentioned, awesome meeting yesterday!  Aaaaaand now, the part we've all been waiting for:
S = Strategies
T = Tools

Unlike P and O, the order in which we discuss S and T is not so relevant.  There's even a lot of overlap between S and T, to be honest.  I sometimes think that the inventors of the "POST" method decided on its name just because "POTS" wasn't as cool… or was it?

The truth is that I later learned that we did this wrong.  It should have been that “P” and “O” are less important in order than “S” and “T,” but I stand by what we did.  I think this actually worked better for our purposes, and you’ll see.

Let's use this time for the following two things:
(1) identifying the areas of our SMART goals for [our “P” persona] that overlap with [our “P” persona]'s goals for her/himself, and
(2) filling out an editorial calendar.  Essentially, these are deadlines for us (read: me, mostly) to meet. That is to say that since I'm working part-time, (assuming) limited to 6 months, having an editorial calendar would be the best thing possible to keep me (read: us, mostly) organized and on track.  This will probably take most of our meeting time.  That being the case, here's an action point:

Please take a few moments to look over the editorial calendar template and consider how you might like to see it filled out.  What would you change about it (the dates, for example)?  The SMART goals we have for DB which overlap with his goals for himself are the areas we can affect with ReFrame.  How and when should/can they be effected?  Feel free to edit the template itself when going over these considerations, and bring it (digitally) on Monday.

Yup, this took most of the meeting time.  In fact, I’m pretty sure it took up the whole time.  I quickly learned how new the philosophies behind social networks sometimes are, and how deeply integrated their tools can be.  We found it really difficult to wrap our heads around the concept of a “National Conversation” about experiential Jewish education in supplemental schools, and what practical implications that conversation might have for us.

We've all discussed this a number of times already; now with "POS" in mind, let's make sure to discuss how our view of using various tools has changed.  As was mentioned yesterday, there's already a national conversation about complementary education happening – we'd like to join it now as ReFrame.  Who are the major and minor actors in this conversation?  Where are the discussions happening?  What tools are they using?  How are those tools being used in the context of this conversation?  Is there room for ReFrame to innovate technologically within the conversation?
I'd like for us to make a list of the tools that are both at our disposal and relevant to the current conversation.  Then, I'd like to make a sublist of how to use those tools.  For example:

  • Wordle: Visual measurement of conversational evolution over the next 6 months
  • Facebook: Dissemination of video(s); Dissemination of word clouds or bloggable text images; Collection of responses and other conversation data; Responding to current conversation threads; Davidson page or new ReFrame page to spread conversational breadth
  • Blogosphere: ReFrame blog: white paper reactions from current conversational actors; Other Jewish Ed. Blogs: ReFrame's POV
  • YouTube
  • Email contact database
  • Twitter
  • On-land events and meetings
  • Website
  • Jewish news publications: online and print
  • Carrier pigeons
  • Etc., etc.

Ideally, this part would be entirely at my/our discretion.  However, my concern is with regard to a point that Zach has brought up a number of times, namely that it might be difficult for us to do much of the above on behalf of the Davidson school and JTS without some kind of official permission.  It would be great to spend some time on this part, at least to get started.  I think it'll be especially important to discuss the tools as we see them already being used. Otherwise, I think the focus of the meeting is on the editorial calendar, which as I've said, has some crossover with our "Tools" discussion.

We never got to the “Tools” discussion in this meeting.  We spoke about them later, but suffice it to say that we had come a very long way from the initial discussions we’d had that focused almost entirely on tools and technology to be used.  We now knew much more vital things, like for whom and why the tools were to be used.

So far, POST has been helpful for ReFrame in designing a plan for our plan.  I think it was frustrating for all of us that with so little time and so many potential obstacles, we were still discussing ideas that seem so basic, but in the end, I’m convinced that POST will have helped us actually save time.  And with a clearer vision of the project, the hurdles won’t seem so daunting.

ReFrame is about avoiding the epidemic that plagues the Jewish professional world, of “anything you can do, I can do better,” where we end up redoubling our efforts and wasting precious time, energy, money, and other resources on stuff that’s not that important in the long run.  But when you do it right, there’s nothing more important than a Jewish education.  POST has helped us see that, and I personally can’t wait to see the outcomes.

As of a few weeks ago, Alan Sufrin is the “ReFrame” network weaver for the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at JTS, America's largest non-denominational school of Jewish education.  As of about a decade ago, Alan Sufrin is a passionate Jewish educator and music producer and performer.  As of about 4 years ago, Alan Sufrin is the proud husband of Darim Online’s own Miriam Brosseau.  As of a few minutes ago, Alan Sufrin discovered how much he enjoys writing about himself in the third person.