A Totally Unscientific, Crowdsourced and Inadequate JED Annotated Blogroll

paper-chain-in-the-dark-1215912-mDid that lower the bar enough?

In my ongoing attempt to stay current, to learn, to amplify, etc., etc., I have had an ambition to clean out my RSS feed and start over with which blogs I really ought to try to pay attention to…

…to accomplish this goal, I utilized all my networks – Twitter, Facebook, listservs, etc. asking not only for people to volunteer their own blogs, not only asking for people to share with me blogs they pay attention to, but to own this project with me by joining a GoogleDoc as a co-owner and editing to their heart’s content.

I sent out a variety of reminders and have reached a point where it is time to share this completely inadequate document!

I have let people describe their own blogs.  I have not personally vetted them all.  I did not add each one myself, although I did add a few.  You will surely find it lacking.

Good!

Shame on you for not helping!

How can we make this list more helpful, inclusive, exciting, diverse and meaningful?  By adding more (content) and more (categorizing)…

 

Which blogs did we leave out?

You can offer your suggestions as a comment to this blog (and I will carry them to the master document) OR you can email me (jmitzmacher@schechternetwork.org) and I would be happy to add you as an owner to the master document and you can contribute directly.

“THANK YOU” to all the folk who did help.  Happy reading!

 

A Jewish Day School Annotated Blogroll

Julie Wohl: www.jewishlearningthruart.blogspot.com

“My goal is to share my own work on integrating Jewish learning with art creation, and to also share techniques and ideas for other educators to use the arts in their work.”

 

Amy Meltzer: lgagan.blogspot.com

“I keep a blog that is designed for parents, but does give a lot of information about the Gan program at Lander Grinspoon Academy.”

One of my go to blogs is investigatingchoicetime.com – it’s not a Jewish blog, however.

 

Rabbi Arnold Samlan: https://arnolddsamlan.wordpress.com/author/arnolddsamlan/

“Jewish Connectivity”

 

Rabbi Lee Buckman: http://thebuckstopshere.tanenbaumchat.org/?author=3

“Twice-monthly blog by Rabbi Lee Buckman, head of school of TanenbaumCHAT, a grade 9-12 Jewish day high school of over 1,000 students in Toronto.”

 

Ruth Schapira: http://ruthschapira.com

I writ[e], with some candor, [about] the issues the Jewish community faces”

I read many blogs, but would be hard pressed to name those few that I read regularly. Some are on kveller.com, a few on wordpresss (Pitputim  http://pitputim.me/, Architect Guy http://architectguy.me/).  EJewishPhilanthropy is a blog I read often

 

Rabbi Mitchel Malkus: http://www.cesjds.org/page.cfm?p=9403

Education Matters – One Head of School’s reflections on education, Jewish education and the Jewish world.”

 

National Association of Independent Schools –  Independent Ideas: The Independent School ​Magazine Blog 

“Engages educators, researchers, policy experts, and thought leaders in a spirited dialogue about the topics that matter most in education now and in the years to come.”

 

Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, Brandeis University: Learning about Learning

 

Ari Yares: www.ariyares.com

“Exploring the intersection of psychology, education, and technology.”

I’m following a fair number of blogs, but I’m also using a tool called nuzzel.com to help me stay on top of what’s being shared.

 

Jillian Lubow

“I write an #instructionalleadership blog for @TeachBoost: hubs.ly/H015-ss0. #Top5JDSBlogs”

 

Adam Tilove: http://jcdsri.org/category/head-of-school-blog/

 

Bill Zarch: https://butireallyliketodance.wordpress.com

 

Eddie Shostak: rEddieTalk

“Focused on Jewish life, education, and parenting.”

 

Jon Mitzmacher: “A Floor, But No Ceiling

“Where the future of Jewish day school is debated, explored and celebrated”

 

Andrea Hernandez: “EdTech Workshop

 

Silvia Tolisano: “Langwitches

 

Rabbi Jim Rogozen: http://rabbijimlearning.blogspot.com/

“Observations and questions on Jewish education and the Conservative Movement”

 

Drew Frank @ugafrank http://drewfrank.edublogs.org/ Davis Academy AHOS

Micah Lapidus @rabbispen http://micahlapidus.com/ Davis Academy Rabbi

A few of my (Drew Frank) favorite blogs:

Massive resource for links to blogs, twitter, and all things education Jerry Blumengarten http://cybraryman.com/

 

From Melanie Waynik:

 

 

Dan Finkel: https://www.gesher-jds.org/default.aspx?RelId=646121

“A non-preachy weekly thought on how to think about Torah as a modern guide for both education and meaningful living.”

 

Beverly Socher-Lerner: www.makomcommunity.org/blog

“The adventures and explorations of an immersive, informal Jewish afterschool enrichment program in Center City Philadelphia for 15+ hours a week of text-based, experiential Jewish Education.”

 

AVI CHAI: The AVI CHAI BLOG

“The AVI CHAI Blog features issues important to day schools and summer camps, including sharing best practices, highlighting important trends, and dialoguing around big ideas.”

 

MOFET International’s Jewish Ed Portal

“…is a curated listing of academic articles, blog posts, online resources, conferences and PD sessions dealing with a wide spectrum of Jewish education around the world. The portal is updated weekly and posts a monthly collection of new items via email.”

 

Jeffrey Rothman: http://talklearning15.blogspot.ca

“Each blog post includes a discussion or short write up of some best educational practices as well as links to articles, tools and thoughtful quotes.”

 

People of the Book (Club)

There’s always a flurry of excitement – particularly in the bibliophilic circles of Jewish education – when the next book that we are supposed to read comes out.  I’m as guilty as anyone else.  Exhibit A: Screenshot_8_28_15__8_46_AM

We are usually not content to just be excited about our books, we want a way to demonstrate that excitement and be part of a community equally excited.  There are lots of ways that folk do that.  Exhibit B: If you glance down to the bottom, righthand corner of this blog, for example, I am happy to share with you my Shelfari so you, too, can know what I am reading and maybe you might find a book you would enjoy as well.

Your_ShelfWhen I go to conferences or other professional development experiences, what notes I do take wind up being lists of books and blogs that I hope to read if I have been inspired by the the learning.  I look to my mentors, my colleagues, my social media, and my listservs to see what they are reading so I can read it too.

If you are reading this blog, the odds are pretty decent you engage in similar behavior and have a stack of books (physical, virtual, or both) awaiting your attention.

But let’s say, through some miracle confluence of work efficiency, family harmony and unicorn dust, that you actually find the time to read that blog, article, journal, or book.

What then?

The question I am interested in exploring is, how do we take what we read professionally and apply it to our practice?

I am confident that what you consider your “practice” changes the question.  How a classroom teacher applies his professional reading to practice will be different than how a head of school applies her professional reading to practice.  Recognizing the great variability in what people read and their job descriptions, I want to lay out a few ways that people try to get from here to there.

The Book Club

Whether the chardonnay-sipping-the-book-is-simply-an-excuse-to-get-the-gang-together or the annotated-notes-outside-facilitated type, whether in person or virtual, one tried and true way to translate theory to practice is to form, lead or participate in some kind of “book club”.  I have (and still am) been in them all.  I have required teachers to be in them with formal protocols for participation.  I have been in voluntary ones with folk across the wide world.  The efficacy of the book club experience is entirely dependent, in my experience, on the expectation of a deliverable.

I think “book clubs” are tremendously motivating for people and have the highest odds of getting people to “read the book”.  But then what?  Are there expectations for the reading? Are there questions to answer?  Applications to work expected?

Collaborative Note-Taking

There are lots of way that folk do this presently.  Anything from Evernote to GoogleDocs to TwitterChats (and a million more too many to list) all represent opportunities to share notes about a reading experience with lots and lots of people.  What you lose in intimacy might be gained in having a permanent record easily organized.  What you lose in motivation might be gained in the forced reflection of putting pen to paper (or more realistically keystroke to screen).  Ease of annotation via ebooks makes collaborative note-taking simpler than ever…

…with the caveat that the odds are the only time you have to read is on Shabbat and holidays which render ebooks problematic for many of us.

The Book “Report”

Here, I mean simply that there is an expectation of applied practice which is shared. There are tons of examples to choose from.  I have seen schools where teachers are expected to present at faculty meetings about the impact of their professional reading.  These presentations can range from the least formal (speed-geeking, think-pair-share, etc.) to super formal (PowerPoint, Prezi, etc.) with lots of room for creativity (mini TED-style talks, hatzatahetc.) in between.  This is the most labor-intensive, but likely forces theory into practice most effectively.

As we collectively finish welcoming the rest of schools back to session in the weeks ahead, as life conspires against our best intentions with regard to professional reading, here’s hoping your stack of books is not simply consumed, but impactful.  I look forward to learning with you and from you in the year to come.

First glass of wine is on me.

The Spirituality of “Back to School”

Hopefully your summer has been all you wanted it to be and that whatever your goals were for the summer – professional development, vacation, relaxation, rejuvenation, reconnection, spending time with family, etc. – you accomplished them and more.  But as August heads towards September and our earliest schools have already begun to welcome teachers and parents back to school, it seems appropriate to mark the occasion.

In the beginning of one of my favorite books, The Sabbath, by one of my favorite Jewish Open Doorsthinkers Abraham Joshua Heschel, he says, “Judaism is a religion of time (emphasis in original) aiming at the sanctification of time.  Later on, he refers to Shabbat using a similar metaphor – “a palace in time”.

Among the many things Heschel is describing is the value of celebrating and cherishing moments in time. That time can be sacred and holy. For the purpose of his book, it is the Sabbath under consideration.  For the purpose of this blog, it is the idea of how important it is to stop and appreciate the everyday miracles of time all around us.

One of those miracles, to me, is the start of school.

This was a week of firsts for many in our schools, a week of firsts that will be be repeated as schools open their doors across the continent.  First days of school for our kindergartners.  First days of a last year for our eighth graders or twelfth graders.  First days in a new school for teachers and heads (and board members).  First days for new families.  First echoes of laughter and rolling backpacks in hallways that were still and empty just a few weeks ago.  First lessons brought to life from planning and imagination. First hiccups of schools in transition.  First successes.  First mishaps.

First steps to an unlimited future.

I believe in the religiosity of teaching and the teacher-student relationship.  To borrow and butcher Martin Buber, I believe that when we treat others as objects, we are in an “I-It” relationship; when we treat others with recognition of the divine within them – when we acknowledge that we are all created in God’s image and treat each other as such, we are in an “I-Thou” relationship.  Taking a deeper step (according to this idea) would be to say that when we treat each other with love, we invite God’s presence into our relationships. Not merely as metaphor, but as an existential fact.

One way to measure school success, I would suggest, will be determined by whether or not paper-chain-in-the-dark-1215912-mthose engaged in the sacred work of schooling see each other as “Thou’s” and not “It’s”.   Will we do the work necessary from the start of school to develop “Thou” relationships with our students?  With their parents?

We’ll know if we are able to identify the good that comes with each student and share it with his or her parents. We’ll know if we are able to share the difficult truths which are our responsibility to share and have them received in the spirit in which we will surely wish it to be received.  We’ll know if we are able to hear difficult truths about ourselves in the spirit in which they will surely be given.  The spirit of genuine partnership where only the wellbeing of the child is important.  The spirit of seeing the best in each other, even when it takes a little more energy.

The spirit that exists when we see each other as a “Thou” and not an “It”.

And so…congratulations to the teachers, heads, staff, lay leaders and volunteers who worked so hard for a successful start.  Thank you to all the parents who trust us with your children.  Thank you to the students for your smiles and eagerness.  And as we move from the excitement of the first week into the routines of the first month, let us all cherish the everyday moments too often overlooked – a new skill mastered, a new friend made, a new year begun.

Ken yehi ratzon (May it be God’s will.)

A Lurker’s Lament: When Did “Sharing” Become “Self-Promotion”?

In my last blog post, I reflected on my personal disconnect between the enthusiasm (over-enthusiasm some might say) I demonstrated in documenting my family’s recent road trip and the challenges I experience in documenting my professional growth.  I suggested that as – depending on geography – schools are preparing for the imminent return of teachers and students that it would be useful to try to unpack some of the inhibiting factors that get in the way of a teacher or an administrator (or a lay leader) going through the cycle of “learn, reflect, and share”.

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

A few people who commented on the post, rightfully pointed out the clumsiness of the analogy.  One’s enthusiasm can wax and wane to the degree that one is choosing to do something versus being required.  One’s time could be allocated differently to photography versus a written reflection.  And I agree with both points.  One commentator pointed out something that I hadn’t considered at all and that is the degree to which having an intuitive and easy-to-use structure like pegging photos to a Facebook timeline matters.  I think that is spot on.  The relationship between process and product may matter and it begs further exploration.  Those of you who know more than I – and that’s quite a lot of you – if there are new and exciting platforms that make it easier to document professional growth, inquiring reflective practitioners want to know!

There are other inhibiting factors as well.

I have written and spoken a lot about time as a zero-sum game and hereto it applies.  Over the last year I have had the pleasure of visiting lots of schools and engaging with even more and scheduling as an expression of values almost always rises to the top.  With no judgment implied, it seems reasonable to me to assume the following:

  • Schools struggle to schedule adequate time for professional growth.
  • It is difficult to require professional growth – let alone reflection and sharing – without providing adequate time for it to happen.
  • Thus, we wind up counting on tapping the finite well of educators’ natural altruism as the primary resource allocated to professional growth.

But none of the above is what I am interested in exploring here.  Maybe they are the best remedies for what ails the ecosystem, and I do want to know more about better platforms, better schedules and all the sticks and carrots being used to successfully inculcate a culture of learn, reflect and share within and between schools.  This is essentially the work of edJEWcon.

However, as I engage as actively as I can in blogs, groups, chats, etc., I want to identify another barrier that I think can inhibit even the best possible situation – an educator who wants to contribute to the conversation and even has the time, motivation, content and know-how to share…and, yet, still holds back.

humblebrag_-_Google_Search

I think one of the most inhibiting factors that contributes to lurking and a sense that the same voices dominate the conversation is that we have been conditioned to believe that “sharing” is akin to “self-promotion”.

Let me acknowledge the other side of the argument I want to make just to get it out of the way.  People do take advantage of social media, chats, blogs, conversations, etc. as opportunities to self-promote.  It happens.  Frequently.  And it does represent a breach of etiquette and a challenge to the moral imperative of sharing we are trying to create.  I have been in those chats and comment sections where it feels more like jockeying for an opportunity to present one’s wares rather than a genuine desire to engage, share and learn from those present.  And if I am being honest, knowing how the game is played and that there can be winners, I’ve probably been guilty of it myself.  [If you ever find yourself on a chat with me and you feel like playing a drinking game, take a shot every time you hear me say “edJEWcon”.  Just be sure you have a designated driver.]

Still.

The concern that whenever we genuinely share can be misconstrued as self-promotion can lead to conversations where only the self-promoters share!  Everyone else is too humble to brag except the humblebraggers!  [This isn’t to suggest that there aren’t genuine and thoughtful participants; I am exaggerating to make a point.]

I am deeply concerned about helping the thoughtful practitioner convert from lurker to contributor.  The ecosystem will only work when feedback loops actively exist and inform. The power of networks is in their ability leverage excellence, facilitate conversation, engage peers in ongoing professional growth and to amplify the learning.  That requires more voices more often.  That requires the courage to contribute…

I’d rather run the risk of self-promotion if we can raise the volume of sharing.  Discerning professionals will weed out the former for the latter.  Let the problem of professional growth for Jewish Day Schools be too many dedicated professionals sharing their growth with peers and receiving too much feedback.

Hopefully this humble(brag) blog post will light the spark…

Airplane Mode – My Year in Professional Reading

I have spent more time in airports, airplanes, rental cars and hotels this year than I could ever have imagined.  It is critical to my job to be a physical presence at our schools and in our communities, especially in my first year.  But in addition to all the obvious benefits travel has produced for me professionally, it has also yielded one unintended, yet important benefit…

…time to read!

Yes, I am aware that I could easily pay for wifi on my flights in order to stay connected at all times and there have been times I’ve had to fight the temptation to remain on the grid. But putting my phone into “airplane mode” has been to my professional growth like putting my soul into “Shabbat mode” continues to be to my spiritual growth.  Once that cabin door is secured, I take a deep breath, go into airplane mode, and open my book.  And, yes, an actual book.  I know I am supposed to always model excellence in 21st century learning, so I guess I should do all my professional reading via iPad, but for whatever reason, when it comes to doing professional development 30,000 miles up, I prefer a book in my hand.

Don’t tell anyone.

All the books I read this year were suggested from colleagues and friends from all the usual places…and I didn’t even get to half of what I wanted to read.  Luckily, that’s partly why they made summer!  If any of the books below inspired your professional growth, do comment or otherwise make it known.  And if you have new suggestions…always happy to add one more to the seat pocket in front of me…

If you missed our Summer Professional Development publication, please check it out here.

To the schools that have already closed, I hope you are already enjoying your summer…

…and to those closing soon, I hope you close with great pride on a year well spent.

I, too, look forward to some recharging and relaxing (just a bit!) this summer and, so, this blog will likely come less frequently until school returns in August.  I have one more post for sure on next year’s programmatic agenda and any updates on the future worth sharing and, then I will enjoy what it is like to blog when the spirit – not a deadline – moves me.

Flip-flops…here we come…

The Jewish Education Olde Thyme Radio Hour: “Conversations We Aren’t Having” w/Jonathan Cannon

Believe it or not, but our earliest schools are wrapping up this week and the rest will be doing the same in the weeks to come.  We, too, will be transitioning into summer modes of communication.  Last week, I shared the results of our first-ever Annual Membership Survey.  And in the weeks to come, we will lay out more detail about our programmatic agenda for next year and how feedback may have played into our decision-making process.

In the meanwhile, let me express my sincere thanks to the good folks at ELI Talks and ELI on Air for letting me and my good friend Rabbi Marc Baker experiment with a podcast pilot this year.  I have said before that just the time we spent prepping for the podcasts and conducting them was more than sufficient for me to deem the experiment a success.  But we do have ambition larger than finding an excuse to think together…

Our goals for the podcast’s future include…

  • Being more interactive – our goal is for the podcast to feel more like a “talk show” and less like…um…a “podcast”.  This means we need to be more aggressive/inspirational/inviting/encouraging in order to weave people’s questions, comments and contributions into the podcast itself.  We know (hope) you are out there listening…now we need you to be part of the action.
  • Relevance.  Strong topics and strong guests.  We want to bring you ideas and people you really want to talk to and hear from.
  • Edutainment.  We want this to be fun – for us and for you!  Finding a way to balance serious conversation with having a good time is what it is all about.

Have we gotten any better at the above?  Check out our most recent podcast and let us know!  Feel free to comment here on my blog or on the podcast page itself!

The Storify of #edJEWcon LA 2014

I think it is reasonable to conclude that Storify has become my preferred method of documenting my learning from professional development conferences and experiences.  I like how visual it is and I love how easy it is to preserve the links to all my learning.

We had a wonderful experience on Monday in Los Angeles and I am pleased to amplify the learning by inviting you into its story.  I hope our learning inspires more learning, more reflection, and more sharing.

http://storify.com/Jon_Mitzmacher/the-storify-of-edjewcon-la-2014

The Transparency Files: Evaluation of Self

This week was Yom Ha’Shoah, the day on the Jewish Calendar where we pause to remember the events of the Holocaust and the memories of all who perished therein.  Next week we will celebrate Yom Ha’Zikaron, the day on the Jewish Calendar where we commemorate Israel’s Memorial Day, and Yom Ha’Atzmaut, the day on the Jewish Calendar where we celebrate Israeli Independence Day.

It is a remarkable juxtaposition of days – a complete 180 degrees of emotion that takes place with a click of the second hand and, in Israel, the siren’s call. Unlike in the States where Memorial Day for many (although less and less the last fifteen years) is spent enjoying beaches, barbecues and sales; in Israel no one is untouched by war’s destruction and all pause to personally mourn.

We know – firsthand and through social media – all the amazing programs, commemorations, projects and celebrations that have and will take place in Schechter schools whose love and support for Israel are baked into their DNA.  We will do our part to collect, catalog and share out to you and the field those images and words during this very special week in our schools.

In the meanwhile…

ucm206324Like many of you, we too, are using this time of year to solicit feedback, reflect and plan for the future.  In this first year of the “new Schechter” each season brings new challenges and first-time opportunities. Here, too, we are faced with our first opportunity to evaluate ourselves and to ask for feedback from our key stakeholders.  On the latter point, please look for an invitation to provide us with your feedback and suggestions on how this year has gone and ways we can improve to better meet the needs of our schools and the field in this interesting and exciting new year to come.

So…how have I done this year?

🙂

Well, honestly, I am not entirely sure!

In my first two blog posts in this new role, I tried to lay out a vision and provide some content for what I hoped Schechter would begin to become.  But, I would have to go back to my very first year as a head of school to find the last time I was in the position of everything being so completely new for me.  I will have to look forward to next year to find comfort in the rhythm and routine of a yearly calendar and knowing what to expect and what to do when.  This year?  Not so much!

The best way I know how to make sense of what I have done and ways I can do better is to revisit some of the planning documents created as part of our rebirth and see how well (or not) I have helped bring the agenda to life.

Like any self-evaluation, it is not intended to be exhaustive, but illustrative.  [There are also aspects of my job performance, fundraising for example, that require greater discretion.]  And unlike my past evaluations, this one does not come with comparative external survey data.  Not because I don’t wish to have that data, but because we have not yet developed the instrument to collect it!  This self-evaluation is more “self” than normal as a result, but I hope still helpful.

Relationship Building

A huge component to this year’s work was simply reintroducing ourselves to our schools and field.  Prior to this year, we lacked the bandwidth to physically visit and, sometimes, even virtually visit our schools to the degree necessary to truly serve.  I am proud that over the last nine months, we have physically reached over thirty schools.  I have done much of it myself (over twenty site visits) and it has been undoubtedly the best and most important work I have done this year.  To see schools in action and to spend time with the incredibe professional and lay leaders who run them is a never-ending source of inspiration.  I have learned so much about our schools and even more about how we can better serve them because of these visits.

In addition to the site visits, we have spoken many, many times with each of our schools during this year and have had ample opportunity to share resources and field questions and concerns. I would rank renewing our relationships among our biggest successes this year.  I would also commit ourselves (and me) to finishing the work by aiming to have visited each school in person by the end of next year.

Board Development

We had two critical tasks with regard to the board this year.  Making the transition to independence required growing a philanthropic lay board, and under the leadership of our first-time board chair Dara Yanowitz and our Development Director, Alisha Goodman, we have nearly hit our benchmarks in recruiting new members.  Although we have some geographic diversity, a goal for the future is to ensure even better representation from all of our key demographics.  The second task was to transition the prior “board” – largely made up of professionals – to a “Professional Advisory Board” in order to provide us with a sounding board for new ideas, a safe place for workshopping difficult discussions and decisions, and to receive critical feedback from the field.  Under the guidance of our Associate Director, Ilisa Cappell, we have been enriched by the work of the Professional Advisory Board and look to involve them even more deeply in the year to come to always be sure the work we do serves the greater good.

Placement

This was a new experience for us all!  We have been active partners with all our schools going through transition.  We played a more active role in schools who conducted their searches in-house, as to be expected, but worked with all our schools and many candidates to the best of our ability.  I am very pleased that all our new heads (whether new to Schechter or new to the headship) will receive appropriate coaching and mentoring in the year to come to ensure smooth transitions for all.  That was a top priority for us.  We learned a lot from this first experience and are confident we will be even better prepared to help schools and professionals on similar journeys next season.

Field Collaborations

Whether it is the work laid out in this announcement or more modest collaborations with our sister networks and other organizations, I think Schechter’s reemergence has served as a catalyst for new relationships.  Our work with the Jewish Montessori Society has created new relationships which we hope will yield fruit in the year to come.  Our contributions to the planning and facilitation of this year’s North American Jewish Day School Conference, especially the “Small School Track” championed by our own Ilisa Cappell and RAVSAK‘s Dr. Marc Kramer, we believe helped make the conference a success.  We have gladly marketed programs and contests that serve the needs of our schools regardless of who created them and have had our programs and contests gladly marketed by others.  We look forward to only more and more in the year to come.

Thought Leadership

I would have liked to have achieved more in this area.  Although a few articles were published, I don’t think we did enough to clarify for the field who we are and what we believe to be true.  This blog is one attempt.  This podcast is another.  But on the whole I think we got swallowed up by organizational growth, program and other business and we were unable to dedicate enough time to this.  We also need to do a much better job curating the thought leadership being done so well by our school leaders and positioning those school leaders to take on even more thought leadership in the future.

 

What about “Program” you may ask?

At 1300 words and counting, this is probably not the best time to begin a review of all the new programs we launched this year!  Especially because they are the things we have written the most about.  I will say that we are in the process of reviewing the successes and failures of all our programs and initiatives and I will surely report back here what we discovered and to lay out our programmatic agenda for 2015-2016.

As always, I welcome your thoughts, feedback, questions and concerns.  Feel free to comment publicly or email me privately (jmitzmacher@schechternetwork.org) and let me know how you think I am doing.  I really want to know.

Here’s Why I Am a Candidate on the MERCAZ Slate

herzl-color-8x11-09I had decided weeks ago to dedicate this week’s blog to the upcoming World Zionist Organization’s (WZO) elections (voting currently open) and my feelings about being on the MERCAZ  slate for the very first time.  I had no intention of engaging in discussion about the elections in Israel or using this platform to compare and contrast our ability to influence the Jewish future in Israel and abroad through either election process.

And I still don’t.

There continues to be a vigorous conversation about both the manner and outcome of Israel’s elections.  I am following it with all the passion I possess for Israel.  I am reading and reflecting on where we are and what it all means – for Israel, for the Jewish People, for pluralism and for peace.  As a private individual, I feel very comfortable sharing my feelings.  Just last evening, I had the pleasure of participating in a heated debate about Israel amongst friends at a local bar.  (I imagine it was one of the few conversations about Israel taking place at that bar, or any bar, in Jacksonville that evening.)  However, as a public individual, I feel equally comfortable admitting that I lack both the expertise and the standing to use this space to weigh in.

Reality check.

It is because I am the Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network that I am a candidate on the MERCAZ slate for elections to the WZO.  It is a function of my positional authority, not my personal expertise, that I may be in position to serve.  This doesn’t mean that I am not taking it seriously.  I am!  I have learned things about MERCAZ and the WZO that I honestly should have already known without having to be put on the slate. This also doesn’t mean that I am not excited about it.  I am!  I am inspired about the mission, platform, and achievements of MERCAZ and its partner organizations.

It should come as no surprise, however, that as an educator what I am most proud/excited/inspired by is the incredible opportunity to help grow the TALI Network of Schools – a sister network if there ever was one.

Here is why Israel needs TALI:

Every Jewish child in Israel deserves a Jewish education. But most go without.

Jews in Israel are deeply divided along religious and secular fault-lines – a divide that tears at the fabric of Israeli society. For sixty years, this division has been fostered by Israel’s school system which operates only two educational streams: religious and secular.

Yet most Jewish Israelis define themselves as neither Orthodox nor secular, but as traditional. They identify with Jewish culture and heritage, but feel alienated by a rigid, politicized religious establishment. By sending their children to secular public schools, most Israeli parents have forfeited their children’s right to a Jewish education.

TALI brings Jewish learning to the secular Israeli classroom, connecting pupils with their heritage, and educating towards religious pluralism in the Jewish state.

This quote comes directly from the TALI page on the Schechter Institute website.  Although there are many differences between public TALI schools in Israel and private Schechter schools in North America, this statement of need serves as a powerful reminder of how critical it is that the center – the mercaz – does, in fact, hold. TALI is more than a network of schools in Israel.  It is a thought-leader and program-provider to the field of Jewish education.  TALI is critical to growing a pluralistic future in Israel.  Schechter schools are already in relationship with TALI schools and I hope this relationship only deepens in the years to come.  I am inspired by TALI’s accomplishments and can only dream of what it could become with access to greater resources.

So, yes, the reason I am on the slate is because of my job.  But the reason I am enthusiastic and honored to be on the slate is because of the mission.  If you are similarly inspired, I hope you, too, will join me this year in a…

Vote Mercaz

“Uncommon Connections” – Looking Past the 2015 NAJDSC – What Happens “Right Now”?

The 2015 North American Jewish Day School Conference has only been over for a couple of days, and I am already thinking about the future…

But before the future, I bit of a recap on the past and the present…

Last week, before the conference, I blogged about my hopes and expectations, ending with:

We are proud of the work we have done with our sister networks to create what we hope will be a meaningful learning experience for all participants. We have all worked hard to ensure the quality of content while trying to maximize access.  Schechter will have a strong showing and we look forward to our annual opportunity to be together.  But in addition to the networking, the learning, the socializing, and the celebrating, we also hope this conference shows what happens when networks work together for the greater good, deepening and strengthening our collective service to the field.

I think it is safe to say that with regard to the conference itself…mission accomplished!

In terms of my own experience, let me insert here that which I have already shared elsewhere through various social media, if for no other reason then to have it all conveniently stored in my primary reflective vehicle – this blog.

Here is how it started:

Here is the summary of my experiences:

Here is my first presentation:

Here is my second presentation:

My experiences of the conference were as cohost, presenter and network head.  I, not to my surprise, but to my disappointment, was unable to attend anything outside of those roles.  I experienced the keynotes and the receptions along with participants, but not the playground space, the vendors, or the actual sessions themselves.  The feedback I have received – solicited and otherwise – has been overwhelmingly positive and I look forward to reading the official survey for confirmation.

But as with any other conference or significant professional development experience, to close the loop with the powerful opening, what should be happening “right now?  How do we ensure that all the learning, all the new relationships, and all the enthusiasm from gathering over 1,000 passion-driven leaders from across the field is leveraged to the greatest good?

Since it came early and without the greatest sound system, I do want to make sure that you know we are actively engaged in answering those questions.  Those of us charged with stewarding the field as executive directors of national networks opened the conference with a statement about “how we can serve the field together”.

What are we thinking “right now”?

Imagine a system that effectively and efficiently delivers support in every area you need—financial strength and stability, professional development in 21st century pedagogies, new thinking to implement the Jewish mission of your school, participation in nationwide student contests, lay and professional leadership development, holistic school-based assessment and improvement, and networked connections among schools.  Imagine a system that recognizes the diversity of our schools, addresses their unique needs, and serves the field in an aligned and concerted way.

Could you have imagined it before this incredible conference?  Can you now?