Trifurcation: Three Paths Forward From “Innovation Alley”

[Originally posted in my final Prizmah blog post in “Innovation Alley“.]

As I linger one last time in Innovation Alley, permit me the opportunity to bookend this blog post with a few, brief personal thoughts…

What a blessing these last four crazy years of professional life has been for me!  Truly.  From a headship I treasured at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, to an executive directorship I was just figuring out at the Schechter Day School Network, into a vice presidentship I never anticipated here at Prizmah – with overlapping timelines and characters, I feel like I’ve enjoyed an entire compressed career without a forwarding address.  It is dizzying to think about, but the feeling that best captures my attitude as I prepare (again!) to shift lanes is simply gratitude.  I am forever enriched for the experiences and relationships these last years have brought me.

“Gratitude” is also an appropriate word to describe how I feel about my year at Prizmah.  To have had a chance to dig deep in the world of innovation, if only for a year, has opened my eyes as to what is possible and has inspired me to play my part to help the possible become reality.  At the heart of things, that’s what this work is really about – helping Jewish day schools transform teaching and learning to the greater good of the Jewish People.  All the rest is commentary…

Do I wish we had accomplished more in Year One?  Yes.

It is certainly the case that the most obvious, externally-facing work we did this year was the “Playground” at Prizmah’s inaugural conference.  There were smaller successes in terms of edJEWcon (which I’ll discuss below) and there were/are a ton of internal conversations that have contributed to other of Prizmah’s work, but in terms of the larger catalyzing contributions that we described upon launch, it is perfectly fair to note that we simply didn’t get there…at least not yet.


Since sharing back in January both Prizmah’s plan to reincorporate “Innovation” back into the corpus (instead of it remaining as a distinct department) and my plan to continue my career path elsewhere once my transition responsibilities were complete, we’ve been sorting through how (some of) the distinct components of the “Innovation Department” will move the work forward in the year to come.  I am pleased to share with you how three of these components are taking shape for the year to come: Prizmah, edJEWcon, and…well…me.


The story of innovation at Prizmah will no longer be mine to tell, but I can assure you that it will continue.  In addition to the innovative work which will now weave itself into the fabric of the whole, I am hopeful that three of the current vehicles for sharing and discussing innovation will not only continue, but grow and evolve in the hands of my current (and perhaps new) colleagues moving forward.  This includes the blog you are now reading, a standing column of the same name in HaYidion, and Reshet Innovation (for Prizmah members).  I look forwarding to seeing how these vehicles are improved (or changed/replaced) with new thinking and new leadership.  Furthermore, Prizmah plans to continue advancing the powerful insights framed by edJEWcon – notably the approach to active capturing, documenting, reflecting and sharing around use of technologies and innovation.  Finally, it is my hope and expectation that entirely new innovative ideas and opportunities for uplifting the field will come from the work Prizmah will share, launch, link, catalyze and support in the years to come.


As you likely gathered from the last paragraph, edJEWcon itself will no longer continue as a branded program of Prizmah.  We are pleased that the work of edJEWcon has made a positive impact on Prizmah and will live on not only as described above, but also in the person of edJEWcon co-founder Andrea Hernandez who continues on as part of Prizmah’s team with “innovation” part of her ongoing portfolio.  This does not mean the end of edJEWcon!  As has been the case (more times than we could have guessed!) in the past, we (Andrea, co-founder Silvia Tolisano and I) will revisit edJEWcon’s value proposition with funders and the field and look forward to sharing our thoughts on edJEWcon’s future contributions to thought leadership, social media, and work in the field on its website soon.  We look forward to active collaboration with Prizmah when possible in future endeavors.


As for me, I am preparing to take all that I have learned these last three years and apply it to my return to the headship as the incoming Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School.  I don’t know how “innovative” I’ll be on Day One, but you can continue to follow my journey on my website or on social media.

As it says in the Mishnah: “Lo alecha ha’mlacha legmor…” – “It is not incumbent on you to finish the work, neither are you free to exempt yourself from it.”  (Mishnah: Avot, 2.16)  It has been an honor and a career highlight to have had the chance to help birth Prizmah and be part of its first year of life.  I look forward to watching it grow and succeed with, perhaps, a few more degrees of separation, but no less pride and joy.

Kol tuv and l’hitraot…

10 Quotes to Inspire Innovation in Education

[Originally posted in my Prizmah blog, “Innovation Alley“.]

“In quoting others, we cite ourselves.”
― Julio CortázarAround the Day in Eighty Worlds

As we (Prizmah) continue to work on our plans for next year, which we look forward to sharing out upon readiness – and I look forward to discussing its connection to ongoing activity in the innovation space as discussed previously – I wanted to make sure that some of the learning that my team has done this year about innovation was captured and documented.  We have had the blessing to collectively read a variety of books, speak with a variety of folk and even visit a variety of places as part of our process.  I thought it might be fun (wee!) and possibly useful to those who like to keep quotes handy as triggers for meetings, blog posts, papers, etc., to share our learning through the quotes we actually collected and shared with each other during this year of learning.

So without further adieu and in no particular order, I hope you may be as inspired to think differently about teaching and learning, schooling, and leadership as we were…

“As leaders in education, our job is not to control those whom we serve, but to unleash their talent.  If innovation is going to be a priority in education, we need to create a culture where trust is the norm.” – George CourosThe Innovators Mindset

“The first step in teaching students to innovate is making sure that educators have opportunities to be innovators themselves.” – Suzie BossBringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World

“You cannot empower students to be self-directed, responsible, critical-thinking people if they can’t ask their own questions. At that point, you’re teaching compliance rather than responsibility.” – A.J. Juliani and John SpencerLAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student 

“What doesn’t work any longer is our education system’s stubborn focus on delivering a curriculum that’s growing increasingly irrelevant to today’s kids, the outmoded standardized assessments we use in an attempt to measure our success, and the command-and-control thinking that is wielded over the entire process. All of that must be rethought.” – Will RichardsonWhy School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere

“Curiosity is, therefore, strongly correlated with intelligence. For instance, one longitudinal study of 1,795 kids measured intelligence and curiosity when they were three years old, and then again eight years later. Researchers found that kids who had been equally intelligent at age three were, at eleven, no longer equal. The ones who’d been more curious at three were now also more intelligent, which isn’t terribly surprising when you consider how curiosity drives the acquisition of knowledge. The more interested and alert and engaged you are, the more you’re likely to learn and retain. In fact, highly curious kids scored a full twelve points higher on IQ tests than less curious kids did.” – Amanda LangThe Power Of Why: Simple Questions That Lead to Success

“One of the most important questions any school or teacher can ask is simple: ‘How can we be more thoughtful about what we do?’ Unfortunately, it’s not the question we ask most frequently. The question schools and teachers have fallen in love with—’What more should we be doing?'” – Chris Lehmann and Zac ChaseBuilding School 2.0: How to Create the Schools We Need

“What did they know? They knew that human qualities, such as intellectual skills, could be cultivated through effort. And that’s what they were doing—getting smarter. Not only weren’t they discouraged by failure, they didn’t even think they were failing. They thought they were learning.” – Carol DweckMindset: The New Psychology of Success

“You can lament the changes that are happening today—tomorrow’s history—convincing yourselves of the negatives and refusing to be a part of a constantly changing culture. Or you can shake off your technochondria and embrace and accept that the positive metamorphosis will continue to happen, as it has so many times before. Young people today are building a new language, not demolishing an old one. And as you will soon see, developments like these new words are helping create significant and meaningful new communities and new relationships that are an essential part of our changing culture and our wireless future.” – Nick BiltonI Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works: Why Your World, Work & Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted

“The new survival skills—effective communication, curiosity, and critical-thinking skills—“are no longer skills that only the elites in a society must muster; they are essential survival skills for all of us.” – Yong ZhaoWorld Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students

“Establishing prototyping as a core competence for innovation, requires more than creating a research and development department or team.  It requires school wide value for innovation, understanding of innovation processes, and that the bumps and disruptions are worthwhile discomforts of relevant student learning and success.” – R&D Your School: How to Start, Grow, and Sustain Your School’s Innovation Engine

Elephants in Rooms & From Playgrounds to Planning

[Cross-posted from my blog on Prizmah’s website.]

Well that was quick and interesting timing!

I can assure you that sharing out with the field the relaunch of my blog at Prizmah and the news that I would be leaving Prizmah at the end of this school/fiscal year at almost the same time was a mere quirk of happenstance and the joys of start-up, back-end challenges.  However, instead of leaving it out there as something to wonder about, let’s begin by naming the elephants in our room…

…my leaving Prizmah at the end of this year does not mean that Prizmah will no longer be thinking deeply about innovation or contributing to bringing innovation to the day school space.

…my leaving Prizmah at the end of the year does not mean that Jon Mitzmacher will no longer be thinking deeply about innovation or contributing to bringing innovation to the day school space.

It does mean that where and when and how that all happens will be different than we had, perhaps, originally thought.

Let’s leave the “how Jon Mitzmacher will be in the innovation space” questions for another time…

…what I would like focus on now is fulfilling my commitment of sharing back the results of the “Field Survey on Innovation” that I alluded to in my first Prizmah post and connecting some dots.

I see three very large dots connecting the work Prizmah will be doing in innovation this year…

…the Field Survey connected to the Prizmah Conference Playground (with updates pending) connected to a Strategic Planning Process which will ultimately clarify how Prizmah will engage with innovation in the year(s) to come.  My transitional role at Prizmah is to help connect those dots and make those clarifications.  This blog will be one critical address for this conversation.

Back to the survey…here are some key findings:

Now one can argue that only those who already thought innovation was important would fill out a survey about innovation…but still…that’s a lot of Jewish day schools who think innovation is very or extremely important.

Let’s a scroll through a few more and then make some observations…

Let’s pause here for a bit…

What seems very clear – and very exciting – is how committed, and how varied that commitment is – to this thing call “innovation” are so many Jewish day schools.  I have been writing, reflecting and sharing on this blog across three very different organizations about the relationships and opportunities “21st century learning” presents for Jewish day schools.  Our belief (which led us to create and continue edJEWcon) that Jewish day schools should not just be part of, but should lead the learning revolution is heartened by these results.

We see schools innovating across a wide array of prototypes (to use innovation language) with STE(A)M, Robotics, Service Learning, Leadership and a bunch of others near the top…

We see schools acknowledging they are still beginning and learning, with some proficient, and few masters in becoming innovative organizations…

We see schools realizing their capacity to engage in the kinds of R& D activities (again with the innovation-speak) is largely medium to low, with few high-bandwidth schools…

…so our field recognizes the power of innovation and their challenges in becoming innovative.

How can Prizmah help?

So here is where we can connect some dots…

…let’s assume that the leader in the clubhouse (“Webinars”) can actually happen through the other four…

…that leaves four ways schools would love to partner with Prizmah on innovation and each one is actually happening!

  1. We will continue to provide thought leadership about innovation in this blog, through our regular edJEWcon Newsletters, our column in HaYidion, “Innovation Alley” and through social media.
  2. We currently provide direct coaching through Prizmah’s “fee for service” department which has an amazing portfolio of opportunities for us to work with your school directly.
  3. We will see you soon at #Prizmah17 and we hope you plan to spend meaningful time in our Playground to be inspired by what could be.
  4. With the launch of Prizmah membership, you are now eligible to join Reshet Innovation if your school has become a Prizmah member (and hopefully it has).  This conversation is beginning soon…

I am looking forward to collaborating with you through any and all of these channels before, during and after the conference as we continue to name elephants, connect dots, fuel innovation and plan for a field of thriving and innovative Jewish day school schools.