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…

There is a Price to Pay for Having a Price to Pay: Where Should Innovation Live in the Jewish Day School Ecosystem?

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

When you live your life by the school calendar – as I have only ever done – you know that we are in the season for closings and openings.  The period of the omer in many Jewish day schools is not simply the counting up from Passover to Shavuot; it is often the mad rush to do all that needs to be done to close out the year in which we are in and to lay the foundation for the year to come.  What is true for Jewish day schools is also true for the organizations that serve them and Prizmah is no exception.  We, too, are in the process of assessing the year that (is) was and setting expectations for the year that is to come.  As I have indicated before, it will be my intent (in a May blog post) to clarify how Prizmah intends to engage with Jewish day schools in the innovation space.  And in the spirit of tying up loose ends, I have clarified and shared my post-Prizmah plans and how to follow my journey when a new (school) year begins.

Here, in my penultimate “Innovation Alley” blog post, I’d like to zoom in on how disruption and collaboration function – or don’t – in the Jewish educational ecosystem.

Fun fact.  JEDLABedJEWcon, and the I.D.E.A. Schools all began around the same time with folks who knew (and know) each other well.  They were each created to be disruptive, innovational forces in the Jewish educational world.  They were each dreamed up by practitioners unsupported and unconnected to the hierarchy (at least at the times of their launches).  They all generated a wave of positive Jewish press around the time of their launch and early work.  They then took different paths, received different amounts of funding and patronage, were (or weren’t) connected to larger organizations and foundations, engaged (or didn’t) in fee-for-service work, added/subtracted leadership, collaborated, shared, etc.  Each one evolved along its sui generis path.  I don’t speak for JEDLAB or the I.D.E.A. Schools.  They speak (wonderfully) for themselves.  What I’m interested in is what they (along with edJEWcon) represent – three different models for encouraging innovation in the Jewish educational ecosystem.

A largely democratic, leaderless, agenda-free, extremely popular Facebook group…

A clear set of ideas for how to transform teaching and learning in a Jewish day school through project-based learning, packaged with coaching and a small network of fellow travelers, at a price…

An ever-shifting collection of ideas about connecting schools interested in 21st century learning through conferences, thought-leadership, fee-for-service coaching, a website…

…what can we learn from these different attempts to encourage increased innovation in the Jewish education space and Jewish day schools?  How should Prizmah think about its role in supporting innovation in Jewish day schools in light of this learning?

Having had the unique experience of shepherding edJEWcon from a passion project of a small Jewish day school, to a signature program of a national organization, to a crossroads as that national organization became part of an even larger national organization, here’s what I presently believe to be true:

  • It is a much sexier story to disrupt from below or from the outside.
  • There is a price to pay for having a price to pay.  Whatever skin in the game you gain through fees you seem to lose in global enthusiasm and participation, especially true for folks who view themselves as innovators, entrepreneurs and disrupters.
  • People love to ask their questions and get answers.
  • You can transform teaching and learning in Jewish day schools.
  • There are truly inspiring educational leaders throughout the system doing amazing work.  And that work remains largely unconnected…

We have an abundance of networks to join, listservs to subscribe to, blogs to follow, etc., but we (edJEWcon, Prizmah, the field) have failed to create a vehicle for facilitating and supporting innovation that truly incorporates the kind of transparent sharing and active collaboration our schools and children deserve.  At least so far…

As Prizmah contemplates its role in this work moving forward, here are some of the guiding questions we’ll be contemplating:

  • Does the world need another network (reshet) for “innovation” or would a “network of networks” be more appropriate?
  • How can we inspire a field wide culture of meaningful sharing?
  • What really is “thought leadership” and does it matter?
  • Where will new ideas come from?  Who is doing R&D?  Who is funding it?

Feel free to add questions or suggestions of your own to the comments below or in any of the social media you used to get here.

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

The Story of #Prizmah17 #Playground

[Cross-posted from my Prizmah blog, “Innovation Alley“.]

It has just been a few days since returning from Chicago, but I am still thinking and reflecting on all that took place…

There will be other reflections to be shared about the overall experience, but my piece of #Prizmah17 was the “Playground” and what I want to do first is use one of my favorite reflective apps, Storify, to summarize and share the story of what took place.

Coming soon?  Taking what we learned and applying it to the work Prizmah plans to do.  Stay tuned!

If you would like a brief tour:



If you would like a full tour:

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.

10 Innovative Ideas for Any School or Grade Level

[Cross-posted from an interview I did for Prizmah’s December Newsletter.]

10 Innovative Ideas for Any School or Grade Level

by Dr. Jon Mitzmacher, Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network and VP of Innovation, Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools

All schools have different capacities for incorporating innovation into their curricula; however, using new teaching methods and formats for teaching keep the classroom fresh, appeal to learners of all levels, and contribute to a sense of fun in the educational environment. So we quizzed Dr. Jon Mitzmacher about how all schools can infuse more innovation into their students’ daily experience.

Mitzmacher recommended these ten ideas, noting that almost all of them could be applied to any subject or grade level with minimal adjustment. He also pointed to the importance of having what educator George Couros refers to as “the innovator’s mindset” — that teachers and administrators are willing to take chances, learn from failure, have a growth mindset, and a culture that supports innovative approaches.

You may already be engaged in some of these strategies — others may seem like a stretch; but no matter where your school is in terms of innovation, you’ll find something on this list to inspire you. (And two of these ideas relate directly to content we are featuring at #Prizmah17: The Power of Story. So read on, and don’t forget to register today!

1) Escape the Room

Escape rooms are all the rage these days for adults, challenging groups to work together — and use their different skills — to complete the game. Mitzmacher says that schools are experimenting with a classroom version of the escape-the-room concept, designing the experience for the specific class and their curriculum, with clues based on the content they are learning. “It’s a fun way to get kids engaged in a subject,” said Mitzmacher, noting that the concept can be used either as an introduction to certain material, or as a final exam after students have studied it. (Conference fun fact: Breakout EDU ( designs escape-the-room kits for classrooms, and they will be at tjos year’s conference in Chicago! You can buy kits through them, or they will tell you all the tools you’ll need to buy to create your own kit. )

2) Visual Bingo

In a format created by master innovator Darren Kuropatwa, teachers can create their own bingo cards that ask students to photograph various things. In social-media-savvy classrooms, students can also use hashtags to tag related posts. This creates a “visual bingo,” which can be tailored to holidays, events or curricula, and which is a way to teach or expand digital skills. (Conference fun fact: Darren will be present in the Playground, so be sure to stop by for a round of hashtag/Twitter Bingo — make sure to join us there for a live experience of this innovative approach).

3) “Fakebook”

Available at, “Fakebook” allows teachers and students to create imaginary profile pages for study purposes. This can teach students how to use Facebook responsibly, said Mitzmacher, and also permits teachers and students to create profiles for Biblical characters, like the ones in the Hanukkah story.

4) Skype-ortunities

Mitzmacher said that many schools are always on the lookout for new “Skypeortunities,” opportunities to connect with other schools and organizations via Skype. He further noted that this can be a great way to engage and give ownership to students, encouraging them to invite an author of a book they read, a scientist, or a sister school in Israel/or other Jewish community or organization to a Skype interaction.

5) Digital Learning Farm

Alan November, educational innovator, shares the idea of a digital learning farm: a model in which every student has a job to play. All jobs — whether it’s photographer, videographer, notetaker, IT coordinator, or others — are essential to the success of the classroom.

6) “Livestreaming Something….Anything”

Mitzmacher points to livestreaming as an invaluable opportunity “to show people what you want them to see” about the classroom, whether it’s parents who work, grandparents, or other relatives who don’t live in the area. He notes that it’s also an opportunity to engage in tikkun olam projects, like teaching how to be in relationship with people who are homebound.

7) Flipping the Classroom

In this concept — which is already in process in many schools, Mitzmacher notes — teachers send new material with students to learn at home, and then at school check for how well they understood the content. Instead of taking class time to introduce basic material, teachers and students can spend their classroom time going deeper into the material.

8) Mini Makers Space Challenge

Mitzmacher says that some schools have expensive Makers Spaces set up, but those who don’t can still create a smaller version in the classroom. Teachers can collect tools or stuff to play with and challenge students to solve a problem and to think about something in a different way. (For example, around Hanukkah, students could use tools to create the best possible Hanukkiyah prototype.)

9) Blogs and Blogging Challenges

If a classroom doesn’t have a blog, start one. Those who are already set up with blogs can participate in a blogging challenge (a sample is available on EdJewCon). Blogging challenges can include everything from “describe your classroom” to learning how to hyperlink or creating and uploading a 30-second video journal.

10) Speed Geeking

Mitzmacher pronounced this method a “great way for a class to showcase its skills to parents or to the school or other kids.” Children have ten-minute bursts to display their skills to visiting guests, then rotate around the room. Skills may include: how to use Google Docs for organization or using the iPad for photography.

The Power & Promise of Prizmah

094941cb9137479a9360c98e38a8c76bSo…it’s been a while.


A certain pause seemed perfectly appropriate.  When last we spoke, I was tying up (or at least naming) the loose ends of an independent Schechter Day School Network winding down in preparation for the launch of Prizmah.  (At that time, you may remember her best as our old friend “NewOrg”.)  The time between then and now has flown by in a blur of activity.  The list of tasks and projects necessary to bring Prizmah from launch to stratosphere continues to ebb, flow, morph and grow.  To even be where we currently stand strikes me as a bit miraculous, even if I have firsthand experience of the heroic work it took.

The larger story of Prizmah is not mine to tell (alone).  Neither is the smaller story of Schechter schools, although I maintain a passionate interest.  Our CEO, Paul Bernstein, speaks for Prizmah using his unique voice.  Our School Advocate for Schechter Schools, Chaya Friedmann, speaks with Schechter schools (and all our schools) with her unique voice.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a story to tell…

I hoped to have a meaningful role to play in realizing the promise of Prizmah when joining my former colleagues in a leap of faith from our prior organizations.  Having been part of the collective who drafted Prizmah’s first business plan, I had a general sense of what might be and how I might be of service.  And I was wrong.

Innovation is bringing an idea, practice, or object perceived as new to an individual, a team, an organization, or community in order to meet important learning needs (Rogers, 2003).

Paul’s vision for Prizmah is not only to meet the needs of the here and now, but to prepare for the what may be.  It should be noted that meeting the needs of the here and now for a diverse field of Jewish day schools is in and of itself requires extraordinary talent, resources, programs, conferences, networked learning, etc., etc.  It rightfully occupies the bulk of what Prizmah does day to day.  But the ability to learn and to inspire others to learn is part of how innovative organizations thrive.  That’s why Prizmah was created with a Department of Innovation.  My story continues as its first leader.

Our mission?

Prizmah believes in the power of innovation to transform teaching and learning in Jewish day schools.  We know that many of you are currently investing in innovative practices and many more are considering how innovation can impact your students, families, schools and communities.  Prizmah is committed to the work of fueling the research and design work that will secure the future as well as sharing and amplifying the extraordinary work Jewish schools are doing at present.  Prizmah’s Innovation Department was created to be a hothouse, a clearinghouse, a laboratory and an R(research)&D(design) engine.  

Our goals?

We shave three overarching goals for Prizmah’s Innovation Department:

  1. To identify, showcase, share, leverage innovation that already exists within Jewish day schools.
  2. To identify, showcase, share, leverage innovation that exists in the larger world of education and in the innovation sector and bring it to the field of Jewish day school education.
  3. To help Prizmah function as – and model – an innovative organization.

Our philosophy?

We have developed a philosophical model for understanding our work based on the classic innovation process.  Highlights include:

  • Prizmah’s Innovation Department building its capacity to be an engine for R&D for Prizmah.
  • Prizmah’s Innovation Department developing a method to help Jewish day schools build their capacity to be an engine for R&D for their schools.
  • Prizmah’s Innovation Department performing R&D for Jewish day schools.
  • Prizmah developing unique products to pilot, implement, scale, etc., in Jewish day schools.   [edJEWcon (blogfolios) is one such product.]
  • Prizmah playing a catalyzing role to pilot, implement, scale, etc., products developed outside Prizmah that are of interest to Jewish day schools.  Examples could include Makers Space, Robotics, multiage classrooms, etc.
Top 10 Innovation & Collaboration Thoughts
Top 10 Innovation & Collaboration Thoughts

What are we starting with?

Well sure we have some ideas of our own, which include…

…but we exist to serve schools, not to create programs.

So how are we really going to do it?

We’re going to ask you.

Yesterday we sent a survey to all Prizmah heads of school to begin the conversation…let this blog post officially declare that the office is open.