Tag - Avi Chai Foundation

Social Media Academy Graduation
Change is Really, Really Hard
Israel Trip Day 1
Social Media Academy Part II
Fighting the Public School Fortress

Social Media Academy Graduation

The Avi Chai Foundation hosted a graduation ceremony last night for the Jewish day schools that participated in their Social Media Academy. I’ve written before about the Academy here and here. I had the special privilege of watching the amazing folks at Darim Online and Big Duck model, coach and teach the schools about social media use in environments that resources and staff stretched.

During the celebration last night, representatives from the eight participating schools provided their own reflections on their experiences. Here are a few of my favorite stories:

Two rabbis from an orthodox day school giddily discussed using Twitter to have conversations with their students during class — and continuing those conversations (including one on respecting your parents!) online after class.

One school had hastily shut down a teacher’s Facebook group page last year. During the Academy teachers were encouraged to start Facebook pages for discussions among students moderated by teachers.

And one executive director of a school relayed her “Aha” moment with social media when she realized that in order to connect with alumni she had to think about what they wanted to talk about, not just what she wanted to talk about. Easier said than done when everything staff people are taught is how to communicate what we want to say to people – and get them to do what we want, not the other way around.

I hope this is just the beginning of the social media journey for these schools. As I said last night, each one of them took an intentional step that made them personally and institutionally uncomfortable. That takes an enormous amount of courage that I’m delighted we had a chance to celebrate.




Change is Really, Really Hard

Change is Hard. Lisa Colton of Darim Online said that to me yesterday. Actually, what she said was, remember when  YOU wrote, “Change is Hard.”

Sure, I remember writing that, but I meant it for other people, not for me! Lisa was referring to the project we’ve been working on together, which I’ve written about before here, the Social Media Academy for Jewish Day Schools sponsored by the Avi Chai Foundation. Based on our experience with this Academy, I would have written the above sentence as, “Change is Really, Really, Really Hard!”

We’ve asked the schools in the Academy to engage in a huge learning process. They are learning how the individuals tools actually work, which is like learning a foreign language on a tool like Twitter, plus how to work in networked ways. In the long run, the latter is far harder than the former, but in real time, in the moment, both can seem overwhelming. In a great post on her blog, Jew Point 0, Lisa Colton, the founder of Darim Online, compares the learning process for organizations with social media to her son Eli’s experience learning to ride a bike. [The post includes as a bonus a great video of Eli really getting the hang of riding his bike.]

She writes, “In the Avi Chai Academy, the Jewish Day Schools have just completed a 3 week match campaign through Facebook Causes.  Everyone struggled, everyone learned. Some had their breakthrough moment, and others did not.  So they’ll keep practicing and soon they’ll find their balance just like Eli eventually did on his bike.”

The schools learned an awful lot during the match campaign, and I did as well. We struggled mightily regarding the timing of the match. Is it best to do it early in the Academy when schools would be likely struggle a bit but have time with their coaches for the rest of the Academy to debrief and recombobulate about the discomfort they experienced working in networked ways? Or is it better to do it at the end of the Academy when the schools will be, hopefully and presumably, more facile and comfortable using social media? We chose early in the Academy. In retrospect, perhaps the best bet wasn’t either of these extremes but allowing the schools to pick a three week window that worked best for them during the Academy. Some of the schools did quite well during the match contest, others struggled and one didn’t participate at all.

And now the hardest part of the effort comes, how to help the schools understand that the pain, frustration and discomfort they felt at times (when it wasn’t caused by difficulties with the Causes system or the lack of lead time they had to prepare for the match) was because they were working differently – and that is a good thing. If you never fell off a bike then you never learned to ride one. It is part of the process, but too often institutions want immediate, tangible results that short change learning and growth. Or use discomfort as an excuse to stop and pull back.

I admire the courage these schools are showing by their engagement in this process. It really is hard work and hard to change habits and institutional default settings and my greatest hope is that they will persevere and sometime in the future, hopefully sooner rather than later, be able to say, “Oh, that’s why it felt so bad.”


Israel Trip Day 1

Had a terrific first day talking to foundations and students here in Jerusalem. The day began with a presentation to foundation executives at the Avi Chai Foundation., a beautiful brand new building in downtown Jerusalem. Here is a picture of the building from the outside:

Gorgeous, state-of-the-art on the inside, and, yes, ironically, a bit fortress- looking on the outside!

I also spoke to several grantees of the foundation and about 70 students at Hebrew University.

Here are just a few of the lessons I learned today:

1. The foundation folks were very engaged during my presentation and our discussion. Not at all skeptical, even if they don’t appear to be fully engaged with social media as of yet. One fascinating development was that I raised the issue of the discomfort that a lot of non-digital natives have when the lines between public and private are blurred, and one Israeli woman said to me afterwards that there isn’t such a line for most Israelis. We’re all related, she said, we know everyone’s business already, there’s nothing to hide! I never expected that, in fact, I expected in a country so immersed in conversations about security that this issue would be of particular interest and concern. It was eye-opening for me to think about how contextually and culturally based, not just generationally based, the issue is.

2. Twitter is not yet widely used in Israel. The feeling by some folks I talked to was that the site was late to have a Hebrew translation, so adoption has not yet gotten traction. My theory is that keeping Israelis to 140 characters to say anything is impossible!!

3. I heard a great phrase today. Someone mentioned that there are people who inform on Twitter and there are others who “meform”.  In other words, some are sharing info and others are just talking about themselves. I thought that was a brilliant way of putting it.

4. The students at the university were absolutely fantastic. Engaged, idealistic, interested in working with NGOs either inside as staff people or outside as free agents. There questions are so smart and right on target, not about how to storm the fortress, but more about how to encourage organizations to open up. I was enormously impressed with them.

That’s it for Day 1 – it’s going to be hard to beat tomorrow!


Social Media Academy Part II

Last week I reported on the first all-day workshop for the Social Media Academy sponsored by the Avi Chai Foundation for ten New York city area Jewish day schools.

This week was the second in-person session. Lisa Colton of Darim Online facilitated the morning discussion about blogging and Twitter. We were then joined by Farra Trompeter and her team from Big Duck (isn’t that a great name!) for an afternoon filled with social media guidelines and measurement. (Here is a whole database of real social media policies for download, just fyi.)

The enthusiasm and engagement of the participants is palpable. Each school is assigned a coach to develop a social media experiment over the next six momths. It will be fun to see what they come up with.

A wonderful event happened at the end of the second workshop. Tami Stalbow of the Westchester Hebrew High School shouted “Eureka” as we were nearing the end of the day. What happened? Tami had been working trying all week to start a conversation on Facebook with her parents and volunteers to no avail. She finally asked if folks wanted bagels or muffins for a morning meeting the next day and someone responded, “bagels!”

Wahoo! For the first time online, Tami didn’t feel alone, she wasn’t talking into a black hole, there was someone there listening and responding.

The next question, of course, was “poppy seed or plain?”


Fighting the Public School Fortress

I have worked with a number of nonprofits and foundations over the past few years, terrific organizations like Common Cause and the Avi Chai Foundation, traditional organizations working sincerely to turn themselves into Networked Nonprofits. To break out from behind their high walls and wide moats and focus on building meaningful relationships with wide networks of folks.

I am also doing the same as president of my synagogue, Temple Beth Abraham (new website coming soon!), a lovely 112 year old institution that has fortressed itself over many years.

In the last several weeks, I’ve also taken on the role of insurgent as a parent trying to storm the barricades of our local public school district. It has been a while since I’ve been up against a formidable fortress like this. It is fascinating to see how predictable their reactions and actions are, their knee jerk inclination to discuss and decide important issues in back rooms, their desire for continuity over disruption, the motions of listening that are really just talking at parents.

In my meetings with administrators and school board members, they key characteristics that has struck me the most has been the administration’s unwillingness to examine the relationship between the school district and parents. It has ossified to the point where few parents show up for meetings communicated by e-blasts and press releases. It begins a viscious cycle; they declare a meeting, we are tired of being talked at in edu-speak so stay home, they intuit we’re not interested, we intuit they don’t care about us. And on and on….

This tired cycle is most often broken when institutions face a crisis;  sales or donations are down significantly, an organization faces a significant loss of reputation such as the American Red Cross faced after Hurricane Katrina. In these instances, it required soul searching on the part of the organizations to use a different lens, a social lens, to change their relationship between inside and outside. And then the walls can start to crumble.

Public schools are in crisis across the country. Their funding is being cut by states, local taxes are down, public pressure is on to both increase test scores and develop and inspire a generation of creative thinkers (goals at odds with one another) making school administration one of the hardest jobs around. But without engaged and enthusiastic parents, these districts are fortresses sitting on desert islands. They are turning their back on our energy, enthusiasm, talents, resources and networks, which is a terrible loss for everyone. However, unlike organizations that rely on sales or donations, public institutions have to be forced to change from the outside most often.

And that’s what we began last night. A group of parents met and there was wonderful energy, and yes, some anger, in the room. I offered to create a parent-to-parent network online to share information about what is happening since the news coming from the administration is too often sparse window dressing, make sure we have representation at key meetings and develop strategies together of how to storm the barricades.  When I asked my network on Twitter this morning the tool they recommend for starting this work both Amy Sample Ward and Shaun Dakin recommended Google Groups.

I’ll get that started and plan to post here on our progress fighting the fortress. Should be interesting, wish it wasn’t so darn important for my kids.


Copyright © 2018 Allison Fine