Monday, January 30, 2012

Ayelet Lichtash

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Ayelet Lichtash founded the Alef Bet Montessori School in North Bethesda, Maryland after experiencing a need in the community as a mother and leading a community-wide, transdenominational effort to bring the school into existence. She is now in the process of revolutionizing Israeli education through creating a Montessori training center in Israel. She is a member of the International Board of Montessori Administrators. She holds a master’s from Tel Aviv University and a law degree from Georgetown Law School and is also Director of Legal Affairs for Aish HaTorah of Washington, DC.

What is network-weaving?

Compared to academic intelligence, networked thinking is the social/emotional intelligence involved in leadership. It’s understanding people and being empathetic. It’s incredible and very powerful; it can get you to places you’ve never been before. But it’s not something that can happen all of a sudden when you arrive at a conference. It’s something you need to work on ahead of time to be prepared. This preparation involves contemplation time – time you have to take away from daily chores to make a plan, work on it, and brainstorm with others.

What challenges do you currently face in your network-weaving work?

My challenges are on two levels. First, on a local level, I’m working on creating a first-of-a-kind Montessori school with the most stringent accreditation. That’s something that requires a lot of networking, because wisdom from experienced people will help me choose the right path. I have to meet with business people to understand the business world; heads of school to learn how to structure schools; and board members, both on my own board and on others, to learn what we can bring to our own practice. Leadership and vision are crucial to plan room to grow and so that everyone can participate.

My second challenge is international: I’ve started a Montessori network in Israel. I’m establishing a Montessori training center, which will be a third of the cost to match current prices for Israeli education but provide the same high caliber of training we have here in the US. The challenge is working with stakeholders like the local community, education gurus in Israel, the department of education, the council of higher education, and more to create support from here to bring Montessori over there.

Where have you experienced successful network-weaving practices?

At the recent North American Jewish Day School Conference, Daniel Petter-Lipstein understood my needs to connect with others. He introduced me to Dr. Bruce Powell, and I had 3 hours of intense conversation with him about things I really needed to know to move my school to the next level. Those kinds of introductions happened over and over again throughout the conference.

The session at the conference on networks by Seth Cohen from the Schusterman Foundation and Leah Meir from The AVI CHAI Foundation with Bill Robinson from the Jewish Education Project was so good – I still have the network effectiveness diagnostic workbook on my desk. I learned that it takes homework to weave a network – it’s a thoughtful, engaging process, and you have to know what questions to ask and put principles and best practices onto paper to share with the rest of your network.

Also, PEJE did speed-dating networking exercise where we met 25 people – 5 minutes per person. It took off the embarrassment and emotional barriers of introducing yourself for the first time, and gave confidence that others will talk to you even if they don’t know you.

What are your next steps in network-weaving?

I am a startup, starting something new. I would love to meet people who work with other entrepreneurial startups to help set my expectations as to how I can expect to grow within the current economic conditions and demographics. I would also love to meet more local people in DC who have made an impact. At the same time, I’m working on sharing the wealth of knowledge I have with people in Israel.

I’ve learned that the best network works through referral. The element of weaving is fascinating to me: How do you expand your network to reach more resources who can share information with you? The more people who call me to say they can help me with one angle or that they have someone I can talk to – that’s how it works. I’m weaving my way through it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Nicky Newfield

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Nicky Newfield is the Director of Jewish Interactive, which provides interactive digital resources, an informative curriculum, and online collaborative learning to bring children a touch closer to engaging and innovative Jewish learning around their rich Jewish heritage. She is based in South Africa.

What is a network? What is a network-weaver?

A network is a space where people who are likeminded can meet. To be able to network people is a skill similar to making a shidduch. Not everyone has that skill, to put people together, to connect, and to weave them.

How have you applied network-weaving to your work? 

As a new, innovative technology company, networking can help us find out what schools need – which schools feel passionately about having technology and which schools feel passionately that they need technology. It’s also about networking with the students – instead of giving them what we want, finding out what they want. When kids use the program, they can also network between each other. Our vision is that a student in South Africa can blog their homework about recording their version of L’cha Dodi, UK- and US-based users of the same program can do the same, and they can compare it. Then they can start talking. They network themselves through a basis of understanding, around a topic, rather than randomly. It’s very powerful – there’s a lot of learning in it.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities in South Africa around networking?

The community in South Africa is very small; most people know each other. The challenge is going beyond your comfort zone to say: It’s OK to step outside my community and engage with other communities as well. More than connecting internally, the challenge is connecting externally, bringing in fresh new ideas and new energies, and perhaps sharing what innovators in South Africa have to bring to the world.

How can networked approaches be applied to education?

The field of education is changing radically. From a child’s perspective, the classroom is no longer the only place to get information. Children can access all kinds of educational programs on iPads, computers, etc. From an educator’s perspective, the challenge is choosing the material for the children that’s appropriate for their ages and reaches the elements you want to reach. It is great to “let the child be the innovator,” but we strongly believe it needs to be within a content frame. Within a constructivist theory, everything they do is with an educational aim – but by all means give them digital homework: make a powerpoint, blog it, share it, pretend it’s a facebook page, and tweet it to your teacher. The content can be digital, interactive, and fun, and networking can be a powerful tool to share and to grow. Children like to be part of a group, to connect to each other. There are natural human forces at work: the need to be heard, to be understood, to be part of something larger, to compete to be the best, to be acknowledged. As a Jewish network, it is particularly powerful to have a network with Israel and with South Africa, as children are used to living in a global world.

What networks would you like to see exist that don’t exist already?

There are so many it’s difficult to choose – we’re a little bombarded. My particular challenge is knowing which networks are out there and when and how to use them correctly. We just started a new website a week ago, and I would like to know how to network efficiently to increase the audience of the site. I’d also like to know how to reach more schools to ask: We have this program; how could we adapt it to your needs? What do you need next? Having a global network of educators in dialogue that everyone is a part of would be amazing.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Network-Weaver Interview: David Brown

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

David with some Fairtrade kippot.
David Brown is Social Action Coordinator at JHub in London, working on the Jewish Social Action Forum’s Big Green Jewish and Fairtrade campaigns. He is also the European coordinator of SIACH: A Global Environment and Social Justice network, and was on the core volunteer team recently for Limmud Conference in the UK.

What is a network?

I think of connections between people, projects, and organizations. It can be a group of people who happen to find themselves in the same space, organizationally or physically. Either a given area of content can attract people (I think about SIACH), or it can be getting people together and letting them define the content (like the ROI Community).

I come to the world of networks with a lot of stereotypes in mind. I always thought of it as very utilitarian and transactional – it’s schmooze, booze, and people talking while looking over their shoulders to see if they see someone more interesting to talk to.

For me, the antidote was a session led by Seth Cohen which I attended at ROI about purposefulness in connections: finding ways to connect that are meaningful and values-based. Seth asked participants to write down people they had been introduced to that they found interesting and have gone on to build worthwhile connections with, the people they had introduced to others, and who had introduced others to them (who were their ‘connectors/weavers’). I realized I had really benefited from being introduced to others, and decided that now it was time to more consciously start doing the introducing.

What was it like to start being a connector?

At the start, it felt uneasy. It still felt a bit transactional: I felt like I was using people for their particular expertise rather than thinking about them as whole people. But I found that if I consciously thought that every time I met someone I had to try to connect them to someone else, whether or not I stood to gain from it personally, then when I was doing it for my own initiatives I could feel more comfortable with that.

I started introducing people doing interesting stuff, and I saw how grateful those people were.

Do you think there are natural network-weavers? 

I happen to be involved in situations where I’m meeting lots of people, and I feel that not to introduce them to each other would be wasteful. But people who are not in contact with lots of people don’t necessarily need to do it.

What for you has been the added value in being part of networks?

What I’ve found great about humanity is how diverse we are. Being part of networks connects me with that diversity – not only because of the range of people you meet, but in the way you get to know people as holistic and appreciate how different areas of their personality or passion overlap in the web of purposeful connections that they are a part of. You also get to understand the great stuff going on out there, which is very motivational.

My Jewish identity really comes from the opportunities I’ve had to connect with people around the world, which allowed me to hear different ways of being Jewish in the world, beyond my narrow one in Britain. I’ve also learned all kinds of skills – such as to be a better public speaker – and made some great friends out of it too.

Is there a goal to your network-weaving work?

Most of the time, it’s definitely connecting people around Jewish social justice. There’s an explosion of it globally, some examples being the growth of JHub resident organisations,  AJWS’s growth over the past decade, as well as Orthodox groups getting involved such as Uri L’tzedek and B’maaglei Tzedek. Yet we’re a small people, with limited time and resources – if we’re able to connect people trying to achieve similar things, we will have a much greater impact.

More importantly, I want to see a vibrant Jewish people around the world. If we can showcase the diversity of Jewish expression within our web of networks, more people will be interested in being Jewish in exciting ways and have people with whom to develop these ways of being Jewish with.

How do you use network-weaving in your work at the Jewish Social Action Forum?

The Jewish Social Action Forum is a network which is focused on campaigns around issues such as poverty, race, asylum, and the environment. The goal is to get more people doing Jewishly-inspired social action. When it first started doing this work, JSAF found it needed to make stuff happen but hadn’t necessarily brought all members along with it. So we did a consultation with the members. We applied community organizing tools by investing in personal relationships first.

What challenges does network-weaving pose for you?

It’s important to spend time investing in strong relationships, yet I worry to what extent that keeps you from opening yourself up to new people – managing the balance of maintaining existing connections whilst being open to fresh ones is a challenge.

There are also challenges from the Jewish peoplehood aspect given the global nature of networks. I coordinate the European cohort within SIACH, and there are issues with a common language – not just a language to speak, but also literacy in terms of social media, Jewish text, and approaches to networks. Sometimes even when you think you’re speaking the same language, you’re not.

Finally, to sustain relationships, you need face time. It can’t all be virtual. Yet I think about the carbon footprint of the whole network crossing the world and the expense being prohibitive for some people and communities. Through ROI and Limmud, I recently traveled to Limmud OzFest in Melbourne; even though one of our current campaigns is Big Green Jewish, I flew to Australia. There’s a cost, economically and ecologically. It’s the same issue in Israel engagement: How do you sustain that connection to Israel without people flying back and forth?

How do you hope your networks will develop in the future?

Some networks are driven top-down, with key people in them driving them because they think they’re important. But if people really reflected on them, they would see the value. How do you shift them so everyone has access and is contributing? How do they become truly driven by the grassroots? I also think about creating webs of networks. What’s the art involved in integrating networks – and how can shared values be a part of that art?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Guest Blogging for North American Jewish Day School Conference

This post cross-posted here on The AVI CHAI Blog - check out additional posts there during the conference, Sunday, January 15 - Tuesday, January 17, and in the days following.

I am extremely excited for the opportunity to guest blog for The AVI CHAI Foundation at the North American Jewish Day School Conference in Atlanta next week. With a theme of “Current Landscape – Changing Horizons,” the conference offers an action-packed schedule woven together with the subthemes: Innovations in Jewish Education, Reimaging and Sustaining Day Schools, The Jewish Day School Value Proposition, and 21st Century Skills for Students and Adults in Day Schools. Here are some thoughts on what I would like to see addressed for each:

  • Innovations: There are so many big ideas floating throughout the conference schedule – discussing everything from distributed leadership in the school culture, to new educational techniques such as experiential education, Hebrew immersion, and blended learning, to specific strategies in the classroom such as games-based learning, 1:1 technology, and project-based learning. How do you make sense of this gamut of innovations and come up with a consistent and implementable strategy that is right for your school? Are there support networks for those who are experimenting with the different innovations? How can you measure whether a given innovation is working for you? How can you tell when it’s time to try something new?
  • Reimaging and Sustaining: The key issues here include financial sustainability tied together with issues of growth as well as how to improve the branding and marketing of day schools. To me the linking is brilliant – acknowledging that financial concerns do not exist in a vacuum, but rather are tied into a larger strategic vision of how the schools will grow while fulfilling their value proposition (see next theme). I particularly have many questions around the reimaging part of the conversation: Where do priorities lie in terms of dedicating resources to altering the perceived image versus the intrinsic quality? To what extent is a reimaging process necessary to sustain the work schools are doing? Based on whose concerns should the reimaging take place, and what constituency has jurisdiction over what that image should be?
  • Value Proposition: Some of the issues that come to the forefront include defining the values (and are some more important/“Jewish” than others); defining who are the “ambassadors” of them (board members and alumni are two proposed constituencies); and defining how they position day schools in the overall educational landscape. I indeed am interested in learning more about: How the value propositions of day schools compare or relate pedagogically to those in the field of education as a whole, and how can these differences be leveraged? Also, do board members and alumni have the same understanding of the value proposition?
  • 21st Century Skills: In addition to social media, technology, and learning environments, this category covers the social, emotional and other individual needs of learners. How and to what extent do you accommodate those individual needs? How do 21st century trends affect all the rest of the above themes and serve as the backdrop on which they operate – and how do you make sure you take them into account?

These subthemes are clearly in dialogue with one another – can applying paradigms of 21st-century skills lead to innovations in how to educate? How can day schools be reimaged and sustained based on a focus on the value proposition they provide? What they have as a common subtext seems to be the quest for and expression of new ideas that can lead us into new horizons.

In that vein, I am particularly excited for the ELI Talks: Inspired Jewish Ideas, which will take place two nights of the conference and feature 18-minute TED-style talks designed to foster greater Engagement, Literacy, and Identity.

I am sure many of the 600+ attendees have their own ideas they can contribute to this conversation. I will be serving as a roving reporter capturing some of these for inclusion on the AVI CHAI blog. Do you have an inspired Jewish idea? Will you be at the conference and be willing to share about something that inspires you during it? Feel free to get in touch with me beforehand to arrange a time when I can record your thoughts – or find me there!

Looking forward to hearing what inspires you!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

How to Solve Crises in Day School Education (hint: it's all about networks)

Affordability: How do you ensure day school education is financially accessible to all Jewish children during times of economic recession?
Governance: How can day schools adopt best practices, particularly in finance?
Education: How do you increase its quality, adjust the balance between Judaic and general studies, and improve the integration of technology in the classroom?
Personnel: How do you train qualified teachers and administrators who will serve as inspirational role models for the next generation of young Jews – and how do you grow and retain them?

These are all complex and serious issues for day schools today. Yet there is one that stands out to me as the most compelling cause for concern – and in whose solution might lie the solution to many of the rest of the issues as well. That issue is personnel.

In his recent article in eJewishPhilanthropy, Dr. Hal Lewis succinctly summarizes the personnel problem as applicable beyond day schools in the Jewish and general nonprofit sphere. He reports that, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, 70% of not-for-profit professionals call their jobs “disappointing or only somewhat fulfilling,” while in the Jewish world many talented and Jewishly-educated young Jews either go directly to the private sector or, if they do initially choose to enter a Jewish nonprofit, soon burn out – leading to a “brain drain” of good people and ideas simply going elsewhere.

Lewis cites Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (check out an animated version here) as providing a bit of light toward the end of the tunnel. Pink concludes that, more so than money or other perks external to a job, three intrinsic benefits drive job satisfaction: autonomy (sense of ownership over one’s work), mastery (opportunities for professional development), and purpose (believing in the cause, and that the work one is doing is making a difference in it).

The key question for day school education then becomes: How do we instill autonomy, mastery, and purpose into day school educators’ jobs? The answer, I believe, is through networks. Through connecting, sharing best practices, and learning from peers, educators can not only achieve mastery, learning new skills such as how to teach a particular topic through a new curriculum or a new technological platform. They can also be awarded autonomy: the opportunity to represent their existing work to peers and to collaborate with peers on new endeavors will give them a feeling of ownership over their talents and what they produce with them. Furthermore, they will even be endowed with purpose: an enriched understanding of the field at large, what colleagues are dreaming of, struggling with, and accomplishing (and why), and how their individual work feeds into that greater picture.

Imagine if day schools could reach multitudes of aspiring teachers passionate about education and young Jews passionate about disseminating Jewish identity and knowledge – and deploy their talents and energies to solve the burning problems such as those listed above. Imagine if these aspiring teachers could not only solve these existing problems – but also impact generations of young Jews to be knowledgeable ambassadors of and contributors to the Jewish people. In doing so, they might even revolutionize day school education in ways we can’t even conceive of yet.

I believe that this all can happen – through connecting day school educators with their fellow day school educators and enabling them to dream and grow together into new opportunities. Just as importantly, they can provide an invaluable support network for one another during the challenging times, and help each other toward potential solutions.

Networks are about capturing the human capital in a system and leveraging it to provide information, skills, and other resources that will make the entire system more effective and connected. Going a step further, since networks offer such added value, I project that the very awareness of the existence of well-built, active, and productive networks which provide opportunities for learning and growth will attract and retain talented professionals.

There’s lots to be done – but through having more and more outstanding personnel at the table, and through having conversations and cross-pollinations between them spreading new ideas and best practices, it can be done together.

Thanks to Naava Frank for the stimulating conversation and important lessons on day school education.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Jewish Virtual Learning Networks

Following my calling for a paradigm shift toward “a widespread understanding in the Jewish community of network-weaving, the problem it is seeking to solve and its effectiveness,” I was excited to hear about the recent report from the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education: “Jewish Virtual Learning Networks: A Mapping of Online ‘Communities of Practice’ in the North American Jewish Institutional World” (by Professor Erik H. Cohen and Dr. Einat Bar-On Cohen, October 2011).

This report represents an important first endeavor to understand the role of the Jewish Virtual Learning Network (JVLN), “defined as a group of people who interact regularly via the internet in order to share knowledge and learn about a common area of interest” (p. 13), researched through literature analysis, interviews with involved Jewish professionals, and questionnaires which were sent to participants. In addition to reporting on the JVLNs’ basic parameters – such as their duration, composition of membership, sense of hierarchy, sponsorship, and facilitation – the report applies a smallest space analysis to learn about their advantages and challenges.

To me, the most interesting result was the perceived importance of the facilitator (read: network-weaver) in the JVLN’s functioning and well-being – 86% of those surveyed agreed “to a great extent” that JVLNs “do not work well without skilled moderators” (p. 27). The Jim Joseph Foundation clearly recognizes the importance of facilitators with its Jim Joseph Fellows initiative, which trains and supports leaders to start new communities of practice – and from my own experience as facilitator, of course I agree with this crucial work quite fervently. I would even argue that the need for the moderator in and of itself is not a challenge to a JVLN but rather an inherent feature. The challenge actually is in the fact that skilled moderators need funding and training that the JVLN may or may not have access to, which the report does correctly recognize.

That’s why I disagree with the reported finding of a differentiation between “professionals” and “volunteers,” where “professionals” are “those involved in the group as part of their professional life (whether or not they are paid for the time they spend with the JVLN)” and “volunteers” are “participants who are not involved in the group directly as part of their profession, but as members of the Jewish community with some interest in the group’s function” (p. 20). The reason for this finding could lie in the survey question itself, which in my opinion could be easily misinterpreted. It asked, “Does your JVN include volunteer leadership?” with the options “No,” “Yes, community level leaders (federation, national),” “Yes, organizational level leaders (e.g. synagogue, school),” and “Yes, an interest group (such as environment, hunger). Please specify” with no option to insert an “Other” (Appendix B, p. 55) and returned just under half of JVLNs having “volunteer leaders” (p. 20).

Participants may not fall into any of these “volunteer” categories and may even in their own right be professionals whose work is in the field being discussed. These participants surely also may derive professional value from their participation. Nevertheless, I believe all – except the facilitator – are volunteers. Facilitators merit the title of "professional" not only by skillfully directing JVLNs, but also by virtue of holding the ultimate accountability for the success or failure of the groups. As a result, they deserve to be paid for their professional performance. I do, however, acknowledge that JVLNs blur the line between “professionals” and “volunteers” in other ways – perhaps related to survey’s finding that 72% of respondents reported that “JVLNs promote less hierarchical relations to a great extent” (p. 25) – and this indeed would be a fascinating place where additional research could be enlightening.

In fact, another important implication of the study is that it shows how much further research is possible and needed – to better understand JVLNs and to document how they are changing how participants can interact, learn, and grow together. In particular, I would advocate for further research in 4 crucial areas:

  1. Who is participating in JVLNs? Who do they benefit most? This would help the Jewish community pinpoint future participants and how the idea can be scaled with the greatest efficacy. 
  2. What do you do in a JVLN? What sorts of activities are most successful? Particularly looking at the resources in Digital Habitats (Wenger, White and Smith) would be helpful in this endeavor.
  3. What are some attributes of and best practices in facilitating a JVLN? As stated above, the role of the facilitator is essential. Learning from facilitators would help in understanding this crucial role as well as provide a valuable lens through which to view the JVLN experience. Detailed information about the facilitator's role would enrich an understanding of JVLNs in the bigger picture. 
  4. How do JVLNs concretely impact and benefit their participants? This would entail looking at the key added value of networks – gaining knowledge, skills, other resources, and connections – and the extent to which they apply in a JVLN context.

These extremely exciting avenues for further discovery would help us unlock the potential of JVLNs for the Jewish community and to propagate their practice throughout the Jewish world. The field of JVLNs is just emerging, as noted by this report – which helps set us on our way.

Thank you to Naava Frank from YU School Partnership for calling this report to my attention.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Network-Weaving Paradigms

Since I’ve begun referring to myself as a network-weaver with greater clarity and consciousness, I’ve had many fascinating conversations on the topic, both with the practicing network-weavers I’ve interviewed and also beyond. I’ve observed some common themes in how network-weaving is viewed and practiced. As I am interested in moving forward the theory and action of network-weaving toward a more effective and connected Jewish future, I’d like to share what I believe to be the key challenges and opportunities.

In light of challenges currently faced, I propose Jewish network-weaving make the following paradigm shifts:
  1. A widespread understanding in the Jewish community of network-weaving, the problem it is seeking to solve and its effectiveness: Even if there are some key Jewish network-weavers making waves with their outstanding work (and there are!) it will be impossible to understand and justify what they are doing, never mind measure its effectiveness, unless there is common language to identify it to the larger Jewish community. This is why my repeated requests to think about what a network actually is do not represent a purely academic exercise. Rather, I hope it will serve as a first step in this wider conversation. That’s why it is important to clear up a couple misconceptions about networks:
    a) Networks are not the same as social media: Networks existed long before the existence of social media, and while it can be argued that social media tools may be an influence on structures and paradigms of networks, they are exactly that: tools.
    b) Networks will not bring in vast unschooled masses: The very properties of networks work to ensure that those who gain clout will be heard and become more essential to the network, while those who do not meaningfully contribute will more or less remain on the outside. These properties include how hubs form and the fact that networks follow power laws. Networks can have the ability to lower the barrier to entry for people to attempt to join, but that doesn’t mean that they will all succeed to an equal extent. This misconception may have to do with networks being confused with social media (see point a), and in fact this illustrates the difference – anyone can use social media tools, but networks make sense of how and with whom they are being used.
    Now that that’s been cleared up – what positive understanding of network-weaving should the Jewish community adopt? I believe networks are maps of the relationships between people or organizations, and network-weaving is the intentional practice of developing and connecting strategic relationships to achieve greater effectiveness and connectedness in each individual or organization’s work and thereby the network as a whole.

  2. Once this understanding is achieved, a clearer path toward the implementation of network-weaving in the Jewish world: Will “network-weavers” crop up as new positions in Jewish organizations? Or is network-weaving a skill that everyone on staff should learn? While there are many factors in how this will evolve (funding concerns and buy-in on the concept of network-weaving being among them), I believe there should be a certain extent of both. Many organizations have “communications” and “alumni relations,” and these professionals should come to be viewed more as about building networks and/or community than broadcasting messages. Depending on the organization, these may be community-organizers, in the case of those working to create one unified group of constituents based locally or around one interest or issue. Other organizations, those seeking to achieve more of a bird’s-eye view of the Jewish world, may be the ones to hire network-weavers, as they are working with many sub-communities, for instance larger umbrella organizations working with those separated geographically, or foundations looking to create change on a platform of issues. (More about the distinction between network-weavers and community-organizers here). However, I would argue that many in different roles would benefit from education on tools which are part of the role of a network-weaver, including:
    a) External: Viewing the Jewish world in a networked way: Understanding the role of hubs and being able to identify them; seeing the connections that exist between entities and the influence they have; and viewing constituents as part of many networks
    b) Internal: Understanding the basics of collaboration: Being able to be part of a networked and collaborative team within the workplace 
Now, here are some new paradigms that provide opportunities:
  1. More effective practices in information management: A network yields a tremendous amount of information, which the network-weaver gains access to through building relationships and trust. A key opportunity for the network-weaver is to be able to find ways to manage and effectively deploy this information, both individually and across teams. Utilizing the methods and systems of a network-weaver for this purpose, which has long been a challenge for many organizations, will provide great value.

  2. Curation rather than search: A network-weaver should be able to utilize this bank of information to provide those in the network with curated solutions to the problems they face. Due to the ever-growing amount of information out there and the strengthening role of social media in spreading this information, some predict that simply googling will increasingly no longer provide you with the customized and specific information that you may need. However, a network-weaver may have access to it.

  3. Thinking strategically about a network’s purpose: One of the primary skills of a network-weaver is to think with great intentionality about the network s/he is building, how, and with what purpose (and all network-weavers should learn how to talk about their work and execute it with ever-increasing intentionality). If networks are not providing some added value to those in them, they may dissolve. Network-weavers can leverage the information in a network to create opportunities that add value to those in it, and this can further strengthen the value proposition of the network as a whole. 
It is my hope that a widespread understanding of Jewish network-weaving and a greater implementation of it within the Jewish world will lead to opportunities for network-weavers to effectively manage information and curate it toward essential purposes in the Jewish world. I will be exploring and reporting on all of these elements of the network-weaving experience in greater detail, and would love to incorporate your experiences into this exploration – fill out the network-interview form so I can talk to you about yours!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Daniel Petter-Lipstein

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

A passionate advocate for Jewish and general Montessori education in the US, Daniel Petter-Lipstein produced an acclaimed video about Montessori, “Superwoman Was Already Here” which inspired Trevor Eissler (another passionate Montessori father) to create his own video, “Montessori Madness.”  Daniel, a graduate of Harvard College and Columbia Law School, is Chief Love Officer of the Jewish Montessori Society and serves as in-house counsel for a Fortune 50 company. He was a Dorot Fellow in 1994-95.  

What is a network? What is a community?

A network is the precursor to a community. It’s a group of people who have some bond or connection that’s beyond the familial, happenstance, or purely social, even though you could argue that the best networks are generated from one’s social sets. The best networks are based on some external force, such as in my case college, the Dorot Fellowship, or Montessori. It’s something people are genuinely engaged with and connected to. The problem is that the word “network” has a sterile connotation, which causes some to think about it in sterile ways rather than in terms of communal connections.

Is the Jewish Montessori Society seeking to create a network or a community?

Right now it is a network of those linked by the fact that they’re running Jewish Montessori schools or part of a Montessori sub-community. Without facilitation, this network could turn into a community where everyone is talking to one another. But I want it to be a tribe. As per Seth Godin’s Tribes, people protect tribes. You want to think you’ll protect your community, but ‘community’ doesn’t have the same visceral connotation as ‘tribe.’ You know when you meet a member of the same tribe.

What can a tribe provide its members?

We are going to make enemies doing what we do, because we represent a rejection of the status quo. Marginalized tribes in particular spend a lot of time justifying their existence and feeling attacked. You turn to your tribe for comfort, safety, advice, and a sense of home. This generates more trust, and you understand that your tribe is there to help you, because they’ve been in your place, too. Beyond that, other members of the tribe help strategically move things forward, solve problems, and think out loud in a safe space.

What is the goal of the Jewish Montessori Society?

We want every child to be learning l’shma – every child should have the opportunity to learn not because they have to learn, but because they love to learn.

How does the Montessori educational philosophy fit into today’s global trends?

The world of showing up somewhere, being told what to do, and advancing through a series of positions is over. Thomas Friedman talks about how when today’s students get out of college, they’re not going to have to find a job – they’re going to have to invent a job. If we continue to educate students using a factory model, they won’t be prepared for a 21st-century workforce. It’s ultimately not about getting into college. India has more honor kids than there are kids in the US. The question is: What are you doing that’s distinctive, that no one else is?

Montessori education is about hands-on, self-directed learning: learning by doing. There’s a misconception that you learn to drive by driving a car, but when you learn math, you should read formulas in a textbook. Cognitive science demonstrates that when you learn by doing, you learn (and do) it best.

What are some lessons you have learned about network-weaving?

Woody Allen said that 80% of life is showing up. We’re helping people show up at the same time. The most wonderful things happen when we do. Also, it’s important to listen really well, find out what people are interested in, and connect people with valuable services to offer each other. As they learn, we also learn, and can leverage those resources for the rest of the network.

It’s a very Jewish theory if you think about the lesson from Pirkei Avot: “What’s mine is yours, what’s yours is yours.” The lesson is: Don’t keep knowledge, wealth, or expertise to yourself. If you have an extraordinary gift, there’s an imperative to share.

Where do you see the Jewish Montessori Society by 2020?

Right now Jewish Montessori Schools are an accident of geography. By 2015, there will be Jewish Montessori schools in each Jewish community in North America with at least 25,000 Jews. By 2020, Jewish Montessori education will be seen as a mainstream Jewish educational practice. It doesn’t mean every child will go, but the key is access – there should be access to Jewish Montessori education. In doing that, we believe we will revolutionize Jewish education.

Contact the Jewish Montessori Society to find out how you can start a Jewish Montessori school in your community.