By: Rabbi Dov Emerson
Well, we hit the big time today.
In a matter of speaking.
The Washington Post had an article in their Saturday edition, entitled “Teachers take to Twitter to improve craft and commiserate,” and it was all about how more and more teachers are turning to Twitter to connect with other educators for resource sharing, camaraderie, and support through tough times. In particular, educators are discovering a “community of mentors offering inspiration, commiseration and classroom-tested lesson plans,” through weekly twitter chats on a variety of education topics, the granddaddy of them all being #edchat.
And then, in the middle of the article, #jedchat got a shout out. This amazing community, a group that has only been chatting regularly on Wednesday night’s at 9 EST for a little over 3 months, made it into the Washington Post.
Now, we could all stop here, content that we as a community (and perhaps the larger Jewish educational community) got our 15 minutes of fame, and move on.
But I think there is more at play here, and it bears some reflecting.
A network is a powerful tool. In the age of the internet and social media, it has become something that is infinitely more far reaching and stronger than before. Starting with little more than an idea of “hey, we can do this too!” a group of Jewish educators came together on Twitter to have a conversation. And all of a sudden, it became a “thing,” something real, a destination.
It became a network.
With this transformation, ideas were shared, and people were inspired to bring these new ideas back to their own classrooms and schools. To me, this all culminated with the tweeting frenzy that took place during the North American Jewish Day School Conference last week in Atlanta, GA. Through Twitter, educators and other educational stakeholders were extending the ideas and messages of the conference beyond the walls of the hotel, with the #jedchat hashtag being one of the primary ones used to spread the knowledge (alongside #NAJDS & #NAJDSconf, of course!).
The people in our network are truly wonderful and inspiring educators. They are the ones, in the words of the Washington Post article, who “tend to be creative, motivated people with high standards for their own performance — the type who would rather try something new than pull out the yellowed lesson plans they’ve been using for years.” And when all these people come together through the internet, the network goes on hyperdrive.
I am reminded of a famous TED talk by Chris Anderson, entitled “How Web Videos Power Global Innovation.”
In this talk, Anderson notes how YouTube has revolutionized the development of dance worldwide, as dancers now find themselves with a global audience. He quotes Jon Chu, a movie director: “Dancers have created a whole global laboratory online. Kids in Japan are taking moves from a YouTube video created in Detroit, building on it within days and releasing a new video, while dancers in California are taking the Japanese video and remixing it to create a whole new dance cycle”
Chu actually harnessed this increased power of the network to put together an all-world troupe known as the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers. These performers were all recruited through YouTube, and the result is, well, “Extraordinary.”
The idea is that, through the power of the internet and the talented people that participate in the global sharing process, dance innovation moves at a much faster pace, as new moves and techniques are spread, copied, and improved upon at lightning speed.
Is it any wonder you end up with amazing feats like this?
This is what technology is doing to networks in all sorts of fields. Education, and specifically Jewish education, is no exception. #JEDCHAT is one of the ways that we, as Jewish education stakeholders, are capitalizing on the incredible talent and power of connectivity that Twitter affords, in spreading innovation in our field.
How many Jewish educators are in situations not so different to Nineteen-year educator Ron Peck, who, as profiled in the Washington Post piece, “teaches in a small public high school tucked up against the rugged Klamath mountains in southern Oregon, hours from the nearest big city. Resources in his district are limited, he said, and innovation is slow. He said Twitter has been a lifeline to the larger world, infusing his classroom with new ideas and technologies that he wouldn’t otherwise know about.”
So at the end of the day, it is wonderfully exciting for #jedchat to be included in an article by the mainstream press, especially in a publication as respected as the Washington Post. But to me, and to many others in our growing community, the real excitement lies in who will learn about #jedchat through this and other articles and references, and in turn, help the network grow and create even stronger connections. Because as much as we look around and see a network of educators looking to share and learn from others online, we must remember that we are still the minority. Within the world of Jewish education, most educators do not even know what a hashtag is, let alone know that something like #jedchat exists.
Kol hakavod to all of you who have brought us to this point, participating in the weekly chats and sharing resources throughout the week.
What you are witnessing is the network “at work,” and it is indeed a beautiful thing.