Somehow, in the course of my career as an educator, I became known as an “innovator.” [I even have certification from Google as such].

Exhibit A

My secret is this: I never thought of, or think of, myself as innovative. I’m amazed by other people’s innovative ideas and solutions, but I am simply passionate about my work as an educator. Some of my ideas that were considered innovative, things that really rocked the boat,  didn’t seem particularly innovative to me. They seemed….like common sense and good teaching.

Not only did I not consider myself innovative, I did not relish the push-back that came from those who liked things to stay the same from one year to the next. In one especially memorable encounter with a colleague, I was told that I was “harming children” by using authentic literature to teach reading. Even though it was evident that my students were thriving, when I was told that my methods were harmful, I questioned myself. Upon reflection, I think that this is one of the qualities of the innovative: a deep, open thoughtfulness and ability to question and try to understand other points of view.

In my work with Jewish day schools, I have had many conversations with those who seek to explore new ways of teaching and learning. Over and over again, no matter the “innovation,” the question I hear is, “How do I get others on board?” It turns out that pushback is part of the innovation cycle. And it turns out that I’m not the only one who struggles with it.

What is an innovator to do? How do we deal with pushback from those who are fearful of change? For the innovative educator, it is not about how to get others to change. You are, whether you chose to be an innovator or not, leading and learning through growth processes that intimidate those around you. What you really need is to connect with others who are also experimenting. You must find your tribe.

The Power of the Network

When I was a school-based educator, I had like-minded colleagues in my building. Yet, I found it vitally necessary to connect with virtual colleagues, people with similar job responsibilities in other schools. I spent a lot of my personal time connecting with and learning from these virtual colleagues.  I was part of a network of action researchers, people who experimented with new practices while collecting and sharing data and resources. These educators openly reflected and refined while sharing work in-process. This constant learning kept me motivated and excited. I gained specific ideas and strategies, but most importantly, I developed the will to persevere and advocate for practices that better served students. Now, years later, many of the practices that I and my like-minded colleagues fought for are status-quo. No longer hotly debated, they are advertised with pride.

Where Do I Find My Tribe? Where Do I Find the Time?

An important part of the future of learning is knowing how to connect and collaborate virtually. There are numerous places and platforms devoted to networked learning. It’s not the platform that matters but the people. Think of a great conference you’ve attended. Certainly, one of the elements that made it great was the conversations with other attendees. Remember how you felt? Inspired? Refreshed? Eager to go back to your school and work harder to create meaningful learning experiences for students? Maybe you traded cards and promised to keep in touch. Maybe you tossed around ideas for collaboration. What happened?

Chances are, the inspiration of the moment fizzled into day-to-day workload and challenges of how, when and where to keep the connection alive. We must change our mindsets about what our work entails. Being connected learners, making the time to SHARE our own struggles, questions, processes MUST find its way into our day-to-day work schedules.

As Silvia TolisanoedJEWcon co-founder and co-director, notes:

We live in exponential times. Traditional forms of networking and learning no longer fully support the cultural development in our world. Innovative educators must experience this shift for their own learning and develop a mindset of networked thinking.

Learning networks are generally free-flowing. People tend to come and go. Often, people turn to the network when they need something- an answer to a question or a particular resource. However, if the network is not reliable, the chance of a meaningful connection is slim to none. We get what we give. We are part of the network, and we must contribute. This does require a commitment of time and energy. And that commitment is worthwhile, as worthwhile as anything else you will do in your sphere of innovation.

“No Jewish Day School can really transform on its own. Collaborating, connecting and learning with and from each other supports the path to innovation.”

Silvia Tolisano

Reshet Innovation

As a Prizmah member, you have the benefit of a dedicated space for these connections. Reshet Innovation needs you and your contribution. If we create the time and the habit to share on a regular basis, the Reshet will thrive and, as a consequence, we will be strengthened and our schools will flourish with innovative growth.

In the words of Prizmah’s Network Weaver, Debra Shaffer Seeman,

Our goal at Reshet Prizmah is to connect day school communities  for collaboration, support, guidance, experimentation, and plenty of laughs along the way. Networked learning occurs in online conversations and blogs, in-person gatherings, webinars, group learning opportunities and many more situations where you have the chance to connect with people and information in meaningful ways, building those connections in order to enhance your own work and that of your colleagues and students. 

We need to share it all: the good (success!), the bad (challenge, mistakes, failure, pushback) and the ugly (whatever that could be?!). We must enlarge our definitions of the word colleague and open our minds to possibilities of learning, changing, and growing in ways we haven’t previously imagined.

The Reshet space is waiting…..for YOU.
If you haven’t already joined, please do. If you already are a Reshet member or once you become one…
Start a conversation.
Continue a conversation.
Ask a question.
Share a resource.
Share a dilemma.
The Reshet is your conduit to your innovative colleagues in the JDS field. If we build it, we will all benefit.

To see all Prizmah Reshets, please visit: https://prizmah.org/membership/networking