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

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 heirarchy (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, in Prizmah’s Reshet Innovation or email me directly at jonm@prizmah.org. I will look forward to your thoughts and to a final opportunity to dwell in “Innovation Alley” next month.

This article originally appeared on Prizmah Blogs and is reposted with permission.

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