Reflections on EdTech
On Sunday, I had the privilege of presenting at YouthCon12, an annual conference on Experiential Jewish Education convened by NCSY and its parent organization, the Orthodox Union. It was an incredible day for a variety of reasons. (Full disclosure alert: My wife, Rina Emerson, supervised and ran the event. While I am therefore not surprised that the day was so successful, I would be remiss if I did not share my reflections simply because we are married.)
All too often, the field of Jewish education is perceived to be made up of an unpolished and unprofessional bunch. Personally, I think the critique is leveled a little too broadly and unfairly at times, but we can’t deny the “heimishness” that often personifies our field. Perhaps we inherited it from the humble ‘mom and pop’ roots of the small schools that began dotting the landscape of America in the early to mid 20th century. Or, perhaps, the very real financial pressures of the Jewish educational system force organizations to skimp on items that our colleagues in the world of general education take for granted. Whatever the reason may be, we are living in 2012; our schools and organizations are ‘institutions,’ and as such, must be run with a constant attention to professionalism and class.
NCSY and OU clearly appreciate the importance of professionalism in our field, and the experience at YouthCon demonstrated this over and over again. The conference was located in a beautiful hotel, the schedule was clear and carried out with precision. The sessions were presented on timely and important topics in conference rooms that had enough space and were set up with screens and projectors in advance. The “TED Talks” style portion of the program was excellent, and it offered participants a chance to hear from Jewish educators from a variety of backgrounds. The fact that attendees could attend a full day program like this for a paltry $36.00 sent an important message about the OU and NCSY’s commitment to the field: They wanted as many people as possible to attend, and they did not allow cost to serve as a barrier. This allowed close to 500 educators and Jewish communal professionals to attend and to learn from one another.
Being a part of this ‘big tent’ of Jewish educators was particularly powerful. Too often, educators in general, and Jewish educators in particular, live in professional isolation. YouthCon helps to advance a culture of sharing and collaboration that can help the field of Jewish education in very significant ways. Part of my presentation at YouthCon on the value of becoming a “Connected Educator” was about creating a PLN, or “Personal Learning Network” of fellow educators, and it was so gratifying to meet so many other like-minded professionals who were interested in learning and sharing. It was wonderfully exciting to connect in person with educators whom I had previously met through Twitter and #JEDCHAT.
The attention to detail at the conference was particularly impressive. Take something as basic as the signs at the conference. A critical person might say that producing room signs, banners, and schedules in graphically pleasing colors, with the conference logo prominently featured, is a waste of money.
I couldn’t disagree more.
I’ve been to a few conferences ‘out there’ in the world of general education. Most recently, I attended the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in San Diego, where close to 20,000 educators convened for three days to talk and learn about implementing educational technology in schools. There too, I observed the attention to detail and intense focus on logistics that allowed the conference to run smoothly and effectively. When you attend a conference like that, you come away energized. When the event is run with professionalism, you stand a little taller, and feel proud of the field that you are in and ideas you are representing.
This is how I felt as I walked the halls of the Stamford Hilton on Sunday. Coming together with like-minded educators from all denominations, hearing true rock stars in the field of Jewish communal work, I felt so proud to be a part of this incredible field. I came away energized for the coming year, not just because of the new information and ideas I gleaned, but because of the dedication, enthusiasm, and, yes, professionalism of the attendees and organizers.
Attention to the ‘little things’ served to enhance the greater experience for everyone. But it did more than that. Because when Jewish educators feel pride in being part of something so focused and mission driven, their students can’t help but tap into this contagious sense of vigor. When they see their teachers, program coordinators, and advisors conducting themselves like professionals, they too begin to feel pride in being a part of it. The best way to imbue in our students a passion for Jewish education is by modeling that passion in our own pride and professionalism.