Route Recommendations

green arrow

Route Recommendations are tips and tidbit advice from JewishGPS. Check back here for the latest.

October 2022

This suggestion comes from a more personal place, but still applies to organization thinking.  Phrases like “You Do You!” and “Organizational Culture” and “Maintaining Brand Identity” are really important to take seriously. About 10 days ago, I sat at my mother’s hospital bedside as she fell into a cancer-induced coma, and I started thinking about her burial and shiva. I realized that our family has it’s own brand and “organizational” culture and I wanted to honor her and our family identity by imbuing a traditional Jewish funeral and shiva with our own flare. From sprinkling seed paper confetti flowers onto my mom’s coffin before guests shoveled dirt to fill in her grave, to an outdoor shiva at a park pavilion complete with delivered frozen custard from our family favorite location, we stayed true to our own values and approach to life.  Organizations should deeply consider how they can take traditional Jewish moments and inject their own culture and identity into them. 

June 2021

Three times this week colleagues/friends (frolleagues?) reached out for me to help them think about closing programs for June 2021, opening programs for September 2021, or “Open Houses” for August 2021 with the goal of recruiting new synagogue members who have religious school-aged children.  You can thank the last one for this Route Recommendation inspiration. DO NOT INVITE PEOPLE TO YOUR EMPTY BUILDING! 

Anytime you want to showcase your program, you must “showcase your program.”  That cannot be done with a mostly empty building/room, some blasé snacks, a powerpoint presentation and a Q&A.  So what’s the answer? Plan a lovely, meaningful program that truly showcases the experience one might have if they were an active participant in your offerings. Plan it for your CURRENT PARTICIPANTS (members): a family education program for religious school; a fun Kabbalat Shabbat experience for synagogue membership; a multi-faceted (educational and social) for teen engagement; a volunteer activity paid with some values learning for young adults. And then offer the current members incentives for bringing prospective members. For example, if it’s for religious school, offer the current parents $25 off their next year’s school tuition for each new family they bring to the event; if it’s a general synagogue membership event, offer them money off of High Holy Day tickets or discount towards their Mishloach Manot orders; if it’s a teen program, offer a discount on (or free) swag … Incentivize your current participants in doing outreach and engagement on your behalf.  Your current participants are 10x more effective at marketing than your Facebook posts or ads in the local Jewish news. Leverage that. 

April 2021 Route Recommendation:

Those who know me well, know that I have spent the year doing something I have never done before – I’ve “parented.” Due to Covid, my nephews (16 and 14) spent the year in virtual schooling. Predicting some of the challenges they would face, the decision was made that I would temporarily relocate to my city-of-origin (St. Louis) for the school year and provide hands-on assistance in their learning. The oldest lives with ADHD and anxiety (as do I) and as a result he struggles significantly with an Executive Function Deficit. With my sister-in-law working full time virtually teaching middle school and guiding the other son, it was clear my hands and educational knowledge were needed (my newly minted EdD put to good use!). In order to make life “easier,” (no one wanted to get up an extra hour early to prep for the day and travel between the houses), the 16-year-old moved in with my mom (where I am also living) and spends Sunday evenings through Friday afternoons
in our Screen Shot 2021-05-12 at 6.46.28 PMcare.  I was given full access as a guardian to the high school and teachers, digital access to the THREE on-line portals needed to stay in touch with the school, his homework, and his grades, and an open-line of communication to his tutors (because lord knows I cannot help with AP Computer Science, Chemistry and Advanced Algebra).

Here’s a small sample of what I learned that have implications for educational leaders:

  • When you shift gears at the last minute due to your poor planning, you REALLY frustrate and complicate the lives of the parents. Sometimes things happen beyond our control, and in those cases it behooves you to communicate as to WHY the changes had to happen.  Don’t just arbitrarily make a change and not communicate the WHY.
  • If a learner has special adaptations they need to succeed, consider asking previous teachers, camp counselors, tutors, coaches, aunts/uncles/grandparents what has worked best for them in helping the learner in other areas of their life. Go beyond asking the parents for input in order to paint a full picture of support. The insights I was able to bring helped broaden the understanding the educators working with him have.
  • Parents need to tag out some times. Encourage parents to hire education support staff to help their children – even in supplemental Jewish education and informal learning experiences. Often the children will hear things differently from a non-parent than they do from their parents (since that relationship comes will all sorts of other “baggage.”) This person can follow up on assignments, help manage to-do’s, assist in focusing the child on the task at hand, help gather supplies, and so much more. Consider if you can hire staff to do this for multiple families across your programs (even if you charge them a nominal fee for the support).

At some point I may write a full blog about what I’ve learned, but for now, sharing these tidbits seems like a good start.

COVID19-Spring 2020

Whoa!  We could not have predicted this!  From 99% in-person Jewish learning, engagement, worship and holiday/Shabbat celebrations to 100% virtual?!?

For those that may not know, I have received my last two degrees virtually.  

My Master’s Degree was done primarily through synchronous video learning.  Synchronous happens when everyone logs in at the same time and joins together via video.  In my case, it was a professor in Cleveland, with a small group of learners in Dallas (where we came together at the Jewish Federation building once a week per class), and occasionally with other small groups of learners in other on-site locations (Atlanta, Houston, etc).  Some of our works (papers and projects) were submitted via email to the professor, tests were sent to a staff member at the Federation who handed us a sealed envelope, the professor watched us unseal and take the tests, and put them completed back in the envelope to be mailed back to the professor by the neutral Federation staff person.  There was a lot of collegiality and friendship among those of us who sat in the same physical space together.  Once in a while, the professor may visit us in person (typically once a semester) and we had little to no relationship with those in the other cities.

My doctoral program was 90% asynchronous.  Facilitated on-line with out any visual contact with other classmates or professors.  Discussions were held through a web portal, assignments emailed to professors, and quizzes (the few that we had) given on-line. The synchronous portion of this program was “in residence” for two weeks each summer in Boston where we sat in a classroom on a campus with cohort-mates who were in our same concentration (aka minor) and with our professors.  These became the only peers we built a relationship with.

Through these experiences, and then my subsequent role teaching some on-line classes to both teens and adults, I learned a lot of about on-line virtual facilitation.

So what’s the recommendation for educators and facilitators through this?

  • Add in extra time to your on-line synchronous (video) sessions for check-ins, socializing, community-building, schmoozing! If you plan to teach for 60 minutes, schedule 75-90 minutes of “class time.”  If you are leading t’fillah that begins at 7 p.m. invite people to come on-line at 6:30 with a L’Chaim for schmoozing and invite them to stay 10 minutes after for Challah or nosh. 
  • If you are planning on asynchronous facilitation in a multi-week program, launch your program first with a synchronous video gathering – so people can see faces and personalities of those they will be engaging with in written dialogue. Maybe have a mid-program video check-in and end with a video siyyum (closing program).
  • Basically – the people behind the screens are important and it’s important to give dedicated time for program participants to get connected. 

September 2019

The High Holy Days.  Tishrei.  Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur. (and Sukkot and Simchat Torah).  In my doctoral research, I engaged in in-depth interviews with Jewish teens who are 17/18 years old, who went through supplemental Jewish education through to bar/bat mitzvah and then disengaged in organized Jewish life. As we explored together what meaning Judaism still held for them and what they could see observing as they move through to their adult lives, the participants each mentioned some aspect of Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur – but it wasn’t consistent.  One mentioned renewal – like New Year’s Resolutions and one mentioned Sweet Kugel for break fast. Another mentioned big extended family dinners and another mentioned his intellectual connection between fasting and world hunger (being thankful he didn’t face that every day).  There was a resounding push/pull from them about missing school for the holy days and none of them mentioned that this issue had even been talked about in their religious education – how to manage their school (teachers, administrators, counselors) in the face of choosing religion over academics for a few days a year.  In considering your curriculum for supplemental schools (and even summer camps), examine how we teach (if we teach) our young people the skills they need to navigate being an American Jewish Teen.   (Note:  the ADL has some good materials for parents on this topic.)

June 2019

Is your board healthy and thriving?  Are you getting everything you need from the individual members and the collective entity?  BoardSource is a fantastic national resource and suggests a full board assessment every two years.  Their resources (for fee) help you evaluate everything from meeting efficiency to leadership culture to organizational impact.  If your board hasn’t had an honest self-reflective check-up in a while, check out BoardSource’s resources here.  For on-going board tips and tricks, follow them on Twitter.  (Note:  This is not a paid advertisement,  I am just always impressed with their information and materials.)

January 2019

Recently, I was lamenting with a friend about a gap in programming within the Atlanta Jewish community.  I explained that there was a great program through our local JF&CS for young adults (up to about age 35) where participants were invited to engage in volunteerism around the community (for Jewish and non-Jewish charities).  But at 45, I have long-aged out of this group and found this kind of expression of Judaism missing in my life.  He challenges me: “So why can’t you just start it?”  In less than 48 hours, I had developed a Facebook group and began populating it with events. This personal life-lesson reminds me of two things:  a) the need for gap assessment and b) Just do it!  Sometimes we spend so much time talking about something, over-thinking it, and processing it, that we miss a great window to just begin something.  UPDATE:  As of February 10 there are over 70 members of the Facebook group, 8 events scheduled for over the next six months, and the first event has already taken place.  Check out Mitzvah MeetUp ATL here.

September 2018

News articles emerged this week about a prominent (very wealthy) mega-donor who had made inappropriate comments to the female staff of one of the major organizations he supports.  The organization removed his name from their board list on their website and a source inside the organization said they will not be returning to this funder for a major on-going grant.  This situation begs us to ask – how do we sustain our organizations financially if a donor’s behavior/words are not in alignment with our values?  One Jewish mega-donor made a statement on Fox news slamming Democrats as ignorant.  This same donor has been known to make misogynistic remarks in mixed company.  On a smaller scale, many pulpit rabbis are fearful of taking an ethical/moral stand on political/justice issues for fear of offending major congregation donors.  So what’s the Jewish community to do? I would like to believe that the high road will ultimately lead us to donors whose values align with our organizations.  The recommendation is to not stand alone as an isolated organization facing these issues. Development professionals and lay leaders need to work together – across organizations – to identify donors whom they can go to together in order to speak about these critical issues.  Open the dialogue, set expectations, and make clear values-driven collective decisions. The power is stronger in numbers and donors will see the collective support and steadfastness behind these core issues if we work together.  

July 2018

Has it really been two years since I have blogged a “Route Recommendation?”  While I have posted several blogs in those two years, I haven’t stayed on top of this monthly commitment to offer tid-bits of advice.  Some of this may be attributed to the depression (original story: here) but some might be because I spent the 2016-2017 engrossed as the Interim Educational Director at a local synagogue and the last 12 months nose-in to my dissertation (still in progress).  So I wanted to share two gleanings, one from each of these experiences.

  • 360 REVIEWS!  During my time as the Interim Educational Director, the concept of 360 reviews came up several times.  The importance of this tool cannot be understated.  It gives the person being reviewed the opportunity to not only hear feedback from a supervisor, but from colleagues, direct reports and clients.  The employee has the ability to choose people from each category as does the supervisor.  This gives balance to the reporting as allies as well as those with concerns can weigh in on the strengths and weaknesses of the employee.  Some categories to consider in this review are: Interpersonal Skills; Problem Solving; Motivation; Efficiency and Prioritization; Teamwork; Interpersonal Communication; Time Management; Integrity, Honesty and Truthfulness; Staff Management; and Content Knowledge.  These categories offer a much broader data set than does an evaluation solely based on “goals met.”  Often times, 360 Reviews are facilitated by an outside neutral consultant.  Organizations should prioritize budget dollars to include the cost of an outside consultant to fulfill this important evaluation.
  • GET A COACH!  After staring at my dissertation, largely untouched, for the five years following completion of my coursework, I finally realized that I need a different kind of support and accountability than I would get from my dissertation advisor (who has about 30 other advisees and a full teaching course load).  Hiring a dissertation coach was the best thing I could do to invest in my own success.  Sometimes coaches come to us for various reasons – executive coaching, personal life coaching, fitness coaching.  We should not be afraid to invest in success – of ourselves or our employees – by investing in the cost of a coach.

May 2016

Dusting Myself Off.
Trying to emerge from “narrow spaces” (mitzrayim).

As Pesach 2016 comes to a close, I am reflective of the narrow space I feel I have been trapped in for a long time.  I can’t believe that I have allowed two years to go by without blogging.  Those two years have been filled with a lot of heart ache and struggle due to my depression (refer to this blog post for the original story: here).  A constant questioning if I will ever find my old self again – and the truth is – I am still not sure.  But here is what I do know – that when I am in the moment of “doing my thing” – whether it be presenting a workshop/training, facilitating visioning, mentoring staff, or teaching teens – I am happy.   I still gut check myself to ask “Am I still in the right field for me?  Do I still have a passion for Jewish education?  Do I still want to wake up every day and do this work?”  And the answer is still “100% yes” – on the days when I can wake up and get out of bed or off the couch.  It is so important that we not be afraid to ask ourselves these core questions on a regular basis.  If there comes a time when you sit and reflect on your passions and the way you embody them in your career and you don’t feel a connect or congruence, then it might be time to change careers – no matter how old or young you are.

May/June 2014

First of all, I want to acknowledge the overwhelming support I received after my last blog post.  The gratitude I feel is immense.  With over 1000 hits to the blog and hundreds of notes, emails and texts that I received in support, I know that I can be open and honest in all my future dealings.  We are on the verge of a culture shift, but each need to engage in due diligence to let our employees and lay leaders know that we operate “safe zones” for those battling mental health issues.  Consider partnering with your local Jewish Family Service organization to provide some information at staff training and board meetings.  Be explicit that you don’t want your employees to hide these health issues and that you will do everything you can to guarantee their job security – as with other illnesses.  Provide options in your employee benefits for true “mental health” days – understanding that for some people it means a random break from the pace of the job and for others it’s a pillar of steadiness that will help them get through the next hurdle without feeling guilty.  So many people have approached me in the last month to share about their personal battles and far too many are still afraid to let their co-workers and lay leaders know what they are facing.   This culture change will require many allies to help make the shift.

April 2014

There will not be an April 2014 Route Recommendation.  Instead, please read this blog post about being a professional dealing with depression. 

February/March 2014 Route Recommendation

How many assumptions do we make around Jewish celebrations?  That all b’nei mitzvah experiences are joyous family events and that Purim is fun for everyone?  I have heard some recent stories about family trauma surrounding brit/simhat bat, weddings and b’nei mitzvah.  Think about the bride/groom who walks down the aisle without a parent because s/he lost that person young … or the bar/bat mitzvah family who buried a grandparent only days before the simcha …. or the family who is in constant battle because of a divorce trying to come together for a brit.  What role does the community have in supporting these people/families in a unique way during these otherwise joyful occasions?  Who teaches us how to support them?  And what about the recovering addict who wants to celebrate Purim or Pesach in a sober, safe and supportive environment?  With so much emphasis on alcohol during these chagim (and even Shabbat kiddush), what words and option might we offer in order to be a compassionate community.   Consider what kinds of awareness programs your organization might need to put into place to support people through what the rest of us assume is a “joyous occasion.” 

January 2014 Route Recommendation:

Sometimes, it just all can’t get done.  This Route Recommendation is coming 11 days later than I normally post them because I have been sick with the flu for two weeks now and wasn’t feeling great even before that.  So much work has fallen behind as a result.  This situation has three great lessons for us buried within it.  The first, one that I often struggle with, is that not everything can get done right away.  Sometimes we need a “parking lot” for big ideas that come to us and often we need to re-prioritize the to-do list based on what our current organization realities are.  The second lesson is about admitting when we can’t do it all.   Sometimes we – as individuals or as organizations overcommit- which I also struggle with.  When we find ourselves in over our heads, sometimes the best solution is just to admit it.  Another lesson – which can be a solution for this – is to ask for help.  I think often organizations hesitate to call other organizations to ask for help.  Maybe it’s for something easy like asking to use a copy machine when yours is broken before a big meeting; or maybe it’s more complicated like asking to share an entire facility during construction.  While this item of the Route Recommendation on my to-do list loomed above me while I was sick, perhaps the best solution would have been to ask one of my amazing colleagues to “guest blog.”  

December 2013 Route Recommendation:

Much has been written about the “art of welcoming” but when is the last time your organization did a “Welcoming Audit?”   Did you read this article about the pastor of a church who disguised himself as a homeless man and went into his own church to see how people would act?  It’s kind of like an episode of Undercover Boss.  Here’s a chance to get dressed up in disguise or send in an undercover spy  (a “secret shopper” of sorts).  Do people get welcomed throughout your building? What does ‘welcoming’ mean in different spaces/areas of your physical building?  What does it mean if your organization is holding an event outside your walls? Are guests “welcomed” on the way out – meaning are they invited back or told that your organization hopes they return soon.   Spend a day as a spy in your own organization and see if the Jewish value of “Haknassat Orkhim” is alive and well in within your culture.

November 2013 Route Recommendation:

Partnerships are a two-way street.  Sometimes we engage people as “partners” but we never ask what we can do to help them, we are always thinking about how the partnership will benefit our organization.  What strengths, skills, capital, assets, etc does your organization have that you could “loan” to another organization?  Before approaching a potential partner to join you in something you are doing (or want to do), ask yourself what you might bring to that organization in the deal.  Even if the exchange isn’t immediate, by including it into the conversation you are validating the other organization and demonstrating that you care about them/their success and not just your own.

October 2013 Route Recommendation:

Every time I am lost in a subway station in Manhattan, I think that I should offer the City Planning folks a tour of the city through the eyes of a tourist.  I think this would help them with signage, maps, etc.   Because, honestly, what is there stinks and is less than helpful!  As someone who is a guest in a lot of institutions, I often think the same thing – that the “regulars” think that everything is obvious but as a guest, I can tell you it isn’t. Have you recently walked through your institution with the eyes of a new person who has never been there before?  I encourage you to take a day and pretend you have never been to your building before.  Not only will this help you understand how your guests perceive your building, but it will also help you in your on-board plan for new employees.  If you feel your “sight” will be too “blurred” by your own comfort of the space, invite a colleague who has never been to your facility to spend a day with you being your “eyes.”   This might help you not only understand what signage might be helpful, but what physical space adjustments might make your organization more welcoming.

September 2013 Route Recommendation:

I was sitting at dinner the other night with the digital strategy director of a local Jewish organization.  We were talking about how our two organizations (well, both of mine and hers – so three) utilize social media and integrate it into a larger communications plan. We were discussing how advantageous it would be if Jewish organizations in the same community made an agreement (call is a brit) to re-tweet and to share on Facebook each other’s events and announcements.  It sends a true message to the Jewish community when the organizations which serve as its infrastructure work together for a greater good.  Reach out to the other social media professionals in your city for a community-wide gathering.  Offer some professional development, share some ideas, and make that covenant.  As we approach 5774, may this be a time for renewal for all of us.  Shanah Tovah U’Metukah.

August 2013 Route Recommendation:

Consider a new twist on how you market your organization. Make a list of the 10 things your organizations does best. Ask 15 potential clients/members what 5 things they look for in an organization that does work similar to yours (whatever meta-category you fit into). Are there places those two lists cross-over? What would it look like for your organization to provide training, information or programming out in the community based on those topics? For example, if you are a JCC and are great at kids’ day camp, consider opportunities to run 1-day mini-camps all over community – at festivals, at the Jewish hospital for older siblings of newborns, at day schools during breaks, etc. If you are a Foundation or a fundraising organization, consider offering family philanthropy workshops in locations around the city. Make them geographically accessible and make the program about the content, and not a sales pitch for your organization. Once you have made first contact with people, on neutral turf and with a service they can use, you then have laid the foundation for a new kind of relationship with those potential clients/members. Follow up later with an informational enews related to the topic and then further down the road, invite them into your organization/building for another taste of what you offer. It takes time to build relationships and finding unique marketing opportunities will help you in that endeavor.

June/July 2013 Route Recommendation:

When people ask me about my approach to social media, I am confident to share that I have built my business off the back of Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and LinkedIn. Sometimes I am pressed to pinpoint a specific moment or strategy that tipped the scales. It’s an easy answer: live-tweeting conferences. If you have yet to venture onto Twitter, I apologize upfront for the lingo I am about to use and not explain – but perhaps it will encourage you to Google it or to just jump in.

The benefit of live-tweeting conferences is multi-fold:

  • Hashtags get you noticed by people who don’t follow you. Nowadays, every conference or large meeting has its own hashtag. Not only can participants in the event keep track of the tweets coming from the event, but it allows those who are not able to attend to jump into the conversation.
  • Which brings me to my next point. By offering those who can’t attend your live-tweets, you are providing a valuable free service to people. Oftentimes you can be come their voice in the room – asking questions they submit via Twitter. You provide them with a “Cliff’s Note” version of the content of the conference.
  • Twitter offers you the ability to showcase your otherwise “private” thoughts in a public forum. During a conference session or a meeting (when it’s appropriate) you can also provide quick op-eds for the content that the speaker is offering. You don’t have to wait until you get home from a conference to share your thoughts. You can share the powerful snippets the speaker shares, you can offer your commentary, you can engage in a discussion about it – all live and in the moment.
  • Retweets. When someone sees your live-tweets, commentary, etc and it resonates with them, they can re-send it out to all of their followers with a quick click of the cursor. Sometimes even the hosting organizations will retweet your postings. Now you have multiplied your exposure infinitely.

So, if you are trying to get noticed on a national platform for the value you bring to the field, try live-tweeting the next conference you attend. Then sit back, and watch your connections grow.

May 2013 Route Recommendation:

Webinar overload? In the last month, I have been on three webinars and given two. Sitting in front of our computers with 1000 other things to do often leads to significant multi-tasking. It’s so easy to dis-engage from a webinar because we don’t see ourselves as active participants. A piece of feedback I received from one participant in one I gave last week is “this is the first webinar where I didn’t ‘zone out.'” So, what might have been different between the one I gave and the countless others this person has signed up for? Participation. How often do we log into a webinar to only be spoken to and shown static slides for an hour (or more)? If we are lucky, there is an open chat box where people can introduce themsleves and if there are great people also on-line we can interact with the other participants (sometimes the BEST learning/collaboration takes place in that chat box!). Every once in a while, a presenter uses a poll (maybe one or two) during the course of a webinar. My best webinar experiences have come when the software used allows for break-out rooms and participants are given time to tackle an issue together in small groups and then are brought back to the main conversation to share and process. So this is a technique I try and utilize each time the software allows for it. Consider – is there a way to capture information from the participants ahead of time that you can use in the conversation? For example, use a survey software for registration and ask additional questions of registrants related to your topic and use the data within the presentation. This way, the webinar directly reflects the participants’ work and opinions. If there is a whiteboard where participants can mark-up a document or contribute to the creation of something, then use it. Showing movies, using audio clips, and embedding other multi-media tools all raises the quality of a webinar. Clearly, some of these techniques are reliant on the capabilities of the webinar software used, so be sure your organization has invested in the best they can. There isn’t a perfect formula, however, the more interactive you can make the webinar you are giving or hosting (just like any presentation), the better.

April 2013 Route Recommendation:

How many people showed up? How much did it cost us to run that program? How often are the programs you run being evaluated on one or both of these questions? How often are the top goals of your program about the numbers? Jewish education and Jewish living are about meaning-making, not about quantifying – and yet we consistently measure success by the numbers, doing a complete dis-service to our participants, our staff, and our stakeholders. In putting an emphasis on qualitative assessments, we open the doors to better understanding WHY our programs are successful (or not). Just evaluating a program based on the numbers never gets us to understanding what motivates our participants, what impact we had on their lives, and how our plan and vision came to life. In the last two years, I have spent a lot of time training groups on a unique approach to evaluation which ensures that staff, lay-people and stakeholders (i.e. funders and board members) assess the vision of the program, the process of implementing the program, and the meaning and the relationships the participants derive from the experience. Check yourself the next time you ask a colleague “How many people showed up?” and consider what other questions you might ask to assess success.

March 2013 Route Recommendation:

Self-reflection isn’t easy. Being honest with ourselves is even harder. Recently, I have encountered several education leaders who are taking the following stance … “I know my program/school isn’t as good as it can be, but there’s nothing to change, I’m doing everything right. It’s ‘them.'” Really? How can this possibly be true? There is no doubt that these leaders have sustained passion and commitment for Jewish education, what I think they are lacking is the ability to be totally honest with themselves. Change isn’t easy – it often gets roadblocked by fear of loss. In these cases, it might be that these education leaders fear loss of their jobs if they take too big of a risk and make too many changes and they don’t work. It could be that these education leaders fear the loss of their jobs if they admit that they let things go for too long. It’s critically important in a change process to be honest in self-reflection and include in that an admission that sometimes we get in the way of change due to our fears.

February 2013 Route Recommendation:

Be a practitioner. Often I interact with amazing education leaders who work as administrators, conveners, and consultants at large organizations – central agencies, Federations, JCCs, institutions of high education and national agencies. The number of professionals who spend time as practitioners is abysmally small. As a consultant and a doctoral student it would be extremely easy to not ever interact with children, teens, adults, and families in a Jewish education learning environment. However, the time I spend as a practitioner is extremely rewarding and more importantly, serves as grounded “research” for the consulting I engage in. Being a practitioner lends credibility for all of the suggestions I make to others. I have on-the-ground proof of what works as well as my own lessons-learned for what might not work. It’s time for education leaders to make a serious commitment to getting out of their offices and meetings and into the “classroom.”

January 2013 Route Recommendation:

The cost of doing business. I was recently speaking with a young professional who is heading a small Jewish non-profit for the first time. In going over the expenses she would encounter in the day-t0-day work of her job (i.e. driving all over the city to meet with volunteers, meeting volunteers for coffee/breakfast/lunch, picking up/transporting supplies to various locations, engaging in a lot of post-hours email communication with lay leaders, etc), this dedicated professional was shocked when I told her that the organization should be paying for all of these things. She said she couldn’t ask the organization to reimburse her for mileage (at least gas), for business meals, for her home internet … I am trying to coach her that this isn’t HER asking THE BOARD to pay her back for something this is THE ORGANIZATION LEADERSHIP ensuring that the cost of doing business is covered in their budget. As professionals, it is important we advocate for ourselves. Many of us in non-profit work make a lot less than our corporate counterparts – and trust me, they have company budgets for business meals and mileage. As lay leaders, it’s really important for us to think about what expenses our professionals will have as a result of conducting the business of our organization and committing to a budget that covers these expenses. I recommend that lay leadership ask their professionals to sit WITH them and review the budget in comparison to the actual dollars the professional is spending on the organization out of pocket and then work together to revise the budget and make a fundraising plan that will cover those expenses.

December 2012 Route Recommendation:

Intention. It’s a powerful word and an even more powerful concept. When we do things carelessly or haphazardly or even just in a routine way, the product we put out there often shows it. Even if on a subconscious level, consumers respond to intention in a very positive way. When planning a curriculum, it is important to be intentional about everything from pedagogy, to set inductions, to environment (room, mood, physical, social), to pre-communication about the program, post-learning reflection, and materials used. All too often, education leaders focus on the core content but aren’t focused on being intentional about the delivery of the content and especially not intentional about the “trappings” that surround the delivery and the content. This concept is important to transfer to staff meetings, celebrations, recruitment events, fundraisers, PR/marketing …. well, everything.

November 2012 Route Recommendation:

Sometimes, you just need to throw out your planned curriculum and help your learners process current events via our Jewish framework. As we begin November, we are focused on two distinct issues and then where the two converge: The Election, the impact of Hurricane Sandy and how this natural disaster might impact the election. Many Jewish education agencies have put forth response curricula on these topics. Even if they aren’t written with your target age audience in mind (i.e. if it is written for teens but you teach adults, or it’s written for elementary learners and you teach teens), the source texts themselves are applicable and the discussion questions and learning activities can be easily adapted. Here are some links to a few materials: 2012 Election, Responding to Crisis and some secular resources for teaching about Sandy.

October 2012 Route Recommendation:

As we usher in October with Sukkot, what lessons can we learn from our holiday customs? Ushpizin. During Sukkot we learn that we invite the souls of the seven great leaders of Israel – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and King David – to leave Gan Eden and to partake in the divine light of the earthly Sukkot (Zohar – Emor 103a). It is said, that each day of Sukkot, all seven souls are present, but each takes his turn to lead the other six. Collectively these transcendent guests are known as Ushpizin, the Aramaic word meaning “guests.”

There is a culture built into the Limmud programs around the world in which everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner. Titles (Rabbi, Dr., Cantor) aren’t used – aren’t even visually present – and each person is acknowledged as having the skill and talent to teach every other person at some point. The Limmud International website even boasts, “One of the key principles behind Limmud is that we all have something to contribute and can learn from each other.”

What does the leadership in your organization look like? Is it top-heavy? Is there a strict hierarchy or is it more of a team environment? Who leads staff meetings? Who leads staff training days? The concept of the Ushpizin taking turns leading each other can remind us that we need to take time in our organizations to learn from and lead each other. We need to acknowledge the unique skills that each person has and provide them with a platform to showcase their talents and leadership.

September 2012 Route Recommendation:

About eight years ago, I attended a conference where I was introduced to scholar and researcher Dr. Amy Sales, professor at Brandeis University. At that conference, she shared with the group her take on “surprise and delight.” I had never heard of this concept before (Google it, there’s a ton from the marketing world), but it really stuck with me. She explained that in her research of Jewish summer camps, one element she found to be the most dynamic was this concept of “surprise and delight.” She writes,

“Camps run on unbridled creative energy. This energy explains how the camp environment
generates fun, risk-taking, and constant invention. Indeed, camp is full of surprises
(Sales & Saxe, 2004). The field as a whole needs to
embrace this same creative spirit and continue to surprise the community…”

When I present on “High Impact Learning Methods,” I often integrate some basic ideas to bring “surprise and delight” into the learning environment. What do you do to integrate “fun, risk-taking, and constant invention” into your learning environment?

August 2012 Route Recommendation:

August is back-to-school (or education program) month for many of us. Which means a lot of new faces, new classes/groups, and a lot of introductions. A typical first day is a “go around the room, give us your name, what school you go to (or where you live), and your favorite Jewish holiday (or favorite Jewish food).” By the time you are on to the fourth person, the 20th person in the circle is bored out of their mind and completely disengaged. Instead of this method, consider several small group games in which you, as the education leader, participate in them. For example, if you have 30 kids in your class/group – make three groups of 10. Design three different kinds of activities each lasting 10 minutes that take place simultaneously. The games rotate through the groups so they all get to play all three games and you spend 10 minutes with each group. Consider the educational themes of the year for your class/group. Integrate those themes into the content of the games. Remember, the first impression the learners get of their education leader is “boring” if the introduction is boring. Instead, give them a little energy, surprise, and enthusiasm.

July 2012 Route Recommendation:

Someone recently asked me about why they should join Twitter. Social Media has been one tool I have used to build my business and particularly brand recognition. There is a lot of advice on the internet about how to best use Twitter. But what is missing here is the “free p.r.” a person or organization gets when they successfully “live tweet” an event. In that moment, you become a journalist – reporting your observations of your experience. My professional network grows by leaps and bounds each time I am at a conference and “live tweet” the sessions I attend. First of all, people who don’t follow you but follow the hashtag all of the sudden know you exist. Second, many people engage with you in a discussion about at least one of your tweets – here is a chance to show off your knowledge. Third, colleagues will come to know that you are a reliable source for information at conferences they cannot attend. Here is some professional advice on live tweeting (you will probably note that I only follow some of it).

June 2012 Route Recommendation:

What does your library look like? What resources do you have at your fingertips? Building a professional library is a career task that should not be overlooked. You might not even read a book you purchase right away, but you never know when you will go back to it. Sometimes you may only use one portion of the resource immediately and discover later other gems within the volume. The internet has been our recent go-to for information, but there’s nothing like cracking open a book you pulled from your own library. While it can sometimes break the bank, the investment is well worth it. One way to help get it paid for, is when negotiating your contract, build in a book line item; pre-negotiate that these are yours to keep when you leave. Whatever isn’t covered buy your organization’s budget, is tax deductible as a business expense. So keep those receipts.

May 2012 Route Recommendation:

In several areas of my work, the conversation around Jewish families and engaging Jewish families sits at the forefront. Before we can begin the work of building family engagement systems, we must ask “What is a Jewish family? Who’s in it?” The Jewish family began to change a while ago (or we just started to acknowledge that there is diversity in what a Jewish family looks like), but we are still not reflecting these changes in our marketing materials. Do an inventory of your website and your most prominent printed PR pieces: How many Jews of Color or Multi-Racial Jews are depicted? Are you sending the message that Jews with special needs have a place in your community? Do LGBT families have an image in your marketing that they can identify with? Does the single person feel their needs for family are being met by your organization? Does a multi-generational family know that their unique necessities for Jewish living are cared for in your community? How can they all get this message by your PR?

April 2012 Route Recommendation:

Sometimes when we are trying to impress others, build a business, network, etc we are afraid to admit when we don’t have a particular strength or skill. I am often asked to consult in areas for which I know are not my passion nor my strength. Could I do these activities (i.e. fundraising and quantitative evaluation), yes. Will I if a client asks me to, no. It’s really important to be authentic in your skill ability and to stick to it. Instead of looking at is as a short-coming, consider it as an opportunity to be a successful connector. Be sure your professional collegial network has in it people who have skill where you have weakness, and then refer them to your clients/boss as needed. Making a successful connection (shidduch) is much better for your career than attempting to fulfill a request you know isn’t in your core skill toolbox.

March 2012 Route Recommendation:

When we all became accustomed to the 140 character limit of Twitter, we began to push ourselves to communicate in concise ways that we never had before. As a presenter, I am now often asked to not only provide a full session description but also to craft a 140 character description for social media use. It’s an interesting challenge and if you haven’t ever pushed yourself to pare something down to the core essential message, the Twitter-method is one way to accomplish this. In the beginning of February, I participated in The Covenant Foundation Project Directors’ Meeting (held in NJ). The opening session was facilitated by the very talented Larry Smith who created and launched Smith Magazine. The core work is to capture Six Word Memoirs – what seems like a basic frivolous idea has boomed into niche concepts for business people, teens, Jewish community and more. There are table games and contests. There are books and customizable tshirts (I just bought one!). The entire concept is to boil your story down to six words. The stories our organizations have to tell are critical to our brand, our PR and our messaging, but all too often we either don’t tell our story enough, or we wordsmith them to death. Try distilling your organization’s story down to six words. I’m still working on one for JewishGPS. Here’s one example: Pushing organization boundaries. Changing Jewish Education.

February 2012 Route Recommendation:

I find myself often having conversations with both professionals and lay leaders/volunteers on the challenges of a) recruiting volunteers and b) tapping out the same volunteers repeatedly. While I can provide hours of consulting in helping organizations develop a highly efficient volunteer program, I wanted to share some pithy advice here. First, treat your volunteer structure as you do your entire organization structure – with organization charts, job descriptions and clearly defined expectations/guidelines. Second, invest time and money in volunteer training. Providing volunteers with the confidence to fulfill a volunteer role is half the battle. Many times they don’t feel they have adequate skill or knowledge to take leadership positions within your organization. Third, break down tasks into tiny, tiny pieces (did I mention “tiny?”) – spreading the responsibility (and therefore the ownership) and decreasing the overload factor.

January 2012 Route Recommendation:

Handwritten notes – are they an artifact from the past? Email and twitter are accepted modes of professional communication (and even Facebook depending on the transaction). But when is the last time you hand wrote a note and slapped a stamp on the envelope to communicate professionally? The time you take to go that step will not go unnoticed. Consider having two kinds of note cards printed for this use: a more formal one with your logo and contact information on it and a more casual one with your favorite piece of text quoted on it. Different occasions might warrant a different tone. Did a colleague or a lay person who you know personally do something to help you? Drop them a Thank You on your casual note cards. Because they have a text quote on them, it still keeps the note framed in your work. If a professional business contact reached out, follow up with a more professional card – but with your personal touch in the note.

November 2011 Route Recommendation:

I saw this on Twitter and think that it’s great advice: @joelleab: My new mantra RT @jonathanlev: If you find yourself in a situation where u are neither contributing nor learning-move somewhere else #jnets. It was posted as part of the twitter feed coming out of the Schusterman conference NetWORKS: Exploring the Power & Possibilities of Networks in the Jewish Community. This sentiment is really about self-awareness and self-reflection. Earlier, a participant posted this article where the core sentiment is “The only thing you really need to do to be great at networking is to be as helpful as possible to as many people as you can.” Both of these concepts emphasize taking responsibility for your role in your professional learning and professional networks and the ultimate intersection of the two. Establishing and actively participating in a Professional Learning Network (PLN) can be the most powerful tool in moving your career forward.

October 2011 Route Recommendation:

When is the last time you attended a Jewish professional conference that is outside of your area of expertise? outside of your network? We tend to return again and again to the same annual conferences that are specifically related to our movement’s education network, or our niche area’s national conference. While it is important to connect with our networks face-to-face on an on-going basis, it is also important to cross-pollinate, step into a field that might be foreign to you, and expand your knowledge and networks simultaneously. This might take the form of attending a secular conference or it might take the form of Camp Directors attending a Family Education Conference and a Family Educator attending a Teen Philanthropy conference or a Teen Educator attending an Adult Education training. What you learn in this “alternate” environment could have drastic impact on your work and your career.

September 2011 Route Recommendation:

In a renewed age of collaboration, we often find ourselves in partnerships with organizations that are a part of a different movement than the ones we work within or with organizations that come from a communal position. Pluralism is difficult (and isn’t the same as post-denominationalism). People strive to create pluralistic environments where they claim to want to make “everyone” comfortable. Pluralism (and I wish I knew who to quote on this) is about everyone being uncomfortable. How uncomfortable are you willing to be in order to create a space where someone else feels comfortable and included?

August 2011 Route Recommendation:

Are you solving the right problem? or just the problem that is presenting itself? Sometimes we jump quickly to solve what immediately presents itself as a trouble spot but more often than not the REAL problem is buried underneath the surface. If you only solve the presenting problem, you will keep running into the REAL problem – just in different manifestations. Think of an iceberg … are you melting what is above the surface or are you taking out the “titanic sinker” below the surface?

July 2011 Route Recommendation:

In the work that you are doing, what are the “uncommon connections” you can make with other organizations or professionals either in collaboration, or in advice-seeking? What are some “unintended influences” that you could uncover? Consider making a mind-map of your work. Take out a giant sheet of butcher paper and give the work (program, initiative, idea) a name. Draw a circle around it. Making spokes around it consider who could be involved, how others can get involved, what aspects of the program could be collaborated on, when is the work ideally done, where are some locations the work can be done. Be creative. Once you have the outer bubbles, begin to make spokes of bubbles off of each one of those. Are there places where two bubbles could intersect? Is there anything that surprised you that came out of this exercise? Are there any assumption you made that could be challenged? Are there barriers you put on yourself that could be taken down? Consider asking others to add to your mind map (or do their own and then compare/contrast the the versions). See where your mind takes you!

June 2011 Route Recommendation:

In a recent training session with Adam Shames (, he reminded me of the importance of “yes, and” in the creativity and innovation process. Just like in improv theater work, it is imperative to not shut down your colleagues’ thoughts during the ideation process. Say, “yes, and” instead of “yeah, but.” This will spur more creativity and not stall your group’s thinking. A critical piece of the innovation process is uncommon connections and outside voices/perspectives. Bring in unlikely people. Additionally, remember that creativity, innovation and growth take time. Invest in patience.

May 2011 Route Recommendation:

Michael Fullan, is a leading scholar on education change management. In his book, Six Secrets of Change, he emphasizes the importance of organization leaders working to “connect peers with purpose,” (Fullan, 2008, p. 41). Reflect on how well you know your fellow staff members and how well you think they know each other. Be deliberate about creating meaningful connections amongst your staff members. One way to do this is to create an environment of play. Physically, is there room for play in the workplace? Do you build it into staff meetings? Do you take days out of the office to play together (i.e. bowling, putt-putt golf, whirlyball, a visit to the zoo, etc)? These shared experiences create a strong foundation for connecting peers to each other.

April 2011 Route Recommendation:

When having meetings, use the time wisely. Circulate “reports” ahead of time via email, GoogleDocs, or wikis. Save the meeting time for problem-solving, collaborating, and decision making. If you feel the need for your team to check-in often, try a stand-up hallway meeting each day at a set time. By having a check-in standing up, people will speak quickly and succinctly – so they don’t end up standing a long time. By the time your team gets to a sit-down meeting, everyone will already be caught up on the reports, and you have time for the teamwork!

March 2011 Route Recommendation:

True innovation and change requires a safe environment for risk, asking hard questions, critical self-reflection. Before embarking on a “change project” take stock of you (and your organization’s) commitment to these tasks. If you/your organization aren’t willing to be bold in your experimentation and internal honesty, you probably aren’t ready for true innovation and change. Think about this quote from Kevin SmithFailure is success training.”

February 2011 Route Recommendation:

Learners thrive when they feel connected to a community. Creating a community in your “classroom” (or camp cabin, or youth lounge, etc) needs to be an intentional part of your curriculum and program planning.

January 2011 Route Recommendation:

When visioning for new education initiatives, try avoid using the words school, membership, teacher, student.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 26 other subscribers

Blog Stats

  • 12,658 visits
%d bloggers like this: