Deborah Fishman sits with Naava Frank.
This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series.
[Naava Frank has always been interested in Jewish education and groups. After completing her doctorate at Harvard Graduate School of Education about the impact of summer Israel programs on adolescents, she worked for PEJE for 8 years and helped start PEJE’s communities of practice. She founded Knowledge Communities and was recipient of a 2006 Covenant Grant for ‘Kehilliyot Da’at: A CoP Meta Community for Jewish Professionals’, to advance the implementation of communities of practice in national Jewish umbrella organizations that promote Jewish education and heritage. She joined YU to build a network of day school professionals, which is now providing them with ongoing professional development.]
Can you describe what “network-weaving” means to you?
It’s an intentional effort to connect people with each other around the things they care about. It’s a mindset that understands that there’s value in that. To do it, you need to get to know people; you need to find out what they care about; you need to find out what they’re missing; and then you need to work to help people connect. The whole concept of a network of relationships is so prominent in Jewish history!
What added value do network-weavers gain from weaving networks?
I think the network-weaver gets the nachas factor. It’s great when you help people and see accomplishments as a result. Networks create new things in the world, and being involved in the creative process is meaningful.
Do you agree or disagree with the statement: “Today we live in a networked world”? What challenges exist and what opportunities?
The communications revolution, including social media and email, has affected so much. Take, for example, conference planning. It used to be that to plan a conference you sat with a committee in a room. You couldn’t wait for people to respond to letters asking what they wanted to see in the conference, and then write back again if you needed clarification. Now we can collaborate instantaneously. We can be much more in touch with the target audience, the people we’re offering services to and want to engage. But there are challenges as well. It takes a different set of skills, a certain amount of training and sophistication, to be able to weigh input. When you’re working with a group and need to come to decisions, there’s no way to meet everyone’s needs. You need to learn how to work with a community, get input, and make decisions so that disparate constituents are satisfied.
What, to you, is the difference between a network and a community? Or is there one?
A community has a shared set of values: shared interests and passions. Members are aware of each other and committed to the strength of community in a way that at times will lead to their making choices to put the good of the community before their individual good. A network is much more dispersed; it doesn’t come with the same sense of commitment. Relationships in a network are much weaker. As soon as they become closer, it becomes a community. Following the work of June Holley, I see communities as a subset of networks.
What is a community of practice?
A community of practice is a group of professionals who make a commitment to come together on a regular basis to learn from each other to strengthen themselves as professionals, in the process strengthening their organizations. The term was coined by Etienne Wenger.
Are there any networks you wish you could start – or have started?
At the YU School Partnership (YUSP), the vision is to create a network of Jewish day school educators, administrators, parents, and board members. We’re in a period of enormous upheaval in education, dealing with the implications of technology and financial challenges. But it is also a time of enormous opportunity. We need to harness that energy and opportunity to advance the education of those who educate our children.
What’s exciting is that – as articulated by network theory – innovations happen at places in the network where ideas collide. At YUSP we are in touch with Jewish day school professionals around the country and help them share their work. We help professionals face their challenges, feel supported and understand that they’re not alone, share resources, and ultimately make a difference in their work. In one of our communities of practice, a teacher posted an example of a homework assignment given to a class, and thanks to the use of technology, teachers in another school saw it and reported. It started a “homework revolution” among their teachers. This is how helpful ideas are spread.
What are some implications of networks in Jewish education?
I think that in Jewish education, and education in general, teachers have been isolated. It’s a profession where you just enter a classroom and do your thing. But research affirms the importance of educators learning from each other. The enormous, rapid change happening means that people have to develop new skills and strategies, and they can’t do that alone. There’s some resistance to sharing curriculum and ideas, some vulnerability in that, but there’s also enormous power to strengthen the Jewish community through supporting each other. For the next number of decades, there will be rapid change, and there’s a lot to learn. One of the best ways to learn is with peers.
To what extent do you believe networks are democratizing or self-selecting?
In their natural form, networks can be open and democratizing, but they can also be the opposite. Al Qaida, for instance, is a very powerful network. The fact is that people tend to stick to their own kind, and when people full of misconceptions and prejudice come together, they can feed on each other. This is not productive. That is exactly why the role of the network-weaver is important. A network-weaver is good at bringing new people in, challenging misconceptions, and helping people over prejudice when encountered. It can be hard to listen to someone with a conflicting view, but as an educator, I know it’s important, will help you grow, and benefits the community or network as a whole.
Dr. Scott Goldberg, Director of YUSP, believes there is value created by homogenous as well as heterogeneous groupings. We convene Modern Orthodox schools and also convene seven cross-denominational communities of practice based on shared-interest and collaborate with other denominational networks on the North American Jewish Day School Conference.
To find out more about YU School Partnership and its communities of practice go to yuschoolpartnership.org
Deborah Fishman is a network weaver interested in new opportunities to create change in the Jewish world. She was most recently Editor and Publisher of PresenTense Magazine.
This post is cross-posted on Deborah’s blog, hachavaya.blogspot.com, as a part of her ongoing conversation series with network-weavers about their best practices. If you believe you are a network-weaver and want to join the conversation, please be in touch using the contact form at hachavaya.blogspot.com.