Monday, May 20, 2013

Networks That Learn

Since I first started this blog a little over two years ago I have focused on issues related to Jewish education in particular and education in general. My role in the field has shifted my vantage point, and my study towards an Ed.D through Northeastern University has provided me new tools and knowledge to think about my vision for education and the field of Jewish education as whole. I am deeply invested in cultivating a systems approach to Jewish education that will enable a design and experimental approach to transforming our field, primarily through a flattened approach to utilizing networks for conversation, collaboration and change. This is present in my doctoral research, my professional work as a consultant and soon to be employee of a Conservative congregation as the Director of Youth Learning and Engagement, and in my informal efforts to develop Jed Lab with members of my professional learning network.

Back when I worked in the entertainment industry, I only through of the word network as a verb, as in "I went to the showcase to network." Ever since I immersed myself in the world of Jewish education have I started to appreciate that network is really a noun, a structure of relationships bound in three dimensions by time, space and purpose. I think the reason I have been drawn to network thinking and networked learning likely because I intuitively seek out relational learning experiences, and I was an early adopter to using technology to discover and develop relationships (I met my wife in an AOL chat room in 1997).

As an educator, I have always been more interested in the process of learning that in discovering the best way to manage a classroom. For me, networks provide another structure and theoretical framework to understand how learning truly occurs. My work in the classroom as a teacher at Milken Community High School, as a volunteer for LimmudLA and as a Jewish nonprofit professional, I always emphasized relationships and experiences as a the primary ways to foster learning, growth and transformation. This occurs informally and formally for my students, my volunteers, my program participants and my colleagues. As I became more aware and practiced with networks, I have become more intentional and strategic in designing and facilitating dynamic network conversations and collaborations. 

Watch this great Tedx presentation by Mark Turrell, where he provides an excellent overview of the elements of Network Thinking:

Exploring networks creates a great opportunity for learning about what formal and informal networks mean to Jewish organizations, the field of Jewish communal service and education and our work as Jewish professionals. It is critical to understand the background behind frameworks for networks, and the learning and growth that comes from utilizing and activating natural and designed networks. Rabbi Hayim Herring posited that too many organizations rely on vertical hierarchies, operating under command and control leadership models, and are more activity driven than mission driven. I believe the horizontal orientation of network models emphasizes influence rather than power. For this very reason we need networks and networks facilitators to offer flattened relationship building and influence into a system where vertical structures create a great deal of repetition, competition and silos. We should not be afraid that new models demand a shift from old paradigms, but rather how these new models prepare us for the inevitable new paradigms as explored by Jonathon Woocher.

While we develop a common language for network thinking and weaving, we must understand that common terminology, such as "network weaving" and "network weavers" originated from a single author, June Holley, who coined the term. Her efforts culminated in a book used to support her ideas that individuals within a network can “knit the net” in “connecting those individuals and clusters who can collaborate or assist one another in some way.” While "weaving" may not be the perfect metaphor for this activity, June Holley and others such as Beth Kanter, have elevated the conversation of the role of networks, and the opportunity to use technology, including social media, to do so. Their work stands on the shoulders of great thinkers like Karen Stephenson, who provided the frameworks, conceptions and models to understand, utilize networks and evaluate our application of networks. I hope to explore new metaphors for network engagement that emphasize the relational process of network engagement, rather the structural elements of networks. 

My investment in networks began with connections fostered through shared purpose and interest. At the DeleT Alumni Network in 2009 in Los Angeles I recognized the bound teacher network of individuals trained through a common framework and with common language. We shared interests, passion and a desire for change in the field of education. We established meaningful relationships during our short period of time together at the conference, but developed a structure for engaging in collaborative research, advocacy and peer support.

Over the last four years, my engagement in the DeLeT Alumni network has provided me with a collegial support system as I have transition between jobs, assumed leadership positions. I have amplified my network engagement through opportunities the DAN has provided to go to three of the four of the North American Jewish Day School conferences, the first two as a DAN leader representative, and the last one as part of a group of 40 teacher leaders. In 2010, we collaborated with the Pardes Educator Alumni network for a joint conference. These were not just opportunities to be exposed to new ideas, content areas or professional development, but ripe opportunities to take advantage of developing meaningful relationships and established new conversations about the field of Jewish education and our work in it. 

For the most part, network weaving occurs informally, through people self-taught and self-motivated to foster relationships that bind and activate those who find commonality through ideas, purpose and action. For these people, and the institutions that are now finding roles internally to support them, their efforts go beyond simply enhancing the social links between members of their networks. Network weaving operates within a theoretical framework for structurally understanding that our field is recently adopting. Network thinking fights against the nature of isolated programs as silos, but understands our system structurally as a complex and layered set of individuals and organizations linked spatially and temporally across mission, geography and programming. 

What network weavers offer institutions, whether they be schools, synagogues or communal agencies, is a new way of thinking about activating individuals to collaborate and create in innovative and dynamic ways. This has been achieved in the field of social justice by community organizers, emblematic in the synagogue world by the URJ's Just Congregations. In the field of Jewish Education, several network organizations, including Hillel, YU and the Jewish Education Project have hired professional staff to engage in network weaving as key element to their overall strategy of engagement.

As I continue to immerse myself in developing my own professional learning networks, and to study networks in my academic work, I am thrilled to see the evolution of the conversation about the impact network thinking and behavior is having on our field. Many educational schools and organizations have worked with leaders in the field, like Darim Online, to understand how to re-imagine their institutional systems and embrace social media technology to address their network functions. Many organizations have invested in personnel and resources to further efforts to internally and externally weave networks within their institutions, member networks and the field as a whole. These include varied organizations with a range of strategic visions and models, including academic institutions, like Yeshiva University's YU 2.0 program, network organizations, like the Jewish Education Project, foundations, like Avi Chai and their new HaReshet program and engagement programs, like Birthright Next's NEXTwork initiative.

I am now working with Ravsak, who first exposed me to the power of networks through their extensive programs for the network of Jewish community day schools. Together, we hope to design a strategic and intentional model for engaging the network of educational leaders within Ravsak's network of member schools. This will entail training, developing and coaching network facilitators who will be as effective in fostering network learning as the great Jewish educators are in fostering learning in classrooms, camps and other settings.

For my doctoral research, I am exploring how organizations can facilitate organizational learning to cultivate network relationships amongst individuals and groups. I will create a case study, which I hope will be a valuable resource to our field by addressing: (1) What learning activities, on individual and group levels, facilitate and promote the sharing and interpretation of knowledge within networks? (2) How do individuals engaged in networked learning further their individual learning and collaborate to act upon shared understandings? 

As a professional passionate about the field of Jewish education and communal service, I want to address: 

1. How will we invest in a paradigm shift of thinking? This requires identifying and allocating the proper resources to do so, and to understand our network and field of education as a system? We need to invest the resources in understanding our network and field of education as a system. We need to use use tools, such as causal loop diagrams and systems diagrams, to understand the interactive elements of our systems, and the causal relationships that reveal how one variable within the system affects another. These systems thinking tools, like causal diagrams, allows us to understand how change in one part of our system (such as pricing for Jewish day schools) affects the whole system. This requires identifying the appropriate system archetype that reflects the narrative and templates for our field and networks. Each archetype provides its own “theme, storyline, patterns of behavior over time, structure, mental models and effective interventions,” allowing us to understand and diagram our system appropriately. This will enable us to see whether the bureaucratic organizational structures so familiar to our Jewish organizations truly reflect the needs of our organizations, networks and wider field. See the video below for a visual description of systems mapping.

Causal Loop Diagram


2. Will we invest in understanding network theory and its applications, using survey tools to study our organizations? Do we want to run the risk of these very influential frameworks and models being integrated as mere buzz words? Will we cultivate a new model of leadership to reflects the power of connectors, in Gladwell terminology, so that network weavers are developed and trained? If we want network weavers to fully appreciate their impact on the system and reflect the mission of the organizations they represent, then we need to cultivate network leaders that are not simply self-taught or those that happen to be present on social media. This means not just expecting that anyone within a network can facilitate a network's learning and activation. We need to design ways to train, coach and support our best connectors in mastering their skills and integrating into our most complex networks.

3. Are we willing rethink paradigms of leadership, where relationships of influence are as important as centers of power? While change may be slow to many Jewish institutions, the shift to network thinking provides a window into the ways technology and process thinking have altered the landscape of the world in general, and the Jewish world particularly. The advent of the Digital Age has transformed how people gather information, communicate with others and access power, so as to empower the many, rather than limit control to the few. We need network weavers to continue to connect people to others, but also to support the process of activating those with new passions for exploring this new found access, communication and knowledge.

4. Are we ready to embrace network weaving as not just a means to fostering social relationships, but as a new mode of education and learning? Network weavers serve at their best when they are facilitators of network learning. This requires rich knowledge of organizational learning theory and practices. Through organizational networked learning models, weavers enable organization's members who have gathered and interpreted knowledge and to share that understanding with others. A network weaver connects, activates and facilitates groups of individuals and organizations to coordinate, align and collaborate to create new models of engagement.

Let's start by building relationships. In the near future, I hope to write about the connections between Ron Wolfson's Relational Judaism approach and Networks.

So if you made it through this whole post, and we don't know each other. Let's connect, and expand our networks and learn together.

For more on networks in the Jewish sector, watch Dr. James Fowler's presentation from the 2013 Jewish Funders Newtork Conference:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Leadership & Revelation at Sinai

I write this blog on erev Shavuot 2013. This year I am teaching at Temple Beth Am during Tikkun Leil Shavuot, which will soon be my new place of employment. This year I chose to explore models of decentralized leadership in Jewish history.

Temple Beth Am Shavuot 2013
I am curious about leadership models in Judaism. Throughout Jewish history, the Israelites/Jews seem to swing between centralized models of leadership (Kings and Priests) and distributed models (Rabbis). I have always been fascinated by the model of Mosaic leadership, as Moshe seems to model both centralized and distributed leadership models throughout his leadership of the Israelites in and out of Egypt and through the desert. Erica Brown explores Moshe's leadership in the dessert in her new book "Leadership in the Wilderness", where she focuses on authority and anarchy in the book of Numbers. I am curious about the experience of Sinai.

So why not start with Moshe at his greatest leadership achievement: The Revelation at Sinai. Does Revelation occur through a process of centralized leadership or distributed leadership? Does it matter?

1. Yitro
The narrative of Revelation doesn't begin with the 10 Commandments. Rather, with a non-Israelite who was not even present for the Revelation. Yitro.

Chapter 18 of Shmot/Exodus begins with Yitro arriving at the Israelite camp, at the mountain of God. He is immediately idetnfiied as a person of authority and leadership, a "priest of Midian". After Moshe welcomes his father-in-law graciously, along with his brother Aaron and all the elders (a leadership pow wow), Moshe goes back to work "judging" the people. Upon observing his son-in-law's exhausting day and night leading the people, he asks:
'What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you sit by yourself alone, and all the people stand around you from morning until evening?' (Exodus, 18:14)
Moshe responds that he is doing his job. he tells them, "When the people come to ME to inquire about God, or matters between man and man, I tell them what I know to be the laws."

Yitro finds this model of leadership very unsatisfactory:
'The thing that you do is not good. You will surely wear away, both you, and this people that is with you; for the thing is too heavy for you; thou art not able to perform it yourself alone.'
Yitro addresses both the needs of the leader and the people in criticizing this centralized model of leadership.

He suggests an alternative model, shifting Moshe's role to facilitator, educator and ultimate judge, while identifying which men of the people the leadership should be distributed to:
Be there for the people before God, and you bring the causes unto God. And you should teach them the statutes and the laws, and shalt show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, that fear God, men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all seasons; and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring to, but every small matter they shall judge themselves; so shall they make it easier for you and bear the burden with you. 23 If you should do this thing, and God command you to do so, then you shalt be able to endure, and all this people also shall go to their place in peace.'
Yitro, through his great wisdom of experience, provides a model that addresses his concern for his son-in-law's well being, as well as that of the people. His model primary objective is not change the nature of the judgement, but to provide a systematic design for shifting the burden of leadership from one central figure to be dispersed amongst other able people. Moshe's leadership is still primary, but the burden is shared.

Moshe, acting as a good leader, listen to his father-in-law's advice and implements the model. Yitro, his working being done, and his wisdom shared, departs and goes back to his home, never to be heard from again.

2. Rashi vs. the Ramban
The medieval commentators, Rashi and Ramban present fundamentally different understandings of how to read and interpret biblical text. Their differences are not only rooted in their different approaches to how to analyze and interpret the text, but even a theological difference. This Yitro narrative provides a critical point of contention for them.

In his brilliant expose of the Yitro narrative, Menachem Liebtag explains that this moment in the text is a shift from narrative to instruction. He argues that:
we posit that to enhance our appreciation of Chumash, we must study not only the mitzvot, but also the manner of their presentation. This requires that we consistently pay attention to the 'structure' of the 'parshiot' in Chumash, as well as to their content.
There is a considerable question about where the text adjust chronological progression of the narrative in order to support the communication of the mitzvot (commandments for connectedness). This is often referred to as popularly known as "ein mukdam u'm'uchar ba'Torah" (there is no chronological order in the Torah).

Leibtag explains the different positions of Rashi and Ramban:
Rashi, together with many other commentators (and numerous Midrashim), consistently holds that "ein mukdam u'm'uchar," while Ramban, amongst others, consistently argues that "yaish mukdam u'm'uchar," i.e. Chumash does follow chronological order.
However, Rashi's opinion, "ein mukdam u'm'uchar," should not be understood as some 'wildcard' answer that allows one to totally disregard the order in which Chumash is written. Rashi holds that the mitzvot in Chumash are organized by topic, i.e. thematically, and not necessarily in the actual chronological order in which God gave them to Moshe Rabbeinu. Therefore, whenever 'thematically convenient,' we find that Rashi will freely 'move' parshiot around.
Ramban argues time and time again that unless there is 'clear cut' proof that a certain parshia is out of order, one must always assume that the events as well as the mitzvot in Chumash are recorded in the same order as they occurred. For example, the commandment to build the Mishkan was given before "chet ha'egel" despite its thematic connection to that event! (See Ramban.
Even though this controversy of "mukdam u'm'uchar" relates primarily to 'parshiot' dealing with mitzvot, there are even instances when this controversy relates to the narrative itself.
Yitro's arrival to the camp, and his role in transforming Moshe's leadership model, presents a prime case of confusion about chronological order. For how could Moshe be sitting in judgement about God's laws prior to having received them through the process of Revelation.

Three possibilities imerge.
  1. Ibn Ezra: Yitro's transformation of Moshe's leadership took place after Revelation (there is no chronological order in the Torah)
  2. Ramban: Yitro's transformation of Moshe's leadership took place before Revelation (arguing that without conclusive proof, the entire narrative took place when it is written
  3. Rashi: Yitro arrive before Revelation, stuck around for the fireworks, and then after Moshe returned with the second set of tablets transformed Moshe's model of leadership.
 Leibtag points out that these medival commentators follow a progression of logic when a narrative appears to be 'out of order,'. We can either:
    1) Attempt to keep the chronological order, then deal with each problematic detail individually.
    2) Keep the chronological order up until the first detail that is problematic. At that point, explain why the narrative records details that happen later.
    3) Change the chronological order, and then explain the thematic reason why the Torah places the 'parshia' in this specific location.
So why does this matter.

3. Preparing for Sinai.
In Chapter 19 of Shemot/Exodus, God, Moshe and the Israelites proceed through a process of creating a convental agreement that results in God's Revelation, but only after a precise process of preparation and boundary setting. Many people presume this process presents a model of unilateral decision making by Moshe on God's behalf, however upon a close reading of the text, it is clearly anything but. Rather, the chapter presents a model of collaborative decision making in which God, through God's agent, Moshe, engages in a back and forth with the Israelites to affirm their agreement first to become "You shall be my own treasure, from among all people; for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.", but only if the Israelites agree to "listen unto My voice indeed, and guard My covenant." (Exodus 19:5-6) 

I find these two verses to be the keys to understanding the relationship between God and the People of Israel (for all eternity) and our very mission as a Jewish people. Upon the Israelites acceptance of thi primary covenantal directive, God offers to, "'I will come down to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever." (Exodus 19:9)

From this we see a slight alteration from what most people expectations of God's intentions for Revelation. This verse clearly paints God's intentions for Revelation as not an event for the people to become connected with God, but rather to validate Moshe's leadership. The people will hear God speak TO Moshe, so that they will believe Moshe forever.

This text provides the basis for Menachem Leibtag brilliant commentary on the Revelation at Sinai.
 Leibtag recognizes that :
It appears from this pasuk (verse) that God plans to use Moshe Rabbeinu as an intermediary to convey His laws to Bnei Yisrael, consistent with Moshe's role as liaison until this time. Nonetheless, God insists that the people 'overhear' His communion with Moshe, so that they truly believe that these laws originate from God, not Moshe.
Why? Leibtag finds a hint in that the after Moshe reports God's intentions to the people, it does not continue with the people's agreement and Moshe reporting back to God, but rather, "And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Go unto the people, and sanctify them to-day and to-morrow, and let them wash their garments, rand be ready against the third day; for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai."

WHOA. Big Shift. Instead of God talking to Moshe, now suddenly God will speak directly with the people, in their own sight, but only after a period of preparation.

WHAT HAPPENED? Leibtag argues that unlike many people's assumptions that this process was unidirectional, quite the opposite, the people had a say. There was an original Plan A that God directed Moshe to offer the people after they accepted the Covenant of Sinai, and the people wanted Plan B.
As we noted earlier, 19:9 implies that Moshe will act as an intermediary; from now on, we refer to this as Plan A. 19:11, however, implies that Bnei Yisrael themselves will see God; from now on, we refer to this as Plan B.

According to Leibtag the key to understanding what the purpose of Revelation was all about is understanding that the text provides a blueprint to God's model of engagement with the People through his facilitator, Moshe. A singular plan shifts to a secondary plan, motivated by the people's wills and desires for a more direct relationship with God than was originally intended. This text provides insight that Exodues 19:5-6 is the key texts we should all be honoring in our daily lives, while Revelation was the carrot that the Israelites wanted a bigger bite of.

4. What happened?
Things never go as planned in Biblical text, especially when we want more than we can chew. Unlike God's original intention of speaking to Moshe and having the Israelites be exposed secondarily, Revelation begins with God, "And God spoke all these words saying"...we all know what comes next..the 10 Utterances (Asseret Hadibrot).

However, immediately upon listing these utterances, the verse reads, "And all the people perceived thunder and lightning, and the voice of the horn, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off." Did the people have this Revelation before or after God spoke?

What was their response, "And they said unto Moses: 'Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.' And Moses said unto the people: 'Fear not; for God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before you, that ye sin not.' And the people stood afar off; but Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was."

Leibtag explains the sequence as follows:
This short narrative provides us with a perfect explanation for why God chooses to revert from Plan B back to Plan A. The reason is quite simple - the people were frightened and overwhelmed by this intense experience of "hitgalut," and they therefore 'change their minds.'
So maybe Plan B wasn't so perfect.  Leibtag summarizes his analysis:
To summarize, in chapter 19, it was unclear whether or not Bnei Yisrael would hear the Dibrot according to Plan A (as God originally had planned) or at the higher level of Plan B (as Bnei Yisrael requested). Later, in chapter 20, the Torah describes how Bnei Yisrael were frightened and requested to revert back to Plan A. Ramban claims that this story took place before Matan Torah, and thus the people heard all ten commandments through Moshe (Plan A). Rashi maintains that this story took place during the Dibrot; hence the first two Dibrot were transmitted according to Plan B, while the remainder were heard according to Plan A
 For a complete read of Leibtag's thorough exploreation, go to his site:

5. Moshe the Leader
Leibtag's analysis of The Revelation narrative of Exodues 19-20 provides great insight into why Yitro's arrival must have been before Revelation, as the Ramban and Rashi posit. It has less to do with Moshe's need to judge and whether they had God's mitzvot to address. Rather the key is whether Moshe as a leader could have been prepared to serve in the role of leader as faciliator that God and the people needed for the experiences described in Chapters 19 and 20 that follow Yitro's arrival.

In the cementing of the Covenant of Sinai and proposition for Revelation (Exodus 19, 1-8), the shifting from Plan A to Plan B (Exodus 19:9-18) and the highs and lows of the Revelation (Exodues 19:19-20:17), Moshe's leadership is flexible, open to suggestion and adaptable to the needs and voice of the people.

All the more so, in an interesting side note, the one time Moshe departs from playing his facilitator role, and doesn't merely rely God's instruction is when he tells the people, "And he said unto the people: 'Be ready against the third day; come not near a woman." (Exodus 19:15). This gender specific insruction, so out of place from the rest of the instructions, only comes from Moshe, perhaps a window into the what happens when a facilitative leader shifts to a directive leader and suddenly the human elements of gender distinction enters the Revelation experience.

So what does this have to do with Yitro? I really wonder what made Moshe, the prince of Egypt, who until know has struggled to lead the people in any way other than as a authority figure punishing the Egyptians and their Phaoroah, splitting the sea, providing food and drink in the dessert, fighting off the Amelikes, suddenly is able to shift into this new facilitative role. What transformed this leader to completely modify his approach?

6. The power of Yitro's distributed leadership.
While the text utilizes Yitro's entrance to provide a valuable lesson of humility for the long suffering leader of the Israelites, it also provides him a way to ease his burdens. Greater than this it provides a model of leadership that can last forever. Yet, the greatest lesson might be that Yitro HAD TO ARRIVE BEFORE REVELATION. Yitro had to prepare Moshe to be a facilitative leader. By sharing the burden of teaching and judging with the able men provided from the people, Moshe could both develop trust in the people to share the decision making and be prepared to serve in the more necessary role as facilitator. Without Yitro, the non-Israelite, the outsider, who doesn't even stick around this would not be possible. What Yitro had was the ability to see the big picture, what Ron Heifitz calls, seeing from the Balcony. In Heifitz' terms, Yitro's outsider status, couples with experience and wisdom, found an opportunity to provide adaptive leadership, a seemingly critical lesson for Moshe to prepare him for Sinai.
See Heifitz describe what adaptive leadership is in this video:

7. Postscript
So does Moshe learn his lesson. It is unclear. Mosaic leadership is defined by Moshe's seemingly swinging pendulum between facilitated and directed leadership. Quite frankly, when he is not facilitating distributive leadership bad things happen: Golden Calf, Korach, the Spies, etc. When Moshe uses distributed leadership and acts as a facilitator, progress occurs, as with the Daughters of Tzelafchad.

What lesson can we learn for both our understanding of Jewish history and our contemporary age?

Do we historically emphasize certain models of leadership? Is the time right for leadership that is more facilitative than directed? Do we need to support structures throughout Judaism and within our organizations that emphasize distributed leadership? Do we need to alleviate the burden from our greatest leaders, while not relying on charismatic leadership to guide us?

Can we learn that we do not need central authority?
Let's all agree that we need to empower every Jew to achieve our collective mission: