CJP’s Jewish Learning and Engagement team offers varied professional learning opportunities for Jewish education professionals throughout greater Boston. Whether that professional works in a congregation, day school or community organization and whether that person’s focus is early childhood, youth, teens, families, formal or informal, we strive to provide interesting and meaningful learning opportunities for everyone.

Many of the professionals in our community choose to engage in some form of professional learning that is with a consistent group on an ongoing basis over the course of a year. Being part of a community of practice, a workshop series or a graduate course helps professionals deepen their learning in a focused, consistent way.

We also recognize the value in one-time workshops with someone who brings an expertise to share with the participants. These workshops provide an introduction and whet the appetite for deeper learning on a topic of interest. They also provide an opportunity for a youth educator to engage with an early childhood educator, and for a day school coordinator to talk with a synagogue director. Relationships are formed when colleagues engaged in the sacred work of Jewish learning come together to learn and share their thoughts.

This week, we had the privilege to learn with John Palfrey, Head of School at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA and co-author of Born Digital: How Children Grow Up in a Digital Age. This book, published in July 2016, is actually a revised and expanded edition of the first version of Born Digital, published in 2008. As you might imagine, a book about technology becomes out-of-date pretty quickly. The current edition offers educators and parents an accessible way to delve into many aspects of the lives of the generation we call “digital natives” and gives us all much food for thought.

Here are some snippets of the conversations heard around the room:

  • Parents and teachers of a certain generation view physical and virtual worlds as separate. For kids, they are totally connected and seamless. When students come into our classrooms or our kids come home at night, we don’t know what drama they have been following online, in social media or in text messages with their peers.
  • Kids are completely saturated in social media and their devices. That’s probably not news to us. Mr. Palfrey, as Head of School at Phillips Academy, actively encourages his students to take a break. He invites them to his house on a Sunday afternoon for a device-free experience. Perhaps more educators ought to follow in his footsteps.
  • Kids don’t phone one another these days without first texting to ask if it’s ok. We can view this as very polite. Or, we might wonder if it’s part of a social anxiety of this younger generation. What if nobody answers the call? Does the person not want to speak with me? How will I best express myself on the phone?
  • Youth tend to show just their best selves in social media. Does this help or hinder kids in their growth? Is social media a big reason behind the increases in anxiety, depression, and high expectations that our kids feel? How can we help them be their most resilient selves?
  • If kids today are having a large amount of their social interactions online, how will they learn to read emotional cues from people’s faces? How will they learn how to speak appropriately to someone when answering the phone if they’re spending all their time in a digital world?
  • And, while the workshop was geared for educators, many in the room were also parents. The big question for them was how much parents should be involved in the digital lives of their children in this very different world. If we are not in our kids’ environments to some extent, we can’t speak their language. But, fundamentally, we want to provide our kids with solid life skills and good common sense. Putting huge constraints on what kids can or cannot do does not engender feelings of trust.

Mr. Palfrey gave those of us in the room much to think about in our few hours with him. For everyone else, I can commend the newest edition of Born Digital to you. As the review in the Washington Post states: “The authors are knowledgeable but never pedantic, their studious, emphatic approach is both valid and reassuring, and their overarching point—let’s think about these things now, rather than trying to fix them later—well taken.”

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