*Please note: in July 2008, the CIE inherited the Emory Institute for the Study of Modern Israel’s prestigious decade of experience, including its nationally renowned professional development workshops.
From 2003 through 2005 the AVI CHAI Foundation funded four intensive “Workshops on Modern Israel” presented by Emory University’s Institute for the Study of Modern Israel (herein referred to as ISMI or the Institute). These professional development programs attracted the participation of 240 educators who work in Jewish Day Schools, Congregational Hebrew Schools, and informal Jewish education, as well as staff of other Jewish organizations, all of whose attendance was heavily subsidized by the Foundation. The goals of ISMI are to educate workshop participants about Israeli history, politics, and culture and to equip them with materials and strategies to effectively teach about modern Israel in their educational settings and the wider community.
Findings of the Survey Across the board, the findings with regard to the quality of these workshops and the use of the materials and strategies in the participants’ teaching afterwards are overwhelmingly positive. 69% of the respondents to the survey indicated that, when compared to all other seminars and continuing professional education programs they have attended during their professional careers, the ISMI workshop was “the best and most comprehensive,” and another 25% ranked it “in the top 20%.” (Only 2% rated it in the lower 50% of programs they have attended.) If ISMI were to create a follow-up workshop exclusively for alumni of the first program, an astonishing 89% said they would plan to attend (although only 32% said they would do so if they or their school had to undertake the bulk of the costs of participation).
What were the elements that created such an outstanding experience for so many of the participants? An experienced educator and teacher of pedagogy explained: “It [LA 2004 workshop] had all the parts: truly experienced and committed speakers who knew what they were talking about on a deeper level and who interacted with participants both formally and informally. There was a lot of variety among the participants, yet it all flowed and held everyone’s attention. I remember beginning the workshop with minimal knowledge of the subjects and feeling overwhelmed. As the week progressed I found the lectures, readings, discussions and presentations extremely satisfying. The other attendees offered their experience and strategies which helped me bridge gaps in construction of my own curriculum goals and objectives.”
When asked what they remembered most about the workshops, five themes appeared most frequently in the participants’ remarks: (a) consistently high caliber and level of knowledge of the speakers (often mentioning Prof. Stein in particular); (b) excellent resource material; (c) well-organized program content; (d) learning from other participants; and (e) administration, ambiance, and attention to detail.
Knowledge of Modern Israel As a group, the alumni are highly motivated to learn about Israel: 95% came to the workshop to be able to teach better Israel content to their students; 83% came also to improve their own knowledge; and 81% say they are among the most motivated teachers in their schools in their interest in teaching about Israel. But when it comes to their prior knowledge of the Israel and Zionism, the data presents a picture of a bifurcated audience that workshop planners were addressing.
^ On one side were those who describe their knowledge as “broad and current” – 54% or even “extensive and sophisticated” – 16%; and in the same lecture hall 30% of the seats were occupied by colleagues with only “very limited” or “basic” knowledge.
^ Around 70% had taken at least two university-level courses on Israel and Zionism or Modern Jewish History; while 30% had not taken any.
^ Half the participants read Hebrew fluently or well enough to comprehend a newspaper; whereas the other half have no access to first-hand sources because their written and spoken Hebrew is too weak.
These findings underscore the major accomplishment of ISMI in being able to deliver the goods to such divergent customers.
Teaching about Israel in their Educational Contexts These educators work in settings in which 63% of them don’t have sufficient time to cover the required curriculum. So it should not surprise that even though 86% state that educating students about modern Israel is an important value (38%) or one of the top priorities (48%) of their schools, 74% don’t have sufficient class time for the subject. Just over half (52%) say that the approach to teaching about Israel in their settings is not systematic, and in 98% of those cases the primary reason is that the core curriculum takes up all the teaching time.
Despite those limitations, the impact of the workshops was clearly traceable when the participants returned to their educational work. Here are some indicators:
▪ 90% of the alumni viewed educating their students about Israel as a higher priority than before the workshop, with 57% saying it is now one of their highest priorities.
▪ 87% report that the school administration has been supportive of their efforts to implement content and methods learned at the workshop.
▪ They increased by 6%-27% the weekly class time dedicated to teaching about Israel.
ISMI Workshops on Modern Israel – A Unique Opportunity There was virtual unanimity among alumni that ISMI workshops constitute a unique continuing education opportunity for Jewish educators in North America. Although 54% have participated in other professional development programs on Israel in the past five years, they described such opportunities as “in-service sessions of a couple of hours’ duration or one day at the most.” A DS educator (Boston 2005) said: “This is the only program that dedicates this amount of time to the focus on Israel, with the pairing of high level academic content and pedagogical tools.” And her colleague at the same workshop stated: “If I had not gone this summer, I wouldn’t have placed Israel as such a high priority. I came back energized and with resources. I don’t know of other professional development programs that offer both those on this level.”
In the interviews we asked whether there may have been an impact on their careers had alumni taken such a workshop earlier? Quite a number speculated that this program could very well have impacted their careers. The Head of a DS Hebrew Department with over 16 years experience in Jewish education said: “Once I saw how vital this material can be, perhaps I would have gone more into teaching history.” Another participant who has been a history and social studies teacher in Day Schools for 35 years noted: “I began teaching courses on Israel before materials had been created. It is very difficult to find good written material in English. Such a workshop would have saved me years and years of gathering materials.”
*Taken from HaCohen, Avraham Y. “Survey of Participants in the ‘Workshops on Modern Israel’ of the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel of Emory University,” Interim Report- January 19, 2006.