Lessons from the Day School Initiative, March 1, 2022

Dr. Tal Grinfas-David, March 1, 2022

When it comes to boosting Israel education, some schools go through transactional changes, and some go through transformative changes. What’s the difference? Transactional schools add units and information, making superficial connections to Israel but failing to truly integrate curricula as do transformative schools. 

In transactional schools, students walk away with trivial breadth, not rigor or depth. Those small gains are better than leaving Israel education until the Yoms or assuming the Israeli faculty will cover it. But students are unable to critically consume information or find its relevance to their lives. Their burning questions about Israel are never answered.  

We have learned that two ingredients separate the transactional from the transformational schools: courageous leadership and a strategic plan. 

Schools that seek to transform the way Israel is taught have leaders who see Israel education’s value, articulate its goals clearly, and get behind teachers who experiment with instructional approaches, even in polarized communities. These leaders stand up to stakeholders who want to see their biases reflected in student instruction and can, without alienating those stakeholders, explain how polemics and inculcation are inappropriate for learning environments. Such leaders invite skeptical stakeholders to the next monthly meeting over coffee and doughnuts to discuss how the school works with students in an apolitical fashion. 

Courageous leaders communicate to parents and donors how the school nurtures a connection to Israel by fostering experiences that examine primary sources, even at young ages. They inspire faculty by engaging in the process and demonstrating that they always are learning. They model for the community how to have difficult conversations in respectful and nuanced ways. They understand how to lead instructional change processes and create accountability and measurement. They reward teachers who succeed and create professional improvement plans for teachers who resist. 

In short, these leaders embody with their actions and words their commitment to Israel education as central to the day school experience. 

It’s not enough for a school leader to announce that teachers will learn about Israel through professional development and pronounce that Israel will now be taught in an immersive way. Without a strategic plan and follow-through to guide teachers in the classroom, no real progress will be made. 

A strategic plan includes a structure — budget, master scheduling, measurable outcomes — but just as important is the stewardship of an instructional change process. These components must include challenging conversations at all levels of the school community about what Israel education should achieve, who should deliver it, which pedagogical approaches are best, and how the results will be assessed. 

Leaders must collaboratively craft aspirational mission statements to achieve buy-in and clarity for all. They should describe what a school graduate will know, understand and be able to do. And they should establish learning frameworks that adhere to research-based standards and benchmarks and guide professionals to create age-appropriate units around unifying concepts. 

Transactions lead to fleeting, small wins, but transformations lead to lasting, communitywide understanding about Israel. 

As CIE grows our day school cohorts and invests in transformational change in schools, leaders can consult with us on how to implement best practices in instructional leadership and drive the change process with confidence. We invite you to begin your journey with your teachers as a cohort at our special one-day workshop March 20 or our three-day annual workshop July 24 to 26. For information about the Day School Initiative, email Dr. Grinfas-David.