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Stories from the Field – Teachers Leading Change

What will Israel look like in 2048? It depends on us – the teachers!

Last school year was the one that changed my thinking about teaching. That year I had dreams and fulfilled them, I did much more than what I thought I could do as a teacher. The process I experienced during the year led me to recognize that the power lies in our hands – myself and the children – to change reality. In this article I want to share with you the process I underwent last year as a teacher at Amirim junior high school in Rishon Lezion. It was a wonderful process full of empowering experiences.

In September 2015, a group of students and I joined the Responsibility Israel 2048 movement as school representatives. Responsibility Israel 2048 began with the recognition that Israeli society is undergoing a process of social and ethical decay. The significance of our national heritage has become diluted for many Israeli youth, the citizens of tomorrow. They are indifferent and uninformed. They are losing their connection to their country, their national heritage, and its cultural and historical origins.

Responsibility Israel 2048 was founded by Yaron Jacobs with the goal of changing this situation and preventing social and ethical deterioration.

The movement aims to:

  1. Educating the importance of individual involvement in the life of society and state, based on a sense of public responsibility and belonging.
  2. Nurturing youth to be active, involved, and critical contributors to their community, society, and state.
  3. Reclaim public service as a desirable and respected channel for personal development, and training quality youth for public service.

After joining the program, I and many other teachers underwent training in Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and how to implement this pedagogical model in the classroom as part of the Responsibility Israel 2048 program. The teacher training module was led by Tamir Gabai of the Israel Democracy Institute. In this significant and exciting training, I acquired new teaching tools and methods that improved my teaching abilities in other areas as well.

In the training module, we learned about the PBL model and many different ideas for implementing it through the Responsibility Israel 2048 program. In addition, we learned the definition of a generative question. We gave examples from our work with students on generative questions, and gave and received feedback from colleagues on our classroom work in this area.

At the beginning of the Responsibility Israel 2048 process, founder Yaron Jacobs came to the classroom and met with students to inspire and motivate them to act.

Throughout the year, we held weekly meetings in class. Students learned to identify existing problems in their community and thought about the common good that underlies them. They then chose a problem they wished to focus on, researched it in depth, and defined a possible solution. As the teacher overseeing the project at school, I was present to support and direct the students along the way. But to my amazement, the moment the students chose a topic that interested them, they were excited to research it on their own, and the way they worked together to develop solutions was inspirational.

The students discussed and decided on their plan of action and the best solution to the defined problem, based on many research methods. They searched for information on the internet; conducted surveys among the school community through the Smart School system; shared their ideas in local media; and held “eye-level” meetings with relevant professionals.

We learned the definition of a generative question, gave examples from our work with students on this topic, and gave and received feedback from colleagues on relevant classroom work.

I was thrilled to observe the students’ learning process, curiosity, listening ability, and independent work on “grownup issues.” They learned to research, explore, find reliable sources of information, and filter out weaker ones. Their learning experience was a living example of a saying by the Kotzker Rebbe, a well-known Hasidic spiritual leader: “Never say, ‘I tried but I could not find.’ Trying is the essence of finding.” Students tried their hardest and found problems. They researched and found solutions. Even more importantly, they learned the meaning of the investigation process.

Towards the end of the year, students decided to focus on two projects, and formed two working groups. Each group included students who led implementation of the project through training, marketing, expanding the initiative, and other fields of interest. Both projects will be implemented in the coming year.

  1. Teaching financial management to children, with parental involvement in the process

The goal of this projects is to educate youth and their families in financial literacy, both to improve their economic status and to educate children at a young age in this field. The project will be directed and taught by college students majoring in funding and accounting at the School of Business Management from the College of Management – Academic Studies (COMAS). These volunteer teachers will be supported by members of the academic staff and led by Dr. Eyal Lahav and Ziv Segal, in coordination with myself as school representative. 

  1. Teaching healthy eating habits to students and training them as “health ambassadors” for younger students, with parental involvement in the process

The goal of this project is to educate youth and their families in healthy eating habits, for improvement of their health, their ability to focus on their studies, and their achievements. The students will receive health education and become “health ambassadors.” Together, the ambassadors and teachers will give experiential classes to younger students at school. This project was developed with the assistance of Liat Yehoshua, a pediatric and adolescent dietician. In parallel, the school will become an official “Healthy School” under Ministry of Health auspices.

Students tried their hardest and found problems. They researched and found solutions. Even more importantly, they learned the meaning of the investigation process.

Implementing Responsibility Israel 2048’s goal and the PBL pedagogical model in my work with the children this year created a powerful feeling of success for me. I was able to encourage creative thinking while supporting the students and learning from them. Throughout the year, I felt the joy of success in building a new product, team pride, and joy in their accomplishments. I discovered that anything was possible, and I began this new school year feeling that I was leading a significant change.

This is one of the most significant processes that I have experienced, both as an individual and as a teacher. I recommend that every teacher and educator integrate this empowering experience into their teaching method. They will be making a giant step in educating their students for the future and preparing them for life. I hope that this initiative will lead to a new way forward for Israel.

I would like to thank the principal of my school, Michal Zingbaum, for her faith and trust in my leadership abilities. She gave me the unmitigated support and feeling that “the sky is the limit” – from the moment she proposed that I take on the mission to presentation the projects to the mayor.

I would also like to express my thanks to Yaron Jacobs. Throughout the process, he visited the school on many occasions to meet with the children and gave his feedback and comments to improve and focus the projects. Yaron served as an anchor and focal point for the children, who viewed him as an important figure who developed a close connection with them. He was an anchor and source of help for me as well.

This year we have begun a new path of implementing the initiatives in our school together with the municipality of Rishon Lezion, COMAS, and the Ministry of Education. I am hopeful that these projects will grow and become models for other schools to pursue their own initiatives.

I would be happy to answer any questions and give additional information to anyone interested.

Ela Gabai

Ela Gabai

homeroom teacher, history and civics teacher at Amirim Educational Center, Rabin Junior High

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