Principals of leadership look to the future


The way in which tens of thousands of Israeli children are to be educated is being moulded at a gathering of school principals in London this week.

The 33 principals of schools supported by World ORT through its Kadima Mada (Science Journey) programme have been brought together for a forum on Leading Schools for the Future.

The Forum has strengthened the relationship between World ORT and the schools, bringing the creation of a World ORT framework in Israel one step closer.

“We’ve finished four years of partnership and are starting another four-year partnership. We’re going to create an affiliated framework in Israel and the schools represented here this week will lead the process,” said World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer.
Avi Ganon, World ORT Representative in Israel, added: “The feeling is that all of them appreciate very much what we’re doing together. We came here to learn how to make a difference, to be modern and relevant – and we’ve achieved that.”
Through a combination of school visits, panel discussions, presentations and simple schmoozing, participants have been exposed to best practice in the use of educational technology, the latest pedagogical advances and the benefits of being connected to a world of expertise.
As World ORT President Emeritus Sir Maurice Hatter said in his welcoming address, “Leading a school through a time of uncertainty and change requires dedication, conviction and courage. It also helps to have other professionals to turn to for advice and support. World ORT’s greatest strength is its ability and willingness to bring together its pool of wisdom for the greater good.”
There have been tours of three of England’s top state-run schools – Europe’s largest Jewish day school, JFS, Leigh Technology Academy and the New Line Learning Academy; interaction with experts including Brent Davies, Professor of Leadership at the University of Hull, and Hannah Jones, former Special Projects Director at the National College for the Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services; and a chance to share experiences with the head teachers of local Jewish day schools.
“It’s been a very practical and positive experience,” said Rivka Shargil, Principal of Shifman Comprehensive High School in Tirat HaCarmel. “I’m sure that I and others will bring back new ideas for our schools, especially how best to introduce new technology. It’s very important: an excellent teacher can do everything but most teachers are average and for them bringing this technology can change education in Israel and in my school.”
Assad Shibli agreed. His school has been working hard to break the cycle of unemployment and poverty in the Bedouin town of Shibli in the Galilee – work made more effective by the Interactive Whiteboards, cutting-edge ICT lab, computers, teacher training and lesson preparation facility (World ORT Teacher Empowerment Centre or WOTEC) introduced in recent years through World ORT’s Kadima Mada programme.
“The Forum has been extraordinary; it has given me a lot to think about,” Mr Shibli said. “We have been exposed to different things – new technologies and new ways of thinking. And I believe that we should re-think our policies; we’re really in need of something new.”
Professor Davies said he aimed to empower the principals to think about where they wanted to lead their schools over the coming decade.
“We talk about how people work together to create strategic processes and how people deploy approaches to do that and how they strengthen their own leadership to be creative leaders in the future,” he said. “Meetings like this are critically important. Most of my work focuses on having strategic conversations and the more people have those strategic conversations the more important it is.”
An influential presentation was made by Luis Perez, Director of Studies and Head of the International Liaison Department at ORT Argentina, and Viviana Jasid, the organisation’s Academic Director. ORT Argentina has an international reputation for its advanced and effective use of technology.
“We told them that it’s not a technological issue, it’s a pedagogical one,” Mr Perez said. “Some of the principals said that our presentation had changed their mind and they would have to think again about the new trends in school management. Our view is that we need to change the way our students learn, to change the role of teachers and students so that the student is the producer of knowledge and the teacher is a guide to accomplish, to help the students produce their own materials, to take an active position in building knowledge.”
But it is not only seeing the way technology is applied or discussing leadership strategies and innovative pedagogical approaches that has impressed the Israeli visitors.
Binyamin Hadad of Kfar Hassidim Youth Village, near Haifa, was impressed by the standard of decorum he saw at JFS, which moved into a stunning new campus in 2002.
“The relationship between teachers and students, the whole atmosphere of learning, of respect for adults, this was more important than the buildings. The kids knew how to behave”ᆭ The atmosphere was relaxed which allowed teachers to teach,” Mr Hadad said.
Moshe Yehuda Tur-Paz of Shaked High School, near Beit Sh’ean, added that it was fascinating but also frustrating to see the “big gap between what happens in Israel today and what happens in a school like JFS”.
But it is a gap which the principals are determined to close in the years ahead with World ORT’s help to ensure that new generations of Israelis are equipped to deal with the demands of modernity.
“Once, Israel was near the top of international rankings for the teaching of maths and science but now we are number 46,” Shifman’s Ms Shargil said. “So all of us have to produce a big change and World ORT contributes very, very much to this end. World ORT is one of the best things to have happened to our school. It’s not only the money and equipment it brings, it’s the push. The connection with World ORT has given us a special push to change, to think about new things. And the connection with the other principals, well, I always say, one plus one is more than two.”
The Head of World ORT’s Education Department, Daniel Tysman, said the Forum was achieving its aims.
“Their eyes have been opened to new and creative ways of teaching and managing schools,” Mr Tysman said. “We also hope we have given them some inspiration to help put Israeli schools back on the international map.”
Mr Singer said the Forum had prompted many stimulating and productive discussions among the participants.
“The Ministry of Development of the Negev and the Galilee covered half the costs of the Forum. It’s proved to be a very good investment,” he said.