Schools and communities who are considering adopting the BASIS model should consider the following set of factors and processes that we believe will contribute to success and which should be assessed before the start of the initiative. However, we emphasize that what should be assessed is not necessarily pre-existing capacity as much as potential capacity.
1. School Leadership Involvement
Creating and sustaining a great Israel education program requires involvement of the school leadership – both the lay and professional leadership.
The Head of School must be willing to support a school-wide initiative involving teachers, students, and parents and must be positioned to do so.
The Board must be positioned to support this initiative in a few ways:
- Participate in developing the vision;
- Support the allocation of Head of School time and school resources;
- Act as ambassadors on behalf of the initiative with parents and other stakeholders;
- Work with the Head of School to develop a sustainability plan.
These conditions and processes need not be in place; rather, the school should be assessed as ready to support these processes when they are implemented.
Questions to consider:
- Will the Head of School be in a position to provide support to the Israel Education Coordinator’s efforts and work with him/her and others to lead or support the planning, budgeting , and reporting?
- Can the Head of School personally demonstrate leadership (at least on a symbolic level) and enthusiasm in leading the school community to embark on this major initiative?
- Is the Board positioned to support a significant school community-wide initiative that awards a central place to Israel in the life of the school? Will the Board be willing and able to support a development plan that envisions obtaining or allocating resources to support Israel education?
- Are there circumstances now or in the near future that might prevent or inhibit school leadership from providing the attention this initiative would need – for example: a major capital campaign, a school financial crisis, or an anticipated difficult transition in school leadership?
2. Interdisciplinary Collaboration
Successful Israel education programs involve strong interdisciplinary collaboration and integration. Schools that excel at such collaboration and, in particular, integration of general and Jewish studies, are well-positioned to support an effective interdisciplinary approach to Israel education.
Schools that have not exhibited this strength can succeed; however, they should be willing and ready to support such interdisciplinary approaches. Schools should be aware that this necessitates supporting processes and time for Israel educators, Jewish and general studies faculty to collaborate. While the initiative infrastructure can provide consulting expertise to support this process, the school must be prepared to invest the time to engage in it.
Questions to consider:
- Does your school culture support collaboration among disciplines and between Jewish and general studies faculty?
- Do you have general studies faculty (e.g., teaching literature, social studies, arts and music) who are willing and capable to explore ways of integrating Israel education into their instruction?
3. School Community
Israel study and engagement can provoke strong opinions and emotions among school stakeholders – including parents, teachers, students, and donors. While Israel education does not presume a specific political agenda, initiative participation would endorse the conviction that Israel education is an essential component of Jewish education.
Some questions to consider:
- Are school community stakeholders prepared to support a curriculum that engages students in the study of Israel and aims to develop among the students a personal and meaningful understanding of and connection with Israel?
- Are parents and educators prepared to support an Israel travel program that will on some regular basis bring students and faculty on trips to Israel?
4. Readiness for Professional Development
School faculty need not be expert in Israel education at the start; if they were, your school probably would not need to participate in such an initiative. BASIS provides professional development opportunities for faculty to attain expertise to inform their instruction. The school needs to be ready to enable the faculty to participate in such opportunities. These may include:
- In-school professional development programs;
- Community-based professional development programs;
- Faculty programs in Israel.
Because of the multi-disciplinary nature of Israel education, involvement in these opportunities beyond Jewish studies teachers is warranted.
Outside of Israel travel (which is generally not less than one week in duration), teachers might expect to participate, on average, in one day of professional development per school term.
Question to consider:
- Can the school accommodate broad-based teacher participation in Israel education-related professional development activities? This would entail:
- Paying for substitute teachers for activities during school;
- Offering a stipend to teacher if they are asked to participate in PD activities beyond normal hours;
- Closing school for occasional in-service activities.
5. Expertise from Within the School’s Community
While pre-existing expertise in Israel education is not required for a school, having a core of knowledgeable and skillful Israel educators is helpful (note: we do not see a correlation between being an effective Israel education and being a native-born Israeli). Other useful skills and resources include:
- Knowledge and skills in curriculum development (we employed Understanding by Design as a methodology);
- Librarian and/or expertise in educational resources;
- Knowledgeable IT support;
- Creative arts faculty and program.
These are not prerequisites; however, capacity in these areas contributed to success for the first cohort of BASIS schools.
6. Pre-existing Israel Education Program
The BASIS process has proven to be most successful in schools that demonstrated a previous commitment to Israel education. Such schools will already have put in place some structures and pedagogies that will save time and money as the school enters the process.
While a robust Israel education program a priori is not required, the extent to which Israel education is already practiced in the school, and has been accepted and even embraced by the school community, can be an indicator for success and readiness for greater achievement.
Question to consider:
- Does your school currently invest and allocate resources to Israel Education?
- Do you sponsor a student trip to Israel on an annual or bi-annual basis? If not, can you envision doing so with the school community supporting such an endeavor both educationally and financially?
- Do you envision significant resistance to a school-wide initiative to elevate Israel education?
7. Effective Israel Coordinator
The importance of the school’s Israel Coordinator in moving the BASIS process forward cannot be overstated. The Coordinator is the force that moves the process forward. The Coordinator ideally comes from within the school, and is intimately familiar with the school, the faculty, the students and the families as well as with the school’s curriculum and pedagogies. The Coordinator needs to be someone who could function as a leader and a mentor to others within the school. The Coordinator needs to be able to work successfully with Judaic and general studies faculty as well as with administration and families. Israel Coordinator will need to have the time and the backing from the school leadership in order to perform the role successfully. And the Coordinator must command the respect of faculty peers in order to achieve results – thus, the Coordinator must have authority derived from a structural position and backing of the school leadership, and influence derived from the Coordinator’s credibility among the faculty.
We suggest the Coordinator devote 20-40% FTE to this task.
Question to consider:
- Is there a member of your school’s community who possesses the appropriate skills and qualifications to carry the process forward?
- Can the school allocate the appropriate resources to enable the Coordinator to perform their role successfully?
- Is the school leadership prepared to invest authority in the Coordinator needed to advance the program?
8. Curriculum Development and Pedagogy
We discovered that one key ingredient to excellent Israel education is simply sound pedagogy. The BASIS focus on pedagogy, including intensive training in Understanding by Design and curriculum mapping created ripples of educational benefit beyond Israel education.
Schools need not have expertise in Understanding by Design or in other approaches to educational planning and assessment. However, the more solid the foundation of educational practice in the school at the outset, the easier the path to developing an effective spiraled Israel curriculum and educational program.
Question to consider:
- Can you provide faculty the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills in pedagogy and curriculum development and the opportunity to participate in developing curriculum?
9. Community and Communal Scaffolding
Chances of success are greatly enhanced by the existence of a cohort, and the ability of that cohort to collaborate to mutual benefit. A central or communal infrastructure to provide the support scaffolding, management and administrative backbone, and vision and leadership was also essential.
Pre-existing BASIS, Jewish LearningWorks’ Israel Education Initiative possessed a robust and sophisticated Israel education consulting capacity – with a strong focus in school twinning, Israel encounters, arts & culture, and informal education. Additional expertise in pedagogy and curriculum design were needed, along with a director to provide leadership and direction.
A network of Heads of Jewish Day Schools served as a vehicle to represent the schools and provide a conduit for communications and policy discussion prior to, at the outset, and throughout the initiative.
A central infrastructure to provide consulting, support, guidance, and administration is essential. If the capacity does not exist locally, it can be provided by a national entity, such as iCenter, or via a partnership between a local agency and a national platform (as existed for Jewish LearningWorks and iCenter during BASIS). Also important is the capacity for nurturing networks among educators across the community of schools:
Questions to consider:
- Is there a communal agency that can provide the leadership, management, and educational support required?
- If a local entity can provide some but not all the needed expertise, can it partner with iCenter or another entity to augment needed capacity?
- Does your community have a network of day schools that can facilitate communications and community-building among participating schools? Are there conditions that might contribute to such community-building across diverse schools? Are there conditions that might serve as obstacles to such community-building?
As indicated above, the BASIS process requires the school to make significant investments. The schools who participated in the first BASIS cohort received considerable assistance in these investments and reaped considerable rewards in improved Israel education.
The BASIS model involved substantial philanthropic support for internal school processes and educational activities, and external support through the central agency.
Over time, the seed funding for the initiative will cease and the communal support infrastructure will continue in diminished form. The early period that involves external funding can spark enthusiasm in the school community that can be leveraged to engineer support for sustaining the gains of the initiative.
A school’s capacity to realize enduring positive change in Israel education will benefit from:
- Ability to institutionalize an Israel education in the school, including:
- Sustaining the Israel Education Coordinator position;
- Establishing a formalized Israel curriculum and establishing and sustaining the internal expertise and commitment to maintain and update that curriculum;
- Institutionalizing an Israel engagement strategy that involves student and faculty travel to Israel and developing the financial capacity to sustain this most expensive ingredient;
- Institutionalizing the Israel education strategies that have proven most effective for the school (e.g., school twinnings, encounters, arts &culture, shlichut) and developing the human and financial resources to sustain them.
Question to consider:
- Is the school prepared to take on a long-term commitment to Israel education, and the task of supporting it in the future?
- Does the school have potential allies who could help to sustain a robust process of transformation in Israel education?
- Can the school identify and recruit allies who will help to sustain the BASIS process?
11. Scaffolding of Support
Given the daily demands on day school leaders and faculty to provide excellent education, it is unrealistic to expect schools to have the capacity to undergo alone the extensive efforts involved in systemic educational change. The change and improvement in Israel education associated with BASIS requires a great deal of assistance. In addition to the readiness factors we have identified above for schools, we add these two external readiness indicators:
a. Communal Support Infrastructure
An external support infrastructure is needed to provide:
- Consulting expertise
- Professional development for educators
- Direction, organization, and guidance
b. Cohort of Schools and Educators
Our experience indicates that probability of success is heightened in the company of others. The network of educators and community of schools had a tremendous impact on the progress of individual schools. We do not recommend a school embarking on such an initiative solo.