The issue of how to turn schools into a supportive environment for all their students, including those with scholastic and adjustment difficulties who are at risk of school disengagement or dropping out of school has received much attention in recent years, in Israel and abroad. The ultra-Orthodox community is also becoming increasingly aware of the difficulties these students experience and their impact on their scholastic achievements overall, and on their well-being and future lives.
Developed by JDC-Ashalim in partnership with the Ultra-Orthodox Division and the Psychological and Counseling Services at the Ministry of Education, Elayikh ("to you") is a specialized training program for educators (school principals, homeroom teachers and counselors) in ultra-Orthodox schools for girls. The program emphasizes the relationship between the teacher and student as the key to the student's success. One of the ways it has been implemented is as an in-service professional development program for educators from different schools, and it is on this that this study focuses.
The evaluation was conducted during the 2014/15 school year using the qualitative narrative methodology, and examined the way the educators viewed the change in their perceptions and practices of working with students at risk following their participation in the training. The changes include:
1. Changes in their perception of who is a student at risk, which looks beyond the symptoms to find the source of their behavior.
2. Changes in the perception of what is required when working with at-risk students: realizing the importance of asking questions and listening empathically to the answers, in order to get to know the student as a whole person and start the process of building a meaningful relationship.
3. Changes in the perception of success when working with at-risk students: Success is achieved not by just keeping the student in school, but by establishing a relationship of trust between the teacher and the student, in which the teacher becomes a source of support for the student.
The educators described a complex, sometimes even painful, process of personal and professional change that they underwent through the professional development. They attributed the change to the high quality of the training, to ongoing guidance from the coaches, to the support from the other participants in the group and to the lengthy duration of the support, all of which contributed to the significance of the development process. The participants reported that the changes had sometimes led to tension between them and colleagues at their schools who had not participated in the professional development program. However, in many cases, they had been able to influence the school practices with regard to at-risk students.
The findings of the study have been presented to the program steering committee and staff and to senior professionals in the Ministry of Education and other organizations. They have been used to support dissemination of the program in the ultra-Orthodox community as well as other communities.
The study was initiated by JDC-Ashalim and funded with its assistance.