One of the principal challenges for the Israeli education system is coping with students’ adaptation difficulties in school. These difficulties can lead to school dropouts, whether overt or hidden. Attendance Officers (AOs) are pivotal figures in the support system aimed at averting student dropout.
In recent years, the Ministry of Education, in conjunction with JDC-Ashalim, has made efforts to advance the professional development of AOs and strengthen their professional practices. An integral part of this initiative is the “Klila” project, (hereinafter referred to as “the project”) a comprehensive psychosocial framework designed to establish the work practices of AOs and enhance their roles. The project encompasses programs for the professional development of AOs and the establishment of meaningful personal relationships between AOs and key individuals in students’ lives, including parents, teachers, counselors and care givers in school and in the community (hereinafter referred to as “the programs”). The basic premise of the project is that improvements in the professional efficacy of AOs will contribute to the broader effort of preventing student dropout. At the time of this study, the programs in the project operated according to five models, which differed in the characteristics of the participants, the extent of the activities, and the modes of operation.
This study is part of a series of Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute studies, commissioned by JDC-Ashalim, with the specific aim of studying the role of AOs and their professional development. The study focused on the professional development programs developed and implemented as part of the “Klila” project.
The primary aim of this study was to facilitate the improvement of implementation strategies for the professional development programs developed within the project. The research objectives included: (1) evaluating the implementation of various models for executing the program on both a national and local scale including the examination of participant characteristics, program structures, and the content and modes of operation; (2) assessing participant satisfaction regarding different aspects of the programs and identifying challenges and deficiencies; (3) examining the contribution of the programs and identifying changes in the practices of the participants, including collaboration, work practices, and their perception of their competence in their role; (4) making recommendations and developing strategies to enhance program implementation and application.
The research design combined quantitative and qualitative research methods. The quantitative component included a survey questionnaire conducted at two junctures – at the outset of the programs and upon their conclusion – answered by 103 AOs who participated in the programs. The qualitative dimension comprised 48 semi-structured, in-depth interviews with program instructors and participants. Throughout the research period, meetings and dialogues were conducted with project operators to learn about changes made during the program implementation and to disseminate research findings among them.
Implementation of Program Models: Notwithstanding similarities in the underlying conceptual frameworks across models and programs, each model was unique by virtue of the differences in the target populations, program structures, and specific objectives. Due to the limited number of participants in each program, statistical differences between models were not discernible. Nonetheless, both quantitative and qualitative findings indicated variance in attributes related to program operation and implementation as well as participant characteristics.
Satisfaction with Programs and Implementation Challenges: Participants in the programs felt that programs’ content and the nature of discourse during meetings facilitated open dialogue and deep discussions, reflection on professional processes and on the work of the AO, increased self-awareness of work practices and the feeling that the Aos are receiving emotional support for difficulties in their work and a framework that enables a professional discussion of complex issues encountered in their work. The principal challenges identified concerned the lack of clearly defined program goals, as presented to the AOs, and the need for establishing common expectations prior to participation in the program.
Program Contributions: The programs were found to make significant contributions to participants in two principal dimensions: practical and perceptual.
Practical Contribution: The programs contributed to the AOs’ work with students and parents in regard to emotional support, work with parents and dialogue with students, with an emphasis on the development of non-judgmental questioning skills and acceptance as a cornerstone for dialogue and treatment. Program meetings and participation in case conference sessions served as platforms for peer learning, enhanced the feeling of cohesion with other AOs, and helped them in dealing with the emotional burden of their job and the feeling of loneliness that is often experienced by the AOs.
Perceptual Contribution: The programs contributed to the professional conceptualization of the experiences of the AOs, especially the concept of exclusion, and to changes in their perception of their role within the broader socio-educational framework as individuals equipped to navigate and contain the complex realities faced by students, their families, and school staff. In addition, the program enhanced their feeling of professional competence and self-confidence.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The “Klila” project represents a long-term initiative that exposes AOs to new perspectives on their roles and the environments in which they operate. The project places emphasis on themes such as inclusion and exclusion and equips AOs with tools for non-judgmental questioning and the development of empathetic and non-judgmental dialogues with students, parents, and school staff, all geared to promoting the process designed to prevent student dropout from the education system.
In light of the research findings, several recommendations were proposed to regarding the the ongoing operation of the programs within the project:
- Provide training in the principles of the project for heads of attendance departments to support the integration of processes occurring among program participants into their daily work.
- Establish, common expectations regarding the goals and the practices of the training program, and a system of trust to reinforce the connection between program goals, content, and the work of AOs in the field, fostering a secure and supportive dialogue space.
- Incorporate cases from the work of AOs into the program content as a central component of peer learning and the application of project principles in relation to the work methods of AOs in practice.
- Conduct the program through face-to-face meetings to enable open and attentive dialogue among participants.
- Tailor the program to the characteristics of its participants and their needs, emphasizing the different requirements of AOs stemming from their experience or the population with which they work.
- Adapt the program to the characteristics of the local authority in which it is operated taking into consideration conditions that may either facilitate or challenge program implementation.
- Develop a logic model to reduce disparities between programs, serving as a tool for planning, evaluating outcomes, and ongoing monitoring and supervision of program implementation.
Citing Suggestion: Baruj-Kovarsky, R., & Gilad, A. (2023). “Klila” Project: Professional Development Programs for Attendance Officers – Evaluation Study. RR-953-23. Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute. (Hebrew)