Transforming Education in the Arab Sector

May 13 marked an important milestone for Israel’s Arab education system when the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute (MJB), together with the Qalansuwa Municipality and the Ministry of Education, held a study day to focus and reflect on the Learning from Success method of collaborative learning as a lever for on-going learning and change in Arab education.

The study day was the culmination of four years of intensive activity by MJB’s Learning from Success (LFS) Unit in schools in Qalansuwa, one of Israel’s socio-economically weakest Arab communities.  Educators and leaders from Arab cities in Israel’s Central Region came to learn how their colleagues used LFS to transform the educational climate to encourage greater collective learning among school staff and to nurture a belief among teachers that they can be agents for positive change.  This effort has found expression in many concrete improvements, from reducing dropout rates to developing students’ sense of responsibility for their school surroundings to improving student achievements.

The LFS method, developed at MJB over the past three decades, uses learning from success as a catalyst for creating environments that encourage on-going collaborative learning within organizations.  The program was introduced four years ago in Qalansuwa’s pre-schools, and has since been scaled up to all levels of the city’s education system through high school.  As part of the program, MJB trained a group of local educators to become “Learning Companions” and future program leaders.

One measure of the program’s importance is the fact that the program’s steering committee is led by the Mayor of Qalansuwa, Mr. Abed Albast Salama.  In his remarks, the mayor pointed with pride to the collaborative work with MJB and the positive impact on the community.  “We hope that people from all sectors across Israel will come to Qalansuwa to learn from our successes,” he said.

Mr. Taraq Abu Hajla, the Ministry of Education’s supervisor of the Arab education system in Israel’s Central Region, emphasized the unique role that the LFS program plays in strengthening the schools.  “It takes courage to change,” he explained, “and it took courage to adopt the LFS methodology in Qalansuwa.”

With Learning From Success, we have had a chance to stop and think about what we are doing and make some real changes.

The case studies presented at the conference by teachers, school administrators, and counseling staff during small group discussions, gave concrete examples of the influence of the LFS perspective.  In one session, participants were greeted with a picture and quotation from Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  A high school assistant principal picked up on this theme, noting that “with Learning From Success, we have had a chance to stop and think about what we are doing and make some real changes.”  An elementary school principal emphasized that the LFS method involves the whole school—administrators, teachers, and students together—in shaping the program and assuming responsibility for its implementation.

One of the schools told how a “Tree of Success” now hangs in the teachers’ room, with postings of different efforts to improve.

In attendance was Annie Sandler, chair of MJB’s Subcommittee on Children and Youth.  “I was tremendously impressed by the program and its impact,” she said.  The study day “really brought home how the program could get an entire group of people or an entire community to all move in the same direction at the same time for the common good.  The excitement and pride felt by every member of the community—from the mayor to the teachers to the students—was electric!  They owned the process, they lived it, they measured their results, and they are committed to continuing to learn and improve.”

Building on Qalansuwa’s success in implementing LFS on a city-wide basis, Michal Cohen, Director General of the Ministry and MJB Board member, has asked the Institute to promote the national dissemination of the program as part of the Ministry’s five-year plan for advancing education in the Arab sector.  MJB is also working with the education systems in other individual Arab cities.  Finally, MJB is preparing a history of the Qalansuwa project and the many stories of change, to be released in 2015.

The Learning from Success project in Qalansuwa, together with the Study Day, was made possible due to the generous support of the Marshall Weinberg Fund for Professional Collaboration and Development.