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Dror Israel's Network of schools featured in "The Marker"

Dror Israel’s network of schools and boarding schools was honored to be featured in the June issue of The Marker’s social initiatives magazine.

Here is our own translation of the article:

Revolution of Hope

Hope is the plan of action for creating a better reality. Social pedagogy, led by the Dror Israel, offers a new way to educate and to change society.

Limor Klar

Published in “The Marker”

“Imagine yourselves a beautiful world / Less sad than it is/ And we are walking there with the sun in our pockets/ And above the rooftops, the stars/ And the time goes by fearless,” sang Shlomo Artzi, and it seems as if his words were written about the learning and education at the social schools in Israel. Anyone who visits the many end-of-year events at the Dror Israel social high schools has an exciting and inspiring experience. The events make clear the extraordinary connection between education, learning, friendship and widespread social change. Children, teens, parents and educators speak about a new opportunity to understand what a school is and what role it serves. Youth talk about escaping loneliness and the feeling that they are invisible and finding meaningful friendships and feeling that they are exceptionally appreciated. They speak of an experience of meaningful learning that is connected to their lives, of creation, and of big social projects in the community around them that create widespread long-lasting changes.

No school bells and no grades

Dror Educational Centers network’s social schools were founded by members of Dror Israel in order to develop and lead change in Israeli education. Their social pedagogy is something special that deserves to be much more well known. The network sees itself as advancing public education through providing fair and equal access to quality education and emphasizing the wellbeing and capabilities of each student. “Schools, as most of us know, focus on academic success,” says Inbal Ron, executive director of the Dror Educational Centers network. “Through social project-based learning and alternative assessments, we are creating an option that doesn’t exist in most schools. There are no bells and grades, and the students feel seen and everyone’s educational process is personalized just for them. It’s a social option based in group learning, where everyone brings their unique talents. The environment isn’t competitive and no one is measured according to how good they are at math or English.”

Ron believes that this is no less than an educational revolution. Instead of telling the students that their role is to memorize and recite and adapt themselves to current reality, they tell them the opposite: the current reality is flawed, but it also contains hope. We need you, your ideas, your abilities and your strengths. Come lead the change. As Martin Buber famously wrote, “The youth are humanity’s eternal chance for happiness.” The social schools in the network are located throughout Israel from Kibbutz Ravid in the north to Mitzpe Ramon in the south and the network also mentors and oversees organizational change processes in many schools throughout the country, operates leadership-oriented boarding schools, preschools, colleges and community projects. Ron: “We have operated in this manner as part of Dror Israel for many years- combining informal education, social sensitivity and relationship to community.”

The youth in the network’s schools are asked to bring their world to the educational materials, and each of them has a block of the day where they teach the class and show their friends and teachers how wide and developed their interests are. “They deal with ecological questions, with bands they love, with ways of life in the communities they come from, with families and their stories, and through this we deal with questions about identity, among others. There is a lot of room for students’ self-expression in the courses of study,” she explains. “Even their assessments at the end of the year reflects through their eyes and through their teachers’ eyes their learning experience and their various projects.”

Adapted to a changing reality

“The students are the ones who shape current society and they are the ones who will live in it in the future,” explains Ron. “The youth have so much power and ability to impact reality, and school can be fertile group for social action. We as adults are there to nudge and prod, to ask questions, to offer ideas and to bring up initiatives. For example, we dealt with the subject of the climate because the students want to make the world a better place ecologically, and many of them take part in climate rallies. We encouraged them to initiate a digital media campaign and to use it to positively and morally impact social media.”

The educational system in Israel is starting to join in to this idea, and Dror Educational Centers is flooded with inquiries. “Many teachers and principals these days feel that they need to recreate their roles from scratch. Every day another school and another network turn to us in order to go through a mentorship process in the direction of social pedagogy. Cities want to set up social schools, social preschools, or community projects in the spirit of social pedagogy.” This past year proved painfully that we cannot continue to turn a blind eye to loneliness and invisibility and to the deep, widespread injustices that are happening around us. “Education needs to return to fulfill a leading and groundbreaking role in fixing society and youth, especially teenagers, can be partners in leading that change- that can’t just be a cliché. With our network’s professional knowledge from years of experience, we are coming into the picture in order to help other places do this in a deep and serious manner in their own way.”

Connecting the goodness to the world and to learning

Under the overall headline of “social pedagogy” are two fairly simple principles: The first is to offer to teachers, educators and students to create the school and its learning processes on a mutual foundation of connection, closeness, friendship, shared responsibility and group building. The second is to take all of this goodness and connect it to the world of study at the school. The learning needs to be connected to real life through research, social projects (SPBL) and groundbreaking educational tracks which are connected to communities and to society. The skills developed are way more than what frontal, traditional learning has to offer today.

“These two foundations create a big bang of hope in the educational field,” says Udi Yaakov from the network’s pedagogical department. “We are public schools and are intentionally open to all children. Kids actually do come to us from really diverse backgrounds, and the message is that we need everyone in order to build a better society, we can’t do it without you. When the power of friendship, imagination and freedom combines with a critical lens and a need to fix injustices, a different reality of childhood is created wherein the very idea of school undergoes a radical change.”

Ron adds: “to come to social high school and to see groups of kids who come from all parts of Israeli society, sitting and playing music in the common room at the same time as the eco-oceanography track is researching a boat trip, and an educator is milling around with a look of appreciation and meaning- that’s a picture that explains everything and creates hope. Once we thought that it was only possible in small and really special places, but today we know that we can create a process like this anywhere. Through our years of work in Dror Israel we learned that hope is a mode of operation for creating a better society. I don’t know if I’m optimistic when it comes to Israeli society, but with regards to education I am definitely hopeful.”

What do you see in the network’s future?

Ron: “We aspire to expand and to reach a diverse range of populations and schools, and of course to influence public education. Not only do I believe that the education system can change, I believe that it needs to change and that it’s possible within just a few years. It’s not too complicated. A large portion of teachers are begging for change and principals of elementary schools are yearning for it. It’s hard to change a hulking, heavy system but it’s not impossible. You just need to expand your way of thinking.”

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