Ukrainian principal tells Israel how to maintain education in a crisis - opinion

A school principal from Odesa in Ukraine gives advice to principals in Israel about education in a state of emergency.

 ‘THE JEWISH heroic story of David vs Goliath inspires us and is more relevant today than ever before,’ says the writer. (photo credit: Courtesy)
‘THE JEWISH heroic story of David vs Goliath inspires us and is more relevant today than ever before,’ says the writer.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

I am the principal of a school in a city whose name most of the world did not know until a year ago. I have come to Israel to participate in the Ashmoret conference for school principals on the topic of groundbreaking leadership. What does leadership have to do with me?

My dream was to be a teacher and principal. I wasn’t born a leader and I didn’t intend to be one but the circumstances of life can take you to places you didn’t expect.

The coronavirus came like a storm and imposed huge difficulties on the whole world. But when the rest of the countries started the recovery and reconstruction process last year, bigger trouble fell on my country: a war with one of the biggest powers in the world.

It is a war we initially believed would be the end of Ukraine as a sovereign and independent country, but almost a year into it, we continue to stand. This is how it happens that we are in the third year of a state of emergency that has become routine.

The damage of the war is clear but when it comes to schoolgirls and schoolboys, the danger is doubled and multiplied. Nature does not recognize a state of emergency. Personal, social and academic development cannot be on pause and therefore the education system is required to adapt to the new situation and develop new tools to deal with an emergency. Since Israel is no stranger to them, I would like to share with you what things we valued and what I recommend that you adopt.

A school classroom is seen empty in Jerusalem's Beit Hakerem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)A school classroom is seen empty in Jerusalem's Beit Hakerem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

How to maintain an education system in a state of emergency

  • Collection of information and daily attention to the students: For three years the students connected through Zoom. We had no physical contact with them and the boundaries of our sphere were limited to the small cube of the screen. Therefore, special sensitivity must be developed for small hints, such as the body language of the students, their tendency to connect to the screen, how they participate in discussions and their tone of voice. It is important to treat the data daily and over time, thus trying to interrupt trends before they get worse.
  • Stability and true belief in victory, even though the numbers show otherwise: The situation worries me both as a citizen and as a mother. It is permitted to show students concern but not to show despair, even when there is nothing to lean on. If we had indeed given up, not only would the feeling have permeated the future generation, but most likely the Russian tricolor flag would already be flying over the school building.

Israel is no stranger to war against stronger forces and even when the numbers were against you, you maintained self-belief and hope, thanks to which you stand today as a strong, secure and prosperous democracy. The Jewish heroic story of David vs Goliath inspires us and is more relevant today than ever before.

  • Professional meetings of the teaching staff: Our greatest source of knowledge is the teaching experience of teachers. Our frequent online meetings in which we share the conclusions we reach from the study processes are of the utmost importance in the personal improvement of each of us and we adopt these conclusions daily.
  • Include students as volunteers and activists in the new situation: Children want to be involved and feel that they are part of the social effort. The war is also an opportunity to develop a concept of volunteering and helping others. We did this by turning the school complex into a diverse volunteering point for camouflage fabrics, medicines and food kits.

Our professional and ethical duty is to take the reins, to accompany in the dark, even if we only have a small flashlight in our pocket.

The writer is the principal of a school in Odesa and vice president of the Ukrainian organization of principals (RGU). She spoke at the Ashmoret conference of the Israel Teachers Union yesterday, addressing fellow principals on the subject of leadership.