Small Group Instruction - School Principals’ Point Of View - Continuous Research


The aim of this article is to present the findings of a continuous research regarding the implementation of the 'Ofek Hadash' - New Horizon - educational reform in Israel. Two studies conducted prior to this one presented the points of view of novice teachers and pedagogical instructors, while the current research presents the point of view of ten elementary school principals in Israel. According to the 'Ofek Hadash' - New Horizon educational reform, all school principals in Israel must oversee the implementation of small group instruction within their school curriculum. Small group instruction is perceived as an opportunity to provide a supportive learning environment that can enable schools to reach their educational goals in small groups. Data was collected from ten elementary school principals in Israel. The findings that emerged from this study depict a gap between the Israeli Ministry of Education guidelines and what the school principals are doing in reality. In other words, it seems that administrative aspects are emphasized in school principals' work more than pedagogical aspects. The study used a qualitative methodology by conducting semi-structured interviews and content analysis. The findings of the research might provide the unique point of view of school principals in implementing small group instruction to reach the goals of the 'Ofek Hadash' educational reform in their respective schools, and add information from stakeholders involved in this issue.

Keywords: Small group instruction; educational reformschool principalsimplementing changeschool principals’ role in implementing change


The aim of this article is to present the findings of a continuous research regarding the implementation of the 'Ofek Hadash' - New Horizon - educational reform in Israel. Two studies conducted prior to this one presented the points of view of novice teachers and pedagogical instructors, while the current research presents the point of view of 10 elementary school principals in Israel.

'Ofek Hadash' brings about an emphasis on teaching-learning means aimed at individuals and recognizes the need for a variety of learning organizational frameworks so as to achieve educational and teaching aims and improve learners' achievements. As a result of the reform, many study hours were added to elementary schools. These hours are referred to as individual/small group hours, and are intended for teaching-learning for individuals or small groups no greater than five pupils (Ministry of Education, 2010). This article presents research findings aimed at completing the picture about the implementation of these individualized/small group hours in schools as an implementation of educational change from the point of view of school principals. This viewpoint is important as a consequence of the well-known significance attributed to school principals as educational leaders entrusted with implementing change in the school system.

Literature review

Individualization is an educational-pedagogic view that places an individual's uniqueness at the center and constitutes part of a broader social-philosophic view emphasizing individuals and their unique position. This one-time uniqueness of individuals has many dimensions that are expressed in educational and pedagogic practice. The basic assumption of individualization is the essential differences between individuals (Azulai & Vardi, 2010). The idea behind the individualized approach is that each learner receives individual instruction according their needs, with attention given to their personal abilities and styles. The individualized view sees practice and performances adjusted for learners as the core of a learning process. At the Branco Weiss Institute, the individualized view was developed as a teaching method whose aim is summoning for learners' experiences of success (Galili, 2013).

In small group frameworks, teachers are given the opportunity to closely observe individual pupils routinely and in-depth and track not just learning achievements, but learning processes and behavioral patterns. These frameworks also provide an opportunity to carry out formative, dynamic, flexible and ongoing assessment, adjusted to individuals, involving pupils, and provide meaningful learning opportunities allowing pupils to actively demonstrate their knowledge and abilities by using data that documents their learning progress (Levin & Horin, 1998).

Research has shown that principals have a critical role in introducing and implementing change at their schools. In the 'Ofek Hadash' reform (Ministry of Education, 2010), principals are required to implement various changes in addition to a change in the way their role as principals is viewed. They are required to restructure the hours system and teachers' work weeks at school, to manage individualized teaching arrangements, deal with resistance on the part of many teachers, carry out seminars to introduce the reform, assess how the change has been implemented at every stage, deal with the understanding that individualized hours and their content are teachers' responsibility, some of which are outside their regular hours. There is no doubt that these new and other tasks affect principals' perceptions of their role and how they feel about their work.

It was found that educational, social, technological and organizational changes are likely to contribute much to teachers' and principals' personal growth and professional renewal. As such, changes at school are likely to have positive results for teachers and principals (Avidov & Reingold, 2012).

A research about school principals who tended to carry out frequent changes in their schools (), principals' reported that changes they executed led them to continuous renewal and charged them with new energies and a sense of self-fulfillment. Introducing change in their schools obliged the principals who participated in the research to perform various activities.

  • Pay attention to teachers carrying out individualized hours because every teacher has his/her own personal view of the reform's changes.

  • Establish mutual support groups among teachers.

  • Encourage teachers to participate in professional development processes within the 'Ofek Hadash' framework.

Match the school vision to individualized hours and teachers' extended work day, emphasizing the importance of the time teachers are at school and exploiting this to improve their pupils' achievements and strengthen social-ethical education at their schools (Oplatka, 2010).

  • Additionally, principals must be aware of difficulties and respond to them.

Previous research shows that the teachers feel that they have lost control over their work they do not know exactly how to implement small group instruction (Od-Cohen & Hadari, 2015). Similarly, another study was carried out about training to teach in small groups at colleges, where it was found that there is almost no reference among teacher educators to individualized hours, despite their declarations that it is an important topic and requires special learning (Od-Cohen & Hadari, 2016). This compels principals to share with and involve as many teachers as possible in the significance of the 'Ofek Hadash' reform and ways of implementing it at their schools.

Teachers' sense of uncertainty and their tendency to adhere to their familiar and known practices compels principals to disseminate as much information as possible about 'Ofek Hadash' and discuss this information with teachers. Moreover, research findings (Od-Cohen & Hadari, 2016) showed ambiguity in implementing individualized hours although the reform has been in place for almost ten years.

In this view, implementing the new reform compels school principals to devote a lot of time to training teachers in new teaching methods and adjusting their work to teaching in small groups. As required by the reform, principals are asked to organize seminars and workshops for the teaching staff in order to prepare them to implement small group lessons as part of the reform.

Educational change is viewed in the literature as policy and a technical issue simultaneously (Ajibola, 2008). It is a process and product that combines a wide range of systems operating while it happens. Educational change is described as an idea, an act, a method and a purpose alongside which the process quality is guaranteed (Mintron, 2000). Educational change is translated into national educational goals, curricula and teaching goals through the development of curricula and learning materials. Existing teaching and learning in schools in which educational change is implemented are expected to adjust the process to new curricular requirements.

School principals are viewed as the driving force at schools and the key to improving teaching in schools' learning processes (Billard, 2003). Hence school principals deal with educational reform implementation processes on a daily basis as part of their school management lives. Nonetheless, principals are not meant to be experts in the field of educational change (Mitchell & Sackney, 2000).

However, principals' roles are to enable a clarification process regarding the meaning of change among their school educational staff, to resolve problems during implementation to ensure the development and improvement of educational processes at their schools. Studies (Ifeoma, 2010) have shown the power of school leadership as a driving force. Additionally, principals' roles (Spillane, 2005) in implementing educational reforms amount to building implementation work teams, empowering teachers, delegating authority, providing support, supplying necessary technology and resources to implement reform.

Geijsel et al. (2007) found in their research that educational leadership is the core power to ongoing growth and providing strategies and support using feedback, recommendations, demonstration, evaluations and praising teachers who implement educational reform. Grimmet (1996) enumerated five key roles attributed to principals in a reform implementation process.

Problem Statement

Leadership in reform implementation, support for teachers, collegiality and cooperation, listening to teachers while implementing a new educational process, help teachers plan change implementation, focus on pupils' learning outputs in conjunction with their schools' vision, decisions, open communication processes and pupils' achievements. Thus, it seems important to research the 'Ofek Hadash' reform implementation from the point of view of principals and their role in implementing the reform.

Research Questions

How do school principals view their roles in the implementation process of individualized hours within the framework of the 'Ofek Hadash' reform?

Purpose of the Study

To examine school principals' role in implementing individualized hours within the framework of the 'Ofek Hadash' reform.

Research Methods

In order to understand school principals' views about implementing individualized hours, we chose qualitative research according to the interpretive-constructivist approach (Tzabar Ben-Yehoshua, 2001).

As researchers operating on the basis of the interpretive-constructivist paradigm, we sought to understand the examined reality on the basis of interpretive contact with research participants, ten school principals in the Northern Region in Israel, entrusted with implementing individualized hours as part of their school role. Tzabar Ben-Yehoshua (2001) defined qualitative research as research with subjects and not about subjects, and as a fitting research approach to examining people's attitudes, views and actions, and enables reaching in-depth understanding of phenomena. Qualitative research is characterized by collecting information in the natural surroundings of an examined phenomenon (Creswell, 2014) and therefore interviews with principals took place at their schools. In addition, in qualitative research, researchers are considered as a research tool and are meant to collect information needed to understand an examined phenomenon and it is they who analyze and interpret this information. It seems that this research approach is particularly relevant in situations in which complex subjects are investigated, where testing them in experimental studies whose findings are summarized quantitatively-statistically, does not say all there is to say about an examined phenomenon, and therefore cannot present a comprehensive picture of the interpretations behind it. And indeed, quantitative measurement will not allow researchers to profoundly understand a phenomenon (Richardson, 1996).

Moreover, according to Creswell (2014), qualitative research is a process necessary to understand human society. Using this research approach, researchers can build a complete and clear picture of information collected in a natural environment, using interviews, reports, observations and more (Shkedi, 2011). Hence, this approach was found to be most suitable for our research.

Research population and sampling method

Since the aim of this research was to collect information on school principals' views about the implementation of individualized hours and their role in implementing educational reform, participants in this research were ten elementary school principals from the Northern Region of Israel. This research population represents the researched phenomenon and therefore the population sample is a purposeful sample (Mason, 1966). All research participants gave their informed consent to participate in the research. In addition, anonymity was preserved and identifying details were removed so as to protect participants' privacy.

Research tools

Since the qualitative research approach focuses on understanding the essence and meaning of phenomena, such as the phenomenon of implementing individualized hours from the point of view of school principals through the views of those involved in this process, when we came to examine the complex realities of life in which people from many different worlds are involved, the appropriate research tool for collecting information from these people was semi-structured interviews. Semi-structured interviews enable raising insights, thoughts and opportunities to describe actions that refer directly to an examined topic and focused on the role of principals in implementing an educational reform. Interviews were held within a conversational framework and included questions that referred to predetermined key issues that fit with the research question. Nonetheless, the interviews allowed flexibility regarding the order in which the questions appeared and openness to other issues (Creswell, 2014).

Data analysis method

In this research, content analysis was used to analyze the qualitative data collected from the semi-structured interviews with school principals (ibid). Content analysis is meant to reach conclusions inductively from units of text, meaning from transcribed interviews, about their social context. Units of analysis were words, expressions or sentences affiliated with the research aim, question and examined issues. The analysis process began with initial mapping, during which comparisons were made between various interviewee statements to inductively find similarities and differences. Those that were similar were combined as part of the same category according to their content congruence (Kacen & Kremer-Nevo, 2010). The theoretical framework determined in the initial research stages also constituted grounds for presenting the research findings. The categorization process was carried out as interpretation and conceptualization, which is, producing a system of concepts meant to give meaning to the data.


Findings emerging from the content analysis: principals' role in implementing the 'Ofek Hadash' reform.

Content analysis of the semi-structured interviews conducted with the school principals on principal's role in implementing individualized hours yielded five categories, detailed as follows.

Category 1 was High significance attributed to implementing individualized hours. Content analysis revealed that implementing individualized hours was seen as an important and essential process in a school's life principally as part of the reform implementation. Evidence of this can be seen in what R. noted, "Individualized hours are an essential and important resource for the school". A. pointed out that, "Individualized hours are important and essential. Individualized hours are 'a gift to the system'". Principals observed that implementation was important because it derived from instructions they received from the Ministry of Education: "When I became principal, in my first year I received instructions from the school inspector about putting individualized hours into practice at the school", "I got instructions to do it", "There is no choice on the matter, the hours are part of teachers' jobs. Individualized hours exist in every subject", and "They help struggling pupils move forward". Principals also mentioned the areas in which individualized hours are implemented and their importance: "Math, language, English, physical education and sciences. In addition, there are two hours from individualized hours dedicated to homeroom teachers for heart to heart conversations. This contributed to nurturing a good climate and creating an intimate connection with the teacher. In addition, this year individualized hours were devoted to enriching outstanding pupils in areas of knowledge: art, creative writing, mathematical thinking and debates in English for year 6 pupils". Additionally, individualized hours were perceived as important because "Individualized hours invite one to one meetings with pupils".

Principals also stated that "Individualized hours led to a significant change in the school's life", "A change too in parents' perceptions, possibility for teachers' pedagogic discussions and attractive from a teaching tool aspect".

One can conclude that all principals viewed individualized hours as very important to a school's life, as compulsory following instructions from the Ministry of Education, but also as an opportunity to improve school teaching, pedagogic discourse and the educational climate at their institutions.

Category 2 was entitled Ways of implementing individualized hours

Content analysis revealed that principals are aware of ways to implement individualized hours, but the level of their involvement is limited to the organizational-system aspect. They conduct preparatory meetings, schedule them as part of the timetable according to needs and mapping, update parents once a week and carry out documentation and notifications processes every week.

Reports are centred around learning and emotional mapping as a team report for each year level. This means that principals' involvement in implementation is channelled into giving instructions to teachers and delegating monitoring authority to subject coordinators and deputy principals, that is to say to middle range management. Evidence of this can be seen in what principals said, stating that they give "instructions to teachers", "coordinated by teachers who have been trained, subject coordinators", "learning on the go", "planning a format". "Every teacher teaches individualized lessons in another class, and the work program at every level. Individualized lessons are incremental at the end of the day, and during the day". As the principals stated, ‘first we invested in the extremes (meaning either the very weak or the very good pupils), but afterwards we understood that we had to pay attention to the mediocre as well’. That is to say, not just to struggling and excellent pupils, but also to average level pupils. Thus, grouping the pupils was dynamic and changes were made during the year.

From this, one can learn that principals focus on delegating responsibility for implementation to middle-range managers, and are less involved in the pedagogic aspects of implementation.

Category 3 is Principal's role in implementing individualized hours at school.

Content analysis revealed that form the point of view of principals, implementing individualized hours accompanies dealing with organizational aspects of implementation and providing resources allowing teachers to implement individualized hours at school. Evidence of this can be seen in their remarks that "The essential change over the past few years is in the fact that schools have given thought to pupils who will be given individualized hours (mediocre pupils who can be advanced, and not the very weak ones), developing outstanding groups during individualized hours and making heart-to-heart conversations important". In other words, principals helped plan teaching by having structured discussions with teachers about the issue of implementing individualized hours. Organizational aspects refer to assigning these hours within the timetable, "Individualized hours are assigned into teachers' timetables mainly at the end of the day, but also during the day". Principals also engaged with parents of those pupils whose children stayed late at the end of their school day: "Pupils get letters to their parents, advising them of the part their children play in individualized hours, the time of day and area of knowledge and the pupils get a timetable of individualized hours according to their assignment". "As a principal, I have an individualized school timetable reported by teachers electronically. Teachers mostly conduct individualized hours in their classrooms or in a classroom allocated to them for this purpose. As part of organizing individualized hours, a room was prepared with dividers for individualized work with a small number of pupils". From this, it is possible to understand that dealing with the organizational aspects of implementing individualized hours refers also to allocating appropriate learning environments for individualized hours.

Another aspect of principals' role in implementing individualized hours refers to building a time framework on an annual basis: "The year is divided into 3 periods. In each period, the groups change according to the needs of children". Principals also deal with determining criteria entitling individualized hours: "Each homeroom teacher creates groups based on mapping findings in core subjects to create groups needing reinforcement according to levels. Additionally, there are support groups in the areas of sport, art and music". From this one can understand that principals help teachers plan their teaching the individualized hours.

In summary it can be said that the way individualized hours are implemented is expressed in the way lessons are organized in the overall annual timetable and with help preparing teaching and determining entitlement criteria for individualized lessons.

Category 4: Training to implement individualized hours.

It was interesting to discover what content analysis revealed about principals' points of view with regard to training to implement individualized hours. According to principals, teachers are the only ones who need to get special training to implement individualized hours. "It is necessary to instruct teachers how to carry out individualized hours creatively in which there is meaningful learning and that pupils will not just get more of the same". Some principals mentioned that "Teachers at my school did not get any appropriate training for teaching individualized hours". However, in contrast to teachers, principals do not require any training to implement individualized hours. "In my opinion, they don't need special training to implement individualized hours at their school. Principals should be left with the autonomy 'to tailor a suit that fits their school according to Ministry instructions of course and under the assumption that it is channeled to advancing pupils in learning, emotional and social aspects". In other words, in principals' views, they should deal solely with organizational and management aspects.

More testimonies noted that "The school staff got initial training about individualized hours, their importance and how to implement them about six years ago. In addition, every year there is a discussion on planning days on the topic of practical execution of individualized hours for the new school year (which pupils? excellence/reinforcement? Subject matters?". In other words, principals conduct a discussion about individualized hours as part of annual planning to ensure and clarify the meaning of the reform.

In summary, it can be said that training to implement individualized hours is solely for teachers, whereas principals are involved in management and supervision.

Category 5: Principals' assessment and supervision of the implementation of individualized hours

Content analysis of the data collected from school principals revealed that the category of assessing and supervising the implementation of individualized hours was seen as part of their role as defined by the Ministry of Education. Most principals who participated in the research noted that they observe lessons as a way of assessing firsthand how individualized hours are implemented. R. stated that "I observe lessons in general and as part of this I observe individualized lessons". "From time to time I observe individualized lessons, and assess, and I also get administrative reports".

According to some principals, individualized lessons appear to be like routine frontal lessons: "Sometimes an individualized hour is quite similar to a lesson that took place in the morning, except is conducted in a small group". Moreover, individualized hours are implemented as a resource to resolve urgent problems at school, such as filling-in for absent teachers: "Sometimes teachers are called to substitute for multiple absent teachers during individualized hours", "Teachers sometimes use individualizes hours to converse with parents, to carry out tasks and more". It appears that principals follow-up the implementation of individualized hours primarily through reports presented by the teachers who carry out these precious hours. "At the end of each month I get a special report in the individualized hour file about every individualized hour for that month detailed with pupils' names, lesson content and examples of materials used in the lessons".

It seems that evaluating individualized lessons is carried out using follow-up observations and reports provided by teachers themselves: "One must constantly follow-up and improve, I observe and guide, supervision isn't easy, it requires principals to have a finger on the pulse".

In summary, the evidence shows that lessons are assessed following observations and reading the reports provided by teachers who implement individualized lessons.


This modest research showed the range of roles that school principals carry out to implement individualized hours in the framework of the 'Ofek Hadash' reform. The findings show that school principals view individualized hours as important to the school system, and even as a gift. This finding agrees with research literature on principals' role in implementing educational change in schools. According to Ajibola (2008), educational change represents policy, but is also a technical issue, change is not only a process but also a product. In other words, educational change, which represents a national educational policy view, also has practical aspects and this falls under the responsibility of principals. According to Mirton (2000), school principals are responsible for guaranteeing the quality of educational change in that if the change represents national education policy, then this policy is meant to be translated for educational purposes, to develop curricula and improve teaching (Billard, 2003). School principals in their role as school leaders are the driving force for meaningful educational processes such as reform implementation (Ifeoma, 2010).

Hence, principals' role in implementing educational change is critical to its successful implementation.

Together with this view, the findings showed that principals' involvement in the implementation of the 'Ofek Hadash' reform regarding individualized hours included delegating authority for its implementation to middle range management. Middle range managers, that is deputy principals and class coordinators or subject coordinators, are those who arrange the school schedule and ensure that individualized hours are included in weekly arrangements. This finding supports the literature (Spillane, 2005) that pointed explicitly to the fact that it is a principal's role to delegate authority. And indeed, school principals who participated in this research commented that they appointed their deputies to perform organizational tasks relating to reform implementation, such as building work teams, conducting planning and assessment meetings. Since implementing educational change is expressed by delegating authority to implement reform to middle range management, middle range managers emerge from this study as an important link in the change implementation process.

Additionally, current research findings exposed a range of roles performed by principals in implementing individualized hours. These roles include helping to plan teaching, conducting constant communication with stakeholders, parents and inspectors, preparing the system to determine time frames for implementing individualized hours in practice, establishing control and report mechanisms, allocating a suitable learning environment for teaching in small groups and determining entitlement criteria for getting individualized hours. This finding partially supports research literature. According to Grimmet (1996), principals' role in implementing educational reform includes providing support to teachers, collegiality and cooperation, listening to teachers during implementation of a new educational process, helping teachers to plan change implementation, focus on pupils' learning outputs in conjunction with schools' vision, decisions, open communication processes and pupils' achievements. However, the research findings show that in fact, those who perform most of the aforementioned roles are middle range managers, and not school principals themselves. Specifically, principals entrusted with supervising and assessing individualized hours are busy completing forms and reading reports that implementing teachers provide in the name of accountability for education. While some reported that they observe lessons as part of their quality assurance and assessment process, they are also supposed to complete forms and report on the implementation of individualized hours, when they themselves do not teach in practice. In other words, the research revealed that school principals are in fact a type of top managers who have the overall responsibility for reform implementation, and as a result are responsible towards stakeholders, parents and Ministry of Education representatives.

Another interesting finding that emerged from the research and is likely to strengthen this insight is the question of training to teach in small groups. It transpires from this research that principals believe that they do not require any special training to implement individualized hours. Previous studies on the topic of implementing individualized hours by new teachers (Od-Cohen & Hadari, 2015) and pedagogical instructors (Od-Cohen & Hadari, 2016) showed that teaching in small groups is not included in teacher training or pedagogical instructors study programs, despite their acknowledgement of its importance, they do not pay attention to this subject at a time when individualized hours is the only pedagogical aspect of the 'Ofek Hadash' reform, which is mainly organizational. This raises the question, without appropriate training to implement small group teaching and with no practical knowledge of this issue, on the basis of what knowledge are these assessments and control measures established by school principals?

Thus, assessment and control processes for individualized hours carried out by principals and middle range management might be dubious because there is no suitable training on this issue.

In conclusion, despite the modest number of participants in this research, its uniqueness is in that it brought to the surface the question of individualized hours from the point of view of school principals as dubious. In other words, although the reform has been implemented in the Israeli education system for over ten years, it does not realize the aims of individualized hours in schools. The research showed that school principals and middle managers are occupied with completing reports and assessing and supervising this important process without appropriate training and sometimes without any practical knowledge in the field. In order for this important resource, which entails a huge investment by the educational system, and for the educational policy on the subject of individualized hours to indeed become an educational goal and a meaningful process to promote pupils' achievements, for which they were originally intended, professional development frameworks for principals should be established. As such, there is a chance that individualized hours will be implemented in a manner that justifies the huge investment therein.


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28 June 2018

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Teacher, teacher training, teaching skills, teaching techniques, special education, children with special needs

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Od-Cihen, Y., & Hadari, J. (2018). Small Group Instruction - School Principals’ Point Of View - Continuous Research. In V. Chis, & I. Albulescu (Eds.), Education, Reflection, Development – ERD 2017, vol 41. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 182-192). Future Academy.