Identical, Fraternal, or Separated at Birth: A Case Study of Educator Teams Within American-Israeli School Twinning

Fall, 2013

Soure: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 79, Issue 4, pages 414-431


School-to-school collaboration has emerged as a key paradigm for fostering personal and institutional connections between Israeli and Diaspora youth, educators, and schools. Using the findings of a multi-year case study of a high school level twinning initiative, this article describes the challenges to this form of transnational collaboration and takes the first steps to articulating a theory of intervention of Israeli-Diaspora school twinning at the organizational level. The article suggests two processes, collaborative capacity and cultural competence, critical to development of positive and productive relationships in school partnerships. Institutional twinning is suggested as the goal of these interventions at the organizational level.


In the arena of international secular education, school twinning has been shown to be a successful strategy for developing collective or regional identity, for fostering international and intercultural understanding, and for resource sharing. Israeli-American school-to-school collaboration also has great potential for fostering community-to-community relationships that transcend national borders. Our research suggests that mission-centered goals, collaborative capacity, and cultural competence are essential elements for achieving an effective and meaningful partnership process between Israeli and American educators.


Returning to the title for this article, the question is whether the cross-national educator teams studied acted like identical, fraternal, or separated at birth twins. The teams we studied faced inherent differences in organizational context, structure, and focus. There are significant differences between secular schools in a sovereign Jewish state and Jewish communal schools within a society where Jews comprise a very small minority. From our preceding discussion, it is clear that although the American and Israeli members of these teams share the “DNA” of common Jewish heritage, they are not identical “twins.” In fact, at the outset this shared heritage often (albeit counterintuitively) made it difficult to discern the cultural gaps that existed and resulted in teams operating in isolation from each other, as if they were “separated at birth” and thus missing the goal and value of twinning. Based on the findings of this case study we would suggest the metaphor of fraternal twins as the best descriptor of effective cross-national teams. These teams enter the relationship with both a strong sense of connection as well as explicit acceptance of the aspects of their organizational goals and cultural context that are quite different. The emerging relationship is grounded in an intentional dialogic re-learning of each other's everyday life as Jews and the mundane and often taken for granted aspects of Jewish living in each community become inspiration for both American and Israeli team members to reexamine their own choices and expectations. Within this framework, teams can acknowledge the ways in which they differ, building bridges across their organizational and cultural divides, and where possible, leveraging these differences as strengths. The primary goal of the collaboration becomes how to develop pedagogic and organizational strategies that can bridge the asymmetries.


The research described in this article begins but does not complete the process of articulating a theory of development for cross-national educator teams. Case studies, such as this one, have both benefits and limitations that should be kept in mind in evaluating their utility. Case study methodology suffers from several threats to internal and external validity including the representativeness of the cases, the ability to draw causal inferences, and the generalizability of results to the broader population, in this case to other educator teams. However, the case method strategy is also particularly valuable in the exploratory stages of research into a topic and is well-suited to capturing the nuance and natural flow of a phenomenon. Case studies also allow for the emergence of new ideas and understandings. It is in its contribution to conceptualizing and developing hypotheses about the development and workings of cross-national teams that we feel this study has its greatest value. Clearly, each of the contentions presented will need to be further explored using other research strategies.

Updated: Nov. 28, 2013