A go for the best

 

I recollect a very insightful learning that I gathered eight years ago when we at EduMedia set out to add value to educational leadership in India. We were not sure what would be the right format to work in this space. The original idea was to conduct workshops on Leadership for school principals. This idea came naturally to us as we were one of the pioneers of organised life skills learning in India. To gain clarity I did what I know best; travelled across India and met up with school leaders and principals. I would have met over 200 odd principals over a period of a year trying to get an insight into their world. These meetings gave us vital understanding of the world of school leaders. The backgrounds they come from, the challenges they face, their aspirations and so on.

Some facts were startling too. For instance, in a country as diverse and as large as ours, there were schools that did not have even a single institution dedicated to creating school leaders. Even today we hardly have any decent institutions that offer leadership education. Another learning was the disconnect between the principals and their world. Principals lived in glass cabins isolated from the real world around them. The ones who wanted to learn did not know where to look and the others were oblivious that they needed to learn. Another interesting observation was that schools are centers of learning and what is very funny is that centers of learning do not learn from each other. There is very little sharing of learnings or experiences that happens between schools. For someone like me who works from the outside with schools I see how schools are all at different levels of evolution and they are all trying to rediscover the wheel for themselves.

Armed with this learning we got back to the drawing board and came up with the principal direction of Mentor -a platform that enables sharing of best practices in schools. We started off with the print magazine 8 years ago and 4 years later followed it up with the Mentor Conclave. Over the years the Mentor Conclave has become a benchmark for educators to come together and learn. A couple of years ago we initiated the Mentor Journal an opportunity for researchers and Practioners to share their learning with the edutopia.

Coming 1st & 2nd of December, 2015 India’s most prestigious institution IISc will play host to one of the most respected educational conferences the Mentor Conclave 2015. This year the Mentor Journal will be released as part of the conclave and selected papers get an opportunity to be presented at the Conclave. I invite you to share your experiences by submitting a research / experience paper for the journal. It is a great opportunity to showcase the wonderful work you do as educators from across the globe.

In Andalusia

In the last week of June I drove over 2000kms in the breath taking regions of Andalusia in Spain along with 4 winners of the Horlicks Wizkids competition representing different cities of South Asia. This trip that I take every year with some of the brightest young minds of India gives me an opportunity to learn more about them and their world. During this trip we visited Xabia, pronounced Javea, a beautiful small beach town in the Valencia province. To our luck the town was celebrating Fogueres de Sant Joan – a fiesta of the bonfires. The small cobble stoned streets dating back to medieval times were all decked up in full carnival splendour. The carnival began with a massive procession of floats carrying little children and women all dressed in traditional costumes with live bands playing, glitter and candies were being thrown on the by standers who had lined up the streets. Families from across the town and the neighbouring towns had all lined up the streets to witness the carnival procession. The procession was followed up with bonfires that were lit up in every street junction. The night wound up with the most spectacular display of fireworks and the burning of a massive effigy over 60ft tall. The entire town was in attendance, all dressed immaculately in the true spirit of the fiesta. The atmosphere was electrifying and being there was an amazing experience. By the time it all ended it was 2 am and when we walked back to our hotel the entire town was strewn with bonfire remains and the mess from the float procession.

The next morning when we walked out for breakfast we were surprised to see the streets all washed and clean. There were no traces of the festivities from last night. The entire town was responsible for cleaning up. Everyone cleaned the pavements in front of their houses and the town authorities washed the streets. In the days preceding the carnival, families, schools, individuals and groups came together to take up different responsibilities of organizing the festival. It was a phenomenal lesson on participative citizenship for me through a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

For over a decade now I have been associated with Janaagraha: an organization that is striving to enhance citizen participation in governance. EduMedia in partnership with Janaagraha runs the Bala Janaagraha programme in 15 cities across India. Through this programme we implement the ‘I Change My City’ curriculum that sensitizes students about their role as future citizens and encourages them to take up meaningful civic projects. The ultimate goal of this programme is to change the future mindset of citizens towards governance and to make practical civics a part of the curriculum.

While implementing this programme we face resistance from schools who believe that teaching the Civics curriculum prescribed by the Boards is more important than enabling children to engage in the citizenship process. Any programme that does not give children marks is not encouraged by parents and the schools prefer the easier route of teaching the theory of Civics.

I personally see ‘disengaged citizens’ as a big challenge today and an even bigger challenge in future. It is time for schools and educators to focus on creating informed citizens with a desire to take up challenging civic issues and do their bit to better our standard of living.

All Work And No Play

I had the opportunity to spend a day in Delhi with Lynn Clay who heads the Human Performance Lab based out of London. Her very unique work revolves around the understanding of the six core pillars of human performance: strength, stamina, cognition, hydration, metabolism and recovery. This in turn can be used to develop improved training, nutrition and competition programmes, enabling them to break through the limits of human performance. As part of her visit she was keen to understand the kind of importance that is given to physical activities in schools. Before I met her I asked my research team to get me some good on ground information about the sports scene in Indian schools. Some very interesting facts came to light through this impromptu research.

Almost all schools seem to be very keen and enthusiastic about sports and fitness for children in junior and middle school. Somehow most schools feel that children don’t need sports or fitness when they get into grade 10. This situation is even worse when it comes to grade 11 and 12. In states that have junior colleges it is abysmal. The situation in most girls’ schools was terrible with a lot of schools having little or no impetus for sports and physical activity.

Sports infrastructure is very poor in most schools. Contrary to what I had imagined most of the old schools that are endowed with large open spaces do not seem to use their big grounds effectively for sports. The new age schools seem to talk a lot about sports but the reality on ground seems to be far from what they claim.

One positive point that was noted was that the sports faculty in most schools were very passionate, enthusiastic and committed. Most of them did come from a reasonable background of sports, which made them well qualified for the role they were playing. The challenge though was in the curriculum or structure that they followed at school seemed to be all over the place. There was very little science or innovation in their routines or training methodology.

In this context I must admit we did come across some schools who have wonderful sports infrastructure and some who are very enthusiastic about sports. But somewhere the objective of most of the school sports and physical activities seemed to be misplaced. The Annual Sports Day seemed right on top of their agenda and a lot of activities seemed to revolve around training for the big day. Another aspect that was common was the fierce competition to win trophies and tournaments, which by itself is a good thing but cannot be the objective of having sports in schools.

The Dalai Lama once commented that he finds it very funny that most people in this world spend half their life losing sleep and health to make money. When they have made money they then spend the rest of their life spending money to get back their health.

The big future challenge is going to be the health and fitness of our children. Schools have a very important role to play in encouraging healthy living and habits in children by making it one of their focus areas. Sports and Physical Education is too integral an aspect for schools to neglect or delegate.

 

Engaging Parents

A dear friend recently confided that his niece was nominated to be the school captain of her school in the coming academic year, but her mother insisted that she relinquish the opportunity, as it will come in the way of her studies. Now this is an educated lady who comes from the upper echelons of our society and yet she has such horse blinded views and expectations from her daughter’s school and education. As I sat there wondering how to educate parents like her, I realised the enormity of the problem and how schools are doing precious little to educate parents.

For over 15 years I have been conducting life skills programs for schools. Very early in my career I have realized that you couldn’t bring out a tangible difference in the lives of children if we do not work with their biggest influencers – teachers and parents. Teachers have always been a relatively easier group to work with as compared to parents. Parents mostly live with a belief that it is the job of the school to teach and their role is limited to paying fees and providing for the children. This attitude is reflected in the fact that most parents seldom attend any learning program or meaningful sessions organized by schools.

5 years ago we did an in-depth survey to understand key parenting issues as part of our School Cinema program. A few issues that stood out and the ones on which we made parenting films are:

  • Immense pressure that parents put on children to perform well academically
  • How children imitate parents
  • Impact of parental conflict on the psyche of children
  • Dealing with rebellion in children
  • Instilling values in children
  • Sexual abuse awareness
  • Empowering children

The list of issues that we need to raise with parents and sensitise them is long. The important question here is not what issues we need to address but how to address them, considering very few parents are interested in learning ‘Parenting’.

I believe this is where a school leader must look for innovative ways of reaching out to parents. If they don’t come to learn, send the learning to them. I have come across some very innovative ideas that educators have used to reach out to parents.

WhatsApp Groups – every class teacher has a group for all her parents, the principal forwards a message to the teacher and she in turn forwards it to all her parents. The key here is not to overdo the watsapp messaging by sending out irrelevant information and keeping the communication clean.

SMS – Most schools have a dedicated text service to reach out to parents, some schools sent out short snappy parenting tips once a week / fortnight that makes parents hold back and think.

Blogs – Principals/Educators have started very interesting blogs and they share their views through them. Whenever they write something that is relevant to parents they send out a watsapp or a text with the link and invite parents to read and interact within the blog.

Facebook – Indians are the second biggest users of FB in the world, schools have found innovative ways of bringing parents on to their Pages/Groups and interact with them with relevant information and inputs.

Apart from this there are several other tools available like Instagram, Youtube etc. The key to effective online communication is to be crisp, relevant and not overdoing it.

Live with this question – How are you engaging your parents?