Saturday, February 28, 2015

What have they learnt? (Work in Progress)

This is an ongoing post in which I want to capture some of my reflections on progress in my classroom and its students as I reach the end of my fellowship.

1) My students have deeper self-awareness about their values.
When I started, my students did not know the meaning of 'strength' and 'weakness'. Yesterday, when I was having a sharing circle, all the students who have been with me for the whole last year were able to identify their strengths and areas of development. Not just that, they were able to choose deeper values like 'empathy', 'compassion', 'grit' as some of their answers. They still have a long way to go till the actively work on their area of development - but at least the acceptance is a good start. 

2) Some of my students have become intelligent conversationalists.
Whenever I used to have a guest in class, students would ask questions which were highly factual with almost no follow through. Now, they engage in meaningful conversations and questioning, with many probing the 'why' of 'what' people say. Some of the common questions now-a-days are "What are your strengths?", "What are your areas of development?", "What do you like about our class and what do you think we should improve on?", "Why did you choose your current career?", "What is your vision?", etc!! While not all the children have reached such a level of conversation, but the high expectations have paid off in the long run.

3) Many students have developed basic English speaking skills for conversations.
I recently attended a scholarship ceremony with some of the best students from TFI classrooms. My dictate to my students was to not be seen with another person wearing the same uniform and getting to know other students around them. Without much involvement, I was supremely proud to see them stand on their own and confidently approach both adults and other children to get to know them.

4) My students are solving problems more peacefully.
When I started, I used to struggle getting a lesson through because of the numerous complaints that I used to receive. While the cribbing hasn't ceased in its entirety, students have developed the maturity to not let it interfere with the lesson. Most of the leaders have developed their own peaceful problem solving mechanisms that keep the classroom calmer. 

5) The female students are aware of the shared inequity that their gender faces.
My girls have developed the courage to think about and question unfair practices against the female gender in the community,  though not many are successful in overcoming them yet.  Not just that, they have begun to process religious inputs with a scientific mind - questioning the why of many things. As a teacher, I believe I have successfully planted the seeds. If not them, their children will reap the fruits of a thinking rooted in fairness of opportunity and choice. 

6) My students are adaptable to structural changes.
When handled consistently and messaged positively, my students have developed good adaptability in dealing with classroom structures. Despite all the unexpected changes in student configuration and teachers, things have remained largely under control in the classroom. 

7) My student leaders are actively taking charge.
Some student leaders have developed strong leadership and problem solving skills, handling team relations and driving classroom culture effectively.

8) Students are data-focused.
My kids love numbers that tell them how they are doing. They almost demand an analysis after every test - some for the sake of knowing how they are growing, while others for the sake of knowing their standing among others. No wonder I had a chilled out time teaching bar graphs and data!!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What will be my enduring memory in the minds of my children?

I have spoken a lot about the choices of my kids on my blog. As I approach the final lap of my journey in the classroom, I have been reflecting more deeply on my own choices. It is the choices that I make that I make now that will be my enduring legacy on my students.

Till August last year, my co-fellow and I had managed to effectively drive the love of learning, immaculate classroom systems, urgent and thorough collaborative planning, mind-boggling consistency in teacher action and a sense of belonging to a team working towards a shared vision. My classroom was on a path of transformation.

Starting September, everything started going downhill. My thought partner, co-teacher and friend quit the school team. My stable class that was on its tipping point of its journey went through three configuration changes. And while all this was happening, I got married and chased my dream job to further take my focus away from the classroom.

 If I look back at the last few months, my team was trying to keep our grade level ship afloat.  We succeeded at that. We honestly had not thought about this extreme eventuality of a reduced team considering how strongly we were placed in our respective content areas and classrooms at the start. We were not prepared to deal with the turn of events.

However, the unexpected tremors distances one part of our kids from us and a part of us from each of our kids. Setting shared values, language and beliefs is the most time consuming and mentally and emotionally draining activity. Increased and repetitive work on class culture coupled with reduced time frames have deeply impacted the pace of our journey towards our goals. In many ways, we have taken many steps backward on that journey. 

Standing where I am and looking at the turbulent journey I have had, I feel drained and demotivated. While I have a vision on the wall, I have sensed my own conviction has gone amiss. While I have preached values, I have found it incredibly hard to show the same every minute of every day in the classroom. While I have excellent lesson plans, I have not been able to reignite that love of learning in the kids. All the pent up negativity because of the gap between where the class is and where we could have been shows up in the form off outbursts, scolding and hopelessness in front of my kids.

I am strong and I will not break. However, the problem is when 'NOT' breaking becomes the goal. A negative goal leads to a negative mindset. Your focus changes from students being interested and hardworking to students NOT breaking rules. Your focus changes from driving students towards excellence to students NOT failing an exam. You find problems instead of solutions. You scrutinize the actions of your children through a microscope instead of looking at yourself in the mirror. That itself is against the fundamental strength of my uphill climb in the first 9 months of 2014.

I have a little more than a month left with my children and I have a choice. I can deliver outcomes in exam by being an autocratic consequence-giving machine. If I continue on the path I am on, I will undo my legacy on the lives of my children. However, I want to bring the class back on track by making it democratic and value-driven. I have done it in the past. I can do it again.

Henceforth, I will again work with the belief that all children can learn. It's their present and not their past choices that decide their future. What my children collectively believe inside the classroom can undo the effects of what each child individually learns. As long as they have one another to show them the right path, they will succeed without me. My own conduct will drive values in the classroom. Consequences or rewards are just a medium for continuity to the next year. 

I want my children to remember me as a person who always believed in their ability to be excellent. I want my children to remember me as the teacher who saw the light in each of them. I want my students to remember me as the one who made them believe that their learning is in their own hands. That will be my legacy in our land of joy and change. And the journey will again start with me.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What matters most

I have little time left with my kids and I have been thinking about what to focus my energy on. There is a huge gap in academic coverage but I don't want to run the risk of covering much with low mastery because it will simply get undone over time. There has been a drop in values demonstrated in class without teacher reinforcement - especially team work, urgency and ownership - that is worrisome. These values certainly need to be restored. At the same time, the children are also falling behind on their extra curricular plans as well as on their journey toward self-awareness. In 30 days, what can I do to re-instill the sense of belief that a great vision is worth striving for. How do I make them maintain that belief even when I am gone?

It is not the largest tree but the tree whose roots grow the deepest that will withstand the rough weather. I think I know the answer. Values and a deeper sense of reflective practice are the two most crucial elements to strengthen the roots. That apart, there is a need for children to see them in practice. Academic learning will then happen automatically.

What if I made them set their own goals and make their team responsible to hold them accountable for it. A weekly commitment chart and a team led feedback everyday.

What if I made them take more responsibility in their own showcase. Without doing many things, focusing on one idea in which the kids take ownership of each other's actions and make it happen. What if I set a high bar of excellence on it.

What if I focused on a lot of positivism - positive shout-outs not just for achievements, but for the smallest of things like giving answers following the Q&A expectations, following directions the first time when no one else does or making an effort that stands out from the average.

What if I kept consequences simple but immediate - like a reward that gives immediate gratification, a consequence must lead to immediate reflection on action.

What if I gave them time in every lesson to reflect deeper on how it links with their vision.

All this will not take time. It will only require planning, patience and persistence. It will prove to be the most effective utilization of the time we have left - to be able to put in 60 seconds in every minute - a 100% in every second. Kids will see the worth in it and consequently, learn. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Letter to Metamorphia

16th January 2016

Dear Metamorphians,
I have 87 days left with you. Typically, we make around 1000 choices in a day. In these 87 days, we have over 87000 choices each of us can make.

You have the choice to listen and learn or talk and waste your and your friend's time. You have the choice to work hard everyday by doing your classwork, homework, group-work and preparation for procedures or to be lazy and give up on your dreams. You have the choice to come to school everyday and celebrate your remaining time in Metamorphia or sleep at home. You have the choice to eat well and stay healthy or eat street food and fall ill. You have the choice to ask a question or to remain confused and lost.

You have the choice to work together as a team to help everyone achieve their goals or work against each other so that no one achieve their goals. You have the choice to show respect and earn some respect or hurt someone and get hurt in return.  You have the choice to react when someone provokes you or to show self control and bore the person till he/she gives up. You have a choice to show honesty in your words and actions or say lies to escape consequence and become a weak person.

You have the choice to become a wise leader or a member of the herd. You  have the choice to show your friend the way to make the right choice or see your friends make the wrong choice. You have the choice to be nice and spread happiness or be kind and spread sorrow to your loved ones and friends.

You have the choice to move your family out of Shivaji Nagar into a cleaner place or stay here forever.  You have the choice to go to college and earn a degree or diploma or drop out of school and work as a labourer. You have the choice to travel the world or stay stuck between your city and villages. You have the choice to become a person who changes the world  or become an average person who only earns respect out of fear. You have the choice to make a difference to the community or become like one of them.

No one can take this choice away from you.  No one can take Bhaiyya away from you but time. No one can take this time away from you but you.

I hope we have ALL become an excellent class again. I hope we ALL achieve our goals. I hope we ALL have a fabulous Maya musical. I hope we ALL show respect to time and have fun on Fridays. I hope we ALL act with values without thinking about reward. I hope we ALL keep trying in the face of failure. I hope ALL of us always make the right choice, with or without me.

Remember, we have just 87 days left.

Kapil Bhaiyya

Thursday, January 08, 2015

For a Peaceful Planet

I often have tell students in class to show self control when they have a strong urge to retaliate when someone hits them or abuses them. "It is only fair," they say, "that a person gets what he deserves." I ask them to express their feelings politely rather than create more animosity. Telling someone "I feel angry when you hit me" is a far better way than hitting them back. It may work if the person guilty of the act is conscientious. It gives the the chance to correct himself, to apologize, to come clean. "Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone deserves a second chance." After repeated interventions, most children do understand.

On some occasions, I am asked to arbitrate on the matter. In that case, I use a system of a classroom trial, where there are witnesses on both sides being asked to present their view. There are pre-defined rules and consequences in the classroom that the students are aware of. The consequence is not differentiated between the one who initiated the act and the one who followed in the act. If I differentiate then, in a way, I am accepting a justification for the violence and unkindness of one over violence and unkindness of the other.

I have a simple philosophy. Violence as the preferred way to attain justice creates a vicious cycle of hate and anger, that amplifies from one round to another. When truth in its incomplete form is accepted and systematically taught, it leads to dogmas propagating and spreading in the society causing further marginalization of the free minds. Communities grow up feeding on the idea of religious or regional fundamentalism. When such communities meet motivated, misguided and gifted people like Hitler or bin Ladin, they are mobilized into forms (like terrorist organizations) that unleash their anger on thousands of innocent people.

My student Firdos had once said "In my community, children are friends and grown ups fight." The simple statement had such a deep meaning,not only in the context of Shivaji Nagar, but the world itself. Children are born without these prejudices, but are systematically brainwashed - more so in communities where exposure to media is incomplete, comprehension of information is poor, scientific thinking is absent and the wisdom to independently choose the right path missing. The difference between an Ajmal Kasab going to a college and an Ajmal Kasab becoming a terrorist could have been that one mentor, that one teacher or that one parent who could gift him the voice of reason.

9/11 shocked me. When the attacks of 26/11 happened in Mumbai, I felt deep anger and hatred. But the question in front of me was "Who is this anger and hatred directed towards?" On reflection, I realized my anger and hatred were not directed towards the terrorists, their country or their religion. My anger was directed at the ignorance that led them to believe that walking on the path of violence and hate could lead them to finding their own peace.

People, like you and me, have  the skills, knowledge and exposure that is not ours to keep. If we have inherited our world, it is our responsibility to leave it in a better place. One of the ways to do this is to use whatever intellectual wealth we have to impact lives of the tens, hundreds, thousands or millions who don't - any amount of difference that you will make is going to be significant.

Through what I do, I have chosen to give children an excellent education. What will you do to save our world?