Saturday, April 09, 2016

There is no blame

Yasmeen was neither the star or the struggler in the classroom. She liked learning but would rarely participate in any after school activity. She grew by 1.3 years in the span of a year with Pritish and me (between two MYs). Her participation in the class had increased significantly too. 

 The situation at home however was different. Her parents had been meaning to withdraw her from school for a long time. They would show little interest in her education. Adolescent had hit her hard - attraction and crushes were a part of her life.They wouldn't acknowledge her changing moods and interest and often beat her up at any expressed emotions of adolescence she would show. They would draw her into family politics, that was especially complicated with their extended family. Emotional or mood contagion (which we read about this week) was a reality for Yasmeen and would play out frequently in the classroom in the form of elaborate story telling about fictitious incidents of her life to lies in small things around day to day work in class. 

Yasmeen wanted to create an imagined reality where she was living the life she wanted to, which was far from the one she had. I was not in touch with her after I left school. I am unsure of what circumstances led to her alleged suicide last evening. 

 Here, I want to take a step back and think about the link between the concept of dynamic emotional resonance (again from the article we read) and teaching. In an environment where moods are often not homogeneous, Rahul, who took over Yasmeen's classroom from Pritish, could have at maximum catered his resonant response to the average of a classroom. Given how complex the situation in the community is, being able to get to the stage of an average response itself is big progress to make in the first year. 

 However, Rahul is not an average fellow. He knew what was going on in Yasmeen's life. He understood the risks that were involved, but Yasmeen's story was not the only story in class. There is Ahmed's story of the constant threat of near homelessness. There is Takee's story of participation in local gangs. There is Shorabh's story of a learning disability. There is a story behind every child. Which child's story could a first year teacher have prioritized? How could he have catered to individual needs? 

I further step back and think of Angie. Given how wicked the problem is in M-Ward, how could a PM no matter how experienced, have guided Rahul on which kid to prioritize in addition to working with him on his teaching skills, his reflective practice, his collaboration within the school, his development leader? For Angie, there isn't just Rahul, there are 22 other teachers and 600 students whose stories remain to be surfaced in conversations. 

 Stepping into Venil shoes, I know she acknowledges that it has to be a well thought through collective effort. We don't know what kind of forces do we need to activate to bring about a change that will empower the fellows, the parents and the students themselves to be able to make these hard choices and seek out the right support. It's a social experiment that will take time. While we figure the right course of action out, we will still not be able to identify the time bombs that are waiting to explode in the form of the risk to another child. 

 At the same time, I think of what would become of these children if they did not have a Rahul, an Angie or a Venil working relentlessly towards improving their lives. Things seem bad but they could be far worse. They are doing what they have planned with full vigour so that we all can learn. The cost of our ineffective support, lowered expectations of our people or missed learning is too high for our children. I know each of them and each of us is cognizant of it. 

 Lastly, I am thinking of the days when I went back to school after the death or near death in school. Those were the hardest days. The community (including the students) is so used to it that they would move on quickly as if not much had happened. However, being a fellow, it was never easy. I knew that every life is precious and every act of forgetting is a set back in the movement of change. I remember stepping out of class during the IP and just letting the tear roll off my cheek because I couldn't forget as quickly. 

Nonetheless, I would go back into the classroom because I knew our work can't wait for our motivation and moods. Every minute in the movement is precious. All I would do was read my reflection to the children at the start of the day. I would receive a letter from Mehak or Aliya and a card from Madiha, Firdos and the others. I would hear a joke from Farzan and Faizan to cheer me up. I would see the class being a lot more independent, them knowing that I was having a difficult day. I knew that seeds of change and the seeds of empathy were gradually getting planted.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

My Why

While I haven't been blogging, I have been writing more religiously than ever before in the form of weekly reflections to empty my mind and synthesize my learning. Over the last few months, I have been exploring the many reasons behind why I do what I do. I am going to capture all these reasons in this one post on my blog.

Story 1: Students' Self-Awareness 
I saw a beautiful example of the connect between the classroom and community, through the learning circle Siddharth conducts every morning with his kids. It was great to see the students discussing issues like "challenges faced by working women" in which Siddharth roped in the guest Ms. Kamal Bajwa, who was accompanying me. Kids asked questions like "What were the problems you faced as student?","What values did you show to overcome them?","Are those values still useful?" (not exactly with this grammar, but headed in this direction).

I asked them why their first response to getting into groups was to find other people of their gender. A student named Pawan said that "When we are outside class, people make fun of us if they see a boy and a girl together." It was great for me to see a grade 4 student being aware of the society's action and not basing his choice on judgement of the opposite gender.

Story 2: Inspiration from and for Parents

I went to the community with Archana to understand the root cause for the lack of educational attainment. The first round of primary research indicated factors like financial constraints, lack of secondary schools, interest in studies and safety as the top reasons. The five-why approach brought out two startling beliefs that lie at the core of the challenge - the belief that every child is God's gift and the belief that women are entitled to nothing but the service of men. The underlying challenge was fundamentally different than what the symptomatic challenge was. I was amazed at Aliya's parents ability to articulate the problem with its many complexities. Given their views, actions and own journey of change, I feel safe to know Aliya and her sisters are on a different life path and happy that I have contributed to their journey in some way.

Story 3: The Change In Your People 
I was thinking about the reflections that Meghana, Gowtham, Ashwini and Navneeth shared at the end of the EoU step back in terms of their observations on the way the team operates and the beliefs that drive our choices. The first time we had the conversation in our MY Retreat in October, we spent almost 2.5 hours debating where we were on some of these aspects. Most of us had an increased sense of awareness of how we were operating which helped us align in 30 minutes this time. I saw a similar trend emerge in our strategy discussion that followed where we weren't just open and honest with one another, but open and honest about our own beliefs - using the words "I see", "I wonder" and "I think" with increasing confidence over the two rounds of discussion.

Story 4: Alignment With What You Truly Love 
I enjoy photographing, writing, travelling, strategic thinking and teaching science for I love creative expression, perspectives and curiousity. Underlying these is my inherent habit of observing, learning, detailing, creating and sharing and a tad-bit of adventure. Underneath all of this, lies my love for confirming or discovering patterns in the way people around me and I make choices that impact the world. This probably explains why I could do with little photographing, writing or travelling during the peak of my classroom journey because I was fully indulging in my love for patterns while executing my plans for the classroom. It explains why I enjoyed teaching science more than math in the secondary grades because I could make the students see connection between their choices and their world everyday. It explains why my hobbies are all the ones that allow me to be a spectator than an active participant (for example, sports). It explains why operational delays tire me and strategy and reflection excite me. My current role allows me to focus on what I love for a large part of my time.

Story 5: Lowering the Stakes Without Lowering Expectations 

Each of my eight team members are extremely passionate about children and work relentlessly towards their educational outcomes. However, we know the work we do is hard and we do laugh our way through the stressful phases. This balancing of lowering the stakes without lowering expectations and remaining focused without stopping to see the lighter side of things is crucial to sustenance in our work. Lucky to have a team aspiring for this very balance!

Story 6: The People 

Not a day goes by when I don't feel challenged, pushed and provoked by someone who I work with. Having worked in other organizations before, I know it is a rarity.

Story 7: Opportunity to Change Mindsets 

What the world needs is people who are aware of multiple aspects of the ground realities, who process information they intake with wisdom and empathy and who question with reason have the humility to admit they were wrong. Through the spaces we create and the change makers we meet, we have the opportunity to do just that.

Story 8: Better Humans, Not Human Resources 

 It was interesting to hear Jo share that curiosity is the need of the hour in our education system. Our system has evolved to systemically remove it from every child's psyche. These young girls conforming to an 'acceptable pose' in the photograph made me wonder how we have created an assembly line to churn out better human resources instead of better humans.

Story 8: Power of the Collective 

 The problem we're trying to solve is complex, but to think we can do it alone is foolhardy. Bringing stakeholders together to build a shared understanding is both a challenge and an opportunity.

Story 9: Change in Students 

Many many stories of values learnt and followed, goals set and achieved, challenges endured and overcome and beliefs lost and restored.