|Dr Aparna Kakkad
Chief Medical Superintendent - MGM Hospital,
Director - MGM Schools.
Dr Namrata Jajoo
Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself! - This quote by Rumi has always deeply inspired both of us and revealed the direction when as school leaders we have stood at crossroads hesitating to take the next steps. As teachers first and then as school leaders, we are often approached by students, parents and colleagues for advice and guidance. One thing we have learnt to refrain from is appearing as a one-stop-solution and allowing them to transfer the ownership of their decision making to us. What we have also learnt over the years is to skillfully play the role of a sounding board. On such occasions, our contribution is to genuinely try our best to coach them to see things with a wider lens and to make a choice with confidence and acceptance of life’s ambiguity. While it is easier said than done, accepting uncertainty is a challenge within itself and becomes even more difficult when someone walks up to you and says - “Didn’t I tell you so?” The key is in learning by doing and experimenting with the choices we take. Therefore, in our school ecosystem it has been common practice to respect each other's viewpoints, opinions and choices and value failure as much as we revel in success. We encourage respect for all members and the freedom to say with ease, “I made a choice to do this with awareness and acceptance of consequences”.
However, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit us unexpectedly the situation was unprecedented and pushed us into confusion and anxiousness. Suddenly, all that had been a given in our lifestyles, was wiped out and replaced with emptiness - lockdown of our daily routine - fading out of the morning rush to reach school, no school assemblies, no lesson plans, the chirping of the children and the birds in the garden all went amiss...This unsettling phase and initial struggle got us into a reflective frame of mind and we started with questioning the purpose and ‘Why’ of education. WHAT CHOICES WERE WE GOING TO MAKE NOW?
The wise philosopher Socrates had said these beautiful words, ” The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” Centering our inspiration on this we went back to the drawing board to re-imagine our school. In this co-creation of the new avatar of our school our companions were students, parents, our support team, teachers and members of our school Trust.
Some key insights that emerged from this brainstorming were:
- Our role had to be re-crafted as that of a facilitator and mentor rather than that of one who is home delivering the syllabus.
- What if we looked at this as an opportunity to break the monotony and bring a new format of schooling which would imbue a freshness and bring more meaning to learning.
- Parents were more than willing to join hands with us and become partners in this journey of ‘Schooling from Home’.
- Technology would now be the predominant teaching aid and we made the choice to extend our hand and become friends with its many facets.
In a way, we went through quick transitions from one phase to another - phase of confusion and anxiety to -> reflection and acceptance to ->building resilience and faith to -> exploration and research to -> creativity and innovation to -> comfort and confidence!
It was obvious that we had to do more with less! Many parents were facing genuine challenges of pay-cuts and downsizing at their workplaces. Children could now attend fewer sessions in the day to keep safe from tech fatigue and exhaustion. Teacher team had very minimal tech skills and awareness of online teaching methods.
We chose to embark on a sharp learning curve!!! We knew we had to invest in getting the right devices and internet connection to reap the benefits of the online medium. Our tools had changed from the chalk and board to the mouse and pointers. We reversed our role to see what could emerge if we stood in the shoes of our students. Experimentation had to start off with self. We allowed ourselves to be vulnerable and not worry about being observed by parents, the community or the world. We told ourselves that we had to do our best and not shy away from this opportunity which had the potential of chiseling our practice and sharpening it.
Slowly, we began to observe encouraging shifts. What a blessing it was that we no longer had back benchers in the class 🙂 The quieter children also started speaking up and became more responsive because they were not conscious of their peers and their teacher was almost teaching them one-on-one on camera. While we were now using the online teaching apps we continued to stay true to our school purpose of -’Grow, Glow, Lead and Serve’. Our online school had an assembly every morning, we ensured that children had opportunities to engage in sports, music, dance and arts activities online. Children began to explore different ways to connect with the community and contribute online. It is here that they could see that even a kind word spoken with the elderly on phone had a magical effect on their well-being!
We also learnt to raise our hands with humility and ask for help. We made our students our teachers, and they would pause in the class to give us quick tips to make our tech work for us. The naughtiest students of the class were transforming into our best friends 🙂 We learnt to face the camera and try out different methods to improve our screen presence such as what background to show, what pitch of voice to speak in and which colours to wear. Discipline was no longer about being only quiet in the class - it was about catching hold of the excited disruptors who were trying to write on the whiteboards and muting their teachers. What worked in controlling these were conversations of our school values and ethics. And, when these children became online class monitors, we were in total awe of what a child could learn and shape into if given the space to discover his/her deeper values.
Integration of values in every lesson plan was a conscious shift we made to ensure that we were adding more value through each session. Since online time was limited, we experimented with scheduling classes as fusion of 2-3 subjects and the results were outstanding. For eg. our sports teacher and science teacher got together to teach Newton’s laws of Motion in a joint session. The children were thrilled and learnt with more enthusiasm.
Another platform we have designed are weekly Subject Cohorts. Here teachers of a particular subject meet online every week to connect, collaborate and brainstorm on different teaching methods and techniques in the context of the specific subject they teach. We are witnessing a wonderful amalgamation of the teacher skills and spontaneous learning from each other irrespective of their hierarchy or years of teaching experience. This has also led to a deeper understanding and respect for each other in our teacher community not just within the school but across all our seven schools.
What also came as a pleasant surprise was how we were able to see our students in a new light! Some of their skills were hitherto hidden and got spotlighted because of an online mode of communication - for instance a student was very good with the settings in the zoom app and he conducted a session for teachers to learn the nuances of running a zoom session smoothly. Similarly, another student devised ways to help teachers in demonstrating experiments online. And, teachers were not far behind either. Our art and Math teachers sawed through old furniture in their homes to create a stand to hold their camera in different angles. This hands free method helped them to give elaborate sessions on solving Math problems and creating great artworks!
Such collaborative and shared learning had never been seen in the traditional classroom. Truly, the world opened up online and we invited it right into our classroom! When we invited experts from across the country for masterclasses, our children were thrilled and we could see how they felt more invested in playing the role of a responsive global learner.
There were many conundrums and contradictions - but none had the power of deterring us from reaching our students. While we and our children do miss the physical space of the classroom, the opportunities for informal conversations, eating and playing together - we are equally grateful for the blessing of togetherness in the online space!