The other day, I was watching a TED TALK on why “Every kid needs a champion” by Rita Pierson. What I learnt, not that I didn’t already know, but her speech further reinforced my thought process was the power of positive reinforcement. It’s difficult being an educator, it’s difficult to truly listen to each and every child and be patient with them and mould them into becoming a positive and an impactful citizen of the society. But is it impossible? No.
In fact, we spend more time with the students than the parents themselves. Educators have a certain share of responsibilities and a huge amount of trust embedded on their shoulders from the parents. They are not there only to correct assignments, or give feedback, they are there to nurture, to influence and to care for the students out of the many things they have willingly accepted to do so.
The year 2020 has been a life changer for all of us. Little did we know, while we were welcoming and celebrating the New Year of 2020, Mother Nature had a different plan, for the whole of mankind. This has been a year to learn, a year to show compassion, a year to become stronger than ever before, a year of resilience and of course a year to adapt.
While the world has been busy adapting in every possible way imagined – something which is expected from adults and parents and teachers and children, we often forget that children have a different language of their own. As adults we can only understand this language when we simply listen and not form a judgement or subconsciously start thinking of what our answers will be when the child finishes communicating. A “hmm” for a child may be a complete different form of communication than a “hmm” for us. Valuing that “hmm” for a child is what makes all the difference.
Children want to be heard, but not how we want to hear them. They want to be heard in their own language. Today, more than ever, where the world is social distancing and staying at home, and friends and work and class are all but a virtual screen, it is our responsibility as adults, parents, and teachers to understand the silent language of the child, to listen as truly deserved and empathise.
Education should be free. Every child has the right to free education no matter what socio-economic background a child lives in. For some education is a part of life, a necessity, a requirement but for others, education is a privilege. But why should education be a privilege, and why not a part of life and a way of life as it is for other children?
There are many reasons why a child cannot learn, or go to school. For some, looking after the family is a priority than studying and for others the family cannot afford to pay the school fees. And for many, the more children a family bears, the more helping hands they will have, not realising that the more school fees they will be required to pay.
When I look at this world today, I see a huge socio – economic disparity in society. Being blind and looking away is a part of our lives, and a part of the problem.
I feel for these children, and I also feel that perhaps we must educate those who are in need for education, the ones who cannot afford education. Air conditioned schools, and fancy classrooms will not teach or educate children, it’s a mere excuse to charge high fees. It is the teachers who educate, and as teachers we must be aware and sensitive for those who want to learn, but do not have the means to learn.
That being said, I have started teaching Grade 9 children ‘English’, for a non- profit organisation “Angel Xpress Foundation”. Yes it is hard during this unending pandemic and how I wish I was in an actual classroom teaching, instead of looking at these children through a screen and Zoom call, but never the less, it is a joy. I was completely overwhelmed by the sincerity these children have towards learning with their eyes gleaming with excitement, and their smiles showing hope. I asked what they want to be when they grow up and one girl squealed with excitement and said she wants to become a dancer and a bank manager. One of the boys shyly almost embarressed confessed that he wants to become a mathematician. I asked this boy, why was he so hesitant in answering – gently encouraging him to share his feelings – it’s a dream he said, and dreams are only meant to be dreamt. I felt a lump settling in my throat, because I want this thirteen year old to become a mathematician.
The ideology of teaching the poor or underprivileged is different from actually teaching them. Yes, it’s for a good cause and one has the right intentions yet what I have learnt is, that connecting with these children and hearing their stories and feeling their desperation to learn, to be educated and do something meaningful in this world – is beyond what I had ever imagined I would feel. These children are dedicated and intelligent and it doesn’t matter if they do not have over-abundant fancy classroom where every window screams at you ” I am a privileged student and therefore I am educated” – all of the materiality in life doesn’t matter and quite frankly useless, as far as education is concerned.
I would like to share this video, a “Door Step School” initiative. The idea is to name the by lanes in the slums of Mumbai with names of Door Step School children who have continued or completed their education through difficult circumstances. As street signs are only named after big influential people, this recognition for few selected ones hopes to create positivity in the community and encouragement to those parents who have supported their child’s education and development process.
“Tell me sir, in which field could I make a great career?”
He said with a smile,
“Be a good human being. There is huge opportunity in this area and very little competition”
-Jalal – Ud – Din Rumi
What is Education, what is learning and what is life? Education is an enlightening experience, one that requires a holistic approach to understand the meaning of life. For what is the essence of life, if our minds and hearts are consumed with conflicts?
Children are natural seekers. Their curious minds constantly lead them to a path of discovery. As educators it is our responsibility to ensure that these curious minds are free from conformity. Free from conservatism. Children should be allowed to progress and education should be focused on their holistic development rather than the content or the teacher.
One should understand the importance of self awareness, and how essential it is to be acquainted with oneself as a whole. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama teaches the great importance of not only educating the mind, but also educating the heart. “When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts” – (His Holiness, the Dalai Lama). It is true that academia is an essential part of learning, and as teacher educators we must teach in the best way possible so that children excel in their desired field. But so should we teach acceptance, compassion, reflection, tolerance and adaptability so that they become caring, reflective, compassionate and responsible citizens of tomorrow. A classroom environment can be an exhilarating cocoon for children to learn in, as long as the course structure, student engagement is handled in the right way, and in the most delicate way. Once the children leave this “cocoon” they are exposed to a world full of wonder, beauty, love and mystery. But they are also exposed to a world full of deception, bullying, discrimination and conflicts. Which makes me reason, why is the world in a conflict today – where hunger, greed, deception and authority supplant humanity? A trained mind does not necessarily mean it is an efficient mind. Today we lack the freedom of thinking as we are conditioned to follow a systematic and structured approach to a certain set of ideologies. One who has learned but not understood may often feel conflicted, miserable and often mediocre. For what is that learning, which does not give one the freedom to think differently, or to act differently or perhaps to feel differently? Surely the meaning of true education and learning is when one obtains a sense of security from within and does not subject to the chains of social conditioning.
Children should be free to make mistakes. For when they make mistakes, they also create great opportunities for themselves to learn. When we as educators define or differentiate for what is wrong or right, we also steal their experience of navigating their own minds, which in turn leads to subjection of the true meaning of life. Accomplishment and integration of oneself can only occur when the educator understands love and there is true guidance. My interpretation of “love” here means ‘Selflessness’. For an educator can only truly educate, when the illusion of hierarchy is dissolved.
Please note that this article is greatly inspired by the thoughts of “His holiness, the Dalai Lama”.
It is true that academia is an essential part of teaching and learning. As teacher educators we must teach the best way we can so that children excel in their desired field. But so should we teach acceptance, tolerance, compassion, reflection and adaptability. So that children of today can become confident, caring, reflective, compassionate individuals for tomorrow.
A classroom is the happiest place for a child to be in, if the classroom environment, course structure, engagement of the child is handled in the right way and in the most delicate way. Children often feel protected in their cocoon called school and once they are old enough and leave, they are faced with a world full of mystery, love, companionship and dreams. But, they are also exposed to a world of deception, bully, discrimination and conflicts.
Many a times, it is assumed that social and emotional skills are embedded in humans, and are not required to be learnt because emotions, feelings, awareness are instinctive. But what if, a child comes from a broken family? Would these skills still be instinctive? I feel as a responsible human being and learning to become an educator, it is our responsibility as teachers to inculcate these life skills to each and every child, so that tomorrow we have a happier and a better society to look forward to. Wouldn’t the world be a more peaceful place? And not only that, research shows that social and emotional learning is positively correlated to academic learning as well. A point to think about.
I am quite inclined towards the concept of educating the heart, and I will share my thoughts more, when I have learnt more. For the time being the video below says it all.
Listening is easy right? Wrong. How many times have we really listened to someone talk without our minds wandering, or subconsciously thinking of a response? Seldom. The good news is that active listening is a skill that can be acquired and developed with practice and time. Yes, it takes practice.
Active listening, as the name suggests is fully concentrating on the words of the speaker and being attentive towards the thoughts the speaker shares. Active listening not only demands full concentration of the brain, but also the demonstration of positive body language. You can gently probe the speaker to elaborate on his/her thoughts. This usually makes the speaker feel positively encouraged and more comfortable in sharing his/her thoughts, and you will be surprised that sometimes there are many layers of emotions or thoughts that leads to a conclusion.
So I have been practicing active listening a lot in school these days. I have to admit, initially it was mentally exhausting and I had to make a conscious effort to stay involved, not let my head wander off to some dream land and also have a positive body language plus gentle probing plus understanding the thoughts of the speaker as well. By the end of it, I was quite drained BUT I loved it. As days went by and I got more practice, active listening came naturally and before I realised I was listening NOT hearing at home as well. My conclusion – it is the most beautiful skill I have acquired till date, and I thank you with gratitude to all my “teacher educators” who introduced me to this life skill. Another tick on my bucket list on why I want to become an educator.
So, can we apply active listening in the classroom environment? Of course we can, and we must. In fact, listening is the most fundamental component of interpersonal communication skills.
Often, children go through an emotional roller coaster during the day, from feelings of exhilaration to disappointments. Some children may feel frustrated or stressed or excited or lonely if they have had a fight with friends. As I have learnt, every child are unique with their own unique personality and as an educator it is up to us to talk to them and listen. This would not be the time to object or agree or judge or even feel emotionally involved and interrupt or come with solutions. More often than not, children while sharing come up with their own solutions but most importantly they want to be heard and by listening educators rekindle the feeling of acceptance with their student. Having this secure relationship is one of the strongest factors in helping children to become resilient, responsible and caring people.
Another day of schooling, and for me it’s always fun. What I was taught today was Quality Circle Time or QCT popularly known in the teachers world. For those of you who know, you can understand my excitement in being a child all over again! Just to let you know, children usually refer to it as “Circle Time”. So, what is Circle Time? I asked my 11 year old. His answer, ” Oh yes, mommy, we have circle time every day. It’s a time just before class begins, all of us have to sit together in a circle, and the teacher tells us the routine of the day, asks us how we are feeling, what we did last night or over the weekend, and usually ends with an activity. The whole process usually lasts for 25 or 30 minutes”. He was bang on. I congratulate his observation. That is exactly what circle time is. For students, a whole lot of fun and laughter and activities. But for teachers? Another perception.
For teachers, or educators, circle time is an opportunity to learn and understand the behaviour of each of their students. There may be a possibility that a child who is usually energetic and vocal may be subdued and lacking interest during circle time. This incident will be the educator’s first observation of that particular child on that particular day. The questions that will pop up would typically be:
Did the child sleep well?
Are there any concerns at home?
Is the child being bullied?
Has there been any change in the home environment e.g. grandparents visiting, returning from a weekend trip?
Has there been any correlation between circle time and school routine?
I am only giving examples. There could be more questions popping up depending upon the educator and familiarity with the child’s history. This is just a hypothetical scenario, important for us to understand. So, the above could be data points for the educator to dig in further and to keep an eye on this particular child during the day or many days. If I may say so, if a teacher is observant enough, Circle Time is an apt way of discovering data points that could go a long long way in helping a child in need.
Now, let’s look at the other perspectives. Not only does it help to “break the ice” between the student and teacher and all the other peers, but circle time also strengthens the bonding between the student, the teacher and their peers. During circle time, there is a sense of collaboration and team building efforts, that takes place during those fun activities. It strengthens the children’s motor skills, cognitive skills, behavioural skills (obviously depending on the activity). It inculcates each of the child to listen, to learn, to empathise, to respect and to share. All in those 25 minutes.
Children are innocent. Children are pure, and innocently absorb what ever is taught to them. The role of a teacher is vital for the development of the children they teach. Teachers can be very good and may excel in the subjects they teach. Or, teachers can be very bad as well. But here, I would want to focus on the good teachers, the brilliant teachers only. And kudos to them for teaching so well. So what is it exactly that teachers do? Simple, a teacher teaches and have numerous responsibilities to help the children learn, focus, absorb, correct their home work etc etc. They work hard to make every child in the class room understand what is being taught. You may ask me then, what is the role of an educator? Are educators teachers? Are teachers educators? The answer is yes. Educators are teachers. But only very good teachers can be educators. Why? Because the role of an educator goes way beyond the classroom and teaching subjects. Educators are the centre of a Childs mind and heart. Educators not only teach but also understand, empathise and learn. Educators are life long learners. They learn every day not only about the subjects they teach but also the core character of each of the students they teach. They work hard to make every class room day a meaningful day, so that children long to come to class, where children feel safe in a class room environment and they trust unconditionally who they are taught by. Now, that’s tough. Winning every single child’s trust is very very difficult. Yet they do it. So, why do educators need to learn every single day the subject they teach? Don’t they already know it? Of course they do. But teaching the subject in their own unique way, so that the children are engaged every single day, is a unique quality. These educators are aware that not all children learn the same way, in the same speed or in the same style. Coming up with different ways of teaching in a holistic approach is difficult but fulfilling. My respect.
And that is why all educators are teachers and life long learners. And only very good teachers can become educators. Because you need passion (which most teachers have) and compassion which some teachers have).