These days there is much talk of teachers as ‘facilitators’ and the need to move from being the ‘sage on the stage’ to the ‘guide on the side’ in the classroom setting. Unfortunately, most of the time it remains just talk. While in some cases, the teaching methodologies may shift, the underlying power dynamics often remain the same. The teacher-facilitator (and the examination system) still holds the power over the students. Truly re-inventing oneself as ‘facilitator’ calls for a different kind of vulnerability, openness and mutuality.
As opposed to Vinoba Bhave’s famous story on “Only Teaching”, in which the teacher refuses to open himself to learning anything new, facilitators must be in a continuous learning and unlearning process. To support and deepen this, they need feedback – not just from principals or peer evaluation mechanisms or self-reflection tools but also from the students.
Most of us have only seen teachers evaluating the students. Students never get the opportunity to assess their teachers. In the Guru-Shishya parampara, there was a relationship of mutuality. Rather than a facilitator, I would describe the guru as a co-learner. Both the guru and the shishya used to play the role of nurturing the other’s curiosity and self-learning process so as to evolve in its own unique way. The shishyas also had the privilege/responsibility to choose their own guru and the guru would accept each shishya individually. There was no compulsion on either side. If the shishya was not satisfied with the guru, he could leave and search for another guru.
I remember from my college days that we used to assess our professors at the end of every course and the results were printed in a booklet and made available to all students for the following year. This proved very useful not only for providing feedback to the professors but also for helping our fellow students to decide whether they wanted to take the course given that particular professor’s teaching style. Today there are many democratic schools1 around the world that allow students to evaluate their teacher-facilitators. There are some schools which give students the radical power to influence whether a teacher’s contract is renewed and she or he is retained in the school. I am not suggesting that this extreme example of ‘the customer is always right’ is a good idea – it probably does not help build healthy and trusting learning communities – but it is important to note that the student’s opinion should carry some weight.
I feel that if we really are concerned about creating healthy learning environments with teachers as facilitators, we must encourage students to assess their teachers (and ultimately choose them). Students are always doing this in their own way behind the teachers’ backs. We can all remember talking about our teachers as being ‘nice’ or being ‘very strict’ or ‘very boring’. (Strangely, I have found that most people across the world had harsh comments about PT sirs.) It is now time to encourage this feedback process to happen more consciously and openly and as an essential part of the teacher-student relationship.
We have created a reflective questionaire with the help of some children who frequently visit the Shikshantar2 learning center in Udaipur. By no means is this meant to insult or demean teachers. Rather, it is intended as an invitation to strengthen the dialogue and relationship between students and teachers. We hope to generate a more conscious vision and visible set of reference points as to what constitutes a good teacher-facilitator for the 21st century. Are our children and parents clear on what we should expect from our teachers? Are the teachers clear on what is expected from them – by their students, their colleagues, parents, society, the planet? It is high time we raise the benchmark in order to bring quality learning and real shiksha in our communities.
We think that this questionnaire is an important process tool for empowering students by encouraging them to reclaim control over their own learning processes and learning ecologies. It also can help reinvigorate relationships between students and their teachers, and teachers and the local communities. We shared the questionnaire with selected students from government and private schools and found that they provoke the students to start reflecting on their educational journey from new perspectives.
Needless to say, these few questions are only a starting point for much-needed deeper conversations between teachers, students and parents. You should feel free to add to them based on your context, particularly with more open-ended questions such as: What is the most interesting or inspiring things you have learned with this teacher? What concrete suggestions do you have for improving the performance of this teacher? I should clarify that the questionnaire should not be used as a tool to punish or reward the teacher. Nor should the student be punished for giving his or her honest feedback. This would severely undermine the integrity of the exercise. I would suggest that the results be shared with the students and community within a larger context of talking about how to improve the situation and how to give the teacher more support. Students also must be invited to take responsibility for positively shifting the learning environment. A healthy feedback process will help increase motivation of both teachers and students. Ultimately, the teachers and students will start to internalise a larger set of the criteria for creating healthy learning ecologies.
An interesting way to begin is for teachers to first fill out the questionnaire as a form of self reflection and then compare their own perceptions about their roles and performance with the students’ perceptions. One does not have to wait until the end of the course to do this. Sometimes it is helpful to get feedback in the middle of the course. I have found that the start and the end of the assessment process is most critical. The teachers should be invited to start by asking themselves questions such as: “What can I learn by finding out how students experience me?” or “In what areas do I feel my teaching needs improvement?” There needs to be a baseline agreement from teachers on why this kind of reflective process is important.
The end of the process is equally critical. The students should feel that their feedback matters. Only then will they take this responsibility seriously. Teachers should listen to the feedback and not reject it immediately or become overly defensive. Acknowledge the student feedback that you are planning and not planning to incorporate into your teaching, and explain why. Your response to the feedback can also create exciting opportunities to clarify your expectations for the learning environment, and open doors for further dialogue with students, parents and the local community.
As we seek to create quality education for the 21st century, it is critical that students be given more power and responsibility to self-design and shape their learning environments. This may initially sound like a scary proposition for teachers, but it is one that we need to explore if we want to get to the heart of real shiksha.
The author is learning activist with Shikshantar Andolan, an organic learning community in Udaipur, Rajasthan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You should assess your teachers on the scale of 0-4:
0 means not at all or never
1 means very little
2 means sometimes
3 means oftentimes
4 means really fantastic
- How much real knowledge and practical experience do they have about the subject that they are teaching? For example, if they are teachers of science, have they conducted any experiments in their homes or communities?
- How much positive energy (happiness and enthusiasm) do they bring into the classroom with them?
- How curious are they to learn new things and to upgrade their knowledge?
- How much do they listen to the opinions of students and respect what you are saying?
- How often do they acknowledge their own mistakes?
- How much do they know about you personally – your actual dreams, interests, talents, problems?
- How much do they respect your parents and your community?
- How much do they help or support you in you personal life? For example, can you discuss personal problems with them?
- How many ideas do they try to share with you that are relevant to your everyday real life and to your local community?
- How much do they participate and involve students in community service projects?
- How much do they try to connect you with other learning resources and opportunities outside of the formal syllabus?
- How much do they encourage you to collaborate and work together with other students?
- How honest are they in their daily life and work?
Total Possible Score: 52
1. For more information on democratic schools, see: http://www.idenetwork.org/index.htm and http://www.educationrevolution.org/demschool.html.
2. For more information about Shikshantar, see www.swaraj.org/shikshantar