A unique synergy

Damayanti Mukherjee

Indus International School is at present a network of three IB (International Baccalaureate) accredited schools located in Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Pune along with multiple Indus Early Learning Centres (I ELC) in Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai, a Community School in Bengaluru and its own teacher training wing, ITARI, in Bengaluru. The IB ethos of being a “lifelong learner” is deeply imbued by the leadership team at Indus and this is reiterated through the Leadership Retreats that are often organized for faculty members during an academic session. I was part of the fifth Indus Leadership Retreat at the verdant Indus campus in Bengaluru in June this year where teachers from across the three Indus Schools met to take part in an enriching learning and reflection session.

One of the perks of being a teacher is the abundant amount of “paid holidays” in terms of long vacations and the thought of voluntarily giving up that precious time was in itself a challenge. But I had been told so much about these retreats by my colleagues that my curiosity was highly piqued as I landed at Bengaluru International Airport and settled down for the two-hour journey to the school campus.

We were put up in the boys’ and girls’ hostel and it was hilarious seeing grown up adults smoothly shifting to the “boarder” mode leaving untidy beds, borrowing accessories, talking across the shower stalls and rummaging each others’ bags for midnight snacks. The greater goals scaffolding the theme of leadership were team building and generating self- awareness. Both were amply evident in not only the formal meetings throughout the days but also the early morning badminton matches where the “house” spirit of each branch created instant best friends and lifelong enemies! The pool-side time-out session clearly separated the leaders from the lambs as people whom I had only considered as earnest mathematicians, serious scientists and articulate language teachers devised ways to turn those of us with two left feet into scintillating rumba and salsa dancers. I have never been told off so sternly in my adult life as “step 1..ring the bell, step 2 ….shake the duster, step 3 ….draw a circle, step 4 ….shake your ‘backside’….what is this Damayanti, where is your concentration?…now repeat…1,2,3,4….” “Concentration? …My muscles are shivering!”

The agenda for the retreat was framed by the Leadership director and leadership coordinators of each school under the guidance of CEO Lt Gen Arjun Ray, PVSM, VSM (Retd) along with the principals of the three schools. The focus was on encouraging leadership qualities in the teaching faculty so as to translate that in the 21st century classrooms. For the Hyderabad team of 12 teachers that had chosen to volunteer for the leadership track full time, the preparation began much before the actual retreat. Our lunch hours were devoted to vociferous debates as we thumped out the burning issues of the two case studies on the famous film ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ based on the 1932 novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman and “Race to the South Pole” based on Amundsen and Scott’s epic bid for the South pole.

This discussion set the tone for the entire retreat as 90 odd teachers from across the country with different backgrounds and experiences put their heads together to intuit through the case studies on leadership, on how relationship building and disposition can make or break any mission. We sat down in groups to reflect on aspects like positivism, which accepts that even suffering has learning opportunities; intellectual connectivity that binds any relationship beyond an emotional tie up; importance of strategic conversations that allow for emotional and intellectual dissent and life line relationships in which partnerships are fostered. We discussed how these same factors could influence classroom situations, given that a teacher’s qualifications and experiences are of impeccable order. This led to a hard journey of self-reflection, as we as individuals, tried to ascertain whether along with knowledge and pedagogy, we also had the right positive attitude that made us contribute to student growth during every moment in the class and beyond.

Being part of a network implies common goals and attitudes and we spent more than half a day to discuss how we could grow together as an institution and what we would like the USP for Indus teachers to be. It was a consensus that people are loyal to people, not to organizations and therefore for any organization to do well, the focus needs to shift from the institution to the team and therefore to relationships with emphasis on social bonding and personal trust. We calculated the five stages of relationships and all took a definitive vow to move from stage two (Hello) to stage three (acquaintanceship) with at least two people in the whole network and from here to stage four (friendship) with two more in our own branch across the programmes. The CEO strongly urged us to designate prime time for reflection, if not on a daily basis but definitely at a regular interval. These reflections would translate into re-examination of fundamental assumptions we make in our professional lives – be it with colleagues, parents or students – and will lead to strategic directions for development in all. Mrs Sarojini Rao, Principal of Indus Bengaluru, led us through an insight into Self Science, which showed us how to articulate and set goals and seek a higher purpose.

We had candid sessions on the meaning of academic rigour in a 21st century classroom. We also explored the dimensions of a teacher’s role in the present times not only in terms of international curricula but as a facilitator of life skills learning. This was a good time to recall our own school experiences and remember the teachers we “hated” and those we “loved”. A few points that emerged commonly were that a teacher needs to be clear about the purpose of education; make well-defined learning goals; is capable of becoming a role model; involves students in their own learning; is ready to share and collaborate on pedagogic issues; considers himself/herself a team player in the journey of knowledge; is open to accepting and giving feedback; has commitment to the organizational vision and always has a plan B i.e., is prepared for the best but ready for the worst.

The four days flew. The panel discussions, group discussions, the pow wows around the coffee machine, structured lectures, the laughter around the dining table, the shake-a-leg beside the swimming pool, created a synergy that was indeed unique. I wonder how many school leaderships invest in this kind of team spirit creation? And we begin session 2012-13 with renewed energy, prepared for the challenges ahead.

The author is a trained post graduate in English Literature with more than 17 years of association with national and international curricula. Her passions include reading, writing, working hard and travelling to get away from domestic chores! She can be reached at damayanti.indus@gmail.com.

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