An inward exploration


A bi-monthly column that focuses on the inner self of the teacher.

New column, new journey
The last two years I have been running a column here titled ‘I for Inclusion’ which talked about inclusivity in classrooms, schools, and in our everyday lives. However, the objective was not to share methods, tools and techniques from a special needs point of view but to see inclusion as a larger attitude by bringing in awareness and sensitivity in the everyday, and nurturing an attitude of inclusivity which everyone can build capacities for.

In the journey of writing about different approaches to build such capacities, I wrote more and more about exploring the nature of one’s true self, especially through the arts. Exploring by indulging in play, by engaging the body, by being conscientious listeners and observers, by igniting curiosity for learning, by giving ourselves new experiences, by immersing oneself in creative arts practices, and of course, by being reflective. I also wrote about how we can find several ways to move closer to our authentic selves and in the process evolve into more sensitive and inclusive individuals. The more we listen to our inner voice, the more clarity we gain in the way we view life around us, enabling us to identify the intentionality of what we do and how we do it.

I work extensively with teachers across the country on exploring and discovering their inner selves, using arts-based practices as the primary medium to approach this journey. Hence, it only made sense to shift towards writing about the exploration of the inner self of the teacher. This I strongly believe is a path which will bring back ‘autonomy’ to the teacher – a word I will address at length later in this article. Here lies my intention for this column that I have titled ‘The Teacher Within’ with the hope to trigger a need to explore an inward journey. I hope this column serves you well as a teacher, a head of school, a parent or as an individual deeply invested in the process of learning. I hope to bring to you, thoughts and ideas from educators and philosophers both classical and contemporary (or should I say ‘post-pandemic’!) along with a few humble sharings of my own practice with teachers in the Indian context.

It would be unfair for me to write about the inner self of the teacher without quoting the wonderful educator, Parker J. Palmer, who in his book The Courage to Teach writes extensively about this topic. He says, “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” Let’s examine this idea a little closer.

It is common knowledge that teaching consists of two major sources that teachers constantly work upon. The first is the subject we teach, which is expansive and complex, much like life, so our knowledge of it will always be limited. No matter how dedicated and sincere we are to reading and research, subject knowledge acquisition will always be that mirage in the desert that we keep chasing. The second, are the students we teach, who are complex and ever changing. To be able to see them clearly, wholly, and respond to them with objectivity requires teachers to hone the skills of a philosopher, psychologist, and monk altogether! However, if teaching consisted only of subjects and students, one could imagine that consistent training in various tools, techniques, philosophies along with subject upgradation would be enough to stay ahead and for teachers to feel on top of the game.

But a third source of teaching and one that is more often than not left unacknowledged is the fact that ‘we teach who we are’ – here is where the identity and integrity of the teacher comes into play. Teaching comes from within the teacher, from their respective contexts, experiences, and their individual world view. When we acknowledge the teacher self and its role in this intense engagement between teacher, student, and the subject, it brings in complexity. Today, when education is increasingly becoming standardized, global, and moving away from the personal, teachers often find themselves feeling incapacitated. The need to learn or upgrade is often focused on developing new skills and techniques hoping it will better their teaching methodologies. It moves teachers away from exploring their authentic selves as they try to ‘fit in’ to the demands of this global education system.

‘In fact, knowing my students and my subject depends heavily on self-knowledge. When I do not know myself, I cannot know who my students are. I will see them through a glass darkly, in the shadows of my unexamined life – and when I cannot see them clearly I cannot teach them well. When I do not know myself, I cannot know my subject – not at the deepest levels of embodied, personal meaning. I will know it only abstractly, from a distance, a congeries of concepts as far removed from the world as I am from personal truth.’ (The Courage to Teach, Parker J. Palmer.)

The teacher plays an important role in education because the core of education is the relationship between teacher and student. A special relationship where two worlds meet with respect, curiosity, and authenticity. Education needs to explore new ways of exploring good teaching. Exploring a teacher’s intellectual and emotional capacities, acknowledging and celebrating their backgrounds and contexts, expanding their world views, are a few paths towards teachers understanding their selfhood and bringing it into their teaching practice. A teacher’s ability to connect with their students and their subjects depends less on the methods they use but more on how much they trust their own self, their intuition, how honest and authentic they are in the classroom and how ready they are to be vulnerable in this learning engagement.

All of this points towards the idea that teachers must have a good, healthy relationship with themselves and the environment that surrounds them. They must take complete autonomy in the work they do and take ownership of their learning journey. Their authority in the classroom is essential. ‘Authority’ here may sound like an oppressive word, but in fact is quite the opposite. It comes from the word ‘author’ and as Parker J. Palmer beautifully puts it, “authority is granted to people who are perceived as authoring their own words, their own actions, their own lives, rather than playing a scripted role removed from their own hearts.”

With this, I hope to ignite an interest in readers here to journey with me, through this column, on an exploration of the inner self; to be ready to answer difficult questions, have stirring conversations and be vulnerable. All with an intention to bring our authentic selves in the classroom and in our engagements with our students and with a clear objective to take the lead on authoring our own lives and our actions as educators.

The author is an arts-based therapist, educator and children’s author. She is the former executive director of Akshara High School, Mumbai and has been working in the field of education for the past 15 years designing arts-based curriculum and training teachers. She can be reached at

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