I was visiting a school near Hoshangabad to work with children on mathematics. One day, a teacher from the school showed me a huge collection of handmade teaching-learning materials lying in a box. He told me when he joined the school he was very enthusiastic; he had prepared and used these materials for quite a few years. He had been working in the school for 22 years. Now he was not as excited about these materials and had stopped using them. I was speechless, but I also understood the different factors that must have affected him – monotony, working in isolation, no support system, large quantum of work, low position in the education hierarchy, etc.
For any deep-rooted change to materialize in education, it takes significant and continuous effort over many decades. I strongly believe that human beings are critical elements of this change. It requires building upon the existing talent and enhancing their capacity by developing an environment of trust and collectiveness. Hence, I propose some initiatives to strengthen the agency of the teacher.
- At the team level – enriching informal spaces
Over their teaching careers, teachers have the opportunity to learn, explore, and experiment with a number of innovative and creative teaching practices. Due to lack of appreciation and feedback, this enthusiasm gradually tapers off. In order to avoid this, schools have to cultivate informal spaces where their teachers can share and engage in continuous learning through feedback from colleagues.
- At the individual level – encouraging and strengthening ongoing documentation
Every school has different ways of documenting ongoing work. Schools have to work towards strengthening these systems and develop them as a means to review and reflect.
I firmly believe that efforts like these can impact mass education in India.
I made an attempt to practice these in a school, which I started with some like-minded individuals – Anand Niketan Democratic School (ANDS).
At ANDS, the faculty members embark on a learning journey with the children. I created a space for regular school feedback meetings. This space played a significant role in the growth of the school, its academic programme and the personal development of the facilitators. Children finish school by 3.00 pm. The facilitators then sit together to share and discuss the school day. We usually start by singing songs that create a sense of togetherness and which stir in us feelings of being able to make a difference. We then narrate our experiences of the day, our interaction with the children, problems faced, problems solved, etc. All our teachers maintain a classroom (personal) diary which they share from. This time that we spend together provides us with a number of inputs and directions for self-improvement and for improving the school. The system works as a means of review and reflection of teaching practices both at a personal level as well as at the institution level.
If planned well and implemented with care, these initiatives can transform our schools. They will help teachers work in a high trust culture that liberate their energies and creativity towards shared goals.
Note: The author is no longer associated with ANDS; this account draws from his experience when he was with the school.
The author is the founder of Anand Niketan Democratic School (ANDS), Bhopal. He has now set up Prakriti Initiatives, an institute that promotes natural learning. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.