The magic of the collective

G Gautama

“Teaching is not just a profession, not an easy paycheck. It is stressful and taxing, not for the faint of heart. Teaching is also not for those who just randomly decided on it oneday or choose it as a last resort. It is for those who make the deliberate decision to answer the call to become an educator, a mentor, a friend. Being an educator is so much more than justa profession.” – Alexis Mazey, Nyack College and Alliance Theological Seminary

Teaching is obviously not for the faint of heart nor for those who choose it as a last resort. And surely it is not just a job. In our time, if someone chooses to be in a school as a teacher, it is against the backdrop of many related occupations. For instance, one would have decided not to be one or more of the following.

Academic AdviserCoordinator ExtracurricularPrincipal
AdministratorCoordinator Resource DevelopmentProgram Coordinator
Admissions AssistantDay Care AssistantSubject specialist
Assistant Coach BursarEducation CoordinatorSchool Counsellor
Career CounsellorEducation SpecialistSchool maintenance in charge
Child Care Assistant CoachEducation TechnicianSchool Social Worker
Content developerFinance Manager/administratorSecurity in-charge
Content specialistFood Service AideSpecial Education Assistant
Content producerFood Service CoordinatorSpecial Coordinator
CoordinatorFood Service ManagerSubstitute Teacher
Academic support coordinatorGuidance CounsellorTeacher Aide
Admissions coordinatorInstructorTeacher Assistant
Junior school coordinatorInstructional AssistantTeaching Assistant
Middle school coordinatorLibrarianTutor
Senior school coordinatorNurseOnline tutor
After-school coordinatorOffice SecretaryWarden for dormitory
Coordinator co-curricularPreschool Group LeaderChief warden
Preschool SpecialistYouth Care Worker

Many roles have emerged around the ecosystem of the school. The teacher teaches subjects, engages with children on a daily basis and relationship is at the heart of it. The teacher is ‘in the arena’ so to speak, and this involves daily interactions, asking and answering questions, setting and receiving homework and of course observing the young and setting the atmosphere for learning. In the daily engaging with the young, holding the intention of educating, not only in the subjects but also watching the complex interpersonal dynamics in the class and outside, and holding the intention of the well-being of this human being who is in our care for a while.

All other roles are one step back, enabling, supporting, guiding, etc., behind the scenes, back office, around the arena of live engagements. And possibly are less ‘online’.

Illustration: Ved Prabhudesai

The teacher emerges as the result of an inner choice, possibly a form of altruism, a wish to be of service for the larger good. We must bear in mind that teachers, in older times, largely functioned alone, in faraway locations. They had to be relevant to their constituency of parents and responsible for the children. In the modern industrial model school, the ecosystem changed – capital, large buildings, larger number of students, specialist teachers became the new model.

The tech environment seeks to reshape it again. And possibly the teacher is one who chooses to learn as he/she educates.

In most schools, the teachers are expected to work in silos of subjects and age groups. Little is expected beyond performance and results. Unfortunately, this equation does not work – results are the byproduct of enthusiasm, confidence, trying new approaches, acceptance of failure for learning, not feeling diminished by failure, feeling cared for and a sense of wellbeing. All teachers know and value these and try in their own way to relate with the students with these dimensions, which are beyond the usual measurement matrices.

For the teachers too, a similar equation applies. Where does the teacher find his/her energy to go on? In the community of teachers, in the hustle and bustle of school schedules, there may be little time for interactions. However without interactions with colleagues, a strange paradox emerges. With each individual working in a silo and doing a little bit it is hoped that somehow the large directions will be attended to. The overall direction cannot be held without synergy of how teachers feel and their interactions with the students.

One may not be far wrong if one said that there is only one challenge in a school, and that of adults working together, in letter and spirit, with clear, shared intentions and with a sense of freedom and without fear. And this requires sharing, speaking, relating and learning. It is only a learning teacher who can participate in the creation of a living, learning environment. People one works with are a very important element of this ground. It is through the living texture of discussing difficulties, new possibilities, proposals, social issues and personal struggles that one grows and grounds oneself.

One of the most significant things I have had the privilege of witnessing is the shift in the conversations that colleagues had with each other. Human beings seek friendship and find a few people they can relate to wherever they go. In school too this happens. In an atmosphere where the teacher is only a deliverer of goods, the school will not be concerned with how the human being can grow and feel valued. However, should a school take this seriously, then through hard work, many opportunities can be created for dialogues, learning and working together, and with multiple such opportunities other unplanned interactions take place, a lot of energy is generated and initiative flows.

I have had the opportunity to witness schools where teachers were left to fend for themselves and only demands were placed. I have also seen schools where the teacher is supported, valued and experiences the space for trying new things out and not be ‘punished’ for mistakes. One may wonder why the author speaks of the institution when we can ask how colleagues can be supported by other colleagues. The management and leadership of an institution may, through explicit and tacit messages, frown upon teachers attempting to support each other. Not only will such signals throw cold water on such initiatives, it will inhibit future attempts at growing through exchanges. There are many ways in which managements devalue attempts being made by teachers.

For the children, the school cannot be a place of few interactions and many instructions. This holds for the teacher also. It is in the magic cauldron of the collective that a sense of wellbeing is churned out. Attention to the individual cannot be just instructions and performance. Without a grounding in feelings, in exchanges, verbal challenges and discussions, it is unlikely that one will feel the stirrings of energy and enthusiasm. And if the space is experienced, not just for being a friend who shares a cup of tea or a movie, but as a colleague, who shares a dream, a work space, a deep feeling for something… then the individuals benefit, the place benefits and certainly the children too.

Friendship and camaraderie need not remain limited to just one or two colleagues. With such a self-limiting direction, one may inadvertently fall into a group based on language, region, subject, or religion. Such a way of finding meaning could become retrograde as the associations do not retain fluidity. It is possible to experience and share work, broad intentions and conversations with many colleagues. The author has seen, in his work in the Krishnamurti schools that dialogue, interaction, discussion in formal and informal contexts are a part of one’s daily life. Working together as colleagues, creating a friendly and inviting atmosphere, unravelling questions of pedagogy and deeper philosophic underpinnings becomes seamlessly part of the teacher’s work. The taste of what we call work acquires a fresh flavour with friendship and camaraderie bringing out the best in us. Work is not merely rendering service to society, but can be a joyful, empowering web of relationships with colleagues and fellow travellers.

Without such relationships, a learning atmosphere cannot emerge and a place of learning becomes lifeless and sanitized. The institution becomes a hollow endeavour served by fearful people who are anxious for their survival needs and where the powers that be seek control within and look for monetary or social rewards.

The author has worked in KFI schools for 32 years, 18 as principal of The School, KFI and has been involved insetting up the newest of KFI schools, Pathashaala, from its inception. His central concerns have been the growth of teachers and enabling a vibrant culture of working together in the light of the teachings of Krishnamurti. He can be reached at

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