It was a cold evening in 2012. Walking up the Elk hill of the Nilgiris, I was wondering what lay ahead for me. I was going to meet with the director of The Blue Mountains School, Ooty. After the meeting I never looked back. Four and a half years at The Blue Mountains School taught me that however many years one has put into the practice of teaching, it is when you are willing to unlearn that the actual learning will begin. The environment of learning at the school is conducive for every being to evolve. Learning here takes place in a holistic manner. Today when I look back, I realize that I may have moved on but The Blue Mountains will stay within me forever….
A normal day at the school begins with a few exercises, after which all members of the community meet at the breakfast table. Breakfast is followed by an assembly and then classes. I have to say that the culture inculcated is truly democratic; teachers and students share responsibilities and enjoy freedom with a sense of pride and belongingness. Children choose their course of action throughout the day. There is a horizontal structure of power sharing which eventually results in a ‘check and balance’ of both freedom and responsibilities. Not just compassion for fellow humans but love and care for all living beings is revered on the campus. I remember there was this crow that visited our classroom every day. The children grew so fond of it that when it was found dead one morning, they gave it a respectful burial. Imagine the empathetic adults that the school is producing! If manufacturing weapons and industrial inventions is what you consider as prodigious achievements of humankind, then I am sorry but we are producing generous, kind and gentle human beings of whom there is a dearth in this world.
To develop the habit of reading among students is what the school gives utmost priority to. The school has a program called ‘DEAR’ (Drop Everything And Read). Students between 3 and 12 have a ‘Cosy Corner’ from where they can pick up books and sit or even lie down and read. Unless requested for help, facilitators don’t intervene in the children’s choice of books to read. The library for the senior students also has easy-chairs, rocking chairs, rugs on the floor all arranged in such a way that they also get a beautiful view of the mountains surrounding the school. In this way a perfect ambience is created for reading, and a culture of reading is encouraged. It is a delight to see all the students, toddlers to adolescents, engrossed in books.
Students at a very young age are made to take onus of their actions. It is at this school that I learnt that even a five-year-old if treated at par can be part of solving issues and negotiations. This brings the desired behavioural change among students that most established educational institutions struggle to achieve.
I used to teach the Social Sciences to 12 to 15 year olds here and I am very satisfied with how I grew as a teacher. To learn the concept of time in the context of history, together my students and I decided to paint one wall of the classroom with significant events in history on a timeline. As an educator, the fact that I was given the freedom to do this is something commendable. Isn’t this experiential learning? Learning by doing is a principle followed in this school.
The words ‘Small numbers make wonders’, aptly fits the environment of the school. From mixed age group classrooms that develop a sense of respect for all irrespective of their age and inclusion of all kinds of students that sensitizes and teaches acceptance is an in-built strength of the school. The experiment of democratic education continues with a blend of understanding students’ needs and creating opportunities for a perfect learning experience. Student centric curriculum is a priority and the freedom to experiment and polish our skills as facilitators is a boundless opportunity rarely found.
Thanks a bunch to all those stepping stones, to those chasms that made me leap, for those lovely years spent in peace and thought. Today, I am a “thinking teacher” and the credit goes to The Blue Mountains.
Note: In 2016, due to unavoidable personal reasons I quit teaching at The Blue Mountains in Ooty and moved back home.
The author is teaching history for classes XI and XII at The Delhi Public School, Coimbatore. She can be reached at email@example.com