Monday, June 18, 2018

Give Children The Best Of Both Worlds

A school may have a wonderful curriculum policy and a sophisticated approach to assessment, but a child’s holistic development depends on effective teaching and balanced parenting.
A child’s world revolves around his parents and teachers. Together they make, shape and guide him/her. Indeed, they mean the world to the kids.
You Your Child and School” by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica discusses effective teaching and parenting in a comprehensive manner. This encouraged me to share its interesting insights with all my readers.
Robinson describes teachers as the “source” of the teaching and learning process. Teaching basically includes instructing and explaining. But a teacher’s role is not confined to it. “There is more to education than proportional knowledge.” With this comprehensive insight Robinson explicitly discusses “The Roles of Teachers”. According to him teachers have four major roles to play:
1.    ENABLE: Robinson compares kids with plants and seeds and teachers as farmers and gardeners. “Gardeners don’t make the plants grow. They don’t attach the roots and paint the leaves. The plants grow themselves. The role of gardeners is to provide the best conditions for that to happen.” Similarly, children do the learning themselves and the role of teachers is to create the best conditions and provide them with opportunities to thrive. “Great teaching is- knowing what works best here and now and on this day.”

2.    ENGAGE: Curiosity and excitement are elements of utmost importance for effective learning. Sarah M Fine argues that the key to deep engagement in high school classrooms is “intellectual playfulness”.  Intellectual risk taking and open ended assignments is one such way to keep students consistently engaged, looking forward to class and work hard without getting disinterested. Hereby, teachers become friends and not hard task masters. She emphasizes that this doesn’t at all mean that the student can just sit and expect that the teacher should make all the effort to take care of his/her interest in the class.
3.    EMPOWER: “Great teachers empower students in two ways. They cultivate task confidence by developing students’ abilities in their own areas of expertise. They cultivate self confidence by working together as a learning community to develop students’ abilities in all kinds of competencies.” Thereby students become independent learners by acquiring knowledge and skills to experiment, ask questions and develop their skills in critical and creative thinking.
4.    EXPECT: “Great teachers have high expectations for their students and it is hard to overestimate the effect it can have on achievement.” A teacher’s encouragement, appreciation and expectation can work wonders.
All these roles can be deftly played by a person who has a natural passion for teaching and an aptitude for it, therefore successful education system like that of Finland doesn’t focus on recruiting people with highest academic qualification. It instead encourages and trains those who have a natural flair for teaching. “Significantly, TFA (Teach for America) has come to the same conclusion that great teaching is not all about academic qualifications. It’s about passion and expertise in helping others to learn. TFA studies its teachers carefully and realized that the teachers who helped their students most have some common characteristics:
·      They are constantly reinventing their classrooms and evaluating their own progress with the students.
·      They work hard at keeping their classrooms inclusive and at engaging parents in what is going on in class.
·      They keep a strong level of focus on outcomes.
·      They are unusually well prepared both on daily level and on a yearlong level by working backward from what they hope to accomplish.
·      They are relentless in spite of school and community condition.
Robinson also shared an extensive survey of teaching styles conducted by Dr. Anthony Grasha. These styles are as follows:
1.    Expert: Teachers following this style have high level of subject knowledge. They use knowledge as a vehicle and share their mastery of their subject. The disadvantage of this technique is that this level of expertise sometimes prevents the teacher from understanding the challenges that students face.
2.    Formal Authority: The teachers who execute formal authority project gravitas and set out a firm classroom approach in the classroom. While the classroom goals in this case are often focused and clear cut there is a tendency towards rigidity which doesn’t work out with every student.
3.    Personal Model: Teachers using this style tend to offer lots of examples from his/her own life. He/She shows how to do something with effective techniques and encouragement. Although it sounds very effective, it could be problematic with students who don’t learn with those techniques.
4.    Facilitator: This teaching style concentrates on helping students become independent thinkers by guiding them towards discovery. They serve as consultant rather than instructor and cater to students as individuals. Yet again not all students can cope up with this approach.
5.    Delegator: Under this style students are encouraged to work autonomously, acting as a resource where necessary. Grasha feels that this hastens students’ development as independent learners. But this style can only be effective for higher order thinking students.
An ideal teaching approach would be a blend of all these styles.
After discussing the roles of teachers and various teaching styles Robinson goes on to elaborate upon various parenting styles. According to him being a parent can be the most enriching experience but it needs a lot of patience and a sense of balance. Robinson has comprehensively discussed four major parenting styles in the chapter “Finding Your Parenting Style”:
1.    Authoritarian: Authoritarian parents present a set of rules that their children have to follow, without offering any explanation about why the rules exist. They believe in harsh punishments and do not welcome questioning. Research suggests that the children under this parental regime tend to be good at what they do but they also tend to be unhappy and have problems socializing.
2.    Authoritative: Authoritative parents have rules for their children as well but they are more willing to explain the reason behind them. When a child breaks a rule, it is seen as a time for discussion and not punishment. The children of these parents tend to be the happiest and most social, while standing a good chance at success at what they do.
3.   Permissive: Permissive parents tend to be very lenient and often treat their children as friends. They prioritize nurturing and minimize consequences. Children of these parents have problems with authority outside the home.
4.    Uninvolved: Uninvolved parents abstain from parenting as much as they can. They just make sure that their child has food and shelter and that is the end of it. Children of these parents have issues with self-control, self-esteem and happiness.
At the end of this description Robinson remarks that at the far end of the parenting spectrum are the “so called helicopter parents”. He says, “They are obsessively protective and never let their child get hurt, complete their homework, rush to the school to complain at the first sign of any action by teachers or other students that might upset their self-esteem.” I have already discussed the disadvantages of this parenting style in one of my articles. When children are not given the space to struggle they don’t learn to solve their problems and end up being anxious and depressed in case of any failure. Therefore, ideal parenting style will have to be a blend of the first three styles discussed with a blend of free-range parenting as I have discussed in one of my articles.
Of course, there cannot be a “perfect” way of teaching and parenting. As teachers and parents we will have to keep exploring various approaches to find the best way. I totally agree with Robinson as he concludes that parenting and teaching styles need to be flexible for “your children need you for different things at different points in their lives”.

“At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child's success is the positive involvement of parents and teachers.” 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Dirt Is Good

CBSE has directed all its schools to reserve one period daily from 2018-19 academic session for physical education for Std. IX-XII, because it wants to ‘mainstream’ the subject for holistic development of students. The Health and Physical Education (HPE) program will be a mandatory for all schools and CBSE will be releasing details about the curriculum in the near future. The board’s chairperson wrote to schools that, “CBSE has decided to mainstream HPE with the aim of holistic development of the child, leading to a well-balanced individual in all walks of life”. The letter added that the aim of mainstreaming HPE is also to enable the students to attain an optimum state of health. (Source TOI)
Although this step is hailed by Principals everywhere but the question remains that where is the time in the timetable to accommodate HPE? It also poses a challenge for CBSE schools that have integrated coaching tie-ups in Std XI and XII. Since majority of science stream students are focused on preparing for competitive exams, apart from boards, time is at a premium. A principal, said, “I think the HPE will be neglected big time by schools in Std XI and XII. Students are running a tight schedule by running between school, coaching classes and home.” Another principal who did not wish to be identified, said, “It’s a record now with CBSE that they start and stop things without any warning. Things that should be given at least a year, are done at the snap of the finger, as the groundwork is anyway going to be done by schools.” She mentioned that the announcement of reverting to traditional board exam was a sudden decision, followed by scrapping of options in English subject for Std. IX and X. (Source TOI)
Well of course every decision meets critical speculation and it takes time and efforts for its effective implementation. But the silver lining is the fact that an educational board has realized that “a healthy mind can only reside in a healthy body”. Competitive exams and the urge to get into much coveted colleges for a better future still remains the utmost desire of students and parents but as a Director and Principal I understand that school is not only about making the kids capable of establishing a good financial base for themselves in future. An educational institute focuses on ensuring the holistic development of the students. As I have discussed in one of my previous articles that sports are the way of life and physical fitness is the base of good mental health, this topic is of great interest to me.
Recently, I have been reading “You Your Child and School” by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica. They have dedicated a part of it on “Raising Them Strong”. In this chapter they comprehensively talk about the pressure and stress the kids face in the world of digital culture and social media, how excessive use of technology has badly affected the mental health of the kids and how the lack of physical activity is dragging them towards the negativities of the world. Fortunately, Robinson and Aronica suggest that the solution to all this problems is “Letting Them Play”. Before discussing this section Robinson emphasizes on the importance of sleep. He suggests that one of the best steps one can take for their children’s health and well being is to make sure they have not just the amount but also the quality of sleep they need. Once good sleep is ensured it’s important to get our children on their feet and moving. “Your children aren’t detached heads that float through your living room on occasion. They have bodies for a reason. It is generally recommended that young people should have about one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. We are embodied creatures, and the mind-body thing really is a package deal. Too many people neglect or misunderstand this relationship and seem to assume that their body is just a way of getting around and that the shape we are in has little to do with how we think and feel. In reality, the relationship is critical and inseparable.”
John J. Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, in his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and Brain, says, “The real reason we feel so good when we get our blood pumping is that it makes the brain function at its best than what it does for the body. In the roots of our biology, neuroscientists have found the signs of our body’s influence on the mind. It turns out that moving our muscles produces proteins that travel through the bloodstream and into the brain, where they play pivotal roles in the mechanisms of our highest thought processes.”
In chapter three “Know Your Child” Robinson mentions that our children are built to move, run, get dirty, collaborate and most importantly, play together. Sadly, they seem to that much less now. Playing is now confined to indoor structured games rather than something that happens outside in nature. Therefore, they get fewer opportunities for free, self-directed outdoor play. They also spend less time playing outside because of genuine parental fears. They are being over supervised and instructed during their play time. Is this ‘playing’? No, “Play is the primary way that children learn to understand and experience the world around them. Real play is unsupervised and self initiated. Unilever’s Dirt Is Good (DIG) campaign is rooted in the belief that children benefit enormously from enjoying unstructured, active and imaginative play as children have always done. In March 2016, Dirt Is Good launched a campaign called Free the Kids. The project team found out that on an average children spend less than one hour a day playing outdoor games. Shockingly, that is less than half the time outdoors each day that international law requires for maximum security prisoners. Therefore, The International Advisory Board for DIG lists six characteristics of real play:
·      Play is intrinsically motivated where means is more important than the ends
·      Real play is freely chosen, it is a state of mind.
·      Play is pleasurable
·      Play is nonliteral, it accommodated child’s interests and imaginations
·      Play is actively engaging
·      Play has no external rules
The reason I have mentioned these characteristics here is that CBSE will have to keep in mind that HPE doesn’t become another theoretical program with comprehensively laid out instructions and minimum practical benefits.
Under the topic ‘Why does play matter?’, Robinson explains that when children create their own games and rules it significantly enhances their development in all the ways that are essential for a happy childhood and for becoming independent adults. “There are powerful links between play and the physical development of healthy bodies. Active play has powerful effects on children’s cognitive, emotional and social development. When they are physically and emotionally fit they make better social relationships. In all of these ways, we can conclude that active play in childhood isn’t just important; it’s essential to becoming a happy and successful person in later life too. Considering all these points this move by CBSE can be considered revolutionary but its success will depend upon effective implementation.
Robinson says that even in this digital education culture children and teachers have genuine appetite to get out of the classroom and into the wider world that surrounds them. “One example is the runaway success of Outdoor Classroom Day. On this day, schools from every part of the globe take children outdoors to play and learn. Teachers report that children’s behaviour improves and individuals who feel inhibited by the curriculum thrive in the outdoor environment.” Kurt Hahn also suggests four antidotes to the declines of modern youth i.e., fitness training, expeditions, practical projects and rescue services.
“Safety is important but certain manageable levels of risk helps them deal with adversity, help them learn how to get up after scraping their knees.” Thriving mental health can only be ensured with physical fitness and taking measured risks. I hope the initiative taken by CBSE will work in this direction ensuring better mental and physical heath of students in future. 
In the end, I would conclude with this request to all the parents and guardians, “let your kids sleep, dream, get out, play, fall, fail, get up, get going and fly.” Let them be themselves.  

Friday, May 18, 2018

Rules Ensure Safety Of All

The issue I want to address in this article is of great relevance and utmost importance i.e. adherence to rules, regulations and laws. Let us understand what do these terms stand for. Rules are the statements that establish a principle or standard, and serves as a norm for guiding or mandating action or conduct. The main difference between rules and laws is the consequences associated with breaking them. While each is developed to invoke a sense of order, fair play, and safety, the weight of a law is much heavier than the weight of a ruleLaws are like the legal version of rules.
Our life is a part of a social contract. Being a part of this we get into the habit of following certain set of norms, both societal and legal. Societal norms are intricate and are intertwined with various cultural and religious beliefs. On one hand we are obliged to follow norms and rules and on the other hand law ensures that we follow them under legal terms. Talking about India in particular, I have observed that we not only celebrate our culture and diverse religious beliefs but also strive hard to follow what the culture and society dictates. Indians easily take offense when their religious and cultural beliefs are hurt. We are so sensitive about them that we cannot even tolerate someone expressing any opinions contrary to us. I appreciate this kind of sensitivity and respect but it is often seen that this respect takes the form of aggression and violence which brings our peaceful and nurturing culture and the sublimity of our religious diversity and the values propagated by them into question.
What happens to this passion when it comes to the adherence to laws? “Supreme Court has given many revolutionary decisions. It’s rulings in 2017 strengthened fundamental rights, equal rights for women, and accountability for security forces violations. In August, the court declared the right to individual privacy “intrinsic” and fundamental under the country’s constitution, and emphasized the constitution’s protections, including free speech, rule of law, and “guarantees against authoritarian behaviour.” That month, the court also ended the practice of “triple talaq”. But over the course of time we have seen people protesting against many legal decisions and show violent protest to get their demands accepted. It is totally correct to raise your voice in order to ask for your rights but the violence and aggression that results out of the protests presents a gruesome picture of our country.
Indians follow all rules and laws when they are in a foreign country, in the Western world. However, when they are in India, they usually don’t follow laws. The basic reason for this is lenient laws and deeply rooted corruption.  Another reason is the casual attitude of our citizens. On one hand our country is famous for its “jugaad” in any situation and on the other hand we are criticized for our “chalta hai” attitude. From breaking traffic rules to damaging public property, our attitude has become sloppy and casual. So, if this is the attitude of our elders, what do we expect our children to follow? Also, our education system which had inherited subjects like “Moral Science” at the time of Independence and till about 15 years later, gave the subject a miss, thinking it to be a “missionary” subject, against Indian values, conveniently, again forgetting that “Morality” is generic and is defined by times, beliefs and contexts rather than a religious group.
There are many reasons for this type of approach but the most important is the way we are brought up and the way things happen around an individual from childhood to the adulthood. Do our children not see that if father is stopped for not wearing the helmet or seatbelt then he can manage the person responsible for enforcing the rule? Do they not observe us using mobile while driving motorbike and cars? Children know it well how ‘connections and relations` are used to flout the rules.  Observing all this kids also become lenient towards laws and get into the habit of taking the traffic rules casually (zebra crossing has lost its importance as people have stopped using it appropriately, dumping garbage anywhere on the street has become a norm and protest against government policies without even understanding them has become a way of life which makes the way we are treating democracy questionable.
Over the years the parents at home and the teachers in the schools have become so much `accommodating` for the children not following the norms set for everybody. They get away with any rule broken by them and when the same is repeated it becomes their habit. And this is the main reason that we grow with attitude that rules are made to be broken. So there seems to be nothing wrong with rules and laws (which we have in plenty) but the way behave and do not obey them is unfortunate. If the children see the adults value and follow the rules at home and outside then the kind of situation we are in can be managed. No society can survive without some norms followed by all. Recent incidents of protests and statements (by self-made champions of a particular group or sect) against the decisions of our honorable courts are not all healthy for the democracy and the country. For this we adult and the people in responsible position will have to take a call and follow what we want our children to do.
Lord Krishna says in Gita (3:21): “Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” When it comes to Indians, elections and selecting our leaders becomes not only a matter of suffrage but also an emotional matter. This puts a great sense of responsibilities on our leaders. It is quite unfortunate that our leaders have been unsuccessful in implementation of laws and breech of laws has just become an excuse for the parties to blame each other for political gains. Being in the field of education for almost my entire life I advise my teacher colleeagues time and again to present themselves as the perfect role models for the kids. I tell them that they have to live two lives. One is their personal life and the other is their life as a teacher; a teacher who is the epitome of exemplary moral and social behaviour.  But examples set in the school are not enough. When kids see some of their elders and a few leaders being casual about laws, they feel that it is easy to break rules and get away with it.
Establishing and enforcing rules is a labour of love that helps guard your child's safety while increasing her/his sense of cooperation and acceptance. Far from limiting her/him, the boundaries you set now will give her/him the security she/he needs to become more responsible and independent as she/he grows. We have to tell our kids that rules are for their benefit. Give them this situation, “Just imagine what life would be like without any rules. What if anyone was allowed to take anything they wanted, including your stuff? What if people were allowed to drive their cars on sidewalks? If there are no rules to follow, things could get chaotic and dangerous.” We will need to explain this to them, “If it seems like there's no sufficient justification for the rule, don't ignore or break the rule. Instead, determine what you can do to try to change the rule. Working within the rules to change the rules is something legislators do every day all over the world.”
We as a society will also have to reflect upon the way we treat our kids when they voice their opinion against certain rules, social conventions and government policies. Isn’t it strange that in schools children are loved, heard, encouraged to voice their opinion, nurtured and respected and when they go to college and put forth their opinion, they are treated with violence and charges of sedition? Isn’t it our failure that we cannot communicate the purpose behind the laws and discuss issues with them with reason and logic?
With these questions I leave you to ponder. Communication is the key. With better communication, conversation and understanding we can make a lot of difference. I would conclude with these thought provoking lines:
“I used to think that when I grew up there wouldn't be so many rules. Back in elementary school there were rules about what entrance you used in the morning, what door you used going home, when you could talk in the library and how many drinks of water you could get during recess. And there was always somebody watching to make sure.
What I'm finding out about growing older is that there are just as many rules about lots of things, but there's nobody watching.” 
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor