Thursday, December 5, 2019

Balancing Attention, Recognition and Tough Love



According to Zen Buddhist master and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thay, “Each one of us has both negative seeds (for example, anger, rage, jealousy, hatred) and wholesome seeds (love, joy, gratitude, compassion, courage) and what will grow depends on the seeds we water. Similarly, in our relationship with our children, the seeds that will sprout and gain strength are the ones that we nurture. Simple.” (Source: https://indianexpress.com/article/parenting/health-fitness/imagine-parenting-and-the-art-of-selective-watering-6075830/)
Before I come to the topic let me share with you an interesting excerpt from an article (which I recently read in Indian Express) by Shelja Sen. As children possess multiple intelligences, Ms Sen observes that the way they are recognized in a school and by their parents should also be according to the same. She talks about three kinds of recognitions that children should receive i.e Active Recognition, Value Recognition and Creative Recognition. Under active recognition she suggests that children need to know that they are valued and there should be a ‘light up day’ when parents and teachers can observe them a little more keenly with a subtle hint of extra understanding and optimism so that they can feel the extra attention.
Explaining active recognition, she writes that children thrive when they feel they are being appreciated, recognized and valued as human beings. However, she warns that it is also very important to differentiate between recognition and praise. “Praise like ‘you are so pretty’, ‘you are so intelligent’, ‘you are so smart’ is like junk food, which does not really nourish a child. Carol Dweck from Stanford University, in her decades of research in this field, calls praise ‘fixed feedback’ (i.e., something that can’t be changed), which ends up breeding a generation of praise junkies who are resistant to growth. Fixed feedback does not help the child to grow and, on the other hand, can just make her complacent and reluctant to work on her skills.”
However, she introduces the remarkable idea of Process Feedback, “recognitions, which highlight effort, persistence, compassion, etc are like process feedback (i.e., something that can be changed), which enhances the growth mindset in children.”
Telling us the importance of Creative Recognition she explains that some children get lost in the crowd. It is the responsibility of the parents and teachers to give them the opportunity to grow at their own pace. By recognizing them in school we become active agents. These kids have tremendous potential; all they need is space and time. “The art of selective watering is about accepting and celebrating the child as he is and not as you wished he was.”
Now, as we have understood the need of recognition, appreciation and value. We realize that it needs not only time but also keen observation and undivided attention, none of which can be replaced by anything material or short term. Like nurturing a plant, children need patience, care and time too.
Here I would like to share a story I recently read which depicts that a busy couple could rarely take out time for their child. They tried to compensate the lacuna thus created through materialistic stuff like gifts, gadgets, generous pocket money, gourmet special cuisine and what not. Unfortunately, they come to know that the child is suffering from cancer and their world comes crashing down. They realize that the child now needs nothing but their constant care and attention. Now, this unfortunate event is shattering but why a disease or disability should only force parents to show the fathomless love they harbor for their child. I want parents to take time and ponder over this.
Parenting isn’t an easy task. More difficult than love and care is the fact that the child is raised with a sense of integrity. Integrity cannot be compromised in any situation if we want to raise good citizens. As discussed previously, parents often tend to compensate lack of time and attention with privileges that they often shower on their kids. Situations become worse when kids normalize this behaviour and start seeking happiness in these undue advantages. One of the most harmful things a parent can do is to favour their child even when they are wrong. This is neither support nor is it taking a stand for the child. It might sound a little severe but I must say that as teachers and parents our focus is not and should not be ‘to be in the good books of the children’. We aren’t here to favour them when they are wrong, so that they like us better. We are here to create a balance and raise righteous children. And this definitely comes with a sacrifice of sometimes being at loggerheads with our own kids. But that is ok if we are doing what is right for them. I would like to share an incident in this context. A child was constantly creating trouble in the class. He was neither paying attention in the class nor completing his work. The class teacher as well as the subject teachers tried to counsel the child but it did not yield any fruitful result so they thought of taking the help of parents. The parents specially the father conveyed to the teachers (in presence of the child) that he did not listen to them also hence it is the teachers only who should try to improve him. They also conveyed that they should not be called to the school and whatever teachers think right can do. In between the mother remained in touch with the teachers and shared the problems in the family. The teachers kept working hard with the child but as there was no help from family so there was almost no improvement in the child rather things went from bad to worse. The child remained absent from the school quite often and parent did not respond to the messages sent by the school. The parents told the class teacher that the child did not listen to them so they could not do anything. One day the child got involved in some fight in school and misbehaved with the teacher so he along with few other children were made to sit in separate room so that the problem could be solved without letting it flareup further. When the child went home and fearing that the parents would be called to school, he narrated a story and conveyed that he was wrongly made to sit in a different room. When the child was punished, the father finally responded. But unfortunately, he favoured the wrong doing of his child and confronted the teacher why was his son sent out of the class. This was surprising to know that all of a sudden, the father became so much concerned about the child though in the past he always said that he was a gone case and out of his control. I would like to mention that this was not an isolated case and few other parents had behaved exactly in the same manner so we thought and analyzed the issues. After discussions with psychologists and educationists and other parents I came to the conclusion that this was the case luring the child towards them by the parents by supporting his wrong actions as they were not able to get respect from the child by telling him the right things. The parents were just trying to be ‘good’ to the child without realizing that the school wanted the child to improve. I could see the desperation of the parent, how he wanted the child to approve of him but I guess this is where we are failing these days.
Anyway, my only advice to the parents and teachers is to make sure that our focus is to encourage and enhance the qualities of our kids and deal with the negatives firmly and unapologetically, definitely justifying our actions but not owing any explanations. Here, I would like to put forth the example of SC Johnson owned mosquito repellent brand All Out’s new campaign on why we must lend support to ‘Tough Moms’ who teach children key life lessons.
“The digital film, conceptualized by advertising agency BBDO India (Gurugram) and directed by ace filmmaker Shoojit Sircar, unfolds at the dinner table where a joint family is gathered for a meal. The film features a mother who is evidently angry at her son for stealing money and refuses to entertain his tantrums when he refuses to eat. While the rest of the family members on the table start criticizing her for being too hard on the boy, the grandfather supports her decision of tough parenting as she wants to instill in the child, a sense of right and wrong.”  (Source: https://www.livemint.com/Consumer/W7KpDEybSkMG8d4ARqeq0H/All-Outs-digital-campaign-on-tough-moms-garners-over-15-mil.html)
At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child's success is the positive involvement of parents and positive not always means favourable but it definitely always means nurturing and dedicated. The need of the hour is to realize the importance of time we need to give to our children. The time and effort also needs to be constructive and positive focusing on the holistic development of the child. We must remember that a parent’s love and attention cannot be replaced by anything else in the entire world.



Sunday, November 10, 2019

Eresh-A Fighter


I cannot count the number of times I have felt overwhelmingly grateful to the Almighty for giving me the prospect to be in the field of education as it provides abundant opportunities for constant learning. Since the commencement of my journey as a teacher I have realized time and again that there is a plethora of motivation, which has been an incessant source of inspiration that comes from parents, teachers as well as students. This is one of the many reasons that make this profession more than a professional accomplishment and I firmly stand by this statement in the times when teaching is losing the dignity and respect it claimed years ago.  Working amongst teachers and students and being in constant contact with parents I have understood something very significant- you don’t have to look outside the school to find inspiration. You are perennially inspired by the perseverance of children, dedication of parents and unconditional love and diligence of teachers.
One such inspiration that reverberates in my mind today is a class X student, Eresh Choudhary, who left for the heavenly abode on 21st October 2019. I write this piece, with my heart at the precipice of an emotional upheaval. All the children are extremely and equally important to me but Eresh’s presence was an encouragement of another level. He was one of the reasons that spark in me, undeterred pride as an educator. He was special, special in more than one way. He personified the statement, “The human spirit is one of ability, perseverance and courage that no disability can steal away.” Eresh was not just a child suffering from a disability. On the contrary, he was a little packet of talents and determination, filled with hope and positivity.
 He joined the school in 2009, a little; class Prep, boy filled with curiosity, his eyes twinkling with awe as he looked at the school building. Unfortunately, he was soon diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. In this, abnormal genes interfere with the production of proteins needed to form healthy muscles. Children with disabilities can face multiple forms of exclusion, often limiting their participation in the community but his dreams were not limited by his disability and the school was also determined to help him soar high. I would rather say that the school was privileged to have him chose it.
As time passed his passion for studies, especially science increased but he suffered from continuous progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass. By the time he reached class VI, it became difficult for him to climb stairs and walk without support. He had to take the help of wheelchair but quite amazingly his friends came for support. I remember mentioning about this bond of friendship in one of my articles. Whether it was taking him to the class, to the assembly ground, playground and even to the washroom, his friends were always by his side. Here, I must mention the extremely commendable support and dedication of the parents. I cannot even begin to fathom the emotional depth and mental strength of the parents. His father brought him to class in his arms till he reached class VII. A father who was later informed by the doctors that his son might only survive his early teens, didn’t for a moment felt the need to take him away from school. He realized how school made his child happy, how it polished his talents and how he was the ideal every school needs. So, whether it was submission of homework in time or attentively listening and participating in the lecture; Eresh did it all with sheer ardor. Readers would be surprised to know that he gave his half yearly exams right before he was admitted to the hospital for the last time. He wrote his last paper on 30 Sep 2019 and thereafter got admitted in the hospital.  In fact, in the hospital also he often requested his mother to keep him abreast with the ongoing school session that he was missing on.
We lost him on 21st October. When the school reopened after the Diwali break, the first assembly was conducted by class X A, Eresh’s class. The students paid a heartfelt homage to the departed soul through this special assembly, dedicated to him. The immeasurable and unfathomable love and affection his classmates have for him, poured in gallons filled with emotional anecdotes and memories, on the stage. It was a motivational and emotional roller-coaster that filled the hearts of the gathering with overwhelming nostalgia and emotions. The students shared experiences related to Eresh that portrayed his unflagging vigor and will to survive. One of his classmates wholeheartedly appreciated his innumerable qualities which included beautiful handwriting, punctuality, honesty and sincerity towards his work. To everyone’s surprise, his friend mentioned his ardent love for cricket and his commendable skills in wicket keeping and precision in carom as well as chess. He taught us that if one wants something earnestly, it becomes achievable, come what may. I would observe him almost daily as he was dropped by his father and also in assembly which he never missed or in the auditorium which he always went to be the part of any activity held there. He would not miss his games period and being in the company ogf his friend tough in all these situations in wheelchair. Managing studies with deteriorating health was a challenge for him but never did he ever felt the need to take some extra help during exams. Whatever he prepared, wrote and scored was a result of his honest diligence.
Sharing a poignant incident, one of his classmates narrated how he understood his responsibility towards his parents and showed his concern quietly through his actions. His scientist father, never ever skipped a single opportunity of dropping him off to his class and picking him up after school. Eresh observed the difficulty with which his father carried him to the class as the years passed by. He didn’t want to ask his father to break this routine as he understood the sentiments behind this act. Once, his teacher noticed that he wasn’t taking sufficient food during the recess or at home. When she enquired, Eresh replied with unadulterated honesty that he didn’t want to gain weight as that would make him gain heavier and heavier Eresh would cause discomfort to his father while carrying him from or to the car. Later the teacher subtly conveyed this to his father and requested him to let Eresh use a wheelchair. This exemplary father-son bond is the epitome of purest form of love. His friend mentioned that his scientific temperament and curiosity towards little things was definitely a gift from his father. His parents indeed were the wind beneath his wings.
This emotional assembly reached its peak with the recitation of a self-composed poem by a student. Her words postulated how someone’s life can touch yours in a subtle but impactful manner. One of the lines in the poem reflected the essence of Eresh’s life and I quote, “The Almighty decides the situations in which we are born but it solely depends on us how we make the best of what we have and leave an everlasting impact on the hearts of those we meet in this lifespan.” At last I would just like to say- Eresh your memories are and will always be a perpetual source of inspiration for us all. We will keep you safe in our hearts and remember you as an angel whose halo turns the brightest in the dark.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Teachers Make a Difference



Times have definitely changed but the young generations of all ages and times have always showcased an untamable passion towards achieving their goals. What has played the key role in their lives is that one power that patiently channelized this passion in the right direction. That power lies in the one who has ever taught you to overcome the hurdle of negatives and focus on the path of positives; that one person who has given us genuine advice and showed us the right path. Undoubtedly, learning is a lifelong process, and if we want to constantly learn then there is definitely a someone is needed to facilitate the same and he is a teacher. When teacher is so important in the life of all then why isn’t teaching considered a high-end profession and why does it not ever come in the top list of most sought after profession? Dear readers, how many of you ever aspired to be a teacher and would like your child to take up this most challenging and noble job?
Well, there is this one statement that I hear most of the times when I am in conversation with the students and that is, “we want to create an impact”. Listening to this, I wonder how people can miss on the fact that teaching is the only profession that is solely dedicated to create impact and change lives, unconditionally. When you read the scriptures and delve deep in the history of any country, teaching has always been given a place on a high pedestal. Particularly in India, “If we look at the Sanskrit language for synonyms for “teacher”, many exist, but they share a common feature. They do not give a meaning i.e. “teach”, rather they mean, ‘to facilitate or cause someone to learn’.
So, the question arises, why the youth these days do not consider it as an option or looks at it as the last option, professionally. In ancient India teaching wasn’t considered a profession but it was a lifelong journey of transforming lives. Even today, the idea of “making a difference” and “creating an impact” remains the same when it comes to teaching. In my previous articles, I have given many examples from the ancient and modern contexts where teachers have played a key role in the lives of the students thereby contributing to the future of the world as a whole. So, what made these teachers choose this path? What made them sure about it as their calling?
To find answers, I asked my teachers the above-mentioned questions. The answers were surely inspiring. Most of them believe that there is nothing more satisfactory than sharing knowledge and facilitating learning. One of the enthusiastic answers was that a teacher has to be a teacher 24/7. There isn’t a switch from work life to personal life and vice versa because students look up to them and emulate them. Yes, it might be tedious and challenging but is worth it at the end of the day. Another teacher answered with deep sincerity that the feeling of encouraging and motivating young kids to dream big is unfathomably fulfilling. The answers I received were so heartwarming. The teachers believe that being a teacher actually helps you to be a learner for life, to create, innovate and bring change through education. It helps one ignite the spark of learning and the joy of being a part of the community of intellectuals is simply marvelous. The satisfaction of helping an underdog and being that one caring adult in a child’s life is unmatched. It is a profession that helps you pay back and contribute to the society that you are a part of and positively impact the future of the world. Not just this, it also helps one experience personal growth and at the same time give and receive unconditional love. For some, it is their true calling and gives them a great sense of purpose too.
Prof. Avijit Pathak`s thought provoking article was published in Indian Express in which he stated that teachers in India are feeling low as they aren’t able to derive professional satisfaction out of their work for many reasons which he explained in detail. But at the he writes which I quote “Yet, I believe, we have to resist, and with our rebellion as prayer, we have to strive for life-affirming education. We ought to renew faith in the very meaning of the vocation of teaching. No, we are not “loyal soldiers”; nor are we cogs in a bureaucratic machine. We are wanderers. We are explorers. We are poets, philosophers, thinkers, visionaries. And unless we begin to trust ourselves, none can save us, and heal the wound caused by an unholy alliance of techno-managers and practitioners of what Herbert Marcuse would have regarded as “one-dimensional” thought.”

For a long time now, this profession is not receiving the due respect it deserves. I know it’s a strong statement to make but to an extent both government and school management have to be blamed for it, for gradually pushing this profession from noble to ordinary and not paying sincere attention on teacher’s development and their present state. Also, with the spread of the coaching business, there is an unfortunate commercialization of education. In this system teachers have reduced to mere workers. It might sound rude but I must say that somewhere teachers are also to be blamed equally. They have somehow allowed it to happen by not actually taking a sense of pride in their work.
I strongly believe that the community of teachers should now realize that the onus lies on them to maintain the dignity and respect that is associated with this profession. For this, they need to first take pride in what they are doing and should never let their zeal shun. Secondly, the sanctity of this profession can only be maintained if it is freed from the clutches of coaching centers. Only unconditional love and dedication brings unadulterated reverence. Good teaching, coupled with an unshakable belief in the capacity of kids, is extremely powerful. Indeed, nobody is more important to our country’s future than those who will serve the nation as the builders of the future.
So, how can one maintain the dignity and reverence associated with teaching in this material world?
A few days ago I read a powerful piece titled ‘what teachers make’ and I would like to share it with you. It resonates with a teacher’s pride in what he makes: A renowned lawyer meets his friend, who is a teacher, in a get together after a long time. The conversation intensifies as he comments on his profession saying, “The problem with teachers is what a kid is going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?” He reminds the other dinner guests that it’s true what they say about teachers: Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. The teacher decided to bite his tongue and resist the temptation to remind the dinner guests that it’s also true what they say about lawyers. The lawyer continued, “Because we’re eating, after all, and this is polite conversation, I mean, you’re a teacher, Taylor. Be honest. What do you make?”

The teacher said, “You want to know what I make? I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor and an A-­ feel like a slap in the face. How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best? I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall in absolute silence. 
I constantly communicate with the parents to tell them the qualities of their child, “Hi. This is Mr. Mali. I hope I haven’t called at a bad time;
I just wanted to talk to you about something your son said today. To the biggest bully in the grade, he said, “Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don’t you? It’s no big deal.” And that was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen. I make parents see their children for who they are and what they can be. You want to know what I make. I make kids wonder, I make them question. I make them criticize. I make them apologize and mean it. I make them write. I make them read, read, read. I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, over and over and over again until they will never misspell either one of those words again. I make them understand that if you’ve got this, then you follow this, and if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make, you give them this. Here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true: Teachers make a difference! Now what about you?
(Source: Mali. Taylor. “What Teachers Make.” What Learning Leaves. Newtown, CT: Hanover Press, 2002. Print. (ISBN: 1-­887012-­17-­6)



Thursday, September 19, 2019

Redefine Success



“I have not failed; I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
On Education’ by Albert Einstein postulates, “The value of a man, however, should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive. The most important motive for work in the school and in life is pleasure in work, pleasure in its results and the knowledge of the value of the result to the community.”
When we try to understand these lines by one of the greatest minds that ever existed, we can conclude two basic ideas. First, pleasure or satisfaction is imperative when it comes to studies as well as job. This pleasure comes when one loves what one does. The second aspect is seeking pleasure in results and giving value to it. Now, Einstein doesn’t describe the word result here. He simply conveys that one needs to acknowledge the persistence, perseverance, time, heart, mind and soul put into the work and this is way more important than the result itself.  In the present times, we yearn for noble people with good heart, austerity, simplicity and honesty but unfortunately, when it comes to admiration and reverence, we give it to those who are materially accomplished and politically powerful. Success is defined in terms of grades, scores, degrees and wealth. Efforts and hard work have become underrated and what is lauded is the end result. So, what kind of message are we sending to the young generation?
Recently, the Vikram lander lost control and crash-landed on the lunar surface on 7th September 2019, when India was so close to make history. But, it was amazing to see how the people of the country responded. They applauded the work done by ISRO in the past 50 years to get this far. The country stood in solidarity with the scientists who spent countless hours in pursuit of their goal. Kailasavadivoo Sivan assumed the role of ISRO chairman last year. While he seemed dejected after ISRO lost communication with the Chandrayaan-2, the entire nation stood behind his team and boosted his morale. Born to a farmer and studied in local government school, this humble man of immaculate intellect and serene simplicity won many hearts. Was this love and trust, that he gained that day, less than success?
Undoubtedly, parents aspire for nothing but success and happiness for their children but with the course of time they unknowingly start imposing on them, what social conventions dictate. For those who point fingers on the school system do not want to admit that schools do not categorise students as winners and losers. These tags are given by the cut throat competitive world that defines success as: selections in reputed universities and All India Ranks. Schools on the other hand celebrate every child and appreciate her every accomplishment. It’s when the child goes outside the school she realises that her achievements are categorised as worth-it and not-so-worth-it. There is a pleasant and innocent awkwardness and vulnerability in a child which is earnest and heart-touching. In the rat-race of the world outside, it is crushed oh, so brutally.
A recent movie by Nitesh Tiwari tries to redefine the idea of success, showcasing in a gripping tale, how efforts matter more than results. The most enriching part for me was to look at parents taking the front seat in the storyline, helping their child cope up with the situation. However, it was interesting to note how the pressure subtly seeps in. The child had already faced the separation of his parents and was trying his best to create a balance. In one scene, the father tells him that they would celebrate together when he qualifies the competitive exam but forgets to tell him how they would respond in case he doesn’t. A few scenes later, looking at the misery of the father, another man in the group calls up his son and promises him a bike even if he scores less. What he fails to understand here is that material gratification never resolve emotional devoid. Remember, no materialistic gifts will ever fill in the void created by your absence in the times when they need you the most. Well, this is for both, parents as well as children. It works both ways. The point is we often define success in terms of accomplishments of fixed goals. In the scheme of life we often ignore the importance of plan-B.
School education is about holistic development; an approach that is beyond scores. When basics are clear then a child is enabled to sort out her interests based on her aptitude. But it is not as simple as it sounds. When it comes to aptitude not all children are same. But this is often difficult for the parents (burdened under societal pressure) to understand. Think about rules and limitations. Aren’t they welcomed by parents as well as society in general when it comes to safety and discipline? Then, why is it difficult to understand the limitations or disinterest of a child when it comes to a particular subject or career choice? On the contrary, what is done is that the dreams of children are restricted and their capacity is stretched out beyond their instinctive potential till their aspirations are crushed. To those who do not agree to this, look around, the shackles of coaching institutes crush the souls of the young minds from 3 pm to 9 pm on a daily basis. There, children are trained in a fixed course pattern, without catering to their strengths and weaknesses (let alone the concept of multiple intelligences); devoid of the ideas of ethics, values, coping mechanisms, anger management and sense of responsibility. They cram, score, get reshuffled on the basis of scores into categories of batches and repeat the same cycle endlessly.
Coming back to the foundation of education i.e, school, I would like to quote a few excerpts from a thought-provoking article by Ashish Dhwan in the editorial section of The Indian Express. Mr. Dhawan is the founder-chairman of Central Square Foundation and a founding member of Ashoka University. He states, “School education is the most important socio-economic issue that will generate the demographic dividend needed to power India’s growth story.” According to him schools need to focus more on critical skills and gateway skills. He emphasizes that students will only pick up advanced skills once they are thorough with the foundational skills. He mentions, “Without a strong learning foundation at the primary level, there can be little or no improvement in higher education or skill development.” Even the draft NEP states that attainment of foundational skills has to be given the highest priority.  He writes that there are four critical pillars for establishing a better learning system and they are: focus on foundational learning, appropriate teaching-learning material, trained and dedicated teacher allocation for primary classes and improved accountability.  These pillars can only be established and maintained by schools because none of the coaching institutions are going to focus on basics, critical thinking, dedication and most importantly accountability.
So, for those who seek success for their kids outside the schools, ask your children why school is and will always be an inevitable and inseparable part of their life. If their answers do not suffice, let me tell you what I see every day.

When an academically ‘satisfactory’ student who wins medals in football is best friends with an academically brilliant and not-so-good-in-sports student,
I See Success.
When a student struggling in mathematics manages the entire class as the “best monitor” and beams with pride when he is appreciated for being responsible and disciplined,
I See Success.
When the winning team at school cheers “well-played” for the losing side and the students rejoice in team spirit and unconditional friendships beyond the field,
I See Success.
When a teacher cries looking at her student going through a tragic situation at home and stands by him; and when the kids notice their teacher isn’t well and offer him a chair or water as a gesture of compassion,
I See Success.
When kids enthusiastically work for community welfare,
I See Success.
When I see students help a differently-abled child and stand by him through thick and thin,
I See Success.
When a teacher appreciates the smallest efforts of her students and motivates them to ask questions, dream big and compare their progress with no one but themselves,
I See Success.
And when a child comes to a mother-teacher in nursery and leaves the school after completing class XII, in tears, filled with hope, compassion, empathy and integrity
I See Success.
Someone has brilliantly observed that success should be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life but by the obstacles which one had to overcome while trying to succeed. Let’s not restrict the idea of happiness and success. Let the kids find their own ways and define their own success. Let them be motivated by integrity, the quality of showing up every day, loyalty, dedication and the urge to give their best, earnestly. And, let us trust them when they choose to take ‘the road not taken’.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Values Are Taught and Learned at Home


“Etiquette means behaving yourself a little better than what is absolutely essential.”
Both school and home play a crucial role in the holistic upbringing of a child. Where home is considered to be the foundation stone of development; school deals with the progress of a child, year after year, in constant collaboration with his/her home. Holistic development of a child is impossible if any of these pillars work in isolation. Also, the era of technology has dawned upon us. Today, a child is exposed to latest products of technological advancement, both at home as well as school. At home, children have Alexa and Siri at their beck and call and at school the classrooms have become smart. There is a video to explain every concept in a fun filled manner. Isn’t this a rosy picture depicting progress and development? But beyond all the support, love and facilities provided at home and all the learning outcomes and sustainable development goals achieved in the schools, there is a basic ingredient of a person’s character that will never get outdated or old fashioned, i.e. ETIQUETTE. It refers to the customary code of polite behaviour in society or among members of a particular group. Now, the question arises, the onus of developing etiquettes in a child should lie on the school or the child’s home?
 Here, I would like to share a Facebook post that I came across quite recently. There was an appeal to the parents by Schools Division of Santiago City (Republic of the Philippines, Department of Education) which requested the parents to make sure that their kids use the magic words such as hello, please, you’re welcome, I’m sorry and thank you; and this all begins at home. It also emphasised that it is at home that children learn to be honest, to be on time, diligent, show friends their sympathy, as well as show utmost respect for their elders and all teachers. Home is the foundation where they also learn to be clean, not talk with their mouths full, and how/where to properly dispose of garbage, to be organized, to take good care of their belongings, and that it’s not ok to touch others. Interestingly, it described the role of the school, mentioning that at school, on the other hand, language, math, history, geography, physics, sciences, and physical education are taught. It only reinforces the education that children receive at home from their parents.
This thought-provoking piece speaks volumes. I totally support the way they have appealed the parents for a very important cause but at the same time I disagree with the point that schools “only reinforce the education that children receive at home from parents”. What I believe is that manners and etiquettes are a part and parcel of a child’s conscious as well as natural behaviour. You cannot expect a child to behave formally in the school by just following certain set of rules at home. School also shares this responsibility as discipline is an integral part of school’s culture.
Right from entering the school premises a child needs to realize that he is responsible to act in a certain set decorum. I always emphasise that children learn through emulation. So, teachers need to be careful with their communication and behaviour in front of the kids. Moreover, it is important for the teachers and school authorities to realize that not every child comes from the love-filled, balanced household that one expects for them. The negative conditions, conflicts and problems that might be a part of some homes, will definitely show poorly in a child’s behaviour. The frustration, insecurities and despair won’t often allow him to maintain the poise and self control that is expected of him. While the younger kids would reflect this through not actively participating in the classroom and the teenagers would show it through sheer indifference and aggression. In these situations only school and especially teachers can come to their rescue. Using reverse-psychology, they can patiently deal with such behaviour, showing that they are always there for unconditional help and support. Through this, they can subtly prove to the child that he is not what he is shaping into because of his situations.
But the problem arises when parents leave the entire burden of inculcating manners, on the school, leaving the child on his own whims and fancies at home. If the parents are not serious about implementing the above mentioned points, the school will not be able to succeed in impressing the same on their minds. Sometimes we also come across parents who cannot believe that their child misbehaves in school because he acts quite differently at home. What’s going on? It turns out that a child’s school behaviour can differ dramatically from his home behaviour. “Children will often be more of a challenge in one situation than another,” says Jamila Reid, a clinical psychologist at the University of Washington.
“Parent education instructor Lynn Faherty feels that many young children lack coping skills and need help making smooth, stress-free transitions between home and school. Here are some of her suggestions to get involved with your kids emotionally so as to improve their behaviour: Make sure your child getting enough sleep, exercise, and right food. Make sure your kids know you’re there for them — and that they can count on you no matter what. Get into the mind of your child. What is it like for him during times of transition? When a child meets a parent at the end of the school day, there is an expectation. The child is waiting for a special “reunification” time — a hug, a rub on the head, a routine of some sort but parents have their own schedules and agendas. So there is a need to spare some time to have meaningful discussions on morality and ethics through readings and sharing anecdotes to which the child can relate.”  (Source: https://www.parentmap.com/article/school-vs-home-your-childs-two-personas)
Here I should introduce the concept of ‘Playfulness Quotient’ which I recently came across. While trying to discipline the child we really need to make sure that etiquettes become a part and parcel of their lives rather than being a burden, enforced on them. The innocence and playfulness of a child should remain intact. Kids are extremely good at shrugging off negative energy. Using their positive attitude, discipline can be subtly introduced. Shelja Sen in her article, ‘Forget IQ and EQ, it is all about PQ’ mentions, “Kids respond best to play. So, brushing teeth could be about declaring war on evil germs, with heavy toothbrush artillery. Colouring could be feeding colours to the hungry flowers without spilling out of the line.” For this the parents and teachers should not only keep their PQ alive but showcase the same in presence of the children. The fast-growing disease of depression and frustration will be eradicated to the maximum extent if PQ is displayed by all.
Good manners and etiquettes cannot be developed in isolation. They are an integral part of a child’s emotional and social growth. One cannot confine the teaching of etiquette to a Moral Science period. It is inculcated in every interaction that a child has at home as well as school. “They have much to do with the emotions. To make them ring true, one must feel them, not merely exhibit them. Let's not confuse traditional behaviours with good manners. The definition of etiquette is gender neutral - it simply means we strive at all times to ensure a person in our company feels at ease.” Let us help our children grow as ideal world citizens.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Happiness is not Mirage




"Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. My answer was: A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others."
Why have we stopped appreciating the little things?
One day my mother expressed the desire to have her favorite sweet, Imarti. Her happiness knew no bounds when she finally took its first bite. The ecstasy spread on her face was thoroughly enjoyed by us. There was an aura of satisfaction around her, as if she has got everything. Interestingly, there is some or the other kind of sweets always available in the house but she isn’t fond of any of them. It was when she received her favorite after a long wait, her happiness increased manifold. This incident made me realize how just a little fulfillment of desire leads to immense happiness but there are people in the world who are extremely unhappy even after possessing all kinds of material pleasures. I wonder how easy availability and access to almost everything has decreased the value of things. Let’s go back to the days when there were no malls, supermarkets and online shopping platforms. There were these weekly markets with all the things of daily necessity on display. People used to take out time and go shopping patiently, purchasing things for the entire week and the family members enjoyed whatever they could purchase from the weekly temporary market. That wait of the day and then getting the things (of daily use or eatables) gave so much of happiness which cannot be realized by today’s generation because most of them get things at the click of the button or just asking parents. The wait for the letters to arrive and then reading them many times and replying back with lots of feelings gave tremendous joy. I remember getting the bicycle the first time after many requests to my father and also any additional book required because that was not readily available. That appropriate wait increased the happiness after I got those things. But now this seems to be just opposite. Parents provide the things to their children even before they demand for the same. I have come across cases where the child asked for one book and the parents purchased more than that. Also, the facilities available these days like Amazon, Flipkart and other online stores are letting things seen and delivered to the customer. Also, the payments through credit cards, EMI, COD etc., compel people to purchase even those things which they might not be requiring. Is it not the situation that somebody is not hungry and being compelled to eat? Will that person enjoy the food and have satisfaction leading to happiness? Not only this, it does not leave scope for curiosity and patience.
A child doesn’t have to wait for long for the ordered books. Hundreds of specific days (for e.g. friendship day) have given hundreds of reasons to celebrate and gratify ourselves materially. Talk about intellectual happiness hidden behind research and perspective even that has been ruined significantly by instant gratification provided by coaching institutions which is taking a child away from self-study. Search engines providing information at fraction of a second are taking a child away from wholesome reading. As google, tutors and teachers are available 24/7 to solve the problems and pay attention to the children, which does not allow children to try self and they are deprived of that happiness of achievement/fulfilment. All this instant gratification and availability has killed curiosity and decreased the value of things thereby bringing an alarming decline in happiness. With everything being available easily we have started taking things for granted. Imagine a scenario where you are sitting with your phone and the WiFi goes down or you are standing in a queue at the metro station and even waiting as the flight is delayed. In all these situations, the general tendency would be to crib and show extreme levels of frustration as if so much is missing in life. We have completely forgotten to appreciate things as everything is available so easily. We don’t appreciate the fact that we are able to fly, use internet and travel comfortably in metro trains.
What is happiness and how can one achieve it?
“Happiness is the joy that we feel when we’re striving after our potential. Happiness is leading an authentic and conscious life through which I can articulate the values and principles important to me. It is finding meaning, purpose, and impact in what I dedicate my time towards, and doing so with conviction. Happiness is not having an answer to the question, “What do I want to do when I grow up?” because it implicitly assumes I will “grow up” at one time or another. I believe life is a series of experiments that together add up to a lifelong adventure. This means never “growing up” and always seeking to find opportunities to learn, to explore, to feel discomfort, and to find the nugget of joy within the frustrations that are as guaranteed in life as the rising and setting of the sun. Happiness comes from embracing the now. Not letting those moments pass you by. Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, tells of the story of missing his child being born to be at an “important meeting.” He thought the potential client would be impressed with his commitment to work. Instead, they saw his decision to miss such a monumental moment as a flaw in character. That moment was a turning point for Greg. In fact, it spurred him to change everything about his life. He now removes everything from his life that is not vital and essential. Nothing in life is permanent. Kids grow up. Friends move away. Our loved ones pass on from this life. Let’s live in the present and appreciate the most important things in our lives before it’s too late. The future value of time is far less than the present value. Yet, people “defer” happiness to someday in the future. In so doing, they forfeit experiencing the moment and being happy, now. You must find joy in the journey, because there really isn’t a destination. Goals are means, not ends. Progress is eternal. The process is everything.” (Huffpost)
How can we teach our kids to be happy?
Parents know that whatever they are able to provide to their kids hasn’t come easy. Then why is this fact kept away from the children? Parents need to realize that kids can really be happy if they appreciate the things they receive, understanding their value and the hard work that goes behind it. Kids need to be given chances to not only wait for the materialistic things but also wait patiently when it comes to success because what comes easy goes easy and something that is earned through constant efforts stays a long way. This will create a balance in their lives leading to increase in real happiness.
Teachers also need give opportunities to the kids to find out their true potential. Many educational apps focus on giving easy and quick solutions instead of focusing on the basics and do not even give enough chances to the child to find the solutions himself. Teachers today need to be true facilitators, letting students find their own solutions. They need to prepare strategies to make the students more thoughtful and creative because happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best. And the best you can do is to give courage to your kids to believe in themselves and set their goals and make them come true; to enable them to appreciate little things, make promises and strive to keep them. I would conclude with the beautiful and inspiring words of Christian D. Larson from ‘Your Forces and How to Use Them
Promise Yourself

To be so strong that nothing
can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness, and prosperity
to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel
that there is something in them
To look at the sunny side of everything
and make your optimism come true.

To think only the best, to work only for the best,
and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others
as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past
and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times
and give every living creature you meet a smile.

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself
that you have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear,
and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world,
not in loud words but great deeds.
To live in faith that the whole world is on your side
so long as you are true to the best that is in you.” 



Monday, July 15, 2019

Eradicate Loneliness



This summer gave us an opportunity to experience the serene beauty of Europe, on an educational trip, with around 49  students and teachers. Undoubtedly, it is the epitome of exquisite beauty of nature. Austria, the land of Mozart and waltz, is indeed a medley of sparkling alpine lakes, majestic mountains, and elegant cities, with a rich cultural heritage and one of the highest living standards in the world. Italy has a charisma of its own that stays with you and Paris in France, of course, is suitably called the ‘fashion capital’. It being an educational tour, there was a lot to learn. Yes, the cleanliness and discipline that the people adhere to, makes Europe what it is. You can almost feel the nature breathe and relax amidst the flourishing infrastructure. The dependence on public transport and adherence to rules and regulation keeps the pollution in check and gives a classy decorum to these places. This experience was one of a kind for the students and beside the visual delight and scrumptious cuisine we had excellent guides for satiating the curiosity of the kids.
Interestingly, with the vivid descriptions and historical references, one of the guides during our visit to France gave us a few details that left me perturbed. While describing how expensive the place was, she told us that many people living there have stopped believing in the institution of marriage and those who do get married are not interested in children. Well, if we accept it as a matter of personal choice which we definitely should, what surfaces to be quite unfortunate is the problem of depression and loneliness. It has hiked over the years in the country and people are taking anti-depressants at a higher rate with the passing years. When I look at the zealous, passionate and optimistic faces of the students I wonder what kind of world we are creating for them.
Back home when I read and researched more on the topic, there were some shocking revelations and as it turns out, the problem of increasing depression and loneliness doesn’t just confine itself to Europe. The people in the developed and developing Western and Asian countries are suffering from acute loneliness. The study published by a global health service company, Cigna, found that 46% US adults report sometimes or always feeling lonely and 47% report feeling left out. Cigna calls it “epidemic levels” of loneliness. According to the report Generation Z or those between the ages of 18 and 22 were the loneliest generation. Millennials (ages 23 to 37) were close behind, followed by Generation X (ages 38 to 51). The so called Greatest Generation, those aged 72 or over were ranked as the least lonely. (Source: Huffington Post)
Another recent newspaper report read: Worldwide problem, must reach out, says UK’s Minister of Loneliness. “There are nine million lonely people in the UK, four million of them old. A staggering statistic propelled the UK government to name a Minister of Loneliness last year.”  The minister, Mims Davies says, “It’s our culture, where we are almost encouraged to keep ourselves to ourselves- don’t reveal any vulnerability in particular, lest it be misconstrued.” Last month her ministry launched a programme, “Let’s talk loneliness”, to encourage people to talk about their feelings and reach out to others. “Just a small hi, how do you do, can help.” says Davies. When we talk about London and other big cities of UK 56% of the city feels lonely and weekends trigger 15% more loneliness, according to the research. Campaign to End Loneliness, an organization whose job is self evident, reports, “Loneliness isn’t an emotional experience, but it also affects health. It is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and can lead to obesity, physical inactivity and even coronary heart disease. The minister warns, “Loneliness is a worldwide phenomenon. Humanity as a whole needs to be friendlier with each other to eradicate the loneliness scourge from the society.” (Source: Indian Express)
Another gloomy side of this situation can be seen in Japan. Technology has intervened to try and take care of the situation. Paro, a robotic seal at Tokyo’s Silver Wing care facility aims at providing therapy and social interactions. Robots like Paro, designed to provide companionship are part of a range of technologies that have emerged in Japan to combat loneliness. By 2040, 40% of the country dwellers will be solo dwellers. Modern life in Japan, which has had its foot to the economic pedal for decades, may have come at a cost. The consequence of the acute loneliness has been a rise in kodukushi- people dying alone and remaining undiscovered for long periods of time. “The increase in the loneliness and lonely deaths is partly tied to traditional family structures falling apart.” says Masaki Ichinose, a professor at the University of Tokyo. Asian lifestyle has always been traditional. Western lifestyle and nuclear families have taken the place of traditional, multi- generational households which used to serve as a social safety net, especially the elderly. (Source: Huff post)
According to the report in Indian Express, “India may not be better; probably no one has cared enough to research and analyse the situation but at least the chai adda and mohalla talks offer someone to talk to. But it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that issues like loneliness, depression and mental health aren’t yet talked about comfortably and openly in the Indian households. It is very important to acknowledge an issue before we can find solutions. And it is surely not happening in India at a required pace.
So, before we find a mechanism to cope up with loneliness, we need to understand it. It is interesting to note that loneliness doesn’t necessarily seep in during one’s later years or it isn’t necessarily a result of liking solitude or being an introvert. Introverts feel happier and contended in their company and solitude has given a sense of respite to many people. On the other hand a person can feel totally out of place at a party or get-together. Happiness and contentment are clearly considered to be contradictory to loneliness. And quite obviously everyone is seeking happiness in materialistic things or other people. A leading psychologist on Psychology Today writes, “I recall working with several multi-millionaires, who were plainly miserable. So there is nothing intrinsic about wealth that guarantees happiness, nor for that matter can the most gratifying relationships.”
Loneliness buds from overprotection and emptiness. We put up a pretence running from our true selves to find ourselves back at the same place we started. Search for happiness brings one back to oneself. Blinded by our low self esteem, remorse and guilt we fear embracing our own shadow. The seeds of the fear of rejection, inferiority and social anxiety are sown during the early years if a child suffers from parental neglect and unhealthy experiences. They might grow up to become loving parents and spouses but they might endlessly give to seek validation and filling their inner lacuna. Remember, a glass has to be filled to its brim before it can overflow. You cannot give companionship and happiness if you are empty within. So, we need to take control of small things so as to deal with the bigger problems. The change has to be brought from within. Instead of focusing on the lives of others, we need to focus on ourselves. We need to find meaning and purpose of our lives. I always keep telling my students, your job is just going to be a stepping stone in your life, a milestone maybe but it isn’t going to be the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to find a purpose of your existence and give your life a shape according to it. It is extremely unlikely that without the ability to love oneself, a person can ever be happy. What is necessary is healthy self-love and acceptance.
Once you learn how to accept and love yourself, focus on the surroundings. If you want the world to become friendly and accepting you will have to initiate. If you want to reap love, understanding, happiness and acceptance, you need to sow the same. “Nobody has an arrow over their heads that says I am lonely, it is fellow citizens who have to be more perceptive and aware. Ask people who you know may be lonely. Pick up the phone and talk to your friends and others. Don’t just text.” says Minister Davies. We all are looking forward to a beautiful future. Everyone is striving to achieve a settled, stable and perfect life. Aspiring for the same they often forget to enjoy and cherish the little things around like spending time with family, reading to the kids, loving the little imperfections,  acknowledging the emotions and simply listening, all ears and heart; because there is nothing in the world which is as comforting as family. Time passes by while we focus on things that are far away from our reach neglecting this bliss spread all around. In the end I would just like to ask my readers to ponder on the same as you listen to Harry Chapin’s “Cat's In the Cradle”:

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin' home, Dad
I don't know when, but we'll get together then
You know we'll have a good time then


My son turned ten just the other day
He said, "Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let's play
Can you teach me to throw", I said "Not today
I got a lot to do", he said, "That's okay"
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed

And said, "I'm gonna be like him, yeah
You know I'm gonna be like him"

When you comin' home, Dad
I don't know when, but we'll get together then
You know we'll have a good time then


Well, he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
"Son, I'm proud of you, can you sit for a while"
He shook his head and then said with a smile
"What I'd really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please"


When you comin' home son
I don't know when, but we'll get together then, Dad
You know we'll have a good time then


I've long since retiredmy son's moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind"
He said, "I'd love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job's a hassle and the kid's got the flu
But it's sure nice talking to you, Dad
It's been sure nice talking to you"
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me
My boy was just like me