Pathways to Opportunities…

Thanks to all the wonderful people who visited our classrooms and spread the good word, our (Grade 3 and Grade 4) kids were invited to present everything happening in their classroom at a national educational conference InspirED 2011, at the American School of Bombay, Mumbai.

Interests and Aspirations Showcase

The kids reached the venue at 11 AM, despite having started at 5.30 in the morning because of the heavy rains in Mumbai. I’d reached the venue early in the morning to set everything up before the kids came in with the co-fellow in my school. She’s teaching grade 4 and our classes are doing everything in collaboration this year.

Basically, as per the Teaching as Leadership Framework, there are four elements to transformational teaching – Academic Achievement, Pathways to Opportunities, Interests and Aspirations, Long-term Mindsets and Values. If as a teacher, you can drive your students at achieve all of these and providing them with ways to do this, then you can possibly hope to change the trajectory of their lives and bring in that transformation.

Transformation in Education – This was the theme of this year’s InspirED conference. The organizers had created four separate rooms where each of these elements of Transformational Teaching could be showcased; all these four rooms together were called the “Education Exhibition”. Our kids were showcasing the ‘Academic Achievements’ section by explaining all their file and public trackers in class and their incentive systems. They were also a part of the ‘Interests and Aspirations’ section to explain their Saturday Clubs (Art, Theatre and Dance).

Our Wall :)

The kids hadn’t been formally prepped to say stuff, because as teachers, we both believed that they should be given a chance to freely express their views on everything happening in class, instead of just repeating doctored responses. They were expected to be interacting with over a hundred people over the course of the day. We had blown up pictures from our classroom, mainly their trackers, and their big goals etc….that would help them while explaining to people.

Both of us had picked two kids each from our classes, and we discussed a lot about who these kids would be. We didn’t just want to go with an academically high level , talkative kid, such kids already had a lot going for them and were pretty confident. So I picked Sagar and Afzal from my class. Both were picked for specific reasons. This kind of exposure, I was sure will do something for them.

Handling the crowd....

After Sagar explained all his trackers, one of the visitors asked him; “So, what has changed in you, from last year to this year?” I was standing there thinking to myself that probably this kind of self-introspection was too much to expect from a third grader. But kids are much more perceptive than we give them credit for. Sagar thought for a while and said : “In class 2, I fight, hit and beat…..this year I don’t fight or beat”. And this was precisely the reason Sagar was brought here, as a reward for his improved behaviour. He was THE most violent kid in class last year. But this year, he been really focused towards meeting his Big Goals and has also been behaving really well in class. Of course, I hadn’t told him this but I guess on some levels he just knew. The lady probed further, she asked him the reason for this change. Sagar very calmly explained, “If I not study and get 80%, I not get Golden Tickets for Trip. If I not be nice in class, I not get my Art Club on Saturday”.

Afzal explaining Clubs to a visitor....

In the picture below, kids are with Steven Farr, Vice President, Knowledge Development and Public Engagement, Teach For America. He’s the brainchild behind developing the Teaching as Leadership (TAL) framework that is now being used worldwide.  Setting Big Goals for a class is the first pillar of TAL. In this picture, Sagar is explaining the Big Goals and their tracking to Mr. Farr, the man who came up with the concept. :) :)

Sagar explaining Big Goals to Steven Farr

Shaheen Mistri (in the pic below), CEO Teach For India and Akanksha, spoke to the kids for a long time.  She was so happy after taking to the kids that she made a special request to include kids in the closing ceremony.

Shaheen having a word with Pooja

Sagar and Pooja explained the Big Goals, their tracking systems, the Saturday Clubs to a 500+ audience of teachers, school leaders and Principals present in the ASB Auditorium. After the kids wrapped up, the audience reciprocated with a very encouraging round of applause. They weren’t prepared to face such a huge audience, they had been speaking since morning and they were tired, so they did fumble a little, but I guess that’s ok. As a third grader, I wouldn’t have spoken even half as eloquently as my kids in front of a huge audience like this.

At the InspirED Closing Ceremony Day 1, ASB Auditorium

It had been a really long day for the kids so we excused ourselves from the Closing Ceremony to take off for Pune. The kids had some refreshment and walked around ASB for a while.  Abhishek looked at their two-floor library, their huge cafeteria and said : “Didi, this not look like school, this looks like a hotel” :). It was an  amazingly built school and had every imaginable facility on earth. They had a whole floor dedicated to extra-curricular activities, with multiple clubs……and we are financially struggling to sustain three clubs at school. The contrast doesn’t sadden me, it just reinforces my belief that our kids need to have all these opportunities and we have to make it happen.

Enjoying some refreshments at the ASB cafeteria....

Feeling very inspirED..... :)

On our way back, I asked Afzal if he was tired and he said, “Not tired. I am happy….. to have met all these didis and bhaiyas.”  They definitely were tired but none of the kids slept in the car, they were all so high on the appreciation bestowed upon them all day long… could they possibly sleep?. :)

Sleep eludes eyes that are full of dreams. And this is true for everyone, not just kids.


7 thoughts on “Pathways to Opportunities…

  1. Good Work Chaitra, I can visualise the pain, passion and persistence of yours as I read the narrative. What I lke most is ‘the big picture’ that you have before you and not getting lost in the day to day dreary drudgery that generally teachers entrap themselves with. Keep going. You will grow taller.

    • This comment coming from you and that too on Teacher’s Day makes this even more special.

      I still remember how you taught me the finer points of oration while reading Walt Whitman’s – O Captain!. Those years in Itarsi, trying to live up to the very high expectations you had from all your students in class, did something for me.

      I’m just taking inspiration from that and trying something similar in the classroom.

      Thank You for everything Sir! :)

  2. These kids are inspiring especially since they are only 3rd/4th graders. First, they made a 5 1/2 hour trip just to get to the educational conference. Then, the way they got up their own and made their presentation to 500+ people in what, to them, must have been an enormous auditorium (even though they weren’t prepared for such a huge audience ) shows courage, interest and aspirations. Kudos to them and their teachers. I was fascinated to find out how bad boy, Sagar, had turned into.a sagacious little boy focused on meeting his Big Goals, but I would have liked to know your reasons for choosing Afzal. Your post also shows the difference that a good teacher can make. Sounds like you are a strong, motivating force behind your students’ success.

    BTW. Suggest you read a blog, He’s an educator in New York and often writes about education and teacher motivation, etc. I’m also going to suggest he read this post.

    • Hi Penelope,

      Afzal was academically great since Grade 2 but he was very shy and closed down. He wouldn’t even smile too much in class. I was looking for opportunities to boost his confidence, ways and means to make him feel empowered. This event was just a great place for him to be, to be talking to hundreds of people from different nationalities in English and he did so well!!

      Somewhere in the process of drving academic targets, as Teachers we often neglect the softer skills that kids need to become well-adjusted individuals. This was just a platform for this kid to gain that.

      He’s the most driven kid in the class, he’s probably the most economically backward kid in the class. We’re reading “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in class this year and Afzal loves Charlie, because I guess he see’s that underdog in him…..He’s waiting for Charlie’s triumph and I’m waiting for Afzal’s. :)

      I’ve told you this before, I love reading your comments. You go through every detail in the post and put in so much thought into the comment writing. It speaks volumes of the kind of empathetic person must be.



      • Chaitra,

        It’s great to hear about a kid like Afzal advancing so much and overcoming his shyness, etc.

        Thanks for your compliment about my comments. I just try to say what I got from the post and how it impacted me personally.

        Keep up the good work.

  3. Chaitra, I like this line – but kids are much more perceptive than we give them credit for.

    Kids may be more evolved than adults and we just think we are. They are definitely more honest. It’s amazing how so many adults treat kids as almost non-humans with no rights.

    You’ve got beautiful colors in your posters! Congrats … G.

    • Thanks Giulietta,

      More perceptive and very straight forward……..and that’s why being around them makes you a better person.

      If you don’t practice what you preach, they call a spade a spade and let you know. :)

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