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An educator called Life

Walking down the woods on a learning journey

5 reasons why I miss my corridor!

A tweet by Rima Singh got me thinking about how the COVID 19 outbreak has so deeply impacted our lives. Around the same time, I was responding to a FB post by my childhood friend on “What is the first thing you will do when this lockdown ends and the threat is over and who is the first person you want to see?” and we had an interesting debate on why for me the answer was simple… “Would love to get back to work! My corridor, my kids and my school campus!”

These two reflections got me to introspect as to why I was missing work so much and why the online version of it was not as gratifying or fulfilling! So here I list down in the order of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, 5 reasons why I miss my corridor!

1. My campus – Physiological Needs

I have been fortunate to work at a beautiful campus. Spacious, open and with nature being a dominant element in the design. In a crowded city like Mumbai, my school is one of those few spread out over 8 acres of land and bordered by the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. It is home to beautiful trees and birds and bees!

A campus like this for a workplace is a dream come true and a gift from life itself. The green surroundings, the lotus pond, the Koi pool all breathe beauty to what we do and also soothes our nerves on a stressful day! The multi-sensory engagement with my work environment is what I miss so much!

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Beautiful campus

I am deeply grateful for where I work!

2. Teaching and Learning – Safety needs

I was born to teach and discovered the path early in life. Being with books, students and engaging in learning is what comes naturally to me. Interacting with the curriculum, planning engagements and learning activities with teachers is what gives me a sense of security and safety… as this is what I am best at!

Being in the classroom or in my meeting with my colleagues gives me a sense of comfort that nothing else in life can provide. Teaching and learning is not just work, but a calling, and I have been locked in a cage, hands tied, voice choked.

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Being a learner

I am deeply grateful for what I do!

3. Learner Agency: Voice, Choice (inquiry) Ownership (strategies) – Love and belonging

I have been fortunate to study and teach in schools that believed in giving freedom to its teachers, nurturing creativity in students and empowering the community to achieve great educational goals. Be it the spiritually charged learning environment at The Future Foundation School, open learning atmosphere at Sahyadri School, the innovative work environment at Rewachand Bhojwani Academy under Madhavi Kapur’s guidance or the empowering Pathways World School. As a pedagogical leader in my current school, I have striven to apply and incorporate all my past learning experiences in my school, creating a cohesive team. I believe in feeling a sense of ownership where I work and with my team, we have developed a strong team bonding and a sense of belonging.

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Collab is fun!
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Learning Environment

Collaborative Meetings allow each teacher to freely express their opinions and thus, share their voice. The process of inquiry gives our students the choice to co-construct the Central Ideas and Lines of Inquiry, plan assessments, pursue their own inquiries and lead the community in taking meaningful action within the school, the local and global community. As a community of learners, our teachers and students work together on making learning engaging and meaningful by integrating technology. Learning is not imposed, teaching is not directed… and everyone is on the journey together taking proud ownership of both the process and the product.

I am deeply grateful for the way we learn!

4. Learner Profile – Esteem

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”, said Aristotle. I truly believe that education must build character. The Learner Profile is that tool and also the yardstick to measure how well we are building character in our students. It also extends to educators, to assess how well we are role-modelling the attributes, reflecting on our own personalities and working to polish our human character by nourishing our heart.

I get the chance to inculcate these values through various interactions throughout the day. When I ask a student an open-ended question, I am making him a thinker. When I see a tree on my campus and ask its scientific name, I am being an inquirer. When I discuss a lesson plan with a teacher, we are both being reflective and good communicators. When I have to introspect and accept or negotiate differences of opinions or intervene in inter-personal conflicts, the experience challenges me to be more open-minded. As a result of being mindful of the ten attributes of the Learner Profile, we are constantly building our character and developing our multiple intelligences.

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Building relationships

I am deeply grateful for the tool I have to reflect!

5. IB Mission – Self-actualisation

I work ultimately for the IBO, in my many roles! It is an organisation that has evolved over the last five decades since its founding in 1968, from being merely a body that coordinated internationally-accepted school-leaving examinations to an educational organisation that believes in developing citizens ready for the future. We can see from the way the world has been rapidly transforming over the last couple of decades, that the needs of tomorrow are very different and often unknown, as we are all learning from the current pandemic crisis.

At these times, when global leaders are fumbling to take the right actions, people across the world are united by their common cause of suffering and the future of the global economy is walking a thin line, the Mission Statement of the IB seems extremely significant:

“The International Baccalaureate® aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment.

These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.”

Thus, it fills me with a great sense of fulfillment, pride and passion to be an educator working with the IB, not just in my school role, but also as a workshop and school visit facilitator for the IB as a part of the IB Educator Network (IBEN).

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I am deeply grateful to be able to fulfill my mission through my work!

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In my corridor

As my nation extends its lockdown to May 3rd, leaving us as a learning community to stay in touch with each other through online tools only, I can’t wait to be back in my corridors!

 

PHOTO CREDITS:
Abhimanyu Das Gupta, Yogesh Patil, Sonia Kedia, Mahua Roy and Liliana Bandini
Thank you Meena, Clancy and Saloni!

 

5 OL Habits that can turn Bad

Student Behaviour in an OL environment

As many of us are gearing up for our 4th/ 5th/ 6th week of #OnlineLearning, I have been closely observing student behaviour while hopping in and out of classes.

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Photo Credit: IBO

The IB has also published a comprehensive guide (needs MyIB log in) on Online Learning in March 2020 titled “Online learning, teaching and education continuity planning for schools”. This guide not only shares ideas for planning and implementing online learning in the context of IB schools, but also guides schools with resources on screen-time management, and guidelines for ensuring student privacy and online safety, but also talks about transitioning back to a face to face classroom model, as many schools in China are moving that way.

A section from the guide on ‘transitioning from online back to face-to-face learning’ helped me join the dots with my observations in OL classes at my school.

“Learners may have:

  • become accustomed to more independent learning and will need time and guidance to transition from it. Some learners may have preferred learning remotely and will find the constraints of school difficult to accept.

  • become accustomed to shorter activities, asynchronous assignments, more freedom in their work and less face-to-face collaboration.”

5 OL Habits that can turn Bad

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Ready for Online Learning

As our students are mostly learning on their own, using a digital device, and using non-human-contact methods aka through virtual learning environments, what impact was it having on their learning style? Based on my observations, I have listed 5 habits that are forming in digital learners, which could well turn out to be counter-productive by making students disrespectful, discriminatory or isolated in the real world.

Habit 1: It’s OK to mute somebody.

Why is it not ok in the real-world: We are trying to develop Communication Skills in students and part of that is listening and allowing each member to speak their mind. We strongly discourage a bully when it comes to group discussions… don’t we, or keep the vociferous child under control and allow the shy ones to speak? Could this habit turn that value upside down?

Habit 2: It’s OK to turn off the video cam when we want to.

Why is it not ok in the real-world: A student may turn off their video camera during a virtual class for a range of reasons. Somebody else may have walked in at home, they may want to take a refreshment break, they may not be ready for class and even worse, they may be just marking their presence online but totally distracted or even asleep in the real world scenario. This is tantamount to a social, mental, intellectual and emotional absence in class. What is worrying is for students with learning needs who may not want to show their faces or raise their hands to respond to the teacher, as an outcome of a complex mix of negative or depressive feelings and emotions.

Habit 3: It’s OK to be in any setting and in any kind of attire or be late to join a virtual class.

Why is it not ok in the real-world: Well every work and school environment has its own norms and guidelines for behaviour and appearance. In the real world, we need to be on time to attend a meeting/class or dress in the school uniform, and dress neatly or not carry our pets or our nanny to class. How do we balance the relaxed norms that online learning has set forth into our lives and make students discern these fine differences between what is acceptable in a virtual viz a viz a real classroom?

Habit 4: It’s OK to run parallel chat or private chat during the virtual meeting.

Why is it not ok in the real-world: I have often noticed students enjoying the chat feature greatly. As humans, we all crave to socialise and interact, and the daily chitter-chatter about inane topics adds vibrancy to our socio-emotional health. However, in virtual classrooms, children and students seem to maintain equally fine control over the live interactions and the conversations in the chat rooms. Some apps even allow private chat which is difficult to monitor by a teacher. So, while class is on, do we allow students to be private chatting with each other? Should we?

Habit 5: It’s OK to leave the virtual room/meeting when we want to.

Why is it not ok in the real-world: Many students leave or rejoin a virtual classroom. Sometimes, it could be that they may need a washroom break, or they are being roped in to do something else at home, or there is a genuine issue with their internet connectivity. But would this be acceptable in a real-world face-to-face classroom? Are we simply accepting knowing the many challenges of working/learning from home during a lockdown like we are all experiencing? Maybe. But it is important to be mindful of this aspect too.

What have we done at my school?

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Online Hustle Bustle

So as we look towards transitioning back into real-world, face-to-face classrooms, how can we make sure that these habits do not cross over into the real world? Though, we have had a relaxed approach in student conduct we harped on a few essential agreements. Some of them are:

  1. Habit 1: Student mics must be on mute when somebody else is talking. Students cannot mute each other or the teacher… the rights have been disabled. A teacher can mute the class or individual students though.
  2. Habit 2: Students must be visible on the video at all times. This is easier followed by younger students and needs reinforcement for older students who may already have concerns with their appearance on a camera in a social setting.
  3. Habit 3: Students don’t need to wear their school uniforms (though some still do for the comfort of familiarity), but they need to be ‘ready for class’! Students must be ready in an undisturbed room, with enough light, with stationery, water bottle and anything else they may need for the class. Student attendance is being marked half an hour into the first class and shared and monitored with parents.
  4. Habit 4: This is a hard one to tackle, as sometimes productive discussions happen in the chat room regarding the ongoing lesson. Teachers monitor this frequently to remind students who are using the Chat Rooms for informal and unrelated discussions. As we use Google Meets, there is no facility for private, one-on-one chats.
  5. Habit 5: With younger students, the most common reason is network issues. We have rarely had any child leave the class either out of disinterest or in protest. In lower grades, parents are encouraged to be around to support the students’ learning and to help them with IT skills, as appropriate.
Gr 3 Class dojo

What can we do now?

Agency comes to play a strong role in the way students are learning in a virtual learning environment. Voice, choice, and ownership are promoted not just through synchronous interactions, but also through collaborative/social engagement using a range of technology-based applications like Kahoot, Flipgrid, Weebly, Canva, Mentimeter, and the likes. We need to sustain the levels of Learner Agency we have achieved and get students and teachers to reflect on how these norms of conduct will be similar or different when we get back to the real world and engage in face-to-face classrooms.

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Photo Credit: IBO

Will we merely have to manage our rediscovered learning environment, sans the concept of physical distancing and with the introduction of more hard copy work? Or will we need to address the emotional rewiring and social reprogramming first that all of us will need to stagger back to a life of regained freedom? Only time will tell… but let us get thinking about it, sooner rather than later.

Till then the clock keeps ticking clockwise or anticlockwise, depending on which part of the world you are in. Stay safe! Keep learning!

 

Time Table of Lockdown

After 4 years, my professional landscape and circumstances have forced me to get back to my Blog. I have refrained from Blogging for a variety of reasons:

  1. I was waiting to find my own voice in the din of so many thoughts and reflections.
  2. I was waiting to find time and space, that this lockdown has finally given.
  3. I was waiting to take ownership of my learning so that I could confidently advocate the same.

I revived my Twitter and Linkedin pages recently and have been actively posting there for the last 6 months. I was continually thinking of my blog, as I love to write.

In the last 2 months, we have been hit world-wide by the Coronavirus Pandemic, leading to school closures and the advent of wholescale online learning. Most schools are travelling on a similar, often, steep curve of learning and navigating similar challenges. Reading about all of this has got me thinking of what it is doing to the educator inside me.

As an educator, we have the responsibility to have the strongest immunity, not just physical, but emotional and spiritual. We are dealing with young minds and how we communicate with them virtually, is a matter of great significance without a whole lot of research to support us with pedagogy. On the other hand, many of us are struggling with parental expectations and disappointments, or management pressures in implementing our virtual classrooms. But what are we doing for ourselves?

I suggest this time table for lockdown, that we can adhere to in our effort to preserve our intrinsic qualities as an educator. So, hope you enjoy going through my suggested time table and going through the different subjects, in light of the lockdown!

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I look forward to hearing from those who have followed a similar time table or are intending to follow. Please share your thoughts and experiences, so that we can learn and grow from each other’s experiences.

Till then #stayhome #staysafe!

Warming up to the new year!

The new academic year has rolled in for most of us! It is a time to start afresh on a new plate. Some of you may have moved to a new school, eager to enjoy the new adventures. While some others, may still be in the same school/job and wondering how to do things differently.

How best can we start?

This question had me wondering as to how best to could we start the new year? Should we look forwards, backwards or look forward AND backward? When we think of the Backward by Design model, isn’t looking backward actually enabling us to look forward? So I decided to have everyone reflect back!

Letter to myself

In fact, a year back we had written a letter to ourselves, with our goals mentioned for the last academic year! So this time, we decided to read those letters, exactly one year later! Here is an extract of a letter by a colleague!

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Letter to myself – courtesy Kamalpreet Mangat

Warming up the ice

We loosely use the term ‘ice-breaker’ or ‘warming up’ as friendly opportunities to mix around with familiar and unfamiliar people. However, I had my team ‘warm up’ the ice in a more mindful manner! We used this mindfulness technique (inspired from the original idea shared here) along with a creative visualisation led by me to have everyone feel an ice cube melt on their open palms, along with some Zen meditation music playing softly in the background. As the teachers closed their eyes to become increasingly mindful of the melting ice cube and all its associated sensations, I guided them to release their fears, doubts, anger, apprehensions and insecurities, before they planned to envision the year ahead. As I was engrossed leading it, and all my staff members were ‘frozen’ in their mindfulness exercises, no pictures unfortunately! 🙂

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Image Credit

Bone Diagram

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Bone Diagram…courtesy Namita Devgan

This is a wonderful ‘thinking.planning.reflecting.goalsetting’ tool and more can be read about the same here! I love it, as it is similar to a tool that my aunt had taught me to use as an adolescent before planning any significant life event, and hence, was something I was always conceptually familiar with! Teachers, having reflected on their achievements, then set forth charting their goals for the new academic year using this graphic organiser!

Well, this reflective exercise helped all of us to pause, ponder, critique and predict… and thereby, create a blueprint of the path that lay ahead of us! There will be many twists and turns, and wondering and wandering, which will make our reflections that much more interesting at the end of this year!

Till then, let us enjoy this wonderful PYP Learning Journey!

 

 

Collaborative Planning

In a recent session with my teachers on Collaborative Planning, I had a few important insights about the process of working together as a team.

Who all?

All members of the team working with students in the PYP need to work collaboratively. I have always believed in the Buddhist spirit of ‘Many in body, one in mind’ which also applies to working collaboratively. So it is not about just structuring groups, and getting them to meet, but also looking at the needs of the curriculum. A collaborative group can merely be the teachers of a home room and their PYP coordinator. Or it could be a larger body of all teachers working in that class. Or it could even be just the specialists with the Home Room Teachers, as per the subject focus. Or even still, it could be the specialists together, to establish interlinks and design a balanced curricular map and a well distributed interaction across a grade through the year!

How much?

How much collaboration is needed and/or acceptable? This was a question that bothers us most of the times. Are we doing enough? Is it properly structured? Through my experience and based on my discussions, I realised that CP is not about just time tabling it but about its worthwhile-ness! What is the outcome of the CP? Is it furthering students’ understanding of the conceptual understandings in the UOI or in single subject areas? If yes, then it is just right. If not we need to review our purpose in the first instance. A teacher shared with a great sense of joy and satisfaction that for a unit under the theme How we express ourselves, the specialists pitched in genuinely making authentic connections across subject areas without much physical time and space allotted to CP! To me this is successful CP as the learning experiences were enriched greatly and more importantly authentically. It is thus, not about how much but about how well it worked!

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Leading a session with my staff

In the end, WHY?

I don’t think that CP should be looked as a standard merely that has to be met. It needs to be the backbone of the PLC at the school. We can collaborate not just to strengthen our units but also to even engage in school celebrations, or organise school visits. Working together as a team, helps us as individuals display the attributes of the LP thereby, role modelling them. At the end of the day, we are all ultimately responsible for developing the attributes of the LP in our students. By working together, we are fitting in the jigsaw pieces of this understanding in the mind of the child…the more the pieces and the myriad the colours, the richer the mural and the more wholly developed will the child be. Ultimately life is in techni-colour and rich in its interconnections. So why should teaching and learning in the classroom be any different?

I read a book

This was my comment in verse on the post by Lindy Buckley almost 2 years back!

I READ A BOOK

I read a book, on comets and stars,
On galaxies near and far.
Lazing on my sofa, reading on the bus,
Reading anytime anywhere, without a fuss!

I read a book, as it has many thoughts to share,
Of unknown people, who become heroes because they dare.
Sometimes, many new facts I learn,
Sometimes, brownie points I earn!

I read for pleasure, or for critical information,
I also read for appreciating the author’s imagination!
Sometimes I read two a week, sometimes four…
All that my mind says, ‘Give me more, give me more!’

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My daughter’s Little Free Library at home!
By Abhimanyu Das Gupta
25th November, 2013

Back to the future!

Ages ago, in 2012, I wrote my last post

About a relay of equals, a race to the top.

Little did I know then, that the next stop

Would be after having been lost.

 

In the woods of pedagogy and administration,

I lost myself in its ups and downs, twists and turns.

Discovering the faces behind the mask, in return,

Bearing the bricks and bats, with undaunted passion!

 

The walk in the woods was winding and long,

From leading Evaluation to Exhibitions galore,

Moving towards administration of a community of 60 and more,

To discovering new roads, knowing rights from wrongs!

 

As I wander in the woods, in a Frosty kind of way,

Juggling my many roles and sharing from my heart,

I hope to keep the posts alive and make a fresh start…

On the journey called Life and the learning on its way!

 

IMG-20151106-WA0023Abhimanyu Das Gupta

Relay of equals

The crowds are watching with bated breath as the athlete stretches himself waiting for the shout! All hunched and on his mark… and then he hears “Go!”. He charges in the race not noticing that running along with him is himself… in different roles and masks. A charade of clones, whizzing past him to reach the finishing line. In a micro second he notices, through the corners of his eyes, in a moving blur, the faces in the crowd. He knows all of them, again clones of himself. As his body heats up with the running, a realisation dawns on him, that this way or that way, HE will be the winner! But, he knows he is not the clone… and a fresh pump of adrenaline near the last few metres, helps him breeze past the second contender, as he tears apart the ribbon at the finishing line and runs many metres ahead, keeping pace with the momentum he has gained.

That runner was me, for the last year, on the journey of being a new PYP Coordinator. A journey that I look back now in a more relaxed manner, but when I was handed the baton, I not only knew that I had to prove myself, but also, that I had to leap and bound over many hurdles and race ahead many turns, to reach where I am today.

As I refresh my blog, the next few entries, will take you through the last year’s PYP track that I have run on, including the significant relay stops! Hope you enjoy my reflections, as I warm up for the next race!

The Exhitement begins!

After endless discussions and planning, we have finally launched the work for the PYP Exhibition with the students. We have an enthusiastic team of ten teachers including me; some who have experience of having facilitated the Exhibition last year and some who are brand new! We have discussed and prepared a hand book for students this year and are spending the first 2 days to understand and help students absorb the expectations from them. Some of the wonderful aspects of the Exhibition include the fact that it is considered a summative assessment of the entire time a student spends through the programme. An opportunity for them to display all the knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and finally to take meaningful action!

Students plan their own topic for inquiry, central idea and lines of inquiry. They also plan their research, field trips and finally present their learning to the school community, including their own parents. This year, the exhibition at Pathways World School, Aravali will be held on 21st and 22nd April, coinciding with the Earth Day! As we the teachers, collaborate in creating learning engagements that will bring out independent student inquiry, arguing and deliberating, agreeing and disagreeing, planning and replanning, here is hoping that the learning is as meaningful and memorable for the students involved!

We have also launched a blog which will document every step of the students’ learning, which can be accessed at http://pypexhibition2011.blogspot.com

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