I’m writing you an open letter after 100s of self-reviews and thousands of lesson observations.
I’m full of questions because though you are a bigger influencer than the most popular actor and the most powerful politician, you aren’t able to prepare all students who come to you, for learning and life.
About 70 years ago, less than 20% of children in the country came to you for an education. Today, thanks to MHRD and the Right to Education Act, it is illegal for any child to be permanently absent from your classrooms. Approximately 28 crore children in India walk through 1.56 million of your doors eve-ry day of the academic year, to learn for between 4 to 7 hours, for 180 to 220 days each year for 12 to 15 years. What an incredible achievement!
For some students, you are an outstanding success. It is delightful to meet these students when we visit you, whether in a remote village, in a fast growing town or in a large metro. And its because in some of your classes, teachers make some children so happy to learn that their eyes become larger (all the more to see with) and their ears grow sharper (all the more to hear with) and their brains grow too, just like Carol Dweck says they do.
And then there are students we don’t meet because they leave you before time, with the belief that learning is not meant for them. Or because they attended classes in which the teachers voice was heard all day long and students who came in bright eyed and bushy tailed battled fatigue, boredom and sleep, as they struggled to cope with the number of things they were forced to remember. We do meet students for whom you are a merely a necessary certification, that provides them with the means to get into higher education, or get a job. For these students it doesn’t seem to matter whether they love what they are doing, or not. And this, doesn’t feel right.
Shouldn’t all students be equally deserving of a good teacher who makes them hungry to learn more? Do your teachers need to know what Dave Burgess says about teaching like a pirate? Or like a champion as prescribed by Doug Lemov? Or be like Erin Gruwell who got her students to change themselves by writing. Or be invested as the gurus we have read about in history books, who had mastery over what they taught and knew each student better than they knew themselves? What would your lessons look like if all your teachers topped CENTA assessments?
We think with all good teachers, you would see something different happening in your classrooms. All students would be included, interested in the activities and invested in their learning! Dweck suggests that children with growth mindsets are able to learn the most. They love challenges and are delighted to receive feedback that helps them grow. We want to see enough of these children in your class-rooms. We don’t want to see more students and parents clamouring for your teachers to give them ready-made answers and get 99% in examinations.
Children are more likely to develop growth mindsets because they are taught by teachers who encourage them to learn without fear, in a way that is formative and developmental. They welcome questions by their students and encourage enquiry. These teachers are confident their students NAS scores, and PISA scores will be good, because they have clear evidence of student performance founded on understanding and engagement in their own learning. They use quality assurance practices in which examination success is a by-product and not simply the goal. Such teachers, and their supportive leaders, are actively engaged in professional learning communities, collaborating with each other so that students can benefit across schools.
Dear school, do you want these highly competent teachers and leaders to increase? We can add 21st century processes to your systems to ensure that professional competence increases and your students develop a sense of efficacy, agency, self-esteem. You and we, we both want the same thing. We want all students to leave at the end of their school life feeling they are good enough for this world and are contributing actively to its well-being by doing what they really want to do.
So here’s my final question for you: Would you like to be the best school that you could be? We have a way to help you. Reach out!
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