Strange Times

In a flash we go from the familiar to knee deep in uncharted waters. No time to orient ourselves. Overnight our schools close; in a handful of days from there we are asked to gather our young and infirm, lock ourselves up and that now, to leave our homes for anything other than essentials, is a punishable offence. We are told we are fighting a war from our living rooms. Tragedy unfolds in this complex and troubled country. Thousands of people stranded between homelessness and starvation. Trips to the grocery store are laced with guilt.

And in a bizarre twist, 10 days of lockdown brings hornbills to Bombay and peacocks to the terraces of Bangalore. The night sky I look up at, is the night sky of my childhood.

As I try to navigate this strange new world, there is enough time to ponder about what led us here. COVID 19 has highlighted what scientists and sentinels have been hollering about. Our lifestyles have become unsustainable and out of touch. We need to make big changes at policy and systemic levels.

As an educator I look on as the teachers in many parts of the world, scramble to put learning online – an oxymoron for Montessorians, especially when it comes to younger children. Learning is child directed, hands-on and visceral.

In India we were 3 weeks away from our summer break. No need to take learning online. No need to do anything but put one foot in front of the other, no need to ….. and then the messages start coming. We need to ‘homeschool’, we need to get our children onto online classes, we need to keep them engaged, we need to …. We need to make big changes at systemic levels and education is one of them.

Let us look at learning. It is natural. It is something we humans cannot help but do. It is like breathing. But when we lose trust things start to close in. It is not news that we lost trust in our children to be natural, active learners a long time ago.

Children are learning ALL THE TIME. It might not be what we want them to learn, nor when and often, they do not even look like they are learning  and yet they are – ALL THE TIME.

These are strange days that are screaming that our way forward is through more heart, more independence, more quiet, more understanding of ourselves first, and then others too and mostly, truly knowing in our depths that EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED.

What we do not need is more text books, more work sheets, more bells and timetables and grades and assessments and walking the straight and narrow and adjusting to a cookie cutter world of success and failure and aspiration for the material.

We need to make different choices.

School Culture

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This past week I have been thinking about the culture of a school. Through all my visits of various schools I can safely say that no two schools are exactly alike. There may be threads of commonality but each school is unique and an expression of many variables.

A school culture is formed intentionally and often times, unintentionally by all the people who are a part of it. Some of the culture of a school is visible: the care with which the physical space is arranged, the attention to little details, the daily schedule, and so on but most of it is invisible. It resides not in  a physical space or time but inside each one of us who are a part of the school. It defines how we think about ourselves and each other, how decisions are made, what kinds of ideas and actions are given importance, how we do our work, what our shared expectations and values are and these become the  norms of the school.

A school culture not only impacts teachers and other staff but research shows that it has a huge impact on children as well. Well,no surprises there!

Often we say that a school is only as good as it’s teachers. But today I have been thinking if the reverse is true as well?

While the culture of a school is a result of the mind-sets of the people in the school, inversely it also ‘shapes’ the people in the school; the value given to ones work, our idea of ourselves and each other. I have seen it have a big impact on teachers, especially teachers who are just starting out.

School culture can be the wind beneath a teachers wings or the strings that bind and keep her from reaching her full potential and truly following the child.

The thing with school culture is that it is dynamic and forever changing. Each stage of development brings with it defining moments : new challenges and questions that test the kind of culture that exists and the path the school will take in the future.