Mrs. Lalitha Bai, Principal
The beginning of the year 2021, as a school leader, I was overwhelmed with the challenge and risk of opening schools to function in person after a long gap. This year, the education sector has offered options that were never ever imagined!! We have hybrid, classroom, distance learning, E-learning and also free will for jumping from one mode to another without any prior information to teachers.
Leading a team and teaching a few classes as we had to split the sections into smaller groups to follow protocols was not easy, I had to juggle between leading, teaching and managing administration work. Initially, flipping through online to offline, we all had challenges. I would find myself confused: However, the struggle to align all of them instilled faith in me and gave me the opportunity to reflect, trim, tweak and adapt as days went by.
I have learned that I still have a lot to learn…. Sounds familiar right??
This is what I strongly believe. We learn by observing others, attending formal school and exploring on our own. These experiences are valuable and everlasting. In fact, these lessons shape us. The simple act of existing and interacting with others offers experiences that challenge us and inspire us to think, grow, and ask questions, which adds value to our existence.
Well there is another very powerful entity that can impart to us how to live a happier, healthier, and more meaningful life. It’s nature’s creation. Being amidst nature and observing the dawn-dusk, flowers bloom, leaves wither and fall, seeds sprout and the continuing cycle that shows us how to be calm, and to find balance within and the outside of us.
Oh! Is it getting into philosophy? Let me pause and think about what I am trying to say.
In the last two years the pandemic has shaken the lives of one and all. The schools closed abruptly, lessons were being taught remotely. All sports, school activities, and events had come to a standstill.
Friendships and relationships were transported to live chats and video calls.
We as teachers had to transform from ‘Chalk and Talk teachers’ to ‘TechTeachers’. It wasn’t easy, it involved so many tasks one after the other that followed like missiles from a tank. Making videos, writing notes, setting question papers, uploading them and sitting in front of laptops had its own advantages and disadvantages both psychologically and physically. Nevertheless, we embraced the new encounter with grit and commitment to reach out to students and to connect them to the new mode of learning.
Sitting in the comfort of their homes and learning from a screen had its own limitations. The repeated technical interruption and lack of facilities to connect to teachers virtually led to severe learning gaps in students. Apart from the above, framing timetable to accommodate all major subjects, keeping in mind safe screen time was the biggest challenge.
I, as a school leader, hoped to see children come to school and learn by attending physical classes. A ray of hope began in all as schools reopened on Jan 1st 2021 for senior students. The entire school geared up to welcome students, with banners, buntings and wore a festive look. We welcomed each one of them and made them feel comfortable as some had gone through tough times coping with several unpredictable circumstances.
It is said every student needs a champion in their young lives and a teacher is that role model who motivates. An educator knows how to create magic and kids love learning from someone whom they love! That is why teachers are considered pillars of the school. We all rose to the occasion and embraced the changes and strived to show our best.
The junior students weren’t allowed to attend as it was still not safe for them to venture out and learn in school. As days rolled into months and close to one and half years’ students remained in the closed walls of the house, glued to the screen plugging the ears with headset, they were slowly getting disconnected from the real world of learning. The words like quarantine, lockdown, seal down, oxygen saturation, sanitiser, surgical masks and many more became part of our everyday conversation.
Somewhere in the mid October of 2021 the news of schools to open for middle schoolers instilled hope in the teachers. Once again the school began to make preparations to welcome the students and to wean them from the screens. As the students entered the building, some walked confidently, few were confused by the classrooms and corridors that looked very new and the smart ones just observed others and found their way to new classrooms.
The school bell that the little ones heard after a long gap caught their attention, the play equipment in the ground was waiting to listen to the giggle and chuckle and students felt reassured of learning in the real world.
The teachers were relieved of sitting in front of a machine and addressing the students to some extent as the school still offered a virtual mode of learning for some, who could not attend classes due to various reasons.
As a routine, I take rounds and sometimes enter the classroom to strike a conversation or engage in the absence of a teacher. I have innumerable ones, the best ones linger in my mind and remind me to be grounded and humbled.
Here is a very touching incident…
As mentioned previously, the school had offered hybrid mode for those who could not attend physical classes and we live streamed the sessions. The students had to use the meeting password and login to the virtual class. Here in the real classroom, students were seated and could interact with the teacher face to face to learn, read and write. Whereas the online classes had certain technical issues that could not be resolved immediately and students would miss that particular instruction or activity in the offline sessions.
One day, few students were unable to login and assumed that someone is not letting them in and just spread this wrong notion to others too…now just a click and news spreads faster than fire. A mother was very upset as her son was unable to login, she barged into my cabin and had no patience for any explanation that I was about to offer. The same parent had once praised and appreciated that all the resources shared during E-learning were highly useful and kept the child productively engaged. She had also mentioned that teachers are highly patient and listen to every child during online classes to clarify doubts. Today her version had changed. I received a few calls about the same issue and decided to inspect the classroom and resolve it with the help of a technical assistant.
As I walked and enquired the issue…these lines from a student were a revelation!
Mam, sometimes we do not know why and how things happen, we just need to restart…our computers may be lagging, we can refresh or restart to resolve.
Saying the above lines, the boy just continued his work. I was flabbergasted! Sometimes God speaks through the mouth of little angels. I was thunderstruck. Yes, I also need to restart. So many times, when pushed, bullied, frustrated, angry I just need to restart.
I went to him and gave a pat on his back…and he just smiled at me. This little boy, barely 11 years old, has learnt the trick to resolve problems in such a modest approach. He appeared like a MONK to me. He answered several of my questions with that one answer. Some incidents like these have been my major takeaways and I can say no university has taught me lessons like the ones I have gathered from interactions and observations from the corridors of school as I walk through.
As I walked further, my head was buzzing with thoughts that we can learn from anyone and any experience .. if we are mindful!
Lalitha, A lifelong learner!