Sunday, December 9, 2012

Making the transformation - so that demographics no longer define destiny

Here are some statistics:  There are 320 million children in India.  4% of these children never go to school.  58% of students who do go to school managed to complete primary education and move to secondary.  10 % of students in India will go to college, however only 1% of girls from rural India will go to college.  These are the statistics, and yet every day teachers working for organizations such as Teach for India and Akanksha Foundation are working to change them - their belief is that every child deserves an excellent education.

Today I listened to Maureen Ferry, the Director of Training and Student Impact from Teach for India, who said that regardless of where they come from, our children need us to commit to changing their path in life so their full potential is reached, instead of letting demographics determine their destiny.  She talked about the teachers in her organization and how these teachers are working to transform education:
  • Transformational teachers hold students to high academic expectations so they master the knowledge and skills students need to succeed.
  • Transformational teachers find pathways that position their kids for outstanding academic and life opportunities.  They determine the key milestones their students must accomplish to access those pathways.
  • Transformational teachers incorporate values and mindsets necessary for students to achieve academically and pursue life-changing opportunities.
  • Transformational teachers leverage their students' interests in their visions for the class and throughout the year heighten their aspirations.
Maureen invited Jyoti to tell us her story.  Jyoti was born in a slum and yet spoke warmly about her early life there as a pavement dweller.  She pointed out the dangers too - accidents on the road or pavement are common, there are problems with a lack of sewage facilities or clean water, there is rape, violence and murder and many girls get married young and have children young.  Jyoti was able to attend an Akanksha Foundation school where she learnt to read.  Reading opened up the world to her and she started to dream.  She spoke about her teacher, Anjali, who taught her for 8 years and who told her never to set a bar for herself, as if she reached it she would stagnate.  When Jyoti moved from primary to secondary class there was a change from memorization to understanding - this was hard for Jyoti, but her teacher continued to impress on her that she was capable and should not give up.  Jyoti's father died when she was 13, and as the oldest in the family she was under pressure to leave school and work, yet Anjali encouraged her to stay.  It's clear that Jyoti's life is different from what it would have been without this education and Anjali's constant encouragement.  Today she exudes confidence, she has choices, is in college and wants to be a film maker.  She is able to look to the future.  When asked about how she has transformed the life of this slum girl, Anjali herself is very humble - she says she didn't do very much really, she just did her job!

Another speaker at InspirED was Jon Schnur, the founder of America Achieves and one of Barak Obama's advisors on education.  His message to teachers at the conference was that they have the opportunity to change the future of the children of India and so change the future of the country.  He talked about the power of school leaders and how these transform schools and how he had spent time studying the differences in excellent schools that mark them out from the average ones:

  • In excellent schools there were specific high expectations for every student - then teachers worked backwards to plan how students would reach those expectations.
  • There was an intense focus on teaching quality - school leaders put a lot of effort into attracting and retaining excellent teachers.
  • There was a focus on constant improvement, a data driven process for moving forward.  In these schools every teacher was getting a visit once a week from a school leader with feedback on how they could modify their teaching.  Jon described this as performance management based in the classroom.
  • There was funding and autonomy and a nurturing of talent.
  • There was the opportunity to expand and spread the success.
The last point is an interesting one as I think it is very motivating to be able to spread the message of what is going well and to get other teachers and schools on board.  After the conference I was talking to  two of my colleagues who have volunteered with the Teacher Training Program our school runs to help train and mentor Indian teachers in Mumbai - they have told me that it is the most inspiring and energizing thing they have ever done.  One of these teachers who volunteers with the NGO Mumbai Mobile Creches goes to a building site to help teach the children of the construction workers who actually live in the half-built buildings or in temporary shelters and tents built of of rubber and metal sheets on the construction sites.  And once again I realized how proud I am of ASB for hosting this amazing conference to inspire Indian teachers and how blessed I am to work in a school that believes in reaching our and sharing ideas with others.  

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