Saturday, February 4, 2017

We rise by lifting others

This is my fifth year in India, and as I consider the future I think it's also good to reflect on the past.  I came to India once before, as a 23 year old, and when I left to become a teacher in the UK I never thought I'd be back.  And yet, in 2011 when I accepted a job in India I wrote, "Now I feel I've come full circle: I'm returning to the country where it all started as I've accepted an exciting new job on a wonderful new campus of ASB that is being constructed in Mumbai. I am thrilled by this new opportunity to completely redefine 21st century education, but above all I have a profound feeling of karma - I have gone full circle and come back to where I started."

Little did I know how true these words would turn out to be.  When I first moved to India I started to learn Hindi. As we were moving onto the past and future tenses, I came across the Hindi word "kal", which means yesterday and also tomorrow. I asked my Hindi teacher how the same word could mean two things that were totally opposite of each other. She simply smiled, knowing I'd been in India before, and said "But Maggie, don't you know that in India time is circular?"

In my first year in India I often said I felt a very strong sense of karma - of being in exactly the right place at the right time - but I didn't know why.   Five year on, however, I truly believe that the reason I was meant to move back to India was to get involved in the TTP (ASB's Teacher Training Programme for local teachers who are working in NGOs).  I cannot tell you what an inspiration it has been to spend time focused on teaching adults.  These teachers work in the most challenging of situations, and often for lower pay than they would in the Indian state schools. The TTP takes place on Saturdays from August through to February each year.  After the TTP Saturdays, the teachers that participate in this programme go back to their schools, train their colleagues, and making a difference in the lives of thousands of students. These dedicated teachers are building India's future and I'm humbled to be able to help them on this journey.

Today was our last day of this year's TTP cohort.  We have around 70 teachers who have gone through the programme this year from various NGOs around Mumbai and beyond.    These were divided into 10 cohort groups with about 7 teachers in each, and each group had an ASB coach and in some cases a translator.  My cohort group is in the photo above - they have all just received their graduation certificates.

Here are some of the NGOs and what they have learned and implemented in their schools as a result of attending this year's TTP.

This organization was founded in 1990 with the vision of a world where every child counts.  They work to provide supportive environments for families living in marginalized slum communities and on the streets.  Their focus is on both education and health, having evolved from an organization that worked with lepers to one that now deals with families and children with HIV/AIDS.  Currently they are working with around 7000 communities in Mumbai, and the teacher who spoke to us about her learning mentioned that she works in one of their crisis centres.  She identified many areas of key learning this year.  For example on our first session, we did an activity about our names.  She said she has used this in the centre because they deal with many orphans who really don't have a history (or at least they don't know it).  She has had the CCDT teachers look into the history of the children's names and in some cases used this to help students create their own histories.  CCDT has embraced the idea of holding morning and afternoon meetings and using positive teacher language, and felt they learned about the difference between classroom management and discipline. Other areas where they felt they grew in understanding include the development of the brain and how it affects learning, skill development in oracy, listening, reading and writing, and differentiation. They tried out the 6 Thinking Hats, the Hour of Code, and coaching. They feel their teachers are now more sensitive to their ESL students, and they have implemented PLCs.

This year 3 teachers from this school came to the TTP.   The school was established in 2012 and serves students aged 5 - 18 with learning challenges.  The intention is to help students develop the skills, knowledge, understandings and attitudes necessary for them to lead fulfilling and productive lives – as independent and successful individuals that actively contribute to society.  The Gateway teachers felt they had taken onboard many of the responsive classroom ideas, in particular morning meetings which are now used across the school, interactive modelling, positive teacher language (reinforcing, reminding and redirecting language) and various protocols.  They now have classroom rules and classroom norms and are also enthusiastic about differentiation using academic choices.

The iSanctuary joined the TTP for the first time this year.  The iSanctuary works in the red-light districts of Mumbai where the average price of sex is just $8 and where trafficking of minor girls is a $1 billion a year industry.  We had one teacher from the iSanctuary, and he told us that worldwide there are over 27 million victims of human trafficking, 18 million of these in India.  The iSanctuary works with the survivors of the sex trade, and since 2007 has served over 300 young women and girls aged 12 to 25 who have been rescued from sex trafficking.  These girls receive education, counselling, medical care and employment.  The aims of the iSanctuary are to offer a place of dignity for women to return to education.  He told us that everyone in the iSanctuary has a dream and that their students challenge and inspire each other as they pursue their curiosities and discover their passions.  The programme consists of core subjects, life skills and personal development.  An individual learning plan is drawn up for each student to address their unique educational needs.  The teacher who joined the TTP from the iSanctuary this year identified his key learnings as Responsive Classroom, WIDA, the 6 Thinking Hats, how to teach integers and PBL.

This is an NGO working with underprivileged children.  Through various interventions, the aim is to improve their standard of living and to enable them to lead a life of dignity.  This year the participants on the TTP were focusing on spoken English.  They told us that their key learnings were Responsive Classroom, classroom management, differentiated learning, adolescent behaviour, the use of technology in learning and reading workshop and EAL.  They told us that they had started using the 6 Thinking Hats with their teachers.  They also said that the TTP had helped them as individuals in the following ways:
  • It made us realize the importance of being a good listener.
  • It gave us an insight into the mind of an adolescent.
  • We understood that class management is about how I manage myself rather than students.
  • We learnt that reading and writing can be enjoyable activities.
Muktangan is an NGO founded in 2003 to provide quality, child-centred, inclusive schooling to 3,400 underprivileged children in Mumbai. They believe in "education for the community by the community," and also run a teacher training programme for local teachers.  The teachers are from the same neighbourhoods and communities as the students, creating empowered change agents.  Their key learnings from the TTP this year were EAL, the morning meetings and energizers, reading and listening strategies, the hour of code, classroom management and science and Maker.

At the end of the day we reflected on the TTP this year.  This is our 6th year of TTP and we have just graduated our 4th cohort of teachers.  We felt we achieved our goals of sharing our professional practice and in addressing the mindset that every child can learn.  Their students will have the skills they need for the future and the confidence to turn their dreams into realities.  At the end of the day our High School principal, Josh Bishop, spoke and reminded us of our strategic plan where we used the term "making a ripple".   Dropping a stone into water makes a small, but ever spreading circle, and the TTP is just like that - it starts small but makes a bigger and bigger impact.  As this cohort of teachers leaves us,  this ripple will continue to expand outwards - and who knows how many children it will eventually impact.  Each one of the 70 teachers in the cohort is making a difference - together we are making a change to education in Mumbai.

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