Safe Schools make for a Sensitive Society
A few years ago at a TED Talk, Zoe Weil, president of the
Institute for Humane Education stated –
“The world becomes what you teach”.
She was obviously implying that the experiences of school and nature of learning that takes place in them, determine the character of the future citizens of the world. So what do we teach in our Indian schools?
The trend in an overwhelming majority of our schools is that of exams and marks; of rote learning and incomprehension; of boredom, stress, distrust. We teach students subjects disconnected from life and living; we teach them to remember rather than to think and feel; we teach to compete rather than cooperate; we teach mediocrity rather than mastery; we teach our students to stay on the beaten track rather than risk failure. We prefer to preach than to practise.
The question that must get raised is – what about the teaching of kindness, gentleness, empathy, resilience, respect for others’ right to opinions different from ours? Will these qualities develop naturally in people if we preach sufficiently or do they need to be nurtured through explicit practice?
To extrapolate Weil’s quote, “The world will not become what we don’t teach.”
Our newspapers and electronic media are full of reasons why all schools in India need to sit up and take notice of factors that irrevocably affect the lives of children far beyond academics and exam results.
“Beware, there could be a bully on the school bench” screams a leading national daily’s front page headlines.
Standard 8 Students kill Classmate : 2 Boys in Gurgaon School pump 4 bullets into 14 year old ‘bully’, declares another newspaper headline.
“The problem of bullying exists among students from all strata of society,” says the Principal of a large public school in New Delhi.
“There is so much of exclusivism in society today. We don’t celebrate each other, there’s no room for tolerance. And this has percolated down to the school level” rues another School Principal “There are a lot of things we want to discuss, but there’s hardly anyone to talk to in school. Teachers are not really bothered”, reveals a disillusioned 12 years old.
“There are certain issues one can’t discuss openly with parents. Many teachers don’t understand us either”, says a 17 years old, from a leading public school.
It doesn’t require an expert to identify the many issues that bother our students –
- Heartache, the pains of growing up and adolescent infatuation.
- Mounting academic pressure and curricular overload.
- Economic disparity and the social inequalities that arise.
- Being the ‘odd one out’- not fitting in with the ‘rest of the gang’ and peer ridicule.
- Comparisons of physical appearance lead to trauma- being fat or thin, tall or short, dark or fair.
- Domestic unrest, marital strife, broken homes.
- Not being ‘heard’- at home or at school.
To compound matters, the quality and language of personal interaction in schools across India – teachers with students and students amongst themselves, is often marked by harshness of tone, insensitivity towards others’ feelings and an inadequate fluency in expressing thoughts, ideas and feelings. Moreover, many of our children are unable to sit and actively listen; they are unable to take turns or to share ideas or to contribute to a group situation, all of which are basic requirements for engaged learning. The problem stems from teachers themselves having been subjected to such interactions while they were students. It is this reality that they replicate, wittingly or unwittingly. And yet we all aspire for a world that is more humane, tolerant, creative and peaceful!
Schools functioning now in the context of RTE, need to address these aspirations with a deep sense of urgency! It is becoming imperative that we reduce the widening disparity that exists between schools and within schools in India. Our media regularly highlight shocking instances of schools being perilous places for children’s emotional and physical safety. What doesn’t get highlighted enough in the media, is the absence of equity in our schools. It is important to ‘soften’ our schools so that they are safe learning environments for all our children. To make this happen, teachers need simple ideas to translate these aspirations into reality.
One powerful and practical idea is the tried and tested Whole School Ecosystemic Model of Quality Circle Time (QCT) model developed by the well-known UK-based teacher trainer and best-selling author – Jenny Mosley. The Teacher Foundation has been for many years using the QCT model in schools across India (both private and government). The model is highly flexible and cuts across cultural and geographical barriers and requires no additional expense for the school, apart from the investment on its teachers for being trained effectively.
|Is your School Safe?
Does this happen in your School ?
-adapted from Jenny Mosley
Do you believe your school is safe
So what is QCT?
Simply put – QCT is an exercise in authentic group listening. At the heart of the Circle Time model for pupils (from ages 2 onwards) is a period time-tabled to take place once a week. It involves the whole class sitting in a circle – non-hierarchical and inclusive – to learn relationship skills and explore issues relating to personal, social, moral and health education. All the participants including the teacher, sit in a circle and take an equal responsibility for solving issues the group members have themselves highlighted. The Circle meetings aim to encourage participation, the development of self discipline, negotiation, assertive communication and democratic group process alongside the skills of attending, speaking, listening, observing, thinking and concentrating.
As a structured group process, QCT teaches young people how to understand themselves and relate to others. The structures and techniques within QCT teach individuals to communicate more clearly, directly and honestly with each other. By learning to articulate their feelings, they learn to develop positive relationships.
The strategies involved for children include cooperative games, pair work, rounds, drama techniques, puppet play – each strategy appropriate to the emotional and intellectual level of the group. Through the cooperative activities and discussion, QCT ensures that each child experiences success and, used on a regular weekly basis, it promotes a feeling of equal value and group identity.
Teachers trained in the Circle Time approach are able to get pupils to meet in a circle to effectively engage in games, exercises, discussions designed to promote trust, respect, empathy and understanding. QCT goes a long way to foster student success – both at the social and emotional level as well as at the academic level.
What makes the QCT approach particularly challenging for teachers is the need to shift from conditioned ways of responding and reacting to children. The habit of moralising and telling is so deeply ingrained in a teacher’s psyche that the switch to being non judgemental, warm and respectful towards students really calls for a profound paradigm shift!
Any whole school change initiative that’s worthwhile needs to permeate the entire ecosystem. So too with QCT. The role of the principals and heads of schools here is crucial. They are responsible for institutionalising policies and systems that embed the QCT ethos in the school. Otherwise while a few inspired teachers may make valiant attempts at enabling and equipping their students, no meaningful impact would occur unless principals mandate system-wide norms and practices. They need to actively nurture staff self esteem and students’ self esteem and put into place clear listening systems which can pave the way for a Whole School Behaviour Policy that is inclusive, positive, caring and assertive for students and staff. This way all experience success in school-the gifted, the average and the special needs individuals. Enabling success needs to be the corner stone of RTE. However, most educational reforms in India have focused, albeit inadequately, on developing literacy, numeracy competencies or infrastructure development. The Whole School Ecosystemic Model of Quality Circle Time places the well-being of people (pupils and teachers) at the heart of school improvement. While thousands of teachers across India are becoming aware of the technique of conducting QCT, this in itself does not engender a positive school ethos unless bolstered by changes in policy and overall nature of personal interactions. The Teacher Foundation has for the past few years, been addressing this issue by working on a concerted holistic Safe and Sensitive Schools initiative. This is a year-long project for schools who wish to embed the Ecosystemic Model in their institution. Such schools are trailblazers purposefully attempting to create a better world through what they teach and the way they teach.
Maya Menon, director, The Teacher Foundation. Maya Menon’s Blog http://mayamenon.teacherfoundation.org/ Follow on Twitter: @TTFmayaMaya Menon
Maya Menon has been in the field of education for 3 decades. Her areas of professional experience include conceptualizing, designing and implementing a wide range of school and teacher-related projects and services – including the Wipro Applying Thought in Schools Teacher Empowerment Project initiated in 2001 and Safe & Sensitive Schools initiated in 2009 and currently development of Standards for Social & Emotional Learning for Indian schools. She is an accredited teacher trainer for Jenny Mosley Consultancies (UK) for training teachers on Whole School Quality Circle Time across schools in India.
She is also an accredited Master trainer for the Cambridge International Diploma for Teachers and Trainers of the University of Cambridge International Examinations, UK