Facing the Book!

I have been a Facebook user for nearly 5 years now. I do enjoy being part of this wonderful fraternity. It has brought so many people closer to me  – those I would not have been in touch, thanks to the hustle and bustle of life. It takes me back to good old times and the people from those days when pictures are posted and then tagged. It has also been the quickest means of communicating with all of them. I remember to have met with scores of my former students during my summer holidays by just communicating about my visit over FB.

I am grateful to FB for having brought to my peripheral vision very many students whom I have taught in at least half a dozen schools. Many of them are whom I know well for they were my students; some who know me as I have taught their older sibling(s); a few who have just heard about me as a teacher – all eager to share updates of their personal and professional lives with me. Then there are former colleagues and friends. College mates – classmates, juniors and seniors. These networks are so powerful and through these networks we have been able to organize get togethers and alumni associations as well.

At some point in time I realized that so many people require some kind of motivation in their lives. This made me have a page called Charaiveti for that purpose alone, where I post uplifting messages. To my team members, I have opened a group which I administer. I make it a point to share with them any interesting piece of information regarding teaching and learning, educational technology, interesting careers, online courses and MOOCs and so on. For other educator friends I share those links in a different page called Aware Teachers.

It is quite gratifying to see through FB that our former students have spread their wings, earned Most Valuable Professional titles, shouldered responsibilities both professional and personal. Those are priceless moments when we as educators feel rewarded, and the reiteration dawns on you that, yes, we are in the right profession.

FB also gives me a space to comment and reflect on day-to-day happenings, be it the Delhi Gang Rape, the cloudburst at Uttarkhand or even closer home the travails of a coalition government that gets knotted even more complexly even as it tries to extricate out of messes they create.

Many of us family members are also on FB and that is also a great way to stay updated. Instead of posting invitations by snail mail, I uploaded the invitation of my daughter’s marriage to inform everyone and to invite them for the same. Yes, I am very active on FB and as of today have 1403 friends! Over 75% of them are my students who form a huge slice of the pie of my life!!

However, I find some irksome habits in some of my FB friends. Things that are part of social media etiquette. You might be a hard core fan of Chefville or Farmville or other thousands of ‘ville’ games the FB offers. I am not. So it would be nice if you could stop sending me request for any games.

Oh, yes! You have an idol or a brand – NaMo or Coke for example. Why should you assume that I too share your passion? I may not. In fact, I will not. I would like to read, think, rationalize and come to my own choice of opinion.  And that is my own opinion – in a democracy I am entitled to mine right? So, I would be delighted if you could stop sending me suggestions to like pages & shares, unless they are to me harmless ones like say Optimists’ Creed or something as inspirational and patriotic as the Unity Song: http://bit.ly/15Cvxt7

Then, there are friends who tag others for anything and everything. Here too I would advise you to tread the careful path. Many don’t like tagging and I have seen some people in my friend circles flying off the handle because they have been tagged. I don’t mind being tagged one picture or a post – but definitely not in one with something I dislike / am uncomfortable about. Like say, KFC or Dunkin Doughnuts. That is not my style!

Now, with comments, one can upload pictures too. I find that some silly picture of a funny scene in a movie with a punch line uploaded along with the comment – not in mine but in others’ walls. This is most distasteful and an insult to the person who has updated his status. I wish people would resort to this only to substantiate something – not to poke fun on somebody.

Then there are ‘friends’ who will explode when you share some information. There will be comments, counter comments and altogether it gets into a gooey mess. I have had this experience  and finally had to delete comments that were not very charitable. In this digital space it is worth remembering that each one is entitled to hold his or her own view. So why would you want to comment on the appropriateness of the post – it is the sweet will and pleasure of the person concerned; unless, the post is about you. I think most of us don’t do that.

So, let us face-book peacefully and without infringing others’ space and trodding on others feelings. In that case, I will be most happy to be an FB friend of yours!

Guru Poornima Thoughts

गुरुर्ब्रह्मा गुरुर्विष्णुर्गुरुर्देवो महेश्वरः
गुरु साक्षात परं ब्रह्म तस्मै श्रीगुरवे नमः ॥

Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnuhu Guru Devo Maheswaraha
Guru Saakshaat Parabhrahma Tasmai Sri Gurave Namaha ||

A timeless chant that pays wholesome tribute to all Teachers. Gurus. Who is a Guru? Derived from Sanskrit, Guru means teacher or a preceptor. The word comprises two syllables – Gu + Ru. Gu denotes the ignorance in the learner and Ru refers to the radiance of knowledge that dispels the darkness of ignorance in the learner. One who thus dispels the darkness of ignorance and brings in the light of knowledge is the Guru, the Teacher.

Nature 1_A

Hindus all over celebrate the full moon day of the lunar month Ashaada (Karkadakom in Malayalam, Aadi in Tamil) as Guru Poornima. It is also called Vyasa Poornima because it is the birthday of Sage Veda Vyasa to whom we owe the codification of the Vedas. He also wrote the Brahma Sutra, the Mahabharatha, the 17 Puranas and 18 upanishads and the Sreemad Bhagavatham. The Bhagavad Gita, a small part of the Mahabharatha has been a beacon to believers as well as seekers and management experts who look at it as an ultimate source of inspiration to handle the day to day problems in life.

Having said this to me who is a Guru? Anyone who has taught me valuable lessons to enhance the quality of life, And where else will I begin? Well, the age old adage says, “Matha Pitha Guru Daivam” – i.e. the order of respect is first to the mother, then the father, followed by the Teacher and at last God. So on this Guru Poornima day I pay obeisance to my mother and father. A wonderful couple, who are celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary this year, they have been instrumental in giving us, their children and grandchildren, the right kind of values to live by. Thank you will be an oversimplified phrase; nevertheless let me use it to show my eternal gratitude to them. On this day of reflection and thanksgiving, I realize how lucky I have been to be part of their lives. My first Gurus and the ‘best-est’ ever!.

Teachers. May be I don’t have a phenomenal memory or I did not have inspiring teachers, I don’t remember any from my school days who have made learning a pleasure. However, I have had some amazing teachers at Government Victoria College, Palakkad, where I studies for 5 years – for my graduation through post graduation. I still remember the commitment of Dr. P. Achuthan (our Professor who took Eliot’s Waste Land for us for MA). Sir was transferred and there was an ongoing teacher’s strike. He asked all ten of us to come to his home where he held classes for us. Two full days. I have never experienced such an exposition to Waste Land, since that. Later I also had the pleasure of working under Dr. P. Achuthan, when he joined as the Principal of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Pallavur, where I was working. I also remember two other teachers – Prof. K. Balakrishnan (KB) who had a fantastic sense of humour and Prof. P. Balakrishnan (PB), who was a dignified gentleman. PB’s classes of John Donne’s metaphysical poetry still ring in my ears. He was the one who asked us to read E R Braithwaite’s novel “To Sir with Love”. That year, I remember, the class gave him a new year card, addressing simply as ‘To Sir with Love’. I think it was a turning point in my life. I got introduced to teaching as a profession and from then onwards, there has been no looking back.

Bosses. Oh, yes. Sister Tresa Martin (Arikkat) who was my very first mentor at Marian College. An amazing human being, she was quick to appreciate and thus fostered in me the confidence in my own ability to excel as a teacher. When teachers have inspiring leaders as bosses, it shapes their views and practices of education. I have so many to remember with gratitude. Sri. Gopinath, who was the Principal of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Kollengode, who gave me a break at a most needed time of personal crisis. A paternal relative, he not only opened the avenue for me but also ensured that ensconced safe and secure at the school. Then, Mr. A. M. Menon, the Principal of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Pallavur. Mr. Menon had no doubts about handing me over Classes XI and XII, though I was just a new recruit after completing my Bachelors in Education. Even to this day, I look at it as a great act of kindness. If everyone is looking for only experienced hands, who will give young and new ones a break? So in my practice, I have taken the risk of appointing teachers without experience too. Mrs. Kalyani Nambiar taught me that come what may we must be sticklers to the right kinds of values as we are in the field of education. And my Professor, Dr. P. Achuthan,  honed not only my teaching skills but also enriched us with his vast knowledge of spirituality.

Mr. Sarvesh Naidu. Mr. Naidu is till date the lodestar to me. His leadership and multi faceted personality has always goaded me to follow that style of functioning. So many more mentors: Mrs. Lakshmi Ramachandran from whom I learned the art of maintaining a wonderful rapport with all stake holders in education (Till date, I marvel at Lakshmi Ma’am’s phenomenal memory – she remembered students’ and their parents’ names. Phew!!); Mr. Michael Guzder, who taught me it is best to utilize the strengths of team members to the optimum (the work is done and the is worker happy! – Simple logic and practical wisdom!! Truly Mr. Guzder style!!!); Dr. Aninda Chatterji, who made me look at things in different perspectives and find solutions to problems (out of the box thinking or no-box-at-all thinking, if you can call that!!); Mrs. Asma Gilani, who is more a good friend than a typical boss and from whom I have learned the art of speaking one’s mind, especially when you are in the right.

Students. With nearly three decades of teaching experience, their numbers are only growing. I have learned so much more from these students that it will go on into an endless list. And if I can say about only thing that these students of mine have taught me, it is this: PATIENCE! As a person, I do believe in speed. However, when it comes to my students I am infinitely patient; so much so that my daughter once complained to me: “Ma, you have more patience with your students than with me.” Ouch. Ouch..

Friends. So many of them, but can’t help taking some names. Because they are truly special. Neena Shoukath – with her undying faithfulness and warm love. She taught me the true meaning of friendship. Subhadra Kutty – with her ringing laughter. She taught me what it means to smile and that then the world will be with you. Mind you, these two friends and I – we are in touch even after  37-38 years of friendship. That speaks a lot, doesn’t that? Giribala Menon, for all the support, care and affection she shares generously. Seema Krishnan – for the wonderful rapport we share and talk about all and sundry – and best of all, how we cackle like witches! Then there is Sheela Anand who inspires me with her commitment to sustainable practices. Anitha Raghu who enriched me with a wonderful gift of Reiki that I really needed at that time. Anuradha Ajith Kumar, who gave me wonderful moments of camaraderie while leading her school.

Family. My siblings. My brothers-in-law. My niece and nephews. Each one of them is special. I have learned so much from each one of them that enlisting that will take another blog. We are a happy, large family. Then there is my daughter Aathira and the latest addition to our family, her husband, Praveen.  You learn from your children too. So they can also be called “Guru”. So, what have I learned from Aathira? To be forthcoming about what you think. To do whatever that gives you joy and have no qualms about it. And most importantly to say No, when you feel like saying it. And from Praveen? To stay cool and unperturbed. There will be challenges, but worrying won’t get you anywhere.

Gurus. Swami Chinmayananda has been a great influence in our family. I remember listening to his talks. The powerful voice, the enunciation which will begin in soft whispers will then reach to majestic crescendos, the beauty of the English language that tumbled forth like a roaring cascade – I guess this was when I realized the magnetic charms of the English language. Some of his saying were mind blowing. One that I always fell back upon when I confronted issues is, “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him”. Then there is the Art of Living organization from where I learned the “Art of Living”. Sanjeev Krishnanji from Rhythm of life who shared with me his wisdom and nurturing practices. Sivanada Ashram from where I received the training for being a Yoga Instructor.

Books. Very many of them. Being a great lover of books, I have turned to them time and again for wisdom, solace and for just sheer joy.

So, all of you out there and who have taught me even a teeny, weeny thing, my salute to you. You have enriched my life and raised its quality. Thank you!!

A fan of Online Learning

My tryst with online learning started in the summer of 2012. I stumbled upon this link:  http://www.powersearchingwithgoogle.com/course/ps/course.html got interested & enrolled for it. The six class affair happened at the right time for me. Summer holidays were on; students and teachers were on holidays. Besides I was going on holiday only after a fortnight.  I could not have asked for a better time – an impetus to plunge headlong into the course. Ahoy, Power Search! (I see that there is an advanced course open now – and yes, you guessed it right – I am hitting the ‘take the course’ button now! 🙂

I took all the lessons during the fortnight and took the final assessment from home though I was busy planning and preparing for my daughter’s wedding. And the result was most gratifying. It empowered me with a handle full of tips and tricks like these:

  • Colour filtering
  • Choosing effective search words
  • Word order matters
  • Use of these in searching: site; file type [pdf; doc; txt]; symbols like –, +; and words like define, OR etc.
  • Search by image
  • Shortcuts like date/time range
  • Verifying authenticity of information

    Oh, boy, the best was yet to come! On 25th July I got this – a multi coloured one – my certificate of completion. Though the scores were not mentioned in the certificate, the course staff sent me the feedback: Mid-class assessment score:  100% Post-class assessment score:  74%. It was truly a happy moment.

    Google Pwer Search

    The end of 2012 saw me participating along with a dear friend Ms. Sheela Anand in a Mentoring Programme titled Developing our Mentoring Skills offered by Electronic Village Online (EVO) http://evosessions.pbworks.com. Taking the course with a friend is a very enriching experience because one can engage in conversations and dialogues about various aspects of the programme as well as enriching perspectives for the assignments. the programme gave us insight into these:

    • use various synchronous and asynchronous web tools to communicate with colleagues worldwide,
    • interact through e-mail, text chat, voice chat, among others,
    • reflect on and define our mentoring skills through exchange with peers,
    • discuss possibilities of implementing the skills in our communities of practice.

    Though the programme did not give me any certificate of participation, it gave me a lot more by making me reflect into my own practice. I have mentored in the past and continue to do it even now. Therefore it impressed upon me that as a Mentor I am only a support / guide / listener. I must never don the roles of a saviour, parent, lawyer, banker, social worker or even employer. I can only listen and gently assist in encouraging the mentee to find solutions on his/her own. This was very insightful as in introspection I remember I have taken roles of a problem solver and an advisor while mentoring!

    This summer of 2013 saw me take up a MOOC – Massive Open Online Course. Online courses available on the world wide web are rapidly changing the face of education and learning. Many famous Universities have open up their portals for such online course which are free. Besides there are signature tracks available for those who are looking for credits for their higher studies. The MOOC that I participated in was Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence conducted by none other that Prof. Richard E Boyatzis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Boyatzis   from the Departments of Organizational Behaviour, Psychology, and Cognitive Science and H.R. Horvitz Chair of Family Business, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA. The Coursera site on the instructor says,  “Using his Intentional Change Theory (ICT) and complexity theory, he continues to research sustained, desired change at all levels of human endeavour from individuals, teams, organizations, communities, countries and global change.” https://www.coursera.org/instructor/richardboyatzis It is also worth remembering that he is an authority on the concepts of resonance in leadership and emotional contagion. This was a challenging course and as I write this I await the last week of July for the results of my course. Right now I am doing a Course in Psychology from www.udacity.com.

    That is not all. Now I am enrolled for at least half a dozen online courses offered by Coursera and Udacity, in the course of the year. It includes two courses offered by the University of Edinburgh on Critical Thinking in Global Challenges and E-learning and Digital Cultures respectively. I have thus become an an addict. An addict for a right cause – of taking in a share of the exponentially growing knowledge that is available around me. And the best thing is I can proceed at my pace.

    Why don’t you explore MOOCs? I am sure you will also turn to be a fan of these delightful affairs.

The Sky is the Limit

Learning has undergone a sea change in the last decade or two. From the clutches of the expectedly all-knowing fountainhead of wisdom, the Teacher in the classroom, it has been liberated! Two decades ago when I needed to gather information about Hiroshima or the Sinking of the Titanic to equip myself to handle the Class XII lessons in English of the same names, I relied heavily on encyclopaedias and reference books which were aplenty in the school library. For English comprehension passages, I took refuge in magazines Down to Earth, Readers Digest, National Geographic and the ever reliable Hindu newspaper. With the advent of the information age came Google. Everything is now available at the click of a mouse. Ouch, the mouse seems antique now with touch screens and styluses available in smartphones, tablets and net books. According to Richard Alleyne, “Every day the average person produces six newspapers worth of information compared with just two and a half pages 24 years ago – nearly a 200-fold increase.”

Learning

In the current scenario the Teacher is now meant to be just a learning facilitator, a guide, a resource provider, a curriculum and instruction specialist, a mentor, and a classroom supporter as well as manager. Everything else, but the store house of knowledge. Rightfully so. Today’s students are digital natives and even have much more knowledge than the teacher in an area of his/her interest. It is best that our young students are never underestimated. Even though I have hardly taught in the digital era (I moved up to be an administrator), and taught only in traditional classrooms, I have been enriched by the perspectives offered by my young adolescent students. They have indeed enriched me with wonderful insights into the dynamics inside and outside of the classroom.  So, it goes without saying, the teacher needs to be a life long learner. Move from a digital refugee to a digital immigrant and then transit into being a digital native. It is possible with some perseverance.

So how does one be a lifelong learner?

  1. Nurture a good element of curiosity. It is this CQ – Curiosity Quotient – that enables one’s quest for continuous learning.
  2. Be passionate about teaching (read: about what you do). Well, Thomas L Freidman in his paean to globalization, The World is Flat, calls this PQ – Passion Quotient – and even argues that it is more important than IQ.
  3. Explore. The World Wide Web is full of opportunities to learn and hone our skills and practices. At the same time be perceptive about what is authentic and what is not.
  4. Enrol. Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs and enrich your awareness about anything that interests you from History of Rock music to Volcanic eruptions. Many of these courses are offered by universities like Stanford and MIT and are mostly free of cost. You can look for courses in www.coursera.org and www.udacity.com. Edmodo also features interesting courses for professional development.
  5. Find time. Time is always at a premium. You must find time for your up skilling – you owe this to yourself as a professional.
  6. Persevere. Don’t give up. It might be challenging at times. It is these challenges that make or break people.

I did some courses online. I will share my experiences of them in my next post.

Memories of Karkadakam

Today is the 1st day of Karkadakam, the last month according to the traditional Malayalam calendar. The Malayalam calendar is called Kollavarsham (Kollam Era) and accordingly we are in year 1188. Though Medom is the first month according to the astronomical calendar, the 1st of Chingam (the next month after Karkadakam) is considered as the beginning of the New Year after Kollavarsham was adopted as the regional calendar.

My childhood memories of Karkadakam are that of non-stop rains. It rained, and rained and rained. I remember, while travelling by public transport to school, the roads used to be covered with water along  with the  paddy fields on both sides. There would only be sheets of water and it was hard to distinguish what what was road and what was not! By the time we reached school, we would be dripping wet. And we remained so for the whole day. School timings were from 10.00 am – 4.00 pm and a change into real dry clothes would be possible only after reaching home by about 5.00 pm! Probably it is those tough experiences that has made us take life head on.

Karakadakom is known as Kalla Karkadakom, meaning a black month – an inauspicious one. No auspicious event would be held – the weather was never conducive for that. The month also brought in its trail copious rains, troubles and travails to the peasants who just depended on farming and agricultural produce. The incessant rains rendered them with no work. And that meant no money. The damp weather forced people to be indoors. This was also the time when people fell ill. So, Karkadakom brought in its wake poverty, illness, and hardships. It is to beat this negativity in the air that temples and homes reverberated with the chant of Ramayana. Prayers were recited to clear the cobwebs in the mind and bring clarity and serenity to the soul. Karkadakom thus also got the name, Ramayana month. It is also believed that Maharshi Valmiki completed penning that immortal epic in this month.

Another memory is that of a massive operation clean at home. This happens on the eve prior to the first day of Karkadakam. All families were into agriculture in our small village of Pallavur in Palakkad. We were no different. The cleaning operation was a tradition. Our home, including the granary, would be cleaned meticulously. This was symbolic of  removing Chetta, (Jheshta Bhagavathy) who was considered to be the presiding deity of all that is dirty and decadent. We would then put it all in bamboo winnowers called Murams. There was no trace of plastic those days! Everything from grocers came covered in newspaper. Throwing away these biodegradable materials to the uninhabited parts of the huge compounds or outside it was accompanied by chants, “Chetta go, Shibothi come” (Chetta po, Shibothi vaa). Shibothi seems to be the the truncated version for Sree Bhagavathy, a semantic change that was necessitated by the excessive length of the word. And Sree Bhagavathy was worshipped as the harbinger of everything that is good and prosperous – especially in the wake of the new year being round the corner – in Chingam, which also brings the wonderful egalitarian festival of Onam. The entire month of Karkadakam sees the worshipping of Sree Bhagavthy, the Goddess of Prosperity. Lamps are lit in the morning and evening in the Machu (household shrine).

Palm 2
A view of the fields behind our home

Then gradually rains became scant. This year of course has been an exception. Paddy fields are all being filled in and converted into house plots. We have sold our paddy field too as it has become very difficult to manage – with practically no labour available to do farming chores. And today as I sit here in the date-palm fringed land, I cannot but long for these renewing practices we had in the past, in my home town which is fringed with palms of a different kind – the Borassus flabellifer, the Asian Palmyra palm.

Palm tree 1                                          The Borassus flabellifer, the Asian Palmyra palm

Today, things are very different. I really don’t know if all homes in Palakkad engage in removing Chetta and inviting Shibothi. My mom meticulously does it. I am so grateful she does it – at least our children are familiar with all the traditions we have had and she has never let it slide into a mere ritual. And it is my resolve to continue to engage in them in years to come too so that these nurturing practices don’t die a gradual death.

The Challenge of our Education System

Sir Ken Robinson in his pertinently titled Ted Talk, “Schools Kill Creativity” declares “All kids have tremendous talents — and we squander them pretty ruthlessly.” (Read – ‘in schools!’)
Seth Godin in his Stop Selling Dreams quips: “The current (educational) structure, which seeks low-cost uniformity that meets minimum standards, is killing our economy, our culture, and us.”
Godfrey Canada in his Ted Education Talk, “Our Failing schools: Enough is Enough”, asks vehemently, “Why is it that when we had rotary phones, when we were having folks being crippled by polio, that we were teaching the same way then that we’re doing right now?”

ted_schoolskillcreativity-800x332

Many thinkers have gone hammer and tongs about the ails of the present day education system. I think this is especially because the percentage of very passionate teachers in our educational system is miniscule. Therefore the killing of creativity.  Therefore the mediocrity. Therefore the one-size-fits-all approach. And therefore we don’t create thinkers, creators and problem solvers but create conformists in plenty.

Today while at a our corporate strategy session we were overwhelmed at the requirement of the number of passionate teachers we will need in the next ten years – a modest 320,000! We find it difficult to fine one good hand – how will we find so many inspirational teachers? This set me thinking.

When we look at schools around us, there is one thing that simply bamboozles me. In many of the Indian curriculum schools, we plan career mapping sessions for our pupils. We introduce them to people from different walks of life. Doctors and Engineers abound the list – the Indian parent clientele have not outgrown that, sadly. Computer specialists, Researchers and Scientists also are not left far behind. Some of us do have a passion to bring in those from other professions – from designers to pilots, psychologists to lawyers, and representatives from the Armed Forces and the Services – IAS, IPS, IFS and the journalists. Some of us venture a little more further and bring those from off beat professions to expose those to impressionable minds – singers, actors, dancers, forensic experts (we did this at our school) and even conservationists. However, do we ever speak about our own profession, Teaching? No wonder then that even a teeny weeny number (not even one per cent of the total number of Class XII students) ever want to try their hand at one of the noblest of professions: Teaching! Whom can we blame but ourselves???

Today Teaching is taken up not by the passionate and those who have an aptitude for facilitating learning. It is embraced eagerly by those who want to have a comfortable job.  Your children can be in the same school; you will have the same holidays as your children and (a candidate at an interview candidly put it across to me), “In which other job will I have a two month vacation in summer and nearly a month long in winter?” (That the said candidate got rejected immediately is beside the point!).

To all passionate teachers out there: Can we spell out the pleasures and joys of the teaching to our pupils? We must be advocates and advertisers for our own profession. I am ashamed to admit, I am also one to be blamed. For it is most rightly said, “Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions.” I guess I will start with my own school. Correction starts from me.

Resources and links:
http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html
http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/docs/stopstealingdreamsscreen.pdf
http://www.ted.com/talks/geoffrey_canada_our_failing_schools_enough_is_enough.html
Doodle Courtesy: http://sunnibrown.com/doodlerevolution/showcase/ted-schools-kill-creativity/