The iTeach Foundation Course: A Community of Believers
This post was contributed to the KER Blog by Nishigandha Gogate, Lead Teacher at iTeach Schools. Visit her blog here to read more of her work. Thanks, Nishi, for your contribution!
The FOUNDATION COURSE was first of its kind for the academically weakest students of Pune city pioneered in 2017. In 5 rigorous weeks last year history was created by all the 103 brave warriors to fight the educational inequity. In 5 rigorous weeks this year, our triumph surpassed new heights. ☺
The journey began. Remember the child who struggled to string together a complete sentence while the rest of the class was immersed in analyzing character traits, predicting, comparing and writing their opinions? Remember the child who was completely thrown off by carry over subtraction while the rest of the class figured out exciting word problems? It started with identifying such bottom 100 students from nearly 300 students who were going to move from their PMC schools’ Grade VII classroom to an iTeach School’s Grade VIII classroom. The fellows at these respective feeder schools pitched in. The purpose of the course was defined and kids were ready to walk in but who would welcome? Well, since every student deserves a champion, every champion was thoughtfully chosen not because they were the best teachers, but more so because they were trusted to be the best change makers. Magic was destined to happen, I thought! It was a risk indeed but Courage is not the absence of fear they say, rather the judgment that something is more important than fear.
Parents were geared up to walk the extraordinary journey, the teachers were determined to make the unthinkable change happen and students were driven to turn their scorching summer into a soothing spring!
The course aimed to strategically equip these selected students with key skills in Literacy, Math, Academic habits, Motivation (I WANT) and Self-Belief (I CAN). Academic skills focused on subjects like English, Math and Hindi, Emotional management through activities like Yoga, dance therapy and drum circle, Confidence was worked through specialized counseling and remediation sessions, Critical Thinking sessions intensively pushed their cognitive skills, and Social intelligence and Reflection was designed to be built through field trips, daily advisory and reflection circles. The values were made evident through conversations, instructions and pedagogy and the culture was driven consciously both among the students and teachers.
16th April, a bright Monday morning, when we first met for our planning day 1 for second Foundation course, the pressure had doubled and goals seemed harder. A new team with newer goals, newer ideas but with the same belief! A week into rigorous planning, there we were welcoming the students on Day 1 of Foundation course 2018. The parents waited back to experience the joy as we all took the plunge into a mission, quite unfamiliar. A simple yet disciplined assembly routine was followed each day with a motivating prayer, reiterating the purpose and a group echo of ‘going to the top 5 colleges of Pune city’. As the students walked to their respective divisions, ‘Lakshya’, ‘Junoon’, and ‘Ummeed’, they admired the welcoming walls, responded to the energetic high-fives and looked forward to the novelty of the course.
Every student walked out with one concrete thought each day, “We are young thinking individuals capable of making informed choices!”
As the days passed the students settled, expectations raised, the chaos set in and the pressures escalated. Halfway through the course and we hit the iceberg! Since we had willingly and thoughtfully taken up the challenge, the stress of living up to the belief, performing at excellence, being perfect role-models and still not losing was daunting and entailed ‘courage’. It was then when the team stood by each other strong and calm, held on to each other’s hopes and overpowered the fears of failure. Irrespective of the harsh truth for these kids, the tears that rolled down, the doubts that seeped in, annoyance that bothered, and the turmoil that trickled, we took a smile back home each evening and brought back the zeal the next morning. For we held on to the courage!
Alongside, as we went through our share of unrest, so did the students. A few managed to achieve weekly goals and gradually move towards the success. A few however could barely cope with their behavioral concerns and basic alphabets. It felt drastically different this year. The unnerving energy in the corridors, the anger outbursts and inexplicable fears, everything was heartbreaking. Heartbreaking to see them struggle with basic life skills, heartbreaking to see all those deep rooted emotional wounds, and heartbreaking to see self pity. Lack of empathy was evident; lack of love was no surprise.
However, it was also significantly different in terms of data informed classes, higher rigor objectives, differentiation within a differentiated group, and above all a ‘pool of interns’ empathizing, setting expectations, building authentic bonds and bringing in unmatched positive vibe! 10th graders from different iTeach schools awaiting grade 10 results also made a conscious choice to extend gratitude to their school in the most humbling way ever, by interning at Foundation course 2018! With this exceptional value addition, magic wasn’t destined; it was created. It takes a heart of a true believer, I’d say! Despite the long hours in school, data and pedagogy driven school team meetings, highly demanding performance; the feeling of wanting to rise early and kick start the day with a vigorous ‘Good morning everyone!’ exemplified supreme culture. ‘Our students need us to care for them. They have no one else’. Genuine passion, fair accountability, achievement oriented thought and true grit is what defined our team!
Weeks passed and we came to the end of the journey without realizing how fast the time passed by. The students displayed ‘young thinking adult’ behavior time and again. The conversations around reiterating the purpose instead of enforcing the processes was a highlight. We take pride in bringing the vision and the purpose alive in every single teacher’s conversation to care for every child, for holding the purpose at center, to continue in this movement without giving up and believe in the power of possibilities.
It’s been a year into the mainstream secondary school for all the FC 2017ers. These students rose up to adjust with the expectations and deliverables through the year. It is indeed humbling to see a student with impulsive anger outburst, sitting on 1st bench attempting to give his best in class; a student with attendance issues making a commitment to attend the school every single day; a student with hyperactivity concerns setting a goal to sit in each class without disturbing other’s work; a student with apathetic attitude taking conscious interest in reading clubs at school; students who came with a grade gap of 6 years now entering a grade 9 class due to increased reading comprehension levels and the ones with severe learning difficulties still endeavoring to progress with the classmates. We feel no less than proud catalysts in their lives as we witness significant transformation.
What we shifted with an unnerving heart was the restorative practices. Moving away from a punitive culture / conversation / mindset, quite anxious to use it with the most struggling students, we all still practiced the art, reflected, re-polished and practiced again. Peace corner, restorative conversations, being vulnerable by sharing our mood and learning how to manage emotions were all different strategies used to restore behavior. Throughout the course I realized however, it’s not just the student behavior we need to restore, it goes beyond. So many years of physical and emotional damage, psychological threat and constant discrimination, has left them scarred, difficult to heal. Life is tough and testing for these students, Every single day!
It’s time we restore our confidence, to dive into unknown waters and help them take a plunge.
It’s time we restore our self-belief, to be able to believe in them and help them succeed.
It’s time we restore our understanding, of what being the change means to us and help them transform.
It’s time, to restore a damaged soul and help it heal!