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How can we make a good school ‘great’? - Mathew C Ninan

Published On : 04 Sep 2019

Schools are the harbingers of change. If schools change, society will also change. If changes have to be positive and constructive, we need to plan and engineer the change to reach the desired outcome.

The most fundamental change needed is in the way we look after children in schools. The world has changed, and is still changing. Have we realized that most of our schools are like stagnant waters, with out-dated disciplining methods, and antiquated teaching methodologies?

Schools need to adopt a humane approach towards children. Arbitrariness of the old school should end. The element of ‘fear’ that was all-pervasive in the school should make way for an environment of friendliness and conviviality. Repression should be replaced by guided freedom. Academic rigor should become a pleasant challenge to children, a sugar-coated pill.

Innovation and change go hand-in-hand. Student-centred, participatory learning is the need of the hour. Teacher domination should be a thing of the past.

A new generation school needs not just modern physical infrastructure, but also mature, refined, learned teachers who can have an instant empathy with children. They need to be lifelong learners who are passionate about their job, and their students. They should impact their students so well that the love of learning and discipline are deeply embedded in the students for life.

I used to affirm frequently that a school is only as good as its teachers. By this I wanted to emphasize the centrality of teachers in the school context. However of late I started realising that it was too sweeping and simplistic a statement. It has to be explored further, which is what I am trying to do presently.

Do all the teachers contribute equally? Are all of them equally committed and competent to be the exemplars to can elevate the school’s standing? We need to ponder over these issues.

Shiv Khera in his popular book You Can Win says that there are three kinds of people, based on their attitude to work. Let me quote him;
“If you want to get ahead in life, go the extra mile. There is no competition on the extra mile. Are you willing to do a little more than you get paid for? How many people you know are willing to do a little bit more than what they get paid for? Very few. Most people don't want to do what they get paid for and there is a second category of people who only want to do what they can get by with. They fulfil their quota just to keep their jobs. There is a small fraction who are willing to do a little bit more than what they get paid for.” Teachers should be in this category. They must be willing to do a little more.

The ‘work-to-rule’ variety of people are most ill-suited to the teaching profession. To put it more bluntly, they can be termed ‘dead-wood’.

Good teachers are those willing to do some more. They do what they are supposed to do and then some more. They are courteous and generous and then some more. They can be counted on and then some more. They put in 100% and then some more. (Adapted from Daily Motivations by Dennis Kimbro)

A school to move from being just good to being ‘great’ requires that all of its teachers, without exception, are prepared to go the extra mile, and then some more.

Assume that a school is poised to be a great school in all respects. It fulfils all the parameters of a school of excellence. How can it be a great school, even as it is quite close to be one? The answer is that it all depends on how focussed and committed its teachers are. Their commitment and competencies should contribute largely to make this transition from ‘good’ to ‘great’ true.

I would expect the teachers to have the following four qualities in abundance. They will earn the admiration of students and parents if they possess them. They will also experience a tremendous sense of fulfilment if they succeed in gaining these four-some talisman.

Clear-headed: That is the capacity to think logically and coherently. They need to be level-headed, to be people with a sense of proportion. A sensible teacher, with a mature mental state will be a great blessing to any school. Their decisions will be fair and devoid of any kind of arbitrariness or bias.

Warm-hearted: Teachers should be people with a keen sense of empathy toward others, and be sensitive enough to understand other people well, and get along with them in an attitude of respectful relationship. In other words they need to be loving, kind and compassionate. They put their heart and soul into their job, and are always willing to go the extra mile.

Even-handed: Teachers must be fair and impartial in their decision-making or judgment. This is very critical in relation to students and their work and behaviour. So teachers should not have prejudices and preconceived notions about anybody, because they will go against a fair judgment.

Sure-footed: Needless to add that teachers should be confident and competent. Clarity is the hallmark of a good teacher. To have that clarity, they will need a fair amount of knowledge of their subject and good communication skills. They need to be up-to-date in their subjects and knowledge delivery skills. Their teaching will be clear as crystal, and they will be admired by their students.

As you have seen, these four qualities cover the entire spectrum of a teacher’s capabilities and qualities. Teachers who are blessed with all of the above qualities in abundance will be an asset to an institution and naturally their contribution to the over-all well-being of the students will be remarkable. By doing so, they will be adding a significant amount of value to the institution. If all the teachers work hand in hand, the whole will be much more than the sum of the individuals involved. That’s SYNERGY.

A school rises to the level of greatness when it is blessed with teachers who go the extra mile with qualities of head and heart as outlined above.

(The author has been heading the Little Rock Indian School in Udupi as Principal and then as Director for the last three decades, making it a trend-setter among the new generation schools)

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