Saturday, 8 April 2017

Teachers’ Learning Centre: Hub of change

20th March, 2017. A remarkable day for all of us at Mantra4Change.

Normally, Monday is the devil in working people’s lives as it follows the day of relief, but at Mantra4Change, Mondays have always been different and so was March 20th. It was the day our Teachers’ Learning Centre (TLC) at Goripalya got officially inaugurated. The hard work put in to create the space, to make it effective for teachers and above all, succeeding in making the teachers see the value in it was finally going to be put in public. As any big day starts, this too began with a lot of apprehensions and fits of nervous activity. We were all set with our big plans and all the preparations, but somewhere we were anxious if invitees would turn up. The reason was the choice of date. It was the first day of exams in the government schools and most of our private partner schools too. We had prepared ourselves for a low attendance. Little did we know, what awaited us was more than we expected. 

The event started at 2 P.M and then came the big surprise. All the chairs that we had put in the room were filled with SDMC members, partner school principals and teachers. It was enriched by the presence of our chief Guests- Mrs. Kumari Shibulal, who has been constantly supporting Mantra through her foundation, Mrs. Nagarathnamma, the Block Education Officer South Range-II, who managed to join us despite her busy schedule with the exams in government schools and Dr. Anupama Purohit, who has been a mentor to us at Mantra. These special guests didn’t only inaugurate our TLC Space, but also inspired all of us by their childhood stories and words of wisdom about the relevance a teacher in a student’s life and importance of teachers to be lifelong learners.

It was a pure delight to see the room come alive with enthusiastic people who participated as well as shared their wonderful experiences at the TLC so far. One of the partner school Principals, Mr. Ayub Pasha went on to say that the TLC should be renamed as “Creativity Studio” because it provides a platform to the teachers to explore their potential and unleash their “Out of the box” Thinking

What more could we ask for..! We had got the Change makers, the School leaders and the nurturers of a child’s life under the same roof talking about innovative teaching methods to improve the quality of education that our schools currently offer. This definitely looked like a dream come true. Read our previous blog to explore the purpose of the TLC.

This day indeed will be etched in our memories not because of what happened but because what it symbolizes in our long quest of educational equity. We can now finally say, that the ripples of change have started forming.

The blog piece has been written by Ms. Poonam Shukla, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change.  

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Mantra4Change gets its Advisory Board

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can” and he couldn’t be more right. 

We, at Mantra4Change, have a great team of enthusiastic people who share a common goal and constantly strive to provide quality education to children, but that is not enough for us. We believe that as humans or organization, we always need someone to guide us and constantly challenge our potential in order to keep improving. This is why, after a series of efforts, we have finally got our “Board of Advisors”.  And we are thrilled to have them officially on board with us. It will be a futile effort to rope in all their achievements and their support extended to us so far. So, here is a brief introduction to our “Board of Advisors” at Mantra4Change.

S D Shibulal is one of the co-founders of Infosys Pvt Ltd. He also served as CEO of Infosys from 2011 to 2014. After his retirement from Infosys, he co-founded Axilor Ventures, a venture capital service for young entrepreneurs. Axilor is currently supporting more than 50 startups. Mr. Shibulal is also interested in improving the quality of education at schools in India. Towards this, he started Advait Foundation to promote philanthropic ventures in the field of education and research. 

Kumari Shibulal established Sarojini DamodaranFoundation in 1999. The focus of the foundation is on education of the under privileged children from primary to college. One arm of the foundation (Advaith) focuses on K-10 education for poor kids through a school called Samhita Academy. The second arm of the foundation, Vidyadhan, focuses on kids through grade 11 up to college education through a need based full scholarship for the Children who come from families below the poverty line. It started in 1999 with two kids. Today the foundation supports close to 5000 kids.
Sanjay Purohit is the founder of ScaleChange network. He has 25+ years of work experience across domains of technology, quality, business strategy, consulting etc. He served at Infosys as Executive Vice President. Prior to joining Infosys, he worked at Tata Quality management Services as Senior Consultant.  He is currently advisor to EkStep Foundation and eGovernments Foundation. He is also leading the initiative to build platform to support organisations working in the area of systemic transformation in Education. He keenly supports and mentors organisations in social sector.
Janhvi Kanoria has a Masters in Education from Harvard Graduate school of Education. She worked as Supreme Education Council at Ministry of Education, Qatar. She was responsible for setting up the office in all strategic, operational and people aspects. Currently, she is working as Education portfolio Manager at Qatar Foundation. As a founding team member, she is helping CEO’s office with strategy and management support. 
We hope to keep enriching our panel of advisors. Meanwhile, with the guidance of such great personalities, we look forward to a great journey full of learning and explorations. This, indeed, opens up endless possibilities for us in our vision of "Education Transformation."

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Crafting School Transformation step-by-step: An impact story

Two years back, when I first entered Florida English School (FES) in Goripalya, I saw a tall person wearing a white sherwani sitting amidst a huge pile of admission forms, surrounded by many parents around his office; his hands going back and forth on the papers and the call-bell like an automatic machine. The scene was no less than that of a busy market. It did not take me long to understand that I was not going to get an appointment from him. As I started walking towards the stairs hopelessly, I heard a lady calling me, “Excuse me, Sir. Principal sir wants to meet you.”

Wow!! Finally, I did get to meet him. As I entered his office, sir offered me a place to sit and we discussed about our work at Mantra4change & potential to collaborate for a school transformation project over a cup of tea. More than the conversation about the work, what left me spellbound was his explicit willingness to learn: a man running an institution for the last 19 years was still willing to learn. I could see a man with aspirations to provide quality education to the children of his community. As he narrated the tales of endless struggles that he faced during functioning of the institution, I could see a man on a mission with a positive mindset and a fighter’s spirit. Zaka-ullah Shariff, the Principal of FES, is quite an inspiration.

“Give me ideas for the improvement of school and I will implement it.” - This statement from Zaka sir summarizes my discussion with him. Over a period of two years, Mantra4Change and FES have embarked on the journey of improvement and transformation with a vision that FES would be a model school in the locality. It would be an example for other under-resourced, budget schools of the possibilities within the constraints. True to his promise, Zaka sir ensured that he invested time, energy and financial resources to create a great experience for the children studying in the school.

Principal Sir, as he is fondly called by everyone, invested himself and his entire staff at FES in the process of change. He worked tirelessly to understand what additional structures and tools could help elevate the school. He created a second tier of leadership in the school that can ensure sustainability of change efforts. Most importantly, as a leader, he has learnt to delegate and let go. He has started realizing the power of collaboration. Throughout these two years of our partnership, we have introduced six of other partner organizations and many volunteers to FES and Zaka sir has welcomed them all with enthusiasm.

There has been paradigm shift in the way teachers use time after school hours. While they were always seen doing random admin work earlier, now they sit together to plan for their next day lessons and share ideas. Learning circles are facilitated and led by the teachers themselves. Even Zaka sir participates in the learning circles whenever his schedule allows. One day, we saw him explaining to teachers how ‘hook’ (a technique) can be designed to introduce a particular topic.

“How can we create better experiences for our children?”- sir asked one day. We brainstormed and jotted down few ideas on a piece of paper that remained with me. Little did I know that sir kept them in his heart..! After the Diwali holidays, we were up for many surprises: there was an activity center for Pre-primary, a well-designed terrace-cum-auditorium and a beautiful library space for the children. This Diwali indeed lit up the lives of our children.

School Transformation is a long journey. It is not a two year sprint, but a marathon worth attempting. You need a hero to lead the efforts and we were lucky to find one in Zakaullah sir at FES.

The blog piece has been written by Mr. Santosh More, who works with schools at Mantra4Change. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Change Catalyst

Someone once told me that magic is what you make out of your potential and it shines through your hard work. Today I saw a real life example of that. I was lucky to accompany one of my colleagues to her school today, where she was gearing up for her quarterly update on STEP* to the school leadership team. School leaders are instrumental to the success of any intervention in schools and hence, engaging them in the process helps build sustainability of change efforts. The update presentation is a way to formally apprise the leadership team about our work, successes and challenges in school and to brainstorm with them on further possibilities.

To set the context, my colleague is a School Transformation Lead for a low-fee, private school located in the (semi-urban) Hebbagodi area in Bangalore. As her profile says, she drives efforts towards the transformation of her school by influencing a change among all the stakeholders responsible for a child’s education. This includes school teachers, principal, parents and of course, the children themselves.
So today was the day of the quarterly update presentation. I, as a new joinee, had accompanied her to just see her school and to understand the dynamics of the school. Little did I know, what I was about to witness was indeed magic..!

It was a tiny room where the Head master and few senior teachers were present. She started off her presentation by thanking them for the support and then headed onto describing the areas of her work. Next came the videos of teachers using child-centric teaching methods in the class and interesting Behaviour management techniques (which replaces corporal punishments and develops ownership among children), innovative teaching methods and use of trackers in a class room. Normally, these aspects are rarely seen in under-resourced schools. All these videos exhibited the confidence with which the teachers were applying all these techniques. It was an eye opener for me because I could imagine the extent of efforts that would have been put in. Change is a slow process and not everybody is receptive of new ideas. If she was able to convince them to do so, that means many barriers and battles against fixed mind set were won. She talked about how teachers are taking responsibility of helping their fellow teachers and how they asked her to organize more training sessions that’d equip them with more techniques and ideas. Guess what, all this was achieved in a short span of six months.

What followed was even better, the school head master and the senior teachers asked her to present this video in the staff meeting, where they could inspire other teachers as well and could acknowledge the teachers’ hard work on a public platform. This is where my colleague picked up a discussion about the structures for appreciating their staff. It was interesting to see how opportunities for setting up better structures & processes can be created during such one-on-one conversations. It was a brilliant opportunity to point out to the school leadership that their appreciation and feedback matter a lot to teachers; and hence, they can inspire the teachers to bring innovation to classrooms on a regular basis.
At the end of the meeting, the HM and the teacher walked out with an extremely positive frame of mind and feeling great about themselves; and I went out with a learning that inspiration lies all around us. All we need to do is be open to it.

*STEP: School Transformation and Empowerment Project is a key initiative by MANTRA4Change.

The blog piece has been written by Ms. Poonam Shukla, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change. 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

The Side-Effects of Research

This is a story that began in July 2016, when Dr. Balachandran came to conduct a session on how children can do research in Geography. Read more about it in our earlier post, ‘The joy of research’.

I clearly remember Mahima (a student) standing up in the introductory session and saying, “I have a topic, I care about but even if do the research, what will happen? How can I alone change the garbage situation in my area?” Similar sentiments could be sensed on many faces in the room. I remember telling these 9th graders that if they are passionate about solving these issues, they would definitely succeed in making a change. Like the thousand things that we speak of and hope for, but move on, I moved on; fortunately, Mahima and her friends didn’t.

In the International Geography Youth Summit (IGYS), a total of 9 students presented their primary research. They had gone and studied people’s belief systems regarding the issue and also how people thought it affected them. They spoke to experts to find out their opinions on the situation and what can be done about it. They also managed to inspire the community in their own way to act on the situation. All these groups received huge appreciation and applause from the panelists for their honest efforts and passion.

But the story didn’t end there. The exciting part, what I call as the side-effects of research, is here.
These students continue to work on their respective research topics even today. Mahima and her team continue to practice waste segregation at home and try to recycle as many things as possible – keeps them creatively happy as well. The team that studied the ‘drainage system’ have taken it a step ahead by spreading awareness among community members. Together, these students convinced the school management to try out methods of reducing and managing waste at their own school. After already impacting many families and inspiring a few more, Mahima and her friends now believe that they have the power and will to positively impact their surroundings. I see many strong leaders in the making.

The whole experience of doing the research and participating in IGYS has had many such interesting side-effects. The confidence level of these students has shot up immensely; they show initiative; the clear edge these students had over their classmates in presentation skills became evident during several classroom presentations- they knew exactly how many slides to use, how to engage the audience, how to use effective body language etc. They volunteered to mentor the next batch of students for the IGYS projects. Such amazing enthusiasm… and if one thinks about it, this life-changing journey began with a request to think beyond textbooks and to do original research.

One simple looking exercise had such long lasting impact. What else could be more motivating..!

The blog piece has been written by Ms. Shikha Bohra, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change. 

Monday, 13 February 2017

Teachers’ Learning Centre: creating a culture of ‘learn-it-all’

What is common between the multi-billion dollar, US-based technology giant Microsoft Corporation and our under-resourced partner schools, located in the ‘not-so-famous’ alleys of Goripalya in Bangalore? 

Both of them are on their path to a huge culture shift: from a ‘know-it-all’ to ‘learn-it-all’. In his interview to Bloomberg Businessweek, Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella told how he is transforming the culture at Microsoft ‘by creating an environment focused on learning’. At Mantra4Change, we have been trying something similar with our partner schools.

January 2017 saw over 45 teachers from 8 different schools coming together to learn and explore better teaching practices. At our newly set up Teachers’ Learning Centre (TLC), these teachers - from both Government-run schools as wells as from low-fee private schools- forgot their differences & competition and started a new journey of collaborative learning. The atmosphere in the TLC was electrifying. 25 year olds were facilitating the sessions and the participants, with an average teaching experience of 25 years, were beaming with unmatched enthusiasm and joy. One could see how teachers exhibited child-like curiosity and were exuberant about volunteering during the demonstrations.

Anyone, who has worked with under-resourced schools and teachers, would agree that this is no easy feat. This is a complete overhaul of the hierarchical, rigid culture typically seen in such schools. It marks the beginning of the evolution of a collaborative and learning culture.

Collaboration and learning are at the core of our conceptualisation of the Teachers’ Learning Centre (TLC). The idea is to dissect isolation from teaching profession. TLC would enable teachers to come together and to discuss, brainstorm & learn together. They could be each other’s sounding board. They could leverage each other’s connections to catalyse and accelerate their own learning process. TLC will form the foundation of a professional learning community for teachers.

At Mantra4Change, the TLC at Goripalya (Bengaluru) is a culmination of our efforts in that community for last 2 years. Creating change readiness among different stakeholders doesn’t happen overnight. Ours is a tale of unflinching efforts towards trust building and of living our values of empathy and resourcefulness. Spending time on ground with our teachers, students and school leaders helped us understand their challenges and limitations better. This informed our program design and thus, improved its acceptance among the participants. Today, we are a part of their learning community. We learn together; we grow together.

Stay tuned for more mesmerising stories of collaboration and learning from our TLC.
[Update]: Read our next blog on the inauguration ceremony of the TLC.

The blog piece has been written by Ms. Khushboo Awasthi, who works with schools at Mantra4Change.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Seeds, pets, forest canopies and simple machines: A story filled Saturday at Citizen's School

- The post is written by Rahel Rao, Intern, Pratham Books StoryWeaver.
(Reproduced from StoryWeaver's blog)

All children love stories. Especially when the stories are told to them in an animated manner or the stories come with illustrations, bringing them to life. With this in mind, on the 21st of January, 2017, Oracle India Volunteers partnered with Mantra4Change and Pratham Books StoryWeaver to conduct a storytelling session at Citizens Schools in Bengaluru - a partner school to Mantra4Change.
The session was for classes 5 and 6 and the stories read to the classes were: Reeti and Mithu (Anupa Lal, Soumya Menon), Up Down, Down World (Padmaparna Ghosh, Sunaina Coelho), and Let’s Go Seed Collecting (Neha Sumitran, Archana Sreenivasan) along with a bonus story - Ammachi’s Amazing Machines (Rajiv Eipe) - read by Menaka Raman, from Pratham Books.

All these stories sparked discussions about animal abuse, deforestation, and other such topics which the children had an acute awareness of and were ready to engage in discussions about - they only needed an opportunity to voice their views. The children enjoyed the sessions very much and their infectious enthusiasm made the experience better for the storytellers. You could see their faces lighting up when they realised that they were going to be told stories. They were alert and interactive throughout the sessions, ready to answer any questions asked and were even more excited when they realised that pictures were being taken of them. As Rashmi, an Oracle volunteer said, “[their reaction] was really awesome”.
They clearly enjoyed the stories too. Oracle volunteer, Pranjala, said that the stories available on StoryWeaver are filled with so much positivity. She added that it was very important that children from the underserved sections of society get the right values, saying, that "stories are a wonderful way to impart values to kids at this age, which  they can carry with them for the rest of their lives”.
It was clear that initially the children weren’t very certain how to act around the storytellers. But they soon settled down, realising that it wasn’t a formal setting. This feeling was common even among the storytellers. Rajeshwari, who works with Oracle and was doing this for the first time, said that although she was a bit apprehensive when she heard that this was for the fifth and sixth grade, she found that they were really excited and later said that “overall it was a great experience” - an observation made by all the storytellers.
Rajeshwari also brought a guest, who used to be a teacher in a playschool, to do a storytelling session. She said that “storytelling is not just an oral rendition, it's more of an art to get children involved. They learn faster through stories” and was very excited when this opportunity came to her. She said that the stories on StoryWeaver were “told in such an adventurous way” and so the “small things which have been added in the book which they [the children] tend to overlook” were brought to their attention through the discussions that followed each story.
The entire morning was very heartening and the children even asked some of the the volunteers when they were coming back to do another session. Their level of interest and their love for stories was apparent, which only made the entire experience better and completely worthwhile.