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My Feelings

Long, long ago, as a child when I bought myself my first bicycle with the scholarship that I earned for myself, my joy knew no bounds. A few years late I got myself my first scooty, then my scooter and then a joint possession of a house that was truly my own. Each time I jumped in jubilation and during my days in the hostel, it meant ‘a treat’ for friends.

As I grew older and moved into Education, I matured and evolved over a short span – small things made me smile but joy that I brought to my children in school was even more delightful. I did things because I loved it and because I believed that it impacted lives. And I enjoy every moment of my life with the school ecosystem particularly the kids. Every time we reached a milestone, I asked myself – What next? And a dozen proposals lay before me to work on.

It gave me the thrill of doing something creative and made me explore my own potential.

On the 15th of September, I dreamt of a new school and on the 5th of Oct, I couldn’t believe that we were indeed doing the Bhoomi – Pujan for the new school in Pardi, Valsad. Thanks to a visionary Management, we rolled on to get Dr. Vijaypat Singhnia School started on the 9th of June, just as we had planned. The air around the new school was charged – joy was infectious, the contentment was visible, laughter was echoing, excitement was contagious and belongingness and fulfilment was to be seen and experienced to believe that it was “bliss “. For me, it was truly a blissful experience. Seeing and experiencing the birth of this new – born is an emotion every leader will cherish all through his/ her life. When I first gave the concept design for the school to the architect, he liked the idea. It again came from my strong belief that each one is unique, a child in particular has a unique intellect, an innocence, a child – like appearance, with curiosity in their eyes and joy on their lips .

Every child has a DNA expressing that individuality. So, the school is shaped similarly on that concept. Spread over several acres of land, it truly seems like a resort. The river on one side, the huge banyan trees, the mountains on the other side makes it very picturesque. To help kids develop aesthetics and appreciation, all classrooms open to outdoor space, lawns and greenery. I am sure that everyone in the school will enjoy being able to “stand and stare” and feel the bliss of being in the lap of Nature.

Training teachers, working on financials, ensuring things were in place, meeting and beating deadlines were a part of my daily calendar but I enjoyed it and the final outcome was unbelievably awesome. I feel like the young mother who is holding her infant in her arms, joy in her heart, twinkle in her eyes and pride in her gait.

I look at 3 of our schools – in Thane, Chindwara and now in Pardi and our 2 outreach programs  - the Rehabilitation Centre for Adivasi Women and the Centre for Street boys training the underprivileged for vocational training and tell myself – I am so privileged to be in the field of Education – where there are no boundaries or horizons. For me and for many others in this field, it’s just as big as your dream.

Yours ever

The lazy mornings, the long nights, the naps in the afternoon after a lovely hot lunch, no studies, no tests … all of this will take a break from tomorrow until the next break. I am sure that you are looking forward to getting back to school as much as we are looking forward to having you all in our midst.

There’s always something that you really can look forward to – from new activities in school to school uniforms, bags and bottles. Let us look forward to a beautiful start – fun and meaningful.

How Many Years of Experience Do You Have ?

I was on a short holiday to some sleepy but picturesque small hill-station in the South and I decided that I would indulge myself … for a change. How do I do that ? -I asked myself. A couple of days I spent trekking and basking in the beauty of Nature’s paradise .When I felt I had enough , I did the next best thing – spent time with myself . How often are we able to indulge in ourselves? When we think we are all by ourselves ,do we feel lost and want to reach out to the nearest electronic gadget -the mobile , the remote , the I-pad or the I-pod for company? I began with a question – How many years of experience do I have ? Leaves from my diary …..

I looked back at 28 years of my teaching career. With all my achievements and experiences that I have carried with me, do I experience fulfilment? Have I evolved as a person ? Can I claim to have made a difference to someone? Have I learnt something each day ? Did I impart something new to a child each time I meet them? Do I make my school a happy place for my children, their parents and staff? How many years of experience do I have? Can I justify it?

The quest begins and the answers come to me in the form of many experiences. When the results for ISC were declared and the topper of our school , Aratrika Choudhary got a text message with her marks which read – Sociology -100 , Psychology-100, Political Science- 100, Economics -100 and English -100 , she said- “I am extremely happy with my marks especially so because I did not go for any classes .I relied on my school. And, my teachers truly deserve this for their hard work and painstaking efforts.” Her concern for her batch mates who hadn’t performed too well even in the prelims showed that largeness of one’s heart , progressiveness in thinking and confidence in one’s own ability. There were no airs about her , no bragging. Her goals were crystal clear.

Lesson no – 1 Maintain a sense of balance during peaks and acknowledge goodness of others.

Vikramaditya ,who suffered 40% burns during his Boards , was a picture of calmness, cheer, positivity and determination ,when I met him a couple of hours after he was admitted to the National Burns Hospital .He hid the pain and the trauma behind cheerful smiles so naturally. He hardly seemed a child.

Lesson 2 – Be positive and cheerful even during adversities.

I have been receiving many congratulatory messages expressing gratitude for the efforts that we teachers have put in to make it possible for their wards to be stupendously successful in the ICSE and ISC examinations. Since the parents could not access the Council site to download results of ISC for a few hours s due to some technical snag on the Council’s site ,the school provided scores for students over the phone till 1.30 that Saturday night and later , the school counters were kept open on Sunday with 4 staff members on duty to help parents and students to access and check their results. I did this because I did not want parents or students to be tense about anything and we must facilitate things. My decision was instantaneous and natural. I did not realise how important and useful it was, till I saw half a dozen letters thanking for the thoughtfulness of being supportive. “It meant so much to us and we wish to thank all the staff who cheerfully worked during vacations and the Sunday to help parents.”

Lesson no.3 – Small things matter .

The Under 14 cricket team was playing a 35 overs match with another school yesterday. While Singhania School clinched the title and the trophy , the two teams cheered for each other for the spirit of the game . All the players cheered loudly for the players who received individual trophies.

Lesson no 4 – Enjoy the sport .Winning and Losing is all about grace.

Watching the election fever , I wondered where have the lessons we learn by observation gone?Are we losing ourselves in our search for prosperity? Think , ponder ,indulge -even if it means quite a few thousands that you may have to spend for a holiday in a remote corner of the country.

I am proud to say , I have 28 years of experience and not one year of experience repeated 28 times.

Yesterday Once More

Whenever I meet our students who had walked through the portals of our school years ago, I enjoy every word of their recollection of those golden days. The sparkle in their eyes, the excitement in their voices and the glow on their faces is unmatchable. And I know that they are a part of our school even if they are in different continents of the world. Students are always an integral part of my life. I  don’t use the word ex- I just don’t like to - because past students too still belong to this school. I always wished I would be able to visit my school sometime. And I did !!!! I was in Kochi for a Conference and before I took a flight back home, I drove to my school -The Naval School- as I have known it. 

I almost jumped out of a moving car, as we drove in to the front entrance of the school – my Alma- Mater. It was just the same – well, almost. As I sent my visiting card to the Principal, I waited outside his office excitedly. Right opposite was the stage where I have performed and also received prizes. The decorations seemed so much like then. Children in costumes were moving around while teachers were shouting hoarse giving instructions. I was informed by the peon that it was their Annual Day and I smiled, recalled the 4 Annual day performances that I had given on the same stage. The Principal called me in and as I introduced myself, he said,” Welcome, Ma’m, Nice to know that an ex-student is an educationist ” I smiled. And I spoke to him of my lovely teacher and the support staff, the functions and the school elections. I sought permission to click snaps, which he consented, adding  that I should stay over as a special guest for the golden jubilee celebrations that was in an hour’s time. Very unwillingly I refused. I had a flight to catch. I saw the Honors Board which had my brother’s name scrolled on it – All India first. The only All India first till date. I called my brother and told him that none had broken his record yet. I felt like the little school girl once again. 

When I walked out of the gate, I looked straight to see the backwaters. The huge wall came between me and the backwaters. I remembered when we studied, we sat on the grass with legs touching the backwaters, watching the sailors move in their boats and the yachts moving slowly with sailors waving to us cheerfully. We particularly enjoyed when the paragliders were in action. I don’t recall the Mughal Dynasty that was taught. We watched the birds chirping and were constantly distracted by creepy insects that moved. I owe my aesthetics to my history teacher, Mr. Kalidas, who always took us to our favourite spot. There were no boundaries then, limitless green pastures for cows and buffaloes. I loved it all. Modernity and practicality may have forced the authorities to have walls and security. Price we pay for prosperity! 

The old gatekeeper’s parting words continue to ring in my ears ” I don’t know who you are but I heard the Principal say that you are a leading educationist. My heart is full. I am so happy that our student has made it big. I wish we had known ..you would have been the most ideal Chief -Guest for the Golden Jubilee Annual Day. And I also pray many more from this school become educationists like you.” Coming from an elderly person, I sought his blessings and drove away. I was emotional for the next ten minutes and reflected – when our students meet me, I experience a great sense of pride. If I had taught them, I recall the sessions we had, if not, I listen to their experience and feel it as my own – that is what a School is all about. The bond that we share with our students is much beyond recognition, power or money. Yesterday, the tables were turned – I could well imagine what must have gone through their minds – a sense of pride in meeting a fellow educationist – their student.
 
I can’t rewind the time -machine, so I did the next best thing - I played one of my favourites -The Carpenters – “Yesterday Once More”……..

The clock was ticking away faster than usual that Monday morning and all of us were getting late to work. The lunch -boxes were just getting packed and I was in my creative best – trying out a new dish. Murphy’s law seems to have  been perfectly in place with the driver reporting  sick, a few urgent calls from school, an event preparation, a few proposals to be cleared …  What a day I chose to try this new recipe!!!! ….. a Monday morning!!! And there slipped the bottle of spice from its precariously balanced position. I admired my reflex action of diving to hold it tight, but, not before a dash of it fell into the dish. Still in an self- admiration mood, I chose to taste it. Gosh! It was spicy – a little too spicy for comfort. So, on the advice of all the members of the family, out came some potatoes, tomatoes and when the pungency continued mildly, I added the lime. Every one was enthusiastic , no one was  anxious about getting late. And the dish turned out to be yummy. That got me a brilliant idea – A family that cooks together stays together !!! 
I got a small group of teachers to develop a family cooking time in the school’s premises. I discussed this with the celebrity chef, Shantanu Gupte from the Food Food channel. The 22nd of September saw the Wonder Family Chef Contest. It was heartening to see that families competed with each other creatively and nutritionally. 12 teams of Grandmothers, fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles formed the team. Guess who cheered them – their kids. 20 ingredients were provided and the teams had to use at least 16 of them to make a complete Sunday lunch from Starters to desserts. We saw some exotic dishes like the Macaroni payasam, Chinese fusion etc with equally exotic names. The table decorations and the food display was a feast to the eyes.. Anxiety and calmness, noise and silence, nail-biters to cool as cucumbers, we saw them all. It was 3 hours of sheer fun. The judges including Chef Shantanu Gupte moved from one table to the other tasting dishes and giving tips, adding value to their experiences in the kitchen. It was the day for the Mohapatras who walked away with the prize.
 
A session for parents and teachers on ” Making nutritious Lunch Boxes ” was organised in the evening where  Chef Shantanu Gupte prepared some yummy easy to make lunches for kids. It was 7 p.m. but no one wanted it to wind up. Shantanu was all in praise of the School since no one had ever taken such an initiative before. Parents were enthusiastic about the fun time they had. And guess what did the kids say???!! - “Now I will get something new in my lunch box”.
 
Earlier in April, we had a Sulonian Wonder Chef event with students and teachers forming teams. It was an all – boys team that won the prize. I was happy that we have all emerged from the shackles of gender-bias. A few lessons that students carried home. It taught them to be more appreciative of the efforts of others. It is an art and a skill. That it need not be a profession but it is good hobby. And above all, it is a great a stress-reliever. On a more philosophical note, we all go through highs and lows in life. One must see a day of challenges as an extra spice that fell into your dish called life. Learning an art, being with friends, reading a book, watching a fun movie, playing a game are ways of making the dish more palatable. We must teach our kids this simple, creative technique to help make their lives less complicated yet yummier.
 
Happy  Kitchen Time- Moms and Dads !

My pranams to all our Gurus in the Universe on this auspicious day of Guru Purnima! It is a day for acknowledging with immense gratitude, humility and reverence, the contribution of the Gurus who selflessly mentored us to be the person we are.

It was a beautiful and special day for all teachers in School. For me, this day holds a special place in my heart. While Teachers’ Day is all about celebrations, Guru Purnima is a sacred day where every child seeks the blessings of all his/her teachers and offers a traditional GuruDakshina of coconut, betel -leaf, betel-nut and a fruit. While teachers blessed their students, the halls reverberated with a divine feeling and the music by the students only added  to the divinity in the air. Today, no one knew how the time flew as the audience comprising students of Std X and XII students sat in perfect silence as they listened to some professional performances of the young Sulonians in rapt attention. Classical and semi classical  music,  Abhangs, Vedas, Shlokas, Bhajans filled the air. The music had a mesmerising effect on all. It was amazing to see such talent and knowledge in children. Something that left us all in a trance was the recital of the Ganapati Atharva Shirsha  and Purusha Sooktam, giving  the essence of the philosophy of Vedas. The pronunciation and the ‘dhyanam’ left us  with a feeling of richness and pride of being Gurus. It also makes us feel good that a lot of our families are deeply rooted to divinity and devotion. Who says the Gen-Next don’t have their roots??  My heart swell with pride.DSC_9529Guru is the dispeller of darkness. To me, darkness is a state of mind. But just as the Moon  appears to be very bright at times and hidden  sometimes, we mortals go through those moments as well. We have to condition our minds to consciously move away from negative thoughts, actions and emotions. When we are guided by a Guru, we see light and make the right move. I believe that there is a Guru in each one of us. The little child who reaches out to another child by peer tutoring or goes out to help the less privileged, one who guides a friend when s/he is at crossroads, one who steers a friend away from a wrong doing, one who is in control of his emotions and has a vision for mankind is a Guru in that situation -for s/he is the dispeller of darkness.

May this Guru Purnima dispel darkness and bring lots of goodness and cheer. Let us all contribute our bit towards humanity making our lives more meaningful.

Why Talk?

Discussions and informal interactions are tools to enhance comprehension, thinking and communication. Parents and teachers must use this tool effectively to build bridges and delve deeper to have personal insight. I personally encourage a lot of these, and practice them myself. This is not only to remain connected with students but also to build academic competencies through these intellectual discussions. The student learns to put forth his view -points, chooses to interpret, disagrees and is able to put up valid arguments. This powerful tool helps to keep students grounded, explain a rationale and yet appreciate and respect others.

In classrooms, when the teacher holds discussions and often informs students the previous day about a topic, students ask : “Will this be on the test?” The answer is ” It gives students what they yearn for – learning engagement, broadening perspectives, promoting higher level thinking , interpretation ,enhances language, enhances logical reasoning skills and decision making”. When I have informal talks, I steer the chat to help them to use their minds. This is done by posing carefully constructed questions that will make the students have a more disciplined way of thinking. And how…..?

I couldn’t but enjoy the wonderful rains yesterday. The  school grounds looked beautiful with trees swaying with the gentle winds and the lush green carpet that we could see and admire from our classrooms. The  laughter and chatter of voices could not keep me from coming down. It was a perfect Kodak moment. Kids in colourful raincoats and teachers with fancy umbrellas enjoyed the rains, splashing and dancing together oblivious of the envious looks of many who had to hold  themselves back. I could not resist  the invitation from the four and half year old  kids who dragged me into their circle. What I experienced for the next twenty minutes was sheer pure bliss. For the teachers, the excitement and joy was contagious. Before we knew, the group was large enough to have a rain dance in circles. Our discussions with the tiny- tots moved from rains, seasons, health and hygiene during rains and emotions related to their experiences.

A teenager asked me if I had advised parents (during my Orientation Meeting) against allowing their wards a night out with friends. “What is the harm in spending the week-end with friends? We only play computer games. Why are we being asked to play outside in the evenings ….”.. the discussion did have a digression at times but I gently steered him to focus on the purpose  ” I put across some questions and encouraged the young lad to answer them honestly, knowledgeably and appropriately. I realised what a huge responsibility I shoulder, when I speak to parents during Orientations. Fortunately, I have this wonderful platform to share my insights, experience and concerns openly with parents. The young boy went back smiling quite convinced that his parents were right in disciplining his daily schedules. 

My readers may remember a blog post , where I mentioned about a little girl who fought against all odds to make it with 92% in the Boards. She now completed her Grade XII from our school with 85%. She was a little low when she realised that her family was not willing to send her out of Thane due to her physical conditions. She wanted to do Law in the Govt Law College. Her elder sister, who was my student too almost 8 years back did not support her decision too. The three of us had a long discussion and even decided how she would reach GLC. She travelled alone for the first time in her life. She did it with confidence and courage. I am sure she too would feel responsible and careful. She will continue to learn from experiences and gain new perspectives.

These are just a few examples of how we can establish a climate of openness, of inquiry, of trust and mutual respect. It is a small step that we can take in our daily routine to build better family ties and bonding.

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