And ……….Go !

“At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake ………” That was 68 years ago. What should Independence Day mean to each one of us born in the post- Independence era? Is it a day for us to remember those freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives or is it a day where children participate in a variety of cultural events to be reminded of India’s rich cultural heritage or is it a day to buy flags and place them in cars to show one’s patriotic spirit or is it just a holiday? To us, it ought to be symbolic of the core-values on which lies the edifice of India. It symbolises courage, pride, selflessness, conviction, self-belief, synergy, honesty of purpose and above all integrity.

If our children are already on their mark and have got set …why haven’t they got going? We must check for the missing ingredient. Let us look at some everyday happenings … a project has been announced. Children have been asked to collect information. We parents get into action -we Google, search for information, download, and print and “help” our children to keep the matter ready. Let us see what goes through the child – he has passed on the onus of learning to the parent. If the content is not ready, no matter what the reason may be, it is the parent’s fault. In school, the child reads the matter for the first time and is lost in the jungle of information he has ready-made. The first learnt from this example is the need to have Clarity of Purpose – why are we doing, what we are doing. When they know the purpose, they will find the path.

While it is important for children to think, it is even more important to know how to think. The “how “ comes from all that children go through in their attempt to complete the project satisfactorily. The project will empower children with collection of relevant matter, understanding, analysis, dissemination and creativity. In later stages of their lives, when independent decision –making for personal or/and professional development comes into active play, this exercise would prove them to be effective and quick decision makers. In life, we can clearly see a pattern in wrong decisions made by people – all of them comes from failure to think clearly. This cognitive error comes clearly due to deviation from logic. Quick –fix solutions will lead to irrational and illogical thinking. Let them not grow with the belief that everything can be managed easily. How unpredictable the world is! Let us prepare them for that.

With exposure to different views, different people, different situations, children learn to respect others, yet be convinced of their own standing. This self-belief will give them the courage to blaze new trails and find their little space. This is what I call, their “unique identity”. Discovering and identifying with this unique identity is something that can neither be taught nor enforced. The earlier they find it, the better it is, even it means in a small measure or space. I was perplexed by a question many a time- Why do we have such young achievers in music, sport or digital space, while we have Cement barons arrive only when they are in their 40s? Most of the present- day young achievers are self-starters too. The answer that I can possibly think of is that it takes at least 15 years of training /hands-on experience to be able to get right up there. Children today have the right environment with varied learning experience and parents go out of their way to provide opportunities to develop further interest in a field of their choice and hone their skills well. When a child realises it early in life, he/she starts training and works on it diligently sometimes with some kind of an obsession. So, by the time they are 25, they find their space and create something of their own. They break barriers with courage and conviction, synergise with like-minded people, work hard to innovate leading to a burning desire to be “somebody”. On the other hand, a first time industrialist to-be will set his foot in the industry of his choice only at 22. He must have some shop-floor experience, some managerial experience before he gets started at 30. He will need at least 15 years to make a mark.That explains his arrival at 45. Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovtiz, the Face-book guys or Amit Kumar, the 20 year old gold medallist in CWG or U.Srinivas , the Mandolin Maestro found their unique identity.

So, let us encourage our children to work their way with courage, passion, conviction and drive with determination to the finishing line. Where they want their finishing line to be is their call. When we reach such a point, they can proudly write their blog on ‘India of my Dreams’ and ‘How did I make it happen?’ That would be the proudest moment for me – their teacher. That is my dream!

Here we GO………………………………………….!!!!

Jai-Hind !


Addressing the ninth graders this morning was a pleasant experience. Students swarmed around me later in the day describing the address as an eye-opener and a revelation of sorts. It got them to introspect and redefine their purpose. They even suggested a few  topics that I must address to give them a clarity of their vision. It added a different dimension to my own perception that kids don’t like to be told.I gathered that if we handle our style of delivery ,we can assist students in adding a different perspective to their own thought- process provided. If the purpose is served , then why not ? It is very rare these days, to come across 14 year olds to introspect and even provide feedback. More often than not, we presume that today’s kids don’t like to be told. How important it is to change our mind-set!!!! 

How do we address issues and help children to introspect? I asked myself and this is what we can do.

Getting the attention of 500+ young students means one needs to talk exactly what they like to listen. And so, I showed them a clipping from a movie on managing work, time and attitudes. It was the famous comedy – Lucy show – where poor Lucy was overloaded with more work to be done in a faster pace just because she showed she could do thing well the first time. Drawing an analogy, I asked students if they too felt the same and why? The students said they felt this all the time. “Once done, there are piles of more tasks to be accomplished”. And that’s how life expects of us – I added. It makes you feel that you are very enjoyable.

So, how does one make this journey more enriching and fun? Let us understand how success works.

Every child is born with intelligence and during the course of his journey through life, he acquires the competencies and skills needed. The pace of acquisition, however depends on the innate ability and the extent to which one uses the opportunities that comes in one’s way. Just as every room has a floor and a ceiling, we too have a floor level and a ceiling level in our ability to perform. It varies from person to person. In other words, each of us have a floor level and a ceiling level. On an examination day, all students do their best to reach their ceiling level. There are times, however, when despite their best efforts, some of the best students do not reach their ceiling levels. This could either be due to anxiety or health reasons or even overconfidence. On the other hand, a student who is considered average in the class, even may reach his ceiling level on that particular day and may score more than the above – average student. We call it luck. The truth is while the good student could not perform to his ceiling level and was at the floor level on the fateful examination day, the other student had reached his ceiling level which was above the good student’s floor level. This is so because he may have lucky enough to get questions which he prepared for, his anxiety level is low, for he has set no expectations and he is not filled with over-confidence. We call this a stroke of luck. I call it Mental preparation to the finishing line.

This is not just applicable for academics but also to every activity and event that comes our way.

How do we help students prepare to be ahead in the race unto the finishing line?

In my next blog, I shall handle this.

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 !

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