Dr. Kusum D'sa, with her over two and half decades of experience in the education domain is a role model and a source of inspiration to numerous educators. In her remarkable professional journey in she witnessed her transition from a faculty to the leadership role of Principal. She has been the core team member of Manipal K12 education company and oversaw it scaling up from two schools to a chain of forty-five well-known schools. In the year 2015, she founded The Cambridge International School in Mangaluru. Currently, she is leading the Vibgyor School as its founder Principal.
Question 1: Please let us know more about your journey, how and from where you started?
I began my career as an English Teacher in Pre-university and University colleges for 13 years in Mangalore and Udupi districts. In 1998 I was awarded as a Research fellow for a doctoral study in an interdisciplinary area of Education/Economics and Sociology at Manipal University. In 2004 I joined ICFAI National College, Mangalore as a faculty in Business communication and soft skills for MBA students. Later I rose to the position of Principal in the same college and then transferred to Udupi INC. In 2009, I was the core member of Manipalk12 education company which founded greenfield schools and revived the non-performing schools. From 2 Schools we scaled up to 45 in 3 years. I served as Regional Academic Head, Karnataka & Kerala. My role was to set up three greenfield schools in Mangalore, Cochin and Palghat, Revive a 50-year-old school in Manipal. I was responsible for the total school governance, Academics, Admission, infrastructure, Administration, Branding, Auditing, Teacher Training. The company merged into Pearson schools later. In 2015 I founded The Cambridge International School in Mangaluru. I joined Vibgyor School in 2019 as a founder Principal and currently working here.
Question 2: Being a Change-maker, how can you contribute towards the betterment of the community of Teachers and Principals?
As a Change Maker, I have already worked towards capacity building of Principals and Teachers through customised Grooming of the principals/teacher training modules. Mentoring on the Principals and the teachers on the job, auditing and training, counselling with goal setting is what I have been doing in my role as consultant or Academic Head.
Question 3: What kind of support would you like to provide to teachers and fellow educators?
I would try to answer their queries related to career advancement on Forum, Mentor and guide fellow educators, Organise webinars or workshops for the community. Sharing my thoughts through blog or write-ups would be another way I could contribute.
Question 4: Please mention some of your skills which can help community members.
Leadership skills, Training, Counselling, Mentoring and Grooming, team-building skills are a few from my skills set, which could be utilised to support community members.
Question 5: The transition from an individual contributor to a leadership role must have required specific skills, what skills do you think are critical for teachers for such transition? Were there any challenges as well, If yes then how did you overcome those challenges?
The skills required for me to transit as a faculty to a Principal was an exciting journey of self. I had to fine-tune my team building, interpersonal and people skills. I realised that the team look up towards an empathetic leader rather than a rule-bound Alpha leader! After the team aligns with their leader, they will automatically any protocols laid down. I had to improve on my patience and most of the time, let go of perceptions and opinions created. I had to learn that anyone who steps into my cabin looks for a solution, and I need to focus on that. Since then, my goal for my team member who walks into my cabin is to walk out with more clarity, focus and determination.
Question 6: How would you describe your leadership style?
My leadership skill is more inclined towards empathetic listening and creating value for each team member. I have endeavoured to analyse each team member and nurture the strengths and interest. I focus on what the person can contribute and not on the weakness. I create a one to one meeting in me and bring about the improvement only after I have the trust built between us. So, my approach is nurturing leadership!
Question 7: What advice would you give to a new teacher?
A new teacher should bring with her/him passion towards teaching, love to the children and hunger to learn. These may sound cliched, but these essential core attributes build a strong career for the new teacher. A new teacher should observe, be tech-savvy and integrate concepts to the real-life situation to make learning interesting and fun.
Question 8: What would be your ideal school environment, and how would you encourage that kind of culture?
My ideal school environment should be Happy! A nurturing environment for Teachers, students, in turn, creates Happy parents. It is rightly said that we work for our leaders than the company. A conducive atmosphere should be created where feedback is encouraged, and each person should be valued. Achievements should be encouraged. A planned approach with daily reviews will help to create a Happy culture.
Question 9: How would you develop an inclusive environment in your school?
I have a team-building skill module before the session begins, which is in the month of May. The goal of this module is to highlight the interdependency of different departments and to work in an inclusive environment. Children have to be sensitised too to appreciate difference rather than focus only on the rigmarole of the rat race of marks!
Question 10: As the position of a Principal requires intense time management, how do you organise your day to meet the plethora of requirements and commitments required as the School Principal?
As a leader, I have to be accessible to the team leaders and to those who report to them. I have created a Principal Time table where each team leader meets me on a specific time and day with agenda points drawn by them. This helps me to understand the challenges and achievements which will be highlighted in the interdepartmental meeting. This has worked well, and everyone understands their role and the importance of interdependence. This structured Time table has made my task easy, and time is managed well.
Question 11: What is your opinion on the use of technology in classrooms? Were there any challenges that you faced in integrating technology?
Technology in the classroom is necessary and inevitable. This provides us with the opportunity to tap a plethora of resources available in just a click of a button. Our teachers need to be open-minded and adapt to the changing environment in the field of education. I was fortunate to bring about technological changes when it entered the market. "Know your Teacher' program, which I have developed to understand the teachers helped me to come up with a core team of interested change-makers to unlearn and relearn the new addition, Digital curriculum. This team realised that technology is another effective tool. The core team reached out to the other teachers in training. This took about three months for a complete overhaul.
Question 12: Do you feel there are any gaps in the present education system? If so, how do you feel one can fill those gaps?
Firstly, the perennial gap is that of outdated curriculum vis a vis demands of the industry. Secondly, the plural country with different demands to cater to the ideologies of religion/political parities etc. has put education in casualty. Thirdly, too much of focus on marks and report card and almost no focus on wellness and happiness quotient! These are the major gaps.
Question 13: Would you like to share any specific message to the community of teachers and principals?
My specific message is simple. Be true to yourself, your profession and try and make a difference every day. Together we can create wonders despite all the challenges we are facing today. Instead of being negative and criticising external factors, let us look within and do wonders in what we can control.
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