Mrs. Anupama, Educationalist, Trinity College London

Posted On: 2020-05-05 20:34 Change Maker Mrs. Anumpa

Mrs.Anupama officially started working as a Senior Academic and Head EL, PAN India at Trinity College in 2014 and is associated with the education domain for the last 34 years. Coming from a family of highly efficient academicians, she had a strong intent to become an impactful Educationist. Her purpose is not just confined to India but on a global platform. Before joining Trinity College, she was the principal at a school in UAE. Gathering a wide range of experiences from many different countries for 28 years, she has come to believe herself to be a leader with a vision of an influencer and not just a leader with a powerful title or position. She proves to be a powerful inspiration for educationalists globally.



Question 1.Please let us know more about your journey, how and from where you started?
As a child, I was fascinated by the teachers who taught me at St Xavier’s School, Bokaro Steel City and I realized very early in life what a life-impacting profession teaching is. I come from a family of educators. My mother worked as a Russian Language Instructor and I was completely in awe of the way she trained Indian Engineers at India’s largest steel plant to speak in Russian with ease. I was also a big fan of my two elder sisters who started their teaching careers in my school i.e. St. Xavier’s. Sparked by these influences, somewhere in my growing up years, I had decided what my future profession would be. Back in the 80’s, while I was living in Delhi, learning spoken English became hugely popular. I met a lady at a social gathering who used to run her training center for Spoken English. It was called the Indo-British School of Languages, Delhi. During this meeting, she made me an offer to work as the senior instructor cum Manager at her institute. ‘Without an interview?’ I asked. She smiled and said, "Well, our talk was an interview and I am happy to say that you have passed with flying colors!’’ That was my first job and I gave it my all. After a while, my family and I left for the UAE. Grabbing the opportunity over there, I joined as a Pre-primary Teacher and soon became the Principal of that same school. It was a very fulfilling experience for me and the beginning of my international career path in the direction of language teaching. My family and I moved to several countries in the line of work and in those 28 years, I too continued to head various schools in those countries. Over the years I have often reflected on how fortuitous it was for me to choose the profession of teaching. At the end of three decades in heading K-12 schools, I got a chance to change track albeit staying within the broad domain of school-level education as Trinity College London inducted me as its Senior Academic and Head EL, PAN India in the year 2014. Looking back, it is very clear that I was filled with a sense of mission and joy at the changes I was able to make in creating or enriching educational spaces in countries where Indian schools were few and far between.



Question 2. Being a Change-maker, how can you contribute towards the betterment of the community of Teachers and Principals?
Having spent more than two decades with educators, I have realized that our teachers, who are the pillars of any institution need to receive regular and high-quality training inclassroom techniques, communicational and other inter-personal soft skills. I have been training teachers in these areas throughout my life. I feel happy to say that my ability and experience to enrich the community of teachers and Principals is global and therefore I can make a significant contribution while guiding and mentoring them.



Question 3. What kind of support would you like to provide to teachers and fellow educators?
Mentoring and guiding fellow educators. Organizing webinars or workshops for the community.



Question 4.Please mention some of your skills that can help community members.
Based on my hands-on style of working I would like to very much focus on developing Communicational, Leadership, Time Management, Delegation, and Priorities setting strategies in my community. All of this will enable them to become skillful in multi-tasking to create an environment of positive learning.



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?
It was indeed a big challenge and it left me metamorphosed. When I was first elevated to the level of Principal, I realized that I had till then not had a chance to exercise patience and empathy and understand a situation from another person's perspective. Learning to motivate others and guiding them to achieve high results became an ongoing task. I also had to learn the art of delegating tasks to others instead of trying to be the perfectionist myself. Besides, I also learned that the delegation of tasks would empower the other person with a new skill or increase the experience in an existing one. Another challenge that I faced was doing the balancing act between an administrator and an educator. As a Principal, many times the demands of stakeholders or commitments in crisis management rise to such high levels that it becomes difficult to focus on your students’ and teachers’ well-being. The bond and between a school leader and her students as also other members of the team need constant nurturing to be kept alive to achieve the school’s vision. To keep that bond growing and healthy requires investing a huge chunk of time and a big heart and alert eyes and ears. As a leader, I have had to remind myself constantly that I am an educator first and later an administrator and I am happy to add that I have led happy, performing teams. Together we have managed to achieve the school’s vision. In other words, effective time management is the success mantra I have practiced all these years to prioritize my goals and make each member of the team feel at ease with or without me standing at their back.



Question 6. How would you describe your leadership style?
I practice the dictum ‘Leadership is not a position or a title; it is about vision and action and setting examples for others.’ I think I have been following more of a Coaching leadership style in which I have always tried to motivate my staff and students. I do not believe in intimidating people with the ‘powers’ that have been vested in me. I believe that by encouraging them to participate in collaborative tasks like brainstorming sessions, informal discussions on various issues as a team gives them a sense of belongingness towards the organization. I have been investing time and resources on my teachers and students. As a result, it has benefitted all of us in terms of improvement in day to day teaching and learning activities. I have been careful to make each team member feel ‘heard’. I also believe that even if a teacher is talented, she cannot do much if she is working for a low functioning organization. Therefore, to bring about the best in her, it is up to the leader to offer her high quality administrative, cognitive and emotional support within a friendly and safe learning-centered environment.



Question 7. What advice would you give to a new teacher?
Dear Teacher, ‘’First of all, I would like to congratulate you for choosing this wonderful profession. Let me tell you that although it will take you along a beautiful and satisfying journey. it will also make huge demands on your time, energy and emotions. There will be times when you will become impatient teaching the same concept over and over again and would feel like screaming in frustration. At that time do remember that there is a ‘slow learner’ in your class waiting for that reassuring smile from you that gives her/him the courage to gradually overcome the ‘learning disability’ that is weighing down heavily on her / his tiny little spirit. When you feel exhausted and too tired to teach the next lesson on ‘gravity,’ remember there's a young little scientist in the class who woke up excited today because he wanted to attend your class. When you face an angry parent, and you feel like shouting back, remember that the school has reposed its faith and trust in you and is relying deeply on you and is confident that you are indeed the mature one who has the power to calm him down and indirectly ‘teach’ even an adult how to deal with anger. When you undergo a numbness in your hand, and your fingers ache while correcting the notebooks, remember there is a child who hasn’t slept all night, waiting for you to take a look at his essay on ‘My favorite teacher' and that is YOU! My dear teacher, don’t forget that huge responsibility rests on your shoulders. Effective communication; good interpersonal skills and keeping abreast of new developments in pedagogy and educational technology are the keys to your being a successful teacher. You leave your fingerprints on every heart you touch. Make it worthwhile.”



Question 8.What would be your ideal school environment, and how would you encourage that kind of culture?
An ideal school is a happy school according to me. The entire school staff, teachers, students, helping staff, even parents, play a significant role and contribute to developing and sustaining this ‘happy’ environment. Firstly, everybody should feel a sense of shared ownership, in other words, all members of the staff should believe in the necessity of transforming the school vision into reality and they should be prepared to contribute their wholehearted effort in making that possible. The vision and mission statement of a school should not just be a set of memorized phrases or printed slogans adorning the School’s walls and website. Secondly, every individual needs to feel valued by the School Management and be appreciated for her or his efforts. It’s after all a basic need recognized by Maslow in his hierarchy of human needs. A mere mention of that particular effort/achievement during a staff meeting boosts up the morale of the staff member. It is the Principal’s role to convey these to Management and keep communication flowing. I remember, once a teacher in my school in Singapore went out of her way to quietly start special classes for the slow learners during lunchtime. Many of us came to know about it after a long time. I was overwhelmed and rewarded her suitably. Her sincere effortswent a long way in showing what sense of responsibility truly means. To me, an ideal school environment is where the leader works towards developing a climate of Collaborative effort for achieving excellence. This would mean paying attention to and creating expectations in every area, right from discipline, belongingness or cleanliness. A revolution of the mindset of school leaders in all these areas would lead to the creation of an ideal school environment.



Question 9. How would you develop an inclusive environment in your school?
I have worked in schools that had students from various socio-economic, ethnic and religious backgrounds. I have also had to deal extensively with differently-abled children. This has been one of my greatest challenges as well as learning experiences. I have always believed that exercising empathy towards teachers, students, and staff is one of the most important prerequisites towards developing an inclusive school culture. Irrespective of whichever cultural background a child belongs to, and whatever its pace and mode of learning I have always striven to guide my school to show a strong respect for each other’s personalities, intelligence, family background, learning styles, economic status, and religious affinities. This approach and thinking became a strong unifying force and created an environment of inclusion. One in which all students felt accepted, safe, and had a sense of belonging. I believe sensitizing students in this aspect from their early years is of prime importance since we have to prepare them to live as global citizens.



Question 10.As the position of a Principal requires intense time management, how do you organize your day to meet the plethora of requirements and commitments required as the School Principal?
A Principal is expected to be a superhero, except of course without a cape! I share this as a joke with my team. Intending to become organized, the first thing I do early in the morning is to prepare a ‘To Do’ list before leaving for office, only to find that at the end of the day a large number of tasks on my list could be completed in the manner I had visualized them. However, in dealing with the bigger issues I realized that the smaller ones had got done automatically. Therefore, the secret of success as I mentioned earlier is that effective time management must always be coupled with an intelligent delegation of tasks. At first, it was quite difficult for me to find the right person to do a particular job. It is with persistent effort and end of day introspection that I developed a keen eye for picking the right person for the right job. I discovered that other people are good, even exceptional if only they are entrusted with a job to find out their real talent and proficiency. The bridge between effective time management and intelligent delegation of tasks is the ability to set priorities and stick with them! As a school leader, a person should be able to delegate all the executive level work to team members and keep her own time focused on monitoring, guiding, evaluating and communicating! These are the most important tasks if a Principal wants to have a high achieving, safe and happy school.



Question 11. What is your opinion on the use of technology in classrooms? Were there any challenges that you faced in integrating technology?
The greatest example of technology being used in the most efficiently is the online or virtual classrooms in these lockdown times. Had it not been for technologies like Google Hangouts, Zoom, Google Classroom Microsoft Teams, etc. I shudder to imagine how students would be able to use their time fruitfully in today’s lockdown scenario. Through technology, we have been able to reach right into their homes. In one of the schools where I worked as Principal, we had teachers who were much senior to me in age and had been working in that school for a very long period. I struggled to motivate them for changing their mindsets towards the use of technology in classrooms but to no avail. The resisted change by saying that digital devices were a gimmick and a good teacher does not need any props. Persistence and my use of technology while conducting in-service training paid off and they gradually came around to adapting themselves to the novel ways. I would, however, like to add that merely closing the gap between technology and teachers is not sufficient. Two more aspects must not be lost sight of. Firstly, it is not necessary to spend money on the frequent replacement of hardware. That, in fact, is wasteful if not an unscrupulous use of school fees. The school as a learning community must stress the importance of innovation and improvisation for the optimal utilization of resources. The use of imagination and creativity in this task keeps the teachers in a perpetually flexible and receptive frame of mind. Secondly, every teacher must make an effort to keep technology harnessed to the needs of the lesson she has to teach and not become a slave of the technology and compromise with the values building function of education. This aspect I daresay won't be taken over by machines for many, many years to come, if at all!



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?
While we have witnessed a sea of change in our education system in recent years, we still cannot deny the fact that there are a lot of gaps remaining to be filled. At the topical level, it seems our pedagogy has become sophisticated but the ground reality is not that flattering. Technology no doubt is helping in improving the teaching-learning process, but we need to carry out extensive capacity-building of individual teachers. Until and unless everyone attains a significant level of tech-savviness, we cannot expect a school-wide transformation in pedagogical ethos. We cannot overlook the fact that a steel chain is as strong as its weakest link! Some teachers struggle to integrate technology into their curriculum and are frowned at by colleagues. On the other hand, those who are very good with technology become the target of scorn by the lesser accomplished and that leads to cracks in the team and thereby reducing its effectiveness. Theresult is that the whole institution becomes attuned to a non-controversial level of mediocrity. This is where the role of the school leader becomes paramount - preventing artificial walls and leading from the front for the establishment of a progressive mindset. The unexpected COVID-19 lockdown has necessitated fully online teaching-learning. How many teachers are comfortable doing it? Ultimately, a predominance of online activities is our future and therefore no teacher can afford to shy away from becoming proficient in digital teaching.



Question 13. Would you like to share any specific message to the community of teachers and principals?
Don’t forget that those extra hours you work to help your students succeed will never go waste. Always remember the moral of the African story ‘Ubuntu’ - ‘’I am because we are.’’ Let our teaching fraternity always have this attitude and spread knowledge and happiness wherever we go. Let’s all lead an ‘’Ubuntu’ life because Knowledge Shared is Knowledge Doubled!



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