Shalini Nambiar An Educator who is not confined to the stereotypes of the traditional education system
Ms. Shalini Nambiar is the Sr VP, ECS at VIBGYOR Group of Schools. She is simply not the one who would be bound by the limitations of the traditionally followed education system. The outcome, she believes, is not knowledge but a stack of degrees that provide employment. Her belief that education should enable the learner to apply his/her critical thought process and it couldn’t be only guaranteed through certificates and degrees, keeps her motivated to experiment various unorthodox approaches in the teaching-learning process.
She has been awarded with the "Excellence in School Leadership 2018" in September 2018 from Education Today, "North School Merit Award 2018", "Excellence in Education 2018" in June 2018 from Sri Lankan Ministry, "Magicka Entrepreneurs Angel Award 2017" in November 2017 from Magicka, "Outstanding Leader of the Year 2016" in May 2016 from Franchise India, "Woman Leaders Icon in Education" in Aug 2015, "Glory of India" in June 2015 at Bangkok, "Innovative Educator" in September 2012 from Associated Chambers of Commerce & Bal Bharti Academy, and "Bharat Shiksha Award" in June 2012 from Economic Socio council of India.
Question 1 : Please let us know more about your journey, how and when you started?
Once I started my journey as a Music Teacher with G D Goenka School in 1994, there was no looking back. I realized that I had an immense passion to bring change in the education system. Being a progressive visionary with a liberal outlook, I do not want to stay shackled with the pedagogy of stereotype and conventional expectations, and schemes of things that bind an educator. Very much with the time, I believe that education should be, essentially, child-centered and aimed at nurturing the child rather than imposing facts, figures, and theories in the name of education.
Question 2 : How did you deal with the challenges you faced during the transition from an individual contributor to a managerial role, and how did you manage to overcome those challenges?
Management is not one of the easiest tasks. However, it seems exciting and especially for a person like me who is always looking for challenges. I believe in embracing this anxiety and use it to challenge myself to do even better. It’s perfectly natural to feel stressed out as being in leadership; your work becomes dependant on your team. As time goes on, you will get the hang of it and your performance will improve... Rather than descend into an emotional mess, I relax and set micro-goals for myself. This allows me to celebrate the small wins.
In order to optimise my performance, I have focussed on the points mentioned below:
- Organizational skills: Being organized is paramount to being successful. As a Manager, the more organized you are, the less will be chances of failure.
- Status reporting: Make it clear to the team that clean, crisp status reports which must be easily actionable, would be appreciated.
- Strategic thinking: Understanding the value of strategic thinking and using the same to help your group succeed.
- Mentoring fellow workers: As a leader, I have always tried to mentor and coach the team. Undoubtedly this makes them appreciate and respect us.
- Be the employee you want to manage: All managers should know who their star employees are and who the real pains. This insider knowledge allows us to be the employee who we want to manage. Doing this will also reduce some of the management burdens that we feel.
Also, there will be a time where you will be lost, feel alone and question your decisions, Fret not. As long as you have a positive attitude and willingness to learn, just get things done and contribute to the team, you will be fine.
Question 3 : How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe in developing leaders rather than being a leader all the time. As you can see that we have successfully made our students take the lead in imparting education to the community in our neighborhood. I don’t prefer to share the limelight. I believe in making the future contributors take the center-stage. As a leader, I have always tried to mentor and coach the team. Undoubtedly this makes them appreciate and respect us. All managers should know who their star employees are and who the real pains.
Question 4 : What advice would you give to a new teacher?
Please do evaluate yourself, as it is not a 08:00am to 2:00pm job as many of you have perceived. A teacher can make or break a person’s entire life, so tread on this profession only if you really have a burning desire to be in it, otherwise taking up a corporate job would be beneficial for all. While interviewing teachers, I find many of them come loaded with teaching aids while forgetting the best asset that a teacher can use is his/her eyes and hands. A good teacher must be a vivid reader, and enthusiastic in nature. Sadly, I’ve been in too many interviews where prospective teachers don’t act like they even like students. They are more interested in their content than in the actual teaching of it. Be enthusiastic and energetic. Remember, teaching is all about helping students learn and grow. This should be your focus.
Once you get a job, remember that your initial years are the investments on which you will get a dividend for the rest of your career. Develop good curricular habits; be cautious but don’t automatically shy away from controversy. Don’t be a technician. Create your own curriculum. I think a lot of people when they begin teaching, start following or trying to find other people’s curriculum. Be a creator, not just an instruction-follower. This is not to say that you can’t use other people’s lessons – there’s a lot of good material out there – but see yourself as a producer of curriculum, not just a consumer.
Question 5 : What steps would you take if you are dealing with an incident related to student discipline?
When one is in the field of education each day is a learning day, each day a new adventure unfolds, each day we learn with them… no wonder a long time back this quote came up … ‘Child is the father of man’… This incident took place in my school and I definitely want to share it with the world because in our hurry as educationists we start focussing on curriculum more than those important qualities which make a man.
I would love to share this incident which took place in Grade 2 A while I was taking their class yesterday. It is an eye-opener for us adults and a very fulfilling thought as whatever anyone might say this is the kind of education which is important and mandatory.
Some children had thrown another child’s pencil box in the dustbin and the concerned child was really upset so we decided to search the whole class but could not locate it. After a long time, it was found in the dustbin. I took a circle time with them and told them that we have a camera in each class so we will come to know who has done it and that child would not be allowed to come to school from the next day.
My main intention while taking the circle time was making them understands that it’s all right to make mistakes but what is needed is the ability to know when we do something wrong and the courage to admit it.
They all thought for some time and after that Ananya and Krishna stood up and Ananya said that ‘Ms. Shalini, I would not like you to punish any of my friends by stopping them from coming to the school and I am ready to take responsibility for the same’. It actually brought tears to my eyes as this was indeed the real education. Krishna seconded the same thought and finally the child who had thrown it admitted. We clapped for all of them.
Sometimes I meet parents who insist that the child is not doing anything in math or English etc. Of course, that is also equally important but we must remember the school needs to prepare children to be happy adults, content and confident to take the whole world by storm.
Most of the people who have excelled in this world, the reason behind their success is not only literacy but qualities like commitment, hard work, dedication, honesty and often schools in their hurry to complete the curriculum neglect these.
Look around yourself and think of even one person who you feel has been successful and think of that quality which has led him to achieve that and I know the answer to this for all of us will be the same.
Question 6: What would be your ideal school environment, and how would you encourage that kind of culture?
At the present moment, one can see students struggling at school. Though we have progressed still the focus in schools of student excellence is measured by what a child scores in his tests/exams.
The focus today has to be on a better curriculum which is more effective/ interactive and fosters thinking and problem-solving skills.
The importance of content in the development of thinking creates several challenges for the 21st-century skills movement. They need exposure to varied examples before their understanding of a concept becomes more abstract and they can successfully apply that understanding to newer situations. Another curricular challenge is that we don’t yet know how to teach self-direction, collaboration, creativity, and innovation the way we know how to teach long division.
Classrooms should be more interactive and group work needs to be encouraged as it has long-lasting learning of skills needed to work in any organization.
Because of these challenges, devising a 21st-century skills curriculum requires more than paying lip service to content knowledge. Outlining the skills in detail and merely urging that content be taught, too, is a recipe for failure.
More emphasis needs to be there on teachers training. Greater emphasis on skills also has important implications for teacher training. We must have a plan by which teachers can succeed where previous generations have failed.
Advocates of 21st-century skills favor student-centered methods-for example, problem-based learning and project-based learning that allow students to collaborate, work on authentic problems, and engage with the community. These approaches are widely debated and agreed upon by one and all and yet, teachers don’t use them. Even when class sizes are reduced, teachers do not change their teaching strategies or use these student-centered methods.
Most of the teachers are unable to use these methods though they are aware of their effectiveness as they pose huge classroom management problems. When students collaborate, one expects a certain amount of noise in the room, which could devolve into chaos if it is not in so expert hands. These methods also demand that teachers be knowledgeable about a broad range of topics and are prepared to make in-the-moment decisions as the lesson plan progresses. There is a greater demand on the teachers’ effectiveness to lead a class by engaging different students in what they like and also monitoring the student progress. It’s a constant juggling act that involves keeping many balls in the air.
An effective way is also to allow time for teachers to collaborate amongst themselves as they can share their expertise.
These challenges raise important questions about whether the design of today’s schools is compatible with the goals of the 21st-century skills movement.
There is little point in investing heavily in curriculum and human capital without also investing in assessments to evaluate what is or is not being accomplished in the classroom.
Also, sitting in desks may work great for certain people, at the same time it may not work for others. Who cares if a kid wants to sprawl on the ground to work? As long as they’re getting the desired learning outcomes, I say go for it.
It’s because we’re doing the same things repeatedly, we’re holding millions of kids prisoner for several hours a week. And the teacher is given a set of instructions as to what you’re going to say to the students, how you’re going to treat them, what you want the output to be, and let no child be left behind. But there’s a very narrow set of outcomes. Thus in this context, the teachers are hardly taking ownership of their jobs and with the lack of that passion is lacking and the pride is missing.
When I was a student, I went through all the same rote repetitive stuff that kids go through today. You need to find out what each student loves. If you want kids to really learn, they’ve got to love something.
Much of what we’re teaching is doomed to obsolescence at a far more rapid rate than ever before. We have this enormous bank of obsolete knowledge in our heads, in our books, and in our culture. Now, because everything is in rapid change, the amount of obsolete knowledge that we have — and that we teach — is greater. We’re drowning in obsolete information.
Do you think that we need textbooks at a time where anything is available at a click of a mouse and also the textbooks are the same for every child; every child gets the same textbook? My argument is that why should all kids in a classroom get the same book though they have different interests and abilities. One kid may be interested in art and another in Medicine but they are studying the same thing.
My Ideal school [if God gives me the money] would be… It will be open 24 hours a day. Kids can arrive at different times and not come at the same time as an army. I would have non-teachers working with teachers in that school, I would have the kids coming and going at different times that make sense for them.
The schools of today are essentially custodial: They’re taking care of kids in work hours that are essentially nine to five — when the whole society was assumed to work.
Schools have to be completely integrated into the community, to take advantage of the skills in the community. So, there ought to be business offices in the school, from various kinds of business in the community.
Am I giving a utopian picture? Perhaps.
I also think that maybe teaching shouldn’t be a lifetime career. I feel teachers should quit for three or four years and go do something else and come back as then they will come back with better ideas. They would have gained knowledge about how the outside world works, in ways that would not have been available to them if they were in the classroom the whole time.
I just feel it’s inevitable that there will have to change. The only question is whether we’re going to do it starting now, or whether we’re going to wait for catastrophe.
Our present academic structures, from nursery till graduation is modelled on the basis of the needs of an industry-driven society, are neither functional nor adaptable to the needs of the 21st century. Merely seeking to reform them will not do. It requires surgery and no band-aid will serve the purpose.
Question 7: Please explain how you would reach out to people from various demographics to make sure all students and community members are included?
Rather than directly doing so by myself, I prefer to develop change agents. Our students have lovingly taken under their wings the children in the underprivileged neighborhood of Palam Vihar. They have a curriculum designed for them wherein they impart basic life skills, rudimentary Math and English to them.
The students stay back after school and teach the students. And they don’t do it because we ask them to, they do it because they want to. We are always there with our scaffolding, to help them with resources, curriculum and any guidance that they may require. We have serious plans to take this project, which we call ‘Asha ki Kiran’ forward and we hope to set up, after identifying their skills and their aptitude, vocational training unit for our valued neighbors
Question 8: What is your take on the use of technology in the Classroom? And what are the challenges you faced in integrating technology?
With the world changing rapidly it is creating unknown challenges, opportunity, and unpredictability. We as educators are trying to educate a generation without being aware of the different kind of jobs which will be available 10 years hence, what are the skills needed to survive in the globalized world yet we are trying to reform, improve and work on an attainable solution. We are well aware that these challenges will require new thinking and collective action.
Schools of tomorrow need to be different.
If I look back at my own school days and the teaching style that existed then and compares it to now not much has changed except the fact that the classrooms are swankier with smart boards/projectors/computers/tablets etc
In an era of expanding choice and risk, how can students be best equipped to lead the good life and the life of a citizen as well as that of a worker? What we teach is sometimes dictated to us. How we teach though, should never be dictated to us. Many have heard the term in relation to teaching students “Engage me or enrage me.” What can we do that will engage students and what can we make sure we do not do in order to avoid enraging them. Regarding the use of different technologies in the school,
1) The tools are not the things that have the power to change education, it is the teachers that have the passion and ability to use the tools effectively that will make the difference.
2) What is the tool we will be using in the future? Furthermore, should we be concerned with what the next gadget will be or should we simply utilize what we have today effectively?
There is a greater demand for critical thinking and problem-solving skills and all in unison agree that the student needs ’ 21st-century skills’ to be successful. I agree that many students are lucky enough to attend highly effective schools or encountered great teachers but it is indeed a matter of chance rather than a deliberate design.
What teachers need is much more effective training and support than they receive today, including specific lesson plans that deal with the high cognitive demands and potential classroom management problems of using student-centered methods. Teachers get a lot of technology, ideas, and theories taught to them, usually without adequate time to explore or learn how to use these ideas. In frustration, teachers abandon most of the new things.
Other Change Makers
- Ms. Sangeeta Kapoor (Founder Principal, Infinity School) The Harvard certified visionary, who is promoting the culture of questioning
- Dr Dheeraj Mehrotra -Who believes that students are the curators of knowledge and hence we cannot teach them the way we were taught
- Dr. Raghuveer Y.V. (Principal, G.D. Goenka Public School, Patna) is a Change Maker with an open mind
- Dr. Sumita Chhabra Ummat (Naturopath, Director of Let us Talk)- Touching Lives and Making a Difference