All posts by Shwetangna Chakrabarty

Shwetangna Chakrabarty is an International educator currently working in Guangzhou, China. She has 15 years of experience in teaching different curricula in different countries and continents. She has held multiple responsibility positions as an international educator; Curriculum Coordinator, University Counsellor, Extended Essay and Personal Project Coordinator, CIS/NEASC/IB Accreditation Coordinator, IBEN Member. She teaches mathematics and business management to the International GCSE and International Baccalaureate (IB) students. Her education credentials include MBA, PGCE(I), B.Ed. and BCA. She writes blogs for The International Educator and the IB. She is also the contributing author for international publications like 'Bringing Innovative Practices to Your School' a Taylor & Francis Group and Routledge publication and 'Educational Reform and International Baccalaureate in the Asia-Pacific' an IGI Global Publication. She is passionate about developing a culture of internationalism and be a change-maker and thought leader in international education.

TEACH FOR PEACE: international day of peace

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21st September is celebrated as the International Day of Peace. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly has declared this as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, through observing 24 hours of non-violence and cease-fire.

Peace is the key to surviving the next decade. With pandemics, wars, natural disasters, conflicts, political power play and most importantly lack of education, observing peace even for 24 hours seems unimaginable. This is the state of the planet!

The UN celebrate international days and weeks to give us time to stop and think about issues that matter the most. This is also an opportunity to educate on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems. It is also a way of celebrating and reinforcing humanity.

As a teacher, I know that academic organizations go out of their way to celebrate UN International Days as at the core of the philosophy of education lies the betterment of the world and its people. Surprisingly it is not a pressing agenda for most organizations, corporates or governments.

Interestingly it does bother the young minds as they see and experience violence, discrimination and hatred every day, thanks to the media. Some questions that my senior students asked when discussing ways to celebrate International Day of Peace, come to my mind.

  1. Is it only the responsibility of academic organizations or organizations like the UN to care about world peace? Why do other organizations, who dominate the world markets, not take an initiative?
  2. Why does peace have to come at a cost, but violence is free?
  3. Why are women and children subjected to the most violent acts?
  4. What persuades humans to act likes animals? Or are we just animals persuaded to be humans?
  5. Can we teach peace? If yes, then where are we failing?

To promote global solidarity for a peaceful and sustainable world we need to change our ways every day, not just one day. How do we do this?

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi,

“If we want to reach real peace in this world, we should start educating children.”

A goal to educate all people in the world is truly global peace. The ability to coexist needs to be taught, hence investing in schools should be a priority for every country, every organization, every human. That would be a concrete step towards world peace. Teach for Peace should become the mantra.

In international schools, there are many innovative projects happening to instil the value of a shared planet and to take care of the shared space. For example, privileged schools supporting the underprivileged, Model United Nation (MUN) conferences, mandated community service programmes, celebrating diversity, raising voice against discrimination, building resilience against change and most importantly valuing global peace or delivering education to make the world a better place.

If we don’t act urgently and immediately, we will continue creating humans with no humanity, orphans with no countries, and a planet with no peace. This will be our apocalypse, so let’s celebrate International Peace Day every day. Let’s be soldiers but soldiers of peace to protect our planet. Teach for Peace.

Breaking Boundaries

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This September, it will be one and half years since I crossed any international border. Being an international school teacher, one of the much-awaited times of the year is the summer or winter holidays, when expats like me cross many boundaries to reach our destinations. I remember a time when I took 14 flights in 40 days to cross some rustic, some familiar and some sought after boundaries. Many a time I was asked uncomfortable questions, like “How did you get the visa?” or ”Why are you travelling alone?”. There was even one time when my son and I were detained by the airport immigration authorities for 2 hours as they wanted to verify our details! Privileges I have enjoyed being a person of colour. Yet it still didn’t deter me or my family from crossing or I would say Breaking Boundaries

Incidentally, Breaking Boundaries is a Netflix series on safeguarding the future of the planet. I would like to use it as an analogy for safeguarding the present state of the planet. Boundaries were created to bring peace and order to the world, but have they? Boundaries have created weaponised armies, infantry and artillery, discrimination, xenophobia and genocide. This imaginary line has only severed the umbilical cord of humans from humanity.  It’s high time we consider Breaking Boundaries, literally and metaphorically.

Whilst we cannot get rid of this imaginary line, we can make it less rigid and easy to break through, and this has to start in our early years, as early as possible. Most of our formative knowledge is constructed in school, therefore, action needs to be taken in educating children for Breaking Boundaries. 

Language – Learning different languages is a great way of breaking boundaries, it teaches compassion, tolerance and a perspective to understand the world. We can never have one language for all and we can never learn all languages to understand all, but we can have one way of understanding all languages-empathy. The fact that at the core of every conversation is a need to be understood. Teach children to communicate and listen to other people, teach them to collaborate across boundaries to blur the lines.

Sports – The recent Tokyo Olympics has been exemplary in reminding us how team sports helps in breaking boundaries. It reminded us that borders cannot define us even though we are segregated, grouped and claimed by borders. The team spirit and the spirit of camaraderie wins the overall differences created by borders. Sports teaches us the value of sacrifice, the contentment in celebrating other people’s achievements and recognising the empathetic side of the human spirit.

Interdisciplinary teaching – Training the brain to bring in separate ideas is the main objective of interdisciplinary learning. It is the type of learning that breaks the subject boundaries to bring together separate disciplines around common themes, issues, or problems. If we train our students to learn from an interdisciplinary point of view, they will look beyond boundaries and come together to work around issues plaguing humanity. They will not hesitate in breaking borders for the better.

At the core of Breaking Boundaries lies a key message of action – come together for breaking boundaries that limit, discriminate and determine human identity. Don’t scar the Earth with ugly boundaries, blur the imaginary line to imagine new frontiers of friendship, collaboration, empathy and above all survival.

Are You a Reflective Practitioner?

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What does it mean to be a reflective practitioner?

A reflective practitioner reflects on practice in order to improve their performance. A teacher who develops a habit of reflection to get more knowledge and experience and apply it to classroom planning and instruction is a reflective practitioner. This includes critically reflecting upon their teaching practice to develop practical instructional strategies.

Why should teachers be reflective practitioners?

Teachers have a job of planning instructions and delivering them in the classroom. John Dewey explained this as theory and practice in education, he focused primarily on experiential and reflective learning. He explained that a theory cannot be understood unless it is practised hence experience is very valuable in practice (Dewey, 1923). Long before John Dewey, many educational theorists and philosophers like Lev Vygotsky and Confucius have written about the benefits of reflective teaching and experiential learning as the best strategy to attain knowledge and understanding.

Teachers get an opportunity to improve their teaching if they can look into their successes and challenges to make necessary amendments. This process is reflection. Since experience and reflection are interlinked, reflection denotes an experience as a reflective experience. “Reflection is a way of converting ready-structured experience into the newly structured actions we call the professional practice” (Silcock, 1994, p. 278).

Teachers should be reflective practitioners as they will be able to combine knowledge and expertise empowering themselves to be change-makers and thought leaders in education. Teachers need to be reflective for professional growth as well as for the growth of pedagogy.

How can teachers be reflective practitioners? 

Teachers can be reflective practitioners if they have developed a habit of documenting the teaching and learning process in three simple stages:

  1. Reflections before teaching a concept, content or competency
  2. Reflections while teaching a concept, content or competency
  3. Reflections after teaching a concept, content or competency

One of the tools that I use is Kolb’s Model of Reflection (1984). This model requires teachers to follow four simple steps to reflect on their practices:

  1. Concrete Experience: to answer the question what you did?
  2. Reflective Observations:  to answer the question what do you wonder?
  3. Abstract Conceptualization: to answer the question what you learned/so what?
  4. Application: to answer the question now what? 

The process of reflection helps in creating focused learning strategies for differentiation, addressing student needs, planning collaborative tasks, creating authentic assessments and selecting meaningful content. As practitioners of pedagogy, we need to reflect on our practice to ascertain if we are informing our pedagogy with our practical experiences in the classroom. In many ways, this is a design thinking routine that teachers should implement in their instructional planning.

The big advantage of being a reflective practitioner is the idea that the habit of reflecting on practice makes the teacher a lifelong learner.

References

Dewey J., (1973), Lectures in China 1919-1920, Honolulu, The University Press of Hawaii.

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

Silcock, P. (1994). The Process of Reflective Teaching. British Journal of Educational Studies, 42(3), 273-285. doi:10.2307/3121886


School Leadership: Predictive or Reactive

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In a recent senior leadership meeting, we were evaluating our leadership strategies amidst the Covid pandemic. It was interesting to note the complexities in leadership approaches especially considering the shift in perspectives due to Covid. This got me thinking about the current leadership decisions I have had to make and how it is very different from the way I made decisions in the recent past, just a year ago! The shift I have experienced is a move from predictive leadership to reactive leadership. This will come as a surprise to you but it is true.

Predictive leadership is based on experience, knowledge, and information. Predictive leadership focuses on problem-solving and analytical thinking. Senior management practicing this type of leadership are usually very calm, they take time to decide, they rely on their experience and on insights provided by the team. They think of the final goal and the bigger picture or why the decision needs to be taken. Predictive leadership aligns more with a global approach to a problem, accepted and ratified by most stakeholders.

Reactive leadership on the other hand is a more in-the-moment kind of decision. These leaders need to, have to, and do take decisions on the spot. There is no time to investigate data or research or past experiences to come up with a solution. Reactive leadership has to be creative to solve the current crisis as it is urgent and probably one of its kind, like the Covid pandemic. Reactive leaders are impulsive and confident as they are making high-risk decisions in a short period of time without consulting others.

School leadership in the last year and a half has been reactive; even though it is not considered a suitable leadership style, it is becoming more and more prevalent due to the way the education paradigm has evolved in the recent past. Leaders are required to make quick decisions relying on their gut instinct that it is the best possible decision. Instead of looking into the root cause of the problem the lens has shifted to finding the solution to the problem. For example, a reactive approach in leadership is to change the way they start a conversation; from “But the problem is…” to “The solution is…” A more solution-oriented approach, a more reactive approach. Even though it is the age of big data and data analytics, but it is not the time to depend completely on data. Data does give us a trend a possible prediction but human ingenuity and the ability to weigh out the best possible solution in a crisis is invaluable.

Being a reactive leader is something I have learned throughout the Covid crisis. For example, taking the decision to start online schooling, or not; decisions to reinvent the wheel, or not; decisions to advise teachers’ professional growth, or not; it is never an easy decision, but it must be made. And here are three things that have helped me to be a reactive decision-maker:

  1. Prioritize self-care and well-being, these are essential for making high-risk decisions.
  2. Create a culture of trust, your team needs to believe in you to buy in your ideas.
  3. Rock the boat if required, sometimes big decisions mean big changes, be prepared.

Decision-making in challenging times is hard; think of it as standing at the edge of a diving board, either open your arms to dive in or you need to step back. But unfortunately, there is no stepping back in crisis so embrace your reactive self and make the decision, right or wrong, data will tell.

The 3-2-1 of middle school Transition

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I will be taking on the role of IB Middle Years Programme (for 11 to 16 years) Coordinator starting this academic term. I have been the IB Diploma Programme (for 16 to 19 years) Coordinator for a long time now, so this is a big transition for me. Taking about transition, my first goal is to put together a transition programme for primary students coming into secondary school. While I am planning for the two weeks of transition, I made a list of transition tips for parents, teachers and students. It is necessary to include parents as it is an equally challenging transition for parents as it is for the students. To keep it simple I will follow a 3-2-1 strategy.

Three Tips for Students

Be organized: The most significant survival skill in middle school is self-management. There is no time for procrastination. Make sure you have a calendar, have a plan and stick to it. Use technology to keep on top of things, like setting up notifications on the calendar for important deadlines, saving homework on the cloud for easy access, and putting reminders on the alarm function of your phone to complete homework or tasks. These simple strategies will ease your transition phase.

Be vocal: Communication is key when you are experiencing issues related to change. Talk to parents, friends, and teachers to communicate your challenges and seek advice. Voice your anxieties and apprehensions; you will realize many of your peers are in the same boat and your parents/teachers have also been in the same boat once in their lives. Hence they will understand your situation and can help. Use technology for effective communication, learn to write formal emails to teachers; establish chat boundaries on social media apps, for example, do not feel the pressure to respond to messages immediately; and ask questions if you have a concern for example if you need more time to complete an assignment ask for it.

Be social: Middle school is a lot of fun as you will start to experience the freedom of choice and voice. With freedom comes responsibility, therefore learn to manage responsibilities by participating in activities outside the classroom. Play sports, join music or art clubs, have fun and make friends. By being social you will get rid of task-related stress, and you will learn to be a team player. You will understand other people’s perspectives and develop an open-minded approach towards problem-solving. Be bright, be social, be happy!

Two Tips for Parents

Be a friend: Take a deep breath, stop being a parent who only reinforces rules, try to be a friend to your child who supports, understands and helps during challenging times. Remember most children hit puberty during their middle school years, they not only deal with environmental change but also physical and emotional changes. This is the time to be a friend, philosopher and guide to your child, take off your rigid parenting hat and don a friendly one to reassure your child that they have a friend in you. This will help your child to develop the confidence to share any issues or challenges they face during transition.

Be involved: Take time every day to know more about your child’s day in school. A strategy that has worked very well with me is to ask my son to go through his timetable for the day and tell me what happened in each lesson. This way I get to know my son a lot more and he gets to share details of his school life while developing trust and a bond of understanding. Be involved in your child’s life in school and outside school. Participate in school activities, communicate regularly with teachers, be present when needed. Research shows that children whose parents are actively involved with the school, perform better in school.

One Tip for Teachers

Be present: A primary student has constant attention from their classroom teacher, but this changes in secondary. Many students have reflected negatively about their transition to secondary school citing reasons such as teachers not being friendly or attentive to their needs. In today’s context teachers might not be physically present in the classroom true but teachers need to make their presence felt by being engaged, caring and interested in solving student issues, academic and non-academic. This means, as teachers, we need to be there for the student’s academic, social, psychological and cognitive needs. Being ignored by the teacher is the most negative emotion a student experiences leading to multiple behaviour issues. Hence teachers please be present and present the best version of yourself. You are the catalyst of a magical reaction that happens in the middles years and shapes the future of a child.

Therefore I think of transition as a 3-2-1 process with key stakeholders playing their role in putting together a happy and meaningful middle school experience.

Results 2021: What It Takes to Get THE Perfect Score

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Earlier this week the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (grade 12) results were published. Our school students made us proud with amazing results, the highest was the perfect score of 45/45 (100%). Amidst all the celebrations I reflected on the students who got the perfect scores. There are a few common behavioural characteristics and approaches to learning that I was able to identify. Knowing these attributes can clearly help high achieving and their teachers to get the perfect score or perform to the best of their ability. Here are my top 5 tips for getting the perfect score!

Intrinsic Motivation

A perfect score is more than ability, it is about interest and motivation. The motivation is not linked to materialistic interests rather linked with an innate desire to be better and know better. Students who choose their subjects as per their interests and abilities stay motivated throughout the journey as they truly seek to understand the complexities of the subject matter. Hence, they are intrinsically motivated in spite of challenges even failures, these students always bounce back and get the perfect score.

Teachers also have a big role to play when it comes to keeping students intrinsically motivated. They must focus on positive reinforcement and value addition to the students’ purpose of learning. This fosters a sense of working towards a bigger perspective or a meaningful goal that is above and beyond the perfect score. Here I would like to reinforce that grades or scores are a result of achieving the actual purpose of learning, not the actual purpose in itself. Hence the reward for the student is to achieve satisfaction and self-worth.

Superior Self-Management Skills

Thomas Edison quoted a long time ago, “there is no substitute for hard work”. This applies even today. Hard work in today’s context means being ahead of the curve by developing superior self-management skills. For example, always completing work on time; always being well prepared for lessons; always organizing work effectively; always managing time with a rigorous plan; always creating a strategy to avoid burnout. The word ‘always’ is necessary as consistency is key.

Teachers can help students to organize themselves better, for example, by sharing effective planning tools, using cloud space for increased accessibility from anywhere, anytime; initiating the good practice of using the calendar to set reminders; introducing them to tools like Evernote, OneNote, Dayone, etc.

Quality over Quantity

Students must know to prefer quality over quantity. Instead of searching and using many sources and texts, they need to use one recognized good quality source for practising their academic skills. Sometimes students antagonize using expensive textbooks or online resources, they look for cheaper options, this approach needs to be curbed. They need to invest in themselves. Quality resources come at a price and are worth it. Having one go-to resource also saves a lot of time which is usually spent in finding free resources or texts. Remember higher the investments, the higher the returns.

Teachers should also set the bar high with resources. Make sure all textbooks are available to students, hardcopy and softcopy both. Make a case for purchasing quality resources for students. While assigning tasks keep in mind to prioritize the purpose over the amount of task. This helps save a lot of precious time, quality of task over quantity of task.

Debug Distractions

Design thinking routines help to get rid of bugs in the design cycle, similarly, students who practice enough to remove distractions are better geared towards the perfect score. These students are able to remove any distractions that divert them from their objectives. This is an essential skill to be academically successful, firstly identify the bug or distraction and next get rid of it. For example, some students mute notifications on their devices when doing intense creative and cognitive work. This is a great strategy to be in the present moment and deal with the task at hand without thinking about unnecessary matters.

Teachers can help by teaching students to increase their attention span, for example, plan for activities like meditation and yoga as a warmup or unwinding activity. These not only help to increase attention span they are also great stress busters. Technology can also come to the rescue, it offers great apps like Headspace, Calm, Unplug etc for meditation and mental relaxation, teachers must make good use of it.

Feedback Focus

High achieving students always ask for feedback and work on it to improve. This quality is rare in adolescents, but much required. Senior students like to believe that they know everything, or they know the best, thanks to their raging puberty hormones. Those who are able to win the battle over their id, ego and superego tend to seek advice and feedback from experts like teachers and parents. This quality is a defining attribute and those who have it have the edge over others.

Teachers have the responsibility to give meaningful feedback, it is what leads the student to the perfect score. Feedback aids in providing direction, solving problems and making meaning of learning. Feedback is the catalyst for students to apply their knowledge to solve real-life problems and gain understanding. I strongly believe focused feedback and focus on feedback are the two secrets for a perfect score.

As an educator, I do not set a goal for achieving higher grades only, in fact, the goal is always to gain understanding. But the students who gain understanding and go the extra mile, get the perfect score. Hence my translation of the perfect score is perfect knowledge and understanding.

The highschool hangover

We all know what a hangover is, and we all (almost) know how to get over one. But there is one hangover that stays forever, I believe it is the high school hangover. You suffer from the high school hangover if you have the following symptoms:

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  1. Tendency to keep comparing current education trends with personal high school norms; 
  2. Critiquing your child’s teachers and comparing them with teachers of your own time;
  3. Forcing your child to learn the way you learnt “back in the day”;
  4. When discussing pedagogy most of your sentences start with; “in our times”; “the problem is”; and “the standards have fallen”,
  5. Most importantly you are out of high school for over a decade and also have an obsessive-compulsive disorder of tracking, tracing or following high school friends (pun intended)!

If you have the above symptoms, you should continue reading this article or consider teaching as a career as these are the only two ways of getting over the Highschool Hangover (take it with a pinch of salt!).

Jokes apart, I have picked up this important issue as education has become the hot topic of discussion in recent times. Whilst it is good to have diverse perspectives and feedback on educational trends, it becomes frustrating when people start comparing with schooling in their times and education trends 10 to 15 years back or even before that; the high school hangover is rampant and real. It is dangerous as these discussions also continue at home without censors in front of the school-going children making them confused and cynical about schooling. Some common behaviour at home that actually ruins a child’s high school experience: blaming the school or the teacher for the child’s undesirable behaviour or performance; criticising school communication and expecting a minute-by-minute update from the school administration; demeaning the purpose of schooling by always evaluating school experience with school fees; comparing child’s performance with outdated benchmarks, for example, expecting them to memorise all mathematical formulae or all capitals of all countries! 

I hope you see where I am going; to make it more precise I quote one of my personal favourite, the words of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore: 

“Don’t limit your child to your own learning, for she was born in another time” 

And in the simple words of an educator, do not compare your schooling to your child’s, it will always be different. Do not expect your children to learn the same way you did, let them discover how they learn best or how they want to learn. Do not dictate career choices for your child just because you are successful in yours; let them explore. Do not force your child to take up classes just because they are in demand, let them explore their interests as per their skills. Do not let your high school hangover get into the way of your child’s schooling. Learn with your child, grow with your child. Next time you discuss 21st-century pedagogy or education trends make sure to avoid comparison, it will give you the purpose to find out more and learn more. 

Lifestyle desk. (2020). Rabindranath Tagore Jayanti 2020: Inspirational Quotes, Messages, thoughts that celebrate the great poet. Indian Express Archives.

Coaching & Mentoring: Need of the New Normal

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Recently our school had to close for two days due to the resurgence of COVID cases. This caused panic attacks and PTSD across the staff and student population. Even though the past year taught us well to mask our fear and anxiety, literally and metamorphically, the stress and anxiety reached new levels. This new normal has clearly led to a fragile emotional state. The only hope is that things will be back to normal soon, without realising that these chances are the new normal and things won’t be back to the same as it was before the pandemic.

We are experiencing the new normal, we are not prepared for it as the new normal is dynamic in nature. Change is the only constant in new normal therefore decisions are fluid and unpredictable. A need for an emotional anchor is essential for the sanity and mental wellbeing of staff and students. Coaching and mentoring is a great way to establish emotional resilience and moral support.

Many schools have well established coaching and mentoring programme; I have been fortunate to have worked with one such school. The coaching and mentoring programme is a framework to look after the mental wellbeing of staff and students. There is a difference between coaching and mentoring even though they are applied in conjunction, I will explain it based on my experience with coaching and mentoring and the professional development I did with Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Coaching is more suited for new staff and students to assist them with the expectations of the new environment in a structured manner. The purpose of coaching is to be school-ready within a period of time. It is usually planned and led by the coach who identifies the goal and ways to achieve it. For example, a new student coming into school in the middle of the year is assigned a teacher coach who can guide them to be at par with the rest of the class within a time frame by completing a set of tasks. Similarly, staff who are new to a particular education framework or programme are assigned a coach who guides them to identify areas of improvement and work on them.

Mentoring on the other hand is an ongoing process, where the mentor and the mentee collaborate for the professional or academic growth of the mentee. It is an informal process based on feedback and reflection. For example, every senior student is assigned a mentor who can meet with them on a mutually agreed time to evaluate academic performance and growth. Similarly, a senior leadership team member mentors potential leaders for future roles by assigning them tasks or projects to evaluate their leadership skills.

The coaching and mentoring framework should be applied in each school especially in the current situation. The benefits I have experienced reinforces my confidence in coaching and mentoring as the answer to the challenges of the new normal. Coaching and mentoring will certainly build a human bond outside the digital realm leading to healthy mental wellbeing. Other benefits include establishing trust between colleagues, peers and creating a culture of collaboration. With professional development going completely digital, coaching and mentoring is a great way to share knowledge in person with a person. The most significant benefit is a stress-free approach towards achieving professional or personal goals.

If the new normal compels us to be dynamic, then change management can be nurtured with coaching and mentoring. This will allow participants to discuss multiple perspectives and make quick decisions as well as develop resilience to change. This could open up an entire new diaspora of skills to explore by all stakeholders in education. 

In summary, coaching and/or mentoring: either receive or provide.

Service for Wellbeing: The Strategies for Navigating the New Normal.

Service for Wellbeing Framework

I had the opportunity to present at the IB Asia-Pacific conference in April 2021. My topic was Service for Wellbeing: The Strategies for Navigating the New Normal. The new normal is the paradigm shift in education. The need for wellbeing is the topmost priority for me and for a lot of other colleagues who are dealing with inexplicable difficulties due to separation from family members and restrictions imposed due to Covid19. 

I collected data from a group of teachers across the world and found out the common challenges of the new normal:

  1. All of us are unknowingly suffering from pandemic side effects like fatigue, lack of motivation, uncertainty about the future and weight gain. Yes, stress eating has silently but surely skyrocketed.
  2. Our social and community links have become fragile probably on the verge of a collapse and we are unable to find ways to strengthen them.
  3. Even though the blended learning environment is a reality, not many teachers are trained for this new reality. Training and development for the blended learning environment are in their infancy stage.
  4. Managing the feeling of being left behind; there is so much to catch up; online conferences and workshops; e-assessments for the virtual platform; changing instructional strategies for the blended learning environment, and the list goes on…

As a result of all the above, well-being is compromised. The question arises how do we successfully navigate the new normal?

I found the answer in service-learning. Whilst still nursing the pandemic wounds I found solace in service. After critically reasoning possible solutions for the wellbeing deficit I thought of applying the same strategy at work, using service learning for mental wellbeing. Being the service-learning coordinator, I focused on wellbeing as the main objective for all service projects and activities.

Together with a team of very talented teachers, I was able to map service-learning opportunities in various disciplines; the next step was to create a framework for wellbeing. This framework was created with a design thinking routine:

  1. Empathize = Wellbeing as the objective for all service projects.
  2. Define = Challenges due to Covid.
  3. Ideate = Brainstorm solution or ideas with teachers and students.
  4. Prototype = Service for wellbeing framework
  5. Test = Case study of the school’s service-learning programme

This helped me to design the Service for Wellbeing framework. With my experience in teaching, I was able to identify the important parameters for the service for wellbeing framework. Service-learning must be linked to the curriculum, with a strong link to a discipline. Service-learning must have a global perspective like the UNSDGs, this brings purpose to action and keeps everyone motivated to achieve the learning target. The service-learning programme must start with small group projects, especially to combat the stress of uncertainty and social distancing. Group projects bring people together in a non-threatening environment and foster collaboration. The most important parameter, service for well being has to integrate student choice and voice, to allow them to own their learning as well as enjoy the process. 

Start with small group projects.

I would strongly advise everyone to try it. The next time you feel stressed, think of ways to engage in community service. Look into your subject area, find service links, think of a task that can be created to align with a global perspective or objective and then share the idea with your students. Trigger their critical reasoning by asking them to come up with service-learning activities linked to the subject and start projects to achieve the target. Try it and let me know your success in fostering wellbeing and establishing service opportunities.

Nothing micro about microaggressions

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Microaggression is an attitude of silent aggression, apathy, hate, discrimination towards minority or lesser represented communities. These silent acts are mostly non-verbal; talking in a different language to exclude people of a certain minority; ridiculing people with an accent; never acknowledging the success of people of colour. It is also verbal in the form of racial insults, culturally biased comments, and derogatory comments about citizenship and nationality. 

Microaggressions are like dementors, from the Harry Potter series, they suck away the happiness, ambition and zeal to succeed, from the people of colour and minority. This silent killer leaves them with no other option than to perish silently, never raising a voice or even trying to make a difference. In fact, it is such a silent killer that it has become an accepted norm across the world to call it ‘systemic racism’ and completely ignore the root cause. Unfortunately and dangerously the attitude currently is, “yes it exists, deal with it”!

Being a woman, and a woman of colour I have learnt to recognise microaggressions. Here are a few types of microaggressions that I have experienced.

Gender biased microaggressions: Professional development is always prioritised for men as “they need it more”, this is a classic case of silent gender-biased microaggression. Another classic example is the office dress code that mandates the length of the skirt, type of shoe, ‘no spaghetti tops’ etc only for women. While for any other gender it is limited to ‘dress formally’. Women are labelled desperate, needy and narcissists if they post about themselves or their achievements on social media, but men are rewarded with words like great communicator, successful, positive networker and very active on social media. The same act has different connotations for different genders. 

Culturally biased microaggressions: People of colour or minority are often asked this question, “How long have you lived abroad?” This clearly indicates the presumption that people of colour or of different religion do not or cannot belong to the same country as they look different or have different beliefs. Recruiting people of colour in international organisations is still a distant dream, even further away is the reality of having leaders of colour. I say this as microaggressions throttle the very desire, right at the beginning, they snatch away the pleasure of having ambitions and dreams and leave people of colour or minority with no desire to compete.

Racially biased microaggression: When a racially different person enters a public space, they are always asked for an ID. There is an assumption that people of a different race can be criminals or have an ulterior purpose to be in public space. Recent episodes of racially biased xenophobia is a very good example of underlying microaggressions. In the most developed countries of the world, we saw Asians being attacked, black lives being taken away, foreigners being segregated, children being alienated and yet we keep quiet. All of this is happening openly and the perpetrators are finding ways to exhibit their microaggressions violently under the pretext of nationalism and economic stability.

I consider microaggressions the most crucial link in the fight against inequality and discrimination. It is the very root of all issues in the world. As educators, we have to eliminate the root cause. We need to teach our students to avoid microaggressions. As educators, we can check for microaggressions and nip it in the bud.

Educators themselves have to audit their microaggressions, do not preach or practice bias. For example, I remember a teacher refusing to participate in Remembrance Day as it is a western tradition; a Head of School making a remark that Indian sweets will ensure a visit to the dentist; a PE teacher forcing a student to swim during Ramadaan. We need to face our insecurities and biases so that we do not make the mistake of harbouring microaggressions and passing them on to the youth. They will model what they witness.

Educate students to check for microaggressions and reduce them. Discourage bias, encourage brevity to stand up against bias. The trauma students endure due to the segregation by nationality intentionally or unintentionally needs to be checked as it further manifests into racism and apathy. 

Overall, there are many ways to reduce microaggressions; the difference lies in the intent. The lack of intent is the most dominant problem and this needs to change. Remember there is nothing micro about microaggressions.