School leadership has to support educators in their quest for upgradation
opines Mr John Andrew Bagul, Founder Principal, South City International School, Kolkata
South City International School is one of the prestigious ICSE schools in Kolkata. Being the founder Principal, how have you influenced the growth of this school from the very beginning? How much involvement is needed to run such an institution smoothly?
I have spent a decade in a CBSE environment after having taught in an International School abroad. I have completed ten years setting up South City International School that is primarily following the CISCE curriculum. The journey has been full of excellent memories and a lot of learning.
Being involved with the school right from its foundation gives a different thrill altogether. There are so many facets to be looked at. No two days at school are the same. Each day, students come up with so many views and responses that one needs to be abreast with changes in society. Teaching is always a challenge as young minds today are throwing up excellent questions. Being at the helm of affairs of the school is a rewarding experience. There are so many plans for future and I think there are plenty of milestones to be crossed. I look forward to the support of the community, the parents and the management in taking South City International School to greater heights.
I have grown along with the school and I am in the process of nurturing the school from a seedling to a mature upright tree. I look at SCIS as an Independent school building, housing several independent schools, functioning side by side. For me a school is a small collection of people who are connected to similar values and ideas, imparting shared goals. I have developed my team of teachers over the years, who have a shared vision of our school philosophy. I can say that I have been involved in every aspect of the school—right from the infrastructural planning, the design and fabric of uniforms and obviously the selection of teachers. It is a known fact that every plant and tree in the school has been personally selected by me. I have always believed in an open door approach. Teachers, students and parents are welcome to approach me at any time.
As a principal, I think, I am involved in the following key areas:
Enabling—To remove obstacles that prevent the progress of the entire system. I enable students and teachers to explore their potential to the fullest.
Explaining—I need to explain to the society and the parent community why we do & what we do.
Modelling—I require my teachers to be role models for the young impressionable minds.
Managing—Day to day support is required in running the school effectively.
Maintaining Harmony—This is a crucial aspect as a Principal, as it involves all the share holders of the school and the community at large.
Motivating—I constantly keep on motivating my team, the SCIS family. My teachers need to feel a part of the family and due to this, I proudly state that our attrition rate is very low. Teachers feel empowered and sense a belonging in the family.
What made you embark on this remarkable journey of school leadership?
Teaching has always fascinated me, right from my childhood. I have grown up among teachers with my mother being an extremely strong role model. She was a tough and disciplined teacher who was truly respected by her students. My maternal side of the family was into teaching with my mother’s siblings, both in India and abroad.
I started my adventure with teaching in my twenties, when I had just passed out after my post graduation. My students were just a couple of years younger to me, if not older. It was an enriching decade of teaching young, dynamic minds, who were quite impressionable. Later on, I moved to the Gulf to teach younger school students. This gave me an impetus to pursue my teaching in a school environment but with added management skills. I was fortunate to get the role of the Vice Principal at a prestigious residential school in Aurangabad. I spent almost a decade here, both in teaching and school administration. I then felt the urge to take on the mantle of school leadership. It was a gradual process, a process of change. I was fortunate to be mentored by a great educationist, Mr. Ranjit K. Dass, Principal of Nath Valley School. I took on the challenges of initiating the process of a new school. Today, I have completed a decade as the founder Principal of South City International School.
What are the key qualities that educators must have to connect with the students?
Teachers play a crucial role in lives of students. Primarily, teachers should be knowledgeable about their subject and should also be their friend, philosopher and guide. When we look at the role of a teacher, I feel teachers should be aware of critical thinking and problem solving. They should ignite curiosity and imagination in the young minds. A successful teacher would teach students to collaborate across networks and lead by creating examples. Teachers should certainly have effective oral and written communication skills. Students should learn to access information and analyse the information. Teachers should be mediators and facilitators, encouraging students to be independent thinkers.
In short, for us to teach students 21st Century skills, we must collaboratively engage in the process to clarify what those skills are and the best strategies required to help students develop those skills.
Ideally, what should we be teaching our future generation?
Historically the school education system had very clear goal of preparing youth for manufacturing jobs and providing them with a system emphasizing on routine tasks with minimum errors. There was no scope for creativity, and innovation was certainly looked down upon.
Today we live in a much changed scenario. Routine tasks have got automated. We live in a VUCA World, a world full of ‘Volatility and Uncertainty’; that is ‘Complex and Ambiguous’ as well. To prepare our students we need to look at inspiring their young minds to be creative and inquisitive. Students would certainly learn the academic subjects, but as an educator, I strongly promote joyous learning. Today is the age of interdisciplinary learning. Music, Philosophy, Entrepreneurship and humanities—each plays an important role in their future.
The top 10 skills, defined by the Davos World Economic Forum include Complex Thinking, Critical Thinking, Cognitive Flexibility, Creativity, Teamwork Coordination, Judgment & Decision making, Negotiation, Service Orientation and People Management. I think these soft skills would prepare my students to be life-long learners. I also feel that in the quest for learning, sometimes core values like respect, loyalty and patience are lost. Parents should be actively involved in imparting these skills to children.
Children lack tenacity. They also have to learn to accept failure and learn from it. Vocalisation and internship are two major areas too, in education.
What are the right ways to develop an interest-based curriculum?
The first priority is having a committed team of teachers who are clear about the vision. Each teacher should be clear on exactly what the students are to learn. Their teaching should ensure that each student acquires the intended outcomes. A crystal-clear curriculum should include a list of learning intentions and success criteria.
To design and develop an interest-based curriculum, real life accomplishments need to be set in authentic contexts. Teachers should be able to answer students questions like, “Why do we want to learn this?’ or “What use is this in our real lives?”
The real life curriculum incorporates authentic learning. It helps students involve deeply into the subject matter. Students should be able to apply their learning to situations where they can construct actual products to contribute to the community. The curriculum should be relevant to the learning process. The national school curriculum today is gearing up to meet the expectations of 21st Century. Formal and informal learning are both blended in a hybrid learning process, giving students dynamic roles in their own learning outcomes.
The school system has to adopt 21st century skills in the context of research informed learning strategies. “Teachers, administrators and other staff should be ready to facilitate, lead and assess 21st century learning among students, the community and parents”.
The infrastructure and technology devices should support 21st century learning. The school needs to encourage calculated risk taking. There should be a culture of openness to new ideas in and outside of education.
Finally, all educators and staff should think and act systematically to embrace innovation in ways to advance the vision of an interest-based curriculum.
Do you face any challenges in getting good and proactive teachers?
Every institution wants teachers who treat teaching as a vocation rather than a profession. Teachers are always available, but it takes a discerning eye to identify the latent potential of a good teacher. Given a suitable, conducive environment, good teachers do become better. It’s all about getting the right type of teacher when your requirement is created. The challenge lies in motivating proactive teachers and giving them job profiles that keep them stimulated and hence they pass on that energy to the students. Happy teachers create happy students and the school environment makes learning fun.
Does your school have any teacher development program to help them with resources?
Teacher development is a crucial aspect of school management. Every teacher has to be updated about current changes in education. School leadership has to support educators in their quest for upgradation. Teachers require constant encouragement both professionally and personally. The mentor-mentee system is an excellent in house mechanism helping new or inexperienced teachers to find the right path. We have tied up with the British Council and a couple of other professional organisations to train our teachers periodically. Teacher development is an integral aspect of every school.
Do you follow any special focus on safety in school, being one of the major concerns these days?
Yes, we follow safety measures as per the Council guidelines. We do understand that school is a place where children must be provided a safe and secure environment, as they spend a majority of their time in schools.
The term ‘school safety’ refers to and includes the critical and necessary environment in which effective teaching and learning can take place. School safety supports student learning by creating and promoting a physically, emotionally, socially, and academically secure climate for students, staff, and visitors.
The whole school premise is under surveillance on a 24×7 basis. This involves the usage of 178 closed circuit television cameras, which record the activity of staff and students in classrooms, other rooms (activity rooms, laboratories, etc), corridors and all other open and closed areas all over the school. Surveillance footage are stored which helps us to track, monitor and prevent any kind of illegal or unwanted activity within the premises as well as these recordings are also referred to when there is requirement for reviewing any particular incident.
We do plan for emergencies at school level with representatives from the school including school administrators, school principals, school staff, students and key representatives from the committee. It is very important for a child to know the ‘good touch’ and the ‘bad touch’. We have regular workshops and awareness programmes for our teachers regarding various issues. Our in-house teachers do sessions on good touch and bad touch and we also get trainers at school to conduct the training session for the children.
With the rise of emergencies in schools & around the world, institutions need to be better prepared to handle cases like, fire, earthquake etc, and SCIS has all provisions for facing these. Fire department checks our equipments periodically and license is renewed accordingly. SCIS also conducts regular drills, where the staff and students of the whole school participate. Emergency exit plans, preparing students to remain calm in case of attacks are some basic things, which are explained to ensure student’s safety.
What is your take on counselling? Should it be mandatory in school for the board classes? Do you think it truly helps to find out the interest areas of a child?
Counselling forms a crucial aspect in education. Children need someone to speak to when they are unable to solve certain issues. Sometimes parents or teachers, inspite of their best intentions, are unable to gain confidence of a child due to certain factors.
Counselling regarding career choices is another dimension. It is extremely important for both parents and students to gain insight into different options. Students in board classes are also interested in career options but I do not think it is mandatory for them at that juncture.
Do you want to share any message with our readers?
Education is an ongoing journey. Learning is a never-ending process. Today the challenge is to keep the youth engaged, incorporating soft skill development in them. Parents along with the teachers, have a vital role to play in this process.