The most important task for a principal is prioritizing– Ms Manju Rana

The most important task for a principal is prioritizing– deciding what can be done now, what can wait, and what must wait

— Ms Manju Rana, Principal cum Director, Seth Anandram Jaipuria School, Vasundhara, Ghaziabad

How long have you been associated with Seth Anandram Jaipuria School? What is your vision?

As the founder member of the Jaipuria educational fraternity, I joined as the Vice Principal of the school in 2004 and took charge as the Principal cum Director in 2007. This sojourn of sixteen years has been full of challenges, initiatives and accomplishments. We laid the foundation of the school with the vision of attaining the stature of one of the best schools in Delhi/NCR. My vision has been in complete sync with that of the school – We aim to nurture happy and confident children by providing child-centric learning. Our endeavour is to promote creativity, environmental sensitivity and academic excellence. We help inculcate a spirit of lifelong learning for our children to become effective change agents.Today, proudly the school has made its mark and has positioned itself at No.1 in Delhi/NCR rankings, and is acclaimed for its academic repute and co-curricular education, which is beautifully aligned with our vision and mission.

The ongoing pandemic has shifted the traditional classrooms to rectangular screens. Most of us are digitally connected now, wherein the classroom protocols can easily be disrupted. How does online teaching fare compared to classroom teaching? Do you think online teaching would continue post pandemic and compliment classroom teaching?

Over the last decade, India has transformed itself into an information intensive society, and especially the year 2020 has brought in a booming requirement to embrace technology in the field of education. The ongoing pandemic perforce and post-haste, forced educators across the world to pivot from traditional brick-and-mortar or analog classrooms to rectangular screens or virtual digital schools at a vertiginous speed.

According to me, online learning is not an approach, but a kaleidoscope of different internet-based activities in which the focus, dosage, delivery mechanism, and degree of interaction of the online experience vary greatly. We all are using synchronous, face-based instructions via a webinar platform like Microsoft Teams & Zoom etc. In private schools, I would say, teaching continued as before closure of schools because instructions were already blended and where learning-online was built into the system via platforms like Teams, Google Classroom, SeeSaw, Class Dojo or other virtual classroom-like tools such as Nearpod, language labs, reading tools etc. So the transition was not that difficult.

Self-paced learning with curricular resources was already a norm, like uploading curriculum resources and instructional materials (e.g. teacher videos) on a school portal or YouTube channel or emailing resources for students to complete these activities, either by doing them online or submitting assignments digitally to their teachers via email. Also, self-erudition with externally provided content was already in place through playlists (from providers of repute and specific YouTube videos), or interactive lessons (PB Learning Media) to students for them to watch and do as enrichment. Integrated and differentiated forms of online learning, we at Jaipuria, have been doing for quite a while, even before we went online.

Therefore, our young learners took digital-learning like nobody else and we have experienced it during online classes. The shift from offline to online seemed to be a sea of change. However teachers & planners were adapted to the technology-needs and implemented them successfully. Hybrid is certainly the future of learning. As such, the hybrid learning does not suffice in terms of students’ grasping of the knowledge. But it accrues to the society many benefits like shortening the distances, easy approachable classes, access to a pool of constant vigilant guided materials and many more. The educator fraternity is constantly working out ways to make it more effective. Interestingly students also seem to have acclimatised themselves to the new age of learning really well. Blended tools like Nearpod, Wakelet, Padlet, Quizezzes, Olabs have now become a part of mandatory students’ toolkit.

One thing I must say, online teaching would continue post pandemic and compliment classroom teaching barring one major thing that teaching online does not work for every subject and every student. In the digital divide teachers have found that some academic subjects (math, science) were easier to teach online than other subjects (music, physical education) and that academic subjects generally are easier to teach online than social emotional learning. Moreover, teachers are struggling to provide distance-based education for children with special needs, children with severe disabilities, or third-language learners.

What are the key challenges that you go through as a leader and head of the institution and how did you overcome them?

Being a principal is not one job, it is a hundred jobs wrapped up into one and definitely requires an active mind and body. I just simply liked this quote by Hopkins as he rightly said ‘A principal needs to have the power and strength of Superman, the intelligence of Albert Einstein, the popularity of Princess Diana, the political savvy of a presidential candidate, the care and compassion of Mother Teresa.’ I completely agree with this, and to ensure high levels of performance, my chief motivator is my desire to make a difference and give my school and students the best education and groom them to be the future leaders. This aspiration grants me the boost to recognise every challenge with all its enormity and seriousness.

As a Principal, my professional challenges are multifarious, copious and unending, that’s why this profession is so very rewarding, satisfying, as well as, sometimes overwhelming. The demand for 21st century skills has spawned a good deal of enthusiasm among all stakeholders, but, the challenge lies in the fact that there is always more to be done. In my opinion, the most important task for a principal is prioritizing– deciding what can be done now, what can wait, and what must wait.This is much easier said than done, as keeping pace with a host of radical changes in educational policies; fulfilling compliances from Centre/ State bodies; retaining and maintaining the quality of teachers; deployment of technology; assessment and teaching gaps; above all parental concerns and issues, etc. especially during the time of pandemic are some of the vital challenges that as an education leader, I need to grapple with daily. We need to bring different students from different backgrounds together, understand their strengths and weaknesses, and be vigilant about their behavioral problems while focusing on the all-round development of students. Furthermore, we are dealing with children of the millennia, who need to be provided with an integrating set of abilities as representatives for a genuine commitment to centurion learning.  

Another main challenge of education leadership is how to develop talented people in the organization by creating a positive work climate, providing opportunities for innovation and taking risks to deal with uncertainty in the future. The effect and the influence of the leadership and management together on teachers’ creativity are very important and need to blend with the primary goal of imparting education. Educational leadership of each school certainly has a different value contribution.  

One important thing as a school leader I keep in mind is that everyone is doing their very best. It is only that as a leader, I need to propel all the three stakeholders, – students, teachers and parents – together. As the Principal cum Director of a school, setting a balance among all three is of prime importance and with the changing times the role of a Principal has somehow transformed into that of a manager who needs to tackle more of the administrative end rather than work with the youth. I must say, principals are in a paradoxical position and their major role is to create a whole school development plan, spelling out clear objectives, resources and timelines, with optimum use of technology, scientific and research based strategies, to ensure that all the youth in our care, learn and participate actively, while giving high results. Thereby follow the vision – inculcate a spirit of lifelong learning in our children to become effective change agents.

What are the qualities that you look for in a teacher? What advice would you give to new teachers?

Students are most affected by the quality of their teachers. Not only do they interact with teachers every day in the classroom, but the quality of that interaction matters for our students’ future. As per me, it is extremely important for a teacher to have a student-focused approach. The top qualities I look for in a teacher are mainly her ability to develop trusting relationships with their students, in order to create a safe, positive, and productive learning environment. Personality characteristics related to being a compassionate person and having a sensitivity to students’ issues, particularly with learners of special needs are important as well. A teacher who incorporates knowledge of the cognitive, social and emotional development understands the pace and capacity of the students. Another quality I look for is dedication to teaching, which includes commitment to students’ success and, above all, engaging them in learning. All these valuable traits should be conjoined with empathy and self-drive for improvement and adaptation.

The low quality of learning in schools is often associated with poor teachers’ creativity standards. They become the determinant of the success of the learning interaction process because they are considered to have certain competencies, and master of their fields. Even so, the teacher also needs support from the principals through professional leadership and management that encourages motivation and higher achievement of educational quality.

My advice to every teacher is to have zest that makes her apart or else she/he just needs to find that.   We have never before experienced a crisis like this. Everyone is struggling. Everyone is doing their best. Teachers are pulling double duty. Many are taking care of their own children in one physical space while at the same time, guiding, teaching and nurturing those of others in virtual space. I always imbibe by the rule: appreciate the complexity of education and value of our teachers.

NEP (National Education Policy) 2020 was announced last year and aims to revolutionize the Indian education system. What are your views on the policy? How is your institution preparing to cope up with this significant shift in the education ecosystem?

Mandated by a Board or Directorate of Education, the curriculum is readily available but the application or the method and practice of teaching is what makes a good school to a great school. Presently, the educational buzzwords – ‘active learning or hands-on – learning’ have conditionalised the entire learning process. Whatever kind of pedagogy we are using, be it traditional or technologically advanced, the need of the hour is to brush on our own barriers as teachers and put forth multiple teaching strategies that will endure lifelong learning. We should not be looking for the single best teaching method. What works for one section of a class may not work in another. We need theory-driven pedagogy to achieve desired goals. Therefore, pedagogy has not essentially changed but their adaption has become more result oriented and skill driven. Bloom’s Taxonomy for the 21st century learners and as the NEP 2020 has taken a 360 degree change with creativity at its highest echelon of the educational system; developing this creativity is what shall revolutionize the Indian Education System.

It has been aptly said,“There is an art to science, and a science in art; the two are not enemies, but different aspects of the whole.”Thus, I firmly believe, creativity and skill based knowledge in education have the power to spark innovation in students. Both science and art ask the big questions: “What is true? Why does it matter? How can we move society forward?” These are big, fundamental questions that touch on the integration of creativity, imagination, design, and the evolution of society. This line of inquiry can inspire and motivate students. And our Jaipuria School has integrated STEAM based education effectively in the classrooms literacy, numeracy and design thinking that are woven in the K-12 curriculum. 

CBSE (and other state boards) have cancelled the board exams for class 12 students and decided to evaluate them on the basis of alternate assessment. What are your views on this? How will it impact students’ admission process into undergraduate colleges and universities?

In my opinion, CBSE’s submission of the criteria was a result of extensive discussions and consultations from Sahodayas across the country regarding the same and the decision reflects that. It is an unusual decision for unusual times. Considering all three classes is a balanced approach. The announcement has come as a much-needed relief to students and the level of anxiety has now reduced with this announcement. Usually students perform well in the Class X boards so now the results combined with the other classes, will get balanced out. So it is a win-win situation and students are upbeat about it. The decision to consider the final term results of Class XI, I would say could be a breather. But, what is the moderation that will be allowed needs to be seen.

I don’t think the new evaluation process would have much impact on students’ admission process into undergraduate colleges and universities. The possibility of universities conducting their own entrance exams or giving 50% weightage to the newly-proposed Common Entrance Test (CET) could be a good move and also beneficial for students. It will be good to deploy additional metrics whenever possible. Typical filters such as evaluation of statements of purpose, letters of recommendations, short online assignments, and even interviews can be adopted similar to International admission criteria. This could prove to be a golden chance to start doing something different, something which nucleates a more bonafide way of assessing students’ capabilities.

How different are students of today compared to those, say, 10 to 15 years ago in terms of knowledge, aspirations and values?

Students of today, I would say, as compared to those, 10 to 15 years ago in terms of knowledge, aspirations and values are much advanced. I feel we have been successful in providing good value systems even in the current scenario of unrest among the youth. The socio emotional quotient is much raised due to the efforts of the schools and the parents. As far as knowledge is concerned, the access to learning opportunities today is unprecedented in scope and truly revolutionised. The walls of the classrooms are no longer a barrier as technology enables new ways of learning, communicating, and working collaboratively for the Gen-Y. The educators have embraced this change with a lot of aplomb in the current situation. Knowledge influx and the internet of things has greatly expanded access to education that has affected teaching and student learning positively. Opportunities for communication and collaboration have become more augmented.

School fee has been a major point of bitterness and discontent between parents and school authorities. During the pandemic, the income sources have diminished and people have lost their livelihood. What is your take on this?

Certainly, school fee has been a major point of bitterness and discontent between parents and school authorities. I also agree, during the pandemic, the income sources have diminished and people have lost their livelihood but the same implies for the institution/ school as well. I empathise with all the parents, but also as a leader, I need to see that my staff did not suffer. Expenses need to be met at our end also. The teaching faculty and the support staff have given their utmost to keep the learning quotient going. The entire school did not stop for a single day. The transition to virtual format needed effective measures. And also, there are fixed expenses that need to be met with an extensive staff, who could not be let down during the need of the hour. Therefore, it became important that parents paid the tuition fees. Taking a humanitarian outlook, many parents approached the school and the management, we supported in all due respect with fee waivers, concessions or extended time to parents and supported them in time of need.

What drives you to work every day? How do you keep yourself motivated?

My work is my passion, I do not consider it energy consuming, in fact, it acts as a stimulant for me, that keeps me strong, focused and determined. It, in itself, is the guiding force that I believe, keeps me optimistic and brings calmness in my daily life. Self-meditation, yoga and I must say that even regular rounds in the school, interaction with my staff and students gives me the zest to stay fit.  The hustle and bustle of the school or I must say the lifeline of the school – Children missing the entire past year from the campus which intensely gives the school a melancholic look. Yet amidst all this chaos, I find peace that the children are safe, education is constantly going on and the students are doing their best to cope with the stress of school closures.