Thursday, December 3, 2015

Setting hearts (and back-sides) on fire

Here is a speech that I thought of delivering at one of the closing ceremonies at Institute 2015. But it did not work out, so here it is for all eternity.

What?
How can we continue building the Culture at Teach For India and take it forward?

Why?
- We don't tell enough stories...
- ....and when we do, most of us leave our emotions out of it...
- ....We need to become vulnerable to each other if we are to let them help us heal in our moments of despair.
- Not enough focus on empathizing to building lasting relationships with others around us : especially non-TFI staff of the school
- A reminder to strive to be more consistent
- Instilling a sense of brotherhood among the new cohort - collective action
- Also Kiran Bir Sethi's famous lines "Inspiration has a shelf life of only one week", so I hope  this get the new cohort all fired up and raring to go.

How?
A possible speech at the end of closing ceremony for Institute 1 2015

Good evening Institute 2015.
Inspiration has a shelf life of one week.
As the institute comes to a close, it is my job to stoke the fire within you for one last time as you get ready to bring the TFI magic to your cities.
On line with that theme, let me introduce to you a a call and response that you can use in your classrooms. It goes something like this:
The teacher calls "All fired up?" and the students focus and reply "Ready to go!".
Let's try this:
.. 3 times

Now that we are really fired up!, lets cool down a bit and do an activity.
I want the first longitudinal row here on the extreme right to look to their left to the person sitting next to them.
And the person sitting next to them needs to look back at them.
I want the rest of the hall to do likewise and pair up and look at each other.
Now.. I want you to really really look at each other. Look into each others eyes.
Make them as uncomfortable as you can! like really stare them down!!
Take 5 seconds to let their image burn into your eyes. 5...4..3..2..1
Now close your eyes and imagine the other person wearing an armour.
Parse through all the war movies that you have seen. Movies on Greek myths.
Superhero movies, Mahabharata even!
Imagine them wearing an armour - like the one in Game of Thrones or 300 or Troy. 
Imagine them as Thor or even Ironman!

Imagine them as warriors just like they would be imagining you to be one right now.
In the last few days, we visualized education inequity to be like a jigsaw puzzle.
Today I want us to see it in a different light.
I want us to visualize this movement of fellows and staff as a War effort against defeating ed inequity.
Our battlegrounds are our schools and we are the warriors!.

Open your eyes please and hang on to the image of your partner as Ironman - I know I know most of you chose that!

As you enter your classes and begin to get your basics in place, you will feel a sense of loneliness set in.
You will feel it every moment you are teaching in your classes, every time you fail and every time you face a new challenge in a new environment.
But you need to realize that you are not alone. We have been sent out there to fight small battles which are a part of a larger war.
We all our fighting. And the only way to shoo away the despair and loneliness is to stay faithful to your brethren and this culture.

One way to do this is to tell war stories to each other. Meet other fellows, attend the regular learning circles, conversations with PM and just hang out 
with the fellows and staff who live near you. Share stories with each other. Stories of truth and despair. Stories of glory and hope.
Stories of how you failed in your class today - stories of how awesome your class went today - what worked, what didn't work!

But as you tell the stories, remember to be vulnerable to your fellow well "fellows". Show them your wounds. Where it hurts.
Breakdown in front of them if you have to. And at the end of the day, let them heal you so that you can stand up and live to fight another day.
YOU. ARE. NOT ALONE.

As I wake up everyday, I like to imagine the awesome staffers and other fellows engaged in their own conquest for the day.
I imagine Shaheen traveling to Pune to visit classrooms here looking for signs of student leadership and figuring out what it actually means.
I imagine Sandeep our city director visiting Learning Circles for a open hours with the fellows trying to understand how to support them better.
I imagine Sachin our SPM and Ashwath visiting schools and mend its relationship with TFI like miracle military doctors.
I imagine my PM Mohini go through her day's schedule on her phone even before brushing her teeth and instead of Sighing, jumping out of her bed and getting started to make her way to the other end of a city for a class observation.
I imagine Suchita and Soumya - my school team members - skipping their breakfast just so that they can squeeze in those extra minutes of perfecting their lesson plans for the day.

And that fires me up. They are there. Mostly out of sight. But always fighting. Just like me.

We all are in the same boat, we all are in it for the same cause - to nurture brave young soldiers for India.
The fight is long. But you have weapons. I will talk about three of them:
The Excalibur of Empathy. The Chetak of Consistency and the Kavach of The Collective.

I know you imagined each other as Ironman but come on be real now  and let go of the hi-tech suit and bring in the horse, the armour and the sword

Your first weapon - Empathy - use it to strike a debilitating blow in community disinvestment. Understand your children's parents, your school staff, your HM, Principal. share a chai with the, praise their new saree, buy macchi with them!
And in one of those moments, they will open up to you and be receptive to
your ideas about change. Empathy IS your super power. 

Your second tool - Consistency - Strive to be consistent. go to bed on time, wake up on time, exercise, stay healthy, get to school on time,
do your morning meetings, never miss out on any of the 5 steps of your lesson delivery,
use your call and response, your rewards and consequences and remember to call your mom and dad regularly.
Nothing accelerates learning more than being consistent in your class. Consistency IS your super power.

The third weapon on your side - The Collective - will help shield yourself from upheavals. The school staff and TFI staff are their to support you, help you be awesome everyday in your class. Reach out to them, solicit their support, and let them help you and guide you. You don't get points for being a lone warrior. The collective IS your super power.

And remember to continue sharing stories, in person, over email, on facebook, over phone, whatsapp.
Pick each other up and inspire each other for the next week.
Never ever give up. Never let others give up.
Your keenly observing children with see you as living breathing examples of grit and take after you. Be strong for them.

I close now by re appropriating Mr Spock's famous lines.

"May you fight long and your children prosper"

Once more guys
.. 3 times

Thank you Institute 2015!

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