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!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

How to build a yatch while swimming through your TeachForIndia fellowship

You know why Ragini is so tall? Because she has gotten so many hugs over her life from so many people and that obviously stretched her out. The latest barrage of hugs is from TFIers (fellows, staff and supporters) who want are all determined to giver her some sweets (i.e. increase her height by 5mm) after reading her 10 tips piece for incoming TFI fellows.

Like Ragini, I am a happy person and a 2014 TFI fellow.
But I am also an engineer and I love building and improving stuff. I look at fellowship as being thrown into the ocean with minimal swimming lessons. You are expected to learn to swim and build a beautiful yatch around yourself from the shambles of stuff that isn't working anymore. And while you are at it, you may as well build yourself a better you as well.

There are two kind of people who enter the fellowship - those that are fresh out of college, and those like me who have worked in the IT/Corporate/XYZ sectors and years of professional experience behind them. Ragini's advice is universal for all fellows that enter the fellowship. As an older person (half a decade older than miss tall beauty), I became aware of deeper nuances that play out when humans interact. And India has a lot of them humans. So it is only apt that you also look at the 2 years to un-Sheldon yourself and make yourself comfortable around people who are going to be your best applies in this fight against education inequity.

So here are 10 additional tips appended to Ragini's list by a 30 year old senile fellow:

  1. Kill the ego, suspend judgement.
    You came here to transform the education system and you see the school staff as being ineffective at their work? Think again, they could be (should be) your comrades in the fight for excellence in education. You are entering a school run by those very existing teachers some of who have decades of teaching experience. And some one with that much life experience will definitely have a lot to teach some one like you who is probably less that half their age. Remember, 1 month ago before the institute you knew zilch about teaching. So deflate your ego, and be receptive to learning even from the maushis and peons who even though they don't teach would know how to control the class better than you.
    A very new fellow getting tips from her headmistress
  2. Don't be smug!
    You are at a dinner with your chuddy buddies. You go on and on about how you made the right decision to improve the lives of children and talk about all the cool ideas you came up with and are carrying out in your class. To your friends you may be coming across as a condescending narcissist. Its easy to fall into the trap of judging people for seeming to not care enough about the society because they are "seemingly stuck" in a 9-to-5 job. Do not downplay the professions of others. They have their own role to play in the society and possibly its improvement. Also they will volunteer in your class (help you check answer papers) and give you money if you be nice to them. Be nice to them.
  3. Manipulate people - give them what they want to get what you want!
    You need to get people on your side. All kinds of people. So you think you have a principal who care a bit too much about his status and laurels? Tell him that as the "leader" of the school, it would be nice if the whole school could hear his voice in the morning everyday. Prepare the news and thought for the day for him everyday and other nuggets of advice which otherwise you would have delivered only to your own classroom. This way, you are not only empowering your school's leader, but also turning him into a a symbol of consistency and wisdom for the staff and students. Transform the leaders, transform the school.
  4. Relationships may only work in burst mode
    Teaching is new to you and its difficult work. It consumes your weekends leaving nothing left for your girlfriend. Maybe you could spend your time with her during diwali/summer/winter vacations when she gets an overdose of you and want to kick you in the teeth. When the school is in session, you are constantly in a dilemma - "Should I make a plan for this new idea to try in my class?" or "Should I go cycling with bae?". The lesson planning idea is always going to win (no matter what you do, you will always be swayed by the peer pressure of wanting to be an awesome teacher). Get your crush to your classroom and get her to meet your kids and perhaps she will understand you and stick around long enough till the end of your fellowship.
  5. Work before you join the fellowship
    Gain experience at a professional organization. This will help in many ways. Firstly you would have outgrown your naivety about how the world works - this will help you earn respect of non-TFI staff at school. Secondly, you would have de-sensitized yourselves to standard operating procedures within an organization. This would enable you to do administrative work assigned to you by the school and TFI (submit reimbursements, income tax etc) without cribbing. You would also have developed a mindset to document and improve processes at your previous organization and that mindset may help you (if you chose) to help your school become a more productive place - (think printing out student list on green ledger paper and sticking it in your attendance register every month to save the trouble of writing student's name). And lastly, you will end up making friends with working earning people who wouldn't mind parting with some cash and their time for their ex-colleague who is working to make an impact.
    Your Excel ninja could help you better the process of analysing marks

    The jugaad attitude that you developed at your ex-workplace would do wonders for you.
    Using a cellophane paper to grade objective answers? Oh! I am so getting a CI/Six Sigma green belt for this!
  6. Its time for self improvement. Heal yourself.
    You teach your kid all this stuff on how to be better organized and lead a healthy lifestyle. But are you following your own advice?
    Go cycling/running with your kids on weekends.
    Quit Smoking.
    Get off any addiction that your have.
    Tone down your OCDs.
    Become emotionally independent.
    Get better.
    If bettering yourself because the kids are observing you doesn't motivate you enough to bring about that positive change, what else do you think will?
  7. Learn and study
    Read HBR article. Read Teacher Plus. Read about Steve Jobs. Read about Elon Musk. Read Read Read. Read what your PM sends you. Read what that "oh-such-an-enthu-cutlet" fellow sends you. Watch TED-Talks and Ted-Ed videos. Leaders need to learn how to be leaders.

    Also study math and English. Rekindle the critical thinker in you
    You were never good at math?
    You are scared of English grammar?
    Stop being an abla nar/naari.
    English/Math give you maximum facetime with your kids.
    Come hell or high water, you need to step up and become good at these subject. DO IT NOW!

    Scour the net (or ask existing and past fellows) for advice on how to deliver value-ed sessions in your class.
    Value ed lesson plans
  8. Get chummy again with your family - close and extended
    So you aren't an estranged daughter/son/brother/sister/cousin. You have pushed yourself to build strong relationships with the parents of kids who were strangers a few days ago. If you could do that with them, why won't you do that with your own family? So what if you are not a hugging family, your brother could do with some bhai time. Listen to his ideas as intently as you would listen to your PM and you shall find a new friend in him. Cousins - what do we have in common that can kick start our friendship with them? oh yes genes! 
    Chal bhai ice skating karein!

    And if your cousin joins the fellowship at the same time as you, its even more fun
    (Its easy to convince your parents as well - "But mom Vimal bhi to TFI kar raha hai!"
    and Vimal to his mom: "Anurag bhi kar raha hai fellowship, tenson mat lo!")
  9. Be vulnerable. Be genuine.
    You find yourself evading a conversation with a person? Think deep, it might because of some inherent bias you have against him/her because of their religion/profession/financial status. Become aware of your biases and kill them one by one. This will help you feel genuinely for people regardless of their background rather then just put up a facade of "seeming nice". People can tell when you aren't being genuine with them. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and stay their until your comfort zone expands and your comfort zone get enlarged.

    Be vulnerable to a select few too. There are people who will genuinely begin caring for you. If you are lucky like me, might find godmothers and godfathers in your HMs. You know you now have and extra set of parents when they offer to look for a bride for you and invite you for mutton biryani ever so often. Who could say no to more caring and nurturing. And Biryani. Biryani is serious.
  10. Have fun and Let go off your hang-ups. NOW!Ale ale beta ko shalam aati hai?
    Learn to dance - energizers are the way to go.
    Learn to ride a cycle
    Learn to swing
    Paint your face
    Learn to be a kid again and do the stuff that you never ended up doing.
    You are surround by kids - a chance at a second childhood.
    No regrets man!

Climb a tree

Wear Kurtas

Paint your face

They say you become older as you become wiser - fellowship is your time to become wiser QUICKLY and it comes at a cost of just 2 years of your life. Welcome to the journey. May the your hair stay with you!