The corner of the floor was witnessing decibel levels soaring from distracting to chaotic. Amidst this chaos, a duster that someone had flung met its unfortunate destination, the glass board, only for both to come crashing down on the floor. Silence, at last! But the fish market like disorder returned within seconds.
This was a typical scene in classrooms in the past decades when a teacher was absent.
The traditional classroom has unconditionally upheld the “teacher” to be the main “medium” of instruction based learning and the master puppeteer that pulls all the strings in a classroom, including being the checker, enforcer, jury and punisher for behavioural rules. While, the internet today is flooding with views contrasting the traditional “chalk n duster” education versus the modern “talk in cluster” experiential methods, the common denominator remains – a TEACHER!
In another school, a thirty by twenty square feet room was buzzing with energy with some twenty pairs of feet zipping across its different corners with determination. An energetic lady, possibly in her early thirties, too vaulted across the room sometimes in deep observation and other times in short but animated conversations. Just then, a bunch of them from the far side shouted – “and we are done!”. Most others in the room echoed “so are we!”. Moments later as they moved away from their busy corners, the room resembled a sophisticated science lab with different forms of energy put on display by students – mechanical, gravitational, electrical and sound. This was part of the culmination of their month long journey to learn “forms of energy”.
Seldom did this journey involve the teacher giving lengthy lectures with a long list of things to copy from a blackboard and memorise; though the process extensively witnessed discussions, observations, reflections, debates, craft & modelling with students scribbling notes of their learning and self-structuring relational formulae based on the success and failures of their own experiments. Now this was a mere classroom too –but it was the playfield for the teacher of a modern classroom. After setting the context and parameters of learning, this modern teacher’s role focused on observation, providing direction (when required), productive debating and providing additional dimensions of “what ifs” to nudge students towards deeper and lasting learning on the topic.
Given the child-centric nature of the modern classroom modelled on the concept of inquiry based hands-on experiential learning, teaching in a modern classroom may be the hardest job there is!
We thought of exploring this aspect with one of the leaders in experiential education in India. Perplexed with a plethora of questions in our mind, we approached Heritage Xperiential Learning School (HXLS) in Gurgaon formerly known as The Heritage School Gurgaon to understand what it takes to create great modern classroom teachers?
Begin at the Start
Right at the onset, Heritage Xperiential Learning School highlighted the importance of recruiting right as a foundational step to creating a brilliant pool of modern classroom ready teachers. Modern does not mean in appearance but in thought process. Self-directed and motivated individuals with willingness to question existing paradigms eventually make great teachers for modern classrooms such as that of HXLS. An interesting way we saw HXLS develop progressive teachers, is by being a practice school for an organization called “I am a Teacher” that is geared towards building an alternate and practice-based model for teacher education.
"The greatest use of a life is to spend it for something that will outlast it." – William James
Train like the Next Karate Kid
Teachers need to undergo rigorous and continuous training to transform themselves into great modern classroom teachers. For example, new teachers at Heritage Xperiential Learning School undergo a unique 3-day residential induction program. Every teacher of the school further goes through extensive training and curriculum research of as many as 300 hours per year through progressive workshops, coaching, mentoring and study missions. Several sessions are planned through multiple learning methodologies like workshop discussions, projects, group activities, movie appreciation etc.
"It's all to do with the training: you can do a lot if you're properly trained." – Queen Elizabeth II
Do with teachers what you want them to do with kids
This is a phrase we heard unanimously and repeatedly from the HXLS team. In Heritage Xperiential Learning School’s case, teachers undergo experiences, reflect, self-appraise and analyse their own learning styles to learn to empathise with and nurture the same development among students. Teacher training involves promoting a learning culture of inquiry that teachers then translate to listening to all points of view of students, working productively and at ease with different perspectives and engaging the disengaged.
"Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers." – Josef Albers
There’s not just one way to teach
Teacher’s need to stay true to the progressive values of modern education. For instance, HXLS’s ethos of Freedom, Empowerment and Continuous Learning is strongly reflected in its work culture that teachers align themselves to and imbibe. Teachers develop individual styles to interact and engage with students but all are geared towards the basic theme of igniting the desire of “learning to learn”.
"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." – William Arthur Ward
Learn to know nothing to progressively discover better
Most teachers just entering the profession undergo conventional teacher training programs that are prescriptive and far from what is needed for the modern classroom. Teachers with experience at conventional schools also carry the baggage of prescriptive methods. One way we saw Heritage Xperiential Learning School tackle this, other than through gradual and continuous unlearning and relearning, is by casting a wider net to rope in many experienced teachers from different parts of the world for whom the modern way is the natural way. HXLS confirmed that such diversity has helped them create an environment that encourages exchange of ideas and sharing of best practices, many that were previously uncharted.
"Sixty years ago I knew everything; now I know nothing; education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance." – Mark Twain
While it is commonly said don’t judge a book by its cover but we say that indeed judge a school by the quality of its teachers! Especially for schools claiming to have modern inquiry-based / project-based / experiential classrooms. We hope that the excerpts from our interaction with Heritage Xperiential Learning School (HXLS) have revealed a critical idea – Focus on the teacher! Do you see the teachers emulate “the modern classroom approach” you are after – naturally and with ease?