Guru Poornima Thoughts

गुरुर्ब्रह्मा गुरुर्विष्णुर्गुरुर्देवो महेश्वरः
गुरु साक्षात परं ब्रह्म तस्मै श्रीगुरवे नमः ॥

Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnuhu Guru Devo Maheswaraha
Guru Saakshaat Parabhrahma Tasmai Sri Gurave Namaha ||

A timeless chant that pays wholesome tribute to all Teachers. Gurus. Who is a Guru? Derived from Sanskrit, Guru means teacher or a preceptor. The word comprises two syllables – Gu + Ru. Gu denotes the ignorance in the learner and Ru refers to the radiance of knowledge that dispels the darkness of ignorance in the learner. One who thus dispels the darkness of ignorance and brings in the light of knowledge is the Guru, the Teacher.

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Hindus all over celebrate the full moon day of the lunar month Ashaada (Karkadakom in Malayalam, Aadi in Tamil) as Guru Poornima. It is also called Vyasa Poornima because it is the birthday of Sage Veda Vyasa to whom we owe the codification of the Vedas. He also wrote the Brahma Sutra, the Mahabharatha, the 17 Puranas and 18 upanishads and the Sreemad Bhagavatham. The Bhagavad Gita, a small part of the Mahabharatha has been a beacon to believers as well as seekers and management experts who look at it as an ultimate source of inspiration to handle the day to day problems in life.

Having said this to me who is a Guru? Anyone who has taught me valuable lessons to enhance the quality of life, And where else will I begin? Well, the age old adage says, “Matha Pitha Guru Daivam” – i.e. the order of respect is first to the mother, then the father, followed by the Teacher and at last God. So on this Guru Poornima day I pay obeisance to my mother and father. A wonderful couple, who are celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary this year, they have been instrumental in giving us, their children and grandchildren, the right kind of values to live by. Thank you will be an oversimplified phrase; nevertheless let me use it to show my eternal gratitude to them. On this day of reflection and thanksgiving, I realize how lucky I have been to be part of their lives. My first Gurus and the ‘best-est’ ever!.

Teachers. May be I don’t have a phenomenal memory or I did not have inspiring teachers, I don’t remember any from my school days who have made learning a pleasure. However, I have had some amazing teachers at Government Victoria College, Palakkad, where I studies for 5 years – for my graduation through post graduation. I still remember the commitment of Dr. P. Achuthan (our Professor who took Eliot’s Waste Land for us for MA). Sir was transferred and there was an ongoing teacher’s strike. He asked all ten of us to come to his home where he held classes for us. Two full days. I have never experienced such an exposition to Waste Land, since that. Later I also had the pleasure of working under Dr. P. Achuthan, when he joined as the Principal of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Pallavur, where I was working. I also remember two other teachers – Prof. K. Balakrishnan (KB) who had a fantastic sense of humour and Prof. P. Balakrishnan (PB), who was a dignified gentleman. PB’s classes of John Donne’s metaphysical poetry still ring in my ears. He was the one who asked us to read E R Braithwaite’s novel “To Sir with Love”. That year, I remember, the class gave him a new year card, addressing simply as ‘To Sir with Love’. I think it was a turning point in my life. I got introduced to teaching as a profession and from then onwards, there has been no looking back.

Bosses. Oh, yes. Sister Tresa Martin (Arikkat) who was my very first mentor at Marian College. An amazing human being, she was quick to appreciate and thus fostered in me the confidence in my own ability to excel as a teacher. When teachers have inspiring leaders as bosses, it shapes their views and practices of education. I have so many to remember with gratitude. Sri. Gopinath, who was the Principal of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Kollengode, who gave me a break at a most needed time of personal crisis. A paternal relative, he not only opened the avenue for me but also ensured that ensconced safe and secure at the school. Then, Mr. A. M. Menon, the Principal of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Pallavur. Mr. Menon had no doubts about handing me over Classes XI and XII, though I was just a new recruit after completing my Bachelors in Education. Even to this day, I look at it as a great act of kindness. If everyone is looking for only experienced hands, who will give young and new ones a break? So in my practice, I have taken the risk of appointing teachers without experience too. Mrs. Kalyani Nambiar taught me that come what may we must be sticklers to the right kinds of values as we are in the field of education. And my Professor, Dr. P. Achuthan,  honed not only my teaching skills but also enriched us with his vast knowledge of spirituality.

Mr. Sarvesh Naidu. Mr. Naidu is till date the lodestar to me. His leadership and multi faceted personality has always goaded me to follow that style of functioning. So many more mentors: Mrs. Lakshmi Ramachandran from whom I learned the art of maintaining a wonderful rapport with all stake holders in education (Till date, I marvel at Lakshmi Ma’am’s phenomenal memory – she remembered students’ and their parents’ names. Phew!!); Mr. Michael Guzder, who taught me it is best to utilize the strengths of team members to the optimum (the work is done and the is worker happy! – Simple logic and practical wisdom!! Truly Mr. Guzder style!!!); Dr. Aninda Chatterji, who made me look at things in different perspectives and find solutions to problems (out of the box thinking or no-box-at-all thinking, if you can call that!!); Mrs. Asma Gilani, who is more a good friend than a typical boss and from whom I have learned the art of speaking one’s mind, especially when you are in the right.

Students. With nearly three decades of teaching experience, their numbers are only growing. I have learned so much more from these students that it will go on into an endless list. And if I can say about only thing that these students of mine have taught me, it is this: PATIENCE! As a person, I do believe in speed. However, when it comes to my students I am infinitely patient; so much so that my daughter once complained to me: “Ma, you have more patience with your students than with me.” Ouch. Ouch..

Friends. So many of them, but can’t help taking some names. Because they are truly special. Neena Shoukath – with her undying faithfulness and warm love. She taught me the true meaning of friendship. Subhadra Kutty – with her ringing laughter. She taught me what it means to smile and that then the world will be with you. Mind you, these two friends and I – we are in touch even after  37-38 years of friendship. That speaks a lot, doesn’t that? Giribala Menon, for all the support, care and affection she shares generously. Seema Krishnan – for the wonderful rapport we share and talk about all and sundry – and best of all, how we cackle like witches! Then there is Sheela Anand who inspires me with her commitment to sustainable practices. Anitha Raghu who enriched me with a wonderful gift of Reiki that I really needed at that time. Anuradha Ajith Kumar, who gave me wonderful moments of camaraderie while leading her school.

Family. My siblings. My brothers-in-law. My niece and nephews. Each one of them is special. I have learned so much from each one of them that enlisting that will take another blog. We are a happy, large family. Then there is my daughter Aathira and the latest addition to our family, her husband, Praveen.  You learn from your children too. So they can also be called “Guru”. So, what have I learned from Aathira? To be forthcoming about what you think. To do whatever that gives you joy and have no qualms about it. And most importantly to say No, when you feel like saying it. And from Praveen? To stay cool and unperturbed. There will be challenges, but worrying won’t get you anywhere.

Gurus. Swami Chinmayananda has been a great influence in our family. I remember listening to his talks. The powerful voice, the enunciation which will begin in soft whispers will then reach to majestic crescendos, the beauty of the English language that tumbled forth like a roaring cascade – I guess this was when I realized the magnetic charms of the English language. Some of his saying were mind blowing. One that I always fell back upon when I confronted issues is, “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him”. Then there is the Art of Living organization from where I learned the “Art of Living”. Sanjeev Krishnanji from Rhythm of life who shared with me his wisdom and nurturing practices. Sivanada Ashram from where I received the training for being a Yoga Instructor.

Books. Very many of them. Being a great lover of books, I have turned to them time and again for wisdom, solace and for just sheer joy.

So, all of you out there and who have taught me even a teeny, weeny thing, my salute to you. You have enriched my life and raised its quality. Thank you!!

My Experiments with Mentoring

(I recently did a 5-week online course on Mentoring. This prompted me to reflect on everything similar to mentoring that I have done in my career as an educator.)

I have been in education for over 29 years. In the course of my life as a professional and teacher, I have had many opportunities to be an effective buddy to my peers. This included new staff or recently upgraded staff who needed some kind of assistance to understand the curriculum, assessment, and other aspects related to teaching and learning as well as the culture of the school / organization. Then I never knew what I was doing was some kind of mentoring and hand holding. All I knew was it came naturally to me and gave me such a lot of satisfaction!

Looking back I think I started assisting with a teacher (Ms. Krishnamani) who moved up from being a Kindergarten teacher to one handling English in the primary and middle schools. She would come to me to ask doubts, vet the assessment / question papers and we had a lot of discussions on teaching and learning in the classroom. This must have been in 1993/94 when I was a teacher handling English in the senior classes at The High Range School, Munnar, a school affiliated to CBSE and run by Tata Tea Ltd for their employees’ children. This was the time when major changes were happening in the English Language Teaching scenario in CBSE schools with ELT moving the communicative approach way.

In 1996 another new teacher joined our school – Ms. Seema Krishnan. She had no experience in CBSE schools but was a willing and quick learner. I remember spending very many hours discussing lessons, methodology and most importantly question papers. This was an very enriching experience and I recollected how I too gained much from those interactions as much as what I gave off.

I moved on in 2001 to be the Principal of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Vadavalli, Coimbatore, and here I had to mentor teachers – not just those from the English Department like before. I took charge as Principal from a very respected lady who had led the school for 31 years and it was a challenge, given my young age as well as the fact that I was a rank outsider. I was the newest kid on the block in a school which had nil teacher attrition. Besides, some of the senior staff were all older to me. Unlike now, I did not have the benefit of the internet or reference books to refer to. I went ahead with the gut feelings I had about administration. From previous experience I knew that I should never be in  haste and make very many changes, just for the sake of making them. I still remember telling the Correspondent of the Vidyalaya, Ms. Anuradha Ajithkumar that I don’t intend to make changes in the first year – which was accepted with a lot of relief.

I studied the systems and currents at work at school and within 6 months the staff of the school had accepted me. Bringing change was now easier but this meant spending time with teachers and telling them why it was needed. We introduced a teacher evaluation system which had also had a component of outgoing students of Class 12 evaluating the teacher. This along with lesson observations gave a two dimensional picture of the effectiveness of the teacher in the classroom. This was given as a document as feed forward to improve on classroom effectiveness. All these involved mentoring of a very informal kind.

In 2003 when I joined The Millennium School Dubai and later in 2010 when I joined Our Own English High School (OOS), Sharjah, there was a lot of handholding to be done as Senior Academic Supervior. OOS has a very experienced teaching faculty in the Senior School. The most important effort here has been in making the team ready for change and share with them news and views about the latest trends in education and helping them to make some of these part of their classroom strategies.

My most recent stint of more structured kind of mentoring was when my line managers asked me to train two new supervisor recruits – Ms. Rachel Pereira and Ms. Elizabeth George. Both were working as teachers when they were appointed as Academic Supervisors for Grades 9-10 and 7-8 departments respectively. The appointments were announced in the month of June 2012 and they were to take office in September 2012. Since schools closed for summer break by June end, I had time at my disposal. In the first fortnight of July both the new recruits spent time with me learning about everything that an Academic Supervisor has to take care of – administration, from staff & pupil attendance to lesson observation and review; from professional development to monitoring of teaching and learning material; staff support to parent interaction. I must say that I really enjoying sharing with them what I knew with 7 years of experience as Senior Supervisor. It also gave me immense satisfaction when they told me that they learned a lot from me and that they feel comforted that I am around so that they can fall back whenever they need me. I should also add that I could do justice to this because it was summer break. Otherwise I would be flooded with my own work and supporting my colleagues would have been a stress on my time, energy and resources.

Over and above these I have been a mentor to so many of my students right from Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Pallavur; High Range School, Munnar; Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Coimbatore; The Millennium School Dubai and at Our Own English Hish School Sharjah. Whenever my students had issues to handle and seek guidance, they did come to me. To this day even many of the former students are in touch online and do seek some kind of advice from me. Yes, I have been the conscience keeper of many of them! 🙂