Adjusting to The 'New Normal'


Dr. Archana Mishra is the Principal of Navrachana Vidyani Vidyalaya, a prestigious State Board School of Vadodara, Gujarat. She is an educationist with 27 years of experience in school education with a Doctorate and Post Graduate degree in Zoology.


She has received accolades at various educational platforms and has been recognised for her innovative practices. In the year 2010, she was awarded the ‘International Leaders in Education Fellowship’ instituted by the Department of State, USA, to recognise outstanding teachers of the world who have excelled in their field.


Dr. Mishra’s expertise in technology has helped her steer the teaching-learning process towards a fruitful, result oriented process in these Corona times.

 

What or who motivated you to get into teaching?

The inspiration for becoming a teacher came from my parents who were both educationists. I was always fascinated with the thought that a teacher has the ability to make a difference in the life of a child and the respect that this profession entails, attracted me to it.


What is the role of a school leader in bringing the stakeholders together?

I have come to understand that the role of a Principal is similar to that of a conductor of an orchestra unifying performers (teachers and students), setting the tempo (mission and vision), executing clear preparations and beats (pedagogical practices), listening critically (feedback from students and parents), shaping the sound of the ensemble (providing holistic growth to students) and controlling the interpretation and pacing of the music (managing all stakeholders)!

What according to you, is the biggest misconception about teachers and teaching that people have?

People think that a teachers’ job is easiest in the world and that it is a 9-5 job. They miss out the fact that a teacher works 24x7, their day starts early and their work involves a lot of emotional investment along with the physical one. Since most teachers are women, there is no respite from household work for them.


What according to you is the greatest challenge that teachers are facing today?

In this time of the pandemic, when everyone is faced with the challenge of adjusting to this paradigm shift, the teachers have shouldered the extra responsibility of reaching out to their students. They had to become technologically adept overnight, they have to be emotionally and mentally stable at all times, they are expected to perform much above and beyond their capacities and they are continuously judged and scrutinised. With parents being able to enter the online classrooms, the pressure on a teacher has increased tremendously. My teachers have told me that they are perturbed on not being able to pass on the comforting touch to children when they need it.


How are schools, teachers and the education system as a whole, impacted due to the COVID crisis?

Humanity is going through an unprecedented global predicament today. The entire world and each one of us is affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Schools are facing uncertainty from all quarters. Each member of the school community is struggling to adjust to the new normal. While online education might not be available at all to a great number of children of our country due to unaffordability or inaccessibility, for the ones who are fortunate, education has taken a new meaning. Online learning is evolving at a fast pace, the medium is friendly but with constraints, casting aspersions on the missing ‘human touch’ in the virtual space.

Countrywide debates about issues relating to fees, increased screen time for children and date of reopening are stealing the essence from the real meaning of education. Teachers are toiling hard finding newer ways of teaching, conducting activities, evaluation and assessment. Technology is a friend but not so faithful, access to technology in most households may vary, and access to high bandwidth internet, or to smartphones is totally a different issue. School managements are sandwiched between the demand for fee reduction by parents on one side and the dire necessity to maintain empty buildings, providing resources and paying the school staff on the other side.


Parents are struggling to make ends meet due to loss of jobs and businesses. Taking care of children who are at home is in itself a herculean task, especially when both parents are working. While schools are prepared with SOPs for reopening, whenever it happens, various questions cloud parents’ minds; When will schools open? Will it be safe for our children? Should we take the risk of sending them to school? Will the school take appropriate measures for safety of children? Is it even possible to maintain social distancing in schools? At a time when uncertainty is the order of the day, school education is facing answerless questions, each passing day is different from the earlier one, calling for a new approach to tackle new situations.


In the COVID environment today, how differently is your school handing online classes?

Navrachana Vidyani Vidyalaya is a progressive school. We had adopted technology in a big way even before this crisis, and hence our teachers have adapted to it effortlessly.


Our classes are being conducted live. Precise planning, online content development, evaluation and assessment, training of teachers and continuous monitoring of online classes are being done. Innovative pedagogical methods like flipped learning, problem solving and storytelling are being adopted and the emphasis on self-study is being given. Science practicals are carried out through virtual labs and live demonstrations. Every morning starts with meditation and assembly. Children wear their uniforms and sing the school song every day.


We are conducting extracurricular activities and inter-house competitions for students. We put special emphasis on happiness and well-being of our students.

Sometimes in order to give the children a real feel of the school, teachers are taking them for a virtual school visit, going around classrooms, corridors and playground much to the delight of our students. We have a timetable with proper breaks for children, we have periods for library, life skills, value education and physical education. Special care is taken for mental health by providing counselling services to students and parents, round the clock.

The Navrachana Education Society headed by our Chairperson Mrs. Tejal Amin, provides unconditional support to us ensuring that we maintain our quality and fulfil our school motto ‘Transforming Potentiality into Reality’.


With the current trends, do you think online teaching will replace traditional, classroom teaching?

Online teaching has gained ground due to the inevitable and prolonged use of technology, but both teachers and students are yearning to get back to school. There is no substitute to classroom teaching which involves direct interaction between the teacher and the taught.


It caters to multiple intelligences, provides opportunity for peer collaboration and is a place for inculcating values and teaching social conduct to children. The school is a breeding ground for various skills, competencies, moral values, discipline, experiential learning and a plethora of learning opportunities for children’s fertile minds. Post COVID, the use of technology might see a rise, but will never be a viable alternative to classroom teaching.


Today, how important and difficult is it to maintain a good school-parent-teacher relationship? What are the steps you take to maintain this relationship?

In this phase we are striving to co-create the ‘new normal’, trying to be the community that works in tandem towards our shared goals. Parents understand that most teachers are not accustomed to teach remotely, teachers accept that parents were not prepared to parent their school-aged children at home every day, particularly when those children are not able to see their friends.


The Navrachana ethos promotes compassion and empathy so we have designated considerable time for interaction with children and I am sure that our students gain immensely from mutual morale boosting conversations and sharing their experiences with teachers. Parents appreciate that the teachers are putting in their best and that their children are happier since school started online classes.


I believe that the school-parent-teacher should assume the best in each other, always keeping in mind that our shared goals have not changed, even as the circumstances we are in have changed.

We must assume that educating the children is not the top priority at this time, it is more important to give children a sense of normalcy, a hope that things will be better again.

The challenge today is to reduce as much as possible, the negative impact this pandemic will have on learning and schooling and build on this experience to get back on a path of faster improvement in learning.


As we cope with this crisis, we must also think of how we can recover stronger, with a renewed sense of responsibility of all players and with a better understanding and sense of urgency of the need to close the gap in opportunities and assuring that all children have the same chances for a quality education.


However, I hope that one of the new normals to come from this time is a stronger parent-teacher relationship forged in the shared task of thinking in new ways about how to meet our shared goals of nurturing the child's development of healthy relationships with the self, with learning, with peers, and with the school community


Your message to the teaching community…

At a time when technology is the only means by which we can connect with our students, the balance between real and virtual world appears to be skewed. Today, there is a dire need to retain the more humanistic values like empathy, sensitivity and compassion in children while they are acquiring necessary futuristic skills.

My belief is that happy teachers make happy students. Positivity breeds hope, hope builds trust and trust is the foundation of teamwork.


Let’s create a happy place where all of us strive to better ourselves and find fulfilment in being the builders of the generation of tomorrow. We are teachers, our goal is to become role models. The student is like a metamorphosing entity, the school its cocoon, and teachers are the threads that hold this cocoon together. It is the responsibility of a teacher to make sure that enough love and care is provided so that each child emerges into a beautiful gift of nature that he or she is destined to be!


Evolution is happening every minute of every hour. We must equate evolution with progress, the more we grow, the better we become. Be ready to accept change. Change not only jolts us from the stupor that we sometimes fall into, it also gives us reason to expect freshness in our routine life. And it is this vigour and vitality which we need to transfer to our students.


With each new challenge comes new beginnings, each passing minute leaves its mark on us. All days might not be been sunny, each memory might not be pleasant, each experience may not necessarily be good, but it all brings a lot of learning. It is up to us to translate the lesson to suit our goals.


This is the moment that calls us to be our best selves in tune with our values and culture. The virus has prompted all of us to gain a heightened self-awareness. Explore the unknown and envision the future. There is a plethora of opportunities for children to discover their talents and realise their potential.


This article originally appeared in the TeacherTribe Magazine August 2020 edition.