It has been a rather tumultuous year, this. In this piece, I hope to capture the highlights of the last year and shed some light on the direction forward.
Change – the only constant
As you are aware, some of our veteran teachers moved on from ILM or decided to pursue other things last year. Rekha, our former and long standing Principal, who shaped ILM as we know it, too decided to rethink her career, but helped us put together a plan for this year before saying goodbye. On my part, I, battling what appeared to me to be a middle age crisis, decided to rethink my own direction in life and after several years of consideration and discussions, chose to quit my software job and take up a more active role at ILM. Or as my wife puts it, went from being a Principal Engineer to a Principal.
We had hoped to start offline classes at the beginning of this academic year but the second Covid wave hit us and we were forced to remain online. In October, we opened partially for a couple of months to be closed again on the arrival of the third wave in January. But as soon as that subsided, we decided to open up fully for elementary and partially for pre-primary.
While online education is certainly not what we aspire for or were prepared for, I believe we did a decent job of handling it. More importantly, the children proved that they are a resilient lot. Though admittedly, some children were more affected by the lack of physical and social connect than others. When we opened for physical classes, our aim was to assess how much the children had assimilated in those online classes and quite frankly we were expecting the worst. Fortunately, however, we did not find as many gaps as we had feared. Our aim remains to help the children consolidate their understanding of concepts delivered online and slowly take them further.
During all this uncertainty, we did manage to put together a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) workshop conducted by Ms Smitha from Tinkerama. Children loved the experience. They made conceptual and working models and completed several projects.
We end this year on a positive note and hope and pray for the best for the next academic year.
The Big Plan
In the discussions leading up to me taking up this new role at ILM, it was decided that I would, in consultation with all stakeholders, attempt to:
- Envision and shape a progressive curriculum for Lower and Upper Elementary
- Establish a model for a stable team
- Establish a culture of values so that we create human beings not just workers for our factories
- Establish processes for organizational autonomy and financial stability
This is a huge task but one that needs attempting.
With focus comes clarity
Having sat in the chair of responsibility for the last several months, I now have a clearer understanding of how ILM operates, what our strengths are and where we face the challenges.
Unravelling the mystery of Montessori
Montessori is undeniably our strength. The intuitive, child centric, concepts first approach it offers remains key to why the children look forward to coming to school every day and develop into confident, knowledgeable and enthusiastic learners.
To make this happen, though, requires an ecosystem that remains challenging to nurture and sustain especially in the elementary years. Finding a solution to this is a key challenge we face.
In the last several months, I have been having discussions with the teachers towards understanding how the curriculum flows through the years for each subject and topic. In Montessori, this knowledge is often confined to the teacher given that the system works on a set of materials and how those are presented to the children to teach them the associated concepts. Then, the delivery of this curriculum is tracked using an individualized progress tracking system.
We will now be attempting to document and ‘own’ this curriculum and methodology rather than leave it to the training institutes to decide. This would help in consolidating the ILM curriculum and approach and make it less susceptible to individual teacher’s understanding. The teachers, of course, remain pivotal to its delivery. In addition, it would help us ramp up new teachers more quickly through the resources available in house and by training them on the job.
Navigating an unchartered territory
On the upper elementary front (ages 9 years and above), while we move away from strict conformance to the Montessori methodology and closer to a textbook based system, we nevertheless remain Montessori at heart. It has been our hope that even upper elementary should be based on principles that make Montessori beautiful. While I am no expert on Montessori, having completed only a short course in it, I have been in the company of some brilliant practitioners and managed this beautiful school we call ILM for the past nine years. This has given me some sense of what makes Montessori great.
One of the central and perhaps well-known aspects is the small class/group size or the student teacher ratio. Adherence to this allows teachers enough time to focus on children’s progress. On this front we continue to excel at all levels, pre-primary, lower elementary and even upper elementary. We had even taken this practice to our online approach.
Another important element is the extended worktime where children can choose to work on an activity for longer periods of time. During these times, children are not offered new concepts, instead, they practice what they have already learnt or work on some interesting activity or project associated with that concept. We have attempted to implement this over the last few months in upper elementary classrooms. More streamlining is, of course, required given that we work on a scheduled timetable due to multiple teachers teaching different subjects.
Which brings me to another issue we hope to solve in the upper elementary classroom, that of constant context switching. As the children move through the day, they are constantly moving from one subject to another every 45 minutes. This is often alright, if the children want it that way. But we have noticed that there are times when children wish to have the opportunity to continue working on whatever it is they have started. But since the “bell” has rung, they must switch to another subject. We plan to address this in some measure next year.
Many more such initiatives are being planned and we will continue to update you on these. Unfortunately, our blog updates have been quite erratic but we hope to be more regular in the months to come, God willing.