Monday, July 15, 2019

Teaching Teachers In India

I bet teachers in India are as skeptical of professional development as teachers in the US. That was at the for-front of my mind as Les and I greeted the staff of KV national public school as they slowly and sporadically trickled into the one of the less technology compromised classrooms on the top floor of the building. Thomas our host teacher had asked us to deliver a presentation to staff related to how we use technology in our classrooms for instruction and assessment purposes. I was most excited by the prospect of using this opportunity to not only show off some of these new tools but encourage teachers to have some fun and learn by doing as well. You see, although teaching and learning in India is revered and fairly rigorous, active learning appears to taper off after primary school. This is fairly common worldwide. It also seems strongly correlated with student engagement as captured by student perception data. 

When teachers entered I kindly asked them to take out their phones and log into and enter the code on the screen. Les played some music in the background as staff got situated and KV quickly felt a little more familiar to my own classroom. The game began. As I explained to the staff that they would need to reorganize themselves into groups, I knew that we had won them over out of shear curiosity alone. Now in their assigned animal groupings the game began, requiring teachers to work together as a team to correctly answer the 30 questions some teacher who knows where in the world previously created related to assessing people’s understanding of the USA. 

By the initial struggle to answer any of the questions nor teachers understanding that only one member in their group had the correct answer and they actually had to collaborate and work together to select the right answer, I thought we were in for a long and uncomfortable debrief. In hindsight I wasn’t surprised as most of the classrooms require students to work independently and share their individual thoughts as opposed to discussing their answers with classmates or working together to solve a problem. Thankfully, after several minutes of scoreless inactivity, teams started to answer questions together and the experience became quite thrilling with teachers screaming with delight just like my students do while racking up points which the Black Rhinos moved closer to victory. 

Les facilitated the next piece by handing our pieces of printed paper, each containing Plickers, wingding looking doodles looking something in between Pac-Man ghosts and Rawshack Test ink blots. These odd pieces of paper that he generated out using Thomas’ printer that he was convinced was smoking or at the very least spraying dust particles are used to collect student or it this case teacher data. Les proceeded to ask teachers a bunch of questions about their comfort with technology and content questions related to the lessons we cotaught with their colleagues thus far. After each question Les asked for a response using the cards we provided and then proceeded to pan the classroom with his cell phone to record the answers.  

Teachers lit up with clarifying questions first asking how much these services cost to use, making me feel like some sort of infomercial pitchman when I responded, wait for it, “zero US dollars, zero rupees!” Students in India are not allowed to have phones in India and unlike NYC, lovely enough, comply with this rule almost unanimously by not bringing them to school. Given this and the lack of other devices in the classroom were somewhat less enthusiastic about being able to infuse quizlet into their classroom although some were excited by the prospect of using it in conjunction to the computer lab or assigning it to support students outside of school. Thomas’ determination to make quizlet live happen one way or another added an additional boost of positivity to the session. Plickers on the other hand had almost universal excitement in regards to adoption, especially when Les gave away the printed card we used to the most eager adopter.  The most important aspect of the session was the general enthusiasm and open-mindedness of the staff combined with the joyful and playful nature of the session. At the very least I hope we helped staff at KV realize they have so much to share and learn from one another and that professional development can be teacher facilitated and fun!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Principal’s Bachelor Pad

As we pulled up to the house’s gate after our first full day of teaching dressed in our most formal, least worn clothing, we noticed the plaque outside the building “Principal of Kendriya Vidyalaya (aka National Public School of Malappuram, Kerala, India).” Our morning interactions with the head school leader so far were cordial but formal and intimidating to say the least. Allowing two random Americans from a foreign educational system free rein to address your school community, teach your students classes, train your staff and generally roam, free rein in your school, requires a lot of trust on the part of school leadership. Our first morning at school, Principal Shri. V. Santosh or SV as he would later log into quizlet live during our professional development session as, seems to have indirectly insisted on a bit of a feeling out period, which included us spending a large part of the morning together, chatting off and on as staff, parents and new students shuffled in and out of his office. Being in the Principal’s Office as an adult is often uncomfortable as it is for students.  I can only image what it must have felt like to add two white foreign dignitaries who just addressed the school and welcomed with drums and celebration to the equation, sitting comfortably on the Principals fainting couch, not standing at attention like the others, trying their best not to stare but incredibly inquisitive about every interaction and exchange taking place.

But, for now, the school day had long ended and we were just breaching his outdoor gate as we were invited to celebrate our first day at school with a dinner at his private residence. Bending down, crouching near the front steps awkwardly removing our shoes the front door opened. Glaring at us from above with a big smile underneath his prominent mustache stood the same man, this time in his Doti, a traditional Keralan man skirt and an unimposing t-shirt. Once entering his home we were introduced to his mother who didn’t speak much in any language, but pantomimed her love and affection for us through her body language and through aggressive sticking cookies and other assorted snacks in the palms of our hands. SV’s position as a national school leader just as it requires most teachers to live a life in perpetual transition and relocate to the state and city the government requires your service. His wife’s career in Hyderabad didn’t allow her to join him in Kerala unlike our host’s wife who takes less lucrative private school jobs in the city he is assigned. Perhaps that’s why the name of the former KV Principal remains on the placard next to the gate. 

As it so happened, we didn’t end up eating a formal meal, let alone dinner, at SV’s self proclaimed bachelor pad as we initially presumed. SV maintained that if his wife was here, we would be treated to a feast. I secretly predict in some respects he preferred this instead. We proceeded to make do as bachelor's do, dining on assorted snacks, hanging out all night, chilling on the couch, me next to his mom oddly enough, bantering back and forth about politics and life in general. SV flipped between two local news stations, the Indian equivalent of CNN/MSNBC (Congress Party) and Fox News (BJP). Modi of the BJP was just re-elected as prime minister to a margin of defeat of the opposition initial viewed as impossible prior to election week in India. The political arena in the US and India are strikingly similar, but as it goes these days similarities carry suit throughout the rest of the world. As the Burning Question segment played out with its doom and gloom talk, little lizards ran back and forth on the wall adjacent to the flat screen tv, stalking and devouring any and all nearby insects. 

When we departed, SV took great pride in showing off his jackfruit collection which was produced solely from the plentiful jackfruit trees growing on his property. As he bounced from tree to tree tapping and probing the enormous spiky melons, I couldn’t help but imagine the teachers at the school many who I was told live in the surrounded houses, also provided free of charge, in-kind, by the national government, peaking over the residential walls and bare witness to the sight of their leader demonstrating jackfruit cultivation with such joy and whimsy.  Next day at school Principal Shri. V. was once again all business as if the previous night was some sort of surreal dream or fair-tale. Being a school leader whether it be in the US or India requires you to wear many hats and faces. I am just fortunate and greatly appreciate to have seen and experienced them all.

Teaching Students In India

Les and I did a fair deal of teaching at KV often riffing off the immediate needs of students and staff during the week at KV. I taught and cotaught in an array of classrooms, facilitated Q&A sessions with teachers and staff, even performed Don’t Worry, Sandoosham (Happy in Malalum) in front of the whole school. You can watch it below. 

Equipped with odd appreciation for difficult and uncomfortable social situations and armed with a slew of materials related to school and my classroom in NYC such as two school yearbooks, Regents Exams for all subject areas and a bunch of activities pertaining to my economics and government classroom, I thought I would prepared for any situation or topic thrown at me. None of this however prepared me mentally or logistically for the high stakes, all eyes on you, Vishram! Salhan! Vishram! militaristic, standing at attention, student body lead morning assemblies at KV. 

Morning Assembly

Assembly is a countrywide phenomenon and something all US educators should behold in absolute bewilderment whether it’s in person or in video. Watch an Indian  morning assembly in action. The first assembly was most extravagant as it involved student drummers who led us via procession up the school steps and out to the courtyard where we were presented with the entire school community. Every morning students gather outside to stand at attention, meditate, pray and chant in unison, listen to the daily news, sing the national anthem with accompanying instruments with every student’s hand raised in salute, and as an added bonus, on this and every other day this past week listen to words of wisdom bestowed upon them by Les and myself. I love talking and I’d like to think large audiences don’t scare me, but after a display of respect and discipline that is morning assembly in India, my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest and probably would have Temple of Doom style if it wasn’t also for the equally as sedating effects of the chanting and prayers to help ease my nerves.  For my first address, I thanked students and staff for welcoming us into their school, introduced myself and shared a short story I read and prepared the night before about Steve Jobs who was inspired at an early age to promote workforce collaboration through design when his elementary school teacher demonstrated how rough unpolished rocks turn into beautiful polished gemstones when given 24 hours to bump into each other inside a tin can when you add a little water to the mix. With the first assembly in the bag and feeling invigorated, coteaching was as much if not more enjoyable.

Accounting Class
If my mind serves me correct, my first class was accounting. Having studied accounting for only several weeks in college before dropping the class I expected in add little to the conversation, but the teachers conciseness helped me to quickly grasp the content and ask the class some high level application based  questions related to how intellectual property or future purchase orders are accounted for in accounting. I was glad that these questions were relevant to students studies and pushed their thinking as these topics would be elaborated on in greater detail in weeks to come.

American Poetry in English Language Class

Ms. Sajina T’s 12th grade class was writing op-Ed’s related to the days morning assembly when we first dropped in. Later on they hosted Les and I as students presented and discussed two poems, A roadside Stand” by Robert Frost and Zitkalaza’s “First day in the land of apples” which discusses American India forced acculturation at the Carlyle Indian School. Having read the poems the night before and having a personal attachment to Frost as I first shared with students how my 10th grade English teacher once berated me in front of the whole class after reading The Path Not Taken exclaiming “I use to like this poem before you read it!” I asked students to share their thoughts on the concept if “good walls make good neighbors,” before connecting the concept to recent happenings in US immigration policy and answering students questions about Trump by sharing that I thought his approach to diplomacy was narrow minded and emphasized peanuts in the form of trivial givebacks as opposed to relationship building and lasting peace and world stability.

Damn Dams Are Interesting In Social Science

I also facilitated the second half of a social science lesson in which students were discussing the characteristics and consequences of the government building dams on tribal lands. I was encouraged to take over and used the opportunity to model inpromptu debate and student to student conversation asking students to discuss the pros and cons in small groups before sharing out their claim and argument on the issue. I also asked students to call on each other and required students to repeat back the points their classmate’s made before adding on their own thoughts on the topic to encourage student to student dialogue. At the end of class I asked students to conceptualize the values of the affirmative and negative and tied the issue of individualism vs collectivism back to Trump’s wall and how individualism in the form of respecting property rights will almost definitely win out over eminent domain and building a physical wall for “national security.”

 Teaching The Great Recession With Thomas

I believe Thomas and I were well paired for this experience, both because we love and teach economics but also because perhaps we have similar teaching styles. After a short mini lesson on creating credit through the money multiplier effect, Thomas did what he said his students love the most and shared real life examples or “stories.” He discussed how Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in 2008 and I asked students to think why the government let Lehman fail while they bailed out the other big banks with US tax dollars, if the government should bail out banks in danger of failing, too what extent individuals receive similar treatment and why they think crooked bankers don’t serve jail time like drug dealers. 

Adjectives, Nouns & Ninos!

We also cotaught some primary source classes including a 4th grade English class in which students were first working on writing nouns of items seen around in the classroom and then using “describing words” or adjectives to describe the items and then themselves and their teachers, including us :) I tried to push everyone’s thinking my asking students to use the model “I am .... because....” in which students needed an adjective to describe themselves and a specific example or piece of evidence to defend their choice of noun.

US Revolution - French Revolution - Indian Independence

I was asked to prepare a lesson on the US and French Revolution and decided to combine both into one lesson and also tie India into the mix as well. Students were surprised to learn that the US Revolution predated the French Revolution, Thomas Paine stirred the pot for both and that the desired effects of the French Revolution includes identical language that is found on in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution in the first page of their textbook. Students were also delighted by the striking similarities in language between the American Constitution and India’s.

Here are two exit slips from students produced at the end of this class when I asked them to reflect on the content, process and premise of my lesson and how it compares to their previous instruction.

The Whirlwind School Tour!

Towards the end of our stay it was nice to see that more and more teachers were inviting us to their classrooms and asking us to address their students. Les and I visited many other classroom to share about our school and discuss our students. I used my school’s yearbook as a picture book to discuss our focus on dentistry and pharmacy technology while Les shared videos of his school’s music and drama performances and creatively used Padlet to share student created introductions from his students and created similar video responses with some of the kids in our classrooms in KV. t is our hope to use tools like this to help foster relationships and collaboration between students at our schools.I also left a copy a USA school yearbook in the library in the hopes that students will continue to develop observations, inferences and questions about my school. 

Made with Padlet