Posted by Sudha S. Nair, Pune
The lockdown for me was a living embodiment of Charles Dickens’ A tale of two cities. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” While the pandemic wreaked unmitigated havoc on people around the world, and closer to home, especially on the disenfranchised populations; I am one of the fortunate ones thus far.
It was a period of great personal turmoil on various fronts, with no escape. All the coping strategies came tumbling down and one was left staring at oneself in the mirror, with no filters.
This was also a period marked by some incredible journeys on the personal, as well as professional front. On the one hand, I was part of a community initiative to keep children engaged and happy via the greatest communicator of all times… ZOOM! And on the other hand, I was also a participant in another community initiative on Mindfulness Circles by a group of committed mental health professionals.
While the world around was going to pieces, there were these oases of calm, of joy, of sharing, to keep us from going to pieces.
Storytelling is what I used to do, on a daily basis during the initial weeks. Storytelling is such a wonderful medium to explore life, emotions, reconciling emotions, tools for living and loving. Hitherto, this exploration had been done face-to-face, in a physical space, sitting in the midst of the children. And this was now like some futuristic scenario, wherein each of us are facing our screens, in different physical locations, none of these environments mediated by the sutradhar (narrator or someone who strings the narrative). How was this going to work out?
Well, work out it did. And fabulously well. The key is the sutra (string) in sutradhar. What are the strings we pull at, the threads we tug at, when we weave a story, for our children? It’s the warp and weft of their thoughts and feelings. We spin a yarn across the tapestry of imagination, of emotions, of experiences. We match the colours of our stories to the colours of their dreams. We match the textures of our expressions to the textures of their world. We embark upon a shared journey across the landscape of our collective imagination. The barriers of physical space melt. And we bond.
Once connection is established, children engage thoroughly in the sessions, online or offline. If there is one significant factor that I hope educators all over have engraved in their minds and hearts and souls… it is this… now, more than ever, it is connection that matters, not the curriculum. The focus should be on connecting with children, first and last. Curriculum delivery is not it. If that’s what we are about, then we are the Midwives of Mediocrity, at best, and Soul Crushers, at worst.
Now, this was storytelling. What about concepts and subjects? Am I not lost as a teacher without the tricks of my trade, the learning aids and reinforcers? I am stuck on this side of the screen, and my student on the other. There is no physical classroom. No physical boundaries. How do I engage my student?
It was tough initially as it required tremendous amount of focus to modulate the lesson as per the student. They could just get up and leave. I didn’t have my toys, empty ball pens, Spider-Man, cars, etc that would get them interested. So, what did I have at my disposal that I could use? How can I get through to them? How can I keep them invested? The answer again lay in the right questions… What do THEY want? What do THEY need?
Apparently, what one of my students wanted was ” Wakhra Swag!” And so there I was armed with a playlist that included among other things, “Psycho Saiyan.” And we happily went onto work on sitting tolerance, the reinforcer being “Locha-e-ulfat” as well, among other priceless gems.
Music, the great unifier that transcends space and time and language, proved to be a trusted ally. With another student, there was this song that he loved listening to over and over again, day after day. His parents were worried as to how to get him off the song. But the very fact that he needed it, never got fed up of it, made it a wonderful, fail-safe, reinforcer! The song, “He will, he will, mock you” was a parody of the eponymous “We will, we will, rock you! ” One of my favourites. Thus, a win-win for both student and teacher. The starting point for this, was of course, questioning… what does my student want/need /like /love /fixate over? What will they work for?
Now these are the same questions that should underlie any intervention programme offline as well. After all, we are THE child centred people. As long as we have been following this offline, a transference to online isn’t that problematic. The key is not to be the expert, the one delivering learning. The key is to be humble. To be willing to learn. To take the lead from the child. And to stock up on a lot of energy! Online does demand a much more animated teacher!
Online teaching-learning for me has been an extension of my offline practices. Be it 1:1 sessions, be it group classes with students of mixed ages and abilities. The key is in the children. As it should be. Always. And in the unique predicament created by the pandemic, the key is to let the children lead. Most of the times.
For me, the teaching-learning experience has always been like a dance between my student and me. A few steps backward, a few steps forward, upwards and downwards, and sideways, too. In the online dance, I find the need to let my student lead more and more. I have been teaching lesser and lesser and learning more and more, as to what really matters when the chips are down. The children don’t need us to lead them. They need us to follow. All the while creating a safe path for them.
Jettison Curriculum, Forge Connection. Only Connection. Curriculum can catch up later, if relevant.
Sudha S. Nair is an Educator (Inclusion) at SuDhi Learning Centre. She has been in the field of Special Education for more than two decades, and with Inclusive Education since 2005. She is also a member of AISRVA and ISRVA (Associated with Social Role Valorisation).
Cover image: Breathwork Science
Story images: Author
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