Being a Rainforest Teacher
I completed Holistic Education Fellowship recently and am about to embark on a journey of facilitation at a school. I am no teacher, but a lifelong learner and the facilitation journey will help me in this process. It is going to help me be a child again and experience the wonders of the world around me. As a child, I was a bright student and learnt things quickly. But when I joined the Holistic Education Fellowship at Bhoomi, I realised how much of joy I feltwithexperiential and community learning.
In my childhood, learning at school was by rote. The lessons were the most important and we would sit and listen to the teacher and reproduce the same without experiencing most of it.We got very good at theory, but can theory really teach you what you need to learn experientially?
I studied in a vernacular medium school, who scored good marks in English but could not speak in the very same language . In the chemistry labs, we would just follow the steps given to match our results. We were never taught or allowed to experiment! I studied civil engineering and in the first-year of engineering we learnt without ever touching a brick or mortar. Academically, all of us learnt the same things regardless of what interested, appealed, and helped us learn.I was interested in everything that came my way, but I realised that only academics wererevered, and I directed myself there.By the time I appeared for my board exams, I had stopped playing and dancing, I guess all my friends did that too.
Let me tell you a story that I heard recently. One day, a group of children were standing in front a tree with their teacher. The teacher asked them to draw. After some time, the teacher was amazed to see that the first child had drawn a tree, while the second one had drawn a bird on the tree, the third one had drawn the sky above the tree, the fourth child couldn’t take her eyes away from the grass and the mud, while the last child was just busy listening to the birds chirping. Each child looked and engaged with different things around them differently. And isn’t it the same with all of us? We all look at the things around us differently, sense, feel and make varied meanings of what we see, hear and feel. We are all different and this diversity makes all of us unique in our own way.If we are not so similar, how different are we?
We are like rainforests, a place that thrives on biodiversity. Although rainforests cover less than 2% of earth’s surface, they are inhabited by around 50% of all life on the planet’s land masses. This huge biodiversity survives by evolving in their niche ways and helping each other in the process. Children are also growing, learning constantly. And to allow them to blossom as unique beings, we need to facilitate a thriving atmosphere like the rainforest. Where each one is allowed ‘To Be’ and to evolve in ways they can carve out their own niche and thrive together supporting and helping each other in the process.
Children enjoy their uniqueness, till we start measuring them with the standardized examination yardstick. Like I did to myself, it is disheartening to see so many children equating themselves to their examination scores and adults equating their self-worth to the money they earn.
Today, I am a homemaker and an educator, but many a times I am tempted to put forth my educational qualifications to ensure I am not considered any less than others. We all are so much more, above and beyond these incomplete systemic yardsticks. We are unfolding with every new experience; we are growing into our own being, our nature all the time.
We experience the world with our senses, make sense of it along with any past memory we hold, and these experiences become our knowledge base. We need to honour different intelligences, strengths and learning abilities in children. This calls for a Multiple Intelligences approach. Multiple intelligences recognise different ways in which we engage with the world. For ex. Visual, auditory, olfactory, kinesthetic etc. And we each have our own combination of these intelligences, about how we engage and learn. Do schools keep these intelligences in mind when they engage with children?
We do not learn only from people of the same age. However, we learn from everyone around us. We learnt language as children by listening and copying our family members, we learnt from our grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, their families. The world around us is filled with people from different backgrounds, different places, different traditions, and cultures. Our worlds are full of diversity. And we learn from this diverse and mixed age society.
I wonder as a facilitator how do I facilitate varied experiences that will help children draw out their unique gifts and potentials and build a resilient interdependent community.
Engaging with Processes in Learning
I had experienced learning as a very linear, outcome driven task in my school and college. Hence, last year in the pursuit of reconnecting with my own learning needs and to experience alternate education, I joined Bhoomi College as a Holistic Education Fellow.
At Bhoomi, we started our day with Hands on Learning where we engaged in different activities for an hour. Toiling in the farm, cleaning our learning spaces and making juice for everyone helped me reconnect with my food, privileges, and value dignity of labour in a way in which no classroom or textbook can teach.
Few tools which we were introduced to like Strengths Theory, Belbin Team roles and Multiple Intelligence etc. helped me operate from a space of my strengths, capabilities and learning style, and most importantly value the whole of me and not just few of my CV skills. It made me acknowledge and nurture my uniqueness.
One of major learnings from Bhoomi has been on process perception. Process perception helps one look at things not just from their utility but from a lens of time, space and quality. Say a packet of chips has utility as an object of refreshment but from a lens of process perception, one can engage with questions like where it came from, where will it finally end up, the quality and nutritive value of its contents etc.
Process perception as a tool helped me engage with my lifestyle choices more meaningfully, work with my relationships from a space of understanding and connection and relook at my work choices. My focus has been to see what kind of quality my choices offer and residues they leave for me, my community and my planet.
My bhoomi experience can be summed up as sitting in a Circle Time where I listen to multiple perspectives, acknowledge my feelings and that of others, engage with important issues, listen to hidden stories which wouldn’t surface otherwise and most importantly, learn holistically and then act from a space of agency.
Going back to education and learning, an article I read in which, a US based developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik book title, The Gardener and the Carpenter is an apt metaphor to explain the job of a parent/ teacher shouldn’t be of a carpenter who is chiseling a child perfectly rather be of a gardener who is creating a safe, nurturing environment for a child to explore its potential and the possibilities that the world offers.