Seema Negi – Principal – Sanjeevani World School, Mumbai
About the school
This is a brand new school in Mumbai and is currently taking its baby steps – this is the school’s first year. I mean, it has been under construction from the last 4 years, but is functional only from June this year. Currently, our school is functional for nursery to grade 6. Every year, it will grow by 1 class.
The main beacon behind this school, Dr. Shyam Agrawal, is a very famous ophthalmologist in Mumbai who is associated with many educational institutions. This school, Sanjeevani World School, is the 4th institute he is associated with. This educational institution belongs to his own trust Sanjeevani Chandrabhan Agrawal Charitable Trust and is in the process of affiliation for CISCE board.
Futuristic definitely means IT-enabled classrooms; but that is not what it is all about. It is also about having future-oriented teachers.
The first thing is we train our teachers for something called generation disparity – to understand generation gap and the current generation, in particular. Teachers need to understand the generation they are teaching, what this generation seeks from society and how to train them. You can’t mold, educate or influence, if you don’t understand them. So, first we train our teachers.
Then comes our infrastructure – each and every classroom can be IT enabled anytime we want to. We have the technological capability. Right now, we do not have innovation labs but it would be there in future. When it comes to technology, we have all the support that is required.
So, in a nutshell, we have able teachers and able classrooms as well.
Family and education background
I belong to a defense forces family. My dad has retired from the air force, and consequently I have grown up in different parts of India owing to my father’s transfers. When people ask me which part of India I belong to, I respond saying – I belong to India. I have grown up and was a part of every state in India, at some point.
I did my schooling from Kendriya Vidhyalaya (Central School), which is affiliated to the CBSE board and I am very proud of my alma-mater. Post that, I did my college in Delhi and my higher education in Mumbai as well. After my wedding, I came and settled here in Mumbai since 2001.
Before being a part of this school, I was with an international school, which again Dr Shyam Agrawal was associated with. He is the president of the school. I was part of that school for over 10 years as its Vice Principal & got the opportunity to sharpen my skills under Dr. Kavita Agrawal.
When they had plans for Sanjeevani World School, I was offered to take position as its Principal. We then started working towards making this school a reality.
I was also in Bangalore precisely for a year. I was part of Embassy Public School. I was associated with them for a short span. In Mumbai, my journey started with Podar International School for a year & I was trained under the best mentor, the Director of Podar International School, Dr. Vandana Lulla.
I am predominantly an English teacher; but I am game to take on any other subject as well. I just love to be in the classroom. There is a standing instruction to teachers that they can count on me whenever any teacher is absent and there is a need for a proxy teacher.
What makes a good teacher?
Personally I do not believe that education is all about marks. Teaching should be life oriented. I firmly believe a good teacher should have a legacy to leave behind. Legacy in the form of successful students, who are lifelong learners, an asset to the society; holistic beings. They should take the lead in shaping students not only for academic pursuit, but for life; for the uncertain future.
They should be capable of imparting the basic understanding to students that failure and success are just relative terms and situations. This is an extremely important lesson because students tend to take drastic steps when they face failure.
It is largely up to teachers to train students to boldly face adversities and uncertainties of life. Bonding with students to that level is a minimalistic goal I have for the teachers who work with me.
Well, that is a tricky question and it is not easy. More than recruiting, it is about training and instilling your philosophy in your team.
If you believe in your conviction and if you instill that conviction in your team every day, then at the end of the day, you know that your team members are working towards what you really want. Trust me that is what we do in my school, every day.
During orientation itself, we tell what we expect from parents. We convey to them that in a life time, their child will get many friends and many teachers too, what the child will not get is ‘YOU’ as a parent. So, good parenting is the need of the hour. Instill values as a parent and the school will play the vital role in child’s academics.
Our teachers provide mentorship and we can really do wonders. As per me, each teacher is unique and so is our school; the school is special and so are the teachers. It takes time for these thoughts to seep into the depth of one’s being and stay there. Repetition of these philosophies is core to instilling it in everybody and helping them perform towards a common goal.
How to find good teachers?
Now, that is a difficult question. There is an organizational procedure we follow. We have an informal round of conversation with the candidates first. That way we know who are we dealing with. Then, we have a formal content test & interview for teachers. We expect them to write something in English without the aid of devices like their mobile phones, laptops, etc. Since English is the medium in which we teach, they should be comfortable using the language with ease and accuracy.
Yes, we have technological backup, but we are particular that teachers should have sound knowledge of theirs subject and English too. You will be surprised that in our school, Sanskrit, Hindi and Marathi teachers also have sound English knowledge. That is what we work on.
Also, we are at an advantage that this school is in its blooming phase. When we have limited staff and students, we can experiment with methodologies. And, whatever we do this year will form the base for the coming years. That is what empowers us. I have a blank slate and so, can draw the masterpiece the way I want to draw it. I think that is the best part.
I feel staff development is the crux and base and everything revolves around that. What is the point if the head of the school believes in something and if it cannot be driven down to the lowest end?
Not just the teachers, the philosophy of the school must be imbibed by all the supporting staff as well including the security and ancillary staff, or else it is futile. Everyone should behave in a particular manner that radiates the philosophy of the school. That is when it becomes the culture of the school.
To cite a small example, from day 1, we train our staff to greet everyone that they come across. Today if you walk into our school, everyone you come across will greet you, irrespective of what post they hold in the organization. That’s the best example of being a TEAM oriented school.
I believe, staff enrichment is the foundation for it all. It is not just about recruiting the right people, it is about recruiting those people with the right attitude and empowering them to imbibe the school’s culture, vision and mission.
It is not just about infrastructure. The infrastructure simply aids in better facilitation of a class. But, if the teacher is not adept in clearing students’ doubts about anything and everything or not open to researching and getting the answer for them, the game is lost!
Not just academic, it’s about catering to children’s emotional, social and adversity quotient as well. The question is; are we there for them when they need us? Once that is done, then they will listen to our instructions and do it with their heart and soul. If this concept is in place, then appreciations, awards, workshops, everything works. Or else, it is just pretend play and nothing else.
First of all, ours is an end to end school. We believe in inclusive education, but it depends upon the severity of the difficulty level. We have special children studying in our school. Counsellors need to be an integral part of today’s education system, whether or not you are an inclusive school because every child may have some or the other difficulty. These days most houses will have either 1 or 2 children. This means the children are pampered and every child is exposed to gadgets. So, to manage them there should be someone in school who really understands them. Counsellors can be an excellent space where children may open up and they can guide teachers and parents to understand how best we can deal with specific children. Some children may pose problems at school that they do not do at home and vice versa.
Counsellor workshops for teachers and parents works a long way because we create an awareness of the kind of issues children deal with and we can better support them. When there is awareness, people also feel a sense of unity. Most of the time, revelation that you are not the only one dealing with these issues is in itself a relief.
We have an in-house counsellor, and we have special educators as well.
Satisfaction as a Principal
One thing I am most satisfied about is seeing my students succeed. I love the fact that my students are just everywhere and thanks to social media I am connected with most of my students. At times when I am in need of recommendation letters, rather than asking anyone else, I prefer my students to write them for me. For example, I was once asked to submit three recommendation letters, I chose to ask three students of mine to write them out for me. And, they did. That shows the trust my students have in me. They look up to me as an inspiration & I strive be the same. And this work both ways.
I am awed at how technologically advanced we are. I admire the fact that I have had my hand in mentoring these students and that I am gifted to keep in touch with them.
I still remember all my ex-students, as time and again they approach me for recommendation letters; they give my reference for their jobs etc. Personally I have mentored many students, and I am content to see them following their passion and succeeding in life. My success mantra in life is- for the students, by the students, with the students….Always!
I think the connect you have with your students beats everything else. I say that I am the happiest person on this Earth if you leave me with my students. Every day I learn from them.
I think my take on my students when they have not performed the way I expected is at a different angle. In such circumstances, I feel I may have failed to teach them in a way that they understood because education, over the years has evolved.
That is what encouraged me to study and delve more into generation disparity. The driving force is if my students come and ask me something and if I don’t have the answer for that – that is a frustrating moment but it also evolves into moments of research so that I can get back to them with the right answer. That way the learning is always a two-way street.
I would say I was fortunate enough to work with a good management team. I am not saying that we don’t face issues similar to other schools, we do. But I feel the way you implement things matters a lot.
In every school we have growth challenges. But what we need to understand is we need to be a good listener and should know how to play our cards well for the most positive outcome. At the end of the day, the ones who have invested money need to gain their returns. If you succeed in showing them the larger picture on how they can gain their ROI, they would never say no. It is up to us to show where the school needs improvement. Yes, sometimes there are long discussions & brainstorming sessions, but it’s not that there was no amicable decision that was not reached. Things do happen and they should happen. Criticism is the best way to learn. Of course, you may not get 100% of what you asked for but you would at least manage to get an 80%, which is fair.
That way I wouldn’t say that I have faced major problems in that space. Minor issues are always there but where isn’t it there? At the end it motivates me to perform even better.
I would like to be more involved with trainings and workshops in the education space because it is something that I do very often. I am amazed at how it broadens one’s horizon. I personally try attending a lot of workshops to push my boundaries. Academics is my forte, and I am very fanatical about it, I feel intertwining academics with skills and values can result in miracles.
If I am not aware of what the future demands how do I train my team? And, my team includes my students as well. That is a space that I am passionate about and that is what I will continue to do.
I also aim to have my own school one day, which will be dedicated only to special children. I feel society still doesn’t hold the attitude they need to have for children with special needs. But I understand that we cannot change society overnight.
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