“Human resources are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them, they’re not just lying around on the surface. You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves.” ―
Over the last few years, the role of schools and the effectiveness of their delivery model has taken a permanent place in the ‘Hot Topics Of Debate‘ category in television debates, expert forums, newspaper articles, playground discussions, and even parent WhatsApp groups. From the argument against the ‘Assembly’ model of education to its ‘rampant commercialization’ to the extreme focus on marks – there’s a whole gamut of nagging points that take center stage about today’s schools.
And yet- look up the developmental goals of any country, or even the United Nations and ‘Education’ hovers at the top. Undoubtedly, as it stands now, our schools play a crucial role in the development of entire societies. It is for this reason that no society can really afford a mere involvement in a debate about the state of schools and education. It’s time we got a deeper look.
‘Teaching Tales, Learning Trails,‘ a book for teachers by three teacher educators- Neeraja Raghavan, Vineeta Sood and Kamala Anilkumar- provides this much-needed deeper perspective into the various little worlds that make up the crucial developmental years of a child- the public world managed by the teacher through activities, lessons and routines, the semi-private world of peer relationships between teachers and authority figures in the school, the private world of the teacher’s mind, the public world of the student, the semi-private world of peer relationships among students and with the teachers, the private world of the student’s mind, the private and semi-private worlds of the parents.
The detailed depiction of the interplay between these various worlds does a lot of heavy lifting to showcase the cause and effect on real people’s lives.
Naturally, to bring these complex perspectives to life, the authors choose the simple medium of storytelling.
The book is eminently readable with stories exploring many themes in the world of education in two parts. The first part ‘Teaching Tales’ talks to the reader through several stories – The story of a fresh teacher who takes to teaching with starry-eyed ambitions of inspiring young minds to do great work, who is brought to frustration because his students are already deeply entrenched in the idea of working for marks only. The story of how teachers refrain from discussing their fears openly, and what tiny steps brings them to trust and draw from each other’s experiences. The story of how a new Principal handles the repeated complaints of parents while overcoming the mistrust that accompanies trying to change a long-established status-quo. The story of a girl who loved to dance, but has a hard time trying to convince a teacher that she is really doing her best to improve her grades. Of the conversations between the concerned parents of an autistic child, of how hard they fight their own fears and insecurities for the sake of their child. Of a retired schoolteacher reminiscing the most memorable moments as a teacher- the staff meetings with their school Principal and the challenge of reconciling individual personalities of teachers with the school’s larger goals. Of a teacher observing the distinct testiness of a top grader, and the uncanny calm of an average student, and wondering what made up that difference. Of a young girls’ coming to her own, after battling diffidence for years through childhood.
There are several beautiful themes in Teaching Tales Learning Trails that establish the knowledge of the authors that comes only with experience. But there are certain things in a book that the reader can totally miss because the nuances are so subtly weaved in.
One example is the story of a frustrated teacher with a little boy in her class, who doesn’t seem to get anything that she teaches him. It comes to the notice of the Principal, who lets the little child take control of his own learning, simply by letting him count and arrange some flowers before entering a classroom. The simplicity of her approach is stunning, yet so easy to miss. And as happens to us in so many ways( while we are busy managing our own pre-conceived ideas), the teacher completely misses this moment that is both ‘ teachable and learnable.’
What stands out in these parts is the book’s wonderful attempt to illuminate the complex world of pedagogy, putting across the meta-analysis of hundreds of studies on cognition and learning into everyday learning and teaching context.
The second part- ‘Learning Trails’ is the part where all stakeholders in education- including students – are brought together to discuss and express their ideas and learnings from the stories presented in the first part of the book. The conversations are revelatory on so many levels.
There is a special chapter in the book that details how the book came together- why these amazing women wrote the book, what questions were they trying to address, how they decided on the format of the book, and what it took to coordinate this massive project(with WhatsApp messages and all.)
The Teaching Tales Learning Trails stories are all written by six eminent teachers and teacher educators-
Neeraja Raghavan, the Founder Director of Thinking Teacher, an organization that focuses on teacher development action through research and reflective practice; Kamala Anilkumar – a senior resource person at Thinking Teacher and an educator for over 3 decades; Vineeta Sood, Associate Director at Thinking Teacher and a homeschooling advocate; Nidhi Pant – a math teacher across grades and a poet; Sapna Sajan, a Neuro-linguistic Programming expert and an avid traveller and Reena Kumar, a teacher for over 3 decades, passionate about plants, poetry, music and children.
If there has to be at least one fault mentioned about the book- it is that this book is hardly the breezy read you could finish during a flight( even though they are all great stories). The stories require a deep reflective involvement to get the most out of them, most suited for the thinking teacher.
But who can deny that we need more Thinking Teachers than ever today?
Teaching Tales Learning Trails is available for purchase at this link: https://notionpress.com/read/teaching-tales-learning-trails
Devishobha is the founder of Kidskintha- a global parenting and education collective, and the host of the global virtual conferences hosted on the platform. You can also find her voice on the Huffington Post, Mother.ly, Entrepreneur, Lifehack, TinyBuddha, Thought Catalog and many other publications.