The 2012 KIPP: Global Fellowship Program was one of my most powerful learning experiences. I entered the Programme with the desire to make my school a model of excellence for Pune Municipal schools and the country as a whole. The Programme rewarded me with a new vision for my school — one in which all children regardless of their background receive a high quality education.
The Fellowship’s experiential learning model included visits to high performing schools in low-income neighbourhoods and coursework taught by seasoned practitioners. Through these visits I saw first-hand what excellence looks like and was able to think through what excellence would like within the context of Pune and India.
The school visits were initially, a culture shock – the spacious air-conditioned classrooms with interactive smart boards represented everything that was lacking in my school in Pune. But I realized that no matter what the absolute conditions were-these children too came from difficult backgrounds and were far behind their peers in elite neighbourhoods, just like the children I work in Pune. To make my fellowship meaningful, I started looking at the key ingredients that went into making these schools really high-performing and began reflecting on how we can transfer some of the effective practices to our schools in India.
My biggest learning from the KIPP school visits is that “students come first.” KIPP school principals would spend most of their time in classes engaging with teachers, observing classroom sessions and student performance. They prioritized student learning rather than getting caught up in administrative tasks. They would often give feedback to their staff immediately.
I also learned that the key to authentic learning experiences lies in opportunities beyond conventional classroom lectures. In KIPP Schools, children focused on term projects and field trips, learning how and where they could apply what they had learnt in class.This can be easily transferred to our classrooms in India. For instance, if students are studying measurement, why should they be limited to a paper-pencil test? Instead, they can use their knowledge to create something- a basic model of a house, or even a simple cube. As part of staff development in these schools, I participated in case discussions, role plays, and group activities. This was so much more effective than the staff trainings I had experienced in Indian schools, where the flow of information is completely one sided and there is little or no interactive participation.
Shadowing highly effective school leaders developed my understanding of the strategies involved in decision making, direction setting (how to operationalize the school vision), and prioritizing. All of these experiences helped me reflect and synthesize my learning in a School Design Plan for my school, which I am now beginning to implement in the 2013-14 academic year.
I return to India with enhanced management and school leadership skills. I have better insight into the processes and best practices involved in transforming a good school to a great school- ranging from establishing an instructional vision to developing efficient operating systems; from hiring teachers to community outreach.
Finally, my belief is even stronger that we can redefine our school-wide structures, and move towards the goal of achieving the same academic results as any other elite private school in India. After all, “The world needs Dreamers and the world needs Doers, but above all, the world needs Dreamers who do.” (Sarah Ban Breathnach)
About Madhavi Gavirineni
Madhavi Gavirineni is the founder and current principal of Matoshri English Medium School, Pune, which was established in 2009 as a PPP between the Akanksha Foundation, Thermax Social Initiative Foundation and the Pune Municipal Corporation. She reflects here on her experiences at the KIPP School Leadership Program.