Learnings from ISLI’s first year

by on July 5, 2014

What is one word that describes how you are feeling in this moment?” Shaheen Mistry, CEO of Teach For India asked the audience as she delivered the keynote talk at the event to celebrate the graduation of the first cohort of India School Leadership Institute (ISLI) national fellows and to welcome the second cohort.

“Proud, because ISLI is on its way to becoming an institution,” was the response given by Azad Oommen, Executive Director, Central Square Foundation.

Azad’s sentiments sum up the progress that we have made at ISLI in the last year. Over the past twelve months, ISLI has established its National Fellowship, a year-long programme designed for leaders who have demonstrated a track record of success, but want to undergo an intensive fellowship to further enhance their skills and develop their schools into places where underprivileged students achieve exemplary learning outcomes. Ultimately, the National Fellowship aims to establish the benchmark for school leadership training in India.

At the graduation ceremony for ISLI’s first national cohort, fellows completing the programme presented portfolios that included evidence from their schools about the practices they are now implementing as a result of ISLI. They talked about how they are implementing management structures used to develop teacher leaders within their schools that they saw at KIPP schools in the United States, and lesson plans to help students become independent thinkers which they picked up from the Riverside School in Ahmedabad. They described the conversations and monthly visits they had with their ISLI coach to develop the school design plans that will guide the development of their schools over the next few years. Most importantly, they talked about the numerous initiatives in their schools that they learned from ISLI have helped them focus their schools’ energy toward improving student achievement.

Over the two cohorts of the National Fellowship, we have enrolled sixteen school leaders who collectively oversee approximately 35 schools that serve more than 17,000 students. These leaders run budget private schools, public-private partnership schools, and this year one of our new leaders runs a government school. One fellow, Sajid Hasan, is a Teach For India alumni running a small school in an East Delhi madrassa that is a pioneering institution in the area as a co-ed, secular school focused on learning outcomes. Another fellow, Shalini Sachdev, is leading the first public-private partnership school in India in conjunction with the Pune Municipal Corporation, the Akanksha Foundation, and the Thermax Foundation. And yet another fellow, Mohammed Anwar, is running one of the most established chains of low-cost private schools in the Old City area of Hyderabad. Each of the leaders in the National Fellowship is already impacting hundreds of students and has the potential to have a larger impact for thousands more.

ISLI has also spent the past year developing the pilot for the City Fellowship in Delhi, a programme that will begin this month. The City Fellowship is an eight month fellowship that is designed for school owners and headmasters who have had limited exposure to management training but are currently leading schools that serve low-income students. Unlike the National Fellowship, the City Fellowship is a lighter touch model that minimises travel out of the city while also maximising the support that ISLI can efficiently provide. After a first year focusing on the Delhi program, ISLI plans to expand the City Fellowship to Mumbai, Pune, and Hyderabad in 2015 serving fifty school leaders in each city annually, with the more interested participants from these programs continuing their development by applying for the National Fellowship.

The leaders who have enrolled in the National and City Fellowships joined ISLI to develop their skills so that they can transform their schools into places where low-income students achieve high levels of academic learning and growth in character values.  In the process, these leaders and their schools will serve as models for others to achieve the same goals for students across the country. Though we will be tracking progress on student performance over the next three years in these schools, the results will not be known for some time.  Still, early indicators show that these leaders are making dramatic progress in their schools.

Over the past year, ISLI has learned that while there are only a few organisations focused exclusively on developing school leaders, there are many groups that have expertise that can be utilised in this effort. Our partners at the Central Square Foundation (CSF) have been instrumental in helping us to leverage these networks toward a common aim of ensuring that schools in India have a well-trained and supported school leader. The Akanksha Foundation has incubated ISLI and provided invaluable support in the development of our curriculum and overall strategy. The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) from the United States provided the initial frameworks that we contextualized to create our training programme. Teach For India’s InspirEd conferences have provided ISLI a great platform to share our learning and spread our work. Adhyayan Quality Education Services has helped us develop our selection process and evaluation framework. We have had fellows and trainers from many organisations including Muktangan, Wonderbar Kids, Andhra Pradesh Social Welfare Residential Education Institutions Society,McKinsey and Company, Harvard University, Stillwater Consulting, and American School of Bombay, just to name a few. In Delhi, ISLI has formed a best-practices consortium of schools that include Step-by-Step, St. Mary’s School, and Vidhyaagyan to support its City Fellows as they develop their schools. While the list of partners mentioned in this paragraph is in no way exhaustive, it simply shows how many groups have shared their expertise to establish ISLI and we hope to continue to serve as an organisation that brings together experts in the field of leadership development.

The last twelve months have seen an immense amount of growth at ISLI. While ISLI is still a young organisation, as Azad stated, we have made progress towards living up to our name of the India School Leadership Institute and advancing the importance of school leadership in India.

About Sameer Sampat:
Sameer is Executive Director of the India School Leadership Institute. Sameer has spent the last ten years working in various capacities in the field of education. Most recently, he worked as a Project Manager and Research Analyst with the Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University where he designed, implemented, and evaluated interventions to close the racial achievement gap found in the United States. He has also worked with Teach For America, Akanksha, and Adharshila Shikshan Kendra. Sameer earned his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from UCLA and also completed a Master’s degree in Economics and Education from Columbia University.