Held on 12th - 13th September 2015
at Maryam Ajmal Women’s College
of Science and Technology Hojai, Assam
‘Excellence is an Attitude’ and ‘Mentorship is an essential instructional tool’ were the two key ideas we aimed to establish and create a sustainable setting for Institutional Excellence Forum’s Career Excellence Centre (CEC) initiative.
This experience report is therefore written from different perspectives, in the hope that it presents critical aspects of Institutional Excellence Forum’s and Ajmal Foundation’s journey together to develop on-ground capability in Education and the cultural experience we gathered during our four day stay at the Foundation Headquarters.
A Guest’s perspective
The response I got to my question “Why mustn’t I?” was that Hojai is an extremely backward and a very traditional place dominated by a single community. Personally, being in the educational space, class or community hasn’t seemed to be a barrier for me, each time validating the very purpose of Education.
Beginning from our arrival at Guwahati Airport, till our departure, the hospitality and accountability demonstrated by the staff, management and the Workshop participants clearly complemented our agenda of establishing ‘Excellence as an Attitude’.
From Left to Right: Gautam Raj Jain Ph.D.
UNDP Consultant & Patron IEF, Abhay Nair, Founder Trustee – IEF,
Manab Misra Secretary – IEF,
Arti Ahluwalia, Head-Alliances - IEF
Jayakrishna Kayalakal, Communication Consultant - IEF
Over the next four days, the manner in which the meals and refreshments were prepared & served, the transport arranged, the staff coordinated, our rooms perfumed and air conditioning put on cool before our arrival back at the Ajmal Foundation Guesthouse was impeccable and also conveyed immense enthusiasm, regard and care.
Starting from the welcome ceremony upon our arrival, stay at the Guesthouse, Program arrangements, Felicitation and our farewells with gifts and greetings - Manager Mr. Khasrul Islam, Dy. Manager Dr. Azad and the resource persons Neyaj & Quomrul Haque ensured total respect and immense attention to detail.
The most intriguing part of our stay at the Ajmal Foundation Guesthouse was the a separate room with an attached washroom constructed specially to host a lady guest …
Head-Alliances - IEF
A women’s perspective
After the welcome ceremony, we were led to our respective rooms which were neat and moderately furnished. The room I stayed in had multiple ventilator windows which were painted opaque to ensure I felt safe and un-intruded.
As a lone woman staying at an all men facility, in a village -as it was described to me, it was natural to feel threatened and reserved. Apart from the commonly expected conduct such as wearing conventional clothing, spending only requisite offline time with the team and generally being understated, nothing drastic was needed to fit in or feel comfortable.
Day 1 of our arrival, myths about Hojai were beginning to fade.
A Mentor’s perspective
Day 2 is when the Teacher Training Workshop began. Our team arrived at the Maryam Ajmal Women’s College of Science and Technology, Hojai at 9:00 AM. The session was scheduled for 9:30 AM. When we approached the training room, judging by the number of footwear outside the room, we realized each of the 24 teachers had already arrived. A rare occurrence of punctuality and respect, not found even in large organized companies or big city academic institutions.
The unbiased value system and enthusiasm that the participants demonstrated in these two days was an eye-opener. The perception about small town or a village being slow, both in pace and intellect was completely undone for us.
Each of the teachers turned out to be a gem, ready to be chiselled and honed.
Arti Ahluwalia, Head-Alliances - IEF,
Gautam Raj Jain Ph.D., UNDP Consultant & Patron IEF
The session began with a series of short physical activities to break the ice and get everyone to know each other in a rather unconventional manner. The participants responded with absolute dedication and involvement. Post the ice breaker, the group was divided into 2 and each group had to present a small skit engaging each of the group members.
The first group played out a “Class in Progress”. This was interesting!
A teacher led the class, talking about India being one big family where we must respect each other’s sensibilities. This act was set by an student behaving depressed and uninvolved. The teacher asked what bothered the student to which the other students informed about the student’s mother being unwell. The follow up agenda was to visit his house and check on his mother and be supportive of him while at school.
CLASS IN PROGRESS – Teachers demonstrating their dramatics skills to present their talent and understanding of real time situations
The manner in which this skit was conducted clearly demonstrated the on-ground sentiment despite the perception created about the rural community in our country. Given the time for preparation, the role play wasn’t a façade played out for a team visiting from Delhi but an instinctive choice of performance.
The second group played out “The Mentor as a Tourist to Assam”. A perfectly sequenced performance of Assamese song, dance and tour guide commentary. Conveying the spirit of deeply ingrained cultural relevance it was a welcoming gesture!
THE MENTOR AS TOURIST – Song, Dance and a light hearted demonstration of what Assam offers to the tourists. Teachers gladly engaged in the presentation
During the course of the Program, the nature of progressive responses, the willingness to discover better handling skills and techniques for challenging situations with students and parents; and the ability to build upon discoveries during the program activities motivated our team to become increasingly involved. The energy and the seriousness of effort was also visible by the cutting down of tea & lunch breaks timings by the participants.
The Participating Teachers arrived on or before time and the sessions continued seamlessly with flawless continuity in thought, action and intensity.
The Program module on Spotting & Mapping Talents was a ‘discovery in action’. The module was facilitated through a role play involving a teacher, a student and a parent bidding on the number of wooden blocks a student can stack vertically using the opposite hand and being blind folded and with no instruction or intervention.
DISCOVERY IN ACTION – enthusiastic involvement of participants
The next module on Gender Sensitive Mentorship started an engaging and a loaded discussion.
During this module, teachers shared stories about how disappointed and ‘hurt’ they feel when students are held back by their parents due to gender bias. Throughout this section, they looked for and discussed ways of building better teacher-parent relationship and collectively do away with road-blocks standing in the way of nurturing talent among students.
MENTORSHIP ROLE PLAY – Teachers engrossed in finding the ideal line of conversation during a situation role play
Further on, under the program module Mentorship Practices & Techniques, the role plays which the teachers carried out amongst themselves and with the chief mentor, instinctively followed an open-minded progression whereby they discovered importance of language, tone, responsiveness and relationship building with students to help them freely express their challenges and interests. They also realized that to help students grow in their capability, relationship building was necessary & they have to identify the nature of support they should extend as Teacher-Mentors.
Another myth about people from small places not being vocal and thoughtful in the context of values which demonstrate contemporary relationship building ethos was undone for us.
We were given to understand that the program had to be conducted bilingually in Hindi and English. To our pleasant surprise everyone spoke in English which was conversational and almost grammatically correct.
Their expression always aimed to convey the ‘feel’ factor followed by the impact the situation/circumstance had or was creating on the student’s environment. More than the language, the nature of discussions and the genuineness of concern for students delighted us.
ALL OF US IN ACTION –
Chief Mentor Dr.Gautam Raj Jain (Right)
and Mentor Arti Ahluwalia (Left) with the Teachers
My personal view is that if these teachers were to be put in a city/fast paced setting, from a values standpoint they would perform perhaps even better than city seasoned talent. Also, the group displayed a remarkable sense of humour never amounting to any offensive or demeaning intent, instead it kept the learning environment light hearted and free for flow of thoughts.
The testimonials each one of the teachers wrote confirmed that the Workshop had run in tandem with Institutional Excellence Forum’s agenda to set Excellence as an Attitude and Mentorship as an essential instructional tool.
We repeatedly read about the value-add this Workshop had made to their profession. Some even mentioned that because of this Workshop they now take more pride in being teachers and will go the extra mile to ensure that the students are nurtured for their talent & abilities and not just check marked for attendance or their academic score.
As a head start, the teachers were given a 3 month Action Plan which they discussed actively with their peers and filled out with absolute dedication. A clear sign of how well the teachers believe in best practice sharing and in being thoughtful about what works to support their students.
Goals for the 3 month Action Plan
GROUP PRESENTATION – Teachers presenting their future course of action in mentoring students and speaking about factors which influence the students to achieve excellence
Engage students in activities which help them explore their inherent talents skills, interest, likes and dislikes or skills
Engage students in learning or developing Skills and Attitude toward excellence
Engage students to plan for future education and career choice. Get them to understand more about their career choice
Engage in Counselling sessions (As a part of mentorship) with students and parents for widening the perspective on career and educational choices
Overcoming challenges and developing your own capacity as a mentor (including sourcing resources on careers and educational opportunities)
By the end of the second day, Dr.Jain and I almost felt that we wanted to spend more time and do more with this exceptional set from a ‘backward village’.
MYTH BUSTERS – Teachers working together with humour and creativity
Overall, the IEF team members, Abhay Nair, Manab Mishra, Dr.Gautam Raj Jain and Jayakrishna Kayalakal with their immense experience, signature quirks and sense of humour journeyed together to make this experience come alive for not only the IEF team that we were at Hojai, but the participating staff from Ajmal Foundation as well.
From Left to Right:
Abhay Nair, Founder Trustee – IEF,
Manab Misra Secretary – IEF,
Khasrul Islam, Manager - Ajmal Foundation
Gautam Raj Jain Ph.D. UNDP Consultant & Patron IEF
Jayakrishna Kayalakal, Communication Consultant – IEF
Arti Ahluwalia, MD - Baltis L&D and IEF Head – Alliances
Dr.MRH Azad, Deputy Manager, Ajmal Foundation
Mr. Amit Garg, the brain behind Institutional Excellence Forum was not present owing to lack of an active role at Hojai, which in itself is significant justification of resources and maintaining a certain level of escalation; further defining a well-balanced operations team truly committed to establishing and displaying Excellence as an Attitude!
Not present due to prior commitments, but of paramount importance was the contribution of Dr.ShabistanGaffar–Member, Academic Council IEF & President of AICWETE in facilitating the synergy of vision between Institutional Excellence Forum & Ajmal Foundation.
Between Institutional Excellence Forum and Ajmal Foundation, it was a four day long conversation that did not stop for lack of content or genuine appreciation for each other’s inputs, drive to deliver and the honesty in action.
From Left to Right –
Mr. Khasrul Islam, Abhay Nair,
Manab Misra, Dr.Gautam Raj Jain, Jayakrishna Kayalakal, Arti Ahluwalia
& Dr.MRH Azad
The program future
Considering how well these four days were organized and carried out by both, the Institutional Excellence Forum Team & Ajmal Foundation, the future of Career Excellence Centre (CEC) at Hojai is extremely promising. In the testimonials which were shared, the teachers committed that they would definitely apply the reflection and learning from the Workshop and aim to provide a more conducive and nurturing environment for the students.
At Institutional Excellence Forum we are certain that once the teachers begin to apply the Action Plan they will have challenges and stories to share about how the game is changing post their new found understanding as Teacher-Mentors.
The organising teams of
INSTITUTIONAL EXCELLENCE FORUM
& AJMAL FOUNDATION
with the participating teachers
Our team will track these Action Plans and provide appropriate support through a specially created Teachers’ forum on Facebook and other electronic mediums; and when needed refine the Program approaches accordingly, making it a live and breathing platform of best practice sharing in Education. As much as the teachers are excited to try out the new approaches, we are equally eager and looking forward to learning more and doing more towards ensuring Excellence and Mentorship continue to become the parameters of Quality of Imparted Education at Hojai, Assam.
The journey towards reforming educational strategies in India has started and it has started on a note of respect, regard and good intent… creating more eagerness to grow and let grow the talent in our country.
For the experience we have gathered and the myths that were broken, Institutional Excellence Forum as a team is awaiting to launch the next activity at Hojai and make a greater value add to our relationship with Ajmal Foundation and its forward thinking members!