Founded in 2000 by Mr R. C Dhankar, Hari Vidya Bhawan School is managed by Mr Sushil Dhandkar and his wife, Mrs Pooja Dhankar since 2009. Mr Sushil completed his post-graduation from Australia and decided to return to India to contribute to the school. It caters to 2000 students and is located in one of the biggest slums of Delhi, Sangam Vihar. Though they started out small, over the years two buildings dedicated to primary and secondary education were built. In 2018, School Leader, Mrs Pooja started her journey of school transformation with support from ISLI.
Challenge faced by the School Leader
Mrs Pooja strongly believed that lack of accountability and teacher management are major issues in the school. This is because of the additional layer of administration called Wing In-charge who played a significant role in the day to day functioning of the school. The School Leader delegated the task of classroom observation and school walkthrough to her Wing In-charges. They are supposed to observe at least one class per day and give feedback to the teachers. They are also responsible to conduct sessions based on the area of development identified via school walkthroughs.
Though this seems like an excellent plan ready to be implemented with sufficient resources, the School Leader faced a challenge that she did not anticipate – complaints by teachers. Teacher Management was at risk due to the lack of accountability of Wing In-charges. During the interactions with teachers, School Leader, Mrs Pooja noticed that complaints raised by some teachers regarding Wing In-charges were pertaining to their approach. Most of the Wing In-charges failed to give teachers effective feedback and more so that they would point out their concerns in the middle of instructional time, in front of the students. This led to discontentment and misunderstanding among teachers and hampering the school culture and collaborative work environment that the School Leader, Mrs Pooja was aiming to achieve.
Intervention by the ISLI Programme Manager to support the School Leader and Steps taken
After an in-depth discussion of the challenge with the Programme Manager, Chandreyi Basu, the first step which was taken by the School Leader was to initiate a conversation with the In-charges. She utilised the time to share her thoughts/concerns keeping the anonymity of the teachers. She also shadowed the In-charges during classroom observation for an entire week and observed them during feedback time. She could identify that the In-charges would overemphasise on teachers’ weaknesses and rarely mentioned strengths based on the collected evidence. The School Leader decided to mentor the In-charges. She focused her sessions on how to conduct classroom observations and effective ways of providing feedback. She continued shadowing them to see their progress and followed up with them if they required any additional support.
Photo: School Leader, Mrs Pooja Dhankar (left), Teacher Attendance Tracker display (right)
The School Leader did not fail to understand that the challenge is multi-layered and it’s critical for her to deal with both sides to resolve the issue in totality. With support from the Programme Manager, Chandreyi Basu, the School Leader conducted an anonymous survey for teachers to understand their work satisfaction. The survey helped her derive insightful information such as how teachers felt coming to school, if they believed they have enough growth opportunities, about their work-life balance etc. It also provided her enough evidence to apply the strategies picked from ISLI workshop on building school culture. The School Leader conducted a session with her teachers to share her thoughts, plans and to motivate them to work together in establishing the culture in which everyone would flourish.
To establish a culture of appreciation and gratitude, the school leader started the following initiatives:
- Appreciation through motivation: Mrs Pooja discussed the significance and involvement of various stakeholders including Wing In-charge with school staff. More importantly, the ones who take the initiative and be the driver of the process must be appreciated for their hard work and motivate them to continue being a support to the school.
- Appreciation for punctuality: School Leader created an attendance and time tracker for all the teachers and recognised punctual teachers in the morning assembly each month.
- Appreciation for hard work: School leader observed classrooms and appreciated teachers in meetings especially those who use innovative teaching methods, activities, plan lessons, write lesson objectives and utilise student trackers in their classroom.
- Reward: School Leader believes that hard work must not only be appreciated but also rewarded. Hence she established teacher performance tracker which consists of teacher achievements, attendance, projects and initiatives taken etc. These were evaluated and used as a measurement for the annual increments.
- Building connection: School Leader took a step towards creating avenues for easy and transparent communication for better relationships among teachers and staff. She created a WhatsApp group where she not only shares important information but encourages everyone to share their opinions and suggestions for school improvement.
- One-on-one meetings: Apart from personally greeting teachers every day and motivating them through training, School Leader schedules one-on-one meetings on a regular basis to build better relationships and also understand their needs, if any.
Impact on teachers
- Mrs Pooja strongly believes that if a school can keep the teachers motivated and satisfied then the quality of learning will automatically improve. The strategies implemented in the school worked well and teachers started to take more responsibilities. The teacher trackers have shown improvement in their performance. A few of them have communicated that they now feel important and are excited to come back to school every day.
- School Leader, Mrs Pooja has also identified a potential In-charge who could support her through the ISLI journey. She mentored her and welcomed her to be an active participant during the Programme Manager’s school visits. Mrs Pooja’s efforts to bridge the gap between teachers and management have been fruitful.
- School leader pointed out that she has been able to work on her observational and planning skills. She has also been able to engage teachers as the most important stakeholder. She exhibited decision making skill too through her work in Year-1 of the fellowship.
Mrs Pooja thinks that even though delegating responsibility is the best way to create leaders, it is equally important to be on the ground level and coach them if and when required. She decides to actively participate in the meetings and continue talking to the teachers regularly to cater to their concern. Moreover, she is now more conscious of the role that staff culture plays in the smooth functioning of the school.