Musings on books, technology, entrepreneurship, nonprofits and umm.. everything else …

Personalized schooling

This is a follow-on to an earlier blog post here. I’ve always believed that  you don’t find the books you wish to read, they find you when the time is right. This was proved yet again to me a week ago when, after several years of languishing on my “wish-list”, Totto-Chan finally arrived at my doorstep. Delightfully written even as a translation, it chronicles the life of Totto-Chan at the Tomoe Gakuen school with the radically different teaching style of Mr. Kobayashi.

Several of my Asha friends have recommended this book to me as a way to vicariously observe how a child perceives a different way of schooling – one that does not interfere with the learning process according to the way the child wants it, but enhances it with the right sets of inputs at the right times. And time and time again, through Asha projects as well as conversations with friends that are involved more deeply in education, I have seen how one person can have a big impact in the lives of every child that passes through her hands.  And this book gives you a glimpse into what the right solution could be, without sounding preachy or academic.

Within the US,  foundations such as the Gates Foundation are studying this more formally as this report shows. Incremental it is, for sure, but it is a start if one wants to achieve effectiveness at a scale that is able to reach all the children as a starting point. But this is not the end, hopefully not even the sole means to an end. Personalizing the schooling experience has a lot more to do with child-centered education than top-down classroom management approaches. This is often highly customized and not easily templatizable and transferable to other schools. I was reading recently about an initiative by the Gates Foundation to videotape effective teachers from across the country and observe how they teach. While this is a good start, one really has to also look at schools other than the Govt. schools, or the alternate schools in fashion, such as the Kipp Schools, and explore environments, teaching methodologies and even just the mindset of the children to transform the learning experience.

One example of the last category mentioned about is Mindful Schools, a Bay-area based nonprofit that I’m honored to be on the Board of (so much for not ending a sentence with a preposition – or is that a myth now?). Mindful Schools seeks to transform the learning experience for elementary school children by empowering them with mindfulness techniques through in-classroom training sessions. I was amazed to hear first person accounts, both from children who benefited from this as well as teachers who saw a transformed classroom experience subsequently, and am excited to see what the immediate future holds for the organization and their work. For children who come from difficult backgrounds where it is hard to  find the inner peace needed to focus on what was taught in class, these techniques make a huge difference and leave a lasting impression on their performance as well as life choices.

Back to the inspiration for the post – Totto-Chan. Pick up a copy if you can, and give it a read. Or borrow mine. Read it to your kids. See how it changes – ever so slightly – your patience levels with your own kids’ perceived transgressions. If your kids are too young to have this read out to them, try reading this instead or listen to the audiobook version by none other than Samuel Jackson – its immensely therapeutic.

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