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Eduleader Focus: Dr. Vasudha Neel Mani, Rockwoods International School

March 25, 2022

EducationWorld has introduced a new series, the ‘Eduleader Focus’ featuring interviews with principals of reputed educational institutions who are popular among their students and staff. In this edition of ‘Eduleader Focus‘, Dr. Vasudha Neel Mani, principal, Rockwoods International School, Udaipur in conversation with EducationWorld, discusses the current state of education in India, about teacher welfare and her interests.

Dr. Neel Mani is a profound and illustrious educationist with over 28 years of experience spanning across teaching, administration, mentoring and advisory roles with 17 years in Cambridge Education and 11 years in leadership roles. She has been consulting numerous schools to implement international curriculum and have conducted audits.

A double masters in Psychology and Education and a Special Educator by profession, Dr. Neel Mani has worked towards bringing about a decisive change in the Indian Education System and put it on par with global standards.

Schools have been shut for the past two years. What are the challenges that the school community is likely to face once they reopen?

Students have had been home for almost two years during Covid times. The school does not only need to reopen but also re-invent and innovate keeping wellness, health and emotional well-being of teachers and students both. The students and teachers might have gone through a lot, illness bereavement and other traumatic experiences as a result of pandemic. The blend of hybrid learning and face-to-face learning is logistically tedious for the teachers and students. The learning of students gets compromised when they are online as their attention span is less and they display a non-serious approach while studying. It’s a great challenge for schools to get them back on track on all fronts- discipline, punctuality, deadlines and academics. It is a fresh start for them.

2. What are the challenges of online teaching and how far has your school been able to deal with these challenges?

There were a lot of initial challenges where we had to train the teachers, sensitise the students but we managed to turn these challenges into opportunities. We started by taking sessions on zoom followed by Ed Modo, Cisco WebEx and finally we zeroed down to Google meet platform. Our teachers were very well equipped and trained for the virtual learning platform so we did not face any major logistical challenges. Rather it was heartening to see the senior teachers, raising up to the occasion and taking care of them emotionally too. There were many students who lost their loved ones and their teachers supported them a lot. Many students faced internet connection as they had shifted to their villages. Catering to these was a challenge. We had to conduct their individual enrichment classes.

The absence of physical interaction has had a toll on the emotional health of children. What steps has your school taken to ensure the mental well-being of its students?

As a principal, I was in touch with my students through my daily motivational audio messages. We daily checked on our students and spoke to them individually and in groups to check on their emotional state and wellness. We conducted many online sessions for students and parents both. We allowed children to discuss their feelings, share their thoughts, and participate in how their “new normal” routines are planned may help ease some of their worries during this ambiguous time. They had constrained access to socialisation and play. We ensured that we conducted online social interaction sessions for them where they mingled with their classmates and teachers.

If not a teacher you would be a ______?

Being from a family of academicians, I would have always been a teacher. When I first started my career, my sole purpose had been to associate myself in this very noble journey of educating minds. My love for children made my choice of the profession rather easy. What could be more inspiring than opening young minds to the many possibilities this beautiful world offers us! My dream was to walk this path not just as a teacher sharing lessons but to be my students’ friend, philosopher and guide.

What is your philosophy of education?

I started my career as a special educator and from the beginning the progressive way of teaching was my forte. The philosophy of education for me is to be and create lifelong learners with the sense of attitude of gratitude and having a feeling of belongingness wherever the students are studying or working. The students should strive and wish to engage in the world of knowledge with apt life skills with an ability to communicate, lead and empathise.

Let’s not fulfil our dreams through our children. Let them dream!

Allow them to chase their dreams as their dreams might be bigger than us.

I always believe that we as educators must be committed to produce citizens who must have Global tolerance, respect and celebrate diversity and education should be such that it may have all the modern teaching techniques yet be grounded to our culture and roots. Each child is a unique gift from God exclusive in character and ability and we must focus on their strengths and work on their weaknesses. 

Describe your leadership style.

I believe in the theory by Michigan studies that if team is taken care of well, they perform well. Happy teachers inspire happy students. I feel that blend of participative, task and relationship leadership brings out the best in team.

What do you do to unwind/ destress yourself? 

I never get stressed. Work is my greatest stress buster. I work 17 to 18 hours a day. To unwind myself, I read, write, travel, meditate and coach. I m a certified career, life and leadership coach. I conduct workshops on meditation and gratitude. I have authored a book called Gratitude the purpose of life too.

If there was one thing you could change in India’s education system, what would it be?

I would want our education system to be preparing students for life. Skill-based, vocational and higher education to have the flexibility of having different subjects from different fields. The K-12 and higher education needs to be in sync totally which is not at present.

Can you give us an estimate of the learning loss children might have faced during the pandemic? How according to you can we make up for the learning loss?

The students, along with the learning loss has had a lot of emotional loss as well. According to UNICEF’s research, a substantial proportion of students and their parents reported that students significantly learnt less compared to pre-pandemic levels. In India, 80 per cent of children aged 14-18 years reported lower levels of learning than when physically at school. The student-teacher engagement, when regular and reciprocal, is a strong predictor of success in children’s learning, especially for younger students. However, the surveys found that most students had little or no contact with their teachers after schools closed. We, at our school ensured to conduct personalised enrichment sessions for the students. 

Teachers have been under tremendous stress because of hybrid learning, unprecedented lockdowns, completion of syllabus, etc. As a leader, what is the manner in which you helped them out of it?

For us, the emotional and mental well-being of our teachers is of paramount importance.  We were in touch with our teachers, shared their grief and sorrow and had arranged for fun activities for them too. I have been there for them as their confidant, guide and mentor. Being a psychologist, counsellor and life coach, I am very sensitive to their needs and same time guide them professionally as well.

Mention some of your hobbies.

Reading, writing, listening to music, travelling, conducting meditation sessions are some of my hobbies.

Also Read:Eduleader Focus: Shalini Nambiar, Director-Principal, Seth Anandram Jaipuria School, Vasundhara

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