In developing a strong, collaborative vision with her 4th graders at Nigam Pratibha Vidyalaya in Delhi, Pooja Chopra (Teach For India) determined that in order for her students to truly believe their education is meaningful, four things must be true:
1) Authentic ownership of personal vision: Her students need to know how to create a vision for their own lives — one that isn’t limited by society or adults’ often low expectations of them, and is authentic to their own dreams and desires. And they needed to recognise the role that education plays in empowering them to achieve that vision. She achieved this by routinely setting aside time in class for students to reflect on and share what they wanted for their future and discuss how education could help them achieve it.
2) Co-construction of a collective vision: Pooja didn’t want to impose her vision for the class onto her students, she wanted to co-construct the vision in partnership with them. She recognised that learning as a class is a collective experience and that they should all work together to define the purpose and the nature of that experience. She wanted to foster ‘student-student relationships’ rather than exclusively teacher-student relationships, where everybody is learning from each other. In order for the partnership to be authentic, she would need to empower her students to be able to fully participate in it. This meant helping them find their voice and share their feelings and opinions without fear of judgement, and by helping them understand the value of respecting the opinions of others. This enabled them to develop the self-confidence and mutual respect to be able to engage in an honest dialogue about what they wanted for their class vision.
3) Mutual responsibility in pursuit of a collective vision: In order to realise this collective vision, they developed a culture of mutual responsibility in the classroom. Students were not only responsible for their own learning, they were also responsible for the learning of their peers. Pooja structured her classroom in a way that encouraged mutual responsibility. She divided the class into teams, each team responsible for collectively defining their own team vision and values and then holding each other accountable to it. This structure helped students find joy and purpose in helping each other succeed both as individuals and as a collective. As a result, Pooja ended up with 30 little teacher/learners all working together towards a collective vision of success.
4) Learning informed by reality empowers students to affect reality: Pooja did not believe that learning should be isolated within the four walls of her classroom. If her students couldn’t relate what they’re learning to her reality, then class could seem meaningless. When learning is informed by a child’s reality, it can empower the child to be able to affect her reality. Encouraging students to go out into their communities, reflect on their contextual reality, and use their knowledge and skills they have learnt in the classroom to formulate theories of change and experiment with strategies is meaningful. This helped Pooja’s students not only find meaning in their education that tangibly affected their immediate reality, but also provided students with the opportunity to develop a vision for how their education could help others, too.
And the result? A class of empowered children who are developing strong, authentic visions for themselves who also know how to co-construct a collective vision and work collaboratively to ensure that everybody has the opportunity to succeed in that vision together. And as the students start to recognise the relationship between what they learn in the classroom and what they experience in their environment – the power of this meaningful education shows signs that it could ripple beyond the walls of Pooja’s classroom, and keep rippling for many years to come.
See how Pooja co-constructed a learning community of parent advocates here.
(This video was created for Teach For All)