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A leadership journey at the intersection of two worlds

By Shruti Manerker, CBL 2.0 Fellow

My journey in Early Childhood Education began at The Akanksha Foundation, which deeply believes in providing holistic education that equips children from low resource communities with 21st century skills to alter the narrative of life, for themselves and their families. In my fourth year as an Instructional Specialist in ECE, our team of 200+ educators across 3 cities in Maharashtra have explored various aspects of Early childhood education with specific focus on acquisition of foundational literacy and numeracy skills, engaging Parents as co-educators and learning through play. A couple of inspiring leaders that set me on this path of pursuing continuous learning are Saurabh Taneja (CEO, The Akanksha Foundation) and Rahul Gupta (COO, The Akanksha Foundation). Saurabh taught me the importance of humility in leadership that drives the need for continuous learning and pursuit of excellence by holding self to high expectations. Rahul taught me the need to persevere under pressure and aim towards sustainable work to consistently take ownership of driving growth for self and team. They were the beacons of hope and excellence that pushed me to explore beyond the boundaries of my organization in the tough pandemic times. It is through this push that I stumbled upon this incredible journey at the intersection of two worlds: The Cross Borders Leadership Fellowship. I did consider myself incredibly lucky to have had two inspiring mentors in my current workspace, but was pleasantly surprised to get an opportunity to learn further from the determined and passionate leader spearheading this fellowship, that helped us sail through turbulent times, Farah Mouhana.

The “Lit” Numerical CBL Hub held tremendous promise to learn from educators across the globe (India, UK, Nigeria). A team of 9 educators connected to collectively discuss the challenge of solving for gaps in foundational literacy and numeracy in Early Years, ably led by our data dashboard dude, Rajat Bagga. This learning community through passionate discussions around development in Early Years anchored in research and practice have managed to move mountains in their respective geographies. In our CBL meetings as a larger team, we discussed critical details around the following aspects:

  • Global trends in ECE and the need to reimagine this space as a global community

  • Developmental milestones in ECE for learning & development

  • Availability of learning resources in different geographies and its impact on learning

  • Role of Parents & Play in ECE

  • The very real barriers and strategies attempted to overcome these challenges across different geographies

I will be leaving this space a more informed educator and a better equipped teacher to work with my team. This was made possible through meaningful collaboration with my hub members: Rajat, Anupa, Larissa, Segun, Gabriella, Patience and Hannah. Together we devised an assessment leveraging the language expertise of Pratham and the numeracy tools used at Akanksha to arrive at an understanding of the state of ECE in our contexts using data. What do the data trends show? Well, you’d have to catch one of us to know more!

Though the CBL world equipped me with the tools necessary to reimagine learning and development in ECE, it was my K-2 team of educators that helped translate this dream into reality. It’s rare to find an invested set of educators but I have a team that serves as an extension of my vision in ECE for our ~4000 children and their families. As we explored the concept of personalization of learning in Early Years, we took baby steps in collectively trying out different strategies in tune with the context of our communities to solve for the learning gaps brought on by the pandemic. Here are some stories from the ground that give an insight into our work:

Personalized Learning to build Foundational Numeracy: “Integrating technology and language in math: Truly speaking, virtual learning helped me a lot to connect with parents and work on each child's personalized learning. It helped me understand their learning styles individually. I gave them more hands-on activities to learn, explore and have a better understanding of basic math concepts. My assignment video always gave them flexibility to use possible resources available at home. Appreciation for the smallest small effort by every child was done. Worksheets were designed to engage children effectively (maze and join dots to form pictures for numbers). Games and number rhymes during class added more fun. Each and every child was heard /got an opportunity to speak while sending assignment videos.” - Swati Kadam, KG Educator, LAPMEMS Pune

Parents as co-educators to Personalize learning in stations: “We thought of parent class as we observed that our kindergarten parents didn't pay importance to early childhood education. They believed in teaching their children either by rote learning or through tution classes. We initiated Parent Class to train our parents with the new methods of learning through play to teach our KG kids. Initially, we started the parent class in the physical space once a week after school for an hour where we taught them how different topics of English and Math could be taught to children in a playful way. In the first half of the class, we explained and demonstrated the activity to the parents and in the latter half, we gave them time to practice it with their kids. The problems faced by parents were also mutually resolved. After a couple of months we moved on to demonstration by parent and child after a new activity was demonstrated by us. Then finally we moved on to station models where parents along with their kids were engaged in different activities. We continued this pattern even during the pandemic but on an online platform. There has been a significant change over the years as now we see most of our parents investing some time everyday in their child's learning using play.” - Geeta Didi, KG Educator, KCTVN Pune

Differentiation as a stepping stone to Personalization: “At SBP-Moshi, last academic year, we rearranged our classrooms into leveled groups.Based on students' readiness levels, we differentiated our content and process. Instructions were broken down further based on group needs. Differentiation provided us an opportunity to design plans focused on maximum support for groups with gaps while groups that were at grade level were encouraged for more independent practice. This increased student engagement in groups that initially struggled and their confidence as well, as they started achieving some results in class. Having done this last year, we are now moving towards designing variation in tasks and providing student choices using differentiation by content, process and product.” - Priyanka Moshi, Lead Teacher, SBP Moshi Pune

The last 6 months, in this dual role, have been a journey of much learning and gratification thanks to all the educators that served to build ECE together for the better. I would confess that it has been more of a journey of learning over one of success. We are just getting started by learning through play, through exploration and collaboration like never before! I brace myself to be wowed by the ripple effects of the work we are doing as a global community of passionate educators keen on bringing about positive shifts in the world of Early Childhood Education.

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