At the outset, our Programme Director made it very clear that, "We make no claim to know all the answers. Indeed we shall not even claim to understand a glimpse of what you as educators in 2016 have to contend with in your day to day interactions with our learners. Lack of respect, disobedience and indiscipline on the one end and alcohol and drug abuse, illicit sex, and widespread abuse of cell phones on the other! Yet, in this melee, there are shining examples of learners who excel in innate goodness, academics and sport. We see them and admire them at our Sunlit Path meetings."
In a lively discussion with educators and parents, Niranjan Bridglall, (Director, Psychological Services) asked participants to list their expectations. Clearly, they were looking for some sort of support and guidance to empower them to deal with the 21st century learner. Mr Bridglall also made it clear that the workshop is completely non-denominational and that the aim of this workshop is to "put ideas together to build the school".
In the next presentation, the inestimable role of thought power on the part of the educator was brought to the fore, using a video clip and inspirational thoughts from our Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda. In the video clip, the work of Professor Robert Rosenthal showed that teacher expectations influence student performance. Positive expectations influence performance positively, and negative expectations influence performance negatively. He described the phenomenon as the Pygmalion Effect. "When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur," said Rosenthal. In terms of teaching, educators who gripe about students establish a climate of failure, but those who value their students' abilities create a climate of success. He exhorted educators to create a learning climate conducive to attaining success. "Thought has very great power. Thought can heal diseases. Thought can change the way people think. It can do anything. Thought is the greatest force on earth. It is more powerful that electricity", wrote Swami Sivananda in the book "Enlightened Education".
Before the workshop, our presenter sent a mail to Professor Rosenthal requesting for a message for the workshop. Unfortunately, due to time differences, we were not able to reach him on time. We received this message after the workshop: Message from Professor Robert Rosenthal.
I am so sorry that I did not receive your message in time to send your audience of teachers a word of encouragement. But when you meet with them again, and with other groups of teachers in the future, you can tell them that all the relevant research, over a period of many years, has shown the great importance of these teachers and their favorable expectations for the learning and the performance of their students. And, of course, what benefits the education of those students, benefits the lives of the communities in which these students live; now, and in the future.
With all my very best wishes for you, and the wonderful groups of teachers with whom you meet,
Distinguished Professor, University of California, Riverside
Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, Harvard University
The presentation on "The Power of the Educator" was followed by an inspiring address on prayer focusing firstly on the rescue of the ailing spacecraft Apollo 13. "No doubt, all the scientists involved in this great escape, displayed exemplary team work and ingenuity. But there was an unseen force aiding their efforts. It was the divine force of prayer. Prayer has often found a route to a successful outcome, where other measures have failed. In the rescue of Apollo 13, this was also the case. Jerry Woodrill, who worked on the mission as the Alarm System Engineer, recognised the prominent and indispensable part prayer played in the successful rescue of Apollo 13. The entire rescue operation was a perfect example of how effort combined with prayer leads to success." And so it should be in the classroom! It was pointed out that for prayer to be successful certain pre-requisites must be fulfilled, namely: Faith, Surrender, Love for God and Purification. Sri Swami Sivananda says, "Essentially, prayer should be selfless as far as possible. We should first pray for the good of others, for welfare and peace of the world and for our own spiritual evolution; we should pray for the eradication of our evil qualities, for wisdom and knowledge, for goodness and saintliness."
Our young presenter, addressing educators, concluded his presentation with the following words, "We encourage you to pray daily as well as teach your learners to pray daily. This will help to solve all the problems. Everyone can chant the Divine Name of their own religion. This will bring peace and joy into the school and the world at large. Keeping the Divine Name on one's lips is the easiest form of prayer and has great results. Just try to remember God at different times of the day. We wish you all of the best and pray that Asoka Secondary will shine like a bright light in this world."
The play "War among Fingers" written by Swami Sahajananda was read out to demonstrate the role of harmony in the group. The Lord said to the fingers that were constantly quarrelling, "True friendship and true love lead to eternal bliss. Harmony grants one supreme peace and happiness. Therefore, work in harmony with one another. This will please me, the Indweller in this body and in all of you."
In the session on Stress Management, Mr Bridglall elicited good responses from educators and based on their responses, he formulated some profound thoughts which will not only be useful in the classroom but also in our daily lives:
• We are here on earth to learn the lessons of life and to transform ourselves.
• The earth is not an ideal place; it is meant to be problematic; take what you get and make the best out of it.
• Every achievement came about after a challenge.
• We have no control over the challenges; the only control we have is in our responses to these challenges.
• The Universe plans challenges for us to enable us to prosper; not to harm us.
• The Universe has infinite patience. It will go on offering these challenges, even if it takes many years, until we learn the lesson of life.
• In order to achieve success, one must go within.
In the sharing session, much discussion was centred on "nurturing ourselves" to cope with these challenges. The school should plan a collective approach to "claim back the school". The importance of prayer in the morning and at the end of the day was stressed. Love and discipline must complement each other in order to meet the challenges in the classroom. The collective "buy-in" from educators received some attention. This workshop will only be complete if the school arranges team building exercises and regular meetings to share how they met the various challenges in the classroom and on the playing field. As source material Divine Life Society gave each attendee a copy of "Enlightened Education" written by Swami Sivananda and "Bringing Up Spiritual Darlings" written by Swami Sahajananda.
In closing the workshop, Principal, Mr Haluman thanked Divine Life Society for organising this workshop and exhorted educators to work as a team. The chain is strongest at its weakest link, he said. It is envisaged that sometime next year a workshop will be held with parents to encourage their participation in dealing with this complex problem.