What makes a good school better?

By Rajiv Tewari, based on an interaction with Mrs Seema Sehgal, Principal, IB School, Rohtak.

I believe that all schools are good. There may be differences between the schools due to resource constraints, social and environmental factors but all the schools, like children, are fundamentally good. The purpose of this article is to share the best practices for giving insights into what can make a good school better. Brick and mortar alone do not make a good school. A good school is created by the quality, commitment and motivation of the faculty and the management. It’s not just about teaching. It has more to do with the time and attention given to the students.

IB School is one of the most prestigious schools of Rohtak with 100% pass results for over 15 years in a row. The school encourages and demands 100% attendance in sports too, which has resulted in a large number of trophies and medals won by its students in sports. It’s one of the few schools to have indoor sports facilities, swimming pool and a fully equipped gymnasium. The school has a water harvesting and recycling system which ensures so much of surplus water that even the neighbouring villagers can use it.

What touched my heart, most, was the discovery that the IB School students, their parents and the staff’s support to a school for poor children from the slums of Rohtak. This school is managed by UKINDO, a non-profit organization based in UK & India. During a visit, to this school, I observed the Chairman of the school, Amarjit (Amar) Dhull expressing his gratitude to the parents of UKINDO students, with folded hands, for sending their children to the UKINDO School. This made me even more curious to find out more by meeting the principal of IB School.

My interaction with the Principal, Mrs Seema Sehgal revealed the ingredients that have helped in creating a good school. She admits that to make it even better there is a need for the education community to share their best practices through online and offline communication platforms. Here are the key learning points from our interaction:

1. Discipline is the key to success:

“Discipline is the first ladder to success in building a school” said Seema Sehgal, the Principal of IB School.

I was reminded of an incidence just a couple of weeks ago where a well-known and respected Editor, and a long-time friend, had narrated to me how he was invited to a seminar, at a prestigious Delhi Media Institute, only to discover that there were just 5 to 10 students present in the hall. Even these students seemed totally disinterested and were busy net surfing with their smart phones. Sensing the utter disinterest among the students, my friend finished his session in about 20 minutes though the session was of one hour. By the time the next speaker arrived, the situation was worse as the hall was empty. The Dean did not know where to hide.

With this incidence fresh in my mind, I asked if it was really so easy to discipline the students. The reply was so honest and true that I wondered why others can’t do it. She said, “To discipline others you have to discipline yourself”. Once the leader demonstrates a particular behaviour pattern, the faculty and the staff too follow it and only then it is possible to expect the students to follow it.

On being asked, how she tackles the cases of indiscipline, she smiled and said, “In cases of indiscipline we must understand that children will be children and counselling with love is the right way to improve their behaviour. Discipline can not be demanded but it can be commanded by setting an example, motivational skills and compassionate counselling.” Children emulate the elders so it is the elders who have to be careful about how they conduct themselves in front of the children.

2. Team Work & Motivation

“No one can achieve results alone. A qualified and motivated team is necessary for success. I have been fortunate to get every one’s support. I am particularly grateful to my faculty, staff and the Director who is like a brother to me “said Seema Sehgal. A good team is selected carefully and then nurtured systematically. Confidence building is the first step so each faculty member is motivated to go on the stage and communicate, create their own teams and organize events on the campus. This creates bonding with the students and gives a lot of confidence to the faculty. Many team members have found their hidden talents and many have re-connected with their forgotten skills in sports, theatre, fine arts & hobbies. This has gone a long way in bonding our faculty as well as the students.

3. Respect for Time

The students are never left unattended and there is no concept of empty class time in the campus. If a faculty member is absent then someone else takes over so that the students are not left unattended at any point of time. Wasting time is simply not acceptable to the IB team. Time lost can never be recovered. Lecturing would not help in inculcating this habit but practicing does it. Even during the sports period or breaks for lunch a faculty member is always present with the students to keep them under observation.

4. Values

IB School currently has 1700 students, whereas some similar schools with the same infrastructure take up to 3000 students. The Principal shared with us that she is proud of the fact that the Chairman of IB School, Amarjit, is willing to forego the extra revenue but would never go back on his promise made to the parents and the faculty about the quality of education and infrastructural facilities. This fact is known to everyone so the value orientation comes right from the top.

The Chairman does what he says and that has given every one a lot of confidence in focusing on quality. Since a healthy mind resides in a healthy body, focus of the faculty is to take the same interest in sports, extracurricular activities and in inculcating the right values as they do in academics.

Prime purpose of education is to nurture better human beings. The IB students learn this by helping those who are less fortunate than them. By contributing to UKINDO activities & engaging with the children from the slums, they learn to be sensitive to their social responsibilities. The parents have also played a very important role in giving their support to UKINDO schools. The parents are equally proud of the fact that has raised the social status of the school which gets their children more respect.

4. Walking the Talk

Doing what one says and saying what one does, particularly at the leadership level, goes a long way in making a good school better. The Principal at IB School teaches like any other faculty. She teaches maths to senior classes. Every year when the results come out she too is judged on the basis of the performance of her students. This sends out a very positive message to the faculty who feel that the Principal too is judged on the same parameters as a faculty member. The gaps created by the larger chair in corner office are reduced significantly as the leader works with the faculty and takes full responsibility with the team instead of passing the buck when things go wrong.

The Chairman, of IB School, Amarjit (Amar) Dhull had invested his years of savings in building this school and in spite of the challenges he faced in managing his business in UK, he never backed out from his commitment. What is more is that he has now committed even more from his resources for building the UKINDO schools for the poorest of the poor. Amar’s family contributed by breaking their fixed deposits and they are usually found on the campus in taking care of the infrastructural needs. We discovered that the Director of IB School, Ajit Singh Dhull, elder brother of Amar, knew every student by name. His sister Kamal Rathee & Brother-In-Law Mr S.B. Rathee had built the junior school by offering half of their residence and they continue to look after the Junior School as well as the UKINDO School at Rohtak. I noticed both of them supervising minor repair works at the junior school by finding time from their busy schedules.

IB School and its mission is successful simply because the leadership at the top is willing to walk the talk. This, to me, is the most important ingredient that goes into making a good school better.

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