Individuality Matters

“the identity of an individual is essentially a function of her choices, rather than the discovery of an immutable attribute”

Amartya Sen, The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity

Here is today’s challenge. Bring together 50 teachers for a daylong workshop beginning at 10.00am with the aim of generating a document upon which they all agree by 4.00pm. To this task add the necessity to take into account the views of parents and pupils and the additional factor of managing this on a Saturday in Bangalore. Why, you may ask, does the location matter? Surely the task would be the same in Northampton, Sydney, Washington or elsewhere? If you believe this is true then I suggest you read Amartya Sen’s excellent book The Argumentative Indian. Consensus can be achieved in such a group, but only after much debate and disputation. This is a country that values debate because here, individuality matters.

This factor was in truth of considerable help today. The topic of the workshop was the generation of individual education plans (IEPs) in support of pupils with special educational needs. The intended outcome was the production of a format that meets the needs of teachers, parents, pupils and school managers with a plan for implementation and evaluation. Respect for the individual was high on the agenda and the commitment of teachers working throughout the day demonstrated their desire to take seriously the individual needs of each pupil.

As expected every teacher on the course worked hard, sharing their considerable experience and discussing their ideas with enthusiasm. Potential formats were proposed and discarded, content generated and rejected, procedures debated and cast off. At first it seemed that we might never gain agreement, but then as is invariably the case, a little give and take prevailed and finally agreement was reached. Nobody was surprised – individuality matters, yes but teamwork is vital.

By the end of the day we had arrived at our destination. An agreed IEP format, a set of principles for implementation and a proposal for evaluation. I would like to suggest however, that the final destination was probably of secondary importance to the journey. This was a day of shared learning, of team teaching with a much valued colleague and of exploration of ideas.

We agreed that the development and implementation of IEPs should be an enabling democratic process whereby pupils, parents, teachers and school managers are encouraged to share in the provision of more effective and enjoyable learning experiences for all. This meant that we were all required to see learning from the perspectives of others, to abandon personal agendas and work together as a team. Whilst everyone had the opportunity to express their ideas and to have their opinions heard, it was equally important that we listened to the voices of colleagues. It is through the latter process that we  become more effective team members.

This was memorable day, not only for its outcomes, but more especially for the learning, the laughter and the sharing that happened along the way. The heat of debate subsided into the warm glow of achievement – a job well done. Teaching today was a privilege and a pleasure. The end result may be described as corporate but it was certainly the respect of individuality that mattered.

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