Bring a friend to school

Working together on planning a lesson is a great way to get to know each other and make friends

Working together on planning a lesson is a great way to get to know each other and make friends

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.

Mahatma Gandhi


When we have something that we think is good, why wouldn’t we want to share it with our friends?

I have always had an ambition that our students on the MA in Special and Inclusive Education programme in Bangalore will become leaders for change across India. This may sound like a tall order, but if you met our students it would be a bold move to tell them otherwise. As an Englishman I am ever conscious of the impact upon change an individual in India may have. But I am also a realist. If these dedicated individuals are to bring about change they will need friends.

Today we had an open day on the course. Our students were invited to bring a friend or colleague to the day’s sessions to get a taste of the work they are doing. The hope is that the enthusiasm of our committed students infects these visitors and that they may then join them in the cause. This approach is not without risk. Our students have got to know and trust each other, they discuss and debate all ideas with a passion and have learned to work in a critical, though supportive environment. Would our visitors today be shocked at the frankness of exchange? How would they fit within a well-established group? Having spent so long talking about how we create the conditions for inclusion I have to say I was confident that our friends would be welcomed.

The morning session considered how the curriculum models we had discussed in module 1 could be practically applied for individual pupils with a range of needs. Our established students have been working in groups and we spread our visitors amongst them. No quarter was taken, they joined in as if they were themselves course members. Our students were magnificent, ensuring that their new friends were fully briefed and engaged in the activities. In their turn our visitors rose to the challenge and we were soon into the familiar territory of critical debate. Together they planned lessons, and devised assessments for pupils across a range of needs. They looked not only at the academic needs of children but also addressed their social, moral and spiritual needs and their place in developing skills, attitudes and understanding within the school curriculum. At the end of the morning they revisited their school principles and assessed their own progress in living up to these standards. They have become self-critical, but also quietly pleased with the ways in which they are able to apply learning.

Handing over to Mary for the afternoon session I knew that they would maintain the momentum of the morning’s work. Another delicious lunch, far from slowing our students down seemed to give them renewed energy. Mary’s session on multi-sensory teaching provided a well-balanced blend of theory and practice and drew upon her own experiences as well as those of members of the group. Ideas were developed and shared and examples of potential application of techniques emerged. Shared activity resulted in effective learning as all worked together towards solving problems and implementing solutions. New learning was applied and personal achievements celebrated.

Both our regular group and their friends left happy at the end of the day. Hopefully our leaders have found new supporters who will share the journey towards creating more inclusive schools here in India. With enthusiasm such as this they can hardly fail.

As an aside: walking along the lane outside the Brindavan Trust building I met a cow. Nothing unusual in this, (for those of you unfamiliar with India, cows are a regular feature of Indian city streets). As the cow approached me in friendly fashion I suddenly realised that it had red horns! Red – a sign of danger (most of the world), or of good luck (China) or of mourning (South Africa). None of these it would appear. The Indian festival of Sankranthi, a celebration of harvest has just finished and the painting of horns is all part of the celebration. So, the next time I meet a cow with red horns I will know what to discuss with her. That is always assuming she speaks English!


6 thoughts on “Bring a friend to school

  1. It was truly a meeting of people with a common purpose – to include every child they come across!! Our visitors were like part of our class!! Today was truly a beautiful example of people unknown to each other holding hands to work towards a common purpose-the vibes were great! I hope to see all of them and many more like them on our 3rd Cohort starting in September 2014!! An ambitious wish but not impossible!!

  2. Hi Richard,
    What a great approach. I’ve just concluded work on a 5-year project in Ukraine where we were preparing local people to be national leaders for inclusion. Initially we all had reservations – would this work in such a large country with such an established system of exclusion? Turns out the leaders have really led, and education in the country is changing significantly for the better as a result (current political problems notwithstanding). I learned that it’s all about the commitment of the people you bring in. Seems a pretty obvious thing for me to have to learn, but there you go. I LOVE the idea of your participants bringing in a friend. Wish we would have thought of that in Ukraine! Perhaps there will be other opportunities. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Yes, it was areally inspiring day and an approach we will definitely use again. If we are serious about moving the inclusion agenda forward we must be prepared to share everything we learn and ensure that we have minds open enough to learn from each other.

  4. A great idea …to bring in a friend… I would say even if the person is totally not interested in doing the course…it’s a great way to create awareness and perhaps get insight into what their perpective is…

    I hope more such opportunities will be possible.

    As for the cow…it may be orange horns or green or yellow…and sometimes each one a different colour as well…but they don’t respond to TORO!!

  5. I love your idea Richard about having minds that are open enough. Your work is inspiring!
    A brilliant idea about inviting a friend…and a friend who might not be interested!
    Could the friend help us understand more about inclusion by teaching us what it is not?

  6. I have to say that inclusion is a feeling for me. It is something that comes from within after a lot of “seasoning”. I am going to be extremely honest in saying that in a land where we have had the Mahatma, Vivekananda, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and many great people who have always lived and preached inclusion since time immemorial, we are actually so exclusive. We are exclusive when we say we follow Montessori, when we say we follow Krishnamurthi, when we say we follow Steiner. We are all slotting ourselves and others in some way or the other. When we are able to put aside all of this and work together in welcoming every individual with open arms not looking at his /her background, beliefs, attachments,abilities and disabilities etc. we will be truly inclusive. Inclusion is not just about people and children with special needs but a lot more.

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