Manasvi*, a 7-year old girl would often come late to school. Tired with this constant behaviour, her teacher would either not allow her to enter the class or make her stand behind; hoping that Manasvi would change her attitude. But, the situation didn’t improve. Rather, Manasvi became irregular and the few days she would come in, there was always a fear on her face. But one day, when a worried Manasvi entered class late again, she was in for a pleasant surprise. Her teacher neither shouted nor punished her. Instead, he took her to the side and empathetically asked the reason for Manasvi's late arrival time and again. A comfortable Manasvi then replied, "I don't have a clock at my home." To which the teacher responded, “I understand.” A week after the incident, Manasvi started coming in regularly more often and even interacting in class.
But what changed in that one incident? As Vishal Talreja, Co-founder, Dream a Dream rightly points out, “The tone of empathy, safety and assurance that the question wasn’t a trick. The student felt she was finally seen, understood but most importantly, not judged.”
He goes on to say, “Children are keen observers – they continually observe how parents and teachers who are their biggest influencers react to people and situations. They shape up to be similar individuals and that the reason why it’s critical to unlock empathy at the right age.”
Since 1999, Dream a Dream has been empowering young people from vulnerable backgrounds with the skills required to engage with the world, make healthy choices and flourish. Through a combination of after-school sessions utilizing the medium of sports and arts, career awareness workshops, their programs are positively impacting the lives of over 100,000 children, each year.
However, over the last decade, Vishal felt that given the magnitude of India’s youth, there is a dire need to enable adults to empower young people and thus was born, ‘Dream Teacher Development Program’ which works towards training teachers and community workers to impart life skills among young children in their regions for a long period of time, not disturbing the link of continued impact.
How does the Dream Teacher Development Program work?
Spread over a period of 6-8 months, the ‘Dream Teacher Development Program’ has a series of 4 life skills facilitation programs, each lasting 2 days. The first level focuses on recognizing and celebrating oneself, which results in increased self-awareness, confidence and ability to continually develop one’s own skills while developing others as well. The second level focuses on understanding the child and developing empathy towards the child. As Vishal says, “In a classroom there are diverse children – violent, aggressive, quiet, tired, low-attention span etc. It’s essential to understand the root cause of individual behaviour before even attempting to tackle their issues. The second level puts the teachers through a process of understanding child behaviour and building teachers’ abilities to be empathetic. The outcome of level 2 is an increased understanding of early childhood development and effective, meaningful engagement with the youth. In the third level, teachers are taught to understand and build safe spaces for learning and interaction. According to Vishal, “This is the most important level as once a teacher has understood and accepted a certain behaviour without judgement, how do they change it? This level focuses on strength-based behaviour wherein the teachers creatively channelize individual students’ unique strengths.” The final level while brings together all the learnings; it is essentially focused on celebrating the role of a caring and compassionate adult in every child’s life.
Between each level, teachers are encouraged to go back to their classrooms and practice their learnings. Dream a Dream backs up with access to trainers and mentors as well as by having support visits wherein the facilitators observe the classes and give feedback to the teachers.
Impact and Way Forward
Until now, Dream a Dream has trained over 1, 500 teachers across Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh. But impact isn’t just a number; it is the little successes that are happening across India’s classrooms every single day that encourage the team to dream more audaciously. For instance, Mr. Manjunath Bahusaheb Yalamalli, a teacher at the JA Education Institution, Belagum would earlier dissuade his student from participating in sports as he was weak in academics and needed more focus there. However, after attending the program, he looked at the boy differently and decided to encourage him to participate, much against the wishes of his staff. The student won. Mr. Yalamalli says, what truly encompasses the entire program, “that moment was only a reinforcement of how much my belief in the child is tied into his belief of his own abilities. I continue to really see each child as unique with unique strengths.”
In another instance, R R Pathan, teacher at the same institution confronted himself with the inferiority complex he had been battling with which didn’t allow him to express his views/concerns freely for the fear that he may be judged. But after undergoing the program, he emerged a more confident person who started putting together his understanding of self and how he should behave with his children. He says, “The questioning brought a huge change in me as I have started to build this curiosity in my classroom as well.”
The change seen in Mr. Yalammali and Mr. Pathan which has trickled into the classrooms and will eventually have an impact on the entire school and community is a testimony to what a positively empowered adult is capable of achieving.
As Dream a Dream is striving towards impacting at least 30, 000 teachers by 2030 by partnering with government schools, affordable private schools and charity-based schools in Karnataka, it is a matter of immense pride and recognition when Mr. Yalamalli writes to them saying, “My vision of my dream classroom that I created in the last workshop has stayed with me. I am driving towards my vision, knowing that it is possible.”
*Manasvi – Name changed to ensure privacy.