Testimonial: The Only Way Forward – Enabling Alignment of Head, Heart, Hand and Soul

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Testimonial: The Only Way Forward – Enabling Alignment of Head, Heart, Hand and Soul

By C Alagammai, BA Humanities 2019-22, Azim Premji University

I attended the session ‘The Only Way Forward – Enabling the Alignment of Head, Heart, Hand and Soul‘ as a part of Arthan’s track on Future of Education. This session was enriching because it focused significantly on not only a child’s experience of education but also the educator’s personal journey of teaching and learning in the process. By changing the question from ‘how to teach better?’ to ‘what are we teaching for?’ enabled one to seriously ponder on the role of education itself.

The Head, Heart, Hand and Soul Approach treats the child as a ‘whole person’, focusing on multifaceted development, as against knowledge and information-based learning systems that have been, and continue to be, the bulwark of education today. We must understand that socio-emotional learning is a core component of schooling, along with a strong focus on enabling general life skills. Oli de Botton from School 21, UK offered a concise illustration of what the approach would look like in practice:
‘Head’ stands for the knowledge or information that is assimilated through (primarily) the curriculum
‘Heart’ stands for fostering healthy relationships and empathy towards other beings, along with the emotional resilience needed to deal with difficult situations
‘Hand’ stands for action – translating learning into practice or ‘doing’ things, forming alliances with others and engaging with the pressing social issues around them
‘Soul’ is a more abstract concept, could be understood as that which lies at the intersection of the above three elements; a keen awareness of, and connectedness with one’s own self.

There are certain assumptions that underlie such an approach; one being that empowerment can be thought of as the difference between accessing the world and shaping it. Traditional schooling prepares one to meet the world as it is, while a comprehensive approach to learning can enable students to decide what the world could be and work towards it. Schools are not separate bubbles but rather a product, and a crucial part, of the societies they are situated in and they need to be seen as such; only if we see schools as critical places of innovation and social engagement, can we follow a learning approach that aims to help students be conscientious and socially responsible human beings.

Chandni Chopra from SEF had some thoughtful suggestions on how schools could be transformed to align with such an experimental approach to learning. One of those was that the school culture should allow for more listening, more open conversations with, among and between different stakeholders: parents, students, teachers. Most often, there’s a power dynamic that operates in learning environments that doesn’t allow for questioning or imagination, for the expression of vulnerability. The conversation about vulnerability is in some sense urgent, especially when it comes to the role of the educator themselves. There’s been a lot of rightful focus on the student’s experience in a classroom; even in this session, there was a reminder for teachers to not forget that they were once children as well and to experience the classroom from the child’s point of view. But it is a two-way relationship, and any talk of reimagining schools cannot take place without also reimagining what the educator is supposed to be, and do.

The speakers were vocal about how important it was for the educator to have the space to reflect on the experience of educating, a pause from the crazy schedules and all the bustle to really sit and think about their personal journey as a teacher. Educators cannot follow the Head, Heart, Hand and Soul approach if they do not experience it for themselves; if a keen self-awareness is such an important part of this approach to learning, how can one enable students to find, and have that, if one doesn’t have the space to think about their own relationship with the self and their emotions? There’s no wonder that teachers find themselves teaching in a way they don’t like in the current system.

Thinking about the role of a teacher means thinking about what education itself is supposed to be. If learning has to be a participative journey, it is imperative to realize that both students and teachers are in this together. While the teacher is supposed to be the knowledgeable person guiding students, it is also important to remember that they too are figuring things out about themselves and about life in the process; no one has final answers. After all, is education about answers or about embarking on a journey of learning and reflection that is rewarding to both the student and the teacher? In some way, the system should allow the educator to express their own vulnerabilities and reflect on what it really means to teach and learn.

But we must also realize that for the current modes of schooling to be reimagined and transformed in any meaningful manner, it isn’t enough to only think about the teacher alone; there needs to be a systemic change and a reframing of objectives at all levels and across all stakeholders. The call is urgent for a large-scale consultation on the role of education in today’s fragmented world, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. This session has enabled me to think about all of this. And it was indeed rewarding to ponder on these questions at such a deep level.
Thank you, Arthan!

C Alagammai is currently pursuing her bachelor’s in humanities at the Azim Premji University. She was one of the participants of Arthan’s ‘Future of Education‘ track held on July 3, 2020 (as a part of our long-term initiative, Building Civil Society Organisations of the Future). She also writes on www.alaguwrites.wordpress.com
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