Continuous Learning -
A Non-Negotiable for Every Leader

There are some interactions that delight you. And there are others which fill you with a sense of incredible hope. The one with Naresh Sharma Sir was both. He operates with a lens of continuous learning and acute humility. I had goosebumps hearing him talk about his role, his understanding about children and teaching, and his working style. I hope I am able to relay the same joy and hope through this story for you.

 

Naresh Sir became a teacher almost 16 years ago. He initially had wanted to become a scientist but did not have any guidance to pursue the career. However, he continued to pursue his interest in Science and studied Physics at college. He had no idea back then that he was laying down the foundation for him becoming the Science District Mentor (DM) in Fazilka, Punjab – a role he has helmed for the past 4 years now.

Naresh Sir had always encouraged students to participate in the regional Science exhibitions, to learn by preparing models and doing experiments and was a recognised name in the region for his efforts. But little did he know that he was going to be leading change in the entire state. 

One fine day in August of 2017, Mr. Naresh received a call from the State Department and he was asked to report to Mohali (the head office) the next day. “I never aspired for the role which also didn’t exist before 2017. Someone recommended my name for the founding team of Padho Punjab Padhao Punjab (which is a statewide education change program) – I do not know who”. He adds, smiling, that he is both annoyed with and grateful to this anonymous person. “I got to learn so much.”

A DM’s work involves planning and facilitating learning experiences for teachers, e.g. workshops, training sessions etc., school visits for observations of teaching-learning practices and analysing & making sense of this data for designing district/ state level programs. The role has been a very challenging one for him, but his approach to sense the problems, make sense of the possible solutions, learn continuously and then go about implementing the solutions keeps him going. 

Learning is very important, without it, a stagnancy sets in. In my role as a DM in the past 4 years, I have developed patience. I have learned stakeholder management working with umpteen number of stakeholders, some of them who were obviously difficult to work with. The leadership training session was very useful as well – I learned how leadership is not inherited and one can develop it over time. I was not a good administrator and used to do the Block Mentors’ work by myself. I eventually learned to delegate responsibilities.” 

Naresh Sir has seen many successes as a result of problem solving approach. Activity based learning in Science is an initiative that he is proud of bringing to the forefront in the state. “In 2017, the school labs across the states were equipped with materials and instruments but they were not utilised at all. During schools visits, our team of DMs realised that most of the teachers did not see any value in using any equipment or conducting experiments as the evaluation criteria for activities was non-existent in the board results. We found that unless activities are not part of the evaluation, there will be no efforts or interest shown by anyone. The team proposed to the department to introduce the new concept of marking that was based on activity based questions and the proposal was accepted.” 

As a result, activities became a regular part of the curriculum. “Students participated wholeheartedly, learnt and excelled in the exams and teachers were happy with the outcomes.” 

Eric Wade has written- “Nothing worth doing is easy.” This too was not a smooth journey for Naresh Sir. Teachers were not aware of how to work with models and experiments. “I remember, initially, I had to deliver a session on activity based learning to teachers. Never before in my life had I prepared a presentation. The session was a success and teachers appreciated the takeaways they had after the end of the session. They told me, “Sir we have completed our M.Sc, cleared NET but we did not get to learn about the activity you showcased in this session.”

“Today, we have government schools overflowing with lab materials and student learning outcomes have seen a rise. Children studying in private schools have not done experiments that the students in the government schools of Punjab are doing today.” 
He believes his role offers many learning opportunities. He is visiting schools everyday and gets to work with multiple stakeholders. “I feel I am on the lowest rung of the ladder of learning. I visit 2 schools daily and take two demonstration classes at each school. I definitely teach as this allows me to stay grounded – I get to interact with students and understand the prevailing needs in the classrooms. And the teacher feels satisfied and supported as well, that the DM is here not just to observe and give feedback, but is demonstrating novel and effective techniques and is contributing to the efforts to ensure student learning.”

On being asked his source of learning, he says- “I learn from the DM Team, SRP (State Resource Person) Team. There is also a support system of 15-20 teachers who are teaching everyday in their respective schools and share their learnings with me. For instance – supporting the learning of a CWS child – I am not directly in contact with the child, but the teacher is able to bring me up to speed.”

Another initiative that he has taken up, is running a YouTube Channel – Learn Physics with Naresh Sharma, to facilitate learning. The channel has about 3300+ subscribers and every live session (conducted once in 15 days) has 400-500 students in attendance. The measure of success for Naresh Sir is the followup calls that he gets from students to clear doubts.

This channel was born as a result of the pandemic last year. There was a need to create video lectures for state wide circulation through the department. “I learned about my limitations because of COVID. The teachers had nothing at home – no blackboard, no chalk, we were unaware of the resources that were needed.” The challenge was huge – he could not purchase anything because of the lockdown but he was undeterred. He again employed the approach of an effective leader. He figured out what was required and learned how to create videos at home. “Sometimes the camera used to auto focus, sometimes the final product was blurred. And sometimes I had forgotten to press  the record button on and went on delivering the entire lesson. I learned how to edit videos by searching it up on Google, I learned how to send across a big size file using a drive. Today, I am able to record a video and upload it on the channel in 15 minutes.”

Learning is a non negotiable for Naresh Sir and he keeps creating opportunities for himself where he can explore new ideas and tools and use them at work – whether it is related to his subject, or use of technology in education or supporting his teachers.

On Teachers Day this year, Naresh Sir was recognised with the State Award for his contributions to the education ecosystem. The humble leader that he is, Naresh Sir says, ‘There are a lot of people who are responsible for the award that I have received. Also, I have not received an award, I have received a responsibility which I have to live upto.”

Luv Kumar

Luv Kumar

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