Learning real values of life through After-School Reflection Club.
In the second year of my Teach For Nepal Fellowship when the schools re-opened post lockdown, I found that my students had completely lost interest in studies and did not want to come to school. Many of them suffered mentally and emotionally during the pandemic but didn’t have anyone or any space where they could pour their heart or rant about their problems. I figured that the forty minutes in the classroom was not enough to do the extra talking and listening and understanding students’ problems. As a secondary level Fellow teacher, there was a bulk syllabus to teach and a set lesson plan to execute always. So, I wanted to provide a platform and space where I could reach out to students personally, listen to their voices and cultivate the value of reflection in them.
I started with a total of 25 students from grades 8, 9 and 10. Most of the students volunteered themselves but I have to mention here that I pulled a few on purpose. Firstly, I wanted to make the additional forty-five minutes after school fun for everyone. It had to be open for all types of sharing. As we know that the students in rural communities share zillions of chores at home and many walk to school from distant hills, I wanted to make sure that the club was worth their time and energy. So, the first few sessions started with a basic orientation to how we are moving forward with the club, the membership and an introduction to the art of reflection.
Initially, students had no idea about ‘Reflection’. They didn’t know what it meant, they didn’t know its significance and they didn’t know how they could actually reflect. I started with my own story and how I had been practising the value of reflection for a couple of years. I started teaching the concept of “Gratitude and Shout Outs” and how beautiful it is to be able to look around with a grateful heart towards the little things in life. After the first few sessions, my students started giving gratitude to their friends who waited for them on the way, some started acknowledging their parent's love and hard work, some were grateful towards teachers and school for specific things and some were thankful towards nature and many more.
I felt that students were learning to snap while giving shout outs and I often found them very meticulous. They wouldn’t step back from giving shout out to each other for speaking up in class, writing a good essay in English, being an entertainer in a boring class, handling quarrels, leading the assembly, cleaning school premises during breaks and finishing work etc. It was amazing to see students actively listening to each other and snapping with an appreciation for each other.
Our Reflection Club became a happy and welcoming place for all kinds of achievers. Everyone pretty much walked in as shy, timid and underconfident kids. They were hesitant to sing, dance or even share anything in the beginning. Gradually, with more and more sessions, students built their confidence and opened up. They were not resisting to express their opinions and vulnerabilities anymore. Above all, they were not scared of being judged. They were raw. They were critical. They were sweet. They were funny and vocal and I think the best thing about our club was that we were able to create a safe space where everyone accepted, respected and loved each other in their own individual ways.
I still remember Kiran, a 10th grader, coming up to me and saying, “Didi I don’t want to miss school because I don’t want to miss being in the reflection club.” He was one of those students who had decided to drop school after lockdown wanting to work in Kathmandu. When I didn’t see him in my class for more than a week I visited his house and convinced him to come back to school. And he did! After that, he never really missed school.
I facilitated a total of 15 different sessions in my Reflection club within a span of three months. The sessions were: Orientation and Introduction to Reflection, Didi Sanga Manka Kura( Heartfelt talk with sister), Fears in life, Movie Reflection(Hichki), Growth Mindset and Fixed Mindset, Dialogues, Gratitude and Shout Out, Roleplays in six different topics, Introduction to empathy and Empathy in conversation, Dialogues, Potluck, Relationships( Parents, Peer and Community), Daily reflections with guided prompts and questions, Subject Reflections, Empowerment, Giving and receiving feedback, Giving back the community along with a lot of singing and dancing. All of these sessions were planned on a need basis and were intentional. I also figured that my school had pre-existing clubs like Eco Club, Bal Club, Integrity Club and WASH club and each of these clubs had specific roles but none of the clubs provided space for students to explore their true potential, to lead, to debate, to express their raw views, to believe in their voice and to truly, unapologetically be themselves. I am happy that Reflection Club became one such space for all of them.
The pandemic and lockdown caused a lot of disruption in between however we thrived and made use of our limited time wisely. As a Fellow teacher, this club helped me build a beautiful connection with students and some of their parents as well. The students showed a drastic change in their mindsets and they were ready to speak anywhere and try anything new. Some of them reminded me of our growth mindset dialogue when I showed resistance. The overall change in their confidence and behaviour was clearly visible in class. The students of the reflection club started performing better in tests and assessments as well. They almost became the first ones to raise their hands in class, read aloud and even pushed their other friends to do so. They learned collaboration. Some started leading the morning assembly without anyone asking them to. During some leisure period, I saw Karma, Sopheeya and Alina(10th Graders)taking classes for grade-2 because their grade teacher was not present. Girls from the club got the confidence to ask and distribute Sanitary Pads in class in front of everyone. Five club members were selected to represent the student board in Parents Teacher Meeting and they actively participated and shared their opinions in a PTA meeting.
Prerana (10th Grader and a member of Reflection Club) fearlessly gave feedback to her own parents and others saying “I never see parents visiting schools, Parents need to visit the school if they have any feedback for teachers or school authorities rather than discussing the issues in tea shops” in the PTA meeting. The discussions of students were realistic, practical and specific. They were thinking and speaking for themselves for the first time. I was amazed to listen to their voices. A week later, Prerana’s mother shared how her daughter has become expressive and an all-rounder. She said, “My daughter never really participated in anything before you came but now she does!” But the credit actually goes to the Reflection Club I thought after all If a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower right?
For me, Reflection Club was an integral part of my Fellowship. It taught me many things about life, hardships, poverty and children. It made me believe that every child is special, unique and beautiful in their own ways. It showed me that “Children have limitless potential in them.” It has inspired me to work for equality, injustice and inequity henceforth. It has taught me to listen and empathize. It helped me set classroom culture and balanced my firmness with friendliness. It definitely transformed all the fixed mindsets and made room for collaboration and communication. Undoubtedly, the biggest takeaway for me and my students from our club has to be the fact that there are lots of ways to make Education holistic and comprehensive. It's always a matter of approach. Spaces like After-School Reflection Club added the beauty of values, self-love, self-actualization, empathy, reflection, collaboration and expression in the most recreational and artistic way for me and my students. And I believe that these are some really essential skills to be taught in school.
After all, Education in the 21st century should be fun, fair, inclusive, burden-free, problem-solving and holistic right?