The Grapes of Wrath

At Montaray Harbour with a statue of John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath was the first book that I read written by John Steinbeck. Herein, he tells the story of a family of impoverished farmers during the Great Depression who lose their livelihood and are forced to trek from Oklahoma to California, looking for work and trying to survive.The Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author through his vivid and imaginative writing brought tales of California to life in several novels and short stories. John Steinbeck country is the Montarey harbour which I happened to visit last May. [2019]. A photograph with John Steinbeck.

  Ashwin Sanghi is an author whose books I have enjoyed reading. There is a subtle blend of Indian Psyche traditional and a blend of modernism. Dark sides of an individual are exposed. Political trends and acceptable norms are portrayed. What more when i sent an e–mail pointing out the mistakes, prompt comes the reply with the website which lists out all the errors from the book! An author who is grounded.

The Forty Rules of Love

Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak
Here is a book that I just completed reading. – Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak. Ella takes on an assignment of reviewing a book that changes her life. It gives her a new perspective of looking at life in general. Ella is intrigued by the thirteenth-century Sufi poet Rumi and Shams of Tabriz and she starts her journey to get to know the author of the book. Forty Rules of Love is a book that grips you and urges you to read on. The author has beautifully entwined the sufi mysticism and the practical world in an interesting manner. The book is not meant for speed reading. Read it, mull over it and comprehend it. Here is one rule from among the 40 cited in the book that makes you think : “Every true love and friendship is a story of unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we haven’t loved enough…”

The Silent Patient

Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Theo Faber, the psychologist takes up a job at The Grove just so that he could find out more about Alicia Bereebnson who murdered her husband in cold blood. . What prompted Alicia to do that when she was happily married? Not just that – she stops speaking after the gruesome murder. Why does Theo Faber want her to speak? Alicia has cut her wrists before. Even the staff at ‘The grove’ feel that she is unstable except for Theo. Alex Michaelides has woven the thriller in such a simple and interesting manner that it makes an easy read. The plot has so many twists and turns that you would want to read without thinking about putting it down. The author kept the best twist to the very end. A surprising and befitting finale. A good page turner novel.

Being Nobody, Going Nowhere Meditations on the Buddhist Path by Ayya Khema

The book required concentration and could not be read like one reads a novel. A few points struck me and have listed them out. This is not a review but more like a summary as I understood it.

The Buddha said there is only one cause, one reason we experience suffering, and that’s craving. We have three cravings and all others are connected with them. These three are craving for existence, craving for self-annihilation, and craving for sensual gratification. Control of the cravings helps in dealing with suffering.

The first and second noble truths show us that we are living a life of futility.

Most people look for a solution out somewhere. Instead, we should look inside, and that will eventually lead to the third noble truth, the cessation of suffering, which is liberation. The Buddha never really explained what liberation is. He did say what it is not.

He explained this with a story of a turtle and fish.

The Eightfold path

  1. Right view

Right view also means having an understanding of kamma, namely taking full responsibility for what happens to oneself, not blaming others, or circumstances, or anything outside oneself.

There are two right views: the understanding of kamma and of the need to effect a change in oneself in order to get out of suffering. Five ways of dealing with suffering are listed with the fifth being the most appropriate path.

The anecdote of brahmins hurling abuses at Buddha and his reply is a good story to remember. The learning from this: Any abuse, anger, or threat belongs to the one who is uttering it. We don’t have to accept it.

  1. Right intention

There are three aspects to right intention: renunciation, loving-kindness, and harmlessness. An interesting aspect of intentions is that they are like icebergs: one-third out of the water, two-thirds under water. We can only see their tips.

  1. Right speech, right action, and right livelihood follow attention.

Right speech and action will be practised with the right intention. Right livelihood entails not indulging in killing, lying, drinking intoxicants, and taking what is not one’s own.

  1. Right effort

With energy, effort arises. The Buddha recommended the four supreme efforts.

These are extremely difficult to practice. –  Not to let an unwholesome thought arise, if it arises do not let it continue. Let a wholesome thought arise and let it continue.

  1. Right mindfulness

Right mindfulness means that one is aware and attentive all the time.

The four foundations of mindfulness are mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of feeling mindfulness of thought and mindfulness of mind.

Whenever we speak without purpose, mindfulness and clear comprehension are abandoned. So speak purposefully.

  1. Right concentration

Right concentration stands at the end because it needs all the other factors in order to function and constitutes the means for achieving penetrating insight.

A book one should read to be mindful and gain inner peace.

Posts like this make the day! – Karishni

Dear Principal ma’am,

I am Kharishni Lakshman, a former student and head girl of Pawar Public School, passed out in the year March 2020.

It gives me immense pleasure to inform you that I have passed my XIIth ISC board examination by securing 94.6%. I also topped the class in Physics & Biotechnology I have now got an offer for admission in BSc (research) in Biotechnology from Shiv Nadar University, Delhi which I am joining on Aug 16th.

Ma’am, today the reason that I am proudly able to write to you about my endeavors is only because of you. Ma’am my every encounter with you prompted me to change and become calm and composed like you. The support and confidence you had in me to be a responsible and impartial leader made me believe and accept myself.

Thankfulness  is the beginning of gratitude and gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Therefore, revered  Pramila ma’am I would  like to  take this  opportunity to thank  you for seeing my potential  and  making me a better person. I will forever be indebted  to  you.

Writing this letter is a very miniscule effort of mine to show my gratitude. But really ma’am, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the immense change you brought in my attitude and behaviour.

Hope you are in good health ma’am. I wish to make you forever proud for the knowledge you have imbibed in us students.

With deep regards and highest esteem.

Thanking you,

Yours truly,

Kharishni Lakshman

Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo I believe is loosely woven around the 8 marriages and 7 husbands of Elizabeth Taylor.

It speaks about the same-sex relationships which were perhaps hidden in the closet at the time the story was being told. It boldly discusses the travails of a woman in the Hollywood behind the scenes. The beauty of Evelyn makes the men look at her lustily but she has a marriage where she gets beaten up by her husband. Harry the good old friend is always dependable.

Why does she ask a young unknown journalist to write her biography? The mystery is resolved at the end. The style of writing is lucid. The book was a little lengthy. A. slightly smaller number of pages would have made it crisper and easy to read.

Destination unknown My journey with Parkinson’s by Rajeev Gupta

 

I just completed reading this book. It is succinctly written. The style of writing is lucid. The fears and trauma are clearly brought to the fore. The disease and it’s impact are well brought out. The Q AND A section is the icing on the cake. Every PD patient should read this and gain from the experiences.

Principalship and student learning

Having spent over 40 years in the field of academics with 18 years as a Principal, there were a few questions that were unanswered in my mind. After retirement, I started looking for those answers. Here is what I found.

Does the Principal’s leadership influence student learning?

A teacher’s influence on a student is more visible, tangible and noticeable. But the influence of a principal cannot be undermined. It was Wallace foundation’s board of directors who decided to take up a study on Principalship as a leader in 1999. In practically every aspect of society – from business to the armed forces, leadership was found to be critical. Since then, it has been getting more attention than it ever did.

In 2004, ‘How leadership influences student learning’ was published by Wallace Foundation. In 2019, it commissioned a new review, and the findings are striking. With quantitative and qualitative studies combined, the research put forth 4 practices linked to effective outcomes and 3 foundational skills.

Effective outcomes

3 Skills to possess

Leaders do not create value directly. Their contribution is rather indirect because, they enable others to perform. So, at times, promoting a good teacher to be a principal could lead to loss of a good teacher and beget a poor principal.

The Wallace Foundation report concluded that ‘Leadership is second only to classroom instruction among all school-related factors that contribute to what students learn at school”. Although the teacher influence is higher for an individual student, a strong leadership is paramount for a progressive school. This deals with factor of influence and its effects on learning.

Kenneth Leithwood etal, mention 4 paths along which the influence of leadership flows.

The Emotional path

I have always stressed the fact that a teacher should deal with Maslow’s hierarchy first before Bloom’s taxonomy. This research article corroborates my belief to a large

extent. It talks about CTE – collective teacher efficacy which is the level of confidence that a group of teachers have in getting their students to achieve higher levels of performance. This need not be academic. Accepting the level of responsibility is a factor of CTE.  

A few more Characteristics of Principals that emerged are:

  1. Facing challenges, reaching out to students
  2. Engage students in Activity based learning
  3. Try out new instructional techniques
  4. Use scaffolding to help the laggards
  5. Exhibit resilience and persistence
  6. Create space for parents in the school
  7. Be empathetic and approachable

The Rational Path

The variables involved in this path are Knowledge and skills of the school staff about curriculum, teaching and learning. To deal with these variables firmly the principal needs to have the knowledge of leadership practices and problem-solving capacities.

A few characteristics of effective principals that emerged are:

  1. Open, supportive and friendly
  2. Not burdening the teachers with bureaucratic tasks
  3. Helping to clarify shared goals. About academic achievement
  4. Providing an orderly, safe environment
  5. Laying down the policies and SOPs

The Organizational Path

Learning occurs in school at the individual level. It is the vision and mission of the leader that weaves the individual learning into a collective advantage. The variables included under this head are:

  1. The total amount of time potentially available for learning – this has an effect which is weekly significant to quite strong.
  2. Time devoted to instruction – Moderate effect on learning.
  3. Opportunity to learn which has strong connections to the mode of teaching – Has a strong effect on learning
  4. Academically engaged time of the student – distractions will be minimized. – This has a strong correlation with learning.

The principal has to ensure that the performance of the school is at its best by looking into these variables.

The Family Path

This appears simple but is the most critical of them all since the leader has no control over the variables. 

Some of the variables were

  1. home environment
  2. Parental involvement at school
  3. TV watching time
  4. Home visits

An effective principal would ensure that specific, positive feedback is given to the parents about their wards at regular intervals.

Communicate effectively with parents, hold regular PTMs.

One of most common problems associated home environment at the primary is Reading. The school could have a training on techniques of reading for the parents, it would not only help in the reading process but also develop confidence among the students. The higher SES parents might be able to deal with the reading problems, but the others would welcome this initiative.

A Summary of Findings

  1. Effective principals are important for student achievement
  2. Principal’s effect extends beyond student achievement.
  3. Effective principals focus on the 4 practices and the skills and outcomes.
  4. Principals must develop an equity lens.
  5. They must learn the technique of delegation
  6. They must follow the 4 paths

From all this it appears that the principal is perhaps an important person in the school to stimulate improvements to enhance student learning.

At the end of this, I breathe a sigh of relief. I think I have touched many a heart,  enabled a few more to learn and learnt along with them.

Finally a quote: “ A great Principal builds character, inspires dreams, Encourages creativity, builds confidence, Instils a love for learning, touches our hearts and changes our lives forever”. Anonymous

References:

  1. School leaders’ influences on Student learning: The Fur paths, Kenneth Lethwood, Stephen E.Anderson, Blair Mascall and Tiiu Strauss.
  2. https://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/pages/how-principals-affect-students-and-schools-a-systematic-synthesis-of-two-decades-of-research.aspx
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