Continuous Improvement - An Educator’s Mantra to Enable Success
Different Roles, Different Stakeholders - One Effective Approach to Impact
I met Abhinav Joshi Sir in Patiala, the city of gardens located in the state of Punjab. My colleague Sanjay had sent me off to the city very early in the morning so that I could spend the day at school with Abhinav Sir. He is a middle and high school Science Teacher at Government Girls Senior Secondary School, Sanour (Patiala). Sanjay did not share anything apart from the fact that I will be left inspired after the meeting. That turned out to be an understatement. By piecing together many stories Abhinav Sir shared between classes and during the car rides from the Bus Stop to the school and back and speaking to his students, peers and managers, I found out that he is an embodiment of continuous improvement and a huge ball of energy.
Learning By Doing
Abhinav Sir started off as a Primary school teacher more than two decades ago. The school was located in a remote border village in the Patiala district where he met his first challenge. There were no students when he joined. The building was once flooded and there were no records of students who had been once enrolled in the school. Along with a co-teacher, he went around the village, speaking to parents to understand their context and challenges.
He emphatically shared about the role of education to build a sustainable career and life for children. His consistent efforts led to student enrollment across grades.
In 2006, he moved to Government High School, Binaheri, Nabha (a municipal council in Patiala) as the Science Teacher where he got an opportunity to master his skills as a Science teacher. He introduced activity based learning for his students and ensured that they were part of different exposure activities. Under his guidance, the students participated in unpteen Science Fairs and exhibitions. Headmistress Sunita Agarwal, now retired, says, “Abhinav was an extremely dedicated teacher with an infectious passion and dedication towards his subject. He made sure that students were part of educational tours not just in Punjab, but across different parts of the country. Students won many state level competitions under his guidance. Other teachers in the school also got inspired to take extra classes for the students seeing him do that even late into the night.”
Abhinav Sir and his students at different Science exhibitions and competitions
The school is literally always a learning ground for Abhinav Sir’s students. Students have built a rainwater harvesting system, parks with medicinal plants and vegetable garden, recycled paper. Students have visited farms and conducted research to build an understanding of agricultural practices. They have built a vermicomposting unit in the school, which was appreciated by the visiting agriculture department. The manure produced was even distributed to farmers for its superior quality. The further application of students’ learning was in the form of social awareness campaigns they ran in the community to encourage people to plant more trees, eliminate drugs from their lives and adopt healthy practices in their lives.
Students engaged in different learning activities organised by Abhinav Sir
Surinder Kot, a Naik in the Saragarhi Battalion and Sir’s student says, “His teaching skills were remarkable, me and my peers have learned everything – Physics, Chemistry, Biology, practically. With him we got to participate in state & district level projects. He used to travel 40-50 kms even on a Sunday to teach us. Not only a teacher, he was also a guide who used to consistently let us know the right thing to do as teenagers.I owe it to Abhinav Sir for where I am today.” Anu Raheja, another student and who is today a government school teacher herself, echoes Surinder’s words. She says that she tries to be as good a teacher as Abhinav Sir is – always encouraging and loving.
“Students are hungry to learn, if you can satiate this hunger, your job is done.”
Recognitions are Inevitable
In no time, Abhinav Sir came to be known for his teaching skills and initiatives in the region. Not a surprise as I myself see students engaged in different learning activities [through WhatsApp status of Abhinav Sir] where they are conducting experiments in the laboratory and engaged in applying their learning outside the classroom.
I am glad that I spent the day as I got to see his energy when during an educational program telecast in school (a regular exercise in Punjab schools), the broadcast was interpreted. He jumped up immediately to engage the class in what they had been learning – asking questions to check their understanding, making connections to real life situations. All 100+ students had their eyes on him (there were 3 sections in the hall at the same time learning through the telecast) and they listened with rapt attention.
A rather unusual recognition, he is also known as the Missile Man of Sanour. This came to be when he got the students to create a 17 feet long prototype of the Agni-V missile for a Republic Day Parade. The same is still installed in the school, a testimony to his hard work.
In 2014, Abhinav Sir was awarded the State Award for Best teacher across the state of Punjab and in 2020 he received Chief Minister Honour Award for his contributions in the field of education. For his success, he credits both his students and school team who he says have constantly stretched themselves to support his initiatives by working even during holidays.
Abhinav Sir with former Chief Secretary - Education, Shri Krishan Kumar, IAS, after receiving the Chief Minister Honour Award
“Long distances can only be covered in the company of a team.”
Karamjeet Saini Ma’am, Mathematics Lecturer at the school, who has worked with him on the several projects mentioned earlier, says, “Last I saw someone who could be considered a Guru in true terms was when I was a student myself 40 years ago. He is able to quickly sense the problem, and share solutions to get the students to learn through projects and activities.’’
Leading Ecosystem Improvements
He also served as a State Resource Person – Science in the past where he has been extensively involved in various state initiatives. This includes content development for Science – preparing modules for teachers, designing activities and worksheets. He had led trainings across the state, even for his peers who then in turn support Block Mentors on classroom observation. Rajesh Jain, previously State Coordinator – Science at SCERT, says, “You give Abhinav anything to solve, only in a few days, he makes sure that he is able to make sense of the situation, learn if he has to and provide implementable solutions.”
Glimpses from Block Mentor Training
During the pandemic, he supported the team with the online programs like preparation of video and audio lectures and steered their content and quality for telecast through Akashvani Patiala (radio), and Swayam Prabha and DD Punjabi (television).
Abhinav Sir has also mentored around 400 Science Teachers in Patiala district. He was regularly in their classrooms monitoring their and student actions, and the school learning environment. Through these observations, he makes data driven decisions around continuous support and training for his teachers. His role employed the principle of continuous improvement and in turn enable it for others. He used to understand the teachers’ challenge and in no time learn how to solve it and help the teacher to improve. This meant modelling out teaching practices in classrooms by actually teaching the concepts, providing teachers support to carry out state initiatives and making sure that they have the skills and resources to meet all student needs. He was also involved in benchmarking these practices for the ecosystem.
Vandana Chopra, Science Teacher at Government Senior Secondary School, Baran, Patiala says, “As a District Mentor, he was always on his toes. Whenever he used to visit, he used to get 100 students together in a lab and explained the toughest of concepts in the simplest way possible, even without using any teaching aids. When he visited to judge the student projects, along with appreciation & feedback for each and every participant, he was full of improvement ideas which he demonstrated himself. He is always encouraging me to take up opportunities and learn and its impact shows in the student outcomes.”
A brief interruption
On 24 Mar 2019, a deadly road accident brought his efforts to a short pause. He broke multiple bones and teeth for which he had to go through multiple surgeries. I saw the pictures and they were very gruesome. But even the accident could not put a stop on his enthusiasm. As soon as he recovered, he was back at the department, supporting the team in different initiatives.
“The pace can vary, but the target should not.”
He came back to his teacher role because of a series of setbacks in the family. Multiple family members suffered from ailments and he would like to be closer home, everyday. He continues in his role as the Science teacher. He says, “Students keep me going. They are constantly thinking about you and care about you. My students today are serving as teachers, engineers, and they are part of the armed forces. Nothing has made me more proud than this.”