Monica Bhimwal, Principal Primary School, Pathways World School

Some define leadership to be a force to inspire and motivate action. Others say that a leader is someone who encourages others to work towards a common goal. To make it effective, leadership must be effectively communicated to others to work together and achieve something greater than what one could have achieved alone. Through inspiration and hard work, a leader helps to guide people towards the final destination: Success. Pathways World School, one of the most sought-after schools in India, is one such institution that thrives on the success of its leadership. The Principal of Primary School at Pathways World School, Ms. Monica Bhimwal is one such leader who has contributed significantly towards shaping the future for K12 education.

Pathways World School was established in 2003. It is an IB Continuum School in Aravali Hills, amid the luscious green meadows that serve as a nurturing community for educators and learners worldwide. With a motto to learn, work, play, think and live, and the vision to nurture compassionate world citizens committed to self and others’ development, the school embodies a culture for students to become the best version of themselves. It promotes sustainable development to enable students to connect learning with local and global issues with opportunities to foster compassion and innovation. 

To nurture compassion, the school community encourages students to initiate action to improve their learning or develop understanding. The move could take many forms, such as social entrepreneurship, informed choices, advocating a cause, or applying skills to solve problems or issues. The school also believes in providing opportunities to students to collaborate with students from across the globe to foster intercultural understanding and appreciate the diversity around the world. Expert speakers are regularly invited to gain a broader perspective of concepts under study and get insights into how the world works in a natural context. 

To encourage innovation, timeframes must be flexible to give students the time and space to collaborate, exchange ideas and experiment with techniques and thoughts. With the help of teachers, personal inquiries and projects are supported to develop the students’ skills, interests, and abilities. They create opportunities to promote divergent thinking and extend their thinking to identifying multiple perspectives and approaches rather than being satisfied with one. By exploring various mediums through trans mediation, students are enabled to present an idea. “As a school community, we often regroup to explore more strategies for fostering learner agency which directly impacts nurturance of creativity and innovation in students. How they would like to approach a problem or task, how they would like to show their understanding of an idea or concept, what role they would like to play in planning or assessments are some key considerations to encourage the development of these dispositions,” shares Ms. Monica.

As a student herself, Ms. Monica proudly states that she has grown leaps and bounds professionally and personally by being part of Pathways World School since its inception in 2003. With the IB curriculum’s pedagogical framework that prompts one to continuously engage with learning and the best way to do it, the focus is not only on the content but also on the implicit and explicit teaching of skills, development of learning, and application of learning to a real-life context. “I remember as a student all efforts by the school were directed towards academic performance with the approach and belief, one size fits all. The teacher was like the sage on the stage and supposedly the fountain of knowledge expected to impart all information mainly through chalk and teach the method. Asking questions or having a conflicting view for concepts was never appreciated and considered to be a display of lack of self-regulation,” she recalls. 

Through her own experience as a learner and her own observations, Ms. Monica decided to engage with profound reflections on how crucial the role of a caregiver is in a child’s life. Thus, it is of utmost importance to collaborate with other teachers, invite multiple perspectives and suggestions to find the best approach, and create opportunities for students to play an active role in planning, learning, and assessment. “The mantra of success is, how well do we know our students? How best do they learn? What are their interest areas and strengths? How are they thinking? What conversations are they having during free time that I can capture and build on? What voice and choice do they have in school or in the classroom?” asks Ms. Monica. 

Not just school, but at home too

Ms. Monica believes that nurturing involves a strong partnership with parents to foster positive working relationships between teachers and parents. Through regular orientations for parents to create awareness about the curriculum, the approach to teaching, and the strategies they need to adapt to continue learning at home helps parents understand the importance of holistic development. “Regular communications, both formal and informal, keep the parents in the loop of what is happening at school and the support they can provide as parents. We often tap parent expertise to support guest sessions, service initiatives, projects, and events. Such interactions also give an insight to the parents about how our students are thinking and how learning and teaching look and to feel at school,” shares Ms. Monica. 

With the collaborative efforts of the school leadership and the members, the school has undergone a transformation. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the education system, the learning and teaching landscape has inevitably changed for the better. Now, with the integration of technology, education has become ready for the future. At Pathways World School, Ms. Monica focuses on education through strong relationships built between the parents, students, teachers, and staff. The frequent and open communication with the parents inviting feedback on COVID protocols and online learning processes strengthened the disposition of trust and faith in the organization. By embodying the school’s vision, the teachers used the opportunity to explore innovative approaches, tools, and strategies to engage learners meaningfully and actively. 

“As a school, we prioritized committed efforts towards the development of the emotional well-being of the learners to enable them to effectively manage the shift. A new schema for online skills and learning dispositions was created and implemented by all the teachers across the grade to equip students to self-regulate and self-manage their learning efficiently,” says Ms. Monica. Additionally, the school counsellor facilitates regular sessions with the students and teachers and helps the teachers with strategies for mindfulness to support the emotional well-being of the learners as observed or required. Managing states of mind is an integral skill woven into the curriculum and is all caregivers’ moral and ethical responsibility. 

Defining Leadership

“Leadership is a complex concept. It is multi-tiered as there are multiple roles within a role. I feel leadership is strongly interlinked to having a growth mindset. It is an attitude towards various aspects, people, challenges, growth, and development,” Ms. Monica says. Appearing in the list of women in leadership, one could say that she knows what she’s talking about! Leadership is an innate quality for many but can be acquired through profound reflection, self-analysis of one’s own abilities, experiences, and commitment to ongoing professional development. 

Ms. Monica explains, “I feel altruism is an essential quality for every leader to possess or acquire, the ability to look beyond oneself to support the continuous development of the team members and the institution.” By enabling an environment that supports development, Ms. Monica believes that adopting leadership roles, using developmental tools to support growth, being abreast with news in the education industry, and strategizing to optimize learning outcomes can help shape a personality for educational leadership. “Valuing and respecting team members and drawing inspiration from their contributions and achievements is essential for any leader to function effectively,” says Ms. Monica. 

Guiding students for the future

Ms. Monica believes that staff members need to have ongoing professional development that needs to be facilitated for the whole school community or focused on groups that have emerging needs and requirements. “To be able to help students to maximize their potential, it is important that educators keep abreast with the new developments and pedagogies that could be implemented to support the students to grow and develop into successful individuals/ learners,” she explains. 

In this regard, there have been many forums and networks that the leadership team and teachers joined to collaborate with educators from around the globe and from within the country about various aspects of learning and teaching. With the internet at their fingertips, access to online professional development has become quicker and collaborative work has increased tenfold. Through the repercussions of the pandemic, this revolution of moving online has been forced upon the education industry. Considering the various curriculum frameworks, there is a need for strategic planning and investment in the professional development of teachers and staff. In Ms. Monica’s opinion, “if the teacher is also a learner and a leader then the classroom dynamics will be very different, the skillfulness of the teacher will be strongly evident in how teaching and learning are facilitated in the classroom.”

Women in Education

As the education industry in India is dominated by women, Ms. Monica feels that women should believe in themselves and their abilities to continue working committedly and work towards achieving or realizing their dream and brave all challenges that stem from stereotypical biases. “It is important to have a voice and to remain self-motivated to keep trying and growing with resilience and self-belief. Adaptability, resourcefulness, innovation, and compassion are important dispositions to strengthen for these will enable one to create an inclusive culture and support the development and growth of an institution,” she mentions. 

Women’s empowerment and leadership have made a transformational shift in India, stemming from the beliefs and cultures of an organization and the mindset of decision-makers. By maintaining a good gender balance in an organization, there can be a dynamic dichotomy to foster inclusivity and diversity that adds richness to the culture of any organization. “The changing trend indicates that more and more women are self-motivated to establish a career and aspire to come into leadership roles and responsibilities. It is very crucial that all visionaries analyze and evaluate employment and growth prospects based on abilities and capacities that an individual possesses rather than from the lens of gender and a stereotypical mindset,” shares Ms. Monica. 

Focusing on the Goal

When having a task at hand, there is a pressing need to do an efficient job and reach the goal successfully. Any project will have multiple interconnected and interdependent threads to it. “I wish to strengthen the pedagogy of feedback by shifting focus to feedforward as this is such an important developmental tool that can either set one up for failure or success. Hence, it becomes very important to ensure the Why, What, When, Where, and How of the feedback mechanism,” says Ms. Monica. Through strong feedback and considerations, learners can understand their strengths and equip themselves to map the developmental plan. With a nurturing approach, Pathways World School, under the leadership of Ms. Monica, allows students to directly engage with the environment to make deeper associations with how the world works. 

“When children are given opportunities to explore different types of play like free play, exploratory play, creative play, or symbolic play, they are building some enduring understandings that cannot be authentically facilitated through any other medium,” shares Ms. Monica. With a focus on ensuring that every teacher considers themselves an outdoor facilitator, the teachers at Pathway World School constantly think of ways for children to build a stronger relationship with nature through active engagements confined to any subject or domain.

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