The start of something new is rather remarkable and it should be the endeavour or each and every one of us to learn something new every single day. For what is the human mind but the most powerful processor? And it is with fine tuning our minds that we discover the extent to which our infinite potential can be realised.
For anyone interested in the power of the human mind especially in an educational context, an excellent place to start is with Terry Small (http://www.terrysmall.com/). He is a big believer in the power of the brain to wire, rewire and continuously heal itself. If you read anything by him or attend one of his sessions, you are guaranteed the opportunity to unlearn and relearn everything you thought you knew about the brain. Mr. Small’s insistence on repeating things out loud, talking to each other with praise and of reminding you to stand up every 30-40 minutes and stretch resonate with all the academic programs that successful schools implement.
Of course, one cannot talk about the importance of the brain to train itself through habits without referencing Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hour rule” ( http://gladwell.com/). Whatever one feels about the theory now, you cannot deny the fact that it is quite remarkable that expertise can be developed only through regular practice which only reinforces the fact that the more we do something, the greater the chance of becoming very good at it. Whether you equate this to Gladwell’s violinists or The Beatles or Sachin Tendulkar’s hours in the nets, one thing becomes clear – expertise grows out of practice and the more we do it, the greater the chance of prolificacy.
Both of the experts mentioned above hold remarkable possibilities for educators irrespective of the ages with which they engage. First, it becomes clear that there is some logic in practice. Please note that I am drawing a clear distinction between learning content by rote and becoming an expert in a skill or practice. The more you do it, the better you will become at learning by rote but not an expert in the content that you are trying to learn. If we really want to check the validity of this, please ask any student to give the final exam (or to up the stakes, the Board Exam) they gave the previous year and you will find that an overwhelming number of them will barely be able to pass the exam. Educators must provide some space for the time to practice.
Second, the hours of practice or attempts at rewiring will all come to naught if there is no qualified, dedicated and determined set of experts around to facilitate the growth. Teachers and parents come into this category. Hardly anyone will know about the story of Ramakant Achrekar and how he used to drive a young boy from match to match and practice to practice so that he would go on to become the greatest batsman of all time except Sachin Tendulkar who benefitted from the attention he received from his coach who never made it as a cricketer himself.
Third, the environment we function in is directly proportional to the level of success we will experience irrespective of the number of hours we invest or the brilliance of our mentors. A nurturing and encouraging environment will definitely yield greater success than an abusive space. And successful schools must be judged by the spaces in which this learning occurs and the level to which they will encourage students to grow, develop and blossom into the experts that they can be.
In conclusion, therefore, it is critical to consider three factors–time, people, and environment–for the establishment of a balanced, disciplined and determined individual, a journey that must begin with the child’s journey at school, a journey that will necessarily be shaped by the decisions we take for our children as educators and parents.