Academic writing in the field of education often presents a theoretical understanding that is disconnected from field realities. As a teacher educator, I have often found pre-service teachers struggling with theories, models and perspectives that are built on the basis of research carried out in foreign contexts and texts written in a language that is alien to them. Giridhar’s work is a welcome change in such an academic landscape. The book serves two valuable purposes. First, it documents practitioners’ experiments and innovations. Years of practical knowledge from the field which each principal and teacher covered in the book has accumulated, developed and refined through his/her experience has been presented for educationists to learn from. The second important purpose is that it lends voice to practitioners from the field. The documentation of teachers’ work and journeys is not from the lens of a researcher observer; the author presents teachers’ stories from their standpoint and experience.
The book is divided into five sections. Each section celebrates initiatives taken by practitioners in different areas of education. The first section, ‘The Head Teacher as CEO’, presents stories of school administrators who have worked towards improvement in school efficiency and student learning. The stories from each of the schools located in rural areas in Uttarakhand, Karnataka, and Rajasthan, point towards the need for a good leader in schools. Each story puts forth key elements that helped in the successful turn-around of the school. One of the key ideas is building strong relationships with the community. Where community members realize the need and importance of education, school enrolment, attendance and achievement improve. The role of the school is also vital in developing a sense of belongingness for students. Support for teachers is available through voluntary teacher forums that provide space for discussion and schools that allow innovation and experiments.
In the second section on ‘Reflective Practitioners’ and in section five, ‘Heroes: They Recognise No Barriers’, the author has documented stories of change brought about by individual teachers. Teachers in schools across the country point towards the need to move away from rote memorization. Instead, lessons should provide opportunities for students to think, reason and express themselves. Two common areas emerge from their stories. First, the teachers showed an extraordinary sense of commitment towards their students and their learning. A mark of their success was through the growing number of students clearing entrance examinations for higher education. Second, almost all teachers vouched for the need to be willing, life-long learners. This was evident in their interaction in the classroom. Where students asked questions that they did not have answers to, they often said that they will find out later and revert. Another evidence of their motivation to learn was in their engagement in voluntary teacher forums. Teachers often spent their weekly off days and travelled great distances to share ideas of innovative educational practices with other teachers.