A Growth Mindset at The Riverside School

Riverside School teachers Neena Mehta, Jahnavi Mehta, Mira Thomas & Ranjhani Iyer take us on a walk around the school campus in Ahmedabad, sharing the unique pedagogy of one of India’s most successful schools, and discussing the value of alternative education models.

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The Riverside School has been demonstrating a child-centred learning model since its inception in 2001. Built on the principle of putting common sense to common practice it creates a nurturing environment in which every child can thrive. As a sector focussed on learning and creating environments that facilitate learning, we have a lot to learn from Riverside’s 15 years of experience. 

It is a Saturday morning. What do you typically see at Riverside? At 8am, a large group of teachers have got together in the school courtyard to play a game. You see action, energy, enthusiasm, laughter and finally a coming together to reflect on what just happened. Most often reflections are related to their practice as a teacher, as a colleague or as a member of a team. Moving on, a brief walk around the school gives you a glimpse 
of the space, its people and its processes. You will not miss the Citizen Leader board where students stop by to leave a comment to appreciate their peers who have done good work. You might also see a group of adolescents coaching younger buddies, and in yet another space, an expert is educating support staff about health and nutrition. What you will see is that every individual here has a sense of belonging, pride and ownership in their work. A culture of sharing, caring and learning is palpable and visible.

At the core of this vivid scenario, is the Common Sense Model of The Riverside School that focuses on Rigour, Relevance and Relationships. This model invests in the cognitive, physical, social, emotional and spiritual development of all its stakeholders, keeping student wellbeing at the center of all its activities. The school curriculum is designed to ensure that parents, teachers, and the community work together towards a shared vision 
of empowering every child to graduate 
with passion and compassion. What becomes very apparent when you talk to the Riverside teachers, students, or for that matter parents, is that they all speak the same language and have the same ideology, once again giving you the sense that the belief system has permeated into the nerves and veins of this ecosystem.

Teachers as Lifelong Learners

One might wonder how does this happen? Is it the conscious timetabling of processes and practices to invest in the well-being and growth of students and teachers? Riverside strongly believes that unless teachers are lifelong learners themselves, they cannot infuse children with the joy of learning. When good practice is acquired, practiced, revised and shared, it ensures not only a congenial but a collegial environment. While the Saturday morning game builds team camaraderie, it also fosters transparency and opportunities to learn from each other’s practices.

To remain nimble in their practice, the teachers regularly schedule classroom observations of best practitioners and invite fellow-teachers to observe and provide constructive feedback to improve their own practice. It is also by design that teachers at Riverside are called Edu-heroes, who are encouraged to bring passion, empathy, and sensitivity into their classroom to enhance student engagement and learning. As Edu-heroes, they are constantly trained to also be special educators to keep high standards of inclusivity. The leadership ensures that the entire team stays inspired and motivated through periodic expert interventions, visits and social experiences.

Building a Community

Parents are a child’s first teachers and Riverside believes a strong partnership with parents is essential for effective student learning. It enables both stakeholders to be on the same plane of understanding and work towards student success. Rather than staying as separate entities, the parents and school join hands to become one community. The way Riverside invests in this partnership is to periodically organize workshops to enable parents with the pedagogy of the school, as well as provide parenting tools and strategies. A strong relationship allows open communication between the teacher and the parent, and encourages parents to participate in the child’s learning by either volunteering to come in as experts, or by opening up their spaces for children or teachers to learn from. It is common to see Riverside parents actively participating or even leading the causes of the community outreach programs run by the school.

With empowered parents through a strong partnership with the school and a highly motivated and professional teaching faculty, the Riverside ecosystem offers a fertile ground to nurture curiosity, creativity, excellence and interdependence in its students.


Coming Together

Imagine a class full of children teeming around their teacher excited to know what they are going to learn and explore on any particular day. In the morning, you will find children outside their classrooms ‘building relationships’ through games, stories, sharing, watching videos together, and reading the newspaper together. All the investment in the child because brain theory says that ‘I file when I feel better’. So, the pedagogy at Riverside put this common sense into common practice in this relationship-building process called Conglom. Conglom is a purposeful coming together of a grade to settle children’s anxieties, or settle differences, or help students bond with each other and the teacher, allowing them mental space to learn better. The spaces in the school are also designed in a manner that promotes interactions, group activities and transparency. Students feel comfortable and safe, which in turn leads to a culture in which everyone can focus solely on learning to learn.

High Expectations

Learning is possible because the onus is shifted to the student. Here one truly believes that ‘age has nothing to do with how competent one is’. Students of K1 have designed a birthday party for a peer, while Grade 10 Business Studies students launched a Christmas Product for Havmor — an ice-cream manufacturing unit — as part of their Business Challenge.

Apart from daily in-class dialogues or activities, which reinforce the relevance of any concept, children are given a lot of opportunities like client projects and personal projects, which provide learning that is embedded in real life 
and builds a lot of other skills along the way. For example, Grade 2 was offered 
a challenge to curate an audio tour for the Gandhi Ashram. This exercise provided for learning across history, math, 
mapping, budgeting, people skills, 
negotiating, meeting experts, accounting for time and its management, and using technology to record the audio tour. The school has increasingly seen that when relevance and relationship are strong then student interest and passion automatically follow. Meeting inspirational people, experts in the domain of what is being taught, and going through various experiences, makes the relevance of the concept clear to the students.

Design Thinking

As the day goes on, one gets to observe students taking charge of their learning. Leadership traits like creative thinking, problem solving and accountability with responsibility are nurtured when students use Design Thinking to solve day-to-day problems in their immediate environment. Students at Riverside co-created the student handbook with their teachers, while students of Grade 8 devised games, limericks and skits to educate students with simple strategies to keep the bathrooms from smelling. Thus, students who are the future torch bearers take ownership today of the issues that we all face every day but wait for our governments or parents to take care of. Providing them with opportunities to exercise their voice and choice, students at a very young age are developing the confidence and empowerment to say ‘I CAN’ instead of saying ‘CAN I?’.

Sharing Knowledge

Riverside prides itself on being a community of learners and cultivating a growth mindset in its ecosystem. The persistent practice of sharing, documenting and reflecting cultivates a growth mindset and hence a vibrant learning environment. People at all levels greedily grab opportunities for learning and growing in individual capacities from any source of inspiration and knowledge. A common belief seen in action at Riverside is: ‘knowledge is of no value unless shared’. While Monu Bhai, a Riverside bus driver, takes an opportunity to share his dancing talent to teach Bhangra to students and faculty, Roshan Ben from the support staff team holds a workshop to teach paper flower-making to the teachers. Teachers, after a full day of work, will often stay back to share their passion or subject knowledge to take skill-building or literacy sessions for parents of children from less-privileged backgrounds that fall under the Right to Education Act.

Equally visible is a disciplined practice of documentation. When good practices are documented they will become common practice. Because of this, many relationship-building processes and best classroom practices have become common practice at Riverside. Lastly but perhaps most importantly, Riverside practices reflection as a bridge between experience and learning. To encourage self-directed learning and metacognition, not only is every experience or session followed by reflection for students from a very young age, but also for any session with teachers or parents. Simply put, sharing, documenting, and reflecting seed the plant of growth mindset at Riverside, and has helped the school to make 
its journey visible to the world.

This article was originally published in The Learner 2017

Author: thelearnerbyquest

Quest Alliance's space for reflection on the education sector

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