This month’s Character Educator in Focus is Bindu Rai. Bindu serves as Headteacher of Hindu faith school, Krishna Avanti Primary School, in Edgware. The School is part of the Avanti Schools Trust. Bindu has been teaching for 28 years in a variety of school settings within the London boroughs of Newham, Brent and Harrow. In the various settings she has worked in, Bindu has derived most satisfaction from being able to make a difference to the local community. Bindu’s fundamental principle is about building trusting, synergistic relationships between teachers and students. Bindu believes this dynamic creates a positive environment for effective learning to take place. Within this blog, Bindu reflects on character education at Krishna Avanti Primary and its role during the recent pandemic.
Character education at Krishna Avanti Primary
Within our Hindu faith school, we actively promote values, virtues and ethics that shape students’ character and moral perspective, through honouring the teachings of Lord Krishna Chaitanya and those who have gone before us. The faith is at the heart of the curriculum and pervades through the three pillars of Educational Excellence, Character Formation and Spiritual Insight. Incorporating the framework of the National Curriculum, we provide a broad and balanced curriculum. Our curriculum includes sanskrit, yoga, meditation, philosophy and ethics. The golden thread which permeates our teaching is a character and virtues led approach. At the centre are the Avanti six core universal values: courage, integrity, gratitude, respect, self-discipline and empathy.
The partnership and link that we have developed with The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues has aided in our character education approach. A group of senior and middle leaders participated in quality professional development over 12 weeks using the Centre’s Leading Character Education in Schools CPD Programme. Leaders have since shared their valuable learning with their peer colleagues. The interest in character education provided an excellent opportunity to reinvigorate the conversation about the kind of people we aspire to be, the kind of world we aspire to create and, therefore, the kind of education we aspire to provide.
Through philosophy, religion and ethical debate students are guided to be mindful of how our choices and actions impact upon the world around us, including all living beings. Student voice and leadership activities such as conservation and stewardship support the development of the mind and spirit leading to growing wisdom to change lives for the better. Furthermore, intellectual curiosity is encouraged so that learners, are motivated and inspired to explore the bigger questions of life, which they apply to their daily lives. This has been evident recently, where the pandemic brought significant changes to our daily practice.
The Impact of Covid-19
The extent to which our students can flourish has been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. We noticed that students returning in September had varied social and emotional wellbeing and mental health needs which were dependent on their experiences of lockdown. Students experienced personal loss and immense change. As such we introduced a recovery curriculum to support a smooth and seamless transition and integration. The curriculum was adapted to support and accommodate the needs of students who experienced a considerable period of time out of the classroom and missed out on the development of characteristics of learning. Our recovery co-constructed curriculum enabled students to develop independence and self-awareness of their personal connection with our faith.
To unite the students after such a long time we used an effective teaching approach that had been successfully used before. This involved carefully selecting one book with relevant themes which allowed educators and students the opportunity to read, explore and write together. We used a thought-provoking book, ‘After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again’ by Dan Santat. The book was accessible for all age groups and educators and facilitated sophisticated discussion, at an appropriate level, about wellbeing, determination, a growth mindset, resilience and courage. During our exploration, students proudly invented the motto; #WEARECONQUERORS! demonstrating adaptability and strength of character to overcome obstacles that they had encountered in the previous six months.
We want students to thrive in an ever-changing and demanding society. It is important to encourage and create opportunities to review, reflect and have agency. Embracing character education enables them to be influencers, advocating and driving change for a more cohesive, tolerant world.