STUDENTS, Create A Profile!

In an era of intense competition, students find it difficult to stand out, to stand apart. Its like each individual is lost in a maze of ‘sameness’, as if just another, among a bunch of red apples! The irony is that we are all unique, peculiar, wonderful individuals, despite which, we seem alike. So what can young people do, to communicate their ‘uncommonness’?

I always encourage people from middle school right up to college graduates to undertake a Profile Writing exercise. This is a simple little 250 to 300 word document where one talks about certain basic information about oneself – Name, School/College, Grade/Year. This is followed by stating 3 Areas of Interest/Passion. And then, really expanding on these 3 areas of interest by devoting the following 3 paragraphs of the profile to these interest-areas. One paragraph each for one interest, with details about Where, When, How, and Why that Interest first began. Any Achievements in that area. And any Learnings/Lessons/Realizations (about oneself or otherwise) during the course of experiencing/pursuing that particular passion. A concluding paragraph that talks about any Current Pursuit that the reader might find interesting, followed by a final sentence on Future Plans, which could be firm, or approximate.

While there may not be any immediate practical use/requirement for this kind of a write-up in a student’s curriculum; young people should view this more as an opportunity to Introspect and get to know themselves well. Undertaking the Profile Writing Exercise compels a student to dig deep, question oneself, and ultimately, know oneself better. It brings about clarity of thought, of purpose, and of a direction for the future. At a time when young students scarcely have time to breathe; this exercise forces them to pause, reflect and discover themselves – likes and dislikes, their learnings, and can provide a significant guidance in planning ahead.

Now to the matter I began this piece with – that it helps communicate a differentiated personality. When one is applying for colleges, or jobs post college, even though you may not be asked for a write-up such as this; supplying the reader/organization/college/company with a Profile of yourself will, in most scenarios, be appreciated. First, it will ‘humanize’ the student and provide a glimpse into the candidate as an actual person (rather than just another on-paper CV or Resume). Second, it will give genuine insight into the candidate as a unique individual. Both vital to communicating a winsome personality.

I strongly urge students to undertake this little exercise. And for this, I leave you with a SAMPLE Profile to get you started. All the best 🙂

SAMPLE PROFILE

I am Karan Malhotra and I currently study in grade 6 at the Asian World School. I would say that my three main interest areas are Swimming, Science, and Music.

When I was just seven years old, I told my father I wanted to learn to swim. He would complete the entire length of the swimming pool at Jaipur Club in no time, and that always amazed me. That summer my parents enrolled me in swimming classes and I learned how to swim. I learned an important lesson through swimming. I realized that to do well in anything in life, one has to work hard and be disciplined.

Science has always fascinated me. Like swimming, my passion for science developed at a very early age. When I was just five my parents got me this Doctor-Set game which I used to love playing. As I grew older, I watched many videos on channels like National Geographic and Discovery which made me even more curious about science. At school, I always take part in the science-related activities and enjoy doing experiments and building things. It is one subject I think I will want to study for a long time to come.

My parents and my grandparents love music. I too developed a keen interest in music and my parents got me a great guitar instructor with whom I soon learned many melodies. This talent was appreciated by my music teachers at school as well and I am a proud member of the school orchestra. Listening and playing music makes me feel calm an inspired.

These days, I am really working on a Solar Powered Rocket for a Science Exhibition. I hope to become a Scientist working in Aeronautics in the future, while still continuing my swimming & music as hobbies.

A Confident Communicator

We live in a complex, competitive world. A world where it has become immensely difficult to be noticed, and to stand out. For an entire generation of young students in senior school, busy preparing for their exams, applying to colleges, and charting out the future course of their lives; it is imperative that they find a way of distinguishing themselves from their peers. But how do they do that? Especially when a vast number of their contemporaries have similar or better grades meaning they are as academically accomplished; they have more compelling sporting and co-curricular accolades!

Really, the ONLY way then, is a student coming across as Confident. In his or her Public Presentation, that individual is able to create an impression of a Self Assured, Well Spoken, Aware, Driven, Sensitive, and Confident person. This ALONE, can be the difference between imminent success and abject failure. In today’s working-world, be it in one’s own business/work or in the professional realm; young candidates MUST come across as CONVINCING. Their Outward Personalities must neither contradict, nor fall short of their on-paper records. They must PROJECT & EXUDE Polish.

This plain yet vital truth is something I have been trying to make students as well as parents aware of through the past half-decade I’ve been teaching. The ABSOLUTE non-negotiable importance of a student cutting a first rate Public Persona & Image. And I am pleased to share that a many parents have seen sense and logic in my campaign and entrusted their wards to my care and tutelage – a responsibility I take extremely seriously. The results are plain to see in the form of many testimonials from my students on my website and my other social media platforms.

Very shortly, I will be able to announce a round-the-year Program where High School Students will have a chance to interact with me in Batches over the Weekends where I will focus on making them Effective & Confident Communicators – both in terms of Written as well as Spoken/Verbal/Oral Communication that will groom and prepare them to take on a slew of real-world (public) situations where they will need to present the best possible versions of themselves.

Through several activities and exercises including and not limited to Speech-Making, Interviewing Skills, Conversation-Making; the idea of this continuing-workshop will be to make students understand the importance of Public Image and give them the TOOLS to present themselves like WINNERS.

The world is a superficial place. There is no point brushing that under the rug. And in order to compete and succeed, it is NOT enough for students to achieve, just on-paper. They must come across, as such. As Confident Achievers.

That Funny Feeling…

Like Coffee-Mug rings at the table

Wishing never to break the pattern

Without explanation, beyond logic, it happenes…

That funny feeling presented itself to me, unannounced, unplanned for, uninhibited, with little warning, for a third time, some fifteen years ago. If you feel you have a choice, you probably DO. If you are compelled to act, then you KNOW. The magnetic pull of the feeling is undeniable. It jostles for every ounce of your attention, vying for every second of each minute.

You know how, when you turn on the shower in winter-time, and the water from the water-heater usurps the ‘cold’ portion of your tap? The feeling is like that. All consuming. You know how when you need to write an exam that you’re not prepared for and your mind is clogged with no other thoughts? The feeling is like that. Omnipresent. You know how, at the first hint of monsoon rain, the peacocks don’t stop dancing? The feeling is like that. All pervasive.

A delectable feast with contrasting flavors, rich textures, layered nuance and though surprising, challenging even in the beginning, ultimately, completely, absolutely satisfying. Satiating a soul that you realize later, hungered for something that wasn’t quite known, wasn’t very clear, wasn’t  clearly defined.

That funny feeling came to me some fifteen years ago, and hasn’t left me, even since 🙂

You’ve Got Mail!

In many of my writing classes and workshops, I take a dedicated session on email etiquette. This surprises people. It shouldn’t. Because just as we all learned formal and informal letter writing at school; email being the modern letter, we ought to know HOW and WHAT to write in one, and what NOT to do. Especially since emails are now admissible in a court of law as evidence, we must be even more cautious and keep everything ‘on record’. So here I’d like to share a little piece on email etiquette that will hopefully standardize the process for you, and help you write polite, succinct, globally accepted emails.

You’ve Got Mail!

Each time that little bell rings, we spring up and take notice. I’m not talking about the doorbell! In our largely virtual worlds, I’m talking about the phone notification chime. Even though it will most likely be a mundane email from someone who has been incessantly following up on a favour we do not want to extend – just like in real life, we ought not to be rude as web citizens either. And so, it is important to adhere to certain email etiquette. A set of unsaid rules that is generally considered, the world over, as a basic code of virtual-conduct. Be it personal, or especially professional email communication, many of us, perhaps for little fault of ours, forget those fundamental niceties.

For starters, it is nice to make time to respond to emails. One can appreciate the sheer numbers with which our inboxes are inundated. But if we plan just a tad bit better and set aside that half hour to skim through our email accounts, regularly; not only will you alleviate the ‘1000 unread emails’ situation but also not offend the many people who would have assumed that you’ve given them the royal snub!

Second, greetings and salutations that seem to cause much confusion can be simplified to a great extent. Ending emails with a simple ‘best’, followed by your name is globally accepted and perfectly fine. Similarly, to start emails with Dear, even if it is official email, is legitimate. If one needs to be formal, one can always say ‘Dear Mr.X’

Third, reply, no matter what. Lets say you get an email requesting you to speak at a function. You know already for a number of reasons, you cannot, or do not want to accept the invitation. Reply. And be courteous. It never hurt to thank someone. Or to express gratitude. If you were to reply saying “I am most grateful that you thought of me to speak at your event. I regrettably have to decline due to prior commitments.” These two short sentences that will have taken you a minute to write, will leave a wonderful impression in the minds of the person/organization that reached out to you, despite your turning them down.

Fourth, complete the communication loop. This time, let us say that you have written to someone asking for something. To your son’s principal for extra holidays on account of an extended family vacation that is planned. Even if the principal’s reply is curt and declines your request, and inside you are fuming; it will only do good for you to say “Thank you for considering my request and responding. I appreciate your having taken the time.” Not only will this dissipate your own anger, it will set a great example of your familial values to the principal, and in turn, hold your son in good stead at school.

Last, avoid using upper-case/capital letters. This is considered ANGER! It’s really that simple! It is applying all the spoken courtesies that we so regularly exercise in our everyday lives while interacting with the world, that need to be briefly translated into a few kind words of response over emails. The world will be a better place for it. You will not be nearly as annoyed when you hear that notification, because keeping up with your email communication in the proper etiquette will ensure that ‘you’ve got mail’, is never bothersome again! Besides, isn’t it time we started collecting some good karma online as well?

Education’s Planned Murder!

Life is a series of unexpected events, mostly out of our control. Similarly, love is an instinctive, indefinable emotion that strikes us, unannounced. How and why then, can learning, and teaching, NOT be spontaneous?

As a teacher and educator, I’m certain I’ll ruffle a good few feathers with this post. But then my own education has always compelled me to speak my mind. I’d joined a school briefly as a teacher in Bombay. Then I joined a school back home in Jaipur as well. Both those experiences, maybe not personally but certainly through my interaction and observation of the ‘modern’ schooling system, the teachers, and the students, left me a little disillusioned. Why? Because a vast majority of a teacher’s time, effort and energy seems to be devoted to obsessive planning, pre-planning and administrative work – leaving the educator little or no will,  excitement, enthusiasm, to actually TEACH, and god forbid, INSPIRE any kind of DISCOVERY

Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly. These are the different categories of Lesson Plans that teachers are required to submit to the school administration, in ADVANCE! Depending on the board and the school, these lesson plans need to be detailed to the minutest possible degree, including for instance, what ‘examples’ a teacher will use in class to illustrate a specific point of a particular lesson! I appreciate the need and merit in planning, I really do. But the way we were taught at school was a whole lot more on-the-fly. And I mean that in the most positive sense possible. No two students are alike. No two teachers are alike. The way a students responds to a particular teacher, to an example, to stimuli, to a methodology of teaching – varies vastly. There are too many dynamic variables for this to be standardized. Besides, where’s the element of surprise, or fun, or creativity then? If our students are taught like they’re characters in a circus, then not only will the teacher be perceived as the proverbial ‘ring master’, the subject too will be despised, forever!

This profuse planning, to my mind, is killing the very essence and joy of invention, self-discovery, visceral education. We are, as a result, creating clones. An army of dull, brainwashed robots that might go on to secure decently paying jobs – but will have little else to contribute, to society, and more importantly, to themselves and to their own lives.

Individuality, peculiarity, specialty, uniqueness, evolution, realization, actualization – these are concepts that I’m afraid we are KILLING at the very onset of a child’s educational experience. While schools proclaim ‘experiential’ and ‘experimental’ learning in their large banners and social media brochures; what they offer, by and large, is a thoroughly mundane, thought-thwarting curriculum where both teacher and student are merely going through the motions, waiting anxiously for that school bell to sound, so they can escape the drudgery that the otherwise exciting, invigorating, school-day has become.

 Are we going to give our young generations to come this thoughtless a sense of self?

 

A ‘Brand’ New World!

Someone famous said – “your brand is what other people say about you when you are not in the room”

In my modest opinion, I couldn’t agree more. Be it a company or an individual, a Brand Identity far far extends a nice looking Logo and a cool sounding Tag Line. A Brand is a living, breathing, human entity that has a personality, traits that people have strong opinions on,  attributes that are admired, slip ups that are remembered and begrudged.

Especially in a world where we are today, 360*, bombarded by information, vying for a split second of our attention, it is NOT enough to JUST be noticed. Sure, that much your ‘outward’ appearance will get you. But there must be deeper substance, and that substance ONLY comes from 2 things – knowing your Target Audience and making a Genuine Connection with them!

This is no tirade against design. Don’t get me wrong. Design is of paramount importance. But many amateurs, branding services professionals, as well as Clients, tend to focus overtly on Design, the more important ‘meat’ of the Brand Development process, therefore gets sidelined. What should emerge ideally from a thorough Branding Exercise upon an in-depth study and scrutiny of the Target Audience and identifying a GAP in the market-segment (of the concerned product or service) should form the basis of the design and communication. Instead, it becomes the opposite. Invariably, the client, an individual like you or I, comes upon a ‘cool’ name and falls in love with it. There, all logic goes to hell. Relevance to the Product Category, the intended Target Audience, its deeper meaning and connotations, all takes a backseat. And the ‘cool’ sounding brand is birthed, in most cases, to meet its untimely sudden demise, leaving the proprietor wondering, “what the hell happened?”

What happened was simply, no THOUGHT! Branding needs research, focus, logic, and most importantly, a true human-connect to endure, and be endearing. Its a ‘Brand’ New World, and our Brands, need to make a Deep Impact!

Instant Education, Instant Results!

Was a time when education meant learning by observation. By a process of automatic osmosis. By simply being around, and interacting with teachers who weren’t just experts of their respective subjects, but also, were individuals who had amassed a certain worldly wisdom, and at least one ‘x’ factor skill, that one imbibed, by default. That may have been a math teacher’s love of cricket, an economics teacher’s dressing sense, or a headmaster’s way of talking.

I share this background because I find today, too often, that young parents, inundated perhaps by a world of ‘instant gratification’, expect the same of their children’s’ education. Be it at school, or at an external ‘hobby class’; the teaching MUST have a pre-determined PLAN, the lessons be taught quickly and efficiently, and the results be tangible, visible, quantifiable, and relevant in the present to absolute near-future.

I for one find that a bit disconcerting. Why? Because in my view, it has stolen the joy of learning, of discovery, or happy accidents, and of any covert skills that might be developed, that will, in absolute certainty, be invaluable to the pupil years on. But then if we rob our students of any kind of ‘playful’ learning, of a chance to interact with teachers, and of programs where there is no ‘definite goal’ but more abstract exploration of likes, dislikes, passions, sensitization – how do we expect to end up with free-thinking, individualistic young men and women? Are we then not just producing an army of clones, all of whom have been to the same school, been brainwashed into the same morality and definition of ambition?

Was a time when we loved school. Was a time when we loved our teachers. Was a time when we felt like learning…

What Qualifies Someone To Teach?

In India, in order to teach, a B Ed Degree is mandatory. I present to you, with no disrespect intended to the millions of teachers who have secured their B Ed Degrees, an alternate scenario. One where, in my limited experience, the engagement, enthusiasm, participation and learning of a class of pupils, has little or nothing to do with the teacher’s ‘qualification’. I teach from Primary School all the way up to College and beyond. And I have found that EFFECTIVE teaching demands a few KEY elements…

  1. Earning Trust – For a teacher to earn the trust of a class, is vital. But this has two big prerequisites. One, that the teacher student relationship be given TIME to develop. Two, that the relationship itself, CAN NOT be based on FEAR. There will be NO trust building in that case. There is a fine line between FEAR and RESPECT. And I believe it can be maintained.
  2. Entertaining Education – We live in a world where students have access to an array of ‘instant entertainment’ – be it youtube, online games, social media sites/platforms; all on their cell phones. THIS is what teachers are competing against. So in order to ENGAGE students, a TEACHER must be an ENTERTAINER, a PERFORMER.
  3. Cultural Context, Similarities – In order to ‘connect’ with students, teachers should be able to ‘speak their language’ – literally, metaphorically, culturally. Unfortunately, because of how most of our society is structured, our teachers and students belong to completely contrasting universes. So where then, can be the commonality? How many teachers will be able to have a chat with a student about Bieber? How many students, will be able to identify with a teacher’s last family holiday?
  4. Respect Students – Respect can not be demanded. And it is certainly not one-way. A teacher today is living a fallacy if he/she thinks that the teacher is some beacon of knowledge and the students are empty vessels. A teacher HAS to respect a student intellectually and individually. I learn everyday from each student of mine. But if a teacher is closed-off to that notion, chances are there will be very little engagement.

I have been teaching for not TOO long now. But I have made some observations that have been corroborated time and again. That a teacher NEEDS to know about what he or she is teaching, and along with that, know the students’ world. And in that world, no B Ed is required!

Write Right – Myths About Writing!

Writing… That holy grail of creative pursuits and self-expression that to most, is scary, unattainable,  insurmountable. While I am not claiming that it is easy, what I do want to share with all of you, is that the REASONS a lot of us assume it is IMPOSSIBLE, are WRONG!

When I teach Writing, be it at a school, a college, an independent workshop or at home to an individual student; I often come across certain perceptions that have taken hold, and are difficult to shake-off. So to all you budding writers out there, here is my list of MYTHS & MISCONCEPTIONS about ‘effective writing’

  1. NO FANCY LANGUAGE is NEEDED – There is a common misconception that in order to write a compelling, engaging piece of fiction (especially), one needs to be some kind of Language Pandit. UNTRUE. The point of good writing is not to use big, flowery words. Sure, it helps to have a wider vocabulary at one’s disposal rather than the alternative. Having said that, it is NOT necessary. Many amateur writers become unnecessarily ‘language-lavish’, which, rather than serving the purpose of the story, draws attention and focus away from it!
  2. DEGREE IN LITERATURE – Similar to the earlier point; many people seem to believe that one has to have ‘studied’ the subject (language), in order to write. Sometimes this is also interpreted in a way where people believe that one MUST have ‘read’ lots, to write. Both are UNTRUE again. Sure, reading helps. But like a dear author friend of mine always says, reading too much, cramps his originality!
  3. NOTHING INTERESTING HAPPENS AROUND ME – In other words, people feel they do not have an engaging enough PLOT; perhaps not realizing that if we were to really analyze a book, a film, a story that we really liked, we will come to the realization that it wasn’t the ‘action’ or the ‘events’ that got us hooked on to that story but rather its primary CHARACTER/CHARACTERS. Great stories are much less about what’s going on ‘outside’, much more about what is going on ‘inside’ a PERSON.

The Skill-Set that is required to become a good writer are completely different from what we tend to assume. And the good news is, with a little discipline, ANYONE can learn them. In an age where everywhere is going visual and there is less and less ‘written word’, a romantic like I can only hope that we as a society do not let the endless creative possibilities and the resultant joy that writing provides, become extinct. Because while a picture might be worth a thousand words, those thousand words are able to ‘paint’ the picture; and that has immense value!