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We are not an alternative school.
We are the alternative to schooling.

Dreaming your way to personalized learning

NR

Nandini Ramesh

May 14, 2020

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The choices we make greatly define the experiences we will have in our lifetimes - the people we meet, the things they will teach us and the opportunities we have to make a difference in the world. Have you ever wondered what your life would be like if you made different choices, when you came to crucial junctures in your life? You aren’t alone. From the many conversations I have had with young and old adults, I find that the mystical ‘what if’ question is all too common. It is a question that leaves some feeling grateful for where they are in their lives, and most wishful for could have been.

Imagine a scenario where you are at one such crossroad. What if we all had someone to listen to our thought processes and help us make important life choices, rather than relying solely on past experiences and hearsay? What if that someone leads you along the path you choose to realize your fondest dreams. What if those dreams are made visible and relayed to you? What if the people around you take those dreams as serious goals to work towards?

While personal dreamcatchers in human form who are invested in the pursuit of your life goals sound too good to be true, they do exist. As one of them myself, it excites me to think what a wonderful place the world would be when young people’s dreams come true. We would set ourselves up for a happier generation of children, whose content minds heal the world. So what is stopping us, then?

Are we too afraid to let our learners dream?

One of the first crossroads that an individual encounters in life is at the beginning of high school. The common belief our society holds on education is that it equips us for a profession. Young adults are provided with a small and finite set of subjects to pick from, that put them on a very constricted path to the job market. High school years fly past with students striving to achieve the most coveted spots for University admissions or jobs, quietly checking off boxes of the implicit expectations that their families have of them. A large part of the young teenager’s identity is built from the validation (or the lack of) received from making a choice - and not from the choice itself. This is perhaps the most cruel way to invalidate a young learner’s dream and individual voice, leaving them with no confidence or agency.

Learning is a highly personal act and cannot be ‘provided’; it occurs when sought. Seeking happens when there is a dream and therefore, our young ones must be allowed to have these unbridled dreams as part of their learning. It simply cannot be replaced by the top-down experiences, ideas and prejudices of educators.

dream-mapping

Exploring Dream Mapping

Ideally the learning journey for every young adult should begin with the Dream Mapping process, an adaptation of the Personal Futures Planning incepted at John Hopkins University. (The process has been meticulously designed by Ms. Ramalakshmi, Head of Special Education, HLC International School and Chief Convener, Elina .) This process is significantly different from templated psychometric tests and career counselling talks, as it focuses on the life experiences that the adolescents look forward to rather than to only take a view of what profession one can aspire for. In an intimate conversation with individual learners and their respective families, we encourage the learners to share their interests, strengths and values. This conversation further lends itself to the learners projecting a vision of how they see themselves building the future lives they dream of.

In the next step, we unfold these dreams to create a tangible roadmap because viewing a conversation as a visual automatically brings about a sense of reality into the dream. The team that led the preliminary conversation analyses the background information captured and maps them in logical placeholders and later into essential, broad development areas. These are further elucidated to present the knowledge, skills and attitudes to be developed. The most appealing bit here is that there is no room for judgment or evaluation of the learner’s current traits and abilities. The actionables that emerge from these are authentic, indisputable and most importantly essential in the learner’s view.

When learners look at their own unpacked dreams, they are wide-eyed. One of them even shared that she did not realize that there was so much she had been seeking and that due to this process, she sees the need to learn and grow and not just work her way through exams! Learners who have aspirations in sports, arts and other non-academic domains are able to approach their learning with a renewed sense of purpose. The subsequent choices made by the learners reflect a sense of innate interest and purpose rather than popular conformance.

Making it personal

Dream Mapping is designed to be sensitive to the individual’s values, tastes and strengths. The underpinning philosophy is that every individual must embark on a journey in pursuit of their Ikigai. Many insights have emerged from the Dream Mapping sessions that we have engaged in with each of our learners:

  • They display a resurgence of faith in themselves, owing to the memories, accomplishments and aspirations that have been shared and acknowledged by their parents and facilitators.
  • They look forward to the learning journey and creating personal milestones.
  • There is a significant spike in empathy in the minds of the parents and facilitators for the learner and his or her wishes.

Though parents live in the same home as their teens, it takes conversations like these to really be on the same page with regard to life goals. A lot of these parents have shared that Dream Mapping has in fact, put their own prejudices to rest, to a great extent. This is the first step for us as a society to be more respectful and accepting of our children’s choices. What makes this exercise so rewarding for families is the realization that this exciting future life is only a step away, provided there is reliable guidance.

The gift that keeps giving

As a facilitator, the most fulfilling part of my work is when I see learners in their new-found enthusiasm after Dream Mapping. It is almost as if they speak a different language as they introduce and identify themselves through their passions and dreams. Not only do they stop second-guessing themselves, they also respect and applaud the goals of their peers. Each learner takes charge of their own unique learning plan and there has been no effort from our end to hold them to their commitments. There has so far been no attempt from them to seek the comfort of more learners doing the same thing. Even when there are common learning experiences, these young adults are aware of how their takeaways will most likely differ in the way that it will lend to their development. Learning is finally a collective, yet personal experience, thanks to dreaming aloud!

We are not an alternative school.
We are the alternative to schooling.

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