Cover Image
close this bookCase Study Research - A Model of Best Practice at Loreto Day School, Sealdah, Calcutta - Occasional paper No.1 (DFID, 1998, 36 p.)
close this folder4. Best Practice
View the document4.1. Reflections on 'best practice'
View the document4.2. A Set of 'Best Practice' Criteria Arising from a Study of Loreto Sealdah
Open this folder and view contents4.3. Characteristics of Best Practice at Loreto Sealdah
View the document4.4. Towards a Model of Best Practice

4.1. Reflections on 'best practice'

The orthodox literature on 'best practice' identifies excellent schools as those whose notable achievements include academic progress, the development of sound personal and social values, quality relationships between pupils and teachers, achievements in the sporting or cultural arenas, good resourcing, and the constant search to lead the way in education by striving to improve performance in all of these areas (DES, 1977; Gray and Wilcox, 1995). Beyond these performance indicators are crucial dimensions related to a school "knowing where it is going and what it is about", that is, having a visible and explicit ideology or overarching goal which is understood by all and becomes part of the collective will of the school (Gray & Wilcox, 1995, p. 19; Handy & Aitken, 1986, p. 17; Rudduck, 1991). The more powerful the goal in terms of its larger significance, its ability to challenge while still being feasible, the more it will galvanise school members in quest of its attainment (Bradford & Cohen, 1984, cited in Handy & Aitken, 1986). In the literature on education in the developing world, 'best practice' is often defined as a 'quality' issue, where the fundamentals relate to efficiency (making better use of available resources); relevance to the needs and context of learners, and what has been described as something more, that is, the indefinable of taking education beyond efficiency and relevance into the realm of values (Hawes and Stephens, 1990, p. 22).

Alternative perspectives on 'best practice' tend to draw a closer relationship between schooling and society, and implicitly ask the question: What is education for? The very notion of schooling as a taken-for-granted exercise, somehow delinked from the bigger issues of society like democracy, freedom, equality and human rights or conversely, exploitation, oppression, and inequality is questioned by these analyses (Postman and Weingartner, 1969; Freire, 1972; Meier, 1995). In searching for a model of 'best practice' which embraces both the quality issues of the nineties in the form of good academic results and personal/social development, as well as the critical human rights issues of the day, one is looking for a model that brings together equity and quality, rather than making them mutually exclusive 6.

6 "...to dichotomise equity and quality is a massive abuse of truth", Meier (1995, p. 67).

What is unique about Loreto Sealdah is its ability to straddle these two forms of 'best practice' simultaneously. The school measures well against conventional criteria such as the academic results in the West Bengal Exam Board public examinations, where more than 50% of Year XII pupils attain a first class pass annually, while a proactive concern for social justice is the keystone of the school programme. Even more interesting is the school's ability to defy the logic that social class really counts in the success or failure of a school (Bernstein, 1971, 1973; 1975; Meier, 1995, p. 97). The question for the researcher interested in good practice must be how the school is able to ensure good academic standards with a non-selective intake and a non-competitive ideology. What is distinctive about the values, the school ethos, the teaching and learning, the teachers, the learning materials, and the culture of the school that promotes learning in spite of its flouting conventional selection and social class norms?

It is to these questions that the next section will turn.

4.2. A Set of 'Best Practice' Criteria Arising from a Study of Loreto Sealdah

Evidence collected at Loreto Sealdah points to several principles and practices in the school's functioning which contribute to its standing as an exemplary school. 7 Out of these principles and practices, six criteria of best practice have been devised, which may be applied to other contexts. These are not independent criteria, but rather represent an interpretation of the data collected from Loreto Sealdah and secondary sources on best practice. The six criteria are phrased below as questions:

· Is the teaching and learning stimulating, motivating and challenging?

· Is the curriculum appropriate to the needs and context of learners?

· Are the resources used imaginatively and to best capacity?

· Are the relationships between all the members of the school community open, productive and relatively happy?

· Does the school make explicit the values upon which the entire educational process is based, thereby contributing to a shared vision and purpose?

· Does the school make a contribution to society which is beyond the norm?

7 These are expanded upon in the following section (4.3).

While a detailed examination of each of these criteria in relation to Loreto Sealdah is beyond the scope of this small-scale research project, it is worth recording brief observations about the criteria. The following table suggests how the criteria have arisen from research data collected at the school:

Six Criteria of Best Practice

Criteria

Research Data

Teaching and Learning

Primary school uses an activity-centred pedagogy and local resources. A variety of methodologies are used across the school. Pupils appear to be stimulated and engaged. Child-to-child tutoring in rainbow and rural projects encourages reflection on teaching methods. The context of learning is stimulating, with the use of extensive display work. Good results achieved in public examinations. Pupils are challenged to understand social, economic and political issues of the day.

Curriculum

Life skills education (banking, crafts, vocational, personal and social development) is highly developed, as is value education. Relevant community, regional and national needs are integrated into the curriculum, which is also responsive to the experiences and resources that children bring from home or the streets. The curriculum exposes pupils to a breadth of life experience.

Resources

There is a creative, multi-use of resources, for example, a roof terrace converted into a school for rainbow children is also used as a night shelter and wash-room; a covered porch is used as the school hall, a dance classroom, an after hours TV room, and a blood bank for donors; the playground houses Calcutta Rescue ambulances; regular pupils are used as a teaching resource in rainbow, rural and Sealdah Railway Station Platform school.

Relationships

There is a regular principal-parent newsletter. High levels of transparency exist between principal, staff, parents, and pupils. Authority is dispersed ensuring greater freedom and responsibility for teachers, administrators and pupils. The school atmosphere is one of sharing, trust and celebration.

Values

There is an explicit programme of value education for pupils and value-related workshops are conducted with staff. The statement of the three key values occurs in newsletters and public assemblies. The school community appears to share a common purpose and sense of direction, based on experience, the development of spirituality, and value education.

Beyond the norm

There is a successful integration of middle class and poor children. The school emphasises a rights culture, social justice and the option for the poor, and stands against materialism. Pupils are exposed to, and in relationship with the poor. The structure and purpose of formal schooling is redefined. Co-operative values appear to triumph over competition.

(introduction...)

A second way of analysing best practice in the school is through distilling particular characteristics which a school exhibits. The advantage of this approach is that it begins to construct an explanatory basis for good practice. If the characteristics Loreto Sealdah exhibits in its daily life and functioning contribute to best practice, then the identification of these characteristics begins to construct a possible model which may be adapted to other settings. In this section, each characteristic will be discussed in turn, with an attempt to build up a chain of evidence from various data sources. Finally, these characteristics will be represented in a summary diagram.

4.3.1. Shared Vision

A manifestation of best practice is the extent to which stakeholders within a school understand and share a common vision. There are a number of factors which contribute to a shared vision at Loreto Sealdah, not least the fact that the school's ideology is visible and explicit - flexibility and simplicity in service of community. The vision is undergirded by a belief in the value of human life and its profound spiritual significance. Value education for pupils, staff transformation workshops, public assemblies and newsletters to parents all contribute to the construction of this shared vision. Most significantly, the practice of the school in its programmes of outreach makes visible and tangible this vision, and engages the commitment of the school community. At the same time, the extent to which it is co-owned and experienced by different stakeholders allows the vision a dynamic quality, and it therefore escapes the peril of becoming a dogma. Within the shared vision there appears to be a freedom to critique, to reflect, to refine and to re-invent according to the vision-as-it-is-experienced.

One of the marks of a shared vision is the passionate commitment of key stakeholders to it. So one has statements of intent from the co-ordinator of the Rainbow School: "I'm excited about it, I'm thoroughly involved in it - it fires me up. I would kill anyone who put a stop to it, I'd kill to keep it going. That's me." At the same time, passion is tempered by reflection: "There is sometimes a loss of faith among children who teach. They need affirmation that what they are doing is significant. Is it really working? Is it really worthwhile? Does it make a difference to the quality of life of these [street]-children?" (Ms N. Bir, Co-ordinator: Rainbow Programme, Interview, March 1998). Similarly, the Barefoot Teacher Training Co-ordinator asks the question: "Why can't we reach out further? Can I go and teach in a state, train teachers, touch millions - touch as many children as possible?" Yet the vision has also been tempered by the making of mistakes, and refined as a result: "My first training programme was such a flop... I learnt so much from these people and some of them are so creative" (Ms L. Gomez, Coordinator: BTTP, Interview, March 1998).

The principal of the school acknowledges that passionate leadership is an essential ingredient of radical transformation: "[it is essential] to have a principal who believes PASSIONATELY in justice and equality and is prepared to take the necessary steps to bring them about" (Sr Cyril, 1997, p. 103). Passion is seen in what she describes as a "sense of outrage" at the unequal life chances of Indian children: "I mean nobody's bothered and as I say there's no public outrage and outcry" (Interview, March 1998). The product of passion is action:" The principal told the parents: "If I can make Mathematics compulsory, I can also make compassion compulsory" (The Telegraph, 1993, p. 11).

Passion spawns a 'can-do' attitude among teachers, administrators, parents and pupils alike. The confidence of pupils that they can make a contribution is seen in their taking ownership of the programmes of which they are a part. While they acknowledge that they are "proud" of Sr Cyril and the school, they affirm that they are not teaching rainbow children out of compulsion: "it's not like she tells us to do it... we want to help other people, and allow children on the streets to get a chance to achieve" (Class 7 Pink, Taped Discussion, March 1998). Similarly, an administrator expressed her claim to the vision: "You will see tomorrow when Sr Cyril is away, how the school carries on, because we all believe in it... it is not dependent on her being here." The 'can-do' attitude of staff extends to the stretching of resources way beyond their conventional capacities. Creative imagination turns buildings into endless possibilities for fulfilling the shared vision of the school: "What we can do with the kind of facilities we have is endless, just endless" (Sr Cyril, Interview, March 1998)

Clearly, a shared vision does not come about without passionate leadership, a sense of ownership, the development of shared core values, and the encouragement of personal investment in aspects of the school life. A shared vision presupposes a level of responsibility and freedom being devolved to members of the school community, and the ability to allow the vision to develop, grow and be redefined in the light of experience. Nurturing a shared vision also requires time and attention to relationships within a school community. In this case, many of the programmes which exhibit the vision have taken years to evolve.

There are also practical dimensions which contribute to the fulfilment of a shared vision. For example, the ideal of teaching streetchildren has been realised through a major reorganisation of the school timetable to enable regular pupils to be present for the child-to-child teaching. Work Education periods have been used to this end. Similarly, staffing has needed to be adjusted to accommodate the vision in the case of the BTTP, the Rural Village Programme, the Rainbow School and other school projects. For the vision to be translated into reality, these practical mechanisms have had to be devised in a flexible and enabling way. Beyond this, has been the necessity for a certain baseline of resourcing which keeps the school functioning while at the same time extending the parameters of schooling beyond the purely academic.

4.3.2. Freedom and Responsibility

A second manifestation of best practice at Loreto Sealdah is linked to the high levels of freedom and responsibility granted to members of the school community. On the one hand, a context of trust and good faith has been created whereby administrators, teachers and pupils are given the freedom to take action and make decisions, while on the other a climate of accountability and expectation exists within which freedom is exercised. The exercise of freedom and responsibility is a powerful capacity-building tool, as staff members in particular are given greater and greater opportunities to use their initiative and develop their leadership potential. This also encourages risk-taking, the making of mistakes, and a certain fearlessness among the staff. The result is that authority is dispersed and delegated through the school organisation, in a way which allows it to function in a relatively democratic way. While to some extent the exercise of freedom and responsibility has issued out of Sr Cyril's leadership style, it is also the serendipitous product of her outside commitments as a result of Loreto Sealdah's reputation as an outstanding school. 8

8 Loreto Sealdah was the recipient of the UNESCO NOMA prize for spreading literacy in 1994. Sr Cyril is regularly called upon to speak at international conferences, to deliver workshops on values education and staff transformation nationally, and to contribute to national and regional policy fora.

Sr Cyril sums up her leadership style in response to a question about the 'can-do' attitude of staff members:

"First of all, everybody is left alone. I don't see my role as being a policeman for checking... everybody's expected to be professionally competent and professionally ethical so that they will do their work without supervision... how can they train the girls in the proper use of freedom if they are like glorified schoolgirls - at the same time I have certain checks and balances whereby I know what they're doing... in an atmosphere like this they themselves will come [to me]. (Sr Cyril, Interview, March 1998).

Teaching staff are viewed as having leadership potential, so that "the general feeling is that anyone on the staff could be a vice-principal -they all have that capacity". At the moment there is no vice-principal at the school, and instead there is a reliance on co-ordinators to perform key leadership functions. In view of Sr. Cyril's absences from the school, she feels that staff are "taking more and more things into their own hands... not in the wrong sense...but in taking responsibility". Decision-making is encouraged in preference to inertia: "whether it's right or wrong, take the decision" (ibid.), she encourages the staff.

The recruitment of staff supports the exercise of freedom and responsibility. In recruiting new members, Sr Cyril looks for flexibility, "a certain kind of intellectual freedom, a capacity to think critically", and initiative: "I don't want to recruit 'yes people', who just simply say "Yes, Sister, Yes, Sister" and who sit tight till they're told what to do - I look for initiative also - you know, so that people can do something without constantly having to be programmed" (ibid.).

The dispersal of authority and delegation of responsibility permeates key areas of the institution. In the Rainbow School, for example, regular pupils tell the co-ordinator when they feel she is wrong about a particular pupil's learning programme: "...they're almost operating as colleagues - yes, they are colleagues". Part of the vision is the empowerment of the regular pupils to take the reins of the school: "I would like there to be a day when the children themselves run it, and I only come in when there's a problem" (Ms N. Bir, Co-ordinator: Rainbow Programme, Interview, March 1998). Similarly, the BTTP co-ordinator works with trainees to discover better ways of teaching and learning, as appropriate to the rural context: "I want to sit with some of you and think what are the different possible ways we can do these same ideas, but how we can deliver it in your place, with your material..." (Ms L. Gomez, Coordinator: BTTP, Interview, March 1998).

Perhaps the most startling exercise of freedom and responsibility is granted to the least powerful group within the school hierarchy. Speaking of the 'rainbow' children and their relationship to the institution, Sr Cyril has been quoted as saying: "it is not a boarding school where they are regimented but a home where they are free to be themselves" (Asian Age, 1997). Elsewhere, she has expressed faith in the streetchildren's ability to act responsibly, countering fears of vandalism, theft and destructive behaviour, arguing that "such problems only occur when the children are kept away and the door slammed in their face" (The Telegraph, 1993). My research journal entry on the subject captures a sense of the open-door policy which the school operates:

In many ways, yesterday was the most interesting day I spent at the school, because Thursday is the school's day off, and with the termites and worms, I was burrowing away in the archives of the school all day long. The school is never shut because it is home to the streetchildren, and nothing whatsoever appears to be locked. The TV stands in an open area, with kitchen staff and kids alike watching India play Australia at cricket, the computer room is open, the staff room, complete with piles of reports is open. Sr Cyril's office, home to all the teddy bears and puzzles, is open, as is the entire administrative section, medicine chest -you name it. All day long, Barak, Rheka, Shenaz and various other streetchildren wandered into my workspace to say hello, to wash their sores in dettol, to ferret about for toys, to answer the school phone. One donor from America rang, and a little girl called Pinky answered it before I could get to it - "Sister, she not here.... What your name?.... Oh, that's a pretty name... Are you coming to visit?" It's an amazing place. (Research Journal, 26 March 1998).

The exercise of freedom and responsibility at Loreto Sealdah presupposes a number of supporting conditions. Firstly, there needs to be a core of reasonably well-trained teaching staff who adhere to and understand professional ethics and standards. Secondly, the principle of accountability needs to be understood as a key component of freedom and responsibility. Even within highly democratic structures, the abuse of freedom does not go unchecked. Thus, a streetchild who persistently steals or takes drugs is warned, cajoled, nurtured, and finally punished. Similarly, an under-performing and unprofessional teacher may be helped, encouraged, cautioned, or as a final and drastic sanction, sacked. Accountability operates to check the abuse of freedom and responsibility. A third prerequisite of the exercise of freedom and responsibility is a climate of trust. Members of a school community need to trust that the principal is fair and trustworthy, and acts only in the best interests of the school community, its teachers and pupils. An aspect of this trust lies also in the extent to which a leader delegates and disperses authority without drawing it back. There is a certain amount of 'letting go' and risk-taking that occurs in the creation of trust within a school organisation.

4.3.3. Change and Stability

A third manifestation of best practice at Loreto Sealdah is the way in which the tension between change and stability is managed while a climate of change is created within the school. Stability rests on the fact that the school is part of a 150 year old tradition, that it belongs to a wider religious community, that teaching and administrative staff remain in post for great lengths of time, and that the school has some explicit and timeless values. In addition, the school has created a sense of community where members feel that they belong and have a certain 'ownership' over the school programme. Within this context of stability, a process of continuous, multi-faceted and dynamic change is happening. Over a twenty year period, the school has doubled its intake, embraced poor streetchildren, created a school-within-a-school, embarked on village outreach programmes, and launched an extensive para-teaching programme. The vision of the school includes the construction of a night shelter which can accommodate as many as 300 streetchildren, and the establishment of both an institute for teacher training and an adult literacy centre.

In reflecting on the fact that middle class parents in particular have been "strangely acquiescent" and "do a lot of quiet support" to help poorer children, Sr Cyril points to the fact that the changes at Loreto Sealdah have been incremental. In retrospect, the school has undergone a radical transformation, but a study of newsletters to parents over the nineteen year period of her principalship shows that most changes have been negotiated and refined in a step-by-step fashion. As a result, people most affected by change have gradually come to terms with the implications of the shifts the school has undergone, and resistance to change has been minimised: "People change when they are secure in changing" (Sr Cyril, 1990).

Another key supporting feature of the change initiatives has been their responsiveness to the context and the needs of those who live and work outside the gates of the school. Regular pupils at the school have come into contact with streetchildren and slum-dwellers on their journeys to school, and have responded with concern and action. So, for example, a group of Class IX and X students initiated a move to survey the needs of street and station-platform children in 1985. In response to their survey, a small beginning was made, which consisted of the streetchildren coming to school for one afternoon a week to play and learn literacy and numeracy. Since then the streetchildren programme has been formalised and institutionalised, and has become integral to the functioning of the school. At the same time, great care has been taken not to lose the flexibility and spontaneity of the initial idea, and every effort is made to reinforce the notion that the Rainbow School is a 'drop-in' institution that functions differently, albeit in parallel to the regular school. The Rainbow School may thus be regarded as an example of evolutionary change in response to community needs, where the guiding principle has been to "start small with a few pupils, and to let it grow naturally" (Sr Cyril, 1994).

A further feature of change at Loreto has been the extent to which members of the school community participate in the process of change. Investment in the change process by as many stakeholders as possible enables change to become a deep-seated rather than a superficial phenomenon: "People change when they are involved actively in the change process" (Sr Cyril, 1990). Thus, teachers and pupils who participate in the rural village programme, and the primary staff who lead Barefoot Training courses are invested in the entire process, and are therefore more likely to contribute to the evolution of change, and ultimately to sustain its momentum.

Change is neither neutral nor value-free. At Loreto Sealdah, many of the changes over the last nineteen years have flown in the face of prevailing values. Instead of competition, ambition, academic prowess, and individualism, the school has stressed co-operation, service, holistic development, and community. While there are a number of factors which have enabled the school to move against the spirit of the age, including the strategies of incremental change, responding to needs, and wide participation, there are three further particularly formative characteristics of the changes that I would stress.

The first is that all the changes have operated within the context of changing values within the institution. Explicit, personal, and prayerful engagement in value education has enabled pupils in particular to reflect on and make choices about what values they wish to pursue in life. Changes in the school's structure, purpose and functioning have been supported by personal and corporate reflection on the values of simplicity, sharing and social justice. The value education course which pupils pursue is oriented towards the personal, the affective and the spiritual within the broader context of social, political and economic issues. Staff transformation workshops follow a similar approach.

The second formative characteristic concerns the nature of the change process at Loreto Sealdah where action often goes hand-in-hand with planning for change. This dynamic of action and planning has enabled a sophisticated set of planning strategies to develop, whereby action, planning, and reflection are often in constant interaction. As a result there is greater commitment to the change process as participants are already embarked on the journey, as it were. There is also more risk-taking, as the change process is without a fixed and predetermined outcome, and can therefore be altered en route. This may lead to a continuous refinement of change initiatives in the light of the context, the mistakes made, and the overall experience of change. Conversely, the seeming chaos and disorder of the change process may be disturbing for participants.

A third, and perhaps most important formative characteristic of change at Loreto Sealdah is the fact that most changes happen in relationship to people, with their particular problems and circumstances. The dynamic of relationship between, for example, rich and poor, regular and rainbow pupils, rural and urban, is an inescapable imperative of the change process. As Sr Cyril observes, the converse is also true, that where no relationship exists people are indifferent:

"...the real reason why we continue to have children blocked out from education and adults who are illiterate is not lack of resources but lack of interest. There is no relationship between those who have and those who have not. In fact, although no-one would admit it there is always the inner fear that relationship will mean sharing and there will not be enough to go around. So unless those who are deprived can make an impact on those who are not, and convince them that it is in their interest to do something or in some way to touch their conscience, nothing will move because of the lack of interest of those who have education and who are enjoying the benefits of it in terms of income and quality of life" (Sr Cyril, 1995, my italics).

Elsewhere, Sr Cyril has argued that sharing and learning from others provides the dynamic and commitment for real change. Within a school context, change is expressed either through "cosmetic action", or through "integral action", whereby real change is sustained by virtue of it being embedded in the life-blood of an institution. Change which nests in an institution in this way is the product of relationship, as can be seen from the "integral action" column which the dualism between cosmetic and integral action sets up (Sr Cyril, 1997, p. 103) (below):

Just as a shared vision and the exercise of freedom and responsibility presuppose certain conditions existing within a school, so change requires a supportive climate. Many of the factors and conditions which support change have already been mentioned in the report. These include a sense of ownership, a shared vision, teacher autonomy and confidence, the backing of the institution, even where mistakes are made, a passion for the goals of change, responsiveness to the needs of the context, wide participation, and a flexible approach. Yet, even within a climate which is broadly supportive of change, more than the ideal conditions need to exist for change to be initiated, gain momentum, and finally take root in the form of "integral action".

The process of change at Loreto Sealdah follows a particular cycle which appears to nurture initiative, momentum and sustainability. This process begins with risk-taking. Examples of this can be seen in the genesis of the streetchildren and the 'option for the poor' programmes respectively, where in the former, regular students were allowed and encouraged to survey local needs on station platforms and in the surrounding streets of Calcutta, and in the latter, a target of 50% non fee-paying students was set. The risk of alienating parents was high in both instances. Not only were middle class children interfacing with 'dangerous' elements of the city, but the institution was proposing to alter the basis of its privileged intake at some financial risk. Similarly risks were taken in setting up a Barefoot Teacher Training Programme which runs counter to the theoretical and academic emphasis of regular teacher training courses. The risk of failure was presumably high where regular staff were being withdrawn from their regular classes to teach rural para-teachers their skills. Not only could there have been criticism from 'regular' parents, but the staffing of the BTTP was presumably also a risk. Risks such as these require vision and a sense of urgency which makes them worth the cost.

Cosmetic Action

Integral Action

· An added activity which therefore can be dropped at will.

· An integral part of the curriculum as important as Maths.

· Done at the school's convenient time.

· Done at the client's convenient time.

· Involving small numbers of older children.

· Involving all, at least from age 10 upwards.

· Children get material recognition like certificates.

· Children work because of other's needs and are paid in joy.

· Children see the clients as less than themselves.

· Children form relationships and see the clients as equals.

· Children see themselves as doing something great.

· Children see themselves as doing something necessary.

· The school involves itself for reasons outside itself, eg. because social work is required in the curriculum, others are doing it, it's a good cause etc.

· The school involves itself because it has undergone an inner change of heart which makes it impossible to do otherwise.

The second phase in the change cycle is the beginning of reflection and refinement. This is where mistakes are made, and participants return to the drawing board to assess their strategies. In the case of the BTTP, for example, the first courses seemed inappropriate to the needs of rural teachers, and therefore required redefinition. The integration of rich and poor children in the school always runs the risk of making the mistake of reinforcing the differences and divisions that exist in society. Some regular pupils are able to analyse the conditions of poverty that prevail in a way which enables them to act as equals, while for others, the streetchildren are the product of "laziness" or lack of initiative. Inevitably, some child-to-child tutoring contains the risk of condescension and in some cases may disempower the very rainbow pupils that the school is seeking to empower. There is no doubt that mistakes are part of the change process, and that some of these mistakes may be costly.

Where a real change agenda is pursued, mistakes bring about collaborative reflection, as a way of rescuing the best of the change initiative. This is the third phase in the change cycle. In the case of the BTTP, collaborative reflection was manifest when it was found that urban strategies for developing teaching aids were inappropriate. As a result, ideas about the use of authentic and local resources were developed, such as the use of chillies as counters for numeracy, instead of bottle-tops. This third phase of the change cycle leads to what may be described as contextualisation.

Contextualisation happens where the change idea has been redefined by a process of collaborative reflection. The fourth phase in the change loop enables change to take root in context in an integral and appropriate way. An example of this has been in the development of alternative curricula and methods for streetchildren, drawing on their own context and experience, rather than orthodox narratives, nursery rhymes and whole class type teaching. So for example, one-to-one tutoring is more suited to the needs of streetchildren whose attention spans in groups are limited to begin with. Similarly, games and stories involving street life, such as hawking, gambling, famous movie stars and survival skills, are incorporated into the curriculum. The change cycle continues as further risks are taken in re-inventing aspects of the innovation, often by trial and error. The diagram overleaf illustrates this process.

4.3.4. A Sense of Wonder

A fourth manifestation of best practice that the school exhibits may be described as a 'sense of wonder'. It contains the idea of creativity, imagination, curiosity and excitement. It is also about a quality of grace that pervades the school. It is as though rubbing shoulders with the poor, the homeless, the disabled and the marginalised has influenced members of the school community to look further than the narrow confines of their own class, religion and culture and to see a world beyond.


Figure 4.1. Conditions Supportive of School Change

The casual observer will notice that every wall and pillar in the school contains visual reminders of the world beyond. Planets decorate one pillar, an array of colourful shapes another, while the long trek up to the fifth floor which houses the Rainbow School is punctuated with display boards that pupils from different houses and classes change every week. But the sense of wonder extends further than visual signs of creativity to the excitement in many of the pupil and staff narratives about life at Loreto Day School. So, for example, pupils remarked to me that the school was unusual because it "helped other people", it embraced "all the customs, all the castes, all religions" and that, as a result, they were "proud" of Sr. Cyril who had pioneered many of the programmes in the school. The excitement of a barefoot teacher trainer was also evident as she spoke of the use of local experience and resources in storytelling:

So we started, you know, with storytelling. In each group, stories came out which were so much, you know, rustic, like children playing in the fields, falling into the pond, going to the village market, then working in the rice fields -this was so different from Goldilocks and the Three Bears! And then I said "Yes, this is what I want!", and the plastic beads [used in the city] turned into stones and flowers, and we were making colours from the hibiscus flowers, black from charcoal, yellow from turmeric.... (Ms L. Gomez, Co-ordinator, BTTP, Interview, March 1998).

One key aspect of the sense of wonder which pervades the school is the emphasis on process rather than product within the functioning of the school. This is most clearly demonstrated in relation to the school's approach to examinations, which are viewed as part of a much broader set of educational goals and activities. Emphasis is placed on rewarding effort, and pupils' corrected exam scripts are returned to them so that they can try again after reflection and conscientious application. The usual frenzy and tension which accompanies exam time is notable by its absence in the school. In fact, pupils are encouraged to participate in leisure time activities and outings during exam time. 9 Pupils themselves treat public exams with a certain amount of jaundiced humour, as excerpts from an essay in the newsletter by a Class X pupil indicate:

Class X means confronting the nine-headed dragon which is the Madhyamik examination... knees knocking with fright we await our fate. We don't dwell upon the examination - that would drive us to nerve-wracking despair - we only think about the post Madhyamik period. That will be the time of fun and laughter, of feeling the delightfulness of approaching adulthood. It will also be the time to set new goals by the light of the ideals so lovingly nurtured in us by our school through all these years. That in no way means we are not happy now. We have indomitable spirit. Nothing can subdue us, not even the Madhyamik examinations breathing menacingly down on us. We remain the 'enfants terribles' of the school. We, the irrepressible and impossible Class X (Basu, D, Ripples and Rainbows, July 1996).

9 On my last visit, pupils from Class 5-10 were writing exams. On their non-exam days, many went to Nico Park Amusement Park for part of the school day to participate in sporting and other events.

Sr. Cyril's newsletter to parents also lays stress on education as a 'life-oriented' experience rather than a dull and meaningless exercise in memorising for exams: "Education should be more fife-oriented than book-oriented. We need to develop the intellectual capacity of our children by helping them to learn how to think, rather than make parrots out of them by forcing them to memorise without understanding (ibid., 25/9/79). A breadth of educational experience is offered to pupils, including leadership courses, visits to museums and city sights, and occasionally even the chance to see a good film: "There's a very beautiful children's film "The Dark Night is Over" at the Globe Cinema... we have booked the hall for our junior school..." (ibid., 15/3/85).

A second aspect of the sense of wonder at Loreto Sealdah is the focus on celebration within the school. The kinds of celebration which are part of the school calendar include Domestic Staff Day, when pupils take on the usual role of the domestic staff, cooking and serving a meal for them, as well as putting on a concert as entertainment. Christmas is celebrated with a party and concert, and is preceded by the packing of a thousand parcels for streetchildren and the poor. Sr. Cyril's feast day, in commemoration of her profession of vows, is also celebrated with prayers, cards and a concert:

The office was brimming with cards and well-wishers. Children brought their widow's mite, a potato, or a small flower or maybe a tiny sweet but it was all straight from the heart. Later Sr Cyril treated the students to sweets and the staff to a delicious luncheon but the highlight of the day was the Rainbow Circus. It was very creative and colourful - Tigers, Lions, Monkeys, Elephants, Clowns... we had them all dancing... (Ripples and Rainbows, September 1997).

Celebrations also include the achievements of various programmes and people within the school, and in particular, the Rainbow Children are the cause of great celebration whenever they achieve in any special way.

A sense of wonder is also nurtured by the approach to teaching and learning which the school espouses. Both the Barefoot Teacher Training Programme and child-to-child tutoring in the Rainbow School encourage high levels of participation in curriculum development, and the use of different teaching methodologies. This has some influence on the kind of teaching and learning which takes place in the school, encouraging more activity-based and group teaching than would otherwise be the case. The Value Education course is also innovative and participatory, avoiding sterile 'lecturing' methods in favour of problem-solving, reflection and discussion. In these ways, a sense of wonder is more likely to be preserved for pupils over the duration of twelve years of education.

4.3.5. Meaningful and Challenging Goals

The manifestations of best practice to which this report refers would have little resonance or reality without the final indicator of good practice, that is, the setting of meaningful and challenging goals. A shared vision, freedom and responsibility, change and stability, and a sense of wonder all acquire their value from this central notion, that pupils and staff are being challenged to participate in what they consider to be a substantial and worthwhile endeavour.

The goals of service, social justice and building a new society are at the heart of Loreto Sealdah's philosophy. At the same time, as an educational institution, the school demands commitment, hard work, time, and levels of academic and pedagogical excellence which are normally expected in schools with a narrower focus. The challenge to pursue outward looking goals like social justice alongside the maintenance of standards of excellence within the school, is huge. Yet, in large measure, the school is able to hold together its apparently disparate goals and expectations.

Loreto Sealdah exposes teachers, administrators and pupils alike to the hard issues of poverty in India. The challenge of exposure is accompanied by practical strategies which make it possible for everyone in the school, from the richest to the poorest, to make a contribution. In this sense, exposure renders a meaningful challenge, not only to the rich, but also to the core values of the whole community, and to their capacity to think imaginatively about solutions. The following excerpts from the keynote paper delivered by Sr. Cyril at the "Education for All" Conference held in Calcutta in 1995, sum up the challenge:

The regular school child learns at first hand what real destitution is and will be less likely to dismiss the poor as a nuisance when she holds a position of power later on, and if the regular child is herself poor, then she learns the need to work for her own community and is challenged to share rather than climb up the social ladder and be lost to her own people... (Sr Cyril, 1995, p. 5)

Our creativity is constantly challenged to find ways and means of stretching resources to reach as many as possible (ibid., p. 6).

The poorest child challenges by her very presence in the school, value judgements based on money or power (ibid., p. 7).

At the same time, the challenge is not limited to social or political causes and the values of justice. Letters from the principal to parents stress the value of hard work and application to studies: "With average intelligence and regular application any girl can cope not only with her studies but with the other equally important formative processes to which her educational programme at Loreto exposes her. This letter is not a signal to cut down on your daughter's co-curricular activities but just a request to see she develops regular study habits, if she has not already developed them (Letter to Parents, 16/9/85).

A feature of the high expectations of pupils, teachers, pastoral staff, co-ordinators and administrators at Loreto Sealdah is that the school functions at multiple levels. It is an orthodox school, a night shelter, a training institution, a 'soup kitchen', a home, a drop-in school for streetchildren, a place of pilgimage for foreign visitors, and a residence for para-teacher trainees. The sheer volume of 'trade' that the school engages in means that it is a busy place. But the values underpinning its various endeavours are generally accepted by members of the school community. In addition, the idealism and pragmatism of the school programmes have captured the imagination of many pupils and staff, and the relationships which have resulted have touched many hearts.

It would be naive to assume, however, that the entire school has been galvanised into action by the goals that Loreto Sealdah has set up. For some, school remains a place of dusty books, boring lessons, tiffin tins, and hours of sitting at uncomfortable wooden desks in the sweltering heat of a Calcutta summer. There is apathy and an almost feigned boredom with the school's outreach programme among a sector of the pupil population. No doubt, this is reflected throughout the system. However, the quality of setting meaningful and challenging goals within a school remains a feature of best practice, whether or not the particular goals established resonate in the hearts and minds of every pupil and every teacher.

4.4. Towards a Model of Best Practice

A visual model of the characteristics of best practice has been constructed out of the findings of a case study within a particular school. According to the data, these five key characteristics overlap and intersect in a dynamic way, both supporting and constraining one another. Moreover, the central characteristic of best practice, on which all the other key features depend, is the establishment of meaningful and challenging goals. Without this pivot, the model of best practice becomes superficial and is not able to give substance and meaning to a school's efforts and endeavours. The goals of a school have to make sense to a community and be worthwhile in its estimation in order for all the intersecting characteristics of best practice to be engaged. Moreover, these goals have to extend a school community beyond the norm in order for aspirations of excellence to develop.


Figure 4.2: Towards a Model of Best Practice