We would like to introduce you to Indrakshi, of Touch Internationale Montessori School in Bangalore, India. We’re so inspired by her story. It’s a story of legacy, dedication and a willingness to see things through. Not just through, but she is actively working to expand and grow and make things just that much better for her community. On top of that, her mother started the school, and now Indrakshi is trying to take it to the next level, which we know she will. Hope you enjoy!
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?
A: I was not always an educator like my mother. However, as a child I grew up watching her. Her commitment, enthusiasm and passion for teaching always showed in the way students and parents would come up to her in the middle of a neighbourhood or shopping mall to talk and compliment her. My dad was an officer in the Indian Army, so we kept moving on transfers around the country and I went to many different schools, mostly convents. As years went by and I grew independent, I chose to be a hotelier. I graduated from a 4 year hotel school programme and started working in some of the well-known hotel chains. Somehow my work as a hotelier led my manager to offer me a job in training the employees. That was the beginning of moving into something of an educator’s role although it was andragogy that I was dealing with. I enjoyed work but at the end of the day it wasn’t my passion. In 2002, I took some time off from work and that’s when I had the opportunity to observe what goes on in a Montessori environment(our school). Until then, I had no idea what it was all about. But one year watching and assisting in the environment was enough for me to know that I needed to do this every day of my life for all my life! It was an awakening. I had found how my work could become my passion.
My interests include baking, music, movies, reading, photography, writing and traveling.
I dream of taking the school to the next level. I want to ensure that by following the Montessori method and philosophy every day and watching it change the lives of so many children, I can become a better person and parent to my own children.
Q: Now that the hardest question is out of the way: What's your favorite color?
Q: Do you have a favorite book? How about a film?
A: I love the classics. Of the many favourites the one that stands the test of time for me is Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in 80 Days’.
The family is full of movie buffs watching all genres of cinema but on the top of the list is Shawshank Redemption
Q: When you close your eyes late at night, and imagine waking up and starting a new adventure: what is that adventure?
A: I have a 15 month old daughter who takes up most of my night’s sleep so there is very little imagination that works at that time but in the past it had always been about travelling to new places and experiencing different cultures. Of late since I have got involved in the school, a real life adventure would be for my husband and I to get involved in the school together and travel around the world meeting and talking to people from the Montessori community and be enriched by their experiences, ideas and practices. I would love to visit the Neinhuis Museum someday!
Q: We know your mother, who is AMI certified, started the school in 1992. What was it like for her to start a Montessori school?
A: As I mentioned, my father was in the Army. As a result of transfers every 2-3 years we had to keep moving base. My mother had the privilege of doing the AMI course under the direct guidance and training of Mr Joosten and Mr Swamy who as you would know were taught by Dr Montessori herself. Mother always wanted to open a Montessori House of Children after that course but she had to wait for 12 more years until my father retired and we settled in the city of Bangalore. During those 12 years, she taught in traditional schools having acquired a Masters in Education. Those years in traditional schools only served to strengthen her determination to start a Montessori House as she observed how hard it was for children to enjoy school and the learning process. When she started in 1992 after my father’s retirement, she started in a small house cum residence with all of 4 children. In those days, Montessori was even more ambiguous than it is now and it was by God’s grace and her sheer hard work that children began coming in. She took a small loan to buy the basic Montessori materials for Primary. She had a carpenter break all the solid wooden Army storage boxes we had acquired during transfers and had them made into tables and shelves for the environment. Those were the humble beginnings of Touch Internationale 23 years back…
Q: Now that you’ve become more involved in the day-to-day operations of the school, what advice do you have for new Montessori schools?
A: I think those who begin now need to be very patient. In a more informed and growing world, the challenges are plenty and larger in scale. The competition is stiff, the market sometimes may seem saturated with the new age methods and integrated schools. The ones who have plenty of money may seem to be growing like algae over all the others but the key to it all is patience. I have seen some getting bogged down by it all and starting to integrate other methods. Montessori has lasted more for than a 100 years and doesn’t need to be integrated with anything else. If you are convinced about Montessori and its benefits and you are confident about your own skills, then it is only a matter of time before someone sits up and begins listening to what you are saying…Yes keep speaking about it and propagating the method.
Q: With that in mind, we suppose the same question can be applied to established Montessori schools.
A: Those who are established need to continue the work they are doing with the same fervour to reach the child as they did when they first began but with the confidence they have now that they are established. That is the same strategy to reach the people and community at large.
Q: Did you have a "Montessori Moment?"
A: We have over the last 7 years had children with special needs approach us through their doctors and psychologists for a Montessori intervention in their learning. And it has been found beneficial with marked improvements. Mrs Narayanan (my mom) always felt that keeping aside the Montessori method, a teacher has very little credit to herself when the child who succeeds is an intelligent one, but the credit truly goes to her if she can make a difference in the life of a slow learner or someone with special needs. With the help of the method, we have had great success with children who come in the early stages as border line cases for autism, slow learning, delayed speech, etc. We work along with their doctors and speech therapists.
One such 2.5 yr old autistic child joined us a month ago with very distraught parents saying that she is very withdrawn and does not communicate with anyone and instead seems to be in her own world. We included her in the regular environment and last week the special educator signalled me to observe what she was doing. She was sitting with the world map and pronouncing to the best of her ability the names of the continents!!! All because she had seen other children in the environment working with the same material. That was the hidden intellect and grasping power of a child who may not have had that chance if it wasn’t for Montessori. Her parents who observed this later had tears in their eyes. It was a very emotional “Montessori Moment.”
Q: What's your favorite Montessori quote?
A: There are 2 actually…
“It is true that we cannot make a genius. We can only give to each child the chance to fulfill his potential possibilities.”
“It is the child who makes the man, and no man exists who was not made by the child he once was.”
Q: What do you think is the best introduction to Montessori?
A: Observing the children. We have an observation week where the parents come into the environment and sit and observe the children at work. The children are prepared earlier to expect them, so the presence of a parent doesn’t bother them. When the parents leave, they seem pretty convinced about WHY this is the best option for their child. Montessori has to be seen to believe!
Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?
A: I have been through a traditional school learning everything the conventional way.
Montessori exploded something in my mind which was a desire to go back to childhood unlearning and relearning everything the Montessori way. I am inspired each time I see how something is presented in the environment and the reaction of a child. There are ‘n’ number of reactions and a new learning/insight each time and those inspired moments fuel the passion towards the method.
Q: In what ways do you envision the future of education?
A: Education is certainly going through a sea change all over the world but especially in India. People are becoming more aware of the pros and cons of conventional education system. Children need to be stimulated more in order for learning to a be a lifelong activity and I think many adults are realising and trying to provide that atmosphere. However, a study and detailed research is necessary into the various methods people and schools are selling now. Digitalising everything for little ones is not always favourable as we have seen among our special children the ill effects of being exposed to too much of that at an early age. But yes, people are certainly asking more and trying to educate themselves more in order to find the best option for their children. And most of them who do that keep an open mind.
Q: In our correspondence, we often discuss what it's like to build a community. Not just maintaining one, but actively growing one. Can you share any insights for other schools?!
A: There are several ways to reach out to people in the community. Some of the things we do are:
At the beginning of the academic year, we have an orientation programme for parents (both old and new) where we call a noted psychologist and counsellor to talk about basic child psychology and behaviours parents usually find difficult dealing with. There is a Q and A session and later a chat over tea for parents to get to know each other as well as interact personally with the child psychologist.
During the year, we go as a team to 2-3 apartment complexes and hold a weekend activity for children which includes pottery making, pot painting, cup cake decoration, jewellery making, etc along with a slide show to showcase the Montessori method. We also try engaging some children with the help of Montessori materials like addition strip board where one child is asked to add a problem the conventional way whereas another does it with the help of the material. Children and parents get to see a glimpse of Montessori with the help of the slideshow and working with the materials.
At the end of the year, during Christmas time, the children bring from their homes food stuff and clothes and we visit a nearby old age home or orphanage. Parents too are welcome to come with us. We spend an hour or two with the people in the home, singing carols and distributing the items the children carry for them.
Once in two years, we also have a poor feeding day where we cook food on campus along with the help of children who help cut vegetables or arrange the environment. We have children from an orphanage come to the school and the children serve them the food made on campus. Several parents also lend a hand.
These are some of the ways we try and engage ourselves with our community. Out of every 5 people who come enquiring about the school, 3 come because of word of mouth publicity.
Q: Are there any questions that we should've asked and you'd like to answer?!
A: I think you have covered a lot more than I could imagine. It was great answering these as they helped me to introspect and focus on certain aspects and questions that we forget to ask ourselves in our day to day schedule.Q: THANK YOU!