Narrative Ideas Meets the School Context: A Conversation with Sadekha Ismail Shekh

Narrative Ideas Meets the School Context: A Conversation with Sadekha Ismail Shekh

An interview conversation with Sadekha Ismail Shekh that documents her experience of using narrative ideas and practices in the school context. Sadekha is a fellow at the Ummeed Inclusion Fellowship Program. As a part of the fellowship program, she works at the Vanita Vishram Primary School in Mumbai. She collaborates with different stake-holders in the school to invite inclusive practices in the school context. Sadekha is someone who loves writing poetry, art, music, reading books, praying, spending time in nature, having conversations with people. She hopes this world becomes a safe space for everyone to express themselves.

Trishala: When someone visits you at the school for the first time, what would you like to tell them about the work you do?

Sadekha: My school is a place where I feel connected and loved. Vanita Vishram is a private school, and majority of the students are from the Rajasthani community, 70-80% of them. Most of the students are first generation learners. I facilitate classes with teachers for students from grade two and four. Our classes begin with energisers, check-in activities in classrooms, for example a feelings check-in, or dancing to Bollywood songs. We also facilitate (SEL) social and emotional learning spaces for students on different themes like emotions, ways of expressing emotions, personal safety – private body parts, how to keep yourself safe in unsafe situations. We also have (UDL) Universal Design for Learning sessions in classrooms with teachers wherein we try to invite inclusive practices to classroom with the hope to support each and every child with their needs. In our school we also have a well-being session for teachers called Apna Time, with the intention of having fun and chill. In one of our Apna Time sessions we read the children’s book Nani’s Walk to the Park, followed by an activity where teachers drew their favourite lane and re-visited their childhood memories. We also have conversations around well-being with other support staff and leaders at school with the intention to think about inclusion.  Through the day and week, I interact with students, teachers, support staff and leaders, weekly or monthly to reflect on our work, and thinking about inclusion and safer schools. 

Trishala: I would love to be a student or learner in your classroom, the energisers, the feelings- check in, Apna Time, all sounds so interesting. I believe as a part of your Fellowship program at Ummeed, you were introduced to narrative ideas and practices, is there a particular narrative idea that you connect with?

Sadekha: One of the narrative ideas I really believe in is that people are the experts of their own lives, so it’s important we provide a non-judgmental space to everyone. Everyone is coming from their own experiences and understandings. Our experiences contribute to who we are in our lives. So, I think it’s important to provide a very safe space to any and every stakeholder at school to share their experience, we should also value student’s opinions and ideas. Another idea that connects with me is how the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem, externalization. Initially this idea was challenging for me, as I would always think whenever there would be a challenge that I was the problem. But slowly, through sitting back and discussing with people about different perspectives, reflecting, I began to separate the person from the problem. These ideas gave me a lot of strength and hope to have a conversations openly, without blaming myself and also bringing accountability. I am still on my journey of understanding the narrative ideas, but there has been a shift from the time I started compared to where I am now.

Trishala: You are speaking about the idea that people are the experts of their own lives, how experiences shape us, and the idea person is not the problem, the problem is the problem Could you share a story of how you’ve used one or some of these narrative ideas in the school context, in the classroom?

Sadekha: We recently did an activity with the students called ‘Ruby’s Worry’ to externalize worry. We read the children’s book Ruby’s worry to the students and then externalized the worry. We asked them questions like ‘How worry looks for them?’ and ‘’Which colour is the worry? Is it blue or yellow? Many students responded with other colours, like the worry is red. We then had a conversation about worry and everyone in the classroom shared  when they feel worry for example, during tuitions, when they do not understand math, or when they have to get up in the morning. We followed this with a conversation around how we reduce or make the worry small, we asked questions like ‘How do we end the worry, or make it small when it comes to us sometimes?’ Some of the responses were really amazing, they shared different things they do to reduce the worry like, telling or sharing with others about their worry, dancing it out, praying, some also mentioned they would reach out to their teacher, like me. We also did another activity, called the re-membering activity with grade four students. We showed them a video on values, and why are values important, how values shape our life, and how these values help us to live. We asked the students ‘What are values that are important to them?’ The students began to share and doodle values like love, care, support, helping. We then invited them into thinking about ‘Who has taught them these values, or where did they learn these values?’ Both these sessions were really amazing.

Trishala: It really does sound amazing and really interesting! Could you share what was your intention with these two activities, Ruby’s worry and the re-membering activity?

Sadekha: The intention was to introduce narrative ideas to my students and school.  It’s a very non-judgmental approach, and it brings a shift in the way we think and make sense of things, I saw shifts in myself personally. These ideas really create space for hopes, possibilities, love, warmth, and a safe space. With kids it makes visible many strengths and skills. We do these activities with teachers as well.

Trishala: Would you share a story of how you’ve used narrative ideas with the teachers?

Sadekha: The activities we do with students, we then reflect with the teachers. Once we had introduced the story The Dot, to the students, we teachers came together and reflected on the student takeaways from the story, we then tried to use the story’s message and student’s takeaways to display on the board, the chart work done by the students, to appreciate their strengths. Another idea, I introduced to the teachers was that people are meaning makers, for instance when we look at the students’ drawings we all interpret it in different ways, and how our meanings are influenced by our own experiences in life. We then spoke of how it’s important to be non-judgmental, and to create safe spaces for everyone. We, co-fellow Alpana and I also try to have conversations with teachers about the challenging single stories, for example, we question ‘why cannot we say that a boy is beautiful?’, or ‘why are certain adjectives only used for a certain gender?’  We also share writings and videos of Maggie Carey and Michael White with the teachers to learn and discuss together.

Trishala: You speak about doing many activities with students and teachers to reflect together, externalize the problem, think about value systems, challenge single stories around gender. Could you share what are some of the skills and know-hows that support you in using some of these practices and activities?

Sadekha: I think having conversations during supervision with my supervisor, Sajida and co -fellow Alpana has supported me a lot. Getting a safe space to share, reflect and think with Sajida’s prompts in our fellowship supervision is helpful. Training sessions and a safe space for conversations and asking questions with Aditi, Shahid and Yashna has supported the work we do at school. Using reflection and writing as ways to think about how can we do things differently at school to create a safer environment really helps too. It’s also important for me to work from a space of love and believing that people are experts of their own lives, knowing that people may have challenges, but we are all learning.    

Trishala: I’m wondering when you hold onto the idea that the people are experts of their own lives, try to externalize problems like worry, challenge single stories, what do you think some of these activities and practices make possible for students, teachers and the classrooms?

Sadekha:  I am a person who hold onto the importance of safe spaces, so I think these activities make a person feel safe, at the same time creating space for people to share about themselves and their experiences, it also helps them to ask for support. It makes possible a safe space, possibilities, belief in ourselves, and hope. For example, in one of our library sessions we read the book ‘Who stole Bhaiya’s smile?’, and one of the students was able to connect the theme of the book to Ruby’s worry, another children’s book. I felt so proud of the connection she made between both the books, and said both of them are about worry. Students also connect with these ideas and share their feelings, conversations become easier and possible. I think a strength based approach becomes possible, when we read these stories. For example students think that if I have a worry, what are some of our strengths to respond to the worry. Students do not internalize the worry anymore, they externalize it. We can then see a shift towards preferred stories in classrooms, and moving away from dominant and single stories.

Trishala: That’s really interesting the strength- based approach in classrooms and what it makes possible. Is there a particular message, advise, hope, reminder or an idea that you’d like to share with other fellow teachers or people in the school system? What would that hope, advice or idea be?

Sadekha: I think believing that we all have strengths and to work from a space of love. Operating from a strength based approach has helped me personally, it has supported the school I’m working in, and I believe it may help other schools and students too.  

Trishala: I’m curious, if you were to use a metaphor, image, song or phrase to describe yourself as a teacher, what might you say?

Sadekha: This metaphor of a bird comes to my mind a lot of times. Prior to being introduced to narrative ideas I felt like a bird flying alone, but now I feel there is a flock of birds flying together,  different birds flying together and having conversations with each other, and the flock of birds going ahead.I think it’s like a conversation with people, taking them together and then moving ahead in the journey, while just being ourselves, and hoping for an amazing way ahead.

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