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Parenting in a post COVID world

Recently, as a panelist at a webinar, the host asked me what I thought about the ‘movie we all are watching’. By the term ‘movie’ he meant the COVID-19 the entire world is witnessing.  

I reflected on his question and intuitively responded that COVID-19 is probably only a trailer. The real ‘movies’ that the world will watch over the next decade are ‘Global warming’ and ‘The Conquest of technology’. 

The jobs and business losses we are experiencing today are probably a trailer too. Over the next ten to fifteen years we will see much more of what we are witnessing today, a far more accelerated version of today’s events. There is likely to be a massive business and jobs disruption at a global scale. 

The BIG question is – given that the world of the future will be so incredibly challenging, what can we do? How can we parent differently? The present pandemic gives us some vital clues. Despite the pandemic, the most innovative companies and professionals continue to thrive. The most resilient are finding it relatively easier to cope and to pivot. The strong are getting stronger. 

What can we learn and how quickly can we adapt? More importantly what can we do for our children so that when future disruptions occur, they can thrive? There has been much talk about 21st-century skills however the skills that I want to talk about transcend time – they were as important centuries ago as they are today, and they will be as important in the future. I call them timeless skills and (interestingly) these are also the skills that machines do not possess and are not likely to possess in the future. 

The four timeless skills

ORIGINAL THINKING

Original thinking is also known as lateral thinking and the ability to innovate. The noted educator Dr. Norman Webb brilliantly created the four depth of knowledge (DOK) levels.  Unfortunately over 99% schools in India operate in the lowest (DOK 1) level which is described as ‘content taught by a teacher in order for a student to recall it in a test’. 

Parents need to ensure their children’s education shifts upwards to DOK 2, 3 and 4. While DOK 2 & 3 are a progression, DOK 4 is the highest level of learning. The Co-Founder of Vega Schools, Gurugram, Dr. Steven Edwards describes DOK-4 as ‘applying what has been learnt to find new and better ways of doing things’. 

In order to make their children become DOK-4 experts parents urgently need to find schools that operate in DOK 4. The way to make this happen is by applying teaching methods such as PBL (problem-based learning). The most successful companies and professionals around the world are DOK 4 experts. Great Indians such as Sundar Pichai (CEO Google) and Satya Nadella (CEO Microsoft) embody all the DOK-4 qualities. 

RESILIENCE

Resilience is defined as the ability to deal with uncertainty. Eastern philosophy offers great cues to developing this timeless skill. The Buddhist concept of ‘impermanence’ wisely states ‘everything is constantly changing, and nothing ever remains the same, so let’s make change our friend’. The Vedanta philosophy asks us to ‘focus entirely on the effort knowing we have no control over the outcome’. The eastern philosophers guide us to achieve the highest levels of our human potential – what we can become if we can rise above our ego. Ancient Indian wisdom encourages us to rise above our selfish selves in order to serve our family, community, nation and planet. 

We need to rethink ‘I will rule the world’  and reframe it as ‘I will help the world’. Reframe our thinking around ‘I will aspire to create or be a part of a great organization that wants to make a big difference to the world’. Not coincidentally, we can see the underpinnings of this philosophy in some of the world’s greatest companies. A quick look at the vision statement of Amazon is its aspiration ‘to be the earth’s most customer-centric company’. Tesla’s mission is ‘driving the world’s transition to sustainable energy’. 

A leader can reframe her thinking around ‘I will succeed when I make my people successful’. 

This ‘outward focus mindset’ is the formula to make the shift away from our self-centered impulses, thereby dramatically enhancing our resilience. 

The very same principles hold good for our children. A school that is based on principles of true leadership, learning from mistakes (and failures) and solving real-world problems will help our children become resilient. After all young people mirror exactly what they observe in their parents and teachers. 

INSPIRING OURSELVES AND OTHERS

From a young age our children should be trained to have BIG dreams and to set BIG goals. This is best done when they have teachers and mentors who can help them develop this unique mindset. A few years ago there was a significant global study conducted by Gallup that found that some of the most successful people had great coaches, mentors, teachers and role models when they were young. The study went on to state that their success was also a function of authentic work experiences they were exposed to when they were young. Doing projects in school and solving real-world problems naturally creates this mindset. Children will be able to set big goals, to solve complex problems and to imbibe all the real-world skills. 

Inspiring others to dream big and to set big goals is equally important. Recent theories of motivation confirm that leaders of today need to essentially possess the skills to make others around them successful. Today this ability is defined as real leadership. The old days when a self-centered leader could thrive is simply impossible in today’s professional and transparent environment. History is a witness that people also do great things for their leaders when there is trust and respect. 

Development of leaders begins at a young age, both home and at school. Ironically most present-day schools themselves are command-control structures that are designed to create fear that takes motivation and inspiration away. This is ironic given that the most successful organisations around the world are reorienting themselves and creating servant leadership models designed to minimise fear and raise motivation levels. 

Parents have a responsibility to minimise fear inside their homes and to select schools where there is a culture of no fear. A quick trip to a school beginning with the guard, the receptionist and interactions with teachers, especially with the head of the school will inform an intelligent parent about its culture of fear. Real inspiration and great things are achieved in schools where relationships of warmth are as important as the learning environment. 

KINDNESS

The most important timeless skill is kindness. It is where all other skills converge. Original thinking, resilience and inspiration are interconnected with kindness. Creativity blossoms when there is no fear of failure, as do relationships. Real collaboration is a function of relatedness. 

An environment in which everyone is relaxed will lead to creative thinking, and one in which making mistakes (and learning from failure) is encouraged will lead to resilience. Great relationships of trust lead to a shared purpose and raise motivation. Inspiration and potential to achieve greatness occur when leaders exhibit kindness and empathy.  

All the world’s problems, (and the two movies I referred to at the beginning of this article) can be addressed through reorientation towards kindness. If we are kind towards the environment, global warming can be reversed. Similarly, the serious global issues of an unequal economy, an unfair justice system and freedom at risk can be solved by developing the skill of kindness. 

The exact same things hold true for our children. We can role model behaviours of kindness and we can share stories of kindness. Most powerfully, kindness in action is real kindness and we can select a school for our children where ‘practiced kindness’ is a core value. At Vega Schools, Gurugram we have a ‘Shram’ programme that specifically focuses on ‘empathy in action’. This is one of the most important aspects of how our learners learn. 

Kindness is also something that can be easily felt as one interacts with the various people at a school – it always begins at the school gate in terms of how the guard treats the visitors, it carries forward to the reception area and is truly reflected by the warmth with which the teachers and school leaders exude. 

As the old adage goes ‘we learn best ourselves when we teach others’. As we strive to teach our children these skills we will get better at them ourselves. With the awareness of the skills that will be important in a post COVID world, we will know exactly what to role model and what to look for. As we search for the best school in Gurgaon, we will certainly know which questions to ask and which skills to look for.

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