Renu & Parshant Vashishta
Interview by Anita Nahal
QFTD: Hello, Renu and Pashant. It’s truly a pleasure for me to interview such an illustrious go- getter husband-wife team. You are truly driven educators, and you drive others towards achievement! Let me tell our readers that you are the first wife-husband team being interviewed on QFTD. So that is special for us.
Both of you been intrinsically involved with children’s education for the last 25 years or more. By way of introduction, we would like to tell our readers, that Renu, you have been teaching for over 21 years and Parshant, you have been an educator for about 31years and principal of various schools for about 27 years, and are currently Principal, Delhi Public School (DPS) Bhilai, in the eastern state of, Chhattisgarh, India. Delhi Public School system is one of the largest in India, with over hundreds of branches spread all over India. And, you both also have two wonderful, thoughtful sons.
My first question to you is... how do you do it? The combination of the personal and professional, making sure that, in both, you two are driven to empathetic success?
Renu: Thank you for interviewing us. It is an honor!
So we began our life together… with Parshant as a newly appointed school Principal at the young age of 27 ½ years, and me a teacher at 26 years. There we were, strangers and newlyweds, with an arranged wedding, adjusting to each other, and our families(a must in India), along with a new work situation. Therefore, the so called success at combining the personal and professional was not a strategically planned one at all, rather it was an outcome of a strong feeling of mutual trust in each other, and an inherent passion for work and life with a strong ever-ready to learn & relearn attitude in both. Furthermore, being in the same profession, having studied and teaching the same major, and also having similar thoughts on education added to the mutual understanding of demands of time on our personal life. What we did plan was our attitude and upbringing of our sons. We decided never to let the prestige of being the sons of the school Principal in such an esteemed institution, and in a closed community where home and school life was co-linked, go to their heads! And neither, did we make their student life at school, an easier one!
Parshant: Yes, and by God’s grace, we learned very soon how to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and work towards putting our best foot forward at both places… at home and work.
QFTD: That surely sounds easy and seamless, however, being a parent myself, I can deeply appreciate the value system you passed on to your sons.
Renu, as you know, women in India have walked a thin dichotomous line for centuries (of course in many parts of the world, however, just speaking for India here). On the one hand, women in India have been heads of the country and in top engineering, medical, teaching, law and other professions. We had one of the first women prime ministers in the world, Indira Gandhi. However, at home women sometimes are considered secondary citizens. Given this, how have you employed pedagogical practices to encourage girl students in education and empowerment?
Renu: Very early on in my career, this issue actually acquired a special prominence for me when I participated in a seminar on women empowerment. The negative stereotyped portrayal of women in advertisements raised in the seminar proceedings, also brought to the forefront the same stereotypes being developed in the minds of our children through their textbooks, and sometimes consciously or subconsciously by teachers as well. Thus, whichever school I worked in, I made it a point to consciously go about stressing on the need to watch our actions and words so as not to advocate gender bias or stereotypes while talking with children. Pedagogically speaking, the following points set the stage for an unconscious push in the direction of women empowerment and encouraging girl students in education:
Not fixing specific girl games/tasks and boy games/tasks.
Preparing academic content carefully without gender bias specifications so as to perpetuate women empowerment.
Using the morning assembly to highlight women achievers and their success due to good education.
QFTD: And, how did you create a self-empowering position at home for yourself while also instilling gender equality and respect in three men…your husband and two sons?
Renu: Well, frankly speaking there was no need of doing so. Parshant is inherently a person who gives due respect to women, and there has never been a question of standing up for equality. Still, creating a self-empowering position at home for myself, despite the equality factor already in place, has always been a priority with me as it should be for any woman. I feel a woman’s empowerment is generally in her own hands. She will be as empowered as she chooses to be. I have consciously and constantly tried to acquire life skills –emotional, financial, cognitive, social, and others. Of course the goal has always been to move towards a stage when I don’t have to stand up and shout “see I am an empowered female!” That completeness is just there for me to savor and experience. Regarding our sons, we both as parents have tried to model by our behavior, our inherent feelings, and thoughts regarding these issues right from their childhood. Also as they grew up, seemingly random family talks and discussions on the topics shooting off from TV shows and movies watched made the task easier.
QFTD: Renu, your words and ideas are very wise. Parshant, I ask you as well, that being a man, growing up in a dichotomously functioning gender society in India, how did you apply the principles of gender equality and respect among students, faculty and staff in the schools where you have been a principal? Also, also how did you keep balance of the same issue at home with two sons?
Parshant: I think the most important task for a school leader is to think and talk, and not the other way round. Then, if you wish to instill the above mentioned principles in your students and staff, you need to walk the talk. As these qualities are there in me, it was never a problem passing on these to my students and staff. The same stood for our sons, there has never been a need for Renu and me to talk about these qualities or principles to them. Seeing and observing us, they have imbibed these qualities.
QFTD: Yes, true, “example” is the best teacher. Okay, now let’s move to your individual practices of pedagogy. Renu, tell us about your pedagogical style. Both of you are mathematicians, however, you like to teach young kids. Why is that? How can mathematics be applied by young kids in their understanding of daily life and humanity?
Renu: My basic pedagogical style has always had the underlying theme of totality and hence mathematics has never been a standalone discipline for me. So, be it senior or junior classes, my students have experienced and imbibed the nuances of humour (sic), language, the arts along with general awareness, and of course mathematics. The reason for my shift to teaching young children and guiding other teachers was the realization of the infinite scope of creativity. Even after so many years of being with the kids, trying out different pedagogies, they have never failed to stump me with their own unique responses. The innocent and genuine love and affection received is of course my reward. When you talk about mathematics and daily life, I think when young children learn to be precise in their language and thinking as a part of mathematics, they are learning it for life. Every happening has a reason and every reason has to be explained. This importance of exactness of words, logical thinking, problem solving are all basic qualities which all young children have to learn, to master mathematics and apply them to take charge of their lives. The mathematical ability to visualize spatially can encourage inventive thinking, and approaching life in their unique ways.
QFTD: True! And, Parshant, shifting attention to your pedagogical practice, tell us how different that becomes when you are in a leadership position as you mostly have been, a principal?
Parshant: As a teacher of mathematics, you learn the inherent use of logic or rationale behind whatever you do. This helps when you head an institution, as you are able to make people see reason or logic in whatever you are doing. As a teacher of mathematics, you are able to understand things faster, which again helps you to become a good leader.
QFTD: You are a gifted administrator, Parshant, tell us three key areas to focus upon when mentoring school children in equality, creativity, and justice. Renu, you as well, if you would like to respond to the same because you also have been a great administrator yourself, a headmistress of pre and primary schools and both of you are highly respected by peers and students.
Parshant: As stated earlier, you need to walk the talk. As a head, when you are in a difficult situation, your actions and responses are closely watched by your staff and students. Through your responses, you can pass on so many qualities to your staff and students. When you are able to find solutions to problems existing in your institution for past many years through your presence of mind, and understanding of the problems, you unconsciously pass on the notion of creativity as well.
Renu: Regarding equality and justice, as Parshant said, 'take care of your ideas and notions and the rest will be taken care of.' Creativity of course needs to be nurtured, and sometimes awakened if dormant, by your own carefully thought of strategies. I have always tried to do so by donning the role of a facilitator rather than an encyclopedia to encourage multiple unique solutions to problems and framing academic content tailored to encourage out of the box thinking.
QFTD: What have been the three key areas you have focused upon at home while raising your sons, being mindful that they are also your students at the same school? How did you walk the delicate line between parents and school educators?
Renu and Parshant: Well the path we had to tread was indeed a delicate one and on many an occasion we had to think and rethink our decisions, questioning ourselves, “are we being fair to all students,” vis-a-vis “in an attempt to seem fair to all are we being in fact unfair to them or too harsh on them?” We however, did focus on the following at home:
Ensured they did not get the idea that they could speak against teachers or use the shortcoming of a teacher to their advantage by coming to us. A proper channel was always followed and no short cuts for hard work.
We, by design did not ever discuss staff politics or speak against a teacher within their hearing, nor allowed them to come to us, and vice versa, during school hours unless it was an emergency.
Constant reminders: Respect all teachers and remember the fact that howsoever good or bad you might feel is a teacher’s teaching, there is always something to learn from each teacher, may be, in a different way.
QFTD: Those are all very sensible suggestions. Well, we are almost at the end of our interview. Renu and Parshant, where do you see yourself in say 5-10 years? What would you like your legacy to be?
Parshant: I have been focusing and intend to focus in a major way on the following:
Awarding effort and improvement, in addition to awarding achievement, so as to truly bring out the best in all.
Providing clean, hygienic and beautiful colourful (sic) environs to our students. Clean washrooms with special attention to girls’ washrooms in regards to hygiene and required provisions are my top priority.
I might sound clichéd but constantly working on inculcating the values of honesty, empathy, humanity, global brotherhood, and respect for elders are also on top of my mind.
Renu: Currently, I am concentrating on writing my blog https://tutelageviewpoint.wordpress.com/ and doing some freelance writing for ‘worldofmoms’-an online community of moms. My future plans include floating an academic content based one-stop website for teachers and parents.
QFTD: Thank you so much to you both…it’s been a pleasure…and before we conclude, is there anything you would like to say to the youth around the world...about what has driven you? What drives you? What can or should drive young folks?
Renu and Parshant: We both feel that all young people today, in addition to pursuing their goals with determination, must learn to cope with failure and treat it as an opportunity to come back with renewed zeal. So, never fear failure, rather learn to use it to your advantage.
QFTD: So truly said similar to Franklin D. Roosevelt, “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself!” Thank you!