From Ethos to Design

4 Feb

Ethos to Design

While it may appear to the learner that the education they are receiving is merely following a set curricula, every good teacher knows that the design of the teaching must match the needs of their students. Education by design is always destined to be far more successful than education by chance. This applies to all the participants in the learning process.

When a school is being set up – whether primary or higher education – the possibilities are endless. The school may merely build a standard structure, on a standard plot of land and teach the standard curriculum, thus becoming like any other factory of skills and information. On the other hand, this is a chance to create a whole new universe of learning methods and processes. They get this chance every year too, with a clear sense of closure and renewal for eac academic year. Each school does not have to be revolutionary. All it has to be is true to its ethos. For which it needs to have one.

Most schools and universities have a motto, often incorporated into their logo signifying the core ethos and values of that institution. Sometimes forgotten, sometimes a formality, sometimes a farce, the motto continues to stand sentinel to the idea that started the school. And yet, a simple look at many of our institutions makes us wonder if that is indeed connected to anything they do. The arrogant speak of Vinay (humility), the profiteers speak of service and the callous speak of love for all humanity. And then, one comes across those rare ones who do what they say, who nurture the hope with which they were envisioned and strive towards that.

The motto may often be mere jargon or pretty speech, and the institution at the very least a mere land grab. Yet, whether by intent or by chance, a school evolves its own ethos. There are opinions and studies that support both views on which approach is better – an inherited ethos or an evolved one. Those with founding fathers who had a clear purpose and direction had an easier initial journey, but they too evolve with time. The direction of this evolution is often managed to stay true to the purpose of the place. Good design principles apply here too. A well designed organization will continue to be honest to its self and will serve its original masters. The ones that evolve organically often have to undertake the journey of self discovery which often fritters away resources and time. Some manage to make it to successful schools, others do not.

So what are the tools that deliver this perfect design that serves the ethos? Everyday stuff – character is defined by what we do everyday. Schools that have a strong philosophy are guided by it  in everything they do. Thus governance, academic policies, organization design are all aligned to that philosophy. A school that is built on an values of trust and teamwork will recruit differently from a school that is designed to encourage creativity or to encourage sports. The underlying philosophy will influence how the very lessons are conducted, what resources get more money and how the teachers and students behave. It trickles down to little things like dress and nails, and influences big things like career choices and strength of character.

Schools with a strong ethos integral to their being are often more successful academically, even if they did not necessarily set out to be so. The clear sense of purpose translates into goal orientation and a disciplined attitude to whatever they undertake.  These schools craft their days and years with care, creating structures that mould the environment and people around them. This process is the essence of design, where structures (physical or virtual) are aligned to create a space where people want to do what will make them grow and prosper. A well crafted lesson plan is as much a part of this process as is the physical space.  The relationship between staff and how much they align with each other in setting work across classes is also about design – done well, it will be a smooth process, leading to a more successful school. Good design is what builds the emotional connect between the people and resources.  This is the secret sauce. Our Educational institutions need to invest in good Education Design  – for this is the true short cut to success.

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