Dr R. Balaji, Secretary & Correspondent, SBIOA Educational Trust

The Covid-19 pandemic caught us unawares, and the world of education changed overnight with the sudden lockdown imposed all over the country. The dynamic shift from physical classes in school to attending classes on a virtual platform proved challenging. This shift wasn’t easy to adopt and adapt to. The disruption caused by the pandemic had a substantial effect on the teachers’ abilities to support the education of students. As the challenges rose, different leaders took different approaches to ensure the smooth functioning of their institutions. 

As Secretary and Correspondent of SBIOA Educational Trust, Dr R. Balaji made it a point to ensure that no student was left behind and instructed his teachers to develop innovative methods to teach and retain students’ attention. “But it was no easy task, as not all the faculty members were trained to use technology for teaching. They had no prior experience in teaching online,” Dr Balaji shares. 

Dr Balaji is a leader at the SBIOA Educational Trust as he has always provided inspiration and vision for the future. He motivates people to reach great heights of performance and success. “Leadership is influence”-A good leader should influence the crowd to believe, act and work with perseverance to achieve success. He demonstrates qualities that others should follow with commitment and passion. He is always sensitive to his employees’ needs, respects their feelings, and listens to their views before making a decision. As an inspirational leader, he feels passionate about the mission and vision of the organisation and makes sure that others feel the same. 

Excellent communication is the key to good leadership. Dr Balaji has organised many seminars and workshops for teachers’ empowerment. With his oratorical skills, he helps people find answers, solve problems, and get inspired, creating a positive morale boost. He makes people feel important and appreciated by providing many opportunities to grow personally and professionally. He has always been a resilient leader capable of handling any situation and responding to disruptive changes (Pandemic). Dr Balaji believes that integrity and trust are essential for a good leader. The ability to delegate work is also a good leadership quality which is crucial for maximising productivity and team performance. He says, “The job of a leader is made so much easier when employees want to follow your lead”. He inspires others to see him as a leader by “Leading by example”. He always seeks feedback and accepts both positive and negative criticism with an open mind. He is a self-motivated person who sets an example for others to follow.

A good day at work for Dr Balaji is one where he feels great at the job. His typical working day will have mixed feelings and emotions. Dr Balaji says that he is always excited to face the day as he doesn’t know what it has in store for him. But, every day, he starts with a positive attitude believing that the day will be an awesome one and he is going to learn something new on that day. Stress and pressure are part of his daily routine. “It puts our body into fight or flight mode. How we overcome that, there stands our success,” he shares. His early morning walks and prayers put his mind in a receptive and positive outlook. In case of pressure or due to triggering of some issue, he takes a deep breath and a few minutes to calm his mind, then faces the situation and focuses on what is happening at the moment. Rather than think of the negatives, one can think of the positives to avoid stress and stay calm. “Talking and sharing with our trustworthy colleagues and employees helps me to keep my mind calm and helps to handle pressure. I take time to listen to the honest feedback of my friends and accept criticism gracefully,” he opines. 

Believing in Partnership with parents 

Parents serve as the first teachers of their kids during the early years. Dr Balajii believes that school activities are great opportunities to bring together students and parents. Through open communication and collaboration, parents and the school can help develop children’s social, emotional, and academic skills. Aiming to create a productive partnership with parents, Dr Balaji includes parents in all school activities – Annual Day, Sports Day, Mega Exhibitions, Projects, etc. Their support to the child strengthens the bond and makes them understand the school better. Various opportunities are provided to parents to feel the school environment and how their children interact with each other. He also advises parents to monitor the progress of their children.

Further, creating a class Whatsapp group paves the way for effective communication between teachers and parents. Frequent PTA meetings are convened under the guidance of Dr Balaji to address views and facilitate parental participation in school. “Parents are also insisted to be role models for their children. Regular feedback of children’s performance concerning academic, emotional, and social aspects is intimated to the parents,” shares Dr Balaji. He also directs the parents to discipline their children, impart values and hold them accountable for their behaviour, thereby bringing about holistic development. At SBIOA, seminars on “Effective Parenting” were conducted to give more insight to parents on nurturing children. When parents are involved in their children’s education, the children are more likely to perform better in school. So in schools run by the SBIOA Educational Trust, parents are included and made to effectively nurture young children. A major concern during COVID-19 was to convince the parents that there would be no compromise on the effectiveness of the education provided to their children. A greater challenge was to create a multi-tiered plan of how to serve the students, clear expectations, and consistent communication with the staff and parents for the smooth functioning of online classes. Teamwork and collaboration helped Dr Balaji to sail SBIOA through the challenging period.

Dr Balaji believes that education begins at home and parents are the first teachers. He had good role models who inculcated important values in him. He realises that honesty and integrity are more important than all material things. Coming from a family with a poor financial background, he could not pursue higher studies due to the financial crunch at home. He was the District rank holder in his set. He later wrote the competitive exams then and got a job in the Postal Department. When his friends studying in college prepared for the Bank Exam, they playfully challenged Dr Balaji, beginning his banking career. He worked his way up the ladder with hard work and sincerity. The tough lessons that life taught him made him what he is today. He is very keen on ensuring that quality education is available to all. Even today, He grants financial support personally and from the trust to the needy and deserving pupils. 

It is imperative to look back and thank the people who have helped one throughout his career. Sharing his views on the same, Dr Balaji says, “Many people, such as family members, teachers, friends, co-workers, etc., have given me opportunities to move forward in life. The collective impact of all these people has definitely impacted my life”. He adds that with time he has learned to identify the positive qualities in all the people with whom he has been associated. “It can’t be just one person but a list of many who have influenced me at various stages in different levels,” he shares. The family, education, and society play an essential role in the profession. All this together makes an individual. 

Education at home and school leave a strong impression on one’s character. People with more positivity will be able to leave a positive impression on others. At the school stage, the teacher will influence each individual with knowledge, approach, and gestures that become a part of one’s character moulding. Positivity alone will not impress. It is the comfortability of an individual who feels great in wearing someone’s shoes. He adds, “The professional influence will be mostly from the family and peers. Parental lifestyle, family system, and needs and wants lay the foundation for choosing one’s career.”

COVID, Challenges, and Leadership 

The State Bank of India Officers’ Association Educational Trust was promoted by the State Bank of India Officers’ Association in 1978. The Association {SBIOA Chennai Circle} was formed in 1965 and enjoys the reputation of being the Managerial Class Union in the country.

Mr E.A.G. Moses, the then General Secretary (Chennai Circle), came up with the idea that their association should enter the field of education to cater to the needs of the people, especially the SBI officers who were on transfers frequently. On 30th July 1978, in the 11th General Body Meeting of SBIOA (CC) at Bangalore, Mr E. A. G. Moses confidently proposed starting the Educational Trust. On 23rd December 1978, the Educational Trust was registered. “I am proud to say this was the first trade union-run educational institution. As each school was established, the trust grew in leaps and bounds,” Dr Balaji shares. As Rome was not built in a day, the trust too reached its stupendous growth after facing all trials and tribulations.   

During COVID, teachers, parents, and students with minimal knowledge of how digital education works put immense effort into learning the ropes of technology. Under Dr Balaji’s leadership, teachers rose up to the occasion and designed a blended learning framework. The teachers, parents, and students learned the nuances of teaching online. After initial hiccups, they became experts in preparing PPTS, PDF, assignments learning material, online games and quizzes, Google forms, conducting tests and online exams, etc. Pandemic has played havoc among children as their takeaway has been considerably less when compared to regular school. Dr Balaji has instructed the teachers to take the initiative to bridge the gap and ensure that quality education is acquired by the students at SBIOA. Progress and innovation should not subdue the value of traditional values, ethnicity, and culture. The passing out NextGen must remember their roots and heritage and simultaneously touch great heights. Providing quality education, equal opportunities to all the students, inculcating moral values, and developing a socially conscientious mind to develop responsible citizens for future India.

Dr Balaji also gave opportunities to make the faculty at SBIOA learn online teaching methods by conducting several online workshops and seminars. When educators were threatened by a reduction in salary/part payment of salary, Dr Balaji came forward and gave his full support by providing them with total compensation. As a result, teachers were free from financial stress and wholeheartedly focussed on imparting knowledge to the student community. He also made sure that his Compartment Heads were more equipped to enable teachers to give their best. Publishers also insisted on offering teachers a helping hand by providing E-learning materials and organising webinars to adapt to the new normal.

In the tough times, Dr Balaji motivated his teaching faculty to participate in various online seminars to help them overcome the challenges faced during the pandemic. “Meetings were conducted for parents to make them aware of the techniques involved in online teaching to bridge the relationship between the teachers and parents,” he adds.

Education has evolved, and the pandemic has seen developments in many tangential directions. “I want the teaching community to adopt and develop the latest techniques to provide students with the required 21st-century skills,” he opines. Dr Balaji wants the schools to educate, illuminate, and stand as pioneers par excellence in the field. According to Dr Balaji, the SBOAns passing out of the school should have experienced holistic education with moral values and entered the real world as confident and responsible citizens of tomorrow.

Creativity is one of the most essential characteristics of an effective organisation and fosters a prosperous and healthy workplace environment. It opens up opportunities in achieving goals and inspires its members to be innovative and think out of the box. Dr Balaji ensures that every program or activity of the school pinpoints the creativity of the individuals. Every class has the imprint of these creative students. Mega exhibitions and projects are held every year to kindle students’ creative spark. All the students at SBIOA are given ample opportunities to participate in various interschool competitions, both online and offline, to showcase their innate talents and creativity. The school website also caters to bringing out the creativity of students. In and around the school, visual inputs help stimulate the creative minds of children. The school also conducts a talent hunt to exhibit talent and creativity in all the classes. SBIOA’s school magazine “Reflections” provides a platform for students to bring out their literary skills and creative skills. 

The teaching staff is encouraged by Dr Balaji to adopt creative teaching techniques using a variety of teaching tools such as audio and visual tools, brainstorming, field trips, roleplay, puppet talk, models, quiz and puzzles, smart board, Atal Tinkering Lab Activities, Project-based learning, ICT in all subjects, etc. Under the leadership of Dr Balaji, the school has introduced audio and visual effects in the classroom to make the class lively, thereby kindling the visual imagination of the children. Brainstorming sessions at the school help alert and enhance students’ thinking skills. 

Management plays a vital role in upgrading teachers to impart technology in the teaching/education system. “Educators should be given more workshops and seminars to update themselves on the current situation,” Dr Balaji shares. Suggesting changes in the education system, Dr Balaji adds that more experimental learning, concept-based learning, and hands-on technologies to be inculcated in the curriculum. Skill-based/multi-disciplinary education to be given importance. Students should be streamlined according to their interest in subjects. Rote learning should be eradicated at all levels in the school. Teachers should change their mindset of not being mark-oriented and emphasise the skills of each individual child. Integrated learning to be highlighted. Value education should be made compulsory. Students must be taught in-depth about the morals of life, inculcated with humanistic values. Counselling should be given more importance. Technology like AI can become a helping hand to teachers and students. While living in the renaissance of technology, technology and education cannot be kept apart. Schools should embrace technology with an open heart and propagate students to where their future lies.

Being updated on the latest technologies is becoming an increasingly important skill in the technologically advanced world. We need to be up to date with the latest trends in education to offer what is best for staff and the student community. Dr Balaji explores different ways to keep up with the change in educational trends as it is vital for the smooth functioning of the organisation. With technology bringing loads of information with just one click, one can become updated on recent developments in technology by finding time to browse the web. “Forums play a quintessential role and allow me to interact with inquisitive minds. I also participate in ‘meet-up’ events which create opportunities for people to update themselves and grab the knowledge of the latest technological advancements,” he shares. Digital learning with a proper blending of conventional teaching with new technologies will be more effective for the current situation. According to Dr Balaji, self up-gradation can be reached through teaching a discussion of concepts with various divergent, attending professional development programs create awareness about the current trends and policies introduced in the education system. He reads voraciously and follows articles and blogs that help quench his thirst to know what is in vogue. Dr Balaji reads journals rather than books as it is more effective and provides a surplus amount of knowledge needed.

“When you do good to others, good will come back to you. As a human being, I may have committed mistakes, but not a big one that has affected others,” shares Dr Balaji. He chose a path that was authentic to him. He became flexible, which allowed him to take chances, step out of his comfort zone and chart his own course. He has endeavoured to surround himself with great people and seek new opportunities. He has adapted to the changes needed for the success of an organisation. “Learning from our mistakes in a de-risked, agile environment maximises our ability,” he concludes.

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