We taught you well during Covid — not just in the class, but being the school that we are.

I have always said that teachers should be sources of inspiration, rather than just being dispensers of instruction. This is always easier said than done, but I believe we, as a school, did live up to this difficult ideal during the time of this pandemic, and there are a lot of lessons from the way we conducted ourselves during this difficult year.

Of course, the fact that we could continue delivering the regular academic lessons to you during this difficult time is in itself a lesson in adaptability and innovation. Within a couple of months of lockdown announcement, we built a comprehensive math practice app (Limit) covering almost every area of math from class I to class XII; we built a writing app (Ink) so that you can continue to write answers to assignments and get feedback on those; we built a reading app (Snippet) so that you can get daily reading practice; we linked all of those to our tracking and assessment app (Count) so that your parents know on a daily basis how you are performing.

All those were augmented by our pre-existing digital platforms (English Delta and Math Delta), and Zoom-based discussion classes. With all teachers having access to a computer with pen support, they could use screen-sharing and MS Whiteboard to almost replicate the real classroom experience. In fact, during our recently concluded parent-teacher meetings, most parents said that they felt their children learnt better during this year!

So the most important lesson that you can learn from the way we conducted ourselves during the pandemic is: when the going gets tough, and the world becomes topsy-turvy, adapt, innovate, and reinvent yourself.

Throughout the rolling out of these initiatives, we have been as accommodating and as supportive as possible with the parent community. We understood that computers and internet were additional expenses for them, so we didn’t lay down any strict rule related to device requirements. We didn’t keep any strict deadlines. Even in those days of May and June, with complete lockdown in place, when we had almost no staff in the school, we always tried to respond to online class related technical queries on WhatsApp.

While the apps and the online classes are visible to you — there were initiatives that were under the surface, but it is important that you know about those as well. You probably have seen from news articles and TV that a lot of companies — big and small, well-known and obscure — cut salaries of their employees, and sometimes even laid off a large number of people. We, too, knew that there will be losses: for example, we didn’t charge transportation fees at all for the last two terms and offered parents waivers on regular fees, while our technology infrastructure costs went up substantially. But we decided that during this time of difficulty, if someone has to take the hit, it must not be our employees (whom we continued to pay in full), and it must not be the students (whom we continued to teach well), and it must not be the parents (whom we offered support whenever they requested for it). We decided that if there is a temporary financial difficulty — we must bear it ourselves.

Let this be a lesson for you: when the going gets tough, take responsibility, rather than passing the buck.

Intellectually, a lot of you show promise, but sometimes you fall short on resilience. I have noticed, if you fail, even in a minor way — for example, when you Count comes down, or you fail to get admission to your dream college (there shouldn’t be any dream college, but that’s another article), or you get a stern rebuke — you feel demotivated and often stop working as hard as before. In contrast, the school’s approach during the crisis is a lesson in resilience, which is particularly evident in our approach to college admissions.

Last year, many students from our 2020 batch gained admission to the top colleges in the USA. Given that it was the first graduating batch, things were supposed to only get better and easier for the next batch, with that experience and track record. However, the Covid crisis jeopardized it all — US colleges became reluctant to take international students (at least temporarily, for the next couple of years), because of international travel and immigration difficulties and also due the fact that Covid-19 impacted them economically, and the brunt of any financial difficulty will be borne by international students seeking big financial aid (our students are squarely in this category!).

However, this did not deter us; inspite of huge amount of work that we already put in in understanding and mastering the US system, we quickly put in equal amount of work preparing lesson plans and modules for Indian entrance exams (IPM-AT, CLAT etc), which would give our students an equal shot at a great future. Not for a moment we lamented for the lost US opportunity this year; rather, we, as a school, were eager and enthusiastic about learning a new area, and coaching you for a different destination.

So here is another lesson: when the going gets tough, and your plans are foiled, do not lament; get up and work!

Now think about how we could respond so quickly and so well to such a big crisis. Firstly, it was because we had the Path Ones — the bunch of students who committed to stay and work in the school after their graduation — who were staying physically with us here during the time of the lockdown, so that we could collectively build things. It also happens so that we built the Path Residence beforehand. It also happens so that we sent two of them to Hyderabad last year to learn coding. It also happens so that we already had quite a few digital platforms — like Delta and Count. To an external observer it would seem as if we, almost magically, knew Covid would hit us at some point, and we were slowly, stealthily preparing for it.

However, you know that’s not true. No one predicted Covid. We were just doing things that are fundamentally right — building a great team (Path Ones), building our skills (coding training), building the correct processes (Delta and Count), building a great culture (that’s why the whole student body and parent community so easily transitioned online) — basically, we were doing the right things regardless of the situation, so when a disaster hit the world, we were prepared. Because we are perpetually prepared. And we are perpetually preparing.

So that’s your biggest lesson from the crisis: always do the fundamental things right, so that you are prepared for any eventuality.

Founder, The Levelfield School. Writes on education and society.