Ms Atima Joshi, Senior Principal of Middleton International School, has a vision of a happy, peaceful, caring and sustainable society. As a firm believer that empathy and resilience ignite the human spirit, Atima is passionate about changing lives and giving her all in her involvement, responsibility and action. When children want to give up, Atima shows them that she isn't giving up on them.
In this part of EtonHouse Stories, Atima shares her story of helping children uncover their potential and the life lessons she has acquired.
Atima Joshi loves meeting her former students and listening to their stories. Once, one of them showed her an old photo from more than 14 years ago. “The child didn’t want to study because he had learning difficulties. He had given up on learning and, at times, got into trouble, but we didn’t give up on him. We kept trying different approaches to help him learn and one day he was finally able to spell and write his own name! We cried happy tears in the classroom! That one success motivated him to persevere and he eventually became a student leader. ” Atima shares. “He’s kept that old photo as a reminder of his time at EtonHouse and that anything is possible if you persevere and believe in yourself.”
When she moved to Singapore, Atima made a chance acquaintance with an EtonHouse teacher, who encouraged her to apply as a language teacher at the Broadrick campus. “While dropping my application letter off at the school during my morning walk, I met the Vice Principal who interviewed me there and then. She said that I had a spark that bode well!” she laughs. 16 years on, the spark is still visible, as she talks passionately about changing lives and the life lessons that she has acquired over the years. “Every learner needs empathy and time, because they all have their unique learning journeys.”
An advocate of perseverance and innovation, she recalls a child who would get up and walk out of class because he struggled academically. “Many conversations ensued with him and his family. Different types of experiences were tried and reflected upon so he could find his ‘hook’. Over the course of a few months, he realized that we genuinely cared for him and his well-being. One day he brought in a necklace for me, so that “I would look as beautiful as his mum.” We made a deal that I would wear the necklace and in return he would do his best. It turned out that he had an enormous passion for go-karting. He became so good at it that he was offered a go-karting scholarship. This meant that he would miss time in school. We helped by planning and sending his lessons and homework online, so that his learning wouldn’t suffer. Today, he is 17 and a successful go-kart racer with many accolades under his belt. It fills all of his teachers with pride seeing his remarkable journey. ”
In 2016, Atima was offered the opportunity to become the principal of a new school under EtonHouse, which would become Middleton International School. “The EtonHouse spirit was evident when we were preparing the new school for its launch on a tight timeline. Everyone, from our Group CEO and Executive Director Yi-Xian, to all department heads and school staff helped with the set–up; from shoveling mounds of soil, to moving furniture, to building the playground and setting up classrooms. Amidst the rubble, sweat and anxious moments were giggles, hugs, endless coffee shop trips and amazing team bonding. That is what EtonHouse is: One big family!”
A school themed on sustainability, affordability and inclusivity, Middleton has numerous unconventional learning environments and resources designed to help students uncover their full potential. Here, tin cans and cardboard cartons from its neighbouring coffee shop are turned into creative projects. Atima believes in the power of play and nurturing curiosity to stimulate learning and creativity. The loose parts playground at Middleton Tampines is made up of natural and recycled materials like repurposed wooden frames, tyres, oil barrels and bamboo. In the spirit of its motto, ‘Learn, Innovate, Serve’ Middleton students create visual arts projects for local hospice patients and perform for them during various festivals.
“Learning needs to be purposeful and not restricted to classrooms. All members of staff both academic and non-academic have a role to play in the education of the child.” She elaborates, “The Water Play for Early Years programme was created as part of the Design and Technology project by our Grade 7 students. I facilitated the academic part, and our Facilities supervisor and the maintenance team taught students the skills of creating the actual machine using drills, hooks and cutters. Students learned to apply their science and art skills, to design and create something that would be used by their peers daily.”
Creativity needs time as well as encouragement, through both in success and failure. Atima recounts how a student refused to talk in class because he struggled with English. “Children use 100 languages to express themselves. This child seldom verbalized his thoughts in class. One day, the students decided to design their own chocolate wrappers following our reading of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate factory’. While all others started and some even neared completion, this child sat on his haunches in the middle of the classroom for a long time. It was his typical thinking position. I left him undisturbed for a while before giving him a gentle nudge. He finally got up and rummaged through the class art supplies. While everyone else made a 2D wrapper, he designed his own 3D Toblerone-like wrapper using chopsticks and paper! Some months down the line, he created his own version of an egg drop machine, using 100 paper windmills. It was spectacular and the whole school cheered him on. With each project, his risk-taking capacity and confidence grew. By the end of the year he was facilitating conversations in English and Mandarin at home and school! That to me is success.”
Atima firmly believes that a positive school culture leads to a happy and healthy learning community. She is a firm advocate of connection before correction. “Students and staff need to feel safe and cared for before they can learn and grow. They need to feel that they are a part of a community that cares.” She recalls, “When a student’s mother passed on unexpectedly, the entire community rallied forth. A drama performance was brought together to help the child and the class come to terms with this sudden loss. The play brought out the love of theatre not only this student but a few others. Later, a parent in the same class staged a commercial play with the students which became a commercial movie that won many accolades. The child eventually pursued theatre with the School of the Arts Singapore. The weft and weave of relationships have the power to create beautiful bonds for life.”
These bonds are also visible in her team. “Our team members have been fondly termed ‘Swiss Knives’ - we are multifunctional,” she laughs. “The heart of the matter is that our staff and students have agency on what they are doing and they do it collaboratively. The ideas are hence collective and not owned by any one individual. It is then easy to step in for one another when needed.
Why are compassion and perseverance so important to Atima? “We are a young school and new challenges keep coming our way; but we are a resilient bunch. We never give up on an idea or a person – be it a child, colleague or a parent. In the age of artificial intelligence and smart machines, it is imperative to remember what it means to be human. It is empathy and resilience that ignite the human spirit.”
This article was first published in 25 Tales, the Story of EtonHouse.