Warda: Lessons from the Fellowship | Part 2
Click here for Part 1
#Growing student leaders
For my second-year initiative, I started BLISS because I want to shift the “budak kampung” mindset. I want to empower students like Hakim to lead their own learning — which meant changing their mindset, and arming them with the necessary skills.
To do that, BLISS focuses on developing students’ skills in five areas: project management, event planning, fundraising, pitching and ICT skills. With the help of Yen Teng (2017 Fellow), I kickstarted the programme with a camp and a challenge: by the end of the year, the participants had to organise the closing camp entirely by themselves.
For my first cohort, I recruited 24 Form 1 and Form 2 students, especially those I identified to be shy and unconfident but eager to learn and grow. During the early stages, I coached the students on the basics of event management and fundraising, then I slowly stepped aside and let them take charge.
Managing BLISS alongside my teacherly duties and weekend DPLI (Diploma Pendidikan Lepasan Ijazah) assignments was tough, but so rewarding. During BLISS’s year-end camp, which was held in UTM Skudai, I remember the surprise of the UTM staff when they discovered they’d been corresponding with students all along!
#Growing my own leadership
But it wasn’t just my students who were learning. With every step along the Fellowship, I was constantly challenged to grow — or rather, I had to grow, or I’d be overwhelmed.
My first year was tough. I worked hard to adapt to my community, to gain the trust of my students, while fulfilling my duties as a teacher and a Fellow. I knew I had 2 years to build a connection, and create my impact.
Being a thinker, I sometimes struggled to understand others emotionally; but interacting with my students has opened my eyes, and taught me to see without judging. Learning about the difficulties my students face — Hakim being just one example of many — has made me more patient, and more empathetic.
Being able to understand my students made managing the classroom so much easier. I learnt to deal with the myriad challenges a room full of teenagers can throw at you, with fairness, sensitivity, and kindness, so they eventually grew to respect me.
#Building myself up to build others
I learnt to manage myself, too. That’s what made my second year better, even though I actually had a heavier workload. A lot of my first year was spent stressing out, but with support from my peers and mentoring from my Leadership Development Officer, I learnt to prioritise and manage my time better.
It also freed up time for me to focus on improving my skill set. When I started BLISS, I had pitched and received RM3,500 in corporate funding from Dragons’ Den. However, I had no idea how to measure and represent BLISS’s progress, even though I knew it was doing well! I needed to learn data analysis, so I set aside time to learn independently from the internet.
But most valuable of all, to me, was learning to be a better coach. When I first started BLISS, I’d often think for my students because I wanted problems to be resolved faster. However, this resulted in students not feeling invested in their work.
I had to change my approach, learning to think with my students by including them in the brainstorming process. Instead of outright rejecting an idea, I learnt to suspend judgment in favour of understanding: understanding where they’re coming from, and how we can all arrive at a common solution.
I learnt that effective leadership isn’t about being right; it’s about being right together.
#A journey of a lifetime
The Fellowship has changed me, as it has changed some of my students too. Hakim, once the shy Form 1 student on the verge of dropping out, is now a mentor, helping to coach the next cohort of BLISS students. During the school week, Hakim now stays under the care of a fellow teacher, and goes home during weekends. He attends school regularly and is performing well in the “top” Form 2 class.
Myself, I’ve had a remarkable journey filled with crests and troughs: priceless memories and valuable lessons. It might’ve been overwhelming if I were alone, but the support I received from the community and my peers, especially my housemates, sustained me during those steep learning curves.
Two years ago, I embarked on the Fellowship because I figured I had a knack for teaching. The Fellowship has solidified my purpose and perspective — my wish now is to empower students with their voice, so we can all learn from them.
“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.”
— Woodrow Wilson
BLISS – a programme to promote student leadership by developing their soft skills. In particular, I focused on 5 areas: project management, event management, fundraising, pitching and ICT skills.
Warda was a Teach For Malaysia Fellow in the 2016 Cohort, who taught Sejarah at a high-need school in Pasir Gudang. She graduated with a Business and Management with proficiency in Mandarin Chinese from the University of Exeter. Read Part 1 here.
Teach For Malaysia recruits, trains and supports Fellows to teach in high-need schools across the nation. Beyond the Fellowship, our Alumni continue to champion education in different ways. To date, we’ve impacted over 73,000 students, working with the Ministry of Education and other partners.