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#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.