Friday, May 8, 2020

Leaders and Leadership - RP Devgan

Rajinder Pal Devgan
Some years ago a young master, about to begin his first job at a reputed boarding school, got dressed as immaculately as possible and was ready for his first class. As he was about to step out of the house, the Heavens opened up and down came the rain. Though the classroom was about 100 yds away in the Academic Block, he did not fancy the idea of walking into the classroom soaked to the skin. He stood there transfixed, wondering what to do. Suddenly through the sheets of rain, a man appeared carrying an umbrella and with another one tucked under his armpit. Handing the young master an umbrella he added, “The Headmaster thought you may not have one so he sent this for you.”The young teacher was dumbfounded. He could not believe that a Headmaster could be so considerate and thoughtful.There and then he swore his allegiance to the headmaster and the institution.
These are some of the qualities leaders are made of; compassion and thoughtfulness.
I have been going down memory lane during this lockdown and look back at my 52 years as an educator in India and abroad. These years were spent in Boarding  schools, Day/Boarding schools and Day schools. In the first 27 years at The Doon School, I had the opportunity of working with six Headmasters, three  of them British. Mr C J Miller who appointed me as an Asst. Master, was kind, humble and a soft spoken gentleman. He was very considerate and continued helping the Doscos even after he left India and settled down in England. 

After a decade at the Doon School I decided to take a year’s Sabbatical and was accepted at Seven Oaks School, Kent, England. I was delighted because Seven Oaks was a cricketing school and at that time had Chris Tavare and Paul Downton playing for England. I took an instant liking to the Headmaster, Mr. Tummage. He made me feel very comfortable, wanted and important. I was immediately made master in charge of the junior cricket team. I was encouraged  to go out and play cricket for the Vine Cricket Club,the oldest in England. Later I was lucky to play a few games for Kent. 

Mr Tummage took great pride in my talent and was always ever so concerned about my well being . He made me feel a part of the school and gave me the opportunity to visit a number of schools including Eton and Harrow. He felt that I should see more schools and travel around England as much as possible. He fixed up a job for me at Lancing College at Shoreham-by-sea in Sussex. How lucky I was to to be there with Mr. Ian Beer as the Headmaster. He was an International rugby player and went on to become the Headmaster at Harrow.  Mr. Beer was most considerate and thoughtful and never made me feel like a stranger. These Headmasters behaved like colleagues and that is where their strength lay. I found them most unassuming, friendly and yet they knew where to draw a line. Never did I ever hear them raise their voice or be sarcastic. They saw the positive side of their staff and spent time encouraging, inspiring and motivating them. They made you feel important and part of the institution. They were very child-centred and always there for their students and parents.

Back in India, I worked with Mr Shomie Das, one of the finest educationists. Coming from a very academic background, he was a breath of fresh air. He allowed the staff to grow. He gave them enough freedom to work and yet kept a benevolent eye if things needed straightening up. He, with his understanding nature, was able to inspire and motivate the staff. Many of them later were to become Principals and Headmasters of some of the top schools in India. It was indeed very fortunate to have worked under some great headmasters who left an indelible impression on me. Later I was lucky to have headed schools in India and abroad for twenty five years, the last one abroad being The Gandhi Memorial International School, Bali.

One of the lessons learnt from these great Headmasters was that one should never put oneself on a pedestal. Good leaders are part of a team and they are only as strong as the weakest link. Leaders need to be thoughtful, compassionate, considerate and yet firm.  Headmasters have to be child centred and their first and foremost priority should be the staff and students. It’s important to know the staff personally and be aware of their problems and strengths. Happy and confident leaders with no complexes and nothing to prove tend to be selfless and work for the well being of the community and society. They certainly do not measure their success and competency by the awards they win,  which seems to be the yardstick of success today.Their success lies in their modesty and passion as an educator to make a difference in the lives of the students and educators they mentor.

After all an institution is only as good as its Head.


Rajinder Pal Devgan - Chairperson Learning Forward India. With near five decades of experience as an Educationist and having served as a School Leader for schools in India and overseas, Mr Devgan brings in rich experience as an administrator, sports person and champion for teachers. His love for children further strengthens the My Good School philosophy of the personal and social development of every individual with the active support of teachers, faith in experiential learning and learning outside the four walls of the classroom. Currently, Member Board of Governors at a leading residential school in India has settled down at Dehradun, to strengthen the mission of Learning Forward in India.

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