Wednesday 11 September 2013

Management principles from a great school principal

Mrs. Kasturi Prasad, my aunt
As a farewell to my aunt, Mrs. Kasturi Prasad, the Principal of Madapati Hanumantha Rao School for 25 years, I thought of composing the ABCs of life that she taught me by what she DID and not by what she SAID. This is more significant than any management book could have taught me: 


When she walked into the room, people gave her the stage. No one refuted her final decision. She managed up with the authorities to maintain the freedom of the teachers and students who were under her care. 


She found great teachers and gave them the freedom to teach the way they chose. She did not intrude but she was always there if she was needed.

Beyond call of duty

She was available for teachers and students much after they even graduated and it did not stop there. She helped with the admissions of the kids into higher education, getting scholarships, and even getting them married.

Balancing professional and personal life

She woke up at 5am, made all the meals, packed 6 tiffin carriers (three kids, husband, herself and me), left for school on time at 8am, was one of the most accomplished principal for over 25 years. Everything started on time, the school won medals in debating, essay writing, painting and any other activity that it entered. Many of the students went into medicine, engineering, which were the most desirable professions of the day. 


At age 82, she lost her eyesight and sometimes had to depend on help to move her from place to place. Still, she would sit like a queen in the middle of the room, making calls, keeping in touch with what was happening with family, teachers and past students of the school. The moment someone entered the room, she would recognize them by their voice. She would remember what each guest would like and make sure that either coffee, tea, sweet or savory was served based on her memory of the individual’s preference. 


She was curious about the world, wanted to travel as much as she could. Every summer, she would arrange for a three to four week road-trip. We went in regular buses with the most uncomfortable seats; we slept on train platforms, slept on the long seats, on the floors of buses parked in petrol bunks, often 50 of us staying in just two large rooms packing up the floor space, and we never thought that it was uncomfortable. The worlds opening up in front of us was so magical that it masked any amount of dis-comfort of travel. She let her curiosity conquer any financial obstacles that came her way. 


When I last saw her on August 14th, she was in the hospital. She held my hand and said “, We are so proud of you. None of us ever supported all the stuff you did. You fought alone and accomplished everything. It is so easy for us to be proud of you now, but I feel bad that we did not support you then.” I was stunned and blown away by her ability to be such an unbiased critique of her own actions, especially in that physical condition. There were times I felt alone when I was young, when I was apart from the pack, but I never held her responsible for it. I always felt grateful for the schooling I had, for my teachers who taught me what matters most. I always felt that the tough experiences that I had actually gave me the strength to move forward. I told her that she gave me the greatest gift of all – an atmosphere of true learning where I was allowed to push the limits of my own capabilities. What she did or did not do at an individual level did not matter at all compared to what she did for the school and thereby for many individuals like me. 

As I grow older and think of my own legacy, I think of my aunt, my father and their siblings. More than any individual accomplishment, their greatest gift was the way they were there for each other, unconditionally. Most Sundays, our car would go to pick up my two aunts and a few uncles, and gather to have a meal together, chat, laugh and just hangout. They never made great plans or promises, and none of them ever said “, I love you,” perhaps ever in their life.  But, at times when I am alone and wondering about my life choices, it’s their unsaid love and unspoken actions that give me all the strength to keep moving forward. 

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