Some practical skills on being present to students in formal and non-formal settings are presented below.

a. FORMAL settings:

Educational institutions like schools, colleges and universities are accountable to many people: students, parents, staff, sponsors, benefactors and government officials. They have systems and strategies to ensure efficiency. Unfortunately, these structures of administration can become so complex that they run the risk of distancing the very persons for whom they were created to serve - the young learners.

Below are some suggestions to maintain a friendly environment without compromising standards of quality. If accepted and practised, these suggestions will give the educational institute the credibility required for a centre of holistic education.

1. Physical presence: Ensure that you are physically present in places where students gather in large numbers - whether in classrooms, corridors, gymnasiums or playgrounds.

2. Participate: During recreational breaks, avoid, whenever possible, the refuge of the teachers' rest room. Make attempts to be among the students as friendly guides and observant care-givers.

3. Animate: The time of recreation is an excellent opportunity to get to know your students and establish rapport. Device creative ways to involve as many as possible in wholesome fun and activity.

4. Decorum: When class resumes, encourage students to switch to a seriousness appropriate to classroom learning. One way to do this is by showing that at the stroke of the bell, you are serious yourself. This ability to change from light-hearted interaction during recreation to earnestness when the time for learning begins, will earn you the respect and appreciation of the students.

5. Have a contingency plan and prepare for any eventuality when you are among your students, especially at programmes that involve large numbers in a determinate area. Anticipate possible casualties and conduct safety-checks even before they arrive. A first-aid kit should be ever on hand.

6. The environment within which education takes place is as important as the educating itself. The type of lighting, colour, acoustics, location, equipment, furniture, landscape – all these can either enhance or obstruct learning. Essentially, the goal of each learning activity will dictate the type of environmental design. For example, the ambient created for a birthday party is not the one suitable for a study centre and vice versa.

7. Co-responsibility and collaboration of staff in an educational institute is a visible way to ensure a caring atmosphere. When the management and staff work as a team, students are encouraged to give their best. This involves a type of dedication that transcends the mere teaching of a syllabus or sticking to a curriculum.

8. A Counsellor's desk is of utmost importance in complex institutions. A trained counsellor - usually the Superior of the institute - has the task of being available to students, especially those in difficulty. He/She is readily available, discrete in maintaining secrecy, and encouraging in their pursuance of a happiness project.

b. NON-FORMAL settings:

Environment-friendly, non-formal settings in education have the advantage of bonding educator and student in ways that are impossible within structured classrooms. Young people are naturally spontaneous during games, picnics, camps and excursions. In such contexts they grow better and are healthier. Yet, non-formal settings also have their risks. There is the danger of a well laid-out plan going awry, a sudden change in time-table because of an unforeseen eventuality, or the challenge to improvise at short notice. The responsibilities for informal education rest squarely on the shoulders of the educators.

Here, then, are a few points to keep in mind when organising non-formal educational experiences.

1. Logistical arrangements: Ensure that the preparation and planning have been worked out to the last detail: places to visit, time-tables to be set, permissions to be sought, types of recreation and amusements to be enjoyed, boarding and lodging facilities to be arranged and budgets to be foreseen. It is also useful to have information on the educational suitability of the site and the relevant phone numbers and addresses of people who are in a position to help should anything go wrong.

2. Team work: It is important that you assign responsibilities to co-members of the organising team in keeping with their expertise. As the leader, you would need to have a copy of the overall plan and a detailed list of ‘who-does-what’ just in case reminders are necessary.

3. Enjoy their company: During the whole event you and your team will have to maintain a friendly atmosphere. Your style of relating to the students must be friendly and non-judgemental, allowing them to express themselves freely and spontaneously. Show that you are happy to be in their midst and to enjoy their company by participating in their recreation.

4. Be vigilant: Your informality, however, should not distract you from your responsibility. A keen observation of all the students, even while you enjoy their company, is essential. Take an inventory of their presence from time to time, especially when travelling from one place to another. With younger age-groups, it may be necessary to form teams and to assign responsibility to leaders. Take special care of the slow, the weak, the aloof, as well as, the mischievous, the recalcitrant, and the unpredictable.

5. Contingency plan: Having an alternative plan can prepare you for unforeseen eventualities. It is essential to carry along a first-aid kit and to have someone trained in administering first-aid.

6. The Learning attitude: To make the occasion truly educational you must motivate the students to sustain a learning attitude throughout the journey. Well-prepared information may be given to them in advance or they could be asked to research and discuss the information themselves. During the outing, they should take notes on what they see, hear, feel and discuss in order to give expression to their creativity on returning home. Some outlets for sharing their experiences could include essay-writing, preparing a notice board, publishing their stories in the school newspaper or creating a blog.

Art: Nino Musio