“A leader who reads widely expresses opinions clearly,” said Teacher-in-charge of Book Talk in SMK Dato Jaafar Johor Bahru, as she shared with me, how it aims to inculcate the reading habit among student leaders.
Teacher Navinder Kaur d/o Dhiraj Singh said that students from Forms Two to Six, who are keen to develop leadership skills, may opt to join the student leader group.
I met Navinder several years ago at her previous school, in a student leaders’ event and am familiar with how she is actively involved in encouraging and shaping her students through extra-curricular activities.
She was also at my book launch event for, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage last year.
And when Navinder discovered that school principal, Mohd Hanafi Samad, was a regular reader of my blog and had also bought my book, they wanted to invite me to speak at their Book Talk.
The monthly Book Talk that features invited speakers, aims to create more learning opportunities to mould active student leaders.
Other objectives of the group are to develop soft skills where students are trained to lead confidently, speak effectively and work together as a team.
Navinder said part of the teaching-learning approach in the 21st century is learning beyond the four walls of the classroom and working together with the community.
When I received the invitation to speak at the Book Talk, Navinder briefed me about the audience of 30 student leaders and that I should introduce my book in an interactive way to help them gain more confidence to speak in English.
Since my book launch, I’ve had the privilege to present my book to various groups including members of Johor’s oldest Rotary Club, the Rotary Club of Johor Bahru, and the expatriate ladies of the International Women’s Association here.
I have also presented my book with a public reading of selected portions of my book in Meet-the-Readers events organised by MPH Publishing in their bookstores, first in Johor Bahru and later in Kuala Lumpur.
Each of the previous presentations was skewered towards the target audience and for the student leaders, I planned to present it differently because they are from a younger generation and may not be familiar with a lot more of my book’s contents.
Aware that SMK Dato Jaafar Johor Bahru is an all-boys school, I designed my talk with elements to stir their imagination and capture the interest of teenage boys.
But when I arrived at the school, I was pleasantly surprised to see female students. Several were in the audience at the Book Talk and I discovered that they are Form Six students.
I opened the talk with a brief introduction of myself: an ordinary Johor-born girl who grew up in Johor Bahru and studied in secondary school, very much like them. But unlike them, I used to walk to school because back then, it was safe to walk on public roads!
I went on to share the key points in the amazing journey of my book project and the privilege of achieving a bestselling non-fiction book with the support of readers who have a taste for local stories.
Some students were holding pen and paper, poised to take notes and ask questions later during the Question & Answer time.
By using old photos to highlight selected stories from my book, I introduced the culture and heritage, and the lifestyle in a bygone era, as chronicled in My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.
It was an informal and interactive session where the students responded to me quite spontaneously and I could tell from their expressions, that they were captivated by the new things they were hearing!
As I watched the students, I recalled that Navinder mentioned about learning beyond the four walls of the classroom in the teaching-learning approach in the 21st century.
My favourite part of the event must be the Q & A time when students volunteered queries that were both relevant and intelligent.
Some interesting questions were, “What are the most important qualities for a writer/author to have?” “What should a writer do if he encounters writer’s block?” “How have you changed since your book was published?”
“What are the problems you faced in your book project?”
It was both fun and challenging to respond to these refreshingly honest questions.
Without going into too much detail, I provided personal, practical and tangible answers including tips and ideas that not only satisfied the students’ curiosity, but also encouraged them to explore and discover their own creativity.
Then a boy raised his hand but instead of asking a question, he reminded me to share about my father – the topic in my presentation that I deferred to speak about – when I introduced my story, My mentor, my dad.
I was glad to elaborate on this because this proved that he was listening attentively and prompted me when I delayed in returning to the topic I mentioned earlier!
So I told them about my dad’s role in my life, his support for my hobby in writing, our special relationship and how he would write notes to me even though we lived in the same house.
As a tribute to him, my dad’s handwritten lines are featured on my blog’s masthead design and are also used in the background (wallpaper) on my book cover design.
I had arranged with MPH Publishing for a special deal and was pleased to announce that for a limited period, MPH will offer a 20% discount on my book at their bookstore in Johor Bahru City Square, exclusively to SMK Dato Jaafar student leaders who wanted to have their own copies.
After the event, Navinder sent me this encouraging message: “Thank you very much for a very inspiring, warm-hearted session.”
Later, when she shared her students’ comments with me, I felt deeply humbled and grateful for the privilege to be a positive influence on young minds.