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"I onboarded nearly 200 tutors!" | Team Spotlight: Varun

By Ananyaa Joy Nair | Monday, August 9, 2021

As one of schoolhouse.world’s most active and experienced members, Varun Chawla, steps back, the schoolhouse.world blog is taking a look at his story and impact at shaping schoolhouse.world into what it is today.

Finding schoolhouse.world

As with many of us who spent most of the pandemic at home under lockdown, Varun Chawla was scrolling through his Instagram feed on a summer day in 2020. He paused at the sight of a video posted by Khan Academy highlighting one of Sal Khan’s newest initiatives - a free peer-to-peer online tutoring platform. This was the first glimpse that paved the way for what schoolhouse.world is today.

Varun is a student at the University of Washington double-majoring in Human Centered Design and Engineering and Psychology. Besides his rigorous academic schedule, Varun spends a lot of time working on other projects and internships. However, the pandemic gave him a lot more spare time.

At the start, like many of us, having free time seems like a beacon of endless possibilities. But as hours turn into days, days into weeks, and weeks into months, spare time doesn’t seem as enticing as it once was. One hopes for a newfound sense of purpose. It was at such a time that Sal’s video came into Varun’s life.

In our interview with him, Varun looks back on that moment with pride and joy. He says, with a smile, that the video immediately “hit [his] heart.” As someone who watched Khan Academy videos since Fifth Grade and considered Sal to be a role model in his life, Varun instantly connected with the mission of schoolhouse.world. He was keen on leveraging his existing tutoring skills and wanted to get involved as soon as possible.

The Journey Begins

Being one of the first volunteers, Varun’s initial days at schoolhouse were filled with a lot of fun as he got to know the team but also challenges since many aspects of schoolhouse.world’s Coda version was still in the making. When speaking of his initial weeks at schoolhouse.world, Varun especially highlights how much he appreciated the weekly “Syncs with Sal,” as they have been dubbed. In these Zoom meetings, Sal joined several of the tutors to discuss progress, ask questions, highlight accomplishments, and most importantly - play games! Varun found these events to be a key part of building a welcoming community.

As with any new venture, however, there were hurdles. Speaking of these difficulties, Varun notes one issue in particular: “One challenge all new tutors faced for a couple [of] weeks was students not signing up for sessions, so sessions used to be just tutors hanging out.” Although it proved to be a good way for tutors to bond, there was still the concern of whether schoolhouse.world’s mission would be achieved if the help isn’t reaching enough people.

Varun saw a problem that needed to be solved. “Fellow social media team member, Raymond, and I worked together to find ways to spread word about the platform through social media marketing and outreach. That is now a main source of gaining learners,” Varun says. As part of this venture, they built the Social Media Team at schoolhouse.world, a group filled with many talented and dedicated individuals hoping to spread the message of the platform far and wide. Whether it be Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or TikTok, schoolhouse.world has discovered its social media presence - a strong and meaningful one.

When looking back on her work with Varun during the initial months of schoolhouse.world, Mariah, the Head of Community, says, “In the early days when everything we did had to be pretty scrappy, he was nearly always the first person to figure out what was falling through the cracks and how to fix it. He reaches out proactively to get to know people and figures out how he can support them, or even just brighten their day.” She continues that this effort has been an example for the community and “will always impact how we interact with each other.”

Varun’s Infinite Roles

Alongside Varun’s growing love for schoolhouse.world’s inclusive and diverse community, he also quickly took on a plethora of roles at the organization. When reflecting on Varun’s roles on the platform, Drew, schoolhouse.world’s COO, says, “Varun has played a major role in shaping our community and culture. It’s hard to overstate his impact. From our certification system to office hours to our social media to community bonding events, Varun has been pivotal.”

On the User Support team, he worked around the clock to respond to questions about the work done on the platform and guided numerous users in finding the session they needed. Varun’s determination to make schoolhouse.world’s chat and email responses promptly motivated several volunteers to join the team in achieving that goal.

Through the tutor development team, Varun worked on what he describes as an effort to “sponsor a community that strives [to pursue] quality over quantity.” As an active member of the community watch team, he was constantly aware of and responding to potential safety threats on the platform. In this way, schoolhouse.world fosters a virtual environment focused on safety - a difficult feat to achieve, but one that is well worth the effort.

Varun also was a premier member of the certification team, playing a significant role in setting up the platform for partnerships like the one with the University of Chicago. The certification process is at the core of schoolhouse.world and Varun helped build the team that manages the review and approval of certification requests. He is also the most active onboarding buddy in the community. When asked how many tutors he has onboarded, Varun’s reply comes as a shock to most. With a chuckle, Varun answers, “190.” 190 tutors! Presently, there are 465 tutors on schoolhouse.world, meaning that Varun has onboarded nearly fourty percent of all tutors on the platform so far. By onboarding all of these new tutors, Varun has helped them cultivate a path to finding a sense of purpose and belonging within the schoolhouse.world community.

Perhaps one of Varun’s most appreciated contributions to the community has been his unceasing effort to connect. He immensely values making and preserving the connections he forges. A key way he has done this is through team bondings. Team bondings offer an opportunity for volunteers to meet via Zoom to talk about sessions, get to know one another, and have fun! Varun took it upon himself to make these sessions happen as frequently as possible, especially during the initial stages of schoolhouse.world’s launch.

Team bondings have quickly become a favorite among many members of the community. Maya, a Founding Tutor, talks about her experience at team bondings. She says, “I enjoyed it because I got to talk and form relationships with the tutors around me in a fun, yet professional setting. Now, I feel so much closer to the community. Team Bondings really help all of us decompress.” Maya has adapted the tradition by hosting community bonding sessions that help learners and tutors connect with one another in the same way team bondings do!

In addition to all of this, Varun also hosts sessions on math topics and helped learners by leading Office Hours and Doubt Clearing Sessions. His impact is seen on hundreds of learners and tutors across the globe. Speaking of Varun’s infinite roles, Raymond says, “I think he does a lot of things that aren’t official roles either, like team zoom moderator, substitute tutor when someone can’t make it, person you reach out to for help on the tutoring team, introducer to new members, etc. Just a lot of selfless roles that he takes on that he doesn’t expect anything in return for.”

Varun’s myriad roles at schoolhouse.world have helped create a welcoming and purpose-driven community.

Deep Impact

When asked about his efforts to encourage members of the community to be more active, Varun elaborates on his journey in making that happen. An example lies in the simple yet significant task of answering fellow tutors’ queries on Slack. “At the start,” he says, “people often came to me when they had questions.” Eventually, Varun was able to encourage his peers to take on the same role and answer others’ questions when they know the answer rather than leaving it to administrators to do so. This has been especially helpful since the number of tutors on the platform is rapidly increasing and so are the questions that come with them. In this way, Varun has motivated several tutors to take on more active roles within the community.

Saifan is one such tutor who was able to be more active in the community thanks to Varun’s encouragement and guidance. He says, “Varun was the first tutor that I met and he helped me understand the basics of Schoolhouse. He introduced me to the product team and helped me find my place at schoolhouse. I don’t know where I could have been without him.” In his quest to contribute to the platform, Saifan has been a key proponent of bringing more of Art of Problem Solving into schoolhouse.world. He, along with Akshay, Raina, Noreen, and others, did significant work in conducting the successful Junior Mathematicians Problem Solving Competition that took place earlier this year.

Beyond his own contributions, Varun is proud of opportunities like the Idea Jams that give community members a voice and encourage them to grow the platform. He hopes that these forms of community engagement continue, as he believes that these events showcase the spirit of schoolhouse.world.

Reflecting and Looking Ahead

Looking back, Varun shares the impact schoolhouse.world has had on him. He talks of how much his experiences have improved his communication and leadership skills. The community that he helped build has, in turn, built him in its own way. We asked Varun to reflect on what he believes makes schoolhouse.world special after over a year of service. He says, “It’s free and inclusive,” highlighting two of the vital aspects of the platform.

When talking about inclusivity, Varun mentions the increasing number of adult learners on the platform. Varun has worked with several other founding tutors, including Kareena, Akshat, and Sachin, to tutor adult learners on the platform. When asked about his work with Varun, Sachin says: “Varun is such a great down-to-earth person...During my journey of helping an adult learner on our platform wanting to receive his high school diploma, Varun helped this learner and taught him many new concepts. Varun is definitely an awesome person to be around.” Along with Sachin, tutors like Kareena continue to take forward this mission by consistently offering several sessions for adult learners at schoolhouse.world. Varun explains that schoolhouse.world, in such ways, opens the door of quality education to learners from all backgrounds.

Looking at the future - his own and that of schoolhouse.world - Varun is hopeful. He hopes that this community can grow even more. Varun is excited to one day see over a million users on schoolhouse.world. As he enters his senior year at the University of Washington, Varun is also planning to open a new chapter in his life by starting his professional career. The work he does at schoolhouse.world helped nurture a deep passion for ed-tech, one he hopes to continue working in his career. Wherever his future takes him, Varun will continue to hold a place at the heart of schoolhouse.world and vice versa. Varun’s story underscores the essence of schoolhouse.world - a global community with a heart’s desire to make impact through learning.

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