Today’s blog is a guest post from Eunice Tan, a school staff developer at Hong Wen School in Singapore. It was a pleasure to have Eunice and some of her staff come to visit me and my school a little over a month ago. This is her recollection of our connection and her visit to my school, including her steps and future thoughts. VERY inspiring ….
It’s one thing to blog about my reflection and an entirely different thing when Mr Kemp asked if he could share my reflection with others. That simple request was mentally converted into an expectation which gave a sense of disquiet. It led me to wonder about the kind of expectations we set for our teachers and students. If I want my teachers to be reflective practitioners, then shouldn’t I walk the talk? Hence, his gentle nudge is probably what I needed to get started on blogging about my reflections.
Not long ago, I started a Twitter account and I got to know Mr Kemp who is the Head of Ed-Tech at Stamford American International School (SAIS). He is always sharing the use of tech tools and his involvement in professional development on Twitter. I thought that this is someone I could look up to as a role-model as I have recently taken on the portfolio of a school staff developer this year. Since it was the March holidays, I decided to try my luck to see if Mr Kemp was willing to conduct a school tour. I’ve long learned that ‘if I don’t ask, I don’t get’. To my absolute amazement, Mr Kemp agreed without any hesitation. I am only a MOE teacher but he was kind and generous enough to take time out from his busy schedule to take my colleagues and I around his school and he was most obliging in answering any queries we had.
During the one and a half hour school tour, we were completely floored by the variety of facilities they have and the kind of curriculum their students go through. No doubt these students come from a better socioeconomic background, but that alone cannot explain their interest in a wide range of issues (from global warming to euthanasia), their unreserved friendliness, and their quiet confidence in carrying themselves. I’m pretty sure that being part of a diverse student population (90 nationalities, according to Mr Kemp), going on annual overseas trips to less developed countries, and immersing themselves in inquiry project work of their choice for two months (Grade 5 PYP exhibition) each time have something to do with that.
George Couros asked this question, “What are some ideas or practices we need to rethink in education?” One of my answers would be to remove ‘standardised testing’ or more commonly known as semestral examinations here in Singapore Public Schools (MOE). Just in doing practice papers, taking the examinations and going through answers for all subjects would take up three weeks each semester. If we could take that away, we could devote more time to inquiry learning. And not just inquiry-based lessons but student-directed inquiry that involves deep learning. I think the authenticity of that kind of work allows pupils to find more relevance and meaning in their learning. Being part of a diverse student population means having a greater understanding of cultural norms and exposure to varied perspectives (talk about having a global outlook).
If the number of facilities equates to opportunities, then the students of SAIS have the advantage of being exposed to a wide variety of CCAs and enrichment activities, ranging from drama, golf and archery to robotics, woodwork and 3D printing, just to name a few. Every student in Elementary also has a digital portfolio (using the seesaw app) where they upload pictures or videos of their work and write reflections of their learning and they can also receive feedback not just from teachers but also from their parents. On top of this they have a “one-of-a-kind” Innovation Center that has anything and everything you can imagine to engage students in learning and put them in an innovative and design thinking mindset – something all of our students need and deserve. They way this facility is used school-wide is incredible. All of this allows teachers, parents, and students themselves to discover their strengths and that perhaps may explain for their level of self-confidence.
Last but not least, is knowing that there is an unseen advantage which comes from being schooled in such an environment (at Stamford American International School). It affords their students the privilege of building social capital at a young age. It is something intangible and yet will create a great economic impact on their future. Mr Kemp, in wanting to give his students the chance to interact with local students, extended an invitation to us to bring our students over to view the students’ presentation of their project work and more sometime soon. I am looking forward to it but there is also a sense of trepidation, that my students will be seen wanting in comparison.
How then can we, as teachers, help to close the gaps and level up our competencies so that our local students too can achieve their fullest potential? How do we promote the joy of learning and at the same time encourage our students to develop entrepreneurial dare? I do not have the answers but I know I cannot do it alone. It is not going to be an easy journey but nothing worth doing is ever easy.