Winding Down and Gearing Up
As I write this I am approaching my final two weeks in the Fulbright program. I continue to collect data for my research project and have completed my required summative report that asked me to reflect on my 5 months in Singapore. I want to conclude both my report summative report and research paper before Audrey arrives on June 10th. It’s down to the wire and my brain hurts. In a few days I will be presenting my final workshop at the national Teacher’s Conference. I’ve given variations on the same presentation about a dozen times here, so it is well polished and I’m looking forward to sharing with teachers here one last time.
I brought a suitcase full of games here and we will be playing two of them. I will also be explaining my project, sharing a bit about Chalone Peaks Middle School and our school system, and supporting games-based learning with lots of evidence and research. At the conclusion, I will be leaving the games behind at the Ministry of Education, and sharing a new blog I’m working with resources to support teachers interested in learning how to implement play and learning opportunities in their classrooms.
I’m not through with this blog though. I’ve been using it to record my observations and reflect on my learning since I arrived. I’ve polished and published several posts, but have another dozen or so drafts I plan to finish in the coming weeks and months. Thank you for reading, engaging, and subscribing to my blog. I hope you remain interested and continue to follow my evolving adventures as I write them from the cozy comfort of my back deck.
I’m including an abridged version of my summative report below. I was limited to 15 pages and struggled to condense the past 5 months into such a small space.
Note: We were asked to share 3-5 takeaways. I had 11, which I narrowed down to these 3 and I was able to pull details from several previous blog posts.
Career tracks and professional growth
In conducting research prior to arriving, I was aware that teachers in Singapore are afforded much more time for professional development compared to educators in the U.S., but I was unaware of the structure and the degree to which they are supported.
Teachers in Singapore are expected to lead by example while demonstrating and promoting lifelong learning themselves. There are multiple professional development communities and networks. Teachers are given the freedom to explore their passions within this framework. Outside of their time at their school sites, which includes professional opportunities for growth, educators are given 100 hours that they may use to attend conferences, workshops, and short courses. A principal must approve each request. Substitutes are provided as necessary and overseas conferences can, and do, receive approval. The Ministry of Education supports much of these workshops, but educators can also use these hours to share information with others via presentations, tutorials, and mentorships.
Educators select one of the pathways, or tracks, described below as a foundation for their professional journey.
Those that choose the Teaching track are seeking to become teacher leaders while raising the level of their instructional practices. There are only a handful of Master Teachers in the country and I was fortunate enough to meet and work closely with the two master teachers for history. Both have a keen interest in promoting games for learning and lead regional learning networks dedicated to developing games for classroom use.
The Leadership track is designed for teachers that are interested in becoming full-time administrators. The third track is for educators looking to explore a range of opportunities within education. These teachers work within their area of expertise in the classroom, but are then reassigned for up to 3 years within the Ministry in an area of interest to them. It could be something like running the national museum dedicated to education, learning management skills within a program of interest to them, or even helping to implement the Fulbright program. This track allows you to become a highly specialized teacher that can fill critical roles within the larger system.
I greatly admire this model and have given considerable thought to how it might be implemented within my school district and beyond. The time provided for professional development comes at a cost of course, but it fits well into the Singaporean model of education. Teachers generally spend about 50% of their time teaching and 50% collaborating with others, attending formal and informal meet-ups with colleagues, scoring assignments, and preparing for class.
When I first began observing classrooms, I was interested in how the education system’s success on the global PISA assessment played out. Classroom instruction is similar to the “traditional” U.S. model in many ways. There is a heavy emphasis on lecture. Students are expected to listen, follow along with a worksheet or reading, and complete the assignment on their own outside of class if necessary. Mathematics and English language instruction occurs everyday, but the other subjects do not. It was common for history or social studies students to see their teacher just twice a week. Forty minutes one day and 80-minutes on another. Time constraints are extreme and behavior issues were not uncommon - specifically a few students in every class I observed were talking and off task. I saw lots of hard working teachers and mostly engaged students, but I had a hard time identifying the key(s) to success.
It wasn’t until I discovered, through shared experiences, how culturally situated learning is here. About 60% of Singaporeans identify as Chinese, the remaining 40% are mostly of Malay and Indian heritages. There are a smattering of Europeans, Japanese, and other Southeast Asian communities represented as well. They belong to a multitude of religious orders include Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Sikhism. Singapore is an extraordinary blend of cultures and religious affiliations which the government takes great effort in supporting. While here, I’ve attended Chinese New Year celebrations at schools and in homes. Around that same period of time, the Indian community was celebrating Pongal, a traditional harvest festival. Easter is a formal holiday, as is National Defense Day which is a reminder to all to be prepared if called upon. On Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Muslims in Singapore end Ramadan with a celebration of forgiveness and fellowship. Buddhist celebrate the enlightenment and death of Buddha on Vesak Day, which is a day of reflection.
All of these celebrations and recognitions share and promote common values and standards of morality that are taught throughout the school system. As a result, there is a strong sense of unity, national pride, and determination to do well personally in life, but also for the sake (and survival) of the nation. Despite the varied cultural and religious backgrounds, Singaporeans are united by their shared beliefs in a successful and prosperous life for all.
To this end, even though students may misbehave in class, they get their work completed. They understand the ramifications of not doing well. Parents and society place a heavy burden on the shoulders of the next generation. The student school day ends in early afternoon, but extra-curricular activities and tutorials extend the average student day well into the evening and even, for some, to Saturday mornings.
In April, I was extremely fortunate to attend the World EduLead Conference here in Singapore. As implied by the title, the conference has a global focus, but many of the attendees were Singaporean educators and I had a chance to catch up with several teachers and administrators from my travels. In addition, I signed up for a masterclass given by Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish educator and researcher on play, that was held prior to the congress. Other presenters included multiple keynotes by Michael Fullen, Carol Ann Tomlinson, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa and Howie Knoff. I gained tremendous insight and perspective from each presenter, but the Masterclass with Pasi Sahlberg was especially enlightening and supported and validated my research and personal teaching philosophy.
According to Sahlberg, since play contributes so much to the overall wellbeing of an individual, there must be time within the day for children to experience it. He emphasized the importance of “unstructured” play whereby kids are given the opportunity to explore all of the attributes of play without adult interference or other expectations. Schools tend to organize the day around intense, very structured learning periods which do not afford much time for play.
We concluded the day with a reminder of the true power of play in developing the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical lives of children. We must expand our efforts to include play throughout the school day and to support the use of innovative activities that enrich the lives of not only our students, but for ourselves. We are too often stressed, overburdened, disillusioned, and constrained within the systems we work in. It’s time to give play a chance.
[In my next post, I’ll share my action plan with you