February 2, 2012

Adventures in Singapore – writings from EdTechTeacher’s Justin Reich

Justin Reich teaching in SingaporeSince the 25th of January, EdTechTeacher Co-Director, Justin Reich, has been working with school leaders and educators in Singapore. During this time, he has taught workshops on the use of technology in History classrooms, discussed training programs with the Educational Technology Division, presented on the use of social networking tools to facilitate collaboration, and visited schools. On his blog, EdTechResearcher, Justin has chronicled some of his lessons learned and observations.

Singapore Education–Teachers Leading the Next Level of Work

“So if you are one of the world’s best education systems, how do you keep getting better?

In Singapore, the answer is the Academy of Singapore Teachers….

In Singapore, getting from poor to great over 30 years has involved a very tight alignment of the educational system with very strong top-down leadership. They’ve aligned their curriculum with their assessments, strengthened teacher training, and aligned teacher training with curriculum. They’ve developed a culture of continuous improvement with regular effort to assess their performance to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t. They have a clear set of goals, a common language of instruction, and sound organization and financial foundations….”

From this point, writes Justin, the next goal that Singapore has identified is to develop their 21st Century Skills and to evolve from a system based on standardized tests to one that embraces self-directed learning and collaboration. Through the Educators in Residence program, Justin (and Co-Director, Tom Daccord) is presenting ideas from the outside to help further develop the professional development program through the Academy of Singapore Teachers.

Adventures in Singapore: What would happen if you could get everyone in the same room?

On January 28th, Justin wrote:

“One of the great things about my job, is that by virtue of being an outsider, often organizations will bring together diverse groups of people to solve important challenges around technology integration (“Justin Reich is coming next week, let’s have him meet with all the stakeholders.) But the meeting I had in Singapore on Friday blew all previous similar experiences out of the water….

I’ve never heard of a meeting where the people responsible for curriculum and assessment, pre-service teacher training, in-service teacher training, technology infrastructure design and training were all together in the same room tackling similar challenges. The very presence of these people in the same room– asking questions, finding common ground, working towards next steps–was a symbol of the remarkable coherence and integration of the Singapore educational system…”

In this setting, Justin had the opportunity to share what he saw as the reasons for technology integration in the U.S. and best practices while also responding to a second theme instigated by the Master Teacher for history in Singapore who believed that history education in Singapore needed to shift from transmitting narratives of history to having students develop the disciplinary skills of a historian.

Experiencing continuous improvement in Singapore

Since arriving in Singapore, Justin has taught two master classes in history. In this blog post, he chronicles not only his experience, but also the formal feedback that he received after each session.

After completing his second session, Justin wrote:

“The two Academy officers offered suggestions for how I could shape the workshop, and in particular about how I could structure the session to give people more time to consider my suggestions within the Singapore context and elicit this sharing effectively (it turns out that in Singapore, you pretty much have no choice but to cold call; and people are perfectly happy to be called on.) Some of their suggestions seemed immediately obvious, and some of them seemed misguided. When I pushed back, they were quite clear: they saw room for improvement, they had specific suggestions, but ultimately they felt strongly that it was up to me to decide exactly how to implement their feedback.

Pause for a moment and consider this. Can you imagine a school district in the U.S., inviting an expert to fly in from half-way around the world, and after their first workshop sitting down with them for an hour and saying “Good start, but you can do better.” Me, neither.

Much of their feedback was spot on. Through their coaching, I did a much better job eliciting participant ideas, and I provided much more time for participants to reflect on how ideas from an American context could be applied to their own environments. Some of their specific suggestions didn’t make sense to me, but the principles behind those suggestions helped me think of new ideas. More importantly, their investment in my workshop, their sense that I could do better, inspired me to not just crank out the second workshop, but to really think about how I could serve these teachers even better. So I wanted to see my number get about 3.33 not for the sake of moving the number, but because that would be one way of measuring progress towards the shared goals that the Academy officers and I set in our feedback session…”

For more about Justin’s adventures in Singapore, visit his blog: EdTechResearcher.