Over the last two weeks, we looked at the importance of building a positive school culture and building a culture of relationships, particularly in helping schools adapt to remote learning in the pandemic. In this final part of our webinar series, Positive School Culture in the New Normal, we focused on the culture of learning. Schools are widely assumed to be places of learning – but does this mean a culture of learning is present? How can such a culture be nurtured and exemplified? We invited three leaders in education across Singapore and Indonesia to share how they have sustained a culture of learning in their schools, and how a robust culture of learning consequently builds school-wide resilience against education disruptions.
Our speakers covered an often-overlooked aspect of learning – empowering teachers as lifelong learners. Ms Yenny Dwi Maria, former Principal of SMPN 211 Jakarta in Indonesia, shared how a sustained practice of supporting teacher learning helped her school to transition smoothly to remote learning. Independently forming small groups in online forums, the teachers gathered to proactively practise using online teaching tools, as well as give feedback in online lesson delivery. Mrs Wai Yin Pryke, Director of Education and Community Outreach at the National Heritage Board in Singapore, similarly described how teachers across Singapore proactively share and learn from each other’s pedagogies on a nationwide teachers’ online portal, OPAL 2.0.
A culture of learning is also fostered when students receive support and mentorship from their teachers on areas beyond academic performance. Ms Elsie Jeremiah, former Principal of Kuo Chuan Presbyterian High School in Singapore, shared the touching anecdote of a Form Teacher mentoring a struggling student who was coping with the sudden passing of his father, providing the student with access to both counselling and academic help. With the school’s mantra of ‘every student can learn’, Ms Jeremiah detailed the importance of getting to the root cause of a student’s underachievement, and how a teacher going above and beyond traditional areas of responsibility can ensure a student’s success not just in academics, but in life.
This culture is also more easily fostered when it is supported systemically by government initiatives and policies. Mrs Pryke shared an initiative by Singapore’s Ministry of Education that entitles teachers to 100 hours of personal development a year. While not a compulsory requirement, many teachers see this initiative as their right to seek constant self-improvement, and thus, capitalise on available resources within and outside of the education system to improve their teaching practices. Likewise, Ms Yenny detailed how the Indonesian government provides free online tutorials and training for teachers, coaching them through the new education policy reforms enacted in response to pandemic-era learning.
Are schools then places of learning? After observing the perspectives of our three speakers, we can surmise that while schools are formally designated educational institutions, a true culture of learning only arises when staff and educators are themselves nurtured as lifelong learners. When teachers are passionate about their own learning journeys and are proactive in pursuing knowledge, the infectious joy of learning will spread to their students too.
Over the course of three weeks, we have spoken to nine experienced and outstanding educators, to discover what it means to build a positive school culture, why this is important, and how it can help schools adapt to the pandemic. Even as the global health situation improves, there is no doubt that remote or hybrid models of learning will continue to be a part of mainstream modes of education, as we move into a future where frequent disruptions may take place.
Above all, we have seen how a collaborative spirit, a strong sense of community and a lifelong practice of learning give schools the leverage and resilience needed to adapt to educational disruptions. As the world moves forward and adapts to a new normal in living and learning, we hope these stories and lessons will aid you in leading your own schools safely into the future.