Changing Education from the Inside Out, The SIngapore American Story (CoSN17)

Author credit: Ben Murray

Dr Chip Kimball spoke about the traditional education system, built on the foundation that academic content knowledge is king, and how it is no longer adequate to prepare our children for the 21st century workforce.

There is a sense of urgency for change, but figuring out what to change, and helping change the mind sets of educators, parents and children themselves is incredibly challenging.

This talk was based on the story of the Singapore American School (SAS), a US-based school of 4000 students in SE Asia and the leadership insights that were discovered along their journey.

The school embarked on a year of research and a subsequent year of development.

SAS looked at schools that were doing interesting things. They also looked at they did well: created a sense of urgency; ensured broad involvement of faculty and admin; gave permission to dream big; no programmes or practices were sacred (except for ensuring the students were not compromised in getting to college).

Lessons learned:
Utilise research to guide conversations; teachers believe things (rightly or wrongly) but they may not be up to speed on the current research, which they need to make informed decisions.

Unapologetic school culture:
DSLO’s (desired student learning outcomes) These DSLO’s were character, collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking and cultural competence. The content will flow from these.

Personalised learning 
Global and local connections 
Relationships were central (teachers/students etc.)

Clear on what students were going to know and learn/relevant teaching and learning.

Then SAS created their strategic plan, which ended up with 115 recommendations. This was a problem. It translated as too many indications of “best practice”.

Doug Reeves: The Diamond and the Rockpile
Reeves’ research shows that the diamond of innovation becomes a bundle of rocks if there are too many diamonds.

After 6 strategic priorities you are in overload, book sounds interesting

So SAS came up with 5 things they were going to do.

Strategic planning:

What we did well: developed rubrics to see what evolution will look like; adapted as we learn more; established schoolwide task force to lead each strategy; honoured the people, processes of the R and D.

Do differently: revise pace of change so that it is based on what needs to come first: i.e. don’t be afraid to slow things down if needed; start schoolwide task forces earlier.

The Big Leadership Question:
SAS broke the strategic plan down to a 100 day plan to make it more manageable.

How do we move from theory to practice?
They agreed 6 institutional commitments:

Great teaching all day every day 
Common Curriculum 
Data as evidence of learning 
Integration of technology 
Participation in PLC 
Contribution to healthy organisational culture

The teachers were all told that all had to do this and it was a hard 2 years. It was a big challenge and, as with all such challenges, some of the teaching staff chose not to remain atthe school. While this was a hard line to follow, ultimately, for the good of the school and the students learning it became an important line and SAS made sure it happened at speed.

Implementation lessons learned:

Well: focused on doing it right and not doing it fast (this is more concerned with the kinds of programmes they were implementing); gave permission to iterate and learn from failures; hired for what we want to become, hired with the 6 institutional commitments in mind.

Would do better: be more aggressive about identifying what to stop; recognize staff different stages of readiness; provide clarity about what is non-negotiable, what we are unapologetic about; identify the new role of teachers and administrators; invest in leadership development at all levels.

The 3 C’s below we would think about in more detail if we could go back again: