Looking Outside of our System

Having been to Singapore several times, one of the thing I am always impressed with is how the education system is both outward looking and how it constantly rotates leaders from the building level to the Ministry of Education level, as well as to the teacher college.

By outward looking I mean that nearly everyone you meet in a leadership position in Singapore education seem to constantly be looking at other education systems around the world.  With pride they know about the latest things happening in the U.S. or Europe or other places in Asia.  An expectation of principals is that every few years a principal is expected to go outside of Singapore to see other global education institutions as part of their professional development.  As one leader at IDA told me yesterday, we love going to the U.S. to see really innovative practices and solutions, and then them come back and replicate and perhaps even fabricate it, perhaps in partnership with China if it involves new devices or solutions.

And, I am also struck by how there is a regular rotation of leaders in the system so that even senior persons at the Ministry of Education (similar to our central office of a large school district), and those at the NIE university for teacher education, rotate back to leadership positions in schools every few years.  That ensures a seamless quality to how education is viewed and a common vision.  For example, the head of ICT in education at the Ministry of Education who developed the last Master Plan for ICT is now back as a principal.  Likewise, we met with the team at the Ministry who are developing the new Master Plan and nearly everyone had been working in schools within the last few years.  That breeds trust by educators that those developing policy actually know what happens at the building and school level.

In my experience, in Singapore there is none of the finger pointing that I hear in many U.S. education systems (e.g. – I often hear in US school systems that “our central office doesn’t get it”, or “our state department of education is keeping us from doing what we want” or “the feds don’t understand how education really works”).

I suppose you may be thinking, sure, this is possible in a small and affluent country, but that isn’t possible in U.S. school districts.

Yet, I wonder if innovative U.S. superintendents might be able to encourage some job swapping and site visits to other school districts…both in the U.S. and outside.  I know that time and support for travel is very limited.  But, sometimes we need to see things from the outside to get a fresh perspective of what is possible in our own organization.  I think a lesson from Singapore is that if we want continuous improvement, we need to allow time to see different systems and open our minds.


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