Fulbright Distinguished Awards (DAI) in Teaching Program
Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program for International Teachers
The DAI Program is one of the flagship international educational exchange programs supported by the U.S. government. It brings outstanding international educators to the United States (U.S.) for a semester-long program to pursue individual or group projects, take courses for professional development at a U.S. host university, and observe and share their expertise with U.S. colleagues.
The DAI Program has provided our educators with good exposure and understanding of teaching and learning practices in overseas institutions and schools, and has allowed them to more deeply appreciate the strengths and areas of relative weakness of our education system as they engage in professional networked learning and dialogue with educators from the U.S. and from other participating countries.
Participating countries/region :
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
Educators who return from the DAI Program in the U.S. will share their learning at national platforms like the Teachers’ Conference and ExCEL Fest (TCEF), and will get to work with the related Master Teachers to explore how their learning can be extended to the teaching fraternity. In years when there is no TCEF, AST organises an Inquiry Project Sharing session during which the DAI recipients come together to engage in professional dialogue with our teachers on the implications of the learning from the DAI Program against our local educational context.
Sharing our similarities, celebrating our differences
Miss Angelynna Lim
In August 2017, as part of the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program, I first set foot in Bloomington, Indiana, knowing the city only by its reputation of being a university town. Over the course of the four months that I was there, I developed an affinity for the city and its people and affectionately called the place ‘home’. What struck me most about the Midwesterners was their extremely warm, kind, and down-to-earth nature. They were generally friendly with willing smiles and would even wave at strangers. Once, I was standing at the traffic junction wondering about my bearing and feeling a little lost. A passer-by automatically stopped to offer help. At the supermarket, the cashier would always greet customers with a smile and ask how the day was. When taking the public transport, be sure to shout out a “thank you!” to the driver, and be ready to receive a cheerful “Have a great day ahead!” response. In our hectic lives, we sometimes underestimate the power of these little gestures which would make someone’s day. For those treasured four months, I learnt to truly value and appreciate how these intricacies added “an extra layer of human touch” to our daily interactions with others.
Another characteristic of the Midwesterners is how they are community-minded. There is an incredibly strong community spirit where people enjoy spending time bonding with family and friends. Many of them identify strongly with specific communities which they belong to. Getting together for the 3Fs: Food, Fun and Festivities was commonplace. This is akin to Singapore’s ‘kampung spirit’, where there is a sense of social cohesion in a community, and where diversity is appreciated and respected. With the warm hospitality of my Bloomington hosts, there was no lack of community activities for me to participate in. Some of the more memorable activities include a picnic-cum-nature hike at McCormick’s Creek State Park, and a pumpkin-picking project where the pumpkins were picked and sold to raise money to build houses for under-privileged families in Mexico.
Pumpkin-picking for a Worthy Cause
Application of Learning
“To learn and not to do is really not to learn. To know and not to do is really not to know.”
~ Stephen R.Covey
The purpose of my inquiry project was to look at some of the best classroom practices in the United States, particularly those strategies and teaching actions that help students strengthen their reasoning and communication process skills.
Throughout the semester at Indiana University, I audited two courses. One of them examined modern cognitive theories of knowing, learning, and transferring; and the implications on teaching, motivating, assessing, and evaluating. The weekly readings and discussions gave me an in-depth view on the theoretical underpinnings of how learners learn and develop enduring understanding. This helped me better appreciate the evolution of the mathematics curricula over the years. The other course I audited opened more doors for me as the professor kindly invited me to participate in a professional development project for K-6 mathematics teachers in Owen and Monroe county. At the PD sessions, I was introduced to the book 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions, which identifies a set of teaching actions for teachers to achieve learning objectives by using student work as the launchpad for discussions. In the discussions, important mathematical ideas are surfaced for understanding to be developed or consolidated.
Besides the courses at Indiana University, I had the privilege of attending the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) regional conference in Orlando. The conference was an excellent platform to network and to exchange ideas with fellow mathematics educators as I learnt the best practices for engaging students and for driving student achievement. Post-conference, the conversations still continue as I am now a proud member of the online NCTM community of like-minded researchers, teachers, parents, and individuals who are deeply passionate about mathematics and mathematics education.
Professional Development: NCTM Regional Conference in Orlando
As a culmination of my learning, I adapted some of the unit and lesson planning structures to guide teachers through planning lessons which focus on developing understanding. A sample unit package, complete with lesson resources, was put together to suggest ways in which the strategies outlined in Visible Thinking and from the “5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions” could be interwoven into the lessons to complement the existing curriculum materials. Coupled with the use of mathematics discourse cards, the package is ready to be shared and tried out with our Singaporean students. Future plans include the refinement of the package based on feedback from teachers.
School, a place for dedicated teachers to inspire and to teach individuals, not the curriculum
One of the things that struck me most about the United States education system is the strong influence of the core American values of individualism and equality. Driven by the strong belief that each child is unique, significant emphasis and value are placed on individual initiative, independence and individual expression. This was clearly evident in the schools which I visited. One public school offers flexible ability grouping in mathematics for all 4th to 6th Grade students, allowing students to take the subject at a different grade levels based on their progress and learning needs. Another private school offers an inter-grade level differentiated grouping where teachers state the expectations and requirements of the classes, and students assess and reflect upon their own abilities before making their own choices on the class they would like to join. There are countless merits in tailoring teaching to the students’ needs. In order for this to work effectively, a few factors require careful consideration: teachers’ understanding of individual students’ needs, students’ self-awareness, and the knowledge of “what’s next” after grouping the students according to their needs.
A major highlight of my school experiences would be the visits to two Project Zero- based schools, both with long-standing histories implementing Visible Thinking as a school-wide framework for learning. It was impressive seeing the artefacts of the student’s work and hearing how articulate they were in expressing their opinions and defending their points of view with sound arguments, regardless of their age. The lesson observations provided me with some practical ideas of how visible thinking strategies could be interwoven into the mathematics classroom. This reaffirmed my perspective of education: that we should never underestimate the potential of our students and teachers when they are given the trust, faith and accountability to succeed. Nonetheless, I am also mindful that with all implementations, in order to bring change in the teaching practices, teachers’ buy-in and ownership is key.
The Fulbright experience, a once in lifetime opportunity
My Fulbright experience has impacted me in more ways than I could ever imagine, both personally and professionally. It was a unique blend of exciting learning experiences with quiet reflective time on an amazing journey of self-discovery.
On a personal level, developing friendships across perceived cultural boundaries is a skill which I picked up during the program. What better way to learn more about different cultures and countries than to live together as a Fulbright community “under one roof”? Bonding over tea, celebrating one another’s festivities, and appreciating cultural differences were just subtle ways in which we fulfilled the Fulbright program’s vision of promoting mutual understanding. Hearing the stories from other Fulbrighters helped me better appreciate what I have back home. Even as we return to our home countries, I am sure that we would still continue to keep in touch. In fact, plans to visit one another are already in the pipeline, and I look forward to travelling and meeting with my international friends.
Professionally, I have undergone the three different stages of unlearning, learning and re-learning. I had to keep an open mind to let go of preconceived ideas to broaden my learning. In the process of unlearning, I frequently found myself examining my current teaching practices, and questioning what I hoped to accomplish with my project to improve teaching practices back home. With insightful readings and rich conversations with my advisor, faculty members, and other teachers, I embarked on the learning stage, which led to further questioning and reflections. At times, toggling between learning and unlearning, and re-examining practices led me to feel frustrated. Nonetheless, the re-learning process will continue even as the Fulbright program has concluded, and as I share what I have learnt with fellow Singapore teachers.
In summary, the essence of my Fulbright experience lies in having the great privilege to take a step back from the hustle and bustle of everyday school life to reflect and to ask questions about what we do not know.
My Fulbright Experience
Mr Edwin Chew
My Fulbright Experience started when award recipients were asked to participate in an online course with two course administrators. The course provided a comprehensive introduction to cultural exchanges, the American lifestyle, and life in Indiana University. The opportunity to work, and interact, with 18 international teachers from 8 different countries (Finland, India, Israel, Morocco, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and Taiwan) was one of the key highlights as it was reminiscent of being back in varsity. It was a memorable experience as we cooked our own home cuisines, shared our culturally unique recipes, and savoured delicacies. I especially enjoyed the times when we would share our life stories, and was moved by the personal accounts of life back in their home countries.
I gained a rich learning experience from the school visits, auditing courses at Indiana University, and having professional conversations with teachers, lecturers and students. To me, the cross-cultural experience, which is the intent of this Fulbright experience, was indeed the icing on the cake. This invaluable experience is the best gift bestowed to me, as an individual, and as a teacher.
I enjoyed the many interactions with fellow educators whom I met through presentations, and other academic and social meet-ups. Through the conversations, I was exposed to the American culture, be it through food, hobbies or sports. For recreation, I participated in activities with the locals such as golfing and drumming. I must express my appreciation to Jacob Butler (course administrator) for being most helpful; to past and present Fulbrighters like Alex (2016), Kate (2017), Martha (2016), David (2015), and Nathan (2017) for their warm welcome and generosity; and to the teachers who have since become close friends: Susan and Steven.
The various cultural exchanges gave me new insights. I was able to learn more about what it means to be a teacher in different international and cultural contexts, often over cosy home-cooked meals which we took turns to prepare. The 17 other Fulbrighters and I shared our aims and inspirations, and the challenges we faced in our professional practice. I found it fulfilling and rewarding to be exposed to educational issues all over the world in these rich, meaningful interactions.
I conducted a fieldwork session through an environmental sciences lesson fieldwork organised by Bloomington High School, and was able to interact with students. It was a challenge to officially take students out and to talk to them about geography education as there are stark differences between our curricula. What I really enjoyed that day was teaching them how to observe the environment and doing field sketches with them. The sketches produced were of high quality, and I was very pleased with their performance.
Environmental Sciences Fieldtrip on 4 October 2017
Aside from the official platforms in school to develop professionally, I found that collaboration with and the sharing of best practices by staff and other Fulbrighters at various presentation platforms have also moulded me professionally. I was also moved by the Fulbright Alumni who got in touch with me and invited me to visit their schools. Through working with students and engaging them in conversations about life, and about the learning and teaching of geography, I gained a deeper insight into teaching and learning in the US.
A total of 12 school visits (5 in Indiana, 3 in Chicago, 1 in San Francisco, 3 in Seattle) were successfully completed from August to November 2017. I visited a specific school eight times in Indiana which gave me opportunities to conduct an in-depth study, and to engage in deep discussions on educational and policy issues. I noticed that for all teachers, students are central and their main concern is for the child. The love and concern for them is a constant reminder of my job as a teacher and as an individual. The saddest point during the four-month attachment was when the inner-city students spoke to me about what safety meant to them. To them, school is a safe haven. When I highlighted that Singaporeans can be out in the streets at any time of the day, they were stunned. I was overwhelmed when they told me how “unsafe” certain places were, even their own homes. After the conversations, the teachers and students approached me and gave me a hug. I felt moved, and was grateful for being in Singapore where we live peacefully together without having to constantly worry about physical safety.
It was indeed enriching working with the American teachers teaching social studies and discussing with them the importance of fieldwork in enhancing students’ learning. I also learnt how literacy was taught and woven into the classrooms as teachers gave explicit examples on suggested strategies. Framing my inquiry within the field of disciplinary literacy was helpful in achieving this aim. The particular skills required from students as they embarked on geography fieldwork are not dissimilar to the cognitive approaches required in science. As such, supporting students to progress within the specific literacy demands of the subject offers both a challenging and an interesting perspective. My main takeaway was that I should provide more scaffolding when working with less academically-inclined students. Previously I would assume that my students would be able to complete the assigned task with my teaching resources and instructional strategies. I only realised the difficulties they face in understanding the questions and in crafting the answers when I am in class and have conversations with them. Moreover, in the schools I observed, teachers mostly focused on content without the explicit teaching of literacy. The worksheets used were provided a good amount of scaffolding on processes, as compared to the content-heavy worksheets used in most Singapore schools.
Students who needed additional help in grasping English may be reassigned to another class, one that is supported by a native speaker. For instance, mathematics is taught in English by a mathematics teacher with an accompanying Spanish teacher who translates the lesson. Printed notes and PowerPoint slides tend not to be given in copious amounts, so students make their own notes or write their own reflections. They also record salient points using templates prepared by the teachers to aid them in their thinking and learning.
Attending social studies conferences both in Indiana and San Francisco (National Council of Social Studies 2017) provided me with an excellent opportunity to share my work on citizenship and values in Singapore with the teachers, and to learn best practices from them. I found the sharing sessions particularly motivating and useful as I learnt about the cognitive process behind the creation of the lesson plans, and also gained insights on Assessment, Pedagogy and Curriculum as experienced by practitioners.
Participating in the National Council of Social Studies Annual Conference at San Francisco from 15-19 November 2017
Through the conference and professional conversations with the teachers and students, and the classes I audited at Indiana University, I redefined my inquiry project on how fieldwork could be taught to my Normal (Academic) students. I realised how my teaching in the class could be improved and how to provide more scaffolding to encourage my students to think and to write in the fieldwork domain. I am excited to share my learning and these approaches through hands-on sharing and workshop sessions with my fellow colleagues back in Singapore.
What then, is this Fulbright experience? It is definitely not the inquiry project alone, but the many meaningful interactions with fellow teaching practitioners from around the world. This experience is beyond written words. I am thankful and grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching Programme
Miss Rebecca Kong
Being on the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching Programme has given me an opportunity to step away from the busy-ness of school to critically reflect on my own teaching philosophy and teaching practices, and to grow myself both personally and professionally. I am thankful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that not many teachers get, to go overseas to learn from, and with, educators from all over the world. The time spent in the US visiting schools, and engaging in dialogues and discussions with fellow educators from all around the world has given me a newfound perspective on global educational issues and challenged my own beliefs of how science should be taught in the classroom.
Growing Personally as an Individual
Living and working with the Fulbright teachers has made me more culturally aware and sensitive, to become more appreciative of cultural differences and diversity. One thing that really struck me was the fact that food binds everyone together, regardless of which part of the world we are from. Coming from Singapore, where social functions centre around food, I realised that dining in social gatherings cuts across many cultures all over the world. Having many cultures under one roof meant we had ample opportunities to bond over food. All of us, including the Singaporean Fulbrighters, had regular food gatherings where we shared our own local food and stories, and learned and appreciated one another’s cultural practices. The many regular cultural events on campus also enhanced my appreciation for the diversity of cultures present within the US.
Singapore Fulbrighters Hosting a Makan Session for the International Fulbrighters
One of the most memorable events that took place at Indiana University was the solar eclipse on 22 August 2017. It was amazing to see thousands of students on campus converge to watch the solar eclipse. There was a carnival-like atmosphere with booths set up by students and professors to educate and to engage everyone about the eclipse. Being in Indiana, I was fortunate to witness 94.1% of the sun covered by the moon—almost a total eclipse. It was awe-inspiring and another reminder that science is all around us and very much a part of our lives.
While in the US, I had the opportunity to interact with the locals and to experience Halloween in America where children and adults dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating. We see this in the movies and hear about it, but nothing beats experiencing it in person and soaking in the festivities. It was really exciting. What really surprised me was seeing how resourceful and creative people were in designing their costumes. They were not the typical bought-off-the-shelf costumes, but rather, the costumes were put together with everyday materials found around the house.
Many experiences during my Fulbright stint contributed to my professional growth as a teacher. A highlight of my experience in the Fulbright Program is the six-week attachment to a high school. I had to visit the school once a week to observe classroom lessons for a day while attached to a host teacher. During my attachment, I was able to see how authentic learning could better motivate and engage learners. Observing the different teaching methods by different teachers allowed me to compare the way science is taught in the US and in Singapore. I was able to witness good practices and how they were carried out in varying degrees of success, depending on the different classroom contexts, which led me to reflect on how I could improve my own teaching practices. I also had the opportunity to work with my host teacher to craft a unit and to teach one of the lessons. It was indeed an enriching experience as I had to understand the US educational context and adjust my style of teaching to accommodate the different profile of the local students.
As I worked on my inquiry project, I was able to probe and to deepen my own understanding of how students learn science and what inquiry in science really means. My in-depth discussions with teacher educators across the US, and interactions with educators during seminars and workshops have equipped me with new understanding of how inquiry should look in my classroom. It has led me to question my own teaching practices and beliefs, challenging me to use new pedagogies and strategies to engage the learners in my classroom more effectively and to pursue making their thinking visible. I was able to explore different strategies to elicit and to access students’ thinking, so that I could tailor my lessons to better meet the needs of my students, which is an essential component of a learner-centred education.
I have been privileged to have learnt so much, both professionally and personally, through my Fulbright attachment in the US. The friendships forged with fellow Fulbright educators from all over the world are a reminder to me that despite the differences in nationality, race, and religion, we have one thing in common: the desire to improve teaching and learning and to become better teachers for our students. The Fulbright programme might have ended, and it will be but one of the many journeys I will embark on in my quest to grow professionally to become a better teacher.
Dr Muhammad Nazir Bin Amir
The Fulbright Distinguished Awards Teaching Program was indeed an enriching learning experience for me. Apart from living and interacting with twenty wonderful teachers from ten different countries, I had the chance to experience American cultural practices, visit a considerable number of institutions of learning, and was provided with various opportunities that allowed me to gain ideas to enhance my teaching.
Singapore Teachers of Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching Program 2016 (From left to right: Ms Lim Peiwen, Dr Nazir Amir, and Ms Ong Lay Kheng)
Through the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching Program, I was given a chance to experience cultural practices, such as Halloween and Thanksgiving, which are unique to Americans. There are a lot of bonding activities during these cultural festivals. For example, during Halloween, one can see how the towns are lit up with Halloween pumpkins that are laid out in the gardens of homes. Witnessing families dressed up as interesting characters and children going from one house to another collecting candy and sweets was a worthwhile experience. I had the privilege to be invited to a Halloween festival in Professor Keith Barton’s house, along with the other Fulbright teachers. It was indeed fun dressing up and participating in the activities and learning about Halloween culture.
Fulbright Teachers Dressed up on Halloween
Another cultural festival which I had the chance to experience was Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was a family tradition where families would gather to have Thanksgiving dinner, similar to the sit-down family reunion dinners during our Chinese New Year celebration. I had the privilege to be invited to a Thanksgiving dinner at Dr Adam Maltese’s house, along with a few other Fulbright teachers. Turkey was the main dish, along with pumpkin cakes and lots of other good food. This mirrors the unique dishes that we, as Singaporeans, have during specific cultural festivals. This practice of bringing family and friends close together during festivals shows the importance of relationships in the American society.
Immersing myself in such cultural experiences has allowed me to reflect on our common identities. Even though we may be thousands of miles apart, we still hold many similar core values such as family unity dear to our hearts.
The Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching Program has provided me with avenues to explore how STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) activities in U.S. educational institutions can benefit academically at-risk students. I was able to gain many ideas through personal observations and interactions, with educators and students during my school visits, conferences, seminars, and through educational visits to the museums and Science Centers such as National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Ms Hanane Chahidi (Morocco), Dr Nazir Amir (Singapore) and Dr Simon McMillan (New Zealand) on a visit to Signature School, Evansville, Indiana
NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida
One important learning point I gathered was the need for learning experiences to be made fun and engaging for students across all age groups, particularly those who are academically at-risk. This is especially important as this has a positive effect in motivating them. A way this is being carried out in U.S. educational institutions is through the promotion of learning through playing and making. This is an evident practice that was observed during my visits to Project-based Learning (PBL) schools where I observed toy cars being used in a physics lesson to teach the concept of kinematics.
Toy Cars Being Used in A Physics Lesson to Teach the Concept of Kinematics
Through my observations in the classes that I have been to, it was not uncommon for teachers to adopt design-based activities, where students engage in the process of designing and making items to learn new concepts. Another lesson that I observed involved students taking part in the making and testing of raft boats in a swimming pool as a way to deepen their understanding of material science and buoyancy, amongst other science and mathematics concepts. Personally, I found it interesting that a student leader mentioned how she had dressed up as a mermaid when presenting her group’s raft to the teacher. A photograph of the colourful raft was showcased on the school’s television terminal to serve as a form of affirmation of the students’ effort. The raft and mermaid looked colourful and presentable. The encouragement by the physics teacher in getting his students to incorporate knowledge and skills gained from ‘Art & Craft’ such as designing, sketching, colouring, and crafting into this physics lesson seemed to have motivated the students, and instilled a sense of pride in their final project.
The concept of PBL was not limited to students’ learning; teachers too, embraced this form of learning. At a STEM Education conference in California, I joined many other teachers in coming up with fun project-based STEAM activities, using only simple materials that would be suitable to present science and mathematics content to our students. One can see the excitement of my fellow teacher participants throughout the process of making science-based toy projects, and feel a sense of achievement when they have completed their projects. I observed how many of them spent time to carefully design, make and colour their toys which led to them feeling proud of their work.
STEAM-based Electronic and Mechanical Gadgets made by Teacher Participants
In addition to classroom STEAM practices, I was also able to see how the design-and-make approach contributes to student motivation and engagement in their after-school programmes. One such example is a solar car developed by Century High School’s Engineering Design Academy. Teachers and students worked together in designing and making a solar car, which eventually took part in a race. Along the design and fabrication processes, students picked up skills in working with common hand-and-power tools, as well as learnt how to use computer programs such as SolidWorks and the use of 3D printers.
Dr Nazir in a Solar Car Developed by Century High School’s Engineering Design Academy
Such observations suggest that Normal (Technical) ((N(T)) students in Singapore can be motivated to enjoy learning concepts in science and mathematics through STEAM approaches. This idea is further supported by research articles which highlight that the time spent in learning and applying ‘Art & Craft’ skills in science lessons should not be seen as ‘inferior’ when compared to gaining science content through other forms of instruction (such as stepped-through hands-on experiments), since the approach provides a way for students to be cognitively and emotionally connected to the learning content.
I find that a practical way to start carrying out such fun and feasible design-based STEAM activities back in Singapore is to enhance several STEM projects that my colleagues and I are currently working on with our N(T) students. I intend to share such approaches through hands-on sharings and workshop sessions.
My Fulbright experience has been wonderful! Living on campus, interacting with a diverse group of people, and being able to gain such rich learning experiences have definitely enriched me as a person. I will cherish every moment of this experience. It is indeed and honour and privilege to have been a part of this programme.
Dr Nazir with Host Family: Keith and Ann Miser before Coming back to Singapore
Lim Peiwen Growing Professionally as an Educator
The 4-month Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program experience has been the most fulfilling professional journey I have undergone as an educator. It was such a privilege to have the time and space to be reflective about myself as an educator and to dwell deeper into the work I do.
CIEDR Welcome Night for 2016 Fulbrighters at Indiana University (IU), School of Education
One of the highlights of the Fulbright experience was the opportunity to audit courses in Indiana University (IU). The course on sustainable communities has helped enrich my content knowledge about environmental sustainability. This area of work is close to my heart and it was really an eye-opener to get to hear from the students and lecturer in the class share their experiences of the different parts of U.S., as well as the international perspectives from India, Nigeria, South Korea and Germany.
Participating in the dialogues has allowed me to take a critical look at the environmental efforts that we have in Singapore. These exchanges have proven to be a great repository of resources on how we can adopt and adapt certain good practices from other countries. The rich learning has definitely given me the “big picture” of what environmental education should be about. Instead of looking at education in isolation when educating the young about the environment, I have learnt the importance of collaboration and how the different agencies can come together in order to achieve environmental sustainability. While I am really excited about the possibilities that these new perspectives can bring, I am also realistic to note that for such practices to be implemented, the change in mind-set is the key element that we need to bring about to effectively shape young minds and to educate them on environmental sustainability.
Being on this programme gave me the privilege to listen to the inquiry project presentations of the other 20 Fulbrighters (both U.S. and international). It was most wonderful to listen to their candid sharing on the challenges that they faced in their countries, on the areas that they did well, on the areas for improvement in their education system, and on their aspirations and hopes for change in the future. From the sharing, the passion and conviction of these educators were inspiring, especially so when many of them work in environments that are plagued with social issues like high juvenile crime rate and drug problems. Through my interactions with them, I felt a strong sense of fraternity. Despite teaching at different geographical locations, we are all working towards a common goal that is to educate the next generation and to prepare them well for the future.
Conference panellist at Teach to Lead® Summit in Washington DC 2016
I was also given the chance to participate in Teach to Lead® Summit as a conference panellist. The Teach to Lead® Summit hosts regional Teacher Leadership Summits to help spotlight and to advance the ground-breaking, teacher-led work that is happening in states, districts, and schools across the country.
Another area that I have had the chance to delve deeper in is citizenship education. From the conversations with the classroom teachers and classmates in the courses I audited to the IU professors, I have learned the importance of moving away from the “game show contestant” approach in the classroom to prepare students for the real world. One common theme that was consistently reiterated is that besides equipping students with knowledge and skills to succeed in the global economy, it is also essential to develop the ability in students to understand the cultural values, practices and interests in our world today. The need to understand diversity and to help students develop “religious literacy” is more urgent than ever in the light of our increasingly diverse world.
This realisation has great implication for the work I do in school. I have come to realise that civic education should not be focused on just factual recall type-“game show contestant” knowledge, but more of providing students with the opportunities to navigate authentic real-world complexities and to appreciate the contours of beliefs and practices that shape society’s and people’s lives, commitments and allegiances. Aligned with one of the 21st Century Competencies: civic literacy, global awareness and cross-cultural skills, I strongly feel that the development of religious fluency ought to be an integral part that we should address in citizenship education.
This Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program experience has been the longest period that I have been away from home. Being in my thirties, it has been a difficult experience to be on my own for so long, away from my family. I must say that the hardest part of the trip was the initial few weeks in having to deal with homesickness and to adjust to being independent in terms of meal preparation and performing some cleaning chores! From this experience, I have become more independent, reflective and resilient, and I became more appreciative of my loved ones back at home.
Even though there were many challenges, the experience was made better with the friends whom I have made during the programme. Staying near one another in the same apartment building helped us bond as a community. We had opportunities to hang out, cook, have conversations and even work out together. As a result, our friendship was strengthened. It is beautiful how we are from places worlds apart and yet have come to appreciate one another’s culture, values and belief system and became close friends, one another’s pillar of support, while we are away from home.
Specifically, becoming close friends with the Palestinian teachers has been the most wonderful and most precious experience for me. Their life stories of having to live through wars have taught me important lessons on resilience and how much I have taken peace in Singapore for granted. These two Palestinian teachers have shown me the meaning of strength and conviction. The stories that they have shared were truly inspiring and served as great reminders of our calling as educators. I have seen them standing up for their religion; summoning the courage to correct misconceptions that others have about Islam, speaking up for the rights of women and exuding the great pride they have to be Palestinians. My interactions with them have been the most precious life lesson on national identity and conviction.
Graduation from the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program 2016
In conclusion, my experience in the U.S. has been the most wonderful learning experience. As the journey came to a close, I have also grown to understand that there is no one “best” system. It is about learning from one another, keeping the conversations and dialogues alive and most importantly, keeping an open mind to always learn and explore.
Ong Lay Kheng An Overview of My Fulbright Program Experience
The best teachers are lifelong learners. Teachers must recognise that learning can take place in many forms, and at any time. Any encounter can prove to be a learning experience. The Fulbright experience has provided me with the opportunity to develop professionally as an educator, and personally as an individual. Words cannot do justice to the myriad experiences during my four-month stint as a Singapore Fulbright Awardee, but I will attempt to recount the highlights in this reflection.
Orientation Session with 2016 Fulbright Awardees from All around the World in Washington D.C.
Courses at Indiana University (IU)
As part of the Fulbright Program, I was given the opportunity to audit courses at Indiana University (IU), Bloomington. Besides providing me with good content knowledge, the intellectual sparring with my lecturers and course mates reminded me of the importance of being cognizant of what is foregrounded in each educational system. I have learnt to put on a critical lens in the quest for continual improvement in the respective educational systems I have encountered. This has helped me grow professionally.
In terms of personal development, I found myself benefitting most from the lessons that required me to relate my personal experiences with what was discussed in class. This has allowed me to construct personal meaning for myself by building on my prior knowledge. This made it easier for me to synthesise the theoretical knowledge with my own experiences. I was compelled to objectively examine and to question my current beliefs and practices as an educator. Hopefully, this will help me to grow into a better educator who will be able to address future challenges by assimilating best practices while avoiding the potential pitfalls deliberated on in the courses.
The Beautiful Indiana University (IU) Campus where the 2016 Fulbright Awardees Were Hosted
School Observation at Bloomington High School North
An extremely valuable experience was the opportunity to visit a public school in Bloomington, Indiana. The school visit at Bloomington High School North offered a glimpse into an education system that was considerably different from Singapore. The lesson observations had been illuminating in providing a realistic picture of how inquiry-based learning (IBL) can be executed in the secondary classroom. The lesson on “Introduction to Social Sciences” provided the blueprint for the lesson plans proposed in my inquiry project. The operationalisation of the principles of IBL made this lesson particularly valuable to the purpose of my research. The analysis of the lesson materials, such as PowerPoint slides and worksheets used in this lesson, also informed the eventual design of lesson plans and teaching materials for my final project.
During my attachment at the school, I learned to be a respectful observer. As I observed practices that did not resonate with my education belief, I would ask appropriate questions to gain further insights into the practices, while bearing in mind my position as an outsider of the local educational system. I have to accept that there can be approaches that differ from my own experience as a teacher, since certain practices have to be modified to suit the learning needs of students as well as the learning environment. This ability to acknowledge variations in educational practices has allowed me to appreciate the key consideration that context plays in determining how teaching and learning pans out in different situations.
With My Faculty Advisor, Ms. Patricia Wilson and Host Teacher, Mr. Geoffrey Aiken from Bloomington High School North at the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program Welcome Dinner
Bloomington Worldwide Friendship (BWF)
While professional learning and experiences are important aspects of the Fulbright Program, the power of human connection should never be understated. The Fulbright experience would not be complete without getting to know the American society beyond the school environment. Through the BWF, I was fortunate enough to be matched with Cindy, the President of BWF, whose hospitality made Bloomington a home away from home.
Under the care of Cindy, weekends were packed with fascinating activities designed to showcase the American way of life. One of the more memorable moments was when we had a cook-out at her house where the glorious summer weather and Cindy’s homemade barbeque sauce on a succulent rack of ribs made it the most delectable barbeque I ever had. Because of Cindy, the world of American football was also no longer a mystery as she patiently explained the intricacies of the game over a delicious buffet of hotdogs and tacos. Having the chance to immerse myself into the everyday lives of the American people has allowed me to understand and appreciate the culture better.
Visiting Parke County with Cindy and Friends
A quote by Lao Tzu reads that a journey of a thousand mile starts from a single step. The Fulbright experience is certainly an enriching and fulfilling journey. Personally, I have gained much insight of myself as an individual, an educator and a Singaporean. Professionally, I have benefitted much from the insightful interactions with American educators and my fellow Fulbrighters. These interactions have opened my eyes to the different educational systems and approaches globally.
Despite the differences found in the educational systems all over the world, what stood out is the common desire of all educators to prepare our students to be world citizens with the right attitude and skills to contribute to society in future. Participation in the Fulbright Program is my first step in an unceasing journey to becoming a better teacher. I aspire to be someone who will guide my students to successfully navigate the increasingly complicated global landscape of the 21st century.
The Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching (DA) Program 2014 was awarded to three teachers: Mrs Mohana Ratnam (SSD) from Regent Secondary School, Mrs Christine Sim (HOD/Science) from Tanjong Katong Girls’ School and Mr Jeremy Lee (HOD/CCE, ICT & Partnerships) from Punggol View Primary School.
Our Fulbright DAs at the Orientation in Washington, DC (Aug 2014) The DA Program 2014 was held in Bloomington, Indiana, the United States of America from 11 August 2014 to 11 December 2014. Based at a school of education at University of Indiana, the programme offered the awardees invaluable opportunities for professional collaboration and networking, and for learning about educational issues in a global context. Working with educational experts, their learning experiences in the programme included auditing courses, attending conferences, and conducting research in their area of interest. They also had the opportunity to observe and to teach classes in the American schools. The awardees have since gained a deeper understanding of the educational system and culture in America.
USA and International Fulbright DAs during the Orientation in Washington, DC (Aug 2014)
What follows are personal reflections of the deep learning these three Fulbrighters have gained through this professional learning experience.
Mrs Mohana Ratnam
Mohana feeling on top of the world at Willis Tower Sky Deck
The trip to self-discovery
As we embarked on this journey, we had one common agenda in mind, which was to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Indeed, where can one have an opportunity to understand the challenges and dynamics of different countries—Morocco, Finland, India, New Zealand and Singapore—in a short span of time other than in the Fulbright programme?
Through staying together and through sharing insights from individual perspectives, we began to appreciate and to understand one another; through that, we started to grow further as a person with new insights and wisdom. It allowed me to reach my highest goal of self-discovery that everyone is part of the same ‘human family’. It led me to the diverse, creative and compassionate community that made up this team of 11 Fulbrighters for 2014. To be one of the 11 international citizens in the world to have been awarded a Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching, and to have been able to conduct research in an area of my interest: professional development of teachers, was the highlight of my experience. The Washington experience where I was given the opportunity to meet not only the international Fulbrighters but also the local Fulbrighters enabled me to establish open communication and long-term cooperative relationships.
Learning and Sharing
During the deep conversations and reflections with the keynote speakers and other Fulbrighters, I had the opportunity to share perspectives on Singapore’s education, politics, economics, social norms and culture with educators from different countries. Active participation during class discussions enabled me to demonstrate the qualities of service, excellence and leadership.
I even got the chance to share my experiences with students of Indiana University (IU) when I audited the university courses, and this has enabled me to grow both personally and professionally. Friday seminars in IU enabled me to delve deeper into issues such as racial and gender inequality in schools, influx of immigrant minors with little or no grasp in English Language, special education, and differentiation in the classroom. These discussions have given me greater depth of understanding about education for all and the true meaning of inclusiveness. The opportunity to work with the principal, teachers and students of Bloomington High School (BHSN) was yet another enriching experience, both professionally and personally. Being able to inspire the teachers and the students of BHSN in some way gave me a personal sense of satisfaction.
School trip to Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School
The school trip to Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School allowed me to see how a school leader actualised the vision of providing college preparation. The school served a single purpose: to help each student gain admittance into a highly selective college or university. Their approach to education was best summed up by three bold words: College or Die. Others might not feel comfortable with the phrase, but College or Die was emblazoned in giant letters in the hallway of the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School. The school provided a powerful learning experience that intellectually engaged, inspired, and spurred academic achievement through a challenging and interactive college-preparatory curriculum. All programmes initiated in the school were supported by research findings. Students came into the school with a clear message that the school was about preparing them for college, and parents were expected to support this endeavour. Every student in the school had a clear aspiration to succeed and make it into college.
The idea of having high expectations for students and professional development revolving around this message resonated well with me. It also reflected the strong belief in teachers that they could help their students to achieve this self-efficacy. My Capstone project is centred around this belief, and is entitled ‘Empowering Teachers to Become Transformational Leaders’. Teachers being leaders themselves must share the same vision with the school, the parents and the community to bring the best out of the students and to make them successful in their endeavours.
Mrs Christine Sim
The Fulbright Experience
The Fulbright programme provided me with a rich and holistic learning experience. The programme involved a number of organisations from Indiana, Chicago, New York, Arizona and Florida. These organisations opened not just their doors, but also their expertise and experiences related to education with us. I found this form of face-to-face learning very fruitful.
Digging to hide “human bones” in the woods for a science class
Personally, I treasure the time and space during these four months to discover and to learn more about the places and faces in Bloomington. I enjoyed and appreciated interacting with the locals because that is the best way to get a denizen’s perspective of America and its culture.
Working on an inquiry-based Capstone Project would be one of the highlights of the programme for me. I had the opportunity of working with Professor Bob Sherwood (my faculty advisor) who helped me with my Capstone Project. With his wealth of experience and knowledge about science education, Prof Sherwood was able to provide me good advice and point me to researches to fill the gaps in my Capstone Project.
He helped me sharpened my slant of the Capstone Project and worked with me on the use of statistics from the data I had collected. I am thankful that Prof Sherwood was very patient and took the time to understand my Capstone Project and provided me the little nudges, e.g., relevant reading on research or tools, to move me in the right direction.
I also found time to volunteer in the Indiana University’s science outreach (Saturday Science Quest for Kids) for seven weekends. I took the opportunity to learn about teaching and learning of science by interacting with the youths, as well as by observing instructors (doctoral students of science education) to better understand how learning activities could interest students and promote learning of science.
For me, the amalgamation of professional and personal growth through the formal programme components, culture immersions and other informal aspects had been one whereby the sum of 1 and 1 is greater than 2. I appreciate my experience as a Fulbrighter, for this programme wholeheartedly supports and provides teachers with an amazing development opportunity in an American setting. It inspires us to want to pay it forward, and to make a difference to our communities and students back home.
I have started sharpening my school’s science curriculum (main curriculum, science outreach, science event as well as our science student development programme) to provide quality teaching and learning experiences that are rich in inquiry for our students.
Continuing from a science talent programme for primary school students developed and run by my science teachers and me, we are including for this year workshops for primary science teachers who are keen to start science talent programmes in their own school.
I will also be collaborating with fellow Fulbright awardee, Ms Micki Ward (Fulbright DA 2014/2015), USA, on two school-based projects: one involving ICT in the science classroom, and the other involving a science student talent management programme.
To Each His Own—“Preparing Youths Now for the Future”
From the many discussions I had had with the local and international (New Zealand, Finland, India and Morocco) Fulbright awardees, I noted some common trends in education, such as 21st Century Competencies, student-centric and values-driven education, global perspectives, as well as habit of minds and character development.
Given the representation and diversity of the group, there seemed to be not one common approach, framework or tool used. However, it was agreed that schools and teachers must have certain levels of autonomy to determine how they could best achieve the student outcomes—our youths must have the knowledge, skills and personal attributes to function well and to contribute in an environment filled with global and diverse challenges.
Here is my humble six-word line to describe what all schools are aiming to achieve: “Preparing youths now for the future.”
Mr Jeremy Lee
Thoughts from the Fullbright Experience
Education is a lifelong process that cannot be too heavily scripted nor overtly assessed. I find that Singapore and America lie at two extremes, we can sometimes be heavily centralised and scripted to the point that there is the fear that our teachers will lose the ability to creatively engage and teach. In America, the lack of a centralised developed curriculum and materials also leads to the great disparity between those students who are taught by great teachers and those who are not.
Our system is a good system, and it is very strong in processes, but what will ultimately make the difference between a good system and a great system is whether you have great teachers. Some have a natural flair for teaching, and there must be recognition of them within the system. The great teacher has the X factor that motivates kids. They bring about the unquantifiable difference. The identification, recognition and retention of such great teachers must be on-going.
I believe that education is a deeply personal process which we can never ever hope to engineer. We need great teachers, teachers that no amount of training can produce unless there is already the underlying X factor.
My Experience in Bloomington
The locals in Bloomington, Indiana, are generally very open to people from elsewhere. This is the heartland of America. It is still predominantly white and they are openly friendly to people. They are polite, non-discriminating and curious to know more of the world out there. Even when travelling out of Bloomington, I never did once experience discrimination or disrespect on account of my ethnicity. Strangers would greet you on the street. At social or work-related events, people would ask you about where you are from, and would want to know more.
In the programme, we were treated to cultural visits in major cities, including Washington, Chicago and Indiana. We even had retired professors taking us out on weekends to enjoy the sights and life in Bloomington!
DISTINGUISHED FULBRIGHT AWARDS IN TEACHING (DFAT) PROGRAMME 2013
The Distinguished Fulbright Awards in Teaching (DFAT) Programme 2013 was awarded to three teachers: Mr William Grosse, Master Teacher of English Language Institute of Singapore (ELIS); Mr Ivin Chan, Subject Head, (Learning Technologies) of Anderson Secondary School; and Ms Lee Mun Yee, HOD (Aesthetics) of Orchid Park Secondary School
The DFAT programme 2013 was held in Washington D.C. from 13 August 2013 to 13 December 2013. Based at a school of education at University of Maryland, the programme offered the awardees invaluable opportunities for professional collaboration and networking, and for learning about educational issues in a global context. Working with educational experts, their learning experiences in the programme included auditing courses, attending conferences, and conducting research in their area of interest. They also had the opportunity to observe and to teach classes in the U.S. schools. The awardees have since gained a deeper understanding of the educational system and culture in the U.S.
Below are their personal reflections after the Fulbright programme:
Mr William Grosse
The Place of Place
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
LITTLE GIDDING (No. 4 of “Four Quartets” T.S. Eliot)
My Fulbright experience, like all good and rich learning, has been a journey. It started off as a journey to a place thousands of miles away from home, and slowly morphed into several wonderful detours into different places, all of which have changed me. These places enabled and “forced” me to relook, to reinterpret, to rediscover and to re-understand a number of “facts”, beliefs, assumptions and truths.
The Place of Learning: Classroom as My Home
Observing American students in their classes reminded me of the students I had the great fortune to teach and to learn from in my three decades of being a teacher. I was asked to share something about myself and Singapore during first day for my school attachment. I did this with the four classes I had the good fortune to sit in, to observe and to co-teach. In my first class, I told the students that they reminded me so much of the students I taught in Singapore: how they behaved, how they expressed themselves, and their mannerisms–near replicas of the students I loved to teach back in Singapore. I told them I felt at home. One of them shouted out, “We love you too, Mr. Grosse”. I was home.
The Place of Professional Learning
Improvement above all entails “learning to do the right things in the setting where you work”.
(Elmore, R p. 73);(2004). School Reform from the Inside Out. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Throughout my 30 years of teaching, my primary school pupils were the focus of my growth and development, both as a professional, and as a person. Two years ago, that focus enlarged to welcome and include my fellow teachers. My work will attempt, as always, to impact both sets of learners and the learnings that are necessary for both.
The Fulbright programme gave me the time and space to, as GK Chesterton has always exhorted, “take a more loving look at the real”. “Real” in this case was the highly complex, contextualised and particular world that is the teacher and his/her classroom.
Every classroom is different. How I learned with, and from teachers will be strongly shaped by the unique contexts in which they work and practise their craft. Each classroom is a place where teachers do their best to meet the daily challenges of doing good work; to bring about deep, meaningful learning. My work is to help teachers do things right, and to do the right things in that special place called the classroom.
The Place of People: Fulbrighters (The Family I Never Knew I Had)
I have learnt much with, and from my fellow Fulbrighters. My understanding and appreciation for the true complexity of education was brought to deeper and more nuanced levels through formal seminars, and especially through the informal and lengthy conversations over meals. All education systems are works in progress. We all face different and yet similar concerns and issues. We have much to teach and to learn from one another. My interaction and conversation with academics from the faculty of the University of Maryland provided many ideas and perspectives that created dissonance, provided support, and encouraged me to articulate and to grapple with the ideas for my capstone project. My school attachments and visits gave me an “on the ground” perspective, seeing how different schools in different counties were each trying to grapple with new curriculum, new practices, new expectations, and new systems.
Every country, in its own way, is trying to grapple with the realities of education in the 21st Century. Each must find its own road. Each must make its own place.
The Place of An End (Or Another Possible Beginning): The Place of Possibilities
Professional learning for me seems to embrace this paradigm of an emerging and negotiable practice, dependent on the different and situated contexts of the schools/classrooms that I will be working in, the learning that is constantly being constructed, and the people who engage with it. The DFAT programme has been a life-changing classroom. I hope that I can help my fellow teachers realise the wonderful promise and potential that is their classrooms. We are all in this journey together; teachers, students and educators involved in professional learning like my fellow Master Teachers and me. The journey is about understanding this place called the classroom, and our different roles in making it a place of learning for all.
Mr Ivin Chan
In August 2012, when I applied for the DFAT programme 2013, I had not expected to even make it to the interviews, let alone be one of the three teachers representing Singapore to the U.S. Moreover, after going through the first and second rounds of interviews, I realised I was one of the younger teachers to be shortlisted for the final selection process. I was really humbled by the experience and dedication of the teachers who were with me throughout the different rounds of interviews, and I felt honoured just to be a part of the selection interviews. The reality of my actually going to the U.S. did not set in until I found myself seated on a plane bound for Washington Dulles Airport in August 2013. The 20-plus-hour flight to me was akin to a kid holding his breath as his car was being dragged to the highest point of the roller coaster ride; indeed, the four months that followed was as exhilarating as the best rides at Universal Studios.
One of the best things about the DFAT programme was the opportunity to meet and to interact with like-minded teachers from around the world. I had the distinct privilege of sharing and of living with unique individuals from countries like Argentina, Finland, India and Morocco. It felt almost like being in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) with excellent master teachers, and yet, without the pressure of meeting datelines and organisational targets, 24-7, for four whole months! That was to me one of the greatest learning experiences one could have. On top of that, I had the joy of meeting wonderful professors at the University of Maryland. My mentor, Dr Diane Ketelhut, not only visited Singapore, but was also just as passionate about harnessing ICT in science lessons as I was! We had so many discussions about the use of ICT in science lessons, along with my favourite topic of good Singapore food. She also helped to arrange for meetings with different organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where I gained much insight on the current trends in ICT in education, and on the thinking behind the Common Core Standards.
I also enjoyed spending time with other professors from the university and was so thankful for their generous time given to me. I recalled meeting Dr Frank Lyman, one of the most brilliant educators I have known, and was fortunate enough to have him to brainstorm ideas with me for my capstone project, which he did willingly and gladly.
There were other educators I had met at the different high schools, like my host school Montgomery Blair High School, whose staff gave much of their time to accommodate my visits to their classes, and who provided valuable insight to the U.S. education system. I remembered sitting in one of their PLCs discussing how different teachers dealt with cheating cases in their classes. I realised that regardless of language or culture, teenagers all over the world are basically the same. Teachers need to be firm and fair in dealing with them, and seeking to understand them first will help them learn.
As the old saying goes:
“They don’t care what you know until they know that you care”.
Crystallising my Capstone Project
My capstone project was on assessing students’ learning of 21st century skills in the classroom. The word “assessment” probably means diﬀerent things to diﬀerent people. To students and teachers in the U.S., it probably means regular quizzes and state-wide high-stakes tests. In Singapore, it would typically bring up the thoughts of our standardised examinations like the Primary School Leaving Examinations (or PSLE) or the GCE “O” and “A” levels. In fact, the word “assessment” comes from the latin word “assidere”, which means “to sit with”. Personally, it elicits an image of a master craftsman sitting beside a pupil observing and giving guidance where necessary as the pupil practises his craft. In my capstone report, I wrote about the ideal role of assessment. Instead of regular summative tests and quizzes, assessment should be challenging, part of the learning process and used for evaluating both teaching and learning. In essence, after much reflection and sharing among educators, I decided to borrow ideas from Dr Frank Lyman’s "Thinktrix", and created a lesson package that encouraged students to ask each other questions in order to probe their thinking and understanding of the topic.
Therefore, in order to assess and to learn, teachers must empower students to ask better and in-depth questions about learning. And for students to do so, they must be equipped with a common language and the right frame of mind in order to talk deeply about the topic or discipline they are engaged in. The teacher’s role is therefore not just to dispense information, but to encourage conversation and to establish ground rules and roles for discussion to take place, so that learning can be deeper and more meaningful.
Counting what Counts
Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
If you asked me what my biggest take-away from the DFAT programme was, I would say it was the time to reflect. I realised that stopping to think was important. We could be so easily swept away by the tide of work and deadlines that we forget why we are doing what we are doing. My hope is to bring this habit of reflection into my classroom, my department and my school, where students, teachers and school leaders will take the time to inculcate the discipline to reflect and then to discuss, so that we can learn from one another. Learning is not just about grades or marks, nor is it just about good answers to questions, but also about good questions as well.
Ms Lee Mun Yee
I have been to the U.S. a few times as a tourist prior to the DFAT Programme. Typically, those experiences were fleeting. They would be limited to the prominent sites and usual tourist spots to visit, impressions of the weather, a sampling of foods prepared by others, and perhaps some memories of using the public transport. I would call those experiences a “postcard montage”.
It was to some extent similar in the first couple of days at Washington D.C. for the Welcome Orientation. Like any wide-eyed kid in a new environment, several of us international teachers were eager to visit the major sites in D.C. I had arrived at D.C. with a rather limited understanding of the country, and I believe this be also true for several of the international teachers. Although we were given several informative articles to read about education in the U.S., they are after all, text, expressed by someone either with a certain stance or set of lens. Reading about the U.S. and U.S. education system meant we saw the U.S. through other’s lenses, and I was prepared to have my pre-conceptions of the country challenged, and my mind reframed upon arriving in Washington D.C. When we began to listen to the sharing by the Fulbright U.S. alumni, it was clear that this experience would be anything but “touristy”.
Settling-in: Operational and Functional Adjustments
The complexities of settling in as a newcomer were experienced at several levels. The first was the survival level which involved basic aspects like remembering bus schedules, routes to University of Maryland (UMD), and the location of nearest stores for our daily needs and essentials. The next was the administrative-functional level, from comparing phone plans, opening a bank account to applying for a social security account. The shocks of these first two levels were cushioned tremendously by the UMD staff overseeing the support for Fulbright teachers.
Being in a Local Public School
The experience in a U.S. public school was a highlight of the trip. The style of classroom management varied from one class to another, but it was noticeably less authoritative when compared with the secondary schools in Singapore. The classroom dynamics in Singapore have evolved over the last five to eight years to be less hierarchical, but the control and decision-making would appear to reside largely with the teacher. It is irrelevant to say which style of classroom management is better as each has evolved within a different cultural and historical milieu. Students in U.S. high schools were certainly more vocal. They were more willing to respond to a question from the teacher and to articulate their thoughts and opinion. This helped the teacher to assess if the students understood what had been taught.
Generally, the art lessons were not too different from Singapore, in terms of the learning content. The teaching styles and approaches of the five teachers I observed in two different high schools were very different. Mixed levels class presented opportunities for the U.S. art teachers to differentiate the teaching and lesson resources, a task that is not as easy as it seems. To teach a mixed-class with students from grade 9 to 12 posed challenges the U.S. teachers had to manage, in terms of curriculum and assessment design, and especially when the levels of maturity and abilities varied greatly across the four levels.
The opportunity for professional and intellectual networking was another highlight of the Fulbright experience. The location of UMD is a favourable one. It is located near major art education higher education institutions in the U.S. There are four world-renowned art schools in the U.S. and three are in the Northeast: Maryland Institute College of the Art (MICA), Rhode Island School of Art and Design (RISD) and Chicago Institute of Art. In terms of the size of the faculty and publications, the three most highly profiled art education faculties in the U.S. are also in the Northeast. They are Ohio State University (OSU), Pennsylvania State University (PSU), Teachers’ College (TC) of Columbia University. Two institutions are well within manageable travelling distance from UMD, and they are MICA and PSU. This was fortunate as my capstone project drew heavily from theories by academics in the major art education centers.
Through the networking efforts of my UMD mentor, Dr. Margaret Walker, I had the pleasure of meeting with Professor Graeme Sullivan, Director of School of Visual Art in PSU, and Dr. Karen Carroll, Dean of Art Education at MICA. The meetings and the conversations on art education provided great learning. The former’s book was the theoretical cornerstone of my capstone project. Again, with the help of Dr. Walker, I was able to attend the Maryland Art Education Association (MAEA) Conference. It was an invaluable experience as it provided me with new ideas for curriculum design. I also met many passionate art teachers, who gave me many ideas on art curriculum design.
The networking was not confined to the art teaching circle. I had the opportunity to be in a graduate class with U.S. teachers of other disciplines, and engaging in professional conversations with them had been enriching. That had helped me gain a broader perspective on the U.S. education system.
Living with Diversity
Another enriching experience came from living with two international teachers, one from Argentina and the other from India. There were some initial adjustments required in terms of communication style, but generally we got on really well. My previous experience living in Melbourne and Vancouver, having housemates from four to five nationalities, and having house-sharing experiences ranging from fantastic to exasperating, had helped me to communicate with flat mates from different cultures. There were times I played the role of confidante to other Fulbright teachers experiencing difficulties communicating with their respective flat mates. The multi-racial background where I come from also allowed me to help my fellow Fulbright teachers understand about different eating cultures, habits, and religious practices. The camaraderie I developed with the Fulbright teachers was one of the most cherished parts of the experience.
Mutual learning took place among teachers within the Fulbright international community. We had a better idea of one another’s education systems, policies and school structures. We also appreciated that the best practices in each country cannot be transplanted into another country for outcomes to be replicated. There were certainly good ideas we could capitalise on and bring home for use, but we knew that each policy was contextually-bound to the geographical, economical and societal heritage of the respective countries. Particularly enriching was the professional exchange on classroom practices.
Mutual learning also took place in the school that I was attached to. I saw many interesting ideas at play at Springbrook High School, and I realised the potential in having these ideas adapted in the art classes back at my school, albeit along with a need for changes in the pitching and structuring of the lessons. I had also shared with my Springbrook High School buddy teacher some of the more structured formative assessment strategies used in my school. I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that batik fabric painting was also taught at Springbrook High. Batik printing there was done through an entirely different technique from the dominant methods used in Southeast Asia, where the art form originated. However, this unorthodox method managed to retain the essential concept of painting with wax resist. I conducted a demonstration session of the more orthodox technique used in Southeast Asia. I also shared how the method has been updated with innovations in my school. At my last visit to Springbrook High, it was very encouraging to see the school teachers adopting some of the ideas I shared in their batik lesson module. This was another one of the many highlights of my Fulbright experience.
Before my Fulbright experience, I had the opportunity of studying overseas twice, but those experiences, while enriching on their own, did not give me a deepened, personal understanding of the local education system. In graduate school, I had read literature on classroom teaching, student profiles and social justice, but it was invaluable to have the opportunity to experience, to see and to hear first-hand something which no textbook could ever offer as in the Fulbright experience. Just having had the opportunity to teach students in a local high school answered some on my long-pondered-over questions. It also struck me that the spirit of community service and volunteerism is dominant in the U.S., and this is certainly something we need to build on in Singapore.
There are certain learning attributes and attitudes that are universal and they transcend cultures, ethnicities and boundaries. There are also culture-specific student learning and teacher professional traits that have been shaped by generations of policies in the U.S. Despite doing better in PISA, we in Singapore still have a long way to learn and to grow.
Recipients of DISTINGUISHED FULBRIGHT AWARDS IN TEACHING PROGRAMME 2012
Three teachers received the Distinguished Fulbright Awards in Teaching (DFA) programme 2012: Mdm Varalackshmi Hariharan, Master Teacher of English Language Institute Singapore (ELIS); Mdm Wong Kwai Yeok, June, Master Teacher of Academy of Singapore Teachers; and Mdm Lynette Ann Liew Ai Ping, School Staff Developer of Clementi Town Secondary School.
Three of them were in Washington D.C. for the programme from 14 August 2012 to 14 December 2012. The DFA programme, based at a school of education at the University of Maryland, provided opportunities for professional collaboration, and for learning about educational issues in a global context. The awardees got to audit courses, attend conferences, and conduct research in their area of interest. They also consulted with educational experts, and observed and taught classes in American schools. This attachment truly gave them a deeper understanding about the educational system and culture in the US.
The Fulbright experience has been an exciting and enriching one for them. Below are their personal reflections after the attachment.
Mrs Varalackshmi Durai
The Distinguished Fulbright Awards in Teaching (DFAT) programme is an international teacher development programme funded by the Fulbright Board and supported by the US State Department of Education. Teachers from eight countries participated in the programme, and I was honoured to be one of three Singaporean teachers selected for the DFAT in 2012.
The DFAT programme placed us with the University of Maryland (UMD) in College Park, Maryland for four months from August till December 2012. The Award required us to audit two classes of our choosing at UMD, and to complete a capstone project that encourages cross-cultural interaction and is of high educational value for the teachers and students of Singapore.
For my capstone project, I conducted a feasibility study on the possibility of setting up an Associated International Site of the National Writing Project in Singapore by 2015. I was glad to have interviewed the teachers of Eleanor Roosevelt High School and to hear them talk about their experience with the National Writing Project. These teachers gave up four weeks of their summer vacation to attend the Summer Institute, and their passion for the Project was palpable. Hearing their enthusiasm for the NWP even two to three years after attending the Summer Institute convinced me that when teachers invest in their own learning and seek out the professional development activity that they themselves want, it creates a buy-in that is powerful. Because these teachers themselves took ownership of their own learning, they were willing to invest the time and effort.
UMD also assigned Dr Joseph McCaleb as my Faculty Mentor to help me hone my research topic and to help me access the resources I needed. Dr. McCaleb was an excellent mentor who was generous with his time and advice, and who was interested in helping me succeed. I found the same generosity among many of the academics and teachers I met in the US, and I was struck by their willingness to collaborate and to share knowledge.
I was also surprised by their interest in Singapore, and proud of the high regard that many academics and teachers had for our educational achievements. Time and again, I was invited to share different aspects of the Singapore education system on topics as wide ranging as teacher education, pre-service training, our approach to literacy and possible reasons for our success. In the two classes I audited, for example, my classmates who were largely teachers doing their post-graduate studies were eager to discuss how having a national curriculum and national high-stakes tests impacted teachers and students. At one point, I felt like a mini celebrity as I was even invited to be a guest speaker on an educational television show called ‘An Educational Moment’!
The DFAT programme created many opportunities for formal and informal learning. The 19 Fulbright teachers met every week for a Friday Seminar where we were encouraged to share the culture and customs of our countries. The teachers from each country took turns to try to re-create the cuisine of their countries and to bring artefacts that could help us understand their countries a little. I also had the opportunity to attend two conferences: the ASCD Conference in Atlanta and the EdTech Teachers’ iPad Summit in Boston.
An aspect of the DFAT programme that took some getting used to was living with other Fulbright teachers from different countries and cultures. We stayed in an off-campus student housing apartment where we shared a common living room and kitchenette, with individual bedrooms that came with an attached bathroom. We needed to negotiate duties such as cleaning the common areas, taking out trash, cleaning the fridge, etc., and this was a new experience for me. Nevertheless, we formed very good friendships from living together for four months, and one of my apartment mates is even going to come visit me in Singapore this August.
Reflecting on my experience in the US, I must say that my biggest takeaway, ironically, is that I have a new found sense of pride in Singapore. To prepare for the many presentations, I had to do research into our policies and programmes, and understand the rationale for them. Looking in from the outside, I became more appreciative of our forward-thinking curriculum, the career paths designed for teachers and the standard of professionalism in the teaching fraternity here. Living in the US also convinced me that both our students and our teachers need to be equipped with 21st Century Competencies and it is indeed appropriate to align the outcomes of the Teacher Growth Model with the outcomes expected of our students. I also believe that Singapore teachers have a higher sense of calling and professionalism than they give themselves credit for, and that we should encourage more of our teachers to take to the international stage and share the many good practices we have in our schools.
The DFAT programme provided me an exceedingly enriching time of professional development. It gave me a rare opportunity to take time out to read, to reflect, to research and to interact with people who were very different culturally and professionally. We were also encouraged to travel and to participate in uniquely-American traditions such as watching a baseball game, Labour Day picnic and BBQ, Thanksgiving and most fortunately, watching the intense run-up to a Presidential election! It was an experience that I count among my most treasured memories.
Mdm Wong Kwai Yeok, June
Words cannot adequately describe the Fulbright experience, but can only capture snapshots of that experience. Among the things that I appreciated is the fact that I did not only learn more about other countries, but also about my own country’s history, culture and education system as I prepared to do presentations to US students and teachers alike. I realise it takes one to be in another place to better appreciate one’s own roots and to feel that sense of pride as I delved deeper into our tenacity, determination and ability to thrive as a sovereign nation.
Besides being introduced to baseball and football matches to soak in the American culture, we were taken on organised learning journeys to historical Annapolis and Colonial Williamsburg. We also experienced total immersion as we partook of American holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving, watched election campaign commercials and witnessed the presidential debates live, or huddled in our dorms during the throes of Sandy, the Superstorm, as we waited for updates about its destructive path. Through all these experiences, one really learns about the American people’s pride, resilience, optimism, and empathy, and what makes the people there tick, what inspires them and what captures their imagination.
Working on my capstone project called on great personal discipline and resulted in much learning. It called for one to draw upon many perspectives, whether it was from the readings at our courses, or lesson observations during our school visits; intellectual discourse with international teachers or university staff; the insightful speeches at conferences or symposia. Most importantly, I had a committed mentor whom I had good synergy with. While I was proactive in driving my own project, my mentor guided me with constructive suggestions and with his resources, tapping on his own network of people to assist me whenever possible. On his prompting, I enrolled for the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) programme which provided research ethics education before administering my online survey. The whole process was a real eye-opener as I ventured into the world of research and researchers.
In the midst of my capstone project, I realised that there could be different interpretations of what inquiry really is, based on the survey conducted in my capstone project. How teachers interpret inquiry will also drive the way they use it. The Singapore teachers see science experience for their students as engagement in active construction of ideas and explanations to enhance their abilities of doing science \[NRC, 1996, p.121\], and that explains the emphasis on questioning and discussion within their classes. The US teachers experiencing the new AP curriculum are clear that inquiry must eventually lead students to be able to start asking their own question and then to pursue the inquiry through a series of self-directed investigations. However, it is important to note that if the desired outcome is to learn science subject matter, the source of the question isless important than the nature of the question \[NRC, 2000\]. Hence, we still need to provide some opportunities for students to develop advanced inquiry abilities and to understand how scientific knowledge is pursued. The new AP curriculum sets the direction for that. Therefore, a good balance between how US and Singapore teachers view and practice inquiry should be struck so that teachers do not emphasise either self-directed investigations or discursive discourse alone, but adopt a good blend of both. While the US teachers all clearly define inquiry in the way mentioned above, we also need to ask ourselves what inquiry means to us in the teaching and learning of science here in Singapore.
Learning opportunities availed themselves in peripheral activities as well. The 1-min video that I learnt to produce at the Technology workshop was eventually uploaded onto the Fulbright Facebook. It captured my sentiments of what ‘Home’ is while being away from Singapore, and it reflected the importance of the deep bonds and friendship. Being one of the three Fulbright teachers chosen to be interviewed as part of the Fulbright Outreach also exposed me to online tools like Go-to-Meeting, and gave me the opportunity to reflect on and to share about the Fulbright experience.
Americans are very big on the ‘Next Step’, and like them, I embrace the fact that my learning continues after the Fulbright stint. But that learning will come in a different way, as I embark on further promoting the use of inquiry on various platforms in my capacity as a Master Teacher.
Mdm Lynette Ann Liew Ai Ping
Global and Local. These are the two words that best describe my experience while on the Distinguished Fulbright Awards in Teaching (DFA) programme. On a personal level, I had the opportunity to meet with other Fulbright teachers from 7 different countries: Argentina, Finland, India, Israel, Morocco, Mexico and South Africa. My roommates were from India and Finland. Both ladies brought with them so many different cultural perspectives and practices, which enriched my four-month stint in the US. I had initially thought that I knew a great deal about Indian culture as I have a number of Indian friends in Singapore.
However, Pallavi Naik, my roommate from Pune, India, provided different insights into the practices of Indians from India. My Finnish roommate Elina Sola is a middle school English teacher. She spoke to me about the Finnish education system, and what surfaced was that the Finns give their students quite a bit of freedom in making decisions about their work in school and other personal life matters, and they trust the students to make those decisions well.
On a professional level, I had the valuable opportunity to be attached to Springbrook High School to collect data for my capstone project. The Staff Development Teacher Cathy Marzen was very open to sharing her experiences in crafting professional development programmes for the school. The learning I gleaned from her was amazing. She showed me how the school lived up to what the books on change management and professional development constantly exhort. The use of data and the close follow-up and monitoring were major take-aways from this school which I will use back in my own school.
For both Spring Brook High School and schools in Singapore, this study has also shown the importance of teachers thoroughly understand the goals, philosophies and theories that undergird the proposed change, and the possible impact that implementing any new pedagogy will have in the classroom, on their students and on the school. Better connections to teachers’ knowledge and the national standards can then be made, as well as establishing the aims of the use of discourse in meeting these standards, and the teaching 21st century competencies. Teachers’ will be able to adequately perceive the point of view of the use of discourse pedagogy, agree with it and, as a result, achieve a greater level of fidelity to the aims and impact on the students.
What also emerged from data showed that in crafting a curricular and/or pedagogic change, the school needs to take into account the teachers’ needs for professional development and support from the school administration. In order to maximise the potential of the PLC structures in the school, a more strategic and collaborative approach would be to use Lesson Study so that the needs of the teachers for real-time sharing, observation and planning would be met. The concern of assessment also needs to be addressed, and it is important to find ways to show teachers that the curricular and/or pedagogic change is consistent with the requirements of the state/national standards.
In addition, I learned how the diversity of the student population, coupled with the fact that many of the students struggle with literacy because English is not their first language, contributes to the challenges that teachers at Springbrook High School are facing. The school experience allowed me to gain insights into how the school leaders, in partnership with the middle managers, supported the teachers in meeting the holistic development of the students.
Finally, I was able to share with all I had met what it means to be a teacher in Singapore—and for that matter, what it means to be Singaporean. I was delighted to be able to present to peers, student teachers, university staff and my newfound Fulbright friends about Singapore’s education system, as well as the professional development platforms and opportunities that our teachers here are offered in the pursuit of lifelong learning. I also had the chance to work with my fellow Singaporeans, Vara and June, to prepare a Singaporean-style breakfast for our friends from the US and the world over, and it was extremely well received. By bringing Singapore to the US, it simply brought me closer to home.
DISTINGUISHED FULBRIGHT AWARDS IN TEACHING (DFA) PROGRAMME 2011
Three teachers received the Distinguished Fulbright Awards in Teaching (DFA) programme 2011. The three teachers were Mrs Viyaya Rani Nadarajah, Master Teacher of Academy of Singapore Teachers, Mdm Wong Mei Leng Anne, then Lead Teacher of Catholic High (Primary) School, and Mr Long Tian Heng Michael, Lead Teacher of Northland Primary School.
Three of them were in Washington for the programme from 15 August 2011 to 19 December 2011. The DFA programme was based at a school of education at University of Maryland, and offered them opportunities for professional collaboration, and for learning about educational issues in a global context. The awardees got to audit courses, attend conferences, and conduct research in their area of interest. They also consulted with educational experts, and observed and taught classes in American schools. This attachment truly gave them a deeper understanding about the educational system and culture in the U.S.A.
The Fulbright experience has been an exciting and enriching one for them. Below are their personal reflections after the attachment.
Mrs Viyaya Rani Nadarajah
My E3 Fulbright Experience
The Fulbright experience was a memorable 18-week ‘lived experience’ that was totally enriching, engaging and empowering.
The first E – an enriching experience that provided for a broad view of the cultural, social, educational, historical, political landscape in the United States of America. From the start of the programme till the final weeks, participants were given a taste of being an ‘everyday American’ by watching a baseball and an American football match.
We also got the chance to observe and to learn about the rich historical and cultural experiences of the country through visits at the famous Smithsonian museums, and through viewing the site of the last historic battle for freedom at Yorktown. The experiences of the 18th century settlement of Colonial Williamsburg at Virginia were recreated to enliven the learning journey. As educators, we also explored a wide spectrum of elementary, middle and high schools, both public and private ones, reputed for their various niche areas in curricular and leadership programmes. To give us a feel of the governance and political life of the country, we were briefed at state buildings at the Capitol, the House of Senate in Annapolis. We were privileged to hear the Mayor of College Park share his views and plans for the district too.
The second E – an engaging experience that was so varied in nature, and one that brought diverse groups of people to interact, to learn and to understand for a truly American and international experience. Each of the eight countries that participated in the programme hosted an international day of cuisine and cultural shows that allowed for opportunities to learn and to interact with one another, fostering deeper bonds of friendship. The visits to American homes of lecturers and officials provided insights to the warm hospitality and social etiquette norms of the Americans. The participation at classes, seminars and dialogues with educators at the College of Education, University of Maryland, provided for intellectual discourse on educational issues pertaining not only to the American system, but also those which were relevant at the international sphere, e.g. global competencies. The highlight of the engagement was the undertaking of a Capstone project that allowed me to observe teacher practitioners deploying differentiated instruction (DI) in the classrooms, to read up on current research on DI, to discuss with teacher trainers and school leaders, and to propose a framework that would effectively support teachers in their transference of practice for DI.
The final and most treasured E – an empowering programme that provided me with the time and space to plan and to engage with experts in varied areas of curricular and instructional practices, allowing me to sharpen my own professional learning and providing for possible collaborative practices that would enhance my role as a Master Teacher.
Mdm Wong Mei Leng Anne
The Fulbright experience has given me a lot of time to read up on current research and to discuss education issues with colleagues with international perspectives. This has helped me to better understand the current research on education, and to see its relevance in classroom teaching, especially in preparing our students more effectively for the future. Given the exposure to other cultures, I am also more sensitive to the cultural differences that affect the needs of the learners. No one method would work equally well for everybody in the same class; hence, there is a need for me as a practitioner to be sensitive to the needs of the students and to tap on their experiences, so that I can differentiate within the classroom for more effective learning.
Personally, I grew with confidence in conducting research as I sought to complete my project. In the course of being guided by the faculty mentor, I learnt that in being a mentor to the adults, it is important to believe in them and to give them the confidence and space to learn on their own. This does not mean that the mentor should adopt a hands-off approach totally. It means that the mentor should aim to make time for the mentee especially when he/she asks for it. My mentor has taught me valuable lessons in this regard as he strove to understand what my learning experience has been, and helped me frame my project to best reflect my learning experience. On top of that, he led me by providing useful reading resources and by directing me to the relevant people in order to help me achieve what I had set out to do. The mentoring experience that I benefited as a learner has inspired me to become a better mentor as well.
Mr Long Tian Heng Michael
Anticipation is the driving force behind this journey. I was looking forward to more learning, while visiting places and meeting people from other cultures and other education systems. Regardless of our differences, there is always something valuable that one can take away.
Having the opportunity to be immersed in the world of academia balanced with the perspectives of practitioners, I begin to appreciate the theory-practice nexus. It has inspired me to get my theoretical understanding in place, and to continue to question the ‘what’, ‘why’, and ‘how’ of my thoughts and actions.
Through this programme, I also begin to realise the importance of inspiring students to want to go to school because it is more meaningful than labouring with the old mindset of merely getting them to score a string of A’s. Thus, this has greatly impacted the way I teach, and has helped me see education from a different light.