Learning while Leading

What does it mean to be a teacher in an entrepreneurial society? How can teachers prepare themselves to constantly be relevant? Two teachers share their thoughts and tips.

Teacher Adrian Goh Says: Questions, Not Answers

Who is an entrepreneurial leader? I read from somewhere that it is a person who organises a group of people to achieve a common goal by optimising risk, innovating to take advantage of opportunities, taking personal responsibility and managing change in a dynamic environment. Actually, I consulted Google, which led me to our all-time favourite knowledge depository – Wikipedia. Don’t judge me. As much as we don’t want to admit it, we do look to Wikipedia for information! I’m merely taking the additional step to quote it. I’m sure some of us have consulted Wikipedia for information, but we present it as “I read from somewhere…” As I read the definition of “Entrepreneurial Leadership”, I was reminded of The Leadership Challenge®:

  • “common goal”: Inspire a Shared Vision
  • “optimising risk, innovating, managing change”:  Challenge the Process
  • “taking personal responsibility”: Model the Way

If I can redefine the entrepreneurial leader, he would be someone who exhibits the 5 Leadership Practices in The Leadership Challenge® model. Moving on to the more important question: Why do we need to build entrepreneurial leaders?

Recently, I watched a YouTube Video about 21st century education and it set me thinking: Am I adequately preparing my students for the future? Sometimes, as educators, we get so caught up with delivering our lessons and producing academic results that we fail to reflect and ask ourselves: How are my lessons going to prepare them for the future? How can we begin to teach our students skills for jobs that are not yet in existence. How can we teach them to solve problems that have not emerged? Isn’t that depressing? Doesn’t that make you feel inadequate? I certainly felt that way! Why did I feel that way?

Again, I reflected on this and realised that the problem lies in the nature of our job. We work in a somewhat closed environment, and our interactions are limited to students and other educators. Unless we expand our knowledge to include the world beyond school, the only thing we can adequately prepare our students for is teaching. And how many of our students eventually will choose teaching as a profession?

“We work in a somewhat closed environment, and our interactions are limited to students and other educators. Unless we expand our knowledge to include the world beyond school, the only thing we can adequately prepare our students for is teaching. And how many are teachers?” – Adrian Goh, teacher

I did a quick check: We have about 32,000 teachers (Source: Ministry of Education statistics 2013) and about 2.1 million resident labour force (Source: Ministry of Manpower workforce 2013). This means about 1.5% of our students will be teachers. What about the remaining 98.5%? How can we ever prepare them for an uncertain and complex future?

The answer lies in ourselves. As educators, we need to expand our knowledge of the world beyond the school. We need to have quality conversations with our friends in other sectors, learn about what they do, learn about other economies, learn about our beneficiaries as we bring our students for Values-In-Action, learn about our vendors as we engage their services. As we learn, we teach. When and how do we teach what we have learnt?

For starters: through short stories in our lessons. Our students are hungry for knowledge, knowledge of us, what we do, our experiences as teachers and our interactions with the world beyond the school. What else can we do beyond the sharing of experiences?

In developing my student leaders, I find it effective when I reply their questions with further questions and throw them a potential problem for every proposed solution they offer. In doing so, I teach them to respond to uncertainties and force them to make decisions because the answers no longer come from me. I stop giving them problems to address. Instead, I ask them to look around for problems. In doing so, I teach them to see the needs around them and meet them and I teach them to see the opportunities around them and seize them. The less we feed them, the more they will turn inwards and feed from their creative and inventive hearts, minds and souls.

“The less we feed them, the more they will turn inwards and feed from their creative and inventive hearts, minds and souls.” – Adrian Goh, teacher

This journey of education will never be easy. We are in the midst of a transition. Last year, I met a parent who asked if I could give more homework to keep his children occupied during the year-end holidays. A couple of weeks after that, I went on a trip to Spain and had a conversation with one of the tour group members who questioned why schools give so much homework. We can never please everyone and I think we shouldn’t! At the end of the day, if our students have acquired the skills necessary to navigate this increasingly connected and dynamic world, then we can say that, as educators, we’ve done our job well.

Teacher Nicole Quek Says: We are not in the education business, but the people business

Halogen360 (H360): What kind of leaders do you hope your students will become?
Nicole Quek (NQ): At St. Anthony’s Canossian Secondary School (SACSS), we inspire our students to become servant leaders. Not only do we encourage them to be problem solvers, we also encourage them to serve with a heart. Our theme for Investiture this year is “Life built on Love through Servant Leadership”. We hope they will be Servant Leaders who know how to give back to society and serve with humility and integrity. We try to impress upon them that student leadership is not just about the leader’s badge they wear or the high position they hold; it is about personal development and character building.

H360: What types of skills do you think are necessary to grow your students to give them a head start in life?
NQ: The most important skill is that of connection and communication. People skills are important to have in order to have a head start in life. Leadership guru John Maxwell aptly says, “The ability to connect with others begins with understanding the value of people”. It’s not just about completing a task. It’s about working and moving forward together as a team. There are many ways to achieve common goals; the question is how we arrive as a team. It’s the people you work with that help sustain the passion and desire to achieve more for the organisation and its people.

H360: Do you think entrepreneurial thinking (agile, innovative, resilient, creative) is important for youths in Singapore? If yes, why?
NQ: I came across a quote by Voltaire: “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers”. We are living in a very different world today. I have seen drastic curriculum changes in education over the years in order to better prepare our youths for this ever-changing world. It is a necessary move to teach our students how to think explicitly and to question critically so that we can prepare them to take on new challenges in the future. However, having a good heart is just as important as having a good head. We must develop our students to be entrepreneurial thinkers with big hearts so that we can safely entrust our future in their capable and kind hands.

“It is a necessary move to teach our students how to think explicitly and to question critically so that we can prepare them to take on new challenges in the future.” – Nicole Quek, teacher

H360: In 2014, what plans do you have in mind to groom student leaders?
NQ: Inexperienced student leaders always think that being a good leader is about taking all the responsibilities upon themselves and ensuring that people abide by the school rules. I would like to inspire our student leaders to aim for a higher and nobler level of leadership. They need to know what they stand for as student leaders and what type of legacy they would like to leave in the world. This would involve a lot of thoughtful questioning, mentoring, sharing and reflecting.  There must be trust, respect and plenty of room to allow them to learn from experience and reflection. Last year, the student leaders (Student Council and Co-Curricular Activity Council) organised a school-wide event called ONE SAC. They conducted games, mass dances and percussion band activities and planned the event schedules for the whole school.

Although it involved many hours of backbreaking hard work, the learning experience and sense of fulfilment were tremendous at the end of the day. We also conducted a learning journey to Hong Kong incorporating The Leadership Challenge® Model, Service Learning and an exchange programme with Sacred Heart Canossian School. The teachers planned the itinerary and conducted debriefs at the end of each day to consolidate learning. It was a great learning experience and bonding time for everyone. This year we hope to have the opportunity to carry out similar student-led events for the school.  We even plan for a learning journey to Japan!

H360: Which leader inspires you most? Why?
NQ: Mother Teresa inspires me. With great conviction and determination, she was and still is able to inspire and move the world. She is neither a politician, movie star nor super model. On the contrary, she is a small, frail-looking humble woman. Yet her influence extends beyond physical and mental boundaries – isn’t that amazing? My favourite quote from Mother Teresa is: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love”. It is a good reminder for all of us to make each step count, and to do so with conviction.

H360: Share with us one leadership (inspirational, motivational, educational) book/video/podcast that you are currently reading or listening to.
NQ: I am reading John C. Maxwell’s book, “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect”. The line that strikes me most in the book is a quote by Nabi Saleh, an entrepreneur in the coffee and tea business. He said, “We aren’t in the coffee business, serving people. We’re in the people business, serving coffee.” What a thought-provoking statement! It is indeed something for everyone to ponder about and reflect upon.

“We aren’t in the coffee business, serving people. We’re in the people business, serving coffee.” –Nabi Saleh, Entrepreneur

Article by Adrian Goh and Nicole Quek.
Adrian Goh is a teacher in Holy Innocents’ High School and serves as the Subject Head of Student Leadership. He hopes to impact the lives of young people by influencing them, imparting to them, instructing them and inspiring them towards discovering their purpose.
Nicole Quek is a teacher who attained The Student Leadership Challenge® Certified Facilitator accreditation from Halogen. She is in her 3rd year of teaching at St. Anthony’s Canossian Secondary School as a History and Social Studies teacher and as Student Leadership Committee Coordinator. The Student Leadership Committee has been awarded “Outstanding Contribution Award (Team)” for both 2012 and 2013.

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