In the past year, we have embarked on a re-envisioning process for TMS to co-create our school’s vision for the next 5 years. I wish to thank all students, staff, parents and other stakeholders such as our alumni and School Advisory Committee (SAC) members for your valuable views and insights that are helping to steer the school into our next phase.
From 2023 onwards, we have revised our School Vision and Mission as follows:
A caring community of joyful learners and exemplary leaders.
We strive to create a caring environment for all, ignite joy in lifelong learning and nurture leaders of character and intellect.
Our school motto of “We Care”, as well as our school values of T-EPIC (Teamwork, Performance Excellence, Integrity, Care), remain unchanged.
A CARING COMMUNITY
The school motto of “We Care” resonated strongly across all groups we engaged with, reflecting the longstanding identity and lived experiences of the people in our community. Our teachers care deeply for the holistic well-being of our students, we have a strong culture of peer support and we are also blessed with caring stakeholders such as our parents and alumni.
We know that youths learn best in a safe and nurturing environment where they feel cared for, supported and individually valued. In this environment, they can explore their strengths and interests, learn socio-emotional skills, experience challenges and cultivate a growth mindset. As we help them to acquire good social skills and strong relationships, make repeated choices that are consistent with the values they and their families hold dear, as well as overcome failures and taste success, we also help them to build a secure ego and a coherent sense of identity. With this, they are better able to connect deeply with what most resonates with them and to find meaning in their personal purpose.
Many of you have shared that the “ideal Temasekian” is one who embodies the value of care for those around them and possesses the willingness to serve the school, community and nation. It is also my hope that our Temasekians will find their sense of identity and purpose in serving the diverse needs of the community around them, looking outward towards a life of commitment, sacrifice, responsibility and contribution… to find that spot in their hearts where, in the words of author and theologian Frederick Buechner, “One’s deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger”.
In fact, I see this care for the greater good as fundamental to the character that we want to nurture in our young – character is a deeper moral quality oriented around love, service/self-sacrifice, care and integrity, supplemented by the secondary traits that help them to succeed (such as grit, productivity and self-discipline).
This deep moral purpose then brings enduring hope and resilience – in fact, having a strong sense of personal purpose is one of the key predictors for resilience and success. This is the antidote to the directionlessness, “FOMO” (fear of missing out) and fragility that we see in some of our young, who have been affected by an increasingly postmodern, individualistic culture that has lost its sense of universal truth and “telos”.
JOY OF LEARNING
The second key emphasis in our revised Vision and Mission is “joy of learning”. The key idea behind here is really for our students to experience the joy of learning so that they love learning and will be motivated to keep learning and growing throughout their lifetime.
When we conducted focus group discussions with the students, they described the experiences that lead to joy of learning for them. These included: gamification of learning, experiential and authentic hands-on activities, learning journeys outside the classroom, collaborative learning with their peers, technology-enabled lessons, bite-sized assessment to track progress, humorous stories and jokes by teachers, as well as attractive rewards such as candy and bubble tea. These are all positive and fun-filled experiences that we wish to provide for our students (maybe except the candy and bubble tea, which I would not recommend too much of!) With the restrictions imposed due to COVID-19 receding into the background, we are making a concerted effort to reintroduce some of these experiences for our students, including authentic partnerships with community partners and also learning journeys (both local and overseas).
Additionally, we want to teach our students the skills and dispositions for learning – for them to understand how to learn well (individually and with their peers), practice those skills, and to be able to monitor their own progress. Hence, our revised Learning Dispositions (LD) will serve as the key vehicle for us to guide this process. The LD can be summarised by the acronym GROWTH, which stands for: Grow with Others, Reflect for Improvement, Overcome Challenges, Work towards Excellence, Take Initiative and Heart for Learning. We will explicitly teach these skills in the curriculum, set up mentoring systems for teachers to guide students in this journey, and have more conversations with parents to support the development of these in our students.
Joy of learning is really broader, and deeper than the ‘wish-list’ of student experiences described above. Broader in the sense that this can be experienced in everyday school life and not just during special programmes, through differentiated instruction to meet varied interests, applied learning to solve real-world problems, self-directed learning that is exploratory and empowering (for example Student-Initiated learning on HBL days), learning that is personally motivated, learning that allows students to have a sense of mastery (e.g. through the use of self-assessment rubrics) – all facilitated within the context of a creative and supportive environment in which it is safe to fail.
It is also deeper in the sense that we want students to experience deep cognitive engagement/’flow’, which is a key (and enjoyable, even addictive) part of learning. This is what drives “Heart for Learning” (part of GROWTH). I cannot put this better than what the novelist Daniel Keyes writes in “Flowers for Algernon”: “I’m living at a peak of clarity and beauty I never knew existed. Every part of me is attuned to the work. I soak it up into my pores during the day, and at night—in the moments before I pass off into sleep—ideas explode into my head like fireworks. There is no greater joy than the burst of solution to a problem. Incredible that anything could happen to take away this bubbling energy, the zest that fills everything I do. It’s as if all the knowledge I’ve soaked in during the past months has coalesced and lifted me to a peak of light and understanding. This is beauty, love, and truth all rolled into one. This is joy.”
When we talk about love for lifelong learning and knowing how to learn, the discourse is often about how it is a necessity in the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) job market today. Through our Education and Career Guidance (ECG) efforts, we also try to expose our students to various industries to guide them to make informed choices. But beyond surviving and making a good living, this joy of learning is also linked to deeper meaning and fulfilment in our lives. This is because ultimately any abiding commitment (be it a commitment to learning, a higher ideal or a greater purpose) has to be driven by intense emotions and a sense of wonderment. I know that my own schooling experience allowed me to catch glimpses of this joy of learning that is difficult to describe adequately in words, and it is the memory of such experiences and the desire to feel that again that has driven me to continue to pursue learning. If we can light that spark in our students, there is no lack of resources out there for them to explore and to learn on their own.
As we prepare our young for their future, Martin Luther King Jr’s words come to my mind. He advised that that one’s work should have:
Length – something you can work at to get better at over a lifetime;
Breadth – it should touch many other people’s lives; &
Height – it should put you in service to some ideal and satisfy the soul’s yearning for beauty and righteousness.
This is a lofty but absolutely worthy ideal for all of us to work towards.
In TMS, we have had a longstanding emphasis on leadership – this is seen in our previous school vision, which is “A school known for nurturing leaders of character and intellect”. We admit students via DSA(Leadership), and almost half of our students hold leadership positions. All our students learn about self-leadership, and our student leaders get to experience a comprehensive and structured leadership development programme that allows them to learn values and skills through mentoring and the provision of ample school-based and external platforms and opportunities to live out these values and skills. Many of our student leader alumni have reflected that the TMS student leadership programme has taught them enduring values and life skills, including service to others, vision and initiative, communication and collaboration skills, resilience, resourcefulness and respect for diversity. As a school leader, I can also see how school tone, school pride and school affiliation have all been positively impacted by this emphasis on leadership.
Going forward, we wish to build upon this established programme that we have created over the years, with additional emphasis on “exemplary” leaders. In choosing this word “exemplary”, we hope to highlight the importance of role-modelling. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” And therefore, we become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day – in thought, word and deed. Our student leaders do not just have to learn and apply knowledge and skills; they are held to higher standards of living out the values that we have taught them.
We know that great leaders inspire unflagging loyalty and respect not just by having a great vision, but by so fully embodying a system of values, beliefs and behaviours (even at great personal price) that they build a moral ecology around themselves – they create a culture that sets the unspoken norms of thinking and behaviour, and in doing so transform a society for the better. Singapore has benefitted from such leadership. Through our student leadership programme, we hope to inspire and transform our students with similar examples of moral greatness and servant leadership. As the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, “Moral education is impossible without the habitual vision of greatness” – and it is this habitual vision of the best that the human race has to offer that we want to hold up for our future leaders to aspire towards.
Finally, an update on a key MOE initiative that TMS has had the privilege to pilot from its inception: 2023 marks the third year of our journey on the Common Curriculum, where lower secondary form classes are mixed across the Express, Normal Academic and Normal Technical courses. The students learn a number of subjects that are less academic in nature together (for instance, music, PE, art, and CCE) in a more diverse classroom environment. However, they are grouped according to their level of progress when they are pursuing the more academic subjects.
In these more diverse form classes, we strive to ensure that students feel known, valued and respected, and we continue to celebrate effort and progress as we differentiate and personalise learning for each student, sometimes with the help of technology. While students with a greater level of needs will receive the support that they need to do their best, this does not come at the expense of the higher progress students, who are still given the resources and opportunities that they require to thrive and to excel. For instance, we have talent development programmes such as the Temasek Ignis Programme (TIP) for exposure to and deepening of interests and strengths.
We are glad to observe that the students have bonded very well together and their learning experience has been greatly enriched. It is with this positive experience and conviction that we have decided that our Secondary 3 students will continue in their mixed form classes in 2023.
As always, I welcome any ideas or areas of potential collaboration that you might have for our school. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. Have a fruitful and meaningful 2023.
Ms. Leah Aw