This morning Valerie Strauss posted an article for the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet pointing out some of what she labeled as the more “surprising” elements of Singapore’s “Desired Outcomes of Education”.
(As a little background…Singapore, along with a number of other East Asian and Scandinavian countries, consistently outperform US schools on just about every achievement-oriented assessment, and are often cited as systems that we need to “catch”. It should also be noted that I believe Strauss was making the same argument I’m about to, which is that if we were to take a moment to think rationally, then these desired outcomes wouldn’t actually seem too surprising at all).
You can read her article here and see the full list of desired outcomes on the Singapore Ministry of Education’s website here, and I’d encourage you to do both, but for quick reference, check out the table they use to show desired outcomes by stage:
(graphic via http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/desired-outcomes/)
Strauss compares a recent statement from US President Barack Obama (“The goal for America’s educational system is clear: Every student should graduate from high school ready for college and a career. Every student should have meaningful opportunities to choose from upon graduating from high school.”) and the outcomes identified by the Singapore Ministry of Education, stating that “…because the school system is so often compared favorably to ours, it is fair to look at what kind of graduates the government of Singapore says it wants the public school system to produce.”
Particularly because according to research from virtually every field, these outcomes have a lot to do with the golden rings that have been identified: creativity, innovation…and let’s be honest…a productive, efficient, reliable labor force that can fuel the national economy and build a stronger global community.
For a brief journey into just one of these fields, neuroscience, take a good look at some of the evidence presented in Dr. Edward M. Hallowell’s recent book, Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People. In Shine, Hallowell cites neurological research (as well as additional research in psychology, sociology, and more) explaining what exactly is needed for a person to reach “peak performance.” Hallowell identifies Select, Connect, Play, Grapple and Grow, and Shine as his 5-step “Cycle of Excellence.”
Hallowell’s book, similar to the work done by Csikszmentmihalyi, Gilbert, Duckworth, Dweck, Pink, Johnson, Christakis, Fowler, (who are all cited in Shine…and the work done by IEE), points out something that by now shouldn’t be surprising: People who are healthy, happy, connected, and motivated in healthy ways (both intrinsically and extrinsically) are BETTER.
They’re better learners.
They’re better teachers.
They’re better police officers.
They’re better accountants.
They’re better managers.
Should I continue? Ok, I will…
They’re better parents.
They’re better community members.
They’re better waiters and waitresses.
They’re better pilots.
They’re better friends.
They’re better stock brokers.
They’re better insurance agents.
Picking up on the pattern here?
Turns out that things like self-efficacy, treating others with respect, conscience, integrity, thinking critically and expressing yourself confidently, communication skills, and the ability to creatively solve complex problems….REALLY MATTER. If you’re not sure how all of this translates into the day to day life of students and teachers in a classroom setting, check out work on emotional intelligence, resilient schools & classrooms, etc.
These things matter in the home, the community, and the workplace, and they matter in schools too, even when objectives like “passing state tests”, “reaching curriculum standards,” and “getting better grades” are identified as priorities. Just like the skills above lead to higher motivation, productivity, and satisfaction in the workplace, they lead to higher academic performance and safe & supportive classrooms and schools as well.
In her article, Strauss says:
“The Education Ministry in Singapore talks about educating students to become confident, moral, analytical thinkers who are responsible and involved adult citizens of their country. And it wants kids to grow up with a “zest for life.”
Maybe I missed it, but I haven’t heard any school reformers here talk about that.”
With all due respect, I have to point out that yes, Ms. Strauss is actually missing the fact that some school reformers are not only talking about this, but doing real work in schools on these issues right now (and demonstrating significant positive impact as well).
But I can totally understand the reasons why this fact might be missed.
Right now the push in the education field, particularly what’s playing out on TV and in newspaper headlines, seems to be on test scores, teacher performance, workforce preparation, and career readiness.
However both in and out of schools, many people are starting to recognize that while these elements are definitely important, there is something missing…
As Strauss point out, it would be wise for school-reformers to take a good look at the objectives that the school systems they admire have set for themselves, because their priorities are fairly clearly stated…and seem to be fairly different from the priorities being focused on here.
While in far too many cases US school reform priorities may seem misguided, and perhaps some of them are at times, but maybe in other cases it’s just a case of parallels in terminology going unrecognized. You see, it’s true that we’re not directly working on improving “zest,” but we are helping thousands of students, teachers, and others work on “living a balanced, purposeful, & healthy life.” We also help them work on developing positive and productive relationships, communicating & collaborating with efficiency & effectiveness, managing priorities & reducing stress, committing to high standards & continuous improvement, demonstrating emotional intelligence, integrity & responsibility, exhibiting creativity & innovation; critical thinking and problem solving, and leading & serving others.
That sounds pretty zestful to me, even though rather than calling it “Key Stage Outcomes of Education”, we call this “building the culture of excellence & ethics for success in school, work, and beyond.”
While school reform can often be a polarizing topic, it really isn’t for us, because instead of just focusing on developing people who are smart or developing people who are good, we focus on both in a highly integrated way…because that’s what research, or as school-reformers like to say, “the data”, tells us to do.
Sometimes even though people are using different terminology they may still have the same goal in mind, which must be the case here…because in November educators in Singapore are bringing in IEE to train teachers on how to use the Power2Achieve curriculum and the Culture of Excellence & Ethics Assessment in their schools and classrooms.
Select schools in Kansas, Iowa, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Colorado, California, Texas, and other places around the country have already been blazing this trail across the US in partnership with IEE. Hopefully the educational community as a whole won’t be too far behind.