The AST is housed in an old school building, which has now been entirely given over for the purposes of teacher development. The Master teachers hold many of their workshops here, and some of the teacher networks meet here too. It was established in 2010 to build a teacher-led culture of professional excellence; a mission that it seems to be achieving.
I can hear policy makers in other countries thinking, ‘how the hell do they do that?’ Why aren’t teachers in all countries voluntarily forming networks and seeking out training opportunities? Are Singaporeans innately conscientious? No, the system helps. It removes all barriers to teacher learning, allowing teachers’ intrinsic motivation to drive these positive effects, and is also structured so that it adds a little external nudge for those that need it.
Teachers in Singapore are entitled to undertake 100 hours of professional development a year. They use this allocated time to address their personal development needs, which are identified by the teachers themselves in partnership with their Reporting Officer (like a mentor that also evaluates you). They can go to workshops and courses during the school day, and the schools both organise the necessary cover and pay for it; each school is given a ring fenced ‘Manpower grant’ every year specifically for this purpose. Teachers also have more non-teaching time during the school day than the OECD average, and there is designated timetable time for professional learning and discussion.
The extrinsic nudge I mentioned is built into their career structure, which I described in my last post. Even if you want to stay in the classroom, there is a career ladder with several stages, and your pay and status don’t increase much unless you move up it. To move up it, you need to show you are good and developing, so there is incentive there (in case it was lacking) to put time and thought into becoming a better teacher.
There is so much more to the Singaporean teacher development system than this, and I would urge anyone interested to go and visit if possible. A lot of thought has gone into its structure, and all policy changes in this area go through careful consultation processes and lengthy pilots. That’s why it works…