Here’s to great teachers: learning from Singapore with the Teaching Fellows

Schools Plus, which works to increase disadvantaged schools’ access to philanthropy, asked Learning First to lead a group of outstanding Australian teachers and school leaders on a learning tour to Singapore, one of the most consistently high-performing systems in international tests.

August 16, 2017 | Jaqueline Magee

Jaqueline Magee

In his book, Learning from Singapore: The Power of Paradoxes, Professor Pak Tee Ng from the National Institute of Education describes teaching and its impact. He writes:

“This labour of love is down to earth. It may not be glamorous. It is long-suffering. It does change lives, not in dramatic ways, but quietly and surely”.

I’ve read these resonant words many times. They remind me of my teaching colleagues in the schools I have worked in: those who have spent their entire professional lives in the classroom, helping their students learn, caring for them, spending their weekends and holidays preparing lessons and giving feedback. All without the hope or expectation of recognition. All without the high status afforded to many other professions. All for one reason: to make a difference to their students’ lives.

With the support of the Commonwealth Bank, Schools Plus, which raises funds for disadvantaged schools, is shining a light on the life-changing work of twelve such exceptional teachers and school leaders from across the country. The winners – brilliant teachers, innovative thinkers, and highly effective principals – were announced at an awards ceremony in March following a rigorous assessment process. A panel of education and business leaders chaired by Schools Plus Pioneer David Gonski madethe final selection of Fellows. Each received $30,000 towards a significant project in their school, $10,000 towards personal professional development, and a study tour to Singapore led by Learning First.

In July the Fellows and I visited Singapore schools and key institutions, including the Academy of Singapore Teachers, the Academy of Singapore Principals and the National Institute of Education. We wanted to examine the policies and practices of Singapore’s system – one of the highest performing in the world – and consider the lessons that might be relevant to the Fellows’ work in diverse Australian contexts, from metropolitan Sydney to suburban Brisbane to remote Western Australia. The Fellows devised specific research questions, including on teacher professional learning, leadership, and innovative curriculum and pedagogy. They also discussed their experiences and ideas for reform with their Singaporean counterparts. The Fellows are now back working in their schools.

The Fellowship is about much more than the financial reward and a trip to Singapore. Schools Plus and the Commonwealth Bank have identified a cohort of highly talented and committed educators who have dedicated their lives to students and schools across the country. Through the Fellowship, this group is now working together to make their mark on teaching and learning, and on Australia. In Singapore the Fellows began to define their collective purpose and plan their next steps – this is just the beginning.  Individually, they have been changing the lives of their students for years. Collectively, they plan to improve Australian education – quietly, surely, and in dramatic ways.

Nominations for the 2018 Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards open in September 2017 at

Congratulations to the 2017 Teaching Fellows: Sharyn Angel (Qld), Chad Bliss (NSW), Shanti Clements (NSW), Leah Crockford (NT), Michael Devine (Vic), Wilbur (Charlie) Klein (WA), Sarah Mathews (Qld), Lesley Mills (NSW), Christine Roberts-Yates (SA), Craig Skinner (WA), Belinda Wall (NSW) and Eddie Woo (NSW). Read more about the Fellows here.

Jacqueline Magee is Senior Associate at Learning First


Schools Plus Fellows visiting a school during their study tour

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