This past week, I had the very interesting opportunity to meet the special education teachers who won the inaugural Leading Foundation Awards, which was established to honour excellent early childhood and special education teachers.
Their stories of the challenges of coping with children with special education needs such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), were truly inspirational. The children are not easy to deal with and success is making progress on helping the children be able to take care of themselves. Independence is the goal.
In as much as these teachers are dedicated to being different from other teachers in their life mission and their sense of purpose, it certainly makes them leaders we all should appreciate and honour.
One of the teachers talked of taking 15 of her students on an immersion programme overseas. These are children with special needs, yet they went without their parents. Extensive preparations had to be made to familiarise the children with the new situations they would experience, as these children function best when life is predictable and familiar.
An important event, for example, would be flying in an aircraft for the first time. The teacher had to arrange for the children to go to a simulated aircraft cabin in one of the polytechnics, and also had a familiarisation experience on a SilkAir aircraft (on the ground).
Remarkably the children leant to be independent on the overseas trip without mishap, while the teacher had a continuous stream of questions and concerns from the parents back in Singapore who were wondering all the time how their children were doing. The teacher was clear that an important purpose of the trip was to teach the children that they could manage themselves. Such clarity of objective is absolutely impressive.
Another of the teachers described taking the children under her as well as their families on a trip to Melaka. These are children from low-income families who, together with their parents, would never have been able to experience a holiday trip. The school saw the building of relationship between parents and their children to be very important, and thus makes the effort to raise funds to give the family the holiday.
I was particularly struck by a statement one of the teachers made, that the caregivers – mostly the parents and family at home – are the ones who carry the most burden in caring for the children with special education needs.
Thus the teachers see themselves as giving the parents some time when they are relieved of having to look after their children. And while the teachers do not have an easy time with the children, they say they only have to spend 5 hours a weekday with the children, whereas the caregivers have to look after the children all the rest of the time.
So if the teachers look at the time in perspective, and the teachers think of the good they are doing for parents and families and not just the children, that is how the teachers derive their energy and motivation.
This is certainly something all of us can learn for our lives, and something all leaders have to think about: What good are we doing for the lives of others?