A Teacher’s Story on How Working with SIS Had Taught Her the Most Important Lesson in Life: Character Matters
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Martin Luther King Jr., TIME’s Man of the Year in 1963, was recognized for advocating the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent tactics as well as his high regard for education, where he was quoted, saying, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”
And that couldn’t be any more true for SIS and for SIS PIK Head Teacher Jennifer Olmsted, who, after more than two decades of being a teacher, deeply understands the critical role she plays in educating children.
“There’s a great trust placed in us [by parents]. . . . This is their children’s future in our hands,” the Australian teacher claimed.
Head Teacher Jennifer pointed out that while the SIS Group of Schools is well ranked both internationally and locally for its curriculum: an excellent fusion of the Singapore Curriculum, the International Baccalaureate Program, and the Cambridge IGCSE curriculum, producing academic achievers and topnotchers, their unique educational system is not centered on academics alone.
“We have a greater responsibility than that. We do not only want our students to be just great in academics. We want them to be more than that. We want them to be future leaders, creators, inventors, and game changers. And we can only do that by giving them experiences, which means exploring our local community and volunteering. . . . experiencing the world as it is as opposed to how you’d like it to be,” Olmsted explained.
Other than the co-curricular activities that SIS students get to pick and participate in within the school, every student gets to integrate in the community through charity work and outreach programs that the school regularly holds. They go to small villages with no running water or visit some area where food is an everyday concern or check out some community where electricity is a luxury.
The SIS children bring and share food and books to the families, teach English and play with the kids, or help in projects that bring water to the entire village. And they come back to the classrooms with eyes wide open and with bigger hearts, realizing all the blessings that they have to be grateful for, everything they’ve been provided to be thankful for. Most importantly, they learn the need to help.
“I have learned over my many years of teaching that when children have access to incredible experiences, you see them learn and watch them change and be the change they want to be in the world that they have experienced—and that’s what drives me.”
The SIS PIK Head Teacher continued to explain that SIS does not merely aim for the students to have access to the best universities across the world when they finish junior college with them but to actually be part of the solution as game changers and leaders in their respective communities and maybe even the country.
“We don’t want our students to be mere consumers of knowledge; we want them to be producers of knowledge and become innovators, synthesizers, and creators.”
With the advent of the Digital Age that brought with it the drastic shift from traditional industry where school was largely based on what the books dictated to an economy that’s largely dependent on information computerization, the need for education and its purpose has changed significantly.
With every child having access to the Internet, which translates to an unlimited amount of knowledge, the role of the teacher is no longer contracted to explain chapters and chapters of book synopsis, to outline steps of how elements are produced or how things are created, to enumerate parts and phases of systems and processes.
“Today it’s more about helping students make sense of the world and become synthesizers, evaluators of knowledge. . . . We have to adjust method of teaching in such a way that we help them learn 21st century skills and adapt to how they learn so they remain one step further.”
Unlike other international school systems, SIS exams do more than just encourage kids to be good at memorizing the lessons learned in the classroom. Instead, their ideas are challenged and they are trained to justify their knowledge. SIS places the rigor on the student’s process of thinking rather than their answers.
The children are trained to be able to explain how they came to a particular conclusion as opposed to memorizing names and numbers, to prove how one evidence weighs more than the others as opposed to defining terms and concepts, and to discuss how they got to a solution as opposed to identifying a yes or no for an answer.
The SIS PIK forerunner likewise gave credit to the parents who share the same passion with her about wanting to provide nothing less than the best for their children.
“Our parents are very progressive, in that they value excellent-quality international education as being the best investment they can make and give their children. They are outward looking and have high regard for their children knowing more about the world and get equipped with skills that will enable them to go out there and explore. They are sincerely passionate about their children learning amazing ideas from the school that makes for a good avenue for intercultural learning and be able to apply these ideas when they finally go out into the society and make it a better place.”
Olmsted conveyed how she can never be more grateful for the opportunity to work with the school that SIS has blessed her with, saying “SIS has a supportive board that’s passionate about the children getting the best educational experience. Together with the parents, we want to make things happen.”
And that collaboration couldn’t be any more apparent with the school musical that the students performed in September this year, where around 300 students eagerly practice and master their roles.
Children from elementary to senior high school, many of whom have not picked up a bow or played any musical instrument in their life, went from having zero knowledge or musical orientation right up to being able to perform beautifully in an orchestra for an international audience. And if that’s not enough, what’s more amazing is that all net proceeds from the musical went to underprivileged children in remote areas of Indonesia through the school’s very own charity group: SISwa Peduli Bangsa.
When asked where she gets her inspiration to do all that she’s been doing with SIS, Olmsted gleams with enthusiasm and shares a favorite quote by the modern Greek literature giant Nikos Kazantzakis who said, “True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.”
“Seeing the kids put in the commitment, the time, the passion to produce such an incredible show and feel absolutely proud of their achievement inspires me to no end,” Teacher Jennifer answered, beaming with a smile.