Right People. Right Time. Right Place. Westwood Primary School’s Journey Towards Positive Education
HappyHappy • Sep 2020
With an innate curiosity about the mind and human behaviour, he read psychology at university, analysing and delving into mental and emotional challenges faced by some individuals and the recommended therapies.
He saw himself becoming a helping professional after graduation.
As his career unfolded, he became a public educator and a school leader in various institutions.
In 2013, the Ministry of Education (MOE) appointed him Principal of a brand new school – Westwood Primary School (WWPS) – that was to become one of Singapore’s pioneer schools on Positive Education.
For WWPS Principal, Ng Yeow Ling, his life path was an organic progression from a graduate training in education and psychology to where he now lives and breathes a 21st century educator’s mindset that celebrates human strengths and advocates teaching life skills for well-being.
“It’s very refreshing to say: let’s not focus on the past, on the brokenness, but instead let us focus on the positives, on the thriving human spirit and what it means to bring these concepts to a new generation of young pupils in their formative years,” said Yeow Ling in an interview with HappyHappy.
“a 21st century educator’s mindset that celebrates human strengths and advocates teaching life skills for well-being”
It was in 2012, a year before WWPS was founded, that Yeow Ling first learned about Positive Education.
He had discovered in Australia’s Geelong Grammar School a Positive Education framework that fosters both excellence and well-being.
“I was struck by Geelong’s efficacy in executing this framework,” said Yeow Ling. “It affirmed my belief that while pursuing excellence, we should – at the same time – promote the well-being of staff and pupils for a thriving school community.
“And that got me really excited.”
At around the same time, the national educational landscape in Singapore was at a crossroads.
The MOE was starting to steer public schools towards a holistic, high-quality education in 21st century competencies with solidly-rooted values so that pupils can flourish and thrive.
When Yeow Ling was appointed Principal and entrusted with a clean slate to articulate the vision, mission and values of a brand new school, it was pivotal for him too.
It was a serendipitous, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to execute the philosophy of Positive Education he was passionate about.
And so, under Yeow Ling’s stewardship, WWPS began its journey as one of Singapore’s pioneer schools on Positive Education, guiding and nurturing its staff and pupils with the mindset and skills for both excellence and well-being.
Right people. Right time. Right place.
In this interview, Yeow Ling shared his experience of leading Westwood Primary School on its journey towards Positive Education. This is what he had to say:
Vision And Mission
Our vision is to be a positive institution that inspires the community to lead meaningful and engaged lives.
To achieve this, we need to make sure that the pursuit of academic excellence must be coupled with a pursuit of well-being.
“we want to move towards the correct upper quadrant where both excellence and well-being meet.”
If you only work on getting good grades but do not pay attention to well-being, you will burn out eventually.
On the other hand, if you only care about well-being without striving for your personal best in studies, it is also not ideal.
So if we were to map this out on a quadrant, we want to move towards the correct upper quadrant where both excellence and well-being meet.
Only then can we achieve our mission to nurture thriving teachers and flourishing pupils.
The 3+3+3 Principles Of Positive Education
“we strive for both excellence and well-being”
In executing our mission, we are guided by the 3+3+3 Principles of Positive Education.
Nurturing character and values.
Last but certainly not least, fostering well-being.
We strive for both excellence and well-being by leveraging on resilience, gratitude, community-spiritedness and future-ready confidence.
*Read the complete 3+3+3 Principles of Positive Education at WWPS below
The THRIVE Framework
In June 2013, in the first year of Westwood, I attended a 3-day residential training at Geelong Grammar School.
When I came back, my team and I conceptualised a wellbeing curriculum framework with the acronym “THRIVE”.
THRIVE covers key areas in positive education, namely, thinking mindfully, healthy coping, relating well, in the moment, values-driven actions and emotions of positivity.
As you can see, THRIVE is about mindful thinking.
It’s about a growth mindset.
Resilience, bouncing back from the bumps in life.
Interpersonal skills, relating well to people.
It’s also about having the capacity to manage the task and yet be in the zone, where competency meets high demands – that’s when you get into the flow.
Form And Substance
“During the circuit breaker for instance, pupils are able to turn inwards for strength and make the best of the situation.”
As educators, we must first know and experience what Positive Education can do for us in our personal lives. Then we will know how to impart it to the pupils.
Another benefit is that it becomes easier for us to engage and help the pupils to master learning.
As the school expands over the years, we also make sure that new teachers who join us are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the Positive Education framework.
One thing we emphasise to our teachers is to avoid doing things mechanically to the extent that the pupils start to develop a negative attitude towards these activities.
So we review all our practices regularly to make sure we are doing both the form and substance.
I am heartened to see results from our efforts. At times when needed, we are able to draw down on the deposits we had been placing in our pupils.
During the circuit breaker for instance, pupils are able to turn inwards for strength and make the best of the situation.
We also conduct Positive Education workshops for parents so that they can better understand and support the work we do.
The beauty of it is that when the school was founded in 2013, I had a clean slate to work with.
This means that up to now, Westwood is the only school with the opportunity and honour to have embarked on the Positive Education journey right from the start.
This makes us quite unique.
Naturally, I see it as our duty to share our experience with the fraternity and, together with the MOE, to grow this into a bigger movement in Singapore.
“up to now, Westwood is the only school with the opportunity and honour to have embarked on the Positive Education journey right from the start.”
Over the years, we have hosted numerous teachers’ attachments and learning journeys for schools across different clusters.
As you can see, more and more schools are embracing Positive Education.
In 2018, a few schools such as Hwa Chong Institution, River Valley High School, Da Qiao Primary and Westwood Primary worked together to launch Singapore Positive Education Network, or SPEN for short.
As a ground-up movement, SPEN is a community of like-minded educators consisting of principals, heads of departments and teachers.
We come together to advocate and share best practices in Positive Education.
If you look at our school crest, the two arrows on each side represent the resilient mindset and a heart of gratitude.
To me, these are two sides of the same coin.
You cannot have one without the other.
The mind that is resilient complements the heart that is grateful. Hardy, yet tender.
“that these values would become the life buoys they hold on to even after leaving Westwood.”
I hope all my pupils will remember our school values of gratitude, resilience, passion for community and future-ready confidence.
It is also my hope that these values would become the life buoys they hold on to even after leaving Westwood.
If they do that, then they would have internalised the takeaways from their years with us.
That they know they have the power to create their own happiness.
To become self-motivated learners.
To see the glass as half-full, rather than half-empty.
To cultivate an inner capacity to overcome challenges and bounce back after any setbacks.
So I very much hope that all our pupils will remember the Positive Education experience at Westwood.
For me and my team, that was, and still is, our rallying call.
Ng Yeow Ling
Principal, Westwood Primary School
Key Positive Education Strategies At WWPS
Teachers use icons like the traffic light to teach explicit reflective thinking.
Pupils use this model (Stop – Think – Do) to manage their emotions and conflicts with peers, as well as develop mindfulness.
STOP – Pupils think about their feelings.
THINK – Pupils think about possible ways to solve the problem.
DO – Pupils consider the best solution and do it.
Promoting Positive Emotions
The Board of Positivity was introduced in 2015.
During parent-teacher meetings, parents will pen down a positive note of encouragement or well-wishes for their child/ward.
Teachers will share these notes with the pupils to enhance self-motivation.
In 2016, the Wall of Positivity was created for pupils to write notes of encouragement and well-wishes for their friends.
What Went Well (“WWW”)
At WWW sessions in class every Friday, pupils reflect on positive moments, write them down and share their WWW moments with their peers.
Teachers also walk the talk and share their personal WWW moments with the pupils.
This exercise generates emotions of positivity, builds better teacher-pupil relationships and promotes a positive learning environment.
“I love to share my “What Went Well” because it allows me to think and be thankful for happenings around me. We usually share about good grades in schoolwork, but teachers will remind us to think further outside school. So there was once I shared about how thankful I was when the doctor told me that my eye condition was improving. By such sharings, I hope it will influence my classmates to also have that heart of gratitude to be thankful for little things in life.
I am also encouraged each time I listen to my friends’ sharings on their “What Went Well” as I can get to know them better and am happy to share their joys. Their sharings will also make me appreciate certain things which I may take for granted at times.”
The Catch-Me-Do-Good programme aims to maximise the impact of positive behaviour by recognising pupils who are good role models of the school’s character strengths.
Teachers will capture moments of good deeds being done by pupils and share these acts of kindness with the school at pre-assembly, in the newsletter, Facebook and during teachable moments in class.
Gratitude cards, letters and journals were introduced in 2016.
Pupils write messages of appreciation to their peers, teachers, staff and family members.
Pupils and staff also upload their appreciation cards and photos to a web-link, “Thankful WWPS”, to share positivity and encourage others beyond the school community to “pay it forward”.
The annual THRIVE Fiesta brings Positive Education to the whole Westwood community. Mindfulness practices are introduced to pupils and staff.
Pupils go through a programme comprising mindful eating, mindful breathing and mindful actions to understand how these practices could be applied in their daily lives.
Through experiential games such as “Giant Jenga”, “Giant Pick-Up sticks”, “Mindful Mess-Up”, pupils get to apply their mindfulness learnings on game strategies.
A mindfulness workshop is conducted for staff to understand how best to apply mindfulness practices in class to engage pupils in their learning journey.
A Mindful Breathing Routine
In September 2016, pupils were taught to practise mindful listening and mindful breathing in the last five minutes of recess every day.
After a review in 2018, every teacher was given a handheld musical chime to conduct a mindful breathing session in class in the first period, after recess and after lunch.
Through these mindful practices, pupils are able to re-focus their minds on the lesson.
A Mindful Teaching Workshop
In 2018, a trainer from Centre of Mindfulness conducted a series of Mindful Teaching workshops at WWPS.
Staff members gained deeper insights into mindfulness and the benefits of using practices such as centering, mindful perception and body scans for enhanced personal effectiveness.
They also learnt different mindful practices and strategies for classroom management.
“My pupils may come into class feeling restless or distracted but as soon as I sound the chime, everyone will calm down. Some pupils will close their eyes, some will not. That’s fine, we don’t insist. But, they will quieten down. This has become routine for them. They are in their sixth year. They know what to do. This routine helps us teachers too; this centering before we start teaching and knowing that the pupils are ready. It’s a win-win situation.”
3+3+3 Principles of Positive Education At WWPS
- We want every child to be responsible for his/her own learning. Our goal is to enable every child to be involved actively in intellectual and academic pursuits, and come to an understanding of himself/herself, the community and the world.
- We focus on developing a growth-mindset in each child, with the belief that he/she is capable of academic success. Children understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence.
- We help our children find the connections across different experiences and subjects, so that they can find purpose and meaning in every task they undertake, and can make connections between what they learn in the classroom and what they experience in life.
Nurturing Character And Values
- We believe that for children to reach their full potential, they must first master themselves, and learn to manage their own thoughts and emotions. After they become leaders of self, they can then build on their strengths to lead others.
- We teach our children that every gesture, whether big or small, can make a difference. To lead a meaningful and purposeful life, they learn to appreciate the contributions of others and to find ways to help others.
- We provide opportunities for children to develop their character strengths, to enable them to appreciate their unique abilities and capacities to flourish and perform at their best.
- We put in place school-wide processes to engender a culture of well-being within the school community.
- We inspire our children to pursue happiness by engaging in meaningful endeavours. Stories from inspirational people who exemplify meaning in life are used to stimulate them to think about their own purpose and what makes them happy.
- We inspire our parents and partners to live, teach and embed well-being in our lives, as well as to act as authentic role models for our children.