First, let me thank all of you for the very good work this year. We’ve done a lot, and this year was really a year of consolidating our efforts in Character and Citizenship Education (CCE), on building Every School a Good School, and when we launched our Applied Learning Programme (ALP) and Learning for Life Programme (LLP) this year. During our Work Plan Seminar (WPS), we spoke about developing our teachers. We also held some lovely pioneer tribute events this year, and I’m very happy to see several of our pioneer teachers with us this afternoon.

A very important piece of work that we did was led by SMS Indranee – Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE), which looks at how we can help our students build skills for the future. What is very important is that we are looking beyond things in school and beyond the usual examinations to how we can help our young build deep skills and expertise for the future. I am very happy that that work is going to be taken further under the SkillsFuture Council.

There are lots that we have done this year, but much more to be done in the coming years.

Five Roles of School Leaders

In 2012, I laid out the five roles of school leaders: Leading Learning, Leading Culture, Leading Change, Leading People and Leading Nationally.

  • Leading Learning: Pushing the frontiers of learning, in every domain: the cognitive domain, the development of character and holistic development.

  • Leading People: Growing ourselves, growing others, and growing our teaching community.

  • Leading Culture: Inspiring the school towards high levels of professionalism and care, through the school leader’s words and deeds each day.

  • Leading Change: Bridging change, by showing where changes are needed, by understanding policy intent and translating that intent into effective results, and helping teachers, parents and students see the value of these changes.

Today, I wish to talk about Leading Nationally.

  • I spoke about four Beliefs at WPS:

    • Belief in Your Student as someone who can reach his potential
    • Belief in Your Self as a professional who can keeping improving
    • Belief in One Another as a teaching community
    • Belief in Being Part of Something Larger
  • Many understand the first three instinctively. What about the fourth?

  • Someone may have heard this story about a man who came across a group of workers who were laying bricks. He went to the first one and asked “What are you doing?” The first worker said “I’m laying bricks.” He then went to the second worker and asked “What are you doing?” The second worker said “I’m laying bricks with my team to build a wall.” Then he went to the third and asked the same question. The third one answered “I’m helping to build a magnificent cathedral.”

  • As school leaders, we are building not just our students’ minds, our own careers, or our fraternity’s capacity.

    • As MOE motto goes, we are moulding the future of the nation.
  • It means that we have to see beyond. See what our collective work add up to on a higher level. We have to make that connection between daily work and higher meaning… This is the essence of Leading Nationally.

Leading Nationally

We can Lead Nationally in three ways:

  • Go beyond Alone to Altogether. Lead not just your School alone, Lead schools altogether as one School System.

  • Go beyond Within to Throughout. Lead not just within your School, Lead throughout your Community, by building a relationship of mutual trust and support with parents and the community.

  • Go beyond Today to Tomorrow. Lead not just for Today, Lead towards Tomorrow.

  • Going beyond alone to altogether; Beyond within to throughout; Beyond today to tomorrow: This is how you can Lead Nationally as school leaders.

Beyond Alone to Altogether

First, how do we go Beyond Alone to Altogether?

I visited many school systems. And the more I visited, the more I realised that we have a unique system.

  • All schools are part of a national school system. You take up appointments across schools – and see every school as your school.

  • School leaders can work together to help every school succeed, uplifting the entire system.

  • School leaders hand over to another pair of hands. This enables us to run a marathon, passing the baton, taking the long view, rather than seeing every school as a sprint and competing in this sprint. In that sense, you are all co-builders of every school. Indeed, this is what this whole Appointment Ceremony is all about. I cannot think of any other system where we appoint our principals this way, where we run the entire national school system.

With such a unique system, how can we go beyond alone, to being co-builders of our national school system?

  • By sharing ideas

  • By sharing talent/ resources, and

  • By growing leaders

Sharing ideas.

  • Catholic High has worked with more than 20 schools to customise an online platform for student development. It tracks, manages and reports data helpful for CCE. Catholic High used the feedback to improve its own system. Altogether, the schools gained a deeper appreciation of student needs and school characteristics across our system.

Sharing talent/ resources.

  • Earlier this year, Assumption English School’s counsellor left abruptly. Beacon Primary’s Principal Ms Lim Boon Cheng, in the same cluster, worked with HR to move her new Allied Educator over. She felt the other school was in greater need. She exercised leadership to fill the manpower gap with existing resources until a new counsellor was posted in.

Growing leaders.

  • Mrs Mary Bay, Principal of Bartley Secondary, is retiring after 39 years of service, including 18 years as principal. Seven HODs and VPs who worked with her have since become Principals. Mr Mohd Azhar Bin Terimo, who will be appointed as Principal of Bartley Secondary today, said “Mrs Bay has been truly inspirational. She believes in a cause larger than herself. She showed humility in listening to her staff to draw ideas from them. She also empowered people, including myself, to give our best and provided us with the necessary support so that we could grow.”

  • So if we share ideas, if we share talent, if we grow leaders, we can lead in lifting not just our own school, but we can altogether build a national education system that we can all be proud of. This is the first aspect of Leading Nationally.

Beyond Within to Throughout

The second aspect of Leading Nationally is to go Beyond Within to Throughout. How do we do that? I would like our school leaders to think beyond leading your school, to being a leader in your community.

As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. The school leader is one of the trusted people with the values and the heart to help shape this village.

  • Parents used to defer to principals and teachers. Today, the relationship is different. Expectations are different.

  • If school leaders Lead Learning, then you are the expert in learning, parents will see you have the knowledge and authority to bring out the best in their children.

To be effective, we need to engage and convince parents, and enlist those who have gone through the journey to work with us.

  • An example is Fairfield Methodist Secondary and Tampines Primary. They invite parents to their annual staff retreats or stakeholders’ strategic planning sessions, where they help parents understand the school’s plans and policies, and seek inputs to improve school programmes.

  • This is really taking the village approach to raising the child. I encourage you to seek out opportunities to engage with parents.

Many of our schools are already contributing to the community around them. I take pride in the term “neighbourhood school”. Our schools are in their neighbourhood, they are part of their neighbourhood. My earnest hope is for neighbours around each of our schools to take pride in the schools in their neighbourhood, to know and trust that their students have a heart and love for their neighbourhood, to truly embrace these schools as their neighbourhood schools. The community comes together to make the neighbourhood school work – they take pride in the school. There is a sense of ownership. In turn, the school contributes to life in the community. How do we earn the pride and ownership of the community?

In many big countries, the village school is all that you have, and therefore, the village contributes to the school and the school contributes to the village. In our case, it’s a little more complex, but it can be done. Let me share some examples:

  • Kranji Secondary collaborates with Yew Tee grassroots groups to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival, building ties between the school and its neighbours. The students make yearly outreach efforts to households around their school, sharing information on dengue prevention, and encouraging use of recycled bags at the supermarket.

  • In Ang Mo Kio, residents are familiar with Ang Mo Kio Secondary students because the students are very active in the community. They work with the elderly and the students in the kindergartens. They even organised a National Day celebration for residents this year. Their Parents Support Group is extremely proud of their students’ involvement in the community, and gets inspired to be active in working with the school.

  • Jurong Junior College students get immersed in their neighbourhood through many projects, be it befriending the elderly, supporting healthy lifestyles, organising carnivals for children, or understanding resident needs.

  • We all know the school fair. Loyang Primary takes it further with a “whole neighbourhood fair”. Their Loyang Fiestas attract thousands of residents, and promote healthy living, environmental awareness, and community preparedness. Residents love it and get to know the school better.

  • These are all good initiatives. I have just listed a few examples, I know that there are many, and I myself have attended many of these. I’m always amazed at how parents are so proud to see their children play their part in the community. I’ve heard parents who said “Wow, I did not know that children in this school are capable of doing this and that!”

  • My key point is that in all these cases, by reaching out to the community, by contributing to and mobilising the community, the school leader is exercising leadership in the community. This exercise of leadership helps engender pride and a sense of ownership by the residents in your school – the school that is in the neighbourhood. Let the community see and appreciate having your school in their neighbourhood.

  • The school leader is also providing a good role model to students. Each of these encounters is a real, tangible touchpoint with the community, where your students learn to be young leaders and active citizens.

Beyond the immediate neighbourhood, other organisations – public sector agencies, private sector companies and VWOs are also potentially valuable community resources. Where appropriate, build relationships and networks with these stakeholders, and harness their resources to support school programmes – especially our ALP and LLP programmes. In this way, we can make learning authentic for our students, and prepare them well for the future. Several of our schools – Assumption Pathway School, NorthLight School – have enlisted many committed partners. When I visited Greendale Secondary and observed their ALP earlier this year, I noticed the school has mobilised other corporate and public sector bodies to contribute to their ALP. I was very surprised, a few weeks after this, I met someone at a social event, and he said “I am so proud that my company is contributing to your ALP.” And I said “That’s very good. Contribute more!”

I encourage Principals to find out more about what the community has to offer, and what working life is like in different organisations. Use available opportunities – including Principal’s sabbaticals – to connect with the community, companies and organisations. Gain a first-hand understanding of the working landscape and challenges, the skillsets and dispositions that our students will need to thrive in the future, and how schools can better equip our students to adapt to the world in the future.

In short, the second way of Leading Nationally is to exercise leadership in the community, especially in your immediate neighbourhood.

Beyond Today to Tomorrow

Let me now turn to the third aspect of Leading Nationally – which is to go beyond Today to Tomorrow.

  • This means seeing yourself as a leader in the national context.

  • This means providing the leadership to equip our students to build a better Singapore for the future.

Each child can succeed only if we as a society succeed. Our young’s sense of identity, their relationships with one another, their choices, will shape Singapore in the future. Will they develop a Singaporean identity? Will they choose to deepen our multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural fabric? Will they be able to master the skills to compete in the global economy? Will they have the character traits to succeed? Will they have civic virtues and a deep sense of social responsibility?

  • Identity, relationships, choices. These may sound familiar. They are the themes of CCE, a great way through which we lead towards tomorrow.

Leading Nationally means helping students understand the complex world around us, appreciating changes, and the choices that will shape the future of the world, and of Singapore.

  • To do so, school leaders need to understand our past – how we got here; our future, the challenges and opportunities; our national context and perspectives.

  • Then we can craft ways to enable our students to discover for themselves, and to be active citizens, to shape their own future.

What does this mean for school leaders? It means you must think beyond. School leaders need to view issues from the broader perspective of the school system, the wider community, and a longer time frame – not just be caught up with the here and now, or a singular focus on one’s own school and only what goes on within the school.

  • Students think about their immediate assignment, their immediate exam score. Many of their parents may too.

  • But from the national perspective, I am not counting on our school leaders to only pass on strong and firm educational foundations.

    • I know I can count on you, our school leaders, to pass on more than that.
    • As your appointment letter states, the future of the nation passes through your hands.
  • The principal is in the best position to think beyond lesson plans and exam grades, to whether the students are picking up the right skills to get good jobs in the future, to whether they are building friendships and learning life lessons to be good people in the future, to whether they are growing into outstanding young people who will build a caring, safe, and just society; a society of opportunities; an outstanding society.

  • Our schools are growing the next Pioneer Generation. Our school leaders give our students the experiences and lessons Today to ready them to create Tomorrow.

School leaders have creative ways of doing so.

  • Mdm Daphne Poon, Principal of De La Salle School, came up with a gratefulness movement. Concerned that her students might be taking things for granted, she encourages them to spend five minutes every morning to reflect on three things to be grateful for. Over time, students became more thoughtful and considerate. They conscientiously clear leftover food after meals, return their utensils and plates, and adopt proper toilet etiquette so that the school cleaners’ workload can be lightened.

For initiatives like this, we lay the flagstones for our young to leap from learning and growing Today, to succeeding, serving, and building Tomorrow.


Let me turn to the appointments of our principals. My heartiest congratulations to 52 Principals we are appointing today.

  • We have 20 new appointments; and 32 current Principals or HQ officers taking up a new posting.

  • Take this as your opportunity to practise Leading Nationally.

Retiring Education Officers

I would also like to express our special thanks to our 13 Senior Education Officers who are retiring. Together, you have inspired and guided more than 50,000 students and teachers. If we include the lives of families of students and teachers, of those in community, it will be many more than that.

I would like to highlight Ms Helen Choo, current Principal of Tampines Junior College, who has been Principal for 19 years. You organised workshops to equip your teachers with the skills to teach values. You nurtured values and character not just in your students, but also in your teachers. That is how we can each build cultures that live on after us.

I would also like to acknowledge the contributions of two retiring Superintendents, Mrs Mary Koh and Mrs Alice Tan. Together, you have given 72 years of dedicated service, and guidance to more than 200 school leaders in your clusters. Mrs Mary Koh’s dedication as a mentor, shaping the learning and development of both students and teachers, will be missed. Mrs Alice Tan is described by all who worked with her as caring and motherly. She has nurtured the school leaders under her charge, helping them from the side-lines to bring their schools to the next level.

To all our retiring officers, thank you very much for your years of dedication, service and leadership.


To the Principals receiving your appointment letters today:

  • Lead your people – with heart. Lead your culture – with vision. Lead change – with courage. Lead learning – with expertise.

  • And lead nationally: Go Beyond Alone to Altogether, Beyond Within to Throughout, Beyond Today to Tomorrow.

As we celebrate our nation’s 50th birthday, let us dedicate ourselves to leading nationally.

And like the bricklayer, let us see our daily work of laying the foundation, piece by piece, as our contribution to building a great nation. Let us enable our young to build on the legacy and core values of our pioneers, and exercise their creativity and collective strength to take Singapore to greater heights.

Thank you, all the best.