When it comes to leading her team of early childhood educators, the Principal of Faith Kindergarten, Mrs Elsie Yee, is a strong advocate for open communication and building connections. With 50 years of dedication towards giving a good start to every child, her leadership style has proved to be effective.
Mrs Elsie Yee, Principal, Faith Kindergarten
Ask anyone who has ever worked with Mrs Elsie Yee and they would likely describe her as a charismatic, extroverted individual who radiates positive energy, and who is always up for a new challenge.
Unknown to most people, however, the principal of Faith Kindergarten has a unique way of gaining work inspiration.
Every few weeks, Mrs Yee leaves her home in Upper Bukit Timah and hops onto Bus 171 which takes her towards Orchard Road and Raffles Avenue. Unlike most passengers these days who fiddle with their mobile phones, Mrs Yee has little interest in staying constantly connected to the digital world. Rather, she much prefers to just observe society in action.
She would always pick a seat near the doors. She says it gives her the best view of people boarding and alighting the bus. Upon reaching her destination, Mrs Yee has a meal, does some shopping and has a leisurely stroll – again, constantly watching everyone around her.
“I like having time to myself. It’s therapeutic. It allows me to think.”
But she’s not thinking of where her next holiday destination should be, or what she should be having for dinner - her kindergarten is always foremost in her thoughts.
Ever so often, these scenes of everyday life have served to inspire her work with children, generating ideas for the next centre-based event or classroom activity. One memorable example was when she came up with the idea of starting Entrepreneurs’ Day at Faith Kindergarten after one such solo trip more than 20 years ago.
On Entrepreneurs’ Day, the K2 children take on the roles of “businessmen”, and the younger children become “customers”. The children not only have to plan and create items that they wish to sell, they also need to design and set-up their stalls. Parents and teachers also volunteer their assistance to teach the children how to perform calculations and solve problems.
The kindergarten still organises this event today.
“This idea came about when I was observing how people buy things in shopping centres. I thought it was a good idea to expose the children to this concept because when they go to Primary One and beyond, they’ll need to handle money independently. It is good life preparation for them,” said Mrs Yee.
The 67-year old veteran has strong roots in the early childhood sector. Her foray into the sector started nearly 50 years ago after her ‘O’ Level exams, when she worked for two years as a part-time teacher at Faith Kindergarten.
She then left Faith Kindergarten to work in organisations that focused on community development and volunteerism. She even helped set up a YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association) kindergarten in Taman Jurong.
Yet, her heart has always remained with Faith Kindergarten.
Mrs Yee eventually returned to Faith Kindergarten as its principal in 1979. She played a pivotal role in helping the kindergarten flourish, establishing Faith Kindergarten as a reputable pre-school in Singapore. She was also given the great responsibility of overseeing the kindergarten’s renovation in 2002. To date, Mrs Yee considers this one of the most challenging and fulfilling achievements of her career.
“I was entrusted upon to make all key decisions regarding the new kindergarten – from how the classrooms should look like to the type of furniture used. I even incorporated walls where children can freely draw and paint on – freedom of expression. Everything was done in accordance to my vision. I will always be grateful for being given this opportunity,” she said.
One of the first things that Mrs Yee implemented when she took on the leadership role was to introduce a weekly sharing session where her early childhood educators could discuss work and life in a laid-back environment, filled with food and laughter. Open communication, said Mrs Yee, is key to running a successful kindergarten.
Regular weekly sessions help the early childhood educators come up with unique classroom programmes and activities for the children, such as this multi-cultural event to commemorate "International Friendship Day"
“During school hours my teachers are always on their toes, so this get-together gives everyone a chance to relax, interact, share learning points and talk about what has inspired them recently. I strongly believe that we must make time and effort to connect with one another. This is how we build camaraderie,” she said.
The sharing sessions also help to ensure that all her teaching staff are on the same page when it comes to teaching standards. Reminiscing about the past when kindergartens were not regulated, Mrs Yee admitted that designing the classroom curriculum today is far more challenging as they have to be in line with government standards.
Nevertheless, she welcomes the regulations and standards that have been introduced to the early childhood sector today. It ensures that all pre-schools are headed in the same direction, providing consistency which is vital to meeting children’s educational needs and reassuring parents.
Mrs Yee also actively contributes back to the early childhood sector, extending her strong beliefs in sharing and connecting beyond her kindergarten. Despite her busy schedule at Faith Kindergarten, Mrs Yee conducts a professional development course for early childhood educators at the Association of Early Childhood Educators Singapore (AECES).
“I’m known as a dinosaur in this sector,” laughed Mrs Yee. “I’ve been in this sector for many years and have gone through experiences that younger teachers may not have learned through their lectures. I want to share this knowledge and experiences with them.”
Mrs Yee would always tell course participants that while they may desire to enter the sector due to a passion for teaching children, they should also be prepared to handle situations not mentioned in the official job description of an early childhood educator.
She added that the shortage of good early childhood educators is one of the most pressing issues in the sector, pointing out that many of the young people today have the wrong perception of what being an educator truly means. She recalled coming across a course participant who refused to handle a child who had soiled himself.
“Great responsibilities come with the role of an early childhood educator. If you are expecting to sit down and look pretty, this may not be the career for you. There’s no sophistication. There’s no glamour. You need to have a passion for children, and I don’t mean just teaching them, but caring for them as well,” she explained.
“But for those who are truly prepared for the responsibilities, being an early childhood educator is without doubt an immensely rewarding profession.”
To Mrs Yee, one of the highlights of her career is having her former students visit during Teacher’s Day. The best form of recognition, however, is when her alumni join the kindergarten as early childhood educators.
Involving parents (and even grandparents!) in creating children's learning experiences is something Mrs Yee strongly advocates for
In fact, many of the early childhood educators at Faith Kindergarten are actually former students, including the current vice-principal, Mrs Pauline Chia. Mrs Chia’s former teacher, Ms Iris Tan, is still teaching at Faith Kindergarten after more than four decades. She is the kindergarten’s longest-serving educator.
“This deep connection between generations helps in building history. People can see students are returning to their roots and this in turn gives parents confidence in us. They can see that the school is planting good seeds in children,” said Mrs Yee.
Looking ahead, Mrs Yee admits that she is currently planning for succession at the kindergarten as she is looking to retire soon.
But true to her nature, Faith Kindergarten and the early childhood sector will always remain in her heart.
“I still wish to be involved in the early childhood field in one way or another. I’ve actually told my teachers that they can always call me back if they need relief teachers after I’m gone!” she quipped.
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