At just 29 years of age, Pearlyn Tan, Principal of My First Skool @Parkway Parade, has proven that when it comes to successful leadership, age is but a number.
Ms Pearlyn Tan, Principal of My First Skool at Parkway Parade
Those who meet Ms Pearlyn Tan for the first time might mistake her for a rookie teacher, and for good reason. However, the fresh-faced 29-year-old is a seasoned Early Childhood (EC) educator – and the principal of an EC centre to boot – a fact that often leaves parents of her young charges surprised.
Ms Tan, the principal of My First Skool at Parkway Parade, joined the early childhood (EC) sector upon earning her Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education in 2010. Out of her seven years in the industry, five have been as a centre leader – a vocation she describes as a “noble job”.
She said:“As an EC centre leader, the core of our work is to ensure that the well-being of our children is taken care of, by making sure that they are learning and growing in a safe and enriching environment.”
“Centre leaders play a critical role in establishing a culture for teachers to feel competent and motivated to educate our young children. In a broader context, centre leaders should be advocates for children.”
To Ms Tan, her role as a centre leader has been a meaningful one, though it has not been without its challenges. Her youth and relative inexperience, in particular, was once a stumbling block she had to overcome.
She recalled:“I took on a leadership position at the age of 24 and was tasked to manage a completely new centre then. One of the most significant challenges as a young leader was to convince people to join and follow me in achieving a common goal together.”
One such goal, she recalled, involved getting all her staff on board for quality accreditation when the centre was just two years into operations.
She said:“I believe that in every challenging situation, the first step to overcoming the situation is to believe in yourself and not be swayed by negative remarks. With a positive mindset, a centre leader will need to lead by example by being involved in and aware of all operational matters - including relieving duties such as carrying out lessons, and centre-cleaning responsibilities.”
Being a relatively young centre leader has also required Ms Tan to manage teaching staff more experienced than herself. At her current workplace, for example, 80 percent of her staff are older than she is – a situation that presents a variety of management challenges due to the differing needs of colleagues from different age groups.
She said: “For instance, a new teacher may require guidance for fundamental issues such as classroom management and communication skills. On the other hand, a more experienced teacher may require you to work alongside them to further enhance their skills and abilities.”
“As a leader, you will need to understand their individual needs and partner them to help them feel successful. I believe that age is just a number and it does not equate to a person’s abilities,” she added.
The key, Ms Tan says, lies in building strong relationships with her staff – something she seeks to do by building good rapport “based on trust, being responsible, and maintaining mutual respect”.
She said: “I believe that maintaining open communication with the various stakeholders is the basis of building a good rapport with them. Responsibility can be defined in different ways but it rides on the simple notion of ‘being there for them’, whether it is following up with parents on simple queries or working together with my teachers to resolve an issue.”
And having worked in various organisations, Ms Tan feels the most meaningful aspect of a career in EC education is in providing education to children across a variety of demographics, particularly those from low-income families and those who have to deal with complex issues at home.
One of her young charges, she recalled, was a child who was under the sole care of his grandmother, who was in her 60s. Because of her circumstances, the child needed extra support in pre-school, while her grandmother needed help with teaching her granddaughter appropriate behaviour.
Shared Ms Tan: “Working with these families, it dawned upon me that my job as an EC educator is not only about supporting children in academic learning, but more importantly, shaping them with the right behaviours and values that will help them to succeed in future and become a positive individual to the society.”
To ensure that her children get the best possible educational experience, Ms Tan believes in continual professional development to keep abreast with developments in the sector. She said: “This is especially critical when you are working in the education sector. As educators, we need to be aligned with the current trends and I feel that engagement in continuous professional development also reignites an individual’s passion for what they are doing.”
Since she joined the sector, Ms Tan has enrolled in various courses offered by the organisations she worked for, and by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA). In addition, she has participated in numerous overseas conferences, including the 2013 Pacific Early Childhood Education Research Association (PECERA) conference in Seoul. She has also enrolled in professional courses, earning qualifications including a Certificate in Infant and Toddler Development (CITC). She is currently pursuing her Masters in Education (Early Childhood) with the National Institute of Education.
On what characteristics make a good EC centre leader, Ms Tan says four qualities are must-haves: “A positive mindset, a willingness to communicate, being a visionary leader, and being inspirational.” In a nutshell, an EC leader “leads with her brain and heart,” Ms Tan says.
She adds that her experiences as an EC educator have been valuable, not only in the professional sense but in her personal life as well. She said: “My parents and husband are supportive of what I do, and I feel that my experiences are prerequisites of preparing myself for future motherhood.”
The eldest of three children, Ms Tan says she has also become a positive role model whom her two younger sisters can look up to. She added: “I am also thankful to have met a mentor who has guided and supported me since the beginning of my career. She identified my potential and gave me the opportunity to grow from a teacher to a leader.”
“With my family and mentor’s support and guidance, I am able to thrive in the sector and continue to impact the lives of the children and teachers whom I work with.”
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