One of the reasons I wanted to come to Melbourne to study instead of doing my Masters locally was my desire to ‘get a breath of fresh air’ and experience a whole new way of doing things. In Singapore, which is such a small country, norms and expectations get disseminated so quickly that it’s so difficult to even be aware of the way we do things sometimes. The effect of this is compounded for me after having been at MOE HQ for the past few years, given the need to be mindful about being seen as a representative of the organisation, and hence often choosing the ‘safe’ option which is to take reference from what has been done before.

So I’m happy to report that in my first few days of school, I’ve already discovered one way in which I feel things are done differently. At the orientation for graduate students last Saturday, I was surprised to find that the session was more of an overview of all the various services and assistance available to students, rather than a list of expectations we had to meet, a list of things we had to do, or a bunch of stuff we had to know now that we are grad students at the Uni.

In particular, the student adviser giving the presentation emphasised how deadlines were negotiable, and special consideration would be given for things such as severe illness, or other unexpected events that might have an impact on our studies. In addition to the university health service, there is also a counselling service, legal advisors, and even mediation services should we encounter difficulties working with fellow students or even professors. However, in the same breath, he also warned that failure to meet deadlines would result in us failing subjects, given all the support structures that had already been put in place.

This got me thinking about the way I’ve been doing things as a HQ officer, as a teacher, and even as a parent. This idea of allowing multiple opportunities for the people we serve (HODs, teachers, students, our own kids) to sound out when they encounter snags in whatever they are supposed to be doing, and trying to keep communication lines open throughout the process for frequent feedback is by no means new. However, the way I’ve carried this out in the past – sending multiple reminders, descending into ‘nagging’, bombarding the other party with information that I think will help them do what I need them to do – seems really more focused on what I think they should be doing, rather than supporting them in what they need to do for themselves. Often, these ‘support structures’ that I’ve put in place inadvertently end up as justifications for myself to feel that ‘I’ve done everything I can’ when things don’t turn out as they should. In this way, they can even end up ‘adding to the burden of failure’ rather than fulfilling the intent to make success as possible as possible.

What might I be doing instead to really make failure as impossible as possible? When I finally go back to the classroom, I think I will be starting the first week of school differently. Instead of dishing out a list of expectations, deadlines, and loads of information, I will be doing a little more thinking about what might come in the way of my students’ success, and share this thinking with them. I think I will have to do all I can to assure them that their success is really what I’m interested in, and not what they do or don’t do. I’m sure this has implications for the implementation of policies at the HQ level, and the day-to-day challenges of parenting on the home front, as Noah gets older and more aware of his own will. This is one reflection that I will be mulling over for some time to come.

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