In other cultures, constructive criticism is accepted without emotional offense

pd-critiqueOne of my first activities as an Outstanding Educator in Residence with the Academy of Singapore Teachers two winters ago was to observe elementary school students using laptops in a “hands-on” digital storytelling activity. At the front of the classroom stood a twenty-something teacher, only six months into her profession. At the back of the room were 20 observers–yes, 20–led by the principal of the school and including department heads, curriculum leaders, and several Singapore Ministry of Education representatives.

As I watched this young teacher work in front of this large group, I thought about how I had never been observed by a total of 20 educators in my entire 15-year teaching career. Yet, despite the size of the group and the potentially intimidating presence of the principal and Ministry of Education admins, this energetic young teacher showed no noticeable signs of nervousness, or signaled that this was some unusual event.

Because it really wasn’t. Foreign visitor aside, regular classroom visits by colleagues and formal discussions of pedagogical practices are the norm in the Singaporean system. In each Singaporean school, classroom visits and pedagogical analyses are often led by the principal of the school, who, in each and every case, has been a classroom teacher. As such, this gravitas earns them almost immediate respect and recognition from their faculty in pedagogical matters. It’s telling that Singaporean teachers will refer to the principal of their school as their institution’s “instructional leader.” It’s an apropos title that denotes the primary responsibility of the head of any Singaporean school.

(Next page: How might PD change if constructive criticism was well-received?)