Community & Service 29 Oct 2018

Up close and personal with Heather Beck, Deputy Head of School

By CIS Communications
Photograph by CIS Communications

What has impressed you most about CIS since you joined?

What impresses me most about CIS is the sense of community and how much everybody really values education. As a learning organisation, CIS is valued for what it does, and the service our people deliver really impressed me when I first arrived here. It still impresses me - every day!  

Do you think learning outside school is important?

People think that kids are in school a lot, but they really aren’t. If we think about it, there are 24 hours in a day, but depending on their schedule, students probably only spend about 6 hours in actual classes. That’s why learning outside school is critical because it enhances what we do in the classroom and helps the transfer of knowledge to other contexts.

Without it, our students would be missing out on very important components of their education. One of the advantages that CIS has is that parents here are very engaged in their children’s education. They provide additional opportunities for their children to enjoy rich learning experiences outside the classroom and I think it’s fabulous.

Do you visit classrooms to observe instructions and why?

I visit classrooms for a whole host of reasons. Teachers inspire me with their teaching skills and strong relationships with students. Learning is fun at CIS and classrooms are a very happy place to visit. I also visit classrooms to observe things we are doing really well, and to identify possible areas of growth.

For example, we recently spent two days learning about assessments and classroom strategies, so I hope to see teachers applying what they learned. Of course, I’m always looking to build positive relationships with our teachers. I want them to know I support their work, and that I am available if there is anything I can do to help them.

Do you believe analyzing assessment data helps guide instruction?

I believe assessments should drive instruction. One of the misconceptions that people often have, is that assessment is separate from the teaching and learning that happens in the classroom. Assessment is really just part of the teaching and learning cycle. It’s not a standalone activity nor is it separate from classroom instruction. My job is to understand what we should adjust and enhance based on our assessment data. Ideally, assessment data should drive classroom instruction and strategies.

For example, the use of assessment data allows us to target the specific needs of individual children, and helps them move further and faster in their learning. If teachers don’t use assessment data, we are just teaching the subject content rather than teaching students based on their unique abilities. Without data, we will not know if students have reached their highest potential. Assessment not only validates the work of our teachers, it also proves to our students that they’re learners who should be proud of what they are accomplishing.

So, in conclusion, assessment data is a critical component of the teaching-learning cycle, and I will be focusing on how to use it to enhance our classroom instruction.

Are you enjoying Singapore?

I’ve fallen in love with Singapore. I love the weather, because I love being outside. I’m outside every day at some point, whether to go for a run, play tennis, walk my dogs or walk to work. In Oregon where I last lived, it’s often too cold or raining - it rains for nine months of the year. I also love exploring new places and trying new foods. I had mooncakes for the first time recently - and I even tried a few different kinds. Every weekend, I try to visit somewhere new in Singapore and have a new adventure. It's an added bonus that I always feel safe too.

Tell us something about yourself that is not on your resume.

I come from a large family. I’m the third child and have six siblings. I have one son, a daughter-in-law and two dogs. I am very happy that they (the dogs) were able to move to Singapore with me, because they keep me company and make me walk them. We often walk to the Chinese and Japanese Gardens. I’m just tremendously grateful to be a part of this school community, and doing the work that I love.  

My favorite book is ‘The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World', written by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams. It’s a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu where they spend a week together comparing their traditions, beliefs and values. At the end of the week, they come to a conclusion or understanding of what brings people joy. It’s a wonderful book.

On the topic of joy, what brings you joy? How do you define it?

Well, the punchline of this book is that happiness is very short term. I can feel happy when I’m eating a mooncake, when I’m seeing an old friend, or when I’m watching a movie and laughing. That’s happiness. But joy is different and more long term. According to the book, serving others allows you to lead a joyful life. My service to teachers and students brings me deep joy. It's an honor and a blessing to be an educator.

When I think about my joyful place, a place where I feel at peace, open-minded, happy and content, it’s usually when I’m helping others to be the best they can be. For example, making a meal for somebody who can’t make their own food, taking care of a child, or sitting with a friend who’s in pain - and while you can’t solve their problem, you’re there to just sit with them so they know someone cares. Being able to do something for somebody really brings me joy and gives meaning to my life.

What are your future plans for CIS?

I was fortunate enough to visit CIS back in February to help the leadership team develop our strategic plan. My goal is to help CIS ensure that every student reaches their highest potential and the school meets its goals. This includes targeting professional learning for staff, using data to help us make good decisions for our students, and finally, keeping a constant eye on the importance of our community that impressed me most when I arrived.