Cikgu Lee is an educator who upholds the importance of instilling good values in students so that they can become servant leaders in their own communities. In this article, she shares some ways educators can inspire good values in the classroom.

What is the purpose of education?

Some would say…  It's about imparting knowledge that will help students to meet the demands of work in the future. While others would say… It's about building character that will help children navigate the moral complexities of life. Nonetheless, many would agree that far from one or the other, it encompasses both. As Martin Luther King once said - “intelligence plus character – is the goal of true education.”

One teacher who is leading the way in striking a good balance between the two is Cikgu Lee Bee Chuan from SMK St. Mary, our Frog Teacher Award winner of this year for ‘Act with Integrity’.

In her Mathematics class, students are encouraged to develop not only a strong foundation in numerical values but also in moral values that will guide them through life.

Image provided by Cikgu Lee 

Character comes first

“I believe as a teacher, it's not just about educating students to get good results. Our purpose is to equip them with good values.” - Cikgu Lee |

Against the hyperfixation of grades, Cikgu Lee talks about how her own philosophy to teaching is one where teachers not only deliver knowledge but also focus on helping students to develop good character and values. In her words, “character still has to come first”. 

This philosophy stems from her beliefs that good grades are not the only outcomes teachers should aim for as she says that straight A’s don’t guarantee a desire to contribute back to society. Instead, she wants her students to become ‘servant-leaders’ who would be able to serve those around them, regardless of their academic achievements and careers in future.  

How teachers can inspire real change 

As the famous proverb goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.”

Likewise, Cikgu Lee says that students cannot be forced to change their behaviour unless they develop a desire to do so themselves. Here are some ways she intentionally inspires character development in her classroom: 

i) Create the right environment 

In Cikgu Lee’s class, group work is used as a means to encourage students to practise values like; teamwork, collaboration and respect. By creating an environment where students with various abilities can work together, she shares how that has been beneficial in helping students to discover not only their own unique talents and strengths but also that of others.

Image provided by Cikgu Lee

For example, students who are better at Math can help those who may be weaker at it. In contrast, students who may not be as academically inclined are also able to assist in other ways like doing the presentation of the group’s findings or leading the project management of the tasks involved. As a result, every student is able to tap into their unique gifts to help the class learn better collectively.

ii)  Model good values 

As key adult figures in the lives of students, Cikgu Lee mentions how it’s important for teachers to role model good values to their students. In her words, “students will see what teachers do, and they will do what they do.” That is why in her class, she always tries to model a positive attitude and a strong work ethic to her students. 

Image provided by Cikgu Lee

One such example was during the pandemic when she had to face the demands of online teaching and learning. Far from being filled with doom and gloom, Cikgu Lee shared how she chose to step up to train her fellow colleagues and students so that they could overcome the challenges of remote learning together. Her choice to step up in a time of crisis not only helped to make the transition to remote learning smoother for her school but it also helped her students to remain motivated to learn as they saw their teachers rising to face the challenges of online learning too! 

iii) Use positive reinforcement

Image provided by Cikgu Lee

For Cikgu Lee, the key to inspiring character change in students is to find what motivates them so they can be personally invested in their own character development. Relating a story about  a student who would often fall asleep in her class, Cikgu Lee shares how she was able to help her student pay attention in class by promising merit instead of demerit points for paying attention in class. By promising to award merit points, she was able to inspire her student to pay attention in class not only for the week but for the months that followed.

Learning from Cikgu Lee, we can deduce that it is more beneficial to use words of encouragement and motivation instead of resorting to means of punishment if we want to inspire positive character change from students. Encouragement to do better helps to create a more supportive and loving environment for students as they learn and build character along the way. 

Change begins with us 

Cikgu Lee’s example shows us that ultimately, the power to effect change begins with - us.

But you may ask, “where can we begin?” 

A good place to start is at the Leaps of Knowledge conference. Through a series of conversations and events, the Leaps of Knowledge conference invites everyone to be a game changer in education. 

This year, Leaps of Knowledge returns to the physical stage on the 8th of October with an exciting invitation for educators to respond to the need of our time by going back to the HEART of education, scholé. An education that is not merely limited to productivity, but one that is free and at leisure to seek truth and enjoy the process so that together, we can build back better in education.

As Cikgu Lee wisely puts it - “Don’t be afraid to make changes. Don’t be afraid to fail. The world is always changing, if we don’t change we can’t keep up in the world.” 

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