Jennifer Low – Outstanding Early Childhood Leader Award 2023
Creating an effective learning environment through collaboration
Jennifer Low, Executive Principal at My First Skool at 6 Segar Road and winner of ECDA’s Outstanding Early Childhood Leader Award.
Having spent 13 years in the early childhood education industry, one would assume nothing would faze Jennifer Low, Executive Principal at My First Skool (MFS) at 6 Segar Road. Yet, her greatest challenge in her career thus far was a recent one.
“When Covid first hit, I had just taken over this centre as a new principal. During a crisis, people are more sensitive and I had yet to establish a bond with both my team and parents. To pull everyone through that period, I invested a lot of time to build relationships with teachers and parents. I was around during the peak hours to address parents’ concerns and encouraged and motivated my teachers by checking in on them regularly,” said Jennifer.
Besides being instrumental in helping the centre tide over the pandemic, strengthening bonds with parents and teachers is something Jennifer continues to champion today as she believes it is vital to improving overall child development.
Partnering with parents and the wider community
Jennifer touches base with parents at the beginning, during parent orientation as well as during celebrations and parent workshops. Both Jennifer and her teachers hold workshops to empower parents to support children’s development at home. Jennifer also invites parents to volunteer as mystery readers in classrooms in the late afternoons, and serve breakfast to children. She has established a strong group of parent leaders who co-organise events with the school during occasions like Teacher’s Day and Children’s Day.
“Building strong and trusting relationships with staff and parents is my focus as I believe that as adults, we must continue to learn with the children to become better teachers and better parents,” she said.
Jennifer has also established collaborations with the Society for the Physically Disabled and the Bo Tien Day Activity Centre for the Elderly to develop in children essential values such as care, compassion, and appreciation for the broader community. Through these partnerships, children gain hands-on experiences that foster empathy, understanding, and a sense of social responsibility, as they interact with individuals facing various challenges. These interactions contribute to the holistic development of children, promoting inclusivity and inspiring them to become more compassionate, well-rounded, and socially-conscious individuals.
Encouraging peer collaboration to improve teaching standards
When Jennifer became a principal, she facilitated her teachers’ growth by setting up curriculum meetings and group discussions, which enabled educators to share successful teaching strategies with colleagues and collectively address classroom issues such as student engagement to improve classroom dynamics. She also introduced classroom observations to offer educators an opportunity to receive constructive feedback and reflect on their teaching methods.
“I enjoy seeing teachers grow, become more confident and competent in their skill sets and achieve their career aspirations,” she said.
Jennifer’s encouragement of her teachers to constantly adapt and enhance their methods bore fruit when her centre received the ECDA’s SPARK Commendation certification last year.
Embracing a unique form of outdoor experiential learning
When the MFS centre at 6 Segar Road was built in 2018, its location by Zhenghua Nature Park prompted Jennifer to work closely with the Nature Society to develop an age-appropriate bird watching programme for the children. As a result of that collaboration, Kindergarten 1 and Kindergarten 2 children engage in birdwatching twice a week where they photograph and record their observations in a national database.
“Nature has a lot to offer children, it sparks their curiosity and results in multisensory learning. Children learn to care for the environment and develop an appreciation for nature,” Jennifer said.
Jennifer conducting a birdwatching session with children.
“I believe that the development and education of a child is a shared commitment between the school and parents. I started an annual bird race as a Family Day event last year whereby parents and children went bird watching together. Parents were amazed by their own children’s sharp observation skills and ability to rattle off names like black-naped oriole,” said Jennifer.
As a result of her success in engaging parents in children’s outdoor learning experience, Jennifer was invited by the Nature Society to share her centre’s practices with other participating schools at their inaugural symposium in 2022.
At the symposium, her centre was also recognised for contributing the highest number of research grade observations in the preschool and primary category.
Expanding outdoor experiential learning programmes to benefit younger children
Evidently a strong proponent of outdoor learning, Jennifer has expanded the birdwatching programme to benefit younger children. From this year, Nursery 2 children in Jennifer’s centre also birdwatch once a week. She has also trained early years educators (for children aged 0 to 3 years old) to introduce the names of birds to raise children’s initial awareness before they progress to Nursery 2 for more structured learning.
Jennifer’s choice to expand the birdwatching programme specifically is intentional.
“Repetition is key to enforce learning and the park is nearby so the children can learn about these birds through regular visits. Their classes are also named after birds like the mynah, hornbill and water hen. Birds are colourful and easier to spot instead of smaller insects like butterflies so this is a more age-appropriate activity as well,” said Jennifer.
When asked what motivates Jennifer as she works to empower her teachers, parents and create new experiences for children, she said, “My team keeps me going, when I come in and pass them the positive energy, they bounce it back to me. My staff enjoy what they are doing and together, we do the best for the children.”