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Breaking Barriers and Building Inclusion

What does it take to be a preschool principal? For Ann Li, it’s a combination of passion, dedication and a willingness to push past personal barriers. Over the past eight years, she has grown from a preschool teacher to a Principal at Star Learners @ Rivervale, where she has made a significant impact on the lives of her children and their families. What makes Ann Li exceptional is her unyielding commitment to providing quality education to all children, including those with special needs. Despite lacking formal training in special needs education, she invests a great deal of her time researching and finding ways to support these children. 

Read on as Ann Li shares her experiences working with special needs children, the challenges she has faced and her vision for creating an inclusive and joyful learning environment where every child can flourish.

Principal, Rivervale
8 years with Star Learners

What inspired you to pursue a career in the ECCE industry and how has your journey with Star Learners helped you grow?

Becoming a preschool teacher has been a lifelong aspiration. In 2015, I got to know Ms Sharon Teo, Head of Preschools, whom I hold in high regard to this day. She brought me into Star Learners as a teacher, and her continued support and mentorship have played an integral role in my growth as an educator and now, as a Principal. My time at Star Learners has been profoundly enriching, and I am grateful for the many opportunities it has presented. Back when I was a senior teacher, I faced various challenges, such as having to juggle teaching, administrative duties and my new role as a working mother with a young daughter. Despite these, I persevered and felt immense pride as I watched my K2 children graduate and progress to primary school. As I am naturally introverted, my journey has forced me to step out of my comfort zone, and learning how to overcome my fears has been critical in my professional development and success, no matter what role I undertake.

How do you approach learning and finding ways to support children with special needs, despite not having any formal training yourself?

As someone who invests a lot of time with children with special needs, I find it incredibly fulfilling to witness their progress, no matter how small it may seem. Although I don’t have formal training in special needs education, I’m committed to researching and finding ways to help those who require additional assistance. 

I recall a time when I had three special needs children in my class. Despite being heavily pregnant, I searched for resources to help them regulate their emotions, such as calming bottles and pop-its. There was a child in another K2 class who was hostile to all the teachers except me, and he eventually switched to being under my care. With time, he began to thrive. When parents express their gratitude for my efforts, it fills me with a sense of purpose and drives me to continue learning about new ways to support these children.

I believe that stories are a powerful tool in teaching empathy and understanding to young children as well. One of my favourite books we use at K2 is ‘The Invisible Boy’.  Through this story, children learn how to empathise with those who may have special needs or emotional challenges. During one lesson, I shared stories about children from other countries who were less fortunate and the children were moved to tears. This experience reinforced my belief that stories can unlock children’s ability to understand and empathise at a young age, and how they can help shape their values and beliefs.

I find it incredibly fulfilling to witness their progression, no matter how small it may seem. Although I don't have special training in special education, I am committed to researching and finding ways to help those who can require additional assistance.

As a Principal, what motivates you day-to-day?

I’m committed to creating a joyful and engaging learning environment where children can thrive. My vision is to see happy children learning and playing together, guided by a team of cheerful and dedicated teachers. My daughter attends Star Learners as well, and as a parent, I want nothing but the best for her. Therefore, I’m driven to extend the same level of care and quality education to all the children under our care too.

What is your favourite part about our curriculum?

I’m a big fan of our Write a Rainbow programme! Having taught K2 for several years now, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing first-hand the vivid imaginations our children possess. As part of the programme, our K2 children explore their creativity as they develop unique plots and stories, which they then bring to life through illustrations and written work.

Personally, I love to encourage them to create physical books, as they are tangible representations of their hard work and creativity. Seeing their names published as authors and illustrators at such a young age is truly inspiring, and I’m proud to have collected all of their amazing work over the years.

What are your well wishes for Star Learners as we celebrate 20 Inspiring Years?

It is my wish that Star Learners will continue to thrive, expand its reach and earn more accolades. My ultimate aspiration is for us to become a highly-regarded and recommended brand among parents, known for our commitment to nurturing young minds and providing an exceptional preschool experience.