Amidst the vibrant tapestry of early childhood education, where passion and dedication intertwine, there exists a group of unsung heroes whose mission transcends the traditional narrative. These individuals toil tirelessly behind the scenes, working to create a better world for educators.
One such individual is Sharon Teo, our Head of Preschools, whose remarkable 12-year journey with Star Learners encapsulates a profound dedication to this cause. Join us as we delve into Sharon’s nurturing spirit, sparked during her formative years, and hear of her untold stories of triumph and resilience. Within her story lies the transformative power of early childhood education, as she emboldens us to envision an industry that cherishes every individual’s growth and success.
Being the eldest among my three sisters, I naturally assumed the responsibility of caring for them, considering the significant age gap between us. This role sparked a profound sense of nurturing and affection for children within me. At that time, my cousin worked as a relief teacher in a kindergarten where my uncle drove the school bus. Whenever I accompanied my uncle on these bus rides to pick her up, I had the opportunity to interact with children beyond my immediate family. These early experiences played a crucial role in cultivating a genuine love for engaging with children.
At the age of 14, due to personal circumstances, I had to start working. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to join a childcare centre as an assistant teacher. Every day after school, I would go to the centre, where they generously provided me with lunch and the principal would guide me in my work. It was during this period that my perception of early childhood education became overwhelmingly positive; it was a time when I greatly needed support and I was fortunate enough to receive it.
Once I completed my ‘O’ levels, I wholeheartedly committed myself to the early childhood education industry. Thanks to my early exposure to the workforce, I made rapid progress despite my young age. By the time I turned 18, I had become a senior teacher and at 20, I assumed the position of vice-principal at a centre. While working, I pursued further education in early childhood courses. By the age of 23, I obtained my Diploma in Pre-school Education Leadership (now defunct) and a year later, I became a full-fledged principal.
When I first joined Star Learners in 2011, I took on the role of a part-time administrator and also handled HR responsibilities. In those early days, we issued physical salary slips which required me to input staff details manually. Till today, I remember the names of the staff who were with us back then! Around a year later, an opportunity arose for me to take on a full HR position. Despite my limited expertise in people management and policies, I challenged myself to take on the role.
In that role, I managed a particular centre that was facing a lot of negative feedback from the ground, which resulted in high staff turnover. A thought then occurred: with my DPL qualification, perhaps I could step up as the principal? Feeling ready, I seized the opportunity. Thankfully, I was able to restore the centre to its former glory, and this success led to my promotion as a Cluster Principal. Subsequently, I showed my mettle in handling centre operations and management. As the organisation grew, my skills were recognised and I rose up the ranks, progressing to Deputy Head, Preschools and eventually assumed the position of Head, Preschools.
I carried out an open hiring strategy, which was unconventional at the time. I opened up positions to polytechnic students, and sought to nurture them to take on this industry. While actively seeking and recruiting new talents, I also worked on myself to become an inspiring leader. By setting a positive example, I found that many were drawn to joining us, and wanted to continue working with us after they graduated. Two of whom I hired at that time still remain in Star Learners today, one as a Principal and another as a Deputy Principal. These examples serve as validations of my commitment to identifying and nurturing talents in our field.
In my last year as a Principal, I vividly recall a touching moment during the graduation ceremony. One of the girls delivering her speech became overwhelmed with emotions and started crying. Witnessing such profound feelings from a six-year-old deeply impacted me. It challenged the assumption that children simply read from scripts or memorise words without genuine understanding. As she delivered her speech, I couldn’t help but shed tears alongside her, moved by the authenticity of her emotions. I credit the teachers for their exceptional work in developing our children socially and emotionally.
Find a role model and mentor who can ignite a fire within you. It is essential to have someone who can provide support and motivation, especially during times when fatigue and jadedness can easily set in due to the challenges and negative experiences that may surround us. A good mentor will be able to offer reassurance, provide alternative perspectives, or simply be there to listen. Also, acknowledge that achieving ideal work-life balance can be challenging in this field.
As we celebrate 20 Inspiring Years of Star Learners, my heartfelt wish is for the continued blessings and favour upon the organisation under the leadership of Meng Wei. May Star Learners thrive and excel, bringing joy, growth and quality education to countless children for many more years to come.