Year 2021 will be remembered as a legendary year in our Agape history as we celebrate our triple crown achievements from the 2021 ECDA Awards for Excellence in Early Childhood Development!
At the annual ECDA awards ceremony on 27 November 2021, we were overjoyed to see Mdm Lee Chin Yen, our veteran leader and principal of Agape Little Uni. @ Jurong West, receiving the ECDA Outstanding Leader Award!
Hailed as the most prestigious leadership award for our early childhood sector in Singapore, the award signifies our nation’s recognition of Mdm Lee as an exemplary leader and role model in the industry.
It is truly a testament to her leadership excellence, inspirational conduct, and relentless dedication to delivering and progressing new frontiers for quality of early childhood care and education for our children, families and community all through the many years and generations.
In this time of celebration, let us come together to share a heart-to-heart conversation with our inspiring leader and role model, Mdm Lee!
Congratulations Mdm Lee on receiving the prestigious ECDA Outstanding Leader Award this year!
- What was your first reaction upon receiving the news?
Mdm Lee: I was jumping to joy and in disbelief! I was even shaking and got emotional. This is the highest recognition by the sector of what I am doing all these years.
- Mdm Lee, we want to learn about your story behind this award! Thinking back, what inspired you to take your first step into the early childhood industry?
Mdm Lee: I have always wanted to work with children since I was young. In my childhood days, I always pretended to be a teacher and my neighbours and cousins were my students. I would teach them, play with them and ‘discipline’ them haha. After graduating from NUS, I worked in the manufacturing industry for some years before I stumbled upon a chance to work in a student care centre. At that point, I was like “This is really my childhood dream come true!”
Till today, I still enjoy working with children and they are the reason why I choose to mentor and train teachers so that they can make a greater difference to the lives of the children and their family.
- Let’s continue to stroll down the memory lane! To think that it has been 21 years since you first joined Agape Little Uni. as our student care principal and pioneering leader to trailblaze the way forward! Do you recall your initial days in our Agape family?
Mdm Lee: Before I delivered my first child, I spoke to our Agape’s Director, Mrs Chan, for a temporary position in the student care after my confinement. She replied that they only have a permanent supervisory position and that was when I accepted the job and continued working until this day.
When I was the Principal in Agape Student Care Centre, Mrs Lim encouraged me to take up an early childhood course. I began my study for the Diploma in Preschool Education Teaching and subsequently continued with the Leadership programme with SIM. It was really tough working full time and studying part-time, as well as caring for my two young children then. Fortunately, I received the full support from my family, the directors and the team of staff. I finally made it through and attained the two diplomas. In 2008, I started my Early Childhood career in Agape Child Care (Choa Chu Kang).
- Over the years, you led many different centres and teams. Many of our children, parents, community and staff have also built a special bond with you personally and fondly! How would you describe the evolvements over time and what do you think are some aspects that continue to stay evergreen?
Mdm Lee: I have always aspired to be a leader who is influential and one who cares. We need to always remember why we choose to work with young children in the early childhood sector. Knowing my purpose being a childcare principal, I strongly believe in building trusting relationships with children and their parents, and most importantly, with teachers and staff.
When I arrive at a new centre, I will take time to make observations and positive connections with staff. This way, I get to know their strengths, needs and likings. Then I will strategically plan events and activities to engage the staff, with a strong focus on children’s learning and development. When we turn our attention to the children, we are able to get parents to participate and partner with us in supporting the children’s learning. We will also help teachers gain insights of how children learn and succeed, and improve in implementing strategies that work for the children. I aspire to build a learning organisation within Agape Little Uni. while living out our core values of Trust, Resilience, Unity and Empowerment.
- Throughout your years in Agape Little Uni., please name one episode that has been most memorable / unforgettable for you!
Mdm Lee: In my 22 years in Agape Little Uni., there were ups and downs in my journey of leadership. There was one occasion where I asked my teachers during a staff meeting to give me honest feedback about my performance as a leader. I thought I would hear positive feedback but lo and behold, one Chinese Teacher told me of the communication gaps that I have incurred. At that moment, I felt that my pride was hurt. I burst into tears and had to take some time to calm down.
From this episode, I truly learn to humble myself and will continue to seek feedback from my staff so that I may know what I can do to better serve the staff, children and families.
- If we may ask, what would you regard as your biggest life lesson over the years?
Mdm Lee: It was when I was appointed to stand in for a leadership position in a new centre after 6 months of sabbatical leave. There were a majority of new staff, mostly newly trained or undergoing training. It was most challenging in building trust with parents and ensuring children’s safety. At that point, I realised that I did not take conscientious steps to ensure that teachers have high alert and awareness to ensure the well-being of the children and parents started doubting our professionalism and ability to care for their child.
I learned a very painful and valuable lesson, and changed my professional attitude towards training teachers and supporting them in building trusting relationships with parents. The safety of children must be our first priority, followed by the social and emotional aspect. A happy child is a learning child, so when they are emotionally stable and happy, they can be engaged in learning easily. Our teachers need to be equipped with skills to work with children and families. This has to be strategized from events and activities to engage children and parents.
- What is one advice that you would like to give to the many teachers and principals who look up to you as their role model?
Mdm Lee: Always remember the reason that you are here in Agape as well as the motivation for your choice to work with children. Pay attention to the holistic learning and development of each child and help parents to be your partner and allies so as to provide a rich learning environment and experience for the children.
When you pay attention to the children, you will gain respect from not only the parents, but also the appreciation from children and the acknowledgment from fellow team members and leaders.
- Finally, please share your favourite quote with us to commemorate your journey and achievement!
Mdm Lee: A Leader is as good as her Team.
Be open and honest with your team about everything. Listen to them, give them feedback, create opportunities for them to hear one another and to learn from one another. Have projects and events that they can work and collaborate together. Most importantly, pay attention to the children, have fun along the way and give thanks and appreciation to everyone on the team.