Ann Arbor Public Schools Celebrates Toyota Partnership Singapore Delegation: 2014

AAPS Singapore Team Visiting the Ministry of Education
AAPS Singapore Team Visiting the Ministry of Education

It’s a great time in Ann Arbor Public Schools as we welcome home 20 of our AAPS teachers and leaders who have recently returned from their participation in the Toyota Education Initiatives in STEAM Innovation 2014 Development Program in Singapore.

Ann Arbor – Toyota Motor Sales, USA: A Winning Partnership

Ann Arbor Public Schools is most fortunate to be the only school district in the country to participate in such a beneficial partnership with Toyota Motor Sales, USA and this is the second summer that AAPS teachers and leaders have engaged in the rich learning of a two-week summer educational exchange in Singapore.  All expenses of Ann Arbor’s involvement are covered by Toyota Motor Sales, USA, so this is indeed a very special gift to our district.

In addition to our work in Singapore over summers 2013 and 2014, members of the Singapore Ministry of Education were hosted by the University of Michigan in May, 2014, touring several of our Ann Arbor Public Schools campuses and meeting with members of our AAPS leadership team. We also look forward to welcoming a team of Singapore teachers and leaders to the Ann Arbor Public Schools for an in-depth exchange over two weeks in November, 2014. Our AAPS teachers were privileged to meet their partner ‘exchange’ teachers and principals during this recent summer trip, and strong connections in cross-continent learning have already begun that will extend during the fall visit to Ann Arbor.

Summer, 2014 AAPS Singapore Exchange

Having had the honor of accompanying this talented group for a portion of the exchange work this summer, I would like to share a few insights from our learning in Singapore.

AAPS visits School of Science and Technology in Singapore, Tuesday, July 15, 2014
AAPS visits School of Science and Technology in Singapore, Tuesday,
July 15, 2014

We were impressed, from the very outset of the exchange, with the intentionality, at every level in the design of the Singapore school system. The Singapore educational organization is structured and designed to achieve top outcomes for students and educators. The Singapore theme, Thinking Schools – Learning Nations drives the work.

We heard repeatedly from so many of our hosts, “In Singapore, our resource is our people.”  Sin Kim Ho, Director of Science Curriculum Planning and Development, echoed this theme, sharing, “People are our only resource; we must stretch every individual so Singapore is competitive in the global landscape.”

With 500,000 students and 33,200 teachers in this very compact system (Singapore is approximately one-third the geographic size of Washtenaw County with about fifteen times the population of our county), there exists a surprising unity of purpose and shared understanding of the critical mission – student achievement – and a singular focus on ensuring student preparedness for work and life beyond school for every student. Despite the size of the Singapore school system, there reverberates a sincere commitment to each individual child. Mrs. Chua-Lim of the Academy of Singapore teachers stated, “Every child is important to us,” and shared examples of how teachers regularly go the extra mile for the success of every student, such as making numerous home visits to support children.

Mr. Chua Chor Huat, Principal of the School of Science & Technology, tours the AAPS group through a school area that students use for collaboration.
Mr. Chua Chor Huat, Principal of the School of Science & Technology, tours the AAPS group through a school area that students use for collaboration.

We observed an articulated commitment to preparing students for future challenges. Mr. Chua Chor Huat, Principal of the School of Science & Technology, shared that the learning in his school is, “not about a final product, it is about the process of creative, critical thinking. It is never about outcomes, it is about the thinking process – hands and minds together.” Ms. Chew Wai Lee, Assistant Principal at the School of Science & Technology declares the goal of the school to, “connect the dots between academic concepts and real-world context for enduring understanding.”

This significant commitment to quality education with the specific intention of producing successful citizens who are well-prepared to be competitive in the world of work does not only exist in mantra; it is evident in the commitment of resources to the educational endeavor. Resources are invested into schools to support teacher and leader development and to ensure that student needs are met. From the Singapore Ministry of Education website:

We have been moving in recent years towards an education system that is more flexible and diverse. The aim is to provide students with greater choice to meet their different interests and ways of learning. Being able to choose what and how they learn will encourage them to take greater ownership of their learning. We are also giving our students a more broad-based education to ensure their all-round or holistic development, in and out of the classroom.

We were impressed that the Singapore school system definitely embodies, at every level, the Toyota concept of Kaizen, “to gradually improve the processes involved with attaining a particular goal.”

In addition to the demonstrated commitment to children, there exists a pervasive reverence for teachers and an articulated intention to ensure teacher support and quality instruction in all schools in the system. Singaporean teachers are paid on par with physicians and attorneys, and their continuing education is provided by the educational system. All teachers are regularly provided 100 hours of professional development per year, and each school is staffed with a +12% staffing allotment so that when teachers are away from the classroom for professional learning, the lessons in classrooms continue with a teacher that is on-site to carry forward the work of learning.


When we visited the primary development location for teachers, The Academy of Singapore Teachers, we observed teachers and leaders who were eager to participate in development classes there; the center welcomes more than 20,000 teachers per year through their professional development sessions. Mrs. Chua, Director of the Academy of Singapore Teachers, described the mantra of teacher development, “every teacher like a running stream, not stagnant” to signify that teachers are always growing and learning, improving their practice.

Our Ann Arbor team provided an afternoon of expert professional learning during a brown bag session with the Singaporean teachers and administrators. Topics presented included “Digital Organization”, “Literacy Routines and Math Mentorship”, “Informal STEAM Opportunities”, and “STEAM Projects.”  The dialogue session, which followed these interactive presentations, provided a springboard for our partners to develop ideas for collaboration and further learning.

We have been so impressed by the Singaporean educational leaders we have met this summer, we have learned so much from them, and we look forward to continuing our cross-continent learning together in the future. Preparations are already underway for the Singapore team’s upcoming fall visit and know that together, we will extend the learning and sharing from the summer here in Ann Arbor. We believe their team will also learn from the great work we are accomplishing here in Ann Arbor.

Both in the demonstrated unity of focus in preparing all students for the future and in the priority of supporting all teachers to achieve successful classroom outcomes, the Singaporean system embodies a commitment and a focus that inspired our AAPS team. An example of the priority, even the reverence for education that echoes across the Singaporean society is illustrated on the currency.

Take a look:


Toyota Partners

We were pleased to be accompanied on the exchange by members of the Toyota team, Ms. Rhonda Glasscock, Philanthropy Manager, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. Ms. Glasscock has oversight responsibility for TMS’ national education and environmental programs, national volunteer programs, and Toyota’s national dealer matching contributions program supporting the company’s nearly 1500 Toyota, Lexus, and Scion dealerships. This is the second summer that Rhonda has so expertly supported the AAPS team in Singapore.

Also, Ms. Cynthia Mahalek, joined us – Assistant Manager, External Affairs, Toyota Technical Center, A division of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing, N.A. Inc. Headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Over the past 17 years, Ms. Mahalak has served on various non-profit boards in Washtenaw County and has participated in an advisory capacity for many organizations i.e. Ann Arbor Hands on Museum – Toyota Pre-school Engineering Exhibit and the Habitat for Humanity Huron Valley. Cindy serves as a wonderful local connection in support of our district work in STEAM education.

Also, team members of the Institute of International Education staff, Ms. Naoko Dunnigan and Ms. Stacey Chapple as well as Kent State University Staff, Ms. Han Zhang accompanied the AAPS team. These individuals serve to support program evaluation design and activities for the exchange.

This Singapore exchange endeavor allows us to practice the Toyota principle of Genchi Genbutsu, an integral part of the Toyota Production System, which suggests that one must go look to understand what is really happening. In traveling to Singapore, visiting schools and classrooms during this exchange, we were truly able to see and understand, firsthand, what is really happening in education in Singapore; this trip allowed us to open our vistas beyond Ann Arbor, our state and our country – to cross-pollinate best STEAM practice, globally – what an enriching experience for our Ann Arbor schools.

Next Steps: Bringing the Learning Home to Ann Arbor Public Schools

Our 20 AAPS teachers and leaders will be sharing their learning – sharing their STEAM learning – in a number of settings over the coming year, just as last year’s cohort has done. From August 11-14, AAPS will host a Toyota K-12 STEAM Professional Learning Academy. All teachers are invited to attend sessions and learn more about new practices for enhancing STEAM education in Ann Arbor classrooms.

Ms. Rhonda Glasscock captures the essence of the summer 2014 AAPS Singapore delegation perfectly in this statement, “We know too well that knowledge can be taught, but passion must be caught . . . by your colleagues and students alike. As we work toward parallel goals: to meet the specific needs of AAPS students and address the critical needs of Toyota to see STEAM fields flourishing . . .”

We are grateful to our partners at Toyota, to our Singapore colleagues who invested so much of themselves to enrich this exchange, and to our 20 AAPS teachers and leaders who represented Ann Arbor Public Schools and our country so well on this summer 2014 Singapore endeavor.

As they say at Toyota, “Let’s Go Places!” In the Ann Arbor Public Schools, we are most definitely going places on behalf of our 16,500 students – thank you for your ongoing support of our exceptional schools.


Jeanice Swift

Superintendent of Schools

Ann Arbor Public Schools

If you would like to investigate more about the Singapore education system, check out this website,




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