In the second interview in our series on female educational entrepreneurs, DR VANESSA VON AUER shares how opening her own psychology clinic resulted in her starting an international school in Singapore. Along the way, she dispenses some great advice for kids (“You matter!”) and mums (“Enough with the guilt!”).
Tell us about your experience working with children.
I am a clinical psychologist specialising in children, teenagers and their families. I’ve always loved connecting with others through empathy and empowerment. I especially enjoy helping families, which led me to founding my clinic, Von Auer Psychology Center. Our children’s division offers various support services, including Counselling, Expressive Therapy (art, play and even pet therapy), Diagnostic Assessments and Naturalistic Applied Behavioural Analysis (NABA) therapy.
Did you always want to open your own school?
I always knew my purpose was to support children and their families. I hadn’t contemplated opening a school or getting into education until my clients at my clinic said they felt they had no suitable schooling options in Singapore. So, in 2009, I started a small pilot programme to provide a safe sanctuary for students to develop confidence and ultimately develop a love for learning. Just five students and three teachers, including me, grew into what is now Integrated International School. So, even though IIS was not planned, I believe it was meant to exist!
IIS specialises in inclusion education. What exactly is this?
From the beginning, IIS has always offered two learning approaches – mainstream and support – in an accepting and loving environment. Our staff and teachers nurture and respond to the needs and individual preferences of our students. We teach our children about acceptance and tolerance both inside and outside the classroom, that mistakes are great learning opportunities, and that every single student is valued and respected. Students understand that everyone is different with diverse abilities, and most importantly that this makes life more colourful. As an inclusive school, it’s inspiring to see students learning together but also learning from each other.
On a personal note, what’s your philosophy on balancing home and work life?
At first, I felt torn about leaving my young children to go to work. But I also disliked not being at work. I quickly figured out that it’s the quality of our interactions that mattered rather than the amount of time we spent together. So, I make sure that I’m available for special school events, that we do something fun every weekend – usually outdoors and active – and that we get “talk time” in the evenings before bed. This way, I get a time to check in, connect and be part of their lives even though I can’t be at home every day. My children also know that they can contact me any time, so I look forward to getting little kissy emojis and voice notes via WhatsApp at work.
What advice can you share for other mums?
Make time for yourself so you can approach your different roles in life – mother, wife, sister, daughter, employer, colleague – with positivity, dynamism and gratitude. Don’t feel guilty about taking “me time”. Too many working mothers feel guilty about taking a break from their children, spouses and friends. Twice a week, do something for yourself that includes something active – like kickboxing, yoga or dancing – and something relaxing – like meditation, a massage or a facial.
Want more? See our Kids section!