With 25 years of teaching under her belt and experience building a London school from the ground up, Sir Manasseh Meyer International School (SMMIS) is excited to have Principal ELAINE ROBINSON at the helm. She sat down to talk to us about why this position was one she couldn’t pass up.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Liverpool, but lived in Israel, Hong Kong and, most recently, London.
Your undergraduate degree is in Theology. How did you end up in education?
I graduated from Birmingham University with joint honours in Theology and Cultural Studies. It was there that I was inspired by the cultural theories of Michel Foucault. Later I received an MA in Philosophy of Education from The Institute of Education at the University of London. This introduced me to the writings of John Dewey and the concepts of democratic and moral education and the wellbeing of the child as the centre of education. It was during this time that I was inspired to become a school leader. I always wanted to work in education, and religion is my passion. My two degrees are the foundation of all that I do.
How long have you been teaching?
I’ve been in education for over 25 years. My career began as a youth leader in the UK and Hong Kong. In 2002, I started formally teaching. I’ve taught Religious Education and, in London, I mostly taught A level and GCSEs.
You won a prestigious award while working in London. Why were you given this honour?
I helped to set up the first pluralist Jewish Day School in the UK. It’s a school that caters to all denominations in the Jewish community. The Jewish Community Secondary School (JCoSS) is a trailblazing school. As Deputy Head, I was involved in defining the direction of the school, creating ethos documents, developing curriculum and, of course, teaching. It was my dream job. I was incredibly excited to be involved in building a school from scratch. Seeing our first cohort graduate was an inspiring and emotional moment.
What attracted you to Singapore?
My family and I moved here in July 2017 so I could take on the role of Principal at SMMIS. I had been in a leadership role at JCoSS for over eight years, and I was ready to take on a Headship role. This job felt like the right job at the right time. It was interesting and exciting enough that I was prepared to leave my alma mater. It offered an adventure for me and my family. It’s thrilling to be in Singapore, a country that is committed to religious harmony, which is something I feel very passionate about. The microcosm of the SMMIS community is fascinating too, in that it’s just as varied and dynamic as the society in which it exists.
Is it difficult to go from teaching students to leading a school?
Leading a school is the natural pathway from classroom teaching. All teachers have a vision of how they would like to see children educated. Being the Principal of the school means you can influence and direct every aspect of the child’s educational experience – from the physical to the spiritual. It’s the ultimate opportunity to a see your educational vision become a reality and impact on the lives of so many.
Tell us three things that sets SMMIS apart from others.
Ours is a not-for-profit, boutique school that offers individualised learning for our students. We have a strong commitment to values education, and social activism pervades all that we do. SMMIS is committed to interfaith education and interfaith dialogue with real grassroots interactions with young people in Singapore. We teach Jewish Education as well as World Religions, and celebrate all religious festivals. There’s a strong community feel here – we’re one big family.
Does the school offer Hebrew?
Yes, though it isn’t the only language on offer. We have a diverse student body that includes both Jewish and non-Jewish students. Students can choose between Hebrew and Mandarin, just as they can follow a Jewish Education track or one that covers Jewish culture as part of the study of world religions. Hebrew is taught either as a mother tongue for native speakers or as a second language for non-native speakers. Language lessons begin in our pre-school classes, when the children are around 18 months old.
Your school moved locations not long ago. What does the new campus offer?
We moved to our purpose-built Sembawang campus in May 2016. It has a rooftop swimming pool, basketball court, soccer pitch and state-of-the-art auditorium that houses our beautiful Steinway grand piano and has seating for up to 400 people.
Fun Facts about Elaine:
First job you ever had: Waiter
Book you never tire of reading: Wuthering Heights
Number of kids: Two of my own, hundreds of students
Favourite sports team: Liverpool FC, of course!
Favourite travel spots: Somewhere quiet with a book and a hammock
SMMIS at a Glance:
Number of students: 160
Ages accepted: 18 months to Grade 10 (growing into Grade 12 over the next couple of years)
Average class size: 18
Cost per year: $14,000-$24,000
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