We catch up with newly appointed principal of Maris Stella High School, Mrs Woo Soo Min (second from left in picture).
What are your new roles and responsibilities in Maris Stella? In what way is this new position different from your previous role?
My role and responsibilities as a principal at Maris Stella High do not differ from my previous appointment as principal of another school in that as principal, I lead my colleagues in nurturing our students to become all-round students realising their potential and to be ready to be a contributing member of society. What is different is that the school context has changed. Maris Stella High has a few key characteristics that makes it a unique school. It is a Catholic, all-boys, SAP (Special Assistance Plan), full school, offering both the primary and secondary education, founded by the Marist Brothers. We are in a privileged position to nurture Marists in the tradition of the Marist Brothers, anchored on the Catholic faith, as well as biculturalism for a large part of their formative years and see them through those years, using strategies that are suited to educating boys. I am energised by the many possibilities that I see in Maris Stella High School.
What first made you desire to work in the education sector?
I love History and am deeply driven by my passion in the subject to become a History teacher. Over the years, I am energised by the “Aha” look on my students’ faces as they grasp a concept or understand a historical development.
What are the difficulties you face working in education?
The main difficulty is something that everyone faces – the issue of time or rather, the limited amount of it. There are so many things that we want to do but time is limited and therefore, sound decision making must guide our prudent use of time.
How does your faith influence your approach to your current role and responsibilities as a principal?
There are things that are within my control and then, there are things that are in His control. For the former, I carry out my role and responsibilities in the best interest of my charges to the best of my abilities, and for the latter, I pray and pray for divine intervention.
What do you think are the main challenges that Catholic educators face today?
The challenges that educators face are common and regardless of their faith/religion. As educators, our primary role is to nurture students to be of good character and grounded in values as well as to realise their potential. I believe Catholic educators see all their students as their students regardless of the individuals’ faith and would seek to do their best for all of them. Catholic educators who wish to be involved in faith formation of Catholic students know that they can apply to join Catholic schools to be part of the Religious Education/Chaplaincy team.
What are some of the encouraging trends you see in the education scene?
There is a renewed emphasis placed on character development and values inculcation. Also, there is a many-hands approach to helping students that is beginning to take root with the forging of partnerships between school and parents, as well as that between various government agencies like MSF, HPB and MOE, among others.
How does the work of the Marist Brothers in Catholic education inspire you?
St Marcellin Champagnat wrote: “Be with the children, love them, lead them to Jesus”. Indeed, the work of the founding principal, Br Chanel Soon, and his Marist Brothers colleagues have lived out the words of St Champagnat when with their bare hands, they built Maris Stella High School, offering to boys in the eastern part of Singapore, regardless of family economic status, race and religion, a chance to be educated. From testimonies shared by pioneer Marists, Br Chanel was involved in the daily educating of students, his deeds exemplified his love for them and in being a nurturing educator, he brought them to Jesus.
How do the teachers and students you work with inspire you?
My colleagues are tireless in doing their best for Marist and that inspires me to work harder with them. I see great potential in my students to become leaders of their chosen field in future. They are intelligent, willing to learn and with a fine sense of humour. It is always interesting to dialogue with them and hear their views. I am inspired to help them fulfil their aspirations.
How do you keep close to God?
I try to hear God’s promptings and don’t be too clever. As a person who is fairly determined in completing what I set out to do well, I have always believed that I have full control over things. As such I have always made thorough plans to ensure that things happen according to my wishes. Over time, I find that that is of course not true and that God has the final say and things always turns out according to His plans for reasons not always apparent at the start but eventually understood by me. I need to quieten down my heart and hear his promptings.
What is your favourite Scripture passage?
This verse in the Letter to the Hebrews resonates with me: “Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen” (11:1). As a History graduate, I study world developments and trends and make sense of them. It is a case of seeing first before knowing or believing. As a Catholic, it is the reverse. I struggled with this during my RCIA days as I needed to see to believe. Over time I’ve come to accept that only with faith can I believe in things that I have not seen and that faith keeps me anchored in my journey with God. I realise that when I keep faith, the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life is also stronger.
What brings you joy as an educator?
When my students as well as my colleagues achieve success after putting in effort to learn and persevere until the end. In the course of my journey as a school leader, I see students struggling with their studies as well as growing-up issues. I have also met colleagues who struggled with work and principles as they embark on their journey as teachers. While it is very tempting for me to jump in and help them, I find that they taste the sweetest success when they have put in their share of effort and persevere to the end. They realise then that there are many things that they can do on their own and this builds their sense of self-worth, dignity and confidence. Their struggles and perseverance also brings out their self-belief and human spirit in them.
What is one advice you would give to Catholic educators today?
Give your best in the best interest of all your students and God will take care of the rest.