Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit School of the Arts, Singapore (SOTA). SOTA is one of Singapore’s specialized schools, which also include the Singapore Sports School, the School of Science and Technology, and the NUS High School of Math and Science.

Students at SOTA (grades 7-12) study dance, music, visual arts or theater in addition to a rigorous academic program. In their final two years, all students complete the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (100% of their students in the class of 2012 earned their IB diplomas). The school is only about five years old. Currently, there are 1,043 students. There are 110 in year 6 this year; they plan to cap all grades at 200 students.

SOTA is funded by the Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth and by the Ministry of Education. The school mission is to create a vibrant environment for learning that is uniquely anchored in the arts, celebrating experimentation, expression and discovery, with the aim of nurturing artistic talent and developing leaders who will draw on their creativity to enrich society.

The physical environment was impressive. On eleven floors, students roam between academic classrooms, dance studios, music practice rooms, a rooftop athletic field, and many open creative spaces.

There is a focus on true interdisciplinary learning, integrating the arts into every academic subject. Students apply anatomy to dance, chemistry to ceramics, and mathematics to music. And the goal is not simply to produce successful artists. The SOTA principal explained to us that a majority of graduates go on to study a wide array of disciplines in universities all over the world. They believe that SOTA graduates leave their school as more holistic thinkers that can take on any college major more creatively than a typical high school graduate.

SOTA is not just a rich learning environment for its students, but it is a wonderful place for teachers to work. At SOTA there are 144 full-time and 20 part-time teachers. During the 42-hour workweek, teachers are up in front of students just 12 hours. The remaining 30 hours are spent collaborating with colleagues, planning interdisciplinary curriculum, assessing student work, pursuing professional development opportunities, and tutoring/coaching students who need extra support. In the United States, we typically have the opposite schedule: about 30 hours of formal instruction and ten hours for planning, meetings, etc. This ratio is impressive, even for Singapore (in mainstream schools, Singaporean teachers typically teach fewer than 20 hours per week, leaving at least half of the workweek for preparation, assessment and reflection).

SOTA teachers all share a passion for the arts, they enjoy very competitive pay, but most remarkably, they are treated as true professionals with the time and space to do their jobs really well.

What would flipping your workweek mean for your students and for your practice? 

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