Friday, 14th June 2024

Friday, 14th June 2024

Stronger, louder, CALMer students, is this CCE head’s three-pointed wish

31 Aug 2023

Get students to speak up and you may get to hear their inner voices, says Ms Saedah Bte Mohamed Hussien, Head of Character and Citizenship Education at Xishan Primary School, and a finalist at the 2023 President’s Award for Teachers. She creates a nurturing environment for students – and teachers too.  


Ms Saedah Bte Mohamed Hussien was a child who knew just what it meant to make ends meet.

She wanted to play badminton so badly, she fashioned a racquet out of an old book. She would save her pocket money to buy books. She never wanted to ask her father for anything, as he was the sole breadwinner of the family.

Ms Saedah knows what it means to make do and still thrive, and her passion for what constitutes good values makes her quite the role model as Head of Department (HOD) of Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) at Xishan Primary School.

Every day, she finds ways to slip a message on values into her Malay language classes.

There was also the school-wide project on values. Inspired by stories of resilience featured on the school’s Butterfly Wall, Ms Saedah led a team of teachers and students to create a multimedia video series based on the popular tale of how a butterfly that is helped out of its cocoon by a kind soul, is deprived of the act of struggling and is harmed instead.

In Xishan’s version, the Samaritan is a boy puppet dressed in the Xishan uniform, and CCE values such as resilience and responsibility are woven into the storyline.

A team of teachers chipped in to create the props while students narrate the tales within a lesson series of six values. These are captivating tales that every child and teacher in the school now knows.

“In our classroom discussions, we had the students reflect on how they can overcome struggles to emerge stronger,” says Ms Saedah. “It is a reminder not to give up when they face challenges.”

Mdm Saedah Mohd Hussien_1

Getting struggling students to speak up

After setting and meeting clear academic goals for herself from secondary school to university, Ms Saedah joined the teaching force, in the footsteps of her beloved primary school Malay teacher, Mr Said Rashid.

Just as Mr Said had done for her years ago, she works on building a positive presence in her students’ lives.

“Connections cannot be built overnight. You need to know the student first, study their profile, observe how they behave during lessons, and take note of the things they say,” she shares. It means being attentive and attuned to their lives.

A big believer in being able to hear the authentic voice of students, Ms Saedah led a team to create Xishan Student Voices – Agent of Change, a dedicated corner of bulletin boards for students to share their views, ideas, and suggestions under school programmes such as Values in Action and National Education.  

When she took on the role of HOD (CCE), Ms Saedah also prioritised building connections with her school community.

One of the ways she does this is by constantly checking in with her students’ well-being at the start of every class. She also encourages them to ask her questions. “Asking questions helps them to find their voice. It builds their courage and confidence to interact with people.”

That’s how she picks up on students who are struggling. A Primary Six boy whom she had been checking in with finally opened up to her one day. Unable to cope with the pressure to do well for his PSLE, he had resorted to self-harm. Ms Saedah rallied the Year Head and school leaders to stage an intervention. They spoke with his parents and shared their concerns. They placed the child in the school’s After School Engagement (ASE) programme where he could get the help and support he needed.

The episode ended well. The boy passed his PSLE and moved on to secondary school. “He visited me last year during Teachers’ Day and told me, ‘if you had not noticed me, I would have kept hurting myself’,” she recounts.

How to define values? Put it in the Xishan framework

What makes good values can be tricky to pinpoint, not to mention put into action, but Ms Saedah pulls it off with panache.

Taking her cue from MOE’s CCE 2021 syllabus, she crafted a holistic CCE framework that encompasses the department’s vision and programmes, which is also aligned to the school’s Keep CALM & GIVE Well-Being Framework. “Keep CALM and GIVE” is an acronym that captures five key aspects of student well-being: Connect, Be Active and An Agent of Change, Keep Learning, Be Mindful and Giving as a practice of gratitude. Whether it’s through co-curricular activities, environmental initiatives or community service, the framework gets teachers and students to pledge and express the same values through positive action.


“It is important to create a safe space for these beginning teachers. Like how we assign buddies to our students, mentoring our teachers well is equally important for them to shine in their roles.” 


Ms Saedah herself walks the talk as a mentor to fellow teachers and other key personnel from the same school cluster. A number of them have found their feet under her patient guidance and fellowship. “The quality of the education system depends on the quality of our teachers,” she says. “My mentees were committed to a developmental strategy that includes a willingness to reflect, learn, change, and grow forward. I am also inspired by their determination to forge forward.” 

Being a mentor has also helped her hone her leadership skills and other skills like emotional intelligence, communication, and empathy.

She has a soft spot for newbies.

“It is important to create a safe space for these beginning teachers. Like how we assign buddies to our students, mentoring our teachers well is equally important for them to shine in their roles.”

Nurturing them comes naturally to Ms Saedah, who walks alongside with patience, step by step, as she had done for herself growing up, and as she does with her students.


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