It’s always great to meet the people behind Singapore’s best international schools, especially someone who feels so passionately about its values and holistic approach to education. Step forward Dr. J. P. Rader, the new director of ICS. Not only does the American-born and Korea-raised educator have more than 36 years of experience in the education industry, he’s also a strong advocate for small class sizes, which helps foster the nurturing learning environment that ICS is known for. We chat with him about his third-culture-kid background (perfect for teaching international school kids, we think!), his educational philosophy, the school’s approach and why parents love sending their kids to this school.
Tell us about yourself! Where are you from and what would your students be surprised to know about you?
I grew up in Korea as the son of Salvation Army missionaries. After I graduated from high school at Seoul Foreign School (SFS), I went back to the US. Several years later I returned to SFS to teach high school history; I also coached volleyball and basketball there for over 20 years. All three of my children graduated from SFS and became international school teachers. In all, I spent 37 years in Korea. My home in the US is near Lexington, Kentucky. I returned there to join the faculty of Asbury University in 2009 as an education professor and the women’s volleyball coach. During that time, I received my doctorate in educational leadership and, in 2016, returned to Korea as an administrator. My students might be surprised to find out I have attended three summer and one winter Olympic Games during my time teaching overseas.
What’s your philosophy towards education?
My philosophy of education has become much simpler over time. It really is all about the students and the learning that takes place in and out of the classroom. My job as director of the school is to work with my administrative team and faculty to ensure a strong learning environment in every classroom. We want to make sure our students have the opportunity to grow academically, spiritually, physically and emotionally.
How is your school different from other schools in Singapore?
At ICS, our mission statement highlights the idea of educating minds and transforming lives. As a Christian school, we are built on a foundation of academic excellence and spiritual vitality where the minds and souls of students are nurtured in the classroom, on the playing fields, in the performance spaces and in everyday interactions with peers, teachers, staff and administration. We believe in the holistic growth of our students that comes from a close-knit community that cares deeply and finds ways to help students on their educational journeys.
Can you tell us about the teaching approach at ICS?
In any school, on any given day, there are many different approaches to pedagogy employed in the classroom from Kindergarten to Grade 12. However, there are two structures that are engaged in virtually every classroom at ICS: backwards design in the development of the lesson and student-directed learning. Backwards design ensures that each lesson has direction, purpose and clear outcomes. Student-directed learning has helped transform our classrooms as we move towards students taking more responsibility for their own learning through inquiry, evaluation and reflection.
How do you think students can benefit from small class sizes?
The lower student-to-teacher ratio enables the students to receive daily individual attention and interact more frequently with the teacher in and out of the classroom. It also encourages the building of relationships between teachers and students. We have been pleased to see this occurring in our classrooms at ICS.
Tell us about your school’s community: who are the people who love sending their kids to school there? What do parents tell you they value about the school?
Our school community is quite eclectic, with the most significant percentage of parents happy to be sending their children to an international Christian school. That said, the ICS community includes a broad spectrum of parents and students from religious and non-religious backgrounds. There are a few things that all members of our school community value that bring us together, such as a safe and nurturing learning environment, greater opportunities for our children to experience different challenges and an emphasis on a strong academic program.
What do you think are the greatest challenges young people face today?
In today’s world, there is a mountain of distractions that represents some of the most significant challenges young people will face when making their way into the world. Finding purpose while navigating high school and college and going into the work world is a central task, but this becomes difficult for young people as they have many things vying for their attention. The most important gift we can give them as educators is the chance to develop people skills and the ability to problem-solve.
Can you share any lessons you’ve learned about communicating and connecting with kids throughout your years in education?
When I became a teacher in 1983, I thought the most important thing for me to do was to gain mastery over my subject: history. Intent on gaining as much knowledge as I could in order to teach my students well, I read an endless number of books and spent my summer visiting historical sites such as Gettysburg, Normandy, Ypres and Washington, DC. What I found, however, is that, while this knowledge was essential to establishing my competence in the classroom, the most important thing I did for my students was developing a relationship with them based on trust and respect. Years after graduating, students have connected back with me to tell me about an important conversation we had after class or a discussion that took place in class that helped them through a difficult time or gave them a focus or insight they had not considered before. We need to remember that we are in the business of shaping human beings through our classes by connecting with them on multiple levels.
What do you love most about leading this school?
A school is never about the buildings or playing fields or auditoriums. It is always about what is happening in the classrooms and on those playing fields. What I love most about leading ICS is that we have a purpose-driven faculty and administration that loves the students and provides a safe, nurturing, Christ-centered environment where students can grow and learn. It makes coming to school each day and leading the school a joy.
To learn more about life at ICS, check out www.ics.edu.sg
This post is sponsored by ICS