Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Giving Thanks, 2017

When I first started blogging, this was one of my first posts. That was back in 2012, and since then, I have continued to blog and share my thoughts with our school community. I think this "old" post is still reflective of how I feel about our school so I am re-posting and updating it since so many of our families are new to our school. Happy Thanksgiving to our DKIES `ohana!

This Thanksgiving day in 2017 is a perfect opportunity to reflect on my principalship at Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School and all that I am thankful for.  What makes a school special and unique is its people, and DKIES is no exception.

All of my schooling has been here in Hawaii, and I can't imagine being uprooted in the middle of the year and having to go to a new school, make new friends, learn new rules, procedures, and curriculum, and adjust to these new surroundings. Yet our DKIES students are asked to do this not once but multiple times in their school careers.  More often than not, this is occurring while a parent is attending training or is deployed.  Our students make the best of their situation even while they are missing a parent who may be off-island for training exercises or who may be deployed and in harm's way.  I marvel at their resilience, and my hope is that they will take what they've learned at DKIES about aloha and share it with others when they leave Hawaii.  At DKIES, Eagles Pride means to
Take care of yourself. Take care of others. Take care of our school.  This is a message we hope they will live throughout their education years.

I am grateful to the DKIES parents who support our school and trust us with their children. Military  parents' lives are so different from what I experienced as a young mom when I had family and friends to support me.  Being uprooted from their system of support is a challenge, and their confidence in our school to take care of their children is a responsibility we take seriously.  To the soldier parents who have committed to serving and protecting our nation, I send my heartfelt thanks. And to the spouse who is left behind to take care of the home and the family while the soldier is absent, you deserve kudos for all you do.  It takes a strong person to accept and adapt to military life and often, you turn every new change of duty station as an adventure and a learning opportunity for your family.  Mahalo for all you do.

I am so honored to be at a school with such a great staff.  I love going to work every day because I work with people who care about our school as much as I do.  Others may not realize the challenges of working with a highly transient military population, but your commitment and pride in your work is what makes our school so special.  I hope you realize the positive impact you have, long after the students and families have left DKIES and Hawaii.  I am truly proud to be part of our DKIES `ohana.

4 1/2 years ago, we were one of the original schools on military bases in the United States to receive funding to upgrade and renovate our facilities. In 2016, all of the construction was completed, and our school was renamed after a great American hero from Hawaii, Daniel K. Inouye. When I first became principal of Hale Kula Elementary School in February 2003, I would never have imagined how the school would transform during my tenure. I am so appreciative to Congress and the State of Hawaii Legislature for funding our $33.2 million project, to everyone who made this project possible, and to our school community for their patience and support throughout the challenging construction phases. It is humbling to realize all that went into this project to benefit our students now and in the future.

I am truly blessed with a wonderful and loving family, supportive friends, a job that I love, good health, living in a place that many consider paradise. I couldn't ask for more.

May all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

I'm Not Data-Driven

I'll admit it; I'm not data-driven. I do look at our school's data and we have discussions about how we can improve, However, there's so much data available today that it's hard to decide which ones to pay more attention to.

There was a time when I meticulously took all of our students' academic information and put them on spreadsheets. I color-coded them to identify those who may need more support. Then I realized that it was the teachers who should be doing that with their students if we wanted to see gains so I asked teachers to send that information to me. Today, our Instructional Coaches meet with the teachers to review their data and make decisions regarding interventions.

We also carefully reviewed the behavioral data to see if there were areas on campus where we were getting more disciplinary referrals or to see if there were trends with grade levels or groups of students. Our monthly Peer Reviews and Triage Meetings are an opportunity to discuss concerns for individual students and to come up with a plan of action to support those identified students.

However,  I don't spend an inordinate amount of time looking over our data to determine next steps. Although I know it's important to review data regularly and to gauge progress towards our goals, I prefer to look at the big picture.

In my personal life, I was not a data keeper. My husband is pre-diabetic and every morning, he pokes his finger and takes a reading of his blood sugar level. Some days he is high and needs to monitor what he eats or maybe he needs to do more physical exercise. Luckily, I don't have pre-diabetes so I never felt the need to take data. However, last Christmas, my husband gave me a present - a bright pink Adidas pullover - and it was too tight. He offered to have it changed, but I saw this as an opportunity to improve my health habits.

At the start of 2017, we had a Wellness and Fitness Challenge at our school for all of our staff. Everyone was placed on a team, and we set our own healthy goals. The team captain was tasked with checking each week to see if we reached our goal, and we had a partner who encouraged us to keep going. It was then that I set two goals for myself: at least 5 days a week, to take 10,000 steps and to have a salad for one of my meals. I started a journal to document my progress. The Wellness and Fitness Challenge ended but I kept going.

Well, recently, my husband and I were going on a trip and I decided to try on the pullover since it would be colder where we were traveling to. It fit! I was tickled pink (literally) to wear it.

I know that keeping data deliberately was what helped me get to my goal. The thing is that my goal wasn't to lose weight; it was to eat healthier and make sure I got in my 10,000+ steps. It helps that we have a wide-spread campus. I love walking around, taking pictures and sharing with the staff and school community. My data was easy to track, and I think there were less than 5 weeks when I didn't meet my goal.

As I reflected on this data-keeping experience (which I intend to continue), I made a few connections to keeping data at school:
  • Data-keeping can be used effectively and efficiently by teachers; it doesn't have to be laborious or difficult.
  • Data-keeping is only useful if we monitor regularly and use the data to make positive changes in our teaching and learning.
  • We should teach our students to keep track of their own data. This can be an important strategy to achieving our personal goals.
  • Goal-setting is easy; monitoring and recording our progress via data-keeping takes commitment. It's so easy to lose sight of our goals when there's no accountability.
  • We can spend so much time tracking and analyzing data, but perhaps more important is the big picture. Why are we keeping and analyzing data? There must be a purpose for our data, to improve what we're doing in the classroom to positively impact student learning. 
While I believe data is important as part of school improvement, I also think we need to be careful about being so data-driven that we lose sight of what's really important: our students. As this quote states:

Finally, I decided to do something I'm not comfortable doing - sharing this photo of myself and my grandson Jayden in my pink Adidas pullover.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

An Epic Fail! Well, Not Really

Last Wednesday was our school-wide evacuation drill, and on Monday evening, one of our teachers sent an email, "Are we sending something out to the parents?" Yikes! I had forgotten about that! Early the next morning, I edited last year's letter, made copies for all the students, cut the papers in half (we were saving paper by putting two letters on one page), then began to deliver them to classrooms with instructions to send it home that day. I had gotten through about 10 classrooms with many more to go when I heard someone chasing after me with, "Mrs. Iwase, it's the wrong date!" What? I took her stack of papers, and sure enough, it was the wrong date! Arrgh! What had I done? I returned to the office, wondering what had happened. I took out all the letters with the wrong date - half of the stack - and realized what I had done, or more accurately, not done. I changed the date on the top letter but had forgotten to change the date on the bottom letter. Basically, I wasted time and paper that day. In the realm of things, it wasn't that much of an epic fail, but every time when I make a careless mistake that ends up wasting time and/or money, I feel a bit guilty especially when I tell teachers that we should be "going green."

In our Leadership Team meeting last week, we started off by talking about time. That is a major barrier when we suggest implementing something different to address student needs. Often, we use the lack of time as an excuse rather than figuring out how to make better use of the time we have. As educators, we are sometimes bombarded by the latest research or the newest app or a program that will make it easier for teachers and will help our students to be more successful. How can we predict what will work and what might be a "waste of time?"

I do believe, however, that time - or the lack of it - really depends on where we are in our lives. It's easy for me to say, "It's not about having time; it's about making time" or "Time is nonrefundable. Use it with intention." Sure, I agree with these statements, but I remember when I felt like there weren't enough hours in the day to get everything done. As a young working mom, it seemed that I was always rushing and I was always telling (yelling?) at the kids to hurry up so we wouldn't be late to school or practice or a game or some other event. There was cleaning and cooking and laundry and homework that needed to get done. I managed to get through that stage of my life. It wasn't easy, and I learned to prioritize because there never seemed to be enough time for everything.

Now that my sons are grown up and no longer live at home, I have time on my hands - time to read, to go to the gym, to walk my dog, and to relax. School still takes up a significant part of my free time, but now, my schedule is dictated by me. As I look at our teachers rushing off to take care of their kids, I recall the days when my sons were late to practice because I lost track of time.

So what's my message? There will never be enough time in the day to do everything we want so we shouldn't fret about it. In school, rather than worry about "getting through the curriculum," make sure our students have time to be engaged during the lessons so they understand and retain what they learned. Rather than teaching content separately, find ways to integrate subject matter so students can make meaningful connections. Look for ways to work smarter, not harder, and if technology makes our jobs easier, don't be afraid to try something out and see if it works for you. And remember the old saying, "Haste makes waste." It might sound cliche, but it is really true and I have proof - 750 half-sheets of scratch paper!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


First quarter of SY 2017-2018 has come and gone, and I'm taking this downtime to reflect on all the learning that is going on at our school.
  • Our teachers are exploring how to implement project-based learning through one of their units and what started as a first grade project about wants and needs became a school-wide effort to help out a classroom that was impacted by Hurricane Harvey. (Link to HAW article) During this PBL, third graders helped their first grade buddies to edit and revise their letters to the classroom in Houston, and they made posters together to put around campus to publicize the drive. Fourth graders shared information they learned about hurricanes and flooding as part of their slow and fast processes unit. Students are learning what it feels like to make a difference and to have empathy for others. 
  • All elementary schools in our complex are implementing social-emotional learning through Second Step.  Our teachers are sharing that the time spent on the lessons are making a difference in the classroom, and reminding students about what was learned/discussed has paid dividends. The lessons are broken up into Skills for Learning, Empathy, Emotion Management, and Problem-Solving. In today's world, we all can use a reminder about these important life skills.
  • For the past few years, our students have participated in the Cardboard Challenge. Inspired by the film "Caine's Arcade," our CC has evolved from a "make whatever you want out of cardboard" to a game design process using cardboard. During the last hour of the day last Friday, the whole school came out to share their game or to play other students' games. The game design process is not just for technology; it can be for the kinds of games that come from students' minds with rules, strategies, and originality.  Problem-solving and communication skills were evident throughout the process, and the game designers enticed us to play. Perhaps most important, our students were empowered to create something on their own and they were engaged when playing other students' games. I even heard some of them giving suggestions to the game designer; I was impressed with the students' creativity and their positive comments.  
  • Yesterday, two DKIES teachers and I attended a Code.org training with other staff from our complex area. In an earlier blog, "Continuing the #Hour of Code," I shared my concerns about the lack of coding in our schools. After my two-day Altino training and when observing some of our students coding so confidently, I am even more convinced that we need to make time in our school day for these types of activities. All students need to be exposed to coding, and it cannot be just an after school or enrichment activity for a select few. Our Trainer Shane Asselstine asked us to share about the session in 5 words. Here are my 5 words: "Inspiring, committed, challenging, collaborative, FUN!" Code.org's vision is "Every school. Every student. Every opportunity." I agree; now we must implement this vision at DKIES. 
Every year, I am inspired by our teachers who are so willing to try new ideas and our students who  share their excitement about what they are learning. As a principal, there is no greater reward than to see such exemplary teaching and learning going on in our classrooms!

A parent shared this on our FB page after reading the article in the Hawaii Army Weekly:
"This makes my heart sing and my eyes water knowing that these kids, my kid, is learning selflessness and compassion and incorporating it with wants and needs.

This was such a cool game. The student in green drew the creatures on cards. The objective was to blow the ball through the tube to knock down one of the cards. Kids were waiting in line to try it. 

Students waited their turn to play this board game. Who says kids only want to play video games? 

Friday, September 22, 2017

"Be a Hero. Be a Teacher"

Recently, the news media here in Hawaii announced a program to train and retain teachers here in Hawaii. (Star-Advertiser article) I shared this article on Facebook with this statement: "Being an educator is hard work but I have never regretted my decision. Even on the most challenging days, there is something positive to reflect on. What could be more important than positively impacting our young people so they are inspired to make a difference in our world?"  I truly believe that teaching is an art, that great teachers help create excited learners who find their passion and pursue their dreams. I appreciate that the Legislature allocated more funding for "our own" who aspire to become teachers especially those who may already be in the schools and have demonstrated their commitment to education. I sincerely hope that these individuals will take advantage of this opportunity to achieve their dream of positively impacting our young people as a teacher.

The media campaign to "Be a Hero. Be a Teacher"  is a great start, but it's going to take more than that to raise confidence in our school system and our educators. Negative comments from the public are the norm, not just in Hawaii, but nationally as well. It behooves us all to participate in conversations about how our public school system can be improved, but we must be open to new ideas. Here are some suggestions to start that discussion:
  • University programs should follow the lead of the University of Hawaii, West Oahu. Education majors begin taking courses and fieldwork from their freshman year.  They are in classrooms and taking education courses from the beginning. The more experience these education majors have, the better prepared they will be when they have their own classrooms. 
  • All teachers - especially those in elementary schools - should be required to take classes in strategies to teach struggling learners. Students enter kindergarten with a wide range of experiences and challenges that impact their school readiness. Recognizing a student's deficits and providing early, consistent interventions using research-based strategies can mean the difference between catching up to peers or requiring more intensive services in a later grade.
  • Our youngest learners in kindergarten should be "learning by doing." We weren't expected to know all the letters and sounds and numbers when we were in kindergarten. Yes, I know that was a long time ago and the world has changed since then, but let's face it - some students are not ready to read and write in kindergarten. They need more time to develop their vocabulary, to practice their fine motor skills, to listen and to contribute to a conversation, to explore and discover new information, and to create and share what they are learning. They should be looking at books and hearing stories read to them, learning to play cooperatively with others, practicing to share and to think about others' feelings and to problem-solve when things aren't going their way. They shouldn't have to sit and write letters and numbers that have no meaning for them - yet.  Let's acknowledge that learning through play or learning by doing is more developmentally appropriate for our young learners. 
  • The world has changed drastically since I went to school, but schools basically have remained the same. We have charter schools who are implementing innovative practices, but the other public schools have remained the same, structure-wise. Schools are still separated by grade levels and grade level bands - elementary, middle, and high school. Schools still have schedules where students start and end at the same time.  There are standards for each grade level, and despite starting school with different skillsets, all students are expected to be at a certain place at the end of the year. If we assume that we all learn at different rates and have different interests, we might want to rethink the structure of school to be more flexible where age is not the defining criteria and where students might work in multi-age environments on collaborative projects that demonstrate their mastery of necessary skills.
  • As an Early Childhood major, I strongly believe in early interventions and the power of parental involvement to make a difference for students. University coursework rarely includes strategies for working with parents, and teachers are often uncomfortable having parent volunteers in their classroom. Yet, parents can be our best advocates; they see how hard teachers work, how patient they are, and how challenging the job can be. Volunteers in the classroom can mean more eyes and more support for students. Parents are their child's first and most important teacher; let's value their input because they know their child best.
As an educator for over forty years, I can say unequivocally that teaching is an honorable profession, and I can't think of any job that is more important for our society.  To quote Charlie Brown, teachers make a difference. Teachers are heroes.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

"Building Stamina"

I saw this poster as I walked around the school last week. It's in a classroom with a first-year teacher.

"You're doing Daily Five!" I exclaimed. "How's it going?" "We're working on it!" she replied. I encouraged her to keep at it.

I love the phrase, "Building Stamina." There's lots of talk nowadays about grit and perseverance and growth mindset, but personally, I like the word "stamina." When I think of stamina, I think of endurance, determination, and building up to reach a goal. Building stamina for silent reading is a challenge for little kids, but I've seen great progress in Daily Five classrooms.

The trick is to track stamina. I was thinking about stamina today when I went to the gym. When I first started a few years ago, I got very tired on some of those machines, but over time, my stamina improved Yesterday, I decided to try the lateral movement machine for the first time. Well, I was only on the machine for a few minutes, and I was winded. This morning, I woke up with sore muscles which convinced me to use that machine more often. When I went back to the gym today, I got on that machine and stayed on a little longer than yesterday. I'm building my stamina just like those first graders are building their stamina to read quietly to themselves a little longer each day.

A few years ago when one of our teachers asked if she could try Daily Five in her classroom, I was thrilled. I had just read the book and was hoping someone would be willing to try it. Since then, other teachers have used Daily Five literacy centers to help their students develop independence during language arts time while the teacher works with small groups of students on intervention, extension, or enrichment activities tailored to students' needs.

I plan to check on this poster whenever I visit this first grade classroom. Students feel proud when they see their progress on a chart like this, and I hope they realize that "building stamina" is not just about silent reading. They can build stamina in all aspects of their lives!


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Connecting with Our School Communities

Principal-in-Residence, Lisa Nagamine, is working on improving communication between principals, primarily those at the elementary level within the Hawaii Department of Education. She decided to try blogging out information and asked me for suggestions. I admire Lisa; this is a worthy goal but a pretty tough task to get busy principals to buy into reading a blog. As a school that uses blogs to communicate (staff bulletin and weekly DKIES Highlights published by our parent-community coordinator), I made a few suggestions. One of them was to get other principals to share an idea via her blog. Since I made the suggestion, I'll be the first t contribute to the Elementary Principals Forum News and Announcements. 

A few years ago, our SCC asked for feedback from our parents, and one of the suggestions was to improve communication with the school community. At the time, many of our parents were deployed so we decided to use social media to share what we were doing at our school. Today, we have an active Facebook page, a Twitter feed. and use Remind.com in addition to our blogs. We even have virtual School Community meetings twice a year with much better participation than we had with face-to-face meetings.

What social media tool is best for the "beginner?" I started with Twitter and later linked our Facebook posts to my principal account so now, when I post on FB, it automatically tweets to my followers. Now we have more opportunities to share what's happening at our school! One of my favorite bloggers and author of The Innovator's Mindset is George Couros. He presented at the 2016 Leadership Symposium and at the New Principal Academy. I noticed that after those sessions, many more of our principals started Twitter accounts for themselves or their schools. It's been fun to see what's happening at the schools and to learn from others. The great thing about Twitter is with a maximum of 140 characters, the message needs to be simple but effective. Here are a few tweets from this past week:

Let's not forget our Hawaii Department of Education and Superintendent Kishimoto! Follow them and they'll follow you!

As you can see from the tweets, there's a lot of opportunity to be creative or to use photos to tell our stories. Twitter is not only a way to share about our school. It's also a great way to get professional development, but that is a whole other blog that maybe someone else will write for this Elementary Principals Forum and News Announcements. 

I'd like to end this blog by sharing a slide show we created in 2016 to share about how our school uses technology to connect with our school community. I'm sure other principals have ideas to share. Let's use this Elementary Principals blog to connect with others in our Department and share our successes!