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 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!"'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 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!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

What Can We Learn from a Photo?

I love the photos that my friend, Julia Myers, shares.  She is a wonderful photographer, and her photos tell amazing stories. Whenever her family goes on a trip, I can't wait to see what Julia will post on Facebook.

Recently, they returned from a trip to Montana, and Julia did not disappoint. She posted photos that made me smile and others that were more pensive and serious. Amongst her photos was this gem:

Clearly, this was an old newspaper, but how old is it? And how can we find out? According to Julia, "The insulation in this old building was newspaper. Not sure of the date, but it is likely from the late 1800's to the very early 1900's. Look at the prices on it.

Later, Julia's friend posted some information: "Looking at one of the advertisements in your newspaper that is upside down I traced the name back: I found the following. Larry Duggan, Undertaker and Embalmer, Butte, Montana (1901). you can find more on Flick'r. His calling card listed his phone number and address . . . and he also listed on his card that he was a Purveyor of fine Ladies Goods in the West and a ladies Assistant . . . hmmmm???" 

Julia then posted this business card of Larry Duggan, and when I did a Google search, I found out that Larry Duggan was a pretty important person after the 1917 Speculator Mining Disaster in Butte, Montana when 163 miners died, many from asphyxiation. As the undertaker, Larry Duggan estimated the cost of a "proper" burial so families of those miners could collect compensation from the North Butte Mining Company. 

Today, we can learn so much if we are curious and ask questions and explore to discover new information. That one photo that Julia took piqued our curiosity, and because of someone's eagle eyes in spotting Larry Duggan's name on that photo of the paper, we now know much more than we did before Julia posted that photo of the old newspaper. Isn't this what what we should be doing with our students? When they have questions, we help them find answers using different reference materials including a Google search.

One of the skills we are teaching our students is how to generate higher-level thinking questions as an important component of project-based learning. In order to do this, our teachers need practice in asking questions, too. Using photos or artifacts can be an effective way to practice akking questions and then researching to find the answers. 

I am surprised that this piece of newspaper has lasted this long, probably over 100 years. How is it possible that it could still be in such great condition? Amazing!

One photo - look at how much we learned from it!

Friday, July 21, 2017

A Kinder Community of Learners

I've been thinking a lot about how we view people and the misconceptions we have about them. As an educator, this is very real as we have students with challenges, and sometimes, first impressions can be difficult to overcome.

I just finished reading "Wonder" with my grandsons while we were vacationing. I had hoped they would love the book as much as I do, and they did. I wasn't sure if we would finish reading the whole book before I had to return home, but we read whenever we could until we were done.  This is a powerful book (soon to be released as a movie), and I want my grandsons to always "choose kind" especially with those who may be different or have challenges that are not always visible.

In my first job as a Head Start teacher, 10% of our students had special needs.  We weren't trained as special education teachers, but we wrote Individualized Education Plans and provided activities to help all students be successful. Today, that would be called "inclusion." I don't necessarily think that's the right word to use to describe a setting that addresses the needs for all students. After all, we should be including all students regardless of their strengths or challenges.

It is my hope that in the near future, all teachers will be able to address the needs of all of their students whether or not they have challenges. It is my hope that students won't have to be labeled "special education" in order to get the kind of support they need in the general education classroom with their peers. It is my hope that all students will be accepted for their individuality and are not judged by "grade level standards" but by their growth throughout the year. And it is my hope that at our schools, we will be accepting and kind to all students, even those who may learn or look or act differently because everyone has something to contribute.

Oftentimes, we don't see the strengths of the child because we are so focused on what they cannot do. Let's turn things around and focus on what the child can do in order to address their challenges. In the process, we will build a kinder community of learners in our classrooms and our schools.