Sunday, May 20, 2018

Inspirational! "What School Could Be"

Back in 2010, Sir Ken Robinson created this "RSA Animate: Changing Education Paradigms." I loved this video and shared it with our staff because it really hit home with me. Since then, I've watched videos and read numerous books and blogs about changing paradigms in education and how schools need to change to meet the needs of our students who will be living in a far different world. More recently, I've watched "Most Likely to Succeed" and "Ka Helena A`o: The Learning Walk," heard Ted Dintersmith speak at the Education Institute of Hawaii Empowerment Conference this past spring and just finished reading his book, "What School Could Be,"

I am excited and feel validated that Daniel K. Inouye Elementary is moving in the right direction. We are a school with 98% military-impacted, transient students who change schools multiple times during their school career. We are responsible to ensure that our students are learning grade level content. However, rather than teaching through textbooks and worksheets, our teachers are committed to making learning meaningful for students, and we are focusing on project based learning and social-emotional learning to positively impact our students and give them the skills and strategies that can help them to be successful wherever they move to. It is not just about high test scores; it is about learning that "sticks."

 Second graders have learned so much from their garden and even built their own compost bin. Parents marveled at how well these students communicated their knowledge. 

Third graders learned a lot about the history of our community and created websites and Flipgrids to share information so those moving to Schofield would feel more welcomed and connected to their community.

This past school year, we began with a cohort of teachers - about 1/3 of our staff -  who were committed to implementing project-based learning with their students. These teachers supported each other via a professional learning community where they shared successes, challenges, and resources. PBL is a shift in mindset from teacher-directed to student-centered learning, and  teachers shared that they found it difficult at first to let students struggle.  In the end, though, students were able to explore, discover, create, and share about what they had learned at a PBL Student Showcase. It was such a success, and now that students and our school community have experienced PBL, there is no turning back. We are already planning for PBL next year with a school-wide driving question, "How can we make a difference?"

Ted Dintersmith shares that in his travels to visit schools in all 50 states, he saw that "transformational teachers are those who help their students develop four important areas of expertise, the PEAK principles": Purpose, Essentials, Agency, Knowledge.  We believe we are on the right path as we implement PBL at Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School. In an article, Ted Dintersmith shares that he is now working specifically with North Dakota and Hawaii! Ted, consider this an open invitation to visit our school when you return to our state. It would be an honor!

Monday, May 14, 2018

"Kaulele - To Soar!"

Our school community was the recipient of a $100,000 Art in Public Places/ Artists in Residence grant. This past Saturday, our artwork was installed. Please see a slideshow about the process. This has been a wonderful learning experience for me! Our school vision and project-based learning processes guided us in our decisions.

Link to presentation: "Kaulele - To Soar!"

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Making Time for Teachers to Learn in PLCs

We had our last Project Based Learning discussion with our staff last Wednesday so we could reflect on our past year and look forward to the new year ahead. (Link to slides) Our final question was "What do you need to move forward with PBL?" because with the success of our Showcase, the expectation is that ALL students will have these kinds of learning opportunities.

Teachers shared their ideas on post-its, and our next step is to have grade level and resource teachers look over all the responses from their colleagues and come up with ideas on how to move forward. Rather than the PBL Leadership Team making decisions (top-down), we will be getting input and feedback from those who will be impacted. We want to hear their voices about how best to address the needs of ALL teachers at ALL stages of PBL - those who were part of the cohort or are the "experts" (compared to their colleagues), those who have received training and are ready to give it a try, and those who are newbies who will probably need more support. I'm excited to see what ideas our teachers come up with.

This past year, we decided to give teachers time to explore a topic of their own choosing as part of our Wednesday meeting schedule. For want of a better descriptor, we called it "Professional Learning Communities." The first step was to ask teachers what they wanted to explore as part of their professional growth. We collected all the responses, categorized them, and had teachers select their top three choices (Link to document). We then divided staff up into manageable PLC groups. Groups were diverse. The number in each group varied, and different grade levels were represented. Teachers were able to work with those they might not usually collaborate with.

One of the most important assignments was to agree on a driving question that would answer the question, "Why are we doing this?" This would help the PLC focus on what to explore and discover. Examples of the driving questions:
  • How can we impact student achievement through play? 
  • How can I as a teacher integrate technology in my classroom to support 21st century learning?
  • How can we create the best and most effective model for co-teaching at DKIES?
  • Why do we want students to be empowered and how do we get them there?
  • How can a focus on STEM (or STEAM) impact student achievement?
  • How will learning and trying out new strategies improve student reading and writing achievement?
Teachers had opportunities to work individually or in their group. They shared ideas with each other and had rich conversations about what they learned. They collaborated to complete tasks and share resources that were then shared with the rest of the teachers through a shared presentation. We gave teachers time to review and comment on what other PLCs shared. Most of the teachers used their PLC explorations as their Individualized Professional Development Plan for the Educator Effectiveness System. As we meet with teachers for their end-of-the-year summary, administrators are having more meaningful and reflective discussions with teachers about their IPDP.

Our last PLC meeting will be a Showcase, an opportunity for teachers to share what they learned and tried out in their classrooms as well as any evidences of their personal learning. We believe that giving teachers opportunities to share and learn from their colleagues builds community and breaks down barriers within our school. Unfortunately, with nearly 70 teachers spread out over a large campus, finding the time to share and learn from each other can be challenging.
Our teachers may not realize it, but they participated in their PLCs using PBL processes. We started with a driving question and they decided what they needed to know. They asked relevant questions and used 21st century skills (collaboration, communication, critical thinking) to research and learn from each other. Teachers had voice and choice in what they wanted to explore and discover with their PLC, and colleagues in other PLCs asked questions or added comments on the PLC slides. These led to discussions as well as validation of the direction the group was going in. Finally, there will be a publicly presented product although it will be just within our school at this time.

As we reflect with teachers on their IPDP, they are sharing concerns with the PLC process. We continue to believe it is an effective way for teachers to explore an area they would like to know more about; however, only one extended PLC Wednesday meeting time per quarter meant that the learning process was not as effective as it could be. As one teacher reflected, "I was hoping that we could spend more time sharing and discussing ways to implement some of the things we researched. I felt like we spent more time researching and talking about what we were learning. We didn’t give ourselves time to discuss what we could implement in class. And with the time in between, I don’t think we remembered our previous discussions and often spent time looking at what we talked about."

I believe that professional development for teachers needs to be differentiated. Just as every student in a classroom has different strengths, needs, and interests, so do teachers at a school. We realize that time to collaborate and to look at student work/data is essential, so next year, we are building in that time during the school day. That will free up more Wednesdays when teachers can meet in PLCs as well as to be more actively engaged in PBL PD that is relevant and/or tailored to their needs.
We realize that time will always be a challenge, but if we believe that something is important, we need to make effective use of the time we have available to us. This was our first year implementing PLCs in this way; next year, we will make adjustments so that the time is structured to maximize collaboration that positively impacts student learning.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Our Inaugural PBL Showcase!

I love this quote from George Couros: "Our responsibility isn't solely to teach memorization or mechanics of a task but to spark a curiosity that empowers students to learn on their own. To wonder. To explore. To become leaders. . . . if students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them."  George started his latest blog with this quote from The Innovator's Mindset. Coincidentally, I'm starting this blog with his quote because it is so appropriate.

We hosted our first Project Based Learning Showcase this past week. Last summer when our PBL cohort of 15 teachers was meeting with Marnie Masuda-Cleveland to learn more about place-based project based learning, we agreed to hold a Showcase on Thursday, April 19, 2018. It seemed like a good date - far enough into the year to ensure that students in those classrooms had the experiences and would be ready to share their learnings with the school community. All teachers knew their grade level standards and decided what their PBL might include and creating a driving question, all the while knowing that things could change depending on their students and their questions.

Our PBL Leadership Team provided training for all staff throughout the school year, and the cohort met as a Professional Learning Community to share their successes as well as their challenges and to get feedback from their peers, all in preparation for that April 19 Showcase.

I'll be honest. We didn't really know what to expect or what a Showcase was "supposed" to look like, but as the year went on, it was evident that students in our cohort classrooms were empowered in their learning, and we had other teachers jump on-board the PBL train. As a principal, I was delighted! We want all of our classrooms to use PBL processes, but we know that initially, we needed a strong team to get on-board and give it a go.

Fast forward to April 19. We had notified our school community about the PBL Showcase, but we didn't really know how many students and families to expect. We were prepared (we have a great PBL Leadership Team who took care of the details including this outstanding handout), and the event exceeded our expectations. As the students were at their stations getting ready to share their learnings, the families filled the cafeteria and learned more about project based learning and why it is  important. (Link to slideshow) Because 98% of our students are military-impacted and transition through different schools throughout their lives, we believe they need skills that are transportable. PBL is perfect for our students.

To say that our students, families, and teachers were proud is an understatement. The students were articulate and communicated with confidence about what they had explored, discovered, and created.  PBL emphasizes collaborative learning, thinking critically, and communicating, and all were on display at our Showcase. One of our parents shared that her child, a rather shy first grader, was nervous initially, but by the end of the evening, after talking with so many parents and answering questions, her confidence was evident. "She couldn't stop talking about the Showcase," her mother marveled. Other parents shared that they had never heard about PBL until that evening; they were impressed and wanted to know why all students weren't given that opportunity. (Video link of Snapshots)

Our plan is to expand project based learning next year and to encourage every teacher to empower their students through PBL.  Project based learning is an integral component of our school's design, and we will be determining a local measure that will be part of our school's Strive HI data. Our cohort will support our other teachers as they begin to implement PBL processes with their students. We may decide on a school-wide driving question such as "How can we make a difference?" which could apply to all of the projects that were shared at this year's Showcase.

Walking into a PBL classroom and observing students so excited about their learning is what we want for all students. As Alvin Lin (@teampueo) shared with our complex principals, "When kids leave our classroom doors, do they see their world as a playground for ideas and learning, that there are problems to be solved, discoveries to be made, and people to be impacted?" I believe that project based learning can have that impact on our students. We cannot only focus on test scores and memorization. We need to focus on deeper learning that sticks, learning that helps students to care about others, to care about their community, and to care about their world.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Learning to Read or Loving to Read?

It's the last weekend of Spring Break. I love these breaks because it affords me an opportunity to catch up on my reading - not just for professional growth but for enjoyment as well. (Hooray for authors like Michael Connelly, David Baldacci, and Lee Child!)

I don't know when I bought Life's Literacy Lessons but I found it this week in a stack of books at home. (Spring Break is also a great time to do some spring cleaning.) I loved that Steven L. Layne shared his views on reading instruction in humorous, nostalgic, and sometimes-blunt anecdotes and poems. I found myself nodding my head, smiling to myself, and basically agreeing with the author's message.

When I began teaching reading many moons ago, I wasn't aware of all the scientific research behind reading. I was not on either side of the reading wars, and for some reason, I missed the political debate over the best way to teach reading. ("The Reading Wars") For much of that time, I was teaching Head Start, and I was shielded from that debate (thankfully). Teaching preschoolers who were from low income families gave me the experiences I needed to understand that hands-on learning was crucial to help students make connections. When I became a teacher in elementary school, I was lucky. The principals I worked for weren't micromanagers, so I was able to teach reading using a variety of strategies; after all, our students were all different, at different levels, and with different interests. 

Here are few of my beliefs about reading, gleaned after over 45 years as an educator:

  • Reading instruction is not one-size-fits-all. Everyone is different and what might work for one student might not work for another. As Steven L. Layne shares in his poem "For the Balanced Instruction Advocate" (page 14),  "Balance is a difficult state to achieve. It takes dedication, perseverance and equal support from all sides. Teachers come equipped with these first two qualities. Why doesn't everyone just stop bickering and help us out with that last part."
  • Students need to be surrounded by a variety of reading materials. We learn to read so we can read to learn. There are those who say that students in grades K-2 are learning to read so they can read to learn later. That is why the reading curriculum is heavy on phonics instruction in the early years. I don't buy that. Kids can learn from the time they are exposed to books and other reading material, and if their interest level is high, they just might surprise you with their knowledge.
  • We need to make time every day to read aloud to students. (Listen to Steven L. Layne read his poem, "Read to Them.") Truthfully, reading aloud to my students was one of my favorite times of the day. I loved holding my kids captive with a great story. In his poem, "Priorities," (page 62) Dr. Layne shares that "It is easy to become convinced that there are more important things to do than read to the kids. I really doubt it." I agree.
  • I don't believe in inundating students with homework, but reading every day should be an expectation. It should be something the student has chosen to read, not something that is assigned based on Lexile levels or to complete a book report. 
  • As the mother and grandmother of boys, I am concerned that many of our boys are turned off to reading because we don't always allow them to read what they want to. I am reminded of a conversation with our school librarian last school year. Some of the kindergarten boys were in a section of the library that was "off-limits" for younger students. (I'm not sure who called me in to intervene; it wasn't the librarian.) Mrs. Colte shared that she needed to rethink the "rules" in the library. Why couldn't kindergarten boys borrow books about football if that's what they wanted? I told her that when I spoke to the boys and told them to put the books back, they knew exactly where they got the books from, and they knew the players and their teams. Let's not force our boys to read what we think they need and let them choose their reading material. 
  • I am not a fan of grade level standards for reading. Students come in at different places as far as reading is concerned. Expecting every student to achieve grade level standards does not take student differences into consideration. I would prefer using a continuum and starting where the child is and then planning next steps in the progression. 
  • There is no reason why we can't use available technology to help our students who need the most help with decoding and fluency. In this article, "The Goal of Phonics Instruction is to Get Readers Not to Use Phonics When Reading," the author shares two strategies that have been successful in producing gains in reading fluency and comprehension: assisted reading (listening to a text simultaneously while reading the text) and repeated reading (practicing several times until the reader can read the text fluently.) Students can independently use technology to help them self-assess their decoding and fluency. They can listen to another person reading the text while following along; they can time themselves to see how many words they can read in a minute, practice reading the same passage a few times and time themselves again to see their progress.  We should teach students these strategies to help them become more fluent readers which will lead to automaticity and hopefully, better comprehension. 
  • My final thought - when I read Life's Literacy Lessons,  "Aliteracy Poem" hit home for me. One of the reasons for going into education was because I wanted students to realize their potential and to realize that we can learn something new every day of our lives. Reading is essential if we want to be life-long learners. Dr. Layne (page 16) states, "Aliterate individuals are those who can read but choose not to do so. I often ask my graduate students, 'If we teach the children how to read, but none of them want to, have we done our jobs?'" I recently asked a 10-year-old who read voraciously when he was younger what he was reading. "Nothing," he replied, "I read in school, but that's it." It puzzled me. When this boy was 7, he asked for the set of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books for  his birthday and finished reading all of them within a month. What happened to his love of reading?  Sometimes in our zeal to get our students to be better readers, we tell them what to read based on their reading level. But  if students don't have the life experiences to relate to a book, they won't find that book enjoyable. Let them choose what to read.
So here I am on this dreary last weekend of Spring Break. Now that I've finished this blog, I'm going to snuggle up in my warm bed and read my Michael Connelly book. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Science is a Verb

I learned science through textbooks. Suffice it to say that I don't recall much from my classes. When I was studying to become an early childhood educator, I was introduced to a new way of teaching science through hands-on experiences. Dr. Pickens from the University of Hawaii provided an "aha" moment for me that I never forgot: "Science is a verb," he shared, and that changed my views as an educator about science.

Our Hawaii schools are expected to transition to the Next Generation Science Standards by 2020, and if implemented correctly, students will be actively sciencing rather than just learning science concepts through books. It will not be easy because many of us who became elementary educators do not have strong backgrounds in science.

Recently, Alvin Lin (@teampueo), a Science Resource Teacher funded through a DoDEA grant. "introduced" the shift to our complex area principals.  As an administrator, my professional development generally focuses on leadership issues or mandatory trainings. This presentation was a breath of fresh air! We were scientists, making observations about "Mystery Fish." I loved the time spent working with my partner, exploring, discovering, and taking notes on our observations.  As I looked around the room, I noticed that all of us adults were absorbed in what we were doing and having FUN! If anything, the time for exploration was much too short!

Alvin then shared a "Tale of Two Classrooms." The results were surprising but at the same time, not surprising. (If you want to read the Bertelsmann Foundation study, here's a link.) The main point of this study: Make learning stick! Stand and deliver is not enough; learning must be student-centered, relevant, and process-based.

I am definitely not an expert in science education, but I do know that it is important for students to explore and discover about their world through sciencing. Kids are naturally curious and ask hundreds of questions, if we let them. As a mom as well as an elementary school teacher, I loved opening up worlds for my children by building on their natural curiosity about the science around them.

Back in 2012, I blogged about an exciting project our students were participating in.  ("Science is an Adventure") Unfortunately, the sea urchin project lasted for just two years, but this is an example of the kind of sciencing that makes learning stick.  With guidance from experts like Alvin Lin, and by collaborating with their colleagues and learning from each other, I am optimistic that our teachers will make the shift to NGSS and teach students to science.

Monday, February 19, 2018

(After Another Mass Shooting) Let's Listen to These Students!

I don't like to get too political in this blog, but this is one instance when I feel I must.

There was another school shooting last week. I am a school principal; an event like this impacts me because I wonder whether all of our practice drills will really prepare us and keep our students and staff safe. Parents send their kids to school and expect us to keep them safe. We take that responsibility seriously.

The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida experienced something no one should have to experience in school. Their friends and teachers were killed in a well-planned attack with an assault rifle by a former student who had been expelled.

The students are angry; they want change; they want to ensure that there are no more school shootings, and they are taking action. They are calling out the political leaders who refuse to change the law that allows citizens, including those with mental health issues, to purchase assault rifles. ("Walkouts, Marches, and Rallies: A Guide to the School Violence Protests after the Florida Shootings") 

I read comments on social media about this shooting. People blaming parents for not disciplining their kids. Others are blaming kids for ostracizing kids who are different. Adults are saying that kids don't know what they're talking about and should be in school, not planning protests or meeting with legislators. These comments anger me. 

At our school, our students are encouraged to "make a difference." This year, students have helped out a school in Houston that was impacted by Hurricane Harvey; others have cleared an area of invasive plants on the North Shore that has been affected by climate change and replanted native plants; students collected canned foods for the Hawaii Food Bank; and others are conducting a toiletries drive to help homeless children. These are issues that are important to our students, and they are taking action. This is project-based learning, real-world learning for students that empowers students to engage in learning that is meaningful. 

This is what students in Parkland, Florida are hoping to do. They want to engage legislators in discussions about something they are passionate about - making sure that their school would be the last school shooting in our country. I applaud them for their leadership. I applaud them for their concern. I applaud them for their courage. I hope they are successful in making the changes necessary to keep everyone safe in school.