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!

#dailyfive

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!

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.



Thursday, June 29, 2017

What I Learned from My First Summer Job (and Why I Wish More Teens Today Could Find Work)

Now that it's summer, what are our teens doing? Recently, I read an article, "Kids today: They don't work summer jobs the way they used to". As someone who worked every summer after I turned 16, until I graduated and got my first job, I was a little sad thinking that this seems to be a trend that is a sign of the times. Education is important, but I also think that real-life experiences in a job teaches us life lessons that you might not learn in school.

My first job was picking pineapples. My Dad worked for Dole, and we lived in a plantation community. I was tiny, but it was expected that when we reached the age when we could work during the summer, we would go to work in the pineapple fields. It was a rite of passage, a sense of pride at being able to withstand a summer of working in the hot sun picking the king of fruits. In those days, teens in Hawaii knew they had a summer job picking pineapples or working in the cannery. It was hard work! We were up early and arrived at the trucking station by 5:30 a.m. so we could leave by 6:00.  We worked 8-hour shifts dressed in protective gear so we wouldn't get poked or scratched (we still did though). I look back, and I cannot believe I did that work for four summers. At the time (I am dating myself here), the minimum wage was $1.40 per hour, and each succeeding summer, we would get a slight increase in pay. When there was more fruit to pick, we sometimes got to work on Saturdays, and that was great because we would be paid time-and-a-half! Every Friday, we'd get our paycheck which we would turn over to my Mom for college.

We encouraged our sons to get summer jobs. We felt that they would learn valuable lessons from working during the summer. Two of our sons worked at a moving company and our third son worked as a dishwasher then as a cook at a restaurant. In fact, he kept working while finishing his senior year in high school and continued to work there until he joined the Air Force.

What lessons did I learn from working as a teenager?

  • Work together; you are part of a team
  • Be on-time for work!
  • Be willing to learn from those with experience. Treat your elders with respect and they will share what they know with you.
  • Study hard if you don't want to do this for the rest of your life. 
  • Appreciate your parents. (Note - I didn't fully appreciate my Mom back then, but without her, I would have had to prepare my own meals and do my laundry. Mom knew we were tired after working all day because she had worked in the pineapple fields when she was a teenager.)
  • Work hard and have pride in what you do.
  • Save for a rainy day.
  • When things look challenging, take one day at a time. 

Those four summers were not easy, but I believe they helped to build my character and define who I am today. I wish more teens could have these valuable learning experiences. Oftentimes, the best lessons learned in life are not learned in school; they're learned out in the real world.





Saturday, June 17, 2017

Tribute to My Favorite Dads


On this Father's Day weekend, I want to pay tribute to my favorite Dads.This photo, taken before Boys' Day in 2008, shows the three Dads who are most special to me.

The first is my Dad, Keiji Amemiya. Dad died almost four years ago, but he continues to hold a place in my heart. He was the sole provider in a family with five children, and at one time, there were four of us, five years old and younger. We never realized that we were "poor" because we were rich in other ways. We had a loving family and spent a lot of time doing things that didn't cost money - going to the beach, playing outside, throwing ball with Dad (he was a catcher and quite a ballplayer), singing songs, and being together as a family. When he passed away, I wrote a blog, "Aloha, Dad." Those words are as applicable today as they were back then. I miss my Dad, and every day, I try to live up to what he would expect of me.

My husband, Randy, is Dad to our three sons. His mom divorced when he was a young boy, and he remembers feeling a sense of loss at not having a Dad like other kids his age. His mom remarried, and his stepdad became his Dad.  Randy is driven to succeed. In his professional life in appointed or elected positions, he has made a difference in the lives of those who live here in Hawaii, but I am sure he most treasures his role as Dad and Grandpa. I think Randy sometimes wishes he was more present when the boys were growing up, but that hasn't impacted his positive relationship with them now that they are adults.

Our oldest son, Justin, is a divorced Dad, and he has the boys every-other-week, but he is always a part of their lives. Last year, after visiting them, I wrote "Proud Grandma," which is really a tribute to the way Justin is parenting the boys. It can't have been easy for him to start a career in a new place, but through hard work and innovative ideas, he has been successful. I love the way he introduces our grandsons to new activities and encourages them to be adventuresome, do their best ("Iwase boys never give up! is their mantra), and to be respectful to others.

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The World Looks Different from a PBL Perspective

My husband and I decided to take a vacation to Maui this past weekend. No golf, no plans, just to relax. It was great! We walked part of the Lahaina Historic Trail and learned about the history of the once-capital of the Hawaiian Islands. Later, while waiting for our hotel room to be ready, we went to watch a USTA tennis tournament for adults and got to talk story with someone we hadn't seen since our boys played junior tennis twenty years ago. It was wonderful to catch up with how our kids - now adults with kids of their own - are doing. It brought back memories of all those weekends on the tennis courts when the boys were playing competitive junior tennis.

On Sunday, we planned to go to Iao Valley since my husband had just finished reading a book about the kings of Hawaii and was curious about the Battle of Kepaniwai that took place at Iao Valley where so many warriors died that the river "ran red with the blood of the dead."  Along the way, I saw some signs that said "Restore the Flow." I was curious. . .

Unfortunately, there was a gate at the entrance to Iao Valley. Apparently, a storm caused damage to the parking lot, and the repairs were not completed. We were disappointed, but continued down a side road, thinking we'd turn around and go back to Wailuku. Instead, we discovered Kepaniwai Park, a cute little park with a walking trail and cultural structures that are maintained by different cultural groups who settled in Maui - a missionary house as well as houses from Hawaii, Japan, China, Korea, Portugal, and the Philippines.


As we were walking the trail, I noticed a sign that said, "Caution. Swim at Your Own Risk." I looked at the river and wondered who would swim there. There was very little water, and the rocks looked like there had been no water flow in quite awhile. I realized at that moment what the "Restore the Flow" sign meant. It intrigued me. Why would anyone stop the river from flowing? How did this impact the animals and plants that lived in the river? How long has it been since the water flow was reduced? I realized at that moment that I no longer saw problems in quite the same way. Project-based learning had changed my perspective, and if I were teaching at a school on Maui, I believe that this could be a relevant problem that my students could explore.



As you can see, the river bed is very dry, and the rocks look as if they haven't been under water in quite a while. Look at how white they are!

When I returned home to Oahu, I read up on this fight over the water which was diverted years ago by a sugar company. An article from 2013, "Fight over water's flow" explains the conflict.  I don't know when or if the river will ever be restored to how it was back during the days of the Battle of Kepaniwai. It appears that the fight is not over, and after the storm in September 2016 - probably the one that damaged the Iao Valley parking lot - there are further clashes between the "Residents, activists, and engineers . . . "  So who "owns" the water and what can be done to restore the river to its former glory? Is there a win-win to this problem on Maui? Wouldn't it be great if students could suggest solutions that could resolve this conflict?

Recently, our fourth graders learned about how climate change is impacting native plants and animals at Kahuku Point, and they went on a field trip to remove invasive plants and replace them with native plants. Our second graders are learning about taking care of our community and our earth by reducing, reusing, and recycling, and they have embarked on a campaign to encourage our school community to do our part to reduce the amount of paper we use and to recycle. 

In the past, our teachers created interdisciplinary units that embedded different content - literature, researching, writing, science, social studies, math, the arts - into their lessons, but IDUs were teacher-directed. Today, through project-based learning, students ask the questions that determine what they learn about a topic and how they can share their learning. PBL is student-driven, and it's a powerful way for students to learn. When our students become the activators of knowledge through their probing questions, they begin to realize that they can have a positive impact on their school or their community or their state or their world. This is especially important to us here in Hawaii because we are an island state with limited resources.  Our students and teachers can use the PBL process to collaborate with others to solve problems, communicate their ideas, and to hopefully make a difference in our world. Project-based learning is an opportunity to take a problem and to look at it from different perspectives. It's real-world learning that has the potential to create the kind of global citizens who can make a positive impact on this world. 


Fourth graders were proud to make a difference by ridding the area of invasive plants and replacing them with native plants. 

At our last PBL professional development session, teachers were asked "Why PBL?" They shared responses that reflected their growth in understanding how PBL can engage students in deeper learning and in making a difference in their way of thinking.