Wednesday, June 20, 2018

My Last Day

I'm sitting here in my office for the last time. My actual retirement day is June 30, but I'll be taking vacation days until then.

It's hard to put into words what I'm feeling. I guess the closest word would be "bittersweet." I look forward to the next step in my journey of life, but I know that I'll miss so much about what has been my "normal" for the past 45 years. I am an educator; I will still be an educator, even in my retirement. Our school vision is "Empowering learners to explore, discover, create, and share." I don't intend to stop learning or sharing my thoughts and ideas.

Casual conversations with others are forcing me to face my insecurities. I told Yuuko that I never really learned to swim because during the summer when I was supposed to learn, I got a rash. The doctor thought it was due to the chlorine in the pool. I expressed regret that I am a poor swimmer so Yuuko decided I need to learn now. She gave me swimming lessons at the Y.  I mentioned to Teri that I was thrilled when I was able to replicate a picture in the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by following the instructions. The next day, Teri brought some art books and art materials for me. (Her husband is a retired art teacher.) When I shared how my grandsons loved the garden at our school, she gave me some gardening tools. Talk about pressure to follow through on my words!

As I sit here in an office that's been mostly cleared out, I am reflecting on the past and looking forward to the future.

What I'll miss most:
  • the people - I believe that it's the students, staff, parents, other school leaders, and those I came into contact with who made this the best possible "job" for me. It was a job, but it didn't feel like a job because I enjoyed myself each and every day. Seeing the growth of our students and our staff was so rewarding!
  • the conversations - I believe that if we don't ask tough questions and really listen to other viewpoints, we are limiting our overall impact. I have grown so much from listening to others, disagreeing sometimes, but always feeling that I have learned from the experience and the discussion. Nothing is set in stone, and listening to different viewpoints made good ideas even better.
  • the challenges - I believe that sometimes, the most difficult challenges help us the most. We have had our share at our school, but putting ourselves in someone else's shoes has helped me to look at challenges from a different perspective. I choose to view challenges as opportunities to work together to problem-solve, to think out-of-the-box to find a win-win. It is possible!
As I reflect on my 15 1/2 years as the principal of Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School (aka Hale Kula Elementary), I feel a sense of calm. I know that as the Department focuses on School Design, Teacher Collaboration, and Student Voice, our school has already been moving in that direction for the past few years. I remember that in my principal interview all those years ago, I shared that as a military-impacted school with students who would be with us for just a few years, my goal was to have them learn and feel aloha so they could take that with them to share at their next school. Today, my vision has changed. I still want our students to learn the important values of our island state, but I want them to also know that through their actions, they can make a difference for others in their school or their community or their state or the world. I am confident that the new principal, Yuuko Arikawa, and her staff will continue to move that vision forward.  

A hui hou, malama pono.

 I was so fortunate to have such a spacious office for the past few years. 

I cross-stitched this for Randy when he was elected to the State Senate back in 1990. When he left office, he brought it home so I decided to put it up in the principal's office when our Administration Building was completed. I am grateful that Yuuko agreed to have me leave it here for her; she will be the next principal. I think the last few lines describe how I chose to lead our school. "I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference."

Monday, June 11, 2018

Our New Normal

It has been three weeks since we heard the news that no parent wants to hear. Our second son, Jarand, had passed away in his sleep. It seemed impossible. We had just spoken to him the night before when he was returning from a Pokemon Go Raid with his older brother, Justin, and two nephews, Jace and Jayden. He was upbeat and spoke about what he had scheduled for the next day.

Jarand had spent a few days in the hospital when he visited Hawaii in January, and when he returned to Las Vegas, he made the effort to change his lifestyle to deal with the heart and kidney issues caused by high blood pressure. In typical Jarand fashion, he followed doctor's orders,  took his blood pressure faithfully and recorded his numbers twice daily, took his medication, ate healthy, and went for long walks. He had been active when he was in Hawaii, playing tennis, bowling, and golfing, but when he moved to Las Vegas, his physical activity declined. Jarand was upbeat and shared that his doctor, whom he described as somewhat of a curmudgeon, had complimented him at his last appointment and told him his numbers had improved. I believe that gave Jarand the motivation to continue what he had been doing, and I cling to the belief that it gave us a few more months with him.

These last three weeks were the most difficult of our lives, and as I look back, I reflect on what has helped us get through the dark days. For me, it was hearing from so many of Jarand's friends, primarily through social media, and realizing how much everyone loved him. It was his boss' comments and the positive impact he seemed to have, especially with new realtors who shared with us about how much he helped them when they first started. It was the remembrances of family and friends who reminisced about our son. It was also my own personal memories of Jarand and what made him special.

I had hoped that Jarand would follow in my footsteps and become a teacher. He had coached his little brother Jordan's soccer teams from the time he was 12 years old, and he was a great coach. He was positive, organized, taught skills and strategies, and made sure the players had fun, showed good sportsmanship, respected the game, and improved as soccer players. Jarand continued to coach or help out teams throughout his years in high school and at the University of Hawaii, even while playing competitive tennis.  I encouraged Jarand to go into education, but he chose to obtain his degree in history instead. I was so disappointed when he told me that he was tired of going to school and did not want to pursue his Master's degree in education.

Three years ago, Jarand decided to leave his job and move to Las Vegas to be there for Justin and his boys. He also wanted to share his love for soccer by helping his brother coach Jace and Jayden. He loved waking up early to watch soccer games on TV, and he was thrilled that Jace would often join him. Jarand was everyone's favorite uncle, often going over to his friends' homes just to play with their children He loved winning stuffed animals at arcades and giving them to his friends' kids or his nephews. One of my favorite photos shows the boys waking up in the morning and discovering the giant teddy bear that Jarand had won for them the night before. Their joy is obvious!

On May 30, the staff at school threw me a retirement party, and Jarand, Justin, Jace, and Jayden were coming from Las Vegas to surprise me. We had the party despite Jarand's passing (though it was no longer a surprise). It was such a special evening, and I was overwhelmed with aloha for all these people who have touched my life. Instead of Jarand being there, Jordan was able to attend in his place. He was able to get a week of emergency leave from his deployment to be with the family. I was so happy to have him with us at this difficult time.

Very few people knew that Jarand had recently applied to be a substitute teacher at Clark County School District. He was looking for a part-time job to supplement his realtor income, and I casually suggested that substitute teaching might be a good option. Again, in typical Jarand fashion, he took action immediately and seemed genuinely excited about the possibility. I thought it was somewhat ironic that just as I was retiring, he was going to experience what it was like to be a teacher. I held out hope that he might even decide to go back to school to become a teacher and do real estate as his side job. Alas, it is not to be.

Randy and I knew that our family needed to be strong and rely on each other for support. I shared with Randy that what was helping me get through this challenging time was a phrase from the movie, "The Last Samurai." When Emperor Meiji asks Nathan Algren (the Tom Cruise character), "Tell me how he died (about the samurai, Lord Katsumoto), Algren replies, "I will tell you how he lived." Jarand impacted so many people in the 38 years of his life. Although I mourn his passing, I choose to remember how he lived. Randy calls this our "new normal." We realize that Jarand is no longer here with us physically, but his legacy lives on. We will do all we can to ensure that he is not forgotten.

As I transition to a new phase of my life - retirement - I am renaming this blog, "A Legacy of Love." It reflects my continuing love for education and my deep commitment to ensuring that our children benefit from the kinds of experiences that prepare them to make a difference. I want them to realize that everyone has something to offer to make this world a better place. Jarand made a difference in many lives; this is how I choose to honor his memory.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

How Can We Provide Meaningful PD for Teachers?

By the end of this month, I will be retiring from the Hawaii Department of Education. My career as an educator began when I graduated with my degree and secured a job as a Head Start teacher. 45 years and thousands of students later, I end my formal career as a principal at Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School. It has been a most gratifying career!

Just because I'm retiring doesn't mean that I won't continue to follow education issues and do what I can to make a difference. One issue that I've grappled with deals with professional development for teachers. Back in early May, I shared this blog, "Making Time for Teachers to Learn in PLCs" with my Twitter community along with this question: How does your school do PD? There never seems to be enough time for Ts to collaborate and learn together. We tried PLCs this year? Do you have other ideas about differentiating PD for Ts? Please share!

Denise Murai saw my post, and in typical Denise fashion, she saw this as an opportunity for school leaders to convene to discuss this issue. She created an event, and we came up with two driving questions:
  • How does your school create opportunity and time for teachers to learn, collaborate, and share in professional learning communities?
  • How can we differentiate PD for teachers?
Yesterday, an intimate group of school leaders met to talk about PD at our schools. I truly believe that sometimes, it helps to start with a smaller group who are invested in the topic. Sharing our successes and our challenges was valuable because one size doesn't fit all. Every school is different, and every school leader is different. What works for one may not work for another principal at another school. However, just listening to other viewpoints and ideas can help us as school leaders to come up with a plan that could work for our teachers. 

I recently read this blog by Katie Martin, "Do We Really Need PD?" Katie explains the difference between "training" and "learning" and states, "If we want to change how students learn, we must change how teachers learn." After all, the goal of professional development should be to not only gain new skills and knowledge but to ensure that student learning is positively impacted.

I believe that we are on the right track at our school in providing an opportunity for teachers to have input in what they want to learn about. Just as we want students to learn from each other, we also want teachers to be able to do the same. The next step is to ensure that these PD PLCs are positively impacting student learning.

Our teachers shared what they learned in the PLC of their choice with their colleagues. 
We need to make time for teachers to share and learn from each other. 

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.