Monday, December 10, 2012

Virtual Learning

We are more than a decade into the 21st century, and much has been written about 21st century teaching and learning, but are schools actually using these strategies in their classrooms?

Last week, I had the opportunity to join others from the Department to meet with personnel from Florida Virtual School which is an on-line public school for students in grades K-12.  The group was small which led to relevant discussions and questions/answers.  Most of the presentation was geared to middle or high school, but we were able to take away and contribute to the discussions because of our experiences with our Blended Learning pilot project.

 Our program blends face-to-face learning with on-line learning. The fourth and fifth grade students in this program come to school three times a week and access their lessons on-line at home on the other days. We are still learning and revising, but here are a few lessons learned from this first semester which were validated by the presenters from Florida Virtual Learning.

a)  Although we had hoped to register 20 students from each grade level for the Blended Learning class, we only have half that number.  Parents were interested in learning more about the program, but they weren't willing to have their children be the "guinea pigs" in this pilot program. This was a blessing in disguise; it gave us time to work out the kinks and to make changes if necessary.  Additionally, according to studies, on-line teachers burn out more quickly than those who teach in face-to-face environments, and this is something we want to avoid.  Our Blended Learning teachers are not available 24/7, but they do feel a responsibility to regularly communicate with their students and parents, and they  are constantly checking for understanding with their students.  Our teachers have stated that this year, they are truly partners in the teaching/learning process with the students and their parents.

b)  We decided that we wanted a rigorous curriculum which addressed the Common Core State Standards as well as projects based on the grade level interdisciplinary units.  Designing lessons to be placed on-line is challenging.  Directions need to be clear and not too lengthy.  Our teachers spent many, many hours with the course designer to ensure that the lessons and assignments were understandable for students.  As they teach, teachers are constantly reviewing and revising their lessons. Although this is time-consuming, we believe that the curriculum our teachers created addresses the 4C's - collaborating, communicating, critical thinking, and creating.

c)  In order to be successful in online classes, students need to be self-directed.  This is one of our Department's General Learner Outcomes, but until now, I don't think we truly defined what this means.   As teachers, we often have control over our classrooms.  Students are told when to listen and when to talk, when to work, when to turn in their assignments, where to turn it in, what to do for homework, etc. There is  very little opportunity for students to learn to organize or manage their time, or even to have choices in their assignments or how to share their learning.  The successful Blended Learning students have learned to budget their time to get all assignments completed in the time allocated.  They have learned to prioritize, to be organized so they can track what they have completed and what they need to do next.  They have learned to ask for help, not just from the teacher, but from their classmates or from tutorials which are placed online for their use.  They are able to choose their projects and to determine the best way to share what they learned.  They are truly self-directed.

d)  If we want teachers to begin integrating technology seamlessly into their instruction, we need to provide  professional development, mentoring, and ensure that they have access to technology  -- computers or mobile devices. One of the expectations of the Blended Learning teachers is that they will share and encourage their colleagues to use some of the resources which are available on-line for teaching and learning.  Students are excited when they are able to use technology to learn something new and to use Web 2.0 tools to share what they've learned.  Therefore, they must have access to the tools to be able to demonstrate the 4C's.

e)  We need to prepare our students from the time they enter kindergarten.  Technology is an integral part of their lives -- both in and out of school -- and waiting until they're "ready" is not going to help them down the road.  Technology is changing so quickly, and an important disposition for students is adaptability/flexibility.  We have seen preschool-aged students playing with their parents' mobile device; we need to make sure all of our students have opportunities at school to use technology and Web 2.0 tools as important learning resources.

This first semester has been a huge learning curve for our Blended Learning team.  For me, evidences of student work and conversations with these students and their teachers have validated what I believe about teaching and learning -- that students are capable of learning so much more when we give them the tools they need to succeed and provide an environment which values independence, interdependence, and individuality.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Giving Thanks

As we approach a three-day school week to celebrate Thanksgiving, this is a perfect opportunity to reflect on my principalship at Hale Kula and all that I am thankful for.  What makes a school special and unique is its people, and Hale Kula is no exception.

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

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

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

May all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Learning from Other Principals

When I decided to join Twitter, I had no idea that I was gaining a professional development opportunity. Originally, I joined to update our parents on activities or happenings at the school, but our librarian told me that I should/could follow respected educators, read posts and blogs and respond if I wish.  I have learned and been informed about much more than I ever thought possible through Twitter.  I can't possibly keep up with everything, so I pick and choose.  It gives me something to read when I have a few extra minutes, or the posts, blogs, and articles provide me with food for thought or validates my own experiences as a school principal.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit an elementary school in another state, and I spent nearly two hours with the principal.  We took a tour of the campus; we discussed funding and the challenges schools are facing as a result of the poor economy; we talked about data and high stakes testing; and we agreed that schools are being asked to do more with less funding.  I marveled at the curriculum the school offers its students despite decreased funding which includes:  learning a second language (they're an International School, and students will be literate in two languages by the end of third grade); music instruction which teaches content, culture, and performance; a Freedom Shrine with replicas of historical documents from American history; and a marine lab which integrates scientific inquiry and discovery as well as an awareness of different habitats.  Clearly, the school is committed to prepare its students to be well-rounded citizens, prepared to face the challenges of the future.

I believe most educators are optimists; we believe that things will get better, and we are committed to supporting our students so they can be successful.  As a classroom teacher and now as a principal, I have always believed that educators can learn so much from each other if we only had the opportunity to share best practices and articulate challenges and possible solutions.  Social media and the Internet provides us with the ability to connect with other educators around the world.  We say that we need to provide students with opportunities to communicate, collaborate, think critically, and create  As educators, we need to have those opportunities as well.  Now, if we just had more time during the day . . .

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Safe School

If we want to transform our school, we need to have a safe school.  We need to assure parents that their children will be safe while they're in our care, and sometimes, it takes a "crisis" for us to reflect and to improve our procedures.

Schools practice emergency drills at least once per month.  Most of the time, we have fire evacuation drills, but we also have lockdown or sheltter-in-place drills as well as school-wide evacuation drills.  Our Safety Committee reviews our procedures and makes revisions to our plans after these drills.  However, a drill is a drill, and we never know what challenges we might encounter in a real-life situation.

This past week, we were placed on lockdown status by the US Army Garrison as a precautionary measure due to a serious phone threat.  Unlike a drill which usually lasts no more than 30 minutes, this lockdown occurred for three hours and it started during the second of three lunch periods.  Additionally, one of our grade levels was on a field trip and would be returning to school shortly.

Fortunately, all of our staff pitched in to assist and provide support.  Although we were never in danger, we are grateful that the US Army Garrison realized the importance of keeping our children safe.  This lockdown provided us with an opportunity to get feedback from staff and to discuss concerns with our school community.

First and foremost, we need to improve our communication system:  the military with the school and the school with the staff and school community.  Thank goodness for social media!  The US Army Garrison continuously posted updates on their Facebook page, and I was able to inform parents through our school Facebook page.  We also used the mass messaging system to let parents know that we were on lockdown status while reassuring them that we would keep their children safe.  We communicated with staff via our phone intercom system; in our busy-ness, we neglected to send staff email updates.  That needs to be improved.

Second, we need to take care of basic needs -- water, food, and yes, even toileting needs.  A three-hour lockdown made us realize that we need to have a plan to ensure that our students have their basic needs met.    Perhaps our PTO can provide water and nonperishable snacks for students to be kept in the classroom in case of an emergency, and yes, a discussion needs to take place regarding restroom needs because there are no toilets in the classrooms.

Third, our school opened in 1959, and because we live in Hawaii , we have buildings which are spread out and open.  This is great because we can take advantage of the tradewinds to keep our buildings "natural" without the need for air conditioning.  However, the openness of our buildings also means that getting students from one place to another during a lockdown is a challenge, and with the windows and doors locked, the temperature in the rooms was sweltering.  We need air circulation in the classrooms, and thankfully, installation of ceiling fans is part of our school-wide renovation plans with completion in about three years.

I was so gratified to read all the parent comments on our Facebook page after the lockdown was lifted.  Most of the comments were positive, and parents were grateful that their children were safe.  Although they were anxious -- after all, we are on a military base and many students have parents who are presently deployed -- parents waited patiently across the street and calmly retrieved their children instead of panicking.

A real-life situation like this is something I wouldn't wish on any school.  However, I know that we will be better-prepared if there is a next time, and hopefully, our lessons learned will help other schools to review and revise their procedures.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Blogger's Block

I'm been having difficulty thinking of a topic to blog about.  In the past two weeks, I've started and deleted several blogs.  The one with the most promise focused on the power of social media as a professional development resource, but somehow, it didn't quite have enough "substance."  Besides, I'm still a novice who's not confident enough to become an active participant in the discussions.

I really believe that without a support group, principals can burn out or are continuously spinning their wheels.  We are often so burdened by all the requirements of the position that we sometimes forget to step back and look at the big picture and why we became principals.  I also believe that principals don't set aside time for professional development -- not the mandatory trainings -- but professional development based on what's best for our school or for ourselves.

That's why I'm looking forward to my upcoming vacation to visit our son and his family.  My grandson just started kindergarten, and I will be visiting his school and meeting with his principal.  I've never met the principal, but I sent him an email and he welcomed my husband and me to spend some time with him.  I'm really interested in learning about how they fund their international school, how their district's growth model works, how they evaluate teachers, and how they're implementing the Common Core State Standards.  I want to see how they teach in an international school and see if it's something we could consider at our military-impacted school.  Finally, the principal will be showing us their marine lab, and maybe we can have some of our classrooms share about our sea urchin project with their students.

This is the kind of meaningful professional development we should be taking advantage of as educational leaders.  I would love to spend a day with another principal and have him/her spend a day at our school..  We all face challenges, but through collaboration, we can learn new ways to tackle problems.

If it's not possible to make time during the school day to develop these collegial relationships, perhaps an online PLC is the next best solution.  I need to look into joining a group and being an active participant.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Reflections on Quarter 1

Tomorrow is our last day of fall intersession.  Quarter 1 is over . . . how could it have come and gone so quickly?

Intersession is a great opportunity for me to catch up on paperwork, reports, and mandatory trainings.  Right now, my office looks neater than it's been for the past two months, though I don't know how long that will last,  Intersession is also a great time for me to reflect on the past quarter and to look ahead to the rest of the year.

We ended the quarter with over 1,000 students.  I don't know where they came from, but despite the higher enrollment, we actually had a quieter quarter.  It appears that the counselors' actions to provide guidance and support BEFORE problems arise contributed to fewer behavioral referrals.  The Positive Behavior Support cadre also made Tribes more visible by sharing a daily morning message, sponsored a door decorating contest, and constantly reminded students and teachers about working together as a school community.

Our grade levels are reviewing data on formative assessments to make instructional decisions, and the data teams are working through challenges to improve teaching and learning in their classrooms.  The process isn't  "smooth" yet, and there are conflicts in ideas, but disagreements are dealt with respectfully.  I always feel that dissonance is a good thing; we need differing opinions and honest discussions.  The end result, I believe, will be a better product.  I am appreciative of our three Data Coaches who have persevered and are building capacity of the teachers to see the value in  asking tough questions and collaborating to ensure that learning is taking place in all classrooms.

Our fourth and fifth grade blended learning classes are blazing trails!  The teachers have created a rigorous and relevant curriculum which challenges students to be self-directed, critical, and creative thinkers, and students have exceeded expectations with their ability to adapt to this new means of learning.  I had the opportunity to view some of the  individual projects, and I was amazed at the work of some of these students when given the chance to explore something they wanted to learn more about.  I look forward to seeing these students continue to blossom as they take charge of their own learning.

The use of technology is taking hold at our school. Our school webpage is full of information, and almost every teacher has created a class webpage to communicate with parents.  We communicate with parents through Facebook, Twitter, and a Hale Kula Highlights blog.  Students and teachers are using technology and Web 2.0 tools to access, to communicate, collaborate, and create their learning.  All of this is happening despite our school's limited wireless capacity which should be upgraded next school year. 

Our gardens as well as the sea urchin project provide real-world, meaningful experiences which have the potential to have a  lifelong impact on our students.  Look at this  fifth grade garden blog or this sea urchin project slideshow to get an idea of the learning that is taking place for our students. Preschool classes learn while raising flowers or vegetables in their gardens; students are tweeting about their school day; classrooms are communicating with children from other countries through epals, and there are many more examples of meaningful learning experiences.

Finally, I'd like to share about the support from parents and the community.  Approximately 90% of our parents attended their child's parent/teacher conference; we had nearly 100 parents participate in the workshops to share about the Common Core State Standards; volunteers came out in force to assist at the Book Fair, the Complex Cross Country Meet, and in classrooms; and just this week during intersession, Weston Solutions, SYNERGY, and DPW provided funding to pave our outdoor classroom.  We are so fortunate to have such dedicated and caring parents and volunteers at Hale Kula!

As I reflect on Quarter 1 of SY 2012-2013, I am amazed at how much we accomplished in eight weeks. With such a great beginning of the school year, we can certainly look forward to continued success as we exemplify our school vision:  Hale Kula Elementary School - Working, learning, and succeeding together!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Every School Has Its Challenges

At the recent annual meeting of the Joint Venture Education Forum, our school was the recipient of the  Norbert Commendation Award for our support to our military students.  We worked hard to be considered for this honor, and the process of applying for the award really helped our school to reflect on all the "little" things we do that makes a difference for our students.

Not everyone realizes the challenges that our military students face such as transitioning to a new school every few years or coping with a parent who has been deployed multiple times in their young lives.  Being in Hawaii might sound wonderful, but being away from extended family and support systems can be very difficult, especially when there are children who require intensive medical services or have other educational or behavioral concerns.  I marvel at the resiliency and the positive attitudes of our students and their families; they work with the school to ensure that their child experiences success.

Because we are the school that services the Schofield Inn, a temporary "home" for families while they await their "permanent" housing, some of our students attend three to four different schools in one year.  I can't imagine what these students must be going through especially those who are already struggling academically or socially.  Supports for these students include our Transition Program, Primary School Adjustment Project, counseling services, Triage meetings with Tripler Army Medical Center personnel, and peer reviews with the District and school staff.  Additionally, we screen all students three times a year using a universal screening tool to determine whether students need additional support in the classroom or from the Response to Intervention literacy coach.  Sometimes, because of their movement from school to school, students have fallen through the cracks, and by the time they enroll at our school, they could be two to three years behind academically.  Hopefully, the adoption of the Common Core State Standards by 45 states, Washington, D.C. and DoDEA will mean consistency in academic expectations for each grade level.

Although most of our students seem to adjust to a parent's deployment, there are some who do not.  We encourage parents to let us know if they feel their child will have difficulty adjusting, and our counselors keep tabs on these students, having a talk-story Lunch Bunch or deployment groups on a regular basis.  The counselors focus their sessions on positive actions or thoughts to help students get through this difficult time and  provide them with coping strategies.  For many of our parents, volunteering at school has been a way to meet others and to do something useful with their time while a spouse is deployed.  We really appreciate their help!

Every school has its challenges, and every school uses its resources to address those challenges.  At Hale Kula, we have been recognized for supporting our military students so they can be successful.  We are proud to be recognized as the 2012 recipient of the Norbert Commendation Award. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Textbooks or Professional Development for Teachers?

This past week, Larry Hahn of the Common Core Institute spoke to our complex area principals about what it means to be College and Career Ready and shared statistics about our nation's poor performance on the PISA assessments.  The Common Core State Standards were created to up-the-ante and ensure that our students are College and Career Ready by the time they leave high school.  He stated that our country was ranked first in one category -- the size of our textbooks.  Other countries delve deeply into content; our country chooses to cover too much in one year.

Our school is struggling to provide the necessary professional development for teachers to implement the CCSS.  It takes much more than reviewing our "old" curriculum and aligning our lessons to the CCSS.  The expectations for teaching and learning are much higher now, and making the change at the school level, in every classroom, is a challenge. Understanding the CCSS takes time, honest discussion, modeling, reflection, and collaborating with our colleagues.  When Planning and Collaboration days were eliminated to balance the budget, we no longer had the opportunity to have those discussions with the entire faculty and to address the individual needs of our school and our students to meaningfully implement the CCSS.

Presently, publishing companies are aligning their textbooks, and states and districts will soon be reviewing these resource materials to select the one that aligns with the CCSS and best fits their needs.  Rather than spending millions of dollars on new textbooks, perhaps we should invest in our teachers by providing planning and collaboration time so they can create relevant, problem-based or project-based learning opportunities which integrate the CCSS as well as the use of technology and other resources.

Larry Hahn stated, "Teachers are good conductors of curriculum, but they should be composers of curriculum."   This statement really resonated with me; there are so many resources available for accessing curriculum as well as for sharing learning, but it takes the competency and the creativity of the teacher to make learning come alive for students.

A few years ago, Dr. Julia Myers, (University of Hawaii, West Oahu) trained our teachers on Lesson Study for math, and the process was  powerful. Lesson Study was developed in Japan and builds capacity of teachers to learn from each other and to observe student learning in the classroom.   Through Lesson Study, our teachers became better observers of students and worked together to design problem-based math lessons and conduct action research focused on a school-wide goal.  However, there were obstacles to full implementation, primarily the cost of hiring substitutes so teachers could develop their Lesson Study plan and ensuring coverage for classrooms so that teachers could observe each other, and debrief and collaborate afterwards.  This is not a problem in Japan where teachers spend 60% of their time teaching and 40% meeting with other teachers to collaborate, plan, and receive professional guidance from mentors.

The CCSS has the potential to change the way teaching and learning takes place in schools.  However, real change will only come about when teachers have the competency to be composers of the curriculum in their classrooms to plan relevant and engaging learning opportunities based on the strengths, needs, and interests of their students.  To accomplish this, rather than spending millions on new textbooks, we need to spend more on ensuring support for our teachers through guided professional development and time to collaborate and learn from others.  Only then will we see meaningful changes in our schools.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Communicating with Parents

I started off my career in education as a preschool Head Start teacher, and I strongly believe in the power of partnerships with parents. Head Start, which is a program for disadvantaged preschoolers, emphasizes that parents are their child's first teachers. I saw, first-hand, the many positive benefits of involving parents in the classroom or at school.  As a young teacher, I realized that we should be creating those opportunities to invite parent volunteers into our classroom to work with students, not just to do clerical types of tasks.  Involving parents as volunteers in the classroom effectively lowered the adult-to-student ratio and had the added benefit of building capacity in the parents to learn skills and strategies for working with their own children at home.

Many university education programs do not teach courses on how to work with or communicate with parents, and therefore, teachers do not always see the benefits of building that partnership.  New teachers are often overwhelmed with the responsibilities of learning the culture of the school, planning standards-based lessons in the different curricular areas, and dealing with classroom management.  They often do not realize the benefits of building strong parent partnerships even before school begins which can start with something as simple as a telephone call or a short note or email/text message to share something positive. When a positive relationship between home and school is fostered, the child is the ultimate beneficiary.

Last year, our school decided to invest in Edline to create a website which communicated more effectively with parents and the school community.  Our school website serves as an information system for site visitors and acts as an intermediary between the numerous stakeholders in the educational process. Our goals are: 1) introducing educational stakeholders to our school, 2) providing opportunities for local and global publication of student work, 3) acting as an intermediary to educational resources and community information, and 4) providing a rich source of locally relevant data. 

Although we continuously updated the website last school year, survey results indicated that  60% of our parents never logged on to Edline to get information about our school.  As a school, we realized that if we are to improve the percentage of parents accessing our website, we needed to give them a reason to get on, and after discussions, we decided that we would encourage teachers to create class webpages. To get to the class webpage, parents would have to access the school site first.

Some teachers had been using class webpages as a way to communicate with parents about upcoming activities or homework assignments, to share information about the curriculum or to post classroom photos. What we noticed was that there were fewer parent complaints from those classes with webpages.  So this year, we "highly encouraged" teachers to create class webpages or blogs.  Right now, about 90% of the teachers have class webpages, although several are still "under construction."  For the most part, I am impressed with the quality of the webpages; they are creative, attractive, and contains lots of valuable information for parents.  We're hoping that the investment up-front will lead to positive relationships and better communication with our parents.

It wasn't easy, and for many of our teachers, we were asking them to do something which was not in their comfort zone.  However, we are fortunate to have teachers who volunteered to help their colleagues get their webpages set up.  Once they got started, some teachers took off, and I am amazed at the individualization of each webpage.  We're sending out the parent activation codes this week, and I am hopeful that this year, our survey results will show an increase in the number of parents who are accessing our school website as a vehicle to get information.   

Friday, August 17, 2012

"Science is an Adventure"

One week has passed since we got our sea urchins.  It was somewhat traumatic - for the teachers :-)  They are concerned that some of their urchins are dying and they want to know if they're doing something wrong.  The urchins aren't eating the specially-designed food, and now it's laying on the bottom of the aquarium.  We don't have the right kind of scale, and we don't know if we're overfeeding or underfeeding the urchins.  Dr. Jones is patient and reassures the teachers that this is normal; we didn't know how the urchins would do when they were moved from one environment to another; we need to try the different foods to see if the urchins will eat them because around November, it'll be harder to get the limu.  He encourages the teachers and tells them that they (and the students) are doing fine, and he concludes his advice with "Science is an adventure!"

I love that line!  Sometimes, as educators, we want everything to come out "perfect."  This is a new experience for us; we have never been part of a project using live animals, and we don't want our urchins to die.  But as Dr. Jones shares, science is an adventure.  That is why I appreciate that these teachers volunteered and are so immersed in this project.  I smile when I read their questions and observations within our edmodo group and I share their concern when things are still so unpredictable.

I remember attending a workshop when I was beginning my career as a teacher back in the mid-1970's. The presenter (Dr. Pickens from the University of Hawaii) wrote this sentence on the board.
      Teachers teach science to students.
He asked us to change the words around to change the whole meaning of the sentence. I was really excited when I figured it out.
      Teachers teach students to science.

As someone who learned science in school primarily through textbooks, this opened up a whole new perspective on how to teach science to my young students.  (Note:  Look up "science" in any dictionary, and it's a noun, not a verb.)  I made it my mission to make sure that students were sciencing in my classroom.  We encouraged exploration and discovery:  we had tools like magnifying glasses, assorted magnets, balances, and even a stereoscope on the science table; students brought in live bugs to feed the green Anole lizard in the terrarium and through their observations, they found out that even if they could catch lots of sowbugs, the lizard wouldn't eat them, so they had to find other food.  We raised butterflies from caterpillars and toads from tadpoles.  I won't forget a parent/teacher conference I had with a father who shared that on the first day of school, his first grader solemnly and very seriously stated, "I like Mrs. Iwase; she has a lizard skeleton on her science table."

Science is not just a subject or a content area we need to teach in school.   Students need to science.  Our sea urchin project, Robotics, and our Hope Garden are wonderful examples of students sciencing.  I'll share about Robotics and the Hope Garden in future blogs.  For now, I'll be encouraging our teachers to teach their students to science and to be adventurers because "Science is an adventure!"

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sea Urchins Project-Based Learning

A year ago, Dr. Rick Jones of University of Hawaii, West-Oahu, came to us with a proposal to raise sea urchins as part of a NOAA grant he had received.  He purchased aquariums and other necessary materials and was ready to serve as our mentor.  Would Hale Kula be interested?  One part of me wanted to say "yes" immediately; however, I realized that the timing wasn't right.  School was just beginning, and teachers had too much on their plates already with the crossover to implementation of the Common Core State Standards.  Sea urchins?  We couldn't count on the kind of interest or commitment we needed from teachers to start something of this magnitude.  Fortunately, Dr. Jones was patient and agreed to put the project on-hold for a year.  The delay allowed us to prepare, a necessity when implementing a project like this one.  This past summer, we received valuable professional development from Dr. Jones and as the teachers learned more, they realized the importance of this project and how our students would now be part of the solution to a bigger problem that is plaguing our coral reefs here in Hawaii.  The teacher volunteers were on-board and committed to participating and learning together.

Yesterday, the sea urchins were delivered.  I wish I could have captured the excitement of the students in every classroom!  They have just started learning about sea urchins, sharing what they already know, asking questions and researching to find the answers.  They are learning to use different resources on-line and in print to discover new knowledge.  These students are not yet aware of why they are raising the sea urchins and the importance of  what they are doing, but by the time these sea urchins are big enough to be released in Kaneohe Bay in about 4 months, the students will  understand about sustainability and stewardship and realize the responsibility we all have to take care of our world.

Our public schools are under fire these days for not "educating" our students to the public's satisfaction.  We hear that our country's scores on PISA are miserable, that our students are unprepared for college, and that America's students are being left behind.  Teachers are being evaluated based on test scores or the growth model (based on test scores).  Companies inundate principals with promises to increase student proficiency in reading, or math, or science if we purchase their product.  As school budgets shrink, principals are forced to make difficult decisions regarding which positions to keep and which ones to eliminate to balance the budget.  Sadly, positions for counselors, librarians, music, and art are often the first to be cut as schools focus their energies on raising test scores to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under No Child Left Behind.

As a principal, I need to balance the goal of ensuring that our students have the skills to meet AYP while also focusing on what education can and should be in today's 21st century world.  It shouldn't be only about passing a statewide assessment with a targeted score.  There is so much more to learning than what can be measured on an on-line assessment.  This sea urchin project will be an example of the 3R's meeting the 4C's!   and I can't wait to see the teaching and learning this year!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Positive Beginning of the School Year

Our first week of school is over, and I can't believe how quickly it went. My favorite part of being a principal is being able to walk into classes and see what's going on.  This year, one of our goals is to build a positive classroom and school culture, and I am encouraged by what I observed on my walkthroughs this week.

At the school-wide level, our Positive Behavior Cadre is tasked with examining data and proactively addressing areas of concern.  Last year, this cadre instituted two initiatives which are really making a positive difference at our school.  One is "Quiet Zones"  and the other is the "Super Eagle Walk." The biggest impact has been in the decreased incidences of student misbehavior in the hallways.  Prior to implementing Quiet Zones and the Super Eagle Walk, we had complaints about students talking and laughing in the hallways, disturbing other classes in session.  We also experienced incidences such as students swinging lunch bags, or pushing others playfully, causing arguments or retaliation.  Now, students know that these kinds of behaviors are unacceptable.  Teachers have stressed the importance of following these expectations, and students quickly get into Super Eagle position and refrain from talking when they are going from one location to another.  It is amazing how we can transform behavior when everyone is on the same page!

The important point to make here is that a positive classroom or school culture needs to be nurtured.  It isn't something that is done at the beginning of the year; it needs to be a part of what we do daily.  Recently, I read a blog by Cammy Harbison about the relationship between student achievement and a strong classroom community.  My wish is that every teacher reads this blog and takes her message to heart.  Students need to feel that they are an important part of their classroom and school community and that they have something to contribute.  Accountability for their own learning starts with a feeling of belonging.  For our highly transient military-impacted students, this is even more important, and this is something we will continue to work on.

I'm optimistic!  We're off to a great start to school year 2012-2013!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

It's Time for the Olympics!

Every four years, we watch and cheer as athletes from countries all over the world compete in the Summer Olympics.  I love the Olympics!  Despite the conflicts between countries that may be occurring at that time, it seems that the Olympics embody what the world could and should be. We cheer for those representing our country, but we also cheer for those who may not win a medal but have overcome adversities to be on the world stage. 

I also love the Olympics for the opportunities it provides for students to learn about so many different aspects of the Games. Encourage your students to read articles or books or watch the Olympics on TV to get some background knowledge, then have them brainstorm questions they may have. Here are a few examples:

Social Studies - Where and why did the first Olympic Games begin?  How did the games evolve from those humble beginnings to become the world-wide event it is today?  In what ways have the modern day Olympics changed from its original inception?  What is the economic impact of the Olympic Games on a country? 

Science -- Science is an integral part of the Olympics.  Look at the swimsuits the swimmers are wearing and compare them to the ones they wore in the last Olympics (which are now banned).  How does technology help athletes' performance?  This AAAS Science NetLinks page has wonderful lessons and makes a key connection between science/technology and Olympics athletes.

Math -- The Olympics provide many opportunities for math, not just for graphing medal counts.  Check out these relevant questions related to math in Go for the Gold from the NY Times or review these questions on Olympic Circles then examine the countries that are participating and their population, and predict which countries will win the most medals.  Students can also compare times for the different races and come up with a statement about length of the race and difference in times between the competitors.

Personal/Social -- There are so many stories of Olympic athletes who have overcome obstacles to stand on the podium.  Wilma Rudolph, Jesse Owens, and  Duke Kahanamoku are but a few examples.  Read "Leadership Lessons from Olympic Athletes" and learn what makes these Olympic athletes stand out from others who may be equally talented.  This is a great opportunity to discuss goal-setting and developing a plan of action for the school year.  Students would then track their progress on their personal goal. 

Teachers can integrate other content areas into a study of the Olympics such as:
Health - How do Olympians train to be at their optimal performance level?  What do they eat?
Art  - What is the significance of the artwork on the medals?  Have students design a medal and explain the significance of their design.
Culminating Activity - Have students plan a grade level Olympics.  Wouldn't it be fun to apply what they've learned to plan some fun activities which integrate science, math, art, and language arts?

Resources - These are a few of the resources available for teachers to teach about the Olympics.  (Teachervision is only free for the first 5 resources you view.  After that, there is a cost to subscribe.)

School begins on Monday.  An Olympics interdisciplinary unit is a great way to incorporate rigor, relevance, and relationships into the classroom!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The School Year Begins!

This has been a busy week!  On Monday, we had a training for the teachers who volunteered to participate in an exciting hands-on environmental project.  Dr. Jones from UH-West Oahu provided us with background knowledge about a sea urchin project where our students will care for,  learn about, and raise these creatures to be released as part of the effort to save our coral reefs from invasive algae.  The teachers are so excited to be part of this inquiry-based, real-world, relevant project which will hopefully have a long-lasting impact on our students and their families!  The tanks are ready, and in about two weeks, we will receive the baby sea urchins.  This will be an example of project-based learning, and we look forward to learning through the 3Rs and 4C's and sharing with the community!

A new school year officially began yesterday when teachers returned to work.  Due to economic challenges in the State, we no longer have professional development days which is really a challenge since a number of State, Complex, or initiatives/mandates must be implemented.  Fortunately, we have a great staff, and they all did their assigned "homework," accessed through a scoopit! curated topic. Their discussions were richer because everyone participated and had the opportunity to reflect on what they read or viewed; it was like a flipped classroom model!  The groups then collaborated to complete an assignment and posted their statements (limited to 140 characters) on  (I wish we could have had more discussion, but teachers were anxious to work in their classrooms, and I promised to honor their time.)  Hopefully, by participating in these kinds of activities which infuse the 4C's, teachers will be able to implement similar kinds of critical thinking activities with their students.

 Our Data Coaches and counselors guided the discussions today with their respective grade levels.  As a school leader, one of my goals is to build capacity of our staff, so instead of whole group training, these teachers facilitated the training and discussions.  This was also an opportunity for building relationships between colleagues, an essential component for successful data teams.  We know that any new process takes time to work through, but if today's discussion was an indication, the data team process will lead to improvement in teaching and learning at Hale Kula.

We are off to a great school year!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Growth Model

Yesterday, educational officers from around the State gathered at the Convention Center for our Educational Leadership Institute. The timing was perfect to celebrate the results from last year's statewide assessment which showed gains in both reading and math. While we are pleased with the overall performance of our students, we continue to move ahead at a fast pace to implement the Race to the Top components including teacher and principal evaluations, the statewide implementation of Data Teams, and a new initiative based on Colorado's Growth Model which measures progress over time and gives an indication of whether students will be proficient in three years or by the eighth grade based on their annual performance on the Hawaii State Assessment.

Today, we had a training session to build our understanding of the Growth Model.  I think it's great that there is a tool now to help us track data.  These past few years, we've been creating our own spreadsheets and meticulously tracking students on the Hawaii State Assessment so we could target those students who had not yet met proficiency.    Generally speaking, this tracking paid off, and with the extra assistance we provided through tutoring or extra support in the classroom, many of the students did improve their scores on the HSA.   

However, I do have some questions.  Can we implement project-based learning which embed the 4C's of 21st Century Learning while collecting the kinds of data we need to analyze as part of the Data Teams process?  As we examine student growth data, what are the instructional strategies which enable non-proficient students to make more-than-one-year gains to get them on-track to meet proficiency?  How can we share information about the Growth Model with parents so that working together, our students can catch up or keep up?  And finally, will there be a similar growth model tool for the  lower grade levels so we can see whether students are on track to be reading and computing fluently by the end of third grade? 

Next week, a new school year begins.  How can we introduce this growth model to our school community so it makes sense and leads to improved teaching and learning?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What Was I Thinking?

Last week, I started a blog about our school's transformation to becoming a 4C's school.  I read that blogging is the new persuasive essay and I was inspired to step out of my comfort zone and commit to documenting our learning experiences at Hale Kula via a blog/persuasive essay.   It is now 11:00 p.m. on a Saturday evening, and I'm sitting here wondering what I was thinking when I made a personal goal to start a blog.

Let me digress.  Since I made the commitment a little over a week ago, I published my first two posts.  I thought it would be a challenge, but I never expected it to be THAT challenging!  I spent hours writing, reviewing, and revising before I finally had the courage to click "publish."  Even then, I kept going back to edit - replacing words, adding or deleting sentences, changing the order of paragraphs.  I read Heather Wolpert-Gawron's blog and checked to see if my blogs qualified as "persuasive writing."  (I'm still setting the stage, so no, not yet.)

What is going to keep me motivated to continue?  Well, first, I want to experience, first-hand, what we will be expecting our students to do.  I'm finding that it will take time and a commitment to teach persuasive writing because initially, it will be a challenge, not just for students, but for teachers as well.

A few years ago, writing was a focus at our school.  District resource teachers worked with our staff to go through the writing process, culminating in an open-mike session where individuals voluntarily shared their final piece, a personal narrative.  The idea was to get us to write with our students and to make a conscientious effort to set aside time for writing every day. (I admit that I journaled every day for a few months, but I wasn't writing anything "substantive" so I gave it up.)

 After that, we  utilized the Standards-Based Change Process and worked with SchoolRise to address writing at Hale Kula.  Unfortunately, and I am rather embarrassed to admit it, writing took a back seat to reading and math when No Child Left Behind Adequate Yearly Progress indicators did not include writing proficiency. Shortly thereafter, the State determined that writing would no longer be assessed statewide.  Teachers were encouraged to embed writing throughout the curriculum, but we no longer analyzed data or agreed on instructional strategies for teaching writing in a grade level.

With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards with an emphasis on persuasive and argumentative writing rather than just personal journaling, the expectations have changed.  No longer can we expect our students to understand and be able to use the art of persuasion in their speaking or writing if they are only journaling or researching and regurgitating information they have discovered.  Persuasive writing needs to take place in every content area.  Does an answer to a math problem make sense?  Why or why not?  What is a problem in our school, and how can we make a difference in addressing this problem?  Which book would you recommend to your classmates?  Why?  How much homework and what kind of homework should teachers assign to students?

Before we can expect students to understand how to write effective persuasive essays, however, we need our teachers to understand that persuasive writing is all around us.  Take a look at this video.  I think I'll use it with our teachers (that is, if we can find it on a site that's not blocked by our Department).

You Tube video

This video opens up so many possibilities for our teachers and students.  I have confidence that they will realize that technology and web2.0 tools are perfect for sharing persuasive writing pieces. I hope to share some examples during the school year.

Until my next post, aloha!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Are we losing our boys?

My family and friends have heard me share my concern that too many of our boys are not reaching their potential in our traditional educational system.  I worry that so many more boys are targeted by teachers at the end of the year as being behavioral challenges in class.  I am concerned when I sit in on yet another meeting for a boy who is identified as learning-disabled and in need of special education services.  I feel guilty every time I think aloud that maybe that boy needs to be medicated.  Sure, there are challenging girls, too, but there are many more challenging boys, and our school statistics validate this statement.

So today when I read David Brooks' blog titled, "Schools are encouraging boys to rebel, disengage," I knew this was an opportunity to share my thoughts about educating ALL students at Hale Kula, not just boys. Mr. Brooks shares some sobering statistics about boys' performance in school and the growing gap between the number of males and females who are graduating from college or attending graduate school.  What can we do as educators to engage our students so that we can turn these statistics around?

I believe that our teachers have high goals for themselves.  They all hope that every one of their students will enjoy being in the class and learn what they need to be successful in the next grade level. Teachers spend countless hours planning for their class, and they sincerely hope their students will enjoy those lessons. It can be frustrating, therefore, when one or a few students upset the classroom with their antics or when they refuse to do their work as expected. So much time is expended in attempts to get those students to comply and often, it is a losing battle of wills between the student and the teacher and sadly, the student often wins.  The result is that the student -- usually a boy -- starts to fall behind academically.  Then, this student is labeled as challenging, difficult, and may eventually qualify for special education services. 

As we begin planning for the next school year, what can we do to change the statistics at Hale Kula?  The first step, I believe, is to build a positive classroom culture where all students feel valued.  Our school adheres to the Tribes philosophy which emphasizes that each person is an integral part of our community of learners with something to contribute.  In the coming school year, teachers will be working with their grade level counselor to address behavioral concerns by utilizing the Data Team Process. Through the process of analyzing data and agreeing on and implementing team-building and cooperative learning strategies in the classroom, we hope to see a decrease in behaviors which may be interfering with learning.  

Building positive relationships means that teachers know their students as individuals --their interests, strengths, needs, learning styles, and what's happening in their personal lives.  Knowing this information helps teachers as they plan engaging and relevant learning activities where students apply skills to create new learning for themselves.  Integrating different content area standards into an interdisciplinary unit, solving real-world math problems, infusing research and technology skills to answer student-generated questions on a topic, and creating projects using web 2.0 tools to share what was learned -- these are ways we plan to engage all students at Hale Kula.  It won't be easy, but by providing an environment and professional development for teachers which supports 21st century teaching and learning, we will hopefully see more engaged students in every classroom and fewer distractions to the  learning process.

Every year when I watch the latest version of  "Did You Know" I am reminded about how quickly our world is changing.  If we don't change the way we teach and learn at Hale Kula, we do a disservice to our students -- boys and girls alike.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

What's next?

Yesterday, I met with some of our Hale Kula teachers who were able to attend the International Society for Technology in Education Conference in San Diego last week. We never know ahead-of-time whether it is "worth it" to send a team to the mainland for a conference. Well, it was obvious that not only are these three teachers raring-to-go with their awareness of new resources, apps, project ideas, and opportunities to collaborate and communicate with others around the USA and the world, they feel a responsibility to be change-agents at our school and in our District. One of the "big ideas" they emphasized in their conversation with me was something they heard over and over again at the conference - if we want to transform our schools,we need to start at the top.

 So taking that to heart, let me reflect on our journey at Hale Kula Elementary School and ponder how to move forward to infuse 21st Century technology skills and knowledge to equip our students for success in their future.

 When I became principal in February 2003, our technology lab consisted of fifteen old Macs. Classrooms were lucky if they had one computer for student use. We were already in the 21st Century, yet our students and teachers had limited access to the tools they would need to be successful. Today, thanks to generous grants and a different formula for school funding, we have two tech labs and three mobile labs, an iPad lab, an iPod Touch lab, and computers in every classroom. However, if I am honest about how we are using these tech tools, I have to admit that we are still in the early stages of implementation. These tech tools are mostly used to practice skills, take assessments, or to research information for a unit the class is studying.  Where are the 4C's which define how students should be using technology -to develop critical thinking, to communicate,  to collaborate, and to create?

Some of our teachers have embraced the use of technology with their students.  After attending local conferences or training sessions or by observing other teachers model use of a web2.0 tool and trying it out themselves, they are hooked.  We have exciting examples of student work as a testament to possibilities of what can be done.  However, we need to ensure that every student in every grade level has the opportunity to gain the skills they need to demonstrate the 4C's through their work.

So what's next?  Step one is to model the use of  tech and web2.0 tools in my role as principal.  With a new school year beginning in less than three weeks, there's not much time left to plan!  As we move forward towards a change in how we teach and learn at Hale Kula, my goal is to use this blog to share reflections, successes, lessons learned,, and next steps.  Hopefully, I'll have lots of student examples to share!