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.