Thursday, June 20, 2013

One Year Ends -- Another Begins

I am learning so much from other educators around the country and here at home.  Reading tweets and blogs or visiting and talking with other principals and teachers has provided me with ideas on ways to improve our school and my practices as principal.  It has also given me much food for thought as we continuously reflect on our practices and search for ways to make education more relevant and engaging for our students and teachers.

I recently read a wonderful graduation speech by Chris Lehmann who is principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.  I love to read about his school, and he inspires me to keep believing that we can make a difference, that our students can achieve greatness if we give them the guidance and the opportunity to create their own future.  This week, four of our teachers will be attending the International Society for Technology in Education along with 20,000+ other educators, and Chris Lehmann is being honored as ISTE's 2013 Outstanding Leader of the Year Award.  Also notable is the fact that one of our own teachers, Rachel Armstrong, is being honored as an Emerging Young Educator.  Rachel is our fifth grade Blended Learning teacher, and the success of our program is due to our great team which also includes Rebecca Linford (fourth grade teacher), Megan Cummings (Instructional Media Resource Teacher), and Michelle Colte (Librarian and Media Specialist).  Together, they have created a program which will continue to grow and provide us with ideas on ways to improve teaching and learning at our school.

Construction will begin shortly on our "new" school, and we can't wait!  I find myself looking at buildings more carefully to see how space is being utilized and how furniture is configured. I'm also looking at how art enhances and adds a special touch to the buildings. Recently, I attended a training at the Hawaii Convention Center and spent time each day admiring the Children's Courtyard where colorful artwork is displayed.  I took a photo and sent it to the architects to see if we might be able to exhibit our student work in this way.  I also took lots of photos from my grandson's school where art is displayed prominently throughout the school.  What a wonderful way to share the creative talents of our students!

Left - Students painted scenes of what is special about Hawaii.
Right - A mural made of tiles at my grandson's school

Finally, when I attended a training at Mililani High School, their principal, Fred Murphy, took me on a tour of their new building.  One idea we can implement right away is the school's "Did You Know?" which shared the many accomplishments of their students and staff -- honors they've received, championships they've won, competitions they've excelled in -- from academics to athletics to the arts to service and citizenship.  We can do that at our school, too, and we will!  We have much to be proud of at Hale Kula, and we need to share our accomplishments with our school community.

No time to rest . . . got to get back to work!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Reflecting and Re-energizing

One of the great things about summer is that it provides me with the time to reflect and re-energize.  This past year was a blur; it went by so quickly, and for the most part, I believe we were successful.  We made progress on our academic goals, and we were able to communicate with our school community more effectively through the use of social media.  Our Blended Learning pilot program showed us that students can excel and be self-directed learners if they are given instruction, guidance, and choices, and we are slowly transitioning to becoming a Google school with more on-line collaboration and sharing of files by our staff and students.  Additionally, our design plans and cost estimates were approved, we received the funding we requested, and very shortly, groundbreaking on our new buildings will take place.  We can't wait!

This past week, I had the opportunity to attend two conferences.  I am so grateful to Kamehameha Schools and AVID for hosting these conferences during the summer so educators can attend without having to leave their classrooms.  The Kamehameha conference focused on educational technology, and a number of our teachers were able to attend.  Titled, "Imagine," the conference focused on the possibilities for ourselves and our students if we open our minds to new ideas.  I was blown away by Nirvan Mullick's presentation and his video, Caine's Arcade.  As I listened to Nirvan and heard him share the story of a little boy and his creativity, a statement resonated with me.  "Every child is gifted."  Our job as educators is to find that gift and to nurture it.  I also believe, as Nirvan does, that every child deserves a "gifted" program where students are given opportunities to learn in an enriching, hands-on, collaborative, project-based learning environment.  I have always believed that such an environment has limitless potential to engage students and give them the confidence to explore their passions, and I would like to see our students have more of these opportunities in the coming school year.

AVID was originally developed to close the achievement gap and to make the college dream available to all students regardless of their station in life.  Students are told to "Dream Big" and to believe in the college dream.  From its humble beginnings in 1980, the program has expanded from a high school program for a few students to today's program which spans elementary, middle, high school, and post-secondary education and includes thousands of students.  The training reinforced our commitment to eventually implement AVID complex-wide.  The challenge of our site team (thanks, Tami, Lynele, and Keith!) will be to share how AVID fits in nicely with all of the initiatives at the State and school level.  We have some great ideas for introducing AVID to our teachers!

The one challenge for us will be to take what we are learning about technology in education with the essential components of AVID.  As more and more classes and students create ePortfolios, and as we expand what we've learned about Blended Learning to implement components in the "traditional" classroom, binders and planners may soon be outdated.  However, WICOR (Writing to Learn, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization, and Reading to Learn) are applicable for ALL students if we want them to be successful in life, and we need to ensure that students receive rigorous instruction, learn to ask and answer higher level questions, work with others, and learn organizational skills.  This is particularly important for our highly transient military population.  If our students "Imagine," "Dream Big," internalize and implement AVID strategies, and learn to use technology as a tool for learning and creating, they can be successful wherever they go in the future.  That is our goal at Hale Kula - to prepare our students for success in LIFE!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Personal Reflections

At this time last week, my husband Randy and I were in San Antonio, Texas for my youngest son's graduation from Air Force Basic Military Training.  It was such a proud moment for us, particularly because this is a path he chose to follow after several years of drifting at the university and at community colleges.  When he made the decision not to go back to school, it really bothered me.  As an educator, I wondered if we had done something wrong.  Our son graduated with honors from high school, but he did the minimum required and wasn't particularly motivated to study.  It was evident from the start that he didn't enjoy his college classes.

As a mother, it was hard to see my son unmotivated, and although he had a part-time job, that certainly wasn't a career path.  When my son decided to join the military, I was torn.  As the principal of a school with 99% military dependents, I saw the challenges these students and families face.  Is this what I wanted for my son?

Long story short, my son was accepted into the Air Force, and as the time drew near for him to leave for Basic Military Training, we were all supportive.  We realized that our son had been counseled by his recruiter and he had been reading about what to expect at BMT.  He got advice from others -- his family and friends, his brothers' friends, and from strangers -- and he listened.

The 8 1/2 weeks of Basic Training went by slowly.  Not being able to communicate with him except through snail mail was a challenge in this electronic age.  We looked forward to receiving letters on Thursdays -- several at a time since they were all mailed on Sunday.  We wrote diligently and shared little anecdotes about what was happening at  home.  Frankly, it had been years since I'd written an actual letter; most of our communication with faraway families and friends is through email, text, or Facebook.

My husband is retired, and he would spend his days reading blogs or checking out information on what our son was going through and what he could expect in future weeks, then he'd tell me all about it.  Would our son survive?  Early on, our son mentioned a website and a FB group called AFWingmoms.  That was one of the best resources for us.  There was a group for my son's TRS and FLT where we could share information as well as celebrations. That was such a wonderful support group!

We breathed a sigh of relief when our son said he had done well in all aspects of BMT.  Our plane tickets, hotel and car reservations had been set weeks before, and we would be there for his graduation.  We arrived in San Antonio on Wednesday, and we arrived at Lackland AF Base for the start of graduation ceremonies on Thursday at 6:00 a.m.   Yes, we were early!  The Air Force graduates approximately 600 Airmen each week, and everything ran like clockwork!  The Airman's Run was impressive.  In 8 short weeks, these individuals had bonded and were running together, in formation, chanting as they passed.  Randy and I held a banner for him, something we hoped would stand out amongst all the other banners.  It worked; Jordan saw it and so did others in his flight.

We finally got to tap out our Airman after the equally-impressive Coin Ceremony and at his graduation the following day.  We knew he would look different with his buzz cut, but that wasn't the only difference.  Jordan now stood taller and prouder.  He walked with a purpose.  It is evident that his experiences at BMT had helped to build his confidence in himself.  He now had a whole new set of buddies; they had his back, and he had theirs.  He talked about going back to school, courtesy of Uncle Sam.  He looks forward to completing his training (he is now at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri where they were under tornado watch the other day) and to receiving his duty station assignment.  

I write this because the traditional schooling did not work for Jordan and for others like him.  Yes, he was always in college prep classes and he earned good grades in school, but those classes and that kind of learning wasn't meaningful to him.  He needed to work with his hands, to do projects and to research things that were relevant to him.  I think back to his sophomore year in high school when he and his friends built their own computers from parts they purchased on-line or in stores to get the best price.  I saw him figure out what was wrong when there was a problem with his computer and fix it himself.  I should have realized that perhaps college wouldn't be his path, and it disappointed me when he dropped out.  Well, it appears that he is taking a different path, and the structure and expectations of military life are what he needed to get back on-track.  I have no doubt that this time, he will succeed in getting a college degree.  We are so proud of our Airman and look forward to seeing where the Air Force takes him!