Saturday, August 31, 2013

Opportunity to Model Math Problem-Solving

We have been struggling with the Common Core State Standards for math.  Our teachers have been studying and trying to align their mathematics instruction with the CCSS since the standards were released a few years ago.  However, implementation without gaining a full understanding of the CCSS with its Mathematical Standards of Practice led to some frustration. After analyzing our students' math scores and reviewing released items from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), we knew we had to change the way we teach mathematics at our school.

We have been concerned about mathematics instruction for several years now.  Working closely with Dr. Julia Myers, a former parent at our school, we identified areas of need and planned professional development sessions for groups of teachers, grade levels, or the whole faculty. Over the years, we implemented Lesson Study, discussed ways to use children's literature to teach math, followed the Standards-Based Change Process for math, and had numerous school-wide workshops and professional development sessions focused on math. (In fact, I just went back to my old files from 2007-2008 and retrieved an activity we used on Math Misconceptions because it so happens that I'm presently reading a book titled Math Misconceptions.)  Despite all the different professional development activities we planned for our teachers, however, teaching and learning of mathematics has not made much of a difference at Hale Kula as evidenced by our fluctuating scores on statewide assessments or national screening tools.

This disparity between what I envisioned for math instruction and what was actually happening in classrooms was troubling to me.  I believe that the majority of our elementary school teachers feel more comfortable teaching language arts than they do teaching math, and although many have changed their math instruction to include the use of manipulatives or technology, we weren't seeing the results in student math performance.

Our math instructional coaches and I had honest discussions after we reviewed grade level student work for a problem-solving activity we assigned earlier this month.  After much honest reflection, I realized that my idea of problem-solving was not the same as the teachers', and that it was my lack of clarity in providing guidance that led to the disconnect between what I was expecting and what was actually assessed.  What could I do to correct this disconnect?

Fortunately, we had a school-wide Wednesday meeting scheduled for that week.  I decided on my plan.  After sharing brief observations about the grade level problem-solving tasks and student work samples, I read the description about the CCSS Mathematical Standard #1 from a Math Coach's Corner poster.  I asked the teachers what stood out for them after hearing this description, and they shared phrases like "stand back," "let them grapple," "use questioning strategies," and "provide support without giving the solution away."  In our effort to have students "feel" successful, we were depriving them of the opportunity to "make sense of problems and persevere in solving them."

We then assigned a problem, an SBAC-released extended response item, and teachers got to work.  I felt proud as I walked around, watching them as they worked, and noticing the strategies they used.  Teachers were attacking the problem from different vantage points; some were using the calculator on their phone while others were thoughtfully figuring out what they needed to do to come to a solution.  The discussion afterwards amongst four teachers, all from different grade levels, was equally valuable.  Teachers were clearly demonstrating the Mathematical Standards of Practice by justifying their process, questioning others about their reasoning, using mathematical vocabulary, communicating clearly about their process, and most importantly, they were making sense of the problem and persevering!

Modeling problem-solving by having teachers be the students was invaluable.  They saw the importance of the process and having students participate in discussions.  They realized that while the answer is important, having students explain their thinking is more important because we need to see where the errors are and what concepts might need reteaching.  Additionally, teachers realize that a good problem allows multiple entry points and that we need to give students time and encouragement to persevere.

In their reflections, teachers shared ideas on how we can improve problem-solving at Hale Kula. We look forward to continued growth to "Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them."


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Aloha, Dad

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about why I became an educator, and I shared that my parents inspired me.  They gave me roots to ground me and wings to pursue my passions.

Yesterday, my Dad passed away.  We will miss him dearly because he was a wonderful person who gave so much to others.  He is an example of unconditional love, never asking for anything in return.  As I reflect today on how he has impacted me, I realize how much Dad taught me, not through lectures or words, but through his actions.  What I have learned influences how I interact with others and how I approach life.

Treat others well - Dad loved being around others, and he instantly made strangers feel comfortable. If he had negative thoughts, he never shared them aloud.  Dad was assertive when he needed to be, but I never heard him raise his voice at anyone.  He was respected because of how he treated others.  As a school leader, this is how I strive to treat others.

Work hard - Dad never finished high school, but he rose through the ranks at his company through hard work.  My siblings and I all worked in the pineapple fields during the summer months, and that experience taught us the value of hard work.  Mom and Dad never had to convince us to study hard in school so we could go to college.  That summer experience alone made us realize that we wanted something better.  My Dad never had the opportunity to go to college, but he made sure all of his children had that chance, and he was proud that we are all successful in our chosen professions.

Serve others - At every school we attended, Dad served as a PTA officer, usually as the President.  He coached youth baseball and was a Lions Club member for 52 years.  Ever since I can remember, Dad was involved in the community.  Today, my siblings and I all give back to our community, through our professions and as volunteers, and we will continue to honor Dad by serving others.

Enjoy life - Dad loved fishing, golfing, growing and sharing vegetables from his garden, going to sports events, vacationing in Las Vegas, cooking his special chicken hekka and Filipino chicken, and get-togethers with his extended family.  He taught me that it is important to make time for fun. I have great memories while growing up of going to the beach, throwing ball and playing games outside, and running races (which Dad always won, even after giving us a big lead).  In recent years, I enjoyed golfing with Dad, and our last three trips to Las Vegas were with my parents.  Too often, we are so committed to our professional responsibilities that we forget to make time to enjoy life.  Today, I work hard, but I also make time to have fun and to relax.

A few days before Dad's surgery, my husband and I took my parents out to dinner.  We had a great time, reminiscing about the past and sharing our hopes for the future. Dad was so hopeful that the surgery would be a success, and we talked about him going fishing or golfing again. Things don't always work out as we hope, but for me, the wonderful memories of Dad and the way he lived his life will forever influence me as I strive to positively impact those around me.

Thank you, Dad, for all you taught me.

I'm glad Dad was able to celebrate with me at a luncheon for the District Principal of the Year award in April.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Welcome back, Kolea!

Today, I spotted my first Kolea of the season as I was waiting to tee off by hole #1 at Mililani Golf Course. The arrival of these birds always amazes me!  Frankly, I wasn't aware of these birds when I was younger, but in recent years, I've discovered more about these remarkable creatures.  Kolea are territorial, going back to the same location every year.  They live in Hawaii from the time they arrive in August until late April or early May when they leave to spend the summer months nesting in Alaska.  The amazing thing is that these small birds fly non-stop, almost 3,000 miles to get to Alaska and 3,000 miles back to Hawaii! 

Every time I see Kolea around the school, at parks, or the golf course, I am reminded about the lessons I can learn from these remarkable birds.  Just as the Kolea are focused and know where they want to go, I need to be a focused leader.  Every year, we work together as a school community to create our Academic Plan with a few targeted goals. By working and learning together, success will be more achievable.    

I cannot imagine being a bird as small as a Kolea, flying that kind of distance without stopping until reaching my destination!  It takes perseverance and withstanding challenges to be successful.  Likewise, as a school, we need to persevere despite the challenges that confront us. I feel disappointed every time I read negative comments about our educational system because I know how hard our teachers and staff work to support students so they can be successful, not just in school, but in life.  Teaching and learning is not just about the academics; rather, we need to give students opportunities to develop characteristics such as perseverance, to understand that anything worth doing will take effort and hard work.  This year, our teachers will be evaluated using the Educator Effectiveness System, and it will be a challenge.  However, by persevering and supporting each other, all of us -- teachers and administrators -- will improve as educators. This will lead to more effective teaching and learning at our school, and that is -- and will always be -- my goal as a school leader.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

My Vision for Hale Kula

Recently, I took a risk and signed up to participate as a mentor in  the School Administrators Virtual Mentor Program . #SAVMP creator George Couros shared that he expected to get 35-50 requests to participate.  He got 350!   I was assigned three administrators to mentor - from the United States and Canada -  and I look forward to learning with my mentees as we go through this school year together.

Last week, we were asked to blog about "Why I Lead" or "Why I am an Educator."  We shared our blogs on a Google+ SAVMP mentor community, and it is evident that everyone is committed to learning while leading.  What an impressive group of committed school leaders!

This week, George suggested we blog about our vision for our school.  As a school leader, we need to be the keepers of the vision, always bringing decision-making back to the core of our beliefs about our school and where we are headed.

When I was interviewed for the principal position at Hale Kula back in 2003, I was asked about my vision for the school.  I remember sharing that because most of our students are military dependents, my vision was that they would embrace the unique culture of our State while getting an education which would prepare them to be successful wherever they went after leaving our school.  This remains my vision for Hale Kula despite the changes in policies, changes in standards, and changes in personnel at the school, District, and State levels.

I must admit that with the emphasis on statewide assessments and making Adequate Yearly Progress, it was sometimes challenging to focus on our vision.  Part of this lack of focus was my fault, as the principal, in setting a goal every year to make AYP.  I realize that test results are only one measure of success, and I am relieved that our State was given an exemption to No Child Left Behind.  (Now, we will be measured on student growth as opposed to a "magic" score of 300 to be considered proficient.)

My vision is to have every student be successful when they leave our school so I want Hale Kula to be a place where:
  • everyone is included as part of a learning community, and every person is valued for their strengths.
  • everyone strives to be the best they can be, and we support each other to achieve our goals.
  • there is a genuine attitude of caring for each other.
  • learning is meaningful and relevant to the real-world.  Students apply skills and strategies they have learned to complete relevant assignments such as writing a letter to a class in another country, reading to find answers to self-generated questions about a topic they're interested in, or solving relevant math problems such as comparing which store offers the better value on a product.  
  • students and teachers collaborate on projects and assignments and take responsibility for their own learning.
  • students and teachers care about our community and strive to make a difference now and in the future.
Some of these kinds of teaching and learning are already evident at Hale Kula.  For example, as part of their social studies unit on communities, our third graders brainstormed ways to help families who were devastated by Super Storm Sandy.  Our fifth grade Hope Garden is an example of sustainability, and students lead tours for the community during Earth Day activities.  Additionally, our sea urchin project is a great example of how our students are making a difference.

Steve Jobs stated, "If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don't have to be pushed. The vision pulls you."  I am still working on something exciting that I care about, and my vision for Hale Kula continues to pull me every day! 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Why Am I an Educator/Lessons Learned

I come from humble roots.  My mom was a secretary who became a full-time mother while we were growing up.  My dad worked his way up from laborer to a respected supervisory position at Dole Company. Education was emphasized in our home, especially since my dad, the oldest child in his family, was obligated to quit school after his eighth grade year to go to work.  When I look back to my early years, I  marvel at how my parents, with very limited resources and no real training, were able to instill in my four siblings and me a deep desire to learn and to appreciate what we had.  We went to the beach, took trips around the island, sang and put on performances for our parents, caught the bus to borrow books from the library, made carnival games out of boxes and invited neighborhood kids to come and play, and went hiking down the gulch to pick guavas and lilikoi. It was a great way to grow up!

I decided to become an educator when I was five years old.  I loved going to school, and teaching, to me, seemed to  be the most wonderful job!  Throughout my school years, I never wavered from my goal to become a teacher, and it is a decision I have not regretted.  All of my siblings are successful professionals as well, all in different fields.  I think this is a tribute to our parents who gave us roots to ground us and wings to explore our own passions.

I taught for 27 years until I went into administration.  Right up until my last day in my classroom, I loved teaching!  My philosophy of teaching and learning grounded me with every group of students I worked with: student-centered, hands-on learning, differentiating, parent involvement, building personal relationships with each child, problem-based, inquiry-based learning, and the importance of giving students choices.  I had never aspired to be an educational administrator, but a chance question by my then-principal - Have you ever thought about going into administration? - started me on a new journey.  

Today, I am in my eleventh year as the principal of an elementary school.  To be honest, I never thought when I accepted the position that I would be here this long, but I continue to love what I do and can't imagine being anywhere else.  Through the years, I have grown as a leader, and I would like to share a few lessons I've learned along the way:

a)  We cannot lead if no one is following.  A leadership title does not guarantee anything. People will follow a leader they trust, and trust is earned.

b)  Leadership is a shared responsibility, and every person has something to contribute. Create opportunities for individuals to collaborate so their strengths can be appreciated and leadership skills can be cultivated.  

c)  Diverse viewpoints make for richer discussions. We will not always agree, but through respectful discussions, our win-win solutions are often better than what was originally proposed.

d) We all make mistakes, but when there is a trusting relationship, our staff will be comfortable about sharing their concerns with us.  It's okay to admit that we may have erred, but it's also okay to be firm in our decision.  The principal is ultimately responsible, and as long as we have a reasonable explanation,  most people would accept our decision.

e)  Never stop learning.  Just as we want our students to be life-long learners and to pursue their passions, we need to model that behavior.  I've learned so much from everyone around me including those in my virtual communities.

f)  Support each other.  Leadership can be lonely, and having a support group -- colleagues, spouse, family, friends -- is important especially after a particularly difficult day..  

g)  Play!  We need to take time to smell the flowers and enjoy life and to take care of our health and well-being.  When I'm golfing with my husband on the weekend, I try not to think about work and just appreciate the opportunity to do something I enjoy.  We all need to play!

I look forward to continuing my learning as a member of this #SAVMP community!  Thank you for this opportunity to participate in this new venture!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Making Connections and Building Relationships

School year 2013-2014 is off to a great start!  This is going to be a challenging year due to a new teacher evaluation system, a new way of determining school proficiency, and new expectations for school administrators. It was important to get the school year off to a positive start!

A  number of our teachers were busy this summer, attending conferences, trainings, and participating in professional development opportunities.  Our Blended Learning team was fortunate to be able to attend the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in San Antonio; others attended AVID training; one of our teachers attended the Exxon Phil Mickelson Teacher Academy for Math and Science and another attended a training at the Library of Congress on how to use primary resources in our teaching and learning.   Additionally, teachers attended the Kamehameha Technology Conference and others participated in training for Achieve 3000 or Thinking Maps. I mention this, not just to share the professionalism of our teachers in trying to improve their instructional practices, but to show how we needed to connect all of these trainings to ensuring that teaching and learning at Hale Kula is meaningful and engaging.

With the implementation state-wide of the Educator Effectiveness System, teachers will be evaluated, based on five components.  Our goal is for all of our teachers to be successful because we know that an effective teacher in the classroom has the most significant impact on student performance and student achievement. Therefore, we needed to make connections and to realize that by working together with our colleagues, we have a better opportunity to ensure that all of our students and teachers are successful.

Planning our first day agenda takes a lot of thought.  I wanted to make sure we had time to make connections between the Educator Effectiveness System and other initiatives from the State, District, Complex, or our school while building relationships at the same time.  With a relatively large faculty (about 75 teachers) and a lack of designated school-wide professional development days for the past few years, new hires often did not have opportunities to meet or work with other grade level teachers.  For this reason, it was important to use our administrative time wisely.

Earlier this summer at the Kamehameha Tech Conference, we had the pleasure of hearing and meeting Nirvan Mullick who produced a video called "Caine's Arcade."  I watched the video several times and shared it on my personal Facebook page. I knew that I wanted to share it with our teachers, too.  "Caine's Arcade" was the perfect video to discuss problem-solving and the attributes of a problem-solver, and while we all agree that Caine is bright and creative, demonstrates perseverance and definitely is a critical thinker and problem-solver, as educators, we don't give our students these kinds of opportunities in the classroom.  I considered having material available so teachers could work in teams to create something out of cardboard, but a cardboard challenge would take too long.  What kind of activity would be shorter, a little less open-ended, but still engage our staff to work in teams while problem-solving?

Our librarian/media resource teacher shared The Marshmallow Challenge with me, and I knew it would be just right for our purpose!  Teachers worked in teams of 4 (I put the groups together ahead-of-time), and part-way through, we removed at least one teacher from each group and had them switch with another teacher.  We had puzzled looks, and teachers shared that they thought they had done something wrong when we asked them to switch groups.  Some didn't want to change because they were comfortable with their group, and they were actually a little upset.

After reflecting on the experience, we had teachers complete a google form to collect comments.  Our librarian-media resource teacher used a Smilebox slideshow to document feedback as well as a Wordle to capture feelings of the participants during The Marshmallow Challenge.  (Note - the larger words were mentioned more often.)  One of the reflective questions we asked was, "How did it feel when you were asked to move to a new group, and how did you fit in to your new group?"  We wanted teachers to make the connection between how they felt as a "newcomer" in the group and how our students feel when they transition into our school.  (Each year, we have several hundred who transition after school begins.) I loved this teacher's comment:  "When I got switched to a different group, I thought about kids who come into our school as new students. It made me reflect on my experiences as a teacher welcoming new students."

After this uplifting, fun activity, our teachers were more engaged and participatory during our mandatory training.  Continuing to build on the new relationships they were forming, teachers worked in groups, jigsawed the required assignments, and shared what they had read to ensure that everyone got the same information.  They then posted comments, questions, or feedback on sticky notes on a canvas.

This reminds me of something our AVID trainer said to us during our training this summer:  Why do we leave the "fun" activities till the end of the day or the end of the week IF we have time.  Perhaps if we mix it up and occasionally give students engaging assignments at the beginning of the day, we would have fewer tardy students since they wouldn't want to miss out on an enjoyable activity!  

Today was our first day with the students, and it went well!  Here's hoping the remaining days are just as good!