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!


  1. Thanks for posting Jan. I wish all people in public education were as dedicated and committed as you. We really need some sort of education reform in this country in the worst way.... but don't get me started.

    1. Chris, what I'm finding is the problems are not isolated to different areas or regions; the problems cross the country in every state and district. There are so many things that can be improved in education. We need strong voices to make our opinions heard. By the way, did Seattle teachers settle on a contract yet?

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