Sunday, October 27, 2013

Inspirational and Committed Teachers

I had the pleasure of attending yesterday's Hawaii State Teacher of the Year ceremony, and I was impressed with the honorees!  There were seven nominees, one from each district.  Hale Kula teacher, Teresa Cramer, was the Central District nominee, and she is truly deserving of this honor.

These teachers have taught between 5 and 12 years at their schools.  They are still relatively young educators, but their passion, commitment, and leadership are already evident in the way they have positively impacted their students and the school community.  Sustainable gardens, AVID, science fairs and science projects, relevancy and project-based learning, partnering with the community, a hula halau -- these are some examples of how these teachers have engaged their students and inspired them to strive high.

Recently, Yong Zhao was in Hawaii for a Schools of the Future conference, and an interview with him was printed in the local newspaper.  He speaks out against the standardization of schools and advocates for schools "to capitalize on a technological era that allows students to deeply explore subjects they care about and share their ideas with the world."  That is what Mrs. Cramer does at Hale Kula and what the other District Teachers of the Year are doing at their schools.  I find it somewhat ironic that while there appears to be a move towards standardization with implementation of the Common Core State Standards, adopting a common curriculum for language arts, and assessments which will compare our students with others around our country, our District Teachers of the Year are focusing on the process of learning rather than just content and skills.

As a school leader, I believe that one of my most important responsibilities is to support innovation in education.  We need to keep the spark alive in teachers because they are the ones who will ignite the spark in their students.  Our teachers are encouraged to think out-of-the-box as they address the unique needs of our students and our school community.  Many of our successful initiatives at Hale Kula such as co-teaching classrooms, project-based learning, blended learning, and service clubs were initially proposed by teachers based on the needs of our students. Innovation is valued, and new leaders emerge when their successes are recognized and validated.

 Congratulations to the State and District Teachers of the Year!

Matthew Lawrence from Waikiki Elementary is the Hawaii State Teacher of the Year for 2014.  He is at the far left.  The District Teachers of the Year are shown with  Superintendent Matayoshi and Governor Abercrombie. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Never Enough Time

Recently, principals in our state took a survey, and one of the questions was how much time we spent on schoolwork per week.  Not surprisingly, 78.4% said they spend more than 60 hours per week on-the-job with 19.8% spending 70-80 hours and 11.7% working more than 80 hours each week. Ask any principal, and we all say that while we may not be physically on-the-job, school-related issues dominate our thoughts during waking hours and may even be the cause of sleepless nights.  The principal is where the buck stops, and everything, including educational decisions, increasing academic expectations, budget woes, student discipline issues, safety concerns, facilities problem, etc. ultimately falls on the shoulders of principals.  It's no wonder that many school districts are having difficulty recruiting and retaining principals!

As an "experienced" principal for eleven years, I have empathy for anyone entering the profession today.  If there is one thing we can all use more of, it is more time, especially time to reflect at the end of the day and time for meaningful discussions with colleagues. With all the additional requirements placed on us, it is imperative that principals make time for reflection and to connect with others professionally.

When I was first appointed,  I remember keeping a daily journal, a gift I received as part of the New Principal Academy.  I had good intentions, but writing about what happened every day got to be pretty tedious.  That certainly was not helping me to reflect, and gradually, I was journaling less and less.  Instead, I found myself using the time driving to and from school to prepare for and to reflect on the day's activities. This really helps to focus me, especially when the day is filled with challenges.  At home, doing "routine" chores like cooking, washing dishes, or doing the laundry provides me with additional time to reflect, and later in the evening, I can catch up on tasks I didn't have time for during the day.

Time to connect with other principals is such an important part of the job.  Professional dialogue and meaningful collegial discussions can be validating for principals and provide opportunities to improve our craft. We also need colleagues we can call to commiserate or celebrate with.  Only a fellow principal can understand the challenges of the profession, especially nowadays when there are so many demands of the job. Talking through problems really helps!  I've also discovered another source of support recently via social media.  Reading blogs and tweets has helped me to realize that educators everywhere are facing similar problems, but principals continue to do whatever we can to improve teaching and learning at our schools.  Recently, I joined a community #SAVMP or School Administrators Virtual Mentoring Program. What a terrific opportunity for me to learn from other principals and to share ideas so we can improve as school leaders! On paper, I am mentoring three principals, but the truth is, we are learning from each other. I wish that more principals had this experience, and I am hopeful that this program will continue.

I believe that making time to reflect and connect professionally has helped me survive as a principal.  Despite all the challenges, I can honestly say that I still love what I'm doing and the people I work with, and I continue to learn something new every day.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Reflections on the First Quarter

Fall intersession is over, and like always, I lament that time went by so quickly.   I have good intentions of cleaning my office first (how is it possible to collect so many papers in such a short time?) and to get other required tasks out of the way so that I can really reflect on how we are doing as a school and on how I am doing as a leader.

It doesn't seem possible that back on July 1, our school looked like this.

Today, this is what that same area looks like.

To say that the $33.2 million project has been a challenge is a understatement.  Our greatest concern is making sure that teaching and learning is not negatively impacted by the noise, the dust, and the inconveniences of the construction project. So far, everyone has been accommodating - the contractors, the community, the staff, and our students and their families.  We are truly grateful for funding for this project, and I, personally, am learning a lot about construction!  It is hard to imagine that in such a short time, the contractors have made so much progress on our new buildings!

An unexpected challenge for us this year is our low enrollment and subsequent loss of funding.  For some reason, our actual enrollment is far lower than projected.  Presently, our enrollment is 100 students fewer than last school year, and our geographical boundaries have not changed.  This lower enrollment count meant returning a large sum of money to the State since funding is based on a per pupil Weighted Student Formula. Adding to this shortfall is our loss of Title I funds this year due to a change in how Title I schools are identified in our Department. We are managing, but we will have to tighten our belts for the remainder of this fiscal year.

New teacher evaluations have been challenging.  Although this is a "practice year" with no negative consequences, we are taking the new requirements seriously and are doing our best to put systems in place so everyone can be successful.   With 74 teachers being evaluated in five different components which all require principal support and documentation, I find myself constantly reflecting on the most appropriate strategies to help teachers help themselves.  My philosophy is to give our teachers roots and wings - roots to ground themselves and provide a strong foundation so they can grow and spread their wings, to have confidence in themselves as continuous learners so they can be effective teachers. The challenge is in knowing each teacher and in asking the right questions so I am not telling them what I want them to work on; rather, teachers are reflecting and taking responsibility for their own professional growth and setting their own goals for improvement. With accountability and evaluations a reality, my responsibility as a principal is to ensure that teachers have every opportunity to improve their craft and to positively impact students.   This is where I feel I can have the greatest influence - as an instructional leader.  It is the main reason why I went into administration.

This is my eleventh year at Hale Kula, and frankly, my responsibilities as principal are more demanding now than they were ten or eleven years ago.  I believe the public expects more from our schools - not just in Hawaii but across the nation -- and we need to respond by producing students who can be competitive in this 21st Century world.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Effective and Ethical Users of Technology?

General Learner Outcomes for our Department of Education are the overarching standards for all students in our schools.  GLO #6 is "Effective and Ethical User of Technology."  What, exactly, does this mean for today's students and how can we ensure that our students use technology effectively and ethically, not just in school but out-of-school as well?

In June 2013, Apple announced that the LA School Board of  Education had approved an expenditure of $30 million for the first phase of a 1:1 rollout of iPads.  Within one week of distribution at high schools, several hundred students had figured out how to bypass the built-in security and began using programs which were supposed to be blocked on the devices. LAUSD put a halt to student use at home until they can figure out what to do.

This blog, "Why LA's iPad Rollout was Doomed" shared important issues that must be addressed: hurrying to implement without addressing potential problems; limited teacher training and professional development; responsibility for the iPads when students are carrying them from home to school and back; and the cost of iPads especially when they will be probably be outdated in a few years.

More importantly, though, is how these devices will be used in a 1:1 initiative.  Is it teacher-directed or student-directed?  Are we using the power of the Internet to enable students to take responsibility for their own learning, or are we putting curriculum on-line and expecting students to be more engaged because the lessons are on a mobile device or laptop?

As an elementary school principal, I am an advocate for the use of technology in instruction.  In fact, through a Department of Defense Educational  Activity grant, we are piloting a blended learning program where fourth and fifth graders are assigned a laptop for the year so they can access their instructional program on their at-home days as well as in-school days.  It is amazing to see the growth and confidence of these students when given the opportunity to think critically, collaborate, communicate, and create, especially when they are given choices in what to research and how to share their learning.  It has been a learning experience sprinkled with frustration, however, when we realize that some of the best resources or learning tools are blocked by the Department.

In this day and age, many students use mobile devices to communicate with friends or to play games.  However, when we limit use of school devices to approved programs, we are losing an opportunity to guide students in using their mobile device as a teaching/learning tool and in making decisions regarding credible resources.  Additionally, 1:1 devices should offer students choices on how to share what they learned.  Most of the time when we hear "1:1 initiative," it means that every student has a device with pre-loaded instructional content and assignments submitted on-line as opposed to using paper/pencil.

Our ultimate goal is that all students show evidence that they are self-directed learners, community contributors, complex thinkers, quality producers, and effective communicators as well as effective and ethical users of technology (General Learner Outcomes).  If we want students who are college and career ready, we need to "Teach kids to be their own Internet filter" as this blog shares.  It shouldn't start when students begin high school, however.  We have a responsibility to start this conversation in elementary school by teaching what "plagiarism" is, by having students search for "reputable"  information related to their topic, and using tools like EasyBib so students reference the source of their information when researching.  (Check out this presentation by a group of fifth graders; their individual notes as well as reference materials are a requirement for this project and are linked to their presentation.) When we teach students the importance of being an effective and ethical user of technology, and when we give them tools so they can research to discover or find answers to their questions, students will be more engaged and willing to share their learning.

Hopefully, other school districts won't make the same mistakes as LA Unified School District when rolling out a 1:1 initiative.  Although putting a device in every students' hand is a great idea, ensuring that the devices serve the purpose for which it is intended is the bigger issue.  We want students using the devices to think critically, collaborate, communicate, and create because these are the skills they will need to be successful in the 21st century.  Being an effective and ethical user of technology means more than just following district rules regarding computer or Internet usage; it means that students have access to and can make decisions about their own learning using all the resources available to them.  

#technology #SAVMP - NSJ&J