Last night, we had our traditional ozoni or mochi soup, something our family looks forward to every New Year's Eve. Today, we'll be going to Mom's to celebrate the start of 2014. New Year's Day was always a special holiday for us, and it has its roots in Shogatsu which our ancestors celebrated in Japan before immigrating to Hawaii.
When we were little, we always did extra housecleaning before January 1. To this day, I feel guilty if we don't clean the house - including the windows and screens -- prior to New Year's day. I remember playing with firecrackers with our older neighbors in Whitmore Village. It was a ritual to scare away the evil spirits, and we looked forward to the day when we graduated from sparklers to firecrackers. We used a mosquito punk to light the fuse and had to throw it before it exploded. I didn't care for this activity, especially after I held on to one too long and it blew up in my hand. I suffered a minor burn and learned a valuable lesson which probably impacted my attitude today towards fireworks. On New Year's morning, we got up, took a bath to start off the year, then had Mom's delicious mochi soup. I remember going to our grandparents' house to celebrate New Year's Day. We always wore something new, usually a dress we received as a Christmas present the week before.
Time passed, and some of these family traditions changed as grandparents passed away, children got married and had kids of their own, or relatives moved. I'm not sure when we went from mochi soup in the morning to ozoni on the Eve. Fireworks require a permit now as we are more health-conscious and worry about the air quality and noise pollution, and we no longer buy them to "scare away bad luck" before the start of the New Year. As the younger generation start their own traditions with their own families, I wonder if our traditions, based on Japanese culture, will eventually fade away.
Like family traditions which began as part of our culture but changed over time, traditions at schools based on "culture" may be difficult to understand. We've been told that as a new leader, we should go in with our eyes and ears open so we can learn what the culture of the place is. We risk alienating those who may be offended if we come in as a new leader without understanding why things are done as they are. However, by moving forward respectfully with honest discussions, change is not just possible; it is necessary. Every school, under new leadership, has the potential to become better.
February 2014 will mark the start of my twelfth year as principal of Hale Kula Elementary School. There have been many changes in the time I have been here, in part due to the increased expectations for schools to prepare students for a rapidly-changing world, and this is where knowledge of the culture of a place is most important. Is it a culture where the school community works together to address challenges? How do we communicate and work together to ensure the best teaching and learning environment for our students and teachers? Is there a climate where new ideas are embraced, shared, and discussed? What is the decision-making process at the school? Where do we leverage our resources so they have the greatest positive impact on our students?
Every school culture is a reflection of its community. At Hale Kula, our culture is a blend of our unique island culture and the transient nature of our military community. We believe that our school is an `ohana, a family, and that we treat each other with respect. This is especially important because most of our students are an ocean away from the support of their extended family. We believe in providing our students with an education that will prepare them to be successful now and in the future while also embedding an appreciation for the unique history and culture of our state. And finally, we want our students to understand the importance of taking care of our natural resources because their actions today affect our world tomorrow. Our students are global citizens, and their education at Hale Kula needs to prepare them for a rapidly-changing world.
Just as influences beyond our control have impacted our family's New Year's traditions, the ways of doing things at a school may change due to changing times and/or changing leadership. A strong positive school culture can determine whether the changes will be successfully implemented or not. As we move towards major changes in how we determine teacher and principal effectiveness and the impact on achievement, it is my hope that our school's strong culture of collaboration will translate to success for our students and teachers.