Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Tribute to a Visionary Principal

On January 26 of this year, we received an email that Paul T. Kobayashi had passed away.  Mr.Kobayashi was a long-time educator and principal at Leilehua High School and Wahiawa Community School for Adults as well as a community leader. The email shared that per his wishes, there would be no services or celebrations of his life.  I was surprised, therefore, to turn to page B4 of today's Honolulu Star-Advertiser to see a beautiful tribute to this life-long educator.   This tribute was presented by Aileen Hokama back in 2006 at a celebration naming the Leilehua Gymnatorium after Paul T. Kobayashi.

I was a student at Leilehua High School when Mr. Kobayashi arrived as the principal.  I remember thinking that he was short and quiet but in those days, getting to know the principal wasn't on my list of priorities.  I don't know if I ever interacted 1:1 with him or whether he even knew who I was.  I was a typical high school student, doing my best to study and get good grades so I could go on to college to become a teacher.

Fast forward - I went to the University of Hawaii, became a teacher, got married, had three sons, and in 2000, I decided to go into administration.  In February 2003, I was named the principal at Hale Kula Elementary School.  As a principal in the Leilehua Complex, I attended the event in 2006 celebrating the renaming of the Gymnatorium.  I remember being surprised when Mr. Kobayashi walked up to me to ask how I was doing at Hale Kula.  We chatted a bit about the challenges of a military school and the impact that deployments were having on our families.  I shared that what I remembered about Leilehua when Mr. Kobayashi became the principal was the new schedule that was implemented.  We had longer class periods every-other-day which was really innovative at that time.  I recall Mr. Kobayashi sharing that it was not easy to change the mindset of the school community, but he felt it would be best for students. Now when I look back on that conversation, I realize how, in his own unassuming way, he was sharing how he made decisions, always keeping students in  mind.

I did not recall the details of that speech by Mrs. Hokama, although I do remember that I was impressed with everything Mr. Kobayashi had been involved with as the principal of Leilehua High School.  Reading the tribute in today's paper made me realize how this man had such an impact on all educators and principals in the Hawaii Department of Education.  The changes he implemented at Leilehua High School have been adopted state-wide:  Learning Option Time which provided more time for students as well as professional development time for teachers; Instructional Councils which later evolved into today's School Community Council; the formation of the Oahu Interscholastic Association and the opportunities for public high school students to compete athletically, and one which directly impacts me as a principal.  Today, all school administrators are members of  Hawaii Government Employees Association Unit 6, thanks to Mr. Kobayashi and others, who realized that in our island state, there must be procedures to allow anyone who meets the minimum qualifications the opportunity to apply for school, district, or state administrative positions.

I'd like to end with this quote in today's tribute:  "In 1972, in an interview in the Central Island News, Paul Kobayashi said, 'In the final analysis, the school must meet the varying needs of the students they serve in terms of the changing dynamics and conditions replete in society today - and tomorrow - the threshold of the 21st century.'"

Thank you, Mr. Kobayashi, for truly making a difference in the lives of so many of us.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring Break is Over - Fourth Quarter Begins

Where did Spring Break go?  Well, for the first time since I've been principal, we had 18 teachers who requested to transfer to our school.  This was an anomaly; most tenured teachers shy away from our school because they prefer not to teach in a highly transient military school.  So much of my Spring Break was spent interviewing teachers.  I must say, though, that I was impressed with many of the applicants, and it's really nice to have options regarding whom we select for the positions.  I firmly believe that the initial interview is so important as it lets the applicant know what our vision for the school is and what our expectations are for our teachers.

This year, I submitted a proposal to lead a session at a Google Apps for Education Summit which took place on Friday and Saturday.  I attended the first Summit last year, and I realized how much more I could be doing with GAFE at our school, and at that time, I resolved to get all of our teachers on-board.  My proposal focused on how we are using GAFE to build our community of learners at Hale Kula.  I was nervous -- I was out of my comfort zone -- and I was worried about technical difficulties.  When this happens at school, I am among "family" and they understand, but in front of "strangers" - well, I was experiencing some anxieties.  Fortunately, my presentation was during the first block, so I was able to get it over with and relax and enjoy the rest of the Summit.  Those who attended my session asked a lot of questions which made the time go quickly.  After that experience, I realize I do have something to share with other educators, and I will look for opportunities at other conferences in the future.

The number of participants doubled since the initial Summit last year, and I'm sure it'll keep increasing as more schools adopt GAFE.  The best thing about it is that it's free, and as a school with limited resources, we appreciate that Google keeps adding tools that we can use to enhance teaching and learning.  Using GAFE, we have the opportunity to collaborate, communicate, think critically, and create and share our learnings not just within our school, but globally as well.  In a time when our policy makers are focused on high-stakes testing, we are preparing our students for a world without walls, where their questions will lead them to explore, discover, create, and share.  It is inspiring to see what students can create when given the opportunity!

#gafesummit   #SAVMP

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Too Many Expectations for Our Good Soldiers


Before the start of the new school year, I made a short video which intended to send a message - a humorous one - that I was aware of all the new expectations for teachers which were part of the contract they agreed to and will eventually tie their evaluations to any pay raise.  I told our teachers that we would get through the school year together, that I would be there to support them and that we would merge initiatives to ensure that everyone would do satisfactorily on their final evaluations.  Now, as we approach the end of the third quarter, I realize that I was being a Pollyanna rather than a realist.

I have been in education for over 40 years, and I believe that teachers are essential to the future of our state, our nation, and our world.  I have worked with and supervised hundreds of teachers, and almost all of them believed they can make a difference for their students.  For them, teaching is a calling, not just a job.  They care about their students; they work long hours to plan lessons which will help their students to progress, and they do their best to be "good soldiers," to do what is expected from their school and their Department.  The truth is that our teachers and our administrators are overwhelmed with so many responsibilities and expectations.  Schools realize the need to change, but too many new initiatives at once is not productive and not research-based.

That is why I was so appreciative to read this blog post from an attorney who used to be a teacher. Valerie Strauss writes from experience and shares an important message:  Teaching is hard work, and it takes a special, committed person to make education their life-long profession.

I remember my first day on the job as a Head Start teacher.  I was excited and thought I was prepared; after all, I had my teaching degree.  I had never set up a classroom - I did my student teaching in the spring so the class was already set up - but I spent a lot of time and managed to make the classroom neat and inviting for my class of 3 and 4-year-olds. When little Eddie started taking the numbers off the calendar, I told him - very nicely but firmly - not to touch the calendar. Then I put the numbers back up.  While trying to console Darren who was crying for his mommy, I heard a scream from a little girl.  Rushing over, I saw Lisa with a bite mark on her arm.  Eddie looked at me with his big eyes and said, "I told her not to touch it but she didn't listen."  My first day of work, and something totally unplanned for happened. Luckily, I didn't quit, and my supervisor didn't give up on me.  She asked me what I had learned from this experience.  Since that first day, reflection has been an essential part of who I am as an educator.

Very few of the teachers I've worked with are not committed to improving.  They take courses, join professional learning networks, share ideas with their colleagues, and spend their evenings and weekends checking assignments and giving feedback, searching for activities that might grab their students' interest in a topic, and reflecting about how they might help that child who has been a challenge.

No one becomes a "perfect" teacher because our students are not perfect.  Some years are more difficult than others, but that makes us stronger and gives us more tools in our toolbox to work with challenging students or those who think out-of-the-box.  Our job as educators is to work with the families and the community to give our children roots and wings, to provide them with a strong foundation so they can have the confidence to blaze their own trail and be contributing members in this ever-changing world.  It is not just the school's job to prepare our students for their future.

And that is why I am concerned with the new expectations for teacher evaluations.  Do teachers need to be observed by an administrator?  Should students be learning in the classroom?  Should the classroom be well-managed?  Should students like their teacher? Should we have expectations for teachers?  The answer is "yes" to all of these questions. However, it's the "how?" that needs to be clarified.

It is the relationship and trust between an administrator and the teacher that will make the difference.  When a teacher is hired at our school, my job as the principal is to help that person to be a confident, reflective teacher who continually seeks to improve his/her practice.  This is a team effort with the school community providing support and assistance.  It doesn't happen overnight and there is no magic formula to becoming a great teacher; in fact, no one ever reaches a level where there is no room for improvement because we cannot predict the challenges our students may have or what their attitude towards school and learning are.  Every day is different, and every class is different, and every student is different, so teachers need to have more than book knowledge; they need to care and be willing to build a positive trusting relationship with every student in his/her class to enable him/her to succeed.

Our world is changing, and the skills our students need to be successful in the future are far different from when I was growing up.  We need innovative, creative teachers who are able to motivate their students to ask questions and search for their own answers.  We need teachers who are able to guide students to understand how to apply the skills they learn in class to real-life problems.  We need teachers who understand that every child is different, and we need to be flexible with our curriculum in order to address each child's individual interests, strengths, and challenges.

As a principal, my worth to the school is diminished when much of my time is spent on required tasks that tell me what I already know.  I know which teachers are doing well and which teachers are struggling.  I know when a class is particularly challenging and which teachers need more support and affirmations.  I know which teachers are reaching out to ask for help and which ones are hesitant to admit that they are struggling with a few difficult students.  Rather than spending my time documenting evidences that I met with teachers to complete their required tasks, I would prefer to have more opportunities for unplanned observations or meetings or to have informal conversations with teachers about successes or challenges in their classrooms.  A trusting relationship between students and their teacher and between teachers and their administrator can lead to risk-taking, confidence, and learning from failures as well as successes.

Our teachers are good soldiers; they do what they're expected to do even if they don't always agree with the task.  I fear, though, that as time goes by and teachers realize that they may not reach their targets, we will see less innovation and creativity and more time spent on bringing scores up to indicate that students made the required growth targets.

This is supposedly a "practice" year that does not count for most of our teachers, so I am hopeful that our education leaders will ask for feedback from those in the field in order to revise the expectations for teacher evaluations.  Teachers and administrators need to be consulted; after all, we are the ones who have the expertise and who know what kind of impact - positive or negative - these expectations have on the entire school.

#SAVMP #halekula