Thursday, December 24, 2015

Are You Busy?

I recently read a blog post on Facebook titled, "Busy is a Sickness." At this time of the year when everyone seems to be preoccupied with finding the right gift, grumbling about the crowds at the shopping center or the lack of parking spaces, this blog made me reflect on "busyness."

As an educator, I know that our work is never done. I remember wanting my classroom to be "just so" or the lessons to be so well-planned that all of the students would be totally engaged. I spent extra hours at school and at home, preparing for the next day or the next week. And then, I got married and had children, and my classroom was no longer the most important thing in my life. I realized that no matter how many hours I stayed at school, I would always find something else that needed to be done, so I learned to prioritize. I had to pick up the kids at the sitter's or preschool or their after-school care. Later, they had team practices and then homework to complete. After all, there is a bit of expectation when a parent is also a teacher!

I look back on those days and I realize that no matter how hectic life was (especially with my husband involved in politics and electioneering), I enjoyed those days. Was I a grouch somedays? I'm sure I was, but I enjoyed parenting and teaching and yes, even electioneering. We had mostly home-cooked meals, and the house was often not as neat as I would have liked, but we were a pretty happy family.

I am sure I used the word "busy" but I hope I didn't use it as an excuse. The truth is that being able to juggle everything really made me a better person. I also think my sons were more independent because I wasn't always able to sit down with them to do their homework; I expected them to do their homework independently. If they needed help, they could ask. The boys chose what sport they wanted to play, and I volunteered to coach them when they first started. When they were older, the boys also got involved in political campaigns. We were a "busy" family!

Today, life is less hectic. The sons are all on their own, and it's just my husband and me. I have more time for myself - no excuses any longer about not going to the gym regularly - and I can read and learn from my professional learning network. I work hard, but I make time for play as well.

As a school principal, I never know what the day will be like. Some days are calm and I can do what I enjoy best: visit classrooms and talk with students about what they are learning. Other days are back-to-back meetings or one "crisis" after another. Despite those hectic days, when someone comes and knocks on the door and asks, "Are you busy? I want to share something with you; it won't take long," I try to make the time for them. I might say, "Well, I have a meeting in five minutes, but sit down." I realize that these small conversations go a long way to building a trusting and open relationship with our staff.

After reading "Busy is a Sickness" where the author shares that we stress over "busyness we control," I am much more sensitive to using the word "busy." I think that just changing our mindset to "life is full" can make a difference in how we view what is important in our lives and maybe everyone will be more relaxed and less stressed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Schools Need More Funding

This past week, "No Child Left Behind" was officially replaced by the "Every Student Succeeds Act." This is President Obama's legacy to education which includes a commitment to ensure that students are college and career ready when they graduate, a focus on pre-kindergarten and innovative programs, and providing wrap-around services for 'vulnerable' communities. ESSA still requires annual testing for students in specified grade levels, but teacher evaluations will not be tied to those scores.
"With this bill, we affirm that fundamentally American ideal - that every child, regardless of race, income, background, the zip code where they live, deserves the chance to make of their lives what they will."  President Barack Obama

I look forward to seeing if anything will change in our Department and the State as a result of "Every Student Succeeds Act." As a school principal and an advocate for early childhood education, I hope we can make meaningful changes that positively influence schools.

Recently, the Hawaii State Teachers Union proposed increasing the General Excise Tax by 1% in order to more adequately fund education in Hawaii. It appears that the proposal to increase the GET faces difficult hurdles at the Legislature in the coming session. As a public school educator for over 40 years, I implore our elected officials to find ways to increase the pot for public education in Hawaii.

Every year, principals review the funds allocated to their school and make decisions on how to address the needs of their students. When schools are expected to do more with less, our students, teachers, and the school community suffers. In recent years, schools have had to implement initiatives such as the Common Core State Standards, Response to Intervention, and Positive Behavior Intervention Supports.  Additionally, schools are preparing students with necessary 21st century skills such as STEM, project-based learning, and computer science. All of these require additional staff, professional development, and funding for resources to support teachers and students. As schools juggle new initiatives while preparing students to be college and career ready, the DOE is dealing with higher costs for electricity, student transportation, and special education services. Basically, the amount of funding has not increased to keep up with everything the public expects of schools.

If increasing the GET to benefit public education is not feasible, then policy makers need to discuss ways to increase the pot so that everyone in the State benefits. If we want our students to be competitive in this new world, we need to come up with a plan to ensure that our schools are adequately funded. Let's get that conversation started and come up with solutions. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving Thanks 2015

When I first started blogging, this was one of my first posts. That was back in 2012, and since then, I have continued to blog and share my thoughts with our school community. I think this "old" post is still reflective of how I feel about Hale Kula, so I am re-posting and updating it since so many of our families are new to our school. Happy Thanksgiving to our Hale Kula `ohana!

This Thanksgiving day in 2015 is a perfect opportunity to reflect on my principalship at Hale Kula and all that I am thankful for.  What makes a school special and unique is its people, and Hale Kula is no exception.

All of my schooling has been here in Hawaii, and I can't imagine being uprooted in the middle of the year and having to go to a new school, make new friends, learn new rules, procedures, and curriculum, and adjust to these new surroundings. Yet our Hale Kula students are asked to do this not once but multiple times in their school careers.  More often than not, this is occurring while a parent is attending training or is deployed.  Our students make the best of their situation even while they are missing a parent who may be off-island for training exercises or who may be deployed and in harm's way.  I marvel at their resilience, and my hope is that they will take what they've learned at Hale Kula about aloha (love and compassion), lokahi (harmony and balance), kokua (extending a helping hand to others), `ohana (family), kuleana (responsibility), and malama (to take care of) and share it with others when they leave Hawaii.

I am grateful to the Hale Kula parents who support our school and trust us with their children. Military  parents' lives are so different from what I experienced as a young mom when I had family and friends to support me.  Being uprooted from their system of support is a challenge, and their confidence in our school to take care of their children is a responsibility we take seriously.  To the soldier parents who have committed to serving and protecting our nation, I send my heartfelt thanks. And to the spouse who is left behind to take care of the home and the family while the soldier is deployed, you deserve kudos for all you do.  It takes a strong person to accept and adapt to military life and often, you turn every new change of duty station as an adventure and a learning opportunity for your family.  Mahalo for all you do.

I am so honored to be at a school with such a great staff.  I love going to work every day because I work with people who care about our school as much as I do.  Others may not realize the challenges of working with a highly transient military population, but your commitment and pride in your work is what makes our school so special.  I hope you realize the positive impact you have, long after the students and families have left Hale Kula and Hawaii.  I am truly proud to be part of our Hale Kula `ohana.

May all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Encouraging STEM for Girls

Last Saturday, we had our inaugural Super STEM Saturday for Girls Only! event - 2 hours of exploring, discovering, and creating. It was great fun for the 50 or so girls and their parents who attended. We intentionally decided to focus on our girls because we knew that they would be overwhelmed if the boys were also participating.

Our keynote speaker was one of my former students. Jennifer Eugenio is now an engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers, and I was excited when she said she would be part of our inaugural Super STEM Saturday for Girls Only! Jennifer is young, smart, articulate, and a wonderful role model for our girls. She gave good advice to our young engineers:
  • Keep up your good grades
  • Get used to working in teams 
  • Explore and try new things 
  • Question everything 
  • Never be afraid to make mistakes 
I have three sons and two grandsons, and as an educator for 40+ years, I can tell you that boys and girls learn differently. Boys are more apt to dive in and try something rather than to plan it out first. If it doesn't work, they don't hesitate to take it apart and try again. Many of the girls at our STEM Saturday workshops were more methodical. They thought carefully before trying something. I watched some of them as they created their prototypes first, and I was struck by how much thinking and planning they did before actually constructing something. We had 15 different stations for the girls, and some of them only got through a third of those activities. In fact, that was a suggestion from parents who attended with their daughters: they asked that we plan a longer day because two hours was too short. 

According to the article, "Ask the Experts: How to Get Girls into STEM?" just 1 in 7 engineers is a female, and only 27% computer science jobs are held by women. I think our elementary school girls enjoy science, math, and engineering as much as our boys, but somewhere along the way, they decide that is not the profession they aspire to. Yet we know they can be successful. The other year, we had three fourth grade girls who made it to the World Championships; I hope that this experience might persuade them to continue to pursue this field of study. 

One of the great things about our Super STEM Saturday is that our girls had the opportunity to work with lots of female engineers and scientists. We had wonderful and enthusiastic female volunteers from the 130th Engineer BDE, The Links, Incorporated, students from Leilehua High School, and Leilehua Complex and Hale Kula teachers. I am confident that in the future, we can attract even more volunteers!

As a school system, we need to provide more opportunities for our students to be design-thinkers and problem-solvers. We should have materials available in every classroom for students to work collaboratively to create and construct and to re-think and re-design to make something better. We also need to encourage students to reflect on what they are doing and to understand that failure is just an opportunity to make something better. Too often, we, as adults, step in to try to help our children rather than let them learn from their own mistakes.

It is my hope that our girls will not be a minority if they decide to go into a STEM field when they are in college. Events like our Super STEM Saturday for Girls Only! will hopefully inspire our girls to realize all the opportunities available to them.

Here's a link to a Google presentation about our event. And yes, we will definitely have a STEM day for boys as well. Some of them are asking about it already!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Schools of the Future Conference

I attended a Schools of the Future Conference today. I always enjoy meeting up with fellow educators I haven't seen in awhile and to make new connections. The keynote speaker was awesome; I've been following Chris Lehmann on Twitter (@chrislehmann) for awhile and saw him in Atlanta at the ISTE Conference when he shared what to expect the following year when Philadelphia was the host. I purposely chose to attend today so I could hear his keynote. I certainly was not disappointed, and his passion for public education and teaching kids to prepare for their future was inspiring.

I was invited to participate in a poster session on the topic, "Using Technology to Connect with Our School Community." I envisioned the poster sessions at ISTE where there is a large area and lots of groups sharing their projects or their products. The atmosphere is exciting as each person or group - many of them students - are proud and anxious to share their projects. I was impressed and recall that I wished our students could have those kinds of opportunities.

So I prepared a poster board and a Google Presentation with links and QR codes and had a slide show running on my computer. Well, the poster sessions certainly did not draw a crowd, but I did have the opportunity to share with a few people. It was disappointing, but as I reflected, I realized that this whole experience was not a waste of time. As I was working on the slide show and poster board, I realized how much our school is using technology to connect with our parents and our community. It was difficult to choose just a few projects to share because there are so many examples of different ways we are sharing what is going on in our classrooms and at our school. So I decided that I should share the link to the slide show.  I'm sure our staff would be proud of what we're doing at Hale Kula to connect with our school community. Here's the link to the presentation, "Using Technology to Connect with Our School Community." It's just a small portion of the great things our teachers are doing to connect with our families and community.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

An Honest Question from a Parent

Last week was Student/Parent/Teacher Conference Week. I love how our teachers have figured out creative ways to have students share their learning and their goals with their parents and allow time for teachers to share information about how the child is doing in class.

After one of these conferences, I received an email from a parent. She stated that her child is flourishing in her class and she believes a lot of the credit goes to the teacher. However, this parent expressed concern that we do not have a common curriculum at our school. Specifically, she asked why we did not have common language arts and mathematics books so all students have a consistent curriculum. I appreciate her questions and the fact that she felt comfortable about sharing her concerns with me. I speculate that her concern stems from the fact that our military-impacted students are transient, and this parent wants to be sure that her child will have the tools to be successful when they move to another duty station. This blog is a means of sharing our school's philosophy of teaching and learning and hopefully, to allay her concerns about our curriculum.

As a State educational system, we are required to follow the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics and the Hawaii Content and Performance Standards for Science and Social Studies. The standards are the curriculum, what we teach and all grade level teachers refer to these standards when they plan their lessons. However, at Hale Kula, we give our teachers flexibility in how they teach the curriculum; we do not require our teachers to follow a specific program although there are resources available if that is what they choose to use.

In the past, we have had school-wide curricular programs. When I became principal back in 2003, we were using Success for All as our reading program. Then we purchased Harcourt Trophies. For math, we have used Silver Burdett, then we purchased Math Investigations and then Math Out of the Box. These program materials were costly and also required professional development for teachers as well as annual expenditures to replenish the consumables. When the Common Core was released, teachers sat together as grade levels to make sense of the standards and to create their year-long matrix as well as a pacing guide. Because students had different needs, teachers wanted flexibility in the resources they used and how they taught the standards. We were, in fact, ahead-of-the-game and began implementing the new standards before we were required to do so. In essence, teachers were creating their own curriculum.

As the principal of our school, I trust our teachers to make the right decisions for their students. I believe that they all have college degrees in education and know the pedagogy of how best to teach their students.They know that students are all different and what works for one student may not have the same impact on another student. They search for engaging and challenging activities on-line or attend workshops or conferences (often on their own time) and are willing to try new, innovative ways to reach all of their students.

At our school, teachers address many of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts through interdisciplinary units that are based on the social studies and science standards. Our teachers are constantly reviewing and revising these units to update strategies and resources they can use including the use of technology and relevant and meaningful projects. We have students writing letters to Crayola to ask why Hawaii is not included as part of their Recycling Markers program. Other students are creating public service announcements to raise awareness of global issues such as recycling or bullying. Still others are learning about the unique challenges of living in an island state and the sustainability of our indigenous plants and animals.

Our teachers know that they will have my support if they want to try new strategies for teaching and learning. That is why a number of teachers are using the Daily Five or learning centers in addition to whole group instruction. Teachers teach mini-lessons then students have a choice of what they want to work on in their daily rotations while teachers work on interventions or circulate to provide support to individuals or small groups.  Other teachers use art and problem-solving games as a means of applying math concepts. Interdisciplinary unit projects often look different even if students are focusing on the same essential questions and big ideas because student questions and interests may take learning in a different direction. In some classes, students try out new technology tools, and those students then teach others. By allowing teachers flexibility in how they teach and then providing opportunities to collaborate and exchange ideas, strategies, and resources, all of our teachers have improved their professional practices.

But this isn't a free-for-all, teach-whatever-you-want-to curriculum. Teachers are still responsible to ensure that their students can demonstrate that they meet the standards for their grade level. This is why our teachers meet in grade level teams to agree on their matrix of what standards will be taught and when they will be taught. This is why grade level teachers agree on common assessments for reading, writing, and math. This is why they share student work and analyze results to ensure that students are learning what they need to. . This is the expectation for all teachers and part of their accountability measure for their evaluation.

I am so proud when I see our students so excited to share what they're learning. I want every one of them to believe that they can achieve success and to feel confident about themselves as learners.
Recently, I have read a number of blogs or articles about unhappy teachers who no longer feel the joy of teaching due to mandates, over-testing, and the continuous focus on data analysis. Those kinds of teacher attitudes will negatively impact student attitudes towards learning. Our job as educators is to encourage and inspire our students to follow their passions. and to give them the tools to achieve success.

This is a pretty long-winded response to that parent's inquiry about a common curriculum. The bottom line is that it is the teacher in the classroom who makes the difference. This child is flourishing because she has a teacher who continues to learn, to seek new ideas, and to collaborate with her colleagues, and she has a mother who is involved in her education and asks questions to advocate for all children at the school.

Monday, October 26, 2015

98% of Hawaii Teachers Rated Effective or Highly Effective

The news came out today that 98% of Hawaii public school teachers were rated "Effective" or "Highly Effective," and the number of "Highly Effective" teachers went up from 1,846 (16%) in school year 2013-2014 to 4,206 (35%) last school year.  In the article, members of the Board of Education shared their concern that the "methodology may not be rigorous enough and might be producing 'false returns.'"

No one should be surprised by these results. Back when SY2014-2015 began, those of us who evaluate teachers knew that we would have a much higher number of "Highly Effective" teachers, primarily because we had gone through the challenges the year before and knew what to expect and what teachers would have to do to earn the higher designation.

Really, this is no different than what happens in classrooms. We tell students what the learning targets are and what success criteria looks like. Then we give them experiences and guide them through the process so they can be successful. In the case of the Educator Effectiveness System, teachers were told exactly how they would be evaluated, and 98% were successful in meeting the target for Effective or Highly Effective. Teachers' observed lessons provided lots of evidence of student engagement and learning; their Student Learning Objective results showed that students progressed and achieved the targets the teacher initially set at the beginning of the year; and teachers were professional in their dealings with their colleagues and contributed positively to the school community.

Does this mean that all teachers are equally effective or highly effective because they earned that rating? Not necessarily. We are not grading teachers on a bell curve. Just as all students can meet or exceed proficiency based on grade level standards, 98% of Hawaii's public school teachers met or exceeded the standards that they were evaluated on.

With these kinds of results, it will be a challenge to change the evaluation system now. This year, most tenured teachers will not even have a formal observation done, and their Student Learning Objective results do not have to be submitted on the pde3 site. The only major change to EES this year is that all teachers are working on an Individualized Professional Development Plan and will be reflecting on how their IPDP helped them to improve student achievement and learning.

Whatever the changes are made next school year, I am confident that 100% of our Hale Kula teachers will be rated "Effective" or "Highly Effective." That is what they expect of themselves, and our job as administrators is to support and guide them so they can reach their goal.

Collaborating with colleagues is one way our teachers improve their teaching and learning practices. 
This year we are working together to create a writing continuum with student samples from our students. It's messy work, but the end product will be worth it, and all teachers are invested in the process. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Tribute to a Special Lady

Tomorrow is my Mom's beiju, her 88th birthday, a special one for the Japanese. The beautiful thing about being in Hawaii is that despite being generations removed from the first immigrants from different countries, we still celebrate certain cultural events, and the 88th birthday has special significance.

My Mom is a private person so we won't be having a big celebration - just the kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids who live here in Hawaii. It'll be a nice time to gather to celebrate with this very special woman.

Grandma died during childbirth when Mom was just about a year old, so Great-Grandma Waka helped to raise her and her two older brothers until her dad remarried when my Mom was in the fourth grade. Great-Grandma Waka died just before I was born and my middle name is Wakae to honor her. My Mom sometimes reminisces about the things she did when she was younger, and I think I get my "tomboy" personality from her. She graduated from Mid Pacific Institute and Honolulu Business College and was working at Dole Plantation as a secretary until she met my Dad and got married. After that, while we were growing up, her main "job" was wife and mother.

Back when I was young, I didn't realize how much my mother shaped our lives. It couldn't have been easy; there are five of us siblings, and at one time, there were four children ages five and younger.Yikes! I look back and wonder how they managed on my Dad's paycheck, but they were resourceful. Dad had a garden where he grew a variety of vegetables that were served at dinner.The least popular was okra; Mom tried to cook it in different ways so we would eat it, but after that one harvest, Dad never grew okra again. There was a time when they bought chicks, and when they matured, we were in charge of collecting fresh eggs every morning. We lived in a plantation community so at that time, it was not a problem to raise a whole batch of noisy chickens.

Mom did all the right things to nurture our love of learning. We recited nursery rhymes, listened to stories and poems, sang songs, and made up games. We went on free field trips. We regularly went to the beach where my Dad went pole casting or diving. I didn't realize back then how lucky we were to have fresh fish for dinner, and during lobster season, we even had fresh lobster. When we got older, we helped Mom make musubis, veggie sticks, hash patties, fried chicken, and teriyaki for a picnic dinner. Those foods tasted extra delicious after a swim! We took trips to the mountains to pick guava or lilikoi that Mom often made into jam or jelly, and fern shoots or "monkey ear" which were then cooked with meat and other vegetables for dinner. We also took yearly trips around the island where we'd stop at certain beaches or natural attractions. Along the way, we'd sing songs or play games like spotting out-of-state license plates or a particular car color, or counting different service stations (Shell, Chevron, etc.). We were all competitive and hated to lose; that's how we all are to this day.

When I began school, I was the youngest in my class because I was born in December. I loved school, and at that young age, I decided that I was going to be a teacher when I grew up. But I was young, and my fine motor coordination was not up-to-par with the rest of my classmates. When we began handwriting in first grade (those were the days when kindergarten was more about social and emotional development than academics), the teacher said I needed practice. Every afternoon, when others were out playing, I had extra homework; I had to practice writing letters until I got them right. It was painful, and more-than-once, I cried at the injustice of it all. I really tried, but it was a challenge, and when I had to erase a letter, the newsprint often tore. I never asked my Mom how she felt about "forcing" me to do handwriting homework, but I'm sure she was glad when I finally "got it" and didn't need that extra practice.

When we were young, Mom sewed all of our clothes. We'd look in magazines or catalogs and pick out a style we liked, and she'd measure us, go to the store to buy material, draft the pattern, and sew it. At that time, I didn't realize how special we were to have one-of-a-kind dresses. The only store- bought dresses we owned were those we received at Christmas or birthdays from our grandparents or uncles and aunties. How I wish we had pictures of us wearing those dresses Mom sewed for us!

In their own way, our parents encouraged my siblings and me to do our best in school. Without putting pressure on us, we nevertheless got the message that we were expected to try hard in school and to go on to college. When my youngest brother was in school and we were old enough to take care of ourselves, Mom went back to work. After a number of temporary jobs, she began working for the Mililani Town Sales Office and quickly rose to the position of executive secretary. I'm sure our family could have used the extra money if Mom had gone back to work earlier, but we appreciate that during our growing-up years, she was there for us.

I went on to college and became a teacher and now, I'm a school principal. All of my siblings went on to successful careers in different fields. This is a tribute to the sacrifices Mom and Dad made when we were growing up as well as the experiences they exposed us to that shaped our lives and gave us the drive to make a difference for others.

Today, my Mom lives by herself since Dad passed away two years ago. My siblings and I take turns checking in on her, and she really enjoys those days when my sister brings her granddaughter over to Mom's to babysit. Mom is still recovering from a fall she took earlier this year, but being the proud person she is, she refuses to use a walker or cane. I know she'd love to go traveling again, so that remains a goal for her to get better more quickly.

I know that Mom is proud of her extended family, and tonight, we will celebrate her 88th birthday. The values she imparted in us, her five children, are now evident in her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Happy 88th Birthday, Mom! I love you!

This is the last family picture of our parents and us five siblings. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Still Learning after 40+ Years as an Educator

Last week was our Fall Break. One year ago, I was traveling with other educators on an Education Institute of Hawaii visit to learn from other school districts about principal empowerment. This year, I was able to attend a Digital Leadership Academy with Eric Sheninger and a Visible Learning Institute with John Hattie during our Fall Break. I enjoyed these learning opportunities and would like to share my reflections.

Digital Leadership Academy
This was not the first time I attended sessions with Eric. He is someone I met virtually through his blog and we continue to keep in touch after his initial visit to Hawaii last summer. Eric is passionate about sharing his journey as a digital leader. He was able to transform New Milford High School into an exciting place where students are engaged in their learning. Technology is widely used as a tool for learning, communicating, creating, and sharing. I enjoy Eric's sessions; he is always learning and his enthusiasm is infectious.

At the beginning of the session, Eric asked the participants what were challenges to digital learning implementation at their school. We got the usual responses - time, lack of devices, lack of training, etc. Several participants also mentioned that there was no buy-in from other teachers or the principal. I don't want to place blame on anyone because I believe that all teachers and all principals want to do the best they can for their students, and digital learning may not be their priority when there are so many other mandates or expectations.

Transforming into a digital leader has not been easy for me, but I am fortunate in having teachers who have pushed me out of my comfort zone. I decided early on that I would not be a barrier for our teachers and students, and I am delighted whenever I observe how they are using technology to explore, discover, create, and share. Eric's Digital Leadership Academy validated the great things going on at our school, and I believe our teachers should feel proud of how they and their students are using technology to give students voice and choice to engage them in their own learning.

Hawaii Visible Learning Institute
I have been waiting for an opportunity to attend a Visible Learning Institute. I have heard and read so much about VL, and I was very interested in learning more about what positively impacts student achievement. My biggest takeaways - teachers and students need to know the learning intentions and success criteria. Results of studies indicate that this had the greatest positive effect on student achievement. The latest research resulted in a new number one: teacher efficacy and collaboration to create a culture where colleagues help each other to improve their practices where student learning is the focal point of discussions. I am appreciative of this opportunity to attend this institute, and I plan to do more personalized professional learning on this topic.

Putting It Together
For the past few days, I have been reflecting on these two learning opportunities I had during the Fall Break.

I am quite certain that every principal realizes the importance of technology for their students, but not all have gotten past the "Substitution" phase. We need to provide learning opportunities for principals to learn together because trying to do it alone is a challenge for most of us. When principals see the possibilities, they are more likely to encourage their teachers to learn together, too.  We also need to give up control when appropriate and let our students become the teachers. Oftentimes, they pick up new programs or apps so quickly, and they end up teaching their classmates. Last year, a second grade teacher had her students create public service announcements using PowToon. The teacher said her kids figured it out themselves just by exploring, and they taught her! (See one of the videos on Water Waste here.)  Much as I would like all principals to be excited about teaching and learning via technology, I realize that each one of them has priorities for their school, and technology may not be #1 for them. This doesn't mean I won't keep sharing with them, and maybe one day, they will make it a priority.

As we begin the second quarter of SY 2015-2016, I intend to share some of the results of the Visible Learning studies and to have discussions with our teachers about why we need to make learning visible and explicit for students. That has been a challenge for our teachers and students because I don't think I clearly communicated why this is important; I didn't make learning visible for the teachers because I didn't have a clear understanding of what was required until now.

Teachers at our school already meet in Data Teams and review student work and student data with an Instructional Coach. They also meet regularly to revise their grade level project-based learning units and are encouraging students to ask questions to extend their learning. We discuss ways to embed technology in these units, and we are focusing on creating a writing continuum for our school so students can self-assess where they are and what they need to do to get to the next level. But do ALL teachers believe that they CAN make a positive difference for ALL of their students? Frankly, I don't know, but this is something we can and will work on as a school.

I appreciate the opportunities I had this past Fall Break and look forward to continuing to learn more and build the capacity of our teachers so they can continue to make a positive impact on student achievement.

+Eric Sheninger

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Our Youngest Learners Deserve Our Support

First quarter ended for us on Friday, and we have a week off for Fall Break. It's not a break for me, though, and as is the case in years past, I look forward to catching up and getting ahead during this off-week. This year, I will be attending a 2-day Digital Leadership Academy with Eric Sheninger along with several of our staff. Then on Thursday, we have a John Hattie Visible Learning conference. I've been waiting for an opportunity to attend a conference here in Hawaii because I've heard so much about his research and studies about what really impacts student learning.

These breaks are also welcome because it is a time for me to reflect and to share my thoughts. Today, I'd like to reflect about a topic that is near and dear to my heart - early childhood education and its impact on those who need it most.

Those who know me are aware that I began my teaching journey as a Head Start teacher. I believe that my core values about education are a direct result of my experiences working in this program that targeted children and families who qualified based on their poverty status. I loved teaching with Head Start! Those kids were eager to learn and soaked up everything school had to offer them. They were curious to explore and discover new concepts and information. They sat enraptured when we read them stories and raised their hand to ask and answer questions. They were so open to share their ideas and their thoughts, and with patient guidance, they learned to express themselves clearly. Parents were encouraged to volunteer in the classroom, and they observed and replicated what we were doing in school so they could help their child at home. Literacy and language was an area we targeted because studies showed that when children of poverty entered school, they were at a disadvantage with a vocabulary that was much lower than their peers.  Recent studies confirm that children in lower socioeconomic status continue to lag in language development. Because I am such a proponent of early interventions especially for those students who need it most, I am concerned with articles such as "Does Preschool Make Any Difference?" that  policymakers use to justify the lack of funding for early education. I strongly believe that by "forcing" students to sit and learn pre-reading, pre-math, or pre-writing skills before they are developmentally ready can be detrimental in later grades. Perhaps this explains the results of studies that show the gains from preschool are not lasting .

This is why quality preschools do not necessarily focus on teaching the alphabet or numbers. Instead, students discover knowledge and work with others in their classroom to make learning come alive. These students learn to communicate by asking and answering questions and through pre-writing and drawing skills, and teachers focus on literacy as well as social-emotional development and fine and gross motor skills. Check out this exciting project coordinated by Harvard's Project Zero, "Children are Citizens" and read how kindergarteners in Finland learn through play. A language-rich environment that encourages students to work and discover together and to share their learning with others - in their classroom or globally through the use of technology - can create the kinds of students who are excited and motivated about learning new ideas and new skills. Reading, writing, and math will then have a purpose for them, and students will be ready to practice and apply those skills to share their learning.

Voters in our state turned down a constitutional amendment last year that would have created preschool experiences for all four-year-olds. I was disappointed with the shortsightedness of our people to make a statement about the importance of creating positive learning experiences for our littlest learners. Hopefully, our policymakers will realize the importance of providing a free quality early learning experience for all four-year-olds, especially for those who need it most.

"I Don't Want to Be a Teacher Anymore"

As someone who has been an educator for over four decades, it saddens me when I read blogs like "I Don't Want to Be a Teacher Anymore." While it is true that some people go into teaching only to discover that it is not what they aspire to, most are committed to making a difference in the lives of their students. I know that when I was a teacher, I relied on my colleagues. We shared ideas and problem-solved together. If I felt my students weren't getting the lesson, I was able to talk it over with my peers and they would give me ideas or strategies I might try. Today, with so much available through social media sites, teachers can collaborate with fellow teachers all over the world if they have questions. Reading about this committed teacher's challenges and the stressors she was experiencing as a result of top-down mandates really affected me negatively. As an administrator, it angered me that policymakers have taken the joy out of teaching for someone who has been so committed to her students for so many years.

I admit that I was never one to follow a teaching guide page-by-page. I knew what students needed to learn and I tailored lessons to their strengths and needs. Now that I am a principal, I give our teachers the flexibility to use a variety of resources to address the differences in their students. Grade level teachers know what they have to teach but how they teach is up to them. My philosophy as an administrator is that teachers are professionals and can be trusted to do what is right for their students. This is why we have professional learning communities where groups of teachers examine student work, analyze their data, and determine strategies to help their students to progress towards grade level expectations. This is why our grade level teachers create and constantly revise their interdisciplinary units that incorporate science, social studies, and other content areas through project-based and relevant, hands-on learning experiences. These collaborative discussions provide the supportive environment that teachers need in order to improve their practices.

Top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates may work for certain communities or schools, but I cannot expect that of our teachers primarily because I could not follow that directive if I were in still in the classroom. I trust our teachers to prepare their students to be successful, not just in the classroom, but in life. As a school with 98% military-impacted students, I believe that we must equip our students with skills and strategies so they can be self-directed learners and problem-solvers, able to pursue their own questions about topics that interest them.

Teaching is an art, and good teachers are constantly learning and improving because they know that our world is changing. As I read this teacher's blog, I wondered what happened to her. (This was written in 2010 but I just read it today.) All those 'maybes' - did it finally get to her and she decided to retire? If so, the profession lost someone who committed 35 years of her life to teaching and making a difference in the lives of her students.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Principal's Office is Not a Bad Place

When we moved into our new administration building last July, I was thrilled to have an office and adjoining conference room! The previous principal's office had such a small space that there was barely room to hold a meeting in there. That is why I decided last year that I would invite every class to visit the principal's office. It was amusing to see students walking so quietly and respectfully into the office, not quite knowing why they were there. I had so much fun reading them stories and having them ask questions about the building. They looked around and noticed all the details that personalized the office and inquired about photos of my family, or a poster from Mike Strembitsky Elementary School, and asked why some of the windows were different colors. I told them that the principal's office was not a scary place and that I would love for them to visit me anytime.

Fast forward to this week. Our second graders are in the midst of a project-based unit on taking care of the Earth.  This is their description of their unit: Our uses or misuses of natural resources has a direct effect on our lives as well as future generations. Yesterday was also International Dot Day so it was a great opportunity to use the bags of bottle caps that someone donated to our second graders. (Thanks, Jenny Dyer!) Since reflection is such an important part of a lesson plan, I'd like to share my thoughts after teaching a math lesson that involved counting and adding larger numbers.

  • Sharing the learning targets at the beginning helped to focus the lesson on what students would be expected to know and do.
  • Giving students opportunities to share what they've learned and to ask questions before beginning the activity took time but it was essential as a way to involve students in the lesson. One of the questions that students in all classes came up with is "Can we recycle those bottle caps?" What a great question for them to research! Is there a place in Hawaii that would accept those bottle caps?
  • With guidance, students can work together to accomplish an assignment. Some groups worked very well together and others took longer to get started, but in the end, all groups were able to count the bottle caps in their pile.
  • The students were engaged. Yes, it was a bit noisier-than-usual in the office, but it was the kind of noise that we like to hear from students.
  • Some groups were amazing and came up with their own way of organizing their bottle caps so they could count them easily. One pair of girls even recorded their groups of tens by using tally marks. When it came time to count, they were quickly able to look at their marks and count by 10's to get to their total of 322. I was impressed! (I wish I had a photo of them and their strategy!)
These are the things I would do differently if I taught a similar lesson again:
  • I would share the lesson plan ahead-of-time with the classroom teachers so they can give feedback and be better prepared to co-teach the lesson. This means I need to be better prepared the next time; frankly, I kept changing my plans and it wasn't finalized until the morning of the lesson. Luckily, all the teachers jumped right in to assist.
  • Working with manipulatives is engaging for students. However, I think the lesson would have been more effective in a small group where the teacher could formatively assess students and have them explain their thinking. There were groups that couldn't quite get off the ground. They appeared to be doing fine when an adult was there, but we would return after a few minutes and they were back to square one. This is why I believe that teaching students to work independently is so important. This allows the teacher time to work with small groups and to take notes on students to see where they may need more assistance.
  • I should have activities available for the early finishers. Those groups who had a plan and executed that plan often finished their assignment quite quickly. They ended up helping other groups or just milling around. What a waste of valuable learning time!
I am appreciative that I am able to invite students into the principal's office, and I love the hugs I get in return. Several of the students mentioned that they had been in the office the previous year, and they even remembered the story I read to them. Building a positive relationship with students pays huge dividends down the road, especially for those students who may struggle socially or behaviorally. I hope our students realize that going to the principal's office can be a really good thing!

Students generated questions after seeing a bag of bottle caps. This teacher used a Thinking Map to record student ideas. She also had students estimate how many bottle caps they thought were in the bag. 
This group opted to sort their bottle caps by color and then count them. 
This group worked quickly and made rows of tens. Counting was then pretty easy since they all know how to count by tens. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

#ANW - Yes, I Admit I Watch It :-)

American Ninja Warrior Season 7 comes to a close next Monday.  I am sad to see Season 7 end, but I'm already looking forward to Season 8. Who would believe that I would enjoy a competition like ANW, but the truth is, there is so much to like about it!

I love the human interest stories about the competitors. Some share heartbreaking stories, and others have overcome personal challenges to get to this point in their lives. One can't help but root for them to get through the different obstacles, and I find myself cheering for every one of them.

I admire each competitor's passion and drive to take on these challenges. I watch the videos of how they trained and how much time and effort they put into improving themselves physically and mentally, knowing that all that effort could be wiped out at the first obstacle.

I feel their heartbreak when competitors don't qualify for the next stage and hear their deep disappointment at having failed in their quest.  Yet there they are the following season, more determined than ever to conquer the obstacle that took them down the previous year.

As educators, we want our students to feel this kind of passion for something and to demonstrate the determination of these competitors. Yet we often don't allow our students to share what they excel at. I have seen students so excited to talk about video games. They would beat me soundly; I wouldn't stand a chance if they challenged me!  Other students have musical, athletic, or artistic talents that we are not aware of in school. When we focus so much of school time on academics and testing, those students who may have talents in other areas might never receive the accolades they deserve.

As I listen to the personal stories of some of the ANW competitors, I wonder how many were  poor students in school. Some were drifting through life until they heard about this competition. ANW became an obsession to them, an opportunity to prove to others - but more importantly, to themselves - that with focus and perseverance, they could achieve something they never thought possible.

Our job as educators is to encourage every student to explore new experiences and to persevere when they find something that they are interested in.  We don't know what their passions and talents will be, and it will probably change numerous times in their lives. However, they won't know if they don't have the opportunity to try.

School is a great place to start engaging students to pursue their interests!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Social-Emotional Skills - As Important as Academics

Recently, Peter DeWitt shared a blog about a recent experience. "You know what does suck?" he asks. "It's the way we talk about school."  Peter does not hide the struggles he faced as a student, and I am sure his decision to become an educator is directly correlated to those school experiences. Many of his blogs in Finding Common Ground speak of school climate, treating others with respect, and listening to what others have to say. I value his ideas and insights.

Recently, our school team discussed two articles/studies at our quarterly Triage Advisory meeting. This group includes our school team, District staff, and military partners from Tripler and US Army Garrison. The first was a longitudinal study which showed that military-connected students who had experienced multiple deployments of their soldier-parents during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were more at-risk for problematic behaviors. The second was a study that indicated that a child's social skills at age 5 were highly correlated with their success in adulthood.  These studies were timely because this year, one of our strong focuses as a school is on continuing to improve our Positive Behavior Intervention Support System so that all students can be successful socially and emotionally as well as academically.

What do we have in place now to address the teaching of social skills and improving school climate?

  • We share a Project Wisdom message over the intercom daily.
  • We have school-wide agreements based on Tribesand students can describe what each one means in the classroom or in the school.
  • We have a conflict resolution process where students reflect on the causes and effects of their behaviors on themselves and others.
  • Our school teams work together to review data and create behavior support plans for those students who may need more support to be successful in school.
  • Our PBIS cadre meets regularly to review disciplinary data and to come up with school-wide activities to address areas of concern. We regularly update our PBIS booklet, and all teachers have a copy. 
  • We emphasize the General Learner Outcomes, and some students set goals based on these GLOs.
This appears to be a pretty good list of things we already do to address the teaching of social skills, but we can do much more.  In this age, schools are rated based on high stakes testing scores. As the aforementioned studies indicate, however,  a school culture focusing on positive social and emotional skills is perhaps more important than just focusing on academics. So what can we do to improve what we already have in place at our school?
  • Sharing the Project Wisdom message is not sufficient. We need to make sure students are discussing the message in their classroom and at home.  We should share the message with our teachers and with our parents so they can follow up the discussion and perhaps set goals together.
  • Tribes and the General Learner Outcomes are important, but if students do not buy into them, they will just be another top-down mandate. If students co-construct criteria for what a Tribes classroom or school looks like or what the GLOs mean, they will be more apt to hold themselves responsible for being part of a positive community of learners. 
  • I've noticed a lot of teachers using an app to communicate with parents about student behavior during the day. Technology is great, but it must have a purpose. Do we really want to inform parents every time their child needs to be redirected or did not follow the teacher's instructions? Do all students need to have an individualized account or is it more effective to work together as a class towards a common goal based on Tribes, the GLOs, or whatever the class agrees on?
  • We have been in classrooms where students co-construct criteria and hold themselves and each other accountable.  It is wonderful to see and feel the positive climate in those classrooms, and students take responsibility for their actions. It is a safe environment, and when there is a problem, the whole class problem-solves together. In those classrooms, social and emotional skills are at the center, and academic learning revolves around it. 
As Peter DeWitt shares in his blog post, "What Holds Us Back From Focusing on School Climate?
"There is no doubt that school climate is vitally important.  When I work with educators in schools or school districts, school climate comes up as an important element to the social-emotional and academic growth of children.  I feel that school climate is the plate for which everything else, including academics, sits on.  But too often it falls to the wayside and it becomes something where leaders act reactively rather than proactively."

As a military-impacted school, we have an obligation to ensure that our students are successful wherever they may move to in the future.  Teaching academics via the Common Core State Standards is important, but perhaps we should be doing more to teach social and emotional skills which can lead students to be more successful in the future. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Military Students - Ambassadors for Education in Hawaii

When I became principal of Hale Kula Elementary School in February 2003, I had no idea how long I would stay. I thought I would get some experience under my belt and then perhaps move to another school or a District or State position. Here I am, over 12 years later, and I am still not ready to move on. Why am I so committed to working at Hale Kula? I think it's the military students and families I work with and my desire to make their education at our school a positive one that prepares them to be successful wherever they may move to next. I truly believe that our military students are the best ambassadors for education here in Hawaii.

The perceptions from military families was cause for concern a few years ago. With negative publicity from some schools, changes needed to be made. With support from Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Joint Ventures Education Forum was created in 1999, a partnership between the Department of Education, the military, and the business community here in Hawaii. For several years, Senator Inouye was able to get funding for military-impacted schools in Hawaii to purchase textbooks, upgrade their technology, create Transition Centers, and address other concerns that were identified through parent surveys. Although the funding is no longer available from Congress, JVEF continues to thrive. Discussions at meetings focus on ways to improve our schools through military and business partnerships, positive communication, and the continued sharing of ideas between the military and schools. Recently, JVEF held its 14th Annual Meeting, and it is evident that despite the lack of funding, the vision and mission of this organization remains strong, and good things continue to take place as a result of this partnership.

At our school level, communication is key. Our Facebook and Twitter posts provide an opportunity to share the great things happening at our school and to seek input and engagement from parents. We hold two virtual School Community Meetings each year, and participation at these meetings has provided parents with the opportunity to share ideas that may have worked at other schools their child attended or to bring up concerns that we may not have been aware of.  We seek input through our annual School Community Council survey, and we get a pulse of how parents are feeling about the curriculum, the school culture, and whether they feel their child will be ready for the next grade level. We also solicit comments about their concerns and what they like best about our school. This feedback helps us to focus on areas where we can improve.

Recently, we read about a military parent who extended his tour in Hawaii so his younger daughter could also graduate from the local high school. Another military parent shared how pleased she is with the services her young special needs child receives at her school. These are not isolated stories. Many of our parents share with us (through Facebook or emails) about how well-prepared their children were when they attended schools at their new duty station. I see students excelling academically, athletically, and socially. It really makes me proud to see how well they are doing and to know that we had a small part in their school success. I think of Noah, a fourth grader when he left our school. At the time, he was having some challenges dealing with his father's deployment. However, he had learned to play the ukulele at our school, and his mother sent me a video of him playing in front of his new schoolmates at their talent show. After playing a Jason Mraz song, he confidently stated, "Now I'm going to sing a song from Hale Kula, the best school ever" and proceeded to play the ukulele and sing our school song. (Yes, I had tears in my eyes.) When I see photos of our former students and hear of their successes, I realize that they are our best ambassadors for education in Hawaii. When they do well at their next school, it is a reflection on our schools, that we are doing something right. I recently received a note from a former student who just graduated with honors from high school. "Hale Kula has certainly shaped who I am," she wrote. What a tribute to the experiences she received at our school and how they impacted her as she moves on to do great things in college!

Being a principal at a military-impacted school has its challenges, but our staff is committed to doing our best to give our students the kinds of experiences that will shape who they are and lead them to successful futures.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Why Can't We Retain Teachers in Hawaii?

Recently, Civil Beat published an article titled, "Hawaii Schools Begin the Year Short on Teachers - Again."  As I read the article, I could relate to the frustrations of the principals. It isn't easy to find highly-qualified teachers, and I have been in the situation where I am "harassing" our Personnel Officer for a list of applicants for a position because school will be starting the following week. I look back on my first position with the Department of Education, and I wasn't hired until October after school had already been in session for a month.  So it is clear that starting off the year short on teachers is not a new problem.

When I received my teaching degree over four decades ago, there were no jobs for elementary teachers except for those with special education degrees.  At that time, the Department was disbanding their 3-on-2 program (3 teachers with 2 classrooms of students) at all elementary schools. That meant that 1 of 3 elementary teachers was now out of a job. I applied for and was hired to teach with Head Start, but many of my colleagues who graduated with teaching degrees ended up taking jobs in other fields and never became teachers.

Today, we have a different problem:  there aren't enough highly qualified teachers for every classroom.  To address this shortfall, the State has recruited teachers from the mainland and Teach for America.  This is a temporary fix, however, and does not address the major problem of keeping teachers for more than just two or three years. We all get better as we gain more experiences and more confidence. This is true of the classroom teacher as well.

We have a unique situation in Hawaii. When we recruit teachers from the mainland, the cost to relocate is extensive. New teachers probably think it's exciting to be offered a position in Hawaii, but without knowing the culture of this place, it can be a challenging transition.  Trying to find a place to live or looking for roommates to share the cost of a rental then purchasing a car to get to work is not easy when one does not know where to begin looking.  Many times, the teaching jobs are in remote rural locations away from places where they might meet other young people to socialize with. And of course, the high cost of living in Hawaii can be difficult to manage for someone with a new teacher's starting salary.  According to the article, "Why Do Teachers Quit?" 40%-50% of new teachers nationwide will quit within their first five years, and teacher turnover is 4% higher than other professions.  In Hawaii, according to the Civil Beat article,  it costs the State between $6.2-$13.5 million a year to recruit and train new teachers due to attrition.  That is money that could go towards increasing the weighted student formula pot.

So what can we do to truly make some changes so that we don't have to start the year off with a teacher shortage in our classrooms?  I believe the answer lies in our communities. If it takes a village to raise a child, doesn't this apply to our schools as well? We read about organizations or businesses assisting with a school-wide beautification project.  This is great, but schools need more than a one-shot project. How about giving employees time off to go to a school to mentor students who might need an adult role model? This could make a huge difference in the life of a student who may be struggling and needs some support. How about having volunteers go to school regularly to listen to students read or help them with their writing or their math? Teachers don't always have time to give every child the individualized support they may need to to be successful; volunteers could provide that extra support. Perhaps volunteers have expertise in an area that could benefit the school. Gardening? Composting? Aquaponics? Art? Music? Dance? Sports? Foreign language? School is not just about academics especially if we want to develop the whole child.  Oftentimes, schools do not have the funds to provide these extra classes, so having "experts" volunteer would be very much appreciated.

Because housing and/or transportation time can be stressful, the community can help out if they are willing to rent to new teachers.  If several teachers can pool their resources and rent a place, this not only saves them money, this has the added benefit of providing a natural system of support. While having a mentor teacher at school is important,  so is having people to commiserate with outside of school. Additionally, teachers can then support each other as a professional learning community, to share ideas and to reflect on improving their professional practices. It's too bad that most schools no longer have teachers' cottages; perhaps this is something that all remote schools should have in their community or on their campuses to address a real problem for new teachers to the school.

If we bring the community into our schools, teachers would feel more supported, and education truly would become a team effort.  This is especially true for those communities with the most challenges. As an educator for over four decades, I still get defensive when I hear people criticizing our schools and our teachers. I know that 99% of the educators I have worked with truly do care about their students and do the best with what they have.  This is why I hope that more people would get involved in our schools on a more regular basis.  I think it would make the public more appreciative of what teachers go through every day and our students would benefit from the extra attention they would receive from caring adults.

Living in an island state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has its rewards as well as its challenges. I believe that our students deserve to have positive educational experiences that will prepare them for life whether it is here in Hawaii or elsewhere around the world. Let's join together and be a part of the solution to improve education for our students and our teachers!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Personalized Professional Development Plans

 "All teachers will develop and maintain a Professional Development Plan that identifies areas for targeted growth and learning. Completion of the learning opportunities within the plan will be considered a matter of professional responsibility. The plan can include a varied amount of conferences with an administrator depending on the type of plan."  (Educator Effectiveness System Manual, 2015-2016, page 7)

EES has been controversial since it was first implemented for all public school teachers in Hawaii two school years ago.  The system was created as part of Hawaii's Race to the Top grant with the expectation that teachers' evaluation would be tied to test scores.  That first year was a nightmare, and teachers and administrators alike protested  vehemently about the poor rollout and training. (See a blog I wrote after that first year titled, "How Should Teachers Be Evaluated?".) Last year, the Department revised the expectations so the requirements were more do-able. The system, however, continued to pay minimal attention to Core Professionalism, and despite the added responsibilities, there were very few teachers who were rated "Marginal" or "Unsatisfactory" under EES.

This year, all teachers will be creating a personalized professional development plan as part of their EES evaluation. I believe we are finally on the right track! I hope that teachers will be motivated and engaged in growing professionally because they will be able to choose what they want to learn more about and how that will impact teaching and learning.  Along the way, their assigned administrator will meet with them to provide guidance, point them to resources, and have meaningful conversations where teachers will reflect on their progress and how their focus for their professional development plan (pdp) is positively impacting  teaching and learning.

What do we need to put in place so all teachers at our school can be successful?  First, we will ask teachers to share what they would like to focus on for their PDP.  Those who are interested in the same topic or question can work together as a professional learning community.  We will provide time for groups to meet at school, and teachers will be encouraged to share resources, observe their partners in the classroom,  participate in honest conversations, and join virtual communities on their designated area of interest.  This PDP is about demonstrating the General Learner Outcomes which are indicators for success in life. What we teach our students every day about the GLOs is just as applicable to us as adults. 

Our school vision is "Hale Kula empowers learners to explore, discover, create, and share."  This applies to ALL of us at the school; we are all learners.  This personalized professional development plan will allow our teachers to explore an area of interest.  They will discover new information as well as new ways of improving their teaching which will then positively impact student learning.  Teachers will be asked to create something to share their learnings with others.  What they share can be displays of student work, reflections, or any product of the teacher's choosing. This whole process is about empowering teachers with the choice to determine how they want to improve. 

I am appreciative that the Department has opted to place more emphasis on teachers' professionalism by requiring Professional Development Plans for everyone.  I know that this is a work-in-progress, but because it is personalized, there is an expectation that every teacher will be engaged as learners in this process.  At the same time, every teacher and administrator will gain by learning from others, not just when we allocate that time during faculty meetings, but through conversations and discussions, visiting classrooms, and sharing photos or student work in our school virtual community.  

Let the learning begin!

Providing time for teachers to learn from each other is essential.  How we provide that time will be determined after our teachers select their area of focus for their professional development plan.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Super Busy Week!

Last week at this time, I was just back from vacation visiting our sons and grandsons. It wasn't the best time to take a vacation but it was important for our family to be altogether again for the first time in over a year, and we all had a wonderful time.  The vacation was too short, but both my husband and I had responsibilities at work.  Maybe next time we can stay longer.

I shared in an earlier post that I have a great staff; they take the initiative to do what needs to be done. We communicated via email or texts so I wasn't out of the loop as there were important things happening when I returned to school.

The first day back for teachers is something that is planned carefully because we set the stage for the whole school year. Mandatory trainings are part of that day; that is necessary but does not have to be painful. Our vice principals kept the teachers engaged with quick overviews and group activities to read, summarize, and share with the rest of the faculty. It helped to have chocolate to "reward" correct responses.

Sharing our school goals and focus for the year is an essential part of the first day back. Group discussions, sharing out, and having the opportunity to ask and answer tough questions really helped to improve our overall plans for the year. Now the challenge is to take the criteria we came up with as a group and to reflect so we can continue to improve.

This summer was especially busy with ongoing construction.  Completing the classroom renovations was a major coup given two weeks less time to do everything. I sometimes felt like I was cracking the whip, making sure the subcontractors finished their jobs so our teachers could get back into their rooms to set up for the new school year. The contractor joked that I was like a mama bear protecting her little ones.  I guess I'd rather be a mama bear than a another b word!

Yesterday, we celebrated the opening of the new classroom building with a Blessing and Open House.  When the Governor and First Lady accepted the invitation to attend, the event took on a new level of importance.  Thanks to all those who assisted with the planning, the day turned out great, and all of the guests were impressed with the new building.  We had a chance to share our vision for our students and how the building would enhance teaching and learning through collaboration, project-based learning, the integration of technology, and having students explore, discover, create, and share.

Tomorrow, students return to school.  We want them to be proud of the new classroom building and to commit to doing their part to take care of it.  All of the "old" buildings have also been renovated and the campus looks so much brighter and cleaner with the new exterior paint and the new roofs. Our first task for our students will be to co-construct criteria on what it means to have "Hale Kula Pride:  Take care of yourself.  Take care of others.  Take care of our school." I look forward to seeing what students come up with then it will be our job to make sure we are all doing our part to show Hale Kula Pride!

Ready or not, here they come!  Looking forward to a great school year!

Our aloha dinner the night before returning home. 

Our new 10-classroom building
The Governor and First Lady with our student greeters

We continue to focus on our vision and on reflecting Hale Kula Pride  in our actions.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Having a Great Time on Vacation!

As I write this latest blog, our teachers will be returning to school this coming Thursday, the 23rd, and we have an event that the Governor and First Lady will be attending on Monday, the 27th.  And here I am, more than 2,700 miles away from school.

I am enjoying my vacation with my family - all of our sons have flown the coop - and spending time with them and our grandsons is priceless.  Do I worry about what is going on back at school?  Well, I have been in touch via text messages or emails, but truthfully, I am really confident and trust our staff.

When teachers return on Thursday, we will have mandatory training; our vice principals have been tasked with a major part of the training.  They have shared their Google Slides with me, and there's nothing I would change.  They got this!

Our custodians have worked really hard all summer.  With the renovation of five classroom wings necessitating the removal of everything in the classroom and a summer that is two weeks shorter than last year, the custodians have had to work together to get everything done.  While I've been gone, they've been keeping me updated about all they've completed that day.  I really appreciate their initiative and their willingness to go above and beyond to get our school ready.

Just before school begins is probably the busiest time of the school year for our office staff. At this time of the summer, lots of parents are walking in to register their children for school.  In the past two years, we've had over 120 students enroll during the month of July, and this year is probably no exception.  Added to that stress is the Blessing and Open House event for our new classroom building which I have delegated to our School Administrative Services Assistant.  All of the office staff continue to do the extra work efficiently and without complaining.

Everyone knows I am on vacation so they limit their communication with me, but they do answer my questions and reassure me that things are going fine.  I trust them; they take their responsibilities seriously and do more than what is asked of them.

We discuss the General Learner Outcomes with our students, but really, they apply to our staff as well:  Self-directed Learner, Community Contributor, Complex Thinker and Problem-Solver, Quality Producer, Effective Communicator, and Effective and Ethical User of Technology.  Our staff demonstrates these attributes every day when they are doing their jobs.  It is why I can take a vacation and not feel stressed about what I need to do when I return.

Right now, our grandsons are spending the night and tomorrow with us. They are growing up so quickly, and I want to enjoy this limited time with them. This might not have been the best time to go on a vacation, but as I tell our staff all the time, our family is our priority.  It helps to know that our staff is competent so I can truly enjoy my vacation with the family.

We enjoyed taking our grandsons to the Discovery Children's Museum. I think I had as much fun as they did!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Why Can't I Be More Creative?

I'll be honest. I have no confidence in my creativity. I don't know why, but somewhere in my past, I must have been told that I was not creative. So now, I have a difficult time being in a room with others and having an assignment to "create" something. I get that uncomfortable feeling and find myself watching and trying to hide the fact that I'm not participating or following instructions.

This is somewhat disconcerting to me because I think I was pretty good at getting my students to think creatively when I was a classroom teacher. I remember some of the fun activities we did, the many creative ideas my students came up with, and their confidence when sharing something original - an idea or a product. As a mom, I was determined that my sons would feel comfortable about thinking out-of-the-box, and I challenged them to make up their own games or to find creative uses for ordinary items.  I made it a point to not buy coloring books but to have lots of paper, crayons, pens, etc. around so they would draw what they wanted to and not have to "stay in the lines." My intentions were tested when my oldest went to kindergarten. The teacher shared that he had done well on the pre-test but he could use help with his fine motor coordination. She then showed me all the other students' coloring of a bird and then showed me my son's. He had used an assortment of crayons and it wasn't neat like the others. When I asked my son about it later, he proudly stated, "Everybody else used only one color. Mine was a rainbow bird; I used lots of colors!"  As the year went by, I noticed that my son began to conform to what was expected. Did school kill his creativity?

What does it mean to be creative in school? What does that look like, and how do we get students to a place where thinking of and sharing creative ideas is the norm and not the exception?

So often in school, we structure our day so there is minimal time for students to explore, discover, and create on their own or with peers who have similar interests. The adult in the classroom tells students what to do, how to do it, and how much time they have to complete it. Activities such as writing or art which are opportunities to share our creative ideas are often structured as well, and we give students samples to follow or everyone is given the same assignment and is expected to complete it the same way.  How do we move away from giving students the structure or the expectation to providing them with opportunities to think and act creatively?  After much thought, here are my suggestions:

  • We need to know our students, especially their interests and their strengths.  Give them time to explore so they can discover what they enjoy doing or what they're good at.  Doing so can instill in them a confidence that they can contribute to their classroom community.
  • Expose our students to great works of art, music, and literature from different cultures. They need to hear and see examples of the classics and to create their own ideas about why these have survived the test of time. 
  • Allow students to share their opinions and to understand that everyone is entitled to their own likes and dislikes based on their own personal experiences.  Everyone's voice must be respected.
  • Provide a structure for students where they brainstorm and think of as many ideas as they can. From this open-ended divergent thinking activity, students choose one to focus on. For example, ask students to list as many uses as they can for a paper bag or a pencil or an envelope.  Then students choose one unique idea, sketch out their process,  and then create and share it. We may be surprised with the creative ideas that emerge from this simple activity.
  • Model and share examples of creativity. "Johnny came up with a different way to solve that math problem.  Johnny, can you explain your thought process with the class?" or "Listen for descriptive words or phrases while I read the story aloud.  Raise your hand when you hear something that catches your ear." Then stop periodically and call on students to share what they heard and what picture those words painted in their minds. Provide students with examples so they can understand what creative thinking is.  The more we do this as teachers, the more natural it becomes.
  • Teach students different tools - both low-tech and high-tech - so they have a choice in how they want to create and share their learnings.  Choice is a powerful motivator, and we might be pleasantly surprised at the final products. I was amazed with what some of our fifth graders created and shared when they could choose their own topic based on the theme of the quarter. Some students used tools that they discovered and learned on their own; clearly, the teacher had created a learning culture in her classroom where students were confident and self-directed learners. 
  • Finally, TIME is such an important factor if we want our students to be creative.  Every student is different; some will jump right in while others need time to reflect and think before coming up with an idea. We need to recognize these differences and make sure our schedule includes time for personalized learning.  
So back to me and my lack of confidence when asked to create something.  I realize that I may never overcome my discomfort when producing an art project.  However, I can be creative in other ways, most importantly, as a school leader. How we address the needs of our school community to ensure success takes commitment and creativity. I am committed, and I will continue to explore creative ways to ensure that every student and every staff member has the tools they need to be successful. 

During the Cardboard Challenge, students were able to create what they wanted using old cardboard boxes and other materials. This is such a fun activity for our students as well as for our military partners who guide the students through their projects.
Students were able to create games and have other students try them out. It wasn't unusual to hear students critique their own product and share how they would improve it.  This is something we want students to do - to self-assess so they can continue to improve.