Monday, January 19, 2015

Random Thoughts - Personal and Educational

The weather is gorgeous today - it doesn't seem like winter weather, but hey, I'm not complaining! I'll be golfing later with my hubby, my sister, and a friend.  What a great way to spend a holiday!

On Friday, it was announced that my husband Randy was appointed by the Governor to be the next Public Utilities Commission Chairperson. Since being asked to take the position, Randy was torn between continuing a relaxing life of retirement or serving the people of Hawaii in this capacity. Service won out, and he is un-retiring from retirement.  There are some major issues coming before the commission, and the opportunity to have an impact on the decisions that will affect our State in the future won out.  Randy has hit the ground running and I know he will do his best for the people of Hawaii.

Of course, going back to work full-time will have its challenges especially the daily commute to Honolulu and back home. (I'm lucky; I travel in the other direction, and my trip is 10-15 minutes each way.) When Randy retired eight years ago, I bought him a membership to 24-Hour Fitness, and he's been going regularly since. On Saturday, when he went to the gym, we changed his membership so he can go to the any center including one near his new workplace.  At the same time, I signed up to join.  I was a member for a couple of years over a decade ago and quit when the work became all-consuming. Now I need to make time to workout and not make excuses.  It'll be hard at first, I'm sure, but I am committed.

On Saturday, our VEX IQ team had a competition at Island Pacific Academy, a private K-12 school in Kapolei. The Head of School, Gerald Teramae, took my husband and me on a personal tour of the school, and we were impressed!  IPA started ten years ago, and they are an International Baccalaureate school.  But that's not what impressed us . . . there are other Hawaii schools, including several public schools that are IB schools.  No, it is their personalization and their focus on the whole child that I loved most -- their Navigator music recording studio, the art work that was displayed literally everywhere, and a room for Robotics, CAD (computer-aided design), a makerspace, and much more for students to explore, discover, create, and share.  In one of the classes we passed by, I was intrigued by the set-up - a "throne" in the middle with desks and chairs lined up in two rows, facing each other.  It was a Humanities class set up for a Socratic discussion.  We chatted with the teacher (sorry, I forgot his name) who shared that the discussions in ninth grade are often "all over the place" but by the time students are seniors, the discussions and the questions are way beyond what we would expect from young people. One of the questions - Is it better to lead with fear or with love? That would be a great topic for any group of leaders (including principals) to discuss!
Our VEX IQ team at Island Pacific Academy (Henry, Brianna, Kenna, and Jamie). These kids love being in Robotics, and our goal is to involve more students from a younger age so they can experience the joy of collaborating to problem-solve and be successful in getting their robot to complete the required tasks. 

So how does this all relate to me as an educator and school leader? First, my husband's new job gives me an opportunity to learn more about the sustainability issues facing our island state.  We talk about the importance of being more self-sustainable, but we don't always walk the talk.  As an educator, I can make a difference by ensuring that our students have the opportunity to think and discuss issues like the high cost of electricity, what other energy sources could we be pursuing (solar? wind? wave? geothermal?), and what we can do to make a difference, not just in Hawaii, but in the world. We believe that our students need to think more deeply, and one way is to get them to ask the questions and to seek answers to their questions.  We know that when students are interested, they are more likely to be engaged. Let's engage them in topics that are relevant to them now and in the future.

As a school principal, I feel my greatest disappointment is in not providing students with rich experiences in the arts or STEM or foreign languages. The focus on academics and having programs to identify and work with struggling students is important so that is where our resources have been in the last few years. But students need a well-rounded education that includes art, music, drama, Robotics, languages, dance, etc. and it is up to us to figure out how to expose students to those experiences.  That will be my priority.

It's time to get to work!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What's Wrong with This Picture?

Yesterday was a Planning/Collaboration Day for our teachers, and our Tech Team asked if they could take charge of this professional development opportunity.  Being a wise person, I gladly stepped aside and gave them full responsibility for the morning session.

The morning "Media Mash Up - A PD Playground" was wonderful! Our staff loved learning from their colleagues, and the whole morning was upbeat. We had 22 different teachers sharing a tech tool or app they use with their students, or with their parents or their colleagues.  At Hale Kula, we use technology as a tool to collaborate, communicate, think critically, and create.  Teachers showed examples of student work and shared how they communicate with parents and the community through social media.

We had a gallery walk where the staff got to see which tech tool or app they might want to learn more about.

Then, staff had the opportunity to learn more about that particular tool or app in small-group, 
hands-on sessions.  

The buzz throughout the morning was audible.  Teachers were excited to learn something new, and the fact that they had a choice was important.  Many shared that they wished they could have attended more sessions. Collaboration between teachers was also mentioned as a positive outcome of this professional development opportunity.  Here are some of the comments from our teachers:
  • I appreciated the opportunity given to so many of the faculty to share apps that they have used. Hands-on opportunities generally lend themselves to practical application.
  • With the choices we had to attend for breakout sessions, we were able to learn more about something we were interested in. Lots of cool ideas out there to extend the students' learning.
  • I appreciated that the facilitators actually went over step-by-step how to use the program. 
  • I valued the ability to select what we were interested in learning. I also valued that the sessions were hands-on and allowed time to explore and create.
  • We were offered choice in what we wanted to learn about.  This made it easy to pick a session that could be directly beneficial to my teaching, as opposed to having to learn about something I may not use or that I already use and know about.
  • It was a good opportunity for our own Hale Kula teachers to share all of the great things happening in their classrooms! I think the presenters felt empowered and the attendees were inspired to try new tools with the students.  I really appreciated the positivity before starting the new semester!
We look forward to more opportunities to have teachers share how they are using technology in their classrooms.

The second part of our Planning/Collaboration Day dealt with the Smarter Balanced Assessments which our third, fourth, and fifth graders will be taking this semester.  We decided that it was important for all of our teachers to experience taking the SBA so we spent the afternoon as test-takers.  It was eye-opening for our teachers, and many had concerns about the format and the expectations for students. They questioned whether the SBA measures what is important in education.  Here are a few comments:

  • There were so many factors that affected my performance on this test like reading comprehension, familiarity with the computer, keyboarding skills, etc. that I fail to see how this gives a true measure of a child's content knowledge in math.
  • I can see why students are guessing.  It was difficult.
  • Moving from one section of the test to the next is not intuitive; the test is text-heavy.  It seems never-ending - too bad they don't show a progress bar in the window.
  • I have concerns over a computer-graded test as multiple solutions may not be counted due to the lack of thought on the computer's part.  Students may also lack the perseverance to follow through on some of these questions even if they have the skills necessary to solve.
  • I think students may be thrown by the format of the test and all of the buttons.  Students may possibly fixate on the technical aspects rather than the academic purpose.
  • Students will be limited in writing quality responses due to their lack of confidence in keyboarding skills.  
  • The test needs to be scrutinized further because we want to set student up for moderate success, not doomed failure.
Essentially, we went from a very positive, upbeat atmosphere in the morning Media Mash-Up to a negative, frustrating atmosphere in the afternoon where teachers were not engaged in the activity. And they had 45 minutes to take the practice test; our students will have 90 minutes. If adults (including me) could not maintain focus for 45 minutes; will students be focused for twice that time? I don't think so.  My main concern as an administrator, however, is reflected in some of the responses to the question, "What preparation do you think students need to be successful on the test?"  Here are some of the responses:

  • More test-prep
  • Practicing the format of the test
  • Using the computer enough to be comfortable in writing on scratch paper and transferring to the computer
  • Lots of practice with the test tools
  • Teach students to memorize math algorithms
  • Start keyboarding lessons in kindergarten 
Whoa! What's wrong with this picture?  As we observed our teachers and their level of engagement and excitement at learning some new tech tools and apps, we know that our students need those kinds of opportunities as well. Students should be using technology to explore, to discover, to create, and to share. Spending valuable class time to practice so students can do better on a test should not be the purpose of school.

We should be preparing students for life, not preparing for a test. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Becoming a Digital Leader

2014 was the year I committed to becoming a digital leader. I was inspired by Peter DeWitt and Eric Sheninger, respected principal educators as well as bloggers and digital leaders. I was especially touched that despite their large following and super-busy schedules, they took the time to respond to questions or comments I asked them. Here is a recap of my year as a digital leader.
  • I continued to blog, and I am becoming more comfortable about sharing my thoughts with the public. Since I committed to blogging two years ago, I have become more confident about using this venue to reflect and to communicate about my thoughts and my experiences as a leader. 
  • Our faculty meetings and professional development days were opportunities to flip the meetings by asking teachers to read and respond to an article or blog ahead-of-time.  We used these staff times to practice using different tools to collaborate and communicate with our colleagues. Teachers were leaders and learners, sharing their expertise with other staff, and I was an active learner and participant along with everyone.
  • Google+ became our preferred method of sharing with our staff and having them share as well.  It was great to see our teachers posting articles or blogs they found interesting and starting a discussion via Google+. We also shared photos of successful classroom lessons or activities - it was so wonderful to see the learning that was going on in our classrooms! 
  • I still have much to learn, but I am becoming more comfortable about using Google Drive and Google Docs with our staff.  In fact, I presented at my first GAFE Summit this past year on "Building Relationships Using GAFE." I know that GAFE is constantly upgrading and adding new features; I need to make time to learn how to more effectively use these tools to be more efficient and organized.
  • I was a guest on several Hangouts (EdTech Mixed Plate and  Google Rocks! Hawaii Hangouts on Air) this past year to share our experiences integrating technology at our school. I also was part of a panel to discuss educational leadership and empowering schools. I was honored to be asked to participate and to share with others through this venue.
  • I've had my Twitter account for a number of years, but this year, I realized the power of Twitter as a professional development tool.  My personal and professional networks are expanding and I now view Twitter as a great resource. I make time each day to check for tweets that I am interested in reading or that have relevance to me as a school leader. 
  • Social media is an important means of communicating with our families. We have a Facebook page with regular updates and photos. We update our Twitter feed and include photos of what is going on in our classrooms. We have two blogs - Hale Kula Highlights is sent out weekly and informs parents of upcoming events and activities, and we have a blog to update our families about our construction project. Our parents share that they get a lot of information via social media. In fact, we hold our semi-annual School Community Meetings virtually through a Facebook event, and we now have more participation and input than ever before.
  • This past year, I participated in edchathi and edcamphonolulu, and I was able to attend the International Society for Technology in Education Conference in Atlanta.  These events motivate me to continue my journey as a digital leader and provided me with valuable ideas and resources that I might use personally or with our staff and colleagues.
  • A chance response to a blog resulted in a presentation to our complex area school teams by Eric Sheninger when he was here in Hawaii on vacation.  It was one of the best professional development sessions, I've attended, and  I look forward to a follow-up session this coming spring with our District principals.  
  • Our six-year accreditation term is ending in 2015, and we are preparing for our visit in March 2015. Our entire WASC report was collaboratively created using Google Docs, and all of our evidences are in a Google Site. It is hard work, but this is truly a team effort and one that would not be possible if our school were not ready, technology-wise. 
  • I decided to create a digital portfolio for my principal evaluation in a Google Site.  It was a challenge for me; I was often frustrated and I made lots of mistakes, but in the end, I was proud that I persevered and was able to share my evidences in this format. 
I am looking forward to 2015 to continue my journey as a digital leader. I will continue to share my thoughts and reflections via my blog.  I have a list of web sites or apps I want to explore, and I will continue to encourage teachers to try new ideas and to share their learnings with their colleagues and with me.  Finally, I want to motivate my colleagues to step out of their comfort zones and become digital leaders at their schools.  If I can learn, so can they.  If the problem is time, then as Eric Sheninger states in this blog, we need to stop making excuses and instead make time to do what is important.

2015, here I come!

#Peter DeWitt
#Eric Sheninger