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.