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.