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.