Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Continuing the #Hour of Code

Last week, our students coded as part of's Hour of Code Week.  In 2013 during its inaugural year, our school was one of a handful in Hawaii who committed to have every student participate, and we kicked off the week with a bang. (Read my op-ed piece here: "Hour of Code a timely wake-up call for schools")

For the past three years, our students are really engaged during Hour of Code Week. Older students help their younger buddies with programs such as Kodable. It's wonderful to see the teaching that goes on when the big kids guide and support their buddies rather than telling them what to do. An hour goes by quickly when students are coding. We see students helping each other, discussing a challenge, and persevering when they need to start over. We know that some students go home and continue their coding activities because they want to get to the next level.

But how do we get from "Hour of Code" to actually teaching coding and programming in our schools? We hear about the shortage of programmers, and we see the dismal statistics about the lack of schools that offer coding or programming, We hear about other countries that require schools to teach coding/programming to all students. (Read "The countries introducing coding into the curriculum") Here in Hawaii, coding/programming is not something that is being discussed yet. Perhaps it is the lack of information or the lack of training by our teachers. Perhaps we need to look at the private sector to provide the initial training in schools.

Recently, I was able to attend a workshop that introduced me to programming using an Altino car. I struggled, and thankfully, there were people around to provide support. Now, I think I'm intelligent enough to learn new skills. I think I should be able to learn a new language . . . and coding/programming is like a language with specific terminology as well as instructions. One mistake, and the program doesn't work. It was frustrating and humbling, but it was also gratifying when the programming worked and the car did what it was supposed to!

I watched yesterday as a fourth grader coded a Wonder robot to go around different sized rectangles. I asked him to show me what he'd done. He had used drag and drop to code the robot, and I am confident that this is something I could do although I am sure it will take trial and error with more challenging tasks. I've done mazes on, and those are doable as well; the progression from simple to harder gives me a sense of accomplishment and encourages me to keep going. But coding and programming are a little different, I think. Perhaps being good at coding in engaging activities (look at all the possible choices at leads to programming more challenging tasks that will prepare our students for their futures.

The bottom line is that students should be exposed to coding, and there should be a progression from drag and drop to actual programming where students learn to use the language of computers to collaborate and problem-solve, communicate their thinking, create something, and then share it. There are so many opportunities on-line for anyone to learn, but unless we make time during the school day, most students won't know why it's important to learn. When I attended the Altino workshop, the presenter shared that in Korea, when students started learning to code, parents noticed that their children were communicating more clearly. That was unexpected, but it makes sense. Coding is a language that requires a logical progression from beginning to end. Communication is an essential component of coding.

As for me, the Altino car is sitting in its box. (10 hours of training wasn't sufficient for me to really feel confident.) I am waiting for my sons and grandsons to come home and maybe together, we'll figure it out. Until then, I'll continue to do the activities that are recommended by They look fun and less intimidating, and hopefully, I'll progress from drag and drop to actually creating something. It may take me awhile, but I am determined to get better!

3rd graders helped their kinder-buddies code using Kodable on the iPad.

This student was in the library during recess, checking out to see whether his instructions were accurate. He was having his Wonder robot go around the perimeter of different sized rectangles.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Proud Grandma

My son and his family moved away from Hawaii when the boys were 3 years and 1 year old. I was crushed that the grandkids were moving away, but the cost of living was too high here in Hawaii. In our state, `ohana (family) is so important, and I couldn't bear thinking of how it would be to not be able to see our grandsons every week. Thank goodness for cell phones, social media, email, and Hangouts; at least we can keep in touch with how the boys are doing.

Last week, my husband and I took a short trip to visit the boys and to watch them play their last soccer game of the season. My son didn't tell them; it was a surprise, and the boys were delighted that we were there. Being in the same place and being able to talk story with them, hug them, and catch up on how they're doing was so wonderful.

My grandsons alternate between their mom and their dad's homes (they are now divorced). My second son decided to move in with his brother to help take care of his nephews. Observing the boys on this trip, I couldn't help but feel proud that my grandsons are kind, respectful, curious, and alert to things going on around them. It shows that their parents are raising them right. I saw so many evidences that made me proud:

  • Both boys played hard in their soccer games; they were focused and worked well with their teammates. My sons coach both boys' teams, and not once did I hear Jace or Jayden whine or question the coaching or the refereeing or their teammates or opponents.
  • When Jace had assists or scored a goal, he didn't showboat or celebrate. He just turned around, ran back to the their half of the field, and got ready for the next kickoff.
  • Jayden cheered for Jace when he scored a goal; he was genuinely happy for his brother!
  • We went out to eat and the boys participated in the conversation. Often, they wanted me to give them math problems to solve mentally, a request I was happy to accommodate. 
  • The boys did not use technology at mealtime; so often we see kids not even engaged in the conversation or the meal.  Our grandsons don't bring their tablets to the table.
  • We went shopping, and the boys were appreciative to be able to choose what they wanted to buy. They loved that they could buy shirts from Nike and shoes that were not all black, something they're required to wear as part of their school uniform. They didn't whine or act spoiled. I appreciate that.
  • "Grandma, Dad said that we need to respect the office of President. We may not like who won, but he is the President." My son shared that the boys went to sleep on election night, knowing that their candidate did not win. He told them that the sun would still come up the next day, they would still go to school, he would go to work, and life would go on. Obviously, he also told them that the office is to be respected, and that advice stuck with them. I hope they remember that advice throughout their lives.
  • I was especially proud that the boys are interested in what's going on in the world and that they have opinions. When we ask critical-thinking questions, they are able to respond and give reasons for their answers. 
  • Both grandsons are doing well in school. When we picked them up, they got their homework out right away and got working. If they didn't understand what to do, they asked for clarification. Yes, their handwriting wasn't very neat, but they both said their teachers don't require "quality" work. I chose not to go there.

I wish our grandsons could have remained in Hawaii. Our weekends would have been filled with watching their games or having them spend the night with us or going to the beach or to special events. We would be buying them golf clubs or tennis racquets and taking them out to practice. But that is not the case; they have a different life in a different state, and they have other opportunities that we would not be able to provide in Hawaii like being able to drive to a World Cup Qualifying game, or experiencing a Major League baseball game, or getting in the car for a day trip somewhere. Of course, the cost of living is much lower where they are living so we certainly cannot blame them for not coming back home to live.

Being a grandparent is so different from being a parent. People say that, but until I became a grandma, I wasn't sure what they meant. Now I do.  I am more relaxed and can truly enjoy the time we spend with the grandsons. Knowing that they are being raised to be respectful and appreciative for what they have is a bonus.

Yep, I am a proud grandma.

I love these little guys and can't wait to see them again!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Giving Thanks, 2016

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 our school so I am re-posting and updating it since so many of our families are new to our school. Happy Thanksgiving to our DKIES `ohana!

This Thanksgiving day in 2016 is a perfect opportunity to reflect on my principalship at Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School and all that I am thankful for.  What makes a school special and unique is its people, and DKIES 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 DKIES 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 DKIES 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 DKIES 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 absent, 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 DKIES and Hawaii.  I am truly proud to be part of our DKIES `ohana.

3 1/2 years ago, we were one of the original schools on military bases in the United States to receive funding to upgrade and renovate our facilities. This year, all of the construction was completed, and our school was recently renamed after a great American hero from Hawaii, Daniel K. Inouye. When I first became principal of Hale Kula Elementary School in February 2003, I would never have imagined how the school would transform during my tenure. I am so appreciative to Congress and the State of Hawaii Legislature for funding our $33.2 million project, to everyone who made this project possible, and to our school community for their patience and support throughout the challenging construction phases. It is humbling to realize all that went into this project to benefit our students now and in the future.

I am truly blessed with a wonderful and loving family, supportive friends, a job that I love, good health, living in a place that many consider paradise. I couldn't ask for more.

May all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Why is It Taking So Long?

When I was in school, I never had a female administrator. My principals and vice principals from elementary school through high school were all male. They wore short-sleeved white shirts, dark pants, and dark ties and hardly ever smiled.  They were feared, and the threat of being sent to the principal's office kept everyone in-check. The rumor was that there was a paddle in the office; we never knew if it was true. We just knew that we didn't want to be the one to find out.

As a kindergarten student, I decided that I wanted to be a teacher, and throughout the rest of my school years, that was my goal. I loved teaching and when I became a mother, I had to find that balance between work and family. Honestly, becoming a mom made me a better teacher and a better time manager. I had to prioritize, and family came first..

I got into educational administration only after my own sons were older; two were in college and my youngest was in middle school. While they were in their formative years, I was the chauffeur, the coach, the one who went to meetings and performances. My husband came when he could, but his job often didn't allow him to attend. I didn't mind, and now when I look back, I have so many wonderful memories. I think that's how it is with many moms.

Times have changed for girls/women since I was growing up:
  • Traditional families back when I was little were like the Cleavers or the Nelsons. Mom stayed home and took care of the house and the kids. Dad went to work and was the primary breadwinner. Today, Moms often have to work to supplement the family income or because they are single parents. 
  • Title IX gives girls an equal opportunity to compete in sports. This has made a huge impact on our girls who now can receive full college scholarships for playing on an athletic team.
  • Girls are encouraged to go to college and enter fields that were previously male-dominated although they are still underrepresented in fields like engineering and mathematics.
  • Women can now do combat duty as members of the military.
  • Since the first woman was elected to Congress in 1916 - exactly 100 years ago - 313 women have been elected.  In Hawaii, 3 out of our 4 Congressional delegation are women (wow!) and presently, about 20% of the members of Congress are women. We've made advances in this area, but the number is still far from proportional.
Yet despite the advances women have made in society, we are still unable to break the glass ceiling in the United States. Other countries have elected women leaders - Indira Gandhi was elected as Prime Minister of India 50 years ago; Israel's Golda Meir was elected in 1969; and Margaret Thatcher served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom beginning in 1979. Why is it taking so long for those of us in the United States to elect a woman President?

From my perspective, women, despite their advances, must work extra hard to gain the respect from men and other women. If we cry, we are considered weak. If we don't show emotion, we are "cold." If we choose to get input before making a decision, people criticize us for being indecisive. If we swear, that is unladylike, and sometimes, a woman's opinions is drowned out simply because she is outnumbered. And her appearance? The public can be so critical and cruel.

I am quite certain that the first female principals had to prove themselves. They probably had to be extra tough to show that they could do the job. As time passed and more women were appointed to educational leadership positions, the principalship became less about being tough and more about being collaborative and working with school communities to ensure that children were learning in a safe, nurturing environment. Today, we probably have an equal number of male and female principals, and I am grateful for those first women principals for paving the way for others like me.

One day soon, I hope our country will elect a woman President. When she proves that she can lead the country - her way - she will pave the way for others to follow and serve as a role model for girls and young women.

I hope to see that happen in my lifetime.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Collaborative Leadership - Reflections

Last weekend, I read Collaborative Leadership by Peter DeWitt. I never know if I'll finish a professional book I start. My preference recently has been to read blogs rather than books, but this book was different. I kept reading, taking notes, and reflecting, something I haven't done in awhile. Before the weekend ended, I had finished reading the book.

Peter is someone I follow regularly on Twitter and Facebook, and I look forward to reading his blog, Finding Common Ground. Every so often, I'll comment on his blog or I send him an email if I don't want my comment published. Peter always responds honestly (even though he's probably very busy) and therefore, I looked forward to reading his latest book. I told Peter I would let him know what I thought of the book, but I was having a difficult time getting my thoughts down on paper. It sounded more like a paper for college, and that was certainly not my intention.

This morning, I checked my Facebook page and saw this blog, "I hear of teachers crying on their kitchen floor because of stress" and read the numerous comments from teachers who were feeling undervalued and overworked. At that moment, I knew that this was exactly what I needed to write about the impact of Collaborative Leadership on me.

Teaching is challenging, and this year, more than any other since I've been a principal, that point has been hammered home. We lost three new teachers due to the heavy work load and inability for them to find the balance between their personal life and school. I thought we were "collaborative" and even though we "trained" these new teachers prior to the start of school, there were so many more questions and concerns that they had. Added to the stress were students with challenging behaviors that made it even more difficult to teach. Peter shares a blog he wrote back in January 2014 about "10 Critical Issues Facing Education"  and today, in November 2016, those issues are still relevant. That list doesn't even include unique issues a school faces. In our case, it is transiency as well as deployments that impact our school community.

A principal cannot make major decisions in isolation. One of the best decisions we made collaboratively as a school was to seek accreditation. It was not easy to get buy-in from everyone, but at the time, we were discussing ways to address the perception that our Hawaii schools were substandard. We believed that accreditation would validate what we were doing to address the questions: Are students learning? How do you know? What do you do if students are not learning? In other words, the focus was on learning. The self-study was rough; we realized that we had 'pukas' - holes - that we needed to address as a school, but overall, we were doing a pretty good job of educating our students, 98% of whom are military dependents who don't stay in one school for very long. Since that initial self-study, we've gone through a mid-term progress report and another accreditation self-study. Each time we look back at where we had started, we are amazed at what we have accomplished as a school community regarding teaching and learning.

We are in the process of determining our Financial Plan for next school year, and as usual, we will  be conservative because we never know whether we will meet our projected enrollment which our FP is based on.  However, we will have a discussion about our focus on learning and how we can best meet the needs of our students while also ensuring that teachers continue to develop their pedagogy and other essential skills in this 21st century world. For this reason, we are transitioning to project-based learning, integrating content area standards and focusing on inquiry with students asking as well as answering higher-level questions. Our school-wide data also indicates a need for professional development in teaching math for understanding and problem-solving. We value our staff and we must provide meaningful professional development to increase their efficacy so they can increase student learning and student efficacy.

Although we use social media and hold school-wide or grade level events to engage families, we can do even more. When I taught Head Start many years ago, parents were encouraged to volunteer in the classroom so they could learn skills and strategies they could use with their children at home. Because these were low-income families, it was essential for these parents to understand their importance as their child's first teacher and to give their children a "head start" when they enrolled in kindergarten. I learned that when teachers invite parents to help in their classrooms, the benefits are many. Family engagement increases trust in the school, builds positive home-school relationships, and positively impacts student achievement.

At our school, teachers are empowered to be innovative and to try new ideas with their students. Most of our weekly meeting time is devoted to teachers learning together or from each other, and we provide substitute days so teachers can collaborate to plan instruction or share ideas, review student work, analyze data, and determine next steps. But that is not sufficient. In the best possible scenario, teachers would observe in each other's classrooms, have time during the school day to co-plan lessons, implement and then reflect on those lessons, meet with mentor teachers or Instructional Coaches, as well as prepare for future lessons. How can we make this happen?

We need to have collaborative discussions. As we look ahead to future meetings and discussions regarding this topic, we need to be open to new ideas (including how we allocate our funds) and trying out new ways of teaching and learning. There is still much to be done. We are still in the process of understanding what it means to be assessment-capable learners, and one of our priorities is creating a more effective system to give and receive feedback from all members of the school community. Another topic of discussion is how to personalize professional development for our staff in order to build their efficacy.

We still have much to work on, but I am confident that if we go into a meeting with one plan or idea, we will leave the meeting with something better. As Helen Keller stated, "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much."  We want teachers to feel confident about their ability to positively impact student learning. It will take collaborative leadership and trusting relationships to build a learning community in every classroom throughout our school.

Thank you, Peter DeWitt, for providing me with this opportunity to reflect on my practices as a school leader.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A New Beginning . . .

I thought I'd share a post I wrote for my blog about our $33.2 million construction project that just completed. On Monday, October 17, we had an event at our school to celebrate the completion of the project as well as the renaming of our school. Here's the blog post:

Back on June 13, 2013, I published the first post in this blog and titled it "The Beginning." 3 years, 4 months later, this will be the final post on this blog. Our project has officially ended with the dedication of the last two buildings as well as the renaming of our school.

This has been a journey, one that began with high hopes and certainly didn't disappoint. Our final buildings are fabulous! At our celebration on Monday, October 17, Major General Cavoli from the 25th Infantry Division, stated that they might be the nicest buildings on Schofield right now.

Throughout this project, I was a learner with minimal prior knowledge. I had lots to learn. Using the charrette process, we were able to share our ideas to design our buildings, and our ideas came to fruition during the construction process. There were change orders, delays in shipment, and weather delays, and the school had to endure the challenges of noise, dust, and barricades. As each new building reached completion, I marveled at the construction process and all the workers who make a project come to life. Believe me, I will never look at a construction project in quite the same way; I realize how magical it is to take materials and turn them into a building that can transform people's lives. In our case, these new buildings will transform our teaching and learning at DKIES.

Most importantly, though, I learned that in any job, collaboration is key to success. We couldn't have asked for a better team. They were patient with my endless questions and explained things in layman's terms so I could understand; that was helpful as I updated this blog. They knew that this was a big project, the first in our public school system that was funded 80% by DOD-OEA and 20% by the State, and we all wanted it to be a model for 21st century teaching and learning. I want to thank all those at S&M SakamotoDesign Partners, Inc., Bowers & Kubota, the Department of Education, and US Army Garrison, Hawaii for being such great partners with us throughout this project.

When we broke ground on July 1, 2013, we were Hale Kula Elementary School. At the end of the project, we are Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School after the Board of Education approved a new name for our school. Now that the $33.2 million construction project is over and our new name is official, it is truly "a new beginning."

Links: Star Advertiser article
Hawaii News Now
KHON News 
Department of Education News Release
Hawaii Army Weekly
My brother, Roy, my Mom, and my husband Randy were able to join us for the event. This was the first time my Mom had seen the project she'd been hearing about. I was glad she got to see our "new" school. She and my Dad encouraged me to become an educator, a decision I have never regretted. We are with Ken and Jessica Inouye in our beautiful new library.
U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono was at the groundbreaking on July 1, 2013, and she was also present for the completion of our project and the renaming of our school. 
We were honored to have Ken Inouye, the only son of Daniel K. Inouye, speak about his Dad and what he learned from him.
Superintendent Matayoshi, First Lady Ige, U.S. Senator Hirono, Ken Inouye, student MC Caroline Lefaoseu, and MG Cavoli joined me in untying the maile lei. 
We are so honored to have this display case that was donated to our school by the Daniel K. Inouye Institute. The case is filled with memorabilia that shares the legacy of Daniel K. Inouye so students now and in the future will be proud to attend the school that bears his name. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

All Schools Deserve to Be Upgraded

Tomorrow, we officially celebrate the completion of the final phase of our 3+ year project to upgrade our school as well as the renaming of our school to Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School. As I reflect on our journey as the first school in Hawaii to qualify for the DOD-OEA funding for schools on military bases across the country, I realize that we have a responsibility to share our journey,  to celebrate our success, and to hopefully make it possible to create a system that allows private-public partnerships to upgrade our schools in Hawaii.

After President Obama was first elected, military parents met with Secretary of Defense Gates to share their concerns over the poor condition of schools on base. A facilities assessment was undertaken on all schools located on military bases in the country, and after a rating scale based on "condition" and "capacity," our school was #9 on the list of 157 schools. That started a whirlwind process to apply for a a DOD-OEA grant to receive funding (80% of the project cost) to address areas of need in the assessment. (Slideshow)  Senator Daniel K. Inouye was instrumental in passage of a Congressional allocation of $250 million in what would be one of his last major measures passed as the Senate Appropriations Committee Chairperson. Through a charrette process involving a design team, Department of Education as well as school staff, and the military, we created 21st century buildings where students are able to collaborate and communicate with others not just within their classroom but globally as well and where critical thinking and creating are emphasized

On July 1, 2013, we held a groundbreaking ceremony, and a little more than three years later, our project is completed. Throughout the 3-phase process, I updated our community via a blog. We realized that many of our students and their families would not be at our school to follow our progress to upgrade our facilities. As each phase was completed, I would ask myself how we got so lucky to be able to rebuild and renovate our school.

As a school located on a military base, we were fortunate to be able to access federal funds to address concerns noted in the facilities assessment. 80% of the cost was provided by the DOD-OEA grant, and 20% was funded via a State Legislative appropriation to our Department. For $6.6 million in State funds, we now have an Administrative Building that is much larger than the old one that was built in 1959. Our 10-classroom building with flexible learning spaces are so much more conducive to learning than the portable classrooms we were using. .Our library is spacious and the available resources as well as the Makerspace will empower our students to explore, discover, create and share. Counselors and our School Mental Health Team from Tripler Army Medical Center have their own rooms for privacy (previously, they all shared a room), and now, we can meet as a faculty in a meeting room rather than in the cafeteria. And our covered play court? I pinch myself every time I go there. Our physical education teachers and our students will make great use of this facility, and we now have a place for our whole school to gather for assemblies and events.

But shouldn't all schools - not just schools on military bases - be able to re-invent and upgrade their school facilities? (Right now, Solomon Elementary and Mokapu Elementary are waiting to hear if they are receiving funding for their schools.)  So many of our schools need to be renovated or upgraded, and funding from the Legislature is limited. We need to think of other ways to upgrade our schools, many of which are already 50+ years old.

The Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs examined the issue of private-public partnerships to build 21st century schools for Hawaii's students and shared their ideas in  "Systematic Approach to Building 21st Century Schools: Experiences in the Aloha State,"  Although a bill was passed by the State Legislature and signed by the Governor, in 2011, we have not yet seen the impact on our schools. In fact, communities and legislators have to "fight" to get their share of funding to upgrade or to build new schools in growing communities, and the cost continues to increase each year.

When I became principal of our school in February 2003, I never dreamed that we would ever be allocated funds to upgrade our facilities. Now that our project is completed, I hope that our positive experience will start the discussion on how to provide this kind of opportunity for other schools that were built for a different generation of students. All students deserve it.

Our Administration Building was the Phase I. The building was completed in July 2014, one year after groundbreaking. 
The 10-classroom building was Phase II and was completed in time to start the 2015-2016 school year. This building won the Masons Institute Award for the Best Project of the Year. Here's a link to the presentation that was prepared by Design Partners, Inc.  
Phase III included the library media and student support center located in the front of the school. Notice the new school name on the front of the building.

The covered play court was also part of Phase III. Now we have a place for assemblies for the whole school. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Continuously Learning in this Connected World

This is our last week for Quarter 1; I think the Department was wise to build in breaks after each quarter. I think we all are looking forward to Fall Break next week.

As I am in the twilight of my career, I think it's safe to say that I've still got so much more to learn as an educator and a school principal.I reflect on the early years when most of my learning came from books or professional magazines or from other educators or school leaders here in Hawaii. Today, I learn every day through my professional learning community on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook. It is amazing to me how accessible information is, and anytime there is a problem or concern that I want to learn more about, I can ask my own questions, explore, and discover information via social media. My perspective on how to be an effective school leader has been impacted as a result of my personal learning network.

Last Tuesday, we had a team from our school attend the Leadership Symposium (#HIDOELead). I don't go to many conferences or symposiums anymore, but this event confirmed our school's continued journey to prepare our students for their future.

George Couros was the keynote speaker for the Leadership Symposium, and when I read that he would be presenting, I immediately signed up a team to attend. I've been following George for years and was part of his #SAVMP project to virtually mentor new principals. I totally enjoyed his presentation at ISTE in Atlanta, and recently, I'd read and discussed The Innovator's Mindset with some of our staff. I marvel at George's ability to capture an audience, to change our mindsets about our own learning, and to make us laugh while occasionally making us teary. His presentations are entertaining, but they are also meaningful and we take away what is most applicable to us. I loved how George took a newbie Twitter user and within the breakout session, and with George's mentoring, her PLN had immediately expanded. Through the process, everyone in the room could follow along and expand their own network.

I've connected with and subscribe to innovative educators like Eric Sheninger, Peter DeWittJohn Spencer, and A.J. Juliani. Recently, I subscribed to Thomas C. Murray after reading his powerful blog, "One Nice Thing."  There are so many great educators out there trying new ideas and sharing them via social media. When I first started as an educator, we didn't have the opportunity to learn 24-7 in such an individualized way. I love being able to check out posts or tweets from other educators. It's impossible to read everything, but it is possible to click the link, scan the article or post, and decide if it's something I want to explore further.

I encourage our teachers and principal colleagues to be connected. I've shared at poster sessions about how we use technology to connect with our school community.  Now we need to continue to grow in this area and to convince our teachers that being connected is imperative in our ever-changing world.

With , , and at the Leadership Symposium.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Mentoring Might Not Be Enough

Last month, I blogged about hiring 14 teachers for this school year (Support for New Teachers), and I shared that we were committed to providing them with support so they can be successful. We feel confident that we chose the right people for our school and our students.

Well, within the first month, two teachers came to tell me that they would have to resign due to child care issues as well as feeling overwhelmed by the expectations at our school. I felt really bad, but as I always tell my staff, family comes first. So reluctantly, I accepted their resignations.

Relocating to Hawaii is not easy. Although we have so many positives - lovely weather most of the time, friendly people, year-round sports, beautiful beaches, different cultures with a variety of customs, holidays, and food - it is difficult to get by on a teacher's salary. Our new teachers are finding out that their take-home pay barely covers the rent, the cost of their vehicle, food, and other necessities. They are also finding that it's difficult to keep up with reading their emails, doing all the required beginning-of-year assignments, and learning the curricular expectations while trying to manage the individual students in their classrooms who have different strengths and challenges.

We are proud that we have systems in place and handbooks with information about school policies and procedures. We have a Faculty Handbook, a Crisis Management and Safety Guide, and grade level handbooks and matrices so new teachers can see the grade level expectations. We have a Positive Behavior Intervention Support handbook so anyone new to our school can understand our PBIS system. Grade level colleagues are willing to assist and support the new teachers as they make their transition to our school, and all teachers with less than 3 years of teaching experience (here or in another state) are provided a mentor teacher who has had or is undergoing extensive training so they can effectively support our newbies.

As I was discussing the concerns for our new teachers, my vice principal said something that totally made sense. "Think of Maslow's Hierarchy," she pointed out. "They're worried about basic needs - housing, child care, their paychecks. Those are basic needs, and they can't get to the top of the triangle if these basic needs are not met."

I think I hit my forehead as that made so much sense! It's not something we have total control over, but we can make things better for our new teachers. We can't do anything about their paycheck, or their rent, or child care (although we can try to help them make connections), but we can provide them with more support at our school.

So first, we will give our new teachers additional time by hiring substitutes so they can meet with their Instructional Coach, mentor teacher, or the tech team. We will let them decide who they would like to meet with or what they need more support with. They may need the time to review resources, plan their lessons, or visit other classrooms. The important thing is that they will determine what support would be most useful for them, and we will provide it.

Secondly, we will survey our new teachers to see if they would like us to give them a hard copy of important emails or the Staff Bulletin; right now, they're expected to get them electronically. If these are important, then we need to make sure they get a copy especially if they're struggling to find the time to read them. That way, they will be up-do-date on what's happening at the school or what deadlines are coming up.

Third, we have identified four mentor teachers who are committed to working with our new teachers. We appreciate that they are willing to take on this responsibility in addition to their other duties as classroom or resource teachers. They are trained or receiving induction and mentoring training from District staff, and are committed to helping our new teachers. As I read articles about what qualities mentor teachers possess, I know that we have the right mentors in place. We will set aside funds to provide time for our new teachers to meet as a professional learning community with their mentor teachers. New teachers need the opportunity to not only vent, but to learn together and to realize that they can provide great support for each other.

We continue to seek ways to meet the needs of every teacher at our school, but just as we differentiate for our students, our teachers also need targeted support to be successful. Studies show that providing support for new teachers can make a difference in whether they stay in the profession or leave. We believe that all of our teachers can make a positive difference for their students, and we do not want them to leave the profession.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Is Spelling Important?

I wrote this blog two years ago, but I think it's still an important issue that we don't discuss enough at the elementary level.

I loved spelling tests when I was in elementary school.  I was good at spelling and didn't even have to study to get good grades.  So when I began teaching elementary school, I followed the lead of those who had been teaching that grade level for many years as well as what I remembered from my days in elementary school.  We followed the spelling list in the Teacher's Manual for reading.  The kids wrote the words down on Monday, wrote it several times in their spelling book for homework that night, wrote a sentence with each word the next night, alphabetized the list on Wednesday, and studied for the test on Thursday night.  After the test on Friday, parents waited anxiously for the tests to be returned, and we had happy kids or sad kids, depending on how they did.  Sometimes, parents would say, "We studied all night long, and he knew how to spell the word last night.  I don't understand why he missed it."

I began to question the value of spelling tests.  I was concerned that students were scoring 100% on Friday, yet they were misspelling those same words when they wrote in their journal or responded to a question the following week.  When a parent shared that he'd promised to take his son to Toys 'R Us if he scored 100% on his test, I realized that I needed to rethink whether spelling tests were that important.

So I changed what I was doing.  On Monday, the students would take a pre-test, and if a student scored 90%-100%, he/she was exempt from taking the test on Friday.  They still did the homework, but these students didn't have to write the word several times in their spelling book.  At least I was differentiating, I thought, but really, those spelling tests still bothered me.  I also noticed that some students felt defeated; they were working so hard but still not getting the kind of scores they wanted. "Is spelling so important?" I asked myself.  It would have been so easy to abandon spelling altogether and take the heat when parents questioned why.  In the back of my mind, however,  I knew that to be an effective reader and writer, a person needs to be aware of spelling. Knowing patterns and rules does help to decode words and to make connections between letters and sounds which then lead to fluency in reading and writing.

Then I bought a book on teaching spelling, and my biggest "aha" was that spelling is developmental.  (I wish I still had that book because it changed my thinking about spelling.)  The book contained lists for each grade level, and teachers could determine a child's developmental stage by how they spelled the words.  I found it so interesting that how a child spelled a word could determine their developmental stage and influence what and how I taught those children. Recently, I found the "Monster Test" that I remember giving to my students a few years ago. It was a simple way to give students a short test and determine their approximate developmental level for spelling. As I recall, it was really quite accurate and helped me to understand what level students were at and how I could help them get to the next level.

After that, the way I taught spelling changed in my classroom.  We used manipulatives, looked at patterns, and played with words.  One of my favorite memories is when we were thinking of words with "_ar" as the final syllable. (I was teaching first grade at that time.)  I would give a clue, and students had to spell the word with their magnetic letters or write it on their whiteboard.  For example, I said, "This is something you can ride in,"  and students excitedly spelled out "car."  After spelling "far" and "star" and "war," I asked students if they had a riddle for a word that ended with _ar.  I called on Lauren, and she whispered a word in my ear.  "Okay," I said, all the while wondering what her riddle would be.  "This is a place where daddies go after a hard day at work," she proudly shared.  The students had no problem spelling out "bar!"and here I was, thinking of "bar of soap" or "gold bar."

It was those kinds of activities that made a difference for my students.  They began to look forward to the short spelling lessons and for homework, students made lists of words with the pattern we were learning.  Students were delighted when they contributed a word to the list that other students might not have thought of!  Students corrected spelling words in a paragraph or did other fun activities based on the pattern we were studying that week.  We also had a word wall, and students had their own personal Quick-Word Handbook. They didn't have to worry about spelling for their first writing draft but they knew that self-correcting their spelling was part of the writing process, and they had tools they could rely on if they needed help.

Oh, one more thing . . . we did take spelling tests, but now, they weren't taken every Friday.  Sometime during the week when I thought the students had internalized that spelling pattern, I assessed them, and I added in some bonus words for those who wanted a challenge. The students almost always spelled the words correctly, and if they made an error, they were able to self-correct their mistake. Most importantly, though, was that their subsequent writing assignments reflected that they had truly learned the spelling patterns of the words we had studied.

In this age of Spell-Check, is it important for students to learn to spell correctly?  Yes, I believe that spelling still has a place in the classroom.  Being an effective communicator and a quality producer means that the reader's understanding and enjoyment of a piece of writing is not hindered by poor spelling.  How we teach spelling, however, does not have to be mundane or boring.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

"That's the way we've always done it"

For the past three school years, our recess fields have been limited due to our construction project. At the end of last school year, we began to seek input from students and staff about how we might restructure recess and our playgrounds. We were in the process of exploring Project-Based Learning, and we posed a question to our students about what they would like to see in a playground. Students from kindergarten up to fifth grade were excited to share ideas in their classroom or in the library, and our librarian (@Michelle_Colte) shared the process in a slide show called, "Planning Our Playground."

We also asked our staff for their input during a Wednesday meeting. We gave them the topic "Recess for Learning," asked the groups to brainstorm questions, select the ones they wanted to explore more, and then to share their learnings. Every staff member was engaged in their group, and the resulting slide show is evidence of the rich discussions that took place. Not surprisingly, the ideas were more practical and less "creative" than our students' ideas. What was impressive was that in the short time available, teams were able to explore and research their questions and provide links to resources.

After that session with our staff,  a committee of students presented their ideas to administration and counselors. These third graders were passionate and had clearly done their research in an effort to persuade us to consider their ideas. This slide show shares the students' ideas. In the end, they advocated for 4 main changes: a longer recess (they had research to back up their claim that students need more physical activity during the day); to be able to go to other places at recess (different playground areas, going to the library, the drama room, etc.); permission for all grade level students to use the playground equipment (older students felt the rules were too restrictive); and having a landscaped area and do-it-yourself space (rolling hills, gardens, sandboxes, a maze, etc.).Students were also concerned about the fact that teachers seemed to ban activities whenever there was a problem rather than seek student input about how to resolve the problem. "Students were playing rough at soccer so they ban soccer. Students fell down and got hurt during tag so they ban tag. There's  nothing for us to do at recess because teachers keep banning stuff." "So what do you propose?" we asked. "Maybe kids can discuss in class about the rules. Or make the kids who are playing rough find something else to do." The point here is that our students do have suggestions; not all of their ideas are acceptable - we made it clear that climbing trees would not be possible due to safety reasons - but we should give them a voice because recess is their break and they have great ideas.

"So what would teachers think of these ideas?" we asked the students. "Oh, they'll like our ideas," one student replied. "They will think it's important for students to get more exercise." "Will they like having longer recess duty?" I asked. One student thought they wouldn't mind, but another disagreed. "I've heard my teacher when she says, 'I have yard duty.' I don't think she would like it," she explained.  'Empathize' is the first step in the Design Thinking Process, we need to be able to empathize with those who have the problem before we can come up with solutions. Our students need to realize that when they give a suggestion, they need to look at it from all viewpoints, not just their own.

After that, our Leadership Team had an on-line discussion where more questions were asked and more suggestions were made. From there, administrators took all of this information into consideration and came up with a revised plan for recess for this school year. Students were given more choice in which field they wanted to play at, we scheduled a slightly longer recess on Wednesday, and we had mixed grade levels sharing the recess fields. Everything went well, right? Wrong!

The students were happy; they loved recess, and they only had 3 rules to remember: Be safe. Be respectful. Be responsible. The teachers' reactions were mixed, however. Some teachers were willing to give it a chance to work itself out, but others were not convinced the new way could work. They wanted to go back to the old way: "That's the way we've always done it," they said, "Why do we have to change?" After a couple of weeks, we convened a committee to discuss and make recommendations.

We are back to having badges for students to go on the playground equipment. The physical education teachers set out activities each day, and teachers are meeting their students and walking them back to class instead of having them walk back by themselves. I think of this as a next step in the Design Process. We went through the process, designed a prototype (recess for learning where students have more voice and choice), and tested it out. When concerns were raised especially about safety, we went back to the design process and made adjustments. We aren't finished yet; we still want to make recess more student-centric and less teacher-directed, but we need the activities and equipment to make that happen. The Parent Teacher Organization has offered to purchase additional activities for our students to use during recess, teachers are looking in their closets to see if they have resources they can share, and we will continue to tweak what we're doing when necessary.

Recess can be a time for learning; we will make it happen.

Recess on the back field . . .
 . . . . in the front of the school by O-building . . . 
. . . and on the court. 
When the playground refurbishment is completed, we'll have more options for our students.  

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Positive Start to a New School Year

This is a year of change for us. Our construction project is almost complete, we exceeded our enrollment projection which means additional funds for our school, our new staff members have acclimated well, and we made some changes to our schedule that we think will make a difference for our students.

This year, there are still areas with orange plastic screening to keep us out, but for the most part, most of the construction barriers have been removed. What a difference this has made! The past three years have been like walking through a maze to get from one area of campus to another, and the walkways were dark and narrower than usual.  When the bell rang, there wasn't enough room for students, parents, and toddlers in strollers. Now that those barriers have been removed, there is plenty of room on the walkways for everyone. Yeah! Happy staff, happy students, and happy parents!

It's nice to have covered walkways throughout the campus. Now students can stay dry when they're walking around campus even when it rains.
This school year, we are focusing our efforts on four initiatives. We will continue to address the six priority strategies for our Department, but our main focuses will be on the following:
  • Implement project-based learning (PBL) with communication skills embedded. Literacy skills - reading, writing, speaking and listening - will be addressed throughout PBL, and the use of technology will be encouraged when appropriate. We started exploring PBL last school year, and this year, we will be building on what we learned. This year. teachers set their own goals related to PBL, and we will be placing them into Professional Learning Communities based on what they would like to explore and discover. There will be opportunities to articulate vertically with teachers in different grade levels and to bring back information to the respective grade levels.
  • Continue to develop a writing continuum with sample writing pieces and criteria so students can self-assess and set their own goals. Last year, we struggled with the idea of a writing continuum that would be personalized for our school. Rather than abandon the idea, we will be collecting student samples of different kinds of writing and looking at the pieces more closely. We want teachers to critique these writing samples in their classrooms, eventually coming up with criteria for quality writing. We want students to be able to self-assess and to revise their own writing pieces. The writing continuum is a work-in-progress; it is a process that takes time and honest discussions amongst our teachers and our students.
  • Students learn and apply math for understanding using “Stepping Stones” and other resources; embed problem-solving skills and strategies into math instruction. Our State has mandated the use of "Stepping Stones" as a resource to teach math. Because we did not have funds at the time, we put off purchasing licenses for this program until this school year. I just read an article, "A History Lesson: When Math Was Taboo," and I found it really interesting and applicable. Too often, we teach algorithms, and students don't understand what the algorithm means or why it works. We need to teach math for understanding.
  • Implement Positive Behavior Intervention Support school-wide to ensure success for all students. Students need to feel safe in their learning environment. We have a strong PBIS system in place, but we continue to make it better. We know that building positive relationships with our students is essential, and having students reflect on their actions has been effective in reducing negative behaviors. We made PBIS a priority two years ago, and we believe that emphasis has resulted in pride and respect amongst our school community.

We anxiously await the completion of our covered play court; we will have options for activities before school, during the day, and after school. We have more recess areas and a different schedule that will give students choices for unstructured as well as structured opportunities. We plan to offer after-school or weekend enrichment activities, and when the library opens, our Makerspace will undoubtedly be a popular choice for students to express their innovation and creativity.

As the year unfolds, I will share insights, lessons learned, reflections, and challenges. After one week, I can say that the year has gotten off to a wonderful start!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Using the Olympics to Excite and Engage!

Four years ago this month, I decided to write a blog about my experiences and learnings as the principal of our school. It has been a challenge at times to keep going with this blog, but I'm glad I'm continuing. Today, I decided to go back and read some of the first blogs I wrote. Ah . . . I remember the stress I felt when I first pressed "publish." Today, I realize that the blog is primarily a way for me to personally reflect on education issues, challenges and successes at our school, and my personal journey as a school leader. I don't regret my decision to start this blog.

One of my reasons for re-reading my first blogs is because I knew I had written about the London Olympics. Because the Rio Games are starting soon, I wanted to get some ideas about what I'd written four years ago. I think there are so many learning opportunities that can engage our students and generate interest in the Olympics! I decided to update my original blog to make it more relevant to what we know about engaging and empowering students in their own learning.

Every four years, we watch and cheer as athletes from countries all over the world compete in the Summer Olympics.  I love the Olympics!  Despite the conflicts between countries that may be occurring at that time, it seems that the Olympics embody what the world could and should be. We cheer for those representing our country, but we also cheer for those who may not win a medal but have overcome adversities to be on the world stage.

I also love the Olympics for the opportunities it provides for students to learn about so many different aspects of the Games. Encourage your students to read articles or books or watch the Olympics on TV to get some background knowledge, then have them brainstorm questions they may have.

Today, we started our new school year, and our vice principal and I decided to use the Olympics as our theme. The first day back can be grueling - lots of information to absorb! Forcing teachers to listen while we drone on and on is directly opposite of what we want to see in our classrooms.

Teachers got into teams for countries like Togo, Nicaragua, Dominica, Micronesia, and Solomon Islands. What is the commonality of all those teams? (If you don't know, research and find out!) Then teachers did some research and each team shared an interesting fact about their country. I think it would be a great classroom activity for students! Throughout the day, teams collected points. It was great to see the teamwork and the camaraderie amongst the staff! It was fun!

Another activity was having teachers brainstorm higher level thinking questions about the Olympics; each team posted questions in our Google+ community. There were some great questions that could lead to exploring and discovering new information and then sharing with others. These are examples of the questions our teachers came up with:
  • Why and how did Rio get chosen for the 2016 Olympics? 
  • What sport/event do you think should be added to the Olympics? Why?
  • How do the Olympics affect the local economy?
  • What is the optimal training and diet for an athlete to perform at the highest level?
  • How would you engineer your own model Olympic stadium? What materials would you use? Why?
  • Based on the history of Olympic games, what kinds of Olympic events would you expect in 100 years?
  • How do athletes mentally prepare for all the stress and pressure that comes with representing their country?
  • If we developed our own Inouye Elementary Olympics, what games would you include? Why?
  • Why do people who don't normally watch sports watch the Olympics?
I think the Olympics is a great way to discuss Personal/Social issues. There are so many stories of Olympic athletes who have overcome obstacles to stand on the podium.  Wilma RudolphJesse Owens, and  Duke Kahanamoku are but a few examples.  Learn what makes these Olympic athletes stand out from others who may be equally talented.  This is a great opportunity to discuss goal-setting and developing a plan of action for the school year.  Students would then track their progress on their personal goal.

Perhaps we can have students ask the questions and discover the answers to their questions. Encourage them to follow the Olympics and learn about the different events and get to know athletes  including those from different countries. Every time I watch the Olympics, I learn something new about a country or a sport or an athlete. Our students will, too.

School begins on Monday.  An Olympics unit is a great way to incorporate rigor, relevance, and relationships into the classroom!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Support for New Teachers

This will be my 14th year as principal of our school, and the first that we have such a turnover of teachers. In my last blog, I shared my feelings about losing staff and hiring new teachers. I ended the blog on a positive note, and I feel confident that we will benefit from the individual strengths and life experiences of our new staff.

Since then, I read a timely and relevant blog, "8 Characteristics of a Great Teacher," and it was such validation of what I believe as an administrator. I reflected on our interviews with numerous applicants, and I know why we selected the teachers we did. When we ask our interview questions, we are listening to the candidates' core beliefs and their life experiences about why they went into teaching and what they can offer to our students and school community. We can tell when they are being honest and saying what they believe. Throughout the interview, woven into the different questions we ask, we get a glimpse into that teacher's philosophy and beliefs about education and about children.  We were picky; even though we had a number of openings, we preferred to ask for another list if we didn't feel that anyone would be the kind of teacher who would thrive in our school.

Many of the teachers we hired are new to the state or new to the profession, and they bring a wealth of experiences to our school. I am excited about what they shared when we asked about any innovative projects they had been involved with. They are committed to building strong relationships with their students, especially those who are the most challenging. As the interview ended, some teachers found a way to add that they are not textbook or worksheet-driven and prefer to engage students through inquiry-based hands-on activities that encourage collaboration and communication with others. I was pleased that these interviewees were confident enough to let me know up-front about their beliefs and practices. As part of our interview process, we want any teacher applicant to know that as a school, we believe that there is a general guideline of what students need to learn and do, but teachers are encouraged to use their own strengths as well as the strengths and interests of their students to provide a rich, engaging, and empowering classroom curriculum.

What these interviews indicated to me was contrary to what we've been hearing about schools today. The teachers we hired did not talk about high test scores or following a set program. They shared about knowing their kids and building a community within their classroom so their students would feel safe and will want to come to school even if they are experiencing challenges such as transitions or deployments. They are excited to try new things that we have implemented at our school like creating a class web page to communicate with families or using technology to share student learning. And they embraced our school vision, "Empowering learners to explore, discover, create, and share" and related our vision to themselves as teachers and learners.

Now that we have found the teachers we want for our school, it is our responsibility as administrators to provide them with the support and guidance they need to be successful in their new positions. Our grade level teams, instructional coaches, technology team, and mentor teachers are essential in providing that support. After all, teaching is a challenging profession but with the right support, our new teachers will continue to grow personally and professionally.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

I was feeling sorry for myself . . .

. . . here it was nearing the end of June, and we still hadn't completed our hiring for the next school year. For every teacher applicant who agreed to a meeting with us, there were 10 who had already been hired at another school or declined to interview (too far, no transportation, etc.).

This year more than any other in my tenure at our school, we had a lot of staff leave. All were for good reasons - retirement, new assignment for their military spouse, beginning the journey to become an administrator, staying home with their new baby, or moving to a new school either here in Hawaii or in a different state. No one left because they wanted to quit teaching.

As I continued to send emails or make phone calls to teacher candidates inviting them to interview with us, I received phone calls from principals in other states about two of our teachers. While I knew these teachers were exploring possibilities of venturing away from Hawaii and seeking new opportunities elsewhere, those phone calls were not what I needed at the time. As I spoke with the principals, though, I realized that they were just like me. They were looking for the "right" teacher for their school, and they were relying on my feedback to validate what they heard during their interview. Those of us in administration want the same thing: We want teachers who are committed to teaching, who treat others with respect, who are not just teachers but learners as well, and whose primary reason for teaching is to guide and support students to maximize their potential and to love learning. We know that teaching requires a commitment to doing all we can to prepare our students for their future. I ended my conversation with these principals with, "I know they'll be in good hands if they go to your school. Make sure they share what they've learned here and help them continue to grow as educators." They promised to do so.

Because our school has a high rate of transiency due to our military-impacted enrollment, we tell our students that when they leave us, they are "ambassadors" for our school and for schools in Hawaii. We emphasize the General Learner Outcomes because if we are able to demonstrate these GLOs in our daily lives, we will be successful wherever we are. The same goes for our teachers who leave our school or leave Hawaii and go on to teach elsewhere. They will learn new skills and strategies in their new school, and hopefully, they will share what they've learned during their tenure at our school. They are ambassadors as well!

And special thanks to our Student Services Coordinator who shared with me what she said to one of our teachers who's leaving. "I'm sad for us," she said, "but I'm excited for you!" She speaks from experience; she came to Hawaii years ago as a brand new teacher from the mainland, and now, this is her home. Her words helped me realize that I needed to snap out of my woe-is-me attitude. Thanks, Teri :-)

Last school year, we had no new teachers. This year, we'll be hiring a mix of first year teachers and those who've relocated to Hawaii but have taught elsewhere. Every individual brings something different to the table; that's what makes every school unique. I am confident that we will have another great year at our school!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Time to LAUNCH!

I just finished reading "LAUNCH" by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani.  This book is about "using design thinking to boost creativity and bring out the maker in every student."

A few years ago, I attended an introductory "Design Thinking" workshop sponsored by Oceanit.  I was intimidated; everyone around me was busy designing their wallet and I was . . . well, I was watching them and feeling helpless at not having any good ideas.

Then, when I first heard about Makerspaces from Eric Sheninger, I wasn't convinced that we needed that space at our school. Luckily, I didn't say "no" when our librarian said she wanted to create one and give students opportunities to create, share, and learn from others. Throughout the year, as I observed students in the Makerspace, I was amazed at their level of engagement and creativity. Because our new library media center is still being constructed, our librarian had a classroom for her Makerspace that doubled as a research and teaching area for lessons; she had to really plan carefully to ensure that students had the time and the space to explore and discover as well as to create and share. Recently, she shared at a conference about "Curriculum & Creativity in the Makerspace." I am thrilled at all the different ways that students are using the Makerspace!

To me, though, one of the best outcomes from starting a Makerspace at our school is seeing empowerment in action. Our librarian Michelle Colte and her assistant Leah Stone are always thinking of ways to bring in students and teachers to the library/Makerspace, and the numerous photos and links are evidence of the opportunities available at our school. The next big step, though, is the "launch" part where our students are actually given opportunities to share their products with others, not just within our school community, but globally as well.

The library is not the only place where design thinking is taking place at our school. Our kindergarten classes were studying about the sun, and students used design thinking to create a structure to protect a marshmallow from melting in the sun. Students came up with all kinds of ideas, created their prototype, tried out their ideas, made revisions based on their observations, and tried again. Fourth graders used the design thinking process to "Build a Better Product." This toothpaste dispenser project and this individual coffee dispenser are examples of students using the design process to address a problem they wanted to solve. I was impressed when students shared their ideas!

We asked the kindergarten students to explain how their structure would protect the marshmallow from melting. They all could explain their thinking. 
Personally, the chapter on "Creating" had the most impact on me. I've always felt that I was not a creative person. And yet, according to the criteria, I do have some creativity. I go through the process every time I blog and share publicly. In my younger days, I sewed my own clothes and cross-stitched gifts for my family and friends. I haven't done that in years, but maybe it's time I tried something new. The challenges for me are #1 and #2 in the chapter on "Creating": #1 It Takes Time and #2 It Feels Scary. As the principal, I encourage our staff and our students to be risk-takers, critical and creative thinkers and problem-solvers. As uncomfortable as it makes me feel, I need to do the same.

Summer is a great time to catch up on professional reading. I would recommend Launch to any teacher or administrator who believes in creative schools!

Friday, June 10, 2016

I Missed it, but I Heard it was Great!

The Kamehameha Schools Technology Conference was held this past week. I attended the conference a few years ago. This is when I first learned about "Caine's Arcade," a powerful film that still moves me to this day. At this and other conferences, I really enjoy learning with educators from around our state.  I decided not to register for the conference this year, but a number of our staff and students attended. In fact, several of our teachers and a few of our students presented at this conference!

How likely is it that students in grades 3, 4, and 5 would be confident enough to share and teach adults? Gee, I get nervous when I have to present to an audience that I don't know, but from what I heard, our students did very well! They were prepared and even had links to their own slide show to share their learning. Considering that we've been out of school for two weeks now, we know that the students were working on their presentations at home :-)

Earlier this school year, Chris Caravalho (@manacomics) came to our school to speak with some of our students about cartooning. He shared how he gets his ideas (the world around him, nature, his personal experiences, his experiences as a police officer, stories people tell him, etc.). Chris shared about the themes of good-evil, traits of a superhero, and how quality work takes perseverance. He then took time to talk with each child individually about their work, asking questions, giving them tips, and helping them to complete their comic strip about a superhero.
Students were very inspired by Chris; he took time to speak with each child about their work. Afterwards, the students were excited to complete and share their comic strip. 
One of the sessions at Kamehameha that our students helped with was called "Edu ComicCon," and it was part listening/sharing by Chris, our librarian Michelle Colte, and our Tech Coordinator Megan Cummings.  The other part was learning/doing with student mentors. Liam, Lily, and Nylah shared how to use to create their superhero comic book story.

This is Liam's comic about his superhero. Notice how he effectively used his pictures to tell much of the story; very few words are included to express his ideas. 
Elisabeth loves to draw so she shared how she drew a comic strip as part of a service learning project to thank veterans. Cheyenne loves all kinds of art and uses digital tools and apps as well as paint and crayons to share her messages. Click on the links in the slideshow to see more of our amazing student work. 

Chris Caravalho poses with some of the students and teachers who attended the Kamehameha Schools Technology Conference.
Tonya Roller, a fifth grade teacher, presented with two of her students, Kennedy and Alex, about "Building Community, Creativity, and Critical Thinking with Wednesday Missions." The students loved these missions! My office is right across Mrs. Roller's classroom, and I could see and hear the students as they worked together to solve their mission. Here's a link to Tonya's slide show; it's full of ideas! 
Kennedy and Alex share their experiences with Wednesday Missions. They attended the conference both days and enjoyed walking around, sitting in on sessions, and trying out some of the activities like coding and the Marble Run. What a great experience for them as they move on to middle school!

Teachers from our school led two other sessions. Vera Yamanaka, Jerilynn Schaefer, and Janelyn Gamiao learned how to use the Seesaw app and now, their students are documenting and sharing their work independently.  Here's the link to their slideshow. These teachers are using Seesaw to communicate with parents about what goes on in their classroom. Students love it, parents love it, teachers love it, and it's so easy to use!

Finally, Michelle Colte and Shelby Cotham presented "Curriculum and Creativity in the Makerspace."  Check out their slideshow; it's chock full of ideas about how to incorporate "making" into the curriculum and how this space can be used in so many different ways during class, at lunchtime, and after school. I will admit that at first, I was skeptical about "making" but after watching students go through the process of brainstorming, coming up with ideas, trying them out, making revisions, and trying again, I know that the problem-solving process is what's really important. Seeing our students working collaboratively and helping each other by asking questions and suggesting ideas is what makes the Makerspace such a wonderful addition to our school. 

I didn't get to go to the conference, but through the photos, the tweets, and the slideshows, I know that our students and teachers shared some great ideas that other educators were interested in. I also know that they learned so much by being surrounded by other educators who are similarly excited about being exposed to new ideas. This conference also demonstrated that we should be inviting students to share their learnings and their projects with others. When students are invested in what they are learning and when they have the opportunity to share their projects with a larger audience, we see what they are capable of. Next school year, we will explore ways to provide students with opportunities to share their projects and to mentor others - our staff, parents, and others in the community or at conferences - who may want to learn something new. I know these kids can teach an old dog (me) new tricks.  I look forward to that opportunity!

Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School was well-represented at the conference. Here are some of the teachers who attended and/or presented. We are proud of all of them for continuing to give back to the education community!