Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Great Way to Spend a Day!

The Hawaii State Legislature is set to convene next week for 60 working days. Legislators are presently holding briefings, researching, holding meetings, and generally getting ready to do the work to set new directions for the State. Our Department relies on the Legislature for funding, and once the session begins, the work is non-stop and hectic.

Recently, our school was fortunate to be part of a visitation and 'talk story' session with legislators and principals. We believe that policymakers need to know what is happening at schools, and we relished the opportunity to share the teaching and learning that takes place in our classrooms. Planning what and how to share really depends on how much time is allocated. We decided that a Mini Poster Session would showcase how our students from kindergarten through fifth grade are using technology as a tool for collaborating, communicating, thinking critically, and creating. It was awesome to see students so excited to share; they were confident and poised as they explained their projects to our guests.
Katelyn, a second grader, shares her project with Senate Education Chair Michelle Kidani.
Third grader Caden was excited to share a coding game he is creating. "I was working on it all weekend," he admitted, "but I still have to add some stuff to make it cooler."

The next stop was to Moanalua Middle School; they were one of the original schools in the 1:1 Access Learning pilot program that was funded by the Legislature in 2013.  We visited classrooms and observed students using their devices in math, science, and a design studio elective class. Principal Lisa Nagamine is a passionate advocate for the use of technology at her school in all classrooms. She and her staff have created a strong culture where collaboration is valued and continuous improvement is an expectation. 

The final visit for the day was to Kaimuki High School. My husband is a proud graduate of KHS, class of 1965, and he often shares that his experiences at the school helped to shape who he is today. When we drove up to the campus, I was amazed at the huge mural in the front of the school. "Gee, has it been that long since I've been here?" I thought to myself. Then I discovered that the students had worked with an artist to create the mural, and that it had been completed between August and November 2015. The mural is a highly-visible reminder of the positive changes taking place at the school. Principal Wade Araki proudly speaks of the school's transformation and the transition to a modular schedule and competency-based education. I will admit that when I heard a news report about KHS going to a competency-based system, I was thinking of those college courses where students read a chapter from a textbook, took a test, and after getting a passing score, went on to the next chapter. The course grade depended on the number of tests completed. KHS is definitely not that kind of competency-based system. Students are expected to complete rigorous assignments in all content areas, and all students belong to one of five academies on campus. Teachers monitor student progress and provide support and guidance to those who may be struggling or need extra assistance. The assignments are rigorous, and students go at their own pace. If a student completes his/her assignments earlier, they can work on their passion projects in their area of interest. Students can also take college courses and receive dual credit. Attendance is up, and tardies are down. It was evident that students were engaged in their work. Everyone had a computer and all were working on a different assignment or topic; they barely noticed that we were in the room. 

Here are my thoughts as I reflected on this school visit experience with the legislators:
  • Every school is different and addresses their challenges in different ways. What works at one school may not necessarily work at another. One size doesn't fit all. 
  • We need to encourage out-of-the-box, creative, innovative thinking by our students, our teachers, our school leaders, and our policymakers. As the school visitations have shown, when schools are empowered to take risks and to try something different, the impact on the community can be substantial.
  • Visiting schools and classrooms is the best professional development opportunity for educators. We can learn so much from others, yet we rarely make the time to do so. Every school and every teacher has something positive to share; let's learn from each other. Additionally, all educators should belong to a Professional Learning Network where members communicate, collaborate, share ideas, and problem-solve, either face-to-face or virtually. 
  • Having a strong vision of what we want to accomplish and the persistence to do whatever is necessary is essential if we want to make a difference for our students. 
  • Educators need to band together to make our voices heard and to advocate for our students, our schools, and our communities. With the legislative session opening in just a few days, we need to send a message that if we want our students to be college, career, and citizenship-ready, schools could use more funding.  It's difficult to be innovative when so much of our budgets are spent on personnel or other Department mandates.
  • We need to commit to ensuring that every child is Future Ready. This is not about purchasing devices or other technologies. It's about preparing our students with 21st century skills and strategies so they can compete globally;  it's about ensuring that teachers receive the professional development and support they need to positively impact their students; it's about schools being creative and resourceful and engaging students through meaningful and relevant learning. 

Let's work together to make a difference for our students and our schools!

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