Saturday, January 30, 2016

It's Time for a Change - Let's Not Wait Too Long to Get Started

Last school year, I had the opportunity to travel with the Education Institute of Hawaii to learn more about school empowerment. After returning from this trip, I reflected about the impact of this trip in this blog post.

I recently attended the 2nd Annual Hawaii School Empowerment Conference featuring several keynote speakers including Pasi Sahlberg who has written about Finland's educational successes and Diane Ravitch, an outspoken advocate for public education in our country. (I will admit that I was looking forward to seeing Ms. Ravitch in person because I enjoy reading about her; she is passionate and has very strong ideas. However, she spoke to us via video conferencing so the impact was perhaps lessened.)

I feel fortunate that in my early experiences as a newbie teacher, I was empowered. Starting my career as a Head Start teacher meant that I created my own curriculum and monitored student progress on a continuum. When I started teaching in the Department of Education, we had basals to guide us, but as a teacher, I had flexibility in how I used those resources in my classroom. My training as an educator prepared me to understand that not all students learn in the same way and it was my responsibility to find what works, especially for students who learn differently.

Our job as educators is to empower our students. In this blog post, Empower Students: 5 Powerful Strategies, teacher Celina Brennan suggests that we need to "step back, let go, and empower students to take charge of their own learning."

But a teacher who is not empowered may not know how to empower his/her students, and a principal who has never been empowered might not empower the teachers and staff at the school. Therein lies a problem for schools today. If our educators are in a compliance-driven system where mandated curriculum and standardized test scores are the measure of success, how can we prepare our students for a world where they are expected to be innovative, collaborative, critical thinkers and problem-solvers, and literate engaged learners?

Empowerment and accountability go hand-in-hand. In our country, standardized test results are overused as a means of judging schools, school districts, and states. Data is important, and setting goals is essential in any organization including our schools. However, holding schools accountable based solely on data such as test scores, student growth, chronic absenteeism, or graduation rate is a narrow-minded focus when empowered schools are implementing powerful learning initiatives such as project-based learning, Senior Capstone Projects, competency-based blended learning, and community and business internships. Students are applying critical literacy and technology skills and strategies throughout the day to meaningfully engage in their own learning.

School should be a place where students have an opportunity to follow their passions, to explore and make new discoveries, to share what they've learned in creative ways, and to reflect on how this learning impacts them and their world.  Let's empower schools so they can determine their own goals on how they will be held accountable.
I enjoyed listening to Pasi Sahlberg speak about PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment that shows our country lagging behind many other countries. Pasi has written a book about Finland's educational system; their country is consistently near the top in PISA ratings.
ESSA or Every Student Succeeds Act was recently signed into law and No Child Left Behind has thankfully been laid to rest. ESSA still requires annual testing for students in grades 3-8 and once in grades 10-12 , but states can determine which test to use. Diane Ravitch suggested that this is where our state Board of Education might start. Hopefully, our Department will choose a less time-consuming statewide assessment system; the Smarter Balanced Assessments need to go. 


  1. Exciting times for sure. I love thinking out of the box and looking for innovative ways to challenge children in real life context. I work in some communities that have very little success to imitate. I also travel to a few communities were it is difficult to find highly qualified employees. I am afraid that these small, geographically isolated and incredibly poor communities may not have a voice. I will be their voice! I hope people will be empowered to come on the journey. Nice posts again. I look forward to reading more. Jan you are an inspiration!

    1. Thank you, +Chad Farias, for your kind words. Your passion and commitment to the students in the KKP complex area is appreciated, I'm sure. Tomorrow I go to an initial meeting with the Buck Institute for project-based learning. I look forward to being part of a network of committed leaders with a common vision for our schools.