Monday, March 21, 2016

PBL - Finding Solutions to Problems

This is Spring Break for us, a time to reflect on the past three quarters and look forward to our final quarter of the school year. This year, our tech team is leading our faculty in discussions about project-based learning. We realize that PBL is a mindshift from teacher-directed interdisciplinary units to being more student-directed, based on questions that are generated from the students themselves, and it has not been an easy transition.

As I walked around the school today, I stopped to admire the vegetables and plants that the second graders and the fifth grade Garden Club are growing. Then I noticed that the vines from the gourd plant were entwined on the native hibiscus plant. Last year, some fourth graders planted seeds from the gourds that they cleaned out, sanded, and polished to make ipu, a Hawaiian rhythm instrument. With minimal care, the gourd vines continue to grow. As our SSC and I carefully disentangled the vines from the hibiscus bush, I made a lot of observations about how the vine was growing. I realized that this would be a perfect opportunity for students to ask questions about the plant and how it grows. This could lead to researching about the gourd plant and why it was so important to the ancient Hawaiians. Hopefully, when students make music with their ipu, they will have a better understanding and a better appreciation, for the gourd.

Due to the construction on our campus, we have limited space for our students to play at recess. It's not too late to have our students be part of the solution. Let them have a discussion about what could be allowed at recess, what rules or restrictions we might have, and what new activities we might allow students to participate in during this free time. Why haven't we thought to ask them for their ideas?  Students might be more invested in finding solutions to problems if we give them the opportunity to share in the discussion. After all, as this article points out, recess is essential for children. 

Recently, a question was raised about a homework policy at our school. We've had this discussion before, but there was no consensus so we decided that each grade level would determine their own policy. This time, our discussion was fueled by a blog about an elementary school that abolished homework.   Since we are looking for opportunities to learn more about project-based learning, I think this is a perfect time to use a real-life problem and have all our role groups - teachers, students, and parents -  contribute to the solution. We will come up with questions then allow time for exploration, examining other schools' homework policies, sharing research about the benefits of homework, and discussing our findings. Hopefully, every role group's voices will be heard, and we will come up with some shared beliefs about homework that will help us create a policy for our school.

These kinds of discussions will help our teachers to gain a better understanding about the positive benefits of project-based learning. We can then empower our students to be problem-finders and problem-solvers, to seek solutions to everyday problems they may encounter in their lives.

Can you spot the new gourds that are growing? There are at least 4; look carefully. 
I hope to learn about the best time to pick the gourds so they can be transformed into ipu or water carriers. Perhaps the students will be able to teach me about what they learn. If you look closely, these gourds have little spots on them; some insects got to them before they could be picked. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Poor Role Models for Our Children

As a life-long educator. I believe that we have a responsibility to help our students to become empathetic and contributing citizens in this ever-changing world. If we believe that every child can reach his/her potential to do something meaningful with their lives, then everything we do as adults should send that positive message to the child. Parents, relatives, neighbors, teachers, coaches, community leaders - we all help to mold our children into the adults they will become. That is an awesome responsibility and one I take seriously as a school leader.

We teach our students about mutual respect, no put-downs or name-calling, and taking care of ourselves and others. We want them to be able to solve their problems by talking with the other person and resolving their disagreements respectfully. We want them to show tolerance for differences of opinion or ideas. 

As adults, we need to model the behaviors we want our students to internalize. To me, that is one of the most important responsibilities we have as educators and leaders in our classrooms or school or community. 

And that is why it bothers me when I see what is happening in our election for President. This isn't leadership. It's bullying, name-calling, disrespect, and mob mentality.What do our children think when they see adults behaving as they do? How do we justify this kind of behavior from adults who claim they are qualified to be the leader of our country? We can't.

But if our children see that behavior and ask about it, we can use this as a learning opportunity. Turn the question back on the child. "What do you think?" Have them reflect on what they're seeing and hearing.  Have an honest discussion with them - not a lecture - but a two-way discussion. 

With the preponderance of coverage via news and social media, we can no longer shield our children from the kinds of disturbing scenes and speeches that are shared every day. But we can teach them about respect, tolerance, and kindness, and hopefully, the lessons they learn at school or at home or in the community when they are young can help them make the right decisions when they become adults. 

A respected leader doesn't pull oneself up by putting others down. Let's hope that the adults perpetuating these behaviors will realize the negative impact they are having on the youth of our country. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

15,000+ Views

Back in July 2012 when I first started blogging, I wasn't sure how long it would last. It was difficult to conceive of actually putting my thoughts and reflections out there for the public to read. In fact, in my third blog, I was already asking myself "What Was I Thinking?" At that time, I was struggling; I've written lots of different types of writing as a principal: memos, letters, emails, reports, and applications. But I never wrote my reflections or thoughts and then shared them publicly with others.

I'm glad I didn't give up. At first, I tried to write regularly, but that was stressful because I couldn't always think of a topic I wanted to write about. Then I decided to just write when I had something to share. That might not be what other bloggers do, but for me, it works.

It is now March 2016, and I continue to blog. In fact, I just surpassed 15,000 pageviews and to me, that is amazing! Some posts are more popular than others; the one that has had the most readers was one I wrote back in 2013 titled, "It's More than a Place to Borrow Books," and it has received over 630 views! In fact, that post needs to be updated because there are even more changes that have been implemented in our library despite the fact that we are in temporary classrooms while awaiting the completion of our new library media resource center. I must make it a point to update that blog when we move into our new building later this school year.

Some of my reflections have been personal; the one I wrote when my Dad passed away was therapeutic and helped me through the grieving process. Another of my favorite posts is about my youngest son and his decision to join the Air Force. Others have been about our school or our Department or about the state of education in our country.  I do my best to be positive and not to criticize without offering possible solutions.

The major challenge to blogging regularly is that it does take time and sometimes, the ideas and words don't flow easily. For me, though, it's been a great opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and to share my reflections, my experiences, and my personal thoughts about education.  It has been a wonderful learning experience for me, and I plan to continue adding to my blog. It has been empowering to know that what I write might have a positive impact on another educator.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Wellness & Fitness Challenge!

One of the Wellness & Fitness goals for our Department is "Staff Wellness." This year, we decided to take it to a new level with a Wellness & Fitness Challenge. Staff members formed teams of four and each member committed to a goal for themselves. It could be anything from exercising more to eating healthier. It was their goal and members of their team agreed to support each other. We allowed friendly trash-talking, and it was fun to see the competitiveness that evolved!

In the middle of this friendly competition, we held an Eagles Shootout with teams from grade levels or departments. I watched our physical education teacher having a Shootout with a class of second graders and knew immediately that I wanted to do this with our staff.  We had this activity on a Wednesday when meetings are usually scheduled, and I was pleased to see so many staff members come out to participate, even some who had never shot a basketball in years! The beauty of this Shootout was that anyone could score points for their team, and everyone had so much fun as evidenced by the laughter, the encouragement, and the cheering. In the end, the fifth grade team took first place and the custodial team took second place, but the real winners were all of the staff who participated. As we were all leaving to go back to our rooms, I heard comments like, "That was so much fun!" or "That was the best Wednesday meeting we've had!" or "Let's do it again!"

As we talk about ways to build community within our classrooms, we cannot forget that we need to build community within our staff. Sometimes, in the urgency to "get things done," we forget to schedule "fun" activities that can showcase the talents of our students or our staff.

We already have our next activity planned . . . and we look forward to an even better turnout than we had for our Eagles Shootout!

Just some friendly trash-talking between teams
A photo before the Eagles Shootout
Those who didn't participate came out to cheer.
Practicing before the competition started
Explaining the rules to the kindergarten team
We asked each team to post in our Google+ community under "Health and Wellness." This is an example of what one group shared.
The FLASH team even had their own shirts!
Fit Ladies Always Stay Healthy :-)
The Suicide Squad took turns preparing a healthy salad on Tuesday, and the team ate together.
The Team HELY (Heather, Ellen, Lora, Yuuko) posted inspiring messages each week.