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! 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Unique Opportunity

Now that summer break has officially begun, I can relax a bit from the end-of-the-year hustle and bustle. As each year ends in my professional journey as an educator, I reflect on how grateful I am to be in a profession that has such an impact on society. This year was my 43rd as an educator, and while the general public chooses to bash our school systems or bemoan that our students are not prepared to think critically, I disagree.

While we can do things better (especially with testing - don't get me started). our students are learning. It's just that they learn differently and are more likely to let us adults know when they don't see the relevance in what or how they're being taught. Students today have so many opportunities to learn outside of school and to connect and learn from others. I can tell you unequivocally that when our students are given voice and choice in what and how they share their learning, skeptical adults would be impressed.

Earlier this year, our fourth graders began a unit called "Wave of Immigration" to address social studies standards about the history of Hawaii.  At the time, the news was focused on the plight of the Syrian refugees, and the teacher saw this as an opportunity to expand the unit beyond a period of time in Hawaii's history to the present and what was happening in the world. I was impressed with the questions these students came up, and they decided as a class that their driving question was "Will immigration last forever?" They explored and discovered and then shared their ideas through discussions and essays. They created slide shows about the different immigrant groups that came to Hawaii and positively impacted our multicultural society. Students even related immigration to natural disasters, something they had studied earlier in the year. In the end, they decided as a class that immigration will last forever because of push and pull factors, and as military dependents, these students were able to communicate how immigration impacted them personally. I was impressed and truthfully, their driving question made me think more deeply about immigration than I ever had before.

My point is that as educators and as adults, we cannot get complacent. We need to model for our children that we are also learners and that they can teach us. Teaching and learning is not dependent on one's age or life experiences.

This week, I have a unique opportunity to network with a group of educational leaders from public and charter schools to learn more about Project-Based Learning as part of the Hawaii Innovative Leaders Network with support and guidance from the Buck Institute for Education.  This is a 2-year commitment, and I look forward, not just to the face-to-face meetings, but also for this opportunity to connect with other educators and to expand my professional learning network.

Our school has made a commitment to transition from teacher-directed interdisciplinary units to student-centered project-based learning. Our vision states that we will "empower learners to explore, discover, create, and share." PBL is a process that can be used to support deeper learning and give us the tools to truly be life-long learners who can make a difference in this world.

What a gorgeous venue for our HILN Leader Launch! I never knew this place existed. 

A wonderful learning lab for the students