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.