Friday, December 29, 2017

What is the Culture at Our School?

It's Winter Break. It's pretty quiet around the school with a few workers on campus to catch up on maintenance or end-of-the-year responsibilities. I usually spend a couple of days during school breaks to clean my office and to trash things I no longer need, but this time, I did a pretty good job of keeping my office relatively free of clutter. (That's an accomplishment for me!) I've been having a difficult time writing a new post for this blog. It's not that I've not been reflecting; on the contrary, I've probably been reflecting more-than-usual as I near the end of my career as an educator and a principal at our school.

George Couros to the rescue! His latest blog post, "People Shape Culture" was exactly what I was thinking about, and when George's first line stated,  "I am struggling with an idea here, so I have decided to blog it out . . Let's see where it goes." It was as if he was reading my mind.

I've been thinking a lot recently about the culture of our school. I reflect on the first few years of my tenure here, and I realize how much I've grown as a leader. Yet my basic beliefs about teaching and learning haven't changed much. I still believe that we need to focus on our students and what they need to be successful. The culture of a military-impacted school is different from a local community school where students might attend with the same classmates from K-12. There are different challenges at our school, challenges that we've addressed through supports as well as our curriculum and instruction. ("Proud to Be a Principal at a Military-Impacted School"

I was lucky to work under school leaders who trusted me and gave me the green light to try new strategies or lessons to engage my students. I believe this is why I, as a principal, work to build relationships with our staff so they are comfortable to be innovative in their classrooms to meet the needs of their students. Many of the ideas and changes we have implemented were suggested by teachers: co-teaching, Response to Intervention, project-based learning, Google Apps for Education (G-Suite), student-led conferences, integration of technology for teaching and learning, our Exploratoria, afternoon enrichment classes, and more.

I reflected on our staff, and I realized that 90% have been hired or were transferred to our school after I became principal fifteen years ago. This is probably why our school culture is one that is aligned with my personal beliefs about education. We hired the right people for our culture and put them in the right seats on the bus.

When I leave the school, I expect that the culture will change. If it's true that people shape culture, then what we've implemented based on our beliefs will remain, but the new leader will bring in his/her ideas to positively influence the culture. And that is how it should be!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Giving Thanks, 2017

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 2017 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 and share it with others when they leave Hawaii.  At DKIES, Eagles Pride means to
Take care of yourself. Take care of others. Take care of our school.  This is a message we hope they will live throughout their education years.

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.

4 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. In 2016, all of the construction was completed, and our school was 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!

I'm Not Data-Driven

I'll admit it; I'm not data-driven. I do look at our school's data and we have discussions about how we can improve, However, there's so much data available today that it's hard to decide which ones to pay more attention to.

There was a time when I meticulously took all of our students' academic information and put them on spreadsheets. I color-coded them to identify those who may need more support. Then I realized that it was the teachers who should be doing that with their students if we wanted to see gains so I asked teachers to send that information to me. Today, our Instructional Coaches meet with the teachers to review their data and make decisions regarding interventions.

We also carefully reviewed the behavioral data to see if there were areas on campus where we were getting more disciplinary referrals or to see if there were trends with grade levels or groups of students. Our monthly Peer Reviews and Triage Meetings are an opportunity to discuss concerns for individual students and to come up with a plan of action to support those identified students.

However,  I don't spend an inordinate amount of time looking over our data to determine next steps. Although I know it's important to review data regularly and to gauge progress towards our goals, I prefer to look at the big picture.

In my personal life, I was not a data keeper. My husband is pre-diabetic and every morning, he pokes his finger and takes a reading of his blood sugar level. Some days he is high and needs to monitor what he eats or maybe he needs to do more physical exercise. Luckily, I don't have pre-diabetes so I never felt the need to take data. However, last Christmas, my husband gave me a present - a bright pink Adidas pullover - and it was too tight. He offered to have it changed, but I saw this as an opportunity to improve my health habits.

At the start of 2017, we had a Wellness and Fitness Challenge at our school for all of our staff. Everyone was placed on a team, and we set our own healthy goals. The team captain was tasked with checking each week to see if we reached our goal, and we had a partner who encouraged us to keep going. It was then that I set two goals for myself: at least 5 days a week, to take 10,000 steps and to have a salad for one of my meals. I started a journal to document my progress. The Wellness and Fitness Challenge ended but I kept going.

Well, recently, my husband and I were going on a trip and I decided to try on the pullover since it would be colder where we were traveling to. It fit! I was tickled pink (literally) to wear it.

I know that keeping data deliberately was what helped me get to my goal. The thing is that my goal wasn't to lose weight; it was to eat healthier and make sure I got in my 10,000+ steps. It helps that we have a wide-spread campus. I love walking around, taking pictures and sharing with the staff and school community. My data was easy to track, and I think there were less than 5 weeks when I didn't meet my goal.

As I reflected on this data-keeping experience (which I intend to continue), I made a few connections to keeping data at school:
  • Data-keeping can be used effectively and efficiently by teachers; it doesn't have to be laborious or difficult.
  • Data-keeping is only useful if we monitor regularly and use the data to make positive changes in our teaching and learning.
  • We should teach our students to keep track of their own data. This can be an important strategy to achieving our personal goals.
  • Goal-setting is easy; monitoring and recording our progress via data-keeping takes commitment. It's so easy to lose sight of our goals when there's no accountability.
  • We can spend so much time tracking and analyzing data, but perhaps more important is the big picture. Why are we keeping and analyzing data? There must be a purpose for our data, to improve what we're doing in the classroom to positively impact student learning. 
While I believe data is important as part of school improvement, I also think we need to be careful about being so data-driven that we lose sight of what's really important: our students. As this quote states:

Finally, I decided to do something I'm not comfortable doing - sharing this photo of myself and my grandson Jayden in my pink Adidas pullover.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

An Epic Fail! Well, Not Really

Last Wednesday was our school-wide evacuation drill, and on Monday evening, one of our teachers sent an email, "Are we sending something out to the parents?" Yikes! I had forgotten about that! Early the next morning, I edited last year's letter, made copies for all the students, cut the papers in half (we were saving paper by putting two letters on one page), then began to deliver them to classrooms with instructions to send it home that day. I had gotten through about 10 classrooms with many more to go when I heard someone chasing after me with, "Mrs. Iwase, it's the wrong date!" What? I took her stack of papers, and sure enough, it was the wrong date! Arrgh! What had I done? I returned to the office, wondering what had happened. I took out all the letters with the wrong date - half of the stack - and realized what I had done, or more accurately, not done. I changed the date on the top letter but had forgotten to change the date on the bottom letter. Basically, I wasted time and paper that day. In the realm of things, it wasn't that much of an epic fail, but every time when I make a careless mistake that ends up wasting time and/or money, I feel a bit guilty especially when I tell teachers that we should be "going green."

In our Leadership Team meeting last week, we started off by talking about time. That is a major barrier when we suggest implementing something different to address student needs. Often, we use the lack of time as an excuse rather than figuring out how to make better use of the time we have. As educators, we are sometimes bombarded by the latest research or the newest app or a program that will make it easier for teachers and will help our students to be more successful. How can we predict what will work and what might be a "waste of time?"

I do believe, however, that time - or the lack of it - really depends on where we are in our lives. It's easy for me to say, "It's not about having time; it's about making time" or "Time is nonrefundable. Use it with intention." Sure, I agree with these statements, but I remember when I felt like there weren't enough hours in the day to get everything done. As a young working mom, it seemed that I was always rushing and I was always telling (yelling?) at the kids to hurry up so we wouldn't be late to school or practice or a game or some other event. There was cleaning and cooking and laundry and homework that needed to get done. I managed to get through that stage of my life. It wasn't easy, and I learned to prioritize because there never seemed to be enough time for everything.

Now that my sons are grown up and no longer live at home, I have time on my hands - time to read, to go to the gym, to walk my dog, and to relax. School still takes up a significant part of my free time, but now, my schedule is dictated by me. As I look at our teachers rushing off to take care of their kids, I recall the days when my sons were late to practice because I lost track of time.

So what's my message? There will never be enough time in the day to do everything we want so we shouldn't fret about it. In school, rather than worry about "getting through the curriculum," make sure our students have time to be engaged during the lessons so they understand and retain what they learned. Rather than teaching content separately, find ways to integrate subject matter so students can make meaningful connections. Look for ways to work smarter, not harder, and if technology makes our jobs easier, don't be afraid to try something out and see if it works for you. And remember the old saying, "Haste makes waste." It might sound cliche, but it is really true and I have proof - 750 half-sheets of scratch paper!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


First quarter of SY 2017-2018 has come and gone, and I'm taking this downtime to reflect on all the learning that is going on at our school.
  • Our teachers are exploring how to implement project-based learning through one of their units and what started as a first grade project about wants and needs became a school-wide effort to help out a classroom that was impacted by Hurricane Harvey. (Link to HAW article) During this PBL, third graders helped their first grade buddies to edit and revise their letters to the classroom in Houston, and they made posters together to put around campus to publicize the drive. Fourth graders shared information they learned about hurricanes and flooding as part of their slow and fast processes unit. Students are learning what it feels like to make a difference and to have empathy for others. 
  • All elementary schools in our complex are implementing social-emotional learning through Second Step.  Our teachers are sharing that the time spent on the lessons are making a difference in the classroom, and reminding students about what was learned/discussed has paid dividends. The lessons are broken up into Skills for Learning, Empathy, Emotion Management, and Problem-Solving. In today's world, we all can use a reminder about these important life skills.
  • For the past few years, our students have participated in the Cardboard Challenge. Inspired by the film "Caine's Arcade," our CC has evolved from a "make whatever you want out of cardboard" to a game design process using cardboard. During the last hour of the day last Friday, the whole school came out to share their game or to play other students' games. The game design process is not just for technology; it can be for the kinds of games that come from students' minds with rules, strategies, and originality.  Problem-solving and communication skills were evident throughout the process, and the game designers enticed us to play. Perhaps most important, our students were empowered to create something on their own and they were engaged when playing other students' games. I even heard some of them giving suggestions to the game designer; I was impressed with the students' creativity and their positive comments.  
  • Yesterday, two DKIES teachers and I attended a training with other staff from our complex area. In an earlier blog, "Continuing the #Hour of Code," I shared my concerns about the lack of coding in our schools. After my two-day Altino training and when observing some of our students coding so confidently, I am even more convinced that we need to make time in our school day for these types of activities. All students need to be exposed to coding, and it cannot be just an after school or enrichment activity for a select few. Our Trainer Shane Asselstine asked us to share about the session in 5 words. Here are my 5 words: "Inspiring, committed, challenging, collaborative, FUN!"'s vision is "Every school. Every student. Every opportunity." I agree; now we must implement this vision at DKIES. 
Every year, I am inspired by our teachers who are so willing to try new ideas and our students who  share their excitement about what they are learning. As a principal, there is no greater reward than to see such exemplary teaching and learning going on in our classrooms!

A parent shared this on our FB page after reading the article in the Hawaii Army Weekly:
"This makes my heart sing and my eyes water knowing that these kids, my kid, is learning selflessness and compassion and incorporating it with wants and needs.

This was such a cool game. The student in green drew the creatures on cards. The objective was to blow the ball through the tube to knock down one of the cards. Kids were waiting in line to try it. 

Students waited their turn to play this board game. Who says kids only want to play video games? 

Friday, September 22, 2017

"Be a Hero. Be a Teacher"

Recently, the news media here in Hawaii announced a program to train and retain teachers here in Hawaii. (Star-Advertiser article) I shared this article on Facebook with this statement: "Being an educator is hard work but I have never regretted my decision. Even on the most challenging days, there is something positive to reflect on. What could be more important than positively impacting our young people so they are inspired to make a difference in our world?"  I truly believe that teaching is an art, that great teachers help create excited learners who find their passion and pursue their dreams. I appreciate that the Legislature allocated more funding for "our own" who aspire to become teachers especially those who may already be in the schools and have demonstrated their commitment to education. I sincerely hope that these individuals will take advantage of this opportunity to achieve their dream of positively impacting our young people as a teacher.

The media campaign to "Be a Hero. Be a Teacher"  is a great start, but it's going to take more than that to raise confidence in our school system and our educators. Negative comments from the public are the norm, not just in Hawaii, but nationally as well. It behooves us all to participate in conversations about how our public school system can be improved, but we must be open to new ideas. Here are some suggestions to start that discussion:
  • University programs should follow the lead of the University of Hawaii, West Oahu. Education majors begin taking courses and fieldwork from their freshman year.  They are in classrooms and taking education courses from the beginning. The more experience these education majors have, the better prepared they will be when they have their own classrooms. 
  • All teachers - especially those in elementary schools - should be required to take classes in strategies to teach struggling learners. Students enter kindergarten with a wide range of experiences and challenges that impact their school readiness. Recognizing a student's deficits and providing early, consistent interventions using research-based strategies can mean the difference between catching up to peers or requiring more intensive services in a later grade.
  • Our youngest learners in kindergarten should be "learning by doing." We weren't expected to know all the letters and sounds and numbers when we were in kindergarten. Yes, I know that was a long time ago and the world has changed since then, but let's face it - some students are not ready to read and write in kindergarten. They need more time to develop their vocabulary, to practice their fine motor skills, to listen and to contribute to a conversation, to explore and discover new information, and to create and share what they are learning. They should be looking at books and hearing stories read to them, learning to play cooperatively with others, practicing to share and to think about others' feelings and to problem-solve when things aren't going their way. They shouldn't have to sit and write letters and numbers that have no meaning for them - yet.  Let's acknowledge that learning through play or learning by doing is more developmentally appropriate for our young learners. 
  • The world has changed drastically since I went to school, but schools basically have remained the same. We have charter schools who are implementing innovative practices, but the other public schools have remained the same, structure-wise. Schools are still separated by grade levels and grade level bands - elementary, middle, and high school. Schools still have schedules where students start and end at the same time.  There are standards for each grade level, and despite starting school with different skillsets, all students are expected to be at a certain place at the end of the year. If we assume that we all learn at different rates and have different interests, we might want to rethink the structure of school to be more flexible where age is not the defining criteria and where students might work in multi-age environments on collaborative projects that demonstrate their mastery of necessary skills.
  • As an Early Childhood major, I strongly believe in early interventions and the power of parental involvement to make a difference for students. University coursework rarely includes strategies for working with parents, and teachers are often uncomfortable having parent volunteers in their classroom. Yet, parents can be our best advocates; they see how hard teachers work, how patient they are, and how challenging the job can be. Volunteers in the classroom can mean more eyes and more support for students. Parents are their child's first and most important teacher; let's value their input because they know their child best.
As an educator for over forty years, I can say unequivocally that teaching is an honorable profession, and I can't think of any job that is more important for our society.  To quote Charlie Brown, teachers make a difference. Teachers are heroes.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

"Building Stamina"

I saw this poster as I walked around the school last week. It's in a classroom with a first-year teacher.

"You're doing Daily Five!" I exclaimed. "How's it going?" "We're working on it!" she replied. I encouraged her to keep at it.

I love the phrase, "Building Stamina." There's lots of talk nowadays about grit and perseverance and growth mindset, but personally, I like the word "stamina." When I think of stamina, I think of endurance, determination, and building up to reach a goal. Building stamina for silent reading is a challenge for little kids, but I've seen great progress in Daily Five classrooms.

The trick is to track stamina. I was thinking about stamina today when I went to the gym. When I first started a few years ago, I got very tired on some of those machines, but over time, my stamina improved Yesterday, I decided to try the lateral movement machine for the first time. Well, I was only on the machine for a few minutes, and I was winded. This morning, I woke up with sore muscles which convinced me to use that machine more often. When I went back to the gym today, I got on that machine and stayed on a little longer than yesterday. I'm building my stamina just like those first graders are building their stamina to read quietly to themselves a little longer each day.

A few years ago when one of our teachers asked if she could try Daily Five in her classroom, I was thrilled. I had just read the book and was hoping someone would be willing to try it. Since then, other teachers have used Daily Five literacy centers to help their students develop independence during language arts time while the teacher works with small groups of students on intervention, extension, or enrichment activities tailored to students' needs.

I plan to check on this poster whenever I visit this first grade classroom. Students feel proud when they see their progress on a chart like this, and I hope they realize that "building stamina" is not just about silent reading. They can build stamina in all aspects of their lives!


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Connecting with Our School Communities

Principal-in-Residence, Lisa Nagamine, is working on improving communication between principals, primarily those at the elementary level within the Hawaii Department of Education. She decided to try blogging out information and asked me for suggestions. I admire Lisa; this is a worthy goal but a pretty tough task to get busy principals to buy into reading a blog. As a school that uses blogs to communicate (staff bulletin and weekly DKIES Highlights published by our parent-community coordinator), I made a few suggestions. One of them was to get other principals to share an idea via her blog. Since I made the suggestion, I'll be the first t contribute to the Elementary Principals Forum News and Announcements. 

A few years ago, our SCC asked for feedback from our parents, and one of the suggestions was to improve communication with the school community. At the time, many of our parents were deployed so we decided to use social media to share what we were doing at our school. Today, we have an active Facebook page, a Twitter feed. and use in addition to our blogs. We even have virtual School Community meetings twice a year with much better participation than we had with face-to-face meetings.

What social media tool is best for the "beginner?" I started with Twitter and later linked our Facebook posts to my principal account so now, when I post on FB, it automatically tweets to my followers. Now we have more opportunities to share what's happening at our school! One of my favorite bloggers and author of The Innovator's Mindset is George Couros. He presented at the 2016 Leadership Symposium and at the New Principal Academy. I noticed that after those sessions, many more of our principals started Twitter accounts for themselves or their schools. It's been fun to see what's happening at the schools and to learn from others. The great thing about Twitter is with a maximum of 140 characters, the message needs to be simple but effective. Here are a few tweets from this past week:

Let's not forget our Hawaii Department of Education and Superintendent Kishimoto! Follow them and they'll follow you!

As you can see from the tweets, there's a lot of opportunity to be creative or to use photos to tell our stories. Twitter is not only a way to share about our school. It's also a great way to get professional development, but that is a whole other blog that maybe someone else will write for this Elementary Principals Forum and News Announcements. 

I'd like to end this blog by sharing a slide show we created in 2016 to share about how our school uses technology to connect with our school community. I'm sure other principals have ideas to share. Let's use this Elementary Principals blog to connect with others in our Department and share our successes!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

What Can We Learn from a Photo?

I love the photos that my friend, Julia Myers, shares.  She is a wonderful photographer, and her photos tell amazing stories. Whenever her family goes on a trip, I can't wait to see what Julia will post on Facebook.

Recently, they returned from a trip to Montana, and Julia did not disappoint. She posted photos that made me smile and others that were more pensive and serious. Amongst her photos was this gem:

Clearly, this was an old newspaper, but how old is it? And how can we find out? According to Julia, "The insulation in this old building was newspaper. Not sure of the date, but it is likely from the late 1800's to the very early 1900's. Look at the prices on it.

Later, Julia's friend posted some information: "Looking at one of the advertisements in your newspaper that is upside down I traced the name back: I found the following. Larry Duggan, Undertaker and Embalmer, Butte, Montana (1901). you can find more on Flick'r. His calling card listed his phone number and address . . . and he also listed on his card that he was a Purveyor of fine Ladies Goods in the West and a ladies Assistant . . . hmmmm???" 

Julia then posted this business card of Larry Duggan, and when I did a Google search, I found out that Larry Duggan was a pretty important person after the 1917 Speculator Mining Disaster in Butte, Montana when 163 miners died, many from asphyxiation. As the undertaker, Larry Duggan estimated the cost of a "proper" burial so families of those miners could collect compensation from the North Butte Mining Company. 

Today, we can learn so much if we are curious and ask questions and explore to discover new information. That one photo that Julia took piqued our curiosity, and because of someone's eagle eyes in spotting Larry Duggan's name on that photo of the paper, we now know much more than we did before Julia posted that photo of the old newspaper. Isn't this what what we should be doing with our students? When they have questions, we help them find answers using different reference materials including a Google search.

One of the skills we are teaching our students is how to generate higher-level thinking questions as an important component of project-based learning. In order to do this, our teachers need practice in asking questions, too. Using photos or artifacts can be an effective way to practice asking questions and then researching to find the answers. 

I am surprised that this piece of newspaper has lasted this long, probably over 100 years. How is it possible that it could still be in such great condition? Amazing!

One photo - look at how much we learned from it!

Friday, July 21, 2017

A Kinder Community of Learners

I've been thinking a lot about how we view people and the misconceptions we have about them. As an educator, this is very real as we have students with challenges, and sometimes, first impressions can be difficult to overcome.

I just finished reading "Wonder" with my grandsons while we were vacationing. I had hoped they would love the book as much as I do, and they did. I wasn't sure if we would finish reading the whole book before I had to return home, but we read whenever we could until we were done.  This is a powerful book (soon to be released as a movie), and I want my grandsons to always "choose kind" especially with those who may be different or have challenges that are not always visible.

In my first job as a Head Start teacher, 10% of our students had special needs.  We weren't trained as special education teachers, but we wrote Individualized Education Plans and provided activities to help all students be successful. Today, that would be called "inclusion." I don't necessarily think that's the right word to use to describe a setting that addresses the needs for all students. After all, we should be including all students regardless of their strengths or challenges.

It is my hope that in the near future, all teachers will be able to address the needs of all of their students whether or not they have challenges. It is my hope that students won't have to be labeled "special education" in order to get the kind of support they need in the general education classroom with their peers. It is my hope that all students will be accepted for their individuality and are not judged by "grade level standards" but by their growth throughout the year. And it is my hope that at our schools, we will be accepting and kind to all students, even those who may learn or look or act differently because everyone has something to contribute.

Oftentimes, we don't see the strengths of the child because we are so focused on what they cannot do. Let's turn things around and focus on what the child can do in order to address their challenges. In the process, we will build a kinder community of learners in our classrooms and our schools.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

What I Learned from My First Summer Job (and Why I Wish More Teens Today Could Find Work)

Now that it's summer, what are our teens doing? Recently, I read an article, "Kids today: They don't work summer jobs the way they used to". As someone who worked every summer after I turned 16, until I graduated and got my first job, I was a little sad thinking that this seems to be a trend that is a sign of the times. Education is important, but I also think that real-life experiences in a job teaches us life lessons that you might not learn in school.

My first job was picking pineapples. My Dad worked for Dole, and we lived in a plantation community. I was tiny, but it was expected that when we reached the age when we could work during the summer, we would go to work in the pineapple fields. It was a rite of passage, a sense of pride at being able to withstand a summer of working in the hot sun picking the king of fruits. In those days, teens in Hawaii knew they had a summer job picking pineapples or working in the cannery. It was hard work! We were up early and arrived at the trucking station by 5:30 a.m. so we could leave by 6:00.  We worked 8-hour shifts dressed in protective gear so we wouldn't get poked or scratched (we still did though). I look back, and I cannot believe I did that work for four summers. At the time (I am dating myself here), the minimum wage was $1.40 per hour, and each succeeding summer, we would get a slight increase in pay. When there was more fruit to pick, we sometimes got to work on Saturdays, and that was great because we would be paid time-and-a-half! Every Friday, we'd get our paycheck which we would turn over to my Mom for college.

We encouraged our sons to get summer jobs. We felt that they would learn valuable lessons from working during the summer. Two of our sons worked at a moving company and our third son worked as a dishwasher then as a cook at a restaurant. In fact, he kept working while finishing his senior year in high school and continued to work there until he joined the Air Force.

What lessons did I learn from working as a teenager?

  • Work together; you are part of a team
  • Be on-time for work!
  • Be willing to learn from those with experience. Treat your elders with respect and they will share what they know with you.
  • Study hard if you don't want to do this for the rest of your life. 
  • Appreciate your parents. (Note - I didn't fully appreciate my Mom back then, but without her, I would have had to prepare my own meals and do my laundry. Mom knew we were tired after working all day because she had worked in the pineapple fields when she was a teenager.)
  • Work hard and have pride in what you do.
  • Save for a rainy day.
  • When things look challenging, take one day at a time. 

Those four summers were not easy, but I believe they helped to build my character and define who I am today. I wish more teens could have these valuable learning experiences. Oftentimes, the best lessons learned in life are not learned in school; they're learned out in the real world.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Tribute to My Favorite Dads

On this Father's Day weekend, I want to pay tribute to my favorite Dads.This photo, taken before Boys' Day in 2008, shows the three Dads who are most special to me.

The first is my Dad, Keiji Amemiya. Dad died almost four years ago, but he continues to hold a place in my heart. He was the sole provider in a family with five children, and at one time, there were four of us, five years old and younger. We never realized that we were "poor" because we were rich in other ways. We had a loving family and spent a lot of time doing things that didn't cost money - going to the beach, playing outside, throwing ball with Dad (he was a catcher and quite a ballplayer), singing songs, and being together as a family. When he passed away, I wrote a blog, "Aloha, Dad." Those words are as applicable today as they were back then. I miss my Dad, and every day, I try to live up to what he would expect of me.

My husband, Randy, is Dad to our three sons. His mom divorced when he was a young boy, and he remembers feeling a sense of loss at not having a Dad like other kids his age. His mom remarried, and his stepdad became his Dad.  Randy is driven to succeed. In his professional life in appointed or elected positions, he has made a difference in the lives of those who live here in Hawaii, but I am sure he most treasures his role as Dad and Grandpa. I think Randy sometimes wishes he was more present when the boys were growing up, but that hasn't impacted his positive relationship with them now that they are adults.

Our oldest son, Justin, is a divorced Dad, and he has the boys every-other-week, but he is always a part of their lives. Last year, after visiting them, I wrote "Proud Grandma," which is really a tribute to the way Justin is parenting the boys. It can't have been easy for him to start a career in a new place, but through hard work and innovative ideas, he has been successful. I love the way he introduces our grandsons to new activities and encourages them to be adventuresome, do their best ("Iwase boys never give up! is their mantra), and to be respectful to others.

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The World Looks Different from a PBL Perspective

My husband and I decided to take a vacation to Maui this past weekend. No golf, no plans, just to relax. It was great! We walked part of the Lahaina Historic Trail and learned about the history of the once-capital of the Hawaiian Islands. Later, while waiting for our hotel room to be ready, we went to watch a USTA tennis tournament for adults and got to talk story with someone we hadn't seen since our boys played junior tennis twenty years ago. It was wonderful to catch up with how our kids - now adults with kids of their own - are doing. It brought back memories of all those weekends on the tennis courts when the boys were playing competitive junior tennis.

On Sunday, we planned to go to Iao Valley since my husband had just finished reading a book about the kings of Hawaii and was curious about the Battle of Kepaniwai that took place at Iao Valley where so many warriors died that the river "ran red with the blood of the dead."  Along the way, I saw some signs that said "Restore the Flow." I was curious. . .

Unfortunately, there was a gate at the entrance to Iao Valley. Apparently, a storm caused damage to the parking lot, and the repairs were not completed. We were disappointed, but continued down a side road, thinking we'd turn around and go back to Wailuku. Instead, we discovered Kepaniwai Park, a cute little park with a walking trail and cultural structures that are maintained by different cultural groups who settled in Maui - a missionary house as well as houses from Hawaii, Japan, China, Korea, Portugal, and the Philippines.

As we were walking the trail, I noticed a sign that said, "Caution. Swim at Your Own Risk." I looked at the river and wondered who would swim there. There was very little water, and the rocks looked like there had been no water flow in quite awhile. I realized at that moment what the "Restore the Flow" sign meant. It intrigued me. Why would anyone stop the river from flowing? How did this impact the animals and plants that lived in the river? How long has it been since the water flow was reduced? I realized at that moment that I no longer saw problems in quite the same way. Project-based learning had changed my perspective, and if I were teaching at a school on Maui, I believe that this could be a relevant problem that my students could explore.

As you can see, the river bed is very dry, and the rocks look as if they haven't been under water in quite a while. Look at how white they are!

When I returned home to Oahu, I read up on this fight over the water which was diverted years ago by a sugar company. An article from 2013, "Fight over water's flow" explains the conflict.  I don't know when or if the river will ever be restored to how it was back during the days of the Battle of Kepaniwai. It appears that the fight is not over, and after the storm in September 2016 - probably the one that damaged the Iao Valley parking lot - there are further clashes between the "Residents, activists, and engineers . . . "  So who "owns" the water and what can be done to restore the river to its former glory? Is there a win-win to this problem on Maui? Wouldn't it be great if students could suggest solutions that could resolve this conflict?

Recently, our fourth graders learned about how climate change is impacting native plants and animals at Kahuku Point, and they went on a field trip to remove invasive plants and replace them with native plants. Our second graders are learning about taking care of our community and our earth by reducing, reusing, and recycling, and they have embarked on a campaign to encourage our school community to do our part to reduce the amount of paper we use and to recycle. 

In the past, our teachers created interdisciplinary units that embedded different content - literature, researching, writing, science, social studies, math, the arts - into their lessons, but IDUs were teacher-directed. Today, through project-based learning, students ask the questions that determine what they learn about a topic and how they can share their learning. PBL is student-driven, and it's a powerful way for students to learn. When our students become the activators of knowledge through their probing questions, they begin to realize that they can have a positive impact on their school or their community or their state or their world. This is especially important to us here in Hawaii because we are an island state with limited resources.  Our students and teachers can use the PBL process to collaborate with others to solve problems, communicate their ideas, and to hopefully make a difference in our world. Project-based learning is an opportunity to take a problem and to look at it from different perspectives. It's real-world learning that has the potential to create the kind of global citizens who can make a positive impact on this world. 

Fourth graders were proud to make a difference by ridding the area of invasive plants and replacing them with native plants. 

At our last PBL professional development session, teachers were asked "Why PBL?" They shared responses that reflected their growth in understanding how PBL can engage students in deeper learning and in making a difference in their way of thinking. 

Monday, May 8, 2017


We have an outstanding staff. I don't know how we got so lucky to have people who are passionate about their work and go above-and-beyond to make sure our students and their families have a wonderful experience at our school. Last week, our Parent Teacher Organization went overboard to make sure our staff felt appreciated during Staff Appreciation Week; we felt so special!

Today, I'd like to pay a special tribute to two of our staff who have demonstrated perseverance and resiliency and who were celebrated on Saturday, May 6, 2017.

Our Vice Principal, Yuuko Arikawa, completed her Certification Institute for School Leaders training on Saturday. She put in nearly two years of work which included Master's level college classes, weekend trainings, and long-term projects and/or action research. What people may not know is that Ms. Arikawa is a single mom with four children, and they are her priority. I'm not sure how she does it, but she is a supermom who is always on-the-go. She does her schoolwork while waiting for her kids to finish band practice, or hula, or track, or some other activity.  She is the first to volunteer if someone asks, and she has a deep love and commitment to Hawaii.  At work, Ms. Arikawa is a quick learner, a great listener and communicator, and a collaborative problem-solver. She is organized and works well with our entire school community. Frankly, I'm not sure when she finds time for herself!

Esther Park is a fifth grade teacher who was selected by her colleagues as the HSTA Teacher of Excellence for our school. Five years ago, Ms. Park was hired through the Teach for America program. It was not easy; she had the desire and the drive, but teaching is challenging and although she had experience as a volunteer working with youth, that is not the same as having a classroom. I wasn't sure if she would continue past the two years of her TFA contract, but she was determined, and despite the tears and the frustrations, she stuck it out. Ms. Park decided to continue her journey to become an educator, and she decided to remain in Hawaii. What many people don't realize is that Ms. Park did not speak a word of English when she came to the United States at the age of 10. This is what drives her as an educator, and in her classroom, all students are accepted for their strengths and their individualities. Ms. Park is a special educator, one who keeps learning and growing and will continue to do so.

I could share many more examples of teachers who have persevered through challenges at our school, and they do it for one reason. They do it for our students. Ms. Arikawa and Ms. Park are young educators who will positively impact many more students, and there are so many more educators like them in our Department.  Teacher Appreciation Week happens once in a school year, but the awesomeness happens every day.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Rethinking How We Address Our Behaviorally-Challenged Students

I've been in education for over 40 years, as a teacher and now as an administrator. I have encountered challenging students, and I can name those few who stand out in my mind. I often wonder what happened to them and how they're doing now. I hope they are successful in life because they were certainly having a difficult time in school.

I just finished reading Lost at School by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D. I wish I had read it earlier because this book is about those 5% of our behaviorally-challenged students who take up 80% of our time at school. We've tried so many different ways of dealing with them - with empathy, with sternness, by having them spend time in the office, and even sending them home when it's been a particularly bad day. Deep down, though, I knew that we weren't getting to the root of the real problem, and that's why it's been so frustrating for me as an administrator.

We've been addressing the needs of students with behavioral needs via a Functional Behavior Analysis and creating a Behavior Support Plan. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. For our most behaviorally-challenged students, the BSP might work in the beginning, and then it loses its luster and the problem might worsen. We regularly meet with our school teams, and discuss new behaviors we are observing or new approaches to address the student's needs. We continue discussing the same students and seeing minimal progress in their behaviors. A lot of these most challenging students are academically capable, but their behaviors are getting in the way of their progress.

So what are the major ideas I gained from this book?

  • It's not the kid's fault. It's not the parent's fault. Let's stop the blame game.
  • Students who are behaviorally challenged lack essential thinking skills.
  • Just as we differentiate and provide interventions for students lacking academic skills, we need to differentiate and provide interventions for those who lack the essential thinking skills.
  • Often, school teams create Support Plans that address the behavior (e.g. meltdowns, eloping, aggressive behaviors, etc.) rather than the lagging skills that these students need to be successful (e.g. difficulty transitioning from one activity to another; difficulty with basic social skills; seeing things as black or white and not in shades of gray, etc.)
  • We often make assumptions about why a student behaved as he/she did. We don't ask the open-ended questions that "drill down" to the reason why the student behaved as he/she did.
  • We think there needs to be a consequence when these students exhibit their challenging behaviors. Yet, consequences - either positive or negative - rarely work for these students. 
  • Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS) is an effective way of solving problems collaboratively and not unilaterally. Adults and students work together to understand the problem and come up with a solution that addresses the concerns as well as the lagging skills that students may lack. 
  • We've been spinning our wheels with some of our students. Because most of our students are transient, we do whatever we can, and when these challenging students leave our school, we rarely know how they're doing at their new school. We do let the new school know about the supports we've provided, but unlike other parents whose children are doing well, we don't hear from parents of these challenging students.
I have reason to be hopeful, though. We will be implementing a complex-wide social-emotional learning curriculum next year; we hope to include a universal screening tool for behavior that will help us as a school to provide the supports and interventions for students who are most at-risk. Of course, unless teachers are invested in implementing social-emotional learning regularly as part of their curriculum, positive changes may not be observed.

  • In one classroom, students start the day doing yoga or meditation breaths. They take turns being the "Yogi Master," leading their classmates in their exercises. When students need a break, they go to designated areas to "chill" or to get their bodies moving before returning to their designated learning activity.
  • In another classroom, students did a mini-project-based learning where they discussed what they needed to work on to make sure they're ready for the next grade level. The students agreed that they need to be ready academically. When I did an observation and it was time for recess, the teacher reminded two students that they owed five minutes of recess. It wasn't a punishment; one student started working on an assignment and the other got a book to read to the teacher. The class came up with the name,  "Academy,"  as well as the decision to make up the learning time lost during recess. It was awesome to see these students taking responsibility for what they realized was a poor choice.
  • We have been trying to "drill down" to find out why a student behaved inappropriately. It's been pretty interesting. We found out that a major trigger for some students is believing that we will be calling their parents which will then lead to them being grounded. When we convince them that we are serious about problem-solving rather than reporting to parents, the students begin to open up to us, and their lagging skills are evident in their responses. Given the opportunity to problem-solve, these students demonstrate empathy. "I hope we can resolve our problems," a student wrote to someone he had a conflict with. This was a breakthrough for him.
I am so glad I learned about this book. I plan to share it with our staff and together, we can build a strong Response to Intervention system for our behaviorally-challenged students so they have the skills to be successful whether they're at our school or move elsewhere.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Proud to Be a Principal at a Military-Impacted School

April is the Month of the Military Child, and as the principal for 14 years of a school with 98% military-impacted students, I would like to share my thoughts about the joys as well as the challenges of working with this population.

So much has changed since I was appointed principal back in February 2003:
  • At that time, our school name was Hale Kula Elementary School. Last year, the Board of Education approved the changing of our name to Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School after the late Senator who did so much for schools in Hawaii and for the military population.
  • When I began, we had less than 500 students due to the privatization of housing on Schofield. Homes in our area were razed to make room for newer homes.
  • In 2004, troops from Schofield were deployed to the Middle East, and many soldier-parents were deployed multiple times until about 2012 when the last units returned home. Deployments were stressful for our students and their parents, and as a school, we needed to address the emotional challenges our students were facing. That's when our partnership with the Tripler School Mental Health Team blossomed. Today, they are an important part of our school team to address the social-emotional needs of students and their families. 
  • As the privatized homes were completed, enrollment at our school began to increase at an alarming rate, and by 2012, we were overcrowded. Every room at the school was being used, and we even had to have a dividing wall built in several of our portable classrooms to accommodate all of our students and staff.
  • We were so fortunate to receive Congressional and State funding to address the condition and capacity of our school with a $33.2 million allocation. After 3 years of living with dust, noise, and general inconveniences, the project was completed, and the result is amazing! 
  • We are constantly learning about how students learn. Our students have opportunities to explore, discover, create, and share using technology and other tools for learning. We are moving from interdisciplinary units that are teacher-directed to project-based learning. We are excited about this shift in how teaching and learning can engage our students and prepare them to be responsible global citizens.
Throughout my tenure at DKIES, student transitions have been a constant. Every week, we have students enrolling and departing, approximately 500-700 in a single year. Other principals are astounded when I share those numbers. Transitions are a huge challenge at our school, but our staff is so accommodating, and our students are resilient. I cannot imagine how it feels to be uprooted every few years and move to a new home away from family and friends. Added to that, changing to a new school in the middle of the year is a challenge. Yet our military students do this all the time, and our teachers adjust their classroom instruction to address this transiency.

At our school, communication is key. Our Facebook and Twitter posts provide an opportunity to share the great things happening at our school and to seek input and engagement from parents. We hold two virtual School Community Meetings each year, and participation at these meetings has provided parents with the opportunity to share ideas that may have worked at other schools their child attended or to bring up concerns that we may not have been aware of.  We seek input through our annual School Community Council survey, and we get a pulse of how parents are feeling about the curriculum, the school culture, and whether they feel their child will be ready for the next grade level. We also solicit comments about their concerns and what they like best about our school. This feedback helps us to focus on areas where we can improve.

Recently, a former parent wrote to me that her son would be graduating from college as an aerospace engineer. She wanted me to know that the supports he received at our school helped him throughout his educational experience. Former students (or their proud parents) share about the academic, athletic,and other achievements as they graduate from high school and continue their education. Clearly, these students excelled despite the challenges they faced as military dependents.

When I became principal of our school 14 years ago, I stated that my goal was to give students an experience they would remember for the rest of their lives. I wanted our students to know that they had attended school in Hawaii, and I wanted them to take with them the values and experiences that they can only get here in this special place. I think we've succeeded.

April is the Month of the Military Child. Let's salute our military children!

Friday, March 31, 2017

I Wish I'd Learned Math This Way

My grandson loves math. "I'm a mathematician," he told me on his recent trip back home. "Give me a hard problem." This is a kid who asked me to give him math problems whether we're riding in the car or waiting for our food at a restaurant. His younger brother also loves a good math challenge. After reading Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler, I asked my son to work on a collaborative math activity with my grandsons called "Four 4's." The instructions (from Mathematical Mindsets) states, "Can you find every number between 1 and 20 using only four 4's and any operation?" In the meantime, I was also working on this activity.

A few hours later, my son called. They were done! How could that be? I was still struggling with some of the numbers. My son shared that he taught my older grandson about square roots and factorials, and that helped them to complete the challenge. I hadn't thought about square roots and I had forgotten what factorials were. (Goes to show how much math I've forgotten!) When I asked my son to send me their work so I could check the ones I was missing, my son refused. "Not until you're done," he told me. Well, for the next week, the problem consumed me! I found myself thinking of possibilities while I was driving and rushing home, only to find out I already had that number.  I finally Googled it so I could say I was done :-)

I enjoyed teaching math even if it was just to elementary aged students.  I found it challenging but so rewarding when students "got" what I was trying to teach. When I went to a workshop about using a problem-solving model that encouraged students to collaborate and share strategies, it was an "aha: moment for me. The kids liked it, too, much better than drill and kill worksheets. After reading Mathematical Mindsets, though, I realized that we hadn't gone far enough. Instead of a problem-solving model, we need to teach with a project-based model where students have opportunities to solve open-ended problems like "Four Fours." As a school, we're learning more about project-based learning, and it's important that we find ways to integrate or embed real-world mathematics into our projects.

Today, our second graders held another Garden Sale. They have been practicing lots of math skills as they plant, grow, harvest, and sell their veggies. As they reflect and expand on this project, I see so much potential for them to learn and apply math throughout this project!

Next year, one of our school's focuses will be on improving the teaching and learning of mathematics. We need to emphasize a mathematical mindset that values persevering through struggles and learning from our failures. It won't be easy, but I look forward to the challenge!

It has been quite some time since I actually solved math problems. I texted these photos to my grandsons so they could see that grandma is practicing math, too!
I'm contemplating taking Jo Boaler's on-line class but I'm a little gun-shy because its been so long since I actually took a math class. Wait a minute! Where's my mathematical mindset?
Our second graders are so excited about their garden! Today, they harvested cleaned, packaged, and sold carrots, kale, mustard cabbage, and choy sum. 
Students took orders from customers and figured out how much they owed.
Different students will have the opportunity to apply their math skills to real-life situations.
These students collected the money and gave customers change. Students are learning new skills and getting better with making change. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

PBL Learning Walks - An Awesome PD Experience!

When I first got the email that we would be doing learning walks for the Hawaii Innovative Leaders Network, I put it on the back burner because it meant traveling to the Big Island just before Spring Break during a very busy week. Thankfully, I made the decision that this was an important part of the HILN journey, and at 5:00 a.m. on Thursday, I was at the airport, ready to take off for the Big Island with Kapono Ciotti. Our destinations? Innovations Public Charter School and Honaunau Elementary School. 

Innovations PCS services students in grades K-8 in multi-age classrooms, and their curriculum is student-centered, inquiry-based, and project-based. We had an opportunity to visit different grade levels, and clearly, students are engaged in their own learning. We saw 7th and 8th graders leading a discussion with their peers that embedded the theme of immigration in a study about poetry. Another group of students shared how they are creating freeze-dried snacks for the Hokulea crew to take along on their voyages. Some students were experimenting with recipes, and others were re-designing a solar-dehydrator. I was struck by the confidence of the students as they worked on these real-world projects.
Students were chopping up dried fruits and are working on a recipe to make granola snack bars for the Hokulea crew.

These students were fixing the solar dehydrator to make it work more efficiently. I was surprised at how comfortable students are with using different tools for their projects. Students were working independently with the teacher circulating amongst the different groups who were involved in different projects.

In every classroom, students were engaged in their work and were helping each other to understand and complete the assignments. In one fifth and sixth grade classroom, students were working on a video to explain a math concept to their parents as part of their upcoming student-led conference. The teacher shared that when she checked student projects the previous day, she realized that her instructions and expectations were not clear to the students so she spent some class time reviewing the rubric and asking questions to ensure students understood the descriptors. She also showed the students an exemplary project that one of their classmates had completed. After that, students realized what they needed to do, and off they went to work with their partners. The video the teacher shared is by a sixth grader named Cameron, and it is amazing, and his real-life application is quite creative :-)

Honaunau Elementary is a different kind of school from Innovations. They are a very rural community with a high percentage of disadvantaged and English Learner students. We didn't get to visit classrooms (there were subs because teachers were at a PD), but we talked with staff and the principal shared their journey. Even if she stated that they're just beginning their PBL journey, I beg to differ. The students are very involved in their school garden, and students give up their recesses to "work" in the garden. They even have a partnership with Ace Hardware in their community; students grow starter plants which are sold at the store. Their latest project is harvesting seeds from plants. Students are learning through hands-on projects and becoming more effective communicators as they share what they're learning with their school community. 

 Students problem-solved to build these water catchments because when it rained, the water fell off the roof and soaked the ground. They now collect the rainwater and use it for their plants.

These are some of the starter plants the students are raising and selling at Ace Hardware. Students who work during recess get paid, and the school has worked with parents to set up a savings account at a nearby credit union, and students are depositing their earnings in their account. What a powerful lesson these students are learning about saving!

Much as I loved visiting the classrooms, the real meat of our learning walk came at the end of each school visit. Our BIE leader, Cris Waldfogel is a master at getting the most out of the discussion and reflection. I've been on the receiving end of learning walks in the past, and I realize that what separated those from this one was Cris' expertise in leading the discussion. The questions, the affirmations, the wonderings, the reflections . . .  I felt that it was such a trusting, positive environment where the school leaders could share their questions and "insecurities" and be validated for their efforts. School leaders Jennifer Hiro (Innovations PCS) and Noreen Kunitomo (Honaunau Elementary) are inspirational yet very humble. So much learning is going on in their schools, and at the heart of student learning are projects that are rigorous and relevant and build relationships amongst students, teachers, and the school community. 
Next month, my HILN "Grey Team" will be visiting our school and Waialae PCS. I am still a bit nervous about the learning walk, but I know that the team will be supportive and provide our school team with honest feedback and help us to reflect on how we want to proceed with PBL.  This learning walk protocol is powerful; sometimes it takes an outsider's perspective to help us to celebrate what we've accomplished and to reflect on how we will continue on our PBL journey.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

'Why?' Questions to Reform Education

I just finished reading A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, and it really made me think about how I use questions with our school community to solicit feedback about how we can do things better. Berger's "Why? What Now? How?" process makes sense and validates what Simon Sinek explains in "The Golden Circle" that knowing why we do something give us purpose to do what we do. Both Berger and Sinek provide examples of people or companies that started with why? to provide products or services that may not have existed a few years ago. Coincidentally, I visited with Ian Kitajima at Oceanit last week, and their innovation company lives this idea of asking why?questions and seeking solutions to problems.

Today, I read an article about Finland's educational success. It was written in 2011, but the "lessons" shared by Pasi Dahlberg are still applicable today in 2017. In fact, perhaps they are even more relevant.

I was hoping that the Berger book would include a chapter on "Questioning for Education" but it only included a chapter on "Questioning for Business" and "Questioning for Life." So as I reflected on the present or upcoming transitions at the national and state level and the changes I have seen in my nearly 44 years as an educator, I want to pose these why? questions for education. I don't have the answers, but I believe that these are questions we might explore if we want to make the kinds of changes that are necessary to prepare our children to inherit a world where they can make a difference. Here are some of my why? questions:
  • Why are schools so "traditional" and why is it so hard to change?
  • Why aren't we looking at different models to build and/or upgrade our schools to the 21st century (e.g. business or university partnerships)? 
  • Why can't developers build schools for the areas they are developing?
  • Why do we need standardized report cards to tell us how a student is doing in school? What do grades really tell us about a student? 
  • Why do we need standardized tests? What do these tests really tell us that we didn't already know about a student?
  • Why do we have grade level standards? What would be a better way of collecting evidences of student progress - where they started and where they are now - as opposed to where we say they need to be by the end of a grade level?
  • If we value innovation and diversity, why are we so intent on standardizing education?
  • Why do we keep talking about school reform? When will we stop talking and do something amazing that will keep our teachers excited about teaching and our kids excited about learning?
  • Why aren't educators valued in the United States as they are in other countries?
And my most important why? question is:  If we say that the 'children are our future,' why aren't we willing to invest in that future?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

It's More than a Place to Borrow Books 2017

About 4 years ago, I wrote a blog after attending the annual conference for the Hawaii Association of School Librarians. At that time, we were in the process of planning for a $33.2 million construction project, courtesy of the Department of Defense and the State of Hawaii which included building a new library media resource center. Throughout the project, I wrote a blog to document what was happening. In October 2016, our project was completed; the last phase to be done was the library media resource and student center.

I just read the blog by John Spencer, "We Need Libraries More than Ever" and decided it was time to update this blog post.

As schools explore ways to save money, many are choosing to eliminate the librarian position and to focus on technology rather than purchasing books.  A prevailing thought is that libraries are outdated and that purchasing books is a waste of money when it is so easy to get information via the Internet.  I disagree; schools need libraries and librarians.

Our library is a vibrant place, filled with eager students who love to choose a "just right" book to borrow.  But our library is more than just a place to listen to stories and learn how to find a book.  Our library is a media resource center where students learn to access information about topics of interest, to use different technology and Web 2.0 tools to collaborate with their classmates, to communicate and share information not just within our school but globally as well, and to nurture a love of books and literacy.

I have had discussions about how school librarians need to change the way they provide services to teachers and students if they want to survive.  This can be a challenging process.  When we hired our librarian twelve years ago, she and I had lengthy discussions about our vision for the library.  We wanted teachers to be present for the lesson so they could follow-up in their classroom. The librarian needed to be a collaborator with the grade level teachers as they planned instruction based on big ideas and essential questions.  We needed a vast collection of books - both fiction and non-fiction - and we wanted the books to be borrowed, not sitting on the shelf.  Rather than having a set library time each week, we wanted classes to sign up depending on the purpose for the visit. Because researching requires more time, classes could sign up more than once a week if necessary. As technology and Web 2.0 tools became more available, the librarian would model the use of these tools in instruction so students and teachers could access and share information virtually as well as through traditional projects.  It was challenging to change the mindset of teachers regarding the role of the library and the librarian, but today, our librarian is seen as an essential resource at our school.

There are those who claim that students can get whatever information they want electronically so libraries and print material are no longer necessary. I disagree. Just because information is readily available electronically does not mean that students know how to choose the right resource, how to determine what is real and what is fake, how to skim and scan to find answers, how to take notes and organize them in a meaningful way, and how to summarize and share that information with others. That is something a librarian can help with.

Our librarian plans school-wide activities and invites our families and the community to get involved. Book Fairs are fun, family events; she coordinates activities like the Cardboard Challenge, Hour of Code, Global Read Aloud, Nene discussions, Lunch Time Pop-Ups where students teach other students, and most recently, video game design. Check out our library website to see all that she offers to our school community.

Much discussion and thought went into planning and designing our library media resource center, and our goal was to create a place that can grow and change to meet the literacy and information needs of our students and teachers now and in the future. Our students love our new library! We have flexible furniture that can accommodate several classes doing different things. There are construction toys and a paper roller coaster that students continue to add to. The other day, a high school principal said the physics students at his school are required to construct something similar. When we designed the library, the State added a teacher workroom; our librarian turned it into an Exploratopia; it's a favorite place for students to go to during recess, lunchtime, and after school. Classes have used the area to design and build simple machines or to create habitats as part of their social studies research. Many schools have added a Makerspace; our Exploratopia empowers learners to explore, discover, create, and share. 

Finally, I believe that every child needs to experience sharing a book with a special adult.  I remember those moments with my own sons or grandsons, reading some of our favorite books together, laughing, crying, or just sharing that special time together.  As a teacher, that was one of my students' favorite time of the day -- story time.  I believe that being exposed to all kinds of books -- fiction and nonfiction -- nurtures a love for reading which translates to greater success in school and in life. That's another reason why we need school libraries.

It would be a shame if school librarians suffered the same fate as businesses like Borders or Blockbuster which did not realize the need to change to meet the challenges of a changing world until it was too late. Let's work to make sure that does not happen with school librarians.

Our library has high ceilings, vibrant colors, flexible furniture, and lots of space for students as well as faculty meetings and professional development.
Students love adding on to the paper roller coaster. What a wonderful way to learn physics concepts such as gravity, friction, kinetic energy, and acceleration!
Third graders used the design process to create simple machines in the Exploratopia. It was great to hear the discussion and to observe the students collaborating on their projects.
Third graders helped kindergarten buddies to complete coding activities. These library shelves double as benches. 
Second grade classes studied different habitats. Students used the Exploratopia to work on their individual dioramas. This class researched animals in the Arctic habitat, and they were able to share what they learned with the other second grade classes.