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

Awesomeness

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. 



Sunday, February 5, 2017

Why Don't I Blog More?

I read George Couros' blog, "Why aren't you blogging more?" and again, I felt a bit guilty about not blogging more regularly. The truth is that even if I have an idea, unless I get started on the blog, chances are that it won't get done. I do feel guilty when days and weeks go by without me blogging, but it's not easy.

This blog will be very random based on recent thoughts and reflections that I was thinking about blogging but never did. Here goes!

  • We have been exploring and discovering about project-based learning since last school year. Yet teachers still have questions. I've pondered why the same questions keep popping up like "What is PBL?" or "How can we fit PBL into our schedule when we have the standards to teach?" or "How can PBL work with younger students?" or "How can I, as a teacher, keep track if students are all doing different projects?" As I thought about how our PBL team has rolled things out, primarily during Wednesday extended day meetings, I think I realize the problem. Spreading out the PD has meant that we are always reviewing or answering the same questions especially when we have new teachers who have not received PBL training. Teachers have not bought into the driving question, "Why PBL?" We have lots of work to do. As one of our teachers shared last week, "Is PBL a mindshift or a process?" I think it's a mindshift." I agree, but making that shift isn't easy. That is our challenge.
  • It is important for our staff to stay fit and healthy so we are presently in our second annual Wellness and Fitness Challenge. After last year's Challenge, we made some changes this year. Last year, participation was optional; this year, everyone is on a team. Last year, the challenge was for 4 weeks; this year, our challenge is for the entire third quarter. We've encouraged team members to write down their goals and to encourage each other to achieve their daily and weekly goals. This year, I'm keeping a daily journal, and it's helped tremendously to keep me on-track. Teachers keep data on their students, but I think it would be more powerful for students to keep their own data on their progress towards their goals 
  • Funding for education will never be adequate. I am presently serving on the Committee on Weights (COW) to determine the formula to fund schools under Weighted Student Formula. Although everyone says they support public education, no one wants to raise taxes or find other sources of revenue such as a lottery. Unless we can increase the pot, the members of the COW will do our best to ensure that funding for schools is based on a fair formula. It frustrates me that the public says they support education, but no one has an idea on how to provide our Department with adequate funding. If the public wants our students to have a well-rounded education, we need to provide art, music, physical education, drama, and STEM teachers. Our students deserve it, but we can't provide that without adequate funding.
  • I am concerned about the state of our nation. Our State depends on federal funding; without those funds, we will struggle to provide services for students who need it the most - our disadvantaged and those with special needs. 

Okay, that's it for now!

#randomthoughts

Monday, January 23, 2017

It's About Respect

After the Women's March on Saturday, I read a post on Facebook about someone's frightening experience. It appears that a group of high school students went on a trip to the nation's capital to witness the inauguration. The next day as they tried to get to a museum, the students were taunted by some of the participants in the march. Apparently, some of the kids were wearing caps or hats they had purchased at the inauguration, and some of the adults in the crowd heckled them. The adult chaperone shared that they were frightened and had to hold hands tightly so they would not lose each other in the crowd.

I empathize with the kids; no adults should have treated them in that way. What could have been a turning point in their lives is now a frightful memory.

At the same time, however, I wondered how this could have happened. As an educator, a principal, and a parent, safety is always our major concern. We make sure that our students are safe, and when they go on field trips, we ensure there is adequate supervision. What were the adults thinking? Why did they allow those students to wear their souvenir caps? Surely the adults should have known that doing so would cause the students to be targets. How would their experience be different if they didn't have their souvenir caps on? How could their viewpoint of that weekend be influenced if they had experienced the event through the eyes of the marchers?

Something special happened on Saturday in Washington D.C. and cities and countries around the world. What started as a simple idea quickly grew into a major event where women and men - millions of them - marched for their rights and the rights of others. The Women's March could have been a great learning experience for these high school students. They would have witnessed "civil disobedience" first-hand, and they could have interviewed those in attendance about why they marched or why they traveled to Washington D.C. from all over the country to be part of this event.

I think it all can be traced back to respect . . . or more accurately, a lack of respect. As parents, we teach our children to be respectful, and in school, mutual respect is expected. "Treat others the way you would like to be treated."  As school leaders, we have a responsibility to lead with respect. We know that a positive school culture is essential for student learning. We want our staff, our parents, and our students to feel that they can make suggestions or share their ideas. We know that listening to different viewpoints can only make the discussion richer and ideas to flow more readily. We value diversity of opinions, and we want students to ask tough questions because that can lead to deeper learning. Listening and respecting other viewpoints, elements in a positive school culture,  are essential if we want our students to learn and grow as informed and contributing citizens of this world.

That is why I am having difficulty understanding how someone who showed so little respect for women and other minority or marginalized groups could now be leading our great nation. I can only hope that he comes to realize his past indiscretions and changes the way he treats others. Until then, I am optimistic that the women and men of our nation will continue to make our voices heard. Our children are counting on us.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Staff Bulletin Blog - I Love Writing It!

When I began blogging several years ago, I struggled because I was not confident about sharing my ideas out in public. I've sort of gotten over that fear and now, I blog when I have something on my mind. Sometimes, I follow through and actually write and publish something, and other times, I start a blog and never finish it. I realize that's how writers are, and not everything is meant to be published.

At one time,  I had 3 blogs - one for our construction project which is now completed, this personal blog, and a staff blog which is private. The construction blog was pretty easy to do; I'd take photos and update our followers- usually weekly - about what was going on with the project and what they could expect in the next week or so. This was a great way to communicate with our school community, and I believe it helped to alleviate some of the complaints about the inconveniences (noise, dust, barricades, etc.) that we endured throughout the construction. I would highly recommend this for anyone going through a project like ours especially since most of the families who were at our school for the groundbreaking were not able to see the completion of the buildings due to their military reassignment.

Right now, my blogging focus has been on our weekly staff bulletin. We had always used our Lotus Notes for that purpose, but it was limited and frankly, quite dull reading. When we proposed doing a blog instead, we asked the staff for their input. Some were concerned about privacy issues, and to alleviate their fears, we did agree to make the blog private. That's actually been a positive thing as we can share concerns and problems and get feedback and input from our staff that would not be possible if the bulletin were public.

Our staff bulletin has evolved as we've added more weekly features. Presently, we include a Principal's Message, News (about our school, Department, or about education in general), Shout-Outs!, Reminders,  Meeting this Week, Student Work (photos or student samples), Resources (with links and reflection questions), and Photos from the Past Week. Our bulletin is a great way to let others know what is going on in other classrooms or grade levels, to keep our staff informed about happenings at the school, state, or national level that impact educators, and to provide opportunities to continue to grow professionally through meaningful conversations and reflections.

Someone asked me how long it takes for me to write a weekly staff bulletin blog, and I replied that it is a work-in-progress throughout the week, but overall, it takes about 2-3 hours. I have my phone with me whenever I walk around campus so I can take photos whenever I notice something that I'd like to share with our staff. I am constantly reading blogs and articles and when I find one that seems appropriate for our staff, I'll save the link until the time is "right" to share it. More recently, I've added reflection questions that go with the blog or article so our staff can think about how this applies to them or what they might change or try out as a result of their reading.

The benefit to me as a result of writing this staff bulletin blog has been immeasurable. I am more thoughtful about how I craft my Principal's Message to the staff, and being able to share photos as well as resources has allowed me to reflect on the impact of the principalship in truly communicating with our staff and sharing our vision for the school. It helps to have everything in one place, and our blog is a tool that captures and communicates a weekly history of our school year.  The real beauty, though, is that each of our staff only needs to sign up with an email address, and they will receive the bulletin whenever it is published. Now there's no excuse to not know what is happening at our school!

I encourage schools to try it!

This is an example of one of a Principal's Message for our staff bulletin.