An Epidemic: The Power of Positive Leadership

My stomach was all aflutter as I, the new girl, nervously looked for an empty seat in the circle of wooden stools that were placed in the library for the first faculty meeting of the school year.  My new principal had rosy cheeks and down turned eyes that communicate friendliness without saying a word.  She started by addressing the teachers in the circle.  “Each and every one of you is great, I am so proud to work with you.  I know we are going to have a super year because of all of you.  I am really super excited to hear all your great ideas for this year.” We then went around the circle to share happy memories of the summer and ideas for the upcoming academic year.  I found myself surprisingly unnerved by the relaxed even joyful atmosphere.  But what struck me the most was the trust and shared stage between the staff and the principal.  This was not the first day meeting that I had been expecting.  I left the meeting wondering “What’s the hitch?”  

I had heard that meetings were filled with long lists of things teachers had to do and programs that teachers were expected to follow in order to pass the state test.  I had subconsciously been bracing myself for a meeting that devolved into a gripe session for teachers to express unwillingness to follow the latest mandates passed down from the state.  Staff meetings were not typically something that teachers looked forward to and in some cases even dreaded.  This meeting felt different. It felt like this principal valued and trusted her staff’s ideas.  It felt like the staff had the freedom use their skills and knowledge to be innovative in their classrooms.  The staff meeting was a time for sharing and celebration.  However, I remained a bit skeptical that there must be some hidden agenda I was missing.  

I had just returned to teaching after taking time off to raise my two young daughters.  I wasn’t feeling particularly confident.  I was starting small as a part-time reading-improvement teacher.  Was teaching like riding a bike, sort of a muscle memory, once you learn it you will never forget?  Or would I need to relearn and reteach myself how to be an effective educator?  I returned to the teaching profession and the school community with equal parts excitement and apprehension.   

The first couple weeks had some successes and some flops, but the school leader made that seem perfectly welcome.  Teaching metaphor poems to second graders did elicit some tears from the little ones, and I had to be flexible and scale back and meet the students where they were.  During a lesson in the first couple weeks of school my principal popped into the classroom unannounced.  I did not have the standards stated clearly on the board.  I did not my have the lesson plan handily written. Wondering if I had been “caught” by the principal, I felt a wave of anxiety wash over my body.  I swallowed my fear and powered on with my lesson.  After several minutes passed and a natural pause emerged, I held my breath, as my principal turned and addressed the students, “Aren’t we all so lucky to have Mrs. Peroff at our school? She is such a terrific teacher.”  The students smiled and nodded in agreement.  I had to consciously close my gaping jaw to respond to such undeserved (in my mind) flattery.  I expressed my gratitude for having such fantastic students and a wonderful principal.  What? This truly was some sort of twilight zone where principals stop by just to pay a compliment?  Was this more evidence to support the outlandish idea that a principal can trust and value her staff to teach the students without checking the boxes of some mandatory evaluation?

As the days and weeks passed I developed a rapport with my students and staff.  Like anything in life, some days I left work feeling great while other days I felt like a sham sure that someone was going to expose me as sleep-deprived new mommy masquerading as a teacher. As I was navigating my way back into the teaching profession, I was continuously nurtured and supported by my principal.  On several occasions she stopped by the classroom.  She did not scrutinize my lessons, demand documentation, or even offer feedback.  She just stopped by to touch base and share a kind word.  I felt supported and respected.  I felt that she trusted my instincts and valued me as a teacher with the ability and training to know what is right for my students.  Her confidence in me was contagious.  With each time she expressed her gratitude for my work, it began to become internalized in me.  If she thought I was great then I must be great, right?  I began to notice it wasn’t just limited to her either.  Other staff members were equally positive and supportive.  It was common to hear staff members paying compliments to each other in the hallways, lunchroom, or while making copies.

Shockingly, staff meetings were a particularly pleasant experience.  Even the physical structure of meetings fostered community.  We sat in a circle allowing every staff member to see the faces of their colleagues.   The principal always made a point of beginning meetings by celebrating the successes of the school, staff, and students.  I noticed that staff members shared a sense of pride in our school that was not linked to test scores or data although that was cause to celebrate too.  It was more authentic than that.  Because our leader was proud of us, we too were proud of ourselves and our students.  This pride swelled and built confidence in me that pushed me to do more and be more.  Because someone thought I was great, I strived to be even greater.  

I think this should be a lesson for all school leadership or anyone in a leadership position for that matter.  Never underestimate the power of positivity and trust.  In my school it is an epidemic.  My principal first caught the bug.  She used her words and actions to help great teachers want to be even greater.  This culture of positivity was highly infectious.  It first spread from the principal to the teachers.  Teachers then shared this with their students.  It is not confined to the school campus either.  It is so contagious it even followed the kids home and into their houses and to their parents.  In the community, family members are proud to share that they are part of our school ohana.  Staff, students, and community members alike proudly sport fashionable school trucker hats and other school swag.

Back to the itching question, what’s the hitch with this positive joyful school environment? Well, there is one.  The hitch is that as a staff member in this school you have to believe in yourself and be as great as your leadership knows you are.  Teachers can be a highly critical bunch, especially of ourselves.   A kind word and authentic support can work to dispel the false notion that we are not good enough, smart enough, or even qualified enough to do what we know is right for our students.   Positivity is a powerful tool in cultivating happy staff, students, and community members.  I will carry this lesson with me always, along with my school trucker hat.      

 

Lory Walker Peroff is a third grade teacher at Waikiki Elementary School and a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow who believes writing is not only enjoyable but essential.   She lives in Honolulu with her husband, two energetic and curious daughters, three chickens, two goats, and one peahen.

Lory Walker Peroff is a third grade teacher at Waikiki Elementary School and a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow who believes writing is not only enjoyable but essential.   She lives in Honolulu with her husband, two energetic and curious daughters, three chickens, two goats, and one peahen.

 

 

 

What Parents Should Know

By: John Mulroy

Mind blank. Anxiety sets in.  I am not sure this is for me. What could I possibly write that hasn’t already been written?  What can I offer this group of intelligent and ambitious teacher leaders?

Last fall, I sat in a conference room in Chicago surrounded by Hope Street Fellows from across the US. They were Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Hawaii proud. Our colleague opened the session,  “What do you want parents to know about their child’s teacher?”  

I flashed back to classrooms, colleagues, students, and parents and recalled days when I felt like a “Super Teacher” and days when I questioned if I was good enough for my kids.

But I am here, I thought, I do have a voice. Saying something differently, not necessarily new, will have an impact.  Thinking back on all those days, what do I want parents to know?

Teachers view teaching as a privilege.

Teachers view themselves as professionals.

Teachers are reading professional articles and having collaborative discussions with colleagues.

Teachers are taking professional development courses to improve their practice.

Teachers are proud of this profession.

Teachers are inspired, empowered, and ready to change the narrative and impact policy not only for themselves but for the children you place in their care each and every day.

Teachers are not perfect.

Teachers do not want sympathy.

Teachers are leaders in the community.

Teachers are leaders in their schools.

Teachers call your children “my kids.”

Teachers want to see and hear about your child’s success.

Teachers have shown your children their best and their worst.

Teachers have cried in parking lots when their best wasn't good enough.

Teachers are working with the best and brightest of tomorrow.

Teachers are providing a safe space that might not be provided at home.

Teachers are teaching all day and then mentoring new teachers to become your child's next favorite teacher.

Teachers have thought about your children days, weeks, months, and even years after they lefttheir classrooms.

And, finally, parents should know that teachers can reach students because we are all students too, lifelong learners who put ourselves in their shoes, often embracing uncertainty and anxiety in order to improve our practice and better serve our kids.


  

John Mulroy earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary and  Special Education from La Salle University and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum Studies from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He dedicated eight years to teaching in a multitude of special education environments including resource, self-contained, and Co-teaching classrooms. John is a resource teacher and mentor for newly hired Special Education Teachers within the Kaimuki-McKinley-Roosevelt Complex as well as a trainer with Hawaii Teacher Induction Center.

  

10 Tips for Terrific Teaching

By Elizabeth DeLyon

“If we believe in active student learning, we must consider the variety of ways in which students are encouraged to participate.”

Barrie Bennett & Peter Smilanich

As an educator for more than 27 years, I find that my daily teaching practices help me to enjoy a profession of helping and loving others. The action steps I take each day determine my effectiveness in the classroom. Here are my tips for terrific teaching.

  1. Create Positive Relationships. Students are more productive, creative and willing to learn in positive environments. As I value their presence, greet each student warmly, proudly display their work, and share achievements, I become more invested in them. My attitude fosters real connections with students. As I encourage positive mindsets, it shapes how students treat themselves and all of the rest of the classroom community. Students form deeper alliances with their teacher because they feel important and know that they genuinely matter to her.

  2. Build Trust. By being trustworthy. When students know how you are going to react to situations and their actions, they will more fully engage. Maintaining consistent reaction and response to student input throughout the day will help build confidence between you and your students. Your consistency builds trust and assurance with your students. With this security, they will take more risks relationally and in their learning going beyond routine thinking and will be more successful in their assignments and interactions.

  3. Set Attainable Goals. When students know why and what they are doing, they can better gauge themselves through the assignment to successful completion. At the beginning of each lesson define the goals. Give students the big picture. We all like to know the “why and for how long”. Students are no different. Goal setting keeps students more engaged in their learning and helps the teacher reach her teaching goals, too. This brings joy to my day when I see that what I am doing makes a difference in lives.

  4. Design Clear Procedures.  Do you clearly know your procedures? Do you follow them? Procedures become internalized and structure the day as they are followed and directed by the leader of the class. Allow the students to actively participate in the creation of class rules and consequences. This simple act reaps big reward as it helps to remind and prevent derailment at the same time. Students buy in more readily and remember the rules when they create the rules they are expected to follow. There are less distractions and outbursts resulting in a more peaceful environment.

  5. Be Fully Prepared. As you are prepared, your confidence flows from you to your students creating a peace and calm where learners grow best. Well thought out lessons with achievable goals makes the learning environment safe, keeps the learners on track, and helps guard against the unseen things.

  6. Reinforce The Good. Know how and when to respond to the “not so good”. “I like how Keanu is turning to his partner to discuss”, rather than “Jennifer you never turn to face your partner.” The former helps the off task student consider their own behavior rather than highlighting their error in front of their peers which may cause shame and actually deter the learner from making the desired change. As I reinforce and keep my focus on the positive, it brings more gladness in my day.

  7. Decide When To Correct. And decide when not to correct a behavior. Strengthen your intuition to know when it is best to highlight a situation and when to just let things ride. Disciplining students is a necessary component of teaching, so that they learn to reflect on their choices, not because they are “bad.” Maya Angelou- “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

  8. Identify Strengths.  Your classroom is filled with others who can support you in a variety of ways throughout your day. Identify classroom leaders and encourage them to collaborate in a variety of ways that helps develop a sense of community within your classroom. Actions such as re-teaching struggling learners, correcting papers, and completing routine tasks will strengthen students’ ability to encourage and teach others while giving you welcomed support.

  9. When things go wrong. Reflect. Ask yourself, why is the child acting out? When does the behavior occur? What is he doing? What is he saying? When we approach difficult situations with a desire to solve the problem rather than react to the behavior, it de-escalates the situation and fosters solution. Is it a skill deficit where the student needs to learn the skill, or is it a performance deficit where the student will benefit from motivation? The more you know about the problem, the more clear the solution. Spend a little time in the problem and spend the majority of time in the solution.

  10. Above all. Practice what you preach to the students. Monitor yourself well. Know when you need to take a time out. Be excited about your job. Maintain a flexible mindset. Outside of school, do what feeds you. You cannot give away something that you do not have. Be happy yourself and create a happy classroom of productive students.

Elizabeth is a National Board Certified Teacher in Early Childhood Education. She currently works as a third-grade teacher at Haiku Elementary School on the island of Maui. Her 28 years of experience range from preschool through graduate school, with the majority in third grade. She regularly trains student teachers to share her practices and passion.

 

"When I Grow Up, I want to be a Rock Star!": Elevating Teacher Retention

By Aurene Padilla

Starting at the age of Kindergarten when anyone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I would answer, “teacher” without any hesitation.  My two older sisters would always play school with me and later I would play school with my stuffed animals.  

I thought being a teacher was the most amazing job in the world.  What could be better than hanging with and helping other kids?  How cool would it be to have a classroom filled with paint, paper, and books?  The fact that teaching was the family business made the job even the more viable. I loved hanging out at my dad and mom’s schools and their students would treat me like I was the coolest little kid.  In my eyes, teaching was the best job ever!

Growing up, I loved school.  I thought my teachers were rock stars and I wanted to be exactly like them.  My 1st-grade teacher, Mrs. Makekau, made us hand-drawn Snoopy character bookmarks and would write the names of books we read on them.  We all competed to collect as many of them as we could.  In 4th-grade, our teacher, Mrs. Tamura, played a mean ukulele and we would sing all day long; my math teacher Mrs. Yasunaga helped me memorize my multiplication facts with Times Table Bingo.  My 5th-grade teacher, Mrs. Kubota, always had a plastic pond of crayfish in her class for a Science unit.  And Mrs. Mansho, my 6th-grade teacher, was the biggest star of all.  She had perfect hair and make-up and all the girls wanted to grow up to be exactly like her.  

I set a course to become a teacher and studied hard in school.  During the summers, I worked as a teacher’s aid.  I loved working with the kids and marveled at the fact that they loved me and followed me around everywhere.  I was right: teachers were rock stars!

Upon graduating from the University of Hawaii with a teaching degree, I was extremely lucky to land my first job teaching third grade at Holomua Elementary School.  

It was challenging from the start. I spent many long hours after school at work and every Sunday in my classroom. There were many tears in the start of my career.  I will never forget the parent that was so unhappy that she took her child out of my class or the angry letter I received from a father who didn’t agree with our school’s philosophy.  I had 32 students in my class and I sometimes struggled with behavior management, organization, and the sheer amount of time, work, and energy it took to be a teacher.  I was often overwhelmed and wondered whether I could really be a teacher for a living.  However, with the support of a school-level mentor, a cohesive grade level, and the advice from my educator parents, I survived.

This year marks my 20th year in the teaching profession and I am happy that I persevered through the tough times at the start of my career.   I now work as a Mentor for Beginning Teachers and every day I work with teachers new to the profession who are eager and filled with hope and excitement like I had been.  

Unfortunately, only half of the teachers that begin their careers today have stories similar to mine.  Recent studies have shown that teacher attrition is a real dilemma.  50% of beginning teachers quit the profession after only 5 years.  

Why are we unable to retain our teachers?  Why is it that a job that was once so revered has become one that people are leaving in droves?  In my work with beginning teachers, I have found that many teachers didn’t have pre-career guidance and training nor high-quality induction and mentoring support in their formative teaching years.  They feel ill-equipped for the demands of the profession and lament that teaching didn’t end up being like they thought it would.  

When I look back at my own career, I see the people and systems that helped me overcome the struggles I had and led to a path of leadership in education.  All teachers need these types of supports to grow, thrive and survive the early struggles of our careers and make an impact on our profession.


On the Job Training

In many professions, lengthy apprenticeships and internships are required prior to obtaining a license to perform.  In education, most colleges require 3 semesters of practicum and 1 semester of student teaching. However, during the student teaching semester, pre-service teachers simply inherit the established classroom of a veteran teacher mid year for a few weeks.  Such a program does not prepare our teachers to open the school year, organize, or plan to lead their first, second, even third classroom.  Many of our beginning teachers are hired to teach their first class and have never been responsible for the well-being 25 children by themselves ever, not to mention being responsible for educating them too.  

Professional Learning Network

It takes a village to raise a child.  Teachers cannot work in silos.  The larger the professional network a teacher has, the more resources they will have readily to use in their classrooms.  There are no full-proof formulas for classroom management issues, differentiated instruction, or a curriculum for all students: it’s an art, not a regiment.  Teachers need to collaborate with one another through dialogue, observation, and data teams to improve their craft.  The more diverse the network, the more support, advice, and resources teachers have access to face a diverse set of issues.

Instructional Mentor

Hawai‘i’s Department of Education has established a program that pairs all beginning teachers with a trained instructional mentor.  In its early stages, the program has shown great progress.

Leadership Pathway

Teachers enter the profession focused on their classrooms and the students in it. It takes them awhile to acclimate to the school’s environment, their colleagues, and curriculum and instruction.  However, the success of our public school system lies in the hands of teacher-leaders who are in the trenches to lead the way.  Beginning teachers must have a clear pathway to assume leadership on their grade levels and departments, eventually in their schools, and ultimately in the department.  Being a teacher-leader cements the teacher as a stakeholder in the profession and promotes longevity.  Teachers can only collectively have ownership of our profession if we assume leadership roles.


As I look back on my twenty years of teaching I realize that I have not yet reached “rock star” status, however, my career has withstood challenges of the last two decades:  a 21-day strike, Furlough Fridays, No Child Left Behind and Common Core Standards.  I have been able to stay the course because I have prepared for this job all of my life, and have been supported through every step in my career by colleagues that have been amazing role models and leaders.  It is paramount that teachers being inducted to our profession receive the same types of support as they choose to enter our profession and throughout. Let’s make some new rock stars!


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Aurene Padilla is a second-generation educator and is the Induction Program Coordinator for Central District:  Leilehua, Mililani, Waialua Complexes, a Hope Street Group Fellow for Hawaii, and a part of the National Program Leader Network.  She has taught in the Hawaii Department of Education for twenty years and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish, a Professional Diploma in Elementary Education, and a Master’s Degree in Reading Instruction. Aurene is the proud mother of two children, ages 10 and 9.  When she is not teaching or being a mom you will find her surfing, cross fitting, or training for a marathon.

Build Teacher-to-Teacher Relationships to Increase Student Success

By: Lorna Baniaga-Lee

It’s Thursday, 11 A.M. on another hot and humid day. The three of us, team content teachers,  are looking forward to the long awaited weekend. It was a challenging week for all of us, our students included. As we sit to eat our lunch, we casually talk about our families, which leads our conversation about a particular student who seemed removed the last few days.

During first period, my class, she came in late-- again. Just like she has every day, so far this week. She has that faraway, glazed look and only responded when spoken to. Jamie, another teacher, shares how she seemed more focused on the new math concept they are learning, but was still distant. Renè mentions how she chose to work alone on an assignment-- very unlike her. Jamie recalls the red scratches on her arm that he noticed. Our lunchtime conversation becomes about our next steps: I will talk to the student immediately after school today to ask her what is going on. Jamie will contact the counselor to give him a heads up of the situation and request additional support. Renè will call home and let parents know that we are concerned. We end our lunch with an unspoken understanding how we will help our student. It is this deep relationship we built as colleagues over the last ten years that helps us get through our long days so we can help our students get through their long days.

We teach in isolation. Our classroom is our world. We have the power to create the environment and space that we want. In doing this, though, we begin building walls from others as well. It is easy to engulf ourselves in our lesson plans, assignments, and our students’ lives. We may not do it intentionally but when faced with prioritizing our time, we will put connecting with other teachers last on our list. While that may seem effective because we think we are focusing all of our energies within this world we created, it can get lonely and can lead to complacency.

Such complacency can lead to ineffective teaching. Creating and being part of a professional learning network, or PLN is a crucial piece for both students and teacher to thrive. We need to surround ourselves with others who will be that sounding board, who will be that resident expert, who will be our cheerleader and most of all who will be a friend.

I have been fortunate to be surrounded by amazing colleagues who are a part of my educational journey. They play just as much of a role in my students’ successes as I do-- the immediate success of winning an essay contest, the academic achievement of graduating with honors from high school, the impactful accomplishment of being the first in their family to graduate from college or being commissioned as a Naval Officer.

Ironically, teachers’ days are filled with so many “things”: fulfilling mandates, meeting due dates, attending various mandatory meetings-- all of which are supposed to increase student success. Prioritizing our energy to meet those expectations puts relationship building last on our list. It is a challenge for administrators to carve out time in the school year to balance what needs to be done and what should be done to provide meaningful and purposeful opportunities.

Some teachers may be lucky to have an administrator who will invest time to create a supportive culture for all; however for those who are not as fortunate, I encourage you to take advantage of any occasion that allows you to make connections with other teachers in and out of campus.

If you are a new teacher and your school, district or union organizes an event for you, make time to go. It may seem like another thing on your already filled plate, but there are benefits to these events. As a new teacher being surrounded by others who recognize and empathize what you are going through can be the greatest gift that one can receive in the beginning of their teaching career.

Additionally, seek out professional development sessions that interest you. Meeting and collaborating with other teachers is a great way to exchange ideas and share similar experiences. Being around other educators who are open to new ideas and are excited to grow as a professional can be very inspirational.

Lastly, don’t allow time and distance to be your biggest obstacle in making these connections and building relationships with other teachers. Utilize social media like Twitter and Facebook as your professional medium to exchange ideas and be inspired by others. Seek out professional development that can be done virtually. It is just as effective as face to face meetings. As teachers, we teach in isolation, but in this age of technology, isolation is now a choice.

Our goal as educators is to improve student success, no matter what it takes. Success doesn’t just mean grades or graduation rates, but creating a network of teachers that know how to care for our students. But it is important to know that in order to build successful students, we need to build effective teachers. Strengthening teacher-to-teacher relationships should be a part of that foundation. Making connections is fundamental. Engaging in professional dialogues and working collaboratively on meaningful projects will bring greater value to our work. Build teacher-to- teacher relationships to improve student success, no matter what it takes. It will make a difference, just like it did it with our student.

Lorna Baniaga-Lee is National Board Certified and has been an English teacher for the last 20 years at James Campbell High School in Ewa Beach, Hawaii. In addition to being a classroom teacher, she leads the school’s Induction and Mentoring program to support beginning teachers and provides professional development courses to help build teacher leaders. She is also a 2016 Hope Street Group Fellow.