How Every Student Succeeds in a Career Academy School

by Whitney Aragaki

Could you identify a career path when you were in high school? Were you able to recognize the skills and traits in your teenage years that would make you successful in your current job? Would your journey to your dream career have been easier if you started preparing in tenth grade?

Today, career academy schools are on the rise. These schools streamline their student populations into groupings based on interest and career goals. They build personalized programs of study and help students make more informed post-high school decisions. In Hawaii, there is a consortium of fifteen high schools that expound on this model to fulfill the needs in their own communities.

Graduated seniors from Waiakea High's Career Academies. Mrs. Aragaki teaches an AP Research course for seniors.

Graduated seniors from Waiakea High's Career Academies. Mrs. Aragaki teaches an AP Research course for seniors.

Public Services Academy students at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Conference in Honolulu, 2016.

Public Services Academy students at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Conference in Honolulu, 2016.

Cultivating Careers Day 2017 for incoming Waiakea high school students. Career presenters were mostly (all pictured) alumni.

Cultivating Careers Day 2017 for incoming Waiakea high school students. Career presenters were mostly (all pictured) alumni.

In the state, there is a strong push for CCCR - college, career, and community readiness - and the career academy model answers the call for all students. To expound on this argument, let’s focus on six “Friends”, one or more who may have been similar to your classmates, or even yourself.

Ross is the typical strong student. Always hitting the books, on the honors/Advanced Placement track, but not the most involved in other activities. In a school with career academies, Ross would still be able to take the honors programs, but electives would be offered to develop his communication skills, hone his paleontology interests, and also offer a senior capstone course that would challenge his academic skills with a culminating research project with a local mentor. Ross would graduate with honors and have a college application that appeals to Top 10 universities looking for students who go above and beyond the curricular day.

Rachel shows great interest in fashion but would rather chase boys than books. She finds little relevance in core subjects when they are taught in isolation. In a career academy, Rachel would take core and elective classes with classmates that share her career interest, and have teachers that tailor their lessons to a specific population. While on this academy track, Rachel would be encouraged to also take business classes that would develop her entrepreneurial skills and help her build her brand in the future.

Phoebe is the dreamer and the artist. Often, she is found with a guitar in her lap and not a care in the world. Although others might have told her that a musician would not make much money, a career academy model would value her interest as it would a doctor or a lawyer. Career academies treat all careers with significance and worth because students are not compared across the board. This personalization fosters Phoebe’s growth in the arts throughout her high school years, where she is able to present an authentic musical composition to her peers and the community in her senior year.

Joey would someday become a soap opera actor with a stroke of luck, but in high school he shows little interest in academics or any type of job. In career academy schools, every student must choose an academy to be a part of. Joey is the type of student that career academies can drastically change. By placing him on a structured path, this academy ensures that Joey takes his core classes but also elective courses directed to a potential career path. The carpentry and woodworking classes Joey takes are dual credit courses with the local community college, and gives him advanced standing if he were to take that path. However, after his senior project demonstration, he acknowledges he is not interested in the carpentry field and would rather pursue a career in modeling and acting. This cost-free experience in high school saves Joey thousands of dollars and a few years of frustration.

Chandler is the student who sits in the middle of the class, blending into the background while more outspoken peers take the teacher’s attention. Rather than allow him to float through four years unnoticed, his career academy adviser is able to translate his aptitude for numbers and his ability to work well with different peers into a career in advertising rather than setting him up for years of meandering through IT procurement.

Monica shows aptitude for science and math, but her lack of confidence can limit her exploration into new fields. Through career academy offerings, Monica signs up for an introductory tech course, Women in STEM, a course that can only be offered with the academy model and master schedule variety. Monica is able to recognize how to transverse STEM pathways that lead her to investigate options for future success as a food technologist as pursue her hobby of molecular gastronomy.

These students are sitting in a classroom near you - perhaps overlooked, perhaps undervalued. Perhaps you can see yourself in one of their stories. With a little guidance from a school mindset shift, our students will individually have the chance to be recognized and appreciated for their own intelligence and interests. They will be the driving force for new industries and thriving communities of the future.

Support a local career academy school - reach out to assist in senior project mentoring, serve on a career panel, or offer an internship.  This is an initiative that every career pathway can support. Chances are, the future star of your company is right in your community, ready to shine.


Whitney is a high school science teacher at Waiakea High School on Hawai’i Island. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, serves on the Hawai’i State Science Work Group, and is a part of the Hawai’i District Science and Engineering Fair Steering Committee. A former Woodrow Wilson-Rockefeller Brothers Fund Aspiring Teachers of Color and National Science Foundation GK-12 Graduate Fellow, she was born and raised on Hawai’i Island. Whitney has a BA in Biology from Swarthmore College, and an MS in Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science from the University of Hawai’i at Hilo.

Thanks for Listening: An Open Letter to the Teacher on the Plane

By Lory Walker Peroff

“Earbuds available to listen to our free entertainment options….or to block out children.”

The crisply dressed male flight attendant with neatly slicked back brown hair announces this as he passes the row containing my two young daughters and me as we begin our ascent for the six and a half hour flight across the Pacific Ocean. Then, looking directly at me, he adds with a smirk and a stifled giggle, “No offense.” With a deep cleansing breath, I overcome the urge to share some choice remarks with our steward.  

By some act of God, soon after take off my daughters quietly nestled themselves into my lap.  The only sound from these exhausted travelers was slow rhythmic breathing indicative of deep sleep. The airplane, however, was not quiet. Directly behind my seat a man was ranting loudly.  He was frequently using language inappropriate for young children’s ears. He clumsily kicked my seat.  He even managed to spill his double Jim Beam on the passenger beside him. And all the while he was sharing his opinion about how transgendered people should not be allowed in the military. I listened. I had no choice. For two hours, I used all my energy to not turn around and shout “Shut Up!”. Not only was his volume turned up to 11, I fundamentally abhorred everything he was saying. Through the profanity laden tirade, I heard a smaller, more rational voice. It was the voice of the young woman seated next to this passenger. She also disagreed with his point of view, but she listened. She listened very differently than I did. She asked clarifying questions. She inquired about his personal experiences. She repeated what she heard him saying. She turned toward him and made eye contact. She did this for two hours. Then through the din, I heard her say, “I am a teacher.”

This incredibly patient young lady set an example of something that all teachers and people should strive to do everyday. She beautifully demonstrated active listening. She was calm and refined. She did not interrupt. She allowed the speaker to finish his point before asking questions. She did not pass judgment. She listened to understand and learn from this stranger seated next to her in an airplane. Despite having wildly different opinions, at the end of the flight she had not made an enemy. Rather, she built a bridge between two very different perspectives.  She graciously thanked him for an interesting conversation and shook his hand.         

Listening is an endangered skill. In a world where people constantly tweet, post, and update all about themselves, listening is becoming increasingly rare. There is so much noise in our daily lives, our attention is constantly under attack by some source of digital distraction. Everywhere you turn phones are being used for everything from giving us directions to counting calories, but seldom used for actual verbal communication. Texting is rapidly replacing speaking, thus further reducing the time we spend listening to each other. Sadly, it is not unheard of for our Commander-in-Chief to shoot out a quick tweet before listening to advisors.   

Why is active listening important?

Listening is an important way for us to learn about the world around us. Listening opens the door to understanding lives, experiences, and beliefs that are different from our own. Active listening skills are an important part of effective communication. Active listening helps us become better collaborators. Active listeners are better equipped to work with others to solve the unknown problems our future holds.   

What does active listening look like?

Active listening requires attention. In his article “The Science and Art of Listening,” Seth Horowitz states, “The difference between the sense of hearing and the skill of listening is attention.”  In order to truly listen you must focus your full undivided attention on the speaker.  Herein lies the challenge. Our attention is almost always divided. The listener must intentionally remove all distractions and train the brain to focus solely on the speaker. The first step is to put away papers, phones, and all other distractions. Next it is important for the listener to clear some time in his or her schedule. An active listener should not be in a rush. While listening it is best to make eye contact with the speaker this communicates interest in what is being said. An active listener should have an open mind and refrain from passing judgment.

How do we teach active listening?

1. Model active listening in your classroom.  

Active listening involves listening with all the senses. An active listener faces the speaker and makes eye contact. A person who is actively listening remains relaxed and is not in a hurry. An active listener is not in a rush. Make time to settle in so that the speaker can see, hear, and feel that you care about what is being said.  

2. Explicitly teach the skill of listening.

Teach lessons explaining active listening. Inform the students that active listening is a skill that needs to be practiced just like any other skill. Create charts and examples of what active listening looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Do role plays to allow students to practice the skill of active listening. Make sure to praise students who actively listen to you and their classmates.

3. Give students a voice.

With large class sizes, despite really wanting to listen, it is often a challenge to find time to truly listen to all the voices in class. After teaching about active listening and setting expectations, create sacred times dedicated to active listening. It can be a community circle, morning meeting, or even a lunch bunch. I conduct an hour long Philosophy for Children circle twice a week.  These circles are how I best get to know my students and are often the highlight of my week.  By creating this time, students have more opportunities to practice  active listening and also be heard by their peers.

Now more than ever it is crucial for educators to protect and preserve the endangered skill of active listening. With a lack of proper role models in society and with constant bombardment from digital distractions, educators need to be the models that children look up to. We need to teach our students how to actively listen and learn from those around them. As educators of tomorrow’s leaders it is incumbent upon us to instill in our students that active listening, done properly, shows the speaker that you value and respect their opinion. Active listening helps build trust and understanding. It helps build relationships. Our future is in dire need of leaders who strive to listen, understand, and respect each other in order to work together to solve the world’s problems. With the skill of listening under attack, our ability to understand and respect each other is also in jeopardy. Our greatest weapon to preserve mutual respect and understanding may just be our ears.


Recently after finishing this piece, race riots broke out in Virginia. These riots were a clash between white supremacists and protesters opposing them. During these riots a car was intentionally driven into a crowd of protesters. A 32-year-old woman was struck and killed. The driver of the vehicle was described as an average student in school who idolized Hitler and a had sympathy toward Nazism. His belief in white supremacism was a “known issue” in school. I can’t help but wonder what the conversation would have sounded like if this young man had sat next to the attentive teacher on the airplane? Would she have listened to this young man with the same patience and calm that she had demonstrated on my flight? And if she did, would this man feel that she valued and respected his opinion? I wonder how do you listen when someone’s point of view is just so vile that you can’t possibly value and respect it? I don’t know the answer to this question but I do know that there was a time when this murderous Neo-Nazi was young, so very young that to his unlearned eyes black, white, brown, and yellow were all just hues on the dazzling color spectrum that make up the beautiful world we all live in together.


Lory Walker Peroff is a 4th grade teacher at Waikiki Elementary School and a Hope Street Group Hawaii 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 4th grade teacher at Waikiki Elementary School and a Hope Street Group Hawaii 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.

Windows and Mirrors

By Aurene Castora Padilla

My grandparents immigrated to America for a better life; chasing the American dream of prosperity through hard work on plantations.  They instilled these values in my parents who were excellent role-models: a retired colonel and principal and a former teacher of the year.

My parents wanted the best for us and they made huge sacrifices to send my brother and me to private school. They trusted that this would enable their children to fulfill the American dream.

My private school years were confusing and lonely.  At school I learned that through education there was an exciting world that I could conquer.  But through social interactions with my peers I felt isolated and alienated.  The more I learned how different I was, the more torn I became.  Every day I struggled with identity.  I ate different foods; I looked different.  I did not fit in.  I learned that assimilation was imperative and I adopted the ways of my peers:  talking like them, dressing like them, and shedding my old self as fast I could.  I stopped going to the beach because I was tired of being teased about my dark skin. I shamefully avoided the Filipino workers on campus when a classmate asked if I was related to “them.”   I was embarrassed to say my middle name, “Castora,” out loud and wished it was Anne or Jean.  I laughed at the jokes about Filipinos eating dogs and fighting chickens.  It was exhausting wishing I was someone else. I slowly grew apart from my family and shunned their ways. I became the “stuck up cousin” that went to Private School.

However, at school I was ashamed, lonely, and longed to find someone to connect with.  All the academic success and athletic accolades did nothing to make me feel like I belonged. Upon graduation from high school I was lost.  A part of me was set on becoming a teacher like my parents, another part of me thought I needed higher aspirations.  One classmate asked me, “Why are you at this school if you only want to be a teacher?” I was torn between who I was on the inside and who I thought I was supposed to be.   There was no one I could talk to about any of this.  Who would possibly understand?  To tell my parents would be devastating. To admit any of this out loud would be shameful. I struggled for years trying to achieve the American dream that my private education afforded me while simultaneously trying to be true to myself. It was impossible.  

A few weeks ago at a conference for teachers I attended a presentation by Dr. Patricia Halagao of the University of Hawaii.  Her words resonated within me, “students need windows and mirrors, windows to see out of and mirrors to reflect who they are.”  Her words provided a clarity that evaded me for many years. At that moment I understood my years of struggle.  As a student I had many windows that showed me the world that I could be successful in, but I lacked mirrors in school to reinforce I could be successful exactly as I was.  Luckily for me, I had strong role models at home in my parents.  But what about those students who didn’t?

And so, it made sense that when I finally committed to teaching and began my teaching career I signed up to teach in school districts that had students of FIlipino ancestry.  I instinctively knew that I wanted to ensure that students that looked like me knew that their dreams could be fulfilled in an unfamiliar world. I wanted them to be proud of their heritage and not feel the shame that I did for years.  I was determined that no child would lose their identity while pursuing the American dream.  I would be their mirror.  

My first teaching job was teaching Kindergarten Summer School.  Most of my students looked like me and many were English Language Learners.  One day I was doing a Language Arts lesson and asked my students to list words that began with the “B” sound.  I dictated the words, “bat,” “boy,” and “big,” on the chart as they were called out and was startled  when one of my shy English Language Learner students raised her hand and said “baboy.”  After a pause I gained my composure, smiled, and wrote it on the board below the others asking if anyone knew what “baboy” was.  Suddenly the class was alive with chatter.  “Baboy” is the Ilocano word for “pig,” and writing it on the board with the other english words proved to be significant.  My student and I formed a bond that day and thereafter she would regularly chat with me at recess and offer to share the filipino foods her mom had packed her for snack.  I believe that I was a mirror for her, allowing her to realize that her culture and language was valued in school in America.  

After that summer I got a permanent  job at another school with a predominantly Filipino population.  Upon meeting me, parents would ask, “Filipina?” and beam with pride when I answered yes. I was the first Filipina teacher their children ever had.  Plates of delicious lumpia and pancit were often delivered to my classroom.  I didn't realize the tremendous impact my ethnicity had on my students until recently when a former student posted on my Facebook page:

“There was something in me that felt a lot of pride having someone who was also Filipino other than my parents who kept pushing you, and being the oldest in my family, I never had that mentorship other than my parents.“  Hermie Castillo

Nationwide, statistics show that only 20% of our teachers are of an ethnic minority, however, minority students make up about 50% of the population in public schools. Research has shown that minority students taught by minority teachers tend to have better academic success. It is heartbreaking to know that my story is not unique. How can we ensure that our schools have both windows and mirrors?

  • It is imperative that we recruit and retain a diverse teaching corp that reflects the populations in our schools. Teaching Pathways and Academies in high schools must identify potential educators and recruit them to return to teach in their communities.  

  • College and career counseling should be readily available to all students and not just students who outwardly fit the higher education profile.  

  • Teachers must be adept in issues of diversity and create communities in schools that recognize and celebrate all students’ cultural identities.  Professional development that encourages teachers to learn about other cultures should be readily available, especially when the teacher is unfamiliar with a community’s culture.

  • Schools must be safe zones for students where their uniqueness is accepted and celebrated. Curriculum that stresses socio-emotional well-being as well as the building of relationships is paramount.  

I currently serve as an Induction and Mentoring Program Coordinator in the Hawaii Department of Education.  My work brings me to Title 1 Schools where Filipino and Micronesian students populate campuses.  It makes me hopeful that there are beginning teachers that I work with who grew up in the communities that they are now serving and who are serving as mirrors for their students.  

In my teaching experience, formidable relationships are established when students are able to see themselves in their teachers and teachers are able to relate to, identify with, and value a student’s culture.  These bonds strengthen a student’s will to persevere through adversity. These “mirrors” enable students to look out through the windows into the world to  formulate dreams and achieve them. Sometimes it’s not possible to have mirrors that completely reflect who a student is. In those instances, students need advocates who enable them to embrace their diversity and help them maneuver through chaotic times.  Let’s make sure our schools are filled with both mirrors and windows!  




Aurene Castora Padilla is the granddaughter of the late Catalino Suero, also known as “Tata Suero” who was a celebrated disc jockey of a popular Ilocano program on Kauai Radio Station KTOH in the 80’s.  She is a second-generation educator and is the Induction Program Coordinator for Central District, Leilehua, Mililani, Waialua Complexes and is a Hope Street Group Fellow for Hawaii.  Aurene 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 Dannika, 11 and Noah, 9 and has embraced her Filipina roots. When she is not teaching or being a mom you will find her on the north shore enjoying the sun and ocean. Aurene enjoys surfing, cross fitting, gardening, and training for marathons.  

Aurene Castora Padilla is the granddaughter of the late Catalino Suero, also known as “Tata Suero” who was a celebrated disc jockey of a popular Ilocano program on Kauai Radio Station KTOH in the 80’s.  She is a second-generation educator and is the Induction Program Coordinator for Central District, Leilehua, Mililani, Waialua Complexes and is a Hope Street Group Fellow for Hawaii.  Aurene 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 Dannika, 11 and Noah, 9 and has embraced her Filipina roots. When she is not teaching or being a mom you will find her on the north shore enjoying the sun and ocean. Aurene enjoys surfing, cross fitting, gardening, and training for marathons.  

PD - Who is the Professional Development Really For?

By Caroline Freudig

    As I near the end of my 25th year of teaching I am reflecting on the types of professional development that I have most recently been a part of and I wonder if we’ve being doing it all wrong these past 25 years. 
    Let’s start with the conference I attended this past March. As a Hope Street Group Hawai‘i State Fellow, I was invited to the ECET2  (“Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers”) Hawai‘i regional conference. The day and a half was structured with Keynote speakers, breakout sessions and celebrations all along the way. Prior to the weekend, an email was sent out that allowed me to read over the various breakout sessions and choose which ones I would prefer to attend. How often does that happen at our schools where teachers are given a menu of options for professional development prior to the day it’s being delivered? 
     Another novel idea that we don’t often see in our schools is that the breakout sessions were facilitated by our teachers. I attended one session on VTS: Visual Thinking Strategies where the presenters included the school coach along with three classroom teachers from Kalihi Kai Elementary School on Oahu. The content well-delivered and we had the opportunity to ask questions directly to the teachers that were implementing the strategies being shared with us. They were upfront and honest about what was working and some of the challenges they were facing. They didn’t present themselves to the be the ‘experts’ but rather they were genuine teachers experiencing something they were finding beneficial for their students and they were willing to share their day to day struggles and successes with us. When does that happen in our schools? Do we invite and allow all teachers to have an opportunity to share their teaching experiences with other teachers in a formal setting considered to be professional development? 
    In this environment at the ECET2 Hawai‘i regional conference, I found myself fully engaged throughout the weekend and was excited to share what I had learned and heard from the breakout sessions, the keynote speakers as well as my fellow colleagues with the teachers back on Kaua‘i. It also reminded me of the HSTE Edcamp workshop that I attended on Kaua‘i in January. This too was something that I hadn’t yet experienced when it came to formal professional development for teachers. 
    Edcamp was designed so that everyone attending planned the breakout sessions right on the spot. All of us attending were asked to ponder on what topics we would like to facilitate conversation around and/or participate in. If we felt there was something we wished to share, we wrote it onto a paper and placed the paper on the grid filling up a spot. Once all the spots were filled, we each had to choose which session we would attend during each time slot. Could you imagine what a faculty meeting or a full day of professional development might look like if it was designed this way? What an ingenious idea to have “on the spot” topics of professional development that are led by both administrators and teachers, equally considered to be leaders. 
    When I take these recent experiences and reflect upon how our teachers, both on Kaua‘i and within the state of Hawai‘i, were living examples of teacher leadership engaging their colleagues in rich learning experiences, I wonder why we aren’t taking these best practices of delivering professional development and embedding them into each and every school throughout the year. I recently read an article from Powerful Learning Practice that stated, in very simple terms, ten things that teachers want from professional development. The number one item on their list of top ten was teachers wanting “a voice and choice in the PD offered”. Although this article titled “10 things Teachers Want in Professional Development” from Aug 28, 2015 didn’t really contain any earth-shattering, new information, I ask myself why do our schools continue to deliver professional development in the same way that we know is not best for our teachers? How difficult would it be really to get to know the teachers at the beginning of the school year by surveying what their most immediate needs and concerns are for ongoing professional development? I would think this can easily be a quick survey via google perhaps that teachers fill out during one of the two administration days at the beginning of the school year and, poof, there you have it, professional development topics that the teachers are looking for. At the same time, the topics could be shared with everyone so that the teachers would be able to present the topics if it was an area of strength for them. 
    So, what now? Do we return to the same old, same old for our PD next year? I say, let’s not. Let’s make a change and start the school year off right. Let’s survey our teachers now and see what types of PD they’d like to see happen in their school next year. Then, as a complex, let’s take those survey responses and create district PD that’s differentiated so that teachers can choose how they want to spend six hours of professional development at least for one or two PDs that are offered. 

Caroline Freudig is the Kahua Kaua‘i Teacher Induction Program Coordinator and has worked as a Kaua’i Complex Area Resource Teacher since the 2012-2013 school year. Caroline completed the New Teacher Center Mentor Training Presenters’ Academy, facilitates mentor training for mentors on Kaua’i and has completed the Na Kumu Alaka’i Teacher Leader Academy. She was part of the Hawai’i two-year cohort for the NEA/CTQ Teacher Leadership Initiative. A member of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society of educators, Caroline is HSTA Kaua’i Chapter Treasurer. She received her BA in Early Childhood Education and MA in Elementary Education from Queens College, New York.

Caroline Freudig is the Kahua Kaua‘i Teacher Induction Program Coordinator and has worked as a Kaua’i Complex Area Resource Teacher since the 2012-2013 school year. Caroline completed the New Teacher Center Mentor Training Presenters’ Academy, facilitates mentor training for mentors on Kaua’i and has completed the Na Kumu Alaka’i Teacher Leader Academy. She was part of the Hawai’i two-year cohort for the NEA/CTQ Teacher Leadership Initiative. A member of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society of educators, Caroline is HSTA Kaua’i Chapter Treasurer. She received her BA in Early Childhood Education and MA in Elementary Education from Queens College, New York.

Social Media and Song: Inspired Teaching

I was not eager to join Twitter, thinking to myself I hardly care what everyone is doing in 140 characters or less. Little by little I started to unfollow the celebrities I had initially engaged and my profile became more and more about education. My education circle started to grow, the more I engaged and followed, the better my Twitter feed became. As an educator, Twitter has provided a completely new path of bite-sized professional learning.  

In early August I opened my Twitter account and saw something posted that caught my attention...reading fluency through song. I saw how a local school had embraced this strategy and I was intrigued. So that lead me to research the topic, and I saw how this could be a great way to support our school’s prioritized goal of reading fluency. As a support teacher I cover students so grade-level teachers can observe each other, but the lessons I teach are only 15 minutes and it has not always been easy planning and executing something where I felt effective in such little time. So based on what I had discovered, I picked a couple songs, printed out the lyrics and headed off to my first class eager to see how this would turn out. Now as I look back on this journey I can say it has provided some of my most memorable teaching moments and something that I know the students will remember.

I have included many genres and read songs like “This Land is Your Land” and “Coming to America.” I was surprised but I can say that my 2nd and 5th graders loved signing along with Neil Diamond. We have also spent time going over various vocabulary words that come up in the songs ranging from simple words like rambling to more academic words like fractal. Sometimes songs have meanings beyond their words and we had a lively discussion and debate about what the lyrics to “Fireworks” by Katy Perry meant.  

I stress to the students that the learning goal is to read fluently and it’s not about the quality of their voice. I also take the time before we begin to emphasize why reading fluency is so important, and include strategies that help support fluency. Fluency comes down to lots of practice, and the students don’t mind singing a song more than once which is why this strategy is so effective. As I observe them, I see high engagement, with more than 90% of the students following the text as they sing. The other 10% are students who occasionally get lost in belting out the song and have their eyes closed, or typically are just looking around at their friends with a big smile.  Of course I direct them back to the lyrics and they eagerly re-engage in this reading activity. I also see some of our struggling students or students that have very limited English proficiency engaging, especially during the chorus, where the song repetition starts to build capacity. While these students may not be reading the text fluently, they are engaging in speaking and the lyrics help to make these words more accessible. I have left these classrooms with such joy after listening to students sing “Let it Go” from Frozen or “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana and knowing that they were also improving their reading skills at the same time.  I now get requests from students on what they want to read next, and of course I can’t wait to see how the next song evolves.  

This all came about from expanding my engagement beyond the walls of my school, and a desire to learn from my fellow educators. I feel Twitter is a tremendous source for growth, collaboration, and a way to expand my voice and listen to others. There have been so many times that I have clicked on links on my Twitter feed that have helped me expand the way I think and practice.  I am glad I made the leap and engaged in social media as a means to improve myself as an educator. I would not have known about reading fluency through song, and it was one of the best experiences I have had as an educator.


Debra just completed her 7th year at Kaiulani Elementary School as an ELL Coordinator in Honolulu. She will be joining Ben Parker Elementary as an RTI teacher in August.  Debra is a 2016 Hope Street Group Hawaii State Teacher Fellow. She received her B.A. in Political Science and a M.Ed. in Educational Technology and a teaching certificate in Early Childhood - 6th grade.  Follow on Twitter @DebraMasden

Debra just completed her 7th year at Kaiulani Elementary School as an ELL Coordinator in Honolulu. She will be joining Ben Parker Elementary as an RTI teacher in August.  Debra is a 2016 Hope Street Group Hawaii State Teacher Fellow. She received her B.A. in Political Science and a M.Ed. in Educational Technology and a teaching certificate in Early Childhood - 6th grade.  Follow on Twitter @DebraMasden

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.