An Aloha State of Mind

By Stephanie Mew

In a downtown meeting room, twenty school teachers gathered to listen to several high school students share their life passions. The energy in the room was filled with optimism and excitement to hear how these young people discovered their passions. The first student speaker expressed that he wants to help his friends deal with teen life, find their voice and have a safe place to speak out. As a result, he focuses on teen advocacy issues. When asked what lead him to his passion, he shared a tragic story of a classmate who committed suicide, and the next day his best friend did the same. This student found his passion through a traumatic life changing event. The room fell silent with disbelief, sadness, heaviness, and an outrage that our young people, our students, are dealing with experiences and feelings of hopelessness that lead them to no other option than taking their own lives.

Our hearts ached and we all wanted to know if they received any guidance in coping with life’s dramas and traumas. Another teen quietly said, “Not really. I wished I knew how to meditate or something to deal with this.” Her simple statement was a resounding confirmation that one of the essential lessons that we should be teaching and modeling for our students is how to be happy and how to handle life’s ups and downs.

Happiness is a state of being that we all desire. As a teacher, my daily classroom experience confirms the belief that when students are happy they use their learning time more efficiently, they try harder, they take risks, and they perceive failure as a learning opportunity. When they are happy, they contribute positively to the classroom and school culture. The opposite happens when students feel the contrary.

With an increase in school violence and the pain of our young people, schools are shifting their focus to the whole child and social emotional learning (SEL). The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) report on positive impact of SEL programs on elementary to middle school students found improvements in multiple areas: personal, social, and academic. CASEL found that SEL promoted an average gain on achievement test scores of 11 to 17 percentile points.

However, education is far more than achievement scores. At its root, education means to draw out inherent self-knowledge. Education’s end game should be a student who is prepared to live a happy and meaningful life. SEL programs help with that education and the positive impacts are encouraging. Yet, I still hear the soft voice who said, “I wished I knew how to meditate or something.” There is something we can do now that only takes five minutes and is a valuable tool for navigating life’s dramas and traumas.

The skill of quieting the mind and focusing on love or as we say in Hawaii, “aloha,” can put one in a peaceful and happy state. Every morning my students and I give ourselves five minutes to quiet our minds and bodies and focus on our breathing. We use our visualization skills to send love to all parts of our body. We visualize our families, friends, all people and all living things happy and content. We imagine our day already being a successful day and then we smile. 20 years ago, I learnt this simple practice in a small boarding school in Thailand. The calm demeanor of the staff and students encouraged me to practice daily. When I returned to the U.S. I knew I wanted to incorporate this practice in my classroom. For the past 20 years, I have sat silently with my students reaping the benefits from beginning our day making a connection to our heart. To help the students with the visualization, I created a short video illustrating this process.

In silence, we use this opportunity to connect us to ourselves and others. We remind ourselves that we are love and that we can freely share our love. We remind ourselves that positive actions are born out of love. We increase our mindfulness and strengthen our concentration. As we experience happiness within ourselves, we feel content and happy. As we open our eyes to the new day with positivity and love, we greet each other with aloha.

In the beginning of the school year, this five minute practice was strange and awkward but by the end of the week, mutual respect and trust began to grow. Now, this treasured practice is an integral part of our day. The inner experience is peaceful and relaxing. It is a moment to remember we are enough. It is a chance for our creativity to reveal itself. It is a moment to forgive ourselves and others. It is five minutes out of 1,440 minutes in a day, that is intentionally used to tap into the feelings of love and happiness. And the students who choose to watch others sit silently, they practice respect, allowance and also experience a stillness.

The new year has arrived, and I have five more months with my students. We may feel that there is so much to teach and learn before the end of the school year and that time is precious and can’t be wasted. Yet, I know that it is worth spending five minutes sitting silently in love and being happy both individually and together.

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Stephanie Mew is an inclusion teacher at Kapunahala Elementary, Hawaii. Her passion for teaching began 18 years ago at small boarding school in Thailand where she learned that the meaning of education is to draw out the innate goodness, gifts and talents of each individual. She has Masters degrees in Social Work and Education and is the 2016 Hawaii State Teacher of the Year. Stephanie believes that the foundation for a peaceful community starts with making a connection with our hearts. By using our loving heart to guide us in all of our communications and actions, we can see the unity in our diversity. Find her on Twitter @StephM808.

The 3 Minute Investment

By Kevin Matsunaga

“Good morning! How are you? Hello!”

My students looked at me with this weird look on their faces. A few said hello in return, but many walked by, puzzled by their new teacher in their new class in the new school year. However, I managed to get a few smiles here and there.

I did this EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Period. I stood at the entrance to my classroom and greeted each student as he or she entered. I stood tall and smiled as I greeted each and every one of them. I resisted the urge to sit at my desk and check attendance or email-things I used to do during this three minute period.

As the days progressed, those weird looks and silent stares became, “Hello Mr. M! Good morning Mr. M! Hi Mr. M!” Students smiled back and some even gave me high fives. One student in particular taught me a special handshake that she and I did every day. Another student enjoyed my daily greeting so much, that he decided to take part; “I got this Mr. M!” and he proceeded to welcome classmates just as I did. This simple interaction with my students at the beginning of each class made me smile but more importantly, it made many of my students smile as well. We began each day on a positive note which often carried itself throughout the period.

This 3 minute routine became the best investment I made that year. Students started my class with a smile and a greeting, and that had a positive effect on their behavior over the course of the year. This is not to say that this 3 minute routine prevented all behavior problems, but it did make a noticeable difference in my students’ behavior and interaction in class. They knew that no matter what, Mr. M was going to be there at the door with a smile and that he was genuinely happy to see them. No matter what their day was like up to that point, when they got to my room they would be welcomed.

Now, as easy as this 3 minute investment is to make, it’s not always easy. As the year progresses there might be a few challenging students that cause you so much grief that, quite frankly, you don’t want to greet them. Consider though that your face may be the first smiling face they have seen all day. You could very well be the ONLY person to say hello to them that entire day. Those 3 minutes are sometimes hard to give up. Believe me, any teacher will tell you that there is A LOT that can be done during those 3 minutes that students file in. I’ve been known to make copies, prepare attendance, check my inbox for new emails, and still have time to spare before the bell rings.

However, if you can commit to using these 3 minutes to greet each and every student with a hello and a smile, you will see a noticeable change in the way your students behave and interact with you. You’ll build relationships with them which will help with classroom management. At the very least, you’ll bring a smile to every single student and show them that you really care.

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Kevin Matsunaga is a digital media and yearbook teacher at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Hawaii. He is also a Hope Street Group State Fellow for Hawaii and is an active member of the Student Television Network and PBS Hawaii’s Hiki No Program. Find him on Twitter@MrMedia808.

Where is the Love?

By Daphne Okunaga

I remember a teacher who seemed to have an insurmountable amount of energy. This teacher celebrated my successes like I won an Olympic medal and coached me through weak spots like I was the most important person in the class. He was kind and always reminded me to put myself in another’s shoes when I was upset. Once, when I was really mad that someone had copied my quiz, he asked me why I thought they copied. Was the other student lazy? Were they embarrassed they didn’t know the answers? When I calmed down, I admitted that I didn’t know why they copied and with a little push from my teacher, I befriended the other student (they had test anxiety) and we’re still friends today! This teacher was there to guide me to be a better person, not just to be a better student. No, I wasn’t special. In fact, he did this for all 180 of his students without asking for anything in return. This person was my high school teacher and class adviser. Yes, high school!

Elementary teachers often hug their students and give them cute mementos to take home to brighten their day. There are class parties, field trips, and reward systems in place to motivate and celebrate student success. Even in many middle schools there are incentives and team bonding activities. Yet, for many high school students, school is business-like, mostly devoid of these practices based in love and direct human interaction. Instead, there are different classroom routines and syllabi, homework assignments, quizzes, tests, projects, presentations, class lectures, and more negative consequences than positive. We even expect students to travel from one class to another and adjust to the teacher’s personality and teaching style! Sure, there are some activities like school assemblies and extra-curricular activities, but much of the personal touch is lost. With a typical class load of 100–180 students and high-stake tests, I completely understand the workload and the pressure that high school teachers experience. But, can’t we find some time to show our students some love? I find that many of students do better when they forge a relationship with their teachers and when they know that the teachers genuinely care about them as people and not just as scores or numbers or grades.

The bond may not be instantaneous, and it does take a lot of effort on the part of the teacher, but it is definitely worth it. It doesn’t mean going out and spending money to buy them stuff. It doesn’t mean making class easy and being the “cool teacher.” It means letting students know that you care. I try to go to at least one of their sporting events, band concerts, etc., and I take my children to watch the school play. I call parents to let them know how proud I am of their child. I make it a point to handwrite a warm note to each student once a semester about things that I’m proud of or things I want them to think about. I am always touched when I see them tuck their letters in their binders or when years later they tell me they still have my letters and that the letters help them through tough times. When I receive a handwritten thank you note from a student playing college football or a wedding invitation from a student that graduated ten years ago, I know the efforts to show love and kindness are worth it.

Society often thinks that as students get older they don’t need to be “loved on” as much, but I think high school students need it more than ever. The adolescent years are tough and balancing relationships, activities, and their future is overwhelming to do on their own. It is in these times of uncertainty that students need to feel an unconditional love when they don’t sometimes love themselves. They may or not may get it from their family, but they could get it every school day from a teacher. It’s not always easy to love students when they act out, but it’s those students who need the love the most. Imagine if every child at a high school connected with at least one adult on campus. Someone to listen to them and give them advice when needed. Someone to offer a hug or a high five. Someone they can turn to when they need help. Someone to make them feel safe and loved. The impact that could make on student behavior is powerful.

I challenge all educators to really think about the impact they have on students. What are ways that teachers can show students love? Some teachers meet students at the door and high five/fist bump each child on the way in so the class starts off with a good vibe. Others take the beginning of class to ask about everyone’s weekend or use nicknames to help students feel special. It doesn’t have to be big or showy, but as we talk about events like Unity Day to encourage everyone to “unite for kindness, acceptance, and aloha,” maybe we teachers can also ask ourselves, how can we show love to our students? What simple ways can we commit to loving our students on a daily basis? They are just kids after all. Share your ideas and tag me (@daphneokunaga) along with @CurioLearning.

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Daphne Okunaga is a Charger alumni who takes pride in teaching at Pearl City High School. Daphne is more than a mathematics teacher, serving as a hanai mom to many of the student athletes at Pearl City High School, and she can always be counted on to tutor students in need. Beyond athletics she serves the community by coordinating graduation and helping to support various student government initiatives. Find her on Twitter @DaphneOkunaga ‏.

Our First Makerspace = Fueling Student-Led Design

By Kristilyn Oda

I never quite know how or what curriculum will be taught until I understand the unique students in my classroom. This year started like most as I carefully observed interactions and values that bubbled up as they created a “We Are” poem to ground us in our collective identity.

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Thirty percent of my students are multilingual and nearly all have a great need to develop literacy skills. Patient support is needed as we work to achieve proficiency of the fourth grade standards. As students read new texts and incorporate writing strategies, important instructional access points lie in their existing strengths.

I reflected on the mindsets and interests highlighted by foundational activities such as discussions and block tower community constructions. The activities selected early in the year uncovered the students’ superhero power: DESIGN! These fourth graders came to me with the seeds of design thinking experience. Project-based learning has been a complex-wide initiative since these students were in first grade, and it showed. Next Generation Science Standards call teachers to address engineering practices, such as generating solutions that meet constraints and criteria and improving a prototype.

***

The Makerspace, our Makerspace, started quietly and ended noisily. I had seen glimpses of Makerspace on my Twitter feed and was curious about a place students could use materials and tools to develop creative projects. Was Makerspace just hype? Will clutter overrun my class? Am I going to waste materials and money? It was so open-ended and so many unanswered questions ran through my head. I started with the idea that the space didn’t need to be high-tech and well-funded. I would just try it out with a Makerspace mindset.

I filled several baskets on a cart with supplies that I had on hand, such as clay, tape, rubber bands, markers, and paper towel rolls. Next, I made a sign, an invite to get moving! We had computers at the ready and freedom to explore. I was pumped. But now what?

***

Glen Morden, Patagonia’s VP of Innovation said, “If something didn’t work, it’s because we didn’t know things we would have known, had we involved more people. We succeed when we stay open-minded and collaborative, by having the humility to invite others to help.” I considered tapping more teachers and websites for resources but then I realized the students could experience authentic learning as a group of organizers. If I had all of the answers, then they would jump through artificial barriers and miss out on learning. They would make the cart materials into a useful place, on their own. The making of the Makerspace, in itself, would be my students’ first engineering design project.

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So I asked one student who had been deeply engaged in the collaborative Keva block challenge to envision this cart transformed into a Makerspace for student-created inventions. He chimed in that he would think of ideas of what we could include in the area. The list languished and we only had two items days later so he partnered with a friend. Together, they came back to me with a huge list to present to the class who added even more ideas. They created a little “maker mascot.” Then, another teacher donated a cubby organizer that was soon filled with donations brought in. The seeds were sprouting but not without a few weeds.

Because this was still unknown territory to me, I timidly did a soft launch of our Makerspace with just a few students who had finished work early. First, the chaotic flurry of papers and tools. Sharp scissors threatened students who surrounded sticky workspaces.

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“If nobody takes care of it, it will be gone. We will close this whole thing down.” The warning came out of anxiety, rather than love. I practiced my mindful breaths and prayed for thoughts higher than mine. It’s only going to be messy a short while, I told myself. The scissors cut could have happened during any subject time. We talked about the problems that came up and found solutions together. The shared norms that evolved addressed each issue. Put the half-completed projects in your personal bin. Review scissor safety training. Share materials. Respect that others can’t drop things right away to hand you a marker if engaged in deep concentration. Take initiative and problem-solve. We must give others space and use more tables if needed.

A week later, students earned the privilege of holding a Grand Opening Makerspace Lunch. Choosing to skip lunch recess, they flew into a 90-minute flurry of action. I circulated to hear the entire Maker Room transform into a buzz of engagement, resourceful making, and planning. Seeing their drive to design and determination to succeed was an all-time career highlight.

“How did you find those things?”

“How did you make it stand?”

“I’m so focused!”

“Can someone help me on this?”

“I know what makes it better!

“Do you think I need to add anything?”

“What happened to yours and what is it now?”

“I want to present first. I am brave.”

As new issues arose, students spoke up about what they would like to include in our Makerspace Wisdom poster, which included:

  • Don’t use so much expensive clay for one project unless absolutely necessary.

  • Low noise level to respect our neighbors.

  • Making weapon-like items is forbidden by school policy.

  • Clean up at the end of the work period is OK because clean-ups along the way interrupt the innovative process.

  • Send a message to parents about materials used that may pose a possible choking hazard for kids under 5.

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My students proposed we use the last 30 minutes to showcase favorite creations. Some of the first products were items designed for loved ones such as a desk organizer, a toy for a sibling, suggestion box for the class and a paper clip holder. Another made a set of gifts for a large family. Students created a canoe, a cup, a sign, string telephones, a toy kendama, a magic trick, a sculpture, a hat, and a corrupted robot. One group of children collaborated to form a band and performed a song with their musical instruments.

After each presentation, students gave positive feedback and the engineers described the most challenging part of their design process. The skills and character that came with generating, directing, solving and presenting an innovation defined a world-class learning experience. Ownership of learning can’t be taught and it is developed with an opportunity. The fruit that had blossomed was joy, patience, confidence, and community while even more seeds were planted that day.

And this is just the beginning.

Real life has NO curriculum. We get to design our lives based on our personal values, needs, and goals. For students, “Follow the Directions” must eventually become “Lead the Direction.” The more we can allow space for that, as educators, the more we are serving our students’ true needs. We now have a Makerspace for students who come through my class, where they can dream, explore, invent, problem-solve, and connect. I will give safety procedures, space, and storage containers. Most importantly, I will give them guidance, encouragement, and what they need most…opportunity and space to explore.

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Kristlyn Oda is a National Board Certified 4th grade teacher and NBCT candidate mentor in the Campbell-Kapolei complex in Hawai’i. A current Hope Street Group Hawai’i Teacher Fellow, Kristi was awarded a spot at STEM focused Mickelson Exxon-Mobil Teaching Academy and helped to launch the K-12 PLTW engineering program in her complex area. Follow her via Twitter @KristiOda.

Project Based Learning: It's Worth Your Time

By Dulcy Dawson

The classroom I’m in looks a bit different than the typical High School scene.

Not all of the students are sitting at tables or desks. There are five students sitting on the floor with a chromebook and some butcher paper with the beginnings of a long timeline stretched across it. Sitting on some bean bags in another corner are three students creating what looks to be a set of tiny cars out of clay that are to represent the industrial revolution. Some students are sitting at the tables but seem to be engaged in a healthy discussion, excitedly talking and writing their “plan” on a form. Permeating the room is the low buzz of organized research and collaborative design team work. The teacher in this U.S. History class is allowing the students to research and then create a model representation of the The Age of the Automobile.

This is a two week mini project that will connect with the year long timeline project that incorporates language arts, history, and math standards. Instead of the history teacher simply giving the students two weeks of copious notes on the overhead, she is teaching her students to be active learners as participants in historical research. History classes do not have to be boring lists of names and places and dates. Interactive, deep learning does not have to be relegated to the confines of the AP or early college courses.

Integrating Project Based Learning (PBL) into classroom curriculum has been described as scary, messy, expensive, and simply too difficult. Many educators are intimidated by the lack of structure and the preparation time that it takes to plan a good project for a couple of weeks or even a semester. For many of us, our controlled lessons and unit plans, with their defined protocols, inputs, activities, and outcomes, feel safe.

These concerns can be put to rest with a little energy, some innovation, and a bit of time invested in the process of planning PBL.

One strategy is to incorporate the community and parents in the process. PBL does not have to be an expensive endeavor. Educators are masters at being resourceful. Use what is available and think outside the box. Many times students and parents are willing to put some skin in the game as well. Sending out a short list of supplies or even asking colleagues for extra random items from home can help. Local businesses are more than happy to donate materials and can often be a great resource for your classroom. For example, many farm stores are willing to donate in order to help schools create gardens, and local hardware stores have been known to pitch in supplies as well.

Planning is key. Do not try to plan a cool project the night before introducing it to students. It takes some early planning in order to be sure it makes sense to the students. One great tool is the PBL Checklist along with many other great tools that can be found on the Buck Institute website. It is true that PBL is front loaded with planning and yes, it takes some flexibility and willingness to make mistakes along the way but all this is worth it in the end. As a teacher who has been implementing PBL for over 4 years, I have recognized the benefits of PBL as it changes the teaching role from a director of the classroom to a facilitator and life long learner. The teacher gets to watch the students learn and grow right before their eyes daily instead of waiting for a test to assess the learning.

The reward of all the hard work is more often than not positively reflected by the students. When asked what was the most important lesson learned during high school, Taisa from West Hawaii Explorations Academy, a PBL high school in West Hawaii, stated, “My favorite project was my Spanish Immersion project. Not only did I get to learn Spanish and develop a curriculum for other students, I loved what I was learning, if anything it felt like I was pursuing a passion. I had control on all the aspects including the other students. That in itself taught me many valuable lessons and revealed traits I never knew I had. Project based learning and student choice allowed me to learn in the most effective way for me.”

Over the years, many students return to express their gratefulness at having had numerous, rich project experiences where they were able to work on real world problems and use their voices for something they felt passionate about. PBL gives students a chance to use their school time as a vehicle for learning about the world from their perspective. Teachers and students have the opportunity to learn together and that causes a huge shift in the overall classroom experience. PBL can be done without fear and teachers and students can thrive together.

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Dulcy Dawson is a High School Teacher at West Hawaii Explorations Academy, a project based public charter school on Hawaii Island. She loves learning alongside her students and continues to be a life long learner. When not with her students, you will find Dulcy with her husband and kids or on a coffee date with a friend.

Teacher Collaboration Boosts Student Success

By Keith Hamana

Ring!!! Students hurriedly rush to and fro. The fourth-grade students begin to line up to go to their “wheel” classes: P.E., Music, Computer, and Library. Some students clutch their library books, eager to return them and excited to get more. Some are on their way to P.E., carrying their water bottles. When asked, “What do your teachers do when you are at wheel?” the students reply, “They go to meetings and learn things.”

This is true. The teachers are learning as the students are off exploring in their wheel classes. But what exactly goes on during a Professional Learning Community (PLC) or Learning Team Time (LTT)? Simply put, strategies are developed to help students learn more effectively.

In more detail, at Hickam Elementary, a typical LTT agenda includes:

  • Response to Intervention (RTI),

  • Data Teams,

  • Professional Development, and

  • System Concerns (Behavioral, Technology, and Grade Level).

Members of an LTT consist of the grade level general education, special education, and RTI teachers, along with a curriculum coach. The coach facilitates and guides the discussions and offers suggestions on practice. The teams meet every 10 days, or four to five times a quarter.

At the beginning of a typical LTT meeting, the team reviews our RTI program. This is when our grade level teachers communicate with our special education and RTI teachers about shared goals and shared students. At the beginning of the year, every student is evaluated with a universal screener for the subject areas of math and reading. The scores that we receive from these reports, in addition to several other data points, are used to strategically tier students according to their abilities. Teachers keep track of where specific students are and how they are progressing. Dialogue ensues and insights are shared among team members. 

Over time, intervention strategies to help students grow are developed, implemented, and monitored. Many students progress in their learning; those who do not are given more intensive intervention (increased one-on-one time with educators, for example) and if desired progress is not achieved, more specialized resources are sought out. 

The second component of our LTT is Data Teams. During this time, the team decides on a specific standard or topic to monitor over a set period of time. Students are given a pre-assessment to measure base knowledge of the topic without any instruction. The team analyzes this pre-assessment to see what students know and what gaps exist prior to instruction. Teachers discuss trends in the data and look for mistakes, then the planning begins. Teachers focus on how to best teach all students while considering the pre-assessment data. Research-based instructional strategies are discussed and implemented. Throughout the cycle of meetings, teachers monitor student growth by using formative assessments and by sharing student work with each other. At the end of the cycle, a post-assessment is given and analyzed. Teachers are encouraged to reflect on their practice during this analysis; it helps us to see what teaching methods are effective for a set group of students and to notice our own growth as teachers.

Professional Development is the third facet of LTT. Teachers are given a chance to learn about new state or district-level initiatives. One example of this is Next Generation Science Standards which must be implemented by school year 2019-2020. Teachers are given guidance from coaches and district specialists and, most importantly, they are given time to plan lessons together. We’ve also used this time to learn about AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), which seeks to close the achievement gap by providing students with the skills needed to be successful in college and in life. During LTT, teachers learn about and plan how to use AVID strategies together, providing consistent and effective deployment across the school.

Going over System Concerns is typically how an LTT ends. The team brings up behavioral concerns that they notice in class and, if needed, the student services coordinator (SSC) and/or counselor are asked to advise. Technology concerns are also addressed by our tech team and any problems are diagnosed and remedied. Finally, if there are any grade level concerns, these are brought to the table and discussed. Discussing and responding to all of these system concerns ensures that teachers, and ultimately the students, are supported.

So remember, when your child says that they have a wheel period, teachers and support staff are at Learning Team Time and are hard at work collaborating, analyzing, and discussing what is best for each and every student at Hickam Elementary.

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Keith Hamana, a 24-year veteran of the Hawai’i DOE, with 22 years spent at Hickam El, has taught grades 3, 4, and 5 and now serves as Hickam’s Curriculum Coach. Hamana is a proud product of the Hawaii Public School system and firmly believes that education is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy. Here, he provides insight into the school’s Professional Learning Community, where teachers collaborate to ensure students are getting what they need to succeed. This work is paying off for Hickam’s students — the 2017-18 Strive HI System’s school report card shows they have strong achievement results and high levels of growth, literacy and attendance levels.

Student Success Soars with Strong School Leadership

By Monica M. Heiser

Excellent leadership is a huge contributor to school-wide student success. A good principal influences every student and teacher in his or her school rather than just a single classroom, magnifying his or her effect on student success rates. A 2013 peer-reviewed study by Branch, Hanushek, and Rivkin determined that highly-effective principals raise the achievement of a typical student in their schools by two to seven months of learning in a single school year. Inadequate principals have the opposite effect, lowering achievement at the same rate (Branch, Hanushek, & Rivkin, 2013). As such, a greater understanding of what qualities lead to quality leadership is paramount.

A principal’s job is so much bigger than sitting behind a desk, dealing exclusively with payrolls, facilities, teaching lines, and budgets. We know this to be true, yet our school leaders can get lost behind their desks. Principals must put on the hat of instructional leader, making use of the latest research, encouraging a collaborative environment, and facilitating the professional growth of their teachers. These leaders empower their teachers to have a voice and utilize their teachers as resources for professional learning and growth for the entire school. The long-term result of this collaborative environment is the creation of a “safe space” for educators’ continuous development.

This type of leadership fosters an environment of trust, safety, and respect between a school’s administration and its teachers, where principals and teachers are able to work together to identify school objectives and individual teacher growth goals. For teachers to safely innovate, try, fail, and succeed, both school leader and instructional leader must adopt a growth mindset, giving and receiving constructive criticism.

“My principal was able to see potential that I never knew I had. And with that insight he opened doors to challenge and stretch me to build my leadership skills. It is his high expectations of professionalism and his trust in me that I am able to be the positive influence with my colleagues to begin building a culture of collaboration and appreciation of our profession on campus. His continuous support in projects and ideas that I shared with him were integral for my professional growth. He once told me that he ‘…just needed to point [me] in the right direction, get out the way and let [me] shine.’”

— Lorna Baniaga-Lee, English teacher at James Campbell High School

Principals should act like their best teachers, creating a school culture that values innovation and calculated risks, that doesn’t punish practitioners when something fails. Failure and struggle lead to the best learning and growth. Good leaders cultivate a workplace where teachers feel invited to innovate, grow, reflect, and learn without fear of reprisal.

Some districts are capitalizing on successful school leadership by creating school groups in which principals share institutional knowledge, collaborate, observe each other’s work, share successes and failures, and inspire one another to continue to grow as leaders. One form of this is the creation of Instructional Leadership Teams (ILT). In this model principals are grouped with coaches, teacher leaders, and principals from nearby schools. Principals are then held accountable for the agreements made in their ILT group. Teacher leaders are an integral part of this team, giving voice to the educators at their schoolsites.

Good leaders attract great teachers. Teacher retention, a key factor in student success rates, correlates directly to school leadership. The best teachers choose to stay in schools with strong leaders, and they quickly leave schools operated by inadequate principals (Branch et al., 2013). In turn, student success is directly impacted by the quality of teachers retained by the school (Kaplan & Owens, 2001).

Teachers have a direct impact on individual student success, but achieving school-wide success involves so much more. It is time for policymakers to more closely evaluate our administrators and the role they play in our schools. Excellent administrators have a monumental effect on teacher success, retention, and school-wide student growth. It’s time for other districts to utilize the latest research and join the 21st century, for the benefit of students nationwide.

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Monica Myrmo Heiser, an experienced elementary school teacher currently teaching in Hawaii, earned both a BA and a Bilingual teaching credential from SDSU. A Hope Street Group Hawaii Teacher Fellow, Monica embraces additional leadership roles including serving on her instructional leadership team, plus teaching reading and writing professional development for teachers. Follow her on Twitter via @MMyrmo.

References:

Branch, G. F., Hanushek, E. A., & Rivkin, S.G. (2013). School Leaders Matter: Measuring the impact of effective principals. EducationNext13(01), pp. 62–69: www.educationnext.org

Kaplan, L. S., & Owings, W. A. (2001). Teacher Quality and Student Achievement: Recommendations for Principals. NASSP Bulletin, 85(628), pp. 64–73. DOI: 10.1177/019263650108562808

Lorna Baniaga-Lee, English Teacher, James Campbell High School.

An Unconditional Education

By Derek Govin

My classroom is a beautiful world of bright, talented, and sophisticated young men and women. It is a place of student learning, individualized education, research-based strategies, and student voice.

It is a place of love for public education. For professional growth. For the belief that all children deserve a better education.

No one warned me how much I would grow to love these students. No class prepared me for the overwhelming feelings for a child’s social and emotional well-being. No one told me that there would be tears shed over feeling helpless sometimes.

Yet this is exactly what a relationship between a teacher and the students is all about.

For those of us who are dog lovers, we know the excitement that hits you the very minute you walk through the door of your own home. Tails wagging, paws with nails clicking all over the floor, jumping when they definitely know they aren’t supposed to.

And why is that?

Because they simply cannot stand the excitement. Dogs can love us so unconditionally that they live for those moments of just seeing our faces again. Your warm embrace, petting his or her head, giving the scratches, or holding him or her while getting all the slobbers.

You’re so loved by them.

This is what our students deserve (minus the slobbers, perhaps): to be greeted with warmth and love that overflows. Our students deserve to hear and feel a sweet welcome, high five, or yes, even a hug. Our students deserve, and need, to be loved by their teacher.

Connecting with students in the first two weeks of school is vital. Laying down the foundations and the classroom rules should be happening, of course, but teachers sometimes get so focused on rules, procedures, and foundations that they forget to build loving relationships.

We simply cannot afford to fail at building these relationships. Nothing else can happen if those relationships aren’t there.

Connecting with a student with special needs means a variety of things. Most importantly, gaining the love and respect of the student can alter the student’s level of stress about the teacher, the classroom, and even the school.

When a student feels valued and empowered by the teacher, displaying inappropriate behaviors can be just as upsetting to the student. Knowing that not only are the behaviors inappropriate, but that the behaviors are “letting the teacher down,” can have a tremendous impact on the student.

A former student of mine was having a particularly hard day. The work load led to frustration and he tested the limits of appropriate behavior. Then he realized the desired reward wasn’t earned due to his behavior.

“NOOOOOOOOO!!!” he yelled loudly, disappointment and anger on his face.

Special education classrooms aren’t always rainbows and butterflies.

What happened next wasn’t what I expected.

As the student began to cry and have a meltdown, I thought, “Don’t make eye contact. State your stance once, then use only pointing with no eye contact to help guide the student to appropriate behavior. Wait it out.”

As I’m doing my part to help the student, I hear “Don’t hit Mr. Govin. That’s a baaaaaaad day!” What followed was possibly the gentlest punch I will ever feel in my lifetime.

That’s when the student erupted like a volcano.

Not because the student wanted to hurt me. I didn’t get “punched” because the student was mad at me. I was targeted because the student knew I would display an unconditional love because we had already built that relationship.

“I’m sorry Mr. Govin! That’s a bad day!”

Within a reasonably short amount of time, the meltdown was over and life continued. Processing began and alternative behaviors were discussed.

The level of love, respect, and understanding between the two of us allowed the student to feel safe with his feelings but also work through them without fear.

This is why connection is important. Students do not desire to be “bad.” I believe that all children are inherently good individuals by nature.

As a special education teacher, it is my responsibility to not only educate and empower young minds within my classroom, but to educate the school, the state, and the general public on the wonderful things happening within public education.

If you are reading this as a parent, I’m beyond excited to have your child in my classroom! Your child will be known, respected, educated, empowered, and loved.

If you are reading this as a teacher, I hope that this sharing brings you happiness while subsequently encouraging you to share your truth. Public education is a beautiful thing and it is time that we add our voices to the discussion.

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Derek Govin is a Special Education Teacher for the Hawaii Department of Education. He is also a Hawaii Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellow.

A Heart for Making Dreams Reality

By Miriam E. Pagador

If you step into my shoes as an ELL teacher for a day what will you see?

A class of students from different countries, levels of educational background and English proficiency

Your class becomes a safe haven and you their security blanket for a period of time

Days, weeks or months go by but eventually they’ll adjust, break away and make that climb

 

Make learning fun, use a lot of realia and have them share their culture with pride

Be sensitive to their unique qualities and definitely get their parents on your side

Celebrate when you have students who are motivated to learn…but also be aware

For your blood pressure to rise with the few who are always absent, insubordinate, or unprepared

 

Every year K-12 teachers open their classroom doors to new students which they briefly get to know

However, as an ELL teacher…you will bond with your kids for a year or more and watch them grow

 

Being an educator for over 30 years I’m often asked, “Retiring?” I’ll smile and say, “Maybe” but then I’ll stay

So I can encourage these special students to DREAM BIG and KEEP BELIEVING they’ll reach their goals one day

Mrs. Miriam “Mimi” Ellen Pagador was born and raised on Kauai where she attended Koloa Elementary School and Kauai High School. She received an AA in Liberal Arts from Kauai Community College and earned her B.Ed and Professional Diploma in English as a Second Language from U.H. Manoa. She has 31 years of teaching experience and has loved them all, her years and her students. Mimi has dedicated her career to the island of Kauai and to the too often ignored ELL students and their families.

Kindergarten, Ready or Not!

By Debbie Morrow

“When are you going to give my kid worksheets to practice writing her name?”

This from a parent of a preschooler with special needs — a child who struggled with following the flow of the class, who struggled with participating with her peers at morning circle carpet without engaging in distracting and sometimes seriously anti-social behaviors, and who resisted teacher directions just about every time they were given.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard this kind of question. Or the thirtieth. My shoulders dropped and my heart hurt. When did we go from “Everything I need to Learn, I Learned in Kindergarten” to “Be Kindergarten Ready?”

Just because a four or five year old child can be taught to write their name with correct size and spacing, using correct letter formation, the product which, when hung on the refrigerator door or classroom wall does look really impressive, doesn’t necessarily mean they should.

There is a cost attached to increasing the curricular expectations of early childhood programs. With only so much time in a day, whatever time is dedicated to letter tracing worksheets and handwriting is ultimately subtracted from the time a child would spend doing inquiry based activities. When they are seated at a desk, forcing their little muscles to carefully trace each letter, following the directional arrows, they aren’t moving around the classroom, learning where their bodies are in space. They aren’t following the progress of a caterpillar across a leaf and wondering what will happen to that caterpillar when its eating is complete. And they aren’t learning to socialize with one another and develop the ability to engage appropriately with others.

If it’s not worksheets, drills, and learning to sit nicely at a desk to complete a task, what is the answer to getting a child ready for the rigors of elementary school? It’s so simple, it is often disbelieved. The answer is play.

There is well-grounded research to support play as pedagogy in early childhood education. Stuart Brown, a medical doctor, psychiatrist, and clinical researcher explains in his book that it is through play that the brain forms connective pathways between the different areas of the brain, allowing for more complex thought. When pondering the question, “what difference does play make,” Brown answers himself stating that “play seems to be one of the most advanced methods nature has invented to allow a complex brain to create itself.”

In the National Association of the Education of Young Children publication of “Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children Birth Through Age 8,” Copple and Bredekamp (2009) outline four developmental domains that are impacted by play: physical development, cognitive development, language and literacy development, and social/emotional development.

With research pointing towards play as the answer, what is it that prevents educators from looking for play-based solutions to the idea of “kindergarten readiness?”

According to Nell, Drew, & Bush, a big barrier to play is an increased societal value placed on academics and a lack of understanding of how play benefits cognitive development. Dr. Stuart Brown (2009) states, “we are pushed from play, shamed into rejecting it by a culture that doesn’t understand the human need for it and doesn’t respect it” (p. 145). Johnson and Dinger (2012) build on this idea, stating that society has lost faith in play because play is too deceptively simple and something so simple can’t possibly be an effective teacher for young children. Another reason is that adults who were exposed to an education system in which information was delivered in a top-down fashion have a hard time comprehending how learning can occur without a teacher directing all of the learning. Perhaps the saddest reason outlined is that adults have forgotten how to play and how good it feels to play (Johnson & Dinger, 2012).

If we as educators know that play is the answer and know the barriers to play that exist in our educational system, how can we affect positive change? We can start by learning more about play as pedagogy and educating the parents and colleagues we come in contact with. We can dust off our soap-boxes, get up on them, and advocate for the benefits of play and inquiry based activities — to our parents, our administrators, even our legislators. Maybe they can join us in our classes to play and learn with us! We have a moral obligation to educate the various stakeholders that influence our practice. Our youngest, most vulnerable learners are counting on us.

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Debbie Morrow is a public preschool teacher in Kailua, Hawaii. She has been an early childhood special educator for 13 years prior. She was recently named the Windward District Teacher of the Year.

Let Them Lead


By Jenny Howe

It’s lunchtime on the first day of the Jostens San Diego National Yearbook Workshop at the University of San Diego. My four student yearbook editors and I are sitting around the table sharing our learning so far. The students’ ideas cross the table, rapid fire, everyone excited.

“Can Time Logs be online?”

“Let’s make first quarter really interactive.”

“Let’s get a fake bush that we can decorate for the holidays.”

“Can we not use Trello this year? It just distracts everyone.”

“What about that first day of school activity he talked about? With the yarn on the ring finger and the marriage vows on the first day of school?”

“Yeah, let’s do it later in the year at the theme reveal.”

I am excited too, listening to my editors lead. My editors can be more realistic in their vision of the yearbook than I am at times. According to Journalism Education Association (JEA) President Sarah Nichols, “It’s the editor’s job to decide where to go next. If they see something that’s not working, ask them, ‘What are you going to do about it?’”

Teachers plan the next steps for students based on student data they receive from daily observations or checks for understanding. However, in a student-led classroom like the yearbook room, my role as “teacher” changes to that of “advisor.”  My editors and I are in a unique position to build a collective leadership team. Sometimes there is a struggle between the delicate give and take of staying in control as the teacher or letting go as the adviser. The yearbook adviser must anticipate this student response: ‘No, Mrs. Howe, let’s do it like this.’

“So this year, we want to have each editor lead a mini-lesson. That way you can be relieved of teaching first-year yearbook students everything, and it will give you some time to work with the yearbook 2-4s because we need your help too,” continued my fourth-year editor.

“Oh!” I said. “Okay, what were you thinking about teaching?”

“We were thinking it could be one editor per day. Each lesson would relate to what the editor’s position is, so maybe Sara could do something about photography. The sports editors could do something on caption writing.”

“Okay, yeah, I love this idea. I’ve been working on my curriculum map, which is like the big plan for the year, because I have ideas about how to change up quarter one to make it more interactive for the yearbook ones. I’ll give you a timeline, so you know what the general lesson topics will be and then we can create a schedule for when all the lessons, including yours, will be implemented. How does that sound?”

They nod and smile in agreement.

Google Maps is a tool that helps people get to new places. It informs you of the best routes, the time each route takes, where one might experience traffic or other roadblocks, and it usually reroutes you if something occurs and a detours is required. That’s basically how a curriculum map functions for teachers. We map out the year, the quarters, the weeks, the days to ensure we help our students achieve the goals and standards that they need to navigate and fulfill the requirements of the course.

What is mine is actually theirs. My curriculum map shouldn’t be about me, it’s really theirs, so I should be jumping for joy that they want to teach our new staffers.

There is all this talk about ownership when teachers talk about curriculum maps, but the strongest maps and plans are those devised by a team.

If my students are diagnosing their needs and want to determine the routes of the class, then they’re deciding what’s next.

What am I going to do about it?

Let go.

Lose some control.

Let them lead.

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Jenny Howe is a freshman English Language Arts teacher, Yearbook adviser, school-level mentor, and instructional coach at President Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Kaimuki-McKinley-Roosevelt Complex Area. She has also taught English Language Learners, newswriting, arts & communication, digital media, and broadcast media. Jenny is a member of the Hawaii Scholastic Journalism Association and is the State Director for the Hawaii State Journalism Education Association. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature from the University of Washington and a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education.

How Can We Better Understand Our Students? Build a Cultural Bridge

by Verona Holder

I have been teaching for a total of 14 years and every year has been a learning experience for me both professionally and personally. I do my best each day to respect others’ thoughts and feelings and to always take them seriously. I believe it is important for every teacher to do the same, especially when teaching in an area where the cultures of their students may be different than their own.

My interest in other people’s cultures started when I was very young. For as long as I can remember, culture has been an integral part of my daily life. Although I was born in the United States, both of my parents and all of their families are from the Caribbean islands. They were intentional about embedding their culture into our daily lives. Their family members were constant guests in our house throughout our childhood. I always enjoyed listening to their beautiful accents and stories about our other family members and the way they lived their lives now. I savored the foods that were part of our heritage and watched and listened carefully, hoping to replicate the same meals when I grew up. I took delight in the traditional celebrations that were special to my family and planned how my future family would carry them on.

I grew up  in an area of South Florida that was extremely diverse. My classmates came from all areas of South America, the Caribbean, and the United States. I couldn’t wait for each school year to roll around so I could have another opportunity to meet people from a different culture than mine. Once I made a new friend, I made a point to learn more about their culture. This was natural for us.

We shared with each other by spending time together during school and engaging in conversations. I spent much time with my closest friends’ families, listening to the beautiful accents and languages of their parents and savoring their delicious foods. I was honored when I was included in the traditional celebrations that were special to their families and was always honored when they would share time with me and my family.

When I married my husband, again I was ready to be immersed in a new culture. I had never met a person from Europe, and now I was married to an Englishman. Throughout our 18 years of marriage, I’ve been able to meet his family members, listen to their beautiful accents, and hear the stories about the places they have lived. He shares the food of his culture through the delicious meals that he prepares for our family. I have learned about his traditions and our celebrations have been meshed into one.

As a teacher, I engage in learning about the cultures of my students. I’m amazed not only at the differences, but the many similarities between my culture, the culture of my childhood friends, my husband’s culture, and the multiple cultures of my students. I believe that it is my job as a teacher to facilitate the exchange of cultures between myself and my students.

Each year, my new set of students become members of my family. When they walk into my classroom, I let them know “You are now not only my students, you are my children. I intend to treat you like my children. I am here to support you, to encourage you, and to help you become a better version of yourself. I want you to treat your classmates like they are a part of your family, as well. You may have disagreements, but I expect you to respect each other, and do all that you can to work them out.”

Moving from Georgia, to California, and now to Hawaii, I have been able to learn so much from my students and my co-workers. I am honored to share in their cultures through discussions, social gatherings, and the sharing of celebrations and traditions. It has added to the depth and breadth of my knowledge as a person and as an educator. I am open and willing to understand where they are coming from and to adapt to their expectations and cultural norms. I am always happy to share what I have learned with others, and I do believe that it helps us to build a special bond.

As teachers, we should all do our best to learn and grow with our students. It can be as in-depth as an “All About Me” that includes pictures and descriptions about their favorite foods, cultural celebrations, and countries of origin. Or, it can be as simple as 10 minute structured daily discussions where we engage with each other and share information about our lives. Hopefully, when students leave our classrooms, they will be one step closer to learning how to immerse themselves in the cultures of others in order to grow as individuals. This is my goal as a teacher, and my hope is to one day pass on my passion for learning about cultures to other teachers.

There is Still Hope

by Clint Labrador

“3 suicides in one week.”

A comment from a Kauai High School student at a recent student forum, part of a teacher conference I attended. I immediately thought about the multiple suicides I have heard about over my 15 years of teaching on Molokai.

I asked the student “Have any teachers taught you strategies to cope with school pressures and emotions? Have you learned mindfulness?”

He answered “Nope.” A pause. “I wish teachers took the time to teach us those things.” Silence settled over the teachers in the room.

***

A few months have passed and this exchange bothers me everyday. Questions crowd out my other thoughts. What can be done to address this madness? What can drive humans to get to this point? What can I do to help calm the turbulent waters for our children? Why, in a place everyone calls paradise, are our island people in such distress?

I don’t know the answers but I decided that the fact that this student was able to muster up the confidence to speak honestly to a bunch of teachers meant that he was moving mountains and giving hope to our future. It gave me hope.

Thanks to the work of various groups, including nonprofits such as The Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellowship, we are redefining what it means to be a teacher and rethinking what we can accomplish across our state and profession. More now than ever, we need to prioritize Social/Emotional intelligence as the first stepping-stone in developing our children for their lives. One way to do this is to take time to just listen to our students more.

How do we remain hopeful in teaching? How are we going to address this and other epidemics our young people face? First, the Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellowship treats us like professionals and allows us the time and space to work cooperatively towards solutions. Convenings are held in creative and conducive learning spaces like the Impact Hub in Honolulu where we bounce back ideas and learn from each other in a café like setting.

The teachers in the fellowship represent all parts of the state and all grade levels and are selected in part based on their dispositions, the way they tackle problems and approach this wonderful art we call teaching. The process is similar to how companies such as Google are hiring their professionals, not on a grade point average or lengthy resume, but how the individual approaches problems. Overall, we are a team of dedicated teachers committed to improving our profession.

As a team, the State Teacher Fellows seek to collaborate, problem solve, and tackle the problems plaguing our profession. At our recent convenings, we not only spent time listening to students’ concerns, working together as teachers, and growing together through professional learning sessions but we heard from the assistant and deputy superintendents, the board of education, and the superintendent herself. They came to talk to us about their jobs in the public education system but also to talk to us about their WHY. This was a breath of fresh air to see that their intentions were genuinely focused on the wellbeing of our students, all students.

Ultimately, the hope in teaching lies in bridging the gap between these individuals at the top and the teachers and students because we are all here to serve a common need: leading students to a bright future. Through the type of communication and relationship building embedded in the fellowship, we are going to pave the way for teachers to truly address and respond to the issues concerning our island students, their needs to survive in our ever-changing world of information. The fellowship is also a model for how teachers should interact with their students.

***

As I digest all the information from the convenings, I think about my own practice as a teacher on Molokai. I think about how I have to teach children who have witnessed suicides with their own eyes or have had to deal with loved ones contemplating suicide. How in the world will I tackle this? How will I give hope to this child who views suicide as a way to cope? What is the solution?

Just as the Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellowship gives teachers hope that we can bridge the gaps and have a voice in education, that we matter, we need to instill the same type of hope in our students. We need to encourage self-awareness and emotional resiliency. Schools need to become innovative sanctuaries for children where they can feel safe, listened to, and able to take risks. Teachers need to bridge the gap between themselves and their students and dive deeper into understanding them as human beings.

Ultimately, our everyday lives come down to decisions and responses. With the speed and rate that information is coming towards us, at times, life can be quite difficult to process. It is especially difficult when rejection is rampant on social media and data driven academics label us and our students by our scores.

Sometimes we need to stop, slow down, and take time to listen to our children and model how to cope and make mindful decisions. When we respond with hope, we instill it in others.

Teachers: You Could be Anywhere Else

by CC Chung

I was in line for snacks at a Professional Development day, readying my paper plate for some homemade banana bread and chips. The teacher behind me struck up a conversation while scooping some dip onto her plate. She asked how I was doing in my second year. Fine, I thought. I’m adjusting. I was piloting 1:1 Chromebooks with my students, integrating game-based learning, and slowly building my tool box of teaching strategies. Fine, I thought again.

As we shuffled through the snack line, we began talking about technology and about the college I had graduated from and then she bluntly asked:

“But then… why? Why are you in teaching? I just don’t get it. You could be anywhere else.”

She suggested that workplaces like Amazon and Google offer higher salaries with optimum working conditions, that I could do less grueling work and have a better life.

The directness of her question, of her suggestion that a different job could lead to a “better life,” forced me to stop and think for a moment. Here was a teacher, who I knew and respected, discouraging me, another teacher, from staying in the profession. It felt like she was trying to “save” me.

Many of us have heard a version of this before: “My daughter told me she wanted to be a teacher, like me, and I said no. I made sure of it…so she doesn’t have to live like I do.”

In a 2015 article from The Telegraph titled, “Does Teaching Have an Image Problem?,” Gillian Harvey writes that,

“...far from being regarded as high-working professionals, it seems that teachers are perceived as incompetent, militant and...lacking the ability to deliver curriculum in a balanced way.”

Harvey continues, “This negative working environment leads many teachers to leave the profession.”  

How do we begin to peel away at the complexity of the “teacher image” problem?

Start small. We can start with us.

1. Identify areas of growth and spark a conversation.

What are some aspects of the teaching profession that frustrate you? Is it the low salary? Diluted professional development? Inconsistent curriculum? Acknowledging that there are many areas of growth within education is important-- in fact, acknowledgement is the first step. However, how can we begin to spark a conversation around these issues in a solutions-oriented way?  

Taylor Mali, in a spoken word piece entitled “What Teachers Make,” sparks conversation nationally as his poem gives teachers a platform to question, think, share knowledge, and find points of pride in our profession.

Just as Mali sparked conversation, so can we. In small and big ways. Instead of asking, “Why is it so difficult?,” we can ask, “How can we make it simpler?” Instead of asking, “Why don’t I just quit and work for Google?,” we can ask, “How can I share with others my triumphs, that add to the reasons why I love teaching and why I love my job?”

2. Words have power. Choose them wisely.

Words have power and we must choose them wisely, writes Dr. Jack Schafer in Psychology Today’s article, Words Have Power. Stop and think-- take a moment to reflect on how you speak about your own teaching profession. How much do you contribute to the negative image of teaching through your words?

“Words cannot change reality,” Dr. Schafer continues, “but they can change how people perceive reality.” When having conversations with people outside of the teaching profession, acknowledge the issues but also celebrate the good and be proud of your role in the lives of students who need us.

Recognizing that words are powerful can help us to remember that they can lead us down positive or negative paths. Back up your words with research and action. Educate yourself around issues you care about, have conversations with others, and find opportunities to find solutions and take action.

3. Celebrate the good.

After a long, hot, and tiring day of facilitating learning for classrooms of students, thinking of the good things that happened in a day can be tough; but you can do it - stop and spend a moment to find that one good thing that happened. Celebrate it. Perhaps it’s the “aha” moment from a student who has been struggling or maybe your grade level or department meeting went smoothly. Whatever it is, find it and celebrate it by simply thinking about it, by writing it down, or by telling a friend about it.

You can also celebrate the good by creating small events within your school or complex area to acknowledge and appreciate the hard work your colleagues have done. How often do we celebrate teachers? In the past year, through events like ECET2 (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching), there has been a slow and steady movement to celebrate teachers. In the state of Hawaii alone, there have been over five regional ECET2 HI events that have inspired teachers to continue the celebration in their own schools.

It starts small. It starts with us.

***

Teachers matter and teachers have power. We are the most important group in shifting the negative narrative around our profession. We can and should reclaim that narrative. People may say, “you could be anywhere else,” but you chose to be here. Tell us why.


Resources

Outside of the Class

by Caroline Freudig

1992. That’s the year I started teaching. I’ve been a teacher for 26 years now, more than half my life. Over those years, I’ve experienced quite a bit of change but nothing like what I’m going to go through this school year. I am back in the classroom after having been a non-classroom, district resource teacher for six years. While I’m not looking forward to leaving the position I’m in and the work I’ve been doing with our Kahua Kaua‘i Teacher Induction Program, I am looking forward to applying so much of what I’ve learned these past six years to the work I will do with my first graders.

To begin with, I am a much better teacher now than I was six years ago. My work with adults has been challenging but has helped me hone my teacher skills. As a district resource teacher and a teacher mentor, I was pushed to really think about purpose and intent, in particular. Why does the beginning teacher-mentor PD day include a huaka‘i (trip) to the Kaua‘i Museum? How does the trip align to the overall outcomes of the session? In what ways will our beginning teachers benefit by leaving their students for the day to attend this session? Why should our complex area spend federal funds to pay for subs for these teachers to attend the session?

These are not easy questions but they drove me to really reflect on the ‘why.’ I know that when I’m back in the classroom this school year, I will utilize this type of reflection when creating lessons for my students. Maybe instead of focusing on questions like What will we do today? Or even What will we learn today? I will ask myself reflective questions like Why will we learn this? Why are calendar skills important? How does this align to student standards? How else can students learn, practice, attain, and demonstrate these skills?

Another way my teaching will benefit from having been a resource teacher is that I now have a different perspective of our education system. Prior to being a resource teacher, I mostly dealt with colleagues at my school and didn’t have much interaction with other teachers from across our state. The past six years provided me with the opportunity to engage in conversations with colleagues, administrators, department of education employees, board of education members, community members, parents, and more from all over the state. These conversations allowed me to see and hear perspectives that I would have missed if I had stayed in the classroom and these diverse perspectives will help me create an equitable and effective classroom.

These opportunities to work with such a diverse cross section of the public education landscape also helped me to expand my social media networks (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram). These connections with professionals from across the state have in turn lead to connections with others across the country and even across the world.  All this connecting with others has provided me with novel ideas that I will bring back into my classroom this year. Ideas such as not having a behavior chart and including more physical activity for my students. Without taking time away from my role as a classroom teacher, I would have missed the rich experiences that will now color my switch back to the class.

Why have I chosen to share these thoughts with you? Well, what it boils down to is this: I strongly believe that to foster the continued growth of our best classroom teachers, at some point in their teaching career, they should be given the opportunity and should be highly encouraged to step outside the four walls of their classroom. They should spend time in a non-classroom teacher position, at their own school or beyond.

This won’t be easy as classroom teachers frequently hate leaving their classrooms and their students. I know this first hand. I was one of those teachers who never called in sick and hated when my principal sent me to some professional development somewhere because it meant I wasn’t with my students and I wouldn’t be there to teach them. However, having taken the opportunity to leave the classroom and work in such a position, I know that the professional growth I’ve had the past six years could not have happened if I had still been teaching 3rd grade and had never left. Teachers’ roles should become more flexible to include more of these out of the class opportunities. The benefits to our expertise and our teaching far outweigh the drawbacks.

Lucky We Live Hawaii: The Case for Environmental Education

by Whitney Aragaki

I recently polled my AP Environmental Science students about their experiences exploring their island’s unique natural and cultural heritage sites. My curiosity was piqued when many of them said they had never walked on a lava field or traversed the high elevation cloud forests or the near shore reef systems, or the many areas in between. These students, within a year or so, will be graduating from high school and the majority of them will be attending college on the mainland. This lack of engagement in their own landscape is an important missed opportunity.

Beyond the geographic isolation and sandy beaches, overemphasized in college application essays, how many students recognize their luck to live in Hawaii? How many teachers prioritize this luck?

When students enroll in my AP Environmental Science class, I ask them why. Why is environmental science important? Not surprisingly, many students reply with versions of “I love the earth” or “Climate change has been in the news a lot and I want to learn more.” While these are valid reasons, they do not reflect the responsibility that our students have to our island home. These students have nearly a decade of compulsory education behind them before walking into y class and making these statements.

Why aren’t students learning about and feeling their responsibility to Hawaii? Where is the urgency to action and connection? Why aren’t we teaching this responsibility to place and action and stewardship?

The development of Nā Hopena A‘o is a start. Since 2013, the Hawaii Department of Education has invested time and resources into this framework to develop the skills, behaviors, and dispositions that reflect Hawaii’s context and honor the language and culture of Hawai‘i. Engaging students in meaningful conversations, activities, and assessments that elevate their global understanding and ground them in local context is crucial for the perpetuation of culture and language but the physical, natural aspects of Hawai‘i are key to this necessary learning.

As Nā Hopena A‘o was coming to fruition, a disease blanketed Hawai‘i Island. Rapid Ōhi‘a Death (ROD) decimated Ōhi‘a trees islandwide and sent the scientific research community into a frenzy. This tree is important, physically, in its relationship to native birds and forests. But is also important in a less visible way. Real parts of Hawaiian language and culture rely on the ōhi‘a existing. The description of Panaewa rains (Ka ua lu lehua o Pana‘ewa), for example, requires knowledge of the ōhi‘a lehua blossom. If ōhi‘a disappeared, parts of the Hawaiian language, important cultural stories and lessons, could lose their meaning. When connections between the natural and cultural realms are severed, more than just a tree is lost.

Students in Hawai‘i have the opportunity and responsibility to become the near-future stewards of our land. While they all have the basic opportunities to explore and learn, the current structure of science classes and educational funding doesn’t lend itself to actual environmental engagement and action. In previous decades, there was dedicated funding for field trips, field work, and community activities that would bring the classroom outside. Recently, we have focused our teaching on bringing the outside into the classroom. To combat student disengagement from the natural world, it is imperative that we flip our classrooms back outdoors and put our students directly in the natural world so they can truly learn about the connection between theory and the culture and place in which they live.

One of my students put it best when she said, “As someone who tries to perpetuate the sacredness and values of Hawaiian culture, I was taught to care for it. I try to live by the 'ōlelo noʻeau, or Hawaiian proverb, ‘He aliʻi ke ʻāina, he kauā ke kanaka.’ This translates to ‘Land is chief, man is it's servant,’ and speaks to the kahiko Hawai'i concept of how people are here to look after the land and not cause it harm nor destroy it. Because Hawai‘i nei takes care of us by providing food and life, we should mālama it in return. One way I can do that is to dedicate some of my time to becoming more educated about it.”


This is the knowledge and responsibility that we want all our students to take with them after graduating: a keen sense of belonging and responsibility to cultural and natural resources. And this is the epitome of a young spokesperson for Hawai‘i. Fostering more young people like this must be the goal of a public education in Hawai‘i.

 

Whitney Aragaki is a high school science teacher at Waiakea High School on Hawaii Island. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, serves on the Hawaii State Science Work Group, and is a part of the Hawaii 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 Hawaii Island. Whitney has a BA in Biology from Swarthmore College, and an MS in Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science from the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

Whitney Aragaki is a high school science teacher at Waiakea High School on Hawaii Island. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, serves on the Hawaii State Science Work Group, and is a part of the Hawaii 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 Hawaii Island. Whitney has a BA in Biology from Swarthmore College, and an MS in Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science from the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

#TeachersTakeCare: The Importance of Self-Care as an Educator

By Piikea Kalakau

To many, the idea of self-care is just another trendy term Millennials use to defend a selfish need for maintaining a work-life balance. While the term seems new, the concept of self-care is not; originating as a means of alternative medicine, self-care in the past has been recommended for professionals needing tangible methods to counteract daily stress, including first responders, social workers and more.  While almost anything can be considered self-care, ideas like mindfulness, paying special attention to one’s personal needs and wants, and prioritizing oneself are generally associated with the term. Here in Hawaiʻi, self-care can be as simple as stepping out of the office and taking a lunch break at the beach. Self-care can be as complex as learning a new skill. The main point of practicing self-care is to pay special attention to and maintain one’s physical, mental and emotional health--an idea often lost in the constant hustle of our current society. Skeptics consider self-care a fantasy both unnecessary and impossible to incorporate into one’s daily life. However, self-care is necessary in today’s world because of the rate at which we incessantly receive and digest information from all outlets.

While practicing self-care is beneficial for everyone, it is especially important for local educators because of how grueling the teaching profession is. Teaching is incredibly difficult, complex and important.  Finding efficient (and affordable) ways to uphold a consistent work-life balance has been essential to my success as a fairly new classroom teacher. When I became a teacher a few years ago, the transition from a traditional desk job that rarely required more than 40 hours of my time weekly to the literal never-ending tasks associated with being an educator was challenging, but I found that my ability to successfully prioritize and learn to completely stop working at times has helped me to sustain my career in education for at least the time being.

Summertime and the Living’s Not-So-Easy

Hawaiʻi’s teachers must balance the endless demands of this often thankless profession, unpaid overtime and addressing tasks beyond the scope of one’s personal control while remaining dedicated professionals. The reality is, educators are burnt out and grossly underpaid for their labor.  A colleague once shared with me that she calculated her hourly wage as an educator according to everything she does in a typical day and based off her current salary as a veteran teacher. She was appalled to find that she makes around $12 per hour molding the young minds of our future; a salary rate that took two degrees worth of schooling to reach. Now imagine just starting as an educator in Hawaiʻi, where the possibility of “getting ahead” in 2018 can seem slim to none.  Considering Hawaiʻi’s inflated cost of living and one’s meager salary coupled with a sizable benefits cost at the bottom of the DOE teacher pay scale, one may need to live with roommates or family for many years to stay afloat.

For teachers, the work doesn’t stop when the last school bell rings, or on holiday breaks.  Educators often take their work everywhere with them both physically and emotionally, constantly checking items on a seemingly never-ending to-do list during any free time, including holidays, weekends and most often, weeknights. We grade assignments, lesson plan, place hundreds of phone calls, send emails and text messages to our students’ homes in order to best support them. A teacher’s work day isn’t confined to our students’ 6-hour per day schedule as many believe, but realistically more like 8-10 hours (or more) per day, including summers spent planning for the school year ahead.

Teachers in Hawaiʻi are not compensated adequately or fairly for the professional services they provide to society, and this shows through our dismal retention statistics each year. Nationwide, we are seeing hundreds of thousands of teachers going on strike in demand of better pay, better overall treatment and better schools for their students. In West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona and Colorado, teachers have had enough and are taking matters into their own hands. No teacher wants to strike, potentially leaving their students without a hot meal for the day and compromising their learning. Striking teachers (and employees in general) simply have no other choice; the fact is, the labor force ceases to exist without the actual laborers, but we simply cannot work under these impossible conditions.  

Local teachers are struggling as a group because the profession is simply not sustainable for the average individual living in Hawaiʻi. If a candle is lit repeatedly, all day, for multiple days on end, it will quickly perish.  While teachers don’t usually tend to melt into heaps of burnt wax, the end of a school year or even week can often feel similar to a candle losing its ability to provide light to others. Each day, after our state’s teachers finish shining their light on our local students, many of them must continue on to other jobs in order to supplement their incomes and support their own families. This leaves little time for an educator to practice any kind of physical, mental or emotional self-care, which undoubtedly accelerates teacher burnout.

Mandatory Recharge

With all of these things in mind, educators should be encouraged to take the time to check in on their overall well-being through self-care techniques. In solidarity, schools could provide opportunities for their staff to decompress and check-in periodically, showing they prioritize mental health care for their employees. Legislators should advocate for the professional rate at which educators in Hawaiʻi deserve to be compensated.  Supporters of education could exercise their voting rights in support of measures that will help improve our schools, students and educators. Anyone who values a thriving society can see the value of investing in education in Hawaiʻi.

Given the myriad of issues local educators face in this profession, many successful, student-centered teachers are forced to find ways to create sustainability and balance within their individual lives in order to uphold lasting careers in education, which is not always possible, and force many to leave the profession all together. Teachers need to first care for themselves in order to care for others.  I can’t name a single educator who accepted a position in this field without knowing the job can be difficult and draining, but this doesn’t defend the fact that teaching is unsustainable as a career. If a business is recognized as unsustainable, it will eventually cease to exist, as it is economically irresponsible to continue working under those conditions. This same business principle applies to the field of education and its teachers.  

In order to prevent teacher burnout and create continued and long-term results, we must support individuals to pursue healthy balance in their daily lives and provide opportunities for educators to successfully manage the many overwhelming aspects of this important profession. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk once said, “A good teacher is like a candle—each consumes itself to light the way for others.” Local educators will continue to work relentlessly for our students and communities as long as we are able to.  For Hawaiʻi’s future, it is important that we keep the flame burning by supporting both our teachers and self-care practices.

Piikea is a seventh grade English Language Arts teacher currently working in the Nānākuli-Wai‘anae Complex in Hawai‘i. She is a Kamehameha Schools Kapālama graduate from Waimānalo, Hawai‘i, Piikea received her BA in English from Hawai‘i Pacific University and her MSEd from Johns Hopkins University. Piikea has taught eighth-gradeinclusion English Language Arts and currently teaches seventh-grade AVID English Language Arts at Wai‘anae Intermediate School. During the summer, Piikea teaches P3 scholars through the PUEO program at Punahou School. She has previously served on the Makiki Neighborhood Board. Piikea’s work in education is fueled by her #WaianaeStrong students, her devoted family and her quest for educational equity in Hawai’i. Piikea is a Teach for America-Hawai‘i alumna.

Piikea is a seventh grade English Language Arts teacher currently working in the Nānākuli-Wai‘anae Complex in Hawai‘i. She is a Kamehameha Schools Kapālama graduate from Waimānalo, Hawai‘i, Piikea received her BA in English from Hawai‘i Pacific University and her MSEd from Johns Hopkins University. Piikea has taught eighth-gradeinclusion English Language Arts and currently teaches seventh-grade AVID English Language Arts at Wai‘anae Intermediate School. During the summer, Piikea teaches P3 scholars through the PUEO program at Punahou School. She has previously served on the Makiki Neighborhood Board. Piikea’s work in education is fueled by her #WaianaeStrong students, her devoted family and her quest for educational equity in Hawai’i. Piikea is a Teach for America-Hawai‘i alumna.

Create a Culture for Teacher Talent Development

by Lorna Baniaga-Lee

Kim came into my classroom as a teacher in training. She was eager to learn about what it would take to be an Freshman English teacher.  Her first semester with me included basic observation of my day-to-day routine with my students. I also brought her to all the after-school meetings and any additional meetings that I attended to expose her to the responsibilities teachers had outside of the classroom.

After two semesters of teacher training with me, Kim was hired to work at my school, and we became colleagues.  I mentored her in the first two years as a beginning Freshman English teacher. In her first year, we focused on assimilating into the career.  I watched her embrace the profession even though she had many difficult days in the classroom. In her second year, we reflected on her teaching practice and focused on finding her own style within the mandated curriculum.  With each observation, I saw her develop deep relationships with her students and watched her own teaching style blossom. In addition to developing her teacher practice, she began to show greater interest in the processes of the school and started to voice her suggestions on improving our school culture.  In her third year, although uncommon, I asked her to become a mentor for a beginning teacher. I believed her positive energy, forward thinking, and growth mindset would shape her to become an effective mentor. She then became a trained mentor to someone else. Her new role helped her grow as a classroom teacher as she continued and modeled the importance of reflecting with her new mentee teacher.  And with her growth, my mentoring focus shifted; she was becoming a teacher leader.

Yes, I am proud to have played a part in Kim’s development; however, in order for any teacher to grow and develop, other structures need to be in place.  The culture of the school must create an environment where teachers feel successful and know that their everyday tasks make a difference. There has to be a sense of empowerment for teachers that they have a voice for making and being part of change.  These factors are the foundation for talent to emerge. Once talents are identified, there needs to be appropriate professional development for them to grow, such as providing mentoring training to teachers like Kim to become effective mentors.

In reality, a school’s culture is not always ideal.  Each school and its environment is different. How can we build a student-centered culture driven by teachers?

How can we close the gap to ensure that schools are closer to reaching that ideal culture in order to recognize and to develop talent?    

The culture of a school is the responsibility of all stakeholders. We all need to take an active role in creating an environment where educators and students can thrive and evolve in our different capabilities and  talents. In order for this to happen, teachers, administrators, and Hawaii Department of Education (HIDOE) must do their part.

Teachers are the best at seeing growth in each other.  They understand the struggles and will seek solutions from each other.  When their colleague overcomes an obstacle, whether it is connecting with students to improve class management or to tweak an existing lesson to pique their students’ interest, they know firsthand what it takes to find and implement a solution.  As teachers, we need to continue to encourage and praise each other for our innovation as well as our tenacity to persevere. This is crucial in helping each other to develop our talents. Being encouraged by administrators to recognize each other’s talent can also help provide that culture of support that is needed for teachers to thrive.

According to data collected during the 2017-2018 school year from Hawaii DOE teachers, administrators can best support them as leaders by modeling excellent people and leadership skills themselves. Having administrators be present and be part of the learning community builds trust with their teachers. Creating an environment where leadership can happen at any level encourages collaborative leadership instead of mere compliance. To recognize and reinforce talent, having administrators be present in a teacher’s everyday environment like in the classroom or any teacher-led extra-curricular event will help them further understand the capability and potential of a teacher.  And importantly, administrators must celebrate teachers for the impactful work that they do. These steps provide a sense of empowerment that is needed for teachers to feel valued and heard.

Lastly, the HIDOE should provide specific and relevant professional development and support for both administrators and teachers.  Administrators should be provided with continuous opportunities to build their own skills in identifying and developing talent. Identified teachers can and will continue to grow and hone their craft if provided with specific training and professional development.  In addition, making it a priority to provide ongoing mentoring for both administrators and teachers in this symbiotic journey will reinforce and strengthen their dedication and commitment.

As we look at our existing system to improve our practices, this investment of time and money is a needed step to find and develop talents in our teachers.  In doing so, we are equipping everyone to reach our main goal in education: to develop our own students’ talents so they can be successful and positively impact our world.

 

Lorna Baniaga-Lee is National Board Certified and has been an English teacher for over 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 2016-18 Hope Street Group Fellow.

Lorna Baniaga-Lee is National Board Certified and has been an English teacher for over 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 2016-18 Hope Street Group Fellow.

Deliberate School Design that Fosters Teacher Collaboration

by Erin Mendelson

I give enormous credit and respect to full time classroom teachers who remain optimistic and good at their game. When I first joined the profession 11 years ago, my father smiled and remarked that he was once fired as a history teacher in his younger years. My dad was a successful accountant and businessman; thus, this story always baffles me. He often tells me how proud he is that I am a teacher--“not many jobs make a positive difference everyday.” When I stay over at my parents’ house, as I am packing up for work, he likes to say, “Teach the children well.” This school year, I have moved into a different role as a curriculum coach. Now my dad says, “Teach the teachers well,” when I head out the door.

This new career move has given me time to think about my teaching and to be more metacognitive about my teaching choices. Studies show that “when teachers are given time and tools to collaborate with their peers, they are more likely to teach effectively and more likely to remain in the high needs schools that need them most” (Berry, Daughtrey, and Wieder, 2009). In the coaches’ room, twice a week, I convene 7th grade Structured Teacher Planning Time (STPT) meetings with some of the brightest and most tenacious teachers around. In a comfortable meeting space, we run through upcoming teacher-made lesson plans, review and analyze data and celebrate the big and small wins. The new superintendent, Dr. Christina Kishimoto, recently sat at our table and discussed school design and data-driven instruction. Our model with designated curriculum coaches supported me as a teacher for several school years. Now, I am excited to provide the same support to new and veteran teachers.

When I first joined my school, my classroom was the last portable on campus. I was not only geographically distant, I felt isolated because I had no idea what other teachers taught each day. I would scurry through the discarded papers in the copy room to discover great ideas or the direction of my next unit. I planned alone with little feedback from other teachers.

A couple of year later, in 2011, teachers were assigned to STPT with a designated curriculum coach. These face-to-face meetings brought teachers together by grade level and content areas to share their knowledge and expertise. This move came before HIDOE and WASC pushed for the implementation of Formative Instruction Data Teams in all schools. Our data teams developed organically from a desire from teachers to meet on a regular basis to increase teacher accountability and rigor in all classrooms. The master schedule and design of teacher lines were reconfigured to allow shared planning times during the school day. The role of a coach received some pushback as teachers questioned the need for an entire teaching line designated to mentoring and overseeing the design of a shared curriculum. For me, once I began to feel some of my extraneous work responsibilities turn to shared responsibilities, I felt invested and appreciative of the teacher leaders who were facilitating the process. With a pacing guide, we planned out weeks ahead, previewed assessments, and distributed the workload.

This level of collaboration required the investment of time and an equal measure of responsibility. There were heated debates, disagreements and some covert planning. The coaches needed to mitigate, blend ideas and encourage compromise. When passionate teachers deliberate over a particular test question for the unit assessment, the students really do benefit. Soon a healthy dynamic was established in which we depended on each other and trusted the criticism as constructive.

As educators, we face common problems in our classrooms and ought to find solutions together. Schools can create cultures and conditions for effective collaboration by providing some key systems and structures. For example, shared planning times integrated into the school day reduce the burden of additional meetings outside of school hours and honor teachers’ time. It is important to have a designated workspace with a projector or tv so that documents can be reviewed together. Common data trackers, pacing guides and assessments can be shared on Google drive to allow for ongoing editing and creating. Additionally, a clear set of expectations and group norms will maintain a safe and productive environment where teachers willingly take on leadership roles and ownership of all students’ success. Our leadership team and teachers continually review and improve the design of our school to best support teacher collaboration. What can your school do to make the most of its biggest asset, the teachers?

 

Erin Mendelson has dedicated eleven years to honing her craft as a special education teacher and curriculum coach at Wheeler Middle School on Oahu. After graduating from Columbia University in New York City with a major in Eastern Religions, Erin discovered her love for teaching while working one-to-one in a classroom setting with students with autism. She earned a Master of Arts in Communications and Leadership at Gonzaga University and is a candidate for National Board Certification as an Exceptional Needs Specialist in Early Childhood through Adulthood. Erin serves as a mentor teacher with the James Madison Legacy Project that increases the availability and effectiveness of civic instruction in schools.

Erin Mendelson has dedicated eleven years to honing her craft as a special education teacher and curriculum coach at Wheeler Middle School on Oahu. After graduating from Columbia University in New York City with a major in Eastern Religions, Erin discovered her love for teaching while working one-to-one in a classroom setting with students with autism. She earned a Master of Arts in Communications and Leadership at Gonzaga University and is a candidate for National Board Certification as an Exceptional Needs Specialist in Early Childhood through Adulthood. Erin serves as a mentor teacher with the James Madison Legacy Project that increases the availability and effectiveness of civic instruction in schools.

What will I learn about my students today?

by Erin Medeiros

I have too, too many days when teaching feels impossibly complicated. My mind is on thirty things at once, and I think I can’t actually do this job and be a mother and a wife and a sane person. WASC, ALICE, AP, AVID, grading, IEP meetings, and I need to pick up the kids and make dinner and work out. But then I’m struck with some profound moment of clarity, and I remember that teaching can and should actually be so simple.

Know our students.

It’s the origin of everything we do, a catalyst for student success, the method for preventing madness, and the solution to a wide variety of pedagogical and social problems. I’m certain the phrase “student voice” quite literally did not exist when I became a teacher, but now it’s the trendy yet obvious cure-all. Knowing what those voices have to say is our quest, our captivation, our salvation. Suddenly, student voice, the fantastical oracle, is everywhere. And that’s as it should be.

This simple act of knowing our kids is both our why and our how.

I was reminded of this most recently when I joined nearly 700 educators gathered at the UHCC Hawaii Student Success Institute. The goal was to celebrate the many recent advances in our community college system and also to expose instructors and other staff to promising practices and new perspectives on community college education. The morning began with three powerful keynote addresses, which all pointed to the need for “student-ready” colleges. As a high school teacher, I was awed by this new term! I’ve spent 12 years in an institution trying to make students “college and career ready,” so I was refreshed by the idea that many of these same students are entering into community college institutions who want to know and be ready for them.

But the highlight of the day? The student panel at lunch shared perspectives from each campus, and their resonating theme was that college and career only began to feel accessible when they felt known. One student explained that adults too frequently asked “What career do you want?” and too rarely asked “What are you interested in?” The difference may seem minimal, but it’s monumental. The former asks about a thing, a future, an achievement, while the latter asks about a person, a present, a possibility.

Among the students’ other insights that serve as simple reminders for all of us in education:

  • “We want to do well, but we just don’t know how to ask.” Students suggested one on one meetings, taking five minutes to check in, and providing specific resources when we notice someone is struggling.

  • “Hear what they’re saying, but look too for what they’re not saying.” This student, who earned a 1.9 GPA in high school, always felt that college prep was only for the “Harvard-bound” 4.0 kids. He’s now a student representative and an eloquent, compelling, motivated student and learner. He flew under the radar in high school.

  • “Keep reaching out.” Another student shared that he struggled and got kicked out of his high school. He knew that he seemed like a tough and distant kid but wished his teachers had continued to reach out and check in with him. He’s now finishing his AA and deciding between becoming an educator or going into medicine.

  • “I would’ve been an A student from the beginning if I’d had relationships from the beginning.” Relationships on campus reduce students’ fear of asking questions and seeking help. Require office hours or conferences just because. Early interactions are the start of a safe space and sense of confidence.

  • “Teachers don’t need to be cheerleaders, but they need to know their students.”

  • “Tell your students they’re doing a good job when they are!”

Too easy? Too obvious? Yes, certainly. Then again, I know I've failed at this and still do. I get complacent and swept up in the daily to-do list. I make teaching the lesson more important than teaching the kids. But I don’t have to. I learned long ago that effective teaching begins with the question: “What do I want my students to learn and how will they learn it?” But I’m retraining myself to ask first: “What will I learn about my students today?”

Teaching has never seemed so challenging, yet it has never been so simple. The students we try to reach everyday have the solutions we’re working so hard to discover. If we focus on knowing our students first, we can’t fail.

 

 

Erin Medeiros is a National Board Certified Teacher who works with students at Kauai High School. She currently teaches 12th grade AP English Literature & Composition and 9th/10th grade AVID and directs the school's Peer Mediation program. She was recently selected for the pilot year of the Merwin Creative Teaching Fellowship, and has previously participated in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Program and the Hawaii English Language Arts Content Panel. Erin earned a BA in History from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR and a Master of Education in Middle/Secondary ELA and Social Studies from the University of Oregon.

Erin Medeiros is a National Board Certified Teacher who works with students at Kauai High School. She currently teaches 12th grade AP English Literature & Composition and 9th/10th grade AVID and directs the school's Peer Mediation program. She was recently selected for the pilot year of the Merwin Creative Teaching Fellowship, and has previously participated in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Program and the Hawaii English Language Arts Content Panel. Erin earned a BA in History from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR and a Master of Education in Middle/Secondary ELA and Social Studies from the University of Oregon.