Monday, April 25, 2016

Tāku Reo Rangatira

At midday it was a pleasure to be taken to a school that felt like home!  We were welcomed with food, with conversation, with singing and got to spend time in the classrooms. This is a school where the community has to work hard to accelerate learning outcomes as the learners have challenging life circumstances and varied entry points into schooling.

As we arrived during lunchtime we were taken into a workroom and school parents brought us each a plate of home-made food, some of it straight out of an umu. While we ate together we talked about the journey the school and principal Lisa Ann Higa were on. I took photos of the vision planning and PLD that was on the walls and shared them in the embedded slide show at the foot of this post.

Nānākuli Elementary School services the Hawaiian Homesteads of Nānākuli Valley and Princess Kahanu Estates. In addition to instruction in English, a Hawaiian Language Immersion strand provides instruction in the Hawaiian language. We visited the immersion unit and were greeted beautifully. 

The teacher, Kai Mana, loves his kids and they love him (and said so).

There  was some excitement here because these kids had been involved in the Google Hang-Outs around the Mālama Honua Landing at Pt England beach. They were using their MacBook Airs to create logos for the school values in Google Draw and the children were keen to show us and to talk about their learning with us - in English!

With the adults the conversation inevitably turned to their language and the pride the school and learners feel in being able to contribute to the strengthening of their native language which had been in danger of being lost. I was reminded of the song we sing about this, Tāku Reo Rangatira.

Before we left we had a time together under the trees (no aircon blasting out in this school!) where we sang to each other.

Learning Innovation

Our second visit was a bonus as it was not on our original itinerary. We went down the road to Mililani Waena Elementary School and the management team, in the absence of the principal Dale Castro, at very short notice put together an amazing learning experience for us.  We spent time with Sean Takashima , Catherine Upton and Barron Iwamura  - the VPs - who shared with us the school Vision, Mission and Beliefs about learning.

Mililani Waena is a Character Counts school. They promote the 6 Pillars of Character -- Trustworthiness, Responsibility, Respect, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship. We have seen this in action at Pt England school when Michelle George introduced it to her class.

Despite the cultural, socio economic and geographic differences, there was an instant connection with the learning and teaching happening in this school. These children all have a MacBook Air as their personal learning device (they received a $1 million grant to purchase technology!) and the school has a strategic approach to implementing digital learning environments. We greatly appreciated their open invitation to walk into classrooms and talk to children about their learning. This turned out to be one of the few occasions this happened during the week. Teachers were co-teaching and had created modern learning environments out of traditional learning spaces. This slide will look very familiar to Manaiakalani teachers.

I particularly enjoyed hearing about the specialist position they have created titled “Learning Innovation Specialist”. It sounded very similar to roles I have occupied.  While it clearly involves leading technical innovation, the role is better defined and empowered by using “learning” rather than “digital” terms.

It was testing week in Hawaiian schools, including OECD tests for PISA, so everywhere we went during the week we encountered quiet areas where children were sitting in rows writing exams. Mililani Waena has a set of scooters for testing week that children can use to let off steam after taking an exam!

Cross posted here

Where Eagles Soar

Our first school visit in Hawaii was to Hale Kula Elementary School (soon to be officially known as Daniel Inouye Elementary School) on the Schofield Barracks Army Installation and began bright and early with a 6:00 am pickup by our wonderful tour guide Brendan Brennan.  We had quite an eventful start to the day, but more about that later!

We were warmly greeted and hosted at the school by Principal Jan Iwase and her leadership team.

A highlight of the school was seeing Learn, Create, Share in action through the eyes of a group of children who were keen to share their Project Based Learning with us.

Nyla had been working on a way to build a better product and chose the disposable coffee pods that have become ubiquitous in American homes. She was designing a reusable, biodegradable filter that could be used instead of the plastic environmentally unfriendly items in current use. We saw the prototypes she had created and the movie she made at home while she tested it out on the family.

Her movie was shared on the school’s YouTube channel.

Teachers will be interested to see how this project template was designed by the teacher in a shared Google Doc to support the learning, including colour-coded staging points for when each step of the process was due to be complete.

This school is high decile but has an interesting point in common with us. The children move in and out of the school at a significant rate.  Most of the 970 students are dependents of military personnel assigned to Hawaii and so move around a lot, making transition and deployment issues unique challenges for the school. From our own experience of transience we understand that this means the school has a short space of time to transition learners into the school community and to accelerate learning before they move on.

The circumstances of our visit did tempt me to title this post “Foreign Nationals”, but I didn’t want to detract from the quality learning experience we had at this school.  We had been pre-warned to carry our passports as we would be entering a military base, but this was not sufficient.  Brendan had obtained clearance in advance but it was only satisfactory for him as a US citizen.  We were given a very curt dismissal at the gate and told that as “Foreign Nationals” we were denied access.  This was disconcerting to say the least, compounded by the soldier on duty radioing all the other gates as we backed out to warn them to be on guard for Foreign Nationals attempting to enter by another gate!

Brendan drove us a block away and then contacted the school to let them know what had happened.  Fast forward half an hour of anxious conversation... the school located a staff member who was military personal.  She drove out to meet us down the road. We both got in her car and she drove us through an entrance gate without a problem. Not so for Brendan.  He drove back through, carrying the correct paper work for his own entry and was delayed while his vehicle was given a thorough search. Apparently they even looked for the Foreign Nationals under the car bonnet - which is quite flattering really!

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Fellowship

In October last year my husband was surprised, and delighted, to receive an unexpected letter in the mail which began….

"Message From the Woolf Fisher Trustees

The Woolf Fisher Trust is pleased to offer you a Woolf Fisher Fellowship for a 10 week study visit to North America, the UK and some countries in Europe in 2016.

Your trip will include a week long course at the Harvard Principals’ Centre in Boston…"

This precipitated a lot of excitement investigating what the Fellowship was about,  what this study visit could entail, and whether the logistics could be managed at the home end.

And the big surprise for me was that the terms of the Fellowship included me to tag along, if I was so inclined (or invited)!

Fast forward to April and this post sees us packed and ready to head to the airport, squishing clothes for Summer and Winter, work and play into one suitcase and hopefully leaving room for some shopping.

First stop, Hawaii.