Sunday, September 20, 2020


Flip Your Funnel - How Leaders Expand their Lens 

while Honoring “Peer-spectives”

Sandy Cameli, Ed.D.

Leaders are often tasked with guiding followers toward a prescribed direction. And, with a goal of moving an initiative or organization forward, said leaders often work under the assumption that common perspectives are shared. Yet, perspectives can also be divisive - take current day politics for example - and cause irreparable damage to systems, structures or relationships when not acknowledged or honored. Thus, it can be a challenge for any leader to be truly effective when one’s own point of view does not align with colleagues’ “peer-spectives”.

A perspective can be defined as a visible scene, a specific technique or a viewpoint expressing one’s ideas, it can also be limited by an individual’s angle or attitude. Additionally, perspectives are often sought after, even celebrated, when they enhance decision making or provide support to those seeking guidance. So how does a growth-minded leader expand his or her perspective in order to serve as well as enhance agency in others? Grab a funnel and let’s get to work!

In the kitchen, the purpose of a funnel is to narrow contents from a bigger container into a smaller one. A cook may also use it to measure or channel ingredients through the apex in order to produce a desired dish or meal. The ultimate goal of the wide end of a funnel is to whittle down a large quantity to a precise outcome. In other words, narrowing the scope of what is visibly plated. Let’s see how an innovative chef took this simple item and repurposed it to expand others’ perspectives: 

On a recent celebrity food show, the host was preparing cakes and pies for children’s birthday parties. A variety of decorating tools were used to create eye-catching displays for the desserts presented. And, in an unconventional use of a common tool the chef flipped a funnel to allow sprinkles and candies to siphon through the narrow end, and spray randomly over the cream cheese toppings below. It was messy and chaotic, but it yielded such unique designs for each cupcake creation! The unicorn-inspired treats were not uniform in appearance, nor could a recipient be guaranteed the same pattern as another, but what the technique lacked in professional craft it made up for in the wow-factor! This culinary artist had flipped a funnel on a routine practice and changed the perspective of an ordinary kitchen utensil for the audience who became enthralled by the confetti creations. This innovative display posed a thought-provoking inquiry for out-of-the-box thinkers: How then might flipping-a-funnel impact a leader’s lens, practice or effectiveness?

Think about a recent decision or choice made. Perhaps trusted colleagues were consulted, necessary information was researched, and a problem-solving protocol was employed before a recommendation was made. All sound practices. However, are these always the same steps taken when deliberating? Does the wide-ended viewpoint method narrow one's perspective to generate similar outcomes each time? Instead, how might the decision-making process change if a different timeline was used, or unfamiliar resources explored? What considerations may influence the end result if voices - not previously included - were invited to weigh in? Consider this wondering about expanding perspective: Before flipping a funnel to view from the narrow end out, consider what may or may not have been missed from prior (wide-ended) observations?

The following acronym for FLIP applies simple steps for expanding perspectives:

F = Focus on intentionally seeing situations from various angles. It's common knowledge that 3+3=6, but so does 2+4, how else can problems or issues be analyzed without reverting to the same techniques? Similar to goal-setting, one must build in rituals and routines to seek out alternatives for action items. Habitual practices produce muscle memory, which continually expands one’s lens for communication, decision-making and problem solving, often eliciting effective results.

L = Limit guidance from the same resources. Leaders certainly appreciate and draw comfort from a tried & true library of knowledge, but what other resources may be overlooked that could stretch and impact a leader's thinking? What of value has been possibly missed or not considered in the past? How can published works from counter-opinions inform one's practice?

I = Invite other voices to the table. Who has not been visible or on a leader's radar in recent months? Who appears to contradict or oppose ideas on a regular basis, but could help a leader see things differently if asked? Who represents various stakeholders and should be at the table? How can “peer-spectives” enhance current practices and leadership traits?

P = Promote and publicize others’ ideas in order to build capacity for collective leading. Shared leadership is only effective when equity in responsibility and recognition exists in tandem. Which contributions from peers might appeal to a wider audience or targeted stakeholders? What blindspots do leaders possess that may prevent them from highlighting the work of others? How can incorporating invitational language into “asks” build confidence, and grow leadership in colleagues? 

The funnel analogy is not a fix-it solution, nor will it instantly alter an individual’s practice; however, readers are invited to look through both ends of a funnel and to compare what is seen, and what is missed. How much more can be observed when we flip our funnels to the narrow side and view outward? What might be missing from our current vantage points? And finally, how can an expanded perspective honor and appreciate “peer-spectives” in order to strengthen the culture and climate of our working and learning environments?

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Celebrating the TLA 2019-2020 Cohort!

Each year, Na Kumu Alaka'i - Teacher Leader Academy (TLA) celebrates and acknowledges the outstanding value-added contributions made by teacher leaders for HIDOE schools and complex areas in the State of Hawai'i. This year was no exception ..... except that it was, as far as a normal end-of-year celebration when it came to honoring these remarkable educators.

In previous years, each cohort of TLA graduates would participate in a face-to-face event to share their action research projects, and leadership growth journeys with 100+ guests. This year, however, COVID-19 curtailed our ability to showcase the 2019-2020 TLA Cohort in the traditional manner. And, while an online ceremony was held and congratulations extended to all, this blog post will allow others to appreciate the individual and collective contributions made to the field of education by these outstanding teacher leaders!

TLA 2019-2020 Cohort
Teacher Leaders, Schools & Value-added Action Research Projects

Mahea Barbieto, Waiau Elementary
Pupukahi I Holomua

Kanoa Beatty, Kea'au High
Integrating Achieve 3000 into 10th grade courses

Angela Boswell, Wheeler Elementary
Getting Everyone on the Same Page with GLOs

Laurie Chang, Ali'iolani Elementary
Creating a Multi-Tiered System of Support

Rudy Domingo, Leilehua High
Wahiawa Middle School College and Career Exploration

'Awapuhi Duldulao, Hilo High
Hilo High Aloha Ambassadors (HHAA) Committee

Shelby Erdmann, Waimea High
New Teacher On-Boarding

Krissy Esposito, Jefferson Elementary
Increasing Enrollment Through Social Networking

Arlisse FitzGerald, Mauka Lani Elementary
Growing Educational Facilitators Through Student Voice

Brandy Fujisaka, West Hawaii District Office
Renewing and Strengthening Instructional Leadership Teams

Jessica Galvan, Maui High
Developing a Curriculum/Pacing Guide for Proposed 9th Grade Transition Class

Garrett Hatakenaka, Kaiser High
Kaiser Complex Computer Science

Katie Hillstead, Waianae Elementary
Continuous School Improvement through Reflection

Paul Holwegner, Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle
Gearing Up for Success with S.T.E.M.

Shanell Kagamida, Pearl City Highlands Elementary
Clarity Climb: PCHES' journey to make learning visible

Denise Karratti, Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle

Tracie Kochi, Kanoelani Elementary
Choose Love at School and Home

Kimberly Koopman, Kalaheo High
Differentiated Support

Joann Kubota-Phung, Mokapu Elementary
Utilizing the Problem Solving Process to Help Create the Achieving Student

Clint Labrador, Kaunakakai Elementary
Math Collaboration for Support Staff

Samarra Lehman, Mauka Lani Elementary
Closing the Gap!

Linda Marrs, Haiku Elementary
Place Based Learning at Haiku Elementary School: Phase 1

Amy Masaoka, Pahoa Elementary
Keeping Teachers Happy and Healthy Through Wellness Wednesdays

Amanda McCauley, Kahuku High & Intermediate
Choose Aloha

Megan Minotti, Waimea Elementary
Creating Sustainable Data Team Processes for Greater Student Achievement

Bridget Moniz, Waianae High
Teacher Collaboration that fosters conversations to affect student achievement

Shareen Murayama, Kaiser High
Degree of Doneness (Rare, Medium, Well Done)

Melissa Neuvel, Waimea High
Freshman Belonging

Tino Palacio, Kapolei Middle
Ho ‘ola Series: Parent and Community Engagement

Sarah Polloi, Waiakea High
Improving Internal Professional Development and Teacher Collaboration

Tara Punzal, Kapa'a High
Organization of Systems Through Teacher Collaboration

May Richard, Kea'au High
Establishing a STEM culture at Keaau High School

Sara Romfo, Kailua Intermediate
Creating a Student-Led Morning News Broadcast Program

Anthony Rypka, Ka'u High and Pahala Elementary
Introduction of Restorative Justice Practices for Middle/High School

Summer Sakai, Puohala Elementary
Community Partnerships and Increasing Community Awareness

Jennifer Sato, Kuhio Elementary
Data Teams Revamped

Krystal Sato, Kalaheo High
Differentiated Support

Jeri Schaefer, Daniel K. Inouye Elementary
Empowering Students and Teachers Through Project Based Learning

Tracy Takazono, Kanoelani Elementary
Choose Love at School and Home

Rachel Talasko, Kealakehe Elementary
Restorative Practices as Equity Work

VJ Viernes, Iao Intermediate
Saved by the Bell: Addressing Learning and Culture through a New Bell Schedule

Julia Wagner, Princess Nahienaena Elementary
Learning Opportunities for Paraprofessionals

Heather Wickersham, Konawaena High
Schoolwide Professional Development

Candice Yamamoto, Kalihi Uka Elementary
Reading Mastery for All

Walter Young, Waianae High
Teacher Collaboration that fosters conversations to affect student achievement

Below are photos & shout-outs to the TLA 2019-2020 Cohort 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Teacher Leadership in Hawai'i Schools

We're thrilled to share the voices from our teacher leaders who add and elevate value in our schools through the attached video:

Teacher Leadership in Hawai'i Schools (4:00)

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Defining Your Why


My Why is Defined by a Pair of Socks
Sandy Cameli, Educator

     As educators we are often asked to share our “why” for teaching. Most teachers have heartfelt reasons like, “It’s my pay-it-forward” or “I believe every student’s gift is their future potential”. Likewise, schools display mission and vision statements targeting ambitious goals like “growing global citizens” while inviting stakeholders to share in a learning environment’s highlights and successes. And, for educational leaders our Why provides the philosophical foundation that empowers peers and colleagues to define their own belief systems in order to support the learners whom they have been entrusted to educate and support.
     Collectively, educators are good at articulating big picture “whys” for the sake of their community of learners. But what about the smaller “whys”?  Those moments in one’s teaching career that bring the pie-in-the-sky school mottos to a screeching halt, and challenge a teacher’s “why” by just one child.  How do we tether our beliefs and values to concrete examples … to real life … to the needs of a single individual?
Here is “that one child” story which helped to define, and attach a face, to my why:
     It was the mid-90s, hoodies, graphic tees, scrunchies and grunge were in fashion, and the first “Toy Story” movie captivated adults as much as it did children. Social media had not taken over yet, and students were still enjoying school (for the most part) when it came to team building and interdisciplinary projects. I was teaching 7th grade in a rural middle school where many of the students qualified for free or reduced meals, and most head-of-households were single parents working multiple jobs. One of our school’s signature structures was Advisory class which grounded students with a smaller, consistent group of peers and focused on social emotional learning (even before SEL was considered a common term) as they navigated the “ins and outs” of early adolescent learning. As an advocate of Advisory, this was my favorite part of each day!
     Early in the school year, the Principal called a meeting with our 7th grade team and the school’s counselor to share updates about a new student enrolling in a few days. A Social Worker also joined the meeting to brief us on the boy’s background.  Joshua* had had few successes in previous classes and schools, and was known to “camp” in the Counselor or Vice Principal’s office for the whole day since he could not acclimate to typical classroom surroundings. He had earned the nickname “Joshua of the Jungle” in reference to his wild side and inability to conform to school structures. Additionally, we learned that his upbringing had been one of heartbreak and trauma, as he was taken away from his mother at 18-months of age when he was found crawling around drug paraphernalia in an empty apartment scrounging for food in a week’s old soiled diaper. As for any academic skills, Joshua was chronologically 12 years old but considered illiterate, developmentally delayed and barely performing at a preschool level. 
     As veteran middle level teachers, we readily embraced all students and collectively provided support for every range of learner on our team. However, we were at a complete loss not knowing where or how to begin with this young man. The counselor crafted a schedule which doubled up on classes like Physical Education and Art, while assigning Joshua to the Resource Room for the better part of the day. It was also agreed that he would join my Advisory class since I had a background in Special Education and was assigned an Educational Assistant to work with several other mainstreamed students on our team.
     Joshua’s transition to middle school was far from smooth. On Day 1, he refused to get on the bus and ran away from his foster parents. By the end of Week 1, we only saw him from a distance as the counselor and special education teacher kept him in the Resource Room trying to assess basic skills and help him learn systems and structures of our campus. By Week 2, he would only sit in the cafeteria or ride on the golf cart with the Head Custodian. He also ran away that week and hid in a tree for several hours until our DARE officer found him and brought him back to the Resource Room. However, during the last week of September, Joshua finally joined our Advisory class. Most of my students knew who he was as they had seen him at their elementary school or rode the same bus, and while the kids certainly weren’t rude, they appeared indifferent. These kids had seen him come and go so often that they didn’t really expect him to stay, thus they generally didn’t put any extra effort into getting to know him.
     We started slow. I asked Joshua to take the attendance to the office - with the Counselor as my extra pair of eyes - and return to class with handouts from the clerks. A small victory, but it was a beginning. After a few more days, I invited Joshua to clean out my dried-out markers drawer in exchange for tokens to be used at our school store. We had a fish tank, so Joshua would feed the guppies; When the high louvers needed closing, Joshua was tall enough to shut them at the end of the day; and, in the mornings before Advisory started he LOVED taking down all the chairs from the desks - so I let him! Soon after joining our class, Joshua had established rituals and routines on our team, and came to school for 2 straight weeks without an absence - the social worker said this had never happened at his previous school. There were still tremendous obstacles and growth would come in baby-steps, but we were slowly on our way!
     During the month of October, students were eager to participate in Halloween activities sponsored by the school. A favorite team-building event was the very popular Pumpkin Decorating Contest. Each Advisory class would decorate a gourd based on a theme. The Librarian suggested each class choose a favorite character from a book for their pumpkin project, and the winning classes would receive root beer floats compliments of the Principal. Also, no money could be spent on the display. Classes could make props or bring gently used items from home, but no store-bought decorations could be included (The staff unanimously agreed to this as so many of our students’ families struggled financially).
     It was hard to contain the excitement of sixteen 7th graders planning a pumpkin that year, but it was equally thrilling to watch them brainstorm, collaborate and sign-up for items to be brought from home. Joshua enthusiastically volunteered to bring a pair of socks for the boy character from the book, Stone Fox that we had read as a class the previous month. So it seemed all was set for the weekend as the students bounded toward the buses with their reminder lists in hand. The following week we would begin putting our pumpkin-character together. It made my heart sing to see Joshua becoming part of our Advisory class and fitting in with his peers.
     Bright and early Monday morning while signing in at the school counter, I was beckoned to the Principal’s office by her Secretary, a seriousness enveloped the room as I sat down. I was informed that an emergency IEP meeting had been called for Joshua and I would need to attend at 11:00am. The office had already arranged for a substitute to cover my classes, but no other information was provided. I walked to my classroom in a daze, “What was going on?”, “Did something happen over the weekend?”, “Is Joshua alright?”. I flipped on the lights to see all the chairs on the desks, no Joshua would be here to take them down today.
     The conference room was packed, this was a larger than normal meeting. Seated around the table were the Principal, Vice Principal, counselor, social worker, police officer, foster parents, the Special Education Dept. Head, the PE teacher and me.  The Social Worker began by sharing how pleased the team was with Joshua’s progress over the last 2 months, and although the incident was somewhat of a set-back, she believed our school was still the best placement to meet his needs. Still unsure of what was going on I simply sat with my eyes glued to the CONFIDENTIAL file placed in front of the Principal. The Officer then began to fill in the pieces. Apparently on Saturday evening, Joshua was arrested for breaking into a local thrift store. He was with two older high school boys who initially ran away, but were later caught and arrested with over $250.00 on them. When Joshua was found, still on the premises, he didn’t take money or any items of substantial value he was simply caught with a pair of stolen socks.
     I sucked in an audible gasp. All members of the team looked directly at me as my eyes began to well up. No one could understand why Joshua would steal socks, and initially I wasn’t composed enough to respond. As tears flowed, I tried to explain that Joshua’s act of robbery wasn’t malicious, but rather aligned to his sense of belonging with his peers and for the class pumpkin. And though I would never condone illegal acts my heart was breaking for a child who was simply trying to fit in. The IEP team was empathetic, but also needed to abide by the law and criteria set up for special cases like Joshua’s. In this circumstance, the consequences would be severe.
     He was sent to a residential facility for a few weeks as the social worker and his foster family navigated the judicial system. When he came back to school his attendance began to falter and he started reverting back to old “survival type” behaviors that had thwarted previous learning experiences. Eventually, he was pulled out of our school and moved to an intensive learning class on another campus. He and I crossed paths a few times when he was in high school, but I later heard he dropped out of school completely and moved out of State. It has been years, and I’ve since lost track of Joshua, but he revisits my thoughts and guides my Why on a regular basis.

I think about the hundreds of students who have shared my classroom, and the dozens of times I’ve been asked to identify my mission and vision as a teacher. I am able to succinctly summarize the goals as an instructor for any inquiry. And when asked how I live my Why as an educational leader, I  reflect upon a child whose need for belonging circumvented his own safety and well-being - when all odds were against him - in order to be part of something greater than himself.  I may no longer have my own classroom, or decorate bulletin boards, or participate in spirited class competitions anymore, but not a day goes by that I don’t ground my beliefs and actions in a sense of belonging for all, in order to contribute to the greater good. And, isn’t that the same sense of belonging we all strive to provide for our students, our colleagues, our friends and families … ourselves?

So here's the question for all educational leaders: How do you define your Why, and how do you live it?

* student’s name has been changed to protect his privacy