Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Leading the Way!

Congratulations to Melanie Nakashima, Teacher Leader 
from Kekaulike High School on Maui!

Farmer's Insurance Hawaii Representative Bill Doherty with Melanie Nakashima

This year, RTI Coordinator, Melanie Nakashima, opened the Na Ali'i School Store for students at King Kekaulike High School. Ann Marie Walker and her Workplace Readiness students help run the store every Wednesday at lunch. The store does not accept cash. Students can earn Na Ali'i Kala by going above & beyond and demonstrating good behavior as evidenced by The Na Ali'i Way & Nā Hopena A‵o (HĀ): Breath posters found in classrooms and around school. Students can trade in cards for items costing one card up to 15 cards. This store is funded solely by donations and fundraising contributed by the KKHS Best Buddies Chapter. Donations for the school store have come from KKHS families, KKHS Staff & their families, PTSA, Pukalani Superette, Target, Kaanapali Beach Hotel Chef Tom and more.

Melanie had written a proposal under Farmers Thank America’s Teachers in September and was bummed when the school did not get enough votes to be one of the winners for the $2,500 award that would help fund the school store. So, it came as a complete surprise in December when she was presenting at a staff meeting data on the school store and Bill Doherty from Farmers Insurance Hawaii stepped up and presented a check for $2,000 on behalf of Melanie Nakashima for the Na Ali'i School Store. This money will go a long way in helping fund our store for students and we couldn't be happier that Farmers Insurance Hawaii wanted to donate money to neighbor island schools and selected our proposal!!! Thank you Farmers Insurance!!! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Un-Book Clubs and Un-Conferences
lead to Un-Leading
Sandy Cameli, EdD • Educational Specialist • Hawaii Dept. of Education

Anymore, Leadership has become an embedded component of the Educational landscape for teachers, and to suggest otherwise may seem absurd, even ludicrous to some. Yet, ask most educators what the term Teacher Leader conjures up and they still fall back on traditional titles like mentor, coach, coordinator or chair. However, it’s the day-to-day, informal gatherings, impromptu conversations and un-leading that move initiatives and people forward - and, usually by someone other than a designated leader. Below are some examples of how non-traditional leading can be highly effective while adding value to the profession through innovative interactions.

Un-Book Clubs
Inspired by the work of former colleagues, the concept of an Un-Book Club takes the pressure of the one-size-fits-all book club off of participants’ already full plates, and opens up conversations to authentic, relevant discussions with goals and outcomes applicable to all. The basic premise starts with an idea, theme or issue proposed ahead of time to participants, then when the group gathers to discuss said topic, peers share a reading, TED talk, podcast, conference take-away or own experience (the list is endless) with colleagues. Dialogs often start with the whole group and then break into spinoffs, or simultaneous discussions, based on the trajectory or momentum of the conversation. Depending upon time constraints or scheduling, the group can wrap-up a sessions with summary statements and next-steps proposed to continue the dynamic exchange of ideas. George Bernard Shaw’s quote sums up an Un-Book Club:

Un-Sessions for Professional Development
Loosely based on the concept of Un-Conferences and Open-Space Technology events, an Un-Session imbeds the tenets of choice, time and ownership into professional learning opportunities. For educators unfamiliar with the structure of a full Un-Conference, the Un-Session introduces participants to the ideology and practice through a snapshot experience. Topics are generated on-the-spot and drive the direction of discussions; interactions are fluid and follow the law-of-two-feet principle; and the range of participants’ takeaways can be as specific or general as desired. For teacher leaders, participation in an Un-Session models an effective way of engaging colleagues at the school level, while invigorating (possibly dry) professional learning experiences. And, while participants may initially be weary of the activity and outcomes, most find ways to incorporate the practice into their own learning environments once exposed to the range of possibilities!

Un-Leading as a Teacher Leader
Sheryl Sandberg, FaceBook’s COO, has been quoted with stating, “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence, and making sure that impact lasts in your absence”; not unlike Thomas Carruthers who also shared, “A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary”. In both statements, the ultimate goal is for the leader to help the followers find their own way by setting up opportunities for success and ongoing growth - even after one’s original influence has passed. Likewise, teacher leaders - many of whom prefer to remain in the classroom or at the school level rather than pursue administration - are eager to share insights, innovation and enthusiasm with others who value common goals.
So in order to lead - or in this case un-lead - one must first identify goals and outcomes for professional growth. By determining a starting-point, a teacher leader can expand his/her wings into opportunities which will influence others, while adhering to the philosophy of: Leadership is never about the role, it’s always about the goal!
Queries to ponder for Un-Leaders:
  • Who else is willing to share expertise and collaborate for professional growth?
  • Where can I find opportunities to showcase best practices, while also adding others’ talents to my own bag of tricks?
  • As I identify effective leadership traits in others, what skills/experiences can I incorporate into my own work to hone these attributes?
  • How can I broaden my communication skills to include various audiences and situations?
  • Where can I experience structures/models for effective learning in order to replicate at my own school level?
By beginning with queries, similar to those above, an individual will start to seek out resources and opportunities to grow, and, expand one’s circle to incorporate networking with other like-minded professionals. From there, the lead-by-example model filters through a school or learning environment for others to observe, emulate and eventually begin their own query journey.

Un-Leading may not be common in the lexicon of educational conversations, but un-leading is easily visible in dialogs between colleagues, debates within professional circles and think-tank-type discussions aimed to move learning forward. And, if un-leading can support, empower and validate one’s ability to advocate for stellar educational experiences, then let’s not let syntax or language rules get in the way!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Jumping In: Teacher Leadership Involves Taking Risks

Jumping in:  Teacher Leadership involves taking risks for our schools and students
Michael Kline, Guest Blogger

Teacher leadership is quintessentially important in our schools today. With the advent of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), teacher leadership is not only expected, but required. Teachers can no longer claim to have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from the failed policies of No Child Left Behind. Nor can they blame the top-down policies of our Departments of Education for being  “overwhelmed” and “underappreciated” as reasons for not taking on leadership roles in our schools, districts and States. As teachers, we need to take risks and overcome our fears. We need to “jump into” different leadership roles according to our unique abilities and opportunities. And, we need to jump in and lead, even if we make mistakes.

Call me crazy, but at the age of 53, I precipitously bought a skateboard for $130 one afternoon. I had never ridden in my life, but was captivated by the many students at the school where I teach on the island of Kaua’i, who skateboard effortlessly to school and around town. They are fearless doing “risky” flip tricks along the way, off of curbs, over different obstacles. Skateboarding is about freedom and creativity, danger and risk to them. I wanted the same feeling. Even though I was afraid of falling and had a bad sense of balance, I headed out the door and awkwardly started pushing my new skateboard down the street. I jumped on in an attempt to ride a bit. “I’m going to fall”, “I can’t do this”, I thought to myself. I pushed it down the street some more, but I was getting tired fast and I still had about a half mile to go. Then, suddenly, I hit a rock. The skateboard stopped in its tracks and I was catapulted forward nearly falling to the ground. Embarrassed and scared, I picked up the board and went back to my house, defeated. In spite of this setback, however, during the next few weeks, even after falling numerous times, getting many scrapes and bruises, and almost breaking my arm, I always got back up and jumped back on ever more determined to learn. After a month of persistent practice, I was riding to and from school everyday on my skateboard!

At about the same time, even though I was a novice, I impulsively jumped in again and volunteered to start a skateboard club at my school in order to mentor students. After 2 years, the Kilauea School skateboard club became an overwhelming success and is the only one in the public school system in the State of Hawai’i. Because I was able to overcome my fears and take risks, my students now have a better “sense of belonging” and “sense of pride” in our school, and I am skateboarding to and from school today with them. I found “freedom” and “creativity” in spite of the challenges I faced and the fears I had, by just “jumping” in and “jumping on” my skateboard.

A couple of years ago, as a result of the wave of school reform mandates, I had become a pessimistic and tired teacher.  I just wanted to do my job, no more, no less. Teaching became very scripted and rigid. I had lost the spark of freedom, of creativity. However, I think I approached these challenges like I did with skateboarding by taking different risks, by overcoming my fears, by “getting back up again and “jumping into” the challenge, and by jumping on the ride of “teacher leadership”. I overcame the fear of approaching my school’s principal in order to improve our school’s faculty meetings, professional development for teachers, and overall school climate. Even though I am an introvert and sometimes not very confident in my own strengths, I took the risk and became a facilitator for, and helped to create the Hawai’i Teacher Leader Network (HTLN)- a group that is creating teacher leader pathways within the State. Even though I was tired from all of the top down mandates teachers were asked to undertake, I challenged myself, applied and was accepted to be a fellow in Hope Street Group, an organization that provides states with the organization, resources and tools needed to ensure teachers voices are heard when shaping better education policy. I jumped right into meeting with and forming relationships with different stakeholders, legislators, and even my superintendent who all shape policy. I met with and learned from other incredible teachers across the State who inspire me by their own risk-taking and  “jumping into” teacher leadership roles in the state.  

If a 53 year old teacher can “jump into” skateboarding again and again in spite of the danger, fears, and challenges he faced, teachers, likewise, can overcome their fears, take risks, and jump into and then onto the fantastic “ride” which is teacher leadership. In this way, teachers can experience the freedom, the creativity, when we lead in our schools, our districts, state and country.  No more excuses. No more fears. Now is the time to lead!

Michael Kline is a Special Education preschool teacher at Kilauea Elementary School on Kaua’i. He is passionate about teacher leadership and play-based education. Mr. Kline is currently a second year Hope Street Group Fellow, a National Board Certified Teacher since 2003, facilitator for the Hawai’i Teacher Leader Network, and serves as Vice-President and Secretary for the Kaua’i Chapter of the Hawai’i State Teacher Association (HSTA). He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and a Master of Curriculum Studies from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Character of Teacher Leaders

The Character of Teacher Leaders
Based on the work from and #CharacterDay2016

September 22, 2016 was recently recognized as Character Day promoting awareness of the Science of Character*, which enables individuals to reflect on their values - and how these beliefs play a role in personal and professional interactions - while developing/ strengthening character year-round.

This “Periodic Table of Character Strengths” is an original creation of "Let it Ripple", 
and is based on research by Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Christopher Peterson.


During a recent professional learning session, our teacher leaders - in their Reflective Practitioner capacity - responded to the following prompt, via table groups:

Which Character traits align with effective
teacher leaders, and why?

Table 1:
Kindness, Leadership, Fairness, Forgiveness, Creativity, Self-Control, Prudence, are the ones that we all discussed. We feel that a lot of these fit and could not narrow it down to one. It is determinate upon the environment and clientele you deal with. We need to have a balance between the characters. Have one more prominent than another can be detrimental to the environment, group, and leadership status.

Table 2:
The more you humanize yourself as a leader, the more people are willing to listen to you because they may feel better able to connect with you on a "real" level. Love, Kindness, and Social Intelligence are key components to building trust, and a group with a high trust factor will be able to accomplish much. Love encapsulates close relationships with others, where you - as a leader - are caring, a good listener, and affectionate (in the professional world, this is likely to be displayed as concern for your staff's personal life outside of school, aware of big events in their lives such as births or deaths and recognizing them in a supportive way). Social Intelligence displays itself when you as a leader are aware of the motives and feelings of others, knowing what makes them tick and being able to approach them in a way you know you will be best received. Kindness is demonstrated when you are able to do little things that remind your staff you are aware of their hard work and when they go the extra mile.

Table 3:
Prudence - one who remains stable through conflict.
Teamwork - one who can work collaboratively, one cannot lead alone.
Love of Learning - Learning of others needs to be at the heart of decision making.

Table 4:
In our selection of characteristics that aligned to effective teacher leaders, each table member selected from the deck of cards provided. In our analysis of the cards chosen, we realized the category most of our card selections fell under was Courage. Somehow, many of us feel that a strong leader must possess courage to lead effectively.

Table 5:
As we sit and reflect upon which character traits align with becoming a teacher leader we are challenged with the fact that teacher leaders need to have it all. They need to be well rounded and conscious of all the traits that an educator in our position could call upon and utilize in the countless situations that we face on a daily basis; in working with our colleagues, students, and our administrators. The main traits of wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence encompass a multitude of traits that we can only hope we possess in our character.

We challenged ourselves to select one that we would like to consciously work on in the coming weeks before we meet again. We choose creativity to think about the bigger picture and to be original with our ideas and thoughts. Also, forgiveness because as coaches we need to remind ourselves to be patient and compassionate with our colleagues that might need more compassion with the changes and challenges of the tasks being asked of all teachers. The third character trait that we selected was leadership, as coaches some us need to work on having confidence in our abilities and challenging ourselves to step up into our role. Building character is a part of life and our role as coaches a piece of our puzzle in life. All of the pieces fit together and work to create the completed picture of who we are. We grow and learn on a daily basis, we are what we preach life long learners.

Table 6:
In our group we discussed Creativity, Curiosity, and Spirituality. A good leader needs Curiosity because a good leader needs to constantly ask questions in order to meet the needs of the group or mission. Creativity is needed in order to find solutions to problems that are complex and diverse. Spirituality is needed to build the relationships that are so important for leaders to inspire others to complete the mission, and to help the leader recharge and reconnect with oneself without getting burned out on the work. Understanding the connection between all of the characters and its connection between the field of education is important so one can become a leader that people want to follow. Our group selected three of the discussion questions and three of the strengths and discussed a variety of things, such as ways to practice curiosity in our lives, times during the week that we feel spiritual, and who in our life we thought was creative.

Table 7:
After reviewing the Periodic Table of Character Strengths, we believe the following characteristics align with qualities of teacher leaders: Leadership - It's important to be collaborative, organized and supportive.  Social Intelligence - People have to like you to want to follow you.  Perspective- Enables a leader to encourage and mentor others Perseverance - Leaders need to be able persevere through challenges in order to affect change.  Humility - promotes a growth mindset attitude.  Optimism - Leaders need a positive outlook to believe that all students can succeed. We believe that all of these traits will enable a teacher leader to effectively work with others to promote change at his/her school/organization.

Table 8:

Which character traits align with effective teacher leaders, and why? Perspective: As a teacher leader it's important to have perspective and look at things from various lenses. Gratitude: Is important to build trust among those you work with and be grateful and appreciative of what they do. Social Responsibility: As teachers we are raising ALL children and don't get to choose who we want to teach and impact. We do it because it's our responsibility. Fairness: It's important to give everyone a fair chance and not let personal feelings and biased decisions influence our decisions. Self-Control: As leader you are in the public eye, you always have to think about how you react to different situations. People will begin to stereotype you based on your actions so it's important to monitor yourself.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Do Leaders Remember the Trenches?

How Soon We Forget …
Do Leaders Remember the Trenches?

What type leader do you see yourself as? How do others view your leadership style? Can leadership be a garment worn based on a time, place or mood and then discarded, or is it part of our DNA? How do leaders self-assess when others view practices as ineffective, aloof or less than role-modely? And, what happens when a leader loses touch with his/her colleagues forgetting what it’s like to be in the trenches?

The following story* illustrates how an individual’s leadership role did not necessarily match what was envisioned, or expected by a teacher in need - ultimately skewing the viewpoint of a potential future leader. (*loosely inspired by actual events)

Leave Your Starbucks in the Car, Please!
Danielle Mizuta, Guest Blogger

Early in my career, I remember a certain 9 year-old dropped off in our special education classroom by his grandmother - with no file or background information to guide my work. He demonstrated extreme behavioral ‘episodes’ which needed immediate attention; however, because school started earlier in Hawaii than other States no one was available to provide input from his previous school. I was stuck.

Having tried what my teacher prep-program taught on behavior and classroom management, I implemented crisis prevention and intervention techniques, to no avail. And, at the school-level, we also tried to handle issues ‘in-house’ whenever possible, using resources available, but when all efforts were exhausted, we turned to the ‘big guns’ - the saviors who could swoop in and guide us through challenging times - our District Support Staff.

On a day when my 9 year-old was showing signs of another ‘episode’, I eagerly awaited this district hero - my savior - to arrive and provide much needed support!  Initially I envisioned a sleeves-rolled-up partner-in-crime who would immediately join me on the floor and demonstrate how to interact appropriately with the challenging situation. So, imagine my surprise when the highly regarded role model walked through the door in heels, carrying an expensive laptop, sporting manicured nails and carrying an iced coffee showing the first signs of condensation.

We made eye contact, she nodded for me to carry on and set up in the corner of my room, while I continued to practice de-escalation techniques with the behaviorally challenged child. Thirty-seven minutes into the situation, my ponytail was askew, I had spit in my right ear, and bite marks on my right forearm. As the child crawled under a table continuing to cause a scene, I embarrassingly glanced toward this leader for support and guidance, only to be met by her continual nodding, and the sipping of her ice-jingling Venti drink.

When my mentor finally approached with a sympathetic smile, I was prepared for her to save me, but was less-than-enthusiastic when she leaned down and simply offered a handful of Skittles to the tantruming student. Trying not to look shocked or disappointed, I found myself caught between exhaustion and disbelief. By this point, I had missed lunch, was dying of thirst and really needed to pee - yet, all I got were reaffirming nods, candy tossed at the student, and the view of an iced cold drink now forming a condensation ring on my desk. I had not received any help, guidance or support, but rather an observer who sat idly taking notes while I tried to contain a less-than-satisfactory situation.

The most significant memory I have of that day was not the spit in my ear, or the look of empathy shown by my Educational Assistant tending to the other students - keeping them away from the profanities, spitting, kicking, biting and lunging displayed by our newest student. Nor was the fact my bladder could burst at any moment really an issue!  But... seeing that iced coffee with the first signs of condensation slowly dripping down the side of the cup, and feeling the pangs of jealousy because I couldn’t even get myself a drink from the broken water fountain outside the classroom - was more than I could handle!  

That moment transformed me - is that what leaders do? Is that what I would be like if I choose to pursue leadership? And, have educational leaders lost touch with what it’s like to be in the classroom? How can someone with a title and recognized for being a role model forget what it’s like to be in the trenches? If that was what being a leader looked like, then count me out! <Deep Sigh>

It took a long time for me to recover from that year, and the memory of what a leader may or may not be was etched pretty deeply into my psyche. Was this really the direction I wanted to head in my career or this profession? Should I let one bad apple ruin the opportunity for me to grow as a professional or inhibit my ability to support others in the future? Or, was there another way to lead?

Since that time, I’ve directed all my energy into building relationships first with colleagues, and I do everything in my power to truly understand their classroom, school expectations, strengths and needs before deciding how to proceed. I aspire to be a guide, mentor, role model (and hero if needed) when called upon, and I always leave my Starbucks in the car!

Danielle Mizuta (MEd) is an Autism Consulting Teacher with the Windward District, in Hawaii, and recently honored as a member of the "2016 Team of the Year" through HIDOE. Danielle co-teaches in an Intensive Training Center where she coaches and mentors teacher candidates and special education teachers. She is a Hope Street Fellow, and a Mentor trainer with the New Teacher Center - a “2014 Team Excellence Award Merit Finalist” with her State Induction Team. She received her BS in Communication Studies and a Minor in Dance from California Polytechnic University Pomona, and her Master’s in Educational Foundations and Master’s in Special Education from the University of Hawai’i.  Follow Danielle on Twitter (@Kohola11)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Leading vs Bossing

Leading vs Bossing:
Debunking Myths for Teacher Leaders
Sandy Cameli, EdD • Educational Specialist • Hawaii Dept. of Education

During a recent conversation with a phenomenal classroom teacher (PCT) - who was reluctant about pursuing a leadership path - the topic of “Leading vs. Bossing” came up.

Me:   Have you ever considered applying to our Teacher Leader Academy?
PCT: Well, no - I have no desire to be a boss.
Me: Leading does not mean bossing, rather it’s role modeling.

PCT: But...doesn’t being a leader mean you have the authority to tell others what to do? I’m not interested in boss...leading others.  Besides, I’m still learning this job, and the longer I do it (10+ years) the more I realize how much I don’t know….a leader can’t be clueless!

Me: Perhaps what you perceive as “clueless” may actually be the trait of a lifelong learner? An innovator seeking ideas? A reflective practitioner? Or simply humility - on overdrive? A teacher leader is all of those things and much more. They are also much less. Less intrusive, less rigid, less uniform, and less bossy. An effective leader learns in tandem with his/her colleagues while facilitating thought-provoking discussions on actionable items. An inspirational leader checks his/her ego at the door and follows a moral compass in all decisions, actions and behaviors.  And, an efficacious leader brings enthusiasm, commitment and drive to all situations, regardless how major or minor the task, in order to support students, staff and school - all powerful characteristics YOU already possess!

PCT: I hadn’t thought about it that way ... and, um - thank you (she replied sheepishly).

This certainly was not the first conversation of its kind, and is unlikely to be the last. Nor, was it the first myth about leadership or teacher leadership as viewed by many. Which brings to mind the question of why educators - and phenomenal ones at that - do not see the value in what they do as leadership qualities? Why has the term leader solely been associated with boss, supervisor, even dictator, but not aligned with teachers?  It’s hard enough to explain teacher leader to the general public, when even within the profession, educators still struggle with the concept, and worse - are hesitant to pursue opportunities which (they perceive) will identify them as boss-like!

Leadership is a journey and one that continues to morph as an individual pursues new goals. No one person can tell another if and when they are ready to embody a leadership role, but likewise an individual should not let misperceptions or myths discourage them from continuing to grow as an effective role model, and especially in the field of Education!  

Untangling the synonyms of leader and boss may not be simple, or even an overnight feat, but that does not mean educators can’t debunk myths when encountering those PCTs -phenomenal classroom teachers - who should be celebrated and recognized for their non-bossy leadership styles exhibited and shared on a daily basis!