An Exceptional Beginning to 2011 - Mid-Pacific Institute

Elementary School Principal's Blog

An Exceptional Beginning to 2011

Posted on January 8, 2011

by Dr. Edna Hussey on January 8, 2011

The trees in the dining room came down. Ornaments, wooden nutcrackers, garland, and all other holiday regalia stored away until next Christmas. Although these cultural reminders are no longer visible (except in my office where a potted Norfolk pine now decorated with growing collection of owl ornaments stands tall and proud!), a spirit of excitement and newness permeates the campus. The first two school days of year 2011 have been refreshing. The faculty and I are observing children who have stepped confidently into the classroom, ready to continue their learning. As I stood in the autoline welcoming children and families, it was most heartwarming to see how the children greeted one another. Many embraces, hugs, high-fives among students! And to see their faces light up -- just priceless! A walk-through past classrooms confirmed how excited everyone is feeling about the beginning of the spring semester. What about the faculty?

We had two full days of meetings and classroom preparations. This past Monday and Tuesday, as we have always done as a faculty, the preschool and elementary teachers met altogether to review the school goals we set for ourselves in August, reflected on our professional and personal goals in writing, and met in grade-level groups to continue planning class inquiries or other content areas. The conversation is always intensive and thought-provoking. The elementary teachers will be working closely with Director of Educational Technology Mark Hines to develop a digital portfolio system based on student needs and our expectations of students at each grade level. We're building on our 12+ years of experience using portfolios to document students' learning progress over time. Our understanding of the process for assessing learning and students' ownership of their learning is making the development of a digital portfolio easier for us. I'll be reporting periodically on our work through the semester. Our goal is to complete a portfolio system that will be implemented next year. As you can imagine, the faculty and I will be receiving lots of professional development mostly in technical areas.

Parents, there has been a change in the faculty community. I regret to inform you that Iris Ching, who has taught in our preschool since 2006, is not returning this semester. We are grateful to Iris for her years of service to Mid-Pacific, particularly her work in helping to develop our unique Reggio-inspired preschool program. We will miss her creativity and openness and wish her well. We welcome Kimberly Collins-Siegfried to the preschool as the lead teacher in Room 9, and who'll continue to support Iris' work with the children. Kimberly comes to us with many years of teaching experience in early childhood settings in Hawaii and Germany. The preschool children, faculty, and parents have graciously welcomed Kimberly with open arms.

If you ask the teachers, I'm a strong proponent of professional growth. Last year the elementary faculty engaged in a year-long reading and study group of Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniel's Comprehension and Collaboration. Very helpful in terms of deepening our understanding in inquiry-based learning and the strategies to support this approach. This semester, we are reading Peter Johnston's Choice Words, which will help us attend more intentionally to classroom "discourse." Johnston favors James Gee's widely quoted definition of discourse as "the ways of being in the world, or forms of life which integrate words, acts, values, beliefs, attitudes, and social identities, as well as gestures, glances, body positions, and clothes. Discourse is a sort of identity kit, which comes complete with the appropriate costume and instructions on how to act, talk, and often write, so as to take on a particular social role that others will recognize." We'll be thinking about what we say, how we phrase comments and questions, and how our utterances make a difference in shaping how learners see themselves.

The preschool faculty will also be reading Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia by Vea Vecchi, one of the first atelieristas (art studio teachers) in 1970 who contributed significantly to the Reggio Emilia philosophy and approach. Her work addresses some key themes such as the theory of the hundred languages of childhood and processes of learning and knowledge construction.

We also begin this semester with an elementary cohort of teacher candidates from the University of Hawaii who will be doing their student teaching in various classrooms. This semester marks the 4th semester in partnership with the College of Education to mentor students who are completing their undergraduate degrees in elementary education. (We have had teacher candidates at the elementary over the past five years, but this particular cohort program has been a two-year commitment with the same students rotating to other schools for observation and practice then back to Mid-Pacific for student teaching.) We also have our first preschool cohort from West O`ahu College who are already experienced early-childhood teachers. They will be working in the preschool, learning as much as they can about teaching in a Reggio-inspired setting.

If you've read this blog up to this point, I encourage you to check in every weekend to read my updates, usually posted by Sunday. Then take a few more minutes to read your child's classroom teacher's blog or the occasional entry by any one of our specialists so that you are in the loop.

We're off to an exceptional start in 2011!

For our children,

Edna L. Hussey