Elementary School Principal's Blog

At a Turning Point

Posted on February 21, 2011

by Dr. Edna Hussey on February 21, 2011

Professional Development Day this past Friday for all MPI faculty, preschool through high school, was the most thought-provoking experience we've had altogether. Over the past two years since the Board of Trustees approved MPI's vision statement and our participation in the "Schools of the Future" initiative, these professional development experiences have provided much-needed dialogue schoolwide about clarifying our mission and improving our educational program. In short, what and how we teach and how we determine the quality of student learning must respond to everything around us that continues to change at a rapid pace. The notion of change and adaptation always seems most challenging in education. Revering Tradition can sometimes immobilize, and educators can sometimes be the most intransigent. This is why professional development is critical to the advancement of a school, and thus, the success of students. What provocations did we tangle with?

The first provocation of the day was making music together, an apt metaphor for the collaboration that is necessary in the MPI faculty community. During a brief one hour, nearly 130 faculty and staff in all departments and all grade levels learned how to listen and work together, each of us playing a percussion instrument. Many thanks to consultant Michael Wall, who is affiliated with the Hawaii Alliance for the Arts in Education. In the last 20 minutes of this morning activity, we were making incredible music together. I mean -- incredible! We moved about the gym together, the rhythmic patterns loud then soft then loud again, and we even sang together. (And I have video to prove it.)

This experience segued into the second provocation called "tuning protocols." Working in assigned groups, a colleague presented a teaching challenge, which peers listened to and analyzed, drawing from their collective experiences. This facilitated process is intended to provide the presenter with insights, not answers, from multiple perspectives. Group members mutually benefit by reflecting on similar challenges. In the faculty's written evaluations at the end of the day, an overwhelming majority see the benefits of this colleague-to-colleague exchange as a strategy for improving teaching. In my own 30+ years of experience as an educator, the concept of teachers-teaching-teachers is powerful professional development. We'll need to see how tuning protocols can be embedded in our practice.

The final provocation was viewing Race to Nowhere, a documentary about the effects of high-stakes learning on children. (This past Thursday, the Parent Community Association (PCA) offered a parent evening to see the film, followed by discussion led by a panel of experts in the field of education. Many of the parents who voiced their opinions shared that the film's central message was about the parent-child relationship and parents' expectations of their children.) Although the faculty had a brief 10 minutes to share first thoughts about the film, they are engaged in an online discussion. Let me just say that the responses cover a broad spectrum of opinion, ranging from concerns about homework to academic coursework to becoming a "school of the future." The discussion is more than intellectual flexing; it is an engagement of the very essence of our school's raison d'etre and the professionals whose commitment is to their students.

To be Mid-Pacific Institute today, having grown from our rich history in Hawaii, reminds me of this familiar phrase -- proud to be MPI. We are at a turning point. The only direction is forward.

For our children,

Edna L. Hussey