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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Helping Young Ones Feel Safe in These Uncertain Times

“Drop,” shouted my 5th grade teacher.  Immediately, all 34 of us dropped to our knees, under our desks, with our heads down and our hands over our heads.  This happened the first Friday of every month as a result of something called “The Cuban Missile Crisis.”  My teacher would admonish us if we failed to take the drill seriously.  At age 10, we found our teachers admonition to be frightening, even though we didn’t know much about the crises, or the Cold War, we did know that danger lurked if we failed to drop when told to do so.

In the words of Bob Dylan, “the times they are a changin’.”  Today, although drop drills are mostly a thing of the past (except in areas threatened by earthquakes), we have preschool children participating in “live shooter” drills.  A live shooter drill involves an adult unknown to the children, coming onto campus with a toy weapon and pretending to be there to shoot the children.  This developmentally inappropriate practice is more likely to cause young children to become incredibly anxious, with some showing symptoms of PTSD.  In addition to such drills, now we have a company called ProTecht, selling bulletproof blankets to shield small children from gunfire, while another company is now manufacturing bulletproof backpacks.  The times in fact have changed, as it appears that we’ve become so frightened as a society, that we are rushing to utilize Band-Aids as a way to avoid dealing with a much bigger issue.  America has become the most violent industrialized nation in the world.

As an educator, I can’t influence policy in schools other than my own, but I can encourage parents of young children to take a few simple steps to help their young ones feel safe and secure.  The most obvious and easiest thing to do is to simply turn off your televisions; don’t listen to the news on the radio when your children are around, and avoid discussing world affairs in their presence. 

Secondly, since young children feel safe when their environment is predictable, try to maintain the same household routine as always and the same daily schedule.

Thirdly, insist that children in the early childhood (birth – age 8) are not exposed to conversations about potential threats of violence, or threats to their well-being, while at school.   Discourage the use of “live shooter drills” and at the very least, if the school or daycare center won’t budge on this matter, ask to be given 24 hours warning of a pending drill, so you have the option of keeping your child home.

Early childhood is a time for play.  It’s that time in a child’s life when free exploration of the environment, overseen by nurturing adults is essential.  Young children need opportunities to enjoy fantasy play, run, climb, paint, sing, and laugh, without a care in the world.  Implementing drills that will only rob our keiki of their sense of security may cause irreputable harm to their psyches’.  Let’s stand up for our keiki and demand a more rational and more pragmatic approach to the problem of violence in our society.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Wisdom of the Elders Pillars of Peace Conference

In last weeks edition of MidWeek, the cover story highlighted the upcoming “Wisdom of the Elders Pillars of Peace” conference which will focus on peace, compassion and ethical leadership.

Coming to Hawaii to participate in the conversation are three very impressive “elders,” each of whom has much to say and offer as we try to find more equitable and peaceful solutions to worldwide issues ranging from starvation, inequality, war and global terrorism.

Hina Jilani (61 years young), is a Co-founder of Pakistan’s first all-female legal aid practice and has been active for decades in movements for peace, women’s equality and human rights.  Joining her are Archbishop Desmond Tutu (83 years young), a South African social rights activist and defender of human rights and Gro Harlem Brundtland (75 years young), the former Prime Minister of Norway, and international leader in the area of sustainable development and public health.  Together, they will lead a conversation for students, teachers, and members of the public this week from August 28 – Aug 31 at the Hawaii Convention Center.

Our world faces numerous challenges, which are magnified by a universal lack of trust, cultural misunderstandings, social and economic inequities, militarism, terrorism and fundamentalist dogmatism.  Who better to lead a conversation with a focus on peace, compassion and ethical leadership than the “Elders,” who have devoted their lives to bringing about peaceful and equitable solutions to the many challenges we face.

The Elders, as described by Mid-Week, “…use their collective wisdom, experience and influence to support peace building, address major causes of human suffering, and promote the shared interests of humanity.” 

Personally, I have learned a great deal from the elders in my life.  This week, I feel incredibly fortunate to have been given the opportunity to learn from and reflect with three “Elders” who continually strive to bring about positive change.  Mahalo to the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Omidyar Ohana Fund for making the Pillars of Peace a reality for Hawaii.

Monday, January 27, 2014


Webster's dictionary defines Illumination as: "light that comes into a room, that shines on something."  Reflecting on our incredible group of talented students at Assets, I like to think of our upcoming Illumination event as a celebration of our students who, without exception, light up our classrooms on a daily basis.

Each year, over 500 parents, friends, and colleagues attend Illumination, enjoying great food, great shopping, and great company, while generously contributing to our schools commitment to socio-economic diversity.  By doing so, they are honoring and respecting the idea of equal educational opportunity.  Year after year we recommit ourselves to providing a strong, researched based multi-sensory program to as wide a socio-economic spectrum as possible, knowing that by doing so we are supporting the unique individuality of our population of gifted, talented learners, who happen to learn differently.

The event is so much more than merely a means of raising tuition assistance, it benefits every student, every family, and everyone in our community in need of our unique expertise and resources.  The event is a celebration of who we are and the meaningful work that we do, and a celebration of our everyday heroes - our students.  The event is a reminder that, "Children Are Our Greatest Assets."

Whenever I walk around campus or observe in classrooms, I'm consistently taken aback by the combination of genius and creativity along with an endearing awkwardness among our students.  Most of whom have remarkable strengths that have gone unrecognized in other school settings. I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to watch these fine, unique, individuals grow and learn as they come to recognize their strengths, as well as their personal challenges, in a way that allows them to become superb self advocates.

Our students illuminate our campus with their compassion, sensitivity, and respect for differences. They illuminate our campus with their poetry, photography, athleticism, creativity, and academic excellence in a wide variety of subjects. They illuminate our campus by being themselves in our accepting, non-judgmental setting.

I hope you will join me on March 7th at the Hawaii Convention Center in celebrating our amazing students by joining the fun at Illumination. You'll have a great time, while supporting a noble mission and helping well deserving, wonderful students.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lessons Learned as an Educator

For nearly 35 years I have had the honor of serving as head of school at two private schools, one in Los Angeles, the other in Honolulu. My time as an educator has provided me with experiences and insights that I hadn't anticipated at the beginning of my career. As I look back at my memories -- most fond and inspiring, others sad and some downright tragic -- I remain grateful for all the experiences, as each and every one inevitably lead to valuable lessons learned.
My first year as a head of school began just prior to my 27th birthday. I was hired to run a Los Angeles area progressive, private school with a star-studded parent body. Though I had a diverse and valuable experience earlier, I began my first year as school head incredibly naive. In hindsight, at 27, I was clearly too young to become a head of school. But during my 29-year tenure there, I learned to understand and appreciate just how much heart, soul, energy, and sacrifice teachers give every day. Over time, I began to comprehend and realize how much love parents felt for their children.
One of my greatest sources of pride as an administrator came from helping to create and maintain one of Los Angeles' most socio-economic and racially diverse, LGBT-friendly campuses among the many private and independent schools in the area. As our state senator noted, we were a "model of diversity." In addition to the children of Hollywood celebrities, 30% of our student population was represented by children living in foster care or in families with incomes below the poverty level.
Lesson #1: Wealth and fame do not automatically translate to happiness; poverty does not automatically translate to misery.
Looking back, there were at least half a dozen early deaths (young people that did not survive their 20s) resulting from drug over doses or suicides. Without exception, each of these tragedies was to a young person with affluent or famous parents. By most standards, they had everything: money, material possessions, privilege, opportunities to travel, and a solid private school education. Unfortunately, all of this was not enough to provide them with what they needed. On the other hand, I've seen young people from very meager means thrive and become successful with nothing more than their very basic needs being met. The difference is they felt unconditionally supported, had a strong sense of self, and were able to celebrate what they had, rather than obsess over what was missing.
Lesson #2: Happiness comes from having a strong sense of self (not to be mistaken with an overinflated sense of importance or ego).
A strong sense of self comes from experiencing success with interesting life challenges. It also requires an ability to be content with what is and not always wishing for something else. Happy people have a distinct ability to live in the moment, without agonizing about the past or worrying about the future. They have a gift for finding contentment in the most mundane aspects to their day-to-day existence.
A great example of everyday heroes finding contentment in what is can be found at a unique and distinctive school in Honolulu serving students with learning differences. Five years ago, I became head of this school, guiding bright, creative, outside-the-box thinkers to achieve their fullest potential in a student-centered and accepting atmosphere, with an individualized, integrated learning environment that instills confidence and resilience. I've been able to use my own experience as a dyslexic with ADHD to better understand these exceptional children who happen to learn differently. One of the keys to our students' success is that we allow them to focus on their strengths and interests.
Lesson #3: We get kids excited about learning by allowing them ample opportunities to learn what they truly want to learn.
A few years ago I heard Bill Gates speak at an education conference. Following his remarks, an audience member stood and asked Gates to describe what his high school teachers did that contributed to his success. He answered, "They stayed out of my way." Recognizing young Mr. Gates' enormous potential, his teachers allowed him to pursue subject matter that interested him. We all know the end result. The approach with Gates is good for all students. When children want to know something, they instinctively find a way to satisfy their own curiosity and learn. The great educational philosopher John Dewey believed that the school curriculum should grow out of the needs and interests of the learner. Gates' teachers had that figured out.
Lesson #4: Unconditional support, guidance, and acceptance from a significant adult are the keys to nurturing confidence, resilience, and ultimately success.
In my own life, and through all my years as an educator, one of the most important and powerful lessons I've learned is the immeasurable value of acceptance and unconditional support in a young person's life from a significant adult. This is a universal truth cutting across cultural differences, socio-economic classes, learning differences, and all challenges. One of the greatest determining factors of a child's success is if that child has an adult who believes in him or her. A parent, teacher, coach, or any other caring adult can make all the difference in a child's life by believing in that child and holding a vision of a bright future for that child. One must believe that there is a future before one is willing to work toward that future.
There are many more lessons I could add to the list and I certainly could elaborate more on those mentioned here. But that would require a book. In the meantime, over the next 35 years, I hope that I'll be able to continue to grow, to learn, to evolve, and to share with appreciation whatever lies ahead.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My Dyslexia

I was born dyslexic and I will always be dyslexic.  By the end of first grade, I was well aware of the fact that I was unable to read as well as my peers.  I didn't know why this was the case, but as a result, I developed feelings of inferiority that have haunted me for years.  

My life in school started out as mediocre and remained as such throughout my K-12 years and beyond.  I'll never forget meeting with my high school counselor and being told that I shouldn't bother taking the SAT because (as he put it), “it would be best if I would focus my attention on learning a trade that doesn't require college.”  Fortunately, my mother was there to build me back up saying, "everything will be OK, some people just need a little more time to realize their potential."  She helped me believe that someday I would make it to college.

School was a chore, but on the bright side, I excelled in sports.  They were my outlet and without them I truly would have been lost.  Because of sports, I always worked (and sometimes cheated) hard enough to maintain the "C" grade point average required for eligibility.

My biggest obstacle as a high school student was my attitude and lack of motivation.  I was angry and rebellious, always finding ways to rationalize my mediocre school performance on poor teaching.   I spent so much time in the Dean of Students office that in hindsight, I'm surprised I wasn't charged rent!  Over time, he became a mentor and friend. 

By 12th grade, I had three very significant advocates, my mother, my grandmother and my Dean.  All three, in their own way provided exactly what I needed at important stages in my life.  Their unconditional acceptance combined with a sincere belief in me are what got me through high school and into a local community college.

I spent my first two years in college on academic probation.  Not because the work was too hard, but because the work simply wasn't a priority.  By the end of my sophomore year, I managed to squeak out a 2.0 grade point average, just enough to transfer to the local state university.

In my junior year, my former high school Dean introduced me to a professor at the college I was attending.  This introduction turned out to be the single most important gift I had ever received.

Dr. Colwell, known as Maurice to his friends, was the most brilliant, charismatic, insightful and funny individual I had ever met.  We became close friends, discussing philosophy, education, mental illness, golf, baseball, movies, books and relationships.  Our friendship turned out to be more of a dialogue, a dialogue that lasted over 20 years (until Maurice passed away).  

While having lunch together during my senior year of college, Maurice brought up graduate school and the next thing I knew, I was enrolled in a master's program. Immediately after completing the program, I was offered a teaching position.  I accepted the position as an adjunct professor and continued teaching in the Department of Social & Philosophical Foundations of Education for over 30 years.  In looking back at my school experience, I'm often amazed that I went from academic probation to master's degree and college teaching in a span of five years.

My reason for sharing all this is because as Head of Assets School, I know there are parents dealing with the same anxieties my parents faced.  I know that we have students here at Assets who will make many of the same mistakes I made along the way, and I know that all of our students are bright, capable individuals deserving of the same level of unconditional support I had as a young person.

I will be "blogging" from time to time with the hope of discussing various issues relating to parenting, education and more, with the hope of striking a chord with others in a way that will allow for optimism, provide assurance and hopefully lend some practical guidance. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

K-6 Open House

This Wednesday, Oct 2, 2013, is Back to School Night for the K-6 parents at Assets.  Back to School Night is an opportunity for you to learn about your child's program directly from the teachers.  During the course of the evening, expect to hear about the daily routine for the students, teacher expectations, homework policy and special projects planned for the school year.

Teachers will not be discussing individual students, as the evening has been set aside for a more general overview of the program and to give you a glimpse into the day-to-day life of your child at school.

If you would like to spend one-on-one time with your child's teachers, please schedule a time to do so by contacting them via email and letting them know that you'd like to meet. You may expect to hear back from your child's teachers within 24 hours.

While here for Back to School Night, try to take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with your child's classroom environment.  Is there a daily schedule posted?  Are there classroom behavioral expectations displayed?  You might want to jot down a short note for your child and leave it in his/her desk.  Most importantly, listen and try not to judge.

Our teachers are an amazing group of individuals working diligently to accommodate the unique characteristics and learning styles of our students.  Their jobs are very challenging, yet also very rewarding.  I enjoy walking into classrooms and seeing the magic.  I hope you will get a taste of it during Back to School Night.