Archive for July 2012

Transforming parents into teachers, part 2: high expectations

July 31, 2012

I felt so inspired by the book, “Teach Like a Champion” by Dave Lemov, that I wanted to use some of Lemov’s techniques to help my son achieve more at school – and to help me become a better parent at home.

I focused on three areas in which we as parents can become teachers: 1. techniques to change how we interact with our children; 2. techniques to set high expectations for our children; and 3. techniques to help our children become better readers.

It all starts with us. We need to see ourselves as teachers, not only in how we behave, but in the expectations that we set for our children.

We expect to buy our children new clothes, a backpack, school supplies, and lunch during the school year. But what about preparing their minds?

It’s not intuitive; we can’t expect children to automatically know how to learn. And teachers may assume that children already learned good study habits in another grade.

We can prepare our children for school by teaching them how to be better students. Here are 7 techniques that we as parents can use to set high expectations:

1. Teach them how to prepare for class (On Your Mark, technique #33) and homework, such as having their desks clear, their textbook or notebook out, and a pencil or pen ready.

2. Teach them how to pay attention in class (SLANT, technique #32). SLANT is an acronym for Sit up. Listen. Ask and answer questions. Nod your head. Track the speaker.

3. Teach them how to take good notes (Board = Paper, technique #14). Note-taking is a skill that they may not learn in school, so remind them to copy what’s on the board and show them how to write outlines.

4. Teach them how to participate in class (Ratio, technique #17). Giving them starter phrases will help them feel confident when they are called on to answer a question. For example: “I agree with x because…” or “That’s true because” or “That’s a good point, but…”

5. Teach them to give a correct answer (Right is Right, technique #2), instead of accepting an almost-correct answer. Tell them that they’ve made a good start, they’re closing in on the right answer, that they’re almost there.

6. Teach them to give a complete answer (Format Matters, technique #4), with correct grammar, punctuation, and units (“10 miles” instead of just “10”). Make sure they speak in an audible voice.

7. Teach them to praise others (Props, technique #35), sincerely and enthusiastically. If a friend is struggling, encourage them. If someone is helpful, thank them. If a classmate answers a difficult question or completes a difficult project, praise them (when appropriate).

How do you get your children ready for school? Are there any study habits you wished you had learned?

Transforming parents into teachers, part 1: starting with us

July 24, 2012

Since my son started kindergarten at a Honolulu public school, I’ve been reading books about the public education system and effective teaching. I read books like Ron Clark’s “The End of Molasses Classes,” which offers 101 tips to help children succeed and is filled with anecdotes about teacher creativity, dedication, and enthusiasm; and Wendy Kopp’s “A Chance to Make History,” which highlights teachers and schools that are succeeding against the odds.

One of the best books I’ve come across so far, that lays out things that teachers can do to become better teachers, is Doug Lemov’s “Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College” (2010). It’s practical, it’s easy to read, and it comes with a DVD of video clips that illustrate some of the techniques. It takes a nut-and-bolts approach, from planning lessons and laying out the classroom, to delivering lessons and creating a classroom culture.

I felt so inspired by the book that I wanted to use some of Lemov’s techniques, both to help my son achieve and to help me become a better parent. I decided to see how parents could adapt these effective teaching techniques at home.

I focused on three areas in which we as parents can become teachers: 1. techniques to change how we interact with our children; 2. techniques to set high expectations for our children; and 3. techniques to help our children become better readers.

It all starts with us. We need to see ourselves as teachers.

So to set us on the path to becoming teachers, not just parents, here are 9 techniques that we can use to help our children achieve (and become a little more disciplined), just by changing how we act at home:

1. Sweat the Details (technique #40). Create an orderly study area for your children. Clean up clutter, keep school supplies organized, and stack books neatly.

2. What to Do (technique #37). Give specific directions that tell children what they need to do. Instead of a vague “Pay attention!” trying listing the specific actions they can take, like “Please turn around, put your feet under the table, put the toy down, and look at me.”

3. Strong Voice (technique #38). Show that you have authority with these five principles: 1. Use fewer words; it shows that you are confident and prepared 2. Don’t talk over others; it means that what you’re saying is important. 3. Ignore excuses like “But I wasn’t doing anything!” by simply repeating your directions. 4. Square up and stand still. You can even stand in a more formal pose, with your hands behind your back, to show that your words are serious. 5. Speak slowly and quietly; it shows that you are calm and in control.

4. No Warnings (technique #42). If children misbehave, address the problem quickly, early, and proportionately. Giving a warning tells them that a certain amount of disobedience is okay. Instead, calmly use minor interventions, like asking them to repeat a task, requiring them to apologize, or taking away or reducing a small privilege.

5. Positive Framing (technique #43). If children misbehave, respond consistently and positively. Talk about what should happen next, telling them what they need to do right now. Assume that the behavior was unintentional and challenge them to do better.

6. Precise Praise (technique #44). Acknowledge them when children meet your expectations, and praise them when they are exceptional. Praising them for doing what is expected shows that your expectations are low.

7. Warm/Strict (technique #45). Be warm (caring, and concerned) and strict (firm and relentless) at the same time. Explain to children why you are doing what you are doing. Distinguish between behavior and people, such as saying, “Your behavior is inconsiderate,” instead of “You’re inconsiderate.” Show them that consequences are temporary (you won’t hold grudges).

8. Emotional Constancy (technique #47). Expect children to occasionally get upset, but remain calm and consistent.

9. Stretch It (technique #3). Look for opportunities to stretch learning. For example, in everyday conversations, ask for a better word; after watching a movie, ask about the characters and settings, and compare them to other movies.

Can using the techniques of effective teachers make us better parents? Can thinking of ourselves as teachers first help us be more patient and less frustrated?

Seeking a new ambassador of aloha

July 17, 2012

Today, it seems that our elected officials spend almost as much time promoting Hawaii to the world as they do managing Hawaii’s day-to-day business.

Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle went on eight business trips and spent 60 days out of the state in 2011, traveling to Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Santa Fe; as well as Honolulu’s sister cities in China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. Compare this with former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who went on seven business trips and spent 35 days on official travel in 2009 (Hawaii News Now, 1/31/12).

Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie traveled to Los Angeles for the US-China Economic Trade and Trade Cooperation Forum and Signing Ceremony; and to Washington DC for the National Governor’s Association Winter Meeting in February 2012. He spent nearly two weeks in Tokyo, Okinawa, and Beijing to promote tourism and strengthen relationships with Asia in 2011. This year, Lieutenant Governor Brian Schatz went on a one-week trip to Asia to discuss partnerships for clean energy and a green economy.

These business trips outside the state can strengthen relationships with other cities and leaders, as well as promote Hawaii for its natural resources, unique products (commerce), and industries (tourism, science, and film). Some meetings help Hawaii connect with representatives from other states, to discuss problems, compare options, and reenergize; or compete for federal funds.

But it also means less time doing the job at home, meeting with constituents, and working on solutions to our state’s problems. It means using taxpayer funds for travel or relying on sponsors to pay for travel expenses, which creates a sense of obligation or reciprocity.

And as one of the most remote states in America, it also means long travel times. Out of state travel translates to at least five hours by airplane, plus waiting time at airports, ground transportation, and hotel check-in. Other people might be able to get work done on long airline and car rides, but when I travel, my attention is scattered and I am easily distracted.

I believe that we need another official Ambassador of Aloha to take on the responsibility and privilege of travel, ceremony, and goodwill. Surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku was appointed the Hawaii State Ambassador At-large and City Official Greeter from 1960 to 1968. Entertainer Danny Kaleikini was named Ambassador of Aloha in 1988.

An Ambassador of Aloha would allow elected officials to focus on the business of government, which only they can do. They could take charge of ceremonial duties – greeting foreign dignitaries, hosting visiting officials, visiting sister cities, attending ground-breakings and ribbon-cuttings, promoting Hawaii in other states and countries.

It could be an appointed or elected office; it could even be a cabinet position, with access to the governor. Ceremonial functions and activities could be coordinated through the state press office.

I think we need an Ambassador with the warmth and generosity of entertainer Danny Kaleikini… with the kindness and sincerity of Senator Daniel Akaka… with the friendliness and charisma of the late entertainer Don Ho… Someone who believes in Duke Kahanamoku’s creed:

“In Hawai’i we greet friends, loved ones and strangers
with Aloha, which means with love.
Aloha is the key word to the universal spirit of real hospitality,
which makes Hawai’i renowned as the world’s
center of understanding and fellowship.
Try meeting or leaving people with aloha.
You’ll be surprised by their reaction.
I believe it and it is my creed.
Aloha to you.”

Should our elected officials spend more time at home? Can they do their jobs while on the road? Who would you nominate as the next Ambassador of Aloha for Hawaii?

Entrepreneurs falling by the roadside

July 10, 2012

On Memorial Day, I was surprised by a report by KHON2 News: “Illegal roadside vendors create safety concern” (5/27/12). Police received more than 20 complaints about the illegal roadside vending and traffic concerns. It was distracting. It seemed petty. It took attention away from something more important: paying tribute to our soldiers and remembering those we have lost.

But as the weeks went by, I decided that it’s not a trivial issue.

Instead of reacting with outrage (these vendors are breaking the law!) or anger (the government is hurting people who are trying to make a few extra bucks!), let’s take a moment to consider both sides of the issue.

On one hand, we have state law and public safety. Roadsides are public property. Green, open spaces make driving more scenic and relaxing. They can also act as a buffer for cars and space for emergency vehicles. Just as we wouldn’t want vendors to set up on our front lawn, we don’t want to lose our open spaces to commercial businesses.

* State law prohibits the commercial use of state roads or roadsides. It also allows for exemptions and rezoning.

* State law requires business licensing. Government wants to ensure that businesses compete fairly and meet minimum standards. Government wants to protect us from predatory, illegal, and risky businesses, especially food prepared in unsanitary conditions or stored in unsafe environments.

* Public safety calls for smooth traffic flow (minimal distractions; no abrupt stops or illegal turns) and safe roadsides (no obstructions).

On the other hand, we have entrepreneurs who are offering both convenience and value to people who want to buy flowers. Some roadside vendors may have a seasonal hobby, offering crafts, homegrown produce, and flowers. Other roadside vendors are farmers or business start-ups.

* Entrepreneurs are providing a service. They are not setting high prices and no one is forced to buy their products.

* Entrepreneurs use their own resources (flowers or money), on their own time (they could be doing something else), and take a risk that their flowers won’t sell (they could lose money).

* Roadside vending can help individuals earn extra money, supplement a low income, and help families avoid relying on government aid.

This is not a minor disagreement or a story on a slow news night. It’s a fundamental debate about the public good and individual rights. So how can we compromise between business regulation, public safety, and entrepreneurship? How can laws balance the public and the individual? Do we follow the letter of the law or should laws adjust to changing circumstances?

“Lost Kingdom” by Julia Flynn Siler

July 7, 2012

The book cover is light teal with the title “Lost Kingdom” in blood-red near a photo of a solemn Queen Lili‘uokalani. A dramatic subtitle is superimposed over a historic map of the Hawaiian Islands: “Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure.” The author’s name, journalist Julia Flynn Siler, anchors the bottom of the book.

“Lost Kingdom” (2012) opens with a “Cast of Characters,” giving it the feel of a play; and a glossary of Hawaiian terms. From the character sketches alone, readers can draw a few conclusions: that Hawaiian royalty had few children and, in general, lived beyond their means; that the children of missionaries were ambitious and financially successful; and that royal Hawaiian women bridges cultures and often married non-Hawaiians. The Introduction establishes Hawaiian culture, from the Kumulipo, Hawaiian society, and the careful cultivation of the land and sea; to first contact with Westerners in 1778 and the influx of disease, firearms, liquor, Christianity, and sugar.

The book is divided into three sections: Island Kingdom, 1820-1881; the House of Kalakaua, 1883-1893; and Manifest Destiny, 1893-1898. Historical narrative is interspersed with short personal accounts, mostly of Lili‘u’s life. She is portrayed as modest, well-mannered, and eager to please as a youth; and impetuous, steadfast, controlled, and lonely as an adult. Lili‘u’s legacy is a lost throne, beautiful music, and a trust to help orphaned and destitute children.

From the start, I was uncomfortable with part of the subtitle, “America’s First Imperial Adventure” – which makes the historical account seem bold and exciting (perhaps “Venture” or simply “American Imperialism” would have been more appropriate). Siler describes the monarchy’s overthrow as an audacious land grab and the start of American imperialism. 

Having grown up in Hawaii, it’s hard to step back and look at Hawaiian history, and Siler’s narrative, critically and impartially. Siler does not examine why the Hawaiians embraced Western culture so quickly, but she does state that Christian missionaries arrived at a time when Hawaiians were experiencing a crisis of faith. Siler depicts Hawaiian monarchs as naïve and inexperienced, dependent on Western money and seduced by Western culture. Though Siler makes it clear that Western businessmen illegally (and unethically?) deposed Hawaii’s queen, Hawaiian monarchs were not good stewards of the kingdom and gave up too much of their power to foreign influences.

On a personal level, Siler concludes that “the values of humility, meekness, and obedience that Lili‘u absorbed from her missionary teachers undercut the traditional power of the ali‘i” (page 49). I was saddened to realize that Lili‘u’s personal life was so unhappy, from her unwilling name change to her marriage to John Dominis, and even some estrangement with her heir, Princess Kaiulani.

“Lost Kingdom” is ambitious; it tries to be both a history and a biography at the same time, and sometimes comes across as rambling. Other ali‘i are mentioned in passing. Digressions about the rise of sugarcane, the displacement of taro fields and fish ponds, and water disputes create a vivid image of the changes in Hawaii, but take attention away from Lili‘u’s life and the greater political struggle. And there’s little attention to ordinary Hawaiians and how political changes impacted them.

Even today, Hawaii’s past is controversial, unresolved, and full of emotion. If you read “Lost Kingdom,” what do you think of the way Hawaiian monarchs and Western businessmen are portrayed? Can past injustices be made right? How much should our past influence our future decisions?