Educators take team approach to building leadership skills


Deputy Superintendent Stephen Schatz and Teri Ushijima, who heads up HIDOE's Leadership Institute, share with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser how the Department is scaling its success through innovative programs.

​​​​​​​​​​​Successes in Hawaii's schools are being recognized. Whether it's expanding opportunities for high school students to earn college credit, forging community partnerships to increase attendance, or working on transitions to help our 9th-grade students do well, examples abound.

The success is throughout our 256 schools. Our approach is scaling that success by looking in our own back yard to find which schools and programs are working for our students. This means that teams of teachers and leaders are visiting one another, meeting both virtually and in person, and asking "how did you do that?"  Instead of trying to fix what's wrong with our schools, we are trying to find and create more of what's right.

How did Kapa'a High School ensure that more 9th-grade students​ passed their courses​? How did Helemano Elementary close their achievement gap? How did Radford High School increase their graduation rate? These are the kinds of questions that schools are asking, and they're reaching out to their colleagues to learn how to make an impact for students in their own schools.

The achievements in our schools have one variable in common – teams of committed and collaborative educators working on common goals. These teams include teacher leaders, administrators and other committed professionals. When leadership rests on the shoulders of just one individual, success is at best fleeting and often unsustainable. Building and encouraging leadership at all levels of our educational system is the only way to make an impact for all of our students. 

A few years ago, we decided to revamp the recruitment, training, and support systems for the leaders of today. We know that the kind of leadership that works in 2016 is student-centered, collaborative, skilled, and involves community partnerships.

Based on gathered feedback, leadership competencies have now been developed to set clear expectations for teacher leaders, vice principals, principals, complex area superintendents and state office management. These competencies are about not only skills, but the dispositions of our leaders. It's not enough to have technical know-how, you have to really care for kids and be willing to work with teams of educators to achieve what's right. 

New training programs include a "principals in residence" component to infuse current knowledge and school level expertise to the programs, best thinking around project based learning, collaborative learning networks, two-year coaching for new vice principals and principals, and a new state office leadership academy. Area superintendent and principal meetings have shifted from an operational "to do" lists to peer coaching around topics like keeping ninth grade students on track for graduation. In short, meetings are moving from discussions of bureaucratic minutia to collegial learning opportunities.

This work is facilitated by a newly formed Leadership Institute​, which provides the full spectrum of coordinated support, from induction and mentoring of beginning teachers through development of state and district office leaders. "A council of stakeholders guides the Institute. The early work has been thus far supported by federal and private funds, and the Leadership Institute has just submitted its first legislative budget request to systematize the work.

We have seen some encouraging signs in a short time. Internal data spotlight results from a survey of 309 school leaders that point to encouraging impact:

  • "I see progress in strengthening my system of support" (82% agree/strongly agree)
  • "I am equipped to succeed in my role" (78% agree/strongly agree)
  •  "I have the right balance of direction and flexibility to be successful in my role" (72% agree/strongly agree)​

Making a difference for our students requires collaboration and leadership at all levels. This is a complex undertaking but one that can have generational impact. 


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