This Issue

Fall 2008

Resourceful & Ever Reaching: There is no such thing as a sleepy summer at ‘Iolani School. At least there was none for the approximately 2,862 students from Hawaii and around the world who enrolled in various classes this recent summer.
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Fall 2008 - Department | Headmaster’s Column

The Headmaster’s Column

Surf's Up!  This summer I took up standup paddle boarding.  It started innocently enough through the encouragement of a friend and my search for a new exercise regimen—something different.  The experience has been both humbling and exhilarating.  Learning a new skill is hard, especially at my age.  But in doing so I rediscovered some important lessons that apply to the teaching and learning process:

  • Learning is Invigorating – It has been thirty years since I last stood up on a surfboard, and, believe me, it's not like riding a bicycle. Old skills don’t come rushing back although my familiarity with the ocean and the waves helped.  Building new muscles, feeling the rhythm of the sea, gaining confidence and sensing small improvements after each outing kept me going back for more.  I'm having fun!

    It must be what our students feel in the classroom, on the playing fields and in their extra-curricular activities.  Of course there are differences: grades, college acceptance and pressure from others serve as motivators in school.  But when I see kids volunteering for community service activities on weekends, going to speech, economics and mathematics team practices and spending time in the weight room in the off season, I know they are inspired.  It may not be all fun, but they are challenged to improve: to do and be their very best. Their reward, like mine, comes in the form of increased confidence, new strengths, and, yes, joy, especially joy. 

  • There are No Limits to What We Can Learn – I started in the calm waters off Ala Moana Park, and initially felt as if I were providing entertainment for the people on the beach.  Other paddlers, some older and seemingly less athletic than I, glided past with ease and welcoming words while I kept falling off my board.  Embarrassed and consequently even more determined, I climbed back up and paddled on.  After about a month I was saying hello back and enjoying the natural beauty of our island environment.  Two weeks later I caught my first wave from a standup position.  Although I’m still far from being an accomplished paddle boarder, I’ve learned a lot and look forward to learning more.

    My experience shows that given the proper incentives, a positive attitude, a willingness to work, and sufficient time there are no limits to learning.  Teachers, coaches and mentors help our students find these factors and encourage their growth.  Natural abilities play a part, but I'm convinced that learning is limited only by the level of our aspiration.

    Further evidence of this came in a conversation at a recent Board meeting of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS).  NAIS gathered a group of international educators to explore the pedagogical differences between the United States and other industrialized nations in the teaching of mathematics.  As we know, American students fare poorly relative to their international counterparts on standardized exams.  The one definitive difference, according to the study group, is that American educators tend to place a ceiling on the level of mathematics a student can learn while international educators do not.  Yes, it takes more time, more tutoring and more work for some, but all can learn.  We at ‘Iolani seek to raise the ceiling for all our students in all their endeavors, not just in mathematics where we do indeed excel. 

  • Praise is Powerful – After going to the same surf spot a few times, I became familiar with some of the regulars, and they with me.  Near summer’s end, while I was riding a fair sized wave, a guy who is a very good paddle boarder exclaimed, “Wow, he’s getting good!”  I smiled, deeply pleased that someone noticed my improvement.  I felt encouraged to keep putting forth the effort.

    Parents, teachers, coaches and advisors mean a lot to kids, and their comments can have a similar effect.  We’ve matured past the self esteem era when all of our comments had to be positive, whether deserved or not.  Most of us now acknowledge that self esteem improves when actual progress or success occurs as a result of one's effort, not simply in response to empty flattery.  But praise does matter when it coincides with substantive improvement.  When it’s earned, it reinforces the hard work, commitment and sacrifice needed to reach one’s goals.

Teaching and learning show up in all kinds of places.  The lessons learned are valuable in school and wherever life’s path takes us.  Life’s a Beach!

- Val T. Iwashita