Japan 3 “All Work and No Play”

Japan 3—All work and no play

Beginning Monday, we plunged into our assigned tasks, starting with two “in-briefings” at the two military sites, the Naval base at Atsugi about 12 miles away through narrow streets and massive traffic, and the smaller Army facility at Zama. The former is primarily a maintenance resource for the planes from the aircraft carrier George Washington; we will get a tour of that base next Monday when we move our responsibilities to the school located there.

All  movement was under a light, steady drizzle, but the temperature was very acceptable. The area of Japan where we are is sub-tropical; snow and continued freezing are rare, sort of like my Wyoming home—in July. The other  members of our Quality Assurance Review team arrived from their schools elsewhere in Japan; their schools will be undergoing these same processes next year and this gives them an introduction in order to effectively prepare. We will be looking at the school’s Vision and Mission, Governance, Teaching and Learning Processes and Results, Use of Data in Decision-Making, Supplemental Resources, Involvement of Stakeholders, and Plans for Continuous Improvement. Our team spent several hours Monday evening going over our schedule and the specifics of the review process and preparation for the final recommendations. My role at this school is Chairperson; the Vice-Chairperson and I will reverse roles next week. This is the normal sequence of leadership in these circumstances.

Tuesday began with a meeting with the school’s leadership team, the principal, and a small tremor. I would have paid no attention if the principal hadn’t leaped to her feet, ready to evacuate the school if the shaking continued. It lasted maybe five seconds or less, but was enough to jangle the nerves of those who had been through last year’s tragic circumstances. The main concern had been the prospect of the nuclear facility blowing up; and the military began evacuation activities for dependents and personnel. Our interviews with the garrison leadership and parents praised the school staff and principals for being an outstanding stabilizing force during all the uproar, becoming the most reliable source of accurate information as opposed to many rumors flying about through the civilian and military communities. The school’s communication system to parents allowed them to know that their children were safe, and in fact provided the military with an additional resource for information exchange to units needing timely updates about potential issues.

The rest of the day was a mixture of classroom visits, interview sessions with teachers and parents, and consumption of lots of sugary goodies provided for our comfort. One of the negatives of these visits is the availability of exceptional food bargains—Saturday had been “prime rib special” evening, Sunday was “$10 t-bone night”, Monday morning was the “all you can eat Super Bowl Breakfast”, all of which demonstrated my personal lack of will power. I  noticed its effect yesterday when I had to button the waistband of my recently-purchased new khakis, done in recognition that I’ve maintained a slimmer profile for 6 months. I did manage to do my upper body workout yesterday evening, followed by a tuna sandwich for dinner, but It looks like I had better get my tastebuds under firm control for the next few days.

Today we begin with student interviews, garrison liaison interviews, and further meetings with teacher groups. This middle school is only a few years old in concept, having been separated from a 7-12 high school into a 7-8 program. The relatively small enrollment (196) and progress toward a self-contained staff has eased the transition process and at the same time established significant ownership of the program by the staff, parents, and students. Today will be our longest work day, and will include sessions among ourselves to begin drafting our recommendations about the school’s eligibility for accreditation, and for Thursday’s oral exit reports in the afternoon.

These QAR visits have been “longevity feasts” for those of us retired from careers as educators. Each visit demonstrates that there are other ways to achieve satisfactory results, and provides us with insights to take to other schools, either those from which we retired or for other schools that we are asked to visit. We are finding that most schools do things fairly well, but at the same time even the best schools can improve. From my perspective, the most productive recent trends have been formats like Professional Learning Communities (PLC) which establish ownership of programs by all the participants, and thus enhance the chances of success, and brain-based research exemplified in professional formats such as Quantum Learning. Add the effective use of data in decision-making, and a school will have “a complete package” toward attaining identified goals and maximizing student performance.


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