October, 2014 (The Half Way Point)

Well it is hard to believe that we have reached the half way point in our mission experience.  Our mission has been somewhat of a different experience than we expected as the Ministry of Education here in Fiji has still not approved the church’s application to teach courses through Brigham Young University-Hawaii.  It has been a complicated and frustrating process and at the present time we have just received word that the Ministry is now requesting additional information that was identified on the application but now want to see the documentation of the information. This has somewhat become a three ring circus.  We will try to share with you our experiences of what we are doing but please do not think that we are discouraged or depressed.  This is a unique and wonderful experience and one the Lord is teaching us as we experience another culture in another part of the world.  We continue to learn everyday we are here in Fiji.

We are still providing professional development to both the Primary School and LDS Church College faculty and we feel good about what is happening.  Here in the southern Hemisphere the school year is quickly coming to a close as the school year ends the end of November.  Our efforts have been turned to helping teachers to organized themselves and their classes for the next year that starts in mid-January.  Education here in the South Pacific, at least here in Fiji, has its limitations and deficiencies and is geared on the English system of education.  Since it was previously an English colony for many years they have adopted the English way of educating students, however, there are very few resources available.

The biggest concern is lack of leadership in the schools.  It appears that principals and other school leaders are appointed based on the English model and that is very different than the American model that we come from.  This may sound like a little bit of complaining and frustration but it really is not.  There just is a great deal of work that needs to be done and because of the Ministry of Education situation we are not able to accomplish what the Lord would want us to do and how to help these wonderful people who are desperately eager to learn and become better at their craft.

The church is trying to begin a teacher mentoring program that can help struggling teachers and new teachers that are hired.  This will be a cultural change here in Fiji and we would imagine throughout the islands of the south pacific. The culture of these people is very, very important and anytime there is a change it becomes a very difficult implementation process.

What we have tried to do is to spend time on instructional implementation and working with the teachers on trying new teaching strategies in hopes that they may start to see a difference in the performance of students they serve.  This has been very difficult work as change does not come easy to those who are so ingrained in past practice and cultural tradition. There is a tremendous need to assist the administrators in learning and understanding instructional leadership strategies and skills.  We see very little evidence of administrators knowing what is effective teaching, in fact we see very little evidence of administrators going into classrooms and observing teachers except for evaluation purposes. The problem is they evaluate and do not have a clear vision of what effective teaching looks like or what they are seeing.  In the south pacific, Fiji for sure, and I am sure the other islands as well there is a need to provide professional development for principals and what their role should be in the 21st century school.  From our evaluation this is the only way that the children of the south pacific will be able to survive in a world that is moving quickly in a direction that will leave the south pacific students at a major disadvantage for generations to come.

An example of this is we are working at the Primary School with the reading program and helping teachers learn how to evaluate the reading level of their students.  The Primary School is a school for students who enter at kindergarten through year six.  They call grades here years.  In the US it would be a K-6 school.  In helping the teachers to understand their students reading and comprehension reading level, it is not to uncommon to find some 5th and 6th year students reading at the primer and pre-primer levels.  Just to be fair to those of you who understand what we are talking about here, we also have some students who are reading at the 8th and 9th year levels also, but those students are very few in number.  most of the students are reading and comprehending anywhere between one to three years behind there grade placement. There is no program for remedial reading or resources, either human or material to provide such a program.  There appears that there is no vision or rush to provide such resources and if there were material resources available there are no human resources available to carry out the needed programs.

The present administrator at he college, in his first year in Fiji and first year as a principal has done a very good job in identifying the limitations and needs of the school. Hopefully he will stay at the school for a period of time to implement and see through the initiatives that he is trying to put into place.  He has the potential to be an exceptional leader and one that is sorely needed at this time.

Thanks for reading this post, we are having the time of our lives and we are so grateful that the Heavenly Father has seen fit to call us to serve the people of Fiji.  These are wonderful and beautiful people who are proud of who they are and want to do better.  They love the Lord and we see that everyday in the schools that we serve.  The church schools are strong in spiritual education and the children are getting a spiritual education that will build strong testimonies for the rest of there lives.  It brings tears to our eyes as we watch and interact with these sweet children and youth as they grow and develop the skills and abilities in becoming an adult.  The isles of the South Pacific are a special place.  Life is slow but it is direct and the people are God fearing and want to do what is right.

August 2014 in Fiji…

Well August in Fiji is a time when the second term at the Primary School and LDS College comes to an end. The school year is organized into three terms, nine weeks of school and two weeks vacation. The school year runs from mid-January until mid-November. In the southern hemisphere their summer vacation is from mid-November until mid-January. During the end of the second term the college was involved in many activities and sporting events. They have their national basketball tournament during this time. All three level basketball teams were national champions in 2013 so they are out to defend their national championships this year. When the tournament was completed, one LDS team (Under 15 Boys) repeated as National Champions. The under 17 team was runner-up and had a very successful year. The Under 19 Boys lost in the quarter finals and did not have a chance to defend their national title. The girls also competed in the national tournament and performed well but were unable to vie for a national championship.

This is the first year in quite awhile that the college is engaged in what is called the Tadra Khani which is where the college identifies a social issue and through sound, dance and acting tries to bring attention to the issue and how to solve the problem. There were 11 schools participating in this year’s competition. We had an opportunity to witness this event as it was held in Suva at the Vodaphone Arena. There were six specific prizes given for such areas as sound, theme, choreography, lighting, and a couple of others. The LDS College received the award in four out of six categories, and was runner-up for the National Grand Champion. The point difference between the National Champion and the 1st runner-up was one point. It was a wonderful evening of seeing many social issues identified as well as having the youth of Fiji present a way to solve many of the problems they face today.

During the two weeks that there was no school, Suva has what they call the Hibiscus Festival. It is a week long event with carnival rides for children, music, booths of every kind, and many live presentations of all kinds. They have a huge parade on the last day which brings out thousands of people. There is a King and Queen crowed as well as a Junior Queen. This year the Junior Queen was from the LDS College, a sophomore aged young lady.

We also had the opportunity to host our ITEP Coordinators who visited us from New Zealand. Elder and Sister Aland were here for three days visiting with us about our mission and provide valuable information and insight into being an ITEP missionary. We had a wonderful time hosting them and getting to know them. The final few days of our short vacation we spent with Elder and Sister Collins who are ITEP TVet Missionaries at the LDS College here in Suva. TVet missionaries are over the vocational programs at the college. They are from Arizona and have been here for about a year.

We had an opportunity to travel to the other side of the island and spend four days at the Wyndam Resort and Spa on Denarau Island. While we were there we toured the Garden of the Giants which has hundreds of different species of orchids aw well as other beautiful flowers and foliage. On the way home from Nandi, we stopped at several other resorts to take a peek at what they offered and how much it costs for future travel opportunities.

Here are some pictures that we took during the past several weeks. We hope you enjoy them. The first pictures are from the Hibiscus Festival.

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Some pictures from the Wyndom Resort

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An evening out, enjoying dinner and a fire dance…

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And finally, the beautiful Fijian sunsets…

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This entry was posted on September 1, 2014. 1 Comment

Well A Lot Has Happened…

Since our last post in June, a lot has happened.  We had our camera have a problem and it could not be fixed here in Fiji without having to take out a loan as it would have to be sent to Australia and then they would not guarantee that it could be fixed.  It was a Canon that was about 10 years old and they did not know if the LCD panel could be replaced.  Along with that the shipping, repairing charges and then the return shipping with Fiji import taxes would be more than the camera was worth so we decided to get a new camera. It is really a nice camera with all the bells and whistles.

Since our last post we have presented four professional development sessions with two at the Primary School and two at the College, We are helping the teachers identify their teaching styles and their learning styles.  There were many surprises with both the Primary and College faculties.  It was a revelation to many teachers of how they teach children and how they learn themselves.  As we discussed each of the four styles of both teaching and learning, the faculties started to see how the different styles both teaching and learning interacted with each other.  We had a great deal of fun with both faculties and it was a very valuable learning experience for all of them.

The real valuable of these experiences was the teachers understood that in their classrooms they have students who learn in different ways and not always how the teacher was teaching.  We discussed about the different teaching techniques that are needed to reach students learning styles.  Our next few sessions is to have each of the students find out how they learn and then we will share that with both faculties so they will know what type of learners are in their classes. Then the fun begins!

At the same time we are working on teaching styles and learning styles with both teachers and students, Paula is leading a workshop with the Primary teachers on incorporating the Informal Reading Inventory (IRI) that helps the primary teachers evaluate the students reading ability in the area of comprehension, which includes identifying the main idea, cause and effect, inferencing and vocabulary as well as details, and sequencing.  At this point the teachers have shown great interest in this process as they are eager to help their students become better readers as well as better learners of the English language.

If all of that is not enough, we have proposed a course titled,”Becoming a Zion School Through Effective Teaching.”  We are going to incorporate different teaching techniques that help the teachers with different learning styles that will assist the students with a better opportunity to grasp the content that is being presented in class.  The concept that was introduced to them earlier in a previous professional development session, that being the “Community of Learning,” will allow the teachers to visit each other’s classroom and observe teachers working on different teaching styles so they can visualize how different styles are taught and how students respond to different styles of teaching. We along with the teachers are excited to get the process started and evaluate the outcomes of such an initiative.

The teachers here are very dedicated to the profession but have not had the vision of change and looking at new strategies of impacting a student’s educational experience.  We believe that their vision is changing as their desire to look and experience something different is very evident.  Miracles can happen if there is a desire to improve.  We look forward to blogging on this topic as it is presented and the teachers have an opportunity to put it into practice,

We love this work and to see the teachers come alive is really a gratifying experience.  When the light bulb comes on the room becomes an exciting place.  Traditionally the Fijians are a respectful and quiet people, however, we have noticed that when they make connections to what they do and what can happen in their classroom, they come alive.  Tears start flowing and discussion takes place,at that point Paula and Bob step back and let it happen. We look at it as we provide rationale and information and then get out of their way so they can make it happen.

This is an amazing experience and one that has touched our hearts as we interact with teachers 7000 miles away from home and it is like we have known them all our lives.  These people are amazing and their spirit is alive and well.  The Lord is directing them and they are willing to allow the spirit to come in and help them in their work.

The following picture shows Paula teaching how to administer the Informal Reading Inventory (IRI). She does such a good job in teaching the teachers.

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Here, Bob is presenting some material of identifying the teacher’s teaching style.  This was an eye-opening activity for many of the teachers at both the Primary School and the LDS College.  They had never experienced this type of activity and were very impressed on the accuracy of the inventory.

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The LDS College faculty taking the Teaching Style Inventory.  Even the principal and both assistant principal’s wanted to know about their style.

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As missionaries who were called to Fiji to help teachers improve their teaching skills, we are seeing and experiencing a paradigm shift and look forward to seeing the results of what the teacher’s are doing.

 

 

 

This entry was posted on July 20, 2014. 1 Comment

Island Tour…

During our break from school, we took three days and drove around the island.  The following pictures are just some of the beautiful scenery that this island has to offer.  During our three day excursion, we had numerous stops in small villages and had the opportunity to talk with the people of Fiji and to feel their warmth and love.  Many times they were excited to see Americans and always wanted to know what we were doing here.  We had numerous times to tell our story of being missionaries and working with the church schools.  We were amazed as to how many wanted to know more about the church. Here are just a few pictures of our trip around Viti Levu (the main island where we are located).  

The first pictures are from the northern part of the island along King’s Highway.  Then the marina is on the western side at Nandi.  Then you will see pictures from the southern part of the island along Queen’s Highway or what is better known as the coral coast.

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The Educational System in the South Pacific…

For the past several weeks we have been engaged with both faculties, one at the Primary School and the other at the LDS College.  We have been busily engaged working with teachers to help them understand the “Community of Learning” concept.  For many teachers this is a brand new concept of collaboration and discussing both the theory and art of teaching.  Very few of the teachers had a comfort level of having another teacher come into their classroom while they were teaching and observe them. And then, having a conversation about what happened during the observation. Many teachers did it apprehensively not knowing what the conversation would be like after the observation.

We stressed that this exercise would have absolutely nothing to do with the evaluation process or employment retainment.   This was about talking about teaching between two professionals who love their students in their classrooms.  At the beginning, they were not sure that this would be the case. The concept of working together in the teaching setting did not appear to be the standard mode of operation in schools in Fiji.  With some hesitation and a great deal of encouragement the faculties tried this concept. Each faculty member was to invite another faculty member into their classroom to observe the teacher on how he/she taught their class.  Each teacher was to let the observing teacher know what they were going to be doing and ask the observer to look for things that, either the teacher want to get feedback on or observe several components of the lesson.  Since this was the first time that many of the teachers had a foreign body in there classroom, we set that the observer would only stay for 10 to 15 minutes and then leave.

After the observation, both teacher and observer were to have a conversation about what happened when the observation took place. The observer was to address three questions, what went well?, what did go well (if anything)?,  and if you were to teach that class again, what might you do differently?  We were anxious to get their feedback after the observation was completed.  Each teacher was going to be observed by another teacher and then they were to be an observer for another teacher. Upon completion of the observation and having the conversation between the teacher and observer, there was a short form that they would complete together and submit it to Paula and I so we could monitor what had happened.

As you may have known what happened, for the first time, some observation reports were rather short but all of them were very insightful on the part of both the teacher and observer.   We were pleased with magnitude and insightful conversations that took place. The faculty felt that it was threatening at the beginning but by the end of the process both the teacher and observer started to feel comfortable in talking about teaching.  The bottom line was they asked when they could do another round of “Community of Learning.” We told them that this was just the beginning of a wonderful professional development experience that we would like to see for the remainder of the school year.

Stay tuned for more Community of Learning…

This entry was posted on May 22, 2014. 1 Comment

Primary School Professional Development…

On April 17th we had a special professional development day with the LDS Primary School Faculty. With the help of the LDS College principal and our visiting coordinators from New Zealand, it was a day to remember.  As always we started out with a song and prayer to get everyone in the right frame of mind.  Our LDS College principal, Michael Carthew then presented the topic of the day, becoming a Zion school and faculty.  His remarks were inspiring and touched many of the teachers as we noticed and observed their reactions to what was being said.  He talked about what makes up a Zion school and what should be our mission in church schools.  Michael went on to introduce the concepts of spirituality, vision, unity, and excellence and how each one turns an ordinary school into a Zion school.  Also, Michael also presented a refresher of the SIOP model which helped the teachers refocus on learning for students where English is not their first language.  The church schools in Fiji are taught in English but most of the students have English as a second language.  It is a challenge for teachers to teach in English when some children enter school with very limited English speaking skills.

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After Michael finished, we took his presentation to the next level and presented the concept of Community of Learning and becoming a Zion faculty.  If we are to become a Zion School, then we need to become a Zion Faculty.

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As we presented, there was a great discussion and interaction among the faculty and staff as to what it will take to move the a Zion faculty.  It was exciting to see how the teachers were interpreting what was being presented.  As we presented concepts and talked about what type of influence they can and will bring into their classrooms you could tell and see the emotions that were being developed. It was awesome to see the change in their thought process and how they might use this information to make a difference in a child’s life and education.

During the presentation we presented a scenario on how to become a Community of Learners and Paula taught a reading lesson as if she was teaching to a elementary (primary) class.  She took about 10 minutes and the faculty were to be observers in her classroom.

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As she was teaching, the observers were to be thinking that their students were being taught by Paula.  We asked the teachers to collect information from the lesson so they could have a conversation with Paula after the teaching segment.  The conversation would center around three questions:

1. What went well in the teaching segment?

2. What didn’t go so well (remember, the observers were thinking about Paula teaching their students).

3. If you would teach this lesson again, what might you do differently?

When Paula was finished teaching we were pleasantly surprised that the teachers engaged in the conversation and really started talking about what went well and how they might do some things in their classrooms.  They talked about their classrooms and what they might try in the future.  It was fun to see and feel their minds working to come up with new ideas about teaching.

As with all professional development, there is a need to make sure that the time that was spent in professional development did not go to waste so we challenged the faculty to become involved with the teaching/learning process.  The concept of Community of Learning was introduced and each faculty member was challenged to go into another faculty member’s classroom and observe a segment of a lesson and then by using the three questions we introduced with Paula’s lesson, they were to have a conversation with their teacher who they were observing and talk about what happened in their observation.  We will be monitoring this process and having a follow-up session with the faculty as they move forward the concept,”teaching one another.”

After our professional development presentation, we presented each faculty member and administrator with a tee-shirt.  Since they wanted to become a Zion Primary School and a Zion Faculty, we thought it appropriate to let the world know what was happening in the Fiji LDS Primary School.

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This was a wonderful professional development session and we believe that the school and faculty will make a difference for children, both spiritually and educationally.  By working together in a “Community of Learning”  both the teachers and students will learn and understand that we are all “children of our Heavenly Father,” and we need to teach one another.

After the professional development session, the faculty honored our guests from New Zealand, Elder and Sister Jacobsen, who are the coordinators of the ITEP missionary program of the church.  Here are a few pictures that will show their love and appreciation for the Jacobsen’s as they will be ending their mission and going home in June.

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They were presented with a gift to remember their time in Fiji.  They were also sung to with a traditional song that Fijians sing when someone leaves that they love and admire.  In the picture you can see the faculty waving goodbye.  In the church that means, “until we meet again.”

After the presentation the faculty had something to eat…we needed to get back to the college for an Easter Devotional so we missed out, oh darn! :)

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It was a wonderful experience and a great day!

 

 

This entry was posted on April 23, 2014. 1 Comment

A Senior Moment to Remember…

On our preparation day senior couples usually get together to either have a luncheon or to plan an all day activity.  The activity planned this time was to travel to Moon Reef, Fiji about 21/2 hours north of Suva to see spinner dolphins perform.  One couple had already been there and said that it is a must see for the seniors.  We left the temple parking lot at 7 am in a van built for 12 people and a car.  There were twelve senior missionaries traveling this time. As you look at the pictures, this is what we experienced in our travels to and from Suva.  You will see a rural area with very poor roads, many people walking along side of the road because that is their only mode of transportation.  The pictures of homes are actual homes where people live and raise families.  These people do not know that they are poor  because that is the way of life here in rural Fiji.  The people live off the land.  You will see farm stands along side of the road where people have their business.  That is how they make money, the only way they make money.  You will see bus stops that need to be torn down because they are so dangerous.  You can take a bus around the island, which would take approximately eight hours or maybe more because of the poor roads and it would cost 18 Fijian dollars (9 US).  Well we hope you enjoy the pictures and our outing, it was a fabulous time and we had a world of fun…

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