Highlights of Exemplary Practices Aligned with the 18 Characteristics of Successful Middle Schools
Characteristic #2: The School Environment is welcoming, inclusive, and affirming for all.
Kamehameha Schools have a unique mission that utilizes Hawaiian culture as a cornerstone of all they do. The overarching essence of Kamehameha Schools is to develop a sense of pride and knowledge in their Hawaiian culture. The Hawaiian language is used throughout the schools and much of their instruction is provided with culture in mind. Students, staff, families, and the community are an integral part of teaching this culture and instilling a sense of pride in students based on who they are and their ancestral heritage. While most other schools have diverse cultures represented within the school rather than the singular culture of the Kamehameha Schools, there is much to learn and model from them. Their approach to self-esteem and pride in heritage can be replicated in any school, no matter the diversity of the setting. The basic tenets of cultural pride can be duplicated on teams or in the school as a whole community that is, in fact, unique from other schools. Indeed, Successful Middle Schools: This We Believe promotes this concept as a cornerstone of best practice. We would encourage schools to learn about Kamehameha Schools as they strive to develop their own unique school and/or team cultures.
Characteristic #3: Every student’s academic and personal development is guided by an adult advocate.
The Kamehameha Schools have a daily advisory program where students connect with their adult advisor in learning situations. These include SEL topics, Hawaiian culture, and current events. The advisors work closely with various community organizations in developing field trips pertinent to the organizations. SEL initiatives are a large part of this effort and initiatives include work with students who have experienced trauma, building positive relationships among students as well as students and adults, mentoring for students and adults, and school safety.
Characteristic #6: The school engages families as valued partners.
Kamehameha Schools embrace families in many aspects of the school experience. They reach out to all family members, including parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings to help support the schools through volunteer efforts. These include chaperoning dances and field trips, judging the school science fair, serving as speakers for interdisciplinary teams or for the total population, providing feedback on school initiatives, coffee hour get-togethers, and a Back to School Day where parents shadow their child for an entire day. In addition, they serve an important role in helping students understand and embrace their Hawaiian culture and legacy.
Characteristic #9: Curriculum is challenging, exploratory, integrative, and diverse.
Kamehameha Schools center their curriculum around the concept of interdisciplinary instruction to simulate real world learning. All students are members of interdisciplinary teams; four at each grade level, and each team consists of an English, science, social studies, and Hawaiian language teacher. The teachers have designed IDU’s that integrate content standards and deliver instruction based on a thematic approach rather than single subjects. This encourages students to explore multiple topics and develop diverse viewpoints. SEL competencies are embedded within these thematic units.
Characteristic # 17: Professional learning for all staff is relevant, long term, and job embedded.
The Leadership Team at the Kamehameha Schools is tasked with providing professional development opportunities that are relevant and responsive to the needs of students and faculty. Topics have included Adaptive Schools, PLC’s, Learning Forward, and Hawaiian culture experiences. The PLC’s have been designed to specifically focus on advancing the progress and growth of the schools, with topics including performance and evaluation, instruction and assessment, college and career readiness, and SEL. In addition, faculty has been provided multiple opportunities to attend conferences and workshops to enhance their professional knowledge of middle grades best practices.
Characteristic # 18: Organizational structures foster purposeful learning and meaningful relationships.
Kamehameha Schools have a particularly robust system of teams. In addition to a strong administrative team, they incorporate a teacher leadership team (content leads centered around the work of the PLC as well as operations), interdisciplinary teams (design integrated units of study, coordinate student workload, cultivate a sense of belonging among students, and monitor student well-being), and grade level support teams (meet weekly to discuss and respond to academic, behavioral, and social-emotional concerns). All staff members are involved in at least two of these teams, and the administrative team provides a framework for collaboration among all of the teams.