A New Way of Teaching (And Learning)

A new head of school – Timothy Cottrell (center) – and an under-construction Sullivan Learning Center, not to mention an entirely new way of teaching kids, makes Iolani School a leader in education, not just locally but nationally. With the new head man are Doc Inouye, dean of instruction, and Allison Ishii, community service learning coordinator

A new head of school, a world-class learning center and ’empathy education’ have the Iolani School community soaring like ‘heavenly hawks’

What kind of homework did your child bring home today? Math calculations? Reading about the Renaissance period? A civics assignment about how laws are made?

Nothing wrong with that. It’s textbook. Iolani students, on the other hand, are asked to solve world problems.

Timothy Cottrell, Ph.D.

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Timothy Cottrell, Ph.D., comes to Iolani after an international search for a new head of school. Photos By Nathalie Walker

What, you say, isn’t that a bit over the top? Can we really ask a kid to have a broader view of the world beyond the music on his iPod and text-chatting with friends?

If the educators at Iolani School have anything to say about it, the nurturing of a world citizen is exactly what should be happening.

The frustrated taxpayer who laments the quality of education in the state today might well pay attention to what’s happening at the Raider campus. It is not so much revolutionary as it is evolutionary about how learning and teaching have changed.

While we’re wailing about why things aren’t better in our public education, Iolani is engaged in a dramatic paradigm shift that is a model for higher scholastic standards. It is embarking on a 21st century education model known as “empathy education.”

Empathy is the ability to look at a situation from another point of view. Empathy educators are focused on nurturing learning rather than judging performance.

Academic basics – reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic – are not going away, but Iolani’s new-age educators say schooling goals must now be holistic and not limit curriculum design to workplace readiness.

They point out today’s kindergarteners will be retiring in the year 2067. Although it’s not known what the world will be like, teachers are charged with preparing students for life in that future. Students even now function in an increasingly diverse, globalized and complex, media-saturated society.

While it’s true that all naturally curious children love to learn, they are learning differently today. Age-old teaching methods and tools impede, rather than accelerate intellectual stimulation.

Before we lose you in a cloud of educational platitudes, let’s return to the Iolani campus to examine what is taking place and why. The impact is far-reaching.

Iolani, located at 563 Kamoku St. in McCully, is a private, coed, college preparatory school serving more than 1,800 students. Affiliated with the Episcopal Church, it is one of the largest independent schools in the United States. It was patronized by Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, who gave the school its name (meaning “heavenly hawk”) in 1870.

It was auspicious because Iolani is indeed taking flight as it embarks on its 150th year.

Two major developments – a leadership change and a new learning center – are setting the course for its future.

In a leadership transition, Timothy R. Cottrell succeeds retiring headmaster Val T. Iwashita, who was a driving force at Iolani for 17 years. Iwashita was the first Iolani alumnus to be head of school and the first Asian-American named to the post.

Looking for inspired leadership for today and tomorrow was the task of Iolani’s board of governors headed by Jenai Wall, chairman-CEO of Foodland Super Markets. An intensive five-month search, with candidates from across the country and Europe, resulted in the hiring of Cottrell, who arrived in the Islands a few weeks ago.

“Tim was our top choice by far,” Wall says. “We wanted someone who had a strong vision as well as respect for the values and culture of our school. At the same time, we wanted someone who would take us into the future, building on the success we have here.”

Dr. Cottrell, 47, was formerly head at The Harley School, an independent college preparatory school serving 520 students in nursery through 12th grade in Rochester, N.Y.

Under his leadership, The Harley School set record enrollment levels, won a prestigious E.E. Ford Foundation Educational Leadership Grant to establish a Center for Mindfulness and Empathy Education, and formed partnerships focused on sustainability education with the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology.

Cottrell, a native New Yorker, has a B.S. in chemical engineering from Syracuse University and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton University.

Prior to Harley, he founded his own company, Princeton Teaching Associates Software, an interactive multimedia software company. His success as an entrepreneur led to Silicon Valley, but his love for teaching also kept him at The Lawrence School as a part-time teacher.

The new Iolani administrator and wife Lisa have two sons, Connor, 11, and Sean, 9.

“The honor to lead Iolani and become part of the remarkable faculty, staff, parent and alumni communities is the greatest opportunity of my career,” Dr. Cottrell says.

“Good entrepreneurs are opportunists, not inventors,” he adds. “There’s a difference.”

“(My job) is really a stewardship of the school, community and traditions,” the education executive says. “The best change at schools, even if it sounds oxymoronic, comes from within.”

To put infrastructure and project-based instruction around that vision, Iolani recently broke ground on a $23-million, four-story building named after its lead donor, Joanna Lau Sullivan, matriarch of the Sullivan Foundation and Foodland corporate family.

Sullivan Center, scheduled for completion in fall 2013, will house a new library, movable wet labs, flexible project space, conference rooms, a media lab, audio-visual rooms, and a rooftop garden. It also will be home to robotics and community service programs.

The 40,000-square-foot structure, which is in the middle of Iolani’s 25-acre campus, is designed to encourage creativity, collaboration and citizenship for grades K-12.

Cottrell hails the facility as a “hub for hands-on learning that will equip students with the technological skills, global mindset and culture of collaboration that will inspire them to apply classroom knowledge to real-world issues.”

He characterizes its recent turning-ofthe-sod ceremony as “groundbreaking” in more than one sense.

This brings us back to empathy education that speaks to the skill sets students need today and tomorrow (the conceptual age) to counter the outmoded thinking of the industrial and information age.

Yes, folks, the information age is already passé. Your left-brain skills that relied in the past on text, detail and logic must switch to the right-brain skills of aesthetics, feeling and creativity.

If educators (and parents) don’t get into this new frame of mind, there can be a disconnect with the emotions, abilities and potential of the younger generation.

Developing positive relationships, in the classroom or on the job, requires empathy skills like listening to others, understanding verbal and nonverbal cues, and learning to understand and appreciate the differences in others.

Did we hear someone say “global village”?

This inclusive view of the world has serious implications for the way instructors relate to students and how they stimulate and motivate them to learn.

That challenge is the purview of Carey “Doc” Inouye, Ph.D., Iolani’s dean of instruction and an alumnus of the class of ’66.

Inouye, a well-respected figure at Iolani as physics instructor and past Raider assistant baseball coach, is always amazed at how pupils translate textbook learning to real-life situations.

“We challenge them constantly and they rise to the occasion,” Inouye says. “They put their hearts, souls and minds into everything they do. When we discover their passions, we need to support that and let them gain as much as possible.”

This is the core of applied studies to which the Sullivan Center is dedicated.

“If we do our jobs right, we bring out the best in students,” he says of his One Team approach to training and directing instructors. “It goes beyond the classroom.

“For example, the 10th anniversary of the Iolani Film Festival is coming up, when we will showcase student-produced films and stories,” he points out. “Yet we don’t teach a class in filmmaking.”

“No longer does the teacher have all the answers,” the veteran educator says. “The Sullivan Center facilitates the learning exploratory process and problem-solving skills that young people need for jobs that don’t exist right now.”

Another facet of the new Sullivan Center will be incorporating service learning into the curriculum. This is the role of Allison Ishii, community service learning coordinator.

Ishii, Iolani class of ’02, works with teams or classes to do community service projects.

Its KA’I (Kukulu Alakai Iolani) program, for instance, is a partnership between Iolani and Jarrett Middle School in Palolo.

“This is a summer academic enrichment program for economically disadvantaged middle school students,” Ishii explains.

Thirteen seventh-graders are enrolled this summer and will return each summer until they graduate to work with Iolani teachers on team-building, goal-setting, Hawaiian studies, current events and leadership.

This community outreach allows Iolani to be learning ambassadors in the community. While it is not unique to Iolani, one sees how such a program allows a private school to cross over into public service and open its doors to the community.

For the skeptical few out there who will categorize Iolani’s new era of empathy education as grandstanding, we can but offer its story as a thought-starter for education leaders and entrepreneurs throughout the state. Admittedly, it takes resources – human, financial, and even spiritual – to make learning innovations happen on this scale.

It doesn’t happen overnight. It is an evolutionary process inspired by shared dialogue among the public and private stakeholders of the educational community.

Yet one must marvel that a model of experiential learning like the Sullivan Center is being established in Hawaii, one of the most isolated places on earth. It just might put us on the map.