Teacher Feature: Bill Chen, Kealakehe High
By Kamela Souza, Hōkūpa‘a
Bill Chen started as a Vice Principal at Kealakehe High School last summer but has worked in West Hawai’i schools for eight years. Previously, he taught students at Kahakai Elementary School on a Teach for America assignment, first as a third-grade teacher and then as an academic coach. He transitioned into an administrative role through the Department of Education’s (DOE) leadership pathway for teachers. He is originally from San Gabriel, California.
Bill is a great proponent of learning and creating with others, evidenced both by his time as a teacher and his approach to his new administrative position.
At Kahakai Elementary, Bill was deeply involved in “microteaching cadres” – groups of teachers working to improve particular teaching strategies. Someone would film a demonstration, then the others recorded their own attempts and received feedback from the group. It was a no-cost way to make improvements by utilizing perhaps the most valuable resource every school has: its dedicated teachers!
Teacher-level efforts can flourish and create sustainable innovation when administrators support the work. Principal Jim DeKnight supported the Kahakai microteaching cadres by providing stipends as a bonus to the intrinsic value of the work and fellowship. Bill believes that the cadres continued after he left Kahakai because teachers and administrators found them important and rewarding.
Will the cadres develop at Kealakehe High, as well? Bill hopes so! He is happy to share resources and advise anyone interested in creating their own cadres. His contact information is at the end of the article.
Wi-Fi on Wheels
Bill is also sensitive to the importance of addressing families’ needs. Before COVID-19, few people were aware of the need for increased equitable access to technology for students and families. At Kahakai, Bill acquired funds from Teach For America to create a “Wi-Fi on Wheels” program. AT&T and T-Mobile provided connections, and the County of Hawai’i provided a vehicle. This work proved valuable when the DOE had to quickly provide connectivity at the start of remote learning last fall.
Becoming a Leader
Becoming a vice principal and switching from an elementary school to a high school is a big adjustment, especially in Summer 2020. Bill has been learning from other vice principals while knowing that their current duties are different from a normal school year. With less time spent on tasks like disciplinary action for students, he can focus on learning and building relationships. Distance learning still allows him to connect by popping into virtual classrooms.
Bill believes it’s important to build relationships before pushing innovation. Each school has a unique culture and history, and Bill advises new administrators to be especially attentive to learning how the staff interacts with one another. Building relationships and being clear about the context and purpose of requests have helped encourage teachers to share their thoughts.
Working with teachers is a highlight of Bill’s career in the DOE because he believes that building up and learning from one another allows innovation to grow. He views his new leadership role as an extension of his original motivations for working in schools: impacting students and supporting teachers. Being a teacher allowed him to make a big impact on a small number of students. Now he has the opportunity to reach more people and address broader issues at the school level, especially issues affecting marginalized groups. However, there is no predefined “right reason” to become a leader. Bill encourages anyone wanting to be a leader to first think about whether it matches their passion — whatever it may be — and then go for it.
Bill encourages people to innovate during this time. Many systems are disrupted, providing an opportunity to experiment and create lasting change. However, we should recognize that many people are tired and discouraged. A great idea may have to wait until the right time. Hold on to those ideas!
Bill’s Tips for Innovating
- Think about the available assets for what you want to do.
- Talk to or survey the people that are the target of your innovation.
- Check if your plan or program could be more equitable.
Bill’s latest innovative project is in partnership with Kealakehe Intermediate School’s Mathieu Williams (who was our November Teacher Feature). Together, they started an online learning hub to empower and connect youth. Through the Be Curious hub, they hope to nurture student curiosity, engender a sense of belonging and empower student agency. Students are leaders in the learning process and learn from one another. The hub doesn’t exist in a bubble, however – Mathieu and Bill encourage students to pick projects they are passionate about that address community issues. The pilot project is funded by 4.0 Schools.
Connecting and Getting Involved
Bill wants to credit those who helped him along his journey. He is grateful to David Miyashiro, director of Hawai’i Children’s Action Network (HCAN), for his support and the work he does – he enthusiastically recommends connecting with HCAN if you are interested in “bridging the technology gap” ([email protected]).
He is also a big fan of Kealakehe High School and Kahakai Elementary School. If you’d like to be involved, Bill suggests volunteering for or donating to local schools, especially the two closest to his heart. A big need right now is supplies to do outreach to students who have disconnected from school; money to purchase food and create learning kits as part of that outreach would be very appreciated!
Bill’s Recommended Reading, Listening, and Following:
Visit the BeCurious website to learn more and support the project here: http://www.westhawaiistudents.org/
Follow #808Educate on Twitter to keep up with a grassroots group of Hawaii State Teacher Fellows. You can learn from local teacher-leaders and find resources.
Check out the Maestros Vibe podcast by three Hawai’i Island public educators. http://www.maestrosvibe.com/podcast/ or @maestrosvibe on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter