I ran into an old friend recently as we both arrived for a teaching workshop at Iolani School.

The early morning sun reflected brightly off his sunglasses as we greeted each other behind the dented bumper of my old Subaru Forester. Formerly a public elementary school teacher, he had just transitioned to a private school.

During the workshop we delved deeply into how to transform mental models to create systemic sustainable change in our schools and our world. By mid-morning our heads were swirling and it was time for a coffee break. After a little small talk, I asked my old friend what was really on my mind.

Punahou School is one of many private schools in Hawaii. PF Bentley/Civil Beat/2014

“How is it over there?” I was expecting to hear about the opulent facilities, engaged students and rigorous curriculum.

“Honestly, it’s not too different,” was his reply.

In the days that followed, I spoke with several educators who have recently made the move from public to private schools. Every school is unique, but trends emerged.

Notable differences include that private schools have better access to modern facilities, lower student-teacher ratio and increased student access to technology.

Some of the teachers also talked about generally lower pay and benefits at private schools, despite the fact that parents pay for the students’ tuitions.

For all the significant differences, there were plenty of similarities.

Community Partners And Training

Hawaii’s public and private schools partner with many of the same community resources to offer meaningful learning experiences for their students.

My public school fourth-graders enjoy visits from presenters from Honolulu Theater for the Youth at the beginning of the school year to learn about early Hawaiian voyaging. The nonprofit organization Papahana Kuaola provides educational programs focused on environmental restoration to both public and private school children.

Teachers in both public and private schools routinely engage in professional development opportunities, and many of them are the same. All three workshops I have attended in the past six months have had both public and private school teachers and staff.

Typically educators work in mixed groups of both public and private school educators to learn content and strategies to bring back to our students, staff, and school communities. Similarly, The Schools of the Future Conference showcases trailblazers in the education field from both public and private school settings.

Some general trends that are seen in both public and private schools settings are less homework, fewer tests, more thinking/inquiry/questioning and more emphasis on sustainability and global issues.

Place-based, project-based and hands-on experiences are the direction all schools are heading in an effort to create deep-thinking, empathetic problem-solvers.

‘Equally As Hardworking’

When asked about his new colleagues, my old friend had this to say: “Teachers at both schools are equally as hardworking and dedicated.”

It’s no wonder there are similarities in attitude and work ethic. Many private school teachers began as public school teachers.

Just this year, five teachers I know have transitioned from teaching in public schools to private schools.

Many times students in public and private schools use the same books. My fourth-graders are learning the same vocabulary as many private school students in the Wordly Wise vocabulary program.

Teachers I spoke from both public and private schools said they are conducting readers’ and writers’ workshops with students to improve literacy. And both seem to be placing an emphasis on reading and time to read independently as well as matching students with appropriate, specific reading levels.

After teaching in public school for five years, one teacher I spoke with is halfway through her first year at a private school. She found that she had a lot to share with her new colleagues who were “super-interested. There is a lot for all of us to learn from each other.”

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