Seeing The Good In At-Home Learning - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Miki Tomita

Miki Tomita is the CEO and founder of Education Incubator.

Last spring “distance learning” became one of the hottest and, for many, most uncomfortable phrases of the school year. And speaking of uncomfortable phrases: I have a visceral dislike of “social distancing.” Yes, physical distancing may be vital now, but we should be working harder than ever to strengthen our social connection.

But back to distance learning. In March, people across the islands experienced collective whiplash as we pivoted hard to a safer-at-home configuration, with students diving in to learning-from-home and parents and teachers shifting to working-from-home or worse, to being at home with no work.

Day after day, gaps in resources were uncovered and people came together to meet the needs of our communities. While this effort exposed — and continues to expose — the disparities and weaknesses in our current systems, the bright spot was seeing so many people responding immediately to the crisis. I felt like I could finally see the crest of the wave of community transformation that has been rolling in from far offshore for some time now.

Sixth-grader Mayumi uses Post-it notes, the Stellarium app and a window in her home to chart the movement of the sun, moon and stars. Courtesy: Miki Tomita

Teachers, administrators, funders, parents and community members jumped in to try to solve challenges like securing and mobilizing devices and access for young people, hosting development sessions in an unplanned-for virtual environment, and working to hold safe space as we experienced soul-wrenching growing pains in the midst of a pandemic.

I have worked at the intersection of place-based learning, educational technology, and experiential education for decades, and the connection I witnessed at the end of the last school year felt truly unprecedented. Dozens and sometimes hundreds of teachers and parents who were being forced through the digital door were looking for a community to help them cope, and advocates who have for years led the charge to enhance education through technology were able to share best practices in more ways than ever before. We did not fill every gap, and we did not right every wrong, but we did stretch, grow, and build strength together.

Yet even with all of the good, for many the digital experience remained an unfortunate Plan B — something we planned around, not for.

So here we are. The 2020-21 school year started yesterday in Hawaii. We spent months trying to figure out how to keep our kids safe and our classrooms open. We have contemplated listening in spaces divided by plastic shields, teaching either shorter or longer blocks than we are used to or outside our areas of expertise, disinfecting all surfaces after each class and maintaining PPEs as school supplies.

And then came the news we were hoping would never need to come again: Most schools will not re-open for classes this week and will return to a distance-learning model for at least the next few weeks.

To some, this may feel like the worst possible scenario. But it does offer us an opportunity to keep building on the gains of the spring and to further lean in to the potential of distance — but not distant — learning. What if, instead of feeling trapped, we incorporate the outside world as our classroom and co-teacher? What if we focus on purpose-driven explorations into our selves, our communities, and our cultures?

This idea doesn’t mean increasing screen time. Kids need to move, to explore, to stretch, to grow, to experiment, to create. But what if, in addition to best practices such as minimizing passive screen time, creating schedules for connection, and not over-programming, we considered incorporating some of these tested lessons over the next few weeks:

Look Out, Look Around, Look Up

  • Create an observation spot for studying the sky and weather, and nurture your relationship with nature. If you have the ability to be outside, be outside. If you cannot, find a spot inside where you can see out. The most important thing is the ability to return to the same spot, day after day and night after night, to observe the path of the sun, moon and stars; to observe the wind, rain and clouds; to listen to the sounds of the world around you. Track observations with a written, video or photo journal, or simply tape a sheet of plastic wrap across the window and mark the path of celestial beings over time with a pen. You might be surprised at the patterns (and irregularities) you observe. To help you put names to your observations, use an app like Stellarium (which includes information linked to Polynesian constellations created by local kids).
  • Build an approximation of a star compass around you and carry this understanding of place and space within you. Orient yourself to the sunrise (generally towards the East) and sunset (generally towards the West), and this will lead you to North and South. Then divide the quadrants into 32 houses and use this compass as a map for helping you chart your celestial observations.  You can learn more about the star compass and Hawaii’s famous voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa by visiting the resource library of the Polynesian Voyaging Society.


  • Think of your favorite places, from beaches, mountains, and streams to urban corridors, neighborhoods and other islands. Do you know what their names mean? Can you uncover the names of the winds, the rains, the streams that flow through your neighborhood?  Names are a powerful tool for strengthening your connection to place. Is there someone in your family or community who could tell you the story of where you live? Could they share with you what has changed in your neighborhood over time? If not, start your research with websites like Wehewehe and Ulukau.
  • Explore your ancestral and cultural history by interviewing family members. Where did your family come from? Where has your family been? What are some unique stories of family members over time? Or just have a conversation about your family history — no questions, just let the conversation flow and the learning happen. Also remember, your family doesn’t have to be related to you by blood. It could be people you grew up with, people you spend your time with, people you share interests with.

Cultivate Peace And Kindness

  • Design a corner in your home for peace. Integrate art, music, literature, and food into this space of comfort and safety. Create a list of peaceful practices that anyone can follow in this space, starting with kindness and forgiveness.
  • Practice gratitude in many ways. Consider saying thank you to everyone in your household every day for some action or kindness, writing a letter to someone farther away to let them know you are thinking of them, or calling a friend to connect and share something you are grateful for.

In this time all of our strengths and weaknesses are rising to the surface. And where we see the gaps persisting — because there will be gaps until peace and a thriving existence for all is a reality — let’s continue to work as a collective to bring our positivity and light to this healing work as so many in our communities have done and continue to do.

Share Your Ideas

As a proponent of purpose-driven, place-based education focused on positive change, I know that practices like those described above are not new in education. They may, however, be new to some of us as we learn and work at home. Why not let the technology we have access to help us explore passion, purpose, and place? We can utilize this forced departure from the norm to lean into community-grounded, technology-enhanced practices for cultivating learning and living for our children, our families, our communities, and our Island Earth.


If you are interested in learning more, sign up for Education Incubator’s free Foundations of ALOHA program and join families, educators, and individuals as we build on the ALOHA teachings of Auntie Pilahi Paki and Pono Shim to strengthen ourselves, our homes, our communities and our world through daily conversation, mindfulness, creativity and movement, and place-based lessons and learnings.

Read this next:

Hawaii Principals Are Left To Trust Their 'Gut' On How To Reopen Schools

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About the Author

Miki Tomita

Miki Tomita is the CEO and founder of Education Incubator.

Latest Comments (0)

LOVE this!  Yes, now is the time to reconnect with ʻāina.  This doesnÊ»t mean drop everything and stare at the sky all day.  It means being present whenever we go outside, even for little things like laundry or getting in or out of the car, and taking a brief moment to inhale an exhale, and look around.  It only takes brief daily moments to reconnect with our place, and each other.As an educator I want to acknowledge all parents out there who are doing the very best they can to continue education for your kids.  As kidsÊ» first and foremost teacher, what they are learning from parents at home is EQUALLY VALUABLE.  Whether it be household chores, gardening, teaching family recipes, learning how to mow the lawn, those are all bits and pieces of kuleana (responsibility and privilege occurring simultaneously) that kids are learning.  They are also learning (and reinforcing) what it means to be Ê»ohana.  Mahalo for this article!

starlakea · 3 years ago

Unfortunately this is unsustainable with Hawaii's high cost of living.  Parents have had to find ways to occupy their children, especially with the current school and childcare systems failing them.With federal funding drying up and no hard date for even re-opening the economy, pending lay-offs, parents will be forced to seek employment and multiple jobs to support their families.These ideas are simple and need to be implemented at the school level as supplemental activities.

surferx808 · 3 years ago

You assume that we can all work from home to pay our bills and that we all have the means to support ourselves and be there 100% of the time for our kids during this distance learning. How do you suppose one works from home and yet has the time to supervise our children’s learning? Even worse how do we choose between our children’s education and having a parent stay at home versus working and paying our bills or risk eviction or bankruptcy??? We pay a ton in taxes and those taxes pay for our kids to GO to school not sit home in some fantasy land where you live!

oahu49er · 3 years ago

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