Lynette Finau honoured with Excellence in Education Award

A Tongan born teacher in the United States, Lynette Suliana Sikahema Finau of Arizona, will be distinguished with the “Excellence in Education Award” at the annual Community Voice Awards in Seattle.

Lynette currently works as an English teacher at Spanaway Lake High School in the state of Washington. According to the International Examiner, Lynette is one of the few certificated Pacific Islander teachers in Washington.

In 2013, she was appointed by her state’s Governor to serve as a Board Commissioner for Washington State’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs (CAPAA). Her role was to assist in creating a culture where full participation and social equality of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are achievable.

The International Examiner announced its recognition of Lynette yesterday. Lynette was only a child when she moved with her family to the United States from Tonga. They settled in Mesa, Arizona where she was raised. Lynette now resides in Seattle, Washington.

Lynette studied at the University of Washington where she graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies on Culture, Literature, and the Arts. She also achieved a dual Master’s Degree in Education and in Education Leadership and Change. Lynette is currently a PhD Candidate at Antioch University’s Graduate School of Leadership and Change Program. With teaching endorsements in English Composition, Literature and History.

She is currently conducting a Grounded Theory research on Reflective Leadership; the mirroring effectiveness (role model) of teachers reflecting the culture of the students and the power dynamics of student identity and academics as her dissertation. It is designed with the intention to help increase the number of teachers of colour as an essential component toward closing the achievement gap.

Lynette told the newspaper that the most important issue for Pacific Islanders in America concerning education was the ability of students to adapt to a multi-cultural environment.

The most important issue, to me, is the education of Pacific Islander students in a constant evolving process of living in a multicultural, multiethnic society, yet still limited with skills and tools needed to be successful in school.”

She said she enjoyed teaching because it kept her close to her children.

I chose teaching as a profession because it is the only career that would keep me close to my children and be well-informed on resources available to help them. Little did I know that what started as a target toward helping my own children extended to all Pacific Islander students. I’m drawn to education, especially middle school and high school, because somewhere along this difficult stage will and should be the turning point for them to recognize what is in store for them in the future, their place in it, and what skill sets they need to excel. Leadership is extremely important to them at this stage.”

Since entering the teaching profession, I have been astounded by the lack of teachers of color represented in the education system, given how global classrooms are today. Students of color are the demographic majority in the United States. In contrast, minority teachers make up less than 20% of the teaching force. The number of teachers of color, nationwide, is in no way in parity with the number of students of color. Add to this mismatch are the disparities in achievement gap between race and ethnicity.

This lack of Reflective Leadership (as I call it) for students of color, stirs my interest to examine major existing statistics, explore arguments, and critique analyses on the state of diversity in the teaching force. I am examining and analyzing the literature on research and scholarly work on students and teachers’ perceptions on identity and using Grounded Theory methodology on my experiences as a Pacific Islands teacher and the effect it has on Pacific Islands students. There is limited research and scholarly work to indicate that lack of Reflective Leadership in the classroom contributes to the achievement gap for students of color, and in particular Pacific Islander students. My goal is to add my own scholarship and research to this under researched area of inquiry as a tool towards narrowing the achievement gap.

Pacific Islands teachers are a rarity in the education system, yet Pacific Islands student enrollment has increased nationwide in the past 30 years and unfortunately, a high percentage of the Pacific Islands student population exists within the achievement gap. With this continued underservicing and underrepresentation in the teaching force, how can we ensure that students of color succeed in the classroom? Increasing the number of teachers of color as mirrors or role models is one of many factors that can contribute to narrowing the achievement gap and the vision gap. This is the gap that can arise in how students of color view themselves as future professionals.

After all, it is difficult for students to be what they cannot see. Students need mirrors. They need to see themselves reflected in the curriculum and see teachers who reflect back to them their language, their culture, their ethnicity, their religion, and their experiences. In the teaching profession, there are not enough mirrors for students of color, especially when there is a clear relationship between teacher quality, diversity and student success.”

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