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Michelle Iwasaki

Michelle Iwasaki (HI '21)

Academic Coach

Kalihi Kai Elementary School
Honolulu, HI

Grade(s): K, 1, 4, 5

At the time of the Award, Michelle Iwasaki was:

Academic Coach
Kalihi Kai Elementary School
Honolulu, HI

Grade(s): K, 1, 4, 5


Biographical Information

Michelle Iwasaki, the academic coach for kindergarten, first, fourth, and fifth grades at Honolulu’s Kalihi Kai Elementary School, is always looking for long-term solutions to support and serve students. When the school partnered with Turnaround Arts in SY 2014-15, Iwasaki led the process of adding the program’s arts integration strategies into Kalihi Kai’s instructional program. Creative approaches like Tableau, Snapshot, Reading Art, Creative Movement, and Puppetry helped boost engagement and allowed students deeper access to curriculum materials as they worked on their literacy skills.

Iwasaki trains and mentors Kalihi Kai’s teachers in art integration strategies, conducts and coordinates related professional development and arts residencies, and leads visitations and presentations to other schools. When Mufi Hannemann, Honolulu’s former mayor and a former student at Kalihi Kai, visited the school with a group of Hawaii Pacific Fellows, Iwasaki led the same kind of Tiny Toy Tales lesson she used with six-year-olds for the dozen-plus adults in business suits. Participants were asked to retell a story using small toys as the characters, with Iwasaki modifying the story with repeated phrases and movements that improve both engagement and recollection. Turnaround Arts has had a profound impact on Kalihi Kai: The school “graduated” from the program thanks to improved student outcomes across the board and is no longer targeted as a Priority school by the state education department.

As a former classroom teacher who now mentors and trains educators, Iwasaki believes in building the capacity of others in the profession by broadening their understanding and strengthening their practice. She trains and supports colleagues in the use of high leverage, evidence-based teaching practices and explicit instruction strategies. She advocates for intentional planning to support English learners through the use of sheltered instructional protocols; she also supports teachers with inclusive practices to meet the needs of various learners. Iwasaki worked to develop a schoolwide RTI-A (Response to Intervention-Academic) system with diagnostic assessments, progress monitoring tools, and evidence-based interventions. She conducts bimonthly classroom observations for the school, shares data with teachers and teams to help them reflect upon and elevate their instructional practice, and prepares new teachers for observations. Iwasaki has presented at ECET2, a teacher-led community focused on teacher leadership and collaboration, as well as conferences like Schools of the Future.

A National Board Certified Teacher, Iwasaki empowers teachers to hold high expectations while helping students feel valued and achieve at their maximum potential. She worked with building leadership and each grade level to develop pacing guides geared toward focused learning targets, effective instructional strategies, assessment, intervention, and enrichment. Iwasaki collaborates with community partners like the University of Hawaii’ to provide targeted reading support for primary students, to help close the achievement gap at Kalihi Kai. She serves on the school’s academic review, leadership, arts leadership, MTSS, RTI-A, and literacy teams, and shepherded Kalihi Kai through its WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) accreditation process in 2018-19.

Iwasaki earned a bachelor’s in English in 2003 and a master’s in education in 2004 from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Press release: Michelle Iwasaki Earns $25,000 Milken Educator Award for Empowering Honolulu Teachers and Raising Achievement for Students


Michelle Iwasaki In The News

Teacher Morale Is at a Low Point. Here’s Where Some Are Finding Hope
Education Week  |  May 04 , 2022  |  Bethesda, MD

WATCH --> Teachers Across US Receive Surprise Awards
World News Tonight with David Muir  |  ABC  |  Apr 04 , 2022  |  New York, NY

Kalihi Kai Elementary Academic Coach Wins $25K Milken Educator Award
Star-Advertiser  |  Feb 28 , 2022  |  Honolulu, HI

WATCH --. Teacher Wins $25k, Wants to Give it to the School
KHON-TV  |  FOX  |  Feb 28 , 2022  |  Honolulu, HI

In Surprise Announcement, Hawaii Academic Coach Awarded ‘Oscars of Teaching’
KHNL-TV  |  NBC  |  Feb 28 , 2022  |  Honolulu, HI


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