Founded in 1918, Hanahau‘oli School is a one-hundred-year-old testament to the American progressive education movement. Originally conceptualized by Sophie Judd Cooke and Gudrun Thorne Thompson from the Francis Parker School in Chicago, Hanahau‘oli School —which means Joyous Work School —started out as an experiment in John Dewey’s “controversial new philosophy of education” (Palmer, 1968, p. 1). It represented a radical departure from more traditional approaches to schooling. Over the years, the school gained recognition as a leading independent elementary school in Hawai‘i.

Based on its success, Hanahau‘oli began to serve as an on-site observation center. Teachers and administrators from Hawaii’s public, charter, and independent schools came to learn more about Hanahau‘oli’s progressive approach to education. Dr. Robert G. Peters recounts this important aspect of the school’s history in his book, 100 Years of Joyous Work--Hanahau‘oli School 1918 - 2018:

As the progressive education pioneer in the Islands, Hanahau‘oli quickly became a demonstration site.  In 1919, Sophie Judd Cooke received a letter from Vaughan MacCaughey (Superintendent of Public Instruction, Territory of Hawaii) which stated: “I heartily and fully endorse the educational creed therein (school bulletin, 1919).  One of the dangers to our democracy is the lock-step and effacement of individuality in the public system. . . . It is my hope, next fall, to arrange to have some of our better teachers visit Hanahau‘oli School, one by one, and to catch something of its spirit.” (Letter, SJC File).  In 1921, the Territorial Normal School approached Mrs. Cooke with the possibility of creating an affiliation to give the “cadets the opportunity of observing and participating in educational work of an advanced character.”  (SJC File).  Following a visit from Professor Simonds from the University of Hawaii in 1922, during which he expressed the desire to use Hanahau‘oli as an observation site, the Board of Advisors passed a motion to inform the University and the Department of Public Instruction that school policy would be to cooperate in “all educational matters” and that “we are glad to extend an invitation to any of their classes in Education to visit our School for the purpose of observation.” (Advisory Board Minutes, 9/27/22).  Thus, was launched what today is called the “public purpose” of independent schools.  Hanahau‘oli accepted its role in the community as a school that would share its theory and practice with the community—-both local and national—-and engage in the broader conversation about best practices to promote learning for a democratic society and an ever-changing world.

With a commitment to serving a public purpose, the Professional Development Center (PDC) at Hanahau‘oli was eventually established to serve as the institutional bridge between the school and the community. To follow is a more detailed timeline--from the school’s recent history--that describes the evolution of the establishment of the PDC at Hanahau‘oli School.


1992-1996: Hanahau‘oli School begins to serve as a formal site for mentoring. Focused on the design and implementation of thematic teaching, a summer mentoring program creates the opportunity for Hanahauʻoli faculty to further their own professional development by teaching and learning alongside professionals from other settings. With 4 years of funding from the Hawaii Community Foundation, interns work alongside Hanahauʻoli faculty in the Summer School classrooms and participate in afternoon seminar sessions.

1992-1995: Hanahauʻoli faculty work with Waiʻalae School faculty and administration to develop their public charter school proposal, with interdisciplinary/thematic approaches to teaching and learning as a key element of their proposed school.  This collaboration involves work with the Hanahauʻoli Head of School and shared professional development and exchange visits for teachers and students.

2009-2010: Under the leadership of Dr. Robert G. Peters, Hanahauʻoli receives $1 million in endowed funds to support the Clarence T.C. Ching Teachers Teaching Teachers Program, formally realizing the public purpose work of the school by creating the new Professional Development Center. Construction of the administration building is completed, including physical space for the PDC and formal programming.

2011-Present: Hanahauʻoli presents The Institute for Thematic Instruction, a two-week summer seminar & practicum experience in the design of thematic units.  The Institute includes the development of a unit draft with outcomes, instructional strategies, and assessment tools to take back to the classroom. Work time is incorporated throughout, including access to instructors, resources and coaching.

2011: Hanahau‘oli School hires its first PDC Director, Elila Levinson.

2012: McInerny Foundation grants Hanahauʻoli $100,000 to establish and expand arts integration-related professional development workshops for teachers, and deepen partnership work related to arts integration. Funding extends to multiple new workshops including Integrating Art & Math, Integrating Art & Language Arts, and social-emotional learning for preschool students through traditional Hawaiian puppetry called Hula Kiʻi. The PDC collaborates with other local organizations that provide learning opportunities for teachers with a focus on arts integration. Working with Honolulu Theatre for Youth, the Department of Education, Honolulu Museum of Art and others, the PDC convenes conversations that create new partnerships, and helps design and present workshops and courses for teachers along with other teacher resources such as a statewide poster project for DOE teachers.

2012: The Department of Education (DOE) and PDC collaborate on a Common Core Book Group, for Curriculum Coordinators and other literacy support staff.  Meeting in the Hanahauʻoli library, the group collectively examines the use of exemplary children’s literature in the Common Core classroom.  This initial work with the Common Core standards led to collaboration around arts integration as a result of opportunities within the CCSS to use alternative text types, such as visual images or musical compositions, as text.  

2014: The PDC begins Perspectives on Elementary Education, a series of conversations for educators to address teaching and learning in the early years.  Designed to include Hanahaʻoli faculty and educators from other schools, the dialogue provides an opportunity for people working with children to step out of regular routines and join peers to connect and share ideas on current topics in the profession.

2018: In 2018, Hanahau‘oli School celebrated its centennial by reflecting on the school’s rich progressive education tradition and by looking forward to imagine what progressive education will look like at Hanahau‘oli in the next 100 years. An important outcome of this process was increased recognition--by the Hanahau‘oli School Board of Directors and school leadership--of the vital role that the PDC plays in carrying out the school’s ambitious progressive mission and vision. For this reason, the Hanahau‘oli School community made bold moves in 2018 to expand the reach and scope of the PDC so that it can continue to carry out its valuable existing programing and take on a number of new endeavors and innovations.

One of the areas of growth was the establishment of a formal partnership between Hanahau‘oli School PDC and the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa College of Education (UHM COE). With a mutual desire to build a Professional Development School (PDS) that emphasizes progressive, interdisciplinary, and inquiry-based approaches to learning, Dr. Amber Strong Makaiau, Associate Specialist in the UHM COE Institute for Teacher Education Secondary Program, now serves as a bridge between Hanahau‘oli School and the COE as Hanahau‘oli School’s newly appointed Professional Development Center Director. Alongside her, the school also hired Veronica Kimi who now serves as the PDC coordinator.

Also in 2018, as a result of the strategic planning that emerged from Hanahau‘oli School’s 2017 Self-Study, the PDC turned inwards and utilized resources from the school’s general operating funds to support the professional development of new hires at Hanahau‘oli School. Called the Hanahau‘oli School Entering Teacher Cooperative, this important new PDC initiative provides a structured mentoring program for new faculty and staff that focuses on the school’s progressive philosophy, multiage teaming approach, thematic curriculum, and overall school culture.

With a commitment to serve a public purpose, the Hanahau‘oli PDC is perpetually grateful for the Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation endowed fund and the income earned, which supports operating expenses for the Clarence T.C. Ching Teachers Teaching Teachers program. This generous and monumental gift continues to sustain the Hanahau‘oli School PDC, enables innovation and growth, and has paved the path for the PDC to enter a brand new era of building our collective capacity for developing and maintaining school communities that both meet the needs of our current society and strive to create a better future society.