Whitney Hashimoto stresses value of communication skills

KA‘ANA MANA‘O

The dictionary defines “communication” as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.” It ranges from a speech given by a head of state to Snapchat — and everything in between. In other words, it’s impossible to overestimate the value of good communication skills.

University of Hawaii Maui College communication instructor Whitney Hashimoto personifies this truth. “Students need to learn basic interpersonal communication skills to be productive members of society. My goal is to allow students to conclude that learning effective communication skills is essential to their well-being.”

Although she has educators in her family, Hashimoto didn’t aspire to be a teacher. “My grandpa Don Shishido was a high school science teacher on Kauai. He went on to be principal at Maunaloa Elementary on Molokai and also at Waihee School when our chancellor, (Lui) Hokoana, was a student there.

“He was also principal in Hana and Paia before he retired. When he worked in Hana, he would drive from Kula to Hana and back every day. I think to myself, ‘Wow! That is dedication to your craft!’ I had a couple of aunties who were teachers, too.”

So Hashimoto did have, at least in the back of her mind, teaching as a career option. Then in high school, a special teacher provided the inspiration that ignited the spark.

“I took a social studies class with former Baldwin High School teacher Sandy Tobita,” she said. “I looked forward to attending her class because she was an effective instructor and such a caring person. She was someone I could talk to about both school and my personal life. I still keep in touch with her today, almost 20 years after graduating!

“Even though at the time I didn’t realize I would become a teacher, I think my relationship with her is what piqued my interest in interpersonal communication and shaped my teaching philosophy.”

A “practical decision” in graduate school to take a teaching assistant assignment that included a tuition waiver and a stipend set her path.

“I didn’t realize I would enjoy it so much. From day one, walking into the classroom on wobbly legs that didn’t stop shaking for the entire 50-minute session, I just knew that I was meant to be a teacher. Throughout that first semester, witnessing students blossom into confident communicators made me realize that teachers really do make a difference. We help students attain the skills they need to be productive members of society. Teaching went from being a practical investment to an emotional one.”

Today, in her 10th year teaching communication courses at UH-MC, she is both practical and passionate.

“In my opinion, students learn best when they feel their efforts in the class are useful in the ‘real world.’ I make it a point to share personal examples — both good and bad — of my experiences with the course content. Students appreciate the personal examples that demonstrate epic failures and involve embarrassing outcomes — it’s relatable.

“I’m very passionate about teaching. I want students to leave me at the end of the semester feeling like they’ve learned at least one (but hopefully more) skill to enhance their relationships with others. I root for my students not just to earn a good grade in the class, but to feel like they are more prepared to be effective relational partners to their romantic partners, friends, family members and co-workers.”

As it is with all great teachers, learning goes both ways.

“My students have taught me the importance of celebrating diversity,” she said. “Given the nature of what I teach, I have the humbling opportunity to learn firsthand about my students’ demographic backgrounds, personal relationships and communication successes and challenges. I get to have a peek into the amazing range of experiences of our students, and this gives me a stronger appreciation for the true diversity of our students.”

Hashimoto’s long-term goal is to bring more communication course options to UH-MC.

“I teach our interpersonal and intercultural courses (we also offer public speaking, conflict management, and business communication courses), but communication is such a broad discipline and there is so much more out there for students to learn.”

To learn more about all the programs and classes offered at UH-Maui College, visit maui.hawaii.edu/.

* Lui K. Hokoana, Ph.D., is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. “Ka’ana Mana’o,” which means “sharing thoughts,” appears on the fourth Sunday of each month. It is prepared with assistance from UH-Maui College staff and is intended to provide the community of Maui County information about opportunities available through the college at its Kahului campus and its education centers.

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