Admin Tweeps

photoI got to participate in a workshop for administrators on Twitter not long ago. That meant twenty or so principals and assistant principals sitting in a high school library taking selfies and trying to come up with professional Twitter names that walked the line between soulless and personal. I’m fortunate, with not too many Bjorn Paiges in the twittersphere, I get to go with my name.

Since I’ve been tweeting for a bit I got to help facilitate the afternoon, and as I walked from table to table, seeing some really outstanding educators working on creating accounts, I thought about the great possibility swirling around the room.

These are women and men I want to learn from. Kid focused, smart, and creative, this is the dream team of Professional Learning Networks. About once a month we get to sit in the same room, but, I got thinking, what if this PLN was able to communicate with each other (and others beyond our district) more instantly. What if we could share articles and ideas? What if our celebration of what happened on our campuses could be inspiration for each other? What if we really did all tweet?

We’re fortunate in our district to have a superintendent both familiar with and comfortable on Twitter. We have some ToSAs and teachers who use it often and well. A few of us site administrators are learning how we can use Twitter to connect with parents, students, teachers, and each other, and more than a few in our greater school community see Twitter as a way to see what’s going on on campus and to understand education a little bit better.

I’ll be honest, I’m still figuring it out. I know that I love the immediacy of Twitter for getting cool professional ideas, inspiration, and answers to questions that I have. I see it as a great way, in real time, to show off my campus: with major construction this summer I’ve been able to tweet photos of the progress, and gotten some nice feedback on how welcome this was. I also believe that Twitter may be the single most important improvement in my own professional development, as read articles I never would have found on my own,I engage with others in edchats and conversations, and make connections with fellow educators from around the country.

Now back to that library. These principals, assistant principals, and district office administrators are more than just colleagues; together we have the potential to support each other in person, on the phone, in texts and emails, and, collectively, using tools like Twitter. We have the potential to make everyone in the room better.

Will everyone in the room decide to tweet? I don’t know. One nice thing about Twitter is that it’s a world without expectation; when we tweet we choose to join in the conversation because we want to, not because we’re obligated.

So I look forward to the fall, and seeing how many of the administrators in my district will join me in an edchat, how many I can follow, and how many will decide that this might just be a way that we can really help each other. I like the odds.


Safety Hats

photo 2 (22)I’m comfortable with the fact that at least part of my legacy from my time at La Costa Canyon High will be the playing of Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance” at the end of every evacuation drill. Echoing from the speakers above the athletic field, the song carries with it that pinch of whimsy that in many ways defines education. Even when the stakes are high, as they are with school safety, we do our best to keep our spirit and leave the audience with a smile.

And it is keeping these smiles, just over 900 of them at Diegueño Middle School, safe that informs our serious preparation and attention to detail around the important issue of school safety.

Schools are some of the safest places on the planet in part because of the plans we have and the ongoing practice we engage in. At least twice every year we practice for an evacuation, twice a year we conduct a lock-down drill, and twice a year we acknowledge the geological reality of Southern California and “duck, cover, and hold on.” We revise our Safe and Drug Free School plan each fall, collaborating with firefighters and police to make sure our plan is strong and up to date. We then share this plan with new and returning staff, spending time at the start of the school year to be sure everyone has the safety information they need. Preparation, coupled with common sense, is a huge part of keeping our campus safe.

The other element of school safety, as fundamental as fire extinguishers or evacuation maps, is each other. Building and nurturing a healthy school community, where students feel connected and parents are heard, where teachers truly are in locus parentis, and every Cougar at Diegueño knows he or she is part of a great family, our Diegueño pride.

Connected communities, whether neighborhoods or schools, are safer places than collections of strangers. Students and adults on campus make our school safe by noticing what’s around them and stepping in. This might mean telling Carlos, our plant manager, about a broken light, or mentioning to our counselor, Ms. Martin, that someone is feeling down. It might be a note to a teacher asking for help, or a phone call to “We-Tip” to report a crime. What it undoubtedly resembles is a family, where we each look out for one another, where we care, we nurture, we stand up for, and we protect each other. We’re all responsible for engaging in our campus world; we’re all made safer by our participation in our Diegueño family.

Reading through the plan this August, talking with friends at the firehouse, and arranging for the Sheriff’s Department to visit our first staff meeting, as principal I take this charge for safety seriously. Never have I felt so much like a dad.

It’s summer now, the time to burnish up that safety plan, meet with our Sheriff’s Department and firefighters, to prepare for the special presentations for the year, and work with our district personnel who also see safety as a top priority. We’re fortunate in our district to have leaders from the top to bottom who understand that safety is more than something we talk about; safety is something we live.

The really rewarding work of community building will come in late August when teachers and students return to campus. I’m excited about the commitment we have to helping helping students connect, and the plans already beginning to hatch that will bring Diegueño even closer in the fall. It’s then that we’ll build trust, share meaningful experiences, and be reassured that together we are one family, and we can dance if we want to.


photo 4 (1)The cat greeted us at the door, scolding us for being away too long. Bags piled by the stairs, the kids busy rediscovering their back yard, my wife and I exhaled, happy not to be crammed in the car. Ultimately the best part of a road trip is coming back home.

Just as it felt right to come through our front door after a great July road trip, I hope that students walk onto campus on August 26th, a campus familiar to some (though with some great Prop AA upgrades) and soon to be familiar to our incoming students, they’ll have the same feeling I did of coming home: relaxed, optimistic, and ready to begin a more fulfilling adventure than any vacation could ever be, ready to begin again our real lives.

Summer is like a road trip even if you don’t go farther than our local Moonlight Beach. Time away from where we hang our proverbial hats brings new energy, new perspective, and renewed appreciation for the place we work and play and learn each day. Coming back to our routines, whether from a week on the road or a day at the beach, it’s good to see our friends (and make new ones) and get about the work we love. We have that opportunity in just a few weeks, and I’m looking forward to getting back in the hum and rumble of school.

We’re fortunate in education to get this return home every fall, and I look forward to be one of the first to welcome all my students, teachers, parents, and all members of the Diegueño family a heartfelt “Welcome home.”


Waffles in Pismo Beach

photo 1 (23)Toward the end of the road trip I asked my kids what they’d liked best. They didn’t agree on most things; my six year old son told me he liked kayaking and swimming; my nine year old daughter liked seeing her cousins and visiting Los Padres National Forest, but they both had one surprise (to me anyway) in common on their lists: breakfast.

When pressed, it wasn’t the easy access to bagels or free flowing juice that had them in agreement. It wasn’t eating in  different breakfast room every couple of days, all filled with families loading their plates with carbs and half listening to Good Morning America. What put breakfast on the top five list for both kids was the same thing: making waffles. It took my wife to explain to me why. “Bjorn,” she said, “It’s because they get to make them themselves.”

As an educator I should have picked up on that right away. It’s not that my kids don’t like butter and syrup, but they loved filling the batter cup, pouring onto a hot griddle, flipping the mechanism upside down, and watching the timer tick down.

It’s the same operation we see in great classrooms, students doing more than passively loading their intellectual plates with education’s equivalent to carbohydrates. Students want to do, to actively participate in their own learning. They need teachers to avoid getting burned by the griddle and know how much batter to begin with, and at the end of the process they want to show these adults they respect the golden waffle they’ve produced.

photo 3 (15)Not every day in every classroom can be filled with big events like building a robot or acting out a dramatization of The Outsiders, but students can be involved in creating their own education, and when they are it elevates meaning, supports relevancy, and pushes up rigor.

As a principal I want to work with my students to help them see how they can actively participate in making their school they place they want it to be. Just as they roll up their sleeves and engage meaningfully in classes, I want them to pour the metaphorical batter, flip the waffle maker, and end up with something golden.

Germans in Corte Madera

photo 5 (2)The two Germans in the pool were shouting and swatting their inflatable ball at each other. Maybe thirteen, the casual observer might have taken them for Diegueño students, except that they kept yelling “Schlagen hassen!

My son, who isn’t yet a great swimmer and doesn’t know a word of German, jumped in and began to play. At six his sense of camaraderie and possibility are unlimited. And the boys let him join in. Glücklich, I thought to myself. How very cool.

…and how can we foster this kind of inclusion on campus?

Sitting by the swimming pool in Marin County, so close to Mt. Tam I could almost hear the talking apes, the concept of atmosphere came to mind. This atmosphere that encouraged a novice swimmer and non-Deutschmann to join a game he didn’t know with strangers he’d never met was one where laughter and play (in any language) was fantastic. How, I wondered, could it be recreated at my school?

Middle school can be a place where students can begin to feel less welcome than they did in elementary school. Without mindful choices on the part of the adults at the school cliques can form, students can feel excluded, and shoulders can turn cold. My time by the pool encouraged me, however, that given the right expectations and freed from the Lord of the Flies style social pressure that can spring up in the vacuum of unengaged adults, students can be encouraged (and allow themselves) to take chances, dive in, and welcome each other into the game.

To create this atmosphere takes our whole community, from the teachers who build trust every day during class to the administrators and ASB leaders who must set high standards for kindness. Parents, whose lifelong guidance helps create the students we teach, are partners in this enterprise. And we all must believe and expect that the 7th and 8th graders can be as kind to each other as these Germans were to my son.

My daughter had different Germans. Her Teutonic knights underscored one of the challenges of this work, and its importance. Not long after we’d all dried off from swimming, I walked into the hotel room and found my nine year old watching the World Cup final. I know my eyes widened a bit; sure she loves to play soccer, but this was the first time I’d seen her take a personal interest in something not geared toward kids. I know watching soccer is a long way from putting on eyeliner or enjoying French cinema, but it was a strong reminder to me of one of the challenges (and rewards) parents of middle schoolers face every day: the kids are growing up.

It’s as they do that the importance of our community building work becomes so very clear. The habits of kindness that we nurture now are the foundation of who our students will become. By that I don’t mean what they’ll do (hotelier or professional soccer star), but whether or not they’ll be the kind of person who raises her teenage sons to let a six year old join them in schlagen hassen .

Generations in San Rafael

photo (55)I’m protective, as a rule, and fiercely so as a dad. I get it when parents bring concerns to my office, and I understand the solicitousness they bring to their own child’s education. The perspective of moms and dads resonates with me because I’ve been a dad myself since I was 27 and my niece, then six, came to live with my wife and me. She’s all grown up now, with a family of her own, and at the northernmost stop of this summer’s family road trip it was in her apartment that I got a beautiful visual of the parents’ eye view of kids. Holding my grand-niece Adilene, I had in front of me the whole chronology of my kids from baby to young mother.

As educators we see students in isolated years, perpetually twelve, always thirteen; parents see in their 8th grader the baby, the toddler, the elementary schooler, and the young adult their child will become. Recognizing this perspective helps me as I work with the adults in my students lives, and with the students as well.

On this trip Adilene reminded me that the girls who will find themselves in my office with drama in need of sorting out once were held in their mom’s laps, that before makeup and hair products, they had blinking eyes and that new baby hair smell. And their parents remember it. My empathy increases when I try to see it as well.

Those rambunctious boys, those young men who shout a little louder than we’d like and jostle when we’d like them to walk in straight lines? That’s my son and grand-nephew, who I see (at six and four) as sweet kids full of life, their mischief balanced by kindness. I’d be fibbing if I didn’t admit that they raise my blood pressure when they show selective hearing and what my great-grandmother would have described as “vinegar,” but I do well to keep their faces in mind before I tell a mother that her son is overly energetic. She knows. And I don’t have to compromise expectations or lessen consequences when I make a point to see what she sees in him, his humanity as well as his actions. And if I look for this character before he gets into trouble I might even make a difference.

The two girls my wife and I have parented, at nine and twenty-four, loosely bookend the ages of the students I work with. In them I see the strength and fragility of youth. In them I see hope and the ability to succeed. I see what we talk about when we talk about “growth mindset” and the ability for all to learn, grow, and become stronger.

Every member of my family will have successes and struggles, we all do as humans. And some of these struggles, whether social or academic, will happen in school. Seeing students in crisis as complete and complex young people, not simply manifestations of the problem at hand, isn’t just the purview of parents, but should be ours as educators too.

Seeing the many stages of youth all together this July is a memory I’ll carry with me as I work with parents and students (who just happen to be in 7th and 8th grade right now) this fall. And I’ll join with parents and the very best teachers who see in these middle schoolers the children they have been, the students they now are, and the adults they will become.

An Open Boat in Richmond

About twice a month when I lived in the Bay Area I’d hike with my friend Jeff, an English teacher from the East Bay. We’d taught together only briefly, but found during the discussions on our rambling walks that even as we went to different schools, our love of teaching and finding creative ways to work with students brought us closer together than the days our classrooms were next door. Even after I made the move to administration the content of our conversations stayed constant, his passion for the work he was doing with his students helping me stay focused on the most important job at any school: teaching.

This summer’s road trip took me back to familiar haunts, and allowed me a chance to sit in a book lined living room drinking Peet’s coffee and talking about the hands on ways Jeff was teaching a seminar in Nautical Fiction. As he described taping off the size of the dinghy from Crane’s short story “The Open Boat” on a conference table and having four of his sophomores hop aboard, I was reminded how magical face to face conversations about our practice as educators can be.

I love Twitter and the rich bounty of information and inspiration it puts on my computer screen so immediately. Being able to learn from teachers, librarians, and administrators from around the globe is an amazing opportunity that didn’t exist when I was in the classroom. Following educators I admire and reading blogs by folks brighter and more connected than me has become a staple of my professional diet, and…

The reminder my conversation with Jeff provided was that even as I build my online professional learning network, I need to make it a priority to cultivate the face to face connections that can make such a difference.

These unscripted moments, not categorized by hashtags, give something that even the best online interactions don’t. As our talk moved from Crane to Melville to Mattheissen, and then to sustainable local fishing, I recognized that the “fish locally” worldview applied to professional communities too.

Edcamps, ToSAs, and fellow district administrators are my local bay. Sure I enjoy some tasty and nurturing offerings from other oceans, but my professional diet is healthiest when I fish from my metaphorical kayak.

So as I get back from my July road trip, I look to reach out to my colleagues and put as much energy as I put into building my online PLN into filling my own local open boat.

photo (54)

Sand Dollars by Morro Bay

photo 1 (3)The best education has always come when students are motivated by curiosity and push themselves to know more. I saw it in my classroom when I taught English: in the student inspired by the literature and single minded in her desire to understand Sylvia Plath, in the student driven to comprehend the choices Toni Morrison made when writing The Bluest Eye. Sometimes the learning was directly related to the lesson at hand, sometimes it was tangential. In both cases it was real, meaningful to the student, and the starting point of lifelong learning.

In the heart of summer, on the first leg of a July road trip, this exuberance to know more showed itself in my two kids’ ambition to collect sand dollars and ask questions about what these small things really were. They scrambled after the round shells like pirates after scattered doubloons, and as I watched the search unfold, I was struck by how similar their faces were to that student crouched over The Bell Jar, and how excited I am to see this same kind of curiosity when students get back on campus in the fall.

My middle school students won’t be after sand dollars, of course, but how to draw portraits, design rockets out of bottles, write code, and a hundred other things I can’t yet imagine. It’s my goal to help foster the community of curiosity at Diegueño Middle School, where students and the adults who work with them can find their passions, make connections, and have the support to follow their interests.

They’ll have teachers who inspire them along the way, blowing on the embers of curiosity to rouse the fire of learning. Like nurturing parents these teachers will create an atmosphere in the classrooms they share with students that encourage exploration, honor questions, and provoke curiosity. It’s this transformative work in the classroom that is education, the capturing of that curiosity so natural in kids and harnessing it to help the students do great things. photo 2 (3)

Now, in July, the classrooms where these adventures will begin are empty, but the teachers are already at work. Some are writing curriculum, some are reading books and articles, and some are engaging colleagues from around the country at conferences and edchats. Others, like me, are taking a little time to recharge and get perspective, to play, to go for a hike, and to take that deep collective breath before we all start running across that metaphorical beach looking for whatever our own sand dollars may be.

Notes from the Road

“When the sun shouts and people abound…”   -Robinson Jeffers

photo 4 (1)I don’t edchat in July, though I do Tweet a bit and read my fair share of articles from Edutopia. It’s the blurry line I’ve told myself I’ve drawn, the boundary between living and breathing what I do (teaching, learning, and actively participating in this amazing undertaking called education) and getting the distance we all need from time to time to really relax and rejuvenate.

This July, before starting a new principal job that I’m bursting with energy to begin, that healthy separation came in the form of a road trip: a ten day sojourn from San Diego to the Bay Area and back, visiting a new baby, a few old friends, and some of the best of the California coast. And taking time to breathe.

 This need for renewal and play is important to what we do as educators. Just like reading good books, spending time with friends, and taking care of ourselves (all challenging during the rush of the school year), taking the time to clear our heads helps us be able to start a new school year with a sense of possibility and the energy to act on that hope.

 However we do it, with a hammock or a Harley, we do our students and ourselves a favor when we capture the fun of summer.

 This doesn’t mean that I turn off the educator in me; I don’t think we ever do, but

with my laptop safely stowed at home and photo 1 (2)my hands on the wheel, I was able to enjoy the time away even as I learned a few lessons along the road. This perspective is something I tried to capture as I went, scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad to be typed up when I got back home. A handful made the cut, and over the next few days I’ll post those “Notes from the Road.” Taken as a travelogue or stand alones, they’re some of the memories and inspiration I’ll be bringing back to my work this fall.



Comic Books in the Family Room

photo (6)I just found out that Diegueño’s library carries a monthly subscription to the Justice League comic book. …and my excitement about our media center shot through the roof!
Yes, the major construction of the summer of 2014 is changing the face of Diegueño’s library. Yes, we’re adding all sorts of digital resources (books, research capabilities, state of the art connectivity). Yes, you’ll see a media center that will lead the way for similar spaces throughout the district. …and, it’s still (as the amazing Ms. Coy likes to call it) “The Family Room of Diegueño.” When I heard about the inclusion of Justice League that sense of hearth and home got underscored a hundred times over.

For me comic books were the gateway to a love of reading. I remember the Fantastic Four and Batman keeping me company on long car rides, The Avengers before there were movies, and realizing when I picked up my first issue of Moon Knight that comics could be more than just fistfights and swooping through cities. Sure Moon Knight did his fair share of swooping, at least when I was a kid, but there was something more: words I didn’t know, sentences that could have come from a novel, and storylines that questioned the world in ways the Uncle Scrooge comics of my youth never dreamed.

Since my car trip days much has changed with both comics and literacy. Educators now realize that graphic storytelling has a place in schools and classrooms. Comics can bolster a young reader’s ability to draw inferences, broaden vocabulary (I still remember when Captain America taught me the word “augment!” Thanks, Cap!), and show non-linear storytelling, transitions, motifs, and character development.

Some teachers use graphic novels, the comic book’s younger, more attractive sibling, in class. “Maus” and “V for Vendetta” are just two I’ve seen on syllabi in my own district. These two titles are nice examples of how the comics themselves have grown up since I was a kid. Certainly my six year old son is more captivated by Spiderman battling The Lizard than his nine year old sister, but for her (and a legion of other students) the reality is that comics no longer mean men in capes. Well, not only men in capes.

Beyond the socially conscious “Maus” and “V for Vendetta,” a raft of graphic novels comes down the YA river every year, with themes personal, relevant, and deep. “Anya’s Ghost,” “Persepolis,” and “Hereville” are just three that I’ll look for in our library. There are literally hundreds more. Any taste, from mystery to history, from coming of age stories to stories that help students understand death and dying, graphic novels have a range greater than ever, and with that range the possibility to touch a huge spectrum of kids’ tastes. While what the young me loved was Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz’s “Fist of Khonshu,” there’s something in the graphic novel world that could appeal to any reader.

What made me so happy when I visited Ms. Coy’s library website was that the Justice League had a space alongside the many other great titles available for kids. At the risk of sounding like a voiceover for an old fashioned movie trailer: “In a world of literary pretension, one place stands as a bastion of acceptance and a welcome place for all: Diegueño Middle School’s library, the family room of campus!”

…where even Moon Knight could feel at home.