How Lincoln Learned to Tweet

photo (4)One of my favorite stories about learning in Daniel Wolff’s book How Lincoln Learned to Read comes in the section on Henry Ford. A ten year old Ford, working with a handful of other boys his age, built a turbine engine out of a ten gallon can and some other odds and ends. Wolff quotes Ford, who wrote: “the boiler finally blew up and scalded three of us, and I carry a scar on my cheeks today.” And then Wolff brings home the example with four beautiful words: “That’s how he learned.”

I’m not advocating uncontained explosions as the best science education, but I do see the benefits of spectacular failures like Ford’s, if they’re coupled with an attitude of exploration and true growth mindset. Ford’s story, like so many in Wolff’s collection of descriptions of a dozen American’s educations, shows the importance of determination, curiosity, and the ability to see failure as part of learning.

With that spirit in mind, I’m looking forward to trying something different for this month’s Diegueño Book Club. It might be marvelous, it could be odd, or there’s a chance of it ending up like Henry Ford’s turbine …a learning experience.

We’re going to try to blend a book club and Twitter chat.



Like Ford, an intrepid ToSA, Kevin, and I are looking to build something we can sort of imagine, but haven’t seen before.

We see the benefits of bringing teachers and parents together to talk about education and ideas, as we have already earlier in the school year at Diegueño. We also see how cool it can be for educators to connect through our district’s #SDUHSDchat. Both encourage conversation, both ask meaningful questions about ideas, and both have the potential to make us more reflective about how we work with kids, and participate in this amazing enterprise, education.

So what will it look like on March 10th at 5PM (PST)? Well, we’ve got some ideas…

Diegueño’s library has great technology, including dual screens we might use to project #SDUHSDchat as the folks in the room talked about Wolff’s book. Kevin is thinking to capture some of the comments our the in person discussion and use them to compliment the chat online while I stay focused on the people with copies of the book out in front of them.

With the chat projected, those who are interested in plucking ideas and comments from the feed could use the greater mind of #SDUHSDchat to enhance the discussion we’re having around the table. If the smartest person in the room is the room, and the room has no walls…

We’re working on some questions that we might ask online that compliment the topics we’ll be talking about around the table in the library. For those who haven’t read the book, or all of the book, we want to make sure to provide enough to welcome ideas more general to education.

One of best parts of our last Diegueño Book Club was the wide variety of opinions and great diversity of perspectives. Wolff’s book encourages personal connections to the stories, and invites conversation about current education. In so many ways, those two ends are shared by #SDUHSDchat, and that convinces me to imagine that this pairing might even work.

photo (5)Maybe.

So whether we’re looking at the next New Coke or the next Godfather II, we’re approaching #DiegueñoBookChat with open minds, creative hearts, and growth mindsets. And if things go like Henry Ford’s explosive boiler, well, that’s one way we learn.



The next Diegueño Book Club, discussing How Lincoln Learned to Read by Daniel Wolff, will be on March 10th from 5:00-6:30 in the Diegueño Media Center.  If you can’t make it to campus, check it out at #SDUHSDchat on Twitter!


Pirates, Squid, and Gratitude


For anyone who has been reading my recent posts, you know I had the opportunity to share a cartooning mini-lesson with our art classes, and that one of those same young artists surprised me by sketching a squid in our annual student art competition to design t-shirts for our big Diegueño Spirit Day.

Today a student delivered a present to my office that humbled and amazed me. Accompanied by a beautiful card signed by a bundle of art students was a coffee cup with my new favorite fictional mascot: The regal Diegueño Squid!

photo (6)It’s days like this that remind me how very fortunate I am to be the principal of Diegueño Middle School, and how much I appreciate all of the magical people around me.


A Slice of Learning

To hear them talk about Pi Day, I couldn’t help but be excited. “It’s the Pi Day of the century,” one person explained. “3.14.15…”

That it would be on a Saturday didn’t seem to slow anybody down. The opposite was true, in fact, with Pi themed events slated for both Thursday and Friday.

“We’ll have a pie eating contest, of course,” one math teacher offered. “And wear math related clothes, and recite the digits of Pi.”

Glee showed on every face around the lunch table in the math pod. Discussion turned to whether or not a pie might be thrown. I admitted to taking one in the face last year …and that wasn’t even the Pi Day of the century.

As a math loving group of professionals, they kicked around some ideas of mini lessons they could use with their classes. “This can be fun,” one teacher said, and I believed every word.

Thinking beyond the bounds of the math department, one of our teachers said, “I’m hoping the English department might do some Pi-kus.” I must have had a curious expression as I laughed aloud. “You know, he continued, poems with a 3-1-4 rhyme scheme!”

This playful spirit was contagious, and as I listened to Diegueño’s amazing math department talk about decorating rooms and celebrating math with their students, I was reminded of the outright joy that can come with teaching.

These are lifelong learners and passionate professionals, who take their subject seriously and themselves less so. Gifted at helping kids understand mathematical concepts, they also share the ability to be silly, have fun, and show an unabashed love of what they do.

I’m not sure if anyone will throw a pie next week, though if they do I have the sneaking suspicion it may be aimed at me. But I do know that Pi day, the Pi Day of the century, will bring students and teachers together in a fun way that will celebrate all the right things about learning. And…

I’ll try to
A swell Pi-ku.

…and I look forward to joining in the celebration.

math shirt


photo 3 (2)Every once and a while an opportunity presents itself that is simply too good to be true. In these golden moments, when something we love collides with something we do, when we get to give back, even as we get to enjoy what we’re asked to do, magic happens. Last week that magic took the form of three intrepid art students who knocked on my office door and asked if I could help them draw a pirate.

My marvelous art teacher had warned me they were coming; she does short lessons each week to hone her students’ drawing skills, and after a few had mentioned to her that they’d seen me draw little cartoons on classroom whiteboards, she encouraged them to ask me to teach a mini-lesson that they could record and use in class.

So, with more than two decades of pirate cartooning in my history, I looked into the lens of the tablet they were using to record, and said: “Ahoy, young artists. I heard you might want to draw a pirate!”

photo 4 (2)And we were off and cartooning!

I mention all this because I wonder how we can do even more to provide experiences like this to our students and colleagues. I lit up when I got to share a skill that has been a part of me since I started teaching. It was renewing and fun to be able to share something I like doing with an audience who seemed interested, or at least seemed to have a good time watching their tie wearing principal put pen to paper and come up with a swashbuckling cartoon.

All around me I see teachers and students who have talents as hidden and even more wonderful than being able to draw a fellow with an eye patch, and I wonder how we might do more to bring these talents out, share them, and celebrate each other together.

Captain TeeThis post is less a pretty summary of something than the start of a brainstorming session. It’s something between an honest question and a call to action. It’s me, still smiling from my time with the art students, wishing we all had such an opportunity to share a part of who we are.

Can it happen in classes? Can it happen in clubs? Can it happen in activities at lunch or after school? Can it be celebrated on the walls or indoor marquee in our library? Can we blog, tweet, or put this on Facebook?

I’m not sure exactly what this looks like for everybody, but I know for me, at least last week, it wore an eye patch and had a peg leg.

A life connected…

My favorite class from my first year of graduate school boasted the title: Medieval Literature, non-Chaucer. We read works by Margery Kempe, William Langland, and Julian of Norwich, all in Middle English, and I found that I loved it. I also realized, that when push came to shove, immersion in Medieval Literature was not what I wanted for my life’s work.

Searching back for the moment I was inspired to become a teacher, I paused at a string of moments that were candidates for that life changing event: Mr. Gossack throwing an eraser in my high school math class, and then walking to the office to admit that it accidentally hit a student; a philosophy professor, Dave, inspiring me in an independent study of Plato, and showing me how student driven inquiry could be so powerful; and the moment when a friend and newly minted teacher told me about getting ready for his first teaching position, and I knew I wanted that level of purposeful joy.

But it turned out that the memory that continued to assert itself didn’t take place in a classroom, or amongst other teachers, or even when I was a high school student. For me, the defining moment in my decision to become a teacher came on a snowy November day as I sat alone in my efficiency apartment in East Lansing, Michigan reading Njal’s Saga.

njalThat semester I’d found myself a few credits shy of what I needed to keep financial aid, so I signed up for one education course along with the literature classes that I was taking in my graduate program. It was a two credit affair, with only a couple of papers and a requirement that I observe in a local school. I could see a middle school from the window of my apartment, and I marched over in my Michigan State sweatshirt and asked if I could sit in on some classes. They put me in an English class, and I remember the dissonance I felt on that first day as I listened as the class read aloud from William Sleator’s Interstellar Pig.

This was not Medieval Literature. I wasn’t convinced it was even literature.

InterstellarPigI stayed for a class, jotted some notes I could turn in later, and left. I’d come back every week over the course of the term, and see twelve and thirteen year olds learn to read critically and write analytically.

And then I’d go back to my apartment and plow through Tristram Shandy and Paradise Lost. I loved the great books I was reading, but as fall days shortened into winter, and snow began to pile outside my door, the ivory tower began to lose some of its appeal.

Friends I knew in academe loved what they did, and I couldn’t imagine them doing anything else. For me, however, the idea of a life lived in thick books and ivy covered buildings began to feel… well, a little off.

And on that night when I was sitting at my desk, Njal’s Saga open in front of me, it hit me: I wanted to live a life connected to the real world. I wanted to make a difference.

I left graduate school at the end of the term, returning to Oregon and unloading trucks for a year as I figured out how I might make that difference. It turned out to be teaching, and with each year I spent in front of a class I found I loved it more.

From time to time, when I think back on my days at Michigan State, my memories always include the moment when I realized that one chapter of my life was over, and that something important was about to begin. I didn’t completely know it then, but I was going to be a teacher.

“Be the wing”

photo 4 (7)They were cool with the frogs, but told me that the chicken wings grossed them out. “The wings were fattier than the kids expected,” one science teacher explained. “It took some work to get the skin off.”

This week’s chicken wing dissections, a great way for students to see how muscles work and bones connect, provided kids with a hands on approach to anatomy that they won’t soon forget. Smiling beneath goggles, their gloved hands busy with tweezers and curved scissors, the students brought critical attention to something that they’d previously only experienced with dipping sauce.

photo 2 (8)The experience of approaching something familiar with new eyes can be a great way to learn. I’ve seen this in action in theater classes, when a unit on puppetry gave young thespians a chance to explore the elements of comedy and drama using tools that might have shown up in a kindergarten classroom or a Punch and Judy show. Costuming through sock puppets may be an unconventional approach, but it works, and seeing the kids’ joy in performing, and watching performances, was inspiring.

photo 1 (6)Across campus in math classes I’ve seen teachers use infographics to teach percentage, the students evaluating the images and using the math they are learning to think critically about the facts and the spin each visual message presents.

In an English class I saw a great teacher show her students examples of futurist predictions from folks as diverse as Jean-Marc Côté to Ray Bradbury, and then make their own about what will be familiar in the future they’re helping to create.

photo 3 (6)From natural selection balloon animals to construction paper compliment chains, every day I see students approaching the world with the eyes of curious learners. I loved one science teacher’s mantra for dissection: “Be the wing.”

…and the sock, and balloon, and the futurist.

I continue to be amazed and delighted as I see gifted teachers inspiring students to push beyond what they know, and make the ordinary extraordinary.

Dig This

photo 4 (3)It was a February day so sunny and warm I expected to be able to turn on the Dodger game in the car on my way home. A dozen or so dads from my kids’ grade school gathered for a demolition party. Fueled by camaraderie and the spirit of helping out, we put our backs behind shovels, picks, and rakes, and leveled the remnants of a community garden to prepare the way for a renewed space where the kids could plant and learn.

Two things hit me as I bandaged up a torn finger and had a chance to look around me at the work getting done: we were having fun and feeling good about what we were doing, and while we weren’t directly working with kids, our digging, and lifting, and raking was going to make a real difference for students.

While a little dustier than some of the work parents do for schools, what we were up to was a pretty standard example of what parents do all the time at Diegueño: they give generously of time and from pocketbooks, they have fun together (at luncheons and volunteering at jog-a-thons), and they make huge differences for kids.

photo (2)At Diegueño our students see the generosity of parents in real and profound ways. A large number of the Chromebooks our students use every single day are a direct result of PTSA donations. Our parents have funded tables, chicken wings for science class, puppet theaters, and enough kleenex to fill a dozen boxcars. Students laugh and learn in a media center stocked with books (some) donated by parents, and each hold a student agenda because the parents know that helping kids stay organized helps them both short and long term.

The parents at Diegueño know that support goes beyond writing a check. With generous hearts and artistic eyes, parents host staff appreciation lunches throughout the year, as famous for their gorgeous centerpieces as they are the outpouring of love and thanks offered to our teachers and staff. In a world where it’s easy to be critical, these luncheons remind us all how fortunate we are to be in this together.

Healthy relationships between parents and teachers is one measure of a healthy school, and from events like our Diegueño Book Club to the parents who volunteer in the library at lunch or art room on Fridays, parents and teachers understand that we’re all partners in educating healthy kids.

I'm the one in the garish makeup for the "Zombie Fun Run!"

I’m the one in the garish makeup for the “Zombie Fun Run!”

I look forward to my monthly Coffees with the Principal. It’s not that the crowd is simply there to clap at what’s going on; at our best meetings we share questions and answers, celebrate student learning, and talk about how best we can work together to help kids.

Our PTSA meets twice a month, and in addition to great discussion about how to make Diegueño the best place it can be, I love that I hear lots of laughter, and that the parents seem genuinely happy to be there.

Good ideas? They’ve got them, along with big hearts, ready smiles, and a love for our school. Shovels? Well, we haven’t needed those yet, but if we did, I have no doubt but that they’d dig that too!