Up, Up, and Away

He roots for a different ballclub than I do. He taught science and I taught English. He never wanted to be a site administrator and as a principal I’m happy as a the proverbial clam. Different? Yes. And…

I’ve met few people as passionate about teaching and learning as Kevin Fairchild.

Kevin is leaving our district to start a new adventure up the highway a few miles. That I’ll miss him is a difficult reality I’m choosing not to write about, not after this sentence anyway. He’s off to do great work in a new position, and while I know how rewarding he found what he did when he was under our banner, this new job allows him to stretch his professional wings and make a difference in the lives of teachers and kids. It was, as Vito Corleone might say, an offer he couldn’t refuse.

photo (2)This change in my local Professional Learning Network (PLN) comes, ironically, on the week the #YourEdustory blogging prompt reads: “Say thanks to a member of you PLN for inspiring, encouraging, and helping make you a better educator.”

I can think of no member of my PLN who has done all three of these things more.

Years ago, a friend who was serving as an assistant principal with me kidded me about my not being on Twitter. Clueless, I nodded. Twitter? …and then I called Kevin. Kevin came out and asked all the right questions. He didn’t walk me through Twitter; he prompted me to dive right in and learn about it for myself. That I’m still tweeting is a testament, at least in part, to the possibility he helped me see.

Over the next few years, Kevin introduced me to EdCamp, encouraged me to blog, and inspired me through his own work on our district’s tech blog. With a smile and resonant laugh, Kevin showed me technological doors that have opened into opportunities I never would have dreamed of.

His work, on my campus, in our district, and all over this interweb thing have made a real difference time after time after time.

For that I thank him.

And now this man in the Cardinals cap flies north.

The good news is that a PLN in 2016 isn’t constrained by geography. That he tweets and blogs from a different zip code matters not at all. Heck, one of the first things I noticed on the day after he took the new job was a question about screenshots sent to him through Twitter by one of my teachers. Of course he answered it.

So I say “thank you.” Thank you for the inspiration, encouragement, connections, humor, and support. I wish you luck making a difference in the lives you’ll touch. You certainly have made a difference in mine.

…and it’s not like you’re headed to Mongolia. I’ll see you at CUE!

Rock and Roll

When I moved to Encinitas, a friend who had lived here for a while told me that for the students at my school “music” meant two guitars and a drum kit. That’s an exaggeration, of course; I’ve met some amazing students gifted on violin, piano, and horns. Still, the two biggest names on stage this year at San Dieguito were rock legends, each toting a guitar: alums Eddie Vedder and Jon Foreman.

CSbRimWUAAAhno0It’s one of the many perks of being a school almost eighty years old: the list of notable alumni is long. Just this year, in addition to the frontmen of Pearl Jam and Switchfoot, alumni have come home to talk about playing in Superbowls, publishing novels, and winning surfing championships.

Still, there’s just something about rock and roll.

On top of it all, both Foreman and Vedder did more than simply play amazing music; they played music with students.

Jamming with a master, sharing the stage with a rock icon isn’t something every high photo 1 (4)school musician has an opportunity to do, but at San Dieguito, where the unexpected is part of our daily reality, seeing past and present Mustang musicians together just felt right.

It’s that notion of being a part of something greater than ourselves that helps both current students and alumni (famous and not) feel the desire to stay connected to San Dieguito. This is their school. This is home.

Both Vedder and Foreman donated more than their time and talent to San Dieguito. In addition to opening their songbooks, they provided true inspiration for our current students.

Hearing someone who has sold platinum albums talk about participating in San Dieguito’s Battle of the Bands or talent show imbues those events with some pretty heavy validation.

Listening to a superstar who loves his school, which is also your school, is an amazing boost to every student on campus. Sure the principal loves the place, yeah ASB celebrates it, but did you hear what that guy with the guitar just said about San Dieguito?

Rock on, Mustangs.

Crooked Arrow

photo 1 (3)Blue spined Hardy Boys books filled my childhood. I read every volume I could put my hands on, loving some, liking others, and not realizing until I became an adult just how formative a part of my reading life those books had really been.

When my daughter, a reader, got old enough, I gave her a couple of the yellow hardcover Nancy Drews, imagining a reaction not unlike my youthful own. She didn’t care for them a bit. Her taste was perhaps more sophisticated than mine had been, her reading world already populated by Harry Potter, Prue McKeel, and Sammy Keyes.

The experience may have been there to remind me of the truth that our kids are not young us; left to make their own decisions, they have tastes and opinions of their own. Here I should add: as they should.

Even when our kids do find that their interests overlap our own, I’ve found that the reality that inspired me decades ago looks different without the gauzy filter of fond memory. It happened for me last week when my seven year old son handed me a copy of The Sign of the Crooked Arrow at bedtime.

He has a few old Hardy Boys books, brought home from Grandma and Papa’s, that have languished on his bookshelf long enough that I’d figured they’d go the way of my daughter’s Nancy Drews.

photo 3 (7)Taking The Sign of the Crooked Arrow from him, I saw that he’d lined up his four Hardy Boys books and chosen the one with the picture he liked the most. How he could have ignored the lurid cover of The Twisted Claw I’ll never know, but (as I reminded myself again) this was his choice, and should be.

We started reading.

There was Frank. There Joe. There lumbered Chet, the Hardy’s overweight, kindhearted chum. Pages ticked by and I found myself relishing a world of shortwave radios and whirlybirds.

My son seemed into it, curious about these teenage sleuths, the string of daring daylight robberies, and the abandoned sedan at Slow Mo’s Garage.

Side by side, propped up on pillows, we traveled through a world somewhat like our own, a midcentury land of malts and dungarees, where, as the blurb on the back of the book explained, “Sons of a famous American detective, the Hardy boys help solve many thrilling cases after school hours and during vacations…”

Didactic, that.

And just as I had forgotten how much of a lesson in manners and morals the Hardy Boys provided, I realized as I read that no contemporary children’s’ book would make manufacturing cigarettes filled with “knockout gas” a major plot point, claim that a watch band could be identified as being worn “by an Indian” because it smelled like hominy, or include the passage:

From the top of the cliff a fleeing lamb came hurtling down toward them. It landed in a broken heap near the frightened ponies. Pye got off to examine the dead animal.
“There are no wild sheep here,” he remarked, looking up at Joe. “Men must have chased it. We’ve got to find them!”
With that he picked up the lamb and flung it over his saddle. “It’ll make a good meal later.”

Um… “Goodnight, son?”

With each page I saw that what I’d found fresh and exciting when I’d read it as a kid, was dated, or for the more generous, vintage.

photo 4 (3)The sporadic line drawings I had looked forward to seeing were simple; the chapter headings ridiculously predictive.

It was a nice reminder to me as an educator that while I can accept that I was influenced by x, y, and z, whatever those were for me, and that while I might be a part of one of my students’ x, y, or z, their influences shouldn’t be the same as mine.

This isn’t only because the world and its attitudes have changed, though they have of course, but also because the kids we raise as parents and the students we work with at schools are their own individuals. I may have rooted for “Good Old Chet” but my kids’ cast of literary characters is as different as they are from me.

photo 2 (6)As we embrace the individuals our kids choose to be, we help them grow into the adults they will become.

Free from expectations, we also allow ourselves the quiet delight that comes from those moments when the Venn Diagram of our own youth overlaps with their childhoods.

As he closed his eyes and listened to The Sign of the Crooked Arrow, my son whispered to me: “Dad, let me know when we get to a picture.”

I love…

With Valentine’s Day just past, the #YourEdustory blogging challenge asked “What are the five things you love most about your job?”

Teachers, and the other adults I get to work with every day. It’s inspiring to be surrounded by folks who care so much about students. Their passion for making a difference and the broad variety of perspectives they bring to our school community makes my life richer.

StaffStudents, whose curiosity and exuberance fill our campus and astounds me daily. Ridiculously talented kids (actors, musicians, engineers, writers, scientists… the list goes on) continually reassure me that the future is in good hands.

photo (1)Variety. Literally anything can happen, and often does. As a high school principal, I’ve seen a snow day on an afternoon that was sunny and 75 degrees, a Mustang riding a unicycle, and one of the Knights who say “Ni!” This fall.

I love that no matter what is on my calendar, the reality of the day is that something unexpected is going to happen. More often than not these surprises aren’t bad, and even when they aren’t what I would have chosen, I’m blessed to be surrounded by people who can help. Sometimes they’re magically good.

The capacity for caring, which is the bedrock of all we do at San Dieguito High School Academy. I’m the kind of dad who looks at the citizenship section of his kids’ report cards first. Raising good people trumps raising great scholars in my mind any day. I love that I get to see so many and such rich acts of kindness. From our PALS program to our caring staff, the people who make up our school bring huge hearts to all they do, and they aren’t afraid to show them. These are the people who inspire me to be a better person.

say-anything-poster-1The possibility of making a difference. A teenager in the 1980s, I grew up knowing that for a living I didn’t want to buy anything, sell anything, or process anything. I didn’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I didn’t want to do that.

I don’t.

Instead, I get to be a part of a noble profession. The work I do, at its very best, has the possibility of making a true difference, and I do my best to live by the statement:

I believe that I can make a difference. By working hard and treating others with respect, I believe that I can help create a place where students, teachers, parents, and others in the school community can succeed, and this success is no less than a better life.”

I’m thankful everyday that I have a job that gives me so much.

Baseball and Such

It doesn’t matter that I live in California and that the weather this February afternoon is hovering just under eighty degrees. Ever since I was a kid growing up in Oregon, where Februaries are reliably wet and grey, those three words of reassurance that spring is almost here have whispered from the desert: “Pitchers and catchers.”*

3452Anyone who as visited this online apothecary of odds and ends knows that I’m a baseball fan, and will indulge me, I hope, this post written on a yellow legal pad as I sit at a picnic table watching my son’s baseball practice, pausing as I do to watch him charge grounders, run bases, and slap a single to right field.

It’s a post only sort of about education (my usual bread and butter), though any words written about baseball are written about life, and my professional life has been about teaching and learning since the first Clinton administration. Like baseball, education is a thinking person’s game, success predicated on strategy, preparation, and the ability to think on your feet.

Baseball isn’t a sport some of us stop thinking about. The long season encourages commitment, a relationship with the game built over 162 regular season games each season, and seasons stretching back to the 1840s. Football fans are identified by the bumper stickers on their trucks, and basketball fans by the $100 jerseys they wear over t-shirts. You know a baseball fan’s team by the weather-beaten cap worn every weekend all the year round.

It’s like that for great teachers, and principals like me too; education is that constant in our lives, that faded cap we know we’ll still be wearing in twenty years.

Part of the appeal is the beauty of it all when the distinct elements come together. Players, like my son and daughter, practice hitting, fielding, and running the bases, but the sum total of the game transcends each individual part. So too, we talk about the standards for teaching, each valuable in and of themselves, but none so great as the magical whole of a day in the classroom when things just click.

That magic of watching a deft teacher turn a cynical student comment into the opening remark of a spirited class discussion, that spell cast by a veteran storyteller delighting her students with tales of Aphra Behn, or that sorcery performed in an introductory chemistry class when a witty teacher decides that amazing her students may be the best way to capture them for the term… and by that I mean capture their hearts forever, with the experience of a chemical reaction that delights and surprises them… these are moments akin to a catch by Willie Mays or a line drive from the bat of Ted Williams.

School stories, like baseball stories, grow to legend with retelling. Our favorite teachers, like our favorite baseball players, become myth over years of remembrance.

…and it happens year after year after year.

photo (4)My daughter is playing softball this season, and my heart finds my throat every time she faces a full count. My son is deciding to be a switch hitter, and I’m just waiting for the right time to introduce him to Eddie Murray. At eleven and seven, they have scores of teachers ahead of them. The stories they will remember from a lifetime of school are still being written.

They have so many more at bats.

The ups and downs that will come from those experiences, as they do for all of us, the triples and the strikeouts, the A’s and the F’s, the tragedy and the joy… these are the stuff of life. I appreciate that baseball, and school too, helps us all prepare for the adventures that are to come.

There are times we choke and there are times we choke up.

Today, however, is a time to revel in those three words that remind me that there’s always another chance, another season, another fresh start, another spring. Today, from Peoria to Sarasota, it’s pitchers and catchers!

Play ball.



* My wife, who is not a baseball fan, would let me know that for a great many readers, particularly those lured in with promises of a high school principal’s perspective on contemporary education, affection for the grand game isn’t a given. “Pitchers and catchers?” she’d ask sensibly. “What are you talking about?” Prosaically, the answer is that on February 18th, major league ballplayers who pitch and catch arrive at spring training, a couple of days before the rest of the team. Poetically, and that’s the way God intended baseball to be experienced (if she hadn’t, God wouldn’t have made the game so beautiful) the words “pitchers and catchers” mean anticipation, unlimited potential, hope, and spring.



Student Voices

photoThe three seniors and I sat around the table in my office and we talked. Our discussion had started with a time capsule; construction of a new classroom building had unearthed a 2’x2’ metal box, heavy, rusted, and welded shut. The students were curious about this mysterious piece of campus history. We honestly don’t know what’s in it, none of us, students or adults. It’s a great equalizer, the unknown, and a welcome catalyst for conversation.

We talked a bit about the past, then shifted to the present: they’d like to put a time capsule of their own into the ground. “Where,” they asked, “do we get a time capsule?”

Plans made, our conversation drifted to other topics: the new term, what it had been like to move to Encinitas and start at San Dieguito, and the pressures of applying to college.

When I hear the question of how schools can promote “student voice” my first thoughts are of the big things like our Student Forum and the fabulous funkiness of “The Mustang,” our student newspaper. Formal opportunities like these are important, and a vibrant student newspaper and active ASB are indicators that a school hears what students have to say.

photo 1 (19)Here at San Dieguito we’re blessed with both, and both know that the spirit of our school is rooted in the belief that students should have a huge say in what happens here. Our San Dieguito culture of acceptance comes from the thousand little acts of kindness students show each other every day.

The dozen or so teachers new to San Dieguito saw this back in August when a panel of students came in to tell them what our school is all about. As the principal, I had yapped at the new teachers already, but it was when these amazing students took the stage that the true nature of our school filled the room. As students talked about the respect and encouragement they felt from teachers, their voices helped our newest additions understand the possibilities of the year ahead.

Important in this process, and true at San Dieguito, is the adults’ willingness to trust that what the students have to say matters.

mannyHere at San Dieguito one way of celebrating that unexpected and often delightful voice is the fact that our school’s official Twitter account is run by students and fronted by our school mascot. I love that the students have this voice, unfiltered and filled with the exuberance of youth.

And yet it’s in those quiet conversations, like the one one I had with those three seniors, that I feel student voice is at its strongest. Those students didn’t need to be told that their opinions mattered. They didn’t have to shout to be heard. They knew that what they had to say was important and would be listened to.

The more often conversations like the one I had the pleasure to share with those three students happen, the more students spread the word that they can, should, and will be heard. Each of these conversations makes our school healthier, happier, and more closely connected.

Candy’s Dog

I’m in a room surrounded by bloggers.

Thirty fourteen year olds and I are all working on laptops and chromebooks writing posts that we hope might entertain and tell a meaningful story. Constantly circling us, like a benevolent shark, an inspiring English teacher peeks over shoulders, offers prompting and praise, asks questions, and challenges us to “stretch ourselves” as writers.

photo 1It’s Freshman English, and midway through Of Mice and Men students have paused long enough to do a bit of flash-research and creative writing on a post called: “Candy’s Dog: An Alternative Ending.”

In-class blogging has emerged as an interesting variation on the kind of writing English teachers have been assigning since before Steinbeck wrote his novella. It’s nothing new to see students answering writing prompts, but as I’m learning first hand today, putting their answers into a blog has every student in class focused on developing an “answer” that they feel proud enough to post.

This class is using a program that allows the teacher to share the posts as much or as little as she likes. This could be with peers within the class, students from multiple of her classes, or students across the school. The students seem aware that their audience might be more than their teacher sitting alone at her desk after the bell has rung. the result seems to be a greater level of care and focus.

dogPart of today’s assignment includes finding a picture of a dog and putting it in with the text, a task our teacher has warned us shouldn’t take all of the half hour or so we have to build our post. I went with a picture of a dog I had the pleasure of escorting off campus a couple of years ago; a friend had snapped our photo when he saw how much joy that pup had brought to my morning.

After an initial ten minutes of laughter, searching for photos and quick research on how elderly dogs get treated in contemporary society, the volume of the class has sunk to zero. Keyboards quietly tick as students, and I, hurry to finish our posts before the end of the period.

I leaned over to ask the fellow at my elbow what program they were using to blog; a few minutes later he leaned my way to ask how to spell “infinite.” I’m curious to read his post. We’re working side by side, a teacher never far away, and an audience for our work just around the corner.

I see the hands of the clock sweeping closer to 1:30, when we’ll need to bring an end to our work and send our posts out into the broader world. I’ve promised myself that I’ll live within the same constraints as the students in the class, allowing myself a similar experience and the joy of camaraderie that a challenge like this offers.

We haven’t used words like “paperless” or “21st century learning” today. Students haven’t marveled at something new or different. Instead, today’s blogging challenge feels natural, a simple manifestation of the world in which they learn and live.

I taught English for more than a decade, and wish I would have had the flexibility to share student work that blogging allows. I wish my students might have known that the audience for their work could extend beyond me. If blogging in the classroom is transformative, and it very well might be, it’s a quiet transformation, and one that doesn’t feel as revolutionary as it does a normal part of our world.

Blogging, in the classroom or out, isn’t a new trick, but it seems a nice way to celebrate learning, even for an old dog like me.