Broken Ship in a Box

“That’s a broken ship in a box,” she said, looking past my shoulder at a wooden crate under the window. She tilted her head and looked again. “Broken ship in a box. That’d be a great title for a poem.”


And while I don’t know that this delightful teacher, so observant and good humored, knew that I’d given over this school year to bring more poetry into my life, professional and otherwise, I applauded her suggestion.

“It could be a collective effort,” she went on, smiling. “We could all write it together.”

The possibilities seemed great.

In education we like metaphors, and at ACMA we like bending those metaphors a bit. Rebuilding our ship at sea is a familiar one, so too thinking outside the box. This object in my office, and my teacher’s noticing it, seemed to marry both in a marvelously unexpected way.

We left it at that, at least then; a bell rang pulling her to greater things (middle school social studies) and I had to run to a classroom observation, but I jotted down the title she’d suggested and snapped a photo of the ship, thinking to myself that we would do something with it. Something. Sometime soon.

That sometime soon happened the following week, during our staff development day.

Before we got to discussions of academics, digital citizenship, intervention, and student wellness, we started the day with something a little unexpected, a quotation by Austrian philosopher Otto Neurath: “We are like sailors who must rebuild their ship on the open sea, never able to dismantle it in dry-dock and to reconstruct it there out of the best materials.” How like education, I suggested, and how connected to thinking outside of the box.

I told the story of the teacher and the ship in the box, including the notion we all might work together to write some poetry, and invited them to consider that scene from Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams’ teacher tells his students:

We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion …and medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” “Answer. That you are here — that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.” That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?” 

I acknowledged that though I was a former English teacher, or perhaps because of it, I knew that not 100% of my audience was excited about writing a poem. 

IMG_1638With that in mind, I’d reached out to my art teachers (every good educator knows that the best plans are plans shared and the best lessons aren’t hatched in isolation) and the result was divine.

Three teachers stood in front of the staff and introduced an art lesson that invited them to each work on a square that was a quarter of a ship. They could make it their own, complete with poetry or without, and would then collaborate with three other staff members to build their ship. 

These astounding teachers, who I have seen do such great work with kids year after year, brought that same spirit to the work with adults. They toted in colored pencils, pens, and materials for collage. They circulated around the library where we were working to laugh, encourage, and help the teachers engage with the creative shipbuilding at hand.

IMG_1633It was fantastic.

We saw pirates, and rainbows, and clever comments on education writ large. A science teacher put plastic in the ocean, an English teacher brought in the Greeks, and one intrepid sailor tipped the lesson on its side and built a brigantine from newsprint. One math teacher brought out a protractor, a dance teacher found metallic gold foil, and more than one person burst well off the black rectangle of the mounting paper. Rebuilding ships. Breaking boxes.

IMG_1650A couple of crews even snuck in a little verse.

And we, as a staff, got to create together.

We talked, we considered why we do what we do, and we expressed those ideas in colorful and creative ways.

Too often we adults forget the importance of play and art and connecting with each other in whimsical ways. That morning we did all three.

What then is our mission as educators? Like Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poets Society is our aim to inspire? Care? Support? Push our students to be their best?

Believe our art and it could just be all of the above. 

At least at ACMA, where a teacher might notice an antique broken ship in a box, and…




photo (7)One night I think it was just me and two nice teachers from Escondido. They were kind to me, answering questions, bantering a bit. It felt, by the end, like I’d made some friends.

Not every experiment in social media is an immediate success. #SDUHSDchat, my district’s foray into Twitter chat, is still a work in progress.

Like the others who have banded together to get #SDUHSDchat up and tweeting (a ToSA, a fellow site administrator, and a pair of strong teachers), I see in this weekly multi-school conversation great potential to strengthen the ties that bind our district together, to share innovative ideas about teaching and learning, and to support and inspire each other in our profoundly important work.

If people come.

And so, with an eye toward broadening participation, and knowing that nothing draws educators like free food, this Tuesday (1/13) #SDUHSDchat will break through the fourth wall and we’ll do our best to lure some dynamic (and hungry) teachers to join us for a #PizzaChat!

Our plan is to meet here at Diegueño, bring in enough pepperoni and cheese to feed the masses, and help teachers and other district educators feel comfortable with (and maybe even inspired to try) Twitter in good company, in an afternoon version of our scheduled #SDUHSDchat. I like that our chat is half an hour long, not a huge commitment, but enough to provide some connections and ideas to take into the week ahead.

For folks not familiar with a Twitter chat, we’ll explain how using the #SDUHSDchat hashtag can connect them with comments from a host of educators, some from our district and some beyond. We’ll reassure them that they can lurk, and encourage them to try dipping their proverbial toe in the water, and celebrate their participation. We’ll show any who don’t yet have a Twitter account how to set one up, and learn from those who are already tweeting how to build our Personal Learning Networks (PLNs).

chatrevisedI’ve heard Twitter described as a place where people become colleagues without ever working at the same place. I like this, and I’ve found it to be true. And for those who haven’t tried Twitter, I’m optimistic that by starting face to face we might be able to lessen any anxiety about an unfamiliar tool.

I see the possibility of more teachers taking advantage of each others’ knowledge and insight online after they’ve had the low stakes high carb introduction of our #PizzaChat. I have high hopes for the discussion, both online and over grease stained paper plates, on Tuesday.

…and I hope that those two teachers from Escondido will stop by the Twitter part of the chat too. Heck, if they drive out to Diegueño, I’ll give them some pizza.


For any SDUHSD teachers who might be interested, you should be getting an RSVP form emailed to you soon. If you don’t, check with your site administrator, so we can know you’re coming. This should be a fun afternoon, beginning at 3:30 on 1/13, at Diegueño Middle School.