Posted by: principalsintraining | August 2, 2017

Staying Empty (A Tonic Against Rampant Do-Gooderism)


Seeking (and finding) a Robust Emptiness (future site of officially-sanctioned PD…)

August 1 is the equivalent of New Year’s Day for most school principals: the first day back after summer, the day when we walk into an empty building, sit down in a quiet office, and stare into the fog of the year to come.

(I like to keep the lights off for as many days/weeks as possible – institutional lighting just feels too gloomy)

August 1 is the day we begin to think about our goals for the year (personal, professional). Maybe we’ve thought about them before today – if so, then today is the day we get to put them into place (or begin a yearlong process of skirting them…). Read More…

Posted by: principalsintraining | June 19, 2017

Uncertainty, Fear, Failure (A Warm, Fuzzy Commencement Address)

Uncertainty. Fear. Failure. Three ingredients a first-year principal has on his or her spice shelf! This was the tenth graduation I’ve been a part of as an administrator (I’m ready to go into event production if need be), and the second time I’ve given a commencement address. This one borrows and builds upon some ideas from that first address.

I will remember this group of students and the experience of getting them ready for this event – my first to “deliver” to the next phase of life and learning as their principal. Every group of students has a particular energy and spirit; we begin to tell stories about them (a natural tendency) and they, over time, may begin to see themselves as the adults see them. This particular cohort had some challenges with conduct – more specifically, a small group of kids that struggled to demonstrate kindness and respect (to self, peers and staff) and a more caustic, sharpened edge to social dynamics in some larger groups. Part of this is the nature of growing up; part of it comes from an unknowable set of circumstances; another part is the mystery of group chemistry (which voices/personalities assert dominance and which exist unseen and unheard).

We need to be mindful of how we talk about childrenRead More…

Posted by: principalsintraining | May 19, 2017

2017: The Year of Nurturing Dissent

Dissent, at its core, is not an exercise in screaming to be heard. Dissent, at its most fundamental, is a sustained conversation that confident, perceptive leaders – and healthy leadership infrastructures – actively nourish. Why nourish them? Systems and cultures that actively discourage dialogue, disagreement and dissent (and their many intersections and overlaps) do not succeed in making those feelings and attitudes disappear; they simply push them into more marginalized spaces -spaces that often magnify them in intensity and conviction.

In dissent-averse environments, the ideas that run contrary to the established permissions set by the leader (what we can talk about, what we can not talk about) continue to exist outside established conduits; these ideas may end up taking deeper root (drawing energy from the downward push of the power structure, responding in kind with equal force) than if they had been allowed to breathe in the first place.

Dissent is nothing more than the instinct possessed by all children to ask questions of the world around them; Read More…

Posted by: principalsintraining | March 30, 2017

Questions As First Steps (Moving Into A Shared Journey)

Faculty meetings as movement; sowing purposeful confrontation with questions – and each other.

I’ve always been drawn to the Aboriginal tradition of the walkabout; adolescent boys departing home for a period of up to six months as a rite of passage. I think what interests me most is a culture that constructs a physical and psychological experience of moving into adulthood (literally, through the landscape; metaphorically, as an internal process of rupturing with what was to discover/confront what one is to become).

Education is our Western corollary. In the bustle of each day we perhaps don’t look around to see it; we are engaged in a cyclical ceremony of learning. But are we together enough? Do we weave this experience for children

As a principal and facilitator of adult gatherings, I care a lot about making time and space for being together and feeling connected and happy (as people, as educators). I feel like these connections can and should very naturally translate into a sense of connectedness between classrooms; as students move through their daily ceremony, walking from one space to another, are they experiencing a purposefully woven thread – or a disjointed assortment of ideas, philosophies and expectations.

Cohesion is a muscle we build over time.  Read More…

Posted by: principalsintraining | November 7, 2016

Moving Through Juxtapositions (the Landscape of Your Next Meeting)

I don’t often bring my phone along on runs. I’ve been lucky to live for the last 12 years at the base of the Ring Mountain Open Space, a unique spot as it is a significant undeveloped expanse with views of huge swaths of the bay, San Francisco, east to Mt. Diablo, south to Mt. Hamilton, west to Mt. Tamalpais, north to Mt. St Helena…After 12 years of runs, hikes and pre-dawn dog walks (owls and coyotes our only company) it has become my thinking place.

So my post today is just a visual narration of a wending Sunday run. We’ve had a bit of rain this October, though not enough to spark up the seasonal drainages (listen here) that chirp through winter (fingers crossed).

Memories of a place accrue over the years; as we move through familiar geographies they surface like seasonal brooks. Above is a spot we gathered on our first day of professional development last year at my school. We stood in a circle amongst the rocks, looking out over the Bay. It felt crazy to think about organizing a day of work around a hike in open space; now I feel a sense of loss any time we gather inside instead of under an oak tree (or anywhere outside).  Read More…

Posted by: principalsintraining | September 30, 2016

How To Begin? (The Opening Scribbles of a School Year…)


Foment and tumult; a new year always means new people (and ideas) coming together in unique combination. We walk along the razor’s edge of excitement and anxiety. Patricia Holland, a gifted English teacher at Tamalpais High School for over three decades, once told me that she always got nervous for Day One. Being “experienced” doesn’t somehow inoculate us against being nervous – thankfully!

This is my first year as principal after eight and a half as assistant principal. Many things about my work remain the same; many things are different! From late June until today I have traipsed along the edge of excited/anxious each day. The question bubbling in my subconscious ceaselessly:

How to begin? 

What experiences will my community share as a result of my planning? 

What tone will we set from moment one? 
Read More…

Posted by: principalsintraining | August 22, 2016

Initial Inhalation (The Year’s First, Indelible Moments)

Day One is a rock concert; sound check complete thanks to Kit. 

DNA for Day One of school as a community gathering comes from my years as A.P. at Sir Francis Drake High School. Everyone is all stressed out on the first day – so why not change the rules for how we gather for the first time?

Okay so the playbook might read (just curious though: what were people feeling the day before?):

Take note of daybreak. Pause, breathe, stand still. Many months of thinking are coming to a close today…boom or bust!

What is the energy in the hallways? Pause, smile, laugh, photobomb. Read More…

Posted by: principalsintraining | July 5, 2016

Erupting Into a New State of Being (the Creative Pressure of Complaint)


What forces contributed to create this particular vista? To your own perception and understanding of it all?

When is the last time your life erupted? Your perception of the world? Your school?

Eruption is often associated with violent destruction (They erupted in anger). Vesuvius erupting wasn’t a good outcome for the citizens of Pompeii. Something hidden has welled up beneath the surface (of a mountain, a person, a society) and the act of releasing it is powerfully cataclysmic – something that can cause permanent change to the landscape (permanent, at least, in our somewhat limited scope of time).

Eruption, seen from a purely geologic viewpoint, is a force that adds material to the earth’s surface (above water or below). The dusty pumice at Haleakala’s ten thousand foot summit got there after many thousands of years of inexorable pushing from beneath. Eruptions create landscapes that people subsequently populate and cultivate, walk upon and dream about; they are a canvas for human experience and expression.

(I was going to say “patient” instead of inexorable – however the Earth is not “patient.” Read More…

Posted by: principalsintraining | May 16, 2016

Building A Yearly Culture Calendar (Sowing the 50-year Memory)


So what ONE image would you share to define the essence of your school? 

When I visit other schools or talk to people from other schools (kids, parents, teachers, admin…) the first thing I want to know is what their school is like (you know, that all-encompassing term that asks for something between broad generalization and granular microscopic rendering). I want to know how it feels to teach and learn there, the experience of being a parent there. I want to know that je ne sais quoi that makes that place singular amongst all the many tens of thousands of schools the world ’round.

We generally think of a school calendar in terms of dates (first day of school, grading periods, holidays, PD) and events (orientation, Back to School Night, assemblies, state testing, graduation). It’s all good stuff and a necessary part of moving a student body and community through a school year; for high school there is a particular weight to these different pieces as many of them determine what our students will be doing after their departure from compulsory education.

So what about the experiences that are unique to YOUR school Read More…

Posted by: principalsintraining | April 14, 2016

The Way We Talk About Children (and Their Delightful Savagery)


From the moment we emerge into the world, people begin speaking about us, and for us. Eventually we get to a place where we can take over the storytelling, yet despite this independence we can (with some digging, some gentle brushing away of the dusty layers covering what’s hidden) feel the vestiges and remnants of all the said things about us (for us, to us) when we talk about ourselves. Those underlying architectures inform our own sense of self (our innate value, or lack thereof; our potential for doing great things, or lack thereof); they quietly (often invisibly) permeate our interactions with others and serve as a filter for how we experience the world.

We enter formal schooling as small children, and leave as (young, still forming/fomenting) adults. Problematically, many of the ways that the people and apparatus of education speak and relate to students remain consistent throughout those 13 years; students receiving direction, input, guidance, feedback, critique, consequences, rewards, recognitions – yet, conversely, students rarely having the opportunity to give feedback of their own (why open Pandora’s Box?) or to provide direction to teachers and school leaders. Children follow set pathways from birth, yet often I notice how we as adults perseverate on the moments they don’t – and on the relatively few young individuals who do not comfortably conform to the many limits and boundaries our structures (and attitudes) impose.

IMG_4460Was Socrates perhaps being a bit tongue-in-cheek?

Read More…

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