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). 

Topographies can offer stark contrasts. Open spaces that impart a sense of freedom and possibility may be in close proximity (physical, visual) to human constructs that reflect different realities (San Quentin State Prison at center).

Running is movement of the body – moving forward through the space around us, expansion/contraction of lungs, muscles and blood inside the body. Thoughts, emotions and memories move (and churn) accordingly.

Older oaks often exhibit a robust muscularity (and make for easy climbing…).

The same spot last year on our opening day hike…churning through our thoughts, moving through unchartered space together for the first time.

Just a few more turns up the trail is one of my favorite spots…echoes of an ancient throne, oriented in such a way to have the sunset stream through it every night.

Turtle Rock. A popular spot for bouldering or just sitting and staring (our lunch stop last year).

Homes feel out of place up here…the sanctuary to the left (with a spectacular, menhir-like spire at its center) in strange (if not comical) juxtaposition with a well-manicured dwelling.

Split Rock. How about this as your next staff activity?

Bench to the lower left, with a view to my native East Bay.


Mt. Tamalpais is a constant presence, visible throughout Marin (and the Bay Area). The initial thought of spending a day of professional development outdoors took root during a retreat there last year.

Water tower hieroglyphics.

I have a background in visual arts; I generally paint abstractly. A lot of what I paint makes references to landscapes however not specific ones (I don’t paint plein air). I’ve run past this tree a few hundred times but just today I paused to look more closely, realizing what a strong resemblance it bears to this small bit of a canvas I painted a few years ago. Over time the spaces we walk through make a deeper imprint; perhaps the danger in familiarity is that we stop seeing with the attention and clarity these spaces deserve.

The Coast Miwok had their own visual culture. Some passers-by over the years have chosen to scrape over their images. We seem to be tip-toeing between preservation (of the landscape, of the cultural heritage) and overwriting (or paving over) what was once there.

Our work is as much physical as it is emotional. Every day is a juxtaposition of our own feelings (and resilience) with those of the many students (and adults) we work alongside. Another juxtaposition: educators are known for being selfless, hard workers – and also for suffering from deep burnout (in part due to being so selfless and hard working). 50 percent of all teachers leave the profession within five years. Many more never consider work in school leadership – too charged, too much negativity, etc.

Is it that we have become too attuned to our challenges, forgetting to pause and notice the wonderful people and ideas surrounding us?

I think there are simple ways to counter the fatigue (mental, physical) of a long school year and nurture a sense of levity, camaraderie and adventure.Weather permitting, take your next day dedicated to professional development outdoors, and offer the follow prompts as the central questions and curricula:

What juxtapositions do you notice around you today? 

What juxtapositions are you feeling as you move through today – and through your daily work?

What juxtapositions are worth holding on to? Which ones are best let go?


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