Saturday, April 21, 2018



I attempted to download Fortnite, the widly popular multi-player online game, the other  day during lunch. I was sitting “alone” in my classroom with a couple dozen loud youngsters ignoring me like they should while they were eating, laughing, looking at themselves in front-facing smart-phone cameras and other weird and joyful things. The volume was high. Someone must have noticed that I was fumbling through the setup of the game.  It wasn’t hard to notice, because I was looking at my laptop, but my large classroom TV behind me was mirroring my screen.

      I noticed a  change in the noise and became aware that a large contingent of the crowd was moving in my direction.  The gamers approached me and seemed giddy. They were belly-laughing and doing their versions of old-man back-slapping. I was receiving rock star like attention with cameras held high trying to capture me interacting with all things Fortnight. They kept announcing to everyone within 50 yards that I was about to try Fortnite! I was quickly whisked away from the keyboard as they rapidly problem-solved at a rate I had never seen before in humans between 14-18 years old.  I was given micro-lessons in Fortnite history, operations, strategy, communication protocols, hand-eye coordination hacks and current pop-culture status of Fortnight. These were communicated with levels of enthusiasm that I had never observed before in the wilds of the classroom.

      I plan to check out (at home) the craze and find a way to bring that fervor for teaching and learning that those gamers had for the subject matter (Fortnite) and the student (me). I know this will be short lived…remember Pokemon Go? I am definitely not going to tell these kids that I played Pong on a Middle School “date” and thought I was cool and a real techie.
  NOTICE: If you are an IT dude/dudette from the District Office this post should be read as if it was a game and not taken seriously and/or used to banish me from the InterWebs…

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Shadow A Student Challenge

Image result for shadow a student      Fairfield High School recently joined the “Shadow a Student” challenge that educators across the nation took part in.  Three teachers and our College and Career Center Director became high school students again for a short while. All participating staff members chose a student that they wanted to shadow and the entire staff was notified of the new “students” whom might be visiting their class.  
Ms. Goli Tavassoli, a Physical Education teacher, chose one of her basketball players that she coaches to see her in a different setting.  Ms. Tavassoli was actually a student for an hour in her own class while Mr. Eddie Wilson generously volunteered to substitute for her during that period of the day.  Ms. Lisa Yee, our College & Career Center pro, reported that her student’s Advanced Placement English class was very, very advanced.  She saw one of her favorite students in a new light after seeing the workload in her classes.

English teacher Mr. Steven Sheehy had some interesting insights after his day as a Falcon student:  

 Mr. Steven Sheehy’s Shadowing a Student Report
    “During the first half of the day, before lunch, I sat through Hunter’s pre-calculus class - which was, I confess, too challenging for me and I took it in high school too; wind ensemble - the band performed a Star Wars medley for me; in Government class, Mr. Macariola asked me questions about MLA and as a typical student, I said IDK … kidding, I answered his questions more like a teacher than a student.  After lunch, I am pretty sure I failed the honors anatomy exam and then used Google translate to create a sentence for the exit ticket in German, to which many students told me I cheated. I must say I had a blast being a student again and learned something too. 

    I sat through wonderful lessons taught by phenomenal teachers. But as much as I enjoyed assuming the role of a student, there was something I did not enjoy: I SAT ALL DAY. This was terribly difficult for me. Do not get me wrong, I love learning and I was a pretty decent student back in high school and college, but I forgot how much high school students sit. At least in college I would sit in class for at max an hour and a half, then I would walk ten to fifteen minutes to my next class, that is, if they were back-to-back. If I had a couple hours to burn between classes, I would usually take a stroll around the quad or walk to downtown Davis to grab coffee, but back in high school, I sat for hours. At least as a teacher, I can stand for most of the school day, and I do. 
    Taking a moment out of teaching to shadow one of my students for a day was an incredible experience. It was also super educational. I often forget what it is like to be a student, even though it was not that long ago I was one. I forget how much information students need to absorb and how long they are required to sit in order to do so. I need to build time in my lessons for them to move and apply their inner kinesthetic learner. While it is not realistic to have students move around the classroom all the time, I can still find appropriate way for them move some of the time. I would love to hear some suggestions from my peers and my students on how I can apply kinesthetic strategies to my activities. I hope my experience and thoughts inspire my fellow teachers to also think about ways to bring more movement into their teaching.”   

 Science Teacher Emily Jones joined the shadow a student team and made the most of the day.  She and her student, Mateo, took the time to reflect on what both of them learned from the day in this video:

    This Shadow a Student challenge was possible because of the awesome teachers who volunteered their time to substitute in the classes for their fellow teachers who were shadowing a student for the day. THANKS to:

Eddie Wilson
Chelseah Alva
Henry Siler
Regina Williams
Val Quijas
Jennifer French
Justin Salazar Stewart
Adam Levine
Von Wolf
Alfredo Sandoval

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Fairview Elementary: Capturing the Spark

   “Read like your house in on fire and reading is what can get you out.” That’s what Mason said and I am sure that my jaw dropped, eyes widened... and mind expanded.  Mason was a student of the week at Fairview Elementary in Fairfield, California and he was responding to Principal George Porter's question about his key to improving his reading scores. Principal Porter is a consummate educational professional with a resume’ as impressive as his ability to connect with kids, but he too was blown away by Mason’s powerful framing of the motivation to read.

     I had at least a baker’s dozen moments like the one Mason created while visiting Fairview Elementary for a day. Colleen Hutchinson, my creative, effervescent host and Assistant Principal of Fairview, greeted me and instantly turned the situation into a leadership experience for her student “Principal for the Day,” Angel.  Angel had the Principal ID badge credentials and even a whistle.  With her Minnnie Mouse ears in place, (this was “Disney Day”) she read the announcements to the nearly 600 students and then began her Administrative duties which included being responsible for me as the Fairview guest for the day.

     The three different lunch periods for the Panthers of Fairview allowed the Admin team of George
and Colleen to celebrate several students from Kindergarten through 5th grade.  I watched as Julianna accepted her pizza up on the stage and grinned with a subtle pride as her friends waved to her from their seats at the tables below the stage out on the gymnasium/lunchroom floor.

     I inquired about the mindfulness curriculum that the school uses to help students combat anxieties and toxic stress. I was whisked off to Mr. Phil Nordin’s room to join his students in a mindfulness session. The just after lunch mindfulness session was calming for all of us and his students were so insightful in their comments on the benefits of the “Inner Explorer” curriculum. Phil’s approach was one of valuing and celebrating the intellect and curiosity of his students. They were co-leaders of his classroom. As their calm mindfulness session ended, the anticipation of reading was almost too much for some of them to handle.  Their love of reading and happy acceptance of coaching from Phil was just another version of “read like your house is on fire and reading is what can get you out.” These students had caught the spark that seemed to be everywhere at Fairview.

      A break from classrooms was provided to me by Jordan and Jessica who were selected to be my guides for an in-depth campus tour.  I do not recall if I ever had to learn so much, so fast.  The amazing sensory overload tour was punctuated by my fear of their occasional and mostly unconscious use of every curb or monkey bar on campus to practice their gymnastics skills.
  Getting back to instruction, I landed in Laura Obando’s classroom.  I have followed her creative teaching on Twitter from 2.8 miles away at my high school, but now I was “live” and sitting on the floor trying to help five motivated 2nd graders find some legos for a bar graph representation. Her stations around the classroom were varied and provided multiple approaches to the math learning target of the day.  I started with the low-tech legos and then moved to high-tech stations.  Rumor has it that she is a tireless advocate for her students and everyone says “yes” to her Donors Choose efforts for a better experience for those lucky kids.

    David B. Cohen’s 2016 book Capturing the Spark: Inspired Teaching, Thriving Schools captures what is really happening in California schools.  He spent a year in classrooms seeing over and over what I saw in only one day--dedicated educators helping students flourish by capturing the sparks of curiosity and inspiration.  Maybe those educators are just doing something close to what Fairview student of the week Mason said.  Maybe those educators are teaching like their house in on fire and great teaching is what can get them out.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Mommas, Music & Respect

    She asked, “what made you listen to Paul Simon.” Now, I can’t think of many reasons why I would not want to listen to Paul Simon.  I love the sounds of Garfunkel too, as long as he is in the background making the sound and sentiments float on and take me to a higher plane.  I did have to think for a second, but it was an easy answer, “mom.” I needed to call my mom back. We talk all the time, but sometimes the daily, nightly and weekend grind of 24/7 work (thanks a million email!) makes the personal and important secondary to the tertiary.  So, what was the tune I had to hear? “Loves me like a rock.” “Oh, my momma loves me” says Paul and he goes on to make all of us feel like proud first-graders getting a hug from mom in front of our teacher…beaming.  I remember listening to that song as a teenager and thinking about someone being the President and still being momma’s boy and proud of it--and wondering if that was possible. Of course, those thoughts were just for me, because “cool,” of course.  Video: Paul Simon: Loves Me Like a Rock

“If I was President
And the Congress call my name
I'd say "who do
Who do you think you're fooling?"
I've got the Presidential Seal
I'm up on the Presidential Podium
My mama loves me
She loves me
She gets down on her knees and hugs me
And she loves me like a rock
She rocks me like the rock of ages”
          --Paul Simon, “Loves me like a rock”

         I gave my wife a temporary pass when she asked why I was spending an entire
afternoon listening to Paul Simon.  When Simon’s Graceland album, or in my case, cassette tape was released in 1986, I played it a few times.  I played it a few times in the morning and continued into the evening and for the next few months I kept flipping that cassette.  Late in the evening or on Sunday morning, my wife was blessed with my continuing fresh interpretations of the world beat of Graceland. The sounds of Ladysmith Black Mambazo were some of my favorites. I later saw them in concert, but their greatest received concerts ever may have been on my driveway and from my “boom box” as I washed my car or pretended to tinker on something.
    Video: Paul Simon: Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes             

     Motherhood is cool. Moms are my hope for humanity.  I see quite a few former boys who as men are not respecting their moms, sisters, wives, and every other woman and girl on this planet.  Your momma should love you like a rock, and every boy and alumni of boyhood should never forget to do as Aretha said, show your    R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

    I once was on the wrong end of a momma who loved her boy like a rock.  Attempting to beat out a possible infield single I decided to not only hit first base, but put a shoulder into the first baseman.  Combining baseball and football was a marvelous moment for me until I turned around to the base after my hard earned single. I sported a 4th-grader-as-gladiator stride while watching the first basemen attempt to get up from the blindside attack. I then caught a glimpse of a streak leaving the bleachers and heard the sounds of a woman saying something to the effect of “oh, not my baby.” She was headed to check on said baby. She also wanted to say a few things to me, and I stood struck in fear. Luckily my coaches shielded me from the wrong side of a momma’s love. 

     Thanks to the moms and the dads who love their kids and aren't afraid to show it. I know raising children can be tough. Teaching teenagers all day makes me want to help moms and dads in every way possible. Every kid needs a mom like the one from “Love me like a rock." For those kids that don’t, there is likely an educator attacking a mountain of musts so they can mentor, encourage or a mom.


Saturday, February 3, 2018

Diamonds, Runways & Classrooms: An Edu-Bio

 I was raised in a one-square mile town surrounded by orange groves, cattle and humidity.  I lived for diamonds and outfields, baseball was on my mind as well as inside a glove under my mattress, slowly bending toward perfection. But before baseball, there was school, until about three in the afternoon. Truthfully, I loved school too. I loved friends, sports, reading, my teachers & Monday morning laughter about that new, really late television show called Saturday Night Live. 

       I recall a weekend project at a classmate’s house. I do not know why we were putting together some type of structure with pennies and popsicle sticks. I do recall that Bobby did most of the work. What I learned from that project was how other families function. I remember overhearing a discussion about finances. I remember his mom bringing us a sandwich in a bag, even though we were just out the back door.  I guess I can mark that learning opportunity as another insight into how Southern, white, protestant, middle-class, small town families operated...but I needed less Mayo and more Magellan.
My parents made the idea of continuing my formal education a given, even though it was not an automatic, expected, or even highly suggested track from the signals I was picking up from the one mile north and south & one mile east and west town in the dead center of Florida.  I left for a college town that was just over twice the size of my hometown of 5,000 and in the insular state of Alabama. Even so, the progressive, global “we are all in this together” point of view my parents cultivated in me was expanded even more in Troy.  
         I again enjoyed school. I loved debating, learning and discovering how much there is to discover. Leaving Troy for a two-decade trip around the world in the US Air Force gave me many more opportunities to learn and teach.  A “desk job” assignment as a classroom instructor, showed me the joy of being on the teacher’s side of a classroom. 
 I left flying for the high school classroom and the creativity and challenge are as fresh to me now as my first day 12 years ago. Now I find myself preparing for a future chance to become a leader that supports an entire school of teachers. I feel as excited and slightly overwhelmed as my 22-year old self driving from Alabama to Arizona and the great unknown of Undergraduate Pilot Training. The words of focus from landing instruction apply still, “aimpoint, airspeed…aimpoint, airspeed.” 

Monday, January 8, 2018

2018: It's About Time

2018. It’s about time.
    “New Year’s resolutions are passe’. Think New Day resolutions instead…”
       – Bonnie Neubauer, Author of The Write Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to liberate your writing

Ben Franklin's daily agenda: note the morning question.
         2018. A new year with a new number.  A chance to reset.  Refresh.  We have 365 chances in 2018 to make a new day resolution. Just to let 2018 know who’s in charge, a 2018 numerical rabbit hole expedition will commence shortly. We do not know what lies before us but a numerical serendipity exercise might help us find the edu-groove we seek in 2018.

We have twelve months again this year. Like a very big litter of puppies. They look happy, sleepy, sassy, shy and inquisitive. Good news, we don’t have to just pick one.  We get to play with and take care of all of them. 2018 divided by 12 (months) is 168.16. We have roughly 168.16 students that we teach and learn with daily.  Except we don’t have the .16…unless that efers to that kid you still don’t really now and easily forget he is even there.  Go find Mr. .16 and make him #1 on day 1 of the 2018 academic year.
You are going to feel like you are working 24/7 a few times this year.  There is a reason you work like that.  They call it “passion,” but it might look like “stress.” Find your support team. Go for a run. 2018 divided by 24 (hours-a-day) is 84.  There are 84 days in 2018 before Spring Break Eve.  You can teach & learn like your hair is on fire for 84 days and kids would pay to be part of that.

     Tick tock.  If your hair is on fire no one will be watching the clock.  But 2018 divided by 60 (seconds) is 6.08333.  In 6.08333 seconds the International Space Station can travel the 29 miles from over the summit of Mount Diablo to Fairfield High School.  In a 29-mile radius around Fairfield High School there are approximately 1.9 million people.  Those are “googleable” answers, but from there the connected math, science, language, economics, culture and geography questions are unlimited.  Challenge. Question. Shake things up and make learning an epic journey. (see Trevor Muir’s book The Epic Classroom


     2018 divided by 365 is 5.5.  That is approximately the daily amount of time we prep for, plan for, mull over, get excited about- that is our “contact time” with students.  Your Personal Learning Network time on Twitter, weekend EdCamps, formal and informal collaboration, Sunday night lesson plan tweaks and mid-day Monday lesson overhaul- it’s all about the students.  5.5 hours.  Hit the stage. Crank the volume. It’s time.

    Yes, 2018/1= 2018. One year. Multiple chances. Daily resolutions.  A chance to do good--lots of it.  

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Way of Life

(Ruth Bancroft Garden, Walnut Creek, CA) 
   It is currently 7:51 am on January 2nd.  It is a beautifully crisp and clear morning and I am looking out at the orange-pink rays making my succulent plants blush.  My wife left for work earlier in a happy mood.  My parents are visiting from the Sunshine State and are preparing for an epic NorCal outing with me. I haven’t had to answer an email, return a phone call or go to work for several days. I have (surprisingly) gone for a run or hit the gym for several days in a row. I am in a ridiculously good mindset now at 7:56 am.  How can I keep this zen state a month from now on a cold, rainy morning after a particularly rough day in the classroom, dozens of emails I need to respond to, not-really-fun phone calls to make and my wife is not completely happy with whatever new or repeat knucklehead life choice I have made. What if I don't keep up my vacation fitness efforts and lose that positive mind-body surge? Then again, What if I told you that you I (and every educator I know) will not have a job after Winter Break.  Why? Because jobs have demands, deadlines, toil and trouble-- but what if our work mindset received a nirvanic alignment and we changed the game?

   As a teacher or school leader you have the opportunity every day to make a “generational impact on families,” according to Jimmy Casas in his book, Culturize: Every Student, Every Day, Whatever It Takes.”  I just finished the book and this passage spoke to me: “refresh your mindset so you see the role of teacher or principal as a way of life, not as a job or a title.”  The italics are mine-- the sentiment is awesome.  Experiencing the amazing ups and disappointing downs of teaching from a mindset of “a way of life” could be the enlightenment that soaks up the exasperation.  Creating the environment, cultivating the relationships, casting the characters and baking up the curriculum takes a lot.  It is definitely a way of life.  When you are hoping that mix of those competencies will set minds on fire or create an “aha chorus” and the result is a classroom mix of confusion, disinterest or worse--that is difficult for the most resilient educator.  

 I recently took a 3-hour tour of a bunch of educator’s “islands” across our campus that we call “classrooms.”  I wanted to film the whiteboards and screens of the varied learning spaces to show the variety of objectives, targets, agendas, vocabulary words and other edutopian topics on display.  I also asked the students I encountered what they were doing, learning or creating that day.  It was a wonderful opportunity for me to observe the diversity of knowledge, technique and style of our teachers that Administrators see on a more routine basis. I was impressed by the creativity.  I was an observer of the collaboration and the critical thinking of the students and the staff. What I did not expect to find was what several of the teachers shared with me after we briefly discussed my “what did you learn today” film project.  
The teachers were engaged and enthused but several were also...burdened.  New teachers and veterans alike expressed how challenging their days and year were for them.  They felt as if they were struggling and also felt as if everyone else was gliding along effortlessly. These were honest, unprompted expressions. The isolation of their classroom “islands” was very apparent. After hearing that sentiment for the third time, I told a teacher that most others felt like they did.  Their peers were working hard, sometimes failing forward and trying to do their very best for students that they truly cared about.  That teacher fought back tears (a losing battle), but found some respite knowing that others might understand what they were going through.

      This school life can be a great way of life. The chance to make a “generational impact on families” is an amazing opportunity.  Most of us are exactly where we want to be, but we need to be there together. I have been inspired by the #oneword2018 thoughts of many educators.  I choose
“#connection” as my one word for 2018. Educators need #connection beyond the PLN feed on their Samsung or iPhone.
 Our students need connection before they can journey into content. I hear that floatplanes make island travel easy.  See you soon.


                                                                                        I attempted to download Fortnite, the w...