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Marrying Research and Practice at McAuliffe School

Hi Everyone,

In my last newsletter, I wrote about the differences between fitting in and belonging and the challenge that we, as a community, are faced with in building a caring, warm, and accepting environment that supports student differences and empowers their voice.

Earlier this week, Bonnie Kuo recommended that I listen to a podcast entitled Kinder-Gardening. The host interviewed Alison Gopnik a psychology and philosophy professor at Cal who wrote, The Gardner and the Carpenter. *You can listen to the podcast here .

Alison had a number of compelling things to say about parenting…and the history of parenting, two comments stood out. First, around 22:50 she mentions that young children learn through play. We recognize and wholeheartedly agree with this statement. She then dropped a powerful statement and said that older kids learn best through apprenticeships. And I think this deserves some further research on our part. It is unclear what age she is referring to for apprenticeships, so I’ll read her book and get back to you shortly.

Earlier this week, David Patton stopped by to share the NY Times article, ‘Bringing in Risk’ to Build Resilience. If you haven’t already read it, it’s worth a few minutes of your time and I’ve attached a link to the article here ( ). It may amuse you to look at the pictures because I immediately noticed similarities between these “new” practices in England, Australia, and Canada that have long been a part of student experience. “The shift to seeing some benefit in risk, advocates say, signals the end of a decades-long drift toward overprotecting children.”

What is even more interesting to me is how this article aligns so nicely with the podcast. As Alison shares, “I think the science suggests that being a caregiver for human beings is…much more about providing a protected space in which unexpected things can happen than it is like shaping a child into a particular [king? Should this be kind?] of desirable adult.”

In addition to supporting students with risk taking in the classroom and on campus, it was interesting to watch students who chose to participate in today’s walkout for 17 minutes. What began as a conversation in the 8th grade, grew into in class conversations, led by the 8th grade students. They differentiated the topics depending on the age of the kids, and covered topics from honoring the 17 students who were killed to creating safe school environments for everyone.

Some students chose to leave their classrooms and walk around the block in a peaceful act of civil disobedience, while others decided to stay. Parents and teachers were on hand to support the students and ensure that they were safe. And across the board all students voices were heard and honored both by the adults and students.

Frankly, this is one of the many reasons why I am so grateful to be part of our community. We endeavor to provide a safe space for students to explore and try new things, behaviors and ideas that fosters creativity and supports difference. This in and of itself is risky and consistent with what we believe in giving our students every opportunity to grow and learn so it’s nice to hear that our practice has the added benefit of furthering resilience in children. And hopefully sends a message that they are important and that they can make a difference.

— See a problem. Do something about it.

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Fitting In vs Belonging

Hi Everyone,

Welcome back!

I hope you enjoyed a long and restful break with your family. We’ve only been back a few days and yet vacation seems like a distant memory!

Fitting in vs. Belonging
Last weekend, I had a conversation with a few friends around the difference between fitting in and belonging. What made the conversation powerful was that the more we talked, the deeper we found ourselves diving into the nuances of what this means and what the implications are for school, home, and work. It started with his son’s experience in high school.

Consider this: Have you ever fit in somewhere and felt like you didn’t belong? Have you ever worked to fit in just so that you could feel like you belong? What was the end result? When do you find yourself completely free from worry about how you present the real you? What were these experiences like for you?

Hmm…for me thinking back to high school, 4 years of varsity soccer – Fit in but didn’t belong. Club soccer – belonged. 4 years of band – belonged. Classes – mixed bag…in some classes I felt right at home while in others it was like walking on eggshells around the teacher (definitely fitting in). Cross country – belonged with those quirky kids! And today…many, many years later at McAuliffe…definitely belong.

Fitting in and belonging are part of our normal experience when interacting in social groups. It is particularly important for pre-teens and teenagers. They are busy working out who they are and where they fit in the world. They may try on new styles of clothing, explore different types of music and friendship groups, etc. But what I hope for all of our students is that they feel like they belong and are accepted for who they are here at McAuliffe.

Brene Brown has been studying this phenomenon for nearly twenty years. In 2012, she wrote an article on this for Oprah, “Belonging is not fitting in. In fact, fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging. Fitting in, I’ve discovered during the past decade of research, is assessing situations and groups of people, then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them. Belonging is something else entirely—it’s showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are—love of gourd painting, intense fear of public speaking and all.

Many of us suffer from this split between who we are and who we present to the world in order to be accepted, (Take it from me: I’m an expert fitter-inner!) But we’re not letting ourselves be known, and this kind of incongruent living is soul-sucking.

The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect. When we don’t have that, we shape-shift and turn into chameleons; we hustle for the worthiness we already possess.

I believe that we are incredibly fortunate to be in a school community that encourages students to explore and grow in a safe learning environment. We also foster the values of presenting an authentic version of ourselves, being open and honest about vulnerabilities and imperfections. At the same time, as a progressive school, I know that we can and should strive to be better about this??

I invite your thoughts and ideas on how we can continue to grow in the area of creating a learning environment where children feel safe to be themselves.

Have a wonderful weekend!


“True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” Brene Brown Braving the Wilderness

Read more:

Reading Goal Update:
Some of your know that my birthday goal for this year is to read 47 books in 2018. If you didn’t know…surprise!! To help keep me accountable I will be providing periodic updates here. So far I’ve read: Finding Ultra, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Creativity, Inc., My Year of Running Dangerously, Murder on the Orient Express, Common Sense, The Alice Network, and The Radium Girls. Only 39 more to go!

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Reflections of the week…

Happy Friday everyone!

This week I took some time to reflect on the institute that Alicia, Susan and I are participating in. I puzzled over the name of our institute for a short while.  NIPEN…National Institute of the Progressive Education Network…wouldn’t it be NIotPEN? That doesn’t have a great ring to it…Why not PENI?? PENI just rolls off the tongue…Ultimately I landed on the realization that regardless of the name, this experience is something special and wonderful, and I am truly grateful to be a part of this group of 24 educators working toward improving educational experiences for children.

Each of us left the first session with a task, a Call To Action (CTA). We have three taking place at McAuliffe. In an upcoming podcast, Alicia, Susan, and I will describe our CTAs, how we came to select these projects and what that means for McAuliffe.

I believe that I shared this earlier and that it’s worth reiterating that a common element that occurred at every progressive school that I have visited and observed: a sense of coming home.

My reflection reminded me of this past Tuesday. I stopped amidst the hustle and bustle and spent time soaking in a part of what makes McAuliffe special. The bell had rung and students trickled out from class. What caught my attention was a joyful noise. It was a blend of adult and children laughing, talking, playing. Some were leaving. Others were in the middle of a game or in the middle of a conversation. It was casual and familiar and something that I hope for every child and parent.

If you haven’t seen our middle school play check it out tonight! It is AWESOME!!!! I was blown away by the complexity of their performances and the way that the thespians embraced their characters! The PAC was transformed and the audience was transported to Ancient Greece. There was drama, comedy, and some downright spookiness! Come and be amazed!

As we move into the second month of the year I am grateful to be part of a community of friends working together. As with any relationship, friendships take work…and are worth it. The work that you do here, builds our community, enhances the learning experiences of all of our children, and has the ancillary benefit of developing lifelong friendships for you and your family.

Next week is Valentine’s Day so have fun with that! Enjoy the weekend ahead. Play, laugh, spend time observing the family dynamic and finding the things that make your family unique and special and wonderful. When you see them; share them with your family. I’m excited to try this too!!


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November News

Visiting teachers
We started off with a visit from a group of teachers from Myanmar seeking a better understanding of progressive education and Dale Jones who was hosting the teachers and is next week’s guest speaker. Alicia led the tour and was excited to learn from them too. One thing that we are going to explore is giving teachers time to visit their colleagues’ classrooms.  We offer many varied strengths and it makes sense to learn from one another.

Superintendent visits McAuliffe
On Tuesday, our Superintendent, Dr. Craig Baker, joined us for the afternoon. We started with a brown bag session with parents, followed it up with a tour of our campus where we visited all of our classrooms, and then wrapped up the afternoon with a staff meet and greet.

One of the things that I have really appreciated about our conversations is his constant attention on what is best for students. He has a mind for the budget and has been clear about where we are fiscally and has revenue generating ideas. He is also already focused on being proactive and collaborative with parents, teachers, and administrators. These are exciting and needed, but it is his mindset around students and what is best for them that resonates so powerfully with me and many of the parents and teachers I spoke with after our conversations.  

Field trips and class news updates coming your way!
Some of our students are at Astro Camp this week while others travelled to San Juan Bautista and Monterey Historic Park. And that reminds me! At our emergency PFG meeting last week, the parents agreed to share stories from our classes every other newsletter. This begins next week and we are all excited to hear about the many learning experiences taking place around campus! Stay tuned!


All Community Meeting This Tuesday November 14 at 7-9pm
This is an important time for us to come together and learn new ideas and discuss critical issues. While we are all committed to attending this annual event, it’s important to know that your participation in this meeting benefits everyone in the community as we all learn and grow together as friends and parents!

This year we have a very special guest speaker and his topic is “Parenting for Optimal Child Wellness”.  

Our talk will look at how parenting affects the emotional health of our children, and will include strategies for improving your child’s “wellness” in the face of increasing societal stress. There will be plenty of opportunities for dialogue with the presenter and your fellow audience members.

Our special guest presenter is none other than Dale Jones. Dale is a leader in the progressive education movement, long-time educator, and former principal of and parent at McAuliffe School.


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Hybrid Mind Reflections


“The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real.” – Richard Louv

Happy Friday Everyone!

It was refreshing to wake up to rain this morning and with fire conditions across the bay area, it couldn’t have come at a better time! Our hearts go out to our family, friends, and our neighbors who have been displaced or impacted by the fires.

Thank you to everyone who is reaching out and helping those in need. You are making the world a better place.

On Wednesday, Katie, Sue, and I went to the Commonwealth Club’s presentation of the Hybrid Mind by Richard Louv. He offered a compelling discussion about the importance of finding balance between the use of electronics and technology and being outdoors in nature. Richard’s talk resonates with our schoolwide focus Health and Wellness.

The three areas he targeted were:

  1. Create a hybrid mind.

As technology becomes increasingly accessible, how do we balance the 24/7 always on, always connected lifestyle with the idea of being outdoors and developing an appreciation for the natural world? Richard embraced the idea of inclusion and encouraged us to seek a balance for ourselves and especially for young children. How do we foster this in our own lives and how do we model it for our children?

  1. Support and create bridges to nature for young people.

Dr. Stephen Kellert states, “Play in nature, particularly during the critical period of middle childhood, appears to be an especially important time for developing the capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and emotional and intellectual development…” “Unstructured free play in the out-of-doors brings a host of benefits to children — from being smarter to more cooperative to healthier overall.”

Richard cited example after example of schools that were reducing or canceling recess in favor of more “academic” time. He described schools that eliminated music and/or PE and extended the school day while reducing students’ time outside.  

*Interesting factoid – In the United States, prison inmates get more time outside (2 hours/day) than children do (1-1:15 hours) during the day.

Richard also shared a number of the impacts of nature on children and his findings are consistent with what we have seen at McAuliffe:

  • Creativity, physical competence, social skills, environmental knowledge, confidence, and problem-solving ability are among those benefits to children’s development.
  • It also leads to enhanced cooperation and conflict resolution skills; gains in self esteem; gains in positive environmental behavior; and gains in problem-solving, motivation to learn, as well as having positive impact on their personal, intellectual development.
  • Outdoor education leads to persisting benefits for children even years after the event.
  1. Become leaders in the new nature movement.

Finally, Richard challenged the audience to become leaders in a counter culture. He spoke specifically to tech industry leaders and then encouraged all of us to stand up for a balance in technology and nature.

On many levels, McAuliffe has been on this path since we were founded. We have always embraced the notion that learning happens everywhere and “Classrooms without Walls” describes our daily practice. At the same time, as a progressive school, we can be better than we are now. And that all of us working together as a village can make this happen.

What can we do here at McAuliffe to be leaders in the counter culture that embraces the importance of nature along the electronic/technological world?

What can we do at home to foster this in our own lives and the lives of our families?

Ok problem solvers! Now’s our chance! Let’s hear your ideas and let’s make this happen!


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Braving the Wilderness.
A few people asked what I’m reading these days. I haven’t read as much as I’d like, so that served to help me kick it up a notch. This week I read Brené Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. Her book focuses on the search for “True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone”.

As many of you know, I am a huge supporter of Brené’s work on shame, empathy, vulnerability, and courage. I particularly like that, as a grounded theory researcher, she “develops theories based on people’s lived experiences rather than proving or disproving existing theories.”

She describes true belonging as “only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self acceptance.” What’s particularly compelling about this is the role that social media plays
for adults and children in creating a less than authentic experience of our lives.
In upcoming letters, I’ll explore this a bit more. I’ll also return to Rox Zander’s work, The Art of Possibility, that I shared about in August. For now, I’d like to pull back the curtain to reveal what happened at our Learning Day last Friday.

Learning Day
Last week’s Learning Day was considered by staff as generally one of the best we’ve had in the last few years. We felt this way because we made time to discuss major and minor issues that we were faced with in a conversational and reflective manner. We kicked off the meeting with Ann and Christine sharing the PFG Parent Portal. We then spent the morning discussing issues like the need for space for our middle school, updates on our school-wide wellness theme, and including the Units of Study writing program in our integrated curriculum in a way that is consistent with our philosophy. We coordinated schedules for families with siblings for our upcoming conferences, talked about Info Night, Playground Supervision, and refined our plan for the upcoming November PFG meeting (Look for more on this shortly. Suffice it to say we are ALL very excited about this special meeting!)

We then wrapped up the day with grade level collaboration to reflect on upcoming our students’ learning experiences and refine our curriculum for the next few months.

Have a wonderful weekend…and Go Bears!

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Brene Brown’s Finding our way to true belonging —

So many of us long to be part of something real. But we’ll need to risk discomfort and criticism and show the world our real selves first, says vulnerability researcher Brené Brown. True belonging. I don’t know exactly what it is about the combination of those two words, but I do know that when I…

via Finding our way to true belonging —

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