Head’s Corner

“We are a small school, you have probably never heard of us, but if you have heard of us, you have probably heard good things.”


17-29-19, those are the attendance numbers of our last three Open Houses. 17 and 19 at our two Lower School Open Houses and 29 at the Middle School Open House two weeks ago. As a point of reference, when we have held lower school open houses in the past, we have never had more than a handful of people and the most at a middle school one would be 15.

Why the increase? I would like to say that it is due to the banner at the Orinda Bart, the yard signs, or our Facebook push. But every time I ask a family who tours how they heard of us, they inevitably tell me a current or former family told them about Saklan. Word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of advertising out there. In the independent school world, it is the most important reason people decide to join a school.

We hope you place our Saklan magnet on your car out of pride, but also to give others a chance to ask you about our work here at Saklan. The more children that experience an education like the one Saklan provides the better it is for our world.

So hopefully we will be soon saying, “We are a small school, you’ve probably heard of us and heard good things.”

Warm regards,


Head’s Corner

You Say Tomato, I Say Field Study

If you have heard us talk about our students’ “field trips” recently, you may have noticed that we try to exchange the word “trip” with “study” or “experience,” or even used the term “field work.” Words matter, they send specific messages in our educational culture. The phrase field trip is predominately used when describing experiential learning. But “field trip” sounds close to going on a fun excursion as opposed to doing the work of real world learning.


Today, our kindergartners went “into the field” to do the serious work of researchers. They are currently studying the different aspects of what makes a community and traveled to the Moraga Fire Station. At the station, they interviewed the firemen about the different roles they play in our community. They discovered that a fireman not only puts out fires but helps with medical emergencies, educate citizens, as well as participates in activities that bring our community closer. While I am sure the students had fun (engaged learning is fun), make no doubt about it, the students were doing the work of researchers in the field.

Next week, our 8th graders head to Washington D.C. to do field work. Their objective is to understand how D.C. represents American cultural values. They have been doing research over the past two weeks in order to do a real world investigation of their driving question. To understand their question at a deeper level, they will be examining artifacts, hearing from experts, as well as learning from each other.

In the case of both the 8th graders and the kindergartners, students are doing the serious work of researchers. They are investigating, talking with experts, reflecting and revising their understanding. In other words, they are approaching learning like graduate students. Which is why we prefer the phrase “field experience” or “field study” to field trip as they more accurately describe the serious nature of the work our students do.

Head’s Corner

Annual Gratitude Fund


As we take a breather (poor choice of words considering the AQI) this week leading up to Thanksgiving, I have been pondering the relationship between the Saklan Annual Giving Fund and gratitude. As a nonprofit, Saklan depends on the generosity of others to give students a unique experience. A couple of quick examples would be the marine biology field study we took students on a few weeks ago or importing drums from Ghana.  

When I think about the Annual Giving Fund, I want to be sure that the message behind it is that we are grateful for anything that people can give. We sincerely value the fact that families make significant sacrifices to send their children to Saklan and support our community. When we seek a donation for the extra, we want it to come from a place of pride, love, and inspiration.  But more importantly, we want you to know how grateful we are that you support our school.

Some of the things that I am grateful for is the fact that you allow us to spend significant time with your children, that you trust us, that you understand we sometimes make errors, and you help us grow as a school. But mostly, I am grateful that Saklan feels like family and we are all in this together: raising good people.

And yes, to do some of those extra things it takes money, but I do not want this to be about the money. I want it to be about a family school coming together. Thus, we are measuring not dollars, but participation. I ask you to give what works for your situation, be it one dollar or ten thousand dollars. Whatever you decide you can give, I want it given because you believe that what we do together at Saklan is life changing.

Warm regards,


Head’s Corner

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How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off

This morning we had our first Lower School Open House of the year with 17 people in attendance. As we prepared for the presentation, I started to think about the creativity part of our mission statement and how we encourage creativity in students. That process led me to one of my favorite articles on creativity. While the writer Adam Grant is talking about parenting, what he has to say applies to schools just as well. The read is well worth your ten minutes. Click here to read the article.

Warm regards,


Head’s Corner


Last night’s screening of the film Beyond Measure by Vicki Abeles moved The Saklan School closer towards fulfilling its promise of being an Educational  Lighthouse to the East Bay and beyond. The documentary itself validated that many of the things we do here at Saklan are on the cutting edge of what excellent schools do. That is not to say we do not have work to do; we do. But it was clear from our conversation with Vicki (who attended the viewing and held a Q&A after) that we are poised to be a leading voice in educational best practices.

What was even more exciting was that there were many attendees from outside the Saklan community. Teachers and parents from the area came, and in speaking with them, they were not only interested in the documentary, but also in Saklan. We are in a unique place at Saklan to be a leading voice in the conversation about 21st Century education.

I feel fortunate to be part of this community and truly believe that what we are doing here is important work bigger than just us. The students that we touch become bright spots in the high schools they join; the parents we reach think about education in a different way.

If it sounds like we are on a mission, you are correct. Saklan has been a “hidden gem” for far too long. I am asking for your help in spreading the word about Saklan by promoting our Open Houses in the coming months. While every parent who attends our Open Houses may not join us, they will see that there is a different and engaging path to educating children – one built on strong relationships, hands-on real-world work and giving students autonomy in their education.


Please share our Open House events with friends and families through your social media and other contacts. This small act will not only help Saklan but will further an important discussion our society desperately needs to have.

Lower School Open House

Middle School Open House


Head’s Corner

Growing Our Students

As many of you know, middle school students at Saklan facilitate their own conferences. As I visited some of those “student-led conferences” yesterday, I started to think about my own experience as a child and the importance of student empowerment. When my parents went to conferences, I would wait at home feeling powerless about my own education. Once they arrived home, they would share with me what the teacher said, I would then present my point of view with what I thought were missing facts. What resulted was a disconnect between teacher, parent, and student.


There were three important constituencies in this conversation, but one (me) was never represented except as a third party, a sidebar to the conversation. I missed a critical chance to talk about what was going well for me, what I was struggling with or hear their perception of what they saw at home or at school. Most importantly, I was not given the opportunity to openly reflect on my own experience as a learner.

Whether a student is doing a student-led conference or not, it is important for us to remember during conference time that the student is our most important partner. One of our main goals should be to help them develop a growth mindset through feedback and reflection. This teaches them that learning is a continual process, and it encourages them to take responsibility for their education.

So as we digest the information collected during conferences, let’s make sure to grab the opportunity to help our students, self-reflect, adjust and grow.

Warm regards,


Head’s Corner

A Great School…

In my previous blog post I wrote about using the Y-Chart to delve into gaining a participant’s voice in shaping a culture. I then asked for parents to use the Y-Chart to share with me their thoughts on what makes a great school. I received some thoughtful input that we will use to help shape our path forward. Thank you to those who took the time to share your thoughts.

Below is a sampling of your thoughts.

A great school looks like…

  • sunshine and shade under a tree.
  • busy, lively, diverse, inclusive.
  • smiling, engaged people with faces full of curiosity and wonder.
  • a welcoming and vibrant place with lots of stimulating activities and areas.
  • a united community of students, parents, and teachers dedicated to cultivating a culture of learning.

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A great school sounds like…

  • a song.
  • laughter, ideas, acceptance, help, openness.
  • kids laughing and enjoying learning through hard work, experience, and fun.
  • quiet, soothing, drums, singing, questions, comments, advice, Spanish, Mandarin, laughing.
  • positive.

A great school feels like…

  • home, warm, caring, safe, an adventure, fresh, expansive, supportive.
  • a place with a vision to create and nurture world changers, from all disciplines.
  • home when you walk in the gate.
  • a good workout – some sweat, some strain, and healthy challenges.
  • a safe place where mistakes are okay and people cheer each other on to do their personal best.

Your participation helps us shape the future of Saklan. For a full list of the survey results, click here. There are some interesting trends to note.

Have a wonderful weekend,


Head’s Corner

Culture vs. Rules

Looks Like, Sounds Like, Feels Like

The “Looks Like, Sounds Like, Feels Like” Y-chart is one of the greatest tools I have ever seen that incorporates students’ voices to establish a desired classroom culture. It is simple to set-up and can be used beyond the classroom. Simply make a Y on a large piece of paper and ask your participants to describe what a great classroom, loving family, or productive workplace looks like, sounds like, and feels like. This Y-chart can be used in a variety of situations where you are looking for stakeholder participation and voice.


What I like most about the Y-chart is it establishes a culture. It focuses on our senses- what one might hear in a great classroom or how one might feel being in that classroom. It does not try to create a culture by external forces, such as rules and policies. What’s better is that it speaks to our internal motivations, building those ethical judgement “muscles.” Instead of a student thinking I should not do that because of rule “x,” they begin to think about things they need to do to create the classroom they described.


A class that created the Y-chart pictured above would have very little need for many, if any, rules. Take a close look at the chart, this time thinking of issues that might arise in a classroom. Are any of them not addressed? I would venture to guess there are very few.

Could this classroom run without any rules? Would it be a more creative place? Would those students understand how to self-regulate, how to be independent? What other behaviors would it generate?

What about Saklan? Tell me what does a great school look like, sound like, and feel like? I would love to hear your thoughts. Follow this link and share your ideas. I will share them back with you in two weeks.

With gratitude,


P.S. Rosie is the classroom’s Skinny Pig.

Head’s Corner


Culture: From the Latin cultus, which means care

Over the summer, I had asked each teacher and staff member to meet with me individually. One of the things I wanted to learn was what made Saklan special to them. Overwhelmingly, a message of the power of relationships came through in these conversations. Here are a few of their responses:

  • We are lucky to have each other.
  • I feel like we are family.
  • We know how to pull together.
  • We look out for each other.
  • Saklan has helped me grow as a person.
  • We connect through personal relationships.

All of the values above are about connection to each other. As educators, we spent our first day back to school discussing the power of our culture at Saklan. We wondered what is the foundation of a culture that promotes connection? How is it created, maintained, and grown?

We connect by sending belonging cues to each other that signal “we are close, we are safe, and we share a future.” Science backs this up. The amygdala is mostly known as the part of the brain that is responsible for the “flight or fight response.” We now know that it also lights up when receiving belonging cues. It seeks connection, searching for others who are on “our team.” But it can’t do both at the same time. If it is worried about safety, it cannot seek connections. Only in an atmosphere where it feels safe and is receiving “belonging cues” does it make a connection.

This week our middle school students and their teachers are away at our annual Advance. They are building positive interpersonal connection and preparing for the upcoming school year. One of their activities, the Trust Walk (pictured above) is very powerful. The “guide” is  constantly signaling, “You are safe.” And more powerfully, the blind-folded individual is signaling, “I am vulnerable. I am seeking connection and trust.” Vulnerability is one of the strongest belonging cues one can send to  build trust. Trust does not lead to us sharing our vulnerabilities, it is the other way around.  When we make ourselves vulnerable, we build trust.

Harvard recently did a ten-year study of two companies that were similar in every way except when it came to having a culture of connection. The difference in performance between the two companies, is that the one that had the strong culture of trust and belonging had 756% higher productivity over the ten years versus the other that did not embrace a sharing culture. Connection is not just one of the many things we need to build a strong community – it is the most important thing.

We need to continually send belonging cues to students to foster connection and safety. But we also need to be sure to do it between each other. Without it, we will struggle to reach Saklan’s full potential. So what belonging cues will you send?

Warm regards,


Head’s Corner

Dear Saklan Community,

Today was our last flag of the school year. It is amazing how fast this year has gone by, but equally amazing how many wonderful things have happened at Saklan. Our flag was hosted by three Hoot Owl students, Sean, Caleb and Elyse, who showed the confidence and courage to speak in public, which is a trademark of Saklan.


At flag, we also recognized our entire student council for their work and efforts this school year and gave out appreciation awards. A big thank you to Kim Parks and Lisa Rokas for advising the student council and helping to develop the skills of leadership, community service and collaboration, which we have seen grow stronger in our student body.


Today, we also held a Thanks-A-Latte event to thank and appreciate the many parents that have supported the school during the year through their volunteering efforts. In the spirit of acknowledging our volunteers, at Flag we recognized Hillary Conlon and Miranda Heerah for their many years of service and support of the school.

Next week is our last week of school, and on Monday our students will have fun participating in the Family Group Field Day. This is the last event in our Family Group program and is one that highlights the sense of community and “being at home,” which our students feel while they are at school

While this will be the last blog of the year, you will receive more communications from the school during the course of the summer. Please look for updates on staffing, transportation, and events planned for the next year.

It has again been a great pleasure and honor to be part of the Saklan community this past year and I look forward to an exciting last week of school.

Enjoy your weekend!