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!


Head’s Corner

Dear Saklan Community,

Unfortunately, Flag was cancelled today due to rain. The last Flag of the year will be next Friday and thus not to be missed.


I hope you had a chance to see the middle school musical last weekend. Mrs. Chaffey’s production of The Addams Family was another stellar production with outstanding performances by our middle school students. This smash hit was a great way to end the year’s performing arts program, which included a memorable lower school production of The Lion King and an outstanding Annual Concert at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. The 2017-18 school year will certainly go down in Saklan history as a year of stellar events. Many thanks to all of you who have supported the Saklan performing and visual arts programs through your generous donations at the auction and your volunteering efforts. Look for a link to the video of The Addams Family in the Blog on June 7th.  

Our Book Fair, organized in collaboration with Orinda Books, has been running these past few days. This Wednesday was author visit day and we had two dynamic Bay Area authors come on campus. Mr. Steve Goetz, author of Old MacDonald Had a Boat, met with our PreK – 2nd graders and Mr. Armand Balthazar met with our 3 – 6th graders. Armand’s new book is called Timeless and is the first book in a six part series. The rights to this series have already been bought up and will soon be made into a movie. Our students were fascinated by Armand’s description of how the ideas for his book originated and by his drawing, which are included in the book. Available copies of Timeless sold out immediately and had to be urgently restocked.

All parents are invited to our Graduation Ceremony on Thursday, June 7th at 10:00AM at the Holy Trinity Cultural Center. Come and hear what our graduates say about their experience at Saklan and share their goals for the future. This is a great opportunity for our community to see what is in store for their children and celebrate the students that have graduated with a Saklan diploma.

Have a good long weekend!

Head’s Corner

Dear Saklan Community,img_8636.jpg

In this past week, there has been a full calendar of activities and events at Saklan. It started last Friday with the very excellent Spring Arts Festival. Hundreds of works of art were put on display throughout the Saklan campus and included work from every student in the school. The diversity, creativity and quality of the art produced this year has been highly impressive and a testament to the work of our art teacher, Natalie Palms. Many thanks to Miss Palms for organizing the Art Festival, and more importantly for inspiring the students to produce such great works of art. Also, thanks to Mrs. C and Miss Amanda for contributing art from the PreK. Please look for an ongoing display of the art on our video monitor in the entrance way. Part of the events surrounding the Art Festival was a scavenger hunt, which resulted in a whirlwind of student movement and engagement in finding the various details contained in the art pieces. This morning we had a drawing for students that completed the scavenger hunt with winners receiving prizes of art supplies.

The Art Festival was immediately followed by the Family Fun Night. This event, which has now become a Saklan tradition, lived up to its name as there were lots of families and it was FUN. With our new sound system, a great movie, warm summer weather and a wonderful BBQ, this was a great way for Saklan families to spend a Friday evening on campus. Many thanks to the Student Council for organizing some fun games and to the Parents Association for organizing the movies and the BBQ. A special shout once again to Jenny and Mike Choi for providing the delicious barbecued pork.

This morning, our Parents Association organized a talk by Vickie Obenchain and Kim Parks. Vickie shared her field experience in working at a school in Senegal. This was the culminating activity in her program with Teachers for Global Classrooms. Vickie’s presentation was followed by Kim Parks, who summarized the work done this year by our curriculum review committee in reviewing and revising our reading program.

All week long, our middle school students have been feverishly rehearsing for their production of The Addams Family at the Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette. This morning at Flag, 8th grade student, Skylar Wolff, gave us a little taste of the show by singing one of the songs called “Death is Just Around the Corner.” This was indeed a tasty morsel and everyone is now eagerly looking forward to seeing the show which goes on stage both tonight and tomorrow night.

This coming week, we look forward to our Book Fair which runs from May 23rd to 25th. In collaboration with Orinda Books, we will have two author visits to Saklan. Grades 3 to 6 will get to meet Mr. Armand Baltazar. Mr. Baltazar is the author of a new epic fantasy adventure book called Timeless: Diego & The Rangers of the Vastlantic. He has been an art director with both Pixar and Disney. Director Ridley Scott recently purchased the movie rights for this book series. Mr. Steve Goetz will speak to our students in Pre-K to grade 2. Steve will read aloud his newest book, Old MacDonald Had a Boat, as well as his original book Old MacDonald Had a Truck that garnered a starred review which stated, “The MacDonalds and their farm-animal crew return in a rollicking new adventure to transform an old fishing boat into a slick speedboat. Large, colorful spreads provide lots to look at, inviting readers to slow the song down, building suspense. A delightful way to reinforce cooperation in getting a job done while having fun.”

 Next Friday we will be holding a morning coffee for parents in Pre-K to 1st grade to discuss the staffing transitions planned for the upcoming school year. This coffee is open for anyone interested in participating.

Have a great weekend.