Head’s Corner

How to Stress Your Kids the Right Way


Every now and then I come across an article or podcast that is ideal for sharing with the community. Do you worry about being overprotective, overindulgent or overscheduling your child? Is there a right way to let your child struggle and fail? When should you help, and when should you chill out?

This short 25 minute “How To” podcast has some great advice from the author Wendy Mogel (The Blessing of a Skinned Knee) on building self-reliant children. Worth your time.

Warm regards,



Head’s Corner

A Change Is A Chance 2020

Sometimes Saklan kids do some pretty cool things that we want to take all the credit for, but can’t. A prime example of that would be the podcast A Change is a Chance by 6th grade Saklan student Ryan Lo. In Ryan’s inaugural podcast, he interviews Ms. Obenchain about an array of scientific issues. Some of the topics Ryan will cover in the coming months are global pollution, systemic racism, and gender equality.


What I like about the podcast (besides the fact that one of our students created such a professional sounding production) is that it emphasizes what real-world learning is. Ryan describes how discovering one thing led to a more profound interest in other topics and a thirst to know more. That curiosity led him to develop deep probing questions that he could not answer without the help of an outside expert. Hence, the interview with Ms.Obenchain.

This is what Saklan and learning are about. I would love for us to take all the credit for Ryan’s podcast, but many factors went into Ryan’s journey of creating it.

Definitely worth your 15 minutes.

Warm regards,



Head’s Corner

In my humble opinion, Giving Tuesday should be placed one week earlier, before Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. It would make more sense that an idea that is now a global movement of giving and generosity should precede anything else and propel us forward with gratitude for Thanksgiving and the holidays.

It’s too late to change this order this year, but it is my hope that as a community we can make a statement and give boldly on this Giving Tuesday – spreading hope and inspiration to each other. More importantly, we will be helping create a generation that will put empathy and compassion before shopping. IMG_6597

The core of what we do every day at Saklan is to help students develop the mindset and tools to be bold world changers. Our ability to do that relies on the fact that you trust us with your children and support us in this endeavor by sacrificing significant financial resources to make it all possible.

Much of the deeper, real-world work we do with students comes from your generosity during our Annual Giving Campaign. 100% of our Board of Trustees and Faculty and Staff have participated in our campaign. To date, 35% of our parent body has participated. Of the remaining 65%, if you are anything like me, the AGF Pledge Form is on the kitchen counter, just waiting to be sent in (go look, it is under the Target bill).

So take a moment to help us create the bold world changers of the future.

With Gratitude,

To give online – click here
To download a pledge form – click here


Head’s Corner


Guest Experts – Lighting The Fire 

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats

One of the touchstones of a Saklan education is making experiential learning the center of getting students engaged in academics. While we all can learn from a book, a lecture or a video, it is the in-person experience that lights the fire.

Experiential learning can be as big as swimming with turtles in the Galapagos (as many of our students did this past summer) or as simple as visiting the Moraga Gardens Farm to learn about plant life. Each is an example of getting outside of the box and into the real world and getting your hands dirty.

But there is another type of experiential learning that is as powerful, the Guest Expert.  We practice taking our students outside our four walls – but bringing the outside world into Saklan can have just as powerful of an impact.

This is where you come in…

We have begun to assemble a list of guest experts that we would love to have in our classrooms and we are reaching out for help. Maybe you are the expert, or maybe you know someone. If you or someone you know has knowledge in one of the fields or areas attached, please contact me at doconnell@saklan.org. We can start a conversation about how you can help us light some fires.

Warm regards,


P.S. We use the word expert lightly; one does not need to have a PhD to be an expert, just some experience and a willingness to share knowledge.


Head’s Corner

Why Do We Have An Annual Fund?

As you may know, for many independent schools, fundraising can account for up to ten percent of the school’s annual budget. While Saklan’s reliance on fundraising is lower than the average independent school, we still count on the generous support of our community. It is with this in mind that I ask you to participate in the Saklan Annual Giving Fund.


As I mentioned during back to school night, Saklan could make our budget work without our fundraising efforts. But it would be a very different school. Your generosity has changed who we are. Just last year, we have used the funds raised during the AGF and Auction to support many initiatives. To name a few:

  • We have substantially buttressed our financial assistance budget to help families afford a Saklan education.
  • We have increased the number of professional development opportunities available to teachers, helping them bring best practices back to the classroom.
  • There have been a substantial increase in the amount of fieldwork and real-world learning opportunities, giving students authentic learning experiences.

We have received 100% AGF participation from our faculty, staff, and Board of Trustees. My hope is to see 100% participation from our parent community. Our goal is to raise $100,000 from the parent community between now and the end of December. We will realize both those “100s” through your generosity and participation.

I realize that all our families give much to Saklan. Between tuition, time, and trusting us with your children – you make significant sacrifices for Saklan. I know you do it for your children and the work we do with them each day. As importantly though, your generosity is changing the conversation of what education should be for all children.

With gratitude,



Head’s Corner

What Does Society Value? 

In my last blog post, I wrote about Family Groups and the critical work they do in reinforcing essential character traits. Likewise, a few months ago, I posted a piece that shared research stating that there is often a disconnect between the character traits we want our children to develop and what our children think we want them to possess. In that post, I talked about the fact that most parents want their children to be honest, compassionate people, but most children believe the adults in their lives want them to get good grades. Well, the people over at Gallup just released a study that demonstrates that this “values disconnect” is pervasive in our society.


In Gallup’s Success Index study, they show how Americans’ definitions of success are different from perceptions of how society defines success. Moreover, we often underestimate how inline our definition of success is with the rest of American society.

Some examples of this “values disconnect”:

  • 97% percent of respondents said, “pursuing one’s interest and talents” meets their definition of what leads to a successful life. Conversely, 92% of the same respondents believe society values fame and fortune over all else.
  • 96% of us personally believe that success is not comparative, that we can be successful regardless of what others do, but we believe only 14% of the rest of society thinks like this.
  • Out of 76 attributes, individuals ranked trustworthiness as number 3 but thought society ranked it at number 30.
  • We believe being a parent and having a strong family connection is essential to a successful life, but think society places that value towards the bottom of the scale.

According to the study, there is a significant variance between what we believe society values and what we value. But a deeper dive into data seems to reveal that what we value as individuals and what society values are more closely aligned than we think. More importantly, though, sometimes we feel like we are fighting societal tides when we talk to kids about the values that are important to society. Maybe those tides are not as strong as we think.


Head’s Corner

Family Groups are Our Superpower

To be more exact, Family Groups are one of our many superpowers at Saklan. For those of you who are new to Saklan, Family Groups are a long practiced tradition that helps our students build positive character traits. While working on character may not be something unique to Saklan, I believe it is how we do it that is powerful.

Late into each spring, as a faculty, we start a conversation about the character traits we want to help students develop the following year. Traits like gratitude, compassion, honesty are among some of the characteristics we picked for this year. While the classroom teacher focuses on the monthly trait, our Family Groups are where the deep work happens. Each family group is made up of students from different grade levels, with the older ones taking a lead role. Every month, we set aside time for the older students to teach the younger ones about a particular trait.


This student to student approach serves many goals. To start with, our younger students truly enjoy being taught by older students. The activities feel more authentic when an older peer is leading a discussion on character than when an adult is facilitating. More importantly though, is the impact the Family Groups have on our older students. To teach something, one needs to understand it. Our older students need to think deeply about what a trait like gratitude means not just to them but to a six-year-old. Working with younger students helps them develop another superpower, empathy. Adolescents struggle with seeing the world through the eyes of others, but working with younger kids helps build that empathy muscle.

Lastly, as adults, we can reinforce the trait by following three simple steps. We model the character trait we are working on not only by setting the example but by owning our shortcomings. Secondly, we celebrate when students exhibit the behaviors we are seeking. Not by just saying “good job” but by letting them know we admire how they have behaved, or how we are proud of them. Thirdly and crucially, we put students in situations where they can practice the behavior. For instance, if we want them to show gratitude by writing thank-you notes, we set aside the time and materials for students to do this.

This month’s character trait is friendly, with our Family Groups meeting on the 25th. Help us help them by discussing what they did during Family Groups that day – and seeing how you can model, celebrate, and enable friendliness at home.

Warm regards,



Head’s Corner

Thank You and Well Wishes!

Dear Parents,

In the busyness of the end of the year and the start of summer camp last June, I neglected to honor two employees who have left the Saklan fold – Carol Goldman and Joy Alvarado. My deepest apologies to both.


Carol Goldman is an alumni parent, served for years on the Board of Trustees, and was our Director of Development for the past three years. For those of you who know Carol, you knew that she worked tirelessly for Saklan for many years. She drove our Annual Giving Fund for the past several years as well as the Auction. Without her leadership many of the things that we have on campus today – from the Science Lab and Music Room to the kiln and updated play areas – may not have come to fruition. Moreover, if you know Carol, you know that she does not hesitate to pitch in a helping hand wherever it is needed. Saklan is not the same place without her, and we wish her well as she seeks new ventures.


Joy Alvarado was with us as a Preschool Aide for over three years. If you know Joy you know that she is never without a smile or a can-do spirit. To call her an optimist would be an understatement. Joy worked with both the Hoot Owls and Owlets over the three years, sharing her love for discovery and learning. Moreover, as Joy worked full time, she also went to school to earn a teaching degree and is now working as a Head Teacher. We can not think but how lucky those kids and that school are.

Warm regards,



Head’s Corner


Saving Childhood

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published an opinion piece by Kim Brooks titled We Have Ruined Childhood. It is one of those articles that you can read and walk away feeling defeated, but in this case, it made me proud of the work we do here at Saklan. In many ways, as I read the article, I saw the Saklan approach as an antidote to what ails children and adolescents these days.

Brooks talks about the fact that “kids today have fewer opportunities to practice social-emotional skills… they don’t learn how to start a friendship, how to start a relationship, what to do when someone’s bothering you, how to solve a problem.” Which I find can be true in our overprotective culture. Yet here at Saklan, a focus of our approach is to get students to learn those vital social skills. We work hard through our Responsive Classroom approach, Middle School Advisory, and SOS classes to give kids the tools they need to grow as humans, deal with adversity and persist.

The article references the fact that an overabundance of testing, and all the “drilling” that goes with it, have taken away time from recess, lunch, Art and Music. This regimented approach to school increases stress and decreases learning (not to mention kills any love for learning). Taking a look at the Saklan curriculum, you will find that students are not shortchanged of Music, Art or some recess. And while we do use standardized testing, we limit it to focus on the individual growth of a student.

The fact is that less testing and more emphasis on the Arts, Social Emotional Learning, and giving kids some time and space leads to not only happier kids, but stronger academics. Does that seem counterintuitive? Probably. Does the research bear it out? Yes. Is Saklan saving childhood? I think so.


Head’s Corner

Words Matter

As a person who went through teacher training, I was taught to set classroom goals with the language of “students will know.” We also framed our conversations about what we were doing in class that day using the “Today I am teaching…” phrase. Both emphasize the role of the teacher when it comes to education.


I bring this up because over the summer our teachers started reading a book called Leaders of Their Own Learning. The emphasis of the book is to help students own, assess and grow from their learning. This starts with how we talk about the process of education. There is a difference in how one thinks about the process when we ask ourselves  “What am I teaching today?” versus “What will students learn today?” One is something I do to students, the other is something they do.

You will start to hear us talking about learning targets and using “I Can” statements. When a teacher writes goals using “students will know…”, it sends a very different message than when we use the language “I can” followed by a specific target. The “I can” gives ownership to the learner. It allows the student (with help from the teacher) to learn how to self-assess their progress and set a new learning target.

And that is the goal of a true learner, is it not? One who can look at what they are doing, assess where they are, and figure out where they need to go next. Interestingly enough, the book points out that the root meaning of the word assess is “to sit beside.” Traditionally, assessment is something educators have done to students. Leaders of Their Own Learning gives us the opportunity to do it in partnership, with the goal that they will soon guide their own learning.