National Geographic Educator

national geographic

This year Vickie Obenchain, Science Teacher, is going to be serving as a National Geographic Certified Educator Mentor for interested teachers. National Geographic Certified Educators are committed to teaching their students about the world and how it works, empowering them to succeed, and make it a better place. Vickie will be helping teachers all over the US and here in California get certified through the program. Click here to learn more about the program.

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!


Poetry Cafe

On Wednesday morning, the third grade classroom was transformed into a Poetry Cafe as the third graders took to the stage to share their original poetry with family and friends.
The students embraced the Beatnik culture of the 50’s by dressing in black shirts and berets.  Each poet shared two of their favorite poems, their book dedication and their “About the Author” page.  This was a fun way to celebrate the end of our poetry unit!

First Grade Field Trip to Doodleton Ranch

The first grade class learned about Pond Life and Animal Habitats. They ended the unit by doing a workshop called ” Who Lives in an Oak Woodland Habitat?” at Doodleton Ranch. It was a good experience for the kids and they were brave enough to explore looking for animal homes.  They really had a great time!

Pond Life


The Hoot Owls have been learning about animals that live in and around ponds. The children read books, sang songs and created art projects while learning about many pond animals.

Finally, they took a field trip to the pond at Heather Farms. The Hoot Owls saw ducks and ducklings, geese and goslings, dragonflies, tadpoles, turtles and otters. A picnic lunch and time on the playground made it a memorable day!

The Forty Book Club

Each year, the students of the Fourth Grade join The Forty Book Club and get the opportunity to read 40 or more books for the year. The books have to be chapter books and 150 pages or more. Although the ultimate goal is forty books, each student sets their own personal goal as well. It is fun to see how close they get to their goal. It is wonderful to see how many books each student reads and how reading becomes an even more important part of their lives. One student this year read 129 books, which is truly awe-inspiring! Several students read 40 books or more, and although some did not read 40 books they reached their personal goal.


This year the Fourth Graders read a grand total of 328 books, which is 48 books over the class goal. This is the first time in the history of The Forty Book Club that a class had met the goal, let alone exceeded it.

Congrats to the Fourth Grade for a job well done!!!

5th Grade Makes Piñatas

This week, the 5th graders worked on their final project of the year in Maestra Padilla’s Spanish class.

The students made piñatas using balloons and paper mache. The process involved blowing up a balloon to the desired size, cutting up paper, and then using a mixture of flour and water to dip the pieces of paper in the concoction and wrap them around the balloon. They learnt that it’s important to put several layers of paper strips so that when the piñata dries it will be sturdy and not fall apart.

The students enjoyed this fun cultural project. They will take their piñatas home on the last day of class.