Get Unstuck.

After my sabbatical year, during which I visited classrooms across Los Angeles–as chronicled in this blog–I did a great deal of soul-searching and decided not to return to the classroom.  It was a painful and difficult decision, but I felt that for me, classroom teaching in a public school is not sustainable over the long haul, especially if I want to work in an underserved community.

Instead, I am now working at a non-profit serving highly motivated students from low-income families, providing after-school and summer enrichment from 7th grade through college.  I love it.  I’ll stay with the same group of kids over the years, getting to know them as they grow up.

But I’ve also started a side business as a life coach.  I learned, doing this blog, that I just love talking to people one on one, not just kids but adults.  I love hearing people’s life stories and working with them to find meaning and purpose.

Now, after months of intensive training and countless hours of practice with clients, I am incredibly excited to tell you that my coaching practice is officially open for business! I want to take this moment to thank the many, many clients who agreed to be my guinea pigs and let me practice with them. We have shared many laughs and occasional tears, but always joy. I’ve been moved and sometimes even astonished by the changes my clients have been able to make in their lives. They are finishing dream projects, breaking through artistic blocks, gaining the confidence to make public presentations and finding the words to articulate their vision to others.

Here’s what I’ve learned: having a space to set goals and create a positive vision with a trusted, caring guide really can help you find direction and move toward your dreams. Creating a map of where you want to go can be amazingly powerful in helping you get there—and continuing to take small steps on that map can be empowering in and of itself. I know. I just wrote “empowering.” But that really is the way it feels.  If you’re a teacher looking to re-connect with your inspiration, coaching is a great way to rediscover your motivation (or find a new direction).

My coaching practice is dedicated to creative people who want to get unstuck, finish dream projects and create a sustainable career. I’ve been a writer all my professional life. I know from personal experience that creative work can be risky and often scary. I also understand that all of us need to balance our creative dreams with our financial and personal responsibilities, and that balance may be different across our lifetimes. But I also know from personal experience that if you are a creative person and your life is without a creative outlet, part of you sometimes feels like you might die.

And the flip side is that if you really could find your creative voice, what might happen? Who might you become? What might your work bring to others? In my home office, I sit surrounded by small art pieces made by friends. Making visual art is absolutely not among my talents, so it gives me incredible joy every single day to sit down at my desk among so many tiny glimpses of an artist’s vision of the world. How often have I been consoled by a single line in a poem? If you could truly be the creative person you know you are, how might your work illuminate the lives of others?

I believe that teaching is a deeply creative profession.  There’s a tremendous amount of talk these days about “data-driven” teaching.  I get that we need to produce results–really.  But I also believe that teaching is an art as much as a science, and if that art gets lost, the teacher will be lost, too.

Coaching gives people support as they push forward toward their creative goals. Often, I find that my clients are dreaming big, which is great, but also can make them perfectionistic or overwhelmed or both. Working with a coach can help clarify your overaching vision, but also break it down into small steps you can actually do, so that you’re always moving forward in a way that feels right to you. There are a million “how to” books out there, but the truth is, everybody’s creative working style is different. Some people need to work in long, uninterrupted, dedicated blocks of time on a single project. Others find to their surprise that they work best while juggling multiple projects in small time chunks (which is utterly amazing to me, because I cannot do this at all, but for some people, it’s how they are their most productive.) For many people, finding a time management strategy is key—and again, there are many ways to manage your time, depending on your personal style.

 Want to try a free session? It’s really fun—I promise. Email me at or click here or text me at (213) 610-3617. We’ll set up a free session so you can get a jump-start on 2015. And please do pass this on to anyone you know! Book now to avoid the crazy rush!


What I Learned In School

From 2013-2014, I visited high school English classes across the socioeconomic spectrum in Los Angeles in an attempt to understand what makes a great teacher and what we mean when we say “education.”  This is one of the most important lessons I learned: that we need a new language to talk about poverty.

I recently worked with three groups of 8th and 9th grade students. All of the groups are comprised of students of color from families in poverty, which means they qualify for free or reduced-price lunch under a California program whose cutoff is for a family of four is an income of under $30,615 (free), or under $43,568 (reduced-price). Students from families like these who qualify for free and reduced lunch are generally the students we talk about when we talk about children in poverty.

My three student groups all meet this criterion. In addition, they all are highly motivated and academically proficient, with supportive parents who have enrolled them in an after-school college-prep enrichment program. They must all be alike, right?

Wrong. Continue reading What I Learned In School

Why A Great Principal Burned Out – And What Might Have Helped

Boxes crowd the hallways, moving in and moving out. I’m in an empty office at Animo Phillis Wheatley Middle School in South L.A. talking to Principal Nat Pickering, who has resigned after three years so that he can go back to being a teacher. Back when I was teaching, I worked with him; he was a history teacher for years before he became Assistant Principal of our school. I will forever be indebted to Nat, who despite being insanely busy, voluntarily met with me two or three times a month to coach me on the plethora of problems I was having in my various classes; he helped me shape my curriculum, talked me through issues with students and, more times than I can count, simply listened to me venting. Continue reading Why A Great Principal Burned Out – And What Might Have Helped

Lesson 2: Merit Pay Is Unfair to Our Most At-Risk Students

I’m the best teacher in the world. I just spent four days teaching a writing workshop and you would not believe how much those students improved in an incredibly short time. I guess it’s pretty obvious that I’m awesome. I deserve a giant raise!

No, wait. I’m the worst teacher in the world. Two years ago, I taught a class for an entire year and even after a whole year with me, many of those students demonstrated no growth that could be measured. In fact, most of them didn’t even graduate from high school in four years. I guess it’s pretty obvious that I suck. I should be fired or put on an improvement plan.

Say what?! How could one teacher—me—be so highly effective in one class and so grossly ineffective in another? Continue reading Lesson 2: Merit Pay Is Unfair to Our Most At-Risk Students

Lesson 1: You’re Dead in the Water Without a Great Principal

You know how they say that people come to look like their dogs? A parallel truism is that any organization comes to look like its leader. For some reason, though this idea is axiomatic in corporate life—who would attribute the success of Apple to its highly effective programmers?—when you get to schools, I rarely hear it said that every school embodies the values of its principal. But it’s meaningless to talk about teacher “effectiveness” outside of the context in which he or she works. One of the biggest lessons I learned this year is that a teacher cannot, repeat, cannot be effective for long in a dysfunctional community. And whether that school community is or is not functional is entirely dependent on the leadership of the principal. Continue reading Lesson 1: You’re Dead in the Water Without a Great Principal

What I Learned In School

Kyra will go to UC San Diego, her dream school. Danny will go into the army. Raquel will go to Berkeley. A boatload of kids are going to community college, another, slightly smaller boatload, to UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis and UC Merced. Another boatload to various Cal States. Jonathan will go to Vassar, the second graduate of our school ever to attend a private college out of state. Manuel, who last year sat in my classroom crying because his parents refused to allow him to go to college so he could work to help support the family—Manuel will go to Cal State L.A. I guess he talked his parents into it.

There they are, my juniors from last year, now seniors in cap and gown crossing the stage and getting diplomas. The audience is cheering like crazy. Somewhere in the crowd is Ernesto, who drove us all crazy because he was so out of control and who somehow, miraculously, managed to graduate last year. He is now in community college. On another side of the room is Yesenia, one of my brightest students, who did not attend college because she had a baby, now on her lap bouncing up and down and watching Yesenia’s brother graduate.

A year has passed since I left my job to start this journey. Continue reading What I Learned In School

What’s the Future of Unions?

The recent ruling in the Vergara v. California lawsuit, in which Judge Rolf Treu struck a body blow against the power of teachers’ unions by declaring that five of California’s laws protecting teacher tenure, firing and seniority were in violation of the state constitution’s guarantee of equal education to all children, has implications so broad I don’t think we can even fully comprehend them yet.

I’ve written in earlier posts that though I absolutely think that bad teachers should be fired—and that last in, first out policies should be re-thought—they are not the core problem in the fight for equal education. I’m troubled by the witch-hunt zeal, the purge mentality, of this lawsuit, which implies that the layoffs that caused so many eager young teachers to be fired in the first place were some kind of natural disaster inflicted upon us by the gods that we should have diverted onto the heads of bad teachers.

But let’s be honest, California: those layoffs occurred because of budget cuts—and those budget cuts were our collective decision. And they were so radical that even if we had first fired the small percentage of bad teachers, we would still have been laying off a large number of excellent teachers. Continue reading What’s the Future of Unions?

Why the Vergara Verdict is Scary

Sure, we all want to get rid of bad teachers.  Who doesn’t?  But the legal implications of this decision are deeply troubling.  What we all want (I think) is an effective teacher in every classroom.  But what does that even mean?  And if we’re not sure what it means, how can we judge it?  Here’s my take, from an interview on “Press Play” today:

I’ll be posting more about it later this week.


We Don’t Have Time To Wait For Schools to Improve. But Real Change Happens Slowly. And There Are No Cookie-Cutter Solutions.

“There’s no harder thing than being a teacher in South L.A.,” Robert Vidaña says bluntly as we squeeze interviews into his packed schedule, sitting in his tiny cubicle in what used to be the counseling office of Fremont High School, where he is LAEP’s community school coordinator (for a post about LAEP’s work, click here; for a description of an LAEP community school coordinator’s job, click here.) Robert’s father, who attended Fremont himself, is surprised that his son chooses to work there, but Robert believes in the school, loves South L.A. for all of its challenges, and has no interest in an easier job. Continue reading We Don’t Have Time To Wait For Schools to Improve. But Real Change Happens Slowly. And There Are No Cookie-Cutter Solutions.

How One Teacher Turned A Class Around

“So I heard that Fremont was the worst school ever,” Jordan Gonzales is telling me. We’re sitting in his classroom at Fremont High in South L.A. where he’s taught for the last three years. In his late twenties, Jordan is idealistic, enthusiastic and extremely funny. Before teaching at Fremont, he taught middle school English in Lynwood, just north of Compton and just east of Watts. In Lynwood, he loved the kids, but at the end of the year in Lynwood he was pink-slipped, so he applied to Fremont.

“Everyone was like, don’t go there. They’ll slash your tires. I came in there and I saw the kids and I was like, are you kidding? These are good kids. Who are you even talking about? When he was offered the job, he started work the next day. Continue reading How One Teacher Turned A Class Around

education and beyond


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