Thursday, December 24, 2020

for the win(ter break)

"Why should I do this? He's not even gonna be our teacher next year!" Yeah. And I'm not getting paid to post this on Christmas Eve. Sometimes we do stuff just because it's a good idea. 

Before you read the idea below, here's a conversation between an Imaginary Student (IM) and me.  Obviously, the IM is a stereotype, and clearly nothing like the happy, energized, diligent, ferocious, successful thinkers in our class.  Still.  Read on.

Me: Please complete the following exercise by midnight on New Year's Eve.  It's better than making all those resolutions you're not going to keep, it will give you a new way to visualize ideas, and it will even help you brainstorm for when you start writing your Personal Statement for college applications.

IM: (Nodding, says out loud) "Sure. Will do." (Thinks: No way.  It's my break.  I want to chill.  Maybe watch Netflix.  Play Fortnite.  Stare at a wall. Pretty much anything except schoolwork.)

Me: I'm listening to what you're thinking, and I'm hearing a need for rest.  Am I getting that right?

IM: (Shocked.) Yeah.

Me: What exactly are you taking a break from?

IM: It's just all this work, you know, doing the journals every day, doing the blog, math, science, history... yeah.

Me: You know I love it when people end sentences that way.

IM: Um... yeah.

Me: Seriously, I'm curious: What does it do for you to take a break?  Does it make you feel better?  Do you use the time to meditate, or set a goal or an intention to come back strong?  Are you feeling a need to take a break from all that work because it feels like it's never enough?  Like, somehow, you're never enough?

IM: I'ma [sic] tell you the truth.  All this work sucks and I don't like getting judged.  Teachers just think bad [sic] of me.

Me: Well, I don't, but I definitely hear you.  What if you could get some feedback about your best self?  What if the only comments you got over break were about your strengths and your victories?

IM: (Shrugs.)

Me: Really?  I thought you wanted to feel like a success for a change.

IM: That's true.  I do.

Me: And getting positive feedback from people is a part of that?

IM: Yeah.

Me: So if I can guarantee that's what you'll get, and I guarantee that you'll feel better once you do this, are you in?

IM: I don't see how you can guarantee me anything, but whatever. Yeah. Sure. Fine. If you can guarantee me all that, I'm in.

Me: Alright. It's a lock. Here's what you do.
1. Email at least 10 people you know.  (Note: It's important to do this in writing.  You can do this in Spanish, English, or whatever language your correspondents prefer. 

In case you need a suggestion for how to word your email:

Hi ____,
I’m doing a writing project and I’d like to ask your help.  Can you think of a time when I was at my best? If you can remember, can you please write me a quick story about it and describe a couple things about me that you think of as strengths or good qualities? Just a few sentences will do, I really appreciate it!
Thanks and Happy Holidays,

Also: if you are connecting with someone who doesn’t use email, feel free to text and then retype their answer into the document you use for your word cloud.  You can also talk with a person and write / type what they say.

2. Ask them to describe a time you were successful and/or did something wonderful.

3. Copy and paste each response into a single word document.  (If the emails are in more than one language, you can use an online translator like use Google translate or to create a document with all the words in one language.  If you want, you can even do one version in English & one in Spanish.)

4. Copy the entire text from the document (all the email responses together) onto your clipboard.

5. Go to and create a word cloud. When you get to the website, click on Wizard-- it will tell you exactly what to do.  Basically, you're going to paste the document into the window on their website and it will generate something that looks like this:

 (For this one I copied/pasted the entire story of "The Pedestrian")

(For this one I copied/pasted this blog post.)

6. As you can see, the word cloud creates a visual representation of which words appear most frequently in the text.  "Mead" is big because it shows up most often.  You may see some interesting patterns about you when you do this.  Once you have created your word cloud, take a screen shot of it.

7. Create a post for your blog in which you:
  • Describe what you did (steps 1-6)
  • Describe the top 3-5 strengths that your tribe reflected to you
  • Embed the word web

if you need some inspiration over break

There is no getting around it: life is sometimes hard. But there are success stories. Happy endings. You can read about one here:

Friday, December 18, 2020

december 18

Today is the last day of our pandemic semester, and - for me, at least - this moment is all about gratitude. Thank you for taking this ride with me since August. Be well. Love each other through the holidays and enjoy your break with your families (and maybe some friends, at a distance :). Please make sure to post this week's 3 journal entries by 5:00 p.m. today.  I usually post the message below in June, at the end of the school year, but since I'll be leading the Open-Source Learning Academy in January, and many of you will have a new teacher in Spring, now seems like a good time. Choose your own topic to write about in your journal today. (AND KEEP IT UP! You don't need anyone's permission to write in your journal, or keep a blog, or give yourself a minute of mindfulness.)

I wish you all the best and I hope you stay in touch. -dp


What a year.

As often as I say it, I still feel like I don't say it often enough:

Thank you.

Thank you for your effort, your insight, your willingness to risk and make mistakes and change your minds;

Thank you for your trust, for your sense of humor, and for your curiosity;

Thank you for your time, your attention, and your resilience in the face of adversity; and

Most of all

Thank you for taking this learning trip with me, pandemic or not.

I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you all, and I wish you every success in the future. Stay mindful.

I'll leave you with these words from Henry David Thoreau:

We are adjourned. Have a great (winter break, and) summer (when you get there).

Thursday, December 17, 2020

update: spring semester

The school district has just announced that we will continue distance learning until at least March 1st. 

As I mentioned on Zoom yesterday and today, I will be leading the SMJUHSD Open-Source Learning Academy beginning in January. This blog will remain online, your blogs are yours forever, and you will still be able to reach me via email and my Zoom calendar. However, I will no longer be teaching the English 3 course. Your teacher will be Ms. Guiremand, and the course will likely migrate to Canvas for the spring semester.

I wish everyone a healthy break and Happy Holidays - please feel free to stay in touch.

Best, Dr. Preston

december 17

For your MOM: There is no past, except in your memory. There is no future, except in your imagination. Give your memory and your imagination a break and focus on what's real. Right Now.

JOURNAL TOPIC: [today's tune: "Milkcow Blues Boogie" by Elvis Presley]

A few years ago, a student of mine named Mario gave a brilliant presentation on vegetarianism. In Mario's words: "Cow's milk is great-- if you want to grow tumors. Why are we drinking someone else's milk? The only milk we need is from our mothers when we're infants. If you're going to drink cow's milk, why not rat's milk? Why not gorilla milk? That would make the most sense; we share 98% of our DNA in common." Gorilla milk. Never thought of that. And I'd love to see someone try and milk a gorilla. What are your thoughts on this?


Choose your own topic.

1. Journal / please remember to post your three for the week tomorrow (Friday) afternoon by 5:00P
2. Please post any remaining work on your blog

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

december 16

For your MOM: This is our last meeting. Soak it in.

JOURNAL TOPIC: ["Back Door Man" by The Doors]
When you leave your house you lock your door (unlike Monsigneur Bienvenu the Bishop of Digne).  How do you keep your phone or your computer secure?  How do you keep other people from stealing your data or your identity? 


Choose your own topic.

1. Journal
2. Announcement
3. Les Mis: the conclusion
4. Adjournment

december 15

For your MOM: Imagine yourself waking up on January 1, 2021. It's a New Year. A fresh beginning. How will you live your live to achieve the goals you imagine? Now: how can you do this TODAY? [Or, think about nothing and just breathe.]

JOURNAL TOPIC: [today's tune, in honor of my daughter - and my spirit animal, who's not exactly a dinosaur but is AWESOME... "Godzilla" from 2019 movie soundtrack, by Bear McCreary featuring Serj Tankian]
We know that dinosaurs and other sentient species lived on Earth a long time ago and then became extinct. Can you imagine a time when humans are extinct? What might cause this, and what might take our place? Describe in detail.


Choose your own topic.

1. Journal
2. Les Mis: the movie


The first few scenes of the movie depict settings, characters, and events that we read together in the book. How does what you see compare with what we read? Is it similar to what you pictured in your mind? Different? How? (title: THE MOVIE AND THE BOOK)

for the win(ter break)

" Why should I do this? He's not even gonna be our teacher next year! " Yeah. And I'm not getting paid to post this on Chr...