Keep The Conversation Going: Reflections On Leaders of March For Our Lives

I’ve been trying to process some of my experiences at the BOOST Conference last week, particularly as they relate to the co-founders of March For Our Lives, Matt Deitsch and David Hogg. I pretty much watched from afar, but since I have so many friends on the BOOST Leadership team I was afforded some post-conference insight. Three things continue to rattle my cage.

1) "If the conversation stops we lose. If the conversation keeps going we win. Keep the conversation going."
- Matthew Deitsch, Co-Founder, March For Our Lives

This was a punch to the gut, and even mores as today’s news brings word of yet another school shooting, this time outside of Denver. Matt talked about the befuddlement of why so many tragic events seem to have a moment of attention and then disappear. He asserted that it’s often because the conversation stops.

And so March For Our Lives was founded with an insatiable drive to maintain conversations about gun violence and control. Be it universal background checks, stopping the gun show loopholes, requiring stricter training and storage measures, etc. The conversation and the movement must not stop or take a break. Matt spoke of his conversations with people assuming they would be diametrically opposed to his position and they found common ground. The NRA is in a position with waning influence in some ways, but also pushing back to reclaim it. The conversation must not end.

2) "There is no way to say that an issue is ‘their’ issue and still consider yourself an American."
- David Hogg, Co-Founder, March For Our Lives

This goes right to the heart of finding common ground and wrestling honestly with it rather than dehumanizing an opinion. For my many friends in youth ministry and communities where guns are common: how do you and your peers, your bosses, your congregants, the students and families with whom you work, process that young people in the US are 10x more likely to die from a firearm homicide than in any other industrialized nation? How do you grapple with the fact that youth suicide by guns is 8x more in the US than any industrialized nation? How do you have that knowledge and so much more and not even bring gun regulation/control/etc. into the conversation on youth safety? It’s not an issue for “them” - it’s something with which we all grapple. Let’s keep our conversations humanized.

3) A Series of thoughts and statements:

Me, in my mind, from across the pool: “He looks like he’s just enjoying himself, like he can be a kid for a few minutes.”

Matt Deitsch, paraphrased, to one of my BOOST friends: “It’s been so much fun just being a kid.”

David Hogg, paraphrased, to one of my BOOST friends: “I can’t wait to start college in the fall so I can just be a normal person and not talk about trauma all of the time.”

The first two of these things happened at the BOOST Conference Duck Derby, a fun, fundraising event where teams compete to ferry a large inflatable duck across a pool and back in a relay race. Matt was part of the TOMS / March For Our Lives team that won the event. I was watching from across the pool area as Matt laughed, cracked jokes and seemed completely in the zone of fun. It just about made me break down and cry at the moment, and did for real when my friend told me that Matt said something eerily similar to the thoughts in my head. David’s words were to other friends as he talked about looking forward to starting college in the fall.

You see, these two young men not only talk about trauma, gun violence, their own stories and the stories of thousands of others they’ve met who have been affected by gun violence, but they get trolled every day for doing it. And not just Internet trolled, with anonymous threats and hateful words that would be enough to make anyone paranoid. But IRL trolls. People who track their speaking engagements and travel plans and show up to threaten and intimidate them. All because they are part of a group of young people who spoke out against the violence done to their friends and classmates and haven’t stopped, and who ask of us all to keep the conversation going. 

These two young men, their friends and compatriots in March For Our Lives, and so many other young people live with the threat of physical and emotional harm being done to them daily. So a race with inflatable ducks, or a break to have a meal filled with laughter, has become an extravagance. 


All of these things and more compel me to continue the conversation. I confess it’s been something I’ve engaged in fits and starts, and there are many issues about which we need to keep conversations going. But as the community of Poway, just 25 minutes from me, continues to pick up its pieces, and reports come from friends at UNC-Charlotte from last week, and Highlands Ranch starts their journey, I will do  some small part to keep the conversation going. It’s not all that I’ll do, but it is the least, and that’s a start.


Episode 7: Fred Lynch of Rachel’s Challenge


My guest today is Fred Lynch, San Diego director of Rachel’s Challenge, an organization founded by the parents of Rachel Scott, a victim of the Columbine school shooting. The organization visits hundreds of schools each year to drive its mission of, “Making schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect; and where learning and teaching are awakened to their fullest.”

With so much current attention on school safety, I wanted to get a sense of what programs like Rachel’s Challenge do to shift the culture of schools.

We cover a lot of ground here, and I love talking with Fred. Among other things, he talks about the work of developing kindness and compassion as skills to be practiced and honed, and about giving students ownership to determine how to establish cultures of kindness at their schools.

We also talked about identifying students of influence, and how those aren't always the poster child, straight A students, but those across social groups that influence their peers. That’s a big part of getting buy-in by entire schools.

We also address those who may feel that programs like Rachel’s Challenge are too touchy-feely and can't possible make schools safer. Spoiler alert: they do.

Enjoy, and my all means check out Fred and Rachel's Challenge. Here are some links:

Rachel's Challenge Website
Rachel's Challenge San Diego Instagram

Episode 6: Annika Goodin; Next Generation Science Standards, OER and more


One of my goals with the podcast is to get past the insider edu-speak and all of the anagrams that we’re faced with as parents, and have more direct conversations.

We do that on this episode, though it’s choc-full of anagrams to break down.

My guest is Annika Goodin, the science department chair and an English learner coordinator at El Cajon Valley High School. Annika and I are going to talk about two separate but connected topics today.

The first is Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS. As you may recall from a past episode with Cara Dolnik, NGSS is a sort of next step of Common Core in terms of encouraging critical thinking and the learning process, versus rote memorization.

Annika leads a district team to create a Next Gen Science curriculum for earth science, and is part of her district’s NGSS vision team. The method of designing the curriculum is using our second topic of discussion, Open Educational Resources or OER.

If you’re wondering what Open Educational Resources are, here’s a rough overview: Any federally funded research comes with a mandate that the research be made public for no cost. That allows for educators to integrate the latest scholarship into curriculum now, instead of waiting years for textbook companies to maybe utilize it, and for schools to have the funds to change out textbooks.

Annika explains it far better than I do, but OERs could force a massive shift in how we keep up with the latest scholarship, and how our students are equipped to use that scholarship.

It’s a fantastic conversation and I hope you enjoy it. And away we go!

Episode 5: Common Core with Cara Dolnik


This episode's a fun one, because we’re talking about Common Core! It's an oft-cited but, I find, less often understood development in education. My guest today is Cara Dolnik, Principal of Carmel Valley Middle School in San Diego. Cara has a distinguished career in education, having started off as a middle school math teacher before moving into administration. She’s had those roles in pretty equal amounts, and she brings a depth and breadth of insight to the topic that informs our conversation.

We cover a lot of ground on this, ranging from the difference between memorizing and learning, to the fact that Common Core is not a curriculum but a set of benchmarks, as well as the process of implementing new teaching methods and how teachers have been involved in and training their peers on Common Core for years.

So get ready for a fun and informative conversation into the facts, myths, misperceptions and advantages of Common Core, here on In The Tank For Education.

Jenny Chien - Part 2: Teacher of the Year, Context Informing Learning, Wonder Woman and The Debut of Rob’s Rants


Today I’ve got part two of my conversation with CA Teacher of The Year Jenny Chien, and if you liked part 1, this takes it to another level.

We talk about a ton of things, including, and get ready for this: her role as CA Teacher of the year; a trip to Japan, including Hiroshima, and how context informs learning; the shift away from a one size fits all approach to education; Comic-Con; Wonder Woman; The Big Bang Theory (the tv show) and professional development.

We've also got a new segment that’s debuting today. It’s called Rob’s Rants. My good friend Rob Coppo is the Principal of Torrey Pines High School in San Diego's Del Mar / Carmel Valley, and a long time educator with experience in the classroom as well as in administration.

Rob will make the occasional visit to the show to give some spirited insight into various things that he sees happening in education today. Today he takes on everyone’s favorite subject: homework. And more specifically, the notion that more homework = more learning. Let’s just say that Rob’s not a fan of that idea.

I hope you’ll consider subscribing to the podcast via the iTunes store or at Giving good reviews and 5-star ratings couldn’t hurt either if you’re up for that.

Thanks for listening. First up is the debut of Rob’s Rants, and then part 2 of my conversation with CA Teacher of the Year Jenny Chien. Enjoy!

Elizabeth Vaughan: Farm To School, Equal Access To Good Food, and Recruiting Salad Bar Champions


Elizabeth Vaughan is the Food Systems Manager for Community Health Improvement Partners, or CHIP. Elizabeth is a leader in San Diego’s pioneering efforts in the national Farm To School movement, helping schools and other institutions work with local farmers and agriculture producers to purchase fresh foods.

Schools, hospitals and other institutions have significant buying power, and in recent years they’ve been aggressive in working with local food producers (farmers, fisherman and the like). This Farm To School movement helps in a number of ways, including:

  • Bringing fresher foods into schools.
  • Lessening the environmental impact of shipping food. And
  • Supporting local economies.

On top of that, it’s also addressing the issue of equity in our food systems. When schools can partner with local farms, students are getting some of the best quality food around. And that flies in the face of the traditional narrative that school food is the worst, cheapest food around.

There's lots more here - enjoy!

Jenny Chien, Part 1: CA Teacher Of The Year; STEM & Girls In STEM; Learning Capacity of K-5 Students


My guest for this episode is Jenny Chien, a CA Teacher of The Year for 2017, and STEM Specialist at Casita Center for Science, Engineering and Math in Vista, CA. Jenny teaches STEM, including coding, to K-5 classes – yes, kinders can code – as well as teaching a broadcast journalism class, which sees her 4th graders produce a news show for the school.

I’ve gotten to witness Jenny’s classes in action and they are remarkable. Creative, engaging, challenging and fun. She clearly gets a lot of joy from guiding kids through the process of learning, even if they aren’t aware of how much of that they’re doing.

This is part one of a two-part interview with Jenny. When we were recording we got on a roll, and there’s so much to cover that I broke our conversation into two parts.

In this episode we’re talking about STEM, what it is, and how it enhances all learning. We also talk girls in STEM, as there’s still a pretty big gender gap in math and science careers, and Jenny is doing something about that. We also get into what it’s been like to be a state teacher of the year and the platform and opportunities that come along with that.

Episode 1 - Anthony Devine Librarians, Ninjas and Comic-Con


On our first episode, I’ll be talking with Anthony Devine, a good friend who also happens to be a teacher-librarian at El Cajon Valley High School. Anthony is also a Google Ninja (yes, that’s a real thing), a bullish advocate of students creating digital portfolios, and a teacher who believes in empowering students to think critically in whatever area they’re studying. 

We also talk about Comic-con and graphic novels and more. Anthony’s a far cry from the stereotypical librarian, and I hope you enjoy our conversation.