Category Archives: Frankly Speaking

Food for Thought

If you are anything like me, you asked yourself this past weekend, “When is it time to stop eating leftovers?” I LOVE Thanksgiving, political views aside, because most of my mother’s seven brothers and sisters, their kids, and extended family gather in a cozy home for hours on end and eat until we are bursting at the seams. The connectedness of the gathering feeds my soul more than anything, and I feel rejuvenated and ready to enter the last few weeks of school, before another break, when we do it all over again. However you spent the short break, I hope that you too feel fed by the love, meals, and time well spent with those that give us purpose.

It’s hard to believe, but at this time two years ago, I was getting mentally prepared for my first round of interviews at Hamlin. I was excited to see the school and hoped to fall in love.  As I walked down Buchanan to Broadway from my hotel, I saw Jane Gaito (didn’t know it was her) walking her dog up the hill, cars pulling around the corner into the drop-off line, and as I turned the corner onto Broadway, Amy Rees was standing at the top of the stairs waiting for me. She was as open, innocent, and curious as a newborn cub (she’ll laugh at that description) and put me at ease as I passed the large, intimidating lions protecting the front doors.

My first stop on the interview “tour” was a group of parents that were tasked with creating a space for me to share my values, educational philosophy, and my questions about the community. The parents in the room shared their commitment to Hamlin and why they chose this school. There were tears and laughter and bearing of souls. Really, this happened. I fell in love. That really happened too. There were many amazing questions, but the one that I remember most vividly was, “What are your thoughts on rigor?”  I responded by sharing that rigor is important. A vibrant community where girls are learning at ceiling-less levels is ideal. The challenge, excitement, and success that come with a school that values breadth and depth was and is extremely attractive to me BUT means nothing without confident, capable girls. I went on to say the same thing that I share during admission season, when I get similar questions. Our social-emotional curriculum is just as important as our academic one. In fact, they work hand in hand.

While there are many articles that address the importance of a solid social- emotional (SEL) curriculum in schools, a recent article in the New York Times validated the work that we have been doing at Hamlin. It explained why our girls will continue to fuel the rigorous learning environment via their ability to be resilient, approach problems with various pathways, and connect with one another using empathy as a tool.

Teaching Peace in Elementary School is not necessarily what I would have titled the article, but it does deliver the message that a peaceful mind and body are able to take on stress in ways that a disrupted one cannot. “The neural pathways in the brain that deal with stress are the same ones that are used for learning,” the article states.

It’s not uncommon for girls to end up in my office to take a break from an overwhelming situation. It’s the reason why my space feels a little more like a living room as opposed to a traditional office. Work needs to happen in this environment, on many levels, and those who enter need to feel comfortable enough to engage genuinely. Recently, a second grader was emotionally distracted from the academic work happening in her classroom and was sent to me to take a break. Below is an excerpt of the conversation we had and how SEL was essential in getting her back into the swing of her school day.

Background Info: The second grader was having an issue with a friendship triangle and was feeling left out. After explaining the problem using the book Two by Kathryn Otoshi, she went on to reflect on her own actions and did her best to think of solutions.

Girl: You see, Ms. Frank, SHE is such a good friend, and I know she’s branching out, and that I should too but it’s much harder for me.

Me: I can understand that. What do you like most about your friendship?

Girl: SHE is adventurous, kind, and really funny and I haven’t met many other girls just like her at Hamlin.

Me: I think I see a glimpse into the problem here. You’re looking for someone just like her and that doesn’t exist. She’s pretty unique right?

Girl: Yes, that’s true but I think she possesses many of the characteristics of a good friend.

Me: I can’t argue with that, but instead of looking for someone just like her, maybe we can think about people who possess some of the qualities you listed. Hamlin is filled with people like that and they are all waiting to connect with YOU.

Girl: Yeah, but I’m just really sad about our relationship changing.

Me: I’ve been there. Feeling like that is natural. I’m thinking we might need to use some of our tools to get us back on track.

Girl: Yeah, I think I’m going a little overboard with my feelings, but I’m just so sad about it. I used my quiet safe space tool yesterday and spent way too long in the bathroom.

Me: Well, I’m glad you’re thinking about the tools, but the ones that could be most useful now may be the garbage can tool and the apology and forgiveness tool.

The article goes onto say that “unless emotions are properly dealt with, they believe, children won’t be able to reach their full academic potential.”

The fifteen minutes it took to hear her out allowed me to gather that, while not completely resolved, she was well on her way to accomplishing the five goals of social emotional learning:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to reflect on one’s own feelings and thoughts. (“I know I’m going overboard, Ms. Frank but I’m just so sad about it.”)
  • Self-management (or self-control): The ability to control one’s own thoughts and behavior. (“I’m not sure what to do.”) This is where the teacher acts as guide and model. Using language and resources to allow the child to independently process her/his feelings and thoughts in the future.)
  • Social awareness: The ability to empathize with others, recognize social cues and adapt to various situations. (“You see, Ms. Frank, SHE is such a good friend, and I know she’s branching out, and that I should too, but it’s much harder for me.”)
  • Relationship skills: The ability to communicate, make friends, manage disagreements, recognize peer pressure, and cooperate. Through conversations with teachers, further engagement with the Toolbox curriculum, and resources like Kylie Cobb, our school counselor, she would work towards this goal and be able to recognize when she’s met success.
  • Responsible decision-making: The ability to make healthy choices about one’s own behavior while weighing consequences for others. So what did she do after meeting with me? She spoke with her classmate, shared her feelings, and listened intently to the feelings of her friend. At least for that day, she was able to move forward and engage in the other educational opportunities ahead of her.

Each girl walks through the doors of Hamlin knowing that she is going to be fully supported. While girls travel with their own baggage, our job is to make it a little lighter. We realize that our job is to educate girls for the challenges of their time, and the only way we can do this is to ensure that they have healthy minds and bodies.

Please read the full article attached to the title in the body of this post and feel free to share the “kid conversations” that happen in your home related to SEL. Connect with me at

What’s up around Lower School?

Kindergarten discusses skin color and who they are both inside and outside. Text used to guide conversation are:

The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler

Skin Again by Bell Hooks and Chris Rachka

The Colors of Us by Karen Katz

Grade 1 explores their neighborhood and community helpers via walks around Hamlin.

Grade 2 shares what they are looking for in a good friend.

Grade 3 learns about the continent of Africa and the diaspora through a trip to the Museum of the African Diaspora.

Grade 4 writes “I Am From” poems- inspired by Ms. Holland Greene

Listen to Lila Holt share her I Am From poem below.

Nicki Gaito and her grandmother wrote an I Am From poem together.

LS Coffee Reminder! 

Want to learn more about how your daughter learns best? Please join both Madeline Hancock and Amy Conger at an All-School Coffee on December 10th from 8:30-9:30am in the East Dining Room (EDR).

Check out the link to the video below from our last parent coffee: Growing From the STEM. Our parents had a great time and really engaged in the play…I mean work. 

Parents racing robots! (Click the word highlighted to see the video)


Stand UP!

It’s been a little while since my last post and I have to say, I’ve missed it! I’ve been busy with the life of the Lower School as well as engaging in dialogue with prospective parents in the height of admission season. An annual January highlight is the opportunity to talk with smaller groups of prospective parents about what it means to be a Hamlin girl, our pedagogy, and to brag shamelessly about my colleagues and the current parent body. Each time Wanda and I chat with a new group of parents, our experience is shaped by the events of the day, week, or month. These admission events happened recently, during a time when activism was at a high, especially around the Bay Area.  There were days where I would literally jump from a conversation with 4th graders about Rosa Parks, and others who chose to oppose inequality, to the cozy home of a current parent, where we’d lean into conversation about how we prepare our girls to advocate for themselves and others.  So many of our chats centered around who we are as a confident, dynamic community and the actions that occur as a result. From MLK, Jr. to Food Equity to the Black Lives Matter movement, we had authentic discussions as a direct reflection of the conversations we are having in our Hamlin community.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is,

‘What are you doing for others?'”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

In January, we spent time honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The girls read books such as, Martin’s BIG Words, we viewed a clip from Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech during an assembly, but most importantly, the girls talked about the courage and conviction of MLK Jr., as well as many others, both past and present, who have stood for something they believed in.  As a point of connection, the girls spoke about issues that affect their every day lives and the lives of others. It was understood that an issue you stand for is something so important that you would risk someone disagreeing with you, possibly being the only one to take that stand and/or that you would be speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves.

“Walk the street with us into history. Get off the sidewalk!”

-Delores Huerta

What do our girls stand for? 

In first grade, a student shared her families’ history with activism and her current involvement. Her peers asked questions like, “What was your favorite protest you’ve ever been in? “ to which she replied, “The one where we were asking banks to share money.” While every family may not be active in the same way, it’s important that we continue to discuss the importance of advocacy as families, classrooms, divisions and schools.

On Fridays, I have the pleasure of meeting with the 3rd and 4th grade ALANA group. Inevitably, between laughs, the girls bring up meaty topics that they feel comfortable discussing in this forum. In a recent meeting, the question was posed, “What do you stand for?”  Not all of the girls had an answer. Some seemed humbled by the question, as if they were not quite old enough or experienced enough to stand for anything. Others were clear about the issues that are important to them and expressed them freely. Such an important discussion needed to be shared as a way to invite others to think deeply about their beliefs. It didn’t take long for an idea to emerge; the ALANA girls threw their thoughts onto the wall, literally. As you enter Hamlin, you will see not only what they stand for but also what many students in our community feel committed to.


What do YOU stand for? 

There are blank cards waiting for YOU near the wall in the Mckinne reception area! Feel free to fill one out and give to Wendy so that you too can join the conversation.




Life is not what you alone make it. Life is the input of everyone who touched your life and every experience that entered it. We are all part of one another.

      -Yuri Kochiyama

Hamlin Stands for Food Security

The month ended with a rich discussion about food insecurity in San Francisco. This issue directly related to the connection between the Hamilton Family Center and Hamlin Harvest. Many families came out to hear from a panel of those working to rectifying this issue and to engage in dialogue. Dan Polk, Hamlin’s Director of Global Citizenship, shared his thoughts about the importance of the Hamlin being deeply rooted in the work of advocacy and empathy.

“The city of San Francisco has 2400 homeless students who struggle with hunger everyday.  At Hamlin we teach the importance of global citizenship, a core facet of which is to acknowledge the humanity of all people both far and near.  In such an affluent city, we need to do our best to understand that resource inequality is in our midst.”

There aren’t enough hours in the day to tackle all of the important conversations that could come up at any given moment. As educators, we do our best to create environments where the issues that enrich our knowledge of one another, whether celebratory or sobering, have a space to be explored. Everyday, we encourage our girls to STAND UP and be heard!

A Note About Math Mornings

Between November and February 9th, Gillis Kallem, our Math Specilaist, and I have participated in 5 math mornings from grade K-4. We have truly enjoyed watching you learn alongside your daughters! Witnessing you grapple with an investigation, collaborate with your peers, and celebrate each other’s success was inspiring. The observations you made and the questions you asked pushed us to think more deeply about our current curriculum and,therefore, we learned as well. We will be sharing the Prezis from each parent session- please look out for those in the NOW in the coming weeks.


As a child, Sunday was a sacred day for my family. Not for obvious reasons that one may assume, such as religion, but it was the day that my family came together (both immediate and very much extended) and engaged in what was called C.A.C.T.U.S. As a child, I had no idea what this acronym meant. I only knew that every other Sunday I went to a different family member’s house and gathered to learn about topics that centered around various professions, economic awareness (this is where I learned how to write a check) and more often than not, about our cultural and racial heritage as African American people. Our Cultural Awareness Come Together Unity Session was a time to share our various stories as well as connect via experiences, information, and food. In addition to being a community gathering, C.A.C.T.U.S. was a place where children were encouraged and expected to be leaders. It was not uncommon to see a 6-year-old reading in front of the group or being the main organizers and presenters at the annual Kwanzaa celebration. These types of gatherings created critical thinkers from a very young age. These sessions fed our curiosity, creativity, and connectedness to the world around us. Most importantly, by sharing various images of our culture, it not only validated our place in society, but it also enabled us to more easily connect to the lives of others. Our elders were intentionally doing the work needed to honor our individual experiences while intertwining our stories with the rest of the world.

As a person who grew up knowing that there was deep value in learning about my own culture as well as others, it has always been very important that I be a part of communities that value this as well. The Hamlin Lower School Assembly is an example of a time where our girls become culturally aware and, therefore, more competent in being able to be critical thinkers in our continuously diversified community. September and October were particularly rich months, where we shared various cultural traditions in many forms.

As we learn about ourselves, we learn about each other. Windows and mirrors are all around us. 

During Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, our students who celebrate the Jewish New Year and connect to the Day of Atonement did so by sharing photos and family stories.

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Diwali, the Festival of Lights, was celebrated through poetry and dance by many of our students of Indian heritage. Students practiced a traditional piece of choreography, crafted marigolds in Art, sand-painted our steps with traditional celebratory designs, and created a delicious menu for all to eat!

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Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a Mexican celebration of the lives of deceased ancestors and friends, was discussed in Spanish class grades K-4. The learning extended to a beautiful altar that was adorned with photos, artifacts, and various class-made projects.

Our girls are leaders and contributors to our community.


The tradition of our 4th Graders sharing their interests and talents during a special assembly with the entire Lower School is yet another way our students share the varied pieces of their stories. A favorite part of each presentation is hearing about how each girl’s interest is inspired.

“Hearing my grandmother play the piano in India made me want to play just like her.”

“Here’s a quote from one of my favorite authors…”

“My cousin, once removed, made really cool things with Legos, and I wanted to be just like him.”

This is not just a leadership opportunity for the oldest girls in our division, it’s also a way to connect with and possibly inspire someone else. We all add another page to our 4th grade stories with each VIP presentation.

We are learners, too! 

To round out the culturally rich month of October, our faculty and staff were intellectually challenged by our assigned summer text, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (pronounced: Chim-muh-MAHN-duh en-GOH-zee ah-DEECH-ee-ay). The book was chosen to point a keen eye at cultural competency as we embark on our Global Citizenship Program, led by Marisa Bellingrath and Dan Polk. On Halloween, the Museum of the African Diaspora and the California Historical Society were the setting for a rich discussion of our various reactions, connections, and questions that poured out of the book and into discussions across divisions and disciplines. As if that was not enough, we were able to Skype with the author and ask questions that helped further our understanding of the text as well as the author’s experience growing up in Nigeria and in the United States.

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I feel honored to be a part of a Culturally Aware community that Comes Together to Unify our experiences Successfully.

Continued Ed….

Ms. Ngozi Adichie talks about the “Danger of a Single Story” in this brilliant TED Talk.

On the Wall

Over the summer I walked the quiet halls of Hamlin, learning my route to and from my office and exploring the twists and turns of Stanwood Hall. The maze to McKinne was accompanied by the various NPR programs that Gabby Cobar, our HUB faculty member and resident muralist, listened to as she created the mural outside of our 1st and 2nd grade classrooms. Gabby was commissioned to beautify the once bare wall that was the lackluster view of 4 of our classrooms on the 2nd floor. The goal was to create a visually inspiring and aesthetically pleasing mural. The Creed would be seen throughout and our girls would see an image of themselves reflected in their environment. In the spring, Gabby presented designs to our students and the girls voted on what they thought would best represent the Hamlin experience. In Ms. Cobar’s own words she says,

“In Our Nature is what the mural is titled. It is a place that is quiet and safe, where imagination, curiosity, and courage flourish. I believe that represents what happens in Hamlin and the kind of girls that fill the school. I wanted something where the girls could imagine themselves in. I wanted to create something rather surreal, beautiful and a little strange without having it be a distraction to the students during class.”

Just as much thought goes on outdoors as it does inside. As many of you have noticed, our classroom canvases or “walls” are yet another space where you can see the Hamlin Creed in action. The hard work of each student is displayed as a means of example, process, engagement, and presence. It’s our students who truly fill the space, not just with their physical being but with their thoughts and actions as evidenced through their art, writing, and thinking. The thoughtful process of how the classroom will become a canvas starts before our girls step through the doors. Our teachers think about the space as one would think about his or her own home. There is a design process with the student in mind. From furniture placement to the labeling of materials, educators think about who our girls are as learners and what kind of environment will best suit the group.

Is this color over stimulating? Is this space comfortable enough to read a book in? What’s the traffic flow like from one space to another? Should we leave that wall blank? How do we show an active learning process?

All of these questions run through the mind of each teacher as the environment is carefully planned for that very first day and beyond. By now, you will see that our children have started to fill the room. Every girls’ words and thoughts hold added value as classroom discussions, mathematical problem solving, and emerging writing pieces are displayed just as carefully as the finest artwork in a gallery. When describing the function of the walls in her classroom, Ms. Phillips references Reggio Emilia pedagogical thinking as she states, “The walls are the third teacher in the room.”  

As you weave in and out from classroom to hallway, you will see that Ms. Seifert hangs a world map on its head to spark conversation around flexible thinking and perspective, the second grade explores identity through fractional parts, a first grader shares her favorite reading moment, Kindergarteners explore emotion, and a science student shares her hope to find the end of the rainbow. Our walls are a vehicle to imagine that these physical boundaries don’t actually exist. Our learning is limitless!

In my opinion…

Less is more–at least in the beginning!  The blank wall is an invitation for engagement, a chance to create and be a part of the environment. Our walls should be a place where the day-to-day learning is transparent and a focal point of reference and reflection for our students and teachers.  It’s an opportunity to allow our students’ imagination to run wild! Whether it be McKinne lounge or each homeroom, pay close attention to the constant transformation; it speaks volumes. You will indeed see the continuous learning of our students on the walls!

The opinions of others… The  following link is an article written by Patricia Tarr, a professor at the University of Calgary published by NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children).

Consider the Walls