Be yourself. But like, way better.

It's December and everyone is high strung and I suspect the supermoon didn't help.

Yesterday I lost my cool in one of my classes.

Most students were being squirrelly and distracted, and some were being real ding-dongs. 
My classroom wasn't a room full of diligently-working angels.

But that's irrelevant, because they're kids and I'm the adult.
And it's literally my job to be the adult.
(not to mention to design instruction that doesn't leave much room for ding-dong tendencies)

I was reactive and ugly and mean. 
Grouchy at best and hurtful at worst.

It bothered me all day. 

This morning, I started checking thesis statements and outlines for the essays students are developing.
Their works-in-progress are amazing. 
Their learning is evident, in all of its tiny stages, right there in the documents.

A lot of them worked really hard on it.
The proof is in the pudding, and I'm really, really proud of them.

These two things don't have everything to do with each other. 
Except to remind me that this work requires my best self.

And there isn't room for my ding-dong tendencies, either, when true learning is at stake.
Not just what's in the assignments, but what this entire experience is about for young people.

My work happens in front of an observant and impressionable teenage audience multiple times a day.
They deserve the best.

And I have to bring it.

image via Peyton Fulford's Abandoned Love project

The Right Kind of Hard

After the 12th graders in my class read The Handmaid's Tale, they write a critical analysis essay that takes a deep dive. From a single passage in the novel -- one chapter or just a part of it -- they complete a close reading and determine a thesis that captures the impact of the author's choices and their greater significance to the text as a whole.

They really dig into each word and read in between the lines.

It's a tough assignment.

The Deep Dive Essay has even developed a bit of a reputation, or so I hear.

So. I set out to do it myself.

I don't often get to do my own homework. There simply aren't enough hours in the day.
And I don't think I have to, really, to prove that the work makes sense.

I set out on this particular journey to be able to provide better support for the writers in my class. I hoped that I would be able to use my process as a model; I wanted to show students how I went from point A to point B.


It was tough. Really, it was.

I shared them into this document to show them my process for the close reading and how I tried to arrive at a functional thesis statement. It's comically chaotic.

It took me forever, too.
And I still don't love what I've got so far.

from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake -- figures

In class today I talked about how writing is really hard.
Even for me, who's naturally fairly decent at it and finds it enjoyable.
And who is way more educated than they are.

There were some dejected faces in the room.

Which didn't go away when I compared it to running or working out.
I said something like, "You know, you get better at it, and you get a lot stronger and faster and you build your endurance, but you never really finish a worthwhile workout and think, 'Whew! That was so easy!'"

At this point their looks were somewhere between dejected and downright agitated.

I regret not kicking off the semester with Anne Lamott.
(I should say that about any course, any semester.)

from Aldous Huxley's manuscript for Island -- more rejects than keepers

All of this to say:

It's hard.
It's worth doing.
Maybe those two ideas go really well together.

Regardless, kids. I'm right here with you on this journey.

Process // Of Air And Earth

It can be tricky taking on friends as business clients. You need to navigate making them happy while holding to best practices. You need to listen to their needs and wants while supporting their ideas with your knowledge about good design. You want to give advice without being overbearing.

Fortunately, when Alexa approached me about her venture with Of Air And Earth, what I found was a perfect example of how this working relationship could go beautifully.

I've known Alexa for a number of years. She has been a mentor and a friend, someone whose work I've looked up to and whose sensibilities I admire.

Visually, she knows what's up.

Alexa told me about project she had recently undertaken: creating arrangements of air plants, gemstones, and found vessels. Her creations were beautiful. She showed me some photos from her brand new Instagram account and we talked about some ideas for her logo and branding.

She had decided on a name: Of Air And Earth.
I doodled it about 800 times.

I asked Alexa to put together a Pinterest board of images that somehow get at the vibe she wanted reflected in her branding. Here is a sample of what she gathered:

These captured a lot of what I already knew about Alexa's aesthetic: classy antiques mixed with modern elements, plus lots natural elements, pops of color, and variations in texture. Over a delicious sushi lunch, we unpacked some of these elements and Alexa provided me with some language and guidance. Some keywords I jotted down included: elegant, Santa Monica, sort-of boho, muted, prism.

This pretty much captures the puzzle I had to solve. Alexa is tasteful and thoughtful and knows what looks good, but she's not a designer. It was up to me to figure out how these images and words from her brain would translate into a tangible design package.

I started with some color choices:

Then I played with shapes and layouts and various design elements, knowing that none of these would actually stick. I sent over these initial concepts:

In this first round, I wanted to give Alexa a lot of variety, so I played with type, drawn graphics, watercolor, and photographic elements. Now it was up to her to identify details she liked or didn't like.

She settled on a favorite, and I got to work customizing the pieces. Alexa would need a logo, a square business card, a sticker, and a banner for web stuff.

I did, and we got down to the nitty gritty, mostly around type and color balance.

This, this or this? These or these? Here are only a handful of the varieties I sent over:

Alexa sought her second and third opinions, and we finalized her new designs!

I'm really happy with the outcomes. Here is the completed logo, business card, the sticker, banner, and the care card that will come with each purchase of an air plant:

I love that Alexa wasn't afraid of the playful but muted color choices. She really liked the navy blue background, which looks awesome in print, too. This was my first time playing with patterns much in Illustrator; the overlapping circles reflect vibe from some of the rugs and tiles from the original Pinterest board. I'll be excited to practice with this tool more for future projects.

Alexa didn't waste any time while I was tinkering with vectors. Her designs are already for sale on her Etsy shop and IRL at Weavers Way Mercantile in Mt. Airy.

And she has these fancy printed materials to show, too :)

Congratulations to Alexa on starting her small business! This was a fun project for a dreamy client. I'm excitedly following along on her Instagram account and plotting which air plant design I'll pick out for myself and my favorite people soon.


I was chatting with a first-year teacher who said he realized this week that the honeymoon phase of the school year is already over.

I replied that I think of this as the piles phase.


Includes: Rearranging the classroom furniture, hanging up crisp new posters, setting up a gradebook or a seating chart or a folder full of documents, planning and fantasizing about the culture you'll create, the lives you'll change, and the learning that will take place.


Includes: Piles of submitted assignments to be graded, piles of emails, the spread of sticky notes on your desk forming into a pile, piles of people you were supposed to call back, piles of dishes in the sink, piles of things you've been meaning to say to your person, and so on, in every area of your life.

I mentioned this feeling to the 12th graders in my class.
Actually, the exact conversation was more like:

Me, after a pause and a sigh: Do you lately just feel -- ?
Student, cutting me off in the best way: Yes.

They of course have different piles: piles of college applications to process, piles of personal essays to edit, piles of recommendations to awkwardly ask for, piles of new classes that aren't easing up on them during senior year, piles of feelings related to being ready to transition into that next phase.

I feel you, kids. We're all in this boat.
And I admit that your suggestion to just close the blinds, turn off the lights, and collectively put our heads down for the rest of the period did not fall on deaf ears.

But I guess we all know that's not why we're here.

Your hard work is truly going to pay off.
I believe that.
(If I didn't you know I'd take that nap.)

And even though this pile is taller than I am, reading through your projects with my coffee and the windows open on this Saturday morning is secretly lovely.

And there's really only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time.

So goodbye, September. Here we go.

Swimming Pool

I can't get over photographer Maria Svarbova's "Swimming Pool" series. It's currently my favorite thing on Instagram, and I find my brain returning to its faded pastels, potent reds, the haunting symmetry, and the tension it creates so beautifully between stillness and movement.

Happy Camper // Here I Go

A policy I've always wished I'd embraced more fully involves saying yes to more things. I'm usually fairly risk-averse. I'm quick to acknowledge that I don't have enough time or money or that something is just not right for me.

I've believed -- falsely, I think -- that life is long and that opportunities come back around.

And I've happily plodded along -- more or less -- squarely within the boundaries of my comfort zone.

For example, I was among a handful of women who received this email:

... and against all logic my first thought was, "Nope, don't see how that can happen."

I can't actually explain what's wrong with my brain (this being part of what's wrong), but I'm happy I came around a couple of weeks later. I said YES.

And I was the only one who ended up doing so.

Currently, after a few weeks of putting together some plans, this amazing friend and I are going hiking and camping in GLACIER NATIONAL PARK for 11 days.


Let's talk about this particular comfort zone.

I've camped before, a night or two, here and there. With a small group of friends. On the beach. With my Girl Scout troop, surrounded by other troops.

But this? This is a whole new adventure.

My packing list looks alien to me. I'm borrowing gear from wonderful people I know and otherwise expecting to live in my running clothes the entire time. I've got safety pins and duct tape and layers for all weather and Ziploc bags.

And all of the bug spray.

Eleven days is long for any trip.
I mean. That's a lot of time to basically hang out outside.
How much even is that?

So far my friend is a rock star with knowledge and updates and preparations, while my only contribution has been a beautifully laid-out Google Doc of our plans, complete with hyperlinks and screenshots. I plan to overcompensate for the rest with my stellar attitude and joyful company.

I'll be a better version of myself on the other side of this trip.
To be sure I make it, I'm spending the morning reading about bears.

Any tips for this noob?

Season 11 // Glows & Grows

The end of the school year is always a bizarre time. In the weeks leading up to it, I groan, "Oh my goooooooosh, will the end never come?!" and then it's the last day and I look around all sad and confused like, "What?! That's it? It's over, just like that?!"

Here is a tiny reflection of this year's glows and grows.


  1. CURRICULUM GOING STRONG // I've had the opportunity to develop projects and refine my curriculum choices over the past three years, and I'm happy with the progress. There's stuff I want to tweak and improve and add, but I feel generally positive about this year's texts and projects. I'm teaching stuff I love and value, seeing strong results and feedback from students, and the work of building curriculum is actually enjoyable to me.

  2. RELATIONSHIPS WITH STUDENTS // I've taken advantage of moments during and outside of instruction to get to know students more personally, and I love this. Nothing makes me happier than the students who stop by in between classes, say hi in the hallways, or randomly email me something they think I'd enjoy. I love the ones who linger after it's time to go to chat just a little more. I know that the close relationships I formed with my teachers as a high schooler were incredibly meaningful to me, and the idea that I could have a fraction on that impact on another person is overpowering my feelings right now.

  3. THE GIKVISORY GRADUATED! // This is so bittersweet. I won the lottery for an incredible group of young people, and it was pure happiness to see my advisees and their families celebrating at graduation. I was, though, really thrown off when one of them said, "Bye!" as one does at the conclusion of a thing, and I sort of broke down mentally because whatdoyoumeanyou'reactuallyleaving?! In the fall I'll start from scratch with a new batch of incoming freshmen, and I am eternally grateful for my first group for their ceaseless kindness, silliness, and all-around love. They've taught me way more than I think I've done for them.

  4. SCHOOL FAMILY // Ever since I arrived here, my colleagues have been like family. I am so lucky to come to work every day and see people with whom I genuinely enjoy spending time, solving problems, and sharing joys. I feel supported through highs and lows, and remain so in awe of the work and commitment of this faculty. I'm fairly certain this is atypical for any work environment, and it's not lost on me how special it is.

The Class of 2017!


  1. COLLABORATION IS TRICKY // With my colleagues, I always say I want to work more closely on things together, but I so rarely take the steps to actually do it. I want to observe master educators in their classrooms, I want to design units and projects across disciplines, I want to build programs and initiatives for our school, but my time gets occupied with something else and I move on and away from this goal. I need to be more purposeful and deliberate -- not to mention accountable -- for acting on these collaborations if I truly value them.

  2. KIDS WHO SLIP THROUGH THE CRACKS // I know this happens to every teacher, but I want to pay more attention to the students in my classes or in my Advisory whom I am not reaching. It's not the case that I need to be their person, but I do want to make sure they are receiving what they need. In classes of over 30 students, some will get lost academically or emotionally, and I want to better acknowledge and approach these relationships to better serve every student.

  3. TIME MANAGEMENT // One of my colleagues joked the other day that our main office is "a black hole time suck," and I love everything about that statement. It's where our amazing staff (see above) gathers and hangs, but it's also true that every time I'm there I'm less productive than I could be. I need to do a much better job of using my prep periods to plan, grade, and check off tasks, and hopefully reduce the amount of work I'm bringing home at night and on the weekends.

  4. SO MANY HATS // I'm not sure I'll ever actually solve this one. It's both the nature of our school and the nature of my personality to say yes to lots of projects and initiatives. I get excited about creating new things and taking on more roles, and sometimes these new commitments pull me away from the students I teach, or my personal/home life. I hope to plan more thoughtfully in order to be more discerning about the things I put on my plate. 

Congratulations, teachers and students on a school year down! 
Here's to a summer of reflecting and planning, resting and refueling, gearing up for the next round.

In My Brain // It's Gonna Be May

Alexander and the V Bad FML Day // Bet you didn't know that in Mrs. Drescher's third grade class, I won a writing contest for my spin on Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. This New Yorker piece is obviously what my 8-year old self aspired to write.

ILLUSTRATED IMPACT // I loved this interview with Grace Bonney, founder of Design*Sponge.

LABOR // I've come across lots of former students' awesome projects in college and beyond. Jasmine's video knocked my socks off.

THE NEWS TODAY OH BOY // The news every morning is a punch in the face, and I care enough to try and keep up. I'm loving two podcasts that unpack big ideas into palatable chunks for normal people: The Daily, from the failing New York Times (20 minutes is a win!) and Pod Save America (I dare you to listen and not develop a huge crush on the gentlemen's wit, charm, and ridiculous intellect).

HAPPY LISTENING // A playlist by David Byrne.

WHOLE 30 // Two recipes on repeat in our household right now: Slow Cooker Carnitas and Coconut Chicken Thai Curry. Both easy and delicious and perfect for leftovers.

SLAMS Rovers // Logo Design

A cool thing happened. Science Leadership Academy Middle School hit the ground running for its first school year.

Our quirky little model has expanded to younger children. There are inquiry-driven fifth graders in Philadelphia doing cool things and apparently loving it.

Also cool is that I was approached to design a logo for SLAMS.

The mascot for the SLA high schools is the Rockets. The middle school decided they would be the Rovers. Pretty adorable, that outer space theme.

For this project I collaborated with founding principal, Tim Boyle, a super-smart human being with immense chill, to bring his vision to life. He wanted something fresh, but not too edu-corporate, and cute, but not too elementary. I loved and appreciated the way he communicated his ideas to me while trusting my instincts to create.

I started by sending over some initial concepts:

Tim's favorites were also my favorites (that's the best), and we decided to workshop those. We stuck with the circular design and tried to eliminate some of its busy-ness. Tim also talked me out of my original color palette to some bolder hues. He was right. Check out the kelly green we chose instead:

As a gift for the founding staff, we decided on square business cards. I think they're playful and modern and crisp.

I loved working on this project from start to finish. It seems like the kids don't hate it, either :) Maybe it'll evolve over the years ...

Progress Report // Books on the Nightstand

My nightstand is now overly cluttered. The book pile is too tall.

I'm in the middle of that thing I always do. I've started nearly a dozen books and am happily in the middle of all of them.

I make no apologies for this.
I am a Beginner of Many Projects.
It's who I am.

Here's what I'm currently reading, more or less:


Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
I've loved Saunders' short stories since they were gifted to me a decade ago, and his first novel does not disappoint. It's really a beautiful story, and I was lucky enough to hear Saunders read from it (and get our book signed!) at the Free Library this year.

The Great American Songbook, by Sam Allingham

The first book for this author, who is a friend of the SLA community, is so beautifully written. I love his style and themes and characters. Short story collections are perfect nightstand occupants, and this one is terrific. I recommend it very highly.


My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante
A beautifully-written four-part series with a female friendship at its center? You know I signed right up.

The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson
One of the readers and writers I trust most recommended this one, and she's of course right. I put it down a few weeks ago and now probably need to start it over, but to be honest I'm happy about that.


Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay
This was another awesome reading at FLP, and Roxane Gay signed my copy, "To Amal -- Be difficult." I really enjoy her nonfiction writing, and the characters she's developed here are intriguing to me. Another excellent collection of short stories for bedtime reading.

The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt
The same friend who recommended The Argonauts told me about this one. It came up in our conversations during the Women's March. It is a social psychologist's exploration of where morality comes from (spoiler alert: humans are not rational beings) and dives into the ways we communicate and understand those who are different from us, especially in politics and religion. I'm loving it so far and have talked about it a lot already.


Too Loud A Solitude, by Bohumil Hrabal

This is a re-read; this novel was my favorite assigned text in my freshman seminar at William and Mary, which happens to be one of the best classes I took, ever (shoutout Professor Koloski!). I wanted to revisit it for our trip to Prague recently.

Girl With Curious Hair, by David Foster Wallace
This was recommended to me by a thoughtful and lovely friend who was shocked that I'd never read any DFW. I haven't given it an honest start yet, but am excited to check it out at last.

Oof, I need a book club.
What's in your reading pile?

In My Inbox // Lady Newsletters

At some point in recent Internet history, email newsletters became acceptable and interesting, and I find myself with four inbox treats each week that bring me terrific joy.

Turns out, mine are all from awesome ladies.

I recommend:

The Ann Friedman Weekly // Journalist and podcast-bestie Ann Friedman curates solid journalism and interesting pieces from around the web, often covering feminism and women's issues. Also, pie charts.

The newsletter from Heben and Tracy of Another Round (the Buzzfeed podcast you should be listening to) covers everything from social issues of race and gender and pop culture to animal gifs. I highly appreciate this spectrum of seriousness.

What a treasure Maria Popova is. Brain Pickings, a "weekly interestingness digest," features longer-form pieces about culture and politics, often through a lens of art or literature. I am always inspired by the way Popova places writers and thinkers in context and conversation with one another to shed light on big ideas.

Stacy-Marie Ishmael's short and sweet Galavant Times offers commentary and wisdom and spotlights relevant thinking in three categories -- Engage, Learn, and Connect -- which I think solidly capture what the whole thing is all about.

Subscribe and enjoy and donate where you can.
Most of these are passion projects and it's very clear that a lot of hard work goes into them.

Happy inbox :)

Illustrated Arabic Typography

When my parents made me spend Saturday afternoons in Arabic school instead of playing sports, I thought I'd never overcome my resentment toward them.

I never got great at sports, for one.

But now I am someone who can read and write in Arabic.


What I mean is:

I speak like a Lebanese mountain villager who just emerged, Encino-Man-style, from a 1960s time capsule.
I read at about a 4th grade level on my best day.
My handwriting has been described by Lebanese children under the age of ten as "adorable".

I mean. I'll take it.

It's a good enough foundation for a native speaker who has lived her whole Americanized life on a different side of the planet.

Maybe eventually I'll polish my vocabulary, step up my literacy game, start watching Middle Eastern news channels oooohtheytalksofast, and use these skills to help people. It't not yet a game plan, only a possibility, if my current job, which I still love, unexpectedly quits on me or something.

For today, I'll share the amazing work of designer Mahmoud El Sayed, who illustrated Arabic words based on their meaning:

Aren't these beautiful?! They made me so, so happy.

In My Brain // Snow Day

Happy snow day! I'm working from home and catching up on the grading pile I've been stupidly saving. Stay warm and cozy and enjoy yourself some Internet:

// A genre I love is Writers Writing About How They Write. So of course a piece by George Saunders captivates me.

// I love me some Cold War education films, and Disney's 1946 The Story of Menstruation maybe takes the cake.

// Everybody! Everybody! Homestar Runner mirrors the history of the Internet.

// Always excited for, inspired by, and proud of this beautiful artsy weirdo: Erica Taylor <3

// The above photo is from Cory J. Popp, whose work you should be following if you love Philly or talent in general.

Portrait Doodles

I've been really inspired by these mixed media portraits that have been showing up lately. I kind of want to find a way to bring this idea into the classroom.

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