Teaching – the most haunted profession of all.


This photo really has nothing to do with haunting, but it was the scariest image I had. (Image: © Elena Moiseeva | Dreamstime.com)

One of the great mysteries of the teaching profession is that we are the one most closely linked to learning, yet we are the most resistant to change, the greatest inertia bearers of any profession. (Even if you disagree, it is safe to continue as I will argue with myself in the next couple of sentences.) This makes no sense, until we realize that my first assumption has a fatal flaw, in that it is based on a common misconception. Teaching has not always been about learning. It has mostly been about teaching.

This is the fundamental piece of the school-puzzle that has changed rapidly in educational thought, but not in educational practice. We think differently in our heads, but sometimes not in our insecure hearts, because we are haunted by those persistent ghosts of the past. Our teachers were probably about teaching, not learning. It is hard to throw the ghosts of our own hard earned school experiences off our backs, those ingrained assumptions about the way classrooms run. Tenacious little assumptions they are, formed during our own school days.

The closed-classroom is the embodiment of the ‘teaching is about teaching’ world view. Conversely, the ‘teaching is about learning’ world view is embodied by an open-classroom. It seems that levels of preparedness to share would be a perfect measure of classroom openness. For a quick self assessment of how badly you are being haunted by those ghosts of the past, I have three questions – a yes/no is required.

  1. I am nervous about sharing my lesson/unit plans with colleagues because they may not be good enough. (The plans, not the colleagues!)
  2. I become nervous when another adult enters my class.
  3. I make sure my door is (literally) closed when I am teaching.

If you answered yes to all three, you are clearly being haunted by ghosts of school past. Fortunately, there is a simple remedy. Do what we ask our students to do on a daily basis. Create, share, publish, create, share, publish, create, share, publish ad infinitum. A sure cure to get those ghosts (closed-classroom insecurities) off our backs and move our great professional along, so that our collective thinking will more closely align with our collective practice.


The only one who truely doesn’t believe in you.



My first novel, the product of walking the dog with my daughters.


An interesting exercise when you are starting an endeavor is to make a list of all the people who really believe you can do it and all of the people who really believe that you can’t – as well as all the people who fall in between. For argument sake, I will use a six point scale to describe my list when I started my first novel and most of the way through the writing process:

  1. Really believe that you can do it:  My two daughters & my dog.
  2. Think that you probably can do it:  My wife and a few friends. Me sometimes.
  3. Wonder if you can do it or not: Me sometimes. A few more friends.
  4. Think that you probably can’t do it: Me often.
  5. Really believe that you can’t do it: Me sometimes.
  6. Completely indifferent: 7.163 Billion minus 8 people and a brown dog. (i.e.The rest of the world.)

I wonder if this is the same for other people. From my experience with teachers and students in schools, I am guessing it is so. I was in my late 30s when I wrote the novel, having already successfully passed a few milestones in my life, yet I oscillated between points 2 to 5 regularly. How must it be for a child? The interesting thing about the exercise is that I guarantee there is only ever one person on No. 5 and that is you/me. I thought about this a lot during the writing process, and the knowledge helped me combat that self-doubt protective reflex that is the bane of our creative spirits.  Remember that you are alone, but only within the restrictive bubble of your own self-doubt.

You really should read Oystermouth Whispers, by the way. A novel by my favorite author.


Life is too short, to not take the stage.


I attended a middle school poetry slam a couple of weeks ago. A large percentage of the MS students participated, which is miraculous, in and of itself, writing their own poems and standing on a stage to recite, deliver, perform, amaze.  I’m an English teacher, so I like to think that I know my way around a poem, but while sitting in the audience, I tried to calculate how long it had been since I had actually written and recited one. 30 years, in fact – when I was forced to do this at school. This event was a completely different world to the one in which we all stood up, in turn, and read our words to a disinterested class all those years ago.

This poetry slam was so much fun and so much courage was found by so many students, you could not help being moved. The photo above was taken while I was riding to school one day across Kawainui Marsh and it seems to capture how it felt, sitting listening to the MS students recite their poetry. There is a specific beauty within that type of courage. Their inspiration allows me to now say, ‘My name is Damian Rentoule and it has been two weeks since I wrote & recited a poem’.  Here it is, with references to the poems of the night – The ‘Wang’ is the name of the auditorium,  the ‘brick wall’ is a paper backdrop which fell during the performances etc. You can just try to guess the rest. Hope you enjoy it.

Dragons & Bottles: The Eggcellent JLA Poets

Enter the Wang,

but beware the brick wall.

Looming behind me,

tempting to fall.

Listeners cheered,

poets all spoke.

Words from the heart,

and of course, the odd joke.

To hear my friends shouting,

as my name is read.

There’s nothing quite like it,

these words in my head.

Beautiful brownies,

all stuck on the floor.

Don’t worry about it,

just go back for more.

Alone on the stage,

yet not really just one.

My friends are all cheering,

they’re making this fun.

Some words are bright,

others just bold.

Desperate or angry,

all truth is told.

These thoughts are so private,

too private to share.

But here on the stage,

my soul is laid bare.

Yet, not nearly as scary,

as I thought it would be.

For this feeling is special,

all eyes are on me.

Their waiting to hear,

the meaning I’ve spun.

Ms Huber, Ms Baxter,

I feel like I’ve won.

Life is too short,

to not take the stage.

To wear a black beret,

recite from my page.

Parents are proud,

you are growing so fast.

We love you dear child,

From now, to the last.

Dragons and Bottles,

That’s who I am.

Bullies and Eggs,

The Poetry Slam.

By Damian Rentoule – an impressed audience member.


Success – The end point or the next step?


Image: © Jan Csernoch | Dreamstime.com                                                                                                           What’s on the other side? Literally, only one way to find out.


A tweet crossed my path today, as they are want to do, with a phrase ‘culture of failure’ and this started me thinking about our perceptions of success and failure. There has been a lot said regarding the importance of failure for learning, however the waters are muddied somewhat as we carry around different ideas of what these concepts represent. I don’t feel that the current ideas of embracing failure, for the sake of learning and creativity in general, are aimed at the end of the journey. It seems that the current discourse on the subject of failure has pulled failure back from the distant end of the journey, to the immediate next step of the journey. In this sense, failure is not what it used to be. It has become part of the process instead of the outcome. This is powerful, and if this is what is deemed a ‘culture of failure’ I welcome our new definition. I am not sure that I am too keen on a world where success is a rainbow, vanishing as we approach. I like the immediate. We can do something about that. There may be no ‘there’. Only a ‘here’, and this is where success and failure belong in the learning process.

Learning is a house with many doors. Success depends on opening, or building, the right ones along the way. Sometimes we have an idea of where we are going. Sometimes we do not. We never really know what is going to be on the other side of any of them. Success and failure are just the unique combination of the doors we move through.

Tweets (May 10, 2014)

  A carefully co-constructed-with-the-learner rubric makes it easier for the learner to see what direction success is.

  I’m not sure we always want success. How does that line up with culture of failure in vogue now?

  Depending on whether success is defined as the end point or the next step. If success is a rainbow? 


True Misconceptions: Multi-tasking and concentration


I have just published my second novel, a much shorter process than the first, and in a recent conversation with Amy Burvall, digital trail blazer and the ultimate multi-tasker, we talked about the writing process, particularly as I balance my time between life as a middle school principal and the world of fiction, a dystopian world in this case – my novel, not my middle school. The entire thing was written in my living room, the most active place in my house. I have a quiet desk tucked away in a spare room and have tried, but it doesn’t work for me. Also, I have a whole parallel universe of other tasks happening – music, movies, TV, email, Twitter, Facebook, family conversations, work tasks, coffee & snacks etc.  Does it help me write? Recently my students at school tried to argue that multitasking helped them to concentrate better, so they wanted to be able to multi-task in various ways, so they could be more productive at school. Imagine that.

They are completely right of course, although the argument is based on a misconception. In my case, my concentration when writing the novel was horribly disrupted, but I was more productive as I could work longer. I become (bored is not the right word) restless without the distractions. So the positive correlation between multitasking  & concentration wasn’t supported, but true if ‘concentration’ is used interchangeably with ‘productivity’. Perhaps concentration is over-rated & productivity should be our chief concern in schools? It would take us a little closer to the real world, at least to the world in my living room. I wonder if people used to be this restless, back in the bad old days.


Intersecting Lives

Maile 1


Passing through life, we try on a variety of roles that all connect in the most surprising ways. We don’t usually realize how they all fit together until the moments pass. Specific events help us to see how the different strands have connected, supported, hindered and shaped our ideas, and therefore our identities. I lead many lives; #principal, #father, #writer, #surfer, #learner, #dreamer – to name just a few. We all do.  However, what is my principal interest? If I knew that, I would know who I am. However, life isn’t about knowing who you are. It’s about staying interested enough to keep asking the question. Our identities are complex because of our interests, and the intersecting lives they entangle. I am going to attempt to unravel mine, starting from my life as a principal, exploring the ideas that centre around this aspect of my identity, and spin outwards from there.