take a hike

Classroom management is a billion-dollar business. Books, consultants, conferences – oh my!

Today’s marketing rhetoric about classroom management includes phrases like “building students up instead of breaking them down,” but the reality remains the same. According to one popular website that I refuse to link, “Many teachers today are asking for help, they want to know how to quiet a noisy classroom.”

Management is the practice of manipulating individuals to behave in ways that support organizational goals. In the classroom, management means subjugating individual students for the purpose of maintaining the illusion of control. Learning is a highly individualized experience. Therefore, classroom management is antithetical to learning.

Speaking of syllogisms…

Remember Aristotle

Human beings have done learning extremely well for thousands of years. We were born to learn. Along the way, we have established some rich traditions that enable us to extend our understanding. Sir Isaac Newton, one of the greatest mathematicians and physicists of all time, put it this way: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Aristotle was one of those giants. Aristotle is an essential historical figure to anyone who thinks about thought and our relationship to the world around us. Logic, ethics, physics, the scientific method, the list goes on and on… The impact of Aristotle’s teaching and writing influence every major thinking tradition we have.

When Aristotle began teaching in the Lyceum over two thousand years ago, he founded the Peripatetic School. The word “peripatetic” is a transliteration of an ancient Greek word that meant, “walking” or “given to walking about.”

Intellectual Veal

You know the school rules:

  • Sit still
  • Keep your eyes on your own paper
  • Raise your hand
  • Ask permission to leave your seat

You also know what happens after school. Your work colleagues, neighbors, and extended family all want you to:

  • Be a better communicator
  • Be a team player
  • Find opportunities on your own
  • Solve problems
  • Take ANY sort of initiative

Taking the First Step

Howard Rheingold invited me to go for a walk.

I’d read about Silicon Valley geniuses and business executives who did this kind of thing, but my clients and colleagues met around conference room desks. The experience of hiking-to-brainstorm was new.

When I arrived, Howard took one look at my flip flops. “Are you sure you’re going to be comfortable in those?”

“Yep.” I guessed. My shoes were a couple hundred miles away.

He put his dogs on the leash and the four of us headed up a trail through wetlands toward Mt. Tamalpais. By the time we got back to Howard’s house, my feet were tired and my brain was happily popping with all sorts of new ideas.

Classrooms Not Cages

The problem will not be solved by technology, especially when it relies on Medieval design that reduces to one screen that rules them all:

The solution is easy. Learners should be free to walk, talk, use tools, find the others, and THINK.

I’ve worked with learners who wrote essays in circles, read by walking around the room, and did their homework underwater and on roller coasters. They were happier, healthier, and way more productive than those sad students stuck in seats all day.

Do Your Own Research

Whereas Plato centered his philosophy around ideal forms, Aristotle focused on real-time experience. I like combining the two (along with a bunch of other thinking traditions) to inform my life and work. Jim Bruno, my grad school advisor and one of my favorite human beings of all time, once counseled me about my dissertation research: “If you can’t explain your Ph.D. to the drunk at the end of the bar in less than three sentences, what’s it worth in the real world?”

That’s why I used “take a hike” to title this post, instead of something like, “Modern Vascular and Cognitive Applications of the Peripatetic School,” for example.

That’s also why I encourage you to experiment for yourself. (See what I’m doing here? LEARN. Don’t settle for being taught.)

For starters, if you need more evidence that sitting still all day is exhausting, read this pre-pandemic (reminder: “normal” in school was never that good) account from a teacher who tried to be a student for a couple days and nearly died:

Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked at what she learns

Then check out a peer-reviewed study in a highly respected research journal about the cognitive benefits of doing short bouts of Zone 2 aerobic exercise before sitting down to work:

Brief aerobic exercise immediately enhances visual attentional control and perceptual speed. Testing the mediating role of feelings of energy

Don’t stop there. Put one foot in front of the other. Do you feel better about your concentration, understanding, and memory after you walk, jog, or do some light calisthenics? Or do you find it more helpful to sit on the couch and watch TV while eating processed snacks?

Now Move

If you take this information in without acting on it, and inviting others to do likewise, you’ve just wasted a few minutes and the experience is worse than worthless. So DO something. Move your body and your mind will follow. Now. Nodding in agreement is a start. Better still, go for a walk. Best, take your learners with you. As Lao Tzu put it, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Please let us know the results! Contact Me to continue the conversation.

because i said so

We’ve all heard it from at least one parent or teacher: “Because I said so.”

On one hand, “because I said so” is an epic fail, a signal that an authority figure is lazy or bankrupt. That’s all you got? When I was a kid I didn’t respect adults who couldn’t provide reasons to support their claims.

Flip the script. Can you imagine accepting “because I said so” as sufficient evidence from a learner? It would be the end of the essay:

The green light at the end of Daisy’s dock in The Great Gatsby symbolizes money, (lost) opportunity, and envy, three of the major themes of the book and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life.

Because I said so.

If “because I said so” were logically valid, syllogisms would look very different:

All men are mortal.

Socrates is a man.

Because I said so.

So would math:

a2 + b2 = because I said so


Clearly, “because I said so” is an insufficient substitute for evidence or reason.

Then again, evidence and reason are not the only purposes or criteria for giving directions. Sometimes “Because I said so” is actually more rationale than anyone needs. It takes too long to say anything at all when you’re yanking a child out of the path of oncoming traffic.

Context is essential to effective leadership. Agreement and consensus contribute to robust decisions and self-sustaining morale, but circumstances dictate what is possible in the moment. Ask any commanding officer.

“Fine,” you say, “but learning isn’t war. School isn’t a battlefield. Shouldn’t we reason with the children?”

Not always.

There are just a few seconds left on the clock. Thousands of fans are going bananas at teeth-rattling decibel levels. During the team’s one remaining timeout, can even the most enlightened zen master coach facilitate a restorative dialogue about the previous play, or validate each player’s personal sense of whether basketball is the right path for them after all, or host a brainstorm to elicit, evaluate, and act on informed perspectives about what everyone thinks should happen next?

No. Sometimes you have to tell people what to do.

Learners especially benefit from your directive instruction. By definition they literally don’t know any better.

Most of us don’t have all the information we need to make decisions or act in ways that benefit us optimally. We are often inclined to do what feels good – even when it’s not good for us. I see this a lot when students talk about physical fitness – they want to get in good shape, but they apparently like the feeling of sitting on the couch and eating garbage.

Consider this example:

Person 1: “Hey, maybe you don’t want to put that cool, wet towel over your head, neck, and chest.”

Person 2: “Are you stupid? Do you hate me? It’s 120 degrees out here and I’m broiling.”

Person 2’s response is not unreasonable, given the facts they’re working with:

  • It’s hot
  • I’m uncomfortable
  • That towel is cooler than I am
  • Wet feels good

However, Person 1 has more information:

  • The body’s temperature is regulated by a part of the brain that works like the thermostat in your house that regulates your heating and air conditioning
  • The thermostat part of the brain is called the medial preoptic area of the anterior hypothalamus. It’s a small area of tissue above the roof of your mouth and behind your nose.
  • This area of the brain influences things like aggression, sex drive, sleep, and body temperature
  • If you put a bag of ice on the thermostat in your house, it will register an artificially cool temperature and attempt to compensate by turning on the heater
  • If you put a wet, cool towel on the surfaces of your body close to the medial preoptic area of the hypothalamus (e.g., your head, neck, or chest) your brain’s thermostat will do the same thing – i.e., it will compensate for a lower perceived temperature by HEATING YOUR BODY UP MORE

Now, if Person 2 is (a) an adolescent, (b) doesn’t respond well to authority, and/or (c) is bordering on hyperthermia and can’t focus on more than a few syllables at a time because they are starting to cook, time is running out and further explanation is unlikely to win the day.

In that case, it is in Person 2’s best interest for Person 1 to skip further explanation of the hypothalamus and other relevant facts such as the glabrous areas of skin that contain specialized vascular structures to facilitate heat loss. Instead, Person 1 should be more directive:

Person 1: “Put that towel down and rub these ice cubes on the bottoms of your feet.”

Person 2: “Why?”

(*you know exactly where this is going)

Person 1: “BECAUSE I SAID SO!”

The best way to earn the respect of a learner is to give them information that will give them an edge in life. If Person 2 listens to Person 1, Person 2 stays alive and experiences more comfort. This creates trust. Should the opportunity come around again, Person 2 will pay closer attention to what Person 1 has to say the first time.

Sometimes when I teach, I carefully curate information to illustrate and support the points I’m making, especially when those points are counterintuitive or controversial.

But more and more, I put ideas out there without multimedia substantiation.

I have neither the time nor the inclination to try ideas in the courts of teenage brains.

Does this work? I’ll tell you the same thing I tell them. Don’t take my word for it. Experiment. Put it to the test. Hack your life and your teaching. You have the whole internet to play with. Try it today.

Why, you ask?

(*oh, this is too easy)

Because I said so.








Physical fitness is for lead learners too

Part of my job as a Lead Learner is to model how we can find, analyze, evaluate, and use the best information out there. Here’s an example: a post about physical fitness that I shared with students during the pandemic.


This page provides some basic information about physical fitness, one of the five fitnesses of Open-Source Learning. It also comes with a story. If you want to skip the story and get right to the practices, scroll down for a no-gear workout plan, and (coming soon) information on nutrition and sleep.

In Open-Source Learning, the teacher, trainer, or organizational authority functions as a lead learner. In addition to sharing information and providing guidance and feedback, the lead learner paves the way by demonstrating strategies for seeking out the information and people that can help us grow and improve.

I’ll use myself as an example – that’s what lead learners do.

As 2019 was coming to an end, I felt like I needed to learn more to improve my physical fitness. I was an athlete in high school and college, but that was a long time ago, and, like many Americans, my work and family life was pretty sedentary. I went to the gym, but the old workouts were only getting me so far.

One day I talked with a friend about this and he mentioned a book:

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Usually I resist this kind of stuff. I’m generally suspicious of people who sell superficial solutions. That cover? Come on. But I respect the friend who endorsed the book. He’s been a reliable source of information in my life for a long time. So I bought the book.

The book grabbed me from the beginning. Instead of YELLING!! promises of six-pack abs, it started by describing elements of our mindset, and the thought patterns that hold us back from achieving the goals we want.

I have often found that the principles of sports psychology can useful in all sorts of learning contexts. The author of the book, Bobby Maximus (the name Robert MacDonald got when he bulked up in high school and college), was speaking my language. I read on, I did the workouts, and I got results.

After 12 weeks of following Bobby’s instructions to the letter, I had improved by every measure. I was faster, stronger, leaner, and more energetic throughout the day than when I started.

But then I hit another plateau. I did the complete workout cycle two more times and nothing seemed to change. Pretty soon I started to doubt myself. Was it my effort? My form? I realized that I could only progress so far without a trainer to give me advice and feedback.

I went straight to the source and sent Bobby Maximus an email. We talked a couple times on the phone and he agreed to train me at his gym in Utah. So, the end of last year’s winter break, I got on a plane.

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The next morning before dawn, I headed to Bobby’s gym, which is in a little industrial park just south of Salt Lake City.

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Bobby was focused throughout the workout. He wanted me to have some images of my form, so he took some pictures while I worked. You can tell Bobby cares about proper form. You can also tell he doesn’t give a crap about photography. 😂

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For the next three days, Bobby taught me everything I needed to know to reboot my workouts. He designed a plan.

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I came home and hit the gym. The first few weeks went great.

Then the pandemic struck. My gym, along with school and everything else, has been off-limits ever since. But that’s no reason to stop exercising and challenging ourselves to be our best.

In fact, we have more incentive than ever to get in top shape, because a virus is trying to kill us. The best way to support our immune systems is by maintaining our strength and stamina through healthy exercise, nutrition, and rest.

So here is Bobby’s No-Gear workout. For tips on form, Bobby has posted brief videos for each exercise on his YouTube channel. I’m here to answer questions, and happy to work out online with anyone who’d rather not go it alone.


I am still committed to staying in good physical condition, and I want you to have the energy you need to be at your best. So we’re all going to create a “Physical Fitness Blog” (remember that “blog” is short for web log, and in this context, “log” is a synonym for “journal” or “diary”) – we’re going to curate a record of what we do every day.

Here is a sample from my own Open-Source Learning physical fitness blog. As you can see, it’s not about being perfect – it’s about being honest with ourselves and doing the best we can to be fit and accountable. As we get better at this, and keeping our blog up to date becomes a routine, we will use the same process with our sleep and our nutrition.

Here’s an example:

30 AUG 2021

One hour on the exercise bike + Day One of no-gear. It’s a new month this week, and I’m going to rock September! (And then, that moment when you want to take a selfie to put on your blog, but you drop your glasses, so you have no idea how the pic looks until after the workout, and it’s goofy, but you don’t want to put sweaty clothes back on so you post it anyway… This is my “I posted my workout on my blog, what do you mean you haven’t posted yours yet?” face 😂)

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Get going. Today’s a great day to start.
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Giving school the finger

School can be a cruel, abusive place. We greatly underestimate the commitment and care with which students try to navigate school in order to succeed.

This week on Twitter friends pinged me about the trials they endured to graduate and get on with their learning lives:

Yes, I do. Here’s one.

More than 5,000 students attended the high school where I taught in Los Angeles. There were hundreds of suspensions, expulsions, and arrests each year.  The Los Angeles Police Department ran a substation on campus. There was a child care center for the students’ children. The 12-foot chain link fences were topped with rolls of concertina wire.

Teachers and administrators did the best they could with the tools they had. The school hired more security and created strict new policies. Guards began to close and lock the gates at the morning bell. Late arrivals had to walk around campus and check into detention through the parking lot between the cafeteria and the gym.

Administrators believed that they could force students to get to class on time. They were wrong.

Most students didn’t have a choice about when they got to campus. Some had to take a bus that arrived long before dawn. They sat still in the dark, hoodies covering their faces. You only noticed them when the steam of their breath puffed out in the yellow parking lot lights.

Others walked, or waited for their parents to get home from work or get out of bed to drive.


One of my students was a talkative, cheerful kid named Jeremy whose mom had the brokenest-ass car in the world. Every week there was a new mechanical problem. Every week there was an adventure story that usually involved pushing the car a couple blocks to a gas station or a mechanic.

I took Jeremy’s stories at face value. Then I saw his mom’s car. It was worse than I imagined. He was telling the truth. Still, school starts when it starts. After a few late arrivals in a row I reminded Jeremy that the following week they were going to start locking the gates at the bell.

Jeremy was on time for two weeks in a row.

But then I didn’t see him.

Late, yes, but absent? No. This was a first.

I asked around but no one had seen him.

Learning finds a way

When Jeremy finally showed up, all the color had drained from his face. He was quiet and withdrawn.

Jeremy sat down without taking off his jacket or his backpack. He didn’t even take his hands out of his pockets.

After class I asked Jeremy to hang out with me for a few minutes. I asked him where he’d been.

“Dr. Preston,” he began slowly. “I don’t know how to tell you this…”

It turned out that he got caught by the new policy on the very first day. A security guard slammed the gate in Jeremy’s face and told him to go to detention.

But Jeremy wanted to get to my class. So, he walked around the corner to where the security guard couldn’t see him, just out of range of the nearest security camera, and climbed the chain link fence.

Just as Jeremy got to the top he heard a friend call his name. Jeremy got distracted and didn’t notice that his sweatshirt wasn’t covering all of the concertina wire.

Jeremy swung himself over the top of the fence and jumped down the other side to join his friend and get to class.

Giving school the finger

He felt a tug on the brand new class ring he’d just bought. Jeremy was the first in his family to graduate from high school, and the ring was a big deal. He saved for months to buy it.

When Jeremy got down from the fence, he looked at his friend.


“Dude, look at your hand!”

Jeremy looked down and didn’t immediately understand what he saw. There was blood everywhere.

Suddenly a security guard ran up. Ignoring the protests from Jeremy and his friend, the guard marched them both to detention.

Jeremy never found the rest of his finger or his class ring.

The moral of the story

If you really want to help a learner, start with something simple: Get out of their way.

Discipline is not something a person does to someone else. Discipline is something we grow within ourselves. The measure of a person’s discipline is what they do when no one’s looking. The effectiveness of our education only becomes evident when we’re no longer in school.

Jeremy didn’t have a problem with motivation or discipline. He was confronted with obstacles and he did his best to overcome them.

Someday, I hope schools everywhere will adopt humane policies that reward passionate curiosity and personal integrity. Until that time, I support Jeremy and learners everywhere who have what it takes to give school the finger.