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Dr. Grauer's Column - The Four Directions

Dr. Grauer is amidst a late draft of his forthcoming book, “The Way to Pancho’s Kitchen: Original Instructions for Small School Leadership,” and is thrilled to post a sample chapter here. This book, six years in the making, should be coming out late this year. 

The Four Directions
By Stuart Grauer

Just north of San Diego, heading up the coastline, reaching the epic peeling waves of Cardiff Reef, turning inland and hugging the San Elijo Lagoon—a sanctuary the great blue heron lords over on many mornings—and then turning north and heading up the old El Camino Real, lies what a school parent called “an oasis of heartfelt education.” The Grauer School.

Ducks at the San Elijo Lagoon - February 29, 2024 (Photo, Stuart Grauer)

Our street is said to have been first marked long ago by Father Serra who left a trail of mustard seed, as he moved up the coast of California establishing missions. In this way, The Royal Road, The King’s Highway, first emerged as a soft, yellow line. Perhaps our site was first farmed by local Kumeyaay Indians, then later by early dry farmers who were among the early Encinitas settlers from Europe. Then it returned to coastal sage and maritime chaparral. And then we came.

A small organization embodies its locale, if it is authentic: Moving down the Coast road in the holiday parade. The stalls we share at the fair.  The funerals we recall of local legends. The signature Torrey pines we plant and host on our land. We know each mayor downtown and the lifeguards on the beach, and where to get the best tacos or waves in town. In nature, this is bioregionalism: thriving in harmony with the natural characteristics of a specific region.

Grauer Seniors Kai, Jasper, and Emerson performing during the Battle of the Bands competition - February 29, 2024 (Photo, Stuart Grauer)

We branch out from where our campus is “planted,” in the four directions, symbolizing the interconnectedness of all things. This indigenous perspective we now call biophilia is increasingly relevant today, as it aligns with our understandings of ecology and environmental sustainability, as well as human interconnectedness and peace.

Our school is a small nest on the Pacific Flyway. We are 33.0573° N latitude and 117.2617° W longitude. The four directions from this point could not be more diverse.

Red-winged blackbird at the San Elijo Lagoon - March 7, 2024 (Photo, Stuart Grauer)

To the west is the mouth of the bird haven, the San Elijo Lagoon. It is managed by the Nature Collective, which is intensely locally-rooted and started shortly after our school put down our roots. The lagoon floods fine sand out in a fan that smooths the waves we surf at Cardiff Reef, in the mornings before school and work.

After my session, I load up my board to head home and to work, surfers in the parking lot join in local dialect:

               “I dropped into a perfect left at Suckouts and a grom snaked me.”

               “I took off on this mush ball, kamakazied, and sparked out.”

I talk about this with an English class and suggest a story with dialect. If you have no dialect, you have no home.

To the south of the lagoon, the stark, wild Baja, Mexico, our place of escape where we can sleep under palapas on the Sea of Cortez and mix together our cultures and languages across borders.

The San Elijo Lagoon - March 7, 2024 (Photo, Stuart Grauer)

Our campus is in a semi-arid region, and many of our plants grow prickly or sharp-edged, as all things and people do when they lack water. It can be harsh terrain, but beyond us, to the east, is the desert, harsher still: the Anza-Borrego Desert, one of the world’s driest, hottest places.

To the north, lies an intense and fast culture of Los Angeles many of us came to Encinitas to avoid. Further north, we seek the lifeblood of our water, emerging from the Rocky Mountains, the Colorado River as it wends its way towards us. Near Las Vegas, it veers south, scouring a path toward our Southern California town so we and our greens can hydrate. Given this, Encinitas became a flower capital generations ago, home of the Ecke family Poinsettia (a family that has supported our school for many years), along with many flower fields.

The four directions serve as a framework for introspection and decision-making, guiding leaders and teachers to consider multiple perspectives. The Encinitas, “little oak tree,” is the perfect locus at the heart of these diverse directions. (Personally, I think our spot would make a perfect nation: a union of California, Baja, and Hawaii.)

Early birds at the San Elijo Lagoon - February 29, 2024 (Photo, Stuart Grauer)

We are local, not replicable. We grow from where we are planted: the perfect strategy, the source of strength and integrity.

We are the home of the encinitas tree. We could not do what we do anywhere else.

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Photos for Dr. Grauer's Column

Ducks at the San Elijo Lagoon - February 29, 2024 (Photo, Stuart Grauer)

Grauer Seniors Kai, Jasper, and Emerson performing during the Battle of the Bands competition - February 29, 2024 (Photo, Stuart Grauer)

Red-winged blackbird at the San Elijo Lagoon - March 7, 2024 (Photo, Stuart Grauer)

The San Elijo Lagoon - March 7, 2024 (Photo, Stuart Grauer)

Early birds at the San Elijo Lagoon - February 29, 2024 (Photo, Stuart Grauer)

Fearless Teaching® Book
by Dr. Stuart Grauer


Fearless Teaching® is a stirring and audacious jaunt around the world that peeks—with the eyes of one of America’s most seasoned educators–into places you will surely never see on your own. Some are disappearing. It is a bit like playing hooky from school. You will travel to the Swiss Alps, Korea, Navajo, an abandoned factory in Missouri, the Holy Land, the Great Rift Valley, the schools of Cuba, the ocean waves, and the human subconscious—oh, and Disneyland.

There you will find colorful stories for the encouragement, inspiration, and courage needed by educators and parents. Fearless Teaching is not a fix-it book—it is more a way of seeing the world and the school so that you can stay in your work and focus on what matters most to you.

"Grauer’s writing reminds us that Great Teaching, singular, rare, unusual, is something that should be sought after and found. Thank you.”
Richard Dreyfuss, Actor, Oxford scholar, founder of The Dreyfuss Initiative

Click here to order Fearless Teaching® today

Dr. Grauer's Column: Archive of Past Columns

Dr. Grauer's Column - Teen Crisis High Up On Mont Blanc

Journey with Dr. Grauer to the slopes of Mont Blanc—the highest and most fabled ski run in Europe. An unforgettable read for thrill-seekers, educators, and anyone concerned about the conditions for life on earth.

Dr. Grauer's Column - Lunch and Love, with Dr. Edie Eger

Join Dr. Grauer in a profound conversation with Dr. Edith Eger, psychotherapist and inspiring Holocaust survivor. Dr. Edie imparts timeless wisdom on living fully in the present, the power of healing, and the art of transforming life’s deepest challenges into strength and love.

Dr. Grauer's Column - Yes

Think of the yes people in your lives. They are the ones that make you feel empowered, accepted, and validated. Of all the yes people you could ever ask for, teachers might be the most important, and we tend to appreciate them for our whole lives.

Dr. Grauer's Column - Rumi, We Need You Now

Step into the heart of the Holy Land with students bridging seemingly impossible divides. From celebrating in Jerusalem to flying peace kites in the West Bank, witness their quest to understand and process conflict. 

Dr. Grauer's Column - The Four Directions

Dr. Grauer is amidst a late draft of his forthcoming book, “The Way to Pancho’s Kitchen: Original Instructions for Small School Leadership,” and is thrilled to post a sample chapter here. This book, six years in the making, should be coming out late this year. 

Dr. Grauer's Column - A Magnificent Notion

Magnificence: Is it a moment, an achievement, a natural phenomenon, an interaction? The relationship between magnificence and high school education can be seen from various lenses: integrating the natural world, inspirational learning and teaching, and emerging human potential.