It’s a Matter of Community

It’s a Matter of Community

In a recent edition of #FLEdChat (as part of the Diversity & Community focus), the topic was ‘It’s a Matter of Community.’ I will be reflecting back on these questions to highlight poignant responses made in the chat as well as offer my own perspectives.

Q1: It truly is a matter of community tonight. Community is not just a place but also a thing. It doesn’t magically build itself. We, the people must build it. What would you call community?

When I think about community, I consider both the location of events as well as the active interaction of individuals with similar or different perspectives. We all live in residential communities of some kind, however that doesn’t mean that we all experience ‘community.’ For the purpose of this writing, we will focus on the experience of community.

Corey said: “Community is events like edcamps and EdTech meet ups and edchats like this as well as conferences where our community all gets together!

Tammy Neil said “Community is the coming together of a variety of people with a variety of opinions for a common purpose or reason.

Doug Konopelko stated: “Community – a group of people gathered on common ground, albeit physical or otherwise.”

The latter definition includes all of the Twitter chats, Google Hangouts, meetings on Skype and Zoom, podcasting, basically all of the things that phenomenal educators do in virtual spaces or outside-of-school spaces like Edcamps. While I do believe that some community could be connected to the school in which we work, I have experienced a much greater benefit from the aforementioned spaces.

Casey Swift said: “Community is bringing in people from around town to talk to the kids, build relationships, improve school climate and ensure the culture is represented.

Q2: Building community may be accomplished by asking questions and being an active listener. These are essential skills for learning. How can we both practice this ourselves as well as model and teach our students to practice these skills?

Nathan S. stated: ‘This year I am really focusing on the idea of “Less of me is more of them.” Forces students to be the driver and me to be a better listener that pushes me to be a better question-asker.’

Q3:  “In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it.” – Marianne Williamson Thinking about the education community, what is one thing you believe needs to change (or continue) and how might we work to bring it to pass?

Tammy interjected: “Even when there seems to be a lack of diversity, there is still a diversity of experiences.”

I wonder how we can expand our view of diversity so that we can dig deeper into experiences and draw from that well. How timely of her to do so as well because truly, what we may perceive as diversity, may only be the tip of the iceberg, or the most obvious sign of diversity. I think we should be careful though not to limit our views of diversity to what we see, therefore understanding too that what may NOT look like diversity, may very well be. It is the idea of diversity that helps us to establish community. I also like what Tammy said here:

A3: “Respect for a variety of opinions. Too many times communities become echo chambers and only allow similar views.”

While there is certainly nothing wrong with agreement, it is okay to disagree and as we practice that ourselves, how much more can we model how to respectfully disagree to our students? The reality is that they won’t always agree, however there is a way to show them how disagreement can still add value to a conversation. The conversation continued with time and lack of empathy being identified as limitations; we should “seek first to understand.”

Q4: What are the big challenges to building community?

Do barriers exist? Have we put up walls, physical or otherwise? The truth is that walls exist and act as ways to keep people away from people and while building community doesn’t mean sharing your whole life story with everyone, it certainly precludes progress, when the established walls don’t allow for the interaction necessary for community. Mentoring is a way to engage with students and make them feel like they are a valuable part of the school community as well as reinforce the value of relationships and how much they add to one’s life.

Q5: Finish this statement with your thinking, To me a community __________________ because _______________________.

To me, a community grows because of passion and focus. (Doug)

To me, a community looks for opportunities because there isn’t just one way. (Dene)

Q6: Do you have a stellar example of community to share? What are the characteristics of the community and what might we learn from them as we work to build community where we are?

Communities like #FLEdChat, #CleartheAir, #AllYallEDU, #AuthenticEDU and #FCITL Were among those communities mentioned.

Q7: “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much” – Helen Keller What is one thing you would like to do with another class, another educator, etc. that might bring to life Helen Keller’s words? How can we fulfill these words?

Isn’t it wonderful that amazing platforms exist that support education? These platforms help make the world a bit more reachable. They also allow our students to see that they are a valuable part of it, each having a unique part of offer. Flipgrid helps students establish their voice and inspire others through audiovisual activities, connecting classrooms all around the globe. Most recently, I was able to connect my classroom to a classroom in New York for reflections on a student EdCamp that our classes both completed. Students met students and developed conversations on the topics of the Edcamps, each being completely different. Students are excited to jump on and interact! Flipgrid made the space for learning to happen, of which students won’t forget.

Buncee is a student creation platform, inspiring them to take on creative projects with which to introduce a topic, represent a topic visually or demonstrate their understanding of a topic. This multi-modal platform has inspired many of my own students to take initiative by developing their own ideas into visual masterpieces. You don’t have to ask students to jump on Buncee; they log on at their leisure, at the ready.

Belouga is a beauty of a platform that I have had the honor of not only introducing to students but having them utilize the platform to connect and learn with other students from areas across the globe. Not only does it make the world a bit more reachable for students, they understand just how big the world is, observing the diversity and differences in ways of life of different groups of people. They are inspired to serve, become philanthropists and give something to help others in different spaces achieve the learning that is necessary for students. Belouga is a brilliant way to motivate and engage students, while at the same time, having their work benefit students and schools in other countries. Check out “From Problem to Solution: Designing a Social Campaign.”

Book Creator is essentially what it says, the ability to create e-books. It is a great place to inspire students to be writers in a space dedicated to just that, writing. You bring in those audio or visual components as necessary but why not inspire students to write in electronic form and see something through from beginning to end?

Fresh Grade is a digital platform dedicated to documenting student learning and giving them the chance to demonstrate learning in multiple ways. Students, parents and teachers all have access to the platform and one of the greatest benefits was the development of community. All three parties can dialogue on the platform in a personalized student space that only the three of us can see. It can be likened to a student version of Facebook, with only three people having access to it. You can report academic progress made using multiple scales of measurement, perhaps a different one for each task. Students can self-reflect. Above all though, parents feel like a part of the learning and students are accountable and reflective learners. It does a lot for them when they can see that someone responds to them and they care about forward progress.

Community is not just a place, but a thing. A thing that is developed and cultivated. When community exists, then we understand the relevance of everyone and the roles that other people play, even in our own lives.

Get Over It

One thing that we might say is a guarantee in life is that we will have challenges. Things will happen. Things will shake us. Things may surprise us. Things may move us. However, we can get over it!

I have always been fascinated by flight, dating all the way back to childhood. On another note, I have a train fascination too. As an adult, I’ll admit I’ve spent lots of time playing flight games during the little downtime I feel I have and I am completely content in my doing so. While airplanes taking off and landing provide some sort of therapeutic support for me, I’d like to focus more on the eagle today. The eagle that is the national bird of the United States of America…because of its fierce strength and ability above other types of birds.

Life…is so full of experiences, small and great, positive and perceptively negative. Sometimes it’s the feeling of ‘when it rains, it pours…’ or it’s the feeling of ‘going through the fire’ when you feel like your being tested. Sometimes it seems like you are overcome with obstacles that seem insurmountable. What would the eagle say about it?

As I have read much about this powerful bird of prey, I believe there is much that we can learn from the eagle that may help to navigate our own courses in life, or at least I feel like it has helped me and continues to. It’s all about perspective right…it’s all about how you view or where you are viewing from…the vantage point matters. The viewpoint influences what you see and how much of it you see as well as what you don’t see or choose to ‘over’ look. The eagle is able to establish their residence above it all, 20-30 meters above the ground, with nests that are of great immensity.

Another interesting eagle quality is their ability to adapt. Eagles are able to travel from very warm environments to environments are at the opposite temperature extreme. I wonder if, in the times of migratory isolation, the eagle gains the strength and intestinal fortitude to endure hard times because of its ability to be alone. Mind-blowing though is the idea that eagles have one million cones per square millimeter, while humans only have 200,000. That is mindblowing vision indeed!

The most important point, however, is that due to the eagle’s ability to ‘get over it,’ it is able to broaden its perspective, its view so that it can live in peace as well as conquer. The eagles’ ability to fly high and keenly see enables it to spot and conquer what lies beneath, subduing its prey. It makes you look at trials and obstacles differently when you know you have the power to ‘get over it!’

eagle catching for fish

Photo by Broke Photographer on




Groomed for Greatness

I have been thinking a lot lately about mindsets and how they play such a pivotal role in how we perceive life, how we view ourselves. In addition, I have considered the importance of having the right mindset that leads one to great things. I understand and fully embrace the need to be positioned as a learner and the benefits that come along with remaining a student as you continue to be grow. Ryan Holiday, in his great book ‘Ego is the Enemy’ talks about how the ego can destroy a person if not reigned in properly (Ego may suggest that one knows it all). Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome discuss in ‘Kids Deserve It’ the benefits of maintaining the kid-like perspective and lifestyle because it causes you to be able to better relate to the students you influence and you motivate to learn.

So how are we groomed for greatness and how do we groom others for greatness, particularly the students we say day-to-day? Grooming is something I am concerned about in the physical sense, and I try to ensure that weekly or at the most every two weeks, I tend to getting a hair cut. This form of grooming is not the type I am referring to, however. While the outside appearance is important and there is much to be said for presenting yourself in the proper manner, the inward grooming is where my focus lies. Robert Cook says “Cut your morning devotions into your personal grooming. You would not go out to work with a dirty face. Why start the day with the face of your soul unwashed?”

I would say that greatness is a choice. It is a choice to invest time and effort on a consistent basis to reach forward, in what ever way that is. Charles Simmons says that “True greatness consists in being great in little things.” So perhaps we need to celebrate the small moments, as Todd and Adam comment on in ‘Kids Deserve It’ just as much as would the huge successes because it creates a momentum of seizing every available moment to do well. It is a mindset. It is an intentional act. It is taking chances. It is being deliberate. It is using every moment as an opportunity to do something to the best of your ability.

Charles de Gaulle said that “Greatness is a road leading towards the unknown.” What an interesting thought! I believe the idea here is that making a decision to challenge oneself to be the best that he or she can, can lead to unexpected triumphs and victories in life. If somehow the focus can be on being the best “you or me” that we can be, we can fully embrace the fullness of life. I firmly believe that life has purpose and meaning. Perhaps that purpose is derived through experiences and opportunities to do and be. Perhaps I would have never discovered the greatness within if it had not been recognized by someone else. That someone else pushed me, pulled me, challenged me to the point where I realized it myself. There is nothing more powerful than identifying who you are and the greatness that is embodied within you.

So as an educator, I feel that in every aspect of what I do, and in what I should do, that I am grooming my students for greatness and aiding them in discovery. Their eyes are opened to possibility. The limits are taken off. Students are allowed to express and feel. We are focused on meaningful and authentic learning experiences that transform our classrooms and the minds of our students and even the minds of ourselves. What if educators considered every child as another opportunity, another chance, another reason to groom them for greatness!

Forward in 2019.

2018 came to a close with this opportunity to share with those of Lutheran Haven on 12/23. You can watch and listen HERE if you so desire!

I am constantly reflecting (and analyzing) and I can admit that the challenges of 2018 changed me. I realize that I am not the same person. Not everything felt good, was good, but I believe that it was necessary. Now I, today, take a forward mindset into 2019. 2018 is now behind me or should I say serves as stepping stones. Reflecting on my previous post “Broken, but Built.” The obstacles become opportunities, the sticky situations become stepping stones, the problems become possibilities. I am convinced that what we say and think of ourselves is our reality. Choosing my words and actions carefully, I will move forward, starting today.

The Students Ed Camped It

It all started with a conversation about the possibility of creating the space and time for students to learn together in a space.

We had our first student Ed Camp on May 16, 2017, after introducing students to the idea and getting them motivated and excited to engage in a non-traditional form. Of course this didn’t much because students were stoked at the idea of sharing with others their own learning experiences, talents, skills and passions, whether academic or not.

Broken but Built

I am reminded of the many experiences I had as a child where I broke things around the house that were of value, not intentionally though. Some of those things were mine. Others belonged to my parents. Boy were they upset when they found out that I’d broken something of great value! I even remember classroom experiences where I’d broken things, only to feel great remorse. It was one thing to break something you owned but another thing altogether to break something that was owned by someone else and experience their wrath.

As an adult, I see being broken very differently. Is it a bad thing to be broken? In Journey to the Y in You, it speaks about shifting perception, altering the viewpoint of our experiences that break us, those things in life that seemingly come to take from us rather than give. How can we intentionally look at something that looks bad, seems bad, feels bad and likely is bad and pull good out of it?

I reflect often on myself an educator. How can I be better? How can I dig deeper? How can I be a greater influence on the lives of others and aid them in finding their ‘why?’ The truth about teaching, however, is that it isn’t always easy. You are challenged to raise the bar for your students, coaching them towards success. That can be immensely challenging, yet rewarding. As a teacher, you aren’t only influencing or impacting the lives of children but their families also, whether positively or negatively.

Not every experience I have had in the world of education has been positive. To be completely transparent, I have been ‘broken’ during times of good intentions. I have been ‘broken’ when my there was disagreement with what should and should not happen in the classroom. I have been ‘broken’ through mistreatment and gossip. I have been ‘broken’ because of the color of my skin (as well as being male). What does it mean to be ‘broken?’ Being broken means that a part of you has been damaged or fractured. I LOVE Malcolm X’s words here: “There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.” My most recent experience of being broken came at a time when I felt like so many things were going wrong.

The truth is that if I’d never been broken, I would have never seen what I can now see. The truth is that if I’d never been broken, I’d never know what I now know. The real truth is that being broken provided the perfect opportunity to be built. When the foundation has been formed properly, structures can be built to withstand weather and other treacherous conditions. When a house has a proper structure, it can stand even in the middle of chaos and confusion. Along this journey of life, I have realized that not every experience will meet my expectations. It won’t come neatly folded. It won’t come in a box with a bow. It will come with challenges that are by design, necessary for improvement. It’s all about how you view the obstacle. Viewing the obstacle as an opportunity is a great way to let being broken build you into a better and stronger version of you.

Sensing, Understanding, and Delivering

To teach is indeed a calling. To know that what you do daily has the capacity to live far longer than you do is mind-blowing!  I can’t help but wonder if there are certain people that need the very words that come out of my mouth? Perhaps there are students who, for whatever reason, are in situations that you can speak life to, provide solace in, and help them get out of through embracing, encouraging, and empowering them.

Embrace: This could be a physical embrace or a metaphorical one. Maybe a hug is in order or perhaps simply knowing that they can talk to and relate to you because though you are a superhero in their eyes, you are still human.

Encourage: Maybe they need to hear something positive. Acknowledge their strengths, help them to identify and find areas of weakness to work on and improve themselves. Help them to see the value of personal responsibility.

Empower: Teach them to reach, to dig, to expand and to grow, whether you are standing there or not.

I was recently engaged in a conversation at an EdCamp during a session called “Building a Positive School Culture.” In the session was the discussion of the concern raised by teachers, namely the “the loss of instructional time” that comes through school-sponsored events, the time taken to redirect student behaviors and combat the societal things that walk boldly into the classrooms, etc. I challenged them at the end of the session to flip the script.

I create lesson plans every two weeks that are to guide the teaching and learning in the classroom. More times than not, there is a deviation from what I planned. In fact, if I were to be completely honest, I hardly ever stick to the strategic plan that I’ve outlined on paper. What I find to be true is that the real strategy is being able to deliver, provide or allow for what is needed by the students in the classroom at that moment, in the here and now, dependent solely on discerning the environment, knowing students and being able to be sensitive to the needs of others. That cannot be planned for, however, as an educator, I have placed myself in the position to be flexible and shift based on the needs.

Perhaps in lieu of building school culture and cultivating a rich, innovative and dynamic learning environment, we should not see these deviations from the norm as loss of instructional time. Perhaps these deviations are more instructional than any ‘instruction’ will ever be. Perhaps it is the words or activities that flow that are much more meaningful for the time, and without them, the curriculum would not stick anyway. So, if I flow with the needs of the class and increase my sensitivity to the needs of the day, how much more will the content itself stick when it does occur.


One who does not stay the same.

When Love Has Everything to Do With It.

So I haven’t been able to carve out time in quite a while to blog and I am not happy about that. Things have been so incredibly busy, and positively so! I had the most incredible experience this summer in Tanzania (a future post will go into more detail about this 30-day immersive experience). However I will say that while there I was reminded of the fact that heart connections can be and should be made as it drives us to act if we truly know love. It’s easy to say I love you, but it means something altogether different when you have an experience that reinforces or deepens that said love. Needless to say, Tanzania ignited (or heightened the flame) of a love in me to help, encourage and motivate others.

Likewise yesterday, our school hosted its annual Meet the Teacher, which is the chance to bring in and drop of school supplies, as well as get important information regarding the start of school and to meet the teachers. While I had the grand opportunity to meet most of the students that would make up my homeroom class this year, many of them being new to the school, I was overwhelmed by what I would call heart-throbbing experience.

You might say that you really don’t know your full impact as a teacher until after you’ve taught them and the students have moved on. Likewise some might say that you will never fully know the totality of your impact as an educator. However, one thing is certain. Love has everything to do with it. I made it a point to count how many of my previous students who have either moved onto middle school (while still at our school) or who have gone on to high school with siblings attending our school who came to visit and say hello. By the way if you were curious, I counted 27. Even some of the new students offered hugs.

I was completely consumed by the reciprocated love I felt from my students, the countless renderings of heartfelt hugs and the fact they hung out, felt no need to rush and leave but we’re completely comfortable there, and their parents either joined them or checked in on them all the while, knowing that they were okay. A couple students needed some reinforcement that they would be okay and shine and do well in middle school and then I felt honored that they would be able to lean on me for support and encouragement even beyond the classroom.

All things considered, I believe that the proof is in the pudding. When you show them love, not only will you have an irreplaceable impact in their lives, it will come back to you time and time again, a reminder #theYinYou and the reason why we must continue to #CLIMBE. If you have not yet had the chance to grab a copy of my first solo book, please do so on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

The title is “Journey to the ‘Y’ in You.” It speaks volumes. See the links below. Take care and remember that love truly has EVERYTHING to do with it! See you soon!

Barnes and Noble