When Tradition Must Fall

James& Katie

In preparation for my fifth year of teaching, I’ve dedicated a hefty amount of time to thinking about the traditions we have in our program. Many of which were started well before I came.

Traditions are not inherently bad. They can, when healthy and purposeful, be an asset in building a strong culture. Then sometimes, our traditions no longer reflect the needs of the communities we serve and is a barrier in creating the culture we desire.

Heart checking tradition with a phrasing litmus test can reveal if it’s time to rethink the purpose of the tradition or root it out completely.

If we hear or say these phrases, let’s take pause:

  • “We have always done it that way.”
  • “They are expecting us to do that.”
  • “It was that way when I came here.”
  • “Why would we change that?”
  • “Don’t break what’s not broken.”
  • “So and so will be really upset if we don’t do it.”

These phrases proliferate widely, I’ve been guilty of dropping them when I’m protecting a tradition dear to my heart. Yet, that is the core of the issue.

All these phrases reflect a sense of insecurity and complacency. The focus of these phrases is on less how the tradition will support community growth and more on providing comfort for the status quo.

If a tradition is worth continuing, it must add value in building the culture we seek. That requires answering tough, honest questions.

Why do we have this tradition? What value does it add for our community? How could this tradition be transformed to bring in line with where our organization is heading?

Traditions are much like the seasons experienced by a tree.

There is always a season where traditions are alive and healthy. Feeding the foundations of our organizations and providing for growth. As time progresses and change in our organization takes place these traditions can become stale and hang-on for dear life.

Trees naturally prune leaves off during the fall season. They do this to protect the tree and prepare for the next season. Trees are simply amazing!

(Interesting link to an article on this exact subject: https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=114288700)

The seasons of our organizations must act much the same way. Pruning back the traditions and preserving our history in the imprint of our organizations growth rings.

Just as the changing of a season does not and should not happen overnight. The pace of changing tradition should be dictated by what works best for each of our respective organizations and what we can feasibly accomplish.

Most times these conversations will not occur without permission. Therefore, let us be gracious and open to questioning our traditions. Let us be healthy models of reflective practice.

Our organizations will grow from that choice and remain a force of nature!

Rejoice Always!


I’m always struggling to memorize lengthy scripture verses…therefore, I should have no excuse with 1 Thessalonians 5:16, it is literally two words: ‘Rejoice Always!’

This may be one of the shortest verses in the Bible, but it offers up a powerful reminder for our daily teaching, learning, and living.

When I rejoice I am choosing to set aside my self-centered perspectives and lift up praises for others!

When I rejoice I am choosing to release myself from the self-created burdens that dampen my joy!

When I rejoice I am choosing to see the greatness in others!

When I rejoice I am choosing to appreciate the blessings afforded to me and not envy the blessings of others!

When I rejoice I am choosing to love who I am and the life I live!

When I rejoice I am choosing to accept the love of Christ who makes my life purposeful!

Choosing to rejoice can be difficult, especially during the struggles of loss and pain. Yet, it is in these exact moments that Christ seeks to deliver us and help lift us through our burden.

Even in the toughest moments during the start of a new school year, let us be filled with a joyful spirit that seeks to REJOICE ALWAYS!

Valuing our Voice

Valuing (1).jpg

Our #CompelledTribe monthly theme post is tackling the question, ‘Why We Blog?’

So, why do I blog?

Well, let’s start with the better question, why did it take me so long to start blogging?

The root of that answer traces itself to a lie. A lie we all believe at some point in our lives and unfortunately many of us never stop believing:

My voice does not matter.

We tell ourselves, my perspective doesn’t make sense. Everyone will think that was dumb. I’m too young. I’m too out of touch with this younger generation. Or simply, I don’t have anything to say.

I confronted this with two failed previous blog attempts. I wrote two posts and felt they were horrible. So I stopped…I bought into the lie.

The reason our voice matters is because there is no voice like it. No one has been or will ever be just like us. We bring to the table perspectives and insights built upon a life uniquely lived…our own special experience.

It has been exciting seeing my brother-in-law, Austin Roe, get into blogging recently. For anyone who loves birds or even has the slightest of interest in birds his blog, Birding Big Life, will open your eyes to the fascinating natural world that exists all around us!

Austin speaks from a passion that just spills across the posts he writes. He knows the value of his unique voice and I am honored to share a part in his life.

Our voice has value, but it’s not others who have to believe it, most of the time it’s ourselves we must convince.

And convince we must. One of the greatest blessings from being a part of our #CompelledTribe has been the support and encouragement from each of the fellow bloggers.

In February and March I hit a really hard dry spell. I was overwhelmed with work that was sucking my morning writing time and I was losing motivation to blog.

Then I got a note from Jon Wennstrom, my blogging tribe leader. He was checking in on how we were doing. I could not express the appreciation of being held accountable. It was then I committed to being a consistent blogger, rain or shine, workload or no workload, blogging was going to take a priority.

I encourage my students to prioritize the parts of their lives that add value to their growth and the growth of others. It was time I took my own advice.

So, why do I blog?

I blog because I value my voice. I value the experiences I have been blessed to live. And above all I value the relationships that have taught me how to live for others.

Value your voice — because the world needs it!

Questions of Purpose

Why Not Here? Why Not Now?

These were the questions asked by newly minted college president Charles Eliot.

He was challenging the essence of his institution and calling for sweeping reforms that would radicalize the trajectory of their college.

The year was 1869 and Harvard College was a backwater regional higher learning education institution. It had no recognition beyond New England and was considered simply a finishing school for the elite. It granted graduates at the time, a paper of promotion, that was basically meaningless.

President Eliot evangelized a vision that was simply overwhelming in the context of the time. He described the university as an institution of unifying purpose regardless of socioeconomic background, regardless to origin of birth, city or rural, North or South, East or West, and no regard for specific religious denomination.

We must note that his vision still lacked the fullness to welcome women or racial diversity and will be a struggle for institutions of higher learning even into our modern day. Yet, his vision was still in stark contrast and tone to only four years prior when the country was bitterly divided by the Civil War.

Through Eliot’s vision he laid the foundation for the explosive growth of Harvard College. Today, Harvard is ubiquitous with academic excellence and cutting edge research/innovation. This can be traced in no small part to Eliot’s leadership and passionate vision during that crucial time.

It started with the simple, yet inspiring questions:

Why Not Here?

Why Not Now?

These questions carry weight for us in leadership roles today. No matter our organizations, no matter who we are, where we are…we must challenge ourselves in rising to the occasion of these fleeting moments.

Look at the challenges facing our communities…who will solve them…the next generation, right?

I used to say that with great urgency…now I believe I was wrong. It is too convenient to pass the buck to the next generation. We are in this together. Both young and old. The generation of now and the generation of yet born. No one generation should bear the weight of historic responsibility.

Together we must ask those powerful questions:



Before the start of our new school year I challenge each of us to take a moment and reflect on the potential that could be sparked by asking those two simple questions. As I prepare in two weeks for my own personal annual retreat, these will be the questions of purpose I have the opportunity to mull over! 

Housekeeping Blogging Note:
Dear fellow learners!

It is amazing to think that our journey together started only in December 2017. Thank you to all those who have read and followed this blog!

The next post will be the 50th of this blog and I have a special announcement that will be unveiled at that time. I expect the post to drop sometime early this weekend.

Again, I’m humbled beyond measure at the warmth and feedback you as readers provide. I look forward to continuing to grow with you in this endless learning adventure!

Take care,

Welcome the Details

It is easy to get lost in the details. 
It is equally easy to overlook the details. 
I tend to be guilty of the latter. I love to immerse myself in the big picture, grappling with seeing the connections of various macro pieces. 
The choice to embrace the big picture is not necessarily bad, but my past hostility towards the details was. 
By mistakingly believing that the details take care of themselves if the large, guiding vision was in place, has led to countless painful lessons. 
As a big picture thinker, I have to make the intentional choice to surround myself with those who obsess about the details. During planning sessions I must carve out time to dig into the weeds and allow space for our detail-oriented thinkers to play. 
A powerful reminder struck me when I visited the Drexel University Museum of Natural History in Philadelphia, PA. 
While there, we visited the diorama displays that illustrated the various ecosystems and animals that fill our earth. The dioramas were breathtaking. It felt as if the scenes were alive. 



As we continued through the museum we came to a diorama that was closed. We could see two artists working away inside. 
One was delicately coloring a mound of what appeared to be thousands of small sticks. These would be scattered across the floor of the diorama. The other artist was coloring the edges of the tree in the diorama foreground. 


I was astonished at the level of detail they were taking, but quickly realized it was through the details that the scenes felt so real…so alive…so spectacular.      
As we plan for another great year for our FFA District and local Agricultural Education program I have made the intentional choice to Welcome the Details. 


Make It Count

Make it count. Each moment, every breath. Any word or thought. Being purposeful and intentional.

Let us not reside solely in the recesses of our mind or the consuming technology before us.

Rather, let us be found in the relentless pursuit of building relationships that matter and pouring our lives into communities we love.

Yesterday concluded our first day of North Central FFA District Leadership retreat. Our challenge and commitment to each other was: ‘making this year count’.

Already three months have flown by since they were elected district officers…

To start retreat we thought back to our first days in FFA, asking ourselves ‘what did we wish we had known’ because…already three years have flown by…

Those conversations were inspiring.

How do we make it count? Count not only for us, but especially for those coming after us.

How do we cultivate relationships that are beyond the surface with our members and in our short time blossom into lasting, meaningful connections?

How do we raise an engaged membership whose hearts and minds are focused on service?

These are the questions that must consume us, not….how many members attended Greenhand Conference or how many state awards did our district win?

My message today for our leadership team: We have a rare opportunity, let us shatter the past and its baggage of expectations. Let us capture these moments and make it count! 

Seeing Students as Seashells

Seashells are a beautiful demonstration of the diversity and resilience of life.

Along a beach we will never find two seashells that look the same. Along that very beach we will see seashells that have been rocked and tossed by aggressive currents to wash up pristinely on the coast.

As a child my favorite memory of collecting seashells came when I placed them against my ear. I could hear that distinctive, yet faint, sound of the ocean waves.   

As educators we have a responsibility to see our students as we see these seashells.

Our students are all unique, with special talents and gifts which we must cultivate and not crush.

Our students’ lives are each marked by stormy waters, therefore, let our classrooms be the calmness of a beach.

Our students’ voices yearn to be heard, so let us listen intently and with singular focus.