High Tide of Fall

Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.

Last week marked my 10th National FFA Convention that I have attended since joining FFA as a high school student in 2007. Walking down FFA Way with now a group of students following in stride gave me chills. Listening to the Wednesday night concert besides my students taking in one of the best concerts I’ve seen in my life. Listening to a powerful Retiring Address and processing with the young members afterwards about what fears they were facing in their own lives.

As we close out another season of National FFA Convention activities I am reminded about why I became an Ag Teacher. It was the long bus or vehicle rides where I really got to know my ag teachers as real people and as mentors. It was the awe-inspiring sense I got as I saw the sea of Blue Jackets for the first time. Over the course of this trip I got to continue that tradition of mentoring and sharing my heart, life, spirit, and the occasional French fry.

Fall is my favorite season and the high-tide of Fall remains National FFA Convention. Over the course of the trip I asked students to capture the feeling, image, and sense of one experience fully. Imprinting it permanently in their mind. I asked them to do this during Friday night. As I asked them to do this, I shared mine:

“It was 2007 and I was a lost Junior in High School. Unsure of truly what I wanted to do in life. I was asked on a whim to tag along on the National FFA Convention trip. Vividly I remember sitting in the lounge of the Pacer Stadium enjoying chia tea before a session. Through the wall-to-ceiling glass I could see the mass of Blue Jackets…it was snowing a very light and fluffy snow. Something about the scene struck a deep cord with me and I have never forgotten that moment. What made that moment truly special though was across from me was my advisor and mentor, Mr. Regier. We were discussing about my thoughts of life and he was at that moment planting the seeds of becoming an ag teacher.”

My life was forever changed by my National FFA Convention experiences. I’m sure many others have been and will be as well. As over 67,000 FFA members return home to their communities this week we have a rare opportunity to make National FFA Convention mean something deeper and create a lasting impact. This year’s theme was ‘JUST ONE’. Yes, it only takes just one mentor to change a life. Let’s continue to be those mentors and build the capacity of the members we took so they may assume roles of leadership in our chapters, schools, and communities. National Convention should not just be an ‘event’…but an experience that will transform! Let’s be intentional this week as we process National FFA Convention and make it count!

As a River Changes

be the river of

The natural world is spectacular in how well it serves as a metaphor for leadership and change. One of the most powerful natural features that speaks to the heart of the human spirit is the river. It is steady, yet ever changing. We explored earlier the differences between glacial and flooding change. Both are options for our organizations, but the river beckons us towards a much stronger, sustainable model for our efforts.

Our families, schools, and communities; call upon us for steady leadership that will still be dynamic in facing and enacting change. This is a challenging today as ever; especially when we feel the pull of so many directions and facing what seems like ever unsurmountable external pressures.

As I think of such challenges and opportunities my mind wanders back to the memories of being on the water with my rowing team. I fell in love with the water and especially traveling to various rivers across the United States for our regattas. Each river may have been unique, but they all shared similar characteristics…characteristics we as aspiring, positive change-agents can model in our own unique journey.


Characteristics of the River:

1. It Attracts

Rivers played a crucial role in the development of human civilizations. Whether it was in the plains of Mesopotamia or the early colonies in America, we choose to live near rivers. Even today, the largest cities can be found anchored near a river or other large body of water. Yet, not only humans alone do rivers attract, but also abundant wildlife. Rivers provide valuable habitat for a whole host of animals and plant life.

  • Takeaway?

The change we seek must attract others. If the change we are seeking does nothing, but divide our families, schools, and communities; we need to take pause. In enacting change, others become bought-in when we seek input and share ownership of the mission. If we are rigid in our vision of change, we may repel away others whose insights and strengths would add value to the change we are seeking.

Let our voices and visions honor others by creating a climate where everyone feels welcomed to offer up new ideas and honest feedback for growth/improvement.

2. It has a Source

Even the mightiest of rivers have a source that would be surprising. Here are a few below:

Source of the Yellow River in China (also called the ‘Cradle of Chinese Civilization’)

yellow-river-source[2]

Source of the Nile River (2nd Longest River in the World)

nile-headwaters-1[2]

Source of the Amazon River (glacial melt starts what is the longest river in the world)

origin of amazon

Each river has a source from which they begin. In most cases those sources are small trickles of water. Yet, as these trickles proceed they are joined by more water from streams and other springs to become the roaring rivers we know them as.

  • Takeaway?

Change starts somewhere. When we embark on our own journeys of change and growth it is important to know that the journey starts not with us, but within us. If we seek greater change anywhere beyond ourselves it must start with the basis of who we are. Building on personal disciplines and cultivating good habits will help ground us and keep the source of change (no matter the challenges faced) trickling on.

In the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, calls this the Private Victory. Winning the private victory is in other words building the character of self-leadership. If our desire is to move beyond quick fixes and enacting quaking, lasting change it must start deeper than surface level tactics. It will require a dive into our own hearts.

3. It Shapes

The final characteristic of a river we’ll explore is that it shapes the landscape around it. The Grand Canyon is mesmerizing, but it is sometimes hard to believe that water (the Colorado River) was the creator of such a phenomenal natural treasure. Now, you struggle in most spots to even see the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon still carving away. Steady, consistent, unyielding. These are the qualities of the water scraping away layer after layer of the canyon.

The Western United States plays host to numerous other features shaped by the rivers and water that dot the landscape. These include: slot canyons, gorges, and mountain valleys. It is incredible to think that from such a common substance as water, we can be blessed by such beauty and diversity.

  • Takeaway?

Steady change delivers results. We would fool ourselves to think that we are the only ones in the world trying to enact change. What we can deliver though through steady, consistent, and unyielding efforts is change that will last. Being measured and accomplishing incremental goals and adjustments will accumulate exponentially. We cannot drive hard all the time, we will burn others out and extinguish ourselves.

Being measured and realistic with our goals will help tee us up for success. Not just in the short-term, but especially in the long-term. We can shape our family, schools, and communities, but it will not happen overnight or maybe not even within the next year. However, keep at it, because your efforts are making a difference!


Thanks for joining me down on this float trip through three characteristics of a river that can help us as we embark on positive, lasting change. This week is one of my favorite weeks of the year with National FFA Convention so be looking for a few posts through the week! 🙂

Have a wonderful rest of your week and thanks for reading/sharing!

Change as Glaciers or Floods?

living as glaciers or floods_

The pace of change in any organization seems to play out one of two ways:

Glacial speed…

OR

Roaring flood…

Both have their distinct advantages and disadvantages, which are highly dependent on circumstances both internally/externally and the style of leadership present in the organization. The question I seek to pose is can we have it both ways? Can an organization such as a school (which faces numerous external pressures and internal turnover) be a dynamic enough organization to intentionally adjust the pace of change?

Schools get a lot of flak about the pace of change and it all depends on the perspective…

From outsiders, the approach to schooling and education are perceived as antiquated. I hear commonly that schools haven’t changed that much for over two hundred years. (Pace of change is glacial…)

From insiders, the approach to schooling and education seems aimless, flooding in all directions resulting in whiplash and a continual pile of paperwork that is meaningless within two years. (Pace of change is an overwhelming, aimless flood…)

Both perspective offer grains of truth buried in the rhetoric.


Glacial Change 

Advantages: 

  • A key advantage of glacial change is it provides the opportunity to plan ahead. If we take the time to perform long-term forecasting and a future needs assessment with school stakeholders we can navigate the urgent flooding waters that affect us externally while maintaining a steady vision forward.
  • Easier to assimilate into the culture. If the pace of change is not at break-neck speed from the word go, it provides time to learn the culture and build momentum as a team progressing into the future.

Disadvantages:

  • If a school culture is not healthy for staff or students, change at a glacial speed will not nearly be enough to reverse the fortunes and feelings of those in our organization. In the end the glacial path left behind will be littered with hurt, bitterness, and lost opportunity for positive impact.
  • Sometimes the system is broken. The path forward is clearly marked and there exists a narrow window of opportunity. Momentum is a huge factor in activating and maintaining the effort of change. By unnaturally or forcefully slowing the pace and excitement we can successfully put a halt on any movement forward. Be warned when someone’s passion and energy gets “iced” in they are much more hesitant to be a part of any future efforts of change we try to activate.

When Necessary:

  • Glacial change is a pace designed for future outlook. Best utilized when the immediate pressure is not high and all thoughts can be put on the table. Glaciers forever shape a landscape, our collaboratively formed long-term visions can do the same, how will we use such an opportunity?

Questions to Guide Glacial Change:

As you begin visioning for the future, there will be many more questions to ask, but these are meant to prime the pump.

  • What would a five year strategic plan look like for our school district? What about a twenty year plan?
  • Who needs to be a part of the planning process for such a long-term vision?
  • How might we structure acquiring feedback from as many stakeholders in the community as possible?
  • What potential partnerships have we been excluding that would benefit our learning community and students?

Lasting impact is the mantra of glacial change. This can be either positive or negative…planning intentionally for the future can help keep a positive perspective.


Flooding Change 

Advantages: 

  • When a toxic culture exists in our schools or organizations, it must be rooted out. This has to start somewhere and needs to start immediately. The good work that needs to be accomplished, and can be accomplished through education and learning can not be maintained in an unhealthy environment or culture. A sweeping flood within our organizations can help reset towards a new direction.
  • Can be used to set the stage for long-term change. It can create excitement and an infusion of energy towards new goals and visions. Creating initial momentum is a powerful attribute of flooding change, but it can disappear quickly without clear and early gains.

Disadvantages:

  • Flooding is unsustainable. It will lose its effect and we can lose control of its direction very quickly. Often it leaves a mess because of its own directionless force.
  • Its impact can be immediate, but when not connected with longer-term visions it will disappear and what will be left behind may be worse than what we started with.

When Necessary:

  • Flooding change can be utilized in cases where an immediate change in direction is called for. The need to start from square one. Changing a culture that is toxic and emotionally or physically harmful are examples of cases where such immediacy in action is required.

Questions to Guide Flooding Change:

As you prepare to unleash the flood, approach with caution and these questions in mind:

  • What about the organization or school are you trying to reset direction? Why is it important enough to call for immediate change?
  • What will you have in place when the waters of momentum recede to maintain the direction and energy towards a longer-cast positive vision?
  • Who will be affected by these changes and how can we support them through the changes?
  • What barriers do you foresee impacting the changes and how can we be proactive in addressing them?

Immediate impact is the mantra of flooding change. Be careful though and take note about how our organizations or schools got to a point where a flooding change was required. Creating a positive, dynamic school culture has to start somewhere, but requires continual buy-in and effort by all stakeholders. An organization cannot exist long-term in a flooding state…it will destroy itself.


These two paces of change lie along a spectrum. They are both on opposite ends of the spectrum. Yet, both are not highly dynamic in their pace of change. There exists just one gear…slow or fast. As educators, students, and various stakeholders, we need a call for the healthy blending of these paces if we hope to enact long-term and positive change.

I’ll share these thoughts through another natural analogy…a river. In my next post I intend to explore how a river’s pace of change is how our organizations can act in a sustainable way to create positive, lasting change.

As always thanks for reading! 🙂

Beyond the Pages

Beyond the pages.png

This month our #CompelledTribe topic is to share about books that have had an impact on us personally and professionally. This is an exciting topic for me because I am a voracious and intense reader. As a young child my parents would ask what I wanted for a Christmas present and it would either be another book about the civil war or a strategy board game. As I’ve gotten older it’s still about the same.

My wife asks, “Honey what do you want for your birthday?” My immediate response, “A book!”…thank goodness for Amazon wishlist…it’s always a big hint for what books I’m looking at! She has stopped asking me and now generally just buys me dress socks bundled around a new book, oh the joys of being an adult!

Books in all honesty have helped shape me, they’ve allowed me to glean lessons from characters in the past I could never dream to meet. They have served as a strong mentor and traveling companion during my early life’s journeys.

As I look to my past cairns in life there usually resides a book or two that were instrumental in shaping the adventure that came after. All adventures start with a good read!


Ages 6-8 – The World is Big

Books of Influence: Magic Treehouse Series by Mary Pope Osborne

When I was young I devoured the Magic Treehouse books. They were a window into worlds I only dreamed of! Through reading those books it gave me an appreciation of how vast the world really was and that there was much more beyond the small enclave of my own life.

It gladdens my heart to learn from my young bus riders that they too are reading the Magic Treehouse books and still gleaning similar lessons. Some books are just timeless like that…

Age 10 – Lover/Learner of History and Books

Book of Influence: Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command by Douglas Southall Freeman

Growing up less than twenty miles away from Gettysburg, PA it was almost inevitable to find myself attracted to the topic of the Civil War. When I was ten years old we lived in Virginia and I was admittedly obsessed with everything and anything Civil War. At that time I was sure I’d someday become a Civil War History professor. I was upset though that all I had read up to that time were childish books on the topic. My first “real adult” book was Lee’s Lieutenants. It was a struggle. I can remember sitting up late with a flashlight and a dictionary under my bed covers. Fighting back tears of frustration I spent most of my time looking up the words used in the definitions to describe the words I was trying to understand. Slowly, I acquired the vocabulary needed to read without a dictionary constantly at my side. Soon, I finished that book and was searching for the next.

When I sold my Civil War books at the start of college the collection had grown to over two hundred books requiring multiple carloads to deliver all of them to the local bookstore.  It all started with that one book and my overpowering desire to learn about the Civil War despite the challenge. Still to this day I am a passionate reader of history and love learning new insights through biographies of individuals from the past.

Age 14 – Never Assume

Book of Influence: The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

I had picked up The Hobbit numerous times and never was able to get past page 18 or 20. It was boring and almost complete drudgery to just get to that point in the book. Finally, I told myself I was not going to stop reading and no matter what I would finish the book. Within two days I was finished with the book. Not out of sheer will power to just finish it…no it was out of sheer lack of self-control in being caught up into the book after page 24.

It was my original assumption that the book was not worth reading…but it was more so my desire to be satisfied with story-book action and being disappointed that held me back. I was glad to have learned the lesson early never judge a book by its cover or by the first twenty pages! There have been countless books later in my life that I would have possibly given up on that added great value. We each need to have that “Hobbit” book which rocks our perspectives and surprises us.

Age 17 – Jesus Loves Even Me

Book of Influence: The Bible 

Before college I committed to reading the Bible in a year. Prior to that I had not read much beyond the Psalms. This is when I gave my heart and life to Christ. No other decision has been more important in my life.

Age 21 – Preparation for Facilitating Learning

Book of Influence: Quantum Teaching by Bobbi DeporterMark Reardon, and Sarah Singer-Nourie 

As a teacher even today I keep going back to the lessons I learned from this book! “Everything Speaks!” “Everything is On Purpose!” These words ring truer than ever for me, but as a young aspiring teacher they fed the fuel of the fire. The book explored a concept I still find myself returning to over and over again. Community in the classroom. This book prepared me to enter the classroom with the mindset of student-centered learning. I have to thank my college mentor for that recommendation when I was searching for a book to hone my facilitation skills!

Age 25 – Our Choices

Books of Influence: Leadership and Self-Deception, The Outward Mindset, and The Choice: In Teaching and Education all three books are by the Arbinger Institute

A few years ago I was introduced to the Arbinger Institute books. I have almost read all of them! They all address a key question that I was failing to recognize at this time in my life, “What is our choice?” Choices are everywhere…what I was failing to fully realize is that my choices were shaping my mindsets, my actions, my results, and my life. These books have helped me cultivate a healthy perspective and outlook professionally and personally. As an educator no book has impacted me more than The Choice: In Teaching and Education, it was an earthquake to my soul and transformed my outlook on learning and the whole process of education. Unfortunately, I think it is out of print so I have hoarded what few copies I could get a hold of…

The four principles of the book are pillars of my teaching philosophy:

  1. I am not the teacher
  2. I will keep learning
  3. I see greatness
  4. I build community

Age 26 – Our Voice 

Book of Influence: Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday

In the book, Ryan, challenges us readers/writers that if we care about crafting work of influence and impact that will transcend our lifetime, it starts here and now.

I’ve written about this before that I had tried to blog before and failed. After reading the book, Perennial Seller, I committed to myself I was going to blog and keep at it! And I’m still blogging at the ripe age of 27! 🙂


Books have played a crucial part in the trajectory of my life and many others could describe the role of books similarly in their own lives. What we must continue to challenge ourselves with is that the books we read must not have influence solely on our minds, but must reflect themselves in our actions and daily lives.

Living beyond the pages of the books we read is a choice that can result in powerful personal transformation. It could mean living with greater purpose, treating others more compassionately, or refueling a fire of passion that has burned too low. Books worthy of our reading are books deserving of our actions.

Here is our challenge for #NationalBookMonth:

Read a book this month that shifts our perspective and causes action. 

Read on to live beyond! Blessings to our adventures in reading and living this month!

Our Serve – Part 3

Copy of Copy of our serve

The best serves are ones that are purposefully placed.

Sending those types of serves requires having the ability to see beyond the immediate need of simply getting the ball over the net. It’s knowing the ball is going over, now it’s deciding where it needs to go.

As educators (particularly beginning and young professionals) we tend to consume our thoughts with the internal processes. How will I present this content? How will I assess the learning of the content? What needs to come after this objective in the unit? These are all questions that help us get the ball (our lesson) over the net. They are important, don’t get me wrong, but we will (and must) eventually move past just thinking about those types of questions as we craft our lessons/learning experiences for our students.

The next level of questions we ask ourselves will help us place the ball strategically to best advance the students before us, here is a sampling of those types of mindset questions:

  • How will I help Laura engage with this content?
  • Is there someone besides myself who could share related experiences with our students?
  • What is going on right now in the world, that relates, and may open my students to new experiences?
  • How could I ensure the lesson is student-centered?
  • When will the students know they have mastered the lesson or skill?

Yet, again though, this should not be the end of our pushing ourselves…the above questions will help build relevancy and draw connections, specific for the students before us, but there is one more level we can take our forming/development of learning experiences.

The best servers know not just where they are going to place the ball, but are capable of knowingly adjusting the velocity, angle, spin, etc…They are transforming that ball into a laser beam with the hopes of striking an ace. The greatest long-term impact we will have as educators is planting the seeds of future transformation in our students.

Questions aspiring for transformation will sound like:

  • How can I help students become more community-minded?
  • How could students use the content of the course to serve others?
  • What mind-sets do I aspire my students to have as adults?
  • How will I encourage my students to be life-long learners?
  • How will I equip my students to invest in others later in their lives?

These are not questions that will be addressed or answered in a single lesson…not even a whole year. They are the overarching questions that are begging answers not from a few of us, but from all of us. This means working collaboratively not just horizontally in education with our content peers or other curricular instructors in our same building, but building connections/bridges across our school systems and engaging with our broader communities.

In the end our serve should deliver hope.

Hope for a better future…

Hope in the aspirations of our young people…

Hope found in community…

Our serve matters…so let’s make it count!