Tuesday, July 17, 2018

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,

Sunday, July 15, 2018

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. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

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! 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

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. 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Learning By Firehose


This week has been filled with BIG starts.

First, it was the official start to preparing this year's Kansas FFA officers in facilitating learning during next week's Student Conference for Chapter Leaders (SCCL) for over 300 FFA members.

Then, it was also the start of my next master's course studying the role of the university in society.

Its been one of those "firehose" learning weeks.

Drinking from a firehose would probably not be any of ours first choice in obtaining our daily need of water. Actually, drinking from a firehose would (dependent on the pounds per square inch of pressure released) hurt pretty bad...

So, that begs the question: why would anyone want to or choose to learn "firehose" method? 

Many times in life it's not our choice whether or not we will learn firehose method; therefore, would we not be better off occasionally choosing the path more difficult to prepare for the times when we do not have the luxury of choice?

Think to a time you had to learn firehose method. 

How did you respond? How did you process and filter through to the essentials?

More than anytime in history we have access to an almost unlimited amount of information, this brings great opportunity for those prepared and equipped to process it! Yet, anytime we venture unto the great wide web, we are treated to the firehose treatment of bombardment.

Occasionally, we as educators must choose the firehose method to keep ourselves attuned to the world our rising generation was born into.

Arming our students with the ability to process information through classifying, drawing comparisons and connections, and critical analysis will be one of the greatest gifts we give this generation.

Challenge yourself this summer...find the firehose and take a drink.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Tyranny of Time

It is sad, we spend our lives chasing deadlines and limited time opportunities.

We fill every waking moment from start to finish with endless "productivity".

Our culture measures data that is all about efficiency and time saved. Yet, any time "saved" is just spent up again in the crazy rush.

When we view our world through quantifiable terms, we invariably commoditize it. We are told over and over again, "Spend your time wisely and don't waste it!"...as if it were something we really owned.

The deeper issue though with commoditizing our time is that it gives us permission to put up the blinders to the world around us. We too easily fall into the excuse that we don't have time to look out for the interests of anyone else besides ourselves.

When we fall for the false narrative pushing the scarcity of time, it incentivizes us to take shortcuts. Shortcuts in building authentic relationships, shortcuts in learning a craft deeply, shortcuts in our morals...the list could go on and on.

These shortcuts may increase the quantity of our time, but will in due course reduce to rubble the quality and impact our time may ever have had on others. Before too long I hope we may realize that our quality of life is independent of time, but wholly dependent on each other.

Deep, genuine relationships are the colorful strokes by which we cover our life's tapestry. Without them dust will be the only coating our lives will accumulate.

I'll finish with a quote by Albert Schweitzer:

"I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know the only one's among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."       

Let us not submit to the tyranny of time, but find freedom in the service of others! 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Teaching a Plant to Learn

There are tons of remarkable characteristics of plants.

Grass has the ability to warn other grass it is about to be mowed (that sweet smell after mowing the grass, is actually the grass sending a warning signal). Plants can be trained to take a smaller shape and will reduce the size proportionally of its leaves and even bark (this is an art form in of itself called Bosnia).

Yet, even with all these remarkable abilities...can you teach a plant to really learn?

Everyone would say not possible, its obvious a plant cannot learn...heck they don't even have a brain! As an agriculture teacher I take special pleasure in rocking my students' world when I share with them to the contrary there is mounting evidence that they can and do learn! Follow the link below to learn more:


In education we face an analogous challenge. We struggle with trying to help our students learn. We have done an excellent job at siloing the information from the process. Students are 'learning', that's not the issue, but are they recognizing how they are doing so and building upon it for when we are not around to guide them?

Why would learning how to learn be important? Classrooms are 'safe' places for learning. We have cookbook labs that help students understand the basic principles. Most students accomplish those tasks excellently. Yet, when tasked with leaving the map and tackling a problem that does not have a clear answer or process...students and many times ourselves freeze up. 

The raw process of learning is challenging, exhilarating, frustrating, and sometimes just plain boring. It's hard to express, but I have found that the learning process can elicit all these emotions and sometimes more than one at the same time!

Yet, do we allow students to feel that process, reflect during the process, and allow the process to play out? Unfortunately, we don't have time to do that...with all this other content we must teach, we just pour on the content, find an interactive way for them to learn the concept and hope it will stay retained long enough till the upcoming state exam.

More than ever our students desperately need to learn how to learn. Now, how do we accomplish that?

I won't claim to have an answer, but maybe the place to start is taking a deep dive into an unclear concept ourselves. Feel what it is like to learn again...recognize the struggle for ourselves. Rediscovering the learning process will be our only hope in helping our students do the same.