Mystery: Our Chance to Grow

Today I’m really just asking questions and exploring as I’m facing some mystery in my life. We’re repeatedly handed incomprehensible situations, both intellectually and emotionally and I don’t get it. How are we supposed to respond? Are we to tirelessly seek answers and dive head first into informational research? Or, are we to “Be still” and hope understanding is revealed? Evenmore, are we to put on a gritty smile and be alright without full understanding? Mystery can only be brewed with an intricate complexity. Through mystery we gather perspective. Through mystery we clarify the truths of this world. As a result, a long term result, a refined belief system is gained. I hope.

Talk about a practice of critical thinking! Talk about developing a state of mindfulness!

More Feelings, Ugh

I do know that we’re given emotion and it shows up in times of mystery. So when we’re talking about learning through inquiry and wonder, there emotion will be. Usually it’s not a gentle, calm peace that shows up either. I’m not feeling a quiet peace when I struggle to find answers and can’t even determine a purpose in a situation. Instead rushing in unannounced is betrayal, anger, frustration, and resentment. We must not judge the emotional response of the learners around us. Honest emotion is always legitimate. For me judgement is a real temptation that I try to fend off daily. How appealing does learning through conflict appear now?

Treasure the struggle, for we’re sifting the clutter while revealing truths. While sifting, emotional intelligence is developing, at least I hope it is. How uncomfortable it is to be in the sifter. The coarseness of each gritty grain chafes. A new fresh foundation of skin is revealed through the soreness. Those humans who have chosen to grow from the deconstruction in their lives are the beautiful ones. Mysterious circumstances can blow over our house of cards in a moment. That same house we spent years constructing. The best learners have found their foundational truths through conflict and continue to lay bricks upon it. Bricks are not made out of the question “Why?”. We judiciously mold our bricks by selfless listening and claiming a lack of understanding.

Sitting In Struggle

The progressive student maintains the same solid approach to learning. Humility and reverence for the sovereign creator is our path forward. Whether trudging through a murky swamp of fog or basking in a sunrise with 25 miles of visibility. Here lies the beauty of a community of learners, being exposed to a variety of terrains in a moment. I’m also realizing we don’t have to be ready to move forward on the path. It doesn’t mean we’re stagnant. At certain points on our journey it’s necessary to stop and take in everything around us, to listen and respond to the perspective and feelings of others. This is the humility that allows God to determine our path. I’ve tried to bushwhack a path of my choice using only my dull machete. After clearing a narrow trail for my own selfish desires, I found it leads to an impassible dead end filled with isolation and offering no available resources nearby. Humility offers the trail of insight, connections, and resources.
Attempt to embrace the struggle and the emotions of others in love, for we are mercifully loved!

The Need to Read

How can I be happy and productive at the same time? Well since being a professional golfer is off the table, option two is to read. One sounds much more glamorous than the other.

Reading to Move Forward

I have so much more to say when I’m actively reading something. Part of the reason I’m writing this is to convince myself to continue to read. I think about why I haven’t been writing and I find that I haven’t been reading. When I read at night I wake up with thoughts and responses, reflections, and revelations. My battle isn’t so much about whether my words are important to write down. It’s more about am I doing enough to stimulate a response or am I just achieving new levels on games on my phone. Don’t get me wrong, that IS stimulating but it’s difficult to blog about.

I love the feeling I get when I take in an artistic movie or a touching memoir, or even a thoughtful commercial. What do all these have in common?

They make me think and feel. I’m aware that games on my phone do cause me to think and feel but there’s never an important response. Just a glaring void on the back end of it.

A Transforming Power

I could not agree more with the following words I read in Mary Oliver’s book Upstream.

“I did not think of language as the means to self-description. I thought of it as the door—a thousand opening doors!—past myself. I thought of it as the means to notice, to contemplate, to praise, and, thus, to come into power.”

I realize I’m nothing special but reading and writing move me to special thoughts.

I don’t consider myself an intellectual, just ask my family how I act around the house! Although I love to feel like an intellectual. Literature and art make me feel smart and they make me feel creative. When reading, listening, and contemplating I become like Clark Griswold’s Christmas lights. There is so much power coming in but all I can produce is a brief surge of brightness that ultimately just drags people out in the cold to be disappointed. (Don’t worry, that will be the only Christmas movie reference.)

How I Read

Now there are so many ways to take in stories and I utilize most of them. I listen to books on my phone using apps called Hoopla and Overdrive. Both offer an abundance of audiobooks for FREE through the library! I usually pick the audiobook if I just want to take in an overall interesting story. If I’m looking to pull information from a text then I use the kindle app on my phone because I can highlight and store notes in it. Plus, Amazon gift cards are my favorite. I’ll still pick up a physical book occasionally but that’s usually saved for casual reading on the couch or in bed.

Help Me

Could we spur one another on to read, observe, and listen intently to the important content we’re taking in. This is the ultimate goal I have for my students. It’s a goal I have for myself but I’m going to focus on the intently portion. You see my output here at my blog. You can tell when I’m not reading, observing, and listening intently because my writing is either non existent or it sucks.

Please spur me on if you don’t find me here often or if I’m plainly and obviously sucking.


What I’m Taking In

Almost daily devotions currently in the book of Acts.

Upstream by Mary Oliver and a couple other little books she has on poetry

Switched On by John Elder Robison. A Memoir of brain change and emotional awakening. I’m looking forward to this one as it’s on the topic of autism.

Peace as we attempt to live intently


The Exchange

I’m a great consumer.
I buy with no questions asked. I read a lot,  without discussion about it. I’m easy to please and I accept anything that’s given to me.
I’m a natural consumer but not so comfortable with interaction or exchange. My anxiety heightens when I’m asked to simply state my name in front of others, let alone having to share thoughts or ideas.
Problem is, consuming can only take me so far. There is much beyond the ceiling of consuming.
I’m learning to not just consume or just create but to exchange. Here is where the power is.


The exchange offers a deepness and richness that fulfills.
I want to do this well.
I’m far from it.


I’ve felt satisfaction and inspiration from a productive exchange with others.
These exchanges could cover any realm: emotion, information, beliefs, etc.
The human being is intrinsically rewarded for sharing and receiving.
If I only share, I’m left with self-doubt. If I only receive, emptiness lingers. This doesn’t go for giving or getting gifts, I’m purely talking about interacting and learning with others.  
The joy of learning is found in the EXCHANGE!
Fulfilled and empowered individuals contribute to the learning and development of the community. The broader the community, the fuller the empowerment.


Obtaining Wisdom

It’s so easy to only consume. Our culture preys on the consumer. “Netflix Binge!” It sounded like a wonderful idea while I repeatedly clicked “play next episode”. Then I woke up the next morning on 3 hours of sleep and realized my over-consumption had descended me into a pit of darkness. “Pit of darkness” may be a bit heavy, but I was far from satisfaction and/or inspiration.
Wisdom requires an experience and a response. Knowledgeable and wise are quite different.    


Where we fail is attempting to drink from the firehose of consumerism. Often consumerism drapes on a prideful and competitive front! I know, I can browse enviously as I scroll through every product on Amazon. I can also make a strong argument to my wife for why I must own every one of those items! In this moment I am realizing Amazon Prime is the devil! (For the record I’m keeping my Prime account – 2 DAY SHIPPING!)


Of course I have many more examples of personal bouts with consumerism. Although I’ll stop because it’s obvious I’ve been transparent enough.
In the Classroom
Today the student says, “Show me the video, lend me the book, hand me the paper, give me the grade.”
I’m doing my best to lecture less and give feedback more. I hope to start a conversation and spark an exploration. May we experience together and contribute to the conversation!


“The Exchange” is the only route to rich education.

Have We Developed?

Eating and Teaching Are on the Same Track

I was listening to the book At Home: A Short History of Private Life and something struck me about the human race. Development does not come natural.
A section of the book discusses the history of the kitchen and how our diet and food preparation has changed throughout time. It said something like 95% of our diet today is based on the same 12 main foods that were grown and used in ancient times. How is this? Did the first farmers, hunters, and gatherers have a timeless knack for nutrition? Or did generation after generation just accept Grandma’s recipes, never daring to tamper with them and disgracing the ancestry. I know they didn’t have Kale smoothies in the 1800’s but it seems to me that there were too few George Washington Carvers in the world. Far too few people enact development and progress in their lifetime.
Sadly this trend is not isolated to the facet of food. There are two main reasons I was alarmed by the 12 main foods statistic:
  1. I believe it parallels the history of education.
  2. I realized I’m getting jipped when it comes to food! I love food and to find out I’m basically eating the same lame meals as my great-great ancestors is highly disappointing.
Much better can be offered. Which is exactly how some feel about our children’s education.(To see other connections I’ve made between food and education read “Does Production Match the Purpose: The Food and Education Industries”)

So What’s the Difference Between Progressive and Stagnant?

Recently my mind has been dwelling on what separates the dynamic life from the static. I’m finding the answers in my daily decisions. Why do I choose a Netflix binge over connecting with my wife? Why do I let my son play with my phone instead of playing with me? Why do I choose to wake up and delete Spam emails instead of enriching my life with a morning devotional?
Reading and listening to the whole productivity platform gets old real quick. Still I am fascinated with the “Why” underneath these decisions we all make.  I got to take in a timely message on discernment recently at church. While it’s not a direct quote, an analogy like this was made: If you’re not intentionally paddling against the currents of the culture and discerning, you will not become the person God has equipped you to be (sorry Pastor Tom, you said it much better).
I’ve encountered this battle in my desire to write. I can’t even really call it a desire because I allow so much clutter to get in the way of it. But if you’ve listened to any top writers talk about what it takes to develop your craft, every single one says you have to sit your butt in the chair and write. And write over and over again. The same answer is found as I attempt to move forward in my walk of faith. The ultimate requisite is reading God’s word daily. Yes there are other factors in both these cases but it is the consistent decision to do the thing that matters. If you think being busy is the key, you’ve already been pulled under by the current.
So what are we using to fight the currents of culture? What tools are we using to progress and what essentials are necessary in this development?


Are you being challenged or pushed forward socially and intellectually? I’m actively working through these questions and would love to hear the strategies you utilize.


Peace in your paddling


3 Signs of Collapse

It’s probably not coincidence that my mind goes to the idea of collapse with only one week left in school. The grasp on the students’ engagement and effort is quickly slipping.
Being aware of this and responding is the best way to prevent collapse. Avoiding reality will surely cause a crumble.
The reality is that we’re actually more vulnerable to collapse when we’re less aware of its possibility. All three of the signs of collapse revolve around awareness.

The Big Short

My wife and I took this movie in recently and I found it to be an historical event we can learn from. The Big Short is a perfect example of a monumental collapse. If you’re unfamiliar, it basically dramatizes four guys that boldly predicted the housing market collapse in 2008. The rest of the population developed the perception that the system was flawless, to the point where the banking business became blind to reality. The few outliers were regarded as crazy and ostracized for betting against the housing market. Now it’s obvious they were right, but why were these few so unbelievable at the time?


It’s not as boring as I make it sound. Click here for a better description and details of the film.


The nature of collapse is fascinating because it’s sudden with seemingly no warning. So is a collapse lurking in any facet of my life? Is the unpredictable knockout blow coming?


These outliers that were able to predict our economy’s crumble looked at the nature of the institution and noticed the market became something far different and disingenuous. What’s foundational about what you do? Are you remaining true to that foundation?


Yes it’s a scary thing to consider but maybe the most preventable act is simply consideration of the possibility. Collapse is devastating and it can impact our dearest relationship, a career (no matter the job field), and our personal well being.
As usual I’ll relate this concept to education but I think it’s applicable to any situation.


3 Signs of Collapse


Well that is vague. In The Big Short showed that in 2007 and 2008 the bankers didn’t even know what they were investing in. I’m worried the education system is growing ignorant, becoming indoctrinated by the statistics of formal assessments, forgetting the humans that our work revolves around. It’s been said that “public perception is reality.” I’ve heard this phrase used in response to testing scores and school district report cards. Basically supporting testing because these scores affect the community’s perception of the school. This is the exact mindset that allows for collapse. Why don’t we communicate clearly and vulnerably to our community the exact vision and implementation of education? Therefore they don’t just see the state’s judgement in flawed statistics.


2. Isolation

Much like ignorance, isolation is a personally chosen Utopian place.
Why don’t we communicate clearly and vulnerably? With technology’s advancements we’re in even greater danger of becoming isolated. The main reason behind the housing collapse was that the bankers became disconnected from their product. In education, we’re becoming disconnected from our product (the students). Sometimes we become so arrogant with our process that we can’t see reality. In isolation we have no accountability. To guard ourselves from isolation is to always be forthcoming with our vision and agenda.
It’s too easy for us to sit on our island of ideals; only taking in thoughts and feedback of an approved stance. I’m guilty of saying “Well I’m just going to close my door and teach,” avoiding any circumstance that I can’t control.
Oh, and it also requires the skill of listening. Listening to critique is tough, but monumentally important to avoiding collapse. The wisest are the ones that listen and consider.


3. Complacency

“Good enough.” It works and flows without hiccup. It’s become easy. Easy can be good, but that is not a reason to assume the process is being done correctly. Complacency is a clear signal that collapse is quickly arriving.
If nothing has been checked or changed in a while you’re being complacent and you’re avoiding confronting a potential defect. In my teaching practice my units and lesson plans from year to year have about a 50% turnover rate. It’s not that half of my instruction sucks (at least I hope not). It’s more that those 50% of the lessons had room for improvement or weren’t resonating with the current student. I’m constantly adjusting and changing things that don’t work. If you’re having success, find ways to creatively build on that momentum.
But, at the same time, I’m often too quick to drop the thing that doesn’t work. I find this to be a common struggle for the creative. They don’t feel their work is getting the response it should, therefore they drop it.
“If you think of this world as a place simply intended for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place for training and correction and it’s not so bad.” Since hearing this perspective from C.S. Lewis I’ve begun to see life’s circumstances as opportunities for improvement.


Avoiding Collapse

As an optimist I’m naturally susceptible to these three signs of collapse. Honestly, we all are. We must hold on to our vision and beliefs while processing reality. I find where my ideals and reality meet and act according to that intersection.


Peace in the process


The Problem with “Old School”

In her reflections on faith and art Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “It has often struck me with awe that some of the most deeply religious people I know have been, on the surface, atheists.” In the same way the traditional vision for education is its biggest enemy.

The “Deeply Religious”

It’s easy for traditions to turn into a checklist of rules to follow. The biblical example of this being the Pharisees who were caught up in their teaching of irrelevant laws. These laws were initially aligned under God but when Jesus came and made it a direct relational game for all who believe, the Pharisees were too hardened to move off their teachings.
Jesus repeatedly declares them “hypocrites” and “blind guides”.
Some excerpts from Jesus’ rant against the teachers of the law and Pharisees (Matthew 23):
“You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

The Education Traditionalist

background photo credit: Charlie Stinchcomb flickr

I think I notice this same disconnect with individuals that have climbed to the top of academia without ever truly learning or teaching. In this case education is the process of achieving a rank. Does a degree necessarily equal automatic qualification? Success in life should never be associated with one’s worldly appointed status.


I do believe schooling can powerfully develop and grow an individual as long as it is paired with relationships along the way. Unfortunately it is easy to pound through classes and degrees in isolation. The academic structure is setup to promote a single aspect of intelligence, limiting the product of our education.


The Pharisees along with the “standardized” educator are good people with good intentions as they strictly follow an outdated and irrelevant set of practices. A belief depositing them in a land of judgement and control.


Guiding the students without controlling them is a real struggle the teacher faces every minute in the classroom. The same probably goes for leaders and parents.


Predictability in Education: An Epidemic

Should we strive for predictability in education? Schools now use assessments to predict a student’s standardized test score. Yes, tests to predict tests, and it’s quite accurate as well.


So this is the process for the “accomplished” teacher. She assesses her students in the same manner, over the identical content as the state standardized tests. These results show her which students are in danger of not passing. Then the teacher focuses her standardized drill techniques on these select students, desperate for the kids to answer one or two more questions right on the state test, resulting in the teacher keeping the label of “accomplished”.


Predicting the Future. Or Not.

Woohoo! What a thrill ride this profession offers! While the industrial revolution was an exciting time, I’m not sure the education sector should be striving for the same predictable productivity. Actually, I would argue that the future workforce is harmed by this practice. If we can’t even predict what careers will be waiting for these students, why would we choose to equip them with such a finite skill set.


I see how knowing the future would save us from unnecessary risk but, I also see the coming years and decades being as unpredictable as ever. Technology has that way about it. If there was ever a time to promote unconventional thinking and the exploration of ideas, it is today!   


In his book The Accidental Creative, Todd Henry says, “we do less than we’re capable of because we don’t want to deal with the consequences of disapproval at the end of the process.” It’s devastating to know that many in education succumb to this. Sadder still, when teachers carry this concept they embed the same attitude in their students. So many talents and gifts are jammed into the hidden closet in the back room, limited by the restraints of conformity.


The Shift

And know that this doesn’t mean we’re abandoning foundational skills. Exactly the opposite. We attempt to take those skills and move them to spark creativity and art, therein stimulating life! Actually creativity needs to be considered a foundational skill. It too is something that can be nurtured and developed. For this, the Maker Space and Genius Hour are important trends in the classroom.
Share and interact through ideas. It’s an exciting time to be an educator!


Peace in collaboration


Past posts like this:

Calling All Millennials!

Fit to Teach

The millennial generation comes off as the Coolest people! Millennials are all the right things: Both artistic and unconventional, purpose-filled, unselfish, invested in their local community.
Did I mention how cool they are? They make me want to give everything away and live in a solar-powered tiny house.
(FYI: According to wikipedia I missed the millennial generation by just one year, so I consider myself borderline cool.)
I’m such a fan of this group of people because they have the raw make-up of the ideal teacher. A stereotypical millennial is exactly what education needs. She is invested in the local product and desires a connection with her work. She is deterred by the mundane, while engaged with inquiry and creating. This is the mentality that students need from their educators.

The Millennials have stretched the professional world to look beyond traditional qualifications and credentials. There are more ways to learn something than sitting in the classroom and passing the occasional test. I admire this generation’s courage to try new things and learn through inquiry. They admit to not knowing all of the answers. How refreshing! The worst thing we could have is a teacher who knows all the answers. Somewhere along the line we mistakenly took the label of “professional” to mean “a field know-it-all”. We’d be better off to prefer vulnerability and honesty.

(My previous post Regaining Purpose goes into more detail about maintaining a right vision for teaching and learning)

The Master Teacher

Looking at the book Twelve Ordinary Men it’s obvious Jesus was a master teacher to the disciples because he developed each in their unique characteristics. Each was groomed according to the individual. You see each personality come out, although it’s been refined on a personal level.

But those fixed and hardened teachers combat a hopeful future. Their students soon believe that there is only one right answer.

It’s possible I’ve idolized the millennial a tad, but I simply admire the perspective they represent. It shouldn’t be about climbing the ladder, instead commit to your exploration and be grateful for each discovery.

Disclaimer: I understand I have drawn a wide stereotype of the millennial and have not discussed the negative attributes.
I feel they’re entitled to their share of positive publicity.

Ryan Hershey see my blog at

Why I Love Being a Teacher

Wait, Wait, Wait!!! Before you close this out of disgust expecting to hear about me laying under the sun on the beach…Yes it is easy to say “I love being a teacher” at the beginning of summer but, please hear me out.

I can honestly say that my current mindset is not “which tanning oil is best for achieving a Greek-like golden tone,”  but “how can I be better for my students in the upcoming year.” 
That is the reason I love teaching, much more even than summer break. I love that I get a fresh shot at being the best teacher for my students every year. Maybe it is the lifelong Cleveland sports fan in me saying “next year is the year”. And maybe this just speaks to my short comings and deficiencies as a teacher, but I’d like to think that I just want to be better for my kids. Believe me, I’ve had lessons and even units epically fail. I’ve had students that I know I didn’t reach. To these failures I think I’ve found the answer! I will be better next year because of this solution! While I have lofty aspirations for the start of every new school year, I think I’ve discovered something foundational that will make this one great. 
Here it is…
My leading desire will be achieving a closeness with the students. More than curriculum, more than control or power, more than student academic growth. I aspire to be relational first. This was and is obviously the desire of Jesus and he was able to make miraculous progress with a pretty rough classroom. 
It’s easy to state this as a mindset and leave it at that. Although to make the desired impact on the students it will need to be at the foundation of every decision I make this year. Lessons will revolve around inquire and self-reflection. Classroom management will be a shared responsibility, empowering students to recognize the importance of accountability. Even mundane tasks will carry a collaboration. Every person in the class will be a needed resource.
Now, how will I do this… 
and that is what the summer is for!   
Peace in the preparation
Ryan Hershey see my blog at

Responding to Distractions: Shhh, Not Now!

Let me start by saying, it’s much easier to be reflective on this topic after numerous days of spring break. A week since I last “shush”-ed a student or attempted to ignore the annoyance of constant pencil tapping.
Oh the overwhelming distractions! Don’t these kids know they’re interfering with the agenda I have for their learning?
Though it doesn’t end there, I have this same frustrated, selfish response to my son whining about his Lego creation that won’t stay together.
And the same response still when my wife reminds me that the porch light is still burnt out.

How can I possibly accomplish MY “greater purpose” or MY agenda when God is allowing all of these irritating interruptions to slow me down?
My most popular selfish reaction to these distractions is always motivated by my intent to simply eliminate the distraction. My intolerant attempt to dispose of the disturbance always results in damaging relationships. This behavior obviously does not represent my Lord who lovingly values relationship.
As I struggled with an understanding of how to respond to distractions, the sacrificial practices of Lent came to mind. During this time of preparation, many give up stuff in an effort to draw nearer to God. Surely this could fall into the category of simply eliminating distractions. Are we actually less distracted and more devoted, or do we just find other convenient distractions? I’m not sure God wants us to simply eliminate the distraction. It’s much more productive and sustainable to evaluate the distraction and reflect on the reason behind it.
As a teacher I often find myself submitting to the easy response of dismissing, ignoring, or even disciplining the distraction. I’ve taken the tapping pencil and I’ve shushed the chatterbox. Did Jesus ever have to face disturbances? How did He respond?
First, I think most the miracles He performed were prompted due to a so called distraction. But I’m choosing to highlight one that took place while he was teaching.
(Luke 5:17-39) Jesus is teaching to a packed house, literally. The audience included both his followers as well as Pharisees and scribes who opposed Him. Needless to say, it is already a challenging classroom environment. To add to this, a group of men start digging a hole through the roof, dropping chunks of the clay ceiling on the room before finally dropping a person down the hole. Talk about a distraction! How does Jesus respond to this rude interruption of his teaching? He evaluates the distraction, sees a need and a desire. He gracefully responds by understanding the need and tending to it, amid an otherwise chaotic situation.
What a lesson about recognizing the teachable moments! Jesus views distraction as opportunity instead of annoyance.
So what will be my reaction when my son, student, spouse, or stranger is digging through the roof to get my attention? Will my response be one of selfishness or grace?

As I mature…err…get older, I’m finding my God takes great notice to the fine details in the daily process of life. I think He is more concerned with the nature of my constant interactions with others (how I respond to distraction), rather than some achievable end product. I’m confident He’ll continue to offer opportunities (distractions) for me to develop a better story through Him.

Ryan Hershey see my blog at