Archive for the ‘Life lessons’ Category

Thanks to the good people at 7 Mindsets for putting this video together. I’m thrilled to co-labor with professional educators who are passionate about bringing social emotional learning onto school campuses and into classrooms across the U.S. A special shout out to Villago Middle School. There is no better place and no better people with whom to impact and make a difference in the lives of students. Teachers who know, “The best way to a student’s brain, is through his/her heart.”

Once a Titan…Always a Titan!

Check out @7Mindsets’s Tweet:


          Although it sounds cliche, pay-it-forward is the approach I take in most things I do. This especially applies to teaching and working with youth. I guess it’s my way of paying tribute to the people who saw beyond my mistakes and through my insecurities and

Courtesy of Google Images 

poor self-image. These people consist of the “others” in my life. The ones who had the heart and foresight to look past everything within myself I perceived to be negative. The ones who refused and refuted my excuses, who saw and drew out qualities and abilities I didn’t know I possessed.

          The “Why” statement for my life is this. “I want to help young people not make the same mistakes I made…to help them discover, develop, and deploy their own value and sense of purpose in life. I want every youth with whom I have contact to know they are valuable and have purpose and something meaningful to offer this world.”  I am confident that emulating and honoring the memory of loving, supportive “others” in my life is the strategy that will propel me to success in my endeavor to make a difference in the lives of young people.

          I consider myself to have achieved success and happiness in life. For this, I am grateful to God and appreciative for the “others” He has placed on my path. I know,

Original Art by Joe

without doubt, that every measure of accomplishment I have achieved or will ever obtain is due, in no small part, to the “others” who have answered the call to pour and sow into my life. One of my prime goals, now, is to honor my “others” by answering my own call to be an “other” to as many people as I can. From my perspective, this is how we overcome evil by doing good.  And…isn’t this exactly what the world we live in needs?

          When we fight hatred with hatred, hatred wins. Hate focuses on what is negative…the differences between us. Not only that, it thrives and feeds on negatives and differences. Love, on the other hand, looks past the negative and promotes the positive. Love sees how we are all similar and how we are all connected. Love is what motivated the “others” in my life to look past my differences and negatives. The love OF “others” FOR “others” is the only thing that will make a meaningful difference in our world. I know I now have a responsibility to those who have sown into my life to sow into the lives of others. This is how the movements of Paying-It-Forward and Honoring-The-Others combine to perpetuate the power of goodness. By taking responsibility and showing gratitude for being the beneficiary of the goodness of others in your life.

          And…if you’re being honest, you would have to recognize that you have had them, too. Do some self-reflection. Think about the people who saw good in you when nobody else did. Not even you. Think about those people who didn’t give up on you when everybody else did. Even you. Think about those people who looked past the mistakes and failures, who, when you fell, extended their hand to lift you up one more time. These are the “others” in your life. Write their names down. List their contributions to your life. If they are still alive, thank them. Then… GO…

…do the same for someone else.

Peace and blessings…


The 2017-2018 school year has commenced at Villago Middle School in hot and sunny Casa Grande, Arizona. I love the sensation of butterflies tickling my insides as youthful chatter resurrects life on the campus of our summer ghost town. Like monsoon rain in the barren desert, the return of students is a welcome and refreshing sight.

The beautiful thing about this feeling is that I know I’m not alone. I can honestly, and in good conscience, proclaim that every Villago teacher and support staffer feels the same way.  Reflection exercises like the one I’m about to share with you get and keep us in touch with our “Why.” Inspired by the work of Simon Sinek and his book, “Start With Why”, Principal, Jeff Lavender, has challenged the staff of Villago Middle School to reacquaint themselves with their “Why” over the past three years.  To gear up for this new school year, Mr. Lavender unleashed a 13 question reflection exercise to laser our focus and engage the gears of our idling engines.  So, here you have it.  “13 Reasons Why” I Teach.

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I’m sharing my reflection because it is having a profound impact on me. I’m pretty self-motivated and pretty in touch with the reasons I do what I do. However, this reflection exercise struck a cord I forgot I could play. Sometimes we forget or take for granted the details of our lives that have molded and shaped who we have become or are striving to be. Reflecting and remembering can be such a useful and eye-opening fuel to spark the flames of passion and Villago A+ignite the enthusiasm that makes us truly effective. Perhaps it would be good for you to answer the questions and do a little self-reflection, as well.  What could it hurt? If you do, I sure would be interested to hear about your experience.  (c:]


Peace and Blessings…



Start With Why Reflection

  1. What kind of student were you in elementary, middle, and high school?

Elementary School – In elementary school I was a model student. I wanted my parents and teachers to be proud of me and happy with my work and grades. As such, I was a rule follower and towed the line. I always received good grades and complimentary comments from teachers on my report cards.

Middle School – For the most part, I remained the same throughout middle school, although the curiosity of adolescence combined with a poor self-image began leading me down questionable paths. My drive to maintain good grades and a good reputation was no longer solely motivated by keeping my parents and teachers happy, but became partially motivated as a cover-up for some of my questionable choices and activities.

High School – In high school I was the classic case of “not measuring up to my potential.” I maintained passing grades but never applied myself to achieve my best. I became more concerned and motivated by what my friends thought and hung around friends who weren’t always the best influence. In high school, my low self-image made it more about fitting in and being accepted. What my parents thought became less important than what my friends thought. To get my way, I became a master manipulator and a chameleon…I was many things to many people but lost myself in the process.

2. What was your favorite subject in school?

I didn’t really have a favorite subject

3. What subject did you struggle with most in school?

Any math past algebra in high school

4. What special activities did you participate in?

Basketball – Jr. High and High School

Baseball – Jr. High School

5. What teacher impacted you the most in a positive way? How did that teacher impact you?

Mrs. Boyer/Kindergarten – Mrs. Boyer was the teacher that introduced me to my first formal education experience. She was stern but she was kind and caring. She introduced me and all my classmates to the Golden Rule which has guided me since 1968. (c:]

Coach Tanke/sophomore – I’ve told the story numerous times about missing four free-throws and losing a J.V. basketball game. Coach Tanke cared about his students and players and showed it by his attitude and actions towards them. On that fateful day, Coach uttered 14 words in 5 seconds of a 7 or 8 minute conversation that profoundly impacted the direction my life would take. Coach Doug Tanke’s words taught and reinforced the belief that my value is not a product of my performance but a product of my person and presence. Simply put, I am valuable because I am a human being and I am living.

6. Did you have any teachers impact you in a negative way? How did they impact you in a negative way?

Yes, all the teachers (there weren’t many) who placed my grades and performance as a pupil above knowing me as a person. They seemed to be the most rigid, least tolerant, and frequently disconnected from their students. In my mind, it was as though they thought good grades/performance fixes everything.

7. Think back to when you made the decision to be a teacher. What was the driving force in your making the decision?

I didn’t choose teaching, teaching chose me. You can choose your job but your calling chooses you. To be a teacher, as I am now, is the last thing I would have ever considered as a career choice. Rather than choose a career path, I chose a way of living…a guiding philosophy and way of being. I made the decision early in my life that I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, especially young people. I was 18 years old and a senior in high school at the time (1981). “What do you want to do with your life?” “Where do you want to go?” “Do you want to stay in Coolidge and take over the family business?” “Wherever you go, whatever you do, how can you be successful or happy making the same choices you are now?” These questions and others like them drove my search for meaning and purpose. As a senior in high school, I felt like I was on the clock and running out of time. The questions eventually led me to a life changing encounter with God at a small Assembly of God church in Coolidge, Arizona.  My first prayer after receiving salvation was, “Lord, use me to help other youth not make the same mistakes I have made.” I am happy to know and blessed to say that God is still spending my life answering that prayer. First in full-time ministry as a youth pastor for 28 years, and now as an integral team member of a highly successful middle school in the public education domain in Casa Grande, Arizona.

8. Was there a teacher (or teachers) who contributed to you making that decision to be a teacher? How did they contribute?

I couldn’t possibly name them all. I have been fortunate and blessed to be influenced by numerous people who have recognized and guided my skill set and abilities. From the ranks of ministry and church work to the ranks of public education, I have rubbed elbows with and been encouraged by some of the best in their respective fields.

I would also say that the teachers I referenced earlier who had positive and negative impacts on me have aided me by laying a foundation for what and what not to emulate as I have worked with youth in ministry and public education. One of my most effective and centering strategies is to reflect on how certain actions by teachers (and adults in general) impacted me as a youth and student. Times have changed but youth are largely the same. If a teacher’s actions or words impacted me a certain way back then, it stands to reason that similar actions and words will evoke the same or similar response from the young people I serve and work with today.

Jeff Lavender – Jeff Lavender is a “like-a-brother” friend, colleague, and supervisor/principal. Jeff ranks as one of the largest influences in my life and career as an educator. He had the vision and foresight to open the door and pave the way to my involvement in public education when I was still in full-time youth ministry. He was the first to instill in me the thought that I could be effective working in a public school environment. Without his influence, trust and support, and the opportunities he has labored to provide, I would not be where I am today.

Mario Tijerina – Mario Tijerina is also a “like-a-brother” friend, colleague, and confidant. He also ranks as one of the largest influences in my life and career as an educator. Mario provided me with my first opportunity and experience of formally speaking to students in the public school domain as a regular guest speaker and mentor for his non-profit organization, G.O.L.D. Scholars. Through this experience and through Mario’s encouragement and counsel I began to realize that I could be effective teaching in a public school setting. Mario has also been a continuous and ready resource for information and strategies which have aided in my growth as an educator.

Both Jeff and Mario helped me to shun the ecumenical (religious) ideology that public schooling is opposed to or at least resistant to the spiritual needs of students. These men valued, embraced, and welcomed the unique measure of spirituality I could bring to their respective students by way of character and “whole child” development. They were both instrumental in guiding me to strategies of blending the two genres of education in a way that was discreet and acceptable in a public school setting while allowing and encouraging me to continue being me. I am a better man and educator for having known Jeff and Mario. They are both visionaries and pioneers of the benefits and implementation of Social Emotional Learning as a featured strategy to obtain “whole child” instruction leading to superior academic outcomes for students in public education.

9. Was there an individual who was not a teacher that influenced you to become a teacher? How did they contribute?

My parents – My parents instilled in me the value for others, and for life in general, which led me to decide I wanted to make a difference in the world. Neither of my parents completed high school nor did they have any college education. However, their “old school” wisdom and common sense served them well while owning and operating two successful businesses in the small town of Coolidge, Arizona. They were my first living exposure to the effectiveness, benefits, and importance of “Emotional Intelligence” and, by default, social emotional learning. They were successful in business and in life, not as a result of academic prowess or college degrees, but as a result of their knowledge and mastery of treating others as they desired to be treated.  The Golden Rule. My dad use to tell me, “You can call someone every dirty name in the book and they’ll thank you for it if you do it right.”  This was not a regular practice of his, but his statement taught me the importance of vocabulary, articulation, and use of people skills which is the point he wanted to make. My parents also instilled in me the value of helping others. Especially, the less fortunate. When I was growing up, our doors were always open to those in need. As an owner of a grocery business in our small community, I observed numerous occasions when my dad gave boxes of groceries or extended a line of credit to help families in need. The alcoholic, addicted, and homeless in our town often sought him out for hand-outs to feed their addictions. Rather than give money, my dad would give them a job. Sometimes it was for a few hours, sometimes it might be a day or two.  He would then pay them with groceries or clothes. If they required money to purchase something legitimate, he would take them and purchase it for them. He believed this practice allowed them to achieve a measure of dignity and self-value even if it was just for a while. They never stopped coming around and always knew they would have to provide a day’s work for a day’s wage rather than beg for hand-outs. He always had a job for them to do and would pay them for their work. This practice of helping others is one that my wife and family have happily continued to honor and practice to this present day.

My Wife, Tina – I would absolutely not be the man I am today without Tina’s total support, encouragement, understanding, and unconditional love. We are both in our second marriage and I was already a youth pastor/teacher when we met and married. I was emotionally damaged as a result of a divorce and estrangement from my two daughters which followed the divorce. Tina endured much hardship in the early years of our marriage including hatefulness and mistreatment from my former spouse and two daughters.  My own mishandling of the aftermath of divorce only compounded matters for her. She painstakingly endured and lovingly (sometimes with brutal honesty) nurtured me back to emotional health. She employed strategies she had learned in rehabilitation (Social Emotional/Coping Skills) to model and demonstrate the need to become a more effective communicator for the sake of fostering and sustaining healthy relationships. I am a better everything (man, husband, dad, teacher, etc) because of her love, commitment, and dedication. To say that she saved my life may border on dramatic overstatement, however, it is not hyperbole to state that my life, as it is now, has been made possible by her unconditional love, relentless support, and unwavering patience.

10. What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher?

For me, the most rewarding experience of teaching is when my love for students is reciprocated by the students I serve. Why? Because, then I know the relationship is such that I can teach them anything…especially about life. When students show their appreciation…no matter how small they may think their gesture is…it speaks volumes to me about why I do what I do and how well I am doing it. Their simple show of appreciation informs me, reminds me, and confirms to me, that I am doing what I was born to do. Equally rewarding is watching students’ faces light up when they grasp and understood a concept. Especially, a life skill. In middle school the profound growth I have the privilege of witnessing in students between their 6th and 8th grade years is truly an experience surpassed only by watching my own children and grandchildren grow and learn.

11. Half of all new teachers quit within their first three years of teaching. Why have you not quit, or plan to quit?

Because I’m still breathing, I have a healthy body, I have a good mind, and I have a heart to make a difference. I will continue to do what I do until I can no longer do it effectively! When my career ends, my calling will continue, and I will find a way to keep living it out.

12. If something tragically happened to you this year and your family asked me to give your eulogy, what would you think I should share about you as a teacher?

He was an excellent husband, dad, and grandfather. He loved kids. He made a difference. He proved that “Hugs make the world a better place.” He was a faithful, genuine friend and confidant. He learned from his mistakes and lived his love out loud. He was “salt to the earth and light to the world.”

13. In preparing your eulogy, I ask your students for ideas on what to share, what would you hope they would tell me?

That everything in my response to question 12 is accurate and true.

Review all of your answers to the above 13 questions. Based on your review, please give a 1-3 sentence statement “WHY” you are a teacher.

I am a teacher/youth worker because it’s what I was born to do. My “WHY” starts with my “WHO.” My prayer was to “help others not make the same mistakes I’ve made” That prayer request emanated from Who I am…who I was created to be. “WHO” I am, essentially and eventually, fueled my “WHY.” As cliché as it may sound, I teach and work with youth because I truly love and care about them. I hope to leave a footprint on planet earth by positively impacting the next and future generations.

Adversity is the reason we need Faith. It’s also the reason we have it. Faith that can’t be tested,  can’t be trusted. 

Don’t be the teacher kids have to respect. Be the one they want to.

There is nothing quite like working with middle school students to garner a profound awareness for the power of rumors.  Unlike political America, there is seldom any fact-checking on a middle school campus. Unfortunately, what “they” say happened or will happen or might happen is frequently received as truth without question. As many of you may know, middle school students are developmentally equipped with a highly developed “emotional brain” combined with an under-developed “reasoning brain.” Translation: Their emotional brain will short circuit their reasoning brain and lead them into poor decisions and actions before they have thought it all through. All too often the consequences of their choices are not even considered until they are happening.  Therein lies the power and danger of “They Say.”  Below is an offering which paints an example of how this dynamic can play out. It represents the responsibility we have as parents, educators, and youth workers, to “train them up in the way they should go.” Social and Emotional Learning is everyone’s responsibility.  If I may wax cliche, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  (c:]

~Food For Thought

~Peace and Blessings…




She said he said that they say it’s true.

Armed with this knowledge, I know what to do.

I recognize the face of this newfound foe.

We once were good friends; now, I’ll throw the first blow.

How dare he say what they say he said.

It’s all the reason I need to go bust his head.

They say she said he said this or that.

The details are sketchy with real shady facts.

But it makes no difference ‘cuz they say it’s true.

So, I’ll blindly give in to what they think I should do.

How will I look if I don’t stand up for what’s right?

So, I’ll settle this beef with a schoolyard fight.

What? He’s denying the words they say that he spoke!

What a big, fat liar! This guy’s a real joke!

“C’mon you big loser! What’s your play?

                    Defend all these words that they said you say!”

“I never said nuthin’.  It’s all a big lie!

Better check your facts. You got the wrong guy!”

          “But that just can’t be ‘cuz they ALL say it’s true;

          So, put up your dukes, fool, so I can pound you!”

So, I beat him down good for his supposed infraction.

I never once thought he would end up in traction.

Three broken bones and wounds to the head;

All for the words they say that he said.

Everthing is possible … I dare to dream large,

My doubts and fears fade … my passion’s in charge.

We’re all connected … I embrace everyone,

Own my life on the hundred … till the job is all done.

If it’s good or it’s bad … I’ll take it in stride,

An attitude of gratitude will humble my pride.

I’m livin’ by givin’ … that’s the best way to be,

To leave a mark on this world and to truly be free.

My time is now … not tomorrow or after,

If you say I can’t … my response will be laughter.

Not to mock or belittle but to let it be known,

Your doubts don’t faze me … my resolve is like stone.

Yeah, I’m chasing my dreams … I have no regrets.

Nothing can stop me or my seven mindsets.