I had the amazing opportunity to present on a panel at SXSW EDU in Austin, Texas this year. Besides the ridiculously awesome food selections in Austin, I was able to take in a gigantic selection of amazing events and people. One of my highlights of the conference was finding out one of my heros in education, Mr. CJ Reynolds was in town for the conference. I follow CJ on his Instagram and Youtube channel mostly. We have exchanged a few quick chats over IG. I met him outside his event for a minute and we exchanged numbers to see if we could find a chance to meet up and talk about our experiences in education. My 2 day trip was absolutely packed with meetings, networking, dinners and even a visit to Parker’s Jazz Club to hear some amazing music. I texted CJ after our late dinner and waited for a response.
Keep in mind that CJ hosts an incredible YouTube Channel called Real Rap With Reynolds with over 25,000 subscribers (check it out here). He is definitely a game changer in education. After a little while, CJ texted me back. We found a place to meet and made it happen. This was about 10 pm after a 14 hour day for both of us. That spoke volumes to me about his work ethic right away!
I’ll have to admit, I was a little star struck sitting with CJ talking about education. He posts a lot and is an open book when it comes to helping youth, in his case underprivileged youth in Philadelphia, grow to become amazing people.
As we talked, I was scanning the bar we were sitting in wondering why everyone wasn’t coming to grab an autograph or a picture with CJ. One of my heros of education was sitting before them!
Then I came back to reality and remembered that educators sometimes are not looked at highly in our world. Whatever. That wasn’t going to stop us from having a great conversation around creating new ways to educate youth. We spoke for about 2 hours and I gained so much knowledge through CJ’s experiences. We were both exhausted at the end of the meeting and we both knew it was well worth it. We are both extremely driven educators. We are trained to push ahead at any cost if it means helping our youth become successful in their lives.
I took a few things away from this meeting with CJ that I wanted to share in my blog.
1. To make a difference in your classrooms, you have to give a practice empathy. CJ empathizes with all his students. When mistakes are made, and there are a lot of them, he tries to understand the situation and people involved as much as possible. CJ makes decisions in his classroom that result in the greatest benefit to the learner. He is not there to control the classroom with an iron fist. He creates safe places where everyone has a voice.
2. Great teaching comes through hard work. There was a reason we both met after an extremely long day. We both could have easily both went to our rooms and fell asleep. We didn’t. For me, the opportunity to speak with a major influencer in education outweighed the choice to go rest. CJ works damn hard. He mentioned that some of his followers suggested how nice it would be to teach in an amazing classroom such as CJ’s. What those people don’t see is that CJ spends much of his free time and money building, painting, and putting materials into that classroom. Oh, yes, and with that classroom he builds and the full time teaching position he holds, he runs an amazing YouTube channel AND goes to speak across the nation. SO hard work is the doorway to success and fulfillment in anything...especially education.
3. If you want to improve education, you have to break the rules. A quote from the book “Think Like a Freak” by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt comes to mind here. “Running with the herd means we are quick to embrace the status quo, slow to change our minds, and happy to delegate our thinking.” CJ is a master of trying new things. He challenges not only his students, but himself. I found out through our conversation in Austin, if we keep up the status quo in our educational practices and wait for change to happen, it never will. We as educators need to break some rules in a reasonable fashion to grow ourselves and our students.
4. Grow positivity and crush negativity. Possibly the most important take-away from our conversation was staying positive. CJ and I have both had teaching experience in underprivileged areas where kids at our schools are challenged everyday inside and outside of school. It is not an easy task to teach in situations where our students are going through so much outside of school. CJ remains positive in his class and inserts humor to keep things light in order to keep learners engaged. Another thing CJ practices is not listening to the negativity around his profession. Whether in his school or in the community, he seeks the positive people and works with them. The haters are avoided.
5. Know your Why. CJ and I shared our “Why” we do what we do. I will not share them here, however, it is extremely important to know why you are in the education field. If you get lost in the teaching profession, your students, colleagues, and especially you will suffer. My WHY is my go to in order to stay positive in the classroom. Find out how to discover your by following Simon Sinek.
Overall, I am blessed to be able to do what I do. As a teacher, I have learned to reach out and connect with people. I want to encourage my followers to do the same. I would suggest reaching out once in a while to the people you follow on your social media platforms. Ask a few questions. Seek some knowledge from them. Most importantly, if they are at the same conference as you, offer to buy them a beer and chat for a few minutes! You will learn so much!
- Thank you CJ Reynolds! I appreciate your time and authentic conversation around education.