Week 4: Sept 21 – 25


Reconciling is becoming friendly again and making things right when they feel off.

Empathy is feeling in your heart the things that other feel.


In the picture book “The Story of Ruby Bridges” written by Robert Coles, we see an example of reconciling and empathy.

Ruby said the prayer she repeated twice a day — before and after school: “Please God, try to forgive those people. Because even if they say those bad things, they don’t know what they are doing. So You could forgive them, just like You did those folks a long time ago when they said terrible things about You.” 

This allusion in Ruby’s prayer is meant to call to mind Jesus’ prayer on the cross in Luke 23:33-34a.

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”


With the examples of reconciliation and empathy from Ruby Bridges’ story, which alludes to the ultimate example Jesus demonstrated on the cross, the heroes created art based on what lessons they learned.



Listening to (and Miss Cheryl’s reading of chapter 3 from) the Watson’s Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis provides more examples about reconciliation and empathy from chapters 1-4.

Lessons of reconciling:

  • Kenny’s mom helped Kenny become friends again with the new kid named Rufus.
  • Kenny decided to help his brother Byron even when Byron was consistently mean to Kenny.
  • Kenny gave up one of his good gloves when Rufus did not have any gloves to keep his hands warm.


Lessons of reconciliation and empathy were also seen this week in photographs from the Civil Rights Movement. The heroes made observations and commented on what people in photos might be feeling or experiencing.


Reconciling can look like two girls “join[ing] hands while riding the bus together during the initial phases of the integration of the school system in Boston, Massachusetts. September 15, 1975.” Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

A reconciling act. Selma march.



Other nuggets of gold from this week:

  • Some ES heroes volunteered to build two desks for the ELS studio. Using their first strategy,  limited progress was being made. Then, Mr. Matt had them consider a different strategy for building the desks. With renewed determination, the heroes worked by themselves and built a desk!! What a difference a different building strategy made! Thank you, Mr. Matt, for giving the heroes the tools (pun intended) to succeed in their challenge.
  • I called upon our laminating-fixer hero, Sloane, to fix the laminator again. We performed a scientific experiment to figure out the problem. In the end, she fixed it! 
  • The iReady diagnostics took place this week. Emmry commented on the reading and math placement tests for the rest of the ES studio after she had been the first to “test out the new waters” of the new learning program.
  • “Challenge donut.” We make the most progress not when we are in our comfort zone, not in our panic zone, but in our challenge zone. We bit right into the center of round donuts after sharing examples from our life about times when we were stretched in a good way by being in our challenge zone.


See you next week!

Building Empathy

Week 4.5

Building Empathy

This week we focused hard on learning about the reconciling practice of empathy. Through hero talks, videos, discussion, and skits, we learned what empathy means and looks like. One discussion in particular led to these ideas and conclusions:

How do we practice empathy?

  • show support for others when something good or bad happens
  • listen very carefully to each other
  • try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes
  • pay attention to others

Why do we practice empathy?

  • It can be really helpful in friendships
  • It helps us understand how others are feeling

As we have learned what empathy means, I’ve noticed a HUGE culture shift in our studio as heroes learn how to take good care of each other. Here are a few of my favorite observations this week:

Jaina was eating lunch inside and noticed a hero sitting on the tire swing alone. She ran outside and sat in the tire swing with that hero and asked how the hero was feeling. After a few minute conversation, there was a noticeable positive change in both heroes and they went on with their activities.

Elias witnessed a football collision of two heroes and ran inside to grab the hurt hero’s water bottle and an ice pack.

Lola heard another hero use unkind words and became an advocate for only using kind words toward others.

These are just a few of the many ways their eyes are shifting to understanding each other’s feelings.

We’ve been studying heroes from the Civil Rights Movement this week and as we have been studying, the heroes have been taking notice of how these heroes have played integral roles in racial reconciliation. Here are a few excerpts from two hero notebooks.

Rosa Parks – “She sat in the middle of the bus, then the police told her to ‘get up’ and when she was older she moved to Michigan” An excerpt from Jack’s journal.

Charlie’s notes on Martin Luther King Jr. “He wanted everyone to be friends so he gave big speeches and walked with lots of people to make sure they were being nice to each other.”

Have a great weekend!

not right, make right

Nate Vandenbroek joined us for Kingdom Time on Wednesday to testify about how empathy has been a part of his hero’s journey.  In the picture above, he asked heroes to get into two facing lines. Then he asked the line on the right to turn 360 degrees and look all around them.  Next he asked them to tell their facing partners what they were seeing.  Some found this easy, others were stumped.  Nate used this to frame how empathy has played a part on his hero’s journey.  He has learned to see what others might be seeing and to let this impact his journey.  Emmry, an ES hero said, “empathy helps us to see when something’s not right and make it right.”

It was a great complement to our new quest focused on Racial Reconciliation as we look at the lessons we might learn from heroes in the Civil Rights Movement who looked at things that weren’t right and worked to make them right. With Miss Cheryl taking a day to rest her sore throat and cough (no fever but we’re still trying to take care of each other), I got to guide the ES studio. In true Columbo fashion, the heroes actually guided me.  “So what do you usually do now in Core Skills?”

For our afternoon launch, I invited them to notice things from this photograph of the March from Selma to Montgomery.

“There’s a girl, maybe our age.”

“There’s a Coca Cola sign.”

“It looks like maybe a celebration of something, maybe.”

“I see mostly black people and some white people.”

“I see lots of American flags.”

They were very observant.  Eventually, we wondered together about the link to reconciliation as well as the idea of seeing something that wasn’t right and trying to make it right. The launch closed with them wondering about how a march might make an impact.

Sometimes, seeing something not right extended to the ELS heroes as they were recognizing their struggles with moving the frisbee down the Ultimate Field.  Below you see them huddled up with their ultimate guide, Eric Kas.  Even as they talked about the technical aspects of ultimate, Eric

deftly asked them about what they were learning about collaboration and growth mindset.  He is already proving to be a natural guide for us as we learn this wonderful game.

As part of Journey’s innovative and entrepreneurial history, we are often looking for ways that we can get better.  We are piloting one such platform in our Elementary Studio.

i-Ready is an adaptive learning program in reading and math that provides a “gamified” approach to personalized learning developed by Curriculum Associates.  With Journey’s commitment to see where strengths and areas for growth are, i-Ready provides actionable data for heroes to take things that aren’t quite right and to make them right.  In our discernment process for this pilot we saw independent research showing that students using i-Ready Instruction for 45 minutes or more per week grew 44% more than the average student in reading and 65% more in math.  This proved persuasive for our pilot of i-Ready in the ES this year.  and we will continue to share how we are getting better.

Sometimes, the most refreshing lessons of taking something that’s not right and making it right come through Maker Play.  Seventy eight degrees on a late September day is often seen as blessing in Michigan.  But during a Maker Play afternoon, it could also be viewed as something that’s “not right.”  As the heroes considered the problem facing them, they noticed the holes in the drain tile pipes.  With a light bulb of inspiration, Claire and Nora thought that the water in their water bottles might be even more refreshing if delivered in another way.

The bursts of delight from heroes who navigated the tube testified that something had just been made right.

May we follow Him out of the “not right” into the “made right.”

//Dr. T//

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Week 3.5 Designing

Week 3.5


This week was a busy one! We started this week by setting big goals during core skills and creating a plan to reach those goals! Each day at the end of core skills, we take some time to do a self check-in. Did we have the tools we needed to reach our goals? Did we choose the right environment for good focus? Did we support other heroes in reaching their goals, or did we distract them from their goals? These are important reflective questions that help us learn about ourselves as learners!


During project time this week, we spent time designing a studio t-shirt! The heroes all created a few different designs, then we held a voting session to pick out our favorite designs! The winner was a combination of Charlie’s tie-dye color scheme and Lola’s “I love Journey ELS” design! We can’t wait to see how these turn out!


We also held our first exhibition this week! The heroes showed how they engage with the Maker Play space, whether rolling in tubes, creating homes for grasshoppers, or building bunk beds, they continued to get creative with the supplies! The heroes also showed parents around the studio, highlighting their own desks, the library, and the silhouette game (did you guess right?!) It was fun and lighthearted. On our exhibition reflection day, the heroes claimed they felt great about their work. One particularly funny reflection was, “my mom saw that I was distracting heroes and that wasn’t so fun” – it’s all a learning process! Once you know it, you can notice it and grow!

Hope you had a lovely weekend!

Beyond the typical book report

Week 3: Sept 14 – 18

Beyond the Typical Book Report

When it comes to book projects, there are so many ways for a hero to show their comprehension for books they read. That’s why ES heroes can choose from a growing list of book review options. In last week’s “New Inspiration in ES” blog, I listed the current book review methods for ES to choose from. Coming soon, several more methods will be added.


Reading her Deep Book


A bird’s eye view of Thomas Edison’s property is being created. This hero’s dedication to her diorama from “Who Was Thomas Edison?” is inspiring! She is making her diorama completely out of paper, tape, and glue.


Working on a slide presentation for a Boxcar Children mystery


More book review options coming soon:

  • write a sequel
  • write a new ending for the story
  • make a new book jacket for the book
  • create a book award
  • write an interview between you and a character
  • write a comic strip version of the book
  • make 3 drawings of important scenes from the book
  • create an illustrated timeline showing important events from the book
  • create a collage to tell about the book
  • create a mobile from items related to the story
  • create three postcards from one of the main characters
  • create a “10 Facts About [Book Title]” handout
  • write a letter to the main character asking questions about what took place in the story
  • create a Venn diagram to show similarities and differences in the traits of a main character and yourself


Other nuggets of gold from this week:

  • The heroes designed t-shirts and conducted multiple rounds of voting in order to select the design for the new ES t-shirt! During Town Hall Meeting, the heroes also created a plan B based on what the budget could afford.
  • The ES heroes conducted a reusable hand towel vs. paper towel debate (without whole-group practice). During the debate, one team brought up the facts that we use 66 paper towels per day at minimum (77 minimum if you add in going to the bathroom one time). They pointed out that this use of paper towels will quickly deplete our paper towel supply. At the end of the debate, the vote would determine the future of hand drying in the ES studio. Switching to individual rewashable hand towels won the most votes.
  • Thanks to everyone who was able to come the ES Exhibition with a LIVE Maker Play experience!


See you next week for the start of our Quest 1B!


one in heart and mind (Acts 4:32)

After talking with the heroes about our Scripture this week, I tried to draw out more of my understanding of the Scripture from the week. 

Our conversation helped my understanding and my hasty sketch reflects an understanding that Jesus can help bridge our different hearts and minds.  Compared to bumper stickers like “Think Good Thoughts,” this sketch suggests to me some persevering and deep ways that we can start to bring people together.  

We’ve been learning throughout our quest about tribe building.  One of the marks of the early Church that encountered Jesus is that they were “one in heart and mind.”  It goes on to say in Acts that they sold their goods and no one had need.  We started to build some common language in our school that can help us maintain our connection.  At the exhibition, Miss Cheryl talked about the ways that she saw heroes laying down their lives and their preferences; she testified about heroes that got low (in a foot washing way); and she described their one-ness as they overcame challenges throughout the three week Quest.  

And we are regularly adding to our one-ness as we welcome new heroes to Journey Academy.  On Thursday, Craig, Lauren and Asa joined our merry band. Asa jumped in right away to our Maker Play work.  Craig is returning to his old stomping grounds from Chicago for a next stage of his journey.  Lauren is starting her hero’s journey in a new city.  We welcome them and are excited to start on the journey with them.  

This word “one” brings me back to a particular moment in my history.  The year was 1997 and we were living in Brooklyn and U2 was going to be playing a concert fundraiser on Randall’s Island.  Despite the overcast day, it was a concert moment to remember. The song was One and I’m still hearing Bono singing “We get to carry each other, carry each other.” And I think initially that sounds taxing, frustrating and annoying.  But as I listen again, I realize what an honor it is.  What an honor it is to carry each other in this Journey Academy community.  What an honor it is to witness heroes carrying each other in these trying times.  What an honor it is to see parents sacrificially carrying their heroes as well as other heroes and their families.  And I think this is the possibility inherent in the word, one.  May we all be one in heart and mind.  

//Dr. T//

New Inspiration in ES

Week 2: Sept 8 – 11

New Inspiration in ES

Despite the wasps that were trying to overtake our playground, the heroes continued to grow together as a tribe. This week in ES included a few more tribe building team challenges, more Maker Play experiences, Chromebook Covenant creating, and Deep Book reading.


The Hula Hoop Lift team challenge proved to be harder than it sounded.


How can we work as a team and have a growth mindset to continue trying this frustrating challenge?


The day we watched a video of what Maker Play (“Anji Play”) looks like at one school in Anji, China, stirred up new inspiration in the heroes for their own use of Maker Play materials and space. I observed a greater joy and enthusiasm in their play and structure-building.

“I was inspired [from the anji play video] because those kids were so young, and yet they were working so hard.” – ES Hero

structure in process


Improvements to their house have taken place over the past weeks since the beginning of school. Despite having to taking down their creation after every Maker Play, these heroes pursue in revising their plan. This week, they utilized the fence and added a “no shoe” policy for their wood floor.


Counting catches. Written on a Character Callout: “Thank you for playing football with me.”


During Core Skills this week, the heroes picked out and began reading their Deep Books. Deep Books are “just right fit” books that are in the hero’s challenge zone. Each level in the ES studio has a variety of book genres to choose books from that will count towards their Reading Badge. Book reviews for each Deep Book are also learning evidence that is added to their “Badge Work” portfolio. Some heroes are part way through grade levels with their Deep Books and Deep Book reviews. Three Deep Book reviews were started this week.

The heroes have a variety of methods to choose for when creating a review (each method can only be used once per year).

  • song lyrics
  • diorama
  • board game
  • literary map
  • advent calendar
  • speech
  • character journal
  • slide presentation
  • movie script
  • video newscast
  • newspaper from page
  • magazine article
  • write a traditional book report
  • propose their own review idea


Other nuggets of gold from this week:

  • The TV was not connecting to the iPad. God answered our prayers through a growth mindset-focused hero who problem-solved for 30 minutes to fix the TV! Thank you, God, for providing help through a hero.
  • Miss Cheryl jammed the laminator by accident. A hero who enjoys helping others and trying new things voluntarily joined in the effort to fix it. We took the laminator apart, and worked together to find a solution to the jam.
  • During Town Hall Meeting, the heroes discussed more studio topics that were up for proposal.
  • A level 5 Hero collaborated with Miss Cheryl to edit and make changes to how badges are earned for each level in ES and what evidence of their work should be added to each hero’s badge work portfolio.


See you next week!

Celebrating Hard Work – Week 2.5

Week 2.5

Celebrating Hard Work

This week we spent lots of time refining and creating our 2020 – 2021 Hero’s Contract. The heroes all illustrated part of our contract to help us remember our expectations! They did a fantastic job capturing the meaning behind each guideline and putting it on paper! On Friday, we had our annual ceremony to celebrate the commitment each hero makes in signing the contract! We celebrated with lights, grape juice, and oreos!

Our fabulous ELS heroes after celebrating their commitment to following the Hero’s Contract!

Cheers with grape juice to a great tribe and an exciting new year!

Maker Play

This week in maker play the heroes embraced the sandboxes! They started a sand castle building competition using large paper tubes as megaphones and wildflowers as decorations! One particularly beautiful moment was when a few heroes were experiencing some frustration during Maker Play, and they suggested that there be a special “Friendship Bridge” for Maker Play! These heroes continue to take responsibility for their words and actions! We also spent some time writing our “Play Stories” and sharing them with each other after maker play. To see the recordings of these play stories, click here!

Double bunk beds for story telling!

“I’m a doll in a dollhouse!”

Sand castle team number one!

Sand castle team number 2!

The sand castle judges!

The great organizer in the ELS! He spent his maker play time organizing all the materials!

Enjoy your weekend!


Wash one another’s feet. (John 13:14)

The Gospel of John focused more than half of its attention on the last week of Jesus, paying particular attention to His last words.  Departure as well as passing away often brings forth important lessons meant to be imparted.  This week, we wrote and drew in our Hero’s Notebooks about verse fourteen from the thirteenth chapter of John.

In Jesus’ day, fashion boots and Pharrell Trainers were not the rule.  Sandals and dusty roads led to less than savory lower extremities; and washing them was the image that Jesus wanted to imprint on his disciple heroes. Serving, getting low and meeting a felt need were all part of our rabbi’s exhortation.    

Washing feet might not be the same felt need in our historical moment. I washed Will’s and Holden’s foot just to demonstrate for the heroes.  But as we practice the way of Jesus, we’re called to find felt needs all around us.  Taking the least desirable job during a studio cleanup could be the felt need.  Listening to someone who is lonely and hurting could be the felt need.  Choosing to be kind rather than be right could be meeting the felt need.  We learned this week about humbling ourselves and serving.  We’re in the second full week of Tribe Building at Journey Academy.  It’s taken a lot of communication, empathy, problem solving and humble service to grow as a tribe.  

After two weeks of wrangling, the EL Studio signed and celebrated their studio contract. This contract, a covenant of sorts, is an understood promise of how the ELS wants to learn together.  Often times, it will involve reflection, repentance and reconciliation as heroes forget their promises to each other and to Ms. Sarah.  This type of “getting low” service to each other is what is going to build this tribe strong.  We’ll unveil contracts next week. But today we are celebrating yet another way that we can serve each other as we seek to find His calling and change the world at Journey Academy.  

One way that I’m trying to serve is to spend some of my time hand writing letters of encouragement, gratitude and connection to heroes, parents and friends.  I was inspired by Andy Smarick’s essay in Commentary.  His project is to hand write a letter each day for the next year.   It has been a lovely discipline for me in August.  I invite you to consider joining me in writing letters.  

Whatever your way to serve, please know that your washing will bring Jesus much glory and in the process (at least in mine), you may find your heart surprisingly refreshed. May we all know and celebrate this washing.  

//Dr. T//

We Journey Together Week 1.5

We Journey Together

Week 1.5 Unifying

This past week in the ELS we spent time learning about The Hero’s Journey, and learning how to show grace for each other as we journey together this school year. As we spend more time growing as a team, we are crafting our hero contract to hold each other accountable. And, all the while, spending more time learning how to communicate, think critically, problem solve, and get creative!

Here are a few nuggets of gold from our week! (Pictures here!)

  • We are in full swing of practicing our new procedures and man, do these heroes catch on quick! By Tuesday, the heroes were nestled in to their desired learning areas for core skills and focused for the entire time!
  • This week in town hall meeting, Carter mentioned a desire to transition our space from tables to desks. He proposed that this would help keep the heroes organized, the cubbies clean, and help the heroes take better care of each other as they do not share work spaces throughout the day. The rest of the heroes obliged and now, the studio looks quite different, but still very Journey!
  • The wind proved to be quite the obstacle during maker play! The heroes grew frustrated with materials blowing away or falling over, but persevered and found creative ways to overcome the wind obstacle!
  • We began creating “play stories” after maker play to reflect about the time spent outside. These stories were so fun to hear as the heroes gave us access to their imaginations!
  • Because we are a few sessions into maker play, the heroes hit a point of boredom. This boredom didn’t last long as the heroes were given time to get creative with their time! Soon, there was a discovery of new materials in the shed that were not noticed before and more creativity in the sand boxes!
  • The Hero’s Journey poster looks a little different this year! The heroes who were at school on Friday spent time thinking critically about how they would illustrate and describe the different parts of the journey. This led to creative illustrations and short videos with QR codes in our room to help guide us in understanding what this hero’s journey is all about!


Hope you had a wonderful long weekend!