Featuring Thomas Nelson High School in Bardstown, KY.

A little history...

Thomas Nelson will begin its fifth year as a school for the 2016-17 school year. The administration and staff has worked extremely hard to create a culture of CARE. They have based their culture on the popular book, written by Seth Godin, The Purple Cow. In his book, he discusses standing out from all other cows and to create remarkable products that are risky and people seek out. They also have embraced the "Yes" mentality, Fly Closer to the Sun, and Fly and Defy.

Points of View

Wes Bradley, the principal at Thomas Nelson High School, brought up the difference between the two terms, rebel vs. rebellion, and I couldn’t agree more from the perspective of an administrator.  

Mr. Bradley stated,
I think the idea of being a “rebel” can be easily misconstrued and become associated with individualism. In turn, the notion of “rebel” becomes more about the individual identity and ego rather than a collective effort to create the future we want. Plus, you really achieve nothing alone.

I think a better vision is one of shared “rebellion.” The notion of cultural rebellion is founded upon an assumption that we can move beyond what is and create a future that is more aligned to our shared set of values. A shared “rebellion” is an act of courage to create something meaningful together. To alter the course of the present.

Sounds like a perfect world. However, I know many of us are in schools where the leadership is satisfied with the present... What should be done then? The question I am asking myself… Can I, an educator, make a difference in the leadership’s mindset?

Curt Merrifield, an educator at Thomas Nelson, describes a rebel as an educator who “leaves your comfort zone and what feels safe.” He continues on to say, “We all have the ability to create amazing art, whether it be through our lessons, classroom culture, classroom management procedures, etc. To be a rebel in education you must first be confident in yourself and your abilities to spread your wings and innovate.”

Once again, sounds like a perfect world. However, I know many of us are in schools where the educators are satisfied with the present… What should be done then? The question I am left with… Can I inspire others to step out?

What are the benefits?

Common Grounds: Growth.

When asked this question, Mr. Bradley and Mr. Merrifield, wholeheartedly believe that the force is found in growth.

Unfortunately, creating an education “rebellion” is founded upon dissatisfaction with the current state of education. Indeed, there appears to be an innate human capacity to fall in line with the status quo and not “rebel.” Thus, nearly all growth efforts stem from rebellion. The benefits of rebellion are most immediately - learning and growth. Just because you “rebel” doesn’t necessarily mean greater student outcomes, but it should lead to deeper learning and an opportunity for long-term growth. I think this is why the importance of “shared rebellion” is essential. The more shared intelligence within a group the better the stronger ideas that emerge as a function of the rebellion. ~Mr. Bradley

Resisting convention and leaving your comfort zone are two necessities for growth as an educator. It is easy for students, whether we believe so or not, to identify teachers who are going through the motions and playing it safe. This can have deleterious effects to students learning and growth as a an individual. If we ask our students time and time again to leave their comfort zones and step out on a ledge we better be practicing what we preach, or it is just a hollow request. I think the biggest benefit in being a rebel in education is that it fosters growth, ingenuity, and positive risk taking inside the classroom. If you are actively working to reinvent what is ordinary into what can be extraordinary, your students will work to do the same. ~Mr. Merrifield

This question led both of these extraordinary educators, asked at different times and places, to growth. Mr. Bradley took more of a holistic view, whereas, Mr. Merrifield, took a inside-the-classroom view. This answer, to me, is powerful because I can feel the passion and guidance that is present at Thomas Nelson.

What does a “rebellion” look like at TNHS?

As a school...
According to Mr. Bradley,
I feel like our greatest form of rebellion at Thomas Nelson has been through intentional development of CARE culture through our House structure. Our teachers have a shared rebellion against deficiencies and work to develop authentic interaction with students. We strive to have a “Gift Mindset” and look for the positives in each other and our students. It is human nature to get caught up in deficiency. It is ingrained in us to worry about what we don’t have - our rebellion is one that focuses on what we do have and that goes a long way in building our shared capacity to create the future that we want for ourselves professionally and our students.

As an educator...
According to Mr. Merrifield,
I consider my administrators to be some of the most inventive rebels I know. They are independent-minded people who challenge themselves to reinvent the systems in place in a deliberate process to better our students, school, and community. This process also allows my colleagues and me the flexibility to create our own systems and the freedom to think anew.

Thomas Nelson has a "rebellion" atmosphere...

Never Finished

Should we ever be satisfied? I know at one time in my career, I was complacent… I used the same lesson plans that I had used for several years in a row, I didn’t do much professional reading or research, I didn’t attend professional developments. I was satisfied. Reflecting on that time span, I was going through the motions. I still taught my students. My test scores showed growth. However, I lacked a spark...a passion… Why? I was satisfied. Now, I want more: to know more, to learn more; to be more. The difference? I am dissatisfied.

Mr. Bradley summed it up as… “...rebellion is a constant work in progress, we are always working to shape culture. If you’re dissatisfied with your present, you’re no different. Grab some friends and you’re on your way to creating a shared rebellion. It’s always more fun that way.” and Mr. Merrifield, “This mentality that I’ve coined “always pushing, never pushy” has lead to my enormous growth as a teacher as well as the confidence to continue in my rebel ways. Even us rebels need others to push us from time to time to reach our ultimate goals!”

What does rebellion mean for us, as educators on special assignment?
What does rebellion mean for our students, as learners on special assignment?

A special Thank-You to Wes Bradley and Curt Merrifield on their insight and inspiration! You both, along with the staff and students represent TNHS so well. #flyanddefy


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