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Tag Archives | discipleship

GUEST POST: When Small Groups Aren’t Working

I love small groups! In fact, the church I serve at also loves small groups so much that they say we are not a church that does small groups; we are a church OF small groups. Small groups are a very important piece of the discipleship ministry in our student ministries department and as we are ready to end our small group season for the summer, I am already brainstorming for next year. In my planning I began to think, what happens when they don’t work? I say this because I have found that for some of our students, especially high school guys, small groups isn’t always something that they are willing to jump into. Of course this is always difficult for me because if I had it my way everyone would be involved in a small group ministry. So, what is the reason for pushback towards small groups? For some they may still not be at a place to make that commitment, or perhaps there is a lack of trust with a smaller community, perhaps they just don’t like small groups or maybe they are just comfortable showing up to our weekly outreach programs and leaving it at that. But here is the problem, if you are like me and the main piece of your discipleship ministry is small groups, then I think we would all be missing out if we just simply left these students in a place where discipleship is not happening because they are not showing up to a small group ministry.

So what can we do in this situation?

Here are a few thoughts:

Create different avenues for discipleship to happen
Don’t just rely on small groups to be the only option for discipleship to happen in your ministry. Create some different ways for students to connect in a discipleship context. Remember, everyone is wired differently. We are currently working on a 3 to 1 mentor/discipleship ministry where every youth worker is a mentor to 3 students. When we run out of team members to assign to students we line them up with mentors in the church. This may not work best in your context but continue to think outside the box to reach those who are missing out on discipleship.

Ask students what is keeping them from joining a small group
In my first two years of youth ministry I worked so hard to best serve students without ever asking them how I could better serve them. Sometimes we need to just sit down for coffee or lunch or go for a walk and ask students what is keeping them from joining. Maybe they are uncomfortable with small groups, but perhaps it’s scheduling, or the lack of transportation. Be sure to understand why a student is not getting more involved if they are at the point you think they should be committing more. Remember, ministry is relational; we cannot just guess and assume we know everything. And, if you’re going to be honest in your asking, allow room for the students to be honest in answering and prepare yourself to hear something you might not want to hear.

When something doesn’t work, no matter how many times God has proven faithful, I’m human and I still often panic rather than bringing the situation to God. If your small group ministry is not going like you hoped, perhaps it’s time to amp up your prayer for guidance in your leadership but also in the hearts of the students. We need to continue to pray for our students and for their hearts toward God.

Continue to over promote
You can say something 7 times to a group of people 7 different ways and many of them will still miss out. Be sure to always over communicate small groups, how to sign up, who the leaders are, where they are held, why they are important. If you really believe small group ministry is important than over communicate that importance.

As I start planning for next year I am hoping that we can find everyone where they are at and provide ways to encourage them to grow closer to Christ. These are just some of my ideas. What are some suggestions or ideas that you have to help with small groups when they are not working as planned? Please share below!

Kevin Klas has been in youth ministry for 10 years. He is currently the director of student ministries at Lake City Community Church in Lakewood, WA.

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HSM Challenge Videos

HSM challenge is something we are going to give a try for a while. It’s something we want to try to help with discipleship on our weekend services. We were thinking on how we can help challenge and disciple our students in a practical way during the midweek and we came up with the “HSM Challenge” videos.

They are pretty simple. they are a quick recap of the weekend message and some practical ways in which students are challenged midweek to live out what Jesus calls us to do. Students text in to our text system (Duffled) a key word, and they are put on the list to receive these videos weekly. The response was great and we had quite a few students sign up already.

I’m really excited to see what will happen with these videos as we adjust, tweek, and develop this more!

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Embracing the uncomfortable

One thing that really strikes me in American culture is the emphasis on comfort.

The fact that you can get your mail from your mail box by driving up to it

The unbelievable amount of drive thru restaurants

The fact that your groceries are being bagged for you

The whole concept of drive thru pharmacies

Grocery stores that are open 24/7

Every family member old enough to drive usually has his/her own car

These are just a few of the things that stand out to me, coming from another country and another culture. American society is arranged in a way to get everything done as comfortably as possible (except for the IRS maybe – but I haven’t been in a country where paying taxes is comfortable!). It has become an essential element of the culture: embracing the comfortable.


But life with Jesus is anything but comfortable. It’s messy, it’s challenging, it’s frustrating, and at times it’s acutely uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely worth it, but it’s not easy and nice. Unless you teach your students that uncomfortable can be good, unless you teach them to embrace the uncomfortable, being a disciple will be mighty hard for them.

It’s one of the things I love about mission trips. They are almost by definition uncomfortable. The same holds true for serving projects outside your church, for instance in homeless shelters, foster homes, or care facilities.

How comfortable is your youth ministry and what could you do to prepare your students for the reality of an uncomfortable life with Jesus?

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Jesus’ Group Was A Mess & It Gives Me Hope

Do you feel like your small group is a hot mess? Me too. Doesn’t it discourage you a little bit? Me too. Sometimes I wonder if anything I am doing is taking effect in my students lives at all. Sometimes, if I am being honest, I wonder if God is working inside them. Is that bad? It’s the truth, I think those things and my bet is: so do you.

Though sometimes I do feel like small group is doing no where I can take a look at Jesus’ small group and see his group was a hot mess as well. Take a look at some things the disciples did:

  • Peter rebuked Jesus for saying He was wrong about Him dying. (Mark 8)
  • Jesus came back at Peter because He was over stepping God’s will and saying dumb, human things. (Mark 8)
  • Thomas doubted faith, Jesus and the resurrection. (John 20)
  • Peter got heated and said things that were not correct. (Almost every time Peter spoke in the Gospels)
  • The disciples fought among themselves during group time. (Luke 22)
  • Jesus called out behavior of his disciples. (Mark 9)
  • Peter denied Jesus. (John 18)
  • They didn’t understand when Jesus taught certain things. (When he taught about his death and resurrection)
  • They fell asleep during prayer. (Matthew 26)

I’m sure you get my point. Even Jesus’ group was dysfunctional and all over the place and I am sure there were moments of frustration, just like in our small groups. But the one thing I think we can learn from Jesus when it comes to leading His group was that even in the moments of craziness and dysfunctional behavior, He didn’t let that limit His view of what they could become and did become. He took a group of guys who messed up and they spent a ton of time together, and it gets messy just like our small groups but Jesus saw what they were becoming and the process was messy.

Same with our small groups. They are messy. It is years of process. Try and see what they can become. Try to see who they are becoming in Jesus. If you can’t, pray for God to give you patience and that God is working in their lives even if you cannot see it in the moment. The disciples were messed up people just like us, just like our students, but they had a leader who stuck with them, taught them, guided them, and was able to see the fruit of their work and His work in them. I believe the same happens when we are faithful to Jesus, we are faithful and patient with our students despite not seeing results at the moment, but praying for what they can become in Christ and see the effect they have in the lives of the people around them in the future.

This is what is exciting about the messiness of small groups. This is what is exciting with looking at Jesus’ group and when we can look at ours as well.

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I’m Not Good at Spiritual Retreats

Once a season I try to get away for a spiritual retreat day. No writing, no texting, no meetings, no people around at all. Sometimes it is to a place of solace like the beach, other times it is just holing up in a coffee shop out of the church’s reach. Sometimes it involves music, sometimes (rarely if I’m honest) does it involve solitude and silence.

Here’s the thing – I’m no good at retreats! I like people. I love busy places, packed schedules and the pace of ministry and life. I’m sure there’s deep insecurity and vulnerability I’m trying to hide in all of that … but I’m also smart enough to know that everything has it’s place. So last Friday I dropped off the grid for a little while. To help us disconnect, my friend Jessica wrote and adapted some really great exercises for this day of retreat. I loved her guiding words at the top of the guide, and thought I would share them with you, too:

• Take your time. There isn’t a lot of ‘content’ because taking your time with each prompt is important.

• Try not to find immediate meaning in your experience. Simply present yourself before God asking Him to help you be open to whatever He desires to give you during (and beyond) this time.

• Distractions. If you find you are distracted by other thoughts or priorities, attend to those first and then begin this portion of the retreat. Attending to the concerns of your heart before entering into this material will allow you to truly focus on this portion of your retreat, rather than continually being drawn to other things in your heart.

• Consider the definition of retreat. The definition of retreat is: the setting aside of an extra-ordinary amount of time to do something for the sake of your soul at an intensity and duration that your ordinary lifestyle doesn’t permit. Remember this definition (repeat it if you must) as you retreat with God.

• Enjoy the presence of God!

Have you ever taken a spiritual retreat? Was it helpful?


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Discipleship = Time + Relationships

Matthew 28:18-20 – “Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’”.

I have been thinking a lot about discipleship lately. It’s hard. It’s so worth it. I have been thinking about how I myself have become a disciple of Jesus. I have been thinking about how we as a ministry are making sure we discipling students in a way that they would be making other disciples. My office mate and I were talking and he said something pretty great which got me thinking. He said, “I’m not concerned with how many students we baptize, I’m concerned with how many of those we baptize end up baptizing others. How do we get better in this?” Such a great question isn’t it? It’s a challenge we all need to take seriously and step back and look at how we are doing this.

Looking at what a disciple is: 1) someone who is willing to “go”. They knew what they saw about Jesus and had to go out and tell others about Him. We need to make sure our students KNOW what they believe to go out and tell others. 2) Disciples challenge others who believe to be baptized. While baptism is not what saves a person, it is the public confession of allegiance to Christ and willingness to enter into Christian discipleship. 3) a disciple reproduces themselves. While only some believers are gifted in teaching, all believers are called to share what they know about Jesus with others growing in their knowledge of Christ.

So what does this look like for you? How can you measure this in your ministry? I don’t know. I do believe that our small groups are the beginning of where many disciples are started but we always need to be striving to be better. I just know it takes a lot of time and it mostly stems out of a lot of relationships. As I look back on my own journey of discipleship, I can pin point certain people who were instrumental in my faith. They time they spent with me and the things they talked to me about regarding my faith made me who I am today and I’m grateful. Those people were Greg Tisor, who I used to volunteer for and now is a senior pastor and Mike Brook, who is now the college pastor here at Saddleback. They spent so much time and intentional in their relationship with me pointing me to Jesus.

I’m sure many of us can look at our stories and realize the same thing. There was a lot of time and a relationship in which helped us turn towards Jesus even more and I would love to hear your stories! DYM is a family and how do you get to know your family better? You share stories, so share in the comments below:

 How did you become a disciple?

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How To Disciple Like Jesus

When we look at the Gospels we can see clearly Jesus had a small group. He had 12 disciples. Out of this group there was life change, but not only life change but world change. I am currently reading through the Gospels right now and one of the things that stands out to me about how Jesus disciples his group and others around Him was how many questions he asked. His disciples would ask Him a question and He would answer with a question. At first I thought, “How annoying?” But as I began to think about it, it is genius. Getting people to even think about the questions they ask helps to get them to the answer that they are looking for.

We disciple most like Jesus when we learn how to ask our students great questions.

I have tried this the past few weeks with my own small group. They would ask a question and then I would answer with a question back. They would get frustrated because they want the easy answer but what I found is that they would begin to verbally process through the question and they would land on the answer they were looking for. We can readily give them the quick and easy answer but they won’t truly learn. I think if we as a leaders want to try to model after Jesus and how he discipled His group, we need to make our students work towards the answers they are seeking after by asking them better questions to get them thinking about their faith in Jesus.

Learn how to ask great questions and I think we will begin to see how students learn how to follow Jesus better.

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Always Have Something Handy

I want to read blogs but don’t have time. I want to read that awesome new book but can’t seem to be able to fit it in. I want to be a leader who reads, but who’s got time? I want to grow … but I’m too busy helping everyone else grow. Help!

Now, I actually haven’t ever heard people say those things; we think but don’t verbalize I’m sure. Plus everyone else seems to have figured it out by themselves! So I wanted to share with you how I find great blog posts, how I read great books, and how I record what I’m learning. It as simple this: always have something handy.

One of the cheats I’ve used for a long time to help stretch my time is to always keep a tool or resource handy. I want to be a learner, I want to grow and I need to be continually developed. Rarely do I have time to just dive into a book for an extended time, so I do these simple but strategic things:

Get a great RSS reader
I love Newsbar for the iPhone/Mac that automatically syncs all of the feeds that I subscribe to like magic! It quickly goes back and forth with what I’ve read or not across all of my devices. Really it is a simple little app that keeps me in sync with 250+ blogs that I follow every day. I can quickly scan them all, scroll through a few and dive deeply into 1 or two. Grow by keeping a reader app handy!

Always keep a book in the car
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been stuck in the car after dropping off one of my kids or waiting for something to wrap up. Often times I waste time on Jetpack Joyride or Flappy Bird, but a great investment is to knock out a few pages of a book. Grow by keeping a book in the driver’s side door! David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell is my current jam.

Keep a journal in your laptop bag
A great for you to grow is to record your learnings! Process a problem, manage to do lists, write down a list of failures or a list of improvements you need to make. Moleskin for the win, skip technology on this one. Keeping a journal handy will help you grow!

Call to connect with a mentor
Sometimes when you have a little downtime it’s a great chance to steal a few minutes with a mentor in your life. Because phone is so precious, having a few minutes keeps the connection fresh but also gives both parties an out. I know sometimes when I call someone they decline because they think hours instead of minutes. Don’t have access to a mentor? Get a virtual one by subscribing to a great youth ministry podcast and become part of the team!

So those are a few of my methods to grow in the moments since that’s about all I’ve got to work with. What do you keep handy to help you grow?


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6 Ways to Encourage Small Group Students to Take a Next Step

Here are a few simple ways to help students take a next step in their spiritual growth. We want our small group leaders to help students grow on their own:

Think About the Individual
The large group setting is a more objective, big picture look at Scripture that challenges crowd students. A small group setting is totally subjective, allowing students to be challenged individually because they are known, loved and cared for. A small group leader can think about the individual by reflecting how God has been moving in their hearts. Maybe even replay discussions you’ve had with your students over the past month. Then suggest a resource that fits where God is already moving their heart.

Personalize a Resource
When you find the right resource, take time to write a note in the front of it. Make it personal to them, share you heart why you wanted them to have it and speak into the future you see for them. When you hand a resource to someone, it says a lot – but why not say even a little more and jot a few thoughts inside the cover.

Encourage a Small Step
Last week, we learned to celebrate any step forward in building a relational ministry. A baby step is still a step forward, and sometimes we have to remember that spiritual growth doesn’t come in leaps and bounds. Sometimes, the small steps are huge to a student, encourage a step, no matter the size.

Encourage a Big Step
Blow their mind with something out of their league. Think bigger than they think of themselves. Believe in them enough to challenge them to bite off something huge. Tell them they are up for the challenge and think they can do it. Who knows, it might be just what they need for a burst of spiritual formation.

Offer to go through the study/book/resource with them
What if you did it alongside them, too? Help them know you are serious by offering to walk down the path a little ways with them. Maybe it is reading a few chapters with them, maybe serving together for a few weeks, or texting back and forth with questions and thoughts about what they are reading. “Grow on your own” doesn’t release us from helping students journey some of it together.

Check in after a few weeks
Giving resources away to students and encouraging them to grow is what we’re all about. But better leadership is to offer some accountability and checking in on their progress. The accountability encourages an expectation that they can and will get through this, and you are partnering with them in these steps of the spiritual journey.

Next steps in spiritual growth aren’t easy, but they can be life-changing. What other ways can small group leaders encourage students to take a “next step” in their spiritual growth?


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4 Reasons Why We Have Small Groups

Last week I posted about the purpose of our youth group services, thought it might be good to followup with a post about they “why” of small groups as well. Our overarching philosophy is that we want students not to just be exposed to the purposes of the church (that’s the large group) but also have them experience them first-hand. This makes our Life Groups so critical to the discipleship process. Here’s a breakdown of why we do small groups:

A couple of weeks out of the month, the small group does significant and intentional Bible study. The leaders prepares a lesson selected from the materials provided/approved by the ministry, and concentrate on helping their students grow in Christian education and faith.

Throughout the month, the small group leader checks in on their students’ spiritual disciplines and holds them accountable to growing on their own. The idea here is to gently disciple students to a faith that they can take with them beyond high school. The leader looks for spiritual conversations and opportunities to challenge a student personally. Tons of resources are close at hand to help a student take a spiritual step forward.

At least once a quarter, maybe as often as once a month, the entire group spends time serving together. Care for one of the student’s teachers that lost a spouse recently, serve at a local shelter, help someone with yard work, adopt a city block, visit a home for the elderly. The ministry provide tons of options and ideas, but each group has the flexibility and freedom to create their own monthly service project.

Take the night off! Pool party, lazer tag, pizza buffet, world series of poker marathon, sledding – whatever, it doesn’t really matter. Just something super fun and community – no agenda, just life on life happening.


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Download Youth Ministry WEBshow #236 w/Duffy Robbins

Another week, another episode of the Download Youth Ministry Show! This week special guest Duffy Robbins joins the crew! We talk about youth ministry for 45 minutes every week or two, your questions answered every time. Just enough youth ministry so you don’t feel guilty for listening.

As always, thanks to our amazing sponsors who help with incredible giveaways:

Send in your questions to webshow@downloadyouthministry.com to be answered on a future show, too!

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Saddleback HSM Weekend in Review: Volume 239


Weekend Teaching Series: Be
Sermon in a Sentence: God’s plan is for us to be spiritually healthy, transformed into His image, not confirmed to the world.
Service Length: 58 minutes

Understandable Message: This weekend we had video teaching of Kurt Jonhston doing the opening talk of the student version of the campaign. He did a great job introducing the theme of the series and it was fun having a student edit the video all together. The message centered around 6 habits that spiritually healthy people do:

  • Hanging out with God
  • Attending church
  • Being generous
  • Investing in Christian friendships
  • Telling my story
  • Serving others

Element of Fun/Positive Environment: This weekend we played the classic game Is It Really in the Bible? and had so much fun continuing our Olympic-themed game series. We’re starting to get into Winter Formal season, but lots of students were there and serving in lots of areas. Continually impressed by the greeting team creating a friendly environment.

Music Playlist: Alive, Dancing Generation, Closer, Your Love is Enough

Favorite Moment: It was a pretty straightforward weekend, my favorite moment was having the Rwanda missions trip team on stage for commissioning and prayer. A great example to the students in the audience and powerful moment for the students going!

Up next: Worship Together Weekend 50 Days of Transformation (church-wide campaign, week 2 of 7)

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First 2 Years: You Own the Small Group!


Once a year (usually around the new year), I throw a wrench in our small group calendar. Adapted from our You Own the Weekend series, I dedicate a month or so to have my small group be run by the students!

It is one of the most fun things that my group does and we look forward to it every year! I group them into pairs and assign them a passage of scripture (usually there is a theme, like parables or miracles). When it is their week, they are responsible for several things: bringing the snack, running “highs and lows,” leading the lesson, and overseeing prayer requests at the end. Of course I help prep them during the week leading up, but once small group starts it is all them!

Here are a couple reasons why I keep bringing it back:

-It is fun! You Own the Small Group (YOTSG) is a blast and allows students to express themselves and their creativity. Last year, when a group was teaching about the vine and branches, they brought in this HUGE tree branch, shears, fruit–everything! While it was super messy, it was super fun! The things that they do when they teach help make some really special memories.

-It helps the group. If you have ever worked in customer service, you find yourself having extra patience and saying thank you much more often when you go to restaurants. You do that because you know what it is like to deal with how crazy customers can be. This is the same principle. After leading their week, students know what it is like to try to get the group to listen and respect each other and how hard it can be to get people to participate. Students come out of it being a more productive and well-behaved student in group. It pushes them to take ownership in the group.

What are some things that you do to mix up small group?

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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Resolutions That Will Not Fade Away

With the new year comes resolutions that we all know will fade. All of the gyms in the country will be empty and barren by January 20th and Starbuck’s won’t have to order extra non-fat milk because everyone will go back to their normal drink. The new year always comes with ideas of new and change in our lives. Same thing with ministry. There are new dreams, prayers, products, games, stuff that are on the cutting edge. Maybe you will try them out and maybe they will help your ministry and maybe you will discover that that thing did not work for your context of ministry. It’s all about trying it out and seeing what works and how God moves through it.

When it comes to ministry, I think new things are great. I love trying new things and re-thinking ways to attempt something. But sometimes “old” still works. Here are some “old” things that have been around for a long, long time I think will never stop being successful with students and us leading them in groups. These are new year resolutions that won’t die out and they will always work.

Leader Spiritual Life – When the leader is spiritually healthy, chances are the ministry is not too far behind. There are so many things we let get in the way of our spiritual growth because it’s “ministry” related. Don’t let business keep you from being spirtually healthy and don’t let business hold you back so you can hold your ministry back. It’s a cliche, but “Speed of the leader speed of the team” and I’ll add “Speed of the ministry”.

Caring Adults – Having a team of caring adults who also pour into your students of your ministry will never go out of style and it will not ever fail. The more Godly voices we have pouring into our students the better. We know this. When a student can come to services or a small group and literally feel the love from many caring adult leaders, it’s a win. Keep building it. Keep adding them.

One-on-One Conversations – Services are great. Sermons are great. Camps are great. Events are great. But what makes them awesome are the opportunities they provide for one-on-one conversations with students. It’s the conversations we have with students that make the difference. That is where the discipleship happens. And just a side note: the more caring adults you have, the more one-on-one conversations you can have more often.

Teaching Jesus – The Gospel will never die out. It never fails. As long as we teach teaching the Good News of Jesus we will keep seeing student’s lives change. I’m addicted to life change, as I’m sure you are as well. Keep it Jesus-centered in teaching and curriculum and I’m sure this year we will see many lives changed by God.

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First 2 Years: 4 Secrets to Listening Better


I’ve been really passionate about listening recently. Mainly because there aren’t that many people that do it. One problem is that I don’t think people know how to listen well. The other problem is that I don’t think people understand the power of listening well. I used to think that I was a great listener until I had two incredible and life-giving conversations with a mentor of mine that changed everything for me. Not just in how I encountered my own brokenness, but in how I encountered the brokenness of others. Here are four of the qualities I have noticed in great listeners:

Be slow to speak. We are in ministry for a lot of reasons, one being our addiction to life change. We love seeing students’ testimonies unfold before our eyes. But the problem with that is we sometimes try to cut corners and expedite the process. When students tell us about an issue, we can be quick to give life advice and layout a plan to make it all better. But most times, people are just looking for someone to listen to them. Let them ask you for advice. Have them talk far more than you. Some of the best conversations I’ve had were with people that spoke maybe 15% of the time.

Make them your world.  One of the most valuable things you can give someone is your time, but we cheapen that gift when we aren’t fully present. Whether it is checking your phone every five minutes or thinking about what you need to get done next, it can be such a struggle to make someone our world for just an hour. You want someone to open up to you? Be all in.

Ask Questions. Two of the biggest needs teenagers (and people in general) have are to feel known and to feel understood. One of the best ways to help meet these needs is to ask intentional questions. Ask questions that lead to discovery and for you to better understand them and for them to better understand themselves. In the midst of tragedy most people aren’t great at identifying their thoughts and feelings, so ask questions that help navigate them towards some kind of clarity.

Find the “why?” There is always a reason behind what we do. Never settle for what’s on the surface. It is impossible to compartmentalize our lives. Everything is connected to everything. So when something like an anger issue surfaces, the actual problem isn’t the student acting out, the real problem is something much bigger.  Find that “bigger” thing.

What are some qualities that you would add to this list?

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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