Jonathan C. W. Jones is a seasoned award winning educator and founder of Ideation4, working with educators, schools, districts, nonprofit professionals and under resourced communities through grant workshops, coaching, consulting and innovation. Currently he’s working on a philanthropic innovation called UpLIFT, dedicated to celebrating black male educators in the USA.

Daniel (00:03): If a racist bully picked you out of a crowd and decided that he wanted a whoop your butt, what would you do? Would you run, would you stay in your ground? Would you try to take a smaller kid and throw them in front of you? Who knows? But I will tell you this, today's guest, Jonathan, he had the courage and he stood up to that bully. What he didn't realize was in that moment that other kids would see him as a leader. As he grew up, they would come to him to handle the heavy situations, to do the heavy lifting. I'm excited to unpack that story and really focus on black male educators throughout today's episode. Hey, it's Daniel and welcome to the better leaders, better schools, podcast, a show for Ruckus Makers, those out of the box leaders making change happen in education. We'll be right back after these messages from our show's sponsors.

Daniel (00:59): How you lead to become a resilient and empowered change agent with Harvard certificate in school management and leadership learn from Harvard business and education school faculty. While you collaborate with a global network of fellow school leaders apply today@hgse.me/leader. That's @hgse.me/leader. Hey,

Daniel (01:26): Ruckus Maker, my friends over at SMART have developed a research back tool that will show you not only your strengths and weaknesses, but where you should strategically focus your energy in order to drive better results for your students. This tool is called the ed tech assessment tool, and you can take it@smarttech.com / profile. Take the ed tech assessment tool@smarttech.com/profile. All students have an opportunity to succeed with organized binder who equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning. Whether that's in a distance hybrid or traditional educational setting, learn more@organizedbinder.com.

Daniel (02:14): Today I'm joined by Jonathan C.W. Jones, a seasoned award-winning educator and founder of Ideation4, Working with educators, schools, districts, nonprofit professionals, and under-resourced communities through grant workshops, coaching consulting, and innovation. Currently he's working on a philanthropic innovation called Uplift dedicated to celebrate and black male educators in the USA. Jonathan, welcome to the show. Thank you very much. Glad to be here. So at 19 you realize you're a leader, Jonathan, I love that story you shared with me already. You're on campus. You start to combat racial unrest. Can you explain how you were a catalyst for change on campus?

Jonathan (03:00): Yeah, in 1993, very similar to times that are going on right now, there is a lot of racial unrest in the country, for example in 1993 there was the beating of Rodney King, California, and in Minnesota there's a lot, a lot of racial unrest in my high school. I had experienced some racial episodes earlier on in my junior high where I basically stood up to a racist bully. I got beat up in the locker room and my peers who were around me at the time, long story short, kind of turned their backs literally and physically in the situation. I stood my ground and stood up to a bully, even though I got beat up and because of that, I think that kind of set me up as kind of like a conduit between my peers and the administration when I moved on into high school.

Jonathan (04:00): I had the same peers I had in high school where the same peers that experienced that racial episode that I experienced early on in sixth grade. Given that there are a lot of episodes that happened in that school. So a lot of times my peers actually came to me and said, what should I do such and such happened. Somebody wrote on my locker, what do I do? I'm mad, I'm angry and just the whole, what do I do? How I processed this situation was really kind of the conversation between myself and my peers. At that point I would be the kind of the student who informed the admin that these episodes happened. After experiencing several episodes, I decided myself and a few of my friends decided to create an organization, an after school organization, a club and it's called the Roselle Ethnic Alliance.

Jonathan (04:49): The whole purpose of the club was for us to come together to be in a safe place and to explore our own ethnic identities, our backgrounds, and to share that with each other., To go on field trips with each other to different centers to learn about different cultures. From that experience with my peersI came up with an idea to have a cultural diversity day. So at the age of 19 and actually at the age of 18, just prior to my 19th birthday birthday, I wrote my first proposal. It was basically a proposal that I had to present verbally and also in writing to the teachers of my school. I was asking them to suspend the curriculum for one school day for the purpose of celebrating and focusing on the many diverse cultures that were in our school.

Jonathan (05:43): I immediately got the sign off from the principal. The principal said, okay, you have to come to the all staff meeting and present it. So, it was significant for me because I was the type of student that did just enough to get by. I was a C /D student. I wasn't a B student. I did just enough to get by, but yet on the flip side, I was also a student who wrote this proposal and then presented it to the teachers. It was very scary to be quite honest but despite the fear, I was more focused on wanting to make this idea come to life.

Daniel (06:21): If I'm hearing the story correctly for standing up for yourself, stand up for what was right at a very young age in sixth grade, and this leadership was thrust upon you. Your peers saw you as the spokesperson, the person to go to because you demonstrated great courage in that moment. And that led to other opportunities to sort of flex those leadership muscles culminating with this great day that you set up. The proposal was accepted and then you're leading it, right. Like you said, a C/D student just getting by facilitating and organizing a high level school wide event, which is pretty amazing. You told me when the principal showed up that day I don't know. I thought it was kind of funny, but what was he like when he showed up to the doors? He came and looked at you, Jonathan, what'd he say?

Jonathan (07:16): Yeah, he did. The day of the library became the central, the focal point of the day and the check-in space for everybody, for the community who was coming in to do workshops, to the volunteers, to the parents, to the students who were helping run different sessions. I'm in the library and early, I don't remember how early I got there, but I was the first person in the door, pretty much and about an hour later, the principal came into the library and literally asked me, where am I supposed to be? And without hesitation, I knew exactly where he was supposed to be, you're supposed to be in room second, such teacher so-and-so is going to be with you in a few minutes and your session's going to run this long. He said, okay, thank you and he walked out and at that moment it was kind of, it was very surreal because I knew I literally was the principal for the school.

Daniel (08:10): Yeah. Right. That's beautiful. Jonathan let's talk to the Ruckus Maker, listening, who is leading a school, you had this leadership mantle put on you, you are already involved, I think with the admin, it sounds like you propose the event. How can a school leader listening right now be proactive to maybe uncover or discover that "Jonathan" that exists within their community but might not be as proactive to you as you have been.

Jonathan (08:42): That's a great question. I think the first part that you put in there is being receptive in knowing that you have students in your midst that may want and have the skillset to aspire, to want to be a leader in some capacity in the school, and really kind of looking for having an open eye for wanting to find kind of diamonds in the rough, if you will, or students who kind of fly under the radar. I think sometimes students that fly under the radar, may have more to offer than what they're necessarily showing. Openness to see students outside of their grade, that they may currently have, or consistently showing and see them more as a whole student. Yes, their grade is a reflection to some extent of who they are, but it's not who they are completely. So, being receptive to that and being open to really trying to connect and the other piece is really trying to be receptive and also wanting to connect with students. I think that's big to me as an educator. I think that is probably the most important thing is a leader who wants to connect with the students that he's working with and providing a service to.

Daniel (10:01): Do you have any creative ideas around what that connection might look like? I'm not trying to make it more difficult or make it too simple too, but just a practical idea for a Ruckus Maker to do and take action on

Jonathan (10:17): A practical idea would be, I would say one, being genuine and being authentic, I think that's huge. What I mean by that is as being yourself and being open and honest, and sometimes being a little vulnerable sometimes, especially on a high school level with students and saying and showing that you are, yes, you may be a principal, you are a leader admin, but you're also a person that has experienced lots of things and sharing some of those experiences. It allows you to be a little bit more vulnerable and helps humanize you as a leader. When students see that they may be apt to do more of the same and also share more of themselves with you.

Daniel (10:59): That's perfect. Thank you for the practical advice. So one of your superpowers, Jonathan, like mine, turning ideas into reality, and that's a role a Ruckus Maker, probably a listener to this show knows that, but when you become a principal, it's not necessarily on the job description, you need to turn ideas into reality, but riff a little bit on how you do this, right? What works for you?

Jonathan (11:25): For me, I am, you have to be aware of who you are as an individual and how and how do you learn? You have to have an understanding of what is your metacognition and how do you think you have to have an idea how you process, and for me, I know that I'm a visual learner. So the first step for me, always for the most part is I'm usually doodling and drawing stuff, drawing out ideas, drawing maps, connecting and stuff. I need to see it visually first or sketch it out and then kind of add the details to it, if that makes sense. As a visual learner, I rely heavily on creating something visual to help me mold the purpose of what it may be, the additional details. Oh, yeah. So it's very much to me like Legos. My son is a Lego builder.

Jonathan (12:15): I'm a Lego builder. I love building things with Legos, because there's something about you taking those pieces and putting them together visually and saying, yep, this could go here. So having that, I'm kind of going off on a little tangent a little bit. I apologize, but that Lego piece is very, very relative to who I am as a learner. So knowing who you are as a learner, what's your learning style and how are you developing? How do you develop your own ideas? And if you don't know how you develop your own ideas, that's something to look into

Daniel (12:45): As a leader. Thanks for that. Jonathan, I'd like to switch gears a bit and started talking about the black male educator experience. Can you share some of the hurdles that black male educators face within the system of school?

Jonathan (12:59): I'll share one that I'll start with. The idea that I can, and on the flip side of that, the idea that I can't, or I'm stupid and I'm starting there because for me, that's kind of an underlying one that connects to some of my why and what, and why I do the work I do. I grew up as a kid thinking I was not smart and feeling I was not smart. At the same time I had this thought in my head, but wait a minute, I know I'm smart. I had these dueling ideas in my head, in my mind that, wait, I think I am, I'm smart. I might be smart. But at the same time, I may have a feeling that I'm dumb. How do you rectify that? How does a kid rectify that? I start with that first, because that's key.

Jonathan (13:45): I think that's one thing that a lot of kids, particularly students of color are faced with. It's not just students of color either, but I think that's something, a commonality across a lot of students. A student is not going to come up to you and tell you that I feel dumb. If they do, it's because they trust you and they have a connection with you, but 9 times out of 10, you're not going to know those non-visual things behind the scenes with a student's development. Can you rephrase the question again?

Daniel (14:18): Yeah, for sure. I appreciate you talking a bit about the student experience. Sometimes it's called the imposter syndrome, but I think what you're mentioning is specific to, to the black experience, I'm curious as well if there's things happening from a systemic level where the dueling that feeds that dueling identity. Maybe we can go there. I know the question I was asking wasn't that, but that I'm interested in that from a school systems level. Was there anything you were receiving that made you have these dueling identities?

Jonathan (14:56): I think coming into the city, coming into the system, like my first year, I don't think I had to deal with a lot of some of the negative system pieces. I know when I came into a couple of school districts, one of the pieces that I know that I dealt with personally was feeling isolated at first. I came into a school district and I felt it was great. I found out that I was the first black licensed teacher in this program, blah, blah, blah. That at first that feels great. All right, I'm the first, great. As time goes on, it's like, wait a second. Where's everybody else? Where are the other black male educators like me? I'm not the only one and then dealing with that whole tokenism idea.

Jonathan (15:35): The fact that, 'Oh, well, we've hired, Jonathan and we're meeting our cultural diversity initiative because we've hired one black male educator. Dealing with some of those nuances and a lot of those nuances that stem off from that is being questioned as a black male educator. When I came into the field, I didn't tell people that I had a master's degree when I came in. When I started my first year teaching, I already had a master's degree because I got my undergrad and then I went and got my master's degree, but I didn't tell people that. I just didn't because I didn't feel I needed to. I knew that I was passionate and I knew that I was smart enough to do the job.

Jonathan (16:16): I had the training to be able to do the job, but coming into the field, one of the things. Going through that whole experience of being a token black staff at a couple school districts really was challenging. I mean, it was challenging because you get some of those questions from the other staff members. Oh, so what school did you go to and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Do you have a license? It's just some of the questions that I went through, those things were hard. Those were hard because I'm sitting thinking, okay, I'm not asking you about your credentials. I'm not asking you about your background. So it's like, the first thing is like, 'Okay, do they think I'm dumb?'

Jonathan (16:58): It goes back to that whole idea of am I dumb and then resurfacing and going through and thinking, am I dumb? No, wait a minute. I know I'm not because I've already gone through that and resolved that in my life. The fact that you're getting some of these questions about your background and your training can bring up some of those experiences that I had. I know I'm talking a lot about just me, but I do think that some of the things that I have gone through are some of the things that just in general, black male, black teachers in general go through, especially if they are the only, the only one in a school building or a school district. People questioning their credentials, questioning their background. I mean, in essence, it boils down, to me, like someone asking you, are you smart enough to be here? Why are you here?

Daniel (17:47): What they're saying is you're not qualified. Are you here? So I appreciate you sharing your educator experience. You talked about the student experience and then as an adult, as an educator, it's important to hear. The Ruckus Maker listening, I hope they have enough awareness that they see these things and can do something about it. My wife is Zimbabwean,one question I never get when I travel is where you from, people don't ask that. Right. When I was living overseas, they wanted to know where, because they could hear the accent but in the US nobody asks me where I'm from. That just never comes up. But for her, it's asked all the time because underneath it's do you belong here?

Daniel (18:33): Like, why are you here?The question that I definitely never get that she always gets? Where are you from? And she will answer that. But, No, where are you really from? Like, okay. So this is just crazy. I'm glad we talked about it a bit because hopefully people grow in their awareness and understand some of the stuff that you just don't experience as a white educator. I appreciate you sharing your story. Jon, we're going to pause here just for a second, for a message from our sponsors. When we get back to things we really need to discuss what's been helpful in your experience in terms of the systems and organization to combat some of these racist undertones. We got to dig into the Uplift publications. So that's up next,

Daniel (19:26): Transform how you lead to become a resilient and empowered change agent with Harvard's online certificate in school management and leadership grow your professional network with a global cohort of fellow school leaders. As you collaborate in case studies bridging the fields of education in business applied today@hgse.me/leader. That's @hgse.me/leader.

Daniel (19:57): Smart has an incredible research bag tool that allows you as a leader to self assess your capabilities at the school level or broader to help you with planning and prioritizing, discover your strengths and best area of focus across five different modules, including leadership and remote learning. The tool inspires collaboration with your colleagues and provides massive value. Whether you complete one or all five in the modules, you'll get a personalized report that shows where you stack up against other Ruckus Makers and map some areas of focus that will have the greatest impact for you. Take 10 minutes and get started with this ed tech assessment tool. Today, I suggest beginning with the strategic leadership module, check it out@smarttech.com/profile. That's smarttech.com/profile. Today's show is brought to you by Organized Binder. Organized Binder develops the skills and habits all students need for success during these uncertain times of distance learning and hybrid education settings, organized binder, equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning routines so that all students have an opportunity to succeed, whether at home or in the classroom. Learn more @organizedbinder.com.

Daniel (21:19): We're back with Jonathan C.W. Jones, the founder of Ideation4, and we were just unpacking some of his student experience and then experience as an educator, a crazy question that somebody like Jonathan would get, are you credentialed? Where did you go to school? Which is this bonkers? Those are negative examples. I hope that you've experienced some positive examples, too. What have been some things that a school system or organization has done that that's been helpful for you as a black male educator?

Jonathan (21:54): I can. A perfect example would be a few years ago I decided that I wanted to go after my principals K-12 license. I was like, okay, I'm ready to be a principal. Prior to that decision, I had the opportunity. I had a supervisor at a district who provided me the opportunity to pull me off to the side one day. We kind of were talking about the development of the program, the school programming and elements that he needed to address as a principal and some gap areas that he needed some help with. He pulled me off and asked me the question he goes, have you thought about school leadership? My immediate response was yes,I definitely plan to enroll in a program and get my license and continue moving up the trajectory in education.

Jonathan (22:42): He pulled me off to the side and asked me what were some of my interests? He provided me the opportunity to say, well, I want you to consider being one of our leads for the program. I need help in a few different things. I was in a building that had actually three different programs in the building and he lost one of his leads in one of the programs. It was at the start of the school year,when he lost this individual and he said, I need somebody to help with the scheduling before. Not even being in an admin program. I had no idea that scheduling was going to be one of those components that I hit on in my admin classes. He provided me the opportunity to lead in that capacity for that particular program.

Jonathan (23:22): That individual was receptive to the fact that I wanted to continue my growth as an educational leader and then pulled me off to the side and just had that kind of intimate question that conversation about, what are your aspirations? Do you want to stay in the classroom or are you looking at doing some administrative work? He provided that opportunity.I would say opportunity to lead and opportunity to lead with meaning. Not just a title, just what are the tasks, what's the jobs that you want me to do? He wanted me to specifically look at some of the scheduling pieces for some of the students and how that program was running the schedule. How they were scheduling their educational assistants and really looking at the program. Does it make sense for both the students and the staff, this schedule because he had questions about it. We made some modifications and made some changes with that. I mean, that's a small example, but it's also, it's actually a big, a big example because he came to me to ask and he didn't ask anybody else. That's one example that comes to mind.

Daniel (24:24): That one too, because the leader's taken an interest in you, where do you want to go? What experiences do you want to have? How can I support that? In the Mastermind, I read ahead of the community so that I can vet books and make sure we have high quality materials within it. I'm reading the radical, the book called Radical Candor right now. We'll link that up for listeners in the show notes, but I can't suggest that you pick it up highly enough. It's a great, great book. It's about just what it sounds like, how to communicate,in an honest, transparent way. It also talks about the importance of really understanding the dreams and the goals and the motivations of your people. So that's something you spoke to there, so appreciate you sharing that. Uplift publication, that's something that you're doing these days and how we got connected as well? Tell the Ruckus Maker listening what Uplift publication is all about.

Jonathan (25:29): Uplift. I'm going to pull it out here and if you don't mind, I'm going to actually read the mission to be clear and then kind of then go and then expand a little bit. Yeah, please do. So the mission Uplift is dedicated to celebrating black male educators across the USA. For us, by us combining vivid visuals and reflections and combating oppressive experiences through its innovative affinity movement. So a few years ago, I had the idea of thinking about how we celebrate specifically black male educators because several years ago I've always been interested in knowing more about the recruitment and retention of black male educators in the field of education. Partly because I am a black male educator, but also because we have significantly low numbers in the country, we have about 2% of all educators are black male educators, which is unacceptable, it's unacceptable.

Jonathan (26:27): I've always wanted to be a part of something a little bit larger than myself, a movement, if you will. That helps to try to kind of really examine that and do something about trying to increase those numbers because I can't remember what article I read, it was about a year ago, came out in the news about the significance of having a black male educator specifically in the classrooms and how students of color in particular benefit from that and how their achievement improved just by having that experience with a black male educator. In addition to that, the simple fact that kids in general, from any culture would benefit from having a black male educator for a host of reasons. Given that I wanted to do something that really kind of celebrated and uplifted some of the work of individuals that I knew about in the country who were doing amazing things.

Jonathan (27:20): I wanted to create a circle if you will, that I could be part of to help Uplift and also learn from. My inaugural issue came out this past fall in September, and it highlights 40 black male educators from across the country. We have individuals like Dr. Travis Bristow, who is the leading researcher and recruitment and retention of black male educators in the country. It has individuals who are educational assistants, who are novice teachers, who are seasoned teachers. We have principals, we have assistant principals, we have a superintendent of schools. We also have some higher ed individuals because I want to include them as well, because I didn't want to exclude them because I feel that they're part of that continuum of learning that needed to be included and celebrated. So given that I came up with a design for the publication and basically it has a brief little bio and a high quality photo of the individual, kind of telling them a little bit about their background, kind of a resume if you will.

Jonathan (28:29): The other piece that is in there is some reflections on their experience as a black male growing up in the field of education and also a black male working in the field of education. So, there's some reflective questions that they responded to. That's also included in the publication and we're looking, we're already geared up to we're actually doing promotion now to encourage folks to apply. When I did the first edition, it took me a couple of months to put it together. I decided to give myself a full year of planning because we're using a cohort model. What I mean by that is that not only will the folks that are selected for the next edition be in the publication, but I also want to create a sense of kind of a community.

Jonathan (29:18): I decided I wanted to continue doing some sessions with the cohorts, for example the first cohort had an opportunity to have a virtual session with principal Kafele, who is an author, a well-renowned well-respected black male educator and leader. We asked him if he would come on and share some uplifting messages for 15 minutes. He gave us an hour and 30 minutes of his time. It was right after George Floyd was killed so people were really depressed and frustrated and angry still, and still processing that whole experience. To have him come on and provide some words of wisdom and encouragement was priceless. I want to continue that in the next coming publications is not only having this publication to highlight their work, but also convene together on issues that are important to us.

Daniel (30:17): When you're talking about the cohort and the application, that's for some of the creative minds that will create content for the publication and what I'm hearing is there's some development components. You're definitely helping people get to the next level, as well as being a part of that cohort. Anything you want to mention in terms of fundraising before we get to the last two questions.

Jonathan (30:41): Oh yeah. Probably in the new year we'll be doing kicking off our fundraising campaign, which will help with the next edition of the publication with some of the editing and some of the behind the scenes stuff. We'll be doing a fundraiser that we'll be able to go online to ideation4.com and be able to donate towards the cause. What I haven't shared an important piece is that in addition to doing the fundraising, we also will be taking a portion of the proceeds for any of the publications that are sold will be set aside to actually provide micro grants to these same educators. So that's the whole philanthropic piece is that we want to give back to these same educators in a meaningful way by establishing a fund that they control and they distribute.

Daniel (31:28): Yeah. I love that, that vision for Uplift publication as well. Well, I ask all my guests and you've been wonderful, Jonathan, same, two questions to close out every conversation. First one is what message would you put on all school marquees across the globe, if you could do so for just a day.

Jonathan (31:47): I can, we can, you can, even, if you feel you can't, that would be my message.

Daniel (32:00): Powerful, and you're building a school from the ground up. You're not limited by any resources. Your only limitation is your imagination. How would you build your dream school and what would be your top three priorities?

Jonathan (32:13): So my top three priorities really revolve around establishing systems. The first system will be a system that would allow me to recruit black educators from historical black colleges and universities from around the country. Having a system in place for mentoring and the mentoring would have two components. One would be a mentoring component that was for students and teachers and one would be for teacher to teacher, pairing them up to helping them to grow for students and teacher components would be looking at not only their academics, but also their life in general and looking outside of just a school wall. Helping them to prepare them for life for the teachers would be, how can I better be, how can, how can I become a better educator? Also what are my aspirations as an educator? So that will be the focus of the mentoring on the third piece.

Jonathan (33:07): The underlying piece I would say is really creating, not just a system, but a culture that really focuses around culture. We talk, there's a lot of talk right now about within schools. It's about culturally responsive teaching. Well, what is that I want, I would want to have a building that everything we do would revolve around that. Who am I as an individual? Who are my teachers as individuals? What is their background? What is their cultural identity? How do they self identify? And then sharing that with the students that we work with, and also helping students to uncover who they're, who they are as individuals and what's their cultural identity and uplifting that. So recognizing our history and also really focusing on how can we actually practically work on checking our own biases? How can we actually do this on a day-to-day basis on an individual basis, as an educator and as students, how can we really learn? How do we think, how do we process and how do we check our own thinking? Those will be the three pieces that I would really want to focus on.

Daniel (34:09): Jonathan, Thank you so much for being a part of the better leaders, better schools, podcast of all the things we talked about today, what's the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember? You can, you can. Thanks for listening to the better leaders, better schools podcast for Ruckus Makers. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel @betterleadersbetterschools.com or hit me up on Twitter @alienearbud. If the better leaders better schools podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter @alienearbud and using the #BLBS level up your leadership at better leaders, better schools.com and talk to you next time until then class dismissed.

Show Highlights

  • Turning ideas into reality. Be a catalyst for change
  • Hurdles black male educators face
  • UpLIFT your black male teacher with this cohort
  • Systems and organization to combat racist undertones
  • How school leaders can uncover or discover that “Jonathan” within their community
  • Practical ideas for a Ruckus Makers to take action on racial unrest
  • Be a Lego builder of learning


Jonathan C. W. Jones: Uplifting black male educators

“Students that fly under the radar have more to offer than what they’re necessarily showing. Openness to see students outside of their grade that they may currently have, or consistently showing. See them more as a whole student. Yes, their grade is a reflection to some extent of who they are, but it’s not who they are completely.”

Jonathan C. W. Jones



Transform how you lead to become a resilient and empowered change agent with Harvard’s online Certificate in School Management and Leadership. Grow your professional network with a global cohort of fellow school leaders as you collaborate in case studies bridging the fields of education and business. Apply today at http://hgse.me/leader.


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