A Heart in the Write Place

Brad HughesBlog, Engage Better, Innovate Better, Self Care Better


  • This article is an interview with Dennis Mathew—an author, innovator, and speech-language pathologist in Oklahoma.
  • We can’t ignore racism and things that are not right in the world, but we can bring the light.
  • Dennis makes sure healing is infused into all of his works and that they can easily be used in the classroom setting.
  • Self-discovery is a lifelong process.

Hello again, Reader!

This is Brad Hughes, school principal and Chief Encouragement Officer from Ontario, Canada.

I’m excited you’re here for a look ahead to Episode 28 of The Good News, Brad News Podcast, with my guest, the multi-talented, Dennis Mathew—a husband, father, elementary school speech-language pathologist, singer-songwriter, and author from Mustang, Oklahoma, U.S.A.

Dennis has been connecting with students in schools and through non-profit work for over 20 years. In 2018, he launched his authorship with Bello the Cello, followed by My Wild First Day of School, and How Grizzly Found Gratitude. He is also a singer-songwriter with a music album for schools called “The Let’s Roar Experience.” Dennis’ books, school visits, and performances bring social-emotional learning, critical thinking, conflict resolution, and character development to life.

Dennis’s reach and influence are growing. His books and music have reached tens of thousands of students, and he continues to interact daily with educators from all corners of the world. Even so, Dennis describes himself as just a guy who’s still figuring out his story and his role in the world.

I spoke with Dennis about his growth as a creator and difference-maker for kids. Here are some highlights of our conversation:

A Crossroads Moment

With about four months left to graduate from my Master’s program in speech pathology, I was focused on a future in the clinical and medical setting. But state law required a placement in a school, so for the last few months of my program, I was placed at Mustang Creek Elementary School, right down the street from me.

Now, I had no intention of working in the education setting. And man, just a week later into that rotation, I was like, “I think I’ve found my calling. I think I want to work with children for the foreseeable future.”

I mean, there were clues all along the way that I was gifted at working with children. Even going back to seven or eight years old, I had a way with babies and little children. I could pick up a fussy baby and they would just calm down in my presence.

I feel like as life goes on, the pieces start coming together. Life has a way of telling us what the clues are. But up until we arrive at those crossroads moments, the past does not quite come calling to us. This was a crossroads moment, and I felt the need to step into my purpose and into my calling.

Life has a way of telling us what the clues are. This was a crossroads moment, and I felt the need to step into my purpose & into my calling. - @booksbydennis Click To Tweet

Off the Shelf

I went on to work at Mustang Creek for seven more years. It was just a magical place. It’s the stuff that feeds Disney and Pixar movies, fantasy stories, and fairy tales.

I found myself saying, “Man, if I could capture this energy in the building and put it into a book…” I had that thought, but I shelved it, and went on doing speech pathology.

It was years later, during a miserable season of unemployment, that the thought I had shelved came back to me. That idea for a book.

Now, I had no idea how to make a book, but I remember thinking, Just let me just do something with it. I’m just going to open my laptop and just start typing the story I have in my mind. I ended up with a beginning, middle, and end for this story called Bello the Cello. I connected with a writing coach who walked me through what it takes to make a good story. My story became a manuscript, and then, with my publisher and illustrator, it became an illustrated book, now with over 10,000 copies sold!

Seeds of Healing

My audiences will tell you I don’t skirt around the need for healing in our world—I just go for it! I have some very deep conversations with my student audiences. Their antennas are onto the fact that we live in a broken world, and that positive thinking and optimistic outlooks alone, without intentional concrete strategies behind them, won’t do us any good.

Students are onto the fact that we live in a broken world, and that positive thinking without concrete strategies won't do us any good. - @booksbydennis Click To Tweet

There’s no more need for turning a blind eye to racism, or the lack of equity in our practices, or access to resources for our children or families or parents, right? There are issues going on in this world and we need strategies and tools to navigate those issues.

A line in one of my songs asks, Will you be light in the darkest places? When I sing it out, I’m planting these seeds in the minds of children and saying, Yes, there’s a lot wrong in the world, but there’s also a lot right. The world has lots of pockets of darkness…but guess what? You and I can be light.

I’m planting those seeds in the lives of little ones to say, Listen, the future is bright because you’re taking it on.

Bloom Where You’re Planted

I want to stay planted at local elementary schools because, when I write, I want to stay connected to everyday boots on the ground—teachers, librarians, counselors, principals, special educators—and have my hand on the pulse of what’s happening in the classroom today.

Trauma-informed practices, social-emotional learning, growth mindsets—I touch on these things in my stories and songs so that teachers can then easily pull it into the classroom and use it as curriculum.

I make sure that healing is inserted into all of my work: my books, my music, and my practice. The everyday classroom teacher—and the students that are the underdogs in his or her classroom—are the hearts that I’m trying to reach with my message.

The everyday classroom teacher, and the students that are the underdogs in their classrooms, are the hearts that I'm trying to reach. - @booksbydennis Click To Tweet [scroll down to keep reading]

No Off-Switch

It’s like all my roles—husband, father, caregiver, speech pathologist—have just kind of spilled into my authorship and songwriting. For me, it’s all about discovering my own voice—discovering myself in the songs and books that I write. Even in my own profession, I’m discovering deeper levels of who Dennis Mathew is.

What it has taught me is, no matter your age, you never get to that place of, ‘I’ve arrived.’ If we keep an open and humble heart, I feel like there’s no off-switch for the blessings or opportunities we’re supposed to be introduced to.

I’m planting those seeds in the lives of little ones to say, ‘Listen, the future is bright because you're taking it on.’ - @booksbydennis Click To Tweet


Be sure to check out my full conversation with Dennis Mathew, coming soon in Episode 28 of The Good News, Brad News Podcast.

Connect with Dennis!

Web: www.booksbydennis.com
Twitter: @booksbydennis
Instagram: @storiesbydennis

About Brad Hughes

Brad is an elementary school principal in Ontario, Canada with over 25 years’ experience in education. He is currently at Forest Hill Public School in the Waterloo Region District School Board. Before school leadership, Brad taught for 16 years in classrooms from Kindergarten to eighth grade, most recently teaching middle school Visual Arts, French and Special Education.

Brad is a certified Self-Reg School Champion and has an ongoing commitment to reframing the joys and challenges of school life through a Self-Reg lens. He’s passionate about improving kids’ lives by loving and supporting the adults that serve them.

Brad is a Training & Development Specialist with the Teach Better Team, an Admin Mastermind Mentor, and the host of The Good News, Brad News Podcast on the Teach Better Podcast Network. You can also catch Brad with Rae Hughart Friday mornings at 7 ET/6 CT on the Teach Better Daily Drop In morning show.