Episode #180: Will McDonough

Dana GoodierOut of the Trenches Podcast

Recently named one of the Global Forum on Education and Learning (GFEL) “Top 100 Visionaries in Education” for the year 2020, Will McDonough is an educator, author, diversity practitioner, speaker and thought leader who was raised in a one-room schoolhouse in the mountains of northern New Hampshire. As the child of a street performing juggler/storyteller and a teacher of the deaf and blind, Will combines stories and joy with the educational experiences of those around him.

Educated at Middlebury College, Will focused his history and education studies on Black revolution, as well as the role of Puritan ministers in their racist vilification of native peoples. Will earned his M.Ed. from University of Illinois in Global Studies in Educational Policy, Organization and Leadership. His Master’s Thesis examined the post-Apartheid Citizenship-based education movement in South Africa.

A longtime Program and Leadership Director at YMCA Camp Belknap (Wolfeboro, NH), Will founded and directed Standing Rock Camp, which provided a faith-based model of manhood for young men in need of mentorship. Focusing on the model of a “tender warrior,” Standing Rock Camp centered the importance of accepting responsibility, rejecting passivity, and leading courageously. Will is the author of four books, including The Things We Shared in the Time We Had: A Letter to my Students, and Pause Together: a Handbook for Humans.

Currently, Will works at The Country School (Madison, CT) where he is Director of Community Engagement, as well as a 7th and 8th grade

history teacher, advisor, and Cross-Country Coach. Will loves maps, running, and spending time outside with his family. He and his partner Nicole have three children and live in Guilford, CT.

Trench story: when he thinks about role as a teacher and educator, he thinks about how teachers gave him good role model Has thought that being a t is a beautiful practice. No competition like on sports field. Nature of being in field of educator is immersed with goodness. Immersed in messiness of being human. Overcoming own struggles. Overcoming own ADD. Creating systems that he has to figure out how to teach executive functioning skills to 7-8th graders. Asking self- was I positive role model, good listener, did I foster a sense of belonging in the classroom?  Trenches is getting done, closing door to the classroom.

Talk about your experience learning from your parents who teacher of the deaf/blind, how did that lead to you wanting to be an educator yourself? No one does it become famous. It makes sense to start at beginning of his journey. Parents were curious people. Pursuit of learning was paramount. Lowered barriers made connections. When dad was street performer, he was attuned to spirit of engaging w/ others. Used humor, laughter, improv. Mom taught deaf & blind- there are ppl who are both. Mom’s experience, degree was in deafness. Will has spent time w/ them- so much of education is experiential. PBL, walking through the woods. Young 7 y.o. boy felt thunder, saw lightning. Asked “was there a sound”?  He asked, “what sound does a rainbow make?” He had so much inquiry, fascination. So beneficial to Will differentiating for LD/ opportunities to engage with learners who learn other ways. 

How he got involved working at the camp-Standing Rock Camp. Focusing on the model of a “tender warrior,” He grew going to camp in NH. Worked there 10 yrs. Fell in love with pace of education. You’re so tired at the end of the day. Fulfilled. Took break, spend 1 final year, took summers off, then missed it. Kids didn’t get evolution of what’s next for me as a young adult. They started the camp, Was first director. Created an atmosphere that felt like a brotherhood. 1 campfire, classroom, diversity of ages. Started in 2015, was tuition-free. Invited those who didn’t have male role model. No application processes. Word of mouth. 1st session, 5 nights, 15 boys. Throughout the process talked about being a tender warrior. Wanted to talk about parts that are hard. Lasted for 3 years- couldn’t commit to being FT camp director. Put pause on it. Now have network of volunteer staff, young men. It wasn’t a $-making investing. Experience in creating a camp, trainings, etc. without long-term gain was a thrill & bolstered confidence. Saying yes to something, saw it into fruiting. Is Director of Comm. Engagement. He loves meeting with people outside of school. Don’t limit self to what you’ve seen previously. Edu philosophy- connections between humans. Relationships with others. Has transitioned to a new school this year. so not the same school as when was in the camp. Is a “rookie” in the community. Underestimated how much he’d transformed in 15 yrs. You forget how much you change during that time. He’s prioritized convos.   

You’ve been writing a blog/process of writing, has been writing on Medium as well (last updated fall ‘20)-switched jobs, so with own time management will get back to it. Publication from Medium.com featured on his website. He’s very improvisational. Created systems to be organized. Doesn’t come naturally. With writing was missing self-reflection. He needed a way to process what he was learning from students. They’re our greatest teachers. He wanted to reflect back on what students were teaching him. Every system wrote for 30 m, published after 30 m. Every week- thought about what was going to write about next Thurs. On runs, etc. Spouse is a life coach. She reflects a lot. Finding ppl who challenge him is important. He’s found it great when students model that same reflective process. Each day writes 2 letters to students. High five from Mr. McDonough. Wanted to hack writing into daily routine. For own time-management. Parents appreciate it. When he writes grade comments, child already know he believes in them. 

Key quotes? For so many people right now, it feels like there’s not enough time. Pace is quickening, he has to relearn that there is way to use time better. Click To Tweet Centering ourselves. Asking ? is there time for me to reflect throughout the day? There is time, we think so much about Chronos time. Kairos- opportune time that you can do something. Schools are so built on schedule.

Find Will online on Twitter @mrmcdonough www.will-mcdonough.com 

IG @wsmcdonough 

View this episode on Youtube: https://youtu.be/kCpESSt8eQc


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