Superintendent, Speaker, and Aspiring Author. Connection > Conformity.
Meet Travis Jordan
TRAVIS JORDAN is a husband, father of four, superintendent, education commissioner, speaker, aspiring author, conformity breaker, and status quo shaker. He currently oversees learning for about 750 students at Beulah Public Schools in Beulah, North Dakota, which is located in coal country — go Miners!
From Tragedy Into Transformative Culture
In 2010, Travis began his first principal position. Early into the school year, one of his students tragically ended her own life. It was profoundly saddening, and he knows he will have to work through doubts around this incident for a long time to come.
But the situation has also shaped his leadership focus in education in a positive way — it’s put him on a mission to put connection over content and make the needs of the whole child the top priority. This story also reminds him that even on his very worst days, there are kids who are likely having worse days or dealing with addictions, mental illness, or other challenges.
Be Real, Feel, and Help Others Heal
Speaking to this tweet, Travis points out that as educators, we’re going to have our tough challenges and dark times. No one at any level is immune to problems. But “fake it until you make it” is not a good enough strategy.
Instead, let’s be real, and feel, and let others help us heal. It’s okay to be human, so rather than paste a fake smile on our faces every day, it’s not a bad thing to share the reality of our lives with our students. In fact, it’s a good thing for our learners to model what it is to work through adversity.
What Leadership in Education Should Look Like
When you speak with a manager of people, you get the feeling that they are important. But when you speak with a good leader, you get the feeling that YOU are important.
Education leaders must lead with conviction and empathy. Great leaders talk less and listen more, criticize less and praise more, reject less and empower more. “I want my principals to encourage, empower, and empathize with everyone they work with on a daily basis.”
Leadership also requires humility: leaders shouldn’t be afraid to admit they don’t know and ask for directions. Travis is thankful and proud for the three principals at Beulah Schools that model all of these traits so well.
What Travis is Passionate About at Beulah Today
One of the things that Travis is most proud of from this past school year is a new behavioral mental health program that they’ve put into place for their schools. It’s a cooperation with a local clinic, and it’s brought new health professionals right into the school that can offer new and better services for students struggling with anxiety or mental illness at any age.
Travis is also seeking to make changes to high school graduation requirements that would allow for more flexibility. Students shouldn’t be forced to take high-level classes that they know they won’t need, he says. Instead, he’s seeking to offer full recognition for personalized internship opportunities (grounded in core skills and competencies) that would create new paths to graduation for learners.
A Professional Goal
Travis has just finished writing a book, and he was in the early stages of publishing at the time of this interview. The title will be Connection Over Conformity, and it focuses on building schools that value people over programs, putting the cultivation of relationships in over anything else.
Academic research and data can be little more than DATA — Doesn’t Actually Tell us Anything. Instead, what educators want and need are resources that meet them exactly where they are.
Personal Passions Away from Education
Between his work as superintendent and his roles of husband and father of four, Travis doesn’t have a ton of time for personal hobbies and pursuits. He is a sports fan and enjoys coaching basketball and golf, and he also feels fueled by the moments he gets to spend taking his kids to their sporting events and cheering them on.
Voices and Resources That Inspire His Practice
Over in books, Travis endorses Fail Until You Don’t: Fight Grind Repeat by Bobby Bones. This book has reminded Travis that practical, accessible language can make for great reading. Authors don’t need to retreat to the esoteric to be helpful!
On YouTube, Travis is watching a channel called Zach Hample. It features a guy who collects baseballs from major league baseball stadiums, and it’s been a fun way for the family to connect.
We sign off on this fun conversation, and Travis gives us the best ways to connect with him online. See below for details.