#164 – Igniting the Fire: Inspiring Students and Educators, with Kevin Honeycutt

Unpacking Education March 8, 2023 57 min

Kevin Honeycutt, a teacher, author, and motivational speaker, comes from a challenging childhood that included poverty and homelessness. Throughout his career, he has used these experiences as both motivation and inspiration. He draws upon stories, music, and unique experiences to help students and educators see a path forward, even when things feel dark and hopeless. Join us as Kevin weaves his stories into meaningful messages of inspiration, purpose, and difference-making.

Read a transcript of this episode.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Teachers have three loves: love of learning, love of learners, and the love of bringing the first two loves together.

Scott Hayden, an American composer of ragtime music


The following resources are available from AVID and on AVID Open Access to explore related topics in more depth:

Making a Difference

Kevin Honeycutt reflects on why he wrote Midnight Run, a book about his challenging childhood, saying, “What I knew I had to do was build a road map, so kids could read this road map and maybe see their way out.” Throughout the book, he talks about what he has learned from each childhood memory. He uses his past struggles to make a difference for his students—a difference that will make their futures better.

Throughout our conversation, Kevin challenges educators to see the students we teach and to meet them where they are. He insists, “You’ve gotta find a way to know your kids. You gotta know your kids.” Through strong relationships, we can see what our students need, and we can empower them to take ownership of their own learning and write their own stories. The following are a few highlights from our conversation:

  • About Our Guest: Kevin Honeycutt is an author, technology integrationist, and staff developer from Colorado Springs, Colorado. He spent 13 years teaching K–12 art and now travels the country and the world sharing ideas with educators.
  • Midnight Run: Kevin wrote this book about surviving a difficult childhood. It includes stories accompanied by the lessons learned from each. Kevin says, “I’m from trauma,” and much of the book depicts a challenging childhood, homelessness, and a father who was a con man.
  • A Unique Book Writing Experience: Because he has dyslexia, Kevin used speech-to-text technology to “talk” the book. He shares that he wrote it in a simple style, saying, “I wrote it so junior high kids could feel smart reading it.” The book can be downloaded for free from his website.
  • Encouraging Students to Write: Just as Kevin wrote his story, he encourages students to write their own books. He says, “What is your reality? Share it. Share it with fidelity. It’s okay. You can be where you’re from. You don’t have to be where you’re from. Right? Turn that into your truth. Into your poetry. Into your slam poetry. Into your song. Into your rap. Into your work ethic. Into your drive. Into your ambition. Into your future. Don’t waste pain. Paint with it.” He explains that this is what he does. “I don’t waste pain. I tell the story, and I use it for rocket fuel. And I’m telling kids they can do the same thing.”
  • Mountain Climbing Analogy: Kevin shares many stories that serve as parables or analogies to help make a point. One of these analogies is that we need to help kids climb their mountains—to help them escape the base camp of their everyday lives and climb to something better. We need to help them find pitons, or climbing spikes, to help them make it to the top. Each role model, dream, goal, or aspiration is a piton that they can hold onto as they climb.
  • Going the Extra Mile for Kids: One thing is immediately clear about Kevin: He loves kids and goes the extra mile for them. He tells the story of going to a student’s foster home to bring her back to school after she skipped his class. She used a chair in his classroom that he had purchased at a yard sale. When she had to move to new foster home, she asked him if she could keep her blue chair. Kevin made a difference that deeply impacted her.
  • A Dam of Trauma: Kevin talks about the impact of COVID on students and staff. “There’s a dam getting ready to break of trauma that they’ve accumulated. A lot of these kids who have hard lives, they were home. They had their fingers in the fan blades that whole time, and they’re coming back. And teachers, too, we’ve all got trauma, scar tissue. We’ve got to journal, to talk, to create, to paint, to sing, to let that stuff out, or it’ll eat us from the inside.”
  • Role Modeling: One of the reasons Kevin wrote his book was to show students that they can overcome difficult situations. This has been a central mission for Kevin throughout his career. He says to his students, “I found my way out, and I know I can help you find your way out too. I’m a lighthouse; I’m gonna show you how not to hit these rocks.”
  • Know Your Kids: Kevin stresses the importance of connections, even though it’s hard. He says, “We need to know about these kids, and it takes too long, and we’re too darn busy to do the spelunking necessary to find out, and the best teachers have a way of divining. They know . . . good people feel it.” Even though some individual teachers are able to make these meaningful connections, Kevin wants to see this happen more systemically. He suggests building a database of information about each student and putting it into a student information system, so teachers can access it and better understand where their students are coming from.
  • Supporting Teachers: We need to connect with each other as professionals, just as we need to connect with our students. We need to support each other and recognize when we need help. He emphasizes this point by saying, “You can’t help someone if you don’t know they’re drowning. How are you going to help them?” He adds, “You need a circle of people who care about you.”
  • “Global or Snow Global?”:  “Here’s my question to schools,” says Kevin. “Are we global or snow global? I think most schools are snow global. We make cute things to hang on the bulletin board, and nobody can find it. We’re hiding your kids’ resumes.” Instead, he argues, we should find authentic audiences for student work and help them share it with the world.
  • Play-Me-Down Playlist: Kevin suggests having students create a three-song playlist of songs to help “play them down” from dark places when they get triggered. This should start with an extreme song, then go down a notch before finishing with a mellow tune. “In three songs,” says Kevin, “I can bring you back—bring you back from trigger.” He sums up his approach, saying that by having students create this type of playlist, “I’m prescriptively using music to let kids create their own medicine.”
  • A Message From the Universe: When Kevin was 49, he and his wife found out they were going to be parents again. Kevin does not believe in accidents in the universe, and he took this as a sign. “Okay, I get this, universe,” he said. “I’m supposed to keep learning. I gotta get him ready for his future, not my past. I gotta jump in with both feet into the maker thing. I gotta jump into him being an entrepreneur. I gotta jump into him being an artist. I’m doing this right this time.” Now that he’s 56 and his son is 7, Kevin continues growing himself while witnessing his son’s growth. He says, “I’m watching this kid flourish.” And Kevin wants to see all of our students flourish.

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • How can we help students who have experienced trauma?
  • How can you encourage students to publish their original work?
  • How can you really get to know your students?
  • In what way can you be a role model for your students?
  • How have you seen students change due to the pandemic?
  • How can we support each other as educators?
  • How can we infuse creativity and imagination into our classrooms?

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