Keep Your Head Up

When I was around 20 years old, I was very interested in some of Tupac Shakur’s songs, mainly the more socially conscious and less vulgar raps that articulated positive messages for change. One such song that has stuck with me all these years is “Keep Ya Head Up.” Being a father to a daughter these last 15 years has kept the song close to my heart. In fact, so close that the last three years have found me constantly thinking about this song—even to the extreme of re-writing it with the sole purpose of uplifting students, teachers, and parents everywhere.

During this timeframe, effervescent lines randomly bubbled up and found a way into my conscience. Newer fragments of Tupac’s original three verses discovered me as I was hammering out long bicycle rides, creating new pieces of family furniture in my woodshop, wetting a line at the local bass pond, or basking in the moonlight late at night while chilling in my front porch swing. I did my best to stay cognizant of any worthy lines, but I honestly wondered if I would ever finish the song. I know it sounds cheesy, but I needed to keep my head up and wait for more inspiration.

The Inspiration

And then, enter a culminating assignment for a yearlong leadership course I have been privileged to take. The task is relatively simple on the surface: showcase a program that I have initiated at our school and highlight the effects on all stakeholders. That program, which is two years old now, is “The Thriving Teachers’ Society.” Inspired by Robin Williams’ Dead Poets’ Society, the bi-monthly, hourlong meeting seeks to support striving and thriving teachers in all aspects of their profession. The flexible agenda guides participants, who are seated in a circle that symbolizes unity and equality, through the full gamut of teachers’ concerns: teacher morale, school climate, classroom management, educational technology, instructional pedagogy, project-based learning, and personal balance and wellbeing. During these meetings, dedicated professional educators are inspired to be transparent and share all positive and negative experiences with the collective goal of growing into the best teachers we can be. Although the program has a lot of room for growth, we do our best to break down barriers by video conferencing via Zoom with other interested high schools and teachers in the district.

The Thriving Teachers' Society logo, developed by students.
The Thriving Teachers’ Society logo, developed by East Hall High School students. (Courtesy of John Hardison)

The Result

Naturally, when I decided to present “The Thriving Teachers’ Society” as my Capstone, I knew the song had to be completed. Two hours later in the media center of East Hall High School, the lyrics to “Keep Your Head Up,” the educational version, were born. Now all I needed was a team of rappers and singers. For that, I turned to my fearless colleagues in Hall County, a forward-thinking and creative school district of 39 schools located in Northeast Georgia that serves nearly 30,000 students.

Within a short amount of time, 76 educators were lined up to spit their designated bars, and our high school chorus teacher and her students signed up to drop the hook. This courageous group of rappers and singers includes classroom teachers and students, a school board member, principals, school leaders, central office employees, and our district superintendent. Once all the raw videos were recorded, my good buddy and colleague, Shannon Reed, a West Hall High School broadcasting teacher who resembles Yoda with a laptop when he uses Adobe Premiere Pro, edited and rendered the final rap video in about ten hours. The result is a “rappalicious” montage of Hall County teachers who deliver a positive message to students (verse 1), teachers (verse 2), and parents (verse 3) about persevering through tough times, showing some grit, and leaning on the #OneHall family when needed.

Reasons to Create Your Own

I am sure there are many people who think, “Why spend valuable time on a project like this?” In the fast-paced, time-crunched world of teaching, I understand the nature of this question. However, here are several reasons to ink your own song and wrap up a music video:

  • Improve school climate.
  • Bond with colleagues.
  • Present and sustain a unified goal.
  • Reach new personal heights by stepping beyond comfort zones.
  • Honor individuals or groups of people with specific lines or the entire song.
  • Break down barriers to learning by collaborating with educators beyond brick-and-mortar walls.
  • Show students that adults still have plenty of cool points stockpiled in their “what’s current and hip” reserves.
  • Use this experience to offer and help students with their own similar projects.
  • (Dare I say it?) Simply…have…a…little…fun. (As if we need a reason to have fun at work.)

In essence, this collaborative project has taught me that keeping my head up is much easier when WE keep OUR heads up.

Don’t believe me? Take a listen and join us.

Yo, Tupac, drop the beat!


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John Hardison

John Hardison is an interactive facilitator of learning and blended learning specialist at East Hall High School (Studio 113 & EPiCC).

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