Natural disasters, political coups and riots. We survived those. Cultural invasions and the emergence of cancerous pockets of entitlement within the classroom. We survived those as well. Running a microfinance institution in Honduras (from within a university classroom) was not easy. And, over the ten years that my students and I operated La Ceiba, we faced numerous threats to our existence. But nothing was more threatening than the wide-spread apathy that took hold in the 2015 cohort of students.

Somehow, some way, cohort 2015 silently slid into a collective agreement to lower the standards by which we conducted and judged our work. Now, there were moments of inspiration. And, there were individuals who produced good work, great work even. But that was the exception and not the rule. In cohort 2015, it was acceptable to:

  • Miss class
  • Show up late
  • Cherry-pick which assignments and exercises to do
  • Scroll through your phones during class discussion
  • Disregard the readings that form the foundation of our culture
  • Do another class’s work on our work days
  • Sit back and let others carry the discussions (which were few and far between)

Not everyone was guilty of all of these things. Some in cohort 2015 were not guilty of any of these things.  Regardless, the aforementioned behaviors were inconsistent with our legacy.

I reached out to them to express my concerns (multiple times). I asked their mentors to intervene. I also asked our Program Director to get involved. With each intervention, their performance would improve; but, only momentarily. Overall, cohort 2015 was marked by a passionless mediocrity that hurt our clients and La Ceiba as a whole. Indeed, their performance was a blemish on our storied past. So, at the end of the semester, I took the unprecedented step of disbanding cohort 2015.  

Now, there were a number of decisions in La Ceiba that I could make on my own. I was pretty sure that this was not one of them. So, I sought feedback from our current Program Director and former La Ceiba students who were on our Board of Advisors. I also sought guidance from my mentor Gene Early. All supported my decision to disband cohort 2015.

So, at the end of the semester (and after they had taken their finals), I sent cohort 2015 an email informing them that they were being disbanded. I wanted the email to roll like thunder; but I did not want it to be disabling. Here’s an excerpt explaining what disbandment meant for them:  

What does disbandment mean for you?

  • If you are a graduating senior (does not matter if it’s your first year or second year in La Ceiba) and you want a La Ceiba bracelet, an opportunity to leave your mark in the “Vulnerability” book, and membership in a community of kickass alumni, you are going to have to regain our trust. I am rebuilding this spring. I am rebuilding from scratch. And, the next cohort cannot be infected by this cohort’s passionless mediocrity.
  • If you are a junior and you wish to remain a part of La Ceiba, then you will need to re-apply this spring. You will not be given any preferential treatment. What you were part of this past semester is not how we work. It is not who we are. And, it must never be allowed to happen again.

At this moment, this semester’s La Ceiba cohort ceases to exist.

Yes, in the short-run, La Ceiba will be hurt by your absence: Constant Client Contact calls will not be made, products will not be sold, and program development will be put on hold. However, there’s nothing more dangerous to the long-term vitality of an organization that’s accustomed to creating art than the appearance and spread of passionless mediocrity.

So, as an individual what are you to make of this email?

First, you need to know that I care about you, your future, and your well-being. I also believe in your ability to do great things, inspire others, and make a difference. I know that this email is going to sting. And, I am I sorry. But this cohort fell into a pattern of behavior that was inconsistent with La Ceiba’s culture and the unlocking of your human potential. I need you to know that (especially with respect to the latter).

Second, each of you had a unique journey through the fall semester. For you, it may not be best characterized as “passionless mediocrity”. I am willing to honor that journey in a conversation. You let me know if you would like to have it. I am ready when you are. But passionless mediocrity was the collective outcome of this past semester.

Third, the path back to La Ceiba (if you choose to take it) begins with that conversation. I need you to reflect deeply and honestly on the past semester and your role in creating this collective outcome. 

  • What could you have done differently?
  • Why didn’t you do it?

Through La Ceiba, we get a glimpse of the magnificent potential within ourselves; but only if we’re committed to the overwhelmingly difficult task of taking on our inner fears. Committing oneself to this course of action is not natural. It is learned. The returning members of La Ceiba nurture it in each other and instruct the newest cohort of students by:

  • Transmitting our culture of commitment to the newest cohort
  • Modeling a set of behaviors consistent with our culture
  • Integrating the newest cohort into a community that holds one another accountable to its commitments

Somehow, we fell short in all of these areas. And, I know of no other way of setting things right other than taking the unprecedented step of disbanding this cohort.

We need to begin again.

I invite you to join me again.

But you will need to leave behind who you were last semester.

You are each incredible human beings. You have become an important part of my life. I wish nothing but the best for you. So, go enjoy your break. And, when you have taken time to answer the questions above, I am available via phone, email, or skype.

Thanks. – dr H

At the beginning of the spring semester, I met with the seniors of cohort 2015. We had honest and intense conversations. I welcomed them back into our community. I also met with one of the two juniors of cohort 2015 – Kelly. I welcomed her back as well. Kelly would return the following fall as La Ceiba’s one and only returnee, take up the mantle of leadership and carry our culture forward with renewed vigor. That following fall’s cohort of students was hands down one of the best. It was a wonder to watch the transformation.

By choosing to disband cohort 2015, I was looking to tell my students three things:

  • Their behavior had real consequences, which included hurting our clients and negatively impacting our community.
  • It was a privilege to be invited into our community.
  • There are consequences for violating our cultural standards.

Disbandment is a powerful tool. Indeed, it is so powerful that my pedagogical use of it could have gone terribly wrong. But it didn’t. Why not? I believe the answer lies in the following exchange between myself and my mentor:

ME: I have been re-assessing this semester so many times, thinking about the dynamics in the leadership and thinking about each of them as individuals. I love them all individually.

GENE: If they get you loving them, it could turn them around for a lifetime. It is a real opportunity.

Love was the key.


I’m writing a book on my pedagogy called Rewild School, blogpost-by-blogpost. This is one of those blogposts. You can learn more by visiting Rewild School.

Thanks. – shawn


Photo by Vackground on Unsplash