Episode 91 – Latezeon Balentine

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Meet Latezeon Balentine

LATEZEON BALENTINE is a mom of three boys, a teacher, and founder of September Chances, Inc. – a nonprofit organization created to develop joy in reading, grow literacy, and increase reading fluency. Latezeon is also a Donors Choose Teacher Ambassador, dog lover, an advocate for mental health awareness, and blogger. And she’s got a book on the way, so stay tuned!

Latezeon is an English teacher at Jefferson County High School in Fayette, MS. The school is situated in a small, rural area and the student population sits around 380. It’s a region that has its share of economic challenges, and poverty is a continual issue for many families. Latezeon has some teaching experience in fourth and fifth grade, but most of her teaching has taken place in secondary, which is where she feels at home.

Baptism by Fire

Latezeon recalls the start of her career, when she was hired to fill a long-term substitute position in a primary classroom. She had all the duties of a full-time first year teacher, but the compensation and benefits of a substitute teacher. If that wasn’t challenging enough, her class size continued to grow as the year wore on.

Fortunately, Latezeon pushed through a difficult year one and was offered a full-time contract in Vicksburg, MS the following year. It was still an extremely tough challenge for Latezeon as she balanced full-time teaching, parenting, a part-time job, and the completion of her Master’s degree during this time.

She continued to persevere, however, and things have gradually improved. The work of education is about the outcome, not the income, Latezeon laughs.

Empathy and the Work of Supporting Others

Empathy is evident in so much of Latezeon’s work, whether it’s her care for her boys, her advocacy for the mentally ill, her passion for literacy, her support of other educators through Donors Choose, or even her love of animals. It seems limitless!

When asked where this bottomless empathy comes from, Latezeon points first to her own experiences. She’s lived the pain and hardships of mental illness in the family, and it motivates her to support others struggling in the same ways.

Speaking to her work with Donors Choose (a crowdfunding site for education-related funding campaigns), Latezeon is proud to have raised over $13,000 and supported 20 fully-funded projects for other educators. These include the creation of a food pantry and a hygiene closet at her own school.

“I’m all about helping people reach their goals, because that’s where my heart is,” Latezeon says. “I’ve been a nurse, a counselor, a liaison, an advocate – anything I can be for my kids, I’ve been it!” She’s also currently working on a project to raise money for animal shelters in her area.

Her Vision for September Chances

Latezeon started September Chances in 2014 with the purpose of helping struggling learners outside of the classroom. Over the time since, her focus has shifted from tutoring to book giveaways through Scholastic. She’s a big fan of the $1 books that Scholastic lists each week, and she’s made a lot of progress stocking her classroom bookshelves this way.

She’s also making it the aim of September Chances to provide two $250 scholarships to graduating seniors, and she’s working hard on an initiative to put a free book in the hands of every child in her school district. A love of literacy starts with getting books to kids that resonate with their interests and passions. As September Chances continues to grow and build momentum, Latezeon hopes to support districts across her state and even across the nation. 

What’s Setting Latezeon on 🔥 in Education Today

One passion in education for Latezeon is in the whole area of technology resources for her learners. She sees the applications and devices that are made available to students in other schools and districts, and she wants to bring the same to Jefferson County.

She’s also committed to developing stronger financial literacy programming in high school. She wants her students to have all the information, preparation, and life lessons they’ll need to survive and thrive financially as they move into adulthood.

A Professional Growth Goal: Sketchnotes

In terms of professional growth, Latezeon wants to learn more about sketchnotes. She wants to help her students acquire the vocabulary, techniques, and resources they’ll need to fully leverage this powerful learning strategy.

(*Tim’s Note: For more information on sketchnoting, make sure to check out the books, resources, and videos from Sylvia Duckworth – the sketchnote master!)

An Inlet to Her Outlet

Blogging has become a wonderful outlet for Latezeon. Her posts aren’t as long as others, partly because she recognizes that as a reader, brevity is often best. She calls her blog posts “a little inlet to her outlet.”

A Daily Habit: Building Her PLN

Latezeon started taking Twitter seriously in November of 2018. She plans to do a love tour through her network to introduce herself in a unique way to every single follower, and continues to learn from the amazing connections she’s made there in just a few months.

Voices and Resources That Inspire 

Over on Twitter, Latezeon recommends following @NicholasFerroni, leader of the #NoSummersOff campaign that intends to show how educators actually use their summer holidays.

Latezeon’s picks in edtech tools are Topeka, an AI-powered writing analysis service, and FlipGrid, a popular video platform that seeks to amplify student voice.

With a big passion for books and literacy, you know Latezeon’s book selections are on point. She calls out The Pepper Effect: Tap into the Magic of Creativity, Collaboration, and Innovation by Sean Gaillard and One Drop of Kindness by Jeff Kubiak. Follow these authors on Twitter @SMGaillard and @JeffreyKubiak

In the wonderful world of podcasts, Latezeon is listening to The Ed Podcast and Faculty Room. Follow these hosts on Twitter @TheEdPodcast and @Maire_from_NJ

Over on YouTube, Latezeon’s favorite teacher channel is A Classroom Diva. Follow the channel creator, Jessica Nichols, on Instagram @AClassroomDiva

Latezeon and her husband enjoyed binge-watching a number of the latest episodes from Stranger Things 3 on Netflix recently. Predictably, this show is very strange … but it’s been fun to watch how this little group of friends interacts with each other.

We sign off on this conversation, and Latezeon gives us the best ways to connect with her online. See below for more details!

Connect with Latezeon:

Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel.

7 Ways to Use YouTube Better

Leverage these simple strategies to optimize this platform in your professional practice.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Even as the quality of content and variety of resources on YouTube continues to grow, many educators continue to under-utilize this platform. Here are seven strategies that just may rock your YouTube experience and help you receive more value there than ever before.

1. Sign in.

Signing into your Google account allows you to subscribe to channels, comment, share videos with friends within the platform, upload, track your viewing history (this can be super helpful), get better video recommendations, and basically do anything else that matters on the platform. Not signing in removes all of those options, and you’ll be stuck with trending video nonsense in your feed. Not helpful.

2. Subscribe.

Whenever I find a valuable video, I subscribe to the channel. It’s just a quick click, and it’s an easy way to follow the creator. As I continue to subscribe to channels over time, my feed gets smarter and the videos recommended to me are better tailored to my needs and interests. If you’re looking for some great education channels to subscribe to, check out this list, compiled by guests of the Teachers on Fire podcast.

3. Add to playlists.

No matter what your professional practice looks like, this is a valuable habit to get into. Whenever you find a video that’s helpful, add it to a playlist. Whether you choose to make each playlist public or private, creating a playlist is a great way to save and curate helpful content. Playlists also become a great way to share a series of videos with students or colleagues. If it’s the kind of video you might want to use again, add it to a playlist.

4. Add to the Watch Later list.

Watch Later is a built-in playlist that everyone has in their account. Any time you notice a video suggested in your main feed or sidebar and you think “I’d like to watch that at some point — but I have no time right now,” don’t let it get away. Select ‘Watch Later’ by clicking the clock icon that pops up in the top right corner of the video. There’s also a +Save button right below every playing video that allows you to save to the same list.

5. Like, comment, and engage with creators.

There are so many brave creators and educators out there who are working so hard to share their ideas and make inspiring content. Likes and comments are their oxygen, so if you have ten seconds to encourage a creator whose work you really enjoyed, do it. It’s also a great way to build new relationships with industry leaders and expand your PLN.

6. Use picture-in-picture.

Right-clicking any YouTube video opens up some snazzy options, including the ability to screencast to a projector or TV, loop, and shift to picture-in-picture. This lets you work away in Gmail, Docs, Classroom and the like while still keeping an eye on your content via a small window in the corner of your screen.

7. Sign in on your TV’s YouTube app.

This will give you access to all the same history, subscriptions, and playlists that you’ve carefully curated over time on your laptop, tablet, and phone. This is one more reason why my family recently ditched our cable subscription. YouTube (and Netflix, of course) have become our go-to sources for learning and entertainment. If the feed on your YouTube app is filled with trending nonsense, it isn’t YouTube’s fault. Once you sign in with your Google account, your curated subscriptions and playlists will show up right away.

It’s Time to Rock Your YouTube

YouTube is an awesome platform, and there’s no limit to the varieties and quality of content being added to the platform daily. Do yourself the favor of taking full advantage.
By leveraging these seven strategies, you’ll get more value from YouTube than you ever thought possible.

Episode 90 – Scott Nunes

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Meet Scott Nunes

SCOTT NUNES (rhymes with dunes) is a dad, teacher, coach, Schoology ambassador, and CCCUE board member. He’s Nearpod certified, MIE certified, a rapper, and co-host of the TNT EdTech podcast. In his day job, Scott teaches 9th and 10th grade ELA at James C. Enochs High School in Modesto, CA, where he’s also a site leader for digital curriculum and coaches swimming.

In Education by Design

Scott’s story of adversity actually began before his teaching career. He had started freelancing in graphic design – a personal passion – but the combination of cheaper foreign designers and a stiff downturn in the economy forced him to reconsider his direction.

After wavering between nursing and education, he eventually recognized that teaching was the path for him, and he’s so thankful he made that decision. Even in his current capacity today, Scott is able to do design work for CUE, his podcast, and other opportunities that come along.

On Dancing and Celebration

Scott’s dancing skills took center stage on edu-Twitter after he shared a clip of his fancy footwork from the Schoology conference in 2018. It was there, he says, that he first got into Twitter and began his relationship with Schoology as an ambassador for their platform.

“I like to have fun in the classroom,” Scott says. “It’s a way to engage students.” He enjoys the feel of the room when students engage in freestyle rap competitions or try to trip him up on a rhyme. It keeps the classroom fun, fresh, and lively. 

The TNT EdTech Podcast

Scott co-hosts the TNT EdTech Podcast with Matthew Ketchum, and he says the podcast really traces its roots back to the Fall CUE Conference in northern California. He and Matthew were attending a session on podcasting hosted by Tom and Mike from TOSAs Talking Tech (@TosasTalkinTech on Twitter), who convinced Scott and Matthew that the podcasting gig was easy and inexpensive to get into. Scott and Matthew already had access to Camtasia, Adobe Audition, Google Hangouts, and other apps and equipment they needed to launch their own show, so they went for it!

Today, their podcast talks about edtech, offers tools and tips, and features educators in the field who are doing cool things with technology in their classrooms. Scott brings the classroom experience, and Matthew is the tech coach for their 30,000-student district. Scott agrees that the podcasting business is a tremendous privilege, and he learns a lot from every guest they speak to.

What’s Setting Scott on 🔥 in Education Today

Scott’s biggest interest in education at the moment is the magic of connecting with other educators. He’s also passionate about the opportunities for student podcasting that lie ahead. Although they may not have permission to publish out to the web, just the chance to publish audio content and share out learning within the district is exciting.

Scott is a fan of the Anchor app for publishing content, and he offers a pro tip about how to line paper boxes with audio-muffling foam to create some really clean sound – even in busy classrooms.

A Professional Goal: More Blogging

Something Scott plans to invest more time in is blogging. As part of CUE’s sponsorship of his podcast, he is required to do some regular writing and publishing. Once the partnership with CUE ends, he’s hoping he’ll have a regular blogging habit in place that he can then transfer to a blog of his own.

A Personal Passion Away From Education

Few things bring Scott alive and allow him to decompress quite like building sandcastles at the beach. It’s a passion that he will devote several hours to, and his three kids are big fans of his work (although they specialize more in the deconstruction). 

Scott’s Productivity Hack: Strong Starts

Scott sets aside the first 90 minutes of each day as highly productive time. It’s here that he focuses narrowly on 1-3 major tasks that he’d like to complete very well. With this routine successfully completed, the day is already a win from there!

Voices and Resources That Inspire

Over on Twitter, Scott recommends following @JMattMiller. Despite his high profile and numerous accolades, Matt remains the real deal, Scott says.

An edtech tool that has got Scott excited right now is Gimkit, a smart quiz and formative assessment application that was developed for the classroom by a high school student. Follow @Gimkit on Twitter to learn more!

Scott’s pick in books is Welcome To The Grind: How Educators Achieve Exponential Results, edited by Randall Sampson. Follow Randall on Twitter @RandallSampson

Aside from our two awesome podcasts, Scott recommends subscribing to Between the Johns, a podcast produced by two administrators who bring interesting perspectives to education topics. Follow the pod on Twitter @BetweentheJohns

If you’re a creator, designer, or maker, it might be worth your while to subscribe to the 3D Printing Nerd channel on Youtube. The host never fails to amaze with his creativity and ingenuity. Follow @3DPrintingNerd on Twitter to see what he’s up to.

Scott’s got two well-known picks from the Netflix roster: Spiderman Homecoming and Breaking Bad

We wrap up our conversation, and Scott shares the best ways to connect with him and follow him online. See below for more links.

Connect with Scott:

Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel.

Episode 89 – Lynmara Colon

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Meet Lynmara Colon

LYNMARA COLON is a dynamic leader committed to student learning and growth. She is passionate about technology, access, and equity for all students, and was named in the NSBA 20 to Watch for Innovative Practices. As a former teacher, assistant principal, and principal, Lynmara is focused on building healthy cultures by leading with a Disney mentality where all stakeholders are welcomed.

Lynn holds two master’s degrees: one in curriculum and instruction, the other in educational leadership. She is also the co-author of the recently published Empower Our Girls: Opening the Door for Girls to Achieve More.

Lynmara’s practice is located in Manassas, VA where she serves the Prince William County Schools. The district is situated 30 miles outside of Washington, DC, with 90,000 students, 29,000 English language learners, and 140 languages spoken across 98 schools. Lynmara is the Director of EL Programs and Services, including Central Registration, Translation, Instructional Services, Professional Learning, and Instructional Point of Contact for Schools.

Learning the Importance of Relationships

When asked to think of a time of adversity in her professional journey, Lynmara thinks back to her first year as principal. At the time, she was eager to jump into the work and felt ready to institute new initiatives immediately. But she quickly learned that slow is better, listening is critical, and building relationships and trust across the community is paramount.

As she looks back, she’s grateful for one teacher who graciously helped her to slow down and listen more. She values this kind of professional feedback and points to the importance of these “cocoon friends” who can offer healthy perspectives and hold her accountable.

Introducing the Book: Empower Our Girls

Lynmara is so excited about the feedback that she and Adam Welcome have received after publishing Empower Our Girls: Opening the Door for Girls to Achieve More. In her own story, she was as raw and vulnerable as she could be so that young girls everywhere will be better, stronger, and more empowered as a result.

This book brings together many different authors and contributors who have experienced similar challenges and experiences and are active in the work of advocacy for girls in education today. It includes superintendents, medical professionals, athletes, and other leaders who share their journey in an attempt to clear roadblocks, improve equity, and inspire others.

When I asked Lynn to suggest practical ways for me to empower the girls in my practice, she spoke to the importance of asking the right questions and intentionally making sure every voice is heard. Girls need to gain the experience of speaking and advocating in order to build confidence and step forward into new spaces.

Serving English Learners

In her new role as Director of English Learner Programs and Services, Lynmara serves with purpose. She was born, raised, and educated in Puerto Rico, so all of her early learning was in Spanish, and she understands the challenges in this area of education because she can personally relate – she’s lived it.

She’s grateful that her current district shares her vision of giving every English Learner what she calls a “Disney experience,” the sense that every person is valued and deserves magical moments of learning. To get serious about meeting the needs of these students, schools must invest in targeted professional development that helps educators better understand the unique needs of these learners, the challenges they face, and the exciting potential that lies within each child.

It’s always about building the kind of school cultures that offer quality education opportunities for every single student, regardless of background and journey. Lynmara can tell these learners that although the path may be difficult, it IS possible. She’s done it, and she’s living her American Dream. 

New Opportunities for English Learners

Lynmara is excited by the US Department of Education’s tech toolkit for English learners, which is providing more on-ramps and learning opportunities for students whose first language is not English. The department has stated that all students should have access to technology and innovative practices, including students in these important conversations and improving equity in schools across the country. With improved resources and access, kids are winning.

Her Professional Goal: Finishing the Doctorate

Lynmara’s number one professional goal at the moment is her doctorate in education. This has been a dream for some time, although her doubts in her own English language proficiency held her back from taking this step for too long.

Now that she’s plugged into the program and sharing spaces with other education leaders from other districts, she thoroughly enjoys the rich professional relationships and conversations that have followed. Titles aren’t important in this context, and she and her colleagues are free to grapple with important challenges and issues as peers. It’s been a wonderful and inspiring journey, and she’s grateful for the additions she’s been able to make to her professional network.

Productivity Habits and Routines

In conjunction with her latest role and responsibilities, Lynn has adopted habits from Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning. She wakes up at 4:45 a.m., runs two miles, completes a devotional, does some journaling, and reads for twenty minutes. This routine helps her to center, plan for the day, and focus on positivity.

These habits have helped her to manage the larger challenges of her professional practice and also helped her achieve some impressive physical goals as well. Lynmara has even taken a further step with the Miracle Morning, following cues from the Miracle Morning for Writers. This has been a key resource as she strives to write her dissertation and complete her PhD. 

Lynmara also talks about the power of breakfast and sleep. They’re just essential, Lynn says, to stay on top of your game and make things happen in your practice. She never skips breakfast, and she tries hard to get at least six hours of sleep per night, finishing her day with reading and without access to her phone. She learned the importance of self-care the hard way, recalling a time earlier in her life when her body actually shut down after being pushed too hard.

Voices That Shape Her Practice and Inspire Her Thinking

On Twitter, Lynn recommends following her superintendent, @SuperPWCS. Steve Walts is a nonstop source of inspiration and consistently shouts out great learning happening across the entire district.

When asked about her favorite tech tools, Lynn points to Canva, a simple and powerful graphic design program. She also really likes the features for English learners provided by Lexia Core 5 Reading

Lynmara is learning so much from Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, where author Kim Scott offers a ton of insights into the best ways to have those difficult conversations. Get to know the author on Twitter @KimBallScott

At the top of Lynn’s Apple Podcasts line-up is the RISE Podcast, featuring Rachel Hollis. “She’s my best friend, and she doesn’t even know it,” Lynn laughs. Follow Rachel on Twitter @MrsRachelHollis.

On YouTube, a go-to source of quality content and inspiration is the GoalCast channel. Lynn enjoys their content personally and shares it with her staff teams as well. Follow GoalCast on Twitter @Goal_Cast.

On Netflix, it’s been Grey’s Anatomy lately – a fun point of connection between Lynn and her children. Her twins remind Mom to “Stop asking questions and just watch the show!”

We sign off on this awesome conversation, and Lynmara gives us the best ways to connect with her online. See below for details!

Connect with Lynmara:

Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel.

Episode 88 – Alicia Ray

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Meet Alicia Ray

ALICIA RAY is the Lead Digital Learning & Media Innovation Facilitator at a STEAM school in Mount Airy, NC. With years of experience teaching middle school classes, a major part of her current role includes building innovative learning activities that link literacy and various forms of media.

From Professional Insecurity to a Power-Packed PLC

Alicia doesn’t enjoy revisiting this experience, but she feels a certain obligation to give this lesson its due attention and share the things she learned with others. In her story of adversity, she recalls teaching a self-contained 5th grade class, which included high stakes testing in Math, Science, and reading. As one might expect, this teaching assignment brought with it a lot of responsibility.

When the 5th grade team added a former teacher of the year, Alicia found herself fighting feelings of insecurity and competition. To counter these feelings, she helped her team form an incredible PLC that capitalized on the strengths of each member. The team found sweet synergy partly from their extra-curricular activities: meeting outside of school, doing things together, and finding common interests.

As the team grew and evolved, their trust in each other increased, and they discovered how to best share the teaching load: who would create which learning activities, who the go-to authority in each area would be, and how each one could innovate and adapt learning materials to fit the needs of their individual classrooms. The best part of this trusting team relationship? Students won.

The Hows and Whys of a Master Book Reviewer

Alicia is a phenomenal reader and reviewer of books from Dave Burgess Consulting, but she’s quick to point out the source of her motivation: her students. “It’s so important to know what you believe in and why you believe it, because that does nothing but help your kids,” she says.

Alicia learns something and takes away lessons from every single book she reads, and she’s hungry for more. She wants to do better than just say she’s a lifelong learner – she wants to live it and model it in front of her students and children as well. She recently completed a research unit at her school that was inspired by several DBC books, including Launch, The Limitless School, Educated by Design, and The Revolution. She’s proud of what her students researched, learned, and created, and she looks forward to improving this unit even further in years to come.

What’s Setting Alicia on Fire in Education

Alicia loves the connections she enjoys with educators across the planet on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blogs, and other platforms. She is thrilled to share ideas, learn from others, and connect her students in those same authentic ways.

One of the memories that she treasures from this past year was the opportunity to connect with Karen Caswell‘s class in Australia. It was a fantastic experience for her students and it brought home the point that we live in a global community.

Her Current Project: Educational Eye Exam

Alicia is constantly reading and implementing, because as Dave Burgess likes to say, “Inspiration without implementation is a waste.” Her current project is a compilation of takeaways and inspirations from her learning and practice in a book titled Educational Eye Exam. What began as a blog post kept growing and growing, and as this book nears publication later this summer she is thrilled at the prospect of sharing with the world.

A Passion by Necessity: Health & Wellness

Last August, Alicia’s five-year-old was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Since then, her family has made health and wellness a top priority. This looks like managing the family diet carefully, counting carbs, and practicing strategies to maintain mental, physical, and spiritual health.

These practices have also spilled into her professional work, where Alicia is doing more than ever to try to meet the non-academic needs of learners. It starts with awareness and sensitivity, requiring her to step back and think about making sure the conditions for learning are met before launching into the next activity.

Goals, Google Sheets, and Bullet Journals

Alicia calls herself a goal-setter, and her goals are the key to her productivity. When she orders books, her goal is usually to have it completely read within 48-72 hours after receiving it. From there, she’s found that if she’s going to write a review of the book for her blog, it needs to happen right away.

When it comes to running, she sets a goal of getting to a particular mailbox (remember, she lives in rural North Carolina). As long as the goal is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely … it’s SMART and it works for her.

Alicia tracks her goals and daily habits in Google Sheets (using hacks she learned from Alice Keeler), and has also become obsessed with bullet journaling since reading Lisa Johnson’s Creatively Productive.

The Ideal Reading Time & Place

Alicia’s ideal reading environment usually materializes around 9:30 p.m., after the kids have been put to bed – centered on a large sectional in her pajamas, with comfy blankets and a nest of pillows. It’s a recipe that would put most people to sleep in a hurry, but it works well for her!

Voices and Resources That Inspire Her Thinking 

On Twitter, Alicia recommends following @Hayes_Melisa. Melisa has an awesome personal story to share, and she never fails to bring the awesomeness!

 Her pick for edtech tools is Google Forms. Forms are powerful, versatile, and can probably do more than you think they can!

 When asked to choose just one book, Alicia goes back to the one that started it all: Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. She’s written and highlighted her way through a few physical copies of the book and listened to it several more times on audiobook. The passion never gets old!

Over on YouTube, Alicia suggests subscribing to DBC Inc. This channel is relatively new, so get on it and make some noise!

When she needs some laughs and lighter fare on Netflix, Alicia is heading to The Office. This classic sitcom will never be beaten … unless of course they made a school version!

We sign off on this fun conversation, and Alicia gives us the best ways to connect with her online. See below for details!

Connect with Alicia:

Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel.