This podcast episode was first published on February 22, 2020.

Meet Julia Fliss

JULIA FLISS is a sixth grade ELA teacher, activist, world changer, Sustainable Development Goals Ambassador, lifelong learner, creative, and yogi who lives in Evergreen, Colorado.

No More 12-Hour Workdays

When asked to recall a low moment in her professional journey, Julia makes a quick distinction: with the right perspective, low moments can better be viewed as growth moments. Every bit of adversity presents an opportunity to learn.

One of the more impactful growth moments for Julia was her move from Denver West High School, an inner city Title 1 school, to a school in the mountains of Colorado. As challenging as the shift was, Julia was thankful for the ways in which her mindset was strengthened: it helped to give her a broader understanding of her value as an educator.

Before the move from Denver West, Julia’s formula for work was 12 hours a day – an unsustainable pace that made her a prime candidate for burnout. After a period of reflection, she realized that she was modeling unhealthy behavior for her students, so with the change in teaching contexts came a change in her professional philosophy and personal boundaries.

She decided that it was okay to define healthy boundaries, create personal prosperity, and live a life that allowed her to be the best version of herself … and by doing so, be able to serve her students better.

“For me, it’s not about going without or giving up in order to serve – it’s about living into each moment and creating a reality where everyone has everything they need in every moment.”

UN Sustainable Development Goals

Julia dreams of some day visiting the United Nations centers in New York City or Washington to speak about the Sustainable Development Goals in person. She is committed to the SDGs because she is committed to her students and their future.

“They deserve a classroom without walls – a global learning community that prioritizes collaboration, collective wellbeing, and taking action for the good of people and the planet,” she explains. The SDGs provide the platform and the launch point to help students engage with these important efforts and connect with other like-minded agents of change around the world. They give access to kid-driven inquiry and design that is exciting, invigorating, and now at our fingertips thanks to technology.

As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” and the UN sustainable development goals provide the common language to go about that work at any grade level.

Julia’s favorite goals are 4 and 16 – a fusion between Quality Education and Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. “Quality education requires a coming together, a looking in the mirror, a grassroots connection that helps us create access for every child to get what they need in order to learn. We are not going anywhere as a planet or as a species until we reach out our hand to every single person on the planet in a way that creates systemic change.”

Why Should Educators Build a PLN?

Julia is a committed networker and community builder, and she believes it’s our responsibility as educators to model the kinds of people that we’re encouraging our students to be. If we want our kids to be global citizens, we need to demonstrate what that looks like. Looking outside of our classrooms and our buildings gives us greater perspective on our own behaviors and a reference point for our professional practice and learning.

With all the benefits of global connections, the question becomes … why not? Why not connect and learn more? As Jen Williams says, being a lifelong learner means investing in our own growth and evolution as an educator.

Julia’s first years of teaching at Denver West High School taught her to develop professionally without waiting to be professionally developed. As a result, her career has been marked by digging in, asking, connecting, and sharing professional learning.

Important first connections included George Couros and his book, The Innovator’s Mindset, which prompted her to get on Twitter. From there, Julia found Jennifer Gonzalez who then led her to Marisa Thompson, someone Julia calls a huge mentor from the moment they connected. From Marisa, she connected with the whole #TQE family.

Simply by watching and listening on Twitter and in other spaces, Julia was inspired to find her tribe: other educators who shared her professional values and ideals for education. “I feel like our opportunity as educators to be the best we can be is truly by building on each other,” Julia explains.

“#BetterTogether could not be more true. It’s just gold. Any teacher who is hesitating to connect should just try it. Get out there, jump in, take a risk, and try it.”

Seeing Other Classrooms at Work

When I asked Julia for an example of something in eduTwitter that is setting her on fire today, Julia pointed to the opportunities to see inside other teacher classrooms. “When someone is willing to share what kids are doing, what they’re trying out with students, what they’re revealing about what didn’t work well, when there’s an authentic moment of learning that truly provides a window into their world, that lights me up. I will always find those posts to dig in, learn more, and celebrate.” 

What Else is Setting Julia on 🔥 in Education

Zooming out on education, Julia is energized by the movement of change within education today. So many educators are coalescing and combining their efforts to support student-driven learning, global collaboration, the rewriting of curriculum, and rethinking traditional practices. The power of the PLN is about more than just professional learning: it’s about working together to reshape our education systems and change the planet for the better.

A Professional Goal: More Collaboration

In her current context, Julia serves on a sixth grade language arts team, and from a practical standpoint she would love to find more time to collaborate with her teammates. The times that they do find to share passions and identify opportunities for interdisciplinary learning lights her up and makes their teaching practice richer.

“It’s about strengthening our community of teacher-learners so that we can impact our community of student-learners,” she says. This year, she’s been using the UN sustainable development goals to build a framework for meaningful teaching and learning on her team and for their sixth grade students. When kids feel that team approach to learning, it helps everyone to grow, get excited, and get on board with meaningful work that leads to global change.

Passions That Bring Her Alive

Julia has always had a passion for spiritual growth. For her, this starts with being a solutionary, and it helps that she lives in a cabin in the wilderness – something that allows her to connect with nature every single day. She also draws inspiration and guidance from meditation, and she’s passionate about art and travel.

“I’m a life liver,” she says. “I believe that we truly learn from our experience of the world around us, and I believe that we create our reality.” For that reason, she’s learned to be thoughtful and strategic about the moments, experiences, people, places, and opportunities that she surrounds herself with. The human experience is a gift to be fully and intentionally realized.

Personal Productivity Practices

Her mindfulness practice is the key to helping her stay centered and do all that she does, Julia says. She gets up daily at 4:00 a.m. to get on an elliptical, explaining that she needs quiet time and unplugged time to get away from all notifications and interruptions. The right morning practices set her on fire for the rest of the day and give her the energy to be her best self for her learners and colleagues.

Resources That Ignite Julia’s Practice

Over on Twitter, Julia recommends following the Human Restoration Project (@HumResPro on Twitter), an organization of educators that makes it their mission to bring back the humanity to education. “They’re amazing,” she says. Julia also shouts out her beloved wolfpack – fellow educators who have the bug, push the envelope constantly, and challenge each other to be the very best they can be. These educators include Abigail French, Kellie Bahri, and Donna Guerin

The edtech tool that has really gets Julia excited right now is Zoom. “I love the ability to connect with people, kids, and classes from around the world in a way that transforms the screen from passive to active. It’s a learning opportunity to have a window inside another classroom, to talk with an expert, or to see something that is happening in the world in ways that wouldn’t be possible without it.”

Julia’s book pick is The World Becomes What We Teach: Educating a Generation of Solutionaries by Zoe Weil. Zoe is passionate about raising a generation of students who are committed to being the change, and she is the co-founder of the Institute for Humane Education.

After saying some very kind things about the Teachers on Fire podcast, Julia shouts out The Human Restoration Project as another podcast that she gains a lot of inspiration from. Follow them on Twitter @HumResPro

When it comes to best value on YouTube, Julia points to TED-Ed. “I can’t speak highly enough of TED-Ed,” Julia says. “My kids crave it.” Not only is the content from these talks helpful, but Julia points to the many applications of claim-evidence-analysis that can follow.

We sign off on this great conversation, and Julia gives us the best ways to reach out and connect with her learning. See below for details!

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Song Track Credits

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  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*

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