Episode 69 – Mike Paul

69 - Mike Paul

Guest Profile

MIKE PAUL is a middle school math teacher, edtech leader, Google Certified Innovator, and the co-founder of Edcamp Kentucky. Follow Mike on Twitter @mikepaul and check out his blog at https://pikemalltech.com/.

Mike teaches at Bardstown Middle School in Bardstown, Kentucky. Bardstown has the distinction of being the bourbon capital of the world, and was also recently judged the most beautiful small town in America. Mike teaches 7th grade Mathematics and is the IT coordinator for the district, where he helps teachers integrate technology in their classrooms.

Making the Success of Learners the Top Priority

During his first year of teaching, Mike received an email from a principal that was hard to receive. A school in another district was experiencing success in a particular program area, but wasn’t willing to share ideas and resources out of a sense of competition. He realized from the email and the conversation that followed that not everyone is in education primarily for students; unfortunately, some are more concerned about their own success.

This experience only heightened Mike’s resolve to work with educators who put the learning and success of kids as the top priority and are less concerned with perceptions of success. When students win, we all win!

How Has Technology Changed the Ways We Teach and Learn Math?

Technology and tech tools have changed the way we teach and learn about mathematics. Today, it’s less about accurate calculations and more about proper processes, habits of mind, and approaches to problems. It’s about problem-solving skills that transfer across all domains.

What Gets Mike Excited About Education Today

Mike is excited by the pockets of innovation that are showing up in schools across the country that are determined to be about more than just test scores. At the Google Innovator Academy, Mike focused on developments in design thinking that empower students to solve real-world problems inside and outside of the school walls.

Mike’s OneWord, Personal Passions, and Productivity Hacks

Mike’s #OneWord2019 is SERVE. He’s challenging himself to assist more educators and more students than ever. By orienting himself this way in his professional and personal spaces, he knows his relationships will be enriched and opportunities for growth are sure to follow.

Mike is a big fan of self-improvement and personal development. Whether it means growing his mental, physical, or financial health — he loves to learn.

Mike read The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod, and it’s completely transformed his mornings. The key to transformative mornings are SAVERS: Silence, Affirmation, Vizualization, Exercise, Reading, and Scribing.

Mike has become an early morning riser, starting his days at 4:00 a.m. No, he doesn’t manage to do all six things every single day, but on the days the SAVERS don’t happen, he can feel the difference.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Mike’s Professional Practice

On Twitter, Mike suggests following @DonWettrick, the innovation leader and enigmatic host of the StartEd Up Podcast.

An edtech tool that has really caught Mike’s attention lately is Pear Deck. Find out more about how Pear Deck can amplify student voice and increase engagement by following them on Twitter @PearDeck.

Mike’s two book recommendations are The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and The 10X Rule: The Only Difference Between Success and Failure by Grant Cardone. Follow the authors on Twitter @SPressfield and @GrantCardone.

In podcasts, Mike suggests subscribing to The Ed Mylett Show. Find out more about Ed and what he’s all about @EdMylett.

Mike’s pick for YouTube channels is The Passionate Few by Omar Elattar.

On Netflix, there’s one show that convinces Mike to keep his subscription active. It’s The Office, of course!

We sign off on the conversation, and Mike lets us know where we can follow him online. See below for details!

Follow Mike:

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device.

iTunes | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Follow the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media.

Song Track Credits

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

Staying Hungry

Before I’m an educator, I’m a learner.

Photo credit: James Barker

“The best teachers I know are the ones that still see themselves as works in progress and are continually looking for new ways to improve. They are learners. They are students of their profession and calling.”

— Jarod Bormann in Professionally Driven: Empower Every Educator To Redefine PD

At 40 years old, I’m now in my 18th year of teaching at my fourth school. With memories of being the “young guy” on campus still fresh in my memory, I now wear the label of veteran.

Of course, those years of experience offer confidence and insight. 17 years removed from rookie, I have a clearer sense of my professional strengths and weaknesses.

I know a whole lot more about classroom management and student behavior. I have a firmer understanding of what optimal conditions for learning look like. My thinking around assessment and learning has evolved astronomically. I’m better at setting personal boundaries and establishing self-care practices that allow me to be better in the classroom.

But I’m keenly aware that I still have a long, LONG way to go and a whole lot more to learn.

And I love that.

There might have been a time early in my career when I envisioned the master teacher as an educator who had basically arrived. This was the teacher who held her students’ attention with hypnotic powers. Who oozed the sort of charisma that inspired incredible heights of work, creativity, and achievement. Whose timeless classroom management systems had been tweaked to a state of permanent perfection. Who drew from a bottomless well of instructional resources to locate a solution for every possible challenge. Who personally knew every inch of their content area and whose expertise was legendary.

Who never made a mistake, never failed, who never felt embarrassed or frustrated.

Today, there might be some aspects of confidence and mastery in that vision that I still strive for. But I also recognize that most of that picture of “arrival” is mere mythology.

I now see that year-over-year consistency leads to stagnancy, that comfort breeds complacency.

As I continue to grow as a professional, as I learn from my PLN, as I read Mindset by Carol Dweck or Professionally Driven by Jarod Bormann, I’m constantly reminded that we’re all — ALL OF US — on a continuous journey of growing, stretching, and learning.

Even the best among us fail, miss the mark, pick ourselves up and continue to learn.

Especially the best among us.

I took a new teaching position this year, and in some ways, a new position means going back to square one. Hitting reset.

It’s a chance to ignore my old assumptions and beliefs, to reimagine every moment, every class, every course, every subject. To critique my own practice. To push the limits of what is possible for every one of my learners.

I want to push myself into uncomfortable spaces and take bigger risks.

Because I haven’t made it. And because “making it” isn’t the goal, anyway.

“If you haven’t failed in the classroom lately, you aren’t pushing the envelope far enough. ‘Safe’ lessons are a recipe for mediocrity at best.”

— Dave Burgess in Teach Like a Pirate

I’m a student of my profession.
I’m a lifelong learner.
And the appetite for growth is real.

So I’m getting after it.
I’m seeking to stretch, risk, grow, and learn.

I’m staying hungry this year.

Episode 68 – Dr. Brad Gustafson

68 - Dr. Brad Gustafson2.png

Guest Profile

DR. BRAD GUSTAFSON is a National Distinguished Principal, best-selling author, and speaker. He is also a Digital Innovation in Learning Award winner and a member of the National School Boards Association “20 to Watch.” Brad recently released a new book that is making a stir: Reclaiming Our Calling: Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education. Find out more about his work at www.BradGustafson.com and follow Brad on Twitter @GustafsonBrad.

The Importance of Investing in Student Relationships

Brad recalls the experience of suspending a student who struggled to regulate her behavior and manage her emotions effectively. During a conversation with the parent, the parent said “I just wish you had gotten to know her.”

Brad let that comment absorb deeply, and from that point forward he worked hard to build a relationship with this student. Through the course of the year, they partnered on computer design projects, LEGO drone activities, etc. and the relationship improved. By the end of the year, he was able to leverage the relationship effectively to help this student manage her emotions effectively and de-escalate formerly impossible situations quickly.

The Heart of Education

In Reclaiming Our Calling: Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education, Brad seeks to address the tension between the pressure on schools to meet certain metrics of academic performance and the mission of educators to meet the needs of the whole child. How do we restore balance in education and reaffirm the things that matter most? Brad debunks the notion that high-value learning and a nurturing environment must be mutually exclusive. We can do both well — and stay sane in that process.

The Place of EdTech

When it comes to strategic uses of edtech and developing digital literacy, the guiding theme should be the idea of connectedness. Instead of always being focused on the latest and greatest apps or technology, we should be asking questions like “How will this bring us together?” and “How will this connect our learners to content, to opportunities, and to one another?” Technology tools should connect with the creator and the maker inside every student, because that will be a mindset that transcends their time in schools.

Engaging Students in Learning

Whoever is doing the talking is doing a lot of the learning. When students are actively engaged in reflecting and conversation, that’s when learning really happens.

If we want to reach the YouTube generation, does it not make sense to have kids be active creators and consumers alongside us? We want to scaffold and model and walk with them in a safe environment, with the best of the best: committed and mindful educators.

Having Grace for the Learning Journeys of All Educators

Conversations about leading change, valuing good work, and moving to next steps will never grow old. Sometimes we can get so hyper-focused on innovation and pedagogy that we fail to recognize and value the baby steps of growth experienced by some educators.

Every educator is on a journey, and we need to be careful not to demonize practices deemed “behind the curve” when in fact they may represent progress for someone else. It’s when teachers feel safe to try new things and grow that the most growth happens.

Amplifying Student Voice

In terms of student ownership and learner empowerment, another key to building a positive learning culture is finding ways to amplify student voice from the time they enter school. Learning can’t be done to students, it’s done by students. A student wrote the foreword to Reclaiming our Calling, and Brad’s also had the pleasure of seeing a former student speak at the state principals’ conference.

When we amplify student voice, we also allow teachers to learn from learners. Great things are possible when we invest in student strengths, empower, and give kids ownership of their learning journeys.

Professional Goals, Passions, and Productivity Hacks

This school year, Brad is focused on more meaningful conversations around change and growth. He wants to support and learn from others in his community and across his PLN. Platforms like Voxer and Twitter are fulfilling and making a difference because they inspire and inform across local and global learning communities.

Brad loves competing, and lately he’s been having a blast playing against his kids on games like Crossfire and Risk. He also enjoys playing pickle ball at school and of course reading. Even more fun than talking about books he’s read have been the facilitation of activities that inspire other educators and learners to talk about their reading.

Taking inspiration from his friend Jessica Cabeen’s Balance Like a Pirate, Brad spends some minutes each morning drinking coffee and centering his thoughts with reflection and time in the Bible. He’s found that grabbing his phone too quickly can send him down the rabbit hole of email and social media, and very quickly the day starts to happen to him — instead of moving through the day with intentionality and purpose.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Brad’s Professional Practice

On Twitter, Brad recommends following @PrincipalBoots. Lindsy is a wealth of stories about family, education, and laughs. Check her out for nonstop inspiration.

Instead of pointing to a favorite edtech tool, Brad makes the point that when you know your pedagogical goals, approach, and can articulate them, you’ll know right away if a tool will or will not fit. Brad’s pillars of pedagogy include collaboration, student ownership, digital connectivity, and experiential learning – all grounded in relationships. Those criteria form his judgments when it comes to choosing tech tools.

Over in books, Brad suggests checking out a book first recommended to him by George Couros – one written in such a unique and powerful style that in some ways it shaped the direction for Reclaiming Our Calling. The book is Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Follow the author on Twitter @PatrickLencioni.

Like the guest before him, Dr. Brad selects the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast by Danny Bauer as his top pick in education. Add it to your daily commute today and follow @AlienEarbud on Twitter to learn more about the show.

Still a self-professed kid at heart, Brad enjoys the LEGO channel on YouTube. Follow LEGO on Twitter @LEGO_Group.

There’s some strategy involved with the Gustafsons’ Netflix viewing. Just when their Minnesota winter gets its coldest, Brad and the family watch Hawaii 5-0. It helps them dream of warmer climes and fun in the sun even while things are freezing.

We sign off on this conversation, and Brad reminds us of the best places to follow him. Make sure you grab your copy of Reclaiming Our Calling today!

Follow Dr. Brad

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device.

iTunes | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Follow the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media.

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 67 – Dr. Erik Youngman

67 - Dr. Erik Youngman

Guest Profile

DR. ERIK YOUNGMAN has been a first grade teacher, assistant principal, and principal. Today, he’s the director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for the Libertyville School District in the Greater Chicago Area. He advocates for continuous learning, feedback, growth mindset, metacognition, innovation, and visible learning. Follow Dr. Erik on Twitter @Erik_Youngman.

The Challenge of Change

Although his career has been overwhelmingly positive, change is a theme that must be continually addressed. Change can lead to either low moments or tremendous opportunities. Organizational change can spark awesome professional conversations but also requires learning mindsets, shared vision, collaboration, communication and a clear understanding of why the change is being put in place.

Growth Mindset

Adopting a growth mindset requires a powerful shift in thinking. Don’t just learn from mistakes; reflect throughout the day and seek feedback to spark learning from every activity for continuous improvement. Even if you’re performing well in an area, careful scrutiny and reflection can lead the further growth and development.

When teachers create, model, and use common vocabularies, it equips students to better reflect and gain more insights from their own learning journeys. When students and teachers are empowered to reflect and self-regulate, make choices, take ownership, and monitor their own progress.

The Possibilities in Education Today

What really excites Erik about the state of education today is the tremendous opportunities for learning among educators today. Books, journals, Twitter, conferences are fuelling so many powerful conversations around technology, equity, personalized learning, student choice and voice, and competency-based learning. In his position he is honored to be involved in many of these conversations, which are shaping education today and for the future.

Professional Goals, Passions, and Productivity Hacks

In terms of professional growth in 2019, Erik is ready to take some risks. His goal is to share his perspectives and learning with other educators more than he has in the past. This interview is a good start! He’s also presenting at the ASCD conference in March, he’s writing an article about homework for an online magazine, and he’s exploring a collaborative effort on a book with other authors as well.

Erik is a big sports fan, but another area that intrigues him is that of leadership. He loves to study successful leaders and pays close attention to their activities, quotes, and recommendations.

His productivity hack is all about maximizing time. He calls his workouts “multitasking education research exercise.” He listens to education and leadership podcasts at maximum speed which allows him to consume a large amount of content as efficiently as possible. He also takes notes on his phone to remember innovative ideas and resources worth pursuing further.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Erik’s Professional Practice

On Twitter, Erik recommends following @GeorgeCouros for a constant source of reflection and inspiration.

An edtech tool that does so much for learners and learning in Libertyville right now is Google Slides. If you like Slides, you’ll really love this Slides add-on: Pear Deck. Follow Pear Deck on Twitter @PearDeck.

Dr. Erik has two book recommendations, both of which have been instrumental in his own learning journey and dissertation. The first is called Rethinking Homework, 2nd Edition: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs by Cathy Vatterott.

The second is called On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting – A Book for K-12 Assessment Policies and Practices by Thomas Guskey.

Follow these two authors on Twitter @RealHomeworkldy and @TGuskey.

Over in the education podcast space, Dr. Erik recommends Better Leaders Better Schools by @AlienEarbud and The Wired Educator by @WiredEducator.

Follow Dr. Erik

If you’re interested in hearing more from this guest follow Dr. Erik on Twitter @Erik_Youngman.

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device.

iTunes | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Follow the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media.

Song Track Credits

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

Compliance is Not the Mission

“Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.” — Daniel Pink

Teachers love it when their students are compliant. What’s not to like about it? It makes their jobs easier.

Even as assessment practices continue to move away from marks and toward standards-based grading, some stubbornly cling to the idea that assessment should reflect obedience to the rules of school. Nowhere is this more true than in the gym, where many PE teachers still assess students entirely on attitude and effort (ie. compliance), ignoring standards-based assessment.

The more you obey, the higher your mark.

But that’s a whole other post.

The truth is that there’s little correlation between compliance and learning. In fact, many of the characteristics of growth that we look to see in our students don’t fit at all within cultures of compliance. Risk-taking, self-advocacy, creativity, design planning, tolerance for ambiguity, critical thinking, and an innovator’s mindset aren’t welcome when the only objective is to follow the rules.

Ouch.

Playing the Game of School

Compliant students are masters at playing the game of school. They’re great at coloring within the lines. They follow instructions meticulously and without a hint of pushback. They’re the students who most frequently ask teachers questions like these:

  • “Do you want this in pen or pencil?”
  • “How many words does this need to be?”
  • “Can I change the font for this assignment?”

These are the students who obsess about performance details, so visibly anxious about violating one of our all-knowing wishes that they cannot rest until they are assured that they 1) have crystal clarity on the rules of the task and 2) are playing safe within those rules.

A part of that behavior is endearing, almost. Like I said off the top, absolute compliance makes our jobs as teachers easier. As in a dictatorship, citizens who keep their heads down and obey without question are easier to manage and control.

And yet it’s when we frame compliance in political paradigms like these that we begin to see the problem. We know that critical thinking, resistant journalism, and protest movements are all essential to the health and function of vibrant democratic systems. It’s when too many citizens shut up and do nothing that power runs amok and abuses multiply like disease.

Give Autonomy When Possible

As teachers, we can’t give up 100% control in our classrooms. For the good of our learners, our little nation-states might still operate closer to benevolent dictatorships than pure democracies where every decision is made by referendum.

But we can take baby steps toward sharing more of our control and giving more autonomy than we have in the past. Allowing — even requiring — our students to become agents of their own learning, to become masters of creative decision-making, to evaluate their own learning critically.

Practically speaking, we can share control by giving students greater voice and better choices, by allowing them to co-create assessment tools, by inviting them deeper into the assessment process through more self- and peer assessments, by allowing them to follow their own curiosities and direct their own learning through models of inquiry.

When we share more control and give more autonomy, we’re creating an environment where “Why are we doing this?” is not regarded as a threat to be stifled but a thoughtful invitation to a healthy conversation.

When I think about what’s important for our learners, I keep coming back to the 4 Cs: creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

Compliance isn’t on that list.

Because building a culture of compliance isn’t the mission.


by @MisterCavey