Riley Dueck: Faith, Learning, and Creative Work

Meet Riley Dueck

RILEY DUECK is a sixth grade teacher in Surrey, BC, Canada. At the time of our recording, he was a second year educator, speaker, innovator, blogger, and the host of the Not Many of You Should Become Teachers podcast.

“NOOOOOOO!”

In his first year of teaching, Riley and his sixth grade colleagues were trying to address some negativity among their students. Even as they planned some fun events before spring break, the complaining from some corners didn’t seem to let up.

Peak frustration came one day for Riley as he was doing his best to hype one of these term-end activities with his class. As he was speaking, one student loudly interrupted him with an obnoxious “NOOOOO!

Shocked, Riley admits to returning some verbal fire and letting this student know in no uncertain terms that their interruption had been extremely rude. But later in the day, when Riley found some time to follow up privately with the student, he discovered that the interruptor had actually been excited about the events Riley described and in fact was crushed that a family vacation would take him away from school a day before these fun events.

Riley realized that the student hadn’t been frustrated with him or his plans at all – just frustrated that his family’s travels meant that he would miss out. Thankfully, Riley was able to completely restore the relationship, and by the time they parted ways for spring break, all was well again. The incident was another good reminder for Riley that student behavior is often not exactly what it seems. There’s often more to the story.

How Can Faith Integrate with Learning?

Riley works at an independent faith-based middle school, so I put to him the question: why does faith belong in K-12 contexts at all?

Riley explains that a faith-based school wasn’t actually his original plan. Fresh out of university, his plan was to teach in a public setting where he would be able to work with underserved children. Hiring didn’t go quite the way he envisioned it, however, and months of soul-searching about his core values and mission led him to reconsider the path forward.

When a last-minute opportunity to take a sixth grade teaching position appeared, his initial misgivings melted away, and he started to see the positive aspects of teaching in a faith community as a person of faith. He thought about the ways in which his beliefs, passions, giftings, and creativity could be used to inspire students and actually “teach in ways that are authentically Christian.”

Riley isn’t interested in the traditional trappings of religion or Christian culture; instead, he’s passionate about showing students what it means to experience a real relationship with their Creator and love the world as he does. Other factors included the chance to coach volleyball and participate in international service initiatives in Africa and around the world – two other core passions that align with his values.

Finally, after taking the time to consider all angles, he decided to accept the offer to teach sixth grade in a faith-based school, and it’s been a fantastic journey so far. Every day, Riley is grateful for the opportunity to use learning experiences to lean into the life and love and restorative work of God in the world.

Not Many of You Should Become Teachers: the Podcast

Riley shares a passion for content creation. For years, most of his creative energies were directed to YouTube, but in recent years those energies have moved into podcasting. The podcast medium has become his medium of choice for discussions of faith and learning, and he enjoys doing exactly that with co-host Dave MacFarland, another former guest of Teachers on Fire.

The Not Many of You Should Become Teachers podcast takes its title from a warning found in the Bible’s book of James, where the author describes the critical importance of education. It’s an activity not to be taken lightly, the ancient writer implied. On the podcast, Riley and Dave maintain that spirit by exploring the field of teaching as a high calling and grand responsibility.

The podcast is also meant to start and continue discussions around Christian education today. What is its role and place in modern society? What should its mission be? What should a holistic study of the integrations between faith and learning include? In Riley’s view, the podcast fills a need for more critical conversations in these spaces. Although the hosts speak from the context of a faith-based school, Riley feels like public school teachers who have an interest in the intersections between faith and learning will enjoy their content as well.

How Does Content Creation Lead to Learning?

Riley looks back at his high school media classes as the catalyst for his current passions and activities around content creation. As an enneagram 7, the fun of trying new things, creating, sharing, and starting conversations easily overcomes the fear of creation and hitting the publish button that many wrestle with. Learning opportunities simply become more fun and engaging when we’re creating.

Riley’s also a believer in the growth mindset and the power of learning from mistakes; it’s when we step out of the comfort zone and take risks that we’re likely to grow the most. The people who have made the biggest impact in the world are generally those who have taken the greatest risks and overcome fears of failure, and this applies to relationships and community-building as much as it does to technology and communication. 

Another Source of Fire in His Practice: Teaching Math

Something else that is setting Riley on fire in his practice at the moment is teaching Math. He regards Robert Kaplinsky as one of his key mentors in this area. “He’s a Math-teaching genius,” says Riley. “Anything that can be made problem-based in my Math class has become problem-based.”

From Kaplinsky, Riley has learned how to offer lower floors (easier on-ramps) for engagement and learning while also offering higher ceilings and opportunities for further growth and extended learning.

A Professional Goal: More Indigenous Integrations

Riley has a couple of professional goals on the go. One of them is to do a better job of integrating First Nations content and pedagogy throughout his teaching practice. He sees a natural congruence between the Christian value of reconciliation and curricular mandates to recognize indigenous cultural values and ways of knowing. 

Learning from Travel

“I love travel and tourism and the leadership opportunities that come with that,” Riley says. He’s worked with AirBnB to offer tour experiences in downtown Vancouver, and he’s the sort of traveler that carefully researches every aspect of future trips in order to absolutely maximize his time and take advantage of every opportunity in foreign destinations.

Essentialism: Doing Less to Do More

“I have a love-hate relationship with productivity and self-help,” Riley laughs. He points to Gregory McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less as a book that shaped his thinking in a profound way in terms of narrowing his focus and avoiding overwhelm. Contrary to conventional thought, we can actually be more effective and productive by doing less, McKeown argues.

Voices and Resources That Spark Riley’s Thinking

On Twitter, Riley recommends following @TobyATravis. He’s the superintendent of Village Christian Academy in Fayetteville, NC, and he’s got a grounded vision for what Christian education can be. He also points to his podcasting co-host, @MrMcFTeaches, as someone who tweets a lot of valuable insights around teaching, current events, social studies, faith and learning, and more.

When asked for an edtech tool pick, Riley shouts out Google Classroom. He’s continually impressed by the ways that Classroom improves and continues to serve educators and students well. Follow Google Classroom on Twitter @GoogleForEdu

When it comes to reading, Riley spends most of his time in two genres: kids’ lit and theology. For the former, he’s recommending Restart and anything else by Gordon Korman. In the area of theology, he suggests The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion by N. T. Wright.

As a podcast creator, you know Riley’s a listener. Once he’s caught up on Teachers on Fire, Riley enjoys This Cultural Moment and Ask NT Wright Anything

On YouTube, Riley still enjoys the legendary PewDiePie. PewDiePie is a reader, a thinker, and an excellent commentator on what is going on in the world. He uses clever memes to communicate his message, and he’s simply entertaining. 

At the time of this recording, Riley had cancelled his Netflix subscription. His entertainment choices were skewing old school with Survivor Season 40

As we said our goodbyes, Riley gave us the best ways to reach out and connect. See below for details.

Follow Riley

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Song Track Credits

  • Sunrise Drive by South London Hifi*
  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*
  • Coupe by The Grand Affair
  • Species by Diamond Ortiz
  • *tracks courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library

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Episode 128 – Julia Fliss

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!

Follow Julia

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Song Track Credits

  • Bluntedsesh4 (by Tha Silent Partner, courtesy of FreeMusicArchive.org)
  • Sunrise Drive by South London Hifi*
  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*

*courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library

Listen to Teachers on Fire on YouTube

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Episode 111 – Abigail French

111 - Abigail French.png

Meet Abigail French

ABIGAIL FRENCH is a mother of four, a history teacher for sixth graders, an advocate of public education, and an explorer of the natural world in Woodstock, VA. 

A Challenging Professional Reboot

For Abby, one of her biggest professional challenges was returning to the classroom in 2014 after leaving it in 1997. A lot had changed while she was away, particularly technology resources and internet access. She recognized immediately that technology should be used to build skills, facilitate learning, and create deeper understanding, but it took some time to adjust to the changes that technology had brought to the learning environment.

Today, her sixth graders enjoy 1:1 Chromebook access, a move that has come with a mix of tremendous opportunities and practical challenges. “It’s definitely a journey,” Abby says of her use of technology in the classroom. “It’s always evolving – it’s not like you ever arrive.” As she models a posture of constant learning and openness to new things, you sense that Abby’s learners are in good hands.

The Snake That Rocked Edu Twitter 

Abby has been fascinated by herpetology – the study of reptiles – for about as long as she can remember. She’s even gained such notoriety in her community for the courage, care, and prowess she shows around snakes that she is known by some as The Snake Lady!

When her daughter called her about a large snake in the backyard in the summer, Abby didn’t hesitate to run outside and move it. It was likely a female, she says, looking for a nice place to lay her eggs. What others fear, Abby loves to engage and learn from.

Not Measuring Up

Abby isn’t someone who went into teaching because she had such a great experience as a student. In some ways, she actually went into teaching to undo the damage done and to give students a better learning experience than the one she remembers.

As a young student, Abby is quick to point out that she definitely had some good teachers. But she had a learning disability, a processing issue, and that meant that she learned differently than most other kids. The symptoms of academic success, including good grades, words of affirmation, and the approval of her teachers always felt elusive. She still clearly remembers the feelings of falling short, of never being good enough, of never quite fitting into the game of school. Those memories and experiences have shaped her philosophy and professional practice profoundly.  

Rethinking Assessment in Her Practice Today

As with technology, Abby’s approach to assessment has been a journey. It starts with a mindset, she says. As she returned to teaching five years ago, she realized that traditional means of assessment – quizzes, tests, and multiple choice assessments – were not satisfying her desire to know what her students actually knew and had learned.

She started looking around at other examples and modes of assessment, asking how she could better partner with her students and include them in every part of the assessment process. She wanted to put students in the driver’s seat: how do YOU want to show what you’ve learned? Building strong relationships with students was an essential step toward empowerment, she observed. Student reactions to her change in philosophy have been exciting, and Abby is constantly learning about the ways to represent learning that energize her students and connect with their passions and interests.

One other way that Abby has started changing her practice is to change the way that she organizes her students’ digital portfolios. Rather than organize them by subjects and units, she has started to organize them around learning targets and skills: analyze and interpret, compare and contrast, using a decision-making model, etc. This means of portfolio organization shifts the focus from the content to the skills: what are we actually trying to learn? Which skill does this work demonstrate?

#HackLearning: Countering Toxic Cultures 

Abby recently moderated a #HackLearning Twitter chat about toxicity in schools, and she’s given this topic a lot of thought lately. It’s a challenging topic with a ton of complexity and layers, and she’s quick to point out that there are no quick fixes or easy solutions.

Teachers pour themselves into their work, and the emotional well can get pretty low if communities aren’t doing the important work of caring for their members. The work of teaching becomes doubly difficult in environments of toxic thinking and behavior, but one thing we should always keep in mind is that toxicity is rarely personal. Instead, it usually appears as a symptom of what someone else is going through.

Ultimately, we need to protect our own mindsets by finding supportive partners, both locally and through our professional learning networks. PLNs such as the education community on Twitter can deliver incredible encouragement and inspiration, and it’s a great way to find your people when you’re feeling isolated or marginalized in your own learning community. Even as we connect outside the walls of our school, however, it’s important to continue to invest in our own community. 

A Professional Goal: Instructional Coaching

Abby has been exploring some growing opportunities in the area of instructional coaching, and lately it’s been a pleasure to serve in a mastermind group for new teachers. She’s excited to contribute, and she enjoys the growth she sees in her own practice along the way.

Personal Passions Outside of Education 

MushroomsOutside of school, Abby enjoys sharing passions with her four children. Their curiosities are endless and they stretch her into new spaces that she otherwise wouldn’t necessarily find herself. She is also energized by running, getting into nature, and hunting for mushrooms. Mushrooms fascinate her, and it’s a joy to find them, photograph them, and cook with them.

A Personal Productivity Hack: Time Blocking

Abby credits Aubrey Patterson with the practice of time blocking. She uses Google Calendar to prioritize her time for the week and make sure that the big rocks are accomplished before the sand. Her next mission? Getting a better handle on her Google Drive and organizing it more efficiently.

Voices and Resources That Inspire Her Practice

Over on Twitter, Abby recommends giving Jeanne Wolz a follow @TeacherOffDuty. Jeanne is an instructional coach who Abby has learned a lot from lately. She also recommends following Aubrey Patterson @PattersonAubrey, co-founder of Nohea Kindred, educational leadership strategist, and consultant.

An edtech tool that has taken learning to the next level in her sixth grade classroom as of late is Zoom. Zoom has allowed her to connect with other educators in real time, bringing new insights and information into her classroom.

Entertaining an Elephant by William McBrideAbby’s book pick comes from a book club she joined this year. The title is Entertaining an Elephant: A Novel About Learning and Letting Go by William McBride. The book chronicles the journey of a seasoned teacher who battles burnout. Follow the author on Twitter @DrBilly7

Two podcasts that are making a difference in Abby’s professional practice are Teachers Going Gradeless and Human Restoration Project. Both shows completely reimagine education and particularly assessment, and they’ve been fuel for her professional growth and evolution.

When she’s got no energy left in the day and it’s Netflix time, Abby is watching Peaky Blinders, a great historical series, and Jane the Virgin, a source of non-stop laughs.

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

You can connect with Abby on Twitter @AWFrench1. 

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Episode 73 – Rae Hughart

73 - Rae Hughart

Meet Our Guest

RAE HUGHART is a middle school Math teacher, educational consultant, Director of Training & Development for Teach Better, and a co-host for the Teach Better Talk podcast – and if you haven’t given Teach Better Talk a listen, you need to! Connect with Rae on Twitter AND Instagram @RaeHughart, and check out her course offerings and resources at TeachBetter.com!

Shut Out as a Learner

Rae’s own experience of elementary school wasn’t an easy one. She struggled with a reading disability, complicating her learning in most subjects. In fact, Rae feels she is likely one of the few Math teachers out there today as one who earned a ‘D’ when she was in 6th grade math herself. By high school, these poor associations of school were slowly building a passion to pursue a career in education with the purpose of changing the experience of school for learners like herself.

The Teach Better Mission, Upcoming Book, and #MasteryChat

The book on the way from the Teach Better Team (to be published by Dave Burgess Consulting) will feature all four leading members as contributors: Rae Hughart, Jeff Gargas, Chad Ostrowski, and Tiffany Ott. The authors plan to bring a mix of personal stories, education philosophy, and tactical strategies that will help educators move forward and experience continuous professional growth.

#MasteryChat, hosted by the Teach Better team and taking place every Thursday evening on Twitter, covers just about any and all issues in education and really boils down to the idea of coming together to master our craft as educators.

Tips for PLN Engagement on Twitter and Instagram

Rae sees Twitter as the place for educators to build engagement around rich pedagogical conversations and focused issues. Instagram is a different dive, a different lens, with different kinds of moments and ideas to be shared.

Of the two, Instagram is the better platform to visit to really get to know the human side of educators, partly because Instagram stories give teachers a lot of space to speak directly to their followers and get personal.

“Enjoy Instagram,” says Rae, “but remember that fluff ain’t enough.” Make sure you’re finding ways to connect and have those rich professional conversations as well, she advises.

A Personal Passion and Productivity Hack

Rae’s favorite outlet and source of recharging is her dogs. She obsesses about them whenever she can and loves nothing more than walking them over to Lowe’s – they’re allowed to walk inside the store there!

When asked for a productivity hack, Rae simply asks how anyone can do it alone. She’s committed to the idea of joining hands with others – a village of support. That’s the only way to make great things happen and really crush it in education.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Rae’s Professional Practice

Aside from the Teach Better team, Rae suggests following @MrAdamWelcome on Twitter for a steady stream of balanced inspiration.

Her edtech pick is Seesaw. Follow them on Twitter @Seesaw.

Rae’s book recommendation is Educated by Design: Designing the Space to Experiment, Explore, and Extract Your Creative Potential by Michael Cohen. Follow the author on Twitter @TheTechRabbi.

One podcast that lifts her up outside of the education space is The Rise Podcast with Rachel Hollis. Follow this well-known author on Twitter @MsRachelHollis.

Rae’s choice on YouTube is an oldie but a goodie: TED Talks. And on Netflix, it’s been Person of Interest lately.

See More From Rae

We sign off on this conversation, and Rae reminds us of the best ways to connect with her and learn together online. Get connected!

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