Episode 115 – Jonathan Alsheimer

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Meet Jonathan Alsheimer

JONATHAN ALSHEIMER teaches seventh grade history at the legendary Fred M. Lynn Middle School. He’s a family man, keynote speaker, and the author of #NextLevelTeaching: Empowering Students and Transforming School Culture. As much as he enjoys speaking to teachers about education, it’s a thrill for him to share his story with students and motivate them to overcome adversity in their own learning journeys.

Early Struggles with the Game of School

Although he grew up in an education household, Jonathan freely admits that he struggled to play the game of school. As a kid, test-taking was difficult, and he remembers adopting a facade of confidence to cover up those insecurities. To be successful, he realized he would need to work hard and never give up, and he carried that never-quit ethic into athletics and throughout his school and college career.

He’s found strength in being honest about his academic journey and enjoys encouraging students to keep pushing, keep grinding, never give up, and overcome those challenges that today seem insurmountable. “Be that teacher that you needed when you were a kid,” he says, and it’s something he keeps constantly in mind regarding his own practice. We need to see past the data and the test results to recognize each child for who they are and the journey they’re on.

Next Level Teaching 

One of the biggest motivators behind his book, Next Level Teaching, traces back to a major language arts test that Jonathan failed in high school. As painful as that failure was, it’s only made him more determined to become first a Master of Education and now a published author. He’s walking the walk — living out his message that hard work and determination can overcome the demons of failure and adversity. To the doubters and haters that second-guessed his potential, this book is a mic drop.

115 - Jonathan Alsheimer7.jpgOne of his hopes for this book is that it inspires teachers to reach out to learners and classrooms beyond the door of their classroom. No, one teacher won’t completely revolutionize an entire school and culture by themselves. But our influence goes much further than we think it does, and it’s when committed teachers truly take ownership of their communities that we start to see systemic change.

Bring the energy, bring the passion, engage with kids, and love on students beyond your classroom and throughout your building, Jonathan urges. Take those opportunities during supervision duties or athletic events to connect with kids on another level and communicate care. Be “that teacher” that we all look back to with fondness, the one who believed in us and made a difference beyond the academics.

What To Do When It’s Hard to Connect

To teachers who struggle to connect with their learners, Jonathan encourages them to view each student as their own child. How would that relationship change the ways you relate to that hard-to-reach kid?

Kids need to feel empowered; when they feel that they can’t win or don’t matter, that’s when they withdraw, isolate, and tune out. Teachers should rethink “throwaway minutes” and use that time to build quick connections and trust. When kids love you and they love your classroom, they’re more likely to learn.  “I’ll throw away 30 minutes today to gain an hour of focused instruction next week,” Jonathan says. Find their interests and connect with them there, and you’ll be on your way to building a positive relationship. 

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What Else is Setting Jonathan on 🔥 in Education: TeacherFit 

One thing that Jonathan is hyped about today is TeacherFit, a health and wellness program for teachers. It’s simple, affordable, and has the capacity to significantly improve the health and wellbeing of an entire staff community. Even better, TeacherFit gives Jonathan great mentoring opportunities with students. He’s been working out after hours at school, and students have been joining in. It’s been another great on-ramp for relationship-building with students, and it’s improving the health, wellness, and community culture at Fred Lynn Middle School.

A Professional Goal: More Speaking to Students

Jonathan’s new book has taken a lot of his his focus and attention over the last year, but he also continues to build his capacity to speak to students. He is speaking at schools in Texas and Kansas in January and anticipates more opportunities in the months to come. Some of the feedback from schools and students has been incredible, and to hear that his message is giving hope to the hopeless pushes him to do more. There are kids that need to hear that message of hope at virtually every school.

Personal Passions That Bring Jonathan Alive

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“I’m all about getting out there and living life,” Jonathan says. “I wanna DO stuff in life.” He’s committed to living a life with no regrets, visiting new places, and trying new things. He’s already tried white water rafting, climbing mountains, and mixed martial arts fighting, and he looks forward to experiencing a shark cage next. It’s all about living life to the fullest and modeling a spirit of risk-taking for his learners, and his experiences make for great stories, illustrations, and connection points in the classroom as well. “You can be okay with what you got or you can push life to the max,” he tells his students.

His Key to Productivity: A Relentless Spirit

Instead of an app or routine, Jonathan points to his relentless spirit as his key to productivity. It’s a value that kids need to learn to nurture and grow within themselves over time, he says. That said, it’s also important to take some time for yourself, and Jonathan credits his amazing wife for helping him find balance between work and play. Next Level Teaching isn’t about spending money and hours on Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers. It’s about acknowledging that you as the teacher are the single most important factor for learning in the classroom, and that being the case, we need to care for ourselves properly.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Practice

Over on Twitter, Jonathan recommends following his principal, Hamish Brewer. Hamish has been absolutely inspirational, genuine, and he really does walk the walk at Fred Lynn Middle School. Connect with Hamish on Twitter @BrewerHM

When asked for an edtech tool pick, Jonathan goes to iMovie. It’s nothing new, but kids love it, he says. It’s such an easy and powerful way to energize learning activities and engage students in the act of creation.

When it comes to books, Jonathan recommends Relentless: Changing Lives by Disrupting the Educational Norm by Hamish Brewer, a book he was honored to contribute to and endorse. Jonathan also shouts out Leadership Lessons of the Navy SEALS: Battle-Tested Strategies for Creating Successful Organizations and Inspiring Extraordinary Results by Jeff and Jon Cannon, explaining that many of the principles contained in this book are universally applicable and certainly come in handy in the classroom.

Jonathan has a lot of commute time, and two of his favorite podcasts include Jostens Renaissance and TeacherFit

This episode released during the Christmas season, so when prompted for an all-time favorite Christmas movie, Jonathan went with Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. It’s one of those family classics that never fails to deliver laughs.

We sign off on this inspiring conversation, and Jonathan gives us the best ways to reach out and connect with him online. See below for details!

You can connect with Jonathan …

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Episode 86 – Pernille Ripp

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Meet Pernille Ripp

PERNILLE RIPP is a prolific blogger, highly recognized speaker, literacy expert, creator of the Global Read Aloud, and the author of several books, including Passionate Readers: The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child. She’s also a Danish educator living in the US, mother of 4, and soulmate to an incredible man that makes it all possible.

Pernille’s context in education is that of a 7th grade English teacher in Oregon, WI. She has the privilege of having her reality checked by 75th students each day, and she enjoys learning from them constantly. Pernille also writes regularly on her blog and frequently shares her learning with other educators around the world.

When Our Best is Not Enough

When Pernille thinks of failures in her education career, she thinks of the moments when her best efforts just haven’t been enough. Yes, she can think of lots of successes in reading and writing and the growth of her learners. But there are other stories and everyday experiences that challenge us as educators and shake our confidence in our own effectiveness.

Sometimes we don’t see the progress that we want to see, and sometimes our students will remain resistant to the passions and skills that we seek to cultivate in them. One thing we can focus on in cases like that, Pernille observes, is to make sure that we are doing everything in our power to avoid contributing to the problem. Even if we can’t be THE solution for a learner, we can strive to at least contribute toward it.

The Power of Pink

Pernille describes the incredible night when Pink asked to personally meet her daughter, a victim of terrible bullying in third grade. She explains some of the trauma that her daughter experienced during the previous year, and calls this surreal experience with Pink as a powerful moment of affirmation and self-confidence that will stay with her daughter forever. (Check out Pernille’s Dear Pink.)

Though her daughter’s story isn’t over, Pernille talks about the power of taking the time and energy to speak life into others by telling them we see them, they’re important, and they matter. The whole experience has also set her daughter on a mission to stand up for other kids who may be struggling in similar ways.

Blogging as a Form of Authentic Self-Reflection

Pernille recalls the very beginning of her blogging journey. Her purpose and intentions have remained as simple as they were at the outset, and the blog remains more about her own reflective process than anything else.

That said, years of consistent and authentic writing have taken her blog further than she could have ever imagined. Many of her closest professional connections and mentors have come from her blogging work, and she owes her speaking engagements and publishing achievements to the organic growth of the blog.

The publishing process requires a thick skin, Pernille observes, and it’s also critical that you understand your core purpose. First and foremost, blogging is about self-reflection and learning. “The reason I publish publicly is because it keeps me honest,” she says.

We actually don’t need more stories from perfect teachers – what we really need is more genuine reflections about what we’ve done, where we’ve failed, and how we’re growing, learning, and improving our practice.

Literacy and Equity in Education

Pernille has focused a lot lately on the roles that literacy and literature play around equity in education. Preserving the status quo often means perpetuating ongoing inequities, so instead of doing that, let’s make it our aim to disrupt norms, she urges. Connect with people who are doing disrupting things, like the authors of Disrupt Texts or the Twitter conversations happening at #CleartheAir.

Pernille is often accused of making her book choices political, but she shrugs that off as inevitable resistance that comes when we amplify the voices of the marginalized.

Children’s Lit Titles on Pernille’s Radar

When she thinks of recent kids’ lit or teen lit titles, a couple of books that have attracted Pernille’s attention include The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, Redwood and Ponytail by K. A. Holt, Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson & Ellen Hagan, and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.

These stories and others like them are finally being shared, heard, published, and it gives Pernille hope that blind spots in our culture are slowly being eliminated and students are learning to see the world through other people’s eyes.

Pernille’s Professional Goals

Pernille’s goals include continual improvement and growth as a teacher of writing – and particularly, writing as a tool for social change. She’s slowly formulating content for another book as well, and this one will come directly from the learning experiences of her students. Her students have made it clear that they would like to be in a book, and she’s more than happy to amplify their voices.

In the bigger picture, Pernille also wants to remain mindful of life balance: saying yes to large projects also means saying no to other priorities, and it’s important to her to protect the marriage, family, and professional priorities that matter most.

Personal Passions Outside of Education

Pernille is focused on learning how to relax. By nature, she likes to be busy, so she’s working hard to rewire her brain to recognize reading books, hanging out with her kids, cooking, baking, and gardening as productive time. These activities take her away from her computer and so-called “productive activities” in order to slow down and enjoy simple pleasures and relationships more deeply.

Productivity Habits and Hacks

Pernille gives her husband Brandon credit for her productivity, calling him the powerhouse that makes her work possible. He takes care of so much on the home front to create the time she that she needs to meet her professional commitments, and she’s grateful for his support.

She also calls herself a task slayer in the sense that she takes out tasks as quickly as possible. Her blogging practice is quick and efficient, and most of her published pieces are actually first drafts.

She’s also developed her ability to say no and walk away. As a teacher, there’s always more that we can do in our classrooms or on our lesson plans if we are willing to sacrifice personal happiness and relationships. But as human beings, we need to be able to walk away and be content with good enough.

Her motto right now is less learning, more BEING.

Voices and Resources That Inspire Her Practice 

Over on Twitter, Pernille shouts out a few inspiring educators worth following: @ValeriaBrownEdu, @DebReese, @JuliaErin80, @TchKimPossible, @TriciaEbarvia, and @NenaGerman.

Pernille’s favorite edtech tool? Her AirPods! As an introvert, she appreciates the power of her AirPods to give her some separation when she needs it.

Her adult-level book picks include Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School, by Carla Shalaby. She’s also been enjoying the poetry of Amanda Lovelace in The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One.

A podcast that Pernille and her teaching team have enjoyed lately is NPR’s More Perfect, hosted by Jad Abumrad. Follow the host on Twitter @JadAbumrad.

Two Netflix shows on Pernille’s radar lately are Derry Girls and Sex Education. The latter was seriously entertaining, but don’t break it out in your middle school classroom any time soon!

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

Connect with Pernille:

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Episode 69 – Mike Paul

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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:

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Episode 60 – AJ Bianco

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AJ BIANCO is a husband, father of two boys, aspiring leader, and middle school teacher at Harrington Park School in Bergen County, NJ. A fan of the flipped classroom and blended learning, AJ is also a co-host of another great education podcast called Podcast PD.

Follow AJ online here:

Episode Summary

AJ is currently a 7th-8th grade Social Studies teacher at Harrington Park School in Bergen County, New Jersey. His classroom is student-centered, flipped, blended, personalized, and he enjoys making the learning experiences as authentic as possible.

In general, AJ says that the lowest moments in his professional journey boil down to rejection. One example of this comes from his first five years of teaching, when his district repeatedly moved him due to budget cuts. After being split between two different high schools in year five, he was almost ready to quit the profession completely. One of the things that he credits for restoring his hope and faith in the education career was the PLN that he found on Twitter. Once he started connecting with other passionate educators, he was inspired to reimagine his practice and redefine his trajectory.

AJ recalls the beginnings of #PodcastPD, the podcast he co-hosts with Stacey Lindes and Chris Nesi. Stacey had been using the hashtag on Twitter for some time when Chris Nesi suggested they use the name as a title for a podcast show. The three co-hosts are all about “Anytime, anywhere professional development.” The show keeps it real, and the hosts include a good mix of humor, pop culture, and real life in the show content.

When he looks around at education today, AJ gets excited about the ways that educators are sharing their voices, ideas, and experiences authentically with others. Teachers aren’t afraid anymore — instead, they’re taking more risks and their practice is more inspired. Today’s classroom has come so far from the passive compliance of the classrooms we grew up in.

When asked about a current professional goal, AJ talks about his commitment to learning more about what leadership looks like in education. He’s reading, watching, and listening to whatever he can on the subject.

AJ’s primary passion outside of the classroom is his boys. He currently has two with a third on the way, and it’s a thrill to be involved in their development and play a part in their learning. Second to his boys, AJ is also a big sports fan and superhero aficionado.

AJ’s productivity stems from his competitive nature. Wherever he applies himself, he wants his work to be the best.

He’s got two Twitter recommendations, and they’re both amazing educators hailing from the New Jersey area. The first is @RichHayzler and the second is @Kevin_Carroll_.

Two edtech tools that AJ recommends trying out are Adobe Spark Video and Adobe Spark Post. Follow these apps on Twitter @AdobeSpark and @AdobePost.

AJ’s book recommendation is The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy by Jon Gordon. Follow the author at @JonGordon11.

If you’re looking to add another great education podcast to your commute, check out The Leader of Learning Podcast by @DKreiness.

On YouTube, AJ suggests subscribing to How it Should Have Ended, a fun channel that reimagines the endings to popular movies.

When he’s got no energy left for anything else productive, AJ’s watching Daredevil on Netflix.

We sign off on our conversation, and AJ tells us the best places to find him and follow his content online. Find AJ on Twitter @AJBianco and on Instagram @AJBianco.

For more from AJ Bianco, follow him online here:

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Song Track Credits

  • Intro: Relax (by Simon More)
  • Outtro: Starley – Call on Me Remix (by DJ Zhorik)

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Episode 53 – Curtis Wiebe

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CURTIS WIEBE is an elementary school teacher in Surrey, BC, Canada. He’s interested in the ways that technology augments learning, boosts creativity, and creates new opportunities for learners. Follow Curtis on Twitter @DivisionW and see his work at https://mrwiebesclass.weebly.com/.

In our conversation, Curtis identifies the key to bringing about positive changes in schools and structures in education. He describes why he’s passionate about preparing students to find creative solutions that address real-world problems, and he explains what his learners are doing with makerspaces and robotics. He tells us where he gets his best ideas, and offers us top picks on Twitter, in books, and much more.

Follow Curtis online here: 

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 0:53 – Curtis describes his current context in education at Crescent Park Elementary School in South Surrey, BC, Canada. Aside from his 7th grade teaching duties, Curtis is a part of the school’s tech team and the district Microsoft Inquiry team. He’s also currently pursuing his MEdL degree.
  • 1:47 – Curtis speaks to the challenges related to bringing about change in schools and structures in education. When we present a different way of doing things, it tends to create friction points and difficult conversations. One key to bringing about change in a positive way is to do so diplomatically, with research and evidence that these changes will positively influence learning – what school is really all about.
  • 4:40 – When asked what he’s most passionate about in education today, Curtis points to the ever-changing landscape of challenges that education can address around the globe. He loves preparing learners to find solutions to complex, real-world problems. He’s also enjoying an exploration of robotics (Check out https://www.vexrobotics.com/ and http://www.flowol.com/Flowol4.aspx) with his students, where he says “the excitement has gone through the stratosphere.”
  • 7:01 – Outside of the classroom, he’s energized by reading about technology, current events, and politics. He’s always interested in exploring current situations but is also intrigued by political philosophers from the past. In the same way, he enjoys looking at where technology has come and where it may be going in the future.
  • 9:43 – A personal habit that consistently energizes Curtis and supports his reflective process is engaging in professional conversations with educator – his wife! He also enjoys the analytical aspects of golf: looking back, thinking about how to improve, seeking to repeat good strokes, etc.
  • 11:05 – His recommendations on Twitter are Jeff Unruh (@Unruh_J) and Michelle Horn (@MsHornDiv10).
  • 14:55 – Curtis is all about robotics right now, so his top picks in the area of edtech are VEX IQ Robotics (@VEXRobotics on Twitter) and Microsoft Office 365 and (@MicrosoftEDU on Twitter). In particular, Microsoft Teams is working well as a point of connection and workflow for his learners.
  • 17:10 – In books, Curtis recommends Trevor MacKenzie’s Dive Into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice. Get to know Trevor on Twitter @Trev_MacKenzie. For a magazine pick, Curtis points to The Atlantic and their education section in particular. For a sampling of their top education articles, start following @TheAtlEducation on Twitter.
  • 18:09 – His top choice for education podcasts right now is MindShift: A Podcast About the Future of Learning. Follow MindShift on Twitter @MindShiftKQED.
  • 18:49 – As a self-confessed fan of all things politics, Curtis’s go-to show on Netflix right now is Homeland.
  • 19:12 – We sign off on the interview, and Curtis gives us the best ways to find and follow him online. See above for details!

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device: iTunes | Google Podcasts | YouTube | Spotify

Follow the podcast on Twitter @TeachersOnFire and on Instagram @TeachersOnFire.

Song Track Credits

  • Intro: Relax (by Simon More)
  • Outtro: Starley – Call on Me Remix (by DJ Zhorik)

Listen to this episode on YouTube and subscribe for more episodes!