Episode 108 – Deanna Lough

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Meet Deanna Lough

DEANNA LOUGH is an eighth grade English teacher at Sussex Academy of the Arts and Sciences in Georgetown, located in the southern part of Delaware. She’s an aspiring leader, kid Mom, puppy Mom, Mrs., music fan, and a lover of all things inspiring and positive.

How She Rediscovered Her Joy

A few years ago Deanna reached a point where she felt like she was killing herself with work. Her lack of energy and margin was preventing her from connecting with her students the way she wanted to, which led her to start asking how she could make her classroom a better space for her students.

That question has since evolved into a focus on equity, a pursuit that has really driven growth and evolution in her practice. Thanks to the changes she’s made in her thinking and work, she enjoys teaching a whole lot more today and has rekindled the passion that led her to enter the profession in the first place. 

A Journey of Putting the Needs of Learners First

At the time that Deanna really started rethinking her practice and her learning space, she asked her students to describe their ideal classroom.

  • What would it look like?
  • What kind of work would they do?
  • How would teachers support their learning?

Their responses steered her first toward flexible seating and then to her own embedded biases and the obstacles faced by students from cultural and sexual minorities. She also started asking tough questions about her instruction and assessment.

  • Were her assessments actually fair?
  • Were they really assessing what she wanted to assess?
  • Were they really supporting the learning journeys of her students?

As she asked these questions, she realized that a lot of the traditional and adversarial grading policies that she had complied with for so long were causing her the most stress and stealing her joy. Although her school still requires her to submit grades, she’s begun the slow work of changing her assessment practices and allowing her students to demonstrate their learning in new ways. 

What Else is Setting Deanna on 🔥 in Education Today

In addition to her changes in assessment, Deanna is keen on supporting her LGBTQ students and students of color in more effective ways. She’s become aware of so many situations that don’t do a good enough job of supporting these learners, and she’s also started to think about how some of the same systemic barriers affect minority educators, too.

The work of educators such as Dr. Sheldon Eakins (@SheldonEakins) and Dr. Mechele Newell (@mechelenewell) has also been deeply influential in her journey. One of her biggest realizations is that she does have a voice in these issues and that she needs to use it — to advocate not just for her minority students but for all of her learners and for the state of humanity.

A Professional Goal

Deanna is thrilled to teach in a professional environment that allows educators to set their own professional goals. Her focus for this year relates to thoughtful uses of technology in her classroom. Her school is 1:1, meaning all of her learners have Chromebooks, so she wants to not only improve learning experiences for students but also increase her own expertise in the Google environment. She makes the point that as we grow, learn, and gain competence as educators, we bring more joy to the job, and students notice that. Lately, she’s also enjoyed watching her students support the digital expertise of others.

A Personal Passion Outside of Education: Music 🎶

Deanna is a huge music enthusiast, and even though she’s never been trained to play an instrument she’s taken up the challenge of writing about it. This commitment has pushed her to listen to music podcasts to learn more, and shows like Sound Opinions and Rolling Stones Music Now have helped and inspired her to keep going. Right now, her goal is to write one formal music review per month, and she’s shared this journey with her students as well. 

Productivity and Priorities

One set of strategies that Deanna has found valuable is Angela Watson’s 40-hour Teacher Week Club, and one her biggest takeaways has been the prioritized task list. Whenever she has a lot going on, she takes a few minutes to sit down and arrange to-do items by priority.

Another helpful takeaway has been Google Keep, a simple but effective list keeper that syncs across all devices. “Nothing will kill your joy faster than when you try to be overly ambitious and get more things done in a day than are humanly possible,” she points out.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Her Learning

Over on Twitter, Deanna recommends following Dr. Sheldon Eakins @sheldoneakins. As mentioned earlier in our conversation, he’s doing great work in the area of equity and Deanna has learned a lot from his online course. Make sure to visit his site and tune into his podcast as well.

Deanna’s edtech tool pick is Screencastify, a leading screencast application that works well in the Chromebook environment with a handy Google Chrome extension. She’s also been extremely impressed by their customer support.

We Got This by Cornelius MinorA must-read book title in the equity space is We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be by Cornelius Minor. Deanna can’t say enough about how open Cornelius is about his own journey even as he helps other educators rethink the accessibility in their learning spaces.

A few education podcasts that Deanna appreciates include Dear Teacher, Don’t Give Up by Jeffery Frieden, EduMatch Tweet & Talk by Dr. Sarah Thomas, and The Dr. Will Show by Dr. Will Deyamport III. All three hosts are former guests of the Teachers on Fire podcast!

When she’s looking for education inspiration on YouTube, Deanna turns to Edusations by Phil Strunk. On Netflix, the show at the top of her list that just restores her faith in humanity is Queer Eye

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

You can connect with Deanna …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media:

Song Track Credits

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

 

100 – Celebrating 100 Episodes!

TOF100

Marking the Centennial Edition

In this special episode of the pod, long-time supporter of the podcast Bryon Carpenter (@BryonCar) takes over the microphone and interviews me, Tim Cavey, using the same questions I’ve used to interview my 99 previous guests. It’s a fun conversation and a great opportunity for me to reflect back on the Teachers on Fire journey.

My Current Role in Education

I am an 8th grade homeroom teacher at a middle school in Surrey, BC, Canada. I teach most subjects, including elective courses in Entrepreneurship and Media Arts – elective courses that allow me to share my passion for content creation.

House on Fire

Back in December of 2012 I found myself in a very challenging set of personal circumstances. I was renting a basement suite in Vancouver and going through a divorce when I received a text message one day while teaching. My landlord’s instruction simply said “Come home quick – the house is on fire!”

I came home to a burned out house and found myself temporarily homeless, with no family in the area. My colleagues were incredibly supportive during this time and a huge reason why I am where I am today, but I’ll never forget the experience of teaching a class of middle schoolers in the days and weeks that followed with so much emotional turmoil and personal chaos in the background. Teaching felt robotic, and it was hard to conjure up genuine emotion in the classroom.

As much as authenticity and transparency are important in our practice, we also need to be that source of warmth, love, and encouragement for our learners. That isn’t always easy – especially when chaos, pain, or upheaval reigns in our personal lives. The support of my colleagues during this period is a reminder that I need to check in regularly with the people around me, mindful of the fact that my colleagues are fighting battles that I know nothing about.

What Sets Me on 🔥 in Education Today

What really sets me on fire in education today is the opportunity of passing on my passion for content creation with my students. Whether it’s blogging, podcasting, photography, video production, or other forms of expression and communication, the age of the internet gives us all tremendous opportunities to represent our values and share what we are all about.

Our learners are all comfortable consumers, but what are they creating and contributing? How are they adding beauty and utility to the world? How are they launching their projects and learning in authentic ways? These are the questions that motivate me and guide my practice today.

The Teachers on Fire Origin Story

My journey with podcasting began over a decade ago. Some of my first podcasts included The Dave Ramsey Show, The Real Estate Guys, Stuff You Should Know, and Hockey Central at Noon. In more recent years, I also started to listen to business and entrepreneurship podcasts, including figures like Gary Vaynerchuk, Pat Flynn, and John Lee Dumas. These figures spoke regularly about the possibilities for creation and communication afforded by the internet, and as I listened to their conversations with entrepreneurs and business pioneers, I thought about how amazing it would be to feature educators in the same way.

Back in early 2018, I wasn’t seeing a whole lot of education podcasts in the iTunes store, so I decided to give this podcasting thing a try. Inspired by John Lee Dumas’s Entrepreneurs on Fire, I launched Teachers on Fire in the spring of 2018. My mission was and continues to be the exposure of tremendous educators who are leading and transforming K-12 education. This passion project is a sweet spot for me, because my passion is at least as strong now as it was when I first launched the podcast.

My Professional Goals

I recently finished my MEdL thesis, bringing a 2-year degree program to a close. That was a huge relief, and now I’m excited to shift my energy into other creative passions, including blogging and eventually vlogging. In my practice, I’m excited to push my 8th grade entrepreneurship students to interview entrepreneurs and business leaders in our community and share their recordings on our Gr8 Expectations student podcast.

Personal Passions Away from Education

Outside of educational settings, I’m passionate about getting out on the ocean on paddleboards and hiking new mountain trails with my beautiful wife. I dream about one day getting a drone that will allow me to document both passions in beautiful ways as well.

My Biggest Productivity Hack

I love productivity hacks of all kinds, but one of my biggest and best is the habit of waking up at 4:30 on school day mornings so that I can get to my neighborhood Starbucks. When I’m on my game and this is happening, it allows me to get after the day before the day gets after me. I do some journaling work, review my calendar, set some goals, complete some prayer and meditation, and then get some work done. It’s an incredible feeling to get to school knowing that the day is already a win because of what I’ve accomplished before 7:00 a.m.

Voices & Resources That Shape My Thinking & Inspire My Practice

Over on Twitter, I recommend following the dynamic Nina Pak Lui, my guest on episode 97 of the podcast. You’ll find her @NPakLui. A former middle school teacher, Nina now teaches pre-service teachers at the university level. She’s a whirlwind of intensity when it comes to the issues that matter in education today, including equity, diversity, and assessment for learning. She’s also just launched a blog and is beginning her own graduate level research, and I know big things are ahead for her.

My pick for edtech tools is WeVideo, simply the best cloud-based video editing solution available today. Get to know this company on Twitter @WeVideo

Big Magic by Elizabeth GilbertI’ve always got a bunch of books on the go, but one that has kept me laughing and inspired lately is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. As the title says, this book is essential reading for those looking to flex their creativity, particularly in the writing and blogging spaces.

My podcast pick has to be the one hosted by the delightful Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart, Teach Better Talk. These two have a passion for education and a playful back and forth that is simply unmatched in the podcast space. Follow them on Twitter @TeachBetterTeam

On YouTube, you need to subscribe to C. J. Reynolds at his channel, Real Rap with Reynolds. There’s not much rap involved, but C. J. brings it every episode, tackling the very real challenges that teachers face in their classrooms. He’s inspiring. Get to know him on Twitter @RealRapReynolds

My family enjoyed The Office and Brooklyn 99 on Netflix, but lately we’ve been checking out Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime (although we’ve had to skip a few scenes when our boys are watching). If you like spy flicks and can handle John Krasinski in a serious role, this might be a series to check out. 

We sign off on this milestone conversation, and I thank Bryon for hosting this centennial edition. If you’re new to the podcast, make sure you connect with me on the platforms below!

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media!

Song Track Credits

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

The Power of Authentic Writing

Some incredible things happened in my 8th grade English classroom today.

Photo Credit: Brad Neathery

I’ve been slowly making my way through Sparks in the Dark on my Kindle this year, and every time I return to this book I’m inspired to facilitate more authentic writing in my middle school classroom.

I mean, my students write every day. But how much of that writing is meaningful, passionate, or authentic? How much of it do they personally care about? I know I need to create more space for this kind of expression.

Last week, I asked my students to respond to lyrics from any song that held personal meaning or significance for them. Our learning target was “I can think critically, creatively, and reflectively to explore ideas within, between, and beyond texts.” Today, I asked for volunteers to share their pieces with the class.

Two boys accepted the challenge.

Boys. In 8th grade. In a gradeless classroom, with zero extrinsic motivation.

Sometimes we need to rethink our beliefs around middle school boys. But that’s a thought for another post. I digress.

One of the boys read a reflection about Natural, by Imagine Dragons. The other read a reflection on a song called Reluctant Heroesby Hiroyuki Sawano.

These boys spoke passionately about the human experience: the hardships we face, the expectations we bear, our families and the relationships that matter most.

And get this. As he read a closing paragraph about his family, one reader broke down into tears. If that wasn’t enough, both boys quietly sang all or most of their selected songs.

Their unfiltered emotions were on full display. They were powerfully vulnerable. Their classmates gave each of them standing ovations. I could have cried myself.

I mourn all the moments like these that I’ve missed in my 17 years of teaching, but today’s experience only deepens my resolve to do more authentic writing in the years ahead.

Because this was awesome.

“When you teach someone how to read or how to express themselves using the written word, you change a life. You introduce them to magical worlds, teach them how to access the voice within, and empower them to affect that same change in the lives of others.” – from Sparks in the Dark: Lessons, Ideas, and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us by Travis Crowder (@TeacherManTrav) & Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd)


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Episode 60 – AJ Bianco

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Subscribe to the podcast on your mobile device HERE: iTunes | Google Podcasts | Anchor | Spotify | YouTube

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:

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

On social media, 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!

Episode 52 – Paul Stevens-Fulbrook

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Subscribe to the podcast on your mobile device HERE: iTunes | Google Podcasts | Anchor | Spotify | YouTube

You might know Paul Stevens-Fulbrook better on Twitter or Instagram as @TeacherofSci. Paul is a father of five and head of Year 7 and 8 Science at his school in the UK. He writes at teacherofsci.com with the mission of “supporting teachers’ lives through strategy, wellbeing and extra income.”

In our conversation here, Paul explains why it’s critical for teachers to remain true to who they really are, even when they’re in the classroom. He tells us the most exciting opportunity that edtech tools offer: improved student engagement. He shares about some of his other loves outside of the classroom: running, cooking, and spending quality time with his family. He also offers us his picks on Twitter, in books, on YouTube, and more.

Follow Paul online here:

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 1:07 – Paul describes his current context in education: high school science teacher and department head at Steyning Grammar School in the United Kingdom.
  • 2:28 – “Be careful where you get your advice.” At the outset of his teaching career, veteran teachers warned him to be stern, not to smile, and not to be too friendly in the classroom. Predictably, he didn’t bond with his students, and his stern exterior seemed to only make relationships more difficult. Then, other teachers told him to be the same person in the classroom that he was in the staffroom: funny, silly, relaxed, and genuine. Students embraced his authenticity and things went much better after that.
  • 5:01 – The mission of teacherofsci.com is to support teachers’ lives through teaching strategies, wellbeing, and income. Most teachers struggle a little bit in the areas of finance, health, and balance – how to fit all of our priorities into the day. Teacher of Sci is here to help!
  • 7:41 – Paul’s main passion in the classroom today is edtech – particularly the ways that technology can engage every student.
  • 9:33 – Outside of the classroom, Paul is committed to building his blog, running, cooking, and spending quality time with the family. “One thing I’ve learned is that you’ve got to take time for yourself. It can’t be about teaching, teaching, teaching. You’ve got to get away from the books at some point.”
  • 11:52 – “Seek education from cradle to grave.” This ancient Arabic proverb is Paul’s mantra – he tries to learn every day and from everything.
  • 12:32 – On Twitter, Paul recommends following @ICT_MrP.
  • 13:28 – An edtech tool that Paul is just getting into with great early success is Classcraft. Follow @Classcraftgame on Twitter to find out more about this platform.
  • 14:48 – Paul’s pick for books is Unlocking Excellence: A Guide to Becoming an Extraordinary Educator by Jarrod Dumas. Follow Jarrod on Twitter @Xtraordinary247.
  • 16:12 – Looking for an interesting podcast to add to your commute? Check out No Such Thing as a Fish. Follow them on Twitter @NoSuchThing.
  • 17:24 – On Youtube, Paul points us to two channels: SciShow and For Teachers. Follow these great shows on Twitter @SciShow and @_ForTeachers.
  • 19:37 – When he’s out of energy to do anything productive and unencumbered by his wife’s inclinations, Paul likes to watch survivalist shows like Man vs. Food on Netflix.
  • 21:15 – We sign off on the interview, and Paul tells us the best ways to 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!