Episode 112 – Daniel Bauer

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Meet Daniel Bauer

DANIEL BAUER is on a mission to unlock the potential of global school leaders. He’s an international speaker, the host of the Better Leaders Better Schools Podcast, and the author of The Better Leaders Better Schools Roadmap: Small Ideas that Lead to Big Impact, published in 2018. He supports school leaders in individual and group contexts, and when he’s not coaching, he’s creating content or reading in order to further develop his skill set and bring even more value to the leaders who seek his mentorship.

A Leader in Conflict

Danny is currently working with a school principal who is experiencing significant adversity. Still new at her position, she was hired to bring about changes to a learning community, but reactions to some of her first moves have not been positive at all. Instead, her decisions have been met with strong resistance from staff members, and district central office is not offering support. The conflict has even been reported in the media, and this leader is struggling to salvage positive outcomes from a seemingly toxic situation. The writing seems to be on the wall in terms of where this is headed.

When it comes to problematic situations like this one, Danny says, it really isn’t about assigning values of good or bad to the conflict. It’s about learning from the challenges and responding in strategic ways that align well with our personal values.

The Mission of Better Leaders, Better Schools

Better Leaders Better Schools by Daniel BauerIn The Better Leaders Better Schools Roadmap: Small Ideas that Lead to Big Impact, Daniel spends the first two thirds of the book describing what inner journeys of personal and professional transformation can look like. In the final third of the book that he gets into the tactics and challenge-setting that mimics his coaching and mentorship.

As we dig deep into our own journeys, we often come to find that we are caught up in limiting activities that don’t contribute to our Great Story, the vision we hold for the impact we want to make. To achieve the things we want to achieve, we need to first clarify our key priorities and then make sure the game is fun and winnable.

Shallow Work vs. Deep Work

When asked for an example of an activity that educational leaders often spend too much time and energy on, Danny points to email. When you look at the effort invested in crafting and drafting emails, the returns on investment are simply not justifiable, he says. Too often, carefully crafted emails are either ignored or fail to deliver the impact to stakeholders that leaders seek.

Yes, leaders must spend time on these platforms, and they must communicate effectively with their communities, but Danny makes a distinction between two levels of work. Shallow work doesn’t result in big wins – it simply allows one to maintain the status quo and keep their job. It’s the deep work that makes legends, produces organizational wins, inspires tribes, and creates meaningful change.

Why We Need to Tell Good Stories

A recent guest on the Better Leaders Better Schools Podcast that Danny found especially inspiring was Jared Horvath, author of Stop Talking, Start Influencing: 12 Insights From Brain Science to Make Your Message Stick. Horvath writes and speaks about how the brain operates and how content creators can package their messages in ways that resonate with their audiences. People respond to stories, and whatever or wherever we communicate, we must invite the listener to make an emotional connection with our message. 

Whether you’re a leader in a business, a school, or a classroom, people are going to tell a story about their experience of working with you. What do we want that story to be? Education and certification has little to do with the story – instead, it’s really about how we make people feel.

Simon Sinek talks about the Golden Circle and the importance of starting with our WHY. The WHY for Better Leaders Better Schools is that everybody wins when a leader gets better. At the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about: every stakeholder winning

What Else is Setting Danny on 🔥 in Education Today: Vision

Danny is thrilled when education leaders create unique and compelling visions for the future of their learning communities. Ignore the education buzzwords that have saturated the majority of schools, Danny advises, and craft something that is different. Seth Godin calls this a purple cow – something remarkable, something unique, something that inspires.

His own Vivid Vision is eight pages long, Danny says, and it reminds him exactly where he intends to go and what he plans to achieve over the next three years. When we write our vision down and publish it, we add the leverage of public accountability. With that accountability comes increased focus and intensity, and we tend to achieve exactly what it is we project.

Deep Work by Cal Newport.jpgIn Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, author Cal Newport writes about Bollingen Tower, a physical retreat center that psychologist Carl Jung built as a place to focus and do great work. Danny is building on Jung’s ideal of physical separation to offer a two-day vision-casting retreat in the summer of 2020. Set in New Mexico and held on July 9-11, 2020, the purpose of this time is to help leaders recharge, build relationships, and clarify their own Vivid Vision for the next three years.

Professional Development: The 10% Rule

Danny is a strong believer in personal and professional development, and he makes it a policy to invest 10% of his income to those ends each year. In February, he completed Seth Godin’s AltMBA, something he calls a profound, life-changing event. He took a course in finding mastery, an exploration of how to live and execute at your personal best, and a storytelling seminar also put on by Seth Godin. He’s also currently plugged into courses on public speaking, coaching, and mindset.

“I can’t help others develop personally or in terms of their leadership if I’m not doing it myself,” he observes. He recognizes that not everyone can afford to invest 10% of their income in personal development, but he also thinks it’s worth asking the question of “What is the cost of not investing in yourself?”

A Personal Passion: Mountain Climbing

Annotation 2019-12-13 104109.pngSomething that has been invigorating Danny lately is the practice of climbing mountains in Scotland, his current location. It’s an activity that yields obvious physical benefits, disconnects him from screens, boosts his mental clarity, and renews his perspective. It’s a generous gift to be reminded of just how small we are and be humbled by the vastness of the nature that surrounds us, he says. He’s done some hiking in the US, particularly Colorado, but the experiences of hiking in Scotland have been thoroughly enjoyable and he looks forward to more.

Personal Productivity: Identify Your OKRs

Measure What Matters by John DoerrWhen it comes to personal productivity, Danny points to a book called Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs, a title from John Doerr. In it, Doerr writes about phenomenal leaders who understand how to leverage OKRs – objectives and key results.

It starts with identifying your objectives, those big ambitious goals that you don’t even think you can achieve, Danny says. From there, it’s about quantifying the key results that help you work towards the realization of those grand objectives. For more on OKRs and the ways that school leaders can leverage them, check out Danny’s in-depth blog post.

Right now, Danny lives by five big objectives: He wants to …

  1. Help more school leaders level up,
  2. Create amazing content,
  3. Increase his brand awareness,
  4. Launch a live event, and
  5. Improve his personal fitness.

He allows these five big rocks to guide all of his decisions in terms of where to invest his energy, time, and resources, and he makes it his goal to chip away at each rock a little more each day. The Japanese have a proverb that vision without implementation is merely a daydream, and in Measure What Matters, author John Doerr writes that ideas are easy – execution is everything.

Define your OKRs, Danny says, and then take action to move the needle on at least one of those objectives each day. In addition, he urges, make those objectives public in order to raise your support and accountability. Tell your partner, your teammates, your colleagues, and your PLN about your objectives, because isolation is the number one enemy of excellence.

A question Danny asks in his leadership mastermind group is “What is your one big thing?” From there, Mastermind members hold each other to account. Are your words and deeds aligning with your stated objectives?

Voices and Resources That Inspire His Practice

Over on Twitter, Danny recommends following Aubrey Patterson @PattersonAubrey. Aubrey is building an education consultancy called Nohea Kindred, and his message is ‘Simply. Amplify. Clarify.’ He’s doing a great job of achieving just that, says Danny.

In keeping with his earlier comments about limiting the time we spend in our email inbox, Danny recommends a digital tool called SaneBox. SaneBox uses AI technology to help you streamline your inbox, block unwanted marketing and promotions, and give you helpful prompts and reminders.

The Art of PossibilityA book that he calls personally transformative is The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander and her husband, Benjamin Zander. The Zanders describe twelve life practices that redefine what is possible in our personal and professional lives, and Danny was so taken with their principles that he named his company The Twelve Practices. 

Danny swings from audiobooks to podcast binges, and when he’s in podcast mode, two of his favorites are Akimbo: A Podcast from Seth Godin and The Knowledge Project by Shane Parrish

A YouTube channel that keeps things light and adds necessary levity to Danny’s life is The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. And when he’s at the end of his day with no energy left for the five big objectives, Danny has been tuning into Watchmen on Amazon Prime, a series that follows what some call the greatest comic series ever written.

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

You can connect with Daniel Bauer …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media:

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Episode 110 – Dr. Douglas Fisher

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Meet Dr. Douglas Fisher

Dr. DOUGLAS FISHER is a Professor of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University, where he trains future administrators and institutional leaders. He is also a teacher leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College, a high school that he co-founded some years ago as a kind of lab, a practical context in which to continue the work of education research and innovation on a practical level. 

A Career in Literacy

Dr. Fisher is a highly accomplished researcher and author in the field of education. He is a member of the California Reading Hall of Fame and is the recipient of an International Reading Association Celebrate Literacy Award, the Farmer award for excellence in writing from the National Council of Teachers of English, and the Christa McAuliffe award for excellence in teacher education.

He has published numerous articles and books on student achievement and literacy, including Text-Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading (with Nancy Frey and Diane Lapp), Checking for Understanding (with Nancy Frey) and Common Core English Language Arts in a PLC at Work (with Nancy Frey). He is also a board member of the International Reading Association and a past board member of the Literacy Research Association.

Disconnection and a Change in Perspective

Around 15 years ago, Dr. Fisher found himself in a trying situation with his students. He was struggling to connect with his students in the ways that he was accustomed to connecting, and relationships were not coming easily. The experience was discouraging enough that he found himself starting to question whether the profession was even for him.

“Parents send us the kids they have. They don’t keep the good ones at home.”

Then, while attending a conference later that year, he heard a speaker say “Parents send us the kids they have. They don’t keep the good ones at home.” This quote spoke to him in a profound way, filling him with renewed gratefulness for the privilege we hold as educators to care for the children of others.

The public trusts us with the responsibility of teaching, training, and “loving up” their kids, Dr. Fisher observes. Sometimes we just need that reminder of the tremendous honor that is education. After the conference, Dr. Fisher returned to the classroom with renewed commitment and dedication and has never looked back since.

Balanced Literacy

Dr. Fisher recently co-authored This Is Balanced Literacy, Grades K-6. When asked to elaborate further on this idea of balanced literacy, Doug is quick to point out that the concept has been around since the 1990s, when there was a lot of debate going on between phonics and whole language approaches. Kids need sufficient experiences with foundational skills, experts argued, including systematic and sequenced steps to growth in literacy. They also need meaning-making experiences that include reading comprehension and thinking about writing.

Since this time in education, the conversation about balanced literacy has largely moved to discussions about the value of whole group versus small group instruction. In this book, Doug and his co-authors sought to move the literacy conversation back to a focus on the balance between skills and knowledge learning. As they developed their research with this focus, they also started to take a closer look at the balance between reading and writing.

Current estimates suggest that the average elementary classroom spends up to 80% of their literacy instructional minutes on reading and 20% on writing. In the words of one of Doug’s colleagues, “Every writer can read, but not every reader can write.” Truly balanced literacy instruction requires us to ask these questions of our practice:

  • Are we using our literacy minutes effectively?
  • Are we making sure that our students are properly building both reading and writing skills?
  • Are we including both direct and dialogic instruction?
  • Are we making sure that our students are consuming both informational and narrative texts?

Studies show that narrative or fictional texts dominate the reading diets of elementary students – informational and expository texts may not be receiving the attention they deserve.

So how do we balance these tensions: direct and dialogic instruction, narrative and expository, reading and writing, skills and knowledge? This book offers the authors’ take on the best ways to thoughtfully integrate all of these methods and strategies in the literacy classroom. 

For more on balanced literacy, listen to Doug’s two co-authors explore this concept further.

The Balanced Literacy Workshop from Corwin Press

Dr. Fisher and his co-authors currently offer a workshop that explores these strategies further in practical ways. This professional development event includes deep dives into reading instruction, writing instruction, assessing learning, impactful teaching practices, class engagement, coaching, and more. Workshop attendees will ask:

  • What should balanced literacy look like in the classroom?
  • What are the evidence-based strategies that we can adopt in the whole class environment?
  • How can we engage students in high-level collaboration using academic language that allows the teacher to sit down with small groups of students for more specific, targeted instruction?

There is no one way to teach literacy, Dr. Fisher points out. There are many right ways, but there are also wrong ways. This workshop unpacks the menu of effective options for instruction that literacy teachers have at their disposal. 

A Quick Suggestion on Literacy Instruction 

When asked for one quick tip or perspective on literacy instruction, Dr. Fisher reminds us that our literacy strategies accomplish different things at different stages of student learning. There’s nothing wrong with surface learning and the strategies that bring learners to that level, but when we move from surface to deep learning, our tools change, and when we move from deep to transfer levels of learning, our strategies change again.

As teachers, the question must be: what will unlock literacy for that learner right now, exactly where they are? 

Visible Learning Plus 

Visible Learning Plus is a specialized coaching program offered by Corwin Press, Dr. Fisher’s publisher. In Corwin’s words, this program will “Connect and harmonize existing school and system initiatives, build internal capacity, and harness the collaborative energy of educators to accelerate student learning and maximize time, energy, resources, and impact.”

In simplest terms, Visible Learning Plus mobilizes John Hattie’s research on learning and helps schools understand and elevate the impact of their practices on student learning. Corwin’s coaches and consultants help school leaders and teams get to the bottom of the question of impact: Is what we are doing working? The program also seeks to strengthen collective efficacy – how can teaching teams improve their beliefs, practices, and procedures in a cohesive, engaged, and synchronized way. 

Teacher Credibility

One thing that has really captured Dr. Fisher’s thinking of late is the whole issue of teacher credibility and its impact on learning. He’s done a little bit of writing on this topic and has started to dig deeper into the research in order to learn more. When students view their teachers as credible, they learn a lot more from them. The following critical questions determine your credibility as a teacher:

  • Are you trustworthy?
  • Are you competent?
  • Do you show dynamism or passion?
  • Do you have proximity and closeness with your students?

All of these factors influence student learning in powerful ways, and the good news is that they are changeable behaviors. Significantly, a teacher can employ proven instructional strategies, but if their students do not view them as credible, the strategies lose their effectiveness. As professional teams and learning communities, we should be constantly asking how can we help each other improve our credibility in the eyes of our students.

Personal Passions: Travel and Exercise 

When he’s away from his research and the halls of academia, the things that most energize Dr. Fisher are travel and exercise. He never stays with one mode of exercise for too long, so his activities range from running to spin class to trapeze.

A Personal Productivity Tip: Block Time for Writing

Dr. Fisher puts time into his calendar to do his writing. This is blocked time that he treats as a job – he does not allow email, phone calls, or other distractions to interfere. He believes that every educator has a book in them, and many educators want to write, but it requires making that time non-negotiable. Although he is thrilled when other people enjoy and consume his writing, he writes primarily to clarify his own thinking.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Practice

Over on Twitter, Dr. Fisher recommends following the amazing @BreneBrown, renowned speaker and author of such books as Dare to Lead.

In the world of edtech tools, Dr. Fisher is a fan of what PlayPosit can do to improve learner engagement with video content. Get to know this tool a bit better by following @PlayPosit

Normal Sucks by Jonathan MooneyOne non-educational book that Dr. Fisher and his team have gained a lot from in the last year is Contagious Culture: Show Up, Set the Tone, and Intentionally Create an Organization That Thrives by Anese Cavanaugh. Another title that has done a great job of rethinking how we meet the needs of dyslexic learners is Normal Sucks: How to Live, Learn, and Thrive Outside the Lines by Jonathan Mooney.

At the top of Doug’s podcast lineup is Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzales, one of the largest podcasts in the education space today. If you’re not already following Jennifer on Twitter, connect with her @cultofpedagogy

On YouTube, there’s no beating the classic TED Talks. Dr. Fisher is still a fan of the medium, the content, and the incredible learning that TED continues to share with the world.

When he has a few minutes for Netflix, Dr. Fisher is watching Money Heist. It’s a fascinating series about a band of bank robbers who plan an elaborate heist in Spain, and Dr. Fisher is also using the series to brush up on his Spanish.

We sign off on this helpful conversation, and Dr. Fisher gives us the best ways to connect with him online. See below for details!

You can connect with Dr. Fisher …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media:

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 107 – Trevor MacKenzie

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Meet Trevor MacKenzie

TREVOR MACKENZIE is a learner, teacher, speaker, consultant, and outdoor enthusiast. Trevor teaches English at the 10th through 12th grade levels at Oak Bay High School in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is also regarded by many as the preeminent voice on inquiry-based learning today, authoring Dive into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice and co-authoring Inquiry Mindset: Nurturing the Dreams, Wonders, and Curiosities of Our Youngest Learners

The First Five Years Are the Hardest

When asked about an experience of adversity on his education journey, Trevor thinks back to his first five years in the profession. There were many forks in the road, he says, where he found himself questioning whether or not he even wanted to stay in education. It took him a while to move from substitute teaching to a full-time contract, and even then it was a real challenge to juggle all the responsibilities of a classroom teacher: lesson planning, unit design, assessment, parent communication, coaching, and other duties.

Trevor credits his local community of colleagues and professional peers who gave him advice, encouragement, and solidarity during those early years. Although his professional learning network has evolved far beyond the bounds of his own building, he continues to appreciate the power and importance of collaboration today.

Why Inquiry? 

First and foremost, Trevor says, he never proposes that other teachers must do things his way. “Teaching is an art with incredible nuance and subtlety, and there’s simply no lockstep approach or prescriptive framework to what makes a good teacher.”

That said, Trevor readily admits that inquiry-based learning is where his heart is, and he loves nothing more than helping other educators see what is possible for learners. Education has changed a great deal in the last decade – not just because of our access to phones but also in terms of the amount of prior knowledge that students bring to the classroom. It’s no longer about how much students know, but about what they can do with what they know.

Inquiry-based learning challenges teachers to facilitate experiences that help our learners to explore content and then create products that have an impact on others. Inquiry also challenges students to investigate the “un-Googleable” questions, the sort of questions that Google Home and Alexa cannot help them with. These are the kinds of vast, broad questions that students must chew on and wrestle with over extended periods of time. Inquiry encourages the development of the 4 Cs: competencies that are absolutely critical in today’s workforce. As a framework, inquiry provides the space and common language for students to become creators, problem-solvers, and active agents of their learning.

Inquiry and Curiosity

Children enter the school system full of curiosity, chomping at the bit to learn, to play, to read, and to interact. Sadly, students often leave high school with that curiosity and joy of learning greatly diminished. “Curiosity is at the heart of how we can better meet the needs of all of our learners,” Trevor points out.

We need to look at our curriculum with an eye to integrating inquiry approaches – it never needs to be a situation of all or nothing, inquiry vs the curriculum. Inquiry-based learning, when properly applied, allows us to explore prescribed curricular outcomes through the lens of curiosity and creativity.

Understanding the Types of Student Inquiry

Structured    Inquiry, Controlled Inquiry, Guided Inquiry and Free Inquiry

In the swimming pool illustration, Trevor divides the types of student inquiry into four levels: structured, controlled, guided, and free. Although it might seem tempting to jump quickly into the deep end of the swimming pool, Trevor cautions against initiating free inquiry without giving learners the necessary tools, understanding, and vocabulary. To move too far and too fast into inquiry is to invite chaos and confusion for teachers and learners, so strategy and forethought is required here.

Ideally, a school can work together on strong and structured units of inquiry-based learning so that all learners in the community become familiar with a common language. Frame those first units of study around central, unGoogleable questions. Use provocations to spark rich and engaging entry points to new areas of interest and study, and allow space for students to pursue side paths and related questions along the way. For help in getting started, visit TrevorMacKenzie.com for a large collection of free inquiry unit planning templates and other resources.

Inquiry and Assessment

When first introduced to inquiry-based learning, educators often have questions around assessment. To help guide teachers through these challenges and demonstrate what assessment can look like in the inquiry classroom, Trevor is currently working on a book that speaks directly to the mindset shift he has experienced around assessment in his own practice, and he goes on to describe some of the changes he’s made in the classroom.

For example, he no longer puts any numbers or letter-grades on formative assessments — he only offers feedback. He also makes sure that students are invested in the assessment process through the co-creation of criteria, the inclusion of student voice, and by making sure that assessment occurs in the classroom, by and with students — instead of something done to them. Assessment done properly infuses course content instead of taking the shape of something slapped on to the end of a unit of a study. 

The Power of Grading Conferences

Speaking to the power of the conference, Trevor says that the simple decision to sit down with each of his learners to discuss their assessments for the term was one of the most helpful and practical moves he’s ever made in his practice. He immediately noticed the empowerment and sense of agency that the conferences gave students. For a change, many of his students actually wanted their parents to read their report cards because they had a direct hand in crafting those comments. Even more importantly, the process broke many students out of a fixed mindset regarding what past report cards and the education system had told them they were and were not capable of as learners.

Could Inquiry Reshape Professional Development?

Sadly, Trevor says, professional development is often not designed by teachers, and as a result, there can be a disconnect between philosophy and practice. Make sure that teachers have a voice, and make relevance and immediate application high priorities in the design of professional development activities, he urges.

What Else is Setting Trevor on 🔥 in Education

Beyond inquiry, something else that is setting Trevor on fire in education today is the conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion. He’s taken some hard looks at cultural responsiveness, systemic biases, allyship, identity studies, and the unpacking of his own personal biases. Educators who greatly impress Trevor in this space include Gary Gray Jr., Liz Kleinrock, and Cornelius Minor. If we want our students to truly understand themselves as learners, people, and human beings, we owe it to them to help them understand the biases, narratives, and historical forces that shape our understanding of ourselves.

Serving with Presence

As much joy as he derives from working with learners in his classroom, Trevor is also passionate about teaching teachers and working with other educators around the world. Balancing the two consituencies well and being fully present in every context requires intentionality and mindfulness. “As I enter the classroom each and every day, I’m asking how I can be present and mindful of what’s immediately before me,” Trevor says.

A Personal Passion: Cycling

Trevor is an avid cyclist, and on many mornings he is up early and out of the house on his bike before school. He also enjoys a good community of fellow cyclists in his area that he enjoys biking and racing with. Cycling gets him going, fires him up, and keeps him healthy so that he can serve others well.

A Productivity Hack: Early Mornings 

Trevor’s best productivity hack is to get up at 5:00 a.m. each morning, and he’s been inspired by other creatives to work before the rest of the world is awake. It’s the perfect time to tie up loose ends, complete tasks, do important reading, or write reflectively. With small children at home and students at school, the early morning is simply the best block of time in the day to be productive and undistracted.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Practice 

Over on Twitter, Trevor recommends following @TheMerrillsEdu. The Merrills are an amazing elementary teaching couple who take creativity to a whole new level in their practice. Make sure to give them a follow!

No edtech tool has revolutionized Trevor’s assessment practices more than FlipGrid, where students post video responses and interact with each other’s ideas. Microsoft recently acquired this legendary platform and made its features absolutely free for educators, increasing equity and access for all learners in the process. Make sure to connect with Flipgrid on Twitter @FlipGrid

The Innovator's Mindset by George CourosWhen prompted for a book pick, Trevor points to a classic — The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, by George Couros. Trevor also shouts out another title that has been influential in his practice, Understanding By Design, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.

In the world of podcasts, Trevor is making a late appearance at the world’s most famous true crime series, Serial. He’s also gaining a lot from the Teaching While White Podcast – White Fragility podcast series.

As for YouTube channels, Trevor is going back to one of the faves he mentioned previously: Gary Gray Jr. Gary is an important voice in the conversation on equity and he keeps things real on his channel.

Although his kids are still too young for the chills and thrills of this popular series, Trevor has been enjoying Stranger Things whenever he does find the time for some entertainment on Netflix.

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

Connect with Trevor …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media:

Song Track Credits

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

 

Episode 105 – Tiffany Ott

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Meet Tiffany Ott

TIFFANY OTT is a high school Math teacher at Western Reserve Academy of Ohio, a Director of Curriculum Development with the Teach Better Team, and the founder of #MasteryChat. She’s also a co-author of the recently published book Teach Better, and she’ll be playing a big role in the upcoming Teach Better Conference.

Tiffany recalls a time early in her career when she was teaching middle school in North Carolina. She and her husband were broke, Tiffany was pregnant, and the couple was short on options. After moving back to Ohio, Tiffany found a long-term substitute position that showed good potential to convert into a permanent position.

She was teaching an enrichment class for students designated as gifted, and she introduced her learners to a unit on brain science, psychology, and mental health. Unfortunately, some of the parents of these students were skeptical and suspicious of her motives and complained – loudly – to administration. As a result, the substitute position didn’t convert to a permanent one, an experience that opened Tiffany’s eyes to the importance of communication and actively seeking buy-in from the entire learning community.

When developing those relationships with your students’ parents, Tiffany encourages, try video newsletters. People seek connection today, and Tiffany has found that parents really appreciate who you are and what you are trying to achieve with their children when they can actually see and hear you.

Teach Better: The Book

Teach BetterTiffany describes the new Teach Better book from the Teach Better Team as part memoir, part inspiration, and part practical teaching strategies that educators can put into place immediately. The book includes a series of interwoven stories from four authors that detail their struggles, challenges, and victories in the classroom, accompanied by the realizations that they took away from those experiences.

Teach Better is not about being perfect – it’s about being better than we were yesterday and better tomorrow than we were today. It’s about being constantly reflective, looking in the mirror and at our own practice, and asking “What is one thing I can do today to move my practice forward?” It’s grounded in the belief that every educator is capable of growth and improvement in their practice. “My heart and soul is in this book and I just hope people can find something that can help inspire them and push them forward,” Tiffany says.

The book starts with “Get the hell out of my classroom!” – perhaps the lowest moment in Chad Ostrowski’s career, and you’ll be drawn in as you read his story. Tiffany is also passionate about chapters titled Expect Better and Complain Better, and she articulates how these mindset shifts can change the culture of buildings and make incredible impact in the growth and learning of students.

#MasteryChat

The weekly #MasteryChat on Twitter is Tiffany’s baby, and she’s as passionate about the conversations that happen there as she was when the chat first launched. Each week features a different guest moderator, and topics include everything under the sun of education.

Like the Teach Better book, #MasteryChat is about incremental growth and improvement in educators, and Tiffany values the rich diversity of views and experiences that over 100 participants regularly bring to the conversation. This chat is not an echo chamber, she says – it includes robust discussion, occasional debate, and constructive pushback. Questions seek to go beyond buzzwords and cliches to actually stretch the thinking of educators and spark learning.

What’s Setting Tiffany on 🔥 in Education Today

Education is so exciting today because things have changed so much and continue to change so quickly. The opportunities for global connection, collaboration, and learning are greater than most educators have fully realized. Rather than be overwhelmed or intimidated by the pace of change, Tiffany says we should regard these movements of change as the fire that pushes us forward.

A Professional Goal

Tiffany speaks highly of the way that her school tackles professional goal-setting for its teaching staff each year. Rather than one-and-done fill out this piece of paper and move on, each educator’s professional goals are embedded in professional activities throughout the school year, allowing frequent review and follow-up.

One of Tiffany’s main professional goals for this year is to build deeper connections with her colleagues. Her training and experience comes from the middle school levels, where team approaches to planning and instruction are often emphasized. The same can’t always be said of high school environments, where teachers sometimes experience more isolation and division by departments, levels, course streams, and other factors.

There’s a lot to be gained when we come together and connect the dots across all kinds of content, Tiffany says, which requires taking the time to have more small and large conversations with colleagues. When we make ourselves vulnerable, genuine, and available to support others, we build the social connections that translate into significant professional and instructional gains for learners.

One of Tiffany’s other professional goals is to make her math instruction more relevant for learners. Rae Hughart, one of Tiffany’s partners on the Teach Better Team, talks often about the importance of integrating community partners and businesses into the math classroom to show learners the relevance and application of the curricular principles they’re learning.

Personal Passions: Baking and Crocheting 

Educators neglect their personal passions and interests all too often, says Tiffany, and it comes at the expense of our learners. On the home front, Tiffany loves to cook and bake, activities that have formed great points of connection with her daughter. They watch The Great British Baking Show and other cooking shows together, and Tiffany takes great joy in hosting great meals and serving guests.

She also enjoys art, sculpting, and crocheting – something that she is integrating in one of her math classes by asking students to crochet physical representations of hyperbolic planes. It’s a great example of a personal passion adding a dimension to the classroom learning environment. 

The Secret to Her Productivity

The credit for her incredible productivity, says Tiffany, goes to her husband. Not only does he cover for her during times of peak work and deadlines, but he acts as a good accountability check in terms of her mental health. When the stress and strain of responsibilities starts to make her crack, he doesn’t hesitate to make her take a break, step away, take a nap, or do what she needs to do to recharge. 

The Teach Better Conference 

Tiffany is thrilled about the coming Teach Better Conference – now just a few weeks away. The hosting team has crafted some unique experiences that will help attendees reflect, integrate, and apply the things they learn in practical ways. She’s also hoping that the conference will go a long way toward building the kinds of new professional relationships that will push educators collectively to be better every day.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Tiffany’s Thinking

Over on Twitter, Tiffany recommends following Danny Steele @SteeleThoughts. Whenever she feels like she may be losing her fire, no one rekindles her motivation and passion for education like Danny Steele.

Tiffany’s edtech tool of choice right now is Gimkit. Think Kahoot but with a gambling factor, Tiffany laughs. There are few better and more engaging means of collecting formative assessment from learners in real time.

Lies My Teacher Told MeFor a book pick, Tiffany points to a modern education classic – Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen. This title will open your eyes and widen your perspective on western history and its inherent biases.

It’s no surprise, but Tiffany’s favorite education podcast is Teach Better Talk. She doesn’t point to this one because she has to, she says. Hosts Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart keep her laughing and never fail to bring new insights and strategies that move her practice forward.

Tiffany is no stranger to video communication, and on YouTube she suggests subscribing to Michael Matera’s channel. The author of Explore Like a Pirateclassroom teacher, and producer of the Well Played podcast is a very, very smart guy and a fantastic person, too.

Finally, and just for fun, when Tiffany gets Netflix time it’s spent on The Great British Baking Show, which has been a great source of inspiration and a point of connection with her daughter.

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

You can connect with Tiffany …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media:

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 103 – Lisa Johnson

103 - Lisa Johnson

Meet Lisa Johnson

LISA JOHNSON is an educator by day, blogger by night, and the author of Creatively Productive: Essential Skills for Tackling Time Wasters, Clearing the Clutter, and Succeeding in School—and Life.

She loves everything in Austin, Texas – except the heat! You’ll find her at Westlake High School, which serves almost 3,000 students with 220 teachers on staff. Her role has evolved from an educational technologist to a merged position that now includes curriculum specialist. Today, she works with a partner to support English and science instruction, and she also offers a range of services and seminars to students and parents related to all things digital.

When Content Creation is Seen as a Threat

Earlier in her career, Lisa was working for a different district and wanted to have a way to share and archive her thoughts, ideas, and lessons that she was developing for other educators. She was also concerned that if she ever left the district, everything she was creating and sharing would not only be gone for her but for everyone else that had enjoyed her resources outside of the school.

She eventually started her own blog, TechChef4U, and launched a podcast to support commuting teachers. In addition, she began to seriously build her professional learning network by connecting with like-minded educators on Twitter and on other platforms.

Eventually, Lisa was called in to visit the district office and was questioned about her blog and her loyalty to the district. She remembers being taken aback by the questions because all she wanted to do was support innovation and push boundaries in education.

Unfortunately, her blog activities didn’t sit well with this district, and she started looking for another job that summer. It wasn’t her intention to leave the district and uproot her family, but at some point, she says, you have to find your tribe – educators who share your goals, values, and vision for learning.

When she found her current district, she found people like her – people that wanted to innovate, push boundaries, ask questions and thrive. She’s thankful for an amazing team at her high school and an awesome principal that really values the work she does and lets teachers have the autonomy they need to lead and help others grow.

The Heart and Mission of Creatively Productive

Creatively Productive by Lisa Johnson

Lisa’s heart and mission has always been to create thoughtful and practical content for teachers that they can use immediately with their students. She loves working with secondary students and staff, and believes it is really important to focus on college and career readiness skills. Lisa has also been a keen observer of secondary school life has noticed some trends and needs over the past 7-8 years. Many of these trends and needs are addressed in this book.

Lisa is often asked to create, share, and teach content that relates to self-management and executive functioning skills, including note-taking, digital organization, goal-setting, habit tracking, and time management – twenty-first century skills that students need to thrive in high school and throughout their lives. She has also been working with librarians and the campuses across her school to do lunch-and-learns for students in order to support them regarding these topics and tools.

Instead of hoarding resources, Lisa has always wanted to curate and share with the greater edusphere. Rather than dump a bunch of one-size-fits-all formulas, her goal for Creatively Productive was to put together a selection of recipes that might inspire learners and educators from all contexts to adopt and adjust for their own purposes. This book represents more than just “Lisa’s thoughts on productivity” – it’s a practical playbook of suggested solutions and resources that come from the practical challenges and experiences that she has encountered in contexts of learning.

What Else Sets Lisa on 🔥 in Education

When her head isn’t in spaces of creativity, productivity, and time management, Lisa is thinking about digital literacy. Lately, she’s been reminded of the importance of thoughtful sharing and posting.

As educators, we’ve been saying it for what seems like forever, but our students need frequent reminders that the internet never forgets. We do our learners a huge service when we impress on them the need for awareness and sensitivity to the perceptions of others. The goal here is not to hide core identities and values as much as it is to consider the long-term implications of our content. How could this post affect my options in the future?

A Personal Passion with Application in Education

Lisa loves her reader’s notebook and credits it with helping her grow as a professional. She finds it cathartic to reflect on what she’s been reading and feels like she retains more ideas and information by adding to it frequently. Most importantly, her reader’s notebook also enables her to apply resonating content directly into her practice. She used to just shelve books without sharing what she was reading, but the reader’s notebook has forced her to slow down, process, apply, and share with others.

Her reader’s notebook routine includes trying to reproduce a version of the cover of the book she’s reading, collecting ephemera related to the book, writing a lexicon library of words and phrases, highlighting great quotes, and collecting points to consider or investigate further.

Lisa’s Favorite Productivity Tool: Passion Planners

Passion Planner“If I didn’t have my passion planner, I might as well not get out of bed,” Lisa laughs. Her Passion Planner is home to all her lists, priorities, ideas, and creative thinking throughout the day. She recently shared a video walkthrough of her Passion Planner that highlighted the tools she uses, including macro and micro lists (check it out on Instagram). She also loves her Polaroid Zip printer which prints photos on sticky backs, allowing her to savor the highlights from each week in scrapbook fashion.

Voices & Resources That Influence Lisa’s Thinking

Over on Twitter, Lisa recommends following Julie Smith @JGTechieTeacher, a reliable source of great edtech ideas and solutions for the classroom.

One handy edtech tool that supports student voice in the classroom is an iOS app called Equity Maps. The app helps teachers track who speaks in a discussion, for how long, who doesn’t speak, who interrupts, and so on. Follow the app’s maker, Dave Nelson, on Twitter @EquityMaps.

Lisa is all about mixing in some juicy fiction with her education and technology reading, and she’s got a couple of strong recommendations to share here. The first is Verity, written by Colleen Hoover, and the second is After: The After Series, Book 1 by Anna Todd. Both writers have shot into stardom fairly quickly, and Lisa was privileged to meet both of them in person at a recent Book Bonanza event in Dallas.

As for podcasts, Lisa shares two picks: Change the Narrative by Michael Hernandez, and The Shake Up Learning Show with the legendary Kasey Bell

Sticking with the Passion Planner theme, when Lisa is on YouTube she is checking in with the Passion Planner channel

And finally, just for fun: when Lisa finds time for Netflix, she’s tuning into shows about women who do things differently! Her first shoutout goes to GLOW and the second to Working Moms.

We sign off on this fun conversation, and Lisa gives us the best ways to reach out to her. See below for details!

You can connect with Lisa …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media:

Song Track Credits

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