Episode 118 – Kristin Merrill

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Meet Kristin Merrill

KRISTIN MERRILL is a fourth grade teacher in south Florida who specializes in language arts and strives to make lessons interactive and engaging through the use of educational technology. She teaches at a smaller elementary school with a diverse school community, where she’s affectionately referred to as “the Dinosaur of Fourth.” She recently co-authored The Interactive Class: Using Technology to Make Learning More Relevant and Engaging in the Elementary Classroom.

Questioning Her Vocation

Kristin recalls a time in her career when she found herself questioning much of what she was asked to do as a teacher. She decided to start making changes to her practice based specifically on what was good for students and their learning, but the changes weren’t always warmly received by colleagues. At times, she felt a sense of distance and isolation as she worked to reinvent herself, but she found strength and support in a growing PLN.

Today, she’s happy to report that as her network has grown and her influence has increased, she enjoys much more support and collegial relationships in her current context. One takeaway for other educators is that professional resistance to innovative practices tends to be a passing season; keep pushing through it and consistently grow your practice, and things will eventually get easier.

The Interactive Class

Writing The Interactive Class: Using Technology to Make Learning More Relevant and Engaging in the Elementary Classroom was never on her bucket list, Kristin says, but as she and her husband Joe shared their teaching ideas and strategies on social media, a friend encouraged them to publish a book. Kristin and her husband Joe are passionate about helping other educators build classrooms that are student-centered, fueled by the creativity and collaboration of students, and the book helps them share that message.

The Interactive Class is divided into two parts: first, the philosophy and rationale behind interactive teaching strategies, and second, the applications and best practices of interactive teaching and learning. Although Kristin and Joe come from primary classroom contexts, many of the lessons and strategies they describe could be applied at middle school grade levels or higher. 

On the Subject of Recess

When asked about whether recess should be used by teachers as a carrot or a stick, Kristin says that recess should be considered an essential part of childhood. There is so much that kids learn just through play and social interactions outside of the classroom, she observes, not to mention the processing and recharging time that recess allows young learners. Why would we ever want to take these times away from them?

What Else is Setting Kristin on 🔥 in Education Today

Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt is a kindergarten teacher who does a phenomenal job of building student inquiry, interest, and relevance into her learning activities. Kristin has been obsessed with her lately, following Rebecca on Instagram and taking notes from her latest projects. Recently, Rebecca built an impressive inquiry-based learning experience around pets, and Kristin is a big fan.

A Professional Goal: More Relevance

Motivated by Rebecca’s example, Kristin’s professional goal for the year is to make her teaching more relevant. This means more than just making sure her content and teaching strategies are as current as possible — she also wants to better understand what students view as meaningful. She plans to do this by looking for more ways to incorporate student voice, choice, and inquiry–even when that takes her into uncomfortable worlds like Fortnite! 

Personal Passions and Recharging Activities

“Education is my passion,” Kristin admits, explaining that professional learning really does energize and inspire her — even when she’s at home. Aside from education, she enjoys the simple things, and often those simple things relate to life with family. Whether it’s walking at the beach, exploring a nature trail, or sitting by the fire, it’s in the simple and quiet moments that she feels recharged and prepared for more creative work.

Personal Productivity: A Personal Planner

Social media doesn’t always portray an accurate picture of what life is like for educators, Kristin observes. We all have moments when we don’t have it all together and the tensions between personal and professional spheres make things a little chaotic. Her go-to tools include a personal planner that she maintains on paper, and she writes down every task, priority, and concern that she sees weeks or months away on the horizon.

It’s not to say that none of the plates ever fall, she says, but as long as she’s intentional about her most important priorities, she’s learned to give herself the grace she needs when the house doesn’t get cleaned perfectly or other ideals aren’t met.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Kristin’s Practice

Over on Twitter, Kristin recommends following Andy Knueven @MrCoachK15. He’s a master of Flipgrid, Minecraft, Wakelet, and a ton of other interactive learning approaches in fifth grade.

It’s just too painful to narrow her favorite edtech tools down to one, so Kristin shouts out three legendary creative apps: FlipGrid, DoInk, and Adobe Spark

Kristin has two book picks to share. The first is a children’s lit favorite: The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau. The second is an education classic — The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck–101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers, by Ron Clark.

A favorite podcast that works with her limited time for listening is the Ditch That Textbook Podcast with Matt Miller. After taking a two-month break in the fall of 2019, Matt is back and publishing short episodes almost every day.

One of Kristin’s favorite YouTube channels is The Bucket List Family, a family that travels the world and documents their adventures.

When time allows her to enjoy some Netflix, Kristin’s tuning in to Grace and Frankie. She connects with their sense of humor!

We sign off on this fun conversation, and Kristin gives the best ways to follow her online. See below for details!

You can connect with Kristin …

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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 113 – Dr. Jennifer Pieratt

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Meet Dr. Jennifer Pieratt

JENNIFER PIERATT is an educator, mom, speaker, coach, and project-based learning nerd. She offers tips, tools, and inspiration for Project-Based Learning and is the author of three books, including Keep It Real With PBL, Secondary: A Practical Guide for Planning Project-Based Learning. She hails from a small California beach community called Cardiff-by-the-Sea.

Mad Respect for Primary Teachers

Jenny had been teaching for about eleven years before she decided to pivot her career and work for two companies that support project-based learning implementation across America. It was incredible work: she learned so much, saw so many school environments, and built a ton of amazing professional relationships.

After three years of this work, she decided to change course again. She had small children at home, and all her time on the road was putting a strain on her family. She returned to the classroom, thinking that teaching fifth grade would be a breeze, but was instead surprised to find it a steep challenge. Used to teaching secondary, the move to the primary classroom was a bit of a shock, and she calls it the hardest thing she has ever done.

Today, she says she has mad respect for primary teachers who work with kids all day, for every subject, often without breaks. She calls this part of her teaching journey the impetus for the work that she does today and credits her discouragement for adding perspective and insight into the challenges that middle school teachers face.

Keep it Real with PBL

Keep it Real with PBLIn January 2020, Jenny will publish Keep It Real With PBL, Secondary: A Practical Guide for Planning Project-Based Learning from Corwin Teaching Essentials. Jenny intended the book to be a go-to resource for teachers who are venturing into PBL – an organized and accessible source of support that she could leave behind with teachers who hoped to maintain the momentum and learning derived from her training workshops. The book is designed for continuous reference and growth, something teachers can refer back to time and time again.

Jenny also offers a series of online courses and coaching opportunities around project-based learning. With work experiences at PBL Works, High Tech High, and New Tech Network, she feels that her philosophy and application of PBL integrates the best flavors of all three organizations. She’s not averse to going rogue or off-script in a workshop, she says, because sometimes educators become overwhelmed by the scale of the work involved. Clarity is essential.

A Favorite Project Idea

One of Jenny’s all-time favorite projects is called Silent Voices and it comes from a school called Lake Elementary in Vista, California. It starts by looking at the American Revolution from the eyes of marginalized groups in history and then moves to compare the state of those groups to the challenges faced by marginalized groups in today’s society. It’s a very layered project that demands critical thinking and substantial depth of knowledge, and the end products created by these fifth graders never cease to impress.

Something Setting Jenny on 🔥 in Education: Technology

Technology in the classroom can be a tremendous asset, Jenny says, especially when it is used in ways that enhance project-based learning. She applauds the schools that are using technology to engage their communities, showcase their learning in online exhibitions, collect data, bring experts into the classroom, or conduct field work instead of traditional field trips. She’s seen some classes at the elementary level – even kindergarteners – who are leaving the classroom to collect their own data in the field. How exciting and authentic is that?

A Professional Goal for 2020

Jenny has been giving her 2020 resolutions some thought lately, and one big focus will be a commitment to collect, highlight, and showcase more Math and world language resources for PBL. These subjects often feel like the forgotten children, she says, which only increases her desire to inspire educators in these important categories.

Personal Passions: Exercise and Nutrition

Jenny describes herself as a very active person, and laughs that she is not her best self unless she’s gotten her workout in for the day. She thinks it’s important to try a variety of fitness activities, and some of her experiments have included triathlons, boxing, and hip hop dancing. She’s also interested in nutrition, and with a sister who’s a registered dietician, it’s easy to remain a curious (hungry?) learner in this area. 

A Key to Productivity: Her Happy Planner

One of the biggest keys to her productivity is her Happy Planner, Jenny says. She blocks her time by hour for every day in this notebook, and it generally results in a pretty regimented but productive day. To make sure a task is completed, it needs to appear in her planner – otherwise, it just gets lost in the shuffle.

Voices and Resources That Inspire Her Practice

Over on Twitter, Jenny recommends following Camille Nunnenkamp @MissNunnenkamp, a fifth grade teacher at Lake Elementary in Oceanside, California, part of the Vista Unified School District. Camille is doing some awesome things with PBL in her practice, and she posts accessible examples of what PBL can look like in the middle years. For anyone looking to grow their PBL skill set, Camille is a must-follow.

Jenny’s pick for an edtech tool has to go to Evernote, a tool that makes tracking, syncing across devices, and collaboration as effortless and efficient as possible.

Innovate Inside the Box by George Couros and Katie NovakOne book Jenny has been enjoying lately is Innovate Inside the Box: Empowering Learners Through UDL and the Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros and Katie Novak. She gained a ton from George’s first book, The Innovator’s Mindset,  but finds this title even more applicable to the context of project-based learning.

Two podcasts that Jenny thoroughly enjoys include the legendary Serial, a true crime classic in the podcast space, and a newer show, To Live and Die in LA.

When the day is over or the weekend is upon her, Jenny is watching The Crown on Netflix. The series chronicles the life and career of the Queen of England, and to anyone with an interest in history, this is must-watch material.

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

You can connect with Jenny …

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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!

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