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:

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Episode 102 – Dr. Jacie Maslyk

102 - Dr. Jacie Maslyk

Meet Dr. Jacie Maslyk

DR. JACIE MASLYK is an educator, speaker, and author at ISTE, SolutionTree, and Steam-makers.com. She’s an Assistant Superintendent for the Hopewell Area School District just 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, PA, and she brings a passion for #STEM education, makerspaces, literacy, leadership, and creativity in education.

Stonewalled as a Young Administrator

Soon after Jacie became a principal at the age of 30, a veteran teacher approached her and flatly stated that there was nothing she could learn from her. It was an instant realization for Jacie that she was going to need to break down stereotypes and build trust with the teachers in her building.

Eventually, this initial antagonism softened into a mutually beneficial relationship, but it took work to get there. It required demonstrating her commitment to the school, to the staff, to the learners, and the community over the long term.

The Heart and Mission of Unlock Creativity

Unlock Creativity by Dr. Jacie MaslykIn the past, says Jacie, school systems have been focused on data and accountability, a mindset that has led to an overdependence on standardized tests and rigid structures. That mindset seems to be shifting into an era of innovation that is paving the way for creative thinking in classrooms.

It starts with teachers, she points out: when educators believe that they are creative and have the ability to do creative things, that passion and interest spills over into their classrooms and into the imagination of students. Teachers must find more ways to model creativity and vulnerability with and beside their students so that they can see active models of creativity and failure and perseverance in front of them. As a result, students will become more passionate learners and grow to become critical and creative thinkers as adults.

What is your creative outlet? Whatever it is, share it with your students, Jacie says. You never know what might connect in a powerful way with one or more of your learners. 

What’s Setting Jacie on 🔥 in Education Today: Maker Education

Jacie feels like she’s been on fire for maker education for quite some time, but lately she’s seen even more of a resurgence. Maker education is a fantastic way to build full engagement with every learner and provide equitable on-ramps for students who .

When students are given opportunities to learn with their hands, their learning can grow exponentially. On top of that, STEM learning and maker education builds the very skills and dispositions that are so critical in the 21st century economy: flexible thinking, tolerance for ambiguity, problem solving, improvisation, and so on. If you’re looking for practical makerspace ideas, check out Instructables, Maker Maven, and Demco.

Professional Goals and Growth

“I’m always looking to learn and grow from others,” says Jacie, crediting her engagement with social media for her deepened hunger for learning and exposure to new ideas. Among other projects, she’s currently working with Kristen Nan on a new book that will combine views from central office with views from the classroom. The book’s theme will be built around Las Vegas, focusing on the bets that we need to make in education today. Keep an eye out for this one!

Personal Passions and Continued Learning

Jacie’s biggest area of learning at the moment is her sons and their passions, including professional wrestling and American Ninja Warriors. She enjoys the time they’ve spent lately on their own American Ninja obstacle course in the back yard.

Her Tried and True Personal Productivity Hack

When it comes to personal productivity, Jacie says she remains a fan of the old school notebook. Whether it’s a to-do list, some reflections, a quote that resonated, or anything else that grabs her attention, she enjoys the process of physically writing things down and carrying them with her in a tangible way.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Her Work

Over on Twitter, Jacie recommends following @FroehlichM, guest on episode 51 of the Teachers on Fire podcast and host of the Teachers Aid podcast. Mandy is currently offering a free course based on teachers wellness and self-care.

The one edtech tool that Jacie currently considers indispensable is Voxer, her daily source for real-time professional development. 

One Drop of KindnessWith two young boys in tow, a lot of Jacie’s current reading is in children’s books. Two of her favorites in that category are One Drop of Kindness by Jeff Kubiak and EngiNerds (MAX) by Jarrett Lerner.

Jacie’s got two favorite podcasts, and both are hosted by former guests and friends of the Teachers on Fire podcast: Teach Better Talk, hosted by Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart, and STEM Everyday Podcast, hosted by Chris Woods.

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

You can connect with Dr. Jacie …

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Episode 101 – Nancy Frey

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Meet Nancy Frey

NANCY FREY is a Professor of Educational Leadership and Literacy at San Diego State University at the graduate and doctoral levels. She’s also an instructor at Health Sciences High and Middle College, a secondary charter school which she co-founded 13 years ago with Doug Fisher and others. The school runs from grade 8-12 with about 700 students, and her teaching practice there helps to make sure that the ideas she advocates for in her research and writing actually work in practice.

Nancy has also authored or co-authored a number of books, including PLC+: Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design.

Rocked By a Hurricane

When asked about a low moment, Nancy thinks back to the time she spent teaching in south Florida. One year, Hurricane Andrew hit the area just days before school opened. The storm exacted a heavy toll on the communities across the region, causing her district to expand very quickly due to damaged and destroyed schools in nearby counties. More significantly, almost every additional student came into the district with significant emotional trauma.

It was a difficult year that even made Nancy challenge her place in the profession, partly because she felt so unprepared to offer the guidance, comfort, and support that her learners truly needed while also promoting their academic growth and development. Thankfully, with a mix of inner commitment and support from colleagues, Nancy remained an educator, and she now credits this year with giving her valuable experiences and perspectives regarding trauma-informed education.

What is Visible Learning?

Visible Learning is the terminology used to refer to the research engineered by John Hattie, who used a meta-analysis to review hundreds of academic studies in an effort to determine what truly works in education. From this research, he and his team have created an index of what he calls effect sizes: how do different interventions positively or negatively affect learning outcomes?

With close to 300M students represented in these studies, this research can say with authority what works and what doesn’t in education. Supported by the groundbreaking research and resources from Visible Learning, schools and districts no longer need to guess about where to apply their energies. 

Taking Your PLC to the Next Level: PLC+

In PLC+: Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design, Nancy and Doug Fisherlook at the power behind professional learning communities and apply the latest research to suggest ways to take PLCs to the next level. The ‘+’ in PLC+ is you – what it is that you bring to your learning community.

The book organizes the PLC+ process around five key questions:

  1. Where are we going? What is our destination?
  2. Where are we now? Take a situational assessment.
  3. How can we move learning forward?
  4. What did we learn today? How are we enriching ourselves as a PLC so that we can continue the work that we’re doing?
  5. Who benefited and who did not? This is the essential question of equity.

These questions are grounded in four universal values:

  • Equity,
  • Higher expectations,
  • Activation, and
  • Individual and collective efficacy – belief in our ability to effect change.

In Nancy’s view, PLCs and our perceptions of them have tended to become more restrictive over time. Twenty-first century manifestations of PLCs should actually integrate well with PLNs in the sense that every member of a PLC must remain engaged in a PLN in order to further support their own learning and allow them to better contribute to their PLC. Other strategies like micro-learning and learning walks must be parts of robust PLCs as well.

Building Literacy Through the Tools of Metacognition

When I asked Nancy for some quick advice for the literacy classroom, Nancy pointed back to John Hattie. Do you know your impact? Do you know when your students have learned something? These are the questions that must drive everything we do in literacy and throughout K-12 education.

In the literacy classroom we must also ask ourselves how we are bringing students into the learning. This goes beyond ensuring content relevance – it means that students must understand WHAT they are learning, WHY they are learning it, and HOW they will know that they have been successful in learning it. Learning intentions and success criteria must be made clear to learners in every lesson, and when it comes to English classes, progress tends to be incremental – they’re generally not leaving a 30-minute lesson with a brand new skill.

With that in mind, we must give students the tools of self-assessment: how can students look at their own work and gauge their own growth and progress? How can we equip our learners to critique the work of peers? For English teachers looking to empower their students in this area, Nancy points to a few titles including Developing Assessment-Capable Visible Learners, Grades K-12: Maximizing Skill, Will, and Thrill.

Other Areas That Are Setting Nancy on 🔥 in Education

Nancy is very intrigued by the ways that technology is being effectively embedded and woven into instruction today. She points to the ways that our views of technology in education have changed from past decades: from computer lab to essential tool. Technology tools can be a double-edged sword, however, because technology itself is no assurance of learning, and in fact, we still don’t fully understand how technology changes the ways in which students learn.

Today, high school students walk around with computers in their pockets – devices more powerful than the computers that first sent spaceships to the moon. On the one hand, these phones can be the bane of a teacher’s existence, but on the other hand, educators must better harness this technology in order to advance learning.

The questions around phones and phone policy in schools are not easy ones to answer, but we must continue to struggle and learn in this area. (Editor’s Note: Check out my exploration of this issue at On Schools and Cell Phones.)

Is Handwriting an Essential Literacy Skill?

Should pens and pencils remain part of the writing classroom? Nancy says that students should be exposed to a wide continuum of learning experiences. Evidence also suggests that the motor functions involved in writing seem to inform the abilities of young learners to break the code (decode letters and words). Young children should know how to engage in print and cursive, and older students should at least have the capacity to sign their name. Nancy shares her experience from a recent class of seniors – many of whom struggled to sign a document in cursive. Yes, young learners should learn how to keyboard, and voice-to-text will continue to change the nature of composition. 

Professional Goals for This Year

Nancy’s annual and evergreen goal is to ask: How can I be a better teacher this year? If that isn’t a question you’re asking, Nancy chuckles, it may be time to look for a new profession. Lately, Nancy has been writing about the intersection between teacher credibility and collective efficacy and the ways in which these two constructs can support and promote the other.

Nancy is also intrigued by the ways that students learn about their own learning through practice tests. Do students know what they’re learning and what they’re not learning?

Personal Passions Outside of Education

One activity that ignites Nancy’s passions and brings her alive as a human being when she leaves the halls of education is her work with kettlebells. She has participated in functional fitness workouts with kettlebells and the kettlebell community for the last six or seven years, and she is consistent. “Strong is the new skinny,” she says. She hits her gym about six days out of seven, and it’s formed a big part of her personal wellness.

A Productivity Habit: Meditation

The personal habit that has been making the biggest difference for Nancy in the productivity space is meditation. She meditates for 15 minutes after waking up each morning, and she finds that she is more productive as a result. It’s time to be quiet, to be mindful, to be self-aware, and to slow down. Nancy uses the Calm app and is competitive enough that her personal streaks are important to her, and she even appreciates the badges earned over time.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Nancy’s Practice

On Twitter, Nancy is a big fan of the #G2Great hashtag and regular Twitter chat.

As far as edtech tools go, Nancy loves what smartpens do for learners and learning in the classroom. There are so many uses for smartpens that fit within UDL and increase equity for all learners.

Tis by Frank McCourtNancy’s all-time favorite read is Tis: A Memoir by Frank McCourt. This classic describes the life of an English teacher in New York City from an earlier time.

In the world of podcasts, Nancy’s pick is Disgraceland, which unpacks the spectacular missteps and disasters that have followed countless pop music stars. It’s a guilty pleasure and Nancy can’t get enough of it.

On YouTube, Nancy is a big fan of the resources shared on the Teaching Channel. Get to know the Teaching Channel on Twitter @TeachingChannel

Yes, Nancy does occasionally find time for Netflix! One of her favorite series of late was Russian Doll

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

You can connect with Nancy …

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 96 – Jeffery Frieden

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Meet Jeffery Frieden

JEFFERY FRIEDEN is a teacher, blogger, presenter, and podcaster. He enjoys connecting teachers and building professional relationships in order to intensify impact on learning. He is also the author of Make Them Process It: Uncovering New Value in the Writer’s Notebook, published in 2017.

Jeff teaches at Hillcrest High School in Riverside, CA, home of Aaron Blackwelder. The school community mirrors that of this area of California, with a mix of socioeconomic statuses and cultures represented.

From Called Out to Cultural Understanding

Jeffery recalls a time when he was a teaching assistant at a school with students coming from a wide range of cultural backgrounds and varying stages of emotional development. One day, he poked his head into another classroom to tell the students inside to quiet down and stop the racket, missing the fact that the students inside were celebrating the achievement of a class goal and behaving in culturally normative ways.

Later, the teacher of that classroom told him quite bluntly that his actions had made all kinds of cultural assumptions and that he needed to educate himself on other cultural backgrounds and expectations. Although this correction floored him at first, he eventually settled his thoughts and determined to do more reading about cultures outside of his realm of experience. It’s been a rewarding journey ever since.

Dear Teacher, Don’t Give Up

Dear Teacher, Don’t Give Up is a podcast born out of professional development that sets near-perfect bars without showing the struggles and failures that accompany the journeys of growth required to get there.

Leaders in professional development often appear so well-polished that a sense of anxiety can creep in regarding the deficits that such presentations expose in our own professional practice. It can be demoralizing and can create burnout as educators work feverishly to close the gap between their current practice and the ideals – the Grecian Urns that they’re presented with. Just like Instagram culture, education communities tend to shout the victories and good stuff but downplay the difficult moments.

To speak to this, Doris Santoro wrote Demoralized: Why Teachers Leave the Profession They Love and How They Can StayThis word (demoralized) summarizes the condition that educators experience when they start to lose their moral center, the moral purpose that once formed the core purpose (or WHY) of their work in the classroom.

We hear the term ‘burnout‘ a lot, but it’s not enough — it doesn’t capture many of the difficulties and tensions that drive some educators to leave the profession. We need to speak in the broader terms of demoralization, this idea of losing morale or the moral center of our work due to a wide variety of issues.

On his podcast, Dear Teacher Don’t Give Up, Jeffery is interested in taking guests to points in their career where they’ve seriously considered quitting the profession. What was that like, and what lessons did they learn that they can share with other educators experiencing tough times? These are the questions that Jeffery enjoys asking on his show.

We all love transformation stories, as shows like The Biggest Loser illustrate. Let’s try to bring more of that into education by telling the stories of educators who quit – or almost quit – and then come back to the profession with more hope and passion than ever. 

Am I Sharing Too Much With Colleagues?

In episode 7 of the Dear Teacher, Don’t Give Up podcast, Jeffery tackles the question of “How much is too much to share with colleagues?” For teachers who are filled with passion, brimming with optimism, and bursting with exciting new ideas, it’s important to come to terms with the fact that not all colleagues will share that enthusiasm.

One solution to this problem, as Jeffery recounts, is to find your tribe by building your professional learning network on social media platforms. As Jeffery started to build his own presence on Twitter, he connected with people like Starr Sackstein, Aaron Blackwelder, Arthur Chiaravalli, Marisa Thompson, Deanna Hess, Jennifer Gonzales, and others, and he started to realize his true moral center as an educator because he could connect with like-minded professionals beyond the walls of his own building.

As these external connections brought him closer to self-actualization, he actually became a better colleague and person because he was able to realize his true moral center. Today, when it comes to sharing with his own colleagues, Jeffery lives by the rule of answering questions that people are actually asking. People generally aren’t interested in answers to questions they aren’t asking.

What’s Setting Jeffery on 🔥 in Education Today

What sets Jeffery on fire in education today is the idea of removing points from his classroom. That’s right – his class is now pointless! Although he doesn’t use the terms ‘pointless’ or ‘gradeless’ with his students, he frames his assessment as ‘an alternative path to grades.’

His students receive final assessment from him based on purposeful effort, revision, reflection, feedback, and conferences. At conferences, grades are negotiated in the course of conversations. Although he occasionally needs to impose his own professional judgment, he gives the student’s perspective great weight and tries to express disagreement in the form of thoughtful questions.

Looking back, Jeff realizes now that the massive spreadsheet of assignments and points that he used to assess his students for so many years told too much of the narrative about the learning of his students. To some extent, it was dehumanizing his learners and taking away the power of their personal story. Now, as he puts more emphasis on conferences, feedback, and negotiation, he hears his students’ stories and understands their journeys more holistically.

A Professional Goal

In addition to continued blogging and podcasting, Jeffery plans to make progress on his next book, Make Them Interact – about how to help students have authentic, academically centered interactions in the classroom that also builds social skills and community. Jeffery is also starting to offer professional development opportunities and workshops, so please contact him if you’d like to bring his expertise to your school or district.

Personal Passions Away From Education

Outside of education, Jeffery’s chief passion centers on learning how to better parent four kids who are ten, eight, five, and eight months old. This summer, they’ve spent a lot of time playing together and visiting the pool, and everyone’s been safe. He’s also enjoyed the challenge of learning the ropes of sound engineering at his local church.

His Most Important Productivity Hack

“You can be selfish at five in the morning,” says Jon Acuff. Accordingly, Jeffery tries to go to bed early and then wakes up around four o’clock, accompanied by strong doses of coffee. This is really his window to do the creative work that he enjoys.

Voices & Influences That Shape His Thinking & Inspire His Practice

Over on Twitter, Jeffery recommends following @DMQualls, who organized a game-changing fundraising drive at his school. He also points to @DauseClause and @CathleenBeachbd, who are about to release a book about problem-based learning titled 10 Keys to Student Empowerment: Unlocking the Hero in Each Child.

In terms of educational technology, Jeffery still prefers two classic low-tech tools: whiteboards and post-it notes. These tools continue to support visible thinking and collaborative creativity in the classroom.

Demoralized by Doris SantoroJeffery’s educational book pick is Demoralized: Why Teachers Leave the Profession They Love and How They Can Stay by Doris A. Santoro. Follow the author on Twitter @DorisASantoro. He also recommends a good business book called From Poop to Gold: The Marketing Magic of Harmon Brothers by Chris Jones.

A fun podcast to subscribe to is Dropping the Gloves by John Scott, a former professional hockey player with a wealth of amusing stories to share about the game.

If you’re looking for an interesting YouTube channel to subscribe to, check out The Bible Project. The creators craft beautiful animations and share profound insights about the characters, context, and messages found in the Bible. Even if you’re not a Christian or religious, you’ll find their content interesting. Follow the producers on Twitter @TheBibleProject.

On Netflix, Jeff’s family has been watching some of Sophia the First, but he’s more interested in playing a classic video game from his childhood: The Legend of Zelda

We sign off on this great conversation, and Jeffery gives us the best ways to get in touch with him online. See below for details!

Connect with Jeffery:

Sponsoring This Episode: Classtime

This episode is brought to you by Classtime.com, an assessment platform that delivers learning insights, giving you more time to teach.

Classtime.com helps you gain immediate visibility of your students’ learning progress, build engaging lessons, share with other teachers, and create your own tech-enabled questions to complement your lesson plans. Classtime.com also helps you engage all students with collaborative challenges & puzzles that make fun an integral part of the learning experience.

See what Classtime can do for your learners, and start your free trial at Classtime.com today!

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 89 – Lynmara Colon

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Meet Lynmara Colon

LYNMARA COLON is a dynamic leader committed to student learning and growth. She is passionate about technology, access, and equity for all students, and was named in the NSBA 20 to Watch for Innovative Practices. As a former teacher, assistant principal, and principal, Lynmara is focused on building healthy cultures by leading with a Disney mentality where all stakeholders are welcomed.

Lynn holds two master’s degrees: one in curriculum and instruction, the other in educational leadership. She is also the co-author of the recently published Empower Our Girls: Opening the Door for Girls to Achieve More.

Lynmara’s practice is located in Manassas, VA where she serves the Prince William County Schools. The district is situated 30 miles outside of Washington, DC, with 90,000 students, 29,000 English language learners, and 140 languages spoken across 98 schools. Lynmara is the Director of EL Programs and Services, including Central Registration, Translation, Instructional Services, Professional Learning, and Instructional Point of Contact for Schools.

Learning the Importance of Relationships

When asked to think of a time of adversity in her professional journey, Lynmara thinks back to her first year as principal. At the time, she was eager to jump into the work and felt ready to institute new initiatives immediately. But she quickly learned that slow is better, listening is critical, and building relationships and trust across the community is paramount.

As she looks back, she’s grateful for one teacher who graciously helped her to slow down and listen more. She values this kind of professional feedback and points to the importance of these “cocoon friends” who can offer healthy perspectives and hold her accountable.

Introducing the Book: Empower Our Girls

Lynmara is so excited about the feedback that she and Adam Welcome have received after publishing Empower Our Girls: Opening the Door for Girls to Achieve More. In her own story, she was as raw and vulnerable as she could be so that young girls everywhere will be better, stronger, and more empowered as a result.

This book brings together many different authors and contributors who have experienced similar challenges and experiences and are active in the work of advocacy for girls in education today. It includes superintendents, medical professionals, athletes, and other leaders who share their journey in an attempt to clear roadblocks, improve equity, and inspire others.

When I asked Lynn to suggest practical ways for me to empower the girls in my practice, she spoke to the importance of asking the right questions and intentionally making sure every voice is heard. Girls need to gain the experience of speaking and advocating in order to build confidence and step forward into new spaces.

Serving English Learners

In her new role as Director of English Learner Programs and Services, Lynmara serves with purpose. She was born, raised, and educated in Puerto Rico, so all of her early learning was in Spanish, and she understands the challenges in this area of education because she can personally relate – she’s lived it.

She’s grateful that her current district shares her vision of giving every English Learner what she calls a “Disney experience,” the sense that every person is valued and deserves magical moments of learning. To get serious about meeting the needs of these students, schools must invest in targeted professional development that helps educators better understand the unique needs of these learners, the challenges they face, and the exciting potential that lies within each child.

It’s always about building the kind of school cultures that offer quality education opportunities for every single student, regardless of background and journey. Lynmara can tell these learners that although the path may be difficult, it IS possible. She’s done it, and she’s living her American Dream. 

New Opportunities for English Learners

Lynmara is excited by the US Department of Education’s tech toolkit for English learners, which is providing more on-ramps and learning opportunities for students whose first language is not English. The department has stated that all students should have access to technology and innovative practices, including students in these important conversations and improving equity in schools across the country. With improved resources and access, kids are winning.

Her Professional Goal: Finishing the Doctorate

Lynmara’s number one professional goal at the moment is her doctorate in education. This has been a dream for some time, although her doubts in her own English language proficiency held her back from taking this step for too long.

Now that she’s plugged into the program and sharing spaces with other education leaders from other districts, she thoroughly enjoys the rich professional relationships and conversations that have followed. Titles aren’t important in this context, and she and her colleagues are free to grapple with important challenges and issues as peers. It’s been a wonderful and inspiring journey, and she’s grateful for the additions she’s been able to make to her professional network.

Productivity Habits and Routines

In conjunction with her latest role and responsibilities, Lynn has adopted habits from Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning. She wakes up at 4:45 a.m., runs two miles, completes a devotional, does some journaling, and reads for twenty minutes. This routine helps her to center, plan for the day, and focus on positivity.

These habits have helped her to manage the larger challenges of her professional practice and also helped her achieve some impressive physical goals as well. Lynmara has even taken a further step with the Miracle Morning, following cues from the Miracle Morning for Writers. This has been a key resource as she strives to write her dissertation and complete her PhD. 

Lynmara also talks about the power of breakfast and sleep. They’re just essential, Lynn says, to stay on top of your game and make things happen in your practice. She never skips breakfast, and she tries hard to get at least six hours of sleep per night, finishing her day with reading and without access to her phone. She learned the importance of self-care the hard way, recalling a time earlier in her life when her body actually shut down after being pushed too hard.

Voices That Shape Her Practice and Inspire Her Thinking

On Twitter, Lynn recommends following her superintendent, @SuperPWCS. Steve Walts is a nonstop source of inspiration and consistently shouts out great learning happening across the entire district.

When asked about her favorite tech tools, Lynn points to Canva, a simple and powerful graphic design program. She also really likes the features for English learners provided by Lexia Core 5 Reading

Lynmara is learning so much from Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, where author Kim Scott offers a ton of insights into the best ways to have those difficult conversations. Get to know the author on Twitter @KimBallScott

At the top of Lynn’s Apple Podcasts line-up is the RISE Podcast, featuring Rachel Hollis. “She’s my best friend, and she doesn’t even know it,” Lynn laughs. Follow Rachel on Twitter @MrsRachelHollis.

On YouTube, a go-to source of quality content and inspiration is the GoalCast channel. Lynn enjoys their content personally and shares it with her staff teams as well. Follow GoalCast on Twitter @Goal_Cast.

On Netflix, it’s been Grey’s Anatomy lately – a fun point of connection between Lynn and her children. Her twins remind Mom to “Stop asking questions and just watch the show!”

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

Connect with Lynmara:

Song Track Credits

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