Episode 132 – Kellie Bahri

This episode was originally published on March 1, 2020.

Meet Kellie Bahri

KELLIE BAHRI is a 5th grade teacher at the Birmingham Public Schools in Birmingham, MI. She’s a supporter of the Sustainable Development Goals, a member of Nohea Kindreds, an Agent for Agency, and a co-founder of the @CrazyPLN. She’s also the cohost of the EDU Exchange Pod podcast and is currently working on her PhD in educational leadership. Best of all, Kellie is a tremendous elevator and amplifier of other educators.

Falling Back in Love with Education

A few years ago, the state of Michigan moved to a high-stakes model of evaluation for teachers. It turned Kellie’s world upside down, increasing stress and anxiety, isolating her colleagues, and making her fall out of love with the profession. “I wanted to walk away,” she explains, but she felt trapped in the classroom by her need for health insurance.

After taking some time to reflect on herself and her role in these circumstances, she concluded that she was actually the source of the problem. Her inclination to hoard ideas and outshine others in order to keep her job were actually the cause of her misery.

From that realization, Kellie changed things up completely: she re-opened her classroom doors, started sharing ideas and resources again, and took every opportunity to spotlight the work of others. This pivot in her approach allowed her to rediscover the joy of teaching, strengthen her friendships with colleagues, and change the culture in her team … and she’s been on fire ever since.

The EDU Exchange Podcast

Kellie and co-host David Hennel @HennelD_EDU recently teamed up to create the EDU Exchange. Their hope is to publish educator stories that resonate with the masses and push the thinking and practices within our education systems. David manages the tech side of things, and Kellie brings the perspective of a homeroom teacher. The podcast is still in the early stages of development, but Kellie and David look forward to publishing more episodes soon.

Elevating the #CrazyPLN and Nohea Kindred

ELEVATE is Kellie’s #OneWord2020, and most of her activity on Twitter does exactly that: it elevates and celebrates the work of others. Hashtags that Kellie follows closely on Twitter include #CrazyPLN and #NoheaKindreds.

#CrazyPLN began as a small group of educators who simply came together to support each other, but that small group has grown into a swelling community of teachers, authors, and leaders. It’s a community marked by collaboration and a deep belief in student agency and empowerment.

“They’ve transformed my teaching and my life,” says Kellie. If we become the people that surround us, she can’t think of better people to want to emulate. A care for kids is at the center of everything they do. 

The mission of Nohea Kindreds is to “help school and district leaders create information peace of mind, so they can lead effectively, teachers can teach joyfully, and students learn.” Kellie commends Nohea’s co-founders, Aubrey Patterson and Lori Harvey as possibly the kindest, most lovely people in education.

Nohea is built around a three-step leadership philosophy that puts special emphasis on three actions: simplify, amplify, and clarify. Much of their consultation and coaching work for schools and school leaders helps education organizations increase capacity by decluttering communication, clarifying mission, and strategically investing in leaders within their communities. The Nohea Kindred tribe is made up of givers: educators who want to freely share with educators around the world. 

What’s Setting Kellie on 🔥 in Education Right Now

“I feel like I’m on fire for every possible angle that education has to offer,” Kellie laughs. One of her many areas of passion right now include the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She combines the UNSDGs with design thinking to transform her middle school classroom.

“It breaks down walls and brings the world right into our classroom,” she says. It’s given her middle schoolers passion and mission and some deeply authentic project-based learning. “This work has me so on fire that I could go on and on about it.”

Kellie credits Lindsay Portnoy’s Designed to Learn: Using Design Thinking to Bring Purpose and Passion to the Classroom and the work of Jennifer Williams (see Teach Boldly: Using EdTech for Social Good) for the inspiration to head down this rewarding path with her learners. Education should be about more than just coming to school and working to master curricular standards, Kellie says. It should be about working and learning that makes a difference and creates positive changes in the world.

Other Professional Pursuits

Kellie is working on a PhD, and she admits that part of the challenge to come will be narrowing the focus of her activities. She’s also enjoyed working with Evo Hannan and his Agents for Agency, an association of educators committed to changing paradigms in education that give students more agency and ownership in their learning. Find out more about Agents for Agency at EvoHannan.com.

A Personal Passion Outside of Education: Nature

Kellie has a lot going on at all times, she admits, but one thing she always makes time for is fresh air. Getting into the woods and walking through the trees is calming, clarifying, and centering, and she’s incredibly blessed to have easy access to the wilds of northern Michigan. Her summers are filled with camping and kayaking, although she doesn’t share Abigail French’s love of snakes! Getting off the grid once in a while is important, she says. It helps us get back to basics: our health, others, and nature.

A Productivity Hack: Preparing for the Morning the Night Before

Sleep is Kellie’s ultimate productivity hack, she says. “I’m a sleeper. Once my head hits the pillow, I could sleep for 13 hours. Getting up in the morning is so hard for me – I could sleep until noon if given the chance.” With that in mind, Kellie has learned that absolutely everything for her morning routine must be prepared and ready to go the night before.

Voices and Resources That Spark Her Thinking and Ignite Her Practice

Over on Twitter, Kellie recommends following #SDGwomen, @CrazyPLN, and @LPortnoy. “Lindsay has changed my teaching and how I approach learning with students,” Kellie says.

For a great edtech tool, Kellie points to FlipGrid. “Flipgrid was really great for student conferences,” Kellie explains. “It was wonderful for parents to hear their child talk about the things that they loved about the classroom and what they were learning.” Flipgrid has also offered a nice way for Kellie’s students to communicate with students in Africa and around the world. Follow Fligrid on Twitter @FlipGrid.

Kellie’s book pick is The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. “It’s a book that I really need in my life,” Kellie says. With a lot of plates in the air and so much going on, this book has helped her clarify her focus and allowed her to achieve significant progress on her goals. Follow the authors on Twitter @GaryKeller and @JayPapasan

Kellie is a huge supporter of the Teachers on Fire podcast and claims to never miss an episode. Amazing! Another one of her podcast favorites is The Staff Room Podcast with the very charismatic Chey and Pav. They’re fun, they’re human, and they bring some great down-to-earth perspectives on the state of education today. Follow this podcast on Twitter @StaffPodcast

Some of Kellie’s recent Netflix viewing has included The Stranger and The Five. Both series are based on fascinating books by Harlan Coben, and Kellie will consume anything he puts out.

We sign off on this conversation, and Kellie gives us the best ways to follow her online. Check the links below and get connected!

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Song Track Credits

  • Sunrise Drive by South London Hifi*
  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*
  • Bluntedsesh4 (by Tha Silent Partner, courtesy of FreeMusicArchive.org

*courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library

Listen to Teachers on Fire on YouTube

Episode 126 – Andrew Canle

Meet Andrew Canle

ANDREW CANLE is an Assistant Principal at Shaw Avenue School, a K-6 elementary campus in Valley Stream, New York, a suburban town just outside of Queens. He’s a three-time champion coach at NBA Math Hoops, a program that engages students in math and social-emotional learning through the game of basketball. He’s also the creator of the #EDUCanle podcast.

Education or Law?

Andrew recalls a time during his second year of teaching when he seriously considered leaving the field of education entirely. “I just wasn’t happy overall,” he admits, which led him to consider moving from the classroom to a career in law.

What kept him in education, he says, was his decision to revisit his core passion: helping kids and doing the work of transforming lives. So many people made that sacrifice for him, he says, and so he redoubled his commitment to teaching. Looking back, he values this crisis of calling as a time that allowed him to find himself and redefine his true values.

The EDUCanle Podcast

Andrew credits colleagues and co-workers for the inspiration to start the EDUCanle Podcast. Part of his role at Shaw Avenue is to facilitate professional development opportunities for his staff, and at some point it occurred to him that recording these events and then repurposing the content on a podcast would be a great way to allow staff members to review content or catch up on missed learning.

Publishing in podcast form also allows him to support the learning of professionals outside of his own building and expand his professional network, something that can only benefit him and his teachers. Moving forward, Andrew plans to expand his asynchronous professional development offerings by screencasting presentations and sharing these on YouTube.

On 🔥 for Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is an area that is lighting Andrew’s fire in education right now. “It’s the crux of everything,” he points out.

Checking for understanding, strategic questioning, and determination of student progress are such critical components of what teachers do in the classroom, and so much of student learning depends on these activities done well. Lately, he’s been taking a close look at the mindsets needed to ask the most effective questions of students – questions that generate the data that informs our next instructional decisions.

A Professional Goal: Improving His Writing

At the forefront of his professional goals, Andrew is looking to become a better writer. He’s now had several articles published, including one with Edutopia, but he laughs about the silent suffering of perfectionism that remains a constant challenge. He talks about making his writing process more fluid and simply going with the flow of his ideas, steps that will make his writing more powerful and accelerate his productivity at the same time.

Personal Passions: Psychology, Sociology, and Sports

Passions that bring Andrew alive as a human being outside of his professional context include the studies of psychology and sociology. “They absolutely fascinate me,” Andrew says, and some of the learning he does in these spaces also equips him to be a more effective administrator. “You can never have enough tools in the toolbelt.”

Andrew is also a big sports fan and points to the legacies of dynasty teams like the New York Yankees and the New England Patriots as examples that our educational institutions can learn from. 

Andrew’s Productivity Hack: A Little Blue Notebook

The engine that keeps Andrew on track and productive is a small blue notebook that he keeps in his inside pocket. That notebook is where he tracks to-do lists, items of concern, future tweets, and random notes. While others turn to cloud note-taking services, he likes to keep things analog.

Voices That Spark His Thinking and Ignite His Practice

Over on Twitter, Andrew recommends following @MrDataGuy, an important voice on the subject of assessment: traditional, PLC, and student ownership. His graphics are incredible and Andrew says they have supported many of his professional learning events.

One of Andrew’s favorite edtech tools is Review360, an application from Pearson that helps education leaders track student behavior patterns and support student learning based on situational trends.

When asked for a book pick, Andrew turns to Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov. Follow Doug on Twitter @Doug_Lemov

Andrew’s YouTube pick is a channel called Vsauce, which answers all kinds of interesting scientific and philosophical questions about the world around us. Follow the creator on Twitter @TweetSauce

And when he’s got the time to relax or just needs a good laugh, Andrew is turning to comedian James Acaster on Netflix

We sign off on this fun conversation, and Andrew gives us the best ways to contact and follow him online. See below for details!

Follow Andrew

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Song Track Credits

  • Bluntedsesh4 (by Tha Silent Partner, courtesy of FreeMusicArchive.org)
  • Sunrise Drive by South London Hifi*
  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*

*courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library

Listen to Teachers on Fire on YouTube

*This page contains Amazon affiliate links.

Episode 122 – Marisa Thompson

Meet Marisa Thompson

MARISA THOMPSON is a mom, wife, HS English teacher, professional development facilitator, instructor at the University of San Diego, traveler, and a liver of life. When people ask her what she does, she sums up her multiplicity of roles by simply saying “I’m in education,” and she wouldn’t have it any other way, she says. 

Disillusioned by Education

When asked about a low moment, Marisa recalls her earliest visions of the kind of teacher she wanted to be. “So much of it came from Hollywood,” she says. But a few years in, she realized that she was not the teacher that she thought she wanted to be. By her seventh year, her disillusionment had grown to the point that she decided to leave the classroom entirely.

After a period of reflection and time away from the profession, she came across the idea of flexible seating on Pinterest. She pitched the concept to a principal, and his reaction took her by surprise.

“Great,” he said. “Go do it!” This yes was such an encouragement because it proved that her voice mattered and that her ideas could lead to transformative work. What followed was seven years of further growth and exploration.

Restoring the Joy of Reading with TQE

On July 10, 2018, Marisa published a blog post titled We’re Killing the Love of Reading, but Here’s an Easy Fix. In the post, she unpacks a method of student engagement with texts called the TQE Method: thoughts, questions and epiphanies.

When you first start trying the TQE Method in your classroom, there will be growing pains for you and the students at first, she warns. But they will go away. The more you use it, the more the practices will start to become comfortable, organic, and powerful. Your students will start to engage in the kind of rich discussions that we all remember having in university or grad school.

It’s about giving students the time, space, language, and culture to safely engage in the sharing of ideas like never before. The TQE Method is now appearing in classrooms at all levels and all subjects, and Marisa couldn’t be happier. 

When it comes to feedback for students using the TQE Method, Marisa looks for quantity simply because participation is essential. But her assessment is based primarily on two things: reading comprehension and author’s purpose. Can students analyze a choice that an author made and describe how it helps an author accomplish their objective in a text? Students who can demonstrate these skills with consistency are demonstrating mastery.

On Fire for TED Talks

Something else that is setting Marisa on fire for education is her students’ recent TED Talks. They focused on communicating effectively with audiences, exploring concepts of happiness and success, and sharing authentically. Marisa watched as her students actually put aside rehearsed notes to speak from the heart, and the results were powerful. It was a first-class example of the link between vulnerability and compelling communication. 

Projects and Pursuits

One of the things that Marisa is trying to do in her current classroom is to get away from class novels. Literary freedom works, and it’s good for kids, she says. On the other hand, shared conversations and connected experiences with texts are everything, so she’s looking at ways to combine both goals.

In her teacher support role, Marisa is focused on creating a series of 2-minute tutorials to help get teachers started with new initiatives, and at the Jacobs Institute for Innovation in Education at the University of San Diego she is busy designing new courses based on real-world experiences, like Disney World

A Personal Passion Outside of Education: Travel

Marisa’s ultimate passion away from education is travel. Although she didn’t grow up in a wealthy home, she’s been traveling for as long as she can remember and has now visited at least 20 countries. She’s taken students to a number of those countries and always finds it a valuable learning experience to see other cultures and other places.

Voices and Resources That Inspire Marisa’s Practice

If you’re looking to follow someone new on Twitter, Marisa recommends @JuliaFliss. “The work that she does is soulful,” Marisa says. It’s big picture, everything-is-possible, and it’s filled with positivity and optimism. She is all about working with people and changing the world.

No edtech tool has been more helpful to Marisa this year than Pro Keys, a Google Chrome extension that allows you to build and customize your own feedback shortcuts. Marisa has used this tool to go from 160 hours to 4 hours of writing assessment completed at home this year thanks in large part to this tool.

It’s not easy for an English teacher to pick favorite books, but Marisa points to two classics in particular: East of Eden by John Steinbeck and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

Follow Marisa

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Song Track Credits

  • Bluntedsesh4 (by Tha Silent Partner, courtesy of FreeMusicArchive.org)
  • Sunrise Drive by South London Hifi*
  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*

*courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library

Listen to Teachers on Fire on YouTube

*This page contains Amazon affiliate links.

Episode 112 – Daniel Bauer

112 - Daniel Bauer.png

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 …

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Episode 107 – Trevor MacKenzie

107 - Trevor MacKenzie.png

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 …

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