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.

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We Write for Life

The more reflective you are, the more effective you are. — Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral

Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

Last year I read Sparks in the DarkLessons, Ideas, and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney.

Wow. What a powerful and inspiring book.

If you’re passionate about literacy, about promoting the place and pleasure of effective reading and writing in your classroom, I strongly recommend this title.

I said “in your classroom,” but one of the things that comes across so powerfully in Sparks in the Dark is the fact that literacy must be a lifestyle.

To be genuine, to be vibrant, to be contagious — reading and writing must spill out of our personal lives.

And this goes for all teachers — not just those who teach English Language Arts. As educators, as thinkers, as lead learners, we must model a life of constant reading and writing.

Literacy is Breathing

If we say that communication, creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking are the core competencies at the foundation of today’s education, we must practice what we preach.

In an age of digital amusement and easy-everywhere distraction, we must show our learners what it looks like to mentally breathe. To stop, be still, and practice the acts of mental inhalation (reading) and exhalation (writing).

One of the most important reasons that we write is to know ourselves. As Don Murray says, “You write to discover what you want to say.

It sometimes feels like the act and art of self-reflection is a vanishing habit. But we must show our learners that these practices are essential aspects of living a healthy and productive life.

When Our Reading Lives Are Shallow, So is Our Teaching

Speaking especially to educators, Crowder and Nesloney write “We prioritize what we value, and when we do not value reading or learning, it shows. Our instruction is a mixture of what we have read, and when our reading lives are shallow, so is our teaching. It isn’t an insult; it’s the truth.”

We cannot be effective educators if we are not regularly reading and reflectively writing.

Becoming a Writer

To those who feel defeated by identity before they even start (“I’m not a writer”), James Clear describes his own evolution as a writer in his recent book, Atomic Habits.

You may not be a reader or writer today. But you can and will become one — one paragraph, one page, one article at a time.

So pick up a book. Grab a pen or sit down at the keyboard. Score some small wins, and begin the gradual process of redefining yourself.

Start breathing.

Because the more reflective you are, the more effective you are.

person writing on brown wooden table near white ceramic mug
Image Credit: Green Chameleon on Unsplash

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 …

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Episode 88 – Alicia Ray

88 - Alicia Ray.png

Meet Alicia Ray

ALICIA RAY is the Lead Digital Learning & Media Innovation Facilitator at a STEAM school in Mount Airy, NC. With years of experience teaching middle school classes, a major part of her current role includes building innovative learning activities that link literacy and various forms of media.

From Professional Insecurity to a Power-Packed PLC

Alicia doesn’t enjoy revisiting this experience, but she feels a certain obligation to give this lesson its due attention and share the things she learned with others. In her story of adversity, she recalls teaching a self-contained 5th grade class, which included high stakes testing in Math, Science, and reading. As one might expect, this teaching assignment brought with it a lot of responsibility.

When the 5th grade team added a former teacher of the year, Alicia found herself fighting feelings of insecurity and competition. To counter these feelings, she helped her team form an incredible PLC that capitalized on the strengths of each member. The team found sweet synergy partly from their extra-curricular activities: meeting outside of school, doing things together, and finding common interests.

As the team grew and evolved, their trust in each other increased, and they discovered how to best share the teaching load: who would create which learning activities, who the go-to authority in each area would be, and how each one could innovate and adapt learning materials to fit the needs of their individual classrooms. The best part of this trusting team relationship? Students won.

The Hows and Whys of a Master Book Reviewer

Alicia is a phenomenal reader and reviewer of books from Dave Burgess Consulting, but she’s quick to point out the source of her motivation: her students. “It’s so important to know what you believe in and why you believe it, because that does nothing but help your kids,” she says.

Alicia learns something and takes away lessons from every single book she reads, and she’s hungry for more. She wants to do better than just say she’s a lifelong learner – she wants to live it and model it in front of her students and children as well. She recently completed a research unit at her school that was inspired by several DBC books, including Launch, The Limitless School, Educated by Design, and The Revolution. She’s proud of what her students researched, learned, and created, and she looks forward to improving this unit even further in years to come.

What’s Setting Alicia on Fire in Education

Alicia loves the connections she enjoys with educators across the planet on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blogs, and other platforms. She is thrilled to share ideas, learn from others, and connect her students in those same authentic ways.

One of the memories that she treasures from this past year was the opportunity to connect with Karen Caswell‘s class in Australia. It was a fantastic experience for her students and it brought home the point that we live in a global community.

Her Current Project: Educational Eye Exam

Alicia is constantly reading and implementing, because as Dave Burgess likes to say, “Inspiration without implementation is a waste.” Her current project is a compilation of takeaways and inspirations from her learning and practice in a book titled Educational Eye Exam. What began as a blog post kept growing and growing, and as this book nears publication later this summer she is thrilled at the prospect of sharing with the world.

A Passion by Necessity: Health & Wellness

Last August, Alicia’s five-year-old was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Since then, her family has made health and wellness a top priority. This looks like managing the family diet carefully, counting carbs, and practicing strategies to maintain mental, physical, and spiritual health.

These practices have also spilled into her professional work, where Alicia is doing more than ever to try to meet the non-academic needs of learners. It starts with awareness and sensitivity, requiring her to step back and think about making sure the conditions for learning are met before launching into the next activity.

Goals, Google Sheets, and Bullet Journals

Alicia calls herself a goal-setter, and her goals are the key to her productivity. When she orders books, her goal is usually to have it completely read within 48-72 hours after receiving it. From there, she’s found that if she’s going to write a review of the book for her blog, it needs to happen right away.

When it comes to running, she sets a goal of getting to a particular mailbox (remember, she lives in rural North Carolina). As long as the goal is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely … it’s SMART and it works for her.

Alicia tracks her goals and daily habits in Google Sheets (using hacks she learned from Alice Keeler), and has also become obsessed with bullet journaling since reading Lisa Johnson’s Creatively Productive.

The Ideal Reading Time & Place

Alicia’s ideal reading environment usually materializes around 9:30 p.m., after the kids have been put to bed – centered on a large sectional in her pajamas, with comfy blankets and a nest of pillows. It’s a recipe that would put most people to sleep in a hurry, but it works well for her!

Voices and Resources That Inspire Her Thinking 

On Twitter, Alicia recommends following @Hayes_Melisa. Melisa has an awesome personal story to share, and she never fails to bring the awesomeness!

 Her pick for edtech tools is Google Forms. Forms are powerful, versatile, and can probably do more than you think they can!

 When asked to choose just one book, Alicia goes back to the one that started it all: Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. She’s written and highlighted her way through a few physical copies of the book and listened to it several more times on audiobook. The passion never gets old!

Over on YouTube, Alicia suggests subscribing to DBC Inc. This channel is relatively new, so get on it and make some noise!

When she needs some laughs and lighter fare on Netflix, Alicia is heading to The Office. This classic sitcom will never be beaten … unless of course they made a school version!

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

Connect with Alicia:

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33 Essential Quotes from Teach Like a Pirate

See why this Dave Burgess classic is a must-read for educators.

Image credit: Pixabay

One of the amazing benefits of hosting the Teachers on Fire podcast is the opportunity to hear about the voices that are shaping the thinking and inspiring the practice of great educators around the world.

In 2018, I first heard about Teach Like a Pirate from Adam Moler, an early guest on my show. Like many, my first reaction was skeptical. Who was Dave Burgess? And why would I ever want to teach like a pirate?

As I hosted more guests and expanded my PLN, the endorsements didn’t stop. Eventually, I realized I needed to find out what Dave Burgess and his #TLAP community was all about.

And I’m so glad I did.

Dave is bold, engaging, and inspirational. Along with a host of practical ideas for learning activities, he challenges our assumptions, redefines our mission, and helps us dream again.

If your passion for education could use some ignition, Dave is your guy and Teach Like a Pirate is your book. If you’re ready to reimagine your mission in the classroom, read on.

33 Essential Quotes from Teach Like a Pirate

  1. Pirates are daring, adventurous, and willing to set forth into uncharted territories with no guarantee of success. They reject the status quo and refuse to conform to any society that stifles creativity and independence. They are entrepreneurs who take risks and are willing to travel to the ends of the earth for that which they value. Although fiercely independent, they travel with and embrace a diverse crew. If you’re willing to live by the code, commit to the voyage, and pull your share of the load, then you’re free to set sail. Pirates don’t much care about public perception; they proudly fly their flags in defiance.
  2. I’m passionate about creating lifelong learners. I’m passionate about increasing the self-esteem and self-confidence of my students. I’m passionate about having students leave my class with a larger vision of what is possible for their lives.
  3. To keep your passion for teaching alive, find as many ways as possible to incorporate your personal passions into your work.
  4. Passion is all about being on fire in front of your class.
  5. People are drawn in and love to be around those who are passionate about their lives.
  6. Don’t let the current overemphasis on standardized test scores lead to the loss of the teachable moment.
  7. Creative ideas don’t come out of the blue; they come from engaging in the creative process. That critical process starts when you ask the right types of questions and then actively seek the answers.
  8. Creativity is rarely about natural brilliance or innate genius. Much more often creativity results from properly directed attention, laser-like focus, relentless effort, and hard work. Outsiders see the glorious results but know very little about the blood and sweat that happens behind closed doors. Creative genius is something people tend to romanticize, but the reality is not very romantic at all. Like any skill it takes practice and effort.
  9. Education can be used to uplift and inspire or it can be used as a hammer to bludgeon and beat down. We must collectively agree educating the next generation is worth the time and effort and that our students deserve to be uplifted and inspired.
  10. If you haven’t failed in the classroom lately, you aren’t pushing the envelope far enough. “Safe” lessons are a recipe for mediocrity at best.
  11. The key to failing without quitting is to shift your paradigm to believe there is no such thing as true failure — only feedback.
  12. Spend more time on your passions, hobbies, and outside areas of interest and then seek ways to incorporate them into your classroom. Cultivate new hobbies and watch new areas of your brain explode in creative output.
  13. Grow! Try new things and do those bucket-list items. Notice the world around you and treat it like the bountiful supply of creative ideas that it is. It’s not just good for your life…it’s great for your teaching. Exploring the world and your passions allows you to bring a new perspective and energy into the classroom. It allows you to become a powerful role model for your students. We always say we want them to be life-long learners, so we must show them what that looks like.
  14. I believe the best books to read about teaching are rarely in the education section. I always have three or four books on my nightstand, a book in my car, one in my school bag, and several more on my phone. I consider it one of the most important parts of my job to constantly expose myself to the high quality thinking of other people.
  15. When I only focus on my teaching, I am not nearly as creative as when I find time to humor my strange obsessions.
  16. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking time spent developing yourself into a well-rounded person, above and beyond your role as an educator, is wasted or something to feel guilty about. It is essential and will pay dividends in not only your life, but also in your classroom.
  17. If you can’t explain why someone should pay attention to what you’re saying, maybe you shouldn’t be saying it.
  18. By lighting yourself on fire with enthusiasm, you can become a beacon of bliss amidst a bastion of boredom and banality.
  19. It doesn’t particularly matter what the subject is; our mission is to teach in such a way that who we are as human beings has a more powerful and lasting effect on students than what we say.
  20. As for the side dishes and dessert, those are the parts of your lesson only the uptight and misguided view as a waste of time. There is no award given to the teacher who fills every class period with bell-to-bell direct instruction. It doesn’t matter how much material you teach, it only matters how much is received.
  21. No content standard in any class at any level is more important than nurturing and building a love of learning. Designing a class that empowers students to become life-long learners, avid readers, and voracious seekers of knowledge, will have an impact that reverberates for a lifetime and beyond.
  22. Much of your success as an educator has to do with your attitude towards teaching and towards kids. The rest of your success is based on your willingness to relentlessly search for what engages students in the classroom and then having the guts to do it.
  23. Sometimes it’s OK to do things in class because it increases the fun factor and fosters positive feelings about school.
  24. We have unbelievably talented kids sitting in front of us and many are starving for the opportunity to display their creativity. We should do everything we can to provide them the opportunity to hone their artistic skills and create.
  25. After finishing a unit, I often provide a day for students to get into collaborative groups and create non-linguistic representations of the material. For example, I may ask them to create a visual depicting an event or concept. It can be a literal interpretation or a symbolic representation; I encourage my students to be as creative as possible.
  26. Whether you use it to create a mood or tie it into your curriculum, music is an element of presentational power that can help you transform your class.
  27. When used correctly, technology can enhance the effectiveness of your lesson, increase engagement, and even strengthen the relationships between the humans that comprise your class.
  28. Technology as a replacement for live interaction between teachers and students concerns me.
  29. Our economy no longer rewards people for blindly following rules and becoming a cog in the machine. We need risk-takers, outside-the-box thinkers, and entrepreneurs; our school systems do the next generation of leaders a disservice by discouraging these very skills and attitudes.
  30. To ascend to the level of greatness, you have to be on fire with passion and enthusiasm. Mediocrity is incapable of motivating. You just can’t be on fire about mediocrity. There’s no energy, no juice, and no fuel to ignite action.
  31. We’re skyrocketing forward into an educational landscape that is changing every day. In these exciting times, we must be ready to take on the challenge of redefining greatness for a whole new generation of teachers and students.
  32. We aren’t just teaching facts to memorize or skills to learn; we’re uplifting lives and helping students fulfill their human potential. We’re shaping the mothers, fathers, world leaders, entrepreneurs, and artists of tomorrow.
  33. “Starting” may well be one of the most difficult and under-appreciated skills of all.