7:55 – We just marked a pandemic anniversary. What has teaching been like for Ontario teachers over this past year, and what’s one of your takeaways?
17:22 – How do you respond to teachers who say their tank is empty and their fire for learning is low right now?
26:51 – Between the Staffroom Podcast, the Drive, School Rubric, and other appearances, what’s one thing that content creation has done for you as a professional?
35:51 – Your content mixes thoughtful reflection, insights, passion, artistry, and humour in ways that resonate powerfully with teachers. Was that a calculated strategy or do you feel like that’s just been a natural expression from day one?
Listen to the Audio-Only Podcast Episode on Spotify
Catch the Next Teachers on Fire Roundtable LIVE
As of this post, I’m still appearing weekly on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter at 8:00 a.m. Pacific/11:00 a.m. Eastern. I’d love to see you join us and would be happy to feature your questions and comments on the show!
Is self-care possible during a pandemic? Can we actually do better than aim for survival? In this edition of the Roundtable, Tim Cavey hosts a rich conversation around teacher wellness and self-care. Guests included Lindsay Titus, Dan Tricarico, and Dori Katsionis.
Questions That Guided Our Conversation
14:50 – What are some practical self-care strategies that you can share for that teacher who has zero margin and feels close to burnout?
15:19 – Dan Tricarico recommends the 5 Ss: Stillness, Silence, Space, Subtraction, and Slowing Down. These are always free and always available!
17:04 – Lindsay Titus talks about the mindset of self-care: it’s about defining what it looks like for YOU, your needs, and your identity. Lindsay points to the 4 As: Awareness (of self, environment), Acceptance (of where I’m at), Acknowledgment, and Action (move toward alignment).
24:01 – Dori Katsionis points toward the 3 Ms: Movement, Mindset, and Meditation. Getting outside is huge.
29:26 – Every yes requires a no. What are some things that pandemic educators can be saying NO to right now?
42:30 – Who are the voices and influences that inspire you in the areas of teacher wellness and self-care?
51:39 – What are the projects you are passionate about right now? How can we connect with you?
Connect with These Inspiring Educators on Instagram
As of this post, I’m still appearing weekly on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Twitch at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time/11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. I’d love to see you join us and would be happy to feature your questions and comments on the show!
Connect with the Teachers on Fire Podcast on Social Media
In this edition of the Roundtable, host Tim Cavey connects with eight uplifting educators to discuss the incredible power of gratitude. Why is it important and how can we make it a more intentional part of our daily practice?
Questions That Guided Our Discussion
0:53 – Who are you and what is your current context in education?
7:35 – How does gratitude make a difference in your life?
31:09 – What are some intentional gratefulness practices that figure into your day?
34:57 – What is another habit of wellness and self-care that you could share?
51:36 – Sharing circle: what is one thing you are grateful for today? (no repeats)
1:00:17 – How can we connect with you? What other resources can you share?
As of this post, I’m still appearing weekly on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time/11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. I’d love to see you join us and would be happy to feature your questions and comments on the show!
Connect with the Teachers on Fire Podcast on Social Media
In addition to experience as a computer programmer, Caitlin has taught and developed curriculum at K-12 schools in the United States, Belgium, and Switzerland. Today, she owns and operates her own company which allows her to facilitate meaningful learning experiences for learners around the world.
Caitlin is fascinated by the intersection of arts, collaboration, communication, relationships, and the newest applications of XR technology. Her learning and teaching is predicated on the idea that we learn and grow as whole human beings, and she resists the disciplinary walls and binaries that we often erect between subject areas in education.
Lessons Drawn From a Novel Failure
“Isn’t it great that we are not great at everything?” Caitlin asks rhetorically. “Life is not a simulation. It’s beautiful that we’re not in control.”
Caitlin recalls introducing a novel to a British literature class for juniors. It was a novel that resonated powerfully with her, and she was sure her students would connect with it. But it required a lot of deconstruction, it lacked a compelling love story, and no matter how much she wanted it to work, it became a serious struggle to work through it with this class.
Eventually, she worked through her own resistance to the situation and embraced the failure and necessary surrender that followed. It was a reminder that what is close to our own hearts may not be close to the hearts of our learners. We need to meet them where they are, and sometimes that means letting go of our treasures.
Caitlin has created an online course for educators on the topics of mindfulness, SEL, and teacher wellbeing. Statistics tell us that many teachers struggle with anxiety and burnout, and we see many teachers leaving the profession after only a few years in the classroom.
We need to remember that humans are reactive beings, and the effects of being constantly on and emotionally available for days on end can be damaging in the long-term. Mindfulness is a practice that offers some powerful counter-effects to these emotional demands. Even though mindfulness can actually raise stress in the short-term as practitioners recognize sources of anxiety, over the long term it has been shown to decrease anxiety as we raise awareness and address sources of stress more proactively.
Mindfulness and self-awareness are powerful measures for learners, too, as they adopt simple practices of quiet reflection, intentional breathing, gratitude exercises, and other strategies for self-regulation. As anxiety comes down, opportunities for learning increase.
Mindful By Design
In 2019, Caitlin published Mindful by Design: A Practical Guide for Cultivating Aware, Advancing, and Authentic Learning Experiences (Corwin Press). Caitlin is an authority on AR and VR and anticipates a major shift in the adoption and application of these technologies in learning spaces throughout 2020. She sees them shaking up teaching, learning, storytelling, site exploration, and other immersive learning experiences. Although the applications are powerful and improving all the time, she also points out that the deep learning actually happens before and after students utilize these technologies.
Advances in Artificial Intelligence
We see AI technologies creeping into the learning environments more and more each year, and tools like Google’s Smart Compose, Google Home, or Apple Siri are making content more accessible for all learners. Artificial intelligence often conjures notions of sci fi and Ex Machina, but AI technologies are serving learning well and informing the improvement of a lot of applications. Caitlin shouts out John Carmack’s interview on the Joe Rogan Podcast and celebrates the amazing innovations he has led at Oculus.
Voice commands and operating capacity continue to improve across all devices, and Caitlin is fascinated by the research that MIT and other authorities are pioneering regarding the recognition of human emotion through facial expression and speech. The companies and institutions leading innovation in AI technologies require richer and more diverse data sets, she observes, noting that “You’re only as good as your data set.”
Making sure that a diversity of cultures, genders, and other factors are properly represented and included remains a central challenge, complicated in some contexts by privacy issues. There are obviously some important ethical questions to be asked and answered regarding how these companies and institutions source their data sets.
Relationships with Robots
Caitlin bears no ill will toward robots – in fact, her approach is much the opposite. “I think it’s good to be considerate to our robot friends,” Caitlin chuckles. “I kind of bristle when someone yells at Alexa.” Machine life and artificial intelligence is taking us into some interesting philosophical territory, particularly as we experiment with creative impulses for robots. Yes, a robot can write a piece of poetry or create a song, but does it have a soul? These are some of the essential conversations that must continue going forward.
Saving Room for Anomalies
Additionally, Caitlin notes that AI devices and technologies must always leave room for the element of surprise and irregularity. In other words, if AI algorithms learn our profiles so effectively that they can supply us with a steady stream of content tailored exclusively for expressed interests, passions, and familiar comforts, we actually reduce or eliminate our exposure to unusual content that has the power to provoke curiosity and inspire further learning. We already see that segregation at work in social media networks and news aggregators, and to lose further ground would be a significant loss to humanity.
“They say the brain learns the best when it has the element of surprise, when expected patterns are broken,” Caitlin says. How much can we be surprised? This is a great question to ask ourselves as educators and lifelong learners.
What Else is Setting Caitlin on Fire in Education
The metaphor of being on fire is an apt one for Caitlin, and she takes a hopeful view of how voice and creativity and storytelling will continue to strengthen and add momentum to learning. Our fire is essentially the stuff that we find meaningful, she says, and it’s up to us to spread those ideas to others.
We’re all telling stories as educators, and it’s our place to invite listeners to enter into these stories and write their own heroic odysseys as they enter into unknown spaces and then tell their own tales. “It makes me really excited to be in worlds where not only can we lift each other up but we get to stay curious, stay connected, and create love over fear,” she says.
Professional Goals for 2020
Last year was the year of her book, Mindful by Design, and 2020 will be her year to spread her message, ideas, and mentorship. The book is applicable at so many levels, including education systems, leadership, teacher wellbeing, and classroom practices, and she wants to continue to develop online supports for those who wish to integrate these values and strategies into their own unique contexts.
She also wants to continue to build SEL training through immersive VR experiences and AR applications. It’s a fascinating area that requires further development but offers tremendous promise for the future. Will we see a day when groups of educators can connect in virtual environments to practice breathing and mindfulness exercises together? Perhaps that day has already arrived.
Other Personal Passions
“I’m a very human, curious learner,” Caitlin says, “and anything involving photography really excites me.” She’s enjoyed cameras since childhood, and treasures the activity of photography as a mindfulness tool. She also comes alive during opportunities to run outside, especially trails that wind their way through picturesque settings through the woods or along the ocean. Last but not least, Caitlin loves consuming and learning about chocolate from European countries and around the world – so much that she’s even tempted to write about it some day in the future.
Productivity Hacks and Philosophy
One of Caitlin’s favorite productivity hacks is to break simple numerical goals into smaller pieces. For example, instead of aiming for 20 full push-ups, she sets a goal of 40 half push-ups, which gives her a greater sense of momentum and optimism about achieving the target.
She also avoids goals or resolutions of deprivation, choosing instead to always frame her actions in a positive light. “Being productive means realizing that we are not our worst enemy, so be kind and gentle to yourself,” she encourages.
Finding ways to gamify our goals – even simple routines or chores like cleaning – can add joy and pleasure to ordinary exercises of productivity. She shouts out Lisa Johnson’s book, Creatively Productive, as a convincing argument that productivity doesn’t have to look like grueling deprivation or robotic behaviors.
Voices & Resources That Inspire Her Practice
Over on Twitter, Caitlin recommends following Kent Bye @KentBye: historian, philosopher, and host of the Voices of VR podcast. She also shouts out the New Hampshire’s Poet Laureate, Alexandria Peary @WriteMindfully, someone who’s done some interesting work around the effective use of mindfulness to break through writer’s block.
One edtech company that Caitlin has her eye on is Engage, which is doing some innovative work to support learning experiences in VR environments. Another company called 3D Bear is pioneering some exciting AR technologies as well. Consider following both industry leaders on Twitter @3DBearOfficial and @VReducation.
Caitlin does enjoy podcasts, and she’s especially a fan of the big ones: Radiolab, This American Life, and The Moth. Any content that includes a mix of storytelling and technology will tend to hold her attention.
On YouTube, Caitlin makes a shameless plug for her own channel where she plans to post more creative work in 2020.
Assessment is most effective and efficient when it happens right away.
“The most important takeaway from the research is that the shorter the time interval between eliciting the evidence and using it to improve instruction, the bigger the likely impact on learning … the biggest impact happens with ‘short-cycle’ formative assessment, which takes place not every six to ten weeks but every six to ten minutes, or even every six to ten seconds.”
— from Embedding Formative Assessment, by Dylan Wiliam and Siobhan Leahy
Think about that quote. The shorter the time interval, the bigger the impact on learning.
Let that sink in for a bit.
Nineteen years into teaching, I still don’t have the assessment game completely figured out. No matter how much feedback and assessment I provide, I labor under the constant burden of all the other student work that I feel I should be assessing.
In the evenings, on my weekends, on holidays, and even on snow days — especially snow days — I hear that quiet voice.
You should be grading work right now.
However subtle, it’s constant guilt and pressure. You know the feeling.
It’s enough to drive teachers insane. Studies confirm that it’s even enough to drive some from the profession entirely.
Lamenting the Marking Mountain
I started my career in the pre-internet classroom. In my 7th and 8th grade classrooms, I always had at least one tray marked INBOX. Work from learning activities given throughout the day generally ended up there. (Many of them with no names — remember that fun?)
Depending on the day’s activities, I might have anywhere between 25–100 sheets of paper in my inbox by day’s end.
And I would do my best to mark all those papers, of course. But inevitably the constant barrage of paper would start to pull away. My chunk of papers would become a pile, then a stack, then a mountain.
Within a month or two, my school bag was ballooning out of control. And I wasn’t alone. I remember colleagues who resorted to milk crates to ferry their paper mountain back and forth from home each day. Milk crates, filled to the brim with assignments that required marking.
Just take a moment to savor that accumulation of anxiety. Ahhhhhhh.
The Worst Beast of Them All: Writing Assessments
I’ve taught just about every subject in middle school, and I can tell you without a shadow of doubt that the most challenging assessments to complete — at least, in the traditional sense — were the writing pieces in English class.
Combing through a middle school student’s piece of writing was a brutally exhausting endeavor — especially before computers in the classroom. Traditionally, I was looking for form, style, meaning, and conventions. But I wasn’t just evaluating — I was coaching — and so I sought to offer meaningful feedback and notes as well.
“Make sure your subject and verbs agree.”
“Fortnite should be capitalized — proper noun”
“New paragraph here”
The math on this kind of feedback got ugly. To carefully comb through one piece of average writing and offer this level of feedback could take three or more minutes. With 28 students in my class, that was about 90 minutes of marking. Then the feedback had to be recorded — first in a place and way the student could observe it, then in my gradebook or assessment tracker.
Add any time to take breaks, talk to family and friends, or just generally be human, and we’re talking two hours.
Two hours of marking — typically in an evening when I felt exhausted from the day. For one learning activity.
And of course that didn’t count time spent on unit plans, lesson plans, email, parent communication, coaching, etc.
It was too much time.
Who’s the Winner Here?
The bad news about the scenario I just described is that it often failed to yield the results I was looking for. Even if I returned those assignments the very next day, it was unlikely that most students would pay much attention.
To put it bluntly, I could spend five minutes marking one piece of writing only to have the student look at it for five seconds.
And realistically, my timeline on returned writing assignments was decidedly not next day. A week or two, maybe.
Of course by that time, students really didn’t care. Well, they might care briefly about the grade. But it would definitely be a minority of students that would look much further at that point.
So what, exactly, was being learned through this assessment process? Very little, I suspect.
In fact, I knew it was very little, because my writers would tend to make the same mistakes all year long.
Rethinking Our Role: from Boss to Coach
In the last three years especially, my thinking on assessment has started to change in big ways.
For one thing, this is only my second year in nineteen years of teaching that my gradebook contains no numbers. I’ve gone gradeless. By itself, that’s a massive change in mindset with a ton of implications.
For one thing, I no longer regard marks as currency. In older models of education, students and teachers lived under the understanding that for every piece of work done, there ought to be a payment.
Students (workers) completed work for their teachers (bosses) and were paid grades (wages) for their efforts. Every piece of work was worthy of compensation.
The size of the reward matched the level of compliance. The game of school.
The problem with the game of school was that it often ignored the true business of education: the learning.
Putting More of My Focus on Real-Time Feedback
In school and in life, people learn best in the moment.When I learned to launch a podcast, caulk my shower, or build a website, it would have done me little good to receive feedback or assessment a week or two after I attempted the task.
I needed the help and feedback right then and there — precisely when I was engaged, prepared, willing to learn, making mistakes and finding my way.
That’s when feedback and coaching made the biggest difference. That’s when it was powerful.
In Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School, Starr Sackstein writes that “Assessment must be a conversation, a narrative that enhances students’ understanding of what they know, what they can do, and what needs further work. Perhaps even more important, they need to understand how to make improvements and how to recognize when legitimate growth has occurred.”
And that’s where I’m at today — intensely interested in those conversations, those in-the-moment, real-time, productive struggles.
I’m interested in helping my students wrestle with and through problems, create solutions, collaborate efficiently, and communicate effectively.
I’m interested in helping them understand where they are, where they need to get, and the steps they need to take to get there.
I’m interested in helping my learners assess their peers more effectively, offering feedback that is kind, specific, helpful, and accurate.
And I’m interested in tech tools like Google Classroom, Google Docs, Seesaw, and others like them that facilitate all of these ongoing, powerful, real-time conversations of learning in new and effective ways.
Just as it is on the sports field, my most effective coaching will never happen a day, a week, or a month after the fact. My best coaching and feedback happens right there and then in the classroom as my students study, learn, create, build, design, and share their learning.
That’s where the action is, and that’s why I’m putting less energy into summative assessment and more energy into formative. It’s why I don’t worry about the marking mountain as much as I used to. It’s even why I can relax enough to reflect on my practice and write this blog post.
Because the best feedback my students will ever receive happens right in the moment.