Episode 106 – Andrew Arevalo

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Meet Andrew Arevalo

ANDREW AREVALO is a 4th grade educator in the city of El Centro in southern California. He is a speaker, innovator, and game designer with passions for blended learning, design thinking, and gamification. He also has his Master’s degree in education and has been recognized as a CUE Emerging Teacher.

From Delight to Disappointment

Andrew experienced some adversity as recently as last year, when he finally worked up the courage to speak at a national education conference. He was absolutely delighted when his proposal was accepted, but that joy was quickly followed by disappointment when he learned that he would be docked pay for the missed day of school. Eventually, after encouragement and support from family and friends, he decided to sacrifice the income in order to attend the conference and speak.

The experience was absolutely worth it, igniting his passions further and connecting him with other inspiring voices in education. To other educators who face similar financial dilemmas, Andrew says “You’ve got to go for it. You just never know who you’re going to meet, who you’re going to meet, and who will inspire you.”

Like Father, Like Son

On July 7, 2019, Andrew tweeted this touching tribute to his father:

“First and foremost, I love my dad!” Andrew says. Greg Arevalo has generously served his community for decades, and he is well-known and loved by many as a result. It’s a tremendous legacy to step into, an honor that Andrew, his brother (a local high school principal), Andrew’s fiance, and his sister-in-law all carry with pride. Greg never pushed the path of education on his sons, but he quietly sold the profession by the joy that was so evident in his work and the growth he consistently witnessed in his learners.

How a Lost Pitch Event Led to a Game-Changing Opportunity

A few months ago, Andrew participated in a pitch event at the University of San Diego thanks to a connection with Lisa Dawley, Executive Director of the Jacobs Institute for Innovation in Education and someone Andrew calls an amazing soul. Andrew was pitching a model for personalized professional development in front of a Shark Tank-style panel of judges, and he followed acts like Sir Ken Robinsons and Dave Burgess.

Even though his pitch wasn’t selected as the winner, something very special came from the experience – he was invited to participate in an exclusive gathering of educators and intellectuals from all levels and contexts of education across America. The purpose of the gathering, held recently in New York City, was to support important conversations around some of the most pervasive problems and challenges that we face in education today. Andrew left the event completely invigorated and inspired by the expertise and vision shared by the other attendees. What he thought was a loss became a huge win.

What’s Setting Andrew on 🔥 in Education Today

Many of Andrew’s dearest passions continue to come directly from his own teaching practice and the activities happening right there in his classroom. Lately, his fourth graders have been developing future job titles and descriptions, university courses that will support these future jobs, buildings that will house and facilitate these future courses, and city infrastructures that could support the university campus with the sustainable development goals in mind.

Students are using cardboard and LEGO to build structure prototypes, and Andrew plans to record short day-in-the-life-of video presentations for each project that will be linked to unique QR codes, connecting parents with their child’s ideas and work.

A Professional Goal: More Reflection

One of the aspects that Andrew would like to strengthen in his professional practice is the reflective process. We’re all busy, we’re all moving fast, and too often we find it hard to find the time to give our professional projects and work the thoughtful analysis they deserve. Just as reflection and metacognition is valuable for our learners, these activities can’t help but make us better educators when we actually make the time to reflect. As he collects thoughts and impressions in a journal, they continue to inform and inspire his first book, another project that he can’t wait to share.

Personal Passions Away From Education

Andrew loves playing mobile games like Clash Royale, partly because they disconnect him and help him relax. Lately, he’s also enjoyed seeing an emerging trend of educators who game with their own children — a way that games can be used to strengthen family relationships.

A Productivity Habit: How can I make it better?

A go-to mindset that works for Andrew is to finish every project with the question of “How can I make it better?” Just as we discussed in the professional space, sound processes of reflection can make sure that we are constantly growing, evolving, and improving. Of course, the flip side of this question is “When is enough enough?” We have to balance that commitment of constant innovation with the need to let things go and simply move on.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Andrew’s Thinking

Over on Twitter, Andrew says you are simply missing out on life if you are not following @AnnKozma723. Ann is the Educator Innovation Lead at Flipgrid, and she brought nonstop ideas and inspiration when her Flipgrid team visited Andrew’s district recently.

For his edtech tool pick, Andrew is pointing out the Oculus Quest, an industry-leading VR set that is changing our understanding of what is possible in education.

If a school day goes by and Andrew hasn’t read some of Amina’s Voice to his fourth graders, he hears about it! This book by Hena Khan unpacks identity, belonging, and purpose in clever and kid-friendly ways – a great addition to your classroom library.

Another education podcast that Andrew is digging is OnEducation, hosted by Mike Washburn and Glen Irvin – two educators who are passionate about changing the game and giving air time to real conversations in the education space. Follow the podcast on Twitter @OnEducationPod

For his YouTube channel recommendation, Andrew shouts out someone who he just happened to connect with at a coffee shop earlier this year. The channel is called Bernadette Teaches Music, and it’s hosted by a music teacher with international teaching experience. Follow her on Twitter @Ukuleleplazi

The last great content that Andrew watched on Netflix was The Game Changers, a documentary about vegans who have transformed their mindsets and their bodies to achieve seemingly impossible feats. As a former vegan himself, Andrew found their message interesting and inspiring.

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

You can connect with Andrew …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media:

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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+

PLC+ by Nancy Frey and Douglas FisherIn 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 90 – Scott Nunes

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Meet Scott Nunes

SCOTT NUNES (rhymes with dunes) is a dad, teacher, coach, Schoology ambassador, and CCCUE board member. He’s Nearpod certified, MIE certified, a rapper, and co-host of the TNT EdTech podcast. In his day job, Scott teaches 9th and 10th grade ELA at James C. Enochs High School in Modesto, CA, where he’s also a site leader for digital curriculum and coaches swimming.

In Education by Design

Scott’s story of adversity actually began before his teaching career. He had started freelancing in graphic design – a personal passion – but the combination of cheaper foreign designers and a stiff downturn in the economy forced him to reconsider his direction.

After wavering between nursing and education, he eventually recognized that teaching was the path for him, and he’s so thankful he made that decision. Even in his current capacity today, Scott is able to do design work for CUE, his podcast, and other opportunities that come along.

On Dancing and Celebration

Scott’s dancing skills took center stage on edu-Twitter after he shared a clip of his fancy footwork from the Schoology conference in 2018. It was there, he says, that he first got into Twitter and began his relationship with Schoology as an ambassador for their platform.

“I like to have fun in the classroom,” Scott says. “It’s a way to engage students.” He enjoys the feel of the room when students engage in freestyle rap competitions or try to trip him up on a rhyme. It keeps the classroom fun, fresh, and lively. 

The TNT EdTech Podcast

Scott co-hosts the TNT EdTech Podcast with Matthew Ketchum, and he says the podcast really traces its roots back to the Fall CUE Conference in northern California. He and Matthew were attending a session on podcasting hosted by Tom and Mike from TOSAs Talking Tech (@TosasTalkinTech on Twitter), who convinced Scott and Matthew that the podcasting gig was easy and inexpensive to get into. Scott and Matthew already had access to Camtasia, Adobe Audition, Google Hangouts, and other apps and equipment they needed to launch their own show, so they went for it!

Today, their podcast talks about edtech, offers tools and tips, and features educators in the field who are doing cool things with technology in their classrooms. Scott brings the classroom experience, and Matthew is the tech coach for their 30,000-student district. Scott agrees that the podcasting business is a tremendous privilege, and he learns a lot from every guest they speak to.

What’s Setting Scott on 🔥 in Education Today

Scott’s biggest interest in education at the moment is the magic of connecting with other educators. He’s also passionate about the opportunities for student podcasting that lie ahead. Although they may not have permission to publish out to the web, just the chance to publish audio content and share out learning within the district is exciting.

Scott is a fan of the Anchor app for publishing content, and he offers a pro tip about how to line paper boxes with audio-muffling foam to create some really clean sound – even in busy classrooms.

A Professional Goal: More Blogging

Something Scott plans to invest more time in is blogging. As part of CUE’s sponsorship of his podcast, he is required to do some regular writing and publishing. Once the partnership with CUE ends, he’s hoping he’ll have a regular blogging habit in place that he can then transfer to a blog of his own.

A Personal Passion Away From Education

Few things bring Scott alive and allow him to decompress quite like building sandcastles at the beach. It’s a passion that he will devote several hours to, and his three kids are big fans of his work (although they specialize more in the deconstruction). 

Scott’s Productivity Hack: Strong Starts

Scott sets aside the first 90 minutes of each day as highly productive time. It’s here that he focuses narrowly on 1-3 major tasks that he’d like to complete very well. With this routine successfully completed, the day is already a win from there!

Voices and Resources That Inspire

Over on Twitter, Scott recommends following @JMattMiller. Despite his high profile and numerous accolades, Matt remains the real deal, Scott says.

An edtech tool that has got Scott excited right now is Gimkit, a smart quiz and formative assessment application that was developed for the classroom by a high school student. Follow @Gimkit on Twitter to learn more!

Scott’s pick in books is Welcome To The Grind: How Educators Achieve Exponential Results, edited by Randall Sampson. Follow Randall on Twitter @RandallSampson

Aside from our two awesome podcasts, Scott recommends subscribing to Between the Johns, a podcast produced by two administrators who bring interesting perspectives to education topics. Follow the pod on Twitter @BetweentheJohns

If you’re a creator, designer, or maker, it might be worth your while to subscribe to the 3D Printing Nerd channel on Youtube. The host never fails to amaze with his creativity and ingenuity. Follow @3DPrintingNerd on Twitter to see what he’s up to.

Scott’s got two well-known picks from the Netflix roster: Spiderman Homecoming and Breaking Bad

We wrap up our conversation, and Scott shares the best ways to connect with him and follow him online. See below for more links.

Connect with Scott:

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 84 – Jennifer Wolfe

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Meet Jennifer Wolfe

JENNIFER WOLFE is a mother, writer, English and AVID teacher, Google Certified Educator, hyperdoc fanatic, and WeVideo Ambassador. She teaches 7th, 8th, and 9th grades at Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High School in Davis, California. Her subjects include English, Reading, and AVID (more on that program to come). She was actually a student at this school herself – super weird when she first began teaching there!

A Year to Forget 

Jennifer recalls a year in the classroom when a parent of one of her students decided to make her a persistent target of scrutiny and unreasonable criticism that amounted to bullying. “I always believed I would teach until it wasn’t fun anymore,” she says. Well, this ordeal took the fun away from the job, and Jennifer seriously considered leaving the profession for good.

Yes, dealing with parent conflict is an inevitable part of the teaching process, but this experience was especially difficult for Jennifer because she lacked the administrative support that she critically needed. She took some extended time off that year to ask herself if teaching was really what she wanted to do, and although she returned to finish the school year, she was at an all-time low of dissatisfaction.

Somehow, despite all of this turbulence, she was awarded teacher of the year! Even with that recognition, however, she realized that in order to keep teaching, she would have to care for herself in ways that would allow her to actually care properly for her students. This ethic of self-care, proactivity, and consistent growth has helped shape her practice ever since.

*If you’ve had a difficult year and feel closer to burnout than on fire, check out a podcast called Dear Teacher, Don’t Give Up.

Advancement Via Individual Determination

Jennifer is an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) educator, and she’s a big fan of the program. AVID is a national program currently in place in 47 states, with over two million students enrolled in 7,000 schools. By 2025, the goal is to bump the number of enrolled students up to five million.

The focus in AVID classes is academic success through rigorous student-centered learning environments and inquiry-based classrooms. Students also receive academic, emotional, and social supports that meet them exactly where they are.

The AVID program has been transformative for Jennifer, helping to move her from test-based instruction at any cost to looking first to the learning needs of the student. It’s also been transformative for her learners, helping them to pursue areas of learning that traditional systems may have ruled out for some students.

The Magic of Hyperdocs

Jennifer clarifies the nature and purpose of hyperdocs in the 21st century classroom, and explains how they can enable greater student choice and agency in learning. Hyperdocs should promote creativity and curiosity – they are much more than just Docs with links. They support the 4 Cs and are made to satisfy the learning needs and progress of all learners.

What is going to capture student interest? How can we engage student learning in ways that move away from teacher-focused instruction? We need learning activities that move away from Googleable information toward activities that require critical thinking, analysis, transfer, explanation, and further curiosity.

WeVideo and the Kids Take Action Podcast Unit

Her district provides her students with WeVideo licenses, which they can access via their Chromebooks. One of the most illuminating breakthroughs to come from their work on WeVideo was podcasting! (Check out her Kids Take Action podcast unit.)

Jennifer noticed that her students can be very self-conscious when it comes to recording – especially on video. But after Jennifer crafted cardboard boxes as miniature recording studios and Brian Briggs set up the class with more advanced recording equipment, the students felt empowered to create great content.

WeVideo got so excited by her learners’ work that they appointed Jennifer as a WeVideo ambassador and has since enhanced their capacity for students to record audio-only content on the platform! WeVideo has also showcased audio recordings made by her class, and their content has been heard by other learners around the world as a result.

Jennifer has been so energized by the authentic work and communication produced by her students – including higher-level reasoning and debate over controversial issues. She’s also been using Wakelet to help curate student podcast episodes. Although her student podcast content has not yet been widely distributed and available on podcast platforms, that is a step Jennifer looks forward to.

Jennifer’s Core Values

Jennifer talks about the history and heartbeat of the tagline you’ll find on her blog: loving fiercely, teaching audaciously, and thinking deeply. Each of these values is precious to her and together they represent what she is all about in education. Everything she does – whether it’s edtech, writing, professional development, and speaking – are wrapped up in these three core values.

Professional and Personal Goals

Jennifer became an AVID national staff developer this year – the realization of a long-time professional goal. She’s also had the satisfaction of seeing her message and profile gradually grow as her blog and work attracts more interest from other educators. She was thrilled when Lisa Highfill (@LHighfill), a recognized innovator in hyperdocs, actually recognized her at a conference and shared that she had been following her blog!

Jennifer is also excited by the prospect of an empty nest at home and three books currently on the go. Wow!

Personal Passions Away from Education 

Jennifer is a huge reader and challenges herself to read all sorts of books across all genres. This connects with her love of writing, and most of her outside-of-teaching times are spent on these two activities. She also loves to travel to other countries, and is passionate about a campaign that she’s been a part of that is helping to restructure the education system in Nicaragua. Last but not least, she rides her bike to work daily, which provides a regular workout and a prime opportunity to listen to podcasts.

Keys to Productivity

Jennifer’s best productivity hacks include daily gratitude, journaling, proactive planning, organization, and maintaining firm boundaries. She’s a big believer in intentionally letting go of the things that we can’t control so we can be fully present and engaged with the people and work right in front of us.

Voices and Resources That Inspire Her Practice 

On Twitter, Jennifer recommends following hyperdoc master Lisa Highfill @LHighfill.

Jennifer’s pick in edtech tools is Wakelet, a content curator that’s still free to use. Follow the company on Twitter @Wakelet.

A book that has been instrumental lately is Inquiry Mindset: Nurturing the Dreams, Wonders, and Curiosities of Our Youngest Learners by Trevor MacKenzie (@Trev_MacKenzie) and Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt (@rbathursthunt).

Jennifer’s podcast pick is called Check This Out, a podcast produced by edtech experts Brian Briggs and Ryan O’Donnell. Visit their podcast home and follow the show on Twitter @CheckThisOutBR.

Jennifer also shouts out the Educational Duct Tape Podcast, produced by the legendary @JakeMillerTech.

Over on YouTube, a channel that never fails to capture her students’ attention is TED-Ed. If you haven’t tried their content lately, it might be worth a visit and a subscription!

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

Connect with Jennifer:

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device.

iTunes | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Follow the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media.

Song Track Credits

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