Episode 110 – Dr. Douglas Fisher

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Meet Dr. Douglas Fisher

Dr. DOUGLAS FISHER is a Professor of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University, where he trains future administrators and institutional leaders. He is also a teacher leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College, a high school that he co-founded some years ago as a kind of lab, a practical context in which to continue the work of education research and innovation on a practical level. 

A Career in Literacy

Dr. Fisher is a highly accomplished researcher and author in the field of education. He is a member of the California Reading Hall of Fame and is the recipient of an International Reading Association Celebrate Literacy Award, the Farmer award for excellence in writing from the National Council of Teachers of English, and the Christa McAuliffe award for excellence in teacher education.

He has published numerous articles and books on student achievement and literacy, including Text-Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading (with Nancy Frey and Diane Lapp), Checking for Understanding (with Nancy Frey) and Common Core English Language Arts in a PLC at Work (with Nancy Frey). He is also a board member of the International Reading Association and a past board member of the Literacy Research Association.

Disconnection and a Change in Perspective

Around 15 years ago, Dr. Fisher found himself in a trying situation with his students. He was struggling to connect with his students in the ways that he was accustomed to connecting, and relationships were not coming easily. The experience was discouraging enough that he found himself starting to question whether the profession was even for him.

“Parents send us the kids they have. They don’t keep the good ones at home.”

Then, while attending a conference later that year, he heard a speaker say “Parents send us the kids they have. They don’t keep the good ones at home.” This quote spoke to him in a profound way, filling him with renewed gratefulness for the privilege we hold as educators to care for the children of others.

The public trusts us with the responsibility of teaching, training, and “loving up” their kids, Dr. Fisher observes. Sometimes we just need that reminder of the tremendous honor that is education. After the conference, Dr. Fisher returned to the classroom with renewed commitment and dedication and has never looked back since.

Balanced Literacy

Dr. Fisher recently co-authored This Is Balanced Literacy, Grades K-6. When asked to elaborate further on this idea of balanced literacy, Doug is quick to point out that the concept has been around since the 1990s, when there was a lot of debate going on between phonics and whole language approaches. Kids need sufficient experiences with foundational skills, experts argued, including systematic and sequenced steps to growth in literacy. They also need meaning-making experiences that include reading comprehension and thinking about writing.

Since this time in education, the conversation about balanced literacy has largely moved to discussions about the value of whole group versus small group instruction. In this book, Doug and his co-authors sought to move the literacy conversation back to a focus on the balance between skills and knowledge learning. As they developed their research with this focus, they also started to take a closer look at the balance between reading and writing.

Current estimates suggest that the average elementary classroom spends up to 80% of their literacy instructional minutes on reading and 20% on writing. In the words of one of Doug’s colleagues, “Every writer can read, but not every reader can write.” Truly balanced literacy instruction requires us to ask these questions of our practice:

  • Are we using our literacy minutes effectively?
  • Are we making sure that our students are properly building both reading and writing skills?
  • Are we including both direct and dialogic instruction?
  • Are we making sure that our students are consuming both informational and narrative texts?

Studies show that narrative or fictional texts dominate the reading diets of elementary students – informational and expository texts may not be receiving the attention they deserve.

So how do we balance these tensions: direct and dialogic instruction, narrative and expository, reading and writing, skills and knowledge? This book offers the authors’ take on the best ways to thoughtfully integrate all of these methods and strategies in the literacy classroom. 

For more on balanced literacy, listen to Doug’s two co-authors explore this concept further.

The Balanced Literacy Workshop from Corwin Press

Dr. Fisher and his co-authors currently offer a workshop that explores these strategies further in practical ways. This professional development event includes deep dives into reading instruction, writing instruction, assessing learning, impactful teaching practices, class engagement, coaching, and more. Workshop attendees will ask:

  • What should balanced literacy look like in the classroom?
  • What are the evidence-based strategies that we can adopt in the whole class environment?
  • How can we engage students in high-level collaboration using academic language that allows the teacher to sit down with small groups of students for more specific, targeted instruction?

There is no one way to teach literacy, Dr. Fisher points out. There are many right ways, but there are also wrong ways. This workshop unpacks the menu of effective options for instruction that literacy teachers have at their disposal. 

A Quick Suggestion on Literacy Instruction 

When asked for one quick tip or perspective on literacy instruction, Dr. Fisher reminds us that our literacy strategies accomplish different things at different stages of student learning. There’s nothing wrong with surface learning and the strategies that bring learners to that level, but when we move from surface to deep learning, our tools change, and when we move from deep to transfer levels of learning, our strategies change again.

As teachers, the question must be: what will unlock literacy for that learner right now, exactly where they are? 

Visible Learning Plus 

Visible Learning Plus is a specialized coaching program offered by Corwin Press, Dr. Fisher’s publisher. In Corwin’s words, this program will “Connect and harmonize existing school and system initiatives, build internal capacity, and harness the collaborative energy of educators to accelerate student learning and maximize time, energy, resources, and impact.”

In simplest terms, Visible Learning Plus mobilizes John Hattie’s research on learning and helps schools understand and elevate the impact of their practices on student learning. Corwin’s coaches and consultants help school leaders and teams get to the bottom of the question of impact: Is what we are doing working? The program also seeks to strengthen collective efficacy – how can teaching teams improve their beliefs, practices, and procedures in a cohesive, engaged, and synchronized way. 

Teacher Credibility

One thing that has really captured Dr. Fisher’s thinking of late is the whole issue of teacher credibility and its impact on learning. He’s done a little bit of writing on this topic and has started to dig deeper into the research in order to learn more. When students view their teachers as credible, they learn a lot more from them. The following critical questions determine your credibility as a teacher:

  • Are you trustworthy?
  • Are you competent?
  • Do you show dynamism or passion?
  • Do you have proximity and closeness with your students?

All of these factors influence student learning in powerful ways, and the good news is that they are changeable behaviors. Significantly, a teacher can employ proven instructional strategies, but if their students do not view them as credible, the strategies lose their effectiveness. As professional teams and learning communities, we should be constantly asking how can we help each other improve our credibility in the eyes of our students.

Personal Passions: Travel and Exercise 

When he’s away from his research and the halls of academia, the things that most energize Dr. Fisher are travel and exercise. He never stays with one mode of exercise for too long, so his activities range from running to spin class to trapeze.

A Personal Productivity Tip: Block Time for Writing

Dr. Fisher puts time into his calendar to do his writing. This is blocked time that he treats as a job – he does not allow email, phone calls, or other distractions to interfere. He believes that every educator has a book in them, and many educators want to write, but it requires making that time non-negotiable. Although he is thrilled when other people enjoy and consume his writing, he writes primarily to clarify his own thinking.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Practice

Over on Twitter, Dr. Fisher recommends following the amazing @BreneBrown, renowned speaker and author of such books as Dare to Lead.

In the world of edtech tools, Dr. Fisher is a fan of what PlayPosit can do to improve learner engagement with video content. Get to know this tool a bit better by following @PlayPosit

One non-educational book that Dr. Fisher and his team have gained a lot from in the last year is Contagious Culture: Show Up, Set the Tone, and Intentionally Create an Organization That Thrives by Anese Cavanaugh. Another title that has done a great job of rethinking how we meet the needs of dyslexic learners is Normal Sucks: How to Live, Learn, and Thrive Outside the Lines by Jonathan Mooney.

At the top of Doug’s podcast lineup is Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzales, one of the largest podcasts in the education space today. If you’re not already following Jennifer on Twitter, connect with her @cultofpedagogy

On YouTube, there’s no beating the classic TED Talks. Dr. Fisher is still a fan of the medium, the content, and the incredible learning that TED continues to share with the world.

When he has a few minutes for Netflix, Dr. Fisher is watching Money Heist. It’s a fascinating series about a band of bank robbers who plan an elaborate heist in Spain, and Dr. Fisher is also using the series to brush up on his Spanish.

We sign off on this helpful conversation, and Dr. Fisher gives us the best ways to connect with him online. See below for details!

You can connect with Dr. Fisher …

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 109 – Vernon Wright

109 - Vernon Wright

Meet Vernon Wright

VERNON WRIGHT is an education leader, speaker, host, and editor. He’s a voice for the people, he pours into relationships, and he lives to serve, motivate, and inspire in authentic ways. He has served in education for over fifteen years as a teacher, teacher leader, campus administrator, and central staff leader.

Leading Before the Title

Early into his administrative career, Vernon found himself working for someone who had low visibility, little situational awareness, and almost no emotional intelligence. This leader was invisible in their building, didn’t give voice to staff members, and refused to take action when necesssary. As a result, staff members in the building would seek out Vernon for insights or support, even though in theory they should have been checking in with his superior.

When he asked them why this was happening, they responded that he was visible, he listened to others, and he was a leader of action. Vernon realized through these affirmations that he was leading above his title, and it was a lesson that he has taken with him into every leadership context since. The experience further solidified his core leadership values and helped him understand the nuances of coaching and dialogue, even with people who are at the same level of authority or higher.

Welcome to the #ZeroApologyZone

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Vernon is pioneering a movement among educators that he calls the #ZeroApologyZone. It’s characterized by the words “Believe. Study. Hustle. Manifest. Repeat.”

  • Believe. What do you believe about yourself? What do you believe about others? What do you believe about your purpose?
  • Study. We need to study to show that we are ready to have an impact. We need to prepare. If we want to increase our influence, we must increase our competence.
  • Hustle. Take action. Move from being interested to committed.
  • Manifest. Show outcomes and evidence of impact. Do work that is visible and makes a difference for others.
  • Repeat. Once you’re able to work through this process with positive results, why not do it again? As long as it is bringing impact and benefiting others, this is a cycle worth repeating.

Vernon calls this cycle the #ZeroApologyZone because all too often, we apologize for things that we shouldn’t apologize for. When we become a voice for the people, when we advocate for equity and justice, when we do good work in education, we should never apologize for ruffling feathers along the way.

Who are you? What are you all about? What do you stand for without apologies?

Identify those things, and you’ll be well on your way to creating your own powerful mission and vision statement. You’ll build that emotional intelligence that not only understands who you are in real time, but what is really at your core, your essence, your spiritual DNA. 

Connect, Impact, and Scale

To take our journeys of personal and professional growth to the next level, we need to think in terms of connect, impact, and scale.

  • Connect: we need to reach out, network, dialogue, and understand the mission, vision, and purpose of the people around us.
  • Impact: once we understand others and build authentic connections, we’re in a position to better support and collaborate.
  • Scale: we don’t limit our influence to vertical 1:1 relationships, but expand that influence horizontally. When we support one person, others can and should benefit as well. In the age of the internet, we have all the tools we need to share great learning and leadership with audiences around the world. 

Why YOU Should Create Content

To educators who doubt the value of sharing their own message, Vernon says that what seems obvious to you may not be obvious at all to others. What may be commonplace wisdom to you might be someone else’s breakthrough, but it requires moving from a consumer to a creator in order for the world to share in your learning.

Content creation is sometimes perceived as selfish or narcissistic when actually the opposite is true. Sharing information, ideas, and experiences is actually the selfless thing to do, because it requires courage, time, and energy to share, and it allows others to benefit from your ideas. 

Real Leaders Mentor and Elevate

When you share your ideas and pour into other people, you’re building a legacy that matters. Legacy requires impact and evidence, and when people tell Vernon they are a leader, the first question he asks is “Who are you mentoring?”

Real leaders are always looking for opportunities to impact, influence, and elevate the voices of others. A scarcity mindset says that if we elevate others, we might lose some of the spotlight and audience ourselves, but actually the opposite is true. In contrast, an abundance mindset says that as we elevate others, others will elevate us.

You were put on this earth for a reason. You are not alone, and your existence is not pointless. Your voice and your perspectives are wanted and needed by others, and to believe otherwise is a lie. The greatest fulfillment in life is not found in wealth or fame but in the connections and impact we make on others. If we can reach one person, that act of contribution was worth it.

What is Disrupt Ed TV?

Disrupt Ed TV shares inspiring messages for educators through a number of mediums and platforms. The organization is made up of a team of education leaders who address the most important issues in education, each from their own perspective.

It’s been a phenomenal experience for Vernon, both personally and professionally, and he is deeply grateful to the founders of this project for allowing him to partner with them. He regards his decision to join Disrupt Ed TV as a watershed moment in his journey, a door that he walked through that significantly altered his future.

Walking Through Doors and Watershed Moments

Walking through a door is taking action, and action is the key that unlocks the door of opportunity. It’s committing to step forward, to manifest, to move into our destiny. If we don’t take the action, we leave all the amazing opportunities waiting for us on the other side of the door.

Are you committed to being a lifelong learner? Are you committed to constantly pushing your journey of growth forward? In order to grow it, we need to show it. We can’t ask for growth and innovation from our team unless we’re pushing ourselves first through demonstrated action.

Professional Projects on the Go

Vernon was recently privileged to speak at Rewire, a star-studded education conference that took place in Tabernacle, NJ. He is also developing a line of apparel that amplifies his message, and he invites listeners to join the #ZeroApologyZone at thewrightleader.com.

We’re all walking billboards, he reminds us. What is your billboard saying? We can either choose to craft our message and brand with thought and intentionality, Vernon says, or we can allow others to craft it for us. Do you know what your brand is all about?

Vernon is doing a lot of coaching and consulting, and he invites listeners to reach out by DM if they are interested in engaging his services there. He also enjoys ongoing partnerships with people like Aubrey Patterson at Nohea Kindreds and others like Sarah Thomas and Mandy Froehlich at EduMatch.

A lot of people see the public successes but miss the private hustle, Vernon points out. If you’ve been hustling for some time in private, it may be your moment to start manifesting in public, which helps you connect, impact, and scale your message even further.

Personal Passions: Personal Coaching and Consulting

Vernon lives to take people from version 1.0 to 2.0. To that end, he is passionate about increasing scale in order to reach more people with the message that 1.0 is not good enough. Listen to the small voice inside, he urges, that wants us to take things to the next level. If you’ve been waiting for your sign that it’s time to grow, consider this conversation the sign.

Productivity Hacks: Goal-Setting and Vision Boards

There are two things Vernon does on the regular that he encourages all educators and thought leaders to do in order to maximize their productivity.

  1. Write down your goals and be very specific.
  2. Review them, meditate on them, and reflect on them daily.

Mix in a dash of hustle, and you will realize your goals. It’s about being focused. Vernon has found from personal experience that as he codifies his goals and makes them his Magnificent Obsession, things begin to line up. Make your goals SMART and again — review them daily.

Vernon also recommends using vision boards that can be referred to regularly, from morning to evening. Every time he passes by his vision boards, he is reminded of where he is headed, even if just on a subconscious level.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Thinking

Over on Twitter, Vernon recommends following DisruptEdTV @DisruptedTV. DisruptEd was the organization that first allowed Vernon to find his voice and grow his influence, and he’s grateful for the opportunities they’ve given him and their continuing influence in education. Two other must-follows that are also connected to DisruptEdTV are Evan and Laura Robb. Follow them @ERobbPrincipal and @LRobbTeacher

The edtech tool that Vernon finds indispensable in his work is the GSuite, Google’s suite of cloud-based applications. In particular, Vernon is a big fan of the power of Google Slides to facilitate creation, collaboration, and communication from any device or location.

A book that was absolutely transformative in Vernon’s personal and professional journey was The 10X Rule: The Only Difference Between Success and Failure by Grant Cardone.

Going back to Ed Mylett, Vernon is a huge fan of Ed’s podcast as well. Although he doesn’t speak directly to education, Ed is another thought leader who challenges you to take your impact to the next level.

Not surprisingly, Vernon’s first YouTube channel shoutout goes to DisruptEd TV – a must for every serious educator. And Vernon also points to Ed Mylett’s YouTube channel as a place for guaranteed inspiration.

When he’s got some down time for Netflix, Vernon is all about learning. His Netflix selections of choice are inevitably documentaries.

We sign off on this legendary conversation, and Vernon gives us the best places to connect with his message online. See below for details!

You can connect with Vernon …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media:

Song Track Credits

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