Episode 115 – Jonathan Alsheimer

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Meet Jonathan Alsheimer

JONATHAN ALSHEIMER teaches seventh grade history at the legendary Fred M. Lynn Middle School. He’s a family man, keynote speaker, and the author of #NextLevelTeaching: Empowering Students and Transforming School Culture. As much as he enjoys speaking to teachers about education, it’s a thrill for him to share his story with students and motivate them to overcome adversity in their own learning journeys.

Early Struggles with the Game of School

Although he grew up in an education household, Jonathan freely admits that he struggled to play the game of school. As a kid, test-taking was difficult, and he remembers adopting a facade of confidence to cover up those insecurities. To be successful, he realized he would need to work hard and never give up, and he carried that never-quit ethic into athletics and throughout his school and college career.

He’s found strength in being honest about his academic journey and enjoys encouraging students to keep pushing, keep grinding, never give up, and overcome those challenges that today seem insurmountable. “Be that teacher that you needed when you were a kid,” he says, and it’s something he keeps constantly in mind regarding his own practice. We need to see past the data and the test results to recognize each child for who they are and the journey they’re on.

Next Level Teaching 

One of the biggest motivators behind his book, Next Level Teaching, traces back to a major language arts test that Jonathan failed in high school. As painful as that failure was, it’s only made him more determined to become first a Master of Education and now a published author. He’s walking the walk — living out his message that hard work and determination can overcome the demons of failure and adversity. To the doubters and haters that second-guessed his potential, this book is a mic drop.

115 - Jonathan Alsheimer7.jpgOne of his hopes for this book is that it inspires teachers to reach out to learners and classrooms beyond the door of their classroom. No, one teacher won’t completely revolutionize an entire school and culture by themselves. But our influence goes much further than we think it does, and it’s when committed teachers truly take ownership of their communities that we start to see systemic change.

Bring the energy, bring the passion, engage with kids, and love on students beyond your classroom and throughout your building, Jonathan urges. Take those opportunities during supervision duties or athletic events to connect with kids on another level and communicate care. Be “that teacher” that we all look back to with fondness, the one who believed in us and made a difference beyond the academics.

What To Do When It’s Hard to Connect

To teachers who struggle to connect with their learners, Jonathan encourages them to view each student as their own child. How would that relationship change the ways you relate to that hard-to-reach kid?

Kids need to feel empowered; when they feel that they can’t win or don’t matter, that’s when they withdraw, isolate, and tune out. Teachers should rethink “throwaway minutes” and use that time to build quick connections and trust. When kids love you and they love your classroom, they’re more likely to learn.  “I’ll throw away 30 minutes today to gain an hour of focused instruction next week,” Jonathan says. Find their interests and connect with them there, and you’ll be on your way to building a positive relationship. 

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What Else is Setting Jonathan on 🔥 in Education: TeacherFit 

One thing that Jonathan is hyped about today is TeacherFit, a health and wellness program for teachers. It’s simple, affordable, and has the capacity to significantly improve the health and wellbeing of an entire staff community. Even better, TeacherFit gives Jonathan great mentoring opportunities with students. He’s been working out after hours at school, and students have been joining in. It’s been another great on-ramp for relationship-building with students, and it’s improving the health, wellness, and community culture at Fred Lynn Middle School.

A Professional Goal: More Speaking to Students

Jonathan’s new book has taken a lot of his his focus and attention over the last year, but he also continues to build his capacity to speak to students. He is speaking at schools in Texas and Kansas in January and anticipates more opportunities in the months to come. Some of the feedback from schools and students has been incredible, and to hear that his message is giving hope to the hopeless pushes him to do more. There are kids that need to hear that message of hope at virtually every school.

Personal Passions That Bring Jonathan Alive

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“I’m all about getting out there and living life,” Jonathan says. “I wanna DO stuff in life.” He’s committed to living a life with no regrets, visiting new places, and trying new things. He’s already tried white water rafting, climbing mountains, and mixed martial arts fighting, and he looks forward to experiencing a shark cage next. It’s all about living life to the fullest and modeling a spirit of risk-taking for his learners, and his experiences make for great stories, illustrations, and connection points in the classroom as well. “You can be okay with what you got or you can push life to the max,” he tells his students.

His Key to Productivity: A Relentless Spirit

Instead of an app or routine, Jonathan points to his relentless spirit as his key to productivity. It’s a value that kids need to learn to nurture and grow within themselves over time, he says. That said, it’s also important to take some time for yourself, and Jonathan credits his amazing wife for helping him find balance between work and play. Next Level Teaching isn’t about spending money and hours on Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers. It’s about acknowledging that you as the teacher are the single most important factor for learning in the classroom, and that being the case, we need to care for ourselves properly.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Practice

Over on Twitter, Jonathan recommends following his principal, Hamish Brewer. Hamish has been absolutely inspirational, genuine, and he really does walk the walk at Fred Lynn Middle School. Connect with Hamish on Twitter @BrewerHM

When asked for an edtech tool pick, Jonathan goes to iMovie. It’s nothing new, but kids love it, he says. It’s such an easy and powerful way to energize learning activities and engage students in the act of creation.

When it comes to books, Jonathan recommends Relentless: Changing Lives by Disrupting the Educational Norm by Hamish Brewer, a book he was honored to contribute to and endorse. Jonathan also shouts out Leadership Lessons of the Navy SEALS: Battle-Tested Strategies for Creating Successful Organizations and Inspiring Extraordinary Results by Jeff and Jon Cannon, explaining that many of the principles contained in this book are universally applicable and certainly come in handy in the classroom.

Jonathan has a lot of commute time, and two of his favorite podcasts include Jostens Renaissance and TeacherFit

This episode released during the Christmas season, so when prompted for an all-time favorite Christmas movie, Jonathan went with Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. It’s one of those family classics that never fails to deliver laughs.

We sign off on this inspiring conversation, and Jonathan gives us the best ways to reach out and connect with him online. See below for details!

You can connect with Jonathan …

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Episode 111 – Abigail French

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Meet Abigail French

ABIGAIL FRENCH is a mother of four, a history teacher for sixth graders, an advocate of public education, and an explorer of the natural world in Woodstock, VA. 

A Challenging Professional Reboot

For Abby, one of her biggest professional challenges was returning to the classroom in 2014 after leaving it in 1997. A lot had changed while she was away, particularly technology resources and internet access. She recognized immediately that technology should be used to build skills, facilitate learning, and create deeper understanding, but it took some time to adjust to the changes that technology had brought to the learning environment.

Today, her sixth graders enjoy 1:1 Chromebook access, a move that has come with a mix of tremendous opportunities and practical challenges. “It’s definitely a journey,” Abby says of her use of technology in the classroom. “It’s always evolving – it’s not like you ever arrive.” As she models a posture of constant learning and openness to new things, you sense that Abby’s learners are in good hands.

The Snake That Rocked Edu Twitter 

Abby has been fascinated by herpetology – the study of reptiles – for about as long as she can remember. She’s even gained such notoriety in her community for the courage, care, and prowess she shows around snakes that she is known by some as The Snake Lady!

When her daughter called her about a large snake in the backyard in the summer, Abby didn’t hesitate to run outside and move it. It was likely a female, she says, looking for a nice place to lay her eggs. What others fear, Abby loves to engage and learn from.

Not Measuring Up

Abby isn’t someone who went into teaching because she had such a great experience as a student. In some ways, she actually went into teaching to undo the damage done and to give students a better learning experience than the one she remembers.

As a young student, Abby is quick to point out that she definitely had some good teachers. But she had a learning disability, a processing issue, and that meant that she learned differently than most other kids. The symptoms of academic success, including good grades, words of affirmation, and the approval of her teachers always felt elusive. She still clearly remembers the feelings of falling short, of never being good enough, of never quite fitting into the game of school. Those memories and experiences have shaped her philosophy and professional practice profoundly.  

Rethinking Assessment in Her Practice Today

As with technology, Abby’s approach to assessment has been a journey. It starts with a mindset, she says. As she returned to teaching five years ago, she realized that traditional means of assessment – quizzes, tests, and multiple choice assessments – were not satisfying her desire to know what her students actually knew and had learned.

She started looking around at other examples and modes of assessment, asking how she could better partner with her students and include them in every part of the assessment process. She wanted to put students in the driver’s seat: how do YOU want to show what you’ve learned? Building strong relationships with students was an essential step toward empowerment, she observed. Student reactions to her change in philosophy have been exciting, and Abby is constantly learning about the ways to represent learning that energize her students and connect with their passions and interests.

One other way that Abby has started changing her practice is to change the way that she organizes her students’ digital portfolios. Rather than organize them by subjects and units, she has started to organize them around learning targets and skills: analyze and interpret, compare and contrast, using a decision-making model, etc. This means of portfolio organization shifts the focus from the content to the skills: what are we actually trying to learn? Which skill does this work demonstrate?

#HackLearning: Countering Toxic Cultures 

Abby recently moderated a #HackLearning Twitter chat about toxicity in schools, and she’s given this topic a lot of thought lately. It’s a challenging topic with a ton of complexity and layers, and she’s quick to point out that there are no quick fixes or easy solutions.

Teachers pour themselves into their work, and the emotional well can get pretty low if communities aren’t doing the important work of caring for their members. The work of teaching becomes doubly difficult in environments of toxic thinking and behavior, but one thing we should always keep in mind is that toxicity is rarely personal. Instead, it usually appears as a symptom of what someone else is going through.

Ultimately, we need to protect our own mindsets by finding supportive partners, both locally and through our professional learning networks. PLNs such as the education community on Twitter can deliver incredible encouragement and inspiration, and it’s a great way to find your people when you’re feeling isolated or marginalized in your own learning community. Even as we connect outside the walls of our school, however, it’s important to continue to invest in our own community. 

A Professional Goal: Instructional Coaching

Abby has been exploring some growing opportunities in the area of instructional coaching, and lately it’s been a pleasure to serve in a mastermind group for new teachers. She’s excited to contribute, and she enjoys the growth she sees in her own practice along the way.

Personal Passions Outside of Education 

MushroomsOutside of school, Abby enjoys sharing passions with her four children. Their curiosities are endless and they stretch her into new spaces that she otherwise wouldn’t necessarily find herself. She is also energized by running, getting into nature, and hunting for mushrooms. Mushrooms fascinate her, and it’s a joy to find them, photograph them, and cook with them.

A Personal Productivity Hack: Time Blocking

Abby credits Aubrey Patterson with the practice of time blocking. She uses Google Calendar to prioritize her time for the week and make sure that the big rocks are accomplished before the sand. Her next mission? Getting a better handle on her Google Drive and organizing it more efficiently.

Voices and Resources That Inspire Her Practice

Over on Twitter, Abby recommends giving Jeanne Wolz a follow @TeacherOffDuty. Jeanne is an instructional coach who Abby has learned a lot from lately. She also recommends following Aubrey Patterson @PattersonAubrey, co-founder of Nohea Kindred, educational leadership strategist, and consultant.

An edtech tool that has taken learning to the next level in her sixth grade classroom as of late is Zoom. Zoom has allowed her to connect with other educators in real time, bringing new insights and information into her classroom.

Entertaining an Elephant by William McBrideAbby’s book pick comes from a book club she joined this year. The title is Entertaining an Elephant: A Novel About Learning and Letting Go by William McBride. The book chronicles the journey of a seasoned teacher who battles burnout. Follow the author on Twitter @DrBilly7

Two podcasts that are making a difference in Abby’s professional practice are Teachers Going Gradeless and Human Restoration Project. Both shows completely reimagine education and particularly assessment, and they’ve been fuel for her professional growth and evolution.

When she’s got no energy left in the day and it’s Netflix time, Abby is watching Peaky Blinders, a great historical series, and Jane the Virgin, a source of non-stop laughs.

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

You can connect with Abby on Twitter @AWFrench1. 

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Compliance is Not the Mission

“Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.” — Daniel Pink

Teachers love it when their students are compliant. What’s not to like about it? It makes their jobs easier.

Even as assessment practices continue to move away from marks and toward standards-based grading, some stubbornly cling to the idea that assessment should reflect obedience to the rules of school. Nowhere is this more true than in the gym, where many PE teachers still assess students entirely on attitude and effort (ie. compliance), ignoring standards-based assessment.

The more you obey, the higher your mark.

But that’s a whole other post.

The truth is that there’s little correlation between compliance and learning. In fact, many of the characteristics of growth that we look to see in our students don’t fit at all within cultures of compliance. Risk-taking, self-advocacy, creativity, design planning, tolerance for ambiguity, critical thinking, and an innovator’s mindset aren’t welcome when the only objective is to follow the rules.

Ouch.

Playing the Game of School

Compliant students are masters at playing the game of school. They’re great at coloring within the lines. They follow instructions meticulously and without a hint of pushback. They’re the students who most frequently ask teachers questions like these:

  • “Do you want this in pen or pencil?”
  • “How many words does this need to be?”
  • “Can I change the font for this assignment?”

These are the students who obsess about performance details, so visibly anxious about violating one of our all-knowing wishes that they cannot rest until they are assured that they 1) have crystal clarity on the rules of the task and 2) are playing safe within those rules.

A part of that behavior is endearing, almost. Like I said off the top, absolute compliance makes our jobs as teachers easier. As in a dictatorship, citizens who keep their heads down and obey without question are easier to manage and control.

And yet it’s when we frame compliance in political paradigms like these that we begin to see the problem. We know that critical thinking, resistant journalism, and protest movements are all essential to the health and function of vibrant democratic systems. It’s when too many citizens shut up and do nothing that power runs amok and abuses multiply like disease.

Give Autonomy When Possible

As teachers, we can’t give up 100% control in our classrooms. For the good of our learners, our little nation-states might still operate closer to benevolent dictatorships than pure democracies where every decision is made by referendum.

But we can take baby steps toward sharing more of our control and giving more autonomy than we have in the past. Allowing — even requiring — our students to become agents of their own learning, to become masters of creative decision-making, to evaluate their own learning critically.

Practically speaking, we can share control by giving students greater voice and better choices, by allowing them to co-create assessment tools, by inviting them deeper into the assessment process through more self- and peer assessments, by allowing them to follow their own curiosities and direct their own learning through models of inquiry.

When we share more control and give more autonomy, we’re creating an environment where “Why are we doing this?” is not regarded as a threat to be stifled but a thoughtful invitation to a healthy conversation.

When I think about what’s important for our learners, I keep coming back to the 4 Cs: creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

Compliance isn’t on that list.

Because building a culture of compliance isn’t the mission.


by @MisterCavey

Episode 63 – Greg Moffitt

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GREG MOFFITT is a dad, husband, and the principal at Winters Elementary School in Winters, California. He’s also a doctoral student at UC Davis and a big education geek. Greg has set the audacious goal of reading through all of the books from Dave Burgess Consulting in 2019! Follow his reflections and reviews (along with those from teammate Kali Slusser) at http://readlikeapirate.wordpress.com.

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Episode Summary

Greg recalls the end of the last school year when a staff member gave him the truth, point blank: “You’re not smiling anymore.” A number of people on his staff team had been going through some difficult challenges, and as he felt the weight of his team Greg also found himself questioning his own work. Was he doing enough? But after receiving this challenge – and a strong encouragement to read Lead Like a Pirate – Greg started to rediscover his passion and joy. In addition to the book (and other books like Culturize and Lead with Culture), Greg began building a positive PLN on Twitter and gained enormous strength and encouragement from other education leaders there. He’s never looked back, and he describes this turning point as “life-changing.”

One thing that excites Greg about the state of education today is that social-emotional learning is finally getting the recognition and appreciation that it has always deserved. Emerging research and improving resources are helping educators better understand the needs of kids and connect with their hearts and minds. In Greg’s view, SEL skills aren’t soft skills – they’re essential in leadership and in life.

Greg and his staff instructional coach, Kali Slusser, are aiming to finish reading all the DBC books through 2019 at a pace of one per week. They were inspired by Alicia Ray (@ILuvEducating), and they’ve been tracking their learning at readlikeapirate.wordpress.com. Part of Greg’s professional goal here is to implement at least one idea from each book into his professional practice throughout the year.

Any time he can find the time to get outside and go for a hike, Greg likes to do exactly that. Getting outside energizes him, and whether it’s by the mountains or the sea, reconnecting with nature is such a valuable spiritual practice. He dreams of one day becoming a park ranger and helping others gain a greater appreciation for the positive power of the wild.

Greg loves checklists. He gains momentum from checking things off, and he’ll even add items he’s already completed to his checklist just so that he can check them off. Dr. Todd Cutler suggested he focus in particular on the most important priorities to hit every single day, and Greg now operates according to a 5-4-3-2-1 get-to list: 5 classroom visits, 4 documents or publications to update, 3 recess appearances to connect with kids, 2 check-ins with staff members, and 1 handwritten thank-you note. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but it helps him stay focused on what matters most.

Greg’s Quick Picks: Voices and Resources That Shape His Practice

On Twitter, Greg recommends following @MrsHankinsClass and @heARTISTatWORK. These two educators are non-stop sources of positive creativity and inspiration!

In terms of edtech, one tool that Greg has used with great success this year is Facebook Live. It’s been a great tool to engage the parent community and share learning activities between home and school.

Greg shares two book picks. The first is A Mindset for Learning: Teaching the Traits of Joyful, Independent Growth by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz, and the second is The Jester Has Lost His Jingle by David Saltzman. Follow the authors of A Mindset for Learning at @MrazKristine and @Christine_Hertz.

Who can’t use another great education podcast to listen to? Greg recommends listening to Aspire: The Leadership Development Podcast, hosted by @Joshua__Stamper.

A YouTube channel that will keep us smiling and interested is Rice Farming TV. Follow this great family on Twitter @RiceFarmingTV.

On Netflix, the Moffitt family pick right now goes to Fuller House. When the kids are in bed or Greg has a few minutes to make his own pick, it’s The West Wing.

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Episode 62 – Beth Houf

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BETH HOUF is a mom, middle school principal, passionate leader & learner, and forever teacher. She’s also the co-author of Lead Like a PIRATE: Make School Amazing for Your Students and Staff. Interact with her on Twitter @BethHouf and engage with ideas from her book at #LeadLAP.

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Episode Summary

Beth is the principal of Fulton Middle School in Fulton, Missouri. She serves about 600 students in Grades 6, 7, and 8. After fifteen years of teaching and leading in elementary contexts, this is her fourth year at Fulton MS. Beth also serves as a facilitator with the state department’s regional leadership academy, and she mentors new principals in Missouri leadership program.

Beth began her administration career in the pressure-packed atmosphere of No Child Left Behind. School test scores were low, requiring the school to issue letters to families in the community saying that the school was a failing school. What a culture-killer! In response, Beth worked hard to move the needle and improve test scores, instead of putting her focus on building school culture. She worked so hard, in fact, that she began to approach a state of burnout, and found herself considering leaving education for a career in nursing. Then in 2014, she attended the NAESP Conference and met Jay Billy, who showed her how to engage better and smarter with other education leaders on Twitter. He also encouraged her to connect with Dave and Shelley Burgess, and Beth soon saw the value of TLAP principles in education leadership.

Lead Like a Pirate was first born out of Beth’s passion for the principles taught in Teach Like a Pirate, by Dave Burgess. After she began building a workshop that would apply the #TLAP principles to leadership contexts, Dave and Shelley Burgess encouraged her to put her ideas and content into print. As she wrote Lead Like a Pirate, one of Beth’s main concerns was to ensure that other administrators didn’t have to experience the levels of fatigue and burnout that she once experienced. Yes, there will be times when we get discouraged or down, but she doesn’t want education leaders to feel like they are all alone or don’t have a support system. Beth wanted to archive best practices and resources but also start to build an active community of education leaders.

When she’s not focusing on education leadership inside and outside of her own context, Beth loves to read. In particular, she loves to do online read-alouds, book talks, book tasting, and any opportunity to connect books with kids and light their passion for reading.

Beth sees improvement as a daily process. She starts each day by reading a blog post — her favorite is one from Rich Cryz (@RACzyz). She also tries to stay current in leadership practices within and outside education and takes in professional development whenever she can. She welcomes free opportunities like #DitchSummit with Matt Miller, and although she’s not currently contemplating a PhD, that’s a possibility in her future. She also talks about her efforts to further promote and amplify the voices of other culture-builders, including Lead with Culture by Jay Billy, Lead with Literacy by Mandy Ellis, and Balance Like a Pirate by Sarah Johnson, Jessica Johnson, and Jessica Cabeen.

Beth enjoys traveling, experiencing other cultures, reading non-fiction, and sampling wines. She traveled to Alaska in October and was blown away by the phenomenal educators there who face overwhelming obstacles. Beth also enjoys sampling and learning about new wines. The best trips are the ones that combine education and pleasure. And when her boys hit on a new area of passion, she finds extra motivation to get involved herself.

Beth starts each day by getting up before anyone else to just relax with coffee and the news. Just the act of sitting quietly for 30-40 minutes gives her to calm she needs to start her workday in a good head space. She also leans on social media to improve parent engagement and involvement, so she makes sure she is taking pictures and video whenever she can as she gets into classrooms. She finds that the best documentation of learning happens right then, in the moment. Beth also calls herself a mobile principal. She carries her backpack with her wherever she goes so that she can get work done wherever she is and not remain tied to the desk in her office.

Beth’s Quick Picks: Voices and Resources That Shape Her Practice

On Twitter, Beth points first to a couple of hashtags – #FMSTeach and #LeadLAP. She also recommends following co-author @Burgess_Shelley and publisher @BurgessDave and @DBC_Inc.

Beth’s edtech recommendations focus on effective visual communication. She points out Quik, Canva, Poster My Wall, and Smore. Follow these great platforms on Twitter @Quik_App, @Canva, @PosterMyWall, and @SmorePages.

In books, Beth just finished The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook–What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing by Bruce D. Perry and Maia  Szalavitz. She also recommends Reclaiming Our Calling: Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education by Brad Gustafson. Follow these three authors on Twitter @BDPerry, @Maiasz, and @GustafsonBrad.

Looking to add some more great education podcasts to your podcast deck? Check out Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzales and Aspire: The Leadership Development Podcast. Follow these educators on Twitter @cultofpedagogy and @Joshua__Stamper.

Beth is admittedly not a YouTube subscriber, but she does mention the Fulton Public Schools channel. Check it out here: Fulton Public Schools.

When she is able to find a little Netflix time, Beth has been enjoying flashbacks from The Nineties.

We sign off on this conversation, and Beth gives us the best ways to follow her online. Find her On Twitter @BethHouf, on Instagram @BHouf, and check out Lead Like a Pirate on Amazon.

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