Episode 105 – Tiffany Ott

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Meet Tiffany Ott

TIFFANY OTT is a high school Math teacher at Western Reserve Academy of Ohio, a Director of Curriculum Development with the Teach Better Team, and the founder of #MasteryChat. She’s also a co-author of the recently published book Teach Better, and she’ll be playing a big role in the upcoming Teach Better Conference.

Tiffany recalls a time early in her career when she was teaching middle school in North Carolina. She and her husband were broke, Tiffany was pregnant, and the couple was short on options. After moving back to Ohio, Tiffany found a long-term substitute position that showed good potential to convert into a permanent position.

She was teaching an enrichment class for students designated as gifted, and she introduced her learners to a unit on brain science, psychology, and mental health. Unfortunately, some of the parents of these students were skeptical and suspicious of her motives and complained – loudly – to administration. As a result, the substitute position didn’t convert to a permanent one, an experience that opened Tiffany’s eyes to the importance of communication and actively seeking buy-in from the entire learning community.

When developing those relationships with your students’ parents, Tiffany encourages, try video newsletters. People seek connection today, and Tiffany has found that parents really appreciate who you are and what you are trying to achieve with their children when they can actually see and hear you.

Teach Better: The Book

Teach BetterTiffany describes the new Teach Better book from the Teach Better Team as part memoir, part inspiration, and part practical teaching strategies that educators can put into place immediately. The book includes a series of interwoven stories from four authors that detail their struggles, challenges, and victories in the classroom, accompanied by the realizations that they took away from those experiences.

Teach Better is not about being perfect – it’s about being better than we were yesterday and better tomorrow than we were today. It’s about being constantly reflective, looking in the mirror and at our own practice, and asking “What is one thing I can do today to move my practice forward?” It’s grounded in the belief that every educator is capable of growth and improvement in their practice. “My heart and soul is in this book and I just hope people can find something that can help inspire them and push them forward,” Tiffany says.

The book starts with “Get the hell out of my classroom!” – perhaps the lowest moment in Chad Ostrowski’s career, and you’ll be drawn in as you read his story. Tiffany is also passionate about chapters titled Expect Better and Complain Better, and she articulates how these mindset shifts can change the culture of buildings and make incredible impact in the growth and learning of students.

#MasteryChat

The weekly #MasteryChat on Twitter is Tiffany’s baby, and she’s as passionate about the conversations that happen there as she was when the chat first launched. Each week features a different guest moderator, and topics include everything under the sun of education.

Like the Teach Better book, #MasteryChat is about incremental growth and improvement in educators, and Tiffany values the rich diversity of views and experiences that over 100 participants regularly bring to the conversation. This chat is not an echo chamber, she says – it includes robust discussion, occasional debate, and constructive pushback. Questions seek to go beyond buzzwords and cliches to actually stretch the thinking of educators and spark learning.

What’s Setting Tiffany on 🔥 in Education Today

Education is so exciting today because things have changed so much and continue to change so quickly. The opportunities for global connection, collaboration, and learning are greater than most educators have fully realized. Rather than be overwhelmed or intimidated by the pace of change, Tiffany says we should regard these movements of change as the fire that pushes us forward.

A Professional Goal

Tiffany speaks highly of the way that her school tackles professional goal-setting for its teaching staff each year. Rather than one-and-done fill out this piece of paper and move on, each educator’s professional goals are embedded in professional activities throughout the school year, allowing frequent review and follow-up.

One of Tiffany’s main professional goals for this year is to build deeper connections with her colleagues. Her training and experience comes from the middle school levels, where team approaches to planning and instruction are often emphasized. The same can’t always be said of high school environments, where teachers sometimes experience more isolation and division by departments, levels, course streams, and other factors.

There’s a lot to be gained when we come together and connect the dots across all kinds of content, Tiffany says, which requires taking the time to have more small and large conversations with colleagues. When we make ourselves vulnerable, genuine, and available to support others, we build the social connections that translate into significant professional and instructional gains for learners.

One of Tiffany’s other professional goals is to make her math instruction more relevant for learners. Rae Hughart, one of Tiffany’s partners on the Teach Better Team, talks often about the importance of integrating community partners and businesses into the math classroom to show learners the relevance and application of the curricular principles they’re learning.

Personal Passions: Baking and Crocheting 

Educators neglect their personal passions and interests all too often, says Tiffany, and it comes at the expense of our learners. On the home front, Tiffany loves to cook and bake, activities that have formed great points of connection with her daughter. They watch The Great British Baking Show and other cooking shows together, and Tiffany takes great joy in hosting great meals and serving guests.

She also enjoys art, sculpting, and crocheting – something that she is integrating in one of her math classes by asking students to crochet physical representations of hyperbolic planes. It’s a great example of a personal passion adding a dimension to the classroom learning environment. 

The Secret to Her Productivity

The credit for her incredible productivity, says Tiffany, goes to her husband. Not only does he cover for her during times of peak work and deadlines, but he acts as a good accountability check in terms of her mental health. When the stress and strain of responsibilities starts to make her crack, he doesn’t hesitate to make her take a break, step away, take a nap, or do what she needs to do to recharge. 

The Teach Better Conference 

Tiffany is thrilled about the coming Teach Better Conference – now just a few weeks away. The hosting team has crafted some unique experiences that will help attendees reflect, integrate, and apply the things they learn in practical ways. She’s also hoping that the conference will go a long way toward building the kinds of new professional relationships that will push educators collectively to be better every day.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Tiffany’s Thinking

Over on Twitter, Tiffany recommends following Danny Steele @SteeleThoughts. Whenever she feels like she may be losing her fire, no one rekindles her motivation and passion for education like Danny Steele.

Tiffany’s edtech tool of choice right now is Gimkit. Think Kahoot but with a gambling factor, Tiffany laughs. There are few better and more engaging means of collecting formative assessment from learners in real time.

Lies My Teacher Told MeFor a book pick, Tiffany points to a modern education classic – Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen. This title will open your eyes and widen your perspective on western history and its inherent biases.

It’s no surprise, but Tiffany’s favorite education podcast is Teach Better Talk. She doesn’t point to this one because she has to, she says. Hosts Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart keep her laughing and never fail to bring new insights and strategies that move her practice forward.

Tiffany is no stranger to video communication, and on YouTube she suggests subscribing to Michael Matera’s channel. The author of Explore Like a Pirateclassroom teacher, and producer of the Well Played podcast is a very, very smart guy and a fantastic person, too.

Finally, and just for fun, when Tiffany gets Netflix time it’s spent on The Great British Baking Show, which has been a great source of inspiration and a point of connection with her daughter.

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

You can connect with Tiffany …

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Episode 71 – Rose Pillay

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Meet Our Guest

ROSE PILLAY is an education leader and curriculum consultant for the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese. Her One Word for 2019 is SMILE, and Rose keeps educators inspired on her mission to serve, support, and celebrate growth and relationships. She sees her roles as 1) professional learner, 2) good news gossip, and 3) educational matchmaker.

Buckle up for this interview! Her colleagues call her a girl on fire, and you’ll understand why when you hear her passion and commitment for learning. Follow Rose on Twitter @RosePillay1 and visit her blog at https://teachafl.wordpress.com/.

Everything We Do in Teaching is Relational

There are days when Rose has felt she isn’t making a difference. Imposter syndrome creeps in, and she the doubts can be debilitating.

To counter these feelings of inadequacy and negativity, Rose makes a conscious choice to curate and keep any and all the cards, comments, and collectibles that are affirming and empowering. She also designates a label in her inbox simply marked Sunshine, and it’s filled with messages that empower and bless her.

To further bolster her confidence, Rose is proactive about surrounding herself with people who not only cheer her on but challenge her to be better. “Everything we do in teaching is relational,” she says. We need to find others who will fuel our passion.

Faith and Learning

As a committed Catholic, Rose feels called to bring the light of Jesus into this world, and as such she strives to be a lighthouse and source of hope for others. She wants to live in such a way that people say “I want what she’s having,” not living as one seeking to be accepted but in a way that is unashamed, unapologetic, and authentic.

She enjoys partnering with educators from all corners and backgrounds because we all want the same things for children: to equip them to live well in an ever-changing world. She is relentless in her pursuit of the good, true, and beautiful in an effort to make our students into saints. Education has shifted its focus from transmission of information to transformation, from products to people. We’re trying to define the very best qualities of what it means to be human, to contribute to this world and make it a better place.

Why Network on Twitter?

For Rose, Twitter serves two main purposes:

  1. it builds professional relationships, and
  2. it creates access to classrooms, innovative practices, and inspirational conversations.

Twitter isn’t the all-important platform, but the key is to find something, someone, or some place that recharges your batteries so that you have the ideas and energy to give back to your learners.

Fail Better

Rose’s blog, Fail Better, began as a reservoir of resources for educators looking to do more with assessment for learning. In June 2012, Rose wrote a post called Fail Better, inspired by a quote by Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

From that time forward, Rose decided to use her blog to reflect on her own learning journey. Dylan Wiliam says that every educator needs to accept two commitments.

  1. Every single teacher will carry on improvement in their practice, and
  2. Focus on the things that make the most difference to students. Embrace the idea that the job of teaching is so difficult that we never really get good at it. We fail every day, but every day following we can come back and fail better.

To fuel and direct her learning journey, Rose asks herself those Big Three metacognitive questions each week:

  1. What am I learning?
  2. Where am I going?
  3. How will I get there?

As Richard Wagamese writes, “Don’t just write what you know. Write what you wish to know.” Storytelling is about discovery of one’s self, a way for writers to document their growth and evolution.

New Competency-Based Curriculum for BC

One thing that really ignites Rose today is BC’s new competency-based curriculum. It’s infused schools across the province with fresh energy, vision, and joy. The focus is where it should be – on ALL students learning and growing, from wherever they are on their journey. It’s about students finding themselves, developing holistically, and answering the most important question they will ever answer: Who am I?

Rose is also thrilled by the new Career Life education program coming to BC’s high school curriculum – “the sun around which all the other courses will orbit.” Among other things, this new initiative is sure to challenge long-held assumptions and ways of doing in terms of high school timetables and course structures.

A third thing that energizes Rose is the cross-pollination of ideas, resources, and practices happening between districts in British Columbia.

A Professional Goal for 2019

This year, Rose would like to grow as a confident, competent, and creative workshop presenter. This will mean attending more professional development events led by people who are pushing themselves, including an upcoming CAFLN conference in Delta, BC.

Learning is a Life Passion

Rose is a fan of learning, whatever it is and wherever it’s available. She loves to rub shoulders with other learners who attend events by choice – she calls these campfires. Being with other educators who are there because they want to learn and love community is so energizing.

It’s the sharing of stories that really helps us grow, and for that reason Rose and her brother Gabriel are passionate organizers of an annual event called EdVent. It’s a place for educators to come and share their stories of learning and innovative practice. Teaching and learning have to be team sports! We need teammates to learn beside.

A Productivity Hack: Saying YES More

Inspired by Catherine Mulskey’s Ted-X Talk, The Courage to Say No, Rose is learning to actually say YES to more things, including this podcast. Saying no sometimes means that we’re not growing, and we miss out on learning. Right now, she’s focused on saying yes more often.

“My need to KNOW things trumps my need to say NO to things,” Rose says. “For me to be successful in what I do, I want to model what it means to learn, to grow, to stretch, to take risks.”

Voices & Resources That Inspire Rose’s Professional Practice

On Twitter, Rose recommends following @Vendram1n. He’s a continual source of leadership and inspiration, and he’s one of the kindest and most generous leaders in education you’ll ever meet.

Rose’s book pick is Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese. It’s a breathtaking work of life and beauty from an indigenous perspective.

If you’re looking for another education podcast to add to your line-up, check out The Catholic Teacher Podcast. Follow the host @BeingCatholic1.

Over on YouTube, Rose suggests subscribing to Five Moore Minutes by a leading voice on inclusion in education, Shelley Moore.

Although Rose isn’t on Netflix, some of her current viewing includes This is Us and Doctor Who.

Connect with Rose

We sign off on this amazing conversation, and Rose reminds us of the best ways to connect with her and learn together online. Make sure to give her a follow on Twitter and subscribe to her blog!

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