Episode 120 – Dr. Christine Younghusband

120 - Dr. Christine Younghusband

Meet Dr. Christine Younghusband

CHRISTINE YOUNGHUSBAND is passionate about teaching and learning and the role of leadership in enhancing the student learning experience in K-12 and higher education. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership in 2017 from Simon Fraser University (SFU) and is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) in the B.Ed. Teacher Education Program and M.Ed. Leadership Program.

Her 25-year career in education includes teaching secondary mathematics and science in BC public schools and contributing to the provincial Math curriculum redesign. Christine is a learner first, and her teaching practice is guided by her inquiry and curiosity. She “learns by doing” with a willingness to try, take risks, and try again. She values learning experientially as a reflective practitioner.

Leaving the Classroom

Christine recalls a period about ten years ago when she actually left the classroom and teaching. It was a heartwrenching decision because she loved her teaching areas, her students, and the work she had done to build positive cultures in her learning community. But personal circumstances outside of the school forced her to reconsider her core values and commitments, and so her professional journey took a new direction.

After a nice period of time that allowed her to give her young daughter lots of special attention, she made a return to education in the forms of doctoral work and a school trusteeship. She credits the trusteeship with giving her another unique perspective in education which helped her complete her dissertation, providing insights that continue to contribute to her current roles. She has since been involved in numerous curricular design committees and has contributed to countless projects, including some related to Math and indigenous education in British Columbia.

Changing Assessment Paradigms

Changes in assessment practices and policies are incremental, Christine says pragmatically. Transitions do take time, particularly shifts toward portfolio-based admission strategies and feedback models of assessment at the post-secondary level. At their core, formative feedback paradigms attempt to put the focus squarely on learning.

In some cases, it’s helpful to think of useful assessment models being used outside of academia, such as the pass-fail structure we see in swimming report cards. Can this swimmer swim for 50 meters? The “score” doesn’t matter in that context – it really only matters whether the swimmer can make it to 50 meters or not. One refreshing result of removing weights and percentages from her own course reporting at the post-secondary level is that students no longer make strategic calculations about which learning activities to focus on, which activities to really invest effort in, or which activities are worth skipping.

Formative assessment makes learning more meaningful, says Christine. There’s no risk to the learner – only the opportunity for growth, learning, and improvement. It’s just a constant cycle of pushing forward, receiving feedback, and pushing forward some more. In pass-fail environments, students learn — not to receive status or earn commendation, but because they are wholeheartedly intent on the learning itself.

Professional Learning Networks

Many of the students and teacher candidates that enter Christine’s education courses at the post-secondary level are not quite as engaged with social media as popular perceptions dictate, she says. One of the challenges of showing these students the learning opportunities available to them via professional learning networks is the idea that we tend not to teach or practice things that we haven’t experienced ourselves.

With that in mind, Christine asks her students to proactively create their own digital footprint in the form of e-portfolios, starting with who a thoughtful look at who they are as a person, because who we are is how we teach. Her students then begin a process of documenting their learning and growth as teacher candidates, and they also project forward to who they will be when they leave the program as practitioners.

She also asks her students to create a Twitter account and to begin participating in that space, even if it means more lurking than contributing at the beginning. As students begin to realize the tangible wins of support and resources available in eduTwitter, they encourage others to get involved. It’s been fun to watch the #UNBCed and #BCedchat communities grow and gain momentum.

Weaving the Disciplines Together

Something that has really been igniting Christine’s interest and curiosity of late is the activity of weaving. She comes into this space very consciously a learner, and she sees all kinds of literal and metaphorical integrations with culture, indigenous learning, coding, numeracy, kinesthetic learning, and the environment. It’s an activity rich with application and extension, and it’s also good for the spirit. Speaking of numeracy, Christine says that “Everyone can do math – we just have different entry points.” For some learners, weaving might be one of those entry points. 

Professional Goals for 2020

Christine’s #OneWord2019 was WRITE, and although she looks forward to doing more published academic work, she looks back with satisfaction on all the writing that she was able to complete last year. This year, her OneWord is TENURE — not that she’s currently on a tenure track as a professor, but she seeks to move into the mindset of research, publishing, academic connections and collaboration.

Part of the challenge, Christine laughs, is to simply get over herself: as Brene Brown writes, to get past the senses of shame and inadequacy that we all wrestle with and simply get on with the work that is important to her. This will look like more academic contributions this year, and it may also include some personal work with sentimental significance, including a memoir about her mother.

Personal Learning: Weaving, Music, and Curling

When asked about personal passions and learning that ignites her passions when she leaves the UNBC campus, Christine can’t help but point back to weaving. She’s been enjoying weaving on Thursday nights at a community makerspace event, and she thinks part of the attraction is an interest in things she can’t do well. When she looks at weaving, she sees challenges with fine motor skills and coordination, but she knows that with time and persistence will come mastery.

Looking elsewhere, it’s also been a pleasure to discover the musical talents and passions of several of her peers in the UNBC faculty. Christine is also committed to rekindling a former passion: getting back to the curling rink. (For those from warmer climes, curling is essentially shuffleboard on ice.)

Professional Productivity

“I’m one of those people that works best under pressure,” Christine laughs. She’s not one for apps, routines, or hacks — she simply does the work that needs to get done by the time it needs to be done. Learning happens in community, so when we don’t complete contributions of learning by agreed-upon times, it affects the learning of others. Social responsibility compels us to honor deadlines more than penalties or money ever can.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Her Practice

Over on Twitter, Christine recommends following Nolle Pepin @Beaded_Tweets. Noelle is an indigenous educator whose work in weaving has been a big source of inspiration for Christine.

Dr. Christine’s pick for edtech tools is a classic: Google Docs. She asks her students to use Google Docs to annotate texts collaboratively, posting comments, asking questions, and responding to classmates on the same Doc.

Christine’s all-time favorite book in education is The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker J. Palmer. It reinforces her core values and mission and makes an easy recommendation to students.

When asked for a podcast pick, Christine admits she’s still relatively new to podcast consumption. Teachers on Fire is where it’s at! 

We close out this conversation with some really fun video picks. On YouTube, Christine is watching Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper). Dr. Lee’s content isn’t for everyone, but Christine finds her videos amusing and satisfying. And on Netflix, she’s watching two other funny shows: Schitts Creek and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Make sure you connect with Christine using the contact information posted below!

You can connect with Dr. Christine …

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  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*

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Episode 105 – Tiffany Ott

105 - Tiffany Ott.png

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

71 - Rose Pillay

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!

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

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Song Track Credits

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