Episode 68 – Dr. Brad Gustafson

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Guest Profile

DR. BRAD GUSTAFSON is a National Distinguished Principal, best-selling author, and speaker. He is also a Digital Innovation in Learning Award winner and a member of the National School Boards Association “20 to Watch.” Brad recently released a new book that is making a stir: Reclaiming Our Calling: Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education. Find out more about his work at www.BradGustafson.com and follow Brad on Twitter @GustafsonBrad.

The Importance of Investing in Student Relationships

Brad recalls the experience of suspending a student who struggled to regulate her behavior and manage her emotions effectively. During a conversation with the parent, the parent said “I just wish you had gotten to know her.”

Brad let that comment absorb deeply, and from that point forward he worked hard to build a relationship with this student. Through the course of the year, they partnered on computer design projects, LEGO drone activities, etc. and the relationship improved. By the end of the year, he was able to leverage the relationship effectively to help this student manage her emotions effectively and de-escalate formerly impossible situations quickly.

The Heart of Education

In Reclaiming Our Calling: Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education, Brad seeks to address the tension between the pressure on schools to meet certain metrics of academic performance and the mission of educators to meet the needs of the whole child. How do we restore balance in education and reaffirm the things that matter most? Brad debunks the notion that high-value learning and a nurturing environment must be mutually exclusive. We can do both well — and stay sane in that process.

The Place of EdTech

When it comes to strategic uses of edtech and developing digital literacy, the guiding theme should be the idea of connectedness. Instead of always being focused on the latest and greatest apps or technology, we should be asking questions like “How will this bring us together?” and “How will this connect our learners to content, to opportunities, and to one another?” Technology tools should connect with the creator and the maker inside every student, because that will be a mindset that transcends their time in schools.

Engaging Students in Learning

Whoever is doing the talking is doing a lot of the learning. When students are actively engaged in reflecting and conversation, that’s when learning really happens.

If we want to reach the YouTube generation, does it not make sense to have kids be active creators and consumers alongside us? We want to scaffold and model and walk with them in a safe environment, with the best of the best: committed and mindful educators.

Having Grace for the Learning Journeys of All Educators

Conversations about leading change, valuing good work, and moving to next steps will never grow old. Sometimes we can get so hyper-focused on innovation and pedagogy that we fail to recognize and value the baby steps of growth experienced by some educators.

Every educator is on a journey, and we need to be careful not to demonize practices deemed “behind the curve” when in fact they may represent progress for someone else. It’s when teachers feel safe to try new things and grow that the most growth happens.

Amplifying Student Voice

In terms of student ownership and learner empowerment, another key to building a positive learning culture is finding ways to amplify student voice from the time they enter school. Learning can’t be done to students, it’s done by students. A student wrote the foreword to Reclaiming our Calling, and Brad’s also had the pleasure of seeing a former student speak at the state principals’ conference.

When we amplify student voice, we also allow teachers to learn from learners. Great things are possible when we invest in student strengths, empower, and give kids ownership of their learning journeys.

Professional Goals, Passions, and Productivity Hacks

This school year, Brad is focused on more meaningful conversations around change and growth. He wants to support and learn from others in his community and across his PLN. Platforms like Voxer and Twitter are fulfilling and making a difference because they inspire and inform across local and global learning communities.

Brad loves competing, and lately he’s been having a blast playing against his kids on games like Crossfire and Risk. He also enjoys playing pickle ball at school and of course reading. Even more fun than talking about books he’s read have been the facilitation of activities that inspire other educators and learners to talk about their reading.

Taking inspiration from his friend Jessica Cabeen’s Balance Like a Pirate, Brad spends some minutes each morning drinking coffee and centering his thoughts with reflection and time in the Bible. He’s found that grabbing his phone too quickly can send him down the rabbit hole of email and social media, and very quickly the day starts to happen to him — instead of moving through the day with intentionality and purpose.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Brad’s Professional Practice

On Twitter, Brad recommends following @PrincipalBoots. Lindsy is a wealth of stories about family, education, and laughs. Check her out for nonstop inspiration.

Instead of pointing to a favorite edtech tool, Brad makes the point that when you know your pedagogical goals, approach, and can articulate them, you’ll know right away if a tool will or will not fit. Brad’s pillars of pedagogy include collaboration, student ownership, digital connectivity, and experiential learning – all grounded in relationships. Those criteria form his judgments when it comes to choosing tech tools.

Over in books, Brad suggests checking out a book first recommended to him by George Couros – one written in such a unique and powerful style that in some ways it shaped the direction for Reclaiming Our Calling. The book is Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Follow the author on Twitter @PatrickLencioni.

Like the guest before him, Dr. Brad selects the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast by Danny Bauer as his top pick in education. Add it to your daily commute today and follow @AlienEarbud on Twitter to learn more about the show.

Still a self-professed kid at heart, Brad enjoys the LEGO channel on YouTube. Follow LEGO on Twitter @LEGO_Group.

There’s some strategy involved with the Gustafsons’ Netflix viewing. Just when their Minnesota winter gets its coldest, Brad and the family watch Hawaii 5-0. It helps them dream of warmer climes and fun in the sun even while things are freezing.

We sign off on this conversation, and Brad reminds us of the best places to follow him. Make sure you grab your copy of Reclaiming Our Calling today!

Follow Dr. Brad

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

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Follow the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media.

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 64 – Jennifer Casa-Todd

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Guest Profile

JENNIFER CASA-TODD is a mom, wife, teacher-librarian, speaker, coordinator for Google Educator Groups of Ontario, ISTE Librarians leader, and an @ONedSschat advisor. Jennifer is also the author of Social LEADia: Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @JCasaTodd.

Overcoming Adversity

Jennifer was in her first year as a teacher-librarian (after serving as a literacy consultant), excited to be back in a school and eagerly building relationships with staff and students. After suffering a concussion, she was forced to battle depression and other concussion symptoms for the next ten months. Jennifer shares more about the challenges of this experience in Mandy Froehlich’s book, The Fire Within.

Jennifer credits (1) staying connected with other supportive educators on Voxer, (2) learning from a TED Talk about brain healing from Jane McGonigal, and (3) an app called Super Better as important factors in her recovery. Her battle with concussion symptoms has also given her more empathy for people suffering silent battles that don’t meet the eye.

The Mission of Social LEADia

Social LEADia actually began as a passion project. Jennifer didn’t expect to write a book, but after encouragement from George Couros she ended up speaking to a publisher about her vision, and the rest is history.

Part of her passion comes from the “ban and block” stance of many schools, which focuses more on preventing online activities instead of talking about how students and staff are using media positively. 

In the words of George Couros, digital leadership is all about improving the lives, wellbeing, and circumstances of others. It’s time for schools to take another look at social media tools and start talking about how they can make learning come alive. As William Dwyer puts it, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

In addition to the power of social media tools to make a positive impact in the world, Social Leadia also looks at media literacy. Are we equipping our learners to be discerning consumers of online content? When it comes to personal branding, she pushes students to build “a brand of you” without losing authenticity or a sense of who they really are.

Jennifer is thrilled by the incredible possibilities in education today. Technology is enabling exciting global partnerships on meaningful, real-world projects like the Sustainable Development Goals and global book clubs.

Goals, Passions, and Productivity

In terms of a professional goal, Jennifer is taking the second semester off this year to focus on her Master’s thesis. She looks forward to once again becoming a full-time student and doing more of her own research on the relationships between social media and students today.

Outside of the school, Jennifer is a very social person. She’s plugged into a curling league, she connects regularly with friends to play cards, and she’s in three book clubs. Even when she doesn’t finish the books in her clubs, she values the relationships and connections fostered there.

Although she’s not the most organized person, Jennifer credits a strong work ethic and intense passion as the simple secret behind her professional work and success. Becoming a high-profile speaker and author isn’t about luck — it’s about sacrifice and commitment over time.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Her Professional Practice

On Twitter, Jennifer points not to one account but to one of the lists on her Twitter profile: Kids Who Inspire.

Her edtech recommendation is FlipGrid. Follow FlipGrid on Twitter @FlipGrid.

Jennifer’s book recommendation is Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less  by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Follow the author on Twitter @AskPang.

Her podcast recommendation is VoicEd Radio, headed by Stephen Hurley. Follow Stephen on Twitter @Stephen_Hurley. Jennifer also hosts The Social Leadia podcast! Visit her podcast home and listen to her latest episodes at VoiceEd Radio.

Jen’s YouTube picks are Video Writing Prompts (with the very creative John Spencer) and Editing is Everything. Follow these channels and their hosts on Twitter @SpencerIdeas and @The_Real_Editor.

On Netflix, Jennifer and her family are watching How I Met Your Motherwhich keeps them laughing partly due to the nostalgic Canadian references.

We sign off on our conversation, and Jennifer gives us the best ways to follow her online!

Follow Jennifer …

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

iTunes | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Follow the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media.

Song Track Credits

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