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

Normal Sucks by Jonathan MooneyOne 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 …

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Episode 101 – Nancy Frey

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Meet Nancy Frey

NANCY FREY is a Professor of Educational Leadership and Literacy at San Diego State University at the graduate and doctoral levels. She’s also an instructor at Health Sciences High and Middle College, a secondary charter school which she co-founded 13 years ago with Doug Fisher and others. The school runs from grade 8-12 with about 700 students, and her teaching practice there helps to make sure that the ideas she advocates for in her research and writing actually work in practice.

Nancy has also authored or co-authored a number of books, including PLC+: Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design.

Rocked By a Hurricane

When asked about a low moment, Nancy thinks back to the time she spent teaching in south Florida. One year, Hurricane Andrew hit the area just days before school opened. The storm exacted a heavy toll on the communities across the region, causing her district to expand very quickly due to damaged and destroyed schools in nearby counties. More significantly, almost every additional student came into the district with significant emotional trauma.

It was a difficult year that even made Nancy challenge her place in the profession, partly because she felt so unprepared to offer the guidance, comfort, and support that her learners truly needed while also promoting their academic growth and development. Thankfully, with a mix of inner commitment and support from colleagues, Nancy remained an educator, and she now credits this year with giving her valuable experiences and perspectives regarding trauma-informed education.

What is Visible Learning?

Visible Learning is the terminology used to refer to the research engineered by John Hattie, who used a meta-analysis to review hundreds of academic studies in an effort to determine what truly works in education. From this research, he and his team have created an index of what he calls effect sizes: how do different interventions positively or negatively affect learning outcomes?

With close to 300M students represented in these studies, this research can say with authority what works and what doesn’t in education. Supported by the groundbreaking research and resources from Visible Learning, schools and districts no longer need to guess about where to apply their energies. 

Taking Your PLC to the Next Level: PLC+

PLC+ by Nancy Frey and Douglas FisherIn PLC+: Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design, Nancy and Doug Fisherlook at the power behind professional learning communities and apply the latest research to suggest ways to take PLCs to the next level. The ‘+’ in PLC+ is you – what it is that you bring to your learning community.

The book organizes the PLC+ process around five key questions:

  1. Where are we going? What is our destination?
  2. Where are we now? Take a situational assessment.
  3. How can we move learning forward?
  4. What did we learn today? How are we enriching ourselves as a PLC so that we can continue the work that we’re doing?
  5. Who benefited and who did not? This is the essential question of equity.

These questions are grounded in four universal values:

  • Equity,
  • Higher expectations,
  • Activation, and
  • Individual and collective efficacy – belief in our ability to effect change.

In Nancy’s view, PLCs and our perceptions of them have tended to become more restrictive over time. Twenty-first century manifestations of PLCs should actually integrate well with PLNs in the sense that every member of a PLC must remain engaged in a PLN in order to further support their own learning and allow them to better contribute to their PLC. Other strategies like micro-learning and learning walks must be parts of robust PLCs as well.

Building Literacy Through the Tools of Metacognition

When I asked Nancy for some quick advice for the literacy classroom, Nancy pointed back to John Hattie. Do you know your impact? Do you know when your students have learned something? These are the questions that must drive everything we do in literacy and throughout K-12 education.

In the literacy classroom we must also ask ourselves how we are bringing students into the learning. This goes beyond ensuring content relevance – it means that students must understand WHAT they are learning, WHY they are learning it, and HOW they will know that they have been successful in learning it. Learning intentions and success criteria must be made clear to learners in every lesson, and when it comes to English classes, progress tends to be incremental – they’re generally not leaving a 30-minute lesson with a brand new skill.

With that in mind, we must give students the tools of self-assessment: how can students look at their own work and gauge their own growth and progress? How can we equip our learners to critique the work of peers? For English teachers looking to empower their students in this area, Nancy points to a few titles including Developing Assessment-Capable Visible Learners, Grades K-12: Maximizing Skill, Will, and Thrill.

Other Areas That Are Setting Nancy on 🔥 in Education

Nancy is very intrigued by the ways that technology is being effectively embedded and woven into instruction today. She points to the ways that our views of technology in education have changed from past decades: from computer lab to essential tool. Technology tools can be a double-edged sword, however, because technology itself is no assurance of learning, and in fact, we still don’t fully understand how technology changes the ways in which students learn.

Today, high school students walk around with computers in their pockets – devices more powerful than the computers that first sent spaceships to the moon. On the one hand, these phones can be the bane of a teacher’s existence, but on the other hand, educators must better harness this technology in order to advance learning.

The questions around phones and phone policy in schools are not easy ones to answer, but we must continue to struggle and learn in this area. (Editor’s Note: Check out my exploration of this issue at On Schools and Cell Phones.)

Is Handwriting an Essential Literacy Skill?

Should pens and pencils remain part of the writing classroom? Nancy says that students should be exposed to a wide continuum of learning experiences. Evidence also suggests that the motor functions involved in writing seem to inform the abilities of young learners to break the code (decode letters and words). Young children should know how to engage in print and cursive, and older students should at least have the capacity to sign their name. Nancy shares her experience from a recent class of seniors – many of whom struggled to sign a document in cursive. Yes, young learners should learn how to keyboard, and voice-to-text will continue to change the nature of composition. 

Professional Goals for This Year

Nancy’s annual and evergreen goal is to ask: How can I be a better teacher this year? If that isn’t a question you’re asking, Nancy chuckles, it may be time to look for a new profession. Lately, Nancy has been writing about the intersection between teacher credibility and collective efficacy and the ways in which these two constructs can support and promote the other.

Nancy is also intrigued by the ways that students learn about their own learning through practice tests. Do students know what they’re learning and what they’re not learning?

Personal Passions Outside of Education

One activity that ignites Nancy’s passions and brings her alive as a human being when she leaves the halls of education is her work with kettlebells. She has participated in functional fitness workouts with kettlebells and the kettlebell community for the last six or seven years, and she is consistent. “Strong is the new skinny,” she says. She hits her gym about six days out of seven, and it’s formed a big part of her personal wellness.

A Productivity Habit: Meditation

The personal habit that has been making the biggest difference for Nancy in the productivity space is meditation. She meditates for 15 minutes after waking up each morning, and she finds that she is more productive as a result. It’s time to be quiet, to be mindful, to be self-aware, and to slow down. Nancy uses the Calm app and is competitive enough that her personal streaks are important to her, and she even appreciates the badges earned over time.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Nancy’s Practice

On Twitter, Nancy is a big fan of the #G2Great hashtag and regular Twitter chat.

As far as edtech tools go, Nancy loves what smartpens do for learners and learning in the classroom. There are so many uses for smartpens that fit within UDL and increase equity for all learners.

Tis by Frank McCourtNancy’s all-time favorite read is Tis: A Memoir by Frank McCourt. This classic describes the life of an English teacher in New York City from an earlier time.

In the world of podcasts, Nancy’s pick is Disgraceland, which unpacks the spectacular missteps and disasters that have followed countless pop music stars. It’s a guilty pleasure and Nancy can’t get enough of it.

On YouTube, Nancy is a big fan of the resources shared on the Teaching Channel. Get to know the Teaching Channel on Twitter @TeachingChannel

Yes, Nancy does occasionally find time for Netflix! One of her favorite series of late was Russian Doll

We sign off on this conversation, and Nancy gives us the best ways to follow her and connect online. See below for details!

You can connect with Nancy …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media!

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Episode 99 – Dan Kreiness

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Meet Dan Kreiness

DAN KREINESS is an ELA instructional coach for the Norwalk Public Schools district in Connecticut. Dan is also a doctoral candidate at the American College of Education, and the host of the Leader of Learning podcast.

When It’s Not a Perfect Fit

Last year, Dan began the year as a reading teacher. The appointment was not really what he was looking for, and he began seeking an administrative role that would better suit his skills, knowledge, and experience.

Shortly after that, he was hired for an administrative position at a school in New York, but the year didn’t unfold according to plan. The school context was great, the team he served with was competent and professional, but the role just wasn’t an ideal fit. By the end of the year, Dan made the difficult decision to leave the school, and fortunately, he was hired the very next day by his current district in Connecticut.

Although he says the ordeal still stings a little bit, he calls it a learning experience and a blessing in disguise. Although we’re never pleased when an arrangement doesn’t work out the way we hoped it would, he was able to leave his previous position with his head held high and the knowledge that he did the best work that he possibly could.

Hosting the Leader of Learning Podcast

Dan recently marked two years at the Leader of Learning podcast, where he interviews education leaders and dives deeply into the issues that matter in education today. When he thinks about his start, Dan looks back at his early PhD work and all of the reading and writing that he was doing at the time. As he increased his own professional learning and engaged with pedagogical theory, he found himself wanting to share ideas and content that might inspire other educators. With some experience in college radio behind him, Dan decided to give educational podcasting a try, and the rest is history.

First and foremost, Dan explains, he does the show for himself. He brings on the guests and discusses the topics that matter to him, which makes for valuable content built around authentic passion. Over the last two years, he’s developed the technical skills of the podcasting craft and also grown professionally from the rich conversations that have followed.

What’s Setting Dan on 🔥 in Education Today

Something that is setting Dan on fire in education today is the role of innovation in classrooms. Yes, he loves to see learners innovate, but lately he’s been even more energized by the innovation and the growth mindset he sees on the part of educators.

At this point in his career, he’s more concerned with the learning of adults, and although the welfare of our learners remains our number one priority, transformational change in educators is where it’s at for Dan. It’s the passion that has led him to pursue his doctorate with a focus on the link between the growth mindset and leadership practices in skills.

Professional Goals

Dan’s professional goal relates to inspiring the teachers he serves to transform their practice – not the kind of change that comes from coercion or “orders from above,” but from an intrinsic desire to move forward in their practice and help learners better. Transformational leadership theory can be boiled down to these four tenets:

  1. Idealized Influence,
  2. Inspirational motivation,
  3. intellectual stimulation, and
  4. individual consideration.

These four ‘I’s apply in the classroom as much as they apply to the higher levels of school and district leadership. Everyone leads, from the lunch monitors to the custodians to the teachers and everyone that contributes to the growth and learning of kids.

When it comes to instructional coaching, it can take teachers time to develop comfort and trust with another educator living in their space and engaging consistently with their practice. But the job of an instructional coach is not about evaluation – it’s about coaching, supporting, and looking for ways to help another educator grow professionally.

Productivity and Compartmentalization

To meet all of his commitments as husband, father, professional, student, and podcaster, Dan points to the importance of compartmentalization. People talk about a perfect work-life balance, but at times it really does require setting one compartment aside.

Having a supportive network of family and friends is an important part of that dynamic, and it also requires keeping a watchful eye on priorities. It’s okay to shift focus and priorities temporarily in order to achieve major goals or finish projects, as long as those priorities slide back into place as soon as possible.

Dan’s #OneWord for the past year was all-in, meaning that he wanted to be intentional about going all in on only one thing at a time. We all know the limits of trying to go “all in” on too many things at once!

Voices & Resources That Shape Dan’s Thinking & Inspire His Practice

Over on Twitter, Dan recommends following @Edu_Match and @SarahDaTeechur, who have done so much to build professional learning networks and amplify great messages of transformational change in education. To hear more about what Sarah is all about, check out her appearance on Teachers on Fire at episode 66.

For edtech tools, Dan never fails to be impressed by the ways that Nearpod amplifies student voice and engagement in the classroom. Get to know NearPod on Twitter @NearPod

Lead from the Heart.jpgThe first of Dan’s book picks is Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century by Mark Crowley, one of the best books on leadership he’s ever read. Another book that has been helpful in terms of his thinking around instructional coaching and strategic questioning is The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier.

One of Dan’s favorite educational podcasts (besides Leader of Learning and Teachers on Fire, of course) is Better Leaders Better Schools, hosted by Danny Bauer. Follow Michael on Twitter @AlienEarbud

If it wasn’t being canceled again, Dan would be watching Netflix’s Designated Survivor with Kiefer Sutherland. Truth be told, Dan is more of a New York Mets fan than Netflix viewer.

We sign off on this episode, and Dan gives us the best ways to connect with him. See below for details!

You can connect with Dan …

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 96 – Jeffery Frieden

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Meet Jeffery Frieden

JEFFERY FRIEDEN is a teacher, blogger, presenter, and podcaster. He enjoys connecting teachers and building professional relationships in order to intensify impact on learning. He is also the author of Make Them Process It: Uncovering New Value in the Writer’s Notebook, published in 2017.

Jeff teaches at Hillcrest High School in Riverside, CA, home of Aaron Blackwelder. The school community mirrors that of this area of California, with a mix of socioeconomic statuses and cultures represented.

From Called Out to Cultural Understanding

Jeffery recalls a time when he was a teaching assistant at a school with students coming from a wide range of cultural backgrounds and varying stages of emotional development. One day, he poked his head into another classroom to tell the students inside to quiet down and stop the racket, missing the fact that the students inside were celebrating the achievement of a class goal and behaving in culturally normative ways.

Later, the teacher of that classroom told him quite bluntly that his actions had made all kinds of cultural assumptions and that he needed to educate himself on other cultural backgrounds and expectations. Although this correction floored him at first, he eventually settled his thoughts and determined to do more reading about cultures outside of his realm of experience. It’s been a rewarding journey ever since.

Dear Teacher, Don’t Give Up

Dear Teacher, Don’t Give Up is a podcast born out of professional development that sets near-perfect bars without showing the struggles and failures that accompany the journeys of growth required to get there.

Leaders in professional development often appear so well-polished that a sense of anxiety can creep in regarding the deficits that such presentations expose in our own professional practice. It can be demoralizing and can create burnout as educators work feverishly to close the gap between their current practice and the ideals – the Grecian Urns that they’re presented with. Just like Instagram culture, education communities tend to shout the victories and good stuff but downplay the difficult moments.

To speak to this, Doris Santoro wrote Demoralized: Why Teachers Leave the Profession They Love and How They Can StayThis word (demoralized) summarizes the condition that educators experience when they start to lose their moral center, the moral purpose that once formed the core purpose (or WHY) of their work in the classroom.

We hear the term ‘burnout‘ a lot, but it’s not enough — it doesn’t capture many of the difficulties and tensions that drive some educators to leave the profession. We need to speak in the broader terms of demoralization, this idea of losing morale or the moral center of our work due to a wide variety of issues.

On his podcast, Dear Teacher Don’t Give Up, Jeffery is interested in taking guests to points in their career where they’ve seriously considered quitting the profession. What was that like, and what lessons did they learn that they can share with other educators experiencing tough times? These are the questions that Jeffery enjoys asking on his show.

We all love transformation stories, as shows like The Biggest Loser illustrate. Let’s try to bring more of that into education by telling the stories of educators who quit – or almost quit – and then come back to the profession with more hope and passion than ever. 

Am I Sharing Too Much With Colleagues?

In episode 7 of the Dear Teacher, Don’t Give Up podcast, Jeffery tackles the question of “How much is too much to share with colleagues?” For teachers who are filled with passion, brimming with optimism, and bursting with exciting new ideas, it’s important to come to terms with the fact that not all colleagues will share that enthusiasm.

One solution to this problem, as Jeffery recounts, is to find your tribe by building your professional learning network on social media platforms. As Jeffery started to build his own presence on Twitter, he connected with people like Starr Sackstein, Aaron Blackwelder, Arthur Chiaravalli, Marisa Thompson, Deanna Hess, Jennifer Gonzales, and others, and he started to realize his true moral center as an educator because he could connect with like-minded professionals beyond the walls of his own building.

As these external connections brought him closer to self-actualization, he actually became a better colleague and person because he was able to realize his true moral center. Today, when it comes to sharing with his own colleagues, Jeffery lives by the rule of answering questions that people are actually asking. People generally aren’t interested in answers to questions they aren’t asking.

What’s Setting Jeffery on 🔥 in Education Today

What sets Jeffery on fire in education today is the idea of removing points from his classroom. That’s right – his class is now pointless! Although he doesn’t use the terms ‘pointless’ or ‘gradeless’ with his students, he frames his assessment as ‘an alternative path to grades.’

His students receive final assessment from him based on purposeful effort, revision, reflection, feedback, and conferences. At conferences, grades are negotiated in the course of conversations. Although he occasionally needs to impose his own professional judgment, he gives the student’s perspective great weight and tries to express disagreement in the form of thoughtful questions.

Looking back, Jeff realizes now that the massive spreadsheet of assignments and points that he used to assess his students for so many years told too much of the narrative about the learning of his students. To some extent, it was dehumanizing his learners and taking away the power of their personal story. Now, as he puts more emphasis on conferences, feedback, and negotiation, he hears his students’ stories and understands their journeys more holistically.

A Professional Goal

In addition to continued blogging and podcasting, Jeffery plans to make progress on his next book, Make Them Interact – about how to help students have authentic, academically centered interactions in the classroom that also builds social skills and community. Jeffery is also starting to offer professional development opportunities and workshops, so please contact him if you’d like to bring his expertise to your school or district.

Personal Passions Away From Education

Outside of education, Jeffery’s chief passion centers on learning how to better parent four kids who are ten, eight, five, and eight months old. This summer, they’ve spent a lot of time playing together and visiting the pool, and everyone’s been safe. He’s also enjoyed the challenge of learning the ropes of sound engineering at his local church.

His Most Important Productivity Hack

“You can be selfish at five in the morning,” says Jon Acuff. Accordingly, Jeffery tries to go to bed early and then wakes up around four o’clock, accompanied by strong doses of coffee. This is really his window to do the creative work that he enjoys.

Voices & Influences That Shape His Thinking & Inspire His Practice

Over on Twitter, Jeffery recommends following @DMQualls, who organized a game-changing fundraising drive at his school. He also points to @DauseClause and @CathleenBeachbd, who are about to release a book about problem-based learning titled 10 Keys to Student Empowerment: Unlocking the Hero in Each Child.

In terms of educational technology, Jeffery still prefers two classic low-tech tools: whiteboards and post-it notes. These tools continue to support visible thinking and collaborative creativity in the classroom.

Demoralized by Doris SantoroJeffery’s educational book pick is Demoralized: Why Teachers Leave the Profession They Love and How They Can Stay by Doris A. Santoro. Follow the author on Twitter @DorisASantoro. He also recommends a good business book called From Poop to Gold: The Marketing Magic of Harmon Brothers by Chris Jones.

A fun podcast to subscribe to is Dropping the Gloves by John Scott, a former professional hockey player with a wealth of amusing stories to share about the game.

If you’re looking for an interesting YouTube channel to subscribe to, check out The Bible Project. The creators craft beautiful animations and share profound insights about the characters, context, and messages found in the Bible. Even if you’re not a Christian or religious, you’ll find their content interesting. Follow the producers on Twitter @TheBibleProject.

On Netflix, Jeff’s family has been watching some of Sophia the First, but he’s more interested in playing a classic video game from his childhood: The Legend of Zelda

We sign off on this great conversation, and Jeffery gives us the best ways to get in touch with him online. See below for details!

Connect with Jeffery:

Sponsoring This Episode: Classtime

This episode is brought to you by Classtime.com, an assessment platform that delivers learning insights, giving you more time to teach.

Classtime.com helps you gain immediate visibility of your students’ learning progress, build engaging lessons, share with other teachers, and create your own tech-enabled questions to complement your lesson plans. Classtime.com also helps you engage all students with collaborative challenges & puzzles that make fun an integral part of the learning experience.

See what Classtime can do for your learners, and start your free trial at Classtime.com today!

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 95 – Justin Belt

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Meet Justin Belt

JUSTIN BELT is a husband, father of five, and teacher of thousands! He’s an aspiring leader, innovator, musician, and part of our great writing team over at the Teachers on Fire Magazine on Medium. Last but not least, Justin is the host and producer of The WHYcast, a podcast about finding and clarifying your WHY.

This summer, Justin moved his family from Joplin, Missouri to Frisco, Texas after teaching in Joplin for thirteen years. He’s set to teach English courses at a high school in the town of Carrolton, TX and excited to connect with his new community.

When Relationships Don’t Come Easily

Justin calls his last school year the hardest of his career. He admits quite candidly that it was a challenge to connect with some of his students. As always, he had some students who had positive attitudes and were good at playing the game of school. But others seemed apathetic and unmotivated, and it proved very difficult to reach them.

After serious professional conversations and extended self-reflection, he learned to treat this class and these students in unique ways. He worked hard to put aside all expectations and assumptions and worked tirelessly to better understand and connect with these learners. He experienced some measure of success, and by year’s end, he was genuinely saddened to part ways with these students.

One of the keys to building relationships well, Justin has found, comes from postponing lesson plans when needed and simply talking with the students about whatever is pressing at the moment. When anxieties and other emotions reign supreme and unheard in the context of the classroom, trust isn’t built, relationships can’t form, and learning doesn’t happen.

The WHY Behind The WhyCast

Justin is tireless in his efforts to coax students into expressing their student voice with confidence, so he figured he needed to lead the way by sharing his message first.

“At my heart, I’m an encourager of people,” Justin says. “I like to find the best parts in people, speak to that, and encourage them to bring that out and share it with the world … My purpose is to encourage, to inspire, to motivate others. I want people to find their why, that burning thing within them that won’t let them rest, that pushes them to do great things in their communities.”

When we can access our inner WHY, then everything that we do in the school building takes on greater significance. This podcast has been great for him personally, says Justin, because as he listens to the inner purpose of others it helps to affirm and clarify his own why. 

Thinking About Podcasting? Just DO It.

Justin’s advice to other educators looking to begin podcasting? Just do it. “Don’t worry about the quality of the equipment that you have, don’t worry about having the most polished or put-together script — just do it,” Justin urges.

He talks about his humble beginnings on The WhyCast and his commitment to just podcast with whatever resources he has available. To anyone who is out there thinking about doing a podcast, you’ve got a story inside of you that the world needs to hear, he says. It’s embedded inside of you, so even if you’re recording from your phone, just do it and get it out there.

As you podcast more and more, your resources and expertise will inevitably grow. But they’ll never have a chance to improve if you don’t start.

What’s Setting Justin on 🔥 in Education Today

What sets Justin on fire in education today is the absolute dedication of teachers and administrators to building relationships — not just teacher-student relationships but administrator-teacher relationships as well. Aside from the SEL and PBL and Genius Hour and all the other exciting movements in education today, he is thrilled when he sees the lengths that education leaders are going to invest in their communities.

Learning standards are important but remain secondary, because kids won’t strive to learn when they don’t believe that we believe in them. Giving student choice and voice are important moves precisely because they signal to students that we value them.

A Professional Goal for 2019-2020

Besides building relationships, Justin wants to understand the curriculum sufficiently to tailor it to his students’ goals and interests. Taking prescribed standards and reconstructing them in ways that resonate for him and his learners is critical, and that will be his primary goal going into this school year.

Personal Passions Outside of the Classroom

Personal passions that bring Justin alive outside of education include connecting with his family, music, writing, and cooking. He was classically trained in music and earned a degree in vocal performance. He’s even performed as an opera singer overseas, and music remains a huge part of who he is.

Writing is another joy, and although this summer has knocked him temporarily out of his groove, he looks forward to getting back to it. He’s also a huge foodie, and relies on cooking as a method of decompression at the end of the school day.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Thinking & Practice

Over on Twitter, Justin is gaining inspiration from @TheWrightLeader and @EricThomasBTC. Both are worth a follow, and Vernon Wright has agreed to appear on Teachers on Fire in a future episode.

When asked to recommend an edtech tool, Justin doesn’t hesitate to give the nod to FlipGrid. There are just SO many learning standards that this platform helps learners hit, from comprehension to analysis to oral communication. Flipgrid may be the very best tool for empowering student voice and choice, and it’s the tool most recommended by guests of this show. Follow Flipgrid on Twitter @FlipGrid

Hacking School DisciplineA book that has left a deep impression on Justin’s thinking this year is Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy and Responsibility Using Restorative Justice, by Nathan Maynard and Brad Weinstein. Follow these authors on Twitter @NMaynardEDU and @WeinsteinEDU.

After Teachers on Fire and The WhyCast, Justin has his podcast app tuned into DisruptEd TV Presents Dismissed with Jeremy Williams by @JWilliamsEDU. He’s also listening to Faculty Room by @Maire_from_NJ

On YouTube, Justin recommends subscribing to the prolific education thinker and animator, John Spencer. Check his channel at John Spencer and follow him on Twitter @SpencerIdeas

The Netflix series that has offered the right mix of entertainment and nostalgia for Justin this summer has been Stranger Things 3.

We wrap up this great conversation, and Justin gives us the best ways to connect with him online. See below for details.

Connect with Justin:

Sponsoring This Episode: Classtime

This episode is brought to you by Classtime.com, an assessment platform that delivers learning insights, giving you more time to teach.

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Song Track Credits

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