Episode 97 – Nina Pak Lui

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Meet Nina Pak Lui

NINA PAK LUI has taught at the middle and high school levels and today she instructs pre-service teachers at the School of Education at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC, Canada.

Nina views teaching as a sacred calling, and she’s dedicated to inspiring and equipping future teachers to be caring, competent, inclusive and reflective. She is passionate about designing and facilitating meaningful learning experiences that intentionally connect theory to practice.

Tensions Between Vision and Reality

A few years ago, Nina was teaching in a high school context when her mental health began to struggle. She experienced a taxing tension between her vision for program ideals and certain systemic constraints that would not allow that vision to come to fruition. It became increasingly difficult to align her values and beliefs with practice, and the emotional distress eventually became too pressing to ignore.

Nina took an extended leave from her position, and the time away was healing and clarifying. With a lot of time for reflection, she stopped blaming external factors and began examining her own internal landscape. She learned to be kinder to herself, show more patience with others, accept the slow rates of institutional change, and recognize that perfectionism is a thief of joy. With lots of love from her support network, she has rested, recalibrated, healed, and now enjoys new optimism and outlook in her current context. 

Focusing on Formative Assessment for Learning

Nina regularly talks with her undergrad students about their own assessment journeys. They share about unyielding deadlines, grades being used to punish, no chances to refine or revise, and feedback that only comes at the end of a learning cycle. Although assessment experiences can be positive, the negative experiences seem to come through more often.

Katie White, author of Softening the Edges: Assessment Practices That Honor K-12 Teachers and Learners, writes that “continual intention and active capturing of learning in the moment and making inferences about a learner’s understanding in relation to a goal happens over time.” Dylan Wiliam adds that “for assessment to be primarily embedded in the learning cycle it must remain formative,” and “all activities undertaken by teachers and/or by students provide information to be used as feedback to modify teaching or learning activities in which they are engaged.”

These quotes speak to the ideas that …

  1. learning happens over time,
  2. we must practice intentional goal-setting,
  3. we must allow more times for reflection, and
  4. we must support more opportunities for revision and additional tries.

For Nina, formative assessment is often about determining readiness: is the learner actually ready to take the next step? Too often, we push learners down a track that ignores their individual needs and progress, which only creates further dissonance and deficits in their learning journeys. By being more flexible and creating personalized learning experiences, we create more on-ramps for learners and ensure that every student remains on a track to growth.

Summative assessments have a place in classrooms, Nina says, as long as they are actually used as a tool for learning, celebrate growth, and close the door for further learning as seldom as possible. Summative assessments should look like rich performance tasks that demonstrate the complete learning standards that the learner is aiming for. When using summative assessments, it’s critical to carefully consider the best type of summative assessment to be used and ensure that the learning standards can be fully demonstrated.

Why Should We Assess Students At All?

So why assess? Katie White says that assessment is something that we are always doing, and it’s an essential process to support the human. Achievement in school is not about doing work to accumulate points and letter grades. Instead, school should be a place of learning and becoming. “I want my students to know that they can make mistakes, that they can try again to correct their mistakes and improve,” Nina says.

Questions to Ask Ourselves Around Assessment

  • Are we here to ensure that students are taught or that students learn?
  • Are we here to measure only past learning or support future learning?
  • Is our work about building walls and documenting who climbs over them, or making sure our learners have the tools and supports to push through the barriers that are in front of them?

When we identify and address barriers to learning through greater access, equity, and inclusion, our learners will be more successful.

How to Best Serve Pre-Service Teachers 

When it comes to pre-service teachers today, Nina points out that their needs haven’t changed too much over the last twenty years. They still need the safety and support to try new ideas, encouragement to take risks, and the freedom to think outside the box. They also need quality mentors and supportive partnerships in the field, because sometimes what they see and experience in classrooms does not align with the principles they are learning in their classrooms.

On that note, education programs must work hard to intentionally connect course work to field work, theory to practice. Pre-service teachers and inexperienced teachers are having to adjust to a rapidly changing landscape and movements, so we must give them the confidence to remain lifelong learners – professional learners – that aim not to have it all figured out at once but instead adopt a posture of continuous learning and growth throughout our careers.

Addressing Gaps in Equity and Inclusion in Our Schools

When it comes to equity, Nina says, she starts by looking at access. Does every student have equal opportunity and access to the learning experiences? It’s an obvious step, but school faculties and leaders must do a better job of representing the voices and cultures in their school populations, says Nina.

What’s Setting Nina on 🔥 in Education Today

Nina has become obsessed with collaborative inquiry and the Spiral of Inquiry, created by Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert. The spiral gives voice, choice, and agency to educators and the means to go on learning journeys as whole communities.

Nina gets ignited by other education soulmates, including academics like Jenn Skelding, Christine Younghusband, and Gillian Judson, co-author of Imagination and the Engaged Learner: Cognitive Tools for the Classroom. These three and others constantly recharge her passion for education and the changing paradigms in assessment.

One thing Nina has definitely missed since leaving the classroom are the voices of parents, and she wants to find ways to include their voices in more education conversations.

Nina’s Professional Goals

On the horizon, Nina is also passionate about taking on another new step of learning by way of academic research. In particular, she wants to learn more about teacher education program development and assessment for learning, including its integration at the secondary and post-secondary levels.

The two words that summarize Nina’s goals for this year are bravery and courage. Nina has felt challenged in this last year to really lean into transparency about her professional learning journey. On top of starting new research, she’s also committing to sharing her learning on her blog and modeling vulnerability for her students. She’s been asking her students to blog about their learning, and after reading hundreds of their entries, she recognized that it was time for her to walk the walk and start sharing her own journey as well. Creating and designing her blog and formulating her first posts has already given her more empathy for her students and understanding of the learning challenges they face.

Personal Passions That Keep Her Inner Fire Burning 

Nina’s chief passion and source of rejuvenation away from the university is her family. She’s a wife and mom to two kids, and spending time with them is her greatest joy. Calling her kids her greatest teachers, she says they help her come alive and continually remind her of what it means to be human.

She’s also enjoying the insights shared by authors like Ken Shigematsu, Henri Nouwen, and Jean Vanier regarding the nature of life and humanity, and she embraced opportunities this summer to unplug from the digital and become fully immersed in nature.

A Productivity Hack

Nina uses the Wunderlist app to track to-do items for her courses or profound questions asked by her kids. It helps keep her stay organized and on track.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Nina’s Thinking

Over on Twitter, Nina recommends following @KatieWhite426, author of Softening the Edges. Katie is active on Twitter and hosts the #AtAssessment chat which takes place every other Tuesday night.

An edtech tool that facilitates voice, engagement, and learning in her university classes is Socrative. Follow Socrative on Twitter @Socrative

The Way of the TeacherNina’s book recommendation is The Way of the Teacher: A Path for Personal Growth and Professional Fulfillment by Dr. Sandra Finney and Jane Thurgood Sagal. This book works on several levels, Nina says. It offers practical suggestions for our professional work but also offers guidance about how to work in human and sustainable ways that rekindle our love and joy for teaching.

One podcast that Nina enjoys is called On Being with Krista Tippett. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? Who will we be to each other? These are the questions that guide their conversations.

Two shows that Nina has been watching on Netflix are The Crown and Queer Eye. More than just a fashion show, Nina appreciates how the hosts of Queer Eye go beyond fashion to meet people wherever they are in their lives.

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

Connect with Nina:

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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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 91 – Latezeon Balentine

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Meet Latezeon Balentine

LATEZEON BALENTINE is a mom of three boys, a teacher, and founder of September Chances, Inc. – a nonprofit organization created to develop joy in reading, grow literacy, and increase reading fluency. Latezeon is also a Donors Choose Teacher Ambassador, dog lover, an advocate for mental health awareness, and blogger. And she’s got a book on the way, so stay tuned!

Latezeon is an English teacher at Jefferson County High School in Fayette, MS. The school is situated in a small, rural area and the student population sits around 380. It’s a region that has its share of economic challenges, and poverty is a continual issue for many families. Latezeon has some teaching experience in fourth and fifth grade, but most of her teaching has taken place in secondary, which is where she feels at home.

Baptism by Fire

Latezeon recalls the start of her career, when she was hired to fill a long-term substitute position in a primary classroom. She had all the duties of a full-time first year teacher, but the compensation and benefits of a substitute teacher. If that wasn’t challenging enough, her class size continued to grow as the year wore on.

Fortunately, Latezeon pushed through a difficult year one and was offered a full-time contract in Vicksburg, MS the following year. It was still an extremely tough challenge for Latezeon as she balanced full-time teaching, parenting, a part-time job, and the completion of her Master’s degree during this time.

She continued to persevere, however, and things have gradually improved. The work of education is about the outcome, not the income, Latezeon laughs.

Empathy and the Work of Supporting Others

Empathy is evident in so much of Latezeon’s work, whether it’s her care for her boys, her advocacy for the mentally ill, her passion for literacy, her support of other educators through Donors Choose, or even her love of animals. It seems limitless!

When asked where this bottomless empathy comes from, Latezeon points first to her own experiences. She’s lived the pain and hardships of mental illness in the family, and it motivates her to support others struggling in the same ways.

Speaking to her work with Donors Choose (a crowdfunding site for education-related funding campaigns), Latezeon is proud to have raised over $13,000 and supported 20 fully-funded projects for other educators. These include the creation of a food pantry and a hygiene closet at her own school.

“I’m all about helping people reach their goals, because that’s where my heart is,” Latezeon says. “I’ve been a nurse, a counselor, a liaison, an advocate – anything I can be for my kids, I’ve been it!” She’s also currently working on a project to raise money for animal shelters in her area.

Her Vision for September Chances

Latezeon started September Chances in 2014 with the purpose of helping struggling learners outside of the classroom. Over the time since, her focus has shifted from tutoring to book giveaways through Scholastic. She’s a big fan of the $1 books that Scholastic lists each week, and she’s made a lot of progress stocking her classroom bookshelves this way.

She’s also making it the aim of September Chances to provide two $250 scholarships to graduating seniors, and she’s working hard on an initiative to put a free book in the hands of every child in her school district. A love of literacy starts with getting books to kids that resonate with their interests and passions. As September Chances continues to grow and build momentum, Latezeon hopes to support districts across her state and even across the nation. 

What’s Setting Latezeon on 🔥 in Education Today

One passion in education for Latezeon is in the whole area of technology resources for her learners. She sees the applications and devices that are made available to students in other schools and districts, and she wants to bring the same to Jefferson County.

She’s also committed to developing stronger financial literacy programming in high school. She wants her students to have all the information, preparation, and life lessons they’ll need to survive and thrive financially as they move into adulthood.

A Professional Growth Goal: Sketchnotes

In terms of professional growth, Latezeon wants to learn more about sketchnotes. She wants to help her students acquire the vocabulary, techniques, and resources they’ll need to fully leverage this powerful learning strategy.

(*Tim’s Note: For more information on sketchnoting, make sure to check out the books, resources, and videos from Sylvia Duckworth – the sketchnote master!)

An Inlet to Her Outlet

Blogging has become a wonderful outlet for Latezeon. Her posts aren’t as long as others, partly because she recognizes that as a reader, brevity is often best. She calls her blog posts “a little inlet to her outlet.”

A Daily Habit: Building Her PLN

Latezeon started taking Twitter seriously in November of 2018. She plans to do a love tour through her network to introduce herself in a unique way to every single follower, and continues to learn from the amazing connections she’s made there in just a few months.

Voices and Resources That Inspire 

Over on Twitter, Latezeon recommends following @NicholasFerroni, leader of the #NoSummersOff campaign that intends to show how educators actually use their summer holidays.

Latezeon’s picks in edtech tools are Topeka, an AI-powered writing analysis service, and FlipGrid, a popular video platform that seeks to amplify student voice.

With a big passion for books and literacy, you know Latezeon’s book selections are on point. She calls out The Pepper Effect: Tap into the Magic of Creativity, Collaboration, and Innovation by Sean Gaillard and One Drop of Kindness by Jeff Kubiak. Follow these authors on Twitter @SMGaillard and @JeffreyKubiak

In the wonderful world of podcasts, Latezeon is listening to The Ed Podcast and Faculty Room. Follow these hosts on Twitter @TheEdPodcast and @Maire_from_NJ

Over on YouTube, Latezeon’s favorite teacher channel is A Classroom Diva. Follow the channel creator, Jessica Nichols, on Instagram @AClassroomDiva

Latezeon and her husband enjoyed binge-watching a number of the latest episodes from Stranger Things 3 on Netflix recently. Predictably, this show is very strange … but it’s been fun to watch how this little group of friends interacts with each other.

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

Connect with Latezeon:

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 89 – Lynmara Colon

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Meet Lynmara Colon

LYNMARA COLON is a dynamic leader committed to student learning and growth. She is passionate about technology, access, and equity for all students, and was named in the NSBA 20 to Watch for Innovative Practices. As a former teacher, assistant principal, and principal, Lynmara is focused on building healthy cultures by leading with a Disney mentality where all stakeholders are welcomed.

Lynn holds two master’s degrees: one in curriculum and instruction, the other in educational leadership. She is also the co-author of the recently published Empower Our Girls: Opening the Door for Girls to Achieve More.

Lynmara’s practice is located in Manassas, VA where she serves the Prince William County Schools. The district is situated 30 miles outside of Washington, DC, with 90,000 students, 29,000 English language learners, and 140 languages spoken across 98 schools. Lynmara is the Director of EL Programs and Services, including Central Registration, Translation, Instructional Services, Professional Learning, and Instructional Point of Contact for Schools.

Learning the Importance of Relationships

When asked to think of a time of adversity in her professional journey, Lynmara thinks back to her first year as principal. At the time, she was eager to jump into the work and felt ready to institute new initiatives immediately. But she quickly learned that slow is better, listening is critical, and building relationships and trust across the community is paramount.

As she looks back, she’s grateful for one teacher who graciously helped her to slow down and listen more. She values this kind of professional feedback and points to the importance of these “cocoon friends” who can offer healthy perspectives and hold her accountable.

Introducing the Book: Empower Our Girls

Lynmara is so excited about the feedback that she and Adam Welcome have received after publishing Empower Our Girls: Opening the Door for Girls to Achieve More. In her own story, she was as raw and vulnerable as she could be so that young girls everywhere will be better, stronger, and more empowered as a result.

This book brings together many different authors and contributors who have experienced similar challenges and experiences and are active in the work of advocacy for girls in education today. It includes superintendents, medical professionals, athletes, and other leaders who share their journey in an attempt to clear roadblocks, improve equity, and inspire others.

When I asked Lynn to suggest practical ways for me to empower the girls in my practice, she spoke to the importance of asking the right questions and intentionally making sure every voice is heard. Girls need to gain the experience of speaking and advocating in order to build confidence and step forward into new spaces.

Serving English Learners

In her new role as Director of English Learner Programs and Services, Lynmara serves with purpose. She was born, raised, and educated in Puerto Rico, so all of her early learning was in Spanish, and she understands the challenges in this area of education because she can personally relate – she’s lived it.

She’s grateful that her current district shares her vision of giving every English Learner what she calls a “Disney experience,” the sense that every person is valued and deserves magical moments of learning. To get serious about meeting the needs of these students, schools must invest in targeted professional development that helps educators better understand the unique needs of these learners, the challenges they face, and the exciting potential that lies within each child.

It’s always about building the kind of school cultures that offer quality education opportunities for every single student, regardless of background and journey. Lynmara can tell these learners that although the path may be difficult, it IS possible. She’s done it, and she’s living her American Dream. 

New Opportunities for English Learners

Lynmara is excited by the US Department of Education’s tech toolkit for English learners, which is providing more on-ramps and learning opportunities for students whose first language is not English. The department has stated that all students should have access to technology and innovative practices, including students in these important conversations and improving equity in schools across the country. With improved resources and access, kids are winning.

Her Professional Goal: Finishing the Doctorate

Lynmara’s number one professional goal at the moment is her doctorate in education. This has been a dream for some time, although her doubts in her own English language proficiency held her back from taking this step for too long.

Now that she’s plugged into the program and sharing spaces with other education leaders from other districts, she thoroughly enjoys the rich professional relationships and conversations that have followed. Titles aren’t important in this context, and she and her colleagues are free to grapple with important challenges and issues as peers. It’s been a wonderful and inspiring journey, and she’s grateful for the additions she’s been able to make to her professional network.

Productivity Habits and Routines

In conjunction with her latest role and responsibilities, Lynn has adopted habits from Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning. She wakes up at 4:45 a.m., runs two miles, completes a devotional, does some journaling, and reads for twenty minutes. This routine helps her to center, plan for the day, and focus on positivity.

These habits have helped her to manage the larger challenges of her professional practice and also helped her achieve some impressive physical goals as well. Lynmara has even taken a further step with the Miracle Morning, following cues from the Miracle Morning for Writers. This has been a key resource as she strives to write her dissertation and complete her PhD. 

Lynmara also talks about the power of breakfast and sleep. They’re just essential, Lynn says, to stay on top of your game and make things happen in your practice. She never skips breakfast, and she tries hard to get at least six hours of sleep per night, finishing her day with reading and without access to her phone. She learned the importance of self-care the hard way, recalling a time earlier in her life when her body actually shut down after being pushed too hard.

Voices That Shape Her Practice and Inspire Her Thinking

On Twitter, Lynn recommends following her superintendent, @SuperPWCS. Steve Walts is a nonstop source of inspiration and consistently shouts out great learning happening across the entire district.

When asked about her favorite tech tools, Lynn points to Canva, a simple and powerful graphic design program. She also really likes the features for English learners provided by Lexia Core 5 Reading

Lynmara is learning so much from Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, where author Kim Scott offers a ton of insights into the best ways to have those difficult conversations. Get to know the author on Twitter @KimBallScott

At the top of Lynn’s Apple Podcasts line-up is the RISE Podcast, featuring Rachel Hollis. “She’s my best friend, and she doesn’t even know it,” Lynn laughs. Follow Rachel on Twitter @MrsRachelHollis.

On YouTube, a go-to source of quality content and inspiration is the GoalCast channel. Lynn enjoys their content personally and shares it with her staff teams as well. Follow GoalCast on Twitter @Goal_Cast.

On Netflix, it’s been Grey’s Anatomy lately – a fun point of connection between Lynn and her children. Her twins remind Mom to “Stop asking questions and just watch the show!”

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

Connect with Lynmara:

Song Track Credits

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