Create to Contribute

Growth mindset and the Power of YET have put me on a new course.

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Speaking at EdVent, a gathering of educational stories and ideas presented ignite-style.

In 2017, I began a Master’s program at Vancouver Island University. As I entered the program, I read a book that would change my life.

In Mindset, Carol Dweck writes: “When do people with the fixed mindset thrive? When things are safely within their grasp. If things get too challenging — when they’re not feeling smart or talented — they lose interest.”

I realized that there were steps I was not taking and moves I was not making — because they weren’t safe. They were risky.

But growth doesn’t happen in the comfort zone. After all, my fixed mindset was the reason it took me 16 years to begin working on my Master’s degree!

The Power of YET

As I read about the Growth Mindset I also learned about The Power of YET. You know about the power of YET, don’t you? In our classrooms and for our learners, it sounds like this:

  • I don’t understand this Math concept … yet.
  • I’m not a talented artist … yet.
  • I’m not a tech person … yet.

The Growth Mindset says that anyone can learn anything if they will simply apply effort over time. As educators, it reminds us that we never know the full potential of our learners.

I’m Not a Podcaster … YET

As I continued to read great books and engage in rich education conversations, the Power of YET started to whisper in my ear in another way.

I’m not a podcaster … YET.

You see, as I made the 30-minute commute between Surrey and Burnaby each day, I wasn’t listening to sports talk or pop radio. I listened to podcasts — because I had an insatiable appetite for learning.

I started to dream. Could I start a podcast that profiled great educators? Could I share their amazing ideas and practices with teachers around the world?

Carol Dweck says that we can look back at what could have been, or we can look back and say I gave my all for the things I valued. And so I jumped on the track of content creation with both feet, knowing that as terrible as I was at the beginning, I would continue to grow and improve my craft over time.

Two and a half years, 166 episodes, and over 130,000 downloads later, I can safely say that the Teachers on Fire podcast is impacting the education conversation.

Creation in the Classroom

But how can this passion for creation shape our classrooms and practice?

For one thing, creative activities in the classroom challenge us to move AWAY from cultures of passive compliance.

David Guerin says the ones who are doing the talking are doing the learning. And according to Jennifer Gonzales, our learners need to be DOING something.

In the classroom context, this looks like …

  1. Agency + Ownership
  2. Authentic Audiences
  3. Design Thinking & the Design Process
  4. Genius Hour + IBL + PBL
  5. Voice + Choice
  6. A culture of 5 Cs

So how does creation show up in my 8th grade classroom?

  • Through creative representations of learning on Seesaw.
  • Through collaborative design projects on CanvaGoogle Drawings and Slides.
  • Through authentic product development, marketing, and sales.
  • Through movie making on WeVideo and screencasts on Screencastify.
  • And of course, through podcasting, including the Gr8 Expectations podcast. One student is even starting his own podcast!

Educators Have a Mandate to Create

My #OneWord for 2019 was CREATE. Create new content, new learning, new relationships.

But why should other educators take part in content creation? Because content creation …

  1. Allows us to reflect more deeply on our own professional practice,
  2. Allows us to share our learning with others
  3. Allows you to build relationships with other great educators — like Rose and Gabriel Pillay (the organizers of EdVent).

The Teachers on Fire podcast is my weekly Pro D session. It’s my scheduled appointment with great educators around the world. I learn something in every conversation, and every single guest shapes my thinking and inspires my practice further.

So let me ask you: How will you contribute to the education conversation?

Don’t let your fears stand in your way. Remember, growth doesn’t happen in the comfort zone.

We were created to create. So embrace the growth mindset, share your learning, and change the world.

That’s what’s keeping me ON FIRE in my practice.

Episode 130 – Wendy Turner

This podcast episode was published on February 24, 2020.

Meet Wendy Turner

WENDY TURNER is a 2nd grade teacher and 2017 Delaware Teacher of the Year. She teaches at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School, a large suburban school in Wilmington, Delaware, with over 750 students and a diverse population. Wendy is interested in trauma-informed practices, global education, social-emotional learning, and empathy in education, and she loves every moment spent with her seven- and eight-year-olds.

Confronted with Tragedy in Week Two of Teaching

Wendy was only two weeks into her teaching career when a mother of one of her students passed away after a lengthy illness. She found herself frozen with fear, paralyzed by grief and unsure of what to do to support this child. What saved her in the days that followed, she says, is that she immediately recognized her own shortcomings and reached out for help.

That experience set Wendy on a journey of intentional social-emotional learning, growth, and healing that supported her student, the class, and the entire school community, ultimately impacting her teaching philosophy and career trajectory.

How Can SEL Be Infused Into the Walls of Our Classrooms?

Wendy points out that SEL is not addressed adequately in our teacher preparation programs. Teachers learn about classroom management, but that’s not enough.

The biggest thing that teachers can do to introduce a culture of SEL in their classrooms is begin working on themselves first, she says. Embrace self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, problem-solving, conflict resolution strategies, and other competencies. As we intentionally develop these skills and mindsets in ourselves, they will become part of the fabric of our classrooms automatically. 

Saying No to Recess Detention

In 2019, Wendy wrote an article for Education Post titled Here’s Why I Say No to Recess Detention, and You Should, Too. “If you define recess as a privilege, I think that’s a problem,” she says. “When recess is taken away from children in a punitive way, we’re depriving them of a type of learning that they really need to engage in.”

Recess allows children to learn about the natural world, experience joy through unstructured play, and working through social interactions and negotiation are essential rites of child development. We also need to see misbehavior as communication, she points out. As educators, our response to misbehaving students should be more about support than punishment. If misbehavior signals struggle, how can we best help that student?

What’s Setting Wendy on 🔥 for Education

Wendy is passionate about the mission and vision of global education. She was recently made a Global Learning Fellow by the National Education Foundation, and she traveled to South Africa with a group of fifty educators for a year of professional development on the topic of global education. It was an amazing learning experience.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals provide a powerful framework for global education that engages students and helps classes take concrete action. She encourages teachers to start at The World’s Largest Lesson for free resources and learning strategies that can be applied at any grade level. “The level of engagement in my classroom around this is through the roof,” she reports.

Wendy’s Professional Goals and Current Projects

Wendy began speaking and presenting last year, and she has taken a position as a trainer and national speaker for Fostering Resilient Learners, a program based on a book written by Kristin Souers and Pete Hall.

“This book changed my life in terms of what I bring to the classroom and how I support students,” Wendy says. It wasn’t easy to go from the classroom to audiences of 400 people, she explains, but she’s enjoyed the professional stretch and the growth it’s created in her knowledge and communication skills. 

A Reflective Morning Routine

Wendy has found that she is much more efficient in the morning, and she begins with intention. Her routine starts with coffee, a few minutes of silence, a stated purpose for the day, and an exercise session.

Mornings that begin in this quiet, reflective way set a positive tone for the day and get things off on the right foot. “It’s really hard not to pick up the phone,” she admits, but we need those times of disconnection to find clarity and peace.

Resources That Spark Her Thinking and Ignite Her Practice

Over on Twitter, Wendy recommends following two accounts: @BalancedTeacher and @NativeESoul. Mike is an accomplished author and recently published an article about student motivation that resonated powerfully with Wendy. And the Native American Soul account features a steady stream of images from nature – something we all need more of.

An edtech tool that does wonders in Wendy’s second grade classroom is the BONAOK Wireless Bluetooth Karaoke Microphone. This microphone equitably normalizes participation by literally amplifying the voice of every student, and it makes a great talking stick in restorative circles.

Wendy’s book pick is Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. “I love this book because it talks about the value of stopping work to engage in deep thought,” she says.

It also validates something that Wendy has struggled with her whole life: the fact that rest may look different for everyone. For one person, rest may look like climbing a really difficult mountain. For someone else, it may look like a Sunday afternoon nap. The point is to be deeply intentional about the activities we engage in and the ways that activities affect us.

The Tim Janis YouTube channel has been Wendy’s go-to in her classroom for three years now. It offers relaxing classical music set to beautiful scenes of nature. It’s one that Wendy turns to daily. It’s a great support for social-emotional regulation and happy brains for students.

When time allows for some family Netflix, Wendy is tuning into Cheer. “Isn’t everyone watching Cheer right now?” she asks, laughing. It’s hard to find suitable viewing for the whole family, Wendy admits. Cheer is one show that everyone in her family can safely enjoy.

We sign off on this illuminating conversation, and Wendy gives the best ways to reach out and connect with her learning. See below for details.

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Dancing, Coding, and Changing Identities with Small Wins

You have to become the type of person you want to be, and that starts with proving your new identity to yourself. — James Clear in Atomic Habits

It was December 28, 2012, and I had just finished co-MCing a wedding reception for my cousin Rachel and her new husband, Dan.

The first dances were complete, and the dance floor was now open to everyone. The music was live, the crowd was jumping.

But I wasn’t out there grooving. Instead, I was grabbing a drink and meekly joining the group of dads and uncles standing at the back of the room.

Why wasn’t I out there dancing? I had lots of reasons.

I was single. Everyone else on the dance floor seemed to have a partner. I didn’t feel great about finding my way into the public love-fest only to dance alone.

I felt older than most. I mean, looking out at that dance floor, the median age appeared to be 25ish. I was a bald and ancient 33 years old. Obviously a poor fit for that scene.

Plus, my dancing skills were subpar at best. I had limited experience with dancing and wasn’t comfortable busting my lame-o moves in front of all those critical eyes.

I mean, the last thing I needed was to completely embarrass myself in front of witnesses. There were some cute girls in that crowd. No need to sabotage dating opportunities before they had a chance to materialize.

And so there I stood, sipping a beverage, talking to dads and uncles and observing the dance floor from a respectable distance.

Playing it safe. Avoiding the struggle.

Pushed to My First Win

Enter Hannah, my wonderful sister-in-law. She was having no part of my spectating. Across the room she came, on a mission to get me out to the dance floor.

It took a little convincing, but it worked. With Hannah’s urging — she wasn’t really asking — I followed her out to the dance floor.

Smiles greeted me as soon as I appeared, and I instantly started to relax. I threw down some simple moves, gingerly and self-consciously at first, and then slowly started ramping it up as the minutes and songs crept by.

Before long, I was in the thick of things, laughing and having the time of my life as I danced it up with family, cousins, and friends.

That’s me on the left … dancing my way to a changed identity!

A Small Win Paved the Way for a Change in Identity

In Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about what it takes to change your habits. It starts, he argues, by gradually changing your identity.

In my case, a part of me wanted to be the guy who dances at weddings. But I couldn’t get there. My fears and hesitations held me back. Instead, I lived an identity of a guy who didn’t dance at weddings.

What it takes to change that identity, Clear says, is a series of small wins. It starts with one appearance on the dance floor. Then another. Then another. Over time, I would change — not what I did or how I behaved — but who I was.

And that’s what I did. It helped, of course, that in 2014 I started dating a beautiful and amazing woman who comes absolutely alive with joy on the dance floor.

Over time, I became the guy who always dances at weddings. And birthday parties. And concerts. And other random get-togethers or celebrations. I get out there.

My moves still aren’t awesome. As my sister-in-law Elaine likes to remind me, my moves are still “classic white guy.”

But I’m okay with that, because I’ve broken the barrier. With a series of small wins, I’ve changed who I am.

I’m now the guy who dances at parties.

Identity Struggles in Our Learners: I’m Not a Coder

Sometimes I see this kind of identity struggle in my students.

I see it when we spend time on coding, for example. This year, I’ve been leading my 8th graders through an introductory Khan Academy course on Javascript. The course is beautifully laid out, with video tutorials, step-by-step instructions, and lots of room for open-ended solutions.

The WHY of Coding: Building a Growth Mindset

At the outset of our coding unit, I spend a good deal of time talking about our WHY. This course is about far more than Javascript, I explain. It’s about building the habitudes and transferable life skills that students will need wherever they enter the 21st century economy.

Computational thinking is about identifying, analyzing, and implementing possible solutions. It’s about building the mental skills of confidence, persistence, tolerance for ambiguity, and the ability to deal with open-ended problems.

I’ve taught this unit for a few years now, and in my experience most students tend to embrace the challenges of the module and engage with the problems wholeheartedly.

But without fail, the struggle of identity rears its ugly head for some students after just one or two coding sessions.

“I’m not good at this, Mr. Cavey!”

“I can’t do this!”

“This sucks!”

This isn’t the majority of students, by any means. But predictably, there are one or two or three who quickly decide that coding isn’t for them.

I’m not a coder, they believe.

Sure, a part of them would like to be whiz through the module and become a Javascript expert. But the work just feels too hard. Answers and solutions aren’t coming easily. And the fears start to set in.

I might never be able to figure this out, they think. I’ll look ridiculous. And that will confirm my worst fears about who I am.

And so the choice to quit becomes increasingly attractive. If they can get away with it, these identity strugglers will try to check out completely: go off-task, surf the web, do anything but bear down and really engage with the task at hand.

Helping Our Learners Earn Small Wins

It is here that we must shine as educators. As Hannah encouraged me and urged me onto the dance floor, we must push our students into the productive struggle. Help them get some wins, however small. Show them that they are capable. Show them the power of YET.

For some learners, they’ve embraced narratives and identities of failure for so long that it takes quite a few wins to help them believe again. To help them see that a different destiny is possible.

To take them from I’m not a coder to maybe I CAN do this. Maybe I CAN solve problems. Maybe I CAN find solutions. Wait a minute … I AM a coder!

If I can help my students get there, that’s an incredible win. Because that’s a mindset shift, a change in identity. And once they’ve tasted the thrill of victory, they may never look back.

It won’t always be possible. I think we do fellow educators a disservice when we argue that we must inspire every discouraged learner and motivate every single student. Because try as we might, sometimes it just doesn’t happen. We can’t control every variable, and that doesn’t make us failures.

But we can try. We can encourage. We can model risk-taking. And we can help our learners earn those small but critical wins.

In so doing, we can restore hope. We can alter narratives. We can change identities.

Thanks, Hannah, for pushing me out to the dance floor. You helped me earn my first win on the way to a changed identity.

And for our discouraged learners, that’s my goal too. Help them get that first win.

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 87 – Kristen Nan

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Meet Kristen Nan

KRISTEN NAN is a blogger, presenter, and award-winning educator for innovative practices. She’s also a believer in goodness, an idea generator, a risk taker, and a disruptor in education!

Kristen just completed another year as a third grade teacher at Hopewell Elementary, a school located in a tight-knit suburban community outside of Pittsburgh, PA. The area is a melting pot of Europe built on a strong work ethic, a steel mill, and an industrial revolution way of life. Kristen entered the profession 22 years ago, with the last 20 of those years spent in third grade.

Idea Tsunamis

Kristen is by nature a risk-taker, and her constant tsunami of new ideas can feel overwhelming for others at times. She’s the kind of person that says, “What’s the worst that can happen here?” while others are saying “Let me list all the ways this can go wrong!”

Although she can get rattled when not everyone is on board, she overcomes this weight by finding her people, her fellow risk-takers, and her supporters. Some of these people are within her district, and others can be found across her global PLN. That’s one of the reasons she finds it so essential to be connected with other educators around the world.

True Grit

Kristen’s blog prominently displays a header that reads “Call me stubborn, but I refuse to quit! T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. is the foundation for success in learning and life! Exploring the dynamics of a successful classroom and how grit is a vital characteristic of student achievement.”

When asked why the development of grit is such a passion for her, Kristen observes that she’s relied on this competency ever since childhood. Her experiences have taught her first-hand how important this trait is, and that’s part of what fuels her mission to promote grit for educators and learners today.

On her site and in her writing, Kristen uses GRIT to represent goal setting, responsibility, imagining excellence, and a tough mindset to back it all up. This mix of heart, soul, and mind is what life is all about!

The starting point for building grit in kids is LOVE – when kids feel loved, known, and safe, they will be more willing to take risks and persevere through adversity. Building grit in our learners is also about not rescuing too quickly, allowing them those times of productive struggle, and making sure we don’t rob them of opportunities to conquer difficult challenges or solve problems through their own efforts.

Perfectionism can be an enemy to risk-taking and grit, which is something both educators and parents must recognize. When our students feel pressured to be perfect and not miss a single thing, they’ll be less likely to take risks or think creatively.

EdTech Innovation and Learning in Education

The excitement of learning something new never gets old for Kristen. One day after her last day of school this year, the ideas had already started cooking for the next year.

New apps and edtech resources energize her, and she gets a thrill out of the collaboration and connections that can result. She finished the year with an app smackdown in her third grade class, and her students blew her mind with their creativity and engagement.

Professional Goals and Self-Reflection

Kristen’s immediate focus is the process of self-reflection and learning that takes place after every school year, and this interview has been helpful in terms of engaging more deeply in this process. What should I be doing differently? How can I be better? These are the questions she asks herself while she sets goals and learns from other progressive educators in her PLN.

She’s also a big reader – she’s read over 50 books in the last two years – and she also loves to write about education when the opportunities present themselves. She doesn’t regret breaks in her blogging activities, because those breaks simply speak to other priorities and realities in her life.

She’s also working on a book at the moment, but she expects it to come out later this year. It will be co-authored by Jacie Maslyk. The title will be “ALL IN: Taking a Gamble in Education.”

Personal Passions Away From Education

The things that really bring life and energy back to Kristen start with the simplest: people, music, and laughter. She also loves to camp, kayak, take photos, and even draw, but none of it fills her soul without meaningful people and relationships in the picture.

Productivity Starts with Emotional Health

Kristen is a glass half full kind of person. She’s certainly seen her share of adversity and difficult times, but her orientation continually brings her back to finding the good in others and situations. “I’m a forgiver,” she says, noting that as we forgive others, it allows us to forgive ourselves. It also helps to give us the joy to ride above the critics or the unfair judgments of others.

Voices and Resources That Inspire Kristen’s Professional Practice

On Twitter, Kristen recommends following @BethHill2829, founder of #JoyfulLeaders and a source of continual inspiration.

Kristen’s favorite edtech tools at the moment are the Sphero Specdrums, which allowed her students to create some amazing things this year.

As a big time reader herself, it wasn’t easy for Kristen to pick out just one book. She settled on the recently released In Other Words: Quotes that Push Our Thinking by Rachelle Dene Poth. If you want to broaden your perspectives, give this book a read, and get to know the author on Twitter @RDene915.

Kristen has two educational podcasts to share. The first is Teach Better Talk with hosts Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart (both former guests of the Teachers on Fire podcast) and Dr. Sam Fecich’s EduMagic podcast for pre-service teachers. Sam is also a former Teachers on Fire guest and is part of the Teachers on Fire Magazine writing team! You won’t go wrong by adding these podcasts to your podcast app subscriptions.

Kristen’s pick for channels on YouTube is ISTE. With the 2019 conference fast approaching, she’s been gobbling up everything this channel has to offer.

Connect with Kristen:

Song Track Credits

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