Episode 105 – Tiffany Ott

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Meet Tiffany Ott

TIFFANY OTT is a high school Math teacher at Western Reserve Academy of Ohio, a Director of Curriculum Development with the Teach Better Team, and the founder of #MasteryChat. She’s also a co-author of the recently published book Teach Better, and she’ll be playing a big role in the upcoming Teach Better Conference.

Tiffany recalls a time early in her career when she was teaching middle school in North Carolina. She and her husband were broke, Tiffany was pregnant, and the couple was short on options. After moving back to Ohio, Tiffany found a long-term substitute position that showed good potential to convert into a permanent position.

She was teaching an enrichment class for students designated as gifted, and she introduced her learners to a unit on brain science, psychology, and mental health. Unfortunately, some of the parents of these students were skeptical and suspicious of her motives and complained – loudly – to administration. As a result, the substitute position didn’t convert to a permanent one, an experience that opened Tiffany’s eyes to the importance of communication and actively seeking buy-in from the entire learning community.

When developing those relationships with your students’ parents, Tiffany encourages, try video newsletters. People seek connection today, and Tiffany has found that parents really appreciate who you are and what you are trying to achieve with their children when they can actually see and hear you.

Teach Better: The Book

Teach BetterTiffany describes the new Teach Better book from the Teach Better Team as part memoir, part inspiration, and part practical teaching strategies that educators can put into place immediately. The book includes a series of interwoven stories from four authors that detail their struggles, challenges, and victories in the classroom, accompanied by the realizations that they took away from those experiences.

Teach Better is not about being perfect – it’s about being better than we were yesterday and better tomorrow than we were today. It’s about being constantly reflective, looking in the mirror and at our own practice, and asking “What is one thing I can do today to move my practice forward?” It’s grounded in the belief that every educator is capable of growth and improvement in their practice. “My heart and soul is in this book and I just hope people can find something that can help inspire them and push them forward,” Tiffany says.

The book starts with “Get the hell out of my classroom!” – perhaps the lowest moment in Chad Ostrowski’s career, and you’ll be drawn in as you read his story. Tiffany is also passionate about chapters titled Expect Better and Complain Better, and she articulates how these mindset shifts can change the culture of buildings and make incredible impact in the growth and learning of students.

#MasteryChat

The weekly #MasteryChat on Twitter is Tiffany’s baby, and she’s as passionate about the conversations that happen there as she was when the chat first launched. Each week features a different guest moderator, and topics include everything under the sun of education.

Like the Teach Better book, #MasteryChat is about incremental growth and improvement in educators, and Tiffany values the rich diversity of views and experiences that over 100 participants regularly bring to the conversation. This chat is not an echo chamber, she says – it includes robust discussion, occasional debate, and constructive pushback. Questions seek to go beyond buzzwords and cliches to actually stretch the thinking of educators and spark learning.

What’s Setting Tiffany on 🔥 in Education Today

Education is so exciting today because things have changed so much and continue to change so quickly. The opportunities for global connection, collaboration, and learning are greater than most educators have fully realized. Rather than be overwhelmed or intimidated by the pace of change, Tiffany says we should regard these movements of change as the fire that pushes us forward.

A Professional Goal

Tiffany speaks highly of the way that her school tackles professional goal-setting for its teaching staff each year. Rather than one-and-done fill out this piece of paper and move on, each educator’s professional goals are embedded in professional activities throughout the school year, allowing frequent review and follow-up.

One of Tiffany’s main professional goals for this year is to build deeper connections with her colleagues. Her training and experience comes from the middle school levels, where team approaches to planning and instruction are often emphasized. The same can’t always be said of high school environments, where teachers sometimes experience more isolation and division by departments, levels, course streams, and other factors.

There’s a lot to be gained when we come together and connect the dots across all kinds of content, Tiffany says, which requires taking the time to have more small and large conversations with colleagues. When we make ourselves vulnerable, genuine, and available to support others, we build the social connections that translate into significant professional and instructional gains for learners.

One of Tiffany’s other professional goals is to make her math instruction more relevant for learners. Rae Hughart, one of Tiffany’s partners on the Teach Better Team, talks often about the importance of integrating community partners and businesses into the math classroom to show learners the relevance and application of the curricular principles they’re learning.

Personal Passions: Baking and Crocheting 

Educators neglect their personal passions and interests all too often, says Tiffany, and it comes at the expense of our learners. On the home front, Tiffany loves to cook and bake, activities that have formed great points of connection with her daughter. They watch The Great British Baking Show and other cooking shows together, and Tiffany takes great joy in hosting great meals and serving guests.

She also enjoys art, sculpting, and crocheting – something that she is integrating in one of her math classes by asking students to crochet physical representations of hyperbolic planes. It’s a great example of a personal passion adding a dimension to the classroom learning environment. 

The Secret to Her Productivity

The credit for her incredible productivity, says Tiffany, goes to her husband. Not only does he cover for her during times of peak work and deadlines, but he acts as a good accountability check in terms of her mental health. When the stress and strain of responsibilities starts to make her crack, he doesn’t hesitate to make her take a break, step away, take a nap, or do what she needs to do to recharge. 

The Teach Better Conference 

Tiffany is thrilled about the coming Teach Better Conference – now just a few weeks away. The hosting team has crafted some unique experiences that will help attendees reflect, integrate, and apply the things they learn in practical ways. She’s also hoping that the conference will go a long way toward building the kinds of new professional relationships that will push educators collectively to be better every day.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Tiffany’s Thinking

Over on Twitter, Tiffany recommends following Danny Steele @SteeleThoughts. Whenever she feels like she may be losing her fire, no one rekindles her motivation and passion for education like Danny Steele.

Tiffany’s edtech tool of choice right now is Gimkit. Think Kahoot but with a gambling factor, Tiffany laughs. There are few better and more engaging means of collecting formative assessment from learners in real time.

Lies My Teacher Told MeFor a book pick, Tiffany points to a modern education classic – Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen. This title will open your eyes and widen your perspective on western history and its inherent biases.

It’s no surprise, but Tiffany’s favorite education podcast is Teach Better Talk. She doesn’t point to this one because she has to, she says. Hosts Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart keep her laughing and never fail to bring new insights and strategies that move her practice forward.

Tiffany is no stranger to video communication, and on YouTube she suggests subscribing to Michael Matera’s channel. The author of Explore Like a Pirateclassroom teacher, and producer of the Well Played podcast is a very, very smart guy and a fantastic person, too.

Finally, and just for fun, when Tiffany gets Netflix time it’s spent on The Great British Baking Show, which has been a great source of inspiration and a point of connection with her daughter.

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

You can connect with Tiffany …

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Episode 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.

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

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Episode 73 – Rae Hughart

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Meet Our Guest

RAE HUGHART is a middle school Math teacher, educational consultant, Director of Training & Development for Teach Better, and a co-host for the Teach Better Talk podcast – and if you haven’t given Teach Better Talk a listen, you need to! Connect with Rae on Twitter AND Instagram @RaeHughart, and check out her course offerings and resources at TeachBetter.com!

Shut Out as a Learner

Rae’s own experience of elementary school wasn’t an easy one. She struggled with a reading disability, complicating her learning in most subjects. In fact, Rae feels she is likely one of the few Math teachers out there today as one who earned a ‘D’ when she was in 6th grade math herself. By high school, these poor associations of school were slowly building a passion to pursue a career in education with the purpose of changing the experience of school for learners like herself.

The Teach Better Mission, Upcoming Book, and #MasteryChat

The book on the way from the Teach Better Team (to be published by Dave Burgess Consulting) will feature all four leading members as contributors: Rae Hughart, Jeff Gargas, Chad Ostrowski, and Tiffany Ott. The authors plan to bring a mix of personal stories, education philosophy, and tactical strategies that will help educators move forward and experience continuous professional growth.

#MasteryChat, hosted by the Teach Better team and taking place every Thursday evening on Twitter, covers just about any and all issues in education and really boils down to the idea of coming together to master our craft as educators.

Tips for PLN Engagement on Twitter and Instagram

Rae sees Twitter as the place for educators to build engagement around rich pedagogical conversations and focused issues. Instagram is a different dive, a different lens, with different kinds of moments and ideas to be shared.

Of the two, Instagram is the better platform to visit to really get to know the human side of educators, partly because Instagram stories give teachers a lot of space to speak directly to their followers and get personal.

“Enjoy Instagram,” says Rae, “but remember that fluff ain’t enough.” Make sure you’re finding ways to connect and have those rich professional conversations as well, she advises.

A Personal Passion and Productivity Hack

Rae’s favorite outlet and source of recharging is her dogs. She obsesses about them whenever she can and loves nothing more than walking them over to Lowe’s – they’re allowed to walk inside the store there!

When asked for a productivity hack, Rae simply asks how anyone can do it alone. She’s committed to the idea of joining hands with others – a village of support. That’s the only way to make great things happen and really crush it in education.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Rae’s Professional Practice

Aside from the Teach Better team, Rae suggests following @MrAdamWelcome on Twitter for a steady stream of balanced inspiration.

Her edtech pick is Seesaw. Follow them on Twitter @Seesaw.

Rae’s book recommendation is Educated by Design: Designing the Space to Experiment, Explore, and Extract Your Creative Potential by Michael Cohen. Follow the author on Twitter @TheTechRabbi.

One podcast that lifts her up outside of the education space is The Rise Podcast with Rachel Hollis. Follow this well-known author on Twitter @MsRachelHollis.

Rae’s choice on YouTube is an oldie but a goodie: TED Talks. And on Netflix, it’s been Person of Interest lately.

See More From Rae

We sign off on this conversation, and Rae reminds us of the best ways to connect with her and learn together online. Get connected!

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