Episode 132 – Kellie Bahri

This episode was originally published on March 1, 2020.

Meet Kellie Bahri

KELLIE BAHRI is a 5th grade teacher at the Birmingham Public Schools in Birmingham, MI. She’s a supporter of the Sustainable Development Goals, a member of Nohea Kindreds, an Agent for Agency, and a co-founder of the @CrazyPLN. She’s also the cohost of the EDU Exchange Pod podcast and is currently working on her PhD in educational leadership. Best of all, Kellie is a tremendous elevator and amplifier of other educators.

Falling Back in Love with Education

A few years ago, the state of Michigan moved to a high-stakes model of evaluation for teachers. It turned Kellie’s world upside down, increasing stress and anxiety, isolating her colleagues, and making her fall out of love with the profession. “I wanted to walk away,” she explains, but she felt trapped in the classroom by her need for health insurance.

After taking some time to reflect on herself and her role in these circumstances, she concluded that she was actually the source of the problem. Her inclination to hoard ideas and outshine others in order to keep her job were actually the cause of her misery.

From that realization, Kellie changed things up completely: she re-opened her classroom doors, started sharing ideas and resources again, and took every opportunity to spotlight the work of others. This pivot in her approach allowed her to rediscover the joy of teaching, strengthen her friendships with colleagues, and change the culture in her team … and she’s been on fire ever since.

The EDU Exchange Podcast

Kellie and co-host David Hennel @HennelD_EDU recently teamed up to create the EDU Exchange. Their hope is to publish educator stories that resonate with the masses and push the thinking and practices within our education systems. David manages the tech side of things, and Kellie brings the perspective of a homeroom teacher. The podcast is still in the early stages of development, but Kellie and David look forward to publishing more episodes soon.

Elevating the #CrazyPLN and Nohea Kindred

ELEVATE is Kellie’s #OneWord2020, and most of her activity on Twitter does exactly that: it elevates and celebrates the work of others. Hashtags that Kellie follows closely on Twitter include #CrazyPLN and #NoheaKindreds.

#CrazyPLN began as a small group of educators who simply came together to support each other, but that small group has grown into a swelling community of teachers, authors, and leaders. It’s a community marked by collaboration and a deep belief in student agency and empowerment.

“They’ve transformed my teaching and my life,” says Kellie. If we become the people that surround us, she can’t think of better people to want to emulate. A care for kids is at the center of everything they do. 

The mission of Nohea Kindreds is to “help school and district leaders create information peace of mind, so they can lead effectively, teachers can teach joyfully, and students learn.” Kellie commends Nohea’s co-founders, Aubrey Patterson and Lori Harvey as possibly the kindest, most lovely people in education.

Nohea is built around a three-step leadership philosophy that puts special emphasis on three actions: simplify, amplify, and clarify. Much of their consultation and coaching work for schools and school leaders helps education organizations increase capacity by decluttering communication, clarifying mission, and strategically investing in leaders within their communities. The Nohea Kindred tribe is made up of givers: educators who want to freely share with educators around the world. 

What’s Setting Kellie on 🔥 in Education Right Now

“I feel like I’m on fire for every possible angle that education has to offer,” Kellie laughs. One of her many areas of passion right now include the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She combines the UNSDGs with design thinking to transform her middle school classroom.

“It breaks down walls and brings the world right into our classroom,” she says. It’s given her middle schoolers passion and mission and some deeply authentic project-based learning. “This work has me so on fire that I could go on and on about it.”

Kellie credits Lindsay Portnoy’s Designed to Learn: Using Design Thinking to Bring Purpose and Passion to the Classroom and the work of Jennifer Williams (see Teach Boldly: Using EdTech for Social Good) for the inspiration to head down this rewarding path with her learners. Education should be about more than just coming to school and working to master curricular standards, Kellie says. It should be about working and learning that makes a difference and creates positive changes in the world.

Other Professional Pursuits

Kellie is working on a PhD, and she admits that part of the challenge to come will be narrowing the focus of her activities. She’s also enjoyed working with Evo Hannan and his Agents for Agency, an association of educators committed to changing paradigms in education that give students more agency and ownership in their learning. Find out more about Agents for Agency at EvoHannan.com.

A Personal Passion Outside of Education: Nature

Kellie has a lot going on at all times, she admits, but one thing she always makes time for is fresh air. Getting into the woods and walking through the trees is calming, clarifying, and centering, and she’s incredibly blessed to have easy access to the wilds of northern Michigan. Her summers are filled with camping and kayaking, although she doesn’t share Abigail French’s love of snakes! Getting off the grid once in a while is important, she says. It helps us get back to basics: our health, others, and nature.

A Productivity Hack: Preparing for the Morning the Night Before

Sleep is Kellie’s ultimate productivity hack, she says. “I’m a sleeper. Once my head hits the pillow, I could sleep for 13 hours. Getting up in the morning is so hard for me – I could sleep until noon if given the chance.” With that in mind, Kellie has learned that absolutely everything for her morning routine must be prepared and ready to go the night before.

Voices and Resources That Spark Her Thinking and Ignite Her Practice

Over on Twitter, Kellie recommends following #SDGwomen, @CrazyPLN, and @LPortnoy. “Lindsay has changed my teaching and how I approach learning with students,” Kellie says.

For a great edtech tool, Kellie points to FlipGrid. “Flipgrid was really great for student conferences,” Kellie explains. “It was wonderful for parents to hear their child talk about the things that they loved about the classroom and what they were learning.” Flipgrid has also offered a nice way for Kellie’s students to communicate with students in Africa and around the world. Follow Fligrid on Twitter @FlipGrid.

Kellie’s book pick is The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. “It’s a book that I really need in my life,” Kellie says. With a lot of plates in the air and so much going on, this book has helped her clarify her focus and allowed her to achieve significant progress on her goals. Follow the authors on Twitter @GaryKeller and @JayPapasan

Kellie is a huge supporter of the Teachers on Fire podcast and claims to never miss an episode. Amazing! Another one of her podcast favorites is The Staff Room Podcast with the very charismatic Chey and Pav. They’re fun, they’re human, and they bring some great down-to-earth perspectives on the state of education today. Follow this podcast on Twitter @StaffPodcast

Some of Kellie’s recent Netflix viewing has included The Stranger and The Five. Both series are based on fascinating books by Harlan Coben, and Kellie will consume anything he puts out.

We sign off on this conversation, and Kellie gives us the best ways to follow her online. Check the links below and get connected!

Follow Kellie

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Song Track Credits

  • Sunrise Drive by South London Hifi*
  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*
  • Bluntedsesh4 (by Tha Silent Partner, courtesy of FreeMusicArchive.org

*courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library

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Episode 111 – Abigail French

111 - Abigail French.png

Meet Abigail French

ABIGAIL FRENCH is a mother of four, a history teacher for sixth graders, an advocate of public education, and an explorer of the natural world in Woodstock, VA. 

A Challenging Professional Reboot

For Abby, one of her biggest professional challenges was returning to the classroom in 2014 after leaving it in 1997. A lot had changed while she was away, particularly technology resources and internet access. She recognized immediately that technology should be used to build skills, facilitate learning, and create deeper understanding, but it took some time to adjust to the changes that technology had brought to the learning environment.

Today, her sixth graders enjoy 1:1 Chromebook access, a move that has come with a mix of tremendous opportunities and practical challenges. “It’s definitely a journey,” Abby says of her use of technology in the classroom. “It’s always evolving – it’s not like you ever arrive.” As she models a posture of constant learning and openness to new things, you sense that Abby’s learners are in good hands.

The Snake That Rocked Edu Twitter 

Abby has been fascinated by herpetology – the study of reptiles – for about as long as she can remember. She’s even gained such notoriety in her community for the courage, care, and prowess she shows around snakes that she is known by some as The Snake Lady!

When her daughter called her about a large snake in the backyard in the summer, Abby didn’t hesitate to run outside and move it. It was likely a female, she says, looking for a nice place to lay her eggs. What others fear, Abby loves to engage and learn from.

Not Measuring Up

Abby isn’t someone who went into teaching because she had such a great experience as a student. In some ways, she actually went into teaching to undo the damage done and to give students a better learning experience than the one she remembers.

As a young student, Abby is quick to point out that she definitely had some good teachers. But she had a learning disability, a processing issue, and that meant that she learned differently than most other kids. The symptoms of academic success, including good grades, words of affirmation, and the approval of her teachers always felt elusive. She still clearly remembers the feelings of falling short, of never being good enough, of never quite fitting into the game of school. Those memories and experiences have shaped her philosophy and professional practice profoundly.  

Rethinking Assessment in Her Practice Today

As with technology, Abby’s approach to assessment has been a journey. It starts with a mindset, she says. As she returned to teaching five years ago, she realized that traditional means of assessment – quizzes, tests, and multiple choice assessments – were not satisfying her desire to know what her students actually knew and had learned.

She started looking around at other examples and modes of assessment, asking how she could better partner with her students and include them in every part of the assessment process. She wanted to put students in the driver’s seat: how do YOU want to show what you’ve learned? Building strong relationships with students was an essential step toward empowerment, she observed. Student reactions to her change in philosophy have been exciting, and Abby is constantly learning about the ways to represent learning that energize her students and connect with their passions and interests.

One other way that Abby has started changing her practice is to change the way that she organizes her students’ digital portfolios. Rather than organize them by subjects and units, she has started to organize them around learning targets and skills: analyze and interpret, compare and contrast, using a decision-making model, etc. This means of portfolio organization shifts the focus from the content to the skills: what are we actually trying to learn? Which skill does this work demonstrate?

#HackLearning: Countering Toxic Cultures 

Abby recently moderated a #HackLearning Twitter chat about toxicity in schools, and she’s given this topic a lot of thought lately. It’s a challenging topic with a ton of complexity and layers, and she’s quick to point out that there are no quick fixes or easy solutions.

Teachers pour themselves into their work, and the emotional well can get pretty low if communities aren’t doing the important work of caring for their members. The work of teaching becomes doubly difficult in environments of toxic thinking and behavior, but one thing we should always keep in mind is that toxicity is rarely personal. Instead, it usually appears as a symptom of what someone else is going through.

Ultimately, we need to protect our own mindsets by finding supportive partners, both locally and through our professional learning networks. PLNs such as the education community on Twitter can deliver incredible encouragement and inspiration, and it’s a great way to find your people when you’re feeling isolated or marginalized in your own learning community. Even as we connect outside the walls of our school, however, it’s important to continue to invest in our own community. 

A Professional Goal: Instructional Coaching

Abby has been exploring some growing opportunities in the area of instructional coaching, and lately it’s been a pleasure to serve in a mastermind group for new teachers. She’s excited to contribute, and she enjoys the growth she sees in her own practice along the way.

Personal Passions Outside of Education 

MushroomsOutside of school, Abby enjoys sharing passions with her four children. Their curiosities are endless and they stretch her into new spaces that she otherwise wouldn’t necessarily find herself. She is also energized by running, getting into nature, and hunting for mushrooms. Mushrooms fascinate her, and it’s a joy to find them, photograph them, and cook with them.

A Personal Productivity Hack: Time Blocking

Abby credits Aubrey Patterson with the practice of time blocking. She uses Google Calendar to prioritize her time for the week and make sure that the big rocks are accomplished before the sand. Her next mission? Getting a better handle on her Google Drive and organizing it more efficiently.

Voices and Resources That Inspire Her Practice

Over on Twitter, Abby recommends giving Jeanne Wolz a follow @TeacherOffDuty. Jeanne is an instructional coach who Abby has learned a lot from lately. She also recommends following Aubrey Patterson @PattersonAubrey, co-founder of Nohea Kindred, educational leadership strategist, and consultant.

An edtech tool that has taken learning to the next level in her sixth grade classroom as of late is Zoom. Zoom has allowed her to connect with other educators in real time, bringing new insights and information into her classroom.

Entertaining an Elephant by William McBrideAbby’s book pick comes from a book club she joined this year. The title is Entertaining an Elephant: A Novel About Learning and Letting Go by William McBride. The book chronicles the journey of a seasoned teacher who battles burnout. Follow the author on Twitter @DrBilly7

Two podcasts that are making a difference in Abby’s professional practice are Teachers Going Gradeless and Human Restoration Project. Both shows completely reimagine education and particularly assessment, and they’ve been fuel for her professional growth and evolution.

When she’s got no energy left in the day and it’s Netflix time, Abby is watching Peaky Blinders, a great historical series, and Jane the Virgin, a source of non-stop laughs.

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

You can connect with Abby on Twitter @AWFrench1. 

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Song Track Credits

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