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 …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media:

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 81 – Kelly Croy

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Meet Kelly Croy

KELLY CROY is a committed husband, father of four girls, educator, speaker, Apple Distinguished Educator author of Along Came a Leader and the producer of The Wired Educator podcast.

Follow Kelly on Twitter @KellyCroy and @WiredEducator, and visit his blog at https://wirededucator.com/.

On Adversity and Empathy

Kelly feels a tremendous amount of empathy for those around him, and so his lowest moments tend to be the lowest moments of others. When he sees struggles and frustrations in motion, his instinct is to get involved and try to provide solutions.

He recalls a time when he was able to use technology to help a sick student stay connected with her classmates as she fought a serious illness. Although the health situation was difficult, he recognizes the way in which technology helped facilitate human relationship and connection for someone in need. He tries to approach other experiences of adversity with that same positive approach, looking for learning, growth, or other opportunities for new relationships that can come as a result.

Advice to Educators Around Social Media

Kelly’s message for educators when it comes to social media is to enjoy it (“Instagram can be a beautiful place”), leverage it for learning, but avoid falling into the comparison game.

Today’s new educators come to the profession very comfortable and familiar with social media, and it doesn’t make sense to ask them to leave it. Instead, he helps them think about (in some cases) rebranding themselves as professionals and utilizing social media in their classrooms in order to advance learning.

Authenticity on social media is critical: our job isn’t to emulate others so much as it is to share who we are and what we’re all about.

The Mission of the Wired Educator Podcast

The Wired Educator podcast is a passion project for Kelly. He considers it an art form and counts it a privilege to share, promote, and celebrate the great things that educators are doing for learners all over the world. He tries to elicit the essence and fire that makes each guest unique, and he pursues the ideas that produce the best outcomes for students.

One of Kelly’s dearest accomplishments from the Wired Educator podcast was preserving the legacy of inspirational ideas shared by one guest who died unexpectedly in the year following his appearance on the show. He also recognizes the intimate connection that podcast hosts can build with their audience members over time. It’s a powerful medium.

Along Came a Leader

It was a lifelong dream for Kelly to write and publish his own book, and Along Came a Leader represents the fulfillment of that dream. The book came out of the realization that some of the education principles and values that Kelly considered common sense weren’t as widely held or understood as he thought they were.

The book is focused on six tenets of leadership, which apply both in and out of education:

  1. attitude,
  2. wisdom,
  3. tenacity,
  4. communication,
  5. vision, and
  6. authenticity.

Done right, these six traits create great leaders and great educators. “No one is born a leader,” Kelly points out. “You can become a leader – through practice, hard work, trial and error.”

Content Creation for Educators

Kelly notes that in education, 1) we get to do work we love, and 2) we’re put in a position where our creation, improvisation, design, and communication skills are continuously tested and developed. As educators and practitioners, Kelly sees it as essential that we practice what we preach: we need to remain innovators and model our creative process in front of our learners.

As an overall philosophy of education, Kelly also observes that our highest levels of learning, rigor, relevance, depth of knowledge, and synthesis of learning are all demonstrated through creative activities. Yes, consumption of materials and information is an essential part of the learning process. But it’s in the project-based learning and creative projects that students truly demonstrate the application and transfer of knowledge and skills in meaningful ways.

As an Apple Distinguished Educator, Kelly also points out that Apple is supporting a tremendous campaign and curriculum called Everyone Can Create, which puts powerful resources in the hands of educators and students that empower the creative process.

The 1:1 Debate: Chromebooks vs. iPads

Kelly discussed an article from the Wired Educator called The Greatest Chromebook is an iPad, where he sought to help people understand that iPads contain a lot of the same features that Chromebooks do. When one considers cost, capability, convenience, and creative applications, Kelly believes the iPad may offer better value than the typical Chromebook.

That said, he’s also quick to point out that the key outcome is the learning that happens in the course of the creating – and that trumps brand or device. When collaborating and creating activities aren’t taking place in classrooms equipped with these devices, learners lose.

Things That Excite Kelly About the State of Education Today

Kelly is thrilled to see the attention and energy that districts today are focusing on building culture. Culture is the starting point for everything we do in schools, and Kelly talks about how legendary coach John Wooden would always start his training right at the basics. In the same way, Kelly is seeing districts teach their educators how to communicate with parents, how to think more strategically about homework, and how to build relationships with students more effectively. “Your best day in education is going to come from a culture moment,” Kelly says.

Another thing that is getting Kelly excited about education is the convergence of subjects and disciplines. In our classes of today, we’re seeing the arts and skilled trades integrate more than ever with the subjects that have formed the traditional core of education: English, Math, and Science. He envisions large-scale projects that combine awesomeness from every subject to produce some truly impressive and meaningful results.

Ongoing Professional Growth

Kelly points to his daily interactions on social media as a constant source of learning. Can any other industries match the intrinsic motivation of educators to engage on Twitter, read blogs, and listen to podcasts with the aims of learning and growth?

Kelly is finding that in his new role as Director of Innovation and Instruction, he’s becoming a more mindful leader. One recent observation has been the frequency that we all hear “I’m so busy … overwhelmed … tired.” We all need to give ourselves more time to reflect, practice self-affirmation, and celebrate victories.

Personal Passions and Productivity Hacks

For the past couple of years, Kelly’s been trying to learn the guitar. He’s also using Duolingo to learn Spanish and Swift Playgrounds to acquire coding languages. In the future, Kelly would love to build an online course that helps people further.

One of the most important habits in Kelly’s life is the process of journaling. He began doing it about twenty years ago, and he credits it for many of his accomplishments (including the creation of The Wired Educator podcast). Journaling also helps him track the things he is grateful for, his goals, and failures.

“Journaling is the key to all my sucess,” Kelly says. “What gets written down gets done.” He favors the Day One app because it’s accessible on any device or platform, but he also uses Things, Evernote, and Drafts.

As a podcaster, Kelly also began the habit of recording self-affirmations for five minutes of his commute each morning. Doing so helps bring him into a positive mindset and prepares him mentally and emotionally for the challenges of the day.

Voices & Influences that Inspire Kelly’s Thinking and Practice

On Twitter, Kelly recommends following @BurgessDave and @Casas_Jimmy, authors of Teach Like a Pirate and Culturize.

As the Wired Educator, you know Kelly has a few favorite edtech tools to share. Topping his list right now are Keynote, Pages, Book Creator, and FlipGrid.

Kelly’s two book picks are The Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly and The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday. Both are helpful in terms of clarifying mindset around life, purpose, and a positive outlook on one’s self.

Not only does Kelly produce two podcasts, but he’s an avid listener as well. His recommendations include The School of Greatness with Lewis Howes, Side Hustle School, Akimbo: A Podcast from Seth Godin, The Smart Passive Income Online Business and Blogging Podcast, his own Future Focused Podcast, and of course the extremely popular Joe Rogan Experience.

Kelly doesn’t have a channel to suggest subscribing to on YouTube, but he’s interested to see the ways in which younger learners are using the platform as a creation, communication, and learning tool.

Over on Netflix, Kelly’s picks are the new Highwaymen, a retelling of the story of Bonnie and Clyde, Arrested Development, and on Hulu, Free Solo.

We sign off on this insightful conversation, and Kelly tells us the best ways and places to connect with him and receive more of his great content.

Connect with Kelly:

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device.

iTunes | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Follow the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media.

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 37 – Dan Jones

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DAN JONES is a 7th and 8th Grade Social Studies Teacher in Mansfield, OH. He is the K-12 Editor for Flipped Learning Review Magazine and the author of Flipped 3.0 Project Based Learning: An Insanely Simple Guide.

In this conversation, Dan tells us about the time his passion for teaching died and he almost quit the profession entirely. Instead, he Googled “new and innovative teaching practices” and stumbled across the flipped classroom, which set him on a journey of transformation. Dan also tells us about a personal passion that energizes him, a habit that contributes to his success, and recommends some amazing resources for educators.

Check out Flipped 3.0 Project Based Learning: An Insanely Simple Guide on Amazon!

Follow Dan …

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 0:58 – Dan describes his work as a 7th & 8th grade Social Studies teacher and website director at the Richland School of Academic Arts, flipped learning trainer, editor of FLR magazine, blogger, and author.
  • 1:48 – He tells about a time seven years ago when he realized he hated his job, felt ineffective, depressed, and wanted to quit. Thankfully he was encouraged to stay by supportive administrators. He then Googled “new and innovative teaching practices,” and the flipped classroom began a journey of personal and professional transformation.
  • 9:16 – Dan explains what the Flipped Classroom 3.0 is all about, how it combines with PBL, and the opportunities it creates for educators and learners. Check out his book, Flipped 3.0 Project Based Learning: An Insanely Simple Guide.
  • 20:11 – Dan shares about the personal passions and learning that helps him relax and refuel: using fine craftsmanship tools to make pens, shaving equipment, Christmas ornaments, and more.
  • 21:50 – A habit that contributes to his personal and professional success: carving out quiet “me time” to allow him to be the best he can be.
  • 23:03 – Dan’s Twitter recommendation: @JonBergmann.
  • 24:23 – Over to edtech, Dan suggests we check out PlayPosit (@PlayPosit) as a place to distribute instructional videos to students. He also applauds the amazing Kahoot platform (@GetKahoot), which engages students and gives teachers a powerful tool for formative assessment in the classroom.
  • 25:22 – In books, Dan suggests Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers (@KyleneBeers).
  • 26:43 – Need a new source of education inspiration on your daily commute? Dan recommends tuning in to the BAM Radio Network (@BAMRadioNetworkand Jon Bergmann’s podcast, Flipped Learning Worldwide.
  • 27:18 – When he’s got no energy to plan lessons, write books, produce videos, or make pens, Dan is watching The Office on Netflix – especially when a good laugh before bed is in order.
  • 27:46 – We sign off on the conversation, and Dan shares the best ways to follow him and keep receiving his great content (see above).

Subscribe to the podcast on your mobile device: iTunes | Google Podcasts | YouTube

Follow the podcast on Twitter @TeachersOnFire and on Instagram @TeachersOnFire.

Song Track Credits

  • Intro: Relax (by Simon More)
  • Outtro: Starley – Call on Me Remix (by DJ Zhorik)

Listen to this episode on YouTube and subscribe for more episodes!

Episode 31 – Jeff Gargas

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Jeff Gargas is the COO/Co-founder of Progressive Mastery Learning and The Teach Better Team. Jeff works with teachers across the United States to help them improve their practice and “reach the unreachable student.”

An entrepreneur at heart, Jeff shares about the challenges of hitting walls in the music industry and the educational training space. He shares how he redefined his mission, finding strength in gratitude and the knowledge that as long as he was doing the right thing for learners, the rest would follow. Today, Jeff loves nothing better than to see teachers learn, grow, and take risks to improve their practice. In our conversation, he points to an app that reliably corrects his mindset, recommends some great Twitter accounts to follow, and more.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffGargas & @TheGridMethod, and check out the resources he offers teachers at TeachBetter.com, TeachBetterAcademy.com, and www.facebook.com/thegridmethod.

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below.

SUBSCRIBE to the podcast on your mobile device: iTunes | Google Podcasts | YouTube

FOLLOW Teachers on Fire on Twitter: @TeachersOnFire

Song Track Credits

  • Intro: Relax (by Simon More)
  • Outtro: Starley – Call on Me Remix (by DJ Zhorik)

LISTEN to this episode on YouTube and SUBSCRIBE for more episodes!

Episode 20 – Lindsey Danhoff

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LINDSEY DANHOFF is a first grade teacher (soon to be third grade) at Evening Street Elementary School in Worthington, Ohio.

Lindsey shares about the challenges and rewards of working to change school practices, and speaks to what really ignites her passion for education: a growing emphasis on creativity and innovation. She also tells us how Harvard’s Project Zero is changing her entire mindset, and describes a 5-minute personal habit that never fails to inspire. Finally, she offers some great recommendations for a book to read, a Twitter account to follow, a Youtube account to subscribe to, and more.

Follow Lindsey on Twitter @LindseyDanhoff and at her blog at https://lindseydanhoff.wordpress.com/.

In this episode, Lindsey discusses …

  • 0:51 – her current teaching situation
  • 1:37 – how she and her team redesigned their end of year assembly
  • 4:04 – her passion to help solve the creativity crisis through innovation
  • 7:15 – how Maker-Centred Learning is changing her personal mindset
  • 8:47 – how spending five minutes on Twitter hashtags recharges her inspiration
  • 10:10 – an innovative art teacher to follow on Twitter: @epesART
  • 11:34 – an edtech tool that allows her first graders to create and collaborate well: Google Slides
  • 13:28 – a book recommendation: Broadcasting Happiness by Michelle Gielan
  • 15:51 – a YouTube channel to subscribe to: The Creative Classroom
  • 16:43 – her Netflix favourites: documentaries
  • 17:36 – the best ways to follow her online

Song Track Credits

Intro: Relax (by Simon More)
Outtro: Starley – Call on Me Remix (by DJ Zhorik)

LISTEN to this episode on YouTube and SUBSCRIBE for more episodes!