In this edition of the Roundtable, host Tim Cavey connects with six inspiring educational technology podcasters to discuss the best learning apps and tools of 2020. In this year of unprecedented challenges, which companies and innovators stepped up to support learning?
Questions That Guided Our Discussion
1:21 – Who are you and what is your current context in education? Tell us about your podcast.
7:23 – This year forced educators to pivot our practice more dramatically than ever before. What was one edtech tool that impressed you in terms of how it supported learning?
20:17 – What do you think is the single most underrated edtech tool right now? Explain why.
33:02 – What is one piece of technology that you’re hoping to learn more about in 2021?
42:36 – What have you got coming up next on your podcast?
As of this post, I’m still appearing weekly on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time/11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. I’d love to see you join us and would be happy to feature your questions and comments on the show!
Connect with the Teachers on Fire Podcast on Social Media
RILEY DUECK is a sixth grade teacher in Surrey, BC, Canada. At the time of our recording, he was a second year educator, speaker, innovator, blogger, and the host of the Not Many of You Should Become Teachers podcast.
In his first year of teaching, Riley and his sixth grade colleagues were trying to address some negativity among their students. Even as they planned some fun events before spring break, the complaining from some corners didn’t seem to let up.
Peak frustration came one day for Riley as he was doing his best to hype one of these term-end activities with his class. As he was speaking, one student loudly interrupted him with an obnoxious “NOOOOO!”
Shocked, Riley admits to returning some verbal fire and letting this student know in no uncertain terms that their interruption had been extremely rude. But later in the day, when Riley found some time to follow up privately with the student, he discovered that the interruptor had actually been excited about the events Riley described and in fact was crushed that a family vacation would take him away from school a day before these fun events.
Riley realized that the student hadn’t been frustrated with him or his plans at all – just frustrated that his family’s travels meant that he would miss out. Thankfully, Riley was able to completely restore the relationship, and by the time they parted ways for spring break, all was well again. The incident was another good reminder for Riley that student behavior is often not exactly what it seems. There’s often more to the story.
How Can Faith Integrate with Learning?
Riley works at an independent faith-based middle school, so I put to him the question: why does faith belong in K-12 contexts at all?
Riley explains that a faith-based school wasn’t actually his original plan. Fresh out of university, his plan was to teach in a public setting where he would be able to work with underserved children. Hiring didn’t go quite the way he envisioned it, however, and months of soul-searching about his core values and mission led him to reconsider the path forward.
When a last-minute opportunity to take a sixth grade teaching position appeared, his initial misgivings melted away, and he started to see the positive aspects of teaching in a faith community as a person of faith. He thought about the ways in which his beliefs, passions, giftings, and creativity could be used to inspire students and actually “teach in ways that are authentically Christian.”
Riley isn’t interested in the traditional trappings of religion or Christian culture; instead, he’s passionate about showing students what it means to experience a real relationship with their Creator and love the world as he does. Other factors included the chance to coach volleyball and participate in international service initiatives in Africa and around the world – two other core passions that align with his values.
Finally, after taking the time to consider all angles, he decided to accept the offer to teach sixth grade in a faith-based school, and it’s been a fantastic journey so far. Every day, Riley is grateful for the opportunity to use learning experiences to lean into the life and love and restorative work of God in the world.
Not Many of You Should Become Teachers: the Podcast
Riley shares a passion for content creation. For years, most of his creative energies were directed to YouTube, but in recent years those energies have moved into podcasting. The podcast medium has become his medium of choice for discussions of faith and learning, and he enjoys doing exactly that with co-host Dave MacFarland, another former guest of Teachers on Fire.
The Not Many of You Should Become Teachers podcast takes its title from a warning found in the Bible’s book of James, where the author describes the critical importance of education. It’s an activity not to be taken lightly, the ancient writer implied. On the podcast, Riley and Dave maintain that spirit by exploring the field of teaching as a high calling and grand responsibility.
The podcast is also meant to start and continue discussions around Christian education today. What is its role and place in modern society? What should its mission be? What should a holistic study of the integrations between faith and learning include? In Riley’s view, the podcast fills a need for more critical conversations in these spaces. Although the hosts speak from the context of a faith-based school, Riley feels like public school teachers who have an interest in the intersections between faith and learning will enjoy their content as well.
How Does Content Creation Lead to Learning?
Riley looks back at his high school media classes as the catalyst for his current passions and activities around content creation. As an enneagram 7, the fun of trying new things, creating, sharing, and starting conversations easily overcomes the fear of creation and hitting the publish button that many wrestle with. Learning opportunities simply become more fun and engaging when we’re creating.
Riley’s also a believer in the growth mindset and the power of learning from mistakes; it’s when we step out of the comfort zone and take risks that we’re likely to grow the most. The people who have made the biggest impact in the world are generally those who have taken the greatest risks and overcome fears of failure, and this applies to relationships and community-building as much as it does to technology and communication.
Another Source of Fire in His Practice: Teaching Math
Something else that is setting Riley on fire in his practice at the moment is teaching Math. He regards Robert Kaplinsky as one of his key mentors in this area. “He’s a Math-teaching genius,” says Riley. “Anything that can be made problem-based in my Math class has become problem-based.”
From Kaplinsky, Riley has learned how to offer lower floors (easier on-ramps) for engagement and learning while also offering higher ceilings and opportunities for further growth and extended learning.
A Professional Goal: More Indigenous Integrations
Riley has a couple of professional goals on the go. One of them is to do a better job of integrating First Nations content and pedagogy throughout his teaching practice. He sees a natural congruence between the Christian value of reconciliation and curricular mandates to recognize indigenous cultural values and ways of knowing.
Learning from Travel
“I love travel and tourism and the leadership opportunities that come with that,” Riley says. He’s worked with AirBnB to offer tour experiences in downtown Vancouver, and he’s the sort of traveler that carefully researches every aspect of future trips in order to absolutely maximize his time and take advantage of every opportunity in foreign destinations.
Essentialism: Doing Less to Do More
“I have a love-hate relationship with productivity and self-help,” Riley laughs. He points to Gregory McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less as a book that shaped his thinking in a profound way in terms of narrowing his focus and avoiding overwhelm. Contrary to conventional thought, we can actually be more effective and productive by doing less, McKeown argues.
Voices and Resources That Spark Riley’s Thinking
On Twitter, Riley recommends following @TobyATravis. He’s the superintendent of Village Christian Academy in Fayetteville, NC, and he’s got a grounded vision for what Christian education can be. He also points to his podcasting co-host, @MrMcFTeaches, as someone who tweets a lot of valuable insights around teaching, current events, social studies, faith and learning, and more.
When asked for an edtech tool pick, Riley shouts out Google Classroom. He’s continually impressed by the ways that Classroom improves and continues to serve educators and students well. Follow Google Classroom on Twitter @GoogleForEdu.
On YouTube, Riley still enjoys the legendary PewDiePie. PewDiePie is a reader, a thinker, and an excellent commentator on what is going on in the world. He uses clever memes to communicate his message, and he’s simply entertaining.
At the time of this recording, Riley had cancelled his Netflix subscription. His entertainment choices were skewing old school with Survivor Season 40.
As we said our goodbyes, Riley gave us the best ways to reach out and connect. See below for details.
One hundred and seventy-one episodes of the Teachers on Fire podcast.
It feels great, because creative projects of this sort don’t typically enjoy a long lifespan. I’ve read that the average amateur podcaster lasts less than seven episodes before the novelty wears off, the shine is gone, and the grind of the work required to sustain it begins to wear.
Ditto for bloggers, vloggers, authors, artists, and an army of other dreamers and would-be content creators whose enthusiasm for publishing falls victim to the steady onslaught of life.
Consistent creation is never easy, but it’s complicated even further in education — a field that demands hours of professional work before and after the start and finish of each day during the school year.
To be an educator and also a consistent content creator can be a daunting challenge. Fortunately, my professional learning network is filled with edu-creatives who inspire me by managing this feat. Pernille Ripp and Annick Rauch are just two examples of full-time teachers who blog with astounding consistency. And oh yes — they’re both mothers of four.
So consistent content creation is possible for basically everyone, but make no mistake: it requires discipline and sacrifice. It has to be more than a passing interest — it demands concerted commitment and passion.
To make it work, to sustain it over time, you have to think of content creation as a job. A job that you absolutely love, sure, but a job.
There’s no other way.
Reviewing My Mission and Vision
So why do I do it? What propels me to invest the hours of scheduling, recording, publishing, and promotion each week?
As Justin Belt once wrote, “Our why is both the battery within and the force around us. It keeps us going while also pushing us forward.”
I’ve written a little bit on my website about why I podcast, but this question could use a little more exploration. A little more digging.
1. Podcasts share best practices for teaching and learning.
“How do we make great learning go viral?” asks George Couros. Podcasts are one answer to that question.
With simultaneous syndication, instant delivery, and universal access, podcasts are consumed by large audiences. Though 73% of Teachers on Fire listeners hail from the United States, educators from over 100 countries tune in. That’s learning gone global.
There are other ways to share inspiring ideas, of course. But the podcasting medium does so in a uniquely compelling and intimate way that other mediums can’t match. Since the consumption of audio content doesn’t require stopping other activities, listeners will often listen to episodes in their entirety while driving, exercising, walking the dog, or doing household chores.
Though they’re each powerful in their own right, blogs and YouTube videos struggle to match the kind of sustained attention that people will gladly give podcasts.
2. Podcasts amplify the voices of inspiring educators.
There are so many amazing educators out there whose practices should be shared and whose views should be heard, but they aren’t being heard because no (metaphorical) microphone is available. They don’t have a platform to speak from.
You know the type I’m talking about: what is happening in their classroom is jaw-dropping, and they’re excited to share their ideas, but they’re just not sure where to start or how to go about it. Maybe they’ve never engaged on social media, and few outside their own building know who they are.
Podcasts bring their voices and ideas to the world.
3. Podcasting continues my own professional growth and learning.
Every interview I conduct for the Teachers on Fire podcast puts my mind back in a place of professional learning. Every conversation forces me to engage with important ideas, grapple with challenging problems, and interact with fresh perspectives from other agents of transformation in education.
The podcast continuously encourages me to consume more professional content in my discretionary time and pushes me to constantly re-evaluate my own professional practice.
The effect is like scheduling a coffee session with incredible coaches, mentors, and leaders in education once a week. It leaves little room for stagnancy in my thinking.
4. Podcasts connect me with other leading practitioners.
Thanks to Teachers on Fire, I enjoy daily interactions with incredible education leaders across North America and the world. Through Voxer, Twitter, and other platforms, I’m inspired, encouraged, supported, and cheered on in my work.
I’m finding my tribe, my people: educators who share my passions, my goals, my dreams for my learners and visions for future directions in education.
Some of these connections have led to real life meetings, and I know more will materialize in the months and years to come. The podcast functions as my press pass, enabling me to build relationships with people I would never meet or have the opportunity to engage with otherwise. And for that I am grateful.
5. Podcasts allow me to build a platform and find my voice.
I’m no star in the education world — I’m just an 8th grade homeroom teacher and rookie assistant principal who is trying and failing and growing and learning to improve my practice one humble step at a time.
Back in early 2018, my teacher account on Twitter was inactive and invisible. I had yet to grasp the incredible power of professional connectivity.
But thanks to Teachers on Fire, I’m learning to share my voice with increasing confidence and I’m building new professional relationships every single day.
Building more professional connections and adding more listeners isn’t about padding my ego. It’s about developing the opportunities to increase my learning, hear from more voices, and build life-giving relationships.
People will listen to those that they know, like, and trust. The podcast gives people a way to get to know me, like me, and trust me. It means that when I get around to other fun content creation projects like speaking at conferences or publishing a book, some people may actually listen.
6. Podcasts are highly valued by listeners.
In May of 2019 I surveyed listeners of the Teachers on Fire podcast regarding the impact my content — and the podcast medium in general — was having on their professional thinking and practice. I was blown away by the enthusiasm and passion of the responses. Here are two samples:
“Right now podcasts are my most significant and consistent source of professional growth, because I listen to podcasts while I drive to and from work (approx. two hours per day). If it weren’t for podcasts I wouldn’t be able to expose my thinking to new ideas or find kindred spirits and critical friends while I am also driving. It is a way for me to ‘stack’ my life and helps me feel more positive about being able to accelerate my pedagogy more quickly than would otherwise be possible.
I think it’s really good for my health because I feel less stressed while driving, plus I feel engaged in life in general because I am learning and feeling optimistic about my growth. I feel excited about ideas and touched by the stories of struggle. If I had to wait to read a book months might go by, but podcasts allow me to actively engage in learning every single day with next to zero extra effort. I can spend the time I might be reading exercising instead. It’s a win-win!”
You can podcast, too.
This piece reaffirms my why: my mission, purpose, and vision for Teachers on Fire. I love the podcast, the process, and the results, and I’m going to continue this journey for as long as I can.
But what about you?
“Everyone should have a podcast,” claimed Adam Welcome in episode 77. And I think he’s right. You have a voice, you have ideas, you have the means, and the barrier to entry is lower than ever.
So share your voice, and make great learning go viral.