Episode 68 – Dr. Brad Gustafson

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Guest Profile

DR. BRAD GUSTAFSON is a National Distinguished Principal, best-selling author, and speaker. He is also a Digital Innovation in Learning Award winner and a member of the National School Boards Association “20 to Watch.” Brad recently released a new book that is making a stir: Reclaiming Our Calling: Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education. Find out more about his work at www.BradGustafson.com and follow Brad on Twitter @GustafsonBrad.

The Importance of Investing in Student Relationships

Brad recalls the experience of suspending a student who struggled to regulate her behavior and manage her emotions effectively. During a conversation with the parent, the parent said “I just wish you had gotten to know her.”

Brad let that comment absorb deeply, and from that point forward he worked hard to build a relationship with this student. Through the course of the year, they partnered on computer design projects, LEGO drone activities, etc. and the relationship improved. By the end of the year, he was able to leverage the relationship effectively to help this student manage her emotions effectively and de-escalate formerly impossible situations quickly.

The Heart of Education

In Reclaiming Our Calling: Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education, Brad seeks to address the tension between the pressure on schools to meet certain metrics of academic performance and the mission of educators to meet the needs of the whole child. How do we restore balance in education and reaffirm the things that matter most? Brad debunks the notion that high-value learning and a nurturing environment must be mutually exclusive. We can do both well — and stay sane in that process.

The Place of EdTech

When it comes to strategic uses of edtech and developing digital literacy, the guiding theme should be the idea of connectedness. Instead of always being focused on the latest and greatest apps or technology, we should be asking questions like “How will this bring us together?” and “How will this connect our learners to content, to opportunities, and to one another?” Technology tools should connect with the creator and the maker inside every student, because that will be a mindset that transcends their time in schools.

Engaging Students in Learning

Whoever is doing the talking is doing a lot of the learning. When students are actively engaged in reflecting and conversation, that’s when learning really happens.

If we want to reach the YouTube generation, does it not make sense to have kids be active creators and consumers alongside us? We want to scaffold and model and walk with them in a safe environment, with the best of the best: committed and mindful educators.

Having Grace for the Learning Journeys of All Educators

Conversations about leading change, valuing good work, and moving to next steps will never grow old. Sometimes we can get so hyper-focused on innovation and pedagogy that we fail to recognize and value the baby steps of growth experienced by some educators.

Every educator is on a journey, and we need to be careful not to demonize practices deemed “behind the curve” when in fact they may represent progress for someone else. It’s when teachers feel safe to try new things and grow that the most growth happens.

Amplifying Student Voice

In terms of student ownership and learner empowerment, another key to building a positive learning culture is finding ways to amplify student voice from the time they enter school. Learning can’t be done to students, it’s done by students. A student wrote the foreword to Reclaiming our Calling, and Brad’s also had the pleasure of seeing a former student speak at the state principals’ conference.

When we amplify student voice, we also allow teachers to learn from learners. Great things are possible when we invest in student strengths, empower, and give kids ownership of their learning journeys.

Professional Goals, Passions, and Productivity Hacks

This school year, Brad is focused on more meaningful conversations around change and growth. He wants to support and learn from others in his community and across his PLN. Platforms like Voxer and Twitter are fulfilling and making a difference because they inspire and inform across local and global learning communities.

Brad loves competing, and lately he’s been having a blast playing against his kids on games like Crossfire and Risk. He also enjoys playing pickle ball at school and of course reading. Even more fun than talking about books he’s read have been the facilitation of activities that inspire other educators and learners to talk about their reading.

Taking inspiration from his friend Jessica Cabeen’s Balance Like a Pirate, Brad spends some minutes each morning drinking coffee and centering his thoughts with reflection and time in the Bible. He’s found that grabbing his phone too quickly can send him down the rabbit hole of email and social media, and very quickly the day starts to happen to him — instead of moving through the day with intentionality and purpose.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Brad’s Professional Practice

On Twitter, Brad recommends following @PrincipalBoots. Lindsy is a wealth of stories about family, education, and laughs. Check her out for nonstop inspiration.

Instead of pointing to a favorite edtech tool, Brad makes the point that when you know your pedagogical goals, approach, and can articulate them, you’ll know right away if a tool will or will not fit. Brad’s pillars of pedagogy include collaboration, student ownership, digital connectivity, and experiential learning – all grounded in relationships. Those criteria form his judgments when it comes to choosing tech tools.

Over in books, Brad suggests checking out a book first recommended to him by George Couros – one written in such a unique and powerful style that in some ways it shaped the direction for Reclaiming Our Calling. The book is Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Follow the author on Twitter @PatrickLencioni.

Like the guest before him, Dr. Brad selects the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast by Danny Bauer as his top pick in education. Add it to your daily commute today and follow @AlienEarbud on Twitter to learn more about the show.

Still a self-professed kid at heart, Brad enjoys the LEGO channel on YouTube. Follow LEGO on Twitter @LEGO_Group.

There’s some strategy involved with the Gustafsons’ Netflix viewing. Just when their Minnesota winter gets its coldest, Brad and the family watch Hawaii 5-0. It helps them dream of warmer climes and fun in the sun even while things are freezing.

We sign off on this conversation, and Brad reminds us of the best places to follow him. Make sure you grab your copy of Reclaiming Our Calling today!

Follow Dr. Brad

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Song Track Credits

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Episode 63 – Greg Moffitt

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GREG MOFFITT is a dad, husband, and the principal at Winters Elementary School in Winters, California. He’s also a doctoral student at UC Davis and a big education geek. Greg has set the audacious goal of reading through all of the books from Dave Burgess Consulting in 2019! Follow his reflections and reviews (along with those from teammate Kali Slusser) at http://readlikeapirate.wordpress.com.

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Episode Summary

Greg recalls the end of the last school year when a staff member gave him the truth, point blank: “You’re not smiling anymore.” A number of people on his staff team had been going through some difficult challenges, and as he felt the weight of his team Greg also found himself questioning his own work. Was he doing enough? But after receiving this challenge – and a strong encouragement to read Lead Like a Pirate – Greg started to rediscover his passion and joy. In addition to the book (and other books like Culturize and Lead with Culture), Greg began building a positive PLN on Twitter and gained enormous strength and encouragement from other education leaders there. He’s never looked back, and he describes this turning point as “life-changing.”

One thing that excites Greg about the state of education today is that social-emotional learning is finally getting the recognition and appreciation that it has always deserved. Emerging research and improving resources are helping educators better understand the needs of kids and connect with their hearts and minds. In Greg’s view, SEL skills aren’t soft skills – they’re essential in leadership and in life.

Greg and his staff instructional coach, Kali Slusser, are aiming to finish reading all the DBC books through 2019 at a pace of one per week. They were inspired by Alicia Ray (@ILuvEducating), and they’ve been tracking their learning at readlikeapirate.wordpress.com. Part of Greg’s professional goal here is to implement at least one idea from each book into his professional practice throughout the year.

Any time he can find the time to get outside and go for a hike, Greg likes to do exactly that. Getting outside energizes him, and whether it’s by the mountains or the sea, reconnecting with nature is such a valuable spiritual practice. He dreams of one day becoming a park ranger and helping others gain a greater appreciation for the positive power of the wild.

Greg loves checklists. He gains momentum from checking things off, and he’ll even add items he’s already completed to his checklist just so that he can check them off. Dr. Todd Cutler suggested he focus in particular on the most important priorities to hit every single day, and Greg now operates according to a 5-4-3-2-1 get-to list: 5 classroom visits, 4 documents or publications to update, 3 recess appearances to connect with kids, 2 check-ins with staff members, and 1 handwritten thank-you note. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but it helps him stay focused on what matters most.

Greg’s Quick Picks: Voices and Resources That Shape His Practice

On Twitter, Greg recommends following @MrsHankinsClass and @heARTISTatWORK. These two educators are non-stop sources of positive creativity and inspiration!

In terms of edtech, one tool that Greg has used with great success this year is Facebook Live. It’s been a great tool to engage the parent community and share learning activities between home and school.

Greg shares two book picks. The first is A Mindset for Learning: Teaching the Traits of Joyful, Independent Growth by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz, and the second is The Jester Has Lost His Jingle by David Saltzman. Follow the authors of A Mindset for Learning at @MrazKristine and @Christine_Hertz.

Who can’t use another great education podcast to listen to? Greg recommends listening to Aspire: The Leadership Development Podcast, hosted by @Joshua__Stamper.

A YouTube channel that will keep us smiling and interested is Rice Farming TV. Follow this great family on Twitter @RiceFarmingTV.

On Netflix, the Moffitt family pick right now goes to Fuller House. When the kids are in bed or Greg has a few minutes to make his own pick, it’s The West Wing.

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Song Track Credits

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Episode 56 – Jon Harper

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JON HARPER is an Assistant Principal at Sandy Hill Elementary School in Cambridge, Maryland. He’s the smooth-sounding voice of the My Bad Podcast & Co-Host of the Teachers Aid podcast.

Follow Jon online here:

In our conversation, Jon describes a time in his career when the stresses of work and life overtook him and he was unable to get out of bed for two days. Since then, he’s seen the power of being vulnerable and reaching out for support, and that mission now defines his creative work. Jon also explains why he’s excited about education today, talks about a professional goal, and gives us some great picks on Twitter, books, podcasts, and more.

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 1:18 – Jon describes his current context in education as assistant principal at Sandy Hill Elementary School in Cambridge, Maryland. The school is Pre-K to 5th grade, with about 400 students. It’s located in a community that does have significant needs but he also works with an amazing and committed team of educators.
  • 2:50 – Jon describes a time four years ago when the stresses of work and life overtook him and he was unable to get out of bed for two days. Since that time, he’s discovered the incredible power of vulnerability. During his recovery, he wrote a blog post called The Masks We Wear, and the response was amazing. As professionals, we often feel that we are alone and that no one else is struggling the way we are. Looking back, he sees his biggest mistake as not reaching out sooner for support.
  • 6:45 – The Teachers Aid podcast takes on the intense social and emotional issues that teachers deal with. So much of what we hear about in education today is about putting students first, but Jon and Mandy like to talk about the importance of educators putting on the oxygen mask first so that they can help others.
  • 9:22 – Jon’s professional goal this year is to stay more organized and procrastinate less – something a lot of us can relate to.
  • 10:28 – What gets Jon excited about education today is the increasing vulnerability and authenticity of educators and their willingness to be real about their struggles on blog pieces, podcasts, etc. When people share their missteps and mistakes it lets others know they don’t have to be perfect all the time.
  • 12:26 – An area of personal learning that lights Jon’s fire outside of the school context is playing soccer with his son. It’s a great way to build the father-son relationship, and it also helps him keep in shape.
  • 14:42 – A productivity habit that Jon has learned to do regularly is focus on the big things and recognize when good enough is good enough. The Pareto Principle states that 20% of the activities in our lives produce 80% of the results, so it’s important to focus on the 20% as much as possible.
  • 17:26 – An education account worth following on Twitter is that of Oskar Cymerman. Follow Oskar at @Focus2Achieve.
  • 18:40 – An indispensable tool that allows Jon to contribute to his PLN at his convenience is Voxer. Follow Voxer on Twitter @Voxer.
  • 20:12 – Jon’s book recommendation is Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis. Follow the author on Twitter at @MSRachelHollis.
  • 21:08 – His pick for podcasts is the #AmWriting podcast, hosted by @JessLahey and @KJDellAntonia.
  • 22:04 – On YouTube, Jon’s been inspired by Shots of Awe with Jason Silva.
  • 23:05 – When he’s got no energy left for anything productive in his day, Jon and his wife are enjoying the Atypical series on Netflix. It’s a fun but illuminating look at the life and experience of one high school student’s journey with autism.
  • 25:33 – We sign off on the conversation, and Jon shares the best ways to follow him and get more of his content online. See above for details.

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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)

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Episode 55 – Dr. Todd Schmidt

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DR. TODD SCHMIDT is the principal of Harbor View Elementary School in Corona del Mar, CA. Follow Todd on Twitter @tsschmidty and catch his thoughts on education at http://tsschmidty.blogspot.com/.

In our conversation, Todd recalls the challenges he faced around entering administration and describes his ongoing journey with Shiny Object Syndrome. He discusses his commitment to fatherhood, the inspiration he takes from #LeadUpChat, and the reasons he’s so passionate about caring for the whole child in today’s education system. He also shares a great productivity tool, a personal habit that contributes to his success, a book worth reading, and much more.

Follow Todd online here:

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 1:00 – Now in his 23rd year in education, Todd has taught at the elementary, middle, and high school levels for 13 years. Harbor View Elementary School, where he serves as principal today, is set on a hill overlooking the ocean. It’s an amazing school with a parent community that is committed to doing whatever is best for its learners. This will be Todd’s seventh year at Harbor View.
  • 2:45 – Todd recalls the challenges of trying to move from classroom teacher to the role of administrator. After hitting a number of closed doors, a district superintendent encouraged him to apply in a different district. Soon after following this advice, he found a role that was the perfect fit. Another challenging area for Todd has been what he calls Shiny Object Syndrome – the possibility of being captivated by too many exciting opportunities and spreading himself out too thin in that process. Today, he’s setting up accountability structures to live out the ethic of “more is less” and do fewer things (but better) for the education community he serves.
  • 6:23 – As a committed father, Todd shares about his passion for fatherhood and his contributions to #DadsasPrincipals and  #MakerDads on Twitter. He points out that the job of education leader is demanding – not just professionally, but physically, mentally, and emotionally. By networking with other education leaders who share the same challenges, Todd has derived helpful support and encouragement towards his mission of building relationships and making quality time for his daughters.
  • 9:21 – #LeadUpChat, which is open to all educators at all levels and in all fields, seeks to find the right blend between learning and culture. It comes from the John Maxwell idea of leading up, pushing and supporting people in positive ways. Todd says there’s nothing quite like the ability to connect with people in real time and have quality conversations with like-minded educators who are seeking to be more innovative, creative, and inspired.
  • 14:19 – In terms of what really makes him passionate about education today, Todd points to the recent shift in education to focus more on the needs of the whole child. He’s excited by the power of technology to engage learners – not to replace the teacher but to enhance the learning. He also talks about the ways that PBL and makerspaces give some students the reason and the purpose they need to go to school. When students know they are loved and supported, they have a purpose and something that motivates them, that formula puts them on a path to success.
  • 16:18 – Todd talks about the importance of spending time to care of himself. He sings the praises of the positive peer pressure built within Orange Theory, crediting this fitness company with helping him shed 30 pounds and get into better shape than he’s been in for some time. He’s also a big sports fan, and lately he’s enjoyed reading books that he can recommend to kids.
  • 18:39 – One personal productivity tool that has really worked for Todd is the Michael Hyatt Full Focus Planner.
  • 20:41 – A Twitter account worth following is that of the skateboarding principal, Hamish Brewer. Follow him on Twitter @BrewerHM and find out more about his incredible story.
  • 23:01 – In terms of an edtech tool that is advancing learning in his classrooms today, Todd points to FlipGrid. Follow this amazing app on Twitter @FlipGrid.
  • 24:29 – Todd’s book recommendation is The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life by Shawn Achor. Follow Shawn on Twitter @ShawnAchor.
  • 26:10 – Todd shares three great podcast recommendations: Check This Out, The Google Teacher Tribe Podcast, and EdTech Confessions. Follow these great podcasters on Twitter @CheckThisOutBR, @GTeacherTribe, and @EdTechConfess.
  • 28:06 – On YouTube, Todd recommends subscribing to Brad Gustafson’s channel. Nobody brings the energy and authentic stories like Brad!
  • 29:23 – Leaving all things educational and serious, Todd’s current pick in streaming entertainment is Jack Ryan, featuring John Krasinski of The Office fame.
  • 31:18 – We sign off on the conversation, and Todd shares the best ways to get in touch with him and follow his content online. See above for the details!

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

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 54 – Jeff Kubiak

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

JEFF KUBIAK is the principal of Nelda Mundy Elementary School in Fairfield, CA. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffreykubiak and catch his blog posts at http://principalkubiak.blogspot.com/.

In our conversation, Jeff recalls feeling so broken and unsupported as a rookie teacher that he left education entirely. He describes the strategies he is following to build school culture, and explains why he is so passionate about the state of education today. He tells us about the personal passions and routines that give him energy and contribute to his success. He also gives his picks on Twitter, books, edtech tools, and much more.

Follow Jeff online here:

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 0:54 – Jeff describes his current context in education at Nelda Mundy Elementary School in Fairfield County, California. The school runs from kindergarten through fifth grade, has about 800 students, 35 teachers, and a very multicultural community that lives locally. One of his current missions is to help shift the school’s focus from performance to growth – #allkids. “We’ve got to move the whole kid,” he says.
  • 3:08 – Here Jeff recalls a low experience during his first year of teaching. Although he was hired to teach 5th grade, his assignment changed to MS PE at the last minute before the school year started. It was a very difficult experience, and he often went home feeling broken and beaten down. He felt like he didn’t have the support he needed and actually left the school before the year was finished. Eventually, however, he realized he missed the students. He found an elementary school that embraced his mantra for education and his inner candle was lit once again.
  • 5:34 – Nelda Mundy is using a couple of tools to build community this year. Virtually every staff member and student has read One, by Kathryn Otoshi, which advocates the idea that every person counts and every person also stands up to be counted. The staff is also reading Culturize by Jimmy Casas.
  • 7:15 – When asked why he’s so passionate about education today, Jeff points to the fact that our students can teach our teachers things. He loves watching kids learn, and seeing their passion for learning build. When they get fired up, he gets fired up.
  • 8:03 – Some of the other passions that fuel Jeff’s spirit outside of the school include being with his family, spending time outdoors, traveling, reading with his family, swimming, surfing, and coaching.
  • 9:37 – Some of the personal habits and regular routines that contribute to Jeff’s success include walking every day, biking, and swimming in the pool. “Give me water and I’m a happy man,” he says.
  • 10:56 – Jeff recommends a handful of education leaders to follow on Twitter: @JCorippo@Casas_Jimmy@ThomasMcMurray@KatieMartinEdu@BethHouf@BrewerHM, and @MrAdamWelcome.
  • 12:18 – In the classroom, Jeff loves the learning he sees happening around FlipGrid. Professionally, he enjoys the relationships and constant insights that Voxer facilitates. Get to know these two tools better by following them on Twitter @FlipGrid and @Voxer.
  • 14:43 – Jeff’s two book recommendations are What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers across America by Ted Dintersmith (@Dintersmith) and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (@PauloCoelho).
  • 15:29 – If you’re a podcast listener, Jeff’s got a bunch of picks here as well: The Rich Roll Podcast by @RichRollAspire: The Leadership Development Podcast by @Joshua__StamperMy Bad by @JonHarper70bd, and School Leadership UnearthED by @GustafsonBrad & @BenjaminGilpin.
  • 16:42 – Jeff isn’t a big TV viewer, but a few shows he has enjoyed on Netflix include Master of None, Weeds, Californication, and The Amazing Race.
  • 17:49 – We sign off on the conversation, and Jeff gives us the best ways to follow him online. See above for details!

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

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!