Episode 107 – Trevor MacKenzie

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Meet Trevor MacKenzie

TREVOR MACKENZIE is a learner, teacher, speaker, consultant, and outdoor enthusiast. Trevor teaches English at the 10th through 12th grade levels at Oak Bay High School in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is also regarded by many as the preeminent voice on inquiry-based learning today, authoring Dive into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice and co-authoring Inquiry Mindset: Nurturing the Dreams, Wonders, and Curiosities of Our Youngest Learners

The First Five Years Are the Hardest

When asked about an experience of adversity on his education journey, Trevor thinks back to his first five years in the profession. There were many forks in the road, he says, where he found himself questioning whether or not he even wanted to stay in education. It took him a while to move from substitute teaching to a full-time contract, and even then it was a real challenge to juggle all the responsibilities of a classroom teacher: lesson planning, unit design, assessment, parent communication, coaching, and other duties.

Trevor credits his local community of colleagues and professional peers who gave him advice, encouragement, and solidarity during those early years. Although his professional learning network has evolved far beyond the bounds of his own building, he continues to appreciate the power and importance of collaboration today.

Why Inquiry? 

First and foremost, Trevor says, he never proposes that other teachers must do things his way. “Teaching is an art with incredible nuance and subtlety, and there’s simply no lockstep approach or prescriptive framework to what makes a good teacher.”

That said, Trevor readily admits that inquiry-based learning is where his heart is, and he loves nothing more than helping other educators see what is possible for learners. Education has changed a great deal in the last decade – not just because of our access to phones but also in terms of the amount of prior knowledge that students bring to the classroom. It’s no longer about how much students know, but about what they can do with what they know.

Inquiry-based learning challenges teachers to facilitate experiences that help our learners to explore content and then create products that have an impact on others. Inquiry also challenges students to investigate the “un-Googleable” questions, the sort of questions that Google Home and Alexa cannot help them with. These are the kinds of vast, broad questions that students must chew on and wrestle with over extended periods of time. Inquiry encourages the development of the 4 Cs: competencies that are absolutely critical in today’s workforce. As a framework, inquiry provides the space and common language for students to become creators, problem-solvers, and active agents of their learning.

Inquiry and Curiosity

Children enter the school system full of curiosity, chomping at the bit to learn, to play, to read, and to interact. Sadly, students often leave high school with that curiosity and joy of learning greatly diminished. “Curiosity is at the heart of how we can better meet the needs of all of our learners,” Trevor points out.

We need to look at our curriculum with an eye to integrating inquiry approaches – it never needs to be a situation of all or nothing, inquiry vs the curriculum. Inquiry-based learning, when properly applied, allows us to explore prescribed curricular outcomes through the lens of curiosity and creativity.

Understanding the Types of Student Inquiry

Structured    Inquiry, Controlled Inquiry, Guided Inquiry and Free Inquiry

In the swimming pool illustration, Trevor divides the types of student inquiry into four levels: structured, controlled, guided, and free. Although it might seem tempting to jump quickly into the deep end of the swimming pool, Trevor cautions against initiating free inquiry without giving learners the necessary tools, understanding, and vocabulary. To move too far and too fast into inquiry is to invite chaos and confusion for teachers and learners, so strategy and forethought is required here.

Ideally, a school can work together on strong and structured units of inquiry-based learning so that all learners in the community become familiar with a common language. Frame those first units of study around central, unGoogleable questions. Use provocations to spark rich and engaging entry points to new areas of interest and study, and allow space for students to pursue side paths and related questions along the way. For help in getting started, visit TrevorMacKenzie.com for a large collection of free inquiry unit planning templates and other resources.

Inquiry and Assessment

When first introduced to inquiry-based learning, educators often have questions around assessment. To help guide teachers through these challenges and demonstrate what assessment can look like in the inquiry classroom, Trevor is currently working on a book that speaks directly to the mindset shift he has experienced around assessment in his own practice, and he goes on to describe some of the changes he’s made in the classroom.

For example, he no longer puts any numbers or letter-grades on formative assessments — he only offers feedback. He also makes sure that students are invested in the assessment process through the co-creation of criteria, the inclusion of student voice, and by making sure that assessment occurs in the classroom, by and with students — instead of something done to them. Assessment done properly infuses course content instead of taking the shape of something slapped on to the end of a unit of a study. 

The Power of Grading Conferences

Speaking to the power of the conference, Trevor says that the simple decision to sit down with each of his learners to discuss their assessments for the term was one of the most helpful and practical moves he’s ever made in his practice. He immediately noticed the empowerment and sense of agency that the conferences gave students. For a change, many of his students actually wanted their parents to read their report cards because they had a direct hand in crafting those comments. Even more importantly, the process broke many students out of a fixed mindset regarding what past report cards and the education system had told them they were and were not capable of as learners.

Could Inquiry Reshape Professional Development?

Sadly, Trevor says, professional development is often not designed by teachers, and as a result, there can be a disconnect between philosophy and practice. Make sure that teachers have a voice, and make relevance and immediate application high priorities in the design of professional development activities, he urges.

What Else is Setting Trevor on 🔥 in Education

Beyond inquiry, something else that is setting Trevor on fire in education today is the conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion. He’s taken some hard looks at cultural responsiveness, systemic biases, allyship, identity studies, and the unpacking of his own personal biases. Educators who greatly impress Trevor in this space include Gary Gray Jr., Liz Kleinrock, and Cornelius Minor. If we want our students to truly understand themselves as learners, people, and human beings, we owe it to them to help them understand the biases, narratives, and historical forces that shape our understanding of ourselves.

Serving with Presence

As much joy as he derives from working with learners in his classroom, Trevor is also passionate about teaching teachers and working with other educators around the world. Balancing the two consituencies well and being fully present in every context requires intentionality and mindfulness. “As I enter the classroom each and every day, I’m asking how I can be present and mindful of what’s immediately before me,” Trevor says.

A Personal Passion: Cycling

Trevor is an avid cyclist, and on many mornings he is up early and out of the house on his bike before school. He also enjoys a good community of fellow cyclists in his area that he enjoys biking and racing with. Cycling gets him going, fires him up, and keeps him healthy so that he can serve others well.

A Productivity Hack: Early Mornings 

Trevor’s best productivity hack is to get up at 5:00 a.m. each morning, and he’s been inspired by other creatives to work before the rest of the world is awake. It’s the perfect time to tie up loose ends, complete tasks, do important reading, or write reflectively. With small children at home and students at school, the early morning is simply the best block of time in the day to be productive and undistracted.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Practice 

Over on Twitter, Trevor recommends following @TheMerrillsEdu. The Merrills are an amazing elementary teaching couple who take creativity to a whole new level in their practice. Make sure to give them a follow!

No edtech tool has revolutionized Trevor’s assessment practices more than FlipGrid, where students post video responses and interact with each other’s ideas. Microsoft recently acquired this legendary platform and made its features absolutely free for educators, increasing equity and access for all learners in the process. Make sure to connect with Flipgrid on Twitter @FlipGrid

The Innovator's Mindset by George CourosWhen prompted for a book pick, Trevor points to a classic — The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, by George Couros. Trevor also shouts out another title that has been influential in his practice, Understanding By Design, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.

In the world of podcasts, Trevor is making a late appearance at the world’s most famous true crime series, Serial. He’s also gaining a lot from the Teaching While White Podcast – White Fragility podcast series.

As for YouTube channels, Trevor is going back to one of the faves he mentioned previously: Gary Gray Jr. Gary is an important voice in the conversation on equity and he keeps things real on his channel.

Although his kids are still too young for the chills and thrills of this popular series, Trevor has been enjoying Stranger Things whenever he does find the time for some entertainment on Netflix.

We sign off on this terrific conversation, and Trevor gives us the best ways to connect with him online. See below for details!

Connect with Trevor …

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Episode 106 – Andrew Arevalo

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Meet Andrew Arevalo

ANDREW AREVALO is a 4th grade educator in the city of El Centro in southern California. He is a speaker, innovator, and game designer with passions for blended learning, design thinking, and gamification. He also has his Master’s degree in education and has been recognized as a CUE Emerging Teacher.

From Delight to Disappointment

Andrew experienced some adversity as recently as last year, when he finally worked up the courage to speak at a national education conference. He was absolutely delighted when his proposal was accepted, but that joy was quickly followed by disappointment when he learned that he would be docked pay for the missed day of school. Eventually, after encouragement and support from family and friends, he decided to sacrifice the income in order to attend the conference and speak.

The experience was absolutely worth it, igniting his passions further and connecting him with other inspiring voices in education. To other educators who face similar financial dilemmas, Andrew says “You’ve got to go for it. You just never know who you’re going to meet, who you’re going to meet, and who will inspire you.”

Like Father, Like Son

On July 7, 2019, Andrew tweeted this touching tribute to his father:

“First and foremost, I love my dad!” Andrew says. Greg Arevalo has generously served his community for decades, and he is well-known and loved by many as a result. It’s a tremendous legacy to step into, an honor that Andrew, his brother (a local high school principal), Andrew’s fiance, and his sister-in-law all carry with pride. Greg never pushed the path of education on his sons, but he quietly sold the profession by the joy that was so evident in his work and the growth he consistently witnessed in his learners.

How a Lost Pitch Event Led to a Game-Changing Opportunity

A few months ago, Andrew participated in a pitch event at the University of San Diego thanks to a connection with Lisa Dawley, Executive Director of the Jacobs Institute for Innovation in Education and someone Andrew calls an amazing soul. Andrew was pitching a model for personalized professional development in front of a Shark Tank-style panel of judges, and he followed acts like Sir Ken Robinsons and Dave Burgess.

Even though his pitch wasn’t selected as the winner, something very special came from the experience – he was invited to participate in an exclusive gathering of educators and intellectuals from all levels and contexts of education across America. The purpose of the gathering, held recently in New York City, was to support important conversations around some of the most pervasive problems and challenges that we face in education today. Andrew left the event completely invigorated and inspired by the expertise and vision shared by the other attendees. What he thought was a loss became a huge win.

What’s Setting Andrew on 🔥 in Education Today

Many of Andrew’s dearest passions continue to come directly from his own teaching practice and the activities happening right there in his classroom. Lately, his fourth graders have been developing future job titles and descriptions, university courses that will support these future jobs, buildings that will house and facilitate these future courses, and city infrastructures that could support the university campus with the sustainable development goals in mind.

Students are using cardboard and LEGO to build structure prototypes, and Andrew plans to record short day-in-the-life-of video presentations for each project that will be linked to unique QR codes, connecting parents with their child’s ideas and work.

A Professional Goal: More Reflection

One of the aspects that Andrew would like to strengthen in his professional practice is the reflective process. We’re all busy, we’re all moving fast, and too often we find it hard to find the time to give our professional projects and work the thoughtful analysis they deserve. Just as reflection and metacognition is valuable for our learners, these activities can’t help but make us better educators when we actually make the time to reflect. As he collects thoughts and impressions in a journal, they continue to inform and inspire his first book, another project that he can’t wait to share.

Personal Passions Away From Education

Andrew loves playing mobile games like Clash Royale, partly because they disconnect him and help him relax. Lately, he’s also enjoyed seeing an emerging trend of educators who game with their own children — a way that games can be used to strengthen family relationships.

A Productivity Habit: How can I make it better?

A go-to mindset that works for Andrew is to finish every project with the question of “How can I make it better?” Just as we discussed in the professional space, sound processes of reflection can make sure that we are constantly growing, evolving, and improving. Of course, the flip side of this question is “When is enough enough?” We have to balance that commitment of constant innovation with the need to let things go and simply move on.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Andrew’s Thinking

Over on Twitter, Andrew says you are simply missing out on life if you are not following @AnnKozma723. Ann is the Educator Innovation Lead at Flipgrid, and she brought nonstop ideas and inspiration when her Flipgrid team visited Andrew’s district recently.

For his edtech tool pick, Andrew is pointing out the Oculus Quest, an industry-leading VR set that is changing our understanding of what is possible in education.

If a school day goes by and Andrew hasn’t read some of Amina’s Voice to his fourth graders, he hears about it! This book by Hena Khan unpacks identity, belonging, and purpose in clever and kid-friendly ways – a great addition to your classroom library.

Another education podcast that Andrew is digging is OnEducation, hosted by Mike Washburn and Glen Irvin – two educators who are passionate about changing the game and giving air time to real conversations in the education space. Follow the podcast on Twitter @OnEducationPod

For his YouTube channel recommendation, Andrew shouts out someone who he just happened to connect with at a coffee shop earlier this year. The channel is called Bernadette Teaches Music, and it’s hosted by a music teacher with international teaching experience. Follow her on Twitter @Ukuleleplazi

The last great content that Andrew watched on Netflix was The Game Changers, a documentary about vegans who have transformed their mindsets and their bodies to achieve seemingly impossible feats. As a former vegan himself, Andrew found their message interesting and inspiring.

We sign off on this fun conversation, and Andrew gives us the best ways to follow him and connect online. See below for details!

You can connect with Andrew …

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Episode 97 – Nina Pak Lui

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Meet Nina Pak Lui

NINA PAK LUI has taught at the middle and high school levels and today she instructs pre-service teachers at the School of Education at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC, Canada.

Nina views teaching as a sacred calling, and she’s dedicated to inspiring and equipping future teachers to be caring, competent, inclusive and reflective. She is passionate about designing and facilitating meaningful learning experiences that intentionally connect theory to practice.

Tensions Between Vision and Reality

A few years ago, Nina was teaching in a high school context when her mental health began to struggle. She experienced a taxing tension between her vision for program ideals and certain systemic constraints that would not allow that vision to come to fruition. It became increasingly difficult to align her values and beliefs with practice, and the emotional distress eventually became too pressing to ignore.

Nina took an extended leave from her position, and the time away was healing and clarifying. With a lot of time for reflection, she stopped blaming external factors and began examining her own internal landscape. She learned to be kinder to herself, show more patience with others, accept the slow rates of institutional change, and recognize that perfectionism is a thief of joy. With lots of love from her support network, she has rested, recalibrated, healed, and now enjoys new optimism and outlook in her current context. 

Focusing on Formative Assessment for Learning

Nina regularly talks with her undergrad students about their own assessment journeys. They share about unyielding deadlines, grades being used to punish, no chances to refine or revise, and feedback that only comes at the end of a learning cycle. Although assessment experiences can be positive, the negative experiences seem to come through more often.

Katie White, author of Softening the Edges: Assessment Practices That Honor K-12 Teachers and Learners, writes that “continual intention and active capturing of learning in the moment and making inferences about a learner’s understanding in relation to a goal happens over time.” Dylan Wiliam adds that “for assessment to be primarily embedded in the learning cycle it must remain formative,” and “all activities undertaken by teachers and/or by students provide information to be used as feedback to modify teaching or learning activities in which they are engaged.”

These quotes speak to the ideas that …

  1. learning happens over time,
  2. we must practice intentional goal-setting,
  3. we must allow more times for reflection, and
  4. we must support more opportunities for revision and additional tries.

For Nina, formative assessment is often about determining readiness: is the learner actually ready to take the next step? Too often, we push learners down a track that ignores their individual needs and progress, which only creates further dissonance and deficits in their learning journeys. By being more flexible and creating personalized learning experiences, we create more on-ramps for learners and ensure that every student remains on a track to growth.

Summative assessments have a place in classrooms, Nina says, as long as they are actually used as a tool for learning, celebrate growth, and close the door for further learning as seldom as possible. Summative assessments should look like rich performance tasks that demonstrate the complete learning standards that the learner is aiming for. When using summative assessments, it’s critical to carefully consider the best type of summative assessment to be used and ensure that the learning standards can be fully demonstrated.

Why Should We Assess Students At All?

So why assess? Katie White says that assessment is something that we are always doing, and it’s an essential process to support the human. Achievement in school is not about doing work to accumulate points and letter grades. Instead, school should be a place of learning and becoming. “I want my students to know that they can make mistakes, that they can try again to correct their mistakes and improve,” Nina says.

Questions to Ask Ourselves Around Assessment

  • Are we here to ensure that students are taught or that students learn?
  • Are we here to measure only past learning or support future learning?
  • Is our work about building walls and documenting who climbs over them, or making sure our learners have the tools and supports to push through the barriers that are in front of them?

When we identify and address barriers to learning through greater access, equity, and inclusion, our learners will be more successful.

How to Best Serve Pre-Service Teachers 

When it comes to pre-service teachers today, Nina points out that their needs haven’t changed too much over the last twenty years. They still need the safety and support to try new ideas, encouragement to take risks, and the freedom to think outside the box. They also need quality mentors and supportive partnerships in the field, because sometimes what they see and experience in classrooms does not align with the principles they are learning in their classrooms.

On that note, education programs must work hard to intentionally connect course work to field work, theory to practice. Pre-service teachers and inexperienced teachers are having to adjust to a rapidly changing landscape and movements, so we must give them the confidence to remain lifelong learners – professional learners – that aim not to have it all figured out at once but instead adopt a posture of continuous learning and growth throughout our careers.

Addressing Gaps in Equity and Inclusion in Our Schools

When it comes to equity, Nina says, she starts by looking at access. Does every student have equal opportunity and access to the learning experiences? It’s an obvious step, but school faculties and leaders must do a better job of representing the voices and cultures in their school populations, says Nina.

What’s Setting Nina on 🔥 in Education Today

Nina has become obsessed with collaborative inquiry and the Spiral of Inquiry, created by Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert. The spiral gives voice, choice, and agency to educators and the means to go on learning journeys as whole communities.

Nina gets ignited by other education soulmates, including academics like Jenn Skelding, Christine Younghusband, and Gillian Judson, co-author of Imagination and the Engaged Learner: Cognitive Tools for the Classroom. These three and others constantly recharge her passion for education and the changing paradigms in assessment.

One thing Nina has definitely missed since leaving the classroom are the voices of parents, and she wants to find ways to include their voices in more education conversations.

Nina’s Professional Goals

On the horizon, Nina is also passionate about taking on another new step of learning by way of academic research. In particular, she wants to learn more about teacher education program development and assessment for learning, including its integration at the secondary and post-secondary levels.

The two words that summarize Nina’s goals for this year are bravery and courage. Nina has felt challenged in this last year to really lean into transparency about her professional learning journey. On top of starting new research, she’s also committing to sharing her learning on her blog and modeling vulnerability for her students. She’s been asking her students to blog about their learning, and after reading hundreds of their entries, she recognized that it was time for her to walk the walk and start sharing her own journey as well. Creating and designing her blog and formulating her first posts has already given her more empathy for her students and understanding of the learning challenges they face.

Personal Passions That Keep Her Inner Fire Burning 

Nina’s chief passion and source of rejuvenation away from the university is her family. She’s a wife and mom to two kids, and spending time with them is her greatest joy. Calling her kids her greatest teachers, she says they help her come alive and continually remind her of what it means to be human.

She’s also enjoying the insights shared by authors like Ken Shigematsu, Henri Nouwen, and Jean Vanier regarding the nature of life and humanity, and she embraced opportunities this summer to unplug from the digital and become fully immersed in nature.

A Productivity Hack

Nina uses the Wunderlist app to track to-do items for her courses or profound questions asked by her kids. It helps keep her stay organized and on track.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Nina’s Thinking

Over on Twitter, Nina recommends following @KatieWhite426, author of Softening the Edges. Katie is active on Twitter and hosts the #AtAssessment chat which takes place every other Tuesday night.

An edtech tool that facilitates voice, engagement, and learning in her university classes is Socrative. Follow Socrative on Twitter @Socrative

The Way of the TeacherNina’s book recommendation is The Way of the Teacher: A Path for Personal Growth and Professional Fulfillment by Dr. Sandra Finney and Jane Thurgood Sagal. This book works on several levels, Nina says. It offers practical suggestions for our professional work but also offers guidance about how to work in human and sustainable ways that rekindle our love and joy for teaching.

One podcast that Nina enjoys is called On Being with Krista Tippett. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? Who will we be to each other? These are the questions that guide their conversations.

Two shows that Nina has been watching on Netflix are The Crown and Queer Eye. More than just a fashion show, Nina appreciates how the hosts of Queer Eye go beyond fashion to meet people wherever they are in their lives.

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

Connect with Nina:

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.

Classtime.com helps you gain immediate visibility of your students’ learning progress, build engaging lessons, share with other teachers, and create your own tech-enabled questions to complement your lesson plans. Classtime.com also helps you engage all students with collaborative challenges & puzzles that make fun an integral part of the learning experience.

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

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Episode 94 – Janelle McLaughlin

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Meet Janelle McLaughlin

JANELLE McLAUGHLIN is a keynote speaker, education consultant and strategist, and educational leadership coach. She is a former classroom teacher, district administrator, and high ability coordinator. She loves to learn, laugh, connect, and make completos. 😉

Janelle’s work is split between her home office and sites across the country, where she offers coaching and development services around project-based learning, authentic technology integration, student choice and voice, effective school leadership, and other relevant topics.

From Professional Paralysis to Autonomy and Passion

Janelle’s low moment story is not one she particularly enjoys telling, but it became the most important experience in her educational journey and has taken her to the place she is today. A few years ago, Janelle served as a curriculum director under a leader whose values did not align well with her own. It was a difficult situation from all angles: she felt professionally taxed and emotionally drained, lacking proper support and unable to flourish in her work.

After three years in this state, she decided to leave the position, even though a credible next step wasn’t immediately apparent. She’d never made this kind of move before, and although she wasn’t sure what to do and where to go from there, she knew she needed to take some time to reflect, recharge, and redefine her mission.

When it became clear to her that her deepest calling and resonance came from contexts where she could build relationships and support other education professionals, she turned her attention to consulting, and this has really become a sweet spot.

“I’ve never had an experience where I’ve grown so much as in these last four years,” Janelle says. What got her to this point was a period of critical adversity. It’s not something anyone would wish for, but she definitely feels stronger and more impassioned for having gone through it.

What Professional Development Can and Should Look Like

Professional development is obviously a passion and lies at the heart of Janelle’s current work. She is passionate about growth and learning, and hopes most educators feel that way too. If we’re asking students to be excited, and engage, and own their own learning, then we need to model that as well. So professional development begins there.

In Janelle’s view, the number one professional learning opportunity that we can be offering our educators – and especially education leaders – is job-embedded coaching. Most district leaders, administrators, and instructional coaches don’t receive the sort of coaching that produces demonstrable growth over time.

“Our teaching is only as good as our continued learning,” Janelle argues. Schools can do better for their educators than hire a speaker for one day with no follow-up. Although these efforts are better than nothing, the most sustainable and significant growth occurs from personalized learning and continuous support.

What Sets Janelle on 🔥 in Education Today

What really sets Janelle on fire is meeting and connecting with other educators who are truly passionate about education. A lot of her work focuses on authentic learning experiences that integrate new digital technologies and opportunities. Technology is allowing classrooms around the world to connect and learn from each other in exciting new ways, and Janelle enjoys helping schools and educators understand the opportunities that exist today.

A Professional Goal for 2019

Janelle is a believer in goal-setting: it’s a practice that she enjoys teaching, and she follows it consistently in her own life. Big goals must include mini-goals which make the big goals achievable. One of her current big goals is to write and publish a book by the end of 2019, and although it scares her to even say it out loud, she’s determined to continue to chip away at it until it’s finished.

Personal Passions Away from Education

Although she has a great deal of control over her schedule in theory, Janelle acknowledges that it’s easy to work non-stop. To relieve her mind, she enjoys exercise of all kinds, jumping into fiction, and connecting with her two teenagers.

Her Favorite Productivity Hack

One of Janelle’s strengths is organization, and she finds great satisfaction from maximizing her schedule. On that theme of maximization, she’s come to really enjoy educational podcasts. They’re a fantastic way to spend long commutes, allowing her to learn and grow while in the car. She also likes to listen when she’s on her bike or exercising – a great way to align congruent activities. 

Voices & Resources That Inspire Her Thinking and Practice

On Twitter, Janelle recommends following the positive and inspirational @JeffreyKubiak, author of One Drop of Kindness. Jeff knocked it out of the park in episode 54 of the Teachers on Fire podcast, so make sure to check out that episode if you haven’t heard it.

An edtech tool that is doing cool things for Janelle is Wakelet. Wakelet is an innovative curation platform that went so far as to give Janelle a personal orientation on their service. Follow Wakelet on Twitter @Wakelet

The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership FableJanelle’s book recommendation is The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni. Get to know the author on Twitter @PatrickLencioni

Aside from the Teachers on Fire podcast, Janelle is tuned into In Awe by Sarah Johnson, which amplifies the voices of female leaders in education. Get to know Sarah on Twitter @SarahSaJohnson, and listen to my conversation with Sarah way back at episode 34 of Teachers on Fire.

Though she doesn’t have a lot of time for TV or Netflix, Janelle enjoys connecting with her two teenagers around Arrow and The 100.

We sign off on this episode, and Janelle shares the best ways to connect with her online. See below for details!

Connect with Janelle:

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Episode 82 – Tara Martin

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Meet Tara Martin

Tara is in a new professional role this year, which is exciting and interesting. She’s done a lot in her education career: classroom teacher, instructional coach, and district administrator. Today, she serves as the Media and Communications Director for Dave Burgess Consulting.

Every day looks different, but essentially her role comes down to supporting DBC authors in any way possible. This can mean helping with writing, supporting their video content, or helping them build important connections with other voices in education. Lately, she’s also been hard at work promoting the 2020 Dave Burgess Consulting Conference in San Diego, and she developed more book study resources that complement the great books from DBC. 

Tragedy at the Start of Her Career

Tara tells a heartbreaking story from her first year of teaching, when an unbelievable tragedy struck those closest to her. Prior to this incident, she was a teacher on fire, filled with passion for the profession and well on her way to public recognition for her innovative work in the classroom. But the passing of her father was devastating, and it proved almost impossible to keep it together in the classroom.

She remembers appealing for help from her principal, who recommended a counselor. That counselor helped Tara walk through the trauma she had experienced, affirming her normalcy as she worked through tremendous grief.

Later that school year, one of Tara’s students experienced the murder of her brother. Still working through her own pain, Tara knew that she would be able to relate to this student like never before. She began having lunches with this student, and with their shared experiences of tragedy, was able to build a meaningful relationship that helped her feel safe, loved, and appreciated.

Life will throw us curveballs, Tara says, and it’s important that we not try to pretend to ourselves and others that we’re invincible. We need to reach out for help when we need it, and leverage the support of our communities to respond in healthy ways. We can’t always understand others in the midst of pain, but we can empathize.

About Be REAL: Educate from the Heart

Last year Tara published Be REAL: Educate from the Heart. In the book, she talks about how technology will never replace teachers who are Relatable, Expose vulnerability, Approachable, and always Learning.

The book walks through Tara’s experiences as a child, starting with a second grade teacher that saw something in her that she couldn’t see in herself. At the time, she was struggling in every academic area, but this teacher saw her true potential. She took extra time to help Tara learn to read, setting her on a different course for the rest of her academic and personal life. “She helped rewire my brain because she was relatable, because she exposed some of her vulnerabilities with me and allowed me to share mine with her as well.” Tara needed hugs, and this teacher was happy to give them. She showed Tara that learning was a way out, a path to options and opportunities in her future.

Today, Tara asks how we might connect better with students in our own practice, helping them to feel safe to learn and take risks in the classroom. It starts with educators who are prepared to be vulnerable, illustrating the learning process right in front of our learners. Technology will never replace educators who see children for who they are and work to meet them at their needs. But technology is not dismissed from authentic learning environments – in fact, it can play a role in building authentic connections and relationships.

Can BookSnaps Be Created Without Apple Devices or SnapChat?

I share with Tara that I’ve been a fan of BookSnaps from a distance, but I’ve wondered how I can help my own 8th graders create BookSnaps without access to iOS devices or SnapChat. It IS possible! Right away, Tara points me to a tutorial on her website, where she walks students through the process of creating BookSnaps in Google Slides.

BookSnaps help students recreate the visualization of their thinking around a particular portion of text, and they can do so in fun and creative ways. BookSnaps help students demonstrate understanding, build connections, and solidify conceptual learning – another great way to develop a culture of literacy in your school.

How Can I Publish a Book Through Dave Burgess Consulting?

Tara is SO excited about the 2020 conference of Dave Burgess Consulting authors – a gathering of what she calls her PLF, her Professional Learning Family. She’s enjoyed the planning and development thus far and guarantees a “next level” experience!

For educators looking to write their own book through DBC, Tara recommends opening a Google Doc and beginning the process of compartmentalizing ideas. The challenge of writing an entire book can be daunting, so it’s important to break down those ideas into smaller, manageable portions.

Writing also needs to be an ongoing process, so continue to revisit your ideas and build them over time in ways that will reach as wide an audience as possible. Once you have something of substance, an outline of your message to educators, share a summary of your message with DBC. From there, someone will respond with an analysis of your proposal, along with some next steps to follow in the publishing journey.

What’s Exciting Tara About Education Today

One thing that thrills Tara as she travels across North America is the way that educators are stepping out of their comfort zones and taking risks to learn new things. She talks about the way her dad would encourage her to cannonball into the deep end of the pool rather than staying safe in the shallow end. Those cannonballs serve as a helpful metaphor for the risks we take as educators that may not work out. But it’s the only way for us to learn and grow, and it’s when we try new things in front of our learners that we inspire them to take similar steps in their own learning journeys.

Her Current Project: A Cannonball Picture Book

One project that Tara is working on at the moment is a picture book. She’s a huge fan of the ways that picture books can be used to teach ideas and concepts at all age levels. The book is about cannonballing into the pool, jumping in with both feet and taking big risks.

It sounds like another fantastic tool that educators can use to introduce the growth mindset to learners as well. As mentioned previously, not every cannonball will work, but if we keep taking risks, we’ll continue to grow, learn, and make a bigger impact. Tara has a phenomenal illustrator working on the book, and she’s excited to release it soon.

A Personal Passion Outside of Education

One of Tara’s biggest passions outside of education is playing the piano. She enjoys the process of writing music and lyrics, and although none of her music has been published to date, all of her creations are meaningful and come from places of authentic emotion and experience.

Habits for Wellness and Productivity

One habit that preserves Tara’s sanity and gives her tremendous clarity is journaling. She’ll go back in her journal and look for patterns in her thinking. Her entries are the calm to her crazy –  she likes to write freestyle and just let her thoughts flow organically. Sometimes her thoughts become musical lyrics, too.

Another tool Tara recommends is Google Keep. She uses Keep to collaborate with her husband, track goals, follow to-do lists, and a number of other uses. Because it’s available on any device, she uses it often and relies on it every day.

Voices That Shape Her Thinking & Inspire Her Practice

On Twitter, Tara recommends following @Aaron_Hogan. Aaron is the author of Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth: 6 Truths That Will Help you THRIVE as an Educator, and he’s got another great book on the way.

An edtech tool that curates reading material and helps you archive favorite articles for future retrieval is Flipboard. Tara loves the way this app operates, looks, and feels. If you’re a reader or a content creator, you need to give it a try.

Making Tara shout out just one of the DBC books was a tough ask, but she gives a nod to the new Tech with Heart: Leveraging Technology to Empower Student Voice, Ease Anxiety, & Create Compassionate Classrooms by Stacey Roshan. Get to know Stacey on Twitter @BuddyXO.

Tara has become a big fan of the Teachers on Fire podcast, which is awesome to hear! Another podcast she’s been enjoying is by Don Wettrick, a DBC author. Don produces The StartED Up Podcast, which talks a lot about innovation and entrepreneurship in education. Follow Don on Twitter @DonWettrick.

Over on YouTube, Tara’s been enjoying a star for the ages – Jennifer Lopez. Jennifer’s been sharing more behind-the-scenes footage lately, and Tara’s found it interesting and enlightening to watch how Jennifer does what she does behind the scenes. Well, kind of behind the scenes.

Although not a big TV watcher, Tara enjoys shows musical shows like World of Dance and American Idol.

We sign off on this incredible conversation, and Tara shares the best ways to connect with her online. Make sure to follow and subscribe at the links below!

Connect with Tara:

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.