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!

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 94 – Janelle McLaughlin

94 - Janelle McLaughlin

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

Janelle’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:

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 82 – Tara Martin

82 - Tara Martin

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.

Episode 73 – Rae Hughart

73 - Rae Hughart

Meet Our Guest

RAE HUGHART is a middle school Math teacher, educational consultant, Director of Training & Development for Teach Better, and a co-host for the Teach Better Talk podcast – and if you haven’t given Teach Better Talk a listen, you need to! Connect with Rae on Twitter AND Instagram @RaeHughart, and check out her course offerings and resources at TeachBetter.com!

Shut Out as a Learner

Rae’s own experience of elementary school wasn’t an easy one. She struggled with a reading disability, complicating her learning in most subjects. In fact, Rae feels she is likely one of the few Math teachers out there today as one who earned a ‘D’ when she was in 6th grade math herself. By high school, these poor associations of school were slowly building a passion to pursue a career in education with the purpose of changing the experience of school for learners like herself.

The Teach Better Mission, Upcoming Book, and #MasteryChat

The book on the way from the Teach Better Team (to be published by Dave Burgess Consulting) will feature all four leading members as contributors: Rae Hughart, Jeff Gargas, Chad Ostrowski, and Tiffany Ott. The authors plan to bring a mix of personal stories, education philosophy, and tactical strategies that will help educators move forward and experience continuous professional growth.

#MasteryChat, hosted by the Teach Better team and taking place every Thursday evening on Twitter, covers just about any and all issues in education and really boils down to the idea of coming together to master our craft as educators.

Tips for PLN Engagement on Twitter and Instagram

Rae sees Twitter as the place for educators to build engagement around rich pedagogical conversations and focused issues. Instagram is a different dive, a different lens, with different kinds of moments and ideas to be shared.

Of the two, Instagram is the better platform to visit to really get to know the human side of educators, partly because Instagram stories give teachers a lot of space to speak directly to their followers and get personal.

“Enjoy Instagram,” says Rae, “but remember that fluff ain’t enough.” Make sure you’re finding ways to connect and have those rich professional conversations as well, she advises.

A Personal Passion and Productivity Hack

Rae’s favorite outlet and source of recharging is her dogs. She obsesses about them whenever she can and loves nothing more than walking them over to Lowe’s – they’re allowed to walk inside the store there!

When asked for a productivity hack, Rae simply asks how anyone can do it alone. She’s committed to the idea of joining hands with others – a village of support. That’s the only way to make great things happen and really crush it in education.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Rae’s Professional Practice

Aside from the Teach Better team, Rae suggests following @MrAdamWelcome on Twitter for a steady stream of balanced inspiration.

Her edtech pick is Seesaw. Follow them on Twitter @Seesaw.

Rae’s book recommendation is Educated by Design: Designing the Space to Experiment, Explore, and Extract Your Creative Potential by Michael Cohen. Follow the author on Twitter @TheTechRabbi.

One podcast that lifts her up outside of the education space is The Rise Podcast with Rachel Hollis. Follow this well-known author on Twitter @MsRachelHollis.

Rae’s choice on YouTube is an oldie but a goodie: TED Talks. And on Netflix, it’s been Person of Interest lately.

See More From Rae

We sign off on this conversation, and Rae reminds us of the best ways to connect with her and learn together online. Get connected!

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.