Episode 120 – Dr. Christine Younghusband

120 - Dr. Christine Younghusband

Meet Dr. Christine Younghusband

CHRISTINE YOUNGHUSBAND is passionate about teaching and learning and the role of leadership in enhancing the student learning experience in K-12 and higher education. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership in 2017 from Simon Fraser University (SFU) and is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) in the B.Ed. Teacher Education Program and M.Ed. Leadership Program.

Her 25-year career in education includes teaching secondary mathematics and science in BC public schools and contributing to the provincial Math curriculum redesign. Christine is a learner first, and her teaching practice is guided by her inquiry and curiosity. She “learns by doing” with a willingness to try, take risks, and try again. She values learning experientially as a reflective practitioner.

Leaving the Classroom

Christine recalls a period about ten years ago when she actually left the classroom and teaching. It was a heartwrenching decision because she loved her teaching areas, her students, and the work she had done to build positive cultures in her learning community. But personal circumstances outside of the school forced her to reconsider her core values and commitments, and so her professional journey took a new direction.

After a nice period of time that allowed her to give her young daughter lots of special attention, she made a return to education in the forms of doctoral work and a school trusteeship. She credits the trusteeship with giving her another unique perspective in education which helped her complete her dissertation, providing insights that continue to contribute to her current roles. She has since been involved in numerous curricular design committees and has contributed to countless projects, including some related to Math and indigenous education in British Columbia.

Changing Assessment Paradigms

Changes in assessment practices and policies are incremental, Christine says pragmatically. Transitions do take time, particularly shifts toward portfolio-based admission strategies and feedback models of assessment at the post-secondary level. At their core, formative feedback paradigms attempt to put the focus squarely on learning.

In some cases, it’s helpful to think of useful assessment models being used outside of academia, such as the pass-fail structure we see in swimming report cards. Can this swimmer swim for 50 meters? The “score” doesn’t matter in that context – it really only matters whether the swimmer can make it to 50 meters or not. One refreshing result of removing weights and percentages from her own course reporting at the post-secondary level is that students no longer make strategic calculations about which learning activities to focus on, which activities to really invest effort in, or which activities are worth skipping.

Formative assessment makes learning more meaningful, says Christine. There’s no risk to the learner – only the opportunity for growth, learning, and improvement. It’s just a constant cycle of pushing forward, receiving feedback, and pushing forward some more. In pass-fail environments, students learn — not to receive status or earn commendation, but because they are wholeheartedly intent on the learning itself.

Professional Learning Networks

Many of the students and teacher candidates that enter Christine’s education courses at the post-secondary level are not quite as engaged with social media as popular perceptions dictate, she says. One of the challenges of showing these students the learning opportunities available to them via professional learning networks is the idea that we tend not to teach or practice things that we haven’t experienced ourselves.

With that in mind, Christine asks her students to proactively create their own digital footprint in the form of e-portfolios, starting with who a thoughtful look at who they are as a person, because who we are is how we teach. Her students then begin a process of documenting their learning and growth as teacher candidates, and they also project forward to who they will be when they leave the program as practitioners.

She also asks her students to create a Twitter account and to begin participating in that space, even if it means more lurking than contributing at the beginning. As students begin to realize the tangible wins of support and resources available in eduTwitter, they encourage others to get involved. It’s been fun to watch the #UNBCed and #BCedchat communities grow and gain momentum.

Weaving the Disciplines Together

Something that has really been igniting Christine’s interest and curiosity of late is the activity of weaving. She comes into this space very consciously a learner, and she sees all kinds of literal and metaphorical integrations with culture, indigenous learning, coding, numeracy, kinesthetic learning, and the environment. It’s an activity rich with application and extension, and it’s also good for the spirit. Speaking of numeracy, Christine says that “Everyone can do math – we just have different entry points.” For some learners, weaving might be one of those entry points. 

Professional Goals for 2020

Christine’s #OneWord2019 was WRITE, and although she looks forward to doing more published academic work, she looks back with satisfaction on all the writing that she was able to complete last year. This year, her OneWord is TENURE — not that she’s currently on a tenure track as a professor, but she seeks to move into the mindset of research, publishing, academic connections and collaboration.

Part of the challenge, Christine laughs, is to simply get over herself: as Brene Brown writes, to get past the senses of shame and inadequacy that we all wrestle with and simply get on with the work that is important to her. This will look like more academic contributions this year, and it may also include some personal work with sentimental significance, including a memoir about her mother.

Personal Learning: Weaving, Music, and Curling

When asked about personal passions and learning that ignites her passions when she leaves the UNBC campus, Christine can’t help but point back to weaving. She’s been enjoying weaving on Thursday nights at a community makerspace event, and she thinks part of the attraction is an interest in things she can’t do well. When she looks at weaving, she sees challenges with fine motor skills and coordination, but she knows that with time and persistence will come mastery.

Looking elsewhere, it’s also been a pleasure to discover the musical talents and passions of several of her peers in the UNBC faculty. Christine is also committed to rekindling a former passion: getting back to the curling rink. (For those from warmer climes, curling is essentially shuffleboard on ice.)

Professional Productivity

“I’m one of those people that works best under pressure,” Christine laughs. She’s not one for apps, routines, or hacks — she simply does the work that needs to get done by the time it needs to be done. Learning happens in community, so when we don’t complete contributions of learning by agreed-upon times, it affects the learning of others. Social responsibility compels us to honor deadlines more than penalties or money ever can.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Her Practice

Over on Twitter, Christine recommends following Nolle Pepin @Beaded_Tweets. Noelle is an indigenous educator whose work in weaving has been a big source of inspiration for Christine.

Dr. Christine’s pick for edtech tools is a classic: Google Docs. She asks her students to use Google Docs to annotate texts collaboratively, posting comments, asking questions, and responding to classmates on the same Doc.

Christine’s all-time favorite book in education is The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker J. Palmer. It reinforces her core values and mission and makes an easy recommendation to students.

When asked for a podcast pick, Christine admits she’s still relatively new to podcast consumption. Teachers on Fire is where it’s at! 

We close out this conversation with some really fun video picks. On YouTube, Christine is watching Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper). Dr. Lee’s content isn’t for everyone, but Christine finds her videos amusing and satisfying. And on Netflix, she’s watching two other funny shows: Schitts Creek and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Make sure you connect with Christine using the contact information posted below!

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Song Track Credits

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  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*

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Episode 101 – Nancy Frey

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Meet Nancy Frey

NANCY FREY is a Professor of Educational Leadership and Literacy at San Diego State University at the graduate and doctoral levels. She’s also an instructor at Health Sciences High and Middle College, a secondary charter school which she co-founded 13 years ago with Doug Fisher and others. The school runs from grade 8-12 with about 700 students, and her teaching practice there helps to make sure that the ideas she advocates for in her research and writing actually work in practice.

Nancy has also authored or co-authored a number of books, including PLC+: Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design.

Rocked By a Hurricane

When asked about a low moment, Nancy thinks back to the time she spent teaching in south Florida. One year, Hurricane Andrew hit the area just days before school opened. The storm exacted a heavy toll on the communities across the region, causing her district to expand very quickly due to damaged and destroyed schools in nearby counties. More significantly, almost every additional student came into the district with significant emotional trauma.

It was a difficult year that even made Nancy challenge her place in the profession, partly because she felt so unprepared to offer the guidance, comfort, and support that her learners truly needed while also promoting their academic growth and development. Thankfully, with a mix of inner commitment and support from colleagues, Nancy remained an educator, and she now credits this year with giving her valuable experiences and perspectives regarding trauma-informed education.

What is Visible Learning?

Visible Learning is the terminology used to refer to the research engineered by John Hattie, who used a meta-analysis to review hundreds of academic studies in an effort to determine what truly works in education. From this research, he and his team have created an index of what he calls effect sizes: how do different interventions positively or negatively affect learning outcomes?

With close to 300M students represented in these studies, this research can say with authority what works and what doesn’t in education. Supported by the groundbreaking research and resources from Visible Learning, schools and districts no longer need to guess about where to apply their energies. 

Taking Your PLC to the Next Level: PLC+

PLC+ by Nancy Frey and Douglas FisherIn PLC+: Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design, Nancy and Doug Fisherlook at the power behind professional learning communities and apply the latest research to suggest ways to take PLCs to the next level. The ‘+’ in PLC+ is you – what it is that you bring to your learning community.

The book organizes the PLC+ process around five key questions:

  1. Where are we going? What is our destination?
  2. Where are we now? Take a situational assessment.
  3. How can we move learning forward?
  4. What did we learn today? How are we enriching ourselves as a PLC so that we can continue the work that we’re doing?
  5. Who benefited and who did not? This is the essential question of equity.

These questions are grounded in four universal values:

  • Equity,
  • Higher expectations,
  • Activation, and
  • Individual and collective efficacy – belief in our ability to effect change.

In Nancy’s view, PLCs and our perceptions of them have tended to become more restrictive over time. Twenty-first century manifestations of PLCs should actually integrate well with PLNs in the sense that every member of a PLC must remain engaged in a PLN in order to further support their own learning and allow them to better contribute to their PLC. Other strategies like micro-learning and learning walks must be parts of robust PLCs as well.

Building Literacy Through the Tools of Metacognition

When I asked Nancy for some quick advice for the literacy classroom, Nancy pointed back to John Hattie. Do you know your impact? Do you know when your students have learned something? These are the questions that must drive everything we do in literacy and throughout K-12 education.

In the literacy classroom we must also ask ourselves how we are bringing students into the learning. This goes beyond ensuring content relevance – it means that students must understand WHAT they are learning, WHY they are learning it, and HOW they will know that they have been successful in learning it. Learning intentions and success criteria must be made clear to learners in every lesson, and when it comes to English classes, progress tends to be incremental – they’re generally not leaving a 30-minute lesson with a brand new skill.

With that in mind, we must give students the tools of self-assessment: how can students look at their own work and gauge their own growth and progress? How can we equip our learners to critique the work of peers? For English teachers looking to empower their students in this area, Nancy points to a few titles including Developing Assessment-Capable Visible Learners, Grades K-12: Maximizing Skill, Will, and Thrill.

Other Areas That Are Setting Nancy on 🔥 in Education

Nancy is very intrigued by the ways that technology is being effectively embedded and woven into instruction today. She points to the ways that our views of technology in education have changed from past decades: from computer lab to essential tool. Technology tools can be a double-edged sword, however, because technology itself is no assurance of learning, and in fact, we still don’t fully understand how technology changes the ways in which students learn.

Today, high school students walk around with computers in their pockets – devices more powerful than the computers that first sent spaceships to the moon. On the one hand, these phones can be the bane of a teacher’s existence, but on the other hand, educators must better harness this technology in order to advance learning.

The questions around phones and phone policy in schools are not easy ones to answer, but we must continue to struggle and learn in this area. (Editor’s Note: Check out my exploration of this issue at On Schools and Cell Phones.)

Is Handwriting an Essential Literacy Skill?

Should pens and pencils remain part of the writing classroom? Nancy says that students should be exposed to a wide continuum of learning experiences. Evidence also suggests that the motor functions involved in writing seem to inform the abilities of young learners to break the code (decode letters and words). Young children should know how to engage in print and cursive, and older students should at least have the capacity to sign their name. Nancy shares her experience from a recent class of seniors – many of whom struggled to sign a document in cursive. Yes, young learners should learn how to keyboard, and voice-to-text will continue to change the nature of composition. 

Professional Goals for This Year

Nancy’s annual and evergreen goal is to ask: How can I be a better teacher this year? If that isn’t a question you’re asking, Nancy chuckles, it may be time to look for a new profession. Lately, Nancy has been writing about the intersection between teacher credibility and collective efficacy and the ways in which these two constructs can support and promote the other.

Nancy is also intrigued by the ways that students learn about their own learning through practice tests. Do students know what they’re learning and what they’re not learning?

Personal Passions Outside of Education

One activity that ignites Nancy’s passions and brings her alive as a human being when she leaves the halls of education is her work with kettlebells. She has participated in functional fitness workouts with kettlebells and the kettlebell community for the last six or seven years, and she is consistent. “Strong is the new skinny,” she says. She hits her gym about six days out of seven, and it’s formed a big part of her personal wellness.

A Productivity Habit: Meditation

The personal habit that has been making the biggest difference for Nancy in the productivity space is meditation. She meditates for 15 minutes after waking up each morning, and she finds that she is more productive as a result. It’s time to be quiet, to be mindful, to be self-aware, and to slow down. Nancy uses the Calm app and is competitive enough that her personal streaks are important to her, and she even appreciates the badges earned over time.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Nancy’s Practice

On Twitter, Nancy is a big fan of the #G2Great hashtag and regular Twitter chat.

As far as edtech tools go, Nancy loves what smartpens do for learners and learning in the classroom. There are so many uses for smartpens that fit within UDL and increase equity for all learners.

Tis by Frank McCourtNancy’s all-time favorite read is Tis: A Memoir by Frank McCourt. This classic describes the life of an English teacher in New York City from an earlier time.

In the world of podcasts, Nancy’s pick is Disgraceland, which unpacks the spectacular missteps and disasters that have followed countless pop music stars. It’s a guilty pleasure and Nancy can’t get enough of it.

On YouTube, Nancy is a big fan of the resources shared on the Teaching Channel. Get to know the Teaching Channel on Twitter @TeachingChannel

Yes, Nancy does occasionally find time for Netflix! One of her favorite series of late was Russian Doll

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

You can connect with Nancy …

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Song Track Credits

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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.

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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.