Episode 93 – Jorge Valenzuela

93 - Jorge Valenzuela

Meet Jorge Valenzuela

JORGE VALENZUELA is a graduate teaching assistant and doctoral student at Old Dominion University and the lead coach at Lifelong Learning Defined. He is a national faculty member of PBL Works and a national teacher effectiveness coach for the Engineering by Design curriculum. His work is aimed at helping educators understand and implement computational thinking, computer science, STEM/STEAM, and project-based learning.

Jorge is also a national presenter, ISTE author, and frequent contributor to books, academic journals, how-to blogs, and webinars. He is the 2018 awardee of ISTE’s Computer Science Excellence Award and recipient of the Lynn Barrier Engineering Leadership Award for his contributions to STEM education in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

These days, Jorge balances a number of active roles in education. Besides teaching at Old Dominion University, he also teaches a computer science course for middle school students in Richmond, VA on the weekends. He’s working on his doctorate, he’s a coach, he speaks at institutions across the country, and he’s an author. Jorge is an active blogger and is currently working on his first book.

Learning to Let Educators Know, Like, and Trust His Work

Jorge recalls a period about eight or nine years ago when he worked as a curriculum specialist for a school division. At the time, he oversaw the area of STEM education, but although he had a lot of passions and ideas, he felt tentative about sharing those ideas with other professionals.

It was then that Chad Ratliff passed on a very important piece of advice: “No one cares how smart you are or if you have smart ideas. What they want to see is results. You should go on Twitter and social media and showcase what your students are actually doing.”

Jorge was slow to get started, but since receiving that advice he’s become adept at sharing the learning from his professional practice. As he’s shared bits of learning from his own practice, it’s made it easier for him to build credibility and help other educators understand what he’s all about.

PBL Advice

When it comes to project-based learning, Jorge calls us to remember first and foremost that PBL is simply an instructional approach. It’s another way to teach.

To get started, he advises looking at learning activities that are already happening in our classrooms – particularly experiential, hands-on, minds-on learning. By starting with the  knowledge and experience in a familiar content area, we’ll feel better positioned to gradually move towards a multi-disciplinary, PBL approach.

From there, look at resources like PBL Works or other stories that are being shared by successful PBL educators by way of blogs, articles, and videos to gain some tried and true inspiration. The resources at PBL Works are based on two frameworks: the project design elements and the project-based teaching practices (the what and the how). Both are helpful.

He quotes Tony Robbins as saying that “repetition is the mother of skill.” We have to get started to get better. 

What’s Setting Jorge on 🔥 in Education Today

Fred Rogers said that “The most important people in the lives of students are parents and teachers. Therefore, the most important people in the world are parents and teachers.”

Today, with modern families looking different and certainly busier than they were twenty years ago, the role of the teacher is more critical than ever. That being the case, let’s strive to make our classrooms as enjoyable, meaningful, and relevant as possible. 

The Place of Computer Science in Education

Jorge’s undergraduate education focused on computer studies, and in the decades since that schooling, he says that the core principles haven’t changed much. What has changed, however, is where computer science lives in the curriculum.

Today, CS can be integrated into Math, English, Social Studies, and other subjects. It’s more than coding – it’s a way of thinking and solving problems.

A Professional Goal

Jorge is currently working on a book called Rev Up Robotics with Computational Thinking and Programming. “I’ve found a lot of strength in numbers, and ISTE has helped me find my professional network, my tribe, and my home in a STEM PLN,” Jorge says.

Every educator should find a professional learning network that he or she can subscribe to and learn from – both in and out of the classroom, because working with others is key.

Productivity Habits

Jorge is motivated by self-growth of all kinds, and right now he’s especially fascinated by learning about relationships. He recently discovered Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, and it’s been incredibly insightful. Emotional awareness and social skills are helpful in every context, professional and personal. They’re especially useful when it comes to dealing with two teenagers!

Jorge also spends 10-20 hours a week honing his craft and developing his skills as an educator – not just for his students but also for the teachers he coaches. That amount of time isn’t for everyone, he admits, but for him it’s grown from a place of passion to one of intense purpose and fulfillment.

Jorge recommends waking up early each morning. He likes to start his day at 5:00, start with some meditation, and spend time reflecting on failures. In the past, he was embarrassed by mistakes, but now he welcomes them.

In the big picture, we actually experience more failures than we do successes. By having the courage and humility to reflect on and learn from each failure, we only accelerate our own growth and position ourselves better for our next successful moment.

Voices That Shape Jorge’s Thinking & Inspire His Practice

Over on Twitter, Jorge recommends following @ElonMusk, the ultimate STEM student, and @AyahBdeir, founder of LittleBits.

The edtech tool that is getting Jorge most excited for learners right now is the Code Kit by LittleBits

Jorge’s book pick is Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim Grover. Grover has an incredible story of coaching some of the NBA’s all-time greats, and he has a lot of insights to share that can be applied off the hard court as well.

As far as podcasts go, Jorge is tuning into a couple: Your EdTech Questions by ISTE and Coach Corey Wayne, a life and peak performance coach.

Though he doesn’t really get much time to watch Netflix, Jorge enjoyed When They See Us, the story of five African-American boys who were wrongfully convicted of a serious crime in the late 80s. It’s a tear-jerker, Jorge warns.

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

Connect with Jorge:

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 89 – Lynmara Colon

89 - Lynmara Colon.png

Meet Lynmara Colon

LYNMARA COLON is a dynamic leader committed to student learning and growth. She is passionate about technology, access, and equity for all students, and was named in the NSBA 20 to Watch for Innovative Practices. As a former teacher, assistant principal, and principal, Lynmara is focused on building healthy cultures by leading with a Disney mentality where all stakeholders are welcomed.

Lynn holds two master’s degrees: one in curriculum and instruction, the other in educational leadership. She is also the co-author of the recently published Empower Our Girls: Opening the Door for Girls to Achieve More.

Lynmara’s practice is located in Manassas, VA where she serves the Prince William County Schools. The district is situated 30 miles outside of Washington, DC, with 90,000 students, 29,000 English language learners, and 140 languages spoken across 98 schools. Lynmara is the Director of EL Programs and Services, including Central Registration, Translation, Instructional Services, Professional Learning, and Instructional Point of Contact for Schools.

Learning the Importance of Relationships

When asked to think of a time of adversity in her professional journey, Lynmara thinks back to her first year as principal. At the time, she was eager to jump into the work and felt ready to institute new initiatives immediately. But she quickly learned that slow is better, listening is critical, and building relationships and trust across the community is paramount.

As she looks back, she’s grateful for one teacher who graciously helped her to slow down and listen more. She values this kind of professional feedback and points to the importance of these “cocoon friends” who can offer healthy perspectives and hold her accountable.

Introducing the Book: Empower Our Girls

Lynmara is so excited about the feedback that she and Adam Welcome have received after publishing Empower Our Girls: Opening the Door for Girls to Achieve More. In her own story, she was as raw and vulnerable as she could be so that young girls everywhere will be better, stronger, and more empowered as a result.

This book brings together many different authors and contributors who have experienced similar challenges and experiences and are active in the work of advocacy for girls in education today. It includes superintendents, medical professionals, athletes, and other leaders who share their journey in an attempt to clear roadblocks, improve equity, and inspire others.

When I asked Lynn to suggest practical ways for me to empower the girls in my practice, she spoke to the importance of asking the right questions and intentionally making sure every voice is heard. Girls need to gain the experience of speaking and advocating in order to build confidence and step forward into new spaces.

Serving English Learners

In her new role as Director of English Learner Programs and Services, Lynmara serves with purpose. She was born, raised, and educated in Puerto Rico, so all of her early learning was in Spanish, and she understands the challenges in this area of education because she can personally relate – she’s lived it.

She’s grateful that her current district shares her vision of giving every English Learner what she calls a “Disney experience,” the sense that every person is valued and deserves magical moments of learning. To get serious about meeting the needs of these students, schools must invest in targeted professional development that helps educators better understand the unique needs of these learners, the challenges they face, and the exciting potential that lies within each child.

It’s always about building the kind of school cultures that offer quality education opportunities for every single student, regardless of background and journey. Lynmara can tell these learners that although the path may be difficult, it IS possible. She’s done it, and she’s living her American Dream. 

New Opportunities for English Learners

Lynmara is excited by the US Department of Education’s tech toolkit for English learners, which is providing more on-ramps and learning opportunities for students whose first language is not English. The department has stated that all students should have access to technology and innovative practices, including students in these important conversations and improving equity in schools across the country. With improved resources and access, kids are winning.

Her Professional Goal: Finishing the Doctorate

Lynmara’s number one professional goal at the moment is her doctorate in education. This has been a dream for some time, although her doubts in her own English language proficiency held her back from taking this step for too long.

Now that she’s plugged into the program and sharing spaces with other education leaders from other districts, she thoroughly enjoys the rich professional relationships and conversations that have followed. Titles aren’t important in this context, and she and her colleagues are free to grapple with important challenges and issues as peers. It’s been a wonderful and inspiring journey, and she’s grateful for the additions she’s been able to make to her professional network.

Productivity Habits and Routines

In conjunction with her latest role and responsibilities, Lynn has adopted habits from Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning. She wakes up at 4:45 a.m., runs two miles, completes a devotional, does some journaling, and reads for twenty minutes. This routine helps her to center, plan for the day, and focus on positivity.

These habits have helped her to manage the larger challenges of her professional practice and also helped her achieve some impressive physical goals as well. Lynmara has even taken a further step with the Miracle Morning, following cues from the Miracle Morning for Writers. This has been a key resource as she strives to write her dissertation and complete her PhD. 

Lynmara also talks about the power of breakfast and sleep. They’re just essential, Lynn says, to stay on top of your game and make things happen in your practice. She never skips breakfast, and she tries hard to get at least six hours of sleep per night, finishing her day with reading and without access to her phone. She learned the importance of self-care the hard way, recalling a time earlier in her life when her body actually shut down after being pushed too hard.

Voices That Shape Her Practice and Inspire Her Thinking

On Twitter, Lynn recommends following her superintendent, @SuperPWCS. Steve Walts is a nonstop source of inspiration and consistently shouts out great learning happening across the entire district.

When asked about her favorite tech tools, Lynn points to Canva, a simple and powerful graphic design program. She also really likes the features for English learners provided by Lexia Core 5 Reading

Lynmara is learning so much from Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, where author Kim Scott offers a ton of insights into the best ways to have those difficult conversations. Get to know the author on Twitter @KimBallScott

At the top of Lynn’s Apple Podcasts line-up is the RISE Podcast, featuring Rachel Hollis. “She’s my best friend, and she doesn’t even know it,” Lynn laughs. Follow Rachel on Twitter @MrsRachelHollis.

On YouTube, a go-to source of quality content and inspiration is the GoalCast channel. Lynn enjoys their content personally and shares it with her staff teams as well. Follow GoalCast on Twitter @Goal_Cast.

On Netflix, it’s been Grey’s Anatomy lately – a fun point of connection between Lynn and her children. Her twins remind Mom to “Stop asking questions and just watch the show!”

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

Connect with Lynmara:

Song Track Credits

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