Just Start: Get on the Track of Improvement

By settling for safety, we miss out on certain growth and learning.

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

“Fear is always triggered by creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It is, however, something to be dealt with.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

At the outset of the new year, AJ Juliani issued a challenge to the education world: blog — or engage in blogging activities — for thirty days.

His call was a welcome one. Research has long been telling us that our students learn best when they are given the time, tools, and opportunity to reflect thoughtfully on their own learning journeys. In Leaders of Their Own Learning, Ron Berger calls this sort of metacognitive activity “writing to learn.”

The same principle applies for educators.

Writing to Learn and Learning to Write

The more we speak, write, tweet, vlog, and publish about our learning and professional practice, the more we will learn, grow, and develop as educators. And as we make our own learning visible, others benefit and grow as well.

John Hattie talks about the power of collective efficacy. Stephen Covey calls it win-win. Simply put, we’re better together.

Our professional growth isn’t just about reading and listening to the established voices in education. It’s also about sharing and contributing our own experiences.

So, as passionate educators, why don’t we participate in the global conversation more than we do?

It’s Not Really About Time

The typical response says we don’t have enough time in the week. But for most, that’s not actually the case. As Laura Vanderkam demonstrates convincingly in 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, most of us actually do have the time.

When you get right down to it, most of us aren’t hitting ‘Publish’ for one reason: fear.

We fear embarrassment. Rejection. Crickets.

We assume that our voice doesn’t matter. That no one will pay attention. Or worse yet, that we’ll be exposed as an imposter.

As Elizabeth Gilbert points out, most of us don’t publish creatively because the outcome is uncertain. There’s just no guarantee of success — whatever success means.

So we take the safe option.

The Power of Practice

But people who aren’t publishing are overlooking an absolute guarantee: improvement.

That’s right, I said it. When you create content consistently over time, your growth and improvement is guaranteed. You can’t help but get better.

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell makes the case that repetition is highly underrated. He tells story after story of individuals who simply put in the time on their craft to gradually become an expert in their space.

Marques Brownlee

Earlier this year, I listened to a podcast featuring YouTuber Marques Brownlee, a soft-spoken, thoughtful, and charismatic tech reviewer. He talked about how he began publishing YouTube videos back in high school simply because he loved the medium and enjoyed the process. As he describes it, his first 100 videos were viewed by audiences of around 100 people.

Today, Brownlee’s videos earn millions of views apiece. He has 7.7M subscribers.

It’s not all about growing an audience. That’s not really my point, although the size of his growing viewership does speak to the value of his work.

What I’m more interested in is those first 100 videos. Just think about the sort of headspace he was in to continue creating.

As he puts it, he created content simply because he enjoyed it. The views and reactions were secondary.

And because he stuck with it, he’s obviously eclipsed Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. He’s become a master at his craft.

The Teachers on Fire Podcast

In March of 2018, I realized a long-held dream by launching a podcast for educators, Teachers on Fire. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I had questions about everything from applications to equipment to guests.

It took a lot of work to get started, and it definitely wasn’t easy. My sound quality was awful at the beginning, and I made a ton of unfortunate mistakes that made the process even more painful.

The interview for my very first episode took forever to complete because the recording app I was using crashed at least six times. It was a frustrating first experience.

Almost a year later, I still don’t have it all figured out. But I’m learning. I’m growing. I’m improving my craft. I’m miles and miles from where I started, and my conversations with education leaders are inspiring listeners around the world.

Consistent Content Creation is a Direct Line to Improvement

I don’t consider myself a skilled artist. But I have zero doubt in my mind that if I set aside three hours a weekend to learn and practice pencil drawing for 52 weeks, I would be a much better artist by year’s end.

Absolutely no doubt in my mind.

I’m convinced that the same holds true for any kind of creative publishing. Once we embark on the commitment of regular creation, improvement isn’t a question. It’s an absolute certainty.

And as we hone our creative skills, our contributions to the world around us become more valuable.

This is what I want my stepsons to know. My students to know. And you, fellow educator, to know.

We can lament our lack of creative skills. Or we can take action.

Just start.

Episode 74 – Susan Jachymiak

74 - Susan Jachymiak.png

Meet Our Guest

SUSAN JACHYMIAK is a 4th grade teacher in Orland Park, IL. She’s a rookie this year, and she’s clearly on fire! Follow her on Twitter @MsJachymiak and visit her blog at http://msjachymiak.weebly.com.

Rookie Year Challenges

Susan’s teacher training focused on middle school education, but her first teaching position has been at the fourth grade level. These students come with different learning and social needs than students in middle school, so it’s taken some professional growth for her to better understand the dynamics of these younger learners and meet them where they are.

#NewTeacherJourney and the Power of Twitter

As Susan started plugging into Twitter chats before her first year of teaching, she noticed a shortage of chats dedicated to rookie teachers. That led her to create the #NewTeacherJourney chat, which typically connects on Sunday evenings at 8:30 pm EST. She’s been pleased to see the number of other new teachers plugged in, connecting, and gaining encouragement and advice thanks to this hashtag.

Susan is a strong advocate of using Twitter – not only for the purposes of connecting socially with other educators, but in order to leverage the power of the platform by actively sharing and learning from what is happening in classrooms around the globe.

Passions in Education

What excites Susan about education today are the amazing opportunities that technology is allowing learners in her classroom. She uses GoFormative to facilitate exit slips as checks for understanding at the end of lessons, Prodigy to reinforce Math concepts, and Mystery Skype to reinforce critical thinking and geography skills.

Her professional goal for the rest of this year and going into next year is focused on organization, including what to collect from students, how best to arrange it, and how best to act on it. Because so much of teaching requires thinking on your feet and making quick decisions – especially during your first year – it’s been a challenge to find the systems that work most efficiently for her. Ultimately, better organization will set her up to better meet the unique needs of each of her learners.

Susan has also been fascinated by the possibilities for learning articulated by Jo Boaler in her book, Mathematical Mindsets. In the Math classroom, this helps students understand the power of “I don’t get this … YET,” seeing initial failures as merely first attempts in learning, and adopting practices of continuous revision to improve first attempts and learn toward mastery. These concepts don’t just apply to students – they apply to educators as well!

Productivity and Recharging

Susan is a list-keeper, and for that purpose her app of choice is Google Keep. Keep is where she goes to determine what still needs to get done, what is a higher priority, what needs to be added to the list, and what needs to come off. She also recharges her professional passion in Twitter chats, and she makes it a goal to participate in at least one of those per week.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Susan’s Professional Practice

On Twitter, Susan suggests following @RaeHughart. Rae shares a lot from her practice, offers great resources from the Teach Better Team, and co-hosts the Teach Better Talk podcast.

For edtech tools, Susan recommends Class Dojo as a means to build class culture and encourage collaboration toward group goals. She also points out Plickers as a fun way to quickly and efficiently collect feedback and formative assessments across the class using your mobile device.

Susan’s writing has already appeared in a published book! It’s called Chasing Greatness: 26.2 Ways Teaching Is Like Running a Marathon by Mike Roberts. Follow the author on Twitter @BaldRoberts.

Two educational podcasts that Susan is listening to are Teach Better Talk and The Pondering Education Podcast.

Over on YouTube, Susan is tuned into a channel called Pocketful of Primary, hosted by Michelle Ferré. On her show, Michelle shares all the ups, downs, and ideas from her work, and Susan gleans things of value from every episode.

On Netflix, Susan enjoys two classic series: Fuller House and Friends.

See More From Susan

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.

Episode 72 – Tisha Richmond

72 - Tisha Richmond.png

Meet Our Guest

TISHA RICHMOND is a Technology Integration Specialist serving 19 schools in Medford, Oregon. She’s also a speaker and author of Make Learning Magical: Transform Your Teaching and Create Unforgettable Experiences in Your Classroom.

From Misery to Magic

In 2014, Tisha was at a real low point as an educator. She was frustrated, tired, and dreamed of becoming a barista. A sign in her classroom spoke as a silent reminder: “Above all, have a good time.” But the good times seemed elusive, and she found herself struggling to find joy in her work.

When the culinary teachers in her district first adopted iPads, she was skeptical at first, but after attending iPadpalooza and seeing what educators were doing with technology, her imagination was captured. She went all in on iPad integration in her classroom, utilizing Google Classroom, iMovie, app smashing, green screens, and other strategies to allow students to demonstrate understanding and elevate their learning.

Her passion for the profession was completely rekindled. The magic was back.

The Heart of Make Learning Magical

Make Learning Magical starts from the incredible transformation Tisha experienced in her own practice. She wants educators everywhere to know that no matter how long you’ve been in the classroom, magical learning experiences are still possible.

In her book, Tisha makes MAGICAL an acronym for the factors that bring the magic to your practice:

  • M – Meaningful Beginnings
  • A – Authenticity and Agency
  • G – Gamified Experiences
  • I – Innovation
  • C – Creativity and Collaboration
  • A – Authentic Audience
  • L – Legacy.

To the last point on legacy, Tisha recounts some memories from a teacher that was instrumental in her own life and urges educators to create experiences that will cause students to want to continue learning long after they leave our classrooms.

Breakout EDU

Breakout EDU, one of Tisha’s latest passions, involves games of logic and problem-solving that groups of students (or educators) can play together. Think of an escape room – but instead of trying to get out of a place, participants try to unlock special containers using provided clues. Tisha has been thoroughly impressed by the level of immersion she’s seen from students: they’re all in, enthusiastic, excited, collaborating, and relishing the productive struggle.

Education Today & Professional Goals

Tisha is thrilled by the opportunities that our learners have for authentic global collaboration today. She shares a recent joint effort between culinary and design classes who were able to team up on a project from different parts of the country.

Tisha is keen on learning more about augmented and virtual reality, but when it comes to technology in education she is just hungry to learn wherever she can. She wants to serve the educators in her district well, and that means creating professional development opportunities that are personalized and meet the needs of every educator. She will continue to speak and write – two of her passions – and she’s recently been accepted into a class that will equip her to build her own BreakoutEDU games.

Other Passions and Productivity Habits

Outside of education, one of Tisha’s chief passions is design – especially interior design. Along the same theme, she really enjoys the creative process, including calligraphy, sketchnoting, hand lettering, and graphic design. Many years ago, she wouldn’t have considered herself a “creative,” but she’s really enjoyed getting in touch with this side of herself in recent years.

Exercise and running are key in terms of clearing her head and improving her focus. These activities give her those opportunities to process, and they seem to lead to some of her best creative breakthroughs. Writing has also become a foundational habit in terms of reflecting and processing her thoughts.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Tisha’s Professional Practice

Looking to strengthen your PLN on Twitter? Tisha recommends following @TamaraLetter and @SixthIsGoal.

The edtech tools Tisha sees being put to best use in the classroom these days include Canva, Pear Deck , and FlipGrid.

Two books deserve the most credit for reviving Tisha’s practice and revolutionizing her perspectives on education. They are Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess and Explore Like a Pirate by Michael Matera. Follow these two awesome authors on Twitter at @BurgessDave and @MrMatera.

In  educational podcasts, Tisha’s tuned in to The Google Teacher Tribe Podcast with Kasey Bell and Matt Miller, Cult of Pedagogy with Jennifer Gonzales, and Well Played with Michael Matera.

Over on YouTube, Tisha points to sketchnoter Carrie Baughcum. Follow Carrie on Twitter @HeckAwesome to see more of what she’s all about.

Though she claims not to be able to sing herself, Tisha is digging a show called The Masked Singer in her free time.

See More From Tisha

We sign off on this magical conversation, and Tisha 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.

Episode 71 – Rose Pillay

71 - Rose Pillay

Meet Our Guest

ROSE PILLAY is an education leader and curriculum consultant for the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese. Her One Word for 2019 is SMILE, and Rose keeps educators inspired on her mission to serve, support, and celebrate growth and relationships. She sees her roles as 1) professional learner, 2) good news gossip, and 3) educational matchmaker.

Buckle up for this interview! Her colleagues call her a girl on fire, and you’ll understand why when you hear her passion and commitment for learning. Follow Rose on Twitter @RosePillay1 and visit her blog at https://teachafl.wordpress.com/.

Everything We Do in Teaching is Relational

There are days when Rose has felt she isn’t making a difference. Imposter syndrome creeps in, and she the doubts can be debilitating.

To counter these feelings of inadequacy and negativity, Rose makes a conscious choice to curate and keep any and all the cards, comments, and collectibles that are affirming and empowering. She also designates a label in her inbox simply marked Sunshine, and it’s filled with messages that empower and bless her.

To further bolster her confidence, Rose is proactive about surrounding herself with people who not only cheer her on but challenge her to be better. “Everything we do in teaching is relational,” she says. We need to find others who will fuel our passion.

Faith and Learning

As a committed Catholic, Rose feels called to bring the light of Jesus into this world, and as such she strives to be a lighthouse and source of hope for others. She wants to live in such a way that people say “I want what she’s having,” not living as one seeking to be accepted but in a way that is unashamed, unapologetic, and authentic.

She enjoys partnering with educators from all corners and backgrounds because we all want the same things for children: to equip them to live well in an ever-changing world. She is relentless in her pursuit of the good, true, and beautiful in an effort to make our students into saints. Education has shifted its focus from transmission of information to transformation, from products to people. We’re trying to define the very best qualities of what it means to be human, to contribute to this world and make it a better place.

Why Network on Twitter?

For Rose, Twitter serves two main purposes:

  1. it builds professional relationships, and
  2. it creates access to classrooms, innovative practices, and inspirational conversations.

Twitter isn’t the all-important platform, but the key is to find something, someone, or some place that recharges your batteries so that you have the ideas and energy to give back to your learners.

Fail Better

Rose’s blog, Fail Better, began as a reservoir of resources for educators looking to do more with assessment for learning. In June 2012, Rose wrote a post called Fail Better, inspired by a quote by Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

From that time forward, Rose decided to use her blog to reflect on her own learning journey. Dylan Wiliam says that every educator needs to accept two commitments.

  1. Every single teacher will carry on improvement in their practice, and
  2. Focus on the things that make the most difference to students. Embrace the idea that the job of teaching is so difficult that we never really get good at it. We fail every day, but every day following we can come back and fail better.

To fuel and direct her learning journey, Rose asks herself those Big Three metacognitive questions each week:

  1. What am I learning?
  2. Where am I going?
  3. How will I get there?

As Richard Wagamese writes, “Don’t just write what you know. Write what you wish to know.” Storytelling is about discovery of one’s self, a way for writers to document their growth and evolution.

New Competency-Based Curriculum for BC

One thing that really ignites Rose today is BC’s new competency-based curriculum. It’s infused schools across the province with fresh energy, vision, and joy. The focus is where it should be – on ALL students learning and growing, from wherever they are on their journey. It’s about students finding themselves, developing holistically, and answering the most important question they will ever answer: Who am I?

Rose is also thrilled by the new Career Life education program coming to BC’s high school curriculum – “the sun around which all the other courses will orbit.” Among other things, this new initiative is sure to challenge long-held assumptions and ways of doing in terms of high school timetables and course structures.

A third thing that energizes Rose is the cross-pollination of ideas, resources, and practices happening between districts in British Columbia.

A Professional Goal for 2019

This year, Rose would like to grow as a confident, competent, and creative workshop presenter. This will mean attending more professional development events led by people who are pushing themselves, including an upcoming CAFLN conference in Delta, BC.

Learning is a Life Passion

Rose is a fan of learning, whatever it is and wherever it’s available. She loves to rub shoulders with other learners who attend events by choice – she calls these campfires. Being with other educators who are there because they want to learn and love community is so energizing.

It’s the sharing of stories that really helps us grow, and for that reason Rose and her brother Gabriel are passionate organizers of an annual event called EdVent. It’s a place for educators to come and share their stories of learning and innovative practice. Teaching and learning have to be team sports! We need teammates to learn beside.

A Productivity Hack: Saying YES More

Inspired by Catherine Mulskey’s Ted-X Talk, The Courage to Say No, Rose is learning to actually say YES to more things, including this podcast. Saying no sometimes means that we’re not growing, and we miss out on learning. Right now, she’s focused on saying yes more often.

“My need to KNOW things trumps my need to say NO to things,” Rose says. “For me to be successful in what I do, I want to model what it means to learn, to grow, to stretch, to take risks.”

Voices & Resources That Inspire Rose’s Professional Practice

On Twitter, Rose recommends following @Vendram1n. He’s a continual source of leadership and inspiration, and he’s one of the kindest and most generous leaders in education you’ll ever meet.

Rose’s book pick is Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese. It’s a breathtaking work of life and beauty from an indigenous perspective.

If you’re looking for another education podcast to add to your line-up, check out The Catholic Teacher Podcast. Follow the host @BeingCatholic1.

Over on YouTube, Rose suggests subscribing to Five Moore Minutes by a leading voice on inclusion in education, Shelley Moore.

Although Rose isn’t on Netflix, some of her current viewing includes This is Us and Doctor Who.

Connect with Rose

We sign off on this amazing conversation, and Rose reminds us of the best ways to connect with her and learn together online. Make sure to give her a follow on Twitter and subscribe to her blog!

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.