Episode 122 – Marisa Thompson

Meet Marisa Thompson

MARISA THOMPSON is a mom, wife, HS English teacher, professional development facilitator, instructor at the University of San Diego, traveler, and a liver of life. When people ask her what she does, she sums up her multiplicity of roles by simply saying “I’m in education,” and she wouldn’t have it any other way, she says. 

Disillusioned by Education

When asked about a low moment, Marisa recalls her earliest visions of the kind of teacher she wanted to be. “So much of it came from Hollywood,” she says. But a few years in, she realized that she was not the teacher that she thought she wanted to be. By her seventh year, her disillusionment had grown to the point that she decided to leave the classroom entirely.

After a period of reflection and time away from the profession, she came across the idea of flexible seating on Pinterest. She pitched the concept to a principal, and his reaction took her by surprise.

“Great,” he said. “Go do it!” This yes was such an encouragement because it proved that her voice mattered and that her ideas could lead to transformative work. What followed was seven years of further growth and exploration.

Restoring the Joy of Reading with TQE

On July 10, 2018, Marisa published a blog post titled We’re Killing the Love of Reading, but Here’s an Easy Fix. In the post, she unpacks a method of student engagement with texts called the TQE Method: thoughts, questions and epiphanies.

When you first start trying the TQE Method in your classroom, there will be growing pains for you and the students at first, she warns. But they will go away. The more you use it, the more the practices will start to become comfortable, organic, and powerful. Your students will start to engage in the kind of rich discussions that we all remember having in university or grad school.

It’s about giving students the time, space, language, and culture to safely engage in the sharing of ideas like never before. The TQE Method is now appearing in classrooms at all levels and all subjects, and Marisa couldn’t be happier. 

When it comes to feedback for students using the TQE Method, Marisa looks for quantity simply because participation is essential. But her assessment is based primarily on two things: reading comprehension and author’s purpose. Can students analyze a choice that an author made and describe how it helps an author accomplish their objective in a text? Students who can demonstrate these skills with consistency are demonstrating mastery.

On Fire for TED Talks

Something else that is setting Marisa on fire for education is her students’ recent TED Talks. They focused on communicating effectively with audiences, exploring concepts of happiness and success, and sharing authentically. Marisa watched as her students actually put aside rehearsed notes to speak from the heart, and the results were powerful. It was a first-class example of the link between vulnerability and compelling communication. 

Projects and Pursuits

One of the things that Marisa is trying to do in her current classroom is to get away from class novels. Literary freedom works, and it’s good for kids, she says. On the other hand, shared conversations and connected experiences with texts are everything, so she’s looking at ways to combine both goals.

In her teacher support role, Marisa is focused on creating a series of 2-minute tutorials to help get teachers started with new initiatives, and at the Jacobs Institute for Innovation in Education at the University of San Diego she is busy designing new courses based on real-world experiences, like Disney World

A Personal Passion Outside of Education: Travel

Marisa’s ultimate passion away from education is travel. Although she didn’t grow up in a wealthy home, she’s been traveling for as long as she can remember and has now visited at least 20 countries. She’s taken students to a number of those countries and always finds it a valuable learning experience to see other cultures and other places.

Voices and Resources That Inspire Marisa’s Practice

If you’re looking to follow someone new on Twitter, Marisa recommends @JuliaFliss. “The work that she does is soulful,” Marisa says. It’s big picture, everything-is-possible, and it’s filled with positivity and optimism. She is all about working with people and changing the world.

No edtech tool has been more helpful to Marisa this year than Pro Keys, a Google Chrome extension that allows you to build and customize your own feedback shortcuts. Marisa has used this tool to go from 160 hours to 4 hours of writing assessment completed at home this year thanks in large part to this tool.

It’s not easy for an English teacher to pick favorite books, but Marisa points to two classics in particular: East of Eden by John Steinbeck and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

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Song Track Credits

  • Bluntedsesh4 (by Tha Silent Partner, courtesy of FreeMusicArchive.org)
  • Sunrise Drive by South London Hifi*
  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*

*courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library

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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!

You can connect with Dr. Christine …

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Song Track Credits

  • Bluntedsesh4 (by Tha Silent Partner, courtesy of FreeMusicArchive.org)
  • Sunrise Drive by South London Hifi*
  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*

*courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library

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

*This page contains Amazon affiliate links.

We Write for Life

The more reflective you are, the more effective you are. — Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral

Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

Last year I read Sparks in the DarkLessons, Ideas, and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney.

Wow. What a powerful and inspiring book.

If you’re passionate about literacy, about promoting the place and pleasure of effective reading and writing in your classroom, I strongly recommend this title.

I said “in your classroom,” but one of the things that comes across so powerfully in Sparks in the Dark is the fact that literacy must be a lifestyle.

To be genuine, to be vibrant, to be contagious — reading and writing must spill out of our personal lives.

And this goes for all teachers — not just those who teach English Language Arts. As educators, as thinkers, as lead learners, we must model a life of constant reading and writing.

Literacy is Breathing

If we say that communication, creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking are the core competencies at the foundation of today’s education, we must practice what we preach.

In an age of digital amusement and easy-everywhere distraction, we must show our learners what it looks like to mentally breathe. To stop, be still, and practice the acts of mental inhalation (reading) and exhalation (writing).

One of the most important reasons that we write is to know ourselves. As Don Murray says, “You write to discover what you want to say.

It sometimes feels like the act and art of self-reflection is a vanishing habit. But we must show our learners that these practices are essential aspects of living a healthy and productive life.

When Our Reading Lives Are Shallow, So is Our Teaching

Speaking especially to educators, Crowder and Nesloney write “We prioritize what we value, and when we do not value reading or learning, it shows. Our instruction is a mixture of what we have read, and when our reading lives are shallow, so is our teaching. It isn’t an insult; it’s the truth.”

We cannot be effective educators if we are not regularly reading and reflectively writing.

Becoming a Writer

To those who feel defeated by identity before they even start (“I’m not a writer”), James Clear describes his own evolution as a writer in his recent book, Atomic Habits.

You may not be a reader or writer today. But you can and will become one — one paragraph, one page, one article at a time.

So pick up a book. Grab a pen or sit down at the keyboard. Score some small wins, and begin the gradual process of redefining yourself.

Start breathing.

Because the more reflective you are, the more effective you are.

person writing on brown wooden table near white ceramic mug
Image Credit: Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Episode 118 – Kristin Merrill

118 - Kristin Merrill

Meet Kristin Merrill

KRISTIN MERRILL is a fourth grade teacher in south Florida who specializes in language arts and strives to make lessons interactive and engaging through the use of educational technology. She teaches at a smaller elementary school with a diverse school community, where she’s affectionately referred to as “the Dinosaur of Fourth.” She recently co-authored The Interactive Class: Using Technology to Make Learning More Relevant and Engaging in the Elementary Classroom.

Questioning Her Vocation

Kristin recalls a time in her career when she found herself questioning much of what she was asked to do as a teacher. She decided to start making changes to her practice based specifically on what was good for students and their learning, but the changes weren’t always warmly received by colleagues. At times, she felt a sense of distance and isolation as she worked to reinvent herself, but she found strength and support in a growing PLN.

Today, she’s happy to report that as her network has grown and her influence has increased, she enjoys much more support and collegial relationships in her current context. One takeaway for other educators is that professional resistance to innovative practices tends to be a passing season; keep pushing through it and consistently grow your practice, and things will eventually get easier.

The Interactive Class

Writing The Interactive Class: Using Technology to Make Learning More Relevant and Engaging in the Elementary Classroom was never on her bucket list, Kristin says, but as she and her husband Joe shared their teaching ideas and strategies on social media, a friend encouraged them to publish a book. Kristin and her husband Joe are passionate about helping other educators build classrooms that are student-centered, fueled by the creativity and collaboration of students, and the book helps them share that message.

The Interactive Class is divided into two parts: first, the philosophy and rationale behind interactive teaching strategies, and second, the applications and best practices of interactive teaching and learning. Although Kristin and Joe come from primary classroom contexts, many of the lessons and strategies they describe could be applied at middle school grade levels or higher. 

On the Subject of Recess

When asked about whether recess should be used by teachers as a carrot or a stick, Kristin says that recess should be considered an essential part of childhood. There is so much that kids learn just through play and social interactions outside of the classroom, she observes, not to mention the processing and recharging time that recess allows young learners. Why would we ever want to take these times away from them?

What Else is Setting Kristin on 🔥 in Education Today

Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt is a kindergarten teacher who does a phenomenal job of building student inquiry, interest, and relevance into her learning activities. Kristin has been obsessed with her lately, following Rebecca on Instagram and taking notes from her latest projects. Recently, Rebecca built an impressive inquiry-based learning experience around pets, and Kristin is a big fan.

A Professional Goal: More Relevance

Motivated by Rebecca’s example, Kristin’s professional goal for the year is to make her teaching more relevant. This means more than just making sure her content and teaching strategies are as current as possible — she also wants to better understand what students view as meaningful. She plans to do this by looking for more ways to incorporate student voice, choice, and inquiry–even when that takes her into uncomfortable worlds like Fortnite! 

Personal Passions and Recharging Activities

“Education is my passion,” Kristin admits, explaining that professional learning really does energize and inspire her — even when she’s at home. Aside from education, she enjoys the simple things, and often those simple things relate to life with family. Whether it’s walking at the beach, exploring a nature trail, or sitting by the fire, it’s in the simple and quiet moments that she feels recharged and prepared for more creative work.

Personal Productivity: A Personal Planner

Social media doesn’t always portray an accurate picture of what life is like for educators, Kristin observes. We all have moments when we don’t have it all together and the tensions between personal and professional spheres make things a little chaotic. Her go-to tools include a personal planner that she maintains on paper, and she writes down every task, priority, and concern that she sees weeks or months away on the horizon.

It’s not to say that none of the plates ever fall, she says, but as long as she’s intentional about her most important priorities, she’s learned to give herself the grace she needs when the house doesn’t get cleaned perfectly or other ideals aren’t met.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Kristin’s Practice

Over on Twitter, Kristin recommends following Andy Knueven @MrCoachK15. He’s a master of Flipgrid, Minecraft, Wakelet, and a ton of other interactive learning approaches in fifth grade.

It’s just too painful to narrow her favorite edtech tools down to one, so Kristin shouts out three legendary creative apps: FlipGrid, DoInk, and Adobe Spark

Kristin has two book picks to share. The first is a children’s lit favorite: The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau. The second is an education classic — The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck–101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers, by Ron Clark.

A favorite podcast that works with her limited time for listening is the Ditch That Textbook Podcast with Matt Miller. After taking a two-month break in the fall of 2019, Matt is back and publishing short episodes almost every day.

One of Kristin’s favorite YouTube channels is The Bucket List Family, a family that travels the world and documents their adventures.

When time allows her to enjoy some Netflix, Kristin’s tuning in to Grace and Frankie. She connects with their sense of humor!

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

You can connect with Kristin …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media:

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Song Track Credits

  • Bluntedsesh4 (by Tha Silent Partner, courtesy of FreeMusicArchive.org)
  • Sunrise Drive by South London Hifi*
  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*

*courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library

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

*This page contains affiliate links.

Professional Paradox: The Agony and Ecstasy of Reporting Period

Report cards form a sacred ritual that speaks to our core mission.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

We’re approaching another reporting period in my middle school. Our year runs in three terms, and we’re currently in the process of wrapping up term two before spring break.

The deadline for the submission of report card comments looms large.

The Agony

For as long as I’ve been a teacher, reporting periods have been something of a painful rite of passage.

Even on normal weeks throughout the school year, I feel the weight of lesson and unit planning, assessment, emails, parent communication, team meetings, staff meetings, supervision, and all the other duties that come with the job.

If you’re in the classroom full-time, I’m sure you can relate.

Reporting periods just pile on top of those regular demands. There are more summative assessments to complete, marks to record, work habits to consider, progress comments to write.

It all takes time, and because we are proud of our professional work and committed to the mission of learning and growth, we want to do it well. It can lead to some long days and late nights, leaving us with less emotional margin for the people we serve.

As deadlines loom, thoughts of 9 to 5 days in other career fields suddenly become interesting, and our escapist fantasies take us to lazy beach vacations.

It can be an exhausting time.

The Ecstasy

Even in the midst of this pain, there is joy to be found. Year after year, I’m somehow surprised when the arduous process of reporting actually increases my care and empathy for students.

I evaluate each strand of their work habits, and I see their faces. I replay our interactions: their expressions, laughter, passions, curiosities, and the highs and lows of their character.

I write about their progress, and I’m called to reflect deeply. To consider their academic strengths and weaknesses. To remember their moments of despair and frustration. To relish their times of triumph and success. To point to areas of continuing growth and progress.

I’m reminded that some of my students fight silent battles: health problems, stressful moves, parents in the middle of divorce. Others project a brave exterior that masks deep anxiety: about academics, about their future, or about fitting in at school.

As I intensify my focus on each learner in my care, my commitment increases.

photo of three men jumping on ground near bare trees during daytime
Photo Credit: Zachary Nelson on Unsplash

A Sacred Ritual and Privilege

Reporting is a sacred ritual — one integral to our mission. It comes back to our great purpose, our rai·son d’ê·tre.

Our why.

Because this project of K-12 education is about something far, far bigger than the transmission of information. It’s about far more than 13 years of filling brains.

It’s about equipping students with skills.

It’s about habits of thinking and attitudes of heart.

It’s about the formation of mind, spirit, and character.

It’s about developing young adults who are filled with passion and compassion, who lead with service, who are prepared to contribute to the lives of others and make this world a better place.

And so it is that the rite of reporting is an honor, a privilege. Because as educators, as guides, as lead learners, we’re given a special place in this journey.

Our place is to speak into this process of growth, this journey of development, knowing that our words carry great weight.

Our comments become a formalized, enshrined review of the good and the bad, the highs and the lows, the growth and the challenges ahead.

Our words can simultaneously affirm, correct, encourage, and create hope.

And that’s an awesome responsibility. It’s what we’re all about.