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 …

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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

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