Episode 115 – Jonathan Alsheimer

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Meet Jonathan Alsheimer

JONATHAN ALSHEIMER teaches seventh grade history at the legendary Fred M. Lynn Middle School. He’s a family man, keynote speaker, and the author of #NextLevelTeaching: Empowering Students and Transforming School Culture. As much as he enjoys speaking to teachers about education, it’s a thrill for him to share his story with students and motivate them to overcome adversity in their own learning journeys.

Early Struggles with the Game of School

Although he grew up in an education household, Jonathan freely admits that he struggled to play the game of school. As a kid, test-taking was difficult, and he remembers adopting a facade of confidence to cover up those insecurities. To be successful, he realized he would need to work hard and never give up, and he carried that never-quit ethic into athletics and throughout his school and college career.

He’s found strength in being honest about his academic journey and enjoys encouraging students to keep pushing, keep grinding, never give up, and overcome those challenges that today seem insurmountable. “Be that teacher that you needed when you were a kid,” he says, and it’s something he keeps constantly in mind regarding his own practice. We need to see past the data and the test results to recognize each child for who they are and the journey they’re on.

Next Level Teaching 

One of the biggest motivators behind his book, Next Level Teaching, traces back to a major language arts test that Jonathan failed in high school. As painful as that failure was, it’s only made him more determined to become first a Master of Education and now a published author. He’s walking the walk — living out his message that hard work and determination can overcome the demons of failure and adversity. To the doubters and haters that second-guessed his potential, this book is a mic drop.

115 - Jonathan Alsheimer7.jpgOne of his hopes for this book is that it inspires teachers to reach out to learners and classrooms beyond the door of their classroom. No, one teacher won’t completely revolutionize an entire school and culture by themselves. But our influence goes much further than we think it does, and it’s when committed teachers truly take ownership of their communities that we start to see systemic change.

Bring the energy, bring the passion, engage with kids, and love on students beyond your classroom and throughout your building, Jonathan urges. Take those opportunities during supervision duties or athletic events to connect with kids on another level and communicate care. Be “that teacher” that we all look back to with fondness, the one who believed in us and made a difference beyond the academics.

What To Do When It’s Hard to Connect

To teachers who struggle to connect with their learners, Jonathan encourages them to view each student as their own child. How would that relationship change the ways you relate to that hard-to-reach kid?

Kids need to feel empowered; when they feel that they can’t win or don’t matter, that’s when they withdraw, isolate, and tune out. Teachers should rethink “throwaway minutes” and use that time to build quick connections and trust. When kids love you and they love your classroom, they’re more likely to learn.  “I’ll throw away 30 minutes today to gain an hour of focused instruction next week,” Jonathan says. Find their interests and connect with them there, and you’ll be on your way to building a positive relationship. 

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What Else is Setting Jonathan on 🔥 in Education: TeacherFit 

One thing that Jonathan is hyped about today is TeacherFit, a health and wellness program for teachers. It’s simple, affordable, and has the capacity to significantly improve the health and wellbeing of an entire staff community. Even better, TeacherFit gives Jonathan great mentoring opportunities with students. He’s been working out after hours at school, and students have been joining in. It’s been another great on-ramp for relationship-building with students, and it’s improving the health, wellness, and community culture at Fred Lynn Middle School.

A Professional Goal: More Speaking to Students

Jonathan’s new book has taken a lot of his his focus and attention over the last year, but he also continues to build his capacity to speak to students. He is speaking at schools in Texas and Kansas in January and anticipates more opportunities in the months to come. Some of the feedback from schools and students has been incredible, and to hear that his message is giving hope to the hopeless pushes him to do more. There are kids that need to hear that message of hope at virtually every school.

Personal Passions That Bring Jonathan Alive

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“I’m all about getting out there and living life,” Jonathan says. “I wanna DO stuff in life.” He’s committed to living a life with no regrets, visiting new places, and trying new things. He’s already tried white water rafting, climbing mountains, and mixed martial arts fighting, and he looks forward to experiencing a shark cage next. It’s all about living life to the fullest and modeling a spirit of risk-taking for his learners, and his experiences make for great stories, illustrations, and connection points in the classroom as well. “You can be okay with what you got or you can push life to the max,” he tells his students.

His Key to Productivity: A Relentless Spirit

Instead of an app or routine, Jonathan points to his relentless spirit as his key to productivity. It’s a value that kids need to learn to nurture and grow within themselves over time, he says. That said, it’s also important to take some time for yourself, and Jonathan credits his amazing wife for helping him find balance between work and play. Next Level Teaching isn’t about spending money and hours on Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers. It’s about acknowledging that you as the teacher are the single most important factor for learning in the classroom, and that being the case, we need to care for ourselves properly.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Practice

Over on Twitter, Jonathan recommends following his principal, Hamish Brewer. Hamish has been absolutely inspirational, genuine, and he really does walk the walk at Fred Lynn Middle School. Connect with Hamish on Twitter @BrewerHM

When asked for an edtech tool pick, Jonathan goes to iMovie. It’s nothing new, but kids love it, he says. It’s such an easy and powerful way to energize learning activities and engage students in the act of creation.

When it comes to books, Jonathan recommends Relentless: Changing Lives by Disrupting the Educational Norm by Hamish Brewer, a book he was honored to contribute to and endorse. Jonathan also shouts out Leadership Lessons of the Navy SEALS: Battle-Tested Strategies for Creating Successful Organizations and Inspiring Extraordinary Results by Jeff and Jon Cannon, explaining that many of the principles contained in this book are universally applicable and certainly come in handy in the classroom.

Jonathan has a lot of commute time, and two of his favorite podcasts include Jostens Renaissance and TeacherFit

This episode released during the Christmas season, so when prompted for an all-time favorite Christmas movie, Jonathan went with Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. It’s one of those family classics that never fails to deliver laughs.

We sign off on this inspiring conversation, and Jonathan gives us the best ways to reach out and connect with him online. See below for details!

You can connect with Jonathan …

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Song Track Credits

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Episode 53 – Curtis Wiebe

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CURTIS WIEBE is an elementary school teacher in Surrey, BC, Canada. He’s interested in the ways that technology augments learning, boosts creativity, and creates new opportunities for learners. Follow Curtis on Twitter @DivisionW and see his work at https://mrwiebesclass.weebly.com/.

In our conversation, Curtis identifies the key to bringing about positive changes in schools and structures in education. He describes why he’s passionate about preparing students to find creative solutions that address real-world problems, and he explains what his learners are doing with makerspaces and robotics. He tells us where he gets his best ideas, and offers us top picks on Twitter, in books, and much more.

Follow Curtis online here: 

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 0:53 – Curtis describes his current context in education at Crescent Park Elementary School in South Surrey, BC, Canada. Aside from his 7th grade teaching duties, Curtis is a part of the school’s tech team and the district Microsoft Inquiry team. He’s also currently pursuing his MEdL degree.
  • 1:47 – Curtis speaks to the challenges related to bringing about change in schools and structures in education. When we present a different way of doing things, it tends to create friction points and difficult conversations. One key to bringing about change in a positive way is to do so diplomatically, with research and evidence that these changes will positively influence learning – what school is really all about.
  • 4:40 – When asked what he’s most passionate about in education today, Curtis points to the ever-changing landscape of challenges that education can address around the globe. He loves preparing learners to find solutions to complex, real-world problems. He’s also enjoying an exploration of robotics (Check out https://www.vexrobotics.com/ and http://www.flowol.com/Flowol4.aspx) with his students, where he says “the excitement has gone through the stratosphere.”
  • 7:01 – Outside of the classroom, he’s energized by reading about technology, current events, and politics. He’s always interested in exploring current situations but is also intrigued by political philosophers from the past. In the same way, he enjoys looking at where technology has come and where it may be going in the future.
  • 9:43 – A personal habit that consistently energizes Curtis and supports his reflective process is engaging in professional conversations with educator – his wife! He also enjoys the analytical aspects of golf: looking back, thinking about how to improve, seeking to repeat good strokes, etc.
  • 11:05 – His recommendations on Twitter are Jeff Unruh (@Unruh_J) and Michelle Horn (@MsHornDiv10).
  • 14:55 – Curtis is all about robotics right now, so his top picks in the area of edtech are VEX IQ Robotics (@VEXRobotics on Twitter) and Microsoft Office 365 and (@MicrosoftEDU on Twitter). In particular, Microsoft Teams is working well as a point of connection and workflow for his learners.
  • 17:10 – In books, Curtis recommends Trevor MacKenzie’s Dive Into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice. Get to know Trevor on Twitter @Trev_MacKenzie. For a magazine pick, Curtis points to The Atlantic and their education section in particular. For a sampling of their top education articles, start following @TheAtlEducation on Twitter.
  • 18:09 – His top choice for education podcasts right now is MindShift: A Podcast About the Future of Learning. Follow MindShift on Twitter @MindShiftKQED.
  • 18:49 – As a self-confessed fan of all things politics, Curtis’s go-to show on Netflix right now is Homeland.
  • 19:12 – We sign off on the interview, and Curtis gives us the best ways to find and follow him online. See above for details!

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Song Track Credits

  • Intro: Relax (by Simon More)
  • Outtro: Starley – Call on Me Remix (by DJ Zhorik)

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Episode 35 – Joy Kirr

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Joy Kirr is a 7th Grade ELA teacher and Genius Hour advocate in Elk Grove, Illinois. She writes at GeniusHour.blogspot.com and in 2017 published Shift This!: How to Implement Gradual Changes for MASSIVE Impact in Your Classroom.

In this conversation, Joy takes us to a moment when a parent criticized her publicly with “Genius Hour is crazy – and all the parents think so!” She shares what she learned from that experience and how it has changed her communication going forward. Joy describes the heart and main message of her book, Shift This, which puts the focus on student-directed learning opportunities. She also points us toward a Twitter account to follow, a book to check out, an edtech tool that she is learning about, and more.

Follow Joy online:

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 1:02 – Joy describes her current teaching context (7th grade ELA teacher and big advocate for genius hour in Elk Grove, Illinois).
  • 1:22 – She recalls the challenge of hearing “Genius Hour is crazy – and all the parents think so!” from an upset parent, and explains how she learned and grew from this experience.
  • 5:32 – Joy talks about what excites her in education today: being challenged by parents, thinking deeply about her practices.
  • 10:29 – When it comes to personal passions and experiences, Joy likes to ask “Why not?” instead of “Why?” She likes to soak up life experiences for all they’re worth, investing in relationships, getting outside, and taking great pictures along the way.
  • 12:36 – On Twitter, Joy recommends we follow Vicki Davis @CoolCatTeacher
  • 13:13 – For an edtech tool, Joy suggests we try creating our own .gifs by converting our Google Slides using Tall Tweets. Try it!
  • 15:03 – Joy’s pick in books is Choice Words by Peter H. Johnston. Earlier in our conversation, she also recommended The Human Side of School Change: Reform, Resistance, and the Real-Life Problems of Innovation by Robert Evans.
  • 16:06 – No Netflix or movies for this educator … it’s all about reading!
  • 16:52 – Joy tells us how to follow her online and where to get more of her content. See above!

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Song Track Credits

Intro: Relax (by Simon More)
Outtro: Starley – Call on Me Remix (by DJ Zhorik)

LISTEN to this episode on YouTube and SUBSCRIBE for more episodes!