Episode 107 – Trevor MacKenzie

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Meet Trevor MacKenzie

TREVOR MACKENZIE is a learner, teacher, speaker, consultant, and outdoor enthusiast. Trevor teaches English at the 10th through 12th grade levels at Oak Bay High School in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is also regarded by many as the preeminent voice on inquiry-based learning today, authoring Dive into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice and co-authoring Inquiry Mindset: Nurturing the Dreams, Wonders, and Curiosities of Our Youngest Learners

The First Five Years Are the Hardest

When asked about an experience of adversity on his education journey, Trevor thinks back to his first five years in the profession. There were many forks in the road, he says, where he found himself questioning whether or not he even wanted to stay in education. It took him a while to move from substitute teaching to a full-time contract, and even then it was a real challenge to juggle all the responsibilities of a classroom teacher: lesson planning, unit design, assessment, parent communication, coaching, and other duties.

Trevor credits his local community of colleagues and professional peers who gave him advice, encouragement, and solidarity during those early years. Although his professional learning network has evolved far beyond the bounds of his own building, he continues to appreciate the power and importance of collaboration today.

Why Inquiry? 

First and foremost, Trevor says, he never proposes that other teachers must do things his way. “Teaching is an art with incredible nuance and subtlety, and there’s simply no lockstep approach or prescriptive framework to what makes a good teacher.”

That said, Trevor readily admits that inquiry-based learning is where his heart is, and he loves nothing more than helping other educators see what is possible for learners. Education has changed a great deal in the last decade – not just because of our access to phones but also in terms of the amount of prior knowledge that students bring to the classroom. It’s no longer about how much students know, but about what they can do with what they know.

Inquiry-based learning challenges teachers to facilitate experiences that help our learners to explore content and then create products that have an impact on others. Inquiry also challenges students to investigate the “un-Googleable” questions, the sort of questions that Google Home and Alexa cannot help them with. These are the kinds of vast, broad questions that students must chew on and wrestle with over extended periods of time. Inquiry encourages the development of the 4 Cs: competencies that are absolutely critical in today’s workforce. As a framework, inquiry provides the space and common language for students to become creators, problem-solvers, and active agents of their learning.

Inquiry and Curiosity

Children enter the school system full of curiosity, chomping at the bit to learn, to play, to read, and to interact. Sadly, students often leave high school with that curiosity and joy of learning greatly diminished. “Curiosity is at the heart of how we can better meet the needs of all of our learners,” Trevor points out.

We need to look at our curriculum with an eye to integrating inquiry approaches – it never needs to be a situation of all or nothing, inquiry vs the curriculum. Inquiry-based learning, when properly applied, allows us to explore prescribed curricular outcomes through the lens of curiosity and creativity.

Understanding the Types of Student Inquiry

Structured    Inquiry, Controlled Inquiry, Guided Inquiry and Free Inquiry

In the swimming pool illustration, Trevor divides the types of student inquiry into four levels: structured, controlled, guided, and free. Although it might seem tempting to jump quickly into the deep end of the swimming pool, Trevor cautions against initiating free inquiry without giving learners the necessary tools, understanding, and vocabulary. To move too far and too fast into inquiry is to invite chaos and confusion for teachers and learners, so strategy and forethought is required here.

Ideally, a school can work together on strong and structured units of inquiry-based learning so that all learners in the community become familiar with a common language. Frame those first units of study around central, unGoogleable questions. Use provocations to spark rich and engaging entry points to new areas of interest and study, and allow space for students to pursue side paths and related questions along the way. For help in getting started, visit TrevorMacKenzie.com for a large collection of free inquiry unit planning templates and other resources.

Inquiry and Assessment

When first introduced to inquiry-based learning, educators often have questions around assessment. To help guide teachers through these challenges and demonstrate what assessment can look like in the inquiry classroom, Trevor is currently working on a book that speaks directly to the mindset shift he has experienced around assessment in his own practice, and he goes on to describe some of the changes he’s made in the classroom.

For example, he no longer puts any numbers or letter-grades on formative assessments — he only offers feedback. He also makes sure that students are invested in the assessment process through the co-creation of criteria, the inclusion of student voice, and by making sure that assessment occurs in the classroom, by and with students — instead of something done to them. Assessment done properly infuses course content instead of taking the shape of something slapped on to the end of a unit of a study. 

The Power of Grading Conferences

Speaking to the power of the conference, Trevor says that the simple decision to sit down with each of his learners to discuss their assessments for the term was one of the most helpful and practical moves he’s ever made in his practice. He immediately noticed the empowerment and sense of agency that the conferences gave students. For a change, many of his students actually wanted their parents to read their report cards because they had a direct hand in crafting those comments. Even more importantly, the process broke many students out of a fixed mindset regarding what past report cards and the education system had told them they were and were not capable of as learners.

Could Inquiry Reshape Professional Development?

Sadly, Trevor says, professional development is often not designed by teachers, and as a result, there can be a disconnect between philosophy and practice. Make sure that teachers have a voice, and make relevance and immediate application high priorities in the design of professional development activities, he urges.

What Else is Setting Trevor on 🔥 in Education

Beyond inquiry, something else that is setting Trevor on fire in education today is the conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion. He’s taken some hard looks at cultural responsiveness, systemic biases, allyship, identity studies, and the unpacking of his own personal biases. Educators who greatly impress Trevor in this space include Gary Gray Jr., Liz Kleinrock, and Cornelius Minor. If we want our students to truly understand themselves as learners, people, and human beings, we owe it to them to help them understand the biases, narratives, and historical forces that shape our understanding of ourselves.

Serving with Presence

As much joy as he derives from working with learners in his classroom, Trevor is also passionate about teaching teachers and working with other educators around the world. Balancing the two consituencies well and being fully present in every context requires intentionality and mindfulness. “As I enter the classroom each and every day, I’m asking how I can be present and mindful of what’s immediately before me,” Trevor says.

A Personal Passion: Cycling

Trevor is an avid cyclist, and on many mornings he is up early and out of the house on his bike before school. He also enjoys a good community of fellow cyclists in his area that he enjoys biking and racing with. Cycling gets him going, fires him up, and keeps him healthy so that he can serve others well.

A Productivity Hack: Early Mornings 

Trevor’s best productivity hack is to get up at 5:00 a.m. each morning, and he’s been inspired by other creatives to work before the rest of the world is awake. It’s the perfect time to tie up loose ends, complete tasks, do important reading, or write reflectively. With small children at home and students at school, the early morning is simply the best block of time in the day to be productive and undistracted.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Practice 

Over on Twitter, Trevor recommends following @TheMerrillsEdu. The Merrills are an amazing elementary teaching couple who take creativity to a whole new level in their practice. Make sure to give them a follow!

No edtech tool has revolutionized Trevor’s assessment practices more than FlipGrid, where students post video responses and interact with each other’s ideas. Microsoft recently acquired this legendary platform and made its features absolutely free for educators, increasing equity and access for all learners in the process. Make sure to connect with Flipgrid on Twitter @FlipGrid

The Innovator's Mindset by George CourosWhen prompted for a book pick, Trevor points to a classic — The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, by George Couros. Trevor also shouts out another title that has been influential in his practice, Understanding By Design, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.

In the world of podcasts, Trevor is making a late appearance at the world’s most famous true crime series, Serial. He’s also gaining a lot from the Teaching While White Podcast – White Fragility podcast series.

As for YouTube channels, Trevor is going back to one of the faves he mentioned previously: Gary Gray Jr. Gary is an important voice in the conversation on equity and he keeps things real on his channel.

Although his kids are still too young for the chills and thrills of this popular series, Trevor has been enjoying Stranger Things whenever he does find the time for some entertainment on Netflix.

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

Connect with Trevor …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media:

Song Track Credits

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

 

Episode 97 – Nina Pak Lui

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Meet Nina Pak Lui

NINA PAK LUI has taught at the middle and high school levels and today she instructs pre-service teachers at the School of Education at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC, Canada.

Nina views teaching as a sacred calling, and she’s dedicated to inspiring and equipping future teachers to be caring, competent, inclusive and reflective. She is passionate about designing and facilitating meaningful learning experiences that intentionally connect theory to practice.

Tensions Between Vision and Reality

A few years ago, Nina was teaching in a high school context when her mental health began to struggle. She experienced a taxing tension between her vision for program ideals and certain systemic constraints that would not allow that vision to come to fruition. It became increasingly difficult to align her values and beliefs with practice, and the emotional distress eventually became too pressing to ignore.

Nina took an extended leave from her position, and the time away was healing and clarifying. With a lot of time for reflection, she stopped blaming external factors and began examining her own internal landscape. She learned to be kinder to herself, show more patience with others, accept the slow rates of institutional change, and recognize that perfectionism is a thief of joy. With lots of love from her support network, she has rested, recalibrated, healed, and now enjoys new optimism and outlook in her current context. 

Focusing on Formative Assessment for Learning

Nina regularly talks with her undergrad students about their own assessment journeys. They share about unyielding deadlines, grades being used to punish, no chances to refine or revise, and feedback that only comes at the end of a learning cycle. Although assessment experiences can be positive, the negative experiences seem to come through more often.

Katie White, author of Softening the Edges: Assessment Practices That Honor K-12 Teachers and Learners, writes that “continual intention and active capturing of learning in the moment and making inferences about a learner’s understanding in relation to a goal happens over time.” Dylan Wiliam adds that “for assessment to be primarily embedded in the learning cycle it must remain formative,” and “all activities undertaken by teachers and/or by students provide information to be used as feedback to modify teaching or learning activities in which they are engaged.”

These quotes speak to the ideas that …

  1. learning happens over time,
  2. we must practice intentional goal-setting,
  3. we must allow more times for reflection, and
  4. we must support more opportunities for revision and additional tries.

For Nina, formative assessment is often about determining readiness: is the learner actually ready to take the next step? Too often, we push learners down a track that ignores their individual needs and progress, which only creates further dissonance and deficits in their learning journeys. By being more flexible and creating personalized learning experiences, we create more on-ramps for learners and ensure that every student remains on a track to growth.

Summative assessments have a place in classrooms, Nina says, as long as they are actually used as a tool for learning, celebrate growth, and close the door for further learning as seldom as possible. Summative assessments should look like rich performance tasks that demonstrate the complete learning standards that the learner is aiming for. When using summative assessments, it’s critical to carefully consider the best type of summative assessment to be used and ensure that the learning standards can be fully demonstrated.

Why Should We Assess Students At All?

So why assess? Katie White says that assessment is something that we are always doing, and it’s an essential process to support the human. Achievement in school is not about doing work to accumulate points and letter grades. Instead, school should be a place of learning and becoming. “I want my students to know that they can make mistakes, that they can try again to correct their mistakes and improve,” Nina says.

Questions to Ask Ourselves Around Assessment

  • Are we here to ensure that students are taught or that students learn?
  • Are we here to measure only past learning or support future learning?
  • Is our work about building walls and documenting who climbs over them, or making sure our learners have the tools and supports to push through the barriers that are in front of them?

When we identify and address barriers to learning through greater access, equity, and inclusion, our learners will be more successful.

How to Best Serve Pre-Service Teachers 

When it comes to pre-service teachers today, Nina points out that their needs haven’t changed too much over the last twenty years. They still need the safety and support to try new ideas, encouragement to take risks, and the freedom to think outside the box. They also need quality mentors and supportive partnerships in the field, because sometimes what they see and experience in classrooms does not align with the principles they are learning in their classrooms.

On that note, education programs must work hard to intentionally connect course work to field work, theory to practice. Pre-service teachers and inexperienced teachers are having to adjust to a rapidly changing landscape and movements, so we must give them the confidence to remain lifelong learners – professional learners – that aim not to have it all figured out at once but instead adopt a posture of continuous learning and growth throughout our careers.

Addressing Gaps in Equity and Inclusion in Our Schools

When it comes to equity, Nina says, she starts by looking at access. Does every student have equal opportunity and access to the learning experiences? It’s an obvious step, but school faculties and leaders must do a better job of representing the voices and cultures in their school populations, says Nina.

What’s Setting Nina on 🔥 in Education Today

Nina has become obsessed with collaborative inquiry and the Spiral of Inquiry, created by Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert. The spiral gives voice, choice, and agency to educators and the means to go on learning journeys as whole communities.

Nina gets ignited by other education soulmates, including academics like Jenn Skelding, Christine Younghusband, and Gillian Judson, co-author of Imagination and the Engaged Learner: Cognitive Tools for the Classroom. These three and others constantly recharge her passion for education and the changing paradigms in assessment.

One thing Nina has definitely missed since leaving the classroom are the voices of parents, and she wants to find ways to include their voices in more education conversations.

Nina’s Professional Goals

On the horizon, Nina is also passionate about taking on another new step of learning by way of academic research. In particular, she wants to learn more about teacher education program development and assessment for learning, including its integration at the secondary and post-secondary levels.

The two words that summarize Nina’s goals for this year are bravery and courage. Nina has felt challenged in this last year to really lean into transparency about her professional learning journey. On top of starting new research, she’s also committing to sharing her learning on her blog and modeling vulnerability for her students. She’s been asking her students to blog about their learning, and after reading hundreds of their entries, she recognized that it was time for her to walk the walk and start sharing her own journey as well. Creating and designing her blog and formulating her first posts has already given her more empathy for her students and understanding of the learning challenges they face.

Personal Passions That Keep Her Inner Fire Burning 

Nina’s chief passion and source of rejuvenation away from the university is her family. She’s a wife and mom to two kids, and spending time with them is her greatest joy. Calling her kids her greatest teachers, she says they help her come alive and continually remind her of what it means to be human.

She’s also enjoying the insights shared by authors like Ken Shigematsu, Henri Nouwen, and Jean Vanier regarding the nature of life and humanity, and she embraced opportunities this summer to unplug from the digital and become fully immersed in nature.

A Productivity Hack

Nina uses the Wunderlist app to track to-do items for her courses or profound questions asked by her kids. It helps keep her stay organized and on track.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Nina’s Thinking

Over on Twitter, Nina recommends following @KatieWhite426, author of Softening the Edges. Katie is active on Twitter and hosts the #AtAssessment chat which takes place every other Tuesday night.

An edtech tool that facilitates voice, engagement, and learning in her university classes is Socrative. Follow Socrative on Twitter @Socrative

The Way of the TeacherNina’s book recommendation is The Way of the Teacher: A Path for Personal Growth and Professional Fulfillment by Dr. Sandra Finney and Jane Thurgood Sagal. This book works on several levels, Nina says. It offers practical suggestions for our professional work but also offers guidance about how to work in human and sustainable ways that rekindle our love and joy for teaching.

One podcast that Nina enjoys is called On Being with Krista Tippett. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? Who will we be to each other? These are the questions that guide their conversations.

Two shows that Nina has been watching on Netflix are The Crown and Queer Eye. More than just a fashion show, Nina appreciates how the hosts of Queer Eye go beyond fashion to meet people wherever they are in their lives.

We sign off on this conversation, and Nina offers the best ways to connect with her online. See below for details!

Connect with Nina:

Sponsoring This Episode: Classtime

This episode is brought to you by Classtime.com, an assessment platform that delivers learning insights, giving you more time to teach.

Classtime.com helps you gain immediate visibility of your students’ learning progress, build engaging lessons, share with other teachers, and create your own tech-enabled questions to complement your lesson plans. Classtime.com also helps you engage all students with collaborative challenges & puzzles that make fun an integral part of the learning experience.

See what Classtime can do for your learners, and start your free trial at Classtime.com today!

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 96 – Jeffery Frieden

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Meet Jeffery Frieden

JEFFERY FRIEDEN is a teacher, blogger, presenter, and podcaster. He enjoys connecting teachers and building professional relationships in order to intensify impact on learning. He is also the author of Make Them Process It: Uncovering New Value in the Writer’s Notebook, published in 2017.

Jeff teaches at Hillcrest High School in Riverside, CA, home of Aaron Blackwelder. The school community mirrors that of this area of California, with a mix of socioeconomic statuses and cultures represented.

From Called Out to Cultural Understanding

Jeffery recalls a time when he was a teaching assistant at a school with students coming from a wide range of cultural backgrounds and varying stages of emotional development. One day, he poked his head into another classroom to tell the students inside to quiet down and stop the racket, missing the fact that the students inside were celebrating the achievement of a class goal and behaving in culturally normative ways.

Later, the teacher of that classroom told him quite bluntly that his actions had made all kinds of cultural assumptions and that he needed to educate himself on other cultural backgrounds and expectations. Although this correction floored him at first, he eventually settled his thoughts and determined to do more reading about cultures outside of his realm of experience. It’s been a rewarding journey ever since.

Dear Teacher, Don’t Give Up

Dear Teacher, Don’t Give Up is a podcast born out of professional development that sets near-perfect bars without showing the struggles and failures that accompany the journeys of growth required to get there.

Leaders in professional development often appear so well-polished that a sense of anxiety can creep in regarding the deficits that such presentations expose in our own professional practice. It can be demoralizing and can create burnout as educators work feverishly to close the gap between their current practice and the ideals – the Grecian Urns that they’re presented with. Just like Instagram culture, education communities tend to shout the victories and good stuff but downplay the difficult moments.

To speak to this, Doris Santoro wrote Demoralized: Why Teachers Leave the Profession They Love and How They Can StayThis word (demoralized) summarizes the condition that educators experience when they start to lose their moral center, the moral purpose that once formed the core purpose (or WHY) of their work in the classroom.

We hear the term ‘burnout‘ a lot, but it’s not enough — it doesn’t capture many of the difficulties and tensions that drive some educators to leave the profession. We need to speak in the broader terms of demoralization, this idea of losing morale or the moral center of our work due to a wide variety of issues.

On his podcast, Dear Teacher Don’t Give Up, Jeffery is interested in taking guests to points in their career where they’ve seriously considered quitting the profession. What was that like, and what lessons did they learn that they can share with other educators experiencing tough times? These are the questions that Jeffery enjoys asking on his show.

We all love transformation stories, as shows like The Biggest Loser illustrate. Let’s try to bring more of that into education by telling the stories of educators who quit – or almost quit – and then come back to the profession with more hope and passion than ever. 

Am I Sharing Too Much With Colleagues?

In episode 7 of the Dear Teacher, Don’t Give Up podcast, Jeffery tackles the question of “How much is too much to share with colleagues?” For teachers who are filled with passion, brimming with optimism, and bursting with exciting new ideas, it’s important to come to terms with the fact that not all colleagues will share that enthusiasm.

One solution to this problem, as Jeffery recounts, is to find your tribe by building your professional learning network on social media platforms. As Jeffery started to build his own presence on Twitter, he connected with people like Starr Sackstein, Aaron Blackwelder, Arthur Chiaravalli, Marisa Thompson, Deanna Hess, Jennifer Gonzales, and others, and he started to realize his true moral center as an educator because he could connect with like-minded professionals beyond the walls of his own building.

As these external connections brought him closer to self-actualization, he actually became a better colleague and person because he was able to realize his true moral center. Today, when it comes to sharing with his own colleagues, Jeffery lives by the rule of answering questions that people are actually asking. People generally aren’t interested in answers to questions they aren’t asking.

What’s Setting Jeffery on 🔥 in Education Today

What sets Jeffery on fire in education today is the idea of removing points from his classroom. That’s right – his class is now pointless! Although he doesn’t use the terms ‘pointless’ or ‘gradeless’ with his students, he frames his assessment as ‘an alternative path to grades.’

His students receive final assessment from him based on purposeful effort, revision, reflection, feedback, and conferences. At conferences, grades are negotiated in the course of conversations. Although he occasionally needs to impose his own professional judgment, he gives the student’s perspective great weight and tries to express disagreement in the form of thoughtful questions.

Looking back, Jeff realizes now that the massive spreadsheet of assignments and points that he used to assess his students for so many years told too much of the narrative about the learning of his students. To some extent, it was dehumanizing his learners and taking away the power of their personal story. Now, as he puts more emphasis on conferences, feedback, and negotiation, he hears his students’ stories and understands their journeys more holistically.

A Professional Goal

In addition to continued blogging and podcasting, Jeffery plans to make progress on his next book, Make Them Interact – about how to help students have authentic, academically centered interactions in the classroom that also builds social skills and community. Jeffery is also starting to offer professional development opportunities and workshops, so please contact him if you’d like to bring his expertise to your school or district.

Personal Passions Away From Education

Outside of education, Jeffery’s chief passion centers on learning how to better parent four kids who are ten, eight, five, and eight months old. This summer, they’ve spent a lot of time playing together and visiting the pool, and everyone’s been safe. He’s also enjoyed the challenge of learning the ropes of sound engineering at his local church.

His Most Important Productivity Hack

“You can be selfish at five in the morning,” says Jon Acuff. Accordingly, Jeffery tries to go to bed early and then wakes up around four o’clock, accompanied by strong doses of coffee. This is really his window to do the creative work that he enjoys.

Voices & Influences That Shape His Thinking & Inspire His Practice

Over on Twitter, Jeffery recommends following @DMQualls, who organized a game-changing fundraising drive at his school. He also points to @DauseClause and @CathleenBeachbd, who are about to release a book about problem-based learning titled 10 Keys to Student Empowerment: Unlocking the Hero in Each Child.

In terms of educational technology, Jeffery still prefers two classic low-tech tools: whiteboards and post-it notes. These tools continue to support visible thinking and collaborative creativity in the classroom.

Demoralized by Doris SantoroJeffery’s educational book pick is Demoralized: Why Teachers Leave the Profession They Love and How They Can Stay by Doris A. Santoro. Follow the author on Twitter @DorisASantoro. He also recommends a good business book called From Poop to Gold: The Marketing Magic of Harmon Brothers by Chris Jones.

A fun podcast to subscribe to is Dropping the Gloves by John Scott, a former professional hockey player with a wealth of amusing stories to share about the game.

If you’re looking for an interesting YouTube channel to subscribe to, check out The Bible Project. The creators craft beautiful animations and share profound insights about the characters, context, and messages found in the Bible. Even if you’re not a Christian or religious, you’ll find their content interesting. Follow the producers on Twitter @TheBibleProject.

On Netflix, Jeff’s family has been watching some of Sophia the First, but he’s more interested in playing a classic video game from his childhood: The Legend of Zelda

We sign off on this great conversation, and Jeffery gives us the best ways to get in touch with him online. See below for details!

Connect with Jeffery:

Sponsoring This Episode: Classtime

This episode is brought to you by Classtime.com, an assessment platform that delivers learning insights, giving you more time to teach.

Classtime.com helps you gain immediate visibility of your students’ learning progress, build engaging lessons, share with other teachers, and create your own tech-enabled questions to complement your lesson plans. Classtime.com also helps you engage all students with collaborative challenges & puzzles that make fun an integral part of the learning experience.

See what Classtime can do for your learners, and start your free trial at Classtime.com today!

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 78 – Aaron Blackwelder

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Meet Our Guest

AARON BLACKWELDER is a high school English teacher and golf coach at Woodland Public Schools in Woodland, Washington, a rapidly growing community about 35 miles north of Portland, OR. The school has about 700 students and Aaron has been teaching freshman and senior English there for about 13 years.

Aaron is also the founder of the Teachers Going Gradeless website and Twitter chat @TG2Chat and #TG2Chat. He’s a father, husband, autism advocate, Google Certified Educator, and he’s loving life!

Disillusioned by Traditional Assessment and Curriculum

Aaron describes the professional journey that led from disillusionment with traditional grading practices and instruction to a thoughtful exploration and eventual embrace of gradeless practices. It’s been an evolution, he says.

Fundamentally, he’s trying to pour more energy into feedback and pay less attention to grades, because it’s the instructive nature of feedback that really helps kids learn. He’s been gradeless for about four years now, and he’s enjoying strong support from administrators and his department.

Gradeless assessment has also affected his course content, curriculum, and culture, and he’s leveraging project-based learning and problem-based learning to leverage his students’ own passions, interests, and needs around their learning activities.

He’s also become passionate about helping students become agents of change, creating world-changing products for authentic audiences. His seniors are tackling real-life problems, and it’s been exciting to see their work unfold and skills develop in the process.

Aaron loves the process of tailoring feedback to the learning and needs of each student – that’s another important feature of the gradeless paradigm. Are we preparing students for the test on Friday, or are we preparing them for challenges beyond school?

Answering the Critics

To high school teachers in the maths and sciences who say that gradeless practices can’t be applied to their specialized courses, Aaron points to the abundance of high-level project plans and resources available for exactly those subject areas.

For schools and educators who look at gradeless practices with skepticism, Aaron makes a strong case. Schools and educators don’t like being placed on a scale of assessment, he observes, and the same is true of students.

Scores tend to label and encourage fixed mindsets (“I suck at Math,” etc.), while feedback tends to inform and direct next steps for growth. Scores also reinforce a fear of judgment, which crushes creativity and risk-taking.

The Work of TG2

TG2 (Teachers Going Gradeless) promotes the idea that teaching and learning are better without grades, and from the outset, Aaron wanted to put the focus on teachers. Coming from that perspective, it only made sense to open the TG2 site to educators and contributors from all over the world, and as a result the blog features a rich diversity of voices.

Digging Deeper Into Aaron’s Reporting Practices

Aaron explains how his reporting practices and system translate into student report cards (he was actually busy filling them out at the time of this interview). Just about all of his students earn a ‘P’ for passing, and he writes lengthy narrative comments about the strengths and weaknesses demonstrated by each student throughout the term.

His philosophy is that if he expects high quality writing from his students, the least they can expect from him is the same quality of writing in their feedback. At the end of the course, he also conferences with students to determine their letter grade, but generally speaking, he accepts whatever students suggest as their grade. After all, grades aren’t really the point!

Once again, it’s really the feedback that will inform and motivate further growth – not the grade.

Personal Passion

Aaron’s chief passion is his family. His wife is an amazing source of support and inspiration, and he relies on her heavily. He also has two boys with autism, and he takes pleasure in his ongoing learning from and contributions to the local autism community.

Favorite Productivity Tool

Google Forms has been an incredible resource for Aaron as he completes report cards, solicits self-evaluations and progress reports from students, and communicates with parents. He also recommends an Add-on called Forms Publisher, which allows him to do even more with Forms.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Aaron’s Professional Practice

On Twitter, Aaron recommends following @HumResPro, @MakeThemMastrIt, and @LeeAnnJung.

Aaron’s got two book picks to share. The first is Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari. The second is Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. Each title is mind-blowing in its own right, Aaron says, and will enlarge your understanding of issues that we hear about often.

Two podcasts to subscribe to are Teaching While White and The Human Restoration Project.

On Netflix, Aaron has been enjoying Abducted in Plain Sight. He’s not sure if he was more entertained or enraged while watching, but it’s a series that is sure to engage.

We sign off on this conversation, and Aaron reminds us of the best places to connect with him and his work at Teachers Going Gradeless. See below for details and links!

See more from Aaron:

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

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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!

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