Episode 84 – Jennifer Wolfe

84 - Jennifer Wolfe.png

Meet Jennifer Wolfe

JENNIFER WOLFE is a mother, writer, English and AVID teacher, Google Certified Educator, hyperdoc fanatic, and WeVideo Ambassador. She teaches 7th, 8th, and 9th grades at Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High School in Davis, California. Her subjects include English, Reading, and AVID (more on that program to come). She was actually a student at this school herself – super weird when she first began teaching there!

A Year to Forget 

Jennifer recalls a year in the classroom when a parent of one of her students decided to make her a persistent target of scrutiny and unreasonable criticism that amounted to bullying. “I always believed I would teach until it wasn’t fun anymore,” she says. Well, this ordeal took the fun away from the job, and Jennifer seriously considered leaving the profession for good.

Yes, dealing with parent conflict is an inevitable part of the teaching process, but this experience was especially difficult for Jennifer because she lacked the administrative support that she critically needed. She took some extended time off that year to ask herself if teaching was really what she wanted to do, and although she returned to finish the school year, she was at an all-time low of dissatisfaction.

Somehow, despite all of this turbulence, she was awarded teacher of the year! Even with that recognition, however, she realized that in order to keep teaching, she would have to care for herself in ways that would allow her to actually care properly for her students. This ethic of self-care, proactivity, and consistent growth has helped shape her practice ever since.

*If you’ve had a difficult year and feel closer to burnout than on fire, check out a podcast called Dear Teacher, Don’t Give Up.

Advancement Via Individual Determination

Jennifer is an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) educator, and she’s a big fan of the program. AVID is a national program currently in place in 47 states, with over two million students enrolled in 7,000 schools. By 2025, the goal is to bump the number of enrolled students up to five million.

The focus in AVID classes is academic success through rigorous student-centered learning environments and inquiry-based classrooms. Students also receive academic, emotional, and social supports that meet them exactly where they are.

The AVID program has been transformative for Jennifer, helping to move her from test-based instruction at any cost to looking first to the learning needs of the student. It’s also been transformative for her learners, helping them to pursue areas of learning that traditional systems may have ruled out for some students.

The Magic of Hyperdocs

Jennifer clarifies the nature and purpose of hyperdocs in the 21st century classroom, and explains how they can enable greater student choice and agency in learning. Hyperdocs should promote creativity and curiosity – they are much more than just Docs with links. They support the 4 Cs and are made to satisfy the learning needs and progress of all learners.

What is going to capture student interest? How can we engage student learning in ways that move away from teacher-focused instruction? We need learning activities that move away from Googleable information toward activities that require critical thinking, analysis, transfer, explanation, and further curiosity.

WeVideo and the Kids Take Action Podcast Unit

Her district provides her students with WeVideo licenses, which they can access via their Chromebooks. One of the most illuminating breakthroughs to come from their work on WeVideo was podcasting! (Check out her Kids Take Action podcast unit.)

Jennifer noticed that her students can be very self-conscious when it comes to recording – especially on video. But after Jennifer crafted cardboard boxes as miniature recording studios and Brian Briggs set up the class with more advanced recording equipment, the students felt empowered to create great content.

WeVideo got so excited by her learners’ work that they appointed Jennifer as a WeVideo ambassador and has since enhanced their capacity for students to record audio-only content on the platform! WeVideo has also showcased audio recordings made by her class, and their content has been heard by other learners around the world as a result.

Jennifer has been so energized by the authentic work and communication produced by her students – including higher-level reasoning and debate over controversial issues. She’s also been using Wakelet to help curate student podcast episodes. Although her student podcast content has not yet been widely distributed and available on podcast platforms, that is a step Jennifer looks forward to.

Jennifer’s Core Values

Jennifer talks about the history and heartbeat of the tagline you’ll find on her blog: loving fiercely, teaching audaciously, and thinking deeply. Each of these values is precious to her and together they represent what she is all about in education. Everything she does – whether it’s edtech, writing, professional development, and speaking – are wrapped up in these three core values.

Professional and Personal Goals

Jennifer became an AVID national staff developer this year – the realization of a long-time professional goal. She’s also had the satisfaction of seeing her message and profile gradually grow as her blog and work attracts more interest from other educators. She was thrilled when Lisa Highfill (@LHighfill), a recognized innovator in hyperdocs, actually recognized her at a conference and shared that she had been following her blog!

Jennifer is also excited by the prospect of an empty nest at home and three books currently on the go. Wow!

Personal Passions Away from Education 

Jennifer is a huge reader and challenges herself to read all sorts of books across all genres. This connects with her love of writing, and most of her outside-of-teaching times are spent on these two activities. She also loves to travel to other countries, and is passionate about a campaign that she’s been a part of that is helping to restructure the education system in Nicaragua. Last but not least, she rides her bike to work daily, which provides a regular workout and a prime opportunity to listen to podcasts.

Keys to Productivity

Jennifer’s best productivity hacks include daily gratitude, journaling, proactive planning, organization, and maintaining firm boundaries. She’s a big believer in intentionally letting go of the things that we can’t control so we can be fully present and engaged with the people and work right in front of us.

Voices and Resources That Inspire Her Practice 

On Twitter, Jennifer recommends following hyperdoc master Lisa Highfill @LHighfill.

Jennifer’s pick in edtech tools is Wakelet, a content curator that’s still free to use. Follow the company on Twitter @Wakelet.

A book that has been instrumental lately is Inquiry Mindset: Nurturing the Dreams, Wonders, and Curiosities of Our Youngest Learners by Trevor MacKenzie (@Trev_MacKenzie) and Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt (@rbathursthunt).

Jennifer’s podcast pick is called Check This Out, a podcast produced by edtech experts Brian Briggs and Ryan O’Donnell. Visit their podcast home and follow the show on Twitter @CheckThisOutBR.

Jennifer also shouts out the Educational Duct Tape Podcast, produced by the legendary @JakeMillerTech.

Over on YouTube, a channel that never fails to capture her students’ attention is TED-Ed. If you haven’t tried their content lately, it might be worth a visit and a subscription!

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

Connect with Jennifer:

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 81 – Kelly Croy

81 - Kelly Croy

Meet Kelly Croy

KELLY CROY is a committed husband, father of four girls, educator, speaker, Apple Distinguished Educator author of Along Came a Leader and the producer of The Wired Educator podcast.

Follow Kelly on Twitter @KellyCroy and @WiredEducator, and visit his blog at https://wirededucator.com/.

On Adversity and Empathy

Kelly feels a tremendous amount of empathy for those around him, and so his lowest moments tend to be the lowest moments of others. When he sees struggles and frustrations in motion, his instinct is to get involved and try to provide solutions.

He recalls a time when he was able to use technology to help a sick student stay connected with her classmates as she fought a serious illness. Although the health situation was difficult, he recognizes the way in which technology helped facilitate human relationship and connection for someone in need. He tries to approach other experiences of adversity with that same positive approach, looking for learning, growth, or other opportunities for new relationships that can come as a result.

Advice to Educators Around Social Media

Kelly’s message for educators when it comes to social media is to enjoy it (“Instagram can be a beautiful place”), leverage it for learning, but avoid falling into the comparison game.

Today’s new educators come to the profession very comfortable and familiar with social media, and it doesn’t make sense to ask them to leave it. Instead, he helps them think about (in some cases) rebranding themselves as professionals and utilizing social media in their classrooms in order to advance learning.

Authenticity on social media is critical: our job isn’t to emulate others so much as it is to share who we are and what we’re all about.

The Mission of the Wired Educator Podcast

The Wired Educator podcast is a passion project for Kelly. He considers it an art form and counts it a privilege to share, promote, and celebrate the great things that educators are doing for learners all over the world. He tries to elicit the essence and fire that makes each guest unique, and he pursues the ideas that produce the best outcomes for students.

One of Kelly’s dearest accomplishments from the Wired Educator podcast was preserving the legacy of inspirational ideas shared by one guest who died unexpectedly in the year following his appearance on the show. He also recognizes the intimate connection that podcast hosts can build with their audience members over time. It’s a powerful medium.

Along Came a Leader

It was a lifelong dream for Kelly to write and publish his own book, and Along Came a Leader represents the fulfillment of that dream. The book came out of the realization that some of the education principles and values that Kelly considered common sense weren’t as widely held or understood as he thought they were.

The book is focused on six tenets of leadership, which apply both in and out of education:

  1. attitude,
  2. wisdom,
  3. tenacity,
  4. communication,
  5. vision, and
  6. authenticity.

Done right, these six traits create great leaders and great educators. “No one is born a leader,” Kelly points out. “You can become a leader – through practice, hard work, trial and error.”

Content Creation for Educators

Kelly notes that in education, 1) we get to do work we love, and 2) we’re put in a position where our creation, improvisation, design, and communication skills are continuously tested and developed. As educators and practitioners, Kelly sees it as essential that we practice what we preach: we need to remain innovators and model our creative process in front of our learners.

As an overall philosophy of education, Kelly also observes that our highest levels of learning, rigor, relevance, depth of knowledge, and synthesis of learning are all demonstrated through creative activities. Yes, consumption of materials and information is an essential part of the learning process. But it’s in the project-based learning and creative projects that students truly demonstrate the application and transfer of knowledge and skills in meaningful ways.

As an Apple Distinguished Educator, Kelly also points out that Apple is supporting a tremendous campaign and curriculum called Everyone Can Create, which puts powerful resources in the hands of educators and students that empower the creative process.

The 1:1 Debate: Chromebooks vs. iPads

Kelly discussed an article from the Wired Educator called The Greatest Chromebook is an iPad, where he sought to help people understand that iPads contain a lot of the same features that Chromebooks do. When one considers cost, capability, convenience, and creative applications, Kelly believes the iPad may offer better value than the typical Chromebook.

That said, he’s also quick to point out that the key outcome is the learning that happens in the course of the creating – and that trumps brand or device. When collaborating and creating activities aren’t taking place in classrooms equipped with these devices, learners lose.

Things That Excite Kelly About the State of Education Today

Kelly is thrilled to see the attention and energy that districts today are focusing on building culture. Culture is the starting point for everything we do in schools, and Kelly talks about how legendary coach John Wooden would always start his training right at the basics. In the same way, Kelly is seeing districts teach their educators how to communicate with parents, how to think more strategically about homework, and how to build relationships with students more effectively. “Your best day in education is going to come from a culture moment,” Kelly says.

Another thing that is getting Kelly excited about education is the convergence of subjects and disciplines. In our classes of today, we’re seeing the arts and skilled trades integrate more than ever with the subjects that have formed the traditional core of education: English, Math, and Science. He envisions large-scale projects that combine awesomeness from every subject to produce some truly impressive and meaningful results.

Ongoing Professional Growth

Kelly points to his daily interactions on social media as a constant source of learning. Can any other industries match the intrinsic motivation of educators to engage on Twitter, read blogs, and listen to podcasts with the aims of learning and growth?

Kelly is finding that in his new role as Director of Innovation and Instruction, he’s becoming a more mindful leader. One recent observation has been the frequency that we all hear “I’m so busy … overwhelmed … tired.” We all need to give ourselves more time to reflect, practice self-affirmation, and celebrate victories.

Personal Passions and Productivity Hacks

For the past couple of years, Kelly’s been trying to learn the guitar. He’s also using Duolingo to learn Spanish and Swift Playgrounds to acquire coding languages. In the future, Kelly would love to build an online course that helps people further.

One of the most important habits in Kelly’s life is the process of journaling. He began doing it about twenty years ago, and he credits it for many of his accomplishments (including the creation of The Wired Educator podcast). Journaling also helps him track the things he is grateful for, his goals, and failures.

“Journaling is the key to all my sucess,” Kelly says. “What gets written down gets done.” He favors the Day One app because it’s accessible on any device or platform, but he also uses Things, Evernote, and Drafts.

As a podcaster, Kelly also began the habit of recording self-affirmations for five minutes of his commute each morning. Doing so helps bring him into a positive mindset and prepares him mentally and emotionally for the challenges of the day.

Voices & Influences that Inspire Kelly’s Thinking and Practice

On Twitter, Kelly recommends following @BurgessDave and @Casas_Jimmy, authors of Teach Like a Pirate and Culturize.

As the Wired Educator, you know Kelly has a few favorite edtech tools to share. Topping his list right now are Keynote, Pages, Book Creator, and FlipGrid.

Kelly’s two book picks are The Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly and The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday. Both are helpful in terms of clarifying mindset around life, purpose, and a positive outlook on one’s self.

Not only does Kelly produce two podcasts, but he’s an avid listener as well. His recommendations include The School of Greatness with Lewis Howes, Side Hustle School, Akimbo: A Podcast from Seth Godin, The Smart Passive Income Online Business and Blogging Podcast, his own Future Focused Podcast, and of course the extremely popular Joe Rogan Experience.

Kelly doesn’t have a channel to suggest subscribing to on YouTube, but he’s interested to see the ways in which younger learners are using the platform as a creation, communication, and learning tool.

Over on Netflix, Kelly’s picks are the new Highwaymen, a retelling of the story of Bonnie and Clyde, Arrested Development, and on Hulu, Free Solo.

We sign off on this insightful conversation, and Kelly tells us the best ways and places to connect with him and receive more of his great content.

Connect with Kelly:

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.

Just Start: Get on the Track of Improvement

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

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

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

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

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

The same principle applies for educators.

Writing to Learn and Learning to Write

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

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

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

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

It’s Not Really About Time

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

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

We fear embarrassment. Rejection. Crickets.

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

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

So we take the safe option.

The Power of Practice

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

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

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

Marques Brownlee

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Teachers on Fire Podcast

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

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

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

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

Consistent Content Creation is a Direct Line to Improvement

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

Absolutely no doubt in my mind.

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

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

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

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

Just start.

My #OneWord2019: Create

This will be a year for new content. New learning. New relationships.

@MisterCavey on Instagram

It was in the final weeks of December that I started to see the #OneWord and #OneWord2019 hashtags pop up on Twitter.

I was unimpressed at first, but as some of my favorite edustars (like Rose Pillay) started to reflect on their #OneWord2019, I decided to take a closer look.

It looks like the One Word idea has been around for a while. Although you’ll find One Word resources all over the web, the philosophy behind the movement seems best developed in a book called One Word That Will Change Your Life by Jon Gordon and Dan Britton.

Without reading the book, my take on #OneWord is simple. Choose a word that best frames your hopes, goals, and expectations for the year ahead. Choose a word that anchors you, clarifies your mission, and reminds you of your purpose. Choose a word that you can use to connect your growth and learning as the year unfolds.

It took me most of the last week of December, but I finally found my own #OneWord2019.

CREATE.

I want to see creation unfold in three dimensions this year.

1. Create new content.

In the last two years I’ve become a committed content creator, a journey that would take a different post to fully describe and unpack. But in general, create > consume has become a mantra that I preach and model consistently.

Of course my biggest step along these lines in 2018 was to begin the Teachers on Fire podcast. The show was and continues to be the realization of a personal dream, and I can’t begin to explain all the ways I’ve grown and learned as a direct result of my work there. When educators around the globe share their appreciation for the podcast, it’s a tremendous encouragement. It gives my work meaning and reinforces my commitment to it.

I also started writing more in 2018, but that’s an area where I’d really like to turn up the heat in 2019. In 2018, I wrote about 30 posts in total. Today, my goal is to publish two blog posts per week: one personal and one professional.

There are many reasons behind this push for greater consistency, another important concept deserving of its own post. But for now, this is what I’m committing to. Two posts per week.

I have one more piece of content in mind here that I hesitate to put on the record, but maybe the power of public accountability will be the boost I need to make it happen consistently. YouTube. I’d like to start creating content there on a weekly basis as well. Stay tuned!

One more thing. It’s also a goal of mine to complete my Master’s thesis this year. That’s another form of content — not the kind that will be visible to most, but a pretty important byproduct of two years of academic study.

2. Create new learning.

I want to give my students new learning experiences this year. In particular, I want them to create, design, revise, and create products they have never created before.

I want to create the sorts of learning experiences that will challenge them, require critical thinking, and demand new sets of skills. That’s the kind of teaching that I get excited about.

In my own life, one way to for me to experience new learning is to read more books than ever before. According to my Goodreads account, I finished 10 books in 2018. In 2019, my goal is 15.

I know I can hit 15 books simply by reading my Kindle before bed every night. I generally try to read 5% of a book (or books) in my account before lights out. Doing that will push me through the equivalent of a full book every 20 days this year. So that’s the plan.

As I mentioned, my MEdL thesis studies will require more academic and field research in the areas of podcasting and professional development. That’s not only new content — it’s new learning, as well. That’s learning to look forward to.

In general, I want to improve my attitude toward learning this year. That means adopting a stronger growth mindset, taking more risks, learning new skills, and stretching myself into uncomfortable spaces in order to experience personal and professional growth.

3. Create new relationships.

One of the unexpected side benefits of starting the Teachers on Fire podcast last year was the formation of so many new friendships with other educators. It’s an amazing feeling to receive support and encouragement from principals in California, teachers in the UK, and authors in Wisconsin. It’s a PLN at its best.

In the fall of 2018 I also took a teaching position at a new school, and in many ways this community is still new to me. I’ve already built meaningful friendships here, but there’s plenty of room for deeper connection. New relationships are waiting to be formed, deeper roots to be planted.

On a personal and completely different note, my wife and I would also love to have a baby this year! We’ve been trying for some time now, and I back and forth between going all in on hope and expectant prayer versus the pragmatism of emotional management. But there you have it — I’d also love to (pro)create a little Cavey this year. That one is in God’s hands.

My #OneWord2019: Create

I can’t wait to create: new content, new learning, and new relationships. 2019 is going to be an amazing year, and I look forward to learning from you along the way.

Why don’t you join me. And CREATE.

@TimCavey on Instagram

by Tim Cavey, MS Teacher in Surrey, BC, Canada and host of the Teachers on Fire podcast.