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 63 – Greg Moffitt

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GREG MOFFITT is a dad, husband, and the principal at Winters Elementary School in Winters, California. He’s also a doctoral student at UC Davis and a big education geek. Greg has set the audacious goal of reading through all of the books from Dave Burgess Consulting in 2019! Follow his reflections and reviews (along with those from teammate Kali Slusser) at http://readlikeapirate.wordpress.com.

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Episode Summary

Greg recalls the end of the last school year when a staff member gave him the truth, point blank: “You’re not smiling anymore.” A number of people on his staff team had been going through some difficult challenges, and as he felt the weight of his team Greg also found himself questioning his own work. Was he doing enough? But after receiving this challenge – and a strong encouragement to read Lead Like a Pirate – Greg started to rediscover his passion and joy. In addition to the book (and other books like Culturize and Lead with Culture), Greg began building a positive PLN on Twitter and gained enormous strength and encouragement from other education leaders there. He’s never looked back, and he describes this turning point as “life-changing.”

One thing that excites Greg about the state of education today is that social-emotional learning is finally getting the recognition and appreciation that it has always deserved. Emerging research and improving resources are helping educators better understand the needs of kids and connect with their hearts and minds. In Greg’s view, SEL skills aren’t soft skills – they’re essential in leadership and in life.

Greg and his staff instructional coach, Kali Slusser, are aiming to finish reading all the DBC books through 2019 at a pace of one per week. They were inspired by Alicia Ray (@ILuvEducating), and they’ve been tracking their learning at readlikeapirate.wordpress.com. Part of Greg’s professional goal here is to implement at least one idea from each book into his professional practice throughout the year.

Any time he can find the time to get outside and go for a hike, Greg likes to do exactly that. Getting outside energizes him, and whether it’s by the mountains or the sea, reconnecting with nature is such a valuable spiritual practice. He dreams of one day becoming a park ranger and helping others gain a greater appreciation for the positive power of the wild.

Greg loves checklists. He gains momentum from checking things off, and he’ll even add items he’s already completed to his checklist just so that he can check them off. Dr. Todd Cutler suggested he focus in particular on the most important priorities to hit every single day, and Greg now operates according to a 5-4-3-2-1 get-to list: 5 classroom visits, 4 documents or publications to update, 3 recess appearances to connect with kids, 2 check-ins with staff members, and 1 handwritten thank-you note. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but it helps him stay focused on what matters most.

Greg’s Quick Picks: Voices and Resources That Shape His Practice

On Twitter, Greg recommends following @MrsHankinsClass and @heARTISTatWORK. These two educators are non-stop sources of positive creativity and inspiration!

In terms of edtech, one tool that Greg has used with great success this year is Facebook Live. It’s been a great tool to engage the parent community and share learning activities between home and school.

Greg shares two book picks. The first is A Mindset for Learning: Teaching the Traits of Joyful, Independent Growth by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz, and the second is The Jester Has Lost His Jingle by David Saltzman. Follow the authors of A Mindset for Learning at @MrazKristine and @Christine_Hertz.

Who can’t use another great education podcast to listen to? Greg recommends listening to Aspire: The Leadership Development Podcast, hosted by @Joshua__Stamper.

A YouTube channel that will keep us smiling and interested is Rice Farming TV. Follow this great family on Twitter @RiceFarmingTV.

On Netflix, the Moffitt family pick right now goes to Fuller House. When the kids are in bed or Greg has a few minutes to make his own pick, it’s The West Wing.

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Episode 55 – Dr. Todd Schmidt

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DR. TODD SCHMIDT is the principal of Harbor View Elementary School in Corona del Mar, CA. Follow Todd on Twitter @tsschmidty and catch his thoughts on education at http://tsschmidty.blogspot.com/.

In our conversation, Todd recalls the challenges he faced around entering administration and describes his ongoing journey with Shiny Object Syndrome. He discusses his commitment to fatherhood, the inspiration he takes from #LeadUpChat, and the reasons he’s so passionate about caring for the whole child in today’s education system. He also shares a great productivity tool, a personal habit that contributes to his success, a book worth reading, and much more.

Follow Todd online here:

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 1:00 – Now in his 23rd year in education, Todd has taught at the elementary, middle, and high school levels for 13 years. Harbor View Elementary School, where he serves as principal today, is set on a hill overlooking the ocean. It’s an amazing school with a parent community that is committed to doing whatever is best for its learners. This will be Todd’s seventh year at Harbor View.
  • 2:45 – Todd recalls the challenges of trying to move from classroom teacher to the role of administrator. After hitting a number of closed doors, a district superintendent encouraged him to apply in a different district. Soon after following this advice, he found a role that was the perfect fit. Another challenging area for Todd has been what he calls Shiny Object Syndrome – the possibility of being captivated by too many exciting opportunities and spreading himself out too thin in that process. Today, he’s setting up accountability structures to live out the ethic of “more is less” and do fewer things (but better) for the education community he serves.
  • 6:23 – As a committed father, Todd shares about his passion for fatherhood and his contributions to #DadsasPrincipals and  #MakerDads on Twitter. He points out that the job of education leader is demanding – not just professionally, but physically, mentally, and emotionally. By networking with other education leaders who share the same challenges, Todd has derived helpful support and encouragement towards his mission of building relationships and making quality time for his daughters.
  • 9:21 – #LeadUpChat, which is open to all educators at all levels and in all fields, seeks to find the right blend between learning and culture. It comes from the John Maxwell idea of leading up, pushing and supporting people in positive ways. Todd says there’s nothing quite like the ability to connect with people in real time and have quality conversations with like-minded educators who are seeking to be more innovative, creative, and inspired.
  • 14:19 – In terms of what really makes him passionate about education today, Todd points to the recent shift in education to focus more on the needs of the whole child. He’s excited by the power of technology to engage learners – not to replace the teacher but to enhance the learning. He also talks about the ways that PBL and makerspaces give some students the reason and the purpose they need to go to school. When students know they are loved and supported, they have a purpose and something that motivates them, that formula puts them on a path to success.
  • 16:18 – Todd talks about the importance of spending time to care of himself. He sings the praises of the positive peer pressure built within Orange Theory, crediting this fitness company with helping him shed 30 pounds and get into better shape than he’s been in for some time. He’s also a big sports fan, and lately he’s enjoyed reading books that he can recommend to kids.
  • 18:39 – One personal productivity tool that has really worked for Todd is the Michael Hyatt Full Focus Planner.
  • 20:41 – A Twitter account worth following is that of the skateboarding principal, Hamish Brewer. Follow him on Twitter @BrewerHM and find out more about his incredible story.
  • 23:01 – In terms of an edtech tool that is advancing learning in his classrooms today, Todd points to FlipGrid. Follow this amazing app on Twitter @FlipGrid.
  • 24:29 – Todd’s book recommendation is The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life by Shawn Achor. Follow Shawn on Twitter @ShawnAchor.
  • 26:10 – Todd shares three great podcast recommendations: Check This Out, The Google Teacher Tribe Podcast, and EdTech Confessions. Follow these great podcasters on Twitter @CheckThisOutBR, @GTeacherTribe, and @EdTechConfess.
  • 28:06 – On YouTube, Todd recommends subscribing to Brad Gustafson’s channel. Nobody brings the energy and authentic stories like Brad!
  • 29:23 – Leaving all things educational and serious, Todd’s current pick in streaming entertainment is Jack Ryan, featuring John Krasinski of The Office fame.
  • 31:18 – We sign off on the conversation, and Todd shares the best ways to get in touch with him and follow his content online. See above for the 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 54 – Jeff Kubiak

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JEFF KUBIAK is the principal of Nelda Mundy Elementary School in Fairfield, CA. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffreykubiak and catch his blog posts at http://principalkubiak.blogspot.com/.

In our conversation, Jeff recalls feeling so broken and unsupported as a rookie teacher that he left education entirely. He describes the strategies he is following to build school culture, and explains why he is so passionate about the state of education today. He tells us about the personal passions and routines that give him energy and contribute to his success. He also gives his picks on Twitter, books, edtech tools, and much more.

Follow Jeff online here:

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 0:54 – Jeff describes his current context in education at Nelda Mundy Elementary School in Fairfield County, California. The school runs from kindergarten through fifth grade, has about 800 students, 35 teachers, and a very multicultural community that lives locally. One of his current missions is to help shift the school’s focus from performance to growth – #allkids. “We’ve got to move the whole kid,” he says.
  • 3:08 – Here Jeff recalls a low experience during his first year of teaching. Although he was hired to teach 5th grade, his assignment changed to MS PE at the last minute before the school year started. It was a very difficult experience, and he often went home feeling broken and beaten down. He felt like he didn’t have the support he needed and actually left the school before the year was finished. Eventually, however, he realized he missed the students. He found an elementary school that embraced his mantra for education and his inner candle was lit once again.
  • 5:34 – Nelda Mundy is using a couple of tools to build community this year. Virtually every staff member and student has read One, by Kathryn Otoshi, which advocates the idea that every person counts and every person also stands up to be counted. The staff is also reading Culturize by Jimmy Casas.
  • 7:15 – When asked why he’s so passionate about education today, Jeff points to the fact that our students can teach our teachers things. He loves watching kids learn, and seeing their passion for learning build. When they get fired up, he gets fired up.
  • 8:03 – Some of the other passions that fuel Jeff’s spirit outside of the school include being with his family, spending time outdoors, traveling, reading with his family, swimming, surfing, and coaching.
  • 9:37 – Some of the personal habits and regular routines that contribute to Jeff’s success include walking every day, biking, and swimming in the pool. “Give me water and I’m a happy man,” he says.
  • 10:56 – Jeff recommends a handful of education leaders to follow on Twitter: @JCorippo@Casas_Jimmy@ThomasMcMurray@KatieMartinEdu@BethHouf@BrewerHM, and @MrAdamWelcome.
  • 12:18 – In the classroom, Jeff loves the learning he sees happening around FlipGrid. Professionally, he enjoys the relationships and constant insights that Voxer facilitates. Get to know these two tools better by following them on Twitter @FlipGrid and @Voxer.
  • 14:43 – Jeff’s two book recommendations are What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers across America by Ted Dintersmith (@Dintersmith) and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (@PauloCoelho).
  • 15:29 – If you’re a podcast listener, Jeff’s got a bunch of picks here as well: The Rich Roll Podcast by @RichRollAspire: The Leadership Development Podcast by @Joshua__StamperMy Bad by @JonHarper70bd, and School Leadership UnearthED by @GustafsonBrad & @BenjaminGilpin.
  • 16:42 – Jeff isn’t a big TV viewer, but a few shows he has enjoyed on Netflix include Master of None, Weeds, Californication, and The Amazing Race.
  • 17:49 – We sign off on the conversation, and Jeff gives us the best ways to follow him online. See above for details!

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device: iTunes | Google Podcasts | YouTube | Spotify

Follow the podcast on Twitter @TeachersOnFire and on Instagram @TeachersOnFire.

Song Track Credits

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

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Episode 49 – Colby Sharp

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COLBY SHARP is a husband, father of five, fifth grade teacher, avid reader and book reviewer, runner, and self-proclaimed nerd. He is the author of The Creativity Project: An Awesometastic Story Collection and 2018’s Game Changer!: Book Access for All Kids.

In our conversation, Colby recalls the discouragement of a harsh professional evaluation and explains how he grew from the experience. He describes the heart and process of The Creativity Project, and explains how teachers can use this anthology to inspire creative expression in their English classrooms. He also shares about his passion for reading, putting books in the hands of kids, creativity, daily exercise, podcasts, Casey Neistat, and much more.

Follow Colby online here:

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 0:49 – Colby teaches 5th grade at Parma Elementary School in Parma, MI.
  • 1:23 – He describes the experience of receiving fairly harsh reviews from his principal after his first year of teaching. Rather than throwing a pity party, he decided to learn from the experience, take steps to grow as a professional, and things improved quickly from there.
  • 3:24 – We talk about the mission and message of The Creativity Project: An Awesometastic Story Collection. Colby describes how authors were given a choice of two prompts to respond to creatively. The results were amazing, and the book offers exciting examples of where the creative process can take students as well.
  • 8:11 – Colby describes another passion he has for education today: teachers. Teachers today have incredible passion for kids and for learning. They’re in it for the right reasons. The new teachers he’s seeing come to the profession are inspiring.
  • 9:25 – Colby is also deeply passionate about improving access to books in schools, libraries, and communities – finding more ways to get books into the hands of children. Nerd Camp is an annual conference that connects young readers and authors. The last Nerd Camp was attended by 1500 educators, 1000 kids, and 50 authors. Every kid that attended left with at least one free author-signed book.
  • 10:55 – His productivity hack is daily exercise. He’s only missed about seven days so far in 2018, and he believes in it enough to spend his lunch breaks running.
  • 12:48 – On Twitter, Colby recommends that you give @SusanKHaney a follow.
  • 13:53 – One tried and true edtech tool in Colby’s classroom is Audible, which you can follow on Twitter @Audible_com.
  • 15:22 – A professional book that Colby thoroughly enjoyed and learned from this summer was 180 DAYS: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. Follow these incredible authors on Twitter @KellyGToGo and @PennyKittle.
  • 17:13 – Colby’s top education podcast recommendation is Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzales. Follow Jennifer @cultofpedagogy.
  • 19:55 – On Youtube, Colby recommends subscribing to master storyteller Casey Neistat.
  • 21:16 – A recent Netflix title that Colby gives both thumbs up to is To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, which embodies everything that’s good, fun, and wholesome about the teen romantic comedy genre.
  • 22:51 – We wrap up our conversation, and Colby shares the best ways to follow him online. See above for details and links!

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device: iTunes | Google Podcasts | YouTube | Spotify

Follow the podcast on Twitter @TeachersOnFire and on Instagram @TeachersOnFire.

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!