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 95 – Justin Belt

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Meet Justin Belt

JUSTIN BELT is a husband, father of five, and teacher of thousands! He’s an aspiring leader, innovator, musician, and part of our great writing team over at the Teachers on Fire Magazine on Medium. Last but not least, Justin is the host and producer of The WHYcast, a podcast about finding and clarifying your WHY.

This summer, Justin moved his family from Joplin, Missouri to Frisco, Texas after teaching in Joplin for thirteen years. He’s set to teach English courses at a high school in the town of Carrolton, TX and excited to connect with his new community.

When Relationships Don’t Come Easily

Justin calls his last school year the hardest of his career. He admits quite candidly that it was a challenge to connect with some of his students. As always, he had some students who had positive attitudes and were good at playing the game of school. But others seemed apathetic and unmotivated, and it proved very difficult to reach them.

After serious professional conversations and extended self-reflection, he learned to treat this class and these students in unique ways. He worked hard to put aside all expectations and assumptions and worked tirelessly to better understand and connect with these learners. He experienced some measure of success, and by year’s end, he was genuinely saddened to part ways with these students.

One of the keys to building relationships well, Justin has found, comes from postponing lesson plans when needed and simply talking with the students about whatever is pressing at the moment. When anxieties and other emotions reign supreme and unheard in the context of the classroom, trust isn’t built, relationships can’t form, and learning doesn’t happen.

The WHY Behind The WhyCast

Justin is tireless in his efforts to coax students into expressing their student voice with confidence, so he figured he needed to lead the way by sharing his message first.

“At my heart, I’m an encourager of people,” Justin says. “I like to find the best parts in people, speak to that, and encourage them to bring that out and share it with the world … My purpose is to encourage, to inspire, to motivate others. I want people to find their why, that burning thing within them that won’t let them rest, that pushes them to do great things in their communities.”

When we can access our inner WHY, then everything that we do in the school building takes on greater significance. This podcast has been great for him personally, says Justin, because as he listens to the inner purpose of others it helps to affirm and clarify his own why. 

Thinking About Podcasting? Just DO It.

Justin’s advice to other educators looking to begin podcasting? Just do it. “Don’t worry about the quality of the equipment that you have, don’t worry about having the most polished or put-together script — just do it,” Justin urges.

He talks about his humble beginnings on The WhyCast and his commitment to just podcast with whatever resources he has available. To anyone who is out there thinking about doing a podcast, you’ve got a story inside of you that the world needs to hear, he says. It’s embedded inside of you, so even if you’re recording from your phone, just do it and get it out there.

As you podcast more and more, your resources and expertise will inevitably grow. But they’ll never have a chance to improve if you don’t start.

What’s Setting Justin on 🔥 in Education Today

What sets Justin on fire in education today is the absolute dedication of teachers and administrators to building relationships — not just teacher-student relationships but administrator-teacher relationships as well. Aside from the SEL and PBL and Genius Hour and all the other exciting movements in education today, he is thrilled when he sees the lengths that education leaders are going to invest in their communities.

Learning standards are important but remain secondary, because kids won’t strive to learn when they don’t believe that we believe in them. Giving student choice and voice are important moves precisely because they signal to students that we value them.

A Professional Goal for 2019-2020

Besides building relationships, Justin wants to understand the curriculum sufficiently to tailor it to his students’ goals and interests. Taking prescribed standards and reconstructing them in ways that resonate for him and his learners is critical, and that will be his primary goal going into this school year.

Personal Passions Outside of the Classroom

Personal passions that bring Justin alive outside of education include connecting with his family, music, writing, and cooking. He was classically trained in music and earned a degree in vocal performance. He’s even performed as an opera singer overseas, and music remains a huge part of who he is.

Writing is another joy, and although this summer has knocked him temporarily out of his groove, he looks forward to getting back to it. He’s also a huge foodie, and relies on cooking as a method of decompression at the end of the school day.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Thinking & Practice

Over on Twitter, Justin is gaining inspiration from @TheWrightLeader and @EricThomasBTC. Both are worth a follow, and Vernon Wright has agreed to appear on Teachers on Fire in a future episode.

When asked to recommend an edtech tool, Justin doesn’t hesitate to give the nod to FlipGrid. There are just SO many learning standards that this platform helps learners hit, from comprehension to analysis to oral communication. Flipgrid may be the very best tool for empowering student voice and choice, and it’s the tool most recommended by guests of this show. Follow Flipgrid on Twitter @FlipGrid

Hacking School DisciplineA book that has left a deep impression on Justin’s thinking this year is Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy and Responsibility Using Restorative Justice, by Nathan Maynard and Brad Weinstein. Follow these authors on Twitter @NMaynardEDU and @WeinsteinEDU.

After Teachers on Fire and The WhyCast, Justin has his podcast app tuned into DisruptEd TV Presents Dismissed with Jeremy Williams by @JWilliamsEDU. He’s also listening to Faculty Room by @Maire_from_NJ

On YouTube, Justin recommends subscribing to the prolific education thinker and animator, John Spencer. Check his channel at John Spencer and follow him on Twitter @SpencerIdeas

The Netflix series that has offered the right mix of entertainment and nostalgia for Justin this summer has been Stranger Things 3.

We wrap up this great conversation, and Justin gives us the best ways to connect with him online. See below for details.

Connect with Justin:

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.

The Power of Authentic Writing

Some incredible things happened in my 8th grade English classroom today.

Photo Credit: Brad Neathery

I’ve been slowly making my way through Sparks in the Dark on my Kindle this year, and every time I return to this book I’m inspired to facilitate more authentic writing in my middle school classroom.

I mean, my students write every day. But how much of that writing is meaningful, passionate, or authentic? How much of it do they personally care about? I know I need to create more space for this kind of expression.

Last week, I asked my students to respond to lyrics from any song that held personal meaning or significance for them. Our learning target was “I can think critically, creatively, and reflectively to explore ideas within, between, and beyond texts.” Today, I asked for volunteers to share their pieces with the class.

Two boys accepted the challenge.

Boys. In 8th grade. In a gradeless classroom, with zero extrinsic motivation.

Sometimes we need to rethink our beliefs around middle school boys. But that’s a thought for another post. I digress.

One of the boys read a reflection about Natural, by Imagine Dragons. The other read a reflection on a song called Reluctant Heroesby Hiroyuki Sawano.

These boys spoke passionately about the human experience: the hardships we face, the expectations we bear, our families and the relationships that matter most.

And get this. As he read a closing paragraph about his family, one reader broke down into tears. If that wasn’t enough, both boys quietly sang all or most of their selected songs.

Their unfiltered emotions were on full display. They were powerfully vulnerable. Their classmates gave each of them standing ovations. I could have cried myself.

I mourn all the moments like these that I’ve missed in my 17 years of teaching, but today’s experience only deepens my resolve to do more authentic writing in the years ahead.

Because this was awesome.

“When you teach someone how to read or how to express themselves using the written word, you change a life. You introduce them to magical worlds, teach them how to access the voice within, and empower them to affect that same change in the lives of others.” – from Sparks in the Dark: Lessons, Ideas, and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us by Travis Crowder (@TeacherManTrav) & Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd)


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Episode 43 – David McFarland

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DAVID McFARLAND is a high school IB humanities teacher at Pacific Academy in Surrey, BC, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @MrMcFTeaches.

In our conversation, David talks about how “We don’t even know you!” challenged him to rethink the importance of building relationships with his students. He describes some of his passions in education today: helping students navigate knowledge critically instead of merely absorbing content, using digital tools to customize learning experiences, and continuing to advocate for some reading on paper. David also shares some of his lifelong learning outside of the classroom, a daily ritual that builds relationships, and his top picks in books, Twitter, Youtube, and more.

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 0:49 – David describes his current teaching situation as a high school humanities teacher at Pacific Academy in Surrey, BC, Canada.
  • 1:18 – Three or four classes into the school year at a new school, he recalls a student bursting out with “We don’t even know you!” That experience challenged him in a positive way and helped him think more deeply about the relational component of teaching. Today, he takes more time and makes more intentional investments in building relationships with his learners.
  • 6:05 – There’s a lot that gets David excited about education today: a new curriculum in BC, better options for course customization, helping students think critically and navigate knowledge instead of dumping content on them, interpreting content in a world that is becoming entirely digital, and still advocating for some reading on paper.
  • 11:25 – One area of learning for David outside of his teaching is the art of cooking. He’s had fun this summer playing around with different cuisines while working his way through the New York Times cooking app. It’s a hobby his family appreciates, because there is always a product everyone can enjoy at the end of every experiment!
  • 13:02 – A personal habit that contributes to his success is based on a fine taste for coffee. He explains how this can be a “ritual that is relational” – an activity that invites others into the creation and enjoyment of the teacher’s go-to beverage. Another habit that feeds him is regularly reading books while at school.
  • 15:53 – David recommends following high school social studies teacher Glen Thielman (@GThielmann).
  • 17:06 – The edtech tool that has made the biggest impression recently is Google Classroom.
  • 21:04 – David’s pick for books is You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith (@James_KA_Smith).
  • 24:01 – A podcast to add to your podcast line-up is The Way of Improvement Leads Home by (@JohnFea1).
  • 25:40 – If you’re a Social Studies teacher, you need to subscribe to John Green’s Crash Course on YouTube. Follow @TheCrashCourse on Twitter as well.
  • 27:35 – When he’s got time in the summer to enjoy the pleasures of Netflix, David’s watching the The Office and Better Call Saul.
  • 28:42 – David reminds us of where to find him on Twitter @MrMcFTeaches.

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

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!

Episode 39 – CJ Reynolds

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CJ REYNOLDS is better known by his YouTube channel, Real Rap with Reynolds, where he talks teaching, relationships, and life. As a passionate educator and creator, his two truths in teaching are: #1 relationships are king, and #2 it’s only ever about the students.

In our conversation, CJ recalls the tremendous fatigue he faced as a rookie teacher, and discusses the importance of learning to say no to some things. He talks about how a project with his son turned into a YouTube presence with over 13,000 subscribers, and the tremendous opportunities that the internet allows teachers and students today in terms of global connections and collaboration. He shares about personal passions outside of the classroom, his morning routine, and his recommendations for books, Twitter, edtech tools, and more.

Check out Real Rap with Reynolds on YouTube HERE: https://bit.ly/2vm711T.

Follow CJ!

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 1:11 – CJ describes his teaching context: teaching 9th grade literature and a course called The History of Hip Hop in Philadelphia.
  • 2:07 – He recalls the tremendous fatigue he felt as a rookie teacher, some days unable to do nothing in the evening but sleep. Part of working his way through and out of that fatigue was perfecting ‘The Art of Saying No.’
  • 4:21 – We hear the story the Real Rap with Reynolds YouTube channel, from his son’s interest to his personal passion.
  • 8:04 – CJ explains what really excites him about education today: the new opportunities for connection, engagement, and authentic learning around the globe that the internet gives us.
  • 10:43 – His personal passions outside of the classroom include gardening and training for a triathlon.
  • 13:21 – “I’m a routine monster.” – CJ likes to wake up at 5, exercise, swim, or run, and spend some time in meditation at the beginning of each day.
  • 15:16 – Accounts worth following on Twitter: @RandyRibay, author of After the Shot Drops.
  • 17:07 – CJ suggests we try https://storybird.com/ in our English classes, another tool that allows students to create multifaceted representations and stories.
  • 20:34 – His book recommendations include After the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay and Tattoos on the Heart by @FrGregBoyle.
  • 24:45 – Two of the podcasts CJ has been listening to lately include The Tim Ferriss Show by Tim Ferriss and the Rich Roll Podcast by Rich Roll.
  • 26:02 – An accomplished YouTuber himself, CJ looks for inspiration to channels like Casey Neistat, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Mac Premo.
  • 28:06 – When he has no energy left for anything else productive, CJ’s watching Shooter and Better Call Saul on Netflix.

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

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!