In this edition of the Roundtable, host Tim Cavey connects with four female educators united by passion, values, and a commitment to make the world a better place through education. Guests included Abigail French, Hedreich Nichols, Bonnie Nieves, and Kellie Bahri.
Questions That Guided Our Discussion
0:00 – Who are you and what is your current context in education?
6:08 – Who are the EDU Sisters? How did you first connect, and what drew you to each other?
14:22 – Our world faces tough challenges today. In your view, how can education contribute to solutions?
28:44 – Just for fun: What is your best estimate for the percentage of educators in your building who are active on EDU Twitter?
As of this post, I’m still appearing weekly on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Twitch at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time/11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. I’d love to see you join us and would be happy to feature your questions and comments on the show!
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ELENA AGUILAR is an accomplished educational presenter, speaker, and author. She strives to help leaders learn, be their best selves, and serve students well. In 2018, Elena published Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators, and in 2020 she released Coaching for Equity: Conversations That Change Practice.
Questions That Guided Our Conversation
1:15 – Why don’t you start by telling us a little more about your current context in education?
2:27 – First things first: how are you doing right now? How are you handling the home quarantine and social distancing?
4:37 – It’s story time! Please share with us about a low moment or an experience of adversity that you’ve faced in your teaching or education career, and describe how you overcame it.
08:48 – In 2018, you published Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators. This seems like an especially timely focus today, with educators everywhere having to reinvent their practice and respond to challenges on a variety of levels. What are some pieces of wisdom and insight that you could share from your book that might provide educators with some hope and encouragement during a very challenging time in our schools?
18:46 – If you could offer one practical strategy or bit of advice to educators around the challenges of building equity, what would that be?
21:24 – How are you looking to grow professionally and improve your practice right now? Can you share about a specific professional goal or project that you’re currently working on?
22:41 – Outside of education, what’s another area of learning for you? What is it that ignites your passions outside of the classroom and brings you alive as a human being? Tell us why this area interests you and why you enjoy it.
23:39 – When it comes to writing, are you the sort of structured or disciplined writers that follows the same writing time each day?
JESUS HUERTA is an elementary school teacher at Kennedy Gardens Elementary School in El Centro, California. He’s also an instructor for the Krause Center for Innovation, a 3D print enthusiast, a futurist, and a believer that technology is for everyone.
Competing During Uncertainty
About a year before our interview, Jesus was a finalist for the Leroy Finkel Fellowship, an award given annually to a teacher who presents “an innovative technology-enhanced curriculum project that is standards-aligned, replicable, relevant … and fun.”
Jesus had entered the contest and had made it to the short list, but he was laid off by his school just days before he was expected to present. Despite the professional uncertainty, Jesus gave everything he had to the presentation and won the award based on the 3D printing work his students were doing to create prosthetics (see a full description of the project with videos). As gratifying as it was to be recognized in the contest, it was equally satisfying to be given another teaching position shortly afterward.
The Evolution of 3D Printing and Learning
Jesus has been teaching for six years, and he’s been 3D printing the entire time. From classrooms to conferences, he carried his printer around with him wherever he went in his first years.
One way that 3D printing has really changed in the period since, Jesus says, is that the financial barriers to entry have come way down: printers and filament have both fallen a lot in price. Software has also improved and diversified and the 3D printing community has grown over these years as well.
It’s an exciting space, because 3D printing just keeps moving forward. Jesus shares a number of ways (other than prosthetics) that 3D printing technology is being used to provide medical solutions and improve quality of life around the world. On top of all the other competencies and skills that students build as they learn to design and print in 3D, the list of real-world applications only seems to grow.
Board Games, the Design Process, and Entrepreneurship
Another project that has really energized Jesus and his 5th graders is a board game project. The project combines the best of entrepreneurship, the design process, collaboration, and presentation skills. Working in partners or small groups, students begin by drawing a board game design, followed by a cardboard prototype. Further iterations follow.
Jesus describes a very authentic learning experience that occurred when one 5th grader forgot to bring her group’s prototype into class for her group’s pitch. Yes, there was some distress and some tears in that instance, but after thoughtful debriefing and reflection, he knows the real life lessons learned will last a lifetime. By project end, Jesus is always impressed by what his students manage to come up with, saying he would likely purchase them for his own family if they were commercially available.
Increased Access to the Joys of STEAM Learning
Something that Jesus has wanted to do outside of his classroom for some time is offer evening classes that align with his core passions: 3D printing, robotics, the design process, engineering, game design, coding, drones, and anything else related to STEAM.
In particular, he wants to create opportunities for kids who can’t access this kind of learning in their schools, districts, or towns. He’s built a partnership with an LGBTQ center to share space, and he’s proud to support diversity and equity for all learners by doing so.
“Learning is for everyone,” Jesus says. A kid’s gender, culture, language, religion, or orientation shouldn’t be limiting factors – and that’s something that Jesus has always been passionate about. Historically speaking, STEAM learning has tended to include more boys than girls, and evening that playing field is another part of his mission. He’s also looking at ways to include adults and mature learners, too.
Personal Passions: Creating with Wood and Playing the Violin
One of the areas of learning that Jesus recalls fondly from his childhood is drawing. In recent years, he’s revisited this passion through woodburning and carving. He’s also passionate about the sounds of the violin, and it’s been a joy to practice an instrument he’s always appreciated but never played. Jesus brings these passions into his classroom, too, using applications like Google Quick Draw, Google Music, and SoundTrap to helps students create a wide variety of digital art and media pieces.
A Productivity Tool: Wunderlist
Jesus loves using the Wunderlist app to track to-do items and track his progress, and the gamer in him enjoys the satisfying ding the app makes every time he checks off another task.
Voices and Resources That Spark His Thinking and Ignite His Practice
When it comes to a Twitter follow recommendation, Jesus doesn’t waste any time. “Paul Gordon does even more than I do,” Jesus says. One of Paul’s core passions is esports, but he also does 3D printing, laser cutting, design thinking, and more. He’s an advocate of risk-taking and a culture of yes, and he’s been a great education partner. Follow Paul @TeachTheTech.
One edtech tool that has really captured his imagination is the Oculus Quest, an all-in-one VR set. Users no longer need controllers – the set will now recognize user hands. His kids have played around with an Oculus app called Virtuoso that allows them to play piano in VR, and it’s blowing their minds. Other apps, like TiltBrush or Sculptor VR, allow users to paint and sculpt in VR as well.
Because his wife works in the criminal justice system, Jesus says they’re both enjoying a podcast called Crime Junkie. The series is so good that occasionally Jesus gets a few episodes ahead of her, and then he’s got some explaining to do! Follow this podcast on Twitter @CrimeJunkiePod.
Over on YouTube, Jesus points to the Uncle Jessy channel as a great source for 3D printers, techniques, and projects. Jesus appreciates how he follows up review videos with subsequent videos that clarify and update previous evaluations. Follow the creator on Twitter @UncleJessy4Real.
On Netflix, Jesus and his family are enjoying NCIS. They’ve been enjoying it so much that he’s actually a little sad that he’s been missing it for the last 15 years.
JULIANNE ROSS-KLEINMANN is passionate about the power of instructional technology to support teaching and learning, sharing what she’s learned with others, and community service — her focus for over 30 years as a member of Delta Sigma Theta Inc.
Julianne formally started teaching technology in the 1990s, and she became an ISTE member soon after. She’s a frequent presenter at conferences and schools on topics including technology applications, integration and troubleshooting, rubrics and assessment, STEM, makerspaces and room design. Her favorite presentations have involved co-presenting with her students on topics relating to computational thinking using the Scratch and Scratch Jr. programming languages.
Julianne is currently an Instructional Specialist for the Ulster County Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in New Paltz, New York. She is an Iste Certified Educator, Apple Teacher, Certified BrainPOP Educator (CBE), Google Level I Certified Educator, ISTE Mobile Learning Network 2017 Excellence Award Winner and past chair of the ISTE STEM Professional Learning Network (PLN), and currently serves on the ISTE Board of Directors.
“First and foremost, I’m a teacher,” Juli says. “I’m a teacher, a learner, and a service leader. I like to help others lead toward success. For me, it’s really important that the student surpasses the teacher.”
Fighting the Doubts
Juli can say she’s never been “run out of town” in a professional sense, but she’s certainly left a few contexts where she felt like it was just not the right fit. She’s worked in some isolating circumstances, including those where she has been the only female, the only female of color, or the only female who was more academically centered versus IT centered, and in some of those contexts she’s been met with stiff pushback.
Pushback and resistance can make us question ourselves, she says. We can start to feel like failures because our views are not well-received and don’t fit with the status quo. It’s in those low moments that Juli has leaned heavily on her always-supportive husband and positive professional learning network to provide the encouragement, confidence, and affirmation that she needed.
Her Path and Passion for STEM Education
She actually didn’t intend to become a teacher in the beginning, Juli laughs, and she wasn’t always interested in STEM or technology. But when Simon Helton asked Juli to support the Math and Science network at ISTE, she accepted. She began building professional relationships immediately and has served in this role with ISTE ever since. Today, the ISTE STEM Network provides collaboration, professional development, and support for STEM teachers and leaders around the world, and Juli has been a proud part of its ongoing development.
STEM education is all about computational thinking, problem-solving, project-based learning, and real-world design. There are so many applications and expressions of STEM, and the list is growing all the time. Looking at the great inventions and innovations of the past gives us vision and clarity regarding directions for the future. Even a revolutionary social figure like Harriet Tubman modeled the STEM spirit through systems thinking, empathy, and proactive problem-solving.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEM Education
Diversity, equity, and inclusion have become focus points for the ISTE STEM PLN. One of the ways ISTE is working towards greater equity is to promote scholarships and programs that fund minority representation in ISTE’s speakers and conference attendees. ISTE is also piloting an Equity Action Forum that gave educators a place and space to unpack big issues in this area of equity with a focus on action. And Juli has contributed to the development of another ISTE initiative called Growing ME: Bridging the equity gap through mentorship.
Other Points of Professional Passion
One of the things that has really ignited Juli’s passion for the ISTE educator certification process is the journey of becoming a blended, reflective education leader herself. She’s also passionate about SEL in education. Perhaps it’s nothing new, but she still loves the fact that social-emotional learning is such a focus in schools today.
Bringing Scratch and Robotics to the Mid-Hudson Valley
One of Juli’s professional goals in 2020 is the prospect of bringing a Scratch Day event into the mid-Hudson Valley. She’s also interested in robotics comptetitions, Vex events, AI and other blended learning opportunities. She sees educators traveling great distances to take part in these sorts of events and would love to host some closer to home.
Other Personal Passions That Bring Juli Alive
Ever since she was a child, Juli has enjoyed baking cakes with her mother and legendary aunt. She’s taken some baking courses and loves to watch baking shows. She’s also a big fan of motorcycle riding and looks forward to getting back on the iron horse and riding through the Hudson Valley in 2020.
Productivity from the Professional Learning Network
Juli’s productivity hack is her professional colleagues and support network. “I need to surround myself with people who have gone through what I’ve gone through, people who are kind and can sympathize, and also people who have nothing to do with education and bring a fresh set of eyes to situations.” These people are like family, she says.
Voices and Resources That Inspire Her Practice
Over on Twitter, Juli recommends following @ISTESTEM to connect with an uplifting group of educators passionate about STEM education.
Asked to point to an edtech tool, Juli enthusiastically boosts Scratch and Scratch Junior, the simple but powerful coding languages developed at MIT to help younger learners build computational thinking skills.
DEANNA LOUGH is an eighth grade English teacher at Sussex Academy of the Arts and Sciences in Georgetown, located in the southern part of Delaware. She’s an aspiring leader, kid Mom, puppy Mom, Mrs., music fan, and a lover of all things inspiring and positive.
How She Rediscovered Her Joy
A few years ago Deanna reached a point where she felt like she was killing herself with work. Her lack of energy and margin was preventing her from connecting with her students the way she wanted to, which led her to start asking how she could make her classroom a better space for her students.
That question has since evolved into a focus on equity, a pursuit that has really driven growth and evolution in her practice. Thanks to the changes she’s made in her thinking and work, she enjoys teaching a whole lot more today and has rekindled the passion that led her to enter the profession in the first place.
A Journey of Putting the Needs of Learners First
At the time that Deanna really started rethinking her practice and her learning space, she asked her students to describe their ideal classroom.
What would it look like?
What kind of work would they do?
How would teachers support their learning?
Their responses steered her first toward flexible seating and then to her own embedded biases and the obstacles faced by students from cultural and sexual minorities. She also started asking tough questions about her instruction and assessment.
Were her assessments actually fair?
Were they really assessing what she wanted to assess?
Were they really supporting the learning journeys of her students?
As she asked these questions, she realized that a lot of the traditional and adversarial grading policies that she had complied with for so long were causing her the most stress and stealing her joy. Although her school still requires her to submit grades, she’s begun the slow work of changing her assessment practices and allowing her students to demonstrate their learning in new ways.
What Else is Setting Deanna on 🔥 in Education Today
In addition to her changes in assessment, Deanna is keen on supporting her LGBTQ students and students of color in more effective ways. She’s become aware of so many situations that don’t do a good enough job of supporting these learners, and she’s also started to think about how some of the same systemic barriers affect minority educators, too.
The work of educators such as Dr. Sheldon Eakins (@SheldonEakins) and Dr. Mechele Newell (@mechelenewell) has also been deeply influential in her journey. One of her biggest realizations is that she doeshave a voice in these issues and that she needs to use it — to advocate not just for her minority students but for all of her learners and for the state of humanity.
A Professional Goal
Deanna is thrilled to teach in a professional environment that allows educators to set their own professional goals. Her focus for this year relates to thoughtful uses of technology in her classroom. Her school is 1:1, meaning all of her learners have Chromebooks, so she wants to not only improve learning experiences for students but also increase her own expertise in the Google environment. She makes the point that as we grow, learn, and gain competence as educators, we bring more joy to the job, and students notice that. Lately, she’s also enjoyed watching her students support the digital expertise of others.
A Personal Passion Outside of Education: Music 🎶
Deanna is a huge music enthusiast, and even though she’s never been trained to play an instrument she’s taken up the challenge of writing about it. This commitment has pushed her to listen to music podcasts to learn more, and shows like Sound Opinions and Rolling Stones Music Now have helped and inspired her to keep going. Right now, her goal is to write one formal music review per month, and she’s shared this journey with her students as well.
Productivity and Priorities
One set of strategies that Deanna has found valuable is Angela Watson’s 40-hour Teacher Week Club, and one her biggest takeaways has been the prioritized task list. Whenever she has a lot going on, she takes a few minutes to sit down and arrange to-do items by priority.
Another helpful takeaway has been Google Keep, a simple but effective list keeper that syncs across all devices. “Nothing will kill your joy faster than when you try to be overly ambitious and get more things done in a day than are humanly possible,” she points out.
Voices & Resources That Inspire Her Learning
Over on Twitter, Deanna recommends following Dr. Sheldon Eakins @sheldoneakins. As mentioned earlier in our conversation, he’s doing great work in the area of equity and Deanna has learned a lot from his online course. Make sure to visit his site and tune into his podcast as well.
Deanna’s edtech tool pick is Screencastify, a leading screencast application that works well in the Chromebook environment with a handy Google Chrome extension. She’s also been extremely impressed by their customer support.