Episode 95 – Justin Belt

95 - Justin Belt.png

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.

Episode 55 – Dr. Todd Schmidt

55 - Todd Schmidt.png

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

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!

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!

Episode 48 – Craig Kemp

48 - Craig Kemp.png

CRAIG KEMP is a head of Digital Learning and Innovation, teacher of teachers, blogger, workshop facilitator, and speaker. Although he hails from New Zealand and now calls Singapore home, Craig is truly a global force for innovation in education.

In our conversation, recalls the challenge of rebuilding a school community after the tragic loss of a student. He describes how his current role constantly requires him to look, investigate, and use technology in new ways that improve learning. He tells us why team sports represent the perfect mix of fitness, play, and collaboration … and why he always plays to win! Craig also shares great recommendations in books, Twitter, YouTube, and more.

Follow Craig online here:

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 1:09 – Craig describes his current context in education. Originally from New Zealand, he’s taught in Singapore for six years at The Stamford American International School. As the head of Digital Learning and Innovation, Craig heads a team of Digital Lead Learners. Calling his role a dream job, he enjoys helping educators in his local context and around the globe.
  • 2:32 – Craig recalls the time his education community suffered the tragic loss of a student. During that time it became critically important for the community to rally around positive memories and keep moving forward, striving to be better as a way of honoring that student’s memory.
  • 4:12 – When it comes to why he’s passionate about education today, Craig points to the constant change. His role requires him to look, investigate, and use technology in ways that help kids learn. Lately he’s been looking at how AR (augmented reality) and AI (artificial intelligence) can impact the how and why of learning.
  • 6:29 – Outside of the classroom, Craig is passionate about team sports like cricket, volleyball, and sometimes basketball. He points out that team sports offer the perfect mix of fitness, play, and collaboration with other people.
  • 7:34 – Craig’s got a lot on the go, and one way he manages it all is by utilizing his calendar effectively. If it’s not in the calendar, it doesn’t happen! He also has very high standards: he expects everything to be done well and perhaps better than it’s ever been done before. He makes stuff happen partly by investing in himself and others on his team – with the ultimate goal of making a positive impact on student learning.
  • 8:55 – Craig’s top Twitter recommendation is @GCouros. George is a non-stop source of amazing inspiration who helps educators to rethink what is possible in education.
  • 9:44 – Edtech is Craig’s wheelhouse, so you know these two picks are solid. The first is FlipGrid (follow @FlipGrid on Twitter), and the second is Empatico (follow @EmpaticoOrg). FlipGrid is a secure platform that allows students to represent their learning using video, and it’s now completely free. Empatico is a new start-up that seeks to connect learners and classrooms around the globe. It promises to remain entirely free as well, so make sure to check out both of these tools.
  • 12:53 – Confessing to a bit of a man crush on George Couros, Craig’s book recommendation is The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity.
  • 14:32 – For the commuter, Craig’s podcast pick is non-educational but definitely inspiring. Check out Masters of Scale by Reid Hoffman. Follow the podcast on Twitter (@MastersofScale) to learn more.
  • 15:19 – If you’re looking for a good YouTube channel to subscribe to, take a look at Movie Reviews for Kids by @ATorrens84.
  • 16:12 – Although he’s not a Netflixer, Craig will occasionally kick back with an old-school rerun. One of his all-time faves is Anchorman featuring the legendary Will Ferrell.
  • 16:59 – Craig says good night from Singapore, and shares the best ways for us to follow him online. See above for the details and links!

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 46 – Katelynn Giordano

46 - Katelynn Giordano.png

KATELYNN GIORDANO is a sixth grade language arts teacher in Sugar Grove, IL. You can find more of her insights on learning, reading, and writing at CurriculumCoffee.com – “a written shot of espresso for educators.”

In our conversation, Katelynn recalls the time early in her career when a veteran colleague told her not to speak during faculty meetings. Part of her recovery from that discouraging blow involved moving to a new middle school position, where she was fortunate to come under the wing of a mentor who was supportive in every way. It was the positive energy and encouragement gleaned in this environment that helped shape her into the talented and motivated educator she is today. Katelynn also explains why she’s passionate about education and describes the activities that fuel her personal fire outside of the classroom. She tells us about the daily routines that make her productive, and offers some awesome recommendations on Twitter, books, edtech tools, and more.

Follow Katelynn online here:

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 0:52 – Katelynn describes her current context as a 6th grade English teacher at Kaneland Harter Middle School in Sugar Grove, IL, USA.
  • 1:12 – We go back to a time when a veteran colleague told Katelynn to be quiet and not speak during faculty meetings. It was a discouraging encounter to say the least, taking the wind out of her sails for considerable time. Later, Katelynn took an open position in a middle school and was fortunate to come under the wing of a mentor who was supportive in every way. In this case, the grass really was greener on the other side of the fence, and the two contrasting experiences have given her a passion for positive mentorship in education.
  • 6:11 – Katelynn’s passions for education today focus on student-directed and personalized learning, empowering learners to take initiative, giving learners voice and choice, and teaching writing in new and personalized and effective ways. Her perspectives will inspire you!
  • 12:46 – One area of personal learning outside of the classroom has been her rediscovery of the joys of writing. She blogs at CurriculumCoffee.com, and savours the therapeutic qualities of synthesizing ideas and presenting them in ways that others can access and learn from. She also dabbles in drawing, painting, and other artistic pursuits when time allows.
  • 16:14 – A personal habit that contributes to her success is working out each day. She talks about the value of getting away from the digital noise, alone with her thoughts and the positive rewards of exercise. She also enjoys reading children’s literature and using her reading experiences to engage in authentic conversations with students around their reading.
  • 18:26 – On Twitter, Katelynn recommends following @MisterMinor.
  • 19:17 – Her pick for edtech tools is the fabulous FlipGrid. Follow them on Twitter @FlipGrid.
  • 21:15 – Katelynn is a reader, so you know these two picks are good ones. For children’s literature, check out Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rodes. In education, you want Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension by Sara K. Ahmed.
  • 22:44 – When she’s got no energy left for reading or writing, Katelynn is watching a Netflix favourite: The Office.
  • 23:51 – We sign off on the conversation, and Katelynn tells us the best places to find and follow her content online. See above for details!

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 28 – Jordan Potrzeba

28 - Jordan Potrzeba.png

Jordan Potrzeba is a 4th grade teacher at Walter Caldwell Elementary School in Auburndale, FL.

Imagine being told by your principal in your first year of teaching that you were different and didn’t belong. After experiencing just that, Jordan moved from Nebraska to Florida, where he found a school that welcomes his energy, ideas, and unique personality. In our conversation, Jordan shares about his passion to see teachers grow, share, be vulnerable, and take risks. He also describes how travel and music enrich his life, and offers some great recommendations around books to read, Twitter accounts to follow, a great YouTube channel to subscribe to, and more.

Follow Jordan Potrzeba on Twitter and Instagram @JordanPotrzeba, and check out his reflections on education at https://bloggingjungle.blogspot.com/.

TIMESTAMPS. In this episode, Jordan discusses …

  • 0:58 – his teaching situation: 4th grade teacher at Walter Caldwell Elementary in Auburndale, FL
  • 2:10 – a low moment in his career: being told by an administrator in his first year of teaching that he was different and didn’t fit in
  • 7:45 – what gets him excited about education today: seeing teachers stand up, share their voice, be vulnerable, and regain their passion
  • 12:22 – another area of personal passion and learning: travel
  • 13:36 – a personal habit that contributes to his success: listening to music no matter what the context, dancing when possible
  • 15:23 – two accounts we need to follow on Twitter: Nicole Taylor (@GuysBride) and Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd), co-author of the new Sparks in the Dark
  • 16:34 – his favourite edtech tools: Nearpod (@Nearpod) and FlipGrid (@FlipGrid)
  • 19:21 – two book recommendations: Refugee by Alan Gratz (@AlanGratz) and Play Like a Pirate by Quinn Rollins (@jedikermit)
  • 20:36 – a YouTube channel pick that works well in elementary Math classrooms: NumberRock Math Songs
  • 22:44 – his go-to on Netflix (even though he’s currently not a subscriber): The Office
  • 23:23 – the best ways to follow him online … see above!

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!