Episode 62 – Beth Houf

62 - Beth Houf

BETH HOUF is a mom, middle school principal, passionate leader & learner, and forever teacher. She’s also the co-author of Lead Like a PIRATE: Make School Amazing for Your Students and Staff. Interact with her on Twitter @BethHouf and engage with ideas from her book at #LeadLAP.

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Episode Summary

Beth is the principal of Fulton Middle School in Fulton, Missouri. She serves about 600 students in Grades 6, 7, and 8. After fifteen years of teaching and leading in elementary contexts, this is her fourth year at Fulton MS. Beth also serves as a facilitator with the state department’s regional leadership academy, and she mentors new principals in Missouri leadership program.

Beth began her administration career in the pressure-packed atmosphere of No Child Left Behind. School test scores were low, requiring the school to issue letters to families in the community saying that the school was a failing school. What a culture-killer! In response, Beth worked hard to move the needle and improve test scores, instead of putting her focus on building school culture. She worked so hard, in fact, that she began to approach a state of burnout, and found herself considering leaving education for a career in nursing. Then in 2014, she attended the NAESP Conference and met Jay Billy, who showed her how to engage better and smarter with other education leaders on Twitter. He also encouraged her to connect with Dave and Shelley Burgess, and Beth soon saw the value of TLAP principles in education leadership.

Lead Like a Pirate was first born out of Beth’s passion for the principles taught in Teach Like a Pirate, by Dave Burgess. After she began building a workshop that would apply the #TLAP principles to leadership contexts, Dave and Shelley Burgess encouraged her to put her ideas and content into print. As she wrote Lead Like a Pirate, one of Beth’s main concerns was to ensure that other administrators didn’t have to experience the levels of fatigue and burnout that she once experienced. Yes, there will be times when we get discouraged or down, but she doesn’t want education leaders to feel like they are all alone or don’t have a support system. Beth wanted to archive best practices and resources but also start to build an active community of education leaders.

When she’s not focusing on education leadership inside and outside of her own context, Beth loves to read. In particular, she loves to do online read-alouds, book talks, book tasting, and any opportunity to connect books with kids and light their passion for reading.

Beth sees improvement as a daily process. She starts each day by reading a blog post — her favorite is one from Rich Cryz (@RACzyz). She also tries to stay current in leadership practices within and outside education and takes in professional development whenever she can. She welcomes free opportunities like #DitchSummit with Matt Miller, and although she’s not currently contemplating a PhD, that’s a possibility in her future. She also talks about her efforts to further promote and amplify the voices of other culture-builders, including Lead with Culture by Jay Billy, Lead with Literacy by Mandy Ellis, and Balance Like a Pirate by Sarah Johnson, Jessica Johnson, and Jessica Cabeen.

Beth enjoys traveling, experiencing other cultures, reading non-fiction, and sampling wines. She traveled to Alaska in October and was blown away by the phenomenal educators there who face overwhelming obstacles. Beth also enjoys sampling and learning about new wines. The best trips are the ones that combine education and pleasure. And when her boys hit on a new area of passion, she finds extra motivation to get involved herself.

Beth starts each day by getting up before anyone else to just relax with coffee and the news. Just the act of sitting quietly for 30-40 minutes gives her to calm she needs to start her workday in a good head space. She also leans on social media to improve parent engagement and involvement, so she makes sure she is taking pictures and video whenever she can as she gets into classrooms. She finds that the best documentation of learning happens right then, in the moment. Beth also calls herself a mobile principal. She carries her backpack with her wherever she goes so that she can get work done wherever she is and not remain tied to the desk in her office.

Beth’s Quick Picks: Voices and Resources That Shape Her Practice

On Twitter, Beth points first to a couple of hashtags – #FMSTeach and #LeadLAP. She also recommends following co-author @Burgess_Shelley and publisher @BurgessDave and @DBC_Inc.

Beth’s edtech recommendations focus on effective visual communication. She points out Quik, Canva, Poster My Wall, and Smore. Follow these great platforms on Twitter @Quik_App, @Canva, @PosterMyWall, and @SmorePages.

In books, Beth just finished The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook–What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing by Bruce D. Perry and Maia  Szalavitz. She also recommends Reclaiming Our Calling: Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education by Brad Gustafson. Follow these three authors on Twitter @BDPerry, @Maiasz, and @GustafsonBrad.

Looking to add some more great education podcasts to your podcast deck? Check out Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzales and Aspire: The Leadership Development Podcast. Follow these educators on Twitter @cultofpedagogy and @Joshua__Stamper.

Beth is admittedly not a YouTube subscriber, but she does mention the Fulton Public Schools channel. Check it out here: Fulton Public Schools.

When she is able to find a little Netflix time, Beth has been enjoying flashbacks from The Nineties.

We sign off on this conversation, and Beth gives us the best ways to follow her online. Find her On Twitter @BethHouf, on Instagram @BHouf, and check out Lead Like a Pirate on Amazon.

Follow Beth.

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Song Track Credits

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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 47 – Kimberly Snodgrass

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KIMBERLY SNODGRASS is a 7th grade ELA teacher. She advocates for creative thinking, BookSnaps, Sketchnotes, Edu GIFS, and other creative ways for students to represent their learning.

In our conversation, Kim recalls the challenge of beginning a high school teaching assignment with a lot of preparation required and next to no experience in education. She credits this period with allowing her to learn the art of teaching without preconceived ideas or the pressure of “textbook mentality.” Kim talks about the importance of staying hungry as an educator, cultivating creativity and critical thinking in the classroom, and engaging regularly with other education thinkers. She also passes on some solid recommendations for books to read, educators to follow on Twitter, edtech tools to try in the classroom, and much more.

Follow Kim online here:

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 0:50 – Kim describes her current and past experiences as an educator. She currently teaches 7th grade ELA in a middle school in Nebraska, but she’s taught high school in the past as well.
  • 1:33 – She describes one of the most challenging points in her education career: starting a high school teaching assignment in a smaller school (which meant that she was prepping for a number of courses on a daily basis) with zero experience in the classroom.
  • 4:35 – Kim talks about the things that really excite her about education today: more focus on the soft skills in education: creativity, collaboration, and teamwork. 21st century education is finally acknowledging that simply focusing on the three Rs does not serve students well.
  • 7:29 – Outside of her classroom, Kim is busy pursuing another Master’s degree. She’s particularly fascinated by constructivist pedagogy and personalized learning models. But she’s also energized and inspired by the more practical education books from Dave Burgess Consulting, like Teach Like a Pirate.
  • 11:07 – A personal habit that Kim points to as a key to her personal success is the fact that she always remains hungry to learn more and engage with other lifelong learners. The thrill of learning never gets old.
  • 13:08 – On Twitter, Kim recommends following @BurgessDave and @HeckAwesome. She credits Dave Burgess with inspiring her to get more connected and contribute on Twitter in the first place.
  • 15:44 – Kim is all about helping students access creative technology tools that allow them to represent their learning in fun and unique ways. One such tool that she’s had a hand in perfecting and promoting is Edu GIFs. Find out how to make your own Edu GIFs at https://daveburgess.com/get-your-gif-on/.
  • 19:40 – We hear about three slamming book recommendations:  1) The Pepper Effect by Sean Gaillard (@SMGaillard), 2) The EduNinja Mindset: 11 Habits for Building a Stronger Mind and Body by Jennifer Burdis (@Jennifer_Burdis), and 3) Be REAL: Educate from the Heart by Tara Martin (@TaraMartinEDU).
  • 21:00 – Looking for another great education podcast to add to your commute this year? Kim recommends Well Played by Michael Matera (@MrMatera).
  • 25:06 – For a great YouTube channel to subscribe to, Kim’s going back to the same dude: Michael Matera, master of gamification and author of Explore Like a Pirate. Check out his channel. Another up-and-coming channel that provided her with some lesson inspiration lately is Stefanie Crawford’s channel. To find out more about Stefanie Crawford, follow her on Twitter as well at @MrsCFord_Tweets.
  • 26:32 – Kim is far too busy (and frankly too hungry to learn) to watch much Netflix, but the last show she binged on there was Fuller House, a modern sequel to the original Full House.
  • 27:40 – We sign off on the conversation, and Kim gives us the best ways to follow her online. On Twitter, you can find her @KimSnodgrass, and you can check out her class blog at https://kimsnodgrass.weebly.com/.

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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

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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 40 – Kristin Hundt

40 - Kristin Hundt

KRISTIN HUNDT is a devoted wife and mother of four boys, a 6th grade teacher, lifelong learner, and global citizen. One of Kristin’s recent highlights includes being featured in The PBL Playbook, by AJ Juliani.

In our conversation, Kristin talks about her passion to provide good reading materials for her readers. An engaged reader herself, she advocates for student voice and choice, genius hour, going gradeless, standards-based feedback, and revision of work. Other passions include project-based learning, the outdoor classroom, and the 40 book challenge. Kristin also shares some awesome recommendations for books to read, Twitter accounts to follow, and much more.

Follow Kristin!

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 0:57 – Kristin describes her current teaching role in a 6th grade integrated English and Social Studies classroom.
  • 2:04 – She talks about her passion to provide students with the widest variety of reading materials possible.
  • 5:11 – We discuss Kristin’s greatest sources of passion in education today: voice and choice for students, genius hour, going gradeless, feedback based on standards, and building classroom cultures of revision and growth.
  • 7:57 – As a mother of four boys and a teacher of even more, Kristin enjoys reading about boys’ development. She also doesn’t hesitate to suggest books for others.
  • 11:12 – Her recommendations on Twitter are @JoyKirr and @kttasch.
  • 12:56 – For edtech tools, Kristin points to the amazing communication and representation features on Seesaw. Follow @Seesaw for more information about what is possible on this LMS.
  • 13:47 – One book that has been an absolute game-changer for Kristin was Classroom Habitudes by Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers on Twitter).
  • 14:45 – Her podcast pick is Teachers Going Gradeless. Follow @TG2Chat for more information about the podcast, blog, and the amazing work around assessment happening on this platform.
  • 15:46 – On those late nights and early mornings with a sleepless baby, Kristin enjoys reruns of Friends or The Crown.
  • 16:40 – We sign off on the conversation and Kristin tells us the best ways to follow her online. See above for details!

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!