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 80 – Kevin O’Shea

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Meet Our Guest

KEVIN O’SHEA is a primary teacher currently at the Canadian International School in Beijing, China who will be moving to a school in Shenzhen, China in the fall. Today, his  school sees a mix of Chinese students and children of international diplomats and ex-pats stationed temporarily in Beijing. Kevin is a big fan of nature, outdoor education, inquiry, and photography. He’s also the producer of the Just Japan Podcast and the Making Better Teachers Podcast.

Poor Reception for Differentiated Instruction

Kevin recalls a situation early in his career when he was asked to assign homework packages for his Japanese students to complete during a break from school. In an attempt to meet the unique needs of each of his learners, he differentiated the learning activities according to the skills and abilities of each student. But the plan backfired completely.

What Kevin wasn’t aware of is that all his hard work of differentiation flew in the face of cultural expectations around consistency and equality for everyone. Parents in the class got together to compare the homework assignments, and when they discovered that students had been given different requirements, a lot of arguing and accusations followed. Fortunately, Kevin’s administrators had his back and gave him their full support, but the whole scenario was still deeply discouraging.

He experienced a lot of sleepless nights that year, and even completed an application to join a police force back in Canada and leave education altogether. Fortunately, his principal convinced him to stay in education, and his experiences have greatly improved since then.

A takeaway: school leaders must know their parent community and act proactively to keep parents in the loop about shifts in practice or educational philosophy.

On Content Creation

Kevin’s been a “devotee” of podcasts for over ten years. His love for the medium began in 2008, when he would take the train to work each day in Japan. In 2009, he produced a short-lived podcast on Canadian history. Later, he began the Just Japan Podcast, which continues today. Although the technology and process has evolved over time, his passion remains as strong as ever.

In terms of the mission of the Making Better Teachers Podcast, Kevin talks glowingly about the ways that he has been helped and inspired by other podcasts. His goal is to do the same work and share similarly great ideas with an international audience.

Podcasting is helpful in the context of international education, Kevin points out, because in an environment of stiff competition and short-term teaching contracts, it’s especially important to share your message and build the profile of who you are and what you’re all about as an educator.

Creating content is also an important part of building relationships throughout a PLN. Again, it’s about visibility, especially in the context of international schools. Using PLN tools like Twitter are essential when you teach at the only English-speaking school in an area.

Kevin jumped into YouTube over ten years ago, and at the time, he discovered there just weren’t a whole lot of English-speaking YouTubers posting content about Japan. In addition to building one’s professional profile and building professional relationships, creating and consuming online content is also a terrific way to reflect on one’s one practice and learn from the practice of others. For that reason, Kevin is interested in doing more vlogging about teaching and education.

A takeaway: Kevin talked about four great benefits of content creation by educators.

  1. Content creation builds one’s professional profile and increases visibility.
  2. Content creation can act as a form of networking to build professional relationships outside of one’s local context.
  3. Content creation and consumption is a great way to share and learn new ideas from other educators.
  4. Content creation can be a powerful means to professional self-reflection.

A Passion for Outdoor Education

One of Kevin’s greatest passions as an educator is to get kids outside more often. Things like Outdoor Classroom Day and the Dirty Hands Movement are motivating, and he’s thrilled to see how teachers around the world are building outdoor play into literacy, science, and other academic areas.

As educators, we need to work harder at getting our students outdoors each and every day. We need to take back play and let out kids get dirty! He encourages all educators and schools to participate in Outdoor Classroom Day on May 23. To sign up, visit https://outdoorclassroomday.com/.

In terms of further professional growth, Kevin is focused on building his practices and strategies around outdoor education as he changes schools and moves closer to Hong Kong. He’s hoping to certify as a Forest Kindergarten practicioner, which involves taking kindergarten learning outside all the time. (What is forest kindergarten? Here’s what Wikipedia says.)

Personal Passions and Productivity Hacks

Kevin is a self-professed bug and bird guy. When it comes to insects, he enjoys studying, photographing, catching and releasing. His passion is a great fit for the elementary classroom, where he enjoys rock star status whenever he has the opportunity to bring in an unusual creature or bug. Kevin models what we want to see in all of our learners: curiosity.

A simple but effective productivity hack that he has come to love is the habit of preloading the coffee maker before bed. Going to the trouble of loading potable water and coffee grinds the day before helps those mornings run that much smoother, and it’s become a staple of his routine.

Voices & Influences that Inspire Kevin’s Thinking and Practice

On Twitter, Kevin recommends following Michael Bycraft @MabyCraft. Mike posts incredible videos from his students’ work in robotics and computer science. He’s well worth the follow.

Kevin’s pick for edtech tools is Seesaw, a popular platform that works wonders for the curation of student work and learning into online portfolios. Seesaw offers a terrific way to connect classroom learning activities with parents as well. Visit Seesaw and follow Seesaw on Twitter @Seesaw.

Kevin’s book suggestion is Lost Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. Follow the author on Twitter @RichLouv.

He offers two podcast picks – one educational and one non-educational. The first is The Morning Stream, which offers a wide variety of miscellaneous news, trivia, and humor. The second is The Cult of Pedagogy from education leader Jennifer Gonzales. Follow these creators on Twitter @MorningStream and @cultofpedagogy.

Kevin’s favorite YouTube channel is Brave Wilderness, where the host engages with all manner of creatures and environments on a regular basis. With over 14 million subscribers, this channel has become so successful that it now has its own TV show.

Two shows that Kevin has been enjoying on Netflix lately are Black Summer and Our Planet. The latter is another excellent nature series narrated by the legendary David Attenborough, and the former is a zombie series that Kevin can only watch when he has some alone time.

We sign off on this fun conversation, and Kevin gives us the best ways to connect with him and receive his online content. See links below!

See more from Kevin:

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Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel.

Episode 60 – AJ Bianco

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AJ BIANCO is a husband, father of two boys, aspiring leader, and middle school teacher at Harrington Park School in Bergen County, NJ. A fan of the flipped classroom and blended learning, AJ is also a co-host of another great education podcast called Podcast PD.

Follow AJ online here:

Episode Summary

AJ is currently a 7th-8th grade Social Studies teacher at Harrington Park School in Bergen County, New Jersey. His classroom is student-centered, flipped, blended, personalized, and he enjoys making the learning experiences as authentic as possible.

In general, AJ says that the lowest moments in his professional journey boil down to rejection. One example of this comes from his first five years of teaching, when his district repeatedly moved him due to budget cuts. After being split between two different high schools in year five, he was almost ready to quit the profession completely. One of the things that he credits for restoring his hope and faith in the education career was the PLN that he found on Twitter. Once he started connecting with other passionate educators, he was inspired to reimagine his practice and redefine his trajectory.

AJ recalls the beginnings of #PodcastPD, the podcast he co-hosts with Stacey Lindes and Chris Nesi. Stacey had been using the hashtag on Twitter for some time when Chris Nesi suggested they use the name as a title for a podcast show. The three co-hosts are all about “Anytime, anywhere professional development.” The show keeps it real, and the hosts include a good mix of humor, pop culture, and real life in the show content.

When he looks around at education today, AJ gets excited about the ways that educators are sharing their voices, ideas, and experiences authentically with others. Teachers aren’t afraid anymore — instead, they’re taking more risks and their practice is more inspired. Today’s classroom has come so far from the passive compliance of the classrooms we grew up in.

When asked about a current professional goal, AJ talks about his commitment to learning more about what leadership looks like in education. He’s reading, watching, and listening to whatever he can on the subject.

AJ’s primary passion outside of the classroom is his boys. He currently has two with a third on the way, and it’s a thrill to be involved in their development and play a part in their learning. Second to his boys, AJ is also a big sports fan and superhero aficionado.

AJ’s productivity stems from his competitive nature. Wherever he applies himself, he wants his work to be the best.

He’s got two Twitter recommendations, and they’re both amazing educators hailing from the New Jersey area. The first is @RichHayzler and the second is @Kevin_Carroll_.

Two edtech tools that AJ recommends trying out are Adobe Spark Video and Adobe Spark Post. Follow these apps on Twitter @AdobeSpark and @AdobePost.

AJ’s book recommendation is The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy by Jon Gordon. Follow the author at @JonGordon11.

If you’re looking to add another great education podcast to your commute, check out The Leader of Learning Podcast by @DKreiness.

On YouTube, AJ suggests subscribing to How it Should Have Ended, a fun channel that reimagines the endings to popular movies.

When he’s got no energy left for anything else productive, AJ’s watching Daredevil on Netflix.

We sign off on our conversation, and AJ tells us the best places to find him and follow his content online. Find AJ on Twitter @AJBianco and on Instagram @AJBianco.

For more from AJ Bianco, follow him online here:

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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 56 – Jon Harper

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JON HARPER is an Assistant Principal at Sandy Hill Elementary School in Cambridge, Maryland. He’s the smooth-sounding voice of the My Bad Podcast & Co-Host of the Teachers Aid podcast.

Follow Jon online here:

In our conversation, Jon describes a time in his career when the stresses of work and life overtook him and he was unable to get out of bed for two days. Since then, he’s seen the power of being vulnerable and reaching out for support, and that mission now defines his creative work. Jon also explains why he’s excited about education today, talks about a professional goal, and gives us some great picks on Twitter, books, podcasts, and more.

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 1:18 – Jon describes his current context in education as assistant principal at Sandy Hill Elementary School in Cambridge, Maryland. The school is Pre-K to 5th grade, with about 400 students. It’s located in a community that does have significant needs but he also works with an amazing and committed team of educators.
  • 2:50 – Jon describes a time four years ago when the stresses of work and life overtook him and he was unable to get out of bed for two days. Since that time, he’s discovered the incredible power of vulnerability. During his recovery, he wrote a blog post called The Masks We Wear, and the response was amazing. As professionals, we often feel that we are alone and that no one else is struggling the way we are. Looking back, he sees his biggest mistake as not reaching out sooner for support.
  • 6:45 – The Teachers Aid podcast takes on the intense social and emotional issues that teachers deal with. So much of what we hear about in education today is about putting students first, but Jon and Mandy like to talk about the importance of educators putting on the oxygen mask first so that they can help others.
  • 9:22 – Jon’s professional goal this year is to stay more organized and procrastinate less – something a lot of us can relate to.
  • 10:28 – What gets Jon excited about education today is the increasing vulnerability and authenticity of educators and their willingness to be real about their struggles on blog pieces, podcasts, etc. When people share their missteps and mistakes it lets others know they don’t have to be perfect all the time.
  • 12:26 – An area of personal learning that lights Jon’s fire outside of the school context is playing soccer with his son. It’s a great way to build the father-son relationship, and it also helps him keep in shape.
  • 14:42 – A productivity habit that Jon has learned to do regularly is focus on the big things and recognize when good enough is good enough. The Pareto Principle states that 20% of the activities in our lives produce 80% of the results, so it’s important to focus on the 20% as much as possible.
  • 17:26 – An education account worth following on Twitter is that of Oskar Cymerman. Follow Oskar at @Focus2Achieve.
  • 18:40 – An indispensable tool that allows Jon to contribute to his PLN at his convenience is Voxer. Follow Voxer on Twitter @Voxer.
  • 20:12 – Jon’s book recommendation is Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis. Follow the author on Twitter at @MSRachelHollis.
  • 21:08 – His pick for podcasts is the #AmWriting podcast, hosted by @JessLahey and @KJDellAntonia.
  • 22:04 – On YouTube, Jon’s been inspired by Shots of Awe with Jason Silva.
  • 23:05 – When he’s got no energy left for anything productive in his day, Jon and his wife are enjoying the Atypical series on Netflix. It’s a fun but illuminating look at the life and experience of one high school student’s journey with autism.
  • 25:33 – We sign off on the conversation, and Jon shares the best ways to follow him and get more of his content 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)

Listen to this episode on YouTube and subscribe for more episodes!

Episode 44 – Joshua Stamper

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JOSHUA STAMPER is an assistant principal, husband, father, blogger, and graphic artist in Frisco, TX. He’s also the host of Aspire: The Leadership Development Podcast. You’ll find his writing at https://joshstamper.blogspot.com/.

In our conversation, Josh discusses the mission and vision of his podcast on leadership in education, Aspire. He tells us why he’s excited about the incredible changes that have come to education in the last decade, pointing out that “But this is the way we’ve always done things” doesn’t fly anymore. He explains how his experience in graphic design contributes to his current work, and reminds us that school cultures aren’t built from behind desks. Finally, he gives us some great recommendations for books to read, Twitter personalities to follow, and more.

Follow Josh online here:

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 0:55 – Josh describes his current context in education: he’s been an assistant principal for five years and now serves in the Frisco Independent School District in Frisco, TX.
  • 1:21 – He recalls the time and energy spent learning the ropes of administration before being denied the opportunity he was hoping for. Later though, he was given a different administrative opportunity which ultimately became the best scenario possible.
  • 3:44 – Joshua tells the story of the Aspire: Leadership Development podcast, including his discovery of an incredible appetite for more sharing of stories, resources, and information among education administrators. Part of his vision for the podcast is to recover the positivity, excitement, and joy found in leadership roles in education.
  • 7:34 – Josh talks about some of the sources of his excitement in education today: the rapid changes we’ve seen in the last decade, the fact that educators are learning about other ways of learning and teaching, and the reality that “this is how we’ve always done it” doesn’t fly anymore. Today, education is clearly about the learners, about seeing the whole child in all of their emotional needs, and about growing the whole person (including restorative and trauma-informed practices).
  • 8:31 – Other areas of personal interest and learning include his love of graphic design and more recently the process of podcasting. If you haven’t seen his promotional materials for the Aspire podcast, his expertise in graphic design is easy to see.
  • 11:03 – In terms of personal habits and productivity, Josh focuses on putting the most important things first, being a present administrator, being in classes consistently, and interacting with students. Building relationships and positive school cultures can’t be done from behind a desk.
  • 12:15 – On Twitter, Josh recommends following @BarbaraGruener.
  • 13:12 – An edtech tool that is working well for Josh is Calendly.You can follow them on Twitter @Calendly.
  • 14:23 – His book pick is Be Real: Educate from the Heart by Tara Martin (@TaraMartinEDU).
  • 15:02 – As a podcaster himself, you know Josh’s podcast picks will be good. He mentions two: My Bad by Jon Harper (@JonHarper70bd) and the ShareMO Edu Podcast hosted by Dr. Rena Hawkins (@Renathunderhawk) and Eric Carlin (@Eric_Carlin).
  • 15:40 – His pick for YouTube channels is one produced by Todd Nesloney’s. Follow Todd on Twitter @TechNinjaTodd.
  • 16:28 – When the day is spent and energy wanes, Josh and his wife are watching reruns of a sitcom classic on Netflix: Frasier.
  • 17:04 – We sign off on the conversation, and Josh reminds us of the best ways to follow his content online. See above for the 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!