Episode 107 – Trevor MacKenzie

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Meet Trevor MacKenzie

TREVOR MACKENZIE is a learner, teacher, speaker, consultant, and outdoor enthusiast. Trevor teaches English at the 10th through 12th grade levels at Oak Bay High School in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is also regarded by many as the preeminent voice on inquiry-based learning today, authoring Dive into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice and co-authoring Inquiry Mindset: Nurturing the Dreams, Wonders, and Curiosities of Our Youngest Learners

The First Five Years Are the Hardest

When asked about an experience of adversity on his education journey, Trevor thinks back to his first five years in the profession. There were many forks in the road, he says, where he found himself questioning whether or not he even wanted to stay in education. It took him a while to move from substitute teaching to a full-time contract, and even then it was a real challenge to juggle all the responsibilities of a classroom teacher: lesson planning, unit design, assessment, parent communication, coaching, and other duties.

Trevor credits his local community of colleagues and professional peers who gave him advice, encouragement, and solidarity during those early years. Although his professional learning network has evolved far beyond the bounds of his own building, he continues to appreciate the power and importance of collaboration today.

Why Inquiry? 

First and foremost, Trevor says, he never proposes that other teachers must do things his way. “Teaching is an art with incredible nuance and subtlety, and there’s simply no lockstep approach or prescriptive framework to what makes a good teacher.”

That said, Trevor readily admits that inquiry-based learning is where his heart is, and he loves nothing more than helping other educators see what is possible for learners. Education has changed a great deal in the last decade – not just because of our access to phones but also in terms of the amount of prior knowledge that students bring to the classroom. It’s no longer about how much students know, but about what they can do with what they know.

Inquiry-based learning challenges teachers to facilitate experiences that help our learners to explore content and then create products that have an impact on others. Inquiry also challenges students to investigate the “un-Googleable” questions, the sort of questions that Google Home and Alexa cannot help them with. These are the kinds of vast, broad questions that students must chew on and wrestle with over extended periods of time. Inquiry encourages the development of the 4 Cs: competencies that are absolutely critical in today’s workforce. As a framework, inquiry provides the space and common language for students to become creators, problem-solvers, and active agents of their learning.

Inquiry and Curiosity

Children enter the school system full of curiosity, chomping at the bit to learn, to play, to read, and to interact. Sadly, students often leave high school with that curiosity and joy of learning greatly diminished. “Curiosity is at the heart of how we can better meet the needs of all of our learners,” Trevor points out.

We need to look at our curriculum with an eye to integrating inquiry approaches – it never needs to be a situation of all or nothing, inquiry vs the curriculum. Inquiry-based learning, when properly applied, allows us to explore prescribed curricular outcomes through the lens of curiosity and creativity.

Understanding the Types of Student Inquiry

Structured    Inquiry, Controlled Inquiry, Guided Inquiry and Free Inquiry

In the swimming pool illustration, Trevor divides the types of student inquiry into four levels: structured, controlled, guided, and free. Although it might seem tempting to jump quickly into the deep end of the swimming pool, Trevor cautions against initiating free inquiry without giving learners the necessary tools, understanding, and vocabulary. To move too far and too fast into inquiry is to invite chaos and confusion for teachers and learners, so strategy and forethought is required here.

Ideally, a school can work together on strong and structured units of inquiry-based learning so that all learners in the community become familiar with a common language. Frame those first units of study around central, unGoogleable questions. Use provocations to spark rich and engaging entry points to new areas of interest and study, and allow space for students to pursue side paths and related questions along the way. For help in getting started, visit TrevorMacKenzie.com for a large collection of free inquiry unit planning templates and other resources.

Inquiry and Assessment

When first introduced to inquiry-based learning, educators often have questions around assessment. To help guide teachers through these challenges and demonstrate what assessment can look like in the inquiry classroom, Trevor is currently working on a book that speaks directly to the mindset shift he has experienced around assessment in his own practice, and he goes on to describe some of the changes he’s made in the classroom.

For example, he no longer puts any numbers or letter-grades on formative assessments — he only offers feedback. He also makes sure that students are invested in the assessment process through the co-creation of criteria, the inclusion of student voice, and by making sure that assessment occurs in the classroom, by and with students — instead of something done to them. Assessment done properly infuses course content instead of taking the shape of something slapped on to the end of a unit of a study. 

The Power of Grading Conferences

Speaking to the power of the conference, Trevor says that the simple decision to sit down with each of his learners to discuss their assessments for the term was one of the most helpful and practical moves he’s ever made in his practice. He immediately noticed the empowerment and sense of agency that the conferences gave students. For a change, many of his students actually wanted their parents to read their report cards because they had a direct hand in crafting those comments. Even more importantly, the process broke many students out of a fixed mindset regarding what past report cards and the education system had told them they were and were not capable of as learners.

Could Inquiry Reshape Professional Development?

Sadly, Trevor says, professional development is often not designed by teachers, and as a result, there can be a disconnect between philosophy and practice. Make sure that teachers have a voice, and make relevance and immediate application high priorities in the design of professional development activities, he urges.

What Else is Setting Trevor on 🔥 in Education

Beyond inquiry, something else that is setting Trevor on fire in education today is the conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion. He’s taken some hard looks at cultural responsiveness, systemic biases, allyship, identity studies, and the unpacking of his own personal biases. Educators who greatly impress Trevor in this space include Gary Gray Jr., Liz Kleinrock, and Cornelius Minor. If we want our students to truly understand themselves as learners, people, and human beings, we owe it to them to help them understand the biases, narratives, and historical forces that shape our understanding of ourselves.

Serving with Presence

As much joy as he derives from working with learners in his classroom, Trevor is also passionate about teaching teachers and working with other educators around the world. Balancing the two consituencies well and being fully present in every context requires intentionality and mindfulness. “As I enter the classroom each and every day, I’m asking how I can be present and mindful of what’s immediately before me,” Trevor says.

A Personal Passion: Cycling

Trevor is an avid cyclist, and on many mornings he is up early and out of the house on his bike before school. He also enjoys a good community of fellow cyclists in his area that he enjoys biking and racing with. Cycling gets him going, fires him up, and keeps him healthy so that he can serve others well.

A Productivity Hack: Early Mornings 

Trevor’s best productivity hack is to get up at 5:00 a.m. each morning, and he’s been inspired by other creatives to work before the rest of the world is awake. It’s the perfect time to tie up loose ends, complete tasks, do important reading, or write reflectively. With small children at home and students at school, the early morning is simply the best block of time in the day to be productive and undistracted.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Practice 

Over on Twitter, Trevor recommends following @TheMerrillsEdu. The Merrills are an amazing elementary teaching couple who take creativity to a whole new level in their practice. Make sure to give them a follow!

No edtech tool has revolutionized Trevor’s assessment practices more than FlipGrid, where students post video responses and interact with each other’s ideas. Microsoft recently acquired this legendary platform and made its features absolutely free for educators, increasing equity and access for all learners in the process. Make sure to connect with Flipgrid on Twitter @FlipGrid

The Innovator's Mindset by George CourosWhen prompted for a book pick, Trevor points to a classic — The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, by George Couros. Trevor also shouts out another title that has been influential in his practice, Understanding By Design, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.

In the world of podcasts, Trevor is making a late appearance at the world’s most famous true crime series, Serial. He’s also gaining a lot from the Teaching While White Podcast – White Fragility podcast series.

As for YouTube channels, Trevor is going back to one of the faves he mentioned previously: Gary Gray Jr. Gary is an important voice in the conversation on equity and he keeps things real on his channel.

Although his kids are still too young for the chills and thrills of this popular series, Trevor has been enjoying Stranger Things whenever he does find the time for some entertainment on Netflix.

We sign off on this terrific conversation, and Trevor gives us the best ways to connect with him online. See below for details!

Connect with Trevor …

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Episode 94 – Janelle McLaughlin

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Meet Janelle McLaughlin

JANELLE McLAUGHLIN is a keynote speaker, education consultant and strategist, and educational leadership coach. She is a former classroom teacher, district administrator, and high ability coordinator. She loves to learn, laugh, connect, and make completos. 😉

Janelle’s work is split between her home office and sites across the country, where she offers coaching and development services around project-based learning, authentic technology integration, student choice and voice, effective school leadership, and other relevant topics.

From Professional Paralysis to Autonomy and Passion

Janelle’s low moment story is not one she particularly enjoys telling, but it became the most important experience in her educational journey and has taken her to the place she is today. A few years ago, Janelle served as a curriculum director under a leader whose values did not align well with her own. It was a difficult situation from all angles: she felt professionally taxed and emotionally drained, lacking proper support and unable to flourish in her work.

After three years in this state, she decided to leave the position, even though a credible next step wasn’t immediately apparent. She’d never made this kind of move before, and although she wasn’t sure what to do and where to go from there, she knew she needed to take some time to reflect, recharge, and redefine her mission.

When it became clear to her that her deepest calling and resonance came from contexts where she could build relationships and support other education professionals, she turned her attention to consulting, and this has really become a sweet spot.

“I’ve never had an experience where I’ve grown so much as in these last four years,” Janelle says. What got her to this point was a period of critical adversity. It’s not something anyone would wish for, but she definitely feels stronger and more impassioned for having gone through it.

What Professional Development Can and Should Look Like

Professional development is obviously a passion and lies at the heart of Janelle’s current work. She is passionate about growth and learning, and hopes most educators feel that way too. If we’re asking students to be excited, and engage, and own their own learning, then we need to model that as well. So professional development begins there.

In Janelle’s view, the number one professional learning opportunity that we can be offering our educators – and especially education leaders – is job-embedded coaching. Most district leaders, administrators, and instructional coaches don’t receive the sort of coaching that produces demonstrable growth over time.

“Our teaching is only as good as our continued learning,” Janelle argues. Schools can do better for their educators than hire a speaker for one day with no follow-up. Although these efforts are better than nothing, the most sustainable and significant growth occurs from personalized learning and continuous support.

What Sets Janelle on 🔥 in Education Today

What really sets Janelle on fire is meeting and connecting with other educators who are truly passionate about education. A lot of her work focuses on authentic learning experiences that integrate new digital technologies and opportunities. Technology is allowing classrooms around the world to connect and learn from each other in exciting new ways, and Janelle enjoys helping schools and educators understand the opportunities that exist today.

A Professional Goal for 2019

Janelle is a believer in goal-setting: it’s a practice that she enjoys teaching, and she follows it consistently in her own life. Big goals must include mini-goals which make the big goals achievable. One of her current big goals is to write and publish a book by the end of 2019, and although it scares her to even say it out loud, she’s determined to continue to chip away at it until it’s finished.

Personal Passions Away from Education

Although she has a great deal of control over her schedule in theory, Janelle acknowledges that it’s easy to work non-stop. To relieve her mind, she enjoys exercise of all kinds, jumping into fiction, and connecting with her two teenagers.

Her Favorite Productivity Hack

One of Janelle’s strengths is organization, and she finds great satisfaction from maximizing her schedule. On that theme of maximization, she’s come to really enjoy educational podcasts. They’re a fantastic way to spend long commutes, allowing her to learn and grow while in the car. She also likes to listen when she’s on her bike or exercising – a great way to align congruent activities. 

Voices & Resources That Inspire Her Thinking and Practice

On Twitter, Janelle recommends following the positive and inspirational @JeffreyKubiak, author of One Drop of Kindness. Jeff knocked it out of the park in episode 54 of the Teachers on Fire podcast, so make sure to check out that episode if you haven’t heard it.

An edtech tool that is doing cool things for Janelle is Wakelet. Wakelet is an innovative curation platform that went so far as to give Janelle a personal orientation on their service. Follow Wakelet on Twitter @Wakelet

The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership FableJanelle’s book recommendation is The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni. Get to know the author on Twitter @PatrickLencioni

Aside from the Teachers on Fire podcast, Janelle is tuned into In Awe by Sarah Johnson, which amplifies the voices of female leaders in education. Get to know Sarah on Twitter @SarahSaJohnson, and listen to my conversation with Sarah way back at episode 34 of Teachers on Fire.

Though she doesn’t have a lot of time for TV or Netflix, Janelle enjoys connecting with her two teenagers around Arrow and The 100.

We sign off on this episode, and Janelle shares the best ways to connect with her online. See below for details!

Connect with Janelle:

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Episode 73 – Rae Hughart

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Meet Our Guest

RAE HUGHART is a middle school Math teacher, educational consultant, Director of Training & Development for Teach Better, and a co-host for the Teach Better Talk podcast – and if you haven’t given Teach Better Talk a listen, you need to! Connect with Rae on Twitter AND Instagram @RaeHughart, and check out her course offerings and resources at TeachBetter.com!

Shut Out as a Learner

Rae’s own experience of elementary school wasn’t an easy one. She struggled with a reading disability, complicating her learning in most subjects. In fact, Rae feels she is likely one of the few Math teachers out there today as one who earned a ‘D’ when she was in 6th grade math herself. By high school, these poor associations of school were slowly building a passion to pursue a career in education with the purpose of changing the experience of school for learners like herself.

The Teach Better Mission, Upcoming Book, and #MasteryChat

The book on the way from the Teach Better Team (to be published by Dave Burgess Consulting) will feature all four leading members as contributors: Rae Hughart, Jeff Gargas, Chad Ostrowski, and Tiffany Ott. The authors plan to bring a mix of personal stories, education philosophy, and tactical strategies that will help educators move forward and experience continuous professional growth.

#MasteryChat, hosted by the Teach Better team and taking place every Thursday evening on Twitter, covers just about any and all issues in education and really boils down to the idea of coming together to master our craft as educators.

Tips for PLN Engagement on Twitter and Instagram

Rae sees Twitter as the place for educators to build engagement around rich pedagogical conversations and focused issues. Instagram is a different dive, a different lens, with different kinds of moments and ideas to be shared.

Of the two, Instagram is the better platform to visit to really get to know the human side of educators, partly because Instagram stories give teachers a lot of space to speak directly to their followers and get personal.

“Enjoy Instagram,” says Rae, “but remember that fluff ain’t enough.” Make sure you’re finding ways to connect and have those rich professional conversations as well, she advises.

A Personal Passion and Productivity Hack

Rae’s favorite outlet and source of recharging is her dogs. She obsesses about them whenever she can and loves nothing more than walking them over to Lowe’s – they’re allowed to walk inside the store there!

When asked for a productivity hack, Rae simply asks how anyone can do it alone. She’s committed to the idea of joining hands with others – a village of support. That’s the only way to make great things happen and really crush it in education.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Rae’s Professional Practice

Aside from the Teach Better team, Rae suggests following @MrAdamWelcome on Twitter for a steady stream of balanced inspiration.

Her edtech pick is Seesaw. Follow them on Twitter @Seesaw.

Rae’s book recommendation is Educated by Design: Designing the Space to Experiment, Explore, and Extract Your Creative Potential by Michael Cohen. Follow the author on Twitter @TheTechRabbi.

One podcast that lifts her up outside of the education space is The Rise Podcast with Rachel Hollis. Follow this well-known author on Twitter @MsRachelHollis.

Rae’s choice on YouTube is an oldie but a goodie: TED Talks. And on Netflix, it’s been Person of Interest lately.

See More From Rae

We sign off on this conversation, and Rae reminds us of the best ways to connect with her and learn together online. Get connected!

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Episode 41 – Jarod Bormann

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JAROD BORMANN is an advocate for educator empowerment, a tech integration specialist, adjunct professor, learning designer, speaker, blogger, and the author of a new book, Professionally Driven: Empower Every Educator To Redefine PD.

In our conversation, Jarod talks about the need to redefine and reimagine PD with three main elements in mind: 1 growth mindset, 2 intrinsic motivation, and 3 sustainable autonomy. In the age of Google and instantly available facts, he explains how technology can unleash greater creativity, higher level thinking, and problem-solving.

Check out Jarod’s book on Amazon!

Follow Jarod:

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 0:53 – Jarod describes his experience and current context in education. He taught MS/HS English in northeast Iowa for a few years, and is now a tech integration specialist at an area education center that supports schools in eight counties. Putting it simply, he’s a teacher of teachers.
  • 2:07 – His lowest moment came when he saw MS English students lose their joy of reading thanks to the rigid limitations of an accelerated reading program and the quizzes and tracking systems associated with it. After redesigning the reading program, student scores in his school at first appeared to drop – and in a faculty meeting, these results were displayed on a screen for all his colleagues to see. The following year, however, the same students improved significantly, and Jarod was able to determine that in fact students were doing more recreational reading.
  • 6:07 – His book, Professionally Driven: Empower Every Educator To Redefine PD, is about redefining professional development with three main elements at the core: 1 growth mindset, 2 intrinsic motivation (along the lines of Daniel Pink’s Drive), and 3 sustainable autonomy. Provide these for educators, he argues, and you’ll see dramatically better results from your PD.
  • 12:03 – Speaking to K-12 education in general, Jarod is excited by the ways in which technology can unleash greater creativity and higher level thinking in students.
  • 15:52Personal passions that light his fire outside of education include disconnecting from technology and engaging with nature through hiking, camping, and kayaking.
  • 18:00 – One personal habit that contributes to Jarod’s success is the practice of constantly seeking things to be better at. The Crossfit community embodies this well by aggressively addressing weaknesses instead of shying away from them.
  • 20:43 – His suggestion for a follow on Twitter is @FroehlichM.
  • 21:36 – Jarod’s edtech recommendation is a tool called Wakelet, an aggregator or collector of links, videos, text, or images on any topic. He is currently using Wakelet to collect journal articles and resources for his doctoral work.
  • 23:48 – Given one book to recommend, Jarod points to Mindset by Carol Dweck. “No other book has changed my life in so many different ways,” he explains.
  • 24:54 – A podcast that Jarod continues to enjoy and gain great takeaways from is the TED Radio Hour. Follow them on Twitter @TEDRadioHour.
  • 25:55 – A YouTube channel that he’s found incredibly helpful in terms of video editing and Final Cut Pro techniques is Ryan Nangle’s channel.
  • 26:59 When it’s Netflix time, Jarod wisely tunes in to whatever his wife is watching. Right now, that’s Orange is the New Black.
  • 27:37 – We sign off on the conversation, and Jarod gives us the best ways to contact him. See above for details!

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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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