ELENA AGUILAR is an accomplished educational presenter, speaker, and author. She strives to help leaders learn, be their best selves, and serve students well. In 2018, Elena published Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators, and in 2020 she released Coaching for Equity: Conversations That Change Practice.
Questions That Guided Our Conversation
1:15 – Why don’t you start by telling us a little more about your current context in education?
2:27 – First things first: how are you doing right now? How are you handling the home quarantine and social distancing?
4:37 – It’s story time! Please share with us about a low moment or an experience of adversity that you’ve faced in your teaching or education career, and describe how you overcame it.
08:48 – In 2018, you published Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators. This seems like an especially timely focus today, with educators everywhere having to reinvent their practice and respond to challenges on a variety of levels. What are some pieces of wisdom and insight that you could share from your book that might provide educators with some hope and encouragement during a very challenging time in our schools?
18:46 – If you could offer one practical strategy or bit of advice to educators around the challenges of building equity, what would that be?
21:24 – How are you looking to grow professionally and improve your practice right now? Can you share about a specific professional goal or project that you’re currently working on?
22:41 – Outside of education, what’s another area of learning for you? What is it that ignites your passions outside of the classroom and brings you alive as a human being? Tell us why this area interests you and why you enjoy it.
23:39 – When it comes to writing, are you the sort of structured or disciplined writers that follows the same writing time each day?
EVO HANNAN is an educator, education leader, freelance designer, and speaker in Dubai who is passionate about promoting confidence in students through innovation and agency. You’ll find him active on Twitter at the hashtags #Agents4Agency and #CrazyPLN.
Cancelled by COVID: Forced to Pivot
This interview was recorded on March 8, 2020, and Evo had just recently had to cancel his plans for his #Agents4Agency tour of the United States due to the appearance of COVID-19. He had been planning in-person professional development sessions for New York City, Houston, and San Francisco, and four and a half months of work had gone into their preparation.
It was absolutely heartbreaking to cancel these events, but as the pandemic started to make its appearance in North America, people’s health and safety took first priority. Rather than completely give up, however, he began the difficult task of pivoting these events into virtual settings.
“I’ve built up a little bit of resilience over the past decade or so with some of the crazy ideas I’ve come up with,” Evo admits. When it comes to go big or go home, he generally never goes home.
Advocating for Growth: the Work of The Agency
At the core of Evo’s #Agents4Agency movement is the idea that teachers reflect on their own practice and pedagogy first before they start to implement and promote student agency. Agency doesn’t only come from students, Evo points out. As educators, we are the facilitators that can help to elevate their voices. Find out more about The Agency and join the movement at Evo’s website.
The Four Pillars of Innovation
Evo is passionate about innovation in education, and that passion has only grown in his years as a design teacher. His understanding of innovation is quite functional, and he sees it made up of four pillars: knowledge, creativity, characteristics, and culture.
Even with the appearance of COVID-19, Evo is committed to growing these movements and continuing to learn and gain inspiration from the like-minded educators who join forces in the process. His goal is to inspire as many educators as possible and provide them with the tools to help them inspire students to become the innovators of tomorrow.
An Expression of Personal Passion: Project Decade
“I’ve always been quite a positive person,” Evo says. It’s been in the last year or so that some of Evo’s friends have encouraged him to channel those passions into efforts that motivate positive change and transformation in the lives of others, and that’s what motivates him today.
Project Decade is one expression of those efforts. On his Instagram account, he shares daily inspiration and thoughts around inspiration, passion, places, and people. If we can stay in touch with those four on a daily level, Eve suggests, we’ll continue to find ourselves and live positive lives.
Finding Productivity in Ways That Work for You
Evo is quick to admit that his daily routine is not the healthiest: he knows he needs to get to bed earlier and eat more intentionally. Some of the traditionally rigid advice about productivity and time management hasn’t worked for him, he says, but one thing he has found reliable is to work as and when he wants to.
If that means sitting with his wife with both of their laptops open and Netflix on the TV, then so be it. No, it may not be the highest level of productivity on the planet, but it strikes a comfortable balance between having a life, being human, and chipping away at projects to the extent that he’s inclined to do so.
Voices That Spark Evo’s Thinking and Ignite His Professional Practice
On Twitter, Evo shouts out the Lead Agents that have been so instrumental in supporting The Agency’s work in North America, including @KBahri5, @TheWrightLeader, @Support_A_Teach, @ChrisQuinn64, @BBray27, and many more. “These guys inspire me on a daily basis by the things they do and the suggestions they make both on and off Twitter,” Evo says.
The power to really move things forward in the classroom comes from collaboration, Evo says, and in that regard, nothing beats the edtech tools found in the G Suite (now Google Workspace), including the workflow and applications associated with Google Classroom.
When it comes to YouTube, Evo’s more of a searcher and surfer than a subscriber. But on Netflix, one of his recent favorites has been Drive to Survive, a series about Formula One racing. It’s a great place to learn about how people deal with success and failure at a very high level, Evo says. It gives some great perspective for the space you’re in, and it builds your growth mindset in the process.
We sign off on this international learning experience, and Evo gives us the best ways to connect with him and follow his work. See below for details!
On Saturday, October 31, 2020, I joined Alicia and Matt Rhoads, Alfonso Mendoza, and Taylor Armstrong to discuss best practices, tips, and strategies for effective Seesaw and Google Classroom integration. Here is our conversation.
Questions That Guided Our Discussion
1:24 – Who are you and what is your context in education right now?
4:19 – What is there to like about Google Classroom as a learning management system?
8:45 – How can students split their Chromebook screen to see Classroom and Seesaw side by side?
11:46 – What is there to like about Seesaw as a learning management system?
19:06 – How can we use Seesaw in 4th and 5th grade classrooms? (Alicia shares her screen.)
28:07 – Matt and Alicia, how did you each convince your partners of the value of the other platform? (Matt shares how he came to use Seesaw at the secondary level while Alicia share how she came to use Google Classroom at the 4th and 5th grade levels.)
30:53 – What other strategies or hacks would you share with teachers looking to integrate these two platforms strategically? (Alfonso says “Get clicky with it.”)
38:15 – Why and how can Seesaw be used effectively at the secondary level?
41:11 – How can intermediate and middle school teachers make the best use of Seesaw?
44:33 – How can we use Seesaw analytics to make sure every student is socially and emotionally supported?
46:55 – How many Seesaw activities should be pushed out to the Seesaw blog?
48:29 – How can viewers connect with you and continue to partner with you in their learning?
With Thanks to the Guests Featured in This Roundtable
As of this post, I’m still appearing weekly on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time/11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. I’d love to see you join us and would be happy to feature your questions and comments on the show!
Connect with the Teachers on Fire Podcast on Social Media
Highlights from my learning at the 2019 CAFLN Conference
Something that my friend and incredible educator Rose Pillay has reminded me of more than once is that professional learning has a better chance of penetrating our consciousness and altering our practice if we actually take the time to intentionally reflect and write about that learning.
That was the motivation for this piece. My aim? To preserve some of the highlights of my learning from the 2019 Canadian Assessment for Learning Network (CAFLN) Conference. Welcome to my journal.
CAFLN exists to share and mobilize knowledge about Assessment for Learning (AfL). On May 2–3 of 2019, CAFLN held their sixth annual national conference and symposium in Delta, BC. The event was hosted by Delta School District’s Principal of Innovation and Inquiry, Brooke Moore, and the Director of Learning Services, Neil Stephenson.
I was thrilled to attend this event with a few of my middle school colleagues and administrators. What follows is a curation of Twitter highlights, photos, and short reflections from this event.
Day 1: School Tour
The conference started off with a tour of local elementary schools that have completely embraced standards-based assessment. Notice the learning targets for educators on the right side of our itineraries.
Gray Elementary had a lot of signage that consistently articulated principles of formative assessment and learning targets. Student agency and ownership of learning is clearly a priority here.
Over at Holly Elementary, we noticed a bulletin board display of educator learning. Each staff member answered these three questions:
What are you learning?
How’s it going?
Where to next?
This is such a brilliant way to model a culture of learning and growth mindset in your school community. I was very impressed, and I hope our school does something similar in the fall.
Here are a few zoomed-in examples:
I also liked the way another teacher added kid-friendly descriptors to each of the proficiency levels (emerging, developing, accomplishing, and extending). Notice how the students have placed post-it notes to assess their own progress.
The Big Three Questions (below) came up often in our tour as well. These questions really capture it all, don’t they? This isn’t just a powerful metacognitive practice for students — it could also be used by us as educators as we think about further growth in our own professional practice.
Delta Farm Roots
At the end of Day 1, we visited Delta Farm Roots. This is a highly innovative high school facility that is building most of our provincially mandated curriculum around project-based learning. These high school students are applying all the skills and content they are required to master as they run a small farm. It’s a brilliant concept and an impressive undertaking.
Here, Jacob Martens explains a little bit of what goes on in this multipurpose learning area.
We also explored the gardens that students must hoe, cultivate, plant, and maintain. Lots of STEM skills and activities required!
The conference hosts then invited visiting educators for a dinner behind the main building. Not pictured here is the ocean — just a short walk away.
Delta Farm Roots is an exciting example of what is possible in pure project-based learning. Follow them on Twitter to see more of what they’re all about.
Kaser and Halbert also reminded us of the Spiral of Inquiry, a powerful cycle that can drive continuous growth and improvement for any learning community.
Damian Cooper and Karen Fadum
Then there were these gems from Damian Cooper and Karen Fadum, who tag-teamed on the philosophy and applications of formative assessment in the classroom.
Although I didn’t seem to be able to tweet out much from Karen Fadum, she shared some gems as well. Here were a few things I got down in my notes in Google Docs.
First, Karen talked about the business of assessment in education as a collaborative experience. Traditional models of assessment relied exclusively on the teacher, but think of all the ways we can include students today:
Uncover the curriculum together
Learning intentions — set with students
Student-captured evidence of learning
Next, Karen unpacked these points a little further. Instead of “covering the curriculum,” why don’t we flip the paradigm and UNcover curriculum with students? We’re talking about …
Connections with student passions and interests
Digital portfolio organization
Karen shared a number of practical applications of co-constructed criteria, self-assessment, peer assessment, single-point rubrics, and student documentation of evidence of learning. She shared videos from her practice, too, and these were super helpful.
She ended with this challenge: How do you currently involve students in the process of assessment?
After Damian Cooper and Karen Fadum, I visited a session led by Christine Younghusband — an educator I had long admired on Twitter but never met in person. She was amazing.
YES. Building more checks for understanding and formative assessment into my Math classes is an important goal for me.
Then, this challenge from an assessment legend.
And how about this mic drop?
Jon Orr and Kyle Pearce
In the afternoon, I had the pleasure of meeting two exciting educators who are doing amazing work in Mathematics. I don’t have a selfie or Tweet to share here, but this session summary gives you a feel for their message.
Jon Orr and Kyle Pearce are two dynamic but down-to-earth practitioners who understand the challenges around engagement and the wide range of proficiencies in the modern Math classroom. They’re worth following!
I was also thrilled to learn that they have a podcast, Make Math Moments that Matter, and I got a promise from them that they would come on my own Teachers on Fire podcast. I look forward to more learning with these two in the future.
This was my first CAFLN conference, but I hope it won’t be my last. To put it simply, I’ve never been part of an assessment event so focused, so progressive, so high value as this one.
If you’re ready to rethink your assessment practices and learn more about your assessment FOR learning, connecting with CAFLN on Twitter would be a good place to start.
Growth mindset and the Power of YET have put me on a new course.
In 2017, I began a Master’s program at Vancouver Island University. As I entered the program, I read a book that would change my life.
In Mindset, Carol Dweck writes: “When do people with the fixed mindset thrive? When things are safely within their grasp. If things get too challenging — when they’re not feeling smart or talented — they lose interest.”
I realized that there were steps I was not taking and moves I was not making — because they weren’t safe. They were risky.
But growth doesn’t happen in the comfort zone. After all, my fixed mindset was the reason it took me 16 years to begin working on my Master’s degree!
The Power of YET
As I read about the Growth Mindset I also learned about The Power of YET. You know about the power of YET, don’t you? In our classrooms and for our learners, it sounds like this:
I don’t understand this Math concept … yet.
I’m not a talented artist … yet.
I’m not a tech person … yet.
The Growth Mindset says that anyone can learn anything if they will simply apply effort over time. As educators, it reminds us that we never know the full potential of our learners.
I’m Not a Podcaster … YET
As I continued to read great books and engage in rich education conversations, the Power of YET started to whisper in my ear in another way.
I’m not a podcaster … YET.
You see, as I made the 30-minute commute between Surrey and Burnaby each day, I wasn’t listening to sports talk or pop radio. I listened to podcasts — because I had an insatiable appetite for learning.
I started to dream. Could I start a podcast that profiled great educators? Could I share their amazing ideas and practices with teachers around the world?
Carol Dweck says that we can look back at what could have been, or we can look back and say I gave my all for the things I valued. And so I jumped on the track of content creation with both feet, knowing that as terrible as I was at the beginning, I would continue to grow and improve my craft over time.
Two and a half years, 166 episodes, and over 130,000 downloads later, I can safely say that the Teachers on Fire podcast is impacting the education conversation.
Creation in the Classroom
But how can this passion for creation shape our classrooms and practice?
For one thing, creative activities in the classroom challenge us to move AWAY from cultures of passive compliance.
David Guerin says the ones who are doing the talking are doing the learning. And according to Jennifer Gonzales, our learners need to be DOING something.
In the classroom context, this looks like …
Agency + Ownership
Design Thinking & the Design Process
Genius Hour + IBL + PBL
Voice + Choice
A culture of 5 Cs
So how does creation show up in my 8th grade classroom?
Through creative representations of learning on Seesaw.
Through collaborative design projects on Canva, Google Drawings and Slides.
Through authentic product development, marketing, and sales.
Through movie making on WeVideo and screencasts on Screencastify.
And of course, through podcasting, including the Gr8 Expectations podcast. One student is even starting his own podcast!
Educators Have a Mandate to Create
My #OneWord for 2019 was CREATE. Create new content, new learning, new relationships.
But why should other educators take part in content creation? Because content creation …
Allows us to reflect more deeply on our own professional practice,
Allows us to share our learning with others
Allows you to build relationships with other great educators — like Rose and Gabriel Pillay (the organizers of EdVent).
The Teachers on Fire podcast is my weekly Pro D session. It’s my scheduled appointment with great educators around the world. I learn something in every conversation, and every single guest shapes my thinking and inspires my practice further.
So let me ask you: How will you contribute to the education conversation?
Don’t let your fears stand in your way. Remember, growth doesn’t happen in the comfort zone.
We were created to create. So embrace the growth mindset, share your learning, and change the world.