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Tara is in a new professional role this year, which is exciting and interesting. She’s done a lot in her education career: classroom teacher, instructional coach, and district administrator. Today, she serves as the Media and Communications Director for Dave Burgess Consulting.
Every day looks different, but essentially her role comes down to supporting DBC authors in any way possible. This can mean helping with writing, supporting their video content, or helping them build important connections with other voices in education. Lately, she’s also been hard at work promoting the 2020 Dave Burgess Consulting Conference in San Diego, and she developed more book study resources that complement the great books from DBC.
Tragedy at the Start of Her Career
Tara tells a heartbreaking story from her first year of teaching, when an unbelievable tragedy struck those closest to her. Prior to this incident, she was a teacher on fire, filled with passion for the profession and well on her way to public recognition for her innovative work in the classroom. But the passing of her father was devastating, and it proved almost impossible to keep it together in the classroom.
She remembers appealing for help from her principal, who recommended a counselor. That counselor helped Tara walk through the trauma she had experienced, affirming her normalcy as she worked through tremendous grief.
Later that school year, one of Tara’s students experienced the murder of her brother. Still working through her own pain, Tara knew that she would be able to relate to this student like never before. She began having lunches with this student, and with their shared experiences of tragedy, was able to build a meaningful relationship that helped her feel safe, loved, and appreciated.
Life will throw us curveballs, Tara says, and it’s important that we not try to pretend to ourselves and others that we’re invincible. We need to reach out for help when we need it, and leverage the support of our communities to respond in healthy ways. We can’t always understand others in the midst of pain, but we can empathize.
About Be REAL: Educate from the Heart
Last year Tara published Be REAL: Educate from the Heart. In the book, she talks about how technology will never replace teachers who are Relatable, Expose vulnerability, Approachable, and always Learning.
The book walks through Tara’s experiences as a child, starting with a second grade teacher that saw something in her that she couldn’t see in herself. At the time, she was struggling in every academic area, but this teacher saw her true potential. She took extra time to help Tara learn to read, setting her on a different course for the rest of her academic and personal life. “She helped rewire my brain because she was relatable, because she exposed some of her vulnerabilities with me and allowed me to share mine with her as well.” Tara needed hugs, and this teacher was happy to give them. She showed Tara that learning was a way out, a path to options and opportunities in her future.
Today, Tara asks how we might connect better with students in our own practice, helping them to feel safe to learn and take risks in the classroom. It starts with educators who are prepared to be vulnerable, illustrating the learning process right in front of our learners. Technology will never replace educators who see children for who they are and work to meet them at their needs. But technology is not dismissed from authentic learning environments – in fact, it can play a role in building authentic connections and relationships.
Can BookSnaps Be Created Without Apple Devices or SnapChat?
I share with Tara that I’ve been a fan of BookSnaps from a distance, but I’ve wondered how I can help my own 8th graders create BookSnaps without access to iOS devices or SnapChat. It IS possible! Right away, Tara points me to a tutorial on her website, where she walks students through the process of creating BookSnaps in Google Slides.
BookSnaps help students recreate the visualization of their thinking around a particular portion of text, and they can do so in fun and creative ways. BookSnaps help students demonstrate understanding, build connections, and solidify conceptual learning – another great way to develop a culture of literacy in your school.
How Can I Publish a Book Through Dave Burgess Consulting?
Tara is SO excited about the 2020 conference of Dave Burgess Consulting authors – a gathering of what she calls her PLF, her Professional Learning Family. She’s enjoyed the planning and development thus far and guarantees a “next level” experience!
For educators looking to write their own book through DBC, Tara recommends opening a Google Doc and beginning the process of compartmentalizing ideas. The challenge of writing an entire book can be daunting, so it’s important to break down those ideas into smaller, manageable portions.
Writing also needs to be an ongoing process, so continue to revisit your ideas and build them over time in ways that will reach as wide an audience as possible. Once you have something of substance, an outline of your message to educators, share a summary of your message with DBC. From there, someone will respond with an analysis of your proposal, along with some next steps to follow in the publishing journey.
What’s Exciting Tara About Education Today
One thing that thrills Tara as she travels across North America is the way that educators are stepping out of their comfort zones and taking risks to learn new things. She talks about the way her dad would encourage her to cannonball into the deep end of the pool rather than staying safe in the shallow end. Those cannonballs serve as a helpful metaphor for the risks we take as educators that may not work out. But it’s the only way for us to learn and grow, and it’s when we try new things in front of our learners that we inspire them to take similar steps in their own learning journeys.
Her Current Project: A Cannonball Picture Book
One project that Tara is working on at the moment is a picture book. She’s a huge fan of the ways that picture books can be used to teach ideas and concepts at all age levels. The book is about cannonballing into the pool, jumping in with both feet and taking big risks.
It sounds like another fantastic tool that educators can use to introduce the growth mindset to learners as well. As mentioned previously, not every cannonball will work, but if we keep taking risks, we’ll continue to grow, learn, and make a bigger impact. Tara has a phenomenal illustrator working on the book, and she’s excited to release it soon.
A Personal Passion Outside of Education
One of Tara’s biggest passions outside of education is playing the piano. She enjoys the process of writing music and lyrics, and although none of her music has been published to date, all of her creations are meaningful and come from places of authentic emotion and experience.
Habits for Wellness and Productivity
One habit that preserves Tara’s sanity and gives her tremendous clarity is journaling. She’ll go back in her journal and look for patterns in her thinking. Her entries are the calm to her crazy – she likes to write freestyle and just let her thoughts flow organically. Sometimes her thoughts become musical lyrics, too.
Another tool Tara recommends is Google Keep. She uses Keep to collaborate with her husband, track goals, follow to-do lists, and a number of other uses. Because it’s available on any device, she uses it often and relies on it every day.
Voices That Shape Her Thinking & Inspire Her Practice
On Twitter, Tara recommends following @Aaron_Hogan. Aaron is the author of Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth: 6 Truths That Will Help you THRIVE as an Educator, and he’s got another great book on the way.
An edtech tool that curates reading material and helps you archive favorite articles for future retrieval is Flipboard. Tara loves the way this app operates, looks, and feels. If you’re a reader or a content creator, you need to give it a try.
Tara has become a big fan of the Teachers on Fire podcast, which is awesome to hear! Another podcast she’s been enjoying is by Don Wettrick, a DBC author. Don produces The StartED Up Podcast, which talks a lot about innovation and entrepreneurship in education. Follow Don on Twitter @DonWettrick.
Over on YouTube, Tara’s been enjoying a star for the ages – Jennifer Lopez. Jennifer’s been sharing more behind-the-scenes footage lately, and Tara’s found it interesting and enlightening to watch how Jennifer does what she does behind the scenes. Well, kind of behind the scenes.
By settling for safety, we miss out on certain growth and learning.
“Fear is always triggered by creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It is, however, something to be dealt with.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
At the outset of the new year, AJ Juliani issued a challenge to the education world: blog — or engage in blogging activities — for thirty days.
His call was a welcome one. Research has long been telling us that our students learn best when they are given the time, tools, and opportunity to reflect thoughtfully on their own learning journeys. In Leaders of Their Own Learning, Ron Berger calls this sort of metacognitive activity “writing to learn.”
The same principle applies for educators.
Writing to Learn and Learning to Write
The more we speak, write, tweet, vlog, and publish about our learning and professional practice, the more we will learn, grow, and develop as educators. And as we make our own learning visible, others benefit and grow as well.
John Hattie talks about the power of collective efficacy. Stephen Covey calls it win-win. Simply put, we’re better together.
Our professional growth isn’t just about reading and listening to the established voices in education. It’s also about sharing and contributing our own experiences.
So, as passionate educators, why don’t we participate in the global conversation more than we do?
It’s Not Really About Time
The typical response says we don’t have enough time in the week. But for most, that’s not actually the case. As Laura Vanderkam demonstrates convincingly in 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, most of us actually do have the time.
When you get right down to it, most of us aren’t hitting ‘Publish’ for one reason: fear.
We fear embarrassment. Rejection. Crickets.
We assume that our voice doesn’t matter. That no one will pay attention. Or worse yet, that we’ll be exposed as an imposter.
As Elizabeth Gilbert points out, most of us don’t publish creatively because the outcome is uncertain. There’s just no guarantee of success — whatever success means.
So we take the safe option.
The Power of Practice
But people who aren’t publishing are overlooking an absolute guarantee: improvement.
That’s right, I said it. When you create content consistently over time, your growth and improvement is guaranteed. You can’t help but get better.
In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell makes the case that repetition is highly underrated. He tells story after story of individuals who simply put in the time on their craft to gradually become an expert in their space.
Earlier this year, I listened to a podcast featuring YouTuber Marques Brownlee, a soft-spoken, thoughtful, and charismatic tech reviewer. He talked about how he began publishing YouTube videos back in high school simply because he loved the medium and enjoyed the process. As he describes it, his first 100 videos were viewed by audiences of around 100 people.
Today, Brownlee’s videos earn millions of views apiece. He has 7.7M subscribers.
It’s not all about growing an audience. That’s not really my point, although the size of his growing viewership does speak to the value of his work.
What I’m more interested in is those first 100 videos. Just think about the sort of headspace he was in to continue creating.
As he puts it, he created content simply because he enjoyed it. The views and reactions were secondary.
And because he stuck with it, he’s obviously eclipsed Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. He’s become a master at his craft.
The Teachers on Fire Podcast
In March of 2018, I realized a long-held dream by launching a podcast for educators, Teachers on Fire. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I had questions about everything from applications to equipment to guests.
It took a lot of work to get started, and it definitely wasn’t easy. My sound quality was awful at the beginning, and I made a ton of unfortunate mistakes that made the process even more painful.
The interview for my very first episode took forever to complete because the recording app I was using crashed at least six times. It was a frustrating first experience.
Almost a year later, I still don’t have it all figured out. But I’m learning. I’m growing. I’m improving my craft. I’m miles and miles from where I started, and my conversations with education leaders are inspiring listeners around the world.
Consistent Content Creation is a Direct Line to Improvement
I don’t consider myself a skilled artist. But I have zero doubt in my mind that if I set aside three hours a weekend to learn and practice pencil drawing for 52 weeks, I would be a much better artist by year’s end.
Absolutely no doubt in my mind.
I’m convinced that the same holds true for any kind of creative publishing. Once we embark on the commitment of regular creation, improvement isn’t a question. It’s an absolute certainty.
And as we hone our creative skills, our contributions to the world around us become more valuable.
This is what I want my stepsons to know. My students to know. And you, fellow educator, to know.
We can lament our lack of creative skills. Or we can take action.
DR. SARAH THOMAS is a regional technology coordinator in Maryland and serves as affiliate faculty at Loyola University. In 2014, Sarah founded the EduMatch Project, and she has spoken and presented at numerous conferences since. Find out more about Sarah on her blog and follow her on Twitter at @sarahdateechur.
The Challenge of Finding the Right Fit
Sarah’s first three years in education were the hardest of her career. She came through alternative certification after completing a bachelor’s degree in radio, television, and film. As she began her undergraduate work, Sarah’s mother became a middle school teacher, and Sarah was impressed.
After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in media, she enrolled in a Master’s of Education program. Early into her Master’s studies, she responded to an ad calling for teachers in her district. Once she finished her training program, she found it a challenge to find the right placement in the district. It was discouraging at first to try to figure things out and adapt to different school cultures, but the support of her family and the meaningful relationships she was building with students propelled her through.
The Vision and Mission of EduMatch
EduMatch started from a conversation Sarah had on Twitter, when she connected two educators with unique passions and interests that matched the other’s. That’s what it’s about: learning and growing together, helping others on their education journeys, and leveraging the power of stories. Through its publishing work, EduMatch amplifies the voices of students and educators who have a story to share. A series of crowd-sourced books have led to solo projects, with five solo titles published in 2018 and more on the horizon. If you’re an educator interested in contributing to the 2019 edition of EduMatch’s annual Snapshot in Education, complete this form.
Passions, Goals, and Creativity
Social media has opened incredible opportunities for educators around the world. The democratization effect created by the internet now allows every educator to find their own voice and share their own learning journey. The old paradigm of established voices and gatekeepers has shifted, and as the sharing increases, the professional learning accelerates. This democratization also opens up new possibilities for learning with and from students, which is equally exciting.
In terms of professional growth, Sarah is hoping to get back to producing more content this year. She argues that when we share what we’re doing, what we’re doing well, and what we are trying to improve, the act of publishing helps to give us the valuable feedback that we need to direct our next steps. Over the past year, Sarah was able to collaborate on Closing the Gap: Digital Equity Strategies for Teacher Prep Programs, and now that she’s got the writing bug she feels ready for more!
Outside of her work in education technology, teaching, and publishing, Sarah is most passionate about music. She’s enjoyed listening, playing, and learning musical instruments for as long as she can remember, and she’s excited by the prospects of bringing more music back into her life in 2019.
Voices & Resources That Inspire Sarah’s Professional Practice
If you’re looking for passionate educators to add to your PLN, Sarah invites you to check out the Awesome Table of EduMatch. Find educators around the world who are working in the same spaces you are.
Sarah’s edtech tool recommendation for educators is Voxer. Get in and get connected! Follow Voxer on Twitter @Voxer.
The book that is most meaningful to Sarah at the moment is one written by her father! She’s working through it on her Kindle at the moment and it’s giving her a fascinating understanding of her family’s history.
One education podcast that Sarah has been tuned into for some time is the The Dr. Will Show. The show is hosted and produced by Will Deyamport, with a focus on edupreneurship: serving other educators well while producing an income as well. Follow the host of the show on Twitter @IAmDrWill.
Sarah has two YouTube recommendations to share. The first is The Mr. Wasko, an educator who creates fun similes and metaphors from movies and pop culture. The second pick is purely for fun: Zach Morris is Trash – a serial that appears on the Funny or Die channel. Follow these channels on Twitter @FunnyorDie and @TheMrWasko.
Finishing her doctorate has allowed Sarah to enjoy a season of reduced demands, leisure, and rest. On Netflix, she’s been enjoying Wentworth.
We sign off on this conversation and Sarah shares the best ways to follow her and EduMatch online. See below for details!