We Write for Life

The more reflective you are, the more effective you are. — Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral

Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

Last year I read Sparks in the DarkLessons, Ideas, and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney.

Wow. What a powerful and inspiring book.

If you’re passionate about literacy, about promoting the place and pleasure of effective reading and writing in your classroom, I strongly recommend this title.

I said “in your classroom,” but one of the things that comes across so powerfully in Sparks in the Dark is the fact that literacy must be a lifestyle.

To be genuine, to be vibrant, to be contagious — reading and writing must spill out of our personal lives.

And this goes for all teachers — not just those who teach English Language Arts. As educators, as thinkers, as lead learners, we must model a life of constant reading and writing.

Literacy is Breathing

If we say that communication, creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking are the core competencies at the foundation of today’s education, we must practice what we preach.

In an age of digital amusement and easy-everywhere distraction, we must show our learners what it looks like to mentally breathe. To stop, be still, and practice the acts of mental inhalation (reading) and exhalation (writing).

One of the most important reasons that we write is to know ourselves. As Don Murray says, “You write to discover what you want to say.

It sometimes feels like the act and art of self-reflection is a vanishing habit. But we must show our learners that these practices are essential aspects of living a healthy and productive life.

When Our Reading Lives Are Shallow, So is Our Teaching

Speaking especially to educators, Crowder and Nesloney write “We prioritize what we value, and when we do not value reading or learning, it shows. Our instruction is a mixture of what we have read, and when our reading lives are shallow, so is our teaching. It isn’t an insult; it’s the truth.”

We cannot be effective educators if we are not regularly reading and reflectively writing.

Becoming a Writer

To those who feel defeated by identity before they even start (“I’m not a writer”), James Clear describes his own evolution as a writer in his recent book, Atomic Habits.

You may not be a reader or writer today. But you can and will become one — one paragraph, one page, one article at a time.

So pick up a book. Grab a pen or sit down at the keyboard. Score some small wins, and begin the gradual process of redefining yourself.

Start breathing.

Because the more reflective you are, the more effective you are.

person writing on brown wooden table near white ceramic mug
Image Credit: Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Episode 108 – Deanna Lough

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Meet Deanna Lough

DEANNA LOUGH is an eighth grade English teacher at Sussex Academy of the Arts and Sciences in Georgetown, located in the southern part of Delaware. She’s an aspiring leader, kid Mom, puppy Mom, Mrs., music fan, and a lover of all things inspiring and positive.

How She Rediscovered Her Joy

A few years ago Deanna reached a point where she felt like she was killing herself with work. Her lack of energy and margin was preventing her from connecting with her students the way she wanted to, which led her to start asking how she could make her classroom a better space for her students.

That question has since evolved into a focus on equity, a pursuit that has really driven growth and evolution in her practice. Thanks to the changes she’s made in her thinking and work, she enjoys teaching a whole lot more today and has rekindled the passion that led her to enter the profession in the first place. 

A Journey of Putting the Needs of Learners First

At the time that Deanna really started rethinking her practice and her learning space, she asked her students to describe their ideal classroom.

  • What would it look like?
  • What kind of work would they do?
  • How would teachers support their learning?

Their responses steered her first toward flexible seating and then to her own embedded biases and the obstacles faced by students from cultural and sexual minorities. She also started asking tough questions about her instruction and assessment.

  • Were her assessments actually fair?
  • Were they really assessing what she wanted to assess?
  • Were they really supporting the learning journeys of her students?

As she asked these questions, she realized that a lot of the traditional and adversarial grading policies that she had complied with for so long were causing her the most stress and stealing her joy. Although her school still requires her to submit grades, she’s begun the slow work of changing her assessment practices and allowing her students to demonstrate their learning in new ways. 

What Else is Setting Deanna on 🔥 in Education Today

In addition to her changes in assessment, Deanna is keen on supporting her LGBTQ students and students of color in more effective ways. She’s become aware of so many situations that don’t do a good enough job of supporting these learners, and she’s also started to think about how some of the same systemic barriers affect minority educators, too.

The work of educators such as Dr. Sheldon Eakins (@SheldonEakins) and Dr. Mechele Newell (@mechelenewell) has also been deeply influential in her journey. One of her biggest realizations is that she does have a voice in these issues and that she needs to use it — to advocate not just for her minority students but for all of her learners and for the state of humanity.

A Professional Goal

Deanna is thrilled to teach in a professional environment that allows educators to set their own professional goals. Her focus for this year relates to thoughtful uses of technology in her classroom. Her school is 1:1, meaning all of her learners have Chromebooks, so she wants to not only improve learning experiences for students but also increase her own expertise in the Google environment. She makes the point that as we grow, learn, and gain competence as educators, we bring more joy to the job, and students notice that. Lately, she’s also enjoyed watching her students support the digital expertise of others.

A Personal Passion Outside of Education: Music 🎶

Deanna is a huge music enthusiast, and even though she’s never been trained to play an instrument she’s taken up the challenge of writing about it. This commitment has pushed her to listen to music podcasts to learn more, and shows like Sound Opinions and Rolling Stones Music Now have helped and inspired her to keep going. Right now, her goal is to write one formal music review per month, and she’s shared this journey with her students as well. 

Productivity and Priorities

One set of strategies that Deanna has found valuable is Angela Watson’s 40-hour Teacher Week Club, and one her biggest takeaways has been the prioritized task list. Whenever she has a lot going on, she takes a few minutes to sit down and arrange to-do items by priority.

Another helpful takeaway has been Google Keep, a simple but effective list keeper that syncs across all devices. “Nothing will kill your joy faster than when you try to be overly ambitious and get more things done in a day than are humanly possible,” she points out.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Her Learning

Over on Twitter, Deanna recommends following Dr. Sheldon Eakins @sheldoneakins. As mentioned earlier in our conversation, he’s doing great work in the area of equity and Deanna has learned a lot from his online course. Make sure to visit his site and tune into his podcast as well.

Deanna’s edtech tool pick is Screencastify, a leading screencast application that works well in the Chromebook environment with a handy Google Chrome extension. She’s also been extremely impressed by their customer support.

We Got This by Cornelius MinorA must-read book title in the equity space is We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be by Cornelius Minor. Deanna can’t say enough about how open Cornelius is about his own journey even as he helps other educators rethink the accessibility in their learning spaces.

A few education podcasts that Deanna appreciates include Dear Teacher, Don’t Give Up by Jeffery Frieden, EduMatch Tweet & Talk by Dr. Sarah Thomas, and The Dr. Will Show by Dr. Will Deyamport III. All three hosts are former guests of the Teachers on Fire podcast!

When she’s looking for education inspiration on YouTube, Deanna turns to Edusations by Phil Strunk. On Netflix, the show at the top of her list that just restores her faith in humanity is Queer Eye

We sign off on this great conversation, and Deanna gives us the best ways to connect with her online. See below for details!

You can connect with Deanna …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media:

Song Track Credits

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

 

Episode 88 – Alicia Ray

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Meet Alicia Ray

ALICIA RAY is the Lead Digital Learning & Media Innovation Facilitator at a STEAM school in Mount Airy, NC. With years of experience teaching middle school classes, a major part of her current role includes building innovative learning activities that link literacy and various forms of media.

From Professional Insecurity to a Power-Packed PLC

Alicia doesn’t enjoy revisiting this experience, but she feels a certain obligation to give this lesson its due attention and share the things she learned with others. In her story of adversity, she recalls teaching a self-contained 5th grade class, which included high stakes testing in Math, Science, and reading. As one might expect, this teaching assignment brought with it a lot of responsibility.

When the 5th grade team added a former teacher of the year, Alicia found herself fighting feelings of insecurity and competition. To counter these feelings, she helped her team form an incredible PLC that capitalized on the strengths of each member. The team found sweet synergy partly from their extra-curricular activities: meeting outside of school, doing things together, and finding common interests.

As the team grew and evolved, their trust in each other increased, and they discovered how to best share the teaching load: who would create which learning activities, who the go-to authority in each area would be, and how each one could innovate and adapt learning materials to fit the needs of their individual classrooms. The best part of this trusting team relationship? Students won.

The Hows and Whys of a Master Book Reviewer

Alicia is a phenomenal reader and reviewer of books from Dave Burgess Consulting, but she’s quick to point out the source of her motivation: her students. “It’s so important to know what you believe in and why you believe it, because that does nothing but help your kids,” she says.

Alicia learns something and takes away lessons from every single book she reads, and she’s hungry for more. She wants to do better than just say she’s a lifelong learner – she wants to live it and model it in front of her students and children as well. She recently completed a research unit at her school that was inspired by several DBC books, including Launch, The Limitless School, Educated by Design, and The Revolution. She’s proud of what her students researched, learned, and created, and she looks forward to improving this unit even further in years to come.

What’s Setting Alicia on Fire in Education

Alicia loves the connections she enjoys with educators across the planet on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blogs, and other platforms. She is thrilled to share ideas, learn from others, and connect her students in those same authentic ways.

One of the memories that she treasures from this past year was the opportunity to connect with Karen Caswell‘s class in Australia. It was a fantastic experience for her students and it brought home the point that we live in a global community.

Her Current Project: Educational Eye Exam

Alicia is constantly reading and implementing, because as Dave Burgess likes to say, “Inspiration without implementation is a waste.” Her current project is a compilation of takeaways and inspirations from her learning and practice in a book titled Educational Eye Exam. What began as a blog post kept growing and growing, and as this book nears publication later this summer she is thrilled at the prospect of sharing with the world.

A Passion by Necessity: Health & Wellness

Last August, Alicia’s five-year-old was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Since then, her family has made health and wellness a top priority. This looks like managing the family diet carefully, counting carbs, and practicing strategies to maintain mental, physical, and spiritual health.

These practices have also spilled into her professional work, where Alicia is doing more than ever to try to meet the non-academic needs of learners. It starts with awareness and sensitivity, requiring her to step back and think about making sure the conditions for learning are met before launching into the next activity.

Goals, Google Sheets, and Bullet Journals

Alicia calls herself a goal-setter, and her goals are the key to her productivity. When she orders books, her goal is usually to have it completely read within 48-72 hours after receiving it. From there, she’s found that if she’s going to write a review of the book for her blog, it needs to happen right away.

When it comes to running, she sets a goal of getting to a particular mailbox (remember, she lives in rural North Carolina). As long as the goal is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely … it’s SMART and it works for her.

Alicia tracks her goals and daily habits in Google Sheets (using hacks she learned from Alice Keeler), and has also become obsessed with bullet journaling since reading Lisa Johnson’s Creatively Productive.

The Ideal Reading Time & Place

Alicia’s ideal reading environment usually materializes around 9:30 p.m., after the kids have been put to bed – centered on a large sectional in her pajamas, with comfy blankets and a nest of pillows. It’s a recipe that would put most people to sleep in a hurry, but it works well for her!

Voices and Resources That Inspire Her Thinking 

On Twitter, Alicia recommends following @Hayes_Melisa. Melisa has an awesome personal story to share, and she never fails to bring the awesomeness!

 Her pick for edtech tools is Google Forms. Forms are powerful, versatile, and can probably do more than you think they can!

 When asked to choose just one book, Alicia goes back to the one that started it all: Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. She’s written and highlighted her way through a few physical copies of the book and listened to it several more times on audiobook. The passion never gets old!

Over on YouTube, Alicia suggests subscribing to DBC Inc. This channel is relatively new, so get on it and make some noise!

When she needs some laughs and lighter fare on Netflix, Alicia is heading to The Office. This classic sitcom will never be beaten … unless of course they made a school version!

We sign off on this fun conversation, and Alicia gives us the best ways to connect with her online. See below for details!

Connect with Alicia:

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 86 – Pernille Ripp

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Meet Pernille Ripp

PERNILLE RIPP is a prolific blogger, highly recognized speaker, literacy expert, creator of the Global Read Aloud, and the author of several books, including Passionate Readers: The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child. She’s also a Danish educator living in the US, mother of 4, and soulmate to an incredible man that makes it all possible.

Pernille’s context in education is that of a 7th grade English teacher in Oregon, WI. She has the privilege of having her reality checked by 75th students each day, and she enjoys learning from them constantly. Pernille also writes regularly on her blog and frequently shares her learning with other educators around the world.

When Our Best is Not Enough

When Pernille thinks of failures in her education career, she thinks of the moments when her best efforts just haven’t been enough. Yes, she can think of lots of successes in reading and writing and the growth of her learners. But there are other stories and everyday experiences that challenge us as educators and shake our confidence in our own effectiveness.

Sometimes we don’t see the progress that we want to see, and sometimes our students will remain resistant to the passions and skills that we seek to cultivate in them. One thing we can focus on in cases like that, Pernille observes, is to make sure that we are doing everything in our power to avoid contributing to the problem. Even if we can’t be THE solution for a learner, we can strive to at least contribute toward it.

The Power of Pink

Pernille describes the incredible night when Pink asked to personally meet her daughter, a victim of terrible bullying in third grade. She explains some of the trauma that her daughter experienced during the previous year, and calls this surreal experience with Pink as a powerful moment of affirmation and self-confidence that will stay with her daughter forever. (Check out Pernille’s Dear Pink.)

Though her daughter’s story isn’t over, Pernille talks about the power of taking the time and energy to speak life into others by telling them we see them, they’re important, and they matter. The whole experience has also set her daughter on a mission to stand up for other kids who may be struggling in similar ways.

Blogging as a Form of Authentic Self-Reflection

Pernille recalls the very beginning of her blogging journey. Her purpose and intentions have remained as simple as they were at the outset, and the blog remains more about her own reflective process than anything else.

That said, years of consistent and authentic writing have taken her blog further than she could have ever imagined. Many of her closest professional connections and mentors have come from her blogging work, and she owes her speaking engagements and publishing achievements to the organic growth of the blog.

The publishing process requires a thick skin, Pernille observes, and it’s also critical that you understand your core purpose. First and foremost, blogging is about self-reflection and learning. “The reason I publish publicly is because it keeps me honest,” she says.

We actually don’t need more stories from perfect teachers – what we really need is more genuine reflections about what we’ve done, where we’ve failed, and how we’re growing, learning, and improving our practice.

Literacy and Equity in Education

Pernille has focused a lot lately on the roles that literacy and literature play around equity in education. Preserving the status quo often means perpetuating ongoing inequities, so instead of doing that, let’s make it our aim to disrupt norms, she urges. Connect with people who are doing disrupting things, like the authors of Disrupt Texts or the Twitter conversations happening at #CleartheAir.

Pernille is often accused of making her book choices political, but she shrugs that off as inevitable resistance that comes when we amplify the voices of the marginalized.

Children’s Lit Titles on Pernille’s Radar

When she thinks of recent kids’ lit or teen lit titles, a couple of books that have attracted Pernille’s attention include The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, Redwood and Ponytail by K. A. Holt, Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson & Ellen Hagan, and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.

These stories and others like them are finally being shared, heard, published, and it gives Pernille hope that blind spots in our culture are slowly being eliminated and students are learning to see the world through other people’s eyes.

Pernille’s Professional Goals

Pernille’s goals include continual improvement and growth as a teacher of writing – and particularly, writing as a tool for social change. She’s slowly formulating content for another book as well, and this one will come directly from the learning experiences of her students. Her students have made it clear that they would like to be in a book, and she’s more than happy to amplify their voices.

In the bigger picture, Pernille also wants to remain mindful of life balance: saying yes to large projects also means saying no to other priorities, and it’s important to her to protect the marriage, family, and professional priorities that matter most.

Personal Passions Outside of Education

Pernille is focused on learning how to relax. By nature, she likes to be busy, so she’s working hard to rewire her brain to recognize reading books, hanging out with her kids, cooking, baking, and gardening as productive time. These activities take her away from her computer and so-called “productive activities” in order to slow down and enjoy simple pleasures and relationships more deeply.

Productivity Habits and Hacks

Pernille gives her husband Brandon credit for her productivity, calling him the powerhouse that makes her work possible. He takes care of so much on the home front to create the time she that she needs to meet her professional commitments, and she’s grateful for his support.

She also calls herself a task slayer in the sense that she takes out tasks as quickly as possible. Her blogging practice is quick and efficient, and most of her published pieces are actually first drafts.

She’s also developed her ability to say no and walk away. As a teacher, there’s always more that we can do in our classrooms or on our lesson plans if we are willing to sacrifice personal happiness and relationships. But as human beings, we need to be able to walk away and be content with good enough.

Her motto right now is less learning, more BEING.

Voices and Resources That Inspire Her Practice 

Over on Twitter, Pernille shouts out a few inspiring educators worth following: @ValeriaBrownEdu, @DebReese, @JuliaErin80, @TchKimPossible, @TriciaEbarvia, and @NenaGerman.

Pernille’s favorite edtech tool? Her AirPods! As an introvert, she appreciates the power of her AirPods to give her some separation when she needs it.

Her adult-level book picks include Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School, by Carla Shalaby. She’s also been enjoying the poetry of Amanda Lovelace in The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One.

A podcast that Pernille and her teaching team have enjoyed lately is NPR’s More Perfect, hosted by Jad Abumrad. Follow the host on Twitter @JadAbumrad.

Two Netflix shows on Pernille’s radar lately are Derry Girls and Sex Education. The latter was seriously entertaining, but don’t break it out in your middle school classroom any time soon!

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

Connect with Pernille:

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 79 – Karen Caswell

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Meet Our Guest

KAREN CASWELL is a 4th grade teacher at a large primary school on Australia’s Gold Coast. Her favorite themes in education include relationships, reading, kindness, and global connections. In addition to being a homeroom teacher, Karen does some collegial coaching and is an indigenous champion at her school. She’s also an Apple Certified Teacher, Seesaw Ambassador, the founder of #TLAPdownunder.

Follow Karen on Twitter @kcasw1 and visit her blog at https://www.karencaswell.com/.

Taking Time Away to Recharge the Passion

Karen shares about the time that she pulled completely out of education. After teaching for twenty years, she still loved being a teacher, but she admits to feeling the wear and tear of the bumps and bruises one experiences along the journey.

As a result, she took an extended break away from school to focus on rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. She also did some big picture reflection about where she was and where she wanted to be. She realized she was suffering from a sense of disillusionment more than anything else, and she decided that if she was to return to the profession she wanted to pour her energy and focus primarily into students. Yes, the other parts of the job were still important, but she found that putting the focus primarily on students helped to clarify her mission.

It was also during this time that she discovered the books from Dave Burgess Consulting. To start, she read Kids Deserve It by Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney, Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess, and Be Real: Educate from the Heart by Tara Martin. Karen credits these books for showing her what is possible in the classroom, helping her become a connected educator, and recharging her vision for education.

What is #TLAPDownUnder?

After getting into the DBC books, Karen was thrilled to connect with Dave Burgess and other authors at the weekly #TLAP chat, but she quickly realized that the time slot was difficult for Australian and Asian educators. With that in mind, she began the #TLAPDownUnder chat, and it’s taken off.

She now sees educators contributing from countries all over Asia, and the relationships formed there have been tremendously encouraging. Dave Burgess has dropped by a couple of times and of course North Americans are free to join in as well, although it may make for a late night or an early morning, depending on your time zone.

Why and How Karen Uses Seesaw in the Classroom

Karen uses Seesaw as a digital portfolio that collects evidence of student learning in her classroom. Since most of her students’ work is now kept on the platform, she no longer has to cart stacks of papers to and from home each day. Parents are kept updated and constantly in the loop with what their children are learning, and students are able to give peers effective feedback and assessment as well.

Because Karen’s class is fully equipped with iPads, her students enjoy creating booksnaps and Real You snaps to represent their personalities and demonstrate their learning.

Professional Commitments and Goals

Outside of Seesaw, Karen has a tremendous passion for helping students find the joy of reading, and it makes her sad to see teaching strategies dampen that joy. She shares strategies with her colleagues about how she grows the will to read in her classroom and even how she finds the time to do more independent reading in the timetable. Recently, Karen has leveraged her global connections in education to form creative writing and read-aloud partnerships with educators like Allyson Apsey, Alicia Ray, and Annick Rauch.

One of her biggest success stories from the last year was when one boy – espousing a well-known dislike for books for some time – actually went to great lengths to find a quiet space in the building in order to finish his book. Win!

“If we’re not giving them times to read independently, we’re not giving them opportunities to practice the very reading and comprehension skills we’re trying to teach them,” she points out. Next up on her professional goals list? Growing a school-wide love of writing as well.

Personal Passions Outside of the Classroom

Bearing a strong and understandable resemblance to her professional goals, Karen thoroughly enjoys reading and has recently been pushing herself to write more often as well. It’s been a fun and rewarding process, and she looks forward to more in the days and years ahead.

Another passion is travel: she and her family look forward to another trip to the southern United States in the near future.

The Power of Routine

Karen’s biggest productivity strategy is routine. For important priorities like exercise, it needs to keep happening on a regular basis – without fail. She’s found that if she takes more of a casual approach, one miss turns into two, which turns into ten. Habits must be maintained to be effective.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Karen’s Professional Practice

On Twitter, Karen recommends following Catherine Williams @CathWilliams05 and Tamara Letter @TamaraLetter.

An edtech tool that makes content creation a lot of fun for Karen and her students is Keynote, from Apple.

When asked to recommend a book, Karen points to The Lost Man by Jane Harper. Follow this author on Twitter @JaneHarperAutho. If asked to make a pick from the inspirational reads at Dave Burgess Consulting, Karen goes back to the one that started it all: Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.

A podcast that has really inspired Karen is the In Awe podcast from Sarah Johnson. Explore Sarah’s site and connect with this podcast at In Awe to Rise, and follow the producer on Twitter @SarahSaJohnson.

Karen isn’t a big consumer of YouTube videos, but she appreciates the work coming from John Spencer’s channel. His education-related animations are well worth the views!

On Netflix, Karen has two quirky picks that just may get you laughing: The first is Travels with My Father and the second is Upper Middle Bogan.

We sign off on this trans-Pacific conversation, and Karen reminds us of the best ways to find her online. See the links below for details!

See more from Karen:

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device.

iTunes | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Follow the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media.

Song Track Credits

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