Episode 98 – Chris Woods

98 - Chris Woods.png

Meet Chris Woods

CHRIS WOODS is a high school math teacher, STEM presenter, and host of the STEM Everyday podcast. Chris likes to remind his students and followers that STEM is everywhere around us … we just have to learn to recognize it. 

Chris is also a high school math teacher at Calumet High School, Calumet, MI. It’s a relatively small school, located two hours from the closest freeway and situated in the northern part of Michigan.

Challenging Connections

This past year for Chris was a challenging one. He found it difficult to connect with some of his students, and although there were some days when he felt like he made some progress, other days felt like setbacks. Sometimes, relationships just don’t get to the place that we want them to get to, and we can’t fault ourselves after doing our best.

Thankfully, Chris sees his ninth graders in the halls for years after they go through his classroom, and for those few that he finds it challenging to reach, he enjoys the subsequent opportunities he gets to connect when he’s no longer relating to them as their teacher.

On 🔥 for STEM Education

When asked what fuels his passion for STEM education, Chris points to the curiosity that underlines his work. We know that students begin their school careers with excitement and curiosity, but sadly the years that follow often drive that curiosity out of them. Chris lives to help students see that learning is relevant and connected to the world around them, not the static body of knowledge that is sometimes reduced to endless worksheets.

STEM and the Creative Arts: Complementary Partners

To educators who want to see more A in STEM, Chris welcomes STEAM wholeheartedly. Although he happens to adopt STEM in a lot of his work, he sees great compatibility between STEM education and the arts. For Chris, it shouldn’t be a case of STEM vs the creative arts, right brain vs left brain; it should be about cultivating the whole brain and recognizing the multidimensional person in every learner.

Meeting Students Where They Are

Besides STEM education, Chris is on fire for a program called ‘Capturing Kids’ Hearts.’ Again, it’s about seeing the whole individual, incorporating SEL and trauma-informed teaching strategies to meet students and serve them where they are.

A Professional Goal

This year, Chris is looking for more ways to connect the math that his students are learning with applications in the world around them. Students will need STEM skills and habitudes in any career or field after high school, and he wants them to see that this learning has never been more relevant.

Chris is looking forward to bringing the STEM mindset to a couple of conferences this fall and is always happy to share his learning with other teachers across the United States. Visit his website for more details!

Personal Passions Away From School

When he’s not at school or working on things related to his work, Chris enjoys fixing and building. He subscribes to a mindset of days gone by: make do with what you’ve got. Nothing gives him more satisfaction than to take apart broken things, identify the problem, find a solution on YouTube, and then reassemble whatever it happens to be.

His Productivity Hack

When it comes to productivity, Chris believes in the power of lists. Whether it’s a list in his pocket or sticky notes around his desk, lists keep him on his game.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Thinking & Practice

On Twitter, Chris recommends following @JsnHubbard, another #TeacherOnFire.

When it comes to an edtech tool that accelerates learning in his classroom, Chris is all about his interactive whiteboards. There may be nothing better in terms of learning together, out loud and in sight of everyone.

Mister RogersFor his book pick, Chris turns to The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World’s Most Beloved Neighbor by Amy Hollingsworth.

Chris’s favorite podcast is the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast with Vicki Davis. True to her title, Vicki’s daily pod is daily, quick, and packed with value.

On YouTube, a channel that may be underrated for STEM thinking and creative approaches is Joseph’s Machines. Check it out and subscribe!

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

Connect with Chris:

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 83 – Travis Jordan

83 - Travis Jordan.png

Meet Travis Jordan

TRAVIS JORDAN is a husband, father of four, superintendent, education commissioner, speaker, aspiring author, conformity breaker, and status quo shaker. How’s that for disruption in education? He currently oversees learning for about 750 students at Beulah Public Schools in Beulah, North Dakota, which is located in coal country – go Miners!

From Tragedy Into Transformative Culture

In 2010, Travis began his first principal position. Early into the school year, one of his students tragically ended her own life. It was profoundly saddening, and to some extent he will deal with questions around this incident for a long time to come.

But the situation has also shaped his leadership focus in education in a positive way – it’s put him on a mission to put connection over content and make the needs of the whole child the top priority. This story also reminds him that even on his very worst days, there are kids who are likely having worse days or dealing with addictions, mental illness, or other challenges.

Be Real, Feel, and Help Others Heal

Speaking to this tweet, Travis points out that as educators, we’re going to have our tough challenges and dark times. No one at any level is immune to problems. But “fake it until you make it” is not a good enough strategy.

Instead, let’s be real, and feel, and let others help us heal. It’s okay to be human, so rather than paste a fake smile on our faces every day, it’s not a bad thing to share the reality of our lives with our students. In fact, it’s a good thing for our learners to model what it is to work through adversity.

What Travis Looks for in Principals and Education Leaders

When you speak with a manager of people, you get the feeling that they are important. But when you speak with a good leader, you get the feeling that YOU are important.

Education leaders must lead with conviction and empathy. Great leaders talk less and listen more, criticize less and praise more, reject less and empower more. “I want my principals to encourage, empower, and empathize with everyone they work with on a daily basis.”

Leadership also requires humility: leaders shouldn’t be afraid to admit they don’t know and ask for directions. Travis is thankful and proud for the three principals at Beulah Schools that model all of these traits so well.

What Travis is Passionate About at Beulah Today

One of the things that Travis is most proud of from this past school year is a new behavioral mental health program that they’ve put into place for their schools. It’s a cooperation with a local clinic, and it’s brought new health professionals right into the school that can offer new and better services for students struggling with anxiety or mental illness at any age.

Travis is also seeking to make changes to high school graduation requirements that would allow for more flexibility. Students shouldn’t be forced to take high-level classes that they know they won’t need, he says. Instead, he’s seeking to offer full recognition for personalized internship opportunities (grounded in core skills and competencies) that would create new paths to graduation for learners.

A Professional Goal

Travis has just finished writing a book, and he was in the early stages of publishing at the time of this interview. The title will be Connection Over Conformity, and it focuses on building schools that value people over programs, putting the cultivation of relationships in over anything else.

Academic research and data can be little more than DATA – Doesn’t Actually Tell us Anything. Instead, what educators want and need are resources that meet them exactly where they are.

Personal Passions Away from Education

Between his work as superintendent and his roles of husband and father of four, he doesn’t feel he has a ton of time for personal hobbies and pursuits. He is a sports fan and enjoys coaching basketball and golf. He also feels fueled by the moments he gets to spend taking his kids to their sporting events and cheering them on.

Voices and Resources That Inspire His Practice

On Twitter, Travis recommends following anyone who contributes at #JoyfulLeaders, including @BethHill2829, @SteeleThoughts, and @TechNinjaTodd.

Travis’s pick for edtech tools is Swivl, a device that helps teachers monitor and learn from their own professional practice in the classroom. Get to know Swivl on Twitter @GoSwivl.

Over in books, Travis endorses Fail Until You Don’t: Fight Grind Repeat by Bobby Bones. This book has reminded Travis that practical, accessible language can make for great reading. Authors don’t need to retreat to the esoteric to be helpful!

On YouTube, Travis is watching a channel called Zach Hample. It features a guy who collects baseballs from major league baseball stadiums, and it’s been a fun way for the family to connect.

Travis is not ashamed to admit that when it’s time to watch TV with his wife, they watch The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.

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

Connect with Travis:

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.

Episode 29 – Soney Day

29 - Soney Day.png

SONEY DAY is a 2nd grade teacher at Coy Miller Elementary School in Frisco, TX. She describes herself as a teacher, mom, tech integrator, proud Texan, and Seesaw ambassador. Soney enjoys advocating for young learners and strives to have an innovator’s mindset.

In our conversation, Soney shares about an emotionally draining challenge she faced in just her second year of teaching. Although it was nightmarish at the time, she calls it a learning experience today and mentors new teachers using some of the knowledge gained from that ordeal. Soney tells us why she’s such a big booster of social-emotional wellness for learners, and encourages teachers to pay more attention to education policy decisions and governance. Finally, she offers some great recommendations for Twitter accounts to follow, books to read, and more.

Follow Soney on Twitter @DaysMrs.

TIMESTAMPS. In this episode, Soney discusses …

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!