Episode 95 – Justin Belt

95 - Justin Belt.png

Meet Justin Belt

JUSTIN BELT is a husband, father of five, and teacher of thousands! He’s an aspiring leader, innovator, musician, and part of our great writing team over at the Teachers on Fire Magazine on Medium. Last but not least, Justin is the host and producer of The WHYcast, a podcast about finding and clarifying your WHY.

This summer, Justin moved his family from Joplin, Missouri to Frisco, Texas after teaching in Joplin for thirteen years. He’s set to teach English courses at a high school in the town of Carrolton, TX and excited to connect with his new community.

When Relationships Don’t Come Easily

Justin calls his last school year the hardest of his career. He admits quite candidly that it was a challenge to connect with some of his students. As always, he had some students who had positive attitudes and were good at playing the game of school. But others seemed apathetic and unmotivated, and it proved very difficult to reach them.

After serious professional conversations and extended self-reflection, he learned to treat this class and these students in unique ways. He worked hard to put aside all expectations and assumptions and worked tirelessly to better understand and connect with these learners. He experienced some measure of success, and by year’s end, he was genuinely saddened to part ways with these students.

One of the keys to building relationships well, Justin has found, comes from postponing lesson plans when needed and simply talking with the students about whatever is pressing at the moment. When anxieties and other emotions reign supreme and unheard in the context of the classroom, trust isn’t built, relationships can’t form, and learning doesn’t happen.

The WHY Behind The WhyCast

Justin is tireless in his efforts to coax students into expressing their student voice with confidence, so he figured he needed to lead the way by sharing his message first.

“At my heart, I’m an encourager of people,” Justin says. “I like to find the best parts in people, speak to that, and encourage them to bring that out and share it with the world … My purpose is to encourage, to inspire, to motivate others. I want people to find their why, that burning thing within them that won’t let them rest, that pushes them to do great things in their communities.”

When we can access our inner WHY, then everything that we do in the school building takes on greater significance. This podcast has been great for him personally, says Justin, because as he listens to the inner purpose of others it helps to affirm and clarify his own why. 

Thinking About Podcasting? Just DO It.

Justin’s advice to other educators looking to begin podcasting? Just do it. “Don’t worry about the quality of the equipment that you have, don’t worry about having the most polished or put-together script — just do it,” Justin urges.

He talks about his humble beginnings on The WhyCast and his commitment to just podcast with whatever resources he has available. To anyone who is out there thinking about doing a podcast, you’ve got a story inside of you that the world needs to hear, he says. It’s embedded inside of you, so even if you’re recording from your phone, just do it and get it out there.

As you podcast more and more, your resources and expertise will inevitably grow. But they’ll never have a chance to improve if you don’t start.

What’s Setting Justin on 🔥 in Education Today

What sets Justin on fire in education today is the absolute dedication of teachers and administrators to building relationships — not just teacher-student relationships but administrator-teacher relationships as well. Aside from the SEL and PBL and Genius Hour and all the other exciting movements in education today, he is thrilled when he sees the lengths that education leaders are going to invest in their communities.

Learning standards are important but remain secondary, because kids won’t strive to learn when they don’t believe that we believe in them. Giving student choice and voice are important moves precisely because they signal to students that we value them.

A Professional Goal for 2019-2020

Besides building relationships, Justin wants to understand the curriculum sufficiently to tailor it to his students’ goals and interests. Taking prescribed standards and reconstructing them in ways that resonate for him and his learners is critical, and that will be his primary goal going into this school year.

Personal Passions Outside of the Classroom

Personal passions that bring Justin alive outside of education include connecting with his family, music, writing, and cooking. He was classically trained in music and earned a degree in vocal performance. He’s even performed as an opera singer overseas, and music remains a huge part of who he is.

Writing is another joy, and although this summer has knocked him temporarily out of his groove, he looks forward to getting back to it. He’s also a huge foodie, and relies on cooking as a method of decompression at the end of the school day.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Thinking & Practice

Over on Twitter, Justin is gaining inspiration from @TheWrightLeader and @EricThomasBTC. Both are worth a follow, and Vernon Wright has agreed to appear on Teachers on Fire in a future episode.

When asked to recommend an edtech tool, Justin doesn’t hesitate to give the nod to FlipGrid. There are just SO many learning standards that this platform helps learners hit, from comprehension to analysis to oral communication. Flipgrid may be the very best tool for empowering student voice and choice, and it’s the tool most recommended by guests of this show. Follow Flipgrid on Twitter @FlipGrid

Hacking School DisciplineA book that has left a deep impression on Justin’s thinking this year is Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy and Responsibility Using Restorative Justice, by Nathan Maynard and Brad Weinstein. Follow these authors on Twitter @NMaynardEDU and @WeinsteinEDU.

After Teachers on Fire and The WhyCast, Justin has his podcast app tuned into DisruptEd TV Presents Dismissed with Jeremy Williams by @JWilliamsEDU. He’s also listening to Faculty Room by @Maire_from_NJ

On YouTube, Justin recommends subscribing to the prolific education thinker and animator, John Spencer. Check his channel at John Spencer and follow him on Twitter @SpencerIdeas

The Netflix series that has offered the right mix of entertainment and nostalgia for Justin this summer has been Stranger Things 3.

We wrap up this great conversation, and Justin gives us the best ways to connect with him online. See below for details.

Connect with Justin:

Sponsoring This Episode: Classtime

This episode is brought to you by Classtime.com, an assessment platform that delivers learning insights, giving you more time to teach.

Classtime.com helps you gain immediate visibility of your students’ learning progress, build engaging lessons, share with other teachers, and create your own tech-enabled questions to complement your lesson plans. Classtime.com also helps you engage all students with collaborative challenges & puzzles that make fun an integral part of the learning experience.

See what Classtime can do for your learners, and start your free trial at Classtime.com today!

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 61 – Chris Chappotin

61 - Chris Chappotin

Subscribe to the podcast on your mobile device HERE: iTunes | Google Podcasts | Anchor | Spotify | YouTube

CHRIS CHAPPOTIN is the principal at Steam Middle School in Burleson, TX. He’s a husband, father, Engage 2 Learn Coach, certified Google educator, and big sports fan. He’s also a bit of a rapper as well.

Follow Chris:

*Watch his district’s music video parodies (in which Chris has played an instrumental part) and subscribe to the Burleson Independent School District YouTube channel.

Episode Summary

Chris is the principal at STEAM Middle School, a grade 6-8 campus in Burleson, Texas. He helped start the school in 2015, when he served as assistant principal. After leaving briefly to another school, he was blessed to be able to return and take on the principalship in January 2018. The school’s mantra is all about creating engaging learning through an instructional design process called Engage 2 Learn.

His greatest struggles have related to questions of identity. At times, you wonder as an educator leader if you are having a positive impact, if you are properly equipped, and if you are making the right decisions. Often when you move into a new position you realize that you need to develop new skills sets. Learning to develop new skills in collaborative and authentic ways has been challenging for Chris at times, but the process has helped him gain confidence as a leader as well.

Lately, Chris has been diving into the work of the Visible Learning Institute, including John Hattie and Jenni Donohoo. When it comes to teacher efficacy, Chris asks himself if he is equipping and releasing his teachers to do great work, or if he is limiting them to the role of simply managing. He’s been asking these questions:

  • How are we developing teacher efficacy as a leadership team and throughout our staff?
  • Does the evidence show that our instructional designs and strategies are having the positive effects on student learning and achievement that we want to see?

Referring back to his work on instructional policy and teacher coaching, Chris seeks to grow as a leader. Better leadership means more effectiveness in his own work and also better support and empowerment for his teaching team.

Outside of education, Chris enjoys engagement with his family and community. It’s about strengthening relationships and serving people that he and his wife have known for many years. Chris is also a big sports fan, following the Cowboys and Mavericks closely.

Chris’s favorite edtech tools are the ones that facilitate strong professional conversations. Voxer is still his go-to platform for that purpose, but lately he’s also been looking at another Slack-like tool called Glip. Get to know both of these applications on Twitter @Glip and @Voxer.

On Twitter, Chris suggests following @ShannonKBuerk, CEO of Engage2Learn. In books, Chris points to Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant. Follow the author on Twitter @AdamMGrant.

As a big fan of the Dallas Cowboys and Mavericks, Chris is listening to Undisputed with Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe and First Take. Follow these great sports shows on Twitter @Undisputed and @FirstTake.

Although Chris doesn’t subscribe to YouTube channels, he’s watched a lot of content from the Corwin Press channel. You can follow this publisher on Twitter @CorwinPress. And although Chris doesn’t promote his district’s parody music videos, he’s been a big part of their production. They’re pretty amazing! Check them out at the BurlesonISDTV channel.

It’s not on Netflix, but a show that Chris enjoys when he does get the opportunities to watch some video content is Manifest.

Follow Chris:

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device: iTunes | Google Podcasts | YouTube | Spotify

On social media, follow the podcast on Twitter @TeachersOnFire and on Instagram @TeachersOnFire.

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!