Episodes 49-55

Episode # 49: Unlock the Middle

Episode #49: Unlock the Middle: Chris Starczewski & Dean Packard (podbean.com)

Unlock the Middle are proud middle school principals co-hosting a videocast  to celebrate and unlock all that is special about middle school. They are Chris Starczewski and Dean Packard and they live in Dudley/Charlton, MA. They get excited helping students, educators and parents learn and grow.

Chris Starczewski is the Principal of Dudley Middle School in Dudley, Massachusetts. He started out in Education in 1994. Taught math. He has three kids:  Brooke, Abigail & John and two dogs: Princess & Rocco.  In his spare time he likes to exercise, fish, read and find ways to become better.

Dean Packard is in his 28th year in education – 18th year at Charlton Middle School as an administrator.  He spent 10 years teaching history in high school, and coaching boys’ varsity basketball. He has also spent the last 18 years in administration at Charlton Middle School, 7 as an assistant principal and the last 11 as principal. 


Tell me about how you two met:  When they were starting out as administrators, they have shared, collaborated and built paths together. They live about 25 minutes apart. Are at each other’s houses often. They are in agreement about how to empower people. Chris typically likes to talk more than Dean.

Tell me about a time when you were in the trenches and managed to crawl out: Chris’ story: back in the classroom, met the needs of kids, not having teacher-directed expectations. Took a summer gig as a computer teacher & counselor. Found passions there. Working in schools then taught him about abilities students have. Story about a student who wasn’t successful academically or socially, having had him in class and being on campus, he was able to open up to him, gave him support and assistance. Student was in a significant crisis. He was a camp counselor, figured it was an easy way to get work in education. Followed his wife into the classroom. Fell in love. Dean’s story: in 1993, he got a phone call from the superintendent. Was a new coach. There were 250 applicants for a teaching position. Had a mixed classroom with multiple ability levels. They were 7th graders, tough. It taught him the value of relationships. He learned a lot about who he was. Spent 10 years as a history teacher. Took 2nd M.A. in Leadership and migrated to Charlton Middle School. Everything we do is based around relationships with kids. Coaching teaches you about adversity quick. You’re always shaking and moving. Tough time was being a HS coach. Why did you start “Unlock the Middle”?– it came about in the summer. Around Dean’s kitchen and it came about. Theeir videocast is about nothing that means a lot, like Seinfeld. Middle school components are so big. They look all over Twitter, they have contemplated themes. Have off-shoots “Middle Marvels” how teachers impact their buildings. Are looking at hot topics like what they have with faculty + staff. They’ve had discussions about fairness, equity and inclusivity. Bringing in themes as a connection. Not necessarily a roadmap.

You’ve both been in Middle School administrative roles for a while. Talk about how you’re rethinking and reimagining schools: It’s never gonna be the same so approach the learning environment with “shouldn’t do” to “have to do”. You won’t allow shift towards formal traditional practices. When they started out together in Dudley/Charlton, they learned school can be anything you want it to be. Chris worked on transition from traditional to standards-based grading. Brought experiences into the district, spoke about things that really matter. He worked on a curriculum planning model. They both have amazing staff. Epiphany happened when they started having banter about best practices. Started the planning early on. Chris had no problem breaking down the walls. Empower the people who do the heavy work every day. They want to applaud teachers for taking risks. 

Provide some examples of how you’ve empowered staff to be innovative: Chris– 2 7th grade ELA teachers wanted to utilize collaborative time. They turned it into the Titan Times newspaper. Got a grant. The teacher wasn’t teaching writing in a traditional sense. They were taught what a peer editing process looked like. They weren’t relying on teachers but peers to get feedback. Dean– used blended learning techniques. Financial literacy program that created school store. Kids find out how to build a business and market. As of recording they were getting ready to get the store online. It helped the kids learn to use spreadsheets. It makes the learning fun. They want to bring in student voice with video and podcast from their schools. Let the kids take it and “run with it”. 

What has your videocast taught you since starting in July, did it happen suddenly, and tell me about some of the guests you’ve had: They don’t consider it to be work, are highly involved in two educational endeavors, both “Middle Marvels” which nominates teachers and their videocast. In the summer, they put their ideas for the videocast on paper. Had Dr. Greg Goings, Connie Hamilton on as some of the first guests. People want to tell their stories. We’re feeding the world about what education should be like. It’s about the product they’re providing for others. They walk the same walk. Reimagining education isn’t about blowing something up.  Rick Wormelli & other guests have taught them something. They want to shift the spotlight on people they’re bringing in. They want to find people who have similar experiences and ideas about what we’re doing, ideas to shift the long-standing practice. Think of the analogy of a rock hitting a pebble and then causing a landslide. Making “earth shaping experiences”. They are currently booked out until mid March. 

Why the title “unlock” the middle? They went through a few 100 titles. When think about middle level learning, we thing about, in some ways, catastrophic experiences. There are so many different keys to the middle school experience. The skeleton key is so complex. They want to bring in brain-based experts and theorists. The student voice piece will come out- will be phased in. Topics, areas on how they learn, why they learn. It’s about defining their “why”. Unlock the middle is about a gate being opened.

Key quotes: Dean “remember to be humble, be willing to listen to people, be able to build relationships”. He learns every single day how to connect with people. Everything about our business is about connecting with people. It will make or break you. Chris– “Bring back that relationship is primary”. They’ll remember you for how you treated them the first day, wrote the date on the board, etc. It’s about human capacity. The world needs great people right now. Those things aren’t necessarily embedded in the curriculum. We want students to be service-oriented to make positive change. 

Find Chris and Dean online on Twitter, FB, IG @unlockthemiddle  You can email them at: unlockingthemiddle@gmail.com & visit their website. Follow Chris and Dean individually on Twitter @CMSPrincipal1 @DMS_Leadlearner Their videocast, Unlock The Middle, airs live on Sunday nights at 8pm (EST) on Twitter (@UnlockTheMiddle), Facebook (@UnlockTheMiddle) and our YouTube Channel (Unlock The Middle).  Watch this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/jwNUCB6ppjw

Episode # 50: Live Event Celebration!

Episode #50: B.Beck, B.Hughes, J. Molitor& C.Dodge (podbean.com)

Guests for this live event celebration were:

From episode # 5: Jen Molitor is a Speaker and Author of The Happy Teacher’s Handbook- From Overwhelmed to Inspired- Helping Teachers Embrace Resiliency. She is a first year principal at a 4th/5th grade campus in Ohio. Find Jen on Twitter @TeacherRenegade 

From Episode #31: Brad Hughes is an elementary school Principal in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Brad recently launched his own podcast “Good news, Brad news”, on anchor.. Follow him on Twitter @Brad_Hughes   

From episode #34 joining us at 5 EST: Brandon Beck, Ed.D. is the Author of “Unlocking Unlimited Potential: Understanding the Infinite Power within to Guide any student toward success.” He has been a dual language teacher elementary teacher for 15 years in NY state. Follow him Twitter & IG @BrandonBeckEDU FB: Brandon Beck Visit his website: brandonbeckedu.com

From upcoming episode #63 (? TBD): Chris Dodge is currently the Principal of The Orange Elementary Schools in Orange, MA, serving 500 students in grades PreK-6. He is a connected educator who utilizes social media to make family and community connections,  & as a form of ongoing, personalized professional development. Follow him Twitter & IG @PrincipalDodge1

Topics that we discussed: 1) Provide a snapshot of where you are currently- hybrid, remote, transitioning to either and wins you have experienced in this model: Jen: has been full in person since the beginning of the year. Have had to shut down 2x’s to go remote. Their goal is to stay open. There has been a huge gap in kids when a class or 2 is remote. Has been full in-person since Jan. Brad: right now both in-person and full distance in ON. His district got permission to fully open this past Monday. 100’s of students are participating in full remote. Challenge to manage teacher capacity.  Chris: still remote, will go to hybrid March 1. Staff are ready. They have been very flexible. They’re making 1000 decisions a day. There’s a lot of decision fatigue, ton of things to get people in terms of wifi devices. Developed a remote learning academy to bring students in temporarily. Excited to get back to in-person in March. 

2) New approaches you’ve used to show staff appreciation and decrease staff burnout since spring semester started: Brad: have tried to keep things as simple and clear as they can. Staff morale is about managing the gap. They’ve tried to simplify all information coming from province and district. He leverages the power of connection. Casual and positive check-ins. Doesn’t want staff to fell like they’re in a state of supervision. 2 questions he asks: “What do you need and How can I help”? Give people a chance to think about that. More of a cultural approach. Chris: small events to show appreciation. Has developed a culture where they’ve embraced the suck. Encouraged staff to make a self-care plan. It’s ok to say it’s really hard. He understands, admits he doesn’t have the answers. Have built a collaborative culture where they were headed towards something that prepared them for this. Jen: they have rallied around each other to support each other. She supported teachers with new math curriculum in the fall. Encouraged teachers to tell her what they need. Taking the village approach. Much more SEL strategies this year. Has been a challenge to support students’ needs. Staff shout-outs at the end of the day. Brandon: power of positivity. His admin has been practicing. He says “it took us a pandemic to recognize that mental health needs to be at the forefront”. His district has a 60% Latino with large FRL (free & reduced lunch) population. They don’t always have the supports at home. His district has been good at communication. His principal has been very patient. Every teacher has their own techniques that works for them so they have been able to push away from the standardization. Have added in a 45 m period “community building” SEL learning time. 

3) Teacher evaluation, observation, coaching conversations- what have been your take-aways on what you want to improve upon these last 3+ months of the school year? Chris: feels like he’s become a better coach this year. The paperwork he’s let go of this year. He feels like the evaluation piece being taken away this year, he can have coaching conversations. Asks “tell me what I just saw, what didn’t I see?” Reflective questions. Can bring observation pieces to other teachers. “Let me listen to you.” Then a teacher will be able to open up more. They are more trusting. He’s made it a goal to be in classrooms just as much even  though they’re virtual. He tells them “I have no idea how you’re doing this”. He has so much respect for first year teachers. This will help us rethink about breaking out of the industrial model of education. Looking at SEL and mental health. There’s a lot of good coming out of this. His teachers are still thinking through the old lens and beating themselves up saying “I’m not meeting my kids’ needs”. They’re putting themselves down. They shouldn’t believe they’re not enough. It’s got to be deeper than “let it go”. Jen: she feels like teachers are carrying a burden to be the teacher they’ve always been. They have to keep up with kids who are remote. They are so focused on data conversations. She went into it with “what are we noticing, what can we do to support kids?” “what if we got together and tried a different approach to support the kid?” Test scores are a temp check. She encourages teachers to keep doing what they’re doing. The conversations are much more personal, gentle nature. There’s the teacher ownership piece, how do we help them let go of the pressures? She tells them they aren’t held to a certain standard. It’s OK! Brad: Evaluation has to be founded on assuming competency. They can’t be in the process of fault-finding” gotcha”’ process. Their t evaluations have been suspended. Traditional evaluation model is assuming the teacher is teaching in their classroom. In a virtual environment it doesn’t work. The process has decentralized the admin-teacher gap. Experts are all over. Rather than being an evaluator his goal is to build the capacity. The only requirement is evaluations for new teachers. He says “I’m coming in to reflect on what he sees”. He watches teachers work their magic. He assumes their confident and capable. It’ an opportunity to challenge systems and look at what you’re called to do. Why should we do anything to educators that diminishes their chance of success. We’ve inherited a narrative of “not enough” and scarcity. Service professions are often least understood and most undervalued. We have an opportunity to challenge that narrative. We want to make sure we’re doing right by everyone. We have a fear of getting it wrong. Make a shift from gaps to growth. We’re worried about learning loss. We need to not ignore that growth that is occurring. Kids are all surviving a pandemic. There isn’t a playbook. We’re writing history. We’re in the heart of a deeply creative time. We need to shift the focus to growth rather than gaps. What are you creating because you’re meeting the needs of kids?  Brandon: he has an informal evaluation tomorrow. The beginning of his EdD he started studying teacher evaluations. Linda Darlingham “Getting Teacher Evaluation Right”. He asked “what is the purpose of any evaluation?” He sees here that evaluation is to support educators. You have to return to the purpose of the evaluation. It’s an opportunity to fail. A lot of educators don’t necessarily feel that way though. It goes back to having his admin look at what he’s struggling with and he wants her feedback so he can see how to grow. If we can use the pandemic to help teachers grow in the right direction, he hopes that will stay. 

4) One tip for leaders to remember to take with you for the remainder of the school year: Brandon: “Get out of your own way. Don’t measure things as you did in the past. You have to have the flexibility and patience. We have the ability to rise above this and understand we’re getting a lot out of our students. Look at the opportunities we have right now in our models. Focus on all the growth and keep pushing forward”. Jen: “I am enough”, ask yourselves at the end of the day “what difference did I make”. Chris: as a leader, get out of your staff’s way. In an effort to be helpful, he wasn’t being helpful. He understood to give staff space. He stepped back and watched. Give yourselves grace, be kind to ourselves and one another. We’re too critical of ourselves. Brad: Rae Hughart says “always strive for today’s best”’, our best is going to be top-notch, considering the circumstances we’re in. Have high and appropriate expectations. Recognize how much a % you’re giving on a particular day. What matter is you’re giving what you can to manage your own recourses. No one can ask more than your best. Give what you can today. 

Watch this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/8VPcYgK1WHQ

Episode #51: Amy Valentine


Amy Valentine has been called a social rabble rouser, a turnaround strategist and a fighter of the status quo in K-12 education. She has served as a teacher, trainer, administrator, and executive director overseeing networks of schools. Amy is a staunch supporter of educators, a believer in the promise of new technologies, and remains above all an irrepressible optimist on system-level change. She leads @Future of School, a national education organization, dedicated to bringing all kids’ learning opportunities into the 21st century. Amy has appeared onstage at DLAC and iNACOL and in dozens of panels, sharing insights on digital learning, equity and access. She calls herself an “education evangelist”.

Kai Valentine: Student guest, son of Amy Valentine, 7th grade student at Aspen View Academy (AVA), a charter school in Douglas County, CO, Enjoys playing basketball, baseball and swimming. 

Tell a time you were in the trenches and managed to crawl out: First yr teaching High School. Did M.A. in Spanish and started teaching at a very young age. She was passionate about the language. Needed to be mature. She was going through alternative licensure. She was assigned the most challenging kids that year. Her most favorite student was actually the most challenging. Behavior kids-pulled self out of the trenches with the student- helped him do well, believed in him.  Was able to work with him. Was a memorable student. 8 years later connected with him as an adult. He’s now a lifelong connection. She didn’t judge him, but got into the trench with him. Sat next to him, what can we do? Has stayed in touch, and when his brother died 7 yrs later, she read over the eulogy. 

What led you to start Future of School: Shifting into public charity space. It has been around 5 years, forecasted shifts in K12 education. Uses student’s experience of taking online/blended classes. Are partnering with digital resilience projects. Left the classroom because she wanted to have an impact on high quality instruction. She helps unleash the power of tech. Took a series of jobs for educational service providers. Future of School was called “Foundation for blended and online learning”’ first. Wasn’t designed to do advocacy first. She created a cohort with school leaders where they share stories of collaboration. Before tech is effective, leaders + staff have to be open to using it. Need to be flexible now with shifting time, especially during the pandemic. Also, Future of School gives grants to innovative teachers (research and teacher grants), resiliency-based projects. Will reopen the grant program this spring. It serves as a conduit where people can go to learn & share as we consider the future of school as we learn and grow. The districts need to have a blended learning plan in place to be able to access the grants. 

Are you currently providing PD for districts? She put her ear to the ground in summer to find out what educators need. Will have Future of School podcast series, 2 episodes/month that started in Nov, and have run through until now *this episode was published 2/14/21*. (Hers is a real time recording). Format is both them talking, it has educators, parents, students interviewing teachers. 10-19m episodes. All centered on theme about what is the future of teaching. Also interviews students. Will have webinars as well. Putting them in driver’s seat. Does monthly webinars. Trying to get bearings about what they went to do going forward. She has consultants, they are social media, graphic design, high school experiential learning specialist. PR firm has an educational background.

Tell me about your work with families and guiding them through home learning environments: She’s really passionate about it. These are all free on website to thought leaders, legislatures. They’re hoping to hire a parent liaison. She’s got a son (Kai) who was diagnosed with dysgraphia. She explained what the diagnosis entails, it is to reading what dyslexia is to writing. To a teacher, it looks like kid’s cognitive processing is high, but cognitive load is low.

Tell me about your experience and writing of this article: “How I learned not to be ‘that’ mom” She took her son to a neuropsychologist and he was diagnosed with dysgraphia. She wrote the article in April ’17, she wrote about his 2nd grade year and teachers working with him. He was denied recess time to work on his 504 accommodations. Amy worked with district leadership, teachers, brought in his neuropsychologist to educate the teachers in order to keep him at the school he had friends/community. Amy being committed to working with the school and stayed on top of it. I pointed out this quote: “It is a parent’s responsibility to be involved, to embrace the struggle, and to demonstrate how collaboration and cooperation can yield much, much more than anger, blame, or avoidance ever will.”- please explain how you came to this conclusion?  What needs to change is what she could control, that teachers deliver the fundamentals of his 504. She wanted his teachers to have grace & understand. You get a lot farther with sugar than with vinegar. Interview with Amy’s son, Kai:

How have things been for you throughout your school journey? Did it take a while for you to get diagnosed with dysgraphia? Throughout K+1st grade he struggled a lot with writing. He couldn’t read much until 2nd grade.

What is your favorite subject and least favorite subject & why? Science because it’s hands-on and a better learning experience for kids with dysgraphia, least favorite math or writing. He doesn’t qualify for SPED but does have 504, school doesn’t get the funding for support.

How has being remote & transition back to the school affected you? He wasn’t used to being in the building between March-August. Going online at the beginning was struggle but the last month he got used to it. It was not a huge transition going back into thee building in the fall.

What do you have to do to work harder not using the software? He felt like he stood out, declined the accommodation, he felt like the software was a bit harder to use. Will talk about compensatory strategies. Became an advocate for dysgraphia. It’s created an awareness. She knew nothing in formal trainings about dysgraphia. He is a textbook case.

Tell me about your most impactful teacher & why. Mrs. Winter because she was tough on him. First she called him lazy. Was 2nd & 4th grade teacher. In 2nd she was tough on him but in 4th grade he realized he she was pushing him to do his best. 

Key quotes: Kai– “Never give up. It’s a practicing thing. When you’re diagnosed with dysgraphia it’s not necessarily forever.” Amy: “Every challenge and obstacle has a silver lining, learning is at the core of the human spirit, together we can accomplish so much”.

Find Amy and Future of School online on Twitter: @amyvalentine555   @futureof_school           
FB: Future of School Stories

Visit Future of School’s website: http://futureof.school View this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/rMZ1AJSYpaU

Episode # 52: Dr. TJ Vari & Dr. Joseph Jones


Dr. Joseph Jones​ is the Superintendent of the New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District in Delaware. Joe is a former high school social studies teacher, assistant principal, and principal. As principal, he was named the Delaware Secondary Principal of the Year and during his tenure, Delcastle Technical High School was the first high school to receive the state’s Outstanding Academic Achievement Award. He received his doctorate from the University of Delaware in educational leadership and was awarded the outstanding doctoral student award of his class. Currently, Joe works closely with local and state leaders on student achievement and accountability and has spearheaded an aggressive and successful campaign to ensure student success. Joe is also an adjunct professor, teaching and designing curriculum, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels for various universities. He presents nationally on topics of school leadership and is the co-founder of the leadership development institute, TheSchoolHouse302. Along with T.J. Vari, he co-authored Candid and Compassionate Feedback: Transforming Everyday Practice in Schools. And, with Salome Thomas-EL and T.J. Vari, he co-authored Passionate Leadership: Creating a Culture of Success in Every School as well as Building a Winning Team: The Power of a Magnetic Reputation and the Need to Recruit Top Talent in Every School
Dr. T.J. Vari ​is the Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools and District Operations in the Appoquinimink School District in Delaware. He is a former middle school assistant principal and principal and former high school English teacher and department chair. His master’s degree is in School Leadership and his doctorate is in Innovation and Leadership where he accepted an Award for Academic Excellence given to one doctoral student per graduating class. He holds several honors and distinctions, including his past appointment as President of the Delaware Association for School Administrators, his work with the Delaware Association for School Principals, and the honor in accepting the Paul Carlson Administrator of the Year Award. His efforts span beyond the K-12 arena into higher education where he holds adjunct appointments, teaching courses at the masters and doctoral level. He is a national presenter on topics of school leadership and the cofounder of TheSchoolHouse302, a leadership development institute. Along with Joseph Jones, he co-authored Candid and Compassionate Feedback: Transforming Everyday Practice in Schools. And, with Salome Thomas-EL and Joseph Jones, he co-authored Passionate Leadership: Creating a Culture of Success in Every School as well as Building a Winning Team: The Power of a Magnetic Reputation and the Need to Recruit Top Talent in Every School

Tell each about a time when you were in the trenches and managed to crawl out: Joe: When he was an AP, they were really trying to move the needle for student achievement when he was an AP. He had a caseload of students whose attendance was sporadic. All things there associated with those types of situations these students embodied. How do we end the school to prison pipeline? Joe came out of the trenches, but didn’t use a formulaic approach. Teachers & admin rallied together. How do we make parent feel like they have a welcome place to come to? It’s not just single program; it didn’t take a week and was done. They had a common purpose. They focused on relationships they built with families. TJ- Yale National Initiative to strengthen public schools. He studied in it when teacher. He studied in a seminar and built a curriculum unit. Second time was about building an institute. Dr. Raymond Thilacker. Built an institute in DE like at Yale. Now it’s Delaware’s new teacher institute. Best PD he’s had. They helped build the institute.

Building a Winning Team” is an essential book to have in schools where there is high turn-around. Have many districts/schools reached out to you esp. this hiring season due to increased turn-around due to COVID? A lot of schools are so focused on COVID that there’s been a halt on hiring winning teams (for now). Less and less people are going into the profession. They focus on telling their own story to attract people to wanting to become an educator. They felt at the time it was written a perfect moment because districts were in disagreement with labor. It’s interesting that people in a crisis forget about developing their people. They tend to be attracted to & retain employees because of growth strategies. It’s a great book to focus on. Joe Sanfelippo said people won’t change how they talk about school until educators change their way. When I read it, it seems like a must-have for new principals and ed. hiring managers. You give great examples of how teams can attract great talent, stand out to applicants, and how to cast a wide net in order to recruit the best fit for the opening. The book’s focused on creating a reputation, casting a wide net. It’s about building culture to tell. They have a follow-up book, “Retention for a Change: Motivate, Inspire and Energize your School Culture” coming out March 15, ’21. There is a focus on diversity. Now that you have a winning team, how do you keep those team members?

Retention for a Change”, your Our One Thing Series podcast interviews are often with famous people, industry executives, top educational pioneers, and people we consider to be a leading force in their field. They have been doing it for over a year, about once a month. They publish thee long form blog. Recently, episodes have been about positivity, they had John Gordon on. Podcast episodes publish towards the end of the month about books they think should be published. It’s a quick 30 m. podcast.  They pivot to 5 1 Thing Series questions. Their guests aren’t always educational leaders.

What is the difference between this and the #FocusEd podcast? They run induction programming in DE for principals & AP’s so to get their credentials. They do a live recording of that program called #FocusedEd. It’s not on their site because it’s a live PD recording. 16 episodes are sitting on google search results. They focus on a topic or book. They have 10-12 more lined up for remainder of school year.  How long have you been blogging/working together on The Schoolhouse 302  and what got you started in this collaboration? All of this was very organic. It wasn’t constructed to reach an audience. They went on runs together, saw people fishing. TJ met Joe because he was his brother’s teacher. When they were both principals at the same time, they ran together and talked through problems, they realized they should record their conversation. They run & write together. At the time they were doing it for themselves, in 2015, they started to write a blog post. Led to PD they put on. PD was advertised at the state level. They tried to mirror best practices in the classroom on their blog. Grew to introducing people to a leader. Their One Thing series never focused on just educators. They were offered gig after gig. Books came from that. Their Candid book & Passion & Leadership books came of that. There was an article written for Principal Leadership magazine, so “Building a Leading Team” took place. PD has picket up since early summer. They present 2-5 times a month. Their blog, The Schoolhouse 302 Leadership Blog is about leadership, and each month they dive into the specific of one topic under the umbrella of leading better and growing faster. Their hope is to bridge business management tools with educational leadership so that you can lead better and grow faster.  How is that going so far? They like to build concepts, models, present on that model, they’ll get questions from the audience, voila they have 35K words. They are planners, they believe in mission, vision. They had to put vision on paper for wives.

What kind of schools do you work with? Is it across the spectrum, or primarily schools that are at or near turn-around status? They work with smaller charters, to larger public school systems like 350 administrators or small elementary schools. Sometimes people will gravitate towards a particular topic. Principal EL works in a charter, they all 3 work in different types of schools. The 3 of them are a really nice connection with their ideas. Delaware is a small sandbox, but fairly unique and diverse. They are currently presenting in-person and via zoom. Do all the AP/principal induction program. They are offering a masterclass in candor & compassionate feedback. Master class will take more people. They are also starting a principal and AP Mastermind- that would be open to people across the country all under theme of leading better, growing faster. They support the principal seminar 3 & 3. Open to folks from Canada, S. Africa. Using the power of Twitter, they’re dealing with similar things as leaders in other countries. They need broader conversations, like how to handle diversity, relating to student achievement. Powerful- they want people to be able to build their own PLN. Even seasoned principal & APs need a gathering with like-minded people.

Key Quotes: Joe- “Building a winning team”, he want listeners to marinate, you’re hiring for an archetype. The dynamics extended content, prowess. It goes beyond the subj area you’re hiring for.

TJ- “we gotta keep pushing one another”. It’s better to lift than to push”, it’s the cul-de-sac conversation. It tells a story & builds a magnetic reputation.

Find TJ & Joe online: Twitter @tjvari @TSH302 @supt_jones FB: schooolhouse302 and visit their website: theschoolhouse302.com  View this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/k1kSwHjfezU

Around the time the next episode was published, Out of the Trenches hit 1K downloads!

Episode #53: Rachelle Dené Poth


Rachelle Dené Poth is an #edtech consultant, presenter, attorney, author, & teacher.

Rachelle teaches Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle has a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. She is a Consultant and Speaker, owner of #ThriveinEDU LLC Consulting. She serves as the past-president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network and serves on the Leadership team of the Mobile Learning Network. At ISTE19, she received the Making IT Happen Award and a Presidential Gold Award for volunteer service to education. She is also a #Buncee Ambassador, #Nearpod PioNear and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.

Rachelle is the author of four books, ‘In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking,” “Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU” and “The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead,” Rachelle Dene’s latest book is with ISTE “Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World.” She has a new book coming out this summer, “Your World Language Classroom: Strategies for In-Person and Digital Instruction” (Routledge). Rachelle is a blogger for Getting Smart, Defined Learning, District Administration, NEO LMS, and the  STEM Informer with Newsweek. 

Tell me about a time you were in the trenches and managed to crawl out: The story of being an adult in law school. It gave her a better understanding of what students understand. She felt isolated. She was first a teacher then went to law school. She started subbing in Jan. ‘94, started law school in 2003. Taught while going to law school. It was a personal interest for her. She still teaches full time and works as a PD consultant. It’s great to have the connections in law. Early in her career, she was missing out on what was going to benefit her students. She was struggling in first couple years. There was no Twitter, PLN, today what a difference that would have made. She didn’t share her ideas until about 7 years ago. Took a lot of hard work. Being open to telling someone she failed. It helps her when dealing with students. She’s always wanted to take classes. She feels like she is in her students shoes a little bit. She adjusted the way she taught after law school. She got a better idea of what it meant to be a mentor, and had a tremendous one in law school. 

Your world language teacher book is coming out this summer-
“Your World Language Classroom: Strategies for In-Person and Digital Instruction” (Routledge), how did that book project come about? It’s a mix of some students’ stories, to the vein of “Things I wished I knew when I started teaching”. It’s also about challenges in education and digital tools for remote learning. Her other books have been a mix, none have been specifically focused for WL teachers. Summer 2019, she was in Boston through Rutledge with Jeff Zoll and started to get ideas for the book. There are a variety of ways to collaborate globally. The book includes a lot about remote teaching environments and tech tools to try. Has reached out to other WL teachers to get vignettes from other languages from teachers from all over the world.

How do see tech tools continuing to evolve in the WL classroom? Much of what people have wanted to know this year is about how to get kids to participate more in the virtual setting. She teaches Spanish 1-3 this year. Normally she has all levels. She tries to think about tools, methods, like PBL, she tells teachers to make sure you have those things in place. She can’t just name 1 tool. Buncee is a multi-media creation tool. Students create and “about me”, 1000’s of templates. Can use it to create lessons for students. 35K choices available in the media library. They have added in AR (augmented reality). Nearpod is great to get a closer look at place they’d like to virtually visit. Can be student paced. Can put all details of lesson into 1 space. Flipgrid is good for speaking assessments. It provides a space where they can record it again. Classmates can then look the video on their own. Game-based learning tools- quizlet, kahoot, gymkit – gives students a chance to practice on their own. Edpuzzle when you’re creating videos, adds in different questions for assessment.

She has her own podcast: #ThriveinEDU available at https://anchor.fm/rdene915 It’s just her talking to herself. She started over a year ago to share ideas. She puts out her thoughts about things she’s read. An episode on every week for 12-15 minutes. It’s interesting to see which ideas people like the most. 

When you got started with the EdTech certifications? She doesn’t have a specific favorite tool. Nearpod is a go-to with VR (virtual reality) tools. It helps kids develop empathy. Microsoft & Google certified Educator certifications are good ones to have. You’re able to meet educators from all over, they have different events, you can ask question in your network. You get a lot of info from the platform. A lot more like Kahoot, Screencastify are letting you get certified as well. It depends on your school. ISTE certification is an intensive process, helps you look at how you’re using tech in classroom. It’s a great tool for what you’ve been using last 2-4 years. Focus on a certification that is centered around the tech your school uses, such as Microsoft certifications if your school uses it. She has also gotten ISTE certification recently. Focuses on the “why” behind it.

Are you currently doing PD for your district? She did back in the spring because her district doesn’t have a tech coach. She is a FT consultant and FT teacher. She is involved in tech book clubs.

You received a Volunteer service award in 2016, how many volunteer hours did that entail? She got the award through ISTE. Could be anything from presenting a webinar, serving on diff committees. Was president of educator network. Provides opportunities. Does also book review for people who are writing books. With ISTE- they have different PLNs. You can volunteer on leadership team, review conference proposals. Twitter chats, answering questions for peopl who need help & support. Preparing for conferences, etc. Was involved heavily in 2 networks. They started a podcast- TEN things in 10 minutes. There are so many ways to get involved! 

Key quotes: “It’s easy to be overwhelmed, especially now, but you don’t have to do everything”. “Start with 1 thing”. Try to figure out what is missing. What could students not finish? What frustrated them? How could they reach her beyond the hours of the school day? How could tech help you, or are you doing too much of the talking? Start with something that will help make them comfortable. Help your students develop public speaking skills, for example. 

Find Rachelle online @ThriveinEDu  Twitter & IG: @Rdene915  FB: https://www.facebook.com/groups/THRIVEinEDU

Website: https://rdene915.com/ Podcast on Apple

Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at https://anchor.fm/rdene915

Her books are available at bit.ly/Pothbooks

She has a weekly show on LearningRevolution.com, ThriveinEDU

Watch this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/Ge0enKT0Zhg

Episode # 54: Matt Miller

Episode #54: Matt Miller (podbean.com)

Matt was selected as one of 100 superintendents nationwide to attend & present at the #FutureReady National ConnectED Superintendents Summit at the White House.

Matt is the superintendent of Lakota Local Schools. He has spent the last 26 years serving Ohio communities as an educator in the roles of Superintendent (15), Director of Student Services and Instruction (1), Principal (5), and Teacher (5). Matt is actively involved in the prestigious and nationwide League of Innovative Schools through Digital Promise, serving as an elected member of their advisory committee. e, is the Lead Advisor for the Future Ready Schools District Leaders strand, was named to the National School Boards Association Top 20 to Watch in the Nation, and conducted his 2016 TEDx Talk entitled: Don’t Buy the Book: Cultivate, Curate and Go Open . Matt Miller is transforming Lakota through the use of open educational resources and balanced learning, along with emphasizing student and teacher voice through innovation. He completed his undergraduate coursework and master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati and was selected for the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Leadership Institute for Superintendents. Matt is grateful for his supportive family – his son Mason, an aerospace engineer in Florida, and his daughter Jessica, who is finishing up her final year in the education program at the University of Cincinnati. 

Your “coming out of the trenches story” and what you’re going through right now during the pandemic in your district and kind of the procedures that you’ve been following? Matt: that’s a that’s a great question, and it seems like it’s changing every day. So I guess the deepest part of the trench, so to speak, is we are in our 11th week of in-person learning five days a week full go for our students, which I’m not sure many people thought we’d make it this far. But here we are. And so far it hasn’t been perfect. It hasn’t been easy, per se. But we are making great strides to get our kids in school as much as possible. Lakota has 17,000 students. And so we created a virtual learning option when the pandemic hit that we’ve been building out since early part of the summer, or maybe even late spring through our curriculum department through our technology department, using our own staff, our teachers and administrators to get that done. We have 4000 of our 17,000 are doing the Virtual Learning option. So in Ohio, our governor has been pretty proactive. We’ve shut down March 12. But he’s been pretty proactive in terms of school districts creating, as I’m sure many other states and school districts are, now a dashboard to report out what our numbers are in terms of COVID and in quarantine cases.
But in addition to that one of our challenges right now, quite frankly, is we’re probably close to almost 1000 students that have been quarantined since the school year has started. For the mere fact that they’re sitting in their own seat. They’re too close to somebody that’s tested positive. And those students are not once or quarantined are not coming back positive or not contracting COVID at all. So that’s one of our challenges. Just have our students out here in Ohio, and I’m sure it’s it’s pretty much this way elsewhere. Our kids are out for 14 days under quarantine. And so we are currently in conversation with Governor Dewine, here in Ohio,
working with probably six or seven other school districts, they’re going to do some research around close contacts and quarantining and rapid tests and the tests that Children’s Hospital and UC Health are putting together. So maybe our kids don’t have to be out that our quarantine so long. We are working really hard to board is as a goal from the get-go to get our kids back in person as much as possible. So hopefully, we can keep the in-person learning going. But if we do have to go remote, we have some mechanisms in place for calling remote learning to point out to be a little bit better than in the spring, but still not as good as in-person learning. And I do want to just stress that all of us in education, no matter what your role, we’ve all been working really, really hard during this pandemic, we have to remember that in in March, April, and May, our teachers and educators are once again, looked up to because of COVID. And being able to pivot and make the best case scenario put our best foot forward in terms of education. Well, for whatever reason, that sort of been forgotten, or people are looking back on that now in a negative light. And I have to just comment that that being in the trenches, I don’t think that’s the case, I think our educators have stepped up. No matter what type of school you’re in, whether you’re in person, hybrid or remote. We have done a great job, I believe, of trying to get the best education possible for all of our kids in our own districts and across the country. And we have to remember that this is unprecedented. I hate that word. It’s so overused now. But it’s one of those words that exists in the situation. So there’s no playbook, I can’t pull a book off the shelf here and say, what you should do to lead a district during a pandemic. The best thing that I think superintendents, administrators, teachers, any educator is doing right now is reaching out and collaborating and doing conversing through networks, like your podcasts, like everything that we’re trying to do in terms of learning about what other schools are doing now. So as much as we’re all sick of zooming. I think it has its benefit it has its place. Let us collaborate all across the nation as we’re trying to figure this out and hopefully provide some continuum of education for kids. Dana: that’s so great to hear kind of your perspective, as a leader of a district that’s gone back full time. So in your district when a student is off to quarantine or they then joining in the class via Google meet. And or if the teacher is asked to quarantine is there, they’re just teaching from home and being projected on the screen?
Matt: So there’s no one answer to that. As we have seen, in my district here at Lakota, for the most part, assignments for those students that have been quarantined, our kids are accessing through Canvas, which is our LMS. And so it’s not a situation where the teacher is doing synchronous and asynchronous or in person and remote at the same time. There are some teachers that are being able to pull that off that are sort of being innovative. But for the most part, our kids are getting their lessons, so to speak, from their quarantine through Canvas, online, almost like a remote learning situation. I know there are some schools that are doing in-person and remote for the kids that are quarantine, we’ve not found that to be very effective. But I would love to talk with districts that have in terms of staff being quarantine, one of our a couple of our teachers, but one in particular, was really adamant about some she wasn’t sick, she understood be in quarantine, but really, really wanted to teach or substitute a to be in her room. And then she is essentially just zooming in from home. Providing the lessons to all the kids to your point about utilizing some of the technology and so I embrace it. I applaud that particular teacher from doing that, but it’s not the norm yet but hopefully soon. Unfortunately, as we get more cases, we’re gonna have to be creative like that. So fortunately have some sort of early adopters that are trying to figure out a way to make it work the best way they can. Dana: How has your community embraced going back? Did you do surveys with the community? How was the feedback when you guys made that decision? Matt: that’s a great question. We have surveyed our staff, using Google, but also through thought exchange, as well, as we were approaching the brand new school year. So when we decided to offer the Virtual Learning option, we survey we surveyed after we get remote, and every month, what does that look like? And how are things going, what’s the good, the bad and the ugly, we’ve built in time into our calendar to take days to decide whether or not we should come back in person. But we have surveyed our community. So one of the interesting data points that I like I’d like to share here is we made the commitment to our community that if you do the virtual option, that after the first semester, like many other districts, you can come back or you can stay in your virtual format. So essentially, after winter break, we just opened and close that survey window. With the results, we had a 10 day window for parents to do in virtual to say, Do you want to come back after the winter break? Or do you want to stay in virtual learning the Virtual Learning option? And so we were kind of curious as to how that would play out of those that survey, about 20 to 25% are coming back in January, that’s you know, depending on, if we all make it to January in terms of whether or not we’re gonna have to shut down or not, and, you know, people data keep talking about, you know, in the fall and winter time, it’s going to get really bad and people are gonna get sick and flu and it’s gonna make COVID. Worse, we don’t know that yet. We’re all wearing masks when we’re close to each other, so who knows if that has an impact on it. But our 4000 number will go down to 3000. If we’re back in-person to about 25% want to come back? I think we were sort of talking about this before, I think it’s some of the parents that might have been hesitant to put their kids back in school, see that it’s going okay, that there are precautions in place. You know, they’re okay with their kids coming back in January, long term. Who knows what it’s going to look like? We don’t have a vaccine (**as of recording**), obviously, hopefully that comes soon.
Just thinking and listening and talking that we might be in the same situation this time next year. We don’t have a vaccine yet or not enough people are taking it. So I think maybe our best case scenario is two years of this. I hope I’m wrong. I hope this is dated. But I think we can learn a lot of lessons just from these first couple months of school and, you know, the strategies to like you’re saying research on, you know, close contact, you know, see if it’s necessary, because what we’re doing is quarantine everybody who’s in a classroom with a student, even if it’s like a high school, or who’s going to, you know, several different classes. Anybody was in a class with that kid. Dana: I heard they are starting to look at if you only have one class with the kid, and you were on the other side of the room, is it as unnecessary as if, you know, you look at the seating chart, and you look at the kid that was within six feet of that students? Matt: Yeah, with districts that they can collect some data and look at those areas of like, you know, do we do need to or, you know, getting that rapid testing is also a good idea as well.

Talk about your work with the League of Innovative Schools and Future Ready Schools. Matt: I’ll talk about Future Ready first. When I was at mentor school in Cleveland to have a team that saw the value in the Future Ready mechanism about what offerings districts and systems, quite frankly can get from the future ready cogs in the gears. Just the amount of data that they put out that I think are really good for school districts. So from my heart from the leadership part, that certainly has helped me but it really my, my technology team led by Todd Wesley really dug into the future ready model. And we built out Lakota’s, one to one program, using Future Ready. I would encourage everybody, and anybody to check out what the work that Future Ready is doing. There are some really good people and all different tracks. There’s a teacher component, there’s a new school board component, there’s a superintendent component, but
there’s just the colleagues and the peers of networking, that you can build up for future ready to lead your district through not just this change, but other changes, pre COVID coming down the pike. They’re pivoting now, Detroit is pivoting now, and making some changes. I couldn’t be more prouder of Tom and his team in the organization to be a part of that. Talked about League of Innovative Schools: Matt: That’s been my go-to network. So the League of Innovative Schools is made up about I think we’re up to about 120-ish school districts across the nation. It’s under the umbrella of Digital Promise. So encourage listeners and viewers to check out Digital Promise. But the League of Innovative Schools is made up of thought leaders, superintendents, and others, to push the needle forward, not just in our own school district, but school districts across the country. It’s my go-to network when, when I needed something, to take a look at when COVID was first starting out across the country, early on one of the states hit hardest in the beginning was Washington State. Ohio started seeing an uptick of cases. I called Susan Enfield who the superintendent Highline School District in in the Seattle area, because Washington State was further ahead in COVID, than what Ohio was. The reason I did that is because she one of my networks and colleagues in the league is Dr. Lynch, I said, “What do I need to be thinking about looking at first that I that I’m not?” So really quickly, she said to me, “You need to make sure you’re going to be able to feed your kids first, then figure out how to connect your kids, and then worry about the academics and the curriculum”. So again, it’s a network. It’s forward thinking. We’re trying to solve problems in our own districts, but also for kids in districts all across the country. And I was I was lucky enough to be a part of the league when I was a mentor in Cleveland area. And then when I transitioned, and was able to get Lakota in the League of Innovative Schools as well. We do a lot of networking in terms of pre COVID site visits, and stealing and learning from each other. It goes back to the power of the network, it goes back to taking different ideas, seeing what works, seeing what doesn’t, and maybe tweaking those a little bit. But I’m lucky to be a part of the league as well. Does the district need to apply to be a part of the League? What is the kind of the procedure to get into the League? Matt: So on the Digital Promise website, there is a tab or a link for a League of Innovative Schools and it is you have to apply and it’s pretty comprehensive. One of the best things I loved about the League was the first time I applied when I was when I was in the mentor area. in Cleveland, I we didn’t get in the first time. So you go back and you sort of sharpen your pencils and you figure out, okay, what what was lacking? What didn’t I have, but one of the best parts of the league is they want active membership and active participation. So once you are accepted, you have to be actionable in terms of your commitment and your input and adding value to the organization. If not, and it’s happened. It’s not often but it does happen that school district do drop off not part of the League anymore because the superintendent leadership hasn’t seen the value or hasn’t committed to it. So we do a lot of peer peer to peer training so to speak. We are trying to put forth more efforts around
equity across the country. But we’ve that’s something that the league’s been working on for probably in earnest, probably eight to nine years now seems to be at a forefront for everybody now, but there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes. The other piece that we put pretty well with the league recently is a connectivity piece, again, something that the League recognized was an issue many years ago. But now pandemic sort of brought it to light again. So those are some of the big, heavy lifts, obviously, the personalized learning. One of the things that I’ve been preaching that you and I were talking offline before we got started, two is the professional development for our teachers. And so both Future Ready, and the League of Innovative Schools have cogs and components. For PD, my best ideas still come from my League visits, I work with Future Ready, but mainly from my teachers that pick up their own ideas. And, and oftentimes, as a superintendent, I get to hear brand new ideas I love one of the best things I love doing is listening to teachers talk amongst themselves during PD time, during off-classroom time, or sometimes in the classroom. Because when you hear the synergy that some teachers have, they know what they want to do and want to get done. Luckily, as a superintendent, I get to say yes, sometimes hopefully, more often than not about teachers that want to try new things. I want to be innovative, and if I can knock down barriers for them to get that accomplished. I mean, I want to so they want to do good things for kids. And if they’re doing good things for kids, and they’re excited, and they’re energetic, and they’re positive, that’s gonna trickle down to the kids as well. Hearing the teachers talk and collaborate together, as always a great way to know what’s going on in the schools. You have several schools that you visit, and are you popping into some of their PD sessions via digital platforms now? Or are you going in-person? How is that working for you to do observations? Now, I have a great story, not so much on observation. In Lakota, we use teams. And we zoom a lot, but we use teams for different chats and videos and things like that. And I’ve asked my curriculum team to put me in, you know, so that I have access to see what teachers are talking about what conversations are happening in going on. So every now and then there’ll be a sort of a question or a comment posted that either isn’t exactly accurate, or I might have a different response. And I’ll just go in and type it and I think maybe surprises people sometimes that I do look at the conversations that are taking place. Sometimes it’s fun to write like, the other day, I think one of the icebreakers in the curriculum teams and administrators and teachers’ zoom was, “What’s your favorite Halloween candy?” So I’ve been following the thread. But when I saw that as sort of an icebreaker in between our break collection, I put in, you know, peanut M&Ms or whatever. And I think it like gets people to remember, you know, central office isn’t just an ivory tower. They’re sometimes looking and contributing. And not just to that question, but I like to see, you know, it helps me check, check the pulse of what’s going on in our schools. So I think social media does that, too. I think amplifying the work that our teachers and principals, and other educators do in our district is huge. For superintendents, when we can’t get into the buildings, we can see in a glimpse. And again, it’s probably something positive, but gives us a glimpse into what our kids are doing with our teachers and staff every single day.

Tell me about your TED talk from 2016. Don’t Buy the Book: Cultivate, Curate and Go Opensomething that really got my attention was about three minutes, in you have your hand sweep the books off of a desk. Telle me about your thoughts at the time about how textbooks are failing, falling by the wayside? And then how should we get rid of the textbooks and clear the desks? Matt: I talk about how the experts in our classrooms and in our schools, our teachers are the ones in front of our kids or with our kids alongside of our students. About the whole textbook and testing industry for a while there, just because some of the districts that I’ve seen, just putting all their eggs in one basket getting one company or one textbook series and sticking with that. So educators with good educators always have supplemented or deviated from the prescriptive class lesson plan. It’s not a one size fits all.
industry. But for a while, I think the textbook companies have been a one size fits all synergy. There are a lot of dollars tied to that a lot of resources. I think it did, and still does limit the creativity in the classroom. One of the reasons why did that TED talk was, again, through my work with the League of Innovative Schools and the work of some other educators, I saw the value in open education resources, because schools were making strides in terms of one to one devices, or one to two devices, and having teachers curate some of the content and put it out there for their students as it’s multiple, it’s shapeable. And it’s tailored to what kids need, what kids should be doing. And it’s not a one size fits all textbook, that we’re going to spend hundreds of 1000s of dollars on and have any say and how that plays with our kids in terms of what they actually need. I’ve also worked with the US Department of Education, in terms of open education resources, and what does that mean, and it’s not just pulling free content out of the air or googling something and saying, that’s what you’re gonna use. It’s very methodical, it’s very thought out. It’s putting components together, for your kids for what they need, that you can shape in evolve
on the fly in real time, if you need to, but again, shapeable moldable. It’s better for the kids, because it’s tailored to them, you’re not buying a textbook that’s already outdated, that was written in a state, you know, three time zones away, just to meet someone’s sales quota. I think we are is really sort of come into its own lately. It’s still a hot burning issue, I think, for some districts and for some parts of the country. But it goes back to my thoughts about our experts are the people in the classroom are not the ones working for corporate. There is value to some textbook companies providing some things for for schools and for teachers and for students. I think that relationship needs to go the other way, versus out of out of a catalog. It allows for a lot more differentiated instruction as well. Dana: I thought it was funny how, you know, the beginning of your TED talk, you talked about how we’ve been saying 21st century learning skills, right. So long, and I mean, even 20 years later, some people still say that so like, when does the 22nd century talk start? Matt: I’m still waiting for someone to steal that and use that. What we’re at now, like, like, what any of us have imagined a year ago, would be in the situation now that we’re in with a pandemic. I mean, I don’t think any of us have so who knows what we’ll be talking about in a couple years?

Tell me about how Lakota Local Schools is applying a balanced learning approach this year: In the in-person classroom and how maybe teachers are differentiating with our classes and working with those kids are coming back and forth and quarantine as well as balance learning. One of the best things that our teachers are doing now, first of all, they’re the most resilient group, I know, first and foremost and want their kids to be safe. So on the balance, I think, that we’re trying to strike at Lakota, that many of our teachers are taking the lead on, is the balance between what’s required and what we have to do because of your state or federal mandates. And then the other side of the scale would be, what are the things that our kids need to know and learn and collaborate and build out, that’s going to be a value to them to go into one of the four E’s. So our four E’s in Lakota, when our kids graduate, you know, which one of the four E’s are going to fall into. And those E’s is enrollment. So for post secondary, or college level employment, so going right from graduation to the workforce, entrepreneurship, which is a is an E, we just added, our kids are taking, for example, a class called incubator edu, which is essentially like Shark Tank,
with our businesses, and the fourth e that we talk about at Lakota, to balance everything out his enlistment. We’re huge supporters of our military. We want our kids to to think about, okay, here are the requirements, here’s the things that are going to get you out. But our concern and our worry, doesn’t stop at graduation. Our our interest in our kids goes beyond just the diploma. Just like many other schools, if not every school, in the country thinks about, but that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to balance out what we’re doing between what we have to do, and then adding almost What are kids want to do? What are their aspirations and how can we support them? How can we find a way to say yes to them?
Key quotes: I think it goes back to saying yes to the experts. And the teachers, when they have something innovative, that they want to try that they want to do that, you can see the value in that. You can see the spark that those teachers have, because they want to do something different, creative, innovative for their kids to see they see what’s what’s next. Maybe that would be my thing is what’s next, not in terms of something, trying something new or shiny, but our kids have a lot of different interests. We have the capacity, I think at all of our public schools to figure out other people that will help those students be able to attain that or to achieve that.

Find Matt online on Twitter: @LakotaSuper email: matt.miller@lakotaonline.com IG: lakotasuper  FB: Matt Miller – Lakota Local Schools Superintendent (facebook.com/LakotaSuper)  Website: www.lakotaonline.com Watch this episode on YouTube:https://youtu.be/MD2tefShKl4

Episode #55: Justin Goldston, Ph.D.

Episode #54: Justin Goldston,Ph.D. (podbean.com)

Currently a professor of Supply Chain Management at Penn State, Justin has also given the TEDEx talk, “The Blockchain Effect” .

Justin Goldston, Ph.D., is a certified professional who has developed and executed a comprehensive supply chain strategic plan, resulting in optimal customer satisfaction and profitability for clients around the world. Experienced in consulting, planning and leadership roles while being knowledgeable of all aspects associated with Supply Chain Management, Agile Project Management, ERP implementations and business functions that are associated with relevant technologies.

Tell me about a time when you were in the trenches and managed to crawl out: (Justin) I think that my story is a little bit different. I think that one of the biggest times I felt that I was in the trenches was, whenever I wanted to make that shift into into higher education. I was nearing the end of my doctoral studies, and I was a management consultant. I was afraid, like most like many people, to make that shift, afraid of the unknown. I just made that transition, let the chips fall where they may. And I think that I was I was doubting myself, because I have a number of peers that, received their doctoral degrees and had a difficult time getting into higher education, although I was in adjunct roles, these roles don’t pay the bills. That was my biggest my biggest deciding factor. I think that that’s a story that’s a story for a lot of people within academia, whether you’re at the K 12 level or if you’re in higher education and administrative within administration, and you want to go to teaching to higher education or going into administration, there’s a lot of us with it within this discipline that won’t make that shift, but are just afraid of the unknown.

Talk about your work in the industry prior to teaching Higher Ed and explain supply chain management for the “K12 Educator in layman’s terms: (Justin) I spent a number of years as a management consultant working with manufacturers and distributors around the world. If you have heard of Blue Buffalo, the pet food company, I worked with them whenever they were in startup mode, they had just sold to General Mills for billions of dollars, I was working with them when they were 100 million. That was an exciting experience, and I worked with Intel as well as Siemens. During my time with with those organizations, I was working with them on digital transformations and implementing their enterprise resource planning applications. Within the higher education area, their is the LMS of business. So I was working with them on implementing those processes within their organization, from a supply chain management perspective. I think that a lot of people have heard the term, since in February and March during the start of the pandemic, when you would turn on your TV and hear “Supply Chain Management” going on the news stations because of shortages. Yeah, no toilet paper and hand sanitizer and things like that. So during the pandemic, we had a shortage of toilet paper. You know, we had a hard time with the demand of toilet paper and that created what we refer to as disruptions. So within supply chain management, we forecast products and we essentially guess how much toilet paper our Walmarts need, how much toilet paper our grocery stores need. Because of this spike, because of external factors, the manufacturers like Kimberly Clark and Procter and Gamble were unable to meet that demand. So if you amplify that to PPE, to hand sanitizer, that right now we have it we have a problem with lumber, when a building industry because you know that the interest rates are so low, a lot of people are trying to do DIY projects, there’s a lot of developers that are building homes. Because of that demand, the price of lumber has increased because there’s not enough supply to meet that demand. So that’s the ongoing issue we deal with and within supply chain management. There’s never a dull day, there’s never been a dull day since March. For me. There’s been a number of different disruptions from a global perspective as it pertains to supply chain management.

How would you advise teachers that want to make that shift to teaching higher Ed and what kind of positions would you advice K-12 teachers to apply to? (Justin) I would say the steps to make that transition do not occur overnight. I would say that for those that are currently in their their doctoral studies, whether it is in the coursework or whether it is during a dissertation, I say start now, I see a lot of doctoral students that I mentor, they wait until they have defended to start looking for those roles. So I would say that differentiator in my opinion, is to is to start is to start while you while you are currently while you’re currently completing your degree, start presenting at those conferences, start collaborating with your peers, all those peer reviewed journal articles, and I would say the most important part is to look for a mentor that’s been through it. One thing that I do explain to those that I mentor is you have to trust the system. They’ve though those individuals have been through the process, they understand the process, and they understand that rigor that goes into that goes into completing a doctoral study, if it was easy, everyone would have won. Mentorship was critical to my success with it within the industry. I will also say, you have to believe in yourself. So you have to believe in yourself, and you have to you have to push through because, I think that persistence is very important and critical to success and getting into higher education.

How is your approach to teaching higher Ed different? (Justin) Based on certain institutions, you have the teaching institutions, Penn State is a research institution. I think that the differentiator for me is that I stay close, I stay close with the industry, I stay close with the leaders of the industry, I refer to as a voice of the customer. So I collaborate with the leaders of these organizations to understand what they are looking for in undergraduate. What are you looking for in a master’s student? Because of some of the academic freedom that I have, I include real life cases into the curriculum of my courses. I think that that’s very important especially in my discipline, where supply chain is probably one of the most important disciplines. Right now, I explained in my class that Amazon saved the world in March. You have to you have to think Amazon sold books, Amazon started selling books, and they just need to work through supply chain management. In real life companies that can relate to tying in the Amazons and the logistics and logistics models that Amazon has, tying in the Tesla’s and the automation that Tesla has within their organization, they’re there, they’re going to understand the importance of it. Netflix uses artificial intelligence, Amazon uses artificial intelligence. Artificial Intelligence has been around since the 1950s. But now, we are seeing more awareness, we’re seeing how we can actually use it for good, that’s my biggest thing of using these technologies for good for a positive impact on the world. All of the issues we’re having in the world, we can use technology to kind of mitigate these issues, the risks that we have, we can use technology to fight global climate change and things like that. We can use artificial intelligence to fight this diversity and inclusion. People say, Well, how do you do that? You know, but that’s what I’m talking about. I thought that’s what I bring to the classroom. You have to make it interesting. Especially for freshmen.

What industries will be most quickly replaced by AI? (Justin) There are a lot of jobs that by 2030 and 2050, will be replaced by AI and however, instructors and teachers, there’s a very minimal chance that will be replaced by AI. When we think of that, like, maybe 30 years in the future, we’re thinking like agriculture, what is going to be most quickly replaced by AI, agriculture, cleaning, those type of things.

Tell me about your work on thee diversity and inclusion committee at Penn State? (Justin) First of all, you have to define your definition of diversity/inclusion and sustainability. 1 professor said there’s 11 categories. When you adopt initiative, you have to tackle 2-3, get voice of the customer- i.e. students, the consumers. From an organizational perspective, can be a comparative advantage. You are also part of Penn State’s Alumni sustainability institute. (Justin) There are a number of environmentalists, interdisciplinary, you have those who have a focus on diversity, inclusion. Look at the UN sustainability development goals, I always for every single one of my classes, what’s your top two? My top two are essentially tech, innovation, and education, and innovation in education are important to me. Because if I educate individuals on sustainability, if I educate individuals on social responsibility, if I educate individuals on on social justice on social justice, if I educate individuals on environmental justice, I can use technology to address all of the other issues within those sustainability development goals.

Name some positive things that have come out of the pandemic for you: (Justin) I have done a lot of conferences for Asian companies virtually. I have been in touch with top researchers in sustainability. I am getting that international speaking experience. Prior to pandemic, I only spoke to people in U.S. and did TedTalks. Very interesting that we think we have problems here, but others think theirs are larger, very eye opening. It opened his eyes to get diverse perspective. Like a research students in Australia, because they import from India, Bangladesh, they have a huge problem with modern day slavery. We have to raise awareness of modern day slavery. We have the platform to raise the awareness, because we’re teaching future leaders, we’re coaching future leaders, it’s kind of that, trickle down effect, where these leaders are going to be leading 10s of 1000s of people, you know, and they’re going to be developing these sustainable these sustainable environments within our organizations. And that’s where it starts.

Key Quotes: His mindset is about making the shift, his primary takeaway is challenging the status quo and thinking traditionally. His approach isn’t traditional, but his students like this approach. It relates to what he discusses in class (real-life situations). It’s not theory, it is practical application that organizations can implement things that students can take with them as they progress throughout their careers.

Find Justin online on LinkedIn Justin Goldston, PhD | LinkedIn  Watch this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/P5Hm7goklsI

Episode #56: Chris Dodge

Episode #56:Chris Dodge (podbean.com)

Under Chris’ leadership, The Dexter Park Innovation School has moved to an inclusion school, servicing students through a co-teaching model of instruction.

Christopher Dodge is currently the Principal of The Orange Elementary Schools in Orange, MA, serving 500 students in grades PreK-6. He began his career as a grade 5 and 6 educator in Petersham, MA. Christopher’s passion as an educator included differentiating mathematics instruction for all students. Christopher is an advocate for adult and student’ social-emotional well-being, and the impact it has on student achievement. Christopher has served on the Board of Directors as the Elementary Committee Chairman for the Massachusetts School Administrators Association (MSAA).  He most recently served on the Commissioner’s Teaching and Learning subcommittee for reopening schools. He is a connected educator who utilizes social media to make family and community connections, and is passionate about educators using social media as a form of ongoing, personalized professional development. He is also the coordinator of EdcampNQ in Orange, MA.

Tell me your trenches story: Relevant learning. Chris thinks about self as a learner.  Has been able to reflect on his life as a learner. Was a good student but not necessarily engaged. Didn’t know himself as a learner until he got to college, the drive he had he didn’t realize he had. Is today the moment for us as educators, rethinking what school means? He knew how to play the game of school. Wasn’t necessarily an engaged learner. Are we teaching kids to pursue their passions and be great at things? Chris didn’t know himself as a learner until later in life. A lot of talk about hanging grades over their heads. Why isn’t school meaningful to them? How are we building mechanisms to go back to- teacher, group, club, team to go back to when they’re closed? If we go back to what we’ve already lost the opportunity. Could be up to Dept. of Ed, or states, being innovative in their approaches. His principal colleagues are trying to create practices that have always applied. He doesn’t put blame on educators or system. A lot is created by government. Systems, we’re held accountable by government systems.

Personalized Learning: On March 13, 2020, it felt good to have the freedom to pursue personalized learning. The system doesn’t always help with passions we want to pursue. They have shifted as a district to move more to personalized learning. In the remote classes, kids can access the content outside the 8-1 school day. It allows them to say to families about “how can we help you”?  They’re developing Personalized Learning Plans for pockets of students of how a child is going to access things, what are your challenges and how can we work from those. Looking at every case individually. Some have device issues, parents working, etc. Chris offered opportunities and said to parents “you choose”. We need to keep up with practices we’ve been pursing. How can we help students still be engaged, but not in the typical way? Build in common planning & specials time. Whatever they provide synchronously they need to provide asynchronously as well. Closely monitor students through these programs. Chris & his deans meet weekly to discuss gaps in student engagement. They started a remote learning academy in December- a handful of disengaged students came into the building. They gave them tools to be a remote learner, send them on their way. 4-6 week cycle to see if the student is ready to move on. Make decisions based on individual students. We often assume kids have skills that adults don’t have. It’s taking that approach of teaching kids important life-long skills. They will have to learn to be a learner in this environment. Teacher doesn’t have to be that “stand and deliver” teacher, you’re a facilitator. It’s hard for families if we’re not all aligned, it’s not a one-size-fits-all model. Personalized learning doesn’t mean learning is optional. We will still intervene. We need to hear how it’s going for them.

Tell me about your virtual learning experience as a parent, his kids were also in remote learning (until early March ’21). He was on a re-opening commission across the state but they still asked every district to decide on their own. It’s interesting to listen & watch districts around them. What can we borrow from other leaders, talk to teachers about what isn’t working for them in their son/daughter’s district. 

Evaluations, how does that look this year? Chris is the on principal’s advisory cabinet, it’s not really doable this year because it’s such a robust system. A neighboring district did decide to postpone evaluations this year. He can’t pretend he fully understands what teachers are dealing with this year. He’s doing it more as a formative coaching, can’t be used as a “got ya”. He’s using it to coach & reflect with his staff. If you think about assessment it would be great if we had time to do it right- holistic goal set with kids, tracking. Chris has 60 staff members he has to evaluate. Danielsen has a remote learning framework for reflecting with a teacher to look for in a remote setting. Click here to see my blog post, reflecting on this episode and with a link to the (Remote learning walk- through form from Danielsen) Dean & him look for evidence of what they’d like to share out. Recently, it’s been learning environment evidence. Him & his deans follow up with the teacher on what they saw. (framework to have a goal to learn, not critique). How can you share great things teachers are doing? He’s trying to give immediate feedback right after popping into zoom classes. He needs to know what’s happening in their world. Make sure your evaluation system is promoting teacher growth and not just filling out forms. You have to get in the classroom because if you don’t, teachers know when the evaluations are written. Staff start to look forward to you being in the classroom, feel like you’re invested in them, seeing kids, it’s bucket-filling.

Something that changed his career was getting connected on social. Follow #principinaction that group saved him to get out & gave permission to do those things we needed to do. Teachers are seeing other teachers on TicTok and wanting to try. It’s collaborative PD. All teachers are on a learning continuum, we have to respect that.

Best case scenario, how would you like to end the school year? Chris would love to end in person (they went back to the building early March). Would love to celebrate challenges, struggles, successes with both staff & kids. We need to recognize what’s been hard for kids. Honor all they have overcome. Recognize what they’ve accomplished. Better together after this. He hopes staff culture improves. He doesn’t want to go “back to school as usual”. He wants teachers to remember all the funny things that happened during remote learning. We will be OK. We’ll be better on the other side of it. He fears we’ll loose educators. We have to do a better job of protecting them.

Key quotes: ”keep breathing, control what you can control”. “Maintain positivity. Be genuine”. 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @PrincipalDodge1    IG: @PrincipalDodge1   School FB: @everychildeveryday1   Voxer: @Cdodge33 Chris’ blog: http://oesleadlearner.blogspot.com/  View this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/BJ8_AZQAPKE

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