Episode 81 to 87


Episode #81: Jonathan Alsheimer



teaches social studies at the world-renowned Fred Lynn Middle School in Virginia.

Jonathan Alsheimer is the unorthodox, energetic, and entertaining middle school teacher who refuses to live a life of limitations and works with UFC Fighters, Celebrities, and Clothing Brands. Jonathan is an international keynote speaker and the author of “NEXT LEVEL TEACHING” a book all about teachers being the driving force of a positive classroom and school culture.  Next Level Teaching is published by Dave Burgess Consulting, which you can order on Amazon today.

Jonathan teaches at the world-renowned Fred Lynn Middle School, which was featured in two documentaries “Relentless” and “Relentless: Chasing Accreditation”, has been featured as the teacher who forged a partnership with UFC Fighter and light-weight contender Paul Felder to bring a message of never giving up, fighting for their education, and empowering the students to believe in themselves, all principles that Jonathan promotes in his classroom.

Jonathan also partnered with Fear the Fighter, MMA clothing brand to establish a stop-bullying campaign with “Relentless” Principal Hamish Brewer. Jonathan didn’t stop there and established and formed a relationship with “Drama”, MTV reality star and CEO of Young and Reckless to bring clothing to his “students in need” and worked to build student leaders in his school.

As Jonathan always says, “Game-changing is not a cliche motto; it is a way of life… some talk about it while others live by it!

Trenches story: #1: first time he walked into the classroom. He wasn’t prepared from his student teaching. Everyone can relate to that story. People don’t realize he’s still a teacher. For everyone, you were in a whole different world during the pandemic. Hit us at the same time. All of us were afloat together. Learning new platforms, growth mindset, student engagement.

This year in general at Fred Lynn Middle School: 6th grade started in-person as of podcast recording (late February). Slowly, incrementally, they brought back other grades. They were constantly figuring out new things. Jonathan teachers 7th grade US History. Post-civil war. The school had 0 tech before. It was a lot of cooperative learning. For most teachers they didn’t have tech for all kids. The pandemic was all about learning to gravitate towards using different tech tools. They learned to use what works right now. He got kids to create. Tried not to rely too much on something else to engage kids. Built something. Had kids create something cool. Storyboard that- they can build limited or intense story boards. Kids were doing it with their travel west. It’s what you with it as a teacher that brings it to the 9’s.  

Tell me about your journey to writing “Next Level Teaching”: Jonathan was taking grad coursework, teaching FT, being a dad, husband. His journey writing it is that he had a chip on his shoulder, he wasn’t a straight A student. His teachers treated him differently. It made him want to write a book. He wanted to write about building classroom culture. Wrote outline, reached out to Dave Burges. It took about a year total. He lives 1.5 hours from where he works, on a good day maybe 1 hr. Gets up early. When you have the passion, it’s gonna happen. It’s got to be something that’s true to you. It has to flow out freely.

 What are some cool things he’s been doing in his class/what is something new he’s using this year that’s helped him as an educator: Biggest thing is thinking about connecting with kids. Some teachers think “I just want to teach the content”. Maybe it’s still try. Getting them engaged in the classroom. Thy were acting like reporters using Flipgrid. News reporter. Created videos on iMovie. Like a video game/movie. He’s created a scene like a secret agent.  Some kids won’t get fired up. He’s created a “class tag” to contact families. With some students that’s the best way to connect with them. Build relationships in odd but unique way. He gets jokes from his 8 year old & 4 y.o. His middle schoolers like those jokes. He gets them to smile and laugh when he opens (virtual) class. The world is insane, get them to smile. He starts class w/ a story. He talks about video games. Kid who hasn’t completed assignments he talked about online video games. Spanish-speaking kids, he was pretending like he was fluent in Spanish. He went over time in class joking. It translates to into the classroom. He’ll talk about knitting with kids as well, then they will do work for you. Simple methods are game changers. 

Your hopes for how you’d like to see education evolved post-pandemic?  The easy answer is tech. This year has taught us how vital the connection piece. Relationships can build so much in a school. Connections building with kids collaboratively. If we can get back to normal- relationship piece is so vital. Community within your classroom. Getting you community involved in your classroom. Open door classroom. We want our families to know we care about them. Other thing leaders should think about is having social media accounts. A lot of people don’t know what t’s have to juggle. Media sees the macro issue. Community sees micro issue when you have a school social media account.

Key quotes: Teachers are going thru a lot, it’s OK to say you don’t know everything ask for help. If you’re feeling that way, it means you care. We’re going thru this together. Hat with quote “impact by example” Our students are watching how we react to difficult situations. Kids need to overcome obstacles. How do we respond. It’s OK to say “I don’t know the answer”. Colleagues are there to hep you. Will help with collaboration  

Find Jonathan online on IG & Twitter @mr_alsheimer 

Watch this video on YouTube: https://youtu.be/Xvyr8ECdU0Y

Episode # 82: Heather Lyon


Heather’s book “Engagement is Not a Unicorn” includes a workbook edition, to be released fall 2021.
In each position, Heather has been known for her leadership among students, faculty and staff, and her drive toward excellence for the entire school community. 

Heather Lyon, Ph.d., came to education because she wanted to write but needed a back-up plan because she knew she couldn’t become a well-paid, famous author overnight. She was fortunate because her cooperating teacher was inspirational and realized she loved teaching. She became a certified Reading Specialist after completing her Master’s degree in education at the University at Buffalo, and prior to that her Bachelor of Arts in English from Alfred University.  Finally, she received her Ph.D. in Educational Administration from the University at Buffalo in 2010. In terms of her work history, she is currently an Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Technology for a suburban school district in WNY. Prior to this, she was the Director of Elementary Education in a large suburban school district.  Some additional highlights of her career include her work as an English Teacher, Staff Developer, Principal, Director of Instruction, and is currently Assistant Superintendent in Lewiston-Porter Central School District of Curriculum, Instruction, and Technology. 

What led you to write the book, is engagement something that nagged on you as you taught? She wasn’t thinking about it as a teacher. More so as an admin conducting observations. She was going into the classrooms with this checklist. Making sure students were doing what they were supposed to be doing. The enjoyment of doing something. The desire to do it. She saw a poster of Sleckti’s 5 levels of engagement. People said “you should write a book”. It’s designed to be a workbook. When she is up to her elbows in doing something, she wants to be able to not just read it, but use it in practical application.

What’s something innovative in your district & area that’s happened this past year or so? Has your district been hybrid? It’s been hybrid across K-12. Have a separate remote model. All the innovation that has had to happen this year. Thinking forward to the end of the year. How do we give students credit? There’s an educational pandemic with disconnected, disengaged students. There are conversations being had about allowing students to have the final exam grade as passing even if they haven’t passed to course up to that. This isn’t something her district had done in the past. It expands the teachers understanding of really what is a grade. We put so much into a grade, collecting averages. With athletes, we don’t grade their practice. With actors, we don’t grade their dress rehearsal. In school, we assess the practice as well as the summative test. It’s counted as part of the overall average. It has nothing to do with the content, but their behaviors towards learning are often assessed (as “work habits” for example). We tend not to do this at a secondary level. There is a compliance piece, as long as you’re compliant with behavioral expectations, you can be non-compliant with the learning. We often allow kids to opt out as long as they are compliant. Easiest thing is say “I don’t call on kids who raise their hands”. We use popsicle sticks. If you call primarily on the kid with their hands raised- other kids won’t put their hands up if they don’t know the response. Humans are wired to be resilient. 

What are your hopes for the upcoming school year since you’re in charge of curriculum, instruction and tech? Her district is only 2K students. 4 buildings. “Large rural” district. Heather says a lot of what this is connected to is that we’ve been in person forever. We weren’t prepared for remote education. We tried to do the best we could responsibility in the spring of 2020. Talk about the contention of parents vs. the school board this past school year! She has instituted a curriculum prior to COVID, an assessment review cycle. Every year one is in the thrones of implementation or reevaluating. This upcoming school year they’ll implement science, pilot for math. Working on “how do we know what our student’s know, assessment piece”. As students they don’t see the behind-the-scenes work the teachers are doing. Testing can be a four-letter word, as the word is data. Assessment in NY state will be decoupled from teacher accountability. Standards are the destination we’re trying to get our students to. If we didn’t get there last year, if we had to start this year backward, it’s hard to make it to “Level Appropriate”. If they’re not gonna change  the standards, then why assess? Since the standards are required for federal funding, are there ways to reexamine what is really happening in schools or lower the level of high-stakes. Students shouldn’t be faulted for this. (Host note: see my chapter in 100 No-Nonsense Things ALL Teachers Should STOP doing, which addresses this topic).

Heather highlights her Ph.D. interests, leadership prep & leadership practice. Her original hypothesis was that leadership prep wasn’t important to being a successful administrator. In 2008/9 she was working on her dissertation (before Race To The Top and Teacher/Leader Evaluations). Her committee wanted her to only interview successful admin. Then she had to narrow down her topic further, to people as part of a cohort. Informal vs. formal preparation aspects. In NY state you have to get another degree to be an admin. She found out that she was wrong, rather than a hoop to jump through, it’s more of a stringboard. Good teaching & admin aren’t the same thing. The most important aspect of leadership prep are the observations during intern. When she started the Ph.D., she was a teacher then staff developer. Notion of intersection of theory vs. practice caught her attention. What you have to try is only gonna be as successful as that stuff allows. Theory wasn’t written with exactly with what you’re experienced in mind. There’s a huge difference between leading children and leading adults. You can be very comfortable speaking in front of kids but not in front of adults. She got her first administrative position when her Ph.D. was done. She took over for an admin who had been a teacher-principal at a charter, where they didn’t care about principal prep program. It caused stress for him to be without a mentor. Caused stress for the school. The environment it needed someone capable of leading. Person only lasted 1 year. Her thinking about leadership prep changed. Term for kids “pedagogy”, term for adults is “andrology”. Interactions that occur with adults different than with kids. For people thinking about their next step, she says teacher leadership a great first step. Craft of teacher evolves over time. Pendulum swings. We should be constantly evolving in our practice. She hopes nobody hears diminishment of what never t’s bring to the table. You don’t have to be doing the work for 10-20 years to contribute in a leadership capacity. Administration isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Book studies, starting a blog or podcast are lower spotlight. 

Key quotes…“Engagement is more than just compliance”. Her book is about that it’s not a mythical idea of kids standing up at the end of lesson applauding. It’s not just compliance. There is this “narwhal” space- real engagement kids feeling good bout thee work they’re doing.

Find Heather on her website www.lyonsletters.com  Twitter @lyonsletters, LinkedIn.  If listeners use her book as a book study in the fall, they can get a discount from the publisher, she can set up a Q & A with the author. 

View this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/j4ARVEaF4Mo


Episode #83: Tom Murray


Episode#83: Tom Murray (podbean.com)

Murray serves as a regular conference keynote and was named the “2018 National/Global EdTech Leader of the Year”

Tom Murray serves as the Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools®, a project of the Alliance for Excellent Education, located in Washington, D.C. He has testified before the United States Congress and has worked alongside that body, the US Senate, the White House, the US Department of Education and state departments of education, corporations, and school districts throughout the country to implement student-centered learning while helping to lead Future Ready Schools® and Digital Learning Day. Tom was named the “2017 Education Thought Leader of the Year,” one of “20 to Watch” by NSBA in 2016, and the “Education Policy Person of the Year” by the Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2015. His best-selling book, Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today, co-authored with Eric Sheninger and published by ASCD, was released in 2017. His most recent book, Personal & Authentic: Designing Learning Experiences that Impact a Lifetime, was released in 2019. Prior to moving to his role in Washington, D.C., Murray served as an elementary teacher, middle school teacher, middle school principal, elementary principal, and at the district level in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He is most passionate about creating cultures of innovation where teachers are empowered to create the types of learning experiences today’s modern learners need to thrive. In addition to his role at Future Ready Schools®, Murray works directly with school and district leaders for administrative retreats, opening convocations, and professional learning days. He’s the husband of a school counselor and dad of two children, all of which are far more important to him than anything shared above.

As an author, Murray has released, or been a part of, five books: Personal & Authentic: Designing Learning Experiences that Impact a Lifetime (IMPress, 2019) 10 Perspectives on Innovation in Education (Routledge, 2018) Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today (ASCD, 2017) Education Write Now (Volume 1, Routledge, 2017) Leading Professional Learning: Tools to Connect and Empower Teachers (Corwin, 2015). Murray is one of the cofounders of #edtechchat, a weekly educational technology Twitter forum, where hundreds of educators from around the world discuss topics related to the effective use of educational technology.

Trench story: Early in his career, it was during his first year teaching. Was green, had a lot to learn. His mindset needed to shift. Had a mentor across hall who called him out. “Man, we don’t do that here”. Tom wasn’t a classroom management guru. His mentor really pushed him. He was humbled by mentor calling him out on it. Was so focused on himself and his rules. He thinks people need to be called out more often. How often do we sit in the faculty room and hear people complain? Some people enjoy conflict. The calling out needs to be done in a respectful way. Someone blows up, leaves, it becomes a whispered issue. Becomes gossip. His mentor wasn’t just on curriculum. Another quick story is as an early principal, a staff person was known to be negative. He looked the other way, hoping it didn’t happen again. Same individuals acted out, called the person in again. Said to teacher he’d support him.  The next day another teacher came in and said they’d been waiting on someone to address the issue. You could be a new teacher & you’re fearful of parents. The flipside is amplifying the positive. How do we make sure parents have positive contacts from teachers? 

His most passion piece is personal and authentic. SEL, the whole child, he shares a story about his daughter: In terms of his daughter, there’s data on a screen in a presentation he made pre-COVID about a child in last 14 months that had been absent 14 x’s, tardy 20’s. Judgements teachers make, like “why don’t the parents care?”, “maybe she’s staying up all night playing video games?”. He interrupts by saying “that’s my daughter”. When she was 10 month old they found out she had severe food allergies. She stopped breathing, gasping for air. Ran into ER, screamed for an epi pen. For everyone of those absences, she was undergoing allergy treatments, like the day of the podcast recording for tree nuts. She’s blessed to have teachers who understood why she was late. She almost died several times. The point being, we all have hidden stories within us. Lead with an empathy lens. We don’t always know what colleagues are dealing with- talk about staying connected during summer. Fear- we face everything and rise. We can make really bad decisions for kids. It’s about failing forward. It’s OK to be vulnerable even as a superintendent. It’s so much more important than reading, writing and test scores. Let’s not rush to judge anyone.

He does a lot of work around culture. Don’t just point the finger, “if our governor would just…” Whether teacher or superintendent, it’s so easy to point the finger- what’s my role? It’s easy thing to do. How do we make sure that everyone in a building contributes towards a school culture? What if 70 other people make it the greatest place to work despite the negative principal? You are responsible for the culture of your classroom. Come to work being part of the solution rather than part of the problem. You can create a positive environment even in the lunch room. We need to model the desired outcomes. “Don’t stand and deliver”. You will make some mistakes. It’s about owning it. Valuable part of that. The higher up you go, the more challenging it becomes to own it.

Tom was a former tech director- he talks about the effective use of ed tech post-pandemic. Prior to the pandemic we spent billions of dollars on tech and much was a total waste. There aren’t new #’s about the use of funding during the pandemic yet. Future Ready Schools look at supporting the 9 million black & brown kids who can’t do the learning. Digital divide has been looked at during thee past 2 decades. 99% schools now the connectivity. Now we’re being measured by how much access kids have at home. “Just because it’s digital, it’s good”, rabbit hole. What is it that really works with ed tech? Find out what is the game-changer, especially for special needs students. Use tech to explore, design & create, it uses Bloom’s. We get jazzed up about apps or tools. Handwriting is better on memory end. Other finding “every great teacher always knows”. What you do with student A, doesn’t always work with student B. Michael Fullan quote. Tech accelerates how it can speed up the rate of failure. A lot of growth with teachers in the past year. Would much rather read a book on paper than digital. Saying “totally paperless”- so what!

Equity- HW gap. If a student can’t do it, then what? Future Ready Schools has been looking at this since 6 yrs ago. He worked with the lead commissioner for FCC. Access to stories of kids who look like them. COVID amplified equity issues that have always existed. 70% of teachers asked kids to do something digital outside of school. How often did teachers berate students about not doing HW on tech before pandemic? Be conscious of “if you can’t do this at home…” You can check out at futureready.org/homeworkgap if you want to close individually at the district level. Everyone’s added triple # of devises but have same staff as before. Tom has hope with Space X being able to support remote places. Equity isn’t just devices and connectivity. Are you looking at curriculum for equity, hiring practices, admin team, do they resemble your demographics? Remove our own blinders. Like him being an advocate around food allergies. Make it personal.

Key quotes? “Come from an empathy lens, listen to the story of a colleague, trauma we have out there in terms of an empathy lens, don’t take things personal, if you have ticked off students or parents”. 

Find Tom online at Futureready.org lots of events, resources, Visit Tom’s website at thomascmurray.com/about follow him on Twitter @thomascmurray FB & IG: @ThomasCMurrayEDU YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/thomascmurray and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/thomascmurray/ View this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/QCI22_ZScic

Episode #84: Taralyn Michelle



Taralyn is proud to lend her support to community organizations and corporations.

A native of the southern Chicagoland area Taralyn Michelle is a National Best Selling Author and Mindset Coach. She is passionate about sharing her message of cleansing the mind, body, and spirit by owning our Divine Design.

As a certified Life Coach and Habit Change expert, Taralyn has led individuals and groups in customized training programs designed to create life changing shifts. Her book, entitled The Ultimate Release, is at the core of Taralyn’s mission to guide others through identifying the beginning of core beliefs that skew perceptions and fuel negative decisions and experiences.

In addition to sharing her impactful talent to awaken and inspire, Taralyn is an active contributor to various platforms created to uplift and educate viewers and listeners.

Trenches story: She went through a period in her life 10 years ago where she made decisions that guided the trajectory of her life. Trapped into a box. Was living according to how she wanted things to be. Her choices created an alternate reality. Turned things the way she’d like them to be. Career, family, spiritual. Something had to change. Relocated and ended up being in Chicago but the position wasn’t there even with her credentials. Felt trapped like there were no options for her. The opportunity of a situation is based on how creative you are. She’d created a place of complacency. Her business, book and professional coaching wasn’t planned. She was always a person who could see gifts inside other people. Had the ability to see things in other people she didn’t see in herself. She has always been a writer & speaker but before never saw value in that. Corporate America situation never brought about the stability she wanted. She met a lady & they became good friends, she told Taralyn she would end up writing a book. Time went on. She woke up & had a feeling that she needed to write the book “The Ultimate Release”- book was released years later. It was about taking ownership her lessons in life. Was part of different stages of her life. Value has nothing to do with problems in the physical world. Taking culmination of lessons in order to get a big picture of what you’re supposed to do.

In terms of mindset, people have to find balance as to where they allow that to do. She often gets clients who are misaligned. She has several family members in Chicago Public Schools. Teachers have very little resources in terms of what they need. They often feel undervalued for all the “extra” they put in. If you’re feeling undervalued, who is setting the standard of value? It’s going to be an uphill battle. You need to decide the standard you want as an educator, what you want your outcomes to be. How do you determine what success is for yourself? It will help balance your feelings of underappreciation. They haven’t established where they are in their life. It’s become shaky. Could have lost a spouse. They need to be in a different space. She assesses with them how they feel about their situation and the truth about the situation on, what they believe. could have quest about how the situation intricacies. She wants to make sure listeners have value from her recording for themselves.

At what point do we establish a “what is enough” scale? Teachers have to fix their own personal value. She pointed out “I’m reaching my kids and connecting with them”. If we’re taking and quantifying what should be “enough”. Many things are affixed to what you teach, subject area, in-person or remote. Standards based on the “if”. There’s a result you want to achieve with your students. Results have to do with the experience and climate in the class. As a community of educators, work together on something on a realistic scale. Give yourself credit for tipping the scale quarter to quarter. Now is opportunity to create something totally new outside the box. Re imagine that new creation. Infixing personal value based on what you choose to provide based on what you want and what you can bring to the table.

What about when you’re comparing yourself to the teacher next door– she wrote a blog post about this early March. The average person is looking at a gift someone else has, affixing a deficit to oneself. She chooses to use it as a window of possibility, you see someone else in their greatness, they are a representation of what you’re capable of. New teachers or someone who is seasoned but working in a new area- take the opportunity to try to connect with why person is sent to be a support to do. Don’t block off the opportunity to connect and grow. It’s meant for the gift to inspire you, it’s about the possibility of what you could be. See it as a motivation and not be demoted. What can you do to quell the fear that you’re not enough? It’s all personal perspective.

Do you have any speaking engagements coming up: You can go to TaralynMichelle.com and find out new events that are coming up. There were 2 in April online. You can email her about life coaching questions and she takes small groups as well.

Key quotes:…”Don’t fake it till you make it. Live free in it”. “Each individual needs to do the work to identify themselves within the community. Have the confidence to own exactly where we are. We only have 1 life, we need to be free”.

She wants to start a podcast herself– The Grind to Find- will be about going behind the facades of success. People are looking at everything around them, very few people step behind and discover what people dealt through- guests will share what they have had to overcome. Is connected w/ network of women, small group of amazing women who give knowledge freely and support each other’s businesses. Will be on captivate, moving from anchor. Wants to create a membership area for the in-depth content.

Find Taralyn online on Twitter: @justtaralyn   IG: @justtaralyn     FB: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorTaralynMichelle and visit her website: www.taralynmichelle.com  View this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/3BSPnG3-N5M


Episode #85: Donna Guerin


Episode #85: Donna Guerin (podbean.com)

Donna has dedicated her teaching life to empowering students to follow their passions and being a lifelong learner. 

Donna Guerin is the Founder and Executive Director of Global Lighthouse Studios has been a classroom teacher for the past 20 years. She recently left the classroom to connect teachers and students across 6 continents with Global Lighthouse Studios. She has been an SDG Global Goals Ambassador, Innovation Lab School curriculum writer and a Global Goals Facilitator.

Tell me about a time when you were in the trenches and managed to crawl out: Donna’s story is her tipping point of last spring with remote learning. After being in the classroom for 20 years, she chose to rise to the occasion. She wanted students to have something positive to remember. Started using Project Based Learning with special guests via zoom. Piloted new projects. Did debate for impact. Worked with a musical podcast. Documentary making with David Fidell. It was an inspiration for students to make their own documentaries.

Examples of student projects in the work you’ve done globally: One is about food security. UN sustainable development goals, what was amazing is 6 different countries were involved. Earlier this year, she did a literacy project, they were reading 3 different books. They tell stories of people overcoming challenges with 20 different classrooms.

You recently launched your own company, Global Lighthouse Studios. There was a launch party June 11. Participants are from many different countries. Her vision is to inspire people around the word to imagine, dream and share their passions and to envision a brighter tomorrow. Wants to connect teachers and schools around SGBs and areas of sustainability. Her clients have a global vision with director in every country. Someone in charge of curriculum. Their first event is Friday, June 18. There will be a poetry slam; she wants to have teachers involved. There is an event in the fall, also a semester-long unit on food security planned. SIMA classroom. Will work with podcasters, filmmakers. They are working with Keeping the Blues Alive, a non-profit org. Lots of international work.

Donna looks forward to visiting places where schools she works with are located. She wants to put together a schedule to visit them in the next few years. In the interim, she wants to partner with organizations across the world.  

Key quote: from Jimmy Ivene: “Make fear a tailwind instead of a headwind”. She wants to encourage people to join global collaborative projects. People tend to enjoy these so much. Even parents get a lot out of these.

Find Donna online on Twitter: @dlguerin1  @globallighhlu3  

IG: @dlguerin @global_lighthouse_studios   

FB: Global Lighthouse Studios YouTube: Global Lighthouse Studios

View this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/i8AQHszmsDw (part 1) https://youtu.be/sIgVyQx4UrM (part 2)

Website: www.globallighthousestudios.org  In the fall they’re doing “journey to the heart of the blues”, and she will be working with musicians.


Episode #86: Byron McClure



Dr. McClure has designed and implemented school-wide initiatives such as SEL, restorative practices, RTI, and trauma responsive practices

 Dr. Byron McClure is a National Certified School Psychologist currently redesigning a high school in Southeast, D.C. His work centers around influencing systemic change and ensuring students from high-poverty communities have access to a quality education. Dr. McClure has extensive knowledge and expertise in mental health, social emotional learning, and behavior. Dr. McClure has done considerable work advocating for fair and equitable discipline practices for all students, particularly, for African-American boys. As a result of this work, led by Dr. McClure, his school recently won the 2019-2020 Whole Child Award. Dr. McClure has presented across the country as a panelist, featured, and keynote speaker. He believes in the power of dreaming big to make dreams come true!

Tell me about a time you came out of the trenches: One of the stories centers around being locked into a position where he felt he couldn’t bring his gifts to the field. Was in this district 5-6 years and gave it his all. Strength is achievement, he wanted to maximize it. Had to be locked into testing, meeting needs of a school psychologist. So many expulsions, school culture/climate, locked into prioritizing testing. Didn’t fit into that mold. He then got out of the trenches. Stepped away. It was the right decision. Other district was using antiquated practices. Was able to implement at new district. Importantly he was able to bring his strengths. He is really hearing it during the pandemic, people are feeling uninspired. He uses himself as an example. Is now reaping the benefits of it. Is on fire for this. Will be 5 years in June. At that time, people were still trying to figure out what “whole child” meant. They said RP and SEL is a WAY we do school. Talk about failing forward! But they did move forward.

Ask about Black Lives Matter at schools with your lessons for SEL resource page, demographics, tell me what the reduction of suspensions/expulsions has been since you joined your campus: the page wasn’t created by him but he supported the work at his school, providing resources. He has been discussing culturally affirmative SEL practices at the high school level. It puts culturally-affirmative learning at the center of all learning. 5 years ago there wasn’t much-the initial CASEL guide had very few programs for youth of color.  He creates these recourses, so they saw racial equity cards, created with Wendy Taylor, linked to core competencies around racial equity. Black experience week- elevates the voices to the forefront. Recourses, tools, on website for that. Students at his HS have done activism- he can share a story about a tragic situation. Students created an event to end gun violence. 

What’s the proof these things are working? Won the whole child award for their implementations. We could talk about the prospect of gun violence inside & outside of school, in spite of the pandemic. Call to action with the entire community. Reduction in amount of repeat discipline offences, there were less than 2 students. Increase in in-seat attendance. Students had more access to recourses and had restorative circles. Poverty level in SE DC is higher. In PG county, where he grew up it’s more affluent. Similar issues within education system. PG is more affluent county for African American students. Where he works, he doesn’t know the demographic make-up. They have a pretty diverse culture at his school.  Ask about ideas for recruiting more teachers of color as we wrap up this school year. In his field of school psychology, there is a huge gap of psychologists of color. DC is unique place where there is a high proportion of educators of color.

Are you getting any positive feedback from the community? It took 4-5 years just to get a strong framework in place. Stakeholders are engaging students at the feeder middle school. They shared the programs this week with the MS. Hopes this work to implement further down. Lessons for focus on SEL-Focus is more on interventions. It’s both an international and national curriculum. 

Specific programs/clubs he’s worked with was during lunch, now after-school. There was the SWAG program, evolved into helping students become academically eligible. At the time for that program, he was at the middle school level. They’d implemented a policy that you had to have a 2.0 GPA. That limited it to a certain group of students. A coach recently posted that the kids went through the program, one was accepted to play college football now. That program gave those students a shot.  Focused on resiliency, determination. Collaborated with HS Coaches in feeder program. 1 hour of HW help, 1 hour of physical fitness. 5 out of 6 became eligible. Following year, program expanded to 50-60 students participating. In current district is collaborating with there is a Ministrant club, and they will have powerful conversations about gun violence, politics. 

Public speaking- he does different state association key notes- wide range. Is doing an event with Start Lighthouse, is doing the keynote mid March. Event with Greenbay, WI State Assn. In April he was discussing racial disparities there. Sessions with CA folks. S Oregon.  National Assn of School Psychologists. In his own district, anti-racist educator platform. Follow him on Twitter, he posts where he’s presenting.

Key quotes: Don’t be afraid to make that leap of faith. It may be uncomfortable. Don’t stay locked inside a box. You need to provide strengths, talents, gifts. Find out how you can bring your unique strengths into your job. Take everything as a learning resource to fail forward. Bring who you are to offer to students. This work is hard- don’t quit. Take every opportunity to fail forward.

Find Byron online at www.lessonsforsel.com  Follow Lessons For SEL on Social Media: Twitter Facebook Page

Instagram Watch this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/AkLQVLsxeZQ


Episode #87: Natalie Valencia



Natalie’s passion for education was ignited through the realization that it was thanks to education that she was able to forge a better quality of life.

 Nathalie Valencia was born in Bogota, Colombia. At age 16, she migrated with her Mother to the US. She is currently a program Coordinator for the Coach and Mentoring Program at Denver Public Schools. Her journey working in education started when she was just 17 years old, when she started working as a Spanish and Statistics tutor, Library clerk and research assistant while attending college full time. Upon graduation, she worked as a Student Affairs Officer at the Center for Women & Men at the University of California in Los Angeles. After moving to Colorado, she was accepted to be a Denver Teaching Fellow for Denver Public Schools and received her teaching licensure in Special Education.  She also pursued a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Northern Colorado and a Project Management Certification Program from Cornell University.  Her passion for education was ignited through the realization that it was thanks to education that she was able to forge a better quality of life and understood that many others could do the same; they just needed to know how.

Trenches story: when she first came to the US from Colombia. Rough period. 16 years old. She had graduated from HS, her parents were human rights advocates. Learning the language was difficult, her mom had to endure a transformation in order to survive. Natalie had to have several jobs and went to school full time. Personal growth period. Felt like she was a spoiled child in Columbia. Now that she has her own kids, she wants to offer the opportunities.

Prior education & teaching experience: got a FT time at a counseling center at UCLA while in law school. Was passionate about helping students who had struggled immigrating to the U.S. She taught them assertiveness, leadership skills.  Helped them learn about integrity. Got married, moved to Denver. Stayed home a while and reflected on next step. Applied for Denver teaching fellows program. Worked for them an entire summer. Metro State alt licensure program. Worked FT while getting teaching license. Worked for Lake Int. school mild/moderate needs. Worked in Co Springs. Was a learning specialist (sped) in Dougco & DPS before worked with moderate needs students. She loves what she does right now. Paperwork is different. Her personality fits her current role better. Her students are going through similar journeys she went through. She understands how they’re feeling. They’re thinking about family, leaving everything behind, starting from nothing, feeling hopeless. 

When the pandemic started, she decided to stay home, learned about the opening for her current position, it was where her passion lies. 

She works with students who sometimes know no English and have to take Algebra. They need support, the biggest obstacle is for people to know they’re worried they won’t accomplish anything. She feels like she has the moral authority to help the students realize they can do it!  Add to it their struggles w/ the pandemic. Most students work PT or FT.

Tell me about the Career-focused Coaching and Mentoring Program in DPS: Idea of this program is to help students figure out what they want to do after HS. Based on several factors, 1) students area of interest, they find a professional to mentor them. Present, go into breakout room 35-40 m. Sessions 2x’s month. Across the district. They plan to expand the program but there are budget restrains right now. Wants to expand into MS & ES. Have started 2 cohorts in MS. In West Campus, Lincoln, etc. 6 cohorts she works with. Different companies like Microsoft have partnerships with DPS.  Idea is to make sure kids understand they have options. Kids feel overwhelmed by the options. They need to utilize the resources they have to bring it to other schools. Students in the program would recommend it, others have been coming back. Affinity cohorts are new. Mentoring program has been in DPS for 6 yrs. They have affinity cohorts like Spanish, Black, they want to continue to expand them, like for Women in Engineering, Construction. Will change focus on how they match students. Some students don’t have a match that shares the intertest, but speaks Spanish. Have them work together for 1 year. Natalie facilitates the sessions. Students & mentors join in, they have a curriculum. Many students feel so discouraged about going to college, like it’s only for the wealthy or people who were born in the U.S. They work with several companies like Microsoft, United. 3 of groups like 15 employees from Microsoft become mentors and then they match. The mentors work w/ the kids only 1 year. They have informational interviews as well. Most students want to continue. Will open it up to other students next year. They send an interest form. They are revamping recruitment efforts, t’s recommend students to be a part of the program, her team then recommends students. This won’t give them credit/grade but it is something that intrinsically motivates them. If they have capabilities of accepting more, they do. Need to call students to get consent. 

Do many students know what they want to do post-secondary yet?   some do and then they narrow it down. It’s interesting. Many students don’t know the types of engineering, f.ex. they partner with internship navigators. The program becomes a pipeline for students. They pursue and internship & apprenticeship right after the program.  

Do students have to reapply when the school year ends? It is one year, they try to stay connected w/ students. Resources are limited. 

Where do you see the program going? Ideally they want to bring it to as many HS as possible. 17 cohorts currently. 

If someone wanted to start this in their school or district, what are some ideas to get started? It’s about visions & conviction. She truly believes in the value of the program. Some kids enroll in college and don’t see the value, so they discontinue their efforts. Belief in the mission is first step. It will help the community as a whole. Build partnership with companies. Allocate resources. She had great attendance for all her cohorts, but it took a lot of effort, time. Need someone who believes that participation and engagement is important. 

Any students who didn’t pair well with mentors? No, they have a “speed dating” session initially. There was chemistry. They fill out application, student profile, match based on hobbies, interest, background. 

Are there any prior students who were in the program who are now mentors? that is a good idea. She has told students who just graduated that they will become a mentor. Her job is out of Emily Griffith, part of the career connect program. They have internship, spark (MS) students. There are 3-4 programs part of the departments. For a district who would want to bring this into their organization, they need to have a coordinator position who can expand this and bring it to other schools. It’s not just CTE. In her program, she makes sure students leave with a resume, job shadow their mentors, talk about post-secondary options. It’s a very complete program, any parent would be supportive. Get ideas out there- can invoke change like the possibility of bringing this to other district.

Student don’t necessarily have to pursue the cohort they are in. 

Key quotes: positive change is the responsibility of all of us. We’re all part of the transformation. We can all play a role in seeing communities transform. We shouldn’t be too much in our own world. Explore opportunities to volunteer. 

Connect with Natalie by viewing her department’s website: https://collegeandcareer.dpsk12.org/coach-mentoring/ or finding her on LinkedIn.

Her email: Nathalie_valencia@dpsk12.org

View this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/ipvnnm_023U

Click here for more great episodes! —–>>

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

& Receive a Free Chapter of My Book

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

Dana Goodier will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.