“Questions help us wonder”: The Educator Spotlight is on Noa Daniel

 Write on Fight on’s Educator Spotlight features insights, reflections and best practices from passionate classroom teachers and school administrators.

Meet Noa Daniel. Noa is teacher, educational consultant, and Chief Building Officer at Building Outside the Blocks. An active educational blogger, Noa believes authentic learning and effective questions are the key to inspiring students.

Check out my interview with Noa, visit her blog and enjoy!

  “Questions take us beyond the status quo and help us wonder and be thoughtful about the world.”


Besides being an educator, Noa Daniel is…

….many things to others and herself. We have three daughters who help me be a better person and educator. Raising them with my husband is the greatest challenge and reward of my life. My girls call me a meacher because I’m a very teacher-ish mom. Even though they do it to make fun of me, I know that it’s out of love and appreciation because teaching is so much more than my profession. Okay, I know that you said besides education, but that is a tough ask. Education is always on my mind and in my heart.

I am a very creative person who loves to write. I am also a connector of people and ideas, which actually helps to feed my creativity. I am a risk taker. Though I am often afraid to take risks, that has  never stopped me from trying new things. I often do it in spite of my fears and in view of the greater good. I either succeed, or I collaborate and create something totally different than what I set out to. Alternatively, I learn. All are worth the leap.

Tell us about your experience as an educator.

My experience as an educator has been an adventure. I started off as this young sit-on-the-desk, dramatic, we-can-find-a-way type of educator. Now, I am a better educated, seasoned sit-on-the-desk, dramatic, we-can-find-a-way educator who feels lucky to be able to engage in meaningful conversations about teaching and learning. I am an educational leader and change agent.

 What is the one book ever educator should read? Why?

There are so many great books out there, but if I could only pick one, I would have to say Daniel Pink’s Drive.

ASDC did a great interview with him  that articulates the key need for change in education. We must move from compliance to engagement. In order to do that, we must understand what motivates our students. This book helps the reader understand why external motivations like rewards or grades actually impede deep learning. Ultimately, the understanding the reader gets about intrinsic motivation is essential to teaching and life. The text takes the reader through autonomy, mastery and purpose. Drive helps the reader understand these fundamental aspects of education.

You have developed an educational initiative known as “Building Outside the Blocks” (BOB). A BOB approach uses personalized projects to enhance student learning. Why is autonomy such a crucial component of the learning process?

Autonomy allows students to be part of their learning equation. It is an essential ingredient in engagement and in owning their learning. Using a BOB approach, students choose their presentation dates for the projects, within the teacher-determined timelines. That helps students learn to own their calendars and organize their home time in view of this self-selected date. They backwards design the time and effort required to create and prepare to present their work.

Further, they chose the product that best suits their needs and interests or the product is something that comes from their personal lives and interests. I will co-create outlines and rubrics with them to deepen their sense of agency. In order to move students from compliance, they have to have a say in the learning journey. It is important to give students opportunities to have and use their autonomy.

What has been your biggest roadblock as an educator? And how did you overcome it? Or what are you doing now to overcome it?

My biggest road block is my greatest gift- the whole “outside the blocks” thing. I have learned that the only way to overcome it is to embrace it and let the creativity flow. It’s about autonomy and being able to use my drive to find new roads. When I am on a journey without a horizon, I stop looking for one and start constructing it. Whether through the projects that I develop or the leadership offerings that I create for students,  I respond to road blocks by making them into a foundation and building over them.

 If teachers want their students to be curious, teachers must design curious questions.Why is designing good questions so important to enhancing and improving student learning?

Besides fostering curiosity, it is the pursuit of the question more than the answer that matters. In our world, questioning skills are paramount for critical thinking, developing global connections and appreciating the power of perspectives. Questions are catalyst for inquiry. Questions take us beyond the status quo and help us wonder and be thoughtful about the world. Questions beget questions and allow people to grapple with ideas that drive deep learning. Inquiry is also a way that people can reach inside themselves and ask meaningful questions about who they are and where they are going or want to go. I am on a journey to help teachers reach and teach every child using questions that propel a personalized inquiry.

 The BOB approach relies on making real-world connections. Why are real-world connections so fundamental for creating active learners?

Real world connections are important because learning shouldn’t be an isolated experience. Beyond the classroom, there is a big, beautiful, crazy world. Teaching content and skills should enable people to be global citizens. Creating awareness of global or local issues or connecting with yourself are authentic tasks that make the learning more transferable than the alternative. When learning is oriented to reality, it becomes more meaningful.

What is the worst piece of advice you have heard given to teachers?

After a recent #ONedmentors show, I recalled that I, too, was told to be careful about how much energy and passion I put into my work because I would burn out. Not only have I not burned out after over two decades in the classroom, but I continue to improve, grow and be infused by teaching. I think that teachers have to be mindful to nourish themselves and that self-care is important in any profession, but your can’t burn out if you live every day being true to you and doing what you love.

 Who inspires you?

Many things inspire me. People fighting daily battles, facing each new sunrise with optimism amazes me. The innovators who aren’t afraid to share their ideas and keep moving forward in view of a big vision, in all areas of life, inspire me. Educators who work tirelessness to reach and teach every learner in their space are an inspiration. Kids, with all of their curiosities and wonderment amaze me. I am inspired by nature, music, art, poetry, prose, and other forms of creative expression. Grit is also a pretty incredible thing to witness, and that can be a real motivator. My daughters inspire me all the time.  As you can see, I glean inspiration from a variety of place and spaces.

What is your favorite non-teaching quote?

There are few a quotes that are exempt from a teaching application. One that keeps me moving forward, especially when I hit a road block and am creating something new, is Erin Hansen’s: “What if I fall? Oh, but my darling- what if you fly?”

Those words, as questions, become a mantra for me and are part of my mission in supporting educators. Change is scary, but with the right support, the possibilities are limitless.

Connect with Noa at…

blog: noadaniel7.wixsite.com/bobblog 

twitter: @noasboabs

podcast: VoicEd Radio 


Do you know an awesome educator dedicated to inspiring and teaching others?

If so, please consider nominating them to be featured on Write on Fight on’s Educator Spotlight Series. You can contact me at writeonfighton@gmail.com.

Be well,

Jay

 

A Moment with Tom Petty

When Tom Petty died I was suddenly 19 again, wearing headphones and slumped in the backseat of a rented minivan.

Dad is driving, Mom is riding shotgun and my two younger brothers are tucked in the middle bench watching Home Alone on a TV/VCR combo dad had strapped to a milk crate to entertain the kids on our first family road trip — a traverse through New York state and into Canada.

To pass the time, I brought a pen and notebook, a discman and a binder with stuffed CDs.

 I’ve forgotten large chucks of my teen years but I remember, with absolute clarity, the songs that soundtracked the most confusing, polarizing, contradictory, painful and fun years of my life.

On that trip, I listened the contemplative “Time to Move on”, the third track on Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” album over and over and over again, convinced it was written for me.

“It’s time to move on, time to get going
What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing”

I remember, as the New York tree line flicked by, writing out scenes for what I thought was going to my first novel. A fictional yarn about a rich 19 year old kid who declined a scholarship to Princeton so he could make a year long transcontinental hike from New Jersey to California. Of course, his hard-boiled father disapproved and his mother was too busy stroking the pool boy to care. It was a massive idea. Too massive for me then. Maybe too massive for me now.

When you’re 19, life gets complicated.

Choices become harder, they have more gravity and greater consequence. Time is suddenly finite. Reality is tangible. You realize you need to do something with your life. And as sad as it is, you realize your on the verge of comprising your dreams to appease the status quo.

At the end of my freshman year of college, I was 19 and had a growing awareness of how hard it was going to be to become a writer. It was a life of discipline and sacrifice and deep examination only to be rewarded with self-doubt and rejection.

When it was convenient, like in the back of a minivan in upstate New York, I would scratch down stories but I wasn’t committed. I grew frustrated by the amount of work being a writer took and I remember being 19 and concluding that writing was a cute dream, but ultimately a dream for other people to entertain.

“Broken skyline, which way to love land?
Which way to something better?
Which way to forgiveness?
Which way do I go?”

At 19 you’re wedged between the adulthood and childhood. You’re letting go of romantic ideas of adulthood and submitting to reality —  the one with time clocks and car insurance and parties that end at 9 pm. At 19, I didn’t want that adult life. And, in a way, I still don’t want.

“It’s time to move on, time to get going
What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing
But under my feet, baby, grass is growing
It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going”

When Tom Petty died, like when all great musicians die, the alchemy of music twists time and somehow the past becomes present.

And suddenly you’re 19 again, slumped in the backseat of a minivan, rolling through the mountains of New York. You’ve got your headphones on and a scruffy guitarist from Gainesville, Florida is singing out your secrets. There’s a fear swirling in your chest. A fear that will settle, take its shoes off and rest heavy in your chest for years to come.

Because you’re afraid to move on.

You’re afraid to get going.

Be well,

Jay

“Hey Mr. Armstrong, did you watch any NFL games this weekend?”

The high school parking lot.

America’s blacktop proving ground since the Model-T rolled off the assemble line and into our lives. The place where lines are still drawn, sleeves still rolled and disagreements still forcefully settled.

So it only made sense that I was asked the combustible question, the question that packed C-4 between it’s subject and verb in a high school parking lot.

It was during my school’s monthly fire drill, as I was in the parking lot taking roll of my 12th grade class, when a voice trigger the conversation with, “Hey Mr. Armstrong, did you watch any NFL games this weekend?”

Looking up from my roll sheet, I find one of my students sporting a grin and a Philadelphia Eagles sweatshirt staring at me, waiting.

“Yes, I did.”

“So what do you think about the players protesting during the National Anthem?”

There it was.

The question that has set fire to the nightly news, church sermons, PTA meetings, lunch rooms, board rooms, hospital waiting rooms and Facebook threads.

In the last few days of my life I have felt an immense pressure to have an opinion. To choose a side. To litter my social media accounts with my opinions. As if neutrality is suddenly anti-American.

But why? Why do we have to have an opinion on this issue or other polarizing issues that have no definitive right or wrong? Why can’t we hold our silence until we understand what it is we are willing speak up for?

I’ve read and listened to arguments on both sides.

And I know that it’s our free-will, our freedom to choose that provides our lives meaning and definition and purpose.

But like we’re back in high school again, we let out impulses choose or we side with whoever’s voice is the loudest, scariest so we don’t get pummeled in the parking lot after school.

Be reminded — that it’s in these rowdy, rumbling times that we can practice patience. That we can choose to remain silent until we know what we’re willing to shout for.

We have the human right to nod and smile and retreat into ourselves until we understand what we really believe. What we are willing to stand for, or kneel for, or remain in the locker room for.

As our principal waved, signalling it was safe to leave the parking lot and return to the classroom, I looked at the student and said, “Right now, I don’t know what to think.”

He nodded, smiled and said, “I can respect that.”

Be well,

Jay

“Travel is the best teacher.” The Educator Spotlight is on Spanish Teacher Michele Hill

Write on Fight on’s Educator Spotlight features insights, reflections and best practices from passionate classroom teachers and school administrators.

Meet Michele Hill. Michele is an high school Spanish teacher from New Jersey.  An active educational blogger, Michele believes engagement is the key to inspiring students. She recently took a group of students to Costa Rica to further teach them a lesson in altruism.

Check out my interview with Michele, visit her blog and enjoy!

I believe that an empowered student is one who is in charge of his/her learning and wants to pursue it with or without a teacher.- Michele Hill


Besides being an educator Michele Hill is….

a mother, wife and a grandmother, and a world traveler and a kind humanitarian.

What school and what subject do you currently teach?

I work at Delsea Regional High School. I teach Spanish and a special program called SWAG that works with our most at-risk students.

What is the one book ever educator should read? Why?

    There are so many to choose from. I think all teachers should read Todd Whitaker’s “What Great Teacher’s Do Differently”. It’s easy to understand and full of great advice that will help all teachers be successful with their students. It is sage advice on how to connect and manage all of the challenges that teachers face.

On your blog spiritededucator.blogspot.com you shared how you recently took a group of students to Costa Rica. Why are new experiences, such as your trip, so vital for student development?

I love taking students to new places to experience the world around them.  I think that it is so important for our students to be globally minded in the world that we live in today. I also believe that the greatest learning occurs when students are engaged…and new experiences keep them engaged! Travel is the best teacher of all… reading about the Colosseum is one thing, standing in it is another!

What has been your biggest roadblock as an educator? And how did you overcome it? Or what are you doing now to overcome it?

My biggest roadblock is being so passionate about education that others find it annoying. My family certainly gets tired of hearing about school and my students. Fortunately, I have developed great relationships through my PLN,  they have affirmed my desire to make education better and welcome my enthusiasm.

 What is an empowered student?

I believe that an empowered student is one who is in charge of his/her learning and wants to pursue it with or without a teacher. They are on a quest for knowledge and experiences!

 If, for one day, you were in charge of your school what would you do?

Make everyone feel welcomed! Celebrate staff and students and let them know that they all matter. Make school a place where everyone wants to be!

 Movie or book– what is your favorite work of fiction?

    Freedom Writers– Love that Ms. Gruell found a way to build meaningful relationships with ALL of her students!

Who inspires you?

Wow! This is a BIG question! I am inspired everyday by the teachers who care for their students, love them unconditionally and make them stretch and grow. Teachers are altruistic by nature. What they do day in and day out is inspirational for everyone!

What is your favorite non-teaching quote?

No matter how talented, educated, rich, or cool you think you are, ultimately how you treat people tells all!

Connect with Michele…

Twitter:@HillMrispo

Website: spiritededucator.blogspot.com


Do you know an awesome educator dedicated to inspiring and teaching others?

If so, please consider nominating them to be featured on Write on Fight on’s Teacher Spotlight Series. You can contact me at writeonfighton@gmail.com.

Be well,

Jay

What’s the World’s Greatest Lie?

It was a tradition of sorts.

In the initial months following my diagnosis, after each doctor’s appointment, I would go to the bar

Given my deteriorating health, maybe a few pints and a plate of fried pickles was not the most constructive response, but sometimes nothing soothes a fractured soul like the warm panel walls, a friendly jukebox and the comfort foods of a corner bar.

I remember sitting with my wife and parents and two brothers, talking through the details of my appointment in low, weighty voices.

We had drinks and ate deep fried vegetables and to snap the tension, someone would say something funny and we’d laugh, but not too loud. Because, now was not the time for laughing loud.  Now was the time to make sense of bad news.

I remember the hallow clinks of pint glasses and finding things to do with my hands– bending coasters, tearing bar napkins into confetti–and feeling helpless and powerless. Like sitting in the last pew at my own funeral.

For awhile I believed there was nothing I could do. It was final–I was stricken with some rare disease. Period. And I remember believing how utterly unfair it was.

If our language confirms what we believe, relying on the phrase “it’s not fair…” cements our belief in the world’s oldest lie, which according to the novel The Alchemist is:

At a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”– from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

A few years ago, a student suggested that I start a blog.

Why?

Because sometimes you say interesting things in class.

Sometimes?

Yeah, sometimes.

Not to go all Hollywood here, but in serious ways this blog, saved my life.

Because I’ve learned that it’s not the bad news that matters, it’s our response that does.

Our self-victimization vexes others to where they will lose patience and tune us out. Their previous pity sours to apathy.

By bemoaning our bad news, we empower our bad news. We waste vital energy needed to command a positive response to conquer such bad news.

And plus, self-victimizers with their bloated bellies of self-pity and self-delusions make for terrible drinking partners.

Be well,

Jay

Why I Celebrated My Worst Day

When I decided to celebrate my worst day I had romantic dreams of baking a chocolate cake, coating it with vanilla icing and beautifully decorating it with some unabashed inspirational quote.

Here’s what happened.

It’s okay to laugh. Seriously. I know, it’s high fructose, high caloric train wreck.

Just in case you can’t read it, beneath the scattered sprinkles, squiggled in red gel is the iconic line from Bruce Springsteen’s Badlands — “Aint no sin to be glad you’re alive.”

Here’s why.

This past September 4th was a big day for me. An anniversary of sorts. So I baked and decorated a cake to commemorate the day.

On September 4th, 2013 I had my first MRI revealing my brain damage–large chunk of my cerebellum had degenerated.

The date has now become a personal milestone. In the days and weeks following September 4th, 2013 there was, as you could imagine, a quiet tension. The kind of quiet tension that lingers between the pages of hospital waiting room magazines.

With every test, with every confused doctor I grew more desperate, more convinced that I was going to die a young man.

Four years later my brain damage is still unaccounted for.

However, eighteen months after the MRI, a muscle biopsy revealed an autoimmune disorder, sarcoidodsis, that causes inflammation not degeneration.

Four years later doctors are still nosing through medical journals searching for precedent. They are still hypothesizing.

I say let them hypothesize. For the only fact that matters today is — I’m still alive. And according to the Boss, that ain’t no sin.

If the September 4th picture marks my worst day, a day which initiated the worst stretch of days I have ever experienced, I’ve learned that celebrating your worst day is an important step toward healing. Though I’m not physically healed, and may never be, mentally, emotionally and spiritually I’m stronger for having endured my worst day.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances, to choose ones on way. Victor Frankl author, psychologist, neurologist

Suffering is lonely work.

Often, when we suffer we alienate the very people who take us to our appointments, who hold our hand, who cry alongside of us.

It’s understandable that when we suffer we become selfish. We fall into ourselves. Yet by doing so we fail to recognize the anguish others are in because of our suffering.

Cutting cake (even a poorly decorated one) and celebrating your worst day is an important step toward healing.  A sugary reminder of how resilient the human spirit can be and how our lives, whether we want the responsibility or not, are the models that others will follow.

Be well,

Jay

The Importance of Goal Setting: The Educator Spotlight is on Teacher and Writer Mari Venturino

Write on Fight on’s Educator Spotlight features insights, reflections and best practices from classroom teachers and administrators.

 Meet Mari Venturino. Mari is an elementary school teacher from San Diego, California.  An active blogger and editor of the book Fueled by Love and Coffee: Real Stories by Real Teachers, Mari is a reflective force.

Check out her interview, visit her blog and you will certainly learn new reflective strategies to help improve your own practices. Enjoy!

Without goals, I just go aimlessly through the school year. I’m always working to be a better teacher, and I don’t want to settle for good enough.


Besides being a teacher Mari Venturino is…

…an avid reader who loves YA and nonfiction. I also enjoy spending time with my boyfriend and dog.

Where do you currently teach, what do you teach and for how long?

I teach 7th grade science and 8th grade AVID at Mar Vista Academy in San Diego, CA. The 2017-2018 school year is my 6th year of teaching.

What is your favorite lesson to teach and why?

I love our lessons and units on health and nutrition. These topics are so applicable to students’ lives, and line up with my science passions. We weave in nutrition within our chemistry and properties of matter units, and students are especially engaged as we’re analyzing nutrients and food groups.

If, for one day, you were in charge of your school what would you do?

We would have a fundatory (you’re required to have fun, and you’ll like it!) spirit day with school-wide activities and games. When we laugh and play together, our school community is happier!

If you could write one quote on the board for your students what would it be?

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says I’m possible.” -Aubrey Hepburn

On your website blog.mariventurino.com,  you write about teaching strategies and best practices. How has writing helped you has a teacher?

Writing helps me reflect on what works best for my students and my school, and figure out what areas I need to work on. I write to share just as much as I write as a personal reflection tool. I love the conversations that spark up from blog posts, and I find myself constantly improving my teaching.


In a recent post, “2017-2018 School Year Goals”, you discuss your classroom goals for the upcoming school year. Why is goal setting so important for a teacher?

Without goals, I just go aimlessly through the school year. I’m always working to be a better teacher, and I don’t want to settle for good enough. One of my favorite twitter hashtag’s comes from Lisa Thuman’s keynote, #onenewthing. Instead of trying all the things at one time, just focus on trying #onenewthing.

One of your goals for the 2017-2018 school year was to build relationships with your students first. Why is building relationships so vital for teaching and learning?

In our classrooms, the most important thing is to build relationships with our students. When we form trust and mutual respect, we build empathy and work better together. Our collaboration and cooperation improves, and all of us are willing to take more risks. Just as I need to get to know each of my students, they need opportunities to get to know me.

You recently published your first book, Fueled by Love and Coffee: Real Stories Written by Real Teachers. All proceeds of the book will be donated to classrooms and teachers ( which is totally awesome!). Why is it so important for teachers to share their stories?

I’ve seen too many teachers say “I’m just a teacher” when I ask them to share something they’ve done in their classroom, whether on social media or in person. My goal is to elevate the ordinary teachers to share the incredible things they’re doing. It’s an honor to take the lead on this project, and work to get more teachers’ voices heard. You can read more about the project here, and buy your copy of the book on Amazon.


My classroom superpower is… because…
My classroom superpower is bionic eyes because I can see what you’re doing, even with my back turned.


Mari can be found at…  
Twitter & Instagram: @MsVenturino

Blog: blog.mariventurino.com

Email: mari.venturino@gmail.com


Do you know an awesome educator dedicated to inspiring and teaching others?

If so, please consider nominating them to be featured on Write on Fight on’s Teacher Spotlight Series. You can contact me at writeonfighton@gmail.com.

Be well,

Jay