Jeff Bradbury — ISTE award-winning and globally recognized digital learning strategist, educational broadcaster, public speaker, and entrepreneur

Jeff Bradbury — ISTE award-winning and globally recognized digital learning strategist, educational broadcaster, public speaker, and entrepreneur
About Jeff Bradbury

Jeff Bradbury (@TeacherCast) is a Technology Integration Specialist in New Jersey and the creator of the TeacherCast Educational Network.  With a background in Music Education, Jeff began performing in front of live audiences at a very early age and grew to love the opportunities he had working with others.  This led him to earn his Bachelor of Science in Music Education in 2001 and eventually his Masters in Music Performance in Orchestral Conducting in 2010.

After several years of being a Music Director for both Orchestra’s and Opera Companies in the New York / Philadelphia region, including an opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall he left the musical stage and began work on building the TeacherCast Educational Network.

Created as a passion project to assist teachers in understanding educational technology, Jeff recorded the first TeacherCast Podcast in the summer of 2011.  Since then the TeacherCast Network has been accessed in almost 180 countries and has amassed a following of more than 50,000 followers on Social Media.  With more than 1,000 audio and video podcasts recorded featuring more than 500 EdTech Companies and thousands of educators, TeacherCast is rated as one of the top 50 educational websites.

In 2018, Jeff created the TeacherCast Tech Coaches Network to support Instructional Technology Coaches and EducationalPodcasting.com, a learning portal to teach educators how to infuse podcasting into their curriculum.

Jeff Bradbury is a Google for EDU Certified Innovator & Trainer, Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert & Trainer, and a TEDx Speaker.  In 2012, he was recognized as one of the Top 50 Educators Using Social Media at the inaugural Bammy Awards and was nominated three times in the category of Innovator of the Year.

Sought after as a professional development presenter, Jeff Bradbury, co-founder of Edcamp New Jersey, has presented at the ISTE & FETC and Podcast Movement Conferences, presented Keynote Addresses for Pearson, Podcast Mid-Atlantic Conference, and Columbia University’s Teacher College.

Jeff is married to Jennifer and is the father of an amazing set of triplets.

Connect with Jeff: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

TeacherCast Educational Network

Bachelor of Music in Music Education Programs – West Chester University

Masters in Music Performance in Orchestral Conducting – West Chester University

Carnegie Hall

TeacherCast Podcasts

Google Certified Innovator Program

Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) Program


Edcamp New Jersey

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC)

Pearson Education

Podcast Mid-Atlantic Conference

Columbia University’s Teacher College

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. Today, we have a very special guest, Jeff Bradbury. Jeff is an ISTE award-winning and globally recognized digital learning strategist, educational broadcaster, professional speaker, and entrepreneur whose powerful message has impacted thousands of educators through his TeacherCast educational network. He’s also a musician and soon to be author of another book. Jeff, please take a moment and introduce yourself and tell us about impact standards.

Jeff Bradbury
Sam, it is great to see you again. Thanks so much for having me on. My name is Jeff Bradbury. I’m from Connecticut and I’ve been an educator for the last 20 years, father of the amazing Edu Triplets. They’re now 10 years old, going on 11. I can’t believe it. They’re going to be in fifth grade soon. And I’m looking forward to a great summer, and I’m looking forward to working with a lot of great teachers. My new book is coming out soon. It’s called Impact Standards, talking about how can we use the ISTE standards for digital learning to really make a difference in the classroom, and how can we set our teachers and students up for success so that way individualized professional learning can be attained.

Sam Demma
One of the challenges of the human experience is determining where to invest your energy. You are someone with multiple skill sets in so many different things. How did you decide serving educators and education was your pathway?

Jeff Bradbury
It’s funny, you ask a lot of teachers that same question. Many of them say, it just hit me. I don’t ever remember growing up a day that I said I want to be a teacher. It’s just always something. I’ve been a performer ever since I was two, three years old. Getting up on stage was just second nature, which lent myself to becoming a musician, and then becoming a music director, and an orchestra conductor, and an opera conductor. And then just being in front of people has just been always natural to me. So being able to share what I love, share my passions with others, that is essentially being a teacher. And so I’ve been in the classroom now between orchestra and technology for the last 20 years. And it’s been absolutely a blast.

Sam Demma
That’s amazing. Where did your educational journey begin? And when you were finishing it up, where did it wrap?

Jeff Bradbury
You know, I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia and the school district had like a thousand people per graduating class. My orchestra was huge. So always, always living in the music room, always living in the band room. I was one of those kind of kids and had a fantastic time as an undergrad. Got a chance to really experience what it was like to work with others. I had amazing student teaching experiences working in some fantastic schools. And then just really getting that first job and having a good time and really seeing the smiles on kids’ faces and working with adults in the last 10, 12 years or so, it’s just rewarding. And getting a chance to, as the book says, having an impact on others has been an amazing journey.

Sam Demma
When in your educational journey did digital learning become a huge focus of your work?

Jeff Bradbury
So I was a music director for about 15 years or so, and then at some point in time, my school district started asking me to give professional development sessions. That led me to figure out, okay, how do I do this? Where do I find the information? Which led me to creating the podcast. And then through the podcast, I got known in the technology circles. I made some connections at some pretty big companies. And next thing you know, I’m an instructional coach, which an instructional coach is somebody who goes in and works with teachers. And it’s basically that in the classroom, hand-on-hand professional learning. My job is to help that teacher use technology to its finest in the classroom. And then it really just grew from there. Instead of working with teachers, you’re working with coaches, and then you become an administrator and you’re working with school districts. And then when you go to some of these big conferences, now you’re working with district leaders, and you’re working with ed tech companies. And I’ve had the opportunity to work with the world’s largest companies out there and really do my best to make a difference in this world. And I’ve had an amazing ride. It’s been fantastic. And now I’m seeing my kids are starting to do that too. And they’re getting a chance to make videos and make podcasts and create websites and record themselves reading. It’s been pretty awesome.

Sam Demma
I have a speaking friend named Tom Pache. He also is a middle school teacher. He FaceTimed me recently. And while FaceTiming me, he was in his grade six classroom after their students had just watched a video on YouTube. And he was holding a microphone and he was walking around the room, putting the mic in front of students and they were sharing what they learned from watching this video. He quite literally turned his classroom into a performance, into a stage, into an auditorium. It was a really cool call. And it made me think about how when we use technology efficiently, it amplifies the experience in the classroom. What are some of the things that teachers can do to create better experiences in their classrooms leveraging and using technology?

Jeff Bradbury
You know, I was talking about this earlier. As a teacher, you only have one job, and it is to inspire. And how do we do that depends on the student, but I like to do my best to open their eyes up a little bit. You know, in my current position, I started in this school district in January of this year. And you could tell right away that my class or the class that I was creating was just a little bit different than what they were used to. And it took a little bit of time for them to get used to me, my energy and my, you know, sense of teaching and the way that I present lessons and stuff like that. But the students who really took to it, it was amazing to see their transformation. When they walked in, they were ready to go and they’re looking for different models and projects and you name it, and they were becoming creators in just the short amount of time that we had. It was a semester course.

Jeff Bradbury
So I always try to help teachers and students figure out ways to inspire others. I’m just of that belief, it’s not my job to teach, it’s your job to learn. But the only way to do that is by inspiring them to want to be able to do that. And that goes back to being a music director. You’re the only one on stage not making a sound. What’s your function? Your function is to get all of these minds together that can do this without you and get them on the right page and try to set the example for this is what the music should look like, this is what the composer intended, and here’s how we can work together to make that work. If not, it’s 50 people all trying to play the same thing, but they’re doing it differently. You have to set that example for this is the way that we move forward, and then hopefully you inspire everybody to move in that direction.

Sam Demma
An image of Whiplash, the movie, just came to mind, and they’re on stage and he’s beating the drums. 

Jeff Bradbury
And we said this in the music world, it’s the illusion of power. Just because you have a stick doesn’t mean anything. Just because you’re the one standing up with the paycheck in the classroom doesn’t mean anything. You need to get them to inspire. And you do the same thing. You get a chance to work with teachers and students, and you get a chance to travel all around the country. Your job is to inspire them. And I know you do a great job at that. I gotta ask you, what is it like seeing that inspiration on their faces when you’re working with them?

Sam Demma
That’s the work that keeps you coming back. Those are the moments that remind you that the things you’re doing matter. For me, it’s the aha moments when people are nodding their heads in the crowd or approaching you afterward to share a personal story about how something you said impacted them. And crazy enough, it’s things that I’m not even thinking are impactful are connecting the most with certain people because we don’t know what they’re going through or what their experiences are like and how they’re making connections with their own personal examples. Exactly. You have a big conference coming up. Tell us a little bit about it and what you hope to share with the audience.

Jeff Bradbury
You know, the big EdTech conference, called ISTE, I-S-T-E, happens every single summer. I’ve been doing this for the last 12 years or so. Essentially, 20,000 educators overtake a city and they do it in the name of how can we better help our students? And so when you have probably, you know, the equivalent of eight football fields worth of vendor floor, and you have thousands of sessions and panels and keynotes and forums happening all at the same time, magic happens every single year. And I love the opportunity to get out there, not only just to learn, but also to meet people who listen to the show and have a chance to read all the content. It’s great to get to network, but really the best part is just taking a breath. It’s still a business trip, not a vacation. It is that opportunity to get out and just to meet people and to see what is happening in other classrooms and then to bring those ideas back to your school district.

Sam Demma
I’ve met many educators who talk about having a side passion, hobby, or project along with their job. Not many that have done such a phenomenal job creating a project like that, like yourself. What are some of the things you think help you manage both the work as an instructional coach and digital strategist with building the business?

Jeff Bradbury
I have an amazing wife. And it always starts there. This doesn’t happen by itself. And if it does happen by itself, then more often than not, you are by yourself, right? But you need to have a good partner in this world that allows you to be, to do all of this craziness at all hours of the day. And I mean, all hours of the day. But really, you have to have a vision. This is what I’m looking for. It has to also be personal. I’m always the first to say, the work that’s on TeacherCast I’m always the first to say, the work that’s on TeacherCast is for everybody. I’m bringing you on a show, as I did, and we’re gonna have a conversation, and hopefully somebody learns from that. Hopefully somebody, you know, reaches out to you. Maybe somebody’s inspired. Maybe they send it to their kid, and they’re like, I wanna fill my backpack too. But to be honest, the whole project is also very self-serving. The reason it started is because people were asking me questions I didn’t have the answers to. So I created a podcast and I brought you on to it. And I did that again and I did that again. So on one hand, it is my backpack. On one hand, it is my resource hub that if I ever say I need to learn about X, Y, and Z, where do I find the answers? Well, it’s my website. And if I’m creating something that’s useful for me that hopefully is useful for other people. And I always say, if I can help out one teacher, I’m helping 30 students. If I can help out one principal, I’m helping 30 teachers. If I help out a superintendent, I’m helping 30 buildings. And when you get a chance to work in educational technology, you’re helping out 30 states. And it’s that connection of, the smallest ripple in the water always expands. And again, as you mentioned, you never know where that ripple is gonna go.

Sam Demma
The idea of the ripple effect, starting from the superintendent to the principal to the teachers, the student, is such an impactful way to think about serving more people. There’s a lot of teachers I’ve interviewed who talk about making the jump to administration because of that desire to serve. Where did that desire to serve come from in you personally?

Jeff Bradbury
I always look forward and I always try to get to that next level of things because again, you have a bigger audience and you have a new challenge. And, OK, you’ve done this. Well, what else can you do or how many other ways can you do it? And to have the opportunity to serve teachers and mentor and work with, that’s an amazing opportunity. And also it’s a challenge. You’ve got a lot of personalities, you have a lot of egos, you have a lot of policies, you’ve got a lot of challenges, you’ve got all those different things all wrapped up in one. For me, that’s fun. For me, that’s inspiring. And to have the opportunity to then send all that knowledge back and share it with my own kids at the end of the day, that’s pretty cool. When you think of the folks who have mentored you

Sam Demma
When you think of the folks who have mentored you that have played an instrumental role in your life, who are some of those people and what did they do for you that had a really big impact?

Jeff Bradbury
Well, I like the pun for instrumental, first of all. And you know, when I look at that particular term, you know, don’t let people stop you. Right. You can go back 250 years or so. Beethoven was deaf and he still wrote a massive symphony. Don’t let anything around you stop you from doing what you want. Many, many years ago, you know, she wasn’t my wife at the time, but we were at her college, and we were in a studio, and I saw this cup, and the cup said on it, if you think you can or can’t, you’re probably right. And it was a quote from Henry Ford. And for whatever reason, that stuck with me and stuck with me. And that just kind of became that thing. I’m also from Philadelphia, so I always have that chip on my shoulder. Like, you know, don’t don’t don’t tell me that we can’t do this. We’re going to do this right. And it’s always next year. So this whole concept of if you think you can go ahead and do this, you can. And so if you think that you can leave your nest of being an orchestra teacher and head into a completely different career, do it. If you think you can talk to a superintendent and look at them eye to eye and say, this is my thought on how you can run your school district, do it. If you think you can handle having triplets, do it. And if you think you can go work for Microsoft, do it. And I’ve had an opportunity to really, you know, put myself out there and say, here’s what I think. You can take it or you leave it. Some people have taken it, some people have left it, but at the same time, as you’re the example, what do you want to say to the world? Everybody here has a voice and every voice has, you know, substance behind it to matter.

Sam Demma
It sounds like Henry Ford was an inspiration. I noticed you had a quote from him in your TEDx talk. What does it mean to have a spark of innovation?

Jeff Bradbury
At the end of all of my shows, I always end with the following, you know, keep up the great work in your classrooms and continue sharing your passions with your students. And I say that at the end of my talks, I say that at the end of my classes, I say that, and it’s just this idea that no matter where you are, keep sharing something about yourself. Somebody is gonna pick it up and run with it. Somewhere that spark is gonna then create a flame. And you don’t know if that’s somebody’s kids, your kid, a PD session, you never know. When you’re a conductor, you perform, you turn around, and hopefully they’re clapping for you and then everybody goes home. What you don’t know is maybe there’s a three-year-old in the audience that’s going to pick up the violin tomorrow because they saw you. Or what you don’t realize is that, you know, there is somebody who was inspired by that performance to come up and say, hey, I’d like to be in that orchestra. I’d like to try out for your group. You never know where these things are. In technology, it’s even harder. You do a show, you hit the publish button, and you forget about it. There is no audience, there is no applause, and Google stats are, let’s face it, cold. But when you’re at a conference, or when you get an email from somebody, and they say, hey I listened to it and they’re like that got me moving and I’ll give you a quick story about this, you know many many many six or seven years ago at this point. I did a particular show on a particular topic and then three or four years later I was at ISTE and somebody walks up I listen to that and it inspired me to create this conference in Buffalo and because of that And you just see the ripple effect. I had clearly no idea that all this was going on, but when somebody walks up and goes, that was the reason why, and it all just, kind of cool.

Sam Demma
Yeah, spark of innovation. You create those by sharing pieces of yourself with the world. What is a piece of yourself that you have not shared, or a project you’re working on that not many people know about, or something that you think teacher listening might benefit from hearing? Those are three questions in one. Choose which one you like most.

Jeff Bradbury
Take advice, but don’t always listen. You know, everybody has an opinion. So it’s okay to ask for people’s advice. But at the end of the day, you’re the one that’s going around the sun. And so you need to make those decisions. And it’s easy and cliche to go back to, remember that freshman day one, look to the left, look to the right. One of you is not gonna be that speech. I don’t like that. My philosophy is look to the left, look to the right, don’t make their mistakes. I’m never gonna wish that the guy next to me is not here, right? Look around you to see what’s not working. When I, for example, make websites, I have 20 sites up in front of me. I’m learning from all of that information. When I’m writing a blog post, I have all the blog, you know, the high-end bloggers up in front of me, all their content, trying to figure out what’s an intro, what’s a middle, what’s a closing, what’s all of that stuff. Learn from what’s happening around you. Always keep your eyes open because you never know when you’re the one that people are going to be asking. Before coming on this show, I just got two emails saying, would you like to be on a panel at this conference? Yeah, because that’s an amazing opportunity and what an honor to be asked to do all those different things. So always look around you and you never know when you’re the one that’s gonna have the opportunity to inspire others.

Sam Demma
I have a question about some advice from you and I will listen. What are your favorite tech tools that you use that teachers might benefit from learning about or exploring? 

Jeff Bradbury
I’ll throw the question back at you. What’s the one thing that nobody can give you but you always want to have? And the answer is time. And so because of that, when people ask me that question of what’s your favorite, what should they have, or what’s the best, my answer is always, remember, these are all tools. What is going to give you the opportunity to reflect yourself but save you time? I’ll give you an example.

Jeff Bradbury
Movie creating, right? You’re going to, you’re recording this podcast, you’re going to edit this podcast, you’re going to produce this podcast. I’m sure there was a reason for you selecting each of those pieces of technologies. For myself, I’ve chosen my toolbox for no reason other than I memorized the keyboard shortcuts. Doesn’t mean that it’s a better product, a worse product or whatever. If you ask me what my favorite video editor is, I’m gonna give you an option and say, but I don’t use that. You’re gonna say, why not? Well, because I’ve already memorized the keyboard shortcuts over here for this one. So I can do a quicker product over here, even though this one’s got, you know, full and AI and it’s all wonderful and it’s brand new and all that stuff. I’m still using my 10 year old product because I can get through it in five minutes and then I can go be dad. So for me, the best products that are out there are the ones that allow you to express yourself to the best of your abilities and give you the most time back in return. Very vague answer, I get it, but. It’s a helpful answer, though.

Sam Demma
It’s a helpful answer, though. It sounds like step one is to figure out the end result. So for you it was produce and publish a podcast, and then the second question is how can I do that in the quickest way possible, and then you use the tools that drive that efficiency up. 

Jeff Bradbury
My job is not to edit video. My job is to give and get hugs.

Sam Demma
Ah, I love that. Now, how long did it take you to write your new book? I’m sure that was a laborous process. 

Jeff Bradbury
13 years. The book officially started off as a, I’d like to make a book teaching others how to podcast. 13 years ago and nobody picked it up. And so that then turned into, I’d like to make a book about audio and video recording. Nobody wanted that. And then that turned into, let’s do a book about instructional coaching. There was a lot of those coming around. And so I just kept trying and trying and trying and trying and trying. And eventually you find somebody And so I just kept trying and trying and trying and trying and trying. And eventually you find somebody that’s going to answer the door. And eventually it’s OK. This is what it is. And then you get some more ideas and you get some more ideas. And so ninety seven thousand words later we are ready to go. And I have a cover and I’m just I’m at the end of the ballgame here. And it’s just a matter of it’s a time game right now. But again, if you think you can go do something, go do it. And I’m just that person. I’m not going to let anybody tell me no. So there are companies that did turn me down three times. I gave them book A. I gave them book B. I gave them book C. And they’re like, nope, sorry, nope, nope, not, mm-mm, not, mm. And I, okay. But after each one of those, I always had the conversation, why not? What do you look for in a book? And so if you go through and read my manuscript, what you don’t realize is that you’re actually reading six or seven publishers full of advice and information and how to and what not and all those other things. That’s amazing. When can people expect the book? My hope is holiday season. I don’t have an exact date yet, but hopefully by the holidays. I don’t know, but you can always find out. If you follow everything over at teachercast.net, you’ll get the information.

Sam Demma
So people can follow you at teachercast.net. Where else on the internet can they find you?

Jeff Bradbury
Basically everything that says TeacherCast, I’m attached to my LinkedIn is teachercast.net/LinkedIn/teachercast.net/Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/you name it its all. It’s all short links. 

Sam Demma
Jeff you’re a lighthouse man. I really appreciate you spreading some of it on the show here today. Keep up the amazing work you’re doing, enjoy the conference this summer, the book release and I look forward to staying in touch and reading your words.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeff Bradbury

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.

Nicholas McCowan – Lenovo’s Visionary Teachers Award Recipient

Nicholas McCowan – Lenovo’s Visionary Teachers Award Recipient
About Nicholas McCowan

Nicholas McCowan (@NJMcCowan) teaches at St. Joan of Arc Academy in the Toronto Catholic District School Board and teaches Science, Leadership and Student Success.

In 2019, Nicholas was the winner of Lenovo‘s prestigious Visionary Teacher’s Award which earned him a set of VR headsets for his classroom. His submission focused on the socioeconomic limitations students face, along with the challenges associated with assimilating to a new country, as many of his students were newcomers.

Connect with Nicholas: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

St. Joan of Arc Academy

Visionary Teacher’s Award

Teach Me Toolbox

Teachers Meet Teachers

Bubba Gaeddert – CEO and Founder of the Varsity eSports Foundation

Google Expeditions

Minecraft Education

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want a network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox, you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma today’s guest is Nick McCowan. Nicholas is a teacher at St. John Arc Academy in the Toronto Catholic District School Board. He teaches science leadership and student success, and he is also a tech wizard. He helped an entire classroom at John Vanet experience visiting the national space station and traveling through exotic places throughout the world, using the Lenovo virtual reality classroom set without even leaving the classroom.

Sam Demma (01:11):

St. Joan of Arc Catholic Academy became the first school in the TCDSB to use this virtual reality kit. After today’s guest, Nick won an essay contest put on by the big tech giant Lenovo, and he believes that using technology can empower students who are new to the country and who may face social stigma. As a result, he is a phenomenal educator, phenomenal human being. He also runs something called Teach Me Toolbox, which is an Instagram page and a platform that shares tips that you can add to your teacher toolbox. He does so much to empower and educate and inspire his students. He is also a world experiencer. He loves traveling and he’s super passionate about the ocean. Anyways, without further ado, let’s get to the interview with Nick. I hope you enjoy it. And I will see you on the other side, Nick, welcome to the High Performing Educators podcast. It’s a huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by sharing with our audience who you are and how you got into the work you do in education now?

Nicholas McCowan (02:17):

Okay. Thanks for having me on Sam. It’s a pleasure to be here. So my name’s Nick McCowan. I taught with the Toronto Catholic District School Board for this is now my 10th year nine years at the school that I’m at. Generally I teach science and leadership and student success. So I wear a couple hats at the school. As a lot of us tend to do these days. I got into this work, I guess this story goes all the way back to high school. I had one particular teacher as I think a lot of educators can, can relate with this. They all had that one teacher that inspired them. George Robel at Cardinal Newman in a grade 12 history class. What he did was he, he brought in his, his dad just randomly and this, like, he sort of like crunched over old man walked in, didn’t say a word rolled up his sleeve and showed everybody the number tattoo on his forearm. And he had been a prisoner or in one of the concentration camps during world war II. And that experience just really like that got to me because I think, you know, that was the aha moment. Like what was in the textbook was real. And I think when that, for me, that experience was where I wanted to, to do that. I wanted to give people that experience. So that was sort of the main driver from me amongst a lot of other influential experiences as I went through my educational career myself.

Sam Demma (03:45):

That’s amazing. Yeah. Yeah. It’s so cool because I have that teacher for me too, and I don’t do, I mean, I’m not working in formal education as a teacher, but I’m, and I’m, I’m aspiring to impact students in, in different ways and doing so virtual right now. What other character traits did your teacher have, you know, in your, in your, in your history class that really made an impact on you? Cause I’m sure along with bringing in his father, there was other things he did for you that made his class your most memorable class?

Nicholas McCowan (04:15):

I think he was available, you know, he, he wasn’t just a teacher. He, he, he made himself readily available in the class and outside the class and, and he talked to us, not at us. And I think that that’s a valuable distinction that a lot of teachers, sometimes when you like in different stages of your career, or even just day to day, we we’ve something happened at home and we forget to talk to the students mm-hmm instead of at them. And I think that, you know, especially now given all the restrictions we’re going through and the challenges we’re going through, it’s an important lesson to, to remember. And Robo was so good with that. I mean, he would pull you out of class when he knew you were having a bad day and ask you what was going on. He would sort of just E even down the hallway, kind of engage you with something that you mentioned in class, which empowered us. Right? Mm-hmm he was listening to what we were saying. So I think that that was sort of the most valuable thing that he offered us as well, was just the fact that he listened and, and was genuine with us on a, a day to day basis.

Sam Demma (05:18):

No, that’s awesome. And it’s funny when I think about Rob and my teacher, Mr. Loud foot, very similar. He tried to meet each student where they were at, meaning he would take his overarching lesson and try and apply it to all of our lives individually. So one kid loved fashion. He would talk about the ability to make an impact on the world. Through fashion. One of us loved sports. He would talk about the importance of using the platform you build responsibly to make a difference. And what’s crazy is that their, their preaching was backed by life experience and action. So like my teacher told us small actions make a massive change, go in the community and try something. And I didn’t know it, but he, he, for 20 years along with other colleagues of the school were organizing the food drive. And when he, when he retired from the school board after 20 something years or 30 something years, they had, they had donated over a million pounds of food. And I didn’t know that. And he did that. And I’m sure your teacher the same way, you know, showed interest in all of you guys and behind the scenes was like very calculated and, and very intentional about doing so how do we, how do we be intentional and make students feel seen and heard in this virtual world you know, with all the challenges that are being faced?

Nicholas McCowan (06:39):

I, I think the important thing is to remember that as educators, like we really have that role of a hero, right? I, I think that you can’t underestimate how much the kids are watching and how much they’re listening. And even if we can’t observe it as readily as we can, and during like regular teaching and having the students in front of us, we have to remember that they’re still listening and they’re still observing everything you do. So, and it’s even more important. And I mean, we’re constantly bombarded by warnings from our school boards, like, Hey, you know, dress the right way, have the background the right way, have, you know, have all, all your ducks in a row so that you can’t get in trouble. And, and the phrasing of that has kind of made people paranoid. So we have to under like still address those kids and be impactful from behind a screen, which has like been.

Nicholas McCowan (07:34):

I don’t know, we’ve had a whole new set of challenges given to us, and we’ve really had to adapt so quickly. So I guess some of the ways that we’ve done it is by using some of the amazing tools that are available. I, myself am a pretty tech savvy guy. So we’ve I’ve been doing this for a long time. A couple years ago, 2019 Lenovo Canada gave me the visionary teacher of the year award for some of the work we we’ve been doing with our VR project. At school, we, we were doing the virtual classroom two, three years ago using VR helmets to give students student voice at the particular school that I’m at, we’ve got a lot of new Canadians and allowing them to use tools like Google expedition which is a fantastic tool that we can get more into if you’d like.

Nicholas McCowan (08:25):

But essentially it’s one of the VR programs that you can go to anywhere in the world, see different environments. And you know, like for a kid, who’s just come from the Philippines who doesn’t have a handle on the language who doesn’t know the environment he’s coming, and he doesn’t have any friends in the class throw that helmet on him and show him his street in Manila, that kind of power from that experience is huge. And that just, that opens up so many things because now kids in the class can be like, Hey, I lived right around the corner from there. And that gives him the power to say, I now have the commonality with the kids in my class. So those kind of tools that we’re, we’re dealing with, you know, we are restricted because we can’t put the helmet on them, but we still have the ability to use similar tools from behind the screen. And it’s important to keep digging and not make it full. Do you know, like we, we really can’t just send an email like here, do questions one to 10, you gotta make it as engaging and interactive as possible. And that’s when you really grab the student’s attention.

Sam Demma (09:26):

Where did the, where did the curiosity come from for you to develop your tech skills and dive deep into to these?

Nicholas McCowan (09:39):

I would say experiential learning opportunities is, is it bad to blame Sega Genesis or like, or PS, you know, PS one through four, you know, like I think actually a lot of it came from gaming, man. I think you know, as much as a lot of parents ride the kids for gaming, I think more and more, those are the kids that are tech savvy that are, are winners when it comes to this online engagement. And I’ve seen a lot of kids become wizards with using some of the tech tools that are out there. They’re so, so better versed at it than we are. And I think that that comes from that, that kind of similar back that, that gave me that that love for it. It was no nobody in particular, but I, I guess I’ve always really taken to it. I mean, being at UofT and being at Trent University and at Ottawa doing all the degrees that I’d done, you, you, you’re doing labs, you get these opportunities to play with electron microscopes. And I mean, we’re all kids at high, right? So when you get these tools, like why not engage fully? And I love offering that opportunity to the students.

Sam Demma (10:43):

I just recently on the high performing student podcast interviewed a director of something called the, the Varsity eSports foundation and his name’s Bubba. And he talks about the difference between mean talks about the difference between gaming and eSports and the stem advantages that come along with eSports. And I’m curious to know your personal opinion on that. Should educators listening, start being more open minded to the possibility of using games to build critical thinking teamwork and even, you know, overcoming challenges as a team?

Nicholas McCowan (11:18):

Absolutely. I mean what better platform than to use one that students are already familiar with? There’s no need to like teach them the skillset to use the tech, you know, so they’re already familiar with it. So they hop in running. I use a a game called no man sky for PS4. It’s not an amazing game, but allows students to explore sort of it it’s engages them with space exploration, which helps with my earth and space science class at the 12 U level. So it’s a nice little hook activity for them. And then as soon as they have that, you can start adding to programs like sky safari pro, which is a fantastic sort of telescope tool. And I think that for students, as soon as you, you pull out those, those tools, they’re already engaged as it is. So they, they love that kind of thing big time and, and hop in with both be.

Sam Demma (12:13):

That’s awesome. And for a teacher who’s listening and thinks this is awesome and wants to give it a shot, but is so overwhelmed by the idea of this technology. What is the first small step they can take to dabble their feet in the water and give some of these things a small try?

Nicholas McCowan (12:31):

I think the best thing to do is to ask the students, ask the students, to show them what they think is best and do a quick little poll. The kids are, well, I should say students because, I mean, I got kids that are up to 18 but they’re watching the videos on like Twitch and, and watching all those streams, right, where ki people are playing the games. So a, a student would readily have, you know, a whole handful of videos that a teacher can use to, to sort of learn the basics and, and, and watch the gameplay and see whether it’s valuable for the lesson they had in mind. So I would start there with that. But a lot of the S resources that were being given by our particular board, we’ve got a great 21st century learning team that is all about a listen.

Nicholas McCowan (13:18):

If you guys have some sort of tech tool that you wanna use, go for it. We, I mean, we even got a Minecraft license so that we can use Minecraft for some of the for some of the tools in elementary. And it’s, it’s going from math to English all the way over to history. I mean, the, it, it’s pretty amazing. I think a, another, one of the valuable tools that we were talking about earlier, Google expedition, one of the things that they can do with that. And I know like for an English teacher, the chance to use a lot of tech is, is not always there. It, it tends to be more like a, a stem teacher that has the availability. One of the experiences students can have is, is being the ghost of Macbeth in the play and watching the play virtually from the stage. So, I mean, you can actually experience Shakespeare, which is the way it’s supposed to be, right? So you have students that are, are so accustomed to just opening up that small little book and reading along in class. Now you can actually live the experience, play on YouTube VR or on on this like Google expedition platform. So really the, the learning for the teacher is not that onerous. So it’s actually pretty straightforward and there’s lots of great tutorials online.

Sam Demma (14:34):

So what you’re saying essentially is teachers can take their kids on a class trip without leaving or going on a bus.

Nicholas McCowan (14:44):

Well, it’s, it’s cost effective. I’ll tell you that. We, we we’re we do that all the time in my environmental or biology classes, earth and space. I mean, talk about bringing the experiential learning to the classroom, because I mean, another one of the hats I wear, I work Fori academy. And we take students down to Belize and Costa Rica for the summer. And I mean, the very first day in class, we, it in class is a loose term because we actually take a, a skiff out like to the coral reef. And we jump into the coral reef and dive with sharks and, and Ray, and actually engage in discussions about biodiversity. And there is no better teacher, but obviously that’s an experience only a few can afford. So these VR helmets and, and this kind of technology allows that integration into the learning and when it comes for free, I mean, it’s, it’s a win-win situation, right?

Nicholas McCowan (15:41):

Like the kids are all in as soon as they can do that. Another interesting facet of that technology is, I mean, you can, some of the AR the augmented reality stuff that they can do too, is I can now put a shark in the middle of the classroom virtually via an iPad. So I can have a camera showing the class input, the shark, and we can dissect it like layer by layer, you know? And, and I think that that kind of experience for the students is, I mean, you can’t touch it, right? Yeah.

Sam Demma (16:09):

You can even do that in real classroom, unless you were thinking about it, you know, at least virtually, maybe more teachers are open to the idea of giving this a try now. That’s so cool. And what’s the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality in a very layman’s terms.

Nicholas McCowan (16:26):

Okay. Quick virtual reality will be a full immersive 3d experience. Okay. so if you want to go down the backbone of a DNA strand and look at all the different nucle or the nucleic acids, as you go down in the phosphate backbone, you can actually engage and manipulate the environment. Whereas augmented reality will be a 3d image that you can insert your, your camera’s ex view. So if you take a picture in a hallway or you have students sort of holding up a mitochondria or whatever it is they’re looking at it it’s, it’s something that they can actually manipulate in, in the virtual world, so they can spin it around with their hand. They can actually touch certain parts and information can, can pop up. So it’s a full, fully engageable learning tool that’s in that virtual world. So AR is that 3d image and VR is that fully immersive experience.

Sam Demma (17:30):

Okay, awesome. This is really, really interesting, and I’m sure there’s gonna be some and teachers who are very curious to learn more and hear more, especially from you. And we’ll, we’ll ask you to share some contact information at the end, but I wanna know in all the years you’ve been teaching, you’ve learned lots. You’ve obviously gained a lot of wisdom. If there’s an educator listening who is just getting into this, or they feel like they’re starting from the ground up, because it’s so changed and different this year what pieces of advice could you give your younger self or that new educator based on what you know now?

Nicholas McCowan (18:06):

I think the, the first thing, like when you, when you, we all start our careers, we, we really want to be that teacher, the one who students like really, they love our classes. They, they want to engage in all our lessons and we want to be the superhero that, that we all sort of start out as. And I think that we, we burn ourselves out so quickly at the beginning because we’re trying to be perfect. Mm-Hmm . And I think that the, the important message is that there is zero need to be perfect at the beginning of your career. We were all there and we all had to start building those courses and, and from scratch. And, you know, I think that not having it done the best way the first time, give yourself a break and don’t take it home with you.

Nicholas McCowan (18:52):

We are notorious overthinkers and teachers work like beyond the hours of the classroom. And I think that, you know, the, the mental stresses of, of that kid who didn’t eat in your class that day, and you worry about what’s going on at home, you, you still want to have that on the back burner, but don’t stay up till two in the morning overthinking how you’re gonna solve that problem, because it’s a group effort. And I think if you keep home and the student, most importantly, I think that that’s where those solutions start to come. So don’t kill yourself, trying to do everything. You know, I think where we’re sort of forced into this business and, and teachers were in the business of knowing so don’t kill yourself if you miss the, if you miss an answer on the board, be open about admitting that, hang on.

Nicholas McCowan (19:43):

I don’t know. And let me look it up for you and let’s learn together. Because each semester you got 30 new people in front of you, and, and you’ve got that times, you know, however many courses you’re teaching. And even if you taught it the same way, and it was successful for, you know, eight straight semesters, maybe these 30 need a brand new take on things. So be open to the new buzzword that we keep getting be flexible. So, you know, like, so be flexible in your own pedagogy and, and in your own lesson planning and curriculum delivery, because it’s really important to know that being perfect. Isn’t the, the be all and end all when you’re delivering curriculum. It’s, it’s good to have that idea in your head.

Sam Demma (20:28):

I love that. One of the pieces of advice I always tell students to is don’t, you know, don’t be afraid or shy away from asking for help. And I think right now it applies to educators more than ever. And there’s this one story called the Oracle of Delphy and it’s a story. It’s an ancient philosophy story about Socrates and an Oracle telling him you’re the wisest person in the land. And he says, no, I’m not. And, and so he goes around to talk to all the other philosophers and asks them, what do you know about life? And they all give him these, these definite answers. And at the end of all of his journey, he realizes, wow, think this Oracle might be right, cuz I’m the only one out of all the philosophers who said, you know, I know that I know nothing, and that’s why I continuously learn. I think educators are the perfect example of that because like by nature, you’re perpetual learners. Like you, you never stop learning. And right now is a chance to just learn a ton more and almost take the role of the student and the teacher, which I think is awesome and presents a cool opportunity. And if, if someone listening wants to be a perpetual learner and dive more into VR and technology and maybe have a conversation with you, what would be the best way for them to reach out and do so?

Nicholas McCowan (21:43):

I think right off the bat, I mean, email is a quick way to get in touch with me. Anyone who wants to ask any questions about what we’ve talked about?

Nicholas McCowan (21:56):

Well also I’m part of two other Instagram initiatives where I’m part of a group called @teachersmeetteachers. It’s not a dating site, it’s for for teachers to share resources and ideas and I’m it’s, it’s given me so many outlets to either share some amazing resources that I’ve found or engage in conversation with teachers or experiencing the same challenges. So give them a follow and coming up right now me and another teacher of mine, we’re starting up a new page @teachmetoolbox. And we’re gonna be putting up sort of valuable resources that will really help you get through the COVID times right now. So give those two a follow if you can.

Sam Demma (22:52):

Awesome. Perfect. Nick, do me one more favor and repeat your email one time and cut out a little bit.

Nicholas McCowan (22:55):

Sorry. Yeah. It’s nicholas.mccowan@tcdsb.org.

Sam Demma (23:10):

Nick, It’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much for coming on and maybe I’ll see you in person VR pretty soon.

Nicholas McCowan (23:15):

Let’s hope, man. Let’s hope, man.

Sam Demma (23:18):

Yeah, you’re welcome. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this call content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

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The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.