Dr. Adam Browning – Director of Learning Palliser School Division

Dr. Adam Browning – Director of Learning Palliser School Division
About Dr. Adam Browning

Dr. Adam Browning (@AdamLBrowning) has been an educator for 17 years. As a system-level leader, he is primarily responsible for curriculum and diversity supports for a school division of over 40 schools and approximately 9000 students.  

He is a researcher in applied linguistics and an instructor at the University of Lethbridge. Much of his research focused on early literacy and language skills and how students transition to more academic uses of literacy.  He is especially interested in motivation and how we can better engage students with literacy.  

Connect with Adam: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Palliser Regional Schools

University of Victoria – BA in History

University of Calgary – Doctorate of Education in Applied Linguistics

Malcolm X Autobiography

The Power of Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart

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):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today, I have the distinct honor of interviewing Adam Browning; Dr. Adam Browning. He’s been an educator for 17 years and as a systems leader, his primary responsibility is for curriculum and diversity supports for a school division for over 40 schools and approximately 9,000 students. He is a researcher in implied linguistics, and an instructor at the University of Lethbridge. Much of his research focused on early literacy and language skills, and how students transition to more academic uses of literacy.

Sam Demma (01:13):
He’s especially interested in motivation and how we can better engage students through and using literacy. I hope you enjoy this interview. It was very interesting and intriguing, and I will see you on the other side of the episode. Adam, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on this show. We had a great chat last week, and I’m glad that we, we made some time to make this happen. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind how you got into the role and education you’re in today.

Dr. Adam Browning (01:42):
Awesome. Thanks for having me and connecting me. I’m glad to be, this is my first podcast. That’s new for me, so just excited for the opportunity. So I guess the question is kind of what brought me into education. It’s a long story and I know that it’s probably longer than what I could cover in your podcast, but I’ll admit this you know, at the expense of some of my colleagues hearing it. I don’t think I was a great student. I wasn’t an engaged student, you know, I struggled throughout K-12, and I remember in grade one, you know, my mom will tell me now that maybe they thought I had a learning disability that I just I wasn’t really clueing in areas of literacy and other pieces of language that they thought I should be at that time. And looking back, you know, out of all the time that I was in school and that I struggled, I can think about a few times where I was successful. And I think a lot of that success came from connection with a great teacher and, and that’s what brought me here is being a struggling student, and then to somebody who’s become a teacher, principal, and a director of education and a, I guess, a, an instructor at the university, I just see such an opportunity for what an awesome role model adult and a teacher can do to make a profound difference in the lives of kids. Yeah, that’s kind of what brought me here.

Sam Demma (03:07):
Well, tell me more about your own experience as a student. You know, you mentioned struggling a little as well. Did you have any educators in your, in your journey as a student that showed you the importance of having a caring adult in your life?

Dr. Adam Browning (03:25):
Totally. And I think back to, you know, who those educators were and just how impactful they were. I had a principal in elementary school named Dr. Farran and I guess I became a doctor around vocabulary and I remember Dr. Fe always being in the library and he’d looking at a dictionary and pulling up words and just kinda showing me the power of language. I remember in grade six and this is a student, you know, who I wasn’t really engaged was always struggling being compared to my older siblings, that there was time for us to memorize or to about a poem and be able to, to say that poem and speak the poem. And I memorized the poem. This offered Lord tenons, the charge of light brigade, probably can’t fully recite now, but no, still lot that, but just felt empowered by him, not through wrote memorization, but just the power of learning about words, learning about literacy, about poetry and being proud that I could do something and he really celebrated it.

Dr. Adam Browning (04:23):
And I was that student who probably didn’t have as much confidence. I didn’t have as much confidence and just having that opportunity to, to do something and do it well. And, and have it be known in the school, made a huge difference for me. And I think about, you know, in junior high, as it got tougher, as it does is for many students just running into that one teacher, Mr. Whitmore, social studies, grade 11, who just made content accessible for me, showed me that I could have a passion about it. I would probably say that history. And then land-based learning outdoor education are some of my most favorite subjects to teach and he just made it cool. I could talk about contemporary topics. I could really look at it critically. I could access it. It wasn’t learning from a worksheet. It wasn’t learning from a textbook.

Dr. Adam Browning (05:11):
And I found success as this student in those classes. And I just thought that that’s something that if I was to become a teacher, I could bring and I hope that’s what I brought to education. I, I, you know, I think that kindergarten to 12, that system probably university too, it’s like a race. Mm. And any given year, I’ve heard this before a student can fall behind and then they have like cumulative disadvantage cuz you fall behind and you going to learn the next thing and it just gets harder and harder. And so I think that a obviously there’s changes that people can make at the system to be more inclusive of students. But at any given year student can meet that one teacher who will have such an impact on them that their, their growth, you know, either as people or as students is gonna grow more than a year and you can have that type of impact on a student so that they don’t become disadvantaged.

Dr. Adam Browning (06:03):
I know that researchers and other people are gonna talk about just how important education is. And there’s always exceptions to that role where some people don’t have education. They do great things. I think largely education is super important and not just on a, about how we form as people and being able to be part of that, I think is fundamental to who I am. You know, I’ve always been into social justice and wanting to create meaningful change as a student university. And I thought about ways to do that. And I’ve had these pivotal moments in my life where I’ve thought about my career choices. Was I gonna go on to be a lawyer or was I gonna, you know, stay in school and be a teacher? And I chose the education path. I don’t regret it. It’s been awesome.

Sam Demma (06:46):
You know, people sometimes say, I can’t hear you because your actions are speaking so loud. Right. I can’t hear what you’re saying because your actions are speaking so loud and you’re somebody who has been in school practically your entire life. Is that correct?

Dr. Adam Browning (07:00):
yeah, I think so. Yeah. Yeah. It’s probably probably like a few months at a time where I’ve had some reprieve for it. But up until about January of this year, I’ve been a student my entire life.

Sam Demma (07:12):
that’s awesome. So you, you know, you’ve lived that philosophy of the importance of education in your own actions, which I think is so important, but bridge the gap for me, you know, how did you go from not the best student struggling in school to getting into teaching, you know, understanding that having a, an adult figure in your life who believes in you is really important, could have taken you in many different paths. You could have become a coach. You could have worked with young people in, into different capacities. Why teaching? Like when did you know that you were gonna get into teaching and what did that journey look like?

Dr. Adam Browning (07:46):
It’s a funny one. I was in a Tim Hortons, probably in like the early two thousands and I was studying for an exam and I just found myself working there late night. And I had a conversation with this guy who was a teacher who I had never met. I didn’t know. And I’ve never seen since I wish I could thank them. Wow. And I had written my LSATs at the time, my law school entrance exam. And I’d done well well enough to go to law school. And I thought about it at that time of what I was gonna do. And I was either gonna go to this teachering education program where I’d been offered acceptance into or into law school. And we just ended up having this generic conversation where he talked about his life as an educator and what learned and what he was able to do.

Dr. Adam Browning (08:30):
And, and I mean, the biggest piece was, he said, you’re gonna give up some income, there’ll be some challenges, but the impact that you’re gonna make on lives of kids and what you’re gonna be able to do like in society is gonna be something that is so awesome for you. So I really took that away and I thought about it and I had turned around and I had these three choices of either going to do a master’s degree going into teaching or going into law school. So at that point, I said, well, I’m gonna take a little bit of the best of both. I’m gonna do a master’s degree, but I’m also gonna go into teaching. And I started teaching in the middle school and the tougher school in the city where I, you know, I started teaching it was a community school and a really diverse school.

Dr. Adam Browning (09:16):
And it had that reputation with some of the kids of being the place where maybe they had had some trouble kids to learn. And I just found it to be an awesome experience. Like day one, just the connections that I was able to start making with students. I started my practicum there and then I was able to work there shortly. But the connections I was able to make with students about things that matter to them and be friendly with them. And, you know, I still have students who reach out to me today near 20 years later. And it’s reminding me that I’m getting older, but it’s just awesome to see what they’re doing in their journey, because they were able to find something that they were passionate about. And I feel like as a teacher I was able to do that, find something that a kid is passionate, find something that a kid does well and work from there, and anyone can grow. I have that firm belief that anyone can do better. And anyone can be successful. It’s not just a catchphrase. It I’ve seen it. And so I’ve lived my my work life around that.

Sam Demma (10:10):
I love it. And when you first started, you were teaching, I assumed then you moved into a pre position and now you’re, you know, you’re working at a, a little bit of a higher level and you might be responsible for different tasks. What do the differences look like? And what did you enjoy working, you know, in the classrooms versus what you’re doing now and vice versa, what do you enjoy what you do now versus working in the classrooms?

Dr. Adam Browning (10:33):
I missed the classroom and this was the first year where I’ve really been and able to kind of get back into the classroom as a teacher. But classroom was awesome. You know, that direct connection with kids and you’re involved in their learning. It’s exciting. You learning can be fun. I remember, you know, teaching grade eight science and we were building bios and it was messy and it was loud and there was lots of tables. And my principal would walk in the room and kids were bios, or they were doing these Ru Goldberg experiments to learn about motion and science. And I felt like a topic that I learned from a textbook at times was a topic that I could teach through experience and kids would enjoy it. And so I really missed that part of education. But I moved up into administration fairly quickly was, and two years after teaching, I was an administrator and did that for about 10 years.

Dr. Adam Browning (11:22):
What I liked about that is that I could really take what I was doing in a classroom and build support for that at a school level. I could see as an administrator, tangible areas where I could build relationships with all kids throughout the school. And I remember being that student who was in the hallway, who would be sitting as flush against the wall as you could, so that the principal didn’t see you, cuz you’d be in trouble. You know, I always enjoyed dealing with those students because I could find out what was going on with them at home. You know, I had probably not the easiest family life or the easiest life growing up. And so I know that behavior’s really communicative of what a student has going on. So finding that way to be that support, to be that listening ear. That was really cool.

Dr. Adam Browning (12:07):
And I could see that as tangible differences that I could make for a student every day, you know, and I wasn’t always coming to teach a class. Sometimes it was like, this is how you tie a tie. I remember some great six kids who were celebrating, I guess, a mini graduation and they were fascinated with it. And just being that first person to teach them that I felt I felt honored. And so that was really cool. Those were the positives, I think in this role that I have now, I have a greater opportunity to make system change things that I’m passionate about with literacy or with language. I have an opportunity to advocate for that and do that at the system level. Like I didn’t during a school, the challenges, I don’t always see the tangible impact it takes. Sometimes when you’re looking at dealing with 40 something schools and, you know, over a thousand staff and 9,000 students seeing that tangible difference in that individual student’s life take time at a system level and something I’m adjusting to,

Sam Demma (13:10):
You mentioned me able to make system ch system change at this level at that sometimes you can’t see the change that’s happening or the impact that’s having on the direct student, or maybe even the direct staff member. But I had one educator to tell me, and you meant, you actually alluded to it earlier that sometimes your job as an educator is to plant this seed and water it. And sometimes that doesn’t grow or you don’t see it grow for 15, 20 years. Like you mentioned, now, you’re having students email you and tell you, you know, how great it was to learn X, Y, or Z, or that they’re working in a specific field or industry. And that probably lights you up. So I would, I would encourage you to just keep doing it with a, with a open heart, knowing that it’s still making a change, whether you’re here, it or not. Tell me more about the, the initial years in administration, if there’s someone else listening who would love to also make that jump, like what do you think helped you, you know, make the jump as well,

Dr. Adam Browning (14:12):
Make the jump to teaching to administrator.

Sam Demma (14:16):

Dr. Adam Browning (14:19):
I think when you work on as a staff, as a teacher and you see what a great principal can do, it really makes you enthusiastic about the potential now unquestionably. And I’ll say, I think that being a principal is probably the toughest job in education. Certainly I think it’s tougher than my, a job and you deal with a lot and you support a big staff of teachers, but the benefits of it and the positives of it are unparalleled. You know, I look at the time that I was a teacher and I, I started as a principal at the age of 26. So I was somewhat younger and I had some teachers on my staff, some of whom were in their fifties, they were closer to retirement. And I just had such a supportive group of teachers to help me learn along as a principal. You know, there’s no class that prepares a principal.

Dr. Adam Browning (15:05):
People will say that masters programs prepare principal or leadership quality programs. I think they help, but a lot of it is just lessons that you learn as you go and that you learn working with others from teachers. And I feel like a good piece of being a principal and a good piece of advice I would give to principals is to listen to your teachers. Mm. You always looked at books and their slogans like feed the teachers or to lead the kids or, or ways to distribute your leadership so that you’re empowering teachers to lead a school with you. Not just being led by you, but leading with you. And I feel like, you know, doing those things and seeing those things, every, just like every student had a positive teacher, teachers who have had a positive principle and they see what a difference it can make for a school community for them and for, or students, you know, maybe enthusiastic about taking that step.

Dr. Adam Browning (15:56):
It is a big jump. It’s not one that you get paid substantially for. And you have a tougher job, but you can make a difference for people. Yeah. And I feel like, you know, one of those, those things that I’ve taken away and I, I, I don’t usually push or market catch for raises or slow group slogans or programs, but this has been something big for me is like servant leadership. The idea that you can lead by helping others just finding ways to give a teacher that release time so they can go get a coffee. And then you’re spending that time reading with their kids, things like that are really cool. As a principal, you get a lot of flexibility in your, your schedule that you didn’t have when you were a teacher, but it’s an opportunity for you not to sit in your office. I’ve always heard, you know, people say, you know, you have an open door policy. I don’t have an open door policy. I mean, my policy is I gonna be out there or I won’t let my door hit me in the ass on the way out. You know, I think that we’re gonna out in classrooms and talking to parents and talking to students and just being really visible. Favorite part of being a principal, playing Dodge ball with the kids.

Sam Demma (17:00):
Mm love that. That’s awesome. And being that you’re a, someone who loves literacy, I’m sure you also read books. And I would love to know if, if any of the reads you’ve come across over the years as an educator have been really foundational or impactful for you, maybe in some of your own philosophies or principles as a leader.

Dr. Adam Browning (17:22):
That’s a great question.

Sam Demma (17:24):
I’m putting you on the spot here.

Dr. Adam Browning (17:26):
No, that’s great. Because then you, I think about, you know, what I’m endorsing or really what made that difference for me in terms of what I read, you know, I’ve read a ton of things about research, about literacy. And it’s not a book per se, but I’ve had some, some fundamental things that have changed my, my thoughts. So I’ll share two things, I’ll share a book and then I’ll share a thought changing experience if that’s okay. Yeah, that’s perfect. I think one of the more recent things that I’ve been looking at and I’ve been reading, that’s been impactful on my work is this book called making, thinking visible by Ron Richards. So he’s written a series of books, making, thinking visible and creating cultures of thinking. And it’s very focused on, I would say almost the relationships that we have and the dialogue behind learning.

Dr. Adam Browning (18:17):
I look at the challenges that we faced with the pandemic and learning, moving online. And I think that a lot of what we experienced in education before is challenges like student engagement. It’s just been exacerbated. It’s basically all of those challenge, but it’s created this sense of urgency and made it really apparent. And, you know, Ron Richard takes this approach to learning and these learning routines about having these, you know, not question and answer, but more of this rich dialogue with students and this rich learning routine that makes you know, learning transfer results in deep, deeper thinking and more critical thinking from students. And I’ve been big about that lately and reading it and then seeing the opportunities for it. And so that’s something that I feel like has helped definitely shift my, my thinking, think some other things that I’ve looked at that have really shifted the way that I felt on vocabulary and language learning my dissertation, my doctorates around vocabulary acquisition.

Dr. Adam Browning (19:18):
Cool. One of the biggest areas that I look at with language that really impacts the student is your vocabulary and part of what really delves the student to read. So, you know, to kind of put it into, I hope no linguists or list to this, cuz they’ll say he just did a really rough job with it from K to 12, by the time a kid gets to university, they gotta have around 80,000 words, 15 to 18,000 word families, 10,000 of these words are gonna be these heavier academic words. And these words that we get taught directly the next 20,000 are gonna be words that we hear in context through good conversation. And this last 40,040 to 50,000 are gonna be words that you have through your experiences and deeper and wider reading. Hmm. So the more you read, the more you experience, the better it’s gonna make your vocabulary and linguists won’t always agree on a lot.

Dr. Adam Browning (20:12):
I think most to them would agree that a kid’s early vocabulary is probably gonna be the best predictor of their academic success. And so, you know, I was speaking to a mentor of mine and saying, well, if only 10,000 are these first ones, the words that were taught explicitly, but the rest are reading. Why do we focus on that, that vocabulary acquisition so much that explicit, direct vocabulary acquisition. And so I’ve spent a lot of time researching that and looking at that of just how do we get kids engaged in language? And I used to take this approach as a researcher of being more on the cognitive side of language, where you count on the amount of vocabulary, you profile students language, to look at it. So much of what I’m seeing now can easily be measured. Mm it’s like the engagement factor for a student to wanna learn about something that they’re engaged in.

Dr. Adam Browning (21:02):
So they show their own agency and their own interest to get into a subject. Doesn’t always have to be through reading. Sometimes it’s through video or other media forms. It’s powerful and it’s something that’s tougher to measure and it’s really changing the way I’m thinking. So here’s the experience part. I was in a, a session with a a friend of mine and I would almost say an informal mentor, but David Bouchard, the very well known Metty author and David, you know, has had a profound impact on because I’m met, you know, his area’s literacy. That’s my area. He is much more well known than I am, but you know, someone that I aspire to be like, and he said something to the audience and I felt like it was almost calling me out. And he said not, everyone’s gonna be a doctor and drive Mercedes.

Dr. Adam Browning (21:50):
And we all found that funny, but then he said it needs three things. They need a hero in literacy like that positive adult role model who makes them like learning. They need a, they need time and they need a good book. Not everything is easily measured. And remember when he was saying that I was in the midst of writing my doctorate dissertation and I’m thinking about counting words, and I still believe in that aspect, but he just really opened some doors for me to, to think about literacy differently. And so not everything’s that that’s shaping who I’m becoming as an educator is books I read, but it’s also experiences called conversations. They have a big impact.

Sam Demma (22:31):
And what experiences did you have as a student that also built the beliefs about servant leadership and social justice? Like where did that passion or where did that? Yeah. Where did that passion come from to also focus on that aspect of education? Not only as a teacher, but also maybe when you were a student,

Dr. Adam Browning (22:54):
It probably didn’t come in until high school, but it came in that one social studies class where, you know, the teacher was teaching us in a way about contemporary history where I didn’t have to read a textbook that I didn’t see myself reflected in. You know, I grew up you know, my mother’s met and my family’s met my met individual. And I remember learning about history and it being so far removed from what I knew of my mother’s background, you know, we used to learn about the met resistance and we would hear it be called insurrection and that Lou re was a trait. And it was just such a difficult learning path. And so to make history accessible and take ownership over it was that really tough part. And this one teacher where I felt so alienated as a student learning, especially from that cultural aspect, he had just made it open where I didn’t have to read from a textbook.

Dr. Adam Browning (23:47):
I could go and find other things. And he’d challenge you. He’d tell you go to the public library and pick up sources that you wanted read on a topic. I mean, he, let me read Malcolm X. It changed my life, reading that book. That’s awesome. And you know, very much, even though Malcolm X was in teacher, brought me into education, I felt really empowered to learn about different topics and just to see the power of the pen and what learning can do to advance a social cause. And that’s really, I’d probably say the fundamental moment where I saw that difference I could make in education, but just the power of information and the access to information. Mm

Sam Demma (24:28):
That’s a great book. I love Malcolm X’s autobiography. There’s a part where talks about one of his first jobs being shoe shining along with hustling, but that, yeah, this that’s so cool. When you’re talking about this teacher, it instantly makes me think of my own world issues teacher. Like the teacher hand is down that had the biggest impact on me was my, his class was called world issues, but I guess it was social studies and he also didn’t have a textbook. In fact, he just had this white binder that had probably close to three or 4,000 sheets of paper in it. And he started the semester by walking in front of the class and saying, I wanna introduce myself, but I also wanna say, don’t listen or take word by word anything that I’m gonna tell you as the truth. If something makes you interested or curious, I want you to go and verify all the facts yourself.

Sam Demma (25:20):
And I remember being a student thinking this guy’s crazy. Like he’s the teacher, you know? But then it started to make so much sense and it became my most enjoyable class. You know, you talked about earlier, the idea of your student or your teacher making lessons accessible as well and making you feel culturally, and also just overall included in the, in the class. He was someone who would get to know us on, on such a, a level that he would teach a lesson and then say, oh, Sam, by the way, to you, this means X and oh, Adam to you, this lesson means X and oh, Koon to you because you’re interested in X, Y, and Z. This means X. And he would take the lesson and paint it with our interests so that we become interested in it. And I’ll never, yeah, I’ll never forget his class.

Sam Demma (26:10):
And he was someone who led by example, but without telling you, you know, I didn’t know that while I was in school, Mike for the past 24 years, ran the food drive and helped you know, bring a million pounds of food and goods to local shelters or that he collected enough pop, can tabs to build a eight wheelchairs and no one, he didn’t talk about it, but he would just, you know, he would teach his lessons, was super passionate about the content and then would be doing all this great work and living out what he thought was a, was a great life. And he’s retired now. And I’m curious to know well actually wanna wrap this up, but on two final notes, when you, when you retire know and you’re not that old, so hopefully got some years left , but, but when you step away from, you know, teaching, what is the legacy that you wanna leave or the, the impact you wanna leave behind. And then I’ll ask you one follow up question before we wrap up.

Dr. Adam Browning (27:07):
I got a ton of thoughts I wanna leave behind. I think the biggest thing that I’ve tried to leave behind right now, and no I’m not ready to retire, and it’s not even an age until I see that. I mean, I’ve wanted a number of students to just go on and come back and share their success and see enough of it that they’re making that change in the world, either becoming educators or just being passionate about something. And I don’t, I, I feel it and I see it, but I haven’t coming off. And that’s really the Testament to the work that you do is that kid in kindergarten, grade one who come back and they see you and you see that they’re just doing something wonderful. And they let you know, the more I see of that I might get there. And I haven’t been in education long enough to see enough of that.

Dr. Adam Browning (27:47):
Nice. I’m starting to see students of mine who become teachers, and I’m starting to see teachers of mine who are becoming administrators. And I’m proud of it. Think on one of my last schools, you know, the staff, at least three of those people have become administrators. And I just feel like that’s something that I want to continue to see. So now I’m focused really on building leadership opportunities for people to become leaders in various capacities. That’s something that I want to see behind that I’ve created this ongoing system of sincere leaders and learners who are giving back to the, to the community. And I think that I hope I lead behind a Testament of literacy where so much of what we do is just having students engage in positive literacy experiences. And I remember as a student going to the library and picking up things that I wasn’t necessarily connected in class, but I was connected to ideas and to have someone who can value that, and then just encouraged that, that literacy learning or students creating things and those natural opportunities for it. I would like to leave that behind on a system where we celebrate literacy, we don’t just measure it. That’s something I’m looking forward to leaving behind

Sam Demma (28:59):
You. You made me think about what, what informal path I took to start liking literacy or just books and reading as well. I’ll share really quickly. I hated reading. growing up. You couldn’t get me to read a book. I just, I was too focused on soccer and sports. And it was when I was 16 years old and got diagnosed with a condition in my hip known as FAI. It stands for ephemeral acid, tabular impingement, essentially the head of my femur wasn’t round. Then it was tearing up the cartilage in my right hip. And I just got diagnosed with it. I was taking six months off soccer. And while I was taking the time off, I told my dad, I wanted to build a gym in my basement. And he said, great, I’ll help you pick up the equipment, but you have to find a way to pay for it.

Sam Demma (29:44):
And so I started a Salvato grass, cutting service, and started cutting my neighbors lawns and awesome. I started flipping gym equipment on Kijiji. I’d buy rusted plates, you know, scratch them with an iron brush to get the rust off spray, paint them, sell them for full price. I was pretty excited about it. And you know, after a couple, once I had enough money to blast some equipment and I found a gym that was closing down in Toronto, and I connected with the person, we agreed on a price. I got my dad to deliver on his promise and drive me to downtown Toronto. And, you know, I spent 45 minutes going up and down these flights of stairs, grabbing these dumbbells. And I was just having a conversation with the guy who sold it to me and asking him, oh, why are you was in your gym?

Sam Demma (30:22):
And he was like, you know, I have this dream and vision to coach people. And I’m writing this book right now. And he, you know, went down this long explanation of how he’s changing his life. And he’s super inspired by different work. And he’s like, oh, do you like reading? And I was like, no, you know, I, I, I actually, he hate reading. I don’t read too much. And he was like, oh, you should read a couple books. In fact, you know, maybe start with these. And he gave me a short little list and I remember being inspired because I kind of looked up to this guy. He seemed like a very cool individual. He was selling me Jim equipment. So I thought, you know what, I’m gonna give this a shot. And I remember going to indigo and buying, you know, two or three of the books on the list and reading them, not understanding too much of the books because they were not, they were self-help books and they weren’t really related to anything I was experiencing or going through in my life.

Sam Demma (31:13):
So it was a little out of context, but I remember reading them and thinking, wow, this is pretty cool. And I ended up making value village, a thrift store, my biggest bookstore. And, you know, if you buy I four books to get the fifth one free and I would go there every couple months and buy some new books anyways, I’m going on a long path to say that I think sometimes students get inspired to read and to get more involved with literacy when it’s coming from someone outside of the actual educational system or walls, because when their teacher tells ’em to do it, maybe it’s not so cool. But when someone you look up to does, it’s a different story, you know? But yeah, that was my experience. Anyways. I think what you mentioned about leaving behind is, is awesome. And now, if, if I could ask you the reverse question and take you back to your first year of teaching, knowing what you know now, you know, based on the experiences you’ve had and the learnings you had, what advice would you give your younger self when you were just starting? If you could give yourself a handful of pointers,

Dr. Adam Browning (32:16):
I would tell myself to take the time to walk around and see what’s working. Right. I moved into administration really quick, and I felt this to challenge right off the bat to help every student and to help every teacher in education. And so rarely in the day, you know, when you’re dealing with, especially my current role, I end up dealing with lots of issues. But that’s always been that case throughout education. I think I would go back and I remind myself to find opportunities to see what is working, right. So that you’re not just, you know, immersed in issues because there’s so many success stories that are out there in schools, whether it’s a student, that’s doing something excellent or a passion that they have. And if you’re focused too much on the on challenges, sometimes you miss those, those opportunities. Mm.

Dr. Adam Browning (33:01):
And so I’d tell a younger, less patient version of myself. I give ’em the grasshopper speak and speech and say, this is something that, you know, you’re gonna come to learn. And, and I would’ve tried, I probably wouldn’t have been ready to hear it at the time, but I would’ve learned, I would’ve stated that. And just to your point, I think that, you know, we all need to do that. I think back in myself as a student, I can’t remember how many books I read that were part of a course that were something that I remember fundamentally, as you know, this was that book that really made me love literacy. And so we talked about things that I’m reading that have influenced me. I read a ton of stuff in my field. Some of it’s great. I, I don’t know if it’s always that book that really influenced me, but I can think back to grade nine to a book that I read, that wasn’t part of the course or any class.

Dr. Adam Browning (33:49):
And I was a struggling learner, but I was reading things. And I think if we find opportunities for students about things that they’re reading or things that they’re passionate about, that they can connect with literacy multimedia literacy, if we can find that and bring it into school so that it’s not the other way around, we can just push those opportunities even sooner so that when you’re out there shopping for something and you’re looking, and you’ve gone and purchased these books at indigo, like your experience, because it was something that you were interested in, let’s bring that into school. Yeah. And then find a way for you to connect that to a subject that you’re working. I find that too often, we’re too regimented on what kids should learn, read, and not giving enough flexibility. And if we don’t do that, students may not have those opportunities to have like a sincere learning experience and a celebration. And it’s just a missed opportunity. So we need to bring more of that in. I appreciate you sharing that. That’s awesome.

Sam Demma (34:42):
Yeah, of course. Well, one more thing to share before we wrap up, I’ve started thinking a lot about what influences and inspires young people recently. And when I get to the heart of it, a lot of it comes down to music and art. I think like every student, no matter if they listen to different genres, all love and listen to some form of music. And, and I’m speaking on behalf of myself, which is a little biased, but I think in high school, we all have certain rappers or musicians or pop stars or rock bands that we like listening to and are inspired by. So I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I could try and inspire students to deepen their learnings or think about new things through a different art. And so I’ve been, and speaking, you know since I was 17 and just recently decided, let me try a different form of art. And so I’m writing a spoken word album and it’ll come out in the middle of 20, 22, it’s gonna be called dear high school me, and it’ll be all about conversations and challenges. I went through as a, as a high school student in the hopes that this different form of literacy might inspire other conversations or, you know, learnings. So we should connect again, closer to that. I would love to share with you and see what your thoughts are.

Dr. Adam Browning (35:51):
I’d love to take a look at it. That sounds, that sounds great. See lots of students doing that. I mean, I wish I had that opportunity in school, and I’m glad that you have that and hopefully more students do, but I’m looking forward to seeing that. Cool.

Sam Demma (36:03):
Cool. Well, Adam, thank you so much for taking the time outta your day to come on the show. I really appreciate it. If anyone’s listening, people are listening for those who are listening what would be the best way for them to reach out if they, if, if they wanna engage in a conversation with you?

Dr. Adam Browning (36:19):
I’m on Twitter, @AdamLBrowning on Twitter, easy to find and says educator. And that’s probably the best way or just Palliser Schools division; that’s where I work.

Sam Demma (36:30):
Okay, perfect. All right, Adam, thank you so much. Stay in touch and keep up with the great work.

Dr. Adam Browning (36:34):
Thanks Sam.

Sam Demma (36:35):
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 content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want 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.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Adam Browning

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.

Tim Cavey – Founder of Teachers on Fire, 8th-grade teacher and assistant principal

Tim Cavey – Founder of Teachers on Fire, 8th-grade teacher and assistant principal
About Tim Cavey

Tim Cavey (@MisterCavey) is a husband, stepfather of two, 8th-grade teacher, assistant principal, and the host of the Teachers on Fire podcast. In 2019, he completed a Master’s in Educational Leadership degree that re-ignited his fire for teaching and put him on a new path of growth, professional reflection, and content creation.

Tim’s a firm believer in the growth mindset and advocates often for the kinds of informal professional learning that can be found on social media and in blogs, vlogs, or podcasts. When he’s not creating content or spending time with his family, you’ll find Tim hiking, flying his drone, or paddle boarding in the chilly waters of the pacific northwest.

Connect with Tim: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Vancouver Christian School

Masters of Education in Educational Leadership at Vancouver Island University

Teachers on Fire Podcast

Mindset by Carol Dweck




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):
Welcome come back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Tim Cavey. He is a husband, stepfather of two, eighth grade teacher, assistant principal, and the host of the Teachers on Fire podcast. In 2019, he completed a masters in educational leadership degree that reignited his fire for teaching and put him on a new path of growth, professional reflection, and content creation.

Sam Demma (01:05):
Tim is a firm believer in the growth mindset and advocates often for the kinds of informal professional learning that can be found on social media and in blogs, blogs, or podcasts, just like this one or his own. When he is not creating content or spending time with his family, you’ll find Tim hiking, flying his drone, or paddle boarding in the chilly waters of the Pacific Northwest. Tim is a brilliant, brilliant educator and an awesome human being. I’m so glad that he agreed to come on the show and I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I enjoyed chatting with Tim. I will see you on the other side, talk soon. Tim, super excited to you on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself in whatever way you choose to do so and share why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education and with young people.

Tim Cavey (01:56):
Thanks so much, Sam, what an honor to be here. You inspire me so much. So thanks for having me on I’m an eighth grade teacher, assistant Princip, both rookie assistant principal this year, and the host of the teachers on fire podcast. You asked about where my fire comes from, and I always point back to the start of my master’s program a few years ago, and reading Mindset by Carol Dweck as, as kind of a couple of really pivotal moments in my academic journey, my education journey. So those together with launching the podcast have really sort of set me on fire, and gotten me excited about learning again and sharing what I’m finding with other educators.

Sam Demma (02:37):
Love that you mentioned the book mindset, I’m a big fan, and I sure you could riff about the difference between a growth and a fixed mindset. I’m curious to know what would those two perspectives of a growth and a fixed mindset look at today’s current situation of education and, and take away from it. So looking at the challenge of COVID 19, what would the fixed mindset person think say or do versus the growth mindset?

Tim Cavey (03:02):
I think the fixed mindset would look at all of the problems and sort of stop there and attach labels to the problems. Talk about the, just the difficulties we face the, the, the way states and districts are not really listening to the needs of educators, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And, and, and like I said, kind of stop there. I think the growth mindset recognizes the adversity we’re facing, but actually says, okay, what are the takeaways? What can we learn from this? How can we actually move education forward and transform it in a permanent way based on what we’re finding. So educators have learned so much and grown so much and fully mindful that the last year has been a nightmare for a lot of teachers. I, I do see tweets about teachers leaving the profession and so forth, but on the other hand, teachers have really gained a lot of knowledge. Teachers who really didn’t spend much time online a year ago are now fully embracing these ed tech tools, getting into new spaces, covering better strategies for delivering formative assessment to their learners. And it’s super exciting. So the fixed mindset is all about labels. The growth mindset is all about saying, how can I evolve? How can I adapt? How can I move forward based on what I’m facing

Sam Demma (04:16):
And what are the opportunities that you personally have discovered? I know you, you know, you teach grade eight and rookie vice principal in those two roles, what are some of the opportunities that, that have surfaced for you that you think have been very transformational in your own learning and growth?

Tim Cavey (04:33):
I think some of the most growth that I experienced was actually last spring during the lockdown when I was forced to go virtual along with a lot of my colleagues and I did get into some new tech tools that were pretty transformative. So I, I started to experiment with ed puzzle and I’m, I’ll forever be an evangelist for ed puzzle. I think it’s such an underrated tool. Pad is an another one, Flipgrid wake lit some of the tools that I, I, to that point I sort of knew about, but hadn’t really played with too much. Now this past school year we’ve been face to face. And so I’m sort of going back in some ways, but still a, as I said earlier, like trying to implement those new tools in the old spaces, if that makes sense. So trying not to go right back to the way things always were and bring some of those new insights and strategies into my practice. And I would say to some extent I’ve been successful now this year has been really tough in other ways in terms of masking and COVID protocols and, and no field trips and no assemblies, and just a lot of things that kill the joy of school. And so in that process, we’ve learned how to, within our school building livestream assemblies in and deliver them into every class and, and bring about or livestream parent teacher conferences. So those are some things that in terms of access we can move forward with as well.

Sam Demma (05:55):
I love that. And you do a phenomenal job with your own podcast, which we’ll talk about later on today. It’s a huge, amazing resource, not just the podcast, but you have thousands of links on your website to different books and, and past episodes in blog posts. And I was getting overwhelmed with how much you provide, like, it’s just, it’s phenomenal. And I see that you use streamy have like multiple educators on the screen at once, which is amazing. You know, you mentioned a bunch of awesome tools and you said you’re a huge evangelist for the ed puzzle. Can you explain what that is? And also maybe explain what streamy yard is if anyone’s curious about using that for their own virtual assemblies.

Tim Cavey (06:32):
Sure. So full disclosure on ed puzzle, I’m at a new school this year and I, I have not yet convinced my it department to get on board with ed puzzle. So that’s still, that’s still a discussion that is ongoing, but ed puzzle is basically a way to engage and to monitor student engagement with video content. So if you think about the flip classroom, if you think about asynchronous learning resources, we know that our students re night with video, we’re creating more and more tutorials all the time, whether you are a math teacher, English, whatever you’re working in, hopefully you’re starting to do a little bit more screen casting. And so thinking about that, ed puzzle is that tool that actually shows you have my students viewed the content. Have they responded? You can integrate questions really well. And so I it’s, it’s simple. It, it’s not an elaborate tool, but it’s so effective.

Tim Cavey (07:24):
You also mentioned stream yard, which is something pretty different, but I’m having a lot of fun with that one Sam a year ago, I, I started seeing teach better and other friends streaming. And at first I was like, this content is not so great. Like what, what sort of educators gonna sit around and watch this grainy video one on one interview, right on YouTube or whatever platform. But I started to warm up to it. And I realized that there are certain things going on there that are actually really powerful and impactful. So the live Q and a, the live connections relationships are actually forming around some of those streams. So yeah, I, I made the decision to start streaming every Saturday morning on streamy yard, which you mentioned, and it has a free base level that you can just experiment with. And then there are tiered levels above that, that allow you to stream on multiple platforms and get rid of watermarks and so forth.

Tim Cavey (08:17):
But the goal is really just to share ideas and amplify voices. That’s what I do on my podcast. And so now I’m starting to do so by video. And, you know, just last Saturday, I had the pleasure, the honor of hosting five Latina superintendents from California. Nice. And that was such a fun conversation. I was way out of my depth, but it was a really fun conversation. And I learned a lot. I left super inspired, so it benefits my professional practice I find, but it also just gets the word out and shares ideas as well.

Sam Demma (08:50):
My mind immediately jumped to three years ago, being in Costa Rica, dancing the Beata and salsa with people in, in Costa Rica. When you said that that’s so cool ideas, spreading ideas, such an impactful way to share content, to share practices again, your podcast teachers on fire and your whole platform does a lot of that. I’m curious to know out of the, I don’t know, hundreds of conversations that you’ve you’ve kick started and had so far, what are some of the ideas you’re hearing that you think are important to listen to important to try and maybe implement during these crazy times?

Tim Cavey (09:30):
There are so many different directions I could take that. I mean, I guess my brain is still stuck on the virtual sort of hybrid mediums and platforms. So another part of my work, something I’ll be engaging in later this afternoon is is connecting with a virtual conference presentation platform and looking at what they can offer educators in terms of a local conference happening in this area. And so I, you know, I look ahead to the future and I think, yes, I look forward to getting back to face to face. I mean, who doesn’t love those face to face conferences, but as I mentioned earlier, I think we have to really improve our access at, especially when I think of rural educators, international educators, we, we need to think about how we can scale our learning and share it a little bit better. And so virtual conference presentation platforms that that’s one way to do it. And, and then I think your part of your question related to the classroom as well, right? Could you just reframe it for me?

Sam Demma (10:29):
Yeah, absolutely. So a, a teacher right now might be listening or an educator who is struggling. I think the basis of all change stems from an idea, right? Like the water bottle that’s beside me on my desk was an idea in someone’s mind before they created it. You’ve heard hundreds, if not thousands of ideas within your conversations. And I’m curious to know if there’s been any ideas educators have shared that you think might help a classroom teacher or principal or educator in any sense.

Tim Cavey (10:56):
Yeah. Wow. So you just opened the door for me. One, one example that is fresh in my mind that I was just talking about yesterday is there’s an educator on Twitter by the name of Tyler Roblin. I hope I’m seeing his name correctly. And he is experimenting with different forms of assessment and some really progressive practices in his high, high school English classroom. Something he has done is built a rubric for his high school English writers. That is it. It’s got those proficiency columns. So it’s grade list in that sense. And then each of the proficiency levels is actually hyperlinked out to a YouTube video that explains exactly what that student needs to be focused on. And I saw that Sam and I was like, wow. If we can start to hyperlink rubrics like that, then students can on their own time asynchronously actually dig into exactly how to take that next step.

Tim Cavey (11:54):
And so when I think about tools like that, when I think about tools like moat that are offering audio feedback embedded right in Google classroom and other learning management systems, it’s a pretty exciting time just for better feedback, because we know students learn best when they have immediate precise feedback. If you just think about the coaching the coaching metaphor, right? Like a basketball player doesn’t benefit too much from a review of a game two weeks later. Yeah. They benefit from some coaching right in the moment. So looking at the tools that allow us to do that faster and, and more precisely like moat or, you know, deliver that pinpointed advice to take the next step, like the hyperlinked Google docs that really excites me. And I think moving ahead, teachers teachers are going to be adopting more of those practices. And, and it’s a good time to be a student.

Sam Demma (12:47):
Teachers are also struggling to find balance between work and life. And I, I mean, I saw your recent post that said in, in 48 hours, you had 858 emails. And I was, I was blown away and I was curious to know personally, what tools and management systems you use to organize your own time you know, to separate work in life. What is your own system to look like when it comes to time management? Do you have something that’s that you try and follow? That’s been helping you?

Tim Cavey (13:19):
Usually my answer to that is just obviously using a calendar. I shouldn’t say obviously. So using a calendar cementing in those times that are non-negotiables. So, you know, I’ve got Friday family fun night, make sure to connect with my boy and my wife, and actually have some quality family time. Saturday is really date day or date night. Nice. For sure. So spending some quality time with my wife device, free dinners, shutting it down, usually weeknights, we try to shut it down around 9:00 PM and those are all just guardrails that sort of help to put some structure around my life, make sure I’m getting decent sleep, make sure that I’m cultivating relationships and not neglecting them. But other than that, Sam, it’s an ongoing struggle. And so yeah, you saw that tweet where I, I mentioned, I just sort of ignored email for a few days and of the emails piled up and I ended up blowing a couple of appointments and one of them was use and my heartfelt to apologies.

Tim Cavey (14:15):
They, no. So it is, it is tricky. And, and to that point, let me just say about email. I hear some educators or I see it sometimes on Twitter saying like, yeah, I just step away from email and completely ignore it for a while. And I think, yeah, well, yeah, that kind of works. But on the other hand, when you, when you know that the emails are piling up, it, it is going to stress. It’s going to add more people to get back to you. So I, I think email alone is just such a difficult space to manage effectively. One more thing I’ll pass on that might be helpful to somebody in your audience is I keep, I keep my iPhone on, do not disturb twenty four seven. So if you’re not in my favorites list, you probably won’t reach me by phone or by call or by text, at least in real time.

Tim Cavey (15:00):
You’ll sort of have to wait until the next time I actually look at my phone, but to me that just slows down the mountain. Well, it does more than slow down. It kind of eliminates the mountain, the avalanche of notifications. And, you know, I look at some of my colleagues who get a notification every time they receive an email. Yeah. I, I just think that would drive me crazy in a short amount of time. So try, do not disturb on your phone if you are getting a snowed under by notifications. That really that was a game changer for me.

Sam Demma (15:30):
I love that. It’s a great piece of feedback. I saw this funny tweet the other day as well. And it was this girl explaining how you could hang up the phone without letting the other person know that you hung up and essentially you just slide up and you hit the airplane mode button and on the person calling you screen, it’ll say call disconnected or did not go through as opposed to, as opposed to hang up. So if you have to avoid a phone call too there’s this little strategy for you.

Tim Cavey (15:57):
Nice, nice, bad connection.

Sam Demma (15:59):
Yeah. Right, exactly. I’m curious to dive a little more into Tim, your passion for education. Like, you know, you could have taken many different paths back when you were in school. What, with the passion you have for technology with the, in the, the entrepreneurial spirit that you obviously have starting these ventures, what drove you specifically to teaching?

Tim Cavey (16:24):
I think at the time it was a love of people. I knew I, I enjoyed working with kids and a love of the classroom. And I, I will say too, like some really impactful teachers that influenced me. And I just thought, like, I can see myself in this space and teaching has sort of a sense of autonomy, at least within the classroom. Most teachers have a sense of autonomy and independence in the sense that you can really make what you want of the day. Yeah. You’re you caring for these kids of different ages, but you can shape the learning experience and, and you can impact your own level of fun. And I, I get excited when teachers are actually teaching to their passion and that is very evident to their learners. They’re teaching to their strength and they can bring in things from the outside, whether it’s a side hustle or other passions, bring that right into their practice.

Tim Cavey (17:16):
I think on, so another answer to your question, Sam, I look at you at, at, you know, 21 years old, you blow my mind. And I think if I could do it all over again you know, if, if that was my generation, I would take a, a really hard look at content creation as a path to act, actually developing and building your own career. And that may involve some level of being in the school system. It may not, but you, you really excite me because you have that whole, you have your whole career track in front of you. You’re making all the right moves. My Matt,

Sam Demma (17:49):
I appreciate that. And I, I’m learning from gracious educators like yourself, who give their time to chat with me on this podcast. You know, one of the reasons I started it was because I don’t have all the answers to give educators, but I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I could just invite them on the show to chat about what’s working for them in the hope that other educators might listen. I want to go back though, still to those teachers that you said deeply impacted you when you were in school. Mm. What did they do? Like, what was it that those teachers did that had such an impact on you that it drove you to go to education? Because I know I had teachers that changed my life and I can pinpoint the reasons why, and I feel like for every person it’s a little bit different. And if you can pinpoint those things, it’s essentially teaching other educators what they can do to also impact their kids. So I’m curious to know if you can pinpoint the characteristics or things that those teachers did for you.

Tim Cavey (18:39):
I think one of the teachers, I always look back to his name was Mr. Bergen and I had him in eighth grade. And it’s kind of funny that I’m an eighth grade teacher today. Yeah. And although my, my teaching assignment is sort of going to evolve a little bit next year, but I, I teach eighth grade. And so Mr. Bergen was such a supporter. And, and like, you always hear, I mean, I don’t remember a ton of specific moments or lessons that he taught, but I remember the way that I felt in his class. And I remember the way that he encouraged me. I came to Mr. Bergen. Now this is going to sound so nerdy, but I came to Mr. Bergen as a really passionate writer and content creator. Pre-Internet nice. And I was, I was, I, I had fun like working with word processors at the time, there was one called print master.

Tim Cavey (19:28):
I I’m sure no one has ever heard of it. That was, this is the time of word perfect. And corre draw and some really primitive tools now. But I was, I was excited to play with these tools and I had the vision of creating a class newspaper. And Mr. Bergen actually trusted me enough or gave me enough space to actually print a few additions of my newspaper and put them up on the bulletin board. And just something like that. I know I, I look back and I’m like, okay, he was giving me that commendation and that encouragement, that, that approval at 13 years old and now you know, much, much later I am writing blog posts. I’m creating content, I’m doing writing all the time. And I look back at him as a really key you figure in that journey. So there were others in my high school experience as well, but I will shout out Mr. Bergen. I haven’t had contact with him in decades, so I hope he’s still around, but, but I will, I will shout him out as someone who just, just gave me that encouragement and gave me the space. Like he took a risk, right. Because I could have, I don’t know, put something really awkward or inappropriate up on the bulletin board or sort of made him look bad somehow. But he, he gave me the space to try that and he cheered me on and I think it shaped who I am today.

Sam Demma (20:46):
I think giving students responsibility is such an impactful way to build trust. I had a pass guest on, who told me that he had a student in his class that was giving him issues or giving them issues. I can’t remember exactly who the guest was, but they told me that after a couple months of of struggle and he took his car keys and said, can you go into the parking lot into the front seat of my car and grabbed the jug for me? And the kid was like, do you want me to do it? And, you know, gave this kid his trust and his responsibility. And he went and he got the thing, he brought it back into the school. And it was like, he said, it was like a flip switch. The kid changed from this problem to this. Wow. I was useful to the teacher.

Sam Demma (21:28):
He trusted me enough to give me his car keys. I kind of crashed the car. And so, you know, hitting on that piece of, of responsibility is so huge. When I look back at my experience, when I was in grade 12, Mike loud foot was the name of the teacher for me, who’s now retired. And you mentioned it already, but he was so passionate about his, that it just rubbed off on me. Like I felt like he was doing his life SQUI teaching was his ministry. And it was so evident. And you mentioned that, you know, you loved when teachers are passionate about their content. Do you think that’s also a, I wanna say a trait of a high performing educator or a teacher on fire. Like you, you need to be passionate about the material that you’re deliver in teaching

Tim Cavey (22:10):
100%. And if you don’t have the passion, maybe you’re stuck with an assignment that you didn’t really want. I mean, try to generate that passion, dig into it, lean into it try to, to bring that curiosity to life. But absolutely if you’re, if you’re in a situation where you have no passion for your content, it, it really is to think about maybe moving on or changing context, right? You don’t necessarily need to leave education, but as I’ve interviewed educators, one story that I didn’t see coming, Sam was this idea that for many teachers, it was just finding a different situation that actually better aligned with their passions and that brought their fire back to life. So I, I do have a, a concern or a passion for those teachers that are burning out or don’t have much fire left. And I think one of the solutions, one of the answers sometimes is just finding a, a situation that fits their passions and aligns with their values a little better.

Sam Demma (23:06):
And how long have you personally been teaching or in educational?

Tim Cavey (23:11):
Well, I’m embarrassed to say beside you, but that’s okay. I started, I actually entered the field in 2001. That was my first fall.

Sam Demma (23:19):
So 20, 20 years now.

Tim Cavey (23:21):

Sam Demma (23:21):
That’s awesome. And if you could, if you could like go back in time and speak to younger Tim and give yourself advice relating to the practice of education and teaching, what advice would you give yourself knowing what you know now?

Tim Cavey (23:36):
Oh, man. Well, my thinking has evolved in the area of assessment quite a bit. Okay. And so the way that I collect grades or, or marks, whatever you wanna call them that would evolve considerably. I would make sure to clarify I could talk about that quite at length, but basically it would be keep the focus of assessment on the learning and not any not any of these old compliance measures that we used to keep in mind. So, you know, that’s a whole other topic, but you know, that’s something I would definitely bring back. And again, Sam, if I could go back to the beginning, I would say just from a content creator perspective and just a growing professional, like just write one blog post a week. And that would be absolutely transformative over the, the decades. Not just for any kind of an audience, although that audience would certainly come.

Tim Cavey (24:30):
And, and that brings a whole lot of opportunity and, and fun growth as well. But just simply for my own professional practice, there is power in self-reflection. We know that from the classroom, we call it metacognition. We think about it all the time. We want students self-assessing more today. We want them reflecting on their learning. Why aren’t we doing more of that as educators? Right. George Kus actually said when he was principal in Alberta, he made his staff take two hours and write a blog post about their learning. I don’t know if a lot of teachers are ready for that. Yet. There, there might be some rebellions in some staff meetings, if, if, if principals tried to force that, but there’s so much power, right. In actually reflecting on what we’re learning and how we’re doing. So I think that’s, my answer is more reflection along the way.

Sam Demma (25:17):
I have to ask, cuz you sound super fired up about assessment. As a young student myself, I struggled with my self worth because I had to hatched it to my talents, achievements and accomplishments, which sometimes was my grades. Because as an athlete, if I did get a 95% average, it would lead to a potentially higher scholarship at a university or a school. I also attached myself with, to soccer because my whole family praised me as an athlete growing up. And I thought if I wasn’t a great athlete or student, I would be worth nothing as a human being, which looking back now I realize is totally crazy, but it seems like the assessment system is set up that way. When a soccer game get a trophy, everyone praises you do well in school, get high grades, everyone praises you. But what makes it scary is that if the opposite is true, if you fail, which is supposed to be something that teaches you a lesson, you get reprimanded. And I’m curious to know how you think assessments could be changed, adjusted or altered to remove that, that issue of failure being a bad thing. And what you think about the whole idea of failure.

Tim Cavey (26:22):
Wow. Well, I mean, it goes back to the growth mindset, right? Do we see failure? I mean, you could spell the word fail as first. Why am I forgetting it now? It’s okay. First attempt, first attempt in learning. There we go. First attempt in learning, but yeah. But I think it goes back to the growth mindset. And as you say, how do we look at failure? Do we look at it as a stepping stone? Do we look at it as a, an inevitable part of the journey as a sign that we’re actually stepping out and taking risks? Do we believe that the most learning and growth happens when we leave the comfort zone? I mean, to take it into sports or into the gym, I, you know, our physical ball is only really grow and develop when we’re pushing them to their limits and the same is true of our brains.

Tim Cavey (27:08):
So to bring that back to assessment, yes. I mean, traditional assessment systems have done a great job of ranking and sorting and yes, traditional grades motivate a certain number of students, but they also demotivate a great number of students. And what they do is assign labels and validate people to say, either you’re smart or you’re dumb or whatever, fill in the blank. I mean, as educators, we cringe at those terms, but that’s the way people tend to interpret grades or have traditionally, as, you know, this, this X pathway is not for me or that kind of thing. We put ourselves into boxes. So all kinds of limitations come with those labels of letter grades and percentages. And as we can start to move away from that and actually put the focus on learning and growth and standards, the, the curricular standards then we start to create some space for students to take risks and not worry about being penalized, but try new things and move forward and move into unfamiliar territory. So there’s so much we could talk about there Sam, but yeah. I’m not a fan. I understand the difficulty. You mentioned scholarships and that’s tricky. I mean, we’ve got some big question to sort of resolve at the high school levels in terms of college and university acceptance. And we, we’re not about to convert the whole system overnight, but that’s where we want to get to in my mind is really put, putting the focus on the learning and the assessment, the feedback on growth.

Sam Demma (28:41):
I love that that’s it’s great to hear from an educator, first of all. And I would, I’d love to see how you test the different theories with the students and classrooms that you work within. And on that note, I’m curious to know, like, have you tried anything unique with your own students with your own grade eights? That’s a little different or outside of the box per se? Over the years,

Tim Cavey (29:03):
I mean, this won’t shock any edge educators in British Columbia, but I have not entered a number in my grade book in math or English in three years. So all I, all I track is proficiency levels and you know, that, and so there’s, I condition the cells in my, in my Google sheet or Excel, whatever to reflect, you know, the color code. And so I can see at a glance how a student is doing on these different learning standards. And that’s just one small answer to your question is I just don’t use numbers. I refuse to put overall assessments on math, you know, summative assessments anymore, because I know that students will just look at that overall assessment and they’ll tend to say, oh, I did, I did great. Or I, I did terrible. And then the, the quiz or the test goes in the garbage and they’re not really moving, not learning forward at all. So yeah. Keeping the focus on the standards, getting away from grades is, is one thing for sure. But does that answer your question?

Sam Demma (30:06):
Yeah, I was actually curious to know when you mentioned people in BC, wouldn’t be surprised by it. Is this like a province-wide initiative that’s been started or tell me more.

Tim Cavey (30:16):
Yeah. So I, I mean, across the province and, and you raise a good question, had know the answer to this in terms of, is it actually provincial policy? Okay. but, but the, just the, you know, if you look across all of the districts K to eight, basically there are no, there are very few holdout schools or districts at this point who are not in a proficiency scale model, you know, moving from emerging to developing, to proficient, to extending and teachers and educators are measuring, learning against that framework. And that’s gonna look different. I mean, there, there are sort of experiments happening and different variations and you see one point rubrics and things like that. But by and large, no very, very few schools would have letter grades and percentages in British Columbia at this point. And I know we’re pretty progressive on that front, so it’s not going to be the same in every state in province, but it’s a, it’s exciting. It’s a great place to teach right now.

Sam Demma (31:17):
It’s innovative, it’s disruptive. It’s, it’s leading the cha change. It, I even fascinating when you mentioned the four words, you know, the, the one at the bottom is emerging. That’s a very positive word. Like I remember getting my report card and it, you know, if you did something bad, it was needs, improve needs, improvement or satisfactory. And the use of positive wording, even if you are on the lower level, you know, of where you maybe should be in terms of the I’m an emerging student, that still sounds amazing. And, you know, the student will probably remain, remain positive in that grading. Yeah, there’s a great book called catch them. Why they’re catch them while they’re good, which talks about the importance of, you know, praising the positive behavior instead of coaching the negative and how sometimes coaching the negative diminishes or is the student’s confidence. And right. I think that system does a great job of ensuring students still feel confident despite where they’re at. Yeah. What, what has your experience been with that? Like, I mean, if you had to grade a student lower or, or as an emerging student what does their feedback, like, how does a student react to respond?

Tim Cavey (32:22):
I mean, so full disclosure, I mean, students do try to sort of compare our current system to their older models. And so they, they will interpret that typically as you know, as, as failing or we try not to use that word, but yeah, I mean that they, they tend to go there, but you’re right. It is a positive word. And the more we can use that proficiency language, it really puts the focus on learning as growth, right? This is where you are now, but it’s not static. I think that’s the key difference. You’re not an F student you’re learning on this particular standard is a urging or developing. It’s going to move forward to proficient. How can we get you there? Got, and I’ve, I’ve got a good friend on Twitter Jeffrey Fri from California who talks about getting rid of, as you said, deficit based assessment. A lot of our assessment looks for the faults. What if we focus on what if we focus on the growth? What if we focus on what we see and sort of fan those flames and work from there. So, yeah, I love it.

Sam Demma (33:25):
Cool. I love this. And I, I wanna wrap up today’s conversation highlighting your role Adex of resources, if, if you’re okay with me calling it that sure. Where can people go and listen to your podcast, give a brief explanation of the cast itself and why it started and, and where all the resources are housed.

Tim Cavey (33:44):
So thank you so much, Sam. I really appreciate this opportunity. You have a brilliant future. My man, and I’m so grateful to be connected with you today and going forward. So I started the podcast on anchor. I would encourage all budding podcasters to consider it. I actually don’t know where you’re hosted, but anchor is free. It, it distributes my podcast to 12 different apps and platforms for free, which is phenomenal. Can’t beat that value. Nice. And you can, so you can find teachers on fire on just about any podcast app, wherever you listen to podcasts. And you can also find my website, which is badly out dated and needs and overhauled, but I do have some posts happening there @teachersonfire.net. And you’ll also find me on any social media platform, including clubhouse at teachers on fire.

Sam Demma (34:32):
Awesome. Tim, thank you so much. And personally you already have enough emails, so I won’t direct people there, but if someone wanted to just shoot you a question or a message, what would be the best way? Would Twitter be the best or what social platform should they gravitate towards?

Tim Cavey (34:48):
Yeah, sure. Like I said, you could probably reach me on your favorite platform, but I am most active on @TeachersOnFire and yeah, you can reach me there. I’ll definitely get back to you.

Sam Demma (35:00):
All right. Cool, Tim, thank you so much for coming on the show. Keep lighting educators on fire in a metaphorical sense and thank you so much. It was an awesome conversation.

Tim Cavey (35:09):
Thank you for having me, Sam. It was a pleasure.

Sam Demma (35:12):
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 content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want 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.