Franki Sibberson chats with Angela Maiers about teaching passion and new tech tools. Angela is the author of The Passion-Driven Classroom and many other resources for teachers. You can learn more about Angela's work at her blog. A full transcript is available below the player.
Franki Sibberson: Angela, you’ve always believed really strongly in the importance of bringing passion into learning for children. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you’re helping teachers do that in this time of standards and high-stakes testing?
Angela Maiers: Well, actually — of course I can. I think that every single one of us came into this profession because we were passionate about children and passionate about education. And I think starting my career with five-year-olds who don’t know anything other than being passionate was just a constant reminder every single day what it means to live your passion and to do passion-driven work; and as I started getting out of a kindergarten classroom and moving first grade, second grade, third grade; and the more I moved up in a grade, the less and less I saw of passion being a priority, and I started seeing this passion gap really happening, and along with that slip in passion was a slip in engagement and a slip in motivation and a slip in energy and a slip in attention, and it just was this confounding effect. And so it made me understand that my mission was for us to hang on to our passion and our absolute single most critical element.
So I think the first step in trying to remind teachers in bringing it to kids is to bring it back to themselves, and so that’s been a mission every time I’m with teachers — to remind them that they do matter and that their passion absolutely matters and I think from there it’s a contagion onto their kids.
Franki Sibberson: It’s so smart. And your new work you mentioned has been about You Matter campaign. Can you share a little bit about that and how its’ changing schools.
Angela Maiers: Yeah. Based on what we said that understanding that you matter and your passion matters far more than your content matters, I think that’s a really important and necessary shift that we’ve gotten so wrapped up in the standards and so wrapped up in the content that it’s become our identity. We have teachers saying that I don’t teach children, I’m a history teacher, I’m a science teacher — no, you are a human being who gets to be in the presence of other human beings, and so the idea of mattering became really critical in helping move teachers and more importantly moving systems forward. And so — maybe it’s something that teachers don’t say to kids in every single act they do, but I’m just trying to operationalize that and that grew into trying to give teachers time in their schedule to honor not only that kids matter and they matter but to honor what does it look like when we put our genius together around topics that matter to us. So that sort of lead to this evolution in a book I wrote on passion where we allow one hour a week in the school year to be devoted to passion driven work. Work that matters, work that finds us together and that grew into a movement called Choose to Matter . . . because as projects were coming in for Genius Week, we ended up evolving it to Genius Hour as conversations emerged on Twitter. The projects that kids did that they committed to were mind boggling, and it started literally a global movement and being lead by kids and lead by teachers. I’m just trying to catch up and catch up to their stories and elevate their stories as quickly as I can.
Franki Sibberson: Yeah. Such amazing stories you found. So along with passion — ‘cause it’s interesting — you’ve also been committed to technology in education. So they’re very connected for you. Why do you think technology matters so much?
Angela Maiers: Mm-hmm. Very. I think technology is literacy, and the web is a community, and so all the things that help us matter since the beginning of time, finding our voice, sharing our voice, learning with each other, growing in a community of readers and writers and learners — that technology is the evolution of literacy. And so it just gave us more tools, and it broadened who we considered in our community. It just wasn’t ten individuals we were physically in front of — that we could bring others into our community and we could reach beyond our community, and it sort of increased our mattering quotient, if you will. And I think that technology is so intertwined in that, whether it — I mean we go back to what really gave us power in our voices when we could declare them and write them down. That’s why a wall became powerful. That’s why a canvas became powerful. That’s why a pencil became powerful. Technology just broadens the wall and gives us a lot more tools to declare what it is our genius is to the world.
Franki Sibberson: I love that connection. So smart. I just love the whole connection of how learning is coming back to passion.
Angela Maiers: It is; it is. Coming back — the Web is just like a giant kindergarten classroom [laughter]. It’s like Show and Tell 2.0 [laughter].
Franki Sibberson: [Laughter]. So one of my favorite features on your blog is the Tools I'm Lovin’. What are some tools you’re having right now? What are your favorite new ones?
Angela Maiers: I think what’s really interesting about how that series has evolved is that there’s all these Web 2.0 tools, and even though there’s all these new ones that come about, they’re still really basic. I still run my life with about four platforms and five tools. Very rarely does one capture my attention.
Tools I'm Loving right now are ones that aggregate and compilel and curate our stories. So I love a tool called Buffer because it allows us to be more honoring of our audience — because a lot of times you find something on the Web and you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, that’s so great. I gotta share it.” And ten seconds later, you find something else. But you just don’t want to like boom, boom, boom. So what Buffer allows you to do is take the best of the best of what you found on the web and sort of spread it out because your audience — your room now is really big, and they’re asleep some of the times when you’re awake, and so it helps you sort of spread that out. I’m really loving Buffer for that.
And I found a tool that — shoot, I don’t know what it was — just yesterday, and I think it’s called Track Board. And it curates all the conversations — sort of like Pinterest meets Twitter meets — I don’t know, like SlideShare, like YouTube, but it’s all a hashtag, and it’s this track board that tracks the conversation in real time. Or you put in like You Matter or Choose to Matter, it shows and it tracks that hashtag visually. It’s really amazing. So the tools I’m loving right now are the ones that help us go back to the basics of literacy and the basics of community. How do we share our voice; how do we honor other people’s voices and translate what we’ve heard from them to our community; and most importantly, how do we rally our community around messages and ideas that matter. And so that’s where my first criteria for tools happen to be.
Franki Sibberson: I can’t wait to check those two out now. [Laughter]. I know, I know. So what are the biggest changes you’re seeing in classrooms now with teachers who are using technology?
Angela Maiers: I think the biggest change goes back to what we said was the first move of bringing passion back to schools is bringing passion back to teachers. And the best way to bring passion back to teachers is to surround them immediately with as many passionate people as you can find. And I think the network ability — the ability to have a place where teachers can go to that can guarantee they have a community that loves them and a community that supports them and a community that will not tolerate them to not be passionate and will demand that they keep going no matter what their hardest day is and then move forward in that way — I think has been the single most critical, important element of technology is it gives us very selective room of people that we can choose to surround ourselves, choose to be influenced by and learn from that prioritize passion and absolutely hold it to no avail.
Franki Sibberson: I’m so struck with the way you don’t separate teacher learning from student learning and teach it — like it holds together as one community.
Angela Maiers: Mm-mmm. You cannot. We are the model. That’s what I think is so important in these conversations about technology and even tools — that if it doesn’t immediately impact who you get to be because you get to use this tool or because you get to be in this place, then it’s just a distraction away from in almost path in opposition of what it is — because the tool allows you to hide, or the tool allows you to not be braver, the tool allows you to not elevate somebody else than it absolutely is a distraction.
Franki Sibberson: Yeah, so smart. So the last question: if a teacher has a little time to devote to getting more tech literate, how would you suggest they get started and spend their time?
Angela Maiers: I think that — I’m sort of picky about the word tech literate. I want them to be network literate, and so in order to have a network, and in order to really understand the power of technology, you have to be people literate on the Web, so my number one thing would be to get a Twitter account, and I’m not saying go on Twitter, and I’ve changed this because it’s overwhelming. I want you to really learn the community, and I want them to take something that matters to them, so whether it’s being a first-grade teacher or it is world history or even golfing, and I want them to join and see the community by just following the hashtag of that community and seeing when they get together what they talk about and how they support each other and when they’re comfortable, join that community. So that in itself puts in you a whole different place of seeing technology through the lens of community and through the lens of people and then through that community, you’ll find out the exact tech tools that that community uses to be together, to grow together, to learn together, to be together, and you don’t need any tech training. You need to find your community, and I think the quickest way to find it is through a Twitter hashtag or on Classroom 2.0 because it’s a very helpful, large, beautiful global community of teachers.
Franki Sibberson: Can you tell us a little bit about Classroom 2.0?
Angela Maiers: Yeah, so if you think about Classroom 2.0, it is like your virtual school filled with staff lounges, if you will, or planning — or what do you want to call that — what do you call that? Team planning dates. So if you could see like there’s 196,000 — I think . . . at the last count — global teachers coming to the teachers lounge there, and they have grouped themselves — if you said you had a whole staff in the assembly, and then they say, “Oh, you get two hours.” You find a little group and you go off into a room and you say, “Oh, the literacy teachers will meet there. The math teachers will meet there. The first-grade teachers will meet there.” And they have this own self-initiated agenda — like what do we want to do as first-grade teachers? Or what do we want to do as a department of mathematics, or what do we want to do in the next — see, that’s what that is globally; and what I love about it is that you can find that community and they’re sharing ideas.
But what I love even more is you can sort, if you really want to have a really specialized community, you could say I want to find high school teachers who teach second languages who are using blogs and wikis to help with their kids. And you can find a group for nearly anything. The second part of that is it is 24/7 professional development that is completely free. So every Saturday they have a live professional development event, and not only do you get what the presenter said and the content from there, but the goal is that you get all the resources that the community has and has available on that presentation or topic, and you get all those links. So you get people’s notebooks while they’re doing their professional development. It’s called Classroom 2.0 Live. And the archives are phenomenal. So you don’t have to — conferences are great, but when we’re on a limited budget and limited time, if you want to know anything about anything, it’s the place to go because it’s taught for teachers by teachers. It’s incredible.
Franki Sibberson: Wow. You’re such a good source. So much to think about, so thank you so much.