Tag Archives: superteacher

Tweak Your Teach: The Super Teacher Chronicles

Wow! It has been quite a while. Since beginning my new position with Valencia College and returning to school, I’ve been unable to blog. Then it occurred to me that I am still designing, still presenting, and still learning. So, why not share that with others? I may not post as often as I did in the past, but when I can, I will update the blog with any new teaching, speaking, or designing projects.

This week, I created a podcast series as part of my coursework for Distance Education: Process and Product. The series is called The Super Teacher Chronicles. I created this series to share some of the best practices and strategies I’ve been learning about as a tenure-track professor and student. The first episode is “I am a CAT person and You are Too!” CATs or Classroom Assessment Techniques are powerful tools for formative feedback and active learning. They take very little time to implement and can help you improve teaching and instruction.

Check out the cast below!


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A superteacher’s perspective via What The Speak

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I’ve had teaching and superteaching on the brain for days now, and this week’s Creating Communication offerings only helped reinforce thoughts of all things pedagogy and superteaching. Alex Rister recently sat down with Bryan Kelly of What The Speak to share her insights on teaching presenting in the 21st century. If you know me, you know I am Alex’s “hype girl,” biggest fan, and superteacher bff. I am proud of her pursuit of her bliss, awesome communication, and am inspired by her work ethic and passion! As a superteacher, Alex shares with What the Speak viewers several important lessons about presenting in the 21st century:

1. Help students understand the importance of public speaking and effective communication from minute one

Whether she is teaching an introductory class or advanced class on presentation, Alex starts with why–she doesn’t throw her students into jargon and lecture. Instead, she gleans from them what matters about public speaking and engages them on a discussion how students can use these strong communication skills in every mode (online, in person, synchronous, asynchronous).

2. Understand your origins

Pamela Slim, in Body of Work, emphasizes that the first step to articulating your body of work and understanding how the diverse pieces of your life and experience fit in is to know your roots. In this podcast, Alex shares her roots with viewers and finds ways to thread her early experiences with her current passions and objectives.

3. The teachers who are memorable are the teachers who engage

Information doesn’t matter as much as inspiration. As a teacher, one of my biggest challenges and concerns is letting go of my responsibility to be the “mouthpiece for information.” Our job is not to spew information via lecture (though this is the stereotype of “teacher”); our job is to spark and facilitate learning–the student must guide and drive his or her own journey. Breaking out of the lecture model isn’t easy, but it is a necessary step in the journey towards better teaching and better presenting.

4. Great teachers ask questions and make changes

Tweaking is a way of life. It’s the practice of acknowledging challenges, pinpointing the sources of student problems, accepting your role in perpetuating problems, and then taking action that will create positive results for students. The best teachers look for the roots of a problem, find actionable solutions, put those solutions in practice, and then test those solutions against student performance.

Check out the rest of the interview here or by clicking the image above. If you haven’t check out Bryan’s podcast, you must start today; he speaks with all the top voices in presenting and communicating and brings you the insights of those who live, eat, and breathe public speaking!

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A Superteacher’s Views on the Learning Divide

This 11th year of teaching has been one of contemplation and reflection on the craft of teaching. Today, I thought a bit about the apparent divide between a teacher’s perspective on learning and a student’s perspective on learning. I believe a starting point to correcting this situation is teachers and students communicating. Here is how I managed to reconcile the two over the course of my educational journey as student and teacher:

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A real teacher’s only job is to serve and help her students. At our core, we want all of you to succeed, to reach beyond the miasma of the average, the just good enough, to true mastery. Mastery to me means more than just scoring well on tests (tests suck. Seriously); mastery is reaching a level of immersion and understanding that leads to true passion, perhaps even the ecstatic bliss of knowing one’s purpose in life. I know this because I’ve experienced it myself with teaching. I resisted for a bit, always remembering my humanities and AP language teacher Dr. Earls, who taught me that learning is the thin veil between human and troglodyte. But yes, teaching is what fuels me, what keeps me motivated to be more. It’s this drive that should fuel your love of learning, but for so long learning has been a chore on a checklist, whose mark is the letter grade, a number on a sterile scale.

So, we come to an impasse. You believe learning is about getting a grade. I believe learning is about earning a grade. You believe your fate is in my hands. I believe only you can determine the course of your own education–you are entirely responsible for the choices you make.

I learned this as an undergraduate at the University of Florida. My first semester, a complete failure, is the one I’ll remember most because it forced me to live with the consequences of the choices I’d made. I reveled in my newfound freedom. I was away from home, living the awkward teenager’s dream of dorm rooms, dining hall food, and 6-dollar football games. I wasted my time sleeping, watching TV, going to the movies, and generally not going to class. I also wasn’t smart enough to save my money to purchase the class notes that semester. I’d chosen to take a particularly challenging course, AST 2037: Search for Life in the Universe because I loved science fiction (naturally), and assumed it would be an easy pass. I was wrong. The class threw so much math and physics at me that I was instantly lost, but instead of helping myself to learn, I gave up. So, after weeks of not attending my classes I earned the lowest grades of my life–a D+ in astronomy, two C+ in biology and to my utter shame, theater appreciation, and a B in art history. I knew instantly my scholarship was gone. I was downgraded from a Florida Academic Scholar to a Merit Scholar, putting more of the financial burden of school on me.

I worked for the next four years with single-minded purpose, never taking a summer off, taking on several concentrations to finally graduate with honors. I never blamed my teachers for my failures, nor did I hold them responsible for what grade I earned–if I earned a C on a paper, it was because of me. If I’d not taken advantage of the time given to me to work on an assignment and turned in what I knew was sub par work, I took the ding to the grade and added it to my list of “do not ever do this agains.”

So, it’s difficult for me to see it any other way, to feel that I should apply rules only in certain instances or occasions, to subjugate the worth of someone’s education by not holding them accountable to the standards everyone is expected to meet and exceed. To me, doing so would cheapen your education, making it worth less, making it less impacting on your immediate community and the larger human community. Yes, I want you to succeed, and I will do anything within my power to help you–within the scope of my responsibilities.  I am a guide, facilitator, evaluator, and cheerleader; I am not the learner, the one who must embark on a journey with a new set of tools, face a series of challenges, and return to the world with a new boon–mastery. You are the learner, the hero on your own journey.  I commit myself to ensuring you learn, to clarifying ideas, providing you with guidance and constructive critique, to constantly updating and polishing my craft to better serve your learning needs. I only ask that you embrace the call to adventure and make your world better through learning.

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Tweak Your Teach: The Teaching Portfolio

I am excited to continue working on Tweak Your Teach and the rest of my blog in the new year. I’ve just updated the site to include a teaching porfolio section that I will be adding to and growing over the next few weeks. What exactly is a teaching portfolio and what is its purpose?

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According to Rutgers University’s Center for Teaching Advancement & Assessment Research, a teaching portfolio is a “flexible document” that details a teacher’s “teaching responsibilities, philosophy, goals and accomplishments.” This traditionally print document contains the breadth and scope of an educator’s experience and includes three major areas:

1. Teaching Responsibilities (What I do)

2. Teaching Philosophy and Statement of Competency (Why I do it)

3. Evidence of Effective Teaching (Proof that I do what I say)

A strong portfolio is dynamic–it changes constantly and includes both specific goals and measurable data indicating those goals have been met. More than proof of concept, a dynamic teaching portfolio shows an educator what he or she has accomplished and what he or she still needs to grow. There are several excellent print guides as well as examples available. One of the most highly recommended is The Teaching Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions.

However, several  comprehensive guides to the portfolio process that don’t cost a penny come from reputable educational institutions like Rutgers. Two of my favorites are A Guide to the Teaching Portfolio by the University of New Hampshire and the very comprehensive and useful guide from the Center for Effective Teaching and Learning at the University of Texas at El Paso.

As I begin this process, I have many great examples to draw from, but find the approach to the standard portfolio to be a bit stale. I am working on ways to make it more dynamic and interactive, drawing from my design skills to further enhance how usable this is as a tool  for me and for others. I’ve added a few preliminary elements to the portfolio section, the most recent of which is my teaching philosophy. I’ve truncated this down from two pages to one, but would definitely like to add specific goals to the end. This draft focuses on my self-definition as a “super-teacher.” I began using this term several years ago when I saw a stark difference between those who teach because they cannot do something in their field and those who teach because teaching IS their field. Those are the super-teachers, at least the ones who call teaching their bliss and work towards the betterment of education for all. Check it out in the new teaching portfolio section under “About Me.”

Are you a teacher? What’s your philosophy on teaching? What do you draw inspiration from?

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On Failure, Gangnam Style, and Superteaching

I am working on my Coursera Modern and Contemporary American Poetry class with the fantastic Al Filreis, Unniversity of Pennsyvania Kelly Professor of English and Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House most of today. Before I complete Emily Dickinson’s “The Brain, within its Groove” and several selections from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” I want to share today’s Slideshare.net’s Top Presentations, one of which is my latest deck, inspired by Simon Sinek.

Starting Up by Failing by 

This is the story of startup pirates Adegga.com and the ways in which failure led them to a better startup. Andre not only shares the story of this startup, but he also provides the viewer with some excellent lessons including the importance of embracing failure and having passion. I would have loved to see a bit more design go into the processing of information, but Ribeirinho clearly understands that vision is king and works to create something that is unified and flows smoothly.

Has failure led you to success? How can we grow and learn even when we don’t “win”?

Gangnam Style by Empowered Presentations

It’s no secret, I am an Empowered Presentations fangirl. I am working on a presentation design rockstars trading cards slidedeck (when I have five minutes of time to start!), and this firm, let by Cory Jim and Yancey Unequivocally consistently produces quality work. I had not heard of this song before seeing this deck, but it’s currently on loop. I love the idea of design for fun, but I like that EP ties this back to what they do as designers and presenters. They definitely have style all their own!

What is your design aesthetic? How do you show your unique perspective?

Studying Simon Sinek: Start With the Golden Circle by Chiara Ojeda

I am using this deck in class next month. Check out my first post here. In chatting with Cory Jim about the idea of starting with why, he shared an important saying with me “If the why is strong enough, the how will follow.” This got me thinking about the choices I’ve made as an educator in the past four years, since taking on the privilege of teaching Professional Communication and Presentation. I had to shift my perspective from “how do I teach people?” or “how do I help people learn?” to “why do I want to teach others,” “why does learning matter to me,” and “why should others care about what I care about?” These questions led me to evolve as an educator; they led me to become a superteacher. I do anything I can in the service of learning, to protect the critical mind from the corruption of ignorance, and to empower free thinkers to shape and mold the world through their actions. I want to share one last deck with you:

Jaclyn Sullivan’s What is a Superteacher?

Are you a superteacher? What is your “Why”?


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A blessed break from an epic tweak

I am taking a two month break from the classroom courtesy of an individual I have since realized is some kind of super robot, Alex Rister. She is teaching two months worth of very lucky folks. I know because I love being Alex’s student every other month! I love learning, enough to know I want to be a part of the proceses that lead to learning for the rest of my working life. This month, Alex taught a group of go-getting superstudents who outshine their contemporaries in diligence, commitment to excellence, and a positive spirit.

I took a break from working on my behemoth latest deck to review their final self-reflections for the month. Needless to say, they moved me–from admissions of this being a refuge from a tumultuous life to this being a hellishly difficult yet unforgettable month, the students gained so much from their experience this month. It echoes the concept of “naches” which I am reading about in Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken. Naches is the feeling of pride in someone else’s accomplishment; it is often felt by parents and teachers. I love a good naches. It happened this month and in many months prior. Every month, I feel naches, a sort of teacher win when a student labors towards awesomeness.

August’s class not only chose these as the qualities they most admired in other speakers; they also embodied them.


This post is written for superteacher, Alex Rister, who inspires her students to warm my cold, cold teacher heart each and every month.

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Mediocrity’s worst enemy…

Is the superhuman (here I purposely do not use Nietzsche term superman). I began using the term superteacher after a decade of teaching showed me that there are two types of education professionals: those who teach because it is who they are and those who teach because they cannot find anything else “better” to do. To me, there is nothing besides teaching (well, I do have a cat, some plants, and an amazing ability to bake). I felt nothing but insecurity as a green teacher–I know now that I can teach anything, as long as I love teaching enough to devote only my best effort to it. I am a superteacher–apathy and ignorance are my sworn enemies, and selfhood, actualization, and pure thought are my allies.  I have met superteachers and superstudents, extraordinary people who stand out because they work, accept and tackle challenges, settle for only the absolute best, and never excuse failure.

My crusade against mediocrity, though, is nothing new. My mother taught me this word when I was in elementary school. She taught and teaches my siblings and I that hard work leads to excellence. I learned that Cs were far from “average” or acceptable. You might disagree, reader, that grades matter or that we can measure more than memorization and test taking skills via grades. To me though, each A or B was a testament to hard work, to never giving up even when the subject frustrated me or challenged me beyond what was practical. My mother carries this lesson on. She completely changed my mind about homeschooling. I marvel at my younger siblings, whose talents in academics, arts, and athletics far outshines my more cerebral approach to learning.

I share an idea the first day of class with my students. The idea is that an average presentation sucks and that most of us are painfully average presenters. Andrew Dlugan developed this idea in his Six Minutes post, “Average Speakers Suck. Don’t Be Average.” I really appreciate Dlugan’s rhetoric–he not only uses easily understandable metaphors (i.e. the average chocolate chip cookie and its connection to presenting), but integrates bell curves and concrete examples into his basic conclusion/big idea. Don’t be average–average sucks.

As I take a few months off from the classroom and I tackle new projects, I will remember this idea–be a superhuman. Don’t be average.

I will leave you with the visual resume of one of the most amazing women, students, professionals I have had the privilege to teach, Crysta Timmerman. Top that:

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Sage advice from a superteacher

So, I admit it. I am sometimes quick to judge, particularly when it comes to a subject as dear to me as instructional design. I created a reading list for myself at the beginning of the year that included some heavy focus on design, from Dan Roam’s Blah Blah Blah to my current read, Julie Dirksen’s Design for How People Learn.

I really did not care for the book at first. I judged it based on a cursory glance and an exploration of chapter 1. I deemed it a poor substitute to my own amazing ideas for design. I scoffed at fellow superteacher Alex Rister‘s praise for the book. Then, I had a come to Chi Chi moment. This is my term for a one on one moment of nurturing yet firm honesty. I usually have them with students. I really needed this one.

Teachers, students, and business folk scoff at my approach to visual design almost on a daily basis. They refuse to see any other way to convey information besides vague bullets; they devote little time to preparation–preparation that leads to active learning in the classroom as opposed to passive information bombardment; they rely on their slides as a safety net and security blanket and lucky rabbit’s foot and mask to hide behind. I did the same thing with Dirksen and her ideas. I dismissed it without really absorbing it. Alex’s very wise statement…

Alex Rister keeps it real. Image: susivinh (catching up, or trying!)

…has led me to give this book and Dirksen, an authority in the field of instructional design and a passionate advocate for design in education, its due respect. So, this week, as the students enjoy spring break, I’ll be taking Dirksen’s book to the beach and really doing a bit of course-related instructional design soul searching. I am stoked.

My reading process, from disbelief and disdain, to piqued interest, acceptance, and finally, complete stokedness (the state of being totally stoked).

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