About the Author
Passionate and curious about technology, smiles, special education, differentiated instruction, forests, graphic novels, accessibility, anti-oppression, and warm beverages. Can often be found laughing with young people and improvising songs on the spot. @teach_tomorrow

65. Social Practices of Journalistic Writing

How might we improve student writing by leveraging our innate desire for social connection? Today on the podcast, I make a case for why you should consider including journalistic writing in your class. 

A young person that I am close to, let’s call her Annie, is really struggling with school, especially since the onset of this pandemic. When we talk about what she finds challenging and what her teachers might do to improve the situation, her response, I believe, reveals a larger systemic issue in schools today: she wants to be able to talk more with her friends, she is frustrated with the number of hours she is expected to sit still and stay focused, and she is deeply bored with assignments that just involve reading things and answering short questions about what she reads. Annie is not unique in the things that she is frustrated about in regards to school. She is asking for more collaborative, social learning. She is naming the fact that the curriculum does not need to be limited to the four walls of her classroom. She is yearning for powerful, authentic learning that has a purpose beyond a grade. Annie is struggling and I don’t think she needs to be. She is bright, capable, thoughtful, curious…and in many ways the system is failing her. 

In this episode today, I make a case for why teachers––and not just English teachers––should consider using journalistic writing in their programs to transform writing, student engagement, and purpose in their classrooms. This is not a typical kind of show where I interview a guest about their work. Instead, today we dive into the research about writing, social discourses, and journalism.  I offer some ideas for what teaching writing with journalism can look like in your classroom. My intention is that after this episode, you keep this genre on your mind and consider working with it in a future unit or share this episode with a colleague and collaborate together on something in your own practice.


Background Terms and Backstory

Before we do any of this though, let’s take a moment and pause to make sure we are all on the same page when I am using the term journalistic writing. What is that? When I say “journalistic writing” I am referring to non-fiction, factual, researched, news article writing. The kind of writing that I focused on with my students are the kinds of pieces that you might find in the front section of a newspaper: they are written in 3rd person perspective, they use short paragraphs, they use direct quotes from interview sources, the facts included are from high quality / verifiable sources, and they centre around topics that are deemed “newsworthy.” These pieces of writing aim to include multiple valid perspectives on a topic and the writers crafting these pieces strive to be aware of their own identities and biases and how these may impact their reporting. 

For me, this journey with journalistic writing started in 2017. I was coming back from my first maternity leave and was inheriting a grade 8 English class (I had taught grade 7 English and Social Studies before having my first child). The teacher with this grade / subject before me had taught a journalism project for many years. I always admired and fangirled over this project when I was witnessing it from afar. I loved the authenticity, the challenge, the real world connections and this brand of non-fiction storytelling. So when I stepped into Grade 8 English, this was what I was most excited about; however, the first year I did this journalism project it bombed. Like hard. I’ll get into those early failings a little later. 

Over the course of several years of slowly improving this project, I became obsessed with the process of young people writing about topics that truly mattered to them. I loved how it positioned young people to consider multiple viewpoints (including their own), engaging in interviews with real human beings who existed outside the sphere of our classroom, and publishing their work for others to read. I have seen young people change because of the things they have written, I have experienced the school communities shift because of their writing, and I have seen young people engage more fully with the writing process and in turn improve their skills. 

Now that I am engaging more with research about student writing, I see that there was a key ingredient present that hugely contributed to this writing experience “working”: it is a social writing discourse! 


Social Writing

A social writing what now? Ya, I feel you. I thought the same thing when I was first reading about this. I’ll back this train up a touch and introduce you to Roz Ivanič. Picture a friendly looking white woman with white hair, kind eyes, and a cute, blunt bob haircut. Roz is a scholar based out of the U.K. that has identified seven main ways, or discourses, of writing that should be included in all writing curriculums. These include skills, creativity, process, genre, thinking, social practices, and sociopolitical discourses. While all six of these discourses are important and worthy of explanation, for the purposes of this episode, only two––social practices and sociopolitical discourses––will get deeper explanation. The social practices discourse says that writing is a communal experience, and that writing instruction cannot be removed from social contexts. The sociopolitical discourse takes this further by critically examining why genres and styles of writing exist the way they do, and it sees writing as a vehicle for constructing more powerful identities for marginalized people. Roz did not invent the idea of writing being a social practice. Rather, she is saying that how we teach writing cannot just be focused on the grammar (the skills discourse) or the metacognitive routines that students engage with (process discourse), but that a well balanced writing program includes many modes of writing instruction. And this is likely not surprising to you (or to my friend Annie that I mentioned earlier) but what may be surprising is that: the social practices discourse and sociopolitical discourse are both dramatically under-represented throughout writing ministry curriculum documents in Canada. So no wonder Annie is struggling: her teachers may not ever be pointed to including these ways of learning in their programs and her teachers may never have been taught how to teach in a way that supports these discourses! 


So back to my journalism unit. How was this a form of a social writing discourse? Well, there actually many aspects of this learning experience that tie it in to a social writing practice. And of course I made an acronym for us to easily remember it: do remember in the book Where The Wild Things Are and the part where they have that epic dance party? Do you remember what it is called? Yep, the wild rumpus. So to remind us that social writing is kind of like that, journalistic writing is social discourse because is it is RUMPUS. R stands for Researching Through Interviews. U is Unpacking Identities. M is for Mentoring. P stands for Publishing. U is for Useful Community Collaboration. And finally S is for Stategic Feedback. My friends, let the wild rumpus start! 

R: Researching Through Interviews

The way that students researched about the topics that mattered to them was not just by researching on the internet or reading books. To ignite that enthusiasm for learning, it really makes a huge difference when young people are researching topics that they choose and that matters to them. In the research, this shows up again and again as something that makes the learning matter and important. You have to start with the interests and passions of the people in your class. In different years, I had given some broad parameters for how students could select their topics: one year I had students pick something that related to the city of Toronto somehow (we were engaged in a big, year long city investigation) and in another year, their topics had to somehow loosely be connected to the idea of sustainability (either social, environmental, or economic). When students care about their topics, finding sources to interview becomes a deeply authentic, slightly scary, and hugely motivating social aspect of the learning. Ideally, these interviews are conducted in real time––either in person, over the phone or over something like Google Meet or Zoom––so that students get that real-time feedback when their questions don’t make sense, they are not getting enough detail from their sources, they are not getting the kinds of quotes they need, or it is clear that they are not talking to the right person. Social learning still takes place over email, but in my experience, the “fear factor” of sitting down and talking to your friend’s mom about her small business is much more powerful than sending an email and waiting for a reply. In the research, young people report that until they were required to interview people for a connected learning project, they had never even considered this as a form of research! Even just the novelty of it alone should be a reason for us to include interviewing other people as an aspect of our writing projects. 

U: Unpacking Biases

Something that arose in response to my first epic failure of my journalism unit was the need for students to understand their own biases. If you have been paying attention to the world, you have likely noticed that there is increasing distrust of the media today. Yes, Trump has caused this in part, but this has been going on long before 2016. Traditional news reporting claims to be objective, but is it possible to choose stories, research, or write without being influenced by our backgrounds, identities, and biases? Probably not, I think. What if instead of trying to erase our biases, we were more aware of them as writers and could consider them more carefully in our attempts at sharing the most accurate version of the truth? So something that I did, that was echoed in the research, was I had my students try to identify their personal beliefs about their topic. Then, if their final article only captured these beliefs, it would be more clear that there may be missing perspectives that could be included. 


 Another teacher had her students “take a stand” to help identify biases prior to writing and research. Students were given a variety of controversial issues and they had to try and articulate what they personally believe about these issues. For example: Should the government be doing more to reduce carbon emissions? Should policing programs be defunded? Is enough being done to teach anti-racism in schools? Then, at the end of the project, students reflected on their views captured when they were asked to “take a stand” and not surprisingly, their views had evolved and became increasingly nuanced as they researched more about the issues and heard from multiple perspectives. This, afterall, is a huge reason why journalistic thinking is a valuable tool for young people: it expands the way we see the world and encourages empathy. When we try to understand another’s perspective (whether by interviewing them or by hearing where they stand during a pre-writing practice), we are tapping into those social discourses and making the learning stronger. Nobody knows alone.

M: Mentorship

The next idea that emerged from the research, I am a little obsessed with. This idea is so simple, so obvious that you are going to wonder why it isn’t used more in writing classes and it is this: reverse mentorship. Reverse mentorship is not undoing mentoring or being a bad influence on writing (wouldn’t that be something?). This is a strategy that pairs recent journalism school graduates with classroom teachers to support the writing in the classroom. It is essentially a classroom teacher consulting with a budding journalist to help inform the writing the students are doing. The teacher knows the students, the classroom, and the pedagogy. The recent journalism school graduate knows the genre, the discourse community, and the process of writing. The teacher is of course mentoring the students and the journalist is mentoring the students…as well as the teacher! It has been a well known dirty little secret in education that teachers do not feel capable of teaching writing to their students and that students are only writing about 25 minutes a day in all of their classes. Let’s just take a moment and pause on that. 25 minutes a day of writing! So as a profession, teachers of writing need more mentorship, support, and training. Reverse mentorship may be a way to do that which is aligned with the social discourses model of writing. We learn through social relationships, so if a teacher and a journalist can collaborate together about student writing, the teacher’s writing instruction in regards to this one genre can improve, the student writing can improve, and the journalists can establish more social connections with members of their community. It is a win for all. 


In my own practice, I experienced a taste of this. I don’t know if I would call it reverse mentorship, but rather just straight up mentorship, as the mentors I worked with were not younger than me. The first instance, I had a parent of a student who worked in journalism in a fairly public facing way. When my first project didn’t work so well, we had a conversation and he provided some insights about what I could have considered differently. He pointed me specifically towards having students consider their own biases and how they might seek out perspectives that were outright different than their own to expand their understanding on an issue. The second time was with a close friend who works for a major national newspaper. He came to speak to my students about his profession and practice of being a journalist and while my students were sharing with him their topics, he instantly noted that they might not be actually newsworthy. A ha! Great feedback. Since I am not a journalist, working with people in the field who know the practice intimately, helped me develop my understanding of the genre. Learning is social. Writing is social. Making mistakes is social. And we can only grow and get better in relationship with other people. 


P: Publishing


All writing has an audience, but writing that is truly transformative, shows that the author is aware of their audience and considers them at all stages. Scholars in the world of writing have shown that writing in any genre is cultivated through many pratices, particularly participating in a discourse community and talking about the text. This time of publishing, when students read each other’s published work, when parents read the class writing, when community members gain access to the articles…this is how young people fully participate in the discourse community of journalism. In many ways, this could be described as participating in democracy. 

Interestingly, even in Journalism Schools with more mature writing students than the writers I was working with, the act of authentic publishing was not inherent in every assignment. Students, even ones training to become professional journalists, are not engaging on their own with submitting their work to be published. These opportunities to publish had to be “forced” through the structures of the curriculum in journalism schools, or what are called J-Schools. So if older, more mature writers who are dedicating themselves to becoming writers who publish regularly are not publishing their student writing on their own, of course students in Grade 8 will not. So as teachers, we have to cultivate those opportunities to show students how publishing is a deeply social act and thus incredibly effective way to motivate us towards our best work. 

Something I learned the hard way is that not all writing is ready to be published. In that first iteration of the project, I thought that all student writing should get featured in our class newspaper. But some students writing was not exactly meeting the expectations. Maybe you’ve experienced this in your practice? In future versions of this project, I made publishing the writing a reason for young people to work towards the success criteria of the assigment. Some students were ready for this publishing and others needed more time to get there. I think that this is okay. I like the idea of different stages of publishing: perhaps a class newspaper that parents and stakeholders in the class community can have access to is one option. Maybe some strong pieces of writing can be added to the school newspaper if one exists, or if some pieces that need more time they can be added to an online publication later in the year. All students can benefit from the experience of publication and yet it doesn’t need to be done at the same time. 

U: Useful Community Collaboration

I want to circle back to this point about distrust of the media. This has been a topic written about at length in the academic research about teaching journalism. While I am not trying to train professional journalists (I’m working with grade 8 students) I think the conversations in the world of J-Schools are worth looking at in terms of what they might give teachers hints about how to consider teaching younger writers. There has been a recent push in the journalism academy for more community based and collaborative journalism. Community based journalism is trying to address the issue of how the media perpetuates institutional racism and traditionally does not do a good job of including the voices of marginalized people. When reporters are connected to communities, volunteering in organizations to form relationships, or reporting on communities that they have access to, greater trust can be formed and more accurate stories can be shared with the broader public. Collaborative journalism asks key stakeholders in communities what stories they want to be covered, and works together to identify credible, often non-elite, sources on these stories. What if something similar could be put into practice on the school level? Young people could spend several weeks volunteering at various local community organizations, getting to know the staff, the purpose, and the communities they serve. Then, they could interview various stakeholders and craft news stories about their work to publish and share with the wider school community. Or what might be possible if students sat down with various groups of people connected with their school (young students, parents, staff members, administration, lunchroom supervisors, volunteers) and truly understood what potential stories existed and who they might talk to to research these stories.

Of course, I am imagining a version of school that could involve field visits and connecting with others outside of cohorts. Call me hopeful for a version of schooling that isn’t not as restricted due to the ongoing pandemic. That said, leveraging social situations to guide students towards a kind of writing is not actually a new thing. One thinker, Mary Chapman, has written about this and she believe that genres of writing arise to fulfill a specific social purpose. Genres are not concrete structures or forms that students need to master, but rather flexible models that arise to address a social need. In this case, the social need is to dismantle institutional racism and tell the stories that people in communities want to read about. 


S: Structured Feedback

Another deeply social aspect of any writing, is when feedback is offered. I get that writing typically receives feedback before publication, but not always. Sometimes the most meaningful feedback happens after the grade is given, the drafts are sent in, and there isn’t really any space to change anything. Also, for the purposes of the RUMPUS acronym, strategic feedback needed to go at the end. But in the life of the classroom, feedback may be happening at any time really. 

Providing feedback is a key recommendation from the scholarly research about best practices in writing instruction. Feedback from teachers, their journalistic mentors, fellow students, and from themselves are all required to move students forward in their writing skills. Peter Elbow, one of the pioneers of freewriting, has some things to say about writing feedback. In his 1998 text Writing with Power, Elbow delineates two kinds of writing feedback: criterion and reader-based feedback, both of which are important to include in how students get insights about their craft. Criterion-based feedback judges the writing against a rubric, set of success criteria, or checklist and reader-based feedback says what the writing does to the reader. Elbow also suggests to teachers that reader-based feedback is easier to give. So with this writing experience, in small–ideally trusting–groups, students can share with each other their experiences when reading drafts of each other’s writing. When teachers or the journalist mentor are reviewing early drafts of the writing, working from co-constructed criteria gives a different kind of feedback on the writing, which ideally rounds out the reader-based feedback from the peers. This might also look like a structured protocol in a reader response group, modelled with a small group for the whole class to watch before trying it independently. 

Learning about how our writing impacts other people through structured feedback is typically the aspect of social writing practices that most teachers include in their writing programs. So likely none of these ideas are a surprise to you. But how you consider reader-based, criterion, or protocoled feedback may heighten and strengthen the inherently social aspects of this practice. 


Caller Questions:

So when you are trying to remember what makes journalistic writing so valuable and important, pull up in your head that memory of all those wild things living their best life, or having their wild rumpus: Researching Through Interviews, Unpacking Identities, Mentoring, Publishing, Useful Community Collaboration, and Stategic Feedback

We are now going to do something totally new for the podcast and take some listener calls. We are going to start with Peter. 

Hi Celeste. My name is Peter and I’m calling from Kitchener, Ontario. I’m a grade 9 and 10 English teacher and I actually really hated English classes when I was a student. I got into teaching because of my passion for teaching drama, but the school I am in right now only has me teaching English. I struggle as a writer myself and I always feel like I am just re-creating the boring assignments my teachers made for me…but I don’t really have any other strategies in my toolkit. I’m also just more tired than ever and I’m finding it hard to push myself to get better as a writing teacher. What suggestions do you have? 


Ugh! I so feel you Peter! And I want to just start by saying that you are not alone in this. I mentioned earlier that the research points to the fact that teachers do not feel prepared by their teacher education programs to teach writing, so even if you did have an English undergrad, I wouldn’t be surprised if you also felt similar things.

Something else that is clear in the research about top recommendations that improve writing is that we need to have supportive writing communities to help us as writers. Writing is a social practice, after all! I hope you are starting to feel that after listening to this episode. 

One of the most powerful writing experiences I have had as a teacher was when I got to participate in the week-long Institute for Writing and Thinking with Bard College where teachers were guided through writing practices, so that we could facilitate these experiences with our students in the classroom. Even though I enjoy writing, I also have a drama undergrad and I have always kind of worried that I didn’t know enough about how to teach writing because I didn’t have the same writing experiences as my friends with English majors. So if you can find a way to participate in a Bard program, I highly recommend this. If it’s not possible, I would also point you towards the Toronto Writing Project. There are regular teacher writing workshops that are free and all offered over Zoom (one of the good things to come out of the pandemic). They focus on poetry writing, but regardless of the kinds of writing you do with your students, finding a community of writers to surround yourself in is a key way to feel more confident and become more capable as a writer. This is true for our students and this is true for us as adults and teachers of writing. 

Hey Celeste and the Teaching Tomorrow community. My name is Julia and I’m calling from Kingston. I teach middle school English and Social Studies and I’m calling about a dilemma in my practice. I am often having my students write various things across the curriculum and they are receiving ample feedback from myself and my peers. But I am stuck in regards to how I can best teach my students various writing techniques. By the time my students enter grade 7, they know the basic skills, they are comfortable with the thinking processes of writing, but at times there are elements of writing that need to get taught and practiced. Do you have any ideas for how to include direct instruction in a way that is not soul sucking and boring? 

Hi Julia. I get this. And in the spirit of leveraging student’s social learning, I think we can actually use this to help with those moments that we need to teach specific writing strategies. Whenever I have used supportive writing groups throughout my classes, I am always grateful for all the early-in-the-year community building work that sets the foundation for students working and learning together. Something that the research on top recommendations for teaching writing suggests is to have students compose together. A perfect idea for supporting students to learn socially! So you might teach a mini-lesson on, say, paragraphing. And I mean mini–think 10 minutes or less–and then students in small groups (3 or 4) can compose something together that applies these new skills. I’m picturing students using that big chart paper and different markers for each student. Students composing together is a good example of a gradual release of responsibility and it is fun for students to work through new skills when learning from and with their peers. Let me know how it goes if you try it in your practice.  


Hello. My name is Quinn and I am an instructional coach in Toronto. A few of the teachers I work with have crafted these rich, interesting, and engaging projects for students to learn through, but I see a real need and desire for students to make an impact on the world. With more young people getting involved with climate justice, for example, I feel like there is a perfect opportunity for something deeper. Do you know what other teachers are doing to marry social justice with writing standards? 

This is an awesome question Quinn. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’m going to use the example of journalism, as that is what I’ve been focusing on with this episode. 

When students are writing in this genre, they are aiming to share the facts in a balanced, unbiased way…or at least in a way that accounts for their biases and include diverse perspectives. But once students have learned more deeply about an issue that they care about, the natural extension is to consider what they might do to design other possible realities. There is a lot written in the world of critical literacy that gives us some ideas of what this might look like. If you want to read more, I highly recommend checking out the writing of Hilary Janks or Vivian Vasquez.

After the news articles have been published, students could be invited to choose another genre or mode of creation to leverage this heightened awareness. Students could write a letter to petition someone in a position of authority to make policy change, to create a PSA video for their school social media account to educate about an important issue, to design a new space in their school community to address an unmet need from their students (perhaps a garden, a quiet corner, a snack bar, a positive affirmation mirror), or write a story that reimagines a more desirable future in regards to a complex issue. We often think that publishing is the final stage of the writing process, but I think actually the final stage is doing something with the knowledge we have gained. Taking the writing and then reimaging it to create difference. The journalistic writing could be the vehicle for researching, learning about the multiple perspectives and stakeholders on an issue, and then the next project could be requiring students to apply their newfound learning to make a change in their communities. You can probably tell that I’m really excited about this, so if you end up running with this, I hope you will loop back and share your learning with us. 

Thanks folks for calling in and sharing your questions about your teaching practice. I always love hearing from you, so if you have a question or a dilemma that you want some research perspective on, send me a voice memo to, hit me up on Instagram @teaching_tomorrow or find me on Twitter @teach_tomorrow

Before we close off,  I want to come back to my friend Annie. We all know students like Annie: bright, capable, thoughtful, full of potential. And they keep us up at night because we know something is not quite right about the systems of schooling for them and as a result, they are not thriving. The bigger system of schooling is not going to change itself. It is is up to us. The Ministry of Education Language Arts documents have not been updated since 2006. 2006! Maybe if they had, there would be more included about the social practices and sociopolitical aspects of writing and students like Annie would find themselves more easily in our programs. But maybe not. It is up to us teachers with whatever power we have to tweak, challenge, redesign, and reimagine our programs to be more socially oriented to better meet the needs of our students. I hope for Annie’s sake we can.

That’s all the time we have for today folks. Keep writing inside that wild rumpus and remember we are teaching tomorrow.  

64. Honouring In(di)genuity with Kiera Brant Birioukov

How might we learn from generations of “in(di)genuity” to find resilience, adaptation, and innovation during Covid? Today on the show I speak with the incredible Kiera Brant Birioukov. 

There is something so special about Kiera and her research that is impossible to ignore when you listen to this conversation. Maybe it is her hopeful optimism, her contagious love for learning and education, or perhaps it is the power of her vulnerability…whatever it is, I know you will appreciate Kiera’s work as much as me after spending some time with her today.

Kiera is a Haudenosaunee woman from Tyendinaga Mohawk territory who recently has been appointed as an assistant professor at York University in their faculty of education. Kiera’s writing and research focuses on Haudenosaunee Thought, Indigenous Curriculum Theory, Reconciliatory Pedagogies, and Indigenous Language Revitalization.

In this conversation, we talk about what settlers can learn from Indigenous communities to not just “get through this time”, but to actually thrive, we talk about her research on teacher education in New Zealand, language revitalization, and the importance of relationships between settlers and Indigenous knowledge keepers. 

I’m just speaking for myself, but I think you will agree after you hear this conversation, I wish that I knew Kiera when I was first learning to become a teacher. Her kindness, wisdom, and perspective are all so needed in our profession and I am so grateful that she took the time today to be with us.

Click on the Soundcloud link above to listen to the episode.

Teaching Tomorrow is a podcast that is recorded on the traditional territory of many nations including the Haudenosaunee, Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinabe, and the Chippewa. I have benefitted immensely from the many ways this land has been taken care of by generations before me and the unfair treaties that have been signed that made it easy for my ancestors to purchase land and live in this area. 

Wherever you are listening today, I hope that you too can take a moment and think about the land where you are right now and feel your feet on the earth. Actually put your feet on the ground if you can and think about where you are and why you are here. Many of you listening today are settler teachers: we have a responsibility to repair past wrongdoings and systemic injustices. After listening to Kiera speak, I have made a donation to a local language revitalization program in Toronto and I encourage you to do the same if you are able. I’ve included some links below for how you might do this. 

A warm thank you to Kiera for coming on the show today and sharing her work and her research with us. 

That’s all the time we have for today folks, keep stepping into your vulnerability, and remember we are teaching tomorrow.

Things Mentioned In This Show:

Language Revitalization Programs:’wala/Kwak%CC%93wala/Kwak%CC%93wala

Kiera’s Article I mentioned “Covid-19 and In(dig)genuity: Lessons from Indigenous resilience, adaptation, and innovation in times of crisis”

Kiera on Twitter 


63. Creating communities of care through mindfulness with Laura Sygrove and Rochelle Miller from New Leaf Foundation

How might we create a community of care in our schools through mindfulness practices? Today on the show I speak with Laura Sygrove and Rochelle Miller from the New Leaf Foundation.

I am so excited about this conversation. Firstly because I thought I had lost a portion of it to the ethers of the internet…but miraculously my tech support found it (yeah!!). However, I am most excited because if we had lost these drops of wisdom from Laura and Rochelle, we would be the worse for it. Let me tell you a little bit about why think this episode is powerful:

Laura and Rochelle come from New Leaf Foundation–a not for profit that aims to bring yoga and mindfulness to youth and their caregivers in under-served communities. We speak in this episode about their new Mindfulness Curriculum Toolkit, how to orient ourselves in the chaos that is this school year, changing the eco-systems of school, and the counter-cultural ways we can prioritize care in our classrooms. We get animated, we get excited, we get right into it. If you are a  teacher who has been feeling the stress, the overwhelm, the exhaustion from teaching during a pandemic, this conversation is like a weighted blanket on your heart. 

Friends, I am so grateful for the work New Leaf is doing in the world of education, so let’s get right into it with Laura Sygrove and Rochelle Miller! 

Resources Mentioned in the Show:

Mindfulness Curriculum Toolkit

62. How to save time and energy when teaching feels chaotic: a solo episode

How might we do less, better as teachers? Today on the show I share my top strategies for saving time and cultivating harmony when everything feels chaotic. 

Hi everyone. It is just us today with a solo episode. Since I started this podcast, I’ve kept a running list of ideas for solo episodes, but between you and me, I gravitate more towards interviewing experts in education because I would so much rather just ask the questions and highlight other people’s brilliance than take a position of authority myself (there’s nothing to unpack there, is there? Ha!). But to make my life a little easier with doing the PhD, I’m switching up the podcast schedule a bit and interviewing an amazing person once a month and bringing in a solo episode once a month. An awesome piece of feedback I got from the listener survey is that an episode every 2 weeks is way better for you, so I love that. My life these days has been about doing less, better–you know that saying, when you are tired, learn to rest, not quit? Banksy said this! That should be our motto right now as educators. 

So in this vein, I’m (finally) doing the episode I’ve been thinking of for–oh about 3 years–my favourite teacher time saving hacks. 

You have heard many of these before. I certainly didn’t invent them. Some of these I learned from veteran teachers. Some I learned through Angela Watson’s 40 hour Teacher Workweek. Some I just learned by being tired and having kids and getting to the end of my rope. But I hope that one of these hacks you might be able to try on or experiment with. Please please please, learn to rest (or go slower) rather than quit. If you are listening to a podcast about education, YOU ARE AN AMAZING EDUCATOR who cares about the practice and their students. We need to learn to do less, better rather than give up on teaching altogether. 

Also, lists make me happy and an organized list makes my heart smile. So the first 5 are things that you can do now. The next 5 take some strategy. We’ll get into that in a little bit. 

My top ten teacher time saving hacks:

  1. Automate tasks: stock responses, email replies, Calendly, report card observations, Plan to Eat
  2. Daily To-Do List: Organize your to do list into days of the week. Ideal if you can map it out on a weekly basis on Sundays. Easier to feel like at the end of the day you’re actually DONE. Consider what free time you actually have. This I learned from Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Work Week
  3. Take your email off your phone: Only check email at one time during the day. Get into flow. 
  4. Borrow / Steal / Redo lessons: Stop inventing your lessons from scratch. Other people have done this before and it’s probably better than what you could create on your own. I had a lot of shame in this earlier on. Now, I think it’s the best. Students want a caring, humane, connected educator. 
  5. Prep meals on the weekend: Easier and quicker to do 2-3 big batches of things than make dinner every night. Prep lunches for your kids and freeze sandwiches. Dinner should not take a long time. Use Plantoeat
  6. Leave your computer at work: Start with one day a week. We need time to recharge. 
  7. Send a good note home email: saves you time with parent communication. Gives you that joy back. Gives you energy. 
  8. Stop Marking / reading everything: design tasks that don’t require tons of time to mark. Give formative feedback in class. Mark beside students when they are right there. Automate feedback (Google tests / Kahoots / EdPuzzle). 
  9. Reevaluate the time it takes to write report cards: bank of report card comments, err on the side of the student, consider how long these are actually read, use the student success criteria to make it really clear what they can do and what they can’t do
  10.  Flip your classes: record a lesson, if you have 3 classes you don’t have to say the same thing to 3 different sets of students. They watch it in or out of the class. Time in class with students becomes the time you give them for formative feedback, students practicing skills, marking student work.

What’s your favourite time saving strategies for addressing exhaustion and overwhelm? Pop them into the chat or share them on the socials Twitter @teach_tomorrow and Instagram @teaching_tomorrow!



61. Seeing hope and potential in anti-racism work with Jennifer Grant

How might we embrace both the incrementalism and urgency of anti-racism growth in all of our schools? Today I talk with the amazing Jennifer Grant on the show. 

I have wanted to interview Jennifer pretty much since I met her, so now that she has been working in the realm of education since May, I have a much better excuse to talk to her than simply because I liked her and wanted to pick her brain. Jennifer Grant is the director of the Office of Anti-Racism, Equity and Human Rights Services at George Brown College in Toronto and has a background in Child Youth Care. 

We talk in this episode about both the incrementalism and the urgency of institutional change, how she manages such a big portfolio, and the realities of anti-racism in her school context. Jennifer’s approach to this work is so deeply relational and full of hope. Listening back to this conversation, this really stands out to me as so needed and necessary. Jennifer is a whip smart, compassionate, and highly effective human that blew my mind more than once during this conversation. You really have to keep listening for Jennifer’s mic drop moment when she explains how having more diversity around the table doesn’t necessarily make the work of anti-racism any easier. 

I loved getting to talk to Jennifer and I know you will get so much out of this conversation. Let’s get right to it, please welcome to the show, Jennifer Grant.


Things mentioned in this show:

60. The first week of my PhD: a solo episode

What has it been like to start a PhD during a pandemic? Today it’s just me on the show sharing my reflections on the first few days of this new educational journey.

If you are looking for that amazing listener survey, here is the link! Thank you for sharing your thoughts–it really goes a long way to designing the future of the show.

In this episode, I talk about:

  • Why I am even doing this PhD thing
  • A typical day in the life
  • What are the hardest parts
  • What are the best parts

I touch on a few things that have some resources and links…here they are:

59. What schools can learn from summer camp in a pandemic with Ross McIntyre

How can we as educators learn from the experience our students had this past summer at camp? Today on the show I am joined by Ross McIntyre, The Director of Community Initiatives at Camp Couchiching

You know how at the start of the school year, we as teachers will sit down with the teachers who taught our students last year and share notes, strategies, and insights to start the year ahead on a proactive note? Those meetings are often really helpful, right? So I thought for the first episode back after the summer break (hi again, by the way), we should hear from summer camp to hear how our students did over the summer. 

Now I get that not all our students go to summer camp. And I get that summer camp is an immensely privileged experience–especially this summer–that doesn’t really speak for all our learners (more on that in the episode). But for those young people that did go to day or overnight camps, I wanted to hear how they did. Was summer camp the restorative experience that so many of us hoped for? Were students able to undo some of the challenges and even trauma of this past year? How might schools bring a little camp into their pandemic pedagogy? 

So enter Ross McIntyre who will be speaking for all camps everywhere. I’m joking. But his insights about what worked about his camp this summer and how the campers at his camp fared I think tells us some important things about young people and provides some hope for the road ahead. 

Ross and I went to high school together and was a significant part of my own journey through school, so it is such an honour to get talk about many things that matter with him: young people, camp, wellness, learning joy, and of course hope. 

Click on the Soundcloud link to hear the full conversation with Ross!


Take Aways from the Show:

Listening to this show, I am struck by three things that Ross touched on about his experience with Covid camp: we can’t attend to all needs in a crisis. For Ross’s camp this meant that less kids got to come to camp and pausing their focus on “camperships”. Not ideal. But neither is a pandemic. I think it’s a good reminder that we can only do so much when trying to do camp or school or family or anything in a pandemic. The second is that young people are capable of doing hard things, especially when they understand the benefit and payoff will be worth it. And finally, create opportunities for joy: go outside with your students, find moments to laugh, bring magic and whimsy to your classroom, pack candy in your adult lunch to help you get through the day, play music that you and your students all love. It seems obvious, but we’ve all been there in those tough moments of school that just feel like a grind. If creating joy is a practice for those us that make school happen, it will get easier and more natural for us. 

Listener Survey

If you have been listening to the show for a little while, you might have noticed that I took a little pause during the summer months. I am very happy to be feeling more refreshed than at the end of this past school year and I’m now starting some new adventures, specifically my PhD at The University of Toronto in the curriculum and pedagogy program. More on that to come in a future episode, but part of stepping into a new thing is that I will be changing up a few things about the podcast.


To help with what to change and what to keep, I am getting input from you! If you have been listening to the show a few times, a little while, or are a loyal listener I want to hear from you by filling out a very quick and very useful listener survey. It will take about 7 minutes and you can enter to win an Indigo or Starbucks gift card. Link to the survey is right here. I haven’t done one of these since we launched in 2018, so I am very happy and grateful to you for sharing your thoughts on the show to make it even better. 

58. Sketchnoting for social justice with Sylvia Duckworth

How might teachers use their voice and power for social change? Today on the show I speak with social justice artist and sketchnote enthusiast, Sylvia Duckworth. 


You might know Sylvia as the sketchnote promoter and author of two books on the topic. Or maybe you know her as the 2015 Prime Minister’s Teaching Award winner. Or perhaps you have discovered one of her powerful images on Instagram about a social justice issue. Or maybe this is the first you are hearing about her, in which case, you are in for a treat. If you know anything about Sylvia, you will know that she is an educator with a growth mindset who is passionate about learning, not afraid to share her voice with the world, and uses her platform for good. 


In this conversation, we talk about Sylvia’s journey in education and how her most recent chapter as a retired, but still very active educator, is working out for her. We also talk about sketchnoting, but we really sink our teeth into how Sylvia is now using her skills in sketchnoting to educate others about social justice issues. We also get into the risk and clear benefits of teachers sharing their voice online. 


A theme that kept coming up for me while chatting with Sylvia Duckworth is the idea that every teacher has their own unique superpowers and there are so many reasons why others need us to share these. Sylvia has many (many) superpowers, so let’s jump right in and learn more about them. Please welcome to the show, Sylvia Duckworth and listen to the audio with the link above. 

The key takeaways that I am left with are these:


  1. Start small and start where you are. Sylvia mentioned this when she was talking about how she teaches others how to draw doodles, but I think this also applies to how we use our voices online, how we gradually improve with any skill, and–probably most importantly–how we further ourselves on a social justice journey. 
  2. Find your people: social media is all the things. Yes, there are trolls, and yes, there is risk in sharing your opinions online. But with thoughtfulness and intentionality, it is also an amazing tool to find your larger learning community outside of the walls of your classroom. Put yourself out there, share your teaching wins with the world, and lean on others for support. And finally..
  3. Be comfortable with making mistakes. Sylvia shared her own tricky moment in the grocery store and I’m so glad she did because I think it really highlights how even once you have started the journey to being a better anti-racist, we are still going to mess up. It’s more important how we learn from this and how we take ownership. We have all been steeped in this culture…it takes a long time to truly unlearn. 


If you liked this show, please subscribe to the podcast, follow me on Instagram @teaching_tomorrow, and leave me a rating and review. You don’t have to be one of those lurkers like Sylvia mentions…you can say hi and connect. I really (really) love it! 


Things Mentioned In This Show:


57. How we foster visionary leadership in schools with Angela Watson

How might we revolutionize education by streamlining workflow and designing better systems for everyone in school? Today on the show I am joined by the incredible Angela Watson.

Angela Watson is a big thinker in education and I’m so excited to share this interview with you. If you don’t know her work, you are in for a potentially life changing episode here. Angela was a classroom teacher for many years but has made a name for herself by teaching educators how to be smarter, more effective teachers by re-thinking how they use their time and shifting their mindsets. If you are familiar with her work, perhaps through her 40 Hour Teacher WorkWeek club or maybe by listening to her podcast Truth For Teachers, then you know how radically life changing her message can be: working non-stop does not make you a good teacher! In fact, excellent teachers do indeed REST! 

In this conversation, we talk about Angela’s background, but of course we go way deeper than that. We look into the origins of this profession and how we ended up in this current state of exhaustion and overwhelm (that’s not just fueled by covid, because we all know teacher burnout was a thing long before 2020). We also get into what is needed for true visionary leadership in our schools and the big, exciting projects that Angela is working on and launching! 

Click on the Soundcloud link above to listen to the episode!

Things Mentioned in the Episode:

56. When students are not turning on their cameras

How might teachers better serve students when they don’t want to turn their cameras on? Today on the show, I talk to three teachers about their wins and challenges with this aspect of virtual learning. I’m your host Celeste Kirsh and We are Teaching Tomorrow. 


I can’t quite pin down what has been the hardest part of online teaching this year. Some things that come to mind:

  • Hearing my children scream from downstairs while I try to pretend like everything is normal when I’m teaching my students
  • Not feeling like I have the time I need to be the teacher I am used to being
  • All the sitting and time in front of a screen
  • Missing my work friends and the doses of connection, whimsy, and stimulation


But something that I keep coming back to is teaching to a screen of icons. Making jokes and hearing nothing. Asking a student a question and getting radio silence. 


As a podcaster, I am used to just talking into a screen and getting a very delayed and sometimes non-existent response. But this is different. 


When people say that teachers have radically transformed how we do our jobs, this is a huge part of it. It’s not just learning new tech tools and relying less on delivering content either! Many of us became teachers because we thrive off relationships, making connections with students, getting through to the hard to reach young people, and building community. We are now trying to do all those things when we can’t see our students or often even hear them! How do you build community when you can’t experience other human beings? 


I wanted to talk to some people about how they are fairing with having their students turn on their cameras to help comfort myself to know that I’m not alone, to get some ideas for how I might get better at this myself, but also to contemplate what is actually going on here. 


You might be thinking that isn’t the best question to ask at this time.

There are for sure more important concerns we should be figuring out in regards to virtual learning. 

Many people might have come to the opinion that nobody should be turning on their cameras right now (not even teachers!) and it’s oppressive to even think about asking students. 


But I do believe that this deserves some investigation. 


Signs are pointing to some form of hybrid learning being a thing next year in Ontario and whether we like it or not, some students will be learning at home in front of their screens. So even if everyone is vaccinated by Fall 2021 (fingers crossed), we are not going back to “normal”.


Students keeping their cameras off, despite teacher, parent, and admin encouragement and the despite availability of concealed backgrounds should be telling us something: Is this a sign of deeper student unwellness? Is this a way of our students exerting some form of control in this terrible situation that nobody asked for? Are we asking too much of our students from a developmental lens that needs significant tech updating to better suit the age and stage of our learners? Or in the lead up to distance learning have  we completely missed what fosters truly engaged learners rather than compliant and obedient ones? 


As TESS WILKINSON-RYAN writes in her September 2020 article in the Atlantic, “The system does not work without their cooperation, and educators who want to meet students halfway need to understand what is happening to them.”


We are not going to fully understand what is happening to our students in the span of this podcast episode. The impacts of what is happening right now in education are going to be felt for a very long time. But I want to look at these questions in the hopes that we might find something new or better know what is actually happening here to learn, to grow, and to make school better for our students even when not mitigate by a screen.


I was able to talk to a few teachers about this and their experiences varied. Some have had classes and days that they got all their students to turn their cameras on without any prompting, persuading, or pleading…and others teachers have gotten very little buy in and their victories were few and scattered.

To listen to the full episode, click on the Soundcloud link.

Stuff Mentioned in the Show: