Schoolin' Around, Your K-12 Education Podcast
New Episodes Every Other Tuesday
Dive deep into conversations about the current reality of K-12 education with Branching Minds' podcast, Schoolin' Around.
Schoolin' Around is a bi-weekly podcast hosted by Branching Minds, featuring prominent leaders, subject-matter experts, and thought innovators with their perspectives on the current challenges, burning topics, innovations, and new ideas in K-12 education.
This podcast dives deep into the current reality of our education system. Through the collaboration and insight of our guests, Schoolin' Around connects challenges to solutions, tackling the big problems and questions related to education—with a bit of fun thrown in. After all, sometimes you just need to School Around.
Unlocking the Potential of ELL Students With Author Emily Francis
Most teachers will tell you that teaching is not just about helping students learn content but about how to think about themselves, the world, and even their place in it. Our guest today, Emily Francis, talks a lot about the power of story and how that can help students find their way, especially if they are immigrant students encountering language and cultural challenges.
In this episode, Emily and Larissa sat down to discuss the power of stories and how teachers and administrators could reach English Language Learners in powerful ways.
Emily Francis is a teacher, author, and speaker excited to talk about the potential of English Language Learners because she knows exactly what they are experiencing. As an immigrant student, she experienced what many students around the country are experiencing. She is passionate about sharing with educators the power that stories can have in unlocking their potential. She even wrote a book about her story and the stories of her students called “If You Only Knew: Letters from an Immigrant Teacher.”
MTSS and Equity: The Rising Tide That Lifts All Boats With Emily Myers
Schools around the country are still feeling the effects of interrupted learning and finding their way to help students grow and succeed. Many of those schools know that they can’t go back to the way things were before, and they want to make a change to impact ALL students. For Emily Myers, MTSS Director of Orange County Schools in North Carolina, she desires to lead her team in the work of equitably supporting students through MTSS.
In this episode, Emily spoke with us about her journey with MTSS and how her mindset shifted from just identifying students for special education to truly making equity the center of her work. She is kind enough to share a story about how MTSS made a difference for a student very close to her heart. We also talk about how serving students is getting comfortable operating in the messy work of decision-making and doing what’s best for students even when it isn’t always clear.
How Prevention is the Key to MTSS with Gary Schaffer
In the work of educators, one area that continues to challenge schools is making sure that we are helping students in the best way possible, preventing problems for them further in the future. Now more than ever, educators are looking to researchers to find the most effective interventions and provide them with guidance and what to do with the needs they see in the classroom.
Gary Schaffer, the guest for this episode, is one of those researchers. He is also an author striving to create materials and resources to help educators do their job to the best of their ability and help students succeed. Not only does he have years of experience as a school psychologist and academic, but he also brings the perspective of a student who received special education services. Growing up as a struggling student with ADHD and a learning disability, Gary Schaffer has dedicated his professional practices and life to helping all learners succeed. Gary received a bachelor’s degree in special education and English and subsequently became a school psychologist and clinical mental health counselor. He has authored three books related to MTSS for SAGE and Routledge Publications
Being a New Principal with MTSS featuring Justin Petersen
Any educator will tell you that the first couple of years in a new role is like drinking from a fire hose. There is so much to learn and adapt to, even more so when you are a new principal.
In this episode, Larissa talks with Justin Peterson, the elementary principal in Broken Bow, Nebraska. He stepped into a new role this year and is not only learning what it means to be a principal but is learning all about how MTSS can help a school meet the needs of students. He was ready to chat about what it means to be a learner somewhere new and how much he loves his job.
How Teamwork Makes a Difference for MTSS with Gwinnett County Schools
It takes a lot more work and planning to make a large wheel turn, but in Gwinnett County Schools, their team did just that. They have been working hard these last few years, making the wheel of school improvement turn with their strategic work with MTSS, and they are seeing the impact of their efforts.
In this episode, Larissa chats with Dr. Tinisha Parker, Executive Director of Student Services, Dr. Debbie Durrance, Executive Director of Data Governance, and Elizabeth Moore, Director of Instructional Development and Support for Gwinnett County Schools, Georgia, one of the largest school districts in the country. They share the process of bringing their teams together to truly make a difference for their students and how sometimes the MTSS process requires unlearning before adding anything new. They also share their wisdom for those just beginning the process and share about their work moving forward.
MTSS and Montessori: Personalized Learning at Island Village
There are many types of schools worldwide, based on different philosophies and ways of educating children. The Montessori method is just one of those different types of schools, with hands-on learning, student choice, and small group-based learning. Founded by Italian Doctor Maria Montessori, this method is typically found in early education and private schools, but small charter schools are based on this different teaching method.
In this episode, we talk with Jennifer Ocana and Jennifer Sessa from Island Village Montessori, a K-8 charter school in Florida's Sarasota County School system. Jennifer Ocana is the Head of School for Island Village but has been teaching and leading for 20 years in Montessori schools, and Jennifer Sessa is the Director of Pupil Support, working with the Special Education staff. We talk about how MTSS and the Montessori philosophy are closely linked and how they lean into differentiated instruction to help meet the needs of their diverse population.
MTSS for Maximizing Learning for Students with Dyslexia with Kristen Beesaw
Reading difficulty has an outsized effect on a student's ability to be successful in school and life. In the past few years, more and more states have been passing legislation around dyslexia, requiring schools and teachers to have the knowledge and to screen students early.
In today’s episode, I sat down with Kristen Beesaw, Assistant Director of Interventions and 504 for Bryan Independent School District. We talked how about misconceptions about dyslexia and how a Multi-Tiered System of Supports can help meet students that are at risk for dyslexia. Kristen was kind enough to share how Bryan is striving to intervene early and implement best practices to support students at risk for dyslexia.
Kristen Beesaw has been in education for 28 years, all with the Bryan Independent School District. She has served as a high school Language Arts teacher for 13 years, then Technology Specialist, Secondary Language Arts Coordinator, and then as Dyslexia Coordinator. Currently, she is the Assistant Director of Interventions & §504, where she oversees MTSS/RtI, Dyslexia, Secondary Reading interventions, the district’s summer programming, and §504.
Supporting ELL Students through Classroom Relationships with Gabi Graham
As educators, we know that we cannot control what students bring in with them each day, whether that be academic, behavioral, emotional, or even language learning needs. An educator's job is to support students, helping them feel safe so that they can learn and meet their goals.
This episode is a conversation with Gabi Graham, a former elementary dual language teacher passionate about helping schools support students from other cultures. We talk about how different aspects of student mental health can affect outcomes and how sometimes simple things can make all the difference in helping students feel safe and that they belong, no matter their culture.
Gabi Graham balances the roles of being the mother of 2 sweet girls and a successful sales development representative for Branching Minds. As a former dual language educator and lover of all things EdTech, she can understand user needs daily. She lives in a beautiful west Texas border city where the mountain views are breathtaking, the people are warm, and the tacos are truly the best! Give her a good book on a rainy Texas day and she is sure the be the happiest gal around!
Reflecting on Your MTSS Practice with Karen Castle
Karen Castle, veteran educational leader and Executive Director of Professional Learning at Branching Minds offers wisdom about wrapping up the school year and questions for leaders to reflect on their MTSS practice.
We also dive into the idea that “Remembering Your Why” is insufficient without the why and the how of making a school transformation.
Karen is the Executive Director of Professional Learning at Branching Minds, where she leads a team of education consultants to provide guidance and support to schools and districts as they implement Branching Minds and improve their MTSS practice. Prior to Branching Minds, Karen spent 12 years building a national professional development program for Amplify Education, a leading company in the education technology space. Before her work in the Edtech space, Karen served as curriculum director, principal, and teacher for several school districts in the North Texas area for 23 years. Karen holds an M.Ed. from the University of North Texas and a Superintendent’s Certification from the University of Texas at Arlington.
School Transformation Begins with the Adults with AJ Crabill
The guest for this episode, AJ Crabill, advocates for taking risks to find a better way to improve schools and support students. AJ Crabill believes that “Student outcomes don't change until adult behaviors change.”
In this conversation with AJ, we talk about his work in helping improve schools and helping schools create student-led restorative circles. Restorative practices focus on resolving conflict, repairing harm, and healing relationships. It really is an overarching term to referring to strategies that help build community in ways that treat humans with dignity and respect.
AJ Crabill serves as Conservator at DeSoto, Texas ISD. During his guidance, DeSoto improved from F ratings in academics, finance, and governance to B ratings. He’s also Faculty at Leadership Institute of Nevada and Director of Governance at the Council of the Great City Schools. He served as Deputy Commissioner at the Texas Education Agency and spearheaded reforms as board chair of Kansas City Public Schools that doubled the percentage of students who are literate and numerate. Crabill is a recipient of the Education Commission of the State's James Bryant Conant Award.
Using Early Warning Indicators to Support Students with EWI Expert Sarah Frazelle
One way to intervene early in support of students is to use utilize Early Warning Indicators, such as attendance, behavior, and class grades. These are helpful indicators for identifying students that may need support in the future and allow educators to intervene before a student needs more intense support.
In this episode, we talk with Sarah Frazelle, a researcher in Early Warning Indicators. We talk about why getting systematic support is necessary and why teachers might have a hard time taking attendance.
Sarah Frazelle is the Director of Early Warning Indicator Systems and MTSS for the Puget Sound Education Service District in Seattle, WA. She has been working on Early Warning Indicator Systems since 2012. In that time, she's moved from the analysis of early warning data to coaching school, district, and state agencies on how to most effectively implement these systems. She has helped support a variety of districts, from small rural districts in Montana to large urban districts like Portland, Oregon, and across multiple states.
How MTSS Can Support Positive Behavior With School Psychologist, Trudy Bender
Recently it has been reported that more than 80 Percent of U.S. Public Schools say the pandemic has negatively impacted student behavior and socio-emotional development.
Trudy Bender is the perfect person to give us some insight into how the system and school culture can help teachers with these issues. She previously served as the Coordinator of District Behavior Intervention for the Waco Independent School District, where she facilitated the implementation of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports for Behavior, including initiatives to improve school climate and connection, provide effective Tier 2 and Tier 3 behavior intervention programs, and coordinate wrap-around services and transitional support for students in alternative disciplinary settings. Trudy is now Branching Minds MTSS Content Manager. But she still serves the state of Texas as a Restorative Discipline Facilitator. Trudy is a Licensed Specialist in School Psychology and a Nationally Certified School Psychologist.
Connecting MTSS Best Practices to Ed Policy with Abigail Woodworth and Yoni Doron
Now more than ever, a spotlight is being shined on our education system. Requiring states to make decisions to help support educators. Schools, teachers, and students need help. In this episode, our two guests are working to connect and build relationships with policymakers, researchers, and those who can help change the system for better student outcomes.
Abigail Woodworth, VP of Communications at Branching Minds, and Yoni Doron, Branching Minds Chief Strategic Partnership Officer, have been a part of the company since the beginning and have seen how important it is to help schools and districts not only individually but at the policy level.
MTSS + Tech = Magic: Solving Educators' Pain Points With Emily-Rose Barry, VP of Product
When a teacher uses educational technology, there can be frustrations about its uses in the classroom, its functionality, and its purpose. Our newest guest seeks to help make technology work FOR educators, not against them.
In this episode, we talk with Emily-Rose Barry, the VP of Product at Branching Minds. Much like many of our guests, her journey began in the classroom as a student wondering how learning worked. Our conversation covers her accidental journey to her current role and how technology assists educators in doing their job better.
Emily-Rose Barry has worked in Education Technology in roles overseeing Product and Customer Success for the past ten years. Before joining the world of agile software development, she taught reading and writing at every level, from early childhood to college, administered special programs for an adult literacy nonprofit, and published short fiction and poetry as a freelance writer. She co-founded ProductTank Buffalo, a local community for networking and professional development.
How Student Wellness Impacts Academic Outcomes With Dr. Essie Sutton
Recent research on students’ mental and emotional health has revealed a dire need for educational professionals to do something to help. More than 15% of students have had a depressive episode in this last year. And many parents believe their students would benefit from mental health assistance.
Our guest for this episode, Dr. Essie Sutton, an applied developmental psychologist, has made it her job to learn more about how social-emotional learning and mental health support can actually help students. In this episode, we discuss how teachers use evidence-based practices in the classroom, the need for a deeper understanding of student wellness, and what she is learning from her work.
Academia Meets K-12 Technology: A Personal Journey of Chief Product Officer Dr. Eva Dundas
Have you ever thought about how you can think different thoughts and how your brain works? Beginning from childhood, this week’s guest loved to think about how people think. Dr. Eva Dundas and I sat down to chat about how a Dr. of Developmental and Cognitive Psychology became a Chief Product Officer for an EdTech company.
We dive into how she went from being an academic research scientist to seeking a role to apply her knowledge and see research in action. I was most excited to talk with her about why learning science isn’t what some may believe it to be and why teachers should be called Learning Engineers.
Always a Learner: Transition From Teacher to EDTech CEO With Maya Gat Part 2
The best leaders are the ones that know they can’t be an expert at everything. They often continue to learn and seek out other experts to join their team. In this episode, Part 2 of our conversation with former educator turned Edtech CEO, Maya Gat, she continues to lean into the idea of humility and the power of learning.
She expands on how she is always a learner and how she translated her skills as a teacher to her role leading a company.
“Why Not Me?” Transition From Teacher to EdTech CEO With Maya Gat Part 1
Every compelling story has an unlikely hero, someone on an adventure to solve a problem, find a treasure, or save the day. We have the privilege of hearing one of these great stories for this episode. Former teacher Maya Gat shares with us how she became the CEO and Co-Founder of Branching Minds. This episode is part one of the conversation. We cover where it all started, her journey to be a teacher, and what has continued to compel her in her work today. Tune in for part two in a few weeks!
50 Years of Leadership in RTI/MTSS: A Conversation with W. Alan Coulter, PhD, and Eva Dundas, PhD
Since the purpose of this podcast is to bring you conversations with practitioners and experts from the field, to discuss the challenges of supporting students and schools, we had to share a special episode featuring Dr. Alan Coulter and Dr. Eva Dundas. In this episode, originally recorded for our 2022 MTSS Summit, Dr. Eva Dundas, Branching Minds Chief Product Officer, sat down with Dr. Coulter to discuss his experience leading RTI/MTSS as an educator, psychologist, and consultant over the past 50 years.
Dr. Coulter is a licensed psychologist and organizational development consultant (Directions & Resources Group), providing technical assistance, professional learning, and executive coaching in school improvement. For more than 52 years, Alan has been an educator involved in school improvement at the local, state, and national levels. Currently, he provides technical assistance in support of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) and improvement of results in special education using principles of improvement science and implementation science to states and local schools. He is keenly interested and involved in the design, implementation, and evaluation of efforts to improve results.
Dr. Coulter is also a Research Associate at the Center for Applied Research & Educational Improvement (CAREI) collaborating with colleagues in program evaluation of Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), Response to Intervention (RTI), and special education programs. For CAREI, Alan also currently serves on the Intensive Support Team of the Wisconsin Minnesota Comprehensive Center. Alan is a consultant to Com-Link, a firm providing intensive technical assistance to the Michigan Department of Education, Office of Special Education on accountability and improvement of results.
Sign up here for the follow-up Q/A webinar with Dr. Coulter on Jan. 19th!
MTSS is Finding the Right Intervention with Jenna Blank
For our final episode of the “Voices from the Field” series, we are talking with Jenna Blank, who is an educator at Livonia Elementary School in a small, rural community of Livonia, in Western New York.
Jenna has been an educator for 14 years and 3 years ago took on a new position of coordinating the RTI/MTSS process for her school and loves being about to work closely with teachers and families in support of students. Previously she had been a classroom teacher and reading specialist. She continues to teach PreK in the mornings and loves the ability to focus on early foundational skills with her little ones!
MTSS Requires Shifting Mindsets with Tiffany Studivant
We are excited to share our conversation with Tiffany Studivant, who is in her 11th year with Clark County School District in Athens, Georgia. Her energy and enthusiasm for her work are contagious.
Tiffany has extensive experience in supporting students and families at the school level as well as supporting building leaders at the district -level. After nine years as an elementary Special Education Teacher and Team leader, Tiffany joined the district’s support staff in her current role. She currently serves as a District MTSS Implementation Specialist, coaching and guiding 14 building-level Elementary MTSS coordinators with the overall implementation of the MTSS framework.
The Power of MTSS as a Collaborative Problem-Solving Process with Dr. Lydia Williams
For our third installment of “Voices from the Field” we have the opportunity to hear from another excellent educator, Dr. Lydia Williams from Long Island, New York.
Dr. Williams is an educational leader, administrator, and scholar with over 17 years of experience in elementary education. Her prior roles as a classroom teacher, academic intervention specialist, and International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme coordinator have all converged to influence her current work as an MTSS coordinator for the district of North Bellmore in Long Island, New York. In our conversation, we discuss how a Multi-Tiered System of Supports helps provide students with what they need to thrive.
“MTSS Is More Than Just an Intervention” With Trisha Senne
Continuing our series highlighting “Voices from the Field,” we sit down with another superb educator, Trisha Senne, from Elk Grove Village, Illinois.
Trisha started her career as a special education teacher, then transitioned to be a behavior and learning consultant for the district before landing her current role as the Coordinator of Assessment & MTSS for the Community Consolidated School District 59. In this episode, we talk about how data collection can impact how a school helps students feel like they belong and how schools and communities can be transformed when there is a solid system or framework in place.
“MTSS Is Equity With its Work Boots On” - A Conversation With Donna Cross
To kick off our podcast, we are featuring a few remarkable educators in a series called “Voices from the Field.” These are education rockstars, leaders in their school communities, and serving to support students and teachers.
Today, we begin our podcast with Donna Cross, the Director of MTSS and SEL in Evanston Skokie School District 65 in Illinois. We talk about how MTSS or a Multi-Tiered System of Supports can provide students with what they need when they need it. She also shares how her journey began with her childhood experiences and shaped her approach to supporting students.