Tara Martin is an enthusiastic educator, national speaker, and author who thrives on change and refuses to settle for the status quo. She has served as a classroom teacher, an instructional coach for several years, and most recently, a district administrator. As the founder of #BookSnaps, she is always seeking unique ways to make learning fun, relevant, and meaningful. In this episode Tara shares how she inspires educators to discover their unique strengths and talents. She also shares some of her favorite technology tools in the classroom. You can find Tara Martin on Twitter @TaraMartinEDU.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Welcome to the Deeper Learning With WeVideo Podcast. This is Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad, and I’m so excited to have a very special guest on the show today. I’d like to welcome Tara Martin on the show. Tara is an enthusiastic educator, and national speaker, and an author who thrives on change and refuses to settle for the status quo. Sounds like someone who I definitely respect and endure. She is the founder of #BookSnaps, and she is the director of public relations and communications for DBC, Inc. She’s also a former teacher, instructional coach, and curriculum director. And Tara, you have done so much. You’ve done it all. But thank you for being on the show today.
Tara Martin: I am super excited to join you guys, Nathan.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I want to jump right on in. I noticed from all of the work that you’ve been doing, it really centers on this concept of empowering teachers to make creativity a natural part of the classroom. And so can you talk a little bit about your work around creativity in the classroom?
Tara Martin: Oh, certainly. You know, Nathan, I believe that creativity comes from within. I wrote a book called ‘Be REAL: Educate From the Heart.’ I really think if we can establish a community in our learning setting whatever that is … is it a school building, if it’s the district level, or is it the classroom level? If we can establish a culture where everyone can be real … And real is an acronym. So, being relatable, exposing vulnerability, approachable, and learning through life. If we can embrace our real selves, I think that is when students, and adults, and humans feel this liberty to be creative. Right? They feel like their creation is valued.
Tara Martin: I always bring things back to being real just because I think it’s vital, and I think it’s super important. Because creativity isn’t this abstract thing that people can’t reach. Creativity lies within, and it looks different, and it comes in so many shapes, and sizes, and forms. I honestly feel like if we can create a culture in our learning setting where everyone is embracing their unique talents, their experiences in life, that they bring the good, the bad, and the ugly, and their learning experiences … so, relatable, exposing vulnerability, approachable, and learning through life. Then they can surely create something that’s of value, and that means something, and also create things that are different and unique. It’s not a cookie cutter worksheet. That’s just kind of my … That’s very broad, but I think it’s the overarching theme. That piece that we need in the educational setting, so everyone feels this liberty to be creative.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I think the acronym is a really wonderful way to remember and really funnel the energy to help us be more creative. I think about so many teachers out there, and they’re working so hard. I think education is one of the most rewarding careers and professions, but it’s also a very relentless job. What would you say to a teacher who is listening, and they hear you? They’re like, “Yes. I want to be my real authentic self here, and I want my students to be that as well. But there’s so many standards, and there’s formative assessments I have to create, and lesson planning, and there’s all kinds of district initiatives swirling around right now. How do I find the support and the time needed to be more creative in the classroom?” What would you say to that teacher?
Tara Martin: Yes. I believe that. I would probably ask them some humble inquiry questions, such as: in what ways can we establish this ability, this opportunity for students to be creative? Because yes, we have these standards that we have to meet. We have these lessons. But creativity can’t be something separate. I mean, yes, we go to art class and there’s times for that. But creativity doesn’t have to look in the form of a lot of messy paint, and things all over the place that takes us a lot of time. It can look … Like I said earlier, it can look in so many forms, so many shapes, so many styles.
Tara Martin: So, how do we allow our students to express themselves and their learning within the content area? I think there are so many ways to do it. On my website, I have a ton of resources for this very thing. My website is tarammartin.com. And one of the easiest ways to allow students to express that vulnerability and how they’re relating to the content is called REAL Engagements. If you go to resources and REAL Engagement, there’s a lot of real engagement strategies that we can just incorporate. They’re two to three minute strategies at the end of the lesson and the middle of the lesson that allows students to reflect any super authentic way, but also to allow them to have this opportunity to connect to the content with their own background experiences, their own different spins on life, and the content at the same time.
Tara Martin: And while as a teacher, we might be like, “Wow, I don’t even know where you came up with that connection.” That’s the creativity to me piece, and allowing them to have that opportunity is also part of that creativity. Everything doesn’t have to be, like, “We’ve created this masterpiece that’s now going to be hung.” Like in Kansas City, we have the Nelson Art Museum that I love going to, but not every piece of creativity has to look, and sound, and feel like that.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Absolutely. As you were speaking, I had to go to your website. I’m impressed with how many resources you have. I definitely will make sure that everyone has your website, because you do have a lot of resources out there to help teachers really kind of scaffold the experience for students and helping them be more creative. With my role at WeVideo, one of my visions or missions is to help students make a bigger impact on their world through video creation. That’s just one of the technology tools that can help students be more creative. What would you say are some great technology tools that you have either personally encountered, or have seen that can really help support students? And not only just using technology for technology’s sake or the latest fad, but using technology to really drive deeper learning.
Tara Martin: We mentioned earlier about BookSnaps. And it’s funny to me … the birth of BookSnaps was just literally I wanted to keep the app Snapchat on my son’s phone because he was driving me batty with it, and he’s a teenager. And it became something very real, and very authentic, and a creation tool for students to be able to share their heart, and their mind, and how they’re making these connections, but in a language that they love. Which is digitally with emojis, and Bitmojis, and images. In this world and this day, that is what we … First of all, that’s what I do every day is digital creation. I know that that is what our society looks for and enjoy seeing, and it’s what attracts their attention.
Tara Martin: So, finding a way to allow students to represent their thinking with a digital, visual representation was such a cool strategy and idea. BooksSnaps, if we back up just a second, is basically allowing students to take a snap of the book that they’re reading, and then share with me the visualization that’s happening in their mind at the time of that reading through images, through annotation using text features. But also through emojis, Bitmojis, images from the web, whatever it is to express, like, “When I read this piece, this is what’s happening inside my brain.” But they’re expressing that digitally and visually.
Tara Martin: We originally started it with BookSnaps. Like I said, I was trying to keep Snapchat on my kid’s app. I started it with the app Snapchat, but then I realized, “You know what?” Snapchat, it wasn’t about the app. It was about the science behind it. Because once we allowed the content to sink in, and it became solidified through visualization in a mind of a child, and then they recreated that visualization with a digital visual representation using some form of technology … and it was many different apps. We’ve tried Google Slides, Google Drawing, all sorts of apps. Flipgrid, PicCollage Kids … like, just about anything that can create. That you can take your picture, and you can annotate, and you can add images. Then you can make a snap of some sort.
Tara Martin: But we also found, Nathan, that people started making them with math snaps, and science snaps, and social studies snaps, history snaps, writing snaps. It didn’t matter. The teachers were hoping to peek into the minds of their students, so they’re like, “Hey, how about you try making a snap of your learning? So, whatever is happening inside your mind at the moment of this learning this content piece, share that with me in a snap.” And as a teacher, it’s so cool. Because you can scan your whole class. Who has time to conference with all their students? Right?
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Right.
Tara Martin: You can literally scan all the snaps, and you’re like, “Okay, this one’s got it. I need to check on that one. It may be he’s connecting in a very unique, authentic way that I’m not certain of. But it doesn’t seem like he’s on the right track.” So, you can kind of check for understanding. In fact, BookSnaps is actually on the Common Core website. They actually view it as a comprehension strategy now. And like I said earlier, it’s not the app. It’s the science behind it. Because the context and meaning is happening in the left hemisphere of the brain, and then the creation is happening. And the two atmospheres are working together inside the brain to solidify this learning, and take it out of the working memory into somewhere on the track to long-term memory. The science behind it actually became the driving force of why it works for all different content areas, and also all different sorts of apps.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I love how you talked about the integration of BookSnaps with multiple disciplines, and no matter what grade, no matter what class, no matter what subject area. I think about the use of technology. How it’s really replace some of the traditional strategies that we have had a part of the classroom for so many years. And for example, many teachers might sort of find maybe a project or a technology app, and they will use them for particular instances. Maybe at an end of unit or a culmination of something major.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: But it sounds like you are proposing that technology should be used kind of an every day basis. For example, I have been proposing ways where teachers … instead of doing a think, pair, share, they can do a reflection through a video journal. Or instead of doing a book report, they can do a a book trailer. And so finding ways that we are transforming traditional approaches and to more student-centered meaningful approaches. Do you also agree with that? Are you also seeing ways that we can take some of those traditional approaches and make them more student-centric?
Tara Martin: Oh, definitely. Definitely. That’s what it’s all about, too. And students love video. It’s their thing. I know when I joined Instagram, my son … he’s 18. He’s like, “Mom, when are you going to start doing stories? That’s the only thing people look at.” And I didn’t even really think about stories when I first joined Instagram. I was just making posts. And sure enough, make stories and you get more followers. I was like, “Oh, people do like video.” And they like that realness. You can see, and hear, and feel like the emotions, that inflection of voice. It changes everything.
Tara Martin: Even with BookSnaps, we’ve started making them in Flipgrid with the new Shorts camera, and the kids love them. Because they have the standard snap, but then they voice over and get to share their emotion of why they chose that piece of the book, and how they’re connecting, and you get to hear their enthusiasm. I think it brings BookSnaps to life. Anytime we’re allowing kids … And it’s only one minute. It’s super short. But anytime we are allowing them to be able to be authentic in front of a camera and relate it to the content, I just think we have such a better chance of them solidifying that learning, and actually remembering it for a lot longer than just for the test.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Completely agree. I also follow you on Twitter. And so I appreciate it yesterday on your Instagram story, you’d take a little dance break in between tasks. I enjoyed that, but it also reminded me that we have to continually give permission to our students, and make them feel so comfortable to be able to be authentic and be real. I appreciate you not only speaking about that and writing about that, but also modeling that through your InstaStories. It’s much appreciated.
Tara Martin: Thank you.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. What would you say … I hear a lot about … And I actually will write and talk about this as well about teachers creating alongside of their students. And we talk about that students can be more creative when their teachers are modeling the mindset or the processes of creativity. What have you seen in classrooms that do a really great job of implementing creativity in the classroom? Are you seeing the teacher create alongside of the students? And if so, what exactly are teachers creating alongside their students? Is it something for the teacher? Is it exactly what the students are working on, or a little bit of both? How do you see that unfolding?
Tara Martin: I’ve seen a lot of … As I’m traveling, and talking and speaking to teachers, I’m often encouraging them to … what I like to call cannonball in on something new. And all that really means is just don’t dabble in the shallow waters forever. Don’t swim in the shallow waters forever. You have to take a risk, too. So, climbing that ladder, that high dive, and running, and jumping, and making the biggest splash that you possibly can make on something new. On something that you’ve never tried before. Because when we do those things, we gain empathy for our learners because we’re asking them to do it. And I think sometimes we are comfortable in what we’re doing, and we’re not taking those risks as well.
Tara Martin: I feel like the more we take those risks … And when I talk to teachers I say the same thing. The more we take those risks, the more we understand or we at least can empathize with our learners when they’re taking risk as well. What I’ve seen the most, Nathan, is just a lot of times it’s teachers starting their own website for the first time. Blogging. I think that that has been just one of the things I’ve encouraged teachers to do. Like you said, I have a bunch of resources on our website. I love to share the things that are working well for me, and kind of bust the walls of just the building or just the district, and allowing other people to see like, “Hey, these things are happening in small town, Kansas.” It might work over in your area as well.
Tara Martin: And when teachers are sharing, feeling comfortable … to not only share those things on social media, but write about them, and share your lesson plans, share a little bit so other teachers can dive in. One way to duplicate yourself is to create your own website or your own blog. When I’ve seen that … So, with my coaches and with the teachers that I’ve worked with personally in my district, I’ve found that they’re sharing those experiences with kids. Like, “Oh, you’re this new thing, so I also tried this new thing,” and they’ll share their website. It’s a professional, digital portfolio. They want them to be able to see it. “And look what I’m learning. I also learned this new thing via graphic design, or video, or adding images to their website, or whatever it is.”
Tara Martin: But when teachers are learning alongside students … And it doesn’t necessarily need to be the same content, because I honestly think that most of us are beyond what we’re actually teaching. We usually understand that. But we need to take it a step further and try something that is uncomfortable, and that is a little scary, and just run, and jump, and make a splash. Will we belly flop? Oh, certainly. I belly flop all the time. But occasionally, I make a really big splash and I never know the impact of that splash. Right?
Tara Martin: You put stuff out there on social media, put stuff out there on your blog. But when you hear another teacher or another student saying, “Wow, that resource changed me. I was able to share in such a unique way because of BookSnaps or because of this.” And it means something. You’re like, “Wow, okay. This is a bigger purpose than just me, and just the four walls that I get to work in every single day.” I do think teachers should be creating alongside students, and sharing their similar experiences, and also they’re overcoming obstacles along the process.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: So much greatness there. Cannonball In is your latest book, right? I think it just came out, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it just after hearing you talk about taking risk alongside of your students. I’m looking forward to reading that. That’s going to be my next book, Tara.
Tara Martin: Oh my goodness. I hope that you enjoy it. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts. I’ll just give you a little sneak peek. That book is written based off of the true story of my father who raised me. He’s not biological, so you’ll notice that we look nothing alike. His grandmother was Cherokee, so I just am a little white, freckled face red head. Yeah. And I wanted our story to be true as far as the images and the depiction. But other than that, he just encouraged me to not always … he would tell me things like, “Tara, you weren’t born to sit on the sidelines and watch other jumpers. [inaudible 00:20:30]”
Tara Martin: When I finally got the courage to run, and jump, and make a splash, yeah. I faced a lot of criticism. The book is so fun because it goes through the whole process of creativity. Really. It is kind of what we probably should have been talking this whole time. Because if you look at the metaphor, it’s perfect for creativity. And that’s what it’s all about, really. Trying something new. And I love it because it helps you to understand that your splash may not compete.
Tara Martin: I was seven years old. My splash was not necessarily competing with the 200-pounder jumpers, but it made an impact. And at the end of the story, it kind of comes full circle with these little kids noticing the slash and be like, “Wow, I wish I could do that.” And she gives them the same encouragement her dad gave her. I believe that we’ve read this book to first graders. We’ve also read it to seniors in high school. It’s so fun to see everybody’s perspective on how it relates to their life. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts, honestly.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. Oh, it’s so inspiring. I know that our listeners and educators everywhere will definitely want to read this book, because I definitely think it’s going to inspire us to take that dive or take that leap. I love what you talk about as far as never knowing the impact of that splash. That’s really the story of our lives as teachers. We put in the hard work, and we have this mission about how to make a difference in students’ lives. And sometimes it takes years, and we’ll hear back from a student, and we’ll see what they’re up to. It’s so just motivating and exciting to see the great work our students are doing, and the pride that we feel for them.
Tara Martin: Creating that book, it’s fun too to share. I’ve gotten to talk to a couple of elementary schools about writing a picture book, and there’s a lot of facets to writing a picture book. I learned a lot about that creative journey as well, and being able to share that with these littles that are just … they’re like six years old. They’re barely learning to write, and they’re like, “I want to write a picture book.” And you’re like, “You can write a picture book. Let me tell you a little something that I learned.”
Tara Martin: And so being able to share that creative experience, that journey, and understanding that it’s a process. You guys have read it. You and your husband are writing a book right now. It’s just a process. And being able to share that process with other people, and helping them to understand that creativity doesn’t just happen overnight. Sometimes it takes some time.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Definitely does. Oh. So much goodness, Tara. I could talk to you all day, but I know you’re very busy and have a lot more wonderful work to do today. You mentioned your website earlier, tarammartin.com. How else can our listeners find you? Are you on Twitter? Of course you are, because I follow you and lots of other peoples do as well. What is your Twitter handle?
Tara Martin: My Twitter handle is @taramartinedu. And then my Instagram would be another place to follow me. It’s tarammartin.real. And then if you’d like to follow me on Facebook, I’m also there. Tara M Martin. Any of those places, you’ll be able to find me. I mostly post stuff that’s related to education, but there are times I have dance breaks. You might see that as well.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: That’s wonderful. Well, thank you so much for just your inspiring message. So much has resonated with me today, and has made an impact just in our short 25 minutes today. Thanks again, Tara. It’s such a pleasure, and I hope to have you on again soon.
Tara Martin: Thank you so much for having me. It’s truly an honor. Nathan.