Podcast S2. Ep 2: Making a difference in our schools starts in the classroom - Jonathan Alsheimer

Character Strong · September 3, 2019

Jonathan Alsheimer is a teacher from “The” Fred Lynn Middle School, Speaker, and author of the upcoming book “Next Level Teaching” published by Dave Burgess Consulting - All about how teachers can make a profound impact on the culture and climate of their classroom and school!

We talk about how making a difference at school starts in the classroom, three characteristics of a great teacher, and how we can re-engage the fire and passion for education.


“...how do we engage kids with the time that we do have? Are you involved in even one day after school during the school year? Do you even stop by the afterschool programs, and just say, what's up, to some of the kids that are there? How do you interact with kids in the hallway? And you know what man, those high fives and fist bumps, and hey, how you doing, man? That really goes a long way for kids.”

— Jonathan Alsheimer

Episode Transcript:

  • John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong podcast where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today we're talking with Jonathan Alsheimer. Jonathan is a teacher from the Fred Lynn Middle School. He's a speaker and author of the upcoming book, Next Level Teaching, published by Dave Burgess Consulting all about how teachers can make a profound impact on the culture and climate of their classroom and school. Are you ready? Let's get CharacterStrong with Jonathan Alsheimer.
  • John: All right. It is such an honor to have Jonathan Alsheimer with us on the CharacterStrong podcast. Jonathan, how are you today?
  • Jonathan: Dude, I'm doing great, man. Thank you for having me on. I appreciate the time.
  • John: Absolutely. Well, you said that you're a week out here from starting a new school year, which is super exciting. You're in your classroom right now.
  • Jonathan: Yeah, I'm in my classroom right now. I'm about to start making things happen, brother. Yeah, we're starting next week. And it's about time to start lighting that fire again. It's exciting.
  • John: That's awesome. Well, that was really what was one of the first things that drew me to you was, on social media you were doing a history lesson, and having been a history major, my wife is a teacher, history major, just how much fun and passion you're bringing to history. And we're like-
  • Jonathan: Thank you.
  • John: ... we got to know more about this guy. And as we were watching you and the work you're doing at Fred Lynn Middle School out in Virginia, we're learning that you're coming out with a book soon. Soon to be author, which is exciting. Next Level Teaching. It's going to be published by the Dave Burgess Consulting. But I love it says all about how teachers can make a profound impact on the culture and climate of their classroom and school. It is the obvious that you are doing that amongst probably many wonderful colleagues at Fred Lynn. So maybe with this shorter podcast. Maybe we could dive right into that, talk to us a little bit about that book, and even what are two or three ways that teachers can make a profound impact on the culture and climate of their school?
  • Jonathan: Oh absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. I appreciate you bring that up. The book itself isn't about strategies of teaching. It's about how teachers can make a difference in their school, and it starts in their classroom. And one of the biggest things for me is, I think it comes down to this, man, teachers just bringing that passion to make an impact every single day when they walk through the door. I talk about how I have three characteristics of a great teacher, and it's passion, energy, and engagement.
  • Jonathan: You walk through the door and you have to have a passion to make an impact on your kids. And you have to have the energy every single day. It can't be a Monday, Tuesday thing, it's got to be an everyday all the time things. And then engaging kids is. So here's my three tips, man.
  • Jonathan: Number one, make your classroom exciting. Make it fun. There's so many ways that you can take even a boring reading, and turn it into a cool competition where kids get excited. And then all of a sudden now they're more into reading and literacy because you're making it exciting in the classroom. And also how do you engage your kids outside of the classroom. I talk about this. We don't always have time as teachers, I certainly don't, I'm a dad of two kids, but I used to be a coach.
  • Jonathan: But how do we engage kids with the time that we do have? Are you involved in even one day after school during the school year? Do you even stop by the afterschool programs, and just say, what's up, to some of the kids that are there? How do you interact with kids in the hallway? And you know what man, those high fives and fist bumps, and hey, how you doing, man? That really goes a long way for kids.
  • Jonathan: And especially kids you don't teach who are like, hey man, this guy actually talked to me. Cool man. What's up? So it's that and it's so much more, man. Getting involved when there's an assembly, you're not standing off to the side pretending like you're invisible, man. There's no shadows in education. You're diving deep in, you're jumping up in the crowd, and you're getting your whole section fired up and ready to go, man.
  • Jonathan: So it's all about making school fun in your classroom, and making school fun everywhere else that you can, and now creating positive waves of change. And if anything else, man, it's all about making school fun. You want to make kids want to be there. So that's the goal of the book. That's the goal of my passion, education, changing the character of my kids, getting them wanting to be here, and being that person that they remember.
  • Jonathan: I always talk about being that teacher, being that teacher for kids. Whether you love school or you hate school, you always had that teacher that you remember. Even if you didn't like school at all, you had one teacher that did it for you.
  • John: That's right.
  • Jonathan: And so that's me, man. And sometimes it's the lessons that you teach, sometimes it's the lessons that you teach outside of your classroom. And I think that's important to remember as educators as we're going back to school in the next couple of weeks.
  • John: Absolutely. Yeah. I would say the number one way that we're going to... this huge wave on social emotional learning, character development, all that. Yet the number one way that we're going to teach it is to role model it.
  • Jonathan: Absolutely.
  • John: And that's in our everyday interactions, not only the proactive pieces that we are doing with students, but also how we react with empathy, with kindness, with respect.
  • Jonathan: Exactly.
  • John: And I think one of the things that really stands out that you mentioned there, that passion piece, which is obvious in the work that you do. And it's a John Maxwell piece where he talks about the law of the lid. And it's don't ever expect, for example, don't ever expect students to bring more to the room than what you're bringing as the teacher.
  • Jonathan: Exactly. Exactly.
  • John: And how many times, five years in, or 10 years in, or 15 years in, it's easy to lose sight or to lose track of why I got into this in the first place in education. And I have empathy for that because I know that that it is hard work, but what would you say to an educator who's going back to school right around this time of year, and maybe they are 15 years in, 20 years in to re-engage that fire and that passion?
  • Jonathan: Honestly, man, I'm telling you, I'm always re-engaged at the start of the school year, but I just got re-engaged this morning. I had a bunch of kids reach out to me on social media totally out of nowhere.
  • John: I saw that. I totally saw that.
  • Jonathan: It was nuts, man. These are kids I had years and years and years ago. And I even said, I was like, "Listen, you guys are firing me up." This is crazy. I told my wife, this is amazing. And you know what? It all goes back to this. Honestly, I think that the biggest thing that teachers need to do to kind of reignite that fire is go back and think about why you got into this.
  • Jonathan: And one of the social media posts I put out there, and it's something that I did write in my book, is I said, teach every single day like it's your child in the front row. And if you don't have children, ask yourself this question, would I want to be in my own classroom. And I think those are two very powerful statements right there. If you were in your own classroom, would you want to be there? Is this a teacher that you would walk out of and be like, man, I'm so glad I left that class.
  • Jonathan: And I think that's an element. If we answer that question honestly, and then if we dive back and say, okay, what can I do to change that mentality? If I don't want to be here, what can I do to make that different? If you're going in every single day and you've got a heart for this, sometimes people kind of lose that flame. I think we need to start asking ourselves those hard questions. Teach like it's your kid in the front row, man. Bring it every day.
  • Jonathan: And also again, remember why you got into this? What was your purpose? I know everybody kind of gets into teaching in the beginning, like I want to change the world. And then because in a lot of ways it's a thank you job, but in a lot of ways it's also a thankless job. And it's so funny to think all the different students that you had. Sometimes you hear years later, I loved your class, but I remember you would give me the hardest time in class.
  • Jonathan: And it's funny that as teachers we have to kind of take the small victories as big victories. You have to take the time in your classroom to reach out and have conversations with kids that aren't even academic sometimes. I talk a lot about being... I treat my kids like I'm their father. And I say, "I'm going to talk to you like you're my one of my two girls. I have two little girls. And I'm going to talk to you like you're one of my two girls. And honestly, this is a lesson I think you need to know." And those moments change the lives of our children. And those are a lot of ways why we got into this.
  • John: Absolutely.
  • Jonathan: It's not about facts on a page, it's not about fractions on the board. It's about changing their view on school and changing the trajectory of their possible future. You know what I mean? And so I think for educators that are like, man, I don't want to go to school. I'm about to go get a job somewhere else. I'm going to say this. Stop thinking like that. Go into your classroom this year with a different mindset. Think about this. What way can you... don't worry about test scores. Don't worry about data. What you need to worry about is how you can impact your kids on a personal level, on a character development level, and then just watch how their mindsets change about your classroom.

“...that's what next level teaching is all about. It's not about having the next level lesson where I invented something that's never been talked about before. It's about going the next level for your kids on a personal level, going to the next level for your kids outside of your classroom, and all these different things that you can do.”

— Jonathan Alsheimer

  • Jonathan: Go in with some passion, goal with some heart, teach on fire. But just watch how that will change. When you start talking to kids like they're your children, you start acting different in your classroom, and you start treating them different. And all of a sudden you have a little bit more of a heart for what you're doing because it's like your little girl in the front row, or your son in the back row. How do you address these students?
  • John: Things change. Yeah. That mindset piece is huge.
  • Jonathan: Totally. Totally. And how you treat your kids at home and teach them different life lessons, do the same thing with your classroom. It's no different. It's just 32 kids that you don't know in the beginning of the year that they're going to hug you and cry when it's time to go.
  • John: Yep. Well, I did see that on Twitter. I loved that this morning. And it's like no surprise. I mean, I think it's one thing to get a compliment from a student. You're like, oh that was nice. And it matters. I call them the million dollar paychecks from students that you never let go of as a teacher. But then when you go to that next level and realize what it took, the fact that the student took the time to write that note, that they took the time-
  • Jonathan: Absolutely.
  • John: ... to go out of their way, it's way bigger than just a tweet at you, right, this morning.
  • Jonathan: It's so much bigger.
  • John: It's like the reason why they did that matters a lot. And it was because of probably a lot of little everyday things-
  • Jonathan: Absolutely.
  • John: ... and it turned into a really big thing. Yeah, I think about like that just what you're talking about, that the combination that is needed of both tough and tender when it comes to this work, and it's not all about just kindness and selflessness. It also is about honesty and commitment-
  • Jonathan: Absolutely.
  • John: ... and how kids want both. And it is amazing when that mindset is right, and you go in with that kind of passion, it's amazing how the other pieces like the data, the facts, how they kind of take care of themselves.
  • Jonathan: They really do, man.
  • John: Because when students know you care, then they'll go through a wall for you.
  • Jonathan: They really do.
  • John: Because I want to learn. I remember doing that with math, which was my most difficult subject. But I still remember Mr. Eagle, ninth grade year, I would go through a wall for that man, including learning math.
  • Jonathan: Absolutely.
  • John: And once I started learning, I got more excited about math.
  • Jonathan: Oh dude, 100%. I talked to my wife, my wife actually, she's an elementary school teacher, but her specialty is math, she taught middle school math, and I say, your kids don't love your class because they love fractions probably. They love your class and they do great at fractions because they love you. And we're not going to have a perfect day all the time. Trust me, there's days where I'm just like, holy cow, what am I doing?
  • Jonathan: But here's the thing, that's what next level teaching is all about. It's not about having the next level lesson where I invented something that's never been talked about before. It's about going the next level for your kids on a personal level, going to the next level for your kids outside of your classroom, and all these different things that you can do.
  • Jonathan: And honestly, I have a quote on my board in the beginning of the school year when people first question me about it, where I say, I don't care about your grades, I care about your effort. If it's the wrong answer, make it the best wrong answer I've ever seen-
  • John: I love it.
  • Jonathan: ... because I don't want my children's shutting down because they don't get A's. So I tell them, I say, "I'm going to give you what you deserve, and I hope you get an A. But if you put in the work every single day, I want to see you working hard, I want to see that effort. I don't care what happens in the end." Because, I've said this before, the test to me is not the end game. It's what the rest of their life's going to look like. So we're trying to build these kids up into hardworking people that'll eventually get it.
  • Jonathan: And I think it's important as teachers to share our story of what we've gone through. For myself, I struggled in school because I was a terrible test taker. I was great at everything else. And then now all of a sudden I'm in my second master's degree. I have a 4.0.
  • John: That's awesome.
  • Jonathan: I almost had a 4.0 my first master's degree. I'm writing a book, and I had a teacher call me stupid when I was in school, and now I'm writing a book. I mean, come on now.
  • John: Yep. There you go.
  • Jonathan: And I share that with my kids. And I say, listen, this is why I don't care. Because someday you're going to get it-
  • John: That's right.
  • Jonathan: ... because I got it. And it's all about making a difference in your own life. So you got to prove it to me. And it's amazing what kids will do. They will run through a brick wall for you, and they will cry-
  • John: When they know you care.
  • Jonathan: ... when they leave your room. Exactly. And it's not because it's the end of the school year. It's because they say, man, I never want to leave this classroom.
  • John: That's right.
  • Jonathan: That's why we do what we do.
  • John: Love it man. Well how about this? That was first of all, awesome. Thank you.
  • Jonathan: Thank you.
  • John: I mean right beginning of the year we need this, we need this shot in the arm, and no wonder Fred Lynn is seeing the results that it is because of that kind of passion. And so I just want to say thank you for that work. How about to close down this, knowing that we could talk all day, and I do want to follow up with you because I want to dig in more to this work, but how could people going into this year, just remind us one final time, #NextLevelTeaching, right? But you got the book coming out. How can people either connect with you and/or what should they be looking for soon with the book coming out?
  • Jonathan: Absolutely. So my Twitter handle is @_MrAlsheimer. Follow me on Twitter, DM me. I love getting DM's and having conversations with other educators because I don't know everything. All you all probably know more than me, and I love to learn from you. Definitely follow the #NextLevelTeaching. The book will be coming end of 2019, and it'll be around December time. It's currently in the editing phase right now. So I'm really excited about that/ just keep an eye out. And I'm looking forward to the opportunity to not only learn from everybody out there, but also I'd like to shed the light on everything you guys are doing, so it's amazing. Top to bottom, I love education. I love what we get to do every day, and I'm happy to share that on paper, and excited for what the future's going to hold, man.
  • John: Awesome. Well I can't wait to get my own copy. Thank you for being on the CharacterStrong podcast with us, man.
  • Jonathan: Oh yeah, man. Thank you for having me.
  • John: And have a-
  • Jonathan: Thank you.
  • John: ... great start to your year.
  • Jonathan: Awesome. Thank you so much.
  • John: All right, take care.
  • Jonathan: Bye bye.
  • John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review, and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play. To learn more about CharacterStrong, and how we are supporting schools, visit characterstrong.com. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day

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The CharacterStrong Team is a partnership of educators, speakers, and students who believe in creating sustainable change in schools and helping young people develop the skills of service, kindness, and empathy.