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Honoring Student Voice is Easier Than You Think with Monica Burns

Aug 17, 2021

Well hello there teacher-friend and welcome back to the Sustainable Teacher Podcast where we talk about all things sustaining daily teacher-life so we don’t have to spend our evenings and weekends working, and yet are still effective in the classroom.

Today I am excited to welcome Dr. Monica Burns of onto the podcast.  Monica is a former New York City teacher and edtech expert that is now sharing her edtech expertise with schools and teachers around the world.  Her focus, both on her Easy EdTech Podcast and many publications, is to infuse technology for engagement and differentiation in order to simplify and streamline the technology integration process.

Monica is here today to talk about student voice and creativity, and how technology can help us elevate both of those important aspects of our classrooms, particularly in the flipped classroom.

I just know you will leave today’s episode with some great ideas and maybe even a new tool to try but not because the tool is “cool”, but because it’s going to help you accomplish the more important purpose behind the tool.

Without further ado, let’s bring on Dr. Monica Burns.

Monica, welcome to the podcast!  And please tell us all about you and what you do in the education space.

Thank you so much for having me!   I am based outside of New York city, and taught in NYC Public schools before supporting teachers through online professional development, which is mostly online now, but also sometimes on site.  I’m excited to be back  on the road supporting teachers across the country this summer, and then I also write and share about edtech on my blog and my podcast Easy Edtech, as well as a few publications including a new book out this summer all about edtech essentials.

Tell us your expertise on student voice and creativity.  We talk about the flipped classroom a bit on the Sustainable Teacher Podcast, and part of a successful flipped classroom is increased student engagement and accountability.  How does student voice play a part in that?

When I think of this idea of student voice, it’s much more than just choice.  We often give students choice across the school day, and that’s wonderful, but student voice is more about the agency and authenticity of experiences.  So feeling comfortable and supported to be able to say they  are interested in learning more about a topic, or they need support in a certain area, or do what you and I might call an independent study but is more about them doing a deep dive into something they want to explore a bit more on their own.  So there’s definitely a creative component that might include going out and investigating something, creating a product and sharing it with an audience, but when it comes to that voice piece the connection to student engagement is really about buy-in.  When students are interested in participating in something, the whole level of engagement is going to change. And if we create environments that allow students to go off an explore and look at things through a different lens… that’s easier to do than it was in the past because of the tools we have at our fingertips, either way it’s about supporting students to be able to do these types of things.

Something that is resonating with me is that you’re creating an experience for students to take with them and allows them to take it where it goes.  The point I’m getting to is that it takes time (both your own  prep time and class time) to create that experience and then allow students to move through it. And I can almost hear teachers saying to themselves, “This sounds so amazing and I really want to do it, but where am I going to get the time to build it and then the class time to implement it?”  

What I tell teachers often, is if you can somehow consolidate your content delivery, which we talk about a lot with the flipped classroom, the possibilities from there are endless.  I say this a lot, that flipping is your launching pad to do other great things.  For things like more student voice, agency, and student choice.

Just the idea of giving the space and time for doing this is so important. And the reallocation is key.

How does student voice impact a teacher’s sustainability (reaching more work-life balance)?  We talk about this a lot on this podcast, reaching a more manageable teaching lifestyle.

When we are talking about the teacher sustainability piece the big thing for me is routines.  Routines, having that regular type of process not for a one-and-done type thing, but this is something that we do routinely and consistently.  If you’re able to build in some of these experiences into the routines of your classroom (start the conversation with our goals in independent learning or what we’re thinking and feeling about a topic), ti makes the experience more authentic.

Anytime the conversations turns to what tools to use, it’s really about adopting the system that allows us to do things regularly.

One thing talk about often with tool choice is to look for open-ended tools - tools we can use in multiple ways.  So if we’re looking for a tool that allows students to share their experiences, maybe we don’t find a tool that’s just for book-trailers or just for math tutorials but provides that independence  for students to choose their own adventure, which helps with student buy-in as well.

Speaking of tools, we focus a lot on streamlining our tool-belts in the classroom, because with all the  tools it can quickly become overwhelming.  So, what tools would you recommend for leveraging student voice, and what might that look like in a flipped classroom?

I am right there with you with the toolbelt piece.  When there is too much stuff in it’s too heavy and it's going to fall down. So it’s really about being strategic.  When it comes to student voice, Flipgrid is an absolute favorite.  I know we’re talking about flipped classroom connections today too, and although Flipgrid certainly has benefits for a distanced or online classroom where we can’t turn to students next to us to talk, which is definitely the better experience, it could also be useful in the flipped classroom, giving students the safe space to share and use their voice to say “I’m struggling with this,” or “I had an aha moment,” ultimately giving them space to share their voice.  You can set up routines, get certain pages to pop up at certain times, collect questions, and students who are off-site can use the tool well also.  It is a free tool, and well integrated with other tools, so I recommend Flipgrid a lot.  

There are others you could start off a lesson with, like Mentimeter, where students can anonymously share a one-word response, which allows you to formatively see trends in the room and act from there in your classroom.

I like what you say there about the formative piece and how it can be quick and sustainable for the teacher, and still informative. The training I provide in my Student Voice workshop is around getting students talking about the content, that is a big focus is not only that getting students talking about the content as a learning practice, but also a metacognitive process.  Getting students to see and then say out loud, “WOAH, Mrs. Smith, I don’t get this!”  That is so huge.  And ultimately  a much more effective and sustainable learning technique for the student and the teacher than the teacher taking more action or ownership than the student.  

I would even encourage my students to have a bit of sass in their Flipgrid in this instance, where they are really honest with themselves about  what they know and what they don’t know.  And if I’m being really honest, the lack of this is indicative of something I’m really sick of and that is that the learning process is some mythical process that only a few lucky people randomly  get to experience.  As if we don’t all have brains that are very capable of learning.  So it’s about using tools to make the learning process real again, even out loud and obvious to our students so they see the process in action and know how to do it well.

Yes, and that’s why I love Flipgrid.  Because you can say, you only have 30 seconds, and that becomes much more sustainable for teachers when it comes to using formative data and hearing from students during the learning process.  It could also be a more social space as well.

Please tell us about your work and where teachers can go to find you and learn more about tech tips for their classroom.

Absolutely, there is so much out there, so if you're looking for tools for your tool belt and really to streamline that toolbelt, I have the Easy Edtech podcast where I try and focus in on one big topic each Tuesday.  And on the blog I have a lot more content where you might be able to find a new student engagement strategy or you want to try out Nearpod, you can kind of search around and find what  you need there.  

And this summer I have a new book coming out with ASCD, “EdTech Essentials: The Top 10 Strategies for All Learning Environments.”  So really looking at the core and prioritizing things, because I think if we want our work with technology to not be overwhelming, to feel like we know we're moving in a direction of growth professionally and knowing that we’re effective with students, we have to know what we’re focusing on the essentials.

We even talk about creative ways for students to share what they’re learning and how creativity intersects with formative assessment.

Please be sure and find all the amazing things that Monica is offering at the links below! 

Grab the bonuses that go along with Monica's new upcoming book:

And find Monica on these social media sites:

And there you have it teacher-friend.  I’m so thankful to Monica for sharing her insight and expertise with us on the Sustainable Teacher, and am particularly thankful for sharing tangible, but manageable action steps we can take to incorporate student voice and creativity into our classroom without it being an overwhelming task.

To learn more about Monica and her work on educational technology, and to grab the great bonuses coming out with her newest book, but sure to click in the show notes so you don’t miss out.

Alright teacher-friend, that’s all for today, and I’ll see you same time next week.  Bye for now.

Student Voice Workshop

Hey Teacher friend - today’s episode is brought to you by my Student Voice workshop.  Are you a middle or high school teacher looking to get your students talking about the content more than you do?  Or is it like pulling teeth to get your kids to speak up and engage out-loud with the new things you’re learning about and doing in the classroom?  Well then, my two-hour  professional development workshop on student voice is just what you need.  You’ll leave the workshop with systems, and their printable resources to help you implement them seamlessly, to get your kids talking about what you’re teaching so they are engaging with the standards at a deeper level.  And these systems are ones you can rely on day after day without feeling like you’re recreating the wheel for every lesson.  To enroll now, and watch the PD workshop right away head to  I hope to see you there.


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