I typically interview people on this blog. But, there was an exception. If you look in the history of my interviews, you’ll note that I previously interviewed a library.
So, this time I’m interviewing “The Beast”.
Doug: I always start with this question … Do you remember when our paths first crossed?
A: Doug, I first met you at ECOO in 2012! It was my first tech conference and you registered me. I had an “I follow @dougpete” ribbon on my lanyard.
K: I was standing in a learning team in January, 2018 I believe. Andrea walked up to me and showed me her phone. You were going to talk about our blog with Stephen Hurley that morning – Andrea had to explain to me what this was and what it meant for The Beast.
Doug: I’ll admit. I do check any new followers to my account on Twitter. Typically, it’s to see if it’s a spammer and, when determined not, I check to see if the person is an Ontario Educator so I can add the account to an appropriate list.
When, I saw the name @thebeastedu and its limited bio and then this profile picture,
I was ready to block your account. Who would blame me?
I’m glad I didn’t! I see now that the Twitter bio is a little more friendly and descriptive.
So, tell me – why The Beast?
K: Andrea and I had been noticing that there were many juicy moments with themes that kept brushing past us in different places with different people. These moments were often hard stops, tough questions, great moments of human interaction and wicked stories. What was interesting is that they kept spiralling back around and crossing our paths again and again with different people and different situations. We said it more than once, “learning is a beast.” It was big.
A: Kelly, you told me that day in freezing cold Starbucks that there may be a switch. Some listen and learn with their guts out and minds wide open. When we learn we change and you and I needed to know why and how. Actually, The Beast has been a work in progress. We aim to figure things out, but never know. It has turned out that not knowing is a real part of keeping the switch turned on to curious.
K: You took me back to that Starbucks and I was thinking about how we arrived there trying to decide – do we write a book, write a blog – we knew we wanted to create something, to slow down and think about what was going on around us. I remember leaving that day knowing we were changed for having sat on those really hard chairs for 6 hours and that we had a different lens now – something more.
Doug: I read the story behind the image but for those who don’t know, where did it come from?
A: When I chatted with Kelly about our profile pic for the blog and social media, she suggested that my daughter should draw the image. When she did, it was absolutely perfect on the first go. This is no surprise at all. She is only 4 and takes risks like no one else I know. She doesn’t ever get in her own way. I hope her curiosity never wains.
K: Andrea’s daughter is her switch …often. Andrea describes her when she learns and what it looks like and feels like. I love when a grown up or one of us learns and we feel it right in front of us and Andrea says, “it’s just like like my daughter when…” For her learning isn’t a beast – it’s her default. She had to draw the picture.
K: I love this question. I am not new to twitter but I am new to twitter. My own account has been sporadic, charming and mostly a glance from afar. Since we started The Beast, I have moved in that stance and in my understanding. I have hosted a twitter chat for LiteracyON (Andrea had to set me up with Tweetdeck and show me how it works) and have begun to see its power, its ability to shrink the world and bring it to me and as a powerful connection. I see The Beast twitter account as a way to bring people and their stories closer to us, a different way to invite people in and to connect them to our stories and our conversations.
A: The Beast, both blog and Twitter account are meant to invite others into the conversation. Some folks comment on the blog, others on Twitter, others with DM’s, others to our personal accounts, and others via email. We have attempted a little Instagram and Google+ but those platforms are still new to me. Twitter is an old favorite platform @andCreative. There is so much learning to be had in Ontario PLN’s. I’m proud to say that now, with The Beast and @specedforever, I am a contributor to that community. We are also so grateful for all that you have done @dougpete to support us.
Doug: So, who is the actual writing voice of The Beast on Twitter?
K: Andrea shleps me along in that rushing river. We both check often throughout the day for backsy forthsy with other folks but her eye is incredibly keen when it comes to connections to The Beast and pieces that pop up to share and those that occur to her and to us that need to be communicated widely to think about. I must also tell you that she has an amazing ability to have the entire world around her bustling and moving and she can slow down and make connections and share on twitter like she has simply taken a deep breath. I still feel like I need to remember and often have regrets that something passed by and I did not capture it. Not her.
A: I feel like there are opportunities missed because the words don’t flow out of me with your magical writing and storytelling voice. I check in with you about our replies because you have an intuition about what others are getting to. I often think that we owe it to other bloggers to comment and have conversations more than we already do. This is something I hope to do to extend the conversation invitations further.
Doug: Doodling or Sketchnoting? How would you describe the images that you share about your blog posts? Are they done before the writing to brainstorm? Or afterwards to visually document the flow?
A: The sketchnotes happen before, during and after. Sometimes only before and sometimes only after. When I have too many ideas to put on the page I have multiple copies and plans. They are meant to provide the connections for our readers – it’s all about the arrows really. You will find connections to the conversations Kelly and I have had, the reading we are doing, and to our work with students and educators.
Doug: It’s my understanding that your blog posts typically are early morning creations. How does that work?
K: 5 am is our best thinking time and time itself. One of us will be waiting in the Google doc underneath the narrative and it always begins with Andrea. We talk back and forth – our flow has gotten better and we have little tricks – like moving the cursor to a different place when we are finished and we also make space for chit chat and questions between the conversation – a natural as sitting in a room but it’s really quiet and often dark.
A: I love that the birds have joined us lately. We are together, like right now, in real time. This is an important part of what makes The Beast’s conversations real and personal. There is swearing and other bits about getting coffee that we take out afterward, but for the most part it is unedited.
K: I will add that it is my favourite part. I like listening for Andrea when she is typing her words. I cannot see her face or read her eyes so I watch every word as it’s typed and make inferences – we ask each other questions on the side if we are curious about the emotion or connection to what’s being written – 5 am is the only time I can think that hard and not have my attention elsewhere.
Doug: Stephen Hurley told me once that he was invited to one of your creative sessions. How did he make out? Do you regularly invite visitors?
A: We do like to have visitors and plan to have more. 5 am is part of the invite and that has worked out so far. We have had Colinda Clyne, Stephen Hurley and Sharon McNamara-Trevisan join us for a couple of posts which has been a wonderful way to build on ideas and perspectives about learning.
K: Stephen is incredibly reflective and he has an ability to reach way way back make connections to his own learning long ago and to the learning he is experiencing in the moment. He loves these threads and he looks deeply in the space between to weave these different experiences and stories together. Stephen has caused us to think differently about The Beast and stories and how might we have other stories bump up against ours so we can question and we can learn. I love that we met him in his medium of voicEd radio on his podcast and that he then joined us in The Beast at 5 am. I also love that you were at his house Doug when it was happening as you were both on your way that morning to host your show together.
Doug: How do you decide on a topic? There must be a routine.
K: The routine has been illusive. Not the process, but the routine. I am impulsive and Andrea slows me down. I think longer than I ever have and I listen to myself more patiently. We think about themes and topics and plan – sometimes several blogs in advance. The story sometimes takes a little longer to come me. I will tell you though, when it comes, I am sure and it finds its way to the draft post in about 90 minutes. I text Andrea and tell her its there. We plan the 5 am backsy forthsy – usually the next day. Andrea and her sketchnote are ever present as the threads are in there. I don’t see the sketchnote until she hits publish and I never look at it on my phone. I see it but I open my computer – it’s as if she hands me a gift every single time. I have one of them in my framed in my home. They are my big feel after the process is finished. Repeat.
A: My feel is of course the story. Kelly’s words always blow my mind and I’m in tears by the end. It’s her emotional intelligence – she moves people. The story is what draws me in, and it draws our readers in. We all see ourselves in a story. We’ve really begun to learn about this and have published more than a couple of posts about it. It’s no accident that we are both Coordinators of Literacy. There are many connections here – the way we make meaning together, the way we listen with empathy, and the way we consider perspectives and our own identity.
Tags from The Beast blog
Doug: How do you handle philosophical differences?
K: We say up front in The Beast we are unlikely. We are. We are deeply different. The more I think about this – the more I know The Beast would not be unless we were not exactly who we are. We are outloud and up front. I sometimes have to nudge her if I feel she is holding back a tiny bit – my inferencing of her words but we try to be very honest about our perspectives. She causes me to rethink and reconsider. I would not want to do this unless I thought that in the end I might have been wrong, short sighted or needed more pieces. We build something together from two different perspectives.
A: Guts out and wide open. We all hold assumptions and biases, Kelly and I hold each other to checking them. We bring our perspectives and who we are to our learning. Our blog is our learning and our gut-checking – we are learning out loud, in public. While Kelly amazingly absorbs the world at lightening speed, I think slowly. I’m the kind of person that cannot fill out an exit card. I need to sleep on it, do the dishes over it, and revisit it weeks later with fresh eyes. It’s because we both invite the challenge and hope to change our minds.
Doug: I was moved by your post about the books from First Book Canada that were distributed to students for home use and featured it in a post on This Week in Ontario Edublogs. There must be lots of stories to share about the experience. Can you share some?
K: We had experienced First Book Canada’s generosity in December. Highland Shores Children’s Aid contacted our board with an opportunity to offer new books to our students to take home and keep. Andrea and I were very excited. Our excitement may have faded at the sight of the massive skid of boxes of books but the two ladies from Highland Shores kept our excitement alive. They were so incredibly committed to children and to reading. They offer books to many children in care so that when they have to move they can bring their books with them. They can bring part of home with them.
A: Kelly and I could not pass up this opportunity. The students were absolutely thrilled! One school was able to give at least one book to every single child.
Doug: Do you collaborate with each other regularly in other activities?
A: That is an understatement. Kelly and I work closely on some of the Literacy initiatives in our board.
K: We also co-chair the 9 Eastern Boards Literacy Leads – we take collaboration in the car any time we can get it.
A: We think and bounce ideas around, connect things and build on them. Our collaborative work has really been an acceleration of learning for me.
K: And for me – I recognize my own learning now more than any other time in my life.
Doug: I’ll admit that this is a very interesting blogging format. Since you’ve actually registered the domain, it appears that you’ll be in it for the long run. How long do you think you can maintain your enthusiasm and energy? Will you continue over the summer?
K: I love this question. In some ways I feel like I have just begun – I can’t get a do over on the last 26 years in education but I carry them with me. Many stories come from back there. I believe as new stories are layered on top and we understand ourselves as learners more – there is no end. Some days we are tired but learning like this is a whole new game.
A: Long run for sure. I told my son last night that there won’t ever be a point in his life where he has it all figured out. The learning is endless. This is why I love my job and I love The Beast. We’ve been thinking a lot about the Pedagogical Documentation process because it has been a stunning and impactful way to learn about learning. Our friend Nikki reminded me that there was still one more step we hadn’t taken: the share. We think critically and interpret meaning with others. The blog is our share. It was pretty terrifying at first to learn out loud, but now I don’t know why I ever didn’t.
K: The summer will bring a slower pace but that being said we have unfinished thinking and several blogs to spiral back to as we have changed since writing them.
Doug: Would you consider other social media formats like Vlogging, Instagram, …?
A: We have an Instagram account Doug, but I’m still figuring out how to use it. We tried a video webinar via #MADPD last month (tech learning curve!) and we will be sharing it again at the end of January with Derek and Peter’s #MADPD spotlight series. Vlogging is a very cool idea, but we will likely try podcasting first. We’ve had a couple of interviews. One, as Kelly mentioned, was In Conversation with Stephen Hurley and the other with Chris Cluff’s Chasing Squirrels.
K: We have some new thinking in mind and are going to figure out how people can comment right into our conversations and we are also hoping to bring other people’s stories – the ones triggered by The Beast, to light. I think we both are realizing that a podcast may be the best medium for this learning. We know we learn from others and importantly when we bring ourselves to the learning through our stories the learning is incredibly deep and personal.
Doug: Thank you so much for the time to complete the interview. It’s been so interesting to learn more about “The Beast”.
Don’t fear The Beast, folks.
Instead, follow it on social media:
- Twitter: @thebeastedu
- Blog: https://thebeastedu.com/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thebeastedu/
- (and, if you were paying attention during this interview, the ladies behind The Beast are also available to follow!)
Periodically, I interview interesting people like The Beast for this blog. You can check out all of the interviews here.