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Keeping Perspective and Enthusiasm in the Virtual Classroom with Jeff Swarr

April 24, 2020 Josh Britton and Derek Maxson Season 1 Episode 4
Keeping Perspective and Enthusiasm in the Virtual Classroom with Jeff Swarr
Get More Math Podcast
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Get More Math Podcast
Keeping Perspective and Enthusiasm in the Virtual Classroom with Jeff Swarr
Apr 24, 2020 Season 1 Episode 4
Josh Britton and Derek Maxson

Get ready for a pep talk from our friend, Math Teacher, and Coach, Jeff Swarr! During this episode, Jeff walks us through his core teaching principles of meeting each student where they are and always putting relationships first. Jeff and Josh bat back and forth on what it means to be authentic and the importance of viewing this challenging season as a time of great opportunity. Let Coach Swarr’s enthusiasm and optimism fire you up for finishing this school year strong!

Episode Highlights:

  • the value of creating a routine that matched the previous school schedule
  • the importance of positivity setting the tone for meetings with fellow teachers
  • viewing this challenging season as an opportunity for growth 
  • learning, not grades are the real rewards for students
  • instilling relational values of a "people first" mentality in your students

Helpful Links and Resources

We hope you enjoy this interview! We would love to hear from you as you continue listening to our show. If you are a teacher, parent, or administrator, reach out to us a and let us know what you're doing to adjust during the COVID era.

Great news! Our show was selected as one of the top 25 Podcasts for Teachers! Thank you for all of the support thus far. If you’d like to know more or see what it’s all about, we’d like to give you a free trial! Go to to learn more. 

About our Guest:
Jeff Swarr is a husband, father, teacher, coach, mentor, author, and entrepreneur. He resides in Lancaster, PA with his wife Emily and three boys, Simon, Spencer, and Shepherd. Jeff has been a Special Education Teacher for 20 years and currently coaches high school baseball where he teaches. Jeff is the owner of Heart of a Competitor, LLC, a performance enhancement consulting firm where he coaches athletes of all ages to build their mental skills to perform at their best. He has also authored two books, A Competitor's Heart: 369 Days of Development and Musings: 370 Quick-Hitting Reflections.

Regardless of the title, Jeff lives out five Core Values of Learn, Teach, Serve, Gratitude, and Heart.

Show Notes Transcript

Get ready for a pep talk from our friend, Math Teacher, and Coach, Jeff Swarr! During this episode, Jeff walks us through his core teaching principles of meeting each student where they are and always putting relationships first. Jeff and Josh bat back and forth on what it means to be authentic and the importance of viewing this challenging season as a time of great opportunity. Let Coach Swarr’s enthusiasm and optimism fire you up for finishing this school year strong!

Episode Highlights:

  • the value of creating a routine that matched the previous school schedule
  • the importance of positivity setting the tone for meetings with fellow teachers
  • viewing this challenging season as an opportunity for growth 
  • learning, not grades are the real rewards for students
  • instilling relational values of a "people first" mentality in your students

Helpful Links and Resources

We hope you enjoy this interview! We would love to hear from you as you continue listening to our show. If you are a teacher, parent, or administrator, reach out to us a and let us know what you're doing to adjust during the COVID era.

Great news! Our show was selected as one of the top 25 Podcasts for Teachers! Thank you for all of the support thus far. If you’d like to know more or see what it’s all about, we’d like to give you a free trial! Go to to learn more. 

About our Guest:
Jeff Swarr is a husband, father, teacher, coach, mentor, author, and entrepreneur. He resides in Lancaster, PA with his wife Emily and three boys, Simon, Spencer, and Shepherd. Jeff has been a Special Education Teacher for 20 years and currently coaches high school baseball where he teaches. Jeff is the owner of Heart of a Competitor, LLC, a performance enhancement consulting firm where he coaches athletes of all ages to build their mental skills to perform at their best. He has also authored two books, A Competitor's Heart: 369 Days of Development and Musings: 370 Quick-Hitting Reflections.

Regardless of the title, Jeff lives out five Core Values of Learn, Teach, Serve, Gratitude, and Heart.

Derek Maxson:   0:01
Welcome to the Get More Math Podcast, where we support teachers in their quest for long term student gains. This is a podcast for teachers to share their passion for math education, learn best practices from experts in the field, and swap ideas for student success. This is community. This is Get More Math.

Derek Maxson:   0:24
Welcome back, everyone to the Get More Math Podcast. I'm Derek Maxson, the President of Get More Math, and I'm here with Josh Britton, the founder of Get More Math. Josh, Welcome back and tell us a little bit about the interview for today.

Jeff Britton:   0:38
Today we have a guest named Jeff Swarr.  He wears many hats. He is a high school learning support teacher. He's also the head coach of the baseball team at the high school, and he's also an author. "He's written A Competitor's Heart" and "Musings." And also as a bonus, he's an old friend.

Derek Maxson:   0:56
Well, this interview is great. I really enjoyed listening to while we were recording, and so I'm going to just take a straight to the interview. Let's hear our conversation with Josh and Jeff.  

Jeff Britton:   1:10
Good morning, Jeff. Thanks for coming.

Jeff Swarr:   1:13
Mr. Britton, thanks for having me. I'm looking forward to the conversation today.

Jeff Britton:   1:16
Let's start just by giving people little context. Can you tell us about your pre-virus responsibilities?

Jeff Swarr:   1:23
So I This is actually my 20th year as a learning support teacher at a small school district in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We have about, anywhere between 1,000 and 1,200 students in our high school about, I think, the last check that we did prior to the virus that was going on. That's kind of impacted our education. We have about 100 to 120 IPE students. Over the last 10 years, I've mainly been co-teaching in the area of Algebra but also providing replacement instruction, supplemental instruction to learning, sports students, mainly focused in Algebra, but covering a number of math topics for them.

Jeff Britton:   2:11
I think we're in, about week five of Pennsylvania's school shut down? And I know there was some Spring Break time.

Jeff Swarr:   2:18
Yeah, so the way the way I can remember that is March 12th was our last day of school. We had a scheduled day off. as funny as it may sound, a weather makeup day scheduled for March 13th and we hadn't had any weather to cancel school. And I know that because I also coach baseball, and I know we're on the field on March 13th at about 3:00 or 3:30, Governor Wolf declared that we'd be closed for two more weeks. So I know that that March 13th day sticks in my head and, you know,  we're here now. We're about five weeks later from that particular date.

Jeff Britton:   2:59
So I'm guessing by now your school district has sort of, to some degrees, settled a little bit, at least into what your expectations are for the rest of this school year. Can you give me a summary of what that looks like?

Jeff Swarr:   3:11
This past week was our first, I'm gonna say air quotes "official week" of us significantly connecting with kids to move things forward in our curriculum. The two weeks prior to that were to connect with our kids and get them set up in some review. So we make sure we didn't lose skills. In my mind, those first two weeks we're all about us creating the routine, our routine for our kids. Now it was easy for us to say there in those first two weeks that things were not mandatory, they were not being graded. So I would,  if I go back, and I'm not gonna say I've created the data, but just kind of looking off my head had about 50% of my students have some type of contact at that time. And mostly what I consider contact is logging into the video conferences, the connections that we're making at that time. And then this past week, honestly a really awesome thing for me, was we started on Tuesday. We kind of had Monday as like the day after the Easter weekend and Tuesday in my to learning support classes that I teach, we had 100% attendance. 100% of the kids checked-in during the video conferences. And then in a class that I co-teach, we have 22 students, and I believe we had actually one of the students dropped because of this kind of moving to a homeschool format. We're at 21 so we had 20 login at that point. So for me, like attendance-wise and connection-wise was huge during this for the first week. So it's just really helping the students established what is a new, lot of people saying new normal, but I say a new routine for them.

Jeff Britton:   4:59
So when you talk about routine and establishing routine, are there specific steps or advice you've given to kids to try to shape their mindset and their habits?

Jeff Swarr:   5:10
I want to begin the discussion with a little bit from, a, learning support special education standpoint. We have some students who struggle with routine even when we have school going on, okay. And school's pretty, you know, school is pretty organized in that a bell rings at 7:35 and the day starts, and a bell rings that that ends that class and moves you to another class, and a bell rings at 2:45. There's a lot of structure to it. It's now been taken away, so it leads us to something that we've done for our special education department is for our highest-needs students, when I say highest need, I say the students that need some of that structure,  we've take it, we created a simple Google Doc for each of those kids. And so it says Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday , it has a column there for them in each of those days and most importantly, on Tuesdays, the way our district is handled it, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have assigned class meeting time. So we have a block scheduled, in our building, so we have four periods. So on Tuesdays and Thursdays, period one begins at 8:00 and the students log in to a video conference with their teacher, just as if they were holding class, remotely. That goes to 8:45 and then the same thing happens for period two at 9:00, period three at 10 o'clock, and period four at 11. So what we've tried to do for our kids is create a schedule and then have either the special education teacher or the regular education teacher get their link in that schedule and share that schedule with the kids. So they have one place that they can go to say, OK, I click this link a 9:00, I'm gonna go to my period to class and boom! There we are. We're fortunate in the district, in the school that we work at that we have so many great teachers. And so trying to implement those things, albeit new here, has not been a difficulty. They've got those links in there, and it really helps the kids out into establishing that routine. For me specifically with the kids I, and actually this is kind of a shout out to one of my department members, I wasn't necessarily going to go this route, but another guy that teaches replacement math in our department, he was meeting with his kids on Monday and Wednesday as well. And I thought, you know, probably best that we do that consistently, so I term it as optional for them. But I also I'm available on Mondays and Wednesdays at the same exact time that they would meet with me on Tuesdays and Thursdays and again while it's optional. I mean, I would say that we were probably in the first week on Wednesday. We were probably at about 50% of the kids logging in then and connecting with me remotely on those like quote "optional" or what our district terms as asynchronous times where they might have some other activity that the kids were doing. 

Jeff Britton:   8:10
Let's go back that Google Doc for a moment. So you've got it Monday through Friday and you've got links to, I guess it's whatever your video mechanism is, your platform for specific times. Do you put other content on the columns as well?

Jeff Swarr:   8:25
Okay, so since we're sharing that individually with the student, what I do is just leave that link in there. Then in our management platform, which we use Schoology,  which in our management platform I will put a weekly schedule that's kind of general for our class, and basically it involves them logging in, and completing a certain number of problems. It also has links to something actually, I completed about 2school years ago was for probably 80% of the curriculum, 80% of the lessons that we teach. I have a video lesson that goes with that.  So with one of the other things within our classes, is we just have multiple levels of kids, and you can throw around the term differentiated instruction if you want a buzzword, but we need to differentiate a lot of things. We just have a lot of kids at different places, and that's one of the struggles. But also the beauties of special education is you've got these kids that learn at different paces. You've got these kids that are at different spots. Yeah, you know, having those video lessons allows me to kind of split into 10 people, so to speak if I need that. It's just kind of sending those links out there for them. So actually, just before we started this conversation, I was developing the next week's scheduled to be like, Hey, the use of the core concepts that we're gonna cover if you need more, here's a link to this particular video to be able to reinforce that learning or expose you to that learning. And then we're gonna go ahead and see, how much of that you retained and what you know from that.

Jeff Britton:   10:06
So let me see if I understand this. You're saying you have four out of five of your lessons, actually,  you've already created videos to instruct kids on that? Are you differentiating to the point that, like you might give a kid, one particular kid, a video for a lesson that's on content, I don't know what to call it, content A, we'll call it and then it send a different video link to a different kid for content B? Is it that differentiated?

Jeff Swarr:   10:34
Yeah, most definitely. We've started the conversation at pre-virus responsibilities were moving into, you know, school closure responsibilities, and how that works. But really, when I sat down and looked at as this said, look, you know, here we are. I'm going to use the date April 5th because that's about two months before we would end this school year and I'd say, these are the 15 skills that when we get done, we want our kids to know. So basically I went through it and I shared that with the kids. Like our first meeting on Tuesday was like, Look, I hope this doesn't overwhelm you because you're seeing everything, but we're gonna go step by step and lo and behold, when I came up with that number 15, I just went back and looked and literally there were 16 Tuesdays and Thursdays between then and the end off when we would end. And I was like, This is perfect. So I just said it. Kids, Look, we're looking at getting these done one at a time. And so on those off days, you log in, you do a couple of problems that are review just to keep you fresh. And as we move forward by then, you've got these 15 skills. So this morning was open office hours for me, so it was not required, but we had a kid log in, and basically, I said, Look, I'm pretty sure you know how to do this skill. We've done it before. I'm gonna give you this problem type. It was solving two-step equations, See if you can do it. I said I'm here If you want help. Literally, the kid was at after, like, 15 minutes is okay. Mr. Swarr, I'm good. I got that all done, and he hadn't said anything to me and lo and behold, he went and got them all done. So I have the ability, I'm pretty sure that with all those 15 skills, I could provide a video lesson to them that they could watch and go do.  Now, a simple little concept the other day, like we talked for four types of rate of change, four types of slope to them previously. But it's a skill I want to make sure they have.  So they finished with going rule to graph and then boom I said, Hey, I don't know if you need to watch this video, but I'm gonna give you these problems, see what you can do. And lo and behold, they did five. I was like a checkbox. So basically, I'm sharing with the kids like their progress that okay, they checked skill one, they checked skill two, they checked skill three. Okay, we're gonna move onto scale four. So talk about differentiated. Literally. we've got in my first-period class, I've got 15. It sounds like that numbers coming up a lot. I've got 15 kids. They could be on 15 different scales.

Jeff Britton:   13:03
That's fantastic, Jeff. I hear the enthusiasm in your voice and the organization in your thinking. It sounds like I hear a measure of optimism like this is me just guessing a little bit, but it sounds like you're thinking, wow, we can move forward and we can make gains.

Jeff Swarr:   13:19
So there are two things that have come to my mind in this whole situation. I've used them with our baseball team. I've said it to fellow staff members. I say to our kids that there's no playbook for this situation.  Like this didn't happen 20 or 30 years ago, and people were like, "Oh, well, this is what we did then. So let's try this," like that's not there. Okay, so that's my one I gotta keep reminding myself and others is that like, Look, there's no playbook. Everybody's doing the best they can. Parents are doing the best they can. As I sit here and give this interview, like my wife's working like crazy because we've got three boys, two of them are in school, two different schools, two different grade levels. And we're trying to figure that out. Parents are doing their best. Teachers are doing their best. Students are doing their best, like everybody's doing their best with no playbook. And the second piece of that is, you know, it's a quote that I think I've kind of put together, but it's probably from a myriad of different places is just where there's great challenge, there is great opportunity. So we've got some great challenge here. Like again, nobody's ever seen this challenge, whether it's in school, whether it's, you know, in our country or in our community, like this challenge has never been here before and there's some type of opportunity, and that doesn't mean we're trying to exploit that opportunity. you know. For goodness sake, nobody's like, signed up for this this this challenge. But there is some opportunity here, and for me, I'm a very, you know, I'm a very linear thinker. So I was like, alright,  what can we make this do to be the easiest for kids to know what the expectations are? And so this is what I'm going with, its my best right now. It's my playbook, which maybe we're developing as we go.

Jeff Britton:   15:01
You just said nobody signed up for this challenge. I got to say, Jeff, I feel like in my own life, and I am 50 so I've got a lot of years to look back on, most of the most significant challenges I definitely did not sign up for. And yet, from, you know, from the perspective of looking back over those years, many of those challenges indeed it turns out we're opportunities. In fact, Get More Math is an example where I was given a classroom that had all computers in it, and at first, I viewed that as a con and was like, I don't have room for my desks, we're gonna be crowded. These computers were in the way. And, nevertheless, it turned out that's the semester where I started doing Get More Math and its because I had computers available. So anyway, that whole idea of not choosing the challenge, boy, that resonates for me. I am curious as you are legally obligated to ensure that your kids are have all their needs met as specified in individual education programs. Are you finding there are some obligations that are harder to meet?

Jeff Swarr:   16:09
I think that everybody, including myself, including parents, including other teachers are used to meeting those obligations as they appear on paper in a brick and mortar school, and we meet those obligations and they look different now and nobody really thought about what it would be like to implement them remotely. You know, each Friday right now, we as a special education department meet virtually. And the one thing that one of my fellow department members said today, like we started off the meeting and he just said, alright, what's one positive from the week? Because, you know, when you get a group, people together, it s easy to get down the commiseration road, you know, and say like, because naturally, they want to look at ways they can make things better. Okay, it is not in a negative way. It's just like, Okay, here's some of the struggles what could do to make it better? And it was just like we started with the positives and our department shared a lot of positive. But there's one that really stuck out. And this part, remember, said, You know, the positive for me is all of you, like everybody here is finding ways to make this work. And again we're in a fortunate situation where we have involved and supportive parents. So it's not like a struggle between those two entities, the school, and the parents/, It's, so what can we do to work together? And you know, that's the one thing about this, I keep saying the word historic time because it is, you know, it's historic. I think, you know, maybe this is as I'm talking about it, one of the challenges that we look at in the opportunity is  like, you know, to show a little patriotism here, like Americans have typically found the way to work together to conquer what's in front of them and they want to find those resources. If it's from a person sitting in their home to make a mask to give to someone else to us working together as school and parents for the kid. And I think when you do the best you can to put students first, that happens. Now, are we gonna be perfect at it? No, but I just think it's allowed us to look at how those things happen differently. Great communication from parents, I mean, it's essential. Do we live in a perfect world where everyone's sitting there with their child while they're doing their work? No, but we can't expect that to happen, but it's just a different way to manage those, and I think, yeah we have to tweak some things, put some language in there. Sure, we might have to do that. But it's again like what we're doing is to advance that child. So it just might look a little different now.

Jeff Britton:   18:53
So I am going to switch gears now and move over to your other, or at least one of your probably many other big responsibilities and talk about baseball just a little bit. So you're a baseball coach, right?

Jeff Swarr:   19:05

Jeff Swarr:   19:06
How long have you been coaching?  

Jeff Swarr:   19:08
It's an interesting little story, you know, that's a loaded question. You put that there and you're like, Oh, he's gonna give me a number of years and we can move on to the next question. So I have to tie something in that you mentioned earlier, then and I'll put these couple of things together. So if you start back when I started teaching 20 years ago, I was like I will be a high school teacher for a couple of years and coach baseball the rest of my life. That's not the case. And to bring the present day, I feel like I'm truly doing what I was called to do. In that meantime, while I was like, hey, I'm just gonna coach baseball. I was an assistant coach at a liberal arts school, Franklin and Marshall actually not that far down the road from I believe your alma mater of  Haverford, and we would play them. But I was there for a couple of years. I was the head baseball coach at Millersville for two years. All the while, you know, teaching at the district that I teach and then I really  had a tough time in 2007. We were very bad at the division two school that I coached at, and I ended up coming back to full-time teaching, and kind of with my head between my legs, so to speak, kind of first time I really, really struggled, and that was a mess, and I use that word mess for a reason. I want to give credit to Dr. Rob Bell.  I read a book of his called "The Hinge." And it was like you turn your mess into your message. And so for me, it really was a mess that put me on a path of like, alright, what am I really about? Like, am I just trying to get wins and losses, mainly wins, hopefully. But are we about impacting people? And so it's come full circle. So you ask how long I've been coaching. This is actually the first year back as a head coach at the high school that I teach at. So here we are on our mark, I'm ready to change the culture of the program, I'm ready to put the fingerprints you know, the stamp on it. And we really like worked all year. Like October 7th was the day that I was approved by the school board and we meet the next day and, you know, our guys work out. November and December were in the gym. We're getting outside when we can, we're practicing on the field. And now we have no season. So what do we do? And so you talk about passion and this is where if I  had gone back, you know, 13 years ago in 2007 our season would have been over. I would have been done. We wouldn't have been meeting with the players and the year would be over and we'd be looking to collect uniforms. But that's not what we're doing since we stopped practicing, we've been holding virtual practices every Tuesday and Thursday, beginning at three o'clock, which is our normal practice time. So on Tuesdays, it's kind of a shorter time. It's just a check-in. I want to see the guys' faces. I want to make sure everything's okay with them and quite frankly, to the point where one of our players, I usually ask, Hey, how are things? Everybody good.?Anything I need to know? Everybody healthy? And one of our players, he's like Coach, my dad just tested positive, you know? So  thankfully that was a couple weeks ago and the trend is in a positive direction. We've continued that. I want to make sure I gave a shout out to a couple of people. Doctor Brett McKay was one of them. He's a sports psychologist. He also happened to be a baseball player in college at LSU. And he won a couple of national championships. So he carries some street creds, so to speak. And  he met with our team, and it began there. I was like, Oh, we can get some people. You know what? Everybody else is sitting at home. You know, not doing stuff.. So Jerry Weinstein is, I won't tell you how old he is. He told us how old he was when he met with the team. But he is a  baseball legend. He is a coach from high school to professional and he just loves the game. So he shared with our guys a, week ago. Just yesterday, the Minnesota Twins pitching coordinator happened to be a player of ours at Franklin and Marshall when I coached there and he came and spoke to the guys and shared some time with us. So Thursday's our guest speaker. And then next week we have John Gordon, who's an author of the Energy bus, and many bestsellers has worked with the number of sports teams. He's coming to speak. So it's been great on one end to be able to bring those in.  And again. I go back to the challenge and the opportunity. It's a great challenge. What are we gonna do with their opportunity? You know, we have the opportunity to get our guys a little bit better, and my line to them this past week is we're not collecting uniforms, were collecting improvement, and that's what we're trying to do with our guys right now. We'll collect uniforms later. That will happen. But we're trying to get a little better and we can do this, you know, in this way, right now.

Jeff Britton:   24:04
That's great, Jeff. It sounds like,  again t's fun. I can hear the enthusiasm in your voice. You found ways to make this time period valuable, meaningful, and helpful to your kids and to your athletes as well. And congratulations on becoming the head coach. This is a very strange first year for being a head coach. 

Jeff Swarr:   24:25
Well,  we're undefeated! And you said something right there. I don't know what it means to you, but it means something to me. You said was that you found a way and honestly like that's a hashtag have used on social media lately. And, you know, our high school mascot happens to be a Pioneer. Well, if you're gonna be a Pioneer, you gotta find a way.

Jeff Britton:   24:53
Jeff, you are one of the first people who ever used Get More Math. You know, I made it, I think about 15 years ago, and some time within a year or two after that, you would have been one of my co-teachers and started playing with it. I am super curious what the insiders/ outsiders view was. What was that like there at the outset?

Jeff Swarr:   25:14
You know you brought that up and the first thing that popped into my head was "LSS DFS Run Faster," whatever had to type in to run it the first time, right? I have no idea what that meant, but I knew I was the monkey and I could jump through the hoop for you.  So to me., when somebody is passionate about something, they're always gonna find ways to tweak it and make it better. So when we started with, and when I say we it was  developed by you, but when I say we it was always the give and take of like, how can we make this better? How can we do this? And the end product was the kids' performance, not the end product of Get More Math. The end product was this is having an impact on our students and their learning. And so, you know, I do a lot of reading and we talk about motivation and we talk about the carrot or the stick you know, that you put in front of the kids. Well the crazy thing is much of that, like carrot and stick in this environment is taken away. "Oh, I'm not getting graded on this? Why do I do it?" And I've really talked to our kids about we do things for learning, not for the grade, and I've had that message from the beginning of class, from the beginning of the school year, and now it's reinforced. So to bring it back to what Get More Math has, I'm gonna say evolved to and started was about making it better and making it better for the kids learning. Okay, well, now it's also deep down these kids are motivated to learn, they're motivated by education, to improve and to learn. The grade ends up being that result. And you could get into the whole discussion on grading, but now it really brings philosophically to the forefront if I'm not really being graded, if there's like, the kids don't see the grade, they see the learning, we've really reached Utopia. Now it's just about the learning, you know. And so again, where great challenge is great opportunity, you know, remove that grade and see what the kids do. And if they continue to work, you know what,  we've got it. We've got it, you know? So for me, Get More Math, like to have a conversation with the kids be like, alright, look, you know, we just got introduced a skill it's red, you got  it yellow now! Alright, that means you've improved! Hey, you know what? Give it a little later, it's green. Now, I kind of chuckle because I'm not going to say I know all the algorithms behind it going from red to yellow, green to, silver to gold, but I do know that if you do it over a long period of time, you're gonna make that progression. So hey, we got two months. Let's see, Do you have the ability to move that yellow to green, to silver, you know, and now that motivation is learning and there's no grade associated with it whatsoever. So again, you could have a long discussion on grades, but it's the idea of that learning and the evolution of Get More Math, tweaking it to support that student. Learning to me is what it's always been about.

Jeff Britton:   28:54
Beautiful. That is very true. And it's funny you talk about motivation. I always found that students making gains and learning things, typically, for most kids, that was massively motivational. And in particular for our clientele, these needier kids often, boy, they start to make gains. They start to understand math, and you don't have to force them to do anything. They want to do more because it's so delightful to find that they're actually successful after often prior years, really stumbling, really struggling and expressing math and trying to learn math is painful. To turn around and start building success is just it's it's own reward and it provides it's own rocket fuel. And then getting back to the development of Get More Math, I found that massively motivating, seeing my kids, excited about learning, really excited me about, you know, improving the system and putting more time into it so that they'd be even more excited about learning.

Jeff Swarr:   30:01
Knowing you long enough, I don't know if you remember this statement. I made it to you because it was kind of a theme of mine when our oldest son was beginning preschool. When we looked at some things educationally, my statement and my belief were that I don't know where my child is going to go to school or what he's going to do. My goal is I just never want him to lose the joy of learning. And I look at that in our students. I mean, I've always taught high school, okay, always taught high school, and you've got some kids that are... we use the word motivation. I like to use inspiration mainly because I think of inspiration as coming from the inside. Motivation typically comes from the outside, okay? Do we motivate? Sure we motivate, but when we can get to a point where there is an inspiration, then again, like we've reached that top for the kid. But what I'm saying now to kind of tie it back is I'm just trying to watch my kids and say Okay, like, I know kids at the high school. We got a lot of kids that are really inspired. We also have some that aren't, so where does that change? Okay, where did that change occur for them? And obviously, that's also individualized. Hopefully, you know, the kids that we have, like there isn't that change, but then sometimes it is. And we were going to try, try and help them out through that. So whether that's their inspired to learn, like I have a number of kids like they're inspired to learn how to fix a car, okay. And my dad is a mechanic for 40 plus years, and we need those people, so let's make them have that joy and learning how to do that because we need those things.

Jeff Britton:   31:47
Absolutely. I have one more topic for questions. I think it's a different place for our conversation to go. I'm thinking a lot about the fall and what it will look like. Let's suppose the pandemic issues have settled and we're able to go back to our brick and mortar settings. But of course, with a five-month out of building experience, if you will, what sorts of thoughts are you having about what that might be like?

Jeff Swarr:   32:12
Well, I'm I am very partial to the philosophy of we have to make connections with the kids first. Part of our professional development throughout this year was understanding the different places that are kids come from. And we're in a district where don't have as much adversity as other places, okay. If you were to just ask me on a scale of 0 to 10 on the adversity of the kids face zero being none at all in 10 being like the worst ever, I'd put us it like a 3 to 4, you know, overall as a district. Now we have some kids that they're facing those 8, 9, or10 adversities and struggles that they bring into the classroom. My basis and my start is always with relationships. And obviously when you teach Algebra, you can, you know, talk about relationships on one hand. But you can also talk about the human aspect of relationships, and I think that's a huge piece. So for many coming back in the fall, it doesn't change. What I mean by that is that's the basis. That's the basis. That's where it starts. If we don't connect with our kids, we're starting from behind. We're starting in the negative numbers, as opposed to at least starting at zero and we've got to establish those relationships. So for me, that doesn't change. And quite frankly, I'll tell you the reason I firmly believe that the reason that kids continue to show up is because we've started with that focus, that relationship, that we can at least put that human face in front of them on the screen now curriculum wise. And where that goes is we're gonna have to make changes. I mean, we're going to have to be adaptable, so if we feel like we're gonna do the best we can with our Algebra I kids, but if you think as teachers that they're gonna walk in is the same Algebra II students at the beginning of that class,  like ending that Algebra I, we're kidding ourselves. But again, it comes back to my core philosophy is we got to meet that kid, so we're gonna have to make some adjustments and maybe this is to throw a little bit of coach-ism in here. We don't have to make the adjustments. We get to make the adjustments. It's a privilege. It's not something that we're required to do. It's something we need to do. We get to do it for our kids. It's gonna take some flexibility and that's gonna be tough because teachers, they're type A personalities. They're like, I wanna do this and we're gonna do this and you know, so it's gonna take some adjustment. We we gotta make those connections in those relationships with those kids and see them as a people person first and a student second, I tell our players that all the time you're a person first and a player second. You're not a cog that we're gonna put out on the field to just do a job. You're a person and you're human. And I think that the challenge that we're having right now shows our humanity. And if it doesn't, then we've done our society a disservice. And so when we come back in the fall, if we don't show our humanity, we're doing our students that disservice. 

Jeff Britton:   35:24
I love that. I'm going to summarize, at least how I hear what you're saying. In a sense, you're saying, Josh, nothing will change in a way because I know that you're already deeply focused and invested in the relationship, and you will once again invest in the relationship. And I also know that you're actually very thoughtful about assessing each kid that walks through your door and you make a full commitment to each one of those kids from day one. Not just sort of relationally connecting, which is, is at the core, but also tactically speaking. Just identify what they know, what they don't know, and how you can support them. So you'll still do that. Maybe the difference will be there'll be some kids who don't know as much as they would have, but sort of practically speaking, that doesn't change anything. I mean, you always find what level they're at and where their gaps are and make plans to address them. So it's kind of interesting from your workflow and your style, it might just be double down and keep going.

Jeff Swarr:   36:29
You make me think of one thing. You know, some people when they hear the three letters, IEP, they worry. Like maybe a teacher worries am l my gonna be able to meet the needs of this student. The parent might worry and say, Oh, well, they have, ah, individual education plan or program and you know, they're not quite at the level where everyone else is. And I look at it and say, Well, you know what? In this situation, we have the ability to continue to do. Everything that we've been doing is work at that individual kid's needs, and we're just gonna continue to do that. So again, one challenge is an opportunity.

Jeff Britton:   37:07
Well, Jeff, I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us about what you're doing these days. It is really wonderful just to catch up. Thanks so much for visiting today.

Jeff Swarr:   37:17
Well I'll say it again, I mean, it's it's relationships. Ah, and I choose one word each calendar year. I've done that,  it's a little bit of a John Gordon thing if you check that out. You go through a process where you choose one word. I've done this since 2014 and my word for the year of 2020 is authentic. And it's just what we're trying to do for our kids. I love catching up with you because I think you're the same way, JB. It is authentic, it's here I am, here's  where we're gonna be, here is were we're gonna go and we're gonna do the best we can. And I think that's what brings us to this situation we were in right no. 

Derek Maxson:   37:58
Thank you, Josh. And thank you, Jeff, for that interview today. Josh, how would you break down this interview into some things that we could use as takeaways or some highlights for us?

Jeff Britton:   38:13
Well, Jeff is a man of many ideas, and I really enjoyed how in our conversation, time and again he would express something in a short way that was a powerful idea, that something you could take away such as the idea of having a single word to focus on for every year. So 2020, for Jeff, is the year of "authentic". I felt our conversation was very authentic. We got a sense of Jeff's heart and what Jeff is striving towards. One strategy that he mentioned, I just thought I call out, there were so many, was the idea of starting the weekly meetings with something positive. That sounds really important to me to set the tone where there are so many problems we need to deal with, so much that's new and different. Although I also loved how for Jeff things being new and different, he said this many times, these challenges that are presented to us really become opportunities, and you could hear the excitement that he has about the opportunities. Certainly, he's not wishing, he's not thinking, "Boy, it's better now that we have a pandemic." But he's saying, we've got this pandemic. How could we turn this around and make it into something that ends up being useful, that ends up being helpful, that ends a building, people? He is clearly a people builder.  

Derek Maxson:   39:37
During the interview, Jeff said that there's no playbook for teaching during the COVID crisis. But Josh, he seemed to present some principles that might be a playbook for him. Maybe some others could take from it. What are some of those plays that are in his playbook?  

Jeff Britton:   39:54
Well, Jeff, called out the importance of establishing a routine, especially for the kids he's teaching. But really, for anyone, changing routine can be very difficult. So trying to carefully create a way to communicate exact routine to his students stands out for me. Another thing that, apparently he was working on long before this happened is just the idea that learning isn't about the grade, working towards an environment in which kids learn because they want to know more and the great just becomes a reflection of what they learned.  

Derek Maxson:   40:31
Thank you, Jeff, for joining us on the get more math podcast. Thanks, Josh. It's always great to do this together, and we will have another podcast next week. As we continue to explore how to best educate students during the COVID crisis.

Derek Maxson:   40:45
Thank you for listening to the Get More Math Podcast. We would like to invite all of our listeners to visit our website at, where you'll find helpful information about how Get More Math can help you transform the math education experience through targeted mastery and cyclical review. We would welcome you to take advantage of our free trial, which is good not only for the remainder of this clear but also for the 2021 school year. If you think this podcast would be helpful to others, please share it posts on social media or leave us a rating or review wherever you listen to podcasts. If you have any comments or suggestions for future episodes, please send an email to See you next time on the Get More Math Podcast.