Still Curious S2E10 - Seth Fleischauer

Seth Fleischauer00:00

When you're teaching over video conferencing, there is an entertainment value to it that is different from live teaching. There is an aesthetic to it. You gotta to come out the gate, making sure that you are drawing them in, because if you don't, they're not going to be with you. I would say that the biggest difference between a teacher who excels online and who does not, is a mindset that they believe they are sharing the same space with their students.

Danu Poyner00:32

You're listening to the Still Curious Podcast with me, Danu Poyner.

My guest today is Seth Fleischauer, who is the President and Founder at Banyan Global Learning, a provider of live virtual programs that prepare learners with future ready skills in digital citizenship, world culture and social and emotional learning.

In today's episode, we talk about what's involved in creating engaging virtual spaces for social and emotional learning, from virtual field trips to meaningful assessment, and what it means to be a camera ready teacher.

Seth Fleischauer01:02

Tonight I'm doing a virtual field trip with our sixth graders on Texas, zooming in on TexMex, food as a representation of a fusion of cultures. The students are going to be finding and cooking their own examples of fusion food and talking about the why behind it, why this particular food, how did it come about, what were the cultural factors? What was the improvisation that led to this being created in the first place?

Danu Poyner01:26

We discuss Seth's journey from teaching at the progressive Earth School in Manhattan to a high needs public school in Brooklyn, how his desire to reform the failings of the broken traditional system put him on the path to becoming an educator entrepreneur, and the very different context of setting up live virtual classes all the way back in 2003.

Seth Fleischauer01:46

I did that as a part-time gig while I was teaching full-time and driving out to long island to use the fancy video conferencing box that I had to use in order to be able to make a connection. Be out until midnight teaching and then, because it is Asia time, so classes would end at midnight. And then I drive back to the city and fall asleep and be up at six to go teach again.

Danu Poyner02:08

Seth shares how seeing his daughter's isolation during the pandemic provided an opportunity to put some of his personal educational philosophies into practice closer to home through homeschooling, but also just how challenging that has turned out to be even so.

Seth Fleischauer02:22

I could go straight-up project-based student choice, life is the curriculum, unschooling, whatever I wanted to do. Watching them respond to that was amazing. Watching the rest of the parents in the group recoil a little bit, cause they were like, you're doing, you're doing nothing. That what you're doing nothing?

Danu Poyner02:41

We also discuss navigating privilege, discovering your core values, growth mindset and grokking, and what it's like to be a real life meme.

Seth Fleischauer02:50

It's fun. I'm the sad Mets fan. The Mets are so sad

Danu Poyner02:53

Seth has spent a long time thinking about what it means to have space online to find your place in the world, and I appreciated his humility, openness and thoughtful perspectives on reforming what goes on in our educational institutions. Enjoy, it's Seth Fleischauer coming up after the music on today's episode of the Still Curious Podcast.

Main Conversation

Hi, Seth, welcome to the podcast. Great to have you here.

Seth Fleischauer03:42

Hi, thank you so much for having me. I'm really happy to be here and grateful for being invited.

Danu Poyner03:46

Excellent. I've got so much to ask you. We have zero chance of getting through everything, but I'm just going to dive in if that's okay and we'll see where it goes. So you're the president and founder at Banyan Global Learning, which runs live virtual programs to help nurture cultural literacy, educate responsible digital citizens and help connect mind and heart through social and emotional learning.

You're an expert in video conferencing, international teaching, social, emotional learning, and K to 12 online education. And you've also been a public elementary school teacher. What would you say is the most important thing for someone to understand about what you do?

Seth Fleischauer04:20

Uh, I guess it depends on who we're talking to, but for your listeners, it would be, I'm extremely passionate about what I do?

I lead with my heart. lean on having best laid plans that often get thrown by the wayside as I chase things down rabbit holes and figure out what is right for the situation.

That's how I tend to approach my

professional life.

Danu Poyner04:41

You describe your work as being at the intersection of technology, language, culture, and social and emotional learning. That strikes me as a pretty crowded intersection. What would I expect to see there?

Seth Fleischauer04:53

Well, you'd expect to see Banyan Global Learning and it's work. Our origin story is one of a teacher me who started a company 14 years ago now and started delivering daily distance learning program to a client in Asia. And, essentially built our services one by one at the behest of what the client needed.

So much of what we do was in response to the needs of this particular group of schools in Taiwan and China. But then we pivoted and started looking domestically. What we did there was essentially story of great or terrible timing, depending on how you look at it.

It was around January of 2020 that we looked at the domestic market and thought, Hey, let's spin off the most popular part of our daily distance learning program, which is our virtual field trips. And let's start doing those. Of course, then the world changed dramatically and we responded to really, what was my daughter's school community.

I saw the life just kinda bleed out of her very quickly when the pandemic started and she was so isolated and I started running these calls with her and her friends that evolved into calls between her and her classmates, and then eventually the whole school. Cause they didn't really have anything up and running.

And I had all this experience doing learning over video conferencing. So I was this first access point for a lot of these kids at our school to actually connect with each other during the early days of the pandemic. I happen to have an uncle who is an expert in social, emotional learning.

And he was able to really skill me up in what we were doing. So those initial calls evolved into what is now our social emotional learning program, which also includes digital citizenship, which we basically see as SEL online. That's what we've been doing domestically. And then we've folded it back into what we're doing internationally.

Our core purpose is to find your place in the world. That's what we're looking to do, to not only do that for ourselves, but especially for the students that we work with. We see that as an internal and external exploration, being able to get to know yourself to the extent that you can look at the world and understand where you fit into it.

That intersection language, culture, technology, social, emotional learning, that's what we mean by that. You need to have all of those things in order to be able to flow with this negotiation of where your place in the world is, which is not necessarily a physical place, could be a digital place, could be a place that constantly changes.

So that conversation with yourself and the. That's what I mean by that intersection.

Danu Poyner07:23

Fantastic. Such a great answer. One thing I always ask on the podcast is for people to explain a key term of art as if to a 10 year old. I'm wondering if you could explain what social and emotional learning is as if to a 10 year-old

Seth Fleischauer07:37

It's essentially doing the hard work of knowing what your feelings are and being able to express them, but also knowing the emotions and the feelings of others. The reason that we want to do this is so that ultimately we can make the best choices, choices that are not only good for us, but good for the world.

Danu Poyner07:55

I liked this phrase, finding your place in the world. I'm curious how you arrived at that as the framing device for what you're doing.

Seth Fleischauer08:03

Yeah, it's interesting. Arrived at, uh, it was more like uncovered. We actually did some workshops with the leadership team at Bain and global learning and dove into the very question. What is our core purpose? We flirted with a bunch of different ideas, a bunch of different ways to say all of the things that we do and why we do them.

It jumped into to some element of what we were doing and I ask, okay, well, why do we do that? And I got an answer and I said, okay, but why do we do that? And it was maybe six or seven layers of why deep that, Courtney, has been working with us for about 10 years now, use that phrase and it really resonated with all of us.

What's cool is that it, in many ways it means the same thing, but in many ways it means different things to each of us. I think that is a really important element of a core purpose. It's gotta be able to speak universally, but also individually to everybody who is living it out.

Danu Poyner09:00

It's got a lot of layers, certainly and I really like it. You mentioned that the virtual field trips are the most popular part of what you were doing. Can you tell me a little bit about what happens in those?

Seth Fleischauer09:11

Sure. In the beginning we really leaned into that word field trips. So if you imagine a field trip that happens on a school bus, we were doing that, but without ever having to leave the class. And really leaning into the medium and what becomes available when you break down the four classroom walls and connect to new people, undiscovered places, and fresh ideas.

Now the new people that is pretty clear. There are a whole bunch of people who you would not have access to if you were limited to your physical space. Undiscovered places, we definitely want to bring students all around the world if we can, but also to slices of life that they wouldn't necessarily have experienced within their own communities and fresh ideas leans on this notion that not every teacher is an expert in everything that they might want to bring into their classroom. Having this technology available to us to be able to bring in experts and ideas that might otherwise not ever make it there, we think that is part of the real power of the technology.

So in our virtual field trips, we take kids all around the world, but we also have puppet shows that teach about social, emotional learning, and narratives that the students interact with to solve problems and exercise their digital citizenship skills. Some of our international trips are really cool.

We've got a teacher down in Brazil who is an ex-pat, but married a Brazilian has two Brazilian sons to come along with her on the trip. It's all live. So you've got je ne sais quois, this is element of, I dunno, there's something to live video. There's something to knowing that what you're seeing is what's happening right now on the other side of the world and our teacher, Jill down there takes the students down the main street of Isacare this little beach town that has a pretty diverse culture.

The students are all looking for little representations of that diversity. So looking in the storefronts for different cultures represented on this little main street of this little surf town in Brazil. I would say that the secret sauce to what we do, what makes these trips so effective is that we really seek to maximize engagement and do that by leaning into the benefits of the medium.

If we have a blended learning scenario where students actually have a second device, we would definitely create a lot of interactive elements there, but for everyone, regardless of whether or not they have that second device, we make sure that there is a central purpose to why they are on this trip.

They are trying to answer a question they are trying to investigate in order to be able to answer that question. And it could be one that's framed with a narrative. It could be a more general question looking for, you know, that example of the students going along main street in Brazil, they could be trying to solve a mystery. We really focus on that question. What are the students doing here? Watching video can be a really passive experience and we want to make sure that it is not, that the students are actively participating in what is going on and having an effect on what they see on screen.

Danu Poyner12:24

Yeah, amazing. I live in New Zealand. I noticed you've got a Queenstown experience on there, which leaped out at me. You mentioned about your daughter and how you noticed with the pandemic that the life had drained out of her.

Can you tell me a little bit more about that and what happened then?

Seth Fleischauer12:39

Oh, goodness. Yeah. She's actually sitting right next to me right now.

She's she's

Danu Poyner12:44


Seth Fleischauer12:44

uh, yeah, I It was a crazy year, two years going on three. She's a really good student. She's someone who really excels within the traditional system, same way that I did when I was her age.

It wasn't until the pandemic when We were learning at home. And that was an adventure for a former public school teacher to have a student at home to work with. In the beginning, I was just like, oh my God, I can't wait for this. This is amazing. I get to exercise these skills.

I get to see her everyday. I get to have lunch with her. This is going to be great. Really trying to look at the bright side of what was going on. I quickly realized as I was not only teaching her, but also teaching, we had a learning pod. So there were a couple of other students there.

First of all, teaching five kids at home is very different than teaching 30 in a classroom. And secondly, that a lot of the ideas that I had about education were starting to break down for me. When I started being in global learning in 20 oh eight, I was like, I'm going to bring progressive ed to Asia.

Here I go. I got there and then I was like, no, I'm not going to do that. They are not ready for this. What's cool. Is that in the last 15 years, we've really chipped away, chipped away, chipped away at the sense of what is acceptable in the classroom, on the part of the administration and the parents that school.

We've been able to create something that's much closer to what I thought I was going to start way back when, but it's still more traditional than my personal educational philosophy. That is based on this school that I taught at in Manhattan in 2005 to 2008. It was a progressive elementary school, that was a beautifully diverse place that really leaned into the element of student choice.

I realized as I was creating these lesson plans for my daughter at home during COVID that I had this opportunity to actually do that. That there was so much red tape, so many things that might stop you from being able to lean into that fully within a traditional school setting.

But here I was with five kids at home on my day to teach them where I could go straight-up project-based student choice. Life is the curriculum unschooling, whatever I wanted to do. Watching them respond to that was amazing. Watching the rest of the parents in the group recoil a little bit.

Cause they were like, you're doing, you're doing nothing. That what you're doing nothing? No, not quite. I'm facilitating learning, trying to explain what that means and what that looks like and really trying to curate the environment as much as I could for the kids.

One day my wife had to do that day. I couldn't cover that day. And she's like, you gotta write a lesson plan for me or something like that. I'm like, honey, that's not really what I'm doing with them. So what are you doing? I'm like, okay honey, go outside.

Look at the first thing that brings you joy and come back in and tell me what it was. She walks outside, she looks at some flowers, she walks back in, she goes, okay, I'm going to have them make flower arrangements. I'm like, there you go. You did it. So she had this whole day where they went out and picked flowers and made these little flower arrangements and it was beautiful.

We had days where we went and picked cherries and made cherry pie, right? Had them pit all the cherries and then weighed them and did all the math with the recipe of making the pie and got to actually taste the thing that they were creating. Had to figure out how they were going to get up high, to get the cherries off the tree.

All these little problems that life throws at you when you have a goal to do something you haven't done before. We just tried to replicate that over and over again. And then when she went back into the classroom, it was this really weird feeling for me of, almost like a sadness around it where, I was like, okay, now she's going back and doing a lot of the same things again.

I wonder how many parents feel that same way, where there was a little bit of a helplessness after having the ability to shape so much of what they learned for so many months and then to have them go back in and have some of the same old, same old come back.

So I started letting her like stay home a lot and just create her own learning at home. Sometimes it works out well, sometimes it doesn't. Screen time's an issue, she really wants to

lean into some silly games sometimes where I'm not sure I'm doing this right. There's a lot of thought and reflection and conversation that goes along with it to make sure that it's something that feels optimal. But at this point, I'm letting her do that.

I'm taking her on ski days. I'm taking her along with me when I can to do some of my own work. In the early days of the pandemic, she was on some of those first social, emotional learning calls. She was my cohost, because she was learning from home.

I'm like, all right, Vieta, this is how to put on a live virtual program. Here we go. And that was amazing too. I should say my son too, my son is six. He was in daycare just every day during the pandemic is a small enough it stayed open. And then he started at a Montessori school.

So watching his engagement with Montessori Has also really shaped some of my thinking around how to optimize learning for any given kid. My philosophy has honed. To the point where I believe traditional school should exist. I'm not one of those people that is like burn it all down. But I think that ideally everybody should have a choice to be able to pursue the type of education that they think works best for them. My daughter is an open question for me. My son's thriving at Montessori, my daughter, we just got her in two other schools and we're debating as like active debate right now on what we're going to do with her education.

And it's hard. Part of me, I wanted to put it on her to make the decision, because I thought that she might've been capable of that. And she, one night, just broke down crying because she didn't want to leave her friend. She didn't know what to do, but she might want to go to be with her brother at his school, but maybe she wanted to go to this other school. I realized that, against my philosophy of let the kid drive everything, she needed help making this decision. So now we're weighing in a little bit more on what we think might be the best call, but it's hard. It's hard to know what the best call is, which is a folly of having choice.

Right? One of the drawbacks is that you have to live with your decision whether there's good or bad, but my personal life philosophy, there are no bad choices, right? There's just the lessons that unfold for you in the roads that you choose. So we're looking at that as we move forward, those are very long answer to your question.

Danu Poyner18:55

It's a great answer. But the thing that strikes me most is the language that you use to talk about these things. It's very energizing language. And you described homeschooling as an adventure, which is not the word I've heard many people who've gone through that experience use, but you also talking about expanding global empathy through authentic experiences that learners wouldn't have had access to otherwise student choice.

I've heard you say society is the greatest stakeholder in education, and you're talking about making, learning more student driven, where teachers are less gatekeepers and more of a guide on the side, rather than a Sage on the stage. This energizing language, where does that passion and energy and your philosophy