Andrew Paulsen is a senior educational advisor and doctoral candidate who loves to travel
A doctoral candidate at Vanderbilt University, Andrew Paulsen is making strides to change education in America. In this interview we talk about his travels across the United States in his role as a senior educational advisor at Agile Mind. And how he used social media during his Fulbright in Asia.
Welcome to The Social Academic. I’m Jennifer van Alstyne and this is my blog about online identity in the education world. I share monthly advice here about social media, personal websites, and managing your online life.
The academic interview series continues in 2020. I have some great guests lined up for you. First up this year is former high school math teacher, Andrew Paulsen. Now, he is working on his Ed.D. in Leadership & Learning in Organizations at Peabody College at Vanderbilt University.
In this episode, we talk about how his alma mater, Marist College shaped his educational beliefs. Andrew talks about sports, education, politics, and more on social media. And, he keeps a non-traditional blog that he writes “mostly for myself.”
Authenticity, Andrew says, is something important to him. He also knows social media is like a highlights reel, especially Instagram where he tends to post travel photos for family and friends.
Andrew prefers 140-character Twitter because of how succinct thoughts were. And he might be the only person who doesn’t appreciate cat photos. I love your cat photos, don’t worry #AcademicTwitter.
We travel all over the world in this episode. Seriously, we talk about 4 continents. Are you ready?
Psst. Don’t forget to subscribe to The Social Academic today.
Jennifer: So you and I met a couple of years ago through my best friend from college, Sara, who you taught with at East Side High School in New York, New Jersey. But it’s been a while. So for me and the listeners of The Social Academic, would you mind telling me a little bit about you?
Andrew: Yeah, definitely. I want to first, thank you so much for having me on. I’m really excited to be here. My name is Andrew Paulsen. I’m currently a doctoral student at Vanderbilt University and I’m also a senior advisor at Agile Mind.
We’ll get into what Agile Mind does in a little bit. I’ve been really excited though, supporting schools and teachers really all throughout the country. It’s been such an incredible experience the last couple of years. I’m really thinking about how we increase the efficacy of public education in this country. I’m also a big traveler. I’m a big scuba diver. I’m really excited, I just came back from Peru and Norway.
Jennifer: Oh, that’s awesome. I was born in Peru.
Andrew: Oh, get outta here. I didn’t even realize that. Yeah, we did a week in the Sacred Valley and we spent some time in Lima and you know, what you’d Machu Picchu and everything like that. It was truly incredible.
Jennifer: That’s amazing.
Andrew: The culture, the food, the people, the history. It was the intersection of all that was truly incredible.
And I’m ethnically Norwegian, I guess you could say. So I was excited to visit Norway and learn about my cultural heritage a little bit too. I spent a week there around Christmas. Yeah.
But I’m really excited, I’m going to Costa Rica in April to get my scuba diver instructor certification. I’ll be able to certify a scuba divers. So you know, anyone listening out there, if you guys want some free dive instructor, you know, I’ll make sure hook you guys up.
Jennifer: That’s awesome. That’s very cool. So you’re getting your, your actual certification so that you can teach other people.
Andrew: Yeah. If I wasn’t busy enough, I suppose you could say.
Jennifer: Right. So what are you getting your doctorate in?
Andrew: So I’m currently getting my Doctorate of Education in Leadership & Learning in Organizations. So I often describe it as people as like a very macro degree: thinking about how we change large systems.
Andrew: The example I give is, you know, my Master’s degrees are in Public School Leadership and Education Policy. For public school leadership, it’s easy for a principal to go into a classroom, you know, observe, give feedback and think about what are the things that this teacher needs to do to improve, right?
But imagine, say for example, you’re the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, the largest school system in the country, 1 million students about.
Andrew: You’re never going to be able to observe every single teacher’s classroom, right? So I think the question becomes
- What metrics do you use?
- Are you using the right metrics?
- How do you measure those metrics?
- And then, how do you improve its scale?
And thinking about the difference between improvement science and implementation science when we’re trying to change these very, very large systems and ensure that all students, no matter where they come from, have the opportunity to really thrive in the 21st century.
Jennifer: That’s something that I never think about. I mean, I do think about higher education as a system. I don’t necessarily think about education on such large scale and what it’s like for someone to really have oversee that many students at a time. Just conceptually so fascinating for me. So how do you balance that?
Agile Mind looks to transform the teaching and learning of math and science
Jennifer: I mean like I’d love to hear about your current work also as a senior advisor at Agile Mind. What is agile mind first?
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. So, Agile Mind is an organization that is really looking to transform the teaching and learning of mathematics and science throughout the country.
So our organization really thinks about how we can bring the emerging cognitive science of learning to scale through the use of curriculum resources, embedded assessment tools, helping teachers implement a lot of these ideas very easily, right?
So I think a lot of times we think of all of these kinds of disjoint packages, you know: Oh, we have this assessment tool that we can use. We have this really great curriculum, we have this data platform, we have these questions that we can leverage. We have all of this kind of cognitive science. But how does all these things kind of come together?
Our research team at the University of Texas at Austin, the Charles A. Dana center puts out some of the best curriculum resources in the country and our team’s job is to really help schools implement the resources and think about the local contexts and think about, you know, how do these ideas work in specific environments.
Andrew: So, you know, this week I’m working in a bunch of schools in Rhode Island, in Providence which is a very urban area and some of the more rural places in Rhode Island. Next week I’ll be in Indianapolis working in some of the schools out there. And a week after that I’ll be in Bellingham, Washington, which is a medium-sized district in the Pacific Northwest.
And three very different types of environments, you know. But I like to say we have this cultural relevancy, which is extremely important, but all of our brains learn things in very similar ways.
So we’re really trying to help make teacher’s jobs just more fulfilling by helping implement a lot of these ideas from cognitive science.
A lot of these ideas are brand new, right? That, you know, neuroscientists and clinical psychologists have really only started thinking about in the last 10 or 20 years. And really implementing that into the classroom to increase the likelihood that we’re really tapping into the potential of all students.
Jennifer: You know, I had a Dr. Walter D. Greason on the show last year as one of my guests. And one of the things that he said that he loved about social media was that the practices that he’s talking about, the practices that he and many other educators are thinking about can reach a large audience really quickly. Whereas in education it takes a long time for things to be thought of, discussed, put into practice and then actually implement it in school systems. And I hadn’t thought about how long that process is until he told me about it. And so hearing you also talk about how quickly it can be done is fascinating as well.
Andrew: Yeah. And you know, just in time for those that listen to the Freakonomics podcast that just came out literally this week talking about scalability. And really thinking about like what is the difference between a best practice oftentimes in the university clinic or something like that and bringing that to scale. So, if you’re interested in reading more about that, I really encourage you to check that out.
And if you’re interested more in the cognitive scientist stuff, there is actually a group of professors that put together, it’s just called TheLearningScientists.Org, and they have a lot of resources that teachers can use and download. And PowerPoints to try to implement a lot of the cognitive science that I’m talking about as well. For those people that may be interested, just you know, a resource that they can kind of look into for those two big ideas.
Jennifer: What are your goals as senior advisor? I’d like to learn a little bit more about what you do.
You told me that you’re traveling, you told me that you’re on the ground working with all these different school systems. Are you working with teachers specifically?
Andrew: Yeah, so we work with teachers, we work with school leaders, we work with district leaders. And we’re really there to support the incredible leadership that they’re doing on the ground and and supporting teachers, you know, oftentimes in implementing this kind of research based curriculum and and really thinking through what are the unique needs of that school community of wherever I’m working, you know, that week or that month, support them with resources, with tools, with ideas.
I’ve been so privileged and I’ve learned from so many teachers all throughout the country. And I’ve really been trying to think about how we can leverage those ideas, you know, to improve the efficacy of all teaching, kind of all over.
So we run a lot of workshops. We help teachers co-planning with a lesson. Sometimes we lead a Japanese lesson study. We do model lessons as well.
There’s a lot of different models that we use depending on kind of the needs of that individual school.
Jennifer: And so you can really assess once you get there and once you meet the people what they need most.
Andrew: Yeah. And I think the internet has sped that process up a little bit. We have a lot of different data metrics. So our platform kind of tracks a lot of things teachers and students are doing. So we can kind of identify those holes using, you know, data. Or are students even using the platform? Right. That’s like a kind of a big first step. And then, you know, if they are, we can kind of see like are they struggling with
- procedural fluency?
- conceptual understanding?
- Are the teachers struggling to incorporate student discourse into their classrooms?
Right. And depending on those needs is kind of how we kind of leverage different ideas and go from there.
Jennifer: It must be fun to do so many different things and to be able to leverage your skills with all these different communities and working with all these different people. That sounds really fun.
Andrew: Yeah. I mean I think like anything else has a lot of pros and there’s a lot of cons, right? But I’ve just been so excited to learn so much, not only about our public school system but throughout the country really, but also visit all these towns that have so much character.
They’re places that I’ve never visited, you know, you know, I was talking about Bellingham, and Indianapolis, and Rhode Island.
I did some work in Maywood, Nebraska. And that their school system is just so incredible. They have this transformative principal’s name is Lucas [McCain]. You know, and it’s a very small rural district. They have I think 110 students pre-K through 12th grade in one building.
I just arrive in this school and I’m just instantly, you know, welcomed into this incredible community, making these great relationships with teachers and school leaders that are really pushing the bar of what’s possible in rural education.
Andrew: And then the next week I’ll be working at Trenton Central High School, which has 5,000 students combined, you know, and then working at places everywhere in between going off to places like Detroit, Michigan or Calvert County, Maryland.
And really thinking about how the intersection of like education policy impacts a lot of these social issues that we see in America in 2020. Every community has a special part about it. And that being said, I kind of see these major themes kind of all throughout the country, right?
So no matter where I go, student engagement is one of the first things that teachers are talking about. Like how do we get more students engaged?
And that’s true in almost every school system that I’ve been fortunate to see. So while I guess what I’m trying to highlight is that while every district and community is special for its own reason, we have kind of these shared challenges that I think really unite us as a country.
And it’s been really helpful being able to see that from both a macro and a micro view. You know, kind of reading about it in this large policy sense, but also seeing it on the ground. And thinking about how a lot of these challenges I should say are just being repeated over and over and over again. And our team thinks about, you know, how can we increase the speed of learning on the ground? And kind of find these best practices and share them over and over again.
Jennifer: Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. I feel like I understand more about what you do and I’m more about how you actually reach people and it sounds like all over the country. It sounds like you’re traveling quite a bit.
Andrew used social media during his Fulbright in 12 countries across Asia
Jennifer: One of the reasons that I wanted to chat with you was because you’re a current Ed.D. Candidate at Vanderbilt, but I also wanted to chat because you used social media to talk about your teaching.
During your Fulbright, for instance, you showcase the a school that you visited, The LaValla School. Am I pronouncing that correctly?
Andrew: Yeah, that’s correct. Yeah.
Jennifer: …in Cambodia, I saw that post on Instagram.
Andrew: Yeah. Yeah. So for sure. So I’m actually getting an Ed.D. at Peabody College at Vanderbilt.
And before I started that I had this incredible opportunity through the U.S. Department of State to go abroad for a year as a Fulbright scholar and research the math and science education in 12 different countries throughout Asia.
So I was based out of Taiwan. I was based at Kaohsiung Girl’s Senior High School which is a school in Kaosiung, Taiwan, which is the Southern kind of Southwest part of Taiwan. It was so incredible being there for a year. I made so many amazing friends. I learned about, you know the saying about Taiwanese hospitality. That’s really, really true.
I have so many reports from them and so many great educators that really pushed my thinking in so many ways. And it was really, really great kind of visiting schools all throughout Taiwan, but also all throughout Asia.
So The LaValla School is a really interesting story. It’s kind of funny you bring that up.
So my undergrad, I went to Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Although it’s a lay college now, it was actually founded by the Marist Brothers in the early 20th century. And during my experience there, I became really close with several of the Marist Brothers.
And I learned about St. Marcellin Champagnat and the incredible transformative effort that he led really during the French revolution to help educate poor rural children in rural France. They started this college and I learned so much about the impact of a true Marist education.
And the Marist Brothers run or operate schools and countries all over the world. They have a major medical school in Brazil, for example. They have a very large presence in Asia called the Mission Ad Gentes Project.
Andrew: One of my mentors, Marist Brother, Seán Sammon started this project in Asia when he was the Superior General in Rome. One of those projects was to support students with special needs in Cambodia. Phnom Penh, rural Phnom Penh.
The LaValla School, which is named after where St. Marcellin Champagnat kind of grew up in France, was started by a Marist Brother about 20 years ago, I believe. For students that were really ex-communicated from the rest of their communities because of their physical disabilities or their specific learning needs. So they kind of built this school from the ground up. It’s a residential facility.
I spent probably about two weeks there. Maybe a little under two weeks there. It’s one of the most special places that I’ve ever been. It’s one of those places where you kind of walk through the gates of the school and, and the children come running up to you to hug you and everything. And it was just a really, really special experience and I was just there to kind of learn and to listen and to observe.
And you know, they had me kind of teach an English class a little bit for a week or so which was a lot of fun. But just learning about the incredible history and culture of Cambodia and seeing the incredible work they’re doing both there and really all around the world was inspirational.
It was definitely a highlight of my Fulbright experience abroad, but also one of the most special places that I’ve ever been in my entire life as well.
View this post on Instagram
The LaValla School is the most special place that I have ever visited in my entire life. Located in a small rural village outside of Phnom Penh, LaValla is (somehow) the only government-approved school in the entire country of Cambodia that provides a full primary education to children with physical disabilities. Founded by the Marist Brothers over twenty years ago, the amount of genuine joy and happiness here is truly remarkable. I have never cried so hard leaving a place in my entire life. Perhaps @duffbus said it best: “I have obviously struggled to put into words the soulful beauty of life here, where God is ever so vibrantly present. It is something that I will do my very best to continue to share with you all, as this experience has already changed the man I am. With a filled heart and tremendous pleasure I am adding some pictures to try to encapture LaValla, the children, and their joy to be alive.” This school, these children, and this country will be forever in my heart. 🇰🇭
Jennifer: Yeah. I’m so glad that you shared that because when I saw that post I knew it was something that I wanted to talk to you about because I could feel how strongly your emotion was for that place, just from that social media post. And I think that sometimes telling those stories can really touch other people as well.
I’d love to hear about how you used social media in other ways during your Fulbright or how you wrote about it on your blog.
Andrew sees his personal website and blog as a kind of public journal
Andrew: Yeah, so that actually kind of also goes back to my undergrad. Someone really encouraged me to start journaling, which I think is a really great practice for gratitude and everything.
But I just really wanted to like have a little more polished and I made the decision of kind of having this public journal, if you will. And that kind of turned into this blog, which kind of turned into this website. And that was kind of like the evolution of it, if you will. Yeah.
So, you know, people always ask like, who am I writing for on the blog that I write? And you know, it’s for everyone, right? It’s the reason I put it up publicly on the internet, but I’m really writing it for me. To kind of bookmark my thinking about like where I was at different times.
And I like kind of looking back on that because I think it’s sometimes hard for us think about like the mindsets we had as time progresses, you know. So I have some posts back there from 2012 I think. And, really going with that.
With Twitter and Instagram and other social media networks…I really think of using Twitter as my main tool to learn. And you know, we could talk more about this, about like the change in Twitter from 140 characters to 280 characters and the new threading feature and everything like that.
But that’s where I get a lot of ideas, and often, you know, trying to share ideas as well. And you know, also in the political climate of 2020 making sure that we’re also sticking up for the most oppressed students in our country. Right.
So, if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll definitely see a lot of that and a lot of pushback with in regards to the current administration for sure. With my Fulbright abroad, you know, there’s another kind of funny story.
“On social media it went somewhat viral that I was there”
Andrew: So, you know, Twitter is not too big in Taiwan. This app called Line is. As is Facebook. But they use Facebook in a very different way than we use Facebook here in the United States. You know, I think in the United States there’s still this kind of personal spin on Facebook, right? Like it’s not really a place for professional ideas so much. And I think people use Twitter and LinkedIn for more of that. But in Taiwan it’s kind of like everything, right?
I’m at a conference in Kaohsiung and I took Chinese classes while I was over there, but my Chinese is really, really bad. Wǒ bù tài huì zhōngwén [我不太會中文], I can’t really speak any Chinese. Right?
So you know, but I was able to get by and hear some, you know, greeting phrases, order food at a night market, things like that.
So I’m, I’m at this big conference in Kaohsiung. And so think of it kinda like as like a state superintendent of education or something like that gets on stage. She’s actually currently the sitting Minister of Education, talking in Chinese. And one of my really good friends who was an English teacher is sitting next to me and she’s like translating for me. I guess on social media kind went somewhat viral that I was there.
I was the only westerner at this conference. I found myself in that situation often, which is to be expected for Fulbright. Right? That’s why I did it. Right. So I hear her say the word, “Měi guó lǎoshī” [美國老師] which translates to like ‘American teacher.’
When I asked Andrew for the spelling for this phrase, he let me know ‘Měi guó’ means the United States, but literally translates to ‘beautiful country.’
And I look at the person and I’m like, “What is she saying right now?” And like her face was like completely white. I like, she stopped translating, right?
So I was like, “What is she saying?” And like everyone started to look at me, right? So I’m like, oh my gosh, what is going on?
So she turns to me and she’s like, “Oh, she wants you to go on stage and she’s going to interview you in Chinese to test out your Chinese in front of them.”
Like, oh my God, this is like my worst nightmare. Right?
Jennifer: Did you do it? Did you go on stage?
Andrew: So I got up. I’m like standing on this stage with the though, you know, she wasn’t at the time, she’s now the Minister of Education for Taiwan. I’m like, oh my goodness gracious.
She asked me like these basic questions like what’s your name and things like that. So I’m able to like fumble by and my friend came on stage and she kind of helped me with the translations for things.
You know, there is a video of it somewhere online if you dig hard enough is honestly one of my favorite memories of like my Fulbright experience there.
Cause like that, you know, I was in a town where I don’t think that there were a lot of Westerners, a lot of people are coming up and taking selfies and stuff like that. I was like this mini-celebrity, right? I guess through Line and Facebook that went like somewhat viral in Taiwan.
So like for the next month after that, every school I visited people are you the American math teacher? You know, like every single place I would go.
So it was really kind of funny and you know, I’d see like people on the subway, like looking at the Facebook article and like looking at me and be like, I think this is him. You know?
Jennifer: That’s so funny that you were like trending on, on social media and that people even recognized you from it.
Andrew: Yeah, I mean, one of the really cool things about Taiwan is that the teaching communities are so interconnected and in ways that I don’t think we really have here, you know?
Jennifer: So like people are talking about what teachers are doing in other cities and other states.
Andrew: And I definitely think we have some like, you know, education superstars. I think like the Jo Boalers and Dan Meyers, the world and math education at least.
But you know, for teachers that are on the ground, I even when I was teaching, right, I couldn’t tell you what teachers and other cities, let alone other states were really doing, right?
Partially that’s…Taiwan’s geographically a lot smaller. You can take the high speed rail and get from Kaohsiung to Taipei in two hours. So there’s something to be said for that too. Whereas a two hour flight won’t even get you a third way through the continental U.S. here.
But they really do leverage social media to really constantly stay connected. And you know, when they meet at these conferences, they kind of just take it to the next level. So it’s kind of cool seeing that too.
Jennifer: And you say that staying connected and especially with how you learn and how you think about new ideas, Twitter is something that you do use for that. I’m curious about that balance.
Like you were talking about how you share different things on, on Twitter. How do you balance all of that?
Andrew talks about his alma maters, sports, education, and politics on social media
Andrew: Yeah, really great question. So I think if you follow me on Twitter for about two days you’ll realize that I talk about my Alma mater sports. Like, you know, go Seaton Hall, ranked #10 in the country right now. And you know, Marist Red Foxes, you know, Columbia Lions, and now the Vanderbilt Commodores.
You’ll hear me talk a lot about education and about my perceptions of the unjust actions that the current administration is currently taking. Both in a specific, in regards to our students, but also in a broader scale.
And what I believe is, is tremendously impacting our democracy. So I made a decision a few years ago that I really want my accounts to be authentic. I remember having a conversation with my current boss at Agile Mind, you know, about like that. And I said well, I really want to work for an organization where I can be me. Like be professional, right?
Like if you go through my Twitter or Instagram, there’s nothing that I’m going ashamed or embarrassed of. But it’s very clear who I am, you know, within two days of following me.
And I think that’s really important to stay true and authentic to yourself.
That being said, you know, I’m much more of a lurker on Twitter than I am a poster. I probably post maybe 2-3 original tweets a week. And then maybe, I don’t know, 10-15 retweets on average. I don’t know. You probably know the exact numbers better than me.
But I’m on Twitter all the time cause that’s the way for me to kind of stay glued into a lot of these conversations around equity, around improving the efficacy of public education, around education policy in a really meaningful and tangible way with people that are on the ground doing that work.
Jennifer: So you’re like reading tweets and engaging in conversations about things with people when you’re on Twitter, is that right?
Jennifer: Got it. You said that you spoke with your current employer about your social media practices. Was that at the interview stage?
Andrew: Yeah, I’ll be honest with you, I’m not really sure when…it definitely was that the interview stage. I think I was talking about like really investing in social media accounts with Agile Mind. Because I really believe in the mission and vision of the organization.
In my heart of hearts, I believe that we have the best curricular resource in the whole country. I feel like no one knows it, you know? I feel like no one really knows the incredible work that we’re doing. So one of the strategies that I suggested is really doubling down on our social media usage and Twitter and things like that.
And I think we have a really incredible research team and team that really thinks so large about these really big ideas. What do students need to learn, right? And how do these ideas progress over time?
And I think one of the things that we might be able to do better is communicating that message to the masses.
Jennifer: Right, of course.
Andrew: I led some initial PD [professional development]. One of the things I believe is if we’re gonna do this organization, we as individuals need to become more proficient in social media use. I think people were kind of being redirected to my pages and things like that.
And they were just wondering like, you know, is this a professional account? Is this a personal account?
In my opinion, those are one in the same. Which I know that could be controversial in some employers, and some places like that.
And I’m hyper cognizant of what I post on there, including when I’m giving my critique of the Trump administration. Right. but I want to make it clear where I stand with that.
Andrew: And I think part of the reason I put it out on Twitter is that we can engage in conversation about it in a meaningful way.
Jennifer: Yeah. And you said that you do stand by everything that you say and that that’s something that you’re really cognizant of, that when you share something, it’s something that you believe in. And that you feel needs to be shared.
Jennifer: A question that I get asked a lot from faculty members is like, is there a difference between a personal account and a professional account? Should I have two separate accounts? My answer is usually no.
Like it’s so much work to have multiple accounts.
Cause I do have a business account for, for my consulting business. But I am very personal on that as well. I talk about my personal life. I share personal things. So they’re really one in the same, it’s just kind of two different audiences for me, but it is also so much work to have two completely separate accounts.
I think that having one makes a lot of sense. Especially if you are caring about the things that you say and the things that you share.
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. No, I would say like, I’ll phrase it like this. Like there’s no tweets that I’ve sent in the last five years that you could show me that I’d be like, “Oh wow, I’m embarrassed by that. I need to go delete that now.” Right?
Jennifer: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: And some might be controversial, but I think that that’s part it. If you’re not going to share your ideas and your perspective, like what’s the point, right? Isn’t that the whole intent of social media?
I think there is a negative perversion of that when we get into this like fake news and things like that. And I think unfortunately, this line between opinion and news is kind of blurred a lot, especially on social media. You know?
As someone that’s, I’m not…I don’t hold an elected office. Right?
I’m not in a political capacity right now. I don’t really need to worry about that too much.
But you know, who knows, maybe that will change in the future.
Jennifer: Well I hope it does. Just from listening to you, I’m very much like, I hope you’re the Secretary of Education one day [laughs].
Andrew: They’d be finding this post and there’ll be like 20 years from now.
Andrew likes Twitter for learning and Instagram to share with family and friends
Jennifer: I know, right? So what about now as an educational advisor and an educational doctoral student? I’d love to hear about how do you share on different platforms?
Because you have a Twitter and you have an Instagram account. Do you have different audiences on those accounts?
Do you share different things? Do you share mostly the same thing?
Andrew: Yeah, that’s a really great question. I don’t think I post things or especially on Instagram, I don’t post things with the intent of like trying to go viral or trying to get my opinion out there.
Jennifer: So you’re not trying to reach a large audience necessarily.
Andrew: On my Instagram. Yeah. I think my Instagram, if you look at a lot of the pictures, it’s a lot more traveling pictures. More like family pictures. Pictures with friends and things like that.
I’m more just like trying to communicate in a passive way. Kind of what’s gone on in my life I guess. Whereas my Twitter, I do look at that as like an opportunity to be involved in a larger conversation with people that I may know, people that I may not know as well.
Jennifer: So you have a slightly different approach to each platform. And it sounds like maybe the Instagram is a little bit more like the journaling aspect that you see with your blog. But for travel things and family related things.
Andrew: Yeah, I think that’d be a fair assessment, you know. And I think a lot of times the posts on Instagram are very purposeful of me trying to kind of tell a story, you know? But not really in a way that’s trying to be, you know, there’s this kind of movement of like this influencer community. Not so much like that.
More like trying to kind of just convey this story for my friends and family. And trying to push their thinking on the margins about, in this case, what the world is like. And you know, like I talked about Cambodia and I was learning about the Cambodian genocide.
And we talked about my Peru trip before. But when I was Peru we learned about, you know, some of the really sad history of Peru in the early nineties and things like that. Like things that I’ve never even heard of before, you know? So, I wrote a blog post about that and shared it with some people. But again, those are more for friends and family really no intention to necessarily go viral.
Whereas Twitter I’m trying to engage with the larger community. I think the other thing, and people have given me feedback before about this and I actually think that I’m perhaps wrong and they’re perhaps right, but I’m not really looking to add followers on Twitter necessarily.
I’m just looking to really just be engaged with the larger conversation and if someone chooses to follow me, I think that’s fantastic. But that’s really not why I’m on that platform.
Jennifer: No, I completely agree. And I also feel like if your message is strong enough or important enough, it does tend to reach a much larger audience when it needs to [on Twitter].
Yeah, for me, I don’t try to find more followers. I mostly engage with my current audience and then people happen to see something that I share because their friend had shared it and they’ve seen it. But I’m never out for like more followers and that’s one of the reasons my accounts are still on like the smaller end for businesses
But I engage in conversations with the people who do follow me all the time. And that’s really what’s most important to me.
On missing old Twitter and the 140 character tweet
Jennifer: Can I ask which is your favorite social media platform? Is it the Instagram or the Twitter?
Andrew: Yes, originally it was…If you’d asked me this question two years ago, I would’ve said Twitter 100%. I’m really sad that Twitter has changed some of the way that it operates.
I think when Twitter that you needed 140 characters. I think you really need to be clever about how to get your message across in 140 characters. And there was no threading. Right? And at the time there was no…I don’t know if you remember, but there was no 1/17 tweets, right? Like it was like this was your 1 tweet to like sell your idea about this.
And like, you know, I’m going to butcher this, but you’ve heard this in the academy as well. It’s like, if you have a week to write something, you’ll write a book, right? And if you have a day to write something, you’re going to write an essay, right? And if you have an hour to write something…Or, kind of the other way around, right?
The more time you have, you really think about what is critical and what is not. I think that was like really great with how Twitter used to be, you know? It’s conveying these really quick ideas very quickly. Right? Like I could read a tweet and like, I got it because that was, that person’s very condensed thought.
Jennifer: That’s all they had.
Andrew: Yeah, that’s all they had. If I wanted more information, I would read their website. I would read their blog. I would PM them [private message], right? Or, whatever that may be. Now, and again, this is completely my opinion, right?
As Twitter has changed to 280 characters and I can thread messages, what’s the difference between Twitter and Facebook now? Right?
Jennifer: [Laughs] Yeah, there’s not much of a difference except that your post reaches a lot more people.
Andrew: Exactly, right. And you know, Twitter’s more to help find people you may not know. Whereas Facebook is more for people you have met.
It’s like, and all of a sudden now, even though I control who I follow and I kind of prune out that list every now and then I find my timeline like flooded with cat photos, you know,?
Jennifer: [Laughs. And checks to see how many cat photos I posted this week.]
Andrew: Like how the retweets work and everything like that. And I’m reading these like passages. And it’s like 18 tweets about like this mediocre event that happened, you know?
And like on old Twitter I would have read that 140-characters and moved on. Now I’m just like, I just wasted two minutes of my life reading this.
Jennifer: Oh, that’s so interesting because I only joined Twitter two years ago, so I don’t know old Twitter. I don’t remember the 140 character like time that you’re talking about because I never experienced it. I avoided Twitter like, so hard. I never went on it.
The only tweets I saw were like in the newspaper. And so I really only recently joined Twitter. So like I like that I can engage in conversations and I can talk with people all over the world.
So I like Twitter when I’m on it, but I definitely enjoy Instagram more.
Andrew: Yeah, interesting. I guess like every pro has it’s con right. I also don’t like this idea for Instagram, of getting the perfect shot necessarily.
The last story I’ll say about Peru is you know, I was eating at this restaurant called Central in Lima, Peru, one of the best restaurants in the world. It was incredible, right?
I’m so jealous of Andrew’s visit to Central, a restaurant owned by Chef Virgilio Martínez Véliz. Read all about Andrew’s recent trip in “Perú: Un Viaje Maravilloso” on his blog.
And the table over from us with this table of Americans and older Americans. And they were talking about how they chose not to do the Sacred Valley tour because they felt like it wasn’t Instagramable. It was just really off-putting and rather disconcerting, you know?
And I think cultural wave has definitely invaded that platform, you know? And I also think there’s this reality and like, I wonder about this too, of like, you know, even traveling all the time, there’s a lot of pros, but there’s a lot of tough cons as well.
You know, and you look at my Instagram posts, you only see the happy posts, right? Even for me. But not every moment when you’re traveling or these, you know, rainbows of amazing opportunities.
You know, there’s a lot of lonely nights. There’s a lot of times where you’re not doing anything, right? If I didn’t have this interview tonight…if we didn’t have this interview, I’d be kind of here by myself.
And that’s the price to pay. And I’m super privileged and I don’t want anyone to feel bad for me at all, right? But I think sometimes when we’re looking at someone’s Instagram page, it’s like, oh, wow.
It seems like everyone has a perfect life. Right? When in reality it’s not. It’s a lot more complicated than that. So I think that’s one of the big cons. Instagram is like you know…
Jennifer: It’s a portion.
Andrew: It’s not…yeah, it’s the highlight reel, right? It’s literally their highlights reel.
So you know, I’m not going to put a picture of my empty hotel room tonight. You know, like that’d be like “I’m in Rhode Island!” Right?
Like so I just think people need to be cognizant of that when they’re going on that site that we’re looking at people’s highlights. And, this is really great. We should, you know, join in and cherishing these moments with them, but acknowledge that they have rough moments just like we all do too.
Jennifer: Yeah, absolutely. Actually, one of the things that I like on Instagram is that a lot of, especially doctoral students are talking about the struggles that they have. And talking about mental health issues. And how difficult things are when they’re editing their dissertations and things.
So I actually like seeing that some people do try and share the struggle and how hard life can also be some times. And are finding community there. There’s an account that I like called @PhDBalance that has a lot of good resources for graduate students. That anyone who’s listening, if you are looking for a community to talk about that with, they’re a good resource.
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If your employer were to see your photo or social media post, would you be embarrassed?
Jennifer: I do want to ask, what advice would you give to new teachers or grad students who are joining social media?
Andrew: Really great question. I think I alluded to this before, but I think for each person they need to consider like if they were to post a photo, or a tweet, or you know, whatever kind of [social media post]…TikTok is popular now. And think, if their employer were to see it, would they feel embarrassed about that?
And when they do, I would say they should delete it. And I think that’s different person to person. And I think if your answer is yes, I would be embarrassed if my boss saw this, I think that’s probably a good idea not to post that.
Jennifer: Yeah, I agree. That’s a good general rule because it’s about what you’re comfortable with and everyone’s rule is a little bit different. But I think that’s so important to think about, yeah.
Andrew: Yeah. And you know, I think especially with photos, once you post that photo is out there forever. Right? And just being aware of that.
And again, someone else’s line might be different than my line, right? Like I infuse a lot of politics into my conversations about education.
I am of the belief that they’re inseparable, right? Any act of teaching is a highly political act, especially when we’re in a government-funded school, right? Like we are teaching what the government tells us that we need to teach. Right? And when you frame it like that, it’s like, oh wow, teaching is inherently political. Even the math, you know?
So I don’t mind that, you know. And, and I’m okay with, you know, if I’m going up for a principal job 5-10 years from now and they’re like, oh, we didn’t hire you because of that tweet. I’ll be disappointed in the moment, but I won’t regret it.
Andrew: So I think that’s kind of thing. I think the other thing that I would be cognizant of is there’s so much negativity out there, you know, in all sectors, but specifically education about students and things like that.
I know you asked me previously about like the #ThingsMyStudentsSay hashtag. I didn’t start that [hashtag], right?
But like I just did that cause I wanted this counternarrative of like, look how amazing my students are. You know? And I feel like that so often gets lost in sharing.
Things that go viral are things that are like shocking moments, or things that are negative, or bad. And I think it’s a lot harder for like these like micro positive moments to go viral, you know?
But I really want to just really encourage teachers to like make sure that we are sharing positive stories about our students. And we’re not reinforcing stereotypes. You know, either consciously or you know, subconsciously-type thing.
Jennifer: Yeah. You just never know who’s reading your tweets and who is seeing men who’s feeling hurt or upset by it too.
I’m always recommending that people be wary of what they say about their students on, on social media, especially because you never know who’s going to see that.
Andrew: Yeah, I agree.
Fulbright blogs, dumplings, missing the night market and personal websites
Jennifer: Yeah. So you do have a personal website and we talked a little bit about that. But not all of my interviewees do. And you’ve had one for a long time, you said. Can you tell me like, why this was so important to you?
Andrew: Yeah, and again, I think I alluded to this before, but it kind of started with that journaling piece. I’ve gotten pushback against this too, but like, I love writing, but I don’t like physically writing words. I like typing them and like having my thoughts kind of come up on the computer. Yeah, that’s kinda how it really started. And it’s like if I’m typing these things up, I polish them and kind of send them to like friends and family, you know?
And you know, a lot of posts, you know, during my teaching time was pretty much always about education or years in review, things like that.
And then when I got Fulbright, you know, we had this orientation at the State Department in Washington D.C. And they really encourage us to kind of polish up our blogs and turn them into websites if we had them so that way future Fulbrighters can reference what you wrote. Yeah, and it was really helpful…
Jennifer: Oh, I see. So you were encouraged to do it. And then when you did it, you enjoyed it.
Andrew: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And that’s true. Like a lot of these blogs, they don’t necessarily get a lot of views, but the people that do read them is very meaningful for them.
Jennifer: Yeah. So it is a strong connection between the things that you write and the people who’ve read it, even if it’s not a massive number of readers.
Andrew: Exactly. You know, and for me, like I followed a few Fulbright ETAs [English Teaching Assistants] that went to Taiwan, you know, and you know, I remember, I can’t even find this article. It’s like, you know you read something and I looked the next day you try to find it? Or like, you know, you’re like looking through your history and you can’t find it. And then it just drives you crazy.
There’s this Fulbright ETA blog in Taiwan talking about like dumplings of all things and I’m just like curious. I clicked it. And I kind of like all types of food, right? And I really love Asian food. I was like, oh, this is gonna be great. And she talked about the progression of dumplings and her time there. I’m like, what is this about? You know?
And she talks about how like when you first get there and you go to a night market and you ask how much the dumplings are and they’re like, “oh, it’s like 10 dumplings for dollar. ” And you’re like 10 dumplings for a dollar? And then you eat the dumplings and they’re like the best steamed dumplings you’ve ever had your entire life. Right?
Oh my God, it’s amazing. I bought 10 dumplings for dollar and this is the best dumplings like I’ve ever had. Right. And then like she like goes through this progression of like, and then that lasts for like two weeks.
And then by the third week you like are sick of dumplings. Right. And then like, you know, but then time goes on. And then dumplings is the only thing you could afford. Cause you spend all your money.
So it goes from this like thing of like this pure bliss, right? And then it goes into this like, oh, it’s so mundane. And like now I have to eat it and like I don’t even like it anymore. And then it ends with her being back in the, in the States. Right?
And like, she’s like, I miss my Taiwanese dumplings. Right. It’s this metaphor for I think your time abroad.
Jennifer: What a great way to tell the story though. And the fact that you remembered it even after seeing it once. And you’re telling it to me now and I’m like, I want to go read this blog about dumplings. That sounds like fun.
Andrew: And this is true for all your readers. Please send it to me. I will send you like a $5 gift certificate to Starbucks. I didn’t know it was up there anymore, but like it was such a great blog post.
So well written, you know? And I just can’t find it. Like I’ve tried all combinations of Taiwanese dumplings, Fulbright, ETA. Like hours trying to find this blog post that I cannot find him. And I’m dead serious when I say this, but it was just so well written.
Jennifer: So how meaningful it was for you. You read it once and you went back trying to find it for hours because it was so meaningful. And that’s amazing.
Andrew: Again, I’m going into a tangent now. But like I felt the same thing. Right? But I’m like cognizant of it. So, like for the people who have never been to to Asia and a night market in East Asia, it is nothing like our country ever has. It’s like a farmer’s market, and a party, and a block party, every night. And it’s like amazing, you know?
It is, it is such an amazing part of their culture that I really miss in Western culture. You know? And like I went through the same exact thing, you know, and it was just like, I was very cognizant every dumpling I ate about that story, you know?
So I think if you read a lot of the blog posts I wrote about Taiwan, you’re going to see two major themes, right? Obviously I was there to research education. So that’s going to be a major theme.
But also think I was trying to play on this like American abroad theme, you know, and what does it mean to be a white privileged male American in a foreign country during the era of Trump, you know?
I asked the Assistant Secretary of State, how do we answer questions about school shootings?
Andrew: And, I was in South Korea, you know, and I was actually at a Marist school in South Korea. And I was eating dinner with one of them, some of the Marist Brothers. I was actually there for the Olympics. I stopped by for dinner one night there.
They graciously hosted me, and I remember them saying “If you don’t mind me asking, can we ask you a personal question?”
I said, “Yes, sure.”
And they were like, “Why in America do they call police officers, teachers?”
And I was like, “No, they don’t. It’s two different jobs, you know?”
They’re like, “No, no. I heard online that they want to give the guns to the teachers.”
Jennifer: Oh, yeah.
Andrew: And now I’m in this foreign context, right? And, I need to try to explain why this is while also explaining that I disagree with it at the same time. Right? And that’s a complicated thing to navigate, you know? So you know, that happened multiple times.
Unfortunately when I was there, there were many school shootings in America. And I’d walk into a school and they would ask me about it. And I was at a loss for words. Or a Trump tweet, right?
And whatever it may be, you know. It’s really challenging in those environments.
Actually the Assistant Secretary of State, Marie Royce came to Taiwan to open up the American Institute in Taiwan, it’s the de facto embassy. And I remember, you know, we were at a small audience with her. Here’s this kind of senior States person from Washington D.C. reporting at the time directly to Rex Tillerson, right?
And she had a Question & Answer and I asked her that. And I said, “Secretary Royce, I want to first say that I thank you for giving me this opportunity. I’m very grateful for it. But I hope, you know, it’s been really challenging being abroad during this error and constantly having to defend decisions that I don’t agree with. How do you answer these questions? You know, as a cultural ambassador for the United States, how does one answer questions about school shootings, right? Or, the vicious political divide in our country?”
Because every school I go to, Oh, how many times does an American walk into an average school in Taiwan? Very, very rarely. Right? So of course they’re gonna be asking me these questions and “I really grappled with how to answer these questions.”
And also in addition to like, these are people that I had just met in a very direct culture, right? Like in Taiwan, in East Asia in general, it’s a very direct culture. So they’re just going to ask you directly the question, you know?
Whereas I think in the U.S. sometimes we try to build up that relationship before we get to those more controversial questions and there’s no value proposition. And I’m not saying it’s good or bad, it’s just different.
Me asking this question to the sitting Assistant Secretary of State, you know, and her basically shrugging her shoulders and saying like, “did you hear about this new app we launched?” And like, that’s it for questions. Have a good day, you know.
And, and everything in between that, you know, and really thinking through like what that means.
So again, just long story short, like I think if you read a lot of my other posts, you’ll see this kind of this storyline of what does it mean to be an American abroad during this era of American politics.
Jennifer: Oh, I’m so glad that I asked more about the website. It sounds like your blog is very personal.
And you talk about the things that you think about and the things that you do, but that what you choose to write about is very personal. It’s a choice. I really liked that.
Andrew: Thank you.
Andrew can talk about education policy, pedagogy, and curriculum ‘all day and all night’
Jennifer: Okay. So my last question is what do you enjoy most about talking about maybe your work online, on social media or your website? What do you get out of it?
Andrew: Wow, really great question to end the night. My friends and family will be the first people to say, I am super passionate about education, right?
I can talk about education policy, or pedagogy, or curriculum, or issues in education all day and all night.
It is my bias, right? Like I really believe that if we were able to transform our public school system, our system of education, the overwhelming majority of a lot of the contemporary challenges we have would disappear. And that’s my bias. You know, I acknowledge that it’s my bias I wear on my sleeve, you know?
But I sometimes think that we are kind of in this you know, pre-evidence era in education, right?
Imagine if we go back to the Civil War, right? And there were, there were medics during the Civil War, there were doctors.
They didn’t really know what they were doing, right? But they really cared for their patients. But they didn’t even know about hand-washing, literally. And once you went to the hospital, it’s pretty much a death sentence, right? Cause you’re getting sepsis or something like that and you pretty much done, right?
But no one claims that those doctors weren’t brave or they weren’t caring.
Over the next hundred years, we learned a lot about the biology of medicine, right? And hey, there are these things called germs. And we need to wash our hands.
And at the time that was really controversial in the medical community are like, don’t tell me what to do. I’m a doctor. I’m not going to wash my hands, right?
Jennifer: Right [laughs].
Andrew: We laugh at that now, right? But in the late 1800s this was a serious thing: how do we get doctors to wash their hands, right? And we’ve come so far from that, right? Like medicine is night and day when it was a hundred years ago.
And over the course of the next 10, 20 years with the power of artificial intelligence [AI] and these emerging technologies, it’s going to even take it to the next step, right? I sometimes worry that in education, we know so much about cognitive science, we know so much about how students learn, but it very rarely makes it’s way into the classroom.
You know, before John Hopkins can come around, you can go to some guy living in a cave and he’ll rub the rock on your shoulder to get rid of your strep throat, right? Or you can go to John Hopkins University and they’re applying the emerging science of biology to treat your strep throat.
I think that’s true in education now, right? I think there’s so many deeply caring teachers that really genuinely love their students. And it’s no critique on them necessarily, right? It’s like I’m critiquing the system to be clear.
But like, how can we implement, you know, a lot of this emerging cognitive science that we’ve learned in the last 10 or 15 years? And really increased the likelihood that all of our students are thriving in public education, you know?
I really perhaps I’m like a hopeless romantic, or you know, an optimist until the day I die. But I really fundamentally believe that we can do this, right? It’s going to take a lot of hard work, right?
Like, I don’t think anyone that goes to med school or anyone that has a PhD thinks is going to easy, right? But by professionalizing the profession, and trying to get some of this idea from the academy into practice, and really rethinking the power dynamics in schools, I really genuinely, my heart of hearts, I believe we can work to a day where every child in the country, no matter where they’ve been born can have the opportunity to attain a truly excellent education.
And I think maybe the Twitter, Instagram, my website, the blog posts, what I do as senior advisor, and what I do at Vanderbilt is just one small step to getting us there.
Jennifer: That’s amazing. And what a note to end the show on. This conversation has really been fascinating. I feel like I’ve learned so much from I guess the last 45 minutes or so. And it’s been great talking to you. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up?
Andrew: Thank you so much for having me on. And feel free to share my email address (check the bio below). If you guys are interested in hearing more, I would love to kind of, you know, talk through Twitter, or email, or we can jump on the phone, or over Zoom too. But I really appreciate it.
And you know, as we often say at Agile Mind, thank you guys all for listening, and working hard, and growing your brain.
Thanks for checking out the opening interview of 2020
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Andrew Paulsen is currently a senior advisor with Agile Mind, an organization that is transforming the teaching and learning of mathematics and science throughout the United States. In 2018, Paulsen spent a year abroad researching eastern teaching approaches in Kaohsiung, Taiwan as a Fulbright Scholar.
Before joining Agile Mind, Paulsen was an instruction coach and math teacher at East Side High School, the largest comprehensive high school in Newark, New Jersey. During his teaching career, Paulsen was named as a teacher representative to the School Improvement Panel, chaperoned numerous overnight college visits, and was the faculty advisor for the public speaking club and Math Olympics. Paulsen has also previously taught adjudicated adults in correctional facilities through the Petey Greene Program and led the academic programming effort on behalf of the nonprofit Hockey in New Jersey.
Originally from Levittown, New York, Andrew received his B.A. from Marist College, his master’s degree in educational policy from Seton Hall University, and an Ed.M. in public school leadership from Columbia University.
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Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and public relations consultant. She founded The Academic Designer, LLC to help academics, researchers, and writers control their online presence and share their work with the world.
She holds a B.A. from Monmouth University in English, and an M.F.A. from Naropa University in Writing & Poetics where she was the Jack Kerouac Fellow. Jennifer also holds an M.A. from University of Louisiana at Lafayette in Literature and Cultural Studies where she was one of four master’s fellows and a finalist for the Outstanding Master’s Graduate Award.