Episode #84: Authenticity for Learning in a Global Society with Dr. Leigh Zeitz

By Barbara Bray

Join Barbara Bray in conversations with awesome educators, leaders, and influencers as they talk about their passion and purpose for planting seeds for change. Each podcast has a link to a related blog post with more information and resources.

Leigh Zeitz (Dr. Z) is an Associate Professor, Instructional Technology & Coordinator for the Instructional Technology division at the University of Northern Iowa College of Education, Iowa. He has had the opportunity to teach all grade levels from 1st through 12th in Public, Private, and Prison schools.

Over Leigh’s 43 years of teaching, he has developed a vision of education which involves challenging and empowering learners by providing a learning environment that is teacher-guided and student-driven. Dr. Z has been an active member of ISTE for over 30 years and in 2018, he was awarded the U.S. President’s Volunteer Service Award for his work.
Your background
I actually grew up in Southern California in Burbank right across the street from Walt Disney Studios, then we moved to La Canada which is west of Pasadena. I went through kindergarten through 12th grade there. I had a great family life with a brother and sister. I must admit I lived in a tree for a lot of my time. When I was about 5 years old, I looked at this tree and really wanted to live on the top of that tree so what I needed was a ladder. So I built a ladder with some pieces of wood, hammer, and nails until I got to the top of the tree. Then I built a treehouse with a 3×3 floor and sat up there with my transistor radio. Eventually, I built an 8 story split-level treehouse with a pole and slide. That was when I was 8-13 and where I really enjoyed exploring, trying new things. It was great for me to have a place where I could be by myself or with my friends. I was given two rules. 

* I couldn’t use new wood. 
* You can’t have any adults help you.

Here is a picture of a newspaper article that I found when I was a young boy. Here’s what the article wrote:
Double, double toil and trouble…
… fire burn and cauldron bubble (shades of Macbeth). Halloween fun is brewing as the La Canada School PTA awaits the annual carnival this Saturday. A nice PTA “witch” (Mrs. Hyatt) stirs the cauldron as Patty and Leigh Zeitz and Robert and John Morgan view with alarm. 
 What it was like when you were a student
I was 100 pounds in first grade. When people would call me fatso, I would punch them. I was relatively intelligent and did well in school. In 5th grade, I thought, “enough of this, so I’m just going to work on social stuff now.”  My grades dropped a little bit, but things went well in elementary school. In middle school, I did relatively well and was in speech, choir, and an operetta where I was the father in Hansel and Gretel. In high school, I was in football because I was large and was in the Latin Club and Speech Club. In my senior year, I discovered drama, loved it, and was in a couple of school plays. One of the things I realized is that I liked working with and helping other people.
Your family
I’ve been married to my wonderful wife, Kathy, for 38 years. We met in a Marine Biology class many years ago. We have 3 sons: Wes 37, Jeff 35, and Chris 33 who blessed us with  2 wonderful grandsons who are James 8 and Tyler 6. I I knew how cool grandkids are, I would have had them first.

Becoming an educator
I can never remember I time that I didn’t want to be a teacher. When I was in high school, I tutored younger students in reading. I taught magic classes at a local youth organization. It’s always been something I wanted to do. Befoe I went to college in Santa Barbara, my dad suggested that I become a lawyer and major in economics which was a big mistake. I flunked out of my first class but I did learn about a professor who was working with talking chimps. I volunteered to work with him and learned about the written language they were teaching the chimps that were plastic pieces on a magnetic board. This was incredible, and I loved it. I actually worked with a baby Orangutan to create an environment where they could learn.