DisruptED TV Magazine

Finding Voice through Student-Led Podcasting

By Hans Appel

Last Spring, when I announced to the education world that I was creating a student-led leadership podcast; despite knowing almost NOTHING about how to create one, I took a giant professional risk. (Here’s a look back at my decision to podcast and my recent appearance on Barbara Bray’s Rethink_Learning podcast discussing my ‘WHY’ for creating this podcast platform). However, when educators are willing to model risk-taking and a fail forward mindset, students have the potential to be the greatest benefactors. Over the past few months our Award Winning Culture Podcast (AWC) students have slowly discovered their voice both figuratively and literally.

*Subscribe, Rate, and Review AWC on Apple Products: iTunes Apple Podcast

Creating a podcast, which has been largely unconnected to a particular class, assignment or homework, has offered our students an outlet of creativity, self expression, and student choice. While most of our podcast students are specifically passionate about leadership and school culture, they’re effectively working through a master class in self-discovery. Often times, school podcasts and other project based learning make a common error when establishing the class teacher as both the evaluator and sole consumer of the student learning product. Elevating this passion project beyond the classroom provided students with the knowledge that their work would not just be seen or heard by a teacher. It’s been refreshing for them to know that what their building matters outside the walls of the schoolhouse. A point that David Geurin so eloquently makes in his landmark book, “Future Driven”. Learning becomes “irresistible, when visible to real audiences,” Geurin explains. Thus, doing their best work as podcasters isn’t about earning a grade, it’s about wanting to create a platform of inspiration that ripples through K-12 education in cities around the globe. When a student knows that their reach of voice has the potential to impact, touch lives, and influence students and adults in communities beyond theirs; student learning knows no bounds…no limitations…and no obstacles. While grades often have no tangibility to soak up, student-led podcasts can offer an authenticity that’s highly palatable. How often do assignments simply get recycled or thrown away, at the end of the grading period? Our AWC students recognize that their work lives on forever. It’s like creating a piece of art and then giving it away for others to enjoy. The attention to detail with their version of auditory art is simply noteworthy, moving, and beautiful.

We’ve managed to build capacity in many outstanding ways which includes, but is not limited to: debrief, leadership, and choice. Each podcast is broken down into various parts: intro, main interview, rapid fire questions, debrief…with a prerecorded opening and closing montagues acting as the end caps on the final podcast product. During each of our interview recording sessions we have 2 students conducting an interview and an additional 1–2 students acting as debrief participants. Debrief student’s primary role is to act as director, producer, and screenwriter for the debrief portion of the podcast. Also, as debrief students they may create on the fly questions to share with interview students, work through technical issues, and ensure an overarching great production value. Finally, they join the interview students at the end of the podcast for a recorded wrap up conversation. Essentially, our debrief portion of the podcast is a 3–10 minute reflection time for students to share key insights, takeaways, or application to their lives, Wildcat Nation or society. When students are able to listen at both the micro and macro levels of communication and then apply their learning to systemic school culture actionable items of positivity, we’ve effectively forever shattered the ceiling on student voice.

For instance, during one podcast, our students were inspired by speaker, author, and leadership consultant, James C Hunter’s words about lonely students. During this episode, Hunter shares insights into the Servant Leadership Model from his international bestsellers “The Servant” and “The Culture”,which WildcatNation’s Character Strong program was founded on. In response to the student question of what advice would he give his 13 year old self, Hunter responds with:

“What I would tell my 13 year old self, is go sit with that kid who’s sitting all by himself.”

By processing his message and then applying it to their own lunchtime behavior of choosing to either invite a lonely student to lunch or going and sitting with that student, our podcast students created a ripple of kindness that everyone could be proud of. As seen in this piece about Wildcat Nation winning the 2018 Global Class Act for Kindness. And, by amplifying these student voices to then share this experience, learning outcome, and behavior change (sitting with lonely students), AWC created a tidal wave of kindness as students, educators, and parents around the world were influenced by this form of positivity through a concept I’ve dubbed ‘secondary experiential learning.’ Experiential learning is a form of learning through reflection on doing. Our podcasters deepen their own learning as they reflect on their active or action learning from their behavioral changes in the lunch room. However, by then sharing these metacognitions through podcasting, listeners have the ability to reflect and absorb a secondary experiential learning vicariously through the podcasters’ experience. If students present powerful verbal imagery, the result can be exceptional in the minds and hearts of listeners. Evidence of AWC’s impact on secondary experiential learning is seen by students who have reached out, from other schools, to share how they have subsequently changed their lunch time routine after hearing our students’ experience on our podcast. In other words, people can be deeply moved toward their OWN kindness action by understanding on a visceral level the joy that AWC podcasters received, following their act of kindness. Now that’s next level special learning!

In other instances, learning through student voice comes in the form of writing. I’m amazed at the professionalism that our debrief students have demonstrated as they take incredible notes that are meaningful to them. Again, not because they’re being asked to or their grade reflects some sort of note-taking. They take pride in writing down ideas, quotes, feelings, from the interview because they recognize that these notes will become the backbone to bringing the debrief portion of the podcast to fruition. And the format of these personalized notes has been in a variety of styles: sketchnotes, cornell notes, outlines, and even full transcripts. Our students have been taught various note-taking strategies for years and finally find themselves with the autonomy to apply those skills into whatever way works best for them. This example of student choice ensures that the quality of work (in this case note-taking) is far superior to what students might otherwise produce in a traditional teacher-centered class environment.

Additionally, students’ leadership skills are being strengthened by enhancing student voice and choice. Our podcasters are involved with any of the following: blogging about their experience, planning an upcoming retreat to onboard new podcasters, researching and inviting new guests on the show, making gift bags for guests, and studying guest’s life works (books, videos, websites, etc. to prepare for epic interviews. This is not to say that every student associated with AWC does every part of the production. Instead, by playing to student strengths, interests, and aptitudes, we maximize our success in the same way that a company or business in the real world might do. If creating gift baskets doesn’t fall into a students wheelhouse of skills, their energies might be better used to edit, splice, and format the final production on garageband. The truth is when we highlight what makes each team member GREAT, we’re essentially helping others identify the importance of a team made up of different personalities, abilities, and attributes. The research seems crystal clear that a strengths based model to education is far more powerful than focusing on student deficits. Thus, rather than remediating the students inability to design gift baskets we emphasize their technological talent. What a fresh approach to the removal of remdiation and a focus on strength based learning might have on the educational ecosystem. Furthermore, when we establish truly diverse student work groups (in this case our AWC podcast team) we invariably find such a wide variety of skill sets that the entire team becomes a stronger unit. Isn’t that why adult leaders always suggest hiring people who don’t possess the same strengths as they themselves possess? In the real world, surrounding ourselves with diversity has powerful business, societal, and equitable implications. The indirect lesson of valuing diversity within the group is such a lovely gift to students. While I believe AWC has seen a few of the benefits of group diversity; over the course of the next year, we need and want to broaden our team to more greatly maximize this potential life lesson and ultimately create an even better podcast.

Lastly, we’ve had students who have been committed to going above and beyond for the betterment of the podcast. Students have volunteered to come in on a Sunday during winter break to record a podcast. Also, our students recently showed up at 6:30am to prepare for a Skype presentation with a group of curriculum directors across the country. What type of student would be excited to give an oral presentation to a group of adults an hour and half before school started? Passionate student-centered learners! Geurin reminds readers that “our goal should be for our kids to be more excited about learning tomorrow than they are today.” Students have stayed after school or given up their lunch to work on post production tweeks, prepare interview questions, or re-record an item. It’s been enlightening to see how their standard of excellence has also evolved over time. As they’ve listened to themselves and each other, they’ve developed an ear for great work. They now self identify when improvement can be made and are inordinately open to feedback from peers and adult educators.

In One recent situation, a student re-recorded an intro 15 times because he was determined to get it “just right.” Evidence of their excitement to podcast isn’t only in their own words and actions. Parents of our podcasters have reached out to me to share how much this leadership project has meant to their son or daughter. According to some parents, it’s been a high motivator and or reason to come to school. In fact, apparently, they talk about it constantly at home with their families. YES! These inwardly focused adolescents, who are trying to survive middle school are apparently so revved up about their own work that they’re even willing to discuss it with their own parents. This is quite an accomplishment to anyone who’s lived with a teenage son or daughter; as parents around the world try to uncover what their child did at school each day. For these students to volunteer such positive feedback, this speaks volumes to the power of student voice.

How often would a student work this tirelessly in a traditional teacher-centered model? I would postulate not often enough, unless it was a highly capable student struggling with perfectionism tendencies or there was some sort of grade and/or extrinsic reward attached to the work. I suggest that student voice and student-centered classes conjure up the intrinsic desire to learn that Geurin alluded to. Sure there are some kids who might be so self motivated to be teacher pleasers that their willing to do anything for quality work. However, if classrooms avoid student voice and instead settle in on teacher-directed learning, we miss the opportunity which I believe should be our greatest educational mandate:

I believe education at its highest level should be about helping students find their JOY.”

*Can you imagine a learning environment where students take such pride in their work and are given empowerment to redo, fix, and improve until the finished product is truly OUTSTANDING?

*Can you imagine the creativity that students are capable of when pursuing passion projects based on curiosity?

*Can you imagine the heights of educational fortitude that could be reached when students explore their JOY?

Now to be honest, I’m not sure if voice creates choice or choice creates voice. But no matter the educational theory, its evident that the two go hand in hand.

Fortunately, there are incredible educators around the world who are trading out traditional models for more impactful student driven learning. My challenge to the educators is to reach for something MORE meaningful! Something beyond the 4 walls of your classroom or even schoolhouse.

Kids these days are gonna change the world…why not give them the VOICE to start TODAY?

About the Author: Hans Appel has worked as a counselor in the Richland School District for the past 18 years and at Enterprise Middle School since it opened. He’s passionate about school culture, servant leadership, and kindness.

In 2018, EMS was awarded the ASCD Whole Child Award for the State of Washington and the Global “Class Act Award” for creating a culture of excellence through kindness, service, and empathy. Recently, Hans launched his own blog about School Culture and this fall rolled out a student-led leadership podcast called Award Winning Culture: Hosted by Wildcat Nation, which can be subscribed, listened or reviewed on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify, and Libsyn. He can be contacted at Hans.Appel@rsd.edu. Follow Hans on twitter @hansappel094 or Wildcat Nation at @emswildcats1 and Instagram @emscounseling #WildcatNation #AwardWinningCulture

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