The podcast origin story, my journey with Anchor, bloopers, and future direction
On Sunday, March 24, I published my 75th episode of the Teachers on Fire podcast. It featured a conversation with Annick Rauch, an amazing primary teacher who is doing some inspiring things around growth mindset and global collaboration in her classroom.
It also marked exactly one year since I published my very first episode, an interview with Stephanie Langlois. Stephanie is a high school Math and Science teacher who has a passion for righting the wrongs of colonialism and bringing indigenous understandings to education.
What is the Teachers on Fire podcast?
On Teachers on Fire, I profile agents of growth and transformation in K-12 education. Each week, I chat with an inspiring educator to bring you their highs and lows, passions and goals, and the voices and influences that are shaping their thinking and inspiring their practice.
I’ve learned a ton of things along this podcasting journey, and I wrote about some of my early lessons two months into the project. Those early lessons apply as much today as they did then, and I won’t repeat them all here.
Instead, I’d like to share more of the origin story.
The Origin Story
I still remember my second week of spring break in 2018 (yes, most districts in BC get two weeks of spring break). Thanks to a lack of synchronization between my school and the one my boys attended, they were back in school and my wife was back to work while I was still on break.
Five days of creative time.
Five days to figure out how to launch my dream — a new podcast that would feature educators. I’d been thinking about it for months, and I knew the time had finally come to make it happen.
More of the Context: Contributing Factors
There were a ton of contributing and encouraging factors along the way, some of which I’ve mentioned in this space previously.
- As part of my Master’s program, I read Mindset by Carol Dweck in the summer of 2017. I call this a life-changing book, and I often recommend it on my podcast. Among other applications, Mindset encouraged me to put myself in stretching situations. If I’m not being challenged, I’m not growing. For the curious, here are the 29 most essential quotes that I took from her book.
- At some point in 2017, one of my stepsons introduced me to an app called Anchor. Anchor made the bold claim of being a one-stop-shop for podcasters. You could record, edit, and publish from one app and website. They would distribute your content on all the other major podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts. Best of all, it was free.
- My commute from the fall of 2015 to the spring of 2018 ranged from 25 minutes to an hour each way. Quickly tiring of news and sports radio, I became a bigger podcast listener than ever before. My podcast diet at the time included a lot of creative and entrepreneurial types who promoted the benefits and enjoyment of creating content. Podcasting is still a relatively new space, and the stories of these creators inspired me to do something similar in my field — education. When I searched for podcasts about great teachers, I wasn’t finding a lot. To me, it looked like a gap that could use filling.
- There are two podcasts that were particularly influential as my dreams and ideas brewed. One was The Fizzle Show, a weekly podcast that I still listen to today. Although not every episode speaks directly to the work of launching and creating, a key takeaway that I remember vividly (I still remember exactly where I was driving) was this: you can’t know whether your creative project is successful until you’ve created 100 editions. So whether you’re blogging, podcasting, YouTubing, etc., give yourself at least 100 reps to improve your craft and develop your audience. Give yourself time. And for that reason, that simple idea was extremely encouraging.
- Another influential podcast that I must give a significant heartfelt shoutout is Entrepreneurs on Fire, hosted by John Lee Dumas. I loved John’s engaging manner, consistent questions, and daily delivery (although his style has evolved a little since). I loved the way he profiled each guest, the way so much personality and humanity poured out of his interviews. I even loved the podcast title — more on that in a moment.
- Another factor that was timely and helpful as I launched Teachers on Fire was my membership in a VIU Master’s cohort of 45 educators. I knew it wouldn’t work well to just interview teachers from my own school; I needed good relationships with educators across the country and around the world. My Master’s cohort provided just that, and many of my first ten guests are classmates.
About the Title, Teachers on Fire
Did I set out to copy the title of Entrepreneurs on Fire? Not at all.
As I thought about creating my own podcast, I tried an infinite number of spins and takes on the words ‘teaching’ and ‘education.’ I knew it was important to have at least one of those words in the title of the podcast in order to be visible. If someone out there was searching for a great podcast about teachers who are making a difference, what would they type in a search bar?
I thoughts about this for weeks, playing with combinations and inventions to find any other title that worked — one that made sense and was available on iTunes, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and online. But I wasn’t having much luck, and I just kept coming back to Teachers on Fire. Miraculously, @teachersonfire was available on Twitter and Instagram, and as far as I could tell, no one was using this title on Facebook. At the time, a generic company was holding TeachersOnFire.com, but I knew could go with another domain (I went with .net.)
I remember listening to one episode of Entrepreneurs on Fire when a guest started talking about how so many other podcasts out there had seized the ‘on fire’ bit and used it in their podcast title. I was so relieved when John laughed about it and said something to the effect that he was fine with it and even took it as a compliment. Great — that meant I wouldn’t be sued by someone who I was actually quite a big fan of.
Most significantly, I created an account called Teachers on Fire on Anchor.
All I had to do was publish.
My Journey with Anchor
I mentioned that one of my stepsons introduced me to the Anchor app some time in 2017, but I actually didn’t bother installing it on my phone right away. At the time, I wasn’t really prepared to move forward with podcasting, and I wasn’t interested in playing with it.
But the app had hit my radar. And when a favorite entrepreneurial podcast interviewed an Anchor executive, I became more intrigued. By the time spring break of 2018 rolled around, I knew Anchor would be my path to the phones of my audience.
For many of the first episodes, I actually recorded conversations using the Anchor app on my phone. But frustrations quickly emerged. In my very first interview, the app crashed 5–6 times mid-call. Stephanie was incredibly gracious and patient as I frantically reconnected each time, asking her to restate her last thoughts and hoping against hope that the app wouldn’t crash again. I wondered if wifi was an issue, so I moved from room to room in my home. I even turned off wifi and recorded through data alone. Nothing helped — the app kept crashing.
No doubt the mobile app has gotten more stable since those early days. But when guest Chris Nesi (an edu-podcasting legend) came along in episode 24 and recommended Zencastr.com, I decided to switch to that platform for my recordings. It’s the one I continue to use today, although I continue to look around for other viable options that might increase my audio quality.
That said, my journey with Anchor continues. Although I no longer record interviews using the Anchor app, the web interface at Anchor.fm offers a solid platform that I continue to use to publish the podcast. As I said earlier, Anchor distributes every episode to 12 major podcasting apps and platforms — automatically and for free. I’m very grateful for this service and continue to rely on it heavily.
Bloopers and Discouraging Moments
There are more of these than I care to count, but here are some that really stand out.
- In an early episode, I tried using a web-based recording interface that required the guests to hit the record button to record an audio file on their end. Unfortunately, we got to the end of a 30-minute conversation only to discover that my guest had forgotten to hit the record button. We both felt sick about it, but fortunately we did reschedule and were able to re-record the entire thing properly.
- In another early conversation, I booked an interview during my lunch break on a school day. After deciding that my empty classroom was still too noisy, I decided to drive a few blocks away to record the conversation from my phone while sitting in my car. What I didn’t count on was how hot the car would get during the interview! I was forced to roll the windows down just to breathe, but then the sounds of nearby birds started to filter in. There I was, sitting in my car and sweating bullets, hoping against hope that the noisy singing of the birds around me wouldn’t show up on the recorded track. Somehow, despite this ridiculous scene and the app crashing at least once mid-interview, the episode turned out well.
- In yet another noon-time recording, I tried to connect with Adam Miller, a guest in Saudi Arabia. Nothing seemed to be working on the technical side, so I finally just decided to use my phone to call him and record our conversation using an app. The interview went well over 30 minutes, and the long distance bill for that call alone was over $100. Ouch!
- The final straw for recording over the Anchor app came around my twentieth episode, when I recorded an entire conversation only to find nothing remaining in the app. The file hadn’t properly saved, and I was horrified. Thanks to another gracious guest, I was eventually able to record the interview all over again, but I knew I needed to find a better way to record.
The Future of Teachers on Fire
I believe that educators should be leading the charge on content creation by modeling a lifestyle of Create> Consume. The Teachers on Fire podcast is one expression of that intention.
The podcasting process is a lot of work, but it’s fun, too. Editing each one of my conversations in Adobe Audition is a creative act. Writing exquisite show notes for my audience is something else I constantly aim for; even if they can’t actually listen to the audio content, I want educators to be able to take away valuable insights from the episode summary itself (here’s a recent example). Even the promotion process, which requires cutting through the digital noise to let people know another episode has gone live, requires creativity and imagination.
My vision for the podcast was and continues to be the contribution of important conversations to inspire innovative practices by educators around the globe. As you’ll see if you explore my Tributes page, I’m pleased to say that the show is already making a positive impact.
My download numbers have never skyrocketed astronomically, but I can say that my downloads-per-episode average has increased steadily every single week. Without fail. And as long as that is happening, I know I’m creating content that has value for listeners.
Personalized Professional Development Every Week
Imagine having a scheduled 1:1 professional development session with a different speaker or leader in education every single week. For me, that’s probably been the single greatest impact of the Teachers on Fire podcast. It gives me a justifiable reason to speak to the very best educators, leaders, speakers, and authors in our great profession. My mandate to publish weekly means I’m having those rich professional conversations regularly — whether I’m in the mood to or not.
All of that means my head stays in the education game. I’m thinking about learners and learning. I’m thinking about my practice. And in every episode, with every guest, I’m growing, improving, and learning.
And that’s reason enough to continue.