Podcast Praise: Connecting Teachers and Community

(Image credit: Pixabay)

In this challenging era of education, any opportunity to shine a light on the positive side of life in the classroom should be seized. 

Dr. Laurie Fiorenza, Assistant Superintendent for Student Learning at Oak Park and River Forest High School (OPRFHS) in Illinois, recently was recognized for using her podcast to highlight the great work of her district’s teachers with a Tech & Learning Innovative Leader Award for Innovative Superintendent during the recent Midwest Regional Live Summit.  

Podcast Praise is Music to a Teacher’s Ear 

podcast praise

(Image credit: Laurie Fiorenza)

Podcasts on every imaginable topic abound, offering listeners a way to learn something new, connect with others, or discover unexpected joys that would otherwise fly under the radar. Fiorenza’s program does all three. 

“I was hearing from our teachers that they felt disconnected from teachers in other departments, especially after the pandemic,” says Fiorenza. “I was thinking of ways to connect them without creating meetings or something that would drain them of time and energy. I thought a podcast would allow teachers to simply talk to me about the unique things they are doing throughout our building. I could then share the podcast with everyone, including our community members.” 

Fiorenza sent an email request to the staff, explaining the program and asking for anyone doing really unique things to participate and share their stories with others. She soon had a robust roster of volunteers.

“Teachers like to talk about their actions and how they impact kids,” says Fiorenza. “I wanted to celebrate their passion, creativity, and ingenuity.”

District Support Helps Pro-Teacher Podcast of Positivity 

“The leaders I work with understand the importance of celebrating and honoring our teachers and staff who work directly with our students daily, supporting their learning and growth,” says Fiorenza. 

Leaders were encouraging, however Fiorenza still added a layer of review to make sure no school policies or boundaries were inadvertently crossed. 

“After each podcast is recorded and prepared, I partner with the Director of Communication,” Fiorenza says. “She reviews and helps me get the podcast on various social media platforms. This additional person listening to the podcast is a means to ensure there are no concerns or issues with the content.”

In an age when parents pore over online reviews and comments, district-shopping for the best fit for their families, such an organic and authentic representation of the school offerings can be an impactful tool. Although this was not Fiorenza’s goal, she has noted an increase in connection with the greater school community.

“Parents always comment about how much they enjoy learning about all that is happening in our district,” she says. “I believe it helps parents confirm what the data, our website, and community input indicate: OPRFHS is an outstanding school with dedicated, passionate, and highly qualified educators.”

The Nuts and Bolts of Creating a Podcast 

Once Fiorenza realized this would be an ongoing program, she needed an appropriate space to record.  

“Oak Park and River Forest High School has a makerspace with a media room and a special sound booth,” she says. “We have dedicated resources toward enhancing the makerspace, and specifically the media room, over the past several years. This included purchasing higher-quality recording equipment, microphones, and even technology to support the production process from start to finish.”

The district worked these items into the budget. Since the space was designed for student use, the investment in high-quality equipment and technology was essential and has since been well used and appreciated.

“The studio is used daily by individuals, groups, and classes to create podcasts, write and record music, and learn about audio and media technology,” she says.

Being seen and celebrated is a powerful antidote to some of the more challenging aspects of today’s climate. The response from fellow teachers, parents and even students has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I think it is imperative to showcase the work of our educators,” says Fiorenza. “This celebrates and honors their work and dedication and provides community members an inside look at all public education has to offer our students. Hear It From A Huskie is not about self-promotion, but about seeing, hearing, and valuing all the teachers making an impact.” 

5 Steps to Create a School Podcast 

  1. Prepare for the podcast. Determine a quiet place to record. This will ensure background noise is eliminated as much as possible. Find a person, preferably with audio experience, who can record the podcast so you can focus on the conversation with the staff member.
  2. Solicit participation among your staff. Encourage those you know who are doing amazing things in the classroom.
  3. Set up 5-minute sessions. Identify three questions you want the participant to discuss during your conversation. Send the questions to the participant in advance so they can be prepared to talk with you.
  4. Record the discussion. Try recording audio-only interviews if subjects are uncomfortable with video.
  5. Celebrate on social media. Honor your amazing staff by sharing the podcast on social media platforms (Facebook, YouTube, etc.). Send internal employees an email to share the podcast and encourage others to participate.
Sascha Zuger

Sascha has nearly two decades of experience as a freelance journalist writing for national magazines, including The Washington Post, LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, National Geographic Traveler, and others. She writes about education, travel and culinary topics.