“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I LEARN.”
Hans Appel, Counselor
For the past couple years, my wife (Jennifer) and I have produced a cutting edge platform for student learning. Award Winning Culture, is a student-led leadership podcast where our students interview authors, speakers, athletes, educators, and other leadership students around the country. Each episode is complete with a full interview, rapid fire round, and deep reflection at the end.
An authentic audience is fostered while we share out weekly episodes to the masses on social media and make them available on every podcast listening platform. And, as you’d suspect this has been a wildly successful project based learning opportunity for students. Podcasting, in its very nature, can teach students concepts like: empathy, risk-taking, synthesizing, depth of knowledge, etc. Creating original content provides learners with voice, choice, and agency that is steeped in a rich land of curiosity.
However, beyond learning the basics of podcast design and fostering a love of learning unattributed to grades, rubrics, and adult expectations; the real genius of the award winning culture podcast is it’s narrow focus on topics relating to social emotional learning and character development.
Indeed, most school based projects focus on learning specific to class content. For example, a language arts class might use podcasting to have students share out reflections on a chapter book that students are reading. While this form of innovation can be a great learning tool for a classroom, it’s application beyond the classroom might be limited. Utilizing an incredibly powerful learning platform for what amounts to no more than a book report isn’t necessarily a bad choice. On the other hand, this narrowly focused pursuit avoids the opportunity to cultivate feedback beyond the classroom and learning beyond the content.
Instead, our student podcast explores powerful topics like character, self-care, mental health, coping skills, relationships, mindfulness, leadership development, kindness, school culture, etc. Our podcasters have multiple intervals of SEL learning.
Learning happens in 4 phases: Research, Interview, Reflection, and Connection.
Research-Students watch videos, read books and blogs, and dig through guests websites, social media, and previous interviews, as they carefully craft intentional questions for upcoming episodes. They’re motivated to learn about each highly successful guest, not because of educator expectation; but because of a true passion for learning that directly relates to their own life. They meticulously research each guest because they want to feel prepared to interact with each expert in an impactful and special way.
Interview-Our students learn incredible life wisdom, insight, and soft skill lessons from each guest. With 2 students conducting an interview and another student taking detailed notes, in order to lead a reflection conversation; our students walk away with immediately implementable life-changing action items to enhance their social emotional wellbeing. Additionally, our students strengthen their advanced listening skills while being able to multitask responses, follow-up questions and track technology needs. This multilayered form of empathy will serve them well beyond their middle school podcasting days.
Reflection-This is where learning is truly crystalized. After recording with a guest, we record our debrief of takeaways and meaningful applications from the interview. Students might share personal thoughts, feelings, powerful quotes or statements that stood out while relating the SEL content directly to their own lives. Our podcasters essentially synthesize a 30 minute interview down to it’s key points. Adult listeners find this part of each episode to be a window into the soul of teenagers. So powerful!
Connection-As a co-facilitator of this work, my favorite part of SEL learning happens months after the initial podcast recording. Evidence of deep SEL knowledge shows up when students use previous guests expertise to make connections to current guests. For example, while talking with a recent psychologist about emotional wellbeing, they quoted and explained a previous author’s work on self-care. The introspection and ability to link complicated psychological ideas frequently show up in this phase of the project based social emotional learning cycle.
But, these topics not only have relevance to our podcasters but also add a built in meaningful component for creators and school-wide listeners alike. Each week students, parents, staff, and community tune in to learn about Character, Excellence, and Community through the very on-demand style streaming format that podcasting supports. Thus, learning occurs outside of the classroom and well beyond the school house. Because we’re releasing podcast episodes over breaks, weekends, and regardless of school schedule, we ensure that our community of listeners is receiving a healthy dose of social emotional learning and character development throughout the school year.
I relish the big idea of students sitting around the pool, listening to a professional athlete talk about the need of servant leadership during the middle of summer break. Or of our school’s parents learning alongside a parenting expert’s conversation with our student podcasters about social media, house rules, and approaching your teenager with a difficult conversation, on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Providing this content to our community, where they’re at, ensures we’re able to effectively amp up our social emotional reach.
When we infuse SEL into project based learning and then cultivate a platform with a built in authentic audience, we make community wide learning an unavoidable game-changing byproduct.
Rather than viewing SEL as something to tell students about, or to simply teach to learners…I challenge educators to dig deeper and find experiential ways of reaching the Whole Child–and beyond.
When educators creatively infuse SEL into project based learning schools can foster their own Award Winning Culture.