By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Emily Pottinger and Dr. Meredith Critchfield have one of those friendships where the chemistry is unmistakable. They complete each other’s sentences. They were in each other’s wedding. They share a passion for education and are truly excited about teaching.
“We develop a lot of projects through texts at night in the random hours of the evening or early morning …” Pottinger begins.
“… You can’t shut your mind down,” Critchfield interjects. “That’s how creativity works. When you’re in the flow, you can’t stop it.”
It flowed right into a new initiative from the College of Education (COE) at Grand Canyon University, a monthly iTunes podcast called “Top of the Class.” Its motto is “By educators, for educators,” and it is designed to inspire current and future teachers, change negative perceptions and provide a welcome addition to offset the divisions that have pervaded the debate over the state of education in Arizona.
Listening to the two of them synergize on the podcast is no different from the way they trade ideas in the office or at home. That cohesiveness is how the podcast idea was born.
Critchfield, a COE Associate Professor, was stirring some pasta – gluten-free macaroni, to be thorough – one evening when the idea hit her. She just had to text Pottinger, the college’s Faculty Chair, right away.
“We need a podcast!”
“Yeah, we do!”
“Yes, for COE!”
When they got to the office the next day and talked about it further, they were even more convinced. They had the topics for the first year plotted out in 10 minutes.
“We were like, ‘We listen to podcasts all the time. We personally enjoy the format,’” Critchfield says. “And then we were thinking about how many educators are spending time on podcasts, and we thought, ‘What a perfect combination, to bring together this idea of the top of the class, the best of the best in the field of education.’”
Get them going on the topic, and the conversation has an energy that’s perfect for a podcast. It goes like this:
Pottinger: “We started to brainstorm and collaborate as teachers and as teachers who have taught in the K-12 environment. We’re coming from the perception of our audience, and we want to make sure that we hit more than just our pre-service teachers and our faculty here. We want to expand across the nation, hopefully, and hit those teachers in public schools, private schools, admin, support staff. We really want this to be a podcast where it’s uplifting the profession as a whole. That’s one of the struggles we do find – it’s not just all about money …”
Critchfield: “… It’s about the perception …”
Pottinger: “… The perception of teaching, yes!”
Critchfield: “We do dabble a little bit in conversation about funding, but we try to take it a lot further and say, ‘None of us went into this profession to be …”
Pottinger: “… wealthy.”
Critchfield: “… Yes, wealthy. You do it for the love and for the passion. We really try to say, ‘Yes, funding IS important, but let’s go beyond that. Let’s think about how we provide professional development to help our new teachers grow, our veteran teachers grow. How do we support new teachers as they enter the profession? We talk about a lot more than just that funding conversation, and I think that that’s why we love it as the first episode.”
That first episode, titled “Elevating the Profession,” features an introduction by Pottinger and Critchfield and then a conversation with Dr. Kimberly LaPrade, the COE dean, about the state of teaching today. The first nine podcasts already have been completed (true to teacher form, they also are working on some extra-credit episodes):
Episode 2: Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge (with Ben Vilkas and Stacy Rucker)
3: Tech Trends (Brandon Juarez and Jillian Hartman)
4: Rising Up: Becoming a School Leader (Debbie Rickey)
5: Networking Outside the Classroom (Jennifer Johnson and Marjaneh Gilpatrick)
6: Supporting Your Students in Need (Katie Sprute and Crystal McCabe)
7: Practicing Mindfulness as an Educator (Pottinger and Critchfield)
8: From the Parent Point of View (Tom Dyer and Rebekah Dyer)
9: Giving Voice to Your ELs (Katy Long)
Episode 7, reserved exclusively for Pottinger and Critchfield, came about this way:
Pottinger: “I said, ‘What if we’re our own guests?’”
Critchfield: “We decided to record an episode where we’re our own guests. We just talk …”
Pottinger: “… banter …”
Critchfield: “… to each other about how to be a little more mindful as an educator.”
The goal of the podcast is simple: “We want teaching to be considered something cool,” says Dr. Marjaneh Gilpatrick, Executive Director of Educational Outreach.
As Critchfield puts it, “I personally see teaching along the same lines as nursing, and I would love to elevate teaching to that point where nursing is now, where, yes, there is better pay, but there’s better support, better attention, better focus on student care.”
Pottinger’s turn again: “We’re excited about this because we feel like this is really a pivotal transitional time in education. Teachers are trying to find ways to have a voice and to collaborate and work together to make substantive change.”
Change starts with communication, and a podcast is a good conversation starter. Sometimes, things can get stirred up in the most innocent of ways – who knew that gluten-free macaroni could be so inspirational?
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.