Serendipity abounds on College of Education leaders' 75th podcast

College of Education Associate Dean Dr. Emily Pottinger (left) and COE Dean Dr. Meredith Critchfield host the podcast “Top of the Class,” which they record at the GCU Recording Studio.

Episode dropped just in time for GCU's 75th anniversary year

Photos by Ralph Freso

After the wave of true-crime podcasts and before, well, everyone was recording a podcast, Dr. Meredith Critchfield and Dr. Emily Pottinger had an idea in 2017.

“We started digging into what education podcasts were, and a lot of them were short, five-minute episodes on a single topic,” said Critchfield, dean of Grand Canyon University’s College of Education. “We wanted a podcast by educators and for educators.”

They were professors back then, before Critchfield became dean and Pottinger became COE's associate dean. They were just going to record it in their office. But then GCU’s Recording Studio stepped into help produce “Top of the Class,” whose first episode dropped April 9, 2018.

“We were seeing there was not always positivity in discussions around our profession, and we wanted to uplift our fellow educators at all levels,” Pottinger said. “How do we get the positive stories, the tricks and tips, out there?”

Nearly six years later, they are still going strong with a podcast-pro banter between close colleagues and friends – recently dropping their 75th episode as GCU launched its 75th anniversary year. Like so much on this show, they called the numbers match serendipity.

College of Education Associate Dean Dr. Emily Pottinger (left) and COE Dean Dr. Meredith Critchfield host the podcast “Top of the Class” with the help of GCU Recording Studio and its students and manager Eric Johnson (back).

“We love to joke that our first episode we sounded like robots,” Critchfield said. “We call it our robot episode.”

But they smoothed it out, tackling everything from teaching methods to health issues during the pandemic, from classroom behavior to reaching diverse populations of students, and the show has taken off with education expert guests. It has more than 80 five-star reviews on iTunes and two very comfortable hosts.

“The magic for Emily and me is not overplanning,” Critchfield said. “It is listening to the experts and responding to them and guiding that discussion. We realized that is when the magic started to happen.”

Added Pottinger: “We have such a shorthand with each other. We’re friends, we’re close. So I think we just have a lot of fun with it.”

Appropriately, the 75th episode is titled “Why We Love Teachers,” and it is full of that passion for the profession and humor that marks the show.

College of Education Associate Dean Dr. Emily Pottinger (left) and COE Dean Dr. Meredith Critchfield have a friendly banter on the podcast.

Pottinger said teachers can see the potential and uniqueness in each student, and without that, “where would the next doctors be or the next scientists or the next leaders?”

Her partner picked it up: “Almost every educator I know can pinpoint something beautiful or special about a child. That, to me, is a unique gift. … We have the ability to look at them and say, ‘This might be an area that this child is challenged but, my goodness, they are funny, or my goodness, they are patient, or my goodness, they are kind to other people.”

Then there is their wit, this one from Critchfield on teacher resourcefulness and creativity: “You drop a teacher in a Dollar Store, they can do more damage and good than almost anyone on planet Earth.”

  • To listen to “Top of the Class” go here.

They take on some difficult subjects, too, such as being responsive to students of varied cultures or the challenges during the pandemic.

“We’re able to talk about hard things in the field, but also from a solutions-based mindset,” Pottinger said. “How can we make things better, how can we uphold the challenges we are faced with?”

Then they come back with something fun, like after months of pandemic discussion, an episode on teacher fashion in the classroom.

“Dress as if you are ready for a promotion,” advised Critchfield, who shared her love of neutrals, simplicity and modern lines.

“Consider your personality, because at the end of the day, teaching is a creative art,” said Pottinger, who shared her love of “pink and pretty,” gravitating to “floral, flowy.”

“I should mention, we are not sponsored by anyone,” Critchfield deadpanned, “but call us.”

One thing they learned: Less is sometimes more.

“Teachers can be very verbose,” Pottinger said. “One of the things we had to refine was understanding the time frame you can hold attention on a podcast. We started putting it in digestible chunks.”

When the subject of character education was explored this fall, they had to break it into four episodes, using experts at GCU in the Canyon Center for Character Education. Home-team guests are typical. When they needed advice on male teachers’ dress for that earlier episode, they called on COE professor Dr. Brandon Juarez.

College of Education Dean Dr. Meredith Critchfield can show off her wit.

GCU faculty post the podcast to students in their classes, and GCU partners in the education community are also listeners. One student even asked Pottinger, who was filling in for a professor in a classroom, if she was the one who was on a podcast. She recognized her voice, had been listening for years.

The duo plans on continuing “Top of the Class,” even though both have significant duties in leadership.

“We have covered so many topics through the years, every single one taught me something  I didn’t know before,” Critchfield said. “These folks are experts in the field. One day we’ll have a superintendent of a school district talk about leadership and the next have a special needs expert. I feel personally enriched.

“It’s really been one of the professional highlights of my life. It is such a joy to learn from people in this way. This is just such a casual way to learn. Emily and I can make learning fun again for ourselves and our listeners.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]

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