10 Years and 200 Episodes … What Have I Learned as an Instructional Coach?
For the last few weeks, I have been in quite a reflective mood. Maybe it has been because I recently celebrated the 11th Anniversary of TeacherCast, the passing of 10 years as an Instructional Coach, 230 episodes of the TeacherCast Podcast, or that this weekend we recorded the 200th episode of Ask the Tech Coach … or, maybe it's from all of the COVID isolation. I'm not sure.
In thinking for a moment about all of the interactions that I have had with super amazing educators or the work that I have had the opportunity to do for hundreds of educational technology brands, I wanted to take a moment and put down some thoughts about the journey that I have been on, how I am feeling about it right now, and where I would love to see this journey continue and, perhaps, share some nuggets of goodness on the way.
Step 1: You Have to Start Somewhere
As the legend goes … It was the middle of the night on July 11, 2011. I had been podcasting for about a year already supporting the Apple community as one more podcaster talking weekly about their iPhones and favorite apps.
But I wanted to do something different. In the middle of the night, I started tossing and turning and without hesitating, I ran downstairs. A few hours later, TeacherCast was born. I had the domain, website, social links, and tagline “A Place for Teachers to Help other Teachers” all down and ready to go.
I bring this up, not just for self-reflective reasons, but because I truly believe that if you have a dream, you should take the first step. It doesn’t mean that you must fully follow through with it. There are so many TeacherCast projects over the last 11 years that have started and fizzled based on interest of the community, family commitments, or simply because a newer and better idea hit me. But the important thing is that you should always take the first step and pursuing your dreams and your goals. You never know where the world may take you.
Step 2: It Never Hurts to Ask
The first TeacherCast Podcast was launched shortly after that first night. It was easy to start up and get things running because I already had a head start in the podcasting world. From Episodes 1-5, I had the opportunity to be introduced to Educational Technology Giants such as Angela Maiers, Eric Sheninger, Tom Whitby, and Steven Anderson.
I didn’t know who these people were are the time. I was just reaching out to random strangers on Twitter to introduce myself and they gave me a chance.
It is for this reason why I hold a special place in my EDUHeart for anyone who was on the first 15 episodes. They didn’t have to take a chance with me… but they did, and I’m in a much better place for their time and friendship.
In episode 100 of the TeacherCast Podcast, I put out a Tweet celebrating that Jason Glass, the man who happened to be the Secretary of Education for Iowa just happened to be my 1,000th follower. His office replied and within a few days we had a schedule recording of TeacherCast Podcast 100. He didn’t have to do the show … but he did and I can’t ever say Thank You enough for that opportunity.
When you are starting out on a journey, you can’t do it alone. You can of course try, but you don’ have any guarantee that your bird will fly. You need to have the strength to share your passions with others and invite them onto the journey with you.
Step 3: Diversify Your Portfolio
The other day, I was having a planning meeting with a company about a future project. The question came up “who do you know in this space?”. We then started to come up with names who would fit the bill. The conversation suddenly changed from “who do you know in this space” to “why do educators put themselves in certain spaces that limit their exposure and opportunity.”
TeacherCast, when it comes down to it, is 100% self-serving. It’s true that you often find me sharing with others the importance of going where your audience is, building a community around a topic, and making sure you are meeting the needs of your audience. However, that couldn’t be farther from the case with TeacherCast.
What started as an idea to create a simple round table podcast quickly expanded into a “guest blog” when I decided to open the website up to supportive teachers looking to expand their own global footprint. At one point, I was managing the RSS feeds of more than 65 educators and keeping everything organized on several spreadsheets.
In the early part of 2012, I attended my first edCamp in Philadelphia. I sat across from 3 New Jersey educators and said, “you know, we are going to do one of these in New Jersey someday.” From that point forward, we started an adventure to create edCamp New Jersey which topped out at over 1,000 educators one year and was visited by the local cops because of the overflow of parking at the school building. (#ProudMoment)
From Podcaster to EdTech Magazine Editor and into the world of Conference promotions … you should never put yourself in the corner and be seen in this world as only one thing. Once the trend goes away so could your brand. It’s true … create a taproot and dig it deep, but don’t forget to keep an eye on what’s happening to the left and to the right of you.
Step 4: Your Brand Belongs to YOU… not EdTech
A similar lesson to the one above but on a much more professional note. There are hundreds of Educational Technology Brands in this world.
- They all want one thing.
- They want YOU.
- They want you to test their product.
- They want you to share their product.
- They want you to brag about their product.
Mostly importantly… they want you to do it for free.
Never Give Away Your Brand!
It’s true … I am writing this as a Google Certificated, Microsoft Innovative, and a TEDx … whatever.
Let’s be honest, if you have to play the game, then go play the game. But you need to play the game on your own terms. You have to play the game hard. You have to play the game often … all of them.
Over the last 11 years, I have seen so many educators go ga-ga because a company is giving out chocolate at a both or shipping stickers for the top of a Chromebook. Let’s say this for one final time. You are not a pawn for the educational technology megabillion dollar machines that want to use you for research and development at the cost of a digital tchotchke.
You have value in this world. Your voice and opinions have power in this world and you need to be valued for professional brand that YOU are.
Now that this section is behind me, I’m going to change the playlist on my Spotify Podcasting Player and continue with this line of thought.
Step 5: Family First … EdTech Second
I am extremely lucky. I am blessed to have a fantastic support system at home who understands that TeacherCast is my creative outlet. In my former life, I was a Music Director who multiple times a week, drove from Philadelphia to New York and across New Jersey to conduct Symphonies, Operas, and Musicals. I was never home.
With one simple conversation, I put all of that behind me and instead of stepping onto a podium, I turned on a microphone.
It is well documented the tremendous impact that TeacherCast has had on both my world and the lives of my family. The PLC that I have built because my rock when the Triplets came out a few months early, when my wife went through a severe medical procedure and has supported us all during a pandemic that witnessed us packing up our lives and moving to a brand-new state in the middle of nowhere without any family nearby.
Everything that I do on TeacherCast is for my family. Therefore, the website, the podcast, the blog, and all of my professional outreach must be thought of as a business. When I leave the house or pick up the phone or shop on Amazon, there is a tax deduction behind it.
Personally, I feel that every educator should stop what they are doing … right now … and create an LLC for themselves. They should open a business back account and put their careers and their educational finances completely separate from their family accounts and finances. Trust me … you will reap these rewards each time the calendar turns over.
Step 6: Always Keep Your Eyes Up … While Looking Down at Your Feet
As forward thinking as I have needed to be when building TeacherCast, I have always tried to plant myself in the sand and soil with every decision. I always ask myself if what I’m doing is best for my family, my brand, and my business. It’s often a difficult question, and when I feel that the decisions are difficult for too many days in a row, I do everything humanly possible to change my own channel.
Yes it’s true … Diversify Your Portfolio
Know who you are and who you want to be. Most importantly … don’t let anyone stand in your way of those things.
Have a brand … have an passions … share with others… repeat.
It’s as simple as that.
Step 7: Always Know Where the Puck Is … But there is a Catch.
As Wayne Gretzsky once said, “Go to where the puck is going … not where the puck is” (or something like that).
I find myself thinking about this concept often.
Where it is true, you want to make sure you are riding the wave rather than chasing it, it is far more important, in my opinion to know where the next wave might be coming from and to start paddling to it before everyone else does.
Over the last 11 years, I believe there has been not one, not two, but 5 different waves of Educational Podcasting. The first came when Google Hangouts arrived on the scene and for the first real time, teachers caught the “broadcasting bug” of doing live video. Then the fade faded. It was then picked up a year or so later when applications such as Blab and Periscope broke in offering another free opportunity where educators can quickly and painlessly produce audio and video content for the masses. When those applications came and went, it was time for the rise of Anker. (#SeeClubhouseEDU)
Like I said earlier, have your tap root. For me, it’s clearly podcasting. But I also enjoy being in the Instructional Coaching space as well as the WordPress, SEO, and Branding space. Because I was creating a great deal of content to support my #BuildYourEDUBrand concept, when the Pandemic hit, I was well ahead of the curve when teachers wanted to learn how to create their own websites to financially support their families.
The same can be said for your EdTech brands. We all know that Google, Microsoft, and Apple are the big names, but how many were on the Canva train 5 years ago before it reached the EDU scene? Find your comfy brand… find a brand who is up and coming that you wish to support. Don’t forget your ABC’s. Always … Be .. Creative.
Step 8: Be Thankful
If I haven’t heard me say it yet … THANK YOU. Seriously … THANK YOU.
- Thank you for 11 years of Educational Podcasting.
- Thank you for many many ISTE, edCamp, and NJEA presentations.
- Thank you for allowing me into your audio and video players.
- Thank you for asking me about my wife and EduTriplets when times were rough.
- Thank you for leaving your family to attend one of my live events or online meetings.
- Thank you for taking the time to read through this entire blog post.
- Thank you for sharing it with others.
Seriously … THANK YOU.
As I put this blog post (and the EduTriplets) to bed tonight, I am looking forward to new adventures. There are many fantastic adventures that I’m looking forward to happening this summer and I am ready to take a step into a new adventure.
To Infinity … And Beyond!
In thinking about the famous speech that Steve Jobs gave, “Stay Hungry … Stay Foolish.” Your life and your career are the products of your passions and your creativity. Never take them for granted and never give others the ability to put them into their hands.
Looking both backward and forwards from this very moment, the only thing I can be certain to share is that your passions are the only thing that should be in control of your future. Too little passion for something and the adventure never happens. Too much passion and you wind up falling off the cliff.
With this, I sign off and share with you probably my best words of advice.
No matter what you decide to do with your career or your brand…
Keep up the great work in your classrooms … and continue sharing your passions, with your students.