Using Podcasts for Professional Development

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor

In my role as Lead Teacher Mentor for the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, I have traversed the state several times over this year in what I call my LOL (Land of Lincoln) tour of Illinois. One of my constant companions on the road has been civics-related podcasts. I have grown in my content knowledge and understanding of current and controversial issues through such thinkers as noted author Malcolm Gladwell, Jeffrey Rosen, the President and CEO of the National Constitution Center, as well as Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Pearson.

While shrinking school budgets provide limited access to in-person conferences featuring noted experts, teachers can join the 67 million Americans listening to podcasts on at least a monthly basis. According to an article published by Forbes titled, “Why Podcasts are So Popular (and Four Content Lessons to Learn from Them)” by Jayson DeMers, podcasts enjoyed an eleven percent surge in 2017, giving listeners, “a refreshing alternative (to screens). Rather than using your eyes, you use your ears; there are silences, pauses, and genuine human voices rather than words and images on a screen.”

When used in the classroom, podcasts give an opportunity for students to hear from influencers and practice listening skills as they digest information in spoken word. Well-curated podcasts can also provide examples of civil discourse as a wide array of content experts address some of the most essential questions facing our communities.

Here are a few podcasts to consider adding to your media diet.
  • Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell provides episodes that, “will go back and reinterpret something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood.” Season two has several civics-centered episodes.
  • The Sunday Spin from WGN Radio features current and controversial issue discussions led by host Rick Pearson examining local, state and national politics.
  • Constitutional from the Washington Post, builds off the success of the 2016 series, Presidential. Constitutional explores, “the Constitution and the people who framed and reframed it — revolutionaries, abolitionists, suffragists, teetotalers, protesters, justices, presidents – in the ongoing struggle to form a more perfect union across a vast and diverse land.”
  • 1A from National Public Radio, takes its name from the First Amendment and examines, “important issues such as policy, politics, technology, and what connects us across the fissures that divide the country.”
  • More Perfect from Radio Lab examines decisions made by the United States Supreme Court and what the rulings mean for “We the People”.
  • Civics 101 from New Hampshire Public Radio provides short, classroom-friendly tutorials on the basics of how our democracy works. There are lesson recommendations and worksheets for student use.
  • Curious about the latest polling data and current events? Subscribe to the weekly FiveThirtyEight podcast.
  • We the People, hosted by Jeffrey Rosen from the National Constitution Center, brings together liberal and conservative thinkers to engage in civil dialogue about issues facing our nation. Other episodes interview noted experts such as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
  • My knowledge of history has deepened as a result of listening to Stuff you Missed in History Class. There are great personal narratives woven throughout each episode that can enrich your students understanding of history.
  • For general tips and ideas involving teaching methodology such as culturally responsive teaching or discussion strategies, subscribe to Cult of Pedagogy.

What podcasts do you listen to to inform your classroom practice? What should I add to my playlist? Please enter your ideas in the comment section below. Together, we can prepare students for college, career and civic life.


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