Podcasting with Principal Berry


How school change began with just one person, and just one podcast

The 21st Century Classroom podcast

We talk with Richmond Elementary School principal Mike Berry about how he’s using podcasts and other digital storytelling to help his students find their voices and prepare them to tell their stories as they move to middle school.

You can listen to our podcast episode here, as well as at SoundCloud, and on Stitcher, or you can download it and run away with it clutched to your person (our personal fave) or you can just read the nifty transcript*, below.

You can listen to our podcast episode here, as well as at SoundCloud, and on Stitcher, or you can download it and run away with it clutched to your person (our personal fave) or you can just read the nifty transcript*, below.


Podcasting with Principal Berry

If you’re a fan of Vermont podcasts, you may already be familiar with Richmond Elementary School Principal Mike Berry through his audio and video stories, released online several times a week:

Principal Berry: “Today on the RESVT podcast, a potpourri of awesomeness….I hope you’re ready for some time travel, because this week on the RESVT podcast we’re going back in time to check in with the Pilgrims!”

But more likely, you’re familiar not with Principal Berry himself, but with the students at Richmond Elementary, whose voices form the heart of so many of his stories.

Student #1: Today’s podcast is about… ME!

Student #2: I think Harriet Tubman should be on the $20 bill because Andrew Jackson was just basically the President.

Student #3: My hopes and dreams are to learn about the world…and alpacas.

But how did one school administrator throw open the doors of his school and make podcasting such an integral part of the school’s community?

This is a story of how school change began with just one person, and just one podcast.

Principal Berry: My name’s Mike Berry, I’m the principal at Richmond Elementary School.

Last year I did a bunch of podcasts about Writers Workshop and I did that not to show off Writers Workshop but because I wanted to learn more as an administrator to support my educators. And I did! I went and visited five classrooms and had my recorder going, and I was able to come back and be a better instructional leader because of that work. So the podcast wasn’t in addition to, it was my job.

I took a little bit more of a relaxed pace with that and really spent time modeling. So if I wanted teachers to blog I didn’t say, “You have to have a blog!” I have a blog myself, and what happened over time is that people started taking risks and once they did, I jumped on that. I said, “I will sit with you, I will support you, we will build your blog together, I’ll make it super easy, we’ll link it, we’ll do whatever. So that there was an internal motivation to take that risk.

And I see that happening with videos, I see that happening with podcasts.And now we’re at a point where I can walk into a classroom with a field mic and the students are comfortable, the teacher is comfortable, and we can roll right into a podcast. It’s no longer a surprise or an exception.

And what we see is that the more we do stuff like that, the more we do it for the school, or that we do it just for the school’s social media, kids are aware of it and know that it’s an option. They may not have known about podcasting prior to it, or they may just have been introduced to it, but they know that every couple of weeks there’s one for the school, now they know that’s an option for them to do for their work.

And the thing is, the digital stories Principal Berry’s students make, well, they’re AMAZING.

Principal Berry: We had a gal last year who did an interview with volunteer firemen. And she went out — I think she used an iPad or an iPhone — she collected her own audio from the interviews and she interviewed two volunteer firemen and she wanted to talk to them about why they do what they do.  

Student: My capstone project was firefighting. I chose firefighting because my dad’s a firefighter and he’s been talking a lot about his job lately, and I just really wanted to learn more and… I interviewed some guys from my dad’s work.

Student: Why do you want to run into a burning building?

Firefighter: I like to run into burning buildings, just cause you’re helping somebody out. You’re saving someone.

Principal Berry: We had a second grade class last year that got on the kick to change the face on the $20 bill. And so the teacher came to me and said, “The kids want to do something with this, but I just don’t know what to do.” So I said: let’s make a video!

Student #1: Dear Mr. President, I think Harriet Tubman should be on the $20 bill. My first reason is because there is no women on money yet. My second reason is because we don’t honor girls who help the world get to be a better place. My third reason is because I am bored of Andrew Jackson.

Student #2: I think Harriet Tubman should be on the $20 bill because Andrew Jackson, was just basically the President. Harriet Tubman, helped over 300 Blacks escape slavery. Harriet Tubman, helped Blacks even after slavery was gone.

Principal Berry: D’you think Mr Berry should be on money?

Student #3: …No.

Student #4: Dear Mr President, I think Harriet Tubman should be on the $20 bill because Harriet Tubman is a great woman. She helped over 300 people get to freedom. My second reason is she spied on the South. I know that sounds bad for the South, but it is not for the North. My third reason is it is not fair for girls. Girls are just as awesome as boys. My final reason is: Andrew Jackson was mean to the Native Americans.

Principal Berry: We have a lot of students now, when they get to their end project, for whatever project they might be doing, they say, “Oh: can we do a podcast with Mr. Berry?” And that is like a crowning achievement for me. And I still think that the best podcasts we’ve ever done are student-made podcasts.

But with so many competing pressures on learning goals, why is digital storytelling so important in this school?

Principal Berry: If we do a piece on writing, and we showcase a particular grade level of writing, we don’t just talk about the kids writing, we talk about the instruction behind it, we talk about the reasons why we do it, the challenges behind it, the professional development behind it — so it’s connecting to everybody in the school community, not just one segment.

One of the things that we talk about is connecting beyond the school walls, but one of the examples that we give is: that grade 2 classroom who made the video about the $20 bill — other classrooms in the building didn’t know that they were doing that, but when the video went out, they knew. So we flattened the organization so they could connect.

And the kids were able to see that connection locally and translate that into: Wow, other people saw that. I got home and my dad knew about the video. I think developmentally what they’re seeing is that their voices are being heard beyond the walls of the classroom.

The other thing it does in a healthy way is remove some of the fear of that. Like, you’ve probably done this with adults, where you’re setting up a camera or a podcast and someone says “Oh I don’t like to hear my voice”. The kids here don’t have that. And the adults here don’t have that. And it’s really something to see when you can see someone confidently sharing their opinion.

And I think if you start kids later in life with that level of confidence, it takes them that much longer to share and connect.

We just had kids in here who made a hopes and dreams video for first graders.hey’ve only been here two years. I had this DSLR camera set up over here, a chair set up over there: it’s kind of a nerve-wracking moment, if you think about it. But these kids just walked in, they sat down and knew when to talk. And because of that they were able to communicate their message, because they weren’t caught up in nerves.

This type of guidance and modeling, where the school principal can be found out in the bike circle, or the running track or any given classroom, recording a podcast with students, will, Principal Berry hopes, help students with digital citizenship as they move up to middle school.

Principal Berry: I think the digital citizenship piece is coming more naturally, to our kids. So as they move up to middle school and beyond, they have a whole slew of experience with seeing how it should look and how it can look and how it can be positive. And that’s their base, when they really start digging in and expressing their voice online.

I think for kids moving into the middle school, it’s all about that base knowledge. And if you’re not starting your base knowledge of social media until 5th grade, and you’re dealing with the social aspects of middle school, all at the same time, I think that’s where things can get messed up. Whereas if you’re in elementary school and you have a base knowledge of these things, and it’s not a surprise, I think you can better handle the two.

But what has family and community response to the stories been like?

Principal Berry: What it’s done is it’s raised some really good conversations. So: Why have you shared so much? Why is it important? And there’s a couple things I talk about with those folks. Part of our job is to share what we’re doing. And part of it is to be transparent. Part of it is to have you as a community member or parent connect to what we’re doing, to really flatten those walls. And I’ve had no negatives about stuff that we’ve put up because I think we’ve really honed it in as: this is a place to celebrate what we’re doing.

I think the core is in storytelling, and sharing your story and then what happens around that, you just adjust. The important thing is in getting an established practice in sharing and in being transparent. And if you’re doing that, then, the next app the next technology that comes along, you’re gonna be fine.

Last year we had our 4th grade track meet and at the meet, Chris Arthur, an amazing music teacher here and myself were there collecting audio and video, putting together the experience. And it was kids from all over, kids from different schools. And we had our field mic, and I was talking to a group of kids and I had the field mic out, and these were students not from our school; they didn’t know what it was, they were petrified by it, they didn’t know what a podcast was or what we were gonna do and one of our students said, “Relax, he’s just doing a podcast.”



The music for this episode is, as always, courtesy the Oakland-based electronica duo dirtwire. Thanks to Mark Olofson, Principal Mike Berry and the students of Richmond Elementary School and Vermont Community Access Media for help in putting together this episode.

How podcast change begins with one smart librarian

*A quick note on this and our other podcast episodes, moving forward: Super-smart librarian Cecily Walker** noted how much easier it is for her to enjoy podcasts with actual transcripts of the words, and we (okay, maybe just Audrey) realized that we were screwing up by not providing transcripts. So from now on, all podcasts will be accompanied by a transcript. And we’re working on transcripts for the back episodes.

We love feedback (of the non-squealy audio kind) so if you have any other suggestions for making this podcast better, drop us a line. Please.




**Seriously, Walker is one of those amazing world-changing librarians who revolutionize the world all SHAZAM! and then when you ask about it they shrug and say, OH THIS THIS IS JUST TUESDAY MORNING. Go follow her on twitter at @skeskali.

Audrey Homan

Audrey Homan is a Vermont-based digital media producer, and producer of The 21st Century Classroom podcast. She's worked in non-profit communications for more than a decade, and in her spare time writes tiny video games and mucks about with augmented reality and arduinos, ably assisted by five dogs. Interviewing students and yelling in PHP are the best parts of her job.

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