The modern philosopher Mike Tyson once said “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” and that is how I felt in December after launching the Sports Broadcast Institute at the Rockdale Career Academy.

In the fall, I wrote an article ( lauding all of the great things in store for the Sports Broadcast Institute and how we were going to make something amazing! The plan was there but the culture was not.

The hardest part of getting the Sports Broadcast Institute (SBI) off the ground was changing the culture of the students. There seemed to be an expectation among some of the students that the class would be simply a walk through the proverbial park and we would just laugh and have a great time making sports videos. My expectation was very different.Rockdale01 375

The first day of class was great. I was excited the students were excited and we were going to take over the world. I actually used the line “what we are starting today is a big deal and everyone will be watching.” THEN, I asked about the summer assignments…. And went over the syllabus. On the first day of class, I had 60 students. By the second, I was down to 50. The second day of class though I wanted to set the new tone. The students all had One class period to produce a :60 stand up with lower thirds and a good story. The Third day of class, I had 40 students. This new culture scared the students. I had many tell me that they were afraid that they would not be able to keep up. I started to get a little concerned that I may run so many students off that I get shown the door as well.

The struggles continued as we got used to the new pace and the new expectations. My initial goal was a rotation every 2 weeks. That way the students would be able to plan in class one week, shoot over the weekend, and do post production during the next week of class. This was the first jab to the face and it was 100% my fault. I should have known that these students did not want to give all they had to the program because for most of them, it is “just” a class. As a result, we moved to a 3 week rotation. This worked out much better. The students planned for a week, shot for a week, then did post for a week.

Rockdale02 375The Three week rotations were working but the quality of the product was not up to the abilities of the students. I have a very open classroom where I allow the students to have frank and candid conversations about what is going on with them and why their products are suffering. The students basically said their biggest problem was my and my expectations vs what I was giving them in terms of support and equipment. We talked about it at great length over a couple of class periods. At the end, I explained to them that they all had everything they needed to succeed and make great videos. They just had to lose the “2nd place” attitude and get with the “this isn’t good enough” mentality. This was the tipping point for the program. The students were on board and felt like we were all on one team instead of the typical adversarial relationship that sometimes exists in a classroom with high expectations.

The other key to helping to win the expectations war was the work that was put in during the summer to make connections and relationships. Last summer, I spent a lot of time trying to make contacts in collegiate video departments to help get a foot in the door for the program. Sherik Hodge and the Georgia State University Athletics department took a chance and let us show what our students are capable of. Sherik, who has the heart of a teacher, welcomed my students to come to any games and help shoot. Our first experience was a soccer game. One of my seniors, Ellie Thompson, jumped at the chance to go and film for a highlight reel. She and Sherik talked and shared goals and experiences the entire time. It was great to be able to take a backseat and watch my student grow literally before my eyes. (Check out the recap video here: We were also able to shoot several of the Georgia State football games at the Georgia Dome. This was a great opportunity for students to see all of the work that goes on behind the scenes to make a great video production department work.

As the wheels started rolling on the SBI, One of my administrators suggested that I submit for the Governor’s office of Student Achievement Innovation in Education award. The submission Rockdale03 375process was pretty simple, for a video teacher. Create and submit a 5 minute video showing how your program is innovative. I will never forget the moment we got the call letting us know that we were selected because it was a time of true innovation in the classroom. A student and I were standing at my desk and talking about how he had not met my expectations and how his script was not acceptable and how let down I was. (It sounds like a much friendlier conversation when I write it down.) The phone rang and on the other end I hear “Hi Tom, This is Rebecca from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement…” I had forgotten about the award and began to panic that big brother had been watching. Needless to say when I hung up the phone and told the student that the call was from the Governor, his attitude changed!

Our students got on board in a big way as the year moved on. We produced over 30 football games during the season (remember, we serve 3 high schools). These games ranged from 2
camera shoots with just one being used to stream the games to 3 camera shoots with play by play, replay and more. We also shot over 180 basketball games this year. The highlight of the basketball season was the Battle At The Rock Thanksgiving tournament at the Rockdale County High School. (Check out the recap video here: ) We shot every game of the tournament with over 30 of the students volunteering their time to make the broadcast. These multi camera shoots were a blast for everyone involved because a lot of the first year students got to come and help. (The Sports Broadcast Institute is for 2nd and 3rd year broadcast students)

Rockdale04 375The state of Georgia encourages video production programs to work through industry certification with the Media Education Foundation Of Georgia. This is no small task as you must prepare reports covering most everything in the department from lesson plans and safety protocols through advisory council rosters and meeting notes. The review panel of Three spends half a day reviewing the artifacts to determine if we are actually teaching to the standards set by the state and to a level needed for industry placement. Our review included over 2,000 pages of documentation because of the size and active nature of our program. With this completed, standardized testing season hit in full force.

Our students completed both the NOCTI End Of Pathway exam and the Georgia DOE SLO for the course. Testing season takes a lot out of the students. It seems all encompassing during the spring. Every class that the students take has some sort of standardized test. While the individual tests may not take the biggest toll on the students, the sum of all of the tests is devastating on the student’s desire to learn and produce good products. I usually start the final project for all of my students at the end of spring break with the knowledge that it is going to take Two to Three weeks longer to produce their final projects than it does at any other time in the year. The students appreciate this for several reasons, it allows them to think a little longer during preproduction and does not force them to work at the same pace. I also become a little more lax in class when it comes to off topic conversations. The students need a release and providing that venue for them helps to build a stronger rapport with the students.

The highlight of the year happened in late April. It was One of “those” days. Our school’s awards night was that night, I was stressing because there were no students to help produce the broadcast and I just thought “something's gotta give.” I felt my phone buzz just after that. I ignored it as class was still happening. After the student’s left for the day, I checked my phone and the missed call was from Mike Z from the NFHS network. I listened to the voicemail and my jaw dropped. Minutes before his phone call our program had been named the NFHS Network Best Overall School Broadcast Program for 2015-2016. We submitted a video entry for the contest early in February and I had completely forgotten about it. The magnitude of the award took some time set in and was only truly realized when one of my students talked about how it felt to think about how many schools could participate in the program and the fact that we will “forever be the best - even if it’s for one year.”

As I look forward to the 16-17 school year, I am excited to take the lessons learned this year and build the program. MyRockdale05 375 CEO (Since we are a Career Academy, we have a CEO instead of Principal) stopped me earlier this week and gave me the “homework” of listening to an Andy Stanley leadership podcast episode named “Better Before Bigger” ( because she said it sounds like my attitude toward how I approach the program. She was right - you should check it out. We are focusing on building stronger relationships outside of the building along with building better workflows for the students. The next year will be fast paced, scary, and hopefully just a fruitful as this one. The key to our success as a program lies in giving and living the vision for the program, the students, and their careers. The students have to see that you believe in them, the program and the fight to make both better. I’m ready for round Two and this time, I plan to keep my gloves up.




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