Last week, I stood in the isle of the local Walmart and studied the composition notebooks trying to find the one I HAD to have.
The woman tidying the post-apocalyptic-back-to-school rush asked if I needed any help and instantly regretted it. I told her I was looking for a 4 inch notepad without spirals with a white cover. Her response “that’s the most specific request I have ever had.” I told her that I thought I got into teaching to change the world but this time of year, I am reminded that I may have gotten into teaching for the school supplies. I love the smell of new crayons and finding the latest in organization and planning tools. That excitement carries over into my classroom.
The best thing I do each year happens in the first 10 minutes the students meet me. They are presented with my vision for them for the school year. I am a dreamer but also a planner so this comes easy to me. At our open house this year, one of my upper level students walked into my new classroom (moved across the hall into the main broadcast suite) and said “Mr. White your plan is coming together. We are going to be ESPN before too long.” She has no idea the impact that statement made on me. She was a part of the first Sports Broadcast Institute class where I made my most passionate plea for the students to believe in themselves as much as I believe in what they can do. Two years after the conversation, she not only knows the goals but is bought in and willing to share her excitement to be a part of the goals.
The term “vision casting” is thrown around a good bit when discussing presenting ideas for a long term goal. In order to get the production environment that I want my students to create, I have to share the vision with them as well as the opportunities that buying into the vision will bring for them. If it is about anything other than them, don’t waste your time because they won’t buy in and it will fail.
The first step is to tell all of the students "what" is possible. This is easy for what we teach. Video production is a very tangible topic. I show pics and videos from events we have done in the past. I introduce them to some of the partners of the program. I tell them that I will fight with them to make them work hard. This was proven in the 2nd day of the school year when one of my middle school students cried like I have never seen someone cry. (All I did was ask her to talk to people she didn’t know….) I make sure all of my students know that I am on their side and they have the chance to take advantage of the opportunities in order to succeed.
The "how" of the vision is often the hardest thing to get students to understand. I put it on their level. I play on their need to impress and make people jealous. I play to their pride. I tell the students that we are going to create things that make people angry. I explain that I have made a name for myself by making people angry. Of course the students go the negative route immediately thinking that I have built a career (or 2) out of attacking people. To correct them, I detail how when you do great work and outwork your competition, people talk and often they speak negatively about how you got to where you are. This usually fires them up. They are really to take on the world by the end because I tell them we are creating “haters.” They have told me many times that they want “haters” because that means they have done something worthy of jealousy.
The hardest part of the vision cast is telling the students they have to work to get to the point they want to get to. Tell the students what they are going to have to do in order to win is often the hardest part because in the first days of class they still feel like my class is just like their others. The normal attitude toward my class is that it will be a ton of fun…. AND they get to make videos. In the first couple of days I dispel that myth. I tell the students they are going to work harder than they have in any other class but they won’t know it until the project is done. Giving the students the entire plan in the first couple of days has helped to get them on board with the idea of what it is going to take to succeed in my class and hopefully the next step in their career.
After you have told the students what is possible and how it is possible, you have to "empower" them to do the work. I don’t assign topics. I give assignments. This empowers the students to find their own stories and find passions. On the other hand, I do limit the number of times they can report on one topic. For example, if a student wants to just do stories about the basketball team, I make them pick another topic. This forces them into the unknown while still empowering them to make their own path.
Finally with the vision of the program, I make sure to "reward" them. Rewards from me are often very simple. A pat on the back. Stopping the class to come and watch what someone has created. My philosophy is to basically make a “win” for the student known by the other students. This often shocks the students because my typical demeanor wouldn’t be described as bright and bouncy. I make them feel like they have changed me if even for a minute.
Casting the vision for your program is essential for the success of your program. I urge you to have a vision for your program. As I speak with teachers from around the country, I find that those who have a vision and goals for the program have a much better program and seem to be happier teaching. I believe to have a great vision, you must have short term goals, long term goals, as well as a team of people to help make those goals happen.
Next month, we’ll look at the reality of running a program and how sometimes reality is not much fun to look at and may cause you more stress than you can imagine!
Tom White is a video production teacher at the Rockdale Career Academy in Conyers. GA. Tom is also the director of the Sports Broadcast Institute, which is One of Five Georgia Governor’s Innovation in Education award winning programs and the NFHS Network Best Overall Program. The Sports Broadcast Institute works to produce live broadcasts, newscasts, sports documentaries and more for the Three schools, Rockdale Co, Salem, and Heritage High schools, that the career academy serves. Prior to teaching, Tom was a marketing, promotions, and online content director for a major radio corporation in Atlanta. Tom studied exercise science at High Point University prior to his radio career. Despite his winding career path, his mother still thinks he is special.