This time a year ago I had a crazy idea. Facing what was sure to be an unforgettable and stressful year, it was an idea that would help build community at my school. It would serve to document the school year in a unique way while at the same time helping everyone get to know members of our staff better. In short, it was a way to help us survive.
What was the idea? A staff podcast.
My vision was to have informal conversations with staff members from my school, hit record, and publish the result. The tone of the conversations would be similar to what would take place if we hadn’t seen one another in a while and then bumped into each other after school. Besides, we probably weren’t going to see much of each other anyway, so this made sense. I wanted the talks to be casual with the possibility of getting deep. Chill. Centered around anecdotes and stories. We would reminiscence, laugh, talk social justice, reflect on the pandemic, and welcome whatever else found its way into our talks. I had no problem hosting the podcast myself, but didn’t want to do it alone. I would need to find a co-host.
Ideally, I wanted each episode to feature a different staff member. Our talk would spotlight the guest and their personal narrative. Questions and talking points for the guest would be prepped beforehand by my co-host and I. The guests couldn’t be just teachers, either. The voices of office staff, aides, the custodial team, paraprofessionals, cooks, and school safety had to be included on the podcast. Just like teachers, all of these folks have stories that contribute greatly to our school community, but often get overlooked.
Outside chronicling the school year, a driving force for pursuing the podcast was encouraging staff to be more authentic and share who they are. By being on they would be doing just that. Authenticity can be contagious and I hoped students who listened would be more inclined to be their authentic selves in the classroom because we they would see (and hear) us doing the same thing. The podcast would be public, but remain localized in nature because it would only focus on our school. All stakeholders — including students, parents, perspective parents, donors, colleagues, anyone — would be able to listen and learn about the adults at our school.
I wanted the structure of each episode to be undemanding dialogue. Nothing more, nothing less. No high-end editing, no fancy music, no heavy prep. Very low maintenance. We would sit, hit record, and talk. That’s it. I got the idea from listening to the Three Educated Brothas and 8 Black Hands podcasts. Both are well planned, but informal, seemingly unrehearsed, and largely unedited (at least I think so). As such, I find their humanity to be on full display and wanted the staff podcast to echo this. I preparation for it, last September I even wrote a blogpost about Three Educated Brothas and how it inspired me.
So that was the idea. All I needed to do was to find a co-host. Luckily, my school is overflowing with motivated folks of all kinds. I impulsively pitched it to a teacher who I talk to often, Nikhil Krishna. I figured he might be interested. He got back to me quickly: he was down.
I shared my vision with Krishna. He piled his ideas on top of mine and we were excited to start digging in. For the sake of our own sanity, we figured that we would drop bi-weekly episodes. After some creative back-and-forth texting, the name of the podcast appeared to us in bright lights: 1363 and Me. It’s a play off the address of our school, which is in The Bronx. We hastily found a podcast hosting service and made a logo. 1363 and Me was official. We were on our way.
What transpired next was 24 spirited episodes filled with reflection, fun, and togetherness. We started off slow, lacking confidence (and decent audio) and wrapped things up last month on the final episode comforted by what we created for our school.
The vision we had from jump never changed. We had one guest as the centerpiece of each episode; we asked questions and went wherever the wind took us. That said, throughout the year we did experiment with different segments to liven up our conversations. For example, our “Eating and Reading” segment was one where we asked our guest to talk about a meal they ate and something they read recently. We also added a clever “Student Mailbag” segment late in the year where we would ask the guest questions that came directly from our students. Each episode concluded with the voice of the guest speaking to the relationship they have with our school.
In the end, Krishna and I agreed that our guests, all of whom volunteered their time to be on with us, utterly made the podcast. If what we did resonated in our listeners’ ears in any way, it was solely because of them. Krishna and I tried our best to vary who we had on and included teachers from every department, office staff, custodial staff, kitchen staff, aides, and even alumni. Representation mattered. For what it’s worth, they all made us look good. Their lived-experiences and stories buoyed us all year and gave life to what the podcast hoped to achieve. They talked about their childhoods and their passions. They expressed hopes. They opened up about vulnerabilities.
A lot happened last year. From schools closing to crazy elections to a global pandemic to a vaccine to schools reopening to our principal resigning. Through it all, our guests — our colleagues — showed up for our school community by way of their presence on 1363 and Me. With everything that happened, their voices were needed more than ever. Krishna and I are indebted to them all.
I entered this unusual project thinking that it would be yearlong endeavor. Though we are tempted to keep it going, seeing opportunity to keep broadcasting the stories of our staff, Krishna and I have decided — at least for now — that we will honor our yearlong commitment and step away. The podcast has run its course. It served its purpose. The episodes will stay up for anyone who wants to listen. If not for anything else, we hope the podcast helps us remember some of who and what we were last year. It was quite an adventure.
Here’s the link to the podcast: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1325935