Education Conversations: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at HMH’s Podcasts

We are proud to bring the education community two podcasts: Teachers in America, which features interviews with real teachers, and Shaping the FutureTM, where experts discuss education trends and how to prepare students for success in an unpredictable world. What work goes into producing our podcasts? How do we select guests and prep for recordings? It’s a huge team effort behind the scenes! And it all starts with choosing the guests.

For Teachers in America, we wanted to have honest conversations with teachers about the challenges they face, and hear about what gets them up in the morning. For our first episode, we needed a teacher who was willing to take a chance on newcomers to the podcast form. Once you’ve established a following, it becomes easier to find guests. But the first guest doesn’t know what to expect, and (to be honest) we weren't completely sure ourselves.

It helped that I know our first guest personally, teacher Rachel Swartz, and thought I knew a little about why she got into teaching. Turns out, there was way more to the story than I’d guessed!

She gave us a tour of her school in the Bronx, New York, introducing us to everyone from her co-teacher to school counselors. Because it was our first on-site recording, we brought our host, our original producer extraordinaire Onalee Smith, our director of content (me!), a marketing manager to take photos, and two multimedia gurus, who ensured we had a sharp recording and great B-roll, which is background audio to be used to enhance the sound of the episode.

Our very first guest, middle school English language arts teacher Rachel Swartz with Teachers in America, Season 1 host, Rose Else-Mitchell.

Since that first day, we’ve tried to find teachers from all corners of the U.S.—from New York and Ohio to Louisiana and Alaska—and to represent a diverse set of voices. We’ve spoken with immigrant teachers from Honduras and India. We’ve met with kindergarten teachers and high school history teachers.

When the pandemic hamstrung our ability to enter schools and meet in person, we recorded remotely. Host Noelle Morris worried the podcast would lose some of its sparkle.

“Like teachers, I do my best work in the same room with others because I absorb energy from the environment,” she says. “Part of that is because I am a learner, observer, and high-fiver. I was concerned that I would not be able to create an immediate connection on a screen or in audio meet-up software. Yet, when I listen back to the various episodes, I think the connection made with LaQuisha Hall and Priyank Bhatt is equal to Danielle Riha and Kelly Harper. Teachers adapt, can do hard things, and no matter the situation—they lead with heart. Heart over data is what got all of us through 2020.”

We all miss face-to-face conversations right now! These photos were taken pre-COVID. 2018 Teacher of the Year for Baltimore LaQuisha Hall (left) and Teachers in America host Noelle Morris chats with high school math teacher Priyank Bhatt from Newark, New Jersey.

So how do we find our guests? When we are scouting for teacher guests, we reach out to principals and school districts to nominate a teacher to come on the podcast. We have invited attendees at the Model Schools Conference to speak with us. We have also asked state and National Teachers of the Year to share their stories. If you would like to be a guest on the Teachers in America or Shaping the Future podcasts, please email us at shaped@hmhco.com. We'd love to hear from you!

The People Behind the Podcast

Shaping the Future’s Season 2 host Matthew Mugo Fields is the leader of HMH's supplemental and intervention division and the co-founder of Innovation For Equity. Fields, a Harvard graduate, shares his extraordinary education story in the first episode of Season 2. “I grew up a poor, low-income, immigrant kid,” he says. “No one in the family had gone to college. I lived in Section 8 housing. The mission and purpose that illuminated my life was grounded in my ability to help my family and community.”

Matthew Mugo Fields, host of Shaping the Future, records an episode from his home office. Season 2 goes live on Jan. 26, 2021!

Shaping the Future involves two of Fields’ favorite things—conversations and curiosity. “I love engaging in meaningful conversations with interesting people about topics that matter,” he says. “And because I am an unabashed edu-nerd, my curiosity drives me to explore all I can about learning, teaching, and the role of innovation in unlocking human potential.” His hope is that the podcast provides refreshing dialogues that inspire greater exploration of issues in education and beyond.

For Teachers in America host Noelle Morris, one of the best parts of making the podcast is “getting an opportunity to remind teachers of their awesomeness.” The former middle school language arts teacher says there are other perks, too. She’s become a better listener thanks to the “real conversations that bridge all aspects of teacher life.”

Noelle visits ESOL teacher Margarita Lezama's classroom in Miami-Dade, Florida.

You might also be wondering about Alicia “Lish” Mitchell, who adds her warm voice to the intro of many of our recent episodes. A graduate of Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, she studied broadcast journalism. She says, “Working alongside a team of talented folks to produce impactful content highlighting the heartbeat of educators is a privilege I don’t take lightly. We all have our roles in life and using my voice to share these stories through podcasting is an honor.”

There are other talented colleagues behind the scenes who work to make these podcasts look and sound fabulous: producer Alexandra Habashi, digital design manager Tim Lee, designer Mio Frye, and editor Jordan Friedman.

I am most grateful to work alongside great hosts, colleagues, and guests to listen to, produce, and edit stories that bring the most important issues in education to light—from the impact of COVID-19 on learning to the future of careers as told by America’s teachers and leaders. It’s so inspiring to hear each story.

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SHAPING THE FUTURE is a trademark of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

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