MERC podcasts tell how Richmond teachers connect with students

By Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs , 804-827-0889

Friday, July 27, 2018

From left:
From left: "Connections Across Education" hosts Brian Condit, Dr. David Naff and Brionna Nomi (Courtesy photo)

A new podcast series from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education and Richmond area school systems is highlighting stories that show the importance of relationships between students and educators.

The podcast, “Connections Across Education,” is produced by the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium, a partnership between the School of Education and seven local school districts to conduct research that addresses enduring and emerging issues in schools.

“We all have a teacher or other educator who made a big impact on our lives, and it is likely that person sticks out to us because of the relationship that we were able to build,” said co-host David Naff, Ph.D., assistant director of research and evaluation at the consortium. “Not only is there research evidence to support the importance of relationships, it is also something that we intuitively know to be true from our own experiences.

“Conversations around public education can get pretty noisy, and are often highly critical,” he said. “This podcast series helps us focus on what we know to be effective while also sharing some good news from school divisions in metropolitan Richmond.”

In each episode, Naff and co-hosts Brionna Nomi, who taught in Richmond Public Schools for 10 years and is part of Richmond Teachers for Social Justice, and Brian Condit, a teacher at Albert Hill Middle School who recently graduated from VCU’s Richmond Teacher Residency program, interview a student and educator about their experiences.

For example, one episode features an interview with Paola Henriquez, a student at Lloyd C. Bird High School in Chesterfield County, and Denay Haist, a fifth-grade teacher at Beulah Elementary School, also in Chesterfield County.

“We believe that our podcast should include different voices in public education, because there is so much that we can learn from each other.”

“Ms. Haist was Paola’s fifth-grade teacher, and helped her enroll in the honors program at Salem Church Middle School,” Naff said. “Now a high school senior, Paola attributes much of her success to the relationship she had with Ms. Haist and the high expectations that she had for her. Nearly eight years later, they still stay in touch and Paola messages Ms. Haist every year on her birthday.”

In another episode, Samantha Martin, a recent graduate of Goochland High School, is interviewed alongside Elizabeth Kuhns, director of alternative education at Goochland High.

“After losing a parent to cancer and a friend to suicide back to back early in her high school career, Samantha dropped out of school, but not before she made a serendipitous connection with Ms. Kuhns,” Naff said. “On the day she was supposed to graduate, Samantha got in touch with Ms. Kuhns to let her know that she wanted to go back to school. Through their work together, she is now a proud graduating member of the Goochland High School Class of 2018.”

“Connections Across Education” is a special series from the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium’s other podcast, “Abstract,” that explores issues in education via roundtable discussions with consortium study team members and interviews with stakeholders from local school systems.

For “Connections Across Education,” the show’s hosts are featuring stories from each of the consortium’s participating public school divisions: Chesterfield County, Goochland County, Hanover County, Henrico County, Petersburg, Powhatan County and Richmond.

The idea for the new podcast grew out of ongoing discussions among consortium members about how public educators see relationships as the foundation of what they do.

“We conceptualize relationships in a lot of different ways in educational research, including belonging, emotional engagement and relatedness, all of which tend to be related to positive outcomes for students,” Naff said. “Because it is our mission at MERC to bridge the gap between research, policy and practice, and because our podcast ‘Abstract’ is one of our prominent methods for engaging our stakeholders, it made sense to create a series focused on this important topic.”

The podcast is intended for educators, students, parents, school leaders, researchers, policymakers and anyone else invested in public pre-K through 12th-grade education.

“We have representatives from each of these stakeholder groups featured in episodes of the podcast, and while we recognize this is a broad audience, we believe that it is important to be inclusive,” Naff said. “Among the core principles of MERC, we believe in the importance of including multiple perspectives in the work that we do. It not only enhances the rigor of the research, but it makes it more applicable in a real-world setting.

“Similarly, we believe that our podcast should include different voices in public education, because there is so much that we can learn from each other,” he added. “The ‘Connections Across Education’ series from ‘Abstract’ this summer continues in that tradition, while also sharing relatable stories about great things happening in RVA.”

“Connections Across Education” is connected to the consortium’s 15th annual MERC Conference on Oct. 19 at the VCU Academic Learning Commons. The theme for this year’s conference is “Connections Across Education: Advancing Public Schools Through Research and Relationships,” and it will bring together stakeholders from educational research, practice and policy in metropolitan Richmond.

“If you love what you hear in the podcast, you will want to join us for this great event featuring a special session with all of the participants along with presentations about community-engaged research,” Naff said. “You can also record your own story on our website about a teacher or other educator who made a big impact on your life and be featured in a later episode of the podcast.”

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