Tom and I are excited to post the inaugural episode of the SHARE Podcast where we have practical conversations with inspiring educators. Through our work with SHARE, we’ve had the privilege to meet and work with incredible people who, in various ways, are educators, teaching and leading with humanity and resourcefulness. The stories they have told us are the most thought-provoking thing about being a member of this team, so we decided to make our conversations available to the community at large. Each week, we will post a new conversation, full of ideas and advice for educators of all kinds, including teachers, parents, and leaders.

While we’re currently going through the approval process with a number of podcast distributors, you can listen to our inaugural episode through the player on this page and read the transcript of our conversation below.


Tom

Hello everyone and welcome to the inaugural episode of SHARE’s Podcast.

 

Patrick 

For those of you coming to this with no idea who we are, this is the perfect episode to start with because we are going to be talking about the who, what, and why of SHARE as an organization and also of the podcast itself. I’m Patrick York and I’m joined by my colleague Dr. Tom Armbrecht. 

 

Tom

It always sounds so funny to hear “doctor” before my name. No, I am not a medical doctor. I was a doctor of French literature. I guess I still am, but that’s not my job anymore as you well know.

 

Patrick

Well, that’s a good start. So you’re a professor of French literature, and this is a podcast where we have practical conversations with inspiring educators. Tell me (I know already, so tell me for the sake of our audience) how you go from being a professor of French literature to being the host of a podcast like this.

 

Tom

It’s not as big of a jump as you might think. I taught French at the post-secondary level as a graduate student at 22 until 46, so it was a career’s worth of time. At the end of that I was really burned out teaching. I just didn’t like my job anymore. I got a job in Instructional Design as you well know (because you used to be my boss). 

 

Patrick

That’s right. Ironically.

 

Tom

Actually. How old were you when you hired me? Twenty-nine? And I was forty-six? You asked me if that was a problem and I said no. It was a good answer. (Laughs) Anyway the subject of SHARE is, and has been, how to help teachers avoid burnout by dealing with traumatic situations and the stress that accompanies them. In some ways, I’ve thought it’s a bit ironic because if only I’d had this information when I was contemplating leaving my career, I might still be a French professor.

 

Patrick

And I—I hope you aren’t offended by this—but whenever I tell my friends or anyone in my life about you, I’m like, “Tom Armbrecht is not only one of the most interesting people, not only that I know, but on this planet.

 

Tom

(Laughs)

 

Patrick

I start with, he’s got a collection of spoons and he spent years trying to find this wallpaper for his house in Madison that was from the 30s. And go on and on. He’s really into Japanese tattoos. You draw a really compelling character. 

 

Tom

I guess I have a lot of eclectic interests. What sort of maybe unifies all of it is the humanity of it. Living in a foregin country (I live in Berlin, as you know, Germany) and being surrounded by all sorts of people and having done different jobs, I think, has increased my empathy. In order to be friends with lots of people, you have to be able to identify with them.

 

Patrick 

Not only are you a French professor, but you’ve spent a lot of time in France, which is notoriously a challenging country to live in.

 

Tom

(Laughs) I can’t really contradict that. But it’s also a wonderful place to live. The people are nice and, as everyone knows, the food is good. So how about you? How did you come to SHARE?

 

Patrick

When we worked together, we worked at an ed tech company, and I was the director of that learning design department at the time. My background was in Instructional Design. It started when I joined this company and noticed there was a gap in their skillset as an elearning company that didn’t really have much instructional design chops. So I took it on first as a project manager trying to get some interesting minds together to provide some intellectual, academic muscle to an organization that was more broadly a marketing firm for universities. Over the years we had a team of 15 people who were all instructional designers, former professors, former K-12 educators who had an enormous wealth of experience and some really great skill in putting together interesting learning experiences.

 

Tom 

You gave us a lot of opportunities to be creative and do research as well. It was a good team.

 

Patrick 

We were really fortunate because we were working for a larger company that had a broader goal of helping universities take programs online, and we were able to create our own space within that. We worked with professors, faculty members, teachers to create all sorts of courses. Then at a certain point we thought it would be interesting to do something that was ours. We provide a lot of services for faculty members, but we don’t get to keep any of it. It’s all their intellectual property. So we started looking around and seeing where we could develop a product or create coursework that we could hold on to and hold up as an example of our work. We looked into professional development and started to have conversations with teachers and administrators, attend conferences, and really started to see what was going on in trauma-informed care and social emotional learning. And not only how compelling those are as topics, but how many people nationally and internationally have devoted their entire careers to this. It’s really humbling as someone whose background is in product and learning design to see the decades people have devoted to bringing these great ideas into classrooms to help not only students but teachers as well. Teaching has only become more demanding over time.

 

Tom

It is very passionate work because it deals with things that have made people suffer. Most people encounter experiences in their life that are painful enough that they can identify with trauma in a general sense. I know that for me, writing originally about this for teachers what a universal subject this is. It’s not like trauma is a new thing, but we’ve just sort of been able to put vocabulary and concepts out there so people can start to voice it and talk about it.

 

Patrick

In concrete terms for our listeners, what came out of my and Tom’s work as we started to develop SHARE as a platform was a number of courses related to trauma-informed care in the classroom. Through that work and the development of those courses we got to work with faculty experts, subject matter experts who are licensed professional counselors and a number of other people from across the country to create things that were freely available, some things that were paid or cost money. Those resources are available at sharetolearn.com. But where we find ourselves at the present is that company was acquired by another company, excepting our product, so we decided to take it on as its own organization and to continue the mission of SHARE to provide these types of resources to educators. I think being involved in this work requires a lot of humility and being honest about who you are, what your experience is, and what you have to contribute. One thing I’ve learned is that there’s a lot of people doing work in this area and it would be a little bit presumptuous to think we could offer something to the general population that isn’t already offered by somebody who has richer experience, a greater research base, and a more direct appeal. All that is to say that, now that we recognize that we’ve started this podcast so we get to introduce you, the audience, to their great ideas straight from them, not filtered through our experience and our curriculum. And then [we plan] to work with these people to create widely available courses that can help people who are struggling with kids in the classroom who are affected by trauma, their kids…

 

Tom

And themselves. I think of SHARE’s mission as making these very important ideas and concepts accessible to a large variety of people in a context that makes sense because it’s relevant to them and what they need. And it doesn’t have to be just educators of course. SHARE’s mission includes the idea that an educator can be formally trained or it could be a parent who is teaching in his or her home. And it could be somebody in the community. Teaching presents a special emotional challenge that people face in a variety of contexts. When I write for SHARE I try to think of that public. Whoever has to come up with a teaching idea right away in the context of kids who are having trouble. What do they need and what are they going to do?

 

Patrick

This isn’t purely theoretical for you, certainly, because you’ve been an educator for so long. And it isn’t purely theoretical for me either, moreso recently because we’re expecting our first child in May. I’m thinking about how to be a good parent and I have no idea. 

 

Tom 

I wouldn’t worry, Patrick. I think you’ll do fine. 

 

Patrick

Thanks for the encouragement. We’ve already recorded some of the podcasts with our future guests and already I find myself telling my wife, oh man Julie Beem said this thing about paying attention in these really specific ways to your kid and what they’re experiencing so you can help them through challenging times. And she’ll say, that’s great. Where did you talk to this person? On the podcast! 

 

Tom

I like to think of our podcast as a way to get conversations going. Not only in the podcasts themselves but hopefully among the people who are interested in the subject and maybe among the experts, too. 

 

Patrick

I am a very avid listener to podcasts. I’m also a winemaker, so I listen to a lot of winemaking podcasts, wine history and culture podcasts. But it really is an interesting medium to talk about something in dialogue. I think that’s where real knowledge of a topic or a real understanding is developed. When two people with overlapping or slightly different understandings of something get to talk it through and you see the edges of their opinions and definitions and you get to see them cross over or contradict one another. That’s where I think the really helpful truth is. As a listener you get to follow along and say, I think Tom has the better point, or Patrick might be right about that. 

 

Tom

And regardless of the positions people are taking, one of the things I’ve appreciated in the podcasts we’ve recorded is that universally people have been telling their personal truths. They’ve chosen to speak about what is happening in their lives and what has happened in their lives and how that’s motivated them to do what they do. And that really has resonated with me. 

 

Patrick

Absolutely. And in that spirit, it’s really important for me that the guests we have on the program are educators in a broad sense with a broad set of experiences. Voices from different communities. To be transparent, we’re obviously two white men who are the hosts of this podcast. 

 

Tom

I’m gay, so I have a little diversity card going. We need a diversity of voices because that’s something about the work that I’ve done so far. Coming into contact with people taching in very different situations and doing very different jobs—that’s given me a much broader and richer understanding of what people are facing in their classrooms and in their own lives as teachers.

 

Patrick

And I’ve really been inspired by people, who really put students at the center of their curriculum design and make that a really important part of what they do because the result is better learning outcomes for their students and a more engaged student population. It really does come down to people listening to one another precisely because they have a different set of experiences.

 

Tom

One thing that’s really struck me that I’ve heard again and again is that in student centric thinking and teacher preparation is that we cannot forget the teacher and that person’s well being. So often teachers are asked to give and play a variety of roles including almost a parental role, and there’s not always acknowledgement or appreciation for how exhausting that is emotionally. 

 

Patrick

Right. To summarize, and you can let me know if I’m being fair, the goal of SHARE as a platform and the goal of this podcast specifically is not to say, this is the right way to do something, that is the wrong way to do something, but to be in ongoing conversation about all the way people are doing things and seeing success in education. 

 

Tom

Absolutely. I think it will be a chance for people to talk about the who, what, and why of what they’re doing as well. Hopefully that will create a great listener base because we’ll interview lots of fascinating people. 

 

Patrick 

And already have. We’re really fortunate to be connected to some of the organizations we belong to like the Resilience Coalition. Just this morning I was in a call with the nine founding members of that coalition and got to hear all the programs and projects that are nationwide, that are community-specific, that are founded in institutions of higher learning, that are a part of grassroots community organizations. 

 

Tom 

That passion you talked about earlier also leads people to be generous with their voice and ideas because they realize the importance of what they’re talking about. 

 

Patrick

We’ve already interviewed David Adams of the Urban Assembly, and he talked about the role of education in a democracy. That’s increasingly important to me, too, as a citizen, but also as a future father. The idea that education shouldn’t be defined quite so specifically, quite so formally. It’s something that happens all the time, in every corner of society, and it’s the responsibility that we have for ourselves, too ourselves, and that we have for each other. 

 

Tom

I agree. I’ll put in a little plug for the humanities here as a former professor of them. I remember when I went to a college that really stressed a liberal arts education. They said during our freshman orientation that they wanted us to be able to do a few things to prove our competency. One of them is that we had to be able to swim so that we would not drown. And another one is to develop the habit of reading the newspaper all the time so you were an informed citizen who could make choices and was actively involved in your community and world. They never talked about getting a good job or becoming important, though lots of people were there for that, but I do believe that is the primary goal of education regardless of the field. It’s not to produce workers (laughs). It’s to produce good citizens, whatever that means. Good people.

 

Patrick

Right. I don’t want to get too philosophical, but the cool thing about being a good person or a good citizen is that much like a good conversation, the definition is always expanding. It doesn’t mean that what it means today and tomorrow are two totally different things. There are very important things about being a respectful member of society and giving to it as you take from it, but times change. And times have really changed over 2020. What it means to be an educator has really changed. What it means to get an education at a distance through a screen has largely changed for a lot of people. 

 

Tom

I was born in 1970. I hope I’m not revealing too many personal details (laughs). I mention this because computers were always part of my life, but it was at the beginning of home computing. I had a Commodore Vic 20, which I found out would have cost about $900 in today’s money. 

 

Patrick

Wow. 

 

Tom

I know. And it could do almost nothing. When I was 22 in ‘92 was when the advent of the Internet happened, particularly for people who had access through their schools. We’re 30 years later, and I’m very optimistic about technology, as you know Patrick, even when it comes to good citizenship. We’re in the infancy of this. Really the infancy still, relative to how long it will exist. This networking and communication and coming together. Even though it’s not going well all the time and is facilitating a lot of social unrest, I still think we’re at the beginning of an educational revolution if we can figure out how to get people to use the Internet as a learning tool and be discerning, the possibilities are amazing.

 

Patrick

I rely on you a lot for your optimism. While I don’t think technology and social media, while I don’t think it’s going to be the end of civilization as so many documentaries on Netflix would have you believe, I do tend to fret over it a little more than you do. I also remember putting a CD-ROM into a computer to get online, but that was at the very beginning of my experience with the Internet. But I have grown up with all of my friends creating these lives as digital natives online in ways that have done real damage to their lives and have made them live in this made up world more than they live in the real world. That does give me pause, but I do think you’re right.

 

Tom

I shouldn’t discount your experience because of course I’m sounded by people closer to my own age or who have lived slightly different lives. I just think about when I went to school and when I did research as a student how much more difficult it was. And at the end of my career even as a professor doing research, there were so many books in my field specifically online or could be sent to me, it blew my mind. The physical aspect of education has become optional. Let’s put it that way. That’s as problematic as it is exciting. 

 

Patrick

I think that sort of optimism is really important. I do appreciate that perspective. While it can seem overwhelming and a bit nefarious at times, I think you’re right—there’s a lot of opportunity. But we’ve had conversations with other colleagues recently about the impact of toxic positivity in times like these when we try to push away all the dangers and challenges that we face, not only from COVID and the proliferation of technology and the changes in education and civil unrest resulting from the murder of black and brown citizens, the list goes on and on. Twenty-twenty was just insane and 2021 is not off to a much better start. 

 

Tom

Slightly. 

 

Patrick

Yes slightly, discounting January 6th. But at the end of all of that and recognizing toxic positivity is a very real thing, there is definitely time and space for despair in my life, for me, and there’s definitely a time and space for hope.

 

Tom

That’s actually a really good thing to bring up relative to SHARE, because that’s a lesson that I’ve learned writing about emotions is that it’s normal to experience a full gamut of them. We often associate, or at least I have, shame with anger or guilt or when you feel strong emotions, I often have a rebound emotion, as if I shouldn’t have felt that way. It’s more important what you do with your emotions and how they affect other people rather than trying to suppress them in yourself.

 

Patrick

Right. I think ultimately, if I’m putting a cap on it, that’s the power of storytelling and why we’ve made SHARE into a new acronym—it used to stand for something else in full transparency—Stories of Humanity And Resilience in Education. And the stories, because they are a dialogue, they’re unfolding, they’re something that’s dynamic, are our chosen medium.

 

Tom

 I hadn’t really thought of what we were doing in a podcast as storytelling, but of course that’s what we’re doing, it’s just nonfiction storytelling. Yeah, I’m excited about it. It’s a great excuse to talk to some really interesting people.

 

Patrick

We are the least interesting people you will hear from on this podcast. 

 

Tom

Hey, you said I was the most interesting person.

 

Patrick

Oh right. Tom excepted. Thanks for coming.

 

Tom 

Yes, it was great talking to you as always, Patrick.