SRL Connected Educator of the Month: December 2016

Black River Falls High School, Black River Falls, WI

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What stands out the most about Julie, Black River Falls High School’s SRL Connected Educator, is her commitment to learning and her tenacity to ask the right questions that motivate her students to be inquisitive journalists.

How do you like to receive your news?
Whenever I have a chance, I’m sneaking a peek at a story or two on the New York Times app or clicking through links from morning emails from the Skimm or NextDraft. And, I’ll have to admit, I don’t have cable. So, when it comes to broadcast, and this is not a fib, I try to get my news fix in with NewsHour. Luckily, I have a choice of watching it at five or six o’clock, so it fits my schedule.

Would you rather live a year without radio or without television? Explain.
I think I could live without both (there’s the internet, after all), but I think I’d miss television most. While audio is equally important to what we do, it’s the visual images that I am drawn to. After all, I don’t remember the radio reports of 9/11. I do remember the images of the planes hitting the towers and the reactions of the journalists covering the events. Plus, my commute is about 10 minutes. In the end, I could probably take a year of hearing my 10-year-old chatter on car rides, but I don’t think I’d like to lose TV.

What is your teaching philosophy when it comes to storytelling?
This is a tough one. I’ve always struggled when confronted with questions about my teaching philosophy. It sounds so formal and that’s not what teaching is. Mainly, I teach my kids that EVERYONE has a story to tell — you just have to ask the right questions. If you’re lucky, you’re asking those questions at the right time and in the right place. They need to be curious about the world around them and try to be a little bit fearless. After all, it’s hard to ask someone to open up to you, but most people are happy to do it if you’ll spend a little time with them.

How can student reports help promote a greater understanding of the world?
A lot of my kids see things in a more granular way — they often see the people, not the issues. While both are important, I think that by introducing our students to the issues and having them discover how the bigger world shapes those same people, we’re giving them more understanding of the world. Plus, we’re not just impacting our students. We’re also touching those we’re interviewing by giving them voices. And, of course, there’s our audience. A lot of the student body wouldn’t even consider some of the topics we put in front of them if we didn’t cover it.

How can we get youth more interested in the news?
I think we’re already starting to see a lot more of this, focusing on the people behind the news and not only the facts. I’ve also seen that kids who end up in journalism classes often get more interested than they expected to, just because they are surrounded by it. It’s a class like no other. Here’s an idea: let’s just make journalism a required class instead of an elective that gets pushed to the side when AP classes and college-credit options come calling.

How can we teach youth to be more inquisitive in the world around them?
Expose them to new things. If they are exposed to the same things day after day, they stop being curious. Luckily, that’s not hard with the internet being a constant in our lives. I also think that a lot of them are pretty curious, we just aren’t listening closely enough to know. They need to know that they should never stop asking why. We have to stop telling them to be quiet and encourage all those questions. And if we can’t answer the questions, let our kids give a try at finding the answer.

What do you hope to accomplish with SRL?
I want to give my students a voice. I want to light a passion for storytelling. And, I want to help all of our kids be better citizens. We need a generation of kids who can think for themselves and dig for the truth to take over when it’s their turn.