Video Production Led me to a Teaching Degree

It’s been a while since I checked in on my blog, and there’s a very good reason for that. I’ve been in school!  I’m about to graduate with a Masters Degree in Education – Technology in Education, to be precise.  What is the story behind this?

I have been a freelance video producer since I left my career in advertising about fifteen years ago.  No offense to advertising, but this transition was one of the most rewarding changes I ever made (and I’ve made quite a few of those).  There was always something hollow at the core of advertising for me.  The reputation it has for being superficial, fast-paced and cutthroat is well-earned, and just didn’t suit my personality at all.  I wanted it to suit me because I had always thought I wanted to be in either the movie business or in advertising, with a secret longing to be a talk show host.

After leaving a position at one of the biggest ad agencies on the East Coast, I knew it was time to get back to my roots and do something that was rewarding.  I bought a high definition video camera, considered new technology at the time, and went into business as a freelance video producer.  My niche was to work with professional speakers, shooting and editing their marketing material; and this proved to be a very successful lane for me, at the time. I’m a self-starter, so I brushed up on all my editing skills, went online and taught myself some new ones. I used a platform called Lynda.com to learn Final Cut Pro, Motion, Premiere Pro and After Effects.  These are the tools I needed to be competitive as a video producer.  I really only knew how to edit on celluloid from my university days as a film student. (To get a sense at to how editing has changed over the years, you can check out this concise and informative blog.)

Shooting speakers was fun, and it even rekindled my dream of becoming a talk show host!  It was also rewarding and a little bit like advertising.  I learned a lot from the different speakers I worked with, because each of them had a unique topic or concentration.  Mostly, the topics centered on corporate interests, but sometimes I got a chance to record a lecture about engineering or science. In particular, I loved working with Karen McCullough, Dayna Steele (now running for congress!), and Craig Karges.  Slowly, as I became more successful, I started working with other businesses like PR firms and small advertising shops.  Then, one day, I got a call to do some work for a company called STEMscopes.

OK, now this is where sound effects come in and you hear a car come to a screeching halt.  STEMscopes was an incredible experience.  All of a sudden, a whole new world opened up to me.  This was a small business at the time, made up of science teachers, tech people and a small sales department.  They worked together  to create an online science curriculum for grades K through 12 in Texas. The people working here were amazing, most of them teachers, lots of them students right out of college (at the time, the company was part of Rice University). This was the environment in which I knew that I belonged.  I began to see my skills as a storyteller and a video producer being used to help young people learn. This seemed so much more important to me than selling something or embellishing on someone’s qualities for their website.  At STEMscopes, I had the opportunity to help shape the way children learn, and to help them be more successful students!

This was all happening at a time when incredible growth in the education world was also occurring.  Technology was weaving its way into the classroom, just as it had done in many other areas of our lives. Teachers were finding new ways to teach, exploring ideas and systems online and getting support from unlikely places all over the globe. E-Learning was beginning to take ahold, and STEMscopes was a pioneer in this new concept called the “blended learning.”  Things like a “flipped classroom” began making sense to teachers.  This was a new idea where the educator videotaped their lectures so that students could watch them at home and spend their time in class doing hands-on projects.  In fact, one project that I worked on was based on a grant for two Rice University professors to develop a flipped classroom for their engineering department. This was cutting edge stuff!

As STEMscopes grew, so did the need for more video on the website. We were producing several videos for each lesson, and these were all based on the Texas Science standards, or TEKS. When STEMscopes began moving into other states, we had to adapt everything for other state’s standards, and eventually for the Next Generation Science Standards.  I was offered a full-time position, and I jumped at the opportunity without hesitation. Never had a career move felt more natural than this one.

There was a small issue, however, and that was my limited knowledge of pedagogy and new technologies in teaching.  I felt under-qualified sometimes, especially when discussing concepts and ideas with other teachers.  For me, this was the inspiration to go back and get my Masters in Education. I didn’t have a clue what to expect, and to be honest, my mind was blown. Education and Technology are experiencing such rapid change right now that they need people like me!  Not many people I know go back to school for a new career at my age, but I’ve always seen myself as a lifelong learner.  What could be more exciting?

Who knows, maybe when I’m in my eighties or nineties I’ll finally get a chance to have my own talk show!

The Case of the Missing Red Dress, or Personal Branding 101

The first shot of the film Miss Firecracker is an old, grainy 1970’s home movie clip of a young girl wearing a fuzzy yellow hat and a huge smile, waving at someone. It is a complete expression of joy; someone who seems unfazed by her own awkwardness.

The plot of Miss Firecracker, a slightly  flimsy story played by very good actors (screenplay adapted by Beth Henley from her own play), in a nutshell:  A woman named Carnelle (Holly Hunter) lives by herself (or with her cousin Delmont played by Tim Robbins?) in a huge, dilapidated mansion in a small town in Mississippi.  Both her parents are dead, and we learn she was raised by her cousin, Elaine (Mary Steenburgen), who now lives in Atlanta and is on her way to visit Yazoo City to give a speech at the Fourth of July Miss Firecracker Contest.  Elaine won the beauty contest in her youth, years earlier.

Carnelle is an unfufilled girl with very low self esteem who has probably slept her way through all the young men in town just to feel good about herself.  She is an innocent at heart, and we like her right away, because she’s got so much life in her.  She’s kind to everyone, and believes everything she hears.  She just doesn’t love herself.  And unfortunately the town doesn’t really love her either, as she is the laughing stock of the area.

As she is getting older, this is the last year she is eligible to enter the Miss Firecracker Contest, and she sees it as her big chance to rise above her circumstances, and maybe even find a way out of Yazoo City. She really wants to follow in Elaine’s footsteps, and hopes her cousin will help her by letting her wear the red dress that Elaine wore when she was crowned Miss Firecracker.  Unfortunately, Elaine is also getting older, and is trying to hang on to her beauty queen title, so she pretends she forgot to bring the red dress for Carnelle.  Elaine comes across as very superficial and self-obsessed.  She causes Carnelle to seek the help of Popeye Jackson (Alfre Woodard), a local seamstress, to help make her a dress.

This is a story about finding happiness and joy in the things that make us who we are, and the freedom we can feel when we stop trying to be someone else.  I happened to watch the film again recently, and I was reminded of this message. Holly Hunter is wonderful as Carnelle, desperately trying to tap dance her way out of her own prison.  At the end of the film, we are treated to a lovely moment of self-fulfillment by Carnelle, as she remembers herself as a child in that fuzzy yellow hat.  I really loved how we weren’t beaten over the head with this, but it was slowly allowed to sink in, without dialogue or pandering.  It reminded me of my the process of personal branding, even my own process, and how I’ve had to really learn how to embrace certain parts of myself that I never knew were assets…and to let go of always trying to be something I’m not.

Although the movie isn’t award-winning, it does touch on some nice themes.  What are our good qualities that we don’t see as assets?  Could it be that we sometimes try to build up or attain recognition for traits which really aren’t our strengths?  Many of us spend years obsessing and dwelling on accolades we haven’t yet achieved, instead of looking inward at our own greatness.  It’s an inside job, folks.

OK, I’m done.  That was my momentary lapse into feel-good cheesiness.

What are Your Core Beliefs?

I’ve been talking to some of my speaker friends who attended the NSA World Convention in Anaheim last week (Karen McCullough, Crystal Washington, Mike Lejeune), and in our conversations, one recurring phrase has caught my attention.  It is “core beliefs.”  My mind grabbed ahold of an idea: make a video of speakers I know or have worked with, each of them telling the viewer one of their core beliefs. The idea came from an earlier post I had written on Scott Stratten and his video for Motherhood.

So, I’ve decided to make this video.  Here’s the deal, in a nutshell. If you are a professional speaker, please videotape yourself with your iPhone or Flip Cam or any video recorder speaking directly to the camera and saying one of your core beliefs.  It should be only one belief and it should be short.  You know… around ten words or less.  You can ask me questions here, in the comments section of this blog post.

But that’s not what this post is about.  I really want to focus on this idea of core beliefs.  This may be a good time for me to revisit my own core beliefs.  I’ve been operating on the same ones I discovered over 6 years ago, and I think it’s time I addressed them.  Here they are:

  • I believe in simplicity and clean design.
  • Story is important, and each of us has one.
  • I want to love what I do, and have fun doing it.
  • I want to continue learning, and to be challenged.
  • From  failure, pain and  hardship come growth and success.
  • I want to use my talents to the best of my ability to create quality work.
  • Life is about creativity; each of us can create the life we want, everyday.
  • I want to watch my customers and clients grow, and to be a part of that growth.
  • I believe personal branding involves self-awareness, self-respect and a desire to be better.
  • I believe in  being authentic and having my work be authentic, shedding any unnecessary elements.
  • It is important to be original; not to succumb to conformity, rigidity and always meeting the status quo.

I’d like to know yours!

Just Say Yes

I was asked recently, “How did you do it? Quit eating meat?” The question was similarly posed to me many years back at different times:  “How did you just decide to quit smoking?”  “Was it hard to quit drinking?”

I know there are a lot of answers I could give to those three questions, but the underlying truth to all of them is simply this:  I made a decision to live.  This simple inner declaration helped me overcome many fears and obstacles, and continues to help me through each day.  Because if I’m not saying “yes” to life, then I’m basically going the other direction. I know I’ve got this one body, and one of my newly discovered purposes in life is to make a simple declaration every morning when I wake up. Today I want to be the best human being that I can be. This centers me in my day, in the present, and puts my heart where it ought to be.

Some may say this is an oversimplification, and it is.  I can make this declaration, however, because I was in the other place for a period in my life.  I saw the depths of despair, loss and failure.  I made their acquaintance and hung around with them for several years.  It wasn’t until I was there that I had the courage to look up and say “yes” to living.  Now, whatever I do in my life has purpose and meaning.

Not all of us need to plummet to despair to find our true purpose. Unfortunately, I discovered this in my late 30’s. Some may find this out sooner. Others may use those of us who have seen the depths as examples or for inspiration. That is the beauty of it. Nobody needs to go so far down to come back up; simply look around you for living examples of true living. As human beings we get the chance to create our existence every day, with every thought. Some people I know struggle with overeating, and they have asked me to “tell them the secret.” Well, it is just that. Make your choices as you go, little by little, one thought at a time. And always remember, saying “yes” beats saying “no” every time.

What Ever Happened to Mike? His Pen Pal knows.

Just recently, because of Facebook, I reconnected with a dear, old friend from college. I guess you could call her my college crush. I haven’t seen or spoken with her since 1985, so it was actually pretty awesome to find her after all these years. Facebook gets serious points from me for that reason alone.

My friend and I began to correspond on Facebook, sharing bits and pieces of our life in a staccato fashion: a little here, a little there. It reminded me of when we were young, and how we would write letters to each other over Christmas and Summer breaks. Only those letters were much longer, by pages and pages. Then this year, for my birthday, she surprised me with an incredible, yet slightly weird gift. She packaged all of our college-years correspondence into a binder, in chronological order!

Wow! Did I really write that much? BY HAND? It got me to thinking about a few things. One: do younger people still write long letters, even if it’s in an email? Or is the majority of correspondence today done in short, quick messages? Two: does anybody actually write anymore? I recently heard that many schools have dropped “hand writing” and “writing in cursive” from their standard curriculum. Everyone today communicates with the keyboard. And many times, it’s in 140 characters, or less! The third thing that I thought about was: holy cow, I was a strange person when I was 19. Those letters that my friend saved were a window into my past. I had kept journals when I was younger, but I couldn’t tell you where they are, or if they even exist. But reading those letters gave me some real insight to who I used to be.

Knowing who I was when I was a young man gave me enormous compassion for who I am today. I was brought back to a time when I was full of passion and the world was my oyster, so to speak. I couldn’t wait to get started with my adult life, and the possibilities seemed endless. I had hope and courage and joy. Somewhere along the way, that exuberance was covered up by reality and life’s problems. Reading those letters gave me permission to tap into that passion again, and to see the world, even if for just a short period of time, as I did when I was young. The young man who wrote those letters is alive in me today, and I am grateful to my college sweetheart for safe-guarding that man for all these years.