In the car, on a walk, or while cooking dinner, podcasts provide respite and reflection for listeners who can take their pick from roughly 1.7 million podcasts as of 2021, according to the Nielsen Company.
Since emerging in the early 2000s, the medium has grown rapidly in popularity. From 2008 to 2021, the average percentage of Americans aged 12 and older who listened to a podcast within the last month jumped from 9 percent to 41 percent, reports the Pew Research Center; and currently, Nielsen finds that more than half of all Americans listen to at least one podcast a week.
We asked our audience for their recommendations for the best podcasts on schools, work-life balance, and well-being and received over 200 recommendations. We curated a list of some of their favorites below.
The Life of an Educator
Social Studies: “If it cannot fit a standard-sized folder, it’s not a backpack—it’s a purse with straps,” says Joe “Mr.D” Dombrowski of tiny backpacks—one of the five things that aren’t welcome in his fourth-grade classroom this year.
On his popular podcast Social Studies, comedian and elementary school teacher Dombrowski mixes humor with real-life stories from his own experience or from fellow educators across the country. Topics include mobile classrooms, teacher hairlines, the hunt for a kindergarten position, and the wildest parent emails he’s ever received.
Need a good laugh while getting ready for the new school year? Tune in to Social Studies and prepare to be surprised by the topic (spoiler alert: It may be Dombrowski’s revenge plots for the person stealing his Amazon packages).
The Modern Principal: Whether you’re an aspiring, new, or seasoned school leader, get ready to laugh and learn while listening to the podcast The Modern Principal, hosted by Karen and Christy, two elementary school principals. Through their website, podcast listeners can submit questions or scenarios they’re facing, which Karen and Christy then discuss in episodes, candidly sharing their anecdotes, past mistakes, and lessons learned.
In the first episode, “Clarifying and Communicating Your Priorities,” for example, Karen recalls a four-hour-long PD session she organized during her first year as a principal, which contained 17 agenda items. “My staff must have looked at that and thought ‘hard pass,’” she says.
These quirky and relatable episodes are quick and upbeat—generally all 20 minutes or less—and provide a bit of fun feedback on topics like crisis communication and working with tough teammates. On Instagram, jcz0122 posted that she particularly liked episode titled “The Elusive Unicorn of Work-Life Balance.”
Black Educators Matter: Nonprofit founders Brooke Brown and Danielle Moneyham created the Black Educators Matter podcast with the goal of highlighting the stories, challenges, and successes of 500 Black educators from around the country. “It isn’t just a moment—it’s a movement,” say the hosts, who also facilitate a global network of educators.
In just 45 minutes or less per episode, listeners can hear from educators like high school English teacher Julian Johnson-Marshall, who reflects on the transition from public/charter elementary school to private suburban high school.
In another episode, Laurice Jones, a community college professor, shares how her K–8 experience was influenced by women of color and why she has had to “prove herself” throughout her career.
This Teacher Life: How do we enjoy education “when it feels like a hot mess”? What does “learning” mean in 2021? These are the types of questions that Monica Genta, a middle school teacher and educational consultant, explores through her weekly podcast This Teacher Life.
In episodes such as “4 Things That Are NOT Overrated This School Year” and “Balancing Parenting Life with This Teacher Life,” Genta shares real-life narratives from her own teaching experience, along with tips and tricks about how teachers can stay motivated and creative in their classrooms.
Even amid difficult times, Genta’s positivity shines through these episodes of 30 minutes or less, keeping listeners grounded in reality but still hopeful that they can control their lives—and their classrooms. “Since I started applying Monica’s simple tips, I feel like I am falling in love with the art of teaching all over again after 20 years in the classroom,” says a reviewer on Apple Podcasts.
The Creative Classroom With John Spencer: On The Creative Classroom With John Spencer, host John Spencer, a former middle school teacher and current professor, commits to transforming classrooms into spaces that fill teachers and students with joy and creativity.
In episodes like “There Is No Such Thing as a Reluctant Reader” and “10 Creative Risks to Take With Your Students This Year,” Spencer pushes educators to think outside the box about their ingrained teaching practices and adopt new approaches. In a recent episode about helping students take creative risks this year, for example, Spencer recommends that teachers adopt “Maker Mondays,” where students spend the first half of the day doing hands-on creative work, like cardboard prototyping or circuitry. “It might seem small, but it slowly leads to a maker mindset,” says Spencer.
Bonus points: These tips tend to work well with all grade levels!
Leading Equity: Trying to make your classroom and school culture more equitable, but unsure of where or how to start? The Leading Equity podcast—hosted by K–12 educator and administrator Sheldon L. Eakins—provides tips, tools, and actionable strategies that will help ensure that equity has a place at your school. In more than 200 episodes, you’ll hear from dozens of equity-focused educators leading the charge across the country on a range of topics such as combating chronic absenteeism, social and emotional learning for deaf or hard of hearing students, and how to lead a social justice affinity group. Avid listeners on Apple Podcasts have flagged episode 146, “How to Recognize and Support Students With Eating Disorders,” with Dr. Kelly Rugless, as a particularly helpful resource.
User V_thoms said of the podcast, “I’ve learned, changed, and implemented so many new ideas and perspectives in my work in order to be better for myself, students, and colleagues.”
From My Perspective: From a young woman who shares the story of going blind and deaf to parents of children with autism, the From My Perspective podcast provides a lens into the daily lives, passions, and opinions of people living with disabilities—in their own words.
In roughly 10-to-30-minute-long episodes, host Jen Bavry—the program director at the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence’s Family & Community Outreach—interviews people with disabilities, along with their family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors, to talk about their experiences. After listening, you may find yourself laughing, crying, and being inspired all at once while gaining a new appreciation for students with special needs. The website provides full downloadable transcripts of every episode.
Taking Care of Yourself
Self-Care for Educators: Calling all teachers, administrators, and counselors who feel like they’re burning the candle at both ends. On Self-Care for Educators, host Dr. Tina H. Boogren welcomes you to join her “self-care squad” on the road toward creating and sustaining happier and healthier lives.
“We are the caretakers,” she says, “but it’s time for us to get back to ourselves, even if only for a few minutes each week. My hope is through these invitations, hacks, and strategies, we will rediscover what makes us feel good.”
At the start of the week, Self-Care for Educators provides a theme that can serve as a focal point for your self-care journey, such as habits, morning routines, or nutrition. Each episode is bite-sized—less than 10 minutes in length—so it’s easy to incorporate into your routine and features helpful, fun practices like journaling about gratitude or making a self-care soundtrack into your routine. You’ll walk away with guiding questions, inspiration, and, most important, a signed permission slip to live your best life.
The Mindful Kind: Mindfulness may seem like a buzzword, but on The Mindful Kind, now in its sixth year of production, wellness guru and host Rachael Kable breaks it down so that listeners understand how the practices can transform their lives.
The 10-minute-long episodes cover topics like tips to improve sleep quality, how to overcome imposter syndrome, and different ways you can let go of past mistakes. The concise format makes for a great binge-listening experience and also works well if you don’t have a lot of free time to unwind.
“Like so many others in this world, I experienced a dramatic and debilitating increase in anxiety during 2020,” says a reviewer who has been listening to this podcast for more than two years. “These weekly episodes have become a much-appreciated resource for me to learn strategies to overcome my anxiety symptoms.”
The Homecoming Podcast With Dr. Thema: “Welcome home,” exclaims licensed psychologist Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis at the beginning of each episode on The Homecoming Podcast With Dr. Thema.
This accessible and soothing entrée into the world of spiritual and mental wellness provides listeners with a wealth of weekly inspiration and wellness tips in 30 minutes or less. In each episode, Dr. Thema provides a space reminiscent of a cathartic therapy session that helps listeners delve into tough topics like overcoming a fear of commitment, embracing new beginnings, and healing from feelings of unworthiness.
Episode 49: “Racism: Recover, Resting, Rising” and Episode 64: “Parental Wounds” come highly recommended by reviewers on Apple Podcasts.
Schools and Society
Nice White Parents: In this five-part series, New York Times reporter Chana Joffe-Walt takes a deep dive into a group that’s arguably “the most powerful force” impacting our public school system: White parents.
To develop the episodes, Joffe-Walt, a producer for the award-winning podcast This American Life, combed through historical documents since the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, uncovering the many ways that White parents blocked and undermined integration efforts for decades—and on into the present day. “I looked at the way White parents moved through the schools; what they said they wanted; and the insidious ways in which those choices shaped the conditions in a school building over so many years, even years when White parents weren’t present,” says Joffe-Walt.
The episodes, of 45 to 60 minutes, profile one particular school in New York City, blending archival resources, interviews, and voice recordings to paint a vivid picture of how the inequities of school integration impacted the school’s Black and Brown students, their families, and their communities.
The Problem We All Live With: How can we close the achievement gap between underserved children of color and their White peers? After several years of reporting on education, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones revisits this age-old question, finding that school systems have mostly abandoned the issue and ignored one educational reform that has worked to address it: school integration.
But what happens when students have to assimilate into a school system that doesn’t want them there? In this two-part series, Hannah-Jones zooms in on a district that inadvertently implemented an integration program. After it lost its accreditation, state laws mandated that students at the predominantly Black Normandy School District in Missouri be bused to a nearby accredited school, which happened to be predominantly White.
This two-part series from 2015 provides a visceral and unflinching glimpse into the state of school desegregation in the St. Louis area, as well as how the transition impacted both students and the community—in their own words.
A collaboration between Coleman-Mortley, a former teacher and director of social engagement at an edtech nonprofit, and her kids, Let’s K12 Better brings together experts, educators, and parents for discussions about improving K–12 schools. Topics range from cultivating a justice mindset in children to ways to make digital spaces more democratic and safer for marginalized students.
“Mom of All Capes and her daughters have open, honest, and authentic conversations about issues that we as a whole country are grappling with,” says a reviewer, “but they do so with such grace and maturity that shows just how these types of conversations could and should go between adults and kids.”