Tattooed Fingers and Focus Adjustments

This is another reflection on the recent ASB Workshop from one of our attendees. Time to meet our guest blogger: Kate Plows is an art teacher by certificate and employment and a journalism teacher at heart. Based in the suburbs of Philadelphia, she currently teaches high school drawing, painting, graphic design, photography, and—now with a few new skills in her toolbox—video production. A former nationally-recognized journalism adviser, she now coaches and tutors student journalists, serves as vice president of thePennsylvania School Press Association, and works behind the scenes on New Voices legislation. She fails and bounces back constantly, and laughs about all of it with her one-eyed horse, Nelson.

How I overcame imposter syndrome and discovered a new culture

Three weeks ago, I stowed my SD cards and drove away from the summer workshop at the Academy of Scholastic Broadcasting, and I haven’t been able to look at my hands the same way since.

The first session on the first evening of the program felt like indoctrination into a cult. “Hold your hands up and look at your palms,” Jan said. “Now— see my awesome graphic design? It’s great, right?” She gestures to a graphic of two hands on-screen in Dave Davis’s broadcast classroom at Hillcrest High School in Springfield, MO. 

“Read after me.” 

A roomful of 30-odd teachers from around the country followed the lead of a teacher who is experienced enough to know that memorization works best for content that matters most. 

“[left hand] Action… reaction… wide… medium… tight… [right hand] eyes… nose… sound… lighting… background.”

We must have looked odd: a roomful of adults holding our hands in front of our noses, counting off fingers out loud to the principles we’d be practicing all week. We were hesitant at first. But Jan spoke with authority, humor, and the clear ease of an experienced classroom teacher, and she quickly normalized our participation. After a few repetitions— and, let’s face it, practicing over and over again in my dorm room that night because I was convinced this stuff was going to be important for the rest of my week in Springfield—I felt like my fingers had been tattooed. 

And we were off, diving hands-on into the twentieth summer of ASB. 


These days, I blink in astonishment when I remember that I’ve been teaching for fifteen years. It’s been three schools, two states, and I’ve lost count of the different content areas I’ve managed to squeeze into an art certification. Every school year brings enough new challenges that I feel like I’m starting fresh, so it doesn’t feel like I’ve accumulated the expertise you’d expect from a fifteen-year veteran. 

The latest peak to climb is figuring out how to coach the video and multimedia content built into course descriptions I’ve inherited at my new school. Before I’d even reviewed these courses, I knew that this was the content area of journalism education where I had the least experience. (I definitely winged this part of my CJE exam— still not sure how I passed.) 

When I reached out to the JEA listserv to inquire about the best way I could learn something about video and broadcast journalism, the responses came in fast and furious, nearly all recommending this program in Missouri. “You will leave with curriculum, knowledge and lifelong friends who will help you in your journey,” one responder wrote. 

I was sold. And now, on the flipside of ASB, I can confirm that my JEA friends were correct as usual: This program is a game-changer. In a week, I moved from complete novice video and broadcast educator, to… well, actually, still a complete novice, but one who knows exactly where to start and who feels confident and excited to jump off the cliff. 

When I look back through my half-a-notebook-full of notes from my seven days in Springfield, I notice that I made a lot of numbered lists. Lists of equipment to put on a wishlist. Lists of infinitely wise tips from Dave Davis, who has been figuring this out since I was in middle school. Lists of focus statements and branding ideas and step-by-step software shortcuts. 

So, in the spirit of list-making, here are five major takeaways and tips from my experience at ASB this summer.

1. Suck up your imposter syndrome and focus on learning. As I got to know the other teachers participating in this summer’s workshop, feelings of imposter syndrome were a daily struggle for me. There were a few utter novices like me. But there were also a few who had both extensive industry experience and classroom experience. Some teachers brought fabulous video cameras and Osmo gimbals to the workshop. I’d brought a DSLR camera and a photography tripod.

Fortunately, ASB is designed to have entry points for teachers with all levels of experience. I rarely felt completely lost—but when I did, staff members and other participants coached me up individually. (I am grateful!)  I won’t say that the imposter syndrome fully subsided—but it was amazing to learn from the experience and expertise of everyone who was along for the ride. 


2. Write everything down. Dave’s staff will tell you that all materials from the workshop will be shared on Google Drive. They will likely roll their eyes and sigh at you when you ask, “Will this be in the drive?” because the answer is always, “yes.” (We are grateful!)

Still—write it all down anyhow. Jot down the anecdotes, the books, websites, and tools others casually recommend, the questions you have as you go along, the quotes and funny parts. The process of reading back through my notes is helping me to find the confidence and motivation I felt at ASB.  PowerPoints, Mudhouse footage, and assignment templates? Sure, those will be in the drive, thanks to Mehl’s organization skills. But there’s no way you could file the intangibles of this workshop on Google. Be prepared for your wrist to hurt. It’s worth it. 

3. Find a character. This advice is part of Storytelling 101, but it’s also part of what made the experience at ASB so worthwhile. Dave Davis is a character. He may be the character for those of us figuring out how to build something worthwhile at our schools to emulate.

From my notebook on the first night of ASB: “To still have so much energy and motivation, twenty years in….” One of my biggest takeaways from ASB has to do with a sense of mission. Dave and his staff are on a mission to make sure that schools and teachers have the tools to do great work. A week wasn’t long enough for me to fully understand that motivation—but it was definitely long enough to get inspired by it. 


4. Ask yourself: What is my focus statement right now? Hearing the stories of other workshop participants was a smack-in-the-face reminder of just how much we are asked to do as teachers. So many jugglers attended ASB—teachers who struggle to maintain the precarious balance of curriculum, extracurriculars, expectations, family, and life, in whatever order these come. There wasn’t a single teacher at the workshop whose story could be compressed to one focus statement. We’re all carrying heavy loads.

“Before you start your program, decide what you can commit,” Dave advised us. It’s wise advice. Since ASB, I’ve been trying to narrow my focus statement to one or two manageable goals for the next year. I doubt that my students or I will be producing anything the quality of HTV for quite some time. But maybe— just maybe— we’ll learn how to shoot a sequence this year. 

5. Build a culture and they will come. It’s telling that Dave’s former students comprise a big chunk of his staff, with others dropping in during the workshop to lead sessions or just check in. HTV program is less a class, and more a culture. As they led the ASB workshop, his former students-turned-staffers modeled the sort of teamwork, ownership, and pride in this culture that all of us want to build.

“It’s not just another class,” Dave said, and Jan echoed, and others repeated as they described best practices for a film or broadcast program. Similarly, ASB is not just another workshop. It’s a culture that supports teachers as they jump off cliffs. We took a lot of risks at ASB (big shoot, anyone?), but these were all risks that were supported by a culture of support, teamwork, and mission. The structure of the ASB program is a roadmap of how to build this culture in our programs and schools. 


“Do not try to fool kids into thinking you know more than you do about the subject,” Dave told us on that same first night. “Convince them that you are in this together.” 

Headed into this school year with what feels like an infinite number of directions I could go with some newly-ordered cameras and mics, I’m not fooling anyone. I’ve never been less veteran as a video educator. Y et after ASB, I feel like I’m “in it together” with a broad and deep network of experience. 

We’ve all got the same almost-tattooed fingers. It’s a culture that I’m now proud to call my own.

From SoCal to the Midwest: An ASB Workshop Reflection

Meet our guest blogger, Paul Triebel:

As a digital film teacher at a Southern California intermediate school, I think spending time in a room with a couple of middle school kids can be annoying; packing a room with 32 of them is wacky.  Throw expensive film gear into the mix and this is evidence that God has a sense of humor.  I’ve managed to mostly keep the lid on the classroom for 24 years…some successes and a bunch of “well, that didn’t work” moments.  Before teaching, I worked as a news photographer/editor at a CBS affiliate and when I started, clunky ¾ inch field tape decks were standard. 

Below are reflections from Paul about his experiences at the 2019 ASB Workshop.

Southern California school districts do not offer film/broadcast teachers with many workshops.  You would think so but the best help we receive are from our own gatherings and online forums. One forum, the Student Television Network, introduced me to the ASB Workshop. I had known of its existence for a few years. But this summer, everything finally came together for my wife Dina and myself.  We were hoping to pick up a few new skills, meet people, and visit a foreign land…the Midwest.

Take away #1:  Things go haywire for others too. 

Day 1 in the Adobe editing workshop room was hot.  Apparently, the air conditioner was in competition with the heater.  Yes, it was slightly uncomfortable but I felt kinship that there were others like me who have unbelievable, unforeseeable tech issues.  I felt empathy for our instructors.  And to their credit, Brandon and Mehl handled the crisis with cool composure.

#2:  Hopefully I will suck less after Day 1. 

Focus statements are kind of a big theme at the workshop…as they should be.

Our first assignment tasked partners to write focus statements about each other after having just met.  A focus statement….short, specific, and compelling.

Should be simple, but it wasn’t for me.  I wrote an overly wordy statement.  The information all seemed significant but as I learned later, “I needed to kill some puppies.”  As I shared my statement with the class, I realized that while I understood the concept, I just didn’t execute the task effectively.  I needed more practice and that’s just what we did for the rest of the week. 

#3:  There’s no crying in baseball…, video! 

“Teacher as student” is an accurate description for the entire workshop and I was constantly trying to remind myself to tap into the student experience.  With each new project, I chose a new partner.  Each person had a different skill set and personality.  Adaptation and compromise was key.  This was experience I could now use to understand my middle school students when they freak out about their group members.  I do have my arsenal of appropriate teacher answers, but now I can tell them I’ve been there.  It’s better than barking, “There’s no crying in Video!” 

#4:  Leadership through service.

The overall theme was unspoken at the workshop, yet palpable.  The material and projects provided by Coach Dave and crew were absolutely beneficial.  However, just as impactful was the tone of the workshop.  The ASB group was modeling leadership to us from start to finish.  They were truly serving us…..or was it Midwestern hospitality?  With multiple behind-the-scene roles to fill, all were busy but never too put out to engage in help or just general banter. They seemed to be enjoying the process.  Thank you Coach Davis and staff for taking us back and forth to the airport, to and from the dorms and to restaurants every day!   For broadcast and film teachers, this workshop is like winning the Powerball jackpot!



Looking Back: 20 Years of the ASB Workshop

There were recently 34 video teachers in my classroom for a week. They came from California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, from all across the U.S. One came from Buffalo, MO, about 45 minutes down the road.

Why did they come to of all places, aging Hillcrest High School on the “old side” of Springfield? Apparently, they heard good things about our “little-workshop-that-could.” So we did our best to give them what they needed.


Since the summer of 2000, teachers have taken a chance on our approach, and we are honored they have. At that first workshop, 26 of them showed up, and many remain my friends today. Others I lost track of, because…life. But I think of them now and then and wonder where they are, and if they have good memories of the Ozark Empire Fair, where they shot their big stories. Of food often breaded and fried up, and of the deck-to-deck VHS editing they did when they weren’t experimenting with a new device called a “Casablanca.” Or was it an “Avio?” Either way, they found frustration with those new-fangled digital editing machines.

The second year, we had 37 teachers show up, and they were really crammed into my classroom, but they did not complain. I saw some pushed to tears as they tried to meet our deadlines. I saw some wince a little when their projects early in the week were critiqued in front of the entire group.

We have not changed much since those first years. We still harp on STORY. Beginning, middle, end. We ask them to be “teacher as student” for a week. To let us share a ton of information, and offer a variety of approaches they can choose to use, or ignore. We also say every story needs a simple focus. What’s yours?

So what of the 20th group of educators who chose to visit Springfield, the land of Pineapple Whip, the Mudhouse, and those tasty “throwed rolls,” and put their faith in us for a few hot summer days? How did it go this time around?

It is safe to say as a staff, we felt we did a nice job presenting material, and giving the attendees the kind of hands-on opportunities that bring the the best lessons to life.

But how did it really go? That is never easy to answer. It will take weeks, months, probably an entire school year to see how the workshop impacts 34 programs around the country. I hope to hear from the teachers now and then, as things happen in their classes that hopefully we covered.

In the meantime, I have a cup of joe waiting on me on South street. You see, everybody knows to come downtown to the Mudhouse for a great cup of coffee…

A Modest Proposal

I was visiting with a good friend and colleague from the scholastic journalism world and he talked about a flaw in our national conventions, pretty much all of them…the schedules.

When students get the privilege of visiting a great city, full of attractions, history, opportunities, what do we do? We schedule convention activities and contests all day, when students and teachers could be touring, soaking up all the things the area offers, getting their money’s worth. Conventions are not just about contests and keynotes.

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The thing is, these great cities we visit are all a lot riskier for kids at night. SO…why not have as many contests and convention sessions, presentations, whatever, in the evening? Give us the daytime, as much as possible, for touring. You want us to come to the big cities, but then you try to keep us tied down all day.

There is one exception—getaway day. Sunday, usually. You have to run the awards ceremonies early so everyone can hit the road, head to the airport….or start doing the site-seeing they weren’t able to do the previous three DAYS.

A modest proposal, but a smart one. I can say that, because it wasn’t mine.

Seattle, STN, and Final Thoughts

We have had a week to digest the experience we had in Seattle at the annual STN national convention.

The weather in Seattle was basically perfect. No rain. Lots of sunshine. Yes, I’m talking about THAT Seattle. It was amazing. Great weather for touring, competing, just walking and taking in the sites, and absorbing the feel of a big city.

So here are some reflections from someone who loves this event, and even chaired it the first five years. Yes, you can file this under “For What It’s Worth,” because I have no role in running the convention. I am just one of the 3,000 who attended.


1—The opening ceremony got really rough reviews from the seven or eight teachers I talked to about it, but full disclosure—we did not attend. After the usual stress of the Crazy 8 contest, we visited the Space Needle to take advantage of the clear blue sky, and then we went to dinner. We had actually not heard of the keynote speaker, and my students who attended last year said the opening was their least favorite part of the convention. So they asked me weeks ago if they could bail. I said okay. This time.

2—The Crazy 8 really needs to run from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Nothing is open at 8 a.m., which is when it starts now. Folks are not answering the phone. Having the deadline one hour later can not be that big of a hindrance to the judges, and it’s still three hours before the opening ceremony.

3—The Crazy 8 is skim-the-surface-time for us. We have a hard time doing stories that have much depth, or importance, really. I do appreciate the tough topic this year, which threw some folks off-balance, I’m sure. A bad note: I had a crew drop by a shop to see about an interview, and the owner said they were contacted “two weeks ago” for an interview. Two weeks ago? Come on people. That’s pathetic.

4—It is impressive how professional the STN in-house broadcasts are. They are also streamed live of course. The gang from Texas High School have it down pat. Never let them go. And starting on time was a plus. Good work all.

5—The contests are the backbone of the STN convention, and it is impressive so many kids meet deadline and do high quality work. Amazing, really. We only had one team miss deadline, and they are turning their project, which was not submitted, into a piece for our show later this month, which is great. They will get something useful out of their efforts despite missing deadline in Seattle.

6—I was glad there was a new category, “Podcast Story.” I think it’s great, but my kids took it literally and concentrated on telling a story with sound bites, voiceover, kind of a journalistic approach. I am not sure the judges were looking for that.

7—I did two sessions, one for teachers-only that was just what some of us needed. Lots of positive, specific reflections from the teachers in the audience. I came away energized and encouraged. I hope others did as well.

8—I am always proud to see Mizzou sponsor the STN teacher luncheon.

9—I did not visit the vendors. I was in that area a few times, but the contest meetings happened there, and it was pretty congested. Probably bad timing by me to go up to the third floor at the wrong time. Once I was running late for a session, and it was a madhouse. The other time I was meeting colleagues. By the way, the check-in/registration process was simple. I appreciated that.

10—I enjoyed the usual variety of cameras, accessories, mics, prompters, you name it. I love seeing the technology other schools are using that we will likely never have. I am serious—it is great to see the cool toys.

None of my critique is meant to take individuals to task. There is no perfect convention ever, trust me. I can attest to that. I have the scars to prove it. The STN convention is huge, it’s exciting, and it is here to stay. I have no idea if anyone had similar experiences or reactions.

Feel free to comment here about anything you want. I am sure the STN folks appreciate constructive input from their customers. On to D.C. in 2020.

STN Prep Time

Are we ready for a national convention of 3,000 dedicated video students and teachers? Maybe.

I am taking 20 kids to Seattle March 28-31 for the annual STN Convention, an event that began in 2004 with 500 attendees, and has now grown to become the nation’s largest gathering of high school and middle school video producers in one place. It can be overwhelming, but it really does not need to be.

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Here are some simple tips for those attending for the first time, or for the first time in a while:

1—Encourage the kids to do their best in the contests, then get out of the way. Let them fail, or succeed, on their own merits. Besides, if you are caught assisting in the on-sites, your kids get DQed. Explain that to mom and dad when they meet you at the airport.

2—Go to sessions that might take you out of your comfort zone. Listen to presenters that challenge the way you normally do things.

3—Visit with vendors. Ask questions. Find out about the latest, coolest, newest thing coming your way, because it will arrive eventually, and you will have to deal with it. I remember “digital” video being a far-off concept. The idea of non-linear editing? In high school? Never.

4—I hesitate to say “network” because it is overused, but hey, STN is a network. So meet folks. Swap ideas, find out what they do, and how they do it. You see a kid using a fancy, new-fangled gizmo? Go up to them and politely say, “Can you tell me about that, because it looks cool.” Get ready—kids love to share with curious teachers.

5—Thank some of the key folks you see working their tails off. Folks like Charles and his crew that produce the in-house (and online) broadcasts of the convention’s big sessions, like the opening, the closing and the film fest. They are unsung heroes every year. Or how about Jeb, the guy who runs the contests, which means no sleep, lots of stress. They are around, and a pat on the back can mean an awful lot.

If you are not going this year, follow the live streams via the STN website and see what all the fuss is about. One highlight, which has been the case from the very first year—STN’s closing awards ceremony is hosted by students. It is a nice experience for them, and a valuable reminder for the rest of us that the event is really first and foremost about the young people, the ones who give it life and energy every year.

Is This a Video Story or an Audio Story?

Since we debuted our podcast, “Bay 11,” in the fall of 2017, a new conversation has become pretty common in my advanced Broadcast Journalism class. It usually goes something like this:

“Would that be a better podcast topic? Or is this an HTV story all the way?”

Now that we have an audio storytelling outlet, we have the luxury of tackling those non-visual stories on the podcast.

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Non-visual topics are brutal for teens. The students often have great intentions, but when they get ready to put their story together, they frequently fall back on photos. I call it a “slide show story.” Where are the moving pictures…the video?

Don’t get me wrong. I believe your broadcast journalism staff can take on any topic. You can do video stories about anything, but it can be really difficult to “show” things like teen depression, for instance. It is a huge issue worthy of coverage, but one that challenges a young, visual storyteller.

Our latest podcast is about human trafficking. It contains the compelling story of a woman, Kris, who was trafficked when she was 18. Everything she describes is vivid. It grabs you and won’t let go. Had we tried to illustrate her story with video, we would have resorted to a lot of “representational” images, some blurry effects, all the post-production wizardry we could muster, but somehow, I think it would have just distracted from her story.

So if you are a long time video journalism teacher like me, and are late to the podcast world, like me, all I can tell you is how much of a difference it has made. We can now critically examine a topic and decide which medium—audio or video—offers the best opportunity to provide the best coverage. And isn’t that the point?

The Rush Is On

Just a quick post here to remind broadcast and video teachers who are thinking about attending our ASB Workshop in Springfield, MO…the tried and true workshop we have hosted since the summer of 2000…registration is moving at the fastest pace ever.

We limit it to 30 attendees. That is the number we found works best for our space, our staff, and our curriculum. If you want to know more, just hit the “Workshops” link at the top of this page. Sign up soon if you are sure you are coming. We will not begin invoicing until early February.

The ASB Workshop is hands-on, and is beneficial to both new and veteran broadcast and video teachers because of the way the week progresses. It is a busy, but rewarding experience, grounded in the reality of the classroom.

Ask any colleagues who have attended in the past for references, or e-mail questions about any aspect of the workshop to:

Hope to see you in July.