Torrey Pines Principal Rob Coppo’s podcast dives deep on ‘What’s Best for Kids’
This school year, Torrey Pines High School Principal Rob Coppo has taken on a new role: podcaster.
With his “What’s Best for Kids?” podcast, he offers a deep dive into what educators wish parents knew about education and what parents wish educators knew about parenting. The pod’s goal is about listening to learn rather than listening to respond, staying curious in conversations about the ever-changing world of education.
“I want to learn from other people so I can be a better educator, be better at running this school for the students and the community,” Coppo said. “The only way to do that is to listen and have an open conversation rather than trying to make a point.”
New episodes of the podcast post every two weeks on Friday mornings and so far he has released 17 episodes—his last episode of the first season will align with the end of the school year, a reflection on the year that was.
With the podcast, Coppo brings his perspective from 25 years in public education. A Torrey Pines High School graduate, he went on to New York University where he majored in film and was a contemporary with fellow student Adam Sandler. Coppo eventually went into teaching—with his interest in drama and performing, teaching was like having a main stage with three to four shows a day.
For 10 years, he taught film and video production at Orange Glen High School in Escondido. He came into Torrey Pines as an assistant principal in 2008 before spending seven years in the Grossmont Union High School District as assistant director of career technical education. He returned as principal of Torrey Pines in 2016 and as he explains in the podcast, it was a role a teenage Coppo could have never imagined taking on.
During Coppo’s long commute from La Mesa to Carmel Valley, he got really into podcasts over the last several years as a way to keep his brain active in the car: “It’s a great way to learn while stuck in traffic.”
The idea for his own podcast was born during the challenging years of the pandemic.
At that time, his team would regularly get together as they effectively tried to re-imagine education. It was difficult and no one had all the answers: “The conversations we had in my office, I wished parents could hear.”
The podcast could help put those kinds of conversations out there and he had hoped to start it in 2021 but pushed off. This year he forced himself to do it, to just put something down and see what happens.
Coppo’s studio is his office—just his audio mixer, microphones and headphones. The system is mobile and he has taken the show on the road to record with retired Torrey Pines teacher Don Collins a couple times at his home.
Making a podcast has been its own learning experience.
“It’s been way harder than I thought it was going to be,” Coppo said. “I always thought give me an audience and a mic and I’m happy as a clam.”
The first few episodes he said the name of the podcast way too much, there were too many “ahhs” and “ums” and he realized how often he says “You know”. It took some adjustments to learn how to keep the conversation flowing.
“I underestimated how difficult a podcast can be …I think I took it for granted,” Coppo said. “But it’s like anything, once you get used to it, it gets easier.”
The podcast this year has brought many different voices and perspectives in to chat with Coppo.
He had many conversations with Collins, an engaging veteran educator who has years of experience supporting students and helping to build more connected school communities.
The episode “Represent” on the role of school boards featured Solana Beach School District Board Member Julie Union. The episode aims to “humanize the role of a board member” at this time when school board meetings nationwide have become increasingly political and boards have struggled with eroding civil discourse.
He had conversations with athletic directors about the competitive, complicated and sometimes stressful world of high school athletics and the “Shop Class Evolution” episode takes a look inside career technical education, electives that teach students practical hands-on skills. Recently, he had local community member Traci Akers come on to share some of the challenges of parenting a teenager.
Something Coppo has really enjoyed is getting in depth with colleagues like Canyon Crest Academy Principal Brett Kllleen, learning something new about them even though he’s worked with them for 15 years.
There are still a lot of people he would like to sit down with—- he’s planning an upcoming episode with San Dieguito Academy Principal Cara Dolnik titled “Our inbox” about the types of emails they have encountered as principals over the years, adding some perspectives of the challenges they juggle on a day to day basis.
His dream guest would be the Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona or Jean Twenge the professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood”. He would also love to hear from Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, authors of “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure”.
The second season of “What’s Best for Kids?” might transition to Coppo and Collins getting together to riff on the latest hot-button issues in education, like the episode they did on Seattle School District’s lawsuit against social media app creators for contributing to the mental health crisis facing teens. His summer break is really only about two weeks, but he may log some podcasts for the coming year—the new season would begin with the school year in August.
With his podcast, Coppo said is aiming for an open conversation. He wants to avoid finger-wagging at parents: “We’re all fallible, we’re all trying.”
Every day he is faced with a situation where he’s forced to ask “What’s best for kids?” As he said, educators and parents always have to do “what’s best for kids” but that can be used as a shield, it can be a way to justify anything. It’s why the name of his podcast is a question and not a statement—it’s taking a look at how education works and asking the question if that’s how it truly should work.
“The conversations won’t always be easy and we aren’t always going to agree,” Coppo said on one episode. “But if we stay curious, we can make some progress.”
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