Today, we are bringing back frequent guests to the Time for a Teachership blog and podcast. Dr. Cherie Bridges Patrick. If you've listened to a previous episode, you already know all about her, but a quick summary. She is the founder of paradox Cross-Cultural Consulting, Training and Empowerment, LLC. She is a racial justice consultant, leadership coach and psychotherapist. She works with social workers, counseling professionals, educators, and organizational leaders. And she uses a trauma focused lens in her work to build leadership capacity for racial justice. Cherie holds a PhD in leadership and change, and her research is in racism, denial, discourse, racial justice, social work and the helping professions like education. I can't wait for you to hear this episode of a conversation between Cherie and I diving into the organizational nature of how we create a culture in our schools for fostering racial justice.
Hi, I'm Lindsay Lyons and I love helping school communities envision bold possibilities, take brave action to make those dreams a reality and sustain an inclusive anti-racist culture where all students thrive. I'm a former teacher leader, turned instructional coach, educational consultant and leadership scholar. If you're a leader in the education world, whether you're a principal, superintendent, instructional coach, or a classroom teacher, excited about school-wide change like I was, you are a leader. If you enjoy nerding out about the latest educational books and podcasts, if you're committed to a lifelong journey of learning and growth, being the best version of yourself, you're going to love the Time for Teachership podcast. Let's dive in.
Lindsay Lyons :
Welcome back, Dr. Bridges Patrick, to an episode of Time for a Teachership. We were together in a previous episode talking about the primacy of discourse, the need for building the muscle for personal and interpersonal discourse capacities. You talk to us about readiness and willingness, vulnerability, adaptability, and the importance of a liberating dialogic environment. For those of you who haven't listened to that episode, please go back and listen to that one. That one is absolutely amazing. I just want to introduce you to Dr. Cherie Bridges Patrick, if you haven't already heard that episode and you are going to dive right into this one Dr. Bridges Patrick is a racism denial and discourse scholar, and she is here to talk to us about how we identify and dismantle systemic racism in educational systems. So today's episode is more focused on that organizational level. We previously talked about the personal and the interpersonal today. We're going to that organizational level. So I'll actually hand it over to Cherie to start us off with the first question.
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
This is exciting for me because I get to ask you some questions in this. So my first question for you, Lindsay is, at the organizational level, how can schools build capacity for generative dialogue and continuous learning more broadly?
Yeah, so I think one of the things that I love about working together is really putting adaptive leadership at the core of all that we do. When we think about that capacity building that is really central to really systematizing a lot of things, systematizing the process of diagnosis, as we talked about really identifying so that we can dismantle so many of the problems that are, you know, general across the system, educationally, nationally, globally, but also very particular to the individual schools that we're talking about. So my first kind of thought whenever I hear this, and I think about organizational capacity building is really to set up structures that enable us to really sustain these conversations that we talked about in our last episode that bring in diverse perspectives of different stakeholder groups and truly share in the leadership and the decision-making of an organization. So we can get a better understanding of the problems and challenges we encounter as well as what solutions and policies would actually address those challenges in an equitable manner. What do you think, Cherie?
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
Can I just add to that? I think we have to, because we're a society with attention challenges and short-term thinking like, you know, we want things done quickly. I want to just touch on that process that you just talked about, the setting up the structures to sustain. To be able to start shifting mindsets and when mindset strips sets are shifted, then you know, we can get into the policy work and how we change that because it all starts with us as individuals. Just talk briefly the length of time that it takes and so I say that, I hesitate as I hear myself say, there's something because this has been going on for so long, it is entrenched because we are entrenched in this.
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
There has to be some time and I know that there are some things that need immediate change. And for those people who think they can make that happen quickly, Great. But I think we need to understand that this process takes time, the time that the process of shifting mindsets of changing policy. Just think of our political system and all the steps that need to happen to make laws change. Right? So if you go into an organization and similar that you've got, you know, you've got your policies and practices, so it takes time. But in that time though, you're always practicing. You're always engaging because of the power of discourse because of its ubiquity as a social practice that is in every aspect of our lives.
Excellent points. I absolutely love those contributions because I particularly love that you're talking about the time piece and how it kind of hits you as you say it, because we have seen people on the one hand rushed to action without the process that needs to be shared. The dialogue that needs to happen among key stakeholders that represent different stakeholder groups. So that rush to action and kind of skipping over the democratic process is problematic. But then we also need to recognize that, you know, we need to sit in some things with the balance of the urgent call to action, right? So like, we need to take action, because like you said, it's been happening for so long we need to address it. We can't wait a long time to do that, but we also need to make sure the way that we're addressing it really speaks to our priorities as well.
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
Yes. And for me, it goes back to just that primacy of discourse and the need to learn how to engage in generative dialogue. If we can't talk about the issue, we can't talk about race and like you said, sit in some stuff, sit in that discomfort and navigate through it and, you know, and build the capacity to do it. How are we going to solve something that we cannot talk about that then we cannot see because we're not talking about, it's like this elephant in the room that is always there. So we have to be brave enough and bold enough to see the elephant and then to figure out how we are gonna, do this. So then Lindsay, that takes me to another question. Can you talk a little bit about shared leadership? Like what is shared leadership? Where does this approach come from?
Absolutely. So I love shared leadership. I think that's my answer to pretty much everything. But I will talk a little bit about the powerful women who have actually inspired and held up and practiced shared leadership through history. I think it's really important to acknowledge that because when I was first researching shared leadership or when I was first exposed to it in our leadership program, we had this little handbook of leadership theory. And it's interesting because it was a man that was credited for this idea of shared leadership. When in fact, if we go back further, we will see that is not necessarily the case. So it actually came up in the early 20th century, 1924, Mary Parker Follet wrote about shared leadership and the idea of power versus power over. And so this idea of, she says, first by pooling power, we are not giving it up.
And secondly, the power produced by a relationship is a qualitative, not a quantitative thing. She says that this is a "freeing for both sides and an increased total power or increased capacity in the world," and I think that really speaks a lot to the rooting of intersectional feminism, first. And kind of in this approach, when we look out a few decades later, we see Ella Baker a racial justice activist and community organizer who really prioritized developing the leadership of others as opposed to positioning herself as the leader of a movement. It's that selflessness and the nature of building capacity for really young people, students that she was working with, I think is probably why a lot of folks don't know her name as much as a lot of male leaders that we may point to. And she is just, I think my role model in terms of shared leadership development. We also see people today, like U.S. Congresswoman Ayanna Presley her quote, "people closest to the pain should be closest to the power."
That to me is just like, yes, that's what we're, that's what we're trying to do here! If we're talking about ending systemic racism and we don't have people who have been directly impacted by systemic racism that are in the school community as part of that conversation of how to end it, what are we really doing here? So I think these are the powerful women that have really taught me what shared leadership is. I've tried to learn from them and learn from their practice around how we move forward. So really we think about it in a school setting. I look at it from a structural perspective of how decisions are made, who is at that decision-making table? And are there feedback loops because we know the decision-making table is small, right? It has to be kind of representative just in how things are organized and to be able to hear everyone's voices, but we need those feedback loops to be able to go back to the stakeholder groups that the representatives represent and collect that feedback, not just speak for the group without that kind of cycle of going back and getting more data.
And so I'm interested in your perspective, Cherie, of how this idea of shared leadership really supports folx who are laboring for racial justice and the centrality of this idea in racial justice work.
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
Well. So as I was listening to you and, you know, all these things are just jumping out at me. So I'm writing an article about white supremacy and social work and, you know, just the dominance and the pain and the ways that systemic white supremacy operates is challenging. And those of us that are going to be fighting for working, for laboring towards racial justice. There's a part that I explore this need for like self care and accountability. I want to touch on that self care part and how it ties into shared leadership. So it may not necessarily be self care, but it's this, this collective care, maybe. This work is hard. This work is more challenging than we can ever imagine.
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
So as an individual, you can get burned out very quickly because the work is very hard, it requires you to take this real deep look at oneself. And then at an organizational level, we're looking for—we're talking about shared leadership. I get to share some of that difficulty, some of that challenge, right? And so in that I'm building relationships with other people, right? We're building intelligence, we're building new knowledge because of our experiences, right? They can then contribute to how do we, you know: How do we actually do this? And you know, we're leaning on the work of Ella Baker and the other women that really brought this, this concept forward. But so shared leadership offers this place of collectivism of just being together with like-minded people who are, who are working towards the same thing.
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
So then it supports the need for care. We can call, we can say to one another, "Hey, you know what, I think you might need to, you know, take a little break." So, having that structure allows for some time, for us to sometimes step back. So then there's also this energy that comes with that. I know I have enjoyed tremendously working with you because when we get together, you know, we have our conversations and all these ideas start to generate. So it's shared leadership, you're sharing ideas, and they feed off of each other and they contribute to that feedback loop, which, you know, continues to build. So ultimately shared leadership in terms of racial justice is like this, the support, this, a leveling of the weight that is carried because of the difficulty that it entails. So I, I like to ask you a little bit about the student voice, which is, you know, the area of research that you looked at, what wisdom can we pull from that body of research Lindsay?
I absolutely love the field of student voice. This is a relatively kind of emergent, I would say the last three decades kind of emergent field. I say emergent, because this has always been something historically that different groups of people have practiced. But in terms of the larger or I guess more, maybe more mainstream student voice, like research in journals and such like that. This has become something that is more studied heavily in the last few decades. So we get to see all of the brilliance that schools for a long time, these different pockets of individual schools have been practicing. And so one of the things that I love is Dana Mitra, who was one of the leading scholars in the field. She created a pyramid of student voice, and she talks about these three levels of student voice that exist in schools.
I think this is relevant for students. I think this is relevant for teacher voice and family voice when we're talking about shared leadership and all those stakeholders, but she talks about the bottom level being probably the most common, hence, the kind of pyramid shape it's the largest, but it's also kind of the least effective in some ways. It's merely listening. So we might ask students or families or teachers to fill out a survey, but then that doesn't necessarily mean we do something with that survey. So we listen but that's kind of it. And at the middle level, that next level up is slightly less common but more impactful is a kind of partnership among students and adults. We're working together in concert with one another to accomplish those school goals. At the top, the least common is really building capacity in students. (And again, I think this is relevant for all stakeholders) in themselves to lead.
And so when we think about students, as leaders, as folks that we can listen to and learn from as adults in the school community, I think this is really that idea of radical collegiality, that the student voice field talks about this idea of partnering and seeing students as equals as people that we can help them learn. Then we also learn from them. This I think is really at the heart of why shared leadership is so helpful and so important. And in order to do that, we need to give students multiple opportunities to be able to take on those leadership roles, to develop the personal and interpersonal capacities that you were talking about, Cherie, in our last episode to engage in racial discourse and to engage in discourse you know, in a generative way about all topics, including oppression of all kinds.
And what's interesting about this. I think when we're talking about sustainability Dana Mitra partnered with another scholar to actually apply turbulence theory to the pyramid. And what they realized was the lowest level of the pyramid that just listening part, it actually increased individual and organizational turbulence because what was happening was they were just surfacing those problems. They were just identifying what was wrong, but they weren't actually doing something about it. They were just kind of bringing them all to the surface and that bubbling up of identification without the follow-up was actually de-stabilizing the schools. Whereas when we look at the top level, when students are able to kind of come out as leaders and say, we're here, we can learn from them, the adults are listening to us. There's actually a reduction in turbulence because we're talking about organization-wide communication.
And that mindset shift that really helps us collectively work towards addressing those problems. And so there's actually an increased stability in terms of where schools can go when we partner with other stakeholders, which I think is really fascinating. So I'm interested in your perspective of Cherie, when I'm talking about these things, I'm thinking about the conversations we've had about why racial justice initiatives have historically failed in schools and organizations more broadly. Particularly we talked about accountability in our last episode, and I'm just thinking about all of these kinds of different pieces for sustainability and identifying and dismantling some of these problems that are identified. So what does that actually look like in terms of what are the problems that have kind of been barriers to success for racial justice initiatives in the past, and then where do we go from there? Like what does accountability, for example, maybe look like at an organizational level?
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
Let me try to tackle this. That's a big question. So then how do we begin to do this? So what I'm tying this turbulence to is—the notion of the concept of turbulence—to Heifetz disequilibrium, right? And so it just jumped out right at me. But then, you know, you often talk about this too. This is the system of diagnosis, right? Adaptive leadership says, you know, one of the most frequent causes of failure is that, you know, the leaders fail to, to really examine the system that they're working within. So, like you said, earlier, folx just jump into the work without really exploring what's happening. So a focus on diagnosis. That means to really drill down and under, you know using that pyramid to like using a combination of those things, but recognizing that the higher up you go in that pyramid, you know, the more progress you're going to make.
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
So I'm trying to combine those things there in terms of accountability. So this gets hard because there's all these barriers, right? So you know, there's the barriers of just racism itself and what that really means, and white supremacy. So you've got, you know, a group of people who are in power, white people who, come together with these, beliefs, these ideologies, these like lifelong commitments to being white, because that brings what it brings. When we're talking about accountability, there's a lot to dig into because the people who have those ideologies are typically the ones that are in the power. So who's going to want to give up, you know, what they see as, as power you know, as beneficial to them. So then you start asking questions like, okay, so how does this harm the organization?
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
How does this harm, you know, people within the organization? To bring it through a relational level. And how do we hold people accountable to really seeing the universal harm, of white supremacy of racism, so that there can be this collective effort towards, you know, dismantling and changing our policies and changing. It practices. So understanding that why that I talked about earlier is like what's the why for the organization you know, why are they doing this? And a lot of times organizations are engaged because everybody else is doing it. That's a lot of what I think is happening now in the larger sense of what we're looking at. So, you know, it's like, okay, so everybody else is doing it. It's becoming a practice, but we really don't explore. So organizationally, we need to explore and understand what is our why, and it too needs to be grounded in, you know, something that's going to help keep the organization going, because there's going to be a lot of fatigue, a lot of effort put into this. So that's one area of accountability.
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
Offering people support from individuals who are trained and who understand how racism operates. Not the ones that, you know—cause I still, like I said earlier in the other episodes, I still don't know a lot about racism, although I've studied it right. Because it's that complex. So you know, we have to be able to really educate people. And to do that again, it requires these mindshift changes getting through these barriers so that we can do the work. So that accountability is a constant work of breaking down the mental, the ideological, the social barriers that come with the weight of white supremacy.
Dr, Bridges Patrick:
I'd like to touch on just a little bit about what you said about the student voice, because it was interesting. I don't think he said it this way, you talked about the collegiality between students and teachers, right? So if I remember my days as a student, that teacher was definitely like, you know, he, or she was the one in power and you had to, you know, you had to operate you know, in a construct that was like, they were over you and you were under them, so you have this hierarchy. I think that's in me, and in my continued experience, I think that's still true to some degree. So now we're shifting from, you know, a position that doesn't necessarily relate to race. But if we take this in the direction of racial justice and your experience as a teacher, as an educator, how do you narrow the gap between, you know, "I'm in charge," the power, to bring it more towards this collegiality to allow students to have this voice. If we're honest, we see young people are the ones doing this heavy work out there, right? There's all kinds of ideas and information that we can get from them. So I'm curious to know, and I know I'm throwing you a curve ball because this is not what we talked about. Could you touch on that a little bit?
Absolutely. I think, as you were talking about radical collegiality, maybe not explicitly tied to race, I actually was thinking about the statistics of just who are the teachers, what is currently known as the United States. Most of those teachers are white. Many of whom are working in schools where the population of students are predominantly black and Brown children. So it's interesting that we have both that teacher authority piece, but then we also have that racial piece and the white supremacy piece that plays a role. And so when we're talking, and I know not everyone is in that position, but when we're talking about these kinds of schools, where we have white teachers teaching Black and Brown students, I think that adds a level to that idea of radical collegiality that makes it that much more important. I know we've talked about the idea of kind of white liberalism and one of those practices, or one of those kinds of tenants or aspects of white liberalism being a devaluation of Black and Brown people's expertise on racism.
And so just not enabling students to be part of that conversation. I think ties in there and I just wanted to comment on that really quickly before answering your actual question. But I think there are so many ways as teachers, we talk about having a student centered culture, but if we were really to reflect on what that student centered just meant, if we were really to think about the, the four things I typically ask is: Do your students have an opportunity to decide what they learn? So the content (when they learn), where they learn, and how they learn, if we can't enable students to have voice and choice in those things. And of course sometimes, you know, that's us kind of providing some choices and they choose from that. But other times, and listeners probably will recognize this particular anecdote...
Lindsay Lions :
That one time I tried an entire semester, an entire, like, you know, five months of school of students designing their own units. I had 80 different units going at the same time. And just kind of following that path of a personally designed unit that brought them joy, that fed into their creative spirit that enabled them to follow their curiosity. I think that is kind of that radical end of what that might look like. But, you know, if we are truly committed to engaging in this radical collegiality with students, it's going to be a co-construction of what and how we learn. And a lot of times, as teachers, we are told in grad school, when we're getting our teacher's degree, you must have a hundred percent of students quietly, obediently listening to you and following directions. That's what makes a good teacher. When in fact, that does not make a good teacher, that's going to isolate a lot of students.
That's going to send a lot of students to the principal's office when there's this disobedience of weird rules that we think we have to Institute, but that student voice really comes to life. When we use practices like circle, which was really common for me. And I know some people have been taking that to the virtual space where we pose a question about something relevant to students' lives. So for example, we just did this in my college class, but I've done similar things with my high school students around the decision coming in of the Breonna Taylor murder. And so having students have an opportunity each one of them to answer and to just have everyone listen to students' answers, particularly when those students are kind of seeing their own experiences reflected back at them in current events, like that's what radical collegiality is. It's not coming in with a pre-made lesson plan and telling students what they need to believe it's honoring their experiences and their expertise. So I know that's just one example, but I wanted to, to share that anecdote.
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
As I said, there's all kinds of things just running through my mind as I'm listening to, cause you're saying you know, that last example of the circle experience where those voices that are typical, everybody gets a voice, right? So then they're sharing their experiences. So then that leads to vulnerability, one of the discourse capacities. But it also just keeps me connected to what you said earlier about first, you've got this power dynamic between, you know, teacher and student, and then you've got the other power dynamic of race. You know, it just speaks to the complexity of how all this stuff works together to maintain structures. So what you're asking for, I think the word radical is like on point because it's truly radical and what then do organizations, schools need for their teachers to be able to come into a radical space, you know, mentally, right?
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
And to create these spaces where this can happen. Cause as I listened to you talk about how you did this for a semester, you did the student voice. Hey, how would you learn? But to show me what you did and what you would do and you stayed with it. What did it take for you to stay engaged? What did it take for you to really, you know, not lose sight of what you were trying to do? I wondered, like, does that take you to your why? How can you talk to that experience just a little bit? Cause, we overestimate what's involved, but then we also under-estimate. That takes a lot of physical work. Administrative work, but it also takes this work of, of the shift in the mindset. We're talking about the ways that we have been trained, teachers are trained to come in and, you know, you have this information and you give it to people. You are not trying to hear anything. So can you speak to that experience of what did you, what happened in those times? How did you hold on and, and just share with the audience? Like here's some things that are real and here's how I dealt with them.
Absolutely. So full transparency. I will not do what I did again, because it was just too long. And the reason I knew that was because students told me, so I think a huge piece of this is those feedback loops of asking the students, checking in with them, how is this going? And the biggest piece of feedback I got from them was "This was an amazing project. However, I would prefer it to be shorter," because they even said they were losing steam, just themselves, trying to orchestrate and follow this complex unit that they developed, even though it was, you know, their passion project, their interests, they were just like, I really wanted it to be done sooner. It was half the length of time. So parsing out all of the student feedback at the end was really valuable to me, what it taught me was not to throw away the project as a whole, but just to make some adaptations.
Another piece that I think is really helpful is that I did not do this by myself. There were 80 different topics, many of which I had no idea about, like some of, one of them was stand up comedy. I am not a standup comic. I am not a particularly funny person, but I do know other people who are really interested in comedy in the school, or, you know, personal connections. What I did was, I tried—I think I got about 50 or 60 students to be connected with people, either in the school or connections that teachers in our school had to outside sources that were experts in those fields. So they became like the content mentors. So I think the first thing was realizing I didn't have to do it alone was huge. And so when we talk about shared leadership and student voice and co-constructing curriculum, we're also talking about how we leverage family members that are experts.
Lindsay Lions :
One of the students actually went to her uncle because he was an expert in the topic that she was exploring. And so her uncle got to be her teacher, which is so cool because a lot of times we invalidate the expertise that family members have. And we say, we are the teachers who know how to do school. I think that was a huge realization for me. And I think another thing that supported me was an administrator who was like, go for it. Who said, I will support you. I will show up to the final expo where the students are sharing what they did, and I will celebrate that win. And I'm going to come in occasionally, but I'm not going to say if students are, you know, being very loud, that that's something you're going to get penalized for. I'm going to see that loudness as excitement and energy and things that we typically don't associate with loudness when we're looking in a school and that's often what it was, it wasn't off task loudness.
The students were more focused than ever, and they were just really excited to dig into the work. So I think that admin support was really helpful. And specifically within that admin support, and for me to, to, to kind of realize what was going right, and what I would change is changing the measurement. Like, what am I actually measuring? So instead of measuring student obedience, for example, or discipline rates or something like that about following directions, I instead was measuring, you know, for example, how excited students felt on a day-to-day basis, how valued or heard they felt in the class itself you know, different pieces like that, that are student-reported metrics that we typically don't measure in classrooms was what kept me on track was what kept me energized and what was also something that my admin valued. So I think being able to be in that space that was really set up for me to do an experiment like this was really what made it possible.
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
Thanks, Lindsay. I think your example is like a perfect example for adaptive leadership, right. Combined with shared leadership. Because you had this project, you engaged the students and then you listened to them. You've got that feedback loop and have to have that. So, adaptive leadership talks about that. They talk about not like you start talking about not throwing away the entire project when you realize, Oh my gosh, this is too much, you took what you learned from it. And you narrowed it down and you made adjustments. This was because you didn't have structures in place. You didn't have practices in place that were there to to help guide you through this truly adaptive leadership. Adaptive practice, I mean that there's no rule book for it, right?
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
There's no policy book that says, this is how you do it. So you went in blindly. Another piece of that, that you talked about is that that support, that organizational support, right? So when we're talking about changing organizations and helping them understand how racism is impacting, you know, all of, all of them, everybody and engage in embedded in their practices and policies, because it's just part of our system that this notion of having the support of the organization is critically important. Because if you don't have that experience, and I know yours was not specific to race, I believe it wasn't, but I mean, there's great lessons. So having that support allows for you to really live into your potential so that you could bring your students into their potential. So it's got all these benefits. And so then it's, it's this process of, of practice, of reflection in a practice that is absolutely essential to the continuation of racial justice and sustaining it over time.
Thank you for summarizing, that just feels really nice. Nice to hear how that was connected to adaptive leadership. That's not something I would have immediately thought about. So thank you. Is there anything else that you wanted to add to this conversation before we go through a quick summary of key points here?
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
No, but I do want to say that these are the kinds of conversations that just generate so much energy. You have all these ideas that come together between two people. I wonder what it would be like if you had another person with a different perspective. Who could bring some other insights to how we're looking at things. You know, that's a dream that I have expanding the possibilities by bringing in different perspectives. So that's all I would say. Thanks.
Awesome. Thank you. I'm just going to go through a quick summary of some key points that we talked about, and then we'll do a closing call to action. And so we talked a lot about shifting mindsets as a prerequisite for this work and policy change, and specifically radical collegiality when we're talking about students, but also with families and seeing them as true partners in the learning, these things take time. So in that time, as Cherie said, right, the power of discourse, you're always engaging in this. So of course it will take time, but we're constantly doing that work. We're constantly laboring for racial justice on this path. As we kind of co-construct policy and things in a shared leadership setting, the need for self care and collective care, which brings me back to, you know, Audre Lorde's like initial calls for it.
Self care is, I think she says an act of political warfare, right? It is about caring for the self so that we can, as you said, Cherie, support the collective. We're not turning away. We're turning inward for a moment, recharging, and coming back together. And so that shared leadership enabling us to share the weight and building relationships with another in generating energy is a critical piece here. Using that combination of Dana Mitra's pyramid levels to properly diagnose and really systematize the process of diagnosis, as well as dismantle and actually act on the information we're getting in things like surveys to dismantle barriers to racial justice is critical. Tying the accountability to the organization's "why" is really how we sustain the labor through fatigue, which will happen, and really making sure that we're getting support from folx who've studied and are knowledgeable about how racism operates when we're talking about accountability.
We can't just be accountable to ourselves in just kind of our limited mindset of what accountability means, but we're pulling in experts to help us be accountable to our larger community. And finally, just listening to students, measuring what matters, and remembering that adaptive practice does not have a rule book. And that praxis that reflection and action is really what gets us through those adaptive challenges, of course, with organizational support, which is really a huge key there. So as we talk to leaders, as we invite them to take action after this particular episode, what would you say, Cherie, is something that you would encourage leaders to do after listening today?
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
Wow. I think I'm probably going to sound repetitive here. So from an adaptive leadership lens, that parallel process of examining oneself, you know, that inner glance and inner look/view and while doing that at the same time examining the system. So you've got that parallel process going on, particularly in the context of, of addressing racial dominance in the workplace. Right? So this interior journey is really important to be able to navigate through the external organization. The internal part of oneself. So I recommended this the other day or on the other podcast, but I still think it's very relevant. Some of the things that we can do right away, you know, a lot of times people think that there is something grand that has to be done. But if we're talking about changing mindsets, that means you have to get engaged with your mind. You have to know how it's operating.
Dr. Bridges Patrick:
So in order to do that, spending just three minutes a day. Observing as just a third party. You're observing what's going on, so you can become familiar. You can make it as easy as what's happening in this interaction with this person what's going on with my body. What am I feeling? What am I noticing, or this is bringing in that somatic aspect of it, which is a big piece of how we continue to disengage from conversations around race. So it's just bringing some attention to how we're functioning as individuals within an organization, which makes us this, you know, the collective place, how are we, how are we working together? You know, you can take that data and apply it to, well, how does it impact, you know, our practices. Cause I, when we can begin to explore those things and become familiar with them, I think that can take us a long way. So that's one thing.
Excellent. Thanks. I actually want to say too by the time this episode airs there will be a previous episode that I actually created for free before that is a daily journal for 30 days. And so you can use that journal to do exactly what Cherie's saying, where you're journaling for three minutes about that critical reflection. And again, bringing in other, other folx in other resources that we kind of talked about in our previous episode as well to kind of deepen your critical self-reflection there. So thank you for bringing that up again. I'm glad you did. I would say that you know, I was actually inspired by what you said earlier. I would actually recommend that you find someone to talk to like Cherie and I do. We have a standing weekly meeting and we just kind of brainstorm. Really amazing things come out of it, I think.
We are doing a lot of professional work together, but it's also, I think just the ideas that flow when you have someone to talk to you and think through some of the adaptive leadership work with. So I think that's something that you can potentially do. Another thing, if you're interested in kind of the student voice element and trying to seek out students' ideas and perceptions of their leadership opportunities in your school is that you can use my, a statistically validated student leadership capacity building survey. So I'm going to link that as the freebie for this episode, just so you can start to kind of collect some data around whether or not students actually feel like they do have an opportunity to lead in schools. And in what ways do they have, you know, an opportunity to make decisions at the school level, at the curriculum level, in their classes?
Do they have the professional development for themselves as leaders where they're building those personal dialogic capacities that should be talked about in our, in our recent episode? So these are some of the things that we might want to know about students, and I will link to that in the show notes. So thank you all for listening to another episode, there was so much in here, please let us know what you got from this. We have Time for a Teachership Facebook group. If you want to go in there and chat through your takeaways, we will see you next week.
Thanks for listening, amazing educators. If you loved this episode, you can share it on social media and tag me at Lindsay Beth lions, or leave a review of the show. So leaders like you will be more likely to find it, to continue the conversation you can head over to our Time for Teachership Facebook group and join our community educational visionaries until next time leaders continue to think they act brave and be your best.
Today's podcast was recorded the day of the 2020 election. In it, I talk about pushing back against this notion of teacher neutrality. This is a solo show. Just me, no guests pushing back against this entrenched concept of neutrality that I think we need to unpack to do right by our students, right by ourselves, and right by our society. I hope you enjoy this episode.
Hi, I'm Lindsay Lyons and I love helping school communities envision bold possibilities, take brave action to make those dreams a reality and sustain an inclusive anti-racist culture, where all students thrive. I'm a former teacher leader, turned instructional coach, educational consultant and leadership scholar. If you're a leader in the education world, whether you're a principal, superintendent, instructional coach, or a classroom teacher, excited about school-wide change, like I was, you are a leader. And if you enjoy nerding out about the latest educational books and podcasts, if you're committed to a lifelong journey of learning and growth, being the best version of yourself, you're going to love the Time for Teachership podcast. Let's dive in
Today, I want to talk about teacher neutrality or the concept of teacher neutrality. I want to push back on it. I'm recording this episode on Tuesday, November 3rd. So the day of the US 2020 presidential election. And I'm thinking back to 2016, when my colleagues and I effectively suspended our regular course content for the year in helping our students process the results of the election and the feelings that they had around, the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. And thinking about preparing to teach my college class tomorrow, and also not knowing if we will have a definitive answer as to who the president will be for the next four years. At that point, I'm thinking about all of the other teachers in that same position, wondering what exactly they're going to say and how to approach the conversation about the election results in the coming day, the coming week, the coming months, as we continue being in our classroom spaces together and fostering a culture of anti-racism and productive generative dialogue that digs into issues of oppression.
And so I guess my dream here is that as we digest the news about the election, whenever it does come, that we don't try to adhere to this notion of neutrality that I see as truly a false notion of neutrality. So some folx may say, Whoa, Lindsay, that is way too radical or way off base here. I just want to share why I don't believe in this idea of teacher neutrality and why as a teacher, I took risks that at times I thought might get me fired, because I felt like it was the right thing to do. And when we teach, you know, this, this idea of civil disobedience and we glorify it breaking the unjust laws, right? We're talking about laws there. If teacher neutrality is just a norm, or kind of an unspoken norm that we believe exists, it's not necessarily a law.
And if it is in our contracts, again, I go back to that notion of glorified, civil disobedience, and we teach it. We talk about activists who are powerful and made a difference. And I suppose the question I have is: Are we willing to be the people that we glorify in teaching history classes and teaching this content to our students? Are we willing to push back against a regulation in our contracts, or if not an unspoken norm or agreement that we should remain neutral. And that's what a good teacher does. So here's why I think this idea of neutrality is not something that I want to adhere to nor do I hope that you know, others do. The first reason is because it's just not accurate, this concept of neutrality. If it means how we've always done things, how we've always taught history, how we have always centered whiteness and cis-genderedness and maleness, if neutrality is that, it's not neutral. That's just not neutral.
Supporting the status quo is not neutral. When we know that supporting the status quo means that students who are Black, Brown, or Indigenous or transgender or students with dis/abilities when they don't get the same results as white cis-gendered rich students get. So if it's not accurate, if this concept of neutrality truly isn't neutral, I think we have to push back against this idea that speaking against injustice and teaching about politicians or the election or particular rules or Supreme Court decisions, pushing back against some of them as unjust, right? I think that is what we need to do to advance justice in our country and in our classrooms. The second problem I have with the concept of neutrality is this idea of neutrality being just neutrality in the way we conceive of it. If it means what I just said, it's not just the way we've always done things.I love Archbishop Desmond Tutu's famous quote, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality."
I think this is so poignant when we're thinking about the fact that we are serving all students in education. That is our purpose. That is our mission. When it comes down to it, if asked to choose to remain "neutral," supporting the status quo, the way things have always been...
To speak out and speak for justice at perhaps a great risk to ourselves in our careers at perhaps a risk of having really uncomfortable conversations with parents who don't agree with your stance on the false notion of teacher neutrality with bosses, perhaps colleagues or family members who disapprove of your decision, that's truly what justice means, right? To reject the status quo. It is not just. So, staying neutral or "apolitical" is also an advantage. If you say that you are neutral or apolitical you're effectively sharing that your humanity and your human rights are not at risk here. And so you have the privilege or the advantage to remain neutral in a particular political conversation or situation. If your rights are not as risk as an individual, then you can opt out of a conversation with little risk to yourself. You can avoid that discomfort, which is a manifestation of white supremacy, right?
As a tool of white supremacy, to avoid the discomfort, to not take risks, to not jeopardize the status quo that has served you. The reality is, most teachers, about 80% of teachers in the United States are white. Most students at this point in the United States are not white. And so there's this additional dynamic of who are we serving and who are we? What are we willing to risk to serve our students properly? Now you might be wondering well, this idea, in theory, of pushing back against neutrality, I'm with you. I agree, but how does this actually happen? How does this play out so that I walk the line between not getting fired or not putting my career in jeopardy and my livelihood on the table, and am also pursuing justice?
And I will say that there are no easy answers here. That absolutely is a risk. And I just invite us to have that conversation first and foremost with one another about what that means. And if we can talk about it as colleagues, as adults, even with students, about what neutrality means in a broader sense, not necessarily as in the teacher sense—as a responsibility of teachers—but just generally, if we can have those conversations and produce generative dialogue about what this means for our conversations as a school community and as a larger community as well, I think we're getting there, right? We're making progress if we can do that. Well, I also want to say different teachers and different people have different degrees of risk. So for folx who can say, I am apolitical, or I am staying neutral on this because it doesn't risk your individual rights. Those folks have less risk typically in cases like this. And therefore it is more important that those folx step up to the plate here and take on some of that risk that other folx who have not been advantaged by our systems have been having to keep on their shoulders and have had to shoulder those risks far and above anyone else. And so it's time those of us who are at less of a risk in that scenario to step up and take on that risk and to voice our resistance to this concept of neutrality, which does not serve our students.
Logistically speaking in the classroom, this looks like conversational agreements, that center justice, that center dignity and ensure that a person or a group's humanity is not up for debate. This is a central tenet of having these conversations. We cannot ensure a space in which students are going to want to return to conversations like this in a space in which students feel loved and supported in a sense of belonging, if we don't agree that a basic guideline that is foundational to productive conversations about oppression is that we cannot disagree with who a person is. We cannot say that their identity is invalid or their experiences are invalid.
So we can honor the dignity and the experiences of people and disagree about where we're going to make a better world for everyone, but not about the dignity of the person themselves. In addition to setting human guidelines—guidelines for the conversation that center human dignity and make sure that we are not going to violate that—academic guidelines can also be established. So as an educational institution where your purpose is to support students, to have a better academic understanding of things like research and data, and fact versus fiction, academic guidelines can be established for the conversation because where conversations can get derailed is if we say everyone's opinion is valid without the consideration of factual information and where that information is coming from. So source quality, quality of research design, things like that. You can absolutely look at a research design and interrogate its sample, representativeness, all of that stuff. That's actually a great way to apply some key ideas about research and think about the applications of things you might be studying in the real world. Absolutely do a source analysis, do all of those things, but we cannot ignore data and statistics. We cannot ignore facts. That is part of our responsibility as an educational institution in this conversation.
So again, you can disagree with how to solve problems. I think that's what politics really should be all about. How do we create a better world for everyone? How we get there might look different and we can disagree about that, but we can't disagree with people's humanity and the necessity for people to have their full set of human rights. And we can also not disagree with the fact that problems exist when data points to the fact that those problems exist. And so the next step in terms of getting started with this work, of course, this is going to look different for every community, depending on what grade level you teach, where you teach, the population you serve in terms of student demographics, geographic nature of your school, teacher readiness and teacher demographics as well.
But as a leader, if you are a school leader, a principal, superintendent, assistant principal, you can bring this issue up with your staff. Many staff members have been thinking about it. They may be thinking differently about it. They may be thinking similarly to you, different from others, but they have been thinking about it in one way or another, this election and just current events in general affect everything we do. They affect us as individuals, as people, as teachers, they impact our pedagogy and our considerations when we determine what and how we are going to teach.
What you can do as a leader is prepare how you want to talk about it with your staff and offer some shared language, to provide opportunities for teachers to talk about how they're going to talk about issues in their class. So provide some language around discussion agreements or values to uphold in class conversations. What are the guidelines? What are the shared parameters that our school can come up with to say, we are not going to violate another person's dignity. What does that language look like for your school, for your grade level? And maybe co-construct that with your staff. Another thing to consider is conversations with families. So consider that shared language that you want to have with staff so that if a family member comes in and addresses what they see as this issue of violating teacher neutrality, you can provide a buffer between the teacher and the parent.
So you're kind of the first stop. So that family members aren't directly calling teachers, and you can provide that information and share that this is a school-wide initiative. This is our set of guidelines that we collectively came up with to have conversations about important issues. You can also support teachers and provide professional development opportunities, coaching support in the form of observations of these classes, not to judge or grade teacher performance, but to take in what's happening and collectively brainstorm where teachers can go from there or how to address problems that may arise. Now as a teacher, you can determine your guidelines for your class. Of course, you can bring it up to the larger school. You can ask your boss about creating opportunities for a larger staff wide conversation, but you can also, if you feel isolated in this journey, if you're the only one that seems to be doing this, you can determine the guidelines and the language that you will use in your own individual class to talk to students, to talk to family members who may come and talk to you about what you're teaching students and what you're talking about in your class.
You also may want to prepare for colleagues—if you are on this journey alone—who may tell you that it is your job to stay neutral or remain apolitical. So you might want to prepare exactly what you want to say to those colleagues, to have that language ready to go, to share some additional resources, which I'll be sharing with you at the end of this episode, so that they can kind of explore those questions and push back against that notion of teacher neutrality as it fits for them. And as always, we need to build up our collective and individual literacies around various identities and forms of injustice so that we can facilitate conversations with our students, but also with adults, with our colleagues, with our families, with our bosses, with our students' family members on issues of racism and white supremacy, on issues of nativism and sexism, on issues of ableism and homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, all the topics that may surface in conversations around the election specifically, or more broadly around any current events that happen throughout the year and not just in this moment in time.
In the show notes today, I'm going to link to a bunch of resources to support you in further exploring this concept of neutrality. So you can kind of get started. You can share some of these resources with your colleagues or with family members, and it might provide you a kind of shared language to figure out exactly what we are trying to do here in the field of education. What are we trying to do as teachers? Why did we get into this field and who are we trying to be as individuals? How are we bringing our whole selves into the class? If you're an activist outside, if you're going to Black Lives Matter protests, but you are showing up in class to remain neutral...that does something to you, right? That does something to you as an individual.
It prevents you from being able to show up and bring a lens of justice, a centering of justice, a core of justice into how you teach and what you teach. And as a clear caveat here, I am not at all saying that you need to tell students how to think and that students all need to agree with you. I think that is something that I continue to work on because I am very clear in my passion for feminism, for anti-racism, but I also don't see those passions as something that is political, because again, they center people's dignity. They say, I am fighting for justice for all students, for all people. If I was pushing a particular agenda for a policy or for some sort of, again, solution to how we attain justice for everyone, that's not something I need my students to agree with me on, but I need students to center the justice of all people in our conversations.
And if there is a trans student in the room, if there is a student who is gay in the room, if there is a student who is Black, Brown or Indigenous in the room, if there are a bunch of hetero, cis-gendered white kids in the room, I need them to know that they matter, their peers matter, and that everyone's dignity and humanity matters. So I see that as the clear difference between pushing my own beliefs and making sure that we center justice and humanity for all folx in our class. So the resources I will link today include a resource from Teaching While White, which is a podcast. The episode is called "No Neutral Zone" and features a wonderful interview with a teacher who shares his own personal identity—for a while. He found himself kind of covering up who he really was in the class. And then now being open about his identity with his students and how he teaches and sees the concept of neutrality. It's a fascinating listen.
Also, April Brown wrote a blog post called "Talking with Young Kids About Elections, Democracy, and Justice For All." There are a bunch of great resources in terms of texts that you could use to center conversations around elections, democracy, and justice for young kids. I think this is particularly powerful because a lot of times in conversations about social issues about racial injustice, about, sexism or consent or all these things that are really central to how we live as human beings and absolutely are important to talk about in, you know, the young grades sometimes feel like either they shouldn't be talked about, or they should, but they're not sure exactly how to go about that conversation because of course, it's going to look different from a conversation with a bunch of high school students when you're talking to a bunch of first graders or kindergartners. And so this is a powerful blog post to check out.
And finally, a resource from the Teaching Tolerance website. This is an article written by Corey Collins called "Teaching the 2020 Election: What Will You Do On Wednesday?" So specifically speaking about the election and thinking about that notion, which it references in the posts, I'm thinking about pushing back on that notion of teacher neutrality, and it actually links to another blog post—tons of blog posts, actually—within that article, from Teaching Tolerance, one of which does directly address a teacher kind of reckoning with that notion of neutrality and, and kind of walking the line, so to speak, between having students believe exactly what he believes and centering justice in conversations with students. And so I thought that was a powerful rate as well. I'll link to all of those resources in the show notes for today, so that you can check them out.
If you have any resources that you would like to share about how you are addressing the election or current events more generally in your classes this year, how you're fostering these conversations with colleagues in staff meetings, in department meetings in just kind of "water-cooler" conversation moments (if those moments exist via Zoom or in-person)., and how you're talking about them with students, if there are activities that you want to share or shared language that you want to let us know about, please Let me know.
You can find me on social media, or you can drop a link to one of your resources if you're willing to share, or just a comment about how that's going in your class and the approach that you've been taking and how you're thinking about this notion of teacher neutrality in the year 2020.
Thanks for listening, amazing educators. If you love this episode, you can share it on social media and tag me at Lindsay Beth Lyons, or leave a review of the show. So leaders like you will be more likely to find it, to continue the conversation you can head over to our Time for Teachership Facebook group and join our community of educational visionaries until next time leaders, continue to think big, act brave, and be your best self.
I'm so excited for you to hear today's episode featuring Kholood Qumei. She is an educational genius. I'm so excited that I was able to share a room with her. When I did my teaching in New York City. She currently teaches 10th and 11th-grade social studies and ESL in New York. She worked with the International Rescue Committee of New York and New Jersey. Her Master's comes from Teachers’ College. She's currently back there, again, pursuing an EdM in international education and development with a concentration in languages, literacies, and cultures. I cannot wait for you to hear this insightful conversation with Kholood.
I am so excited to introduce to you my former colleague and amazing friend today on the podcast, Kholood Qumei, who is literally one of the most inspiring motivating people that I have just the privilege of having in my life. She introduced to me this idea of marigolds, but she credits Cult of Pedagogy's Jennifer Gonzalez as sharing it. But just this idea that you know, marigolds really have these roots that are healthy and nurturing and giving, and also, you know, by giving we grow and this two-way relationship of just thriving and growing together. I think epitomizes just my experience of my relationship with Kholood. So I am so excited to introduce to you today, um, Kholood and her brilliance, and I'm just going to actually let her introduce herself in the way that she would like to just tell us a little bit about her journey to education, her background, her research, all the things that== you know, bring her excellence into this space today.
Thank you so much, Lindsay, you are so awesome and you are definitely a Marigold in my life. So I appreciate that. I will, yeah, I'll go ahead and introduce myself. So, as you said, my name is Kholood Qumei and, I am living that hyphenated life where I am an Arab-Filipina-American. I was born in Brooklyn, but then I spent my K through six years. So my elementary formative years in Amman Jordan, and then I moved back to the United States to do seventh through 12th grade. And then just ended up staying here for university. So, right now I am a 10th and 11th-grade social studies teacher in New York City. In another life though, I used to work with the International Rescue Committee in New York and New Jersey in different capacities. Started out interning with them, and then realized more and more that I wanted to get into the education field.
And then let's see what else. Yeah. Education was never really, I didn't know that this would be where I would end up, but my undergrad was in international relations. I had a stint in divinity school thinking I would get my Master's in theological studies that now, after getting my MA in TESOL with a K-12 certification from, from TC, from Teachers College, I'm working full time and also back as a graduate student yet again, pursuing my EdM and International Education and development, and I'm concentrating on the field of languages, literacies, and cultures.
Awesome. There is so much there that you have accomplished already, and that is so impressive. Thank you for sharing that. I think one of the things that are really exciting about just our conversations that we've had about education is kind of like big thinking or our big dreaming about what education could possibly be. And so I think that's kind of the question I want to start with. What's the big dream that you hold for the field of education, if you could kind of dream it into being, what would that actually look like?
Yeah. Initially when I first thought about this question, my, my first answer was equity in education, right? Like that's something that I think so many of us today are striving for, but then I really thought a little more deeply and I was like, well, for me, what's my big dream for education and it is equity, but I really, I really love this emphasis on multilingual learning because I think that, you know, language is something that I'm really passionate about and I think it needs to be brought into the conversation a lot more. So, so many incredible people are doing anti-racist work and talking about the decolonization of education and pedagogy, and I think that language needs to be a part of the conversation on equity, where language diversity is really celebrated and incorporated in the schools both from the bottom to top and top to bottom. Because there's so much history that we can talk, you know, ad nauseam about, about language linguistics and colonialism because we still see today without, without even really recognizing it sometimes unless we pause the colonial legacy in our curriculum and you know, English is a very dominant thing, right?
So I know there are discourses on globalization, global English and this idea that you know, English is supposed to be good because, you know, it expands global markets and it enhances economic expansion, but all of this is really at the expense of people's languages and diminishing them. And then, you know, going, like you said, from these big ideas to more specific ones, I see it being diminished in my students. So that's my big dream is equity in educational development through multilingual education. Uh, yeah, that's how I would really like to frame this conversation.
Awesome. I love that. And I wanted to pick up on a couple of things you said there about just even colonialism and recognizing, just being aware of and calling out and naming things like colonialism or things like just the absence of multilingualism or language in our conversations about equity. Too often, it is absent and I'm glad you, you brought attention to that. So that makes me think about the mindsets that we have as educators and, you know, as ways that we think about how education should look or how it's historically been. So what mindset shifts do you think are really required for educators and educational leaders to really buy into and, and the things that are really that you see are necessary in order to achieve this dream or work towards that dream. ,
Yeah, and I think, I think that you know, in this case, we're talking more and maybe the audience is more of the American audience. So we're primarily focused here in the United States, but I think that's part of the, part of the issue, right, is that we are so America-centric. Nut I think a major mindset, mindset shift, sorry, is to think more globally, more internationally, and to, to really look beyond ourselves, both at the individual level and as a country, because there are so many great things happening out there, all around the world on all the continents that we need to be more aware of, language, education, policy, language practices, and a major mindset shift that we need to think about is, is our own language ideologies. This is something that I've been really getting into lately.
So, you know, an ideology is a belief. So what is our belief on languages, as educators, especially? And before I enrolled in my program, I really, you know, I come from the ESL world with my first Master's degree. And so the whole idea was, you know, to help students get to speak English. And this is part of the American assimilation narrative. And, you know, and I get that. And I, I worked in some capacities doing, the State Department mandated cultural orientation for recently arrived refugees, but the more I started thinking about it, and the more I started thinking even of the history of ESL is how Western English-dominated it is and how that in and of itself is problematic and how we need to rethink that. So even calling the students, "English Language Learners" is so diminishing for them because they have other amazing capacities that some people truly don't have that I don't have.
You know, some of them speak more than four languages. And so that's a shift from this monoglossic language ideology that is maybe so deeply embedded in this education system that maybe we need to have a more critical approach to it. And so that's more of a heteroglossic perspective and language ideology where we see that multilingualism should and can be normalized. My advisor calls it the "multi-lingual habitus", which I really love,—Carol Benson. She's amazing. So I'm really trying to adopt this language in my own life and work, but a multi-lingual habit where, you know, it's, it's drawing on people's strengths and recognizing multilingualism as really an asset. So even, even not using the language majority versus minority, like, "Oh, these are minority languages", you know, because sometimes the numbers, the numbers don't point to that. So instead of adopting language like dominant versus non-dominant, or even calling things, not a minority, but "minoritized" to emphasize that this is something that's happening to them. So really that's, I mean, in some, the mindset shift, it has to be a lot of self-reflection and looking beyond the self on so many different levels.
Oh my gosh, there are so many things in there that I think we could talk about for days. But I think one of the things, two of the things that really stick out to me is one that non-US-centric idea, and that I think is, is a huge, huge piece paired with that idea of that assimilationist narrative, that idea that "Indian boarding schools," right, removed, people from their families removed their hair from their heads, their clothing on their bodies and their language from their tongues. Right? And, said that this is what it means to be American. And I think as educators, we need to recognize that is the history of what it has been in the United States. That, in addition to so many more, examples, but I mean, that's, that's what we have grown from. Like our education is rooted.
Our system is rooted in that assimilationist narrative. And so stopping our language from problematizing students because they're "English Language Learners", as opposed to seeing, I love the phrase "multi-lingual habitus" and like seeing the assets, the brilliance that is required to be multilingual. Many of our teachers are not right? I, myself am not. And so I think that's a huge, huge shift. Thank you for sharing that. When we talk about, you know, like, how do we make this happen? So we have the mindset shift we're like ready to embrace, non-US- centric perspectives, we're ready to embrace the multi-lingual habitus. Like, what does that actually look like in terms of a teacher or a leader of educational development, you know, taking action towards that dream of, of that multi-lingual habitus or multilingual education being done in a way where students are thriving in schools?
Yeah, I get frustrated by this a lot because it's that action step, right? It's like, okay, what can I do? And sometimes I feel like I need to be in 50 different places at once, but then I realized well, we're spread too thin. Let's focus and be more effective focusing like one thing at a time. But, I feel like now in my role, as both a practitioner, as an educator, someone deeply devoted to their students, but also someone who is a perpetual student kind of at this point of a perpetual graduate student, it's never-ending, but you know, that's fine. But you know, as a practitioner, I get really frustrated in certain situations where I, you know, in my coming across different pieces of literature that have fantastic ideas, I want to implement them. And then also as a graduate student, I become equally frustrated when the literature doesn't take into account educators like an actual educator's perspective and voices when they make recommendations.
So, then I think about actions and I think actions need to be mindful of both perspectives. And really as educators, the work starts with ourselves. And I know that this is something that so many people talk about and I think it's easier said than done, right? But how do you challenge these preconceived notions, your, your ideas, your biases? And especially when it comes to language again, something I'm so passionate about, because I know that there's so much amazing work that is going on with anti-racist work, and challenging those preconceived notions. But I really, I would love to challenge others to think about their own biases with language. So what actions can be taken, what can people do in their schools? I think at a school level, maybe engaging more in the small steps. I know that a few of us started a book club, I think was it two years ago at this point?
Yeah. Book club, monthly and engaging in really, really thoughtful readings and then sometimes not thoughtful because we needed a break. But you know, when you learn something, running PDs, right, encouraging your colleagues to attend conferences with you, giving each other critical and meaningful feedback on your curriculum, on your pedagogy, asking people, what they think being vulnerable in that sense. And I know that when we work together, I so admired you and your work, Lindsay, that, that you were probably the first person I always went to for that kind of meaningful exchange and feedback to take actions, to have these mind shifts that we're talking about. But then I think comes the question like, okay, and this is, this is the frustration that I was talking about earlier where, you know, I think there are so many of us educators who are doing the work, putting in the time, learning about ourselves, how we can be better, how we can do better.
But then how, how do we make the next jump? Right? Because a lot of these issues are they're systemic. How do we challenge that? You know, I think in politics, people say that that next jump is, you know, with active citizenship and civics, civic participation. And one example is voting, among many, many other ways of civic participation, but I would love to see more educators at the table doing work with policy discussions and being in positions of power. I find it really challenging to accept when there's a person in power in the education world who's never taught a day in their life. You know, and then I also see many educators who have so many fantastic ideas who want to stay in the classroom because that's the kind of people that we are. We love our students, we love our work. I have those moments where I'm like, I don't want to leave, but is there a way to do both? So, having that balance, but being...doing the work ourselves and being a part of that conversation, that larger conversation, I think that that is how a lot of that mindset shift can really start to come to fruition.
I love that because they also think it speaks to my research that I talk about all the time like shared leadership and thinking about how do we make sure that teachers are at that decision-making table in schools, but also beyond. And like you were saying, like in political positions, in policy-making positions, and I'm almost thinking too, you know, how, how about students and family members as well, who are multilingual to be in those positions of power, as well as shaping policy and, you know, thinking about those recommendations for schools individually as a community, but then also beyond. And I think that's an incredibly powerful shift when we can shift from like individual work to systemic work. So I appreciate you sharing that. I think a lot of the teachers that I talk to and the questions that they ask of me is like, "Okay, tell me a strategy." Like, "Give me a strategy to use."
And while I think sometimes that oversimplifies the problem or approach, I guess I should say to address how, how we create spaces for multilingual students to thrive. I think it's also something that is tangible like you were saying and making sure that, you know, what we communicate is practical for educators. What are some of the key concepts that you've learned about, or the particular strategies that you've learned about in your research or you use in your practice that you would recommend that are maybe those top strategies or recommendations that teachers could take and apply in practice?
Yeah. I love that you bring that up, Lindsay, because I know I sometimes, and just, you know, like I want to open a blog and find a strategy immediately that I can implement tomorrow. And sometimes I do find amazing strategies, you know, and sometimes, sometimes I don't, but, you know, it's, it's definitely a combination right? The mindset that then organically translates in...translates rather...into a practice that we have. And also knowing some strategies. Right. So for me, I think, you know, we hear funds of knowledge, we hear removing deficit perspective, but what does that actually mean when you've implemented a strategy? Like, we can believe that as much as we want, but then if we don't do that in the classroom, it, it kind of doesn't mean as much. But I really personally love allowing students to use their home language.
I completely understand and honor the fact that some educators actually, not some, that many educators we're, so we're so pressured by standardized testing, right. Because our job is to help the kids. We want to get them to a place where they are, you know, taking—I can just also talk about the issues with assessment for a while, but I won't—because you know, our multilingual learners—I'm not going to use English language learners—but our multilingual learners, their accommodations, right? They have accommodations. So they're an afterthought. The test is not designed for them. So there's, there are inherent problems there, but as much as we want to, you know, help them, sometimes it sometimes before they can make that jump, we need to, we, as teachers need to also honor their home languages a little bit more and telling them, you know, "Yeah, like now is a great time if you want to use it," whether, you know, jotting down ideas on paper, or if, you know, some kids are lucky enough where there are other students in the classroom who share the same home language, allowing them space and time for that.
And also really being mindful of literacy practices. Right. So, you know, one area that I really focus on is the Arabic language and recognizing that whether, because of interrupted formal education in some of these contexts and countries, um, or because, you know, Arabic is diglossic in nature. So that means that there's, there is like a standardized Arabic, and then there are also different varieties and I will not call them "dialects". I call them "varieties" and different languages of Arabic. Right? So, you know, for me, I can write in standard Arabic, but when it comes to my home language, the Levantine variety of Arabic, it's not standardized. So it's mostly transliterating, orthographically, whatever is like coming out of my mouth. So sometimes students have different experiences with literacies even in their home languages. So allowing opportunities for drawing or speaking, you know, it doesn't—pen to paper is really hard for students sometimes.
And we don't, we don't pause to think about that. So my biggest strategy, I guess, in sum, that I would, I would give is, you know, allowing space and time and recognition of home language and really getting to know the students' home languages, because I see so many, so many, you know, papers that come from the system that labeled their language like, Oh, this student speaks Spanish, the student speaks French, Arabic, Bengali. But what does that actually mean? Because that's not that that oftentimes is not even their home language. You know, I've, I've seen Wolof a little bit more, for some of our Senegalese students, a little bit more now than, rather than just French, but there so many languages in Senegal, you know, Wolof is the lingua franca there, but it might not be our students’ home languages. And so we need to do a better job in learning that, and maybe with needs assessments, finding that out, finding out their skill sets there, and then using that because again, just because they don't speak English doesn't mean that our students are disadvantaged. We need to just, we need to eliminate that belief, and we can learn from them.
Oh my gosh, I love that. You said that, like, I think, you know, I think so much of this is—I often say that standardized curriculum or standardized practices are, you know, difficult because there is this exchange, right? There's this exchange between what our students teach us and what we are able to teach our students. And the fact that we're in partnership and learning together, I think is a really important point. And I love that you highlighted, you know, this is what it looks like to do this in a particular space. You get to know your students, you get to ask those questions, you get them to tell you in their own words, you know, what their home languages and not just trust that what is given to us on paper is what is, and I think that's really important in terms of just the partnership that we have with our students.
And, and again, going back to that mindset of we're together, and it's going to be responsive to the needs of our students and not just, I'm going to do teaching in this one way. I love that you used the phrase, and I'm paraphrasing here, but I wrote down something like the tests we accommodate students. Multilingual students for tests, "the test is not designed for them". And I think that's really important when we're framing and grounding our work and curriculum and assessments that we design. Are we grounding it in an approach that involves all students and enables all students to be successful, or are we just accommodating and adapting something that was not designed for all students? And so I just wanted to highlight that those I think are really important points. And I love that you also talked a little bit about your own students, and so you teach in a school where all students are multilingual. So, we taught in that same school together and it was beautiful what we can learn from our own students. And I would love it if you could just share maybe a particular either lesson or strategy or even student—individual student's story that highlights, you know, the success that we can have when we thoughtfully designed those learning experiences with multilingual students in mind and really centering their, their needs and strengths.
Yeah. I think when I started my career as a teacher, and I think the reason why I ended up choosing the TESOL certification was because of my own experience. I came to America in seventh grade knowing English. My mom made sure that we tried to speak it as much as he could at home because she always knew that she wanted to come to America. But I think that I was drawing on my own experiences in seventh grade and you know, that silent period, because, and that's why I'm really emphasizing, right, like honoring home language, and knowing the home language because, Oh my goodness, just learning that, you know, Spanish was not actually the first language of, you know, some of my students, especially from, you know, like my students who speak, K'iche or Quechua, that was, that was major.
And that was an education for me because I knew nothing about it. So it was also a vulnerability and education on my part. But, to go back to your question, a particular lesson or strategy or story...there's, I, well...I've been doing, I didn't know, I think, well, you know, this, but I've been doing more, more work around maps because I've, I've gotten really international geographic education. I actually got their fellowship, which was really exciting. So, um, I got the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship and got to go to Antarctica. And so bringing that to our students has been so phenomenal, but more than just learning about Antarctica. And that was a whole thing in and of itself was just rethinking geography and place and space, especially in the context of our multilingual learners. Again, thinking of funds of knowledge, thinking of what strengths they bring, and finding a way to create a mini maps unit, that looked at maps, but also perspective and bias.
Starting very simply allowing space for home language and, you know, multiple literacies where there was a lot of drawing, a lot of speaking, and not, I did not start with any like kind of essay prompts or anything like that, although there is a time and place for that, at that, that was a really cool experience. And I do particularly remember the first time doing it, the mini maps unit, it covered all the maps on the walls, which is there for this. No, I don't think, I don't think so after. Yeah. So, I have the traditional standardized, widely accepted yet highly problematic Mercator projection. And then also the Gall-Peters and also an upside-down one. I've been trying to get my hand on an Asia-centric map as well. But yeah, so having students just first draw what the world map, what they think it looks like to them.
And that was really cool because it was a space for drawing. Some students ended up using a lot more language, in the maps, so they were labeling things, other kids were not, and that was also completely fine, but then allowing them to, at first in small groups in pairs explain it to each other and then out loud with the whole class, like sharing their surprising moments, their shocks their interesting comments. And then from there, you know, learning more about the language of geography, so there's the vocabulary input, but it's grounded in something that we've already started, and also building on what they know, because I didn't know. And that's why I kind of wanted to start with this—curious about where in their home countries is geography taught there? And for some of our students, it was an Asia-centric map.
Right. And it was also cool to see which places were bigger, which places were completely forgotten. Right? You know, everyone remembered Antarctica because they kept talking about it for years. But yeah, slowly starting from there and moving from, you know, the conversation eventually to the written. And it was really great where at the end when we were writing about imperialism and doing an essay on imperialism, students circling back to this unit opener, I guess a hook mini, mini-unit, and especially in their conclusion that "So what?" part, cause I think that's the hardest thing to teach a student, even myself as the grad student that "So what?" part. But yeah, that was, that was really, that was really a fun unit that I could share that. I think it was really a high challenge because you're really challenging the students to think critically when you start introducing perspective and bias, why certain maps are the way they are. And then looking at different maps, we eventually looked at, you know, physical maps, political maps, topological maps, climate maps, but then also from different places and across different time periods. So that was, that was pretty neat while also making it accessible.
That is an amazing unit. I saw—I think I was there when you started doing map units, but, I did not see the evolution to that point. That sounds phenomenal. And I would encourage any listener who teaches social studies to do that unit because I think there's so much that you're teaching there, you're embedding criticality, you're embedding intellect, you're starting where students are and you're inviting them to share their brilliance and, and really educate each other and ourselves as teachers being able to learn from students in that way, I think is just so profound. And I also think it's a great example of—I talk a lot about co-constructing curriculum with students. And so while you were there for my wild experimentation of like "Design your own unit and do that for an entire semester!"—Like that is one extreme, this is also an example of how, you know, students can, co-create the lesson, like on a lesson level, I'm sure having different students in the class for that lesson produce different results from, from class to class.
And that conversation was varied. And so I think for educators or leaders supporting educators to the co-construct curriculum with students, this is a great example of one point on that continuum where it is incredibly valuable. And also doesn't take like a ton of, you know, front end work of like, okay, which, what do students know already? And identifying that going in, like you got to just learn that with them through the activity and during the lesson. So I think that's a very doable thing that teachers could put into their practice for teaching geography and so powerful.
I'll also just quickly add that it's also decolonizing it, right? Because you're, you're looking at geography and, and politics and histories so critically, and it is, it is anti-racist work too because you're questioning who made Mercator projection, right? Like why is Africa this size? Why is Australia here? Where is, where is, why is Europe so massive? Right. So, looking at that, identifying the biases of the creators and having students come to those conclusions is really empowering. So I'll just throw that out there too, in the spirit of what we were talking about earlier as well. So yeah.
I think that's another great example. I think one of the things, we...I've been talking to educators who teach in rural areas that are predominantly filled with white students in their classes as well. Sometimes they will hear an example like that and they'll say, well, we can't do that because we have this like mono-racial, mono-cultural mono-linguistic, like, you know, experience. But I think this is a perfect example of how you would slightly adapt this and still teach exactly the principles that you're trying to get across. Right? Like looking at who created each of these maps and having that critical lens and having the lens of decolonization when we look at just things in our sphere of education is something you can absolutely do, regardless of who is in your class. I mean, you could also jump on a zoom call with another class, like Kholood's class or something, you know, to, to share ideas that maybe aren't present in your classroom. But I think that's, that's a wonderful emphasis that you just added because I think that's something everyone can do regardless of who is sitting in your classroom, whether that be your physical classroom, your digital classroom now, but, um, as we kind of move to close out of it, I'm curious, are there resources that you have come across that you find to be really helpful in thinking through this or that you would recommend instructional leaders read or, you know, things that would help them learn more about multilingual education and what they could do for students?
Yeah. I think that this is something where like when I was thinking also, I mean, every time I have a question I'm like, wait, and then it takes like an hour to come up with an answer. But, I have been trying...I think that's why I ended up pursuing this other graduate degree is because I wanted resources and I kept running into roadblocks. Like I couldn't find exactly what I was looking for with multilingual education, because a lot of what's out there still disadvantages them as English Language Learners. And as much as we try to celebrate them and to celebrate and honor, and, you know, empower—they're already empowered—you know, we just, they have voices, right? Like we just need to be listening more, but I kept getting, I kept hitting roadblocks. So I think that's why I pursued it.
I mean, I know that's why I pursued this degree in international education and development, focusing on languages, literacies, and cultures because I will admit that I was really intimidated by scholarly work. So I was like, "Oh gosh," like, "How do I, Where is my entrance into this? How do I fit? Where do I start?" But with comparative education and also linguistic anthropology, I've come across so many fantastic articles. And that's something that I would really recommend to educators interested in multilingual education is don't be afraid of the scholarly work. We know a lot as educators, right? Like researchers will come to us when conducting work. So, you know, I think, I think we, there's such a great divide between theory and practice. And I think we need to close that gap a little bit more. So a lot of the recommendations that I do have, you know, the canon of Linguistic Anthropology or, or, critical pedagogy specifically focusing on multilingual education is in scholarly work.
So again, um, you know, whether it's Carol Benson or Nelson Flores over at UPenn...Nancy Hornberger, a lot of their work is phenomenal and, you know, it's something that I think we as educators can read and then, and then think about in our own practice. So that's kind of where I have been heading to get more because I...yeah, I just kept hitting roadblocks. So don't be intimidated or afraid to read it and question it as we all should because that's important and that's, that's part of, you know, why people read and write and publish and all of that.
I love that recommendation. Thank you. And I just want to kind of summarize, we've talked about so many things today. So we've talked about the mindset shift required. The multi-lingual habitus that we want to really frame our thinking around and start shifting from that problematic language of problematizing students for, for not having English fluency and seeing that strengths-based multilingual learner kind of lens. As we look at our students, we want to really do the personal work, the collective work as, as a group. I know you shared some great strategies for that. And we also want to make sure that we're at the policy level. And so teachers have representation there and multilingual people have representation there as well. Getting to know your students and really making sure that students are able to use their home language and are encouraged to use their home language as well as multiple literacies.
And so we're not just putting pen to paper, and also you gave some great examples of ways to really look at perspective and bias to decolonize the curriculum, using your geography maps unit. And, and that recommendation that we should always be looking critically at, at the theory and the scholarly work. And also maybe I took from that as well, turning to other educators and just seeing what's working well in practice and even learning from our students and families, what can be done in classes. So there's so much richness in this, in this conversation that I'm curious if you could just recommend one place to start. So one next step that an educator or a leader of educational development could take to really live in alignment with that valuing of multilingual learners. That idea of rooting our work in equity and justice, and really be the best educators that they can be to enable all students to thrive. What would that one next step be?
Oh man, that's tough. But you also did a phenomenal summary. I have to, I have to tell you, the one next step and I'm going to make this next step—cause I feel like there's so much great work out there, but I want to make it, I want to make it like a language slanted next step—I think, I think it is kind of...this is so tough. But...cause it's kind of two-pronged right. I think it's questioning what we like our language use and like language practices and also better learning our students. So challenging these preconceived notions, like getting to know, doing, doing a language history. Maybe that, maybe I can say that doing a language history, learning history for ourselves and for our students, because this reminds me of like, you know, how you asked me to introduce myself and there was kind of a narrative to it.
Everyone has a story and we hear so many cool stories about, you know, people's lives and, you know, maybe it's like having the story. How did they come here to America? Or, you know, where, how did you end up in this field of study, but people have language histories and language stories that are often forgotten. Like maybe it becomes, maybe it becomes like a sentence in an introduction or in, in a biography, right? Like, and I speak this and that and that, or, you know, but, but that is, it's minimizing so much when like we're talking about literacy is like, well, I know how to read and write in this, but it's...it's different from my home language or, you know, I, you know, I went, I was like, my neighbors, you know, maybe spoke this one language, like my Italian neighbors. And I always heard like this one variety. But thinking more deeply about that, I think, for ourselves and for students, because I think language is a big part of who we are and how we express ourselves. And so, not minimizing language, and thinking of it more critically, more deeply and, and just figuring out the nuances will help us in our, in our steps of, you know, embarking on this mind shift.
That's awesome. And you've been sharing so much, I think throughout the session of just things that you've been learning yourself like and been very self-reflective about that. So I think that's great just to kind of highlight we're all learning and growing constantly. And the best thing we can do is really commit to that learning and growth. And I'm just curious if there's something that you haven't shared that you're really, that you've been working on or learning more about or thinking more about lately. Is there something else that you wanted to kind of share, highlight or highlight even your own work that, you know, the research that you're doing, so that other leaders can just be aware of that and learn from you?
Well now, you know, teaching in the time of coronavirus has been on my mind a lot lately, obviously, it's had its challenges, to say the least. But one thing I've been looking at and thinking about a little more deeply is about education in emergencies, and how, you know, there's so much work being done now. But not just now, but has been done for so long on refugee and IDP, which is Internally Displaced Persons, their education for various reasons, whether it's war conflict, natural disasters, you know, and whether it is something acute, something ongoing or, you know, something protracted over long periods of time, but there are people out there would have been putting in the work for decades now. And there's so much literature out there. There is a network called the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, and they do fantastic work and have published so much, for teachers, educators, researchers.
And I think it's worth exploring because you know, education in emergencies is not a new thing. And it's been around for a while and, you know, the Western world has kind of been epitomized like, "Let's look up to them and see what they're doing." Right? But now I think we need to be listening to a little bit more. So, you know, challenging the dominance and the hegemony and all that. So, that's kind of, what's been on my mind and I just would maybe throw that out there. That's a cool network to check out the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies. If anyone's interested.
You can also drop a link to that in the show notes for this episode so that people can just click on it and they don't have to do a Google search. That was a mouthful. I was like, yeah, let me make sure I got that down. So I will drop a link in the show notes. And then I think just a final piece like I am constantly—I learned so much from you in this episode alone—but I am constantly learning from you. And I would hope that listeners have learned a lot from this episode as well, and are interested in continuing to learn from you. So I'm interested in, you know, where learners might connect with you or learn more about you on either social media or, you know, wherever it would be that you would direct them to do that. I think you just have so much brilliance to share and I want to make sure people are connected with that.
Yeah. I am, I am a little social media-shy, but I do have a Twitter. That's my one vice. So, I can also share that with you, but it's, I guess you put twitter.com/, or I guess the handle, right. That's what we're looking for. I am not like the most social media savvy, but it's my last name and then the first three letters of my first, so it's can QumeiKho Q-U-M-E-I-K-H-O, I almost forgot how to spell my name, but yeah, if people want to follow me, I'm always up for chaps and learning, and yeah, I really look forward to, to any of that, any and all of it.
Awesome. Thank you so much Kholood. I just really appreciate you being here and taking the time because you are super busy with a full-time job and a full-time job like research and all the things that you're doing at grad school. And so I really appreciate you and I appreciate all the wisdom that you shared today. So thanks for being on the podcast.
Thank you so much, Lindsay. You honestly inspired me to go back to school. I...for all the listeners out there, I've never met a person like Lindsay, you dissertating while teaching full time. I just thought, "You know what, I can do this." And so, yeah, you inspire me every single day and you know, when the going gets tough, I'm like, I can do this, you know, and I think of you. So thank you for having me here and thank you. And I hope you know this, you know, I just, I wish you the best. So thank you so much, Lindsay. Thank you.
Thank you, Kholood! See this is why she is my marigold. This is amazing.
Thanks for listening, amazing educators. If you loved this episode, you can share it on social media and tag me @lindsaybethlyons or leave a review of the show. So leaders like you will be more likely to find it. To continue the conversation, you can head over to our Time for Teachership Facebook group and join our community of visionaries of educational development until next time leaders continue to think big, act brave, and be your best self.
To be an effective leader, we need to first and foremost be great learners. Today's episode features highlights from a book from Brookfield and Preskill who are talking all about what leadership as learning really looks like. We're going to dive in with great tips for teacher leaders, school leaders, principals, superintendents. Get ready for a great solo show.
Hello everyone. And welcome to this incredibly exciting conversation that I am about to have with Dr. Cherie Bridges Patrick. She and I graduated from the same Leadership and Change Ph.D. program. And I am so excited for you to hear what she has to say today. So, Cherie, do you want to just give a few words about who you are and what you do so our listeners know what you're all about.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
Yes. Thank you so much, Lindsay. Yes, we had that honor. I had the honor and pleasure of going through the Ph.D. process with this amazing woman. She was moving so fast. There's still the smoke that I see from, from her, her work. Anyway, I'm a clinical social worker by training and I focus a lot on trauma. I'm also a racial justice, leadership consultant, leadership coach. And, as I said, as a psychotherapist, I work with counseling professionals and educators and organizational leaders around issues of this big concept of racial justice. I have a consulting practice called Paradox Cross-Cultural Consulting, Training and Empowerment, and that consulting practice uses the research that I did while I was in the Antioch leadership program.
Thank you, Cherie. I am so curious. A lot of our listeners really like to think big and work towards truly a transformative change. And I know in our work we've talked a lot about, you know, the need to truly transform and not just make small changes to systems that are really designed to be racist and uphold white supremacy in how they enact practices. School is one of those examples. Of course, there are many across our society, but I'm curious, we both, I know have talked about Bettina Love's amazing book. And in it, she really talks about the idea of freedom dreaming, which she describes as "dreams grounded in the critique of injustice". And so I'm curious what your big dream is for the field of education or helping professions more broadly
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
Part of my dream. I'm engaging in because I think my, my personal dream connects to my larger professional dream. And so my personal dream is to just live into this liberation where I can, you know just be free from the constraints of oppression of all types, right. And to really live into who I, who I can be. Right. So thinking big there and not being restricted by who people tell me I should be or who even, I think I can be, but really, you know have this space to just really imagine and live into that. So from a personal standpoint, that's, that's what I imagined, but then I take that into this, the educational leadership and leadership and then the helping professions. So social workers, counselors, educators, and to really help, those professions transform themselves by being able to get into the hard inner work of racial justice.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
And there is so much that is entailed with that. So to, to work closely with leaders, to guide them through processes so that they can then have the skills to have generative conversations about race, to make a change, to see how white supremacy operates, and, and then to truly make a change to transform systems, to transform the educational system into one that really is about education and learning and liberatory learning, right? So that we, so that students of all ages of all ethnicities of all races, genders, everything can live to their fullest potential.
That is an amazing dream. I love exactly how you described that. And I love as well that you're getting into some mindset shifts here too, about what is really required for us to one examine the system, really diagnose the system. And then also really dream big about what is possible with this system that might not come to mind for people who are just in it every day. And this is the way we do things. So I'm curious about the mindset shifts and what you would say is kind of a requirement for doing this work. Something that maybe doesn't come naturally to our minds when we're just in it every day, what do we need to step back and understand?
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
Wow, there's, there's so much there. Well, one, one of the things that I guess I would start with, with the imagination, right? To, to shift from a mindset of scarcity and complacency and fear to one of unlimited imagination, right? So when we can, when we can open ourselves up to, you know, to accept what we see as beyond possible, right. So to really open ourselves up to the imagination. So that would be one thing. And, and so I've been writing this article, on white supremacy and social work, and I was looking at vulnerability, you know, this, this concept of vulnerability, which, is defined as "open to attack". And so I used Brene Brown's work. And what she says is that vulnerability is like this doorway to the imagination, right? And so that's, that's a huge step into, shifting minds is just having the ability to be vulnerable, which means to be seen, to be seen fully right, completely and to stop hiding behind shame and all this other stuff that keeps us from, from change.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
You know, when we talk about adaptive leadership, one of the biggest reasons that leadership...of leadership failure is that we try to meet adaptive change with technical fixes, right? And so technical fixes are, are those that come naturally that have plans and policies around them. For example, a heart surgeon, right? There's a technical process that, that a heart surgeon takes when they're operating, right? It is difficult. I could never be a heart surgeon, but there are procedures. There are processes, you know, from start to finish that guide that, that surgeon through the process. On the other hand, when we're talking about racial justice, we have to obviously look at racial injustice and what all that brings. And so underneath the umbrella of racial injustice is white. Supremacy is whiteness is racism, is, is, you know, all these, all these things that cause all this confusion.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
And yet we keep trying to navigate racial justice issues of racial justice with a technical fix. And so we have to begin then to look at the mind shifts that are required. So that, that, that mind shift in terms of technical versus adaptive is okay, so let's, let's not look at this as something that we know, we don't know what we're doing, because if we did, you know, we perhaps would be a little bit further along with this process. So that's one argument there. And so it just requires a complete mind shift. It requires leaders to be able to interrogate their beliefs, right. To critically examine the disconnects between what we say we value and what we actually value, what we live out in our practices and our policies and our assessments. The other, the other mind-shift...
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
So there are lots of them, right? So, sorry, you shouldn't ask me this. That is, is the illusion of the broken system. I told you, I was, I was doing this article on white supremacy and, you know, it was like, we keep, we keep approaching dismantling white supremacy, we keep approaching that system as being broken. It's not broken, it's functioning as it was set up to function. And it stays in operation because there are, there are people powerful enough with enough leverage to keep it going. So, changing our minds about how we see systems, systems operate the way they were designed to operate, they operate the way they do, because people are making, you know, people, the decisions that we make on a day to day basis are actually contributing to their continuation.
Amazing. There are so many things here that are just, this is such a complex problem, right? I've heard you say that so many times, there's so much complexity here. And so we have to do so many of those things interrogating our own beliefs to really tackle this challenge. And so one of the things that really resonated as you were talking for me was in the education world, how we, a lot of times just jump to PD, or like, you know, workshops, professional development sessions, where that's going to fix the problems. And we just have this one-off PD about racial justice, and now we're good and we're an anti-racist school, and the problem is fixed. And it's obviously not fixed when we do that. And so I think you're speaking to this longer work or, I've heard you call it labor, right? Laboring for racial justice. That is much more than sitting in a PD for two hours one day.
And so I'm interested in kind of the work that you have been doing, the research that you've been doing that speaks to the way in which educators can build capacity to engage in that generative discourse that you mentioned. And so, is it, is it possible for you to just say a little bit about kind of one, the importance of discourse in this work and why that's really a place that we can go to, to take action, but then also what are the capacities that individuals need to have to engage generatively in dialogue about race and racism?
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
So I, I love it when you ask about discourse because the more I explore discourse, the more powerful it becomes. And the more, I mean, I just, I get these deeper insights about how it operates and how it's so common. So ubiquitous, so natural for us. So discourse—text, talk, images, writing—you know, so books, a social network, the news pictures, all these things are, are, are forms of discourse. And so discourse then has a symbiotic relationship, this close relationship to the thing, to the object that, that it is, is in alignment with. So, so then when we talk about race, race shapes, people, race, race creates people, race, you know, renders people invaluable race makes people superior, right? So it discourse does all these things. And so is this universal practice, right? It's a universal practice and without discourse, then we wouldn't be able to function.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
Right. And so that is the power of discourse or that's that the presence of discourse, then, then as a universal, social practice, it simultaneously contributes to the development and maintenance of challenges, right? It serves as a tool to examine those challenges and it can also become the intervention to solve those problems. Right. So discourse does all this. So discourse can create good stuff too. But so in, in the context of racial justice, we're talking about the system of white supremacy, it's all about discourse, right? There are all these other things, but discourse is a huge part of it. And so since it's been created with discourse, we can use discourse, we can use the words we can use, the way the words are used. We can look underneath the words to really begin to understand how it's operating to continue racial injustice. And I kinda like, forgot your question. I got off, I got excited about talking about discourse.
That was great. My next piece was just, what are the capacities for individuals to kind of have that discourse in a way that's generative?
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
Okay. So, in my, in my research, the title is "Navigating the silences: Discourse between social workers," I looked at how racism has been denied primarily. And I, in doing that, I had a focus group, and in that focus group of six people, including myself, we talked against racism and, and how, how social workers talk about race and racism between one another with one another. So in that focus group, um, what was surprising was the data from the focus group presented these four discourse capacities because what I ended up looking at was this, the ability of this group to come together to cohere together, to have a generative dialogue about race. And so from that focus group, rather than, you know, finding this, this other stuff I was looking for these capacities emerged. So there are four capacities, there's this positive, liberating dialogic environment.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
There is adaptability there's vulnerability, and then there is, and of course, I'm not gonna remember the other one right now, but I'll kind of, I'll get back to that. So I'll start with the generative, the generative, dialogic environment. What, what this means is that a dialogic environment is any space and, you know, we can, we can really play with it. That space can be my mind, my thoughts, right. But if we're talking about, you know, dialogue between people that space then becomes the coffee shop, that space becomes a classroom. That space becomes the day to day, conversations like at the water cooler. We're not having water cooler conversation anymore, many of us, but we are still having these conversations. So informal conversations then, are, are the dialogic spaces. So, that means that we, we have to, have the capacity to, to, allow for conversations to happen.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
And, and we know already that having, conversations about race is like people are grappling with that. People, you know, just a thought in my research, the thought of race, the word, when the, when the word race was introduced, it engendered all kinds of emotional responses, particularly with, with white participants. And so we know the power and we know the energy and we know the negativity. And we know that if we can see that race is conflated with violence. And so in, when people talk about race, we just automatically jump to violence. So all these things are happening when, when we talk about talking about race, so that dialogic environment then is this space where generative conversations can happen. And, and it takes, you know, if, if for instance, it's a classroom that classroom, that facilitator, that teacher, that instructor needs to have some foundation, some grounding, some understanding of how race really operates, right.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
And the ability to negotiate conversations, to negotiate the challenges, the emotional, the emotions that come up, the responses that come up so that people can, can, you know, have these conversations. I think one of the biggest things about the dialogic environment is that this notion of dignity, which is, um, this inherent value, right? It's, it's an inherent value. It comes naturally. It is mine. When I'm born, I don't get it from you. It is, it is just something that I am born with. And that the challenge with, with centering dignity is that when, when we talk about race, when we talk about any system here in the US we're talking about hierarchy, right? And so how do you, how do you value people inherently when we placed their value on what they do?
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
Right. So it's, it's really seeing the humanity of, of individuals, and honoring that you don't even have to like the person, but we still have to honor the fact that they are worthy of, you know, being, being treated with dignity. So that's a big piece there. So then, in essence, the dialogic spaces, that space that allows for people to make mistakes, for, for people to, you know, to encounter white fragility as, you know, what was presented in my research, but also to grapple with it, right? Not for anybody to be saved from that, but for space where people can grapple with these feelings and, and notice the emotions, noticing sensations, notice what's happening in one's body, when they're talking about it. And every time you can have a successful conversation, success doesn't mean that there's no, you know, emotion or no cursing or whatever it means that you get through.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
And at the end of that conversation, people leave that conversation with their dignity intact. And there's been some progress. You've had a, you know, a joining of people together to talk about this, this crazy thing. Adaptability is, is grounded in the research of adaptive leadership. Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky. And it's really about having this flexibility. I already talked about, you know, the technical versus adaptive approach. And so it just, it takes that frame into context. It's really about understanding the structures of racism and how they, how supremacy is, you know, it's just integrated into the system. And so, having a process that allows for people, to see that. And then there's vulnerability. I talked about that earlier, and vulnerability is open to attack, as I said. So being in a space where one can be seen where everyone can be seen.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
So that means that when I talk about the experience that I had, and, and someone, you know, wants to take offense, or they feel something rising up within them, one, I can say that, right, because I'm saying it, you know, in the context of trying to heal, I'm trying to change systems that people understand that they have a responsibility to themselves and to the group to check their own selves first, to check their bodies. Right? So, so that vulnerability is, is a building up of muscle to allow himself to move beyond the shame and to let themselves be seen. And, and then, finally read readiness and willingness. And actually, that's like one of the biggest ones and readiness and willingness in is really a process, an ongoing process, that, that has these two components. Willingness is like, I want to do this work.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
I know that it's going to be really hard. This is going to kick my butt. I'm going to want to run. I'm going to want to, you know, scream, I'm going to want to quit. So willingness, this speaks to that "I'm in this," right? And in, within willingness is the necessity within willingness and readiness, is this necessity to formulate a way to understand why am I doing this? Because a lot of times, you know, folks want to look good, you know, and they want to present this image of goodness and, and racial equality and racial understanding, but deep down that, you know, that doesn't always, that, that it doesn't always get seen. And, and we don't typically carry it through that way. And so, understanding that why that, why is the anchor that will ground the individual, which stuff gets bad, right.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
So it has to be anchored in something. It's not because, you know, it's my job. It's because I have this commitment to myself to live into my, you know, to my liberation. Right. And so then when it's connected to that, when I get, when I get frustrated, when I get tired, I can, I can grab onto that anchor, that anchor holds me in the game. I can step away and take a break, but I always know that I'm going to come back to it. So that's a willingness and the why underneath it, the readiness is this constant state of, of, you know, it's lifelong learning, right. So it's, it's reading, it's engaging. It's, it's the labor of, you know, taking books and resources and, and then, you know, working with other people, working with a coach or a group that, holds you accountable to what you're attempting to do.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
Racial justice is no joke. I mean, as you can see, you know, if you look at the social context, it's very difficult work. And so that readiness is a constant preparedness, a constant, a process of learning. And so then in that learning, one is learning about themselves, their identity. One of the big pieces that I'm exploring is really getting to parts that need healing. Resmaa Menakem talks about racialized trauma and how that impacts just our conversations. And what we're, what we're learning about trauma is that it's not only cognitive. It is somatic. I mean it's in the body. So when we're talking about racialized trauma, well, we have to understand is that we've all been impacted by racialized trauma. So it's not just Black, Brown and Indigenous bodies, you know, that, that have been harmed.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
Yes, of course, we have been harmed. However, you know, trauma is what trauma does. And so, you know, white bodies too have been impacted. And so what we're doing when we come together like that, with that trauma is responding to each other. And so when we can start to heal, when we can recognize those, those wordless stories that come up in our bodies, right, we can, again, build that capacity to sit through the discomfort, right? To know that this too shall pass. And if you, and at each time you, you, you can sit through the discomfort long enough for it to pass, right. Then you're building capacity. And so that is, that trauma is a huge part of the reading readiness and willingness. And I, and I know that I mentioned accountability, but I want to reiterate, the importance of having accountability.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
And it's not accountability from a friend or somebody who's, you know, gonna let you slide it's accountability. Who's who, from someone who is committed, just as much as you are to your own growth. And so that means that person is going to challenge you, that person's going to ask questions that person's going to help you explore, and to bring insight, they're going to hold up a mirror to what you're doing so that, you can, you can see what's going on, right. Race, oftentimes because of the way it operates, because the way it operates in the discourse, there's a lot of stuff we don't see because it's so natural. And so that, that accountability person would be able to really, you know, hold up that mirror and to say, stop. Here are some things you need to look at and then help guide you through the process of knowing where to go, to get the resources that are needed.
There is so much that I know you could talk for days about, and I, people who are listening to check out Cherie's research and her dissertation are publicly available. You can, you can read more about that, but there are so many things, as I was reading through your research and your thesis, just of quotes that came up in the focus groups where you really highlight these things in action, that I immediately was like, yep. I have seen that. I have been there. I have, I have felt that you know, whatever it was, it feels so tangible. And, and just for anyone listening, who is interested in just like powerful writing, Cherie is a brilliant writer. And it is so, like, you wouldn't think that reading a dissertation would be fun and I truly enjoyed reading it. I am not lying. So I do recommend people check that out.
There are also four blog posts that Cherie has contributed to the Time for Teachership blog that goes in, in a little bit more depth. And I also, I wanted to speak to one thing that Cherie that you speak about that I have never heard anyone else say this is, I think something that is just really unique in helping me to understand a little bit more about me as a white woman, engaging in the labor for racial justice. And that is, you started to say it a little bit, that, that idea of two sides of the coin, that idea that I think you've said before, right? "You can't do this work for me" kind of concept like it absolutely harms white folx as well. And that's not something that we hear a lot. I just didn't know if you wanted to say anything else about that. I've heard you refer to it as "soul harm," which I, I find just amazing, um, amazingly powerful and it's an opportunity for us to shift our minds and get our minds kind of wrapped around this thing that is so complex. And so I just want to give you an opportunity to share a little more if you want.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
Thank you for bringing that up, because like that is part of the foundation of understanding. And I think it is a place where white people can enter into this, the story of race, in which we are all engaged, whether we want to admit it or not. We're all complicit. Lilla Watson, an Indigenous activist, and scholar, has— she makes a statement. "If you've come here to help me, you're wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." And to me, that captures what, what, you know, you're, you're bringing up. Lindsay is that race doesn't—racism does not happen by itself, right? It's a system that is generated by policies, but those policies are generated by people who create the discourse, who have to, you know, to keep racism going.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
And so, when we, when we situate people who are not white as the only ones who have a race, then we miss out on the harm that is done to white bodies. Because when, you know, if you look at the relationship of racism and, you know, if we get down into the traumatic part of racism, you know, to inflict pain on another body is trauma, right? So that the oppressor is traumatized, and this is not to, to let white folx off the hook. It was to recognize that we all need to heal. Right. And, and we're all in this. And so it is really important that white folx begin to look at how, how turning away from—right, I've had, you know, some white people say after, after, you know, the George Floyd incident, which was proceeded by, you know, hundreds and hundreds of other stories, you know, like, "I didn't know it was this bad."
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
Well, okay. You need to ask yourself a question, right. You know, how, how, how is it that you have remained innocent, remained unknowing about these experiences? And so that, that looking away from that willful avoidance, that denial of racism has cost white people a lot. And I see it and I'm, you know, starting to explore it. I see it as this moral injury, this soul harm that allows white bodies that moves white bodies into silence. For example, in a meeting in the face of—they're watching a colleague, you know, being discriminated against, or, or talked down to, right, or excluded from a conversation you're watching people that you claim to care for, but you can turn away from that consistently. Right? And so we have to ask: What happens to one's soul when one can turn away from the big things and the everyday little things?
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
And I say this particularly to those who are, you know, who claim to want to fight for racial justice, right. That means you have to look at the complicity. Right. And at whose expense does your gain come from? Right. And I, you know, it leads us to, you know, maybe talk about privilege. I see it as an advantage, right? It's this, it's this illegitimate advantage. That's just given by the color of one's skin. Right? And so it's illegitimate, it's cheating. It's like, so, to, to gain that advantage, to be given that advantage at whose expense and at what cost, you know, we have to start interrogating, you know, what is the impact on me when I claim to be one who cares for this? Right? So I'm not talking about those people who aren't, you know, who, who wouldn't, who are not engaged in this, who are not making these claims.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
I'm talking to social workers who have this commitment, to educators—and I don't know what your ethical commitment is, but social workers have an ethical commitment to fighting all forms of injustice. So it's, it's really important to know that nobody escapes the harm. We are just differentially impacted. The harm to Black and Brown and Indigenous and other bodies is very clear, right? It's obvious. And then there's the invisible wounding. But there's, there's harm—the psychic harm—to white folks that just, you know, continues to contribute to the cycling through of racism.
Thank you so much for elaborating on that Cherie. I just think that's something that is so unique to how you see things and what you can bring to the conversation when we're engaging in this work and maybe going to a lot of different places. And this is just something that I think is, is transformative and it's potential to internalize. And again, like you were saying to have that deep, why so that deep, why is rooted, you know, for me as a white woman in living out my values right. And not, and not really, not contributing to the problem, but also not going against in those tiny moments, right. That may seem easy to turn away what I'm purporting to value. And so I appreciate that you explained it in that way and gave those examples that I think a lot of listeners can relate to as being in that situation on, on one end or another.
I want to talk a little bit about the aspect of denial that you brought up too when you were talking about that. And I know that's a big piece of your writing and the things that you, um, are exploring right now in your scholarship. And so of course, you brought up earlier, Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky and talking about, you know, that requirement to tackle an adaptive challenge, requiring the changes in people's priorities, beliefs, habits, their loyalties, and this is, of course, challenging for people. And I'm interested in kind of those related ideas of denial in the discourse, and also the related notion, I think of seeing resistance as a loss. And so these ideas of denial and resistance as loss are, I know things you've been writing on. Do you mind saying a little bit about those concepts, and why it's important for us to understand these concepts if we're going to be doing this work?
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
Oh, wow. Okay. So this, this notion of denial, you know, Ibram Kendi talks about, you know, denial is at the heart of racism. And I talk about, discourse is at the heart of racism. So you've got these two things that are working together. And so that denial really is the ways in which we have just turned away from this reality of race and racism. But also it gets really convoluted because when, when we understand, um, this, this construction of race, right, Menakem talks about it being a construct, a social with teeth, right? It's a fabrication. I still, all this stuff around race is being, is being done is being lived out. It is a real experience based on a false notion, just baffling. All right. So then in terms of denial, there are just hundreds of ways in which we deny racism, don’t go against racism.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
And my research spoke specifically to how we deny access to conversations of race, or we actually just deny that racism is a problem in a variety of ways. And so there were three denial discourses that came out of my research, you know, one was this notion of comfort and discomfort for white people. Another was fear and danger, and then the other was to silence. Right. And so, you know, the silence operates, you know, in meetings and team meetings, when, you know, when you have a client, we don't even talk about race right. In our, in our team meetings, for example, or if we do, we keep it at this demographic safe level, right. So then we would come colorblind to the impact of race and racism. So, um, you know, just, just negating bringing it up at all or staying in that safe zone of demographically, you know, describing it.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
So that was one example of the discourse of silence, which is a form of denial. Right? So then there are these, these other discourses that emerged this notion of comfort white comfort, right. And it's grounded in silence is grounded in safety. It's grounded in the image, right? So white people do not like to be called racist. That's like the worst, one of the worst things, you know, that, that a white person would be called. Except I think that you know, we, again, conflated race with violence. And so then when you talk about being a racist, you know, one seems you see that as being called this violent, you know, white nationalists or a member of the KKK. And that's not the case. My research looked at how racism is continued as reproduced is, is maintained without intent, right.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
And that's the power of discourse. So the notion of remaining and comfort was, was huge, and it was yet another way to deny conversations about race. I had a supervisor say that you know, I don't bring up race in group sessions because it's more comfortable for me to, you know, talk about race one-on-one with people, right? So the white supervisor determining that for, for him, it was more convenient, more comfortable. He said, for, for me to talk about race one-on-one. So then what happens to all the clients? What happens to all the other employees that need to, the other team members who need to hear that story of, you know, that, that issue around race. So there's a lot of things that happen. So at that moment, the opportunity access to have a conversation was denied, and then there's this fear and this, this discourse of fear and danger.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
And I, and I, you know, just talked about how race is conflated with violence. And that's really what that was about. You had white folx who were not able to, or did not provide evidence of the harm that they feared, right? So it was this perception of fear because of the ways that, you know, race and racism operate. So these, these, this fear unsubstantiated, where Black and biracial participants talked about the harm that actually comes to them. Right. And so, and it comes to them, the fear is that if I say something, you know, the whole team is going to discount me, you know, as a, as a good member of the team, because I make them uncomfortable. Right. So imagine that if I, if I bring up race, I'm going to be discounted. I'm going to be, you know, excluded from, from, groups or conversations.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
And so that, that fear is grounded for, for Black and biracial social workers were grounded in the agency, right. Being able to, you know, to hold a job, hold a profession and maintain, you know, some, some integrity and some, some, professional standing on the job. Right. So you have these two different stories, one that's perceived, you know, as a threat. And then there's this real threat, and they collide, right? So, that's, that's denial. I also did a deeper exploration of denial and how it, operates socio-cognitively. And, so I looked at discourse structures of three social workers and, one of them, and I won't go into it too much, but it's, it's, it's fascinating because it was this conversation, with a social worker who was a leader in her organization and white, a young leader, who, you know, just talked about how she had, she had, had become aware of how racism operated and she had been taught to be colorblind.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
So she was really struggling because this is part of, a part of the harm that happens to white people. It was this, you know, this, this realization of, "Oh my goodness, things are really bad. And where have I been? I've been taught this way." So she was struggling with the fact that she'd been taught, colorblindness, and taught. Everybody, loves everybody and everybody's equal, but now it's becoming very obvious that that's not true. So she's grappling with her own identity and her own issues of how she's been raised and how her, she's been socialized to think a certain way about race and about herself. And she's also recognizing and making statements about how she's seeing racism operate in her organization. She uses an example of, Hey, um, you know, I was, I was this young person that came in and I worked in an office of predominantly, it was a predominantly African-American office, right.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
So I came in as a leader and I watched myself be promoted over, over these Black colleagues. And "I knew they were more qualified than me" is what she said. I knew they were more qualified than me and I got promoted anyway. And she took the job anyway. Right. And so she's grappling with that guilt in that, like, I don't, what's happening here. So it's like, this is really confronting her. So in the conversation, you know, she's telling me all this, and then she recognizes she's "Oh, wow. You know, it just occurs to me that as I'm telling you this, I'm calling my company racist." Right. And she's like, "No, they're not racist," after she just explained that all this racism was going on in her life. They're not racist. No, they're ignorant.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
They just don't know what to do. They're trying, you know, all these different excuses. And it was like, you know, I had to read it several times to really understand how deeply the wounds of racism go and how it shapes us to, you know, to just want to turn away from what's really happening. And so she was like, no, they are not racist. Right. It was, it was everything else except, and I never called, I never said they were racist. It was her recognition. And so I said, well, you know, that you have to recognize that we're, you know, we're in the system that, you know, we can't escape. It, it seems like, Nope, they're not. I saw I had to end, I had in that conversation and or at that part of the interview to go onto something else, but that denial and that, in that sense was just so fascinating to watch because here's this admittance of I'm watching it happen.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
I'm watching racism happen in my organization. I am participating in this. And then it was this shift too, no, we can't be. And so these are the things that, that are part of the inner work of, of racial justice, right. And these are the things that people have to grapple with, and it ain't fun. Right. It is very painful. As you can tell in her name, I identified her as Dawn, you know, Dawn, was she just throughout the interview, just grappled with this, you know, this, this difference in who she thought she was and who she really was. So that's it, that's it for denial and this, the notion of resistance as a loss. As I said, Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky, talk about that. And you know, it hit me. And as I was reading through like all the resistance that we see when we bring up race, you know, if we conceptualize it and I'm not saying this is the only thing, but if we can conceptualize it as loss, it can be of identity.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
Right. I no longer have a superior identity. Right. And so that's a big one, you know, that's something that has, you know, has built up over, you know, hundreds of years. And so this identity of superiority that is attached to white skin, people have to grapple with it. So we introduce, you know, you know, talking about transformation around, you know, around, changing systems, to be racially just, that's a big thing to have to grapple with. And so it's a loss it's like, who am I going to be if I don't have that identity is one. Power, position...It just...Loss creates all these things that we have to grapple with. And so when people, when people are confronted with that, they often resist, right. And so rather than seeing it as resistance, if we reframe it, if we just turn the page just a little bit, and see it as loss, then as leaders, we're responsible to help people navigate through that loss, it's still, you know, it still is resistance, right. But to help them grapple with it so that they can pass through that resistance and that loss, so that, change and transformation can really occur.
Thank you so much for explaining all of that to us. There are so many things that we have covered in this podcast episode. I just want to kind of recap some of the things that I heard and then Cherie, feel free to jump in and clarify, or let me know if I got any of them wrong, and then we'll move to kind of, you know, what can people do moving forward. And so here are the things that, that I think are important for listeners to kind of remember a little highlight reel here. One, the importance of just opening up our imaginations and that vulnerability is, as you said, a doorway to that imagination, right? Pulling from the work of Brene Brown, their right to be seen fully and enable us to really think big. Another piece, right? Adaptive versus technical challenges, technical fixes, those PDs, those one-time workshops are not going to cut it when we're talking about a longstanding entrenched problem.
And so it really needs to be adaptive work. We need to interrogate those beliefs. We need to recognize the disconnects between our values and actions and our in terms of school leadership, our policies, right in our practices of pedagogy. We also need to see the system as operating the way it was designed. It is not a broken system. We need to recognize and call out the ways in which it is operating in a racist way so that we can dismantle it. The primacy of discourse, I think, is one of the hallmarks of your work, Cherie. And I think that's a huge piece, right? Discourse, as you said, contributes to the problem, it's a tool for examining the problem. And it's also a way that we do the work or the labor we name and dismantle through the discourse that we have with colleagues, with students.
And so in educational spaces, this is a huge tool. A lot of times we talk about, you know, do we have a critical dialogue with students and, and things like this, and this, this really feeds into the work that schools might be doing around discourse in classrooms but really highlighting that. This is also a way to talk about identify and go against racism at work in those systems. I think that's a unique perspective, you know, in terms of looking at schools and schooling and how we talk about talking with students. Another piece of that too, when we look at those four capacities, we've got the liberating dialogic environment where the facilitator. So if we're thinking about a group of, students and a teacher facilitating a class, I'm envisioning, that teacher being the facilitator and really having to build up their own capacity and understanding of how race operates, but also really knowing how to center dignity.
And so Cherie and I have actually put together a free resource that I will link to this episode where it summarizes the 10 elements of dignity from Donna Hicks's book. And then it also gives a poster for teachers who want to use it either it's a digital poster. So in a virtual space or a physical classroom space, if you want to print it out, but, but that helps educators really feel out how they might do that or how they might position those elements of dignity as maybe class agreements, and, and put it out for conversation among students. The other capacities for the discourse of readiness and willingness, of course, connecting that, as you said, to have deep why, and you're really adherence to lifelong learning your commitment to be a learner and learning with accountability as a really important caveat there and to be vulnerable and, that adaptability capacity as well, is really critical.
Another key feature I think of your work is that we are all harmed by white supremacy and racism. There's that soul harm, right? What does it do to the souls of the folx who turn away? I think that's a powerful way to look at this and I encourage listeners to really think about that and, what that means for our engagement in this labor and finally the denial. So I think for, for listeners listening, probably recognizing where that denial comes up in themselves and others, how it manifests as silence, how it is a manifestation of comfort or discomfort or fear. And then also for leaders reframing, as you said, resistance as real loss, the loss of identities, superiority, power position. There are so many things here that you said that is so brilliant, and I just want to make sure everybody captured them as they were listening. I know sometimes people listen to podcasts and multitask, so I want to make sure that they got all those things. I want to first ask, is there anything you would add or clarify to that? And then the second kind of question, what is one thing from that long list of things to remember and take away that someone, a listener who's listening right now could just do tomorrow, somewhere they could really begin and get started.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
So, so Lindsay, I had to take a deep breath as you were re recapping all this stuff like, Oh, snap, that's a whole lot. And, and I, I think you've done an excellent job of summarizing them, so thank you for that. I, so, you know, when people ask, like, what do they do? What can we do? I'm like, Oh my goodness, you should never ask me that question because I am going to challenge listeners to, to just take three minutes a day, try it for a week, three minutes a day to, to give intentional focus, to observe themselves from a distance as a third party, observe their discourse, observe their interactions, observe their body language. It can be by themselves, their thoughts, or it can be like, in workspaces or, you know, in work environments, we're doing a lot of zoom work.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
So tend to notice what is happening, you know, as you, as you go through your day to day, the practice of just living, right? And so to take three minutes and give intense focus, notice all those things, and don't judge them, just notice them because those things will begin to tell you more about yourself. Then you might be wanting to learn. I've been doing this practice myself and I am I'm, you know, I have to admit, have been a couple of times appalled at like some of my thoughts, like, "Oh my gosh, I really thought that ugly thought." Right? And so it's to really, to, to examine what is happening in our minds and our bodies, right? And it doesn't matter if it's about race, it could be about anything, but just to learn about ourselves so that we can, you know, begin to address race.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
Now, for those of you that are really brave, make it about race, focus on, on what's happening. You know, when you, when you are watching a TV program and you see that Black body, that white body comes across a screen or whatever, just pay attention and notice what's going on. I promise you, if you do this, you will see some things that then will allow you to begin to become more vulnerable, right? To, to give the things to yourself that you might not be getting right. Vulnerability is also about being true to oneself, right. And to be able to honor oneself. And so just exploring those things that happened to us on a day-to-day basis for three minutes, that's how much it will cost you as three minutes. Right? So you don't have to go out and get a book. You can buy a book if you want to. But this year, you don't even have to wait till tomorrow. You can do it right now.
I love that Cherie. Thank you so much for sharing that. And as we move to close, I'm just thinking about you, you're working on so many things all the time. I'm wondering if there's something you didn't mention that you're, you're working on currently, or, um, you know, you could even be a book you're reading or something that has been on your mind lately, um, that you wanted to share with folx, anything that's been at front of mind for you.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
Okay. There's some, my, my brain is, like you said, I'm doing a lot of different things. So my brain is scattered all over the place. But in terms of, you know, what's on my mind, obviously I talked about this article for white supremacy or not for white supremacy, but white supremacy and social work and dismantling it. There is a book and I think you mentioned it the other day that I cannot seem to find.
Is it Caste by Isabelle Wilkerson?
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
Yes. I have heard from multiple resources that that is a powerful, powerful book. I have not yet begun to engage in it. But I would highly recommend as I will do myself, that people, read that Resmaa Menakem's work on racialized trauma is a must. And because there are some offerings of resources in there that can help people navigate through these somatic responses that we have. Ibram Kendi's work, um, adaptive leadership, James Baldwin, I could go on forever, and ever there are tons of podcasts. And there's, there are tons of resources available. What I would say I would add a caveat to that is that not all racial justice-related resources are equal. If we understand the sinister, nature of white supremacy is that it operates to reproduce itself. Right? And so, this is why I find discourse so fascinating, so useful is that you know, because white supremacy, operates to reproduce itself, we'll find it in, in, you know, resources that are meant, you know, started to, you know, to be inclusive, to, to create inclusive environments or to, you know, to focus on diversity, and equity issue, issues.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
And so, perhaps talking to people who are really knowledgeable about race and racism, you know, reading a book is good. But I tell you, after, after studying this for several years, I still know very little about how race and racism operate. It is so sinister. White supremacy is so sinister. And so t0, you know, to know that there are, there are programs out there that are designed right to reproduce, right? Not necessarily intentionally, perhaps they are intentional, but at the end of the day, if we keep doing what we always did, we're always gonna give, always got it's time to change. It's time to really jump out there and be creative and imaginative. And you know, and, and it takes some risk. It's really, it's really risky, but it's, it's, I promise it's worth it.
Thank you so much, Cherie, before we finally close, I'm wondering if you want to share where listeners can learn more about you or connect with you, either a website, social media platforms, wherever you would like to direct people to go to engage further.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
Thank you for saying that Lindsay, you can go to my website, www.socialchangecoaching.com. And that has a lot of information on the kind of work that I do. There's a link to my research there, so you can see that and you can connect from there. And there are also a few blogs that I've written that are available on that site. So thanks Lindsay for that reminder,
Of course. Excellent. And I will also link in the show notes to all those great books that you recommended as well, just so people can easily find those and don't have to rewind the podcast and, and listen to what we were saying as we were talking. So thank you so much, Cherie, you have shared so much with us today and I totally appreciate your time and your genius and your brilliance. And, and thank you so much.
Cherie Bridges Patrick:
Thank you for this opportunity, Lindsay. It is awesome to be with you. It's awesome to work with you.
Thanks for listening, amazing educators. If you loved this episode, you can share it on social media and tag me @lindsaybethlyons or leave a review of the show. So leaders like you will be more likely to find it. To continue the conversation, you can head over to our Time for Teachership Facebook group and join our community of educational visionaries until next time leaders continue to think big, act brave, and be your best self.
If you're wondering, how do I support my teachers during the time of COVID when professional development needs are all over the place, this is the episode for you tune into this solo show with just myself, walking you through the ideas of how we're going to personalize PD for our teachers, just like we would personalize the learning for our students.
Today we will discuss why we ought to share our leadership journey with others, its benefits, and how-to make it happen. Simply put, it is a way to claim your position by narrating professional chronicles.
In my first post on the Time for Teachership blog, I shared the definition of teachership. It is "the quality that emerges when exceptional teaching is interwoven with exceptional leading," (Steinbacher-Reed & Rotella, Jr., 2015). Teachership encourages shared leadership. It asks school leaders to build capacity for teacher leadership and it invites administrators to reconnect with students and instructional practice. When teachership thrives, school stakeholders co-create plans and policies. It’s a powerful model, and it becomes exponentially more valuable when teachers and leaders share what they are doing and learning with teachers and leaders in other schools.
What’s the benefit of sharing your leadership story?
There are many. First, you help other leaders envision what could be possible. Depending on what and how you share your work, you may even provide a plan for making similar things happen in other schools. I also like to share what I have tried and learned because it helps me take the time to reflect. Synthesizing my own experience has unearthed many key insights I would not have if I had not sat down to write a blog or create instructional content.
Sharing can take many forms. One of these forms is collaborating with other schools and districts to form networks of transformative learning. Teachers and principals (and students and families) can visit other schools to get ideas for transforming systems in their own schools and provide feedback on a focus area determined by the host school. Stakeholders can debrief, asking questions of host leaders, teachers, students, and families. (These can still happen at a distance with some logistical adaptation.) Finally, it builds your professional presence and authority. This is helpful if you want to share your leadership story to wider audiences. Having a professional presence can help you become a guest on popular educational podcasts or blogs. When more people hear your message, not only can educators learn from you, it also expands your network, opening up more opportunities for collaboration with other schools, districts, and organizations.
How can I share my work and my learning?
There are many ways to share your work and what you have been learning! When you choose a preferred sharing style, consider what you have the time and energy to do. Choose something realistic that won’t take over your life (unless you’re planning to move into the consulting space full-time) and also choose something that is energizing and fun for you to do.
There are a few different ways to blog. You can start your own blog for the storytelling of your leadership journey. I use Weebly because I started my first teacher blog on Weebly about a decade ago. If you would prefer to guest post once in a while, reach out to some of the blogs you regularly read and propose a topic you want to write about. Make sure the proposal states how it would serve the blog’s purpose and audience. Another option is to use an existing platform to blog. LinkedIn is a great example. It has a built-in blogging option that is simple to use and likely to reach other professionals in the field.
Start a Podcast
I have heard the people who listen to podcasts characterized as passionate about learning. They will be most engaged with your leadership story. So, these are the folks you want to connect with! I am following my own advice here. This is actually the last “blog” post I’ll write for Time for Teachership because I am transitioning to podcasting. My weekly “blog” post will become more of a transcript or summary of the episode with relevant links.
Develop an Email List
Marketing experts like Jenna Kutcher always emphasize the importance of having an email list as an entrepreneur. This can apply to full-time school employees too. If you are trying to connect regularly with other educators and leaders, an email list is a great option. While some people (like me, actually, rarely read my emails and prefer to check in with educational leaders on their weekly podcasts), sending an email to your list is one of the best ways to make sure your community sees your message. On social media platforms, only a small fraction of people who follow you actually see the things you post. An email helps you get your message to those who have said they want to hear from you and pay heed to your leadership story. My recommendation is to make sure you provide value in each email, so your community knows you are not about needlessly taking up space in their inbox.
Join or Create a Private Facebook Group
If the folks you want to connect with are on Facebook, you can join a group they are already in or you can create your own private group if one doesn’t already exist. You can use the group to search questions and challenges educators are facing and encourage members to share ideas and collaboratively problem-solve. In your private group (or on your page), you can hold a monthly or weekly Facebook Live to share what you have been doing/learning and avail the opportunity to inspire others with your leadership journey.
Create a Workshop or a Course
You could host a live workshop on Zoom where you share what you have done and learned and facilitate the conversation around a narrow topic. Alternatively, you could create a self-paced online course. Make a curriculum out of your leadership journey by the lessons it taught you. Courses prioritize transformation and they are designed for people who are willing to put in the work to accomplish a dream. Self-paced courses provide more flexibility for you because you do not need to align schedules with interested participants and find the time in your schedule to facilitate live events. Participants can take the course at their own pace (just like self-paced student learning!)
Join a Mastermind or Sign Up for Group Coaching
Masterminds like the one hosted by Daniel Bauer from one of my favorite podcasts, Better Leaders Better School, are great opportunities to collaborate with other leaders. For more focused support, I facilitate group coaching for three to eight leaders from different schools and districts to engage in the group coaching around systematizing shared leadership and using adaptive leadership practices to advance racial and gender justice. These coaching calls are one hour a week. To learn more about group leadership coaching, leaders can schedule a 20-minute consultation call.
Whether you are building up your professional presence as a way to connect and collaborate with other educators or starting an online course business to make some extra cash, I’ve pulled together a list of tools for you to get started. This free resource is a compilation of the tools I’ve used to share my leadership journey and bring dedicated educators, excited about transforming our education system, together to inspire and support one another as a community.
Just like we want to identify the underlying needs of students before deciding how to respond to student behavior, we want to do the same for the system. Before we rush to action to solve an identified problem, we need to truly diagnose the challenge. To inform our diagnostic process, let’s use some of the core concepts from The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World by Heifetz, Linksy, & Grashow. Adaptive leadership is specific to adaptive challenges, the ones that cannot be solved with a quick fix.
How do I know my school is dealing with an adaptive challenge?
Heifetz and colleagues contrast adaptive challenges with technical challenges. Whereas a technical challenge can be addressed by sharing new information, perhaps holding a Professional Development session for all staff, adaptive challenges require much deeper work.
One indicator of an adaptive challenge in schools is repeated failure. All the PD you have thrown at the problem is not working. Another indicator is looking to the leader (e.g., principal or superintendent) to solve the problem. When the same person(s) has been trying to solve the problem without success, it is time to bring in other stakeholders.
Another indicator you are dealing with an issue that goes deep is when you see “disproportionate reactions to proposals”. For example, if asking a teacher to attend a staff meeting about racism leads to that teacher yelling or crying, there is something deeper going on.
The essence of adaptive challenges can be captured in this sentence of Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky’s book: “Adaptive challenges are typically grounded in the complexity of values, beliefs, and loyalties rather than technical complexity and stir up intense emotions rather than dispassionate analysis,” (Loc. 1283).
How might adaptive challenges show up in my school?
The authors identify four main types of adaptive challenges that often overlap with one another. See if you can identify any of these within your school and need adaptive leadership.
My school has an adaptive challenge we need to tackle. What can I do about it?
Set up structures of shared leadership. The first step is recognizing you cannot do this work alone. Shared leadership structures are powerful because they are not temporary solutions. They are not ad-hoc committees, separate from the rest of the organization. Shared leadership is the heartbeat of the organization. It is how all decisions are made.
Shared leadership is more about the how than the what. By setting up ongoing mechanisms for all stakeholder voices, shared leadership systematizes the process of diagnosis for adaptive challenges. You do not need to start from scratch each time you need to collect data or stakeholder experiences on one specific topic. The system will already exist.
Furthermore, shared leadership as a form of governance is preventative rather than reactive. Much of the conversation in education is about fixing problems or policies that already exist. Certainly, this is important and necessary work. However, in improving our decision-making and policy creation processes, we can reduce our future needs to react to poor decisions and policies because we are more likely to get it right the first time. For more details on how to set up the structures of shared leadership, read this blog post.
Each stakeholder is going to approach the situation with a unique set of values, loyalties, fears, and desired outcomes. To effectively engage stakeholders in the work of tackling an adaptive challenge, leaders must “diagnose the political landscape.” To do this, we can ask each stakeholder (or ask representatives of stakeholder groups as long as the system of representation is effective):
Once you have gathered all of this information, you may want to identify common points of connection across stakeholder groups. Heifetz and colleagues call these “hidden alliances” as groups who may initially seem in opposition to one another’s proposed solutions may have a shared value or desired outcome that when illuminated can help them work together.
To help you get started on the process of diagnosis, I’ve made a mini workbook for you with activities and guiding questions.
This year, paying attention to students’ social and emotional needs is more important than ever. There are a lot of SEL sites and strategies to support educators in doing this work. BetterLesson’s bank of SEL strategies is a great resource for teachers looking to explore new practices.
Let’s say you implement a bunch of SEL strategies, but you still have a student say or do something that harms another person in the class. Keeping the importance of students’ social and emotional health in mind, we want to respond in a way that restores the harm done.
Restorative conversations helped me address the harm done in my class far more effectively than consequence charts or punitive measures. It also helped me empathize more with students—the students harmed the students who harmed someone else, and also students who I may have harmed.
That is the beauty of restorative conversations—and the most important part of doing it well, in a way that is anti-oppressive—they can be used with everyone, adults included.
What are restorative conversations?
Once a class/school community is built (and it has to be built first), restorative conversations enable us to repair the harm done to a member of the community. They are opportunities to unpack each student’s understanding of what happened, how they felt, and their suggestions for repairing the harm. The origins of restorative conversations come from Indigenous nations in what is currently known as the “Americas” and the South Pacific.
What are the benefits of using restorative practices in schools?
The restorative approach center on the dignity and humanity of each participant. It promotes listening and empathy followed by accountability and action. Research has demonstrated restorative conversations contribute to improved attendance and aspects of school climate such as safety and connectedness. They also advance racial, gender, disability, and economic equity, as exclusionary discipline rates (e.g., suspensions that take students out of their classes), are significantly reduced among Black, low-income, female, and special needs students when restorative practices are employed (West Ed, 2019).
How are restorative conversations facilitated?
Participants include the facilitator, the person(s) who caused harm, the person(s) who experienced harm, and each person involved can choose to invite an adult or young person to attend for moral support. The facilitator (an adult or a student that has been trained in restorative conversation facilitation) will ask a series of questions, one at a time. Each participant in the conversation will have an uninterrupted opportunity to respond to each question, speaking from the “I”. I use a talking piece to remind participants not to speak when someone else is speaking. (An adaptation for virtual conversations could be to stay muted until it is your turn to talk.)
The following questions form a basic outline of a restorative conversation:
Several resources exist for educators to see more nuanced lists of questions to ask in restorative conversations. (For example, see this Teaching Tolerance resource or these Restorative Resources cards.)
A final note for this section: Schools have different rules about the types of harm that should be addressed with restorative practices. Most schools specify that incidents involving violence are not handled with restorative conversations. Instead, students may engage in a re-entry circle or restorative conversation upon re-entering the community.
Why is it important to identify feelings and unmet needs through restorative practices?
This, to me, is the heart of the practice. The opportunity to listen to someone else describe how they were feeling in the moment or what need they had that wasn’t able to be met humanizes the person(s) who caused harm and enables that person to experience empathy for the person(s) they harmed.
Even as a facilitator, many of these conversations have resulted in a much deeper understanding of my students’ experiences and a recognition of what I might be able to do to meet students’ needs or to support students to identify and address intense emotions in a healthy way.
These conversations also helped me and my students in our immediate responses to disruptive or harmful actions. The more we practiced listening and identifying unmet needs in ourselves and others, we were more likely to respond to disruptive behavior with questions like “What do you need?” rather than reprimands.
Practicing with Students
It does not require students to harm or be harmed to engage in restorative conversations. Talking about unmet needs can be a lesson on its own. Every person can identify a time in their lives when they had an unmet need, so asking students to think about their own experiences and name the unmet need can be a powerful way to practice.
For activities in which students are thinking about their own stories, you could invite them to share with a partner if they wanted or write to themselves or just think about it without putting it into words. I also have used book characters or historical actors or sample SEL stories to invite students to identify the character’s unmet needs.
There are also a variety of sample lessons out there like this one from Teaching Tolerance that can help introduce the idea of restorative conferences to students.
What if students struggle to identify unmet needs & restorative approach tumbles?
As an adult, I still struggle with identifying what my underlying unmet needs are when I have an intense emotional response to a situation. Of course, students will likely struggle with this.
I have adapted Glasser’s 5 unmet needs (survival, belonging, power, freedom, and fun) into an acrostic that helps me remember what the most basic unmet needs could be. I have been calling them BASE needs: Belonging, Autonomy (encompassing power and freedom), Survival, and Enjoyment.
I made a poster for educators to remind ourselves and share with the class to help students identify (and ask about) others’ unmet needs when (or even before) disruptive behavior occurs.
This mindset shift towards identifying unmet needs and hearing from students what emotions they were/are feeling refocused my attention from assigning a consequence of tackling the root cause of the problem. This also helped me as an individual bring more self-awareness to my emotions and unmet needs and improved my relationships with students, colleagues, friends, and family.
As we pay increasing attention to all of our social and emotional needs this school year, let’s remind ourselves of the power of asking: “What does this person need?” These are what restorative practices are in their essence.
In the past two weeks, I have read Layla Saad’s White Supremacy and Me and Tim Ferriss’s The Four-Hour Workweek. These are very different books, but they both ask readers to dig into deeply held beliefs and uproot them to make a powerful shift. As I think about the lasting impact of these books and what about each one has caused me to make real change, it is these two components: identifying and unlearning long-held beliefs and taking three next steps.
In White Supremacy and Me, Layla Saad has readers end the book by writing “three concrete, out-of-your-comfort-zone actions” you will take in the next two weeks. In The Four-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss has readers identify four life-changing dreams they have, and then tells readers to take three next steps over the next three days for each of the four dreams. He notes that each step should take a maximum of 5 minutes.
I am constantly dreaming of what is possible, envisioning how things could be better. But I do not like just existing in a dream world. I then try to break these bold ideas down into concrete steps to make big changes and make what initially felt impossible, possible. Sometimes, that can come off as “This is easy to do!” which is far from the truth. My brain just goes directly to action. In a year when COVID-19 has caused a major upheaval in the lives of educators, I tend to skip right over the fact that this is incredibly difficult work to be forced to adapt instruction and while navigating the uncertainty and anxiety of ourselves, our students and families, and our colleagues.
Additionally, in doing antiracism work, it is important to sit with new understanding and seek to learn more about the complexity of the problems—not rush to action. So many of us (definitely including myself here) want to rush to action before taking the time to fully understand the complexities of what’s going on and how our response could be unintentionally harmful, possibly by just paying lip service to racial justice without enacting any real change.
That said, once we have a deeper understanding of a problem or can concretely define who we want to be or how we want to show up for our students, we will need to take action. That is when I can lean into my strength of breaking down a big goal into actionable steps to make big changes. I achieved my goal of running a marathon without stopping (after two attempts that required some walking), and I completed my Ph.D. program in three years while working full time. I did this through sheer force of will and some very specific calendars and timelines.
I have also had dreams that have remained in dream form for years. For example, becoming multilingual has always been a goal. Why haven't I been successful? My goal wasn’t specific and I didn’t make a plan. Because I never made a clear plan, I never really got started.
I often end my professional development workshops by encouraging participants to write down one next step they will take after the workshop. But, what I’ve learned from Saad and Ferriss (and my momentum towards the goals I set for myself after reading their books) is that taking one next step is not enough. There are more aspects to this “next step” thing that I did not realize missing from my workshop closing.
Set a Deadline. Saad’s deadline was two weeks. Ferriss’s deadline was three days.
I have found one week to be a helpful time frame for me to complete three steps. This has provided enough flexibility to work around the busy-ness of life and work, but also a close enough deadline that I’m less likely to forget. Whatever you choose as your deadline, make sure it is soon enough that you won’t put it off until “tomorrow,” which in my experience quickly becomes much later.
Build Momentum. The difference between one next step and three next steps to make big shifts? Momentum. I can energetically dive into a new goal on Day 1, but after that, it’s easier to fizzle out. If we commit to three steps, one after the other, we build momentum, we start to make real progress towards our goals. That momentum is critical for working towards real change.
Make The Actions Doable. Tim Ferriss says each of the first three steps should take no more than five minutes. In another book, Atomic Habits, James Clear recommends each habit takes two minutes or less. For example, if my desired habit is to practice on Duolingo every day, I can complete a lesson in two minutes and still continue my daily streak of practice. For these first few steps, aim for actions that will take 2 to 5 minutes.
Write out your plan. I used to write down two big things I wanted to accomplish each day and focus on completing those tasks. Now, it feels more powerful to tie each of those tasks to a larger goal. So, I now frame each day’s task as: Which life-changing goal(s) am I working towards today? That fills my day with far more purpose than two random “check-the-box” tasks.
Connect these steps to your identity. Layla Saad talks about being a “good ancestor.” Antiracism work requires us to unearth and discard white supremacist beliefs we have (often unknowingly) held. Rooting them out is difficult, emotional work, and what enables us to do that work—even when it’s hard—is to tie our identities to being antiracist or being a “good ancestor.” Atomic Habits author, James Clear talks about linking our habits to our identities as a way to ensure we follow through on our goals. He talks about conducting a yearly “Integrity Report” in which he asks: What are the core values that drive my life and work? How am I living and working with integrity right now? How can I set a higher standard in the future? He says this work helps “revisit my desired identity and consider how my habits are helping me become the type of person I wish to be.” We are more likely to continuously take action towards a goal if we see this work as critical to living out our desired identity, our best self.
In the last two weeks, I’ve facilitated several virtual workshops on culturally responsive teaching and systemic racism. These particular workshops were focused on increasing awareness of racial injustice and learning how to first identify the problems. This is an essential first step, developing our understanding of the complex ways racism has been embedded into the fabric of institutions like school.
However, many of us want to know what to do. Dr. Cherie Bridges Patrick has taught me that you first need to sit with it and truly seek to understand the complexity of the problems before jumping right to action. So, recognizing we need to do that first, I’ll do my best to answer what is becoming the most common question asked of me during racial justice workshops: “Once I have an understanding of the problem, what can I do about it?”
Before diving into action steps, let’s look at a framework that may help us understand the variety of ways racism can play out in educational spaces. This framework is called the Four I’s of Oppression. (Described in detail here.) Here’s a brief summary:
When we understand the different forms oppression can take and we recognize they are all interconnected, we are better able to form a plan for action.
In the Moment
Since ideological oppression is the idea that emerges through the other three I’s, I will focus here on what we might do when we see these other I’s in our schools.
Addressing interpersonal oppression. Teaching Tolerance has a “Speak Up” pocket guide (linked here) that suggests four actions you can take when you witness someone do or say something racist. The four actions are: Interrupt (say something like “That phrase is hurtful”); Question (ask “Why do you say that?” or “What do you mean?”); Educate (explain why it’s harmful); and Echo (if someone else speaks up first, back them up with a simple “Thank you for speaking up. I agree that’s offensive.”) This pocket guide was actually designed to support students in speaking up, so you can use this with students as well!
Addressing institutional oppression. Initiating policy change requires a multi-step approach. Although, some of the previous suggestions could serve as an initial step. For example, if you want to bring up a problematic policy, you might plan to say something at an upcoming meeting. You might pose a question like: Is the dress code helping all students learn? Then you can ask another teacher to be your echo so you are not positioned as the only person who sees this policy as a problem. When constructing your initial message, I like the approach developed by Opportunity Agenda, an organization that helps writers effectively communicate messages about social justice issues. They suggest this formula: Values, Problem, Solution, Action.
Here’s what this might look like: “We’re all here because we want to help each of our students get the best educational experience possible. When students are removed from class due to dress code violations, they are losing instructional time. The latest data shows x number of students were removed from class last week for at least y minutes, and z number of students were sent home to change, missing hours of instructional time. To make sure our policies are maximizing student learning, I think we should start a committee to take a closer look at the dress code. This committee should include teachers, students, and families so that everyone who is affected by this policy has a voice in this process.
It’s important to ensure our action reflects the inclusion and equity we want from the policy change. (For more on this, check out my previous post on shared leadership structures.)
Addressing internalized privilege/oppression. Responding to internalized privilege and internalized oppression will require different approaches. For privileged students to recognize their privilege, you may want to introduce white privilege as a concept and highlight this is one way in which white supremacy manifests. Depending on the age of your students, the list in Peggy McIntosh’s article may be a helpful place to start. White students will also benefit from hearing stories and learning about the experiences of people of the global majority. Windows and Mirrors is a powerful approach with which to analyze your curriculum to ensure all students can have windows into stories of people who do not hold the same racial identity. This lens is also valuable for addressing internalized oppression, as Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, and AMEMSA (Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian) students need to see positive and complex representations of their racial groups in the curriculum. This Teaching Tolerance article also suggests explicitly debunking stereotypes and racialized myths, which cultivates students’ ability to be critically conscious of unjust representations of racial groups in textbooks or media. The article also distinguishes low self-esteem from internalized oppression, which is an incredibly important point. Whereas we may support a student with low self-esteem to see themselves in a more positive light, that’s not enough to address internalized oppression. We must help students recognize it for what it is: internalized oppression, stemming from ideas of white supremacy. We can help students identify how these stereotypes are perpetuated and who/what purpose these ideas serve.
Acting in the moment is often what we think about when we wonder how we can respond to racism in schools. It’s certainly an important capacity to build. However, changing the broader school culture, shifting the system itself, can reduce the likelihood of racism moving forward. We don’t always want to be reacting. We want to find ways to be proactive.
Make time for ongoing meetings about racial justice. One way to shift the culture is to make time for conversations about race with colleagues on a regular basis. As educators, we never have enough time to get everything done, so it may be challenging to see “adding” something else as doable. But racial justice isn’t something we’re adding to our plates. We are constantly “doing race” in our daily interactions. It’s embedded into everything else we do. If we can recognize this, we will see the importance of looking at our policies and data through the lens of its racialized impact. Through these conversations, schools can develop a culture of productive dialogue about issues of race and individual educators can build their capacities to see the complexity of racial injustice, including all of the identities that intersect with race to produce unique experiences of schooling for Black girls or queer Indigenous students, or Latinx students with dis/abilities, or transgender white students.
Broaden the school’s conception of data. When we think of data, as educators, we often think of standardized test scores. Perhaps report card grades. Possibly graduation rates. Rarely do we move beyond this to consider other sources of data. Individual teachers may collect qualitative data from students and families throughout the year, but this is not usually systematized. We don’t usually look at qualitative data on a school-wide basis. Broadening our ideas of what types of data are valuable requires us to be clear on what we value as a school. Looking at standardized test scores, report card grades, and graduation rates reflects the importance we place on educational outcomes. Might we also want to look at how students and families experience schooling? Could we collect survey data and hold interviews or focus groups with students and families around questions of the degree to which they feel they belong in school or their voice matters? Asking what data matters and who we should gather data from can generate powerful shifts in thinking about how schools measure “success.”
Inspired by Teaching Tolerance’s "Speak Up" pocket guide, I’ve made a pocket guide for this blog post to share with colleagues or keep as a handy reminder of the types of oppression and actions to take to address them.
As we all grow and learn from one another, I invite you to share your ideas and experiences of identifying and dismantling racism in your schools.
Since March, I have written many blog posts on distance learning. I thought curating these previous posts and bringing them together in one space may be helpful as we enter and continue to figure out the new school year together. I’ve linked each post related to distance learning below and provided a short summary to give you a sense of what the post is about. This year is asking a lot of educators. It is incredibly hard, complex work. It is my hope these posts can offer some support as you structure your distance learning tasks and supports for students and colleagues. Explore away!
Transitioning to Virtual Learning: Questions to Consider
This post is framed by questions to consider for each of the 4 R’s: “Room” setup, Rituals, Relevance, and Relationships.
Transitioning to Virtual Learning: Tech Tool Suggestions
While most of us know how we will deliver content this year, the second section of this post—assessing student understanding synchronously and asynchronously could be helpful. I particularly like the Two-In-One tools that enable you to share content and assess for learning simultaneously. This post includes a freebie describing 5 of my favorite tech tools and how I use them.
Update regarding Google Meet: Breakout rooms are coming in October!
Supporting Students with IEPs in the Virtual Learning Space
Organized by Tomlinson’s 4 ways to differentiate, this post gives examples for differentiating content, process, product, and affect/environment. There’s also a choice board template freebie in this post.
Supporting Students’ Mental Health During the Coronavirus Outbreak
This post addresses topics like addressing racism and xenophobia, integrating COVID-19 into your lessons, sharing mental health tips with students, and additional resources to share with students (e.g., support hotlines).
How to Be Well when Teaching from Home
Following a rundown of the 6 dimensions of wellness from the National Wellness Institute, I share specific examples from my practice and a well-being tracker freebie. A version of this post was picked up and published by the National Wellness Institute in their International Journal of Community Well-Being.
Digital Instructional Resources For Self-Paced Learning
I share concrete examples of how you can use instructional resources to support students’ self-paced learning. The freebie for this post is a list of online sites and programs (nearly all of which are free), organized by subject.
Opportunity: Rethink Assessment & Grades
This post is the first in a mini “opportunity” series—posts that introduce the mindset shifts that can help us see beyond the challenges of the situation we have been thrust into (teaching remotely) to envision opportunities for new ways of teaching and learning. This post specifically focuses on how assessment and grades might look different in a distance learning environment.
Opportunity: Genius Hour
Genius Hour is one way to promote student engagement during distance learning. In this post, I share the 3 big lessons I learned when doing Genius Hour in my class. The freebie is the student planning doc I used to jumpstart a semester of Genius Hour.
Opportunity: What I Need (WIN) Time
Many teachers offer small group support or 1:1 meetings for students during distance learning. Just like in a physical class, you may wonder what the rest of the class is doing during this time. This post walks teachers through the basics of WIN Time to help students identify what they need to work on and ensure they have access to the tools they need to work on it.
Opportunity: Student Goal Setting
Asking students to set personal goals during distance learning is brilliant. This post talks about how you can make the goal setting process truly impactful. There’s also a SMART goal template freebie.
Opportunity: Personalized Pathways (Part 1)
Personalizing instruction or differentiating instruction have always been big in the education world. The need for personalized instruction has grown even more during distance learning. Pathways are one strategy educators can use to personalize instruction. This post provides an overview of pathways (i.e., what, why, and how).
Opportunity: Personalized Pathways (Part 2)
This post covers the logistics of how to literally set up a pathway, including what tech tools to use and how a pathway differs from a playlist. There’s also a pathway tracker template freebie to get you started.
Live Classes or Asynchronous Tasks: Benefits of Each
This post summarizes the benefits of synchronous vs. asynchronous activities with the goal of helping teachers think about which activities can be done live and which can be completed during non-class time.
Live Classes or Asynchronous Tasks: The Best of Both
Sometimes you don’t need to sacrifice the benefits of one form of instruction when you choose the other. This post covers how you can use particular tools (many asynchronous) and still maintain many of the benefits of the other type of instruction (often synchronous). The freebie for this post is a set of student-facing weekly plan templates to help you and your students organize what they will do each day or week
Live Meetings or Asynchronous Tasks: Leader Edition
The leader version of the synchronous vs. asynchronous post series, this post helps leaders think about when to hold live meetings with staff and what can be done asynchronously. It wraps up with a few final tips and a podcast recommendation.
Scheduling Your Work Week While Working From Home
This post contains what is perhaps the most popular freebie I’ve ever created. The post itself lists 5 tips for structuring your work-from-home life. The freebie is a scheduling template set up to reflect the tips listed in the post. Within the freebie, you will also find a sample schedule to help you get started.
In case you missed one of these posts the first time around, I hope this collection provides you with some inspiration to support your students during this unique school year.
This post is the second of two on inclusive language in educational spaces. If you haven’t already, please go back and read Part 1, which introduces the importance of inclusive language and covers terms related to gender and race. Once you’ve done that, you can return to this post, which addresses what I’ve learned about language related to other axes of identity.
Ability. People-first language is something to keep in mind for all descriptions of people. When referring to students with IEPs, we can use the term “students with IEPs” or “students with dis/abilities” (I use the “/” to recognize some dis/ability activists prefer terminology that is less deficit-based while other dis/ability activists prefer the term “disability”. As a teacher, I have gotten caught up in educational shorthand and said “SPED students,” but I want to eliminate that phrase because it’s not people-first language. Terms like “handicapped” and “cripple” are not acceptable terminology. When referring to a person who uses a wheelchair, we can literally say that (“uses a wheelchair”) or we could use a more general term like “a person with a physical impairment”. Of course, we don’t use phrases or allow students to use phrases to demean others, but I just want to note that terms like “moron,” and “idiot” originated as offensive terms used against folx with mental impairments. If we hear students use this language, we can explain why this is harmful for multiple reasons.
Age. This one overlaps with race. White supremacists have infantilized and oppressed Black men in the U.S. through use of the offensive term “boy.” While this should be commonly understood as racist, a similarly problematic use of age-inappropriate terms may be affecting Black children in our classes. Studies have shown Black children are seen as older than their age compared to white children. This is called “adultification bias.” (While many studies have focused on Black boys, this is also a problem for Black girls.) This is particularly problematic as adultification bias often results in increased rates of discipline or increased use of physical force against Black children.
LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer). When referring to a spouse or person that a student or family member or colleague is dating, using the term “partner” is more inclusive than “husband” or “wife” or “boyfriend” or girlfriend.” It encompasses all genders and does not assume the person’s sexual orientation. Also, when referring to families in a same-sex relationship or teaching about marriage equality, the phrase “same-sex” is preferred to “gay marriage.”
Socioeconomic Status. My brilliant professor, Dr. Philomena Essed, helped me change my language from terms like “poor” and “poverty” to be more specific (e.g., “economically poor” and “economic poverty.”) The first set of terms implies a total lack of wealth beyond money—a lack of values, dignity, etc., but in being specific (adding the adjective “economic,”) we can uphold the person’s dignity. The term “low-income” also works here.
Issues. When discussing students facing housing insecurity, rather than saying students are homeless, we can a student or family is “experiencing homelessness” or “experiencing houselessness” (this term acknowledges “home” is more than a physical structure) or “living in temporary housing”. Recently, I heard Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley say one of her constituents told her he preferred the phrase “food aparteid” in place of the more commonly used “food desert,” explaining people in his neighborhood are capable of growing their own food, but the system has not provided access for them to do so.
Bias. Generic words like “bias” can sometimes be used to cover up specific injustices. If we don’t specifically name what we are talking about, we cannot address the oppression. Anti-bias training can be helpful, but without naming the specific ways bias is enacted (e.g., racism, sexism, homophobia) and the various forms oppression can take (e.g., interpersonal, institutional), it can lessen the impact of the work. It’s not that we have to throw out the term, we just want to be mindful about naming specific oppressions and not focusing on individual acts of bullying at the expense of tackling the policies and structures and systems that perpetuate the oppression.
Finally, there are many phrases that I hope are so obviously inappropriate I don’t need to list them. Two that I thought were gone, but I’ve actually heard educators say recently include: “That’s gay” and “That’s retarded.” Let’s stop using these phrases. Instead, say what you actually mean (e.g., “That’s ridiculous.”)
To help you keep all of these terms top of mind, I’ve condensed the big takeaways onto one page you can use as a quick reference.
Of course, there are many examples I have not included in this list and far more I’m not yet aware of, so I welcome additional contributions in the comments below. I’m looking forward to growing and learning alongside my fellow educators.
Language is so important. The words we use to refer to people and the issues people face carries a great deal of weight. While it may be cumbersome to unlearn old terminology and start using new words and phrases, if a group of people are saying certain phrases hurt, it’s necessary to listen and work to change our vocabulary. Ayanna Pressley says “the people closest to the pain should be the closest to the power.” I think this applies to who gets to determine the language we use. If people have experienced the pain of inappropriate or offensive language and I haven’t, I want to listen and learn and do my best to follow the recommendations of the people “closest to the pain.” As we enter a new school year already filled with anxiety, this is particularly important for us as educators to recognize, as we may be harming students or families with our word choices. For many of us, we may not know better, so I hope this post helps us know better, so that (in the paraphrased words of Maya Angelou) we can do better.
Before I share some of the things I’ve been learning with regard to specific identity groups, I want to say there is much I have yet to learn. Please share any additional information I’m likely missing or any corrections to what I’ve shared. Also, as a general rule, I like to listen to how people self-identify (or ask if this information is not shared), as each person may prefer different terminology, and it’s important we use the terms our students, family members, and colleagues want us to use.
Gender. A powerful practice for the start of the year as you ask students to introduce themselves and you introduce yourself is to ask for (and state your own) pronouns. This is a great way to normalize asking for a person’s pronouns, start a conversation about pronouns and their importance, and prevent any misgendering of students. You could encourage students to add their pronouns to their “screenname” for video conferencing and in their email signatures. Additionally, I have recently been trying to use the spelling “folx” instead of “folks” to intentionally include queer or GNC (gender non-conforming) people.
Race. Firstly, race is an adjective, not a noun. For example, in the phrase “white people,” white is an adjective, whereas “whites” is an example of using race as a noun. The term “minorities'' is often used to refer to people who are not white, but it’s a relative term. In a specific school, the majority of students may be white, but globally, white people are the minority. This is why I want to start using the term “people of the global majority;” it flips white supremacist language and the assumptions behind it on it’s head. Some folx like the term “people of color,” but this term has also been critiqued for its normalization of whiteness (ignoring that white is also a color) and for being US-centric. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) is a term that names specific racial groups, which is helpful when discussing topics that are particularly relevant to the listed groups (e.g., police brutality and mass incarceration). When calling out racial injustice, we want to be specific, making it clear which groups are disproportionately affected.
“Latinx,” (pronounced La-TEEN-ex) a term inclusive of all genders, is typically preferred over the term “Hispanic,” as the latter was imposed on Latinx people and reflects Spanish colonialism. Although, I have also worked with a “Hispanic-Serving Institution” that surveyed students about their preference, and the students said they preferred the term “Hispanic.” This served as a reminder to me that asking students’ preference is best practice. Another reason to ask is that some groups will prefer a more specific term than the broad “Latinx” like Chicana/o for folx of Mexican descent. “Indigenous” or “Native peoples” are terms I’ve seen most commonly used by Indigenous activists and scholars. However, some prefer American Indian. That said, the term “Indian” refers to people from the country of India, not people indigenous to the North American continent. The word “Oriental” describes material items, like rugs, not human beings. Asian is the term used to describe people. Terms like “Middle East” and “Far East” come from British colonialism, normalizing Britain as a reference point. Terms I have heard used in place of the “Middle East” include “the Arab world” and when referring to people from this region of the world, the acronym “AMEMSA” (Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian) can be used.
Other problematic race-related terms I have heard used in schools include “gyp” (an offensive reference to “gypsies,” for whom the accurate term is Romani people; “Eskimo” (a label assigned to the Inuit people by colonizers), and “ghetto” (a racialized and classed term that is rooted in the religious oppression and physical segregation of Jewish people and has since been used as a racially coded adjective that perpetuates stereotypical attributes of low-income Black communities). “Diverse” is another term that in itself is not problematic, but how it is used can be. If we refer to a school as “diverse” and it’s 95% Black, that’s not diversity, that’s a predominantly Black school. Using the term “diverse” as synonymous with Black is just not accurate.
There are many more identities to discuss, so I will continue the conversation in the next post. I also want to acknowledge once again there are many terms I may not have talked about here, and there are likely mistakes I have made because I haven’t learned to correct them yet, so please feel free to share corrections or additional insights. I’m on this journey of growth along with all of you.
This fall, many educators will be tasked with building community in their classes without seeing students in person. Developing relationships with students and creating a thriving class culture will look different in the online space, but it’s not impossible! Let’s look at some things educators are considering as we prepare to build class community this school year.
Given the distance learning setting, many teachers are realizing it will take longer to build community this year. I think that’s completely okay! If we think about the necessary conditions for learning, feeling a sense of belonging and connection is one of the factors that will support student learning throughout the year. It’s valuable in the long-run to take time to develop it early on. I’ve heard many school districts tell teachers the first 1-2 weeks are for community building only. No academic content is to be taught. As you think about your context, consider how long you can spend at the start of the year and also how often you want to intentionally build community as the year progresses. You could even calendar it out.
Community building encompasses a lot. I find it helpful to identify my goals for community building and backwards plan activities from those goals. Basically, backwards planning without the academic standards. Some goals I’ve heard teachers share this summer include: providing time for socialization, helping students name emotions and share stress reduction strategies, and learning about student interests and learning preferences. As always, the start of the year, will also involve co-constructing class agreements with students. This year, that may include agreements specific to the online space, such as whether/how students should raise a hand before speaking or if they should just unmute and share when ready.
As you plan the specific activities you’ll want to use to engage students in community building, you might consider how you can use these community building activities to introduce and practice the tech tools or protocols students will need to use during the year. Here are some examples that could build community and tech tool/protocol proficiency.
Get-to-Know-You Game. At the start of each class, share one statement at a time, and ask students to turn off their video cameras if the statement is NOT true for them. If the statement is true for them, they keep their camera on. This is a great way to help students learn about each other and also become familiar with how to turn on the video camera. Alternatively, if you’re using Zoom and plan to use the annotation feature during the year, you could adapt the activity to practice that skill. You could share a slide with the statement listed and ask students to write their initials (or place a stamp if you want it to be anonymous) if the statement is true for them.
Emotion Check-In: Synchronous. You could also use the start of each class to ask students to share how they are feeling in the moment. This helps students name their emotions and gives you a sense of how everyone’s doing. How you ask students to respond will depend on the tools or protocols you want students to practice. You could ask students to type how they are feeling into the chat to practice locating and using the chat feature. This could be a private message sent to just you or a public message sent to the whole class. You could use a protocol like Pass the Mic to practice having a virtual discussion. In this protocol, a student says “I’m passing the mic to ____” after they are done sharing until everyone has had a chance to “hold” the mic. You can offer students an option to say “Pass” just like an in-person circle.
Emotion Check-In: Asynchronous. If you want to provide a space for students to check-in throughout the week when you are not seeing them live during class, you could set this up using additional tech tools students will be expected to use during the year. You might want students to practice using the Learning Management System (e.g., Google Classroom, Schoology, Canvas), so you can set up a discussion thread inviting students to type, add an audio note (students can do this by using Vocaroo and pasting the link in the discussion thread), or by asking them to respond using GIFs. (To do this, students would click the button to respond to the discussion thread, then select Add > Link, and then paste the GIF link). You could also ask students to complete a Google Form that asks 1-2 emotional check-in questions. If you will want students to take quizzes with a tool like Google Forms, this is a low-stakes way to practice accessing and submitting a form. Finally, if you’re using another tool like Flipgrid or a blogging site, you could have students post their check-ins using those tools. In the spring, one school in New York had students post to a blog visible to the school community, which enabled students’ former teachers to see how students were doing and reach out to support them as needed.
Crowd-Source Resources. You could create a space for students to share resources with the class. You could use a tool like Padlet and set it up with column headings, which you can co-create with students or set ahead of time. For example, you might use categories like “Resources for De-Stressing” or “Things that Made Me Laugh” or “Strategies That Helped Me Learn at Home.” You can also use this as a chance for students to play with the various types of responses you can add to a Padlet. Encourage them to try adding audio or video or a drawing when relevant.
Whatever activities you choose, I’d love to hear how it goes! Feel free to share below or in our Time for Teachership Facebook group.
Our sharpened focus on issues of equity in education in the time of COVID-19, has raised many questions such as: How can we improve educational equity? What policies are perpetuating inequity? How can we replace them with policies that promote equity? How can we systematize equitable practices so they are not “one-time” strategies? How can we measure this? (In other words, how will we know if we are successful?) And with all the things that are uncertain, leaders are asking: What is within my locus of control?
As a leadership scholar, my response to each of these questions is: shared leadership. I prefer this term to the more popular, “distributed leadership” because while distributed leadership is inclusive of teachers in leadership, it stops short of sharing leadership with students and parents. Shared leadership enables us to be inclusive of all stakeholder groups. Additionally, the word “shared” is centered on what Mary Parker Follet calls “power with,” whereas “distributed” maintains a hierarchical sense of “power over.”
How can we improve educational equity?
We cannot answer the question of how to improve equity by ourselves. I can suggest some places to start, but to address the needs of your specific community, you’ll need to ask the various stakeholders in your community. Shared leadership asks us to listen more than we talk. So, the first step in identifying how your school can improve equity is identifying who can provide answers. That list will include families and caretakers, students, teachers, and perhaps members of the larger community.
What policies are perpetuating inequity?
Encouraged by this year’s renewed societal commitment to eliminate institutional racism, educators have been increasingly focused on identifying and dismantling the policies that perpetuate educational inequity. Many schools are starting to take a hard look at punitive discipline policies, problematic dress codes, and how students are graded. However, even if we can identify policies that need to be changed, we need to include stakeholders in the creation of whatever policies replace the old ones.
How can we replace inequitable policies with policies that promote equity?
Research tells us organizations benefit from improved decision-making when multiple stakeholders are involved in the decision-making process (Kusy & McBain, 2000). If we want to be more equitable, we need the students and families who have been historically marginalized by inequitable policies at the policy-making table. The policies are important, but how they are created and whose voices are involved in the creation process is how we ensure new policies don’t continue to perpetuate inequity.
How can we systematize equitable practices so they are not “one-time” strategies?
Creating shared leadership structures that inform the school’s decision-making process is a powerful way to systematize the school’s commitment to equity. If each time a policy is created, parents, students and teachers are part of the process, this communicates to stakeholders their voices are truly valued. Furthermore, given all the uncertainty of this school year, how decisions are made is one thing that is within a leader’s locus control. The decision to share power is a powerful step towards educational equity.
Logistically, researchers have identified several things to consider when creating shared leadership structures:
Embrace radical collegiality. Fielding (2001) defined this term in relation to students, but it’s useful for our work with families and caretakers as well. Basically, it refers to the idea that educators learn and become more effective when they see students (and families) as partners and they share responsibility for student success. This mindset is critical to the success of any organization rooted in shared leadership.
Build a representative leadership team. Research has found groups larger than about 15 members can become unwieldy and ineffective (Calvert, 2004; Pautsch, 2010). As much as possible, stakeholders should be represented equally, with a slightly higher percentage of students to reduce the ratio of adults to students, which has been known to overwhelm and thus, silence students (Osberg, Pope, & Galloway, 2006).
Clarify the governance structure. Explicitly state how and to what extent power is shared. Identify which types of decisions will be made solely by the school’s administrator(s), and which types of decisions will be shared. Clarify what is needed to move forward with a decision (e.g., majority vote, unanimous agreement). Determine leadership team members’ responsibility to communicate with the stakeholders they represent (e.g., weekly, only to get feedback on major policies). For example, the leadership team may draft a new policy and want to get feedback within one week from all stakeholder groups so they can vote to approve the policy the following week.
Use stakeholder research to inform decisions. Decisions made by the shared leadership team should be based on data. To address the question of how we measure equity—sometimes, we will look at student data like grades or test scores. Other times, that data will be survey data in which stakeholders share their degree of belonging in the school or the extent to which they feel their voice is valued. Students may self-report their level of engagement in class.
Members of the leadership team should receive the support needed to enable them to communicate regularly with the stakeholders they represent. This could take the form of tech tool training so all members are able to create and send out a survey using Google Forms or to communicate asynchronously using an app like Voxer or an LMS like Google Classroom.
Meet consistently. Meetings should be held consistently, at the same time and in the same place (whether that’s the same physical location or the same virtual room) if possible, to avoid confusion that may exclude members from participation in the meeting.
To help you get started in thinking through all of these considerations, I made a worksheet with a list of relevant questions. You can use it to guide your thinking as a leader or prompt discussion among stakeholders or in your leadership team!
Two leaders who have informed my coaching and leadership practice are Ella Baker and Mary Parker Follet. Ella Baker, a staunch supporter of shared leadership during the U.S. civil rights movement has said, "I have always thought that what is needed is the development of people who are interested not in being leaders as much as in developing leadership in others." Follet (1924) addressed leaders’ fears that power was a zero sum game, by writing, “first, by pooling power we are not giving it up; and secondly, the power produced by relationship is a qualitative, not a quantitative thing” (p. 191). She later wrote that sharing power is generative, that confronting and integrating different ideas “means a freeing for both sides and increased total power or increased capacity in the world” (pp. 301–302).
I’m excited to hear how your shifts towards shared leadership increase capacity and equity in your schools.
As a teacher, it was never comfortable making a mistake. Whether I made an assumption about student behavior, answered a question incorrectly, or mispronounced a student name, the guilt and shame of making that mistake hurt. Those feelings of guilt and shame never fully went away, but I became more comfortable with apologizing and seeing the opportunity to recognize my mistakes as a chance for growth. This year, as I have grown my business, I’ve been figuring out how to do the same in a different context.
Being in the public eye is not comfortable for me. I’m not a big fan of social media. I’m an introvert whose ideal weekend is reading a book at home on the couch. However, we miss out on a lot when we remain in our comfort zones. This year, I’ve received more critical feedback than ever just by virtue of having a larger audience. While some “feedback” has been unhelpful anger about the goal of educational equity, far more feedback has been immensely helpful critique from this brilliant community of educators.
While I’m still working on releasing the feelings of guilt and shame that linger way beyond the day I receive the feedback, I have to say, I am truly grateful for the time educators have taken out of their busy days to share how I could do better. I think about how much courage and energy it takes to read something, feel frustrated by it, and then decide not to discount the author, but actually send an email to share that frustration and give me a chance to do better. I also think about the trust required to take the risk of providing feedback—the belief that the message will be heard, that it will result in change, that it will not result in anger-fueled backlash—and I am profoundly grateful for that trust.
I will continue to make mistakes, and I will continue to work on my response to critical feedback. If I cause harm, I want to apologize and also commit to doing better moving forward. (A book that has helped me think about apologies is On Apology by Aaron Lazare.) I will continue to do the work to learn about racial, gender, sexual, and dis/ability justice. I will continue to invite feedback from educators.
I also bring all of these commitments into the virtual teaching space as I prepare for the Fall semester. This semester, my class will be fully remote, and so I’ll need to establish that trust and co-construct (with students) a community focused on growth, not perfection. I recognize that building this community at a distance may look different than it did teaching in person, but it is still possible, and it is, perhaps, more important than ever.
As many of us learned during Spring 2020, holding class in virtual spaces comes with additional challenges like having family members or others watch you teach. I know many teachers are concerned about students sharing recordings of live classes and being under scrutiny for mistakes made during class. I have no magical solution to this concern. I’ve worked with teachers this summer who have reported such a thing happened to them this spring.
However, it makes me think about when I taught high school and we had a standing invitation to any family members or caretakers who wanted to shadow their children in their classes. While this was a bit nerve-wracking, I appreciated the oversight. I wanted that accountability, not as a “Gotcha, you’re fired,” but as a learning opportunity to share feedback like, “You never called on my child when she had her hand raised,” or “My grandson struggled with the assignment and didn’t know how to get help when he needed it.” A family member courageously delivering feedback to me with the trust that I will listen and do better? I want as much of that as I can get.
I don’t say this to discount the real fear of recorded classes being misused in harmful ways or to pretend the guilt and shame doesn’t sting, but to help us frame our thinking about how we view productive critique when we make mistakes.
To increase the likelihood of productive criticism in my own class this year, I want to start the semester by framing the learning journey as something we’re all on together, myself included. I want students (and their families) to know I see them as partners in the work, and I want to create space for members of the class community to courageously and without fear of reprisal share critical feedback if I made a mistake, omitted a marginalized perspective, or caused harm.
I was recently on a webinar in which Dr. Ibram X. Kendi shared a powerful analogy about diagnosing a problem. He said when his doctor diagnosed his GI symptoms as Stage 4 colon cancer, he was immediately resistant. “Not me,” he thought. I don’t drink; I don’t smoke; I work out. Being an antiracist scholar, he drew a parallel to people’s defensiveness in being told their actions were racist. He said it’s the same with the doctor—diagnoses aren’t shared to hurt anyone. Diagnoses are delivered with the intention to heal. I found this analogy incredibly powerful in thinking about the mistakes we make as educators and the mindset required to view critique as opportunities for growth.
If it helps to track your growth over time so you can see the benefits of listening to criticism and growing as a result, I’ve made a Mistakes as Growth worksheet for you!
Here’s to a new academic year filled with learning, healing, and growth for all of us.
Last week, I took a week off of the blog for the first time since December. It was my attempt to practice boundaries and self-care to continue the collective care work. The day I was scheduled to take off? I worked all day.
My rational brain understands taking the time to rest and recharge is necessary to sustain my energy for the important work we do, but there are several mindsets I continue to struggle with—mindsets that hold me back from putting this understanding into practice. In this post, I want to share a behind-the-scenes look at the struggles that often prevent me from striking a work-life balance. I hope you do not recognize these mindsets in yourself, but if you do, you are not alone.
Side note: I intentionally use the phrase “work-life balance” because while I think there are interesting elements of
Struggle #1: I Tell Myself “I Can’t Afford the Time Off”
Being my own boss, I have the great privilege of setting my own schedule. However, I’ve found I rarely let myself take time off. I tell myself I can’t press pause on the things I have going on. Last week, for example, I took a week off of blog writing, which freed up about a day’s worth of work. I scheduled my day off. One day. I had been physically ill for several weeks, I hadn’t been sleeping or eating well, and I still couldn’t value the importance of my mental and physical health over the tasks that could wait another week or take a week off. The rational part of my brain says, “The late night comedy shows I watch have been taking time off. I should follow their lead!” But I tell myself my work can’t wait. Ha!
I’ve been learning more about white supremacy culture, and the sense of urgency that I need to get everything done now and do it all perfectly are two aspects of white supremacy culture. Maintaining these mindsets of urgency and perfectionism actually inhibit my ability to learn and grow. I want to learn and grow; therefore, I need to take the time to be well enough to recognize learning opportunities when they present themselves and be well enough to dig in and do the work to grow in those moments.
Struggle #2: I Can’t Put My Brain in Vacation Mode
That one day off? I ended up working a full 10-hour day. Something came up that needed to be done, but I know myself. I would have been thinking about work most of the day anyways. I struggle to turn my work brain off. In some ways, this can be helpful. I like randomly thinking up ideas for new units when I’m going for a run or doing something non-work related. That’s a part of work-life integration I can get behind. But, I struggle to simply “be,” and I recognize that’s a problem. It has always been a struggle for me. I’ve gotten sucked into the fast-paced, work-centered culture we live in.
Recently, I’ve been scheduling 15 minutes of mindfulness into each day. I use the Stop Think Breathe app on my phone to spend some time paying attention to my body and my breath, and I have created a separate work “log in” on my laptop to create a digital “door” to my virtual office space. My identity has always been tied to my work, and I don’t think that, in and of itself, is harmful. It’s part of that passion and drive I feel to do the work I do, but when I don’t give myself the proper space and time to relax, it also takes a pretty big mental and physical toll.
I’m still working on overcoming this struggle, and I don’t think it’s realistic to expect I’ll never think of work when I’m taking time off, but I do think it’s possible to get to the point of recognizing the work thoughts as I have them and perhaps writing down ideas or reminders if I need to, so that I can stop fixating on work and let the thoughts leave my mind until the next work day.
Struggle #3: “I Must Be Constantly Available”
On my days off, all I want to do is stay very far away from my computer because my computer—as a result of working from home in a one-bedroom apartment—is the physical representation of my workplace. I know I feel better when I can completely separate from my workplace, but any time I step away, I feel like I am somehow failing the amazing community of educators who may be counting on me for a quick response to an email or a Facebook message. This was the same mindset I struggled with as a high school teacher—what if my students are emailing me with a question and I don’t answer it until tomorrow? I thought that would make me a total failure as a teacher! (I hope you’re able to laugh at me because you see how ridiculous this idea is, but I really believed it.)
What helped me with this was seeing my principal model these boundaries. She would let everyone know they needed to go home and be home and there was zero expectation of checking email because she would not be checking her email. A few times over the years, I was frustrated that she was unavailable, thinking I needed an immediate answer to something, but in each of the situations I thought required an immediate response, it didn’t. I was able to adapt and make it work. I realized that her insistence on email and vacation boundaries were far more helpful to me than a quick response to a single question. She was modeling healthy boundaries.
Modeling Healthy Living
Many of us integrate SEL practices into our classes because we know students need to be socially and emotionally well to thrive. This has become even more relevant during the pandemic. This notion of modeling is really helpful for me—if I won’t push myself to be well for my own sake, I will do it to help others. So, what can we model for students and fellow educators?
Urgency & Perfectionism. Flexible deadlines helped me model for students that while we need to get things done, I didn’t want my students having a mental breakdown because they were so stressed about a due date. Some assignments, like public presentations, had a deadline that could not be altered, and students knew they needed to meet it. Other assignments that were submitted to me had somewhat arbitrary deadlines that I set, and I could afford to be flexible if it helped a student’s mental wellness. I’ll be writing more on perfectionism in my next post, but as a teacher, I found I had a great opportunity to model how to overcome perfectionism. First, when I would make a mistake (because of course I would, I’m human), I would apologize, and I would let students see that being perfect is far less important than how you respond when you make a mistake.
Vacation Brain. Many of our students (two-thirds by age 16) have experienced some form of trauma. Taking just a minute or two of my class each day for mindful breathing helped me and my students build our capacities to simply “be”. One day, after doing our 30-seconds of breathing time, a student thanked me and said “I never have time to just breathe.” I saw myself in her comment, and I realized we all needed to continue this practice. Another way I tried to support students in embracing vacation brain was not assigning homework over vacation. (Some students liked to use vacation time to get a jumpstart on projects, so I would often share what we would be doing when we returned from vacation, so students could do work if they wanted, but there was no pressure to complete any assignment for the first day back.) We all need that break.
Being Constantly Available. I was fortunate to have an administrator who modeled healthy boundaries for me and respected the ones I set for myself. As a teacher, I realized, in setting and sticking to boundaries of my own, I could model healthy practices for my students in the same way my principal modeled this for me. My students grew used to the fact that I didn’t respond immediately to email, and they learned to figure things out for themselves or wait until we were back in class to ask. For this last piece to work effectively (in other words, to prevent students from experiencing high levels of stress while waiting on my response), I had to be flexible in my deadlines for assignments and make space during class for students to work on whatever they needed to work on. This flexibility was necessary for the boundaries to work, but it came with another host of benefits—opportunities for more 1:1 or small group meetings with students, additional chances for me to give in-the-moment formative feedback, and students generally experiencing less stress and more agency regarding their work.
Personally, I often struggle to overcome these challenges because I add too much to my plate. Saying “No” is difficult, but I will continue to work on doing it better. In fact, I’d like to shift my focus from what gets a “No” response, to what, as a result of the "No"s can finally get a “Yes”. Jenna Kutcher says when she says no, she frames it by saying: Here are my current priorities, and I have to say no because it doesn’t fit with my priorities at this time. I like that frame because it provides a rationale (although, to be clear, we don’t need to rationalize our “No”s) and we are also modeling for others how they can say “No” themselves.
For reminders about this, I’m re-sharing my boundary reminders printables. Click the button below to grab them and put them in your workspace.
I learned a lot from listening to my students. Recently, I looked back at some of the feedback I got from students when I taught 10th and 11th grade literacy. Their responses are illuminating even years later.
What did they say they liked?
What did they say should be improved?
I am still blown away by the insightfulness of my former students. They wanted more choice, more opportunity to share their ideas with the world and make a meaningful, positive impact on relevant social issues. The last point on the feedback list emphasizes students’ eagerness to learn and grow as writers, but they were strategic in how to go about this. They advocated for less drafting and more of a focus on revision. Students are brilliant!
I realize all students are not the same, and these reflections of my students from years ago may not perfectly align with what all other students prefer, but I’ll pull out some notable themes that may help us all as we design engaging units for our own students.
Choice-based PBL can supercharge motivation. My students’ reflections and my observations of students in action support what the research says about the power PBL and student voice have to increase student engagement, motivation, independence, attendance (BIE research summary), positive-self regard, feelings of competence (Deci & Ryan, 2008), and academic achievement (Mitra, 2004). They were aware of this, and wanted to continue reaping these benefits, which was evident in their suggestions to have even more choice in the topics studied, books read, and demonstrations of mastery.
Students learning from other students is powerful. Many students said that circle discussions were one of their favorite activities of the year. Several students explained that hearing from other students was the reason they became more open to other perspectives and were able to recognize oppression that they hadn’t seen before. Being open to hearing other perspectives and recognizing oppression was one of my primary goals for students—a clear and relevant application of the critical thinking and analytical standards so many of us are tasked with teaching. Students’ comments made me increasingly aware that the time students have to share their ideas with one another and the space we make for students to truly be listened to, is critically important. When I plan my units and individual lessons within those units, I try to keep this in mind. As a result, at least half of my lessons are dedicated to student work or student talk time, to enable students to have these meaningful learning experiences.
Student voice as reflection is a learning experience for teachers. One of the things student voice researchers advise is that when we ask for students’ opinions, we do something with the feedback. This doesn’t mean we always implement every idea a student shares, but we want to sit with it, think about it, and respond to each of the pieces of feedback with what we’re doing to move forward with it or why it’s not able to happen in this moment or in the exact way a student suggested. (For reference, I followed up on the above student feedback, the following year by trying out at semester-long Genius Hour in which students had full control of designing their own units—we had 60+ topics going and nearly as many different ways of demonstrating mastery. While it did not go perfectly, my returning students were able to see my commitment to listening to their ideas.)
Dana Mitra (2006) depicts three levels of student voice as a pyramid. At the bottom level, students are simply being heard, perhaps by sharing their opinions on a survey—this is the most common type of student voice and also the lowest level. At the middle level, students work alongside adults in partnership to accomplish school goals. At the top level is building capacity for student leadership—less common than the others and the highest level of voice. While a reflection activity on its own seems like it would fit on the bottom level of Mitra’s pyramid, enabling students to recommend or even make these adjustments themselves during the unit or prior to the unit, would have brought us up to at least the middle level of the pyramid. Engaging in my own reflection on teaching, I would like to create more opportunities for students to be in the top two levels of the pyramid, so students (either independently or by collaborating with me) could make the necessary course corrections the moment it’s needed.
Students are engaged when they have choice and voice in what they learn about and how they demonstrate learning as well as the opportunities they have to learn from one another. Designing curricula that enables students to choose their own pathways of learning content and building skills, amplifies student engagement and enables students to flourish. Adopting project-based learning, enabling meaningful opportunities for reflection and critical feedback, and making space for students to learn from each other are just three ways we can do this. What other ways do you amplify student voice in your classes? What else have you learned from listening to students?
Lindsay is a educator and leadership coach who helps teachers develop engaging project-based curricula, fosters student and teacher voice, and works to advance racial and gender equity and culturally responsive practice.