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In today's conversation, Joyce Akridge is going to talk to us about how we annihilate inequities. For context, this episode was recorded on October 13th, 2021.
So let me tell you about Joyce. She has a reputation of being "a highly motivated, transformational instructional leader with a proven record of student achievement." During her 44-year tenure in the Indianapolis public schools, she demonstrated personal and professional excellence in leadership for the success of all students. She served as a lead principal and principal mentor in the Indianapolis public schools in 2015 through 2019. She was awarded the Educational Excellence Award by the Indianapolis Urban League in 2016. She was recognized by the Department of Education for her work. The school where she was a principal was given a state rating of an A for five consecutive years. Additionally, her leadership was recognized by the state of Indiana as the school received the title: One Distinguished School Award in 2014. She was also a recipient: The Governor's Award for Achievement and Civic Leadership Education in July of 2015.
Joyce was also recognized as one of three schools in the district with the largest growth in mathematics in 2013 and was highlighted in the Indianapolis Star as one of the five schools in the district that succeeded despite high levels of economic poverty in 2012. She has been featured in several publications, including the Indianapolis Star, Chalkbeat, IPS newsletters, Who's who in America and the Indianapolis women's magazine. In 2017 she received the Hubbard Life Changing Leadership Award for her dedicated service to the youth of the Indianapolis public schools.
She retired from the Indianapolis Public Schools in 2019. However, her passion for student success continued and served as a catalyst for the origin of her own coaching and consulting company that she developed with her daughter who was also an educator. The goal of their company, Urban Education Solutions, is to solve problems in education that are " uniquely urban ". She currently serves as a mentor and coach for principals, assistant principals, and instructional coaches in the Indianapolis area.
Let's hear from Joyce Akridge.
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 and being the best version of yourself, you're going to love the Time for Teachership podcast. Let's dive in.
Welcome to the Time for Teachership podcast.
Thank you, I'm glad to be here.
I'm very excited that you're here. I just read your professional bio at the very start of the episode and if there's anything you want to add by way of introduction to? A lot of times bios feel very professional and there's kind of like more to us as 3-D people beyond our profession. Feel free to go ahead and share anything else that you want the listeners to know.
Well I would like the listeners to know that I just have a passion for the field of education and wanting so much for the students to be successful. I am a results-oriented person. And so I want good results for the children and as John Maxwell person, I've been to his trainings and whatnot. My goal, as it has always been, is to add value to people, whether they're young people or whether they're my colleagues or other educators,
that's just continued with me. Even though I am officially retired, I want to do that because I know that's so very important and especially in times like these.
That is beautiful. I love that I add value to people. That's so great. And speaking about all the great things that you have been doing and adding value to in terms of the educational systems that you've been part of, I think it's really important that we have these kind of big dreams around what school can be. And I love Dr. Bettina Love's work on freedom dreaming and she talks about it as "dreams grounded in the critique of injustice", which I just think it's a fabulous quote. And so keeping that quote in mind, what is the dream that you hold for the field of education?
Well, the big dream I hold is that, first of all, we do the work that we need to make things right for children. And that equity is not just something that we talk about, but it's a reality for us. And that instead of allowing others to come in and so to speak, fix us, that we have enough that we know already with the collective brains and intelligence of all of the educators that we do that ourselves.
So my big dream is that we annihilate inequities and that we embrace equity for every child in every school, both the academic equity and that social potential of every child. That's my big dream.
That is a beautiful dream. And I love that you specifically are naming social as well as academic because I think a lot of times that gets left behind in our rush to cover content or you know, get the good test scores or whatever it is that we think we're supposed to be doing in education and you know, students as we are ourselves, our whole human beings. And so I think that's so important that you emphasize that, thank you.
I think again sometimes, you know, people have that tendency to really think just about the academic piece and the academic side of things and the way we've always done things. And so I think that the dream of annihilating inequity, right, is requiring us to do things differently than they have historically been done.
And so, what are the mindset shifts or different ways of doing things or thinking about things that that either you've seen people really hold that are successful with this work or that you would tell listeners who haven't really quite started the work that mindset shift that needs to happen to be able to be successful in annihilating inequities and supporting the social development of students along with that academic piece?
Well, I would first say that, Lindsey, it's more than just a mindset shift, although that's important. But to be true workers of equity, we need to have our belief system shift because beliefs impact your actions and your behaviors. And so in order for us to annihilate an equity, we need to examine our beliefs because they influence our actions and our practices in the classroom and we need to be sure that we believe that each child is worthy of all of ourselves, all of our talent, all of our practices. They are worthy of everything that we can offer to help them to be fully educated. So that's one of the things, that's the main thing. And to me it's the whole notion of not just shifting, but transforming. And even though I've never seen the movie Transformers, I know just from having had children, although there are grown ups now, that those transformer cars, they switch into something else, it's completely different.
So what we need in order to have an equity-based education for every child is transformation. So we need to start viewing children as assets. We need to be aware of who we are so that we can then help who they are. We need to focus on equity versus equality. Those are mindsets that need to shift. We need to look at them as I said as assets versus you know, their deficit in my room and oh no, I got this child and no, here comes another one that doesn't speak english and so that's a deficit to my class and what I want to do with my class. So I want us to be very mindful of viewing children as valuable and valued and so it's a complete transformation that needs to happen. I think you said it well that we've done things historically a certain way, but that's given us the same results
we've always had. It's predictable : who's going to be successful, who's not going to be successful, which group of students are gonna meet benchmark, which groups are not. And so we need to do some things that are transformative, so that all children can meet and exceed their potential.
I love that call to not just meet but exceed the potential. That is wonderful. And I really appreciate you naming beliefs as a key piece of this. It reminds me of one of my favorite, like scholarship theories around this adaptive leadership. Scholars will say, you know, it's usually a longstanding problem. Usually at the heart of it is this underlying belief or value or loyalty and we just haven't identified it and we just haven't switched it and we're gonna keep having the problem. We could throw all the p.d. at it we want, but if we haven't identified that, believe that needs to shift that believes like you are saying that students and children and people right are valuable and worthy, then we're never gonna get anywhere with just another p.d. workshops.
You're exactly right. And that's why so many programs fail because we focus more on, I suppose the outward action that we see, but the hearts of people haven't changed. And so for a small amount of time we can see some change, but it's not gonna be lasting and sustainable because the hearts haven't changed. So in this equity work you have to come with your mind, your hands and your heart and you've got to be willing to examine your beliefs. So for any educator who started out who say, yeah, it's wrong that it's predictable that black boys and black girls and brown boys and brown girls aren't doing well in school. We see it every year. So for anyone starting with that equity work, I would say the first major piece is to examine yourself and your beliefs and then to see how that impacts your actions as you work with these children who are from historically marginalized groups.
Yeah, excellent advice. And as we move to thinking more about like what are the things that educators can do to really advance equity and justice in in the educational space? What other things would you suggest that people do? So really starting with examining themselves, and making sure that we hold those positive beliefs, right? Whereas children are bringing value, what else would would you say? Either you've seen be successful or you would encourage listeners to do as they're continuing this work
Well, beyond self examination and becoming more equity conscious, I would say that I would suggest that educators, number two, because examining yourself would be number one. Number two would be to look at the curriculum and see where we can disrupt the cannon because a lot of our great works are all by historically based white male authors and those kinds of things, especially when you think about high school and just simply decide : I'm gonna disrupt the cannon by including some black authors.
I'm gonna look at literacy. I'm gonna leverage literacy to let children see themselves and know that we care about them, seeing good models of themselves and they are out there in literature. I would also say that educators could leverage the opportunity for student participation. I don't think we are aware of it, but one of the things we do is we call on fast hands or people we know who will have the answer. And so simple things like having equity sticks where you put the names of children on popsicle sticks and you call on everybody and everybody has a turn that holds thing of opportunities to respond. We have found that black children and brown children a lot of times just don't have those opportunities to respond and maybe have the right answer, or some divergent thinking that would add to the discussion and make it a richer discussion.
So that's something very practical that they can do. There are some wonderful websites like Sankofa Reads and Black Lives Matter Library that will read stories to children about brown and black children. They read them in Spanish and English and helping children to see themselves in literature. That is so very important. Again, this whole notion of having the children to all know that you're going to call on them to respond and you can't take time off because I'm just calling them one kid or whatever, but getting them involved. One of the things we know about educating black and brown children is that they need relationships with people. That's very important when you look at literature. So another thing is take the time to develop relationships with the children. There's a whole philosophy called ten and two and I don't know if you know that, but I tried that and it works.
You take ten days and just for two minutes a day, you get to know maybe that child who's got behavior challenges are, who sits and seems so disconnected to the learning environment and you get to know them and you ask them a pointed question or speak to them or give them a smile and you'd be surprised how the relationships can add to the learning environment. So there are simple things you can do to begin this equity work. Look at a video, read a book. I'm looking at one right now that, it has been very good for me. It's called Start Where You Are, But Don't Stay There. And I don't know if you've heard of Richard Milner, but he is out of Tennessee and he is a great resource as you begin this equity work. And he talks about that
it's not just equity practices, but for a lot of the children, it's an opportunity gap that they don't have the opportunity for, to be educated by the good teachers. The best teachers are given to the gifted and talented students. And so we get a lot of children who have teachers who are first year teachers who don't understand about the importance of relationship building rituals, routines and rhythm of black and brown children and all those things. They don't have the opportunity for on-grade level work. There are so many things that some of our brown and black children don't have the opportunity for, which exasperates the achievement gap. And so his goal is to help you understand that if we improve opportunities, we can improve what the children are learning and sustain what they are learning so that everyone rises to the top, not just some groups of children, but all groups of children rise to the top.
So many great ideas in there and I had never heard of ten and two. So that makes so much sense. And I think also is probably really comforting for a teacher who is, I'm sure constantly like barraged with all the things they need to do in a day. And so they're like, oh I don't have time, but two minutes a day, like you have two minutes a day, we can do that. So I love that suggestion.
I would also suggest that the educators out there or anyone out there, take a course, one of the courses that I took and there are a lot of free equity courses. Out there was a course from M. I. T. On their open learning library and it's a course called Becoming a More Equitable Educator Mindsets and Practices, and it's a self paced course that is excellent. They give you articles to read, resources to explore. There are self checks that you can do checklists, audits, you can apply to your classroom to your school, to your district. Those kinds of things which help you to examine your practices to see where you can improve what you're doing on behalf of all children because equity practices are good for all children.
So taking a course, reading a book, watching a video, all of those things, in the comfort of your own home can create more awareness and more opportunity to advocate for children who are not equipped necessarily to advocate for themselves.
I love that you're emphasizing all of these great tools and resources and approaches for learning because I think sometimes we go into this thinking : I'm just gonna start doing this action or start building a relationship or something, but we have no new input and so it's our old ways of doing things, our old beliefs and we have nothing new coming in. We're not learning anything new. And so we just try to move forward with the way we've done things and just adapt slightly versus doing this in community or doing this with like you were saying, kind of these self assessment checks. There are all of these things that are helpful for us to make sure as we move forward, we're moving forward in a positive way in a way that's actually going to be more equitable.
And so I will link to as much of these resources as you've shared in the blog post in the show notes because I think it will be helpful for people to be able to click in and access all the great stuff you've been talking about. One of the things I wanted to ask you about is and I think this is so cool. You have been, since you mentioned you were retired, you have been you know, working in this your own consulting and coaching company with your daughter, which I think is such a cool thing. Do you mind sharing a bit about what you do in case people are interested in and you know, talking to you about that or what coaching you provide?
Well, what we do is our company is called Urban Education Solutions and our tag is that we help solve problems in education that are uniquely urban and that's where a lot of our our historically marginalized students reside in the urban setting. So I've been working with educators mainly coaches and principals and helping them with examining their practices and how we can make education more equitable for children.
Just recently I took on a client : the Indiana Council on Educating Students of Color. And so I'm working with them on their after school program and I'm the program director so that we can get more social emotional learning in the program, that we're practicing equity with the children that are there. And that we are also using those things that we know work as far as a framework for guiding the learning. And so you might have heard me mention that there are five things that guide that learning when you work with black and brown children. You need to have relationships. You need to have rituals and routines. You need to also understand that their rhythmic and that they're pounding on the desk not to ignore you, but it's a part of their spirit that they're rhythmically inclined. And so we wanna understand that they like routines and the rituals and the routines and those five Rs that I mentioned and that those things impact how you see them, you work with them and what you need to do to keep them engaged in the learning.
So we're big on engagement. And so even the simple thing of teaching the alphabet or nouns or verbs, if we can clap it, if we can pat our hands or whatever. That's very important to our historically marginalized students because that's a part of their culture. There's no way anyone can know about all the cultures and subcultures, but there are some basic things that we can learn to do that can help us as we work with the children such as Gamify or Storify telling stories. That's a big part of our oral history as minority groups and so those are some things that can be done as well in the classroom. One of my best books ever that gives you the whole idea of being a culturally responsive educated, which is important to this equity work is Zaretta Hammond's work on the culturally being culturally responsive, culturally responsive teaching in the brain.
And so she talks about having tools in your toolkit that you can use so that you can keep the children engaged in learning and that you're teaching with them in mind. You've always got to keep the child in mind. And so when you're culturally responsive when your equity minded, the child is always in the forefront, not the lesson plan, not even necessarily the test scores, we want to be student centered. So that's the kind of work we've been doing. I've been coaching instructional coaches season, so that we can be equity minded. So I think that's the kind of work we've been involved in, also been involved in speaking at conferences. She and I have done conference work speaking via Zoom. Zoom has become our best friend. So we've put on local conferences, we've participated in local conferences and even national conferences that we've had an opportunity to participate in and just getting the word out there, that we all need to stay concerned and not just because Covid has shown us that there's all these disproportionality ease, they were always there.
They just had the spotlight shined on them since Covid, you know, that digital divide and all of that is real. But to keep the work going, that's what's important to me, keep the work going beyond Covid that we need to give every child, but he or she needs so they can be successful.
Amazing. Oh my gosh, thank you so much for sharing a bit about what you're doing and it is phenomenal. I love all the five Rs and the focus on engagement and the idea of continuing to go. I think we have, you know, these moments in time where we shine spotlights and then we focus for a finite period of time and then we go back to the way things always were. And so I love that you're focused on not doing that and just, you know, continuing the work so incredibly important. So as folks kind of hear all of these resources, you've shared so many really precise action steps as well as resources that they can go check out and as I said, I'll try to link to all those as they listen to the episode.
They might feel like, okay, there's a lot that I should go do and is there anything that you would recommend as the best place to start. So as they're trying to really live in alignment with these values of equity and justice that we've talked about, like what is a good kind of step one as they go forward, end the episode and start to do this work.
Well, I want our readers to understand that Equity is important work and it might be work that you're doing alone because everyone won't see it your way. And so you've got to be courageous enough to say, even if my colleagues don't join me, it's important enough work that I am going to keep at it and I'm going to pace myself through the journey even if I have to do it alone. And so I would suggest looking at one of the Equity websites, there are lots of websites out there and there are some as you know, with everything that are better than others.
I started with the Association of California School Administrators and they have an excellent website and definition of equity. I would just start there just looking at that definition, unpacking it, finding out what it means to me and what I can do in light of what that definition says. That's one of the things that I would do. The other thing is I would go to one of the Equity websites. There's one that is very good. I'm trying to look through my notes to see if I can find the name of it. It's the National Equity Alliance, that's another good website to go to. Just to see what our website saying about equity and just looking from there, taking an overview of what's happening and what people are saying and what happens is what you and I talked about.
You find your little niche, you find your little niche however you pronounce it of where you want to go. For me, the big thing was leveraging literacy and how I could get more stories about other children of color or childrens of color into everyday curriculum. Then it was opportunities to respond. How am I making my classroom richer or my school richer by having everyone ready to respond. Everyone participating and not just calling on the same children all the time and allowing the ratio of children to be called on to be more inclusive. So there are simple things like that. If I had to say, oh well I'm not one to look at websites and I'm not one to listen to definitions, I would say start with Zaretta Hammond's book on Culturally Responsive Teaching in the Brain. Out of those three things that I've mentioned, the website, the California Association of Administrators, and Zarretta's book, you ought to find some way that you can jump in.
The whole notion is jump in, don't stay where you are just being a curious bystander. Jump in and be as with November... October, I'm sorry, it's national bullying month, be an up stander, that's what we teach children: don't be a bystander, be an up stander. So that's where I would suggest you start just saying: I'm committed to being an up stander. If someone makes a rude racial joke in the teacher's lounge, I'm gonna walk out. If I don't have the courage to say : hey guys, that's not nice, or I'm going to have the courage to say: that's not nice, or take an equity, walk around your building, your classroom. Do you have pictures of different racist creeds, ethnicities? Then commit to. I'm going to get a committee in and let's just get some other pictures up of other kids around the school.
If you have permission, take pictures of your own classroom. You know, you can get those frame for a little of nothing and the kids who just love seeing themselves around the school. But whatever you do, start where you are and don't stay there.
I love that: start where you are and don't stay there. So one of the things that I like to ask at the close of the episode that's really just kind of for fun. I think all the guests that I have on are always talking about, you know, really growing like I like you have been today and and being lifelong learners and committed to this journey and so I'm just curious to know what is something that you have been recently learning about yourself?
Well that's a good question. One of the things I have learned about myself and partly it is my personality and partly is because of the work that I've always done, I've been an administrator and a lead teacher and all of those kinds of things. I always show up to be in charge and you know what, that's not collaborative and that's what needs to happen in the equity work and the work for justice, you can't show up to be in control and in charge, you have to show up firstly to be cooperative and then that leads to collaborative.
So that's the one thing I am learning about myself. I am learning to be more collaborative and I think that has happened because as I had been involved in my business and I have began the work of coaching, coaches should be collaborative beings. And so I have been doing a lot of work on myself to be a more collaborative educator, so that's where I am working on collaboration. And then I also have a little angel on my shoulder, my daughter. She'll tell me when I'm showing up in charge and she'll say, you know, we need to work together. And it's probably that old mindset that principles have to know everything and they have to be a resource and a broker of resources and you have the answers. But no, no one person has all the answers, not in the equity work, not in any work associated with schooling. You know, you've got to be a collaborative player and so that's the work that I'm working on now, to grow and learn as a senior citizen.
That is beautiful.
Thank you so much for sharing that with our listeners. That's really great. And I think people who are, you know, have been listening to this whole episode are really going to want to connect with you and I'm sure everyone's gonna be inspired by what you're doing. So where can people go online to find more out about what it is you do or connect with you in some way?
Thank you. I appreciate that. I'm still in the process of building my website. So I am open to anyone who would like to connect with me to just come to my personal website. My email address is... I've said website, I meant my email address is joyce, lower case letters, the number 4, jesus @ sbc global dot net and I will be prompt to respond. It's my pleasure to still be involved in this work and it's energizing work. You know Lindsey, when we are stressed stress takes air out of our balloon as a metaphor.
You know, it deflates us. And for me, teaching puts air in my balloon. So any work, any teaching that I can do to help people to encourage equity practices to help children who can't advocate for themselves have a fair chance in life, that puts air in my balloon. And if you begin the equity work in earnest, I'm sure it will put air in your balloon as well.
That is such a wonderful idea to end on Joyce. Thank you so much for being part of the podcast.
Thank you Lindsey for having me.
Thanks for listening, amazing educators. If you loved this episode, you can share it on social media and tag me at Lindsey 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.
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.