Lindsay Lyons : I am so excited to introduce you to Michelle Goldschlag today. Michelle and I have been in a Mastermind together for several months... probably going on a year by the time that you listen to this... and she is absolutely amazing. I've loved watching her and her business grow and thrive, so I can't wait for you to hear from Michelle. Just a little bit of back story - she is the co-founder and CEO of Cultured Kids, a nonprofit organization that believes a student's sense of belonging is the primary catalyst for their success. In her six years at the helm, Cultured Kids has partnered with schools and community organizations in Northern Virginia and the Metro Boston area, as well as provided consulting services for international museums and global organizations like the Holistic Life Foundation in Brazil. Now, for reference, this conversation with Michelle was recorded on October 12th 2021. Let's get to the 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 and being the best version of yourself - you're going to love the Time for Teachership podcast. Let's dive in. Michelle Goldberg, welcome to the Time for Teachership podcast.
Michelle Goldshlag : Hi Lindsay, excited to be here. I'm so excited for me.
Lindsay Lyons : Yes, I'm so excited you're on, this is really exciting. And so I just read your amazing bio and so I'd love to hear if there's anything you want to add. I think a lot of times, you know, bios are very professional sounding and so if there's anything else you want to say to introduce yourself to our listeners about who you are or what it is that you do or represent, feel free.
Michelle Goldshlag : Absolutely. I would say... and I don't know that this is true for most couples out there... but my husband is the exact opposite of me, very practical thinker where I'm a visionary and kind of dreamer.
I, lovingly, call him my dream crusher because I'll have these fantastic, great ideas and plans and he'll be, like, look at everything that's going to be required to accomplish it. But in all reality, raising kids with him and starting Culture Kids, which we consider another child, has been a Godsend because he completes the parts of me that are just, like, not there, and helps me to shape where we're going. And it's also always been, like, fifty fifty with the kids, you know, bath time, babies, food, reading books before bed... and they're thirteen and ten now, but we are... they're still letting us read to them at night. So I hope that continues. But, yeah, so I think just having him and my kids are awesome.
Lindsay Lyons : Oh, that's fantastic. That is a wonderful intro. Alright, go your husband, this is great That fifty fifty split is so important too,
Michelle Goldshlag : Oh, my goodness,
Lindsay Lyons : Gotta have it.
Michelle Goldshlag : Absolutely.
Lindsay Lyons : So in the education space... and actually you talked about dream crushing...
So, like, these dreams that we have, I think, are so much of who we are. And so for the education space, for, you know, youth development, this kind of thing - I am so curious to know what you... you know, what it is that you hope for for the field of education. And I'm really inspired by Dr Bettina Love's quote about Freedom Dreaming where she says really these are dreams grounded in the critique of injustice. So, with that in mind, what is that big dream that you have?
Michelle Goldshlag : Okay, so in short - unity. But what that actually means, you know... and I think that it's important to explain definitions for things... So, like, unity can mean just oneness, but you can act as one around anything, right? And I think that what is... considering all of the challenges that schools are facing today... what is most common is that school leaders are trying to rally their teams and their communities around a shared mission, or a shared vision, or a shared motto. And that's absolutely beneficial and can support, you know, developing the kind of culture you want to in a school, but for Cultured Kids unity means really creating a community where every child feels that authentic sense of belonging.
And just in light of definitions too, belonging for us means that children can... well that they know their authentic selves, and that they feel comfortable sharing that authentic self with others.
Lindsay Lyons : That is a beautiful definition of unity and belonging. And I think looking... I'm getting more and more into this research on belonging and, like, looking at the trends, it is terrifying that, like... it's just, like, a downward spiral for, internationally, for people and students particularly who feel a sense of belonging in communities like school. And it's so depressing, because that data is, like, actually pre-pandemic - and so when we look at, like, you know, what the pandemic has done, I'm sure it's even worse. So it's so important, (Crosstalk) I love that you're focused on that.
Michelle Goldshlag : Absolutely.
Lindsay Lyons : And so I think sometimes it is hard to wrap our mind as educators around, you know, with all the things happening in schools and educational communities more broadly, there's so much to focus on. And so what are the mindset shifts that are required for people to really strive for unity? To strive and center
you know, belonging in terms of, like, this is the really important thing we're doing, it's not, you know, getting through this curriculum or whatever else is on our plates. But what is necessary for people to do the work that you're asking teachers and supporting teachers to do?
Michelle Goldshlag : Yeah. I think that the number one mindshift for us is transitioning from a mindset of knowing to a mindset of questioning - and I think this comes at all levels. So, for administrators they're provided a lot of information and they gain knowledge... and I don't want to say, like, knowledge... knowledge is fantastic, we need knowledge... but actually that belief of knowing. You know, they may think they know what their educators need, they may think they know what their kids need, but we instead need to transition to this questioning mode where they're like "What is it my educators need? Let me connect with them on a more personal level and evaluate, you know, what individual needs are shared throughout my team," you know. And then educators similarly, "What is it that I'm being asked to teach kids?"
You know, "What curriculum am I being provided for them? Is this the right curriculum for my community?" So I just... and the kids even... like, if you model that in your school as leaders and as teachers and you focus on that questioning, then kids are going to start sharing in that questioning,, you know. Like, "Why am I learning this?" You know, "What is this custom this other child in the class is celebrating? Why is that important to them?" So I just think that in general... and I... if you take this a step further... I mean, we assess knowledge all the time, right? So knowing is important and that's what's systemic in our education system. So... and I'm not saying assessments are bad... but I do think that we need to transition more to that questioning and the exploration in school, rather than focusing on the knowing
Lindsay Lyons : So well said. And it makes me think of just, like, what we measure matters, right? And so, like, the fact that we're measuring the knowing, but we're not measuring the curiosity or the questioning (Crosstalk) Right? Like, what could come out of that if that was the goal? If that was the thing that we measured somehow, you know? That would be really transformative.
Michelle Goldshlag : We're trying to figure that out right now.
Lindsay Lyons : Amazing.
Michelle Goldshlag : We a team of people trying to, like, figure "Okay, we want to evaluate curiosity and whether or not it's developing in these areas." So we're working on developing an assessment for one of our programs. But yes, it's challenging. But that's what we care about. We want kids to be, you know, developed, have more questions and be curious
Lindsay Lyons : And as soon as you develop that, please let me know because I think a lot of people would love something like that to be able to assess in that way. That's amazing.
Michelle Goldshlag : Absolutely.
Lindsay Lyons : So, in terms of how we get to this place of questioning and prioritizing that over knowing, of unity, of the dream that you describe being one of belonging as well... like, what can leaders do or even, you know, parents or teachers, you know, whoever is supporting a child - what is really something that they can do that's an action step that gets them closer to that dream you described.
Michelle Goldshlag :That's a tough one. I think that, you know, we all want a recipe, but I think that, like, just considering the pandemic and recent challenges that we've been facing, we've had, you know, urgent responses in the school system and some of those responses have been good in that
we've eliminated some of the requirements for standardized testing because the way that schools provide it to kids is a bit different. We've prioritized their social emotional learning, we've had to rely on parents in ways that, you know, that we haven't maybe before. And (Unintelligible) the stress of it all makes it challenging, but what if it weren't urgent? You know, what if we were just actually collectively working toward this goal? So, I mean, I don't... I guess I don't have specific brave actions, but just kind of taking steps to transition the way that we do school to one that is more focused on developing that. Like, helping kids to identify their own sense of identity and helping them to really integrate and share their authentic selves with others, you know, and what that looks like and how to accomplish that. I mean, I suppose, like, some of our programs that we're developing that that's what we're doing. But, you know, I think that regardless of what teachers or staff are doing, they also... these staff members need to feel that sense of belonging at their school, and need to have that culture within their group of people in order for it to trickle down and to be bottled for the kids.
So however, we can... you know, start at the top, get administrators involved with creating that culture and sense of belonging for their educators and then really trying to just encourage them to produce the same culture in their classrooms.
Lindsay Lyons : Yeah, absolutely. I think so much of SCL is turned into, like, this is the curriculum that we we teach students and it's completely divorced from, like, "Hmm, let me reflect and see if I would... I am doing these things... like, am I doing these things in my own life and my own practice, my modeling?" And so I love that you just named that, like, this is for everybody. And so this is important.
Michelle Goldshlag : Yeah, I think that, too, just one other note is that... and I am experiencing discomfort... which I'll talk about later... in my job right now, and I am a white woman who grew up in a white middle class suburban neighborhood with hardly any... like, you know, the majority of my schooling, elementary and high school, white community. So the idea of approaching conversations about race or anti-racism, homelessness, you know, just any of those challenges can be scary for teachers - they can be scary for parents.
And I... it's awful, but you have to lean into the discomfort to grow. And you have to model what that looks like for our kids if we want them to do the same thing. And so I just think that teachers need to be brave in their actions and it's okay to mess up. And, depending on the age group that you're working with, there may be a student who is this awesome facilitator and he's gifted in empathy and could provide, like, a service, you know, to help facilitate conversations. But I think we naturally want to avoid that discomfort. I actually took a course through Connect Teach, which would be a great option for any educators, but you... you are just... you're put into a, you know, a group of Zoom group, digital, and the whole point is to, like, "Hey, let's talk about systemic racism in our country," you know. And you have mixed groups, there are people from all backgrounds and cultures and it just provides a safe space to start talking. And then hopefully you gain some experience and some comfort and can bring that into your classroom.
Lindsay Lyons : Such an important point about comfort. Right? Like, yeah, so that idea of discomfort being the place where we really need to model and where sometimes even... again, like you said, it depends on the age... but sometimes we have kids coming in who are not uncomfortable with these conversations at first and it's only through interacting with adults who have like palpable discomfort that they learn to be uncomfortable. And so there's so many reasons it's important, I think, to model that. And so I just... I love that you named that. And I also wanna kind of go back to what you were saying, too, about the Culture Kids programs are really supporting the development of that curiosity we're talking about and those actions are really a part of what you offer and your organization offers. So, do you mind talking just a little bit about what those programs are, and what that is that the teachers do within the programs?
Michelle Goldshlag : Yeah, no problem. So, we have a couple of different programs, one of them that is probably our... okay, sorry, my husband just came in to shut the door.
Great listeners. We have an after school book club called The Art and Storytelling Book Club. It's multidisciplinary, and the whole point is to really try and create that sense of belonging with kids. Now we don't feel like we are, like, "Okay, let's create belonging and go ahead and do it," but we feel like there's a really specific progression to getting there. And so the initial place to start for us is on identity development for kids. With a book club, you know, and with a group or a cohort of kids that don't know each other, the most... I guess the easiest way to really get them talking and dialoguing about these types of themes is to provide them an external character. Right? So, First Rule of Punk by Celia Perez... we created this after school book club and curriculum around this for our pilot... and the progression of the book... which goes through the main character, Malu's, identity development... and then you learn about how kids are either using the empathy skill or not using the empathy skill to then create this greater sense of belonging.
Our program just follows along with the book. So there's just an awesome aligned progression and students are engaged in dialogue and discussion about identity, and they can relate or connect with the book character if they're uncomfortable connecting with a peer, you know? And at the same time Gallup has an assessment called The Strength Explorer for Kids 10-14, and if you have children that are growing up in multicultural homes, or have been living globally, they can be really challenged with fractured identities and not feel like a whole self. They may put on a specific cultural, you know, persona at school and then have a completely different one at home. So I think this idea of identity being fixed and not fluid is a challenge for kids, too. And being able to see, read about, hear about, and discuss a book character's journey really helps them to grow in that way.
And it was just... the Strength Explorer points out, you know, three strengths for each child and regardless of the cultural environment they see themselves in, these kids can kind of just use that as a foundational piece. Like, I am... I have a gift of presence, so I am, you know, naturally going to want to lead, you know, and that's going to be in the home or in the school, and this is how I can use that gift. But... we are not at all affiliated with Gallup, just to say that... but their Strength Explorer assessment is a tool that we use in that book club program. And I think that, you know, in regard to curiosity, it's required for every step. Because we want kids to not just know who they are, we want them to question who they are. And throughout their lives, you know. We don't want them to know what empathy is, we want them to question, and how to do it. and how to grow in it, because it is a skill that we need to grow in. And the same with belonging. And I mean, that's just sort of the progression we take to get to that authentic unity that we're striving for.
Lindsay Lyons : That sounds like such a cool program and I get to hear... because we're in an awesome Mastermind together with me each week... but I get to hear all the cool developments at Cultured Kids and I know you're having something coming up on the horizon that is really exciting, as well, to kind of amplify the impact of your programs and just so many new things happening. Do you mind telling our listeners what is going on now at Cultured Kids? So, what developments you have?
Michelle Goldshlag : Sure. We need your help. I think like with any business leader, nonprofit or for profit, you end up creating the type of organization that sort of aligns with your personality - and so whatever strengths or gifts you have they shine in your organization. So I am just... I mean, I would call myself a creative expert above anything else. I love creating and creating programs and designing curriculum that's multidisciplinary and also trying to bring kids together and unite communities like this is all kind of my bag.
But when it comes to being the CEO of a nonprofit organization and fundraising... that is not... I am such an introvert. I am very challenged with raising money. But it's like my failure... like, this is... Like, I am in year six - we have annually brought in about thirty grand and there was one small organization, in the Boston area actually, who are the (Unintelligible - Klarman?) Foundation, who supported us by providing a twenty thousand dollar large gift donation, two years, for us, in a row when we were transitioning from Boston to Virginia. And, I mean, without them I don't think we would have made it past our three year mark. You know, it's like ninety percent of businesses fail by the time, you know, they're three years old. So, we have survived and we are in year six and it's just now that I am like in a position to just jump into that discomfort once again, and put on that kind of fundraising hat... the revenue building hats. So, we have this awesome donor program that we designed because we love creating,
but, yeah, we are looking for donors to help us grow our impact. We are working with one elementary school in Fairfax County, which is one of the largest schools in the district. We need the team and the capacity to impact more schools. We have, you know, the... the connections and sort of have built trust with that school. We've been able to get feedback. We've been able to collect some, you know, data in regard to belonging - but we need... we need more, and we need to be able to share this with others. So we are definitely looking to grow our, you know, our foundation. Really -. the donors are going to be our foundation, we're not gonna be able to do anything without them. So.
Lindsay Lyons : That is amazing. And something too, for, like, you know, if educators aren't sure they're able to contribute on their own, like, the parents and things that you're connected to, the community members you're connected to in your communities, would be a great place to share the news about this donor program as well.
Michelle Goldshlag :Absolutely. Yeah. I think that, too.... I mean, if you consider the... even the corporations or businesses that step up to support education... and even some... I mean, especially those companies that are global and that are moving families on a regular basis and those employees that they're moving have children, you know - they're the ones that are being challenged to adjust to new cultures and build that resilience all the time.
So, I believe we will get there. Just got to find our way.
Lindsay Lyons : That's such a good point. I never even thought about, like, those global corporations, right... to be able to support your employees in this other way. Like, this... this is brilliant. Oh my gosh. "Okay, cool. Is Fairfax County... just out of curiosity... the one that you are doing Closing Circle with?
Michelle Goldshlag :Yes. Yes.
Lindsay Lyons : Oh, my gosh. Do you want... I don't know if you want to talk about that... but that just sounds, like, really exciting. If you want to give a quick overview as to, like, what you're doing with that, I think listeners would be interested.
Michelle Goldshlag : Sure, absolutely. So, it was our newly... this is, like, our newest program designed for the entire school, fifteen minutes, three days a week. So, depending on how much time educators are provided for Closing Circle. And this is another thing, because the school that's actually piloting... and right now there are a lot of challenges with having that fifteen minutes, three days a week. So, I think that you really have to, like, commit to the time if you want to execute the Closing Circle. But there's just a progression... we've broken up themes quarterly - so we, again... first quarter's identity, second empathy, third belonging.
And then the fourth, we actually added global citizenship. Because we want kids to, like, look outside their immediate community into the world, because they should feel empowered to do things now, you know? But, so, we provide content that can be presented to the students that they can then evaluate and question. Right? So, day one they're sort of questioning, okay, you know... For example, we have this awesome art piece... and I'm not going to remember the artist's name... but he walks around and he asks just strangers if he can use his paints to create their skin color. And then he creates a panel that's that skin color. But he does this all the time, right? So he ends up with art piece, they look very minimalistic, but they're just the same size pieces all put together and they're all these different colors and you'd be amazed at how many and how beautiful it is, right? But so, like, for example, kids would be presented this art piece and they wouldn't be told anything about it, but then they would be able to ask questions about it.
And so then the second day is more of an opportunity - and the idea is to give everyone a chance to have a voice, right? So everybody can ask a question about it. Everybody does not have to. And we do have a talking piece that's passed around. But the second day is more of an opportunity to really kind of discuss or evaluate some of the questions that were presented. And then the third day, similarly with the same piece of content, but it's an opportunity to make a connection - so how that student may have connected to any part of Closing Circle that week. And it could be a connection with the content, it could be a connection with another child - anything like that. But, yeah, I think, you know, we are still, like... I know I messaged you the other day... like, it was an awful day yesterday... because when you are vulnerable and you share a new program with people and you offer it up and... and they're like trusting you and you're, you know, working at it and covid... like, everything is still very challenging for schools right now. And when you want more for teachers and you don't want to create more work for teachers, it can be defeating when things don't go smoothly - and things that you create just don't go smoothly.
Like, you need to work through those bumps, you know, and keep pushing. So, yesterday was a really challenging day, but we are working through it. So that's awesome. Thanks Hon. My husband just brought me a latte.
Lindsay Lyons : I love how awesome he is, like, being showcased, like, in all his awesomeness throughout this podcast. It's so great.
Michelle Goldshlag : Yeah. Yeah, he's awesome.
Lindsay Lyons : Wow. Okay, so that is so cool. Thank you so much for speaking to the Closing Circle piece because I think it's such a cool program. I love that you spoke to the challenges of creating it. I think everyone listening can attest to the challenges for creating a new curriculum or a new procedure or, you know, implementing that. And I also think it sounds just... to me at least... it sounds doable compared to, like, here's this year long multi - hour per day thing initiative. You know, when it's like there's so much to do. Fifteen minutes, three days a week, like, here are some really concrete things that you could immediately just go do. And you have a bunch of stuff... I don't want to talk about this too long with you... but, you know, I know you have a bunch of resources, too, for educators in terms of, like, you said the curriculum for each of those four quarters, like, you know, books and things that people could use to generate those conversations. But even if you were just hanging up the podcast today and, like, okay, immediately, you know, next week, I'm just gonna, you know, find a piece of content and ask students to ask questions about it, and then the next day we're going to go back.
I mean this is something that people could do immediately in their classrooms, which is so fantastic.
Michelle Goldshlag :Yes, absolutely. And they should do. Because, I mean, I just... I think about all of the global problems that we have... the fact that things change so rapidly and we don't know what jobs will look like ten years from now when these kids are out, you know, out and and working... that our greatest, I think, resource is this curiosity and ability to question and that that's going to help bring people together and solve, you know, global problems
Lindsay Lyons : And I love how you would name, too, you know, we want to make sure that kids feel like they can do that now instead of... Oftentimes what we do is we talk about kids in the future. Like, "Oh you're going to be a leader in the future. Once you graduate. Once you grow up." And I love that you're really naming, like, we can have, and should have, kids do that now, like, today while they're in school.
Michelle Goldshlag : Yeah. Yeah, and I think that... I mean, I know that you're gonna share ways to connect with me later, but, for example, just something simple and small is that Gallup assessment, which is only ten dollars. And if you had the means to add that to your school supply list, for example, for those age groups... You know, I wouldn't engage in this at all if you're not actually planning to use the information you're provided - but If you are provided that information, and you wanted our help in order to design some ways to use it in order to really root kids in those strengths that they have, and help them to use them in the school community... and even to build connections with peers, because one of the main... one amazing thing about it is that we had this cohort of, like, twenty kids and there were kids in there that would have never thought about being friends with one of the other kids, right?
But then they realized they share the strength and they're put into group activities where they all have this common strength and, like, kind of talking about what that means. And so that creates an immediate connection, you know? And I think that in order to really build that unity you have to be able to identify those connections. And you can't do that without conversation. or, you know, you just... I mean, if, you know, if you're in the knowing then you're going to just know and assume or judge something about another student without asking. And so, yeah, just providing, like, applicable ways to kind of create those connections in your school is going to be important,
Lindsay Lyons :Awesome. Amazing ideas. So, there's so much packed into this episode. There's so many things that you do, so many pieces of advice that you share with people. And so, as someone is listening to this podcast and they're ready to go implement something - what is the one thing that you would suggest that they go ahead, get started with, just to kind of live in alignment with all that we've been talking about today?
Michelle Goldshlag : So I think that that my suggestion is more about them and their personal growth, and what I would suggest is that they actively pursue conversations or time with others that do not share their same beliefs or ideologies and their... I think through that, and going into it with this idea of questioning and development rather than knowing, you know, I think that with that you a) become more comfortable leaning into the discomfort and so that you'll be more likely to do that in class - or at least help kids to do that. And then, you know... I lost my train of thought in regard to b) there was a b)... I mean, you know, let's just throw in there that you'll become a better person. I mean, I just feel, like, so much time is... and it's unfortunate, but, like, so much time can be spent on your own... in your own bubble with your own, like, thoughts with your own ideas.
And sadly, you know, social media is challenging and then it just encourages you to follow whatever it is that you're focused on or interested in. So we really have to try harder than before, I think, to pursue conversations or time with others who do not share those same beliefs. And I think that it will just help us to be more well rounded, more open minded, you know, more empathetic. I mean, the things that happen and go on in people's lives that we have no idea about, you know. So, really just challenging that empathy skill in yourself and I think that that will trickle down.
Lindsay Lyons : Yeah, that's a brilliant suggestion, thank you. And I love this question for fun at the end of each episode - but, you know, what is something you've been talking about, you know, that growth throughout the episode - what is something that you have been learning about growing in lately?
Michelle Goldshlag :Yes. Well, I guess being on your show is a prime example. Yeah. Before we started, you know, chatting today, I was talking to Lindsay, but there are certain things that can be crippling for a person, and I'm a huge introvert. I'm very comfortable being an invisible leader. And I think just becoming a visible leader... and it's not... I don't want to be, right? I am uncomfortable kind of talking out, gaining exposure, but the cause that I serve is greater than any discomfort I could feel.
So, I mean, I'm choosing to do it because I know what is right. I know that it's right for our mission, and for what we're after, and what we're trying to do. And I hope that's an example for others to do the same. Because, in the end, I don't know how long this will take, Lindsay, you know, like a couple of months or a year for me, like, actually kind of coming on and being interviewed for podcasts and stuff where I'll start to feel comfortable. But I know I felt the same way when I had to start having board meetings, you know, and you're working with a bunch of professionals that are in areas of expertise that you're not. You know, like, there's always stages of discomfort... so I know you have to persevere and through it if you want to grow, and if you want to make a difference,
Lindsay Lyons : So well said. This is amazing advice. So, the last thing I'll ask is just... I'm sure people are going to want to connect with you, learn more about Cultured Kids, learn more about you and what you're working on - so where can people do that?
Michelle Goldshlag : Sure. So, our website is cultured kids dot org. And I am at Linkedin Michelle Goldshlag. Our Twitter and Instagram handles are @ Cultured underscore Kids, and our Facebook page is @ Cultured Kids M A for Massachusetts, because that's where we founded.
Lindsay Lyons : Perfect. Thank you so much, Michelle, for being on this podcast. It's been absolutely a pleasure to chat with you and just hear all these brilliant ideas,
Michelle Goldshlag : Awesome. Thanks so much, Lindsay.
Lindsay Lyons : Thanks for listening, amazing educators. If you loved 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. Until next time, leaders, continue to think big, act brave, and be your best self.
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Lindsay Lyons : Formerly a High School English teacher and a new teacher coach in Palo Alto Unified School District, Jennifer Abrams is currently a communications consultant and author who works with educators and others, and new teacher and employee support. Being generationally savvy, effective collaboration skills, having hard conversations and creating identity safe workplaces. Jennifer's publications include Having Hard Conversations; The Multigenerational Workplace - Communicate, Collaborate and Create Community; Hard Conversations Unpacked - The Whos, the Whens, and the What - Ifs; and Swimming in the Deep End - Four Foundational Skills for Leading Successful School Initiatives. Her newest book, Stretching Your Learning Edges: Growing (Up) At Work, came out in May 2021. Jennifer has been invited to keynote, facilitate and coach at schools and conferences worldwide, and is honored to have been named one of the eighteen women all K-12 educators should know by Education Week's Finding Common Ground blog. More about Jennifer's work can be found at her website www dot Jennifer Abrams dot com, and on Twitter at Jennifer Abrams.
this conversation was recorded on August 16th of 2021. Let's hear from Jennifer.
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. Jennifer Abrams, welcome to the Time for Teachership podcast.
Jennifer Abrams : Thank you. Glad to be here.
Lindsay Lyons : I'm so glad that you're here.
I just read your professional bio, but is there anything else that you want listeners to know as we hear from you today and start the episode?
Jennifer Abrams : Oh, I think that I'm trying to be more engaged on Twitter, so I'm at Jennifer Abrams, and please follow me because I follow pretty much everybody that ever follows me. So I'm not one of those... like... I don't know... it's not that I'm not discerning... but I'm very... I want to engage with educators. So, yeah, please follow me on Twitter.
Lindsay Lyons : I love that. Thank you. And so one of the first things we usually start with is this idea of big thinking and and knowing that as leaders and as educators, we want to really enact transformative change that advances justice. And I just love how Dr Bettina Love talks about this idea of Freedom Dreaming, she says they're dreams grounded in the critique of injustice. And so I'm wondering, with that in mind - what's the big dream that you hold for the field of education... for the field of leadership?
Jennifer Abrams : It's not just my dream, I guess I'm following on Dr Robert Kegan's sort of dream. My big dream for education... and for the educators in the field... is that we actually grow up. And when I say grow up, I don't mean to be cheeky,
although it would... it would sort of sound that way. That we actually believe in our development as adults, as much as we support child development. I don't think we do it enough. So, a big dream for the field is that it is full of awake, conscious, humane educators.
Lindsay Lyons : I love that dream. That's amazing. And there's so... so much of a theme, I think with everyone I talked to on this podcast that is dedicated to that dream themselves. They are passionate lifelong learners, they're constantly growing and learning and they see that as just part of their journey. And so I think that's so well connected to so many of the brilliant educators that I've had the privilege of talking to. So I love that.
Jennifer Abrams : Good.
Lindsay Lyons : One of the things that I think is really challenging for folks is to kind of shift our minds away from how we've always done things, or I mean just thinking about your dream that you shared, I think sometimes there... I've certainly heard educators say things like "I'm the one with the degree," you know, "You need to listen to me." And that kind of thing,
that is very traditional minded, that is very much like "I am the person in charge in the classroom, students obey the authority - end of discussion." you know. Which is is not what we want in education, but certainly exists. And so for people who either have either thought that way themselves, or just working in cultures where they've heard a colleague say that, or they've heard a student come to them saying like, well, this... you know... this teacher is operating in this mindset of "I don't need to grow, I don't need to to learn." What would you tell folks who are kind of grappling with that - so that they can have that mindset shift over to what you're saying?
Jennifer Abrams : Okay. So, I was looking at the State of California's standards for the teaching profession... and I live in California... and here the public schools, at least, focus on the CSTPs - the California Standards. And one of those standards is developing as a professional. Now, it doesn't say 'go to professional development,' okay?
Which is great in and of itself. The idea that you go and you learn a little bit about assessment or instruction, or management, or culturally responsive pedagogy, or English learner strategies - there's nothing wrong with any of those things, okay? And the standard says 'developing as a professional.' Which includes something beyond the content. It includes something about yourself developing in a professional way for the profession. And what does that take at this point? That, to me, given your... and mine... I agree with you... that strong stance of fighting against injustice... It requires a different type of developing. And it isn't an 'add on' and it isn't a 'nice to have.' My colleague,
(Unintelligible) would say "Human development is not an indulgence," okay? It is a must have. When you look at today's society... I was thinking just today... and getting a little depressed... that the Taliban, as of today, on this episode, is now taking over the country of Afghanistan, much more authoritarian regime. Haiti has been rocked by an earthquake. There's a tropical storm coming to Florida. There are people defying science all over our country and not wearing masks, and not getting vaccinations. And the world requires that we be a little more developed, I think, to recognize our interconnectedness, to recognize, sort of, the potential that that humans have. And I think that starts with the adults in schools being as developed as we can inside ourselves.
And so I get that yes, you do have a credential and yes, you do have a PhD and yes, you are very capable in certain parts of your job - there's a never ending study about being a humane human being. And working on that will actually serve our profession and should be a part, I will assert, of the expectations we have for our colleagues. So, I don't know if that's going to convince anybody, but I believe it.
Lindsay Lyons : Yeah, definitely. And I think it's really heartening to hear, too. As someone who used to exist in a culture where teachers that I would co-teach with would say things like that, or be resistant to that kind of development, I think it's really heartening to hear if someone is like... there's... I don't believe that this is the way right? Like I believe that we can learn and we can grow. I think that's really powerful to hear coming from you, and I love that you brought in so many different current events and just things that, like... I think there is a call for educators and this is kind of my passion with curriculum to model and to bring into the class their own development in the context of what we are all living in in the world today.
And so I think to have that artificial barrier that sometimes people feel like needs to be present between class and real life and we... we even use language like that, right? Like we're preparing students for when they graduate, like, we're preparing students for this afternoon when they go home and they see this on the news, right??
Jennifer Abrams : Right. That's exactly right. There is, to me... and we were... I was having this conversation this morning... I was up very early to do a training with teacher leaders in an elementary school level, in a group, and they were talking about how they don't... they have a personal persona and a professional persona. And I understand that you might be a little different at home... that's a place where you can kind of let your hair down and all that stuff. But that idea that you're not integrated... that idea that you're not fully aware that the world isn't porous, that you're not a human in your educational role, and that you're not taking in exactly what you said... society... every minute... as you're simply, at the moment in time, the educator in charge of this thing.
God... I mean, I think about... I've been teaching now for over thirty years. And my former students are anesthesiologists and the head of the police force and a former mayor... if we're not preparing them for the real world... I want them to be able to lead me, to help me. I mean, in the end, I'm going to be the elderly person and I want them to be the person that's really taking the helm. And so, to me, I'm not just preparing them for graduation - I'm preparing them to be good human beings in the world. And I have to model being an adult. And I have to a) be the adult, which sometimes we are not in our classes, and b) really share that developing is a lifelong thing, and there is a purpose, and a goal which is so much further outside graduation than... I mean, that, to me, is a piece on their journey. That's it,
I hope that they're constantly going to be developing and not just learning content or a craft, but how to be a better human being. That's what I'm thinking.
Lindsay Lyons : Absolutely. And I think there's so many ways to do that, and I think we all bring our own kind of niched hats for, like, what that looks like. So for me, for curriculum wise, I'm thinking, you know, when we create projects, we want to create projects where students actually get to take action on an issue, they get to apply the content of the scale in a meaningful way and they get to be that humane human that you're talking about, that gets to have agency, right, and a bit of control. And so that's just one example, but I know you talk about a lot of, you know, brave actions that people can take within the context of all of the books that you've written. And so I'm curious to know, like, what's maybe a couple of ways that people can do this? Can be that kind of educator.
Jennifer Abrams : This is gonna sound awfully strange, I think. Keep sharing that you are learning about how to be that humane human being. Go into situations and ask yourself... Suspend your certainty -
Say "What am I missing?" Say "How could I be wrong?" Say "What do you think?" What's your take on this? Give people... you want to know that they have a voice. You want them to have a voice. You want to hear their voice. So, the way that you ask questions isn't like "Can you answer my question?" it's "What are your thoughts about what's going on here?" That, to me, I think will create a more just society because we are engaging in reciprocity and mutual respect for other people and feeling and sensing the dignity. But there's just... in this last book that I wrote about Stretching Your Learning Edges - Growing (Up) At Work, I also speak about taking responsibility for your language. If you have a concern, can you express it before it becomes a complaint? Can you be responsive and not as reactive? If you have to have a hard conversation, can you shape it so it's humane and growth producing?
If you are confused, can you ask for clarification without yelling at the person? "I don't understand what you're saying." I mean, any of these things, I think, are so... they sound easy... and I see that, you know, we're on Zoom and I can see that you're sort of, you know, laughing or whatever... it's so hard. This stuff is so hard to do. But if you model that for kids and you exhibited that with your colleagues - bravo! You know what I mean? These are... this is where I'm a work in progress with all of that.
Lindsay Lyons : Absolutely. And I love what you just named too, because... I'm laughing because I think sometimes we say to students "You need to do these things... you need to engage with curiosity, you need to..." And then one minute in the staff meeting room and you can see that that's not how we engage with one another. And so, I think so much of that is modeling in front of students, but also modeling with colleagues away from students and practicing it, because it is challenging, and many of us work with people who we don't always agree with, and we need to have these conversations with, and we're not having that..
We encourage students too, and so I think, you know, that's a huge piece...
Jennifer Lyons : (Crosstalk) that students do, we expect (Unintelligible). We teach eight year olds to use their words, not their fists, to have with peer mediators on playgrounds, so that we're teaching 'I messages' starting at seven, you know, "When you hurt my feelings, I go..." We don't do that. We go into the parking lot, we gossip, and we "I'm never gonna sit next to her," blah blah blah. And so it's fascinating to me that we are. And I think we're doing this justifiably... understandably... after Covid put us in lockdown and might, again... we have decided that we need to support the well-being of everybody. Okay? And that's great. Okay. So we have SEL, we have well-being, we're dealing with trauma sensitive instruction. I think we need to be trauma sensitive SEL focused for the adults. And we talk a lot about we need to create positive cultures.
We have a toxic culture in our school or we don't have a... And we don't know how to expect from each other that we grow up. That we develop so that we are in... we are in cognitive, not social, conflict. We can discuss ideas, we do not have to be mean to one another. We can be healthy enough to show up in a staff meeting and not use our drama around everybody... or basically we say 'kick the dog'... you know, when you go home when it was not the dog's fault that you had a bad day. This stuff is pervasive in so many places, and yet we say we're a teacher of record, we're adults, we have a credential, we know better. None of this, like, fluffy, fluffy stuff. We don't need to really emphasize that, and I'm realize... and we have lots to get done. And there's been quote 'learning loss.' And so there's an urgency to all of this, so, "Quick, let's work on the task at hand."
Meanwhile we're verbally paper cutting each other by our language, and we're not focusing on team relationship. And I think that it's not either/or, and it's totally possible to focus on your language and get something done. It's not easy, and so we shirk the responsibility. But you can change your language and have the same sentence - and it doesn't take any longer.
Lindsay Lyons : Yeah. So well said. And I'm also thinking, too, about, like, who's... I'm guessing it's everyone... but whose responsibility you see, you know, as... as being... is it, like, I'm working on myself and I can control myself? Is it, kind of, helping as at the department or a grade team level? Is it leader creating space at the PD level?
Jennifer Abrams : Yes. My answer. As you are circling into all of these things, I think that we all need to take responsibility and ownership for creating that culture.
I have heard "Well, if the meetings weren't a waste of time, if the leadership was clearer about dah dah dah." And the answer is yes, they should be. Okay? There should be productive meetings that are useful, there should be as clear of a message as you can get around initiatives, all of that. And, if that isn't the case for you, in one particular moment, can you ask for clarity and focused and purposeful ways? Can you express challenges that you're having, without getting reactive? See what I mean? It's like it's both and all the time.
Lindsay Lyons : That makes so much sense. And I love the things that you are listing in terms of what you can literally do because I think, again, it could be, you know, a rubric for a discussion for a class, you're evaluating students on this and you can also use it as your own checklist in a conversation you're having with a colleague, with a student or with your family at home, you can always be practicing these things.
Jennifer Abrams : You got it. Preaching to the choir.
Lindsay Lyons : And so I'm wondering... I know you've written so many books... I'm wondering if there is a book that we haven't touched on as we start to, you know, close the conversation? Is there something else that feels relevant to the conversation that you want to bring in here?
Jennifer Abrams : That I wrote, or that I didn't write?
Lindsay Lyons : Either one.
Jennifer Abrams : You know, I am... I have this newsletter called Voice Lessons... which somebody at the beginning said, "That sounds like you're gonna teach people to sing," and I'm like, no, it's not about teaching people to sing, it's about, you know, it's about finding your voice and using your voice in more humane ways - and in it I bring out cool resources. So my friend Megan suggested a book which I haven't yet read... so that's why I'm not... I mean it's called Growing Up at Work, which I was like "What? I just wrote a book called Growing (Up) At Work." Okay. But this is another book called Growing Up At Work, and so that's sitting next to...
I'm just going to share the three books that are sitting here... Courtney Martin's Learning in Public where she just wrote about her daughter in a racially divided school - and she's a fabulous writer, and so cool resources. And the last one is Deep in Thought. And it's about, sort of, the values that we're teaching in schools. And so these are all there. And, to me, it's like all of the same - it's about race and class and belonging and inclusion. It's about being an adult, it's about developing your curriculum. It's like... I read pretty extensively across stuff, and I really... actually, as a side note, I really liked... I thought it was lovely, Respect, the Aretha Franklin new movie from... that just came out with Jennifer Hudson - and so I would encourage people to check that out. It's an amazing exploration of development, let's actually say that, she really... she grew... she found her voice and she grew up.
Lindsay Lyons : I love that you brought in that example because I've thought, too, about... because I do a lot of curriculum development and unit development... and thinking about how do we teach skills and how do we create more nuance for, like, the heroes that we celebrate in our curriculum? And that is such a profound way to do it. I mean, I recently read the autobiography of Malcolm X, and I was, like, "Wow! What a learner, what a man who was capable of growth and evolution of thought." Like, we don't typically think of that, because we don't know the nuance and the complexity and, like, that, you know, one page of the textbook that we talk about Malcolm X in. But I think people are so complex, right, and what a great way to bring in video or story or autobiography and study people and then use that as, you know, maybe a journal prompt to self reflect as students, as adults teaching, and to have those conversations. I think that's just a wonderful curriculum tip, too, that you shared,
Jennifer Abrams : That'd be fun. That would be really fun. I wanna create a... I want to... I want to find a theme, and then I want to design a curriculum for myself around that and just say "What should I watch, what should I listen to?"
"What should... you know, what music, what podcasts, what movies, what...? Yeah, it would be super cool. Super cool,
Lindsay Lyons : I love that idea. So, as we kind of are wrapping up, I'd love for you to share what... you know, we've talked about so many things that listeners can do and sometimes I find that in conversation, you know, people are getting all wrapped up and "Oh, there's like a hundred things I could do, and I'm a bit overwhelmed by that." So what is maybe one thing that, as people are closing up the episode, putting away the headphones, and kind of going out into the world - What's something that they could do to live in alignment with some of the stuff that we've been talking about today as maybe a starting point?
Jennifer Abrams : If you are a person who is an extrovert, wait two people before you start talking - that's one thing. So, if you're in a group, you're in a breakout room, you're in a team meeting and you are the person who immediately jumps in - don't. If you are somebody who is very much of an advocate for certain things, it's all good, you could share your perspective and then say "What am I missing?" Period.
"What didn't I think of there? What are your thoughts?" And I think people need more acknowledgment of their capabilities and their competence and if you could in very, very, very small way... I'm gonna give you an example... I have a colleague who is so kind and so powerful when he talks to me... or I experience him that way... where I'll say "Oh, I'm going to do a podcast." and he'll go "Lucky listeners. Lucky listeners.". So I will say to you, lucky listeners, that you have this podcast and I'm so grateful that I'm on it. That... do you see how fast that was? And how powerful something like that is? So it doesn't take that long to do all of these things,
it just takes intention. So those are three ideas.
Lindsay Lyons : Those are brilliant and I love that they're scaffolded, too, for people who feel like they tend to gravitate to one thing or gravitate away from one thing. I love that, that's so personalized. And so, I know we talked about learning and growth, like, throughout the episode - but one of the things that I think it's fun to ask at the end of each episode is something that you have been learning about lately on your own journey. Could be about anything.
Jennifer Abrams : Oh, I am now in a relationship with a boyfriend. I've been in it for a year. And that's unusual for me. I'm never... I'm never home long enough to create anything like that in my life. And we... what I'm learning is we do a check-in every Sunday and I'm learning not only... so the first two questions are interesting, like, "How do you feel about me today? What do you appreciate?" That's great. But the third question is what I'm learning. The question is "Is there anything you feel incomplete about that you'd like to talk about at this time?"
And I used to be super scared that it was gonna be this huge "Why?" "Thank you so much for the question, I've been collecting data for the last seven days and here's how awful you are." Right? I am learning that if I get feedback that stings... in a short burst... that... and it's like one thing... I can still be okay and I'll take it in and it doesn't sting as much and I'm much better. So what I'm learning is how to accept feedback that I could perceive as negative - and how, that, if it comes to me in certain ways, I can really respond in an adult way with it. But it has to be one thing, and then I'll take it really seriously and I don't crumble. So, that's what I'm learning about myself - is that I've got more of a strength than I thought.
Lindsay Lyons : That is beautiful. The check-ins are beautiful, the questions are beautiful - but also just that realization is so beautiful.
And I'm just already thinking about all the implications for students and things, right? Like, wow, that's (Crosstalk)
Jennifer Abrams : I've got a coach group that said "We're going to actually do that. We're gonna do those three questions," you know. Or even two questions like "What did you appreciate?" And "Is there one thing this week that, as a team, you want to share that you feel incomplete about?" It isn't like that you should feel like crap. It really actually is you feel incomplete... you didn't find your voice around what mattered at the moment. You feel incomplete and you want to share it like you have to apologize. Or you should have done this or it could be on you. It does... and so those... just... And this group... this group of coaches... said "We're going to use that at the end of the week together." I'm kind of excited about it. I'm kind of excited.
Lindsay Lyons : That's amazing. Thank you so much for sharing. And then, the very last question is just finally where listeners can learn more about you - connect with you online. I'm sure people are gonna want to get in touch, or follow what you're doing
Jennifer Abrams : Okay. So, I'm at Jennifer Abrams dot com. Two 'n's in Jennifer and no H in Abrams, just A B R A M S. And, it's Jennifer Abrams dot com. And I say that only because if you look me up on Google you're going to find a female bodybuilder because she's Jennifer Lynn Abrams. So just make sure, because I'm not that person. I wish I was that strong, but I'm not that person.
And you can find me on Twitter, you can find me on Instagram, you can find me on Facebook. I'm sort of... I try to create lots of avenues to connect with colleagues. So... find me, please.
Lindsay Lyons : That's amazing. Jennifer Abrams, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
Jennifer Abrams : Thank you.
Lindsay Lyons : Thanks for listening, amazing educators. If you loved 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. Until next time, leaders, continue to think big, act brave and be your best self.
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Lindsay Lyons: I'm thrilled to be able to give you listen a to my conversation with Jaz Ampaw Farr, who is a resilience ninja, international speaker, coach and author hailed in the US as the British Oprah. Jaz has traveled the world advising governments, educators and helping tens of thousands of people with her bespoke leadership development programs, training courses and motivational speeches. As a successful entrepreneur, mom of three and former teacher, She knows a thing or two about galvanizing people into taking action. With a passion for resilience, positive disruption and a human first approach to everything, Jaz's energy is infectious and you can't help but become mesmerized and fall under her captivating spell for reference, this conversation was recorded on November 2nd, 2021. Now Let's get to the episode with Jaz.
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 are 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 Teacher Ship podcast. Let's dive in.
Lindsay Lyons: Jaz, Welcome to the time for Teacher Ship podcast.
Jaz Ampaw-Farr: Hello, I'm very excited to be here.
Lindsay Lyons: I'm so excited that you're here and so I have just read your professional bio and I want to know if there's anything beyond what is typical in terms of professional bios, you know, all the accolades and accomplishments, like how do you define yourself or how do you want to intro yourself to, to the audience?
Jaz Ampaw-Farr: Oh, I'm a world class reframer, that's how I describe myself because the kind of ability to um like reframe stories to make sure that I'm taking responsibility for what I'm responsible for and nothing else and to stand on the truth about myself so that I can fight for the highest good of the children in my care and the leaders that I serve,
that takes a lot of reframing. It also takes, you gotta be like 10% braver than you were yesterday, every day. So that's kind of, I think, you know, that's who I am, that's what I do.
Lindsay Lyons: Oh that is wonderful. Okay, I love that. It's a really great, great um pitch about yourself. So as we think about this idea of, of education and what Bettina Love talks about in terms of freedom dreaming. She says "Dreams grounded in the critique of injustice". I really like this idea of freedom dreaming about schools and education and I'm curious to know what is your kind of dream or freedom dream around education, what could it be
Jaz Ampaw-Farr: Human first, that's what it could be, you know, when people get more responsibility or influence, they start, it's almost like we automatically start thinking we've got to be either professional or human. On the human, professionals do things to other people like schools or school boards that do things to their staff or to their students. Like during the pandemic, I heard of one school, bless them, doing enforced yoga like at one o'clock on Thursday everyone will do yoga for mark, for well-being and you just sort of thinking kind of missing the point, I see what you're trying to do there, but it's a bit tricky to sort of force people to relax.
So doing things to people coming from that space means that you make decisions that are probably the best and probably gonna work when we when we don't consider the humanity of the situation. When we take empathy out of it, then some people do things for others. Now, doing things for someone or being for someone is fantastic and that's where a lot of schools and kick it out of the park, but what's missing is that the child or the parent or the community needs to think and feel and know that you're for them. There's no good me being for you, if you don't feel that I'm for you, I could be fighting for your high school but you're like, I don't know if I can trust her, it's not working. Some schools, some leaders, some people go for with, withness where they actually stand shoulder to shoulder in the chaotic fire in empathy not sympathy. Like in Britain when somebody dies, we always go oh I'm so sorry and it's like literally oh I don't know what to say. Don't talk to me. I'm talking about empathy which is the opposite. That's like I don't know how you feel that's hideous. I can't imagine your pain but I'm going to stand here with you. That's different. It's the withness buys loyalty,
it garners commitment, it rigs of its compliance. That is what human revolution looks like and if it's going to the revolution is going to happen anyway it's going to be an education being human first leaders, human first teachers, human first adults. Schools that are human first. That's what I want to see.
Lindsay Lyons: That is a beautiful dream and I love this concept of withness. I think that's so much of what I talk about in terms of shared leadership and how do we do things with one another and truly partner not just communicate one way but like actually partner with folks. So that's really exciting. And I think a lot of times when we think about the traditional education system it is definitely not that right? It is we are communicating one way and we are doing it this way
Jaz Ampaw-Farr: It's fear based, I think that's the problem and I know kind of in in the Canadian system, in the American system, the Australian system, in the New Zealand system. I've worked with lots of governments and just like in UK, there is this feeling of um from the kind of nurturing guardian everyday heroes in the system, I've got to take the boxes and do what needs to be done and sometimes you know we go into the role thinking right, I'm going to bring change, I'm going to do it, but we failed to future proof ourselves and so over time what happens is that we get like, broken down and heat on and we start saying things like it's the system. When where the system it's not
they are us, them and us, we are the system, they are us. So we forget our agency within that moment and we become, we feel like we're data slaves and we feel like we're just here and we turn the volume down and we don't stick our head up or take risks because people didn't come in to change everything, they came in to do a great job. But it feels like you stop serving the child and you start serving the administration. And we are the magical like tracing paper between the administration and the child. We have to stand. But it becomes increasingly more difficult because of the judgment element, because it's not collaborative. It's judgment like in the UK we have offstage which is a body that comes in and you know, I can or cannot make you cry and like decides what level you're working as a staff and it's all very personal and it's all people are terrified and they say things that I hope we get a nice offset team, were hoping for, hope and hope is not a strategy, this is the education sector, we're not going to leave things to hope, you know. It's like you should be able to say, I know where I'm doing great and I know where I need to work harder and this is my plan for that, interested in your thoughts, but we're scared, we're scared of getting it wrong.
We're scared of making a mistake. We're scared of what other people think. We're victims of comparisonitis, the whole time comparing our from our backstage and everyone else's front stage on social media or "Look at that school, they were on the telly". You know, and that causes us to play small. So it's hard to be, to do with this, when you're only united in oppression. That's, we deserve better than that. Our kids deserve better than that and we can do better than that. But it means we've got to come from an intentional place. We can't be Forrest Gumping our way through education, life, job, work, with our partner, hating our job because our job gets the best of us and they get what's left, not good enough. We deserve better.
Lindsay Lyons: So well said and I appreciate all of the mindset shifts that you're kind of speaking to their around like, you know, this idea of like withness being really front and center. And I love the idea of, you know, not necessarily just blaming the system, but recognizing we are the system, right? We have this agency and that's so important to be able to wrap our minds around to be able to do this work well. So in terms of what that looks like To, to get to that dream, to do withness and to um you know, practice all the things that you're talking about,
what, I mean, I think bravery as you said at the start, right? 10% braver than you were yesterday. I think bravery is a requirement here. And so what are those brave actions that either teachers or educational leaders can, can really take to make that dream come true for their school.
Jaz Ampaw-Farr: Yeah, I think it really starts from getting very clear and reconnecting with the purpose, the reason you came into this job in the first place because all the resources, all the YouTube videos, all the great examples. You can read all the books, but if your mind and heart is not in a place where you are ready to take risks, none of it is going to happen. You've actually got to be able to apply stuff, but it's got to be the driving force. The thing that takes you on that Shero's journey, which is the hero's journey, but "shero". That journey, it can't be something as mundane as well, you know, hopefully we'll get some good grades, because the impact that you have and the difference you make cannot be measured on a spreadsheet. It is not the sum of your greatness. The transformational power is not what appears on a bit of paper at the end of the year.
It's a lifelong legacy, you know, culture, leadership, impact. That's what happens when you're not watching anymore. When you're not even in the room anymore. And when educators, when any adult in school grasps the heaviness and the complete massive power they have to change, transform lives in the tiniest actions that caused the biggest ripples, that will outlive them. That's when you stand on the moment of truth and not on this kind of "Oh my gosh, I don't think I mark the geography books. I must get on. And I've got to try and steal some minutes back at Christmas" and "I wonder if I could", no! So it first of all it's getting, it's putting the right pants on and I mean under trackers English pants, not American pants, getting your underwear on the right way around so that you're not walking around, you know like this all day, uncomfortable where some comfortable knickers is basically what I'm saying. But it's about saying, "Okay, when I go to bed tonight, I can show up as my full fat self or I can hide and feel I'm failing all day and tell myself a story that I'm not enough.
I get paid the same. So which one do I choose for me? For my family, for my children, for the community I said, which one do I choose because it comes down to choice and I wish it didn't. I wish the world owes us a living. I wish we were all being victimized. I wish that was true". But the plain fact of the matter is, is that you are in full control of how you show up. And so when we tie schools values and counties values and school board values to our personal values. And when we see the transformational part, when I talk about transformation, I'm talking about like caterpillar to butterfly, like short fat hairy guy to Beyonce colored bird, right? I think sometimes education, when you hear the word transformation, people are talking about like a quicker faster harrier, shorter caterpillar and I don't mean that, that might be something that happens. I'm talking about the impact of human-to-human standing with, that is palpable. And until you stand on the truth about yourself, you can only, you can only achieve what you believe you deserve. You're only as powerful as the stories that you tell, and if the story you're telling yourself is I'm not good enough, I'm just one person,
what can I do? Nothing will change until your desire for things to be different is bigger than your fear of having a go. And I've learned that the hard way by living a smaller version of myself for like the 40 years of my life, for turning the volume down and trying to blend in and be accepted and it's not that it's about being the human, you were designed to be not the human that the system has crushed you into being, that's really how I try and live in all aspects of life, but specifically that is what's caused the change and the bravery or one thing about bravery, courage is firefighters, right? They see a burning building and they run towards it while the rest of us are screaming, running in the opposite direction, that's courage, that is a practice, embedded skill, art and commitment, bravery is when you are absolutely terrified and you have no idea if it will work, but you still choose to take the first step, very different,
Lindsay Lyons: That's really powerful, I had never heard the distinction before or anyone put it in that way. The courage versus bravery and I think that idea of, you know, facing down your terror in so many ways, especially when talking about equitable education, right?
A lot of, a lot of um a lot of that is related to my sense of self and how I show up and like you're saying there's so much of that and then there's also like the societal pieces, like I totally hear what you're saying around, you know, we choose to show up in the ways that we show up, we have the agency, we can't take that away. And also there's this context, particularly the US right now, there's this context around critical race theory and anyone doing any sort of equity work. Now there's all these states that have these laws on the books that are, if you mentioned this, you must lose your job, right? And so there's like this very real threat of I have no more job, I can't put food on my table and there's like multiple pieces and so I'm wondering like you know, how do we make sense of that and how do we kind of like honor those pieces that make it really challenging. And then also kind of show up as you're saying and kind of have that agency and take on the agency and show that bravery to be able to choose how we show up each day.
Jaz Ampaw-Farr: That is such a good question. I was talking about resilience and mindset and bravery with a conference before Covid and I went to a workshop and I went to an LGBTQ
workshop for teachers and I've been talking about being yourself and being honest and being and they were talking about how afraid they were to come out because the governors, and I suddenly got this massive oh my gosh, I mean and I'm like angry that people feel they can't be themselves, but at the same time I can see how they've kind of navigated. And so, and I know that I am a person designed to stand out and cause trouble. I know that that is when I lean into that, I'm at my fullest self. You know, I'm like, I'm not aiming for everyone to go. Yeah, Jaz is great. You know, if you don't like me, that's great. Don't work with me. We'll both be miserable. So I'm very clear on that. But that's come from a journey of saying what matters most, because everybody wants to be in control, right? But you don't grow when you're in control because it's too comfortable that being in control is great, it's not going to get you anywhere, it's just going to give you a nice journey. The opposite of being in control is being in chaos, and we've all experienced that to some way, shape or form. We've all been through the same storm.
We've been in very different boats. Some people have had a, a nice luxury catamaran with a deckhand and a pair of speedos with a glass of Champagne on a silver tray during lockdown. Some people have been in a rowboat with a hole in it one row missing and a relative they don't like. So, it's not really measurable in terms of, "Well we've all survived". We've done different things, but chaos for people could be something as small as you know, the car doesn't work in the morning. It can be something as big as "I have no family and no way of feeding myself. I mean, it's relative to what you're experiencing. But in between control and chaos is this beautiful golden space of complexity, and in complexity if you can stand in there and it's easier if you opt into it, then if you're forced into it where you stay neutral and you get curious and you ask questions and you come from a position and a kind of stance of genuine curiosity, I mean, we're education right? We should create a space where we can get it wrong when we're saying to the kids, "Oh yeah, try best get it wrong".
When do you make a mistake? When did you last make a mistake? Huh? And if you haven't made one today, you're not trying hard enough because we're supposed to be outside our comfort zone in order to lead the way, when we start putting ourselves in the position, we asked the kids to be in all the time, when we start putting out. So it's not just "Yeah, take a risk". You take a risk! When we're actually one that garners withness, two it garners commitment not compliance, three it buys loyalty, four it's fulfillment, it's not happiness, that's just like cake and beer, it's fulfillment, it's long lasting and five it reconnects you to the reason you came into the job in the first place. It is not going to be easy. It is not going to be easy, when I trained, they said to me, here's a tip, "Don't smile until Christmas". And what they were trying to do was saying, don't make relationships with the kids. Don't let them get too close because you'll get hurt. Well, here's what I'm saying to you. You're going to get hurt. You're going to cry, you're going to carry these kids in your heart and you're going to get hurt. You're gonna carry the staff, the parents, the community in your heart. It is going to hurt because teaching starts with art. It's about relationships and those relationships change lives.
They change the world. So if you want, if you don't want it to be a plumber, I'm pretty sure you can do that job without, you know, getting too emotionally attached. But although I do know some very emotionally attached plumbers, but it's a job where it is going to be hard. I'll also say there are sometimes your values, you know, your values should be valuable, right? They should cost you something. I have left relationships because of my value on towards integrity. I've left jobs eventually because of that value of integrity. Sometimes it is time for you to say not "Not this profession", but maybe "Not this school". It's a buyer's market any that, you know, we're wanted. So, you know, learn to negotiate a bit better, but we wanted sometimes it's about speaking up, sometimes it's about finding an ally, sometimes it's about asking a question, but it's never going to be a comfortable journey. And if you want comfort, you know, there's another way of doing this that doesn't, that doesn't bring about the same commitment, the same change. It's still valid, but you've got it. It can it can only come from you because you can teach what you know, but you can only embed in others where you know where you've been yourself.
And I'm not saying you have to have the same experience, my journey and yours is different, but we both know what fear is. We both know what worry is. We both know what guilt is. We both know the feeling that we're not enough is so it's it's being able to address that in yourself before calling others up to do the same in themselves.
Lindsay Lyons: Yes, oh my gosh, this makes so much sense, and one of the things that one of my colleagues doctor Shoebridge is always reminding me is like, you know, you have to make it about yourself first, right? And so like, so we're always doing like SEL for example, right? Social emotional learning were like, yeah, like "come on kids be all these things and do the castle competencies". And how many times have we actually practice the breathing exercise that we're telling the kids to do or how many times have we, you know gone through all of these things. And so this idea of like adults going first and not even modeling, but like I want a better word than that, but like sharing in the practice of, right and doing that withness that you're describing like we're in this together, right?
Jaz Ampaw-Farr: And you know, you know why that's important as well because as if you grew up in an abusive home or with someone who is an alcoholic or bipolar or something like that, you learn as a child to read body language, facial expression, micro expression.
So I used to think that I was psychic because I could tell when what people said and did and what they thought and felt were out of out of sync with each other. So I used to think that I was like, oh maybe I have some sort of magical power. No, I can read people really well. So if you are not doing it, I remember doing a workshop on growth mindset and one of the leaders said, "Hold on, I thought you were going to give us tips on teaching growth mindset, but this is what you're saying, it sounds like a complete mindset shift on my part" and I'm like, yes, it is because if you want to, you don't try and buy a diamond with a moody £10 note that you make bill printed in this kitchen. I mean you just and these kids are diamonds, they are lives for crying out loud. There are the people who are going to be doing the hip replacement on you in a few years' time. So treat your most expensive resource with a bit more investment and a bit more, you know, go first, go first and I know that some people are in immense pain and it's not about, I'm not saying coming to school in the morning and say, "Oh well I've watched the whole of Netflix last night. I'm an alcoholic and I think I might get involved in some human trafficking on the way to school this morning.
Grade two don't need all that information, but I am saying that you need to be professionally vulnerable and personally authentic, so that you can say to them, "Do you know what? Sometimes I get scared too. Do you know what? This is what I did watch me now. This is what I do when I don't know what to do when I get stuck when I fail. I take a minute and I decided to be a resilient chocolate hobnob rather than a rich tea soggy biscuit". I mean you use your own stories but you're not afraid to be what's the term? Oh, I know human first! It's back to that again. We so often wonder like, well it's in the textbook would just follow and we, yeah, computers can do that. We have apps that could do that better than humans can do it. That the missing element, the human element, the connection, the encouragement that there never giving up, that's not something anyone else can do. And if you ask your kids, I remember thinking I saw this poster once and I designed my own and my poster says "I loved my teacher, I can't believe how brilliant she was. I loved all the data she used to collect on me said no child ever".
So just make an order of the priority of what you do and make sure you put the right amount of, of weight on each one. Because if you ask the kids what the story they tell about you. If you get involved in the story, that your team, tell about you, that's often different to the story you're telling yourself. Your story is well, I'm not very good at this and you know that pep talk, you give yourself in the morning before you leave the house, you look in the mirror and you go, oh I'm fat, I'm old, I'm going gray, let's go, you know, beat yourself before you. It's just, it's like the story we tell ourselves and the story, our class or our teams tell about us need to be in alignment. Those stories need to be in alignment. So, stop putting yourself down, turning the volume down and indulging an imposter syndrome. Don't get me wrong, I love a visit to victimhood. It's very nice seaside town, but you can't live there, you can't exist forever in victimhood if you want to bring about change. So, it feels like I cop out sometimes. I feel like I'm saying you've got to look at yourself but I know what it's like to be on the other side of people who have not done this work and gotten curious as a child and as an adult and it is debilitating, it means people who mean well end up actually causing another adverse childhood experience.
So the cost is too great and the payoff is huge. Human first
Lindsay Lyons: Excellent, excellent points. And I like the cost being too great and also just like the being able to align your stories piece I think is so insightful when we think about, you know, the how often we ask students what the stories are that they tell us or even as adults right? Like thinking about what we personally remember about our childhood experiences in school. I usually open workshops with that question and I'll say, you know, what is the most powerful experience you remember? And now you know, what category does it kind of fall into? Was it like, "Oh I love this particular lesson that we did and I like I learned my ABC's in this particular way", or is it like "I had this deep sense of belonging with this other child or this teacher or this sense of connection", and if we take a moment, just a moment to like, ask that question of our own experiences or the students around us, we will often see that it doesn't reconcile or align with the things that we're prioritizing on a day to day basis. If every teacher were to ask themselves, you know, "What's the most important thing I do today?"
Imagine, right? That like, they would say, oh, get through this content when it's really, like, make this student feel seen or heard or valued, like say that child's name, look them in the eye, right? And we don't prioritize those things. So I really appreciate you naming that we should, that we should be.
Jaz Ampaw-Farr: I think it's hard because it's actually what you benefit from that as well, because it means it makes your job, makes delivering the content easier. It's like you shouldn't be teaching the bus stop method for long division to someone who hasn't had a biscuit. It would be easier if they weren't hungry while you were trying to teach this lesson. So, I'm talking about making it easy on yourself. You know, I'm inviting people to stop, don't make it so difficult, you know, that this is the first stage that will make the rest of the journey a lot more palatable and enjoyable
Lindsay Lyons: Right? And as you were saying before, you know, connect to why we got into teaching in the first place, right? It's probably not to dump a bunch of information on someone, right? It's about making those connections and we got to get back to that if we want to stay nourished and fulfilled as you said, I think there's such a trend, I mean there always has been right, but such a trend of leaving the profession after 3 to 5 years or something.
And like that burnout is real and so finding these ways that we can feel fulfilled um and our students can feel fulfilled at the same time. Like that. Again, that sense of witness I think is so powerful. Um and obviously placing humans first as well, that's just really powerful concepts that I love have kind of threaded through this entire conversation. So thank you for naming this.
Jaz Ampaw-Farr: No, no, one of the questions I always have is, and I feel like you see it in lots of places have been marketing in other places. It's getting the b's in the right order because I feel like some of the schools, I went to had belonging at the top. So it doesn't matter who you are away from what you've done, you belong, you're part of this family end of. And when, when you know that you belong, then you get this belief the second b where they believe in you and you start to believe in yourself because you feel like you belong. So you start to actually believe you might be better than you think and then last comes behavior, you change what you do because what you think and feel has changed. But other schools have the b's in the wrong order behavior came first, you have to behave like this in the way,
And I went to a very kind of white middle class school and I was a foster kid who was mixed race. I didn't have a clue. I just didn't even know how to behave. So, I was wrong from the get go. So, there was no, I just felt wrong all the time. Then you're supposed to believe in the delayed gratification of education, whatever one I know is on the wrong. So why do I need history GCSE and then if you behave in the right way I believe, then you can belong. Well, I can go mug someone and belong to a gang who will actually take care of me and have my back. So why would I try it's too big? So inadvertently we create this lack of belonging within a space where we need belonging in order to build the curriculum on. So it's like Jaz Lowe's, hierarchy of needs is you've got to be safe, you've got to be well and you've got to be seen, and when you're seen then we know we can start teaching. So it's what are the things that you can do to make someone feel that you've noticed that their there. Then what are the things that we do to our friends? You know, we send them a text when they're not around. "Are you all right?" We can send postcards home and the kids aren't there, we could like when schools have to isolate kids or expel them whatever they rather than saying "You don't belong here", say, "look, this isn't tenable, but we will never stop fighting for your high school of believing in you".
I mean, there's so many little things that we can do that actually negate what it feels like to be told you're not good enough. And it's those little things, it's putting yourself on the other side of where you are looking at things with a different lens that allow you to find the whole, you know, tiny random acts of kindness that you can start embedding that will make your job more fulfill, make you feel more fulfilled in your job and make it easier and more impactful.
Lindsay Lyons: I love this framework of the b's and Jaz Lowe's, hierarchy of needs. It's brilliant.
Jaz Ampaw-Farr: I didn't make all this stuff up sometimes it makes sense. But these are all the things that I've kind of tried to make sense of my own experience as a child, as a teacher and as a leader, you know, it's kind of like, well what if we what if, I don't know if it's gonna work and I don't know if anyone, it will probably fail, but who's with me? You know, it's that kind of attitude and sometimes things and things, you either win or you learn, it's one or the other. It's never, it goes wrong to the point.
And I personally think the worst thing that can happen is that things go right the first time and you miss out on an opportunity to embed ambitious resilience, but that's how I feel. But it's that's a way of intentional living for me. I don't just turn it on when I'm in school, that's that's how I choose to be the whole time. So it's easier if you can get an alignment with who you are and what you do be a human being before a human doing, you know, that's the thing that has more impact.
Lindsay Lyons: Absolutely. And oh my gosh, you've dropped so much wisdom, like throughout this whole, this whole conversation. So just imagining a listener, you know, in their car, on the command of community or in the subway or something, and just like listening to all this stuff and wondering like, "Okay, I want to take one step to like, be, you know, in alignment with all the things you've talked about today", what would you suggest that first step is like, what can they do as soon as they, you know, hang up, the ear buds and get to work on this
Jaz Ampaw-Farr: The first thing is, I've got three stickers on my mirror at eye level and I say them every morning, three kind of affirmations, I guess, and it says, I love you, I accept you, I forgive you. Because when I say that and during different parts of my life, different ones of those have been really hard.
I could love and accept myself. I could never forgive myself because I'm holding myself such a high standard. And I think when I was able to say all three of those and keep eye contact and smile with relief and just openness at the end, that's when I suddenly realized what full fat Jaz looks like. And so I say what we do and we hear something great, will go to the conference, were writing scribbling notes and recording it and then we put all these notes in the box of shame that live in the back of the cover and then we feel bad because we never look at them again and all we can remember about the conference is the food was good and I know I've been here. So I would say unless you're planning on checking out, like, you know, tomorrow, I would say you've got a whole lifetime to make these tiny little changes that will make a massive difference. So today, the best time to have started doing this is last year and the second-best time is right now. So, one thing, one thing for the next semester, that's all. One thing that you are intentional about pouring yourself into and it might be not slagging yourself off in the mirror in the morning try that, see how that works.
It might be standing at the door and saying to everyone, "I'm glad you're here". It might be having a give what you can take what you need bowling class. So, when someone needs something, they just, you know, it could be any number of things. But one thing to just commit to doing and collect the data, I know you love a bit of data, so collect the data on the difference. That makes the, the impact that has. And then after that semester is done, you've done that, then do the next thing. You can also elicit a friend. You could do two different things and you double your bubble there, but it's, it's about taking the smallest steps. It's not about rescuing everyone, it's about valuing everyone. What would that look like? Including yourself? Nobody wins if you work yourself into an early grave and you know, you're trying to encourage the students to say, "Yeah, I want to do something great in my life". What if they go into education and you keep saying to them, yeah, you know, it's important, you're important and then they get to your age with your job and suddenly they're knackered and bitter and twisted and hateful. They're gonna feel like you lied to them. So, let's try and get ourselves in alignment, one tiny step at a time.
Lindsay Lyons: I love this. These are great suggestions and and one of the, one of the questions I really like to ask just at the end of podcast episodes specifically, is most of the people who come on here are talking about, you know, like you are growth and you know how, how we personally as adults are continuing to grow and learn and do all these things and so I'm just curious to know for fun, what is something that you have been learning about lately in your own life?
Jaz Ampaw-Farr: I'm learning about how to get my own Netflix season because that's what I want to do. I want to do a kind of Nanette sort of a stand-up comedy that isn't stand-up comedy, but actually talks about story but takes people on this journey because I'm all about, you know, storytelling. So, I've started charting that and you can follow along on social media anywhere. Jaz Ampaw-Farr because I do reality tv, you could put Jaz The Apprentice and you'll find me on google, that's the gift of being on reality tv. But on all the social media platforms, I just kind of send something out every day that celebrates and challenges people so that you can do both. And part of my journey around my kind of Jazzet, stand up piece is going to be within that
Lindsay Lyons: Wow, that sounds brilliant and I cannot wait for you to get your Netflix show.
Jaz Ampaw-Farr: It will happen.
Lindsay Lyons: That is so great. Jaz, thank you so much for agreeing to be on the show and having this wonderful conversation today
Jaz Ampaw-Farr: So much fun. Thank you for having me and thank you for the real brave questioning. I like the big questions that you ask.
Lindsay Lyons: Thank you so much.
Thanks for listening. Amazing educators. If you loved 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. Until next time leaders continue to think big, act brave and be your best self.
You can find Jaz on her website.
Listen to the episode by clicking the link to your preferred podcast platform below:
Lindsay Lyons: Today, you get to listen in on my conversation with Jeff Ikler. He's worked to serve the needs of students, teachers, and administrators, for almost 50 years, first as a classroom teacher, then as an executive with a major school publishing house. As a coach to school leaders, as the co-host of Getting Unstuck: Educators Leading Change podcast, and as the co-author of Shifting: How School Leaders Can Create a Culture of Change. For reference, this episode was recorded on January 19, 2022. Let's get into the episode.
[upbeat violin music]
Lindsay Lyons: 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 are 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.
Lindsay Lyons: Jeff. Welcome to the Time for Teachership podcast.
Jeff Ikler: I'm really excited to be with you, to be on the other side of the mic this time, you know? It's been a while since you and I talked and it's-- I've really been looking forward to this.
Lindsay Lyons: Absolutely, me too. It's really exciting to do a podcast exchange. This is gonna be so fun.
Jeff Ikler: Yeah, very cool.
Lindsay Lyons: And, so I know I just read your bio at the start of the episode. Is there anything you want to add or anything you're thinking about that would kind of frame the episode for us? What should listeners know going into this conversation?
Jeff Ikler: Well, I have a couple of things and they're-- I guess they're tangentially related. I don't think my professional bio says anything about the fact that I may want to be a fly fisherman, and I do as much fly fishing as I can, but I don't get off on the water enough. But what I have found is that and I think a lot of fly fisherman, fly people, fly fisher people would echo this, that there's just some magical quality about fly fishing.
It's not about, it's not about the fish. Yeah, I love to catch fish, but I love standing in the water and I love you know, feeling the breeze, and being out in nature and that sort of thing. And what it does is, it helps me slow down. And what I've been trying to advocate and some of the work I do is to slow down. The term I use is downshift and to downshift to such a degree that you don't miss certain moments in life that I call them, moments of serendipity that might have special meaning for you. And because of the pace that we move at, I think some of these moments pass us by. So I think that's one thing that I'm very focused on. The other thing, which is very, very selfish, is that I'm contemplating a semester abroad because I never had-- when I was in college, I just don't think-- at least my college didn't offer anything like that, that I was aware of that, I can remember. And I don't know, I don't think I'm going to do it in history, it's gonna be something totally different.
But the idea is to really immerse myself in learning something that I've been very interested in. A subject that I've been very interested in, but it's not necessarily, you know related to the work that I do, either in coaching or education.
Lindsay Lyons: That is beautiful. Oh my gosh, I love the "Don't miss moments of serendipity," and I'm very excited for your semester abroad. So this is gonna be great. You'll have to update me once that happens.
Jeff Ikler: Yeah.
Lindsay Lyons: So line with this idea of kind of Freedom Dreaming that Dr. Bettina Love talks about, I love starting each podcast episode off with this idea, and you just kind of shared some dreams there as well just for your own life and catching those moments of serendipity and exploring and learning new things. And so I think this is a great direction to kind of continue in. What is the big dream that you hold for the field of education? Keeping in mind, Dr. Bettina Love's quote about Freedom Dreaming, which is "Dreams grounded in the critique of injustice.".
Jeff Ikler: Yeah, so that's a great question.
And I can answer it in a couple of ways. We did an interview a while back with an educational researcher. His name is John Hattie and he's from Australia. I'm sure you know of him and his work. He's-- what he excels at is bringing all these educational studies together; studies that measure the effects of educational reforms and what he said, and this has just stuck with me, he said just about anything you do in the classroom will improve performance. But the two things that improve performance way above anything else : our teachers examining their practice to see what works and to shape their practice accordingly; and two: helping kids to examine how and why they approached the problem the way they did to get them to, it's more of a meta-cognitive exercise than just having them work problems and then not discussing,
"Well, how did you approach this? What was your thinking?" And the issue is, and a second interviewer nailed this, he said, we know what works in education. We're not doing it. And that's to me, the bottom line, is that we have all this great research. We know that kids respond to agency. We know we should be focusing on 21st century skills that kids can use in the workplace and we're not routinely doing it. We're still stuck, you know, the term people use a lot is the industrial model of education and we're still stuck there. And It's after being in education for now, 50 years, that-- I just really dated myself. Okay. It's tragic that we know what works and we're not training teachers to routinely do this. So that's-- I think that would be my big dream. That's the second part of that and a book I'm going to recommend that has had a major influence on my thinking.
It's called The Advantage, and it's by a, like I don't think he's a sociologist. If he is, he's like a business sociologist. His name is Patrick Lencioni and he wrote the Five Dysfunctions of Teams. But The Advantage speaks to the fact that his research shows that organizations and their leaders are typically set up in a couple of different ways. One: they tend to either focus on the work. They're very technical, they focus on strategy, marketing tactics, infrastructure, technology, and so on and/or they focus on the people doing the work. So one is a very technical look and one is a very human look at the work and what he calls it, the groups that the organizations that focus on more of the technical aspects he calls them smart because businesses have to do this, right? These are smart activities and they're all around decisional sciences. The folks that focus on people are referred to as healthy organizations and you don't want to, you don't want to do one or the other.
You can't survive as just a healthy organization and you can't survive really really well for a long time as just a smart organization. So his research shows the organizations that do both have "the advantage" and I just did air quotes for your, for your listeners. Now, we've applied that to education and we actually do this in the book and I just did a major workshop with Learning Forward where we talked about this and we took this idea of smart and healthy and from my perspective and my co-author's perspective, educational institutions tend to focus more on the technical side of teaching. All right, more on the content. This is the content that needs to be covered. These are the skills that need to be covered and what we're seeing is that a lot more attention has to be paid to the kids who are walking into the classroom and what they're carrying in their backpacks beside books.
All right. And that to me brings up this idea is and we can talk about this now if you want. But, a lot of universities aren't focused on that. They're focused more on, "We're going to produce the kinds of kids that we always produce." That was my experience now, it was a long time ago, I was totally unprepared for the classroom. I just, I didn't look at my kids as kids, I looked at them as receptacles of historical knowledge and I wanted to impart, you know, everything I knew about american history to them. But I didn't think about them and why they might be withdrawn in the class and why they might have their hoodie up on a certain day or why they would sit in the back of the room. That wasn't my focus. So those are the kind of the big dreams that I have is that we look at what works and we start to implement what works on a more-- on a grander scale. There are a lot of schools that we can point to, a lot of districts that we can point to that are doing this kind of work and we make sure that when we're producing graduates, both at the college level and the high school level, that they're able to look at the world with these two lenses: the smart and the healthy.
Lindsay Lyons: I love that vision and I appreciate your vulnerability and just sharing like that, that you didn't feel prepared, you know, when you went into teaching because I would say the same thing. A lot of the things that I've done as a coach have been to try to support teachers, to not have the experience that I had of not knowing, you know what was going on and thinking in that way that ed-prep organizations and universities just don't adequately prepare teachers for.
And I think that's part of why we have, you know, burn out and we have, you know, a lot of struggles that new teachers have because we're not adequately preparing. So I really appreciate that dream and then I also appreciate that you're kind of starting to think about, help us think about, you know, the mindset shifts that are required for teachers and also for organizations, schools like K-12 schools, but also universities and places that prepare teachers to go teach that's really required to get to that dream. And so I'd love for you to share a little bit more about like, you know, how do we shift mindsets around this new priority? It's so hard, I think sometimes to get away from those accountability metrics and just, you know, the things historically that we've looked at and said like this is the gold standard, we just need good test scores or whatever. And we're starting, I think to shift our mindsets around what great education is, but how do we do that or what does that look like for you?
Jeff Ikler: In my perspective is going to be coming from the podcast that Kirsten and I have been running for almost five years,
Getting Unstuck. And we've interviewed a lot of superintendents, assistant supe-'s and principles. And my advice in this area, "How do you shift mindsets"? Don't wait for these beams of golden light to come down from the federal government and the state governments and even from the departments of Ed. Real change happens at the district level. It happens at the school level and for really, really gutsy people that happens at the classroom level. And we just-- we can't wait for these big reform movements to come. Even common core, which I thought I really liked common core and I was able to separate common core from the assessments that were tied to them. In common core, it often gets a bad name because of the, you know, the assessments, but what common core tried to do for kids I liked, but it was terrible in terms of its rollout. Teachers weren't prepared for it.
They weren't-- they didn't get enough professional development and there wasn't a timeline to ease them into it, if you will. So my advice there is don't wait. Hook, hook yourself to inspired leaders and there are inspired leaders out there. We've had, we've met some wonderful, amazing people who are doing great things and they're doing the things that we talked about earlier. They're focusing on, they're focusing on what kids need to, not just survive, but to thrive post high school and there is a, in the districts that I'm thinking about, there's a de-emphasis that everybody's got to go to college. There's an amazing superintendent in Park Ridge, Illinois. His name is Dr. Ken Wallace and Ken has structured a whole system of training whereby kids find good paying jobs, really, really good paying jobs without going to college because they've taken certain types of courses in high school. They've done internships and when they graduate, they're ready to go in as junior this or apprentice this and they don't incur, I don't know, Lindsay what you incurred in your doctoral program, but they're not incurring any of these, you know, these major costs.
And another district, in Anaheim, California, Mike Matsuda is the superintendent out there, major shift that they did. They said, we're gonna stop trying to funnel all kids through our system into colleges. So, you know, they're, they really-- their heart is in the right place. They're trying to develop these kids and they're really, really trying to support the communities that these kids come from. And because a lot of these, like in Ken's district, in the main township district, it's a very diverse community. There are some very, very wealthy families, but there are a lot of people who are on the lower economic spectrum and he said it's just, it's-- we don't want to determine for parents where their kids go, but we want to provide the options for where they can send their kids if that makes sense?
Lindsay Lyons: That makes so much sense. I think that the idea of having choice and, like you said, agency is so critical for this, right?
So the more agency we can provide and make it a true choice, not like, oh, this is, if you can't do college, then you do that, you know, like real choice.
Jeff Ikler: Yeah exactly. That's right.
Lindsay Lyons: That sounds great. Yeah. So you kind of started talking about, you know, the actions that these leaders are already taking. Are there things that you would tell listeners, either individual teachers or educational leaders that is kind of additional tips or strategies of like how we support folks in getting there? I know like you were talking about the rollout for a common core. I'm of the same mind. I actually love the idea of common core. I think the rollout and the kind of like forcing it into the way that it has been made to be adopted is not great. But I think if it was framed in a different way of like, "Oh, it gives you the freedom to teach priority standards and go in different directions and give students choice." Like, a lot of teachers want that. But when we think about like kind of at that action level, how do we bring folks into this kind of dream and how do we get that mindset shift kind of rolling?
What does that look like, kind of, for leaders and teachers?
Jeff Ikler: Yeah, great question. So there there are a number of things that people who are reform minded should keep in mind and I-- probably the most critical is don't decide and announce. Don't come in as a school leader at any level and just say "This is what we're going to do". You have to, you have to get input. You have to build buy in from people. Not everybody is going to go along, but I've been in too many change situations where the change was simply handed to people and you can look around the audience in a big auditorium and you see people sitting like I am with my arms crossed and it's like, "This is the change of the month," "Somebody went to a conference," "So he read a book now, he wants us to do this,", right? So make sure that whatever your "Why?" is, that you're getting, you're getting input and it's understood why you want that "Why?" Like, the superintendents that I was talking about earlier, the ones who were shifting from, you know, a college mindset, they worked with community members, they worked with local businesses, and they worked with junior colleges to understand what is it, what do we need, what do you need in terms of kids coming graduating from high school, what skills do they need, what attitudes do they need and they built their wire around that. And also has to do with really carefully defining the problem because a lot of times we go into change situations and the problem that we're trying to define or we think we're trying to define isn't universally understood and you get people, you'll actually hear this.
"I didn't know we were trying to do that." Well now you're in real trouble. Alright? So getting people bought into the "Why?" The other major thing, a friend of mine, Lyle Kirkman, He's an educational researcher. He did, he's done a study over 30 years with school leaders and he found that there were what he calls Seven Competencies of High Performing Leaders and he's determined this through various assessments and interviews with their superintendents or what happened. And what he found was that they shared an urgency for change. But what we have found in interviewing people, yes, there's an urgency for change. But the urgency is around the issue. It's not around the time. Because many of these reformists that we have interviewed, they've been at this for seven or 8 years. They have, they have decided this is what we need to do, but sometimes they make missteps and they had to restart in some areas.
So the urgency for change is we need to do this because we need to prepare our kids differently. That's what we need and there has to be an energy around it. But it takes time to turn battleship or titanic-like educational institutions so that every-- so that it's going, you know, in the right direction. So don't think that this is going to happen overnight, It has to be built upon, alright? So those would be two I-- those would be two ideas. I mentioned, talking with external stakeholders, right? That especially community, community members, because a lot of times the businesses, when the businesses are brought into the local high school, you see great results because they said, you know, you're sending us kids who can't, who can't do the basic work that we need. So, that would be one. The other thing is that my friend Lyle found out is that high performing leaders tended to diminish the importance of compliance.
So if they're asked to do stuff either at the higher levels of the district or the State Department, they do what's required of them but they do it to a degree that it doesn't become this big time-suck. They do it. It's a checklist because what they have found-- what he found is a lot of times districts will send these reports into the state : nobody's ever reading them. They just want you to do the report, right? So do the minimum, get by and then get back to the real work. So those would be, those would be some things that I would say that they need to do, they need to be thinking about.
Lindsay Lyons: I love those and I think that connects really deeply to kind of adaptive leadership and shared leadership in the work that I do around, you know, sometimes we address a problem. Like you're saying you carefully define the problem. Sometimes we address the problem. It's like, oh, we just do a little PD training on that and we're totally fine. It's like, oh, there's a much deeper problem underlying all of this and we just haven't got there yet.
Jeff Ikler: Exactly, exactly.
Lindsay Lyons: And you can't figure it out until you bring in those stakeholders
you were talking about like the community members and the caretakers and families and students and people who generally aren't part of the conversation of identifying the problem in the first place. So I think all of the things that you just named are so foundational to doing the transformative work that we really need to do. So I really appreciate that. And I also appreciate that last piece. I think oftentimes of leaders, successful leaders as being almost like a buffer from that compliance stuff for their school. So like, yes, I'll check the box and get whatever I really need to get done. But I'm not going to put that pressure, transfer that pressure onto, you know, the teachers and the students and the families, we're going to do what we do best here. We're going to take on those adaptive challenges and make decisions as a shared community. And we're going to do what we need to do to survive. But we're not going to transfer all of that unnecessary pressure that's really not helpful. And so I just think there's so much wisdom in just what you were sharing. I'm just kind of freaking out about it real quick.
Jeff Ikler: It was interesting because this came right out of the research that this is what high performers do.
They've learned that it doesn't count. It doesn't matter how much energy you put into it, You know, nobody's going to send it back saying this was wonderful. A. You get an A, you know, Mr Superintendent, you know, So anyway.
Lindsay Lyons: Yeah, that's such a great point. So as we're kind of continuing this conversation here, I'd love if you would tell us a little bit about the book you co-wrote with, I hope I'm saying their names correctly, but Kirsten Richert and Margaret Zacchei, thank you. It's called Shifting How School Leaders Can Create a Culture of Change. Do you mind just telling us a little bit about this? I think listeners would be really interested in reading this book and grabbing a copy.
Jeff Ikler: Yeah. So, just some backstory on this: Kirsten and I worked together at a major publishing house and we were in the same department for a number of years. So we experienced many of the same trials around change initiatives that would, you know, come down from on high and I had seen many stops and starts or starts and stops and change when I was a high school history teacher.
So we actually lived what Kirsten and I called the Shiny Penny Syndrome, which is-- or the Fruit of the Month Club change idea is that, you know, we've started to change because somebody went to a conference or they read a book or they read an article or they talked to a well intentioned thought leader, and now we're going to do this. You know, it doesn't matter if this is what we need, it's just this is what somebody was advocating. And we went through that, you know, when I was a teacher, I certainly lived that when I was at the publishing house. So we said, well, how do we get teachers to, how do we have school districts to avoid experiencing what we actually lived? And that was the idea behind the book. Now, what-- there are a lot of books on change out there, but what we did that I think is unique, and it's been appreciated is that we interviewed tons of people, tons of practitioners, and we got their stories and we built the narrative around their stories. So if we're suggesting a certain strategy and we're pointing out an issue, we've got a couple of practitioners talking about it, that they lived it.
And so it's not just our three voices. It's that we went and we found people who could talk about good things that happened and not so good things that happened. So that was one thing. The other thing was, as I said before, was the-- "Why?" that was often missing. It's very often missing in school reform that we don't have this agreement. And there's not an opportunity for buy in or input and we have a, one, we start the book with a wonderful story from a superintendent in Texas. She was a new superintendent, and it was-- her initiative was a terrible failure because she didn't get buy in. And she, you know, said to us later, she said, "Oh, thanks for starting your book with my story." You know, it was a riot, but we did have, we had the second part of her story later in the book, she did another change initiative and did it right, and it was a huge success. So she learned from it, but that, you know, we learned from other people's mistakes.
So I think those were, those were some of the big issues. We wanted people, you know, to avoid the potholes, we call them the potholes of educational change. And that was the impetus.
Lindsay Lyons: I love that. And I think continuing, kind of that line of-- you are so connected to so many administrators and teachers and people with these amazing stories that really bring to life so many issues that readers or listeners to your podcast can connect with and feel like, yeah, this isn't just someone telling me to do this thing, it's happening. This person went through this, and that's such a valuable teacher : other people's experience. And so, as you have interviewed all these folks who are really doing the work that we've been talking about, like, really moving education away from that industrial model and trying to practice the leadership skills that we've been talking about today on the podcast. I'd love to hear a little bit more about the three leadership skills that you've identified, that really, kind of allow them to lead those kinds of shifts that you've seen in those narratives that have come through in those interviews.
Jeff Ikler: Right.
You mentioned one of the skills and I'll get to it in just a minute. But the first thing when I think of the administrators who are pulling meaningful reform off, they are all-- they all have what I call realistic vision and the vision, and this may sound a little bit opposite-- oppositional. Yeah. Vision is something that you aspire to achieve, right, and we want it to be big, we want it to be that big dream. But what can happen sometimes is that it's so lofty, we haven't built in the intermediate steps that tell us that we're actually starting to accomplish it. So that's why I say these people all shared a realistic vision. It was something that people could instantaneously understand. We want our kids to be prepared to enter the world of work once they graduate. All right, well, what does that mean? Then
they would detail it. Alright. It doesn't-- it's not something that we want all of our kids to go on to ivy league colleges and to become PhDs and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. They wanted realistic goals, but they were visionaries. They had an idea that they wanted to pull off. Okay, so that was one thing. They weren't afraid to fail. And this was really important. One of the assistants, oops, I talked to in Merced, California, he said we made a lot of mistakes and when we made mistakes, we went back to people and we admitted that we made a mistake, that we're not gonna do that course, we're not gonna take away that or we're not going to implement this, it didn't work. And so we're gonna start over and that's why I said earlier, be prepared for these things to take a long time. So you have to be prepared to fail. And what's so interesting to me is that when you read a lot of leadership literature, this is-- that point is often something that thought leaders talk about is that you have to have the attitude that there are going to be failures and to celebrate failures, you know, what did we learn from this?
So that was, that was one point and the other thing that you mentioned. They're very, very adaptable and flexible. That's part of this, not afraid to fail and if you do fail, you gotta pick yourself up and change and move and move forward. And I think the third thing, a wonderful interview with a principal in Pennsylvania who said "Learn how to be a good number two in your own building as a leader". Learn how to be a good number two. If people always see you as number one, they're not going to rise to express their voice, but if they see that they can stand along next to you that can be, that can be very, very powerful for them. So learn how to be a good number two.
Lindsay Lyons: Those are amazing, I love those three and I think you've shared so many specific examples of various administrators and and stories and I think again these are just really helpful to be able to concretely think about what this looks like and you, you know, you co-host a podcast, your-- you have multiple podcast experiences in hosting, in the hosting world.
I'm just wondering, are there any other ideas or words of wisdom that have stayed with you from all the various guests that you've interviewed in these spaces?
Jeff Ikler: I would go back to what I said much earlier, which was what John Hattie was talking about. Those two points about we know what actions have the biggest effect on student performance and we should be religiously doing them. Teachers need to be, they need to be given the time to be reflective about their practice. They need to have conversations about their practice and they need to be helping kids to be reflective about how they approach learning. That to me far and away is one of the the major takeaways.
Lindsay Lyons: And so powerful to come back to that. So I appreciate you doing that. As we kind of wrap up the episode, I think one of the things that you know, listeners kind of get excited about listening to the whole conversation and they're like, I want to do all these things and so what is kind of one step or one next step that people can do as they're kind of like hanging up the earbuds and they're like, all right, I'm going to take action now, to really live in alignment with the things we've been talking about today?
So there there are two questions that I'm fond of offering people and I'll read these to you, okay, because you can get them into the show notes or whatever. One of the questions is, "When students graduate, what do we want them to be able to do with their knowledge and skills as they confront uncertainty in our complex and rapidly evolving world?" So what's the expectation for these kids? And that expectation should dictate how we're preparing them. The second question is, "How do we help students develop a sense of purpose and meaning so that they feel they can have a positive impact in life?" And this idea of purpose and meaning, it goes back to, you know what you and I talked about a few minutes ago, agency. It's getting kids to express what's important for you to learn? What energizes you? What do you want to study? How do you want to approach this? I was working with a couple elementary kids yesterday and one was so precious. I said, what do you like to do?
And she said, art is my favorite class. She's nine years old. And she said, "And I'll tell you Jeff," and she talks like this, "I don't like mathematics". So here's somebody already at nine who's been encouraged to think about, what is it that you like. You know, what is it that that turns you on? And she, and you know, looking at her work, I can see that. So I would ask people to look at those two questions and look at their system, you know, the system that they're in and say, "How well are we approaching those two questions? How well am I approaching those two questions in the work that I do?"
Lindsay Lyons: I love those two questions as like a kind of accountability metric that feels more helpful than a lot of the accountability metrics that we have in place. And so I love that. And I think you kind of-- this is a fun question I like to just ask at the end, you kind of talked about it right at the front, but something that you're learning about lately, I think, you know, every guest on this show is like really committed to learning as a lifelong kind of learning process. And so I'm just curious to know, is there anything that you're learning about lately?
Could totally be related to education. Could totally not be.
Jeff Ikler: Yeah, so I talked about serendipity earlier and another way to say serendipity is, "I stumbled upon". Alright, I stumbled upon... and this is a podcast I listened to periodically. It depends on who she's got on, this is called On Being. And you're shaking your head. So you've heard Krista Tippett and she had Professor Suzanne Simard on and Suzanne is a forest ecologist and her research has proven, and you're gonna get a lot of shaking heads on the other end of this. She has proven that trees talk to each other. Now, they don't talk to each other like you and I are, but they do send messages to one another and they do it subterranean-ly. They do it underground through these very, very complex networks of a-- roots, sub-routes, and sub-sub-routes.
And it's amazing because, to me this is the amazing part, is that it should be a model of how we look at ourselves as a society. That we're-- we are intrinsically connected to one another. You know, and I just think it's a beautiful metaphor. I encourage people to listen to that, that podcast On Being Krista Tippett, Professor Suzanne Simard and maybe they'll stumble into something that's important for them.
Lindsay Lyons: That is beautiful. I absolutely love that. Thank you for sharing that. And now I'm going to go listen to that episode. Final question for you, Where can listeners learn more about you or connect with you online?
Jeff Ikler: So my website is www quetico, Q U E T I C O coaching, all one word, queticocoaching.com/blog. That's where you'll find the podcast. But.com is the website itself, so that's where they can learn.
Lindsay Lyons: Excellent, Jeff. Thank you so much.
This has been an absolute pleasure to have you on this show. I really appreciate you being here with us.
Jeff Ikler: Oh no, this is a lot of fun just to sit here and talk to a friend. You know, microphone to microphone and I wish you all the best going forward.
Lindsay Lyons: Thank you so much.
Lindsay Lyons: 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. Until next time, leaders, continue to think big, act brave, and be your best self.
You can contact Jeff through his website: www.queticocoaching.com.
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.