Listen to the episode by clicking the link to your preferred podcast platform below:
Lindsay Lyons: Sean Priest has been the principal at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, California since 2014. He helped drive and strengthen a culture of equity and systemic reform in order to serve the large and diverse bay area population of students and families. Sequoia's priorities under Sean's leadership have been shifting grading practices towards greater equity, expanding inclusion in the schools I. P. Program, implementing mindfulness practices schoolwide, and developing future leaders in education. He completed a Stanford Principal Fellowship in 2017 and leads school accreditation teams for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Prior to becoming a school leader, Sean taught Spanish and AVID for eight years.
For reference, this episode was recorded August 18th, 2021. Let's hear from Sean Priest.
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.
Sean Priest, welcome to the Time for Teachership podcast.
Sean Priest: Hello. Thanks for having me. This is awesome.
Lindsay Lyons: Thank you so much for being here. I'm excited for our conversation today. I know I just read your professional bio, is there anything else you would like to say to further introduce yourself to our listeners
Sean Priest: Only that I really feel, and this is every day that I have the best job in the world. There's no two days that are alike. Being a principal is always exciting, it's challenging, but those challenges are worthy and the problems that we solve are ones that help make people's lives better.
And over the years I've gotten to know so many amazing people on their good days and on their bad days, they've definitely enriched my life.
Lindsay Lyons: Oh, that's awesome, thank you so much for sharing that. I love that. And so one of the things we like to start with on this show is this idea of freedom dreaming and kind of the dreams that we have for education and I absolutely love Dr. Bettina Love's quote about freedom dreaming where she says, dreams grounded in the critique of injustice and really kind of what we're talking about. And so with that quote in mind, what is the big dream that you hold for the field of education?
Sean Priest: Well for me it's all about empowerment. I think about our students coming in and we use this phrase equity and access equity and outcomes a lot as part of our, you know, discussions around our values and how they inform what we do. And so for me it's all about empowerment. It's all about helping students understand what their story is. And how to, I think draw from that story.
Lindsay Lyons: I love that, that's so great and I love that equity and access equity and outcomes as well. When you think about kind of the equity journey that you and your school have kind of taken and the practices that you embody as an educational community, were there times where people had to like shift their minds from more traditional grading, traditional assessment, traditional practices to what you have now, or was, you know, the mindset kind of already present in so many of the educators and it just kind of has, has been refined and honed and flourished, that I'm curious about this minds at peace because I think for so many listeners who might be in traditional schools or have colleagues who are, you know, traditionally grading and they're trying to experiment with something different, you know, what is that mindset shift that maybe needs to occur in a traditional setting, to be able to have more equity in assessment and equity and outcome?
Sean Priest: Yeah. For us, what was successful was really grounding the conversation from the beginning and values. So I, you know, I never came to my staff and said, here's what we're gonna do because I think it's the right thing. I feel like sources of authority are at there are our strongest when they are grounded in sort of a moral imperative, You know. I mean, I can get the building to get out onto the football field by turning on the alarm and going on to the loudspeaker because everybody acknowledges that my authority as the principal is to be able to evacuate the building and keep people safe. But when it comes to actually changing classroom practices and having people who have maybe been doing something for some way for their entire career and are used to that even before they started into teaching, those are, that's a much different conversation. And so to ground those changes in, hey, I'm the principal, this is what I want to do. Or even, hey, your department members are doing this. I need you to come along. You're gonna have a very low rate of return.
So what we've done from the beginning is sort of exercised in conversations about values. And I've been really explicit, I frame my values around questions, you know, so I'm saying like I need people to know that to be on the same page as me,
you're affirmatively answering the question, do you believe that all students want to be successful in their learning? I mean that's just like the fundamental for me, right? It's not just students, all people, people want to be successful in the things they said about to learn and to master, otherwise they wouldn't set about to learn then to master. Now, that's not always the same thing as being successful in school, but it pretty much, I think it's true across the board, whether it's skateboarding, video games or calculus.
And then the other question that I always follow that one up with is do you believe that there are things outside of students control that are impeding that learning or impeding that success? And so now it gets really interesting because the third question is, do you believe that it's our duty as public educators to either dismantle those obstacles or boost kids over those obstacles or take a sledgehammer and try and crash down those obstacles so that our students can break through. And, and for me, that's what's exciting about, you know, working in this field, that's what's exciting about public
and guess what I've said for years that public education is really the frontline of the civil rights movement in this country, certainly. And so the answering affirmatively to all those things leads them to where I think the biggest kind of intersection, when you think about what are those obstacles and what are the roots of those obstacles, whether their cultural, whether they're systemic within education, whether their socioeconomic, whether their cognitive, whatever those obstacles are, that impede students from their learning. For me, it then becomes a question of, okay, let's let's look at our grading practices and how, how we grade, right? Unless it's purely a reflection. And then the way that we give feedback unless it's purely a reflection of how successful the student has been in mastering the standards. What is it, what is it then? Is it reinforcing some of those systemic obstacles? Is it reinforcing some of those cognitive obstacles and then we can start to have a real conversation that's grounded in this moral imperative, right? I believe I answered yes to those first three questions. Why am I still giving extra credit for tissues for Kleenex boxes?
Yeah. So that's kind of how I ground those equity conversations. What's been really cool though, is that over the past two years, and again, you work in a community that is brought at least for me at a large comprehensive high school and where we're at where we're situated, we serve community pockets of a large community that are going to come with their own ideas about social justice, about equity, about public education. And so sometimes, and this has been always been kind of a frustrating thing for me, because I take language very seriously. Sometimes I found myself kind of couching these conversations in the sort of euphemisms that I would maybe rather not use. I'd rather be more explicit. And so what's been cool about the last couple of years is that we've just been calling white supremacy culture, white supremacy culture, we've just been calling racism, racism. And so that's been nice because now I think for anyway, for our staff and, and you know, having been here for a while, we've been able to hire and orient enough teachers around our values so that now we're kind of on the same page in a big way. For a school with 130 teachers, to really have these explicit conversations and really ground these tough, hey, I'm going to change what I'm doing this year conversations in because I have to unless I want to be continuing to uphold some of these systemic issues.
So that's been powerful.
Lindsay Lyons: That's amazing. So I love the idea of framing it as question values of questions. I think that's such a great way to engage people in that conversation. If the initial language is like a barrier to engagement and then having that language paired, that's like really precise and honest paired with the questions, I think it's a lovely kind of combination to engage teachers in that journey. And I also just love the quote that you said, that education is the front line of the civil rights movement. I think that's so profound and so much of what we're doing, right?. If we're not educating for justice, what are we really doing here? So I think that's really great.
You talked a bit about assessment and I know we wanted to dive into that conversation a bit more. What does that, you know, look like to have equitable assessment and so thinking about kind of the brave actions that it takes to kind of continue an educational community in the vein of justice and equity. What steps can leaders take, particularly when thinking about grading and assessment, You know, what does it mean to be anti racist and how we grade or assess students?
What does it mean to be equitable in assessments?
Sean Priest: Well, I think, you know, the most important thing is that you're, the grades that you give, and how you determine what those grades are, and the feedback that you give students about how they can, you know, demonstrate their mastery, right? As it connects to those grades, has to be consistent. And it has to be just about the learning, right? And it's really hard because what I've found over the years is that very few practices that I would call inequitable, especially around grading and assessment, come from a place of wanting to uphold inequities. In most cases, what I've found is that, you know, the kinds of things teachers are doing, things like participation grades that are highly subjective, are a lot of times away for teachers say, well, this kid doesn't do that well on my tests. And I don't, but I don't want to give him a D. I want to give him a B. So let me just give him a huge participation score, which, you know, okay, you feel better because the student got a B, but in reality that's a, like almost designed for that one kid, right?
As opposed, and maybe you put that in place because your first or second year as a teacher, you did find yourself going through with the quarter at the semester and there was that one kid, like, I can't, I just don't feel right about this, I got to switch things up and have this, you know, a nebulous, subjective way that I can sort of alter grades when it comes time to at the end of the semester, so that I can, but it's just then over time that that becomes a practice. And how much does that erode from its initial intent to being away for you or for a teacher to uphold practices that ultimately, you know, don't help kids or don't help your school in your school culture be more equitable. So those are, and so those are really hard to let go of as well, because you see, I come from this place at, from a good place.
The other one, I think that's really tough for teachers to let go of is the motivation piece, right? And the idea of homework, which to me has always been a, you know, a social justice issue, right?
Homework is an equity issue and whether or not a student has a job, especially when you're talking about high school. You know I was in a US History class with 11th graders last year or last week sorry. And just I had a few minutes to, I was covering for a teacher and they were done with their assignments. So I just started talking with them and I said how many of you all had a summer job, you know like raise your hand if you work this summer. And I knew, I mean I had an idea that there was gonna be a lot of students who raised their hands. And sure enough it was a good 80% of the kids in the class. So then we started talking about where they had worked, boys and girls club, chick fillet all over the place. You had a whole range of, and so to understand, yeah everybody's working, everybody's proud of that work. You know, that was the other thing is that the kids lit up. They all got really quiet and listen to each other as they were talking about what their summer jobs were, right? And so this idea, especially when you're dealing with high schoolers that everybody's just going home, everybody is going to a desk and turning on their lamp in their room and opening their, cracking open their books and getting to work and if they're not doing that, they don't care about their education. Like that's a really archaic idea.
If I reframe it that way, everybody is going to roll their eyes and say, well, that's not what I believe. But if homework has a 40%, 60%, 30%, 10% value, you are in some way acknowledging that that's what you believe, right? And if you're saying, well, if I don't put a grade on to it, then the kids won't do their homework. You know, it sounds great. Everybody's like, yeah, if you don't put any value on and there are kids who purely do homework for the value of it on as it affects their grade because that's how they've been trained and they're good at learning.
And there's other students though, and a lot of students who getting a zero on the homework does not mean, oh, shoot, I better do my homework tonight. It doesn't change anything because maybe they don't have that kind of choice for those kinds of opportunities or resources or maybe it's just not a motivator. So I think kind of disabusing some of those notions, right, that kids will not continue to work. Because we've seen examples, within models that don't grade, you know, that don't provide value to homework where again, that appears that pier equitable model where the grade truly is a reflection of how well the student has been able to demonstrate mastery of the standards. Here are the things that everybody is going to learn in this class.
Here are the ways that you're going to be able to demonstrate. And there are lots of ways that you're gonna be able to demonstrate it. And as few of them as possible are time bound. In other words, if you can master this, you can show me that you've mastered this in october, great. But if you can't do it until March, also, great because we've got the whole year together and the most important thing is that you've mastered this standard at the end of it.
Now, you're starting to open up conversations about what are ways that were actually differentiating for some of those cognitive differences in students, linguistic differences in students and again, some of those things socioeconomic or cultural where kids don't have necessarily the same amount of time and resources at home to do things like homework., so those are again, those are the conversations that you open up when you start really, I think giving staff time to step back and reflect on what their practices are really are. Because I think that's the other thing is we're just in such a fast paced environment. We don't take a lot of time to step back and say, okay, we are going to really look at what we do.
We've been lucky through our Education Foundation will be able to fund a release day for every department.
So each department has pulled out of school once a year and we've done that for gosh, the past, I think 13 years or so here at Sequoia. It's been a while and for many of those years we will, we've looked at grading explicitly, right? And the conversation always starts with like a little self assessment. So just on your own, everybody take your laptop and go through this questionnaire and then let's look at the results and really think about how, what you do aligns with what you profess to be your values, and that's where you get the aha. And then it's not me saying, hey, I need you to stop doing this practice, it's the teacher thing, I need to stop doing this practice because it's, it's actually harming kids.
Lindsay Lyons: I love so much of what you just said, particularly, I love that you were able to have that release date for each department. I know as a teacher when I finally got to a school where we would, we would have a day, we would usually use as curriculum development like we're in a department, we're brainstorming the cool curriculum that were, you know, personalizing for our students and I love that also, I think it really connects and you're kind of speaking to this beyond just like the grading and how you actually give the reflection on a student's piece of work and what it is,
great. It's also creating the opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery in a variety of ways, which is also curriculum development in a way, right? It's where do we enable students to have multiple opportunities in multiple means? And I love that you said it's not time bound because I think that's the other thing that teachers who are kind of shifting to that idea are struggling with or I've heard that they struggle with is, but I need all of my class to be on, you know, this particular unit and this particular moment in time so that we can move on together. Whereas that's just not how student brains work. And so, you know, recognizing that it's going to take people more time. And also recognizing, you know, these are the skills as you said, and these are the standards that we're assessing being really thoughtful to and what we're choosing to focus on and center and have multiple opportunities throughout the year to practice and demonstrate mastery on, I think is a huge kind of planning piece to this, this equitable assessment work and also very necessary if we want to have equity and how we grade. Because if we say there's like, you know, 500 standards that we're going to, you know, assess students on,
it's just impossible to give 500 assessments multiple times for each standard. And so it's really, I think that priority conversation sounds like it might be I am wondering I guess is that part of the conversation when people have those released days of how do we plan for this? How do we plan the standards and the assessment pieces?
Sean Priest: Yes. And you know, we we've been lucky here at Sequoia to have very smart and strategic department chairs who have partnered in creating, you know, the sort of the the next, you know, step in a day like that, right? So we lay out, here's how the day is going to start, and then where do we envision this going for your department? And each department is kind of in its own place as you do this kind of work. You know, we were never, we never sat down and said we want to be a standards based grading school by, you know, 2015 or something like that. We said here's what we want to do. Here's what, here's where we want to go. We want it, we want to like expand equitable grading practices across our school.
And we would love that to mean that let's say 50% of our teachers, our curricular teams rather are doing this consistently within three years within five years. And then it became really a conversation with the department chairs. How do you think we get there? And what is this day look like?
The reason that the fourth, you know, I went through those three of those four questions. The reason that the fourth question question for me is about grading as opposed to, let's say, just you know, standards or curriculum or some other areas because I do feel and you you touched on it, I think, right? That all these conversations spiral out of grading for me, that's where they all sort of meet. And because you do you know when you are thinking to yourself, I need to come up with a grade book, and each grade book has to have an item in the grade book and each each item has to have a point value and those point values need to be weighted so that you know. That kind of dictates how your whole semester is going to lay out, that's how you're gonna build units, lessons the whole thing, right?
Whereas when you say like, the goal is to, you know, by the time we run out of days, right? that my students will have been able to demonstrate mastery of these, let's say 10 standards. Then it's a whole different conversation about how you sort of structure your time and I think it allows for a lot more creativity and freedom and certainly that we get back to this idea of empowerment, right? The most effective models that I've seen are when the teachers have designed an interface, and some of the grading platforms do this okay, but that where there is an interface that the student can interact with, where they can actually see where they're at with all of those standards. That's the conversation, right?
That is most interesting in this is when you just run into a kid in the hallway and you ask them about their English class and instead of telling you what novel they're reading, right? They tell you, oh, well, you know, what, what are you working on now? Well, I'm trying to get better at, you know, defending claims with evidence, like that's like, okay,
yes, like that's what I want to, that's exciting, right? And that's ultimately what, you know, because there's that's something that the kids sees, hey, this is something that makes me more effective and more like this, This gives me power, this allows me to flex and and so that's really exciting to me when you can, when you design a model, the whole course kind of comes kind of shakes out of this model where where it's all about students really understanding what they're doing. And if they haven't and it takes a lot of that anxiety to away, like, so we have a whole component of our school site plan that addresses socio emotional wellness and balance, right? I feel like when we talk about grading that's a huge source of stress and anxiety for kids, whether it's the kids who are trying to get into uber competitive colleges or whether it's kids who just don't feel like they belong because they've never, You know, had success academically and so that by the time they're in 9th, 10th, 11th grade, I just sort of given up on school as being something that's there for them or something that's theirs.
This model of saying, you know what, you have a lot of power here, right? And your ability to demonstrate master, we're gonna give you lots of opportunities and different ways you might demonstrate that mastery. Now, all of a sudden that changes the equation. It makes it so that this quiz on friday isn't do or die if I do great on it, awesome, if I don't, it doesn't sink my grade, I still might get in to Ramona even though I didn't do well on the quiz on Friday. And I think it just creates a better sense of balance of the school and then you can really say, hey, we care about wellness and students say, yeah, but I'm like doing eight hours of homework a night or yeah. but this teacher keeps failing because I don't, you know, bring my homework in or I'm late to class. So I keep losing points. So do you care about me?
Lindsay Lyons: Yeah. Such profound examples. And I love that you're talking about voice and centering, kind of a student voice and student power and ownership of this process. And I think, one of the things that I'm curious about is you as a leader are dedicated to leading schoolwide growth towards equity.
You see that in the conversations about grading we've just had, and I'm curious to know kind of two questions related to that. One : What are the sources of authority that informed, like how you lead and how you're an equitable leader? And then also like what are the actions that if a listener is thinking, like, I wanna, you know, lead equitable change in my school, that you found to be really successful in advancing equity in your school?
Sean Priest: So the conversation about sources of authority is for me rooted in a, and I keep it close by here. I'm not, this is not, this is a book called Moral Leadership by Thomas Sergiovanni. And I was introduced to this book probably seven years ago and he's explicit about naming the different sources. There's lots of sources of authority, right? So my ability just to have a conversation one on one maybe with one of my staff members and their orientation to me and to the school and to their profession, that might be enough. I might be able to just say, "hey, I really need you to do this. It's really important to me." but that's not gonna work for 130 teachers and it might not even be sustaining, right?
That might not be something that teachers like, great, I'll do whatever you say. And then when the next person comes along and says, now I need you to do this and say, okay, I'll do that. But for me that again, that this was the highest authority comes from that moral source, right?
So it's not like, I hope that nobody at my school is doing work around equity because they think that's what I want them to do. I hope they value my partnership and know that I'm there to support them and defend their work if it comes under scrutiny. But I hope they're not doing it just because they think I want them to, because that's not sustaining, right? The work should come from the idea that to, but do this would be sort of an abdication of this, I think very, very sacred duty that we have in public education, which is to dismantle some of these obstacles, whatever obstacles we can to keep our students from being successful in their learning, because it's a really sacred covenant, I think that we have, right? I mean, you're setting more than anything.
We talk about the skills of the 21st century and do we know what our students are, the jobs, they're even going to have? All that stuff is very interesting, is sort of a thought exercise. But at the end of the day, like if we don't graduate students who feel like they can be successful in their learning and that they can, that they will be successful in their learning because they have specific strategies and skills and examples of where it's worked and that's the ultimate failure, Right? So I find that to be I think the most potent source of authority. It's again, it's not about necessarily systems that we put in place or things that we do, but really the taking the time, setting aside the time to have the conversations where folks, you know, very, very smart professionals come to these conclusions on their own and or maybe pushed to do so, but it's not about because you know, the the principal says so or you know, I want to do what Sean says, that's not sustaining,
Lindsay Lyons: I love that you're emphasizing to throughout the conversation just that moment of reflection or those moments of reflection, because I think that for colleagues, you know adults, but also young people in classes and having that ability, like you're saying to recognize they can be successful in their learning both in and out of school, both now and in the future and that I think is the moments where I have seen personally myself learned most, and also the students in my classes learn the most when we actually take the time to have those reflective moments and think about what worked for me, what didn't work for me?
Let's have the conversation. And so that reflection, I feel like it's just such a strong theme, whether you're leading a staff or you know, you're facilitating a classroom learning experience, that reflection seems to be really critical to leading equity work and growing and being really an empowered kind of agent of change for oneself.
Sean Priest: Another reflection that we have this, Yeah, is how do we model what we want to see in the teacher's, right? So if I'm, you know, advocating for teachers to let go maybe of some of their authority, you know, things they've held as authority pieces in their classroom, or if I'm advocating for teachers to look for ways that they can empower students through their practices, you got to do the same thing, right? You can't be an autocrat and then expect the other to work the other way. So, in terms of school leadership, you know, it is there's lots of opportunity that's kind of always the first question that we ask when we're trying to design some of these experiences as our admin team are working with our department chairs or some of our other teacher leaders, how are we going to model what we want to see in the activities that we do?
Lindsay Lyons: It's such a profound kind of concept. I remember I, we were talking before we started recording that I used to work at a NPS school or international network for public schools and they have these principles that they operate under and one of them is a shared learning model and so that's exactly what it was. It's we as adults are modeling and doing the same exact things in our own growth and development that we aim for students to do. And it opens up so many cool conversations where you can just talk to students about what you're learning and what you're doing and we've invited students into professional development. And we've kind of co learned together and there's so much opportunity when you're able to work and operate in that way. So I'm so thankful that you brought that up, I think that's super cool.
Sean Priest: I'm fascinated by the idea of how to bring a stronger student voice into the, like actual nuts and bolts professional development, right? I mean I think there's like two there's two kinds of professional development. That there's a professional development where I tell you what you need to know, right, to do your job or what I think you need to know to do your job or somebody thinks you need to know.
And then there's a professional development that like helps you think about how you're going to solve the problems that you need to solve to do your job, right?
And that second one, you know, there's like, there's the first one is like kind of that, I think the mandatory HR training, like you need to watch this video for 60 minutes and answered 10 questions. The second version to me is like the much more interesting. So if I'm ever, wherever designing activities for our staff of the departments that doesn't fall into that second category, I know we're on the wrong track. But to me that the richness of being able to look at our professional practice through that lens, but with students, you know, as a part of that conversation, that's been, that's something that I have not figured out, and so I'm super interested in how to do
That one that we've tried a number of things, what I find to be really challenging is our ways in which that a real authentic student voice can get to the table right? Because when you have students who are at the table, the whole, everything changes right? There's this like, it's the, they're thinking about,, what am I doing here, what do they want, what do people want me to hear, what, you know, what do you want me to say?
So every once in a while, you kind of get lightning in a bottle, but I've never quite been able to crack what it is. That would be, my guess is that it can't be one off stuff. It's got to be ongoing, you've got to establish real trust and I think it would probably be the kind of thing where, you know, a model that could be developed that as part of a kind of a regular classroom activity, whether it was using, I mean, and I think you see some of it in restorative practices, I think this could be very valuable in developing the kind of trust that would really push educators to be responsive to student voice in their practice. But in terms of making it happen Schoolwide, it's been something that has been elusive thus far. So I'm always interested in hearing more.
Lindsay Lyons: Yeah, and I would love for anyone listening, if you have thoughts that you want to share, absolutely go for it. I'd love to hear that for me, one of the things that I've realized, and I'm trying to think about, there's the organization that I cannot think of the name of, that is based out of University of Vermont that has really cool student voice and youth adult partnerships stuff. That they've been doing, where they have students who again, yeah, you're right, it's this ongoing thing with their student groups who actually lead professional development.
So it's actually almost kind of like version one of what you're talking about with pd. So it's like a transfer of information but it's student led. And so it's like here are the things that we see, here are the things that you can do to partner with us in curriculum development and facilitation of learning. And so that's kind of one approach that I've seen
And then the other just factor that I think is really interesting in the research that I've seen is kind of the tokenization of students. So like you're saying like bringing in students. If you have a smaller number of students than adults, like your ratio is like one student to 20 adults in a pd, that's absolutely what happens is the students kind of like, I don't even know why I'm here and they're kind of conforming to whatever the adult dynamic is, versus having like 50/50 split where now the students are like, okay half of us are students. You know, maybe my voice is more meaningful and authentic and value to the point where I can disagree with my teacher who's sitting across the table and that's okay, that's why I'm here. So I think that's a really interesting dynamic and I'm totally learning this as well.
So again, any listeners who want to share some ideas, I'd love to hear that. But I think a really valuable goal that you're striving for as well to do that more with students. So thank you for sharing that.
I think we've talked about so many different things today on the podcast and so I'm curious to know for the listeners who are kind of finishing up the episode and ready to take action. What's one starting point? Like one thing that you could encourage someone to kind of start the journey toward leading equity, equitable grading practices, whatever it is, what's that first thing that they could do?
Sean Priest: So number one, I think is taking the time to really reflect on and articulate your values. And the articulating them I think is a key thing because I think it's easy to sort of think about, why this is what I value and it's important to me, it's important to me. But then write them down and say them out loud, right? And then come back to him the next day, right? It's not a one off and see them all out again and revise them and really think about what they mean to you and whether or not they really are part of, you know, your professional identity.
And if they're not to make sure they are, and be able to articulate and be comfortable articulating into all kinds of people, right, to students, to your colleagues, right? Don't don't be shy, like be proud of those values. That's an important first step, because then what you can do, I think is you can do some sort of a self assessment of your practices and reflected what is it that I do? Exactly, right? Whether it's around assessment, grading, feedback. And then how much do I, you know, how much do those practices can either conform to or, maybe, you know, go against what I profess to be my values.
And that's a that's a really cool journey to go on, because I think then then you just you've you've opened yourself up. For me, I've seen this be kind of a real career changer, right? So I've had a number of teachers who are at that sort of 14 to 18 year mark in their career. They're really, really good, really good teachers, amazing with kids. They know their stuff, they have that, you know, they never break a sweat.
Kids love their classes are challenged and they're, you know, they're all about equity. And then you have this conversation where you start saying, okay, well, let's really look at the things that you're doing and where are there ways that we're maybe upholding some of these things that are keeping kids out and it's been, you know, it's rejuvenating. It's like, all of a sudden, now I have a whole new sense of purpose
And it's not to punish anyone for what they've been doing. I mean, we all have, like, this is a journey, right? And that's again, modeling that idea of lifelong learning. There's tons of things as a team. I mean, this is for me, is that when I look back on my eight years in the classroom, there's all kinds of stuff I was doing that, I'm like, oh my gosh, I can't believe that I was in there. There are also little seeds of things that I didn't know why I did them, but they turned out to be like, that's pretty cool that I did that. Like, I had no equity framework to necessarily, you know, explain why I was doing that. It just sort of seemed like the right thing to do and now that I think now that I know more about this now that I've read more things that I learned more and I've seen more examples, it's like, that was pretty cool.
So I think it's, you know, it's important not to say like you've been doing it wrong for the last 14 years because people should be very proud of a career in the classroom. That's like an amazing accomplishment to reach a decade to reach 15 years, but it doesn't necessarily have to mean that you, you're on the backstretch and that you can just sort of coast in to retirement. It really hopefully, can be a point of rejuvenation for teachers
Lindsay Lyons: And I love that what you're naming their about lifelong learning is a perfect segue into this question that I just asked for fun for the most part, but being lifelong learners ourselves, I'm just curious what's something that you have been learning about lately? It could be related to education, but it could also be anything.
Sean Priest: Well, I'm so, I'm fascinated by, like ideas of information and knowledge. So I was reading a book. It's by Susan Orlean, it's called The Library. I don't know if, The Library Book and it's sort of about like it tells a story about the fire, there was a fire in 1986 in the L A Public library, the central library burned down, had a pretty bad fire. But that's just the through line, through which she sort of, I think looks at a whole bunch of different ideas of how the concept of the library has changed since, you know, the 19th century or before, as a as a public institution.
And you know, she's talking about the library is being this place where it's open to everybody. There's a sense of kindness that pervades it, right? You don't turn people away unless they're disruptive or whatever. And you have this, I think this sense of like we can take on problems without necessarily having any sort of, like agenda or political bent. And so I was thinking about that library model and how much it's changed. We sort of had a renaissance of our library media center over the past five years. We have an amazing media specialist and as we look at that as a model for, you know, what information looks like in, you know, as we move ahead and how we process information, we hold information. I'm very interested in these ideas of just like what it means to know something? I guess it's filled epistemology classes I took when I was a philosophy major, but I'm still very interested in this idea of like, what does it even mean to know something that the whole knowledge when I've got, you know, the greatest library in the world has ever seen in my pocket.
And I'm really fascinated always about these, I like anything I can read where it's like talking about, like what is the nature of knowing how is that evolving and how does information, you know, empower people. Because that gets back to this idea again for both professionally and personally as I'm sort of, all about empowering.
Lindsay Lyons: That is super fascinating. Thank you for sharing that. And now I really want to read that book. So that's going on my to read list. The last question I have for you is where can listeners learn more about you, connect with you, find your school online so that they can learn more
Sean Priest: Well, I'm, you know, I'm not, I don't have huge social media footprint. I am on Twitter and I get a lot of great ideas. I'm at capital P priest, capital S, capital M, and you know, I think I like to follow a lot of sort of voices and education, voices and equity. I learned a lot, and sort of go down a lot of rabbit holes that way. That's probably my best social media. And then, you know, our school Sequoia High School is in Redwood City California. You can see a lot of work that our department has done, just kind of browsing around the website.
What I'll also do is I'll share with you the self assessment tool that we created for our teachers as part of that department work that we did around equitable grading. I think it's just a Google form. It's a real, but again, it's something that you can copy and create or modify for your needs if you're in school leadership or in on the education forefront.
Lindsay Lyons: That sounds amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that and thank you for this conversation today Sean,
Sean Priest: Great, thanks a lot. Good to be here.
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 find Sean on Twitter or on his school website.
For transcripts of episodes (and the option to search for terms in transcripts), click here!
Time for Teachership is now a proud member of the...
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.