Jen Cort is a diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice consultant working with schools and organizations in multiple countries. As an educator and clinical social worker, Jen has served as an assistant head of lower school, head of a middle school, and senior administrator as well as a counselor in lower, middle and upper schools and private practice. Her goal is to create spaces where students, and all community members, can be seen and heard while learning to be visible and use their voices in productive ways.
Jen has presented at national conferences, hosts a diversity institute, is a frequent contributor to publications, and her work has been quoted in the Washington Post, and New York Times. Jen is the host of an internationally syndicated podcast “Third Space With Jen Cort”.
Jen has several trench stories: She talked about when she was the principal at a MS, had interns from deaf university & kids had been taught hand motions. Jen saw a student at the other end of the hallway. He looked tense, Jen asked how he was doing and said she had a meeting to go to. Before school opened the next day, his mom was there, was furious. She was understandably upset and Jen admitted what she did was wrong. She wanted to make it OK for the student & his mom. She said she did see him and could tell what had happened. She came up with a strategy, when you think you have heard or saw something, respond, don’t limit it to just hearing but not responding. She wants students & parents to be in partnership with her. Another the week of recording, she used wrong label “gender” instead of “sex” during diversity class. Asked students to “please let me know if you don’t get where I’m coming from”. She created a space where she could share that. She found resources she could email the students. She could do more work around her bias and shifted focus. On the same day, she was working with students in a different school. Had a jamboard (app) open, they need to share thoughts around a racism conversation. They created a new page on jamboard, she didn’t know they’d done this. She hadn’t given the right directions. The space was created for that to happen by Jen not being clear. In learning from mistakes everyday, she hopes kids will let her know what she does wrong. She works with inclusion, justice, and gender identity. Unfortunately our biased habits are so engrained.
Talk about your own podcast journey: She recently started her 3rd season. Had idea for a few years. “Third space” is a term in architecture. For the anniversary show- they did clips of “what’s one thing”- many recent episodes focused on debriefing election results with students. She had a dream of having a podcast. Spoke at an online conference (MADPD), didn’t know much about presenting online (this was pre-COVID). No one came to her session. During online happy hour, she was asked about what she learned. Talked about developing content but said that no one came. Her current podcast producer was on the happy hour. He said she should have her own show, even though she didn’t “fit the mold”. Brought in guests to bring in their expertise. She knew people from presenting with them. VoicED.ca- education forum by educators, podcast is through that site. She has a volunteer producer (Steven). It is for & by educators. She did no planning at all, was asked to do her own show. It’s her PD in front of the world.
Tell me about your AMLE speaking engagements: She is a regular speaker, writes for them a lot, has been involved with them from the beginning. Is on the board of PMALE who hosted an online conference late February this year. She has written for AMLE and PMALE many times during covid about caring for teachers, kids. They find resonance between what she writes about and and what they want to highlight. Recent piece on having zoom camera off or on & equity. Supporting LGBTQIA+ students is also a topic she writes articles about. Rosalyn Weisman, co founder of “Cultures of Indignity”, has been a guest on Third Space. Wrote Queen Bees and Wannabes.
Let’s speak about voices of the unheard, systems that keep inequity in place: Kids have a lot more language around diversity, inequity & justice today than even just 5 years ago. We need to say to kids we are learning and we make a lot of mistakes. There are so many terms around this that have been ingrained with kids. When she looks at structures within a school, and looks at inequities between teacher & student. We as adults need to examine our own bias. Focus on sustainable and systemic change. Talk to alumni students, parents, faculty. A lot of PD was just talking about bias but not addressing how to confront it. Do your policies reflect equity, hiring, goals? Even when you contract with vendors. She works around U.S. and intl. Many schools say they care about diversity but don’t know how to connect it. An example for LGBTQIA+ are assuming pronouns. We need to create a space for pronoun use. Provide anchor points to students. Say “parents” instead of “mom & dad”. Bring people along into the language. When you know more, you do more. People need to think how they’re messaging to vendors. She put out a workbook about hiring practices and diversity. She’d love people to read her resources from amazing thought-thinkers. Her work is centered on kids having teachers who understand how to bridge the gaps with students. It’s a process, you don’t always know how to proceed. Having agreements around students as to how you’re going to use gender pronouns is a place to start. When a student is changing their gender expression around gender, we need to listen and honor their labels. If it’s hard for you, you have a lot of bias. You may be cisgender. You have to work around gender and identity.
Tell me about the Montessori High School you currently serve as counselor at? Her school wanted to continue with the Montessori model up through high school. It has been around for 3 years. This year is the first year as 4-year high school. They’re co-constructing their own educational model, making up as they go along. Every 2 week the in- person students do experiential ed and go on hikes. They need to be physically connected despite socially distant. Jen has developed zoom scavenger hunts, and colleagues are helping her with remote counseling ideas. She supervises remote counselors as well, it’s good she’s able to be in the role as well. She’s working on an online escape room. Every student & teacher present on a topic they’re interested in every week. She hadn’t been a counselor for a while, now those she works with they are able to think creatively, post questions to other counselors how they’re doing with online services. She asks her students all the time “what do we need to hear from you”?
Key quotes: “Develop language around themselves around mistake making. Don’t have fear around making mistakes”. Use the time we’re in to not be in front of the room. Have students do more project-based work. “Deconstruct our internal systems of inequity. Admitting you have bias means admitting you are human”. AMLE has whole series on nurturing parent-teacher relationship during remote learnings.