Episode #57: Ann Hlabangana-Clay
Ann Hlabangana-Clay is an instructional coach for in a K-7 school in Williamston, Delaware. After 26 years of consulting, teaching, presenting, tutoring and coaching PreK through 12th graders & adults across the U.S. and around the world, she still absolutely loves what she does! Ann has taught and led in Pennsylvania and Delaware, in public and private schools, in high need/high risk areas as well as gifted and talented students. In addition, she has taught in a TAM setting, a SAM setting, and taught a pre-college English course at a local community college. The legacy she leaves as an educational consultant and podcast host, is building capacity and resiliency within, one client and one podcast listener at a time. previously taught K-6th. She is the podcast host of Coaching You Through All Things Education.
Tell me about a time you came out of the trenches: Not that many years, ago people in education weren’t focused on the whole child. People were very focused on data & testing: student achievement. Not addressing SEL, physical nature students have when approaching an assessment. She’s tried to advocate for students who need a voice, give them an opportunity to show their strengths, even now for older students. What she got out of it was that this was important & valuable. A number of students and families were grateful for the advocacy for them, now SEL is popular. Would go back to college. She did a lot of different extra curricular, art and psychology. Ann needed to balance, not get overwhelmed. People were against what she was trying to bring to the table in terms of SEL and growth of the whole child. She thinks it was so easy to calculate test data but not emotional growth. Test scores are better funded. Pandemic has helped us to reevaluate approach to and prep of students for testing, taking into account anxiety.
You rebranded your firm in Feb. 2020, tell me what that entailed? It was different type of consulting, it was more about Tier 1 instruction, very evaluative. Not as much as for educators who were struggling. It was for people who were doing well, wanted to do better. Tier 1-Tier 2 instruction. The mindset was “this is how it should be every day”. Focus wasn’t “let’s prepare for a specific evaluation”. Now during the pandemic, people are dealing with more than classroom management. “I don’t know what I’m doing is coming out a lot”. A lot of people were swinging by the seat of their pants. People felt like they were running out of ideas of how to engage students. Other piece of helping teachers was social-emo learning. Biggest rebranding was that people need information, articles, know what to do. She reached out to creators people who create webinars, like Teacher Pay Teachers. She has a webinar platform, you pay for the link. She works with districts to bring out of the box. They need help with tech tools. Whole child education. Districts want to learn to infuse SEL into each content area. Private schools have more autonomy, more time is infused into their PD. Affluent districts tend to use resources and built SEL opportunities into the schedule.
What’s one thing in particular that districts you serve need? SEL both student and adult SEL. How to utilize social media for educators effectively, and how to contact parents effectively. Particularly in Delaware it’s policy in the state, trickle down effects. We in education don’t do collaborating enough. We’ve been too competitive, in terms of who’s doing something awesome. It’s a work in progress.
Tell me about your podcast+ what is your specific theme, what type of guests do you have on? Started in Aug, was another offshoot of rebranding. It’s a broad title, ending last of edupreneur series. Next series is mental health & wellness. The healing has to happen. She’d like to have students on eventually. She will have on guests about anti- racism, how all this impacts our mental health. The podcasting world is perfect for “PD at your fingertips”; you can do a multitude of activities while listening. Listeners want to learn something, growth mindset, out of the box thinking. The podcast can be downloaded at Anchor, iHeart Radio, Apple, Spotify. The Pod.link is a great way to get to the podcast and choose which app to get that from.
Personal experience story working in both private & public school settings: Ann started out working in private school, then went to and urban public setting. Her daughter needed a smaller setting. She put her in private school so she taught there 9 years. Then came back into urban public school setting made choice because she’d learned so much. Her point is she’s had the top of the line and children who struggle the most. Message she wants to get across is that she is still in touch with some of the students because of the relationship she built with kids. She wanted to bring back what she’d learned. Out-of-box ways to create same lesson. How do we create engagement for students? Bottom line is, everyone should get the same. It’s not the material, it’s what’s your infusing. Educators are facilitators, it doesn’t matter where you go. If standards are the same, how am I going to convey it so my students will be thinkers and not just doers. It’s about relationships we built, former students know we’re invested in them.
Key quotes: “Think outside the box, whatever that is for you”. The status quo is the status quo. “What can you do personally, professionally, etc. that will be different?” Think of students who have invented, dream of things that don’t currently exist. We’ve never been here before (in a pandemic), yet we’re learning how to thrive and build resiliency through all this.
Find Ann online via her Website: https://www.acunlimited.org/ email her: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow Ann on Twitter: @ https://twitter.com/AnnHC_Champ4All LinkedIn: @ https://www.linkedin.com/in/annhlabanganaclay/
View this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/Xh4VSGNcfR0
Episode #58: Craig Randall
Craig Randall received his Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Washington, his Master’s in Education in Guidance and Counseling from Saint Martin’s University, and his principal certification from Western Washington University. Craig has worked as an elementary and middle school counselor, including one intense year in the classroom with students with severe behavior issues. In addition he has served as an academic advisor at the college level. He has worked as a collegiate basketball coach. He has worked as a teacher at the elementary, middle, and high school levels as well as in college. Craig has also worked in the job of his passion and calling: assistant principal and principal. Craig has done his work at schools both in the US and overseas. Now, He is dedicated to training and consulting school leaders on the use of Trust-Based Observations, empowering them to build supportive relationships with their teachers, relationships which foster risk-taking, which in turn, dramatically improve teaching and learning.
Currently, Craig lives in the rainy but beautiful Pacific Northwest with the best educator he knows, his wife and new teacher mentor, Michele, and their recently graduated high-school twins, Acalia and Craigo.
Tell me about a time you were in the trenches and managed to crawl out: (Craig) I think the best examples are always the ones who really make mistakes and learn from them. I’ll share one of those. I was working as a school principal. And we had a model with our English language learner teachers that they did push in, and they co-taught. I would just periodically do check-ins just to make sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be. I discovered that one of my teachers was not pushing in, or I couldn’t find you’re pushing in very frequently, it seemed to be a matter of maybe she was just pushing him with more teachers that were friends than other teachers. I just happened to be talking to another ESL teacher who was an officemate of this teacher. She was talking to me about how difficult it was to push into classes and do her planning especially we had a block schedule where some days were tougher than others and, and I said, Oh, are there other teachers having the same problem? And she just had this sort of pained expression on her face that really told me everything. Then I said, well, what’s going on? And she said, Well, I was explaining the same issue about struggling to get into my classes with my my officemate, and she said, Oh, that’s just a guideline, you don’t really have to get into everyone. And she’s like, Well, no, no, I have to that’s my job. And she’s like, No, no, it’s okay. It just, you just get to the ones you can. And she’s like, No, I can’t. So that was a tough story to hear. It was tough for that teacher to share, because she put herself in a pretty vulnerable position. I went after school sometime in the next week or so to go have a conversation with that teacher about pushing in, just so we could fix it and move forward. I just basically told her that I’d been checking in and notice she hadn’t been in doing some of her observations or being in classes, co-teaching pushing in. She said, No, no, I’ve been to every single one. I always go to my things. And I’m just saying, you know, I’ve been I haven’t seen you and she said, Well, you must not have been there the entire class period, because I’m there at least some of the class period. Then I was just shocked that she had literally lied to me not told me the truth. So I reacted, not ideally, and I my voice raised and the anger was evident in my voice and and I expressed that I knew that wasn’t the true truth and, and she got defensive and then somehow I got myself more calm, and I said, Okay, well, you know what, I think I’m going to leave right now, and I did. Then we scheduled another meeting for a few days down the road. I decided that after consulting with my head of school, that as long as she admitted that she made a mistake, and I would give her every opportunity to have an understandable, acceptable reason for why that wouldn’t have, why that might have happened, that I’d be willing to work with her. I called her to my office, and she was involved in a lot of like Student Council and extracurricular and play things. I just kept throwing her all these things were like, take this life preserver take this life preserver and, and she wouldn’t grab it, she just kept denying and denying and denying. And at that point, I just realized I couldn’t. We were in a place where it was two year contracts, I couldn’t work comfortable with someone that wouldn’t be truthful about something so simple. So I let her go at the end of the year. I mean, I let her know that we weren’t gonna renew her contract. This is a larger company, not just one school, and human resources came to me saying that she’d filed a grievance about the way that I had treated her in that first meeting. We dealt with it, and I explained everything that happened and, and the grievance went away. It wasn’t a problem. But one of the things that I learned from that, and I write about it in the book is like, whenever we have a difficult or anything that can potentially be a difficult conversation, is that it’s really, really important to think about what are a potential negative answer that a teacher could provide, that you’re not expecting. Then prepare an answer to that ahead of time. And if you spend a little bit of time, 10-15 minutes thinking about that, then you’re not caught off guard, and then you can react where you can maintain your emotional even-keel to help things move forward constructively.
(Dana) Yeah, I think it’s quite a lesson, for many principals have either been in a similar situation. Imagine, if they’re, if they’re walking into a difficult situation, it doesn’t hurt to roleplay, maybe, with somebody, that’s maybe not attached to the situation or, a version for yourself, of answers that the teacher might have, right. So you kind of know what to expect, based on your knowledge of the person’s personality. You gain that knowledge, just in case. You gain that perspective through years of experience working with teachers and evaluations, and like you said, it’s kind of individual as to how people react.
Walk me through the writing of your new book Trust Based Observations, Maximizing Teaching and Learning Growth, and why principals need this today more than ever:
(Craig) I guess explaining why it’s maybe a need is to look at the current model first. The current model where there’s one or two observations for a year, and there’s a pre-conference where we talk about what’s going to be taught, and then we go and observe. Then we rate the teachers on these quite lengthy rubrics of all these indicators of good teaching. Then we have a post observation conference, where we tell the teachers how they did, hopefully highlight some strengths, and then talk about what they can do to improve. That’s the standard model. The research is really the big key in a lot of ways because the research is that it doesn’t improve teaching and learning. The most clear example of that is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation did a seven-year $200 million study. Basically, where their goal was to improve the quality of teaching to improve the quality of student learning outcomes and graduation rates through basically what amounted to a more robust devaluation observation process. And seven years to $2 million in the research basically said that there was no sustained improvement. The world has done a bunch of qualitative research on observations and evaluations. What has been discovered is that as soon as we start to evaluate to the right teachers, they start playing it safe. Therefore we lose creativity and innovation and teaching. Those are the reasons it’s not working. So for me, the start of it really was my own frustration with having a two- year period where I wasn’t observed at all. Just feeling like what is going on here? Then with the standard observation, when it was done well to seem like it wasn’t enough and wasn’t accurate. I started around the same time my principal certification program, and came across my mentor. I remember the first class that I had with him as a supervision class, and he just started talking about you have to be in classes all the time, you have to be in classes every day, observing teachers having reflective questions with teachers, supporting them and helping them grow. I remember asking them, well, how long? I think like a lot of people that are really naturally gifted at something he never really thought about it. He was just doing it all the time. Then he finally said an hour a day, and then that became really the first part of trust base observation is we do 3 20-minute observations a day. Then we would practice doing observations all the time in that class, we put on a little 10 minute mini lessons, and then we would then one of us would observe and then we immediately practice the reflective conversation and then have a reflective conversation on the reflective conversation and it was really, really powerful in those. Those conversations were anchored by two questions that still drive trust observations today. They were, what were you doing to help students learn? And if you had to do over again, what, if anything, might you do differently? So without knowing it, I certainly didn’t know I was creating anything new. That was the start of it. Then when I became an assistant principal, shortly thereafter, I started doing it. Then I had the beginning of the reflection conversation after those questions, I was a little reluctant to give feedback. I think was partially because I was a new guy and wanted to be liked. I think it was partially because I’d only seen them once or twice and up offer suggestions already felt like it was almost arrogant of me to start telling them. What I started doing instead was I just started sharing what I observed. And notice, which is really noticing the strengths. Teachers responded so well that many of them had said they hadn’t even had anybody really do that before, I think because the traditional model didn’t really call for that. Then what was even more remarkable to me was that shortly thereafter that many teachers started saying, okay, but what can I get better at. Then without really realizing, that was probably the start of the trust observations piece. It just kept developing from there, on and on to what it is today. At some point along the way, somebody said, you want to protect your stuff, and I didn’t know what he was talking about. I was like, really, and then I presented at a conference. I wrote an article, and then I wrote a book. So that’s how that really came to be. If we talk about how we needed today, there’s no question for everybody, principals, students, teachers, this is incredibly challenging, and much harder than it has been in the past. So with that comes feelings of vulnerability, and struggle, and not knowing what to do and not necessarily having answers. If we look at research, it really points out that when people trust, they’re more willing to take risks. If there was ever a time when we want to teach us to be willing to try new things, to see what works and doesn’t work. It’s now and so if we can create differentiated individualized, trusting relationships with teachers, they will be more willing to take risks. One of the things that we always say to our teachers as part of trust space observations, because risk taking is such a vital element and growth is that if I come into your classroom, and you’re trying something new, and it completely bombed, you can rest assured that the next day you’re going to going to receive a congratulatory fist bump for taking risks, because we know eventually that will lead to growth. If there was ever a time for that now would be that. (Dana) I really think that this was the time we needed a wake up call, because different states use different things. Some people use the Danielson Framework, some people use state evaluation tools, some people just have the evaluation tool that their own district has made, but it’s always just been that checklist, right? Having taught for many years, and then moving into administration, I always felt like it was just kind of a duty they had to do, right. They got in your classroom twice a year, they checked off the list, you really didn’t get much feedback. You’re saying, you even you even started discovering this already during your principal licensure program, which I found interesting is doing those practice mini lessons and giving peers feedback. What type of feedback should you give? It wasn’t until I started looking into the Principal Center with Justin Bader and learning more about that tool that I started learning about, this is the whole practice of a teacher that lies beneath the iceberg. Then the more you get into classrooms, the more you see and having those conversations not necessarily just based on their teaching, but also outside of the classroom and building that trust, as well.
How do you see our teacher evaluation system shifting, or maybe how it’s already shifted in your state of Washington?
(Craig) it hasn’t shifted in our state and our state, really, you’re required to use some version of Marzano Danielsen Framework, there’s another one called SEL five D. So it’s tough right now. Really since the 1983 report a “Nation at Risk”, there’s been an increased and seemingly ever increasing movement, that if we just create more accountability that will create better teaching and learning. I think that’s what ended up resulting in this. If we even if we look back at Danielson at the beginning, she didn’t create it to be an evaluation model for principals to use on teachers she created for teachers for their own self growth. Then somewhere along the way, it morphed and then Marzano same thing, it became a model and and so it I don’t think it has changed yet. I think that there is a hope, would I say, what we’re doing now, like I said, at the beginning with that research, it’s not working. So if it’s not working, then why not make a change? If we think that the best way to make to help them, and improve, help them and support their improvement and growth, is by writing them up? When we see O’Leary’s research says that works the opposite way, then let’s stop doing that. Let’s realize that teachers have huge hearts. It’s such a vulnerable process to be observed to having someone come in, pull out a laptop and watch you do your job. Then to just put it down to all these elements, and no one would argue that any of these elements aren’t great elements in and of themselves are indicators of good teaching. But you don’t have to have all of those to be good teaching. Teaching will always be craft and art. One of the things about trust based observations is because you’re in classes so frequently, you get to see who’s really, really good at what and is part of seeing who’s really, really good at what you see, there’s all kinds of different ways that you can be amazing. If what we’re doing isn’t working, then I’m calling for a change, like, let’s ditch that, and let’s change the whole process, because what’s happening isn’t working. At least let’s do some big research studies on trust based observations to see if that has a bigger effect on it.
We talked a little bit in the pre-chat as well about that “dog and pony show”. Because when when we only go into classrooms twice a year or something, and the teacher knows we’re coming, they’re going to put on a show, we’re going to have that pre-observation chat, so we’re going through the lesson already, so kind of know what to expected. We’re looking for all those elements on the rubric during that one observation that semester, and not necessarily going to see all those elements. So whatever the tool is that we’re using to evaluate, if we have multiple evidence points to gather from, then we’re will be able to, evaluate them a lot more effectively.
(Craig) I agree completely. I mean, one of the things that I hear teachers say now and it’s sad to me, they’ll say the principal came in and said everything was really great. So next time, can you make sure to do xyz, so I can check it off. It’s like, this is supposed to be about improved teaching and learning. So let’s put 100% of our efforts into that, instead of something that is not really functionally fun or productive for either one of us.
We talked a little bit also about eliminating the pedagogy rating in the teacher evaluation system and replacing it with mindset. So what are some rubric questions that would go along with mindset that could go into rubrics?
(Craig) What I would say instead of talking about the rubric is maybe setting it up. So we’re developing growth mindset and just through the whole process of it and so Trust Based Observations in its effort to do that connects professional development directly to the teacher. Observation evaluation process. Research also says that anytime we have more than 10 areas that we’re looking for principles start to or observe, start to lose the forest through the trees, and don’t see that teaching going on because they’re looking to check things off. On the trust-based form, there’s only nine areas. Basically, we’ve got professional development communities that we have for those nine areas that will run every year, and they’re led by teacher leaders, but then we do have the on that we do have a rubric for the template, but it’s for teachers to use. The teachers get to do that, and then rate themselves and with that, they pick up a they choose an action research, big goal related to summer pedagogy that they want to improve. Then they tie an action research plan to it. They participate in that professional development community all year. So just the act of doing that, choosing a goal and choosing to work on it. Then one of the other questions that we’ve added to the observation, reflective conversation conference is tell me how things are going with your action research goal this year. Because we’re constantly putting that in teacher’s mind, and we’re letting them choose, really just that built into the process alone built a proficient mindset. Because we’re empowering teachers at the same time, because they’re participating and facilitating these conferences, and even leading them and maybe I learned something new this year, and it become really excited about it, then maybe I can lead it the next year. All of that is really empowering teachers and increasing teacher efficacy. Those all just in and of themselves develop a growth mindset. You’d have to be really resistant to not end up with proficient in that in mindset.
I think the more we’re able to you develop teachers to be leaders, to even want to be willing to share what they do in the classroom to other staff members in their building, or put on professional development at conferences, or help lead book club discussions, those type of things. It’s developing leaders, it’s bringing out the best of what our teachers are doing in the building, which a lot of these tools that have been used in districts for many years, don’t they have a professional growth area. But there is not really that what are you doing to grow right, as a leader, except for going to conferences and doing that passive listening, right?
(Craig) what are you doing to actually support that growth along the way, and so we built it into the process. It’s differentiated because teachers generally get to choose. Now sometimes there might be a teacher where we strongly encourage them to go in one area, because that that’s necessary if someone were on an action plan, but it does empower them and they know be more willing to take risks and grow their practice.
What are ways you see a teacher showing evidence of growth this year, especially if they’re teaching only in a remote setting? Looking outside the limits of whatever the evaluation tool is that principals are using this year?
(Craig) That’s a really good question. It’s a really tough question, because to look at this year, like any other year is not really fair. To look and expect the same types of growth is not really fair. I mean, I think we could even go beyond that. It’s certainly it’s important to have literacy and numeracy functioning at a high level to help, just basic success in the world. But I think we’re also missing things in terms of like social emotional skills. I would like to see us add something like that to a yearly regular assessment for all students on on the grand scale of things. This year, we’re looking at talking about growth, I think we have to, I mean, each teacher has to know their own students and figure out what works best for them and learn and but I think if we can look at our social emotional growth of our students, I think that would be really, really powerful. I think potentially, there’s possibilities to maybe look at, like the same units we did last year and compare growth, but like to expect superior growth when we’re in a different setting. I’m not sure that’s a realistic, fair expectation. In some ways, if we’re just persevering, and continually trying to find ways to be effective, and engaging our students this year, and maybe that even surveys with our students, I think we’re a success. I think we can’t necessarily look at down the road and say, these kids are going to be behind because I don’t think they’re going to be behind in the grand scheme of life. There will be things they’ve learned from this that will make him successful, and they’re not going to be any less successful because they were in school and 2020 and 2021. I know that’s not an ideal answer, but it’s really an ideal time and I’m not sure there is an ideal answer.
Hopefully we’ll gain a lot of knowledge from our tools that we’ve used this year, and be able to take that back into regular classroom setting whenever that time will be for most schools and be able to rethink the evaluation tool, because I know some districts threw that out at the end of the year when everybody won’t remote, some districts that are currently hybrid aren’t really doing the same type of thing. We don’t want to put pressure on teachers this year. Like you said, it’s just being in that space, if you’re observing them, virtually, but also looking at what they’re doing to connect with the families, what they’re doing to connect with students who maybe have haven’t showed up for those virtual meetings. Also maybe looking at what they’re putting on google classroom or some of the student work can also be evident.
(Craig) one thing I’ll add to that is that just as an observer, if we can still get into classes, be it virtually or whatever, and see what teachers are doing in their classes, there’s a real potential to discover some gifts, because there will be teachers that will be doing some amazing new innovative things in their classroom. If we’re in our classes as frequently as we are, we’ll discover those. When we discover those, we can use that to have that teacher help empower their other teachers by sharing what they’re doing with other teachers. Many of those things, as you sort of alluded to have the potential to moving into become a regular part of practice in the future, as well. I think that’s another advantage. Even now, adopting a trust-based getting in frequently is seeing teachers and then finding ways to be able to help other teachers, as you discover pockets of real brilliant, innovative teaching that are going on that are effective in this crazy way that we’re having to do it this year.
What do you envision trust based conversations evolving to be after this year? How would a admin team at a school go about implementing it? Let’s say in the fall of ’21, after reading this book, or maybe having a book study with their admin team, possibly in the summer and wanting to really dig deep into this?
(Craig) That’s a good question. I think there’s potentially multiple ways to do it. The plan is to provide trainings for that to want to school by school basis, or district by district basis, as needed, and the ability to come in and talk with people. Above all to practice, like we did in that supervision class and weave them amongst ourselves, and put a little mini lessons in there practice asking and answering these questions and learning it, if we’ve been doing things one way, it’s so tempting to want to get feedback right away. Because I mean, really, we could look at almost any lesson, I certainly feel like I’ve seen many lessons where I couldn’t pick out anything that they could improve, or certainly nothing that was big enough to do it. I think it’s so tempting to want to offer a suggestion on something. If we’re really going to start and really realize that the best way to foster growth is creating a trusting relationship. Just take a step back, observe, ask those questions. Share your strengths. And leave it at that and do that for it in we talk about when you start trust based observations for at least the first three observations, don’t offer any suggestions, even if you’ve been doing it some other way. Tell your teachers, you’re going to take a step back and just take a new look at it and you’re trying this new thing. And your main goal is to build trust with you so you feel safe taking risks. However we can get there, whether that’s a training or a book and a book, study and practicing amongst your own, your own leadership team, starting there is going to be the path to building relationships that lead to teachers, sense of vulnerability, reducing enough that they’re more willing to embrace taking risks, being innovative and creative, trying new things.
I think that’s the way to go. Like I said at the beginning, just have those I would say those spot checks small observations where you’re just getting a feel for the teachers practice, right? Resisting necessarily giving the feedback or anything that’s necessarily critical at that time. You’re not saving that for the relationship building once once the relationship has been built. I really enjoyed learning more about trust based observations out of everything we discussed today.
What’s one thing in particular you’d like listeners to remember? “Teachers are a most valuable resource, leaders need to build trusting, supportive relationships so we are there for them”. Then we will see more growth happening. Find Craig online via his website: www.trustbased.com, email: email@example.com Linkedin: @CraigRandall Twitter: @trustbasedcraig
View this episide on Youtube: https://youtu.be/lmesGXneM4I
Episode #59: Jim Sporleder
Jim Sporleder retired in 2014 as Principal of Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA. Under Jim’s leadership, Lincoln High School became a “Trauma Informed” school, gaining national attention due to a dramatic drop in out of school suspensions, increased graduation rates and the number of students going on to post-secondary education. These dramatic changes at Lincoln caught the attention of Jamie Redford, who spent a year filming the documentary, Paper Tigers, which tells the Lincoln story. The documentary was released at the May 2015. His travels have taken him all over the United States. Jim is married, has three daughters and six granddaughters.
Tell me about a time when you were in the trenches and managed to crawl out: Jim asked to be transferred from the middle school dream principal job he had and was about to retire. He had read a report on alternative programs in the district and realized he should get over there to help the kids. His wife mentioned “why don’t you go?”. He realized he needed to transfer. Asked superintendent to transfer him. Started at Lincoln in 2007, it was mostly out of control, h didn’t understand how out of control it was there until he got there. There were gang fights, it was very unsafe, and a spark turned into forest fire. Was trying to gain control, create a safe environment. It was difficult getting to be accepted by the kids. He wondered if he’d made the right decision. He was in a trench for 4-5 months. Then kids started to accept him. He was very student-oriented throughout career. He had a saying “cuff ‘em and stuff ‘em”; is embarrassed to say it now. It took 3 years till he felt safe enough to go to the conference (that he could leave the building for a day or 2) and was introduced to ACES and it totally transformed him. John Medina was the keynote speaker. It hit him with a lightning bolt (this was in 2010). ⅔ of his career was traditional discipline. The transformation happened immediately. Even though some people say it takes 3-5 years. He had hired the staff, told them things would be done differently. He’d never heard of toxic stress. They were relationship-oriented. He saw a momentum, it make a huge difference in staff. The phrase is “what’s happened” rather than “what’s wrong you?” It wasn’t a hard sell to get staff to make the change. It took only first kids he saw and changed approach with so it happened quickly. The kids started telling their stories. There were 850 out of school suspensions the year before trauma informed practices were implemented. Dropped to 325 because they were still dealing with gang activity. Grades went up, discipline went down. Referrals the last year were only 125. Kids responded & contributed. In reflection, kids transformed staff with their stories.
How did the story about Lincoln HS get out, to the point that Jamie Redford wanted to do a documentary about it? Jim tracked the data and matched it with data as Trauma Informed School. Terry Barilla community champion let Jane Stevens, she flew up to Walla Walla and wrote an article, it went viral, was read in 32 different countries. It took off a 2nd year. Jamie had been deciding to do a film on trauma & ACES, Jane told him to contact Jim & see Lincoln. Dr. Faletti, co-founder of ACES study told Jamie to come to Walla Walla. Jim watched Jamie intently, Jamie watched them at Lincoln intently. Before the day was out, Jamie won him over. He passed away on Oct. 2020, Jim wanted to acknowledge him and how he kept track of the kids much longer than the film took to complete. Film was going to be a segment of a larger film. Jamie said “Lincoln’s a goldmine, we’re deciding to make it a stand-alone film”.
How much more do you think that TiPs were used more consistently in schools after Paper Tigers (2015) came out? TiP is now sweeping Europe. We have a “wave” building across the country, every year it gains more momentum. More and more principals, superintendents are standing up and saying “this is the approach we’re using”. We’re getting glimpses of state officials where officials are taking active roles as well.
Why do you think it took the release of your documentary to have educators really think about this? Because it exposed the lives of the 5 kids. It’s not a Lincoln story, it’s a lens to the students at any school. That’s the power of the film, driving force. Certainly it affirms people because they are of the TiP mindset. Paper Tigers (PT) created the national dialogue. Now on the international market. You can watch PT and have emotional connection and be stirred, it doesn’t mean the culture will move in the right direction. Until one understands the “power of one” and make it who they are there’s no consistency. In ‘15 TiP wasn’t the norm. It’s the champions who are taking the risk. Those who do are experiencing the positive connections with kids.
What do you say to schools where the principal is on board with TiP, but the staff isn’t and vice-versa? He says if the leader isn’t leading it, it’s not going to be sustainable. You need to change the culture, create a family unit. In his early outings as a consultant, he observed principals getting the staff together and then taking off. The principal has to be the voice out front. Schools that have embraced this approach are all experiencing the positive data. Staff want to stay in their position when they see positive change. Still champion’s effort moving in this direction. We haven’t reached a point where this is a common approach in schools. Jim hopes to see the day TiP are used world-wide.
What kind of consulting work has kept you busy during the pandemic and what do you foresee as needed in the future due to a substantial projected increase in ACES? He has done full/partial day virtual trainings with schools. There was a launch with 50 youth workers from Sudan & Nigeria who are training to be trauma coaches for their communities. 60% of kids pre-COVID had experienced violence, during COVID there has been an 110% increase in student fights, domestic violence, and a huge decrease in child abuse cases. We need to re-evaluate how to communicate with our kids. The protection of kids is going down during the pandemic.
Do you still have contact with many of the students in PT? Do you have a story about a particular student you’d like to share? He was in much more communication with them when they were younger. Diana is the one he keeps in touch with the most. When she got out of HS she had a difficult time. She would loose her job and would keep getting up. She’s a crew supervisor now, has had 3 promotions, still has 0 support from her family. Jim’s youngest daughter became a foster parent out of this experience. Cool case worker who graduated from Lincoln, this was Cheyenne. Other students were at his house helping him with his website, tech. They even showed up to breakfast with him with ties on, they are starting a consulting business so Jim is a guinea pig. These boys were in background of the movie. One of them said “you’re my father figure”.
Key quotes? Because we have a wave going, we still have misconceptions about what TIP is “the power of one”, if I truly understand this, I have the opportunity to help change a life path. When we understand the power of one, it becomes who we are rather than what we do. All conversations are driven by the “power of one”. The more positive adults are, more positive interactions are created . He wants to make sure he shows appreciation for people he interacts with daily. Sunshine brought into a person’s day.
Episode #60: Ken Williams
Kenneth C. Williams shares his experience and expertise as a nationally recognized trainer, speaker, coach and consultant in leadership and school culture. A practitioner for nearly two decades, Ken led the improvement efforts at two schools by leveraging the Professional Learning Communities at Work process. Skilled in joining the why of the work to the how of the work, Ken is known for his powerful and engaging combinations of “heart, humor, and hammer.” He is an expert at helping schools build capacity in the collective commitments required of learning for all cultures. His firsthand experience with transforming challenged schools translates into action-oriented presentations that inspire hope, create a clear vision, and offer practical strategies to those overwhelmed by challenges. He is the author of Starting A Movement: Building Culture from the Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities, Creating Physical and Emotional Safety In Schools, and a contributor to The Collaborative Administrator.
His leadership was crucial to creating a successful professional learning community (PLC) at Damascus, a challenged school that needed a new direction. The results of his efforts can be seen across all grade levels. Over a two-year period, the school’s state standardized test scores revealed a significant increase in the percentage of students performing at proficient and advanced levels. The process of building a PLC at E. J. Swint continues thanks to Kenneth’s work in laying a solid foundation in this underserved community. Ken earned a bachelor of arts from Morehouse College, and a master of science from the University of Bridgeport.
Tell me about a time when you were in the trenches and managed to crawl out: His podcast “Bless his heart” is based on those experiences. He cut his teeth as teacher and leader in a progressive, high-performing school district. Couldn’t afford a home in that community so he applied to work in Atlanta. Hired into lowest-performing district in Atlanta. Dysfunction w/ board. Created a trench. It was a real challenge. 95% FRL, young parents. Real challenge to convince staff there was a brighter day ahead. Had to put school culture/safety fires out. Had to rank fires, what were priorities. Extended trench to get culture turned out.
How and when did you start taking an interest in PLCs at work? Took an interest in it at his former district. Hadn’t heard of Rick duFour, but he had Ken’s full attn. within 15 minutes when he attended a conference. He identified areas of culture that needed an A as opposed to a C effort.
Many schools try to implement the PLC model but not all of them are successful- Why do you think some schools fail at implementing well-functioning PLCs? Ken has tons of experience, made tons of mistakes. He has power of observation. We’re at a phase where we’re trying to implement new things. His theories: 1. Get clear on the why. PLC isn’t the “why”. The “why” has to be learning for all. It’s like coaches selling the win of the games. Get clear on the mission we’re on.
2. It’s about what we do, not the words we craft.
3. The PLC process is rolled out part-by-part instead of looking at the big picture. Like looking at parts of old cars. We don’t start often enough w/ what PLC is supposed to be about. Not all principals & teachers know the real purpose. At its core it’s about ensuring students master essential skills & competencies. Moving needle on student achievement data. At end of 9 weeks, they are close to 100% of kids mastering their skills and competencies. Too often schools have PLCs introduced by parts. We don’t understand it organically.
Give me the background of a turn-around story of a school you led: He kept 3 years worth of journal a mentor challenged him to keep. Putting aside the fires he was putting out, he had to get staff together. They knew where he was coming from, it needed to be our vision. They had to embrace current reality. His podcast is called “Bless his heart” based on community members’ reaction to him being principal there. Social media, people never put the school’s name on their profile, they were embarrassed. Next, he asked “where do you want to be?”. They did a narrative about 2 years from now- what will headline read? Began “vision narrative” they all contributed to, started w/ parking lot. “Hood” vision was that they wanted there to be a waiting list to get into school and people lying about residence. He said
“We become that as soon as we decide”. Went into era of acting “As If”. Small commitment was to speak in civil tones to kids. Talked with elementary-school kids at eye level. Small things that led into hard look at PLCs. He said “we’re high performing in spirit & talent”. Principal can’t tiptoe around it. 31 people left after 1st year. Process began Nov. of 1st year. Mission is about sacrifice. They all commit to doing the 5 things. He used those as a lens from which to communicate everything.
Tell me a little about your weekly Mission-Driven Mindset Message: Changed now to “these 3 things”. 3 things to think about around mission-driven work. Connected to learning for all culture. Theme of “talent is in the room”. Build & nurture the talent w/in staff. He often provokes (pokes the bear), but gives solutions.
What other resources would you suggest to schools who are looking to change their mindset and disrupt the status quo? If you’re in a PLC, Solution Tree puts on conferences, it’s key to remember everything the presenters said “Learning by Doing” is unparalleled and unrivaled. Written in informal language. Use that book if you’re trying to have a do-over or even in the middle of it. “Simplifying Common Assessment” takes complex topics and makes it bitesize and chewable for you. On the video of this episode, Ken shows his copies of “Big Big of Tools” “Time 4 Change”, “Building Behavior”, etc.
Tell me about your new podcast Bless his Heart– He wanted to try something different. New episodes drop every Tuesday. Honors the introvert inside of him. He has journals, He was a “seasoned newbie” in 2nd principal job so mentor said to keep a journal. He highlights the good, bad, ugly. He reflects then on where his head was at the time, leaves leaders with things to think about. He gets beneath the surface in the podcast.
Key quotes: ”The work we do is about being on a mission.” “Learning for all is tough, so be mission-driven about the work”. Works best when we lean into our collective expertise. To learn more about Ken’s work, visit Unfold The Soul online at www.unfoldthesoul.com, and follow @unfoldthesoul on FB, Twitter or email him. View this episode on Youtube: https://youtu.be/ZhLOscM0HNY
Episode #61: Jen Cort
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.
Episode #62: Mark Brown
Mark Brown is an educational leader, leadership and team development facilitator, author, speaker, coach, student, and mental health and wellness advocate. He is known for his passion and dedication for inspiring others to #ChooseToBeYou by living life as their best self! Mark shares openly about his life experience and how the highs and lows throughout his life have molded him into who he is today. His goal is to use his experience to encourage others to face their fears and challenges head on, and to learn to love themselves for who they are!
Tell me about a time you were in the trenches: Mark says he is still crawling out every day. As a leader, he has to make a lot of difficult decisions. As a people pleaser, it’s challenging. He struggles with anorexia, it’s a real part of his life. What he’s learned through counseling, therapy, it’s not just about the food, but spills over into other areas of his life. His life has often been consumed by anorexia. It kept him from being who he needed to be. It’s happened over the past 10-11 years. He was in the trenches consumed by desire to please people. He is continuing to climb out. He won’t necessarily get to point where he’s healed.
Tell me about your journey from a struggling high school student to where you are now? He climbed the ladder really quickly, is still pretty young. Title he had on door was what he thought he needed to get credibility. He became a HS administrator before was 30. It all came at a cost. In his current position, he has helped have a positive influence on people he leads. Leadership isn’t about who you are, it’s the actions you take. If he’s a good leader, those things will come. If always focused on climbing the ladder, he won’t be pleased. If doing 100% doing the things for the people he serves, other opportunities will come. It’s his 3rd year in this position. He has a chapter in his book called “Chasing Titles.”
Tell me about your current context and how you help students who may be like you were when you were their age as an AP during distance learning? How have you grown as an admin through distance learning? If we’re looking at strict attendance data, those rates haven’t changed. In the physical classroom, all focus has been getting them into the classroom, but now the focus is engaging them in class work. The focus has shifted into getting them connected with school work. They have done empathy interviews with staffulty members. It helped them understand that students have a story, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer for all. Approach in a individual way. It’s shifted from finding out “why” and focusing on the “how”. Within google meets, they’re doing the breakout rooms. They aren’t just doing the sit’n’get. It’s more dialogue & collaboration. They enjoy it. This year, he’s teaching an advisory class “tiger time”. Saw that SEL and direct connections are important. He asks leading questions and prompts, he is inspired by authentic conversation, they meet 2 times a week.
What are your current offerings to schools in terms of workshops, motivational talks; do you have anything coming up? Has done several virtual keynotes-4 in the past week. (postponed to in-person) Summer ’22, the Maslow before Bloom conference in Missouri with Brian Pearlman July 21-22. He wants to line up in-person stuff. He is done consulting work with schools on how to bring in mental health. Work/life balance. Is humbled to get the opportunity to speak. He is consulting with schools about how to bring mental health conversation to life with students and among staffulty. He just wants to the get the mental health conversation started.
How we can open it up more to speak on the mental health of educators? Wherever you’re at, you need to focus on investing on learning more about how to invest in mental health.
How can we help staff members who are dealing with struggles who don’t necessarily open up? We haven’t done a great job of embracing that mentality. He helps educators learn to take care of themselves first. He can’t do thing for others if he doesn’t first make sure he’s in a good spot. Find an accountability partner, not in family. You need someone you can have an authentic conversations with. Self-care isn’t meant to be done alone. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. We need to admit that by ourselves we ARE enough. Now more than ever, we need to intentionally reach out. Now we need to schedule out the meet with colleagues during the day.
What do you wish you would have done differently as a young educator? He wishes he would have been himself. He tried to be cool, hip, and emulate others to a fault. He wishes he would have asked for help more. He skirted around some issues. He needed to be confident in himself. He missed opportunities for authentic connections.
How do educators like to control too much- and how should they focus on what they are able to control- our attitude, effort and how we treat others. He has approached looking for opportunities to be in control. Educators are naturally leaders, look for opportunities to see what we can control. Everything else is outside our control. E + R equals O. Experiences are outside of our control. What will help you get to control is your response to the experience. Then, there’ll be a higher probability of a more positive outcome. You can walk away from the experience knowing you kept a great attitude. You did everything you could in the right way. You treated everything with kindness.
Key quotes: “Choose to be you. You will face highs and lows in life, experiences you’ll have to respond to. Sometimes that means you’ll have to ask for help. We’re all a work in progress. Don’t try to lie & trick others into believing you are someone other than who you are”.
Episode #63: Tara Linney
Tara Linney is an international, award-winning educator who has helped several schools nationally and internationally with launching and sustaining effective 1:1 programs over the course of the last decade. She holds a B.A. in Mass Communications from the University of South Florida, and a M.S. in the Science of Instruction from Drexel University. . In 2015, she was the guest of Congressman Bill Foster for the State of the Union. In 2016, she received the 21st Century Learning Award for Innovation in Educational Coaching. Since the start of her career in Education, Tara has played an active role in many professional communities. In 2017, she served as the ISTE Global Collaboration PLN President, where she led an organizational pivot to focus on SDGs in Education.
Her understanding of how technology fits in education is vast. In both planning and training, Tara can speak both IT and education technology. In 2018, Tara authored and published the book, Code Equity: Keying Girls into Coding, as a guide for educators looking to make a more equitable learning environment for their students, particularly in the teaching of computer science topics. Her overall mission is to create a culture of equitable learning conditions for learners of all ages.
Tell me about a time you were in the trenches: First year teaching. Was in non-profit & marketing arenas the first 7 years of her career. First year was working in Philly and received a pink slip at the end of the year. She was working on her grad degree & teacher certification. Budget cuts, had laid off many teachers (this was in 2010). Got back into marketing for the summer but stayed in education. She applied to every opening; tech teacher or coach. Landed in N. Carolina, geographically it didn’t really matter cause she was only in Philly for a year.
Discuss the shift you are seeing with girls getting into coding and what you researched for your book, Code Equity: Keying Girls into Coding: When she first got into teaching tech, she became an ISTE member. It helps her try new tools, stay up to date, be open to changes every day. She didn’t attend the ISTE conference in 2010 or ‘11 but has attended the last 8-9 years. She’s build actual relationships with people and built a common thread. Applied to google teacher academy, 6 times before getting accepted. She’s been the person people come to when they want to be connecting.
Talk to me about how teachers could be “taking the temperature“ of students when they don’t have the camera on & they’re not participating in virtual classes: There are different alternatives we can use. Students can use emojis to respond in a chat. Their voice is still included. A lot of video conferencing tools can have a blurred background. If they’re “lead by example” teacher can use (the blurred background) example. How can we ensure we’re hearing from all students and what to do if they’re not responding. What should teachers do with assignments, grades that are due if students aren’t turning in work? Engagement piece, you could have a poll or inquiry on google classroom like “How was today’s math lesson?” they can score 1-5. It takes the pulse of the class. THEN give the assignment. Often, students will be checked out during a live session. Create a discussion chat before assigning something allows for uncertainties to be weeded out. Give a deadline of 3-4 days and look back at Likert scale data to see who they need to check in with. Incorporate SEL time into the school day, take 20 minutes to focus on releasing anxiety. Starting remote class off with meetings, SEL strategies. It’s a sheer engagement aspect. SEL doesn’t have to stand by itself. At some point it didn’t stand by itself. SEL is being human. Think about like when you have a staff meeting, or calling family member. You always start with a greeting. In upper elementary, use breathing or music exercise to transition to another subject area.
Tell me about bridging the equity gap, and your research about girls in tech. Right after she was in Charlotte, she was a tech coordinator at an all-girls school in D.C. Saw how girls reacted when things went wrong. Had a girls coding club at elementary. High academically gifted girls were introduced to computer coding, they started to panic. Did research on why that was. Interviewed students and did a mini-case study. Then went to work at a camp with both boys & girls she noticed how both genders approached problem solving. Moved to Singapore and started a coding club. We need to take an inward look into how we’re building gaming into or computer science clubs/classes. What kind of games are they making? Could use scratch to use math. Digital storytelling can help with programming. Get girls hooked based on a purpose.
What are you seeing this school year in terms of lack of internet infrastructure, not just lack of devices? We’re starting to see inequities that exist in communities. What are the pockets even within urban & rural communities where there aren’t enough recourses. Companies have started to step up to purchase hotspots, like wifi equipped busses with bagged lunches. In the middle of the mud pit, it’s hard to identify what our community is doing. By 2025, we’ll see a full evolution of what education is like. We can’t go back to inequities in terms of internet resources. Ready, player one, 2, you read it you get goosebumps. Very interesting to see how RP2 has been written in that book of fiction.
Key quote: Simple- “Breathe, remember we’re all human”. View this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/d74OvxQ_-UI
Follow Tara online: Twitter & IG, LinkedIn @taralinney and visit her website www.TLspecialists.com
Episode # 64: Steven Gupton
Steven Gupton is a CTE Teacher at James E. Shepard IB Magnet Middle School in Durham Public Schools. Steven is a son, brother, paramedic, educator, coach, and member of the NCAE Educators of Color Cohort. He has served his community his entire life. In high school, he began volunteering in his local fire department and his love for public service began to grow. 16 years later, he is still going. He believes EVERY child can learn, and he will always fight for those that are underserved and underrepresented.
Out of the trenches story: Steven shares about being the son of an incarcerated male (at 31 still wishes his dad was here). His dad is serving 37 years. He talks about the hidden challenges of incarceration for black, brown, indigenous people of color. He’s talked with his students about that. It’s like the fact he’s an educator being a part of his resume, his dad’s incarceration doesn’t define him. He always shares it, though. He thinks many educators shy away from saying they are human. Start every year with an “I am” poem.
When did you embrace the fact your dad is incarcerated and come to acceptance? 2 nights after Christmas, he was sitting at his grandparents, a story began to air on TV about his dad. He was 5-6. Grandparents began to panic. Didn’t know Steven would be seeing it on the news. In high school, he had 2 good science + math teachers, they pushed him to succeed. He’s still in contact with those teachers he had in HS. He began to become disengaged in MS. Teachers found him. He was there for friends. He wasn’t there for the education aspect. Was truant in HS up to senior year.
Was there a person in HS who pushed you to pursue higher ed? He didn’t apply to college right out of HS, in his home there was no post-secondary educational culture. He’s 1st generation college educated. He worked as an EMT in HS, took CTE courses. Later became a paramedic. People who helped- Suzanne Cole, Ms. Songs (11th grade), Amy Miller, AP at MS. His science teacher went to school with his dad. She knew the story. Not all white or even black teachers were able to connect with him as a black student. Stone, the science teacher, understood rough black boys. She met their needs, like gathering in her room during lunch, because of missing work. Steven developed a love of science. Volunteered at local search & rescue. Advocated to CTE director about adding EMT classes.
Tell me about your current teaching context: He teaches 6-8th grade health sciences. He did a segment on NPR recently on engagement, truancy, students are showing up online, but there will be some who have excuses. Home visits reminded him students don’t have a quiet space. “We’re guests in their homes”. We have to govern ourselves accordingly. Him + other teacher knocked on doors. Ran into different situations. There was a 7th grader watching younger siblings. His district is rural. He’s making take-home kits for his science kids- idea came from the instructional coach. He’s trying to get the basics covered with that. He wants to make them feel like they’re in the science class in person. Wanted to get kids hooked from the beginning. He transitioned from teaching HS to teaching MS in the fall (new district). Was a bit nervous but it’s been an easy transition. He was using some tech tools like Peardeck, Brainpop. He didn’t want to learn 16-17 different applications. Equity- there are days students can come in and pick up materials for kits.
What are your thoughts on doing away with textbooks or not? HS kids he taught wanted the paper text, not the digital one. Speaking from his experience, it’s very technical, complex texts. Very difficult to teach without a text, based on feedback students have provided. Even e-books don’t work. May not be needed for core subject, but is needed for some CTE classes. Sometimes people forget that it’s good to have texts to highlight. Sometimes younger teachers like him, but “old school teachers” want them. It’s a personal preference. He never looked at health science as science. He was into healthcare already in MS. His state has provided him with curriculum support materials for MS. Surveying kids first is the best way to go. Has an online assessment as well.
Tell me about the NCAE Educators of Color Academy-he is in the first cohort, started in 2018, 25 of them throughout the state, they are working to recruit & retain educators of color. Work to make sure they can lead. 25 different issues they are working on. He’s working on micro-aggressions and racial tension in the workplace and how that affects teacher performance, it’s a vicious cycle. Can’t expect really great outcomes when teachers are afraid. They want to have educators who are trauma informed, and help to reduce poverty. Everyone has submitted problem of practice. Out of the 25, his group’s has been forwarded to governor’s taskforce. Others are focused on building up math scores. He’s focused on work key scores and prison population, in CTE scores. He’s in an IB school, whole-school, it introduces them to things that are more rigorous, like kids getting health science careers in MS (diagnostic services, biomedical technology). He’s a firm believer that you should teach everyone at an honors level. He learned his 6th graders were ready to learn in the fall. This was something new. Knee injuries- he kept talking about it, an 8th grader who plays football he asked to teach the unit. It was relevant to him. His cousin who’s a junior in HS only takes honors + AP classes.
What are some of your ideas on how to recruit more students of color into honors/AP classes? His school is full IB. At HS he worked at, we have to understand why the black & brown students aren’t in the AP/honors classes. A former student is doing a project about inequities, she said she was the only black person in her class. Teachers need to believe students can and should be in those classes. Often we leave kids out based on scores from last year. A teacher who knows you personally can help advocate for you. An admin he had increased AP enrollment didn’t address the disparities among the black, brown students not in those classes. It has to do with the admin starting with the principal about getting more black students into AP classes. A colleague of his mentioned, why aren’t we teaching ALL the classes at honors level? The innovative schools, early colleges, he says don’t necessarily serve the population they were meant to serve. You leave students like him out. Can earn AA during “super senior year” 5th year of HS. In his area, innovative schools were based on fact some students didn’t have opportunity to go to college after HS. They then ended up in the innovative schools but in an alt. School instead. A friend who is a principal at one & him have conversations. They were sending kids with 3.5 GPA’s from the the suburbs. General assembly agreed on it. A lot of students we should be serving in innovative schools are those in alt schools. A lot of those students will rise and meet those.
Key quotes: students and educators- “don’t allow your past experiences to define you”. No one should forget that. You don’t know whose in your classroom. “Don’t take on too much at once. You are first as an educator! As paramedic, he learned that you need to take care of yourself first. Find Steven on Twitter @guptonteaches View this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/r7GCCPhCTuI
Episode #65: Dave Schmittou, Ed.D.
Dave Schmittou, Ed.D. is the author of 4 𝐛𝐨𝐨𝐤𝐬, has 4 𝐤𝐢𝐝𝐬, ran 5 𝐦𝐚𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐡𝐨𝐧𝐬, has done 2 ultras, was the 2014 Principal of the Year; 2018 College Educator of the Year and host of the #𝐋𝐚𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐋𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐧𝐢𝐧𝐠 podcast, along with being the Director of Leadership & Development at Teach Better Team. Dave is currently a professor of Educational Leadership at Central Michigan University, a former elementary school principal, former middle school principal, assistant principal, coach, and teacher. His books can be purchased on Amazon: “Making Assessment Work”, “Bold Humility”, “It’s like Riding a Bike” & “Omniscient”.
Out of the Trenches story: Dave says he is living in the trenches right now, digging in, he thinks about WWI, “trench warfare”. We have to take the 1st step, getting out of the trench. Getting up and starting a new day. He says he doesn’t necessarily have a positive mindset. A lot of what’s happened in the world isn’t bringing new problems, it’s giving us the leverage to focus on our vision. He’s using the 2020-21 school year to clarify on how he sees himself. He’s finding his own future.
Let’s talk a bit about your running story, when did you start and how long did it take to work your way up to the marathon? What was your last race? Dave was a military brat. Joined the track team in 9th grade. Friend’s mom took a pic of him running the mile. He had long hair, looked like he was dominating, but was so far behind everyone. Gave up the sport. Has run for 11 years. In 2008, Dave was a MS track coach. There was an 8th grade student Justin, who in 2009 challenged him to race around the world, which is 25K miles, the weekend of the podcast recording, Dave hit 12,500 miles. Bet was to pay the other $100. He has a tattoo with the world on his shoulder. Dave completed Boston and Chicago marathons in 2019. Chicago was an “agonizing party”. Ran 33 miles on the beach for spring break. Miles 4-9 are his zen. After his first marathon, he ended in the fetal position It was San Diego Rock & Roll. Didn’t have a great routine. Dave runs between 10, 15, 20 miles every day. Did you use endurance nutrition? He runs to eat.
Do you think of ideas for your books during runs? He has 4 kids, so running is opportunity to get away, so he goes where his mind takes him. He has internal debates with himself. He gets ideas from presentations because he gets push-back and discourse. During runs, he thinks of debates he’s having on Twitter, i.e. his “poking the bear”. His books are based on his presentations. They’re a reminder to self of pushing through hard things.
Another Trenches story is his missteps as a leader early in his career. He thought he knew everything after his 1st year teaching. After his 3rd year teaching, he tried to interview for leadership jobs. Didn’t get the job, then went to law school so he could sue districts. Eventually he went into administration after 7 years in the classroom. Superintendent told him directives about how to manage, not serve. He was constantly focused on how to please the central office. He did all the dirty work year 1. Created “itty bitty schmittys”, thought he’d create mini versions of himself in his teachers. Took a while to climb out of (this trench). His book “Bold humility”- that’s what real leadership involves. People will work for people they like.
Talk about your working this year helping schools & districts as a consultant: He helps schools & districts this year at a reduced rate with new teacher support & making assessment work. His newest book is “Making Assessment Work: For Educators who Hate Data but Love Kids”. Data is a four letter word in many schools. There are the eye rolls. It’s a new swear word in schools. Assessments aren’t about #’s, it’s how various stakeholder groups see it from their own lens. He’s a firm believer of standards vs. no standards. It’s a Pandoza’s box now with grading. Like pass/fail in the spring 2020. Grading inequities we’ve been having for years. Students are having less engagement online than when were in the classroom. Admin or the superintendent will often decide to implement a form of SBG after going to a conference. Everything often isn’t aligned to the standards. Does it work for all grades? His example is that 6th grade is based off common core, 257 standards for 1 year. If we threw in electives, it comes to 1451 standards. St’s don’t “master” a standard in .7 days. The expectation is for students is to learn and master. We come up with a pacing guide, 15 kids have mastered, 15 kids aren’t even close. Then we have to move on. We do the exact same thing, year after year. We’re not seeing an uptick in accountability scores because we’re doing what we’ve always done. There is a difference between SBG and SB instruction. Assessment should lead to instruction. It’s a big mindset shift. If you’re trying to take quick fix you’re using “formative” and “summative” in gradebook. Using assessments formatively & summatively. That way it informs instruction, but the assignments aren’t very good. A true SB classroom treats all evidence as good evidence.
When did you make the move from being an E.S. principal to a college professor & why? What do you miss in the K-12 setting? Dave worked as a turn-around principal. 60-70% of his time is still consulting, with the grading piece. In 2008, his school implemented SBG. Became an assistant superintendent and started it as a district. Took a pivot into consulting. He teaches University courses at M.A., research and doctorate level. Last year was offered ½ time professorship, was going to still be asst. superintendent. Let the asst. superintendency go and is just a consultant. College prof gig was a 40% pay cut. It allows him flexibility. With a 9-5 day job he was unable to travel, speak. He does research as part of the university gig. Currently researching what he did for his dissertation 10 years ago. The Assistant Principal position how it’s like a stepping stone job. Research on turnover of APs. Other aspect is role social media has on PD, especially during the pandemic. It’s often gathered through twitter chats, Teach Better Team Mastermind. Most AP’s enter that role because they see it as a stepping stone. Subjectively it could be an intriguing job for some people, most AP’s conceptually understand they will have to do discipline and make hard phone calls to parents. They don’t say that in the interview. We add on to AP’s load many things that aren’t a training ground for the principalship.
Key quotes: He makes sure everything in his life is aligned in order to ”focus on your focus and measure your priority. Look at yourself in the mirror”.