Sheldon Eakins:

Welcome advocates to another episode of the Leading Equity Podcast, a podcast that focuses on supporting educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their school. First-timers, please hit that subscribe button. You can also follow me on Twitter @SheldonEakins. I have a very special guest with me today. Her name is Dr. Emily Affolter. She is the author of "Staying Woke" on Educational Equity through Culturally Responsive Teaching. Emily, thank you so much for joining me today.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Thank you, Sheldon.

Sheldon Eakins:

I am excited because we've been chatting a good minute before we actually started recording. So I'm excited because I know this is going to be a good conversation show. Let's jump right into it. You know how we do listeners, we, we jumped right in. So first question, what impact can an effective culturally responsive professional development series have on a school?

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Ultimately, I think that it can build in the notion, not only to teachers, but to administrators as well. And ultimately to students that this work, this equity literacy, culturally responsive work is ongoing and fundamental to building a just educational landscape. So I think of it as shifting awareness, building knowledge and fostering alignment, and really thinking about how those things are enacted day to day with respect to culturally responsive teaching pedagogy and leadership.

Sheldon Eakins:

Okay. And so you did some research on a culturally responsive professional development series. Walk us through a little bit about what that series was and maybe some of the impact that you might've noticed some of the teachers had.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Yeah. First of all, I have to say I did, but it wasn't just me. I have been in scholarship and in community with a lot of incredible folks before me. Dr. Geneva Gay is one of the founders of multicultural education and she's coined the term if you will, culturally responsive teaching. And so Geneva helped and guided me. And so I say that because of my positionality, I come in as a white person, a white scholar, and I really needed to understand culturally responsiveness by the mentorship, both in text and human mentorship of a identity diverse cadre of people. And so with that guidance, I co-designed a six month curriculum for teachers at a school. It was actually a K-8 school, but we were only able to measure K-5 teachers for various reasons. But I built this curriculum with someone who was the instructional coach at the school, and it was a very collaborative and iterative process.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

First of all, I will say that culturally responsive professional development was mandated by the school district. There was regular and sustained commitment district wide to culturally responsive teaching. And so-

Sheldon Eakins:

That's good.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

It's so good. So I had that going for me and the school principal was really amenable to my coming in and helping because they had this dedicated time. And so with that, I sat down with the instructional coach and the school leadership and said, "I think these are my eight key tenants of culturally responsive teaching." So we sat down with these tenants and I looked at them with these folks and said, "Which of these are meaningful to you based on what you're doing as a school teaching community, leadership community?" So they helped choose which ones were speaking to them and do want to hear them?

Sheldon Eakins:

Sure.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

So the eight were content reform, so the actual curriculum, contextual competence, so how the curricula would shift and the methods would shift based on who's in the room, who's in the community, equity, pedagogy and methodology, teacher transformative self study, school culture, more larger infrastructure for equity, interrogating one's knowledge and assumptions, prejudice reduction, and building agency for action.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

So I created that, Gloria Ladson Billings, Geneva Gay, James Banks, a number of different scholars helped me create and inform those [inaudible 00:04:00]. And the school leadership felt like content reform, so really interrogating the curriculum, teacher transformative self study, so really doing a lot of self work around our prejudices biases and how that permeates our teaching and then interrogating knowledge and assumptions, so interrogating school values, school decorum, school norms, they felt like those three were really what needed to be focused on. And so we were able to start with a conceptual framework and they talked me through some things that they were working on with respect to curriculum.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

We looked at the really basic 10 school values and we thought about them from an equity frame. And then we did thought a lot about what the teachers might benefit from with respect to transformative self study work. And with that context in mind, I developed a curriculum especially closely with the instructional coach of the school. So I really had that person on the ground who understood the people and the context. And then I had a critical panel of friends who sat down, who are scholars. They all happen to be women of color who looked through the whole curriculum before it was actually rolled out and offered a lot of critical feedback. And then finally, I did action research. So I actually facilitated the CRPD and did research on it over a six month period.

Sheldon Eakins:

So it sounds like you really did your legwork. I mean you brought in James Banks, Geneva Gay and Gloria Ladson Billings and then you you work with instructional coach and set down what are your needs? And then you came up with the aid strategy. I mean, you put in some work, Emily. That's what's up. I'm excited. So based off of your research and the other thing that I would want to add before I forget that I was like six months, because I know a lot of times we do these professional developments, it's for a day or half day, or maybe a couple days. And then we expect our teachers to go back and be productive and be able to apply everything that they got crammed in within a short period of time. So this stretched out over six months, I think that it was going to have a better impact than it would if it was just a couple of days or so for this professional development. So round of applause for you. Listeners who are out there, if you driving, please keep your hands on the wheel, but anybody else go ahead and give her a round of applause. That's what I like to hear. Good job on that. Man, I'm excited.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Oh, you're filling my bucket, but I do have to say that I have worked in three dimensions with Dr. James Banks and I have met Dr. Ladson Billings, Dr. Geneva Gay advise the whole project and their thinking and their work informed it. So they didn't counsel on it. But a lot of their work was integrated.

Sheldon Eakins:

I got you. Okay.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

But thank you. I definitely want to make sure credit is where it's due and yet you did just fill my bucket.

Sheldon Eakins:

Well, again, I knew coming into this conversation, this was going to be amazing. And like I said, that's what's up, I'm excited. And I'm going to definitely leave the link to your article in our show notes so that our listeners can find it as well. So when I reached out to you, we were going back and forth as far as how we wanted to get this episode to be portrayed to our listeners, you came up with five elements. So based off of what you did, as far as the six month research, this action research, you have five elements that must be in place when doing a CRPD. Let's go over it all. So what is the first element that if I'm a administrator or whoever it is that's responsible for putting this professional development together, what's the first element that I need?

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Well, I think that the first one is make your frame fit what the school's doing. So don't create something that is just plug and play. I don't think that there is a singular way to go, but I think it really needs to be responsive to and adaptive to where the school's at. That speaks back to what I was saying before of develop a theoretical framework so that you can guide the conversation or whoever is doing it can guide the conversation. Steve did an equity pedagogy, but then allow them to drive that so that it really is going to speak to their teachers, leaders, community members.

Sheldon Eakins:

Are you recommending to steer away from a purchased curriculum? Are you saying they need to craft it from the scratch? I mean, what do you... Clarify that for me.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

I just mean that there's no checklist. The checklist has to come from the inquisitive questioning at the school itself. So I think that the understanding of, this is my theoretical foundation and to me, the eight tenants of culturally responsive teaching, and how can these overlay onto what's relevant for the school. And that's really a question for the school. And so I would just say, come with the question, don't come with the answer.

Sheldon Eakins:

So the key word in this, in that first element is relevant. That's what I'm hearing it. It must be relevant. So for those listeners or those who are out there who have curriculum that's available, you have to make sure that it's relevant. It can't just be, "Okay well, I heard that we need social emotional learning," or, "I heard that we need restorative justice. So I'm just going to buy this textbook or buy this series of workshops. And this is what we're going to put in front of our teachers," but it needs to make sure that we're being relevant to our school setting.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yep, exactly.

Sheldon Eakins:

Number two, what is the second element?

Dr. Emily Affolter:

I would say number two is mandatory and sustained. So mandatory and sustained means if we just ask teachers and school leaders who are already bought in, are already practicing culturally responsive teaching and leadership, we're not doing the job and the job really needs to speak to everybody. So we need to be careful not to just speak to the choir. And so for me, that was really advantageous that it was mandated, but also it's what time of day, what time of the week. I mean, we're trying to find times where you have teachers and leaders who are fresh, who are all showing up and ready. I think just being really strategic about when you do this so that you can get as much essential energy and wrapped attention, I mean also respect for it as possible because making it visible, making it mandatory again, that makes it relevant to everyone. So I've seen it happen otherwise where it's an opt in situation and unfortunately the people that really need to hear it aren't showing up to the table.

Sheldon Eakins:

Yep, yep. Yep. That happens when it's an optional thing or there's not an incentive for me to participate. Like you said, preaching to the choir. Those who... It's like when you do surveys, the people that you really want them to do the surveys aren't the ones that do it. It's always the ones that have such a distaste or whatever, and they went, "Oh, I want to write this down and give them one star," and all this kind of stuff. Those are the ones that do a lot of those reviews and those surveys. But in an instance of the professional development, we need to make sure that this is mandatory. Everyone needs to participate in it. And I think you get a good group, especially when you have some good PD where there's collaboration and there's table. And it's set up in a format to where we can share with each other as peers. And you need a good mix of individuals who have a little bit more higher competency when it comes to cultural diversity and equity, and you mix them together and you have an awesome opportunity. But if we're just say, "Okay, whoever wants to sign up," or, "Only have so many spots," then are we really doing the best service for our students at the end of the day?

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Absolutely.

Sheldon Eakins:

What's number three? Third element. What do we need?

Dr. Emily Affolter:

I was thinking about this from the orientation of the facilitator. So as a facilitator, I just kept coming back to modeling vulnerability and humility as a facilitator. In doing this work, there is no us versus them that we are in it together. We are all acculturated in the same problematic educational system together. And if we pretend otherwise, it does a disservice to the work. I think that I struggled with this and I got iterative feedback throughout. And I think that certainly my co-facilitator Sarah Rossman and I definitely improved over time as we increased our awareness around are we modeling the content that we're sharing? And if we're not modeling that humility and that vulnerability, then we're not doing justice to the work.

Sheldon Eakins:

So we can't just be telling people what to do. We need to be living the life that we're telling them ourselves, bottom line, right?

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Exactly.

Sheldon Eakins:

Okay. Number four, what you got for me.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Number four is about positionality. Positionality being, what different identities am I bringing and experiences am I bringing to the table? And how does that relate to systems of power and privilege? And how does that positionality influence how I'm teaching, what I'm teaching or facilitating when I'm facilitating, the content that I'm sharing and also, what am I doing to deal with the gaps and limitations that come up? So with my own whiteness, I would always bring various identities into the four and then to mitigate my...

Dr. Emily Affolter:

So I actually was working with a predominantly white teaching faculty and leadership group. And so in some ways that was something that also I made it very clear what things that I did, the people that I was referencing, the people that had their eyes on this, or their hearts in this work that had different racialized identities particularly, that could see it and help me see things that I might not see with my own limitations as just a single white woman teacher. And so for me, thinking about positionality and keeping that at the fore of the work was important. And also to me, having a diverse cadre of critical friends to consider the curriculum and offer feedback was everything in terms of its trustworthiness.

Sheldon Eakins:

I appreciate that. I appreciate that you recognize your position. And yet, first of all, you're not shying away from attacking equity because that's not always the case. So I appreciate that. And then I also appreciate that you brought in others who represent a lot of the students that we have in our classroom as far as ethnicities and you were able to get feedback. So I love that. All right, so what is number five? What is the fifth element that we need in order to do outstanding CRPD?

Dr. Emily Affolter:

The fifth element is really recognizing that discomfort motivates action and change requires that dissonance. So in facilitating this work, bringing to the fore, not only our intellectual selves, but also our feeling selves. So that comes back to vulnerability but also the fact that if we are stirring up some discomfort for people and particularly those who have dominant identities in the room around, what am I missing here with my whiteness, for example, in a racially heterogeneous classroom, or what am I missing here with my assumptions about sexuality and so forth, or my assumptions about what ability or "disability" look like?

Dr. Emily Affolter:

So really bringing up this discomfort for people. And so we're starting to look at the status quo and the status quo is discriminatory. And so in order to do this work and truly be culturally responsive, we need to have a much more fierce equity lens. That requires for a lot of us, a lot of very unsettling work. And so that I say, just bring it on. Of course I say that selectively because as a facilitator, we want to unsettle certain people for certain reasons, but certainly we have to be careful and that's where critical friends come in and can help us be thoughtful about that dissonance and cultivating dissonance that helps people stretch towards just an equitable paths.

Sheldon Eakins:

So we need to make sure that there's a space for those difficult conversations at the end of the day. Is that correct?

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Exactly.

Sheldon Eakins:

Okay. So I'm going to go over these five and please jump in if I mis-wrote something down, I was trying to write really fast. So, listen, I did my best. So one I have, make the frame fit for what the school is doing. Is that correct?

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Exactly.

Sheldon Eakins:

Okay. Number two was make sure it's mandatory and sustained.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Yep.

Sheldon Eakins:

Number three was modeling vulnerability and humility.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Yep.

Sheldon Eakins:

Number four was positionality.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Yep.

Sheldon Eakins:

And then, okay. I might've butchered number five. I have discomfort, motivates and then I have dot dot dot because I missed the last part.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Action.

Sheldon Eakins:

Action. Motivates action. Okay. That is awesome. So if I am planning some CRPD, some culturally responsive professional development, then I need to have these five elements. Are there any bonus ones that you could throw in there at us?

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Definitely. I would say first of all, just feedback, feedback, feedback, and inviting community participation. So the process is iterative and it can't be done in a silo. If it is done in a silo, then it's not culturally responsive. So sharing curricula with school leaders, the equity team, the community, I think those concentric circles of stakeholders, the more that you can share and garner feedback, both pre-rollout of the CRPD and during, just the more meaningful and profound impact it could have.

Sheldon Eakins:

Okay. Well, thank you for those bonus items. We'll add that in the show notes as well. Now you did your research at the K, is more elementary, right? As far as the research.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Yep.

Sheldon Eakins:

So do you think it might look differently at the secondary level? What would that training look like or if it's different at all and how so?

Dr. Emily Affolter:

If you look at the piece and my research you'll see that a documents K-5 and the K-5 school setting, but actually the folks that were participating were K-8 and because there were a few sessions and the middle school teachers could not attend, we were not able to document it as K-8 because we lost some data there. So first of all, it was actually written for a K-8 teaching and school audience. And yet, yes, I think it can be applied to anywhere in the K-12 arena, because it's customized and you could be workshopping really different things like curricula or school values, but for each school you're able to shift it and alter it, such that those core values of culturally responsive teaching are really permeable in any educational sphere.

Sheldon Eakins:

Okay. So it's applicable in any level, as long as you're teaching it, got to have those five plus those couple of bonuses that you threw in there for the elements, those things need to be in place and then we're good to go. So what do you think the benefits were for doing it for six months, as opposed to maybe doing it for a shorter period of time?

Dr. Emily Affolter:

I think there were much more meaningful impacts over time. I would say that six months honestly felt insignificant in the end. I wish that I had five years. But to see, I would say that one of the things that was most interesting to see over the six month period is that teachers' confidence and their belief that they had a good grasp of culturally responsive teaching, social justice, concepts, and education, and so forth, actually their confidence started out really high and over the six month period, you could see their self-assessment, they were less and less confident over time. And to me, I thought that that was profound because as their awareness of these ideas deepened, it opened curiosity and it opened a feeling of, "I don't have it." Like, "Wait, am I know woke?"

Dr. Emily Affolter:

And all of a sudden that reevaluation of wokeness is a journey and it's a long journey. It's like the prejudicial system, educational system that we're in is just constantly building up over time and I have to keep working and working and working against it in order to transcend it on some level. So I think when I saw those results over a six month period, I felt heartened to say that as people's awareness and knowledge deepen around culturally responsive teaching, I felt like that humility increased significantly. And I would imagine that it would just continue to do so over time. And let me just say that, I don't think confidence and efficacy are correlated. I think it's just a depth that comes with that self-assessment and I think that that said a lot about receptivity to learning from others, not from being just like Sage on the stage as a teacher or a leader, but actually coming in and saying, "I'm humbled by the knowledge in this room and this community, by these students. So tell me more."

Sheldon Eakins:

I love that. Thank you. Thank you, Emily. I appreciate you sharing. So I consider you as providing a voice and leading equity. What is one final word of advice that you could share with our listeners?

Dr. Emily Affolter:

My question to all of us and myself is to what extent are my actions in alignment with my culturally responsive pedagogy values or my social justice values? So to what extent am I following through in my actions with what I say? And we see this often as the teachers and leaders can talk about culturally responsive teaching or critical multiculturalism, but their practices don't reflect those words or those narratives. So what I'm curious is how can you build accountability measures in to ensure that you're striving for that alignment? Do you have people in your life that can serve as an accountability partner to talk through some issues and help you see things that you might not be seeing? Or is there something built in systemically to your school culture, like a conversational space that allows you to really work through and tease through some of those areas of misalignment? And I think that's ongoing work for all of us.

Sheldon Eakins:

Well, if we have some listeners that want to reach out to you, I don't know if you have the curriculum packaged in a way or something like that, but if we have some folks that just want to pick your brain and reach out to you, what's the best way to reach you online?

Dr. Emily Affolter:

They can find me at Affolter, [email protected]

Sheldon Eakins:

Well, once again, I am speaking with Dr. Emily Affolter, author of "Staying Woke" on Educational Equity through Culturally Responsive Teaching. Emily it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

Dr. Emily Affolter:

Thank you so much, Sheldon.

 

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