Dr. Sheldon Eakins: (00:00)
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. I have a special guest with me today, Dr. Cheryl Wright. She is the author of "Turning Reluctance into Resilience," and that is out of the ASCD Express. I'll leave a link into the show notes so that you can take a review of it, but that's what we'll be talking about today. Now, Cheryl, we have been talking prior to our recording, and you shared some interesting things with me. So, I want you to talk about who you are as far as what you currently are doing, and then I have some follow-up questions to talk about some of your experiences -- your early experiences in education -- and what kind of led you into this world.
Dr. Cheryl Wright: (00:47)
Yes, and good morning and thank you again for having me on the show. My background is, I am a person from Chicago, Illinois. I grew up in Chicago. Currently, I work as a lecturer at the University of Kansas, but my roots are in Chicago. As a child, for a while, I was in the Project and, being in the Projects at that time -- this is in the early 1960s -- at first, that was a place that was welcoming because it offered affordable housing for families -- at that time -- of color, as well as white, but primarily color. When you think about the myths and the stereotypes of students who live in the Projects, we were poor, but I had the opportunity to attend two public schools. One, in particular, was Raymond Elementary School that I remember today, the principal, the staff was diverse, and the principal would welcome us and tell us to hold our heads up, that we were just as good as anyone else and that we should be proud.
The curriculum included the Arts, and we infuse the Arts into our work. When you think about the stereotypes where people might think that we were poor, we didn't have anything to contribute, we couldn't learn. This particular school, Raymond, built on our strengths of the Arts and let us know that Chicago, the city of Chicago, was our classroom. We put on plays and part of the plays, one was a spoof of "My Fair Lady," and it was called "My Fair Liza." At that time, the play got to be so well known -- and again these were children from the Projects, elementary school -- that other people started coming to see this play and one particular day, a group of nuns came from Winnetka, Illinois, Sacred Heart Academy, and, to put it shortly, it was like, "Look at these children. These children don't fit the stereotype of what you would expect from the Projects in Chicago."
I would think they dare to say we were articulate, that we presented ourselves well. This was during the time of integration, and so the nuns from Sacred Heart Academy and school board members at that time spoke with our principal and thought it would be a novel idea to invite some of the children for Raymond School during spring break to come to Winnetka, Illinois. I, fortunately, was one of the children who was invited to this particular social experiment. Now, when you think about Civil Rights in the early sixties, it was a dangerous time, and my dad was frightened. He was like, "No way am I going to allow my daughter to be part of this." But my grandmother worked as a maid for a family in Glencoe, Illinois, and they assured my dad that if I was allowed to go, they would check on me along with my grandmother on Wednesday that week, spring vacation, to make sure the setting I was in was safe.
So, I had the chance to go. It was a wonderful opportunity. I stayed with a family by the name of Moderrick. Lived with the family for -- this was four weeks, spring vacation. I remember walking with my [inaudible] down the street, and when you think of other Civil Rights situations where there were slurs, and there were mobs that were shouting at the students and daring them to approach this school, my situation was quite different. No one bothered us. I remember cameras rolling. The experience completely turned out to be positive and became a documentary in Chicago called -- I'm trying to think -- The Movement Forward: Pushing Civil Rights on the South Shore. Something to that extent, but it was a documentary that was made at that time, so that drives my passion. It stayed with me from a child, and I have been fortunate to be involved with such work since then.
Thank you for sharing that story, Cheryl, and, a lot of folks, when you ask them what got them into this work, what got them into doing equity work, and you know a lot of our educators out there have a personal experience and your experience right there. I can imagine. I mean, you had a positive experience with integration. Often, we see historically, when we talk about Brown v. Board of Education, we talk about, even today, where our schools are when it comes to segregation and things like that till today. Yet your experience was very positive. Something else very interesting that you shared with me before we started recording was your experience with Dr. King. Could you share a little bit about that?
Yes, I'd be happy to. The Raymond School Experience occurred when I was in the fifth grade. This particular experience with Dr. King was from the sixth grade for me -- again, on the South Side of Chicago and living on the South Side of Chicago, and at that time troops street -- a lot of times the children would play outside in the street, regular street games and fun times for the children. It all happened that one afternoon, I saw a large group of people walking down, which, at the time for me, was 71st street in Chicago, and I stopped along with the other children because you could hear this crowd approaching, you could hear the noise. And, at first, I thought it meant trouble, but as I looked closely, I could tell that this was something different, that there was energy with this group, but the energy was positive.
I noticed the color of the priest. I noticed the habits of the nuns. For African American men, they were wearing shirts and ties and hats. The women were carrying their handbags and wearing hats, so I knew that this was not a riot. There was a mixture of white and black, and people were singing. They were singing boisterously, and they were walking with determined steps, and they were saying, "Join us! Join us!" And, being idealistic as a child and wanting to participate and help promote things even as a child with things that were positive, I joined them. I left where I was playing with my brothers and my friends, and I joined that march. At the time, I had no idea that this march was being led by Dr. King, and this was part of the Civil Rights Movement, no idea at all. For me, it was just something positive.
I wasn't meaning to be reckless, but I have a heart for wanting to be involved that helped make positive change. So, I walked, and I walked, and I was singing. I didn't know the words, but I was clapping and right there with them, and I walked for several blocks, maybe a mile or two, but then, having been raised as a child in Chicago, I knew that I was leaving my neighborhood. I knew that I was outside of boundary areas of what my parents would say was safe. So, I turned around, and I ran back home. My brothers met me halfway, and when I got back home, my dad said, "Do you know what you have done? Do you realize the position you put me in?" That I did not. My dad explained to me what the Civil Rights Movement was, what nonviolence meant, and that if someone had hit me if someone had spat on me if someone had attacked me, I was to do nothing. Did I realize that at the time? No, I didn't. So he indicated that, as my dad, he would want to protect me, and if he decided to protect me in that situation, it would bring hardship to him. And that I had put him in a very dangerous situation. I apologized, I told my dad I did not want to endanger him. But, on the other hand, I was so happy that I had the opportunity to march with the Doc.
A powerful story.
Thank you. You are so welcome. And that, Sheldon, I'll tell you which leads to a current project, and I know you did not ask about this, but what the Global Oneness Project -- it focuses on sharing powerful stories to inspire and connect with education and the standards for education are linked and align very effectively to inspiring through personal stories and diversity.
You know, I didn't ask, but I appreciate you sharing, and I know that our listeners out there, our fellow advocates out there, appreciate hearing your story and hearing your message, and you have really inspired me. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your story. I mean, you didn't even know the severity -- like you didn't know what you were doing at the time and now you can reflect back on it. And again, now you're in work, you're helping pre-service teachers learn about equity and diversity, inclusion, and you can share your story with your students. That's such a great background to have, and I'm glad it was a positive experience for you because obviously, you know when we think about the Civil Rights Movement and the sacrifices that a lot of people did in order for us to get to where we're at, I'm glad to hear that you had a positive experience around that.
So, let's shift gears a little bit, and let's get into the article that you published, "Turning Reluctance into Resilience." Now, I get a lot of questions, sometimes from educators. They'll ask me, "Well, I have students that aren't motivated. I have students that just straight up say, 'I could care less about school for whatever reasons.'" We talk about how -- "Let's get you on the path. I'm here to help you. I want to see you be successful." And sometimes we get those responses. "Well, yeah, I could care less. I'm not motivated." Those kinds of things. So, I want to start off discussing resilience, and I want you to share with us, how do you define resilience?
Yes, there are multiple definitions, but I'll tell you one that particularly resonates with me, talks about the human capacity, to face adversity, and then the ability to bounce back from difficult situations. And that is so important because being human and part of life, we all encounter adversity. But, with resilience, the critical thing is that we don't beat ourselves down and think that we're failures because of whether it's trauma or because of different situations at home that we realized that we do have value, we do have work and we continue to press on. So, that ability to bounce back, despite adversity, is how I look at resilience.
"Continue to press on." I like that. So, let me ask you this next question because how do we help our students not to beat themselves down? To continue to press on? I mean, what are some ways that we can address a student with an "I don't care" attitude.
Yes. Some things that particularly come to mind are inspiring hope. And I'll kind of mentioned some things and then give examples, but to inspire hope, to be open to their feedback, to allow their voice, the student's voice, to be heard, to be genuine and offering compliments to them. Now, several things that come to mind that I have learned over the years, and the students have shared: they want us to be open to their voices. They want us not to yell. And I know teachers will say, "Oh, I try not to yell," but yelling in class. Many students have told me that that is a block for them, that that discourages them or turns them off more than anything else. And I know as teachers, we are human, and we try not to get frustrated, but yelling definitely is counterproductive to what we want to do as far as inspiring students.
So, remaining calm to show enthusiasm -- and, again, these are things that we can do that don't cost money. It doesn't mean that we're not doing these things. We're just more intentional. We're being calm. When situations do arise in class, we let the students know that each day is a new day. If we have a problem in class on day one, then day two, we start again. We come in with a new attitude. I don't hold a grudge. I don't expect you to hold a grudge. We welcome them into the classroom. We don't show favoritism. We encourage them by making the environment comfortable to ask questions. Not only are we trying to provide a physically safe environment, but the environment is one where they're not ashamed to ask questions. They're encouraged to ask questions. We have high expectations for the students. We just don't give that warm demander aside where we're saying, "Oh, we like you, and we're encouraging you."
But we also have high expectations because I tell you, I had students, and these were students in special education and one young man told me, in particular, he said, "Don't give me the easy stuff." When I was asking him about what influences him, what inspires him to do well in school, and sometimes teachers might think just because a student has an IEP that they can't do the more difficult work that we're saying that here, we'll give you something that's easy. But this young man turned it around, and he asked me to please make sure that I share this with teachers. "Don't give me the easy stuff." And when you think about it, and he explained it because that's saying that, "I don't have the ability to do more difficult work, that I can't be challenged and I know when they're giving me easy stuff. Of course, it might seem like I don't want to work hard, but when it truly comes down to it, I want to be challenged." But what we need to remember to do as teachers is to scaffold that learning. When we give them the more difficult work for critical thinking and rigor, we need to support that learning with scaffolds and give them tools along the way so that they can be successful.
You know, in my area, I'm a special education director, but I've also seen a lot of our ESL students being passed on as well or passed up. So, they're not getting challenged with the work that they're getting because English is not their first language. And so it's easier for educators sometimes just to give them a little, you know, give them an A or just give them a C or something to pass them, but they're not challenging them. So, and it's not intelligence necessarily, especially with ESL. English is not my first language, and I'm in a school that speaks English, so I still need to -- we still need to challenge those students as well.
Most definitely. Most definitely. In our nurturing, we need to know the difference between nurturing and then enabling them.
I totally agree. I totally agree with that. So, I want to pitch out another question to you because, you know, sometimes we talk about how we have a difficult student or unmotivated student and I've seen classrooms where maybe there are 20 kids in there and 18 out of those 20 kids don't seem inspired or motivated, and you'd have just the one or two kids that are really trying, you know, sit in front of class, really asking the teachers for -- they're doing the work. Maybe they're not motivated, as well, but maybe they feel like, "Okay, I need to get good grades for whatever reasons." And they have that mindset, yet they're not motivated either. If we're looking at it as an entire classroom, what are some of your tips to motivate a class beyond just the one or two students that might not seem to have that motivation?
Yes, and, I will say, it's ongoing over a period of time, but you want to model respect for the students. It has to be reciprocal, and it has to be consistent. And when you model respect, when you give a genuine compliment, you celebrate the small wins when you can. You earn their trust, and when you earn their trust, that opens the door for their learning. Now, a couple of strategies -- and I don't want this to seem like it's the end-all you have to do this and this will magically open the door for them because we know there's no silver bullet when they come saying silver bullet might not be the correct choice of words here, but there's no single strategy, and I've heard scholars say before we are the strategy and we are, and some things in particular that I have seen to be effective is collaborative problem solving and having those collaborative structures in place.
It's not just having fun and education. The learning has got to be purposeful, but also, it's important that it's balanced with purposeful engagement for the students. So, you speak for a certain amount of time as far as teacher talk, and then you allow the students to talk, to problem solve, critically think, to reason, to discern different facts and information, to give their opinion, to problem solve, to critically think to interact with each other. Those are things that I see as helping to build community within a classroom. The content, yes, most definitely we need the content, but I also see an effective classroom is one that is a blend of effective content and then you are aligning that with the social/emotional skills, those impersonal skills that are needed where students feel valued, they feel that their voice is important and they feel that it's okay if they make a mistake and we learn from that, and again, that's where pressing forward, comes into play.
There's a strategy that's called a two-minute strategy, and I'm sure teachers have heard of this, but you focus on different students, and eventually, it's everyone in the class where you focus on students a couple of minutes each day. "How are you doing? How are things going on?" You're checking in with that student, and you're not talking about things academically, and per se, you're just getting an idea of where they are emotionally, their presence in class. And you do that for 10 consecutive days, and it's amazing the changes that are noted, building students' confidence where they know you're not giving up on them, that there's still promise in what they do. Those are different things that I do to try to inspire those collaborative structures, inspiring them in the format of "It's okay if you make a mistake, we're learning together to use humor where you can." It doesn't mean that you're cracking jokes per se, but you're showing that you're human by using humor, remaining calm. Those are some of the things and celebrating their successes or those small wins along the way that are helpful to build in classroom communities.
You know, it's funny, as I was listening to your response, I was just thinking because, in my Teaching Through a Culturally Diverse Lens course, our last live session that we had, I was explaining the two-by-10, right, where you do the two minutes talking to the students for 10 consecutive days. So, I was just smiling as you're explaining that because, like, yeah, I just got done telling the students in the class about that. So, we're on the same page, and that can make such a difference. And a lot of the teachers in that course after the live session were like, "Yeah, I'm motivated. I'm just going to try it." Because we were talking about developing relationships with our students and it has part of it. Sometimes we just automatically connect with some of our students. And then there are some other students that we just -- we're trying to figure out, like, "How do I bond, how do I make this connection?" And just spending two minutes a day for 10 days straight can make a world of difference. And so, I'm glad you brought that up. What are some, maybe, other ways that we can foster some essential connections? Because, you know, you mentioned humor, but I think if you're not a funny person, like, if that's not naturally you, it may not go well. Right? If you got dad jokes and they're not funny. Right? So, what are some other ways that you would suggest that we can foster essential connections?
Yes. You want to show enthusiasm for your job, and I know that we all have personal lives and we come with our concerns, as well, but I've heard students often say, "Oh, Mr. So-and-so, or Miss So-and-so, they don't even really seem like they want to be here. They don't seem like they truly care for us." And so, if we can, when we can show enthusiasm for our job, building on students' strengths is so important. Taking them from where they're at and building on that to move forward. Something else, too -- and I'm trying to think of it here -- being constructive when we do have to give criticism, that is so important, and I shouldn't say criticism. Let me reword that. Being constructive when we're giving feedback is very important, and a way to do that in class -- this is a strategy that I've found to be very helpful.
If you have sticky notes and you have given clear, clear expectations and goals of what's expected in the lesson. And then, let's say now the students are doing independent work or they're working collaboratively with others, just writing a message on a sticky note. "I like the way you're working." "You're doing a good job." "You're working hard to help your group." Just little comments like that. "Yes, you're right on track." "You nailed it." Just a little simple sentences, comments like that. Putting it on a sticky note and putting it on the student's desk. I have seen this to be effective, whether it's an elementary school, high school -- just setting that note on the desk. Because after, wow, and you're walking around, you can imagine the other students are going to wonder, "Why is that person getting a note, and I didn't get a note?" And you begin to see that, when the bell rings, a lot of the students will take their notes with them. Some of them may say, "Thank you." Some of them don't say anything. Some of them just smile. But I have seen that to be a form of classroom management where you're not saying anything, you're just writing a note, and you're placing it on the student's desk. And then, that prompts them to demonstrate those positive learning skills, and it helps with the classroom climate. It inspires, encourages, just little things like that. Let them know that you're on their team.
Thank you for sharing. Now, is there a way that we can be intentional with ensuring that everyone, at some point, gets a sticky note? Like, how do we work that out so that it looks equitable, and it doesn't seem like, "Oh, only these kids get the notes, and the other kids don't get notes."
Exactly. And I'm glad you brought that up because I don't want it to look like favoritism because if you do that, that's not going to be a win-win situation for you. As the notes are passed around, the other students -- finally -- they begin to get it, and I look for even the smallest indication that they are trying and I might even put on their note, "Yes, I like your effort." "I'm noticing that you're trying to do better." "I'm noticing that your head is up." "I'm noticing that you put your cell phone away." "I like your response here." "I like the way you're participating." So, I intentionally look for something that is positive, where I can write this student a note, and it is appreciated. Even if I have to use proximity to help encourage them to do something that is more in line with learning.
They get the message -- smiles never hurt, smiles don't cost anything, either. And you're going around them. And I have, in different high schools, I've countered some pretty difficult students. My background is special education, I mentioned, as well. But if you can give praise, and again this is genuine praise, to those that are struggling the most, as well as those that are your strong students, it does help to change that behavior, and it helps them to be positive participants in the classroom. So you're intentional. And again, that's where it comes to not holding a grudge like, "Oh, this student came in late and gave me a little mouth or no way am I giving him a note. No way am I going to give him a note." No, you don't do that. And then a lot of factors have come into play here because you're modeling respect for the student.
You're modeling positive behavior. You're modeling that you have high expectations. You're modeling that you're celebrating a small win here. So, that consistent modeling, it does make a difference. And those sticky notes, you have a hundred in a stack sometimes, and you don't overdo it. You give them out, and by the end of the class, everyone has one. But that's one way to be intentional. And then, if someone just doesn't earn one that day for whatever reason on the way out, you can let them [know], "Hey, today didn't seem like it was a good day. I hope things get better for you." Pulling them aside, having a side conversation, "How are things going? Can you tell me what's the problem here? What can I do to help you?" Those side conversations, while you're still monitoring the class, maintaining the student's dignity are very important. And other students notice -- they notice what you're doing, and they respond.
So, what I'm hearing is, we gotta be intentional and authentic with our messaging and modeling. I like that you use modeling because that is really cool in that sense. Now, it really got me thinking because, with the modeling piece, I'm sure that we could set up a community in our classroom where our students are given sticky notes to each other. Is that something that you've seen or experienced?
I can't say that over the years, I have seen it. What we want to make sure, and this is where the feedback comes in, like, if you're working in collaborative groups, a lot of times, we know, in earlier years we had the Kagan strategies, and we had other strategies for group work, so, a lot of times, when you're giving feedback and those structures you can use sticky notes for that. I would caution us to just do it randomly, because sometimes people or the students just do something favorable with those that they like or that they are their friends and we don't want to seem like a popularity contest, but I will tell you this, your point is valid and given the structure to do that within groups, I would say most definitely because that helps those students to learn how to give positive talk instead of negative talk.
But, also you reminded me, Sheldon, there's something that we do -- and it's like signing a yearbook, and I even do it with adults with professional learning. You can take a sheet of paper, and you put your name on the top of the paper, and then you either have your paper on the table, or you put it on the wall and students go around -- or adults -- and they write something positive about that person that they like and it has got to be positive and -- "I like your smile." "You're a nice addition to our class." And, as this is done, I would go around and look at the sheets to make sure it is positive by doing an activity beforehand. One thing, I don't know if you heard of a right-left activity is something that, a lot of times, ladies might do at a party where you're sharing gifts or people might do it at an event where they're sharing gifts, but it's a story of right-left.
Yes, and I've seen this, I've done this with adults. I even do it in my classes at the university, sometimes, to help build community. I've done it to help build community in classroom where even if students were angry with me because I had an expectation for them, the next day I will come in with this activity, and I develop the story to fit the needs of our situation or the topic, and it can be bags of chips or whatever you want it to be. Everyone has their own bag. And as the story is read aloud, when you hear the word "right," "right forward," "right turn," "right-whatever," you're passing the item to the right, you're in a circle. And then whenever you hear the word "left" or "left turn," "leftovers," whatever, you're passing the bag or whatever to the left, and at first, people think it's so silly.
It's like, okay, right, left. But as you said, and you go faster with the reading, it always induces joy. And people laugh, and people feel so good about this. You know, it takes a little time because you have to develop a story. It takes time because you have to, whatever you're going to purchase or get for people to pass around, but it really builds community, and that way, it doesn't matter. You're differentiating. Everyone is involved in the circle, and everyone's cheering for each other because the object is, everyone has something at the end. And even if you have to toss a bag across the circle at the end because someone has missed, you know, you leave with a good feeling. And then I've done that and then we segue into instruction.
That's a fun activity because it builds the community in your classrooms and you're telling, you know, "Mrs. Johnson was driving down the street, and she made a left turn," and then everyone passes the tip to the left and "Then they turn right and then Mr. Right and then Mr. Left --" And it is such a fun activity, and you could do it at any level. It doesn't have to be elementary and middle school, like, you can do with the high schoolers.
Yes. And at university.
Yeah. And adults, yes. Adults can do it. It's a great, great way again to community build. And I liked how you said -- well, you notice when it's time to roll out that activity. Like maybe the day before that week was kind of rough and you're trying to bring everything back together, and you have a nice fun activity, and then you go into your lesson.
So, Cheryl, I definitely consider you as providing a voice in Leading Equity. What is one final word of advice that you can provide to our listeners?
Yes, and when you say "word," I did take that literally, but if I can add to it, but for one word, I would say "persistence." You have got to be persistent in your commitment. You've got to be persistent and trying to inspire students to encourage them to let them know that you are an advocate for them. You want to be persistent and not giving up on them. You have to be persistent in yourself -- care and letting them know that you care for them, and you want them to succeed. Going back to Martin Luther King and I -- this is one quote of many that really speaks to me, though as far as not giving up and having resilience. If you remember this, Sheldon, "If you can't fly, then run. If you can't run then, walk. If you can't walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward." And I want to instill in your students to help them achieve their success.
We're going to end it there. Thank you, Cheryl. It has been a pleasure. Now, if we have some folks that want to reach out to you, they want to connect with you, what's the best way to connect?
Yes. I can be reached at [email protected]
Alright. Once again, I am speaking to Dr. Cheryl Wright. She is the author of "Turning Reluctance into Resilience." Cheryl has been a pleasure. Thank you so much again
And thank you, and have a great day.
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