Main Points

  • Principal Academy
  • Teaching Principals Leadership Skills
  • How to Have Difficult Conversations
  • Working with a Team
  • Turnaround Principals
  • Assets-Based Approach

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 schools. Today I've got another special guest with me, Dr. Marty Martinez. So without any further ado, thank you, Marty for joining us today.

Dr. Marty Martinez (00:18)

Thank you, Sheldon, it's good to be with you.

Eakins: (00:21)

So I want to talk to you about Principal Academy and some of the things that we can do when we're honing in and grooming our future principals, our future school leaders, and we want to make sure that they're focused on equity. But before we get into that, I want to give you an opportunity to share a little bit about your background and, you know, again, we'll get into our conversation today. 

Martinez: (00:45)
Okay. Thanks, Sheldon. You know, I have been in education for about 25 years. Started as a teacher, K-six teacher, primarily sixth grade and then in different districts around the capitol region, Sacramento, California region. And then I moved up through school leadership and became a principal at a couple of different sites in one of our larger districts in Oak Grove Unified. Very diverse experiences, Title One to the highest socioeconomic and achieving school in a district. And then, a few years ago, I came to the County Office of Education, the Sacramento County Office of Education, to really focus on teacher and leader development and last year in 2018-2019, we launched the SCOBY Principals Academy, Sacramento County Office of Education, really because we saw a need to develop and, for ongoing professional development, ongoing leadership development for current site principals that went beyond their original credentialing requirements and to really focus and help them, now that they've been in the position to really hone their leadership practices and be able to meet the needs that are required for today's schools. 

Eakins: (01:59)
All right, well again, welcome to the show. Let's talk about Principal Academy. So you're out in the California area, I think you said Sacramento area in California, is that correct?

Martinez: (02:09)

That's correct.

Eakins: (02:10)

All right, so tell me about it. Like what is the Principal's Academy and what are some of the, you know, future principals? What are they gathering and learning or doing through this Academy? 

Martinez: (02:23)
Okay, so really, so the Principal's Academy is really for the prerequisite requirements that they are currently a site leader. So it focuses on the spectrum from pre-K through 12. And we have a balance about half and a half between primary, you know, K through six, pre-K through six and seventh through 12th. And they're really, the focus is on the underlying foundation is the California Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, which we call the Council, but also it's really focused through a community of practice model where we bring in -- we support leadership development through theory, through bringing in expertise, but also a big chunk of the learning happens from that period of peer learning and the needs of the group through -- and really it's measured and probably implemented through continuous cycles of learning out through it, what we call action research cycles. 

Martinez: (03:13)
And, you know, the Academy is really focused on supporting principals in developing in five key practices, you know, so shaping a vision for learning for all students, creating that climate and culture that supports learning for every student, cultivating leadership in others. So really building leadership across our school site, across all of their stakeholders, our community, helping and ensure that they have the skills to maintain constant focus on improving instruction across their campus. And then really just those effective -- giving them the skills to effectively manage people and processes, the data, all of those pieces. So helping them take all of that jumble that is school leadership and all the different -- the complex pieces of it and focus it in a way that's going to support all students in moving along that continuum of development and achievement. 

Eakins: (04:09)
And I think that's very important. And so I'm glad that this institute is out there. One of the things that I have had conversations with folks, especially those who are either current principals or former principals, is they go to training; however, they don't always receive the courses as a coursework that has an equity focus and a social justice and advocacy. Because at the end of the day, our school leaders have the most power in the building at the site when it comes to change and putting focus on equity. So let me ask you, Marty, what are some of the things that you're doing to help cultivate a social justice lens for those future leaders in your district?

Martinez: (04:51)

You know, that's a really good question, Sheldon. I think, so for one of the reasons that I was really motivated to develop the Principle's Academy is because I think, you know, principals receive a lot of professional development that's disconnected and it may be, so maybe I'm focusing on trauma informed care, maybe I'm focusing on culturally relevant pedagogy, but they're all isolated pieces. And what I saw as a need to take that theory and all of those pieces and put the -- help principals implement them in a way that's going to really make a change. And so really helping take that theory and break it down into those practices that really, really support that culture change, that shared vision across the campus that's going to really make a difference for every student. And so, while it doesn't necessarily focus formally on say, social justice issues, it really focused on helping a principal with the practices, with the protocols, and the strategies to start changing that culture and that mindset for their staff, for their community, for all of the, really for the -- primarily for their teachers. 

Martinez: (05:55)
And so by helping them break it down and, you know, for example, one of the things we start with is helping a principal develop norms. Like, so how do you develop norms across a staff that aren't just those standard, you know, assume positive the tents that we're all going to be here on time beyond that, but really how do we work together in a way that's going to support having those difficult conversations, having those conversations needed to really address those social justice issues. So starting with building that foundation, and then moving to create a vision of learning of -- a shared vision of learning, an equitable learning for every student, is kind of that next step. So we really walk them through those processes using continuous cycles improvement, here in California and I believe across the nation, a lot of folks are focusing really on the work of improvement science. 

Martinez: (06:46)
And so really digging down to root causes, looking at all those pieces. So taking all of that and helping a principal see, like, how do I take all of those initiatives, all of the areas of need that we have on our site, in our community and bring it into a focused vision that we can use to make focused decisions that are going to make a difference for every student and create that environment. And also knowing that it takes time, that it's not going to happen in a year, that a principal really has to understand that we're going to create a three to five-year vision. And not that it won't make a difference right away, but that, you know, to change the mindsets of teachers and the community and the system and to learn about, you know, the ways that we're going to meet the needs of every student. It's going to take time and it's going to take honesty and it's going to create -- take creating a foundation where that kind of conversation and that kind of focus can happen. 

Eakins: (07:40)
I liked how you put it because you're exactly right. And when you first started responding to my question, you mentioned about how there's so much disjointedness when it comes to equity, right? Because, and I get this question a lot, like sometimes I'm talking to school districts, principals, and teachers and they'll ask me a question about equity. And I say, "Well let's be specific. Like what part of equity are you wanting me to respond to? Are we talking about culture responsiveness? Are we talking about discipline areas, social, emotional learning?" And you hit it right there. So I liked that you're teaching the future principals in your area about these things and how we can kind of connect them together. So under this umbrella of equity, I want to touch on the difficult conversations piece that you mentioned because I think that's -- one of the parts of being an advocate is it does require us to go in and often -- sometimes we're the only ones that feel a certain way or recognize certain things. 

Eakins: (08:45)
And sometimes we have a small group, but you know, a lot of times when you're doing equity work, there is that, those difficult conversations that come up and some of the emails that I get from time to time, deal with -- how do I address these difficult conversations? How do I show my colleagues or my, you know, my coworkers or my staff, you know, this is inequitable or there's bias in your decisions? How do we have those difficult conversations? Let's be more specific. Let me, let me ask you this. I noticed that a staff member, a teacher of mine, has shown some bias towards a student. How does that conversation happen? How do we do that? 

Martinez: (09:28)
So, first of all, what we teach principals is that -- first, they have to have a clear set of norms, like I mentioned earlier, but how do we manage conflict? How do we manage those kinds of conversations? Because if we can create a -- so starting with that and then that would lead to creating a vision for how we, you know, develop relationship with students, how we engage students, how we align all of our practices to the culture to the needs of our students. So that's the work that really helps us to have those conversations. But, you know, I guess I'm torn between that because, you know, as leaders, when we see those biases, when we see those challenges, you know, I think we can address them honestly by having a conversation. But for teachers to be open and especially when the majority of our teachers are Caucasian, and the majority of our teachers come from a middle-class background. 

Martinez: (10:21)
And we have to establish that trust first. And we have to establish the credibility of ourselves as leader, but also that we believe that all teachers come from -- they want to do what's right for kids, even though they may not understand that practices or their mindsets are those things that are limiting students. And so I think it's -- there's not a one easy way to do that. So, you know, what we talk about is, have those conversations but also set that foundation that we have for how we work together and how we treat students, how we meet them, you know, how we -- the instructional practices that we incorporate, all of those things has to be part of a shared vision that we all, that every teacher, understands and has. And it takes time to implement. 

Eakins: (11:09)
It definitely takes time to implement. Not too long ago, a couple of years back actually, I taught a class at the local institution here called Change Strategies. And we discussed Michael Fullan's book -- one of his books. And we talked about, you know, creating a sense of urgency. What are some of your suggestions when it comes to, let's say a new leader, someone, you know, they just graduated from your program and they're entering into their first year as a school leader and they automatically notice some things right out the back that needs to be changed. Maybe, what are some of your tips for creating a sense of urgency when it comes to change towards equity? 

Martinez: (11:51)
So I think first of all, you know, I think we need to start with the basics. That principle, the new leader, needs to, first of all, establish those relationships to start really, you know, taking the time to really understand the problem. And when I say time, I don't mean taking a year or two. I mean jumping in and really getting to know, but also finding the data and the evidence and making it a team effort. So, you know, what we recommend is that you start, you know, most print schools have a leadership team. And so start sharing that data and getting that shared kind of buy-in for why this is important. And it goes back to how we work together. So if we know that the principal, me saying this is important, leading it, it'll get a group of folks. But if we can create a shared -- and like we see this group of our Latino males are really failing or they're the, you know, they have really disproportionate suspension rate compared to our other groups. 

Martinez: (12:44)
So really sharing that and digging into why this is happening and, you know, that's where we can use that what we -- the improvements giants or the action research cycles to really dig in and have that. But it also means having those honest conversations and, you know, calling it out as urgent while you're doing all of those other pieces at the same time. And so, you know, I don't know that -- I think that there's some people that may not agree with me that you -- because I know the challenge and when I coach a lot of principals, the challenges they see a need and they want to jump right in. But I think sometimes we can hinder our work if we haven't set the foundation. We know with expectations, with developing those, our own credibility. But then also, you know, that shared vision for what this is urgent, and we need to do it. So I think there's multiple ways we have to address it. And I don't know, Sheldon, if that got to your answer, but let me know if you want to dig deeper. 

Eakins: (13:40)
No, I like what you're saying and honestly -- and I appreciate your feedback. It just, it actually made me want to dig a little deeper. So let me ask you this, because I've communicated with, you know, "turnaround principals," you know, those are the ones that are, you know, just kind of touching on something you had mentioned earlier as far as, you know, when do we start initiating, you know, going forward with these changes. Do, you know, do we do it right out the back or do we take a little time to assess, do we not do a year or what? And so I've talked to folks who are, you know, are labeled as "turnaround principals." They come in with the goal of changing a school who has consistently shown low scores and, you know, just some challenges from the district or from the school level perspective. Do you have experience with creating or cultivating those "turnaround principals" or is that a skill maybe that's acquired after you've had experience being a principal? I mean, what are your thoughts in that area? 

Martinez: (14:47)
Well, so I think it definitely -- I would say the majority come from experience, but I think there are principals who are brand new that can do that. And I think that's the work of organizations like ours to help speed up and accelerate that process. And so what I was mentioned earlier about taking time, there's things you can do right away. You know, a principal comes in and they can start setting expectations. They can start just by our actions and our conversations, you know, about how we focus. You know, so if there's biases happening or if there's groups that are not performing, then we can make a difference right away. When I was talking earlier, you know, about that longer-term stuff, you know, that really changes hearts and minds of our stakeholders and our staff and community. 

Martinez: (15:32)
That's the stuff that takes a little longer. And so I think turnaround principals come with a clear vision, but they also are able to quickly build trust to identify need because they're, you know, they're skilled at looking at data. They're skilled at really telling a story. You know, when you talk about creating that sense of urgency -- you know, if we can help principals with storytelling and helping their teams really see the urgency because of, you know, the story they're telling with the data, this story told, they're telling with expectations, the personalization they're making by bringing, you know, the students to the forefront, those particular -- that particular group where all students, whatever the case is, then I think it's, I think there are principles that can jump right in to do that. But I do think that those turnaround principals have certain sets of skills for setting vision for moving teams. 

Martinez: (16:27)
You know, that say a lot of principals don't come with naturally they have to be taught.

Eakins: (16:30)

Yeah. So thank you for saying that Marty, and you know, just really got me thinking because part of being a school leader is -- we do have to assess the data and look at, you know, data all across when it comes to the score, reading levels, math levels, discipline, all those things. There's so much data that's available. What are some of your suggestions for how to assess the data from an asset approach as opposed to looking at the data from a deficit lens? What are some of your thoughts in that area?

Martinez: (17:03)

I love that you brought that up because I think that's, you know -- we've, as a system, have always been focused on it from a deficit level and when we're talking about equity, helping our principals, but also, you know, the system like our teachers, et cetera, really looking at what students bring, is a key point. 

Martinez: (17:21)
And so, while the data gives us a certain perspective, I think we need to look beyond just the quantitative data and look at all the other pieces. You know, a big focus of our work is with English learners here in California. And so helping, you know, our teachers really see that the -- you know, we have a whole new framework we're working with in California and the first principle is that it's an assets-based approach, now. So focusing -- really helping our teachers see all that they bring in terms of their language development, their culture, et cetera. And that's true for any students. You know, we really look at -- you know, even though maybe, on the standardized tests, they're performing below grade level, that there's all these skills, there's all these pieces that they bring in. So I think really keeping that in mind and helping our teachers start to shift that lens of how we look at students and how we build students from where they are instead of where we think they should be. If that makes sense.

Eakins: (18:19)

Yeah. Yeah. I'm with you. I'm with you. Yeah, I liked that last part you said, it's like, you know, sometimes we want students or have these expectations of what we expect them to be like or how they supposed to behave in class or what we deem as the right way or the appropriate way. And when we do those things, often, I see kids feeling like, you know, they can't really be themselves. Their voices are being silenced. There's oppression that follows with that. And it's just not allowing students to really be themselves. So we definitely have to be careful in that sense.

Martinez: (18:54)

You know, and I think, as a principal, we may think of something else. We have to start by being that model, not only with students, but also realizing that every teacher can learn and grow. 

Martinez: (19:03)
And so meeting them where they are and calling it out so that they can start seeing that, you know, that this is how I need to be with students as well. Because I think, you know, we all are all along that continuum of development, whether we're where the teacher or whether we're the student, we all come with a set of skills and assets, like you said, that we really need to start calling out. And I think the principal has a huge impact by how we start to do that work. So, you know, when we're looking at data, you know, starting with what's working, what do kids already have, what do they bring that we can build from? Instead of looking at a -- I know when I was an early teacher sitting in those like data analysis meetings as a grade level, it would always be like, "Oh, who's below grade level?" And they mark them all in the red, you know, on a red color and green was [inaudible]. 

Martinez: (19:54)
And all of those instead of really looking at individuals and we'd automatically group them without ever really knowing, you know, what else they brought and what they really needed. So that's a trend that is really shifting. I see an education which I'm really pleased with and I think we'll support that change for students.

Eakins: (20:13)

That's good. So, Marty, 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?

Martinez: (20:22)

Well, you know, I'm going to say this, for those principals out there, those who are supporting principals is helping. I think understanding that there's never a miracle fix, that it takes a process. And so for a leader, we always have to be that model and that vision for what could -- what should be for kids. And the bottom line is always what should be for students. 

Martinez: (20:44)
And so I think that, you know, it just -- it's up to us, as school leaders, to keep pushing for that change that needs to happen. But understanding that every person that we're leading is on a different part of the continuum. And so meeting them where they are and moving them forward, and sometimes that means moving them out of the profession as well, you know, because not every person's meant to do the work and is the best fit for students. And I think just not -- I don't want to say, "be easy on yourself," but realizing that we're all genuinely learning and getting better and, you know, just keep moving forward.

Eakins: (21:21)

Keep moving forward. I say it at the end of each show, you know, Dr. King's quote, you know, whatever it is, we've got to keep going and got to keep moving. So you're exactly right. Marty, if we have some folks that want to reach out to you, want to connect with you, especially those who might be in your area, what's the best way to connect with you?

Martinez: (21:41)

I'd say the best way is with my email at the Sacramento County Office of Education. So it's [email protected]

Eakins: (21:55)

All right. Once again, I have Dr. Marty Martinez with us. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Martinez: (22:01)

It is my pleasure, Dr. Eakins, thanks so much for having me.


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