Dr. 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 schools. Today, I've got a special guest, Miss Mariana Aguilar is here with us today. So without further ado, Mariana, thank you so much for joining us today.

Mariana Aguilar:

Thank you so much for having me Dr. Eakins. I'm thrilled to be here.

Dr. Eakins:

Pleasure is mine, and I'm excited to get into some online learning discussions. And so, before we jump into our topic today, I'd love for you to share with our listeners about yourself and what you're currently doing.

Mariana Aguilar:

Yes, absolutely. So currently I lead the research team at GoGuardian, which you may be familiar with, is an education technology company. And prior to this, I've spent my entire career really in education in some capacity. I started my career teaching third grade here in South Los Angeles, and then I continued to work in education through both the policy landscape, and the advocacy space as well.

               And then most recently before GoGuardian I was working at Deloitte, doing consulting, but really focused on learning and workforce development, how to create transformational learning experiences for employees as well. So, really thrilled to be here and be able to talk about education, as well as the kind of digital learning space through this equity [inaudible 00:01:24].

Dr. Eakins:

Thank you. So let's talk about it because man, I have over the last couple of weeks, I've been talking to a lot of folks in regards to what does school look like? A lot of us are still on the cusp of, are we going to be open? Are we going to be closed? Do we do a hybrid? And what does a hybrid look like? Because you do a lot of work on the online space, what do you see as some of the benefits of the online learning pieces?

Mariana Aguilar:

Yes. Great question. It is certainly a transition period for a lot of folks and there are a lot of bumps in the road. So I appreciate the framing as a positive because there are also some great opportunities here. So one of the biggest benefits I think is that when students are learning online, they have this opportunity to really progress through material at their own pace. They also have this opportunity to engage in material in a way that meets their unique learning preferences. So in a classroom setting or in a traditional classroom setting, students are really expected to be going through the material at the pace with the rest of the class, or at best, perhaps they are working in small groups and those groups are moving at their own pace.

               In an online space with the kind of plethora of different tools that are available, students are able to really progress through a given set of content at a pace that works for them. They can go back and revisit material if they haven't mastered it or they can move faster if they're really understanding a certain concept. So that's a huge benefit to the online experience, especially given the number of tools that facilitate this that I think are now available to students as they are learning in an online environment.

Dr. Eakins:

Yeah. And of course, we should probably throw out that we're assuming that this school or district has provided the online training that our teachers need and that the access to internet and devices is readily available. Definitely with my conversations in regards to equity and online spaces, that is, we can't just start, say, "Okay, well, everybody has a device, everybody has internet and okay, so we should be good." In your sense from a equitable standpoint, what are some of the benefits that you would add on when it comes to online learning?

Mariana Aguilar:

Yes, absolutely. And I'm really happy that you touched on that. I think that we are certainly seeing the digital divide only continue to grow in these circumstances, right. Even access to the fundamental hardware, the devices or wireless internet, isn't there for all students. And on top of that, then when you talk about teacher professional development [inaudible 00:04:15] this, that is also vastly different across districts and sometimes even across schools. And so that level of comfort and familiarity that a teacher might have in terms of executing learning experiences online, those can vary significantly for students. So how can we begin to address some of these equity pieces in an online space? And there are a couple opportunities and not all of them actually are particularly high tech, but one of the pieces here or one of the kind of frameworks that I have been using to think about this actually comes from the Center for Collaborative Education.

               And the Center for Collaborative Education has a really fantastic framework. If you're not familiar with it, it really talks about how to build equity into your teaching practice. And it touches on five pieces. Content integration, right, which is really about how do you pull content from a number of places? Knowledge construction, how are teachers able to help students understand that knowledge is created and influenced by various perspectives. Prejudice reduction, so making sure that lessons and activities assert positive images of underrepresented groups. Equitable pedagogy, so this is one of the ones that I really want to drill into, specifically from an online perspective. How can teachers modify their techniques and methods to facilitate academic achievement for all students? And so this is one that I think is particularly challenging in an online context, but I have a couple recommendations and suggestions for how this is possible.

               And then empowering school culture. So how to make sure that you are contributing in creating an environment where all students feel safe, valued, and respected in that learning environment. And so again, I think there's a ton of opportunity to do this in an online learning space. So I wanted to touch on equitable pedagogy and empowering school culture, specifically how teaching in an online environment, where are there opportunities to ensure that teachers are integrating equitable practices in their instruction? And so from an equitable pedagogy, I think one of the key pieces here is to begin by recognizing that students are experiencing all types of learning environments at home, right? So we're in a classroom. You could ensure that the students in your classroom are in the same environment. It's important to recognize that students might have their own room with their own desk. And other students might not have a quiet area to do work at all.

               They might be sharing a room with siblings. They might have to share a single device across multiple students within their house. And they might not have access even to reliable wifi. They might have to travel to their neighbors or to their grandparents' house. And so one of the key things to think about here from an online standpoint even begins with, how do you make your self as a teacher available to your students at a time that works for them? And so this idea of the synchronous classroom is really powerful as an instructional tool, but ensuring that there are asynchronous tools available to students to be able to communicate with you is really critical as well. So that's one key piece that I think online tools can enable specifically is making sure that you as a teacher are available, not just in those synchronous moments when you're instructing, but also when you might be offline. So that it's a convenient time for that student to respond.

               So, one example I give here is our GoGuardian teacher chat feature actually, after realizing that folks for engaging and learning at different types of times of the day, we made the feature available such that students could message a teacher even if that teacher was offline. As long as their session was still running, they could message the teacher. And same goes for the teacher being able to message the student. This is really important because you can imagine a student in a home that might not be able to log in to the 9:00 AM to 10:00 AM synchronous session for a number of reasons, but they're still able to communicate with their teacher and send a message or ask a question at a time that works for them. And so if you break it down to just fundamental access to the teacher and information, being able to create asynchronous experiences is really critical.

               The second piece that I think online learning enables in terms of how to create pedagogy is that it's actually an opportunity to deliver information through multiple modalities. So students who might prefer to watch a video or read an article, or look at a diagram, as a teacher, you're able to provide all of these tools and materials to your students, and they are empowered with the choice to decide which of those variations resonates most with them. And similarly, you have this opportunity to really differentiate to a student's own proximal development.

               So where you might have a student who's really struggling with certain content and other students that are excelling, there is an opportunity to use tools, for example, like Newsela that might offer the same piece of news at different reading levels, which can be really important if you have students in your classroom at a variety of different reading levels. So I think these are just a couple of examples of how, as we make this switch to distance learning, how can teachers begin to pull in new online resources and tools to really address some of these components of equity in how they're actually instructing students?

Dr. Eakins:

Okay. Yeah. And I liked that you brought in those examples because that has been one of the biggest issues that has come up when it comes to online learning. It's the synchronous part, right? We got one laptop and it's three of us and all of us are supposed to meet at the same time. Or different grade levels or parents are trying to figure these things out and being able to say, you know what? Here's a question, you can ask a question, or here's the recordings of the sessions that we did earlier so that folks can kind of on demand, they're learning.

               It's not the same as going to a live session, but I think it's important that we at least do our best when it comes to being able to provide access to our students when it comes to being being accessible, right, to our kids. Have you utilized your tool, is that available for our students with IEPs and what are some of the benefits that you've seen when it comes to maybe working one on one or maybe a multi tiered structure, those kinds of situations where students do need a little bit more that one-on-one time with teachers?

Mariana Aguilar:

Yes, absolutely. So teachers are able to use the product to communicate one-on-one with students as well. They actually have the ability to chat with the student directly should they have additional followup questions as well as being able to video conference with that student to be able to address any of their specific needs. So that's an absolutely really important piece to this is being able to support students who have unique learning needs, IEPs or SSTs, being able to communicate with them directly to provide them with the necessary support is really important. And that's actually, I'm glad you brought that up because I think that's actually one key piece to being able to support the students is being able to have those one-on-one relationships. I know that when I was in the classroom, building those relationships with each individual student was so critical. And so during this time in particular, I think teachers have a tremendous opportunity to really build trust with their students and really partner with them and then setting them up for longterm success.

               And this can be really, it doesn't have to take a lot of time, right? It could be 15 minutes, but if you commit to calling each of your students for 15 minutes every week, that goes a long way. It demonstrates a level of investment in them as a person and as an individual. It's an opportunity to just see what's going on in their life. How can I support them? It also is an opportunity, especially as we head back into the new school year for teachers to be able to co-create those solutions in advance. Perhaps you have a student who has an IEP and you know that they have ADHD and you want to work with them together to think about how to set up their organization process to really set them up for success. Right. And so you begin to build that trust as you co-create solutions to adapt to this new learning environment that we're all adapting to.

               And so I think that those one-on-one communications and interactions are really powerful. And I would actually say for fellow teachers, if you're looking for a tool that can be really effective here, Calendly is a great tool that you can use for free to say, "I have these 15 minute slots available," and then students could even sign up at a time that works for them, right. So it can even become almost like a ritual. I know my teacher is going to call me at 2:30 on Thursdays and it becomes something that they really look forward to as well. So yes, absolutely. I think the one-on-one communications work, especially for students who have special needs is really important.

Dr. Eakins:

You know, I'm glad you mentioned Calendly because I use Calendly to set up all of my communications. I know for sure that it is a great tool to utilize and it integrates with Zoom. So if you're going to connect with folks on Zoom, you can integrate your Calendly with your Zoom and it saves you some time. So, that's helpful. I liked how you touched on the online piece and on the relationship side of the online learning. One of the concerns that I've had a lot of teachers reach out to me about was, "OK, maybe I didn't end the year with the relationships that I wanted it to be because it was just so abrupt and I did just didn't have the chance to." Or, "I could have done more when it comes to creating a relationship with my students."

               And so a lot of my teachers are actually getting a second year where they're kind of like looping or they're following the students into the next grade level. What is maybe some suggestions that you would provide to our teachers who are maybe not in that situation, but just in general, first days of school, first few weeks of school, wanting to develop those relationships with students? What are some of the suggestions that you have?

Mariana Aguilar:

Yes, absolutely. Really, really good point. And I'm actually thrilled to hear that some of the teachers are having this opportunity to loop with their students because I think building relationships virtually can be challenging, but there are also a lot of opportunities here, right? So, kind of back to this last pillar that I was also touching on around empowering school culture, something that's really important to recognize is that for the most part, in a remote learning context, a student's primary point of contact with their school is their teacher. And so teachers really have this opportunity as well as the responsibility to shape that culture, not just for their classroom, but they're becoming the representation of the school. And so building those relationships are really key. I would also expand to say it's important, not just for the student, but with the families. And so, so much research has already shown that students are more successful when parents and families are a part of that educational process.

               And so going back into the school year, thinking about how to continue to strengthen those relationships if you are looping with your students and thinking about how to build those relationships when you have a new set of incoming students. So a couple of suggestions I would add in addition to the weekly touch points, if you can. I think one is really to make sure that you have robust communications with the family overall. So whether that is a weekly newsletter of upcoming activities, assignments, really making sure that you have that communication going out to parents and families so that they can effectively support their students. That's really important. I would also encourage teachers to think about how to facilitate that two way communication with parents and families as well. Whether that looks like a virtual town hall or back to school, remember that parents are also new to this, right? This is new for everyone, not just teachers and students, but also for parents.

               So if you're a teacher, how do you make yourself accessible to parents and families so that you can really partner with them in supporting your students as well? So if you're not comfortable perhaps sharing your phone number, you can always use Google voice, right, or set up a kind of a virtual Zoom [inaudible 00:17:07] for parents to dial into. And then the other piece that I would say here is really thinking about how to create those points of contact with your students on a regular basis is really important. Another piece I would add is there's an opportunity here and a lot of people have touched on this, right, that school is more than just a place for academics for a lot of students. It might be the place that they go to get their only hot meal.

               And so as a teacher, there's an opportunity to create a very real impact for students to even just by consolidating the resources that might be available in your local community. And this could be a shared effort with across teachers within a school too. If each teacher added one free resource that they knew about in the community and that became a shared resource that can be shared with families, that again creates this relationship between you as the teacher and the parents and families and the students. So I think those are a couple of ways that I would say, where are there opportunities for teachers to continue to build these relationships with their students? In addition to the weekly check ins, it's really about expanding that relationship beyond just the teacher and the student, but to be also about the teacher, the student, and the parents and families.

Dr. Eakins:

I love that you added on the parents and families because we are teaching families these days, right? If you're doing online learning, it's not just the student that you're supporting, you're teaching families and I'm glad that you touched on that. And speaking of families, right, how do we onboard? What are some suggestions that you have for onboarding our parents, our families, when it comes to the online learning piece? I think that is one part that I've seen missed a lot of times. We just, especially with our younger ones, our elementary kids, where we just assume, we're going online learning next week. Here's a login password. Okay, go. What are some of the onboarding strategies that you would suggest when it comes to ensuring that parents, guardians, families, are able to support their students when it comes to their learning?

Mariana Aguilar:

Absolutely. First and foremost, I would say it begins with mindset, right? As a teacher, you're partnering with parents. So approach that relationship as a partnership. Second, I would say it's about communication. So communicate not just the tactical, here's the login and here's the username. Communicate the overall vision. What do you hope to create as this remote learning environment? It was nobody's ideal. We are in this situation together. So what do you want to achieve? What's your vision for this learning experience for the students and invite the input from the parents and the students themselves too. That's really important. You want to co-create this vision for what the remote learning experiences is going to look like. And that might look like the first week of school. You ask all students to describe what their ideal remote learning environment would look like. And you pull some of those T pieces into your shared vision, because you want to create the sense of community that we're in this together.

               And then communicate that vision time and time again. Here's what we agreed upon. We agreed that we wanted our remote learning environment to be inspiring, personalized, equitable, right? All of these things that you can go back to. Communicate, communicate, communicate. And not just in terms of what you say, but how you say it. So you want to make sure that with parents and families as you're onboarding them into this experience or incorporating them into the vision, that you're also sharing this through multiple modalities. So email is a really great one. Virtual town halls. But I think another key piece, everyone is really fast with their phone, right? And so it depends on the district and what the policies are, but I've known teachers who have created WhatsApp groups. Especially if you're a multi-subject teacher or you have all of your students for the whole day, you might have a WhatsApp group for all of the parents where you can send them quick updates about things that are happening. They can ask the questions.

               You might even consider doing this with your students if you have older students, to be able to communicate with them really regularly. This can also begin to create the sense of community, of culture. Again, you're delivering information through multiple touch points. Don't expect that if you send one email, that means everyone has read it. It definitely does not. And then again, I would go back to sharing resources, not just community resources, but as a teacher, sometimes you might think, Oh, everybody knows about IXL, right? Not everybody knows about these tools that are out there. So even if it's not something that you're using in your classroom, a lot of parents are scratching your heads thinking about, where can I find great programs for my students to be doing online, to continue learning, to supplement what they're learning through their classrooms?

               And so even sharing what you as a teacher might think everybody happens to know, they don't. So share those additional resources. What are your favorite tools that you suggest to students that they spend their time on? Khan Academy, right? Educators, if you say Khan Academy, everyone's like, "Oh, I know what Khan Academy is." Parents who don't work in education might not know. So even being able to create a list of, here are five links that you can use can go a really long way to helping parents feel like they can speak the language, find the tools and resources to be able to support their students.

Dr. Eakins:

Mariana, I think you provided a lot of tips and a lot of things that we could kind of consider when it comes to the way that we educate online. I consider you as providing a voice in leading equity. I would love to kind of get your final thoughts as far as your message to our educators out there, even parents and community members as well, as we look ahead to the fall.

Mariana Aguilar:

Yeah. Great question. I think the most important piece of this is to remember that we're all in this together. And so we need to embrace a growth mindset, whatever position you're in. Whether you're a teacher or a school leader or district policy maker, parent, right. This is the reality that we're in. And so embracing a growth mindset in which we say, this is about trying something and seeing if it works and being open to that feedback and inviting that feedback. So if you try a strategy with your students, invite them to give you feedback. "Hey, I tried this Zoom lesson, or I tried sharing multiple modalities. Did this work for all of you?" And not just did it work, what worked?

               So that open-ended question is really important. And what did not work? Because a lot of times if you ask people, "Well, did it work?" People would say, "Oh yeah," right. But you want to ask them, "What worked, what didn't work?" Take their feedback and iterate and improve and invite that feedback constantly. So having that growth mindset as we're encountering this very new territory is really critical to getting it right, because we're all figuring it out together.

Dr. Eakins:

We're all trying to figure it out together. You got that right. So Mariana, if we've got some folks that want to connect with you, want to reach out, what's the best way to connect online?

Mariana Aguilar:

Yes, absolutely. Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn. I always love to connect with folks. I would be happy to chat.

Dr. Eakins:

And then as far as getting in touch with GoGuardian, what's the best way to connect?

Mariana Aguilar:

Will be happy to provide you with my email. Feel free to send me an email, reach out. Shall I share my email here?

Dr. Eakins:

Yep. Feel free to share your socials, website, whatever.

Mariana Aguilar:

All right. If you're interested in reaching out to me, please feel free to reach out on LinkedIn, Mariana Aguilar, or on Twitter, MarMarAguilar, or you can always send me an email at GoGuardian as well, which is [email protected]dian.com.

Dr. Eakins:

All right. Well, it has truly been a pleasure. Thank you so much Mariana for joining us.

Mariana Aguilar:

Thank you. Really appreciate it. It was an honor.

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