Speaker 1:

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. Today, I got two special guests with me, I have Mr. John Krownapple and Mr. Floyd Cobb so without further ado, John and Floyd. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Floyd Cobb:

Thanks for having us.

John Krownapple:

Yeah, thank you.

Speaker 1:

Well, John, we're going to start with you. I would love for you to share a little bit about yourself and what you currently do.

John Krownapple:

Oh, sure. For the past 24 years, up until this past month, I've worked for a rather large district in central Maryland, Howard County, about 60,000 students. And since 2004, I've been a coordinator in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. And I think my tenure there started with focusing squarely on equity focused professional development and organizational change. And around 2015, I wrote a book called Guiding Teams to Excellence with Equity, which was an attempt to put out there what I had learned over the course of over a decade hand-in-hand with my mentors. At the time, I was very immersed in the culture proficiency framework and so, my mentors, Brendan Franklin, Campbell Jones being the two key ones, but also Randy Lindsey and Ray Terrell and [inaudible 00:01:35] Robbins. We had been facilitating cultural proficiency for a long time and always referred to it as a journey.

                This is a journey, you're on this cultural proficiency journey. But what I was trying to do with that book was map out the journey for facilitators, because if you're leading people on a journey, there should be some type of predictable phases and stages that you lead people through. So the subtitle of that book was called Culturally Proficient Facilitation. Then for the past three to four years, Floyd and I have been collaborating on this most recent book called Belonging Through a Culture of Dignity. So now I'm home with a two month old, I'm a dad. I have a two month old, I have a two year old, a 13 year old and a 16 year old. So right now I'm slowing down a bit with my pace of work and focusing on writing and consulting and really, but overall first and foremost, being a dad, trying to help my 16 year old learn how to drive and my two month old learn how to sleep.

Speaker 1:

Man, that's a lot. I'm not at your level yet, so that's what's up. Well, thank you, John. Floyd, why don't you share a little bit about yourself and what you currently do.

Dr. Floyd Cobb:

Yeah, no, I've been similar to John in education, goodness, time flies, a little over 20 years now. Worked in various levels in terms of the classroom level, at the school leadership level and the district leadership level, in a curriculum role and even state level leadership roles. I'm also an adjunct faculty member at the University of Denver where I teach a lot of their courses in education on power privilege and equality, as well as teaching methods and supporting students as they move forward through their dissertation process. And when I'm not that just occasionally writing and being a father, a girl dad like so many others and just trying to help navigate our way through this pandemic and this world that we're living in right now. So I'm very glad to be here and glad to talk a little bit.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Navigating during a pandemic is tough. Just trying to work, trying to be a parent or a spouse or a partner, whatever you got going on. We have so many different layers that we're all trying to figure out these days. So again, it's a pleasure to have you. One of the things I'm most excited about with today and having our conversation is regarding dysfunctional equity implementation. There's folks that do work but it doesn't necessarily come together and so, I'm glad that we can chat about it, so let's define that. So Floyd, why don't you start us off, let us know what is dysfunctional equity implementation.

Dr. Floyd Cobb:

Yeah. What we're attempting to talk about and argue at the start of our book was that there are these predictable cycles that organizations get into and even school districts. There are schools in particular, whenever the topic of equity comes about, my father-in-law who was an educator and a mentor of mine and was a high school principal for a number of years and was a district equity leader and we would constantly have these conversations about the stalls that happen related to this work. And as it would have it, typically what happens is that there's sometimes a localized catalyst or often there's a localized catalyst that happens that brings to light the inequities that are happening within a community. I think what's unique about 2020 is we're seeing a series of catalysts that are occurring to us as a nation.

                And in fact, really what happens is, the next steps is there become these pronouncements and these statements about what the organization believes and then there's this decision to do something. And committees get formed and it typically leads to starting off with book studies and book talks about trying to figure out how to do something. And typically what happens is those fizzle out and they don't really lead to any change. And then there's a desired effort to hire a consultant to come in and help and typically it's somebody who's highly motivated who does a lot of reading and says, "Hire this person or bring in this person to help come in and support us." And what we've seen happen, at least in our professional experiences over the past 20 years is that a lot of times during that process, the conversations go in one or two ways, which is a lot of blame and shame typically.

                And that then starts to slow the process down a little bit. And it'll typically move into education, something that's probably what might sound safe, but is actually intended to be critical, which is something related to culturally responsive or culturally relevant. And that leads into some confusion related to it because people are looking for lists and prescriptions of strategies and just tell us what to do. And eventually what happens is the people who spend a lot of money on this get to a point where they're like, "Well, we were hoping to see results and we were hoping to see things change and nothing has changed." And eventually over time, things will slowly begin to die down until something else happens and then the whole cycle starts all over again.

                And what's interesting is we've actually seen that this summer, right? Which is there was this incredible push related to this topic in May and then everybody was releasing statements in June. You couldn't turn on the television without hearing some corporation releasing a statement related to their sentiments about this moment which we're in. And as we got into July, things started just slowly die down until we probably got to right around this week or last week when this incident happened with Mr. Blake and which has then elevated this conversation back into folks' consciousness. And that's typically what happens over and over and over and over again and John and I saw it, it never worked in the same district. We would see it in plenty of the places in which we'd go visit and so, we wanted to talk about this as a cautionary tale.

Speaker 1:

And you're exactly right. On my end for the Leading Equity Center, I mean, I have been contacted a lot more regarding anti-racist work and not only anti-racist work, but also racial equity work, discussing racial equity policies. And like you said, I mean, it has been a cycle, right? And Black Lives Matter to be honest, wasn't even a statement that folks were even addressing. Black Lives Matter has been around since I believe 2012, and they're just now starting to get more national and even global recognition because I think the pandemic definitely has played a role in how folks are starting to look at things.

                But like you said, George Floyd was murdered and then a few months later it started to slow down and then now we have Mr. Blake, his incident just occurred as at the time of this recording and so, here we are again. John, I want to bring you in and get your thoughts as well, as far as what the dysfunctional equity implementation and what are some of the other things that maybe that you are seeing that leads to maybe quick results that people are looking for, or maybe the momentum isn't sustained, what are some of the things that you're seeing on your end?

John Krownapple:

Yeah. So I'll stick with where Floyd was in illustrating this whole phenomenon with what we're experiencing this summer. We put out a blog sometime, I think July, it was shortly after we saw Amazon sell out of the several very popular anti-racist idols. And we thought, oh, this might be the biggest cycle of potential equity failure that we have yet to see. Especially because we saw so many educators posting pictures of their book arriving, they did Kennedy or de Angelo in the mail and posted a picture of themselves opening their mail or whatever. So we thought, okay, let's put this out there to try to raise some awareness that if we're not conscious of what we're doing right now, and unless we try to do it in a different way, we're going to be repeating the same patterns with different books or different consultants or slightly different wording in the statements that superintendents or principals make when they stand up in front of their staff.

                So here's some of the things that I see going on right now that would indicate us in this dysfunctional cycle is that after George Floyd, the term anti-racism became, I guess, trending would be the right word. Now in our book, we use the metaphor of a streetlight, I actually have it right here. The streetlamp here is on the cover, but it's actually right in chapter one, we start with an old parable, it's called the streetlight effect. It's been told over centuries, but the most recent version has someone looking for their keys, their car keys on the sidewalk in a place that they did not lose their car keys, but there's light shining there. So when he's asked, "Why are you looking for your car keys here when you didn't even lose them here?" He said, "Well, this is where the light is."

                And it actually illustrates what's called confirmation bias, which is this tendency to look for answers where everyone else is looking, to look for quick fixes, easy answers, or let's just say trending, things that are trending. Things that you might see sold at a conference where the vendors are all repackaging what they're selling and now adding an equity sticker to it. So that equity sticker might be replaced right now with anti-racist in terms of what's being sold. So, as I see anti-racism as a concept trending, I see things like people co-opting it, honestly. Using it in a way to position themselves or to change the focus of what they've been doing. So for instance, they might've been focused on SEL, but now with anti-racism trending lets repackage that as anti-racism.

                So we have another related phenomena that I think is really important, which is the whole concept that equity passionate is not the same as equity competent. So, you have people that are really passionate about this topic and possibly even very knowledgeable about content related to it, but not very conscious and competent in terms of how change actually happens. And actually that can end up doing a lot of harm in terms of helping a whole group of people, let's say, a department, a team, a staff actually move and progress in a way that leads to more fair, equitable, just experiences for all of our students. That's a few of the things that I'm seeing in terms of red flags.

Speaker 1:

I didn't think about the repackaging piece where maybe I'm a teacher prep person and I'm in that space, folks know me, and then I have products or whatever then I throw out these new resources that are anti-racist SEL or anti-racist cultural responsiveness and you throw in that buzzword to try to bring in more sales. I didn't think about that, but I know that I've actually seen it just unconsciously. I didn't even think, "Well, how genuine does that sound? Is that something that you've always been doing or is it something that's current right now"? So I think those are some great points.

                One of the things that I love to do on my show is not just highlight, I guess, what's wrong with what we have going on with equity work, but I like to talk also about what are some solutions. So I want to shift gears over from the discussion on dysfunctional equity implementation and maybe talk about what does functional equity implementation look like. Floyd, why don't you start us off with that? Just break that down a little bit and we'll discuss that.

Dr. Floyd Cobb:

Yeah. One of the things that I think that many schools and I would even say even most corporate that they don't do a good job of is starting from a premise of data, right? And typically in education, when we talk about data, we are oftentimes talking about things that are latent effects, we're talking about performance related data, we're talking about discipline data, we're talking about bullying data. We're all talking about things that are occurring after the fact. And instead, when we start getting into the broad and general conversations related to equity in general, we use that phrase amorphously in what we wind up understanding is it has this multiplicity of different definitions to different people. And so, anytime you engage in a conversation, you'll start talking about, "Well, what about this group and what about that group and what about this group and what about that group?"

                And the truth of the matter is if you don't have any hard evidence or data related to that, then you're not going to be able to create your improvement cycle plan. So ultimately what you would want to be able to do first and foremost is if you believe that there is a concern related to a specific group of students or a specific group of students with a similar background, you'd need to be able to take data. Whether that's survey data or whether that's focus group data, to actually get a clear sense of how the students are either A, experiencing your classroom or B, experiencing your school, or if we elevated up to the parent level, how the parent group is experiencing your school. Typically, what we see happens when these surveys and questions are answered is that they're produced at the aggregate level, right?

                So what they want to do is they want to sample the entire community. And so, typically what you'll have is people in the community overall will wind up saying that things are going okay, but there isn't the actual attempt to disaggregate those data by specific identity groups. And so, the absence of that desegregation then leads to the general, we're going to try to solve racism at large, we're going to try to solve homophobia at large. And the things that at least we've seen that schools and that organizations do successfully is they actually do the hard work, which we refer to as the dark place, which is to really understand and interrogate the culture of both their classrooms and their organizations to be able to really get a clear sense of how the normalized practices have differential impacts on different groups of people.

Speaker 1:

John, I'm going to dig into that. The hard work, dark place part of what Floyd was mentioning. I think Floyd, you did a great job of painting the picture, but I want to see if we can unpack it a little bit more. What I perceive that to mean and correct me if I'm wrong, but what I perceive that to mean is sometimes we worry about having these "difficult conversations" or engaging in these difficult topics because maybe they make us feel uncomfortable. Is that the direction of the hard place or is it something a little deeper than that?

John Krownapple:

So it is deeper. It's a both and it's a both and because what we're suggesting here is that we move outside of those easy answers or solutions, those implementations, interventions, we move beyond doing more things and start with assessing who we are. And where we ended up with our journey in terms of three to four years of trying to distill down a lot of the awesome topics that come out of academia, the awesome terms used to describe the equitable pedagogies and approaches that end up somewhat becoming jargon and confusing with folks in terms of implementation. When we distilled that down, we've landed on two concepts that we believe captured the intention behind all of it, which is belonging and dignity.

                So when we're looking at who we are and coming at it from a place of actually collecting those perception data in terms of how people are experiencing us, our culture, we are going to have to either celebrate that we've arrived, which I don't think is happening any place that I know of, or we have to deal with the fact that who we are, the way we do things around here creates a climate where some people feel less than they belong. They're experiencing something different than full belonging, full membership and our practices and our policies and our behaviors are what is causing that. And we believe that practices, policies, and behaviors that nurture belonging are those that honor the dignity, the value and worth of every person. So if we're able to desegregate those data, we're going to have to address, talk about and redress how we have allowed ourselves to violate the dignity of entire groups of people.

Speaker 1:

And that's the hard truth, or the hard work, the dark place? It's just realizing maybe we thought we were doing something, but we weren't.

John Krownapple:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Speaker 1:

And I love how and I say this sometimes, I've talked to teachers and I'll ask them certain questions like, "Do you feel like you're cultural responsive? Do you do your students feel as if they're represented within your curriculum and your content?" And they'll say, "Oh yeah," and then I'll ask, "How's your relationships with your students?" "Oh yeah, they're great, they're great relationships." And then you ask that same question to the parents, or you ask that same questions to the students, and then they realize it's a different story, right? And then if you share that data with your teachers, with your school leaders, and then they realize what they thought was the case is not actually the case, that's the hard place. And so, how do we deal with that? Okay. So now Floyd, we know that what we thought was a great experience, if you will, or students were happy and excited to come and felt a sense of belonging and then we realized that that's not the case. What do we do with that information? How do we improve that sense of belonging?

Dr. Floyd Cobb:

I mean, I think that that on a macro level is very much similar to the improvement cycle process that we do so frequently in education, which is to be able to look at our data, to be able to assess where we are, create a plan for improvement moving forward, and then reassess at the end of that experience and to see how far we've progressed. And some of the ideas that we wrote about in the book were based upon just two people who we continue to hold up as just incredible thinkers related to this. Donna Hicks, who has these 10 essential principles for treating people with dignity and Professor John Powell who really talks about the distinction between othering and belonging. And in our work, what we did was created a framework as a way to create guideposts for how we can treat one another and specifically for how educators can go about working towards improving the relationships, not only with their students, but also with their colleagues and one another in order to help to improve the climate and culture of both their classroom and their schools.

                And so, what it has to do principally is a couple of things that folks need to realize is more than anything else a major concept is making sure that we're listening to one another, obviously, which on its face sounds like a very easy thing to do. But when we think about what exists at the heart of conflict has to do with the fact that people don't feel as if they've been listened to, they certainly don't feel as if they've been acknowledged. And when we error, we have to take it upon ourselves to take accountability and apologize.

                And when those things begin to happen, relationships begin to improve. And this isn't really rocket science, right? We're not saying that this is distinct from any other type of relationship that we have. However, the culture schooling in the United States specifically has been one where we're still learning how to improve relationships with students and most importantly, with parent groups. And so, those are typically the steps that we would encourage to have happen and that's what we've attempted to argue within our book.

Speaker 1:

Okay. John, is there anything that you wanted to add to that as well, as far as some strategies, as far as creating that sense of belonging?

Dr. Floyd Cobb:

Sure. What Floyd was talking about is mentioning some of the components of our framework. Along the way we've developed a framework called the dignity framework, educational equity. Now that framework, although it has educational equity in it, as Floyd implied, it actually is very universal in terms of healthy relationships. So for me, having a life partner, a spouse, it's actually very applicable to me and the type of partner and healthy relationship I want to have. So we have four dispositions, listening, empathy, openness, and patience, they facilitate humanizing relationships. Then we have four indicators of belonging, which when those dispositions are in play, it has an effect on people that result in what we call these four indicators of belonging.

                People feel validated, they feel accepted, they feel appreciated and they feel treated fairly. So for instance, two of the dispositions, listening and empathy. When people experience those together, they feel validated, in other words, they feel heard. And then finally, when all of those converge, we have four standards of dignity, and we also have a whole flip side of that, which are indicators of othering, dispositions that actually lead to othering. So instead of empathy, apathy, instead of listening, it's denial, et cetera, et cetera. So the tool there, what we hope is that educators in our profession, if not beyond in our world, use it when they're thinking about making their commitment to equity.

Speaker 1:

Hm. Wow. This has been great. I definitely enjoyed our time together. We're going to wrap things up. So I consider the two of you as providing a voice in leading equity, Floyd and John. So I would love for you to just give us one final word of advice for the show. Floyd, let's start with you.

Dr. Floyd Cobb:

The one word of advice is that even if you aren't an expert in any of these topics, which is okay, the one thing that you can always do is just listen and I can't encourage that enough. If you feel helpless and you don't know what to do, what I would encourage you to do is to listen and to authentically listen, when someone's telling you their experience.

John Krownapple:

Yeah. Mine actually overlaps with what Floyd just said, which is let's try to figure out how people are experiencing our environment. And if we could break that down into different groups, let's do that. Even in my own family here, how is everyone experiencing this environment? Let's see how the children are experiencing this environment different than the adults. Let's just try to break it down and look for patterns and then that gives us some touchstones for actually making the change that we want to see.

Speaker 1:

All right, well, John, if we've got some folks that want to connect with you, what's the best way to reach out to you and where can we get our hands on a book?

John Krownapple:

Sure. I think the easiest way for me is Twitter. My handle is @jkrownapple, that's Krownapple with a K, so that's the easiest way. And the book is available on Amazon, Belonging Through a Culture of Dignity, the subtitle is The Keys to Successful Equity Implementation.

Speaker 1:

All right, and Floyd, if we have some folks that want to connect with you, how do they reach out?

Dr. Floyd Cobb:

Yep. Same thing. Twitter handle is @drfloydcobb2 and that is probably the quickest and easiest way to get in touch with me. And again, like I said, we appreciate the opportunity and appreciate people taking the time to explore the ideas that we've put into the book.

Speaker 1:

And I got to apologize, I didn't know it was Dr. Cobb. I think I said mister at the beginning, so my bad. You got to let me know, I've got to put respect on names, man. My bad. Well, John and Floyd, it has truly been a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Floyd Cobb:

Absolutely.

John Krownapple:

Thank you for having us.

Dr. Floyd Cobb:

Thanks for having us.

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