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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 schools. I'm so, so happy because I got two special guests with me today, authors of Equity by Design: Delivering on the Power and Promise of UDL. So, I have Mr. [Mirko 00:17:52] Chardin and Katie Novak. So, without further ado, Katie and Mirko, thank you so much for joining us today.

Katie Novak:

Thank you so much for having us. We're excited to be here.

Mirko Chardin:

Definitely, definitely. It's an honor.

Speaker 1:

Hey, listen, the pleasure is always mine. So, thank you for joining us. So before we get into today's topic, when we're talking about Equity by Design, Mirko why don't you start us off. Share a little bit about yourself and what you currently do.

Mirko Chardin:

Sure. I am currently the Founding Head of School of the Putnam Avenue Upper School in Cambridge, Mass. It's a six to eight that was founded in 2012. Focused on diversity and social justice. We are very diverse, in terms of our staffing model, very diverse, in terms of our student population in fact, we ensure that we have someone on staff that hails from all the identity groups that are represented within our student community because that's super important. I'm also a practicing hip-hop artist, part of the culture and there's no way that I can hide that from students and families. We need to show up as we are. I'm also an education consultant, supporting schools and leaders in doing this powerful work.

Speaker 1:

Ain't nothing like a Head of School that got bars. So I'm glad to hear that. So, that's what's up. Katie, why don't you share with us a little bit about yourself and what you currently do.

Katie Novak:

Yeah, so I have been in education for 20 years. I was a full-time classroom teacher for 13, and then I went to District leadership. I was then an assistant superintendent for six years, and now I'm supporting that same District as a facilitator of professional learning. Predominantly a lot of the work that I do is consulting nationally and internationally, really trying to help people recognize that our systems are incredibly ineffective in meeting the needs of all learners and that we're not going to fix this with a lesson plan template, and we're not going to fix this with a new schedule, but we really have to look at all of the drivers of a system and recognize the inequities and build something better and to do that, we really need to elevate and celebrate the voices of everyone who's a part of those communities, our students, our staff, our families, and our communities. So I tried to lead the work of recognizing that there is a much better way to do that and it means leaving our systems of privilege behind.

Speaker 1:

Hmm. All right. So I got a question now because I want to know how the two of you linked up to get... Like how did that connection happen, give me that story. Someone share me that, how that worked out.

Katie Novak:

So I tried to make Mirko be my best friend and we actually keynoted conference together, but we did not know each other and we were both invited to keynote a conference on UDL as social justice. I was speaking about UDL and how from its infancy, it was really designed to eliminate inequities and then Mirko was speaking about the importance of really recognizing what it means to be socially just, and really recognizing the duality of experiences that students have and so I reached out and I'm like, "Hey, we should be friends and we should do this together," and he's like, "I've never met you and okay, maybe." And so we did our separate presentations, but then we realized that there were just so many crosswalks between what we were talking about. So I did get my dream to present together just a couple of months later, but it's because I like stuck my big mouth in there and we have been working together ever since. So the story might be different from your perspective, but I remember visiting you at work and being like present with me would be so cool together.

Mirko Chardin:

No, that is how I remember it as well. That is definitely how I remember it as well and it's, it's been a phenomenal journey. There's been so much learning that I think is taking place and it's just been great to see how our work compliments each other and how we've been able to push and pull on each other and ensure that we can develop a message. When we talk about equity, that's authentically all inclusive and that lifts up the fact that, while some see us as experts, we're not experts.

               There's no great experts in this work. We're human beings on a journey and we take the strength of our partnership and our friendships who allow us to have the courage to be vulnerable with other human beings because if you're doing this work, I love saying that it's self work because it is, because you're a human being first and a professional second. So we support each other and being able to have the courage to reveal our authentic selves and hopes that other folks can do that. Because if you show up as a human being in classrooms and communities, then there's a better chance that kids and families are going to trust you because you don't come across as a phony who's just hiding behind your credentials or whatever your quote unquote work personas.

Speaker 1:

I'm glad that you said that you're not experts. I have people come at me with that whole, you know you're an equity expert. I feel like there's always room for growth and man sometimes, I mean, that's what I podcast. I learned something every time I meet an [inaudible 00:05:21] like whenever I'm with a guest, I pick up something, I learned something and I'm 160 episodes in and I'm still constantly learning and wanting to know more. Things change, new research comes out and the only way to stay on top of all of those things is to educate myself. So we are all on the journey. So I'm glad that you brought that up. Let's get into some equity by design. So I want you... Let's start with Merkel share with us the overarching premise behind equity by design.

Mirko Chardin:

So I think one of the biggest components of it is... And you mentioned this, right? Like when we think about UDL, we're talking about universal design, but it's also in the context of us being a part of a society and systems that wrestle with racism and bias. So how can we be sure when we talk about universal design, that we're also lifting up identity, right? That that's not something that's left off the plate because in a lot of circumstances, identity and background, whether it be that of a student, the community they come from or now that of the teacher can be a barrier if we don't see it as such.

               Can we take into consideration that based on identity, we have different journeys and those journeys may lead us to having different perceptions of what is safe, what's okay, what's welcoming, and if we don't really lift that up and think about how we gather voice and provide choices in different ways then although we are saying, we have this great intention to divine design universally, we have a huge blind spot because we haven't lifted up the fact that there's difference in this world and that difference is deeper than just the ability level and we have to take that into consideration if we're authentically making spaces safe and welcoming for all learners and if we haven't taken that into consideration, it lifts up the fact that we have huge blind spots in our own lenses and that we have a lot of self work that we need to do to ensure that we are not part of the problem.

Speaker 1:

Okay. Well, Katie I want... Let's go a little deeper into that because I believe that that makes a lot of sense and I'm glad that Mirko you started us off with that. When I think about UDL and the purpose behind it and I'm a special ed director, so I mean, this is like right up my area. When I think about it, I think about, okay, we need to provide options, we need to provide choices. Show me that you have mastered this work, or you have learned whatever concept that I'm teaching in whatever form that you would like it to be shown to me. Katie, what are some of the things that teachers might miss? So, they're on the right track, but what are some of the things that they might miss when it says, just show it to me, however you want to show it to me?

Katie Novak:

Well, one of the things that we say a lot in UDL is firm goals and flexible means, and so it's really making sure that we know what the outcome is supposed to be and that we're really making it very very clear that this is what students have to know, and this is what students have to be able to do. So the first part of that is really recognizing that all students deserve access to the highest of expectation and grade level rigor. Then I need to go through that lens of saying, "well, what would prevent a student from being able to show me that they know that, or being able to share that they can do that." And a lot of the times educators will look towards academic barriers. So, a student might not be able to organize that so I'll have a graphic organizer available.

               A student might really struggle with being able to write it. So I may not allow voice to text or I'm going to allow video or audio and so there's all of these options, but there's a lot more barriers that are present in our systems that are not academic barriers and so it's not only that we have to think about the variability of academic readiness, but we have to think about it socially and emotionally and culturally and through a lens of being trauma informed and we have to think about being linguistically appropriate and also anti-racist and all of that work. So when we have to really think about what are the barriers, I think that we need to think much more globally about what prevents everybody from learning. The other thing that I think is tricky is when you're thinking about options, if the option... If I need to make sure that you can write, I need you to write.

               So it's not going to be, there's a writing standard and now you have an opportunity to create an interpretive dance or make a poster. I need you to write, but what prevents students from being able to write is they don't have any ideas. So there might be opportunities or options to work with me for a writing conference or a list. But ultimately I want students to write about what they want to write about. It might be that they don't know how to start their writing. So I might provide options to use sentence stems. They might be able to write it in a blog or to be able to write it by hand or to use voice to text and so the flexibility is really based on what is the outcome and how do I get all students there, but we have to look beyond the academic outcomes because I might say, this student I know I can predict that there's going to be some students who really struggle with the stamina of sticking with this assignment. So I want to make sure that there's options to take breaks.

               I know that there's going to be some students who are going to do this research and potentially trigger themselves. So before we even go into that work, I want to talk to them about if you find yourself researching in a space that you're uncomfortable. I feel that way too. Let's talk about some ways, you know here's some things that you can say to me, here's some things that you can do right away and then also making sure that students have access to things in their own language that they can bring in their own ideas. That's all really important, but it's so planful and much of the curriculum that we use has not gone through all of that really planful intentional work. So it does require us to know about which barriers our students are facing and that's a very difficult to do when we're not elevating and celebrating their voices, the voices of their families and the voices of their community. Because I can only eliminate barriers that I know about and as a middle-class educated white woman, I am not going to pretend to know about the lives of all the students that I serve without allowing them to share with me what it is they need.

Speaker 1:

I'm loving these answers. Okay. You folks sound like a great pair right here. So I'm glad that you are connected because the two of you are killing it right now. Okay. So Mirko let me build on that. Right. So Katie saying that we got to know the barriers. Okay, and sure we can pull up Ips, we can pull up 504 plans and check some of those things out. But for students who may not have those, all right, what are some ways that we can find out those barriers? I think Katie has really set it up really nice for us to say, "Oh, okay yeah. I need to find out barriers," but how do we do that? What are some steps that we can take?

Mirko Chardin:

Well, I think this is really where we talk about this being self work and us making sure that we don't let ourselves off the hook. I think there are three reflective questions that we share in the text and we talk about as part of what's referred to as the going beyond the access framework that I think are guideposts that help us know first and foremost, are we valuing impact in and through the lives of our students above and beyond adult intentions, you know based on the work and research of Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, right? It's all about impact. If it's authentically all about impact, then that brings us back the student voice. We don't authentically know what the work is that we're doing, how it feels or how it's manifesting in our kids' lives, whether it's triggering them, whether it's shutting them down, whether it's making them feel like they can succeed, if we're not gathering their voices.

               When we think about our curriculum, resources and our spaces, can all of our learners be reflected, are they reflected? Or are we sending an implicit message that they're invisible? Because when they see texts, they don't see anything that looks like them. They don't see concepts that connect to their community, so they're nations of origin. They don't see educators who look like them or have any knowledge of who they are and what the value system is that lives in their community or lives in whatever you know their culture or ethnic group or background is and can we ensure that the work is authentically relevant for learners who were before us right now? Again, I think this brings us back to the importance of centering around student voice love to say that the world of 2020 has taught us a lot about how quickly relevancy shifts, right? Like what was relevant in January of this year. But it's definitely not the same in that it's relevant in November of this year.

               So how are we sure that we are centering around student voices and experiences so we can truly make sure as we craft an educational experience, that it's one that meets their needs and is one that feels like it's something that's being done for them and with them, no IE ensuring that they are in the driver's seat and not a circumstance in which it feels like school is something being done to them. Or that school is a place in which they have to simulate or hide elements of their identity, our backgrounds who fit in. We have to do that self work to ensure that we're not part of the problem and that we're not folks who are working hard, who have great intentions, but don't realize that if we don't consider impact and voice, we don't get the results that we're looking for. Because despite the fact that we've had good intentions and we put in a great deal of effort, we've missed the Mark because we haven't heard who our students are and we haven't gotten evidence of what they authentically need based on re humanizing them to ourselves again, by focusing on voice.

Katie Novak:

So Mark, I tell the story about when you surveyed your students and then you surveyed your staff and just how, how extreme the dichotomy was between the intent and the impact.

Mirko Chardin:

So this was, this was a thing that was super hard, but it was super powerful, changed the trajectory of our school community. The second year of our school as a staff, we were feeling really good about ourselves, right? We have all these statements about social justice and our commitments to culture proficiency, we're this extremely diverse staff and we think we're doing everything in the right way, but we were not getting along well with our students and we didn't know why that was. So we surveyed our school community, same questions to staff, as where to students only distinction is that student questions came and student friendly language and the responses we got blew our minds. And we're somewhat, gut-wrenching one question and particularly, I think really took the cap off the bottle and it was a question when asked when staff were asked, if they felt like students were treated with respect and dignity and well-known overwhelmingly 80% of the staff at that time said, yes, I would love going to this school.

               We're here early, we work late, we do all these clubs and extra curricular things that we offer. We have all these resources who wouldn't want to go to this school. When we ask kids though their response was 180 degrees different, overwhelmingly over 80% of the students at that time said no way. I don't feel like you all know me. I don't feel like you all treat me with respect and dignity and it was gut wrenching because we did have a staff that was super dedicated and we didn't understand how it was possible that the students didn't see that the staff was so dedicated and we're trying to communicate care.

               It really showed us something that despite whatever our best intentions were, if we really couldn't center around student voice, we were wasting our time. We were putting in tons of effort and sacrifice and time from our families and other things, but missing the Mark because we forgot the fact that our students are our clients and our customers and in our society, the mantra always is that the customer's always right. So that set us on a journey of changing how we do this work. So we can ensure that our students get that they are in the driver's seat and this is about them because all of our educators have already gotten their degrees and graduated from school. So it's not about us. Right?

Speaker 1:

So you get this information, right? What did you do next? Because like you said, it's gut wrenching because you thought, we thought we were on point and we recognized when we asked the students how did they feel on an anonymous survey? And we've got the true, like how they actually feel, these are folks that we're serving. So what was the process? What was it like? What did you do to make things change?

Mirko Chardin:

Well, we had to sit with the data and I'm glad that we did a survey because it was easy for us. Some of the staff members to reject the results initially, right? Like what are kid's talking about. This can't be true. Our school is so great. It was easy to reject it. But since it was data that we had to sit with, we had to sit in that uncomfortable space and dig deeper. We needed to talk to the students, we needed to create some, some, some focus groups. We need to create what we call coaching groups. So we can get feedback and unpack what students were saying. We needed to realize, Hey, if students were willing to say this on the survey, but they're not actually willing to talk to us about this. What is it that we're doing wrong that's making them feel like they can't share with us? What do we need to do to create trust bridges so that we can truly disarm ourselves first and say, "Hey, the adults are going to be vulnerable here, and we're going to do it first so that we can communicate to you that we are really about trying to get to know you."

               Some of that for us came with really digging into Marshall Ganz's framework for the story is of us self and now in realizing, Hey, if we were going to communicate the students, that we were more than just educators, who they think live in a school building, we're going to have to share our stories. We're going to have to share with them what are elements of our journeys in safe and appropriate ways. But we're going to do that and then get into conversations with them by asking them to also share their journeys with us. So we can kind of norm around this idea that we all have stories and if we listen to our stories and narratives, we can find clues of what our journeys have been with the commonalities are and we can create a space in which we have dialogue and hopefully trust so that when we ask questions about how we can improve, they actually trust that we'll listen and do something about it.

Speaker 1:

Love it. So follow up question. Have you surveyed them since that has happened and what have been your results since the last time you surveyed them?

Mirko Chardin:

So we survey our kids all the time, to get feedback and the feedback is good now. Sometimes it's challenging when it is, we try to react to it in the moment. We're placed that's adopted restorative practice, not for the sake of discipline, but for gathering student voice. So we run circles in academic classes at the beginning of them and the end of them in advisories. So we norm this idea, hearing what students have to say on a regular basis, if they're challenging circumstances, right? Someone's having some classroom management issues. Then we trigger a circle where either an administrator or a counselor comes in as the facilitator of that circle, the teacher is also a participant, right? They're not the power broker in that moment. So we can level the playing field and say, "Hey, we're going to have some hard conversations, but things are funky in this classroom environment right now."

               Now students, can you share what's going on? Can you share things that you think need to improve on the teacher side and student side? Now teacher, can you hear these things? Can we come up with a plan together to ensure that we can heal this community and move forward? We've really tried the norm, this idea of voice. So that it's at the center of almost all of our decision-making. Because again, we were taken into consideration that school is not about us. We work there, but we've already had a school experience and if it's truly going to be about our kids, that we need to figure out how do we communicate to them that we trust them, that we hear their voices and that we're willing to be vulnerable, right? We're not perfect. We're not experts. We're just supposed to be guides who have a little bit more experience than that to push them forward on their journeys.

Speaker 1:

Loving the story. Okay. Thank you so much, Mirko, for sharing that with us. And I would imagine that UDL is in there and obviously equity by design and just listening to your students and getting their voice. That's the overarching theme that I've heard throughout this conversation is the power of a student's voice. Katie, I'm going to shift over to you because I have done some UDL training in the past, and I talk about differentiated instruction versus UDL and we go through that whole process and folks start to get on board with it. This is one of those things often where it's like, "Oh, this is another thing I have to do." For those who have adopted UDL and are actively utilizing or on the fence. Maybe they they've tried it, but they're not there yet. But they still feel like, especially during these times, I've already have all these responsibilities.

               There's always something new, something shiny, brand new in thing that I'm supposed to be doing and that lasts for as long as the administrators or whatever it is. Right. What would you say to a teacher that's maybe on the fence that says, you know equity by design it's seems like another step in addition to the UDL: the basic principles of UDL, what is your response in those kinds of cases to help someone that's on their journey on equity and the importance of maybe the urgency of not only doing UDL, but making sure that it's equitable in that approach.

Katie Novak:

So if, if universal design for learning is implemented with integrity, there would be a real focus on equity. I think that some of the complications with that is what it truly means to universally design a classroom really means shifting the very structure of how a class is done. It's about creating a classroom that supports multiple tasks and formats at the same time. It's about being really flexible. I find that sharing analogies with teachers is really helpful. So an analogy that I use very very often is that like, I know that we can't right now have a dinner party because we're in COVID-19 world. But if I was going to have a dinner party at my house, and there were like 30 people, and my goal was to make sure that had like an awesome dinner, I'm not going to serve like a tuna noodle casserole.

               It just doesn't even make sense because it's going to be, it's going to exclude too many people and I think that everybody gets that, like if you're going to have a party and you're going to have a bunch of people over and you don't know them that well, then you're going to make sure that you have like a buffet and if you don't have a buffet, you're going to end up with a lot of people who can't eat and then you're going to be spending a ton of time making individual meals and that's actually a heck of a lot more time than you would have spent from the beginning saying like, okay, if my goal is that everyone can eat and I can predict that there could be people who are vegetarian or vegan, lactose intolerant. If I know that there's going to be some people who are going to want to like create their own portions.

               I know I have a lot of diverse friends. I'm going to make sure I have lots of different spices out and then let's create our own taco bar, let's do our own pasta bar, let's do our own salad bar, by providing those options and choices and also saying to everyone, this is my plan, but I want you to bring forward anything that you want. So I am never going to be offended if you feel like, "Oh, if you've never tried, you know, the saffron, you got to try it," or like, "Oh, I brought some chili oil you might want to drizzle it on." And so it's really, when we work together to create a buffet, we just have more people who can eat and so what I would say for people who feel like right now, they are buried in planning, which is incredibly difficult time to be an educator.

               I feel like a lot of what society is struggling with has been put on the backs of educators who are trying to balance their own lives with all of this additional support and nothing's been taken off. But I would argue that the more that we can reach out to students and families and the more that we can provide options, we're actually going to be spending much less time reacting. One of the other things that I always say is what is necessary for some is good for all. So I'm not thinking about my class of a hundred and making a hundred meals, which is a lot of times what we're doing right now. But it's saying I'm going to put some options out. I'm going to say, if I were to do this again, what additional options should I have? And that's where you get into those coach and dialogues and that feedback.

               But essentially right now, you are designing for kids. If you are listening, you are designing for kids, if you're an administrator, you're designing for teachers, we're designing already, but we're not having an impact on everyone. So how do we design for everyone? We have to be more flexible, provide those options and choices and I can try to put a couple of options on the table to start, but I'm not going to know if they're the right ones until I really go through this cycle with kids of like choose, do, review and that's the work of Mike Anderson who wrote, learned to choose, choose to learn who says, like, it's about saying, take some time and reflect, look at what your options are. Remember the goal, try it out and if it doesn't work, no big deal, you'll try better the next time. So I found that it actually is much more efficient for me to universally design, than to create one thing and then spend all the time reacting and trying to differentiate instruction, to get back to where I need to go.

Speaker 1:

I loved how you started with, if you are doing UDL correctly, you're already equitable. Like that is like, you know rather than saying, "Oh, okay, I'm doing UDL and then I'm going to throw in some equity," it should be embedded within whatever practice you do. So I love that you started the conversation that way. I definitely consider the two of you as providing voices in leading equity. Mirko I would love for you to share with us maybe one word of advice that you would want to kind of help our fellow educators out there who are working on equity by design,

Mirko Chardin:

Normalizing the process of putting on these lenses daily. Right? Let's not think about it as an initiative or a box that we can check off, but it needs to be a daily process, right? Like almost like daily hygiene. Are you going back to this over and over again to make sure you get this right.

Speaker 1:

Okay. And what about you, Katie?

Katie Novak:

My final word is this providing an equitable, brilliant, engaging education to students can not be transactional. Which means if you behave, if you are respectful to me, if you do your work, then you have proven to me that you have earned these choices and you have earned these voices and that is not the way that education needs to work. They don't have to provide us with anything for us to give them what they deserve, which is an equitable universally designed culturally responsive education and I think that we could make really, really huge gains if we stopped expecting students to earn the education that they deserve.

Speaker 1:

Love it. All right. Well, Katie, if we've got some folks that want to connect with you online, what's the best way to reach out.

Katie Novak:

So I am at novakeducation.com and I am on Twitter at Katie Novak UDL.

Speaker 1:

Okay and you Mirko.

Mirko Chardin:

I am [email protected] I'm on Twitter as Mirko milk. I'm on IG as milk Mirko.

Katie Novak:

Oh, a little bit backwards there.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And I'm curious about this milk thing. Can you share a little bit more about that? What's the what's up with the milk?

Mirko Chardin:

It's it's it was my nickname growing up and OG around the way you used to think that I looked like milk D the old school rapper and he'd make fun of me. And the name just stuck.

Speaker 1:

Got it. All right. I'll talk to you as lactose or something. I didn't know. I didn't know what was happenning. I didn't mean to roast you, but I appreciate again, I appreciate the two of you coming on the show. Once again, it's equity by design, delivering on the power and promise of UDL, Mirko Chardan, and Katie Novak. Once again, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.

 

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