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- [Host] 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 got a special guest. This is someone that I've wanted to be on my show for two years now. So I'm really excited about this. I have Dr. Dominic Smith is here with us. So without further ado, Dominic, thank you so much for joining us today.

- [Dominic] Thank you for having me. I know we've hit or missed a couple of times so I'm really thankful to still have the opportunity to be on your show. So I'm excited.

- [Host] It's all good. It's all good. So again, I'm glad this is happening. So, I know who you are but for those advocates that are listening who may not be as familiar, why don't you share a little bit about yourself and what you currently do.

- [Dominic] Yeah, so right now I'm a principal in San Diego. I have a wonderful school. I love where I work. I'm in inner city, San Diego, City Heights. I got students that come from all over different backgrounds and I wake up every morning excited about what I do. I'm not anybody without my staff. I work with an amazing staff, I work with amazing students, amazing families. But on my guess what I would label my free time I get to try to write some books that hopefully people enjoy and travel the world by working with other individuals and learning from others. And then on the other side of that I got three beautiful children and I get to be a dad and figure out what education looks like as a dad perspective as well.

- [Host] Yeah, especially during a pandemic. I've been learning about that myself.

- [Dominic] It's a fun little game to play, how to be a parent and an educator during a pandemic.

- [Host] Yeah, I love the humbleness of your response of who you are. You're an author and there's a few books that a lot of folks might have heard of. I'd love for you to share those books that you have written or coauthored.

- [Dominic] Yeah, so as we were talking earlier, my baby, I call it, is I wrote the book "Better Than Character Sticks", focused all around restorative practices. I wrote "Building Equity", and that was the focus of my dissertation on what equity looks like within schools. I also was a coauthor on "Engagement by Design", "All Learning is Social and Emotional", "The teacher Credibility and Collective Teacher Efficacy", handbook or playbook. We just did "The Distance Learning for Leaders" playbook and then coming out very shortly is my newest. I'm going to call it my, my second child, my new one, "Removing Labels" and giving techniques for teachers and schools on how to remove labels off students.

- [Host] So that's the one I want to focus on because I'm excited about talking about "Removing Labels". I think "Removing Labels" is so important. So I want to have you break it down. Why this topic is so important to you.

- [Dominic] I think that the topic really hit home with me based on my own upbringing. And as you see me the statement I always get is, "you don't look like a principal". And I love that. I love that narrative, and that's just easy conversation to have. I can clear that conversation up very quickly. My students can clear up the conversation and the labels that are placed on them. I have students that walked through the door and based on what they look like, a label is placed on them. The communities that we worked in, our kids are labeled because they come from poverty or because they wear blue or red or because they have dreadlocks or durags or because, whatever it may be, labels are placed on kids pretty quickly. And I've been wanting to write this book, I wanted to write it correctly And, what is a true label? How has it placed on kids and how do we remove that? So our students feel successful, but are also our buildings are more equitable and successful with our students.

- [Host] I like the direction that you're taking it because when we kind of chatted before we started recording, and you were saying labels I was thinking from a, okay, you have special education, you have autism maybe, or you have this or reading or, so I was thinking labels from that perspective. But you've mentioned the attire, the way someone's hair is set up. You've mentioned labels from a more broader scope. So I want to see if we can break that down even further. Because again, I was thinking from a... like I'm a special ed director, so that was immediately where my mindset went. But why did you choose to go beyond that type of scope and talk about how we view people?

- [Dominic] Yeah, and so I think I had the scope of special education as well, cause that is a label. And how does that one hurt the student but also at the same time, some of those labels that have been placed on our students as I've got pushback on really help our students and give them the resources that they might need. So it was very, I was trying to be very conscious of that, when I was having that conversation with myself. But when I went broader, it's because you can see that label be placed on a student based on their name. People put characteristics and labels on kids when they look down the roster sometimes. You see a Malik, a Muhammad, a Brittany, a Jeff, a Jose, a George, you have images sometimes. You put these characteristics on these individuals and when you don't get to know them and you don't understand who they really are, they walk into your door. And sometime that labels put on them immediately, you get kids that walk in, looking differently than you and have a certain type of swagger, walking a classroom and not want to communicate with you, bam! label placed on them again. And that's where it was the conversation of, it really hurts the learning for our kids. Because when you put a label on a student, you talk, you discipline, you act to the label rather than to that human being.

- [Host] Yeah, and I'm hearing implicit bias, I'm hearing stereotypes, I'm hearing all of these things that could essentially tack on these labels to our students.

- [Dominic] Exactly, and that's where we have to be comfortable and pushing that envelope of that conversation. There is that bias when individuals walk in to a room and we have to be comfortable with owning our bias and understanding it. And that's the beauty about this label project is some individuals will say, "I don't do that". And I will say, "I think sometimes in human nature we do". And I don't think it's wrong right off the bat, right? On some of the things that might run through our mind, we have to though, own it, understand why it's there, and then go through and figure out why it was there and then figure out who that person really is.

- [Host] Okay, all right. So, I'm loving this conversation because again it's like you said, there's people that don't think they do it and it happens. It happens all the time. And I think at the end of the day it's most of us have the best intention. I mean, we went into education for a reason, for a purpose and it's to serve our students. But because sometimes our students look differently than us or they come from a different background and our experiences, then we started to come up with these concepts or these ideas of what our students, who they are and what they might be interested in. I want to ask you this next question because when we talk about removing labels, what are some ways that we can actually do so? It's one thing to say, "remove those labels, take those labels off". How do we do that?

- [Dominic] Yeah, so the fun fact in our book, and we broke it down in 40 different techniques, right? We said, "this is exactly what people are going to ask us". And some of it went back to that original relationship building. What are some techniques for relationship building? Because labels are placed on individuals because one, you don't know them and you might be nervous about knowing them. One of the techniques that I've talked about in prior books but dove a little bit more into, on our label conversation is our two by 10 approach, taking two minutes a day for 10 days in a row, and getting to know an individual. When you start to go through that process, the labels that you might've initially placed on somebody, they start to fade away because you're building a new narrative who that human is. As you see them interacting with you, connecting with you, having a conversation with you. So, that strategy, that easy technique, is one of the first things we can do. That's an easy way in. I think the other kind of concepts that we've been talking about is one, addressing your bias. Obviously, that's another thing that we're going to have to do. And we got into it as I talked to you a little bit earlier, is understanding the importance of names and what names do. And when we mispronounce names and we put that label on an individual, your name is this. So there might be this label placed on you. Making sure we know the background and actually understand the story of our individuals. Where are you from? Who are you? Tell me the in-depth person that you are, because then I get a better sense of who you might be. We've also put little strategies in that book to do some social emotional kind of components of that within the classrooms. The one-on-one, because that's really where we start to see that shift that, okay, my fault, I put a label on we gotta now start to slowly pull it, but I'm hoping as fast as we can, pull it off as fast as we can.

- [Host] Okay, let's jump on that a little bit more, So, okay, so you recognize that you have placed a label on a student, or a group of students.

- [Dominic] Yeah.

- [Host] Does it matter if a student calls you out and says, "hey, listen, stop". Or how do we own it? I guess, because I get this question a lot, where a lot of teachers will say, or they'll confess and say "I did this, but I was defensive at the time, I didn't know, I didn't really understand that I was labeling or I had some bias there, I didn't know it was happening at the moment but then I later on reflected, but then I felt like it was too late to say anything at this point". Do you have any suggestions for teachers who discovered that they have started placing labels on students and what they should do about it?

- [Dominic] Well, I think you bring up a good question, a good point. If we have teachers that are starting to understand that they place labels on students we're in a win right there because they're ready to take that ownership. And I think the beauty of that is back to the restorative work that I do is you need to take ownership. You need to say, "I placed something on you and that was my bad because maybe I'm the first adult or the first human tell you, I shouldn't have done that. And I'm sorry, throughout your life, every other person you walked by, has placed this on you. So let me be the first one that says my bad". So that, if I get someone to a point where like, "what do I do"? I'm saying, "you did the first best step". I actually seen it, where I want to get to. And where I think you're, with the work you've been doing is, we need to help the people that say, "I didn't do that".

- [Host] Yeah.

- [Dominic] And that's that hard work that we're going to have to do and kind of push into each other's faces like, "no, you did, you did put a label on it". "You did hurt that kid's feeling", "you did disrespect them in front of their friends". Because, I got caught early in my career. And so, some of my colleagues that I call best friends, those jokes that you think you're having fun with kids and sarcasm and roasting and clowning, that wasn't a connection. You were disrespecting kids in front of their peers because you thought that was going to help build that connection because you were goofing around and being one of the boys or whatever it may be. But all those labels that we've talked about you pretty much probably said something around that one time and what you were trying to connect with the kids. So I think that's the journey. And when I work with people, I just tell them and at best you can, be real with yourself. It took me a little bit to understand that, some of the things I did in the beginning of my career, that wasn't me be my best me. I had to get my own knowledge and my own understanding. And we're still seeing it right now. There are certain things that we bring up right now that individuals aren't comfortable having the conversation. So I know people are very, like, I don't put labels on kids or, I'll go more extreme, we had a conversation around white privilege. People don't like hearing that right off the bat, cause that brings out a whole different dialogue too. So I think that's where I'm trying to push us. Let's take some ownership. Let's understand labels are real and say, stop saying they aren't and then let's move forward.

- [Host] I love that. I love that answer. We got to own it. We got to take responsibility. We got to own it. When I think about school and school leadership, I think about how principals, for example, administrators, are often more privy to information about students than a teacher might be because of them being more involved with maybe the curriculum and instruction, as opposed to maybe the discipline. So maybe they see students more times than others as opposed to like maybe a teacher may not see those types of things. What kind of tips do you have for administrators? You're an administrator, you're author of this book. How would you help an administrator with not putting these place in these labels? What would you say maybe is different from a principal's perspective then a teacher's perspective.

- [Dominic] Yeah, I think when you think of a teacher perspective, they're seeing students a lot more than we are. They experience everything that our students are going through. So, I think it's two fold. Sometimes principals place labels on students based on why they see them walking through the building. You come to my office, discipline, here's your kind of label I'm placing on you. You walk into my office because you're accepting your honor roll or whatever, may be this award, that's the label you're placed on. I think where all of this needs to trend and what we need to change as administrators, is we have to be more visible. We have to be within the classrooms. I know we have busy schedules. I know that we are always on and having to do things. But what I've learned is the students put labels on me because if they don't see me, they have a label, right? Like, who is this guy? And why is he here? And when I walk into a classroom sometimes my label is, he's only here for bad kids. Why did I get that label? Because I didn't show up for anything else. So I should be more present and available for my students. So as I get to see maybe the times when they're doing stuff wrong I get to see them glow as a student in their classroom and be that productive learner. Same thing with our teachers though. Sometimes they only pull it. They place labels sometimes on some of their kids because they've always struggled with them and they've never had that moment to connect with them. So another tool for administrators, is when there's minor infractions within your schools, let your teachers handle it. Ask your teachers if they want to step out of the classroom and work with that kid, because they might have a label on that kid that they're bad or that they're wrong or that they're the kid that always gets in trouble. Whatever it may be. Maybe if they sat down and had a one-on-one conversation while their leader walked into the classroom and covered their classroom for three minutes, all of a sudden they'll take that label off them and say, "the other label I have on you is that label of saying I don't want to put it on you, but I love that you're an amazing student". And bring them back in because I think that we both see students in different ways, teacher, administrators, but I think the administrator can be more visible. And then at the same time, give power back to teachers to allow them to reconnect with students because the students that struggle, always have a label. And they have those labels because teachers haven't got to know their students real stuff. And that's where I'm hoping to kind of make some shifts.

- [Host] Got you. I got you. Okay, so I'm gonna throw something at you that I talk about or it's come up in some of my trainings. When it comes to a thing that a lot of teachers do. They'll get a new roster of students and they'll go down the list maybe to go pull a previous teacher that the student had. And, who was one of the struggling readers? Who's one of your hardest kids that discipline? Who wouldn't sit still? And you go down the list and you get all of this previous information on the students that are on your list because you want to prepare for the upcoming semester or the upcoming year. How does that create those labels that you're talking about? Well, what is your take, I guess, on when teachers gather that previous information to try to prepare for the school year, is that really setting the student up for the best success in that class?

- [Dominic] So that's somewhat of a tricky question because if I do have some students that are coming in that have been struggling, I want to make sure I have the scaffolds in place and I have the resources in place. So they come in feeling ready to learn. I don't want them to take a step back. I want them to be ready and move forward with me. But I also believe that we are creating a very decent sized label on that kid. I always take it back to when I used to coach football. I would go down to the JV and freshmen coaches and ask, "what do I know about these students"? "What do you know about these student athletes"? And I would get them and they would give me all these kids that this should be your play maker and this kid and this kid. And they would come up to varsity and I'm like, all right, you were my starter. And I would be like, all of a sudden like, why? Because someone else told me they were great. I saw three other players do so much better than you. Had a better attitude than you and could catch a football a lot better than what someone else just told me. But I'm living off of this language, and the kid that they told me wasn't good and had no good attitude and that was struggling always to learn the playbook. He knew everything, but I had like this mixed view of the student athlete because I heard somebody else. So I've always taken that with me when I'm working with people is, I do need to know where some of that could be and how I can continue growth for students. If we're talking about continuous growth for students, of course, let's make sure that student never takes a step back, but I'm not going in and telling and asking people like, "hey, tell me what's wrong with these kids". Because all of a sudden, I already, I'm looking for that. I'm searching for that and be like, "yep, my friend was right, there it is, I knew that was coming". They told me it would be four days. It happened at two and a half days. Wow, that was a lot fast. And that's what I'm trying to eliminate, because those kids walk in with those big labels straight across their foreheads.

- [Host] Yeah, yeah. My thing is, are they coming into the classroom with a clean slate coming in? Have you already put Johnny's desk and the front of the room, because you heard Johnny was a bad student or they gave a troublemaker or whatever. Have you already done that to that student? Those are the things that I always think about.

- [Dominic] Exactly, and I think that you're so spot on, like, you'll come into a classroom and they'll be like, "oh, okay, you know, we have an open seating chart except Johnny you're right here". Wait, what, how did you know I need to sit by you? It's not to help me, this isn't helping me at all. So yeah, it comes in, and some teachers don't even mean it, but they'll walk in and Johnny walks in like, "oh, I know who you are, I've heard about you". Like, "what message did you just tell me"? "You know I'm the bad kid"? Well, I better live up to it because I don't want to not live up to the label that's placed on me. So those are the other things that kind of happen when we have those conversations as well.

- [Host] And siblings too, right? Older siblings?

- [Dominic] My sister was the... High school was a lot harder for her because I went before her. "Oh, you're Dominic's sister", man, she called me all the time. Like, "man, what did you do"? I'm like, "I'm so sorry". Like, "that's my fault". You know, the whole system grudges. And she was a phenomenal student, she's a phenomenal human being. But I know she came after me and it was like right when I graduated, she came in and I had left. I tried to leave a legacy in whatever way you want to call it.

- [Host] Yeah, I did that to my brother too. He's four years younger than me. And I remember him complaining, like the teacher used to complain and I was like, "yeah, I'm sorry, man, I didn't know. I didn't think about, those are things I didn't think about. I was enjoying my time, but yeah, that happened.

- [Dominic] So again, I remember a teacher emailed my mom and said, "I have your daughter now. So I'm guessing we'll be back in communication". And my mom had to write back, "no, not this one". Like what a bad label that was already placed on my sister.

- [Host] Yeah, okay. So, I mean, it's fun to joke. I know you and I are joking about it, but this is real. Like these things happen in our schools where siblings, cousins sometimes, neighborhoods, where people, where kids are from can impact a perception that a teacher may have on their students. Dominic, again, I am, I shoot. I've been wanting to have this conversation for a while. So I definitely consider you as providing a voice in leading equity. I'd love to have you leave us with one final word of advice that you would like to share with the group.

- [Dominic] My last word of advice is, "every student that we encounter "is going to do something wrong. "Every student's going to make a poor choice". I encourage you to be the adult that helps, works through it, hears the story of maybe why it happened because our students need us. And when we look back in time, all of us benefited by one adult that actually listened and gave us a second chance or third or fourth. So, when I think of equity, be the adult that never leaves make sure those students are getting ready for the real world and we're going to help them leave our schools better.

- [Host] Hello there, that's nice. All right. So if we got some folks that want to connect with you online, what's the best way? And then if you want to, I don't know, hint to us when the book will be out let us know about that as well.

- [Dominic] Yeah, so my Twitter is DomSmithRP. I'm trying to get as many followers. I gotta get my follow game up, but write me on there. Let's connect on there. And then yeah, we're going to do a book, a big release in February for the book. So look it out. I'll have some things up on Twitter and I promise you this. Like, I can't tell you the details, but right after removing labels, we're going to hit you with a book that is going to be extremely powerful. I promise you that. So be ready for a dream team of authors creating content for the change of the world.

- [Host] Mm mhh, I look forward to that. I'm not one of those dream team authors. I had to catch the next one. So yeah, that's what's up. Congrats on that, on the book. And soon as that book is out I'll be happy to blast that out on, on Twitter as well.

- [Dominic] Thank you.

- [Host] So again, Dominic, it has been a pleasure. Thank you so much for your time.

- [Dominic] Always, always thank you for having me and I can't wait to hear what's happening next in your world.


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