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 have a special guest with me today, Dr. Leena Bakshi is here and so I'm excited. So without further ado Leena, thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

Thank you so much for having me. I have been a long time listener, and so it's an honor to actually be on the show and contribute.

Speaker 1:

Long time listener, first time caller we see. So yes, thank you. Thank you, and I'm glad to be able to share this space with you. So we've chatted a few times and I would love for you to share with our audience a little bit about yourself and what you currently do.

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

Definitely. I am a former math and science teacher, and I eventually ended up as a career in administration working at the county office as a science program director. And I took on a lot of the NGSS implementation, the state standards and really facilitating the implementation of these standards at the school and district levels. And then after that, I decided to take the show on the road and actually make math and science instruction for real, for our students. And that's how STEM For Real was born is that we take professional learning to a level that really incorporates standards-based instruction with the infusion of equity and social justice at the forefront.

Speaker 1:

I like that for real. So tell me more about that. So what is for fake? I mean, what would be the alternative when you're saying for real?

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

It's funny that you mentioned that because as I was an administrator going into schools and districts and seeing the curriculum that I myself as a math and science teacher was teaching, I saw the same faces. I saw this vision of white males dominating math and science, and there was no diversity in the books that I was reading, in the textbooks and the curriculum, I didn't see anyone that was representative of my students, of me really for that matter.

               And so I had this crazy idea that one day, I want to really highlight real life people of color, real life females, doing the work, doing the science and create these stories so that students can read about them and say, "Wow, they look like me. I want to be like them," and incorporate this idea of a true, real role model that we can aspire to become. And it really just started with this idea of highlighting real life STEM superstars and that's when we started with the children's book, however, we were like, okay, so a children's book is great, but how do we create a movement? And that's when we wanted to take on professional learning.

Speaker 1:

Okay. So here's the question that I have next because when we think about it, all right, and I'm glad that you notice, okay, let me see who I'm teaching about the content that I have available, did you have to go beyond your textbooks? Because again, we're talking about standards as well, right? So how were you able to go beyond what you currently were given to be able to bring in more diversity with your approach to the curriculum?

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

Let me tell you it is hard. I feel like my whole career has been scavenging, listening, going online, networking, trying to find this cohesive set of learning that I can provide for my students, and that's when I saw how difficult it is for one person to take this on, that's when we saw a huge gap in professional learning and in training because the training that I got was from the textbook companies that gave me the same curriculum that didn't have any diversity or any resources that I could provide for my students. And that's when I thought, wow, what if we created a network of teachers, I can't be the only person doing this, so what if there was a network of teachers that are committed to this same purpose?

Speaker 1:

Got it. All right, and then here we are. Now, when we first connected, the conversation that I wanted to have on the show because it's not something that I've covered, which is standards, right? So we hear standards all the time, state standards, state standards, there's all this accountability and all these different things, but when we talk about standards, we don't always talk about equity within those standards. So I want to pitch out my first official, I guess, for real question, which is how do you infuse or why is it important to be mindful of equity when it comes to meeting state standards?

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

Absolutely. I think that the issue in terms of when we look at equity and social justice, we see it as an add-on, we see it as a side dish and not something that's infused in the main course of our teaching. And that is what I want to take on is that, how can we create an intersection of committing to standards, committing to the state accountability standards and addressing equity and social justice at the same time? And it is definitely possible. The reason why I say that is because I'm looking at the science frameworks and I see that there's an equity and access chapter and it's a great chapter, don't get me wrong, but it's this add-on chapter. It's like, "Okay, let's read about everything that has to happen with science education. Oh, and if you have time, here's another chapter on equity and access."

               And that is where I want to create this mind shift of thinking about equity as the main course all the time. So if I'm addressing and I'm teaching the next generation of science standards, and I'm looking at human impact, clearly human impact is part of the standards, yet how do we make it so that we look at well, what's happening with all of our humans, what's happening in terms of racial inequality, what's happening with climate change and also climate injustices, racial injustice within climate change?

Speaker 1:

Well, how do I do that? And I don't have a science teacher background, so this question is just out of straight ignorance, I don't know. So, okay. I've heard the topic climate change, what is climate injustice or how do they relate to each other?

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

I love that you asked that. So when we're looking at the standards, the standards say something like, "Let's learn about the atmosphere and the hydrosphere," and we're learning about this content, content, content. However, let's look at Richmond, California. In August of 2012, we had this huge Chevron explosion that occurred and thousands of people in the Richmond community, they were taken to the hospital for breathing problems and breathing treatment and all that and so you see the lasting effects of the air pollution and how it affects communities, and particularly communities of color.

               This is something that needs to be highlighted, especially because you can sit there and learn about air and air quality and understand that carbon and hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen make up our air, however, how does this affect me as a student, as a person with a family, with friends, with colleagues that are going through asthma, breathing problems, breathing treatments? And why is that occurring? Because ultimately we want to create this 21st century learning and critical thinking, but we need to make the instruction for real, and we need to make it relevant to our students. And the best way to do that is, again, to see how we can look at the intersections.

Speaker 1:

Okay, I'm going to ask you one more question regarding climate change, but I think this question might apply to other areas within science curriculum. But I know climate change, people don't even believe it's a real thing, there's that political side of things. So we're thinking about state standards and we're thinking about politics and how some topics, evolution, for example maybe, or even some other topics that are kind of questionable with its approach to science, if I'm an educator, how am I able to infuse the equity piece, hit the state standards and discuss maybe some of these topics that are up for debate when it comes to politics and things like that? What would be some of your suggestions to hit all of these all in one?

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

Well, we have yet another acronym and we call it the SHS method and it's the standard, the hook and society. So every time we're thinking about math and science instruction, in science instruction, in particular, we're thinking about phenomenon based instruction, phenomenon based, phenomena, phenomena and it's this idea that there's this hook, there's this, "Oh my gosh, it's driving curiosity. You're asking questions, you're wanting to know more." And so we took that phenomenon based instruction a step further and created the SHS method where you have a standard, you know exactly what NGSS standard you're focusing on then you have that hook, right? How are you going to get your average adolescent, your TK to 12 student to get excited about what's happening?

               So you have a hook and then you have the impact on society. So how is this going to be relevant to your community, culture and what not? You're really thinking about that societal impact. So I always like to take these big ideas and make it so that our teachers can say, okay, SHS got it. We've got this system that's in place, because like you said, it can be very daunting. Like, "Ah, I have standards, now you want me to think about social justice and equity." And we think that, we know actually that if there's a system in place, you're able to actually play the game of and, and you don't have to choose.

Speaker 1:

Okay, this is fun. I'm enjoying this. So I have some more questions. So I appreciate that. And here's my thing, sometimes I'll get a text or not a text, something on Twitter or DM or something, and folks will say, "I just found your show and I have so much to catch up on as far as your episodes and I'm just getting onto this and I'm new to equity in general." So I don't want this conversation to assume that all our science teachers that are listening to this right now have been on that journey for awhile, right? Some of our folks might be brand new to what equity is. Could you maybe give some examples of what equity and science standards, I know we kind of talked about climate change, but could you maybe give us some example if I'm brand new, I'm just first year teaching or I'm just new to equity in general, what does that mean when we're saying we're combining equity and standards together in science?

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

These are great questions. I think, especially because the science community in particular is a bit further behind when we are having conversations around equity, I think that it is important to know that there is a window and a doorway to enter the conversation at any point. And we're always talking about how this is a judgment free zone. This is a way for us as educators to learn and to keep learning. I learn something new all the time. And I think for me, the most important thing that keeps me grounded is really being in learner mode all the time and being in a place where I'm learning new terms, I'm learning new materials and our communities are ever changing, and so I want to make sure that we're being committed to the people that we serve.

               So with that said, I think that the first step really is to pay attention to the news and to pay attention to what's happening within our society, within our local communities even. And then as you're going through each of these current events, take a look at the perspectives from all stakeholders. Look at one side, look at another side, look at the top, down, the bird's-eye view side, you're looking at all these angles because then that's how we're able to bring this information into our classrooms.

               And then I've also heard people ask, "Well, what about all the pushback? And is this an agenda?" And we hear that all the time. As math and science teachers, it's all about the data, right? So if we can bring in data and statistics about police brutality, if we can bring in data and statistics on air quality, air quality in Oakland versus air quality in San Ramon, you can see the stark inequities that exist and presenting the data to our students is really what's going to allow us as educators to embody those science and engineering practices. That's what we want and we have to make sure that we're providing datasets that's going to be interesting to our students and really create that relevance.

Speaker 1:

Are there some resources, maybe even books that you would recommend besides STEM For All, or is that the place where you would recommend for folks to kind of get as much information resources available?

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

Of course, our website, we would love more traffic. We're always seeing how we can make it exciting and engaging. So we do have some example lesson plans that you can dig into, www.stemforreal.org.

               And also I'll send you the resources that we have, I worked with NSTA and we just did a blog post a couple of months ago on anti-racism in science education and it was really an opportunity for me to highlight black educators that are doing the work, because I think oftentimes we have really this myth that teachers of color aren't there and we're having a hard time recruiting. And it's true in terms of the recruiting, but what systems are in place that are actually recruiting and retaining teachers and creating a community where teachers of color are feeling welcomed. And that's what I wanted to do with this article is that I wanted to highlight black voices to ensure that no, this is what we need to do. If we're going to be talking about anti-racism, we have to make sure that we're amplifying our voices and ensuring that the messaging is getting out there. So I have that resource as well.

               And then we also worked with the California Association of Science Educators, and we all put together an Equitable Access to Science Education PDF. So that's another resource as well. However, I also think that networking is a huge, huge part in building your arsenal of resources, because when you're able to expand your network, you're able to get different perspectives and you're able to understand what's working in one school, what's working in one district, what's working in rural communities. That's an issue that we have in the science education community. Is that in California, it's a very diverse population, and yet when we created some of the frameworks out of 25 people, 22 were white. And I don't think that was intentional. I don't think they said, "Okay, we need to have this racial makeup," however, when you're constantly going off of who you know, and who you've worked with and not taking the time to truly expand your network and truly seek out diverse voices at the table, then you're going to get these homogenous groups that are creating resources that all of our students are using.

Speaker 1:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. Well, I appreciate you for sharing that. I am curious though, in regards to what anti-racist science education looks like, could you give me some, some examples of what does that look like if I say I'm a science teacher and I'm an anti-racist science teacher?

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

Absolutely. And I think that we're defining it as well, the definition is something for me when I see myself as an anti-racist teacher and an anti-racist educator, I am taking the time to truly look at black lives, to truly look at the voices of color and to truly understand where the inequities are and how we can rectify them. And that's a vision that I'm hoping that anti-racist teachers can take on where it's not just, "Oh, let's look at our behavior," and, "My black students are getting unsatisfactory marks," okay, next? You're not just taking it at face value, actually an anti-racist educator would actually go in, do the self-reflection and understand why are my black students getting unsatisfactory marks? And so you're looking at that from a perspective of, what can I do to serve my students instead of, oh, these kids can't behave? So that's where I see the stark difference in truly embodying and looking at our race and looking at how we can truly be equitable.

Speaker 1:

I like that. And I think that's the key right there is, what can I do? Whether it means me using my privilege or if it means me just being a voice, but first of all, I had to recognize something's happening. And then how do I actively support dismantling whatever systemic or whatever situations are happening? How do I work against it so that we can make some change? And I think that's the piece that a lot of folks will forget about is, how do we make change as opposed to just, oh, I recognize that this is an issue?

               So, okay. All right. So I have more questions because within equity there is... I mean, equity is such a broad term, right? So we say equity and it covers so much, right? And when we're talking about being culturally responsive, which is a piece of equitable classrooms or schools, we want to be culturally responsive. You mentioned early on in our conversation the importance of how you kind of got into this was there wasn't a lot of representation with maybe the scientists and mathematicians and things like that. What are some other ways that I could be a culturally responsive educator?

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

I think the true, true way to create a culturally responsive classroom and to become a culturally responsive teacher is to establish those relationships and those connections with students and with the community. And it goes beyond just a student survey or knowing their favorite color, it's actually understanding your students, where they're coming from, what they're listening to, the issues that they're dealing with, and actually learning their families, how they interact with their families, their friends, the community. All of that is such a huge, huge factor.

               And I, myself, I'm a new mom and I have a 10 month old and we take her to Montessori School and knowing that she's actually there for a critical part of the day, I sat and I'm like, "Wow, she's there for almost six hours." And that's the thing is that our school systems, we take on someone's children for a critical mass of the day. And that is where if we want to really ensure that we're understanding the culture and the ecosystem of our classroom, we have to establish those connections. And you'll see it manifest in the way that we have classroom management behavior, and then also creating learning that is meaningful to our students.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Yeah, that's a piece that sometimes we forget about, we just lean, "Oh, cultural responsive means I need to provide some pictures on the wall and make sure that I'm addressing those tokenized holidays and all those types of things and I'm culturally responsive now." However, there's that relationship piece, because when we think about, like you said, our student demographics don't always match our teacher demographics and just being able to interact with kids on their level I think is very important. And it's a piece that sometimes we forget about. So that makes a lot of sense so I appreciate you bringing that up. Is there any other examples that you would have to add on to that? As far as being culturally responsive?

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

I do think that as we continue to graze our own awareness, it's all about cultivating it and keeping it going. So just like you mentioned, it's more than just putting posters on the wall, it's actually continuing the conversations. And again, going back to networking and having a group of teachers or educators that are committed to the same work, because when you expand your circle, you have this bubble of collaboration, right, that's able to bubble and bubble even more and you get those ideas going.

               So I would suggest really looking at how you can network and that's why we created our network. So it doesn't have to be our network, it could be any network of teachers and educators that are truly committed to cultural responsiveness, and ensuring that we're establishing those connections. And also, there's this idea of having perseverance and not just going through the motions, but actually staying committed to our students because it's going to get tough. There's going to be issues of defiance, and there's going to be maybe some cussing, it's going to get ugly, it's going to get rough and we can't just throw our hands up in the air. So when we have that moment, we need to make sure that our circle is there to keep us going, because we have this commitment to our students.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and this has been a very informative conversation because sometimes when I do trainings with folks, I'll get a science teacher or a math teacher will approach me after a session is over and say, "Okay, you said be culturally responsive, however, that only pertains to my history and my English language arts folks." And I tell no, no, you can be culturally responsive as well and there's always room for growth. Don't don't just say, "Oh, well I just have formulas and there's scientific laws and scientific methods, how can I be culturally responsive with that?" And I say, "No, you can go beyond that." So I appreciate this conversation because again, I can definitely refer them to this episode now and be like, "Okay, listen to this, my episode with Leena and I bet you you'll find some areas that you can provide that that'll help you out."

               So here's the question that I have, when we think about science, there's, Newton's law, there's a scientific method, there are certain areas that have been established that you're required to teach often in the standards format. How could I take a Newton's law or how could I take some of the things that maybe you and I grew up learning when it comes to science and make sure that we're bringing in or infusing the equity side of things?

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

That's a great question. And that takes me back to our system of standard hook society. So you start with your standard, let's say your standard is photosynthesis because then when I learned photosynthesis, it was very much, "Okay, plants need water and sunlight," and I memorized all the things about photosynthesis, and yet there was, again, no connection. I mean, I knew it had to do with plants, but how could I connect it to agriculture, food deserts, looking at farming and the issues of farming and the issues of water scarcity and how different communities are acting and reacting and continuing to look at our food and our food supply, and how different communities and especially communities of color are impacted when there is a breach in our food supply.

               So all of a sudden now I've taken the theme of photosynthesis, and now it's real because it's going to affect my food and so I've been able to create this connection with the standard, photosynthesis, the hook, "Oh my gosh, I see this picture of food not growing, I see this barren desert and it's supposed to be filled with trees," and then society, "Oh my gosh, I need to eat, my family needs to eat and different communities are affected differently so what's happening?" So that's where I always go back to our system of how to make it so that you can incorporate that social justice piece.

               And of course, I want to make sure that the system can be used for anything. So you mentioned Newton's law. So thinking on my feet, I'm thinking about all of the gymnastics right now and how are black women are dominating and they are really representing America, and so being able to look at all of the different forces that are in play as I'm watching these beautiful floor exercises and jumps and hoops. So one, I've been able to bring in role models for my black students and ultimately for all my students, because I think it's important, I've actually heard people tell me, "Oh, well, I teach in a predominantly white area so I don't really need this." And it's like, no, no, no, no, no, this is for everyone. We need to show that our world is diverse and this is for everyone. So going back to that, we're looking at the standard, the hook and then of course, society, we love the Olympics and being able to create that representation for our students.

Speaker 1:

Well, I mean, even track and field, right? What is it, something in motion, inertia and all that stuff is part of Newton's Law, right? And I could talk about-

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

An object in motion stays in motion.

Speaker 1:

I tell you, I don't teach science, but when we're thinking about how, like just thinking about the a hundred meter dash and how you have to stop and just kind of how they can't just stop abruptly, you cross the line and then you're done like you slow down. And I mean, I could see how a science teacher can take this so many different directions, but you have to have some sort of creativity. If we just lean on, "Here's the lesson plan that the textbook is offering me, and I'm just going to keep it as is and not go beyond that," then I think we are doing our kids a disservice and not going a little going the extra mile, no pun intended. So I like that. Thank you.

               So, Lemna, I definitely consider you as providing a voice in leading equity. What is one final word of advice that you can provide to our listeners?

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

I think if anything, I would say that there needs to be more than just a monetary or some sort of law abiding set of motivation. We have to go beyond that in order to achieve equity, because I think many school leaders in particular, we look at it and we say, "Oh, we need our numbers to increase because of accountability," or, "We need to write a racial equity grant because we're getting money down the pipeline." And I think all of that is leading to tokenism and also leading to a lack of actual intrinsic motivation to do it. And I think if we all are equipped with this intrinsic motivation to actually want to create culturally responsive classrooms and to actually want to have equitable classrooms for every single one of our students, then and only then will we be inspired to have the creativity that we need to go beyond the textbook and to go beyond the cookie cutter lessons and to create instruction that's meaningful to our students.

               And on top of that, our leaders can start thinking about how to create a system for our teachers to do that so that they have that planning time, they have that network, they have that community to do that and we're not just throwing money at curriculum companies and whatnot, just to say, "Hey, we have a resource, we're doing it." So I would say that would be my final word is really looking at how we can go into ourselves and have that intrinsic motivation to combine the standards with equity.

Speaker 1:

Loving it, loving it. And one of the other things that I heard throughout today's session, I think if you have not started project-based learning in your classroom, because a lot of the concepts and the examples that we're given today, I would think would be very beneficial if we use a PBL approach to our learning. Did you want to add anything to that?

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

Yes. When we're thinking about PBL and also looking at youth action and incorporating youth action into your lesson planning, because we want to get our students to have this idea that they can do something. We're always talking about 21st century learning and citizen science, so how do we create something where our students will have that connection to their learning? Absolutely.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. If we ask some folks that want to reach out, what's the best way to connect with you online?

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

Definitely our website. We're so proud of it. It's come a long way. www.stemforreal.org. You can always email us [email protected] We have a very, very motivated team that is excited about the work. I try to give them the holiday weekend off and they said, "No boss we've got work to do." So definitely reach out, and of course I have the resources available to you as well.

Speaker 1:

Okay. Any social media as well?

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

Oh, of course you can follow us @STEM4real STEM, number four real, we're on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, you can follow my personal handle, LeenaBMC and yeah, we're always here to ensure that we can serve our community and you can learn anything from us, anything from our free resources to our paid resources. We want to make sure that we're here to create a movement, essentially, and look at anti-racism in our work.

Speaker 1:

All right. Once again, Dr. Leena Bakshi is here, thank you so much for your time.

Dr. Leena Bakshi:

Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

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