Sheldon Eakins:

Welcome advocates to another episode of the Leading Equity Podcast, a podcast that focuses on supporting educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their schools. Today, we have two special guests, Dr. Nancy Markowitz and Dr. Suzanne Bouffard is here with us as well. So without further ado, thank you so much, Suzanne and Nancy for joining us.

Dr. Nancy Markowitz:

Thank you for having us. We're delighted to be here.

Dr. Suzanne Bouffard:

Thank you. It's great to be here.

Sheldon Eakins:

Pleasure is always mine. And I'm really excited about this conversation because first of all, the two of you are coauthors of Teaching With A Social, Emotional and Cultural Lens, A Framework For Educators and Teacher Educators. Before we get into today's topic, because I think it's really important, especially as the school years are just getting started, that we start thinking about social, emotional learning. First, I want folks to know a little bit about you and what you currently do. So Nancy, why don't you start us off? Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Dr. Nancy Markowitz:

Okay. Well, I am currently founder and executive director of the Center For Reaching And Teaching The Whole Child. I started it at San Jose State University when I was a professor there. I'm now professor emeritus and I moved that out of the university. I've also been a teacher. I taught in South Central LA in elementary school for several years. I was also a school administrator. I've been in both the private and public sector in schools. And now I do this work as like my passion.

Sheldon Eakins:

All right. And Suzanne?

Dr. Suzanne Bouffard:

I am by training, a developmental psychologist with a background in social and emotional learning and social and emotional development of young people and the adults to support them. What my passion is really for taking research and best practice and making them accessible. So I love to write about, speak about, and communicate in various ways about this work. And I am currently the vice president of publications at Learning Forward, the Professional Learning Association, where I edit our magazine, The Learning Professional.

Sheldon Eakins:

Nice. All right. So we're going to start with Nancy .school years are just starting up or getting started or right around the corner. And often, especially over the last couple of years with this pandemic, everything going on, folks are putting a lot of emphasis on academic support. Learning loss is often a conversation that comes up, summer slides and gaps, and all these things are words that are commonly used in our hallways. The question I want to start us off with is, why should we shift our focus from the academic side and put more emphasis on the social, emotional learning side of things?

Dr. Nancy Markowitz:

Great question. Really important. When we start the school year now, people are coming, both teachers and students with a lot of trauma, a lot of upset, loss, uncertainty, and also hope. And I think we got to really concentrate on that hope part, but we have to acknowledge what both the adults and the children are coming to school with. And I think it's important for administrators, the teachers, students, everybody to recognize that and to attend to that because we know that if we have all this trauma and upset in our brains, we're going to be flooded with this cortisol. We're going to be flooded... Our brains... We not even have access to our rational brain. We don't have access to being able to think clearly and critically. What we want is to help both everybody, the adults and students feel safe, feel that everybody's got everybody else's back as they enter the school setting such that they're going to be able to engage in academic work.

Dr. Nancy Markowitz:

So concentrate on the social, emotional culture aspect and what people are bringing, because they had a couple of years of non-stop negativity in the press. So the larger level, as well as locally to say nothing of the losses and from experiences that people have had individually. We want to acknowledge that, but not stay with that. Acknowledge it, move beyond that into an area where we say there is hope and that we're going to take it and we're going to help each other and that is going to make the difference in moving forward. So that's why this is absolutely critical to engaging in academic work.

Sheldon Eakins:

So basically what I'm hearing, one of the things I want to add that I really appreciated hearing from you was the adults as well. Sometimes when we talk about SEL, we focus on the kids, but I think that you're exactly right, that not only do the kids need support and we also have to think about what's happening at home, but also our adults, our staff, our administrators, our support staff, our mental health providers are dealing with things as well from their homes. And I love how you add in all that in as a school community. It's not just about the kids and you summed it up with, there is hope.

Sheldon Eakins:

Suzanne, so I want you to build on that because I think she's exactly right. Nancy is exactly right when it comes to the importance of hope. Should there be a point where we put in some academic side of things or is there maybe a timeline that you would recommend when it comes to, "Okay, welcome back. And we're going to make these adjustments." If you were a school leader, how would you navigate the first few weeks of school?

Dr. Suzanne Bouffard:

First of all, I think it's important to acknowledge that social, emotional and academic learning are not separate. They are integrally connected to each other. And we've always known that if we were paying attention, but the last year has illustrated that more than any other year that we've ever seen. So we know that if students don't have relationships with each other and with educators, they're not going to learn the content in the same way, they're not going to engage in the same way. And we had this unwanted natural experiment that showed us that last year. So the first thing is for people to understand that spending time on that social and emotional foundation is not a waste of time. It's not taking away from academics.

Dr. Suzanne Bouffard:

It's laying the foundation for academics and the relationships especially that are built in those first few weeks of school. But then continuing throughout the school year are going to enable students to feel safe, to take risks, to ask questions, to get answers wrong, to ask for help when they need it, all of those things, as well as the executive functioning skills that are part of social and emotional learning to get organized, to engage their working memory, all these things that we know are so important for academic success, we have to lay the foundation for them right away.

Dr. Suzanne Bouffard:

So first of all, I would say, make sure that you're spending the time, especially this school year when students are disconnected and anxious, but also don't assume that if you do community building activities for a couple of weeks, then you're done. And for the rest of the school year, you can just focus on standards and tests. Those relationships have to be built over time.

Sheldon Eakins:

So it's not a one and done situation where it's like, "Okay, first couple of weeks, welcome back parties and open house. And we do all these little strength builder, team building activity." This needs to happen throughout the school year.

Dr. Nancy Markowitz:

Right.

Dr. Suzanne Bouffard:

Exactly and throughout the school day and throughout the school building. So it's not just about those events, like you mentioned. Although I do think those things are important. It's also how you respond in the classroom when students get frustrated or when students act out in ways that we think are inappropriate for classrooms. Those are moments when they really need us to show them that we love them. We care about them and we trust them that they can grow and they can change.

Dr. Nancy Markowitz:

Building on what Suzanne said, at the level of when the administrators at the beginning of the school year are working with the faculty that they too are coming in. And they've got all sorts of anxieties and concerns about doing their job. And we know that teachers are typically functioning very independently, and they're very concerned that they're seen as doing a good job and that they're seen as okay. And often that means that you don't share with somebody else that something's going wrong in your classroom, that you're having difficulties, that the kids and the relationship building and all that, that there're struggles going.

Dr. Nancy Markowitz:

And what you want to also do is in the same way that Suzanne was talking about teachers doing it with kids, the fact the administrators ideally are doing it with their faculty and saying, "I want this faculty room when we have meetings to be the safe place. And we're going to make time for actually discussing what is going on, what are the issues? And we need to have for ourselves a safe and brave space to do that in the same way that I, as the administrator encourage you to do that with your children." So it's that parallel process that needs to happen.

Sheldon Eakins:

So how would you suggest that happen? I mean, if I'm a school administrator, because I've had a conversation with someone about something similar where it's like, "Well, you need to make sure you create a safe space or a brave space for your staff to feel comfortable with opening up with each other and also with their administrator as well." What was recommended to me was, well, the administrator needs to show some level of vulnerability as well as one thing for us to ask our staff to do something. But then if we're not willing to do those things, then how can we really move forward? What are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Nancy Markowitz:

So I'll give an example that we've been talking about recently that we highly recommend that's related to this because I think that reciprocal vulnerability, it's one of the teacher moves we have in building relationships in our framework. But it's also when... Normally we talk about what are going to be the group norms for us this year as a faculty? And they also do that with kids in the classroom. And we used to do this. You put up these, what you think are some really good, basic norms of we're going to listen to each other and we're going to be open and no idea's a bad idea, et cetera. And then we say, "Do you have anything else you want to add?" Usually people don't, or they might say, "Just keep your cell phones off," or something.

Dr. Nancy Markowitz:

But what we've realized is that if you're going to talk about creating the safe and brave space for faculty in the same way as for children, what you need to do, or what we encourage you to do is to think about asking the teachers, "What behaviors are going to make you feel safe and brave in this faculty room space and what behaviors are not?" And we actually do that where we have people put it on. It's like a snowball activity and have them write it down, throw it in the circle, so nobody has to say, "This is what I think." So it keeps it very safe. But everybody gets to hear what everybody's saying is important. Those become the norms.

Dr. Nancy Markowitz:

What makes people feel safe in the same way teachers can do that with their kids in the classroom. It's like, what makes them feel safe so that they can be brave, bring up questions, bring up concerns, bring up mistakes, et cetera that they're having or things they feel like they can't do, or when they're losing it? You've got to feel like it's okay because that's going to be happening.

Dr. Suzanne Bouffard:

I think the other part of it that's really important is modeling those norms as a leader, whether you're a leader in a classroom or whether you're an administrator who is leading the faculty. And that means not only following them yourself, but it also means being willing to step in if somebody is not following the norms and to gently and in a positive way, just like we would redirect kids, redirect adults to say, "Well, that's not usually how we respond when we have a disagreement. Let's follow this protocol that we said we were going to do," that kind of thing. Because I think it's the most important thing with all of these social and emotional skills that we're talking about is that you really live them and you really embody them.

Sheldon Eakins:

Hmm. So Suzanne, I'm going to shift gears just a little bit and we're going to talk a little bit more about the student side of things because when we think about social, emotional learning, I've seen some schools have the best intentions when it comes to social, emotional learning, however, when they're asking students or teaching students how to regulate their emotions or how to work with one another and those types of things, it is still coming from that adult's perspective as what's appropriate, what's acceptable. And that culturally responsive part is missing and I've seen in a lot of situations. So I wanted to ask you, how does culturally responsive teaching and social, emotional learning... How are they together?

Dr. Suzanne Bouffard:

To be socially and emotionally responsive to our students and our colleagues, we have to really understand who every student and every educator is as an individual. And we have to really value those people. You can't do that without really knowing who someone is and being willing to get to know who that person is. And culture is a really big part of who we all are. And we need to feel that we belong in the setting, in the school setting, regardless of our cultural background, or because of it that we are a community where everybody's culture is valued and loved. And part of this is about educators doing the work ourselves to understand students' cultures. But some of it also is about remaining open to continuing to learn and acknowledging that we don't know everything and that we don't always have all of the answers.

Dr. Suzanne Bouffard:

And that we talked a little bit about vulnerability and there needs to be some of that too, in the way that we learn about each other and learn about our students. I think that's so important for social and emotional and academic learning, because I think what you were alluding to is that sometimes SEL gets confused with classroom management or compliance, and we get really focused on what's going to make things easier for the adults if everybody follows the same quote unquote expected behaviors. And we really need to be focused on students' needs and what's going to help everyone learn. Now, of course, there are things that make it a lot harder for everybody else in the classroom to learn if somebody is being disruptive, but being socially, emotionally, and culturally responsive means understanding what's going on. Why is a student acting in that way? And first asking, what are we the adults doing that's not setting that student up for success in this way. What modifications do we need to make to our own assumptions and practices?

Dr. Suzanne Bouffard:

And the second piece is really working with students to understand where they're coming from and how we can work together to solve those things and to not do that work and to not do it in a culturally responsive way is an equity issue. And that is something that I think we don't hear enough about, that closing inequities, addressing inequities is very much about ensuring that everyone has access to rigorous curriculum, but it's also about how we approach our relationships with students and about the way that we treat them socially and emotionally. Because if a student feels like they're not being valued, their culture is not being valued or they're being mocked or not accepted, that student isn't going to have access to the learning, even if we're offering them the best curricular materials and the best pedagogy.

Sheldon Eakins:

Here's a question. I'm going to throw this to Nancy because sometimes I'll get, "Well, culture responsiveness is only for your black and brown kids. It's only for students of color." What do you say to that? If someone... because you [inaudible 00:16:41] some SEL work, right? And I'm assuming that you've been asked a question like this, "Well, our school's predominantly white," or "Only have a handful of students of color. This book is not for me." How do you respond to someone that says that to you?

Dr. Nancy Markowitz:

What I'd say is, "This book is for all children because what we're talking about in the book and the framework is best teaching practices for everyone." Our anchor competencies were culled from lots of research and putting together, what do we know about best practices in teaching, but it's different than a lot of the lists that are out there on best practices that only focus on specific pedagogical practices that are related to the academics and academic achievement, the behavioral objective, the giving feedback, modeling of what you want the children to do. Those are all good things, but it's not enough. And it's not enough for anybody. I mean, anybody who says that you don't need the social, emotional and cultural for white children, well, they could look at districts near me here where these white children who have all the privilege are putting themselves in front of train tracks, that everybody is in danger.

Dr. Nancy Markowitz:

I mean, there's nobody in this multiple pandemic world we live in who isn't in need of the overall look at the whole child that is provided in the framework as we see it. It's like you need the social, emotional learning and the culture responsive teaching practices for everybody because everybody's involved in that in our society. And if we're going to stop being... I mean, we're right now, it seems to me we're torn apart as a nation and part of what's good... And one of the things we can do to help bring us together is to work in schools in a way where everybody is dealing with the same issues and talking about it. And everybody's got to be doing it, not just children of color. It is affecting everyone and so everyone's involved.

Dr. Suzanne Bouffard:

In addition to that, we can't solve racism and address racism without educating white people. We, the white people have work to do. And whether you're in a diverse school or a school that's predominantly black and brown children, or that's predominantly white children, these are conversations that need to happen among staff and among students. And I think that that is a mistake that too often, we make. Nancy and I had a conversation with a colleague and we were talking about the importance of representation among faculty and the importance of having teachers of color. And the conversation turned to talking about how important that is for children of color to see teachers of color and leaders of color. And our colleague pointed out it is every bit as important for white students to see teachers and leaders of color if we want to change the patterns that we have right now.

Sheldon Eakins:

Yeah, I agree. I always say, I think you're doing a disservice to your students because we had to keep in mind who's in that class. Those are future public service workers. Why not try to impact their lives and teach them a lot of things that they may never experience, that they never might be privy to if we don't explain it and if we don't teach them, because they may not be getting that support at home. So I definitely agree with that. Now I consider both of you, the two of you, as voices in leading equity. I'm going to start with Suzanne. What is one final word of advice that you could share with our listeners?

Dr. Suzanne Bouffard:

We talk a lot, Nancy and I, in the work that we do about seeing students as full human beings. And that is something that I think is so important for all of us to remember and being educators and being people who support educators really demands of us that we fully commit to that. And that means trying to always understand who our students are, where they're coming from and what they need from us. And that's true too of leaders working with educators to understand who they are and where they're coming from. And we've talked today about the connections between social, emotional and culturally responsive teaching and I think that's where the intersection of it really lives is that all of this work is about who people are and how we can help them become their best possible selves. And you can't do any of those pieces without the others. So the social, emotional, cultural, and academic pieces all go together.

Sheldon Eakins:

Nancy, I see you over there thinking.

Dr. Nancy Markowitz:

I'm thinking in [inaudible 00:22:01] did a great job. That's a good question and a hard one. What occurs to me to add on to what Suzanne said is I encourage people to stop and listen, and really look and listen and act with kindness toward themselves and toward each other. I think that there's going to be a lot of teachers... They're always are. Teachers are very critical of themselves and I encourage them not to be, but to pause and look and listen and do that a lot, because we're going to be needing to take a lot of deep breaths this year. We should be any year, but this year in particular. And I think that doing that and taking care of oneself and then taking care of those who we are with. And that means with faculty members, that means with children, that means with the parents and acknowledging that everybody's coming to school and we've all have had and do have a very difficult time. And so we act with kindness toward each other.

Sheldon Eakins:

Well, Nancy, if we have some folks that want to connect with you, what's the best way to reach you online?

Dr. Nancy Markowitz:

You can reach me at [email protected] That's the Center For Reaching, Teaching The Whole Child, or just go to our website, crtwc.org and we would delighted to hear from people.

Sheldon Eakins:

Okay.

Dr. Nancy Markowitz:

And I should say... We, oh, if I may say, we do provide professional development and we also help people who've got programs going where they say, "Wow, this framework could really add to it," And so we work with people doing that as well.

Sheldon Eakins:

All right. And that's all on the website, your contact information.

Dr. Nancy Markowitz:

Yeah, absolutely.

Sheldon Eakins:

Okay. And Suzanne, if we have some folks who want to connect with you, what's the best way to reach you online?

Dr. Suzanne Bouffard:

If you want to know more about the work that I do on professional learning with Learning Forward, you can go to learningforward.org. And if you want to learn more about my independent rating and other projects, you can go to my website, which is suzannebouffard.com.

Sheldon Eakins:

All right. Well, once again, I am speaking with Dr. Nancy Markowitz and Dr. Suzanne Bouffard, authors of Teaching With A Social, Emotional, And Cultural Lens, A Framework For Educators And Teacher Educators. Thank you again. It's been a pleasure.

Dr. Nancy Markowitz:

Thank you. [inaudible 00:24:47].

Dr. Suzanne Bouffard:

Thank you so much.

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