Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins:
What's up folks, Dr. Eakins is here with another episode of the Leading Equity Podcast. As always, if you are looking for some professional development, if you're looking for some keynote presentations, you can always reach out to Leading Equity Center, get some support there. We also do student work as well. So don't forget about the advocacy room.
If you're looking to create social justice or any sort of affinity groups for your students, which just been very helpful for the various schools that we've been working with to really support a lot of our students, our youth. Again, I always say just because we provide professional development for our adults does not mean that our students' experiences are going to change. So if you're looking for some work to be done for your students, if you're looking for some work to be done with your adults, feel free to reach out to Leading Equity Center as well. And we'll be happy to help you out in that area.
Today's conversation is with an individual that I've wanted to have on my show. Just sometimes when things happen and life happens, you have some people on your radar, on your list of folks that you want to reach out to and get them set up on the show. And some so thankful that I was able to get Nyree Clark on the show for today. And she and I are discussing school discipline, but not necessarily school discipline. Let me clarify it more on education of our Black girls. She's very passionate of this work.
We start off the conversation discussing disproportionality and school discipline, and then we tip into a conversation of colorism and what that looks like. So you definitely don't want to miss that piece. We also discuss culturally responsive practices. Nyree does a great job giving some strategies on content autobiographies, how we can engage with parents.
And she even leaves us with some additional resources to help us out along our journey towards equity. Nyree Clark is a curriculum program specialist and technology pre-K to six for the Colton Joint Unified School District. Her journey in education began in 1998 and has been referred to as her dream job thereafter. Nyree Clark excels in making connections with people across the globe and is very passionate about amplifying the voices of the unheard through culturally responsive teaching pedagogy.
Welcome to the Leading Equity Podcast. My name is Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins. And for over a decade, I've helped educators become better advocates for their students. What is an advocate? An advocate is someone who recognizes that we don't live in a just society advocates. Advocates aren't comfortable with the status quo and are willing to speak up on behalf of others. No matter where you are in your journey towards ensuring all of your students are equipped with the resources they need to thrive, I'm here to help you build your knowledge and confidence to ensure equity at your school.
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, I have a special guest with me, soon to be, soon to be Dr. Nyree Clark. So without further ado, Nyree, thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you, Sheldon. This is such an honor to be on this show, especially after having found you and connected with you over the years, just following Leading Equity, and a lot of the equity warriors, like my girl Chanel Johnson, love, love, love her, got to meet her in Atlanta, re-meet her face-to-face in Atlanta and have some great conversations on equity. So, so happy to be here.
Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins:
Thank you. Shout out to Chanel, The STEMinist. Last time she was on the show, she was like, "You got to have Nyree on the show." So I'm glad for that push. And we've been connected for a while and I'm just really glad that we're finally able to have an opportunity to record. So I know a little bit about you. Could you share some information about who you are, what you currently do?
Oh, absolutely. I am a curriculum program specialist out here in the IE so Inland Empire, 50 miles inland from LA for everybody else in California. Curriculum program specialist is a fancy word for basically teacher on assignment. We don't have direct contact with students, but we definitely support students, teachers and administrators.
And my specialty is in EdTech and in GATE instruction. So that's what my contract says. But if you know me, you know that I have been working on making equity a verb. So that has been my passion. And that has been an area of focus that I have folded into my job. So, so excited.
I do support PK through sixth grade. So our preschools all the way to sixth grade, we have sixth grade down at the elementary level. So that's my wheelhouse right there. Oh, and most recently, Sheldon, I forgot to tell you, most recently I did one adjunct professor. So this summer I got to dabble in that area to see what that looks like, feels like, and it wasn't bad. I have to say it wasn't bad. So very open to just being able to make connections and strengthen the community that I serve.
Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins:
I love that. I love working with adults. So being able to teach teachers is also such a great experience. One of the things that you said that I really appreciated, and I want to stress this because I'm not mansplaining, but I guess I want to highlight something that I heard you say, which was, "This is my position title. This is what it says on paper. However, I do this equity work." And I love that because sometimes we feel like you have to have a dedicated position. I need to have this job as the diversity equity inclusion officer, or it needs to say something like that in order for me to do this work. However, just because you don't have the title and I'm a big proponent of equity work should be embedded in everything that we do, all of us do right now. Don't matter what your position is. You could be a paraprofessional, you could be a principal, doesn't matter. Equity work should be entrenched in what you do on a daily basis.
And you don't need a title in order to say, "I'm going to stand up, or I'm going to advocate for my community, my school, my students, the stakeholders, everybody involved." So I appreciate you for saying that, which leads me to my first question, because I want to talk about some of the areas that you've really kind of presented to me earlier before we started recording, as far as what disproportionality looks like in certain communities that you work with.
So I would love to open the conversation up with an opportunity to ask you, what are some of the things that you're seeing when it comes to discipline that you're really passionate about?
Oh, yes. Thanks for asking that. Here in Colton, I work in a high ELL population. So high Latinx community with a small percentage of African-American students and others, Pacific Islander, everyone else. And what we've noticed in looking at the data, because I also was a member of the African-American Parent Advisory Committee, which we call AAPAC. So as a committee member, we were pulling that data to look at the high rate of over-policing of our African-American students. So if you look at our California dashboard, you see the data is so outstandingly high for African Americans that are high suspension rates. Even in elementary, when people are doing their PBIS and their positive interventions, you still see a high rate of African-American students.
So for me, I am very passionate about bringing equity to marginalized communities, marginalized people, marginalized students, and in my district that is GATE students and our African-American students. And in drilling down a little bit more African-American girls, especially. When I started looking at the research and the data, you see a lot of the responses and the reasons for this are things like dress code violations, looking at attitudes, maybe adultification issues. What does that look like? And in looking at that data, how can we make shifts? That's where I first started. Being on that African-American Advisory Committee, what can we do to make a change? What can we do with this data? How can we help our students? That was my first part. My first area of focus is looking at the data and then saying, "What now?" Okay, now this is the data, what are we going to do about it?
Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins:
Okay. And I want to add something because I've been doing a lot of research recently regarding, especially our African-American girls and discipline. And I've come across a couple articles of research that says, "You know what? It's not just race or gender that has to do with a lot of the disproportionality, but there's also a lot of colorism." And so within that research, they were talking about how the darker skin girls are experiencing way worse when it comes to discipline, because they are seen more as threats and they are seen more with attitudes and all these expectations and stereotypes. And then the lighter skin Black girls are not as disciplined as much. Then again, overall, our girls, our Black girls, especially are getting more scrutiny when it comes to discipline, but then we have the shades that are impacted as well.
Oh my goodness! With you just even mentioning that I am feeling so many areas of intersectionalities. I mean, we know you are a Black girl, you are also African-American, that intersectionality, and then you're looking at colorism that could be even within your own culture, outside of what you're dealing with at school. So within looking at this, when I talk to young girls, especially because again, my focus is K-12, that's who I'm able to support the most, this has come up time and time again with a girl, just even last week saying, "I'm not smart. I'm not pretty," in school, like a third grader. And what does this look like?
So having that conversation and we're doing math, and I'm like, "Okay, let's figure out where this is coming from just in the classroom with that person." And then what are teachers or the supports able to do with that? And the teacher, as I left the note to the teacher and followed up, that teacher's like, "Well, I don't want to say the wrong thing. So I say nothing, nothing at all." So now you have these students that are in that classroom, and they're just not even getting any type of supports.
So that has been something that I've really been actively looking at, Sheldon, is how can our district, how can our teachers make a shift and start making a change in dealing with students, especially students of color within the system. And teaching culturally responsive pedagogy has been one of the first places that we've looked at as well as, as that shift has changed, as teachers are starting to look at how they can better support their students and let those students bring in more of themselves and actually getting to know their students, I see a shift in how they are responding to their students.
So being able to help with those identity issues, being able to help some of those misconceptions of the students that they're even teaching, or those assumptions or those biases.
Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins:
So I want to build on that because you mentioned culturally responsive pedagogy, culturally responsive teaching, and I've talked to educators who believe that culturally responsive teaching is just the teaching piece, the instructional part. How can you dispel that myth that culturally responsive teaching is just for the teaching and it has nothing to do necessarily with the discipline or the way that we manage, or how we culture build in our classroom as far as the environment? And because you mentioned how the teacher said, "Well, I just didn't say anything because I didn't know what to say." So how do we make sure that we help our educators know that culturally responsive teaching, being culture responsive doesn't just limit you to just the curriculum and instruction?
Oh, thank you so much for stating that. So many people over the past summer have read a book, right? So even if you've read Zaretta Hammond's Culturally Responsive and The Brain and you're looking at her framework, there's four parts to that framework and only one part is really focused the cognitive development. But there is that teacher awareness piece. So that is, what culture is the teacher bringing in? What is their awareness?
And even within the cognitive part, the instructional part, you are still looking at those high cognitive skills and those high levels of cognitive thinking. So we're also pushing, not just the instruction, like I'm not just going to make sure that you see yourself in this educational experience in this lesson, but how am I pushing you cognitively?
So I like to give this example of working out, right? So, I'm trying to lose weight. So I'm trying to lose weight. You have that interaction with a personal trainer and your personal trainer is, "You push those weights up." And you're like, "Okay, that's all I can do. That's all I can do." And the trainer's like, "You can do a little bit more." And you push just a little bit more. That's where we need to get our kids. We need to give them that extra little push where they know that they can push further and we're going to be there to support them.
And also even with relationship building, I love that Zaretta says we're creating learning partnerships. So that's not just knowing what your kid's favorite color, what do they like, but it's having them bringing in that SEL, like what are your self-management, what are your goals? And then how can I help you obtain those goals? And maybe the goals I like to have a personal goal for the student and the academic goal. So that I'm balancing both of those. What do you want? How can I help you reach that? And then, "Hey, this is something that we need to do academically as well." So being able to have those partnerships with your students.
And then lastly, even looking at that framework systems, how are we teaching our kids how to navigate through those systems? The systems at school, that school's system is going to look very different. I know it looked different than the apartments that I left here when I went home. I had to know how to work that system as well as the system at school. And then if you have any of those other systems that might look different than church, that might look different than what you're doing when you go on that other church.
So how are we helping our students to navigate those systems and bring our parents in too? So when you look at those aspects of culturally responsive teaching, that's when you see it be more than just race, if that's what people think. It's the culture, is the life experiences, but you're layering in all of those other aspects of areas of everything that makes that kid whole and building all of that up. That's how I see it.
Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins:
I love that. I love and great answer. And so, all right. So I thank you so much for articulating that. I think that was much needed, and I appreciate the way that you framed your response. So I want to ask you a question. So let's just say I am a teacher and I've listened to this episode and I'm okay. Maybe I need to pay a little bit more attention to disproportionality when it comes, especially with our Black girls. If I have a classroom of students, and let's say there are Black girls in my classroom, and I want to do better as an educator in my response to behaviors and response to personalities within my classroom, what type of suggestions would you share with our educators out there?
There's two things that I'm thinking of right out of the gate. So one of them, I love when teachers can create content autobiographies. I don't know if you've heard of this. So you allow your students to let you know, how are you in language arts? Like how do you see yourself doing in language arts and all of these different content areas, as well as social emotional? Like how do you see yourself? So you allow the students to let you know how they feel in all the content areas. What do you like about social studies? What's a challenge for you?
So each of your students will give you their autobiography of how they see themselves in that content. So that allows you to see like, who are your kids that think they're not good at math, or who are your rock stars that they feel like they're great in language arts. You let them give you their perspectives, which will help you to create those lessons. So that's one of the ways to just start with seeing how the kids see themselves in school and their [inaudible 00:17:45] working through that.
I also think bringing those parent perspectives in as well. Hey, tell me about your students? What is something I should know about your child in class? Because I think that will help with some of those stereotypes that teachers have coming into it or prejudgments.
I know that we all have biases. So I think being able to be aware of that and knowing where to address that right out of the gate will help teachers to understand that. We don't have to be convicted about it, but we have to know what is our area of weakness or where do we need to go? Because I will admit I was a hoodie person. I was raised where anything inside was disrespectful. So I'd deal with seeing like, no, that hood does not mean that they can't learn. And dealing with myself to better deal with my students. That was a bias that I had to deal with.
And moving forward, checking that each time, because hey, when someone comes into the room, that may be my initial thought, but then boom, okay, adjust that. And then let's keep going. And that's something that I have to check myself as I've gone through. So I don't think we're not perfect. I think that we need to strive to do better. When you know better, you do better and pushing ourselves to do that. Even if you need Leticia Citizen likes to say critical friend, who is your critical friend that can help you see those things? That you feel trusted in that will help you to do that.
So if you don't feel comfortable having a conversation with a student, or if you don't feel comfortable with that, you can bring someone in that can help support you in doing the work so that we're constantly doing the work
Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins:
Shout out to Leticia Citizen out there, is one of my good friend. So, here's the next thing. And I appreciate the two strategies that you gave, and I think those are both helpful. So I heard having the students do a autobiography where they basically share what their thoughts are on certain topics, subject matter, and then also engaging with parents as well. What are some things that maybe an educator, or maybe there's a book that you might recommend that can also further their knowledge as well, in addition to talking to the students and parents?
So when I started looking at culturally responsive teaching, what does that look like? I started with Zaretta Hammond's Culturally Responsive and The Brain. Also, Dr. Gholdy Muhammad, her book on [inaudible 00:20:21] Cultivating Genius is another book on culturally responsive teaching. I looked the easy read, easy to digest, but also had those cognitive strategies that I could help support teachers right away with. I could understand it.
When you're looking at culturally responsive teaching, I feel like there are areas of focus. There's a lens that all of the different people will look at. Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings' Dreamkeepers was culturally responsive teaching, but looking at [inaudible 00:20:55] teach students.
So when I read different books that are of culturally responsive teaching, they all have that different lens that helped me to get strategies along the way. So when I'm helping a teacher that maybe needs to build strategies in language arts, I go to Dr. Gholdy Muhammad's book. And started following her, looking at ways that I could build those lessons and help support teachers.
So when you're out there looking at culturally responsive information for the listeners, there may be a different lens that you're looking through, but each one you'll see those overlapping principles that stay consistent across the board. And it's really consistent with Zaretta Hammond's, what is your teacher awareness? How do you start? What are the cognitive strategies that you're doing with students? How were you bringing in their systems supports? Those just stay consistent across the board on all of the culturally responsive resources that I've seen so far.
Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins:
Love it. Thank you for sharing more resources. Nyree, I definitely consider you as providing a voice in Leading Equity. What is one final word of advice that you could share with our listeners?
Sheldon, I just really want people to know that everybody has a starting place. Even if you have been doing the work, there's always more work to be done. Where else can you grow? Who else can you bring in? Who else can you empower? If you are just feeling a little uncomfortable, a little [inaudible 00:22:29] take a first step, see what is one area that you can make a shift, maybe that first step isn't getting connected with your students. Seeing where they see themselves, so that when you connect that content, you already know this person is going to be resistant to math, how can I [inaudible 00:22:46]? It's all about differentiating and being able to meet students where they are. We do it with the learners. Of course, we need to do this with students as well.
Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins:
Nyree, thank you so much for your time and your insight. It's been very informative for me. If we have some folks that want to connect with you, what's the best way to reach you online?
Oh, thank you. Thank you so much for having me. Twitter would be great. I am @MsNyreeClark on Twitter and also Instagram Nyree_edu. Those are two great ways to connect.
Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins:
All right. Thank you again for your time. It's truly a pleasure. I'm glad we were able to finally connect.
Thank you so much. It's so awesome to share space with you, Sheldon. Thank you again.
Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins:
Thank you. This episode was brought to you by the Leading Equity Center. For more podcasts, interviews, and resources, head on over to leadingequitycenter.com.
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