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, I have a very special guest with me, Ms. Darlene Reyes is here.

               Now, I enjoy talking to Darlene. Darlene works with the Leading Equity Center, she does our student affinity group. By the way, if you have not heard about the Advocacy Room, an affinity space for student voices, this is a space for ... Actually, let's let Darlene do this.

               Darlene, why don't you share with our audience what is the Advocacy Room?

Darlene Reyes:

Sure. The way that I describe it is that I meet students where they are, in terms of helping them learn the language that comes with equity and inclusion. And, just really talking about their experiences when it comes to the intersectionality of race and gender, et cetera. Because we all know what those things feel like, we may just not know the "correct" words to describe what it looks like. I just help them with learning the words, the knowledge, the origins of where certain things come from. And then, also about how do we build up your self advocacy skills so that you and your school communities can be shaped the way that centers students and encompass their experiences, to make them feel more incisiveness and belongingness in the schools that they attend or communities that they're a part of.

Sheldon Eakins:

Thank you, thank you. By the way, you are doing an amazing job. I'm very fortunate to have you on the team, so thank you so much. I'm hearing nothing but great things from facilitators. And, as far as the groups that you're working with, I know we're working with several schools and districts this year.

               What is the age range that you're working with these days?

Darlene Reyes:

This year, we are working with both middle school and high school students. Last year, we focused a bit more on high school students. I have seventh graders all the way up to seniors. And, I have more middle school groups and I also have specific high school groups, but we also have meshes of both of them. It just looked a little bit different than last year, when it was I guess a mix of just students together and not necessarily specific, or curriculum or workshops geared towards them. If that makes sense?

Sheldon Eakins:

All right. Well, let's get into it because, you and I were talking, as far as just how things were going with our student affinity spaces, that we've been working with various groups. I asked you a question. I said, "Well, what are some of the things that you're seeing across the board? Let's say we have 10 different schools and districts that we're working with this year. What is something that's resonating from the voices that you're hearing from the kids?"

               And, I came up with these theme, based off of what you said, how you responded. Which was, basically, what students are saying about teacher bias. We do a lot of implicit bias work and we do training there, and we work with our adults. I wanted to hear more about, from the students' perspective, as they start to learn what is bias. "Oh, this is what implicit bias ... " "Oh, you know what, my teacher did this, or my teacher did that. Or, these things are happening." Now that they are able to understand the definitions, and then they can actually see those examples in their every day experiences. I wanted to see if you can maybe start off with explaining maybe the first thing that you shared with me earlier, regarding some of the biases that students were seeing.

Darlene Reyes:

Yeah. I think there's been a lot of bias, just as how teachers but also school administration respond to them. One of thing first that comes to mind is the bias around gender with students. So, the way that a teacher may respond to a mix of genders, of boys and girls, and maybe single out a boy who's doing a specific behavior. For example, maybe being a bit disruptive in class by having their phone out. Maybe a student who identifies as a girl will do the same thing, but it's addressed in a different way.

               So, thinking about how, when these things happen within our classrooms, how are we being intentional about saying all students. Because there's a difference between calling students in and calling them out, for the things that they do. I believe that if you want to have an inclusive classroom environment, where students feel like they are a part of the classroom and the community that the teacher has built within the classroom, then it has to be addressed with everybody. If I'm going to call a student singly by a behavior that only they are displaying, then I have to do so in a way that is valuing of what they bring and loving, but also gentle in the delivery as to why is this disruptive. Why is this behavior disruptive for the classroom, "As a whole class, that's not what I expect from you. My expectations are the same for everyone, regardless of gender or regardless of if you identify as outside of gender." So gender non-binary, et cetera.

Sheldon Eakins:

How was it addressed differently? Tell me a little bit more, because you said that maybe a boy gets stopped with the phone one way, when a girl might get stopped a different way. Tell me more.

Darlene Reyes:

Sure. An example that a student brought up was that there may be both a girl and a boy student in the classroom and both of them have their phones out. The teacher will call out the boy and be like, "Hey, X student, you shouldn't have your phone out." But, won't do the same when a girl has their phone out.

               So thinking about how this is a moment where you say, "Hey y'all, the expectation is for us to not be on our phones, because when you're on your phone, I can't tell whether you're looking up a definition or you're playing a game." If the expectation or the classroom norm is that we don't have our phones out, then I expect everybody to do that. In that way, I'm addressing all students versus particularly calling out a specific student.

               And then, also thinking about when you unintentionally always call a specific gender out for a behavior that they do, it also gives that student, I don't know, maybe a negative interaction of that teacher. If the teacher doesn't mean it intentionally, they're not keeping track of how often they do it. But, a student who feels singled out may be keeping track and be like, "I already don't really like you because you only call me out, versus X student who does that all the time as well." It comes with different implications to that behavior.

Sheldon Eakins:

Obviously, the kids are recognizing this because they brought it up in the space, when you met. That is something that kids are paying attention to and I think that's one example.

               Now, let's move on to something else you said, as far as I think when we think about school handbooks, and we think about classroom management and policies, and things like that, even though we have overarching practices that are systemic from the school perspective, individual classrooms are set up certain ways. Teachers have their ways of facilitating content and supporting their classrooms.

               What were some of the differences that you saw or that you heard some of the students say, regarding classroom norms?

Darlene Reyes:

Yeah. So an example that comes to mind is when students were talking about morning announcements and being in this one class, whether it's homeroom or a different class. They were like, "X teacher always makes sure that we stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance. My hand is on my chest and my other hand is on my back," or something like that. The teacher will specifically call everybody up to stand up and do that behavior. But, some students were like, "I don't even understand why we do that. And in other classrooms, when I didn't have this teacher anymore for the morning announcement time, I didn't have to do that." So thinking of the ways that we're also being inclusive of students, and their values and beliefs.

               An example that I would share is that I learned English while I was in school. My first language is Spanish. I was born here, so there's other complications about my identity. But, the main one is that when I got to school, I learned the ways that I was supposed to behave and not supposed to behave. One of those was always standing up for the Pledge of Allegiance. Did I know what I was saying? Absolutely not. Did I memorize every word? Yes, because that's what I was taught to do. So when I think about that, my experience still relates to the students that I'm facilitating workshops for, because they're like, "Yeah, I still get up and do it because my teacher is looking at my like why am I not standing up."

               So thinking about the ways that teachers or administrators cultivate this classroom, and how does it more closely align with their views than the type of school climate or environment they could be producing, that is more inclusive of students, and their different backgrounds, and their different views and beliefs.

Sheldon Eakins:

That's an interesting story and thank you for sharing your own personal experience.

               What's interesting is I worked with a school who had a similar challenge. And, I hate to say challenge in regards to this. But basically, whenever they did Pledge of Allegiance, they expected ... It wasn't a rule, but the expectation, I live in Idaho, so the expectation was for folks to stand up and put their hand on their chest for the Pledge of Allegiance. There was a group of Native American students that they would sit down.

               The staff came to me about this. They were like, "We have students that are Native American and they refuse to stand up and do the Pledge of Allegiance." And I said, "Okay. Well, is that a rule? What's happening with that? Isn't that their choice? Is that something that they can do on their own?" And then they said, "Well sometimes, they will stand and other times they'll sit. They're not consistent with their approach. Either you're wanting to stand or you don't want to stand," so they're putting this all on the students.

               My thought was, "Man, you know how hard it is, if I'm in a classroom with 30 kids around me, my peers, and everybody's looking at me, and I live in Idaho, and I'm Native American and I'm choosing not to stand." Do you know how ostracized and how hard that is? This was an elementary school, so especially fourth, fifth graders. That's a lot to take a stance, or to sit, during this time. Maybe there's time when they were like, "You know what, I'm just not feeling that brave. Bravery is not happening today, I'm going to go ahead and stand up today." Or maybe, there's a time when they're like, "You know what, I'm going to sit."

               But, that's their choice, at the end of the day. That's their choice. It shouldn't be up on us, because we have our beliefs and this is how we feel about our country. To me, it shouldn't be up to the staff or adults to dictate whether or not a child wants to stand or sit, or if they need to be consistent, it needs to happen all the time or needs to not happen at all. To me, that's not your choice. Just hearing your story reminded me of that.

Darlene Reyes:

I think it's also about if you're not following the norm, that does not mean that it's automatically disrespectful. It's about understanding why you do that and understanding everyone has a choice. So whichever choice that I commit to, it's because it feels personal to me. I think, when that came up, it was about thinking about how are teachers and school administrators thinking about centering the way that they move around, etiquette or norms of their classroom, around students. Yes, this is your classroom but your students are here to learn. There are ways to include norms and things like that, that are encompassing, and inclusive and holistic about seeing students with different identities come through your classroom.

Sheldon Eakins:

The other thing that I even added to the conversation, I was like, "You got to keep in mind, y'all on their land." We're saying, "Let's do the Pledge of Allegiance, so you're asking these group of kids to basically acknowledge and honor the fact that they've been colonized." These kids are traveling in to town, from the reservation that they've been forcefully placed on, that your school has been built on their land. And you're telling them, "You need to stand up, put your hand on your heart and be proud of this." Their experience is different than your ancestry and experience, and things like that.

               Again, if we don't look at things from people's lens. We have our own expectations, we have our own beliefs, we have our own norms that we have created, when we think about folks who are empowered to create these. And again, this wasn't a rule at the school, it's just more of an understandable, "We're here, we're proud so let's stand." But, we're not considering well, this group of people have been mistreated. And again, their land has been stolen and we're sitting here celebrating this, every single morning. So, their experience is going to be different. And just like you said, your experience had, even though you didn't know necessarily what you were saying, but it was just, "This is my personal experience. I can identify with this."

               So again, I'm thankful that ... I guess, sometimes we just don't think about how things impact others.

Darlene Reyes:

Yeah. I think it's about unlearning that it's not just about us and it's not just about how it affects us, but also how it affects the people around us and the community as a whole. That means that we need to relearn how we think about things. How are we refocusing things around our students? Or, how are we reflecting on who we are as people and the ways that ... Why do we do things the way that we do? And, is there room for growth to change that? That will allow students to feel more seen and valued in the spaces that they are a part of and the spaces that they take up.

Sheldon Eakins:

I'm with you. And again, looking at things from different lenses. That's why we do this work, because again, I just assume teachers have the best intentions, maybe there might be a lack of information or a lack of experience to where they're just not able to see certain things. Again, those blind spots. We all talk about those blind spots.

               Now, there was something that I thought, when you and I were talking before we started hitting record, there was another piece that you shared with me some of the students had shared with you, in some of these groups that you work with. And it seems, again, a common theme across the board, from the various groups that we work with. Which was centered around feeling as if the responsibility of was on the student, as opposed to maybe the staff or administration. Why don't you share a little bit about that for us?

Darlene Reyes:

Sure. I had a few students talk through some experiences that they had. One of the first things that they said is, "Well, I reported it and I didn't feel like I could say anything in the moment, or should say anything in the moment. But, I knew that it just didn't feel right. So I went to an adult, an administrator, and I said this is what happened. And, the administrator or the teacher's response has been why didn't you say anything in the moment. Or, how could this be done differently?"

               For me, it just highlights how we just need to think about and reflect, why didn't the student feel comfortable in saying something in the moment? And, what is our system for students to say something and does it feel like they're comfortable in using that system? And, what are ways that our school, how are we not responding to things in a better way? So being more proactive instead of reactionary, I think is one. When students do say that something happened or complain that something's happened, how are administration and teachers thinking about, "Well, okay, what kind of environment do we even have for these types of things to happen?"

               At the end of the day, it's about the school climate and environment that is currently happening and how can that be shifted or changed, to again, center the students and their experiences. So if a student does not feel comfortable in addressing something that happened in the moment, then what are ways that, as administration, we can make it easier for them to talk to us. To be more knowledgeable about, "Hey, this is actually happening." And it's not just happening in one room, it's happening in multiple rooms. This type of behavior has been normalized and it's still not okay, so how do we learn to unpack that?

               For one, for all of our students to learn that things like saying the N word is a problem, especially if you don't identify as Black. Or, things like treating sexuality as a joke. Examples like that, that should not be something that is normalized in schools. And in some schools, it is. How are administrators reflecting on, "Well, what kind of control do we have to shift that?" Because it shouldn't be on the students' responsibility to have to say all the time, "Hey this is problematic, and this is problematic." What are we going to do about it?

               I think it's also twofold. I think when you are coming up with saying that something is an issue, you also have to be like, "This is an issue, this is what I would like to happen. I want our school climate to be more inclusive and for everyone to feel respected. What are some ways that we can talk about that?" Because another thing that happens, too, from what I've seen is that school administration will come up with a system and that system still does not do what the students want it to do. It's about including the students in the decision making and problem solving, and having students advocate for the types of things and changes that they'd want to do.

               I think it's twofold. I think it works better with collaboration than it does doing silos of each other.

Sheldon Eakins:

I'm a big supporter or restorative practices. I think any time there's a situation where a student has been harmed and whatever that looks like, you mentioned sexuality, you mentioned racial slurs, and we can even add in other challenges that our students face, beyond just the academic side of things. And, I think restorative practices is very beneficial. If you're a school and you have not even looked into restorative practices, please do so. I think it's very helpful for these type of situations. Because like you said, Darlene, sometimes the administration or the schools' policies aren't necessarily as helpful.

               I know some schools will make students write letters of apologies, as a means to discipline someone for, let's say harming someone, for whatever that might be. But, writing a forced letter of apology doesn't necessarily mean, number one, that the child is apologetic versus being made to do something. And two, probably don't understand, may not understand, what they did wrong from that other student's perspective. So having that conversation, where you're sitting down in a circle and you're saying, "This hurt my feelings and here's why." As opposed to, "I'm sorry I hurt your feelings, I won't do it again. I won't use this term no more, I won't do blah, blah, blah." To me, it's more effective when you actually hear the words from the individual who was hurt and getting an understanding. But again, that takes time in regards to restorative practices, but I think it's very beneficial.

Darlene Reyes:

Yeah, I agree. I think it's also about, if a student is suspended, how are they going to be reintegrated into the classroom environment, which if there has been no change, it's just going to continue for the student to suspended and suspended, and eventually expelled. That's not the goal, I would say, ever. The goal is to further understand your student and understand why they are doing that type of behavior. Once you understand that, then it allows for a better understanding of who the student is and how you can support that student. And also, how the rest of their school community can respond to that student. Because normally, someone who's seen as disruptive will have that reputation for forever. "Oh, it must be the student in that particular classroom." You're like, "Wait, I don't even have that student in my classroom, that's not who I was talking about." But, those types of statements are then normalized.

               Again, I think it all comes down to how are we focusing our efforts to be more student centered. And by being student centered, how are we being holistic in that approach? Seeing students for who they are and the different identities that they hold, how those identities intersect with each other and how can we teach students to self advocate for themselves. And, be able to come up with solution oriented responses, to making their environment and climate better for them, in service of them.

Sheldon Eakins:

Yeah. Yeah, I agree. I think one of the things I really like that's done in our groups is you do a lot of scenarios. Because you said, "It's one thing to teach, and lecture and say this is what implicit bias or microaggressions. And, this is how to be a co-conspirator," and all those things. But, when you actually give them some tangible examples and say, "Hey, here's the situation. How would you handle this if this happened to your peer or if this happened to you?"

               Could you share a little bit with the audience about maybe some of those scenarios? Maybe not the specific scenarios, but how students are able to work through some of those scenarios. Like you said, to arm themselves if you will, with navigating school these days.

Darlene Reyes:

Sure. One of them that comes to mind is a teacher is cutting off a student that has this particular identity. What do you do? And then, they'll talk about it. And they'll be like, "Well, I would do X, Y and Z." And I'm like, "Okay. So if you have been in a similar situation, what did you do then?" They're like, "Oh, well, I didn't do X, Y and Z because I didn't know I could do that." That's fine, this is all a learning process. We're growing together.

               If that does happen in the future, it doesn't have to be this planned out response. A simple thing of saying, "Hey ... " If a teacher calls on you and they hadn't called on the other person, being like, "Oh, you know what? I didn't get to hear what, I don't know, what Sheldon had to say. Sheldon, do you mind elaborating a little bit more, because I think my point touches on yours." It's a simple way of including someone into the conversation, that maybe had been ignored or neglected.

               And then, we also talk about everybody's perspective and opinion is valued and how do we create space for those things. And, how do teachers, what's the word, navigate that space for students? Some of the things that came up, they're like, "Oh, that has never happened to me, but I've seen this type of thing happen in this way." I was like, "Okay, let's talk a little bit more. If you're the teacher, how would you have wanted the teacher to respond?" And then I'm like, "All right, cool. If you're now the student on the receiving end, how did that feel for you?" Because I think sometimes, it's hard to be able to be like, "Oh, I feel some type of way, and I really want to tell you something but my words aren't coming out of my mouth fast enough."

               And then, also being okay with if you don't say anything in the moment, you can absolutely say something by the end of class. You can absolutely come to it by the end of the day. But, you also have to think about, "Well, what's getting in my way that I can't get my words out?" There has to be a moment where you decompress some of those feelings so that you're able to really articulate why it was so hurtful. Because I think, sometimes what happens, is we are crippled I would say, with so much emotion that you're like, "Oh, I felt some type of way. You're not going to do me like this. And, this, that and the other." You lose sight of what the actual problem is because your emotions are running on high.

               I've encouraged them, "Hey, if something does happen to you, first of all, if you're that person, check in with yourself real quick. Why did it make me feel this type of way? In what way do I want to respond?" And, if you see someone who's your friend or just a classmate and you're like, "Oh, they don't seem okay right now, something happened." First step is to check in with them, because you don't ever want to speak for somebody else or speak for their experience. But, you do want to check in to make sure that that person feels okay, as much as they can be. You can support them in whatever decision they want to do. Or maybe you're like, "Hey, I don't know if you're going to talk to anybody about this, but I feel like the way that someone treated you was wrong. Is it okay if I talk to someone else about your experience?"

               I think there's a lot of different ways. I just try to teach our students to be able to think about it. There's not just one way to say something, there's a lot of different ways and you just get to pick whichever one is most comfortable for you. And, simply saying something doesn't feel right is a huge step, instead of keeping it to yourself.

Sheldon Eakins:

That's awesome. I love the part where you said, "Hey, I don't know if you were planning on saying anything. Would you mind if I spoke for you?" Or, something like that. I think that's something that we sometimes forget because sometimes, folks aren't as comfortable, it's no big deal. But, maybe this has happened a few times. And as peers, as friends, we want to help but we don't want to necessarily overstep our role as individuals. Just asking that question, I think is powerful.

               Darlene, 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?

Darlene Reyes:

I knew this was coming.

Sheldon Eakins:

Yes, always.

Darlene Reyes:

I think I would say two. Listen to the feedback that your students are giving you. If they're saying, "You give us too much homework," that's different. But, if a student is saying, "Hey, I wish we learned a little bit about X, Y and Z person a little bit more." Or, when I think of my English class when I was in high school I was like, "Oh, I wish we would have learned more about Latinx or some Black folks in there, but we just keep reading English books," or literature around white folks and things like that. I was like, "I've done that all of my life. I would like to learn a little bit different about other people, that maybe look like me or have similar identities as me." Listen to your students when they say they want a little bit more of X, Y and Z. Or they're like, "Hey, what if we did this?"

               I think the other one is reflect. Reflect on the practices and the norms that you carry out in your classrooms and the spaces that you are with your students. And, reflect to see if they really are as inclusive as you think they are. Do all of my students feel included in my space? Do all of my students feel valued? Do all of my students feel like they can ask me for support if they need it? Start asking those questions of yourself and thinking about well, do my group norms instill that? Am I approachable to my students? Can they talk to me whenever" or, are they ways that I can do that a little bit better, every day? Or, are there ways that I can change X thing in my norms, so that it encapsulates better all of my students?

               I know that it's hard because when you're teaching, you have 5000 things to do at all times. But, maybe it's just something that you do at the end of the week, for five minutes. How did this week go? Let me reflect. Let's think about the norms that I've established in my classroom. Can I move any of them?

               Something that I do with my students is, "Hey, these are the group norms that we started," but it's a living document. If halfway through a workshop or halfway through our programming in a workshop you're like, "Hey, Darlene, or Ms Darlene, or Ms Reyes," because they have autonomy on which one they want to call me, as long as it's one of those three. They're like, "Hey, I think we're fulfilling this one." I'm like, "All right, cool. Do y'all feel like we can take it off or do you want to add something in its place? Or, how are we feeling about that?" By no means is my space a classroom space, I feel that it's just as a space of dialogue. But, that's been something that I like to always make sure that my students know, is that they have choice. If we're having these norms for each other, that means that I want you to see yourself in them and I want me to be able to see myself in them, too.

Sheldon Eakins:

Yes. Church. All right, well, Darlene, I definitely appreciate you. And, folks out there that are listening, if people would like to work with Darlene, if you have a student group that you're looking at setting up, maybe an affinity space. It doesn't necessarily have to be a racial thing, it's just a space for your students to convene and you're looking for some structure, and you're looking for an opportunity to help them as they navigate each day. You might have groups of folks that aren't part of the dominant culture, that just would love a place to be able to learn a little bit more about some of the experiences that they're having and how to face them, how to deal with them during those times, and how to help others. Not just themselves, but also help their peers. Please reach out to us, there's a link in the show notes in order to get in touch with us because we'd love to work with you this school year. If not, we do have other options so they're all there, available for you.

               But I think right now, we have 10 sessions. Is that correct, Darlene?

Darlene Reyes:


Sheldon Eakins:

That we have, already. Darlene, if we have some folks that want to connect with you, what's the best way to reach you online?

Darlene Reyes:

Sure. You can send me an email at Darlene, that's D-A-R-L-E-N-E

Sheldon Eakins:

All right. Well, Darlene, it's always a pleasure to touch base. Why don't you stay on the line, because we have some other business to discuss so we'll do that as well. But, it's always a pleasure. Thank you so much for your time.

Darlene Reyes:

Of course. Thank you for having me.

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