Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins:

Have you been keeping up with The Art of Advocacy live streams? Now, if you're not familiar, every Thursday we go live at 6:30 Eastern and we talk about how to be better advocates and each week, I have a special guest. Coming up this Thursday, March 24th, I'm bringing on a good friend of mine, Miss Beth Poss. We're talking about Universal Design for Learning and Culturally Responsive Educational Practices. You do not want to miss this. As a former special ed director, this is right up my alley. It's something that I've encouraged teachers to utilize in their classrooms, Universal Design for Learning. So if you're not familiar with it, or if you're thinking about it, and it's something that you want to use, you definitely want to tune in this Thursday, 6:30 Eastern, The Art of Advocacy live stream. 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 students. What is an advocate? An advocate is someone who recognizes that we don't live in a just society.

               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. Folks, I'm just getting back from Michigan. I participated as a featured speaker and also I did some workshops at the Annual Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning. What an awesome experience. I had a great time meeting people in person, a lot of people that I've been connected with online, but you never see them in person, and so it was such a great experience to be able to do so. If you are looking for a speaker, or if you're looking for some training to be done with your organization, feel free to reach out to leadingequitycenter.com/consulting. I'm happy to work with you. I'd love to talk to you and find out what your needs are and see if there's some things that we can do together.

               When I was a little kid, my mom used to buy burritos, those frozen burritos that you can just warm up. So me and my brother, after school we would come home, open up the freezer, pop in couple of burritos and that was lunch, right after school, and that's what we used to do. Now, here's the thing, the difference between me and my brother. My brother is one of those guys that he'll take the frozen burrito. He'll warm it up, and then he would add sour cream, salsa, cheese, he would soup up his burritos. Now me, I'm pretty basic. I'm pretty simple. All I would do is warm it up and I'm hungry at the time, and so I would just eat it right then and there, no big deal. However, I remembered looking at my brother one day and I'm laughing at this guy. I'm like, "Yo, why you always got to soup up your burritos?" His response was, "It's not ready yet." Now, it's funny because thinking about it as a kid, listening to my brother tell me, "It's not ready yet."

               Then as I think about the work that I do, as someone who supports educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their school, I really started thinking about that lately. It's like, "Okay, when we get our curriculum, when we get our textbooks, often people like me, we're fine with what we got, straight out the microwave warmed up, I'm good to go. But for others, it's not ready yet." Think about that. You're got going to need some folks that's going to need some cheese on there. There's going to be some students that's going to need some salsa, some sour cream, guacamole, all that stuff in order for it to be ready for them. That's equity, ensuring that individual needs are being met. I can't tell you how many times I have spoken to educators and principals leaders, things like that and we have these conversations. They say, "I agree. We need to do some equity work. There's some stuff that needs to happen. We have some systemic challenges, or we have some classroom instructional practices that need to be implemented; however, we don't have everybody on board."

               Sometimes their response is, "Well, we're not ready yet." Not just from a student perspective, but from a school perspective, folks will say, "Well, we're not ready yet." Here's the bottom line, folks. You'll never have everybody on board. Think about what we see so much these days when it comes to our media and when it comes to the challenges out there in our education. There's legislation out there, new bills being passed to change the way we teach, to change the way kids learn. So the reality is you'll never have everybody on board. Think about any type of curriculum and instruction. You're going to have some brand new teachers. You're going to have some veteran teachers. You'll have a spectrum, let put it that way. You'll have a spectrum of people that, you know what? You might have some that are going to be on board with this new textbook, with this new curriculum that you want to implement, and you're going to have some folks that will not be on that page; however, when it's time make those changes, we make those changes.

               So I scratch my head sometimes when we talk about equity, when we talk about, "How do we ensure that all students are getting their needs met? How are we ensuring that what we do is relevant and responsive, I'll even add sustainable, for all of our kids?" That's the piece that I don't want us to forget about. You'll never get everybody on board. I used to teach a class at the local university for doctoral students. It was called Change Strategies. We utilized books by Michael Fullan and John Carter. One of my favorite books is Our Iceberg is Melting. You got to read that. If you haven't read that, it's about these penguins and it's one main penguin starts to realize, "You know what? Our iceberg is melting." The penguin goes around, but the penguin that notices this doesn't have that clout, doesn't have the recognition. So he takes his information to people who are of influence and he spreads the word and they come up with a plan to notify the rest of the penguins about this iceberg that's melting. I'm going to leave it there. I'm not going to spoil the entire book.

               It's a really quick read. It's going to take you about an hour, but there's a message behind this. So let's just say you are a leader, or you're not even a leader. Let's just say you are a teacher, someone in your school, a paraprofessional or counselor, somebody that's says, "You know what? We need to do some work to make some changes." Think about who else can you talk to? Are there students that can play a pivotal role? We know that there are leaders in our schools and some of our students are dealing with a lot of challenges and getting them on board this well might be the way to go. I've talked to diversity, equity and inclusion leaders in our mastermind at our Accelerator 2.0, and some of my directors out there are saying, "Man, I feel like I'm hitting walls. It seems like no matter what I do, the response is always, 'Well, we're not ready yet. Let's give it a little bit more time.'" You know what I said? I said, "You know what? You have students who have a voice."

               See, they're not going to get expelled. Sometimes we worry about our positions. We worry about our jobs and we think about, "Oh man, if I speak up, if I ruffle the feathers. My job could be put at risk." Talk to your students, work with them, because think about this equity work. The equity work is ultimately going to benefit who? It's your kids. So let's talk about mapping your role in equity work. See, equity work is a collective responsibility. It is never solely the work of the classroom teacher, the principal, the district leader or the equity coordinator. It's a team process. So you might be like, "Okay, Sheldon, I hear you? I hear you. Okay. It's teamwork. I need to do this equity work. Okay. I get it. I understand that that's my role, but where do I start?" See, your school or organization may have an equity mission statement, and it looks really nice. There's this thing called "sloganism," where, "We believe all kids, and our belief's this and everyone has the right to learn." That's often posted somewhere on our walls.

               It might be right when you walk into the school, these type of things are out there, but the action has to be there. So if you do have some mission statement that has diversity, equity and inclusion, belonging in it, take a look at it. If you're a school leader and you do not have an equity or some plan already in place in which you are looking to get started, consider starting there. Let's come up with our mission statement first, and I have resources. You can definitely find some of those things on the Leading Equity Center in her website, or shoot me an email, and I'll be happy to support you as well, but that's where you get started. Look at your mission statement. Does it align with the school's beliefs in supporting all students? If you do not have a mission statement that represents that start there, don't create a mission statement by yourself, definitely involve community stakeholders, such as your students, your parents representatives, teachers. That should be, again, a team effort. All right. So now, you started with your mission statement and it's time to move forward.

               Let's look at a few areas that we should to keep in mind when it comes to making these systemic changes, making the changes that are necessary. Let me throw this out there, by the way, while I'm thinking about it, stuff ain't going to happen overnight. This equity work is something that takes time. I always try to tell people when I'm doing equity audits with groups and schools, look at the short-term, your medium-term, and your long-term wins. Sometimes when I do these audits, the groups that I'm working with, they're like, "Oh my goodness, I didn't recognize or realize there was so much that we need to work on." I say, "Well, look at the small things first. What are some things that we could start doing tomorrow? This might take a school year, what are some things that might be accomplished over five years?" When educators intentionally adopt routines and habits that exemplify everyday forms of supporting a culture of belonging, it can help to cultivate the culture and practices that need to change within learning communities. Look at your classroom culture, compose a classroom mantra.

               See, this is a tangible way to help both you and your students understand acknowledge, work towards, and hold each of they're accountable for a sense of belonging that guides your classroom. Think about instructional planning. See, as you select instructional resources and activities that will support the learning experiences in your setting, ask yourself who is seen? Who is centralized? Who is celebrated? See these three questions will help you keep yourself accountable for affirming cultural diversity and adopting a sense of belonging in your classroom through your teaching. Let's look at ways of working. See, taking time to set norms for conversations, meetings, and/or classroom interactions can be a simple, yet powerful method of establishing equitable ways of working. See, as you collaborate with your team members, students to build norms, consider how you can preserve equity and validate the cultural identities of individuals as you work. Now, here's a piece that sometimes we forget about. It's often overlooked, but it's feedback.

               Feedback strategies is important. See, if we approach feedback as a collaborative construction of knowledge, our goal shifts from one-way communication to a process of listening, sharing, and learning from each other. Whenever I would work with my staff, I always ask them, and even in the classroom when I was a teacher, I would tell students, or I'd tell my staff, "How do you want your feedback?" See, some of us, I would say, "Do you want me to give it to you straight, or do you want me to take you through a process to where you'll be able to see where I'm going?" But I ask first, "How would you like your feedback?" See, whether you are interacting with students, staff, or families, aim to utilize feedback structures that create opportunities for honest dialogue through not one-way, but two-way communication. Now, another thing that I think we should look at is our assessment strategies. Be intentional about embedding student voice and choice into your formal and informal assessment practices.

               Again, I am a proponent and a advocate for Universal Design for Learning. Make sure you check out our live stream happening in this Thursday at 6:30 Eastern. I wan to put that plug in there, my conversation upcoming with Beth Poss. Allowing students to leverage their voices to showcase their learning supports asset-based pedagogy, and it promotes equity. See, inviting students to select from a variety of ways to demonstrate their understanding can reduce the chance that students are academically penalized for their culture, background, or identity. I can't tell you, since the pandemic how many times I've had conversations with educators and I say, "Don't penalize the kids because they miss school surrounded by this pandemic." You know how hard it is, you got to quarantine for two weeks, 10 days, then you got to try to get caught up? What happens to a lot of our kids that get placed into remedial courses? So now they're not with their friends and their peers anymore. They're in a whole nother classroom and let's keep it real, kids talk.

               The feeling of being placed into a remedial course, it's not the best feeling, especially when it's not their fault. I remember when I was working as a SPED director, I would get kids that would come in to our school with IEPs. After working with them, it's like, "Oh wait, wait. You don't have a learning disability, you just miss school. You don't need to be in this program, you just need some tutoring." I'm not a fan of penalizing our kids for things that are out of their control. All right, now let's move on to supervision and evaluation. See, if you've never taken a time to deeply analyze your school, your district's evaluation criteria, please leaders, take some time to do so. What power dynamics are at play in your school's processes of supervision and evaluation? In what ways might the evaluation criteria centralize or reward the dominant culture? Consider how you might affirm and value the work of educators of color through your supervision.

               The last piece that I want to discuss is reflection. See, this is something that sometimes gets neglected and I would almost argue, I said, I'm almost going to almost argue, I'm going to throw it out there, that when we talk about reflection, it's more than just sitting there just thinking about your day, but really digging deep. I suggest looking into journaling. I suggest finding an accountability partner, someone that you can talk to. To me, that's going a little bit beyond just, "Oh, okay. Let me just think about how things went today," but find a way to designate a moment for genuine self-reflection. Journal how you showed up that day. Talk to your accountability partner, how you showed up during the day. Did you have a equity mindset? If you did, what tangible evidence can you utilize to show that? From there, consider where can you identify find some other opportunities for yourself to make amends maybe, to maybe increase that equity work in your learning environment, or to advocate for greater representation or inclusion?

               When you think about whatever structures, policies, and systems that are in place, you think about the curriculum and instruction. What does that look like? Are there some things that you can do? I always try to ask myself, "Is there more that I can do?" You heard it before, people tell me, "Sheldon, you're an equity expert." No. I just try to stay a chapter ahead. If you're a school leader and you are looking for some work, some ways, let's just say, you know what? These conversations are tough. Change might be tough. Maybe you're a newer administrator, or you're entering into an environment that seems a little tough, or you got a lot going on in your plate, I want to draw your attention to our diversity equity and inclusion playbook, 20 different activities that you can do with your staff. You can do it at a staff meeting. You can do it virtually. You can do it in person. There's 20 activities that you can do in support of doing this work.

               If you are a teacher and you want to learn how you can be better, I have a free course on Implicit Bias. It's an hour long. You get a PD certificate. It's right there on the homepage, leadingequitycenter.com. But that's all I have for you today. Make sure you tune in on Thursday for our live stream, and every week we do our live stream. Subscribe to the YouTube channel Leading Equity Center. I believe you have to actually type in Sheldon Eakins in the YouTube, and that should pull up the YouTube channel. I don't know the link off the top of my head, but I'll drop it in the show notes as well, but subscribe, so that way you can stay up. You can stay notified, but every week we're going live. One more plug, one more plug before I forget, I'm really excited. There's something I want to share, and you might have heard this already, but I'm really excited. I have a book coming out. Hopefully, it'll be out this summer. We've just finished the second round of revisions. Now, we're in the formatting stage.

               So it's just a few months out, but the book is entitled Leading Equity: Becoming an Advocate for All Students. Be on a lookout for that, that's coming up. If you need some training, if you would like to have Dr. Eakins, why am I talking to myself in third person? If you would like for me to come out and do some work with your organization, if you have keynote opportunities, if you have some work that needs to be done, I'm happy to assist you, leadingequitycenter.com/consulting. Shout out to Mark Smith and the McCall family. I had an awesome time last week. Next week, I'll be in San Diego for the Deeper Learning Conference. I'm looking forward to that. I love San Diego. Oh, my gosh, it's beautiful. But that's all I have for you today. Remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "If you can't fly, then run. If you can't run, then walk. If you can't walk, then crawl, but by all means, keep moving." Let's continue to be a voice in leading equity. This episode was brought to you by the Leading Equity Center. For more podcast interviews and resources, head on over to leadingequitycenter.com.

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