Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:00:00]:
Alright. Let's talk about affirming the needs of students in a caring system. Now the first thing I wanna do is I y'all know who I am. I like to start with definitions. Okay? So to affirm is to state or assert positively maintain as true. What does that mean in a school setting? First thing I say to affirm Does not mean that we're gonna be selective with our affirmation. Here's the thing. We we all have bias.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:00:32]:
Right? I I talk about it all the time. We all have some sort of bias, including myself. Because of those biases, which are often due to the way we grew up, The news stations that we watch, media, those kind of things, our social circles, they influence our beliefs and and our opinions and we start stereotypes as well. Right? All these kind of things shape the way we view view things. So when we're talking about affirming a student, which is to state or assert positively and maintain as true. That doesn't mean, oh, well, I agree with some of the things that the student is saying, but there's some things morally or religiously I I don't believe in. And so I'm gonna be selective, affirming. Now now when we're saying that we're going to affirm student, that means we're gonna affirm all of our students.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:01:17]:
Give you an example. I I remember in the past, I I've worked with students that were trans or students that were gender fluid, and they would say, you know, my pronouns are they or them or something like that. And I remember staff would refuse to utilize those pronouns. And as a result, they would still say in that same conversation and say, oh, yeah. We we I agree with equity and social justice and all these things. However, they're very selective with that. So that's what I'm saying when we're talking about we're going to affirm our students Can't be selective affirmations. This needs to be something that we recognize within all students here, all students.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:01:58]:
And I think that's where really where we have to start. That's very important, especially with everything that we have going on. I mean, there's literally laws that are being passed or bills that are up in in order to change a lot of things as far as our conversation, things that could say. So I think, again, going back, we need to make sure that we're affirming all students. Now I had a conversation on my podcast with doctor Kate Kennedy, and she talked to me about a caring system. And, it's a really good episode. So if you wanna check it out, that's the title of it. But doctor Kate Kennedy, this was right around pen when the pandemic happened.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:02:32]:
So it was about 3 years ago 2 or 3 years ago when we did this interview, but a lot of the the information that she shared with me was very important, and it's very related to a sense of belonging. The thing about it is she listed 6 things 6 things when we're thinking from a systemic level, when we're thinking about it from a district level. Right? Sometimes we talk about since, belonging, and we often talk about it from a classroom standpoint. And and I'll touch on that as well because I talk about it in my first book. However, doctor Kennedy talks about it from a systemic level, especially at at the district level. And so we're gonna break down some of the things that she shares and what it's what's needed within a caring system. So the first one is having a caring vision. Hey.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:03:19]:
This is really important. Having a caring vision. We have to stop start there. That's what sets the tone. When we say if if I'm a student or a potential student, I'm just moving into a district or let's say I'm a a school choice situation and I'm trying to decide on which school I wanna attend. What does the mission statement say? Do I see myself in that mission statement? So when we're talking about sense of belonging, We're talking about what am I saying that supports all identities. Now often, a lot of our mission statements come across as very academic focused. You know, we believe in, you know, grades and all students can succeed and all those.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:03:59]:
Very general. I would even I would even Go as far as saying that a lot of those mission statements are very safe. Right? Rarely do they utilize any any, language that centers around sense of belonging or care. I I've seen some, but it's not always the case. And then on top of that, A lot of times, mission statements often lack those affirmations of students outside the dominant culture. That leads me to my next question. Is it time to revisit your mission or vision statement? Here's the thing. Yesterday, I I was doing a presentation with a group, an institution of higher education.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:04:37]:
You know, professors, staff members at the higher ed level. And after the session was over, session 1 that we did was on, how how we can be allies and support others and things like that. But after the session was over, a couple questions came up. You know, some of the audience members were like, hey. Do you got a couple more minutes? Love to ask you a few questions. And In their state, there's some laws. There's there's some legislation that's out there. There are anti trans laws that are out there.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:05:08]:
And the question that was raised to me was, should we do something about this now? Like, right now, there's this I don't know. From the congress side of things, you know, there's talks about a law being passed, but we don't agree with that. As a university, we do not agree with that. And We know that there are students that have certain identities that is gonna impact. What do you think we should do? Should we jump ahead of this? And I said, absolutely. We have to be proactive When it comes to this, don't wait for something to happen because when you wait for something to happen, then you you might end up finding yourself in in deeper water if you will. Right? I I I told him. I said, look.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:05:47]:
You don't wanna be on the news for the wrong reasons, where students are are posting On I mean, with our access to social media these days where students are posting online, creating profiles, and, you know, our students' school doesn't care about us. Bottom line. If we wait for laws to pass, but we know that there's talks, there's rumbling already happening. Let's be proactive. Put out a statement And don't put out a statement from just a professor, like from the high, from as high as you can go up. Cause your, your school leaders, your presidents, your CEOs, They are the chief diversity, equity inclusion officers. We'll talk about funding in a second, but they are your TDDI folks, Right? Even if you have a designated position on campus or within your district, doesn't matter. Your chief diversity, equity, inclusion officer It's gonna be your leadership school district wide.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:06:39]:
So it's important to be proactive when it comes to saying, listen, we don't agree with the legislation that's happening or we don't agree with these recent things that are happening within our community. This is what we stand upon. Here's our stance. We stand in solidarity with x group. Sometimes we'll do stuff that's performative. Know, we'll we'll just put we'll change our our our, profile pictures to match the latest trend. You know, you know, this this is happening. You know, this social justice movement is happening.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:07:12]:
This hashtag is happening, and we post it on our Facebook profile and would change our page, but that's it. That's as far as it goes. Nothing else to accompany that. I said, so what we should do is try to be proactive and say, you know what? It is 2023. When was our mission or vision statement created? How long has it been, And does it still reflect what what's happening in 2023 post pandemic? Is it still relevant, Or are there some tweaking that needs to take place within our mission and vision statement? Because this is what guides Our schools, our organizations is our mission and business statement. That's the words. Let's move on. Number 2, staffing and organizing for care.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:07:59]:
Right? Doctor Kennedy talks about staffing and organizing for care. And what does that mean, doctor Ekins? Well, let me share. Let's think about our our teams. When we think about our leadership team specifically, who's on that team and what are their beliefs There's a there's old saying I I we used to say all skin folk and kinfolk. What does that mean? You might say, oh, look at my leadership cabinet, executive cabinet. We got folks from all various walks of life, which I believe is very good. Right? That that diversity. But do you have diversity in thought as well? Because if you got, quote, unquote, melting pot of executives on your team, but there's no real diversity in thought.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:08:44]:
They're they're all coming from the same, mindsets. Again, based off of biases or experiences of individuals, If there isn't a lot of representation from various groups with lived experiences that could speak on the policies and systems that we're discussing. That's a challenge. So the question is I actually have 2 questions. 1, Who's represented. Okay. And again, what are their beliefs? Not just your representation, but what are their beliefs? This is a line with your mission statement. The next question is okay.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:09:21]:
So we just discussed who is represented, but who is not represented, and I think this is a piece that's forgot about forgotten a lot. Alright? Who is not at the table, if you will? Here's the thing. I'll ask a principal. I say, okay. Let's have this conversation about representation. Right? And they'll say, you know, we're actively or we're intentionally trying to hire more folks that will represent our student body. Currently, our staffing does not reflect our student body. I said, I'm glad you're being intentional.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:09:52]:
I'm glad that you're doing this work. But the question that I have, in addition to yourself, who else is on your hiring committee. When you're looking at a new counselor, when you're looking at a new teacher, new staff member, paraprofessionals, Do you have students on those hiring committees? And folks will forget about that. Oh, yeah. You know what? That's a good idea. Didn't think about that. Which, hey, I'm not coming for folks like that. What I'm saying is that's something that we don't always consider.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:10:20]:
Why is that important? Why is it important to have students, maybe even parents on your hiring teams when you're looking at hiring new staffs. Okay? Well, who's gonna be impacted the most? Not your colleague, not your assistant principals, and and whoever else is on your your traditional hiring committees, but your students. Those are the ones that they're gonna see the most. I think students should have an input when it comes to who's gonna be in front of them in their classrooms. So not only your students, but also your parents. Because I I think that's that's something that we forget. And and it's and it's and I again, best intentions, it happens. If there's a way that you can pull in, I don't care if you're at the elementary level, pre k level, whatever, whatever level you're at, I recommend that you get some students on.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:11:02]:
Here's the thing I used to do When I was a school principal and I was hiring a staff member, a new teacher, something like that, I would intentionally try to schedule those interviews doing, like, recess times, Things like that. And I would take this the candidates around, and, you know, here's a tour of the school. This is you know, this would be that area. This is where you'll be teaching, that kind of thing. And I would take them out during lunch lunchtime or recess, and I would sit there and watch how those teachers or potential candidates Would interact with the students. I would have some teachers that would literally candidates would just talk to me. I mean, they would look and see what's going on, but they would not interact.

Speaker B [00:11:40]:
And you know

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:11:40]:
how kids are? Kindergartners, 1st graders, those young kids, especially they're like the nicest kids ever. If they see the principal walking, they're already like, hey, principal. How are you doing? But on top of that, they wanna know who's next to them. They're coming up to you and they say, Hey, principal, who is this? And I would watch how those candidates would interact with students. If a candidate would not even look at them Or, again, focus on me only. And on how they interact, I would already know. Yeah. I don't think this candidate is the best fit for this school, because my goal here is to make sure that whoever is in front of our students.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:12:17]:
Students get a say with that, and From the jump, they're interacting even before they get a job. This is not just a paycheck for them, but this is something where they genuinely like Care about kids. So think about that. Who was represented in your leadership and who was not? Your support staff is great. You know, sometimes people will tell Oh, well, you know, if you look at our our support staff, our our professionals, custodians, and things like that, they represent a student body. Okay. However, can we go further than that? Because to me, that's not enough. We could do better.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:12:55]:
Right? I I think that's a great start. However, I don't think that that's where we like, that can't be your your reasoning. You can't just say, oh, well, we got some staff, but their support staff they represent. No. No. Okay. When it comes to your your executive teams, your leadership team, are all your black males just disciplinarians. You have black males on or or Hispanic, males on your curriculum and instruction committees or leadership, or are they only just relegated to maybe athletic directors, deans of something, deans of students.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:13:30]:
Alright. Number 3, resourcing for care. Now this one might be a little touchy, and here's what I mean by that resourcing for care. We talked about the mission statement. Nice. That's where we start. K? And then we move into looking at What does your staff look like? Now it's time to put our money where our mouth is. So here's some actionable questions coming when it comes to resources.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:13:59]:
If your message says one thing, does the money say the same? Is there an alignment there? I think that's important. K. Now I get it. I get it. I, you know, here's the thing. I I was I was a principal and I get funding. It's not always the easiest. Right? I've done special ed.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:14:18]:
Funding is not always the easiest to make sure that the resources are there. I wish they put more money into such as mental health support. You know, I see a lot of schools, unfortunately, will spend all their money on school resource officers and metal detectors, but they won't put that same energy in in in in money towards mental health support, social workers, Mental health counselors, things like that. Trauma informed care practices. I think every teacher should have trauma informed care Background or instruction. But, unfortunately, allocations of funds is not the same, and I would even venture off and say, you know, often Tim, we don't even have a lot of our those who who like, let's say, your your financial folks, your budgeting folks, your your that department don't always talk to the curriculum folks. They don't always talk to the counseling folks. And then as a result, there's a miss miscommunication with the knees that are there.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:15:14]:
Now I believe that curriculum is important. Curriculum and instruction is important. Definitely. Absolutely. So I'm not I'm not one Who will say that curriculum instruction is not important. It is. It is, but there's some canned curriculum and instruction that's out there. I mean, some stuff is very scripted.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:15:34]:
Some things is again, if we're thinking from an equitable standpoint, we wanna make sure that it's meeting the individual needs of students. I would like to see a lot more funding go towards our mental health support. I would like to see more funding go there as opposed to some some of the other directions. Okay? Again, academics are very important, but social and emotional care is also important. Number 4 data in the service of care data in the service of care. Alright, doctor Akins. What are you talking about? What does that mean? Alright. Well, let's talk about that for a second.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:16:11]:
At the end of the day, the question that we need to be asking Is, are you asking the right Karen questions? We do a lot of map testing. We'll test into, you know, certain programs We do, you know, your standardized testing, all those things, but how many of those tests that we do are related to a student's experience. Now I'm in a process of putting together a sense of belonging instrument. I don't wanna call it an audit. I'm afraid to call it an assessment either. More of an intro. I don't know if it's a semantic thing to me. You know? Hey.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:16:48]:
Maybe it's a semantic thing, but it's some sort of an instrument that we can utilize in our schools that we can not just do one time, but it's something that we can utilize to find out What are your students' experiences? Do they feel accepted? Do they feel, included? Do they feel like they're supported? I get that we do our baseline testing and and we do our national testing and ACTs and SATs, APS and all these, all these, you know, alphabet soups. However, at the end of the day, are we asking the questions to our students. Dude, is everything okay? Are we asking those questions? Do we show our kids that we care? That that's the instrument that I I I'd I'm put I'm putting together, and I and I'm taking my time with it because it it I want to be very intentional with that because it needs to be measurable. Okay? I can say, you know, I I wanna find it out, you know, because I I know there's so many times we've had these conversations We will say, you know, oh, our students feel like they belong or our students think that they are are are, you know, our kids are doing great. But if I ask that same question to students, especially students that are not part of dominant culture, and I asked them, do you feel like you belong? Do you feel included, accepted, and supported? I might get a different answer. Again, are we asking caring questions in our approach Exit tickets can help, but I also wanna just just again, just thinking from a measurable goals and and just kind of thinking from a higher standpoint when it comes to just getting that data. I think it's really important that we really are intentional with asking those kind of questions. It could be anonymous.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:18:31]:
Sometimes we're afraid to get that feedback because kids can be Sometimes we're afraid to get that feedback because kids can be harsh sometimes, but I think it's really, really important. Alright. The next one, Number 5, thinking about community responsive, equity oriented care. K. Thinking about community responsive, equity oriented care. Alright. Here's the thing. You looked at your mission statement.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:18:56]:
Okay. A mission statement makes sense. It's not just a safe mission statement. It's not just, you know, the the your usual buzzwords. All kids this, and we believe in No matter what your, you know, the typical. Right? We have added some caring, some sense of belonging language within our mission statement. We put in the reps. This is what drives us.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:19:16]:
Now we've looked at our our staffing. We looked at our leadership. Those who are at the table Reflects our students. There's representation. Not only just representation in how folks look and present, but also there is diversity in thought. Alright. Now we've looked at the data. We've asked those questions.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:19:38]:
We've we've made sure that we found the funding resources that are available to meet the needs of our students. Right? Maybe mental health is a a a thing in your area. Maybe it's a social, emotional learning. Maybe it's social economic stuff. Maybe it's trauma informed care. Whatever it might look like for your specific area. We've looked at those, and we've made sure that there's funding to be available as well. And, again, we've asked those questions through data, and now we have that information now.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:20:07]:
Next steps is what's next? Because we all know change doesn't happen overnight. Change doesn't happen overnight. It takes time. And, it's something that, you know, you have to think about what is gonna take us 1 year. What might take us 6 months? What might take us 3 years. What are those next steps? Don't just sit on things, but start revisiting your strategic plan. This might be time for us to look at it. Post COVID.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:20:33]:
I don't know if it's post COVID. Right? Because COVID's still out there, but I don't know. Pandemic. Let's just call it post pandemic. But what's next? And then once you start figuring out what's next, the last one here, number 6, caring leadership moves, caring leadership moves. What do you mean? See, if you listen to the the the podcast, we talk about being an advocate. I consider myself an equity advocate, and an advocate is someone that recognize that we do not live in a just society. Advocates are willing to speak up on behalf of others.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:21:07]:
Been in a broker. When you think about from a leadership standpoint or from a resources standpoint, let's let's call it that way. If I am able to connect an individual who has needs or if I can support an individual by putting 2 folks together or reaching out to an organization, or I know this person or I know that person or my spouse knows this person or knows that person or my neighbor, my friends. If I'm in a position Where I can connect folks to connect those resources to tap into things or we can pull together. Maybe I could reach out to the next district over. Say, hey. Listen. We really want to bring in this individual to help us with some trauma informed care.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:21:48]:
We got a bunch of staff members that need some training, but we don't have all the funding ourselves. Can we pull together our resources? Can we collaborate so that we can all get the training? I think it'll benefit both districts As the reality is people move from 1 district to the next, when it makes sense for us all to be able to have that same training, some cohesion, Can we pull those resources together? That's part of being a broker reaching out, connecting folks. If I say that I'm an advocate, Then I should also be willing to utilize whatever privilege I might have, whatever resources or I have access to to ultimately ensure That individual needs are being met. Everyone wins. So when we talk about what's the cost Of affirming your students on a daily basis starts with your mission statement. That doesn't cost you anything, but it sets the tone. Let's move into constructing positive affirmations. Alright? This is more for the the teacher side.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:22:52]:
Alright? In my book on page 47, chapter 2. I talk about constructing positive affirmations, and it says due to implicit bias, We sometimes prejudge students based on their appearance or their names. Using positive affirmations with your students is one way to mitigate this bias. What does that look like when we're talking about constructing bias? I'm sorry. Not constructing bias, constructing positive affirmations. The first one is in your classroom,

Speaker B [00:23:24]:
and you could do this

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:23:24]:
in the beginning of the school year, but you want to make a collective classroom affirmation statement. Okay. You want to make sure that that's visual display prominently in your classroom. Right? Again, sets the tone for the year and it creates buy in from your students because they played a part in putting together this classroom affirmation. So, yes, your school has its mission statement. Your classroom has its affirmation. Affirmed. It supports the mission statement.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:23:53]:
So maybe do an activity which your students were, you know, give them 3 to 5 minutes to journal or to write down. If money's not an issue, resources is not an issue. What does a perfect classroom look like to you? Have your students create what that looks like. Put that together. That can be part of that affirmation statement for your classroom and recite it every day. Now I I know some folks some some classrooms, they'll do, like, call and response. Other folks will have, like, hand gestures or whatever it is, but create make sure it's creative. Again, access the tone and creates a lot of buy in for your classroom.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:24:30]:
Not only that, but we also should revisit and reflect on your classroom affirmations often. So again, say in a daily, Maybe middle of the year, we, you know, asked the class. Hey. Do we still feel good with this the statement? Are there some tweaks that we should make based off of how the school year has gone? Are there are there some changes? Are there some things we should take out or should be added?

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