Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:00:00]:
L, 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's special guest is mister Ari Gerzan Kessler. So without further ado, Ari, thank you so much for joining us today.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:00:18]:
Thanks, Sheldon. It's a delight to be here. I've enjoyed your podcast over the years and just treat to to be on the show with you.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:00:24]:
Well, the pleasure is mine. I'm excited because we are gonna be publishing brothers, if you will, because I just signed to Solution Tree, and you are also a Solution Tree author. Your book is entitled On the Same Team, Bringing Educators and Underrepresented Families Together. So I I'm excited to have a conversation on connecting with families from the school side. But before we get into that, I'd love for you share a little bit about yourself and what you currently do?

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:00:51]:
Well, I've had a huge passion for social justice and education since an early age. My first job Was in a black bookstore in Los Angeles, had a chance to meet folks like Rosa Parks, go to book signings, and so a passion for the The written word has been a big part of my journey. And then my 4 grandparents were all immigrants, and I kind of saw how The education system in this country was an opportunity, of course, for pursuing the American dream, but I also saw the barriers and discrimination they grappled with. My draw to education has been lifelong. My brother was doing teach for America, and I ultimately became a bilingual teacher after working for a year as a journalist in Mexico. And I was a teacher, bilingual teacher, and principal for 16 years and then decided I wanted to do deeper work with families because I saw My last principalship, Sheldon, was with a district that was under an office of civil rights investigation for inequities and discrimination against students and families, And a new superintendent who had been a mentor had just taken over, and so I was drawn to work in one of these schools. And I saw that a few family partnership practices in terms of outreach really built trust and connection and a more inclusive L space compared to what they've been used to before. So I just that led me into my current role where for the last 7 years, I've been leading the family partnerships department in Boulder, Colorado.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:02:15]:
And so that's kind of a short version of of who I am and a bit about my my passion, and it's led me, which I'll share more to to write this book on the same team, which has been the fruits of the most meaningful structure I've seen to bring underrepresented families and educators together to create Truly equitable transformative change over time.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:02:34]:
Oh, man. I'm excited because this is gonna be a really good topic because I have not covered this. So let's but beef wait. I I had a question. I wrote this down. I was like, wait. Did you say that you meant Rosa Parks?

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:02:46]:
I did. Yeah. That was and, Muhammad Ali, I got to arm wrestle Muhammad Ali when I was in middle school. So there my my bookstore job led to just kind of It impacted the rest of my life, essentially. So, yeah, I've got her signed book upstairs, and it's a a treasure alongside John Lewis and a couple others.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:03:06]:
Wow. Okay. I I have met Ali before, but neither John Lewis or Rosa Parks, so that's That's awesome. Okay. Okay.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:03:14]:
Oh, I

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:03:14]:
don't wanna get sidetracked too much. I thought that was intriguing. So it sounds like you you are qualified to have conversations in regards to family school partnerships and collaborations. And I and I've worked in many schools, and I've work with many schools who have a challenge of connecting with parents and guardians for various reasons. And I know it's important, but you sound like more of an expert and who can kinda give me a little bit more information what I would spew to the audience. So I wanna start there. Why don't you share with us why Is that family school partnership, connection, collaboration? Why is it so important?

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:03:52]:
It's interesting, Sheldon. On the one hand, When I was a principal, sometimes I felt like it was a nice to do, and I regret that I didn't realize how impactful it was in some ways. Since I Stepped into this role, I've steeped myself in the research and learned that if you wanna go from a good to great classroom or good to great school, Strong family community partnerships is one of the 5 key levers to make that happen, yet many of us often leave it lower on the priority. I really found, in the school where I did my last principalship, a couple practices for outreach and connection Made all the difference. 2 concrete ones. Positive phone calls I had done as an assistant principal in several schools and bringing that practice You know, our staff would write those those recommendations. In some of our schools now, teachers make those phone calls often at most 10, 15 minutes most rewarding of their week. And I would call 5 families or more every Friday as a principal.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:04:48]:
Well, by the end of the year, that's a 190 or so families getting A positive call, that makes them more receptive to the next call, whether that's a call for an invitation to a school event, something may be challenging with their kid. So the positive calls Eakins now a decade later, I see as one of the high leverage practices that research Backs up. The other piece that, you know, stands out is we initiated an award ceremony honoring students around character and academic strides. And for families, and this was a score about 90% of the families were Latino, they had been keeping their distance with past leadership, And we implemented this monthly award ceremony. 1 kid from every class, so roughly 25 kids. That's more than 200 kids, half the school in the year. Those families are coming in before school for pancakes that the staff's making, and they're beginning to build more of a trusting relationship. So while I have regrets From my principal and teacher years, like, why did we have 0 families sitting around the table when we created a family event? Some things that are still commonplace, I think, in many of our schools.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:05:53]:
Those 2 examples were kinda springboards of why I wanted to help other schools do this deeper work of how can we work smarter not harder knowing that Teachers are always stretched for time as our school leaders. So I could share a a number of more kinda best practices I've seen put into place, but those are 2 that dumped out right away.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:06:12]:
I like the the the phone call piece. Now did did you say that you had your Staff do it as well, or is this something that you made sure that it was on your side that you were taken care of?

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:06:22]:
So at a lot of the schools I was at, I wanted to make it really feasible for staff. So I'd had a nomination form. They'd spend 2 minutes selecting a kid. I'd often it's a strategy that is one of the best ones for principals. Give your staff time in a faculty meeting. Don't necessarily make it one more thing for them to have to go write that note or make that call themselves. Nowadays, Sheldon, I I think it's more important for the teacher to build that relationship, especially with families that have been, You know, historically marginalized are often, at a distance from the school. So I see it both ways.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:06:55]:
Principal can kinda hold a lot of those calls, but it tends nowadays to be Teachers making those calls when the school leader gives that built in time. And some of our schools are doing positive postcards, kinda Old school approach, positive text, positive Eakins, but the heart of it's really launching the relationship And sustaining it through that that positive approach that builds early rapport.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:07:18]:
That is awesome, man. And the thing about it is I feel like This should be something that all schools are doing. I mean, it's Yeah. I know we're in a place where, like, a lot of educators feel like, oh, man. It's just, like you said, one more thing that I have to do on my list of many things that already have coming. But just that alone, just Eakins, like you said, the positive phone calls. I've made mistakes in my in my time as a teacher L I the only time, my very first time contacting a parent was because the child was in trouble and how that goes. I love that that's something that you do.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:07:51]:
Now I'm assuming by the end of the year, we wanna make sure that all families are contacted. Is that correct?

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:07:57]:
Yeah. That's ideal. If that time is built in for staff, and all you need is 15 minutes a month to make maybe 3, 4, 5 calls. So in our elementary schools, yeah, the whole class has been Connected in terms of teacher reaching out. High schools, you know, during the pandemic, I helped one of our local high schools, and we just made Calls on students that needed to be more reengaged, who needed to feel valued, or families that had not really experienced much Out outreach from the staff. So we end up calling about 200 families over 2 months. So it's tricky with the high schools, of course, to reach all 23 100 kids, but it makes such a huge impact. And I'm seeing people often in my field say, oh, it's harder at middle and high school.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:08:38]:
And in some ways, I get that, But some of the best work I'm seeing is actually at the middle and high school level. So I think p k L, a lot of these best practices can be really effective.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:08:48]:
Walk me through a script. Like, what give me some talking point. I'm I'm a principal, and I'm I'm calling the Johnson family. Give me a little bit of how that would look. It it's just for those who are listening.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:09:00]:
The the key thing is to say right away, and a colleague said this just a week ago in a training I was doing said, you gotta say right away, I'm calling for good news.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:09:08]:
Because, of

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:09:09]:
course, sadly, historically, our public schools, at least, Families are used to just hearing from us when there's discipline or Eakins sick or something. And many parents have just said recently, tell me right away so I can be at ease. So I would always say start with the, you know, missus miss Smith calling from, you know, x school. And I'm calling with good news about Sarah or Johnny. And I found whether they're getting that call at work or at home, it's incredibly uplifting. It affirms the student. They come back more motivated, and I would often Go get the student from class, and then their peers are celebrating them, and the peers are saying, oh, I want one of those calls home. So, yeah, that along with relationship centered home visits, Two way communication through text, those are really, Sheldon, the top 3 I've prioritized now after years of kinda researching the field and Chatting with colleagues in other states and districts, in terms of some of the high leverage ones, big bang for relatively little investment of time.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:10:05]:
So positive text messages.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:10:07]:
Yeah. Positive text messages and then text messages using an app because so in the the heart of my work are these families and educator together teams, which brings together Immigrant families, families of color that have often been disconnected from the schools, discriminated against, and and these teams bring them together with Teachers and school leaders to talk about once a month over dinner. How do we create a more inclusive, equitable school community? And communication is often alongside relationship and trust, the key issues that emerge right away. Though the text is also a lot of our families saying, Y'all overwhelm us with emails from the teacher level, school level, and district level. And some of our families, particularly, immigrant families I work with state, we're not reading your emails, so the communication is not even giving us the info we need. But if you text us, We will read it, and we'll we'll even engage with you in the two way communication that's vital to truly building authentic partnerships. So an app I've been Organically spreading in our districts called TalkingPoints. There's a number of other good ones, but it translates the text message and really fosters relationship instead of The normal complaint I hear from many of our families of, I want more of a relationship with the teacher beyond parent teacher conferences, and our educators are hungry for that too.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:11:25]:
They just needed to be efficient, and support around those language or other barriers. And so, yeah, the texts have been really powerful in that respect. And I have a story or 2. I could Give you an example of the fact.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:11:35]:
Go for it.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:11:36]:
That's helpful. Yeah. Well, so I'm thinking of an elementary school where we launched their their team, their Families Educator Together team, and I write about this in the book where they, Basically, all Spanish speaking families had had to go through a special education paraprofessional who is the only bilingual member of the staff for years, and they gave us the feedback of we wanna get to know the teachers. We wanna engage with them, but they're saying that they it's tricky, across the language barrier. So we went from that in month 1 of this team to by month 6, the 10 staff that had All the bilingual, multilingual families were using the TalkingPoints app. And by the end of that 1st year, 28 100 messages went out to families, 35100 came back from families, and it just was a quick game changer in terms of actually building the bridges needed for their kid to thrive in the school. So, yeah, it was it was just powerful.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:12:33]:
Thank you for sharing. L, I was trying to learn about this communication phone call. So so, audience, thank you for hanging with me as I ask so many questions regarding because I was like, yo. This is dope. So okay. Alright. But let let's talk about the character. I think you said the character academic awards, or the the the monthly awards.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:12:51]:
What is give me a little bit more information as far as What does that look like, for your schools?

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:12:57]:
I think an underutilized strategy in many of our schools is building time in person with families present to celebrate and recognize students. Mhmm. So for us, Sheldon, at the couple schools, where I've seen it in action, each teacher nominates a student based on, As I said, character academic strides. You're often in elementary school able to recognize almost half your class by the end of the school year. Principal gets that recognition. Let's say there's 25 or 30 kids being L. Literally once a month, our staff, about 4 or 5 of us, would come together, Prep some pancakes, invite families in before that you know, the bell rings to close out the ceremony, and we would read the teacher nomination form for each Kid, they come up, shake hands with the principal, the teacher, and be recognized. And informal connections are then built between families at those events, and teachers are dropping in to celebrate alongside their student, really breaking bread together in a way that rarely, you know, happens between Our educators and our families and their students.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:14:00]:
So it took a little bit of work. I won't say that pulling that off once a month is, you know, a couple minutes of prep, but the investment for families to see how much their kid is valued, that their teacher truly sees their child, made them more likely to reach out for a host of reasons, and they actually felt welcome, safe, and comfortable within our school if they wanted to come back to connect on any other, you know, academic, you know, need. So it it ended up propelling a lot of community building In places where there often was distrust beforehand.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:14:32]:
Okay. Timing wise, because that's always a challenge that I hear a lot of folks who say, oh, We don't know when is the right time to offer because if we offer during school hours, then, you know, folks are at work. So tell me, what has been the most effective strategy with that like finding the right time to get as, I guess, more bang for your buck, if you will, or just more participation from your parents.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:14:55]:
Well, so with that award ceremony example, we found that before school was best because staff's already there. We're not asking to stay late, and families are often gonna be dropping their kid off potentially anyways. In terms of the families and educator together teams, that's been an early question for all, you know, 24 of our Schools with teams. I've basically said, true partnerships means we don't center it around what's convenient for us. If we wanna truly partner with them, we need to be responsive to what's best for them. For generic events, I'd say schools offering it twice is effective. So you might, you know, hold a coffee chat with the principal at 8 AM and then at 5:30 PM, and families can choose in a week which one they attend. For our fed team gatherings, we've found that 5:30 to 7 or 6 to 7:30 at night is the sweet spot.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:15:46]:
It gives Families a chance if they're working or not to kinda make that transition, and then we feed them dinner because we wanna make sure not only does that build Comfort and community. It's cross cultural tie, but also we don't want them to have to go home at 8 o'clock and make dinner for their family. So, yeah, that's been the sweet spot in terms of ideal Time of day to really meet the needs of families.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:16:08]:
I've heard people say, oh, we shouldn't be in a place where we'd have to bribe our families to come out via food. And I I've heard a lot of folks that have differences of opinion. Oh, you should offer food. You shouldn't offer food. They should just wanna come to the school. Like, I hear all these different takes on the food situation, and then I even hear folks will say, well, You need to be culturally responsive with your food practices as well. So, like, if you're like you said, if you have a large population of immigrants, families from a certain country, for example, maybe you need to think about, well, is pizza gonna be the best option, or is nachos gonna be the best option? So I'm kinda curious. What is your take on the food situation when it comes to inviting folks over to your school?

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:16:54]:
Yeah. No. I appreciate that question. I actually have some passion around it And and some real learning that's you know, because with 24 schools, we've had about 900 of these fat team gatherings, and and food is the first 15 minutes. We're not trying to talk about business, ask great questions. We're literally just breaking bread for that time. And so I would say, There was 1 or 2 schools where we didn't offer dinner, and I noticed it was more formal. Families were slower to o open up.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:17:23]:
Educators are sitting there hungry. Everybody as as I mentioned, everybody's thinking, oh, I gotta go home, including me, and make dinner at 8 o'clock. And for many of our families from immigrant and other communities, we know food is often the centerpiece for family, and communal connection. Yeah. So that's been a huge upside. And and to your point around, like, which food, you know, we tend to ask families, because for so many years, we guess which families want or need instead of just asking them, listening, and putting that into into action. So after the 1st step meeting, Last 5 minutes, we say, hey. Thanks so much for being here tonight and being a part of this ongoing team.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:18:03]:
What do you all want for dinner next time? So it's often shaped primarily by parent voices, and the food tends to mirror the culture or cultures of the team members too. Feeding the families is vital, and I don't see it at all as bribing. If we wanna throw a party or a a housewarming, We always include food. We're not bribing people to come to our houses. So, yeah, I feel pretty clear that that the food is a a vital part of a of a strong communal gathering.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:18:32]:
I'm with you. I'm with you. I just like I said, I've had some conversations with some folks, and I'm like, you should not be trying to do food because they should wanna come, and you're essentially bribing them. And I I I'm with you on that one, man. I'm like, dude, let's keep it real. If we're offering these things at 5, 6 o'clock at night, that's dinner time. And to me, it makes sense, and I I'm sorry. I've I'm I'm all about what is it gonna take to get my families out to the school, they're more likely to come if they know there's gonna be a meal provided.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:19:04]:
A lot of families can't you know, they they they're eating rice and beans anyway or, you know, they they Eakins what they can eat versus we're offering something. I do like the idea, kinda like what you mentioned as far as the the cultural responsiveness and and, just reminding them, like, if there are some local vendors, especially family vendors or or catering that can be done, You can offer some opportunities where the food is familiar to a lot of your families at home. I think that's important as well.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:19:30]:
Yeah. That's been the heart of our approach to Actually, often pay parents at the school to cater or local businesses. And you're reminding me, you know, one of the things too has been in terms of money. I know a lot of schools and districts dealing with declining enrollment, all those pieces. The beauty of these teams is we're creating a space for dialogue It's shifting the paradigm of parents come listen to educators as experts talk, and instead, it's mostly centering the voice of families. And it doesn't cost much money. The only cost really is the food. So most teams, their budget, about 90% of it goes to that dinner.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:20:07]:
Creating that space has been a huge learning for me, and that when we're authentically listening, it's illuminating for a lot of our educators. A lot of our educators are leaving saying, I not only feel uplifted leaving this gathering, but this is the best learning in becoming more culturally responsive, directly listening to families and their experiences. We've had Sheldon parent panels at middle and high schools where parents talk about the barriers, the inequities they've grappled with, and hearing that as a staff and then talking about how do we shift practice has been some of the most powerful professional learning that I've seen emerge in my job, you know, as as thanks to these these teams.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:20:47]:
And sometimes that truth is hard to listen to. You know, when you hear like you said, some of the challenges, like, parents will come and say, hey. Look. My daughter said this happened at school. What are you gonna do about it? What kind of strategies do you have for those listening panels, those those forums that are offered? Because sometimes those conversations that come up, you You you expect all the folks to come in and have all nothing but great praise to give to your school for just the amazing things and work that you're doing, but, you know, that doesn't always happen. Sometimes you have folks that are ready to oh, I we can come out next Thursday and and voice our opinions, and they're ready to go. What are some strategies maybe that you can provide to staff, school leaders when they're getting feedback from families and parents?

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:21:34]:
One initial piece is enough trust and sense of community. The families will actually be candid and honest. And so what we say, you know, the first Gathering of these fed teams, and I think it's across the board is as a school and as educators, we are truly committed to our own growth and learning, and we're only gonna get better from honest feedback. So I I know we just emphasize over and over again, for us to not be hypocrites teaching, but not being open to learning ourselves. We need your honest feedback. And then part of the structure that over hundreds of meetings I've uncovered is some of the keys to building initial psychological safety trust for families so that they not only hear that, but they truly get to see as it's scaffolded. Wow. They value even the tough feedback I'm giving.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:22:23]:
So I think that's a vital part in terms of building the staircase for parents to tell us some of the harder pieces as you mentioned. And then for staff, I think them hearing some praise alongside or right before some of the constructive feedback. So they realize that families do see their good intentions and how hard they're working. Things like the parent panel, what I've seen really be effective is not necessarily parents having to come in person. Often based on work schedules, Our team leaders have recorded that 1 on 1 intimate interview with parents, and then that's compiled. And and so that makes it, you know, easier for them, and that it's not just listening to the parent panel and then moving on with your day as an educator, that the school leader, And in our case, the fed team leaders are crafting a a professional learning experience where there's meaningful questions in small groups or with partners that educators are reflecting on. Like, what are you gonna do to change your practice as a result of what you heard? Or as we often ask after home visits, What is one of your biases that this experience has challenged? So questions like that that really make it clear this is about our growth, not a gotcha or a punitive measure on how you've been conducting yourself as an educator, and that generally educators on these teams build enough rapport with the families that they begin to actually feel hungry for some of that That learning around how can I how can they grow more culture responsive and just more effective at building relationships with all families, not just the families that look

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:23:58]:
like them? Might drop on that one, bro. I like that. Okay. Right. You mentioned it, so I'm gonna I'm gonna throw it out to you because it was on my mind as far as home visits go. I know sometimes Yeah. We often say, well, we can't get the folks here. What is your take on the opposite? Right? What is your take on home visits? How should they be done? Who should be visited? What what is, I guess, what's your perspective in that partnership when it comes to home visits?

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:24:25]:
Yeah. I love the question, Sheldon. Besides these 5 teams, home visits has been in my kinda top 3 of what I do in terms of training our teachers, our principals. So I'll give you a quick answer. If you want more, let me know. But I did not, unfortunately, do home visits as a teacher and principal, and I went to a conference on equity and family partnerships in Nevada and went to a panel at a middle school where Every stakeholder said, this is the most meaningful practice I know of to partner better with families. And then I bumped into a new colleague from Hartford, Connecticut We said we had a grant to do these. I didn't believe in them, but we had the money.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:25:00]:
And I uncovered, Ari, that our educators kept saying Home visits are the best way to build our cultural responsiveness. And so I I went back, started a cohort, and, you know, focused on the purpose and why behind them to really inspire and motivate our educators, then the logistics of the must dos to make it a meaningful visit. And then I added on a 3rd layer, which was, you know, an hour on cultural responsiveness so that we can be showing up for families in a way that's really gonna make them feel It's I feel like we are, you know, in a space, as one of my mentors says around culture responsiveness, open to listen and and be changed by what we hear. So, you know, I would say in terms of key pieces of home visits that that they're voluntary, that families aren't, you know, required to do them. They don't have to be in the home, although I think there's a lot gained from it. And that educators start small. So I often I often say in August, I had to do 5 by Halloween, and I'm doing a training this Thursday at one of our elementary schools, and the ask is do one between January and the end of the school year. And most Colleagues find that when they get their feet wet, it's incredibly rewarding.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:26:10]:
And I just did a home visit 3 weeks ago Where the teacher discovered the Eakins loves doing art, and she now has a pathway to engage him that she didn't know before. And and the teacher and I also discovered he just had a cousin who's 15 moved from Guatemala to the US this past, you know, fall. So we have a a mentor of sorts at home to help them with homework, schoolwork. So so much is illuminated In that 30, 40 minute visit that is just it's powerful. Yeah. And I have memories of ones that have brought me up to my own biases too, and it's it's it's one of the best practices Hands down out there.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:26:50]:
So I see a lot of schools will do the home visits before, like, over the summer. Like, hey. I'm your new teacher Eakins home visits. But you said have some them some of them done before October. So what happens during the school year? What does a home visit look like during the school year?

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:27:04]:
Yeah. Great question. So And and some schools do them early on a burst kind of at the beginning of the year. Also, some of our high schools do neighborhood walks, which are kinda like 5 minute visits just to to get to know their freshman or for the middle schools, their 6th graders. So I think that's a a cousin project like neighborhood walks that's pretty powerful. But with the home visits during the year. It's I think it's vital to distinguish that these are not the Sheldon home visits. These are not the we gotta have a tough conversation.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:27:32]:
So we call them here relationship centered to make that crystal clear. In other parts of our state, they call them voice visits to emphasize. It doesn't have to be in the home. It can be in a coffee shop or a rec center. But the aim is truly to take off your educator hat as much as possible, meet on a human level, talk to the family as if they were, you know, an old friend you're catching up with over coffee. And to to lead with curiosity, and as I say about home visits and comp parent teacher conferences. Let's shift the paradigm. Usually, we talk, like, 75, 85% of the time to make a successful home visit.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:28:08]:
Just be spontaneous and authentic and lead with questions, and then sit back and listen. And I'd say that That's been the heart of what those fall or winter or spring visits look like. It's just 1 student and family at a time getting to know them. And I'll just Briefly, you know, knowing you've got a strong background in special education, one of my early home visits was mind blowing for me where the teacher all I knew was His family was from Jamaica originally, and he was receiving special ed services and had had a tough 5th grade year. We walk into that home, Sheldon. He said, Kyle, I wanna show you guys something. He played us Beethoven on his keyboard that he had taught himself via YouTube, and it just. And then we engaged in a deep conversation around the mom's experience of how Jamaican education was different than US.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:28:54]:
And it just it just was incredibly inspirational and also Led me to encounter what were my biases coming in if, you know, we're gonna talk about challenges and his disability, and it just instead was utterly uplifting. And I learned a lot about education in another country too.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:29:11]:
So was it an IEP meeting or just, just, your traditional home visit?

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:29:16]:
It was a traditional home visit, and it was the first one I had done in in my current school district, and it it just made me a huge believer in the practice. One thing to encourage others to do it, but but in doing it myself, it just was eye opening.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:29:28]:
Got you. Okay. So sounds like very similar to the communication you had Initially talked about as far as having the positive phone calls. We also want to have positive home visits. Because kinda like when you when I hear home visits, I know when I used to do it at my previous school, I mean, the only reason why we would tend to really do it was because we were no attendance, or we wanted to you know, our IEP meetings and things like that that were school related, but not just random, hey. Just wanna touch base how things are going, answering any questions, 1 on 1 type of situation. So I love this method, and it's it's one of those things that I haven't had a lot of conversations with other folks about, but I think it's such a great idea to do. But, again, it does require us to do a little bit of extra work within or outside of our our, I don't know, educational scope.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:30:24]:
What is maybe some responses that you might have for educators who or leaders who are wanting to push these initiatives, but they start to get pushback from teachers. May what's the talking points that you can help our our school leaders in these type of situations?

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:30:40]:
Yeah. The advice I would give to schools and districts is give your educators time for this. I mean, if they can do it after school or on weekends and batch a few visits on a Saturday, then fantastic. But as you know well, our educators across the nation are incredibly overstretched. I've encouraged some schools, Cancel faculty meeting every couple months. Everyone goes out and does home visits with a partner. So that's one way to really make them viable. Another way is to honor teacher time.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:31:07]:
When we launched the cohort, my aim was 20 principals and teachers, ended up being 60 that 1st year. We we paid them $25 a visit to acknowledge this is a part of your professional learning, and it's a key way to I mean, home visits the other thing I should mention, Sheldon, is Flamboyant Foundation DC had this graphic that home visits and positive calls and two way communication where a handful of practices that not only are great for building bridges across differences and more trust with all families, but they lead to more academic learning. And that when I saw that, I thought, okay. Wow. If that's what the research says so that's been a piece of really emphasizing, If we honor you with a little compensation or we build in the time, know that this is not gonna just be fruitful for your professional growth. It's gonna keep you in the practice longer too if you feel closer ties to families. But, yeah, just emphasizing that piece of it It propels that student's learning in a host of ways you can't even predict and makes you a better teacher as you gain insights on the life of your student outside of, you know, the thin And a world of the classroom.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:32:16]:
Yeah. Absolutely. Alright. Well, Ari, I I'd I'd tell you one thing. I've learned a lot just having these conversations. Like I said, L, I asked some of these questions for my own sake. And so I I appreciate you taking the time. Folks, you gotta read the book on the same team, bringing educators and underrepresented families together.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:32:34]:
Ari, I'd love for you to take us home with maybe one final word of advice you wanna provide to our listeners.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:32:39]:
Carving out time to listen to families and pose great questions, that's what, you know, these these family and educator together teams have illuminated, what home visits have eliminated, yeah, listening with an openness to be changed and truly embracing that learner mindset And knowing that our families are hungry to build connections, and sometimes we just have to adapt our our typical ways of doing business with them to, meet them in that sweet spot between.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:33:06]:
Yeah. Love it. And we got some folks that want to connect with you. What's the best way to reach you online?

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:33:11]:
Yeah. So LinkedIn is probably the best way. Just look for me there. Ari Gerzan Kessler. Love kind of back and forth there, and you can also find me on the Solution Tree Website, Solution Tree .com/ari, and, eager to help schools and districts create these teams that have meant so much to both our families and our educators.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:33:31]:
And we will leave links in the show notes, folks. Ari, it has truly, truly been a pleasure. Thank you so much for your time today.

Ari Gerzon-Kessler [00:33:38]:
Thank you. It's been a true joy, Sheldon. I appreciate all you've done over the years to help us as educators

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