The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 120 transcript

Jennifer Gonzalez, host

 

When it comes to improving the way we serve diverse populations, most schools have been throwing a whole lot of stuff against the wall to see what sticks: one-day trainings, book studies, attending sessions at conferences, bringing in speakers. There are a lot of people doing great work in equity, so we use what we find when we find it and squeeze it in with all the other initiatives meant to make our schools better.

If this sounds familiar, you may be starting to feel like this piecemeal approach is lacking cohesion, that even though you and your colleagues have been shifting your practices to some degree, something is missing. Maybe it’s that only some staff members are really on board with the changes, while you’re sensing resistance from others. Or behaviors are changing, but you get the feeling that hearts and minds are not fully present. Or it could be that you’re addressing some equity-related problems, but not in a consistent way across the board.

One school district that found itself in this situation was Broward County Public Schools in Florida, the sixth largest school district in the United States. Broward County encompasses 31 cities and serves nearly 300,000 students from widely diverse backgrounds, representing nearly 200 different languages and cultures. Although the leadership at Broward had always made efforts to meet the needs of its diverse population, they wanted to do something that went deeper.

What they found was Courageous Conversations About Race, an online course that teaches participants how to talk about race in open, honest, and productive ways. The course is built around the idea that one of the biggest barriers to making progress on race-based issues is people’s discomfort with talking about it, so it gives participants the tools they need to have these challenging conversations.

My guests today are David Watkins, Director of Equity and Diversity for Broward County, and Glenn Singleton, who developed the Courageous Conversations program. We’ll talk about why Broward County decided to enroll 300 teachers in the course, how the program works, and the ways teachers have changed since completing it.


Before we get started I’d like to thank Kiddom for sponsoring this episode. Administrators: you spend countless hours designing and revising curriculum to ensure it’s rigorous and standards-aligned. Once it’s out of your hands, how do you measure its effectiveness without having to wait till the end of the school year? And teachers: you spend countless hours contextualizing and individualizing lessons to meet the needs of your students. How do you show off those personal touches to your administrators, especially if they improved student outcomes? With Kiddom, both administrators and teachers gain a set of unique tools designed specifically for them. Kiddom Academy helps school and district leaders build systems of continuous improvement by being able to design, measure, and act on curriculum in real-time across classrooms and schools. And with Kiddom Classroom, teachers can find thousands of free teaching resources, share work with students, and communicate feedback on assignments. With Kiddom, school and district leaders can support the work happening in classrooms in a more effective and timely manner. And most importantly, they can let teachers do what they do best. Want to try it out? Get your 2-week free trial at go.kiddom.co/freetrial

Support also comes from Pear Deck, the tool that helps you supercharge student engagement. With Pear Deck, you can take any Google Slides presentation, add interactive questions or embed websites, and send it to student devices so they can participate in real time while you present. And now Pear Deck has teamed up with Google on Be Internet Awesome, a free digital citizenship curriculum that helps kids learn to be safe, more confident explorers online. Pear Deck educators worked with Google to create interactive presentations that accompany the lessons from Be Internet Awesome. Each one gives teachers a simple way to introduce a concept related to digital literacy. And because they’re editable, they’re easy to tailor to your students’ grade level. The basic version of Pear Deck is free, but my listeners can now get a complimentary 60-day trial of Pear Deck Premium with no credit card required. This will give you access to features like the teacher dashboard, personalized takeaways, and more. To learn more, head to peardeck.com/cultofpedagogy.

The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast is part of the Education Podcast Network. The EPN family now includes 30 different podcasts, and each one is focused on education. One of the newest podcasts on the network is called Leading Equity. Host Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins shares interviews and stories from voices of equity in education today, and supports educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their school. Check out Leading Equity and all of the EPN podcasts at edupodcastnetwork.com.

Now let’s learn about Broward County’s experience with the course, Courageous Conversations About Race. We’ll start by talking with David Watkins, Broward’s Director of Equity and Diversity, about why they felt their district needed to take their equity work to the next level.


WATKINS: You know, our district has always prided itself on being progressive or being innovative, not only with technology but with how we reach our most vulnerable youth. And so the work around the elimination of the school to prison pipeline with looking at discipline disparities or school-related arrests, expulsions, suspensions, looking at how we better address our graduation rate, how we look at increasing the reading readiness for kids by third grade, kids being able to learn to read by third grade and then read to learn after third grade. You know, there’s so many of these initiatives we’ve been doing. But what we found was a lot of pockets of good work, but not a systemic process to make sure that it gets into the hands of teachers across the system as end user. Our largest single ethnic group of students is Haitian descent. Many of our children who are African American by how they present themselves, often their families don’t identify primarily as African American but our representation of their ethnic heritage from their island nation. We have a very large Hispanic community, which is not primarily of Mexican descent, which is how it’s represented in many parts of the country.

GONZALEZ: Right.

WATKINS: Many of our Hispanic students are from South America, other parts of Central America, Cuba being one of our larger groups but not really exclusively a singular nation, but many nations: Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil. A lot of variety in our makeup. So when we looked at our community, our student populations, our families, and then those who are leading the education, what we found was the teachers in the leadership weren’t connecting very well with the community. When we looked at our teaching staff, we still had high numbers of what I would term mainstream American educators. Many of them, many of our educators are from the Northeast Corridor, but they identify as white American, which is our largest teaching group. Many of our black teachers still identify as American-born black teachers. But many of our student populations, and many of the communities that our schools serve don’t identify those two groups as their primary ethnic, racial identifiers. So there were, what we were finding were educators struggling to understand the populations that they were serving and how to apply some of the policies and practices that we were implementing that were good and well intended, but were not well communicated.

GONZALEZ: So this was the pockets of sort of progressive programs that you were putting into place. You found that there was not a sort of philosophical, deep connection that was connecting all of those together, and that’s where you wanted to go to the Courageous Conversations course.

WATKINS: Yes. In 2016 kids were seeing a lot of images through social media, television that were, that had a lot of conversation at the dinner table and a lot of conversation in the courtyard at school and found their way in the classroom, whether it was around racial profiling and police-involved shootings, whether it was the political rhetoric that was taking place, whatever it was, there was a lot of conversation.

GONZALEZ: Yeah.

WATKINS: And educators were struggling with how do they allow this very important rich conversation to take place in their rooms but not make themselves vulnerable to a misstep in communication and potentially cost them their reputation, their job or what have you, whatever fears they had.

GONZALEZ: Right.

WATKINS: So we didn’t want teachers shutting down from allowing kids to have this conversation.

GONZALEZ: Right. And a lot of educators are afraid to even go there at all. They’ll just say, don’t even let it come up at all, right.

WATKINS: Absolutely.

GONZALEZ: So this is teaching them how to conduct those conversations with students and also with each other?

WATKINS: That is correct.

GONZALEZ: Okay, okay.


So Watkins and his team turned to Glenn Singleton, whose book and course, both called Courageous Conversations About Race, help teachers learn to get more comfortable talking about equity specifically through the lens of race. Because the subject matter was going to be tough for many, the leadership at Broward offered all participants a stipend for taking the course, and 300 educators from across the district enrolled.

I talked with Glenn Singleton about the course, the approach they take and how it’s different from a lot of the diversity training that has come before it. We started by talking about resistance—how some teachers feel that they don’t need to be talking about race, either because they don’t personally feel it is a problem for them, or because they believe the population they serve doesn’t need to have that conversation.


SINGLETON: There is institutional, cultural sort of disenfranchisement and resistance to the topic, and to exploring racism and how it impacts student learning. And so I understand that. We are socialized into a society that creates distance for many of us from the topic. Racism is indeed a global, a societal and national issue. And so the question then remains for us, what part of this issue am I going to take on, right? And so rather than seeing this as individually targeted and seeing this as a “my” problem or a “your” problem, it’s an “our” problem. And it’s not until we unite and figure out, you know, what part of this can I engage in, and how, in fact, can I make sure that the racial biases that are throughout our society aren’t finding their way into my own mindset and belief and my own practice?

GONZALEZ: Just as a follow-up to this, I also think that there are some teachers who happen to teach in almost entirely white school districts or largely white. And I have sometimes heard, even with student teachers that I work in, when the question comes up, “How are you addressing diversity in your lesson?” And I’ve seen them write down, “I have all white students, so this isn’t an issue.” So does this conversation also pertain to teachers who are teaching in largely white districts?

SINGLETON: Absolutely. And, you know, the first part of the question of how oftentimes white educators feel a bit of resentment that they have to explore these issues or are called to explore these issues. What I hope for in all of our students generations down the road is that they don’t have to have these conversations anymore. And that’s going to be only possible if, in fact, we invite our white students to understand how race impacts their experience and to be very clear that white is a race. And so when we’re talking about race, we’re talking about the full spectrum of racial identity. That includes and is the majority white. And when we talk about racism, then we’re talking about that system of oppression and that experience that people of color often call out, because they are targeted by the racial injustice. And so to understand how this all works, we all need to participate and it’s probably most important that the all-white classroom also develops some will, some skill and knowledge as well as a capacity to be able to investigate, examine and understand how race has played out historically, how race plays out today, and what those sort of vestiges are that find their way into each and every one of us in the classroom as well as throughout the community.

GONZALEZ: There’s um, one of the things that I was reading in your book early on had to do with typical responses to this idea that we do have a racial problem in schools which is that if we start by noticing that black, brown and indigenous students tend to underperform in a lot of cases, a lot of teachers will immediately respond to that by saying, well, it’s an economic issue, it is a poverty issue, it’s a cultural issue, it’s got nothing to do with race. And so, and I may be jumping ahead to one of the agreements of your training. But I feel like that may be something we should sort of nail down early on.

SINGLETON: Absolutely.

GONZALEZ: Sort of the question of why race and not all of these other things.

SINGLETON: Right. And it’s not really why race versus those other things. It would be unusual and I frankly I’ve never heard a person say, “This has nothing to do with economics,” right? And so the corollary of how we can say, “It has nothing to do with race,” proposes a real interesting place to begin this conversation. What happens with race is that disparity exists across all economic demographics. And so there is a racial disparity appearing not only in the poorest student groups and among those students, but there’s also a gap that appears in the highest economic band. And so this racial disparity does not go away just because we are higher educated or we are more resourced economically. It permeates society at all economic levels, and so it shows up, it appears differently, but it’s still present.

I like to say always that, you know, when people of color go off to medical school, they experience racism that’s inherent in the medical school curriculum, and they experience a system that has not been equipped and accustomed to seeing people of color in the role of medical students let alone in the role of physicians. And so these people of color who are now college graduates and have earned admission into some of the best, most prestigious medical schools still have to fight an institutional and societal barrier that just because of the history where people of color were not invited into these trades and professions and so forth, they have to continue to prove that they belong there. They are often not seeing doctors and mentors and so forth that look like them, and they will then once they become physicians continue to speak of many times patients not wanting to have doctors who are people of color.

GONZALEZ: So let’s talk about how schools have tried to solve this problem in the past. Many schools have attempted to address the issue, especially since No Child Left Behind, that they know that they have to do something, and they have attempted to hire in companies or have diversity trainings. But a lot of times these tend to fail in terms of achieving any meaningful results. Why, why do you think that is?

SINGLETON: Yeah, well as a person who really came into this work through that more traditional mechanism of providing a broad scale diversity training, I think that the first reason that diversity training tends not to work in its traditional form is that we don’t address the why upfront. And so people, and in this case teachers, don’t necessarily understand why they’re engaging in a kind of training that is to help them to understand how difference plays out, what differences are, and why understanding that actually improves their productivity and their work. And so that why is something that we tend to skip over. It’s kind of an arrogance in the curriculum and approach if you will, and what you noticed in my book is I put the why upfront.

GONZALEZ: Yeah.

SINGLETON: And you got to explain the things that sometimes we sort of take for granted and believe that people already understand. We’ve got to get more basic, and we’ve got to do it in a way that does not diminish or insult the intelligence of the audience. Teachers are very smart people, right? But what this is saying, essentially then too is that it’s not just an exploration of the why and the what, but at some point in this development, folks need to be equipped with skills. They need to be equipped with tools that will help them to do their job more effectively and they can see the results.

And so when we begin to work with people and we work with them not only at the why level and then we give them the tools and skills level, but the unique part of the work that we’ve been doing is that we have developed a way of helping educators to examine their beliefs. And with this understanding that beliefs drive behaviors, which determine results. If in fact we don’t give educators a safe place with time and attention to examine those beliefs, the many behaviors that are connected to a single belief, one belief, “race doesn’t matter,” will play out in so many ways in the classroom daily. And so when we can examine that belief with the educator and allow that educator to actually transform that belief, that’s when behaviors are transformed, that’s when results are transformed.

And so this process is necessarily a more comprehensive process than traditional diversity, development and professional learning has taken shape. And this whole idea of allowing educators to get at beliefs and to transform those beliefs, and then give educators license and permission to look at new ways of exercising those beliefs in the classroom through their curriculum instruction, and assessment practices, that’s been the goal.

GONZALEZ: Okay. And we’re going to be getting into, in actually in just a few minutes some of the specifics of the way that you actually make that happen. So before we leave the topic of other typical diversity trainings, is there anything you can think of sort of off the top of your head that you’ve seen or maybe even in an earlier life of yours you even delivered this as part of those types of trainings that is just a real typical feature that just does not have any impact at all, but we see it all the time in these kinds of diversity trainings?

SINGLETON: Absolutely. Sometimes there is such a desire to have people sort of coalesce at the end of this experience and kind of have the, it’s been cliche called the Kumbaya moment, right?

GONZALEZ: Yeah.

SINGLETON: Unfortunately, that is synonymous with this idea of “let’s agree to disagree,” right? And the problem with this when we start talking about identity and diversity and equity and inclusion is that we have these discussions and we are focused on this kind of professional learning and development because we’re really talking about systems of power. And if we don’t interrogate and dislodge those systems of power that are inequitable right now, an agreement to disagree leaves that in place. And though sometimes the desire to get to the warm and fuzzy moment is in fact our greatest liability. It’s what causes us to not get at the imbalance that’s playing out every single day in that interaction between teachers and students.

GONZALEZ: You know when I think about sitting at these types of trainings, to me there’s a very strong sense in the room that there are right things to say and that there are wrong things to say. And most of the people in the room, particularly the white people in the room, look terrified to say the wrong thing and so there’s almost like a script that everyone follows of saying all the right things and everyone walks out with the Kumbaya moment behind them and then they end up going off into their pockets saying, you know, “I can’t believe we had to do this.” You know, then they really talk about what they really think. And to me, you know, the title of your whole program, of Courageous Conversations, what you’re really pushing for here is that we need to be saying what we’re really thinking and be having those uncomfortable moments in the training, and the training in and of itself shouldn’t just be a two-hour thing that we’re doing anyways. This is an ongoing process. Is that, am I getting that right?

SINGLETON: You are, you are. You’re right on. And you know, when I’m approaching a group and the foundation work that we do, the first training that I wrote in 1995, which we’re still doing all over the world beyond diversity, I have to indicate to people that we actually have to have a greater desire to be effective than to be right. And so, you know, the safety that people have allowed themselves to feel knowing that they don’t know what to say that’s proper, perhaps that’s not offensive.

GONZALEZ: Yeah.

SINGLETON: What we want to do is we want to trade that in, right, and say that in this professional learning setting, it’s absolutely okay to step into that place where you really don’t understand. And any conversation that you are withholding, that you believe you need to have as a sidebar out in the parking lot, etc., I want you to question why you are not willing to have that conversation in the forum for learning. And I want you to also think about this from the mindset of your students, because if students functioned that way in school, they’d never learn. They don’t come in understanding the chronology, if you will, of the Civil War or of any kind of biological or mathematical theorem and experience that they’re learning. They have to ask questions, and more than likely those questions are going to reveal their ignorance.

GONZALEZ: Right.

SINGLETON: And they are allowed to be ignorant, because they have not yet learned. And so if we can accept then that there is nowhere in the development of teacher preparation that our educators have actually learned how to be effective in negotiating race, understanding racism and looking at how that applies to their daily lives, then we have to give them that experience. And yes, indeed, it’s a problem that this is the first time that they’re getting that experience while they’re in practice. But we’ve got to do it better late than never, because our students require this.

GONZALEZ: So what is the core structure of Courageous Conversations About Race in terms of what are people actually learning to do?

SINGLETON: So, you know, the first part, which we’ve talked about, Jennifer, is, it is creating that foundational understanding. It’s giving the why, you know. So we don’t propose that educators who come into Beyond Diversity training face-to-face or who take Courageous Conversation online through PCG actually have that sense of why are you compelled? Why are you sitting here or why have you been asked to engage in this work? The next key piece of this is to give the educator a tool, and so Courageous Conversation is a protocol for having an interracial and intraracial conversation about race. And so that tool enables educators to start at the personal space where their highest level of expertise exists, and our theory of transformation here is that when we actually are transformed in our beliefs and behaviors at the personal level, we take those transformations into our work. And so having educators go through a personal journey using the protocol to unpack their own experiences, their own understandings, and, frankly, their own lack of understandings about race, then enables them at the end of the course to apply those understandings to what they are expert in, which is their classroom practice, or their counseling practice, or their other aspect of administration or teaching in the system.

GONZALEZ: So this is the reason it’s 50 hours and not just a two- to three-hour PD after school, because that process is not simple. It’s not necessarily linear. And it’s also, it can be emotional.

SINGLETON: Absolutely. And not only is it emotional, but one of those tools that we’re providing for the educator is the tool that allows them to engage with the topic of race, not only from the place of feeling, but from the place of believing, the place of thinking, and the place of acting. And that’s called the Courageous Conversation Compass. And so with that, we are inviting educators to bring their whole selves into an understanding of race, and then utilize their whole selves to engage in their practice at the classroom level.

GONZALEZ: One of the ways that you, that you do this, a big, big key piece of the protocol is what you call the four agreements of Courageous Conversations. Could we review those quickly so people have some idea of —

SINGLETON: Absolutely. Absolutely. And so just to sort of couch it first in a frame, I’ve said, you know, Courageous Conversation is a protocol for being able to engage, sustain, and deepen intraracial and interracial conversations about race. And so in it we’re using three tools: the compass, the agreement, and the conditions. And we are progressing the conversation at three levels: how you start it, how you hold onto it, and how you take the conversation to a place where the conversation in and of itself is an act of transformation. And so the agreements then are sort of the rules of engagement, and there are four of them. The first is that we stay engaged in the conversation. It recognizes essentially that in our society, we have given permission to disengage from this conversation. And so if we hold ourselves in the conversation and very specifically if we hold ourselves in a holistic way in the conversation, those are the four aspects of the compass. So Jennifer, when I have this conversation with you at the personal level, which is that engagement point, I am going to bring to you not only my thinking about race, but I’m going to bring to you my beliefs about race, my feelings about race, and how I’m called into relationship with the topic, my acting around race. The second is that I am going to experience discomfort, and that discomfort arises because the inception of race, the beginning of race was not such a beautiful moment in the human trajectory, okay. Race is a social construction. It was made up. It was not made up for good reasons. It formed a hierarchy of people around an artificial idea. And so when we discover how that’s become implanted in the way we think, believe, feel, and act, there is some turmoil as we do that self discovery. And therefore we have to get good at being uncomfortable. And rather than trying to exercise an inauthentic piece which has been the traditional diversity challenge, diversity training challenge, we’re actually building the educator’s capacity to stay engaged as it becomes uncomfortable, to raise my capacity to be uncomfortable. We call that productive disequilibrium. The third is to speak our truth, right, or to speak your truth, essentially, my truth, and we come to this conversation with a willingness to share what’s real for us. And even if what’s real for us is not what’s real for others or what’s real in the macro, the global, throughout the whole district, we need to start from a place of what makes sense to me, and that’s the initial conversation. And then the final agreement to expect and accept non-closure, and that is that we can’t have educators frustrated because they can’t fix it, tie it up in a bow, and have it done, right? It’s something that is still persistent in our society even as Broward makes these tremendous leaps forward in terms of addressing race and having educators who have this agility with the topic. There is still a challenge that we’re facing at the larger level, and so we need to be able to stay engaged, even though the final solution isn’t yet in sight.

GONZALEZ: One of the insights that I gained, or something that was kind of an epiphany for me in reading about that discomfort is that I often think of it in terms of the white experience, that I know a lot of white people want to push away conversations about race. They say those conversations just divide us. And one of the things that I saw repeated in the discussion of discomfort in your book was that there is a lot of personal risk and discomfort for educators of color in these conversations too. There’s the risk of looking angry or — if you can talk a little bit about that too, about that discomfort from that perspective.

SINGLETON: Yeah, well the first thing is I think that sometimes when we get to this particular agreement, we tend to focus on how white people, and in this case white educators, experience that discomfort. And when we fail to see that the discomfort is universal, okay. It’s universal and it’s sometimes from, you know, these different directions. That is to say that earlier in the podcast we were talking about how, you know, white educators might experience some discomfort, because they don’t know what to say. There’s a kind of ignorance around the topic, right? And so the appearance of being ignorant is sometimes, you know, more uncomfortable for white educators than actually being ignorant. And that has to be grappled with. And they have to actually work through it to discover that the enlightenment is where the healing comes.

GONZALEZ: Right.

SINGLETON: And so this whole building of capacity to be comfortable with discomfort is critical. Sometimes white educators also mistake safety, a lack of safety for the discomfort that they feel, right? And what I like to say always is that folks have not come into Courageous Conversation and been harmed the way that racism harms people, okay. What has happened is that you just touch into these places of discomfort because you discover that you are not immune from the perpetuation of racism or the internalization of racism. And so when we start to also understand that people of color are very uncomfortable as well, because we have been trained in society to withhold our truth. And to withhold our truth about racial injustice for this piece that people feel in their ignorance.

GONZALEZ: Yeah.

SINGLETON: And so this, you know, and you can think of the mantra that we were taught, ignorance is bliss, you know, well it’s not bliss for everyone, you know. It’s actually quite destructive and debilitating, you know. And it leads to these outcomes that we see in education when people are resting in blissful ignorance.

GONZALEZ: So for people to get a, just a general sense of what the training looks like, you’re basically, you’re leading people sort of progressively through different conversations using these different agreements and protocols that are set up, that keep them in the room and really it’s not that they finish this with, okay, now I know exactly what to do. It’s more that the value is in having those conversations, raising awareness, and having a set of communication tools in order to continue basically that work beyond the training.

SINGLETON: Absolutely. We, we have been trained to not see race and racism, and we have been trained to not talk about it when we see it. And so we are actually providing two aspects here, which I believe are critical. One is we have to raise consciousness, and two we have to offer healing. Because when people come to understand, when there’s no longer ignorance, ignorance whether it’s about the topic and how I connect to the topic or how to negotiate and have the conversation. People of color across the country and around the world may have high levels of understanding about what is race and racism, but have not developed a way of communicating that effectively where the person that they’re talking to, particularly the person who does not share their racial identity, is actually able to stay in the conversation. And so, you know, we see the tools as the healing aspect, and the revealing of how race plays out from the personal level is the consciousness-raising piece. And so that is, you know, what’s going on in this training, and it is step-by-step, it is carefully engineered so that wherever you enter is perfect, and everyone is entering from their own place. You’re not in this training to reference yourself to another person or another group of people. You are referencing yourself from where you begin to where you end. And if you can experience growth and understanding, consciousness and healing, as you make that progression, that’s what enables you to develop the high level of efficacy to transform your practice in the classroom. And so that’s what you’re seeing now in Broward, and this is the exciting part of this work. It is, you know, this revelation that, you know, I actually am connected to this topic, my connection is not something that needs to be debilitating, something that needs to be shameful. It’s something that I can actually grow through and as I’m doing that, I actually discover myself in a way that I’d rather be than how I was. And this to me is, you know, what makes my work, I think, the best work in the world, because I watch human transformation happen in a relatively short period of time around a topic that so many believe is intractable, you just can’t do anything about it.


The course is comprised of readings, online videos, personal coaching, and online discussions where participants dig into these challenging topics. Watkins says this combination of factors really helps educators take the risks that are necessary to grow.


WATKINS: You know, there’s coaches, and there’s some modeling. There’s the group chats, so they present the scenarios, and then staff and they go into expressing their thoughts, their feelings, their experiences, and there’s a dialogue that takes place online, and I find, you know, it’s pretty interesting that you can do this as an online platform as opposed to exclusively doing it in person.

GONZALEZ: Yeah.

WATKINS: And it was interesting, because we actually found that the conversations were more authentic. And unfortunately, and I say this as I, because social media has created a platform for people to say things they wouldn’t say in public, it meant that it also gave the online user the safety of saying something that they may not say in front of others. So we really got honest feedback, we felt —

GONZALEZ: Yeah.

WATKINS: — from the participants.

GONZALEZ: Were they talking, when you say “online conversations,” are you talking sort of like a message board or like Skype, like video chat?

WATKINS: No, like through a message board, like through the conversations of messaging.

GONZALEZ: So it’s written conversations?

WATKINS: Yes, written conversations. And there is some components where you have the coach and facilitator to come on. We do videos, so there’s video components of the work, and so you’re look at that as well. There are articles that you’re responding to that push your thoughts, challenge your thinking. And so the resources through Pacific Consulting Education have been phenomenal because, you know, people always ask that question, well how can you do this in a relatively short amount of time, but also how can you make it engaging? And one of the things that we found very enriching is you have all of the articles and resources already there for you, and then you have the coaching who kind of help guide you through the conversations and really forces you to really be descriptive and thorough in your expression. I mean they really provide the guidance in how you present protocols to groups and for yourself, even among your friends.

GONZALEZ: Right, right.


So how did things go? Since the first wave of educators completed the course, both Watkins and Singleton have seen impressive results. Not only did cohort members give overwhelmingly positive feedback, they demonstrated big shifts in mindset. Here’s David Watkins again.


WATKINS: Out of 300 people, we only had three people who did not complete the course.

GONZALEZ: Wow.

WATKINS: When we did the surveys of how they felt about the course, we struggled to find anyone critical of, from their feedback. They all just gave a glowing review. They believed that this was something that they’d been waiting for, that this, having this type of online experience and addressing something that’s been this taboo and giving themselves, equipping them with the tools, the resources to better communicate with their own students, they felt like was something they had not seen before. In addition to that, the belief that it was, they were leading this and this, they felt that, you know, they were leading this work and so you had teachers deciding to go back and get their master’s or their doctorate in some related field. You had a lot of teachers who said, you know what? I was thinking about leaving education. Now I’m actually thinking about not only staying, but doing something more impactful. We saw teachers see themselves now as equity, I’m using the word “warriors,” but when I started looking at the signatures of a lot of the teachers who had gone through the course, they put “equity liaison” as their signature, you know, as they identify what they do. And what it began to do for them was they then become the point person in their school as the go-to person to, for school leadership and for colleagues to ask questions, to facilitate conversation, experiences, opportunities related to what they learned through the course.

GONZALEZ: Yeah.

WATKINS: So now they were being asked to facilitate professional learning that, from the learning that they gained to their entire faculty.

GONZALEZ: Wow.

WATKINS: Along with that work, the teachers had wraparound support while they were taking this class in culturally responsive teaching and foundations of equity that we were doing at the school level, at the district level, so we were providing information and training around some of those components as well as reorienting them to our school discipline matrix. We were reorienting them to our students with disabilities and our English language learners, because many what we learned, so now that they’re becoming more self aware and more locked into what happens not only in their classroom with their kids but in their school as a whole, they were coming back to us going, you know, I realized that we have x-number, we have all of these students that don’t speak English as a first language, and when I started asking what type of strategies are we using in these different classes, no one could answer that question. And so now they’re talking about it from an equity issue. We also began to talk about the history of the communities where they live. I told you earlier about where many of our teachers that are teaching in our system come from the Northeast Corridor or they’re, they’re not from the community where they are working.

GONZALEZ: Right.

WATKINS: And we began to do more work now around the history of those communities, and there are lots of surprises for our educators, and that they began to make connections about why certain communities were disengaged or why other communities were particularly passionate about something that you might think is pedestrian like the name of the school. And now we’re able to better articulate, but also give context and have the conversations that are not threatening, aren’t divisive —

GONZALEZ: Yeah.

WATKINS: — and make people feel safe, because for many of the communities that aren’t, we’re a large urban school district, so being in a large urban district, there’s a lot of distrust for our system —

GONZALEZ: Yeah.

WATKINS: — that comes with a lot of suspicion because of people’s personal experiences or what they’ve observed historically. And I’m not talking just people in their 30s or 40s who remember high school or middle school or even elementary, but I’m talking about some of our folks who’ve been in Broward County since the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s.

GONZALEZ: Yeah.

WATKINS: Those people are still living, and those folks can influence how they feel about the schools that serve their children, their grandchildren.

GONZALEZ: But your current staff of teachers might not have ever learned about that had they not been through this type of training where they can get comfortable asking those questions and be open to hearing those stories.

WATKINS: Correct.

GONZALEZ: And so that just builds a completely different foundation for the whole community.

WATKINS: That’s correct.

GONZALEZ: Yeah.

WATKINS: So that’s what this course does. The course really just opens the dialogue.

GONZALEZ: Right, right, right.

WATKINS: It makes people feel comfortable.


I’d like to give a big thank you to David Watkins and Glenn Singleton for taking the time to share their experiences with us here. If your school or district would like to learn more about the course, start by visiting courageousconversation.com. From there you can contact the team and they can talk with you about where to get started. For links to the Courageous Conversations book and all the other  resources mentioned in this podcast visit cultofpedagogy.com, click podcast, and choose episode 120. To get a weekly email from me about my newest blog posts, podcast episodes, and products, sign up for my mailing list at cultofpedagogy.com/subscribe. Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.