The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 178 Transcript
Jennifer Gonzalez, host
GONZALEZ: We’re living in a time in history when awareness of educational inequality has risen to what seems like its highest point ever, and many good resources have emerged to help us attack the problem from multiple angles: anti-bias training, book studies, restorative practices, culturally responsive teaching, improving representation in our classroom materials, the list goes on. Unfortunately, many of these resources only chip away at the problem, and many are only being consumed by individual teachers or served up as one-off trainings whose impact ultimately fades after a period of time. These efforts, while well-intended, often don’t make enough of a difference because we’re trying to make them work inside a system that’s a terrible fit for them.
What’s been missing is a whole-school approach, something that completely shifts our focus and creates a path forward that is radically different from what we’ve done before.
Earlier this year, a book came out that I think fills that void. It’s called Street Data: A Next-Generation Model for Equity, Pedagogy, and School Transformation. Written by Dr. Shane Safir and Dr. Jamila Dugan, the book outlines an approach to school improvement that focuses on a completely different set of data analysis. Instead of looking at grades and test scores, attendance and graduation rates, the Street Data method looks at data from the ground up—where educators and school leaders act as ethnographers to gather stories, artifacts, and observations from the margins, the families, students, and educators themselves. It is not a silver bullet. It is not a quick fix. The Street Data approach is messy, it’s different for every school, and it is never “done.” And in the 25 total years that I have been teaching or teaching about teaching, I have never seen an approach that I thought was more promising.
What you’ll hear in the next forty minutes or so is a conversation with the authors, Shane Safir and Jamila Dugan. We’ll talk about what schools have done historically to address equity gaps, why those efforts have largely failed, and why their approach is far more effective. There’s no way to fully summarize the Street Data approach in one podcast episode, but my goal here is to get you interested enough to learn more. Once you’ve listened, I would urge you to get the book, which I’ll give you links to in the show notes and over on Cult of Pedagogy — just go to the site, click podcast, and choose episode 178. There will also be links to both authors’ websites, where you can learn more about the professional development they offer to schools who are ready to really take this approach seriously.
Before we start I’d like to thank ISTE for sponsoring this episode. Future-proof yourself and your career by becoming a member of the International Society for Technology in Education—ISTE. Joining ISTE’s passionate community of global educators helps you find your network, build your skills and grow your career. Plus, members save on dozens of PD options and ISTE books. Hundreds of thousands of educators have trusted ISTE for relevant professional learning for over 40 years, so you can count on ISTE to provide the gold standard in educator PD. Sign up now at iste.org/membership. Use discount code CULT—press enter to activate it— to save $10 when you join. That’s iste.org/membership.
Support also comes from CommonLit. If you’re an English Language teacher, you’ve probably heard about CommonLit, a digital library of over 2000 reading lessons for grades 3-12. Well, if you already like CommonLit, you’re going to really love CommonLit 360, a brand new comprehensive, knowledge-rich English Language Arts curriculum, now available for grades 6-10. This full-year curriculum is 3 years in the making, and it is awesome – covering reading, writing, speaking and listening, and lots of student-led collaboration. CommonLit 360 is a timely tool, offering a supportive experience for students, and seamless transitions between in-person, remote, and hybrid learning. And best of all, like the rest of CommonLit, the CommonLit 360 is completely free for teachers. Check out CommonLit 360 today at www.commonlit.org and sign up for a free webinar to get a guided tour of the new materials and technology that teachers are raving about.
Now here’s my interview with Jamila Dugan and Shane Safir about Street Data.
GONZALEZ: Shane and Jamila, welcome to the podcast.
SAFIR: Thank you.
DUGAN: Thank you. Glad to be here.
GONZALEZ: So I stopped myself before we started recording because I was already gushing about this book, so I’ll repeat what I said and then continue. When I got your book and started to read it because there was a three-month period between those two times, I just was so excited about it because I feel like we are at a point in history where more teachers than before 2020 are starting to understand that something must be done and what we’ve been doing up to this point in order to achieve equity for our students hasn’t been working. And so I think the desire is there and the awareness is there and yet the tools aren’t quite there. I feel like we’ve got lots and lots of books that people have been reading and different kinds of trainings that have been happening, but there hasn’t been really any kind of a cohesive approach to how do we fix what we’re doing. When I started to read your book, I said, “This is it,” I think. I think a big piece of that is the fact that, and when I say that there’s a huge caveat behind it, which is that people are not going to read this and go, oh, we just do XY and Z and we’re good because that’s Chapter 2. So that is what’s great about it is that it’s kind of mushy and personalized for every single space that people are in for them to figure out. So I start all that just to say that this is why, I want people to know about your book, I want them to know about the PD that you’re doing and to just really take this approach seriously. So for listeners who are not familiar with your work, can you just each take a minute to just tell us a little bit about your background and education.
DUGAN: I’m Dr. Jamila Dugan and first of all, I’m just so excited to be here. I just love your energy. That got me so, I’m hyped for this time together. I’ll just start with where it all began. I was a kindergarten teacher in Washington, D.C., way back. I think what’s important about that is that I started at a school where we were talking all about not meeting adequate yearly progress and got to experience the move from that to becoming an International Baccalaureate school. So I think that was a really powerful place to begin. After teaching, I became a coach for teachers in Oakland, and then later ended up running some teacher development there before transitioning into school leadership. And I again had an amazing experience to be a leader at a Mandarin immersion school in Oakland, California, which was pretty incredible. And got to support developing the first middle school, Mandarin immersion middle school, public, in California. That was great as well. And for the last five years, I’ve been running a principal preparation program in Philadelphia and have just transitioned out of that work to spend time with leaders across this country. I’ve been doing that, and now I’m doing that full time with Shane. That’s a little bit about me.
GONZALEZ: Awesome. Thank you. Okay, Shane, your turn.
SAFIR: Okay, good morning. I am also just so excited to be here and in conversation with you two brilliant women. So I’m a former high school teacher, social studies and English, who came into teaching in just a really different moment in the profession, in the late ‘90s. About five or six years into my career, I became a founding principal of a small school by design in San Francisco Unified called the June Jordan School for Equity, still exists. I was a principal who taught. I taught a class or co-taught almost every semester I was there. And it was really this crossroads moment, I think, in the field where right around the time that No Child Left Behind had become policy and we were running this little public school that was organized around performance-based assessment and advisory and project-based learning and discussion-based seminars. None of that was really in vogue. It was light two years post-NCLB. We actually were sort of pariahs in the district at the time when the district was going after Blackboard Configuration, and these really sort of traditional pedagogies. So anyway, I graduated with our first class of graduates from June Jordan and transitioned into coaching and professional learning, which I’ve been doing since then. First was National Equity Project, and then on my own for almost a decade now, and then slowly growing into this identity as a writer. It’s hard for me to say that, but I’ve written a couple books, one with Jamila in the last few years, and just trying to tell stories of hope and possibility in schools in a time when I think there’s been a lot of hopelessness and despair.
GONZALEZ: Yes, absolutely, and I do think that your message, it’s not only hopeful but it’s practical. All three of us have got a couple things in common because my first teaching job was at White Oak Middle School in Silver Spring, Maryland. So I was very close to D.C., and I was living in D.C. At the time, and that was in the late ‘90s. So my teaching experience spans from ’96 to 2005. So that period of time, I remember it very, very well, when everything was just, so I can’t even imagine that you were in a project-based school at that time when everybody was just looking at data and focusing on how do we raise these text scores. That was pretty much it. So, speaking of that, that’s a really good segue. Before we talk about what you all are proposing in this book, and by the way I haven’t even said the title, although I’m going to say it in my introduction, but it’s called “Street Data: A Next-Generation Model for Equity, Pedagogy, and School Transformation.” And you do have one chapter that was contributed by another author, Carrie Wilson. But the two of you are the bulk of this book. Let’s start by talking about what we have been doing in the past in schools because there certainly has been no lack of effort to try to fix the inequities in our school. It’s just that it hasn’t been working. So how would you describe how we’ve been focusing on data in the past, because you’re using the word data deliberately here, and why has it failed?
SAFIR: Yeah, I’ll start on this one, and then Jamila, feel free to jump in. As I said, I became a teacher before NCLB, and it is this time of a lot of dreaming and possibility, in urban schools in particular. We were really inspired by Deborah Meier’s work, the power of their ideas, by the research that Linda Darling-Hammond was doing at the time about equitable schools and redesign. So there was just all this hopefulness. For me, I think I watched with a really heavy heart and a lot of dissonance as this test and punish era just arrived and began to sort of cast a shadow over the field. What we talk about in the book is, in many ways it feels like the testing paradigm led at the classroom level to a pedagogy of compliance, just a sit and get, sort of drill and kill. But connected to this macro complex around test and punish schools, right. So what we talk about in the book is this idea of satellite data, which is just large-scale metrics like test scores, even things like attendance, that schools are often organizing their improvement efforts around, has led us into this really narrow conversation about what is success? Even about, what does it mean to pursue equity? That conversation is so problematic because it’s typically locating the problem we’re supposed to solve in students and especially in students of color and poor and working-class communities and often in teachers. Rather than having us critique the systems of oppression and inequity that actually shape the kind of outcomes we get. And we’ve been talking a lot, Jamila and I, about how the culture that the satellite data system lives in is a culture of distress, that teachers and principals and districts, we’re chasing, constantly chasing these incremental gains on these narrow measures, and often feeling like failures, like we’re not doing enough. Jamila writes about this beautifully in Chapter 2. And I think for educators who teach predominantly BIPOC students or English-language learners, are just told, you’re missing the mark. You’re missing the mark. You’ve got to do more interventions, you’ve got to find a new pacing guide, you’ve got to find a new off-the-shelf curriculum that’s going to help you close the gap. But we try to argue in this book that the achievement gap itself is a mythology, it’s a distortion, and it’s rooted in a really narrow epistemology or sense of what it means to know. And so that’s what we’re trying to uproot and problematize if you will this idea that the only way we can gauge success is through measurement, classification, categorization. We know that researchers, scholars of color, indigenous researchers have critiqued this way of knowing, called it white research or outsider research. And we have a whole language, especially in the States, around subgroups and dashboards and valid and reliable assessment that comes directly out of this Western way of knowing our framework. We’re here to say, maybe there’s a different way to think about data and knowledge that’s much more expansive and affirming of the brilliance of communities of colors and students and the diversity in our classrooms right now. Jamila, what would you add?
DUGAN: I think that was actually pretty fantastic. I don’t have much to add in this place.
GONZALEZ: So that’s the first, that’s the first shift is anyone coming to this has to start by realizing you’re not talking about raising test scores. You’re not talking about the other metrics that we’ve even been looking at. I think that might not be as hard of a shift for people to make as it used to be because we’re seeing, especially now post-COVID, all of the other sort of social emotional issues that kids are starting to bring to school, and everyone’s thinking, how can we lump this on top of the other stuff we’re already doing? There’s this voice, this whisper that’s sort of like, maybe that could be one of the main things that we’re doing, instead of just always having these other things be accessories —
GONZALEZ: — to this other thing that’s really been the problem all along. So people are not going to find answers in this book to how can you raise your test scores? The first thing is, maybe we need to stop doing that to begin with.
SAFIR: And really change the mark, right?
GONZALEZ: Yes. So meanwhile, speaking of accessories, while we’ve been sitting here year after year, and you paint such a clear picture of a staff looking at test scores, being told again year after year you’re doing it wrong, and everybody just kind of being like, yeah, we don’t actually know why. We’re trying. We’ve done all the test prep you wanted us to do and still nothing’s working. Meanwhile, we’ve been doing all this other stuff to try to address the equity problem and to make our schools more equitable, and we probably are seeing an acceleration of these other things. And so, Jamila takes over this topic in Chapter 2 by talking about equity traps and tropes, these sort of shortcut ways that schools are trying to address equity issues that are not working, and they’re sort of making us feel like, oh good, you’re doing your equity stuff, and we still have the same problems. So, Jamila, can you just sort of explain, you have kind of a long list, so maybe choose a couple of examples. Tell us why these trades and tropes are not effective.
DUGAN: Yeah, thank you for that. I want to just go back really briefly to add onto what Shane said to connect this idea by highlighting what you mentioned around, like, we’re not just trying to solve a thing, solve a problem that can be identified by a teacher’s score. It’s much more holistic.
DUGAN: So in the very beginning of this book and why Chapter 2 is where it is, we were trying to interrogate for ourselves, how do we approach this work? How do we know what we know? Why have we been approaching things in this way? Where does historical context fit into this? How have we been taught to improve? What’s improvement science? All of these things are what we want to bring awareness to at the beginning of the book. And so traps and tropes is just another piece of building awareness. What have we done when we’ve tried to address equity issues before? At the ground level, in school buildings, in classrooms, how have we talked about these issues? What have we actually put in place? What are our systems, our practices that have tried to get at these issues? And so equity has been a buzzword for a long time now, and so we actually just sat down together and talked about what we have seen in the field. I was ranting for sure about my experience as a coach and a leader in schools. This is what happened today, and can you believe this? So it was definitely some ranting, and then discussions with colleagues. The first thing I would say about traps and tropes is it starts with us defining what working toward equity means, and the piece I’ll mention here is that we posit that it’s not a destination. Equity is much more a journey. It’s dynamic. You don’t just achieve equity at a moment. And if you did, you’d be shifting the next moment because it’s a dynamic process. So I can’t just say, all right. We know research says we need more staff of color. So I hire staff of color, then I’m done. Or we know we want to move toward more of a restorative justice, we want to have a restorative justice lens. We want to have restorative practice. So we do a PD on that. Good, we’re done. We do culturally responsive teaching. We’re done. So now we’re equitable. Equity traps and tropes problematizes this, and I’ll just highlight three. There’s 10 of them but three I’m certainly talking a lot about with people now. First, superficial equity. I usually talk about doing equity, but superficial is coming up like crazy right now because so many of us have said, social-emotional learning is important. We want to focus on that. But we’re focusing, in a lot of ways, by doing APD, giving some lesson plan resources and adding it into maybe, you know, an advisory if you’re lucky and maybe 10 minutes as a check-in, right? But we’re not asking what that means across our system school classroom. Why is guiding the practices we decide to pull on? What do we have to reject if we’re going to take on SCL in a really real way? What do we have to accept? There’s a lot of questions related to that that help us penetrate. The second is boomerang. We understand, we’ve had a fundamentally different last year and a half now. And again with the SCL piece, so we need for this to be a huge focus, integral, but because of the test and punish era, we’re focused on learning loss. We want to make sure we get back to those test scores as quick as we possibly can because kids are behind, and when they’re behind, that means they’re not going to do well on the test, and then we’re all going to get a slap on the wrist. And not just a slap on the wrist, there could be big consequences for folks. That’s a boomerang. That’s understanding that we need to do something different, specifically with SCL but then going right back to the focus on test scores. And the last one that I just want everyone to hear and know, I just wrote about it not that long ago, is the equity warrior. We have been making some big changes, hiring more folks of color, especially in leadership positions. But what support is coming with that? We have a lot of new diversity directors, and those are important jobs, but the power that is needed in those roles, I think we have to pay attention to that because we have people we put into positions of power, but then they have positional power and not actual power to lead and make change in their spaces. So those are a few I’m thinking about right now, but they’re rampant all over the place.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. My big goal here is to get people to read your whole book because the rest of that list, I mean I saw, I could think of specific examples in every single one. I just think with a problem like this, people want that, they just say, what can we do? And they know that they already have this other stuff to do, so they’re just like, tell me the thing, I’ll do it, check it off. But I think that’s a part of the boomerang. It’s like, so I can get back to this giant pile of other stuff that’s expected of me.
SAFIR: Right, right.
GONZALEZ: So, okay. Okay. So we’re established now on what we’ve been doing wrong in the past and why it just hasn’t been working. So now is where I would like you to just start to roll out, what is the street data approach? How does it work? And what makes it different from this whole idea of looking just at satellite data?
DUGAN: Yeah, and I’ll kick us off, but I definitely want Shane to add in because this idea of the street data model actually came from “The Listening Leader,” which was Shane’s first book. So there might be some meat in there I might skip over. So Shane, feel free to jump in. Right now, the satellite data model reigns. Shane mentioned it in the beginning, the test scores, the attendance, right? That is paramount. Since we’re focused on these test scores, standards and metrics are based on those test scores. We need standards and metrics that are going to get us there. And those measures are pretty disconnected from our day-to-day, even though we know that kids might need a different set of things more or less, whatever, those standards and metrics align to those tests are basically what rule every single practice that we have. So the ultimate goal is always student achievement, yes, as measured by a test score.
DUGAN: So if we’re saying students are achieving, that means they have a certain score on a certain set of tests, and we typically use certain curriculum standards and metrics to get us to those places. In this model, student work gets skipped over. I can’t tell you the amount of times I go in a classroom going like, oh my gosh, you’re not even looking at the work. You’re just looking at the test.
DUGAN: Student voice is not as important here. Agency is certainly at the bottom of the totem pole. So that’s what we have now. The street data model is the opposite. It flips the entire paradigm. So, you know, standards, those tests might even be helpful in some ways, but the real goal and metrics are centered in agency. And agency really has to be defined by contexts, by our students and families who are on the ground in that specific school, our system, really what they feel like they’re able to do as a result of their school experience out in the world. And in this model, the street data model asked us to not only listen to students and families but to co-define and co-design learning experiences with our families and students as well. So we expand our lens from student achievement being about this test measure to belonging, mastery, advocacy, identity. We design from that place and street data is that place. It’s the voice, it’s the work that comes out of whatever we design with students. And then satellite data really comes as a result of our focus on street data, those day-to-day experiences. And Shane will talk about pedagogy in a second, but we don’t focus on the test score we want to get to. We focus on the day-to-day classroom experience. Just one quick example. We’ve worked with a school in San Francisco, and originally the test score measures showed that African American students weren’t achieving well. And the principal said, I don’t want to use that as a way that we drive toward improvement. I want to go to the source and interview African American students about their experiences in our school, and we call that choosing the margins. So she did empathy interviews with her students, and we did them as well with students. They were really great. And as a result of those interviews, she found out that in the classroom they weren’t even having a chance to talk. They didn’t feel like they were connected to any adults. So there were many things that came out of that, but one was to start doing student-led conferences, to have student experience to drive what parents were learning and what teachers were learning about what students needed and what they learned and what they did well. And they saw heck of literacy gains as a result of taking this more street data approach, listening to students, redesigning some of their learning, and then demonstrations of learning as a result. So it’s an inverted pyramid, I would say, where those test scores are not the goal. It’s the day-to-day classroom and ultimately student agency as the place where we want to focus. Shane, please add in, because I know you have some stuff.
SAFIR: Yeah, I would just add that each chapter in this book has a core stance. This is sort of in the vein of practicality that you mentioned, Jennifer, that we want readers and leaders to walk away feeling like they understand how to orient themselves toward this change model. So the core stance when we introduce street data in Chapter 3 is anti-racism, and the reason for that is that we are very clear that this shift and this model is not neutral. We’re not trying to play a game of sort of neutrality or to say that the history of systemic racism isn’t relevant here. No, it’s very relevant. Jamila talks about that in Chapter 2, and then Chapter 3 we say we have to be explicitly anti-racist as we pursue this path of street data. And we have to be willing to disrupt the narratives and the practices and the biases that are continuing to marginalize students and that begins, as she said, with really deep listening and engagement at the margins of our community.
GONZALEZ: That’s, that’s the piece I want to make sure that everyone listening is clear about before we move to talking about the pedagogy. It’s the collection of this data. The collection of satellite data, the old model, comes from test scores and numbers that we can basically collect almost without the students being present. So the street data model, from what I understood reading it, has to do with much slower, time-consuming, and messy conversations, not just with students but with parents, with community members —
SAFIR: That’s right.
GONZALEZ: — with staff that we don’t typically talk to in the school building with cafeteria workers and the paraprofessionals and people who interact with students all day about what is actually going on in the classrooms. And you’ve got all kinds of open-ended questions about what is the learning experience like for you? What things kind of get in the way? And not even looking necessarily for something specific with these questions, but really having that open lens to just, what can we learn from this?
DUGAN: Can I add something in there? Because a lot of times people, I appreciate you highlighting this time-consuming piece, right, because people highlight that a lot. “Oh my gosh, wouldn’t this take so much time?” But Shane and I think, one of the things we were lucky to experience as educators was project-based learning or International Baccalaureate where a lot of the experience is designed in this street data way, right?
DUGAN: So the opening of units, being that discussion around what kids want to know and what they want to learn and the essential questions they have. That’s already built in, and then designing from there and looking at the work products. Shane talked a lot about the types of work that students can produce to show their learning. So their work, coming naturally from the design we did with the questions that they had. And so it is time-consuming, I would say, in the beginning because it’s such a paradigm shift. But there are places and spaces that lend itself to approaching work, approaching work using the street data model.
GONZALEZ: Okay, let me see if I get what you’re saying. It would be time-consuming, in particular if you’re trying to fit it into the old model of test and test prep and all that other stuff.
SAFIR: There you go.
GONZALEZ: However, and we’re going to get to the pedagogy next, if you’re shifting the way that you’re teaching, there’s plenty of room for all kinds of conversations and listening because the kids have a voice all the time.
SAFIR: That’s right, that’s right, and it’s an orientation. It’s a mindset. The last thing I’ll say on this particular question, this great question you’ve asked is that street data, it’s not just stories. We actually talk about this in the book. There’s this way that qualitative data can be diminished or minimized in its impact and importance by you know like, It’s just an anecdote, it’s just a story. No. Street data is systematic information on student experience.
SAFIR: It’s systematic information on equity, and we really break it down into three sort of domains, which are narrative or story, artifacts, and observations. So there are so many micro-skills of a strong educator that actually sit within those. They sound really simple, but to actually, as Jamila said, analyze a piece of student work with a lot of rigor takes so much skill. To actually sit back and observe what’s happening in your classroom or in a small group discussion or in a teacher collaboration meeting, and to analyze the discourse that’s happening, takes so much skill. Then to listen in ways that are empathic and empowering and promote that agency she mentioned, also highly technical and skillful. So there’s just a lot in there even though in some ways it sounds simple.
GONZALEZ: No. No, no, because what I’m picturing is, I’m picturing sitting around a table with some of the people that I used to teach with, and we were analyzing student work together. But it was really just a whole lot of snark going around that table. “They never read anyway.” And I’m sitting there thinking, we’re not really doing anything deep here.
GONZALEZ: And so if you’ve got a whole school culture that’s kind of used to that, how do those skills even get developed? Is this something where people really kind of need to work with a mentor to train them? Do they need to be doing fishbowl activities where people are watching a discussion? Because I read these parts of the books, but I’m still thinking, in a lot of schools they need training in how this works.
SAFIR: Yeah, no, 100 percent, and you’re also speaking to a later question, which is around the culture building that has to happen.
SAFIR: This is not just a technical shift.
SAFIR: It’s not just, pick up the model and we run with it. It’s really about shifting the culture and the ways that we collaborate, interact, and the ways that we even just talk about students, community, and families.
GONZALEZ: Right. So if a school, and we’re going to get to those other parts, but I want to hold onto the people listening who might already be at the point where they’re just like, well, I don’t even know how, I don’t even know what this looks like. If a school’s going to start working like this, does this start by there being a lot of, in place of where we used to analyze test scores, do we now have a faculty meeting where maybe one question comes up and everyone’s having a conversation, and then teachers then go and interview students and come back and share what they learned? Is it like that? Is that what it looks like? You’re both nodding. Listeners, they’re both just nodding yes.
SAFIR: Yes, yes, and there’s a whole operational cycle in the book, but I’m just thinking about Jamila was just working with one of our partner schools in a nearby district in the Bay Area, and she actually used a protocol, an uncovering protocol from Chapter 8 of the book. And I was so moved looking at the notes, because in having teachers go out in this school, gather street data, listen to students at the margins, bring back that street data and then there’s a piece of it that’s, what feelings came up for you as you heard what students had to say?
GONZALEZ: For you.
SAFIR: Right, for you.
GONZALEZ: And that’s, the teacher emotion I think is a huge piece that we miss all the time.
DUGAN: Huge. Huge piece.
DUGAN: Yeah, yeah.
SAFIR: It’s that mirror work, and people, as Jamila narrated it to me, people got really emotional and really vulnerable just sitting with what students are carrying and experiencing right now. So there’s this dimension around holism, which we speak to in Chapter 1, in Indigenous ways of knowing, and really creating space for the heart work, for the purpose work, and for the kind of somatic, our embodied experience of change that’s really different from just cognitive-only, back to Western ways of knowing.
SAFIR: Like only kind of data, data, classifying.
SAFIR: It’s much more whole human if that makes any sense.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. Yeah. It does. Well, and I’m also thinking about people who don’t like vulnerability, and I’m thinking they’re just like, oh, that sounds like a lot. But that’s where you get the good stuff, and that’s where staff gets bonded, okay. So we’ll get to the culture shift in a minute. Let’s talk for a minute about the pedagogy piece of this because along with the collection of data, you advocate for pedagogical practices that align better with this method. So the ones that I picked up, and tell me if I missed anything, a focus on a pedagogy of voice where students have voice and agency. Performance assessment as opposed to testing when it comes to sort of assessing student learning, and public learning, in particular the adults in the building being public and transparent about the things that they’re learning. So add to that, if I’m missing something, and talk about why these shifts are important.
SAFIR: Yeah. No, those all resonate for sure. The three I would probably pull out from the book are, work around graduate profiles at every level of the system, portraits of graduates that are holistic in nature. Grading for equity, it just makes the cameo in our book, and of course Joe Feldman wrote a brilliant book about that that’s doing really well, and then inquiry-based teaching. Kind of going up a level or to the balcony, if you will, for a second. First, I just want to say this is one of our favorite things to talk about, this pedagogy piece of the book, both of us. It’s nice that Jamila comes from an elementary background. I come from a secondary background, so I think we get to push each other’s thinking around pedagogy too. But at the heart of this book is this guiding principle that equity work is first and foremost pedagogical. That what it means to work toward equity begins and, in some ways, ends in the classroom. And the reason that felt so important to say in this book is that we have noticed coming out of the satellite data era this really strange separation of equity work from instructional work. Like if you do a landscape analysis of consultants in the field, there are like equity experts, and then there’s the instructional experts, and very rarely did the two meet. Maybe culturally responsive teaching would be a bridge.
GONZALEZ: I was thinking Zaretta Hammond is doing it.
SAFIR: Right, exactly.
DUGAN: Zaretta, who is brilliant—
SAFIR: A lot of times you have equity people coming in to teach teachers who don’t know a ton about teaching and learning, or you have instructional initiatives that are not rooted in any kind of equity imperative. We wanted to try to bridge that gap. And so, one of the ways we thought about that was what Jamila referenced before, which is we need to begin by shifting what we are aiming toward, away from test scores and satellite metrics, which are so episodic and so lagging. They don’t really get into your hands as a teacher in any kind of a timely way.
GONZALEZ: Nine months after you’ve taught, yeah.
SAFIR: Exactly. And we need to start measuring what really matters, which is student agency, students’ ability to become agents of their own learning and ultimately agents in the world.
SAFIR: So we unpack this idea of agency in terms of identity, a student’s ability to say, I can see myself here. This idea of belonging, I belong here, I feel seen and loved in this classroom. Mastery, which is typically what we think about when we’re measuring, if I mastered course content and skills. But we’re really talking about mastery around students’ ability to build their own knowledge and to demonstrate their understanding. That’s where we get into the performance-based assessment.
GONZALEZ: Let me ask a question real quick.
SAFIR: Yeah, of course.
GONZALEZ: If somebody were to say, then does your approach just sort of wipe out the entire set of standards and curriculum and just kind of say, meh. Whatever you think is worth learning is, we’re good with that. This is coming from a cynical voice, which I know I’m going to have people listening who will be incredibly cynical. Also, to be fair, people will say, look, there’s some important stuff for kids to know and know how to do. And if they’re going to be too concerned that we’re going too far in this direction of just “Free to be you and me,” everybody’s happy and self-aware and they’re not, they don’t know math. Is there, where do you stand on a defined curriculum in any shape?
SAFIR: Jamila, do you want to take that one, and then I can finish on the agency part?
DUGAN: Yeah, no. I can definitely, because I think about it all the time. This has to work in practice, right? So three things I would say about that. One is if you, if we want to keep the standards that we have, that’s fine, as one piece of the puzzle.
GONZALEZ: Yes, okay.
DUGAN: So when you think about people like Gholdy Muhammad, who we see so many ways that these books coalesce with each other —
DUGAN: — she uses the standards when she develops units as one aspect of what she is developing.
GONZALEZ: That’s right.
DUGAN: One piece of it. It is not the whole pie. Two, okay, let’s say you want to get obsessed about the standards or you really want to focus there, because I know the standards quite well. I know the three shifts. I know the shifts in math and in English. And they’re the same shifts over and over again. So we don’t have to take the entire set of standards and then use this one curriculum as the end all be all. It doesn’t have to be that way.
DUGAN: The third thing I’ll say, again, and this is all pretending I’ll keep the standards, I think we should have a whole new set of standards if you ask me. But let’s just pretend I keep them. Well, we need to design differently because most of the curriculums we use, the ones I can name them for you, they are not designed by folks at the margins, they are not for folks at the margins, and they certainly are not aimed at agency. Belonging, identity, mastery, efficacy, which Shane just talked about, that’s not what those things are focused on.
DUGAN: And I’d go toe-to-toe with anyone that would want to show me that they are. They’re not.
GONZALEZ: I’m thinking about certain things that students still have to study and memorize and know that it’s like, really? Like almost a canon of knowledge that is part of an older system.
SAFIR: Right, right.
GONZALEZ: I think I see where you’re going. So you’re saying, yes, content in general, whatever we want that to be, is a piece of this, but you want to put that on an equal plane with agency and voice and those other things? And also just feeling like they’re valuable human beings in the building that they go to every day, which it’s easy to dismiss that. It’s like, eh, but now we look at all the issues that our kids are having with depression and anxiety and suicide, etc.
DUGAN: That’s right.
SAFIR: I love Jamila’s —
SAFIR: I was going to say I love Jamila’s answer, and I think it’s kind of a fractal answer when you think about it. It’s like, we’re trying to right-size satellite data, so it’s not that we don’t ever want to look at attendance data or graduation rates. I mean, those things have a place, but we’re trying to right-size it so that there’s some sense of balance with more qualitative data.
SAFIR: Similarly at the classroom level, yes, skills and content matter, but that should not be the only thing we’re measuring and paying attention to. If I child is mastering the Common Core standards but they’re struggling with their mental health or they don’t feel a sense of belonging or they don’t want to pursue higher education because their academic identity is fragile, those things matter just as much, and how are we paying attention to that?
GONZALEZ: So before we move onto talking about the culture in the building, let’s just get back for a second to just the pedagogy that you all are recommending, and if you could just maybe bullet that out. What would that look like? Because obviously you go way more in depth in the book.
SAFIR: Yeah, for sure. So really to support this shift from test scores to student agency as the new mark or the primary way we’re thinking about measurement, we have to transform our pedagogy. The way we talk about it in the book is that we then saturated in this pedagogy of compliance. If we go back to Freire’s work from the ‘70s, this is the banking model, depositing information in student’s heads. We are really pushing or inviting folks to consider shifting toward a pedagogy of voice. What would it look like to have our entire pedagogical framework rooted in student voice? And how does that draw on Freire’s work, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings’ work, Dr. Geneva Gay’s work, all these folks who have been writing about culturally responsive education, inquiry-based education for many years. We try to simplify that through six simple rules of a pedagogy of voice, which are things that great teachers do all the time, whether they call them by these names or not. Talking less and smiling more, quoting “Hamilton” there. Just thinking about what’s a classroom and which students are doing the bulk of the thinking and the talking, the oral production, questions over answers. I’ll just highlight a couple of these. Really having an inquiry-based classroom at every level, from the lesson to the essential question to the question that governs a Socratic seminar or lab and open-ended meaty juicy questions. Then I guess the last one I’ll mention here is this idea of making learning public, which is true in our book. It’s an invitation for student and adult learning. That, as you mentioned earlier, we would think about assessment through opportunities for students to publicly demonstrate their knowledge and defend their ideas. This is what we did to June Jordan’s School for Equity. Students had to graduate via portfolio defense. They also had to transition from 10th to 11th grade via a defense. They had to stand and present artifacts of work and response to questions about it. So those things have been around for a while, but we’re trying to elevate them and give them kind of a place in the assessment landscape and a way to think about them in connection with street data.
GONZALEZ: That stuff about the defense, that was just so exciting because I do think about how often kids are just recipients, and a lot of times they’re sitting there just kind of like, oh, I’m going to go Google this later and spit it back at them, and then they learn nothing at all. So to actually have to sort of stand there and talk extemporaneously about what you learned and answer questions and yeah, that’s huge. This would be on a self-directed sort of self-designed kind of a project anyway?
SAFIR: You mean the portfolio defense?
GONZALEZ: The defense, yes.
SAFIR: Well, portfolio defenses, I mean you can develop a system as a district or a school where that’s actually an exit pathway. It’s like a rite of passage. But then what’s beautiful about it is I feel like it actually, it sort of forces curricular and pedagogical change down the chain. So if students are building toward this big moment, then they have to develop artifacts to have in their portfolio —
SAFIR: — which then you begin to plan your curriculum around artifacts, which are street data, as Jamila talked about earlier. And if students are going to have to stand and speak with passion and eloquence about their work, well, they’re going to have opportunities to have a voice in class. It’s not like they can just be silent in class all year and then suddenly they’re standing.
SAFIR: So it actually sort of cultivates with the end in mind, this orientation toward student voice.
DUGAN: And can I just add that I know a lot of people here, Shane described this, and say, well, that’s for high school students or older kids. And kindergartners can do the very same thing. Again, going back to standards, they’re grounded in oral language and kindergartners can learn to describe who they are, their names and the origin story, their community members. All of that builds up to that same high school defense that Shane’s referencing.
DUGAN: So it’s at every single grade level, but it’s really about our orientation, and then the learning experiences we design to help kids get there.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah. I mean I’m thinking about a lot of younger kids that I know and have known, and I think if anybody is thinking that they’re not capable of it, it’s because the school experiences have never been designed to even give them that voice, that opportunity, because they definitely have it. They just aren’t treated like they have it.
GONZALEZ: Thank you for adding that. I think that’s really, really key.
SAFIR: So important.
GONZALEZ: Okay, and so we’re going to leave pedagogy with the caveat that there’s a ton more depth to that than what we’ve been able to touch on. In terms of cultural shifts, and we’ve touched on a little bit of these, but maybe just as a summary. What cultural shifts need to happen in a school to be successful with this model?
SAFIR: I want to lead with the word that came up earlier in our conversation, which was vulnerability, and just name that, making the shift does require some vulnerability, it does require a willingness to look at our practice, to look at our biases, to look at maybe some ways we’ve been entrenched and working and teaching and leading that haven’t served all students well.
SAFIR: But how we talk about the cultural shift is first through the equity transformation cycle. So this is the model, the kind of process tool in the book that helps educators at every level begin with deep listening at the margins of their community and doing that with this mindset of radical inclusion. Radical inclusion meaning that we’re trying to bring to the center to include voices that have been unheard, right, or not valued. And then from that street data that’s gathered, we actually really try to slow folks down to do some uncovering of what’s there. What are the hidden narratives, what are the root causes of inequity that you may not have identified before? How do you understand what’s happening for the student or group of students differently with nuance and subtlety and complexity? And then Jamila referenced this earlier, this really exciting moment where you get to actually reimagine what you’re doing in partnership with the people you listen to. So if you listen, let’s say you do a listening campaign with paraprofessional staff, let’s say security and you gather all this street data and you start to understand some of those root causes, now that the push, the provocation is you can’t design the solution alone. You actually need to bring folks to the table with you and figure out together, how do we get really creative? How do we think outside the existent kind of boxes, the incarceration of the imagination as we talk about in the book?
SAFIR: So that we can finally just be courageous, move with the mindset of courage, do something different, try something that may or may not work, but that at least kind of breaks through the status quo as it exists. So all that takes a lot of vulnerability, and it also takes awareness, which I’m going to ask Jamila to speak to.
DUGAN: Yeah, and Shane mentioned this idea of bringing in paraprofessionals, our security, and we got to watch someone do that in real time, in a session we were doing. They brought their security to the learning session we were in.
DUGAN: He had the best ideas. He had the best ideas because he knew the kids.
SAFIR: That was awesome.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.
DUGAN: He knew the kids. He was sitting there giving high school teachers advice on their instruction, and just was an untapped resource.
DUGAN: Just named it freely and was saying to the teacher and had that vulnerability and was like, what you’re doing isn’t working. I see them every day, and that sounds different, even from a principal.
DUGAN: So it’s a completely different way of being. So anyway, we saw it happen in real time and it was fantastic. And in order to do this, to do this work in a way that’s authentic, we have to consistently build in processes and procedures for our awareness of what we’re doing, what we’ve been doing, what we might fall into. That’s where those traps and tropes come in. It’s not like we’re going to get them to go away, but we have to build a learning culture where we can say out loud the mistakes that we’re making, uncover and discover for ourselves why those are happening, and then re-engage in the transformation cycle. But we’ve got to come back to awareness over and over in a way that’s not about getting in trouble, back to that test and punish. But it’s really about an authentic learning journey, understanding that that’s what working toward equity is.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. That’s, the thought that keeps occurring to me as I’m listening to you talking is that this, the results of this, are going to look different for every single school. So this is not necessarily a program that you all are putting out there —
SAFIR: That’s right.
GONZALEZ: — where everyone just says it’s [inaudible], it’s the process that’s going to be kind of similar for every school, but the end products are going to be unique to the needs of that school, that community and all of those stakeholders.
DUGAN: Imagine if we rolled like that.
GONZALEZ: I know, I know. And it’s time for that because we have tried all the programs.
SAFIR: That’s right. That’s right.
SAFIR: If we actually really invested in the expertise of educators to move in these adoptive ways, to move in these more responsive ways, that would be a game changer.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, and the talent is out there. I mean, I think you mentioned this early in the book about how we’ve got all of these highly trained educators who are basically stuck in this compliance model, and haven’t ever really been able to, and we’re getting this insight from students all the time. But it just, it’s not what we’re doing, so it’s just always sitting there in the margins, basically.
SAFIR: I’m so glad you said that because truthfully, something we didn’t talk about in the book but that I really believe to be true is that we are losing so many educators because of that internal dissonance they experience around this.
SAFIR: Because they know, they want to be about student experience data, they want to reorient in these ways, but they’re caught in this reproductive oppressive system that is robbing them of agency. We’re thinking about agency for educators as well as kids, and we’re losing great people all the time, especially right now.
GONZALEZ: And that’s draining.
GONZALEZ: That is energetically so draining to go into something every single day where you’re having to shut that other stuff out in order to do the stuff that doesn’t really matter and doesn’t really work, and it’s creating more problems.
GONZALEZ: Anything else you wanted to say about culture? We’ve got something on there about —
SAFIR: Please, just a word on warm demander, the last chapter of the book is about becoming a warm demander, and how do we call each other in and up to the work of equity. It’s based on an article that I wrote a couple of years ago for EL Magazine, but I think, I hope people find that compelling because I know folks really struggle to have the kind of day-to-day courageous conversations around equity and racism and bias in their buildings. We’re trying to lay out a framework, an actionable way to do that that is both courageous but also sort of invitational, that invites people to be their best selves, to come back to why they became a teacher, why they joined the profession, and this idea of believing in the impossible, that we can change, all of us can change and grow.
GONZALEZ: That’s a great thought to end on. So if listeners want to learn more from you, where can they find you online?
SAFIR: Probably for me, easiest @ShaneSafir Twitter handle or my website shanesafir.com. I have a newsletter you can sign up for on the website, and I think that you can get for free both, Chapter 1 from both of my books, “Listening Leader” and Jamila and my book, if you just go to the website and log in.
GONZALEZ: Awesome. And Jamila, we are not going to direct people to your Twitter, correct?
DUGAN: We can have people go on Twitter, but they may not find me very often there.
DUGAN: So totally, you can follow me on Twitter, @JamilaDugan, but the best way to really get in contact with me is through my website, jamiladugan.com. And Shane and I are always writing, so you can do a quick Google search and probably find something that we published here and there.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, you know, what’s so funny is that I looked over one of my older newsletters that I just sent out maybe like a month or two ago. I sent people to your article, Jamila. It was the one about the equity traps and tropes.
SAFIR: I mentioned that to Jamila today.
GONZALEZ: And I saw it, and I’m like, oh my gosh, yeah. I hadn’t connected the dots. So that was pretty cool.
GONZALEZ: So thank you both for spending this hour with me, and thank you for writing the book, and I’m going to do whatever I can to push this out. So thank you.
SAFIR: Thank you so much for having us, Jennifer. I really admire your work, and I appreciate the invitation.
DUGAN: Yes, same. Really appreciate it.
To read a summary and transcript of this interview and find a link to the book, visit cultofpedagogy.com, click Podcast, and choose episode 178. To get a weekly email from me about my newest blog posts, podcast episodes, courses and products, sign up for my mailing list at cultofpedagogy.com/subscribe. Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.