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152. Creating a Culture of Learning for Justice

by Lindsay Lyons
February 27th 2024

In today's solo episode, Lindsay is sharing how we can create a culture of learning for justice for students and teachers. Hope you enjoy!



Educational justice coach, Lindsay Lyons, and here on the time for Teacher podcast, we learn how to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice design curricula grounded in student voice and build capacity for shared leadership. I'm a former teacher leader turned instructional coach. I'm striving to live a life full of learning, running, baking, traveling, and parenting because we can be rockstar educators and be full human beings if you're a principal assistant superintendent, curriculum director, instructional coach or teacher who enjoys nering out about core curriculum of students. I made this show for you. Here we go. Welcome to episode 152 of the time for teacher podcast. Today, we're talking about creating a culture of learning for justice. So in this episode, we're really exploring a mindset shift and this is for when you feel like you just can't move forward because maybe you don't have all the answers. If you are feeling stuck, have a sense of imposter syndrome or you're fearful of making a misstep because you of course, don't know everything there is to know. This episode will give you an action plan.

So not just the mindset shift, but an action plan as well for addressing those challenges. Here we go. All right. So let's talk about creating a culture of learning for justice. So, first of all, there's a lot of research on the value of and the organization of learning communities. So you may call a learning community A PLC or professional learning community. You might talk about communities of practice. You might have these already set up in your school in different ways. There's a lot of legitimacy to them. Uh Typically they pursue a common goal. They include kind of a either distributed quote unquote leadership approach or what I like to call a shared leadership approach, which typically is more inclusive, primarily were inclusive of students ongoing data collection and analysis and also really uh emphasis on learning in partnership with one another, both from your failures and your successes, right? So there's this just culture of learning in these communities kind of inherent in them. Now, John Hattie's work is another piece that I often reference. The number one largest impact on student learning from his research of over 250 influential factors is collective teacher efficacy or CTE for short, we know that this idea of CTE or collective teacher advocacy is highly impactful for a student learning more than anything else.

And so this idea of being able to figure it out as the team, as a collective, as a community, knowing that we will do right by our students, we will achieve our goal because we are a collective who learn from one another and we could do this together. That's what I would like to bring, not just to those staff level committees, but beyond teacher teams. Beyond those school leadership teams, beyond all the things that already have the PLC set up, we also bring them to spaces that are majority student spaces. This could be classrooms, this could be student groups that are working on a project within the classroom. This could be student groups that exist in extracurricular or after school activities, uh sports teams, you know, whatever space that it's primarily students numerically who make up the the group itself. Now, I also want to copy out here that I often talk about shared leadership and the structures of shared leadership, which of course we will touch on in today's episode. Typically those to do right by students to really shift the dynamics towards justice and bring in historically marginalized groups which are typically students, they're not usually at that level of leadership.

We actually do want to have an equal number, if not a slight majority number of students in student adults, mixed groups. Just because if we have a token student or we have fewer students because of that historical imbalance of power, the students are often feeling like they're silenced and they're not speaking up and they don't feel like they um are are truly on equal footing or in true partnership. With the adults. So with that caveat, I will say, let's try to think now about what this looks like, like how do we create this culture of learning in pursuit of justice in our spaces in our communities? So I think the first step is recognizing as the leader that you literally cannot do this alone. So the answers to adaptive challenges, which are the ones we usually struggle with. Right? I've talked a lot about adaptive challenges on the podcast before. Feel free to go listen to a prior episode if this is your first episode. But adaptive challenges, the ones we struggled with the longest we've been trying for years for decades to solve this problem to address this problem.

And we're not getting anywhere right. Then it's probably adaptive. It's connected to the hearts and minds, the beliefs, the long standing values that we hold and are clashing around. Technical challenges are OK. We're going to implement this new curriculum. I, you know, we, here we go, you're gonna study, you're gonna go to three PD days and study this math curriculum. And for the most part you're gonna be good. Now, there may be adaptive challenges in a curriculum implementation. But technical challenges are most likely fixed by like a quick fix. You know, the answer you just have to do it and move forward. Adaptive challenges are often cultural in nature, there is a cultural shift that needs to be made and what adaptive leadership scholars say is that you as one individual person cannot solve it by nature, these adaptive challenges must be solved in community, in partnership with other folks in your space. So you literally can't do it alone, right? If you're listening to something about leading through change or solving a long standing problem, it's the depth of a nature, you can't do it alone. Move on to step two. So what is step two, step two is form, power sharing structures and processes?

I've talked a lot about this at the school level. So I'll review that a little bit. But then I also want to talk about this at the class level. So teachers in partnership with students and then also at the peer group level. Now this could be teacher teams. I think we often have a lot of processes for these. So, so feel free if that's aligned to your role. So tune into that piece if it's not, and you're more thinking about supporting teachers and their instructional spaces at the classroom level, you might be thinking of peer groups like students or perhaps your role or you're in a supportive role for a person who's in a role that supports student groups holistically throughout the school. Then definitely kind of put on that hat. So let's first talk about the school level. We want to bring students and teachers together to lead uh in in the form of school committees. So this might be a literal school leadership team, but it could also be like our curriculum committee, it could be our grading committee. Um your your grade teams which are typically made up of teachers that teach in that grade. What about the students from that grade? Can they be on those committees? Then once you bring them into the literal structure, they are equal members of this committee, clarify the decision making processes for each type of decision that that group will make.

So for decisions that will be made collaboratively, there's not all of your decisions that are gonna be made by the whole group, getting feedback from every student who that group represents. So if grade 10 is going to make a decision that impacts all of grade 10, you know, you may decide, hey, we're gonna get feedback from all of our students before we make a concrete decision, uh we might do a couple feedback loops. So we get their first round of feedback, we put together two proposals, we have them vote on it and we clarify, you know, we're going with the majority vote rules or we're saying, you know, every student has to be able to live with this. This is a massive decision. You know, we're gonna uh do consensus voting. And so anyone who doesn't reach a three out of five, they have not reached consensus and we need to do another round of feedback, right? So you have to get really specific on which decisions go out to everyone for a vote or consensus or however you're making the decision and how that decision is decided. Now, there are some that are gonna be really minor. So for example, it might be, we are taking a field trip and we know that the students want to go.

We've already had the discussions about wanting to go. Now, we just have to like literally hit the date. And so we're gonna look at the school calendar as that grade team level community and we're gonna just choose the date and you know, hope it works for most kids because it can't work for every kid probably right or something like that. That might be actually something that you do throw back to the students. But you want to be specific, which types of decisions are things that are going to be made on the committee and which types of the decisions go to everyone. And what does that feedback loop look like? So that's something that you want to, to think about when you're talking about a school leadership, an example might be um that options for a major overhaul of a school policy are going to be first created by the leadership team, then shared with grade team committees. Then the grade team committees might share with all of the students and staff in that grade, gather a bunch of feedback, share that data back with the leadership team. And then the leadership team does maybe another round of that feedback loop. So they share, here's like a draft final plan. Let's get approval via consensus voting.

If we don't have consensus, then, you know, we're gonna move forward now, um move forward, sorry with the next loop. Now that probably that type of decision that does that level of detail and round the feedback is probably gonna be something that affects every student in a pretty monumental way. So it might be like we're shifting the grading policy or we're shifting some sort of thing that that every single student is going to be affected by. So again, you just wanna lay those out. There are other episodes where I've done a lot of deep dives on what this looks like. Uh The different things to consider the challenges of doing something like this, especially if right now you're very uh a top down organization and also different school and district level kind of examples of what this looks like or could look like at the various tiers like elementary, middle high school district level. So I'll link to that in the blog post for today. Now, at the class level, this could look like teachers just identifying regular opportunities to gather feedback from their students asking really simple things. It does not have to be a very long list of questions you ask and you can ask the questions in a variety of formats.

This could be a a Google form, this could be a whole class discussion that takes up a full class period or, or time. Um ask things like what is working for you as an individual, what is not working and what ideas do you have for me for change, right? It puts you as the teacher in a leadership position um that the students need to acknowledge, right? That, that you are in that leadership position and you ultimately have the final say, but you are willing to learn from them and that they have a role in really co creating what happens next. So if you have a teacher who's really excited to kind of do this work, this is probably going to be an easy lift. Um It's just a matter of like figuring out where this kind of fits in with like all the curriculum. If you have a teacher who's resistant to doing this, we might take some smaller steps uh like it might be at the end of each unit versus at the end of each week or the end of each day, right? Um where the the teacher really has an opportunity and they might want to make some more specific questions. Like I want feedback on this specific part because they maybe they're only open to change in that specific part, right?

Like the mechanism for like which protocol we use for discussion or whatever, but I don't want to change the class content or whatever, right? So So there can be this gradual process where you ask about a specific thing, get feedback and then because the students co created, it likely will go better next time. And then there's an opening kind of an of a willingness to do more co creation and more feedback from students. But a wider range of things I do recommend that this data and this kind of um invitation for feedback is grounded in specific experiences that students have had in class or with your class work. So I think that's something to just be mindful of that. We are grounding it and like you didn't like that. OK. Why? So maybe you felt really stressed out when I made that deadline and I said there's no uh late work accepted, right? And you had this family thing and you were stressed about it. And so you just felt like there was no flexibility and then you just didn't do the assignment because you're overwhelmed, right? Like that's a specific experience a student has, they can share that and then there's context, right? Because if that same student says, well, you should never have deadlines ever.

Like, then it's very um de contextualized and it's harder for the teacher, one to accept that feedback and two to fully for the teacher to fully understand it. And three for the teacher to understand it and then have the student see that understanding and be more likely to share in the future So I think there's all sorts of pieces there. I also just noted quickly the, you know, considering a range of modalities for how students share the information. I do think that's important, it can be written and it can be verbal in a, in a discussion, but it also could be like share with me um you know, photo voices, one of the things in the student voice world for research that's getting really popular or drawing, especially with young Children, right? Draw me a picture of your experience in this class and then then explain it to me maybe in a one on one conference or in a circle where you, you hold it up and you kind of share um ta take pictures if you're not really an artist or like I am not artistic at all. So I would be like, yes, I could take a picture but I don't want to make a drawing that feels like just totally not my jam. So do some photo voice, right?

Take some pictures that are maybe artsy or maybe just like literal that describe to me kind of your experience in this class and you can again walk me through them or add a caption to each picture and submit it via email, whatever. Now at the peer group level, this is uh again teacher, teacher, peer group or student studio, peer group. I'm I'm putting on like a heavy student hat here because I'm thinking you know, we talk a lot about these processes with adults. So what does it look like for students to kind of core this culture themselves with just a little bit of support from, from maybe the teacher, one of the first things I think is to core group working agreements. And so you can see again those parallels to adults, we want to know how to work together. So anytime there's group work on a project, for example, let's talk about how we do that, right? I think you can again do this in different spaces like sports teams or other sort of after school clubs. But like, how do we wanna work with one another? How do we want to disagree with one another? What are the phrases that we wanna use? We don't want to use all that stuff, then determine again how decisions will be made. So, in our group project, when we make a big decision about the project, are we gonna have consensus or is the majority going to win?

Right. And we think about all the interpersonal dynamics that happen in student groups and what often can like derail the project? My vote would often be consensus because we don't want kind of like a, a peer group who's like really good friends with one another, get paired up or grouped up with another student who's not part of that intimate peer group and then that person just gets out voted, right? We want everyone to feel like they have a good sense of voice. Um And then I would also specify at least one time point, particularly with longer projects, even honestly, if it's a group project that lasts like a class period or something, at least one time during that class period or during the course of the project, at least one, you're gonna check in with every member about how the group is functioning. Do you know how they often like assign roles to students and sometimes of arbitrary and like, you know, we have like the timekeeper and the secretary and the presenter and like often those are really helpful rules. Sometimes they are more or less helpful depending on the project or whatever. I really feel that if nothing else, we have a person who does this check in like they could be like the equity checker or something.

I don't know the experienced old person, you better names than I am probably. But I'm thinking about, you know, how do we check in and ask each individual member, how they are feeling and how the group is functioning and how it's best serving them or not serving them, right? And how it might change. Now, step three, once you've done step two and you really have those power sharing structures and processes in place where we have the decision processes, clarified we have equity of voice, then regularly practice inquiry cycles. So again, we wanna ground this in a search for the positive. Where are things going well, we want to ground it in experiential data centering people and perspectives that historically or currently have not been or are not being served by how we do things right now. Right. So at a school level, those students or the family members or even the staff who are not being heard, they're not being served, they're unhappy, they're not being successful.

Um, they don't have the academic achievement, they're not passing classes, whatever it is. Um Their attendance is low, like something is not working, let's hear from them first. And then if there's several groups, for example, uh let's say that in a high school with grades nine through 12 grades, um, you know, 9, 10 and 12 are struggling, but grade 11 is not struggling with a common challenge maybe attendance. So what's happening in grade 11 that is making students attend more than grades 9, 10 and 12, right? Or maybe out of all of the ninth grade classes, one teacher's class is excelling in attendance like really high attendance and others are not. So like what's happening in that class and having kind of an inquiry mindset, a question where we go collect that experiential data of that positive deviant of that teacher or that class or that community where things are going well, what do we learn from them?

And how do we really transfer that learning to the other spaces and communities now step four is kind of an offshoot of step three. When we gather that experiential data, we want to make sure we systematize the data collection and we wanna make sure we have ongoing processes that we can just repeat because we wanna consistently constantly collect that data. We don't want to do it just once in a while around a big project, we want a constant influx of what is happening for students in our educational community. We want that information. So identify who the data is collected from. Again, centering students and individuals in the community that are not being served in which format. So again, are we doing photo voice drawings, a Google form of opportunity for discussion like a focus group. How often we're collecting this and by whom? So who is responsible for gathering that information? If we want student data, can we train and ideally pay students to be trained, pay them in, you know, money or by class credit or something as like a research or independent research study or something course, you know, whatever it is.

But can we have students be the ones interviewing and collecting and gathering data from other students because they will be better received? Like try to figure all those pieces out. I highly recommend you consult Jamila Dugan and Shane Sapper Book Street Data. There are some excellent ideas for implementation. And actually this month, February 2024 I reviewed several of these ideas on my youtube channel in five minute video spurts. So if you want some concrete ideas for like, what might this look like in practice, feel free to check those out, check that book out. It is amazing. And then finally, step five, I really encourage for the sustainability of the project, for the justice centeredness of all of your leadership, all of your, you know, community endeavors. I highly recommend that you all individually and collectively practice building skills of critical discourse. So we have to be able to tackle the tough stuff. So this includes identifying probably first and foremost, identifying when and for which topics, the group and this could be any group, this could be like your leadership committee, this could be a classroom, um avoids talking about or deflects responsibility for, for particular topics.

So when this topic comes up, we say, oh, well, we can't do anything about that because that's so and so is like the families, the right issue or um you know, we, we make a joke when this topic is brought up because we're actually really uncomfortable talking about it or everyone's eyes kind of like look down at their lap when this topic comes up, right? Like we wanna first identify where are we kind of like crumbling and falling apart and not actually digging in. Also, um Juan Eicholtz has this fantastic kind of discourse quadrant which Doctor Sheri Bridges Patrick and I have adapted for uh adaptive leadership chapter, we, we co-authored and, and we talk about these four types of discourse, particularly around racial discourse where we have the polarizing dimension, right? We're on like separate teams and we're kind of entrenched in our positions. Um We have the silencing and denying which is kind of that avoidance, right? We're not going to talk about this. We have the intellectualizing type of discourse where we're just kind of in our heads but not our hearts. And then we have what we ideally want, which is generative mobilizing discourse. And so the this last one is really the ideal form of discourse.

It's very helpful to diagnose. You'll you'll notice there's a lot of diagnosis here, right? We diagnose what we're avoiding talking about. We diagnose the type of discourse being discussed a lot of critical discourse. It is difficult, it's difficult to build that culture of learning and being having that critical discourse as a venue for learning and censoring marginalized perspectives and experiences, right? In all the things that we need. So we first have to diagnose where we're going wrong and then we have to try to build our skills through practice and through redirection. Getting back on track when we try to avoid that or deflect responsibility, right? Recognizing when we're intellectualizing and not using our hearts, those kinds of things to get on the generative mobilizing discourse track. So that is an ongoing process and that's what makes it truly sustainable. Yes, we have these systems of kind of how we share decision making power and leadership. And yes, we regularly practice inquiry and we collect data, but we have to continue the practice every day of building skills of critical discourse because we can do all of those other things.

And when it comes to the actual discussion, if we can't say out loud, our thoughts around making the hard decisions around analyzing the challenging data, around digging into adaptive challenges, long standing problems, right? White supremacy, all of the things that are going to come up and be hard, then we can't actually move the needle forward. We can't actually make change and the change and be a a true culture of learning for justice. So to wrap this up, no one can know it all. And so if you're feeling that burden of like I can't do this thing because like I just don't have all the answers yet where I need to learn more before I act. Yes, I think we do need to learn more but not just as individuals. We need to create the community to learn together collectively, right? The best thing we can do is to surround ourselves with brilliant people with different diverse experiences who can help you as an individual leader and also the community as a collective learn and grow. And then once you've established this culture, you feel it, you foster it, you grow it and that's going to help address a wide range of challenges, like most hard things that you have to tackle are going to be served by this community that you've built.

So, in conclusion, I'm going to help you with uh establishing a little culture of learning in your community. I'm gonna share my leadership bundle with you where I've just kind of bundled my most popular resources around this idea of shared adaptive leadership. So this is going to include my diagnosing adaptive challenges mini workbook, a series of culture building agendas you can use for staff meetings and also my learning walk protocol that ideally involves a mix of stakeholders including students to do this work. You can grab that at today's blog post, Lindsay be lions.com/blog/one 52. If you like this episode, I bet you'll be just as jazz as I am about my coaching program for increasing student led discussions in your school, Shane Sapir and Jamila Dugan. Talk about a pedagogy of student voice in their book Street data. They say students should be talking for 75% of class time. Do students in your school talk for 75% of each class period. I would love for you to walk into any classroom in your community and see this in action. If you're smiling to yourself as you listen right now, grab 20 minutes on my calendar to brainstorm. How I can help you make this big dream a reality. I'll help you build a comprehensive plan from full day trainings and discussion protocols like circle and Socratic seminar to follow up classroom visits where I can plan witness and debrief discussion based lessons with your teachers.

Sign up for a nerdy no strings attached to brainstorm. Call at Lindsay, Beth lions.com/contact. Until next time leaders think big act brave and be your best self. This podcast is a proud member of the Teach Better podcast network better today, better tomorrow and the podcast to get you there, explore more podcasts at teach better.com/podcasts and we'll see you at the next episode.

152. Creating a Culture of Learning for Justice
152. Creating a Culture of Learning for Justice
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