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Dedicated to Teachers

On the Podcast: Sara Ahmed and Chad Everett on ForwardED, Leading with Curiosity Before Conclusions

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Welcome back to the Heinemann Podcast. We’re kicking off the start of our new season with a special conversation between Sara Ahmed and Chad Everett.

Sara Ahmed is the author of Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension. She is an international speaker and staff developer in schools around the world, bridging literacy, inquiry, and social identity work.

Chad Everett is a former literacy coach and classroom teacher, and currently serves as a Campus President at City University Schools in Tennessee. A self-proclaimed literacy and technology geek, his knowledge of effective technology practices to enhance student learning, coupled with his passion for literacy, makes him a significant resource in the school districts with which he works. Chad is also deeply involved with community adult literacy, believing the change needed to transform education extends beyond the school’s walls.

In their conversation, Sara and Chad talk about the pitfalls of either/or thinking, the importance of bringing our full selves to our students, and their reflections on what impact that last year and a half has had on education.

This conversation is part of Heinemann’s slow conference series ForwardED: Forward, Together in Education, a series by educators, for educators, featuring authors and teacher practitioners in conversation about some of the biggest challenges facing the education community. If you would like to watch the full videos of this and other conversations, you can find them on the Heinemann Publishing Facebook Page and YouTube Channel.


Below is a transcript of this episode. 

Sara: Hi, Chad.

Chad: So, Sara, we get to be together again.

Sara: We get to be together again... I see school happening in the background there, for you.

Chad: There's a lot of school happening, on the other side of that door. And there is a big "Do not disturb" sign and a locked door, my phone is unplugged. But there is still a very good chance that something might happen, right? Because you and I are both in new roles now than the last time we were together. In what we like to call it "The before times."

Sara: Absolutely. Can you tell us what you're doing now, Mr. President?

Chad: I'm a maintenance man. I'm just now head of maintenance. Now, my title is slightly inflated. But I did tell folks, in high school, that I always wanted to be president and now it's happening. So I'm campus president for a 6-12 school. We're actually three schools in one. So, we have a girl's preparatory school. Which is our middle school, grade 6, right. And then we have two high schools. But one of the high schools is really just a smaller cohort inside our main high school. That's 9-12. So I am now a campus leader, right? That was one of the things I always wanted. It's like, I thought I wanted it, now I do not...

Sara: It's a trap.

Chad: It's been fun, but... It's a trap. But I'm a campus leader. So actually I spent all of this morning sitting in meetings, one-on-one coaching meetings with my leadership team. And then we had our daily whole team leadership briefing. So, you're no longer in Thailand?

Sara: No. Someone just... Usually people... Like every other day, people are like, "Where are you now?" The cool thing about us, is that we've been together since we were both in the classroom. We've known each other. We were introduced to each other since we were both in the classroom. And then, we became coaches... In classrooms and coaches on the athletic field. Chad drove a bus, for a little while. And now we're both in these administrative roles. Which again, is something that I don't think I aspired to, but it came up in this moment in my life. And so, I'm taking it on and learning a lot about different parts and systems of how school works. And Chad is coaching me, every day, on how that looks.

I'm the Director of Curriculum Integration and Innovation, another big title. But what that meant, during the pandemic, was that I taught fifth grade language arts, also a middle school advisor. And I stayed on as an advisor, because I realized the most important thing missing in administration is kids. So I held on to that. But that's where we are now. I wanted to talk a little bit, Chad, about just acknowledging the year that we've all had, and are now moving into, again. And we're still having a similar conversation to what we were having in 2020.

Chad: I've got to ask though, we always start the same way. Because you're reading list is so much more impressive than mine. Because you'll be like, "I'm reading a Harvard Graduate School of Education research paper, in my leisure time." So, I've got to ask, what are you reading now?

Sara: That's on my window. No, that's a good question. I just sort of grab everything that's... And I actually was reading a professor [inaudible 00:03:21] paper, just this morning. I grab all the books. We're looking at "Embarrassment" by Tom Newkirk. People wouldn't know this one, as a school. I am in the middle of finishing... Everyone knows I can't read one book at a time, "All Thirteen." Do you know this one? It's about the Thai soccer team that was trapped in the cave. Anyways, this is one of those books where you think you know the story, and then you're reading, and you can't breathe because you didn't really know the story.

Chad: Right.

Sara: What else am I reading? Chad, you know I've got a random stack here.

Chad: I know.

Sara: You know this. I've talked to you about this just a few times. Our joke is that...

Chad: Yeah, we're not together, if you aren't like, "So, I'm reading something by Dan Rather, right now." Or, 'You know, Dan Rather says that..." It's amazing, how you work that into every conversation.

Sara: That is the graphic novel version. And Dan rather, in all of his history and national knowledge of history, that he has. You know, that I view him as the person who is the ultimate connector, and he understands patriotism. And that's important to me.

Chad: Did you not pick up a picture book? I'm not used to you not having a picture book in hand.

Sara: I got a picture book, that my niece was reading. That's out on the floor, over there. It's "Milo Imagines the World." And then I'm reading, a little bit more, about volume-based reading intervention.


Sara: Can you see all the multiple hats we wear? What are you reading?

Chad: So, my shelf is too far away for me to reach over there and grab. What am I reading right now? Contact tracing documents. So no, outside of that, in this new role, right. I wanted to make sure that I was doing service, to the families, and the kids, and the teachers that I serve.

So now, L. David Marquet, there's two books. He has one, I'm working my way back through. One I'm working my way through for the first time. That one is, "Leadership Is Language." The power of what we do. And sometimes, most often I don't say, in leadership. And then also, "Turn the Ship Around." So, that book completely... he's a retired U.S. Navy Captain. So he talks about running a submarine. But it completely changed the way that I look at leadership, and really empowering people. Switching to, "What's your intention?" Instead of getting folks, like always, "I need your permission." But it's been interesting to make that shift in my leadership and thinking. And then, to watch those around me, try to get used to that new paradigm of, "We're going to lead this way." When you come to me, don't ask me for permission. Come to me and tell me what your intent is. Tell me how you're about to take an action and what you hope to have happen. And don't wait or look for me to check off on it.

And so it's been good. But it's been... You realize there's a lot of leadership, where it's permission based. Folks are always looking for permission. And so, we were talking about innovating and looking for new things. Well, they can't happen in a permission based environment. Where we talk about risk taking, most of the day.

Sara: So let's unpack permission for a little bit. I want to unpack that, and intent, and impact. I think we're going to go there, right?

Chad: Yeah.

Sara: So can you say the name of that title again and the author? Just so people can...

Chad: L.David Marquet, and the title of the book is, "Turn the Ship Around."

Sara: And you recommend it to...

Chad: Anyone who's in leadership or has to deal with leaders. But I would definitely say, leaders who recognize that there's way too much going on around them, for them to know the intricacies of everyone's job. You can't make all those decisions. Because what the premise is, what he recognizes, had been training. And in the Navy, they're really particular about training to be on a submarine. And so, he knew every button, every knob, exactly how it was supposed to run. And then right before he was to be deployed on that submarine, he got put, I'm not using the correct terminology, but he got put in charge of another submarine. One of which, that he had never trained on. And it was like within two, three days he would be leaving. And so what he recognized, was that there was no way that he could know all the technical details of that sub.

So he had to completely revamp, or rethink his approach to leadership. Because he couldn't give directives, because he didn't know enough about that sub, technically, to be able to give directives. He sort of shifted his approach to leadership, where again, it's intent based. And then think, there's two pillars required for success; Competence and clarity. And so, even now, I find that guiding me in meetings. Even what we call, sometimes those critical conversations. Where it's like, "Maybe it's on me, that I wasn't very clear about what the expectation, or what the need was, or what we were trying to get done." Or then competence, "Is it my job to develop you? Is that something that you hold responsibility for?" So, not written for school-based leaders, but I think definitely for anyone who's in leadership, and anyone who has to deal with folks who are in leadership.

Sara: Yeah, we just had an admin team meeting, yesterday. We were talking about those similar things. But with pressure and support, when you're dealing with teams and you're dealing with people. And then the differences between collegiality and congeniality. And a lot of times, schools get those two things confused. When are you being collegial? Someone had a hard time in their personal life, we send them flowers. When are you being collegial though? And that's for the practice of the school and things like that. So, I'm going to lift something from that thing that you were talking about, about the submarine. I Actually want to know more about that story. We know a few million people, around the world, had to shift what they do and how they do it, in this last year, on a dime, right?

Chad: Yeah.

Sara: Teachers had to go in and change the way they have done everything. What they know, and switch their craft to accommodate the way the world was moving.

So, I want to just quickly start with an acknowledgement, that we wanted to make, about how this year was exceptional for all of us. And I've got a book, I didn't tell you about. But I've told you I'm into this idea of gathering, right now. And I've been reading Priya Parker's book, about gathering. And one about burnout, which are both kindly I would say. But I think the thing that I want to acknowledge, that we both want to acknowledge, is how difficult the year was. That there was talk of loss the entire year. And then that loss narrative and rhetoric were shifted on to teachers. As though there was so much learning loss, in schools. And it's really important, we need to think about how we can move forward, as this conference is doing. But in order to do that, you know I've got my mole skin, Chad. I'm thinking about how we have to wade through the things that happen, right? Like the trauma...

Chad: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sara: Aren't you feeling that as you're starting the year again?

Chad: Yeah, for example, like you said, most of the conversation was around what's been lost. And then we attach dollars to that rhetoric, right? To convince folks that, if you will buy into that narrative. When we have funds for you to do those things, that you've always needed to do. Because you and I have had this conversation, right. There are very few things that we saw really impacting education, during the pandemic. The impact of education, during this pandemic, that did not exist beforehand...

Sara: Right.

Chad: And just that pace...

Sara: Those were crevices, basically that were there. There were fault lines, already, right?

Chad: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sara: And what happened to those fault lines?

Chad: But what we didn't talk about, is our account system. There's lots of loss that we have to acknowledge, but then those things that we gained. Not just in terms of lessons learned, because even some of the things that my scholars learned about themselves...

Sara: Yeah.

Chad: And their families, and what we've learned about gathering with one another and the importance of that, what does that look like?

Sara: Right. Well, when our parents came to us, last year, with the hysteria around learning loss. One of the things that we did, as advisors, is we went to our kids and said, "Hey, there're grownups talking about this, right. About how you're losing your learning and there's learning loss." And they were like, "What does that even mean?" I said, "Yeah, that's a great question." So, what we started to think about, was these questions for the kids. Where we talked about that balance, that you're discussing. Because you and I both, we'll talk about this at length, today. We want to think in complexity, right? Like all the nuances about stuff. If I say there's learning loss, this is like binary thinking, right.

Chad: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sara: You're naming that we need to think about the growth. So we asked them questions, like, "What did you lose this year?"

We have to acknowledge that.

Chad: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sara: And some of the kids are like, "I lost grandparents, or I lost family members. I lost my pet." Right? "But I also lost my soccer team." And things that we couldn't gather, and things that our kids know. And on the other side of that, once we talked and unpack that, we said, "Okay, so what about growth though? What did you gain this year?

Chad: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sara: "Can we talk about that?" And they were 9 and 10 year old responses. A kid was like, "I grew in my understanding of how to do a headstand. I gained a dog." There were a lot of pandemic puppies, in the world, right?

Chad: Yeah.

Sara: "I gained a new friend. I gained my parents' home language." Because they were home with their parents so much. And they were normally immigrant kids, trying to assimilate, right? We end up losing a lot of our language. And so some of these kids, "I know I gained, I'm a multi-lingual speaker now." Which is incredible.

Chad: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sara: And those pieces of their identity, that they did as well. So, for us to acknowledge, as adults and kids, to say, "Yes, we went through this harm, or trauma, or loss, growth." All of these things, but burnout for teachers, right? And so we need to name that, and be really...

Burnout for teachers. And so we need to name that and be really candid about it to move forward.

Chad: You talked about teachers in Burnout. I think for some leaders where there's this push like, get back to the building, get back to the building, get back to the building. Because that's going to lessen a lot of teachers having to teach virtually and in person and all those other things. But I'm also thinking about for those early career educators who came into teaching at the beginning of the pandemic or a little bit longer into it. As we think about this professional development and what's happening or has happened in terms of ability to gather together. What that model has looked like. Even now for me moving forward, what does it look like. If you're an early career educator watching this, or you're a leader watching this who's thinking about how do I support my early career educators. We often default to what we experience in classrooms but for them coming in, they can't apply that model. Because the school environment does not look like the best [in place 00:14:02]. That apprenticeship of observation. It doesn't apply because it doesn't look likes it.

Sara: No, you're so right. You're so right. And I hope there are pre-service teachers that get to hear this. Because one of the things that they can do, Chad. And you and I try and practice this all the time. You know that I'm a big fan of kid watching. And just observation and curiosity, so like, if we're talking about gathering on this day on that thread, because I'm thinking so much about it in schools. Pre-service teachers, veteran teachers, admin, like everyone can start to practice and just think about it. You can put us on pause and say like, okay, where are all the places that we gather at school? Like from the jump in the parking lot when we're walking into the door and then there's that threshold that we cross into. And all of a sudden we're in a community, right?

Chad: Right.

Sara: We are from multiple communities and we're coming into one. So I want you to unpack this with me a little bit. But like, if I'm in the parking lot, if I'm in the morning circle, if I'm in the lunch table, if I'm at the rectangular meeting table, whatever it is. I'm thinking about do I belong and who belongs in this community, right?

Chad: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sara: And what are the ways that we send these messages to kids about whether they belong or not in school? When does that happen? You would you say in terms of gathering.

Chad: Like it happens before they ever show up in the building. All their families they know they are welcome, even if we just think about the correspondence that we said before the school year starts. Like, is there a way that we get that into families in their home languages? Does it say like, where a space that's going to be responsive to you to even know those kinds of things. You and I have had this conversation around sometimes, like we undo what we want to happen in the gathering, from what we do around the gathering when these folks come in. I'm really intentional about, I can hear the lunch dismissing right outside the door that's on this side of my office. And down the stairs there is our commons area and that's where all of our students come in first thing in the morning.

And when I'm stepping out of the car coming into this space, like how do I want us to gather in that space. Is I think about how their identity didn't necessarily shift, but maybe they're leaning into a different part of that as they come out of the car. In that vehicle or getting off of that bus, like you're one thing. That you may have been leaning into that last look at mom or dad or grandma before they get out but then the second they cross that threshold into the building, like the first categorization there. Like very often it might be an issue, we get first question, are we going to gather here. No, you're here like your middle school, so you gather with this group. But then as a campus leader that makes me go back and think though, what happens when I'm trying to convey to them that we are still one school?

Like a shirt that I have on says, we are a city. And it's really intentional because we're three schools in one but with the way we... are three schools in one. So for folks know, if we were face to face would have to. Sara is cracking a joke because I know how to work a cricut machine and she doesn't. And so I made the shirt that I have on because I'm a new campus president and I don't have any swag yet.

Sara: And you said you would make me a T-shirt and he never did, so a digression.

Chad: That's not why we're here for. We're forward together, we're not going backward. But just thinking about in this space, it's like how does the language that I use and what happens initially when students come into this space or even like our teachers when they come into that space? What does that look like in terms of how [Inaudible 00:17:29].

Sara: Well, in for teachers, if we're thinking about just demographics. Majority of our teachers in this country may not have to even consider their identities when they're walking into the school. That they have been sent a societal message that they belong anywhere that they go. That this is that they just belong and they don't even have to think about that. Where some of our kids and some of our teachers that we work side by side with. This is an experience that I've had in a school where you have to code switch the minute you step in that door.

Like you said, the last look at mom or dad, parent, grandparent, whoever it is, the last look at the adult I'm with maybe the last time that I see myself. And I'm walking through that door I've got a code switch, I've got a code switch my language, I've got a code switch the way that I emote, I've got a code switch the way that I communicate, my expression, my body physical space, all of these things that we ask kids to do. And you and I have talked about at length, like uniform schools, dress code, all of that. Some of those messages that kids are sent before they even step in the door. Some kids get good morning, some kid gets tuck your shirt in, pull that up, where's your tie? Where's this?

Chad: And from a very practical sample, like here's what's interesting. Is that I'm in a uniform school now, like I wasn't before. But I will see a scholar come by me and not being uniform, I don't address it then. So whether that be we've got to talk about something in terms of their wardrobe or whether that be like your jackets out of uniform regulations or whatever the case may be. The first thing they hear is good morning, then the next thing they likely hear is me playing my playlist because that's also my morning in time. But I'm playing it loud enough for everyone to hear. But then until we go to morning assembly, I don't say anything about dress code. Just because I want the first thing that happens, that first interaction, the first engagement to be a positive one. Like you said, and that'd be a gap between the positive one before the one that they may feel like is less positive.

But even just for leaders and teachers think about it's a slight shift, is not to say that I'm not required to enforce the uniform expectations. It's just a matter of the flexibility that I have of when I do that. Like we're thinking about a code systems, like we talk about gathering now and how we gather the messages that we send. But I think that can be applied to so many things that we felt like were hard or guidelines or rails that we had to stay inside.

Sara: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chad: It's like, yes, we may have to operate inside those lines but it doesn't tell you where you have to begin coloring inside those lines.

Sara: Right. There's so much there about visibility. Visibility of parents but identity visibility of all the stuff. And like I said earlier, I was reading a paper. I love reading abstract instead of [Inaudible 00:20:18]. But there's a professor in New York at Hunter College. Her name is Linda Martin Alcoff. She talks about social identities. And she says, I wrote it down of course and disability. She says, our experience of our identities is not a mere concept or category, they are the experiences of our bodies in our social worlds of our embodied visibility.

So I think, for folks listening and for us, you and I, every time we walk in and outside of our doors in the morning, we have to consider what markers of our identities are visible. when we step outside and how that impacts the way we get to walk through this world. And the kids, when we think about that and the implications for them, as educators we need to see that in our schools. We need to consider that when we're thinking about that. Because I think if you just ask kids what messages they're sent, they could tell you.

Chad: Yeah. Like I have a proposal somewhere and you all can't see it. Because hopefully I'm blocking the amount of papers that's completely surrounded me. But I have a proposal from my journalism students that they submitted to me today. Like I said about asking the kids. It's been funny been a new campus president because they haven't had one in a little while. But they're discovering, like I really I'm as accessible as I say I'm. So the other day I get a text message from one of my instructional facilitators that says, "The journalism class would like to meet with you if you have a moment." And so I hit my most game. I hit on down and there's this group of, they're the spokespeople, so like the group of six. They gather around me at a table and they're like, here's what we want to do with the journalism class.

And then they were like, we want broadcast journalism to be a component of it. So we talked through and I'm like, okay, well, turn into me. Like, if I'm going to spend money, I'm fine with that but I need to know what you want to do and what your vision is. And they turned in a really impressive proposal. But what's funny is the first recorded segment that they want to do is on mental health. Just talking about like a way, hold on-

Sara: Uncover what they say...

Chad: This will also make students, I just started with this line, this will also make students more comfortable in school environment and have a sense of belonging because our show is centered around the students. We will focus on common student problems and our first topic is mental health. We choose mental health because not only did the pandemic affect us but there's so much going on in our lives that oftentimes we're a silent. Because we think no one understands and no one else is suffering, when in actuality we are. Well, they didn't need me to tell them like what they needed in that curriculum. How many times do you tell our curriculum with kids, like we teach it. But for them, that's what they need, that's what they want. If we go in that classroom with that teacher sticks to the syllabus and it's not responsive to that, we failed.

Sara: First of all, thank you to those kids. Because that was a moment where as an adult you have to sit back and go, I'm just going to listen, I'm not going to wait to talk. Like you had to sit there and really hear what they had to say. So thank you for that. You talk a ton about complexity, I want to talk about that. Listen to the layers that they are addressing there for them, as they walk into that school and what they carry like with them. I want to talk about the truth, I want to talk about teaching kids the truth and our obligation to teaching the truth. But I also want to talk about how not teaching the truth creates unsafe conditions for these kids. And not being truthful creates unsafe conditions.

Chad: Yeah. So if we back up and you and I have this conversation. Like we could have recorded this on our phone call last week. This is wow, that folks keep breaking things like this. Either oh, yes, no black white binary but in reality the one thing we have to be able to do in order to survive and be successful in for like our students, is this idea of handling complexity. It's very rare that any issue can be boiled down to just this binary understanding. So as we think about like how we engage our students, how we engage with one another, like you're not talking about like watching the news or scrolling Twitter, where it's like, goodbye, goodbye. There's no point.

Sara: And it's like yelling from all the polar sides of it. Right?

Chad: Not in necessarily of teaching truth, like the notion that to tell the truth about our history, it's bad and it will make students this. It's gets very often, like our approach is very fact driven, like know this memorize this but not let me teach you the complexity of this place, let me teach you the complexity of people. Like this is good person in history, this is bad person in history. But instead of navigating like this person did some really messy stuff but they also did these good things over here. And both of those things can be true.

Sara: Like we have decided adults that who is the good person in history and who is a bad person is what we're teaching about. We as the textbook creators and we as the bias holders and everything. The thing in my kids marginalized folks and young kids from a very young age, understand that the truth is not being told about their bodies and about their personal histories. and that's the thing that leads to this feeling of belonging that this journalism group is talking about it and safety and like what that feels like. We all know every scholar people are shouting from the rooftops that the silence piece is the complicity piece to that is included in not telling the truth. Priya Parker uses a word from the book that I mentioned earlier, she says, unfortunately in front of us, a lot of times, we have this unhealthy piece.

Unfortunately in front of us, a lot of times we have this unhealthy peace, she calls it. It's an inability to name the fracture that's in front of us. And hello, here we are today sitting in 2021, where there are grownups fighting to not tell the truth. And that cannot handle this unhealthy peace, so much so that they're willing to spend their energy and time withholding it from anyone else, and I think that's an important thing when that fracture lives. And we're not just talking about school that we all know, for the last decade, as long as people have been communicating with each other, even just people use 2016 as a marker for that, but it was long before that as you said, right? Those things have always existed. That fracture exists, not just in schools. That exists at people's dinner tables, when family comes over, in circles that you gather in, and your social circle.

Chad: We've become conditioned, right? To be like, "I can't think about your work around identity." And this whole notion of, "Can I bring my truth into this space? Can I bring the truth of who I am into this space?"

Sara: And am I ready to decide on my truth for your-

Chad: Your truth, right? Like that idea of handling complexity, that both things can be true. It doesn't happen often enough, and I think about it in the midst of what we're navigating, like more than ever, we should be listening and watching. Because I think there can be this push to say, "We're doing all of this to engage our families and our students, and we're doing this or we're doing that." Right?

Sara: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chad: But if that family comes in and says, "Yeah, that thing doesn't work for us." And that idea that you can be doing a lot, but it still may not be of service to everyone, and you must be willing to reevaluate and think through and say like, "Okay, let's back up, let's think that what you're saying, and figuring out where we need to go next.

Sara: Yeah. We'll unpack that, because you talk about all the time. Because the two of us, when we're with anybody, we'll just raise questions for people, We don't have all the answers, we barely can finish a sentence or word together. But unpack that question about, "Who does this policy serve?" I've heard you say it to people before.

Chad: I have about 10 of them sitting to my right, right now. Right. When were you asking yourself when you're thinking about a policy, like you have to think about the history of that policy, because all things have a context. They didn't appear out of, as we say, the clear blue sky. And so you're thinking about the context in which it came, then thinking about also like, "Is this policy accepted or rejected within my system?" Some folks are just a rebel without a cause, they just looking for something to rage against, but oftentimes, we're asking that question of, "Is this accepted or rejected within my system? I'm trying to figure out within this system. In some ways, can I bring my truth? Can my scholars bring their truth into this space? Because are there policies that are reinforced within the system, but are harmful to students?"

Sarah: Yeah.

Chad: And you know, I always jump to that last part in that diagram that I do, which is like, "Who's served well by this policy?" But then also "Who's not served well by this policy." Because almost every flyer that's sent out by a school, or a college, or recruitment piece, it's built around who served well by it.

Sara: Right.

Chad: And you're talking about recruitment, we're highlighting, "Okay. Y'all at that school weren't being served well by that, but over here you're going to be served well." But how often do we say that even in a space where we think it's successful, that we pause to say like "With this policy, who's not being served well by this in our buildings?" And so, how powerful would it be? Even as we think about distance learning, or virtual learning, or whatever you want to call it, or the decision to go back into buildings. Who's served well by it? Who's not served well by it, and then the complexity there.

I think about a friend of mine who has a child with an autoimmune disease. And so thinking through.... For her child, being in school is extremely risky right now. But after being at home and only socializing with his sister for the most part, and his parents, she recognizes "Yo, you need to go be around some people your own age." Like when I was joking about "You're talking like an old man!" You need to go be around some folk.

Sara: Get off my lawn!

Chad: Yeah, yeah. But that idea that both things can be true, that the decision to come back into school was extremely risky for him from a health perspective, but at the same time from a mental health perspective, he needs to be around his peers. Both of those things can be true.

Sara: Why do you think that's so hard for people, the co-exist piece of that? What is that, the resistance is there, with any change there's resistance, right? It's met with resistance and it lives... I was just listening to something yesterday about schools and change, and I don't know, all the many things that we need to watch, but the speaker said something about like, "When there's change, it leads this double life." It's met with resistance, or it's met with progress, whatever that is. So what is that, that people can't co-exist in that space, that this is true, and this is also someone else's truth?

Chad: For me as I think about, if I'm writing policy, or I'm thinking through a policy, it's just... Policies are often by their very nature, because the legalities of it. You write a policy where it's very black and white, and not allowed to leave the gray area. I feel like so often in terms of our thinking, and asking that question, "Who's served well and not served well by it?" But no, this is the policy, we'd have to write another policy for this, and then another policy for that. So very often what we think is, is that "We'll write a policy that works for the majority of folks. That's who the policy is written for."

Sara: And sometimes, isn't it the people too that get the ear of the policy makers?

Chad: Yes. Yes. And so, that's the second point. Sometimes it's the schools, it's the majority of folks. The other times, who holds power in this space? Because those who hold power, like you had said, like [inaudible 00:31:53] or one served well by most policies. And so, but the question on the backside of that it is then, who gets pushed to the margins as a result of that. Those who aren't being served well in our schools, that's the group. But that's the group we want to RTI to death, that's the group we immediately...

Sara: I was just going to bring up reading.

Chad: That's that group, but we're like, "Oh, but we have a policy for them." But we never bothered to ask, "But they weren't served well in your initial policy, that's why you had to have the second policy."

Sara: Yes. "There must be something wrong with them, so we have this intervention system for them. Don't you worry, we've got a scaffold and a flow chart ready for these people." I mean, we're sitting in the middle of, I hate using the term reading wars because again, this zero complexity when you use a term like that. Can a kid be served by... Told you I'm reading that value-based approach, can a kid be served by a value-based approach, and meaning making, and comprehension work, and rich read alouds? Yes. Could they also be served by fluency work, and print work, and words study? Yes.

Chad: Yeah. But we don't like we don't handle it that way, and if you think about like "Well, we're a district and writing our building-level literacy plan." No, we need to get this down in black and white. "Here's what we do, here's what we believe, here are our stakes in the ground." Instead of saying like, "What does the kid in front of you need?" Like, "What does that kid need?" And then write your policy in such a way where you can be adaptive and responsive to "What does that kid need?" Or as leaders, as we think about Wwhat does this teacher need?"

Sara: Yeah. You're hitting on the thing that we talk about, and we do this in the Institute when we work, we know we stand on Smokey Daniels' shoulders, and we talk about curiosity?

Chad: Yes.

Sara: And we think about curiosity in school, you are modeling that right now. I think it's really important to stay curious. And all of us, in the anti-CRT rhetoric, in the legislation that's being passed, in the articles and echo chambers about reading. In all of this that's happening as we move forward together, I would say the number one thing people need to do is stay curious.

Chad: Yep.

Sara: I think I talked to you a little bit about this the other day, but I was talking to somebody about the banned books, and the books that are being pulled from this list. In the legislation that's being passed, and people are conflating CRT legislation with just any work that has to do with human beings. And diversity, and equity, and inclusion, because schools hold on to these terms and these acronyms. And I just said to the person that curiosity and imagination are sort of like virtues and luxuries of a democracy. I've lived in a country that is not a democracy before, I understood very quickly the lack of curiosity and imagination that can happen as a result of that. It's why oppressive regimes have historically tried to first eliminate literature, language, communication. We see it today, I shouldn't say in history. History, meaning this morning.

Chad: True story.

Sara: Yeah. And I think like we all need to stay really curious and ask questions. That should be front and center in our classrooms anyways, I hope. If you're leading with curiosity, I don't know what you think, what you're thinking, about that.

Chad: Yeah, questions before conclusions. It was like just something that I live by, in the way that I lead, and even in the way that I talk. It's why we both believe so firmly in conferring. When teachers are like, "Midst of a pandemic, are we going to confer? And I'm like, "We can't not." Yes, we will find the safest way to do it, but just that practice of questions before conclusions. And it doesn't matter whether it's a student's writing, what you think you know about that student as a reader, what you think you know about that student or that teacher in their life, questions before conclusions.

Sara: Always, because then you're also in a constant feedback loop. This is not just for conferring in a Writer's Workshop, you are saying to the person in front of you, "As you are learning, unlearning, relearning, trying something out, I am in conversation with you about this, and we'll be together in this feedback loop." So it's supported. And again, that tiny piece of pressure, we need to move forward a little.

Chad: Yeah. Or even just the question, "I want to understand why." Even the way we approach that questioning, right? Instead of "Why did you?" Like, "I want to understand why." And then leading in that way, and digging into... I was reading this summer, because I think I told you all about it and made you hear all the stories. Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry, what happened? Their book, what happens? And just asking that question sometimes, "So what happened that led to this situation, that led to this behavior?" Whether it be not just today, but in the past. I can think about, there've been two I've been fully transparent. So you're coming in as a new campus president in a school where no one knows you, because I'm not from this area. Well, not from the immediate area around the school, like 20 minutes down the road.

But anyway, so it's been interesting for me to navigate the time at which I was hired, coming in and building relationships with the teachers and the kids, where I've had to be a lot more intentional about backing off with that whole narrative of "What do you mean? I'm the campus president. I'm your principal, you know who I am." So I stopped during yesterday's morning assembly. And I'm like, "Yo, one of the things I recognize is that I have not told y'all who I am. You know who I am, but I haven't told you who I am. Why I do what I do, what I'm passionate about. Why are you here?"

Now yes, did I mess up the bell schedule yesterday because of that, because I kept them all at assembly for too long? And so no one knew what time we were going to first period. But in that moment, that's what was needed, is to slow down and just say, "I need to tell you who I am and ask that question, so you understand why I act the way I do, or what happened." But then there've been two kids that, we'll call it being not so passively resistant to something I was trying to get them to do.

Sara: Let the record state that Chad loves to use the word president now.

Chad: All the time, I come off as the oval, it's a thing.

Sara: You do.

Chad: And so, I do, it's a thing. Like when these kid's go in and I'm like, "Welcome to the oval." He's got to live it up.

Sara: But I also appreciate your vulnerability there. Someone who practices this, as a practitioner of this, of thinking about this all the time, you stepped into a space with all of everything that was filled you up into that space. And you said, "This is what I do. This is why I'm here. This is my role."

Chad: Right, right.

Sara: And you kind of step back. And I think you explored the understanding of humanity a little bit. You had to do that, and you do that all the time. So it's easy if that can happen for you. That could happen, I don't know, at any point.

Chad: You know I've said, it's the strategy. Slow down your thinking, notice what you notice, and then interrogate the belief.

Sara: Yes.

Chad: Notice what you notice. Like for me... I said to you, notice what you notice. For me here, in a place that's unfamiliar, I'm noticing more than I would've... There was so much that I could take for granted in my last school, because I knew it. And so the noticings were completely different.

But here, in interactions with certain [inaudible 00:39:19] and I'm saying, "Why am I even engaging thIS student right now? What was the thing that I felt was so urgent or so important that I needed to be here? What did I notice?" And then my thinking around that thing, like this, whether it be appearance or whatever the case may be, and then I'm engaging with this kid this way, because this happened. Or I walked up, there was a student yesterday, he's standing in the hall with one of my teachers having a discussion. It was a one-sided discussion about somebody who works [crosstalk 00:39:51] it was a one-sided discussion, but immediately like the things that I'm noticing as I walk up to him right out, I'm reading his body language, I'm reading his face, but I and I'm not going to lie.

I'm forming conclusions on the way. But then when we got back to my office, I had to unpack and undo all of that, right. And so in interrogating the belief, when we got back, we had to go to another place with the consequences for his behavior. But he was, "Well, if we're going to do this, can I turn in my work though?" And I'm like, you're about to get this consequence. And you're still worried about turning in work?

Sara: But you see what he's thinking about.

Chad: Right. But in class, he had just gotten in trouble a day before because someone came in and gave him a packet to do. And he was, "Its third day of school, we got to do all of this?" And so we had a 20 minute discussion on timing and tone, but just for him, that questioning and figuring out where he was coming from and all of a sudden I'm like, wait, you were just asking that question because you really wanted to know, it's the third day of school, do I really have to do all that?

Sara: I know, because I was just about to come to sweep in to his side and say, who's giving the packet out? And what is that for? He's sending the message to that adult, right. To say, "This is what we have to do on third day of school?" Right. And I think that's really important. Slow down your thinking, remember who you're with. I just walked into school that we have summer camp going on. I walked in and just the sound of kids' voices, how quickly we remember our location, right? We get bogged down and all of that. There's not an educator I know that doesn't say, "Go to the preschool room, kindergarten room, if you want to feel better about yourself." Right.

And things like that. So if we can place ourselves back to where what matters and why we chose, Why we chose this profession. I need to remind people that the kids don't get to choose us when they come into our spaces necessarily, but we chose to be there. And so we have to remember that. So I think for folks listening, and for us, as educators in schools every day, what are we committing to for this year? Going forward, like we said, curiosity, right. What else did we talk about?

Chad: About not being so locked into a policy, but we're not willing to... Asking myself, what does this student need though? Right. I feel like almost everything we were going to say, it's going to go back to living a curious lifestyle, but then being willing to adapt and adjust, we realized in a very short period of time for a number of us, we can... we were in school one day and then you're "Oh, quarantine numbers are too high. You won't be here for the next two weeks." So we've proven that we can pivot, right. I know folks hate that word, right. But then we can pivot, we can go in a different direction, but then let's take that same energy to being back in the building. Being willing to adjust or pivot or make a change, because one that curiosity reveals that we need to do something different.

Sara: Curiosity reveals critical thinking, right. Which is under attack, along with truth. Truth and critical thinking are under attack in our country.

Chad: Even those words that we say in our mission and vision statements that we're promoting?

Sara: Yes, all of them. If I did one of those word bubble things, I feel like that would be a big word inside that bubble thing. Right. But we're promoting that. So we stay curious, right. And I think we commit to the truth. We talked about that, right? [crosstalk 00:43:08] Say your three steps, again, slow down your thinking.

Chad: Slow down your thinking, notice what you notice and then interrogate the belief.

Sara: And I'm in, one of the last things I'll say is that I'm rereading Tom Newkirk's book Embarrassment for the last time and not for the last time for the hundredth time. And so I think one of the things that he names is that embarrassment, that there's an embarrassment and learning, and that people have a hard time as a society we have a hard time making mistakes, right. And we can't face our mistakes. And in Brian Stevenson's work, if I'm not reading Dan Rather I'm reading Brian Stevenson, he says that we have a hard time facing shame in this country. So at the smallest level of a mistake in the classroom, and that's not small to that kid, right. Or the smallest level of saying the wrong thing to somebody, it's about the mistake. We have to face our shame.

We have to face the candor, and that is shame, right. That's really what that is. We have to face our embarrassment while we're learning and unlearning and relearning a history that is now, it's been physically everywhere. Materialistic, we've been everywhere in our country. It faces us all the time. We just haven't looked. And now people are looking, and this sort of reckoning that we're having. And I think just facing those truths is going to be a step for us. And curiosity to me lies that sort of the foundation of all of that. So what else?

Chad: I think for me, walk humbly. I'm that's my thing, because I think sometimes folks expect the campus leader or those in leadership, make the decision move quickly. You should know where you're in charge. Walk humbly, because it's so much easier for me to walk humbly than it is to have to go back and clean up when I didn't, or when I moved quickly, right. It's just slow down, walk humbly, and don't think you know, all right. Don't think you know, even if you come into this with two years of experience, 20 years of experience, don't think you have it mastered.

Sara: I mean, that goes back to like kids KWL sheet, right? What I think I know is this, and I'm going to have some misconceptions on the way. We are teaching six and seven year olds how to do that. We can practice that same thing as adults.

Chad: I hate that our time is coming to an end because I feel like I haven't gotten to be with you and in so long. And so what about this? So here's what I want to do. Right? So usually you and I send other folks off with a word for them, but I guess I'll do it this way. So my hope for you this year Sarah, right. Is you go into doing the work with [crosstalk 00:45:51] leadership.

Is that, right. That you continue to live curiously. And even as you're in leadership, that you take those things that you know, are true for kids and for families and that you don't run from it. But instead you continue to be a fierce advocate for them and what they need. And that you take that same lens of curiosity that you have for kids. And you apply that same thing to the teachers that you lead. I pray that every day your bucket is filled even in the moments where it feels like it's ended. I tell you that I believe in you, I've seen you do incredible work. I know that this year will stretch you and grow you in ways that I can't even imagine, but I'm so grateful to get to know you, to get to call you friend, to get to call you a thought partner, to get to call you a trash talking buddy. But I hope this year that you hold the truth of who you are to heart, and don't let anything about the system or this world chip away of it, and that's what I have.

Sara: How do you want me to speak right now?

Chad: That's my hope for you. You don't have to speak. And let me say the same thing I hope is true for everyone that's watching, because I feel like what happens so often is that the system and the policies and all the things of everyone who just wants to, that shows up and puts it on the line every day for kids and their families that you hold on to the things that you know, to be true, right? The place that we're at, causes us to question and wonder and pivot and adjust. But I really hope that you continue to hold to those things that you know to be true, that you keep your mind open to complexity and discovering new things, and that you protect who you are and that you protect the truth that you know. That's what I have. Thank you all so much for taking time out, to join with us.

Sara: Thank you. I wish for you that your cricket machine works for every Friday. I wish for you, that you have the year where people see your worth in a community, and that it is, I'm going to say finally, visible to the people around you. And they're made aware of what you bring. And I'm speaking to Chad, we both are speaking to everyone here. When you step into your spaces that you not only feel seen, but again, that you see everyone around you and how they create meaning for you and how you reciprocate that meaning and create meaning for them. I can't say anything else because I'll just continue to cry. I hope we can go fishing soon. That's my biggest wish for both of us. We wish you all a year of the kind of proximity that you are able to get in this year to people. And we hope you find that in whatever safe and healthy way that you can.

Sara Ahmed 240Sara K. Ahmed currently serves as the Director of Curriculum Integration and 5th-grade advisor at Catherine Cook School in Chicago. She has taught and coached in city, suburban, public, independent, and international schools, where her classrooms were designed to help students consider their own identities and see the humanity in others. When she is not in the classroom or meeting with teachers, you can find her coaching cross country, soccer, or basketball. 

Sara is the author of Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension and coauthor with Harvey "Smokey" Daniels of Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts and Minds with Inquiry. She is an international speaker and staff developer in schools around the world-- bridging literacy, inquiry, and social identity work through curriculum development, professional growth meetings, and lab classrooms. Sara has also served on the Teacher Leadership Team for Facing History and Ourselves, an international organization devoted to examining and confronting the choices we’ve made in history—individual and society. 

InquirySC_Blog_Everett_800x1000Chad Everett is a former literacy coach and classroom teacher, and currently serves as a Campus President at City University Schools in Tennessee. A self-proclaimed literacy and technology geek, his knowledge of effective technology practices to enhance student learning, coupled with his passion for literacy, makes him a significant resource in the school districts with which he works. Chad is also deeply involved with community adult literacy, believing the change needed to transform education extends beyond the school’s walls.


Topics: Podcast, Heinemann Podcast, Sara Ahmed, Sara Ahmed Podcasts, Sara K. Ahmed, Chad Everett, ForwardEd

Date Published: 08/27/21

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