Episode #121: Leading Equity – An Interview with Sheldon Eakins
Today we speak with Sheldon Eakins from The Leading Equity Center blog and podcast. Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D. is an accomplished K-12 educator and administrator. He has taught at the elementary, middle, and high school levels during his career in the states of Florida, Louisiana and in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands.
We speak with Sheldon today about how to be a culturally responsive educator, how to avoid giving all of your students a red pair of size 8 high heels; and why discipline needs to be reshaped!
Jon Orr: The main premise behind culture responsive, being equity minded is considering what does a student need on an individual basis? So, often we give out assignments, we give out general, "Here, this is for you, turn this in by next week," or "Turn it in tomorrow," whatever it is, right? And so, you know what? One student might get through that in five minutes, another one might get through it in an hour, another student might not get through it at all. Some students are going to need more support than others bottom line.
Kyle Pearce: I like this analogy.crosstalk
Jon Orr: Today, we speak with Sheldon Eakins from the Leading Equity Center Blog and Podcast. Sheldon L. Eakins, PhD is an accomplished K-12 educator and administrator. He has taught at the elementary, middle and high school levels during his career in the states of Florida, Louisiana, and in St. Croix, US Virgin islands.
Kyle Pearce: We speak with Sheldon today about how to be a culturally responsive educator. How to avoid getting all of your student a red pair of size eight high heels, and why discipline needs to be reshaped. Jon, are you ready to dive in? Let's do this. Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast, I'm Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr and we're from makemathmoments.com. We are two math teachers who together.
Kyle Pearce: With you, the community of Math Moment Makers worldwide who want to build and deliver math lessons that spark curiosity.
Jon Orr: inaudible sense making.
Kyle Pearce: And ignite your teacher moves. Jon, are you ready to dive into this meaningful and very important conversation with our newly acquainted and new friend, Mr. Sheldon, what do you think?
Jon Orr: Yeah, of course, Kyle, we are honored to bring Sheldon on. But before we dive into our talk with Sheldon, we want to thank you listener for listening to us wherever you are because we just got another five star review and it just makes our day when we read these.
Kyle Pearce: This one is from ES Educator, highly recommended for math educators of all levels. After attending the Making Math Moments That Matter Online Virtual Summit, I decided to check out this podcast. Jon and Kyle interview big names in the math community in a friendly and easy to follow manner. Topics covered are always timely and informative. Highly recommended.
Jon Orr: Isn't that fantastic, Kyle? Nothing energizes us more to keep on recording episodes of our podcast than when we see these amazing ratings and reviews come in, especially like this one that came through Apple Podcast.
Kyle Pearce: Have you taken 10 seconds to hit pause and scroll down in your podcasting app to tap the five star rating and review button? All right, we want you to be honest so definitely give us the rating and review that you think is deserved and do so because it helps us with some feedback. It really helps us to figure out what we should be doing to make this podcast better.
Jon Orr: Yeah. So, if you want to be a Math Moment Maker hero, then take those two extra minutes and write us a one to three sentence review. That would just mean the world to us.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome. All right, enough from us, let's dive into this great conversation with Sheldon.
Jon Orr: Hey there, Sheldon, welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. Kyle and I are super pumped and excited to have you on the show today. So, how are you doing? Let's kick it off with that kind of question, so fire.
Sheldon Eakins: When you ask someone how they're doing during a pandemic, that's a loaded question these days.
Jon Orr: Yeah.
Sheldon Eakins: I'm doing okay. It's interesting because my school so I work on a reservation and our school is open. I live in Idaho, there's not a lot of cases of COVID, but it's starting to spread a little bit more. And so there's a little bit of fear and anxiety at some times because we've had a couple of cases at our school. And during COVID-19-
Jon Orr: I know.
Sheldon Eakins: Yeah, it's going to be interesting.
Kyle Pearce: When you did come on now though, I think you said, "Living the dream." No, that's usually my line. You said something like, "Life is good," that's what you'd said. And I said, "You know what? That's the attitude to have. So, that's awesome."
Jon Orr: I'm curious, you just said your school is open. Can you tell me about, what do you mean by that?
Sheldon Eakins: We did push our start date a week. However, we opened up our school just like the doors are open, it's not online. It's like, we're in there. Mask on...
Jon Orr: crosstalk you're there every day.
Sheldon Eakins: The first respond or what do you call it? Essential workers these days.
Jon Orr: Yes.
Kyle Pearce: Yes.
Jon Orr: That's my situation too, which is very interesting because Kyle's school district is next door to mine. And my school district is completely open just as it sounds as yours with masks on. Whereas Kyle's has kind of a blended model, even though we're pretty close in proximity, distance wise, we have two different kinds of systems going on.
Sheldon Eakins: Yeah. It's interesting being open. And I guess one of the biggest challenges is just making sure the students keep their mask on. I mean, as teachers, if you're talking, you're trying to teach a lesson, a lecture, and it's kind of hard to talk with a mask on in general, but then if you got like to really go hard and speak a lot, it's tough. So, that's one of the challenges. So, what we've been doing is to try and give students and at my school is 6 - 12th grade and we're just trying to just give them breaks, like mask breaks and we'll take them outside, "Take your mask off, stay six feet away from each other. And you can lick your lips or whatever you need to do and put them back on."
Kyle Pearce: Well, it's great to hear that at least currently anyway, in your area, although you're saying, it sounds like some cases are kind of emerging, hopefully things stay under control there. We tend to, when we are talking with Math Moment Makers from the US or some of our interview guests like yourself, where you come on the show, when they're from the US it seems like the majority of that we've had a conversation with have been in a hybrid or a fully online model. So, it's great to hear that there's parts of the country where things are still open. Sounds like still pretty safe. So, that's all good. And I'm glad that you're feeling good about it. So, Sheldon, for those who are listening, they're going "Okay. I'm getting to know, I can hear the voice. I like sounds very pleasant." Tell us a little more about yourself. What's your role in education and how did you sort of land yourself in this educational role? Tell us a little bit about your journey.
Sheldon Eakins: Yeah. 12th grade, I was in the 12th grade when I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I had a really, really cool history teacher in the 12th grade. His name was Mr. Fielder, awesome guy. And he brought history to life. I mean, he told the stories and he really brought it in. And let me tell you, this dude was like the coolest brother ever. I haven't had a lot of black teachers in my lifetime, but he was one of the ones that stuck out and just seeing his swag and the way he carried himself had a really role model type of personality. So, I was intrigued, in addition to all of that, he was also the basketball coach for the school. I'm like, "Man, I want to do that. I want to teach history. And I want to coach basketball."
Those are the two things that I love. That's what I want to do. And so I went to college and I signed up, I went ahead and majored in social science education. And I spent my time going through that whole process, got my degree. When I got my first teaching job that's exactly what I did. I taught history and I coached basketball and he was definitely the motivation behind that. I think we'll kind of talk about some of my experiences with my first teaching position a little bit later on, so I'll save that for later. So, I spent seven years in the classroom as a teacher, and then I ultimately finished my masters in leadership and went on and became a principal at a small school. And then I found a larger school a little bit later on and did that while finishing up my PhD.
And then you get your PhD and sometimes you think, "Well, I need to be a professor or something." So, I moved into higher education and worked for a program called Trio, which basically helped students who would be the first ones in their families to go to college, or they're coming from a limited income background helped them get to college. I enjoyed doing that, which kind of helped me get the job that I currently have now because I was assigned to work on the reservation out here in Idaho. And so I would come into the school every Thursday, work with the native American kids and just kind of help them think about college and help them fill out their college apps and all that stuff. So, I did that for three years and then eventually they asked me to be their special education director.
And so that's what I've been doing. Actually, this is my third year doing that as well. So, I'm a special Ed director. I work on a native American reservation here in Idaho, but all of that, I also am a podcaster myself, a host to Leading Equity Podcast. And I'm also the founder of the Leading Equity Center in which we provide the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their school. So, we help educators out with equity work.
Jon Orr: Awesome. And we're going to dive into all of that and even more. I guess, one more question, what about basketball coach?
Kyle Pearce: Yeah. He's still a basketball coach?
Sheldon Eakins: So, first of all, not now. There's no basketball.
Jon Orr: You don't have much time. Yeah. Right now ,you're right. Not right now.
Sheldon Eakins: There's no basketball, but I would, and I don't have the time if I had the time I would. I have been asked to coach and I love coaching basketball. I coached for, let's see, maybe around five years or so. I've been in education for about 12, 13 years. At least five of those years were spent coaching. But then once you become an administrator it's hard. It's really hard to coach and be an administrator at the same time.
Jon Orr: I totally agree. My beginnings, I think echo your story more ways than even you've described here, where we'll get into you going down South into the islands. And I also did some stuff like that in my beginnings, but I had that exact thought about, "I'm going to be a teacher and I'm going to be a basketball coach." That's funny. And I did that exact thing where I started coaching in my very first year of teaching and teaching math and quickly realized a few years in when I started to have my own kids, is that basketball took a back seat and math teaching took a front seat after the family, but lots of similarities there. And we always ask this Sheldon, we are always curious what early teachers look like, sound like, and just having a little bit of background about us here on the podcast.
Kyle and I were both very traditional math teachers for a number of years where if you imagine math class being like from fast times at Ridgemont high, the teachers stand at the front and they're just lecturing the whole time. And that was us. We would assign the homework and we taught like that for a number of years. And it wasn't till later that we kind of realized that we needed to change things for the students and to get more engagement curiosity in the math class. But, I'm curious about those beginnings of those first teacher years. And I'm wondering what Sheldon's first teacher years look like. Were they as bad as us math teachers on those first years, or were you out of the gate just a dynamic engaging teacher?
Sheldon Eakins: That's a good question. I would say, I think I did a lot of things, right. But I definitely made a lot of mistakes. I think I didn't lesson plan as best as I should have towards the later years of my teaching career, I really would spend the summers doing a whole unit scope and sequence and really digging into planning out the whole year. Beginning stages of school when I first started teaching, I didn't lesson plan as good as I should. I mean, it was basic, this is what we're talking about today kind of thing. Now, what I would say that I feel like I did well, was I was big into hip hop pedagogy and I didn't even know what hip hop pedagogy was. It's just my students. So, I was on an island, my kids love music. They love American, the music from the States, they are big into rap. And so I would utilize rap to really engage the kids. And again, I didn't know that there was actually a term for it, but I was just like, "Yeah, the kids like rap, I like rap let's do it."
And so that was something I really found a lot of fun, was engaging with my students with hip hop pedagogy and being able to help them understand how hip hop culture has influenced our education and history and just kind of being able to weave those two together. But I would say my crutch, if you will, Achilles heel was definitely the lesson planning I could have done a lot better. I've always hated grading as well. That's another thing.
Kyle Pearce: I don't think that's something that ever goes away though.
Sheldon Eakins: Pretty understood that most teachers don't like to grade papers, but yeah, I definitely hated grading papers.
Jon Orr: Well, you know what? I'm so happy you explained a little bit more about hip hop pedagogy because we were going to ask like tell us more about it. But I think I've got a clear vision now. So, we are going to have to dive into that and we will be diving deeper into your work around in particular Leading Equity. So, as we've mentioned in the intro of this episode, we really want to dive into some of that work. But before we do, although you weren't teaching in a math classroom, every single guest, no matter what subject area they're coming from, we ask this question. And that means that there is no exception for you, sir. We ask you to describe to us a memorable math moment from your past. We sometimes frame it as when you say, or you hear math class and you think back to your experience, as a student could be early elementary, it could be middle school could be all the way into high school. Maybe it's even in post-secondary. What pops into your mind when you think of math class?
Sheldon Eakins: I have so many different stories that I could share. I don't know if we have enough time. I was one of those students who struggled through math. One story that comes to my mind right now is senior year, 12th grade. All year long. I have struggled in this math class, it was integrated math and it was basically a combination of geometry, algebra I and algebra II. So, I'm getting tutored. I am trying, listen, I was doing my best. I just could not understand stuff. And so final exam. I want to say I probably had a strong D the entire school year. And, that's probably may not even be true. It might've been worse. It might've been an F, but I'm going to call it a D.
Jon Orr: I like that. I like...
Sheldon Eakins: Well, let's say I had a strong D. And final exam comes and I'm studying all night long, night before I'm studying, again I'm tutoring all this stuff, right? I'm trying, I'm really am trying. It's not me being a slacker. It's not slacker Sheldon, this is like Sheldon really studious, trying to this done. I want to graduate. And I get the final exam sitting at the desk, sitting there watching this test that the teacher's passing out and he puts it on my desk and I kid you not. I looked at the test and I'm like, "I don't even know where to start." I'm watching the numbers and all these variables and exponents. And I'm like, "What the heck is this?" And I start crying and stuff, this final exam, like, "I need this to graduate."
I'm so overwhelmed and I literally turned the paper over, turn the test over to the blank side. And I wrote this long letter to my teacher. I'm like "Mr." I'm not going to say his name, but "Mr. such-and-such, I really have studied, I've tried my best. I really need to graduate. I'm so sorry. I don't know what to do. I'm going to fail this test. And if you will have the mercy," it was very genuine. It wasn't me just trying to get over, none of those kinds of things, it was just me saying, "Listen, I really have been trying, you know I've been trying, but it just hasn't worked for me." And so I didn't do the test at all. I just wrote this letter and turned it in and he passed me. And I'm so thankful for that. I wouldn't have graduated had he not had that mercy, and I guess a lesson behind that, the moral of the story, if you will. And when we talking about equity, for example, each student has individual needs. And sometimes we just have to have grace as teachers.
And even if we think a student is really trying versus we don't think a student is trying, we don't necessarily know all the ins and outs of a student and what they're experiencing, what they're facing, what they're dealing with. And so it's always good to be able to have some mercy. Now, I'm not telling every teacher out there who teaches math to give everybody a passing grade if they write you a letter that's very compelling. However, I think there are those moments where we can really sit back and say, "You know what? I know the student is trying. I know the student needed extra help. Have I done everything as a teacher to provide the resources that they needed to be successful." There're some questions that we can ask ourselves. And I'm just very thankful for that experience because that's something I've never forgotten.
Jon Orr: That's a great share on your part. And I was a teacher like that and I was a teacher or not like that, but I was a teacher who used to not look at the student and not think about those types of things. I was a teacher who would be like, "You failed, you failed, you earned your mark. You're the one that does all this." It took time over a transition of me realizing that we do need to understand who our students are and not treat them all the exact same, treat everyone the way they need to be treated. And I think that's a shift that I've been on for a number of years now, but it's been so eyeopening for me. But as part of that story is also why we wanted to have you on the show is because our mission here on the podcast and what Kyle and I do in our work in our classrooms is try to change that experience so that we can reach all students and help all students reach where they need to be.
And we know that your work is helping do that and that's a great fit for the audience here. If we venture into your first few years of teaching or your first kind of teaching experience. So, this is where it kind of paralleled mine a little bit where I moved down to St. Martin in the Caribbean islands for my first two years that I was teaching math down there. Sounds like you did some similar work there in the US Virgin islands to begin your career. But you mentioned before that it's so refreshing to see a place filled with so many people that looked like you, but it sounds like things didn't go as smoothly as you thought they were going to go. Can you share some more about this experience and what you learned from it?
Sheldon Eakins: Yeah, absolutely. And I like St. Martin, I had a chance to go there before. Was it like the Dutch side and the French side inaudible?
Jon Orr: crosstalkYeah. Yeah. Dutch island of the Dutch side.
Sheldon Eakins: Okay. Okay. I remember going there a while ago, but I think one of the most valuable lessons that I learned was the importance of recognizing where you're at. And when you recognize where you're at being able to not try to instill your own beliefs, your own traditions and things like that. But to really be able to think about other people in the place that you're in, kind of like that when in Rome you do as a Romans model. I was teaching there, I mean, I'm fresh out of college and I'm enjoying living on an Island. It's awesome, beaches like, "Okay, had a long day at work today. I'm going to jump in the beach today."
Jon Orr: Exactly.
Sheldon Eakins: I'm going to hit up-
Jon Orr: crosstalk I'm going got to go for a swim afterwards.
Sheldon Eakins: Yeah. I'm going to hit the little beach bar and all that. That experience is right there for you, readily available. And so I'm living the life, the island life getting used to the culture. And my roommate just came up to me one day and he was also a teacher at the school and he said, "Sheldon, what's going on with you?" And I'm like, "What are you talking about?" He said, man, "The kids everybody's saying that you're just like so rude." And I'm like, "What are you talking about, man?" I'm like, "I'm having a great time here." And he's like, "When someone says, good morning to you, what do you say?" And I'm like, "Well, I say, Hey, what's up? How are you all doing? How are you living?" And he was like, "Okay, what do you say? If someone says good afternoon to you?" And I was like, "The same thing." I'm like, "What's up? What's good. How are you all doing." This is how I talk, right? This is what we say in the States. I see another person I'd say "What's up." And he's like, "No, man, you can't do that out here."
He's like, "This is not the States. If someone says, good morning to you, you say, good morning back. If someone says, good afternoon, you say good afternoon. Someone says, good evening, good night, whatever it is, you respond the same way that they respond. If you walk into a room, if you walk into a post office, if you go any of these places, you announce yourself, you say, good morning, you say, good afternoon. You say it when you walk into these places, when you don't do that, it comes across as rude. So, I know that you have the best intentions and you're responding to someone saying good morning with, "Hey, what's up? How you doing?" But they're interpreting it as you're being very rude to them.
So, I'm sitting there shocked mouth wide, open jaws are dropped. And I'm like, "Whoa, that was not something I would want to do. I don't want to be rude. I'm in a different place." And I took that as a moment for me to really think, "Okay, well, what else have I been doing? Or have I not been doing that is culturally based that I just haven't had a chance to really, or taken the time to really think about or observe?" And that was the moment when I just clicked where it was just like, "Okay, I'm going to all the festivals that are happening." Luckily as a history teacher, guess what? I get to teach US Virgin islands history. And so I'm like digging in, I'm Googling the heck out of stuff and I'm pulling up all I can and talking to locals and just really dove in.
And that was that experience. And then I'm fresh out of college. I didn't have a lot of understanding about being culture responsive and equity and all these things. A lot of terms, things I was doing, or I learned about, I just didn't know that there was an actual name for it. If someone has already researched this and said, "Yeah, this does work. You should be doing this." And that was one of those moments for me, was just learning about being culture responsive. As a black person, I blend in. I can walk all over the Island and I'll be good to go until I start talking. And then people know, "Wait a second. This person is not from here." But as long as I kept my mouth closed, I can enjoy all the life and experiences of living on the Virgin islands as looking, maybe kind of like a local, but that wasn't enough, right? I really needed to dig in. And that was an experience for me.
Kyle Pearce: I found that's so interesting. And that's why we wanted you to share that story just because obviously you living that moment, living that experience and being completely oblivious to what was sort of going on around you and not realizing. And I think so many of us and I'll name John and I, as two white male teachers, we go through and we've gone through our lives for so long. And we've said this on the podcast before where we were completely ignorant to so many things and continue to be. We're working on it. And I think no one will ever be there, there's no end. It's just constantly trying to be as responsive as possible. And to me, that was a story that really stuck with me when I heard it the first time. And I'm really interested if we dive into this access and equity and being culturally responsive, these are all ideas that seem to be pretty commonly thrown around terms in education. Dare I say, buzzwords in education.
I'm not trying to say that in a sense of disrespect, but just in you're hearing, people throwing them around. And sometimes I wonder how deeply people understand what they mean. So, it's clear to me though that in education, in general, and in particular in math class, we're still really missing the mark. So, I'm wondering to dive a little deeper into this idea, what does access and equity mean to you and how might those listening make changes in their own classrooms to move towards a more equitable education experience for all of their students?
Sheldon Eakins: So, I do a lot of training on equity work. And one of the common questions that I'll get is, often I get question from either a math teacher or a science teacher who ask me, "Well, you know what you're saying it sounds great, but how can I be culture responsive with math? I have formulas two plus two equals four, right? How can that be culture responsive?" So, I'm glad that you're asking this question because I had to take some time to really think about that.
Because number one, I come from a history background. And I told you I struggled through math. So, I can give you a two plus two equation and that'll be pretty much good, but once COVID hit, my daughter was in the fourth grade and I tell you what? Fourth grade math was a struggle to help my daughter during COVID-19. So, I have much respect for those who teach math. The main premise behind being culture responsive, being equity minded is considering, what does a student need on an individual basis? Often we give out assignments, we give out general, "Here's, this is for you turn us in by next week or turn it in tomorrow," whatever it is, right? And so, you know what, one student might get through that in five minutes, another one might get through it in an hour. Another student might not get through it at all.
Some students are going to need more support than others bottom line. I like to use this analogy. When people ask me, what does equity or what does equality? What are the differences between the two is, if I walked into the classroom and I said, everybody, you guys are going to all get a pair of shoes. And they're like, "Oh cool. We're excited." 30 pairs of shoes, 30 kids in the classroom. But if I give everybody a pair of high heels, size, eight shoe, that's not going to work for everybody, right? That's equality. Everyone got a pair of red, high heel shoes, size eight, but that doesn't meet everybody's needs, right? You're going to have kids that's not going to want to wear high heels. You're going to have some kids are going to like those shoes and they'll be good with it. But guess what? There's going to be a good amount of students who won't want those shoes or won't need those shoes.
And that's where the equity piece comes in is, "Okay, everyone's going to get a pair of shoes. What size do you need? What size do you need? What color do you want? What type of shoe do you want? Do you want some Jordans? Do you want some Nikes, do you want inaudible," whatever it is, right? But now I'm taking care of the person's needs versus just giving everybody the same thing. So, that is the difference between equality and equity. So, when we're going back to, "Okay, as a math teacher, what can I do in my classroom in order to be culture responsive? And how can I provide, what can I do in my class beyond giving formulas and equations?" What I say is utilize those word problems.
We can create some awesome word problems. Sometimes we rely on those word problem banks, when we just kind of rely on whatever the workbook has already given to you. And okay, "Johnny walks in and he gets six apples in he gives four apples away. How many does he have left?" Right? So, we often see those types of word problems, but what if we created our own word problems that really made our students think about social justice issues? What if we said something like, "There's a Starbucks that is wanting to develop in your neighborhood, but currently there's a housing authority or something that's already there and it's going to displace the families there, but it's going to cost this much amount of money versus it's going to cost that much amount of money, how much is left?" I don't know. I'm not a math teacher, but you get where I'm going with this.
You can create questions that are socially just questions. And a good person I always recommend when it comes to math and how to be culture responsive is my friend, Dr.Kari Kokka, she's out in Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh. She does a lot of research on social justice mathematics, where teachers can learn how to create word problems that can be culture responsive, that students can identify with. And we have to be careful, right? We don't want to create questions that are very stereotypical, negative stereotypes. If we say "Leroy's father gets locked up on armed robbery and he gets sentenced to 10 years and he only does five, how many years does he have left?" Right? We don't want to create those kind of questions. So, we want to be careful when it comes to what type of questions were utilizing. But again, if we just take the time to really start with some word problems that can really benefit a lot of the work that we do as far as trying to be culture responsive with our approach.
Jon Orr: And I think that comes down to, for the first step in a math classroom, which I think a lot of, especially high school math teachers kind of leave out. We've talked about this here on the podcast before, is that a lot of elementary teachers get into teaching because they love kids. They want to know about the kids and help kids. Whereas high school teachers, especially high school math teachers get into high school math teaching because they love math and maybe the kids come second. And so when a high school math teacher is teaching math, they're all focused on math and the rules and the procedures and how this connection works and representing this that way and representing that that way. And they leave off who the kids actually are. And I think we can get to your suggestions for sure, by starting with just understanding and getting to know your students on a personal level, getting to know about them, that can translate everything you do as a math teacher, from there on out.
It can shape like your suggestion on what your math problems are going to look like. It's going to shape your policies for assessment and evaluation. It can shape what you look for. I am thinking about how you struggled. It's still in my mind about you struggling through math in that situation where that teacher passed you, but maybe back then, the teacher passed you not because you turned in this nicely written letter to him, but maybe the teacher passed you because not only were they just evaluating the product, but they're also looking at the observations that you were using in the classroom and the conversation that they had used in the classroom with you. And like you said, that the teacher saw you, that you were working hard and you weren't like just tossing in the bag.
It was that they had witnessed that, that teacher took that account. And I think so many teachers today, still, especially in math class still don't do that. They focus only on product and they actually don't focus on who the kid is and what they need so that they can be successful. So, I think for me, I think that's where we need to start. And then, then it can fuel everything that can happen after that. But I'm wondering, if you could change, which is one common standard like inequitable policy. So, there's lots of these policies around or a practice in education, what would it be and why, and then how are those listening here and the podcasts work towards making that change in their own context?
Sheldon Eakins: I think discipline needs to be revisited. So, many thoughts that I have regarding discipline, for example, dress codes. I think our dress codes are highly biased against our girls. You can't show cleavage or your skirt's too short, and your hair needs to be a certain way. And all these things, that's going to be seen as a distraction. All the boys won't be able to take it, right? And I think we're looking at it wrong because we're looking at it from a male gaze, as opposed to allowing our girls to be themselves and express themselves the way that they want to express. Another challenge that I see a lot. And I'm so glad that my school finally got rid of this policy, was the hoodies and wearing hats. If you're spending all your time policing kids and your classroom, or making them turn in their hats and taking hoods off on me, is that really going to impact their learning abilities because they have a hood on, or they have a hat on?
Those things to me, aren't as important as to make sure that students are getting their work done and making sure the students are getting their needs being met. But if we're spending all our time policing our kids, then to me, it just takes away from what's really most important. So, just school discipline to me is just a lot of policies. I would love to see change. I see a lot of teachers that would prefer to have a kid removed or kicked out of their classroom because it's easier for them than it is for them to really just take the time to develop a relationship.
I mean, we can tell when we don't have the best relationship with our students, are we okay with that? Or are we going to really take the time where we're just, "You know, what, okay, I really want to connect with this child. What can I do?" And really start trying to figure out how we can connect with students. So, that way it can help with minimizing the amount of instances where a student is removed from the classroom, but that doesn't always happen. So, I wish that we could kind of revisit a lot of our discipline practices.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah. You had mentioned about even the dress code with female students, for example, and even this idea of hoodies and hats. And when you think about identity in society and education and the education space, someone, and we'll say the teachers, the administration are telling certain students that the way you dress is not appropriate or not acceptable. So, whether it's dressing and worrying that boys are going to be distracted, or whether you're looking at a student who prefers to wear a hat or prefers to wear a hoodie, you're taking that away from them and sort of telling them that the way they dress is not right. And that definitely isn't going to make students feel accepted, they're not going to feel a sense of belonging. And really, it sounds like when you were mentioning this idea of teachers kicking students out of their class, it all comes down to this authority idea, right?
Where, I am the educator, I'm the teacher. I am here at this higher point and you are under me and you're going to listen to every word I say. And in reality, we talk about critical thinking in school. And we talk about letting students reason improve in a math class. We always talk about reason proof conjecture, all of these great things that we're trying to do, but we're telling them that they didn't make a good choice to reason through what to wear every single day to school. So, I couldn't agree with you more. Those are great things that, and also I would argue, not hard things to change really. There's things that systemically might be very difficult to change that we'd love to change, but the ones that you're sharing with us, they don't seem unrealistic or difficult to actually change if we actually look at it through the lens of identity and through student belonging and seeing our students for who they are.
So, thank you so much for sharing that. And although you're in Iowa now, and hopefully those COVID cases stay low, low, low, so you can continue doing a face to face model. And I think I'd said Iowa, I meant Idaho, you're in Idaho.
Sheldon Eakins: We get that, we get it all the time.
Kyle Pearce: I know, so I apologize. But there's so many educators around the world now that are teaching in either like a hybrid or a fully online teaching environment. And when we talk about access and equity right there, there's a huge issue. As you can imagine, with so many students having trouble with access to devices or connectivity or support in the home, what can we do as educators in order to make this process, make this experience more equitable? I'm not saying it will be 100% equitable, but to help more students when we're really in a pretty tight spot right now, we're trying to be safe. There's a reason why we're doing this online or hybrid model in some areas. But at the end of the day, we're not prepared as schools and districts to support in the way that we wish we could. Anything come to mind for you that educators can do to try to help bridge that gap a little bit?
Sheldon Eakins: You know that's an interesting question because I've talked to superintendents who basically say, "Yeah, we gave everybody hotspots and devices. We gave everybody Chromebooks and hotspots and we're good," right? "Yeah. There's equity," right? And I'm like, "No, let's just go beyond that." It's way more than that. That's a great start. You're going in the right direction. But when you leave things right there and say, "Well, we were equitable and we gave everybody a hotspot." But there's so much more that comes along with that. And I think overarching theme is, we have to go with grace, a good friend of mine, Marcus Boarder says the same thing. He says, we have to have grace. I've heard teachers say we got to hold kids accountable and hold them to the fire. And they need to make sure to meet deadlines because in the real world, blah, blah, blah. And I'm like, "But there's a freaking pandemic happening right now."
When I was a kid conversations like this, you've never lived through a pandemic before. So, you cannot try to take what you would have done or your experiences as a kid or whatever it is. We can't take that as to mean that this is the way it's supposed to be. We have to be lenient. We have to be willing to understand that, "You know what? Even if my child, my student hasn't shown up on the Zoom call or our morning meeting doesn't mean that necessarily they don't care, I don't know what circumstances this child is experiencing in their house. COVID has definitely impacted a lot of students and let's keep it real. I mean, to be honest, a lot of our teachers haven't gotten the best training when it comes to how to operate an online classroom. It's not necessarily the teacher's fault. I think our teachers are doing some amazing jobs, but the PD hasn't always been there. And so not having adequate instructional time or instruction to teach teachers how to teach online because it's definitely not the same thing as doing a classroom style. A lot of last minute things happened this summer, where teachers weren't clear on whether they're coming to school, whether they were going to be at home.
So, the planning was difficult because they didn't know what to plan for. I've seen schools where teachers are required to basically teach twice where they're teaching these hybrid models, where they have to teach classwork in school and then they got to start a monitor online classes as well. There's a lot happening. And we have to keep in mind that this impacts not just the students, but it also impacts the teachers as well because a lot of teachers have kids. A lot of teachers are dealing with homeschooling their own children or sending their kids away to school or whatever this model is, and then they have to teach as well. I think overarching is the grace that we have to have and being willing to be flexible, being willing to be lenient when we have to and not imposing our own beliefs and our own views or what we would have done or what we are doing. But thinking about other people and trying to look at things from different lenses.
Jon Orr: I think you kind of hit the nail on the head there for sure, for so many teachers to think like we have to just take a step back because I'm just going to echo a couple of things you just said is that I think teachers project things, like your example of, "We're going to give everyone an iPad, that's going to fix everything or everyone will be fine because that's what that person would have needed in this situation." But instead we need to take that step back and listen and know, or listen to people that are in that situation and see what they need instead of just saying, "I'm projecting what I think you need." And I think that's where I think a lot of higher senior admin politicians are going wrong right now. They're not listening to the people where they need to listen and they're just making those projections.
And then there are those teachers, like you mentioned, who are making assumptions, "Kids are not showing up online." They're just assuming they're not caring. Or there's like, "Oh, they can't get their act together to get up in the morning or they're not being dedicated enough." And those are just assumptions. They're stories that teachers are telling themselves. And I'm just reminded of a book that Kyle and I both read was called Crucial Conversations, which is a very eyeopening book when you think about just normal conversations or normal interactions you have with another human being. And the main part of that book is that there are facts, and then there are stories. And most of the times we tell ourselves stories that are not based in fact. The fact of that is a student did not show up to the live chat. The story is the teacher telling themselves, "It's because they're lazy. It's because they don't care."
The fact is they weren't there. We don't know exactly why and we're filling the story in and that's wrong. We can't be doing that. So, many people are still doing that. And I think you're right. We have to take that step back. We have to have that leniency. We have to get to know our students and where they're coming from and the people who are supporting them. And we have to just know about that so that we can listen to them and I think that's so important. I'm so glad that you shared that but I think Kyle wants to jump in on adding to that, I think. Right, Kyle?
Kyle Pearce: Well actually, Jon, I, first of all, love that book. It's a great book. And the fact that stories piece is so important and I think too, when we don't pay attention to the stories that we make or that we assume are true when they are not based in fact, that's when we really, I think, open the door to biases coming in, and whether you're conscious of them or unconscious, typically you're unconscious of the biases that you have. It's a slippery slope there and I don't know if Sheldon, if you have any thoughts on that here, before we start wrapping up in regards to the biases that we bring with us, regardless of whether we're aware of them or not. But to me, I see a clear connection there when we start filling in the gaps, it definitely doesn't lead to much good.
Sheldon Eakins: We all have biases. Some people would tell me why I treat all kids the same and I don't have any bias. No, we do. I have biases. You have biases. We all have them. Often those biases that we have, like you said, are unconscious. Maybe we're not thinking about it. We're not intentionally doing things that are maybe judgmental or discriminatory, but it happens. And we have to own those biases. We were raised differently, our family upbringing, maybe our social circles, those types of things impact the way we view life. And so what happens sometimes for example, is that we don't always look at things from our students' point of view or at least attempt to look at things from our students' point of view. So, again, if we're thinking, "Well, I'm figuring it out, or I was able to do it when I was their age," and yeah, but did they really have the same type of lifestyle or same life that you had?
Did they all have all the resources that you have? But when we just kind of just assume that students are supposed to be able to do something, because maybe we could do it or we know Johnny next door could do it, doesn't mean that we don't have biases. We do have biases. And then we can get even deeper when we start thinking about how stereotypes have impacted things in the way that we view the world and even how race might impact things. So, let's say we're of a different race and we don't know a lot about a certain race and we just allow stereotypes to make us assume that maybe this child is going to be lazy or this child must come from a broken home or a single parent home based off of a stereotype or based off of the zip code or their address.
Those kinds of things can impact our view of what we think a child is capable of doing. I was talking to a friend of mine earlier today and we were talking about our students who are in the process of learning English, and how often they receive work or they're just passed on because teachers may not want to, or feel that they have the time to really sit with them and teach them things because English is not their first language. And so they either dump things down or they just pass them along. And those kinds of things, are again, bias oriented. We don't necessarily know what the child is able to do. It's not that they're slow or that their intellectual disability is just, they don't speak English. They don't understand necessarily what you're saying. So, how can we communicate with them and be able to showcase their talents?
And only in the United States, to me, it seems like not knowing English as your first language seems to be a problem. I don't know if it's the same way in Canada, but that's how things are here. But to me it's such an asset to be able to speak multiple languages. I mean, I'd wish that I could speak more than one language, but for some reason we tend to look down on people when English is not their first language.
Jon Orr: So, many great insights from you, Sheldon here on this last, almost hour. And we're looking at the time, we're just getting ready to wrap up. But before we do, because we've talked about so many different themes and different ideas and a big takeaway or a big idea, you'd like to leave with audience here, listening in, what would that be?
Sheldon Eakins: I always try to leave things with, not just ourselves. So, a lot of times let's say folks who are listening to this episode right now, and they're listening thinking, "Yeah, well, I'm going to do better," or "Okay, I hear what Sheldon is saying."Or "I hear what John and Kyle are saying, I know that there're some areas that I can improve on." It shouldn't stop there. We definitely need to work on ourselves. And there's a lot of self-awareness that needs to happen, but also we need to be willing to advocate and speak up and be able to support our peers. If we see a fellow teacher who has biases maybe, or if we recognize that there are some things that aren't right, our policies, our systems, dress codes or whatever, right? And we don't speak up and we don't say anything about it. And we just allow things to continue to happen. We're doing a disservice to our students.
And I think I like to leave folks with the idea of, "Okay, so, I've given you this information, what are you going to do with this information?" Right? So, I've helped open your eyes and help you realize maybe there are some areas that you need for growth, but how are you going to help others as well? And how are you going to continue to educate yourself? Because this is just a podcast, this is one interview. Someone can get pumped up over this hour long podcast and get excited, but then what happens tomorrow? So, just continue to educate yourself and not just stop here. One hour is not going to change your life. Now I think I can talk well, but I'm not going to assume that this podcast interview is going to change everyone's lives, but there's more work that we have to do and we have to be willing to do it.
Kyle Pearce: That's a great takeaway, and we couldn't agree more. We, and those who are listening and the Make Math Moments That Matter podcast know that Jon and I have been trying to keep this idea of access, equity, diversity, identity, front of mind and that we have so much more work to do. So, we want to thank you so much for joining us today and enlightening our audience with some new ideas, imparting some new ideas, some new things for them to think about. I know that there's going to be some people thinking, "Okay. Yeah, I definitely need to do more work here." And I know that you've got some great resources for folks to dive a little bit deeper. I know you're active on social media. So, where can the Math Moment Maker community learn more about you and get in touch with you and get in touch with some of your online resources.
Sheldon Eakins: If you're looking to get more information, for example, even like, I have some free courses, I have other resources, a lot of free resources and I also do webinars and trainings, but you can go to leadingequitycenter.com to find my website. If you want to connect with me on social media, I am Sheldon, @Sheldoneakins, and Eakins is spelled E-A-K-I-N-S. So, @Sheldoneakins via, I'm on Instagram, I'm also on Twitter and I have a podcast as well. So, you can if want some more free resources you can just subscribe to the podcast, Leading Equity.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome, awesome stuff. And podcast listeners are going to want to gobble up some more podcasts. So, I'm sure some people are right now switching over there and hitting the subscribe button over on yours. So, thanks so much Sheldon for joining us. And we look forward to, Oh, the time where we don't have to be, say, locked away and social distancing, and we can maybe meet face to face at a conference or something, we're hoping that soon, but enjoy the rest of your evening.
Sheldon Eakins: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.
Kyle Pearce: Thank you so much again to Sheldon for joining us here today. I know that Math Moment Makers had some big takeaways, so make sure you pause and write things down or do a sketch note or something, share it with a colleague so that you can take some of these big ideas and you can start putting them into action right away.
Jon Orr: Yeah. And we would encourage you to head on over to our free private Facebook group, Math Moment Makers K-12, where we have ongoing discussions, ongoing chats with many Math Moment Makers and you can continue the conversation over there.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome. In order to ensure you don't miss out on any new episodes as they come out each week, be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts. And actually my friends we've been going live a lot on Facebook and YouTube. So, go ahead. Whatever social media platform you're on, search for make math moments and give us a subscribe and turn those notifications on.
Jon Orr: Also, if you're liking what you're hearing, please share the podcast with a colleague and help us reach a wider audience by leaving us a review on Apple podcasts or hey tweet us at make Math Moments on Twitter, Instagram, or on Facebook.
Kyle Pearce: Head over to the show notes page for links, resources, and full transcripts. And you might even venture off to different parts of the site to access our problem-based lessons and units. You can do that at makemathmoments.com/episode121. Again, that's makemathmoments.com/episode121. Well, my friends until next time I'm Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I'm John Orr.
Kyle Pearce: High fives for us.
Jon Orr: And a high five for you.
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