"Learning with Pride: Cultivating a Culture of Equity and Success in Schools" SwatTalk
with Sable Mensah '11, Founder and CEO of Equitable Outcomes, LLC
Recorded on Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Twan Claiborne: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, good night. We recognize all time zones here, and welcome to our SWAT talk, Learning With Pride: Cultivating a Culture of Equity and Success in Schools, with our brilliant and talented presenter, Sable Mensah, a class of 2011. Before we get started... Oh, you can give a silent cheer, I usually tell that with my students to give a silent cheer or something to make yourself known in the welcome. Before we get started, there are a couple of housekeeping things I want to let you all know so that we're all on the same track. This session is being recorded. So for anyone who was not able to attend, it will be on the website within two to three weeks. It will be accessible, so there will be a transcript as well that folks can follow along so that we are accommodating for all types of watchers and listeners. If you have any questions at any point regarding the presentation, you didn't have to do homework in this instance, so you can go as you go, you can put the questions in the chat below, and I will be collecting those questions in the chat to then ask during our question and answer portion. Just for seamless purposes, you can put your name and your class year next to your question so that we know who it's coming from. I would like to thank the alumni council who puts on SWAT talks throughout the year on various topics for having such an important discussion given the climate that we're currently in socially, and the fact that it's the end of pride month, and why not go out with a bang? I'd also like to thank Lisa Shafer, our liaison from the alumni relations office, doing a lot of the behind the scenes coordinating with us so we appreciate that. And I would like to thank you all for taking the time on this Tuesday morning, evening, afternoon, and having a talk with us. So now, without further ado, I'm going to introduce our lovely speaker. Just in case you all don't know who I am, apologies, my name is Twan Claiborne. I am class of 2007, originally from Seattle, Washington, currently residing in New York as an educator, working with students with various learning and physical differences and as a drag artist in the New York drag scene. So I have my foot in a lot of doors. Enough about me though, let's get to the reason why you are all here. Sable Mensah, class of 2011, has a storied and plush tenure in the realm of education. Hailing from New York City, Sable began cultivating her passion for and commitment to equitable practices in education at the K through 12 level and undergraduate and graduate course level. While a student at Swarthmore College she studied history and black studies and was a member of the Dare 2 Soar after school enrichment program, which provided tutoring for students at the K through 12 level in the neighboring town of Chester. She would go on to become a leader in that group, serving as co-director for two to three years. Post-Swarthmore, she accepted an invitation to become a core member for Teach for America, which brought her back to the urban jungle that is New York City. Obtaining her Masters of Art in teaching, general student, excuse me, general childhood education, and working full time as a second-grade teacher for two years. And anyone who's done any of those programs knows that that is quite the test of will. After graduation, that's when the journey kicked into high gear. She taught fifth and sixth-grade science, designed and developed curriculums for multiple institutions, trained and mentored teachers for best student-teacher practices, and taught grad school courses. After leaving the urban jungle, she moved to Sacramento, California, yes, west coast, where she became the founder and CEO of Equitable Outcomes. Equitable Outcomes focuses on unlocking a student's full bliss potential, breaking down systemic barriers and implicit biases that often hold the most marginalized students, black and indigenous people of color- that's what BIPOC means- and English language learners, students with learning differences, and students who exist at the intersections of those identities. She enjoys life in sunny Sacramento with her wife, Christina, and their dog, Grizzly. So without further ado, I'm going to turn it over to Sable.
Sable Mensah: Thank you so much Twan, I'm humbled and excited and honored to be doing this with you, and thank you for everything that you said. Hi Swatties, it's been a long time. It's really exciting to be here. If people could drop in the chat their, well obviously I can see your name, but if you could drop in your graduation year and the industry you're in now, not necessarily what you majored in, because Swatties, as we know, like to traverse the world, in a windy path. Yes, but if you could drop in the year you graduated and the industry you're in now, out of curiosity. Oh, hi everyone! Okay, so let's get this started. A lot of ed folks. Okay, this is fantastic, I'm super excited. And so there are a lot of ed folks, which is very exciting, and if I am being very jargony or very specific, please feel free to ask any and all questions, I'm excited to answer them. So let's get started. Share. Okay. Okay: learning with pride, cultivating a culture of equity and success in schools. This has been a part of my journey and the journey of so many other people on this call, thinking about what does it mean to live, work, teach, lead in a system that's not necessarily designed for success for all students. And how do we, knowing that, how can we still try to carve out a world in a space where students have a chance where they can succeed. And so that's a little bit of what we'll be going into today. I'm going to share what I've done since graduation, but Twan, you did a pretty fantastic job of summarizing that. Go over some basic truths and basic facts and understandings that I'm going off of, get into the how behind of what my work is, and ultimately the big picture. And this is the piece that I hope is transferrable to you, regardless of your role, context, or industry. And hopefully, we can one, by the time we get to this point, you have a clear idea of how you can sort of take some of what you've learned here and apply it to wherever you are in the world today. And yeah. So Twan, you did a really fantastic job summarizing. I would say the big picture things of what I've done since graduation, I have held various roles in education, teaching kids, coaching teachers, principals, and district leaders, but ultimately in all of the things that I've done, I've moved and strived towards figuring out how can I help people be the best version of themself? And then that question eventually evolved over time to thinking about how can I close opportunity gaps for students? And we'll get to a minute around the language of opportunity gap versus achievement gap in just a moment. So I also moved to California last August. I traded in one bridge for another. And I'm very excited to have launched Equitable Outcomes, where I train and work with school systems and helping them cultivate high-quality instructional practices and de-systematize implicit bias, which we'll get into in just a little bit. Another thing for this presentation, this presentation will provide you with visual anchors and I'll often just continue to explain what it is you see. So this is not going to be text-heavy. We've all sat through talks that are super text-heavy and all that other stuff and so no, the teacher at me is coming out this way. All right, so some basic truths. The first basic truth that we're going to operate under is that anti-black racism is baked into the foundation of this country. And I chose the image of a Lego house, so to speak, because a lot of the times when, for example, in today, it could be today, it could be five years ago, it could be 20 years ago. When we talk about something like that, like the foundation of our country, oftentimes we kind of try to look for piecemeal solutions or try to do things that maybe feel good but don't cause a lot of discomfort. And that, the part of the reason why we see that doesn't work is because, you know, it's in this, for example, demonstration of the Lego house, is that racism is the bricks. And so what do you do if we take the bricks away, there's no roof . If we take the bricks away, where's the living room wall, right? And so we just need new bricks and we need a new wall, we need a new house, we need a new everything. And so I'm operating under the assumption that this, because it's the foundation of our country, it's also baked into our lives today, into all the systems we operate in, and education is no exception. I think education and a lot of us in ed know so many people, truth to go into education, to change the world and to make it a better place. And people have admirable reasons and often time the reasons propelling us to education can be wielded as a way to not look at well, are we doing what we wanted? What we said we wanted? Like, are we living up to this promise? And so that's the first basic truth. And with that, when I talk about, yeah, I'll just leave it there. The next basic truth is that all children deserve high-quality instruction from adults who believe in their ordinary and not exceptional brilliance. And I'm going to break this down a little bit. And I'm going to say it actually, I'm going to say it again, making just one change and to... I want you to think about what does that change bring up for you when I say it? So black children deserve high-quality instruction from adults who believe in their ordinary and not exceptional brilliance. And so while both of these things are true, we also know that our, well... I'm going to pause and back up from there. So why do I say ordinary and not exceptional brilliance? I am a queer black girl from the Bronx who was very quiet and was a reader. And that meant that my teachers, when they saw me, they liked me and they asked me questions and they thought, "Wow, she's so curious. "She's so this," like, "She's so smart." And I know part of the reason why my teachers assume that about me is because I was, you know, smart for a black girl, curious for a black girl. I wasn't rowdy, like the other ones over there. A lot of how my teachers treated me was part of kind of the othering and the otherness of black students. And so I recognize that part of the reason why that's an issue is my teachers thought that my brilliance was exceptional. Not all black kids could be smart like that. Not all of them could fill it, do anything like that. And you know, when that has been society for a child before they have a chance to share any of their potential with the world, that really closes them off. And so I really firmly believe that children deserve high-quality instruction from those who believe that them being brilliant is an ordinary and expected thing, not something so shocking that we just have to stop the fan and be like, "Oh my gosh!" So those are the basic truths that we're kind of running off of. Okay, so now comes the opportunity myth. So while we acknowledge that all children deserve... Oh, sorry about that. Does anyone's Mac do that as well? It's so annoying. Well.
Twan Claiborne: Yes, mine will occasionally disrupt itself and try to figure itself out. And I was like, wait a second.
Sable Mensah: Sorry about that. Okay, I'm going to switch that too, sorry. Okay, now can you only see my PowerPoint?
Twan Claiborne: At least for me, that's fine.
Sable Mensah: Okay. Okay. You can still see the email, oh man.
Twan Claiborne: Yeah, you might have to just click out of the.. Or like minimize the email screen if you can. Let's see if that'll work.
Sable Mensah: Okay, it's gone now. Okay, quit. Alright, can you see me presenting now?
Twan Claiborne: Yeah, the email is still up there.
Sable Mensah: It is? I don't even see my email.
Twan Claiborne: That's interesting
Sable Mensah: Yeah.
Twan Claiborne: What if you exit out and see if you can restart the presenting?
Sable Mensah: Okay. For people enjoying this happening, I was just talking, I forgot to, can... New share. Let's see. But if it wasn't obvious before I'm clearly embracing and becoming an auntie. Alright like that transition has become my technical difficulties. Can you only see my projector now or my presentation now?
Twan Claiborne: Mhmm.
Sable Mensah: Okay. All right. All right, back in business. Apologies for that. So where was I? All right. So... Children deserve to receive high-quality instruction from those who, okay, yes, okay. So we have our basic truths and we have different results in the world that we live in. In 2018, TNTP, which formerly stood for The New Teacher Project, and now doesn't stand for anything, literally, they released a report called The Opportunity Myth, where they discuss and talk about, well, this idea that, it basically breaks out around the idea that certain students, kids of color, kids learning English, kids with disabilities, can't learn. And surprise, surprise, and I say surprise, surprise in the sense that, I'm knowing that it's not a surprise for quite all of us. Students want to learn. All students, regardless of their race, regardless of their language, English language abilities, they all want to learn. However, the opportunities they have to master grade-level content are mixed and they're often dependent on what teachers perceive they can handle. And this is even when they're... And so part of the reason why this is an issue is some students literally don't have the chance to think about the hard thing. Teachers are decided that kids can't do it. Kids can't, that it may be a little bit too hard. And so they don't have access to the grade-level content at all. What ends up happening is students fall farther and farther behind grade-level because they're not doing grade-level work. But they're still being tested and held accountable for that grade-level work. And so I want to connect that with the basic truth that I was just talking about, because, even, so The Opportunity Myth is released and an increasing amount of schools and districts around the country begin adopting like a tier, what some states call "Tier One curriculum" and that's curriculum that's aligned to common core standards or whatever your state has chosen to call them. It's curriculum that has complex texts. It's curriculum that has coherence, if we're talking about math. This is really solid curriculum where students have a chance. They have a chance to do the deep thinking and what is surprising for some and shocking to see is that even in some schools, even with that curriculum, students are still being denied an opportunity. They're still not being asked a grade-level question, they're still not being asked the hard things. And as a result, they're being pulled further and further behind. And so one knee jerk reaction would be like, "Oh my God! "A teacher in there, they can't give kids a chance. "That's why I'm giving them a chance." Or another reaction is like, "Oh my goodness," like, "Why?" Like, "this is so messed up." Like, you know, "We just need to hire better. "We just need to do this better." You know? And part of the issue with that is two things. That we're still in this house, so hiring any person in the world is not going to change the house we live in. And that's what our current education system looks like. And the second thing is, you know, it kind of is an opt-out for different kinds of leaders and different people, depending on your locus of control of really taking a chance to reflect and be like, "Well what can I do to impact this issue?" And so part of what I do is I help school systems have that, for lack of a better phrase, have that moment of reflection to think about, "Well how can we think about how can we "concretely provide our kids with both "the high-quality instruction "and de-systematizing implicit bias?" And so that's where I support them. I help them think about, okay, so if we have a goal here, we want our teachers to ask the kids this kind of a question when they're stuck, what would a teacher have to experience in order to ask that question? What do they need for themselves? What opportunities do they need to ensure that those are the instructional decisions they're making in the moment when they're in front of students, which is a shift, because oftentimes when I work with principals they're like, "Well, this teacher, she just, "she has a fixed mindset." So I just, you know, I give the feedback when I can and just keep it moving. And, you know, that labeling people as fixed mindsets or being like, "We'll just hire someone else or we'll just do this," it's kind of like the perverse version of cancel culture, where we just treat individuals as disposable and then wonder why, as school and system leaders, why they don't trust you or trust us and wonder why they don't take feedback. And I really think that part of, well, part of how I support system leaders is to help them think about, "Okay, let's accept that as a fact. "Now what?" We have 180 days in front of us, you have 25 beautiful seven-year-olds in that woman's classroom. And so what are you saying for them and their education for the rest of the year? So once I help them with that, then I help them think about, okay, if we're expecting that this is where teachers are, what do they need to experience by the end of the year in order for them to be thinking differently? How do I need to approach them differently? How can I shift my professional learning systems, coaching, so on and so forth so that they're actually thinking about instruction in a deep way, but that's also incredibly supportive, because something that a lot of people... So, you know, if you're on different positions, if you manage people and they don't do what you say, for lack of just keeping it what it is, the manager, it's very common to be like, "That person doesn't like me," or, "They hate me," or they just don't want to do anything that you ask them to do. And the harsh reality is that it is usually not about you and it's about them. And I actually extend that to life, personal life and professional life. The way people react is not about them. And so if people can accept that, then it legitimizes, "Oh, maybe this teacher is giving the third grade "or second-grade lesson "'cause they don't know how to scaffold. "Maybe they're giving this person this because "they tried this questioning strategy "that kept the heavy lifting on the students and it flopped, "and they have no idea how to bring it back." It's about shifting our mindset so we are exploring and discovering our new, sort of, our expanded locus of control once we own what is possible. And then the second piece with how I support school systems is helping them, helping leaders think of themselves as active actors that can de-systematize implicit bias by using evidence-based language. And so this, there's a ton of research on it. I'm sure many people on this call have read it in a Swarthmore class or possibly even written some of it. And that is... All of which is to say, implicit biases are very deep and obviously subconscious, and I know and understand that you can't totally eliminate anyone's implicit bias without them willingly engaging in that work to uncover and unlearn it themselves. However, what leaders can do is to make sure that they are setting things up in a way that eliminates opportunities for implicit bias to show up. So, for example, if, you know, a teacher is making an instructional decision about what lessons to include in their unit, and they're just like, "Well I don't really, "I can't really handle this topic," or, "I don't want to do it. "This is too hard for the kids." Instead of going back to the teacher and being like, "That's racist," or, "That's messed up," which, you know, oftentimes when leaders go to workshops and trainings and they're, you can tell when your school leader or a superintendent has gone to a workshop or training that they really liked, 'cause now they're all up in your classroom, they're all talking about this thing that you have no context for, and they decided, well, you're just not down with the movement because you're not doing this technique they learned about last week and this technique is going to change the world. And I kind of help leaders with understanding, okay, so being... You had an aha moment and you experienced an insight that changed your world view and how you receive information and your frame of reference and the people that you're now holding accountable to this aha and this insight has not had the opportunity to have that moment yet. They did not do the thinking, they did not experience something that led them to the conclusions that you now hold dear to your heart. And so, as a leader, we have to think about, "Okay, what can I do to," excuse me, "What can I do to push?" I was gonna say students, "To push my teachers or to push my principals "to think about complex text in this way? "What can I expose them to "to help them understand that, oh, every, you know, to help them understand every student can access a conversation about math, or a conversation about science, and, you know, all of this, which is to say, I'm not saying that, you know, it's kind of like an opt-in all the time in that leaders should ask people, teachers should ask people what they feel like doing all the time. That's not what I'm saying at all. What I'm saying is, when we're thinking about, when we think about teachers and principals as adults and as humans, and we accept that, you know, adults and humans learn in a certain way, and if I want to see something different then I need to shift this, so I can have that outcome. Which, for some reason, and I would love, I know I'm going to take questions later, but I would love for somebody to answer me, why is it that educators don't get that? Like once we... That adults need to learn in fun and engaging ways too. It's so perplexing. I'm sure any, and every teacher you know will wonder about that as well. So yeah, so I... Okay. So. So high-quality instruction and de-systematizing implicit bias, those are the major levers that I use to support school systems and changing the way that they support teachers so that they can change, with fairness and with equity, what they expect from them. And to guarantee that all students in every classroom in their district have the opportunity to access grade-level content. So now the big picture that I think is transferable and I would love to know what your thoughts are, and I've actually been thinking about what would it mean to take all of this and distill in a way that's transferable to other industries and other sectors? And whenever I think about supporting a school or a district I ask myself, and then I also ask them, "Well what is the problem? "What are your assumptions about the problem?" And there's a last question too. "What do other people need to experience in order to perceive the problem differently?" And these questions often allow me to take seemingly intractable problems and break them apart, play with them a little bit and think creatively about another way to approach it. And it's something that I found that even when working with leaders that they've been in it for years, they're tired and done, they're looking at the clock for retirement and are just trying to make it through this latest reform, as the wave, as the tide comes in and out in education, I find that even leaders like that are like, "Oh," like feel an opening and feel an opportunity to have a real conversation about what's going on instead of, you know, seeing that something is wrong with student achievement and then pathologizing the students for the outcomes as opposed to reflecting inward and looking at well, "What is it about what we're doing that led to this outcome?" And oftentimes that is a conversation that's very scary to people. And is very scary to, regardless of the role, like regardless of the role, and this is the part where people are excited about the work but they're so terrified about, "How do I have this conversation "with a principal who hates me? "Or a teacher who is teaching AP calculus? And I'm so scared of that subject, and I don't know anything about it, but I do know that they could do this thing." And that's where I use evidence-based language. Evidence-based language, and I want to be very clear, it's not like, what's considered valid evidence. Within the context of this conversation, and with working with schools, evidence-based language is something that is observable. And so, for example, it's just something that is observable and ideally quantifiable. So, for example, instead of saying, you know, "This teacher's classroom management is a hot mess." That could refer to a lot of different things, that could refer to a lot of different things. You know, instead, saying, "Oh, when I walked into the teacher's classroom, seven students were on the rug, 10 were at their desk, two were working on a math problem, three were juggling math manipulative." It's just like, you know, those are objective facts, like that is what is happening in the room. And when you use, when you start with that evidence-based language, you can actually open it up. This is what I thought. Why? What's happening? What did you want? You can ask what were the students experiencing? You can, so if you, you can... And there's just so much more of a conversation you can have with a teacher when you name those things instead of being like, "I went into your classroom; it was a hot mess. Let's work on your classroom management." In their mind they're like, "No, screw you, you're a hot mess." Or if the relationship isn't there, "I'm going to sit here and I'm gonna listen, and I'm waiting until this is done so I can leave and go to happy hour with my teacher friends, and we can talk about this ridiculous feedback you're giving me." Instead, if you present evidence-based language and really, really actually leverage it by zooming in on one thing you want the person to focus on, or the group of people to focus on, then that is the window to aha moments. And even though it's, and that's when I found asking people those... using evidence-based language and asking evidence-based questions to pull people into the conversation just opens up so... Teachers are so open to feedback, principals are so open to trying a new thing, and it's just so much easier when your identity and your value as a professional is not on the line. And that's ultimately what it is about, is reducing the stakes and also creating a clear window, because if we're using charged language or jargony language, a lot of people can find a lot of different meanings for the same thing. If you walk into a classroom and you say, "Wow, I saw high engagement," I have no idea what you saw because my definition of high engagement is different than yours, is different than yours, and it also looks different for every kind of child. And what happens, as a result, is a lot is lost in translation, and there's no... The problem remains. Access to grade-level content and closing opportunity gaps, those gaps remain because no one knows what the other person's talking about, or we're kind of just fluffy about what we're talking about, or we're just disregarding what we're talking about. And so while all of those things are very natural, I leverage a lot of what I've been sharing to push leaders to think about a little bit, "Well, yes, that's natural, and here's what is in your locus of control that you can shift or change." And so that's what I have to say. You guys have any questions?
Twan Claiborne: Yes, first of all, so succinct. So much information just for us to marcel on. Thank you Sable for taking your time out to educate us all, and get us thinking about something that is very pertinent and real. I know there are some people here who have children who are in the education system and they're having, they're directly affected by your work. So on behalf of them and myself as an educator, thank you for doing this work and getting us to be our best selves for the students and for each other. I'm seeing some, sorry, asking some questions. I have a couple that I noted before. The first question that I received from Victoria Silvera, class of 2005, come on RNM alumnus is, "Have you ever overhauled a department at a college?"
Sable Mensah: I have more questions for them. I haven't overhauled a department at a college, and I try to do, well, less overhaul and more kind of like... I tried to do something similar at one of the schools that I taught at, and I, well, I just have so many questions. What are you trying to overhaul? Why are you trying to overhaul it? But I can just share about my experience with trying to do that with a history department at a network of schools I was teaching at is... First, I knew what had to be true for me and my classroom. I had that down. And then once I had any space and energy I had left over is what I was able to put into sort of the network-wide department. And it really is a matter of, I guess the biggest thing I would say is who has decision-making power and how much are they for or against your cause? And so you might be that person with decision-making power, or you might not be, but I think what's... But being able to identify that person and knowing if they're for or against your cause can define your next step. And actually this reminds me, I don't know the context, but I'm thinking there's this organization called Beautiful Rising, where on their website they have something called "power mapping" where it's just an activity they use with different grassroots, or kind of, groups of people organizing in a grassroots kind of way, trying to solve a massive problem. And so I would suggest if you want to think about it from a holistic change management kind of approach, look into power mapping. Next question.
Twan Claiborne: All right, next question is from Stephanie. "How much of teaching teachers is about leading and learning how to engage and motivate adults?"
Sable Mensah: That's all of it. It's leading and learning how to engage adults. Yeah. And even, it's all of it, and even when I hear that question I think of, well, "What is your definition of a leader and how do leaders operate?" And I think ultimately teaching teachers, you need to have some basic assumptions about teachers and why they do the things they do. When I teach teachers, and even when they ask any kind of question, when I'm teaching teachers, I have a basic assumption that no one likes feeling stressed about their job, or no one likes feeling like a bad teacher and they'll do anything they can to not feel like a bad teacher, which, I'm using that language as someone sharing out self-talk that I've had when I was in the classroom and I know some of my peers have as well. And so, yeah, just assume, and if you assume that people just want to be great, then it just changes the way you approach trying to support them.
Twan Claiborne: Great answer. Our next question is coming from, sorry I forgot to write down their name when I was doing this, from Laila and Laila is doing anti-racist work at their school and they want to know, "How do you get teachers to imagine new ways of doing things? For example, replacing a PBIS system." And for those of you who don't know what PBIS is, it means positive behavioral interventions and support system.
Sable Mensah: Yeah. So the first step is knowing what your locus of control is, like before you even... And I guess I'm making an assumption that the person asking is maybe not a teacher or there's a group of teachers, but know what your locus of control is, because what's the worst thing you can do, is you can, and this also applies, I've experienced this, but in parallel with the, "I work in organizations," the worst thing you can do is be like, oh yeah, let people just go and run away and with no parameters, and the no parameters isn't a bad thing. What is a bad thing is when they come back and they're like, "here are all the things we want to do." And you're like, "Oh wait though!" Like you, it, that just really helped a lot of momentum and really can build this trust because people spent time and invested energy, feeling empowered and thinking that they had the power to do something, and then it turns out they didn't. And so the first thing is, know what the parameters are, and by talking to people who have that kind of decision-making power. And then I would say there's something called a futures protocol, which I use when I'm trying to get groups to imagine a new way of doing things. And the protocol, basically, if you Google it and also national school reform faculty has a version that I've used before, it basically asks you to talk about the future as the present tense and as if you've already accomplished all your goals. And then you kind of backwards plan from there. But just getting in the mindset of thinking about oh no, yes, we did abolish this, or we did get rid of this, and this is what our lives look like, there's something about speaking about it in the present tense that just makes it easier to think through.
Twan Claiborne: Great answer. This one comes from Miguel Morales, class of 1993. Their educational foundation is with the Sacramento Unified School District, so teaching grades one through seven, particularly focusing on the gifted and talented education program, I'm assuming that's what GAT is, for grades three and seven. And they're curious about your thoughts on how the issues of access and implicit bias interact with tracking for gifted and talented education programs. Because as you mentioned before, you talked about your profile as a student and how you were sort of able to escape the mold because of, you were against the profile of being with the bias nonsense.
Sable Mensah: I really appreciate this question because it's, so in full disclosure and full transparency...I went to the Bronx High School of Science, which in New York City is a specialized high school that, which the group of specialized high schools have been in the news in the past one of two years for basically being really hyper-segregated and being incredibly white and predominantly white and predominantly Asian and locking, which is significant in New York City schools where I believe black and Latinx students are, oh, I don't know the exact number, but I think at least over half overall.
Twan Claiborne: Yeah, they're at least over half.
Sable Mensah: Yeah, and so, you know, when we're talking about equity, the vast majority, the numbers just don't add up, right? So I'm saying all that to say, and I think that gifted and talented programs, while I understand the premise of it, and I'm a beneficiary of it, and I will never stand in the way of a black or brown child accessing them, I think the premise of them kind of exists... They're able to exist and thrive on a segregated school system. And so I just, I don't see how, I don't see how they can exist without segregation in the sense that, well, why the whole idea of gifted and talented is like we have some kids that are really, really smart, and because of that they deserve a really, really good education that really, really challenges them. But we see research that says, you know, kids in kindergarten, they have very similar levels of intelligence and capacity and it just decreases with each year of school. And so, yeah, if that's controversial, I'd love to talk to you more about it. and I have to think more about it myself. And it's not, that's not really a statement on what should happen to all of the gifted and talented programs in the country. I just, I don't know how it can exist without segregation. Because if we fully desegregated and we, if we really do, if every child has access to high-quality instruction where teachers believe in their brilliance, then we wouldn't need gifted and talented, you know? It's kind of like, well, we can't get it for all of them, but some, which, criteria is worthiness depending on how each place wants to define it. Yeah.
Twan Claiborne: Great question. This one is from Kelly. "What are some goals that you've set with schools and have you seen both those schools improve on those goals? What are some examples of that happening, and what type of plans have been put in place for those schools?"
Sable Mensah: Okay, so... So part of the reason why I'm thinking is I, well, it's a good question. But I was put off on setting goals with schools because I asked them, well, "Tell me what your problems are. Tell me why it's a problem for you." And based off of... Let's look at all of this data to understand the problems in a different way, to have different insights, and based off of that, what goal should we have? And so that's part of the reason why I'm taking me a while to think concretely because I don't really tell schools what to work on. They generally know what to work on. But I'm thinking about once, a transfer high school in the South Bronx, I worked with a principal and interdisciplinary team of teachers and they wanted to increase classroom discussion and so, they wanted to increase the classroom discussion and so I supported them by using an improvement science model to create a tool and then try it out. And then let's analyze what our evidence says. And then we modify it and then try it out. Just kind of like multiple iterations of testing. And those teachers were able to... There was improved discussion in their class. In terms of... Let me think of another thing. Well, I can't tell you... What type of plan? Ah, I can give you another example. So I'm working with a school district in Louisiana, and right now they're working on, they want, so I thought about them a lot as I was sharing because they're working, they've made all of these investments in their own education system, and yet haven't seen a shift in instructional practices. And so this year they're working on how, specifically developing principals and other administrators to become better coaches. And so that's what we're working on. We defined a framework and we're in the midst of deciding what that's eventually going to look like. Prematurely, I can tell you, I'm helping them with both parts. So I'm training their principals on how to be evidence-based and leverage data-driven instruction without the kind of buzz, and then also coaching, like job-embedded coaching, the coach kinda thing. There's more, but I can tell you more later.
Twan Claiborne: This is our... Thank you so much to everyone asking questions. This is going to be our final one. If there's anyone who has other questions, we can compile them in a list and have Sable contact you and answer them. So if you have a final question, you can put your email address in and we can get you in the response that way, if that's okay with you Sable?
Sable Mensah: Yeah, perfect.
Twan Claiborne: So the final question, I think this is really great because it's not just teachers dealing with students and administrators, but it's also behavioral and mental health professionals. This is from Shilpa, class of 2011. Their question is--
Sable Mensah: Hey, Shilpa!
Twan Claiborne: Right, I was like, "I know that name!" All right. "What resources would you recommend for behavioral mental health professionals on using evidence-based language and working with teachers to address student disruptive behavior?" And to give you a background, they were a behavioral health consultant working in pre-K schools in Mississippi in some very disruptive chaotic environments for students.
Sable Mensah: Okay. Student disruptive behavior. Okay. So the first... I don't know if... I thought of two resources. One is I'm going to connect you to someone I know out here, and the second is it might not be directly related, but I'm thinking of Understood.org. And that I often recommend to teachers and even parents, because that website was founded, created by, I believe, parents whose kids have disabilities and wanted to create something that actually made this whole system make sense, and that was accessible and help them understand their child. And so that's one resource, Understood.org. Yeah, for kids with learning differences. Okay, so the thing about student disruptive behavior is that... I don't know, I just see the word disrupted and I feel like it's so... And this is an education thing, so I don't even think this is a youth thing, Shilpa, but I think in education we say disruptive, and it is like a massive container for anything kids of color do that you don't want them to do. Right? Just to call a thing a thing. And so because of that, when teachers are really struggling with students, I guess how you support that teacher depends on your role or relationship to them. Before you mention anything at all, it's important to like name and acknowledge that what they're experiencing is hard, because teaching is really hard and that doesn't... Teaching is really hard and deserves respect and that's hands down. So acknowledge hardcore what they're doing and that it is hard. And then I would begin to, I don't know. This one's a tough one. I mean, I definitely, I mean, outside of observing them and recommending some books... Oh, actually, that's what I'll think of. There's this book called "Choice Words". I don't remember who wrote it, but it had a profound impact on how I speak with kids and that had a, it's just huge. So I'd recommend "Choice Words" for them. And then also, for you Shilpa, I recommend having an understanding about well, why is that teacher struggling, and going from there. It's just such a can of worms. You could also reach out to me afterwards and we can talk. Yeah, so that's my very, in a nutshell, response.
Twan Claiborne: Excellent. Well, thank you again, Sable, for taking the time out to answer questions so thoroughly and again, presenting on a topic. Thanks again to the alumni council for having a SWAT talk. Thank you, Lisa, our techs appoint and our liaison, and most of all, thank you audience for sitting with us and wrestling with a lot of different topics. I hope and I know that you are all more informed just for being here and having those internal dialogues. And I know that you all are going to go forth and take that information and make the best use of it because the children are our future, and it's important that we equip them with the best tools to be the best global citizens we can. All right. Thank you all for coming and have a good morning, afternoon, day, night, whatever time zone it is. Take care everyone.
Sable Mensah: And thank you! Thanks for including me into your homes. Bye everyone.
Twan Claiborne: Of course, take care.