Transcription of the episode “Black men as teachers: Recruitment, retention, development, empowerment”

Amy H-L: [00:00:15] I’m Amy Halpern-Laff. 

Jon M: [00:00:16] And I’m Jon Moscow. Our guests today are Dr. Daman Harris and Dr. Inger Swimpson of the Building Our Network of Diversity, BOND, Project in Montgomery County, Maryland. Dr. Harris is co-founder and co-leader of the BOND project. He is an elementary school principal and teaches at McDaniel College and University of Maryland at College Park. Inger Swimpson is the founder of the  BOND Project and is a high school assistant principal in Montgomery County. Welcome Daman and Inger.

Daman H: [00:00:45] Thank you. Glad to be here.

Inger S: [00:00:48] Absolutely. Thank you so much for having us.

Jon M: [00:00:51] Please tell us about the BOND project. Why did you start it and what does it do?

Inger S: [00:00:58] I’ll start. The BOND project began with really an idea, recognizing that men of color, in particular Black men, in Montgomery County Public Schools, were  not having the level of success that I would have anticipated and I would have loved to have seen, given the fact that they were coming into our school system at the time, which was in 2013, with an average of seven years of teaching experience. And with seven years of teaching experience, that for me signaled that they were pretty knowledgeable about the pedagogy, about the content they were teaching. And all of those things that we oftentimes associate with someone who is a great teacher, unfortunately though, they were on a trajectory that was similar to that of our boys of color in that they weren’t being successful. They weren’t meeting that same level of success, given all that they were bringing to our school system.

So one of the things that I did was pull together an incredible think tank. And Dr. Harris was a member of that as well as Dr. Gail Epps, who at the time was the coordinator of our new teacher induction program. Dr. Brenda Delaney, who was our specialist for our higher education partnerships, and Mr. Troy Boddy, who was the director of our equity initiatives unit. And Dr. Harris and the folks that I just mentioned, we just sat down and thought about what is it that our Black male educators are experiencing here that’s not making them successful and not keeping them here. And we talked about different ideas that could possibly be leading to that, but also wanted to make sure that we were gaining some authentic voice by going to those who were novice teachers in the school system at that time and those who were experienced teachers. So we brought them together and asked them. “What keeps you in the school system? What brought you to the school system, and what would cause you to leave?” And oftentimes, one of the things that they talked about was the isolation, often being seen as a disciplinarian and not being respected for their understanding of content and pedagogy, not being elevated in the way that teacher leaders need to be elevated.

And so they gave us feedback indicating that a group that could serve as a networking organization or  just an opportunity to connect with those who had life experiences as they had, would be very beneficial. And we did some research and met several times before we started. And then decided to just launch the BOND project, building our network of diversity with the men who were in MCPS, Montgomery County Public Schools, at the time, and who were interested in connecting with other Black male educators.

And it really went from spark to flame in no time, because there was such a need for that connection, such a need for that brotherhood. And that’s what we see happening now every time we come together. And I like the fact that it has grown from an idea to really now a movement. And we see more and more of these affinity groups happening and developing throughout the country. And they’re essential. They are essential to the success of Black male and Latino male educators.

Daman H: [00:04:54] I’ll add a little bit about how we zoomed out. Once we figured out that there was a need in our  school district, we zoomed out and took a look at the national context. Inger mentioned a little bit that we did some research, and we found looking at the work of people like Dr. Chance Lewis, Ivory Toldson, and Travis Bristol. We found out that there were issues like this everywhere. It wasn’t just us. And we looked around and saw that there were even a couple of other groups before we started that were starting up like the Fellowship of Black Male Educators for Social Justice in Philadelphia. So we called in to talk with their leaders. We hopped into their leadership calls just to get a feel for what other folks were doing out there that we could learn from, like mentor organizations.

Jon M: [00:05:42] What does BOND do, now that you’re well-established? What are some of your activities? 

Daman H: [00:05:47] The big picture for us is we try to make schools better places for boys of color, because we think that will help more of them want to become teachers in the future. And we try to make schools better places for men of color, because we think that that will help them be more likely to stay in teaching. And we do that through partner with our own members, but also with other organizations on efforts to recruit, retain, develop, and empower Black and brown men across the educational spectrum. A lot of work we do locally in the DC Metro area, but we also partner and do work with folks from across the country.

Amy H-L: [00:06:32] Daman, what is the relationship of. BOND with the schools in which you work?

Daman H: [00:06:39] It is often very informal. So you may have agents from different schools that’ll call us or email us and say, “Hey, we have a guy who needs to get plugged into the network.” “We have a new teacher that needs to get plugged in. He needs a mentor.” And we may connect men that way. We will have opportunities for us to have. We have a conference every year that we call the Academy, and sometimes school districts– well, one time the school district partnered with us and wanted to sponsor that event, or school districts will contact us and say, “How can we send our folks to your events?” We have conversations around policy. We have a summit every fall. We talk about policy that affects men and boys of color in education. And school districts may say, “Do you want to have that here in our space? Or can we send some people over there to be a part of what you’re doing?” And some of that is really informal. 

And then we have some formal partnerships. The most prominent of those partners is the district in which Inger and I both teach right now, Montgomery County Public Schools. We have formal relationships with them where we have a boys group that supports the learning and leadership activities for boys of color in grades 4-12. And in that way, there’s a real, there’s a formal MOU that’s developed with the school district and we operate in that sense. So we vary from the more formal aspects of partnerships to informal pieces where people just call us up because we now have a network of folks definitely in our region and we’re starting to grow around the country.

Jon M: [00:08:19] You mentioned, Daman, if schools were better places for boys, they would be better places for teachers of color. In addition to the kind of thing that you just mentioned about the project that starts  with students in fourth grade, what are some of the things that schools can and should be doing to make them better places for boys and for young men?

Daman H: [00:08:39] I’ll say one thing and then I’ll get off the mic and let Inger share some things because I know she’s chomping at the bit to chime in. This is in her wheelhouse, too. But for us, we talk a lot about the lack of a pipeline of teachers. We don’t have a bench of teachers to pull off coming out of high school or college, men who want to be teachers, in our teachers colleges and undergrad. A part of that is about  boys of color not having great experiences in school. They can’t be their authentic selves. They don’t find themselves represented in the teaching corps. They don’t find themselves represented in the curriculum. They don’t find themselves represented in school leadership. They don’t find themselves in the spokespeople –the voices in the community who often speak a lot at board meetings. Our boys of color don’t see themselves represented there much either. Where they find themselves represented, overly represented, is in a disciplinary issue, in the dropouts, in most of the negative indicators of success that we have in schools. That’s where our boys of color are finding themselves and see themselves reflected most. So schools aren’t places that are good places to be.

So what we need to do and what we push, BOND does through our membership, and we do as individuals, Inger and I, is we push school districts to adopt a more antiracist posture. So we need to be thinking about the systems that are in place that are recreating these disproportionate effects, negative effects, on our boys of color. Sometimes that is like culturally responsive teaching training. Sometimes that is a look at the policies we have around the curriculum we choose, or the hiring practices that we have. Sometimes that is trying to Institute more restorative practices in our classrooms, in our school buildings. There are a number of ways that our boys can feel more respected, more valued, and more seen in the stuff we do in the school building and grow. I think I might talk too much on that.

Inger S: [00:10:44] No, no, you didn’t. But I’ll add a couple of things because we recognize, too, that the research that is out there, it says that when boys of color have teachers of color working with them, they’re much more likely to not only stay in school, but to move forward into higher education. But we don’t want to limit it just to kids of color because it also, the research also supports that when any student has a teacher of color, their student achievement increases with teachers of color. So if that is the case, we should as a nation be looking for ways to help all students learn. Oftentimes we lean in, lean more into students of color, needing to have a teacher of color, but I really believe that all students need to be able to see men of color in front of them. It changes the trajectory,  it changes the landscape, and it changes the way in which they are viewed. Because when you think about how men of color are seen in the media, it’s not always a picture that is reflective and representative of what they see when they are in the classroom. 

And when they’re in front of a Black male teacher or Latino male teacher, they see that these individuals have experiences that are very similar to theirs. There is a language and a connection, whether it’s spoken or unspoken, that they are able to connect with. And there’s just a level of interest and love that’s really hard to characterize and define, but it’s there and that’s what oftentimes these students need. They need to have someone who can relate and connect to them in a way that not everyone can do. And it’s not to say that if it is a teacher who identifies as white that they can’t be a good teacher. We’re not saying that. We’re saying that in order for us to really change the trajectory, we have to have more teachers who can connect with students in a way that is authentic. And oftentimes that connectivity boils down to the racial and cultural experiences that students and teachers share.

Daman H: [00:13:09] And that’s not to say that we’re saying that we should overemphasize the ability for men of color to be mentors to boys of color in schools, because it’s not just about that. There is untapped pedagogical genius that we have in our men of color. If we are overlooking this pool of candidates, then we are missing out potentially on people who have the instructional prowess of  all the greatest teachers that we’ve ever had. And we just need to tap people on the shoulder to open the door, to ask them to come in, provide a support. 

Amy H-L: [00:13:49] So, what does that look like? Tapping them on the shoulder and asking them to come in? Are there more explicit ways that you invite young Black men to become teachers? 

Inger S: [00:14:02] One of the things I like to say, because we put so much emphasis on HBCUs as being the key to bringing in more male educators of color. And that’s true because HBCUs have produced the largest numbers of teachers of color. But [unclear] add developing an interest early by creating a school experience that is positive. That’s one of the ways, and Daman mentioned that.

But I also think it’s important for us to really look at how we are in partnership with minority serving institutions, whether they are Hispanic-serving institutions, whether they are HBCUs, there is a level of scholarship that we oftentimes don’t even consider when we are looking at research. Oftentimes we consider research that is really meaningful can only come from certain spaces, and those spaces don’t oftentimes include research from minority serving institutions. And that to me is a misstep because oftentimes, we’re always saying we want more teachers of color. Let’s go to the HBCUs, but HBCUs offer much more than teachers of color. I say that you can’t have our scholars without our scholarship. When we’re thinking about HBCUs, you have to be willing to invest in both of those things, because the research that comes out of these institutions is definitely at the same caliber as the research that comes from predominantly white institutions, but oftentimes school districts don’t partner with that pedagogical research, best practices, data analysis, all of those things that schools are doing, we don’t partner with HBCUs when it comes to that. But we’re always asking them to send us your students because we want to have, we want to diversify our workforce. There’s more to diversifying the workforce and just bringing in people of color. It’s also, again, recognizing the scholarship of those institutions.

Daman H: [00:16:26] And there are opportunities at the university level to have cohort models where men of color are in the program together and provide support to each other, almost a brotherhood through the undergraduate process. We know that Montgomery College, which is a community college near us, started a program that they called the Black Alliance for Teaching and Leading, something like that. BATL was the acronym for it. And it was to get men to go through the program together for a two year program, and then they would advance to a four-year partner program to finish the bachelor’s degree.

There are other also ways to get upstream a little bit and get the kids when they’re younger. So Darryl Howard, one of our co-leaders, he asked often when we do sessions, “How many of you have ever told a young boy of color or young man of color, you should be a teacher?” Like, so that’s a part of that piece. Sharif El-Mekki and his team at the Center for Black Educator Development, they have an apprenticeship program where they plug in kids around the country with schools around the country. And they get their work while they’re in high school. Julius Davis and the team at Bowie State University in Maryland. They have a program called the Center for Black Male Teachers College, which takes high school kids and puts them in the college environment, around folks who want to be future teachers. So that these boys, young men I should say, are going to be future teachers as well. And what BOND has been able to do is connect that those high schoolers from the  Black Male Teachers College and Bowie also has a Center for Mentoring and Teaching Black Males. Those kids, they work with our grade 4-12 kids also. So we want to have a pipeline, a seamless pipeline, that goes from fourth grade, if not younger, all the way through their undergrad experience. So districts and universities have been thinking about this creatively, at least the outside folks. We need school districts to get on board. 

Jon M: [00:18:36] What are some of the similarities and differences in the challenges that Black men and Black women face as teachers?

Inger S: [00:18:45] I think there are a number of similarities. The questioning about an individual’s level of content, how well they’re able to communicate information, whether they’re able to communicate it, their prowess around pedagogy. Do they know it? Those are very similar. I think also the experiences of isolation and also being overlooked and not having a voice when being in the presence of others, especially when they are isolated in a similar way that our male educators of color are isolated. But one of the things that I found, especially in my early years as an educator, I found a network because I could see that I was not going to have the same experiences as others. If I didn’t have a group of women who I could go to for guidance, for support, and not just around curriculum and the workplace, but just in terms of a sisterhood. And that’s the comparison. Women are, I think, more apt to find that network.

But I think men, because of the vast isolation, it’s more difficult for them. And so BOND has been very influential in creating this network for men to be able to connect with each other. And again, it’s not just about teaching practices, it’s about life and being able to sustain the work that they’re doing, to hold each other up, to ask questions, to be a sounding board for each other. Those are things that occur more naturally, I think, with women. And for men, it just needs the space needed to be created so that they would feel comfortable doing that. And also know that it was perfectly okay to do that. One of the things I say is that BOND was created so that Black men could be as Black as they want to be when they are together. Because they don’t have that opportunity to do that. Oftentimes in the schools they’re looked at differently, they have to worry about their dress, they have to worry about their hair, they have to worry about their speech, they have to worry about how they are perceived, if they’re tall, or if they, if they raise their voice, all of those things they have to consider. Imagine having to run through that checklist before you can even be present in a meeting. That’s a lot for anyone to have to do. And so it’s important to have that space where you don’t have to run through that checklist before you open your mouth to speak.

Daman H: [00:21:36] One or two other points I’d add are the things that we tend to take for granted as folks of color, that  we just see it and maybe not everybody else sees it. So we’ll make it transparent here and connect the dots really explicitly. There are times where, generally in the classroom, where teachers of color have the overemphasis from the school leadership and other colleagues that those folks should be mentors or should deal with the discipline in the classrooms, particularly with the discipline and mentorship of students of color, for students in poverty. And that in the, some of the other pieces that Ingertalked about with the perception that folks have, those are the things that John King, former Secretary of Ed calls, the invisible tax that folks of color often play in the school house or the teaching profession. And that weighs down new teachers in particular, but also folks who are isolated in sort of singletons in their building.

The other piece that are really related to stuff that many folks of color go through, not just people in teaching, and that is one of them is being the spokesperson for the entire race. So you are a 23 year old, just out of college, and you’re in your staff meeting, and your school now sees what happens with George Floyd and says, “What are you thinking, what do Black people think about this?” When they say Trump builds a wall, you go to your 22 year old Latinx teacher, just out of school, to say “What do you think? What do you, what do Mexican people think?” Like I’m not from Mexico. I’m Cuban. The baptism and the historical trauma that goes along with that, that’s been passed down from generations, folks bring that to the classroom as a part of their authentic selves, as part of the way they connect with students and families, in some cases. But that’s a burden that a lot of folks can understand. So when someone says to you, “You should work harder.” That might trigger someone to say you were calling me lazy where the speaker might not really be thinking that that might not be the intent. So there’s a lot that we have in common as teachers of color, irrespective of gender. 

Amy H-L: [00:23:55] There’s a lot of emotional labor, isn’t there.

Daman H: [00:24:01] Definitely.

Jon M: [00:24:01] In terms of African-American teachers, and also you were just mentioning Latinx, Latiné teachers. And my understanding is that BOND has members who are both African-American and Latinx or Latiné. What are some of the, again, similarities and differences that, that men in the organization talk about? How are those experiences different or similar, and what kinds of conversations do people have about that? 

Daman H: [00:24:32] No, it’s all, all of this. I was about to say it’s interesting, but it’s all interesting. We have conversations that are really similar with the Black and Brown men in the group. So there are issues with all the things that we just talked about prior to that question. Both of us, both sets of men, are dealing with those issues. The things that really stick out to me when you ask that question, though, are the personal things. So when we talk about where we belong and where we fit in, in our school buildings, but also in our families and in our communities, there are  Black,  guys in the group who might say, like, I’m not sure if I feel like a man without an island some days, because I’m not sure if I fit totally in. I know I don’t fit totally in at school, but now my experiences are different. And I’m trying to figure out how I fit in to my family and to my old neighborhood. And the Latino, the Latinx guys, sometimes say similar things like, hey, I’m not sure. Sometimes I get looked at as if am I Spanish enough, do I know enough Spanish, or do I connect with the students enough? Or people are asking me, should we have Latino versus call me Latinx. Or should you call me… Like no, call me by my country, right. Or this, a similar piece with, with us. So people ask us like should we go Black? African-American?Do we use the N-word? All those types of conversations we have. How, how are women represented in our space? We had those types of conversations that occur a lot. And then those are the, I guess those are similar things that we’re all thinking about and experiencing.

Amy H-L: [00:26:19] When we spoke a few days ago, you made a distinction between equity and anti racism. Could you describe the difference?

Daman H: [00:26:29] Yep. So for me, when we talk equity, that is almost like a comfort food. It’s a way for us to talk about the symptoms, but not talk about the disease. So these inequities, racially speaking, in this case, these inequities are the result of racist policies and practices, and those racist policies and practices are founded on a culture of white supremacy. Then why are we dealing only with the symptoms, which are those disparate outcomes? We should be dealing with the disease itself, but it’s uncomfortable, right. It’s a cancer, right. You gotta take  chemo, you gotta do bone marrow transplants. Like it hurts, but this is who we are. And we are one human body. So if that’s the work we have to do to save ourselves from ourselves or from this disease, then we should be doing that, arm-in-arm.

Inger S: [00:27:43] I was going to add to the equity versus anti-racism that equity is a much easier word to say for people. And it rolls off the tongue without the historical context that racism does. When people use the word racism, it automatically triggers a certain response. And because we’re not willing to engage in conversation around that response and what generates that response, it’s much easier to just continue focusing on equity and how we are creating the spaces for people to get what they need. Yes, that’s true, where equity allows for us to do that, but when we really delve into antiracism, it is about not just the historical context, but it’s about the present context. And having to bring forward a conversation that makes people feel uncomfortable just by stating the topic of the conversation oftentimes doesn’t leave people willing to explore who they are racially or explore how they see the world through a racial lens. And then it oftentimes results in people of color having to second guess some of their experiences because when they present those experiences, they’re challenged or made to feel like those experiences aren’t what they perceive them to be. And that’s part of why our work needs to center around race and not simply equity. It has to center around race because race for so many people of color has been the thing that has impacted us in so many different ways, but it’s also what people refuse to talk about because it’s so difficult to talk about.

 But as, as, as we know, you can’t talk about race if you don’t talk about race, you gotta have the conversation. And we aren’t always comfortable with even saying words like race, racism, Black, or Hispanic or Latinx. Those things just, aren’t a part of  our normal expression when we are talking with dominant culture. When we are within our own racial culture, yes, it happens all the time. But outside of that, and the conversation doesn’t always have to rest on the shoulders of people of color. White people can ask about race. White people should be asking about race and how it is impacting the way people of color are seen, people of color are treated, right. And especially our kids. They see it quite, quite early, when they are recognizing it. And I saw a quote recently that said, “If Black kids are young enough to experience racism, white kids need to be old enough to learn about racism.”

Jon M: [00:31:10] I mean, that was very profound when you were just saying. So how does the BOND project address that  in Montgomery County? How are you able to bring those internal conversations and make them external so that everybody in the county has to talk about race?

Inger S: [00:31:29] We do what we have done from the beginning. We are authentic in what we do and in what we say, and we don’t veer from that. Our goal and our purpose has always been to try to create this network and space for Black and brown men. We can’t create a space for Black and brown men without acknowledging the fact that yes, they are seen differently. Yes, they are treated differently. And there needs to be a level of support that is intentional and level of conversation around race that is intentional. So the way that we do this through BOND is just by simply staying and keeping the focus on race for us and doing it unapologetically. It’s okay for us to talk about race. It’s okay for us to have groups with Black and brown men coming together to share their experiences and to help Black and brown boys as they are navigating the school system. And that’s okay. But we have to know that that’s okay and not see it as anything other than a support system, because the experiences are different.

Daman H: [00:32:53] And we stand together. So every one of us knows that you are not alone when you say this in public or in your school. So we, we stand together in this work. One of the things we also do is that we create, and we contribute to platforms that add to the public discourse. So we have, every fall, we have a summit, which is a policy conversation of some panelists that are parents, students, professors, policymakers, boards of education members, principals, teachers, and folks get together and talk about these issues publicly. And we, we invite the general public. All right, we have a blog, so  our members and other folks can post their ideas on the blog. A number of our guys speak to other two groups outside of our district and all around the, all around the country, uh, in, um, different events talking about this work.

We have the Academy, which is our yearly conference. They share those three days. Every May when we get together. And every workshop in that conference is led by men of color and they are talking about, we are talking, about the issues that matter to us. So we find any outlet we can. If if we don’t talk, we’re on radio programs or on packages. “We’re everywhere the work is,” is the phrase we use. So we definitely contribute to the public discourse. And that’s how we get the word out and we make it front and center, a front burner issue in our school district.

Jon M: [00:34:30] Daman, you talked about a liberatory consciousness among BOND Project members. What do you mean by that?

Daman H: [00:34:38] It is more of an organic informal type of consciousness than it is a formal platform. But we work to make sure our guys raise awareness about the issues that matter to them and the issues that represent some of the systemic oppression in our communities. So that’s a part of that liberatory consciousness or that critical consciousness is we want folks to be aware of what’s going on. We have to have a knowledge base. So, what we do is, during our meetings, we have what we call mini PD every time we get together. So there’ll be some professional development on some topic of the day. We also have book studies that we’ll do during the school year or we’ll do during the summer. And we’ll read “How to Be Antiracist” by Kendi. Last summer we read “The Power of Latino Leadership” by Juana Bordas. This summer, we’re talking about Caste, I think, by Isabel Wilkerson. So we educate ourselves on these issues. So we have an awareness of these issues. We talk together among ourselves and among partner groups about strategies we can have to deal with those topics that are stressful to us, or that we find are oppressive to the kids in our community and their families. And we figure out some of those practices that we can use. And then we try to support each other when we take action on those pieces. So sometimes some of us may say, “Hey, we need to show up at this school to support this issue.” So then we, then we go there. Um, or as one of us is talking to a group about a different issue, then we go there, we’ll have outside groups that have reached out to us and say, “Hey, can one of you come and talk to us or support us” in some other issue, and then we’ll go there.

So those are ways that we, we try to foster a sense of liberatory consciousness, like having that awareness of what’s going on and where those injustices and systemic oppression exists, having the skills to do something about it, and then having a motivation and initiative to take action.

Amy H-L: [00:36:36] Standardized test scores pretty generally correlate with passing rates. So how do you help teachers, both Black and white, recognize students’ strengths and celebrate their own successes even when the test scores are lower than we’d like them to be?

Inger S: [00:36:55] I think the most important way is to be able to develop a relationship with students, because if they don’t see you as being a partner in the learning with them, then it’s very difficult for them to want to work harder or engage in learning where they don’t feel that they really matter. And so I, I lean very heavily on developing relationships, not even asking anything academic , with my students before I even engage with them, but just complimenting them.

If I see something that they have on that I think is nice, I compliment them. Or, if I, I notice if they just gotten their hair cut because culturally, those are some of the things that kids like to hear, that other people notice about them and, and getting to know them on a very personal level. “What are some of the things that you like,” “What do you do on the weekend?” By just asking how was your weekend? Tell me what, tell me some of the things you did, or if you, if you see them and you are thinking, how can you go about building that relationship? Start planting seeds for them. As Daman mentioned earlier, talk to them about teaching, ask them, have they ever considered being a teacher, ask them where they plan to go to college and if they don’t have a plan, then tell them, well, consider this college. I am, and I say this all the time, I’m a proud alum of North Carolina A and T. So when students talk with me about college, I absolutely tell them about my alma mater. And if they say they don’t know where they’re going to school, I say, well, tell everybody you’re going to North Carolina A & T because that’s at least a start for them. They know someone who’s graduated from that university. And that  piques their interest and helps them think, well, maybe I will go and look at that university or go to their website or find somebody else, but it sends the message that I care about you. I believe in you.

And standardized tests are just one measure of your success. There are lots of ways that we can look at how they are successful. How do they, how they navigated this pandemic? There are a lot of life lessons that children have been forced to learn as a result of this. And I think that’s the important pieces to elevate, what have they learned? What are they going to take away from this experience that will help them become a better person or maybe help them help someone else become a better person?

Daman H: [00:39:44] For me, that, that question around students’ performance on standardized tests is similar to student representation in the disciplinary data or the dropout data. Really simple for me to talk to my staff. And I say, here’s what I told my staff. It’s been generations in this. Let me take a step back. In my school, we have about 500 students and 95% of them are Black and brown. And about 83% are eligible for free or reduced meals. And about 60% are English Learners. And most of them are first or second generation here in the country. So I say to my staff, for generations, our students and their families have been at the bottom of most of the good categories that we measure. And they’ve been at the top of most of the bad categories that we measure. And we’ve changed school leadership, we’ve changed curriculum, we’ve changed some of the vernacular and use words like grit, we’ve done social emotional learning programs, and we’ve changed a bunch of different things, a bunch of different variables. Yet that’s the one consistent thread.

 So we either have to believe one of two things. There’s something inherently wrong with our students and their families that places them in this position generation after generation. Or there is something inherently wrong in our system. They recreate this demographic hierarchy over and over again. And I tell my staff, the people here at our school, we believe the latter. So if you don’t believe that the system needs changing, you should find somewhere else to teach because we have to be better. And with respect to BOND, we have a bunch of guys in the teaching corps and at the administrative level who shared  those types of messages in their buildings.

We also know within each other and our circles that we have to get better. We have to be better teachers. We have to be better leaders in order to have better outcomes for our students and our families. So we do informal things, too, that push each other. We have a group Slack channel there, maybe 85 guys in the Slack channel from all around. And they post sometimes some instructional links or some links to best practices. And guys might debate via social media, those, those practices, because we know we have to get better even in our off time.

Jon M: [00:42:35] I have a question for both of you. In your experience, can teachers who come to teaching with a deficit mindset change, or do you need to find the people who don’t have a deficit mindset from the beginning?

Inger S: [00:42:53] Wow. That’s a huge question because that’s like asking in terms of society, can you change a racist mindset? And we have to believe that we can. Otherwise, I feel if we don’t believe that we can and, and believe that that is done by exploring who you are, racially, who you are culturally, and how does that impact the way in which you engage and interact with others the way in which you lead, the way in which you make decisions, the way in which you engage. It involves dealing with the stereotypes and all of those things that we we bring. And so  I have to believe that a teacher who enters a space with a deficit mindset can get better. And part of that, again, is getting to know the people that you are working with, that you’re teaching, that you’re serving, and doing so in a very genuine way, asking questions, building relationships, and being willing to risk making some mistakes in order to do that. But coming from a place that is genuine. And  that’s a thin line to walk because oftentimes people feel if they ask a question and they don’t ask it in the right way, then they’re basically doomed and they can’t go back in and restore that. But you can always go back and restore and say, let me try to ask that again, or let me say this. But, again, my hope is that we can move those deficit mindsets by helping people unpack what it is that they are seeing that is leading to that deficit mindset. Being able to do some reading and research on your own, not expecting the Black people or the brown people to lead that effort for you or to tell you strategies, but being very intentional about how you educate yourself and position yourself in a way that you’re open to establishing strong relationships and asking questions and also asking others to hold you accountable for those things. And for me, that’s an easy, yes, because I’m a firm believer that when folks know better, they do better.

Daman H: [00:45:35] But also I would not have a fixed mindset about someone else that I’m asking them to have a growth mindset about my children. So I absolutely believe that folks can grow. I think that everybody has life experiences that have led them to have the beliefs that they hold and working with me, I have to give them some additional life experiences. That will reshape their thinking and change their worldview a little bit.

Jon M: [00:46:04] I just have one last question, which goes back to something you were saying, Inger about the impact of Black teachers on all students. And we’ve talked in particular, obviously, about role models for Black boys and young men. But if either of you wanted to say anything about the role of Black men and the impact on girls, both girls of color, and those who are not of color.

Inger S: [00:46:32] I will just add that the narrative is there. The negative narrative is there. And so it’s important for that narrative to shift by exploring counter experiences, encounter stories that allow girls of color or white girls or women as well to see men of color in a different light. And again, building those relationships and giving them the opportunity to see men who might reflect their dad or might reflect their brother or might reflect their neighbor. But, but to see them as the scholars, see them as the leaders, see them as the mathematician, see them as the principals. See them as all of those things in which they see white people on a regular basis. Seeing Black men in those same spaces helps to change that narrative in a way that is impactful and really, I would say, has an immeasurable value and influence for them when they see that.

Daman H: [00:48:03] I sure agree. And it is the counter story that speaks to me that that Inger just said where this is an opportunity when men of color are in the classrooms. It’s an opportunity for students of all genders, all races to experience love and respect as embodied by a Black or Latino man. When they leave that classroom, there’s an armor around the negativity or to protect them from some of that negativity that they’re going to encounter with those, the rest of the stories, the stereotypes in the media, in the music, about what Black men, what Latino men represent. And the more they get that from pre-kindergarten to undergrad, the better they’ll be to  ward off all that negativity and also to make changes when they see wrongdoing.

Amy H-L: [00:49:13] Thank much, Daman Harris and Inger Swimpson.

Inger S: [00:49:16] Thank you so much for having us. 

Daman H: [00:49:18] Pleasure.

Amy H-L: [00:49:18] And thank you, listeners. If you enjoyed this podcast, please share it with a friend or colleague. Subscribe wherever you get yourpodcasts and give us a rating or review. This helps others find the show. Check out our website,, for more episodes and articles, and to subscribe to our monthly emails. We post annotated transcripts of our interviews to make them easy to use in workshops or classes. We work with consultants to provide customized SEL programs, with a focus on ethics, for schools and youth programs in the New York City and San Francisco Bay areas. We’re on Facebook, Twitter @ethicalschools, and Instagram. Our editor and social media manager is Amanda Denti. Until next week.

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