[00:00:15] Amy H-L: I’m Amy Halpern-Laff.
[00:00:16] Jon M: And I’m Jon Moscow. Welcome to Ethical Schools. Our guest today is Dr. Rosa L. Rivera- McCutchen, associate professor of leadership studies at Lehman College of the City University of New York, CUNY, where she also serves as the coordinator of school and district leader certification programs. Lehman is an Hispanic-serving institution in the Bronx. Dr. Rivera-McCutchen is the author of the new book, Radical Care: Leading for Justice in Urban Schools. Welcome, Rosa.
[00:00:46] Rosa R-M: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
[00:00:50] Amy H-L: What do you mean by radical care? Why did you choose each of these words?
[00:00:56] Rosa R-M: So I started thinking about care really when I started my doctoral work, and certainly while I was working on my dissertation. And part of what I was really intrigued by was this idea that folks really enter into the field of education very often because they care about kids and they want to make an impact. But what I started to understand was that folks conceptualize care in very different ways and how they enact care is very different, with some people having a more critical approach to care whereas others tend to enact care in ways that can actually be really paternalistic and damaging. I think. So that was where the idea of care came to mind and has been a central emphasis in my work, in my teaching practices at Lehman as well as in my research over the years and my research in leadership, but more recently, the concept of integrating the term radical or the word radical really came to mind because I think where I was struggling was what the boundaries of critical care is, right. So what are the outer limits of that and what is essential in this idea that I think about. And the term radical came to me when I was reading an essay that Junot Diaz had written just after Trump was elected. And he talked about radical. And that was such a profoundly powerful moment for me, not just in terms of thinking about what the new world was going to look like with Trump as president, but also it certainly resonated for me as an educator and the importance of having a radical imagination, a radical hope for the future. That really seemed to be essential in thinking about both care and this radical notion of radical hope and thinking about what is possible. And that’s where that term came to me and I think was really crystallized for me.
[00:02:57] Jon M: You describe five components of radical care with anti-racism at the core. Could you describe them?
[00:03:04] Rosa R-M: Sure. So anti-racism is the first component, right. So this is really adopting this anti-racist stance in your practices and it is foundational. And one of the things that I talk about in the book and that I frequently talk about in discussing radical care is that it really is five different components that I tease apart because it’s important to highlight each of these pieces, but I really do intend for them or think of them as synergistic and operating in concert with one another. So adopting an anti-racist stance at the core is the first component.
The second component is cultivating authentic relationships, deeply authentic relationships, both within the school and outside of the school, so the educators and their students and their families, as well as the leaders. Then the third component is actually believing in students’ and teachers’ capacity for excellence, right. I know we’ll talk about these in greater detail. The fourth is leveraging power strategically, and then the fifth is embracing a spirit of radical hope, which I mentioned before. And all of these things really do work in concert. One of the things that’s essential is if you believe that someone has the capacity for excellence, and you want to really support them and explain to them the ways that they are challenged or are struggling in particular ways, and if you want to continue to encourage them to achieve greater and greater heights, it’s really important to have an authentic relationship with that person. They really need to understand that you truly deeply care for them and that you want them to be successful and that you’re pushing them, not out of a place of spite or out of a place of punishment, but really out of a place of love and care. And that’s just one example of how these components really are interconnected and essential for each other.
[00:04:55] Amy H-L: What are some ways that school leaders can create a culture of authentic relationships with both staff and students?
[00:05:04] Rosa R-M: Yeah. I think as someone who practices. Leadership is an adopted field of mine, right. So my degree is not in leadership, but having entered into the field of leadership, I am so profoundly grateful for being able to recognize the critical importance and nature of the work of the school leader. Folks can lead in different places, but the school leader, the principal, the assistant principal really have to set a tone, to create the environment and the culture in a school where those relationships and building those relationships is really essential. So first and foremost, it’s about modeling some of these practices, right.
I think about my leader preparation program, where students, for instance, in this last semester, have had to go out into the community to engage in neighborhood walks along with a stakeholder from the community, the cultural broker, if you will, who is able to engage with them and be an intermediary and walk them through the community, to walk into stores and to have conversations with the local folks in the community so that they can start to build authentic conversations with folks and begin to know them. So that’s a really perfect and actually a very simple way to begin to build relationships with the community that the school is located in. Very often, when we work in places, we either park our cars or get off the train and we head directly to the entrance of the building, and we ignore all of the other places, the whole community. We only see our places of work rather than seeing the the value and the beauty and brilliance of the entire space. And that’s a very clear, explicit example of how a school leader can do that. They can do that with new staff. They can do that at the start of the year. They can do that at various points over the course of the year, really engaging, so that the school is not a silo, an entity unto itself, but rather being situated.
The other is to create spaces and time for educators to be in conversation with families and caregivers that aren’t solely about “your child has missed this homework” or “your child is performing poorly in these ways,” thinking about ways to cultivate communication, to build communication pathways that are outside of the typical way of how schools do things. We can also think about building relationships and asking families and caregivers like “what works for you,” right.
We think of parent teacher conferences and PTA meetings and things of that nature that are really about the school and what the school needs and how the school desires things to look. And we don’t often ask the caregivers and the families, like, “what would work for you?” And “how can we be of service to you?” ” What would you need in order to be involved and engaged in ways that are meaningful for you?
[00:08:00] Jon M: I’m curious. What kind of feedback have you gotten? What kind of reactions have you gotten from your graduate students as they go out into the communities?
[00:08:11] Rosa R-M: Yeah, they are so often dumbstruck by all that they have never seen, truly seen, in their communities. And they’re often really excited by not just the activity, but the activity where they have to go out into the community. So some of that activity involves simply just seeing the community and, and doing almost like a survey, right. You know, what’s around you. What are the cultural institutions? What are the religious institutions like? Where do people live? Where do people do business? But the other pieces that they need to do are look for the educational resources that are outside of the school community. They need to look for the cultural institutions, the advocacy organizations, the recreational spaces. And so often my students are just amazed by what is out there. One student was like, “I’ve never gone to the left. When I walk out of my building and I always walk out of the building or come into the building from one direction. Just by reorienting how I enter and leave the space, I’ve seen a whole different world.” And so they’re often amazed by that and really are able to imagine possibilities of partnerships, which is the other component to this particular task assignment. They have to build a partnership. Imagine a partnership between the school and a community organization that is mutually beneficial, not just to their students but also to the broader community.
And there are a lot of really brilliant and wonderful and innovative ideas. And I think the most powerful moment is when the students say to me, “I talked to my principal about this, and we’re going to try to launch this” so that it really moves this from a theoretical and abstract activity to something that has real practical implications. So that is really powerful. Another really powerful moment is when my students say to me “I’m going to propose to my principal that we do this on a regular basis, that we do these kinds of neighborhood walks.” Or “when I become a school leader, this is a thing that I can do in my building.”
It doesn’t have to cost any money. It’s just about, let’s do this work, right. Let’s get out of the building and do this kind of reorientation. And that is profoundly powerful for me in terms of making an impact.
[00:10:27] Amy H-L: I’d like to go back to the idea of caring. Caring can be generic, but if you’re truly going to care about someone, it seems to me that there’s an element of listening, of actually getting to know the person that you care about. Could you talk about that?
[00:10:45] Rosa R-M: Yeah, I think that’s so important, right. It, goes again to having these authentic relationships and really disrupting how relationships typically form in schools, which is really about performance, right. The care is really about what are the grades that you’re earning, right? What are the outcomes? And it doesn’t get beneath that. I think the important part about listening and and the tricky part about caring, I talk about it and frame it as “limiting care” in the book, is that too often when we think about, and myself included as a former high school educator, too often, even the listening and being in relationship with students can lead us down a path where we are making excuses for students. We are pitying them. And that has a limiting effect in the very short term, but it has a long-term impact on the students, right. And so it’s important to be reflective about not just how we are listening and responding and addressing the needs of students, but also how those conversations, those relationships, impact how we’re actually teaching and preparing our students and ensuring that we are not selling them short and selling ourselves short by coddling them and really allowing ourselves to fall short of what we can do in terms of what our own power is as educators to really provide supports and growth, allow our students to grow. All of those things are really essential. So it’s about listening, it’s about reflecting, and it’s about thinking about not just the short term, but about the long-term implications of how we enact care.
[00:12:21] Jon M: All of these things that you’re saying in terms of teachers’ relationships with students also sound as though they would apply to the school leader’s relationship with the staff and with staff members’ relationships with each other. How…? The Department of Education, at least in New York, is not known for trusting relationships and authentic relationships on a broad scale. How can a principal go about creating those kind of authentic relationships with the staff so that when they are asking the staff to radically change things they do, that the staff will do it rather than just saying, “oh, well there, there they go again.”
[00:13:07] Rosa R-M: Yeah. I think the piece there is trust, right. Like you said relationships, these kinds of authentic relationships, need to be built on trust. The first thing that I think teachers need to see is that their school leaders, their principals, their assistant principals, are really willing to take risks, that their school leaders are really discerning in terms of how policies are actually enacted from, let’s say, higher levels of the Department of Education, how they land in the school. I often think of the leadership, whenever I have students that come into the program and say , “I don’t like politics.” I’m like, well, ” this is not the right career for you,” right. Education is political. And so, certainly the leader has to figure out how to manage those things in very strategic ways and figure out when they need to subvert in the service of protecting the teachers, protecting the students, protecting the work, and how they need to do that in ways that don’t actually land them out of a job, right.
So a lot of this is about navigating and being really discerning about, okay, this is a policy. And I do remember there was one principal that I worked with and I asked him about something and he was like we go with the, the spirit of the policy, not necessarily the letter of it, right, the letter of the law. And what he was saying was that he was working to be really strategic about when he would come down and say like, this is a mandate from on high and we need to do this thing and when he could say like, let’s figure out how to do this, again in the spirit of it, so that we don’t run afoul of the system, but that we actually get to do the work that matters. And I think when, when educators see that the school leader is doing the work with them, alongside them, and is taking risks and really centering the children, right, the students, then they are more likely to take risks and go along for the ride. I often tell aspiring leaders in my program, I try to remind them that educators get to a point of resistance or obstinence, not because they– they chose a field–to just be obstinate in their work. Yoiu know, they’re disillusioned, right. And so they don’t necessarily want to go along for a ride if they don’t feel like the outcome is actually going to benefit their kids. And so part of what we need to understand is when there is this distrust in these relationships, those relationships need to be built, they need to be cultivated, and we need to respond to the needs of the educators, the adults in the building, and cultivate and feed and nourish those relationships. And that will reap really wonderful things with the students.
It’s really essential that the educators in the school see that their school leader is down with them, right, that they are, they are fighting for them, that they are working for them, that they are taking risks, that they are learning from mistakes. That it’s not a gotcha situation, but that truly we are a community and we all do better when we are working harder together, not in opposition. I’ve been, as an educator, in other places. I think teachers, if they feel like they are being honored and being respected, they truly will show up. It’s when they start to feel like they are being taken advantage of that they start to quote the union contract chapter and verse. And so that is where the school leader needs to understand, to read the signs, and to be really attentive to those relationships with the educators in their school.
[00:16:45] Jon M: It sounds as though there are situations where there are teachers who are just plain burned out or just aren’t interested in change. So it sounds as though the principals, the administrators, and other teachers also need to be willing to confront that when needed and say, “Look, I’m really trying to work with you, but you’ve got to work with me, too.” Have you worked with school leaders or aspiring school leaders in how to navigate these kinds of situations?
[00:17:23] Rosa R-M: I’ve talked to school leaders, numerous school leaders, who’ve said the biggest myth is that you can’t fire or get rid of a teacher who is actually ineffective and actually harmful. The key is that you actually need to make a good faith effort to support an educator to improve. You actually need to believe, and this is where component three really comes into mind, that the school leader and educators have to cultivate an environment where there is a belief that teachers have the capacity for excellence. If you make the good faith effort to support an educator who is disillusioned, who’s burned out, to really rekindle their energy and their fire and their interests in teaching and in working in the service of youth, if you make that good faith effort, then I think very often there are dividends that are paid, in beautiful changes that happen. However, if you are making that good faith effort and in fact there isn’t improvement and they are just entrenched and and digging in, then the next step is to really ensure that you’re not passing it off. I think too often, what happens in schools is if you’ve got a really dangerous teacher, because I think I really do think of this as a dangerous situation, like when you have folks that really just shouldn’t be educators. What we need to do is not push them off into another school setting. And that’s true in teacher education programs as well, or any kind of educator preparation program. Very often we counsel them off or push them off, or we pass them or we, whatever, we give them the credential, because we just don’t want to deal with it anymore. The problem is that they become someone else’s problem and they do damage in other spaces. And so it’s really essential that these conversations happen. I think the problem is that we often don’t do the good faith effort. We make snap judgments and we say, well, this person sucks, this person shouldn’t be an educator. And we just wipe our hands of it and we push them off to somewhere or we pass them. We graduate them from a program and say, well, they’re never going to get certified. I think that the key piece here is to make that good faith effort.
And then from that point, be able to say, “this is actually not a field that you need to be in. There are other places where you should be working, where you can work, where you can be successful, where you can feel fulfilled. This is actually not a field, education is a place, where you should be.” And I certainly have been in conversation with school leaders and other educators who have these conversations. And as I said, more often than not, those direct conversations where it’s this is what we want to do to support you actually does work. But when it doesn’t, we need to be courageous enough to say this is not the work that you need to be doing.
[00:20:07] Amy H-L: When teachers balance the expectations of excellence that you talk about with the reality that many students lack basic skills. . .
[00:20:17] Rosa R-M: Yeah, that’s so key, because I was talking with a group of folks before, and one of the things that someone said is like, yeah, there’s this, this idea, especially in higher education or in academia, where we talk a lot about something called an imposter syndrome, right. Like, I don’t necessarily feel like I am enough. But so there’s this imposter syndrome, but then there’s the real reality of like a skill gap. I don’t have certain skills. And I talk about in my book my own experiences in lacking certain skills around writing that had never been called out until I got to college and had struggled and continue to struggle. And so the skill gaps are real.
From my perspective, part of what we need to do, especially for school leaders, is to be able to identify that all educators need to be trained in order to identify the skill gaps and address those skill gaps. It can’t be the responsibility of one person. Many of the schools where I do work, it’s not just a small minority of students that are behind grade level or are, are struggling. It is the majority of those folks and that’s a structural issue. That’s not about the kids’ brilliance or their capacity. It’s about what they have been given or what they have not been given, right. It’s about the lack of opportunities and access to a high quality education that builds their skills and their capacities to be on par with where they should be and to provide them with an opportunity that is brilliant for a future that’s bright and open for them. And so given that reality, schools just have to adapt to that. And school leaders need to be able to recognize that it can’t fall on the English teachers and it can’t fall on the reading specialists. It can’t fall on these ad hoc fixes. It needs to be deeply embedded into the curricular work, into the teaching practices across the board because the gaps are so significant. One little intervention is not going to change what those gaps mean in the long term for those children. And so that’s on the school leader to identify that and then to provide the supports where you can make those interventions.
What I’m not suggesting is that we transform schools where kids are struggling or kids are behind into drill and kill skill-based centers. There are plenty of programs and curricula and research out there that talks to how you can integrate skill development with really rich content and project-based instructional practices. So what we need to do then is just train our educators in different ways to be able to do those things. We’re not talking about giving up one thing. I’m not saying give up art. I’m not saying give up play. I’m not saying any of those things. Because those things actually make the kids more well-rounded and have a tremendous impact on kids. I’m not saying that we eliminate those things. I’m saying that we find ways creatively to make sure that all folks are carrying this and become experts in areas that they’re not necessarily trained to be experts in. That’s what we need to do.
[00:23:36] Jon M: When we were talking before, I was really struck by an example you gave from graduate school level of talking to somebody, to one of your students or some of your students, who didn’t have the basic skills that they needed for the jobs that they were going to be doing. Could you talk about what that kind of conversation looks like and how that might also apply when a teacher, either when a principal is talking to a teacher in the school or when the teacher’s talking to a student, because it seems as though the same basic principles would apply?
[00:24:13] Rosa R-M: I want to clarify. Yes, it’s the challenges or the skill gaps that my graduate students have are going to be problematic or impediments for the careers, the jobs they want to do. But I want to underscore that the folks that are in my program are already educated. They are already working in schools with students. They are teachers, they are school counselors, they are social workers. And so it is already having an impact on the work that they are doing with children. Okay. So it’s essential to keep that in mind because these conversations, as I said, what ends up happening is I’ll have a student or a few students every year, every semester, and my program is a cohort program. So if it’s happening in a year, then that’s a student that I’m working with and supporting, and having these very explicit conversations. So what has happened in the past is I will ask a student to meet with me. It’s typically, unfortunately, a Black student or a Latinx student who has gone through their own educational process and it has never been called out that their writing skills are limited. And again, what I do is I stress to them that this is not about their brilliance because they’re in the program, right. They got into the program and I’ve been able to hear them and see them engage with each other there, they have brilliant ideas and they have revolutionary ideas that I think are going to benefit the kids and the school system. But there are challenges with their writing and I’m talking about, you know, not necessarily knowing what’s a sentence fragment, what’s a complete sentence. And I’m not talking about a typo. I’m talking about consistent trends that I’m seeing in some of their writing. So I have these conversations that are very explicit with them about what the challenges are and what the limitations are. And we talk about what they need to do in order to address that. It’s a multilayered conversation and I can enter into this conversation with them because it’s a cohort, because of the way that my program is organized and because of how I understand care and radical care in particular. I strive to create these authentic relationships with my students. So they know that when I’m coming to them, that this is coming to them out of a place of love, out of a place of honoring them as humans, as intellectuals, and honoring what their capacity is. And we talk about how the system has failed, right. Or multiple systems of education have failed them, that they have arrived to my program when they’ve already earned typically one or two other master’s degrees. And this is the first time they’ve ever heard this critique or feedback. And very often they’re angry. They’re ashamed. They’re embarrassed. They’re sad. And the anger comes from why didn’t anybody tell me this before.
[00:27:06] Jon M: Would you say that they’re angry at you?
[00:27:09] Rosa R-M: They are never angry with me. They are angry that they have never been told this before by other faculty, by other programs, by professionals who are charged with having these kinds of direct conversations with them. So they’re not angry with me. They’re often grateful right there. But they’re grateful that I am having this conversation, that it’s been revealed. In some cases, I’ve had students who have said, well, you know what, this really makes a lot of sense, right. And so the anger is really with the circumstance, not with me. And they feel empowered. So then they know that there’s something that they have to do. Now this is where my own, so my limitations. . .
I say to them I cannot help you with some of the technical mechanical skill development, because I don’t have the language or the training around that, but these are the resources that you can access both at the college and elsewhere that you should take full advantage of. You are paying for this with your time, with your money, so take full advantage of these resources. Because very often we don’t take advantage of those things. Take advantage of them. I often tell them my story. I talk to them about having gone to the writing center as a doctoral student and getting support with my writing. I talk to them about the challenges that I have with writing, right, the struggles that I have with my own insecurity. Those kinds of explicit conversations can be so powerful because they bring to light the thing that has not been discussed.
And in my mind, I have an ethical responsibility. If I have a student that’s in front of me that is not performing at the level that I think they are capable of and that I think is essential for schools, what does it mean if I actually don’t call that out and I continue to allow them to be working in schools, to lead in schools, and this hasn’t been addressed?
The other piece that I say is “Look, you are a person of color, and regardless of, of what’s right or wrong, people are going to judge you based on how you are communicating in written form. You may have brilliant ideas. You may care. You may have great strategies and leadership skills, but if you’re not able to then write in a way that passes muster in terms of a particular standard, the professional standards of this field, you will be judged. And every other quality that you have will be canceled out. And I say this to them as one person of color talking to another person of color, and talk to them about that. And that’s sort of a code switching situation.
This is exactly the kind of conversation that can be had by principals and their teachers. And it’s the same kind of conversation that teachers can have and should have with their students. Obviously, the way those conversations unfold needs to be age appropriate, they need to be contextualized. But those conversations, as I said, this is where the radical care components really are integrated. They really need to be thought of as synergistic. That conversation can’t happen if the person you’re talking to doesn’t feel as though you care for them in authentic ways, if they don’t trust you, if they don’t feel like they have a relationship with you. I don’t have that conversation with one of my students in the first week, because we hadn’t built up a relationship. I still need to assess. It’s not just about meaning to assess where their skills are. But they need to really know and feel that I truly do have their best interests at heart and that I want them to perform beyond, you know, next level. And I have to tell you, I can tell when I have these conversations and when students are receptive, which they generally are, there are improvements, absolutely. Because they take it seriously and they look for the resources. And I think, as I said, there are dividends that can be paid when we have authentic, deeply honest conversations with people.
[00:31:16] Jon M: You write about the importance of the leader as ” a change agent who understands the power they have and is strategic about how they leverage it to improve education for the communities they serve.” What are some examples?
[00:31:31] Rosa R-M: Yeah. So I think of this strategic leadership in different ways. So I think there’s a public facing and really explicit way that a school leader can leverage their power. When there are injustices that feel like they need immediate answers, outward, a public facing response, then they are out there, they’re out there protesting, they’re out there giving testimony about whatever it is that really feels like it demands a public acknowledgement of unjust circumstances. There’s that. But I think one of the things that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is subversive leadership, especially in the current climate across the country, including in liberal spaces, progressive spaces, where there’s this backlash against the teaching of anything that’s explicitly about race. The code term is critical race theory, but really what it is is the rejection of anything that is critical or shining a light on historical events in this country and the impact of those historical events, focusing on race in any way or inequalities in any way.
As the pendulum shifts back into this space where it is actually quite dangerous in some places, professional suicide to speak out explicitly about some of these things. Then I think in many ways, the school leader needs to understand that their power is in cultivating the allies and the co-conspirators in this work and doing so in a way that allows them to fly below the radar but still allows them to activate the resources that they have. That can’t happen if you don’t have relationships in the communities. So you can’t call up folks and say, “hey, I need you to actually go advocate for this on behalf of the school because it’s really important and I can’t do it because doing so would really put my position at risk and potentially allow someone else to come in that doesn’t necessarily have the best interest of the kids at heart, and that would actually be damaging, and so I need you to go advocate for this.” That is really essential in terms of understanding the power that they have in this position of authority. They need to be able to call up and galvanize their surrogates, so to speak, and protect their positions. You need to, I think, especially in this climate, you know, there are folks that are getting fired, school leaders that are getting fired, for simply saying “social justice,” which is benign. And so we can’t have that, because if, if a school leader is, is really even trying to push the envelope, we want those kinds of folks to retain their positions because they’re able to, to kind of create these subversive spaces. That’s where that power comes from. And the ability to really navigate the space is such an essential part of what it means to practice radical care, is to be really strategic and discerning again about when to step out into the fray and when it’s actually better to stay outside of that fray and to galvanize the support. But you can’t do that if you don’t have relationships with people, no one’s going to take those risks. Nobody’s going to take your call if they don’t have a sense that you truly are down for the cause. And with the people that’s really essential.
[00:34:53] Amy H-L: Leaders who see their relationships as transformative, they still have responsibilities in the school, so they have to run a school and then assume these politicized or political roles. How do these leaders stave off burnout?
[00:35:09] Rosa R-M: Oh, so that, I mean, that’s essential, that’s key. And one of the things that I talk about in the last chapter where I talk about radical hope is the importance of trying to build more and more leaders with capacity to do this kind of work because the burnout piece is a real risk. And what I hope for and what we try to do, for instance, in my program, which is a cohort model, is really provide folks with allies in this work, co-mentorships, so to speak, so that when you are feeling like at your lowest level, that you have someone that you can call up and can commiserate with and they can fill your cup. And when it’s their turn to be disillusioned and frustrated, you can fill theirs, right. It’s essential that we continue to build that.
The work of a leader can be really isolating. The closer you are to that top place, that top point in your school, when you’re the principal, it can be a really lonely space. And when you are feeling lonely in that work, that’s when the burnout possibilities are really there. They’re real. And so we need to figure out ways that there are more and more folks doing this work so that they don’t necessarily feel like they are by themselves. So even in your peer group, I often think of New York City, right, and we’ll see how it happens. But principals and schools are often grouped in changing ways, but they’re grouped, maybe with their geographic peers or they’re grouped with their role peers, right, the types of schools. And that dynamic is constantly shifting because of the way that mayoral control and school systems are organized in New York City. And so those peer groups that you’re assigned to don’t always necessarily share your same ethic. They’re not necessarily affinity in the ways that really matter in terms of how you choose to lead. And so outside of those formal networks that are mandated and dictated by the leadership in –the chancellor or the school system, I think it’s important that you find your people, you find your crew, that’s where you put your touchstone. I have that in my professional space. Right. They may not always be my peers at my workplace, but certainly there are folks that fill my cup in this work just as I do the same for them. And I think that’s really essential for school leaders, the burnout possibility, even if you’re just doing like your basic work and you’re not even practicing radical care.
Now more than ever, it’s hard work. And so when you are trying to elevate and be more critical in your approaches or radical in your approaches, that’s when there’s real risk of this. And so it’s so important, so essential that you find people that share some of your same vision for schooling and who you can really be engaged in conversation and commiseration with because that’s essential. We need that as humans. Folks that are working in these leadership roles really essentially need that, too.
[00:38:09] Jon M: You talk about the need for teacher and leadership education programs to change. What are some of the things that you’d like to see?
One of the things that I worried about in the book or, and when I talked to folks, is that I think there there’s a perception that schools of education are enlightened spaces and that, that the faculty themselves are thinking in the ways that I talk about in the book. And that’s, that’s simply not true. So I think first and foremost, the educators, the teacher educators, the educators of the educators need to engage in some of these reflective practices– some of what I talk about in the book around reflecting on what anti-racist practices are, what an anti-racist mindset is, reflecting on their own internalized oppression, their own internalized racial superiority, and how they perpetuate that, how we perpetuate some of these structures and oppression in our own workspaces. We need to engage in this work. And so that’s first and foremost, because if you haven’t done the work as an educator, right, as a professor of education, whether it be teacher, ed, or leadership education, if you haven’t done that work, then you are going to reproduce some of this oppression in your own practice. You’re not going to be a critical practitioner with your own educators. So first we sort of need to reframe who’s teaching and what they’re teaching and what their mindsets are and try to do that work. So there’s transformation that needs to happen there.
But I also think that we need to do more and more of that relational work as well in schools and in our teaching. So rather than just focusing on the content, right, really emphasizing the importance of building community and understanding communities, particularly in communities that have been historically underserved, teacher education programs need to work on the basics of learning how to be a teacher, lesson planning and those kinds of things, but they also need to focus on the relational aspects. What do you need to understand about a child? What do you need to understand about the child’s circumstances? The family circumstances? There needs to be more and more of the work that we’re doing in the leadership preparation program at Lehman. That needs to be something that’s deepened and modeled in other spaces.
And for myself as I, as I do my work, I am taking a long list of notes about how I can improve my practice and how I can deepen the experience for my students, the next round. All of that needs to continue in higher education. I think the other piece of this is, when I became an academic, right, with air quotes, is that the primary job of colleges is actually not to teach. In many places, the primary job in colleges and what is rewarded as a faculty member is research. And so you can be a really stellar teacher, but if you’re not producing research, you’re not gonna get tenure, right. You’re not. What does that say? If teaching is not the primary importance in institutions of higher education, and let me take it a step further for faculty, for professors in higher ed, not only is research of primal importance, but a constant flow of research. So what that also says is that for me, as a qualitative researcher, as someone who really sees the value in ethnographical approaches, where you’re embedded and building relationships, there’s a real risk that I take in approaching my research in that way, because what I’m saying is I want to take the time to develop relationships with the leaders that I’m studying. I want it to be a reciprocal relationship. I don’t want to just jump in there. I want to be in there and be in partnership with them. But what that means is that I’m not going to be as productive and prolific in my writing and my publication. So I am internalizing the message that, well, I can’t really build the relationships. I really just need to produce and get out and go to the next thing.
So there’s a whole paradigm shift that we need in higher education and what we value, by rewarding, by giving tenure, by giving accolades and, and allowing people to progress. And what we value is not actually in alignment with what I’m talking about in terms of relationship building and what I’m talking about in terms of reciprocity, and what I’m talking about in terms of really understanding the power dynamics and the racial dynamics of institutions of higher ed, right. And how just by rewarding one type of relationship, right, a research relationship, which is I go in, I take, I go, I publish, I can move to the next thing, that is reproducing a certain type of oppression that is highly problematic. So those are some huge things that need to shift, but can shift as we continue to push back and frame what we reward and what we discourage in higher education that can then trickle down into how we privilege teaching and reward teaching of teachers and what that means and what that should look like. That’s really critical. Those are some important transformations that we have to have.
Thank you so much, Dr. Rosa L. Rivera-McCutcheon of Lehman College,City University of New York.
[00:43:40] Rosa R-M: Thank you for having me. Appreciate the conversation.
[00:43:43] Amy H-L: And thank you listeners. If you enjoyed this podcast, please share it with a friend. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and give us a rating or review. This helps others to find the show. Check out our website, ethicalschools.org for more episodes and articles and to subscribe to our monthly newsletter. We post annotated transcripts of our interviews to make them easy to use in workshops and classes.
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