Dr. Tracey A. Benson is an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and a former public school teacher, middle school assistant principal, and high school principal. 

Exploring Race, Racism, and Unconscious Bias in Schools

by Dr. Tracey A. Benson

Show Highlights

  • Journey on a racial awakening with Tracey
  • Addressing the color of punishment in the continuum of learning 
  • How to have a color rich school with concrete solutions 
  • Investigate your own behavior and coded language to shape racially literate young people
  • How leaders can put out fires of unconscious bias?
  • Tracey’s equitable solutions to improving academic achievement for students of color
  • Learn to track patterns and blind spots of racial disparity and ingested bias

“I was subconsciously teaching them that they have privilege and that they were above the rules. They would get upset because they had privilege and when someone has privilege, equity feels like oppression.”

Dr. Tracey Benson

Full Transcript Available Here

Welcome (00:00):

Welcome to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast. This is your friendly neighborhood podcast host Daniel Bauer. Better Leaders, Better Schools is a weekly show for Ruckus Makers. And what is a Ruckus Maker? A leader who has found freedom from the status quo. A leader who makes change happen. A leader who never ever gives up. Remember middle school, what were you like back then? Did you break the rules?

Daniel (00:32):

Or did you follow them? Imagine one day that you were playing a game in the hallway, a game you played countless times before and it was no big deal but this time it’s different. After playing the game, a teacher follows you down the hall, knocks all your school materials from your hands to the floor and starts to angrily point in your face and he says to you, “Do you want to start something?” This is the exact story I discuss with my guest, Dr Tracy Benson, at the beginning of the show, a teacher to a student, a middle school student pointing in his face saying, do you want to start something? Today we dig into a very important topic, race, racism, and unconscious bias. And so Ruckus Maker. I’m so glad you’re here.

Sponsors (01:23):

And before we jump into the episode, let’s take some time to thank our show’s sponsors, better leaders, better schools. Podcast is brought to you by organized binder, a program designed to develop your students’ executive function and non-cognitive skills. Learn more at organized binder.com. Today’s podcast is brought to you by TeachFX. It’s basically like a Fitbit for teachers, helping them be mindful of teacher talk versus student talk. Get a special 20% discount for your school or district I visiting teachFX.com/blbs.

Daniel (02:03):

Have you ever wondered what kind of leader makes a good Mastermind member? Well, recently I asked the leaders I serve and here’s what they said about their peers. Arlene, a deputy head in Qingdao, China said, Mastermind members are supportive, wise and not afraid to kick your butt. Chris, a vice principal in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, courageous risk-takers and learners are how I describe my Mastermind peers. And finally, Melody, a principal in Kentucky said, Mastermind members are generous, driven, and never satisfied with the status quo. If that sounds like you or peers that you’d like to surround yourself with, apply to the Mastermind today at betterleadersbetterschools.com/mastermind,

Daniel (02:55):

Tracy Benson is an assistant professor of educational leadership at University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He’s a former public school teacher, middle school AP and high school principal. Dr. Benson received his doctorate in education leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and master’s of school administration from UNC ,Chapel Hill. He is also the coauthor of Unconscious Bias in School. Dr. Benson, welcome to the show.

Tracey (03:27):

Great. Thank you so much for having me today, Daniel. I appreciate it.

Daniel (03:30):

Absolutely. So when we chatted last time we’re going to start with this story. There was a hallway incident that really illustrated how you and your peers were held to different standards by the faculty. Could you tell us that story?

Tracey (03:44):

Yeah. It’s what I call my, my racial awakening and so I was in the fifth grade. I remember this very vividly. I was in the fifth grade and I was leaving an art class and I had a two gallon milk container that we had hollow out and put our art supplies in. We’re all required to have these as well. I was carrying my two gallon art supply kit and leaving art class and I noticed my friend Alex who’d rode the bus with me from Milwaukee, the city of Milwaukee. So, him and I were both a part of the 220 program, a program that bused out low income kids from Milwaukee to Brown Deer, Wisconsin to integrate the schools socioeconomically and also racially. So one of very few Black kids in my middle school.

Tracey (04:30):

Alex just happened to be a white kid from, from Milwaukee, but he was low income. So that’s why he was part of the program. But anyway, I was walking by him in the hallway leaving art class and we used to play this game where we would try to tap each other on the shoulder while we are at the locker and then when you would turn around we would shut the locker. Trying to get each other by shutting each other’s locker. He was at his locker and I was walking by him so I had the perfect opportunity. I tapped Alex on his shoulder. He turned around, I reached around and shut his locker and this is the game that we’d played for forever as far as I’m concerned. I laughed and he sort of laughed because I got him, but not really. I walked on as if it was just another day and I just joked that we played on each other very often, so we knew the game,

Tracey (05:16):

Unbeknownst to me, one of our teachers, Mr. Evans, I still remember his name, had seen this happen and I didn’t know that he saw it happen. So he’d walked up behind me and snatched my art supplies out of my hand and he tucked it and dumped it right in the middle of the hallway, threw my curtain down and kept on walking. I was really confused about why this happened. Because in my mind, I was one of the good kids. I never got in trouble, it was the worst thing in the world for my mom to get a call home about the slightest things so I never got in trouble. I was really confused about why a teacher would do this. But anyway,

Tracey (05:49):

I got down on my knees and I just, you know, quietly picked up my art supplies, put them back into my a two gallon milk and kept on walking. And so I’m halfway down the hallway. Mr. Evans comes up beside me and he puts his arm around me, then starts to explain to me why he did what he did. Now I didn’t hear a word that he said because I was in shock. And so instinctively I took his arm and I crushed it off of me. And so then he whips around with raging mad, you know, he was raging mad and put a finger in my face, almost touching my nose and screamed at me and said, do you want to start with me? And again, I was still in shock. And of course I don’t want to start with a teacher. So I said, you know, my reaction was like, no, of course I don’t want to start with you.

Tracey (06:28):

What are you talking about? You know? And so he turns around, storms off down the hallway. And I don’t quite remember what happened after that, but I do remember that I was very confused about why that happened. Why he had such a explosive response to me when I was one of the good kids? I remember before that incident, I remember some of my Black and brown friends getting into trouble just like that with teachers like Mr. Evans, you know, fingers in faces being yelled at, being kicked out of class. And in my mind I was like, why don’t these Black kids just act better, you know, we’re out here in this suburban school. Why don’t we just act better? Why? Why is it that we have to act out that we are the ones getting into the most trouble?

Tracey (07:10):

Okay. After this incident with Mr Evens, I realize that we, wow, you probably weren’t acting any worse than what the white kids were acting, but we were being treated differently. After that moment, I’d started paying more attention to what types of behaviors the white kids and Black kids were engaged in it. And what I noticed was that the white kids, especially the white males, were allowed to get away with a lot more misbehavior, a lot more extreme misbehavior without half of the response by teachers. But whenever a Black kid stepped out of line, we are treated way more harshly. And so having that experience in my middle school, high school, and even college experience. When I became a teacher and then a principal, I noticed that these types of behaviors towards Black and brown kids were still still happening, that Black and brown kids were being treated still, unfairly behaviorally and different than their white counterparts.

Tracey (08:06):

And so that was the impetus for writing this book. To bring this phenomenon to light so that we can, as a collective, a group of educators address this very harmful trend in education, in terms of the differential treatment between Black students, students of color and white students.

Daniel (08:24):

No, I wish I could say that it’s crazy. Like I’ve never heard this type of story before, but unfortunately I can’t say that because it’s all too common and to think that an adult is doing that with a kid. It’s mind boggling. Like how does this stuff happen? But I’m loving your book. Thank you for sending it to me the Unconscious Bias in Schools and reading your stories there. It’s, it’s really important, the Ruckus Maker that’s listening. I know they care, they care about this issue, they care about bias, they care about equity, they want to explore this stuff. I’m also wondering if the listener is like Sarah who had a major blind spot, right? I’m also wondering what other things you’ve seen in schools maybe to help make this invisible visible for the listener?

Tracey (09:01):

Yeah, so I mean, if the listeners like Sarah, the Ruckus Maker listening is, it’s like Sarah, they realize that and we should realize that we have our blind spots myself as a man of color. I have my blind spots and what we need to realize that we’ve all been raised in a very racially skewed society, that we’d been infected with this racial bias throughout our lifetime. And so what we need to understand is that, you know, 2019 this year is a 400 year of the transatlantic slave trade, right? And so for the better part of our past 400 years, Black and Brown people have been enslaved.

Tracey (09:56):

So from 1619 until 1865 you know, Black people, it was illegal to do to Black people, rape, murder, hold captive Black people in a way that we couldn’t even treat dogs today for the better part of our history. After emancipation in 1865 there were still almost a hundred years of Jim Crow segregation where it was still also acceptable to subjugate Black and Brown people to substandard conditions and this was legal and accepted. For 345 years in a 400 year history, it’s been legal to discriminate against Black and Brown people, if we count 1965 ,the civil rights movement as the end of legalized oppression against Black and Brown people, that still leaves us only with 55 years opposed to 345 years of oppression and that sort of legacy has residuals. Yeah. And in our society, in every aspect of our society, and we’ve all been exposed to it over the course of our lifetime.

Tracey (10:56):

So we have ingested this legacy of racism. There’s a legacy of racial bias. And so I think we all need to have empathy for one another in terms of how we’ve ingested this and then our responsibility for undoing the injustice of our history in this country. Of course that in school it’s, it’s gonna have its effects. And so what, what are we talking about in the book, and I also talk about in my different talks is that we need to investigate places where there are racial disparities. So one of the most popular ones is, is in discipline but what we also talked about in terms of discipline is that that it’s the tip of the iceberg. The classroom is actually the space where most of the racial disparities take place. And so one of the places where I’ve observed the most offers is when doing classroom observations.

Tracey (11:45):

And so what I recommend that all principals do and even teachers that if you want to investigate our own racial biases is to track a classroom by race and gender. And invariably we will notice that there are race and gender differences in terms of the way in which we treat our students. And this is a place where racial bias is most insidious because this is the place where all students come into contact with it on a daily basis. When we do classroom observations, we need to pay attention to how we are enacting our racial biases and then how we can then undo it once we recognize there are patterns, in terms of the way we treat students.

Daniel (12:17):

One thing I used to do as principal is just draw out the seating chart and then draw arrows from the teacher to the students. And like you said these things will just be uncovered and I wouldn’t even have to tell them, Tracy, here’s what’s happening. I would just say here’s the picture, Tracy, what do you see? And you would say, wow I’ve ignored half of the class. Maybe it’s based on gender, maybe it’s based on race but there is always something going on there and that helps the invisible become visible for us. Outside of a seating chart, sort of observation data feedback that we give teachers, is there anything else concrete wise that we can do to examine this unconscious bias?

Tracey (13:00):

Yeah, I mean there are a lot of concrete things that we can do and in the book we talk about the first and most baseline thing about addressing racial bias in school is, is actually talking about racial bias, talk about racism, having a color rich, a school where we talk about discrepancies and outcomes based on race.

Tracey (13:21):

And we often have a very color mute sense of the way in which we talk about our students. We can, we have coded language those students or low income students or at risk students this often coded language that can be swapped out for students of color, Latino students, Black students, Native Americans, Southeast Asian students. We need to talk very openly and honestly about race and talk about the racial implications. By doing that, we can identify a racialized pattern. So I’m going to give you an example of that. One of the examples I write about in the book is a case in which I was exhibiting racial bias towards students. It’s when I was a high school principal, we would have a practice of monitoring the hallways as every principal does.

Tracey (14:06):

Principals and teachers are expected to be in the hallways during passing time. And I had the second floor science hallway every day. That was my spot. And so one day after I was done monitoring hallways I came back to my office and one of my students, my Black students came in and said, you know, Mr. Benson, why is it that you pick on the Black students in the hallways when you’re monitoring the hallways? And I was like, I don’t think I do, but what do you mean by this? He’s like, yeah, well when we are in the hallways, you make it a point to call us out if we are congregating in the hallway. So one of the rules was, because we had small hallways and a lot of students that students had to keep moving and in between classes and they couldn’t stop and congregate because that blocked up the traffic flow.

Tracey (14:48):

And he said, whenever we do that, you address us. You don’t address the white students. And so instead of brushing them off, I said, okay, you know what, let me take a look and see if this is in fact going on. And so for the next week I made it a, made it a point to not redirect any students but just to sit in the hallway and watch what was happening. And what I did notice is that all the teachers that I worked with were white. What I did notice among the teachers is that when students of color congregated teachers then drew right to them to say keep on moving. But during this time they passed a number of white students who were congregating and they hadn’t addressed them. And so it’d become a pattern that if Black and Brown students were congregating and the teachers

Tracey (15:28):

Would see them as misbehaving, whereas the white students were exhibiting the same behavior. That’s what, after noticing this for a week, I brought this up to the leadership team and said, you know what? This is a pattern that I’ve noticed and we’d need to make a better effort about addressing the behavior and not the students. What we started doing, but I had to remind myself to do it every period because I’ve been primed to have my eye drawn towards the Black students? So I had to remind myself every day between every period to address behavior and not the student. And so I began, if I was at the end of the hallway and I saw students congregating, I would go down the hallway and clear students, white student groups of white students, which you do quite a few before I got to the Black and Brown students.

Tracey (16:08):

And so one, what this did was one, it, it upset the white students because what I was subconsciously teaching them is that they have privilege and that they were above the rules. They would get upset because they had privilege and when someone has privilege, equity feels like oppression. I was like, no, no, no, we’re addressing behaviors not just for Black kids. And by the time I reached the Black and Brown kids, I would notice that they’d already be gone because they were noticing that we were addressing the behavior now and they didn’t feel as targeted by myself and by the teachers. By doing this one thing, it made a less racially hostile environment for our Black and Brown students because we were actually targeting them in hallways. We stopped targeting them and then unintentionally we were teaching these white students, one, they have privilege and two, we were passing on our racial biases to them because they were seeing us do this towards Black and Brown students. So by breaking that cycle, it was good for everyone, not just for Black and Brown students, but for the white students that we were now teaching them that we need to be more equitable and not target Black and Brown students.

Daniel (17:13):

The interesting part about that is what I’m hearing you say, the Black and Brown students then reflected on the behavior and self-corrected right before anybody even came to them because you were now not privileging white students and breaking up the behavior there. And so they just applied that reasoning to themselves.

Tracey (17:33):

Right. And I mean look in their eyes was interesting when I first started doing it, because I would get the peek over the shoulder like, “Oh my gosh, Benson’s clearing white kids, we better get outta here” because that wasn’t happening before. They were being targeted before that. Now we’re doing behavior. They’re like, Oh my, this is something where now we were more subject to the rules before, but now they’re cracking white kids on this that, Oh gosh, you know, we better self-correct also.

Daniel (17:56):

A couple of things on pack for the Ruckus Maker too. Tracy, I love how you are open to thinking maybe I don’t have it right. Like let me investigate my own behaviors. Right. And you were owning that. So, that can be tough to admit that maybe you’re not perfect or you don’t have it all together, there’s something to work on.

Daniel (18:16):

And so I really admire that about you. The interesting thing as well as then you brought that to the leadership team, which it’s an important discussion to have. And you said, I’m noticing a pattern and here’s what I think is happening. Right? And it sounds like you invited them to a conversation that made it feel safe and encouraged to participate. Those steps aren’t necessarily done by everybody. So again, it’s something I admire about you. And then the last part, just staying curious, right? So what are we going to do about it? Thinking about your behavior watching your staff I think it can be tough because as leaders, we always just want to solve problems. Sometimes we have to learn what’s going on and study the system and to see that hallway, to see that with your white teachers, right? They were ignoring a certain group of kids and then being able to, okay, this is the response we need to take. So I appreciate it. All those things about you. Thank you for sharing that with our listeners.

Tracey (19:03):

Yeah. Yeah and it’s an ongoing process that this is an ongoing learning process and that’s why we wrote the book. None of us are, myself included when I became a principal, was an expert in how to have these difficult conversations. The difficult conversations are difficult because we’ve been raised one in a racially biased society and two, you’ve been raised in schools that are race mute. And so if you think about this in a cyclical pattern that if we’re in schools, just like our kids are in school, say in K-12 where we don’t talk about race, we’re taught that race is taboo, our teachers don’t talk about it.

Tracey (19:47):

And then with students, we don’t have the conversation with students either. So we’re actually raising racially illiterate young people who then go on to be adults who become racially illiterate adults. And then we have this cycle where none of us can talk about it and so by hopefully through having more of a race rich conversation in schools among teachers, we can then start to have a conversation with students and hopefully we don’t like where we are as a society today being unable to talk about race. We could have our schools being a place where we start to develop racial literacy so then when these young people become adults, they have an easier time talking about race and they’re in a different place than we are today. Well, let’s dig into rich conversations and in racial literacy, but let’s do that right after the break in here.

Daniel (20:34):

We’re going to just pause for a moment and thank our sponsors, the better leaders, better schools podcast is brought to you by organized binder, organized binders and evidence-based tier one universal level solution and focuses on improving executive functioning and non cognitive skills. You can learn more and improve your student success and organizedbinder.com the better leaders, better schools podcast is brought to you by teach FX. School leaders know that productive student talk drives student learning, but the average teacher talks 75% of class time. TeacherFX is changing that with a Fitbit for teachers. Yeah. Automatically measured student engagement. It gives teachers feedback about what they could do differently. Learn more about the teacher effects app. You can get a special 20% discount for your school or district by visiting TeachFX.com/blbs. That’s teachfx.com/blbs

Daniel (21:42):

Alright. And we’re back with Tracy Benson, author of Unconscious Bias in Schools. He just brought up a point that’s really interesting having these developing racially literate individuals and having rich conversations about issues of race. And as you mentioned, that could be challenging. It could be difficult. You feel your body like even have a physical response that, Oh, we’re going to talk about race today. Like really? And so how does the Ruckus Maker that’s listening, how do they approach, where do they even begin if they’re ready to be brave in this space? Right.

Tracey (22:34):

And it’s scary. We have to all recognize that this is scary because as a society we’ve decided at some point in time that it’s not acceptable to be defined as a racist. At some point in time, maybe back in the fifties it was no longer fashionable or socially acceptable to be associated with racism if you are a good person. And so there are two aspects we need to talk about in terms of the Rukus Maker or any leader wants to address these issues at schools, it’s first release from what we call the good non racist, bad racist binary. So this is a binary that’s very strong in our society that if we think ourselves to be a good non-racist, that means that one, we are open-minded, that we are free of bias, that we are not racist, that our intentions are good. And so we must be in this place where we have to protect this identity as a good non-racist, which often closes us off to real learning. And also with identifying ourselves as a good non-racist then must define those people over there as a racist. So those people who burn crosses, those people who wear a swastika neo-Nazis, those are the racists.

Tracey (23:26):

If those are races over there, I am then the good non-racist. And so that closed ourselves off to the understanding that we are all learners, that we have all ingested racism to a point and we’ve all ingested racial bias. So we have to see ourselves as not the bad racist, but we have to ingested racism and we’re on a continuum of learning rather than static binary. We’re on a continuum of learning along with those that we, who we see as the espoused racist, the bad racist. They’re on the same learning continuum. And so that releases ourselves to be learned to say we don’t know at all. And also when we see those who we considered to be the bad racist, they’re no longer the bad racist. They’re, they’re on a continuum which means that they’re also learners. Our biggest barrier to engaging ourselves and also engaging others is this binary, wanting to keep ourselves as a good non-racist and keep those people as the bad racist.

Tracey (24:21):

And we then release ourselves that they’re learners and we’re also learners provides us with an opportunity to say, all right, you know, I can be vulnerable and open myself up to learning because I don’t know at all and neither do you. So we’re going to learn together. And then the second aspect of really diving into the aspects of race and racism and talking about it at the school level is investigating impact over intent. Like if we’re all good, well meaning non-racist that’s our intent is to do that. That is not always our impact on others. So take in the hallway example, like I intended to treat all students equitably. I intended to enforce the rules when it came to not congregating in the hallway. But the impact was that I was being racially biased toward the particular group of students unintentionally.

Tracey (25:12):

I didn’t do it purposefully, but the impact was that I was being biased. And so it allowed myself to be a learner and say that I have ingested racial bias and I will act these things out if I don’t investigate them. I think it is a door for us to walk through and say, all right, we’re not gonna do it perfectly and we need to accept that we have racial biases. Now how do we then locate those biases and reduce its impact on students.

Daniel (25:40):

It just helps you do something about it because it’s so easy to right  the evil, right? The, the other, the villain in the story off, right? If they’re the bad racist, like we’re just not going to deal with them in, if we are on a continuum and we’re learners of curiosity, then we can do something about it. And that’s really what the show’s about. This is what you’re about, it’s taking action and that takes a lot. You gotta be brave to have these kinds of conversations and then you have to be brave to be able to, to explore what’s happening in the hallways. And where’s some other places,you talked about discipline and how that’s the tip of the iceberg. Some other places that the Ruckus Maker might want to investigate systems wise where unconscious bias it might be happening.

Tracey (26:27):

I think the saying is “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”. So whatever the data has racial discrepancy. That’s the smoke. So where’s the fire? Where’s the source of this racial discrepancy? Where’s the source of the bias in the system? And so we’ve become accustomed in our society too to equate often low, low income students with lack of intelligence or you know, Blackness with lack of intelligence that has become so normalized that we almost think it to be true.

Tracey (26:55):

Which it’s not. Yeah. Our systems are heavily biased. We’re a long, long history of racial bias and racism in our society that has impacted the systems within our school. And so another place, and this is there in a lot of innocuous places where we think that, you know, we’re just trying to do what’s best for our students. So I’m gonna tell you another story that happened just a month ago, so I teach a course called supervision of instruction and I do cooperation with my students. So I go into schools side by side with students and I observe in classrooms alongside them to sort of teach them how to do an observation in a highly effective way. And so on our way to an observation, I walked by a board of positive behavior incentive board where they chose student of the month, they chose one student from eighth grade, so it was fourth grade through eighth grade and one student from each grade was chosen each month they would all stand together with their certificate and their picture would be up on this bulletin board.

Tracey (27:47):

And I went in November and so they had August, September, October in November up on the board. And just by walking in, I knew this was a very racially diverse school. Just because of the parents that were dropping off kids. I was walking past a lot of Black and Brown kids and not just white kids in the school. So I assumed that it was a racially diverse school. But when I walked by the positive behavior board, all the students on there were white, a hundred percent, a hundred percent. All the months they had they’re all white, white boys and white girls. And I took a look at it and ask my student, have you seen this up here? And she’s like, yeah, I walk past it every day. I was like, do you see anything that might be, it’s strange about this board.

Tracey (28:26):

And by pointing that out to her, she’s like, Oh, they’re all white kids. I’m like, well, what percentage of your school is white? And she didn’t know. And so what we did when we got to our classes, we looked up the duration demographics of the school. It was actually only 40% white, but a hundred percent of the students on the positive behavior board were white. And being a visitor to the school, I didn’t want to bring it up with the principal because I was a visitor and I left it to my students. Say, if you want to bring it up, with your principal, you can do so. But it’s not required. But I do see a racial discrepancy here. And so the next day she brought it up with her principal and in our next class at the end of November, she came and reported the follow up.

Tracey (29:04):

And she said a principal felt very guilty of a younger white woman, she felt guilty. She felt shameful. She didn’t understand why it was happening and she was definitely interested in righting the wrong. Another class period went by and she came, my student came in in December and she said, well, you’ll never guess what happened. And I was like, what happened? She said, well, the students of the month for December, we’re all kids of color. So two things about this one, just putting up all kids of color doesn’t solve for the historical wrong of not having kids of color is not the answer. Right?

Tracey (29:40):

I mean that, that one looks odd. Yeah. And the second thing is that they never really investigated why the system preferences white students. Where’s the fire? So this is just a technical solution. I feel guilty. Let me do the knee jerk reaction and just pick all kids of color. However, what the deeper problem is about the system of positive support that preferences white students over Black and Brown sort of, and that’s the issue. And so that’s another place in which we look about systems and how systems work. So, the smoke was, Oh my kids, where’s the fire about how we’re preferencing white students, which was a positive behavior support in our school.

Daniel (30:19):

Thank you for that, that story. And that, that just definitely makes it real for the Ruckus Maker listening. So Tracy, at the end of every show, I ask every guest the same two questions. I would love to know, if you could put a message on a school marquee around the world for just a day, what would that message say?

New Speaker (30:37):

Yeah, I mean it’s the message that I carry forth with me. I have it on the wall of my office. I have it in my home office. It’s “be the change you wish to see in the world.” It’s Gandhi, it’s it’s age old that if we have the will and see our world in a way that we don’t think is best for all students and all people we plug in the way in which we see fit. So as an academic activist, I see that our world is very unjust and our country is very unjust towards Black and Brown people.

Tracey (31:10):

And so I am plugging in in a way where I write about race. I’ve researched race, I talk about race, and I teach in my classes about how to be racial equity educators. So I’m trying my best every day. You know, sometimes not the best that I could, but I try my best to be the change I wish to see. And I think that’s what every educator, when every child in our school should strive for, should be the chance which you want to see in the world.

Daniel (31:34):

You’re building a school from the ground up. You’re not limited by any resources. Your only limitation is your imagination. So how would you build your dream school and what would be your top three priorities?

Tracey (31:49):

There’s a Ted talk that I show at the beginning of every one of my classes. Sugata Mitra, School in the Clouds. And if you haven’t had a chance to check this out, it’s awesome Ted talk,Sugata Mitra: school in the clouds and what it talks about is how antiquated our system is. We no longer need teachers right now we’ve gotten to a point where we sort of, we equate schooling with learning and that’s not necessarily true. I want to decouple the idea of schooling with learning. That learning happens. It can happen in a large throughout the world, in places where I think that the lowest level of learning actually might happen in schools. So we have such access to information in ways of learning that we no longer need the school building. So my dream for the ideal school is it’s like a shopping mall of sorts where students go, we have a bunch of different learning areas and learning places.

Tracey (32:52):

You know, you have your Gap, which might be, the math center. You have Spencer’s gifts, Game Stop, where we have all the active ways where students can learn and they can choose where they go and they can have all different ages. We stopped this idea of you have to be at a certain age to be at a certain level of learning. And that’s simply not true and so we break the age old system in Sugata Mitra, his Ted talk, he talks about at one point in time this was necessary in our society but it’s no longer necessary and so how do we change it? Where learning happens in a way that students make their own schedule where we as adults that we sort of subject to a system that’s now antiquated where we let go and release and that we’re no longer wedded to this time, this specific time and place and age.

Tracey (33:42):

People have to be at a certain developmental level in order to learn at this particular pace and so one, no more school buildings. That’s my dream school, we have a free open and clear a system of learning where people can learn at their own pace and three, we absolutely get rid of any sort of punitive way of testing and assessing students that is not, has never been positive for students that we don’t assess students as far as like a grade. We don’t label them as advanced as are not meeting standards. That goes away because that enemy of learning that we develop a way of encouraging students to learn in a way that we award them and reward them for learning rather than assigning them to a particular grade that labels them.

Daniel (34:30):

Tracey, thank you so much for being a part of the better leaders, better schools podcast. Of all the things we talked about today, what’s the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?

Tracey (34:40):

Well, what I’d like the Ruckus Maker to remember, and hopefully we’ve got this across when we had our conversation today and what we try to talk about in the book, regardless of the amount of effort, time and resources education leaders put into improving the academic achievement of students of color. If unconscious bias is overlooked and proven efforts may never achieve their highest potential. So the foundation of academic achievement for all students and especially for students of color as addressing racial bias in school.

Closing (35:12):

Thanks for listening to the better leaders, better schools podcast for Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel@ better leaders, better schools.com or hit me up on Twitter @alien earbud. If the better leaders, better schools podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode. Extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at alien earbud and using the hashtag #blbs level up your leadership at better leaders, better schools that come and talk to you next time. Until then, class dismissed.




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