Jason Ablin, the author of The Gender Equation in Schools: How To Create Equity and Fairness For All Students, consults with schools across the country regarding gender and creating positive school cultures. At American Jewish University’s Graduate School for Education, he trains teachers to create gender aware classrooms and is also the founder/director of AJU’s Mentor Teacher Certification Program.
Be able to receive feedback from a “cringe worthy moment.”
Practical tools to frame and drive transformation based on issues of gender in schools.
The Gender Equation is a vehicle for helping students experience success.
Validate your teachers with questions instead of framing conversation through a specific lens.
Lead from the middle and avoid aspirational leadership that alienates people who are trying to work together.
Meet the goal of liberating students.
Order, conformity, and obedience are the enemy of authentic education, and schools that are way too quiet.
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Read the Transcript here.
There were a few times in my career, once in middle school where I taught an all boys Avid class, and once in high school where I actually had an all boys Avid course in an all girls Avid course. And the interesting thing is, that was a lot of fun. They were definitely, they had different energy within the classroom. And I hope that I gave them my best and that I taught both my male and female students equitably. But I don’t actually know if I did. Now, today’s guest, he had an all male course, an all female course. But the thing that he also had that I didn’t have was a team of researchers watching him teach his boy and girl students. Now, he hoped that he was giving his best in teaching them equitably, and then heard what the researchers saw. You’re going to hear that story on today’s podcast. We’re going to talk a lot about gender. This is a good discussion. Hey, it’s Danny, chief Ruckus Maker over at Better Leaders Better Schools. I am a principal development and retention expert, a bestselling author, and I host two of the world’s most downloaded podcasts. The show is for Ruckus Makers, which means you make three commitments you’re committed to, you invest in your continuous growth, you’re committed to challenging the status quo, and you’re committed to designing the future of school now. And we’ll be right back after some messages from our show sponsors. The truth is, most leaders weren’t taught a robust way to set their goals. Everyone knows how to choose a goal, write the to-do list, and pick a due date, and as a result, they’re not optimizing their potential.
When you download the Ruckus Maker eight step goal setting tool, I’ll send you the tool in a short eight minute coaching video that shows you how to work smarter, not harder, and create more value for your campus. Are you ready to accomplish more with less effort and in less time? Download the Ruckus Maker eight step goal setting tool by going to betterleadersbetterschools.com goals. Even the most highly effective Ruckus Maker can’t be in all classrooms, offering incredible feedback all the time. So what if teachers could gather their own feedback without relying on you? And not only their own feedback, but meaningful feedback that would improve their instruction? Well, check out the TeachFX app by visiting Teachfx.com/betterleaders and you can pilot their program today. Go to teachfx.com/betterleaders to see why do students struggle? I’d argue that they lack access to quality instruction. But think about it. That’s totally out of their control. What if there was something we could teach kids then? What if there was something within their control that would help them be successful in every class? And it’s not a magic pill or a figment of your imagination. When students internalize executive functioning skills, they succeed. Check out the new self paced online course brought to you by our friends at organized binder that shows teachers how to equip their students with executive functioning skills. You can learn [email protected]/go. All right. Hey, Ruckus Makers. Today I’m joined with Jason Ablin, the author of the Gender Equation in schools, on how to create equity and fairness for all students who consults with schools across the country regarding gender and creating positive school cultures.
At American Jewish University’s graduate school for education, he trains teachers to create gender aware classrooms and is also the founder director of AJU’s mentor teacher certification program. And a fun note, the book is awesome. Like paper copies. Jason and I are already connected. We love paper copies. You can even know the smell, all the stuff. But the audiobook is now available as well, so you could check that out, too. Jason, welcome to the show.
Danny, thank you so much for having me on. It’s a real pleasure. It’s a real pleasure.
No, it’s cool. And this is great work, and you’re certainly a Ruckus Maker. Let’s jump in. How were you, Jason, disrupted early in your educational career? And what do you consider your gender origin story?
So one of the interesting things about doing this work, Danny, is that your stories are constantly popping up. The more you’re thinking about now, you’re doing a lot of self reflection as you’re going through this work and thinking about your own implicit biases and the way you interact. And I have at this point a number of origin stories, and I’m going to tell you one which really came up as I was becoming an emergent leader in a very large school in Los Angeles. There were about 800 students in the school. It was seven through twelve. The school was a new school. There was a lot of action going on all the time. I loved it. It was really exciting. Things were changing all the time. We really had to build programs. There was no blueprint. We were just doing it. And I was all of 34 years old, ancient 34 years old when I was asked to be the director of studies for the entire school and really hire teachers, guide the curriculum, do all that kind of work for the school, I was very excited, and I had done observations and work with teachers before, but I had this one science teacher come into my office one day, and she said to me, I’m having trouble with this particular class, and I was wondering if you could give me some guidance and some help. And at this moment, I was really excited to help and really excited to give her some ideas. And what I ended up doing in this meeting was deciding to speak to her for 15 straight minutes. As were having this conversation, it was a perfect example of mansplaining.
Perfect. And she walked out of the office, and she was very blunt and kind of said in no uncertain terms, that was really unhelpful. And I had to do a lot of reckoning at that moment. We talk a lot in schools about failing forward. We talk about that a lot. We talk about it with technology, with curriculum. We want our teachers to be experimental. We want our kids to be experimental. We want them to feel that anything is possible. So we want them to be able to fail. One of the things we don’t talk about is failure on an interpersonal level. I don’t think we talk about that enough. And failure, when we’re talking about things like technology, we turn it into something inanimate because we want to believe that somehow we can divorce ourselves from that social emotional part of who we are, and we really can’t. Technology isn’t just technology. It’s technology that people are using. It’s a curriculum that people are trying to teach and students are trying to learn. So it all has this kind of social emotional component to it. And we bring all of our baggage into those conversations when we’re talking to teachers and when we’re talking to students. I brought my gender baggage into that room with that teacher. And the good news from that experience was that the next year, I had another science teacher come into my office, another woman who came in and asked me the exact same question. And she asked me, I need some help. And this time I was ready. And instead of telling her what to do, I asked her about 12 to 15 questions. And we talked for about an hour and a half, and she walked out of that room feeling validated. She felt as if I was trying to build a relationship with her, and I was trying to solve that problem. I was trying to solve that problem through her lens, right, as opposed to my own. And after that, we worked together. I came into her classroom. She invited me in to come do observations and to work with her. And all this kind of stuff. But that had a lot to do. Danny, with me really trying to work very hard on framing this conversation in a way that, through a masculine lens, was not going to work.
And I needed to build my relational skills with this person in order to help them, as the idea of leading from the middle. And that was a story that was one of those origin stories where later on in life, I was able to reflect much more seriously as a gender issue and to see it as a gender issue in that moment.
Let’s dig into that a little bit. Apologies, Alba, which is the official mascot of better leaders, better schools, let everybody know that the FedEx driver came. But listen, it’s real life. And I actually didn’t even know she was sleeping in the office until. I want you to define mansplaining, just because I don’t want to make an assumption that every listener or Ruckus Maker knows what that means. Can you just define that real quick? And then I got questions.
I kind of threw it off as a term, and I appreciate that. Iit’s important to explain the terminology. Mansplaining is basically a term where men come to see themselves in spaces, occupying spaces, in positions of authority. And we tend to use very trophy terms for it when we talk about things like aspirational leadership. What I’ve come to see is that aspirational leadership is actually someone coming into a room and feeling as if they have all the answers, and they’re going to be able to really guide everything that goes on and fix everything. And that’s very much a way in which men are acculturated in our society. It’s very much a definitional way in which masculinity is formed from a very young age, and young boys in particular in school are made to feel this way through a number of ways.
We construct the school experience as well. And mansplaining in this sense is me coming in with that kind of authoritative tone, feeling like I’m going to provide all the answers. I’m going to be this kind of patriarchal figure that’s going to fix and solve everything. And in the end, what it does is creates a really alienated space, particularly in work environments where people have to work together. And Danny, as you know, one of the big questions I asked myself about that situation when it happened was, would I have done the same thing if it had been a man sitting across from me?
Yeah, that’s always the question to ask. Because I think, for sure, not perfect. I was talking to my wife, about something and about someone, and I don’t even remember who I was talking about, but she ended up. There was a woman. And I know I used the word bossy, which was, that’s a no. And she goes, would you have said that if it was a man? And I had to think about it, and I’m like, I might have said abrupt, or. It took me a minute to think about it, but what I ended up saying is just like, she was really in my face. I felt like, just very aggressive. It didn’t make me comfortable, so it felt like bossing me around. So we had a really great conversation about it. Isn’t that a beautiful thing when your partner could check you and you have a mirror moment because nobody’s perfect? I appreciate you sharing that because that’s the question to ask. Would you, in a similar situation with a different gender, would you act or use the same type of language? But my other follow up question, because you use another term that’s really interesting, and I’m not sure what was in the bag, but you talked about you bringing your male baggage to that first interaction. So what was in that bag? What was the baggage you were bringing?
What’s in the luggage? I think part of it is some of the things which I spoke about, which is this need to be the authority figure in a room. When you walk into a room and really need to feel as if you have all the answers that are going to play out. When I’m training mentor teachers, what I’m telling them all the time is that you might have a lot of answers and $2.75 is going to get you on the New York City subway. It’s not going to move the needle. It’s not going to help the people who need the help, because they need to see the problem through their eyes. And my baggage was really imagining on a certain level, which, again, is a very masculine tendency to imagine that I can impose my ideas, thoughts, and will onto somebody else, and somehow that’s going to be a change agent. And it’s never the case. It’s never the case. It never works that way. People want to take ownership over their stuff. They want to feel free. And you need to make them feel free.
Absolutely. And so maybe that’s one of the shifts she made with the second teacher the next year. Also a science teacher, also female. But using questions. You said and felt seen and heard in the moment versus basically, that was unhelpful with the first teacher. Last question with this story that you were sharing here at the top of the conversation. But it seems like you’re able to receive that feedback. What is it about you? I’m imagining there might be Ruckus Makers or like, if we think about me and my partner, my wife, I could have just been like, whatever, you. And totally brushed it off. But I did critically think about it. So anyways, why were you able to receive that feedback?
Again, this has been a long journey for me, and it certainly didn’t begin at that moment when I sat in that office with that science teacher. That happened to be just one kind of stumbling, failing forward and interpersonal level. One of my kind of fundamental origin stories is when research was done on me in one of the schools in which I was teaching. I was teaching at a high school with a really unique structure with a girls campus and a boys campus. And it was very early in my career, even earlier, I was all the wise age of 27 years old when I was head of the English department. And I just thought I was the best thing that had ever happened to education. Danny, I was spectacular. All the kids wanted to be in my class, and all the parents loved what I was doing with the kids. And I was just on such a high. And my assistant principal came to me and she said, we’ve got these four researchers, postdocs, who are doing research on gender and education, and they want to come into your 10th grade girls class in the morning, and then come into your 10th grade boys class in the afternoon, and they want to see what’s going on between these two classes as you’re supposed to be teaching the same thing to both sections. And I said, of course. I mean, they’re going to learn so much. It’s going to be amazing. I mean, they’re going to learn so much from being in my classroom because I have so much wisdom at the age of 27.
Again, a lot of hubris, like this male kind of hubris. And so they came into both classes about 20 times over the course of the year. And at the end of it, they came up to me and said Jason, we gathered our data, we got all our information together. And the kids, after a few visits, it was like they were in the background. They didn’t even notice these people coming in anymore. And so I said, of course, I’d love to hear the results. They weren’t bought into it, they didn’t need to give me the results. But I was like, of course. And I sat down with them and it was like two and a half hours of the most grueling critique and conversation about what was going on in the girls class versus the boys class. And for me, that was the great awakening. That was the moment when I said, I really need to work on this lens because I’m doing things on a daily basis which ultimately are undermining the education of the students. =
I was just going to say, you were thinking here, how tall is my statue? And you’re getting this really tough feedback. I can imagine that was like, you called it a great awakening moment for you too, but it sounded like there was another point, and I apologize for cutting you off. Was there something else you wanted to share regarding that?
No, I just feel like there are these moments where, and I hate to put it this way, but I do feel like there has to be a kind of moment with this where you can humble yourself enough to realize that ultimately what you’re here for is what’s in the best interest of students. And that’s really the way I felt at that moment. And thank God, because I think some people might have felt like these people are just making things up. They’re not. But it was so crystal clear from the way they presented the data and the research that I really needed to reevaluate how he was doing things and further on, as a leader in schools, I had to be super aware of what I was doing, not just with students, but with.
I want to get some messages in here from the sponsors, but when we return, Jason, I’d love to hear you just mentioned what’s best for kids and what’s helpful for students. So I’m going to ask you about how the gender equation is a vehicle, right. For helping students experience success. All right. In post pandemic classrooms, student talk is crucial. And when classrooms come alive with conversation, teachers and students both thrive. TeachFX helps teachers make it happen. The TeachFX instructional Coaching app provides insights into student talk, effective questions, and classroom conversation quality. TeachFX professional development complements the app and empowers teachers with best practices for generating meaningful student discourse. Teachers using TeachfX increase their student talk by an average of 40%. Imagine that 40% more ownership over the class by students. Ruckus Makers can pilot Teach FX with their teachers. Visit teachfx.com/betterleaders to learn how. That’s teachfx.com/betterleaders. If your students are struggling to stay focused and your teachers are showing signs of burnout. You need to act now. The good news is that there’s a path forward. It is possible to lay the foundation for learning and to re-energize your teachers, and that’s found in executive functioning skills. When students get practiced with these skills, they can better self regulate and they are more successful academically. Our friends at organized Binder have released a new self paced course that will teach you how to teach these executive functioning skills and set your students up for success. The goal of this course is to help your students be more successful and get teachers back to the work they are called to do. Learn [email protected] go help your students be more successful and get your teachers back to the work they’re called [email protected]/go now back to our regular program with Jason Ablin. And listen, he wrote an incredible book, which I have right here, the gender equation in schools, how to create equity and fairness for all students. And prior to the sponsor break, I just wanted to preview the question that I’m asking now. So how is the gender equation a vehicle for helping students experience success?
That’s a great question, and actually it’s a question I haven’t gotten done, so it’s wonderful. I love the framing. That’s how I really thought about the book from the minute I started writing it, Danny was that I wanted to give a tool to teachers and multiple tools inside the book that can really frame and drive school change and transformation based on issues of gender in schools. What I didn’t want to do is create a book which was kind of issue glaring or problem glaring. I think we’ve had enough of that. Teachers are very practical people. I think they want to know. Okay, you’ve explained to me, and you’ve argued well, why this is an issue for us and why we really need to consider it and how teachers need to own this part of it. Now show me what I need to do now show me what are the steps I need to take and how I can affect change over time. And that’s really what this book is for. Part of what I’ve found often when we’re dealing with DEi issues in particular, is that schools have a tendency to want to jump over certain processes before they get to what they really need to do. So in many cases, like with gender, they’re like, okay, let’s introduce all the kids to pronouns to pronoun use. And really where they need to begin is with their own implicit gender biases. And their own understanding of gender.
When you back to the baggage and you told the story, which I would kind of categorize into this thing, which I begin with teachers, I have these four conversations in the book that you can have with faculty members and your staff about gender. And when you mentioned your story, one of the conversations is, can you tell a gender story from school? Can you tell a story which made you aware of gender, either as a student or as a teacher in a school? And what that tends to do when the faculty begin at that place, it really opens up the conversations, and everyone begins to understand that everybody has gender stories, everybody has universal understanding of gender based on our culture, and therefore we can get to the work. We can start to do the work.
So that’s just one example of the conversation that you have, and there’s four practical words within the book. And so I love that. Like you said, teachers are practical people, so are Ruckus Makers. And so giving those tools, giving those models and templates, I think is such a gift and highly recommend that people check out Jason’s book. So I think I want to ask about Barbara Wagner. Who was she? What did she teach you?
Barbara is incredible. She was a huge mentor to me. She’s a huge role model for me. There’s never been a time I haven’t sat down with her. I haven’t learned anything from this person. She ran the Marlboro school in Los Angeles for 25 years, and she’s kind of a legend, especially in the private school world in Los Angeles. And she walked into the school in her first year ahead, and she said, I’m in a girls school, but, boy, is this a macho environment. And what she said, now, the school has a mission of empowering these young women to become players in the world, to be assertive. And nothing in the school is really aligning with that mission. She was just being really honest about the school. What were some of the telltale signs? Kids were not engaging in class. Kids were not raising their hands. They weren’t being assertive. The girls were being passive and withdrawn, which was something I learned from those researchers a long time ago, that we have a tendency to let especially female students sit in a status of passivity and conformity. And she saw a lot of that. She also saw that 90% of her science and math teachers were men in the school. She wasn’t creating role models for the students to see themselves and mirror themselves in these positions as people of math and people of science. When she asked the students in the first year, to draw a picture of a scientist, they all drew a picture of a scientist with crazy hair and the Einstein look. But it was still a man. It was still a man. And then the last thing she said was, her entire leadership team, her entire leadership was men’s, except for her. Okay, so she really went about the business of rebuilding and restructuring and reimagining this institution to really meet its mission. She wasn’t doing anything that was outside the mission of the school, but she wanted it to live up to its mission. For the girls who were attending the school and the parents who had expectations, everybody noticed the change. That was the interesting thing about it. The whole community and alumni community really noticed the changes she made, which showed me that you can do really effective professional development work with staff around this area, and it can make a difference, and it can really make a difference. As you said, she’s a Ruckus Maker, Danny.
She’s a big time Ruckus Maker, and I always appreciated that about her.
So are you with the content in the book? And you tell the story, too, and frame it as a question, but you challenge the sort of gender expectations that parents may have had in terms of their roles, helping students in reading and math. And I found that story interesting. So do you mind unpacking that really quick?
Yeah, that’s how I started the book, actually. And it was a really powerful moment. I was at the time, the principal of a k through eight school in Los Angeles that was a private school, and there were approximately, again, about 700 students in the school, 700, 800 students in the school. And it was back to school night, first time up there as principal. And I said, we got to start in the right place with me talking to the parents that night, and they have to have an understanding of who I am and what I’m going to be doing at this place for as long as I’m going to be there. So the first thing I said to them is, mom’s in the room. You’re responsible for this year for doing the math homework with your daughters and fathers. Guess what? You’re doing the literacy work. You’re doing the literacy work with your sons. And of course, that didn’t mean that women shouldn’t be doing math homework with their sons or that fathers shouldn’t be reading with their daughters. But what it did mean was that I wanted them to start challenging the gender assumptions that they were making about what the roles were in their house, because the number one indicator of the success of a child. Let’s say a girl in mathematics is what is being communicated in the home by the parents. It’s the number one indicator. And so I said to them, if you want your daughters to feel confident about math, this is what you need to do. And also, fathers, you need to be role models for reading and literacy with your sons because they need to see it as a masculine activity, reading. And, boy, talk about the ruckus that came out of the stories I got from my parents and how they reacted to it. And it was, I think, a great moment where a community kind of came together around something important.
Jason explains more what that reaction was within the community. So we’ll just leave it there as a way to go pick up the gender equation in schools as well. Jason, I close off every conversation with the same three questions, and I’ll start those with you right now. If you could put a message on all school marquees around the world for a single day, what would your message be?
It’s all about relationships. It’s all about relationships. I don’t know if you remember the first Clinton election where in the campaign offices they put up on the wall, they said they had a line. It’s the economy. They put that up for all the volunteers to say because they wanted them to know what it was that Americans care about. I think it’s all about relationships. Should be on that.
Now let’s talk about building your dream school. You’re not constrained by any resources. Your only limitation is your ability to imagine. How would Jason build his dream school? What would be the three guiding principles?
First guiding principle is that the entire purpose, the project of education, is to make students free and liberated. That’s the number one job of educators. The second part of that is that if there’s someone sitting next to you and somehow they are not experiencing freedom, you are not experiencing freedom. It’s not an individual act, it’s a collective act. So you not only have to look at yourself and ask, am I free in mind, body, and soul, but is the person next to me feeling exactly the same way as I am? That’s number two.
Number three is that all processes, all procedures, all priorities in the school, the way you design your classroom has to meet that goal, has to meet the goal of liberating students. That means that when we talk about, let’s say, ruckus making in this way, right. It doesn’t mean you’re living in a lawless environment in schools, right. That’s not what it means, but what it does mean is that there are systems in place for everyone to feel that there can be respectful grievance and confrontation, and there’s nothing wrong with that. So in other words, you shouldn’t feel like you’re in school when you’re in school. You should feel like if we’re really talking about making school like the real world, the school should be a place where we’re literally teaching students how to enact their freedoms and speak up against systems which are not working well, whether it’s at work or whether it’s in your community or whether it’s in your religious establishment, whatever it is. But you see yourself as a real change maker in the world because you see yourself as free. Everything in the school is surrounded by that principle and ideal.
Free and liberated.
Free and liberated.
Feeling the same way, collective. I love that. And everything aligned to it, too. So everything supports that mission and vision. Jason, we covered a lot of ground today for sure. This was a value packed conversation of everything we discussed. What’s the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?
That order, conformity, and obedience are the enemy of authentic education, and schools that worry me the most are the ones that I walk into, and they’re way too quiet. Schools should be loud, noisy places, in my opinion. And that’s a good measurement of whether, if you are being a leader by being a Ruckus Maker, there should be lots of noise going on in your school. And obedience is not an educational value. Students are engaged, inactive, even difficult to find a great school.
Thanks for listening to the better leaders Better Schools podcast Ruckus Maker. How would you like to lead with confidence, swap exhaustion for energy, turn your critics into cheerleaders and so much more? The Ruckus Maker Mastermind is a world class leadership program designed for growth minded school leaders just like you. Go to betterleadersbetterschools.com/Mastermind, learn more about our program, and fill out the application. We’ll be in touch within 48 hours to talk about how we can help you be even more effective. And by the way, we have cohorts that are diverse and mixed up. We also have cohorts just for women in leadership and a bi hawk only cohort as well. When you’re ready to level up, go to betterleadersbetterschools.com mastermind and fill out the application. Thanks again for listening to the show. Bye for now and go make a ruckus.
How much student talk happened today?
When classrooms come alive with conversation, learning improves, students feel a sense of belonging, and teachers feel inspired.
The TeachFX instructional coaching app gives teachers powerful insights into their student talk, student engagement, and classroom conversation.
With TeachFX, teachers see how much student talk happened, the moments of students sharing their brilliance, and the questions that got students talking. Learn how to pilot TeachFX with your teachers. Visit: teachfx.com/betterleaders
Why do students struggle? I’d argue that they lack access to quality instruction, but think about it. That’s totally out of their control. What if there was something we could teach kids there was something within their control that would help them be successful in every class? It’s not a magic pill or a figment of your imagination.
When students internalize Executive Functioning Skills they succeed.
Check out the new self-paced online course brought to you by OB that shows teachers how to equip their students with executive functioning skills.
Learn more at organizedbinder.com/go
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