Roberto German 00:01
Welcome to Our Classroom. In this space, we talk about education which is inclusive of but not limited to what happens in schools. Education is taking place whenever and wherever we are willing to learn. I am your host, Roberto German. And Our Classroom is officially in session. This episode of Our Classroom, I am joined by Shane, who has worked at every level of the education system, from the classroom to the boardroom for 25 years. Since 2008, Safir has provided equity centered leadership, coaching, strategic planning, and professional learning support for schools, districts, and organizations across the US, Canada, and beyond. She facilitates workshops on creating brave spaces for equity listening, leadership, becoming a warm demander and street data among other content. She is the author of The Listening Leader: Creating the Conditions for Equitable School Transformation. And her most recent book, co-author with Dr. Jamila Dugan, is titled Street Data: A Next-Generation Model for Equity, Pedagogy, and School Transformation. With us today, Shane Safir. Hey folks. You can go ahead and thank me now 'cause we have Shane Safir on the show. Did I say your last name right?
Shane Safir 01:38
Roberto German 01:41
Listen, it's a pleasure to have you here. I'm excited to learn from you Street Data folks. We have the author of Street Data. You know what, this is actually a good question. I didn't have this down, but I'm gonna go ahead because it's always interesting when I hear people annunciate, pronunciate the word. How do you say it? I say data. Do you say data or data?
Shane Safir 02:04
Oh my God, I've been grappling with that one since--
Roberto German 02:08
This-- this might-- this might be the toughest question of the interview.
Shane Safir 02:11
Yeah. And I think, I don't think there's a right answer, but I tend to say data. I don't really know though. Right?
Roberto German 02:19
I-I lean towards the long A also.
Shane Safir 02:21
You do too? Okay. Yeah, I'm not sure. And then there's the, like, data is singular or plural. So half the time in the book, I was like, do I say they or do I say it? It's very confusing work.
Roberto German 02:31
Oh, that's fun. That's fun. Well, thank you. Thank you for being here, Shane. Oh, you are doing amazing work. And just wanna start by giving you your flowers, not just for publishing the book Street Data but also the work that you've been doing years in schools and in training school leaders, working with teachers. Appreciate what you're doing.
Shane Safir 02:53
Right back at you. And just have admired your work and Lorena's work from afar for years. I feel really humbled and really honored to be invited to join you today.
Roberto German 03:02
Well, welcome to Our Classroom.
Shane Safir 03:04
Roberto German 03:05
So let's go ahead and jump right in. Your book's, impactful Street Data, folks, if you don't have it, you're gonna learn a little bit here today and we encourage you certainly to grab a copy and dig in and apply. And one idea prevalent throughout your work is that while some data can be measurable, it doesn't mean it's valuable, right? So what is the data students of color specifically need us to focus on so we can create systems of education that truly edifies them?
Shane Safir 03:38
Yeah, it's such a good question. I'm glad we're starting here because this is some of my own wrestling right now that I'm doing with the ideas in the book and in the field. I'm really trying to challenge myself right now away from this binary concept that there's good data and bad data and toward really trying to be more inclusive and thinking that every type of data has a purpose. And it's more about how we locate it, how we articulate its purpose and how we kind of right size it. So what I would say, and the argument in the book is that we have been steeped in a very particular notion of data in schools for the last 15 to 20 years, really since No Child Left Behind. And we call that in the book satellite data. It's the data that's really far from the student experience, that 30,000 foot kind of aerial view. And it's the quantitative, right? It's the metrics, it's the test scores and the graduation rates and the attendances and all those things. And folks will often ask, "Well, what are you trying to argue in this book? Should we be getting rid of all that data? Is that data wrong or bad?" And I think more and more and challenged somewhat by indigenous education thought leaders here in the province where I'm living. Second data has a place. Like, it can tell us where to look, right? When we're looking at, let's say graduation parody for students of color and as opposed to white students in different areas, like we wanna know if there's a gap there, right?
But the problem is that we often just stop at that data. Okay, we see there's a 20% gap or whatever. Let’s move on. And then every year, we're coming back, and we're telling the same story, right? We're reproducing this narrative that often, you know, kind of plants these-- these deficit-based seeds about young people. And so, in the book, we talked about the satellite data that can tell us where to look. Then there's the map data, which is a little bit closer to the ground. And that would be, like, student surveys, right? Or common assessments, for example. And that map data can illuminate patterns in the system. So patterns of equity, of learning and belongings. So we might find out that 40% of our students don't feel like they belong when they come to school. Well, that's important to know, right? But again, oftentimes, we stop there. Okay, we have a problem. 40% of students don't feel like they belong. The invitation in the book is to really reorient ourselves towards street level data that can only be captured on the ground through observation and conversation, and deep listening. And the street level data as defined in the book is-- is qualitative, right? It's about story. It's about experience. It-- it's the data that tells us why we are where we are and then hopefully helps us figure out how to move forward in new ways in-- in less reproductive ways. So that's kind of high level some of the thoughts. And if it's helpful, I can share some examples.
Roberto German 06:31
So it sounds like you're saying when it comes to quantitative data and qualitative data, it's a both and not an either or.
Shane Safir 06:43
I think so. I think I-I-I think it's a both and, but that we need to overwhelmingly kind of right size the role of the quantitative data because it's had such an outsized role in the field.
Roberto German 06:56
And we don't have to get into too many examples, but maybe you could provide one example.
Shane Safir 07:01
Okay. I mean, the f-- the first one that comes to mind is just the role of student work, right? As street data artifacts of student work and centering that in every conversation we're having about learning that it's not about waiting for the test scores or, you know, sitting with the troubling attendance data, looking at what students are producing as a-- as a point of analysis. And then I would say coupled with that is just student stories through empathy interviews, through panels through shadowing students really understanding how they move through the world, what's happening for them inside and outside the school building that impacts their learning.
Roberto German 07:39
Thank you. Thank you. And so your framework as educators and policymakers to consider an approach that begins with students or works from the student up, how is what you're offering counter to the current system we have thinking about our listeners who haven't read Street Data. And what is your approach and how is your approach and iteration of anti-racist ideals? And I know I said a lot there. So I'll-- I'll reiterate the--
Shane Safir 08:12
Compound the question.
Roberto German 08:14
Yes. Yes. We could start with the first part, which-- which again was how is what you're offering counter to the current system we have?
Shane Safir 08:23
Yeah. That's a juicy one. So the first chapter of this book unpacks this idea of epistemology or theories of knowledge. And essentially, what I try to argue in that chapter is that the way we think about data in American public education and really in western public education beyond just the states is rooted in a western colonial framework about knowledge. A very narrow definition about what constitutes knowledge and what constitutes data, and what ways of knowing are considered to be valid and reliable. And this is how we get this over-reliance on standardized test scores because we assume that the only reliable and valid data is the data that compares children to each other or that produces a bell curve where there's winners and losers, right? We assume that we need grades to discern who's an achieving or performing student and who's not. So early in this book, we're trying to pull the curtain and say, that's really just one way of knowing. You know, a lot of scholars of color rightly named that colonial western or white research that's a particular way of thinking about knowledge. And when we kinda demystify that, all these other epistemologies start to open up that already exist, right? In our communities and classrooms. And so I-I was thinking about with this question Dr. Christopher Emdin's, beautiful forward to this book, and he writes a paragraph about the movie Black Panther. And he says, "In the movie, Black Panther, Wakanda was a land that had extensive resources and advanced technological assets that were hidden in plain sight beneath the surface that didn't indicate all that lay beneath. It operated on a street level that much of the world couldn't see. And street knowledge and street data exist in much the same way."
So I love that metaphor, right? Because it's like, this isn't anything new, it's really just about attunement to the data, the information, the brilliance, the cultural wealth that already is in our classrooms and schools. But how do we reorient ourselves away from only thinking about data and knowledge through this narrow lens? And so to answer the second part of your question, why is this anti-racist or how is it mapped to, you know, anti-racist theory, I think, or I hope that this approach offers a counter narrative to the dominant narrative which is so deficit based, which is constantly located problems-- locating, excuse me, problems of performance in the learner rather than in the system. Right? Dr. Kennedy talks about this. And I think street data can give us a pathway to tell a much fuller story and to kind of elevate the brilliance of young people to design assessments that are about their many ways of knowing and being in the world and to kinda marginalize the narrative that standardized tests has been dishing out to us for decades now. I think the last thing I'll say linked to anti-racism is street data is what helps us kind of uproot or unearth the root causes of inequity that exist in our schools. Whether that's through a policy or a pattern of pedagogy or practice, we need that street data to know what is producing these high-- these satellite kind of results that we see.
Roberto German 11:36
That's great. That's great. And the Wakanda--
Shane Safir 11:40
What do you think?
Roberto German 11:41
I think the-- I'm going back to the Wakanda framing.
Shane Safir 11:45
Roberto German 11:46
Very timely, given that the second one just came out, right? But when you think about the richness, the culture in terms of what Ryan Coogler did with that movie, how it is he developed this concept, this place, the characters and-- and each of them with their own unique and respective stories, right? We could even consider the fact that, hey, this thing could have died out. Or many people could have just thought like, Hey, how can you possibly do another Wakanda without Chadwick Boseman?
Shane Safir 12:21
Roberto German 12:22
And Ryan Coogler and his brilliance was able to honor the life and legacy of Chadwick Bo-- Boseman and his character, and bring out the best in these other characters and-- and bring out their stories, amplify their stories in a way where we could still a-a appreciate the individuals, but also the overall picture. Right? And so, we should be appreciating the individuals as in the students.
Shane Safir 12:53
Roberto German 12:54
And also, overall, the school community and the way we're engaging in that process of schooling, which should be inclusive of all these different metrics, right? All types of data, including the street knowledge, the street data.
Shane Safir 13:13
Beautiful. I haven't seen the movie yet, but you made me want to even more. And I love that extended metaphor of how Ryan Coogler kinda used the moment not to shrink away from his story but to elevate and bring up other characters into the narrative more. That's beautiful.
Roberto German 13:30
Yeah. You know, it makes me think a little bit about my time lead in schools and-- and not that I was the greatest school leader. I-I think I had some great moments, and I think I had some-- some moments in which I could have done a lot better, right? But it's all about growth. But when I think about my strong moments, it was when I was able to truly invest in others and-- and get them to believe in what we're doing and support them in the process of, you know, whatever it is we're-- we're trying to accomplish. "Hey, you know, let's lay out a clear vision. I'm in this with you. You have the capacity, and it is my job to understand how to best support you."
Shane Safir 14:19
Roberto German 14:20
And I'm informed by all of this, right? And even in-- in supporting teachers, right? There's-- there's street data there that sometimes we don't consider as-- as-- as school leaders that if we did, we'd probably be able to better support our teachers.
Shane Safir 14:36
Mm-hmm. A hundred percent. Yeah. And that leadership piece, my first book is called The Listening Leader, and it's very much about how to-- how to take up the stance that you just laid out so beautifully of kind of empowering people, cultivating leadership and others, building that culture and that kind of collective sense of vision and purpose together, so.
Roberto German 14:58
I like that title of The Listening Leader because active listening, it-- it's a skill to be mastered and in our society, right? Especially in this day and age, I-I think we do a lot more speaking or a lot more posting than we do truly listening to what people have to say.
Shane Safir 15:18
Roberto German 15:19
Way too reactive. Anyways--
Shane Safir 15:21
And listening is like a backbone skill of street data. So one of the-- one of the things to me when I try to caution against, and we're doing capacity building around this book, is it's not just about implementing the model or going out and following the steps, right? It's-- it really begins with understanding your own epistemology, your own ways of knowing and being in the world and rooting in a sense of who am I? How do I need to show up? How do I need to listen, right? To actually do the fidelity and integrity.
Roberto German 15:49
Yes. Love that. So, we-- we have this obsession in-- in our society, in how we do schooling here in the United States with standardized testing. And in-- in my opinion, it's been toxic and damaging in education. What do you think are the direct consequences with our fixation on standardized testing? How has this changed or feel and what can be repaired and what do you think are the permanent losses?
Shane Safir 16:29
Hmm. That's such a profound question. I feel like we could talk about that the rest of the time.
Roberto German 16:35
Shane Safir 16:36
I mean, I started teaching in the late 90s in San Francisco Unified and Oakland Unified. And so it was prior to No Child Left Behind. Standardized tests, you know, they existed, but they just didn't have the same kind of role they have now.
Roberto German 16:50
Shane Safir 16:51
And I was so lucky to be a part of, you know, helping to educate at both the schools that I taught, these brilliant first generation to college students, almost all students of color who didn't, who were not sort of like trapped within this paradigm telling them they weren't good enough, right? Like the indicators for the schools were not great, they didn't look great on paper, but the kids were brilliant, and they went on to college, and they-- they're still doing great things. I get to interview two of them this week, who are now in their like late 30s.
Roberto German 17:23
Oh, that's awesome.
Shane Safir 17:24
Which is so fun. So when I think about the legacy that, to use your words, the toxic and damaging impact and legacy of this standardized testing movement, which I truly believe it has been, you know, number one, I think about teacher morale and how many teachers we've lost. Particularly I think the impact on teachers of color who don't always feel valued within the system, right? Or see their ways of knowing and being valued or are diminished, marginalized, or, as Jamila talks about in her chapter, tokenized, right? Like, fix this equity problem. You know, I think she calls in the chapter of the lone range of color. So the kind of burden of that and the way that I think as people feel just increasingly dispirited or alienated from the system, you start wondering, "Why am I doing this?" Right? Like, I'm just part of this, I'm just a cog in this, like, machine, reproductive machine. So teacher morale. And right now, that's so huge, right? 'Cause, we're just bleeding teachers and principals out of all of our institutions.
Roberto German 18:26
Shane Safir 18:27
Right? And then I think the second impact I-- that comes to mind is for students. How many students we have lost, or let's say the-- the brilliance of whom we have lost because they didn't see a pathway to an intellectual life because of the lies the system has told about their capacity and what they can be in the world. Like, how many ideas and innovations and thought leaders, you know, have fallen through the cracks of a system that doesn't value them. And that just makes me actually really angry when I think about that. Like, just not wanting to participate in that and wanting to collectively move toward a different system that really values young people and particularly young people at the margins and gives them space to shine and breathe and grow. And I mean, to your question about what can be repaired, I mean, I'm a-- I'm a optimist, I'm perennial optimist, so I always, like, stay in the space of possibility in dreaming. I think that's the birthplace of this book in many ways. And the fact that this book has-- has garnered so much attention, right? That, like 60,000 people have read it in the last year and change tells me that there is a hunger. Like, there is a desire, I think, for a-a different way of thinking about all of this. Great teachers already orient street data, right? The book is just maybe giving folks language for what they already do. Great leaders like you described yourself in your best moments already orient street data, already orient what teacher’s experiences are and how to empower people. So I guess I hope that the book and-- and other books in this vein can help us just have a shared language and crack through some of the dysfunctional patterns of the system.
Roberto German 20:21
That's wonderful. And I-I maintain a spirit of optimism also. I think it's important to-- to have that lens so that we could continue to move forward. I-I think it's-- I find it hard to move forward without having a sense of optimism.
Shane Safir 20:43
Yeah, for sure.
Roberto German 20:45
So thank you, Thank you for sharing that. Alright, so this is always a fun question for me to hear and learn who others pick out as their individual to have lunch or-- or dinner with. So if you had an opportunity to have lunch with someone, author or school leader that are alive, who would it be and why?
Shane Safir 21:11
This is a tough one. I wish it was like a top-five. The person who immediately came to mind for me was Mr. James Baldwin. I just don't think there was a greater intellectual giant of the 20th century. And his work touched me early on. In the classroom, I had my high school students reading some of his essays when I was in San Francisco and Oakland. And, you know, even today, watching video clips of James Baldwin in different, like public forums just holding court and speaking truth to power and naming, you know, what was presumably unnameable. I just think he was so brilliant and so gifted. And so just such a defining force in-- in 20th century American culture. So I would love to be able to sit at his feet as an elder and just ask a million questions and learn from him.
Roberto German 22:07
It's-- it's amazing how his content is still relevant today.
Shane Safir 22:10
Yeah. Right? All of it. It's like you feel like he's talking in 2022.
Roberto German 22:15
Absolutely. Absolutely. So Shane, to-- to those who are listening, what is a message of encouragement you want to offer them?
Shane Safir 22:28
Beautiful question. For me, this work really starts in our own hearts and spirits. And I'm thinking about this a lot. I think the message would be to really know your history, situate your identity and then grow into this landscape, these kind of intersections of identities and ways of knowing and being in the classroom that really amplifies and elevates all of the many kind of epistemologies. And I think a lot about a teaching from an elder I interviewed last year, Dr Sidney Stone Brown. She wrote about Maslow's Hierarchy. And you may have heard this research, how it came actually from the Blackfoot people in--
Roberto German 23:12
I-I did hear that. I did hear that.
Shane Safir 23:14
Yeah. And so she's the one who actually dug into the archives and discovered all that 'cause it was buried history. It was totally whitewashed from the record. Right? And one of the things I asked her, what astounded her when she looked through the archives, and she said it was that after spending time with the Blackfoot people, Maslow and his-- and his researchers, that there were a lot of communications from Blackfoot community members to Maslow that he never responded to. And she said what I told her is that he didn't know how to be a relative. He didn't know how to be a relative. And so I think a lot about what does it mean to be a relative to the people I work with and live with? What does it mean to be a good neighbor, to be in relationship in a really authentic way? And that's something I continue to really meditate on.
Roberto German 24:06
Hmm. That's awesome. That's great. So, where can folks follow you?
Shane Safir 24:13
Well, for the next five minutes on Twitter. Who knows after that?
Roberto German 24:17
Shane Safir 24:19
[inaudible 00:24:19] I'm a-- @ShaneSafir on Twitter. I'm @ShaneSafir_author on Instagram.
Roberto German 24:27
Shane Safir 24:27
We don't know where we're all going next, but we gotta find a place because these connections are powerful.
Roberto German 24:33
We'll find it. We'll find it.
Shane Safir 24:36
Roberto German 24:37
And the book, if folks wanna pur-- purchase the book, where should they go?
Shane Safir 24:41
You can go to my website, which is just shanesafir.com. S-H-A-N-E-S-A-F-I-R or to Corwin Press. I could say Amazon, but I'd rather you buy from a local, independent, or black-owned bookstore.
Roberto German 24:54
Shane Safir 24:55
Get the book. And God, let-- let me know what you think. Let us know what you think. I encourage you to have Dr Dugan on the podcast. She's brilliant. And she wrote the second chapter of the book. And we're just building this out with folks in real-time, so we'd love to hear from readers.
Roberto German 25:10
Well, I'm gonna need you to follow up with Dr Dugan's email because I would love to have her on the podcast.
Shane Safir 25:16
Roberto German 25:16
And I'm hopeful that we'll connect again in the future.
Shane Safir 25:20
I hope so too.
Roberto German 25:21
You know, as-- as I dig more into your work and really process street data and-- and how it connects to my past work in schools. I think it's gonna inspire some-- some more questions when-- maybe we could get into some specifics of parts of the book. And I could hear you just elaborate on it, but learn so much from the work that you're offering the world and even from listening to you in this interview. And so thank you for blessing us in Our Classroom.
Shane Safir 25:56
Thank you again.
Roberto German 25:57
Greatly appreciated. And—
Shane Safir 25:59
Congratulations on your poetry. I can't wait to read it.
Roberto German 26:01
Oh, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I'm looking forward to sharing this with the world. You'll have to tell me what you think. As always, your engagement in Our Classroom is greatly appreciated. Be sure to subscribe, rate the show and write a review. Finally, for resources to help you understand the intersection of race bias, education, and society, go to multicultural classroom.com. Peace and love from your host, Roberto German.