Roberto Germán 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 Germán and our classroom is officially in session. In this episode of our classroom, we'll be talking about Liberatory Coaching with Lauren Vargas and Rashaida Melvin. Lauren is an educator whose work focuses on coaching, leadership and systems that promote liberation and thriving of all students. She is the director, instructional leadership at a neighborhood high school in the school district of Philadelphia, as well as a consultant, artist and mom. She writes the blog Coaching to Disrupt the Status Quo, which provides coaching resources, ideas, and stories to equip coaches and leaders in their work of disrupting the status quo of schooling so that all students can thrive. Rashaida Melvin is an educational leader and entrepreneur who focuses on creating tools, curriculum, and systems for coaching on the topics of leadership strategy and program implementation rooted in equitable practices. She currently serves as the national program director @build.org, an education entrepreneurship organization. Rashaida has experience as school leader, instruction coach and teacher in both urban and rural communities. My people, we are back in our classroom and I'm joined by the dynamic duo of Lauren Vargas and Rashaida Melvin. That's right. You heard it. Rashaida not the long A. Alright? Even though it's A-I in her name. Say it right people. It's Rashaida. The dynamic duo here, and we are going to be talking about liberatory coaching. What is that? You'll find out momentarily. But first, welcome to our classroom. Excited to have you with us and to hear a little bit about your educational journey and the work that you are currently engaged in. So why don't we go ahead and start there.
Rashaida Melvin 02:25
All right. Well, first of all, thank you for just uplifting the correct pronunciation of my name. I appreciate that. I'm Rashaida Melvin. And you know what? I've had a love for learning since an early age. I was that child who brought everything home from school and taught all of my stuffed animals in my room after school. So I've just always had a love for learning. And I would say in high school, that was when I was really aware of the disparities in education just because I went to a diverse school. And once I started in the-- like the honors and the AP classes, who I was seeing in those classrooms was not who I was seeing in the cafeteria. And so that was-- started my journey of realizing something was not right. And so I started my career as a teacher through Teach for America in North Carolina, and I was actually able to teach not too far from where my mom grew up. So that was a full circle moment for me from the beginning of my career. After I taught for a few years and went to grad school, then I moved to DC which is where I'm currently based, and I became an assistant principal. And I started working at a charter school in DC. And then at the same time, I became a part-time virtual instructional coach, which is actually where I met Lauren. And Lauren was my coach in this role. And eventually, she promoted me and we went on to support the team of coaches together, creating systems and best practices for coaching teachers as well as coaching leaders. And we took on the task of creating an equity and student-centered framework for this organization. And since then, we have started to share our learnings from working with educators across the country. Now I work as a national nonprofit as a program director, where I get to coach and support both teachers as well as internal staff on implementing an entrepreneurship curriculum to high school students.
Roberto Germán 04:28
That's great. That's great. Thank you Rashaida. Lauren.
Lauren Vargas 04:31
Thanks. Well, again, thanks so much for having us. We're so glad to be here. My background is, I-I come from a family of educators in different capacity. My mom was an educator in a number of different roles, but really a big advocate in my education. I started my teaching career as a high school math teacher. I initially thought I was gonna be in for a few years and wanted to start a community art center, but then I got hooked and really loved being in the actual classroom. After about a decade in the classroom, I was pregnant with my first daughter and knew I wanted to shift out of the classroom teaching space. And so I moved into virtual instructional coaching when my first daughter was born. And like Rashaida mentioned, that's where we initially connected. At this point now I support schools with building equity-focused coaching and instructional systems through training and leadership coaching. I also write the blog Coaching to Disrupt the Status Quo and do some writing with Rashaida as well.
Roberto Germán 05:36
So the two of you are working on publishing a book on Liberatory Coaching. What is liberatory coaching?
Rashaida Melvin 05:46
Well, liberatory coaching is designed to be a practice that disrupts the status quo of schooling. Unfortunately, schools are all too often experienced as places of oppression and harm, including things like discipline rates that disproportionately impact students of color or the way that marginalized families are stereotyped as not caring about their student's education. And of course, even the blaming students for their own disengagement without even considering the whole child or the level of interest that a teacher is creating in their lessons. So we frequently see teachers defaulting to teaching how they were taught, which includes replicating the pedagogy of disengaged and disconnected college professors in the name of high expectations. And in K-12 classrooms across the country that we've seen, this really is essentially the status quo of how education is done in our country.
Lauren Vargas 06:41
Yep, exactly. So really to disrupt that status quo then working in partnership with teachers through coaching, we work to build and sustain education as liberation for all. So both students and teachers. That's kind of the picture of this liberatory coaching. So Bell Hooks has this great quote. She says that envisioning education as the practice of freedom, she envisions the classroom as a place that is "life-sustaining and mind expanding," a place of liberating mutuality where teacher and student together work in partnership. So we love that liberating mutuality, but we still see it going hand in hand with the phrase written the other way around, mutual liberation. So we believe that the liberation of students is bound up with the liberation of teachers and the liberation of the oppressed and the disenfranchised is bound up with those who hold power. And so we really see this come out in action in the six liberatory coaching practices that we write about.
Roberto Germán 07:46
All right. So can you provide us with an overview of liberatory coaching? I understand that there are six strands that you focus on, and I know we don't have time to-- to get into all of it, but it'll be helpful if you would offer us an overview and then afterwards, perhaps we could get into at least one of the strands.
Rashaida Melvin 08:09
Okay. Yeah, absolutely. So just wanted to add one quick note on why we approached this work from a coaching lens specifically. So we've seen teachers move new learning into practice quickly through coaching, and we also know the research on teacher retention and-- and implementation of information when they learn it through a professional development session. And most of what a teacher learns in a PD hardly ever makes it to their classroom. So rather than just having a one-shot PD on equity, instead coaching with an equity lens supports teachers through individualized support and accountability to move to actually doing something different in their classrooms. And we really believe that it's in that one-on-one relationship and support of coaching that helps teachers move this work from theory into action.
Lauren Vargas 09:01
Awesome. Thanks, Rashaida.
Roberto Germán 09:04
So before-- before we go further, just to clarify, is-- when you're talking about coaching, is the idea that the coaches are supporting and building up instructional leaders or is it, you know, external coaches who are continuously working alongside the teachers? Or is it both?
Rashaida Melvin 09:24
Both. Yeah. We believe a coach is able to be an external coach coming in or an internal coach who's in the midst of the school community.
Roberto Germán 09:34
Wonderful. Thank you.
Lauren Vargas 09:36
Yeah. So to dig into those six liberatory practices, maybe we can ping pong back and forth here, Rashaida, but I'll start with the first one. So our first one is coaching for self-awareness, not a savior mentality. So coaching for self-awareness includes supporting teachers digging into their ability to consciously understand their identity, their motives, biases and their desires, and how that shows up in the classroom. And how they can show up as their full authentic selves in the classroom, including what motivated them to be teachers how they're perceived in the classroom, how that intent compares to their impact on student, and also how to acknowledge and repair any harm done, even if it's unintentional. And so we promote self-awareness as an antidote to the savior mentality that many often young and white teachers lean on as their motivation to teach. So kind of that, you know, "I'm here to help those who are less privileged than me." That mentality intentionally positions students as inferior. And so further perpetuating that system of oppressive-- oppressive systems within schools and that status quo of schooling that we're trying to disrupt.
Rashaida Melvin 10:51
And the second is coaching for relationships, not compliance. So we know hands down relationships matter. Our second liberatory practice is really about prioritizing, building strong student-teacher relationships to support the thriving of every child and every teacher instead of the status quo of trying to get students to comply with school norms, which is typically having students that are obedient and silent. And education as liberation for all is not possible if it's not first rooted in deep relationships.
Lauren Vargas 11:26
Mm-hmm. Our third practice is listening to-- I'm sorry, coaching for listening to not lecturing students. So in this practice, we coach to support teachers to shift the work of teaching from something that is done to students, to something that is done with students. So teachers tend to replicate the way they've been taught, as Rashida mentioned, often in the form of lecturing students both about their behavior and academic content. So, and doing far too much of the talking in the lesson, which further entrenches that status quo of schools. So instead we work to support teachers on building relationships that they're forming, building off those relationships. They can start building liberatory learning simply by meaningfully listening to students. So for example, implementing co-generative dialogues, facilitating circles and just inviting student input into the classroom.
Rashaida Melvin 12:28
And our fourth is coaching for engaging every student, not just a few. So coaching for liberation means that we're supporting teachers and building a learning environment where every single student, not just a few, can be their full authentic selves and deeply engaged with their-- their learning process. And in this practice, coaches support teachers in creating an interactive classroom rooting out that inactive classroom where students are more passive receivers of information. Or only a handful of more likely the top students volunteer to deeply engage with content. And in the partnership, teachers and coaches work towards making a learning environment where every child is consistently and rigorously engaged. And-- and also where learning is fun.
Lauren Vargas 13:22
Yes. Our fifth practice that is coaching for agency, not assimilation. So we know many of the students of color and marginalized students experience school as a place where they're expected to assimilate to the culture in order to be successful in school where they have little control over their days and often feel like they can't show up as their true selves. So in liberatory coaching, coaches support teachers in building students agency and ownership of their learning, avoiding asking students to comply or conform. So this could be as simple as providing choices to students, giving students responsibilities and meaningful leadership opportunities and engaging students in co-teaching with their teacher.
Rashaida Melvin 14:10
And our sixth and final is coaching for self-advocacy, not surrendering. So all too often factors outside of the classroom or school such as structural racism, historical inequalities, curriculum decisions, testing, stress, policy, the pandemic, and so on and so on and whatever ends up being next significantly impacts the experience of school for both the student and teachers. But we love the quote from Paulo Freire that says, "A radical transformation of the education system can never take place unless society itself is transformed." Coaching to support teachers in growing their self-advocacy in the field, both at their schools and in their greater social context involves supporting teachers, social justice engagement, growing their critical consciousness, and even setting healthy boundaries with work.
Roberto Germán 15:07
Those are six great paths that you offer for liberatory coaching. I-I would love to get into them all. We-- we don't have the time. So let's-- can-- can we do a deep dive into one of the six liberatory practices? And let's-- why don't we focus on coaching for relationships not compliant? What would this look like in the classroom? And when I-- when I'm thinking about this, it brings me back to an interview we had several episodes ago with Stacy Seward, and we were talking about the-- the school-- the-- the prison pipeline. Where really like birth the prison and-- but just the-- the impact of some of the practices that are implemented in schools that-- that reinforce this notion of essentially ushering kids into the-- the prison complex, right? The industrial prison complex. And so let-- let's talk about this. Let's do a deep dive on-- on this particular path coaching for relationships, not compliance. Tell me about that.
Lauren Vargas 16:19
Great. I don't know if I'm supposed to have favorites, but this is probably one of my favorite of the practices, coaching for relationships, not compliance. And we find it really helpful just to tell a story of how we've seen this play out in the classroom and in a coaching partnership. So one of our coaching colleagues was working with a new teacher just for the sake of the story we'll call her Ms. Meyer, the teacher. And they were working around her classroom management which we prefer to call building class community for a number of reasons. But the-- the coach supported the teacher in trying a whole range of strategies that new teachers often use. So giving clear directions, having routines for how students enter and transition into the classroom, even praising students when they were on task and making sure to redirect those who were off task. But even though this teacher was faithfully implementing everything her coach was suggesting, it just fell flat and her class continued to be a-a place that was fairly chaotic and where really little learning was happening. And so after some sessions together, the coach realized that Ms. Meyer had very little connection to her students, really didn't know her students. And so her efforts to do these different strategies ended up being about student compliance and just ended up being about controlling students in her classroom. And so once her coach shifted the focus of the coaching partnership to help this teacher learn how to build relationships with students, which is a set of skills that teachers can learn. Things like just greeting students by-- by the door, greeting them by name with a fist bump, asking students personal questions: how was your weekend? How'd the game go yesterday? And this seems obvious, but small things like smiling during class, she really started to see changes quickly. So those same strategies she was using, she was doing them, but doing in the context of relationships and connection with her students. And so this teacher saw her student engagement and her student learning shoot up. And the teacher also was so much less stressed. Ms. Meyers, I love the end of the story, Ms. Meyers actually even accidentally missed her last coaching meeting with her coach because she had gone to see one of her students' basketball games in an effort to build a connection with that student.
Roberto Germán 18:46
The students notice those things, right? The-- the students notice those things and they also feel your-- feel your presence, right? Whether that's a positive presence or a negative presence, they gonna feel that and they gonna respond to it. Thank you for offering that example.
Lauren Vargas 19:05
Roberto Germán 19:07
Rashaida, I don't know if there's anything you wanna add to-- to this particular example or-- or just the, you know, what we're talking about as it relates to the notion of compliance.
Rashaida Melvin 19:18
I would just say that this really is our favorite, mainly because everything that you do in a classroom is just rooted in building strong relationships with your students. Like we know that students are more able to learn from someone that they feel comfortable with, and so why not invest in all the time needed to build those strong relationships so you have actively engaged students in your classroom.
Roberto Germán 19:42
Absolutely. All right. So in thinking about what you're working on and thinking about how you've been supporting teachers and school leaders and-- and thinking about what you've been writing about, talk to us a little bit about your aspirations for-- for this book that you wanna publish and why you think it's important for the public to have.
Rashaida Melvin 20:08
Yeah, I mean, these are six amazing liberatory practices. And we know kinda going back to just teachers can receive PD on these practices, but to actually implement them, it takes having that coach to help hold a teacher accountable, to help hold up a mirror to any blind spots, to allow opportunities for practice in a safe space before teachers are in front of their students. And with the hopes of when they're in front of students, they're able to make the best decisions possible for themselves as well as their students. So our hope is that this book is able to be published and so that more teachers, more coaches and more educational leaders are able to implement these practices and support their educators in doing these practices every day.
Lauren Vargas 20:57
Absolutely. I would just add none of our practices are anything new. They're all based in, you know, years and years of research and-- and things that folks in the field are currently saying, "Hey, let's make this happen." But the bridge is that we're not seeing it happen consistently in classrooms. So the knowledge is out there, the consistent and concerted action is not. So that's where we really wanna bridge this work around how do we move towards schools being equitable places where every kid can thrive, not just being something teachers know about, but have this skillset set to do. And that's where we would hope that our work, especially this book, would be able to bridge that for coaches. We are seeing coaching really soar in our country. There's a lot more coaching available for teachers, but it doesn't always center on these practices. So, for example, in the story we told of Ms. Meyer, if that coach had continued to just say, do these classroom management strategies and had not pivoted towards building relationships, we would've seen that teacher be far less successful, potentially burnout or continue to harm students in her classroom. So by pivoting towards what's important and making sure that the framing of it is there first, we're gonna see coaches be much more impactful for making classrooms where every kid can thrive.
Roberto Germán 22:13
So is your target audience for the book coaches? Is it instructional leaders? Is it-- is it teachers? Is it all?
Lauren Vargas 22:23
I would say all of the above. We really are approaching it from a coaching lens, though. So first and foremost, instructional leaders and coaches. But because we get into each of these-- in these six liberatory practices, it's very practical for teachers to use themselves. We really envision it being used together though, in that coaching partnership. But teachers could certainly do a peer coaching partnership. "Hey, let's grab this text and use it together to-- to move forward in our own small coho-- cohort."
Roberto Germán 22:55
That's wonderful. That's wonderful. All right. Talking about authors and authorship, here we go. If you had the opportunity to have lunch with any author dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Rashaida Melvin 23:12
I would say, Audrey Lorde, just because representation is important to me and it matters being that she's a black queer female activist. And that's a powerful woman. And I admire her courage and bravery. As someone who tends to be rather shy, I've always said that my activism is more silent than is loud. But Audrey Lorde serves as a great example of making something as silent as the written word, have as much power and-- and a loud meaning.
Roberto Germán 23:44
I just interviewed Cait O'Connor at-- she's @JustTeachingELA, I literally just interviewed her last evening. She said the same person.
Rashaida Melvin 23:58
Really? See, great person.
Roberto Germán 23:58
And-- and-- and-- and for similar, similar reasons. Wow. So y'all two gotta connect.
Rashaida Melvin 24:03
Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you for that.
Roberto Germán 24:06
Lauren Vargas 24:07
You know, this is a hard question for me so I'm gonna try to give you just one. And I'm gonna-- I'm gonna say it because I hope it will come true someday. My educational author hero is Zaretta Hammonds. Rashaida can back you up on that. Just about every conversation about education Zaretta Hammonds is either an underlying influence to me or directly quoted. So I just appreciate her work so much is something I consistently use with school leaders and coaches and teachers themselves. But beyond that, just her presence in the education field is so positive and-- and beautiful. So that's the one I'd love to have lunch with.
Roberto Germán 24:47
Awesome. Awesome. Great. So, Zaretta Hammond, if you're listening, lunch, lunch is on Lauren.
Lauren Vargas 24:54
Lunch is on me, yes.
Roberto Germán 24:58
Oh, that's great. That's great. Well, y'all are doing some awesome work, and we need folks who are there coaching people up, right? Bringing them up to the next level, helping them in their journey, just taking steps forward. And so I'm-- I'm really elated that you are working on this publication for liberatory coaching. And as I stated, those-- those six paths that you have laid out very clear, very helpful. And while some of it as you stated, you know, it's not new, it's just, you know, different way of communicating, right? Y'all are using your own touch, your own spin, your own words, your-- your own experiences to bring this about. And some of the things that you described are-- are things that resonated with me. Things that I would try to implement when I was in classroom. Things that I would encourage my teachers to implement, or things that I would see from them. And I'm like, awesome, keep that up. You know, that's the way to start the day in the classroom. That's the way to welcome the children into the classroom to help them feel like you care. You're a part of it. We're connecting. You know, you got your soft touch points and whatnot. So thank you. Thank you for-- for sharing that. Thank you for reminding us. And thank you for pushing this work forward.
Lauren Vargas 26:26
Roberto Germán 26:28
So, lastly, what is a message of encouragement that you wanna offer the people?
Rashaida Melvin 26:37
All right, so I-I have two quotes that I would like to share. One is Henry David Thoreau, "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." And the second is something that my dad used to always say when I was growing up, 'cause he was a track runner. And so he used to always say, "Hustle, hustle, hustle, and never give up." And so I really just want to encourage people to live your dreams. So many people hide behind what they really want out of life, and they're playing it small. So live large. And doing this type of work is hard. And there may be times when you need to take a pause, take a breather, work on your own mental health, that is perfectly okay. Don't feel bad about that. And at the same time, when you're ready to go back at it, just keep hustling and never give up.
Roberto Germán 27:25
Thank you. Thank you. I have a poem inspired by Henry David Thoreau.
Rashaida Melvin 27:31
I'd love to hear it.
Roberto Germán 27:34
I have to dig it up from the archives. Not in my upcoming publication, but maybe in the future one. Lauren?
Lauren Vargas 27:44
I would add as a word of encouragement, this quote from Cornelius Minor where he says, "That understanding or knowing our students is not something we achieve. It's something we live continuously." So just that work of building relationships with students is not a one-shot time. It's not just the beginning of the year. It's something we live. But I would add that on this-- this conversation of working towards liberation, especially in education isn't something we achieve. It's not a one-shot thing that we can check off and be done with. It is something we live and continuously. And just add that word of encouragement that we're in it together. So we appreciate the space where we get to be together and really build with you in this time, connect with others in this space too. So it's something that we continue to live, but we do it together.
Roberto Germán 28:32
That's right. Collaboration is key. If folks wanna collaborate with you. They wanna follow you. They-- they wanna support your work. They wanna learn more about it. They wanna connect with you, where should they go?
Rashaida Melvin 28:47
Yeah. For me, you can find me on LinkedIn. That's the best place to connect with me.
Lauren Vargas 28:52
Great. And you can actually connect with both of us potentially through this, but the-- the best way to connect with me is on-- through my blog, which you can find at my name, laurenvargas.com. My blog is Coaching to Disrupt the Status Quo. I post there every week. Rashaida just wrote the latest post this week, so check that one out. And there you can also subscribe to my newsletter, which I call towards Liberation Coaching Newsletter. It's just a once a month in addition to a connections to that month's blog post. It has a lot of great resources for educational leaders and coaches. And then I'm also on LinkedIn. That's a great place to connect as well. Rashaida and I are hoping to connecting with anyone who just wants to hear more about this work or share resources. But we are also open to connecting with and supporting folks in building liberatory coaching systems in their school or supporting their leaders in doing that process.
Roberto Germán 29:51
Well, there you have it, folks. Go to LinkedIn right now to follow Rashaida Melvin and Lauren Vargas. And also subscribe to the newsletter. All right, I'm subscribed to the newsletter, so I get the healthy dose. Stop sleeping, subscribe now. Hey, thank y'all. It's been a blessing. You know, you really brought us to school here in our classroom, and so we appreciate you and look forward to connecting again in the future.
Rashaida Melvin 30:17
Thank you so much.
Roberto Germán 30:23
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 multiculturalclassroom.com. Peace and love from your host, Roberto Germán.