Roberto Germán [00:00:01]:
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 official. Yes, y'all. Today I am joined by a special guest, Nawal Qarooni, a Jersey city based educator doing big things for the people. A writer who supports a holistic approach to literacy instruction. Education spaces.
Roberto Germán [00:00:49]:
And she has this book that, listen, I just got this thing. It just arrived yesterday. I mean, I do have the electronic version, but you got to hold the physical copy. You got to hold the physical. You got to feel it out. You got to flip them pages, people. Nourishing caregiver collaboration, elevating home experiences and classroom practices for collective care. Oh, yes.
Roberto Germán [00:01:18]:
Fresh off press holler. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for joining me. If y'all didn't know, Nawalserves on the Library of Congress Literacy Awards advisory board, excuse me, which funds powerful literacy programming in the world. And she's just out here shaking and baking. And I didn't have ample time to dig into the whole text, but I did get into certain sections of it. I did see some of the templates that you provide.
Roberto Germán [00:01:56]:
I did start to wrestle with some of the reflection questions and put myself in the shoes of classroom teacher. I put myself in the shoes of the parent. I put myself in the shoes of other caregivers. And I'm feeling the book. I'm feeling the book already. I need a little more time to dig in. But in the meantime, in between time, I'm excited to learn from you today. Nawalthank you for being here.
Nawal Qarooni [00:02:22]:
Listen, I don't know that I've had such a beautiful intro before. I like it.
Roberto Germán [00:02:28]:
Well, I'm appreciative of your time. I'm appreciative of this work that you created, and I want to be mindful. So let's go ahead and start chopping it up.
Nawal Qarooni [00:02:37]:
Roberto Germán [00:02:38]:
Just for folks who are not familiar with you, can you share a bit about your background and what led you to focus on caregiver collaborations in the context of home experiences and classroom practices?
Nawal Qarooni [00:02:50]:
Okay, I'm going to give it to you in a nutshell. I was a newspaper reporter for many years, meaning I reported beat news, so tragedy and sadness for many years in Newark, New Jersey, for the Star Ledger and decided that reporting tragedy about kids was not really making a difference to change kids'experiences. I have always loved children, and so I did New York City teaching fellows and transitioned into classroom teaching. I was a teacher in Brooklyn for many years, moved to Chicago, was a classroom teacher in Chicago for many years, and then became a literacy coach and started providing pd and supporting, facilitating professional learning for teachers. In that time period, I had a bunch of kids of my own, and so I have four children of my own. And during the pandemic, it occurred to me as I was supporting teachers in classrooms via Zoom on screen, and also supporting homeschooling and my four very small children now they're between the ages of four and twelve that families are doing and have been doing forever, for millennia, for centuries, what classroom teachers are actually purported to and are trying to achieve in the literacy classroom, that's kind of a nutshell.
Roberto Germán [00:04:10]:
Learn something new every day. I didn't know you were a journalist.
Nawal Qarooni [00:04:14]:
Look at that.
Roberto Germán [00:04:16]:
We're glad you transition into the educational space, and we're going to get deeper into the book, but we're going to start at the very beginning of the book early on, because whenever possible, I like to start these interviews with the authors by asking them to share something that was unique to their book. And I noticed on page five your pedagogical stance. Can you break that down for me? Tell me, bring me into that, because that stands out to me.
Nawal Qarooni [00:04:55]:
So I use the idea of a kilim, K-I-L-I-M which is an Afghani, and a Persian rug that is imperfect and handmade and often hand dyed and hand created, that I grew up with in my home as the idea of embracing imperfect, beautiful grounding pieces of fabric that can wrap us in history and in identity and in ourselves. I say that because I grew up with a ton of kid name in my house, and I would do this thing where I would just kind of, like, analyze them and look at them, and my parents would tell know there's, like, a random object in this or there's a random cow in this. Oh. The reason why is because the woman who was weaving it in Afghanistan at the time saw an animal or it led to her storytelling. In this way. None of these kadiums are alike. They're handmade, right? None of them are perfect. They're actually quite wonky.
Nawal Qarooni [00:05:53]:
The ones that I had were, like, wide in one part and then small in another part. And they provide this space where my family is culturally muslim. Rugs are important for prayer. They're just a place where we would sit on the ground and drink tea and put our sofra and eat. And I would spend a lot of time kind of looking at the stories of these Gileims. Not dissimilar to your wife's textured teaching in the idea of imperfection and weaving together a whole bunch of different identities and really ideas to build what we believe literacy is. Did that kind of explain?
Roberto Germán [00:06:34]:
Absolutely. And I love the connection to Lorena's book texture teaching. As I was digging into your book and also thinking about a recent interview with Shawna Coppola, there's connections between your book and Literacy for All and anti oppressive A Framework for Anti Oppressive Teaching. There's connections also with Luz and Carla's book, and I know they wrote the afterword in your book also. So I love it because it just all comes together. And when I listen to you break that down and I think about the gileum that I see throughout your book, particularly the first one, and you're talking about your grandfather and setting the stage there, it just makes me think. It really leads me to consider that there is beauty in our imperfections. And as my friends, my family, Quincy and Quai'Niesha Lee would say, we are perfectly imperfect.
Nawal Qarooni [00:07:35]:
I love that. And I think so much of caregiver collaborations and so much of classroom teaching is about letting go of the perfection and letting go of the control and letting go of what it has to look like or supposed to. Right, using what we have as a guide and then also letting the kids lead and also letting their curiosities lead and also letting the thing look different than what we expected it to look initially.
Roberto Germán [00:08:00]:
Love it. And that's one of our values at Multicultural Classroom is lead with curiosity. That's one of the norms that we use anytime we do a training. Lead with curiosity. When I do the workshops, writing workshops with students, I encourage them to lead with curiosity. And if we were more curious and we would ask questions and suspend our assumptions, we probably get further in terms of learning about others and making connections that can foster meaningful relationships.
Nawal Qarooni [00:08:27]:
That's right. Exactly. That's right.
Roberto Germán [00:08:29]:
So in chapter one titled Celebrating families Celebrating Families Intrinsic Knowing you state, the conversations we have with caregivers today still reflect the same biases, assumptions, and concerns that I noticed in my own parents 35 years ago. Even though our teacher methods are more powerful, perhaps we educators haven't done a good job communicating with caregivers. What we know is at the heart of literacy instruction. A love of words, authentic reasons to write, idea building above polished finals, process writing over prompts, student talk above teacher lectures, all in addition to building an independent reading life founded on interest and intimacy. Break this down for me.
Nawal Qarooni [00:09:30]:
What a quote you chose. That's a big one.
Roberto Germán [00:09:33]:
Nawal Qarooni [00:09:36]:
Oh my know, this really comes from what I want. My own children and my own children in the home, but also my own children, the children of the world. All children are ours. James Baldwin of course. But isn't this what we want for our kids to be able to actually use their literacy in the world? And so it doesn't matter to me. This is in Shawna's book as well. Schooled literacy being so different than authentic literacy, than real literacy and how we can get of I am not calling this workshop teaching alone, but the most powerful classrooms that I've worked in, in Chicago and in LA and in the New York area embrace those components that you just talked about. Messy process over polished finals, and revealing to families that these are the things that we value.
Nawal Qarooni [00:10:25]:
So that families lean into what they authentically do as know and embracing reading life in a very expansive way. Reading doesn't necessarily need to be text. It doesn't necessarily need to be text on a page or books. My parents also didn't have books on the shelf. But what did we do? We observed the world. We dissected the world. We were curious about the world. We asked tons of questions about the buildings popping up around us and who was benefiting and why they were benefiting and who must have paid for it.
Nawal Qarooni [00:10:51]:
And then we researched that that is authentic literacy. Those are the tools we want for our kids, especially today.
Roberto Germán [00:10:59]:
And your twelve year old would argue that reading can be TikTok, which I.
Nawal Qarooni [00:11:05]:
Am trying very hard to also embrace. I feel my own push and pull as a caregiver of the traditional modes. And why do I say these things that my parents said that might not even sound? I hear myself and I say I sound like my parents.
Roberto Germán [00:11:24]:
Wild how that happens as we age. Oh, we're becoming more and more like.
Nawal Qarooni [00:11:28]:
Our parents, it's true. But the educator in me knows that we need to embrace those social literacies. So know, maybe there needs to be a balance, dare I say, a holistic balance of embracing that. My daughter now goes to TikTok for book recommendations.
Roberto Germán [00:11:43]:
There's a real tension there. There's a real tension there. But I'm sure your daughter would be pleased to hear you say this. You better hope she doesn't listen to this episode. So, in what ways do home experiences contribute to a child's overall well being and learning journey?
Nawal Qarooni [00:12:05]:
Kids spend a ton more time at home than they do with teachers. Over the course of their lives, they're going to spend time with their families, and they are observing parents, caregivers of all kinds, not just necessarily biological parents and the parents that birth them or any iteration of family, is what I mean. And those experiences are texts, every single one of them. So the problem solving alongside a parent or a caregiver to pay an electric bill or to break down a medical bill is a text and is a learning experience for a child that then we can use in the classroom to understand the kid better, to understand what the kid does really well, and to amplify. I think families underestimate how much they're teaching their kids with everyday rituals and everyday passing on of traditions. And that might be like grieving rituals and that might be kitchen table rituals and experiences in the kitchen, and that might be the passing of family traditions. That might be like the things that we do all the time as families that we don't recognize necessarily as literacy practice, actually being really incredible learning moments. So in my book I try to break that down by providing a system that we can learn more about families and bring that into the classroom practice and then vice versa.
Nawal Qarooni [00:13:24]:
Reminding and showing and sharing with families. Oh, all of these things that you do naturally every day is actually what we're trying to also accomplish in the classroom.
Roberto Germán [00:13:33]:
Yeah, that's great. And let's stick with this notion of nursery and home experiences and push a little more. And you alluded to this, but can you provide some examples of successful caregiver collaborations that have positively impacted a child's home environment?
Nawal Qarooni [00:13:48]:
Positively and impacted a child's home environment? I think the idea of. So I do this thing called lab sites, family lab sites, and it's a really low stakes kind of invitation for families to come into the classroom and come into the school. And this is not like a literacy night. It's something that's much more just like an easier post drop off. Come on in. We're going to do our minilesson and families are going to observe and then taking a pause and letting the families in on the thinking that went into that teaching. That way when families go home, they can talk about it with their kid in a way that comes from a place of shared understanding. What happens then is that families are like teachers.
Nawal Qarooni [00:14:29]:
They understand that the teacher is looking for process over product, or they understand that the teacher is trying to brainstorm a bunch of different personal narrative ideas and oh, we can talk about those things at the kitchen table. That way families can also basically, it becomes a symbiotic relationship. I don't know if I'm answering your question exactly.
Roberto Germán [00:14:48]:
No, I feel you creating space for parents to come in see firsthand experience firsthand, feel welcome in the school, but also receive the insight that they need to allow their investment in their child's education to be clear, to know what they're getting in return, to know what the kid's experiencing, and also to feel that connection.
Nawal Qarooni [00:15:17]:
With their caregiver. That's right. So the entire caregiver collaborations project stemmed from my getting an influx of money in Chicago public schools to do pilot programs after during COVID to make sure that the money in Chicago public schools for family engagement wasn't just being thrown at one off experiences. So when I interviewed all the stakeholders at all of these schools, every school had a different set of needs, and a lot of the families had trauma with school themselves. So they themselves didn't feel comfortable, nor did they understand what was happening in the school. And they were a little bit like, you deal with my child because I've already not done school well. So the idea of caregiver collaborations really stems from breaking down every possible wall. So when you said welcome in the school, that's everything.
Nawal Qarooni [00:16:08]:
That's like teachers not being on stage. That's like providing a bunch of different drop off times because families are also really busy. I joke that I am not deemed an engaged caregiver in my kids school because I don't go to the events, because I'm, like, traveling to talk about family engagement. Engagement actually doesn't need to happen in the school. Family engagement needs. We need to redefine family engagement. So what it means is families are engaged with their children, period, in literacy activities, period. And so, yeah, the idea of caregiver collaborations and lab sites, I do like drawing neighborhood maps with families alongside the children and then brainstorming and remembering all the different moments that happened there.
Nawal Qarooni [00:16:55]:
And then that becomes the fodder for writing a workshop, for writing the kids personal narratives. But if the parents are at the beginning of the process with their kids and there's value in the shared pen, like, together they're drawing the neighborhood, you should hear the powerful conversations that come out of these, because then in any language, right, kids are telling, like, remember that time when. Remember another time when the family is saying that there's a sibling on the hip, I'm carrying another sibling on a hip. Another sibling from a different grade level came into that lab site as well, because it's a family affair and it's intergenerational. That's one of the main tenants. And what happens when families are part of that writing experience? Then as things come home, they have more context to talk about their kid. Talk about the work with their kid also. Right.
Roberto Germán [00:17:43]:
I love that. And that sounds very similar to some of the work that I've done through the breadloaf network, through andover breadloaf and the breadloaf teacher network, especially when you started talking about engaging them in writing in any language. Right. That's a powerful thing, like encouraging folks, empowering folks, letting them know, like, no, we want you to tap into your native language, even if we don't necessarily understand what you're saying. But we want to hear the beauty that comes out of your mouth and the passion that comes from you when you're speaking, writing, sharing in your native language.
Nawal Qarooni [00:18:21]:
Roberto Germán [00:18:22]:
It's okay for us to feel a bit of discomfort around that because we're not familiar with your native language. If we feel so much discomfort, maybe that discomfort should push us to actually get to learn somebody else's language or another people groups, another culture's language.
Nawal Qarooni [00:18:40]:
That's right. And this comes down to the idea of breaking down barriers with families and caregiver collaborations and understanding families. It has to start with us unpacking our own biases around what families need to look like, sound like, and act like. Because if we think that families have to look a certain way, we communicate with families differently as classroom teachers, inadvertently, without you realizing it, you look at their hand, are they married? Whatever biases you carry because of the way you were raised, you inadvertently bring that to the way that you talk to kids and the way that you select texts to offer as examples. The ways that you talk about grown ups and families. Right. There has to be such a reverence with the way that we interact with all families, all their languages, all their ways of being. Even if the family has x number of jobs, no books on the right, all of our biases need to come down.
Nawal Qarooni [00:19:34]:
And so you have to do that at the beginning of the year the way that you do when you're getting used to any family and any school and any child. Families are included. And beginning of the year across. Right. I'm just saying it's like part of the lexicon that we are needing to bring up when we're understanding kids in our care.
Roberto Germán [00:19:56]:
Yeah. So what would be some strategies or programs that you would suggest that you've come across that can effectively bridge that gap between home and classroom environments? Because I'm thinking about two things, right? I'm thinking about the group that you just mentioned. So parents that have experience, that have some distrust towards the school because they had their own negative experience as students, as learners. But I'm also thinking about teachers, especially like new teachers or teachers who are in a new environment, but they don't come from that environment. So there's some disconnect there totally. What are some strategies or programs that folks should be considering?
Nawal Qarooni [00:20:44]:
I don't know that there are any programs, but there are some activities that I do with staff when I start any kind of work. And it is things around. Close your eyes and imagine what a family is to you. Like when I say that word to you, what do you envision? And then drawing it, mapping it out, like really fleshing out what sounds do you hear? Are you in a certain location? Who or what is there? Like why? And then comparing it to everybody else's around you. And you never have two of the same, and you always have especially different ones if you do this activity alongside families or you do this activity alongside kids in your care, if especially the teaching body is different than the student body. And so you have to kind of do those sorts of activities to unpack it and put it down before you begin interacting with families. And then I think really arming families with advocacy questions. There are so many families who don't know what kinds of questions they're even allowed to ask or what you do know how many friends I have with the social capital and clout to ask me what's going on in their kids classrooms.
Nawal Qarooni [00:21:53]:
Imagine families who don't. Right. So at the start of the year or anytime you interact with a family saying, these are the kinds of questions that you can ask about your child's process, about your child's growth, about your child's reading, and it should always stem from understanding the kid. I mean, I think about the, let me not just say the flip side, but another cohort of families that maybe have toxic relationships with schools and demand a lot from schools because they are used to demanding a lot from the staff and the admin. And it's a different kind of. But this is what I want for my kid, and this is what should happen. Right. And so it's no different.
Nawal Qarooni [00:22:28]:
You still need to center the child's process, growth, imperfection, their own social literacies, what's happening outside that kid's school. Right. It's the same. It's the student at the heart, it's curiosity at the heart, and it's knowing the families. I think success is super defined by how we were raised, and so that will affect how families come at school. Right. And so I just think reflection time and around family engagement is a necessary piece of our school and literacy puzzles.
Roberto Germán [00:23:06]:
I hear you. Definitely. Reflection time is key. I want to get into common challenges, help us understand the common challenges faced in promoting caregiver collaborations and how these could be overcome.
Nawal Qarooni [00:23:23]:
I think the main one is surface fixes and one offs.
Roberto Germán [00:23:28]:
Surface fixes and one offs. All right, say more.
Nawal Qarooni [00:23:31]:
So sending home a newsletter because that's what we do all the time, and then that paper gets thrown away is literally not the way that we collaborate with families. Having a guest reader and that's the one thing that we do, and that's fine. That's great. How about a guest storyteller? A perfect example is my mom comes and supports my house, thank goodness, when I travel for work. And so she went into my daughter's almost five year old class and the teacher said, so she's going to read a story. And I was like, oh, no, my mom will not read a story because she doesn't feel comfortable with her own reading ability in English. And so she's not going to do that. She just won't.
Nawal Qarooni [00:24:08]:
Can we call it guest storytelling? Tell her. Can she do something else, something that she's really. So my mom is an artist and she's into art, and so she did like, a painting storytelling experience kind of, with the kids, and she winged it. But it led her to not being stressed and anxious when we called it something different. And so those kinds of traditional ways that things that we collaborate with families, if they're not working, they're not know. When I did all my interviews, when I work in Chicago public schools, we have things know, we have, like, lunch and learns, or we have like a donuts with the principal or with families don't come. So instead of just saying, families are not coming, they just are not engaged. Why are the, like, why are families not coming? Is it because we need an evening one, too? Is it because we needed a zoom option? Is it because they don't have childcare? Is it because we have to dig into all the reasons why? So that's the surface level engagement with families that is not actually engaging the child and the family in growing literacy.
Nawal Qarooni [00:25:08]:
That's just surface. So, I mean, I think those are the things like remembering that a one off literacy night is not going to move the dial around literacy practice with families. Just saying to parents, read with your kid 20 minutes a day is not the only kind of achievement that we're trying to engage families in. What are the actual things we're trying to really get them to be excited about storytelling. We're trying to get them to, if they watch a movie together, ask a ton of questions that then we can use as classroom questions for text. Right. We're asking that families lean into what they already know that they're really good at. For example, making a date cake, which is like something that my neighbor does really well, and writing those steps out alongside the kid, that's real literacy because that then shows up in the classroom in a bunch of different ways.
Nawal Qarooni [00:25:59]:
So I think it's just like redefining. I think it's redefining what engagement is with families.
Roberto Germán [00:26:06]:
Redefining what engagement is with families. Can you give us a quick definition of what engagement is with families just based on the content of your book?
Nawal Qarooni [00:26:20]:
I don't even really like the name engagement. That's why I call it collaboration, because I think engagement sounds really transactional. Engagement sounds like, I've engaged with you, you've engaged with me, and this is just like, we're done now, right? As opposed to we collaborate and we build on each other and you learn from me and I learn from you and it's continuous. And PS, I also make a ton of mistakes and I don't have all the answers, but will you think alongside me about this? I think families, this is like one of the questions I get all the time. When people hear that I'm a family expert, they want the actual, what can my kid do to blank. Almost every single answer is, your kid is okay if you love them. Ask questions. Provide additional example, like troubleshoot alongside the kid.
Nawal Qarooni [00:27:13]:
Right. It's always around not actually having an answer.
Roberto Germán [00:27:19]:
That's real. All right, we're going to shift gears a little bit. If you had the opportunity to have lunch with anybody, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Nawal Qarooni [00:27:35]:
I thought about this one. I can only come up with family members who are gone.
Roberto Germán [00:27:40]:
That's all right.
Nawal Qarooni [00:27:41]:
Do I miss. That's it. I would love to go back to my grandfather who died in his. Ask questions about my mother and ask questions about my past and Iran, and he was a teacher. He's pictured in my book family legacy. Oh, I would love that. Goodness, I would love that. That's what I would like to.
Roberto Germán [00:28:02]:
I thought you would mention your grandfather.
Nawal Qarooni [00:28:04]:
Roberto Germán [00:28:05]:
Yeah. Based on what I read early on.
Nawal Qarooni [00:28:07]:
In the book, I think that there's a fine line between those who are gone and those who are here with us, almost more present in my life now that they're gone, I would love to have a table full of my relatives.
Roberto Germán [00:28:21]:
Beautiful. So for those that are listening what is the message of encouragement you want to offer them?
Nawal Qarooni [00:28:31]:
My message of encouragement is if you are asking yourself questions about how you might do something better, you are starting from the right and the best place, like reflection and growth. A commitment to growth, I think, is like the number one important message. And so that's my encouragement, is if you're asking, if you're reading, if you're collaborating with peers, then you are on the right track. When we are not growing, I think that we're languishing.
Roberto Germán [00:29:05]:
And where can folks purchase your book? Nourishing Caregiver Collaborations: Elevating Home Experiences and Classroom Practices for Collective Care.
Nawal Qarooni [00:29:15]:
You can get this book at Routledge. You can get this book on Amazon. You can get it at bookshop.org you can get it at Barnes Noble. I'm just so appreciative. Thank you so much for your time.
Roberto Germán [00:29:26]:
Well, for folks who want to connect with you, want to learn more about your work, where can they follow you?
Nawal Qarooni [00:29:32]:
I'm @nqcliteracy on x. I'm @nqarooni Q-A-R-O-O-N-I on Instagram and threads. And my website always has updates. Nqcliteracy.org.
Roberto Germán [00:29:45]:
Well, appreciate your work. I'm looking forward to reading more. I read also blurbs in the beginning by all these wonderful people, many of whom I know, my sister, Tiffany Jewel, Liz Kleinrock, Britt Hawthorne, Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Donalyn, all the big ones, all the oh my. Continue, continue creating work that supports the notion of collaboration between caregivers and school that's so important. And it's work that was critical to me when I was leading schools. And not that I had it perfected, but it was something I was always looking to improve on, looking to grow. And so my hope is that folks are not going to only listen to what we discuss today and be encouraged and motivated and go and make it happen, but that they will purchase your book. That if they didn't have resources before that they feel like, hey, I got this resource now to help me do a better job of nourishing caregiver collaborations.
Roberto Germán [00:30:56]:
Thank you for being here.
Nawal Qarooni [00:30:57]:
You're the best. Thank you so much. I appreciate you.
Roberto Germán [00:31:06]:
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.