podcast cover (1).png

Creating Impactful Change

Season 1, Episode 6

Listen in and learn as Dr. Charles Barrett breaks down how addressing systemic racism and implicit bias in our schools can positively inform how educators and school communities better teach and serve students and families from a social justice lens.  While Dr. Barrett shares his experience from a school psychologist's perspective, these practices are easily translated to various societal systems that continue to overlook the value of understanding the whole person.  

Show references and links 
  • Instagram
  • Facebook

[Intro music]

 

Noelle: Whaaaaat up?!

Miranda: Welcome to The Unpacked Project

Noelle: We’re your hosts-I’m Noelle

Miranda: And I'm Miranda.

Noelle: We're here to explore all things social justice. It's through casual conversations, interviews, and story telling that we hope to inspire others to take action towards a more compassionate and equitable world.

Miranda: 'Cause honestly it kinda sucks here sometimes.

Noelle: For real, we can do better people.

Miranda: Alright, let's start unpacking.

 

[Music plays]

 

Miranda  

We're joined today by Dr. Charles A Barrett, a nationally certified school psychologist. Currently he works as a lead school psychologist with Loudon County Public Schools, and he's an adjunct lecturer for Northern Virginia Community College, the Graduate School of Education at Howard University, and the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University. An award winning educator for his commitment to students, families, schools and communities, he holds various leadership positions with the National Association of School psychologists, and frequently speaks to a variety of professionals and audiences about promoting positive outcomes for children.

 

Noelle 

Welcome to The Unpacked Project. Dr. Barrett, we're so excited to have you here today. So aside from that introduction, we know you have so much that you're doing in the field of school psychology, and then just in general, with social justice work. So can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and the work that you're doing?

 

Charles  

Sure. Well thank you for the opportunity to be here. I appreciate it. I always say that there are many people who are doing excellent work in school psychology around social justice and equity, so it's always an honor to be asked. So I appreciate the opportunity and the invitation. So yeah, thank you for the warm welcome. I do a lot of things in school psychology, but primarily, I am a school psychologist, we serve two elementary schools in Virginia. But outside of that, I've written some books and I do a fair amount of speaking. In NASP I work with the Multicultural Affairs Committee, and the Social Justice Committee, as well as the Publication's Committee. So we're doing a lot of things around access opportunities, infusing socially just principles into what we do as school psychologists. I'm also the NASP delegate for the state of Virginia. So all those things really come down to doing what's best for kids. It's really what I'm about. And even today's opportunity to share with you some thoughts around social justice, really honored to do that.

 

Miranda  

Thank you, thank you. And you know, social justice, right? It's always mattered, in so many systems, but while they're fundamental key pieces to social justice, it can look and sound and feel different in those various environments. So what's your definition of social justice within schooling, specifically? And why is it meaningful to education?

 

Charles  

Sure. So I think one of the misconceptions is that it's separate from how we practice. So it's something that we do on top of instruction, on top of assessment, on top of counseling and intervention, but it really is a framework that informs how we think and how we practice, whatever our roles are as educators. So I think about psychologists offering for example, who may have certain theoretical orientation to their work, so it could be psychodynamic or humanistic, cognitive behaviorist, and whatever that orientation is, it really influences whatever you do. So how you interview families, how you assess students, how you go about planning interventions, that framework really informs your work. So I think about social justice in the same way- that it's a framework orientation that really permeates our thinking first, and then all of our actions that really are subsequent to that. Central to social justice has to be a systems framing or systems orientation. So before I look to the individual student, or the family, or even a classroom, I look at the larger system that exists around those more specific entities. So I look at how policy and practice may be influencing outcomes or behaviors for a specific student. So for example, I may think about discipline disproportionality. And I think about how are there inequitable outcomes for let's say, certain races of students. And I think about the policy that may lead to certain students being expelled or suspended more than other groups, and start to challenge those systems first, and then look at the individual student behavior. So I think it's systems orientation, I think it's a way of organizing our thoughts and beliefs about just kind of what's happening with students. And again, that's relevant for principals, it's relevant for teachers, for school counselors, social workers, psychologists, anyone that really has a role in serving students.

 

Noelle  

So again, within these systems we have systems right? Like what you mentioned, you know, we think about the broader system of education and then even within that, you know, our policy and just the different levels that exist. And we're continuously interacting with systems even outside of our school. Family systems, what our students are bringing to us as well as what we have to offer them. And I think we've talked a lot in previous episodes, just especially as educators how we're charged with this, right? Making sure that our systems are fair and are just. So what do you feel like are the implications, especially in a school setting, if we don't ensure and work sort of with the awareness of having a social justice framework?

 

Charles  

So the last, I don't know, six months or so, maybe a year, I've really been more cognizant of language and how, how we, you know, use words, it's really meaningful for our practice. So I think that over time, I've really started to refine even more what I mean by social justice. So I'll just add one more thing to answer your question. So I think that socially just practices are what lead to equitable outcomes. So, for example, if there are inequities in achievement or whatever opportunities that we have for students, there's often or I would say, always, an underlying justice implication. And when we find that implication of what we're doing or not doing, even unintentionally, then I think we are much better positioned to address inequities. So I would say the implications are, we definitely need to have socially just practices existing in a school setting, in a school system, to really mitigate or decrease inequities that we have in a number of areas. I think all schools or most schools struggle with some type of disproportionality. That could be in discipline, that could be certain races or ethnicities identify for disabilities, that could be lack of access, an opportunity to give to programs, again, by race or ethnicity. I think all of those are the three broad examples of there's likely a socially unjust practice, be it assessment, be referral, again, discipline policy, your practice, that leads to those inequities, and without kind of challenging the practice that we have, that I think those inequities are going to persist. So it's really concrete, I think, when we get down to it. What's the challenge in our school or school system? What's contributing to that? And how can we effectively remedy what we're doing to promote more positive outcomes for students?

 

Miranda   

So you know, we have so much data that tells us, you know, these inequities exist, right? So we know that it's there, you know Noelle and I've touched on it a lot in previous episodes. Just providing data, you know, to let people know, right. And we see this across race based, there's school aged children, academic achievement, social, emotional, and behavioral functioning, you know? It's everywhere. Can you elaborate on that a little bit more in depth?

 

Charles  

So I think it's another great, great question, I want to go back to language. I read a piece by a Teach for America alum a couple years ago and it really challenged my thinking even about the term "achievement gap". I think we hear a lot about that, social emotional behavioral functioning differences. But I want to just reframe something very quickly, especially now in this age of COVID and what's going on, you know, with schools and distance learning and the different effects of that, that we can see for students. So I think that achievement gap is certainly a reality, but I think it's secondary to opportunity gaps. So I think before we get to, you know, students are performing below benchmark or below expectations, we have to really think about systemically have there been uneven or inequitable opportunity for meaningful learning experiences. So I think that when we look at the achievement gap, I think that sometimes it can even unintentionally, prematurely focuses on the individual. You know, Charles is performing below grade level in reading, but has Charles as a function of his zip code or, you know, where he lives, has he been afforded the same opportunities as peers other places? So I think that the achievement gap is real but I think it really stems from a much larger societal systemic structural policy breakdown in that we don't provide equitable opportunity and access to meaningful learning environments. As a function oftentimes of racism. You know, race based policies such as redlining that has had significant implications on how we fund schools and the quality of education that we provide to minoritized individuals. I think for social emotional behavioral functioning, I think similarly, that when students are displaying target behaviors in school that may not be as adaptive, you know, for the school environment. What's happening around the student beyond the school environment? Is their exposure to chronic stress, chronic traumatic events in the community that could be you know, leading to these displays of behavior? The previous question we talked about, it felt like we were talking around one of my favorite theories of Urie Bronfenbrenner, ecological systems theory, how all these systems overlap and interact with each other, to really influence and affect how students present in school or in different settings. So I think, again, that systems orientation of opportunity, but also what's happening in the community. There's some research that I recently stumbled upon maybe this summer. It's a Pediatrician in California at Stanford, Dr. Rhea Boyd looks at almost exclusively the intersection of police violence, equity and child health outcomes through a lens of pediatrics and it's fascinating that the different types of exposure to police violence, be it being racially profiled as an individual, exposure to it in the media or in your community, or even watching vicariously through family members or caregivers, being exposed to it has, you know, significant effects on child functioning. So it could be PTSD symptoms, anxieties, poor school performance, attentional impairment, so I think, again, that, that broader framing of systems that ultimately impact how students perform, I think that's really where we should be focusing our attention to really address those policies. And it goes beyond education, it goes into, you know, political structures, and funding streams, all those things that really should be our concern as educators, but just some thoughts about it as I think more and more about it. I don't know that everyone, you know, teachers and others always think that those words are meaningfully different, but there really are because I do think it informs how we think and then how we practice. It's a great, great question. I'm glad that you asked that because I always like to make that distinction between opportunity and achievement.

 

Noelle  

And it makes sense, right? Like, when we think about it, you know, you need to have these equitable opportunities to be able to perform right? To be able to gain the skills  and eventually function within these systems. And when I think of our schools, and like you said, you know, that sort of ecological systems approach, I think, particularly in education, when students come in, we expect them to just adapt to our system that we've created. And, you know, we've talked in previous episodes, and you touched on sort of the systemic racism and how sort of societal factors have played into how just even education has played out in our country. Often I sort of switch lenses, you know, the lens of thinking well as an educator how can we adapt to our students and our families, you know, sort of considering where they are with all these different things that you're talking about-traumas or environmental factors that might be affecting them, or opportunity gaps that have led to certain achievement gaps, and where they are when they walk in our doors and how we can adjust and adapt to that. So how do you see the role of educators when it comes to systems change and policy decisions? And what are some common barriers or misconceptions that you feel like we may need to move past in order to make progress in this area?

 

Charles 

I think the first thing as you were speaking, it reminded me of, again, just some recent epiphanies that have come to my own practice, even the terminology of culturally competent versus culturally responsive I think that those are very different things. I think sometimes we, you know, as people in school, you know, we want to be competent. We want to, you know, get a good grade, take a class, get an A, move on. But cultural competence is really, well, it should not be our goal. As educators, I think it should be cultural responsiveness that as we engage with families and students of different backgrounds, this is active dynamic interaction that I'm constantly learning from what they say about their culture, their experiences, and then that informs, you know, my response. You know, what I do is almost like a conversation that we're having tonight, you know, as you speak, I respond, and then you respond and in kind following that. So I think cultural responsiveness needs to be the goal of educators. That we're never going to be competent to a point of, you know, I've learned all you need to know about Black families or Latinx families or Indigenous families, but ever evolving in my practice to be more responsive to their needs. I also think that there are different levels of systems change. Certainly there's the whole school, there's the whole, you know, school system, both state and federal policy, but think your classroom system is a system. So if you're a teacher, how can I promote more equitable opportunity and more positive outcomes for all of my students just based on how I do things in my one classroom, and then I scale that up to my grade level, or my department, if I'm at a, you know, middle or high school. Starting small is always a good idea, but I think as we're starting small, a lot of systems change has to involve coalition building. So it's not just educators, educators, partnering with families, with administrators, with others in the community. And those coalitions I think, don't always have to be led by people of color. And that's another thing that I'm seeing a lot of, you know, with equity positions, and I guess the focus now and in various settings, it's often People of Color in those roles and I do have mixed feelings about that. I think there's a place for People of Color leading that, to really center the perspective of marginalized voices and experiences, but at the same time, People of Color did not create these systems, and think sometimes, even unintentionally, when we place them in those roles it's almost, it's your job to fix this. You know, of course, no one says that but I think that's one of the unintended consequences. So I like to see equity work that involves the broad spectrum of human diversity, whatever that is-race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, all of those perspectives are valuable and need to be included to inform, you know, what socially just practices need to happen in the school system. Racism is often you know, the big one that we talked about, but there are other types of modularization. So I think having perspectives of people who can speak that is going to be really important. But the common barriers, I think, is that sometimes we think that system change is a grand kind of big deal, and it is, but it oftentimes doesn't start that way. It starts kind of small and it bubbles up to a larger thing. So start in areas that you know you can influence by, again, building coalitions. Now I'm a psychologist, so we do like a lot of data to inform what you should be doing. I hear some support out there. Wonderful! 

 

Noelle   

Yes we do!

 

Charles   

So I think just looking at data, looking at where are there disparate outcomes. And that can be a wonderful place to inform where we start, and then how do we actually promote more positive outcomes for our students and young people. And I think with that, I don't always say, but I try to say it more intentionally, it's oftentimes students and their families. So when we have students who are marginalized in school by various policy, it certainly affects the family as well. So I often try to include students and families in this discussion. 

 

Miranda   

Thank you. You know, I think there's so many ways in which educators can inform their practice. You know, I think earlier you said that utilizing social justice to inform your practice, right, is something that we need to do. So, you know, in what ways can educators make sure that they're actually intentionally informing their practice using these principles of justice and equity that we've been talking about? And I'm curious, once they do implement these practices, what are ways that you're seeing school community shift as well?

 

Charles   

I would say that when they're mindful of not just what they're teaching, but also how they're teaching content. So I think about even a couple weeks ago, was what I knew as Columbus Day, you know, as a kid growing up. And I know that there's been some real intentionality around shifting that to Indigenous Peoples' Day. So I think those more than slight changes, because they are significant. I think that's one way to be mindful of, again, the system's framing about whose voice, whose perspective is centered in content. I think about the books and materials that students have access to. Do they see diverse characters or do they see people that represent their background. And even for students who may not come from marginalized backgrounds, it's still healthy for them to see, you know, people of other races and ethnicities reflected in their books and materials. But also think about, going back to what I said earlier about data, that it may not be that we are reducing disparate outcomes overnight, all those things take and took time to happen, they're going to take time to also be remedied, but think about when schools also collect qualitative data as far as how do people feel as far as being in the school community. So I talked about diversity, inclusion, equity, again, three key words or terms around this whole social justice dialogue. And inclusion is really meaningful participation. It's the extent to which diverse people or different people feel safe, feel valued, that they can contribute to whatever product or outcome that they're working on as a group. So I think that can only be measured or understood through a lens of qualitative inquiry. So surveys are really important-what's your experience, you know, as a student here, maybe as a marginalized student, as a family that may come from minoritized background? I think all of those are ways that we can increase inclusion and meaningful engagement in schools by again, staff, teachers, psychologists, others, being more mindful, not just what we do, but how we do it.

 

Noelle   

So you know, you bring up a just a really good point of these things take time, right? So, I think this has been, you know, something that's become more a part of the conversation as something that has come up in previous episodes and that we've talked about as just, and we've said today, just having this intentionality of making sure that we're bringing it to the table, that we're kind of having this diverse representation of people that are really discussing these issues honestly, and we've talked about that sometimes it can be uncomfortable, right? This is a system that's functioned for a very long period of time and based on the data, we're seeing these outcomes where it's not looking the same for everybody. In all parts, lots of different parts of society, but as educators, obviously, being concerned about what's happening within our schools, because ultimately we know where that leads. We're still building the future for our youth, trying to meet the needs for our families, and you know, the long term outcomes when we know that we're not doing our job, even with the best intentions, you know, are that we start seeing disengagement from school and higher likelihood that, you know, youth wind up having contact with criminal justice and just becoming disconnected and where that leads for them. So, if you could reimagine our education system, what would equitable school based practice look like?

 

Charles   

So in a word or in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5- in five words I would say, opportunity and access for all. That would be how I would reimagine. That the default kind of setup is that every student, every family, every child has the opportunity and access that is meaningful for them. So I'm not saying that it's the same opportunity or same access but the opportunity and access at the level that is meaningful for their success or ability to achieve and, and be effective in our environments. And that's going to be you know, a multi faceted approach through SEL (social emotional learning) programming through our instructional methodologies. I think that part of reimagining is the opportunity for school to have options, and not have these one size fits all approaches. Certainly, there's a role for that, you know, my quality tier one instruction should be universal for all kids, but school A may need a different reading program in school B to ensure the proper opportunity and access for their students. So I think it's giving school communities and maybe even below that, giving teachers the flexibility and support they need to make the decisions that are most appropriate for their students. So yeah, I would say opportunity and access for all would be the broadest kind of framing of what a reimagined school system would look like.

 

Miranda  

Beautiful, beautiful, we're gonna get there. Well, we want to thank you so much for your time today, you know, you've shared insight and I really love right now, we've been doing our education series and I really hope that listeners understand this isn't just information for educators, this isn't just information for people with children, you know? This is information that can inform so many things that we do right? And we can pull a lot of these practices, and in some ways, relate them to other systems as well you know? So I really hope to drive that home and I hope folks understand that. We always love to follow up with what platforms we can find you on? I know that you have your Instagram which, I love your posts of conversations with children. Those are always so funny. So definitely let us know your Instagram, any other platforms or organizations that we can follow that are doing this work if you want to learn more equity and social justice in education.

 

Charles   

Sure, thank you so much. So Instagram @CharlesABarrett and Twitter @_CharlesBarrett. Facebook I'm on as well, kind of I guess, more antiquated now but Twitter and IG. Twitter again @_CharlesBarrett, Instagram @CharlesABarrett. My good friend, Dr. Byron McClure is just an outstanding school psychologist in DC. Check him out. He's @Schoolpsychlife on Twitter, and check out his website, LessonsforSEL.com, really good brother doing outstanding work. When schools initially closed in the spring back in March, Byron made a video about a different SEL competency every day until June. So, probably 60 or 70 videos out there now on his YouTube channel- that I don't know exactly, but check out the website at LessonsforSEL.com. I think on Twitter, it's also @lessonsforSEL you can follow. So that's a great resource for schools, for families. Those videos were actually used by not just teachers, but also families home with their students, their children, for distance learning. So, that'd be my one shout out. Great resources, free. YouTube channel is great. I think he has like 7000 subscribers now. So he's really doing amazing work. So check them out if you can. 

 

Miranda   

And you have some books. Can you tell us about your books?

 

Charles   

Yeah, thank you so much! So my main one was my first book that I wrote for school psychologists, It's Always About the Children that came out in 2018. Six chapters, and it really was just my, well still is, my lens to school psychology and how I approach serving students, families, and school's communities as a psychologist, but really user friendly. Some grad programs use it in their courses, but just great for schools. A couple schools have adopted it. At the end of each chapter there's about maybe five to seven questions for either your personal reflection or department level or team planning. Just about different areas of practice. Has a chapter on English learners, chapter on social justice, policy and systems change. The heart of the book might be chapter two, where I talk about things that we're often not taught as professionals in graduate school, as far as you know, like listening to people and just kind of connecting to a school environment or a family, but nonetheless really affect how people perceive you and how well you can do your job. So I think folks assume you have a degree, you can test or administer a test or counsel. But do they like you essentially?

 

Miranda  

Because that's an important point.

 

Charles   

Exactly. Really, really important. So I start the book with kind of my story, my path to a school psychologists and kinda what I'm about broadly as far as beyond the role, but as a person, how I fulfill purpose through school psychology. And then my other book for school psychologists, Today in School Psychology, I post these, you know, funny stories or interactions I have with kids that people seem to like so thank you for that. So yeah, it could be just interactions in testing or in the hall, but it's also just a lot of profound lessons that they teach me and they don't know that they're saying these things. So I give one example, I was testing a little girl, fourth grader a little while ago, and gave her  an IQ test. And I said, you know, tell me what doubt means. And she was so confident that doubt is negative energy. And it wasn't the right answer, but she was just--negative energy. And that was it, there was no follow up. Like, I said what I said, that's what it is. Really great perspective, we don't doubt like we don't need any negative energy. So things like that I share, some of those funny things that they say. But again, a lot of lessons from families, from teachers, meetings. So I compiled about 75 or so of them, put them in a little book and I use a lot of those when I present to different audiences as like a connection kind of thing. But yea, so check that out. The website is CharlesBarrett.org, and learn more about me there as well. As well as the Twitter and Instagram. So, would love to see you online and engage more.

 

Noelle  

And I actually have a question about something that you just brought up because it's something that has come up in some of our previous episodes actually. But, just about some of what we're not necessarily talking about or teaching in graduate work and teacher preparation. And not even just teacher, right? School psychologist, educator preparation programs. Do you see some of that shifting? Where in graduate schools some curriculum and content that's being taught is social justice related? Or do you see that kind of being embedded more? 

 

Charles   

I do, I do. I often joke with my colleagues we went to grad school with, we knew it was the end of the semester when we had the, you know, diversity class.  Where the routine was diversity issues in school psychology or whatever the topic was, so in consultation and assessment. And you know, it was that with like, wrap up course evaluations, it was kind of this-- 

 

Noelle   

Check the box. 

 

Charles  

Yeah, exactly. Kind of tack in on the end. If you were traveling at that point, no big deal you know? But I am seeing now that people are weaving those themes into the semester. So every week as we talk about different principles of whatever the course is, there's issues of diversity, of equity, and social justice. I do think for school psychology programs, because it is now one of our main goal areas, that I do think it's helping to keep programs accountable for really embedding these themes into their instruction, into their content more than just a tack on at the end. Now, I came out of grad school- oh gosh, 2006 I took my last course, so that was 14 years ago so. But just being in programs now, teaching into programs, and having a lot of friends who are faculty, I do see a lot of change since I was in school, which is great. So, work to be done as always, but certainly heading in the right direction.

 

Noelle  

Right, because like you said, it helps with that mindset of just having it be just a way that we think about how we're educating and things like that. So that's good to hear. I was curious about that and something we've talked about before. So thank you very much! You know, we really appreciate your time today. Be sure to join us next week with Dr. Audrey Brutus, Culturally Responsive Education Specialist as we explore how disciplinary practices are creating disproportionate outcomes for students of color. We will discuss the cradle to prison pipeline and the relationship between our education and criminal justice systems.

 

[Outro music plays]

Miranda: The Unpacked Project is produced by Vicky Lee. Branding and Marketing by Raquel Avalos.

Noelle: Show us some love and be sure to like, subscribe and review our podcast. And to stay connected and up-to-date, follow us on Instagram at the_unpacked project.

Miranda: Shout out to all of our listeners who unpacked with us today, we’ll see you next week.

Noelle: Peace!

Miranda: Ayye byyeee