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S1E10 Developing Social Justice Curriculum for Schools with Kathy Lebrón

Updated: Oct 20, 2019

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Episode Notes:

How do we ensure that all students feel seen and affirmed, no matter their identity? Founder of the Radical Maestra, Kathy Lebrón is on a mission to help educators, families, and students use education as a vehicle for healing and liberation. In this episode, Kathy provides tangible tools for teachers who want to invest in their own professional development around the topic of power, privilege, antiracism, and restorative justice. She also explains how educators can intentionally weave social justice curriculum into the classroom for students of all ages.

About Kathy Lebrón

Kathy Lebrón is an anti-racist, culturally responsive educator, curriculum writer with over seven years of experience. Kathy has facilitated workshops and professional development on various topics, including: Anti-Racism in Schools, Student Identity Development, Culturally Responsive Education, the Decolonization of the Dominican Mind, Restorative Practices and Fostering a Healthy, Anti-bias School Culture. When she's not thinking, learning, and talking about how we can get free, Kathy enjoys traveling, funny memes, and spending time with loved ones.

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Bree Picower's Research:

Episode Transcript

Kathy Lebrón 0:51

Hi, folks. My name is Kathy Lebrón, and I am a proud radical Dominicana. I was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. I'm an anti-racist and culturally responsive educator and consultant. And I'm a mother to be currently dreaming about reimagining motherhood and parenting for liberation and what that can look like.

Gabriela Acosta 1:10

Yes. And you're a fellow Smithy.

Kathy Lebrón

Yes I am! class of 2012.

Gabriela Acosta

I feel like I'm, I'm just going through Smithies right now. Like, I'm just finding all this with these and they're all phenomenal social justice, like warriors in some way, shape or form.

Jenelle Acosta 1:26

That's what you all were bred to do.

Kathy Lebrón 1:28


Jenelle Acosta 1:29

So it makes a lot of sense, that that's getting our main clientele.

Kathy Lebrón 1:33

Smithies are fucking Awesome. Yeah.

Gabriela Acosta 1:35

Yeah, they're pretty friggin great.

Jenelle Acosta 1:38

So, to follow up a little bit on your background, you're doing sort of anti racism work and training for elementary school teachers and trying to incorporate that. Were you a school teacher before?

Kathy Lebrón 1:50

Yes. So during my senior year at Smith, I was recruited for Teach for America. And like prior to that, I never really seen myself as an educator. I didn't think that I was going to go into education. But I did. Luckily, I was recruited. I actually ended up at a school in Washington Heights in New York City, which was great. I was there for five years. And so I was teaching throughout. But it wasn't until my final year there that I became like a social action teacher in a school culture coach, and so that like, really my primary role was to sort of develop this social justice curriculum, that was like culturally responsive and anti racist. And that's like what I was teaching, which was awesome. Yeah.

Gabriela Acosta 2:33

And is that a pretty unique role to where you were like, have you heard of other folks having that specific role in other schools?

Kathy Lebrón 2:41

Yeah, so that was something that in collaboration with the principal, we sort of like talked about it. I in in my work at the school like before that I had started a social justice committee, we had like done trainings and professional development. We also like the coordinator for our restorative justice initiative like, we so I was like doing sort of this work, but it wasn't like my sole work, right? Like, it wasn't like the full scope of my work. I was teaching. And so during that final year, I was kind of like, thinking about like w ell, you know, what would it look like to be sort of like a, you know, other schools have more traditional deans of culture, but really those roles are like, they're more about like behavior management, right? Not necessarily thinking about school culture in the sense of like, how do we make our school culture more culturally responsive? How do we make our pedagogy our curriculum, right, like everything about our school more culturally responsive and anti racist, and like, how do we develop these practices? And so we sort of like twisted it in the sense of like, Okay, well, it could be something like a dean of cultural school or like a school culture coach, but really focusing it around like social justice and, and around like all these different themes, not just like for the teachers, but like for the students?

Gabriela Acosta 4:01

Can you give a couple examples of what that looks like in practice? Like what kinds of break break that down. Like you're talking about social justice curriculum, you're also talking about weaving in culturally restorative justice into your work. So what does that mean for folks who don't know? And then also, how do you bring that down to earth for teachers and for students?

Kathy Lebrón 4:21

Yes. So I would say that it kind of started a few years prior, right, like with the social justice committee, so I had instances, you know, I had students who had this one student, we were celebrating Black History Month, and he came up to me and he was like, hey, Miss LeBron, like, I'm, I just like wonder why all of like, a lot of the characters in the books that we read, they don't look like me. And like, that sort of stopped me dead in my tracks. And I was just like, oh, man, like we're failing our kids if they don't see themselves represented in the books that were reading. If they don't see themselves represented, you know, in our walls, like just on our walls like the, you know, the sort of the people that we're putting on our walls, the quotes the characters, right? Like, if they don't see themselves represented like we're failing them. And so from then on, I sort of like started thinking about well, like, what can we do to as a school not just like as an individual educator, right? Because you as an individual educator, you can change things and you can do things in your classroom, but that doesn't necessarily mean right, that that's going to have an impact on the school overall. Right? And so how do we as a school really reflect on our practices when we think about like behavior management. When we think about like, who's getting suspended and who's not. When we think about, oh, like our school curriculum or our lessons, when we think about our community meetings, we have like, sort of like daily community meetings, for different grades. And so like, just like thinking about everything overall school culture, like how do we make sure that our students feel represented, that they feel valued, that they feel seen, that they feel affirmed. Right? And how do we also reflect on our practices as educators like, just like the relationships amongst ourselves, right, the relationships we have with families, and the relationships we have with our students. And so in thinking about all of that, you know, we sort of started this like social justice committee with a group of teachers. And we started to think about race and power and privilege. And we started to have these like, really honest conversations amongst ourselves. We had like book clubs, we read articles that we would reflect on. And then we started to develop professional development, so PD for our teachers. And so we had to like sort of PDs on like, power and privilege, anti blackness, right, like things like that. And then, it wasn't until like that final year, that fifth year where we actually a group of us, became sort of like a restorative justice committee and so we were trained for like a week, we went to Pennsylvania and we had this training. And we learned about restorative justice and restorative practices and how we would implement them at our school. And so restorative justice for folks who don't know, really what that is, is basically, it's an alternative to traditional punitive methods of behavior management, right? Like you're really thinking about, like, what was the harm that was caused? Right? And then you're thinking about, like, how do we address that harm? And how do we repair the relationship? While really focusing on like the person that was harmed, right, and making sure that you're like leading by their example and like, whatever their needs are. You're you're sort of like thinking about, okay, how do we repair the harm in a way that like, really make sure that their needs are being met?

Gabriela Acosta 7:40

It's interesting that you bring up restorative justice in that way. Because it was a big part of some of the work that my parents were doing when I was growing up, they would work on restorative justice in the application in Civil War recovery. So in back in El Salvador, there was—civil war is particularly painful because it was literally as penning like family against family, right? It's like your blood fighting against itself. And so there's still a lot that's been over 30 years now that the war has ended. And yet, people are still really struggling with the repercussions and generational impact of what happened. And restorative justice is a huge way that people can think about how, how do we tell the stories in a way that both sides can be empowered to share their perspective, and then heal together? Rather than like, say, well, you wronged me, so you owe me this? Right. Like it's more of a how do we move forward together? And that's always been a really fascinating perspective, especially in anti racism work, because it brings up the question of, you know, your ancestors did something that hurt my ancestors, and that still hurts today. And it has real world implications today, right? But there are ways for us to move forward together and so let's let's look at what that looks like while acknowledging that that history is still there.

Kathy Lebrón 9:03


Gabriela Acosta 9:04

You know, you were talking about having your school bring you down to Pennsylvania to do this training. And I was thinking about it in context of all the teachers that I know who are struggling for resources and struggling to get even the proper ratios of students in classrooms. For teachers out there who are being told they have to stick to a specific structure, how do they weave in some of the social justice curriculum into their work?

Kathy Lebrón 9:29

So yes, I think it's everything depends on your setting, right. I was fortunate enough to be in a setting where I was being able to like not only develop my position, right, like the fact that I could even develop that position and and like, have it be my job was great, but to also be able to incorporate a lot of like the culturally responsive and social justice sort of themes into my into what I was teaching was also very unique. I mean, there were people that would come and like observe me and just be like, but how do I do this at my school, right? And I think that when you can back it up and say, listen, like all of these lessons that I'm teaching are actually aligned with like the standards. If you're able, like, if you can do that, you could say, I'm still teaching, you know, the stick to the standards I'm to I'm still teaching the curriculum that needs to be taught, however, it's being done in a way that is culturally responsive. It's being done in a way that's like applicable to our students so that they are better able to build bridges between school and home, because you can teach a student all you math all you want, but if they don't necessarily understand, like, what is the real world implication of this? or How can I apply this to my home? Or what's a practical application? Like, it's going to go into one ear and out the other. It's not really learning, right? And so I think that there are ways for us to be able to frame this work in a way that it's like, this is important for many different reasons. It is it can still be aligned to the standards, right? We can still teach what needs to be taught in that sense, but it can be done in a way where it's just more applicable. And in a way that's more engaging and more fun, right? That's, that's how I would frame that in the sense of like it because you can still teach all of these different themes, you can still teach to these subjects. It can be done in a way that's aligned, and it's more engaging. And it will be I think, it's going to enrich not only your life as a teacher, but like your student's lives.

Jenelle Acosta 11:25

I'm having a hard time like really grasping, what the difference between sort of anti racism curriculum versus traditional, quote, unquote, curriculum. Is there, like a tangible sort of example that you can give of like how you have transformed what a traditional curriculum looks like, versus a anti racism curriculum?

Kathy Lebrón 11:48

So for instance, when you think of like speaking, they have like speaking and listening standards, right. When I was developing my curriculum, I sort of looked at those different standards and I thought like, Okay, well, if I a second grader needs to be able to, let's say, present in front of a classroom. And have sort of evidence for whatever they're doing and have to provide like a paragraph description, right? Like,

Jenelle Acosta 12:11

yeah, yeah,

Kathy Lebrón 12:12

there was like these these lists of standards, right? So I would look at that and say like, Okay, well, if that's at the end of the day, that's the objective, if that's what they have to be able to do. How do we do that in a way where it's incorporating their culture or, you know, anti racist work or things like that. And so for me, though, my units were very much inspired by Bree Picower’s 6 Elements of Social Justice Curriculum Design for Elementary Students. And so I sort of picked four out of the six and I tied a unit to each of the elements. So the elements being self love, love for others, social justice and awareness raising. And so for self love, I thought, Well, okay, we have to start, start there. Right, if you don't understand who you are, if you don't understand where you come from what your passions are, if you don't have love, a deep understanding and a love for yourself, it's going to be difficult for you to be able to love and respect other people is going to be difficult for you to understand and empathize and sympathize with folks who are being marginalized, right, like, things like that. And so we started there, and then we moved into like, Okay, well, what does it mean, to respect people for their differences? A concrete example would be like their different family structures. In a traditional curriculum design, you constantly have like, this idea that a family what is a perfect family, right? Like the Mother, the Father, the two children, the dogs, the white picket fence, right? Like we have these tradition of what makes a quote unquote, perfect family. And people would, you know, they would ask a kindergartener, let's say like, well, who's in your family or you know what, something that you like doing with your family or things like that, right? Not really breaking down the fact that there are many different family structures and normalize that, right? So for instance, in my class, we would complicate that. We would read a book, like The Great Big Book of Families, which actually shows you an entire, like a myriad of, you know, myriad of of like family structures. It would be like, some kids have two mommies, or some kids have a mom and a dad are some kids actually live with their Grandma and Grandpa, right, like, literally just showing and normalizing the fact that there's many different family structures, right? And then we discuss, like, so what makes a family right, because people have such different ideas of like, what what makes a family do you have to be related by blood? Right? Like what is what is sort of like complicating it by just asking questions really, right? And you have students do a project on it, and then present on it. You're still hitting all of the same objectives. you're presenting, you're speaking to a group, you're able to describe it, you have evidence for it, right? Like, all of these different standards that are still being hit, but in a way that it sort of it goes deeper, right? We go deeper into each of these sort of things that make you you know who you are as a person identity. Like that was one of the first words I introduced my students to like identity. And we and we talked about what that is. And then we sort of went through different identity markers, what makes us who we are? And then we talked about, like different social justice issues and how we, you know, we talked about race and the difference between race and ethnicity and skin color, which got very complicated,

Jenelle Acosta 15:28

I'm sure, yeah,

Kathy Lebrón 15:29

but you know, it's, like,

Gabriela Acosta 15:30

It's complicated for adults!

Kathy Lebrón 15:32

Right? It's complicated for adults. But they were just so curious. And they were just like, Oh, wait, yeah, that's this is so interesting, right? Like, how you can actually in one country—because I had a lot of students that came from Dominican Republic—How you can be seen at a certain way in Dominican Republic, right. But then you come here to the United States, and you're seen as something else, right, You're white in the Dominican Republic, and then you come to the United States and your brown, right, seen as something else. And so having all of those discussions was sort of just like the way that we moved and navigated through these topics. It was like through talking, like having circles, literally sitting in the circle, and having, you know, one or two questions that we would just discuss, and then kids would, you know, then go home and talk to their parents and be like, Oh, I learned about, you know, the Tainos and like, how, you know, we shouldn't really celebrate Christopher Columbus because he like, colonized us, you know, and like, and then having these conversations with their parents, and then they would come back and talk about it and be like, my mom said this, and, you know, they would bring articles and they'd be like, Can we get into a circle and talk about this? You know?

Gabriela Acosta 16:37

That's amazing!

Kathy Lebrón 16:40

I mean, it I mean, it really was I learned so much from that. I think I learned more from them than they did from me like

Jenelle Acosta 16:45

Yeah, you got tiny little curious minds who don't, you know, you're trying to shape them and to be good humans and they have a lot of questions. And they because they don't have the same sort of status quo or stereotypes or just sort of formation of their ideas or yeah, and filters of what the world is. And that, that's, that's a helpful way of looking at it. Because I think what I needed to separate was school standards or curriculum is probably like, you need to teach them reading comprehension, but they're not telling you how to teach them reading comprehension. It's just that you need to have reading comprehension so they can pass this test. And so you can then make those topics on things that are social justice, anti racism, which I think makes a lot of sense. I wonder how when you started doing this, the parents took to it, because, you know, we said you're talking about race, you're talking about skin color, it got complex. And Gaby even said as adults like this is a complex topic. So how can children take this? So So what was sort of the reaction to that or what might you say to people who are saying that, like, these types of topics are too advanced for elementary school children?

Kathy Lebrón 17:59

So I what honestly, what really helped me was that I, I couldn't have put in a lot of work, right. I had been at the school already for five years. And I had put in a lot of work to build relationships with all of our families. Right? Not just like, when I was teaching kindergarten, kindergarten, it wasn't just relationship building with like, my students, families, but with everyone, right? Because we had, you know, community shows and we had different events where we would see families and sometimes, you know, we would be like greeters at the door, or like, on the steps we had like a system right? And so we would just like constantly trying to build relationships with families, I think is what really helped me. Because I didn't have a single parent Tell me like that they did not appreciate my curriculum. Like every single parent that I interacted with, like they would come to me and they would be like, I can't believe A) that this is being taught like this is so cool that this is like something that you're teaching that like this is so valuable, we had like an entire PD for for families on it. And they were just like, this is so great that that our students get the privilege to be able to speak about these things. And at the time, right, I mean, you have to think about it. Donald Trump had just become the president, right? My students were distraught. I mean, I had students who came to school crying, bawling in tears, I had students who, whose families were being told, like, you don't belong here on the bus, I had students, right, like, literally, there was this atmosphere of like, of fear and hatred and othering and like, so our families when they were sort of learning that we were talking about these issues at school, like they were kind of like, oh, wow, thank you, because I didn't know how to have this conversation with my with my child.

Jenelle Acosta 19:40


Kathy Lebrón 19:41

the fact that you can have this conversation is great, because then I know what else to you know, kind of like what else to talk about, or how to navigate the discussion or like, you know, or they're just able to, you know, lead the conversation because they've already been learning about that at school.

Gabriela Acosta 19:55

Yeah, I I'm so thankful that you took this initiative to not only teach this in the classroom but also to start your own specific role to be able to build a whole curriculum around it. I really wish I had a teacher that could have woven this in when I was in second grade! you know, like it took us until high school to really truly talk about this in a meaningful way. And then it was because we, we were proactive and went and sought it out, right? Like it wasn't because the teacher really brought it to us. So I think it's incredibly meaningful, especially like you're saying right now, in an atmosphere where tension has has been building and there is a lot more unfiltered isms out in the world where a lot before there was a lot of shame. So people might have had those thoughts and ideas in their heads, but wouldn't speak them out loud. Now, there's really no shame to speak them out loud. And that makes it a lot harder for people to, you know, feel like they can be safe in their everyday lives when they are a minority in any way, shape, or form. So I'm wondering in the instances where you were bringing this into the classroom bringing this into your school curriculum and into your school environment. How did other fellow teachers and administrators react? And how were they able to support you in the way that you were bringing that to the community?

Kathy Lebrón 21:18

Yeah, so part of my role as a school culture coach was actually to observe teachers, and sort of give them feedback on how they were doing with in terms of like, their classroom culture, in terms of, you know, trying to implement some of this in their classroom, have these discussions in their classroom and things like that. And so that was like, part of my my role. So I was able to go into classrooms and really sort of like, collaborate with the teachers and be like, hey, so what in terms of like your classroom culture like what do you want it to look like? What do you want it to feel like here right? How do are you sort of making sure that your everything that's, you know, when you think about lessons when you think about the books that you're displaying, when you think about the posters you're putting up, like, what are the messages you're trying to send to our students? Right? And I think that we sort of thinking about, like, just across, like, Just what are the values, right, that we really want to share and and sort of expose our students to? And, you know, we would think about that we would think through them, and then we would sort of, they would say, like, Oh, you know, I'm teaching this lesson in a few days, like, and we would review it and be like, Okay, well, how can we make this more culturally responsive or more engaging, right? Or how can we make it so that there's a sort of more clearer bridge between like, home and school, right. And so we can we had that relationship I was, that was like a part of my role, which was great. And then, obviously, as like the social action teacher, I'd be like, Hey, we're doing this read aloud in my classroom, like, how is there any space or time in your classroom where you can like further develop this idea? or what are you reading in your classroom and like that I can then take back into my classroom, right? So there was this sense of like interconnectedness. There was a sense of like, Okay, well students know that whatever they're learning in their classroom, like they can talk about it in my classroom or vice versa, right. It's not just in my room. It's not just something that's happening in my room, but it's something that's spreading throughout. And so also as a school culture coach, I was like, in charge of our morning meetings. As a school, we had like a weekly festival, like on Fridays, where we have we would have like shows and students will dance and sing and do different things. But we would make a theme so we had like, Latinx Heritage Month like women's, you know, Women's Herstery Month, like all of these things where we would be very intentional about like, Okay, well, we're going to have these discussions, even if we're celebrating and you know, enjoying ourselves, but we're also going to have these discussions around like gender and race, and like, you know, different things like that in our culture. So

Gabriela Acosta 23:56

I can imagine that that was a really amazing community. That you were in because it just sounds like your elementary school was so different than mine.

Jenelle Acosta 24:05

Yeah, no kidding.

Gabriela Acosta 24:07

But it's, you know, I'm I'm have, I guess my gut reaction is as, as somebody who is a person of color, marginalized, an immigrant, as a peer educator, I would be so on board for it. And I'm wondering if did you get any pushback from anyone or maybe even silence, like lack of support? Not Not necessarily, like direct challenge to what you were doing, but just not really being on board?

Kathy Lebrón 24:37

Yeah, I mean, we definitely had some resistance from some teachers. Not really like outwardly resistance, but you can tell even in their body like when we would have certain discussions, that they just felt very uncomfortable having these discussions or like, teaching students about when we think about like slavery or we think about like we think about, like oppression and all of that. There were some teachers who were just like, I don't know. And particularly white teachers would be like, I'm not really sure how to do this or I. And like, because they didn't know, they felt like they were sort of absolved. Like, they didn't have to do the work thing. They were kind of like, lean on folks of color, and then kind of expect for them to sort of teach them or to just take it on. Right. And so that was a bit of a problem. And I had to have some very frank conversations with people around like, why are you uncomfortable? Like what is making you uncomfortable? Right, like, and how can we overcome that? Because at the end of the day, like, we have to make sure that we're doing right by our students, right. It's not a personal thing. Like it's something that it has to go beyond just a personal thing, right? Like we are teachers, this is our job, right? We have to make sure that we're teaching them the truth. We have to make sure that we're not sugarcoating things. Objectivity and neutrality is actually a tenant of white supremacy and we cannot be neutral, right? So we have to make sure that we are not telling our students what to think. But we have to teach them how to think. Right? We have to teach them to be critical thinkers. And so how do we do that? Right? And these conversations, sometimes they went really well. And other times they were just kind of they fell flat. They fell on deaf ears, right? It was difficult. It was interesting when you call on people, right? Because you can call up the system and people are like, yes, white supremacy, this system. But the minute you start to call, like, call out or even call in people, and how they're maintaining these systems, then it becomes a problem. So I'm actually leaving my school because my principal couldn't handle it. Because I had to, I told her, she needed to review her hiring practices, given the fact that 95% of the new administration, like people in leadership, we're going to be white and also the fact that a lot of the other positions, kind of like managerial positions, things like that. Were also given to white folks when they were very well, like candidates of color who were who could have very well done that those positions, right? Like, all of the pathways to leadership were primarily given to white folks. So when you start to call people out on their shit, then that's when you're like, oh, you're too radical, right? They start to push you out. They start to critique you, they start to threaten, oh, well, maybe you shouldn't do this next year. This position isn't for you.

Gabriela Acosta 27:32

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Jenelle Acosta 28:09

So when you when you first started talking about how some people weren't getting on board with it right away, it was mainly the white teachers, I immediately was like, it's probably the white teachers. And it's probably because they feel like they don't know how to talk about it and that the Prob-, they feel like they're going to say the wrong thing or like this fear that like they will come across as racist because they don't actually feel like they are confident in knowing what they're talking about. So I think that there's two sides. It's the what resources do white teachers need so that way they can actually teach this and feel confident in it? And then what can white teachers who want it actually be a good ally? What do they need to do?

Kathy Lebrón 28:48

Yep. So here's the thing, white teachers who were resistant at my school, to do some of this work, they were given resources, they were given opportunities to come to book clubs to come to sort of events that we were having. We were having movie screenings, talk about these things at the end, and they wouldn't show up. They weren't showing. Right. And so here's the thing, you need to be ready to do this work. Yeah, you can get all the resources you want. You can read all the books that you want, or you can be given I'm saying these resources, but if you're not ready to really confront racism, and to really confront your racism, it's going to be difficult, then you're not if you're not ready, you're not ready yet. Right? So I think it needs to start there. You need to you need to sort of just stop and reflect and be like, Okay, what, why am I struggling with this? What makes me feel uncomfortable, right? Like you have to take inventory of, of who you are as a person and where you're at in this sort of trajectory, and be like, Okay, I'm not actually ready to confront this. Or if you are and be like, you know, I least I'm open to it. Right? And that's where you need to start. Right?

You need to start with confronting your racism. Sitting with it reflecting on your power reflecting on your privilege, reflecting on, you know, healing, healing, just like, what does he look like for me as a white person? Right? You need to understand that you need to, you need to sit down and be like, hey, my ancestors, like they did some messed up things. And I need to work through that. And there are ways to move forward without sort of repressing that or without rejecting it, right? And so active, it's an it's a lifelong process of you actively having to, you know, being like, anti racist, right? It's not going to be easy. It's not something that's going to happen in a year or two or right, like it's a lifelong sort of learning process of like unlearning, right? doing a lot of unlearning. And then really put starting to think about Okay, well, what, what if I am a teacher, right? If I'm an educator, and I'm mostly educating black and brown folks, right, Black and Brown students like, what does it look like for me to be an ally in this work, right? And what does it look like for me to really look at our policies and our practices and to and to and to think about, like, what is racist about this right? Or like, What? What about this makes me feel really comfortable? Why? And then what about this makes me feel uncomfortable? Why? Right? I think it's just, it's that that work needs to start there. And then when you are, you know, when you are open and you're ready, like the books, the resources, they wont to certainly come from other people come from you because you want to learn, right? And so you will go out there and do the research. And there's plenty, plenty of resources out there to do this work, right. You don't have I don't folks of color, just to get it. Right. And so once that happens, and I think you're you're you're sort of feeling better about that or you're feeling you're feeling okay with being uncomfortable,

Jenelle Acosta 31:53


Kathy Lebrón 31:53

right. Once you are okay with being uncomfortable, then you can start to I think started to collaborate and think of yourself as like, Okay, well, how do I become than an ally To sort of the black and indigenous people of color in my workplace? Right? Like, how can I help sort of, how can I help move this work forward? And how can I be an ally to them? And I think it starts with like, white folks have to believe and trust people of color.

Jenelle Acosta 32:21


Kathy Lebrón 32:22

just, you have to believe them. You have to just trust that what they are saying is not a personal judgment or an attack. But it's like it's true, right? Accept it, accept that it's true. Support their work emotionally, professionally, right. It takes building deep relationships with folks, which can be difficult. But you have to back them up. If you're at a meeting and somebody a person of color is saying that something is, you know, maybe it's, you know, it's just, it's racist, or it's disproportionately affecting students, like, then talk to them and after it were or, you know, be like, hey, how can I best support you in the next meeting? Or I thought you meant made some really good points like, how can I then, in the meeting sort of be an ally to you? Does that mean that I should sort of bring up that point? Because you think as a white person, I'll be heard more? Or does that mean that I should like piggyback off your plan and say, Hey, I think this point that x y&z just made, I think that I really, I really think we should do something about that. I also see it as a problem, right? It's not just a matter of at the end being like, Hey, good point. Thank you. Thank you for raising that. You need to show administration, right, and the folks with power that you're also on board, right that you also find these policies and practices problematic. I think that white folks need to Yeah, they need to call out admin when, when they're being racist, you'd have to hold them accountable. They have to hold other educators accountable when they're not doing the work, right. And I think at the end of the day, they always have to, they always have to follow the lead of those were more most impacted by oppression.

Jenelle Acosta 33:51

I think it's it's really important and I could see sort of in your situation where you're coming in and you're really changing what the school's doing. That resistance, but it's so like, even just getting a foundation like knowing that you're going to get that pushback, and then slowly being able to make more impactful change over time as you get new people coming in who are on board with that type of curriculum that you're trying to teach and things like that. So I think that that's really interesting. And I agree with you that it, it really comes down to in in all of these conversations that we've been having, as we're talking about, mainly, how do white individuals be better allies? It comes down to you got to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Gabriela Acosta 34:33

Yeah. And I just particularly love that this this theme has really evolved over the course of our podcast so far as that people really like to be asked how they want folks who are in a position of power to support them. Right. And it's, it's so much more important than to make an assumption about how a white person in the room thinks that they should be supportive, like coming up after a meeting and saying like, that was a really good point. I really appreciate that you rose that, you know, but knowing that you can ask the question, How can I be an ally to you next time when those conversations happen? so that they can then react in a way that is most supportive to you in that space. Because otherwise, they're going to make an assumption. And they could be wrong, they could actually put their foot in their mouth, or they could actually minimize what you were saying, like if they think, Oh, I'm going to use my power next time to speak up and make sure that my voice is heard so that it's clear that that's not okay. Even though Kathy the said it last time, right like that could potentially put you in a position where you feel small, rather than than empowered. So asking the question, I think is the most important thing if you want to be a good ally, saying like, How can I be supportive of you?

Jenelle Acosta 35:51

And the the mirroring that you were sort of saying where maybe one person brings up a point and then the other person says yes, I also agree with that. So how can we talk about that more, that's actually a practice that I know, a lot of people at my office do, where there's a group of women who tend to be quieter, not heard, quite as much not taken as seriously. And so even when they're in times of I don't necessarily agree with my fellow woman's point, but it's my duty as also a woman in the room to help them and move them forward. So they'll echo each other. And they go in with this mindset of talking about it. It's like, okay, like, I don't 100% agree with you. But I know that this is important to you. And so my responsibility to you as you would do the same to me is to help you and so in the meeting, they echo each other to make themselves louder.

Kathy Lebrón 36:42

I mean, it's unfortunate that we even have to do that, right. That's right. It's, it's so frustrating. But that is that is a strategy. Right? That is a strategy at the end of the day.

Jenelle Acosta 36:53


Gabriela Acosta 36:53

It sounds like you You gave us some really good tangible ways to start weaving in some of this social justice centered work into the curriculum and into your community. Are there any other ways that you would recommend to someone if they wanted to help educators in general or their education space to start increasing equality in a K through 12? environment?

Kathy Lebrón 37:18

Yeah, there's so many ways anything from creating a book club right? To and I'm thinking of like, okay, you pick a book White Fragility, right. It could be For White Folks Who Teach In The Hood And the Rest of Y'all Too by Chris Emdin. I mean, there's so many books out there that you could start with and just like, have a book of educators sit down with you and, and and do a book club, reflect on these questions, right? You could start a community you can think about, you know, your curriculum and have frank discussions around like, What is up with our curriculum? Is our curriculum racist in any way? You know, what can we do about that? How can we change it? How can we make it more culturally responsive? How can we make an anti racist? Could you start doing healing work like thinking about healing? And having these conversations like, not just at inter personally, right, but like, as a community, what does healing look like for us? I think seeking out support, like, for instance, I'm an educator, I'm, you know, an equity consultant, and a school and a coach. And so for me, you know, when I get called on to come and work with organizations or schools, I see how some of the, you know, through these workshops, like ideas spark, and then people are like, Oh, we can do this, right? And then they start to think about, like, Who are the people in the room that they can that they can start doing this work with? And, you know, they start implementing things. So I think sometimes you need outside people to come in and to sort of like, help you see, like, how you can actually put this into practice. It's not just about the theory, but the practice, right? Like, how do we actually, tangibly how do we put this into practice? But those are just a few of the ways that you can begin to do this work?

Gabriela Acosta 38:57

Yeah, they're phenomenal. So I I know that this is now something that you're doing full time, right?

Kathy Lebrón 39:03

I'm the founder of the Radical Maestra. And that was just sort of when I thought like, I can't just do this work in one classroom or like in one school, like this work is so important. And I've heard it from our families, I've heard from our students, that it needs to go just beyond right, just being out of school or just being at one school. And so I started consulting and doing workshops and providing, you know, professional development through the radical minds today. And also, you know, I started this the online platform, like you can visit the website and on the website, you know, there's so many resources and things like that. And so I'm not actually doing that work full time, because I'm a communications director at a foundation called Resist. But the hope is that in a few years, I'll actually start my own micro school that will be like an anti racist, culturally responsive, like, radical school for liberation. So that is the goal that in hopefully four to five years, I will be starting a school where folks can come and see how we're unschooling our kids.

Jenelle Acosta 40:03

Yeah, un-schooling, what a good way to put that. I love that so much.

Gabriela Acosta 40:08

I love it. I want to just snap out everything that you've been saying all this time.

Jenelle Acosta 40:13

You've been resisting so hard

Gabriela Acosta 40:14

I've been resisting the snap because I would pop the mic and we wouldn't be here with the amazing things that you're saying that make me want to snap. So it sounds like you have some amazing long term goals. Do you have any short term things that you're working on that you want to share with our listeners?

Kathy Lebrón 40:30

Yes. So I mean, besides still doing consulting with the radical Maestra, as I said, I am a mother to be and so one of my projects right now is called Reimagining Motherhood and sort of breaking down like what does it look like to parent for liberation, like what does that mean? What does that look like? And I think a lot of it's breaking down. I mean, thinking about patriarchy, thinking about gender thinking about sort of traditional roles and how women or folks who are giving birth how they're often like their entire identity revolves around motherhood right? And how do we break that? How do we define motherhood and how do we disrupt it? And so I started this Instagram series on my personal Instagram, so my personal Instagram is Kathy_and_Eric. That's my, my, my fiance's name. And we started this motherhood Mondays series. So on Mondays we sort of have these sort of different discussions around parenting and motherhood and what that could look like. And so that's one of my more recent projects.

Gabriela Acosta 41:36

I love that. I think that's so cool! Also, like so necessary, especially in like traditional women of color communities. I feel like there's so many more ideas about what womanhood looks like, what motherhood looks like and how to parent and I specifically now that we're of the age that all of our friends are starting to have babies. I'm starting to think of about like, Okay, what? What does it look like to still keep your identity and also, when you bring up your kids, you're the primary example that you have in the household of how to create behavior. So mothers have a really key role. When it comes to thinking about things like social justice and anti racism. We have a responsibility to teach our kids to think about the world and in a way where it's empathetic, and it's thoughtful about what's going on, and teach critical thinking in your household beyond just the classroom. So I think that's incredible. You're doing some badass shit. I am so so thankful that I know you It's so cool!

Jenelle Acosta 42:41

Gaby's like beaming with Smithie pride.

Gabriela Acosta 42:43

I am!

Jenelle Acosta 42:47

I also want to say so get Gaby and I like we want to have children and we're trying to plan that and obviously with two women, it's a little bit more complicated. But, you know, we go back and forth a lot of do we want to bring somebody in the world when the world seems to be falling apart?

Kathy Lebrón 43:06

burning literally!

Jenelle Acosta 43:08

Literally, the world is burning, but I will say, you know what one of the things that Gaby really says, which I really love, and you can talk about more is like children are hope. Right? Like children are hope not only for them growing up and maybe changing and saving the world, but also drivers of us wanting to make change, because we want to make the world a better place for them.

Gabriela Acosta 43:29

Yeah, I need an outside source outside of myself to know that I'm creating change for them. Right. Like, if if there are children in the world, I know that we need to make the world better because we're going to leave it behind for them. Yeah, I don't like the idea that we have to leave it behind the mess behind for them to fix. Yeah, right. And so knowing that we're going to have a new generation of kids gives me hope because it gives me an inspiration to want to fight harder. Yeah, to ensure that they live in a world that is fair and just and not run by Donald Trump.

Kathy Lebrón 44:01

And here's the thing I mean, my friend, my my friend and co worker, Kendra Hicks, she, she talks a lot about about this about, like, how we've been here before the apocalypse has happened many times before. So people, you know, it's not it's not actually the end of the world, right? Like, we have been here, people have been able to rise from the ashes and create new things all the time and move forward and heal. And so I, I used to think that way, I used to think that way. And I would tell, you know, my partner, I'm like, I don't think I want any kids like in this world, like, why how, why would I do that to my children? And at the same time, it's like, Yes, because we, we owe it to them, we have to change not just for our children, but for set seven generations forward as they say. We owe it to them for for us to be able to do this work, and then to pass that down to them so that, you know, it can only get better. I mean, hopefully it will only get better, right?

Jenelle Acosta 44:56

A), I love you and listening to people like you and all the other people that we've been having on our podcast is really, like it's just like a good soul feeder for me to remember that like, yes, there's bad stuff going on in the world, but we have so many people who are want the world to be better and to grow and to fight the good fight and all of this stuff. And so, I feel like every time we get to talk to people and people like you who are just doing badass shit, like, it's feels so good to just be like, no, like, Yeah, we got a lot of work we have to do, but it's, it's going to be okay. We got people doing good things like getting on our side. Like, we're trying to do the best that we can to, like, make people think harder about what they're saying and what they're doing. Like. It's gonna be okay,

Gabriela Acosta 45:43

yeah, you give me hope girl like, it's gonna be fine.

Kathy Lebrón 45:47

It's gonna be it's gonna be okay.

Gabriela Acosta 45:51

Well, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. I know this has been for me, it's been a very wonderful conversation because it just reminds me of all the small things, the tangible things that we can do to just weave in these conversations in our everyday work no matter what it is. And I think education is one of those primary examples where it feels like there are a lot of structures and rules and maybe even barriers to the way that we can teach in our current system. But there's always a way to, to weave in and apply a new lens to the work that we're doing to help train our our young ones. And it doesn't matter whether they're in second grade or 12th grade, there's there are different ways to help them think about the world differently. And I really appreciate the folks who are like you doing that kind of work.

Kathy Lebrón 46:43

Thank you all so much. Thank you both for having me. I really appreciate it.

Gabriela Acosta 46:47

I think everyone deserves a teacher who is this incredibly thoughtful. Yeah, about this topic.

Jenelle Acosta 46:52

I agree. I look at this, as a lot of the conversations that we've been having are how do we as adults unlearn a lot of what we've learned, right, like, how do we change what we know and what we grew up in, right? This is literally the prevention of having to have those types of conversations, right? Like if we want to have an inclusive workspace, well, you start at education, you start teaching children young to be thoughtful about these things, then you're already half the battle by the time that they're in the workplace. Yeah, right. Like not that they're not going to learn certain things as they grow up, right. But if we can teach them to understand what it means to be a good person and what it means to be an ally at a young age, we're not going to have to reteach those things when they grow up.

Gabriela Acosta 47:41

Totally agree. I think this is really cool.

This episode was written and produced by me, Gaby Acosta and co hosted by

Jenelle Acosta 47:50

me, Jenelle Acosta!

Our music was written and produced by Emily Henry and I highly encourage you all to stop by our website. Take a look at Episode notes. Kathy has some amazing resources. We love to hear from you guys. Send us your messages about what made you feel something in this episode or any previous episode, if you have questions or topics for future episodes—we want to hear them. Subscribe to our newsletter on our website because that's where you're going to get the bulk of our content.

Gabriela Acosta 48:21

Here's Jenelle singing us out with this week's seed fund sponsors

Jenelle Acosta 48:25

Rehana, Mohammed and Tirna Singh, Stacey Mamakos, Sue Witeof, Suzanna Vaughan, Thelma Andre.

Kathy Lebron, Season 1 Episode 10


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