In this episode, I interview Deidra Fogarty, founder of Black Girls Teach, an organization that provides professional development and culturally responsive curriculum development for schools and educators around the country. Deidra is a DC-based educational consultant and master educator with more than 15 years of experience working in education.
Listen to the episode in the podcast player below, or find it on Apple Podcast or Spotify.
Speaking Up to Voice Your Concerns
Deidra from Black Girls Teach
Hello, Deidra. Thank you so much for being here today. I’m so excited to talk to you.
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Deidra, I have been following you on your social media handle. It’s Black Girls Teach. For anybody who this is the first time they’ve ever gained any exposure to you, do you mind sharing a little bit about your story and your story in education and what you do and why you’re so passionate about it?
Deidra’s Experience in Teaching & Leadership
Yeah. So I started working in education about 15 years ago. I was one of those teachers where I just always knew I was like I want to go into leadership. I want to do this, I want to do that. So that’s really what I prep myself for. Throughout my career worked at several different schools. And realizing that each school had its own set of issues.
Eventually when I did go into leadership, I was super excited. I was just like, yes, this is going to be it, I’m going to just take over education. It was a crazy experience and it just made me like, wait a minute, this is not what I planned. And so from that leadership position, ended up being a literacy coach. Again, I was like, okay, this is it, this will be my gem, this will be what I do.
And then ended up at a school where they completely transformed or changed just the leadership team. It was just a toxic environment. So again, that impacted me in terms of just how I felt about myself as an educator. Because I thought like, okay, my trajectory’s going up and now I’m like what am I doing?
So I went back into the classroom. I think I was in year 10. And that’s when I really started feeling like a failure. I was like, all right, I have this plan to be a leader. I’m no longer a leader. I’m a teacher, again. And in my mind I felt like that was not what was in store for me.
Finding a Support System
But then what I realized was when I started confiding in other Black women educators who were also my friends who just had different experiences that I went through. How I got to this point of feeling like, okay, I’m in leadership. And now I’m not in leadership, and now I’m doing this. They were the ones who really just wrapped their arms around me. And was just like, “Come on, you got this. We’re going to make the best of this situation. Let’s make a plan. Do not personalize this and make it seem like you’re the issue.”
And so from there I was just like, okay, well, wait a minute. They really got me back. They gave me strength to just realize that I am not the problem. There is a lot of systematic issues that are the problem and how I show up… I’m the type person that’s going to shine a light on it. It got me to thinking about just the power of being surrounded by other Black women educators. And how those same friends that I had, they were all at different schools.
Creating a Network with Black Girls Teach
Luckily I was able to be able to form a friendship with them, but we were all over spread apart. That prompted me to start Black Girls Teach. Because I wanted Black women educators to be able to have a support system. Be able to have a network. Be able to have professional development that was really geared towards their needs. It started from there and then it just grew into centering Black women educators.
But then also being able to support all educators across the country and still being able to center Black women educators. Which is not something I expected. I didn’t expect that I would have a community filled with just educators from all across the world. Men, women, everybody. Realizing that I was still able to center the voices, perspective, and needs of Black women educators in the work that I’m doing.
Where we are right now is we’re doing consulting. We’re doing workshops. We’re doing master classes – we’re doing so many different things for educators that are needed. But really being able to just shine the light on a lot of the issues that I experience and many other educators experience. We’re shining a light on it and we’re providing solutions for it. So that’s what I do. And that’s who I am.
The Importance of Community
I love that story. And I love that you took it from a challenge of something that was happening that was pretty crappy to you and turned it into, well, how do I this? Because so many times we find ourselves in situations that absolutely stink, and it’s easy to just back into a corner and just say, “Well, the system sucks, there’s nothing we can do about this.”
But creating a community of like-minded educators is so needed and so powerful, especially in the work environment, if you don’t feel like you have voices that are advocating for you, if you don’t feel like you are seen, like you have friends at your work environment, it is something that will drive teachers out of the profession. It drives people out of any employment, any career that they’re in. If they’re at a work environment where they don’t feel like they are heard, respected, valued.
I’ve found that there are so many teachers who struggle with teaching just based on feeling like the odd men out, whether it’s LGBTQ teachers working in different school environments that are asking them not to share pictures of their family. Or the African American teachers that are working at a school district that is mostly Caucasian women.
And even in my own perspectives from time to time, and this is not anywhere on the same scope, but just feeling like you are the teacher that may be a little bit more progressive. Your teaching style or your own thought beliefs are completely different than everybody else at your district can make you feel like you don’t fit. That you don’t have a voice. That you’re not able to articulate your own concerns when it comes to vocalizing what you think is important in education and what’s important for your own environment.
So you have focused on creating this community and creating a culture of change within education. And I wanted to ask a little bit about that. What does that look like to you?
Well, I think when I think about just change in general, I feel like it starts with making people aware. And so that’s always been me in a school. When I see that there’s an issue, I’m going to speak up and I’m going to say something. I always felt the ramifications of that. Because a lot of times people are not ready to hear the truth. I’ve always had to push through it.
What I have been able to do with our platform is highlight these issues that are happening in schools and really bring awareness to it.
Then I see what has happened with that is that educators have realized they’re not the only ones experiencing this, because oftentimes I talk about things that folks are not really trying to shine a light on. Or sometimes they don’t feel 100% comfortable saying this. Because somebody at their school might see that they posted this and then comes the big old thing. I’m like, I don’t care. I don’t care if somebody at my school sees it. I just didn’t. I’m like, whatever, I stand by what I said, like I said what I said.
And so by shining a light on it, it helps educators to realize, oh, I’m not the only one experiencing this, but then it also helps other educators to see, oh, wow, this is really a problem, yeah, it is. So it’s first starting to help people be more aware.
Then the next step is, okay, well, let’s analyze this, let’s really think about how we can unpack this issue, like what’s the root cause of it, how can we find solutions for it. I really charge educators with realizing we are the ones to create this solutions for it. We are the ones that have to be able to think about what are the ways that we can dismantle what’s happening.
I think a big part of it is more educators feeling comfortable with speaking up about it. Especially leveraging social media and being able to really just galvanize people and get them together and realize, okay, my voice matters. I do think it matters when we’re thinking about creating change. Because those same educators start to do those things in their school, they start to speak up, they start to challenge things.
Preparing Yourself for Ramifications of Speaking Out
Part of what I do in my master classes is teach educators when you do those things and you speak up, how do you brace yourself for what’s going to happen? How do you arm yourself and prepare for the negativity you might get back. The words you’re going to be called. The ramifications of doing this type of work so that educators are prepared and no longer afraid to say what needs to be said. Because they know what’s going to happen when they say this.
They know that someone’s going to feel some type of way. Someone’s going to discredit them. Someone’s going to say that they’re no longer a part of a committee. These are things that actually happen. What we do is name them and we provide educators with the tools to be able to best navigate that so that we can still continue pushing through and creating change.
So when I think about the culture of change and just like that is the work that we are doing intentionally every day. But I do think that a big part of it starts with helping people to be aware.
Can you give a couple of clear examples of things that people have posted even on their own personal, either teachergram accounts that have gotten them in trouble? Because I’ve heard stories. Something as simple as supporting Black Lives Matter, going to a protest. I know that I’ve posted photos of us with protest signs, and I received a lot of backlash from teachergram community. But I was no longer in the classroom.
But those who are in the classroom, it’s a little bit like a witch hunt right now. There’s parents circling around school districts trying to figure out who’s indoctrinating their students by teaching accurate history. And looking to see how they can get those people removed from their employment opportunities. Based on whether or not they said the word equity in the classroom once or twice.
Understanding your School District Policy
Yeah. One thing that I always tell teachers to do is you have to know whatever your handbook is, whatever the rules are, you need to know it. A lot of times teachers get their handbook and they don’t read it. They don’t know what they’ve signed off on. Sometimes schools will say certain things in regards to social media. And what you’re allowed to say, what you’re not allowed to say. And so from there, you need to know that right. Before you start building this platform and speaking up about these things on social media, know what the policy is in your district.
Now when I see teachers who are posting things and getting any type of negativity… I’ve seen it where teachers will say things about just things around classroom management like, oh, this practice is not okay. For example, I saw somebody who they were saying things about the use of clip charts. Which clip charts are like, okay, the different colors students have. When they do something in terms of their behavior that is considered negative, they move their clip down and that whole thing.
That was something that was taking place in that person’s school. And they did a post about it. They were just challenging why this is not right. Then that was met with, well, hey, we need to talk to you because a couple people saw that post and they felt this way about it. And some people got in their feelings and they took it personal.
That person was like, okay, well, maybe I need to either make my page private, take the post down. And it just became a big thing, but it also discouraged that teacher from just posting about those types of things, posting or just saying something that was getting us to think about things differently.
That’s why I say, sometimes it’s something like that. Sometimes we’re not even talking about race equity privilege, any of those things. It’s just things that, that school or that administration might be currently doing and you’re shining a light on it and using that on your page.
And so that’s just important to know like, okay, well, what are the rules in terms of what I can say and what I can’t say. And so in that particular instance, that person wasn’t breaking any rules. They were just saying what they were saying, but they were made to feel like what they did was wrong. And they did not know how to advocate for themselves. And it ended up being where they deleted the post and they were like, “I’m going to just going to make my page private.”
Voicing Your Opinion as a Teacher
And I feel like that was something going into teaching that I was terrified about. They told me in my college prep classes. “You’ll never have a cocktail photo on your Instagram ever again.” And I was like, well, shit. I was a bartender to put myself through college. Like all they have to do is do a tiny bit of research and they’ll find out that there were cocktails in my class.
Even this specific example, she doesn’t… I’m sorry, I’m assuming it’s someone who identifies as a woman. But sounds like she just had an opinion. And there’s freedom of speech. Imagine if it’s like Ted in accounting at a company is like, “I really like this Excel formula over another Excel formula.” Is that controversial?
But I feel like teachers have been silenced for so long. And taught that they are not allowed to ever have an opinion. To the point that saying something like, “I actually think that this might be a little bit harmful to how it impacts my students emotionally.”
I have an opinion on this, on my own personal page. And it’s turned into controversy. In a way that I don’t think it would, if it was a different industry or different demographic of people working in that industry.
Absolutely. And I think what I’m seeing happen is that sometimes school leaders are taking posts and things like that personally. It’s a personal attack. Where it’s like, no. This is someone’s page where they are critiquing things.
And when I talked to this person, I was like, is this something you’ve brought up in your school? And it was. So it’s like they brought it up as a concern in the school. But it wasn’t something that was ever addressed. So now they’re using their platform to shine a light on something. And there are a lot of teachers that agree with it.
I think when those types of situations happen… And I’ve seen it where sometimes somebody will post something and that would be controversial. Then in the comment, somebody’s like, “Well, I didn’t know this was a political account, and I prefer that you do this and you do that.”
Then that person either they’re like, “Well, if you don’t like it, you can unfollow.”
Or they’re like, “Okay, well,” and they stop posting things like that, because they don’t really want to ruffle feathers.
Part of what I really push teachers to do is you have to get out of that mentality where you’re going to please everybody. And if we’re not speaking up about these issues, they’re going to continue. So some of us are going to have to take the risk and speak up and challenge things.
When people are like, oh, I didn’t think this was a political account, okay, now you know. If you don’t like it, goodbye, it’s fine you can unfollow me, it’s not an issue. Versus saying, oh, well, you’re right, I’m going to just stop posting about these things, because again, that doesn’t change anything.
The Impact of Preventing Teachers from Advocating for Themselves and their Students
I’m going to stick to my cardigan of the day post. I have received the same pushback a couple of times where people said, “Well, I followed you for career advice or teacher transition or former teacher advice.”
And I’m like, “Sweetheart, I don’t want to sound condescending, but why do you think people are leaving?”
Like this is relevant to this situation. It is important to me to use a platform in a way that can advocate for the change I believe in. Because if not, I don’t know why I would be doing it.
Yeah. One of the things I want to say is… I was just talking to my community on an Instagram Live. And I was saying, “I don’t think people realize that if we continue to lose teachers – the impact that’s going to have on our students. The impact that it has on you when you make that decision. It’s a big deal.”
So part of it is just like, okay, we got to shine the light on what’s happening. So that maybe those teachers that want to remain in the profession remain. But then also those that decide like, okay, it’s time to move to something else are still feeling equipped to be able to do that and still be able to advocate for change. Still be able to be connected to the education community, but perhaps in another capacity.
The Impact of Not Voicing Your Concerns
And that’s something that I always talk to teachers about is positioning yourself and realizing if you’re in a toxic environment, you don’t have to stay there, you do not have to stay there and you shouldn’t, because it’s going to impact you one way or another.
And I’ve just seen too many teachers who are dimming their light and just like, okay, I’m just going to close my door and put my head down and just make it, I just need to make it. But it’s just like, why do you want to live like that? When you start doing that, and I know for me, when I started to do that, I started to… When I was dimming my light, I wasn’t speaking up in meetings anymore. I was just sitting there just like, because everything I say, you guys are going to have an issue with it, so I’m just going to be quiet.
But then when I went into a new job, I was still doing that. And then I remember they were like, wow, you’re so quiet. And I was just like, well, I had to protect myself so much and dim my light that now I’m in a place where it’s okay for me to speak up and say things, but I’m still doing the same thing I was doing before.
So those behaviors that I had to protect myself really became part of my personality. That’s dangerous to me because that means I’m not speaking up, that means I’m not shining a light on things and getting people to reflect on things. That’s something I talk to teachers about where it’s just like, if that is what you have to do to be surviving in your current role, you got to think twice about whether this is the role for you and this is the school for you. You don’t have to stay in a toxic environment that’s going to make, you have to adapt in this type of way.
Effectively Communicating Your Concerns
Do you ever share any strategies to help people effectively communicate concerns without being labeled a “negative teacher?” because that is a skill in itself. I am salty, I have salty opinions. I have started to get a lot better at voicing those in a respectful and professional way without taking it over the top. Because there has to be compromise on both ends, even on your own end when you do communicate this, because if you want to change, you do have to respect other people’s opinions, especially those above you as well, and find some middle ground and collaborate.
Yeah. So we have communication classes that we do is because a lot of… Last year I was doing a lot of focus groups with teachers just to get more of idea of their struggles and things like that. And I was seeing that communication was often a root of a lot of issues where people. Were not feeling comfortable having difficult conversations. And then one day would say something, it would just come out any old way.
And for myself as a Black woman, I feel like when I say things a certain way, it can be perceived as negative aggressive, all of those different things, no matter how I say it. So someone’s going to call me that because I’m saying things in a very… I’m assertive. I’m just going to say whatever it is.
Using Direct Communication
But we teach educators how to be able to communicate concerns very directly. And part of that means that we’re teaching them… We have actual master classes on communication, like I said, and we’re having practice and they’re getting scenarios.
This is the issue with a coworker, and now you need to address it. Let’s practice, let’s do it. I’m the coworker. And then we give them feedback on those actual things, because we can’t control the names that people may say. They might call us this, they might call us that, but we can control how we respond to things, we can control how we enter conversations.
One technique that I often use is, and I tell teachers this where it’s just like if you know you’re going to say something, like you’re in a meeting and you’re going to say something that is going to ruffle feathers, I always say this.
“So I’m going to say something right now and I just want to name that this may ruffle feathers. And I just want to name that sometimes when people do say things, they’re called assertive, they’re called negative. And I really want you to step away from that and just listen to what I’m about to say.”
Just naming those things that people automatically do. And then you say what you need to say.
Communication & Responding
And I always tell teachers, we’re not responding to things when we are angry, we’re not responding to things after we haven’t processed whatever it is that we’re feeling, we’re not responding to things until we know what is the outcome that you want. What do you want to happen from this conversation?
Because when you’re responding things from a place of emotion, then it has a tendency to come out in a way that you might not like it. And I even have said before where I’m like, I’m going to say something and I’m going to sound very passionate, because… So you might see me talk with my hands, my voice might be a little bit louder. That’s because I’m passionate and I just want to name that. And then I say whatever it is that I need to say, because it’s like you’re prepping people for what their tendency is to do when they hear somebody talking with their hands or talking loudly or-
She’s mad. She’s aggressive.
Exactly. And it’s just like that’s not what it is. I’m being passionate. And so I just want to name that before I XYZ.
Communicating with Administration
And the last thing I do is we teach teachers when you are applying for jobs in schools, how to start. Like when you’re going through that interview process and talking to the school leader, letting them know I’m a teacher that is very vocal, I’m a teacher that does speak up, I’m a teacher that is going to raise my hand in a meeting and question that, how do you feel about that?
When you’re going through these jobs, it’s not just about you being interviewed, I’m interviewing the leader because I need to know if you can handle this. I need to know if you’re okay with the teacher who is going to speak up and say what’s on their mind.
And some leaders won’t. And that’s okay. That means you’re not the school I need to work at. You’re not the job I need to work at. But if you know you have a personality where you’re not going to bite your tongue, you might as well say that during the interview process. And if someone is with that and they like it, then cool, if not, then that’s fine too.
Finding a School that Aligns with You
Yeah. Have you seen that, that blocks people from opportunities often? Have you heard back from people who have used that strategy in interviews on how it actually worked for them?
I have actually seen some people. So when we are coaching teachers through this landing the job process, I’ve seen teachers who have not gotten the job, who have done that. And I’ve seen teachers who have. But it feels good them where it’s like I didn’t get it and that’s fine, because I’m going to show up as my authentic self. And if that’s not what they want, then that’s not the job for me.
Versus if you say that and the school is like, “Yes, we love that, we need that here, that’s what we want.” Okay, that’s what you’re going to get. So I think part of it is teachers realizing that you are the asset, meaning you are the hot commodity, you are the one that, that schools need or consulting companies or whomever they need. You are it. You have to believe that.
So it’s like you’re not interviewing me, I’m interviewing you. And I have multiple options and you’re just one of them on the list. And so teachers have to go into it like that. So you should be vetting them. You should be vetting to make sure that you’re at a school that’s going to accept your full self or whether it’s a school or organization or whatever, you want to be able to show up as your full self. So if that means you’re weeding them out by letting them know who you are, then you have to be okay with that.
Working in a School that Does Not Align with Your Values
I could not agree more. I had two schools that I was grateful for the opportunity to work in education – I loved my students. The students were not the issue for me, but a lot of it was the culture. And the last school district was just a very toxic administrator. And I wish that I would’ve been able to see that in those first few minutes of what working in that work environment truly did to me.
Because it really does take a lot of you or a lot out of you to be in an environment where you are completely sticking out a sore thumb and constantly watched and constantly micromanaged and constantly dangling that you’re probably going to lose your job at any moment, just because I just don’t like you kind of feeling, not because of anything you’re necessarily doing, but let me just have this power.
Training in Communication
I feel like schools fall short with admin training. But also, one thing that I heard from you and hearing what you’re doing to how to support teachers that I never really thought about is how short schools really fall when it comes to teaching effective conflict deescalation, especially in today’s times.
Because I’ve moved on and I’ve worked at different companies and we have all these different types of trainings of how to efficiently communicate with one another and work as a team. But I’m not sure if that’s something that’s incorporated itself into a school environment.
I haven’t seen it. And that’s one of the reasons why we had to do it because no one is really teaching teachers how to have effective communication. And so one of the organizations we were working with was like a pre-service teacher organization. So they’re training teachers before they’re actually full time teachers. So we’re working with them while they’re working with mentor teachers.
The core areas that we talk about is just communication, because, to me, I feel like if teachers know how to effectively advocate for themselves how to have a challenging conversation, how to set boundaries, how to just be able to name things that might not be as easy to discuss, those are core skills, foundational skills to me.
Developing Skills in Communication
And I see that a lot of teachers, when we looked at the root cause of a lot of issues that were happening, it was because of ineffective communication and at the leadership level as well. These are some skills that some leaders do not have. And so if we were getting training in this and actually spending our staff development days, like let’s practice having challenging conversations, let’s practice what does that look like when it’s with your colleague, what does that look like when it’s with a parent, what does it look like with your school leader.
Because there are going to be times where you’re going to have to have a challenging conversation with your school leader. But we’ve been conditioned to just avoid it and just be like, oh, whatever, I’m not talking to her anymore. Like if it’s our colleague, they said something, oh, it’s okay, I don’t like her, I’m not talking to her. Or if it’s your leader, you just go in there and smile and just keep everything that you say to yourself, because you don’t want to lose your job.
It’s just been so normalized. And it’s like, well, imagine if we actually taught educators how to develop these skills, imagine how much confidence, because that’s what it does too, it builds confidence. When you can advocate for yourself or there’s a conflict and you’re like, “Okay, well, I want to talk to you about this, do you have a moment?” And we’re having a conversation and it’s resolved, you feel unstoppable. You’re like, okay, I can do this.
It’s a muscle. You get more comfortable with it. But then when we are not doing that, I feel like it doesn’t have a positive impact on you when you’re just holding everything in. So that’s one of the reasons why we really, really focus on communication with educators, because I feel like it’s a game changer for them.
Yeah. That’s something that I had to learn in therapy a little bit of sentence frames of how to acknowledge other people’s points of view while I’m talking to them. Because it is a skill. It’s not something that everybody knows right off the bat. But also starting to work on yourself personally will give you the clarity of, I really did all that I could to try and collaborate and to try and make some positive changes in this educational environment. And that did not work for me. So I’m packing my bags. I’m going out.
I gave it the old college try, I did my all. And that’s something that some teachers absolutely need because you are ready to bend over backwards to stay in a profession where you’re completely unhappy until you know you’ve checked off all the boxes because that’s just where your heart is, and it’s such a difficult decision.
Leveraging Social Media to Advocate for Change
I wanted to talk a little bit about teachergram social media in general, because I know that this is something that you’re very passionate about is leveraging social media to fight for change, to advocate for change. And also maybe some of the controversial, but uses of buzzwords on teachergram, but without a lot of substance or actionable advice behind the buzzwords. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Yeah. I think that I’m a big fan of just Instagram in the sense of educators really being able to leverage their expertise and position themselves right out there. So more people have access to the work that they’re doing. But I think what can be dangerous and what I think it just is dangerous is that when there are educators that build a following, but really there’s no substance behind it.
Meaning they’re building a following and maybe they’re hopping on the being their anti-racist educator bandwagon and having a couple posts about it, but then that’s that. There’s no, like you said, action steps. And those are the types of things that just really rub me the wrong way where it’s like, okay, you have this platform. You have hundreds of thousands of educators that are following you. And either you’re choosing not to talk about specific things, like we said. Or you are randomly throwing things out there for people to just grab because it’s going to get a lot of likes, but then that’s that. There’s nothing else.
Delving Deeper into the Issues that Matter To You
And I think that sometimes the words anti-racism, equity, privilege, diversity, equity, inclusion, those things, I feel like sometimes we have to really unpack those words and really show what that means versus just having a post where we’re using the terms and it sounds good, but it’s just like, do people even know what that means? What does that look like in your classroom, what does that look like in your school, what does that look like when you’re doing whatever XYZ in your classroom?
And I think a lot of times folks just fluff over it and that’s not really helping. It might be helping you to look like you are a socially conscious educator, but that’s not helping the cause, that’s not doing the work of really supporting teachers with really grappling with this because there are teachers that are really…
One of the schools that I’m working with, really just trying to… And it’s a predominantly white school, predominantly white staff, predominantly white students, but they’re totally just invested and ready to do this work of being anti-racist educators, but there are things that they are grappling with. There are just so many things.
Showing the Process & Sharing Reflections
Even with somebody’s platform, taking those small decisions of, okay, like for example, let’s say that there is a book about a specific topic and you just are not comfortable with talking about that. How do you move past the discomfort? How do you push or unpack that discomfort?
That’s something that someone could be posting about and just grappling with, even though you’re not showing you’re the expert, you’re just showing that this was a topic that I really realized I need to really dig deeper into, because I just didn’t feel comfortable. And I chose not to read the book and now my students didn’t get that experience. So let me unpack this. Let me think about where that discomfort lies.
Even just sharing that versus just saying the buzzwords, just sharing the own reflection that you have to go through and naming that none of this just easy, but just being transparent and showing that part of the process.
And so part of what I really challenge educators to do is to let’s move away from these buzzwords, let’s really unpack them and really show what that means and dig deeper into whatever the root issue is.
Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone
Yeah. I think you talked about a couple things that made me reflect on my own past experience as an educator. And I’m embarrassed to say it. If I could have gone back and changed the way that I did things in the classroom, I 100% would. I vocalized concerns on multiple occasions about things that I felt were injustice at some of the school districts I was working at. But I would probably say I only did that 20 to 30% of the time. And the other times I just talked crap about it behind my school’s back about how dumb I thought it was or how gross it was or how it made me feel about education.
But I was sitting from a place of comfort. I didn’t want to constantly push and push and push on something because I didn’t want to be uncomfortable, but that’s not fair, because other people are uncomfortable 100% of the time because of the things that I was seeing.
And that’s something that reflecting on that and knowing that you can be a voice that is an ally, a true ally for other people from your position of comfort, and that we just have to shift the mindset of we don’t get to be comfortable. Things have gone too far for too long and we should not be sitting in a position of comfort.
Deidra, Founder of Black Girls Teach, Speaks about Being an Ally
But also recognizing that a lot of people don’t have access to the information and they’re scared to do something that they haven’t done enough research into or sounds stupid. And so a lot of times it needs to be a template of what do I do? How do I approach my district to make a change, but lay out the four steps of exactly what books everybody recommends I read?
And with that, that’s putting the weight on other people to do the research for them, which also stinks. So where are one or two places that they can go do you think to find resources to help them learn to become better allies without asking all those questions?
I think a big part of being an ally is listening. And so that means examining who am I listening to and where are the spaces that I can listen? And so I think listening on social media, you can be following educators that are sharing their experiences about different things. That’s one place.
That might be podcasts, listening to podcasts. That might be ones that you wouldn’t traditionally listen to. That could be even just listening to the people on your staff. If there are people of color or people from marginalized communities that are sharing things, how are you listening to them? Actively listening. Listening without feeling like, okay, I’m going to add my own interpretation to it. You have to listen.
Continuous Listening & Reflection
One of the things too is that I know that sometimes we want to feel like there’s this certain book that we can read or there’s going to be something that’s going to… All these things are going to be helpful. So you reading books about being anti-racist and things like that, but there’s never really a stopping point.
So knowing that this is like lifelong work and it means that you have to really make the commitment to continuously reflect and also just get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And so that means examining the spaces that you are in, examining the decisions that you make for yourself, the decisions you make for your children, the decisions you make for your students. It means really being able to self reflect.
For me, I say that if someone is really serious about really just doing that self-reflection so that they can more of an ally in terms of in an actionable way, examine those things in terms of who are you listening to? How can you increase your ability to actively listen?
Because I think that’s a skill as well where it’s just like, how am I actively listening to people that don’t look like me or whose experiences are not like my own. And I know for me, one of the things that I’m really pushing myself to do more of is listening to more folks from the LGBTQ community, because that is something that I’ve realized like, okay, I need to really put up myself in spaces where I am doing more listening so that I can understand so that I could truly be an ally.
A Journey of Allyship
And so that means that, that goes for all of us. We all should be striving to be on this journey to allyship, journey of allyship. It’s not like no one gets to check out. And some folks get to check out, but for me, I just don’t feel… I’m like, I don’t get to check out. How can I be an ally to other people?
And so the big thing to me is listening. There are tons of people who are doing this work and so listening to them, but then also supporting them as well. And so when I think about support that can also look like if there is a teacher in your school who is saying something. Who is having those controversial opinions, and they’re the only person in the room. Are you listening to them? Are you speaking up and saying, actually I agree with so and so.
Right. And you say, I 100% agree with what she is saying so that the more vocal.
Yeah, that’s so important. And that’s part of being an ally as well. That’s why I say sometimes we want to skip, like if there are people in our school or in our circle that we can be allies for, a lot of times, we just want to jump and donate to this organization and this and that. But it’s just like you have some of you have people right in your building, in your school or at your job that you can be starting to do this work with. So I think a big part of it is self reflection and listening.
Educational Consulting with Black Girls Teach
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. You are such a great asset for people to learn from. And I want to hear a little bit more about what you do with educational consulting and how you actually work with teachers.
Yes. So let’s talk about educational consulting first. So I work directly with either schools or teacher prep organizations. And we do a lot of work that’s centered in diversity, equity and inclusion. So the school that we’re working with now, we’re really helping them to truly unpack what does it mean to be an anti-racist school? What does it mean to be an anti-racist educator?
And it’s really like a year long and it probably will be more time that we’re going to work with them, commitment. I actually was just in Los Angeles a couple weeks ago. Their school is in the Hollywood Hills. And I was just telling somebody, I never would’ve expected to be working with the school of the Hollywood Hills, but that’s the power of social media, because one of the reasons why we were able to get that contract was because we created a masterclass.
There was someone who came to the masterclass and they were just so inspired by the masterclass that we had. They went back and they advocated for us to work with their school. We met with the principal, we met with the leadership, and then eventually we were able to start doing this work. And it’s powerful work.
Black Girls Teach Work Developing Women of Color for Leadership Roles
And so we do work with schools in the areas of diversity equity inclusion, but we also have opportunities to develop women of color in terms of leadership positions. So we have affinity spaces that we work with schools and organizations on for women of color to help them with, like I said, being able to have the skills to go into leadership. But then also we’re working with early career women of color to develop the skills of communication of just having to advocate for yourself, things like that. So those are the services that we have directly with schools.
Also there are some schools that want to do work with having a more diverse teaching staff, being able to really meet the needs of their school, affinity groups, book clubs, things like that. So those are things that we offer as well.
And so when I think about customers and things like that and clients, we have the schools, but then we also have directly teachers. And so some of the things that we provide directly to teachers are we have monthly master classes that are geared toward whatever those things that teachers are needing that they know their school is not going to provide for them, that’s where we come in. So we’re providing those professional development sessions that are really geared towards teachers needs.
Black Girls Teacher Membership Community for Black Women Educators
We also have a membership community for Black women educators. And so that really, again, is a personal and professional development community where they’re getting trainings on any and everything that is going to equip them to be able to navigate different challenges they experience.
And then we also have started small group coaching, where right now I’m teaching… I have where we’re talking about just social media. And so that’s the focus of it, really positioning yourself on social media to be able to do this transformational work.
And then our next cohort, we’re going to be talking about just positioning yourself for whatever it is that you want to do. So if that means that you want to become a school leader, how do you start positioning yourself strategically to do that. If that means you want to get into consulting and do the work that I’m doing, how do you position yourself to do that? Because it’s a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s like a lot of the things that you talk about and your platform, there are things that we have to do in order to get to that point.
Working on Mindset with Teachers: You are an asset.
And then the last bucket is a lot of the work we do is mindset work, because teachers have been devalued for so long where some of us are feeling like we don’t matter, we can’t do this type of job, we can only be a teacher or their voice is not important. So there is so much mindset work that we do where eventually teachers realize like, wait a minute, no, I am the asset, I’m the asset, I don’t have to be at this school, I can get a job somewhere else and be fine.
There’s a light bulb that comes on after we have a masterclass called you are the asset that we did. And there’s a light bulb that turned. And once that light bulb is on, teachers are… I had a teacher who was like, “I quit my job, and I got a $20,000 salary increase by advocating.” They’re applying this information and realizing, yes, you’re the asset, you can do that. You don’t have to stay stuck anywhere where you’re not happy.
And so a lot of that is that’s that mindset part where people, we have to start realizing whether you are a first, second, third year teacher or a veteran teacher, you are the asset. You have something to offer and you do not have to remain somewhere that doesn’t appreciate that.
Deidra’s Transition from Teaching
And so that is a lot of the work that we are doing. And I do this full time now. I left the classroom. Because I was doing this while I was teaching, but I left the classroom in May right before they were trying to get me to go back into the building. And I was just like, do I really want to go back into this building? I was like, I just don’t because it was a toxic environment. And I loved my students, I loved the teachers I worked with, but I was just feeling like I want to be able to devote my full time and my full energy to this work that I’m doing.
So I exited, I resigned. And I did not look back. And since I’ve resigned, there has been 18 staff members that have resigned. So I was like, I think I feel like I started like a wave of people who are like, yeah. And part of it is sad though, because I’m like I think about the students.
But that’s what happens when you are in a toxic environment, people are going to leave. And people, once they see one person who they did not expect to leave, which was me, I think it opened up like, okay, yeah, I need to go somewhere else.
Working in Educational Consulting
Now I’m doing this full time. Also, I work part time for an educational consulting company, which I keep telling teachers, I’m like, “Listen if you leave, educational consulting companies are hiring teachers.” And I get to pick my shifts. I can be virtual or if I want to do something in person, I can do it in person. And they’re paying for hotels, they’re paying for your car. They’re paying for all this stuff. And I’m showing up and doing a presentation. And I like that. I like that. I love it.
That’s what I’ve been doing for the last four or five years I’ve been. It’s called a learning consultant, but educational consulting. I left for a little bit for instructional design and I was like, no, I’m going to go back to the more flexible option. So couldn’t agree more.
Feeling Devalued as an Educator
We went over a lot. I want to touch a couple things that you said for sure. The career low self esteem that I see so many teachers have the imposter syndrome just from feeling devalued is real. And people don’t realize it’s them, because they’re in the middle of it. So they’re like, I’m listening to so many other teachers who were successful on getting out of the classroom, but that’s not me. I’m not good enough. And then finally they’re like, “Oh wait, that is me. I am good enough.”
It finally clicks towards the end and they realize like, I don’t know how it got to be so bad, but it did over the years. And I love that you have something completely geared towards that, but if I could talk to you for a million years, I would. We do need to cut it short. But Deidra, what would be the best place for them to find all these resources? Is that blackgirlsteach.com?
Yes. They can go to our website. I would definitely highly recommend you follow us on Instagram. We offer tons of opportunities for educators to be a part of our community. Sometimes people hear the name Black Girls Teach and they’re like, “Oh, well is everything just for Black women educators?”
I always say, I’m always going to center Black women educators in everything that I do, but we offer inclusive spaces for anybody who is invested in this work and anybody that really understands that it is important to center Black women educators. It is important to listen to Black women educators. Tap in and listen and share and grow with us. We are a community that is about bringing about change. So definitely check out the website, the Instagram handle and just tap into the work that we’re doing.
Thank you so much for being here today. I just really appreciate you taking the time to speak to this audience. Such an important episode and just so grateful to finally get to meet you.
Yes. Thank you for having me. I love this conversation.
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Related Podcast: EP 43 – Alexis Shepard: Advocating for Teachers
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