Betsy Leach: Contemplative Education & Multicultural Education

Naropa_Mindful_Podcast-Betsy-Leach

The newest episode of our podcast, Mindful U, is out on iTunesSpotify, Stitcher, and Fireside now! We are excited to announce this week’s episode features podcast host, Betsy Leach, instructor in Naropa’s BA in Elementary Education program.

play-icon  Betsy Leach: Contemplative Education & Multicultural Education

Join us as we sit with Betsy Leach, Elementary Education instructor at Naropa, and discuss the multicultural aspects of public education, and how training in contemplative practices can enhance the experience for everyone. “My experience with students has always been that when they feel like you’re real–like you’re being genuine rather than pretending to be some perfect authority figure…they trust you and they are willing. I had students telling other students “You got to be good for Miss Leach because she keeps it real, and she’s going to have your back!” That to me was huge, especially going into teaching at 22, with only a summer of training. It was really important to bring that humility, and not to pretend to know more than I did, and to be really transparent with students. When I had a bad day, where my lesson was not engaging, I would say “That wasn’t as awesome as I wanted it to be. What could I have done better?”

Full transcript below.

Betsy Leach taught in K-12 public schools for ten years teaching Spanish for Heritage Speakers and Spanish as a world language earning the 2017 UNC Language Teacher of the Year Award. She believes education should be a practice of liberation and empowerment. She specializes in multicultural education and culturally responsive teaching as well as community engagement strategies and inclusivity. Throughout her career, she has founded a Latin@ Student Union, a Spanish-speaking Parent Coalition, a Seal of Biliteracy program, and a Heritage Spanish program. She is also an education consultant around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Betsy finds fulfillment in helping students connect with their strengths and building authentic relationships. She believes excellent teaching is grounded in self-awareness and attunement with one’s students and contemplative practices are essential to those abilities. She lives in Boulder with her partner and his daughter. She enjoys being in nature, playing soccer, and practicing yoga.

Full transcript
Betsy Leach
“Contemplative Education and Multicultural Education”

[MUSIC]

Hello. And welcome to Mindful U at Naropa. A podcast presented by Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

I’m your host, David Devine. And itÕs a pleasure to welcome you. Joining the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions – Naropa is the birth place of the modern mindfulness movement.

[MUSIC]

DAVID:
Hello, today I’d like to welcome Betsy Leach to the podcast. Betsy is a teacher in the Elementary Education program. She has taught in public education for the past 10 years. And specializes in multicultural education, community engagement and inclusivity. Thank you for coming to speak with me and how are you today?

BETSY LEACH:
I’m well. How are you David?

DAVID:
I’m pretty good. So, I’m curious who are you? Tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you find your way to Naropa? How did you find your way into this position? And maybe even how did you find your way into teaching in education?

BETSY LEACH:
ItÕs a big one, but — so I guess at the beginning. I realized I wanted to be a teacher late in college. So, I was in school at Oberlin College in Ohio. And, very uninspired by politics classes. And happened luckily to take a class called, Education in the Black Community where my profession really made the connection for me between education and social justice. I went to a very unusual Quaker boarding school for middle school and high school where I had the privilege of learning about white privilege, racism, inequity uh social justice, pacifist movements since the 6th grade and so for me social justice was the thing. It felt like a responsibility. It felt like a civic duty and just you know what felt important to me about being human and so — I naively became a politics major in college and then — never felt inspired or connected in those courses and so when I took this class — education in the black community I took it because it had a practicum component and so you were paired with students in the local elementary school so that while you are critiquing and studying the education system and how education can be used as a means of creating more equity and justice in the world — you’re also working with kids.

And so, I loved that piece!

DAVID:
I love that. That’s so good.

BETSY LEACH:
That piece was hopeful while you are learning about all the injustice that is the reality but you’re working with these phenomenal kids at the same time.

So that was my — that is how I came to teaching and then I was recruited by Teach for America who — the organization allowed me to right out of college since I was not an education major — allowed me to spend a summer training and then go right into teaching, which I feel very grateful for because I learned more from my students those first two years than from Teach for America, from my college experience.

DAVID:
In the field experience.

BETSY LEACH:
In the field. And I personally — since — you know since experiencing Teach for America and having furthered my education about education I have some critiques about the program, but what I will say is that it — was an invaluable experience for me to work with students who really pushed me to become as excellent as a teacher as I could be as quickly as possible because they were so inspiring.

DAVID:
What age were you teaching in?

BETSY LEACH:
High school.

DAVID:
High school. Oh!

BETSY LEACH:
I started out high school Spanish and I’ve always loved teenagers. I’ve always been drawn to that age group because you can be yourself in the sense that you can always be yourself with kids but you could really bring your sarcasm and your sense of humor and your eccentric personality and so I felt like — high school really allowed me to have that rapport with students — that feels natural to me. Yeah so that was an amazing experience.

DAVID:
Does sarcasm and bringing some fun characteristics to the classroom — does that enhance the classroom experience? Does that create bonds with students? Does that allow people to show up a little bit differently and just enjoy the education?

BETSY LEACH:
I think so I — my experience with students has always been that when they feel like you’re real — like you’re being genuine rather than pretending to be some perfect authority figure above them — they trust you and they are willing — so I had students you know telling other students you got to be good for Miss Leach because she keeps it real and she is going to you know have your back. And so, that to me was huge especially going into teaching at 22 with only a summer of training it I think was real important to bring that humility also and not pretend to know more than I did and to be really transparent with students when I had a bad day where my lesson was not engaging and say — that wasn’t as awesome as I wanted it to be. What would you — what could I have done better. What you know constantly asking for feedback and just letting them know I care. I am not always going to be the best teacher. So please let me know what you need.

DAVID:
I don’t even think I’ve had a teacher in my public education experiences where they were wanting critiques. What is it like getting critiques from students? What kind of critiques do you get and like you’re horrible or like oh my God I love this class. I like this topic a lot — let’s emphasize this a bit more. Like what kind of feedback do you get?

BETSY LEACH:
Well, I have to say my students those first two years were incredibly generous with me. They — and that’s not because I was amazing.

DAVID:
You weren’t too off being a teenager yourself.

BETSY LEACH:
Right, and so I — because I was teaching in a school where unfortunately it was classified as a failing school which we have to be really careful about the way we classify public schools that often is a label that gets placed on schools that do not have a lot of resources and —

DAVID:
So, that’s how they label it failing if they don’t have resources or money is not coming in.

BETSY LEACH:
If they don’t have resources and students are performing poorly on standardized tests. So that’s a whole gigantic topic but often we see test scores and the immediate response, and this includes me back in the day in Teach for America thought oh the school is failing therefore the teachers must be failing you know it just seemed like oh trust that data. That we have to fix that. That’s the goal. And we certainly have to ensure that every single student is achieving however over my 10 years teaching I have come to have a very critical lens of the measures we’re using to determine achievement. So, if we’re purely looking at standardized tests, which are already have an ethnocentric bias — and which measure a very limited set of skills. That don’t really measure critical thinking, creativity, innovation — we have to be curious about labeling schools failing. Ok — so students aren’t scoring well on these ethnocentric standardized tests and the schools definitely need improvement but that to me is a question of resources not a question of seeing the problem in the students or necessarily in the teachers sometimes itÕs within the teachers and sometimes not. So that’s — a tangent there. But I mention —

DAVID:
That’s an interesting tangent. I almost like want to go there.

BETSY LEACH:
We can go there too.

DAVID:
All right. I mean I have a question about that. I am curious like when it comes to an idea of — of a failing school or just a school that is not performing up to the standardize testing scores or whatever — I mean essentially, itÕs probably not the students and maybe itÕs not the teachers itÕs probably like the environment. It might be the curriculum. It might be so many different other factors that we don’t even investigate or even dive into. We don’t even look into the school board comes over to you to your school and says here you go — make sure they are following all these things and then when you do that test on the school, you’re like ok well maybe they are not following this all right. But maybe that test is kind of rigged to make it look like you are failing.

BETSY LEACH:
Right.

DAVID:
And not how you’re saying creativity, innovation, all these like different things that the kids could be super inspired and be — leaders in different worlds but we’re not allowing that to be showcased?

BETSY LEACH:
Exactly. And so, it’s such a complex — I mean the achievement gap, which I prefer when scholars use the term opportunity gap because — it’s so complex, but I prefer opportunity gap because it’s taking a look at the gap in resources and opportunities that different students have rather than a deficit that the students are producing, right which is that achievement.

And so, it is so complex. But, I think that’s — these are the conversations I’m having with my students and in courses now — these students are going to be future educators is really critiquing the way our system is designed big picture, as well as, how do you teach an engaging lesson — because so often the schools that already start out with fewer opportunities and resources in communities with fewer opportunities and resources — are the ones that then get labeled as failing and therefore closed down or all the teachers are fired.

Whereas a school that’s in an affluent neighborhood potentially because of the privilege that many of those students bring. They’re going to do fine on the standardized test scores — not great but fine on the whitewashed standardized test scores. And so, those schools are allowed to thrive, and they’re given more resources and quality teachers are drawn to those schools. And so, it’s just actually widening the gap by penalizing so-called failing schools because of test scores alone — essentially. And that’s not to say that there aren’t many ways of improving schools that are in low income communities. But it’s not about improving the students, right, it’s about improving the inequity in our political, economic education systems to me.

And so — so that was very interesting, you know, being a part of Teach for America where the national dialogue tends to see the problem as being within teachers. Oh, therefore we need to get all these young kids from Ivy League schools into the public schools. That’s essentially the mission of Teach for America — in order to achieve educational equity. The — an unintended consequence of that was that many teachers from the communities where they were teaching ended up getting fired. And those are teachers who have bonds with parents, with students. They understand the community and we’re just throwing in these new beat white teachers into those schools. And that is incredibly problematic.

DAVID:
Wow — unrelatable.

BETSY LEACH:
Yes, unrelatable and it was very upsetting to me to watch many of my Teach for America colleagues go in with this vision of social justice and because they could not connect with students and it was so hard — they began shifting the blame onto the students and starting to say things like these kids don’t care about school, right. These parents don’t care about their kids’ education and they start to — to put all these deficits within students rather than seeing that they are unprepared to teach.

DAVID:
Where is that internal critique coming? Is that like an ego base thing and that’s sad it comes to that. So, when you’re speaking of lack of resources — what does lack of resources actually mean?

BETSY LEACH:
So, this first school that I worked in, you know, you were supplying your own copy paper.

DAVID:
What?

BETSY LEACH:
Yeah, there were blackboards and you know projectors on desks rather than when I later worked in an affluent middle class, mostly white school we all had smart boards and I never bought my own copy paper, right. It’s just a very different ask of teachers — if want to give your student — I mean if you wanted to bring art into your curriculum, you’d be buying all of that yourself. And then in terms of teacher resources — that very much depends on the school. But there were many — in the first school that I worked at there were many teachers that would put on the Rugrats — you know Nickelodeon TV show if they didn’t feel like teaching that day. So, stud, this is the first time I’ve had to use a pencil today and it was the last period of the day. And so, a system — and that’s tricky because it’s sounding like I’m blaming the teachers — now and sometimes that’s true and sometimes it’s not. But ultimately the system that asks teachers for very little pay to also be buying your own supplies and then giving no support in terms of culturally responsive curriculum not giving the right professional development. Teachers get burnt out. Teachers get jaded. So, it’s this cycle that is very hard to break as one teacher within a big public school.

DAVID:
Yeah. I have this little idea where it’s — it’s easy to be lazy. It’s super easy to not care to not do anything to be lazy and just kick back. And it’s kind of hard to be inspired and to move forward and do all that, but it’s the most hardest to transition between the two. It’s so hard to transition from being lazy to being inspired. Like that middle point is where I find it the most difficult, but that’s where the real work is done. And it kind of feels like the school, the teachers, the students, the parents they all need to kind of like shift together. And we also need a pair teachers with the right sort of education systems. People who work in the communities need to be with the community.

BETSY LEACH:
Exactly.

DAVID:
Because that’s where the real good stuff is.

BETSY LEACH:
Exactly.

DAVID:
You know, because then you know everyone. You can actually like speak to them from your heart. And they can feel you and be like wow maybe you’re right.

BETSY LEACH:
Right. You can relate to my experience. You understand me. Yeah, I would say that I think so much what happens is that — we know all students want to learn. All students come to school excited to learn. All parents care that their students get a good education. And I would say that most teachers if not all teachers get into teaching because they’re inspired and want to teach. See you have all these people — students, parents, teachers coming to schools inspired — wanting to teach and learn.

So therefore, when that starts to not happen — when we see students appear to be unmotivated — we need to ask the question why? Clearly what we are teaching and the way in which we’re teaching is not — does not feel relevant, does not feel inspiring. The feedback — to go back to feedback when you asked me about that — a lot of the feedback that has taught me so much from students is about the education system feeling oppressive. And many teachers — forms of teaching feeling oppressive. And curriculum feeling alienating. Because the curriculum does not include them.

The curriculum does not include their history. Sometimes it will blatantly say, for example, a lesson about the first — the first people in Texas and the people that the textbook is referring to are the white people — settlers who moved westward.

DAVID:
Who wrote that book?

BETSY LEACH:
I don’t know. To be honest I don’t teach using that textbook clearly. But that great book for anyone to read is, “Lies My Teacher Told Me Because,” his last name is Loewen — the author of that book. He surveyed the majority of the most used textbooks in the U.S. for the past decades. And that is not one anecdote. That is when I refer it to ethnocentric whitewashed curriculum. That’s not my opinion — that is if you look at the textbooks and you compare it with the actual history. There are either whole pieces of history are either left out or glossed over — or sometimes changed so that we paint this picture of this happy melting pot. Positive triumphant US history rather than acknowledging the genocide, slavery —

DAVID:
Wow, so much is lost.

BETSY LEACH:
Continued inequity because you know — students can never examine why inequity exists, right? Why some schools are failing. There’s no ability to analyze that if you aren’t getting the full history — real history. Right, you’re just getting this one slice. So, students would say that — they know that. Right, so one form of great critical thinking and resistance is to say I’m not going to learn a history that marginalizes my people — that lies to me about this history nor am I going to learn from teachers who clearly whether they say it blatantly or not — think that I don’t care. And think less of me, right. That have all this unconscious bias about me as a student.

DAVID:
Wow, that goes deep.

BETSY LEACH:
Yeah.

DAVID:
Some things on there. Ok.

BETSY LEACH:
And so, I had students also — this was later at a school in Brooklyn in terms of feedback I’m so grateful that because I brought that humility saying let me know when things are not working. Students were very transparent with me and said these rules feel dehumanizing. It feels like our teachers don’t understand us. It feels like they’re scared of us. Right, these are all black and Latino students and majority white teachers. So, they see it all. They see the cultural disconnect. They see the unconscious bias. They see that the way the school is designed did not believe the best about them. And then they had great ideas. Here is — they drew a diagram. Here’s how this school is like a prison. Here is our vision. We still want rules. Rules are important. We want them to have a rationale. So, I’ve just found that students are always the best teachers. Students know what they need. Students are hungry to learn, but they want to learn the real history, they want to learn real life. They want to learn things that are relevant to their real lives.

DAVID:
I would assume most people want to learn the real news. You know, what kind of life is it if you’re learning not real?

BETSY LEACH:
Right, there’s no engagement there, right. Why would I get that, right?

DAVID:
All right. So, you spoke a little bit about this — I’d love to switch gears, so you taught a lot in multicultural settings. What does that actually mean? I like I sort of have an idea, but I’m just kind of curious from your point of view as an educator. Like what does that mean to teach in a multicultural setting and what does it mean to have like mixed cultures in a classroom? Like how do you teach in such a setting?

BETSY LEACH:
Well it’s interesting. So, my first school was not very multicultural. Actually, it was — I would say 80 percent of students were black and 20 percent of students were Latino. So, certainly there were two cultures within this school — two races within the school, but often I think we use the term multicultural to mean black and brown students. When really to me multicultural means a very diverse group of students, which requires black, brown, Asian, white. Right, a truly multicultural classroom. The full spectrum.

DAVID:
Like crayon box.

BETSY LEACH:
Right. And so, I have taught throughout my 10 years — I have taught in settings that were majority black and brown and I’ve taught in settings that are majority white.

And, so that has been very enlightening and upsetting to see the difference in terms of what — how teachers are trained to teach black and brown students versus how teachers are trained to teach white students and what is emphasized. For me, it was classroom management and control and keeping students in their seats as much as possible was emphasized when I was teaching black and brown students.

DAVID:
Because that’s how the school gets paid, right, is attendance?

BETSY LEACH:
Well, is attendance, yeah. And that to me just speaks to the racism and fear that’s embedded in our system and within people is that you think that black and brown students need to be controlled. Versus white students when I was training at that school, I was taught that students should be moving within every lesson. They should be up out of their seats. That we should be teaching critical thinking. I was given all of this actual pedagogy about how students learn and techniques that I had never received prior.

So, to me that speaks volumes about first of all why we’re seeing gaps in achievement and second what we believe in our systems about students of different races. And, that’s what has led me to multicultural education, which is about — it’s a pedagogy that is about liberation and about recognizing bias and examining it and talking openly with students so that we’re creating young people who know how to talk about racism, sexism, homophobia, bias and they are learning about all of that which is real life. The curriculum is connected with that. So, it’s not this sort of disconnected isolated unit on Westward expansion. You’re learning a unit — it might be called invasion from the east because westward expansion is teaching that from the perspective of the white settlers who moved West and murdered many Native Americans and stole their land, right. So, multicultural education — what it seeks to do is to ensure that history, math, English is being taught from multiple perspectives. So, students are not getting one slice — one ethnocentric slice. They’re able to hear from multiple perspectives and then use critical thinking to analyze their world.

DAVID:
It’s almost like they’re scared to say non-white classrooms.

BETSY LEACH:
Right.

DAVID:
So, they call them multicultural classrooms instead.

BETSY LEACH:
Right.

DAVID:
Wow.

BETSY LEACH:
And I think there’s also this misperception that we need multicultural education and culturally responsive pedagogy for black and brown students. It’s for those students. And to me that misses the point. Multicultural education is for everybody. Definitely white students, as well, because white students receiving this whitewashed curriculum are also being blinded to the actual reality.

DAVID:
It doesn’t serve us.

BETSY LEACH:
Exactly. That’s how bias gets perpetuated and instilled in us.

DAVID:
Yeah, we need a non-judgemental point of reference for everyone to learn the same stuff and to be taught critical thinking at the same time. You know, just engage the brain. Let’s do that. Engage the brain, engage the heart and you almost had some sort of like contemplative aspects to all inclusive bringing it all in.
And I kind of dig that.

BETSY LEACH:
Yeah that’s what excites me now about being at Naropa is to me this is the teaching program that I wish I had had. It took me ten years to learn all of this, right, through struggles and realizing that I had been teaching in a damaging way and having to hear that from students and really struggle with that and grapple with that and seek out through books and further study. There was no program that I knew of that allowed me to learn multicultural critical pedagogy along with getting your teacher licensure and receive that contemplative training, as well. As far as I know, we’re the first program teacher licensure program in the country to be training students in contemplative competencies that they can use as teachers and also bring to their students. So, to me it’s — you need all of that.

DAVID:
Everyone wins — yay. That’s what we want. We just want to give the knowledge out. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be. It’s everyone’s. This is for everyone. So, you work at Naropa and you said it took me ten years to get here. I’m curious, what is it you actually do? Like, tell me a little bit about your job. How you move with the students and how you show up.

BETSY LEACH:
Well so it’s the first official year of the program, which is very exciting. And so, we have a cohort of students right now who are both in education courses — to earn their major in elementary education and teacher licensure. And they’re also in practicum sites meaning they’re out in public schools observing and assisting teachers for every single education course. So, that’s what makes our program really unique. They’re in schools, right off the bat, their first year. Contemplative competencies like mindful awareness, embodied listening, compassion practices are woven into every single education course. And all students —

DAVID:
Did you just say compassion?

BETSY LEACH:
Compassion.

DAVID:
In education? What is going on here?

BETSY LEACH:
Isn’t that wild. The fact that it’s not an integral part of every teacher training program is mind boggling. It’s now becoming huge, you know, now teachers — current teachers are hungry for mindfulness training. So, we’re trying to give students that training, you know, as they’re learning to become teachers.

DAVID:
Yeah, classroom management — compassion training.

BETSY LEACH:
Precisely. If we — if we viewed classroom management as about being able to be compassionate with students and see what they need — it would look very differently than most.

DAVID:
It’s amazing how you treat each other when you can understand where you’re coming from.

BETSY LEACH:
Exactly.

DAVID:
Cool, sorry I didn’t mean to derail you.

BETSY LEACH:
No, always derail me. Its — that’s the most fun.

So, the contemplative competencies are in every class and then every single student that graduates with the teacher licensure also earns their culturally linguistically diverse endorsement, which is a mouthful that’s essentially that you know how to teach all students. So Naropa we don’t believe that that — in many settings that’s an add on. Students graduate become teachers and then you can go back to school and receive an endorsement. That to me —

DAVID:
That’s so weird.

BETSY LEACH:
Gets at our view of —

DAVID:
Wait a minute — you should be learning to teach everyone, right. That should be the starting point.

BETSY LEACH:
Exactly. Exactly. So, we don’t have a couple classes that are about teaching culturally and linguistically diverse students. Those standards are woven into every single education course. That’s the lens you’re looking at. What’s going to work for all students? And often it’s not the same thing. So, it’s really about learning how to differentiate for students, how to build on student’s personal experiences, on — on their cultural funds of knowledge. And that’s a skill that then allows you to go out and teach all kids and connect with all kids — rather than learning this one way and then going out and finding that that doesn’t work for all students.

DAVID:
It’s not fun to go out in the field and learn what you’ve learned doesnÕt work.

BETSY LEACH:
Right. And so many teachers — we have huge teacher shortages in part because of low teacher pay and in part because teacher training programs aren’t giving teachers the full range of skills right that interpersonal skills — that personal and interpersonal skill of mindfulness right or contemplative relationship — the culturally linguistically diverse pedagogy — they’re not getting those two key components of being an excellent teacher and being able to sustain that practice.

DAVID:
Wow. So complex.

BETSY LEACH:
It is.

DAVID:
So much going on. I really see what you’re saying here — where itÕs we need to learn how to teach everyone right from the start and the compassion trainings are really good key and learning how to change our learning style if the classroom shows up differently. So, learning with the students and maybe even learning from the students. Never not learning

BETSY LEACH:
Exactly.

DAVID:
You know being a teacher and a student the same time. Because the classes are — they are like this thing that just kind of shows you like an amoeba. That is just showing you what they need in the moment. And you have to be able to deliver that. And you also have to have a humbleness to be like I’m not doing it right.

BETSY LEACH:
Right.

DAVID:
Maybe I should shift. Or no it’s all their fault. You know, like this is how I was taught to do it.

BETSY LEACH:
Right.

DAVID:
Maybe not.

BETSY LEACH:
Right and that contemplative lens allows you to see often when teachers see a student that are misbehaving, quote unquote, in class or who are refusing to do the work. The gut response is oh that student doesn’t care or oh that student doesn’t get it.
You know there are a lot of sort of judgments that —

DAVID:
I’m going to throw a label at you now. You know you’re fitting this category.

BETSY LEACH:
Right. Oh, that’s an unmotivated student. That’s a disengaged student — rather than the way I always viewed it as a teacher is oh that student is giving me information. Maybe what I’m teaching is not engaging. Maybe it doesn’t feel relevant. Maybe there’s something going on in that student’s life that I should be curious about and understand.

So that piece to me feels hugely important. And for years, I’ve also done a lot of professional development trainings around unconscious bias. Because people often want to learn how to be a culturally responsive teacher. But, doing that inner work is looking at where your bias lies — because we all have unconscious bias. We’ve been socialized that way, as I mentioned, textbooks is just one way that we’re socialized. So, that inner work is difficult and often I would get asked by current educators, ok, so I’m in. I want to be more aware of my unconscious bias. How do I do that? And I have various activities that I will lead them through to help them with that. But ultimately what I was realizing is, if you don’t have some sort of mindfulness practice it doesn’t have to be meditation but some form of contemplative practice where you’re practicing awareness. It’s really hard to be aware of your unconscious bias because it’s unconscious. And so, that’s something I love modeling with my current Naropa students because they’re hungry for that — they’re ready to do that hard work — is modeling oh here’s a biased thought that I caught the other day, I think because of my mindfulness practice — and here’s how I work to not enact that. And we can go yeah.

DAVID:
How does the conscious mind snag the unconscious mind? And then when you do, you’re like yeah, I found one. Oh, I don’t like that.

BETSY LEACH:
Exactly. And now let me bring some compassion to myself. And avoid enacting it ever again.

DAVID:
And then you kind of wonder, you’re just like that’s me saying that and that doesn’t feel like who I should be or who I am. So, got to do that work.

BETSY LEACH:
Exactly. OK. Interesting. Thanks for sharing. So, I understand that you have a couple organizations that you found. I’d love to speak about that or just kind of hear your experience with moving forward with those and how they function. How they are created.

BETSY LEACH:
Yeah, I suppose they’re all organizations. These were all — so during my public school teaching years, I always first and foremost what I cared about was relationships with my students and making sure that there was — there were happy engaged learners in my classroom.

DAVID:
Yeah. I want to go to your class.

BETSY LEACH:
That’s — that’s the goal. And, Reverend Angel Kyodo Williams who is — she inspires me. She is the first ordained black Zen priest.

DAVID:
Yup.

BETSY LEACH:
She talks about — her organization is Radical Dharma. She’s — she’s a scholar and teacher around racism, sexism. She’s transformative. And so, she has this great quote that says, love and justice are not two — without inner change there can be no outward change and without collective change no change matters.

And that to me is everything. And so, there’s always been that part of me as I became more and more familiar with the system that wanted to be contributing to systemic change as well, not just within my classroom but actually impacting the system for equine. And so, that’s how I began starting these student groups and organizations. So most recently, I founded a Latino student union at a school that was largely white. And so, the Latino student population felt very unseen in many ways. They experienced a lot of unconscious bias whether from teachers or students. And there was no outlet to talk about that. There was no outlet to — again students know what they need. So, they wanted culturally responsive teaching. They wanted leadership opportunities. They wanted to address —

DAVID:
Yeah, we all want it. Give it to us.

BETSY LEACH:
Right, and they know what they want and so the idea was that this Latino Student Union would be a place, A, where students could have this space to connect around this shared experience — both, you know, just the beautiful cultural experiences that they all share. And the bias that they experience in this school. And then get involved in the community in leadership. So, students would present with me to the entire faculty around unconscious bias that they experienced and about what they wanted and the pressure they felt being bicultural.

DAVID:

BETSY LEACH:
So, it was — the students — really it was a student run organization and I was just grateful to be, you know, facilitating and supporting and the students really made it into what it became which had a huge impact on staff development. And — and, you know, the students advocated for the homes themselves to wear cords at graduation that represented the Latino Student Union. So, really just feeling like they had a presence at the school.

DAVID:
That’s awesome.

BETSY LEACH:
So that was one piece and then the other piece was a Spanish speaking parent coalition. So, I saw the need where we had one Spanish speaking family liaison at the school who could never translate everything and who — that was only part of her job.

BETSY LEACH:
Just because it was too much.

BETSY LEACH:
Just because it was too much for one person. And she was doing a phenomenal job. But I would hear from people at the school, you know, we can’t get our Latino parents to come to school — to come to conferences, to come to our college nights. And teachers very much wanted every parent to feel included and involved. And so, that’s where community engagement — really understanding a culturally responsive method of community engagement is key. And so, I was able to work with Richard Garcia and the Colorado statewide parent coalition. And so, Richard Garcia came in and trained myself, another teacher, our principal and a group of Spanish speaking parents — very intensively over a period of months in this inclusive parent leadership model.

And so, that group of parents then — it was very much a two way learning group — where we were kind of letting parents know here’s how this school system works. Here’s how this school works. Here’s how you can navigate the system. And parents were teaching us, this is what my students need. This is where I see teachers failing my students. You know this is why communication doesn’t work for us.

And so really looking at that system level change.

DAVID:
Education is a collaboration between parents, students, teachers and the like — just everyone coming together and just learning information, but the information has to have this moment of clarity. You can’t convolute it with biases and washed out histories. You’ve got to show them the real stuff. And then they can use their mind to decide what that means to them. Wow. OK. So, we only have a little minute left or two and I’m just curious like do you have any last words? If you could inspire people who are thinking about teaching in multicultural settings and or just teaching in general or information to be like, you know, stick with it you can do it, or this worked for me. Just anything that you’d want to say you?

BETSY LEACH:
Yeah, well for anyone considering teaching, I can only say that it’s been the most fulfilling life sustaining profession that I could have ever imagined.

DAVID:
Wow, that’s so fun to hear.

BETSY LEACH:
The ability to be interacting with people all day instead of sitting at a desk and to be learning from all different perspectives.

DAVID:
That sounds like a lot of excitement.

BETSY LEACH:
It’s so much fun and just very, very worthwhile and important and we need it. I will also give a shout out to the current cohort of future education majors. They are —

DAVID:
Shout out to you.

BETSY LEACH:
They’re fabulous. They are curious, engaged, critical thinkers willing to do the hard work of examining themselves. I’m just very impressed by what they bring each day to class and so that is what’s inspiring me currently about the future of education is seeing the products that they’re coming with and the questions they’re coming with — preparing themselves to go out and be contemplative culturally responsive educators.

DAVID:
Wow thank you so much for sharing. There’s — there’s so much that I’m learning too about the gaps and how teachers show up to different style of communities and the pairing of students and teachers and the pairing of communities and parents and education practices. There’s so much there that might need to be looked at and it seems as though you’re doing that work and you’re willing to take the feedback from the students and take the feedback from other educators that you work with. And to go deeper into the craft of teaching and relatability and showing them that education is a platform to empower oneself.

BETSY LEACH:
Yes.

DAVID:
And so, I just want to make some appreciation your way so thank you so much for sharing your story and your experiences.

BETSY LEACH:
It’s been a pleasure David. Thank you so much for having me.

DAVID:
Awesome.

So that was Betsy Leach on the podcast. She is the elementary education program and has taught in public education for the last 10 years specializing in multicultural education and community engagement. So, thank you again.

BETSY LEACH:
Thank you.

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On behalf of the Naropa community thank you for listening to Mindful U. The official podcast of Naropa University. Check us out at www.naropa.edu or follow us on social media for more updates.

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