TeachLab with Justin Reich

Rich Milner Reboot

Episode Summary

This week on TeachLab, we’re republishing our talk with Rich Milner to emphasize his lesson of racial equity and connecting with students by bringing the real world into their classroom.

Episode Notes

Rich Milner, Professor of Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University joins Justin Reich to talk about his personal teaching history, and share stories of education research in schools. He presents his five mindsets of becoming a more equitable educator, and discusses the common reluctance to bring race into the classroom. 

“ if you're going to do work that is emancipatory, if you're going to engage work that is transformative, if you're going to engage work that meets the needs of every young person with whom you work. Then you've got to consider race. “


About Our Guest: Dr. Rich Milner

Rich Milner is the Cornelius Vanderbilt Endowed Chair of Education and Professor of Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. Professor Milner began his career at Vanderbilt University where he was appointed Lois Autrey Betts Associate Professor of Education and Associate Professor of Education in the Departments of Teaching and Learning and, by courtesy, Associate Professor of Leadership, Policy and Organizations as well as founding director of the graduate program, Learning, Diversity and Urban Studies at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. At Vanderbilt, in 2008, he became the first Black person to earn promotion and tenure in the entire College of Education’s history. His research, teaching and policy interests concern urban education, teacher education, African American literature, and the social context of education. In particular, Professor Milner’s research examines practices and policies that support teacher effectiveness in urban schools.


Additional Resources for Teachers and other Listeners:

Read Rich Milner’s new book: “Start Where You Are, But Don’t Stay There: Understanding Diversity, Opportunity Gaps, and Teaching in Today’s Classrooms (Second Edition).

Check out our course: Becoming a More Equitable Educator: Mindsets and Practices on MIT’s Open Learning Library

Explore our  Reading and Resources for Equity Teaching Practices




Produced by Aimee Corrigan and Garrett Beazley

Edited by Kate Ellis

Recorded by Garrett Beazley

Mixed by Corey Schreppel

Filmed by Denez McAdoo


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Episode Transcription

Justin Reich:                 More In these challenging times, as we in the United States again face up to anti-Black racism and police violence, here at TeachLab we’re committed to creating and sharing resources that help teachers revisit their practice and explore new approaches to equity teaching and anti-racist work. We’re also dedicated to using our platform to amplify brilliant Black voices in Education. We all need to redouble our efforts to support Black teachers, Black staff, and Black students. As a part of that effort, this week we’re re-releasing our episode with the incredible Rich Milner from Vanderbilt, who shares his experience and expertise on a set of mindsets that help educators confront bias and create equity in schools.

Justin Reich:                In our show notes for this episode, you’ll find a link to the free MIT Open Learning Library version of our online course, Becoming A More Equitable Educator, which I co-taught with Rich. You can access all of the resources from the course at any time. You’ll also find our list of Readings and Resources to support continued learning and self-reflection on issues of equity teaching educator mindsets and anti-racist work. For those in the United States, we hope that these resources will help you to address anti-Black racism in your schools; for those around the world, we hope they help you address the injustices in your community.

Rich Milner:                 Just imagine an oncologist not studying an aspect of cancer, because it doesn't make the oncologist feel good, it makes the oncologist feel uneasy. Forget that. This work is raced and if you're going to do work that is emancipatory, if you're going to engage work that is transformative, if you're going to engage work that meets the needs of every young person with whom you work, then you've got to consider race.

Justin Reich:                 From the Teaching Systems Lab at MIT. This is Teach Lab, a podcast about the art and craft of teaching. I'm Justin Reich. Today, H. Richard Milner, IV, or Rich. He's a distinguished professor of education at Vanderbilt University Peabody College of Education and Human Development and one of the country's leading thinkers on opportunity centered teaching. Harvard Education Press just published the second edition of his landmark book, Start Where You Are, But Don't Stay There: Understanding Diversity, Opportunity Gaps, and Teaching in Today's Classroom. The book details five mindsets teachers should adopt to be more effective educators. Thinking about race explicitly is just one of them.

Justin Reich:                 Rich wanted to be a teacher since he was a kid. His parents never went to college, but they made sure Rich and his siblings did. Rich got his first teaching job at a high school in South Carolina where he grew up. He taught a group of culturally diverse students who live below the poverty line. Rich went on to earn a PhD from the Ohio State University, but it was those early days in the high school classroom that inspired his first insights into teaching.

Rich Milner:                 What I continued going back to was this notion that if students don't believe you give a darn about them, you give a dog on about them, as my grandmother would say, they are real talk, not going to engage with you. I don't care how young you are, I don't care what your race or ethnic background happens to be, what your sexual orientation happens to be. You got to be in a place, right, where your students know you care about them. And so that was like-

Justin Reich:                 And then maybe they'll think about all these books and poems you want them to read.

Rich Milner:                 Absolutely. And it's not something you check off the on a box, right? It's not something that you do and say, "I haven't done that part. It was like this constant engagement. And that was the biggest, one of the biggest pieces that I learned from my work. It was about how do we co-create an ethos, an environment such that everyone, that of us are able to engage in this space in whole ways.

Rich Milner:                 And so I did the PhD program at the Ohio State and I began my career here at Vanderbilt and I started immediately teach... one of the first courses I taught was a class called Social and Philosophical Aspects of Education. And what it really meant... it was a sociology class that was a required course for all of our undergraduate secondary education majors.

Justin Reich:                 Everybody who wants to become a teacher, a secondary teacher.

Rich Milner:                 Absolutely. And so we were... and so I had these two students in the class, and again, just like teaching high school, that's strategic. The students would tell you if you listen, right, and if you're engaged with them and you sort of... not you, but if one, if we, right, as educators, if we approach our work in ways such that we understand very deeply that we're not the arbiters of knowledge, that we truly are in spaces where we are learning with the folks with whom we're working. If you listen and you're astute, you'll figure out along the way what's needed and what's required.

Rich Milner:                 The class really became in a lot of ways the multicultural check-off class. I'm just going to be frank. Because some of that I embody, as the black guy. But in the languaging and the discourse that I experienced from the teacher educated, the students in the college classroom was really one of deficits. They had great intentions. They were good young folks, right, who had good hearts, but they also... they embraced this idea of achievement gaps and this idea of achievement gaps really was consistent with what we know about really placing the locus of control on students. So if students just worked harder, if families just valued education, if... and these were young folks, 18, 19 year olds coming into this classroom, into the teacher education classroom, really believing in their core, right, if things changed with the students, then things would get better.

Rich Milner:                 And so when I wrote Start Where You Are-

Justin Reich:                 Start Where You Are, which is your first book that you published in 2000-

Rich Milner:                 10.

Justin Reich:                 ... 10.

Rich Milner:                 And so when I wrote Start Where You Are, But Don't Stay There, I was really looking for a text that would do for me what I thought I needed in that class. So I thought if I could get my 17 and 18 students in this class and my mom to read this book-

Justin Reich:                 Then that'd be pretty good.

Rich Milner:                 Yeah, that'd be pretty darn good.

Justin Reich:                 And the core idea that you were trying to wrestle with was here are these young mostly white students who are coming into the education profession and say more about what you mean by deficit thinking. What are some of the characteristics of deficit thinking if we were wanted to be able to recognize it with teachers or education students that we were talking to?

Rich Milner:                 Absolutely. So, really focusing in a very fundamental way on what students, people, community don't have, don't bring. And so you think about a checking account, right, you don't want your checking account in the deficit, I can tell you that, right? Or your bank account or whatever. So it's really about this sort of just... it's really about focusing in on, honing in on either consciously or implicitly, covertly on what communities don't bring into learning environments. And what we know for sure from good science is that when mechanisms are in place to support our young people, they succeed. And so it was really... I really wanted the teachers in our class to think about how they needed to change, right, in order to build the kind of learning opportunities that will maximize student potential.

Justin Reich:                 That's great. And so Start Where You Are is sort of organized around this idea of deficit and does it use the language of asset thinking as the kind of converse of that?

Rich Milner:                 Absolutely.

Justin Reich:                 Whereas instead of seeing students as and their communities is missing all these things saying wow, there's all kinds of funds of knowledge that are here in these communities. There's all kinds of things that we can draw on as strengths to be able to build from. And it's our job as educators both defy to see those in our students that have the same kind of imagination for our students that your mentors had for you.

Rich Milner:                 Absolutely.

Justin Reich:                 And then to build the structures that we need for people to be successful. I don't know if you can... I mean, I'm sure you worked with lots of education students and then practicing educators. Do you have stories or things that you can share with us that are like where you feel like this really clicked, where the sort of changes that you saw with people as the ideas from Start Where You Are, But Don't Stay There sort of took root within particular classes or communities or things like that?

Rich Milner:                 Absolutely. So one of the things that's important to remember, Justin, is that when I was working with these young folks in teacher education, I was also conducting research in K-12 classrooms. And so I wanted to make sure I was studying, really looking at getting out, getting my head around what it meant for English language arts teachers to... I was an English teacher, but what it meant and what it looked like for English language arts teachers to engage in this work that was emancipatory, this work that what I call and what I now talk about in my work as opportunity centered teaching. Right.

Rich Milner:                 And so I was studying practices in K-12. I started when I first moved to Nashville and I started my work at Vanderbilt, I was working in high school English classrooms. And so I did that work for a year. And then what I realized was that I really wanted to think about a trajectory and to think broader. And so I looked... I started my work at a middle school, and I actually did some work in a social studies classroom. I found myself really trying to hone in on educators who were successful and who were demonstrating, if you will, the kinds of mindsets that I thought were necessary for them to be successful with children who live below the poverty line, with black and brown children with children who have "learning disabilities."

Rich Milner:                 And I remember there was a moment when there was a shooting that had taken place in this middle school I was working. And this actually made national news. So the shooting occur and these were three high school students that had gone into this mom and pop shop and they actually shot the store clerk and the store clerk died. And so when I got to the campus the following week, on the bus yard, the students were talking about the robbery. In the corridors they were talking about the robbery. But when I visited classrooms and the teachers didn't mention it first period, second period, third period. When I eavesdropped in, as good researchers do, in the cafeteria, in the lunch room, there was no conversation about the robbery. And I just thought, but the students were-

Justin Reich:                 Talking about this.

Rich Milner:                 ... talking about it. In their hearts and minds, they were trying... and they were posing questions like young people do, right? I wonder where they got the... where did they get the-

Justin Reich:                 The gun.

Rich Milner:                 ... the gun.

Justin Reich:                 Why did they do this? What's going to happen to them?

Rich Milner:                 What were they thinking? Right. But no discussion of it in the classroom. And so as part of my reciprocity with these teachers who had given so much of their time to help me learn about their practices, I conducted professional development with them from time to time. And so during the professional development session a few weeks later, I just posed a question, one of the questions, and this was not something that was necessarily planned, but I thought I'll get some good feedback to understand this. And it became the whole professional development session. So I asked, I said, "Hey, I'm wondering why I didn't hear any discussion or any connections about the robbery in the class, right, in classes that I observed."

Rich Milner:                 And when I say the people in, the teachers in that room all collectively just countered my question. They were offended. How dare you even pose such a question. And I was trying to get my head around, wait a minute, your students are coming in and they're... and when you think about their hearts and minds, they're trying to get their heads around what's happened and you're avoiding it, right?

Rich Milner:                 And the kinds of things I heard were things like I'm not trained as a counselor, I'm not trained as a social worker. I have a real curriculum to teach, Rich Milner. Go back up there today at university. All things that I understand and I get, to get my... I don't think parents would appreciate our having my talking about a robbery. What would the super... all these things that we grapple with as educators, right? And we grapple with and we miss the opportunity to be responsive to our young folks, right?

Rich Milner:                 And then there was a teacher who, if I set my computer up on the left side of the library, he sat on the right side of the library, as far away from me as possible. If I set my computer up on the right side of the library-

Justin Reich:                 He's on the left side.

Rich Milner:                 ... he sat on the left side of the library, as far away from me as possible. He never said one word to me the entire time I was conducting my research in the school. I remember one day, this may be a little bit of a tangent, but I'm going to tell it anyway. I remember one day I was standing by the door and I suppose I thought, he's going to talk to me. Everybody likes me, right? Then when he realized what I was doing, he went back to his table and set his laptop up. He just would not engage with me. But on this day, he raised his hand. He said... and I was like, "Come with it. I want to hear what you had to say." Right? He said, "Furthermore, I teach math and science. What in the world does a pathetic robbery have to do in my teaching math and science?" Right? And so the sort of focal area of the personal development was ways to build a curriculum to be responsive to young people.

Rich Milner:                 So I said, "Well, let's think about it for a moment." I said, "What if you had your young people, your students..." one more thing I need to add. And then there was one teacher who said to me... who said, "And the robbery won't show up on the test." That's the real deal of what we're grappling with in schools, teachers are under an enormous amount of pressure to teach the test, an enormous amount of accountability pressures, right, and that might seem tangental to what the real curriculum is supposed to be.

Justin Reich:                 I mean, it's a great summary you have of all of these different voices expressing a whole bunch of the things that are central to teachers thinking what's the assessment and the accountability? What am I sort of trained to do? What's my role as a teacher versus my role as a person with relationships with students? What's my particular curriculum? And it's just a great sort of overview of ways in which people find ways to push back against some of these ideas of equity teaching and culturally responsive teaching. But you're up there, you're in front of them, and you've heard all their concerns. And then what'd you say?

Rich Milner:                 Well, the first thing is I wanted to acknowledge to the teachers that I hear them, and I understand that while we can be critical of their practices, the reality is I work at the university, and I can come in and be critical and go about my life. But I really try sincerely to empathize with, to honor the folks in those communities and their real experiences. But the question that the math and science teacher posed, was a real serious one. What in the world does a pathetic robbery, I'll never forget it, had to do it with math or science? And so I said, one of the criticisms in the newspapers was that there had taken the responders too long to get... they were questioning the number of minutes it had taken the police and the ambulance to get to the robbery site.

Rich Milner:                 They had this great technology in the school. So I said, "What if you pulled up Google Maps and you guesstimated the amount of time it took the responders to get from their site to the robbery site. There's some math in that. There are probably some standards embedded in that. Distance, rate of speed, all of these mathematical, and I said that might even show up on the tests, train A leaves the station at one time driving a particular rate of speed, and I got them to smile a little bit when I shared that story. On a very basic level, crime had been a concern in the community.

Rich Milner:                 I said, "What if you asked the students to measure or to count the number of streetlights in the community and to look at data regarding well lit spaces versus spaces that are not as well lit and look at correlation." Are there more robberies? Are there more crime in spaces that are more that are lit in comparison? There are some data points there. There are some math there. I said, "What if you had the students think about communities that have decent paying jobs in comparison to communities that don't have decent paying jobs, and what crime rates are in those communities." How long does it take people to get to the bus or to public transportation to get to decent paying jobs? All of these questions that our young people are probably thinking about, but we choose, or we may choose not to engage in schools or the kinds of ... And I was able to sort of talk about probability, and I was able to talk about distance and rate of speed and all the things that we're supposed to be teaching anyway

Justin Reich:                 As an English teacher, you came up with all this.

Rich Milner:                 As an English teacher. But again, and it's not that math teachers don't want to teach rate of speed, or math teachers don't want to teach probability, but if you are going to connect with young people, you've got to connect with young people where they are, you got to help them understand. And so the point was not that they teach a robbery. The point was that you teach the standards, you teach concepts, ideas that connect to the human spirit, that connect with who young people are. The math teacher actually talked to the ELA teacher. Imagine that, if we set up teaching spaces where young people, where teachers could engage with each other. And I said, what if the literacy teacher, the English language arts teacher were to ask her students to write a letter.

Rich Milner:                 At the time, our police chief was Ronal Serpas to say, "Here are the things that we've found in our community and draw from data." There have been X number of robberies in our community, and to not only outline what the issues are, but to talk about some of the potential strategies. So while you're gentrifying all these areas and you're moving in and pushing people out, and when you talk about deficits, students are coming in with these questions. So using the questions, the assets, the ideas, the areas that pique our young folks' interests as an anchor to good teaching is what I was trying to convey to those people in service.

Justin Reich:                 What did those folks do afterwards?

Rich Milner:                 Well...

Justin Reich:                 They probably kept doing whatever they were doing.

Rich Milner:                 I hope they made a difference. But one of the things I did find was the gentleman who never would talk to me started talking to me after that. He started asking me questions and for, for references and tools and resources that he might be able to incorporate in towards work.

Justin Reich:                 So one part of that story is that when you really listened to teachers who were pushing back on you, and you took their concerns seriously, and you took them as coming from a place of professionalism, that kind of opened them up to being able to say, "Okay, this Rich Milner guy, he's pushing some ideas that might not align with my thinking right now, but he's really listening to me as I am responding to them." And that creates an opportunity for dialogue with our colleagues and invites people into the conversation.

Rich Milner:                 Yeah, I think so. And I also think, I believe when you're in the midst of doing the work, it can be challenging to think about innovative outside-of-box ways of connecting content with students when, and you need critical partners. We all need people to push and also show us possibilities related to what could be. And so that's part of what I think professional development can do. And that's also part of what I try to do when I am engaging with educators in a very serious way, because let me tell you something. For our children, for our students, it's a matter of life and death for many of them. So standing up, lecturing, standing up, engaging with young people in the way that you teach your own children, the way that you learn, you as an educator, like that's not good enough.

Rich Milner:                 It's not. You've got to teach the folks in front of you. And so like being very compassionate and open to teachers about where they are. It's part of it, but there's also pushing, like you can't stay there. If you are committed to these folks in front of you, and that's where I get very, very serious, then you got to do some things differently. If you're teaching fourth grade, and your children are not reading on a fourth grade level, guess what? Your children can't do independent study. You've got to teach. And so it doesn't matter if 70% of your students in the class get it. If those 30 don't, your responsibility is to teach and to bring those 30% where they need to be in ways that they're whole, that they understand that they have value, that they understand their own identity spaces in ways that can be transformative.

Justin Reich:                 Rich, part of your work that I know best is around this set of educator mindsets, that kind of gives a landscape scan of a bunch of ways that teachers think about or don't think about, talk about or don't talk about race or structural inequality. Can you tell us a little bit sort of an overview of what the educator mindsets are?

Rich Milner:                 Absolutely. So I really wanted to create an opportunity for the teachers with whom I was working to understand very deeply how they could contribute to what I classified as opportunity gaps, or how they could actually sort of disrupt them. And so when we talk about the framework, when I was able to pull together those five tenets, these were like the five anchors that I thought, if I could get teachers to understand this as a foundation for what it means to be innovative, for what it means to be responsive, then we have a good chance, a better chance at the kinds of classrooms where students want to be.

Justin Reich:                 So asset and deficit thinking is one of those five tenets that we try to, and I think what you just said actually is really helpful, because it's not about erasing all notions of deficit from your mind. At some point, we noticed there are 30% of my kids who are not on grade level, and that's something that I have to do with it. But I cannot always see those 30% of the kids. They can't just be the kids who aren't on grade level. They have to be these kids who have all of these assets and strengths and speak second languages, speak more languages than I do, have cultural funds of knowledge they bring, and I need to work with them on reading.

Rich Milner:                 Absolutely.

Justin Reich:                 Part of their identity. But asset and deficit is one of this sort of five-part framework that you have around educator mindsets. Can we talk about the other four sort of briefly? What was the second one that you worked on, or after asset and deficit thinking, what was the next one that caught your attention and interest?

Rich Milner:                 Right. And so, and I don't want to talk about these literally, but I do want to suggest that they are interrelated. And , one of them was related to this notion of race and colorblindness. And so when you start talking to teachers, to educators, many of whom are interprofessional because they, they have good hearts, the chances are they know they aren't going to get wealthy. You start talking about race and emotionally charged issues related to race, people get very offended. But it's so necessary. If you look at every indicator in education to do deep analysis, and to advance the work, and not have a race as a factor or as a variable or however you choose to talk about your research and your work, I want to say it's borderline malpractice.

Rich Milner:                 And not to pathologize the work we're doing. We're young people. But just imagine an oncologist not studying an aspect of cancer because it doesn't make the oncologist feel good. It makes the oncologist feel uneasy. Forget that. This work is raced, and if you're going to do a work that is [inaudible 00:11:24], if you're going to engage work that is transformative, if you're going to engage where that meets the needs of every young person with whom you work, then you got to consider race. And so as a part of framework, race becomes one of the tenets. What we know from good science for instance, is that a student's racial and ethnic identity, so their sense of racial and ethnic identity is strongly linked to their performance. So in other words, if I feel strongly about my own racial and ethnic identity, I do better, not when I hate people outside of my racial and ethnic identity.

Rich Milner:                 But when I feel strongly about my own, and one of the things that I always say, and I used to say it was like a conspiracy theory, but as I've tried to really test and look deeply about why white students are performing at higher rates on these tests that are predetermined by a human being, then we feed white students all the time with positive feedback about who they are. So whit students walk in confident, they walk in-

Justin Reich:                 Seeing themselves in the curriculum.

Rich Milner:                 Seeing themselves reflected in the curriculum, seeing themselves embodied in the teachers. And the language that's used, the discourse, the jokes that's told, they're privileged, they're advantaged just by virtue of walking into the space. And so in other words, race and colorblindness is one tenet. I could go on and on-

Justin Reich:                 About each of them. Good. And the summary of it is that when educators shy away from acknowledging the importance of race in their work, when they bring a colorblind perspective that often doesn't lead to work that's as sophisticated, as real, as meaningful as when they take seriously the notion that people in schools have different racial identities, and we have to be able to talk about and think about those racial identities in ways in which sort of racist practices, racist structures may be affecting their learning.

Rich Milner:                 So the framework in general is this notion that when educators don't embrace, when they don't understand, and then when they have a colorblind or race-neutral mindset, they contribute to opportunity gaps.

Justin Reich:                 And so the next part of the framework, we had deficit thinking, we had colorblindness.

Rich Milner:                 Yes. And so a third tenet related to this work really is about what I call myth of meritocracy, and it is a sociological construct that we've known a lot about, but a lot of the young people, a lot of the teachers with whom I was working who were learning to teach, they actually adopted, or they came in with this, this fallacy. This notion they'd earn, and their families had earned their sort of rightful place of privilege. And so I really had to sort of disrupt and help them understand how systems sort of perpetuated the status quo. So I would give an example, for instance, about how generationally, wealth is passed down, let's say, from one generation to the next. And so that, I think, was a really important space, and it is an important space for young people to think about socioeconomic status, to think about poverty. And to think about poverty, not as a descriptor or a way of describing people as much as it is a condition.

Justin Reich:                 And then when those young teachers get those ideas, how do you hope they implement them in their classroom? Like when a teacher is doing work to give up on the myth of meritocracy. Like what does that teacher look like in a different way in their classroom as they grow in this work?

Rich Milner:                 I think that's a very important question because I think some people misuse, not misuse, but they don't actualize the framework in ways that I think they really could. But, most of the time what happens when people engage the tenants is they will say, "Oh wow, I got my team to really talk about race," or, "I got my by my team to really reflect about deficit mindsets," right? This work is about how do you transform your teaching, right? So I want you to talk about race, but I also want you to think about how instructionally you're going to build instructional tools to talk about racial inequity.

Rich Milner:                 How you're going to build, instruct. So what that means for let's say a social studies teacher is very easily, you can talk about how neighborhoods are organized and how they've historically been organized to maintain the status quo. You can talk in mathematics about how historically particular groups of people have been denied loans and what it means to be given inequitable interest rates on how... I mean the stuff [crosstalk 00:31:41]-

Justin Reich:                 And the cost of a mortgage in one neighborhood versus the cost of a mortgage in another kind of thing.

Rich Milner:                 Absolutley, right. So if you think about like there are so many ways to think about this work beyond just having a conversation, right? So when you talk about meritocracy, you can look historically at how wealth is passed along from one generation to the next and how these systems are in place in a lot of ways to maintain the status quo. So these are concretize examples about what it means. And young people know implicitly that something is going on, right?

Rich Milner:                 So this idea that somehow we are holding something, over or we're keeping something from young people that they don't quite understand. Using the classroom space, starting at a young age to really help young people think about how they can address and really disrupt these systems if you will, is really what the framework is trying to get at. And that's what I call opportunity center teaching. Moving away from the opportunity gaps.

Justin Reich:                 Is it helping that one ultimate aim is helping students imagine themselves as people who can make change in these structural inequalities that they've through their teachers, they've learned both how to understand them and then some tools for thinking about how do we change and make better the world around us.

Rich Milner:                 Absolutely.

Justin Reich:                 Okay. There are two more tenants and I want to make sure we get a chance to talk about him.

Rich Milner:                 And so a fourth tenet is what's known as context neutral mindsets and so in its simplest form, teachers are teaching in a particular place at a particular time or particular people. And so, going into spaces and really thinking about what the work means in an urban school context might look qualitatively different than in an environment that's rural or a suburban community, right?

Rich Milner:                 And so really teasing out and peeling back, not in a stereotypical way, but really in a let me build my tool kit way, right? To understand that if I'm working in a rural community, I've got to understand the history of that place. I've got to work with the community to deeply understand not only what I read in the newspapers, but to understand that everything has an historical arc, that everything, that every community has a history that is central and germane to what it means to do community.

Rich Milner:                 So context neutral mindset, the opposite of that is really context centered and a context centered approach, right? Which means that when you think about, I'll use like the closing of schools let's say across this country, across this nation, right? And people rationalize and say, well it's the building is dilapidated or the enrollment is down, right? What does that mean for community when we shut down the schools, or when libraries are not in those spaces, or when... So really thinking very deeply on a sort of structural way, but also in terms of a micro level, like what does it mean to teach in this place right now?

Justin Reich:                 In a way that would be different from teaching some other place, some other community. Who exactly are my kids, the families that were here, how do I know about them beyond and how it's one way I've heard it said is it's not just that I teach math, which you do, but you teach kids math. And each of those kids is different, has a particular background and we've got to find ways of sort of weaving where they come from and where they're living and what they care about and what's going on in their community into math or science or social studies.

Rich Milner:                 Absolutely and I would add that... But this also when you're young people leave that school, those four walls and they walk home what are they walking to and through? Right? That's what understanding the context and understanding the community and the ecology of the place really is about. Right? And, so that's a fourth tenant of the framework.

Rich Milner:                 And then the last tenant of the framework is about what I call cultural context. Understanding the cultural... I'm sorry. Understanding cultural conflicts is the last tenant of the framework. And I tease race out of the out of culture because what I found was that when we talk about culture, we talk about cultural practices, we tend to talk about cultural practices and we'll talk about language all day, we'll talk about religion, we might talk about different value systems and so forth. And race would be left out as either superficially engaged or not talked about at all. And so when I developed the framework, I really wanted to make sure race or something... Because I would argue that race is probably the most important aspect of the work we do when we talk about engaging inequitable our practices.

Justin Reich:                 So your argument was that if schools, teachers in schools feel more comfortable talking about some elements of diversity over others. That we find ways to talk about religious diversity or language diversity or other kinds of things. And then there's a special taboo in America about race. And it's inauthentic to talk about some of these other cultural differences without including, sort of how race is interwoven among those kinds of things. Is that the way to understand the fifth dimension?

Rich Milner:                 Absolutley.

Justin Reich:                 Can you, in the places that have done, in your view, the best, most exciting work with these educator mindsets when they're weaving together asset framing, opportunity centered thinking, thinking about allowing race to be a central part of the conversations that's happening amongst teachers, with students in schools. What are some of those changes look like? What are some of the stories that get you most excited about continuing doing this work?

Rich Milner:                 Yeah. So one of the things I want to say about cultural conflicts, just before we move on is that sometimes when we talk about culture, we talk about culture as something that is ingrained in a person. And I want to be clear here that a lot of what I talk about and what I've found to be most useful in this work is when we talk about cultural practices, right?

Rich Milner:                 Because cultural practices work, what can happen is teachers can build their toolkit, right? They can become more astute at understanding issues of equity, of understanding diversity. And somehow think they've sort of taken big steps forward. But they have to understand that this work never ends and it's ongoing. And so it's just like, just because I learned how to speak Spanish, doesn't mean that I'm a part of the culture. Does that makes sense? So as a cultural practice, I might be able to speak Spanish but the people in that community may see me still as an outsider. Right? So, that piece is very important.

Justin Reich:                 And it's about understanding, adopting or finding appropriate ways for you to engage in other parts of that culture to think about which traditions do I want to participate in? And the la rambla, the afternoon walk in Spanish culture or beyond [crosstalk 00:39:29]-

Rich Milner:                 It may be even inappropriate for you to move into that space. But the point is for you to really, as educators for us really to understand, embrace and to create the kinds of environments such that people feel whole, students feel like their cultural practices are accepted and allow them to be who they are and not have to check so much of who they are at the door when they walk into schools. Schools are created to do exactly what they're doing and that is to maintain the status quo for white people. And so really disrupting that is what's necessary for us to see change.

Justin Reich:                 Well, I think what's so powerful about your contribution is that these educator mindsets give us a map and a blueprint of some of this territory. I think so much of what's important and powerful about what you've offered is that if we do want to have communities of teachers that are collectively embracing the challenge of creating schools that are healing and whole places for all students.

Justin Reich:                 If the starting point is, "Well, I'm not sure how I'd do that," well you say, "Well, here are these five educator mindsets. Here are five conversations that we can start having, hear are five sets of practices that we can start engaging in," that can lead us towards this really important work of having schools that are not on a school to prison pipeline. Or having schools like that create the kinds of opportunities that you described at the beginning of this interview. Where there are a whole bunch of people in your life who saw the talent, who saw the opportunity in you and helped open a series of doors.

Justin Reich:                 And we want all teachers to be doing that for all kids. So this has been incredibly powerful. Rich, thanks so much for spending time with us today.

Rich Milner:                 Thank you Justin.

Justin Reich:                 That was Rich Milner, a distinguished professor of education at Vanderbilt's Peabody College of Education and Human Development. Harvard Education Press has just published the second edition of his landmark book, Start Where You Are, But Don't Stay There. Understanding diversity, opportunity gaps and teaching in today's classrooms. Rich has been enormously influential in how folks in our lab think about issues of bias, inequality, justice, and great teaching. In fact, we're incredibly fortunate that Rich is joining us as a co-instructor for our upcoming course on NX, becoming a more equitable educator.

Justin Reich:                 [music 00:41:56] You've been listening to Teach Lab from the Teaching Systems Lab at MIT. I'm Justin Reich. You can learn more about Rich Milner and his work at our website; Teach Lab Podcast.com. That's Teach Lab Podcast.com. There you'll find lots of stuff including links to our upcoming free online course on NX, becoming a more equitable educator, co-taught with Rich we hope you'll join us.

Justin Reich:                 You can also check out our YouTube channel Teaching Systems Lab where you'll find the full video interview from this episode and even more video content from our online courses. All of our work is licensed under a creative commons agreement, and we encourage you to use it and share.

Justin Reich:                 Next time we'll talk with Mira Levinson, a professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, someone working to build a new field called educational ethics as a kind of cognate to the field of bioethics; practical, philosophical, ethical advice for teachers working in the trenches. That's next time on Teach Lab.

Justin Reich:                 This episode was produced by Aimee Corrigan and Garrett Beazley, edited by Kate Ellis. It was recorded by Garrett Beazley and mixed by Corey Schreppel was filmed by Denez McAdoo. We'll see you next time.