Eps 409: Reimagining the school experience with Dr. Kristan Rodriguez

Episode 409

My guest today is Dr. Kristan Rodriguez.  

Dr. Rodriguez shares a bit about her background in education & parenting and how that drives her to work on transforming education.  We touch on many different methodologies: world schooling, homeschooling, unschooling, and IB & AP programs.  Dr. Rodriguez shares some things that need to be taught aside from academics like financial literacy, art & music, and entrepreneurial skills.  I ask if she sees that schools are willing to make changes and try less traditional methodologies – do kids need to know and regurgitate “The Canterbury Tales” more than they need authentic real-life learning experiences?  I also ask what parents can do to help sway their administrators to make changes (spoiler: get involved & participate!).  We agree that checking-in and setting goals with your teen before a new school year starts is a good plan, as well as empowering our kids to see where they have control.  We touch on how to scaffold and facilitate hard conversations for your adolescent (while not having those tricky conversations for them).  Dr. Rodriguez and I end by discussing how schools are supporting mental health for their students.  

Guest Description

Dr. Rodriguez spent over 20 years as a practitioner in private and public school settings, including being a teacher, principal, and superintendent of schools. 

Along with her co-author,  Katie Novak, ED.D, Kristan Rodriguez, PH.D, has written IN SUPPORT OF STUDENTS: A Leader’s Guide to Equitable MTSS (Wiley, June 6, 2023) a book that offers an urgently needed solution to create inclusive and equitable education systems and ease the anxiety of parents of underserved students and/or students with a cognitive or physical disability.

Dr. Rodriguez is currently the owner of an educational consulting agency that helps provide professional learning and staffing to schools across the globe. In addition to her books, she has authored numerous MTSS implementation resources that have been used in the field.

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Takeaways from the show

  • Meeting individual needs in a school setting
  • AP & IB programs, world schooling, homeschooling, & unschooling  
  • What should be taught in addition to traditional academics? 
  • Are we adequately preparing adolescents for careers? 
  • Schools are more willing to try less traditional methodologies 
  • What life-skills actually need to be taught in 2023? 
  • How can parents encourage their administrators to make changes? 
  • Checking-in and goal-setting with teens before a new school year
  • Facilitating hard conversations for your adolescent 
  • How are schools supporting mental health? 
  • Engaging students outside of academia

What does joyful courage mean to you 

I really feel like it is pushing against the discomfort of change when we know it’s what’s best for kids.  That not only requires courage, but it requires passion.   When we do this, and when we pull the levers that are based on evidence, science, and research, it works in all settings.  That’s when the joy comes.  


I just had two meetings with two separate clients/districts, and I almost shed a tear, and I’m not someone who cries very often, but I was just so excited because the past couple of years have been so challenging.  You don’t see the needle move when the pandemic is happening, and then all of a sudden BOOM, now the systems are running this year more than ever, and they saw that.  They were joyful!  They were joyful, but it took courage.  Then I pushed them to the next level, and they were not so happy with me.  I say, “We haven’t finished!  We’ve just begun!”  It’s constantly pushing ourselves, when we have success, not to live in that success but to continue to push ourselves and our organization so that every child realizes that conversation I have with my kids which is, “What do you want out of your life?  What do you want out of this year?” 



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Kristan Rodriguez, Casey O'Roarty

Casey O'Roarty 00:04
Hey, welcome to the joyful courage podcast a place for inspiration and transformation as we try and keep it together, while parenting our tweens and teens. This is real work people. And when we can focus on our own growth, and nurturing the connection with our kids, we can move through the turbulence in a way that allows for relationships to remain intact. My name is Casey already, I am your fearless host. I'm a positive discipline trainer, space holder coach and the adolescent lead at Sprout double. I am also the mama to a 20 year old daughter and 17 year old son walking right beside you on this path of raising our kids with positive discipline and conscious parenting. This show is meant to be a resource to you and I work really hard to keep it real, transparent and authentic so that you feel seen and supported. Today is an interview and I have no doubt that what you hear will be useful to you. Please don't forget sharing truly is caring. If you love today's show, please pass the link around snap a screenshot posted on your socials or texted to your friends. Together we can make an even bigger impact on families all around the globe. I'm so glad that you're here. Enjoy the show.

Casey O'Roarty 01:25
All right, listeners. My guest today is Dr. Kristen Rodriguez. Dr. Rodriguez spent over 20 years as a practitioner in private and public school settings, including being a teacher, principal and superintendent of schools. Along with her co author Katie Novak. Kristen Rodriguez has written in support of students A Leaders Guide to equitable Mt. S S, which came out in June of 2023. A book that offers an urgently needed solution to create inclusive and equitable education systems and ease the anxiety of parents of underserved students and or students with a cognitive or physical disability. Dr. Rodriguez is currently the owner of an educational consulting agency that helps provide professional learning and staffing to schools across the globe. In addition to her books, she has authored numerous MTS s implementation resources that have been used in the field. Hi, Dr. Rodriguez, welcome to the podcast.

Kristan Rodriguez 02:30
It's so wonderful to be here. Thank you for having me.

Casey O'Roarty 02:33
Yes. Can you share more about your work how you found yourself as a consultant and enlighten us around what MTS s is?

Kristan Rodriguez 02:43
Absolutely. MTSS, by the way, is school. Okay, it's really everything we do to support our students. And sometimes people conflate it with a pre referral system or an intervention system in our school. So when our kiddos are struggling, you know, how do we respond to that, our approach is that we need to be very proactive and meeting the needs of all of our learners in any educational setting, in the onset of our work, so we don't want to wait for them to fail. We don't want to wait for them to struggle before we provide them with the supports. And so we look at it holistically. And that's what MTSS is asking us to do. How do we create environments that listen to our students that meet their needs, that are flexible, that provide options and choices, and engage our students and give them a voice and agency in their own learning. And that's really what we talk about when we talk about Multi Tiered Systems. Jargon wise, we've got drivers within that. So we think about how to the leaders within schools do the work they need to do, how do we support the staff in the community organisations that are supporting our students? How do we give our kids voice and agency? And then how do we resource in a way that is not just taking the same schedule the same staffing positions, the same curriculum resources, year after year? In rather, how do we think, okay, let's begin with who our students are, who we want them to become? And how do we build a system for them, in terms of what brought me there really was a mama. And you know, not always feeling like my own child's needs were met within kind of systems and structures for which I worked and loved and lived. And so it was really started as that was the genesis of that work was thinking about, from a personal perspective, what do I feel like I need for the learners that I love in my home? And then really, you know, with that kind of critical lens as a principal saying, Gosh, some of these systems are not where they need to be in place. And so when I got to a position in central office as a superintendent, where I can make some of those more robust systemic decisions, we saw these great gains for all of our students and realise okay, this is something that can be replicated, which is why We began kind of looking at the evidence and research behind this. And that's how it all started.

Casey O'Roarty 05:05
Okay, thank you for your work. First of all, we were talking before I hit record, and I'm a former teacher as well. Although I feel like my experience in the classroom, I taught in a tiny little three room schoolhouse in the mountains in Washington state, and we were a one school district. And it was like the Wild West, it was we, I mean, we had tonnes of Title One funds, and we did things totally out of the box, and it was multi age classrooms. And it really did feel like almost like we had no other choice than to really meet the individual that walked in the door. But lifting up and out and looking at the system, specifically the system here in the States. It is an old system that lumps our kids together by age. And the expectation is that everybody should be able to do the same thing at the same pace at the same time. And you know, what I'm hearing you talking about, you know, creating new systems. I mean, are you really talking more about like, how do we meet more individual needs versus this whole group dynamic that everybody should be able to follow the same timeline through K 12? And then leave the system with the same education? Or what exactly are you talking about in the work that you're doing and the systems that you're looking to transform?

Kristan Rodriguez 06:23
You know, I work with private institutions, and public institutions, and homeschoolers and unschoolers. And, you know, so we're not limiting ourselves, when I kind of talk about the systems to meet the needs of learners, to any one organisational prototype, however, within each approach is opportunity to kind of offer flexibility. And so for example, if we're looking at the most traditional kind of K 12, comprehensive school system, and we're looking at a high school, right, a nine through 12, high school, and, you know, we have this many days within the blocks, and we have this many, you know, periods, and it's based on when you were born, and you get into that grade, you know, I've been able to work with schools to create acceleration pathways, right for students so that they can do early college opportunities. And again, a lot of the genesis of this started as a parent, and what were the needs of some of my own children and seeing that there wasn't the opportunity for them to take on an acceleration path and still stay connected to the school. So initially, our initial reaction was to remove them from the public school setting and put them into a private school, where you know, my nine year old was in pre algebra, and it was based on ability, not by age, and there was, you know, cool connections to MIT in the school and all this great stuff. And I thought, Gosh, I really want this opportunities to be president in the public schools, which is where I worked. And so bringing some of those concepts back of thinking about what the passion of the students are, and letting them accelerate through studies and having these dual enrollment programmes where they can go to university during the day and get credit within the high school. That's just a simple example of how we can even with the traditional structured environment, allow for our students to receive the support they need, including accelerated support, including the opportunity to enrol in subjects that they care for prior it was all a p, that was the only opportunity at the high school level, to have college level courses. And we know you as an educator and as a parent need as well, that advanced placement really looks very little like university level experience. So it doesn't offer students flexibility, it doesn't allow them to do the work independently. And so a lot of these courses are these very what we consider rigorous courses in K 12. Don't do that. But you know, what looks a lot more like it is some aspects of the International Baccalaureate programme, where it's a lot more invested in service learning and things like that. And yeah, there's some stringency to those programmes as well. But should we bring in that aspect, I work with the group of parents who work with the private school and the private school is now allowing a certain amount of time for those parents to do international travel. And so there's world schooling, I don't know if you're familiar with this aspect of, you know, parents going out all over the world, and a lot of them are home schoolers, and exposing their children and families to cultures across the world and learning within those settings and having real world relevant conversations about four subject areas, but within the context of where they're living. And this school recognise that after some of the response to the pandemic, and some of the flexibility that that allowed with remote instruction, that there were components of their curriculum that the students could do asynchronously and allow them also these credits through kind of a world schooling approach. And some families I know we're looking at creating kind of these programmes six to eight week programmes where they all go together and create a community of learning in different countries and see if they can work together, to allow their children to experience the culture in them in a more formalised way, maybe with magic Peter's not just with parents who didn't feel prepared to teach algebra or geometry, some of those other core subject areas. So lots of cool things that we can do in traditional settings, and then we can get as expansive as we want to be. Yeah, really, there's nothing that limits us.

Casey O'Roarty 10:16
I mean, that is beautiful, right? Like, oh, my gosh, to get to be a world schooling family. I mean, I mean, that ship has sailed for us, our kids are old. But

Kristan Rodriguez 10:27
she's like, Gosh, I wish I had known about that back in the day.

Casey O'Roarty 10:30
But even back in the day, that would have seemed out of reach, because we didn't have the income. At least that was the mindset that we had. So what is school transformation look like for, you know, schools and districts and areas where there isn't a lot of financial equity? And there's, you know, economically it's just the money, isn't there? You know, I feel like a lot of kids get left behind in the school reform conversation, because, well, I mean, it's a different conversation. It's one thing to talk about, like accelerated opportunities. But there's also the kids that are being hurt by this lumping in by age, who are struggling, tracking, living with trauma. Yes, yeah. How does that fit into this conversation?

Kristan Rodriguez 11:20
Well, a lot of those students actually do acceleration programmes, because some of the things that cause dysregulation for them, some of the things that might impact behavioural impacts that are reinforced by experiences of trauma get reduced when they have less structure, believe it or not, in so doing some of those acceleration programmes, a lot of those are state funded, it does not cost the parents anything, to have their child go to early college. So some of those things are not dependent on wealth factors are being able to finance it, you know, some of the things that we talk about in terms of creating this is where I am going to get a little geeky, but when we create these systems, we're really making sure that we're not putting up these roadblocks for our students. And so one of the things that we noticed is what we call tracking and education, which is, I'm going to put you in this one class. And because you've gone in this one class, you're always going to be a step behind those other kids, those other kids that are going to take AP courses that we talked about, you're never going to get a chance to take AP courses, because I'm going to put you in a math track, for example, that starts with algebra one, then you're going to take geometry, then Algebra Two and precalculus, you're never going to get into AP Calc, only those kids in eighth grade, who got to take algebra one, get access into an advanced placement calculus, right. And so that's what we talk about when we say tracking kids. And so really, it's breaking down those barriers and saying, if there is a student that such desires, and has the desire to go on, to take an advanced placement in that course, for example, that we give them dual tracks, and we don't limit them based on artificial understandings of their abilities early on. But you know, I'm using academics as one means I think one of the things that we in public education have to do much better at so I have a son who is a musician, I have a son who is an artist, right Virtual Reality artist. You know, in a lot of those kinds of settings, it's really hard to ensure that we create comprehensive education in all areas, not just academics. And that is something that I think we have to do better at is making sure that there are pathways to enhancing those abilities that are not present. Baseline equity factors, such as financial literacy need to be an expectation within all of our high schools, right. So making sure that our students have access to understand how to be financially literate, take care of themselves, when they leave home, or when they joined the workforce, or, you know, a lot of them are starting the workforce in high school already. So how do they kind of manage their money in that way? And you know, there's other programmes, we can collaborate with universities and think tanks and all these other wonderful funding organisations to create entrepreneurial programmes within our schools. So a lot of our students that we might perceive as they're not going to stay through grade 12 is because they're not feeling served by us. And so there are opportunities to bring in partnerships that can create these, like pathways for entrepreneurship built into the school day. Yeah, so that's really exciting. I was at a women's bosses meeting and it's really cool. It's just a group of women in my organisation and we just come to support each other once a month. And we have these two lovelies 14 year old young women, they were part of this entrepreneurial after school programme and they had to pitch us and all of us are business owners, and they had to come and pitch us their idea for their business and it happened to be around the patches that they put over to read blood sugar levels for diabetics, and how those are not really something that teenagers feel proud of the so they created some colours and designs that they thought that they could wear. And they came in present. And what was really interesting was there was a health food woman there. And she was in the wellness industry, not in the health industry. And she says, you know, glucose level checks are not just for diabetics, there's actually this health phase out there craze out there. And a lot of people are doing that to check their glucose levels. We ever thought of that as another business arm? Well, of course, they wouldn't have thought that had they maybe not sat in there with them. So part of the concept of bringing in entrepreneurial kind of opportunities for our students, has actual entrepreneurs coming in on site and being mentors and coaches for the students as they do that. So these are the kinds of things that, you know, I think we always say, Okay, you're going to leave and you're going to do college or career boom, right there. Yeah. But we don't necessarily prepare them for the career aspect, as well as we should. And so what aspects of that career shift should we be implementing with fidelity?

Casey O'Roarty 15:58
Yeah, I love the entrepreneurial opportunities and teachings, I love trades, getting trades in school, I think, you know, my listeners have heard me talk about this a million times. But when my daughter was really struggling, something that was supportive for us was going through a DBT programme, a dialectic behavioural therapy programme. And as we were moving through the six month programme together, because part of it was once a week, she and I were part of a group of caregivers and teens, it was a skill based workshop once a week for six months, all I could think of is, this should be a mandatory class in the first year of middle school. And then again, the first year of high school, because you can get all the grades and all the academics and all the information. And if you don't know how to relate to yourself and to the other people in the world, you're screwed. You know, and I feel like this generation of kids, the kids that are graduating right now, I mean, they've been through COVID, they've had the rug pulled out from under them, they see the dark, dirty reality that shit can go down. And it feels like their tolerance for do it. Because we said, so this is the curriculum, this is what you got to do. Like they're calling a lot of bullshit on that. And I talked to a lot of parents who have kids that are really disengaged, and not really caring about school. And I'm wondering, how are you finding schools in their willingness and openness to think outside of the box, especially at the high school level, to veer from what has been this traditional model into something that is actually more useful and helpful for kids moving into college slash adulthood slash after high school? How willing are they to like, really consider these things?

Kristan Rodriguez 17:46
I mean, I think that they're more willing now than ever, because of the difference in students expectations, okay.

Kristan Rodriguez 18:00
You know, when they got removed from that setting, and then they've come back into that setting, there's higher incidences of disciplinary referrals, there's higher incidences of students not doing self care, and there's higher incidences of fights and pushing back at the teachers. And

Casey O'Roarty 18:15
I would hear a lot of adults saying that that's a kid problem. And that is absolutely a system problem.

Kristan Rodriguez 18:19
That's a system problem. So by the way, the adults are really tired, too. I don't know if you've heard or seen that. But our educators are in an equal place to say, I'm not going to do that you can pay me extra, I don't want to do I need to go home, I'm exhausted. This has been a hard couple of years. And I'm not going to do that. And so you know, I just need to take care of myself too. So I think we have to be thoughtful too, about taking care of all but you know, so one approach. And I want to say simple, but it's not simple. But one effective approach that we know works is to implement universal design for learning in our schools. Universal Design for Learning came out of Harvard. And it's a brain based approach to instruction into teaching. And it talks about three networks in the brain that need to be lit up in order for us to learn and guess what one of them is. One of the three is the aspect of network, which is that which relates to engagement. So when we think about teaching in the Universal Design for Learning Framework, we're thinking about multiple means of action and expression, what we're doing as we're learning multiple means of representation, what is the actual information that we're acquiring the knowledge and skills and multiple means of engagement? Why do I care about what I'm learning?

Casey O'Roarty 19:34
That's it for the teenagers?

Kristan Rodriguez 19:37
That's the biggest one is the hardest one. And it's the least amount of work that we do in colleges, preparing educators, we teach them okay, especially the secondary level. I was at high school English teacher myself, this is the content you're teaching British literature. You better know about Beowulf, you know, Canterbury Tales. You need to know these things. This is the content. And then the afterthought was how do we assess them? Well, Oh, everything's an essay. That's how we're going to do this at this point, I

Casey O'Roarty 20:04
have fun with that over the weekend. Enjoy that.

Kristan Rodriguez 20:07
Number two, we really have a conversation in my methods classes around. Why do the kids need to care? How does that support the necessity for perseverance when things get challenging? How do we keep them motivated when they're learning? And that doesn't mean that we're only choosing topics and subjects and skills that are purely their choice shut, that they understand why they have to learn this, and how this is going to benefit them and do so in relevant real world authentic opportunities for learning. And that's that part. And only when we do that, does that part of our brain get lit up? And do we authentically learn, and I tell this analogy to teachers when I work with them all the time, which is, I want you to tell me about a memory you have from school. And I will bet this dollar that it wasn't a Vocabulary Worksheet for 30 questions of the same math problem. It was probably some skits, some activities, some fear that you attended, you know, something that you were actively doing, that you participated in, that you cared about. That's why you remember it, because you were learning, authentically learning. And without lighting up that network, we get regurgitation. And we don't need regurgitation with AI more so than any other time, we do not need that. So what we need is communication and thought, and utilisation and collaboration and cooperation. Those are the skills that we need to teach because the regurgitation happens with computers, right now, we don't need to spit facts.

Casey O'Roarty 21:39
So I'm thinking about the people that are listening to this conversation, I'm hoping they're on the edge of their seats. And as a parent, my son is going to be a senior. And then we'll be out of the school setting, which so weird, as a parent listening to this, and you having been a superintendent and having been a principal, like what is the pathway for a parent, to encourage the administration at their school to be more expansive, with how they're holding the systems and the offerings.

Kristan Rodriguez 22:13
I think just participation get your voice heard. So whether there's opportunities to join a school council, or to attend the parent meetings or to go to those gatherings, I understand that some people are working, and they don't have the opportunity fact, I was much less involved than I would ever have wanted to be as a parent, because I was so busy working at the schools myself. And so I think that there's other ways to that we can communicate our desires and needs, but I think just be that voice, be that voice encouraged at the secondary level for your child, to be that voice, I would stick with my own children at times, and help them put their thoughts into words that I knew would be welcomed and open to by the other adults. Sometimes if we just let them free fly, you know, either might be perceived as too casual, or might be perceived as aggressive or what not so allow some support and framing but not changing the message that they want to convey about their own learning. And so every summer, before the school year, we did this activity in our home, which was like, What do you want out of this year? What do you want this year to be? How can this help you in if you find that that's not available? What can you do to advocate for that at the school, and sometimes on your own. So when my son realised he wanted to be an artist, and we realised they just didn't have the offerings at the school, and it would have taken years to kind of build that up? Well, then we found some local art courses and offerings in our area in the Boston area, and allowed him to take some of that learning there, that can be done remotely online, there's many that are no cost. So it's also advocating, in addition to support the spirit of the child and not only reliant on the schools, but I really think that the message should be why not at the schools? And how do we advocate for those kinds of offerings to be available to the students? Can we collaborate and cooperate across districts, when we don't have enough of a population to support a track of passion that our students may have? How do we collaborate with other schools in that?

Casey O'Roarty 24:15
Okay, I'm gonna pause us in this section, because I think this is super relevant and thinking about when this conversation is going to be live for my audience. We'll be heading into yet another school year and I just want to reiterate what you just shared about what you would do with your kiddos before the school year starts. And I know that my listeners are sitting there like Okay, here we go, you know, and it's a range as far as motivation and accountability and, you know, all the things as far as how our kids approach school and I think that, you know, my listeners are familiar with the invitation to have some conversations, and really hearing what Dr. Rodriguez is saying right now checking in with your Kids, what are your goals? What are you hoping for? And what I really appreciated that you said was, and if you don't feel like there's an opportunity here, I think we can even expand into and when you feel like the relationship with a teacher isn't helpful, what can it look like? I was just on a call with moms who are talking about how kids are developing the ability to take accountability, right. But in the meantime, it is the path of least resistance to blame the teacher to blame the coach to blame the textbook to blame everybody else but themselves for well, a poor grade in this context. And what I'm hearing you talk about is some really good proactive work to set into place like this is where you have power, right? Like you have power here, even when the teacher isn't what you hoped they would be, even when the content isn't what you hoped it would be. You know, and I think that that's such a powerful life skill, as well, is when we get to empower our kids to recognise the places where they do have control, and it's a lot more places than they're giving themselves credit for. And it's a skill in development to my remember, my daughter used to get really bugged to be when I would say, you design your life, babe. You know, after some time, she said, you know, that was a lot to hold that I was the one that was designing my life because it didn't feel good. And so also recognising to like, this is a lot, you know, this is a lot and I have faith in you. And I trust you, and I'm standing right here next to you, ready to support you as well. So I just wanted to facilitate

Kristan Rodriguez 26:42
that conversation, as opposed to have it for them. Yeah, I think you know, our generation, you and me that raised kids roughly within the same kind of period of time, we've really, I think, taken the reins to heartily for our children. And as a result, they sit back and wait for that assistance and support. And so it's not fair to ask them to do it on their own without scaffolding because, you know, that's an authority figure. And you've always told me to respect, you know, my teachers, and you know, I'm not about to go. And, you know, push back at this grade, even though by the way, here's why it's wrong. Or they said it didn't turn it in, I literally have evidence, I'm like, Well, why don't you take a screen capture of the submission and send it, it's a simple mistake, they'll give you the grade for that mistake, but I want to get the matter in trouble. Okay, so let's frame the email for how we're going to write that what would you initially write? Well, that's good. But you know, let's tweak this, why do you think I asked you to, and again, it's not just writing it for them and sending it off on their behalf or saying, you know, you're wrong. It's saying, Hey, we all make mistakes. And by the way, I noticed that I got zero on this. Here's the screen capture of when it was submitted, maybe there was a technical glitch or something that it didn't get through into your system. But I just wanted to make you aware, those kinds of advocacies, it could be as simple as that. And it can be as much as you know, you didn't recommend me for this course, this is a career path and a passion of mine. And yeah, can we talk and I'd like to kind of sit down and meet with you about that I used to always tell my children, I'd like for you to meet first with them more than once before you ever asked me to sit down and meet with them. Now I can help you prep for those conversations we can prepare together. But I really want, again, at starting at the high school level, primarily is when I did this is I want to give you that bridge, because I'm not going to be there. When you're out of the house, when you turn in you leave the house, I won't be there. And I had people that were interviewing for me that said, I've got to go home and make a decision. I got to ask my dad, you know, his advice, you know, before I take this position, and these are teaching positions, and I thought, you know, it didn't always be like that. So this was a symptom of maybe us as parents over parenting. Yeah. And giving them the confidence to make those decisions for themselves at 2425 26 to be able to make a decision about you know, is this what I want to do with my life? So I mean, that's a rare occurrence. But it was, I think, an example of what happens when we do to some degree overstep in, but I also think, you know, look at what you've done, but also sometimes you will make mistakes. And so there are going to be adults that are going to make mistakes, and how do we kind of address that in really thoughtful, respectful way. Yeah, but advocate for ourselves. And I'll get the zero on that, even though I clearly turned it in.

Casey O'Roarty 29:35
Yeah, I mean, I feel like that's the life prep is, you know, even more than the content. Right? The classroom content is like, navigating all the relationships. That's where I get really lit up. My kids are like, Oh, geez, but you know, it's like, all right. You know, my son was really struggling up here. They do have an opportunity to do their waiver programme called Running Start Here. You're in Washington state where juniors and seniors can take classes at the community college and classes at the high school and still be engaged in the high school my son's doing that. And, man, he got his booty kicked in his math class. And but it was the first time I was like, You know what, babe, you finally get to have the Get your shit together at the end of the quarter experience, and you get to do some cramming, and you get to pull it off, you've never had that, because it's been relatively easy for you. And so how exciting that you get to do that, and I get to support you. And, you know, we can get a tutor. And he can take a look at where you're at and support you with. I mean, I'm grateful for the resources that I had to help him with that. But I was more excited about the fact that he finally got that tension. Oh, man, I got two weeks, and I'm in trouble here. I gotta pull this off. That was the most exciting thing to me. You know, I

Kristan Rodriguez 30:55
think a largest part of why students leave university is because they come unprepared. In particular, some of our highest performing students that they haven't really ever had to struggle. And then they do when they don't know what to do about it. They don't know how to advocate for the

Casey O'Roarty 31:12
study. Yes.

Kristan Rodriguez 31:19
You know, and again, as we transition to parents of children that are in their careers, or parents of children that are in university, it's the same kind of need to communicate with them about, I'm not going to do it for you, you know, I'm not going to judge you, but how can I help? How can I help? Because the fact that you had created the relationship where he came to you and told you is part of why he's going to be okay through it, and you know, not and then he failed on that last exam. And he gotten the zero and then with I wasted a whole semester. So I think that those kind of modes of communication are essential my family to this day, and I have a son who's almost 30. And to this day, we do a weekly zoom, all of us get together where, you know, not always in the same place, but it's connecting in with them. How are you? How's it going, letting all of the siblings talk to one another and love it? My husband and I talk and my parents zoom in from where they are. So you know, keeping those connections close, you don't have to be in proximity to keep that connection when they leave the nest, because I know some of the parents here high schoolers, this is going to be a new experience when they leave completely.

Casey O'Roarty 32:22
I mean, my daughter just moved into town like 20 minutes away, and I have to actively not text her all the time.

Kristan Rodriguez 32:32
Yeah, what do ya Yeah, mine just wouldn't respond. Even if I did. They would just let it go. Like, listen, mom, once in a while, I'll respond. Yeah, I do it every day.

Casey O'Roarty 32:42
So I have another question system wise for you. So you talked about, like the entrepreneurial possibilities, and, you know, college in the classroom, and just some different options. I'm wondering what you're seeing in your work with schools around mental health, and how schools are responding to? I mean, I think it's what's been showing up post smartphone? Oh, yes. Lee COVID just launched it into craziness. Budhia.

Kristan Rodriguez 33:10
Yep. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Because, you know, when we had our instances of someone not being kind to us, we left school and it was there, right, that follows them home all day and all night, you know, so when we talk about multi tiered systems of support, one of the things that people I think, don't realise is there's there's three domains within that only one of those three domains is academic, and the other is social, emotional, and the other is behavioural mental health being a component of both of those two. And it's really important that when we create systems, we were looking at data, providing intervention for kids being proactive about things, giving them the skills, that is not just happening within the academics, that's happening with the social, emotional behavioural, and it really needs to happen across the K through 12 spectrum, we're, you know, looking at creating, you know, modules, social emotional modules for early education, right, starting that there, but in the secondary level. So again, engagement techniques within the classroom will actually reduce some of the instances of that, because they're going to actually feel like there's relevancy. And when I'm learning, yeah, but when they're struggling, we have to really make sure that we have entry and exit points of support for those kids when they need it. And then when they no longer needed that we scaffold down those supports for them. And then there's some community wide, simple things that they could do like an advisory programme a lot of high schools do that's really round service, and thinking about ways to engage our students outside of just the academic realm in ways that they feel that they bring meaning to the world, right, and that they are valued. And so it's a combination of providing supports when they struggle, being proactive about those skills that we expect of all of our learners through social emotional supports and programming within the schools. The tiered supports when we have have students that are having mental health challenges and adults, it's not just students within the community, our staff, like we're all humans. And so whenever we have that, how are we providing that support to everyone within our school community? And then how do we come together collectively, and think about the part of our identity that is in service of others is huge and reinforcing our own values. And I don't mean like, oh, do 50 hours of community service and give me a spreadsheet and check it off? And yeah, I mean, like, what do you care about? How do you want to invest in your community? what's meaningful to you, let's set up some opportunities to do some of that work. And some of I thought, even in the classroom, some of the best healing I had seen students do is when they felt cared for and helpful and relevant in their own communities and seen. And so I think, yes, we do all the other aspects of tiered intervention when a kid needs it. But really, it's about more than just that. It's about their sense of belonging, and our schools.

Casey O'Roarty 36:08
Oh, yeah. So I'm a positive discipline, lead trainer, that's my foundation, and for many years did the positive discipline work in the classroom setting. And so I trained teachers, both in the elementary and secondary level. And I mean, teachers were hungry for this curriculum. One because the good news is there's not like a standardised test at the end of the year, where you have to be at a certain spot. So there's like this, ah, you know, kind of freedom, the tension light. And I really want to do this, and there's only so many minutes in the day, and that would always kind of break my heart, even in buildings where the administration was like, take the time, do the lessons front load the year with this work, you could still feel that tension that teachers are under that microscope that they're under, and I got, I mean, I taught 1999 through 2004. So it was kind of pre everything going really standardised. And like I said, I was out in the boonies. And it was like the Wild West. So it was fun. And now it's just there's so much pressure around performance. And that just breaks my heart. But one of the things that I love that one of my colleagues talks about is, you know, social emotional learning, when you think about all the different pieces, the different subject areas and domains, and different curriculums and the arts and the technology, and that this and that. And when we talk about bringing positive discipline into a school, really, it's not a piece to fit in, it's the plate that holds all the pieces, right, because when our kids and I love that you use the word belonging, all of my work comes from the work of Alfred Adler, who's you know, it's all about belonging and significance. And when you're contributing to the community, like you're talking about when you're in service to each other, and you know that when you show up, it matters, because period, and you're in contribution, you're a piece of the whole, everybody does better, everybody is more engaged. You know, when we feel good, we do good. And so, you know, I'm excited to hear that of those three pillars, you can use the word pillar, but same concept domains, things domains, that there is the emotional, social, emotional piece, and there is the behavioural piece, because that is so equally, if not more important than the academics,

Kristan Rodriguez 38:38
right? You know, when I talked about the three networks in the brain under Universal Design for Learning, initially, when they first iterated this, it was multiple means of representation, the content, multiple means of action expression assessment, and then multiple means of engagement. And what they ended up doing was flipping it. So that multiple means of engagement was first because they said, if we don't do that, none of the other stuff matters. And again, it was kind of like people read left to right. So they were looking at the framework and starting with the content and assessing, oh, if we have time, we'll figure out at least in the states we read left to right, and we figured out the time, we'll figure out you know why it matters to kids? No, no, we have to start with their sense of belonging, we have to start with them seeing relevancy in in themselves and what they're learning and, you know, the concept of through multi tiered systems of support, we build that into the day, it cannot be extra. That's what I said we build in what we call a what I need block, wind block, and we build an advisory into the day and so it's not Oh, if you need extra help stay after school. Right? If

Casey O'Roarty 39:41
you do wants to do that. The least motivated

Kristan Rodriguez 39:44
most struggling students are going to be like I need to go home and decompress. Because today was hard. Like I can't stay any longer, right like for my own sense of self. So and yet we punish them by making them stay right yeah, and feeling less belonging excluding that that's how we give consequences. This is your background. So I know I'm speaking to somebody who understands that framework. So, you know, how do we build those pieces into the school day where they can do that sense of agency where they give feedback to their educators where they get the extra support that they need. We are they do service projects embedded into that. And so part of one of the things we do is the schedule, I always say, is one of the most powerful tools that a building principal has in changing the culture. And I know it sounds like such a boring schedule. But really, you know, we value what we resource, and how we resource time tells us what our values are. So if we eliminate something that saying we do not care about that anymore, and if we add something, we're saying, this is something we really care about, because we're gonna gift time with that. So yeah, that's part of that MTSS framework that we talk about is how do we use time for ensuring that that happens, and then also alignment, because we don't want it to be separate. Also, we do want integration of social, emotional and behavioural learning into the core subject areas, what we need to do is get facilitated common planning time for our teachers to do that work with a coach or with an instructional specialist with your background, for example, that knows how to do that integration, as well. So if we're doing something, and we're reading and writing, how do we tie that back into what we learned about how we help each other? So who is your book for? So the book itself was written mostly for school and district leaders? In state organisations, it's systems level work. So what we found was, at the level we were touching was the individual classroom level, if they went to a training, or small team would go, and I would say, Okay, I'm going to assess the effectiveness of your system, you're not going to tell me whose classroom I'm gonna go into, I'm just gonna go like, no, no, no, right? That reaction is because what I call the rain, not hitting the floor or hitting the ground, it's touching on those people that are really invested in it's touching on people that are putting time and energy into it. It's touching on the leaders that you know, are dedicated to this, but it's not hitting everywhere. And if I say to you, as a systemic change, let me go anywhere, and you say sure that I know that systems change has actually occurred, because it is widespread. And so it's a call to leaders to create these systems that will function when they leave and in their absence. And so one of my proudest things that happened was when I left the superintendency, that work continued, yay, because it was not about me, it was about the systems and the structures in the students and the staff in the families. And so that work was they were invested in that work, and they didn't need one person. And so that continued through. And when they looked for new leadership, they said, You better be aligned to this vision, because we care about this. So we want someone that we're bringing in that is aligned to this not just oh, happenstance, maybe you'll be aligned, it will be lucky to keep it. But when we look for someone, we're going to ask you if this is something you care about, one of the systems level strategies is community engagement. So we did these big planning sessions on the weekends with elected officials and local business people and parents and staff and school committee members, school board members. And so again, that was not by happenstance that they all cared about that. That was because we had planned for that for them to feel engaged and participate in the process and know the words that we're using and what is MTSS. So in a system that really engulfs us and believes in that they should all of them should be able to answer that question when you ask it. What is MTSS? Not just the superintendent or the principal? So the book is towards them. But the work is not. Yeah, that works for everyone.

Casey O'Roarty 43:57
I love that. I love that. I'm just thinking about the people that are listening right now. You know, there are parents, there are parents that are teachers and leaders in their communities. So tell us, where can people find you and follow your work,

Kristan Rodriguez 44:10
the easiest place probably would just be the website, you can get some of the free tools, you could share some of those free tools with your school systems, if you wanted to. We have a UDL progression rubric that says this is what this looks like in practice, it's completely free, and other resources like that. So it's www dot C, C, A. And then there's a dash P er because I'm located in Puerto rico.com. So CCA is in Commonwealth consulting agency dash pr.com. And they can go on and look at the book and if they are interested in sharing the title of the book with their local administrators, you're welcome to do that. We have a free study guide for leaders. That was awesome. Collaborate on that in reading that book together. Okay, great.

Casey O'Roarty 44:55
I'll make sure that link is in the show notes. And I have one last question for you that I asked. Oh my god So, which is what does joyful courage mean to you in the work that you do?

Kristan Rodriguez 45:06
You know, I really feel like it is pushing against the discomfort of change when we know it's what's best for kids. And that not only requires courage, but it requires passion. And when we do this, and we pull the levers that are based on evidence and science and research, it works in all settings. And that's when the joy comes. I just had two meetings with two separate clients, districts, and I almost shed a tear. And I'm not something that cries very often, but I was just so excited because the past couple years have been so challenging. And you know, you don't see the needle move when the pandemic is happening, everything and all of a sudden, boom, the systems are running this year, more so than ever. And they saw that and they were joyful, man, they were joyful, but it took courage. And then I push them to the next level, and they were not so happy with me. And I said, Why? Because we haven't finished we just begun. celebrate that. So it's just constantly pushing ourselves when we have success not to live in that success, but to continue to push ourselves in an organisation so every child realises that conversation that I have with my kids, which is what do you want out of your life? What do you want out of this year?

Casey O'Roarty 46:21
Yeah, love it. Thank you so much for spending time with me. Thank you for the work that you do and your passion that you bring to it. This has been great.

Kristan Rodriguez 46:29
So fun. Thanks so much for having me. Great. I love your podcast, I listened to a number of the episodes and I'm gonna be a faithful listener from now on really enjoyed it. Thank you

Casey O'Roarty 46:45
thank you so much for listening in today. Thank you to my spreadable partners, as well as Chris Mann and the team at pod shaper for all the support with getting the show out there and making it sound good. Check out our offers for parents with kids of all ages and sign up for our newsletter to stay connected at beasts browseable.com. Tune back in later this week for our Thursday show and I'll be back with another interview next Monday. Peace

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