Cultural Curriculum Chat with Jebeh Edmunds

Season 4 Episode #7 My Conversation with Leadership Coach and Consultant Beth Napleton

August 18, 2023 Jebeh Edmunds Season 4 Episode 7
Cultural Curriculum Chat with Jebeh Edmunds
Season 4 Episode #7 My Conversation with Leadership Coach and Consultant Beth Napleton
Show Notes Transcript

Beth Napleton is a national award winning teacher and has been in the education field for over 20 years, having trained over 1,800 teachers and leaders to success. Beth is an executive leadership coach, consultant and the owner and founder of Beth Napleton Consulting. She offers senior leaders in education and at mission driven organizations a clear path to excellence through individual, executive and group coaching experiences.

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hello educators. Welcome back to the Cultural Curriculum Chat. I'm so excited that we have the Beth Napleton leadership coach and consultant extraordinaire, in, our guest chair today. Let me tell you a little bit more about Beth. Beth Napleton is a Brooklyn based executive leadership coach, consultant, and the owner and founder of Beth Napleton Consulting. She offers senior leaders in education and at mission driven organizations a clear path to excellence through individual executive and group coaching experiences. Beth is a national award-winning teacher and has been in the education field for over 20 years, having trained over 1,800 teachers and leaders to success. Beth took her leadership skills a step further and became a certified Clifton Gallup strengths coach, so she can offer leaders the opportunity to lean into their own strengths and succeed. Welcome Beth. I am so excited to have you here with me today. I am excited to be here. Thanks for having me, Jebeh. Aw, thank you for coming. So give us a little bit of background of your story, especially how you came into the educational field. Absolutely. So I grew up in the western suburbs of Chicago and I grew up in a pretty homogenous environment, mostly white, mostly Catholic. it felt like, you know, were you Irish or were you Italian? Like that was the big thing. Mm-hmm. And, but I was a kid who from a very early age was a voracious reader. And so that was always how I. Was spending my time, I was escaping into other worlds and other cultures and other historical time periods in the future. And I just felt like there is so much out there and there is so much in this world and there is so much to explore. And so I think that that really kind of was my foray into multicultural education. And I also, you know, as a reader, had a strong sense of some of the injustices of history and the world we lived in, ignited. And so when I went to college in New York City, I immersed myself in my American studies work. I focused on what Dr. King called the is ought gap, right? The way things. Maybe are and the way it ought to be. And then used, then felt like, well, where can I make the biggest difference in the world? And I felt like there's no better place to be an impact than a classroom teacher. And so I joined Teach for America and uh, became an educator in the Washington Heights community in New York City when I started my career. So, Wow. Amazing. And I just love that when you were talking about just that curiosity that led to action, you know, because you can be curious and not take action and go, oh, that's kind of how it's always been. But just like you said, what it ought to be, that change of that philosophy, like Dr. King said of this is what it is. But this is what it ought to be. And I'm just so happy that you chose the ought part of his philosophy in that. That's awesome. Can you just share more about, being that classroom teacher and what little changes or big changes led you to this multicultural education? Yeah. So I think what was interesting was that I then started teaching in a community that was probably, I. 90% students who were immigrants from the Dominican Republic. It was the largest community of Dominican students outside of the capital of the DR at that time. Um, which was pretty incredible. And I taught fifth grade, my first year teaching, which was the oldest grade in the K five school. And then I taught third grade. And what was so interesting is I'm the oldest of eight children. And so I would go back at Thanksgiving and at Christmas and for vacations and you know, I was like 22, 23 teaching. And my youngest sister is 14 years younger than me, and so she was younger than my students at the time. And I remember there was a time I was teaching in fifth grade and I was really into closing the achievement gaps that we saw, making sure my kids would be ready for any future. I started clubs to take them after school to different college campuses and visits, and I was like, I am a doer, right? Sometimes I wish I was a little bit more of a planner before. I'm a doer, but I'm a doer. And I jump in and I do, and I went home on Thanksgiving and I was kind of picking her brain about, I was having some struggles, making my math teaching, engaging and rigorous. And I had gone to a teacher at my school the week before who gave me some worksheets and some ideas for what to do. And then I asked my sister what she was doing in this upper middle class school in suburban Chicago. And she, was the grade below my students in fourth grade. And she was doing like long division mental math in five steps. And I was like, wait, what? And the teacher at my school who's like known for being the really rigorous one, literally gave me like worksheets, right? With subtraction. And I just think that it personified that gap for me between the different experiences. That children have in this country based on the zip code in which they're born into based on the income level of their parents. Right. And and I think there's this American idea that education's a great equalizer and everybody has a chance in this country. And it's like, I'm looking at these, these kids are nine and 10 years old. The writing is already on the wall about write college acceptance letters and s a T scores and medical school and all of those pieces. And so you're thinking the odds are so much steeper for my students in Washington Heights and they are for my sister. Mm-hmm. And that is so screwed up. So I really, the rest of my life, I mean my career to date over the last 25 plus years trying to. You know, unscrew that right? Make it more righteous or make it more just whether that's like founding a school and trying to do it for the groups of students that I worked with or doing some advocacy work and now working with leaders all over. But I do think there is such a tremendous gap in experiences for students in this country based on their backgrounds and it's so problematic. And by the way, in both cases, fairly homogenous communities of students. And thinking about the need for how do you make sure that their educational experience and the books they're reading and the, uh, what they're learning about is representative of the whole big, broad world around us, not just the five miles in either direction. Right. And so I think that, It's really thinking about, and for my, it's important for everybody to see Dominican authors represented in the, canon. It's important for everyone to see folks from various background and immigrants and send, right? Like hear all these different stories. And so I think that time and time again, my experiences over time have only reinforced that. Oh, I love that, Beth. And yeah, we have a lot in common. I'm the oldest of four kids. Oh, wow. And I taught fifth grade for five years, so I'm right there with you. Yeah. But you are right. I mean, just even thinking of, you know, when you're talking about the comparison between your sister's education and the rigor in, suburban Chicago versus your school where you were in Washington Heights, I also realize it's the expectation mm-hmm. Of those students. in front of you. So, yeah, like you were saying, the rigor of that teacher in your building at Washington Heights was like, oh yeah. Worksheet. Worksheet. You know, and the stuff, the steps that your sister was doing, because the expectation of them going, oh, predominantly immigrants. They're not gonna, my expectation gonna be solo. Mm-hmm. They're not gonna get to that, proverbial steps of college, like we're just gonna give them the worksheets to skirt'em through. And, and you're right. That's our school system has been built on the expectation of who's gonna get in and who just. Is not gonna get in. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. And I, I think that, you know, like you said, wanting that rigor and creating a school yourself, and a lot of people have to disrupt in a way, in order to make it just for all. And I think that's something that in the education multicultural educational space is yes, we need representation, but we also need to make it equitable for all. Mm-hmm. Cuz when you're talking about, you know, Dominican Republican. Some people just think Dominican Republic equals baseball player. Mm-hmm. They don't think of the multifaceted groups of people that have that rich wealth and depth that they can to share. Like you said, Dominican Republican authors should be in your classroom everywhere we should know about, you know? Mm-hmm. Well, and I think sometimes when teachers are in that space where it can feel like, you know, I've only got whatever. 120 minutes, maybe a day to teach e l a and I've gotta do, and then the phonics and the spelling and the writing and the this and the authors and then, yeah, the test prep. And it can feel like, but I think that when we do our jobs, it's just helping really, the headline is you're helping kids. See there's a whole big world out there and there's so much to discover and you're kind of trying to light the match that, and they will carry that flame on, right? Yes. They don't need to know every Dominican author that ever happened. We don't need to. But we can, share a poem or do a novel study and then let's switch to Asia and then let's go to Australia. Like the world is a big place. And I think that also kids are able to see, and I saw this time and time again with kids in my classroom, just the like common human experiences. All of us share, right? What heartbreak is and the importance of friendship and just those, I mean, I was a reading teacher, so this is clearly really biased in my. You totally speaking my game. I am. I was a reading teacher too, so this is just Oh, I love it. Yes, yes, yes, totally. And you're right, the human themes go all across the board. Mm-hmm. Anybody can relate to. And like you said, we do have such a finite amount of time and I know, don't even get me started on a pacing guide, honey. You know, so mm-hmm. I get that piece. But you're right. There's little things and little steps that we can take to. Incorporate, you know, our global world in our classroom. It is possible. My other question too for you, Beth, is, when you are working with these educational leaders right now, what. Tidbits of, strategies that you could share with us as leaders of, even if you're not a, leader, like a principal or a dean, what can educators in their own classroom continue to use those same leadership skills that you share with them? Yeah, I mean, I think that leadership is at all levels, right? And when I think about some of the most impactful people in the building, they're not necessarily the ones with the title, right? They're the teacher who has inspired generation of kids who alumni come back to visit, or the custodian who always like, has a hug for a kid who needs it on a bad day. And so I think there's leadership shows up in our schools in so many different ways, and what I primarily do, As a leadership, coach and consultant is I help people who are kind of at one place and wanna get their school, and I mostly work with school leaders, but, and district leaders and superintendents, like say, how do I get my school or district from point A to point B? I want us to. Have a community that is more welcoming. I want us to really have a culture where people are reflecting on their own biases and what they bring to the table. And I'm having a really hard time leading this effort. I wanna restructure my team to be more instructionally focused, right? And not so compliance driven. And I think that, leaders all the time are used to saying, I'm here and I wanna get there and I can. But sometimes we get to certain topics and it seems difficult for us. It seems overwhelming. And leadership is lonely. You know, I always tell people it feels like nobody else has experienced the exact set of problems that you have, and the reality Is that while you are special, you are not unique. Somebody else has had the pain in the butt. Assistant principal who does not go along with anything. That parent that like absolutely causes, like gives you a headache when you think like somebody else has had this experience. And I think the beauty of. Having worked with, so many folks over so long in my career and so many different leadership lessons, as I'm able to draw from this and say, okay, well, like here's some different tools and tricks you can use. Here's some things you can do. Here's some things there. Because there's always a way, right? Mm-hmm. It might be hard, it might be difficult, but there's always a way, and I think that when folks go into education, they're often going in because of a greater mission and a greater sense of calling and duty. Yes. And so it can feel so personal and so frustrating when it's not working. And I tell people like, you, you gotta be able to get help. Right? If your kid was struggling, you would get them help, right? Mm-hmm. Like if you, your star teacher said, I need a coach, you would say, I will figure out a way to get you a coach, and how do you as a leader invest in yourself in that way? Because you can make such a huge impact on your building. Oh, very much so, Beth. And even how you can invest in your building with your staff as well, like that teacher's like. I need a coach. It's like, yep, we will figure it out to get you that coach, cuz I believe in you as well, you know? Mm-hmm. As my staff. I really love that when you said that, um, We aren't in this alone. And leadership can be very lonely. It can also be very vulnerable to stick yourself out and saying, no, this isn't right. We need to change. We need to have some transformational change in this building. Mm-hmm. And that, I really like how you touched on it, because when people do say leaders, they're like, oh yeah, I've got it all together. I know what I'm doing and I can, you know, watch me lead the way. You know, and it's not like, That, and thank you for bringing some truth to that, because it is very lonely. It takes a lot of courage to, you know, step against the status quo of, oh, this has always been like this. Mm-hmm. Or, you know, especially, you know, as a bipo educator, it's like, oh, you're the only one. Yeah, I know. I'm the only one you're all we got. Okay. You know, who else can we recruit in the district to? Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. So it's not just me. What is our investment in this part? You know? So those are the things I really think a lot of school districts especially need to really look inward and say, yeah, I need to see how when I do step out of that, Line of what has always been, we can't stay in that line. We have to keep moving forward. Isn't that right? We Exactly. I think, right. It's that saying, if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you always get, right? And then you're, we're frustrated by our kids aren't critical thinkers, or our schools aren't this or whatever. It's like, so then we're gonna have to do things differently. I think often, It can be difficult for leaders because they might say, Hey, I'm here at point A I, I wanna get to B. I know we need to get to B, but I don't see that full path, and I'm afraid to go out and take that first step because if I go take that first step, I don't really know what step two or step three or step four is. And so I'm kind afraid like, am I gonna walk off a cliff here? Or, this is my job, it's my livelihood, a time feeding my family. Like what do I do? And so I think that's one of the areas that people will sometimes engage me as a coach or bring me into as a consultant because it's like, Hey, I can tell you about step 2, 3, 4, and I don't have a crystal ball. I also can't tell you what our step three will be. It'll depend on what we find in step one and two, but we will figure this out. We'll figure it out together. You are the expert on your school or your district. I am an expert on leadership and people, and this can be done because I think that, folks go into education to change the world, I think. And whether that's changing the life of a student or inspiring them to. Become a scientist or a teacher or a leader or whatever it is, there is some level of inspiration. There is some level of kind of mission there, and we know we can do better by our kids. And you might be the first, but you people see you and see that courage and then they start to join you, right? Yes. It's slower than we'd like a lot of the times. But eventually it happens, right? Oh yeah. And I always say there's this Ethiopian proverb that says, hurry, hurry has no blessing. And it's like, ah. It takes time. You gotta be in it for the long game. You're not gonna get that return the next week. Mm-hmm. And I feel too that step two three is, it's so unclear that fear of I'm gonna fall off the cliff, but then it's like, well, two and three is gonna be a couple school years pass, but it will get to two and three if you just hang on a little longer. Just hang on. Yeah. Yes, yes. Hang on. Yeah. And so another question I have for you, Beth, is. I'm just in awe of you because you started this school, in Chicago. Can you just share like What was your driving motivation of continuing that success of these marginalized groups of kids? Like you said, a lot of first generation kids graduated from your school program and have excelled far beyond. What was your motivation to just, start your own school? Yeah. Yeah. It's funny cuz I feel like it's one of those things I've kind of found in the last 15 years since starting a school. It's been so interesting to me the number of people, when people say, what do you do? I started a school cuz they, I always wanted to start a school. It's like this hidden dream People have, I don't know if like professional sports players, have the same thing. I'm like, look at all these people. Fall. Um, and I think in some ways it really, the seed was planted when I was teaching in Washington Heights and frankly, I was doing what I tell, I talk to leaders about this a lot now because, I was a second year teacher criticizing the way the school was. All the things could be better, what could be different. And you know what I'll tell my leaders now is the view is easy from the cheap seats, right? And there I was the cheapest of seats. I had, no, I was only in charge of my classroom, right? There were like 10 other third grade teachers. Like there was so much going on, but I was like, So I was not quite as humble as perhaps I would wish my earlier self to be, but I think I saw that there had to be a better way. And so one of the things that I did shortly thereafter, I actually moved to rural North Carolina and I worked at a charter school there. This was like 20 years ago. Charter schools were very new. Mm-hmm. Um, but it was an incredible school on a peanut field with largely first generation African-American students who were all college bound. And it was, had just finished its second year and I wanted to be a part of it. I could tell it was very successful and I said I wanted to go there so that I could see I. How, like I knew a lot about how I didn't want things to be, but I wanted a model of what I thought it could look like. Mm-hmm. And that was a really transformative experience where I taught the same students fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. And so I really got to see them grow. I mean, now my babies are in their early thirties having their own babies. It's like weddings, law school, graduations. It's incredible. Wow. Yeah, but your point of the change comes, like, I always tell younger teachers like, you know, you think that your gratifications gonna be in year one or year two or year three, but man, you give it a few years beyond that and those alumni come back from high school, then they come back from college, and then they come back and they work alongside you. That is. Really when you feel that sense of fullness and completion and the arc of development and the interconnectedness of life and all the magic of it. And so it really, um, was just such a gift. I was in this town, it was a town of a thousand people. It literally had one stoplight and I was in my late twenties and I, my dad, I was from Chicago. My dad kept saying there's lots of need. And so, and I was like, I wanna be someplace where I can picture myself for the rest of my life. And so, you know, and I didn't see myself long-term pers I needed a good sushi restaurant within a 30 minute drive. That was like a, I love that. A life goal of mine to get back to, yeah. And so I went to a school that on paper was very missional aligned. Right. And was very similar. But the experience of going to the school, was it just, the. Adults weren't led well. Um, it was very compliance focused. I love to read, I will read at every opportunities, but they'd say, we're gonna go take the kids on a bathroom break and they're gonna read in line for the bathroom. And I'm like, nobody does this. Why are we making nobody? Yeah. And you're asking me to do it because they're black and brown kids, right? From Chicago. You would not ask kids, you know, it's, yes, bathroom breaks can be chaotic. They're no one's favorite time of day, whatever. And let's really examine what we're doing here because exactly. Some issues going on, and so I kind of felt like, man, I did my homework to try and find the best place in Chicago. In the Chicago area that I would really wanna do this. I'm like, this is not a match. And so, I mean, it sounds so crazy to say it's like maybe I should just start a school. I love it. So that can be the school I work at, which like by the way, right? Like hindsight's 2020, I like. 10 million steps that came after and the heartache and the cash flow and the this, and the politics. But I think that is what planted the seed. And certainly there is the need, like there are in so many communities for schools that better prepare kids for, you know, college and career that. Of their own shoes that were meaningful. Oh yeah. And Beth, you are the doer. You said you're a doer. You know, the other stuff comes, comes later. Even this doer at some points was like, whoa, what did I do? I love it. I love it. I love it. So thank you so much, Beth, for being on the show. Where can our friends find you if they wanna learn more? Absolutely if any of the leaders who are listening and regardless of, like we said, leader is not necessarily position specific. Right. I think, I do a lot of leading right now. My role is mom. Yes. Um, which does not come easy. So if you go to, I have a quiz. It's like a less than two minute quiz on what you need most as a leader. And so that's someplace that. Folks can go and take that quiz and I'll send you some results and some curated advice. Um, and that also leads to my website, which is beth, which has podcast appearances. It has resources, videos, blogs, and a little bit more about what I do in case folks are interested in potentially working together. Oh, awesome. Thank you. And friends, I will put all of Beth's information in the show notes. Thank you again, Beth, for being on the cultural curriculum chat. I love being here. Thank you so much. Thank you.