Teaching Math, Teaching Equity: A Conversation With José Vilson
Published on: 15th July, 2022
When it comes to walking the talk of equity in education, it's hard to find a better example than Jose Vilson. He's a math teacher and coach; a speaker, activist, and author; and the executive director of EduColor. Elana Leoni, CEO of Leoni Consulting Group, sits down with Jose for a lively discussion about mathematics as a key to social justice; the stories that people need to tell, hear, and read; and what's possible in education when everyone's humanity counts.
Access this episode's Show Notes, including links to the audio, a summary, and helpful resources.
[Start of recorded material:
Hello, and welcome to All Things Marketing and Education. My name is Elana Leoni, and I've devoted my career to helping education brands build their brand awareness and engagement. Each week, I sit down with educators, EdTech entrepreneurs, and experts in educational marketing and community building. All of them will share their successes and failures using social media, inbound marketing or content marketing, and community building. I'm excited to guide you on your journey to transform your marketing efforts into something that provides consistent value and ultimately improves the lives of your audience.
Hello, everyone. I'm Elana Leoni. I'm the CEO of Leoni Consulting Group, and welcome to this week's episode of All Things Marketing and Education. If you're hearing me sound a little less excited than usual, we're recording this episode the week of the tragedy in Texas, and you all know how much I love these podcasts and how much they inspire me, but this week has really just taken it out of me emotionally and physically. So, if you're hearing me sound a lower tone than usual, it is no way something about the speaker, because I am so excited to welcome Jose to this show, but we're all just struggling. So, I wanted to just tell you and be transparent and normalize how much everybody is going through what's going on right now. And my heart goes out to everybody struggling, and we will probably touch a little bit about this on the podcast – but back to Jose.
I truly cannot think of a better guest to join me today. Jose Luis Vilson is a veteran educator, he's a writer, he's a speaker, he's an activist, and he'll be talking with me about all things math, social justice, and really anything in between all of that in K-12 education, and recently in higher education as well. He is the author of This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class and Education, and he writes about math, race, and social justice for a number of organizations and publications: New York Times, The Guardian, TED, El Diario, La Prensa, The Atlantic. He's a National Board Certified Teacher, and if you don't know what that is, please Google it. It is something very hard to get, very impressive. And for all of you K-12 educators listening, it would be something that would significantly help you and professionally develop you.
He is a Math for America Master Teacher, he's the executive director of EduColor, which we will be talking about. It's an organization dedicated to race and social justice issues in education. He is currently a doctoral student studying sociology and education at the Teachers College in Columbia University, and he's also on the board of directors for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and PowerMyLearning. So, I know that is a lot, but I know he wouldn't talk about himself in that comprehensive way if I asked him to, he's such a humble human being. Personally, I met Jose when he was blogging for Edutopia which feels like, holy moly, lifetimes ago, and I remember seeing him in first person at Skywalker Ranch and it was just a crazy world of having the most inspiring people come to this billionaire's playground out in the back of the woods somewhere.
I just loved getting to know him, I loved following him and being inspired by him on social media afterwards. Jose is someone I look to and always get inspiration from, and I am not a stalker, I swear, but I do read almost every single one of your tweets, Jose. You make me pause and think critically about so many things, sometimes, that I take for granted, and I thank you for that. I want to let the audience know, I'm sure it'll come out, but you are funny, you are a kind human being, and I am just in awe of everything you do in education. So, with that, I want to welcome Jose.
I'm definitely appreciative. Thank you so much for this.
Yeah, I am excited to get started and get the audience to get to know you. So, why don't we just start with that? Maybe just tell the audience a little bit more, add a little more context about you, and in particular, I'd love to know the Jose before education. What got you into education to begin with? And then, since you have all these layers now as an author, as an activist, you have the teaching in K-12, but now the higher ed and being a student yourself, how has that changed throughout your journey?
Whew, I want to thank you for this question. Something that consistently comes up for me is the notion of alignment. I've consistently thought about how a lot of my pre-K-through-12 education gave me lenses for the education that is possible when adults really come together and are thoughtful about how they engage children. I grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which was just transitioning from a predominantly Jewish neighborhood to a multicultural neighborhood with Black folks, Latinx folks, Asian folks. So, we had a broad set of people, but most of my teachers, if not all, from pre-K to 12, were white Jewish women. So, in addition to my own Catholic upbringing, I was also going to synagogue two or three times throughout that career. So, I was pretty familiar with that religiosity, and that was pretty cool.
But then, I also got a little deeper into Catholic schools. So, I went to Nativity Mission School for middle school, and I did really well, thanks to that element. And from there, I started to get a lens of education as servant leadership, which was really thought provoking. And in high school, something similar where I went to Xavier High School, a lot of prominent folks went there. And over time though, Syracuse University was really it. That was the space that I said, "I'm going to become who I actually am." And computer science was a good thing for me to learn, but it wasn't going to be the thing that I wanted to do when all of my actual learning happened outside of the classroom which I consistently advocate for.
mally, I knew that [inaudible:
So I said, "Well, if I'm going to affect high school dropout rates, then I need to go back to eighth and seventh grade and catch them in the middle grades so that they can have a strong foundation in math. And so, a lot of this was just a line that said social justice is mathematics for me, and it is education for me, and it is all these different things all at the same time, because I knew how important it was for students to get opportunities. So, hopefully that provides a lot of helpful context for this conversation and all the other ones.
Yes, yeah. And I always think about that, too. What is that age? And when you talked about what's that age you can make the most difference and, that it's never too late, but what age is harder to get them to change the trajectory and get them to open up possibilities, and I love the way you phrase that. Let's talk about your book. It's been a minute since that book's been out, but I'd love for you to talk a little bit, because when you talk about race and math, I think your book talks about that in quite detail. So, why don't you tell me what inspired you to write the book and what's been your journey since it's been out? I'd love to hear from you, since you are so active in social media, if you've seen some ripple effects around it.
Oh, definitely. So, This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class and Education. It's interesting because I was, I still am, a big fan of going to Barnes and Noble and browsing the education section specifically. At that moment, there were so many different people who had come out with books, but they were generally either former educators or celebrities or folks who had lots of money and had already had a certain level of success. So, if you don't see the book that you want to read, then you should go write it, is what the phrase is. It's completely parroted a million times, but it definitely became true. So my blogging, luckily for me, allowed me a way to have a conversation that wasn't being had across the board. And so, I said, "Well, if I'm going to write all these things," I was writing a post, it felt like, every single day minus the weekends, I said, "I could probably try to tap in and write a book."
e book. I think it was May of:
And it's interesting because the book gets released, I'm at the United Innovation of Teachers headquarters, and there's a big book celebration for it, and a lot of my friends are there. But then, the day after, not even a few hours, actually, after the party, I was on an Amtrak to go to the White House, and I was able to meet up with about 15 to 20 teacher leaders from across the country, and of course, well, the vice president's wife at that time which is now the First Lady, Jill Biden was there. I guess it was really awesome just to be in that space, listening to her thoughts on things in addition to Arne Duncan and so many other policy makers but I think that set the tone.
I said, "Okay, the book is going to give me a way to have a conversation with multiple people across the board." This is written for educators, surely, but it's also written for the general public to get a lens of what educators can do and should do with their voice. So, it's got tidbits practically for everybody, and of course, you can't tell a story unless somebody actually knows you. So, I felt like, if I interject a little bit of who I am and why it is that I do what I do, then maybe other people can follow that path as well.
Yeah. And have you seen other people follow a little bit of that path? I've never seen a book like that, and when it came out, like you said, you were the only educator writing in education. And for me, it's somewhat baffling, but it's also understandable because educators have ten million jobs, it's not like we're asking you to be authors on top of it. But what you said is, yes, I have a story to tell, too, I'm already writing and sometimes we put this up in our head of, oh, a book is too much. And I start talking to educators, especially at Edutopia, I'm like, "Well, you already wrote five books by that time, all the blog posts you did. So, let's just gather your thoughts and let's get you a voice in education who needs to be heard, heard."
Yeah, I think it's interesting, too, because when I came out with that book, publishers were leery, and that includes agents who were leery about publishing a current classroom teacher, because so many folks who were trying to publish books by educators were focused on practice and not enough about the narrative or the story. They wanted teachers to just give practical tips and not enough about what their actual thing is. What I found was, later on, people started to see the things that I was doing, either on social media or wherever, or even my blogging, as a template for how they were going to build up teacher leaders and their profile. And I'm always fascinated by being the blueprint because I was dangerous, and maybe I still am in that way, but that I became the template for a lot of different people. And I see books now, there are some books, obviously, that are still practice-heavy, but I do see some books that are becoming a lot more narrative driven and story driven, which I think is really awesome to see.
And in particular, there's two that I can think of just off the top of my head. I'm thinking about Patrick Harris' The First Five Years, more recently where he gets more narrative driven about his work. And of course, Not Light, But Fire by Matthew Kay, it's a phenomenal read. Very poetic from the beginning, but he talks about his failures, too, from the practice standpoint which, again, publishers were leery to put out. And it's not to say either these two are somehow just straight up xeroxing my work, that is not what I'm saying. What I'm more saying is that I'm glad that publishers are now opening their eyes to the notion that teachers can actually contribute something to the narrative around education from the publishing standpoint. So the more, I guess, publishers can actually ask for those things, the better.
Yeah. And for those of you that were scribbling down those book titles, know that in our Show Notes, we will put them on there with links, so no need. If you're on the go or just want that information, know that we always publish Show Notes. At the end of the episode, I'll give you the link to the Show Notes as well. And for any of you educators that are listening now that writing a book intrigues you, and maybe it's a bit on your bucket list, we have an episode with Sarah Thomas, she is the founder of EduMatch and also helps educators self-publish, too, so we'll put that link in the Show Notes as well.
So why don't we switch gears a little bit, Jose, and talk about all of the other stuff you're doing on top of being a classroom educator. One of which is the EduColor Movement. Can you tell our audience just a little bit about that, how it came to be and maybe it's evolution, because it's been around for a while and has gone through some twists and turns, right?
actually founded, really, in:
ve a movement behind it until:
Obviously, our EduColor Chat is still very well attended, we have one on Twitter and that's been really good to have. But we also host our EduColor Summits. Our third one is coming up – actually, our third virtual one because we had a bunch before then – it's coming up in July, and that's pretty awesome. And we have awesome speakers that usually come through. They share a story, but they also connect it to something that they're doing out in the world, and that's been pretty inspirational, hundreds of people attend those things. But then, also, too, we've been able to partner with a lot of different organizations including TED, including The Expectations Project, including the Center for American Progress. So we have organizations large and small who all want to get a better sense of how to have the conversation around diversifying the teaching profession, and then a little deeper and, not to mention, have more relevant conversations that are contemporary and are timely to the moment. So, that's been EduColor's work, and we're still a small organization but we are mighty, and that's been a real big blessing.
Yeah, I've loved seeing your growth, seeing how you contribute consistently with the chats, but then also your summits. I just love seeing you all as a resource that was much needed, there was nothing like that. People weren't even talking about that before you all decided to get in there, and I know that was a reason why you did that. You mentioned difficult conversations, and you also talked about you had a framework for them. Not to get too deep into it, because I know if people want to learn more, they can go to your website, they can attend your summit, and we'll have all those links in the Show Notes. It's just so hard for so many people to start conversations, and so what they tend to do is just ignore it, right?
So how do they even begin?
Usually it starts by asking good questions. So, one thing that EduColor loves to do more generally is ask where the source of the pain is and then who's most affected by the pain. It's interesting because, for example, one wouldn't think that EduColor has specific alignment to the catastrophe that happened in Paris a bunch of years ago, but we actually set aside the chat that we had for that tragedy, and we instead went right for the conversation that we needed to have about Paris, and questions around religion, questions around what it means to look internationally at global events, and what we can do in our own context.
Once we said, "OK, here's the source of pain, and here are the issues that are intertwined," we started to learn how to name the things. And then, when we named them, we, I guess, gathered a way to define what we needed to talk about then we knew that we need to align our frame around what justice might look like in that space, around what would healing look like in that space. And then of course, too, what are some ways that educators can then take our conversation and either have it amongst each other, as professionals within the building, or with their own students, which of course, consistently happen. And so, there are elements – of course, there's always going to be rage, there's always going to be depression and sadness, and we should allow ourselves to feel the feels regardless of what we define as professional. And then, just on top of that then, it's, "OK, so then what do we do next with this big conversation?" And so, we provide each other resources, practically for free, we're just sharing the things that we've been able to share.
So that knowledge base and being able to knowledge gather is really a prominent part of what we do with EduColor. So that would be the framework. It's just being able to say, "Let's name the pain, let's name who's affected, let's talk about the messaging, and then how are we going to have the conversations with the key stakeholders, especially the folks who are most affected in our current context, and then try to build out from there?"
And it's funny because, like I said, we did not necessarily think of ourselves as a religion-based organization. We were just trying to tap into a difficult conversation because no other education chat was trying to do that. We said, "This is the thing." And we did teen pregnancy, for example, and shout out to Christina Setzer for that one. She was the moderator for that one, and it was difficult. People attacked us in many ways from different sectors, but we felt like, if we don't have the conversation in a human way and tap into the people who have been affected and want to find ways to talk about it because these are things that are happening, then we're not doing our job if we don't talk about it. So let's be the organization that does that.
Yeah, and I love that the way you frame it as curiosity driven and collective. So what really resonates with me as a community builder is we don't just go in and say, "Here's the thing" or ask questions just for myself. You're saying, "Together, let's come up with a framework that works, and let's figure out collectively what makes the most sense that we all agree on," and that is such a healthy way to approach it. But the thing is, you have to create a safe enough space where people can be vulnerable to even ask those questions, and that's what I do love about your organization.
Speaking of EduColor, social justice, talking about difficult conversations, how do you approach those types of conversations? You being an activist yourself, too – I know you talk about yourself and share about yourself in your classroom – how does that affect your students, and do you interweave a lot of these concepts into your teaching?
Oh, it's a must, it's a must. It's interesting, too, because it's not like we were trained on messaging or anything like that. We did have folks who were definitely doing that as a job, but generally, it became even more imperative because we identified as of color, as Black, as Latinx, as indigenous, whatever that may be. We need to be able to have those deep conversations, and of course, we have to not just talk the talk but walk that talk and walk the walk as well.
So as a math educator, it was 15 years of straight up saying, "You know what? I'm going to do this with a sense of justice first and foremost." So, there were times in the curriculum when I was like, "Oh, I know we want to discuss turning, I guess, straight lines into tables and making graphs and all that other stuff, but I could set that aside for a minute because my students are really angry right now about what's happening with Trayvon Martin, or what's happening with Eric Garner, or there's this really catastrophic event that I need to set aside some time for in my own classroom."
And it's interesting, too, because people say, "Well, you shouldn't bring up the conversation because..." Who said you shouldn't bring it up? I'm like, "The kids usually have it on their faces," and unfortunately, I was often in positions where they knew that I would be the only one who would try to address it, and to address it in a way that made sense. And so, for a lot of my students, they were looking to me to have the difficult conversations, because it is funny, it isn't … So, the argument for diversifying the teaching profession isn't just so they can see somebody like me walking through that door. That's one element, surely, but I still have to put in the work of building those relationships, being authentic with them and actually bringing my lived experience into the things that I'm doing.
So, when I was in the classroom, I was very intent on saying, "Let me just create a little bit of space in case you all need it." There were some days where we literally went half the class just talking about the thing, and they weren't trying to do that intentionally to get away from the work, because they ended up doing very well on so much of the assessments and everything. It was just more like this was a tension, and no one else was going to name it except for the person they feel like they trusted the most with that, and that was me. So it was wild, but these are good things as well, because it also ensures that if I can do it, I think, anybody can do it and they can all do it authentically. Even if they may have different viewpoints, if they're willing to get vulnerable and actually actively listen to students, these are … Oh, by the way, these things are not all that different from math practice standards, so should an administrator walk in, I'm like, "I'm practicing the standards, they're right here. I'm constructing viable arguments, I'm modeling, but I'm just doing it with a topic that may not necessarily be germane to the math content standards." Good on me.
Yeah, it's so interesting that you frame it that way, because otherwise, it's a proactive way to create a foundation and trust of you showing yourself as being vulnerable to your kids as well. And a lot of those core concepts remind me of so much of what I've seen in classrooms from Edutopia and around social and emotional learning. If you're not ready to learn, how can you begin to ask them to do some things that sometimes take a lot of energy and focus? I can't even focus, I've got this … Like you said, it's all over their faces, so how do we touch base and show them that we potentially are human, too? We may be struggling with this as well, and we just want to hear them out. I don't think students get heard as much – educators don't get heard as much as I'd like at all, but students don't get heard as much at all. So I love that you put that through and how you can directly correlate to the standards, because there is a misnomer there, right?
specially, for example, after:
But at some point – yeah, but is it authentic to what you are thinking and what you are feeling or you are processing? And if it's not, then it's not as helpful as if you say something to the effect of, "I'm sad about this, I wish I could do more about this." And being able to say those things to students and those are the words that came out of you, that's way more authentic than you trying to go get. And of course, with all due respect to any number of authors, including myself, if you just have to get my book, great, go do that but, if that book doesn't help you get the authenticity you need and the active listening that you need, then it's not going to really be helpful when it comes to having the conversation with students.
Yeah, I'm so glad you brought that up, because part of me is like, "OK, let's get tactical, let's get them a framework, they can follow these steps." It's just like anything, being able to start is the hardest thing, but you don't want to start and go, "OK, I've checked this part off, I've shown my vulnerability. OK, I've listened to them." Because when we are fundamentally checking things off of a list, they know, everyone knows, gosh, they can smell it and they will attack, so don't do that. But I think it's a tricky situation because people are just, in the beginning, want something, they want to read up about it, like you said, and what I find you do is you provide people a foundation of comfort for them to even dip the toe in the water.
Oh, it's a must, it's a must. And this connects back a little bit to the Twitter chats, too, because Twitter is an open space, isn't it? It's a completely open space, and folks can try to jump in and do this, that, and a third. And this is what I actually do appreciate about having been part of EduColor, is there are roles that some of us take on to ensure the safety of EduColor chat. So, there have been times when any number of people just come from different spaces, and I'm the first one to say, "OK, you know what? I'll step in this role and you all continue chatting, and I'll make sure I take care of the folks who are not being constructive or helpful in the ways that they need to be for this chat to go on."
So, whether they're trying to advertise something, or they just straight up want to just disagree with everything and everybody, or they just want to say a bunch of random things that have nothing to do with what we're talking about, when people see that … And it's funny, it's the folks who aren't speaking but they're reading, those are the folks who are most affected by me saying, "You know what? I'm going to take a stand that protects this work," and it ends up getting that ripple effect of this organization actually cares about what they're talking about which, again, is not necessarily common practice for a lot of our, I guess, education chats more generally.
Yeah, you all are a community and, I think, when you open up your community to an open space, it becomes your responsibility to make sure that people feel safe enough to actually have a productive conversation. And so, it's not a private Facebook group where you've approved everybody and things like that, it's a little bit of the wild, wild west. And I love that you are taking it very seriously to make sure that we need to feel safe enough, and if you all are distracting the conversation or not here for the right reasons, please leave.
So, with your work, you've got EduColor, you're now in the university shaping minds, you're a student yourself, so many years in the classroom and author. Everyone loves to see, OK, with all this work, Jose, you're touching so many minds, but can you bring it back to maybe a couple of stories around maybe a student that you had that changed as a result? It doesn't have to be around activism, but you've touched so many lives and maybe an educator in particular, too. There's so much we don't know as human beings, and sometimes it's easier for us to put the blinders on and say, "Let me go through the motions," but what you do fundamentally opens up those blinders for a lot of educators. And I'm just wondering why does an educator – and I know this is ten million questions in one, so pick one – but why would an educator prioritize anything around what you're saying right now if they're just fundamentally burned out and just trying to go through the motions? And we know a lot of educators, and there's no judgment here for that, because being an educator's the most challenging job I've ever encountered.
Well, OK. Alright, I got one. So, my first year, there was the student who was in eighth grade, and it was eighth grade honors class. Of course, I wasn't at the point where I was telling everybody to abolish gifted and talented or any of that stuff, I was just the first-year teacher trying to go through the motions, becoming the conglomerate of all the other teachers who I was watching at the time and learning from. And we had this one student named Steven – that's his real name because he's an adult now, so thankfully, I could say it – but he was considered lazy but smart, that's the stereotype. So, they were doing well on exams, they were doing well on other performance-based assessments, but they weren't really turning in homework and not doing their work more generally unless they got pushed.
So, of course, me, as someone who was like that eighth grader, who sometimes people did try to consider me lazy though, I think I did pretty dang well in middle school, I was like, "I think he could do so much more, I just need to convince him of how to do it." Then, over that school period time, we started also learning, too, that he had some issues at home, and he wasn't necessarily being cared for in the ways that he would've wanted, I'll leave it at that. But then, he eventually kicks it up a notch just enough for him to graduate, and I made him a quasi-teacher, too. I was like, "Oh, if you can do this, that would be phenomenal. I will guarantee you, this is great, yada, yada," and he stepped right into it. He was excited to be that helper even with some of our class clowns who I also had a love for, but still.
And it was myself and my social studies counterpart, we were both on top of him just trying to make sure that he had something, but it was just a seed that we were planting, a seed. And so, over time, I had become a pretty young math instructional coach, so it was maybe my fourth, fifth year. And the context for that, too, is, not only was I becoming a math instructional coach which basically meant to be a leader, but also the New York Times and all these other different mass media publications were publishing New York City teacher's test scores in their papers. Because you remember the value-added measures and all the test scores stuff that was happening back in the peak of No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top.
But back to the student, at some point, I was having a really hard time because I was trying to teach a class, I was out a lot because of my responsibilities with my math instructional stuff, and I was really frustrated with administration, I was really frustrated with having my test scores being published and people saying, "Oh, he's so terrible at his job because, look at him, at the bottom of his whole school." And it's like, "But I'm doing math coaching and trying to teach at the same time, and the kids are all liking what I'm doing, so I don't know what's going on." But I was feeling pretty down on myself, I was like, "Is this going to be the thing for me?"
And then, at some point, I walk into the principal's office because that's where my main office was, and somebody tapped me on the shoulder and they're like, "Mr. Vilson." I'm like, "Who are you?" And it's this really tall guy, shaved completely and he's got this, I want to say, this white coat on him, it's a military uniform, and he's like, "Me. It's Steven." I'm like, "Steven, what? How are you?" And he's like, "Oh, I'm fine. How are you?" I'm like, "I'm OK now. How can I help you?" I was stunned for a good minute or two that, A, this kid had grown into something so much larger, but that, B, that he was coming in with a military uniform. So, long story short, he told me that the seeds that me and my social studies counterpart had planted into him had finally grown at some point in the middle of high school and he said, "Oh, I'm just going to rock everything. I'm smart enough to do algebra, smart enough to do trig, I'm smart enough to do calculus," and he had gone into MIT. And then, he gets into MIT, joins the JROTC program, becomes part of the ROTC, he's learning how to …
And of course, I'm stunned by all this stuff. I'm like, "You're telling me all these things and I'm about to go eat lunch. I don't know what to do with this." But then, of course, I get to follow on my Facebook and, on Facebook, I start following him and he's going all around the world, all around the world. And not just for military activities, but just because he was given that privilege, but it really gave me a lot of heart for the things that I want to do with my students.
So maybe it's interesting for us to think about how we are good at planting seeds as educators. We don't know how they're going to grow, but we ought to be proud of ourselves when we do these superhuman – and by superhuman, I mean that we're going above and beyond that which the average person is asked to do. We're asked to take out a moral code, we're asked to do this at less pay, we're asked consistently to stay longer or come in before the sun even comes up for some of us to go into our classrooms and be ready, for things that, frankly, we should be reacting more humanly to. There are times when we want to be super-duper angry at students and that's not our job or we want to be, I guess, way tired and depressed, but we have to stand up straight and, well, wherever possible. And we have to be these, I guess, these models and figures for our students that show extra compassion, extra love, especially in moments of tragedy and as well as triumph. We plant these seeds, and then we hope that they grow into something that can surpass us and the things that we want for them. And so, I've been very blessed to teach over a thousand students and, every time I look at any number of my students, I'm like, "Oh, my gosh. I think the plant grew inside you, and I don't know what fed you shortly after me, but I hope I had a positive effect on that growth." So, that's what I got.
Yeah, and I think that, when you talked about that story, that was so touching, it's about transferring your belief into them, and that belief inside them grew, and that 100% happened to me. There's no way I would be where I was, gone into education, God, I've even finished high school, honestly, I didn't know anyone that was doing any of these things. It wasn't until a teacher told me and believed in me and actually did a lot of what the things you were talking about, gave me extra responsibility and said, "Oh, yeah, you can do this. Totally." Getting them excited about it and then taking that and saying, "Well, if I can do that, I can do this. If I can do that, I can do this." And that was such a beautiful story, so thank you for sharing.
Half of our audience here – so we've talked a little bit about things around the educators in particular. We have a lot of innovative educators, educators that are dipping their toe in the water of EdTech, educators that are just trying to switch things up in their classroom, interested about the space, but then we also have a lot of people in EdTech in particular. So, we have marketers, leaders that love to listen in on these shows, and this is your chance, really, to talk to them. I want to keep it open, because I think that there are lots of things we could talk about, but is there anything in particular you'd like to say to them potentially, if there's a way you could say, "Hey, if you could just do this, this might help support educators most"? I want to throw it out to you, because educators love and find so much benefit in the practical and strategic aspects of this show, but to the EdTech people, I really say, "Listen as much as possible. Listen, listen, listen," and I like to talk to them directly as well.
I want to thank you for that opportunity, and it's interesting because, even before I started teaching, I sat in that intersection as a computer science major for a bachelors. So, there's a few elements here, but the one I really want to tap into is language. We recognize that in our country, at this moment, we have a large influx of students with interrupted formal education, a lot of students who are linguistically gifted, not just in English, but in so many other languages from across the board. New York City alone has dozens of languages that teachers have to acclimate to and learn and get better at – and of course, the rest of the country as well. It's important for us to find ways to get teachers more acclimated into what people have called English as a new language, multilingual learning, yada yada. We need more tools that can help us get better at serving students who English may not be the language that they're tapped into, yeah?
I would just say, too, especially when it comes to math, for example, I know that there were times when I struggled trying to find the right resources for my students who were either speaking Spanish dominantly, or I had a bunch of students who were coming from Yemen, so Arabic was a thing that I needed to acclimate to pretty quickly as well. And so, obviously, there's going to be teachers who are like, "Everybody should just keep up and just be English."
I'm like, "No, no, no, no. Actually, we would do better by trying to figure out ways for us to pick up a little bit of the languages that our students actually know." So, in the ways that EdTech can be helpful in trying to ensure that teachers can actually tap into students' languages, and we can actually do a much larger service for the teaching profession more generally because, as we know from the research, if we can actually do the thing where we teach students in their home language the math that they need, then they'll be able to pick it up in English pretty quickly once they get strong at that mathematical component.
So, these things are transferable, and the ways that we can help adults get better at the thing that they do, the more helpful it is for everybody. And of course, not to mention, we want students to be able to travel around the world and be able to go to different places. And so, how we model that as teachers is also critical, too, and the way that EdTech can help with however that works out and not just make all your materials English even more so. So, the more languages we have available to us, especially for students who are under interrupted formal education, the better.
Yeah, that's a really good point. I work with a lot of EdTech companies. I've been in the space for a while, but I think at this point, it's not a majority by any means, it's not even half that I think have the supports that you're talking about right now. Mainly because it's quite difficult, but what I'm hearing you say is that it fundamentally stops the learning process and, if we can get them learning in their own language first, that's the foundation they build on eventually to get into English.
Absolutely, absolutely. So, that's part of the work and, hopefully, I think everybody across the board, education more generally but specifically EdTech, can be helpful because the technology is right there. Just help us build the tools, try to talk to folks who are trained in English as a new language, then we'd be able to have that conversation, but we can't continue to put tools out and only make them in English when we have so many students who definitely need tools that are acclimating to them instead.
Yeah. Sometimes a lot of companies say, "We want to be student-centered as possible. We want to be teacher-centered, student-centered," but if you're not really meeting the student where they are and how they fundamentally talk, and then, beyond even language, there's cultural considerations when you were talking about Arabic and stuff. How they approach lots of things, you're probably figuring out on the go and then you're learning and then going, "Oh, this works, that works, don't do that again." So, I thank you for that. We also talk here a lot about accessibility, too. So, really making sure, on top of that, if there is any type of disability or any type of extra support a student needs, is how can we build that seamlessly into a product as well and not make it an afterthought, too.
Absolutely, absolutely. And as I'm thinking more about disability more generally, it really is incumbent upon societies to open up their whatever it is to make it accessible, because it doesn't just benefit those who are, I guess, quasi-disabled. It's helpful for everybody. There are days when I'm so thankful that there's a ramp that goes into a building because I'm, "Oh, I'm exhausted this day or my feet hurt," it helps everybody. Similarly, how cool has it been to have a Zoom where someone is doing sign language and you're like, "Oh, that means everybody can tap into this message," or you can actually read what the person is saying. Those are really cool tools for folks who aren't just disabled but also for folks who are quasi-abled. That spectrum is worth discussing, because it helps everybody get acclimated to what's happening, and the more tools, the better for everybody.
Agreed. Well, I could talk to you for a long time. I think our audience could learn so much from you in multiple things that you've talked about. Each question that we've talked about could literally be its own episode, so maybe if we can have you back next season and have you in to go deeper in some of these things, I would love it. I would love to know a little bit more about you, selfishly. You've talked about all the things you're doing, and I know that when you started as a math teacher and you come out of computer science and you say, "I'm going to teach," I bet you didn't think that you would be doing all of these things that you're doing now, right? And just – life is funny that way, where we go with what our passion is, what our heart is telling us and there's a little bit of luck, there's opportunity, there's all of these things, but what's next for you? I know that's a hard question, but what do you hope? Maybe five years down the road, ten years down the road, here's Jose, here's what he did.
You're right, I do think that I like to figure out what bigger ways I can make an impact, specifically trying to get education more centered into so much of the mainstream dialogue. I feel like we often get specialized. People understand that education is important, but they don't really understand the mechanism that is education and the way that … For example, I think Abbott Elementary has pushed education into the mainstream in that way, and that's been really awesome to see, because we were looking for something almost the way that police officers or doctors or other professionals have shows in that way. That tends to be a symbol for what education does, but OK, let me go back to myself, because I just went all the way out to something else, but you knew that was going to happen.
But generally, I would love to see more of mainstream impact, and I'd love to be part of that. And of course, I want to finish up my doctorate, that'd be really nice, because the knowledge creation that that allows me would be really awesome. And then, not to mention being able to continually build bridges between efforts in higher education and then K through 12 to ensure that there is that cross-cultural conversation, so we can continue to build on an equitable playing field instead of trying to listen to some experts that are out there somewhere. No, actually, educators are also experts in their own way, too, and that's part of the reason why I get to be part of the Board of Directors for the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, right? It's the notion that we're going to build a bridge that allows for everybody to get a benefit from the knowledge creation that we're doing. So, hopefully, those are things that I get to contribute to over time, too.
And that is a bridge that is needed so, so badly. So much we focus on K-12, and then we let our kids go and there's no connection, there's no support, and K-12 doesn't even track into that. So, if you are fundamentally judging yourself on how many graduates, high school graduates that you're proud of and get into certain universities, they stop tracking them in terms of how successful they are. Because we're not in it to get to that one little milestone, we're in it to help people become lifelong learners like you and I are, and really just feel successful and feel like we have the tools and the passions to pursue what we want. And I love that you are focusing on that, because I don't know many people that are right now.
Right, I'm –
The last question I want to pose to you is one that we ask all of our guests. It's around inspiration, especially in times that are challenging beyond belief. Every week, I feel like something new is thrown at us, and there is exhaustion, there's burnout, there's all of the things – how do you yourself get inspired? What drives you to keep going? Some of our guests talk about books or podcasts or things they do and exercise, it could be family, but it really helps uplift our audience to understand when most of our guests are doing so much and they're feeling so much, how do they keep going?
You mentioned family. There was a time when all I did was just say, "You know what? I'm about doing this work, I got to do this work, this is the work that I'm doing," and, in many ways, I was living to work. But then, there came a time, and especially as I was listening to so many of the retirees who were finishing up whatever year it was, they were just about finishing, they were like, "I don't live to work, I work to live." And so, I started to see what happened when folks just lived to work over time and how they rarely got to enjoy the fruits of their labor, or they never gave themselves enough props or credit for the work that they were able to put in. And so, I found myself saying, "You know what? Let me change this whole situation up." And my son, he was still four, three or four, I was like, "You know what? No, it's time for me to really change my life."
And so, I started saying, "Who takes priority in my life?" And I said, "OK, family has to be first, and then everybody else needs to fall where they may, whatever concentric circles there are, we need to figure out what that looks like." And that really has allowed for me to say, "OK, once I prioritized everything, things fell in place as they needed to." So, that included my work at school, that included my work currently now, even EduColor, which I was super-duper passionate about. You might be in my top five of things that I know I'm responsible for, but you're not going to be number one and you're not going to be number two, because I have to ensure that my son's OK, that my wife's OK, that my people are good, that my friends are good.
And so, for me, I felt like let me just reprioritize everything and so, when trouble really started coming down my path, I said, "OK, that's fine," but I'm going to detach myself for a second and then really get a good sense of what's happening there that's causing me pain, and then compartmentalize it enough where I can actually either have a problem solved or I can just say, "You know what? That still doesn't take priority over my family, still doesn't take priority over my friends, over my own mental health." Me taking walks to and from my son's school to drop him off, pick him up, had been profoundly amazing for me. So, me dropping him off, and this is different, it was different. Me being a classroom teacher at the time, I wasn't able to do those sorts of things, now I get to do that and that's been really awesome to have. So, just the little moments, and being in the moment, those are real powerful things for me.
Awesome. Well, the last, last question is how can people get in touch with you? Know, if you're a listener right now, we will put all of this in the Show Notes as well. But anything you want to throw out from some social handles if people are inspired by you and want to continue the conversation?
I am hyper responsive on Twitter, that would be @TheJLV. In addition, Instagram, thejosevilson, and of course, my website, thejosevilson.com. I have a bunch of different things happening there, too, but those would be the three.
Awesome. Well, thank you again, Jose. I am just feeling grateful that you took the time out of your busy schedule to share your passion and what you're working on, which I'm always catching up on. I'm like, "Oh, he is doing this. Now he's in higher ed, wow." So, I appreciate you. Everyone here, you can access this episode's Show Notes at our website, leoniconsultinggroup.com, it's two G's, consultinggroup.com/22. It is our 22nd episode. So, we will have detailed notes, we'll have highlights of everything that Jose said and then, also, all the resources he mentioned too. So, thank you all for joining, we will see you next time on All Things Marketing and Education.
Thanks so much for listening to this week's episode. If you liked what you heard and want to dive deeper, you can visit leoniconsultinggroup.com/podcast for all Show Notes, links, and freebies mentioned in each episode. And we always love friends, so please connect with us on Twitter, @LeoniGroup. If you enjoyed today's show, go ahead and click the subscribe button to be the first one notified when our next episode is released. We'll see you next week on All Things Marketing and Education.
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Elana Leoni, Host
Elana Leoni has dedicated the majority of her career to improving K-12 education. Prior to founding LCG, she spent eight years leading the marketing and community strategy for the George Lucas Educational Foundation, where she grew Edutopia’s social media presence exponentially to reach over 20 million education change-makers every month.
Jose Vilson, Guest
José Luis Vilson is a veteran educator, writer, speaker, and activist in New York City, NY. He is the author of This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education (https://thejosevilson.com/this-is-not-a-test-a-new-narrative-on-race-class-and-education/). He has spoken about education, math, and race for a number of organizations and publications, including the New York Times, The Guardian, TED, El Diario/La Prensa, and The Atlantic. Jose is a National Board Certified Teacher, a Math for America (https://www.mathforamerica.org/) Master Teacher, and the executive director of EduColor (https://educolor.org), an organization dedicated to race and social justice issues in education. He is currently a doctoral student in sociology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. He is now on the board of directors for the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards and PowerMyLearning (https://powermylearning.org/).
About All Things Marketing and Education
What if marketing was judged solely by the level of value it brings to its audience? Welcome to All Things Marketing and Education, a podcast that lives at the intersection of marketing and, you guessed it, education. Each week, Elana Leoni, CEO of Leoni Consulting Group, highlights innovative social media marketing, community-building, and content marketing strategies that can significantly increase brand awareness, engagement, and revenue.
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A podcast about social media marketing, community-building, and content marketing strategies.
What if marketing was judged solely by the level of value it brings to its audience? Welcome to All Things Marketing and Education, a podcast that lives at the intersection of marketing and you guessed it, education. Each week, Elana Leoni, CEO of Leoni Consulting Group, highlights innovative social media marketing, community-building, and content marketing strategies that can significantly increase brand awareness, engagement, and revenue.
About your host
I'm Elana Leoni. I've devoted my career to helping education brands build awareness, engagement, and revenue and I'd like to show you how as well. Every week, you'll learn how to increase your social media presence, build a community, and create content that matters to your audience.