Alan Green

Episode 6 - Cultivating a Safe and Inclusive Learning Environment for All / Transcript

Blog Post created by Alan Green on Feb 5, 2021

NAAE Connect Podcast | National Association of Agricultural Educators 

 

Alan Green:

Welcome to Connect, a Podcast by the National Association of Agricultural Educators. No matter how long you've been in the classroom, we as agricultural educators know the power that connections play in bettering ourselves as educators and strengthening our profession. Connect is a Podcast by the National Association of Agricultural Educators, and works to educate listeners about NAAE resources, inform them of new and innovative practices, and connect current and future agricultural educators and supporters. I'm your host, Alan Green, we are excited that you are here, so let's get started.

Alan Green:

Hi there, and welcome back to Connect, a Podcast by the National Association of Agricultural Educators. And more specifically, welcome to our first Podcast episode for 2021. If you're new here, we invite you to check out our previous Podcast episode, and subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, or Google Play. NAAE is excited to keep the conversations going in our Connect Podcast, and we're looking forward to sharing information on a variety of topics that are important to you as current and future agricultural educators. In today's episode, we'll be having an open conversation about an important topic right now in schools all across the country.

Alan Green:

The importance of creating a safe and inclusive classroom learning environment for all students, and more specifically in agricultural education. We as educators know the difference that agricultural education makes in the lives of our students, and how it can transform their futures. But while we have the best intentions, sometimes our classrooms, our learning environments, and our practices as educators aren't always inclusive. We want to make sure that our classrooms are safe places where all students feel welcome, safe and celebrated, as their true authentic selves.

Alan Green:

When it comes to inclusion, diversity and equity in agricultural education, we have important work to do.And agricultural education organizations like the National FFA organization and NAAE are working to create and implement strategic plans and roadmaps to make everything we do more inclusive, diverse and equitable for all. Today, we'll be Zooming in on this topic and talking with two agricultural educators and NAAE members, who are committed to making their classrooms and programs a more inclusive space for all students, Mr. Riley Hintzsche, and Ms. Sabrina Stearns-Davis.

Alan Green:

Mr. Riley Hintzsche is an agricultural educator at Streator Township High School in Streator, Illinois, and Ms. Sabrina Stearns-Davis is an agricultural educator at Arabia Mountain High School Academy of Engineering, Medicine and Environmental Studies, just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Riley and Sabrina, thank you so much for joining us today for this critical conversation.

Riley Hintzsche:

No problem. Thank you for having us. I'm excited to be here. How about you, Sabrina?

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

I'm so excited to be here. Yay!

Alan Green:

Riley and Sabrina, if you just want to start the conversation by sharing a little bit of information about yourselves and your programs, and maybe some key information that our listeners should know about you and your programs, as it relates to inclusion, diversity and equity in your classrooms.

Riley Hintzsche:

We appreciate it. Thank you, Alan. I'm going to pass it over to Sabrina as I was raised, women should always have the opportunity to go first. So Sabrina, I'm going to give it to you.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

All right. Thank you, Riley. Well, first of all my name is Sabrina Stearns-Davis andI have been teaching for the last, I think I said 23, 24 years, I don't know which one, take a pick. But I believe I've been teaching all my life because my parent, my mother, who is a vocational back in the day, vocational CTAE teacher, who taught business typing. And I've been in her classroom, so I know teaching and I know how to teach. This love I have for agricultural started when I was young. No, I wasn't raised on a farm. No, I didn't have all the other things and do all this with cows and chickens and pasture land. I just hung on my grandparent's farm and my dad had a garden in the back.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

I have a love for animals. I've had so many in my life. I have a love of teaching. Like I said, when you're playing with your friends, I was always the teacher. So the two meshed together and here I am, this agriculture teacher and I love my job. I do a lot things by trial and error. I don't know everything, so I tend to, hey, if it doesn't work this time I'm going to try something different and make sure it works the next time so everybody understands it, including myself because I'm still a work-in-progress. My school, the Arabia Mountain High School is a magnet program for ... Or magnet school for math and science students.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

And we have various programs there, mine which is pretty much the smallest. I have a total of, I think it's 80 students total in the program. And from those 80 students and 99.9% of them, or we're not going to say 99.9, we're going to say 100% are all African American students. If I was to break that down, I would have 70% female and 30% male. And if I was going to break that down, I have 99.9% who are truly African-American students and the other being Nigerians. And when you see us, we all look alike but we are a little different. We are a little different. I think it was pretty much me. Let's take over the Riley. Riley?

Riley Hintzsche:

Thank you, Sabrina. And thank you for that great introduction. What I enjoyed and what I really enjoy is listening to your story and being like, "Oh, I've done a little of that." Or, "Hey, my grandma had a garden too." And comparing those. And I think that's important when we do talk about diversity and inclusion and living your authentic self. And so I think we'll get into that a little bit more, but a little bit about me. I am a white gay male teaching agricultural education. And I hold that very proudly. And the only reason I say that is because I was once told that, "You're gay, you can't do anything in agriculture." And for a very long time, I did believe that.

Riley Hintzsche:

So a little background of me and how I got to where I am, I grew up in a family of teachers. I call it the family blessing and the family curse all the same one. And my parents are both teachers, my mom and dad. My mom was a PE teacher and my dad was an Ag teacher. And so they both taught in the same district. So my dad would often get a lot of students than my mom had. So that was really cool in comparison to being able to hear stories of students and how they grew up and how they aged and everything that they became. So, growing up my parents said I would be one of two things, and that was either going to be a veterinarian or a teacher.

Riley Hintzsche:

And I started with the veterinarian track and it progressed over to the teacher track. I accepted my position at Streator Township High School in 2014, and it really wasn't what I expected it to ever be. Not that that's anything negative or positive it just ... It really wasn't. I fell into a place where I was embraced for who I was both from faculty, staff, students, and community. And that has been embraced over the last few years. And that's really, really helped me because it's learned that I can live my authentic self, which is letting people know that I am gay and letting people know that that's just who I am. And I have no problem with saying that.

Riley Hintzsche:

And I'm going to give you an example, I have this little drawer in my room that I bought this year to be a little more COVID friendly and it's rainbow in color. And I just put it all together and shoved it in the corner and all the colors were out of order. And one of my other students came over and reorganized it in the middle of class. And I looked at her in front of the entire class I said, "I'm gay, but I'm not that gay." She had reorganized it in rainbow color. And it was just a joke and everybody in the classroom knew that that's who I was and it was okay and I didn't care. And so there's nothing negative with that, and that's just who I am.

Riley Hintzsche:

So with that being said, I teach at a school that is diverse. I have African-American students, I have Asian students, I have white, Hispanic all the above, but I think it's important that our diversity is much deeper than just this color of our skin. And that's something that I truly try to embrace and understand when students walk my classroom and try to get them to say, or to see that their diversity does not make them any different than anybody else, it makes them a stronger person.

Alan Green:

Absolutely. Well, I am beyond excited to be chatting with both of you on such an important topic. When I first reached out a couple of weeks ago on just the excitement that both of you had about, the information that you had to share and the lessons that you've learned. We know that equity and inclusion and diversity are important and are at the forefront of what we do as agricultural educators. But I'm just wondering why is this topic important to you and your daily work as an agricultural educator?

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

Well-

Riley Hintzsche:

That's a very ... Go ahead, Sabrina.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

No, you go ahead and say your comment.

Riley Hintzsche:

So, Alan, I reflect on that very deeply as a human and as a teacher. And I go back to when I was growing up, I was an agricultural education student, my dad was my teacher. I had another teacher as well, and then also I went to a very large high school. So I went from a student or a school of a hundred kids, K through eight to over a thousand kids in high school. And so it was a big developmental change. And I was known as the gay kid or ... And there's others in the school too, but I was one of them. And I really struggled with the fact that I would be involved in something or doing something, and I would be made fun of for being gay or I would be the last person to be talked to or all the above.

Riley Hintzsche:

Or something would happen and the teacher wouldn't do anything about it. And I really reflect back on this experience now that I've been teaching is, in the mid 2000s teachers were not trained to deal with things like that. And that's why this is so important to me is because, I do not want a student to leave my classroom as ... Feeling as if I didn't address something to the best of my ability. Now, do I understand that things happen, and there's things that I will never see and never know, correct. But I don't want them to actually feel that I purposely walked past the situation and didn't take a moment to at least address it for what it is.

Riley Hintzsche:

Sadly, that took me 10 years out of high school to truly understand that. And I actually feel bad about it because I held a grudge for so long about some of the things I felt, and it really became impactful for me. And that is the end goal of how can I make a student in my room feel as if they can live their authentic life and know that I support that 100%, even if I fail.

Alan Green:

Sabrina, how about you? Why is equity, inclusion and diversity important to you and your daily work?

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

Okay. So first, if you don't know what my name is, is Sabrina, I'm a female. So for me, just having females in this particular field, in this educational field is important to make sure that other females know that we can do this and we have a love for this. And we just don't want to be put in a corner and just watch. We want to be a part of. If you think about history, really African-American female teachers did not exist. I think we started existing maybe in 2000, that's just based on what I've seen. Maybe I could go back to maybe 1980s, but that's about it.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

So for me just saying, "Hey, I I'm female, I'm African-American." I want students to see someone who looks like me, who's being that successful in what I do and expose them to anything and everything agricultural, because it's for everyone, it's not just for ... And excuse me when I say this, it isn't just for white men. It is for everybody. So for me, it's so important to ... For me to get my students out there for them to see, and for them to see how I work and how I'm sweating blood to make sure that they are noticed and in even for the program itself. Even when it comes to agriculture, because our students believe it's nothing but farming.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

Ag is not farming, is farming but it's a lot more than just farming it. So my goal is to make sure that students get the knowledge and they're able to take that knowledge and the leadership skills that I'm going to teach them. And they have them within them they just need to be pulled out in practice, in these real world situations. So they understand that you got to know the tool in order to be successful. That's my goal. That's my ultimate goal.

Alan Green:

I think you bring up a great point that it's important for students to realize that, one there's a spot for them in agricultural education, but also bigger than that, that there is a spot for them regardless of their socioeconomic status, regardless of their skin tone for them in agriculture. I think that's a really great point. When I think about inclusion diversity and equity in education, I always think about the ideal classroom. That picture perfect classroom where students are feeling valued and inclusive. In your opinion, how would you define an inclusive classroom and what makes a school or a classroom inclusive?

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

Can I start?

Alan Green:

Yeah.

Riley Hintzsche:

By all means. I'm here for this.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

Let me start. We have this thing. So of course I'm different. Right? So we have this thing for family. That's just what it is, it's a community. It's a community of family members who all love this thing called agriculture. And you got some that just don't like it whatsoever. But you got to make sure that everybody feels like they're ... And sometimes family don't get along, all have each other's back. So when it comes to my classroom and how I do it is ... I'm like mother hen and y'all are the baby chicks. We're going to all make this thing work, we all can have each other's back. But it's that family aspect of that inclusion part of it.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

Because everybody, yes, we all have different opinions, we all have these different voices, but if we come together we can make something big happen. As long as you make your students feel like they belong, like you love them. I do love the mall. Yeah. I love them all, I get on them, I fuss at them, I give a positive feedback. That's a family, right? You fight and fuss, but we love on each other, and we make sure that everybody is surpassing the other people. So we got each other's back. So that whole community family aspect, that's my thing. That's what works in my classroom.

Riley Hintzsche:

You guys can see it, but she's got this huge smile on her face right now. Which is outstanding because I have to go back with what Sabrina says, is you have a family and you sometimes have to recognize where maybe sometimes you are playing favorites when you don't mean to. Or sometimes you have to understand that you are struggling with one particular student and you have to understand that maybe you're struggling with one situation.

Riley Hintzsche:

And I really look at it as if this wants to be inclusive, I have to start with myself, and I have to understand where I'm at. And then my biggest thing that I tell people all the time when I get asked the question of like, "How do I read that?" Or, "How do I do that?" Start at their level.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

Yes.

Riley Hintzsche:

And I'm going to give a really good example, is I have a student that struggles with anxiety. And even if I tried, it doesn't even have to be anything about race, or it doesn't have to be anything about sexual orientation. It can be the simplest thing of, I have one student in a classroom full of 26 that hates its people. Does not like to be around people and has crippling anxiety or when that student is called out. That is diversity right there in its own form. And when I say taking a look at inclusion diversity is, embracing each and every student. And more importantly, embracing the other students in your classroom as Sabrina said, to embrace the one student that is struggling.

Riley Hintzsche:

And creating that environment and creating that family that really understands that we are all different, we all have our unique talents. And at the end of the day, one of us is going to hold the gap that we are hoping the other one in our classroom can fill for them. And if it's not me, I need to make sure that I do my due diligence to teach my students that, you need to help this situation. And by the end of the day, my goal is that they understand that they recognize those situations every day in life. And they take that opportunity to fill that gap.

Alan Green:

Excellent.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

Preach brother. Preach. You said it, I love it. Yes.

Alan Green:

So Riley-

Riley Hintzsche:

I couldn't have done it without your family reference.

Alan Green:

Riley, so you mentioned it a little bit in your previous answer. But when we talk about ourselves as educators, you mentioned that it starts with knowing ourselves first or understanding ourselves first. Can you talk a little bit more about that, and maybe from a perspective of a teacher who doesn't see inclusion and diversity as a major issue in their classroom or a major focus for them. How would you explain to them about knowing yourself and why that's valuable to creating that inclusive classroom?

Riley Hintzsche:

So I guess my first comment with that is, really do understand where you are at as a human being, and what you can provide. If you have some secret that is ... I can't say secret. If you're trying to keep yourself from the world or you have something inside you that you're not ready to share, which is totally okay. If you have something that you're not ready to share, then you need to recognize that as yourself and who you are. For example, for my first two years of teaching, I didn't want anyone to know I was gay. I had no interest in the rest of the world knowing or for anything like that.

Riley Hintzsche:

And I didn't want to have that conversation with a single person. So anytime that it ever got brought up in any form in any way, I automatically shut it all out. And I dove down and I say ... And I stood in my safe place and I stayed there. And so I think we have to understand and realize, what are we acceptable with talking about and what are we not? And then where can we branch off to make things acceptable for ourselves? And we have to remember that with our students. So one of my favorite activities that I do usually once a year, it's called, I wish my teacher knew. And I give my students a piece of paper.

Riley Hintzsche:

And I say, "I want you to tell me one thing you wish that I knew as your teacher." And I leave the classroom, I let them write this down. They can put it on a piece of paper. They can put it on whatever they want and they drop it into a bucket. And I come back and I shake the bucket up and I then take those notes and I read them later on, when the kids are gone, when I can reflect. I've heard things as kids being sleeping sharing the bed as their same sibling, not having any food. They were assaulted as a young child. All these things that we wouldn't even think about. And the struggle with that is, is you so badly want to reach out and you want to help that student, but at the same point, you don't know what could cause them to dive down deeper and hide again.

Riley Hintzsche:

And so taking a moment to understand where you are and what your strengths ... Not your strengths, what you are okay with sharing, and what you're okay with being authentic about, is important to understand. And there are lines with all of that in education. I would be authentic about me being gay, but there may be something I'm not ready to share. And we all have those whether it's with teachers or whether it's with our students. I think it's important that we recognize where we are before we can try to help somebody else.

Alan Green:

How about you, Sabrina? What would you have to say of in regards of knowing yourself and knowing who you are in order to create an inclusive classroom learning environment?

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

Okay. This is the point where if it was video, you'll see me taking off my glasses like I'm getting ready to tell you a whole bunch of stuff. But let me just say this, I am one proud, black, strong woman who I want my students to be and show their strength at all times. Because it is extremely hard for African-Americans to put themselves out there. My self esteem is very high. It's here, it's not here, it's here. And I have to always show up or put my best foot for all times so that these kids can pretty much find a way or find that strength as well. So when it comes to me, I'm very proud about who I am. And I'm very proud about how I grew up and the things that I have accomplished.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

And I want my students to know, it's okay to go about your achievements. I have a lot of students that just doesn't ... They don't want to talk about who they are and what they do or what they have accomplished, they're very shy. And I always say this to them, me as American ... African-American person, you have to go 10 times harder than everyone else. I don't care what anyone says, that is what I've seen that's what I have experienced. So, I tell my kids period.

Alan Green:

I was just going to say, it sounds like you two have had great success in gauging your classroom and understanding how to make students feel welcomed and inclusive. I'm just curious, what has worked for you and what are some things haven't worked for you in your quest in order to make your classrooms more inclusive and inviting for students?

Riley Hintzsche:

I like to try and-

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

Well, I have a list of things. Riley can I go?

Riley Hintzsche:

By all means. I saw your face had a smile and grin a little bit. I'm like, "Oh, she's getting ready to fire, well."

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

I got my notes. How about that?

Riley Hintzsche:

I like it.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

Okay. We can bounce off of each other.

Riley Hintzsche:

Perfect.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

I always let my kids have a voice in my classroom. That was one of the things coming along, always seen but not heard even in a classroom, I want my students to have a voice. They know how to have a decent voice. When they have their opinions, they always want to give them to me. In any means, I want them to be comfortable when they're speaking. I want them to speak their mind. There's a no judgment rule in my classroom. No judgment here. If I have students who are not able to speak, they're afraid of speaking in front of large groups, because everybody has to uplift everyone.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

Everybody is different and the only way that we can get around that is to respect each other and respect their differences. And also just accommodating everyone to make sure they feel comfortable. I mean, that's the best way. My classroom, when I first got to my classroom, it was blur, it was yucky. So when I transformed I call it our FFA four yay. When I transformed that, it just lit up the entire classroom. And having the students to have a say in what they want to learn, makes everything work for me and in my classroom. That's how I include them into everything that I do.

Riley Hintzsche:

I love it. Going off of what Sabrina had said, I'm very the same way. Is give your students a voice, but I try to preface or I try to, how do I be proactive versus reactive? The best I can. So for example, if I know a student is struggling, let's go have a conversation in the hall. I don't want to say this worked for me because that's not the ... That makes it sound like I staged it. But this really showed me that that works a few years ago. And I know Alan has heard this story before. A few years ago I've had a student that was in the process of having a sex change and was going from a female to male.

Riley Hintzsche:

And I was extremely excited that they could live their authentic self and that I could do that in their classroom or in my classroom. And I could be here to support them and be whatever resource they needed. And so I pulled that student in the hall and I said, "Hey, I just ... I want to talk to you about this." And I said, "I want you to tell me everything, so that way I know." And so this student shared with me like, "I'm in the process. My mom knows but my dad is really not part of the picture, but my dad is still in the picture. It's very confusing.

Riley Hintzsche:

And if you talk to my mom I'm going to use an alias name. I would like for you to call me Allie. But if you talk to or see if we could talk to dad call me Allie, if you talk to mom you can call me Henry." And so it was all these things in the fire at discussions of, okay, well this has to happen, and this has to happen. Well, one day we're in class and I said, "I was talking with other students." I said, "Allie, Henry." And then it happened, I said it. I said it, and I didn't even realize it and I felt like crap. And I felt really, really horrible. And I pulled that ... And I didn't even know it because another student told me that I did it. And I pulled that student out in the hall.

Riley Hintzsche:

And I said, "I need to make sure that I apologize to you. I need to make sure that we have this open conversation. I owe you the largest apology." And because I had taken the moment to be proactive and talk to the student about living their authentic self in my classroom, that particular student looked at me and said, "I don't care because I know it's confusing for you and I know you've tried. And I know that you've done everything you can, and it's confusing for other people too. And it's okay because I know that you care about me and not just who I ... Just not my names. And you actually care about what I want."

Riley Hintzsche:

And so when I say be proactive, is have those hard conversations people. Be okay with the fact that someone is different than you and be willing to open up. You don't have to share anything, but allow them to share. And maybe if you can share do so. I had a student yesterday tell me that she got ... She gets to meet her mom for the first time. And so I pulled her out in the hall. I said, "Hey, let's talk about this." I said, "How are you feeling?" She's like, "I'm excited." And I said, "Well, I want to share with you that I have an older adopted brother. My adopted brother has yet to meet ... Or has yet to meet his mom, but has got to talk to his mom.

Riley Hintzsche:

And so if you just needed to talk about it, I want you to know that that's something I have semi in common. And if you need to talk about it, I'm here." And so immediately by sharing something similar, maybe not a hundred percent but something similar, I opened that gate that they may understand that I can relate to them on some level. And so I think it's very important that you be proactive and have those conversations and be okay with the fact that somebody is different than you.

Alan Green:

I think those are both great experiences that you shared Riley. And I think it shows that, when we're talking about being inclusive with our students, it's not a check box. It's not a, "Oh yeah, I'm inclusive and diverse." It's important to continue learning and continue growing and to have those experiences. But then also when you do something wrong, to admit to it and learn from those situations. The next few questions that I have for both of you deal specifically more with students. I think sometimes it might be easy for us to say, "Yes, my classroom is a safe space."

Alan Green:

I remember that was a line that I used when I was teaching. But sometimes it's difficult for students who don't see that as a priority and to really be on board with it. How do you address students who aren't contributing to that inclusive learning environment who are maybe making those comments, who aren't accepting other people? How do you bring them on board or how do you address those specific issues?

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

Well, for me, I do have a lot of students who ... And you have to understand the dynamics of our school, of my school. Students are to fill out an application and choose a pathway. And I've had many students to tell me they didn't want to be a part of my pathway, they just want to get into the school. And no they don't like my class and no they don't want to go outside, no they don't like anything. They don't want to be around the students. I don't have a class that has students who may have a lot of special needs issues, because it is a magnet school. But what I do have are students who do not want to participate, they don't find it important.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

And what I end up doing is, giving them choices and those choices are you take charge, period. What is it that you want? Once I gather that information in terms of what they want, it's just a private conversation I have with them and their parents, because parents are important in this decision-making if their child is going to be successful or not. So once we have this important private conversation change starts, and once a student understands what it is that I'm trying to teach them or what I want from them, then they open up a little bit more. They want to do the work. They want to do a project.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

They want to call me up on my personal phone and talk to me about what they've learned outside of school. So it's just having those conversations with the student and the parent in order to get that student on board. But I do have plenty of students that said that to me and they completed the pathway. It's just they need to see it. And I think exposure is a plus for these ... For those students who just don't feel agriculture is for them, or they just don't want to do any of the work. But I'm exposing them to those real life situations and giving them a chance to decide on how they want to learn or what is it they want to know more of, it works.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

Eventually it works. I don't spend my tire year of, "Oh my God, I hope this kid goes away." It's more of, "Oh my God, this child has gotten it now." And just give them positive feedback and just praising them for where they started and where they are now when it comes to not really wanting to be a part of.

Riley Hintzsche:

I like that. And I think a lot of it for me comes down to a few things. One, never underestimate the power of a friend and or somebody that somebody looks up to. And so I use friend based mentoring a lot, to provide students with that feedback and ways to encourage other students to change that approach. I have three students that are very uplifting that I have pulled aside and said, "Hey, this student is going to struggle with this, and I think that you're really good at reinforcing the fact that they can be better. And I want you to use that power whenever that student ... You see that students start to struggle."

Riley Hintzsche:

And all of a sudden you're just there like, "Oh my God, he's talking to me. He recognized something in me. Oh my God this is this..." And they really feel empowered with that. And all of a sudden that student struggles and boom, somebody jumps in and reinforces the struggle. And all of a sudden the rest of the class is doing it, which is very inspiring to me because it just took a couple minutes out of ... Or a couple of seconds out of my time to fix that problem. I'll be honest with you, I'm blunt and to the point and I always ... I can't say I always have been. But I'm to the point where I don't put up with stuff very much anymore, and so I call it out.

Riley Hintzsche:

And if I have to then that student and I go have a conversation. And I relate, I don't take that student out into the hall and show them a new one. Have I done that? Of course. We all have. We go out and we have the conversation and the first thing out of my mouth is, "I don't hate you, I don't think you're a bad person. There's nothing wrong with you, but there is something wrong with what we're just dealing with and we need to talk about it." And then we relate it back to something that they may have in their life. And I'm a very, very large people reader and I actually have a teacher Ag intern every year, that their first assignment is to be a CSI investigator basically.

Riley Hintzsche:

And they have to read the personality of one student in the room. They have to stock them through the hall. They have to do things and ... To understand the personality of that student, and that's the first thing I watch as these kids walk in every single day. What is their personality screaming to me? And then how can I use that personality to best mold that classroom to the best it is. And I think that's important is, you use that personality and what those students know and what those students' drive to succeed is. And you use that in a way that can really not only fix the problem, but build the relationship that you have with them.

Riley Hintzsche:

And so that way they understand that you are truly looking out for the best interests, while solving the problem that they created. I can't say problem is the right word, but solving the situation and getting them to understand that, you may be able to do that at home, but in real life it's not going to be okay.

Alan Green:

One thing that we really like to focus on for the NAAE Connects Podcast is, is providing our listeners with tangible steps that they can take away and implement into their classroom or their daily work. What would be maybe one or two tangible steps or actions that our listeners can take to make their classrooms more inclusive?

Riley Hintzsche:

That's a very good conversation and a very good thing that ... I'm just looking around my room right now. So I have a ledge of ... Behind my desk and it has a whole bunch of things on it that people have given me or things that we've gotten at national convention. I laugh now, but one of the things that is there is a gay pride flag, and it's not something that I put there, it's something that my students put there. And although that'll matriculate out and students will think that I put it there because it's sitting there, for four years, students are going to know that it was put there by another student. I have a little gargoyle thingy that another student gave me.

Riley Hintzsche:

Although it may not be my favorite relic that sits on there, my favorite thing that sits there, there's a story behind it that comes with that family that gave it to me. and that was years and years and years ago. And so I think the biggest thing is finding little things that make that environment inclusive. If a kid walks in and gives you something, don't take it home and put it in a box. Display it in your classroom and use it as a tool to say, "This is what someone gave me." I have an African-American student that wears her traditional African wear, is the best way that I can say it. She wears it to school every now and then, and I think it's awesome and she embraces it.

Riley Hintzsche:

And it's all did up to the nine and it's beautiful and we embrace it and we have fun with it. And I think that's important too, is you can laugh, you can joke, and you can have fun with everyone in your classroom and still be diverse. When you get to that point of understanding where you've understand their personality, and you've understood who that person is. And you understand that they respect you just as much as you respect them. It doesn't have to be a friendship, but it does have to be a working relationship. And so changing that environment of your classroom is a big thing for me and allowing that ... Allowing those traditional working relationships to expand and unfold into what they can be.

Riley Hintzsche:

And I think the other thing that you can do very easily is again, be proactive not reactive. Understand the situation, take time to get to know your kids. Don't put up red flags and allow them to tell the story of who they are and where they're from and use that story to best mold your teaching career. Am I an expert? No. Do I learn every day? Yes. And I think that that's what's important about teachers is, we are lifelong learners and it's important that we show that to our kids.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

I'm not a teacher, I'm a facilitator. I call myself a facilitator because, all I'm doing is just guiding kids to be successful. That's the ultimate goal. Is to make sure that they have all the tools that they need and I've done them as a community leader as someone that just wants to make sure that that person gets that scholarship or they have those A's and B's in class. Making sure I know their families they're important, especially everybody's going to be successful. Knowing their parents and knowing how their family dynamic works, and me knowing what's going to be best for that particular student in different situations or different activities that we do do.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

Knowing a kid's personal interests and making sure that you talk to them, it's like a said before being a family. When you're a family, you talk to each other, and you do joke around and you do have a great time while you're doing what you do. For me being that facilitator and making sure that they get to the finish line, that's the ultimate goal. To make sure that they get to that finish line, which has that diploma and getting accolades.

Alan Green:

Well, Riley and Sabrina, thank you again for joining us for this Podcast episode of Connect, for sharing your insights and your stories. Thank you both for the important work that you do to ensure that your classrooms and your programs are inclusive places for all students to feel successful and valued. Are there any last thoughts or ideas or action steps that you'd like to share before we wrap up this episode?

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

No one is perfect. What we do is basically, let's see if this works and if this works, we're going to keep moving and using that. And when that stops working, I've got to call Riley, or I've got to call somebody, call Alan, "Hey, Alan, I need some more ideas because this is not working now." So we're not perfect, but if we all work together we can make things go the way we want them to go for all of our students.

Riley Hintzsche:

I love it, Sabrina. And I would say, be purposeful in your approach and it doesn't have to be full frontal, it doesn't have to happen overnight. Don't try to just fix it short-term, fix it longterm in the best approach that you possibly can and making your room and your classroom and everything that you have to be as authentic. Your kids do not have to know everything about you. Mine know a lot about me, that's my choice. You choose what you want them to know and you live that authentic life.

Riley Hintzsche:

But at the same point, be authentic, be real, be understanding. And I think if you really take a look at it, every situation is going to be different for you. And I say this because I've had a lot of those situations that I went in thinking, "Okay, we got this and things are going to be great." And then it quickly changes and I have to learn to adapt to that change. And that's another change that I have in my toolbox that I know how to handle a little bit more. And so I think that that's very inspiring too, because that tells you that we are continuing to be more authentic because you're continuing to learn more of how to be authentic. And that is just truly amazing for me.

Alan Green:

Well, thank you again Riley and Sabrina, we really appreciate the insight that you both have provided. Take care.

Riley Hintzsche:

Thank you very much.

Sabrina Stearns-Davis:

Thank you.

Alan Green:

Thank you for joining us for this episode of Connect. A Podcast by the National Association of Agricultural Educators. It's always hard to say goodbye, but we'll be back with more episodes to help you build even more connections to help you grow as a professional. If you like what you've heard, we'd love to have you subscribe, rate or give us a review on iTunes or whatever platform you use, so we can help connect more agricultural educators through our Podcast. Until next time.

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