Defining Instructional and Leadership Effectiveness in the AC-Stage of Education

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Venola Mason is the CEO and Founder of AchieveIt Educational Services and is an Associate Partner and Author at International Center for Leadership in Education. In her role as an ICLE associate partner, Venola works with education leaders across the country supporting them with making transformational change in their school districts by developing and implementing policies and practices that increase student achievement and wellness.

Dr. Michael Conner

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening. Welcome to another episode of Voices for Excellence. I’m your host, Dr. Michael Conner, CEO and founder of the Agile Evolutionary Group and proud host of VFE. And of course, this is our Black Excellence series celebrating Black History Month and today, we do have excellence on our show. This episode is personal to me because I have known this… Yes, well, yeah, I’m one date myself for about 12, 13 years, literally 12, 13 years. This person has seen me climb the ranks from assistant superintendent to chief academic officer to superintendent. And now this transition as the CEO and founder of the Agile Evolutionary Group, I have heard my guest today, Ms. Venola Mason keynote all around the country when I was an assistant superintendent, chief academic officer, a superintendent, and then also I had our work with my teachers because she is that extraordinary. I want to talk about an instructional leader. SEL czar, we got her today on VFE for our Black Excellence series and I am proud to introduce my young friend. Before the episode I said Wow, and we would know each other about 12-13 years. She’s like, You know, I’m young. So to my young friend, partner, professional colleague, everything, all of the above. I mean, she seen when my son was born all the way up to now he’s at third grade. Yeah, I’m getting old. You’re getting younger. It is. It is my honor to have Ms. Venola Mason, she is the CEO and founder of Achieve Educational Services and the Proud Super outside the proud president. Look at this. I’m about to say super proud president of Georgia, ABC. That is the Georgia Alliance of Black School Educators. One know well. How are you, Ms. Young Lady?

Venola Mason

I’m doing well, sir. How are you doing?

Dr. Michael Conner

Well, it is always good to see you. First of all, thank you for coming on the podcast. But more importantly, thank you for being a longstanding intro friend of mine. I’ve really appreciated that.

Venola Mason

Yes. Let me tell you, Michael, I appreciate you. I’ve been listening. I’m going. Okay. When it’s going to be my turn, I had to get on here with Michael. It’s rare. And so I just appreciate you having me. And I’m look forward to having a great conversation. I’m just I’m ready to dig in.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And I’ll tell you this right. And I’ll never forget this conversation when we were at Model the Model Schools conference, and I remember you had just came out where your book. Right. And I remember you were debuting that and I was like, I want to write a book one day. And I remember what you say. You said, it hit the horn. And I’m like, That is hard. I love it. You’re right. Much had been as I was going through the process to my audience when Nola was the biggest, biggest supporter of mine. So yeah, thank you know no, we going to talk about your book too, but we’re going to go right into the podcast episode. It’s going to be like one of our geeked out conversations. So you go right, you get you ready for it?

Venola Mason

I’m ready for it.

Dr. Michael Conner

All right. I mean, this this guy literally, we know this is going to be hard for me because you know why you’ve been such a longstanding friend is like, I’ll just pick up the phone and call and you So but but no more of my listeners were my viewers who do not know Miss Bonilla mates and right when leaders, teachers and education stakeholders engage in a professional workshop with you seminar or your one of your national keynotes, what song defines your excellence and equity stance in education?

Venola Mason

Well, that is a great question. I would have to say my song would be Diamonds by Rihanna. If you heard, you either definitely put it on your playlist, but this song, it really speaks to me because in our journey, in our excellence and equity journey, there is so much pressure put on us to stay silent, you know, not to speak up about inequity or injustice. And there’s a lot of pressure not to speak up on behalf of the marginalized communities that we find ourselves serving. You know, and a lot of that is in fear for us, you know, not wanting to become marginalized ourselves. And so, you know, with a lot of pressure, there’s also a lot of pressure for us to just go along with it that as well. But we know that when we get into situations where there’s extreme heat and where there’s pressure, that’s how diamonds are formed. And so I say to all of the equity warriors out there watching this and listening, just keep fighting, keep pushing and keep applying, applying that pressure, because when it builds up enough, we know this systems can change. We know that schools will change and our students will shine bright like those diamonds. So go Rihanna.

Dr. Michael Conner

There we go. I like that. I don’t want to start saying that, but you know. But no, you’re absolutely correct. When I think about pressure and and I want to, you know, break this down from an analytics term, I’m looking at multiple variables, right. How the variables. And when I think about this in the education context, I focus on whether it be chronic absenteeism, whether it be teacher shortage, whether it be the implementation of the legacy operating model, where it’s structured, where learning is broke and didactic. And I like to say promulgating the status quo, we have to put the pressure on to make those changes. The necessary transformative action to create learning conditions in alignment to Generation Z, Generation Alpha. Because guess what? Our demands are right? Our babies. I like this. Our babies, our students, Generation Z, Generation Alpha. You got to Gen Alpha son. I have a jet out with son and their radical needs are fundamentally different than the model that’s being optimized and operationalized in practice. And those are demons and we have to continue challenging the status quo. But yes, I got the song in my head with Rihanna. You are absolutely right, because we want our kids, Generation Z, Generation Alpha, to shine like a diamond. I don’t sound like Rihanna. All right. All right. But no, we’ve got to do it. But at that point, I said, no, I don’t want anybody to, you know, immediately turn it off the podcast. But I and as I was saying at the outset, vanilla, just absolutely super, super, super happy for the success that you have been experiencing within the field. I have seen literally and see seen you keynote in front of thousands of people. I have seen you worked with small group teachers and the vitality, both at keynote, at the keynote level and then also working in small groups with teachers. You bring that same energy and strength. Right? And I just want to say thank you for that, because the work that you do, you leave an impression. People leave your session, leave the keynote sessions, seminars, feeling like they have a 1 to 1 relationship with you, because that’s the environment where educational and pedagogical risk are taken. So I really appreciate the work that you have done over the last 12 years. I’ve seen you right at many, many more. I know I’m getting there we go, We go. We always when we see each other, we always go. I say that, but within the past two years, you have found it, right? You have found it. Your own organization called Achieveit Educational Services, and now served it as the president for the Georgia Alliance of Black School Educators, where the National conference You’re hosting the national conference next year in Atlanta. But first, highlighting the work of Georgia, ABC. Right. I want you to talk about the key initiatives that you have for 2024. We know that the national conference is coming up. And then also to I want you to highlight your organization, Achievement Educational Services. What are the solutions and how are you providing support to educators across the country?

Venola Mason

Yes, thank you, Michael. And let me just tell you, I have been a member of Nancy, which is the National Alliance of Black School Educators, probably I guess, has been like three or four years now. And I have just been so impressed with their level of leadership on a national level that I say, my goodness, where is this in Georgia? How do I sign up so that I can make, you know, some of the impact that they’re making on a national scale, you know, make some of that impact right here in my home state of Georgia. And so it’s been about two years now since we’ve launched the Georgia Alliance of Black School Educators and let me just say, say that the National Alliance has been in existence for 51 years and they have a state affiliates and district affiliates all across the country. So our Georgia alliance is one of the state affiliates for Georgia. And our hope is that as we continue to grow, that we will have then affiliates under the state organization. Across the state, we have three simple areas of focus for the organization. One is we’re trying to create a professional network of black educators to support one another as they’re, you know, in these difficult positions. You know, these are very trying times. And we know that our educators, especially our black educators, you know, we need more of them in our systems to begin with. And we definitely want to hold on to the ones that we do have. And so by them having this professional network of other educators that they can lean into and support call upon, you know, in their times of need to exchange ideas and best practices, you know, that’s one of our major areas of focus also to create professional learning opportunities for these educators. And this is, you know, from the teacher level, principal level, superintendent level district at me and, you know, across we even have some work that we’re doing with some of the local bus drivers here in the metro Atlanta area that we’re developing. You know, at all points of all points along the roadmap in terms of education to make sure that folks have the skills that they need to be able to do the jobs that they have been entrusted to do. And then our last area of focus is around advocacy. And so making sure that in I’m not sure about you, Michael, but I know when I was teaching, you know, politics was not top of mind for me. And so I would have been much more aware about the different laws that were being passed that impacted the students in the community that I taught in. And so, you know, I speak to educators across the country, and many of them are in that same situation. And so as a part of our organization, we want to bring those lawmakers, bring those decision makers to them, to educators and share what’s going on in the House. You know, what bills are being discussed. You know what laws are being passed that do impact education so that we will know, you know, we can organize, organize ourselves so that we can lobby for or against some of these bills or law that are impacting our communities and our students. So I’m just very, very excited about the work that we’re doing with the Georgia SC and actually starting next month, I believe we’ll be going on a yearlong tour with one of our partners, Riverside Insights, and we’re going to be meeting with District level leaders across the state of Georgia. Michael, hopefully you’ll be able to join us on some of those visits to share your thought leadership as well, but really to be able to pick their brains and share our thought leadership around like strengths based learning and how we tap into what our students know. You know, what they’re coming to the table with and what they have the capacity to do in order to then be able to fill in those gaps versus always coming from a deficit mindset. So that’s one of the other big initiatives that we’re working on currently. In addition to getting ready for the 52nd Annual Nancy Conference, which, like you said, will be hosted in Atlanta.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And Venola, if you can if you can talk a little bit about your organization as well, achieve it educational service and then I’ll jump right back in.

Venola Mason

Okay. Awesome. And thank you for that. So achievement, that’s my personal baby is my educational consulting firm, and we specialize in providing school districts as well as other education agencies with high quality professional learning, coaching, strategic planning services. You know, we’ve done work with districts to help them to mobilize their instructional coaches and build the efficacy of those coaching teams so they could be better effective, you know, more effective when they’re doing work with teachers. We’re working with districts who are interested in mobilizing their parents in the broader community, work in said build, you know, parent and community engagement plans, strategic planning in that area to support those efforts. We’re working with districts around, you know, building up the leadership ship in their principals. A lot of times we think that, you know, great teachers will make great principals, and that’s not always the case. I mean, there definitely are a lot of skills that great teachers bring to that table. But then there are some other leadership and managerial skills that our principals need to have in order to effectively lead buildings. And so we’re knee deep in that work with districts as well. You know, it’s just I strongly believe and we strongly believe that a student’s access to a high quality education or high quality school should not be limited by their zip code or should not be. Did dictated by their zip code. And so if, as you know, I can get into as many schools and as district as possible to, you know, help our educators to build on the best practices that they already know and implement on a daily basis, then that helps me to know that I’m doing my part in making sure that all students across this country, regardless of their race, regardless of any of their demographics, that they have access to high quality schools. So that’s the work of achieving beautiful.

Dr. Michael Conner

And thank you, Venola, for that answer, and especially your leadership with Georgia APS and the impact that you have and in the education ecosystem with achieve that. When I unwrap specific matter things not from your was rather the work of Georgia ABC and again great leadership thank you for everything read very very very bold right bold focuses on our national learning professional networking for black educators. I think that when we talk about I don’t have the research in front of me or any of the latest statistics, but from what I understand is that we’re seeing in a significant decline of black educators in the classroom, even leadership, I believe right now for black women superintendents at 1.3% national right. So these internal affinity groups where there or among each other when I was a teacher I know I remember this, there was no really affinity groups or black male teachers to come together. Right? There wasn’t many. And I was a fourth grade teacher and I didn’t see many black male elementary teachers. And this was roughly about 2020 to 23 years ago. So we’re still having that same quandary in education. But the intentionality around Georgia ABC, to be able to support black teachers, create those affinity groups and leaders as well. And but but more importantly, you’re looking at retention, how to retain teachers. When I speak to black male teachers across the country, one of the main reasons why they’re leaving and I’m just using this from a linear lens around black male teachers and again, I don’t have the data or the research to support this. One of the reasons why they’re not staying in the profession is because of the limited support that they receiving, right? Understanding their cultural norms and identities, that they’re bringing it into the classroom. Professional learning. Obviously you’re big on that. I’m going to unwrap that with you. You have done you have worked with many educators across the country around really developing the skills. And in this continuum manner, this continuous swarm around improvement of practice. But advocacy is critical advocacy. When I look at it from a legislative and policy standpoint and you stated it right, we want to be able we want to be able to have a voice to ensure that these policies are equitable and creating access for high quality, high quality learning experiences for students, high quality learning conditions for leaders and teachers. And yes, I will be down there in Georgia with you and the Riverside team. When you talk about strengths based learning and ability based learning to unwrap that in a later question. But again, pivotal when you look at the work you’re doing for Georgia APSE and achieve it, you’re just you’re just highlighting all of your expertise, right, in being able to go out and work across the country with readers and teachers. But I want you to unwrap one specific main idea that will one theme I apologize that I caught, and this is the work for Achieve It. And I think that this is important because I always say leadership matters, right? And making that cognitive and practical shift of principals. Right. And you did extraordinary job working with principals. You work with my principals as well. But when you make that shift from a managerial mindset to an instructional leadership mindset and preparing a principals and assistant principals or I like to say wise I quasi leaders, i.e. coaches, right. And we want to make the prep. We want to make that position meaningful and deepen the level of effectiveness. Instructional leadership is paramount. Can you just unwrap where my audience and my viewers today the importance around leadership, like you said, were principals, but deepening that red focus in on instructional leadership?

Venola Mason

Yes. So, Michael, that instructional leadership is huge. Like I’ve said many times, when we have people coming up through the ranks, they may be good educators, but that managerial and leadership piece may not be there. Or you could have someone who is very good on the managerial side and they can manage people and things, but then that instructional leadership is not there. And so with the work that we do through achievement, we want to make sure that both of those pieces are there because we know that you have to have both of those pieces in order to be a strong building leader who has been building up strong coaches in his or her building, and I have not been in one school. Michael That was great where there was a poor principal or I don’t know if you’ve seen it in your 20 some years in education. I have not seen it. And I probably been in at least 47 states across this country, haven’t seen it yet. And so I think that is very important for us to help, you know, help to develop principals in both of those areas and then, you know, work with our instructional coaches to ensure that they are also, you know, being developed in both of those areas so that your pool for your assistant principals and your principals is rich and you don’t necessarily have to look outside of the district or across the country or, you know, face all of these different shortages in leadership because there’s right now and since COVID, there’s been a high turnover in leadership as well. You know, we have to do a better job of developing the folks that we have within district so that when those positions open up, you know, these folks have those strong instructional skills and they can lead the building in that way, as well as those strong managerial and leadership fields. So they will be a full well rounded principal.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely well-stated Venola, because I always say that the the principal, he or she should be the lead instructional leader of the learning environment superintendent should be the lead instructional executive over the learning organization. And that is paramount where leadership does matter right, and instructional leadership to guide and to build. I like to say instructional pedagogical capacity amongst your stakeholders is an imperative. So keep doing that work, Venola. I know I’ve seen you work with leaders across the country and you have changed practices radically for the better and obviously the outputs are student outcomes. But I want to get to the next question because the the landscape of demographics are shift in in education where by 2025, I believe 57% will be black and brown in public education. So now with this or with your grounded experience, with instruction, with pedagogy, with differentiated practices, how do we change the vision of being culturally responsive right now? I think because of the demographic data, we is a it’s essential that we have to become culturally responsive, metabolized and culturally responsive systems, but creating culturally responsive environments that is integrate with pedagogy that is responsive to all students. But how do we create those integrated systems and the stage of education with this new cultural dimension yet and radically in education?

Venola Mason

Yes. my goodness. That is why it is so heavy and deep. So first we need to look at, you know, the state of education in this country and we need to look at the demographics and like you said, the demographics are changing dramatically. And so where you have certain schools or certain districts where, you know, they have been predominantly white for years, you know, over the years. And so now those demographics are changing. But, you know, that community may or may not be welcoming of those changes. And so you could find yourself in a situation where you have a staff list, a community of educators who, you know, first of all, they may not have signed up for that change, number one. And then they may not feel as equipped to support and work with the new population of students that they have. And I believe that we have to start with a mindset, you know, we to allow, you know, give our educators the space to be reflective about the changes in the community. You know, we have to kind of dig in with them and try to get a sense for, you know, what their mindset and what their beliefs are like. Do the educators who are charged with training these students, you know, do they believe that these students can learn? You know, do they believe that these the families that these students are coming from, you know, love their children and value their education? You know, do they feel like they can connect with the students in a meaningful way? And then to your earlier point, do they understand the cultural norms that drive the students behavior and how you know, all of those are things that may not be, you know, the first things that jump out us in terms of training for our staff. But when we talk about change, changing demographics, being able to really, you know, look at things for what they are and be reflective about those questions, you know, will help teachers to uncover, you know, some of the biases or prejudices that they may hold entirely, which we all had them, but we have to be able to face them, you know, and look at them square in the eye and then own them. And then once we’re able to get to that point, then we can start to unwrap that and unravel it and figure out, okay, so I know this is how I came into this feeling now, what experiences do I need to have, what learning needs to take place for me to be able to shift my own attitude and my own mindset? And I think once we have our educator training a shift in this type of direction, then we can start to build those other skills that the teachers and the other educators will need in order to be able to address, you know, the shift in the demographics.

Dr. Michael Conner

Well stated, Venola, because I want to first, before I actually get to unwrapping the theory that’s aligned to your answer, my set is critical. Right? And one of my former professors, Michael Tuschman, always stated that if we truly want to change in organization, we have to change the software in lieu of the hardware. The educational alignment of that statement is we have to change mindset and mental models before we look at the structures and systems of change. And because we could have the most innovative systems, we could have the most coordinated and systemically aligned, vertically instructional systems. But if the belief is that that our students can work, if we are not reflective on our practices with the students that are in front of them, if we don’t value and love them, then those systems and structures and that new architecture doesn’t mean anything. You are really challenging your your statement is really challenging the underlining assumptions of a school culture or an organization or culture that goes back to Edgar Shine’s work around organizational theory. But getting back to your statement around mindset, reflective beliefs believe that they can learn love and value, right? Understanding the cultural norms of our students. I want to ask a question that is subquery, right? And this is more of the line of leadership and teacher prep programs. I don’t know. I can’t say the right that all, but I do know that there are some because I examine some higher education curriculums. How we’re preparing our teachers, because I wanted to see what the shift in demographics were, the alignment change or the changes of curriculum design, of course design. Are we integrating, you know, culturally responsive theories and culture, responsive practices? So we’re from a perspective of the leadership in teacher prep programs, Do you feel are educators this is obsolete of Venola’s support when you go into school districts, do you believe our leadership and teacher prep programs are adequately preparing our future classroom practitioners to be culturally responsive? Well, we know the demographics for what we have to be culturally responsive in our schools and in our classrooms. Right.

Venola Mason

You know, I think that there is so much more that we could be doing in that area. You know, and even I also, Michael, like yourself, you know, examine teacher prep programs across the country. You know, I do a lot of work with alternatives certificate even. And many times you’ll find that there may be a course, you know, around equity or inclusivity or, you know, being culturally responsive. But we’re going to have to change it up a bit. Like it can’t just be a course. Like throughout all of the courses we have to have that focus in your methods courses, you know, in your leadership courses, in the literacy courses, you know, across the board. We cannot just, you know, try to capture all of these issues in just one space. But we have to see these issues treated adequately, adequately across an entire program. It didn’t. You spoke about curricular like resources and materials. And, you know, I’ll go back to this. You can, you know, our wonderful textbook companies. You know, they can create these resources and these resources can be, you know, culturally responsive. They can be inclusive. They can include, you know, all different types of diversity. But if our educators are not bought into the fact that this is important and that in order for us to be able to reach all of our students like our practice has to shift, you know, in this way, If they don’t have that mindset and belief, then it doesn’t matter what we present them with, it will fall flat. And I know when you were doing your rounds as superintendent, you saw on many occasions where you had spent millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of dollars or resources that were collecting desks and that were sitting in closets or sitting on shelves and people were not using them. And so, you know, in order for us to prevent that level of waste, we have to make sure that, you know, we do look at that mindset and thoughts and beliefs of our, you know, our educational staff, and we have to bring them along with us. You know, we have to bring their hearts in to it in a different way, in addition to making sure that we have these, you know, resources that are aligned and then that’s what it does point that out as well.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah. Thank you. Know, because resources resource alignment is critical. And when I think about that, I always like when I always say, you know, leadership matters, representation matters too, and aligning yellow, aligning those practices, structural strategies, high yield strategies, specific methodologies where resources that students see themselves, students cultures are appreciate it intentional. We have to be intentional about that and a level of boldness because we know that, you know, this world has become highly politicized. Right? And I have heard some stories where now parents are going into classrooms threatening teachers. I couldn’t even imagine that. But no other. But again, thank you for that, because we have to continue to push forward because when we look at it from a statistical standpoint, we have 57% of our population, black and brown, in public education or education in totality. We have to ensure that there’s that systemic and critical alignment with regards to use and practices that understand and know the cultures that are in our classroom classrooms. But I’ve been enamored, right? So, yes, now we can talk about this because I’m an author. You’re an author, right? You listed Amanda. If I compare to this right to your book, Teach. I love it. I remember I got my signed copy. And yes, when I did read it, you know, I’ll you know, I have an affinity for reading. So. Yes. So it might read. Of course I read Teacher. I would say it was you gave it to me side at model schools and I probably had that finished six days later because it was one of those you can’t put down the book, you know, like you did a phenomenal job with that. But your book right, it underscores effective practices, high yield strategies for leaders and for teachers in the educational ecosystem to apply to their pedagogical repertoire. But one of the overarching threads throughout your book is grounding what you stated at the outset or actually last question growth mindset. You talked about that right now in the AC stage of education after COVID 19 growth mindset is continuous learning or iterative practices. We have to be dynamic as opposed to this level domain expertise. So using strategies or some of the critical theoretical underpinnings from your book, what advice would you give leaders and teachers to continue learning within the profession despite the compounding factors that plague our everyday classrooms?

Venola Mason

Fitness. So might be one of the mantras that I live by is to live is to learn and like is simple. And I just I really strongly believe in that because, you know, as educators, we have to be continuous learners and that has to be a part of our core beliefs because is at the core of the work that we do. And in the same way that we want our students and our staff members to continue and to develop and grow and learn, they are we have to model that behavior for them. And, you know, take a look at your schedule, even as trying to get, you know, this on the books is like we are super busy and, you know, everything is super crazy. And so unless we’re really purposeful and intentional about, you know, taking part in these learning opportunities, trust me, it will not happen. And so a few things that, you know, I kind of do in that I talk to other folks about doing in order to just, you know, stay current, to continue learning. So that you can always, you know, be at your best for your staff and for your students. And like the first one, you know, one thing that, you know, I do I encourage other folks to do is either, you know, be a part of a book club or start a book club. Like how well this does not apply to you, Michael, because you’re reading at least five books a day. So I don’t Yeah, that’s my gift. Is that you? I know you said at least five books on every playwright you take, and you’re probably dealt with three of them before you lay in…

Dr. Michael Conner

You know me way too well. But no, you know, be way too well.

Venola Mason

Yes. You know, for us, comic books is hard for us to, you know, just find the time to get that reading in. And so if you are part of a professional book club that you either, you know, join or start, then you could commit to reading. I mean, you could even start with you a book a semester, you know, maybe moving into a book, a quarter that you are being held accountable for reading and then having a discussion with with your colleagues. Another thing that folks can do is subscribe to an amazing podcast like this one, where they’re able to hear from education leaders such as yourself and all your guests on a regular basis, you know, to stay in tune with what is going on in specific districts, you know, what’s going on in schools that can inform their practice and keep them current. And then also, you know, subscribing to a news feed like Ed Week or something similar so that you can stay up on the latest in research, you know, around the country sometimes internationally, just so that you can, you know, stay informed and then lastly, I’ll say, you know, making sure to connect with an organization like the National Alliance of Black School Educators or our state affiliate, the Georgia Alliance of Black School Educators, so that you can stay connected with the people. And it’s really important to be able to connect with folks that are outside of your school and outside of your district so that you can not only share the wonderful things that you’re doing, you know, at your school or in your district, but also learn from others and you know, others within your state, you know, outside of your state, you know, across the country, and be able to exchange those ideas and then bring it back ultimately to be able to help your students. So, I mean, this is a couple of things that I would throw out there for teachers and leaders. You know, just some, you know, easy, quick things you can get on the calendar to help us to make sure that we’re purposeful about our continuing, you know, continue in our learning.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah, Yeah. Thank you for letting us have an hour, because I remember when I was a teacher were great and when I started out and then also my initial stages of leadership, I remember well, I didn’t have we didn’t have a I back then. We didn’t have a synchronous or synchronous type of learning. I remember I used to and please do not hold this against me. I used to actually take I can’t believe I’m even a bit in this sick days to go to conferences to learn, say, Yeah, and a lease. I would spend 200 or 300 hours on books on top of attending these conferences because there was it that on demand learning that we have now, I use this platform ANOVA, as an asynchronous professional learning tool. So we can deepen the structures of Andrew Goji, i.e. adult learning for my audience, so that now you can use a podcast like this, now you can have access and a synchronous manner to of Angela mason or Michael Connor, right? So we didn’t have that then. So now that’s why I always say that we have to create schools and districts as learning organizations where now learning occurs every day for the professional stakeholder, whether that is some type of job embedded support or coaching. As you’re an expert at right Vanilla for our practitioner are instructional leaders reflected on the data low inference data benchmark data run and record data wherever it might be to an approved professional learning and practices and leadership practices as well. So well-stated, but also because I think that we have to seize this opportunity of A.I. in how technology is being underscored and we have to always remember join a professional organization. I don’t know which one you belong to, to my audience, but please join our professional organization. There’s Nancy. There’s the Georgia APC. Now, I’m honored to represent my affiliate, the upstate New York APC. So please get it as a shout out to our President, Dr. Barbara Mullen But we but please join an organization and couple that with the variety of different strategies that Bono provided you. But but all I want to get into your expertise now you what you are No okay. And I feel bad, right? Because I wrote a blog entitled Closing the Loop Want Excellence, and that was underscoring a lot of the themes around cognitive ability, around strength based approaches around school, social emotional, mental health metrics, right. That are rooted to disrupt the traditional instructional walk. Right. So when we talk about literacy and strength based approach, what does personal responsibility, what you know best one another is how student might manage his or her time in the context of the grade level content and strength in that differentiation. So these are, you know, some of the critical, I like to say, categories that we have around school, but I really want my audience to unwrap your foundational and expertise now, your expert knowledge around this area. The goal is always been to individual eyes, instruction and practices where that strength based approach is underscored in every single classroom, even to deepen and strengthen differentiated pedagogy. I’m going to use that in the plural sense. But if mental health and please and be be unapologetically you hear this okay, vanilla it, mental health and social emotional beings and education are deemed political. How do we truly meet the benchmarks of excellence to reach all within this whole child paradigm? And please do not hold back on this on this air, on this question.

Venola Mason

Michael, you you really went went there with this that you might try to get me in trouble. Well, I’m a first that literacy it is and remains and has been a top priority for our nation right like I mean across the board so right now about see I looked at the percentages and double checking with I was still on point before the call. 68% of fourth graders across this country are reading below proficiency level. That is more than half of all of our fourth graders across this country, across racial lines, are below level with reading. And, you know, if we want to at that and you talk about mental health and you talk about social emotional learning, you know, all of those things, you know, they’re being politicized. And so educators are not even being able to use the resources and services that they know will make an impact in these areas because, you know, they are in fear that they will lose their jobs. And we see this happening on a daily basis. You know, teachers are really being, what do you call it like? They’re like they they’re they’re confused. They’re worried. They can’t practice with confidence because they’re not sure if you know, what they’re teaching or how they’re teaching or what if their approach is going to get them fired or had them lose their certificate. And so, you know, it really breaks my heart as I’m looking more at, you know, on the advocacy level. You know, it breaks my heart when I see that states are passing laws and we have new, you know, policies coming from school boards that prohibit even the use of words like equity, you know, prohibit the use of words and phrasing around social, emotional learning. And I don’t even want to start to talk about my neighbors in Florida who are literally trying to erase the contributions and the history of black Americans history books. so you I just go back to my earlier point around applying that pressure. We have to stay vigilant because we know that mental health plays a huge role in a student being able to show up properly in a classroom on a daily basis to receive that good instruction that that teacher is trying to deliver. And if we know there’s a problem there, but we are, you know, tied up and we can offer those services in, that creates a huge problem for our systems. And even in terms of social emotional learning, we know that in the research shows us, and I’m sure you probably could pull up a few studies at the top of your fingertips, you know, about the connection between social, emotional learning and academic success, you know? So if we need to change the labels on these types of support that we provide to our students so that we can be able to get it, you know, push it through there, we have to be bold enough to do that so that our students will be able to get what they need because if we don’t or less is even think about, you know, those 68% of fourth graders that are reading below grade level. How many middle school teachers do you know who are actually trained to teach reading mean? You know how many high school teachers are trained to teach reading, right, Michael? They’re not. They’re not. So if these fourth graders don’t get it before they leave elementary school, then they will be consistently badly in school and beyond because the lack of those literacy skills. So I say, you know, there are so many initiatives, programs, you know, resource says that educators can use to support students in these areas. And actually, if we have to start, you know, pull the labels off, change it up names, is smacking new labels on them. Then we do that work to make sure that our students get what they need.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And Venola, as you were providing that well, detailed and elaborate answer, what I was doing was looking up social, emotional cognitive abilities. Right? And when I see this tension around social emotional learning, this is what I came up with some of the core skills and this is from a universal screener, the desk, right? I implemented that as a superintendent, very, very, very strong, strong instrument. And here are some of the key attributes. And I want to see where this creates this level of tension. Now, universally, when we use social emotional learning skills of social emotional learning, goal setting, delayed gratification, practice and persistence, resolving conflict, self-management and personal responsibility. And we know if we know that these were attributes where there is, where where’s politicized, right, social, emotional learning, cognitive ability and all of those key attributes are are core indicators or predictors of driving the higher academic outcomes achievement. So if we know that if we level and lever the specific attributes in our students goal setting, delayed gratification practice and persistence, resolving conflict, self-management, interpersonal response ability, I think we do that as adults every day when we think about it.

Venola Mason

Michael Let me give you an example. So when I was talking to some friends about this probably a couple of weeks ago, because, you know, as you know, semester’s just closed, our new semester started and so students bring home grades. So I have a seven year old, you know, he’s in second grade. And with him, you know, I really focus like that goal setting is major. And so last year he was on a B honor roll all year in first grade. So that’s why I said, Geoffrey, this year, you know, let’s look at these grades. Abby are like, Mommy’s proud of you, that it’s great. But you know, for second grade, if we can get A’s and B’s, then we want to give straight A’s. So our goal is for you to come home with straight A’s for the whole year. Right? So when I met with his teacher at the beginning of the year and she is amazing, you know, we talked about that goal. We shared that goal with her, what we were working towards. We’re working on homework each night. You know, we talk about the goal. He brings his great hall and we will high five, you know. Yes, baby, you did a good job in this. A is going to help you to get, you know, help us to reach our goal. And we do that. And so at the end of this first semester, my baby came home with straight A’s and he had one B, it was like an 88 point something present, which was then reading. And so he’s like, Mommy, I did it. You know, I didn’t do my straight A’s. I said, But you one, like, you did a great job. I had to tell. I mean, sometimes, you know, you set these high and challenging goals, and even if you fall a little short, you’re still winning, you know? And like, working with him made me think back to my college days. You know, I grew up in South Central Los Angeles. I was one of the first people in my family to go to college. And so, Michael, I was just happy to be there, right? I was just happy to be in the room. And I did not I mean, I worked hard, but I did not get my very best. And I think I was a little bit intimidated. So I went to a a small liberal arts college in Maine, Colby College. You had a lot of folks that were coming from the surrounding Boston area. A lot of rich families had been in a private school, you know, their whole lives. And I didn’t really feel like I belonged there. And so my attitude was not, you know, let’s achieve at the highest level. It was kind of like, let’s not make enough too much noise. So somebody kicks you up out of here. Like, best is where my mindset was, and I so wish that I could go back to that time. I had somebody to really push me and tell me, No, Venola, you belong here. You are here for a reason and you can do this. And so that’s just one of my biggest regrets. And so as I work with my son and I work with, you know, teachers and leaders across the country, you know, that goal setting is so huge because even if you fall a little short, you’re still leads inbounds ahead of where you may have been had you not really focused in.

Dr. Michael Conner

So and thank you for that Venola because social emotional development and developing those competencies within our students. It is an educational imperative. It is an educational imperative. David Adams, who is the CEO of the Urban Assembly, shout out today that he gave me research briefs and it was around the the effectiveness of social emotional development and school success, specifically around high school accumulation of grades and credits. And based off of this study, this this research brief for the study, using a regression analysis to all my statisticians out there where this regression analysis was predicting GPA in credit accumulation, the outcomes rate the outcomes was this is that social emotional learning apparatuses accounted for approximately 47% of the variability in GPA and 55% of the variability in credit accumulation. Thank you, David. Or that Reese search briefs, because that essentially assures you that there are there are systemic relationships, right? Or social emotional learning is development is the proxy for academic success and outcomes. So I when I look at the goals setting, resolving conflict, self-management, personal responsibility, we have the research and the data in front of us. I don’t see how that is politicized, as my mother would always use to tell me when I was growing up and I say this to my eight year old, Yes, Jeffrey and Mikey are friends. My eight year old make it make sense for me. Definitely make it make sense. So one no last question. All right. Last question of VFE, I got you on, yay! Now people get innovative with this question. You know, they use three words. I got some followers. I got some disrupters who are three words plus, I have some former guests or past guests. They have a dissertation to this. So as I’ve been saying this for the past season, two seasons, take it as it is. What three words do you want today’s audience to leave our podcast with regards to addressing the social, emotional and mental health needs to equalize excellence for all.

Venola Mason

Whoo, Michael, you just… Look, you and these questions. I mean, you know me. You know I am a doer. And so my three words would be empathize, respond and lead, empathize, respond in and lead. And I say that because, you know, we as individuals and we talk about the changing demographics of our schools and districts, you know, we really have to take the time to understand the issues that our students. So each population is different depending on, you know, the school and even the classroom, You know, take the time to empathize and understand the issues facing your particular students and really have a heart for their situation. Don’t stop there because caring is good, but caring doesn’t change anything. So then you have to respond. You know, you have to do something so, you know, create some type of a coalition, you know, figure it, figure out what is within your area that you can work on and stop, you know, baby steps are action as well, you know, and then just take action. And then lastly, you know, lead through your action come that powerful leadership and you know, through your leadership, you can empower and motivate others to hop on board with you, which will broaden your influence and your impact. So if I had to leave your audience with three words, you know about, you know, how to address social emotional learning, mental health, just to make sure that all schools are getting what they need, that’s what I would say empower guys, respond and lead, empathize, respond and lead.

Dr. Michael Conner

I also got three more words that resonated with me, Ms. Venola Mason. Empower, influence and what you certainly do across the country, impact. Ms. Venola Mason, yay…

Venola Mason

And Michael, one thing I did not know when I came about to know that I did not know you taught fourth grade. I also taught fourth grade.

Dr. Michael Conner

There we go. Yeah. All then I’ll tell you this right. And I say this to some of my super, super tender friends out there. They always ask me, Mike, are you going back to the superintendency? I’m like, No, I do the Madea, you know hell to the no, but I will be your super guided reading specialist because I love some small group instruction, a guided reading with that, but with all amazed that you’ve made it through the the. Thank you so much my sister really basically my sister knowing you for over a decade right I’m getting older, you’re getting younger. But to my audience and to my viewers, if they want to get in contact with you with achievement or let’s say that we have some Georgia education leaders and stakeholders that are in Georgia. Listen to the episode right now. How would they be able to get in touch with you yet?

Venola Mason

So with AchieveIt, folks can look up the website www.AchieveItEd.com or they can email me at VMason@achieveited.com and then for the Georgia APSE, our website is www.GA-APSE.org and they can also email me president@georgiaAPSE.org.

Dr. Michael Conner

And you heard it right here from one of the national experts that I learned from consistently and really, really good conversations and has supported me through my journey. It’s just been an absolute honor to have Ms. Venola Mason or VFE, Happy Black History Month, Venola.

Venola Mason

Yes, Happy Black History Month. Thank you, Michael, for the invitation. And thank you for such a wonderful conversation.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. Thank you, Venola. I’ll talk to you soon. And yes, I will be down in Georgia for that. Yes, Yes, of course. Peach state, right? That’s it. The peach state. Yes. And it’s going to be nice to get away from this upstate New York weather. And to my audience, onward and upward, everybody. Have a great evening.