Voices in Education Podcast

Episode 27: Education is the Great Equalizer

October 02, 2023 Securly Season 3 Episode 27
Voices in Education Podcast
Episode 27: Education is the Great Equalizer
Show Notes Transcript

It is becoming clearer with every passing year that education is rarely 'one size fits all' when it comes to our students' learning, wellness and success. As the world changes and evolves, our understanding and practices most evolve too - but that is often easier said than done.

For Superintendent Iranetta Wright, education is the great equalizer: no matter a child's background or learning preference, school is the one constant in their life. And, as educators, it's our mission to deliver the best experience and start in life we can for our kids.

Join Superintendent Wright on Voices in Education as she details her learnings, ideas and expertise when it comes to being a leader for change in the school space. Through stories of her own journey, Iranetta shares her invaluable insights when it comes to creating the best teams, learning opportunities and student wellness support initiatives we can - this is an episode not to be missed!

Voices in Education is powered by Securly

Securly is your school’s all-in-one solution for student safety, wellness, and engagement. Securly's 2023 State of Student Wellness Report is a free-to-download paper that takes a closer look into the data and current trends surrounding student wellness. You'll learn how your school can overcome resource limitations, introduce efficient technologies into the classroom, and ultimately better support the students who need your help the most.

Download your free copy of this illuminating special report today.

Adam Smith:

You are listening to the Voices in Education Podcast, powered by Securly. In our third season of the podcast, we're fine-tuning our focus and shining a spotlight where we believe it's needed most on those who've dedicated their careers and lives to education. Whether inside or outside of the classroom, we know that students need to feel seen, safe and supported to perform at their best, but these aren't just the needs of students. They're basic human needs that apply to our educators, administrators, and school mental health professionals as well.

There's a saying that you can't pour from an empty cup. Well, you are invited to fill your cup here with us. I'm Adam Smith, a former teacher, mental health advocate, and your host of the Voices in Education Podcast. It's my great honor and pleasure to get to sit down with educators just like you to discuss why they chose a career in education and how they stay the course in the face of challenges. In hearing their stories, I hope you'll come away feeling refreshed, re-energized, and reconnected to your own reasons for becoming an educator. Let's hear from the voices in education.

Hello and welcome to another episode of the Voices in Education Podcast. I'm Adam Smith, your host for Voices in Education, and I can't wait to share these inspiring conversations with you all. But before we get into it, I want to make sure that you don't miss a single episode. Be sure to like, follow and subscribe to the Voices in Education Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts from.

Today I'm joined by Iranetta Wright. As the 28th superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools, with remarkable accolades including City Year Champion of Education and Chiefs for Change, Future Chief. She may already be familiar and a familiar face for some of our listeners, but the origins of Iranetta's journey within education is less well-known. Though her career path led her away from the classroom for a time in her early years, Iranetta's story hinges on one key mindset. She has always seen herself as an educator by profession.

That outlook led her from teaching a small math class as a young professional to eventually becoming chief of schools, serving over 100,000 students and tens of thousands of staff. Iranetta, your story is a truly fascinating one, and I'm elated to be able to share that with our listeners today. Welcome to the Voices in Education Podcast.

Iranetta Wright:

Thank you for having me today.

Adam Smith:

It's my pleasure. How are you doing? How's your week been so far?

Iranetta Wright:

It's been an amazing week. Today has been a great day. It's a happy new year of sorts for us because this is the day that we are launching our new teacher orientation, so I just had an opportunity to welcome all of our new teachers to the district along with our board members and our union president, so it was a great time.

Adam Smith:

Oh, that's fantastic and great to look forward to the new year, to get to meet everyone, to really, I guess, get motivation high and everyone's morale up and that kind of thing. So yeah, you're feeling ready to go already?

Iranetta Wright:

Excited. The new year is upon us. It's hard to believe that the summer is almost over, but we're excited.

Adam Smith:

Don't say that.

Iranetta Wright:

We're ready to go. And it's going to be a great year.

Adam Smith:

I have not enjoyed enough sunshine yet. I mean in the UK we have had the strangest summer, there has been maybe five minutes of sunshine and then just a lot of rain.

Iranetta Wright:

Oh, wow. Well, the last couple of days here in Cincinnati, it actually is feeling a little like fall, so I don't know, we'll see what happens. It's been pretty warm all summer though.

Adam Smith:

It certainly has been from what I can gather, yeah. So going back to what you were just talking about there, so today you've met all those new teachers and your role really, it is going to be familiar to many of our listeners I think, but there is so much more to what you do than is often publicized online or in the media and those kinds of things.

And I would love to spend a few minutes just getting to understand how you structure your day-to-day and what those responsibilities are, what work you do, because we had a little chat before we started and you mentioned that you love nothing more than to sort of walk the corridors and the classrooms, get to meet the teachers, the students. So if you can tell us a little bit about, I guess, that day-to-day and what you are looking to accomplish. What's the driving force that energizes you?

Iranetta Wright:

I think one of the things that energizes me more than anything is the students. Being able to be in the places and spaces where students are is always important to me. So the way that I structure my day, almost every day, is I start in school buildings. I start by visiting schools and visiting classrooms and interacting with students and talking to teachers and staff, and that is the best place for me because that's where the work is really happening.

When you think about being in a district office, you can be in the office and you can meet with teams and you can do a lot of planning and all of those great things, but implementation happens at the school level. So it's really important for us to not just look at the decisions and the plans that we make and how they look on paper, but really to get into the school buildings and get feedback. Get feedback from students, from teachers, from staff, from school leaders around how those things are really going. So spending time with those that we work with is really what's important to me. The students, spending time with principals, that's really important to me.

Adam Smith:

And what do you learn from those experiences and how do you implement those learnings?

Iranetta Wright:

Yeah, so I am a practitioner by profession. You say that I'm an educator. I always say that I'm an educator by profession because that's true and I see myself as a teacher first. And so really when I'm going into classrooms, I think about where we are in terms of curriculum and how am I seeing that turnkey in the classroom. What are students actually learning? What are they doing? What are they getting from the instruction that's being provided? What am I seeing in terms of instructional needs? What am I seeing in terms of professional development needs?

And so I'm able to go from school to school and class to class and observe some of those things. What's needed in terms of structures in school buildings and how are we thinking about the work that we're doing around there? What may be needed in terms of support?

I've been in a lot of classrooms and teachers now that they realize how often I'm in classrooms... I've been in Cincinnati for over a year now. I'm going into my second school year, and now that they realize that I'm in school buildings often it's not like, "Oh, superintendent Wright is here." It's like, "Oh, superintendent Wright is here."

And so it's an opportunity sometimes to just discuss what's happening in class, what's going well for them or an idea that they have for me. I've met a lot of teachers even over the summer that say, "You were in my class on this day and we were doing this." And I often remember that. So it gives me more information to then take back to the team. A lot of times as I'm talking to the team, I talk to them about what I'm seeing in classrooms and the feedback that teachers are giving to me so that we can follow up and do deeper study to see if there are next steps that we need to take.

Adam Smith:

It's such a lovely shift from that panic of, "Oh no, my boss or whoever, they're coming in and I've got to behave. I've got to do my absolute best." And I often found, I was a teacher in a previous life, and you would find that when those people would come in, you'd feel a bit like you clam up and you don't do things actually as organically or as naturally as you might any other time.

But what's great is you've changed that mindset and now what you're seeing is much more representative and it allows you to actually lead in a better way. It allows you to guide and support in ways that are actually meaningful, rather than just by the book because it changes every day, right? Every classroom's different, every circumstance is different. So that's great. How did you begin to shift that mindset, do you think?

Iranetta Wright:

I think that the mindset set is still shifting, to be completely honest, but I think one of the ways that we're beginning to shift the mindset, and in some places it's already shifted, is just by doing what I actually said. I remember sharing with principals when I first came, I'm a teacher first, I'm a principal second, and I go to schools unannounced unless it's some activity that's being planned for me to come there for. I don't announce the schools that I'm going to. I don't put the schools on my calendar.

My assistant doesn't know the schools that I'm going to, and so I just show up in schools. And so I share with principals as a part of that, I'm a principal, and so if I come to your school and I haven't scheduled to come to your school, whatever happens when I'm there, that's what happens.

So if you're in a meeting and you can't get out of that meeting because I'm there, that's okay, I'll walk the building with someone else. So it takes a bit of the concern away from that part in terms of, "Oh, I need to stop everything and go do this." Now, most of the times that I'm in the buildings, the principals are going to walk classrooms with me because it's also a time for us to walk and talk about what we're seeing in classes, what's going well for them, what assistance and support do they need.

So I think as we continue to go into this year and we see more of that actually happening, we will continue to see that individuals are becoming a lot more comfortable. Students are completely comfortable, especially once you go in the room, I don't expect for teachers to stop and introduce me and all of those things. Some still do, or principals are excited and so they still do, but the students, they continue doing what they're doing and they talk to me and they let me know what they're doing and then if they know who I am, they tell me what they really like and they tell me what they don't. So that's wonderful feedback as well.

Adam Smith:

That's the great thing about students, whereas again, for the staff, you're above them in the chain or whatever, so they think, "Oh, I need to impress." Students do not feel that way. Students see... You're a new person as well, so it's a chance to actually, as you say, kind of dig in deep a little bit and that kind of thing.

I've had a few people mention that to me where it's the students that actually give them the best kind of feedback and the best picture of what's really happening, and you can kind of piece it all together nicely then.

Iranetta Wright:

And I'm a bit of a selfie person, so my students, especially the high school students are recognizing that now. And so as I'm going into school buildings, a lot of times, especially in the high schools, the students will say, "Superintendent, may I get a selfie? Can I get a selfie with you or can I get in your selfie?" And I actually get staff that do the same. So it's really heartwarming.

Adam Smith:

Well, that's nice. And also in doing that, you're actually embracing the culture of the young people and I guess of today it's not some antiquated practice that you are demonstrating. You are really leaning into that kind of thing. And that must be really lovely because it humanizes the role as well. It's no longer the boogeyman coming in, checking out the classrooms. It's just a friendly face and a regular human being, which is wonderful. So we've talked a little bit there about why you do it. You want to come in and you want to make that change, but we're really all about that why on Voices in Education.

So what I'd like to do now if it's okay with you, is go back to the start because you grew up in a household where teaching and education were really the backbone of your upbringing, and that beginning kind of instilled in you a drive to educate others. So can we go back to a 12-year-old you and you were living with your sister and your grandparents, I believe.

Can we go back to there and look at what started this entire journey and when did you develop the why or your drive to get to where you are today?

Iranetta Wright:

Yeah, I've always been a teacher. There are two of us, my sister and I, my parents divorced when my sister and I were very young. And as the older child, I stayed with my grandparents and my mother and my sister stayed close by around the corner from us. And so with my grandparents, they became a part of my village. My grandfather was a minister. He was a pastor my entire life, which meant that he was the overseer of a church.

And so as a young child, I spent a lot of time with him and I watched the way that he gave of himself, the way that he gave to other people, how he would go in his pocket and give his own money to others that were in need. And I saw his ministry as the work that he was doing. And then I knew that teaching was my ministry.

I started teaching Sunday school when I was 12. I taught my sister as a young child. My poor sister always had to deal with me teaching her. I taught the kids in the neighborhood and we would have school across the street from where I lived. And so teaching has always been a part of who I am. My family valued education. I am a first generation college student. My grandfather was retired by the time I came along, and he was the pastor of a church.

He was born in 1918. I always like to share that because just the integrity and ethics that you get from just spending so much time with someone from that era, it just means so much to me and who I am. My grandmother actually worked in the cafeteria at one of our high schools for over 20 years. She retired after 20 years, and then after that we opened a daycare at our church and my mother was a kindergarten teacher in the daycare.

So all of those things go together. And to this day, my mother is still one of the best kindergarten teachers that I've ever seen. No formal training in terms of teaching. She doesn't have a degree in teaching, but it was just natural for her. And I learned so much just being in her kindergarten classroom as a teenager, watching her in the way that she took care of the children.

And so it just became a part of me. And I remember I always wanted to teach and my family knew that, I feel that I was born to teach. And I remember as a high school student, I was getting ready to graduate and I had a conversation with my grandfather and he said, "You're getting ready to graduate and are you still going into teaching?" And at that point, I had decided that I could not make the kind of money that I wanted to make in teaching.

And so I thought, "No, dad, I think I've decided that I'm going to be an attorney. I want to travel. I want to do some exotic things. And so that's what it is that I want to do." And he said to me then that, "I'll support you in whatever you do, but know that as long as you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life." And I listened to that. I took what he said.

I went to college anyway and decided that I wanted to major in law, and I took my first class and I thought, "This is not for me." And by that time, my grandfather had passed away, but I immediately went and I changed my profession into education. And this is where I've remained since. I tried to leave education again. I taught for a few years.

I'm degreed in special education and I taught math as well. And I started as a math teacher and I thought, "I want to do something else." And I didn't like to do cafeteria duty, so I thought I'm going to do something that doesn't require me to do cafeteria duty. And I love teaching, and I was still teaching, but I was teaching adults. I did Mary Kay full-time. I drove a pink car and had a lot of fun and made a lot of money and taught a lot of people about skincare and how to run a business and all of those things, but I was missing the kids.

And I then had a conversation with my grandmother who was still living at that time, and I shared with her, "I think I'm going to go back and sub." And she said, "Why would you want to do that? Your heart is in teaching. It's going to be there for you. Just go back." And I made a decision and I've come back and this is where I've been ever since.

Adam Smith:

So I love that because you've got, I guess, that wonderment of youth where you're like, I want to do something exotic. I want the big money, the fancy whatevers that come with it. I think everyone has those kinds of, if I call them delusions of grandeur, it's not quite that, but you want sort of this crazy lifestyle, this glamorous sort of thing. And what was it about that law class that made you just "Nope," immediately?

Iranetta Wright:

I didn't love it. I really didn't love it. It was an international law class and I thought, "I don't like this at all." I just did not enjoy it. And I did really well in the class and some of my best education courses, educational law was one of my favorite. My professor was an active attorney and he was really difficult.

And so after I got into that class, I really liked that a lot. But that international law class, it just was not for me. And I thought, "This is not what I want to do." I think it was just the coming of age, if you will, and at that moment because education was just so important to me and it's what I wanted to do my entire life.

Adam Smith:

So what was it about education, even at that age, that made you feel like you did love education? Compared to say, yeah, you did the law class, you were good at it, but it just didn't strike that chord within you. So what was it about education do you think, even then, that made you want to go for it?

Iranetta Wright:

I think it was several things actually. I think I saw, at an early age, my ability to help people and to impact change with people by the way that I worked with them. I talked about being a Sunday school teacher at the age of 12, and we think that's a little bit different when you're talking about teaching, but I was teaching those that were my age and older in that particular Sunday school class, and I remember them talking about my ability to help them see things differently or understand things in a different way.

I tutored my peers when I was in school because education was something that I loved so much, I was one of those students. I was a strong English or language student and I was a strong math student. I can't say that education saved me. Honestly, I've always been a strong student and it came easy to me to be able to help other people and to watch those light bulbs go off as I was helping them.

And so at that point, it was really about the help. I think for me, throughout the years it's been about helping others, but it's also been about the social justice that education brings, the fact that education is the great equalizer and our children, regardless to where they are, regardless of what zip code they live in, they deserve the absolute best and the one constant in their lives, many times for students that have so much that's discontinuous for them, the one constant for them is school.

They come to school and knowing that they have individuals that are there that care about them, that are concerned about them, it makes a difference. I had amazing teachers when I was in school. Some of the teachers that I remember the most are the teachers sometimes that were the most challenging in terms of what you were doing in class and what they were expecting of you because they knew what you could give.

I also find that throughout the years as I really processed my journey, I paid a lot of attention as a child, even a young child, I paid a lot of attention to the way that teachers worked with students in the class that did not get the information as easily. I don't know why that was always something that stood out to me. And now as an educator of so many years, I realize that many of those students had challenges that I knew nothing about, but the teachers knew and they knew how to engage with them with care in a way that even caused me to pay attention to what was happening in class.

And as I got older, I wanted to be one of those people. And I find that even as a teacher in the classroom and even moving into administration, my students would say to you that they knew that I cared about them. I love them, I had tough love for them, but right now to this day, those students would say that they know that I cared about them and that I wanted to make a difference in their life.

Adam Smith:

That's such an important thing for students to feel. One of my other guests, Julie Norman, that's her entire ethos. She's from the UK, she created her own curriculum really, that it was all centered around let's make sure that at the heart of everything we do, it's a care for ourselves and for each other and that kind of thing. And it makes such a difference because as you say, it is the constant. It's something that everyone has, you mentioned it being the great equalizer and those sorts of things.

It allows everyone the opportunity to be the best they can be, to fit in, to find out what they're good at and to improve where they're not and those sorts of things. And I think that's such a lovely thing. So many of our listeners as well are in education and have similar whys, have similar reasons for waking up every morning. A lot of them though will probably be interested to know how you sort of made the climb from being a teacher to where you are today. So could you give us a little bit of background about that journey?

Iranetta Wright:

Absolutely. So I started teaching and I was out of school for two weeks and I started working on my master's in educational leadership. And when I left teaching, I've only left one time, but when I left teaching to do Mary Kay full-time, I already had my master's in educational leadership. I taught for about three years before I left, and I got my master's within that time period.

From there, I left education and I came back and I moved from being a math teacher to a special education teacher, which is what my degree was actually in. It was one of the greatest experiences for me. It was one of the best experiences because I learned so much more about the ways that we relate to children and interact with them and how we interact and interface with the laws and those kinds of things.

So I moved from there to assistant principal, from assistant principal to vice principal, from there to principal, and then the rest is kind of history. I was moved from my middle school to a high school in Duval County. That was the lowest performing high school in the state of Florida. And that's very relevant because there are 67 counties in Florida. My school district had about 25, 30 schools in it, and we were the seventh-largest school district.

So there were a lot of high schools in Florida and mine was the most challenged. And at the time that I was moved there, there was conversation at the state about closing the school. And so it had all of the stereotypical things that you think about when you think about a challenged school environment. Most of my students were on free or reduced lunch, which talks about the poverty level that may be in the area.

It was the oldest school that was still a comprehensive high school in Florida. Initially it was a school for working class white families. Over the years it had become a school really more for working class Black families as well. And so it had just gone through a lot of transitions and I was moved in to impact change and that's what we were able to do.

And so in a four-year period really going into the school building, building the students to start with, letting them know that they have potential and what that potential looks like, having individuals in the school that were committed to what was happening with them and they were committed to the population of students that they work with. Sometimes we think about, what I often say to people is that parents don't send us their worst kids and keep the best ones at home.

They send us all they have, and it's been our responsibility to take them, to take the most precious thing that they have and to love them and to love them for life. So to find what it is that connects them to the next, to find that carrot, that something for them that causes them to continue to come back. And so it was really building the kids and letting them know that you deserve so much more and that you have so much potential on the inside of you.

And so in that four-year period, we were able to move the school from an F to a B, which was really exciting. And the school has changed quite a bit, but it is still sustaining. I'm so proud of them. I was in Florida several weeks ago and I just had to go back and just stand on the grounds and just be in that place because it was just so pivotal and such a strong space for me in my life and a place that continues to, it resonates really the power that you have when you give it your all.

So I moved from there. At that time I got a new superintendent who said to me that, "You have done great work here, but now we need you to do that work in some other places." And so I became a regional superintendent, which meant I was leading a population of schools at that point. I was responsible for a population of schools across the district, had about 25 or 30 schools.

And then he also had an opportunity to really do some transformative work in the district. And he had a process of putting all of the most challenged schools together and did a national search for the person to lead those schools. And I was the person that was named even from that national search. So in that period of time, I started with 36 of the most challenged schools in the district and went from 36 to 45 to 56 schools.

I think someone else always gets the numbers, I'm not as good as that, but we were able to exit 98% of those schools from state sanctions. So we were able to work together and repeat some of the work that we had done in the high school that we worked in to make sure that we were improving outcomes for children because as we think about data, I think about the eyes attached to the data.

From there, I continued to lead that work, had an opportunity to move into the Chief of Schools role in Duval County, and then my superintendent became the superintendent in Detroit. And so he recruited me to transition with him from Jacksonville to Detroit to be the deputy superintendent. So I spent five years in Detroit as a deputy superintendent, and now this is my second year in Cincinnati as the superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools.

I've done almost every job in the school district. I started as a bookkeeper after I graduated from college. I've always worked. I started working when I was 14, so I didn't know what it felt like not to work. And so after I graduated from college, the job where I was going to teach actually had an opening for a bookkeeper and they said, "Iranetta, you love numbers. We need a bookkeeper. Will you do this work for us for a few months?" So I did. And so it was just a really, really rewarding experience. Every experience has made me who I am today.


The Voices in Education Podcast is brought to you by Securly. Since 2013, Securly's sole mission has been to support student safety and wellness. With more than 15,000 schools worldwide already choosing to bring Securly into their school communities, we are creating a clearer picture of what young people are struggling with each and every day.

With this data, we are able to more effectively target and implement support, and we want to share that information with as many educators like you as possible. The 2023 State of Student Wellness Report is a free to download paper that takes a closer look into the data and current trends surrounding student wellness.

You'll learn how your school can overcome resource limitations, introduce efficient technologies into the classroom, and ultimately, better support the students who need your help the most. Download your free copy of this illuminating special report by visiting HS.Securly.com/report. That's HS.S-E-C-U-R-L-Y.com/report today.

Adam Smith:

I mean, it's a wonderful journey to hear, and it wasn't like it was an easy path either. You've just mentioned that, yeah, you took on over 50 of the most challenging schools that you could possibly have. You were handpicked for that, in fact. For anybody out there that's listening, facing their own challenges like that, how do you navigate such troubled water?

Iranetta Wright:

You have to be true to yourself. You have to know that what it is that you're doing, that you're the right person for the role. I think that's number one. Number two, you want to surround yourself with people that know as much as you and know more than you because it's important to know a lot, but you don't know it all. You don't know everything. And so you want to surround yourself with people that are complimentary of the skills that you have and complimentary in a way that they're able to help challenge you, and they're able to help push you, they're able to help you continue to grow and develop.

I think the third is to recognize that you are a part of a team. You cannot do it by yourself. For someone like me, I am so passionate about this work. I believe in the power of children and what they can do and what they can accomplish, and I run really, really, really fast.

And sometimes that fast run is misconstrued as something very different. It's passion. Our kids have waited so long, and in many instances, there is no more time to wait. We only get them for that one year of time. And what happens with them within that one year is so important to what is happening in their life.

So we want to make sure that we are giving them what it is that they need, but that we're doing that with the team. And so making sure that you're continuing to build team, you're continuing to talk about team, and you identify the areas where you haven't done a great job in so that you can take that feedback and begin to move forward.

I think the fourth for me is every decision that I make has a child's face on it. A lot of decisions that we make as system leaders are really decisions that are about adults, but who is the person at the table that is keeping the conversation about the kids?

Adam Smith:

That's great advice. And it can be something we lose sight of. I think there's so much paperwork, there are so many targets, there's so much else going on in your mind. And that's just in work is obviously then everyone's got their personal lives too, and their personal challenges and things. You sometimes do forget, the actual focal point is the kids.

So we like to wrap up the Voices in Education Podcast, we have the same three questions to give some insight to our listeners and to give them some advice and look at the positives that are ahead.

So first question is, in your opinion, what is the biggest challenge that educators face when it comes to supporting student wellness?

Iranetta Wright:

I think that student wellness is so diverse and what we need in terms of student wellness is so diverse. I think that we as educators have really known for a period of time that this is an area that there needs to be additional work in. However, it was exacerbated, I think after COVID because during the time that students were at home, there was just so much that was magnified. And as a result of that, it's now transitioned its way back into the school building.

So the role of the superintendent has changed so much over the years. The role of the principal has changed, the role of the teacher has changed. And as we think about it, we want to make certain that students have access to resources that are important in terms of wellness. For example, in all of our schools, we have mental health therapists, counselors that are in our school buildings, so that they're able to get on the spot support in their schools.

We also have school-based health clinic in our schools as well, so that we're also taking care of the mental and the physical right on our campus. And so it gives all students across the district access to these resources. But it's difficult because our core business is education. And so the funding that we generally get is funding to support the things that are needed in terms of education.

One of the benefits of having the dollars that we've had around ESSER is that we've been able to really address some of those other needs in a very deep way that we hadn't been able to do before. I walked into a district that was already committed to mental health and mental health supports and making certain there were school counselors, as was my last school district, and actually all the school districts that I've been in, to be perfectly honest. But it's not always easy to do that.

And so making sure that we're continuing to work with families, to work with students, to remove the stigma that goes along with needing support for mental health and making the pairing between mental health support and wellness and what that looks like, and also how we're thinking about working with partners and providers to get that done.

Adam Smith:

No, it's great. And this kind of, as you say, removing that stigma I think is so key because there are a lot of teachers that have been in education for a long time, and there is a stigma that they sort of bring to the classroom, not on purpose, it's just it's from their personal ear or their personal experiences. But it's great that we're starting to really understand that this is something we have to address.

And yeah, it's lovely to hear that you are addressing it in your schools and districts and those sorts of things.

Right, second question then. So for any of our educators that might be feeling burnt out or lost or just struggling a little bit, what's one thing you'd like to say to them?

Iranetta Wright:

I think I would like to connect that to the question that you just asked around wellness, because as we think about wellness and we attach mental health to that often, but as we think about wellness, we're talking about mental health wellness, we're talking about physical health as well, and teachers have to think about the same for themselves.

And so it's really important to me that I am instilling as much as I can around self-care, how you are caring for yourself, what you think about as you're thinking about self-care. So whether that is mental health support that you may need, whether that is making sure that you're engaged in a program that works on a healthy lifestyle and healthy living, recognizing that you may need assistance and being okay with saying that.

We have programs through our employee assistance programs that do just that, not only does it give an opportunity for our teachers and our staff to get some mental health support, but it also does things around strategies for healthy living and how you're able to move forward with that.

So I think that would be one thing. I think the second thing that I would say is it's also really important that we surround ourselves with people that truly have a vested interest in what's happening in education. Because teaching right now is tough, and everybody outside of the classroom is the expert. Everybody, they become the expert. They see themselves as the expert, and often they've never walked in our shoes, they've never been in a classroom, they don't know what it means to teach, or I could use that in any of the roles that we do in education.

That's from teaching, to being a principal, to being a superintendent, everybody outside of those roles, they know what to do to do those things, even though they've never walked in those shoes. So it's important that you surround yourself with people that know what it is that you're working with and why that work is important, so that you can continue to feed yourself, because if you don't feed yourself, you do get to a place of getting burnout.

And I think the third is knowing when to say when. There are some times that you just have to shut it off and be okay with shutting it off. Be okay with setting those boundaries because that's important. It's important to you, and it's important to the people in your life that love you.

I've not always been in that place. I've not always learned those boundaries. And there are times that I don't think that I have been completely fair to myself or those around me because of trying to get the work done and because of trying to make sure that outcomes were changed. And so I've learned through that, and I really want to make certain that I am promoting that with other people.

Adam Smith:

I mean, so many important messages there and advice, and I think I've said this before, we're not an infinite resource. We are finite. And it's hard sometimes to accept that or in fact to embrace that and to look inward and decide that, yeah, we do need to support ourselves, but you're right. Let people around you know, make sure you are kind of sharing the load a little bit, and that people understand what you are going through and those kinds of things.

I think that's so important not to just take it all yourself and try and put it all on your own shoulders. Final question then, and I'd like to end on a positive note here on Voices in Education. So there's so much good work happening in education. We've talked about a lot of it today and I've talked about it with my other guests, and there's just so much goodness. So what's one thing that's giving you hope about the future of education?

Iranetta Wright:

One thing that's given me hope about the future of education is the focus that we have around the whole child, around thinking about not just how we are looking to serve students and their academic needs, but how really as a nation, there's a lot of conversation around needs and understanding what the state of education really is right now. And that does give me hope because it does shed the spotlight. It shows the spotlight on work that amazing educators have been doing for a long time, and being able to have other people see.

And through COVID, people begin to see it, right? When you're at home and you have children and you're trying to get all of those children taught at one time, at one point in time, there was a belief that anybody could teach. And I think now there is becoming the recognition that not everybody can teach, and not everybody, that is not the skillset that everyone has, so that our teachers are professionals and they're really, really special people, and they really do the work for more than just the fact of teaching from day-to-day.

It really becomes a part of their life's work and their life's mission to improve outcomes for children. And so I think that gives me hope, really thinking about, collectively, that we're having conversations that are not just about the academic performance, even though academic performance is really important, that's not the entire conversation. The rest of the conversation is around how are we getting collective supports for students for the long haul?

Adam Smith:

One thing I totally agree with you on is that not everyone can teach, and it's such a special role. My wife's a teacher of very young children, and I've never seen anybody in my life who is quite so capable with such young people, such young minds, because to me, that's my worst nightmare, trying to teach a classroom of very young children. I don't know how she does it, but she engages with them. They're just so engaged by her and intrigued by what she's saying, and there's so much love there, and it's just the most wonderful thing to see.

And I think not everyone can do this. So those that can do it, I want to support them. I want to give them the help that I can. And yeah, I think that gives me hope too. So I totally agree with you.

That is bringing us to the end of today's Voices in Education episode. Iranetta, it's been so wonderful to share this with you. Thank you very much for joining us. Where can our listeners find you online if they want to keep up to date with what's going on?

Iranetta Wright:

I'm pretty active on social media, so on Twitter, I am @PrincipalLearns, P-R-I-N-C-I-P-A-L L-E-A-R-N-S. That's just reminiscent of who I am as a leader, and so I always want to be a principal that continues to learn. And on LinkedIn, I'm at Iranetta Rayborn Wright, so I'm pretty easy to find.

Adam Smith:

That brings us to the end of today's episode of Voices in Education, but now we'd love to hear from you. If you enjoyed this episode, don't forget to leave a rating and a review to help other listeners like you find the podcast. We'd also love for you to continue this conversation over on our social channels.

You can follow us on Twitter at Securly over on Instagram at SecurlyInc, and on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/company/Securly. I look forward to seeing you all there. In the meantime, be sure to listen to your own body and mind, as Iranetta said. You need to give yourself the same attention and care that you give to your students each day. Otherwise, you just can't perform the miraculous role that you do.

I look forward to speaking to you again soon. Thanks for tuning in to the Voices in Education Podcast, powered by Securly. For more episodes and additional details about the podcast, visit www.Securly.com/podcast.