This Restorative Justice Life

Abbott Elementary S1E4 "New Tech" w/ Brittany Jefferson (Restorative Justice Reflections)

July 09, 2023
This Restorative Justice Life
Abbott Elementary S1E4 "New Tech" w/ Brittany Jefferson (Restorative Justice Reflections)
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How can you use Restorative Justice to implement new technology, new programs, collaboration, and adaptive change? Find out on this episode of Restorative Justice Reflections!

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Speaker 1:

Heyo, david here. Restored of Justice Reflections was created as a video first medium because we're including video clips from the shows we're talking about. You can still hear our full conversation here with the audio from the clip, but for the full experience and to see our beautiful faces, head over to our YouTube page link below. If you're on the go and podcasts are your thing, please bear with the mentions of video and clips and use your imagination. Enjoy. Welcome to Restored of Justice Reflections.

Speaker 1:

I'm David Ryan by Sega Castro Harris All five names for all the ancestors And today I'm here with Brittany Jefferson to dive into the restorative themes or lack thereof found in episode four of season one of ABC's hit show Atta Elementary. As always, our conversations here are not a critique of the story and production choices of the creators, but will highlight how Restored of Justice can be applied to new technology, new programs, collaboration and adaptive change. Hopefully this will give you some insight into applying Restored of Justice ways of being inside and out of the classroom. If you want a deeper look into applying Restored of Justice to your everyday life, join our inner circle to connect with other RJ-minded folks and get bonus content. If you want to deepen your practice, check out our courses And, if you want to see this work in your school or organization, invite us for coaching or training so we can help you implement this way of being into your community. Of course links to everything in the description.

Speaker 1:

Now let's get to it. Brittany, it is so good to be back in conversation with you. We've been in conversation on this Restored of Justice life, but as we were closing that conversation, i knew that you were someone that I also wanted to have this kind of conversation with, because you're a teacher and Abbott. Elementary is about what goes on in and outside of classrooms and schools. So first of all, please introduce yourself in the way that you want to be known to the audience.

Speaker 2:

Hi, I am Brittany Jefferson. I'm a fifth grade teacher and a climate justice educator.

Speaker 1:

Beautiful, beautiful, and if people want to learn more about the climate justice work that you're doing, the ways to get in touch with your work are linked below. You can also go back and listen to our episode of this Restored of Justice Life. But you're also somebody who has a love for TV, film, movies, and so at the end of our conversation I was like, yes, let's have this conversation about the justice issues that are in Abbott Elementary. How did you get into the show? Tell us about your Abbott fandom.

Speaker 2:

Well, honestly, a teacher mockumentary is like my dream, because I feel like I have often compared my experience to a type of sitcom like The Office And I'm just like they need a teacher mockumentary because the things that happen, like you can't make the stuff up And so that's. You know, when I heard that Abbott Elementary was coming out, i was very excited And like I really liked the cast. You know like I've grown up watching Cheryl Lee Ralph on things and you know everybody hates Chris and stuff like that. So yeah, i was really excited to dig in.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and you know we're reflecting on an episode that is very early on in the show's run. We've seen the characters grow. What about the show so far? Or maybe like up through episode four, like maybe be like, yeah, this is this, is it Like? it might not be perfect, but like I feel seen.

Speaker 2:

Like the humanizing of teachers. In TV and movies, like I've, teachers are often depicted in very stereotypical ways And I feel like that has kind of shaped some of the like sentiments around teaching as like babysitting or just you know, you get your weekends and your summers off and stuff like that. But it really is more than that And there really is like a specific skill set and it really takes a lot of energy and patience to be a good teacher And I think that that show really highlights that in a way that I haven't really seen for teachers before.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, i mean as much as a 21 minute sitcom can do. Right, They do pack a lot in there, and so I want to get into this episode. We're talking about episode four. It's called New Tech. Lots to get into, but let's start with the introduction of New Tech. This was something that, when I asked you, what do you, what episode do you want to react to, you were like, ooh, this one Why.

Speaker 2:

Because it's like such an integral part of my personal teaching experience And it was interesting watching how different teachers reacted and then also like, ultimately, what ended up with the program And it really was definitely a highlight. Yeah, just like feeling a deep connection with my personal experiences as an educator.

Speaker 1:

Right, we have a district mandated program being handed down. Of course, Ava's taking credit for it.

Speaker 4:

Listen up Your favorite. HVIC aka me has acquired some new learner technology that will help our little ones with their reading.

Speaker 5:

You guys. I have been reading up on this and our students are going to get a huge boost from this software. I mean, our kids are going to be reading at the speed of light.

Speaker 3:

Well, i for one prefer the tried and true methods over whatever the latest doohickey is. I mean, i have yet to see the program that can do what I do by you know teaching.

Speaker 5:

Well, old school teaching is great, but the latest doohickey can be a helpful addition.

Speaker 1:

But when you saw that happening and you saw the way that Jeanine responded and the way that Barb responded, what came up for you?

Speaker 2:

Probably how much Barb's response was my response. So the way that she responded was like I don't need this new technology to help me teach kids how to read, like I've been teaching kids how to read for a long time, and so my like feeling is not necessarily about being a veteran teacher who, like doesn't want to explore something new. I'm actually like the opposite. I really like to explore new things, to kind of see what works and what I feel is, you know, actually going to help students learn. But I hate reading programs specifically because they are dry, they are boring, they are like it's very difficult for kids to be engaged and excited and motivated. It often ends up in like school-wide competitions and like bulletin boards, like broadcasting, you know, achievements of individual students for everyone to observe, and it just doesn't feel like a very liberatory practice for kids And like like the celebration of literacy. It just feels very um rote. And so I always have had a visceral reaction to working at a school that makes me regularly use a reading program on the computer.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and you know, within the context of your specific experience, people who are listening to this, who are teachers, people who are listening to this, who have work demands put on them by higher ups that's like just organization-wide. This is what we're doing in general, right, like that's not often something that's created or asked for by the people who are most impacted, right? Either students, clients, patients, whoever and the people who have to execute on that the teachers, staff members. If you're thinking about a different context, and you know, as a restorative justice person, i can't help think about, you know, whenever I'm coming into a school or whenever I'm coming into an organization and we have this being positioned as like mandate from on high, this is what we're doing. It is often received in like a negative way because of the things that people have experienced. Like you said, right, it's a competition.

Speaker 1:

It's really cookie-cutter not necessarily responsive to the needs of people who are most affected. So there's very justifiable reasons to be skeptical of all of this, not to mention, of course, later on in the episode when we discovered like this specific reading program is being used to gather data for like planning prison beds. Right, and we know that's a thing and we can link to some resources about that in the show notes. But the way that Barbara decides to like navigate this might be a little bit different than the way that you would.

Speaker 3:

You know she tries to fake her way through it All right, we are going to have to grab a noun from the noun pool. I don't get this Sweetheart, neither do I. Okay, so here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to continue teaching my students how to read, like I have been for 30 years. I'll input whatever information I need to into that program, and then I'll just keep doing what I have been doing, and everybody else will just have to back off.

Speaker 1:

Pushing Janine away from helping and like, yeah, as you were seeing that play out, what was coming up for you.

Speaker 2:

Definitely like that. Young teachers often do get like underestimated and what they bring into an organization, and so it didn't surprise me that, like she was going to try to figure out how to do it herself and, you know, didn't want to like accept Janine's help. Again, it's like connected to a personal experience of just being a brand new teacher and like having ideas and feelings and like values that you want to implement and, you know, sometimes interacting with veteran teachers that are like you are new, you know nothing, And I think a lot of people experience things like that right, having their ideas belittled, pushed aside right.

Speaker 1:

And for Barb, like I think it's coming from well, i might be coming from a couple places one like a point of pride like I don't need help, i've got this, i've been doing this for so long, i don't need, like outside intervention and I don't need you as like a representative of someone who, like isn't that experience like what could I possibly Learn from you? We know that over the course of the show, janine and Barbara gonna develop like a Deeper relationship, but she's like so eager to be seen as like valuable, worthy, a good teacher, like a resource for Barb that, like it can be overbearing and like I think that's part Partially like another reason why, like Barb isn't trying to like accept that help right, that energy is just annoying I. so I'm reflective of right when I'm talking about restorative justice or anything new. we're introducing something new to like an Environment where it's different from the way that things have been historically done, like that's a history that people have right. Oh, it's just this new initiative. Oh, it's this outsider who's coming in, who's like doesn't know anything about me, my context and like the way that I do things, and like I've got to be reflective of myself and say like, hey, that's right and Offer this is an invitation of a way of being, and like I know, when you're talking about the ways that, like, reading programs are Ruled out, like we're not necessarily wanting to teach this specific curriculum, but like what are the frameworks and Practices that we're implementing so people can like, master these skills?

Speaker 1:

when I'm talking about restorative justice practices, ways of being, philosophy, it's not about like, hey, what is this script so you can navigate conflict? What is this script for this circle so you can do the circle? It's about how are you in relationship, how are you building, strengthening relationships? We're doing equity and trust. when you're facing conflict, how are you analyzing? You know what happened, what was going on underneath the surface, who is impacted and how and how do we meet the needs that have been caused by those impacts? like taking that framework and just like mastering the fundamentals of phonics, like using Philly slang what is going on in this classroom, Hey?

Speaker 5:

Mrs Howard, i'm just teaching the kids some sight word. It's a helpful teaching tool Because these kids use these All the time you're abandoning the phonics principle that these children need.

Speaker 3:

This is a classroom, not a hokey stand. Oh, oh, hokey.

Speaker 1:

You can use a lot of different methods to get there, as long as the fundamentals are sound.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and I think, like throughout my career, i, because of kind of, you know, in my past experiences, seeing The fluidity in which curriculum and activities can flow through a school Right like, i saw some type of like grounding in my practice, things that I can carry from year to year in order to be able to provide, you know, build my skills and build structure and routine within things that can change.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, definitely, there's always gonna be this like shiny new thing, new program or something new, some new initiative Being rolled out in schools, but we want to make sure that, as we're Rolling out whatever new initiatives are right, like it's not just about the specific program, it's something that we can actually be rooted in practice and take away and operate outside of. Like These narrow boxes, or like this specific software or this particular curriculum Translates to you know, within the case of restorative justice, all the relationships you have with students, caregivers, your colleagues, even relationships outside in the world, but like with reading or math or like whatever Thing that you're doing, like are you building critical reading skills? Are you sorry critical thinking skills? Are you building comprehension skills? Are you building independent thought so people can take the skills and apply them to different contexts? not just like yep, i mastered this game, i mastered this software, right, i mastered this competition right.

Speaker 1:

We get representations of like, oh like. Let me just memorize this book to read out to the class. Like, or read out to the school like Barb like tries to get her student to do. I did appreciate, though, that in that moment she does take accountability right, she does own that. You know, i lied, i was ashamed. I'm not this great teacher that you all think I am in this particular way, right?

Speaker 3:

The truth is, i was actually able to log into the program, but I was just pushing buttons. I did not mean to say that they could read at a fourth grade level. I know how to teach these kids how to read.

Speaker 1:

I just can't use that program so I lied, and I think it's important that when adults make mistakes, kids and you know colleagues as well see people taking accountability, see people acknowledging their flaws and changing behavior accordingly. Right, it's an incredibly vulnerable thing to do, but in the spirit of, you know, building, strengthening, repairing relationships rooted in equity and trust. It is showing that you know, hey, we all need help sometimes. Sometimes we are people who, like want to put up a really good front, but like we're not all that all the time and we need help. Like it helps us be human to other people, it stops us from putting people up on pedestals, can actually help us start to build authentic connections.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely, you've been in the teaching game for almost 10 years now. What are some ways that you've seen maybe not reading curriculums, but other, like school-wide mandated, quote-unquote initiatives rolled out? well, like what were the things about the rollout? Maybe you don't have to say like the specific initiative or specific software or what have you, but like what were some of the things that were in place that made something, made the rollout of a thing more successful?

Speaker 2:

Well. So I have experience where being open-minded to new ideas can really like impact your practice. And so there is like a specific methodology that I was introduced to and it was new to me that I learned from a colleague, like she went to, you know, during her teaching program. She learned about it and she was just like, hey, it was an invitation, she invited me to you know get familiar with it, like recommended books to me and things like that. And so I began to like go to professional development and you know my school actually funded for us to do that and so I was able to go and like really learn about it and really, you know, understand how I can implement it and make it work. And like I continued to, because it was a methodology and like a framework, i was able to adapt it to the curriculum, because in those like three years that I implemented the framework and like grew and expanded how I implemented it in my grade level, our curriculum had changed twice.

Speaker 1:

Yes.

Speaker 2:

So I was able to like be grounded in that methodology and then when I changed schools, i came to a school that had admin buy-in and that was something that I realized I was missing at my other school was that like I was an island of a teacher who was exploring and like I collaborated, you know, with my other colleague and we would like talk to our other teachers about it, but we didn't have admin buy-in. It was like a big uphill battle. So it's really important for leadership to be knowledgeable on the framework or the practice that you're trying to get implemented, because then you get that systemic, you know you get that system and like institution-wide support and like resources important to it and teachers get professional development and you know there's like observations and there's ways to really, you know, become familiar with what we want to see our certain like math block to look like.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, i think a lot about how Ava, in the context of this show, like, is never gonna do that for anything and for anyone. She's not really like. Ava does have some redeeming moments later on in the show, right, but she is not that admin who is going to take the time to learn about how a curriculum is gonna impact the, her staff, right, and her students. When I think about restorative justice, right, it's really similar things Like yeah, i want to teach you about scripts and frameworks for holding space and for resolving conflict, but the frameworks about, like, how to practice, how to be, how to build, strengthen, repair relationships, so much more important. You get to take those things wherever you go, whether that is school, whether that is another place, and you know again, like you were saying, you can practice on an individual level in the context of a school. But if you're not in school leadership, if resources aren't being allocated, if time isn't being allocated to the development and nurture of practices whether it is specific reading frameworks, math frameworks, science, curriculum, restorative justice, practice things aren't going to take root well, things aren't going to develop and grow, and I think the other thing that we have to take into account is the time that it takes to do things well like has to come from somewhere. Right? it's not that you get to create more hours in a day. You're still limited by all the constraints that you have of the. You know, whatever your school hours are 8 to 3, or you know what? have you right? people can't keep having things added on top and on top and on top and have those things expected to stick right. It just results in overwhelming nobody doing any of the things.

Speaker 1:

Well, and you know, i'm often coaching school leaders to think about, as much as we want to do this, what are we going to deprioritize so this can happen? right, and all the things that you have to do are worthy and important. It's just about what you want to do and what you want to accomplish and under what time frame. If you're appreciating this video, like to help us in the YouTube algorithm, subscribe so you won't miss the video, and share it with someone to help us further amplify this work. Now back to the show. The B story of this episode is Jacob doing a history lesson about South Philadelphia unionizing. That is how union and non-union workers came together and worked as one to help solve the labor crisis in South.

Speaker 4:

Philly. Hey, Hey Hill, that lesson. That was garbage. It's not what happened, Okay, well, I've read several books on the subject. I think I know the history of the lesson Well, me and my family lived it, so I think we know the history. I've also listened to several podcasts. Look, how about this? I know a guy was actually a captain back in the day. How about a hooky up? He can come to the class and do like an eyewitness account for the kids.

Speaker 1:

Unexpected, but I am so happy Melissa's bringing in a police captain.

Speaker 4:

He's going to be able to talk to the kids about how this is done peacefully. I'm just really happy Vinny, the strike captain, is out of jail so we can do this. It's also going to count towards his community service. Just a hundred more hours and his records cleared.

Speaker 1:

When you saw this go down, what came up for you?

Speaker 2:

So the first thing that stood out was just the importance of understanding multiple perspectives of historical events, even if we use multiple sources, thinking about where the sources are coming from and how we talk about different parts of our lives and how we learn about them in school or don't learn about them in school.

Speaker 1:

Teaching history in the United States specifically has become a really tricky thing over the last couple of years. It shouldn't be as controversial as it is, but I was really reflective of how the history that's being taught within the context of this AFib class to primarily black students is centered on white people, white people who are doing union organizing, labor organizing, which is great. Beautiful people should learn about what happens in their context, in which they live. They should also be learning about the gentrification, why those communities aren't necessarily in place, but that's another story for another time. This probably isn't something that could have happened within the context of a Warner Brothers show aired on ABC to a national audience. What would a conversation about black history have been like?

Speaker 1:

I think the way that they brought this conversation in about teach people the actual history about what happened got through because it was centered on white people. But when you're thinking about history that is other history that is erased because of racism, because of homophobia, because of transphobia, because of all of these other systems of oppression, right, those things are still happening within the context of our schools and you know it's up to individual teachers on some levels to bring in the community resources. Right, collaborate, like Melissa and Jacob did in this case, to make sure that your students are getting the things that they need, getting all the information, getting all the multiple perspectives Age-appropriate, of course, right, but making sure that we are promoting versions of history, telling stories, sharing perspectives that are giving people the education that they deserve.

Speaker 2:

So it reminded me of the conversation that we had on this restorative justice life when we were talking about the difference between, like sanitizing and watering down. A message, Like the idea and like thinking about that a certain type of narrative or a certain type of value hits a different group of people when we have changed who's delivering the message, And so like thinking of that as like a version of you know, they talk about sanitizing and they talk about watering down in the context and like the irony of just that also being what's happened in the circumstance you know, within the cast members of who had this conversation on the show.

Speaker 1:

And again, no shade to Quinta, the writers, for making the production choices that they made to like put stories and narratives out there that are worthy of discussion. But yeah, that's so real And I'm curious what listeners and viewers are actually making those connections. Is it just like people like you and me who are melanated and know history and can make those connections? Or is it crossing over to white audiences or other members of privileged identities to see, like, oh yeah, they excluded this white history, right, this class, this lower class history? what other things might be left out? and whose interest is that serving? And when it's highlighted by a certain person, how am I more able to take that message? How am I more able to receive that message and do something to change Anything else stand out to you from this episode. I know that that was really jam packed with a lot of good things. We don't have to talk about all the one off jokes or things like that, but was there anything else that you wanted to make sure that we highlighted?

Speaker 2:

Okay, there was one thing, yes, that I really wanted to bring up, that I meant to tell you at the beginning, which is how they immediately linked the program to funding. So it was like our results are going to be directly related to district funding and how all of the chaos of the show, you know, kind of like you know all the chaos of the program and everything, with Barbara and then the program being taken out And you know, because of the usages for the information, is just another like real world connection of just things that are connected to equity but like aren't how we can best meet the needs of our students.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, i mean you talked about like the gamification or like the competition that that kind of breeds. And when you have stakes like that, right, there's inherently going to be a loser and right, the person who, or the group or the community that isn't getting those resources, probably isn't a community that was best equipped to or best equipped to take advantage of those resources. and right, and when we think about how we equitably roll out programs like this and measure progress, right, it's a really fact, it's a really important factor to keep in mind. Now you've heard from us. Now we want to hear from you. Drop your restorative justice reflections from this episode in the comments And, if you want to be a part of a live community conversation about this show, we're hosting a live event on July 31st unpacking restorative justice lessons from Abba Elementary.

Speaker 1:

Link down below. Hope to see you there. The other question that everybody answers when they come on the show you've got the ear of Quinta Brunson or other producers of the show. If you were to be cast in a role on Abba Elementary, who would you be? What would you do?

Speaker 2:

Oh, let's see, Maybe like if they had like a STEM specialist, you know, like the nerdy, like STEM specialist that can you know, teach engineering and robotics.

Speaker 1:

Yes, love to see it. Love to see more science representation. I know that's coming in the future. Beautiful, beautiful Brittany, thank you so much for your time. Wisdom reflections Where can people support you and your work in the ways that you want to be supported?

Speaker 2:

You can find me on Instagram at climate justice teacher mom, where I educate people with tidbits on climate justice, or you can support me on Patreon. Got resources for teachers and caregivers who want to teach the people in their lives about climate related topics.

Speaker 1:

Beautiful, beautiful, well. again, thank you so much. We'll be back very soon with another breakdown of Abba Elementary. We're going into episode five and one of my favorites transfer student. Until then, take care.

Exploring Restorative Justice in Abbott Elementary
Accountability, Learning, and Implementing Frameworks
Teaching History and Restorative Justice
Supporting Climate Justice Education