Episode 2: Talking plantations, prisons, schools, and equity with Nicole Tucker-Smith

S2 Ep7: Talking about the potential of Assistive Technology for everyone with Trevor Boland Talking about all things inclusion

In this conversation Nicole Tucker Smith talks with me about her three core conceptual foundations for universally designing learning with equity through the lens of ‘universally designed’ plantations, prisons, and school systems. Nicole shares personal stories to highlight the importance of representation, accepting intent and addressing impact, and empathy as choice.

Resources from this episode

Nicole’s website: Lessoncast

Article: The illusion of equity and PD.

Opinion Article: Why the debate over school curriculum matters to everyone

Book recommendations by Nicole: Cultivating Genius by Goldie Mohamad and Coaching for Equity by Elena Aguilar, .

Transcript of this episode


UDL, barriers, equity, ableism, bias.


Margaret Flood, Nicole Tucker-Smith

Margaret Flood  00:02

Welcome to talking about all things inclusion, a podcast where I get to meet and learn from people in the field of inclusion in its broadest sense that inspire me. I hope they inspire you to. Today I am talking with Nicole Tucker-Smith. As the founder and CEO of lesson cast, Nicole help schools and our professional learning initiatives focused on inclusive teaching and equity best practice. She leaves the Jumpstart PD network, a community of educators to share ideas, spread resources, posts, tips and dialogue on key areas of interest related to designing and delivering effective PD. Nicola served as a teacher, Supervisor of parents support services principal and system wide coordinator of professional development and training for Baltimore County Public Schools. She was also a programme coordinator for John Hopkins University Centre for technology in education, and teach us as a faculty member for the JHU School of Education. Nicole is an international percent presenter on Universal Design for Learning, a member of the cast national faculty, and she provides professional development expertise to support enactment of UDL, and K 12, and higher education learning environments. Nicole, I first met you virtually in 2020, after I attended your presentation, plantations, presence K 12 Can UDL lead to equity. It’s such struck such a strong note with me. I have tried to share your message, not always successfully, with friends and colleagues since. So I’m so delighted to have you on the podcast today to speak with you more about the story. And also your work since then advocating for equity in education and society.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  01:44

Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here today.

Margaret Flood  01:48

Oh, I’m just so happy to have you here. Nicole. I’ll  start you off with an easy question. Can you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself, your background? And what it was that inspired you? Firstly, to do that amazing presentation. And then secondly, on your exploration of UDL as a route for equity?

Nicole Tucker-Smith  02:08

Yes. So actually, the bio that you gave us was very nice, very kind. Yes. And so I’ve I’ve have experience in many different levels in terms of education and teaching and leading educational spaces. I think that my background, my expertise is really in designing adult learning environments. I’m also the author of supercharge your professional learning, which applies UDL strategies to adult learning, environments and experiences. And it’s through that lens of really designing professional development, learning with an impact that I felt this need to really focus on issues around equity, I saw a lot of equity professional development that was not leading to an impact, not changing outcomes. People were leaving saying yay, Kumbaya, this feels great. But they weren’t asking hard questions. And they weren’t looking at what their actual results were what is actually different for learners who belong to groups that are have been historically marginalised. Where do you see disproportionate outcomes? Those, none of those questions were being asked. I felt like equity wasn’t being applied in a specific context. And I also I’ve been working with caste and doing UDL professional development for years, and people would say, Well, that wasn’t UDL already addressed equity and and I say, No, it doesn’t, there are a lot of barriers that it does not touch doesn’t encourage teachers to reflect on them. If teachers do reflect on them through a UDL lens, it’s because they’re bringing something else to it. And I was having a tough time getting people to see that. And that’s what led to ‘plantations, prisons, K 12’, because I wanted them to see oh, here’s a universally designed plantation. Is this equitable? And I think that that level of going outside of education and helping them see Yeah, you can have a universally designed school and be incredibly inequitable for many of our learners. And so I also think that when I see professional learning that is focused on equity, but doesn’t necessarily consider the neuroscience behind how people learn and what the learning curve looks like, and what does it take in terms of actually putting new learning into practice the importance of context. That’s why I said, Well, UDL does have these core ideas to offer. If we can put the two worlds together the two bodies of knowledge together, I think we can have a real impact and make a real difference around the world.

Margaret Flood  05:15

Super. And you know, I love where you talk about your, your, your cores, because in that presentation, you had three foundational concepts. And I want to go back to you just said, the universally designed plantation. I have to say, in my white privileged naivety, I thought this was like something really positive that you were saying, Oh, look here was like, universal design in a good way. And then my God did you just blow that notion out of the water for me, and not only in terms, and it was such a good way, I was like, lightbulb moment, dah. But it was that you not only talked about racism and anti racism, but you brought in that anti bias and anti bias I felt helps me move from what my biases are to where racism and anti racism exist. And about it being the norm not being the occasional. And how you spoke about that in terms of the Monticello plantation. You worked there? Is that right?

Nicole Tucker-Smith  06:21

Yes. So in college, back in 1999, I was a tour guide 98, 99, I was a tour guide at Monticello, I went to the University of Virginia. And one of my courses was called, I think it was called Slavery at Monticello, I think that was the name of my course. And so as a tour guide, I did the basic house tour. And I also did the plantation community tour, it was really interesting there because I’m part of the plant, the goal of the course, actually designed the plantation community tour. So prior to like 95, or six, I don’t think that tour existed. And so as part of the course, we were helping to craft that tour, and we really wanted to put names and people instead of saying slaves, the enslaved people, they were people who had been enslaved. And there was a story for all of them. And so we were trying to share that history at the at Monticello. And it was interesting, because I was a tour guide there, right when the DNA evidence was coming out about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, and all my gosh, all the tears from people who were so sad. And finally having to confront that Thomas Jefferson not only fathered children with an enslaved woman, but then kept them enslaved to like that he you can do that, too. That’s that that’s the thing about America, recognising you know, and other places, too, that have issues with colonialization and in in all kinds of other forms of marginalisation and caste systems. But this idea that you can treat your own blood in such an inhumane way, but still universally designed.

Margaret Flood  08:18

Yeah. And that’s how you flipped it on its head, because from listening to you back then it was universally designed to hide, yes, the enslaved people to hide the racism that was existing, and that like that, that was a big flip. Yeah, in thinking for a lot of people.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  08:37

It was universally designed to hide and to avoid confronting injustice. And there are parallels there in the educational system. It was universally designed to avoid confronting justice to avoid hypocrisy to avoid the realisation that this was not right. And but the you know, the quote that I often frame is, you know, and he, and he talked, am, Thomas Jefferson writes about this. And one of his most famous quotes is we have the wolf by the ears, but we can neither safely hold him nor let him go. Justice is on one scale and self preservation in the other. Okay,

Margaret Flood  09:22

So and I have heard that quote, but now that you put it into context, yeah. It’s not what a lot of people think it’s about

Nicole Tucker-Smith  09:30

No, it’s about we can’t let me can’t let them go. That would be a serious cost to our way of living.

Margaret Flood  09:39

Yeah, absolutely. And it is again, like it’s, it’s that it’s that that bias and that sense of privilege that like this is the way it has been. So this is the way it should be because we need to keep that status quo. And I think even when you go into your foundation Concept number two, that is leading on from that, because that is accept intent and acknowledge impact. So in that Jefferson quote, he knows what the intention is. But he has completely skewered – Yeah – what the impact is.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  10:17

He’s like, Oh, well, this is the impact, but we’re just not gonna pay attention to that. Like, we’re just not going to look at the impact when it literally built Monticello up high, so as to not look at the people who were enslaved below and had all all of the hidden dumb waiters and hidden passages and tunnels. If that wasn’t, you know, they you can’t say, well, he just didn’t know or all he just meant at the time is no, he was an innovator. He was an innovator of the times and innovated in that way.

Margaret Flood  10:52

Yeah, I like, and that’s where innovation can go either way. And under, under that second concept of accept intent, acknowledge and impact. I remember you talking about every system being perfectly designed to get the result that it wants. And you talked about the disparate, disproportionate discipline refers not only in terms of because here you were talking about the prison and Angola. But again, we’re bringing that back to the just disproportionate discipline referrals in schools as well.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  11:26

Yes, and the quote really, its from  from Edward W. Edward Deming, every system is perfectly designed to get the result that it does. And so when we look at our outcomes, and we have consistent outcomes that are disproportionate whether it’s you’re disciplining certain populations of students more harshly, then our system is designed that way. And one of the reasons why I felt really compelled to tell this was this was also when I think this was right around George Floyd’s murder. And Briana Taylor’s murder and Ahmaud Arbery’s murder. And I’m like, No, this system is doing it. When you consistently get these outcomes. The system is set up to get these outcomes. So you can you can work on individual anti bias. And I do recommend that. But you also have to look at what the system is doing. Because you can only do so much as an individual without thinking about the collective without thinking about the community without thinking about the environment, and how the environment is shaping and reinforcing biases are challenging them. And if we’re not actively challenging them, then we’re reinforcing them. And so yeah, that’s where that you can you can say, Well, my intent isn’t to harm. But you’re harming. But you’re harming. What is more important?

Nicole Tucker-Smith  12:53

Yeah. All

Nicole Tucker-Smith  12:55

Right, here are my outcomes.

Margaret Flood  12:57

And you’ve kind of hit on it there because I spoke about my own learning around my own individual bias, but I work in a community of educators. And there is often a community response. Well, that’s the text in the curriculum. That is the question that is the school policy on bullying or behaviour. And we take that we have something to hide behind. And what we’re forgetting is that we have actually, as the educate, educators created that system to suit us.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  13:32

Yeah, you created as in anytime somebody hides behind the policy, they like they like having that policy there, that policy is cover. And you know, as a, because I was also an assistant assistant principal. And, you know, one of the things I wanted to do is take the disrespect box off the discipline referral form, like the way we form our discipline referrals. What, how is disrespect? I know, I know what disrespectful behaviour is. But sometimes I would just get, you know, students sent for disrespect. Disrespect says more about the person who’s sending the student. I felt disrespected. Yes. Right. What was what happened? What was the action? Well, you know, that’s different. And when you see that, I mean, it’s, it’s this it isn’t random. It’s it happens over and over again that for the same infractions, harsher consequences for black and brown students, especially black students with a disability. And so I felt like UDL if you, you know, it’s not as UDL goes beyond special education, but it did start there. And if you can’t stand up for those who are the furthest marginalised in our educational system, which is black students with disabilities, or who are identified as having disabilities, because they might not actually have them? That’s a whole other story about disproportionate special education, referrals.

Margaret Flood  14:57

Yeah, but it’s where intersectionality comes into it.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  15:01

Exactly, exactly. I was like, if you can’t stand up for this, what are you standing up for?

Margaret Flood  15:08

Yeah. And it’s so important. And it is like, for me, I kind of feel you do have to start as an individual, because you have to be able to recognise your own bias. But then you have to be willing to challenge people. And this was something you said as well. And I’m not sure if it was during this presentation, or in one of our many conversations since, but you said there is a difference between being not racist and being anti racist. And that is such a huge learning curve in terms of our biases and where we’re going.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  15:42

Yeah, I mean, and this is the thing, like, whenever somebody says, well, I could never be racist, I’m like, you’re just not paying attention to when you are, you know, just and this is this is true for any type of bias, like that’s how the human brain operates. And if you’re not confronting, then you’re upholding. Yes. And that’s, and that’s critical. That’s critical. And the thing about it is, is it’s, it does have to start internally, but I think what we have to recognise is that no one operates in a vacuum. Yeah, you know, you’re part of a community, we are part of a collective.

Margaret Flood  16:18

Yeah. And it’s been brave enough to challenge it. And like, after you said that, when I was in school, or anywhere in society, if somebody said something disrespectful about a person with a disability, or buy your own minority group in Ireland, I would be incensed, and I would challenge that person. But as immigration grew in Ireland, and people started saying, Oh, look at them, or look at that, whether it be the country they were from, or the colour of their skin. I didn’t challenge that. And when you spoke that sentence to me, I had to ask myself, why will I challenge one area, and not the other area? And it was, it was like a big step. The first time I said to a friend, you can’t speak that way about that person. But that friend started checking themselves, Wow, your words. And I thought we’d have a huge drive. I really did. But they started checking themselves. So it’s not one small step that leads to the community, which is your third foundational concept that communities are only as equitable as the most marginalised people feel. So going back, it’s not about me feeling disrespected, or me feeling upset or victimised, or attacked, all the words we like to use. It’s the feeling of that person, and walk of communication to us.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  17:39

Mm hmm.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  17:39

Yes, it requires centering those perspectives that have historically been marginalised. And it does require that in order to see barriers that aren’t barriers for the privileged, we have to recognise. And I even do this myself, whenever I’m in a situation, and there’s a barrier, that like, I just, I didn’t recognise it, that was a barrier for someone, I have to recognise that I didn’t see it because I’m sitting in a place of privilege, and to honour their perspective, and to lean in and listen, rather than tried to deny their perspective, because it’s not what I see. We have to own that my person, I have to own that my perspective is only my perspective. I’m the only person who sees this. And somebody else is going to see something different. And when we listen and empathise, we actually grow stronger, because we’re our vision is expanding. And so often, we don’t want to lean into that feeling of discomfort that comes with listening or learning something you don’t already know, being open to something you don’t already know. But it’s that openness, that emptiness, that allows us to get to something greater.

Margaret Flood  18:57

And it’s that openness that I have found, leads to safe conversations and leads to- So if you don’t have the full knowledge, if you’re not using the right language, or you’re asking the question the right way, that the person is providing that safe place, whether it be in a one to one conversation like this, or in a professional development community, where they can highlight the mistake, tell you the language to use give the reasoning behind it, which then in turn is creating a larger anti bias community as well.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  19:34

 Exactly, exactly. Yeah.

Margaret Flood  19:37

Yeah. And to do that, you need the empathy, which you’ve talked about in everything we talk about, you talk about empathy, and you need to be able to do that you need to put yourself into the shoes of the other person.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  19:48

Yeah. And I always talk about empathy as a choice. We have to we have to choose empathy. Because here’s the thing we actually as human beings, were really great at empathising with people who look like us. I’m really, really great at empathising with folks with whom we identify. We will empathise all day long with our in group. The issue happens with the disparity between our empathy for our in groups and our empathy for our outcomes I’ll give to just groups that are different from ours. And that’s where you see a lot of inequities. It’s when I’m just you have to, you have to proactively choose to empathise without groups.

Margaret Flood  20:31

Yeah. And that’s where the the ableism comes into it as well. Because, again, you know, it’s often the mantra, well, you know, they just need to fit into society as it is, and forgetting that a certain cohort has created society as it is. And therefore, like ableism, whether it’s in disability, race, religion, whatever it is, it’s there as well. And unless we can have that empathy as choice, and I love that that like it is a choice that we have to make and a conscious choice we have to make every day that without that, that we’re never going to reduce that barrier of ableism. That’s within us as individuals as well as within our system.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  21:13

Yes, and another requirement for choosing empathy is including diverse perspectives because how are you going to empathise? If you are never having any kind of interaction with with with people who are different? I mean, the How are you going to empathise and this is really so this is another reason why I chose to pursue this work even more intentionally is. So in January 2020, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And I became very particular with how I spent my time because my time was now being infringed upon with all of these cancer treatments. Well, one of the treatments I had to do was chemotherapy, and they have a newer technology. The first one was approved back in like 2017. It’s called a cow, a scalp cooling, a cooling cap for your scalp, a cooling cap, and you put it on your head while you’re receiving chemo treatment. And it’s supposed to reduce the amount of toxins that go to your hair follicles so that you don’t lose as much hair, you still lose a little bit, you won’t lose as much hair. And so the reason why I’m telling this story is so I get to go to my first appointment. They put the cooling cap on, and they were getting ready for the cooling cap on and the nurses are giving me the instructions that they’ve received from the company. And they said, well, in order for this to work, we need to wet your hair so it’ll live flat. So what wedding my hair does not make it live flat. That’s why people wear their hair. That’s not what happens. People who have hair texture like mine, if I wet my hair, it might be flat for a second, not really. But then it’ll curl and it’ll poof, it will expand. It’s like if I wet my hair, it will expand. It’s not as like as like you needed to be wet, or do you need to be flat, you can’t both and they were like, well, they say we need it to be this way. And so we did it that way did not work for me. Basically what happened is my hair expanded and made like a hat on my head and prevented the the cooling cap from even reaching my scalp. I made a little bit of a stink. And so the the company called me because this is not approved by Insurance insurance doesn’t pay for this, you have to pay for it out of pocket isn’t cheap. And so the company called me they sent somebody Her voice sounded like she was black. I’m pretty sure they did that on purpose. And she was like, We recognise that our directions are not adequate for people with hair like yours. And in my mind, I’m like, But you sold me this device, though. That is four fingers. And and so what she said it but we are doing research now in the UK on ways to make it work for black hair. So I said okay, so last year in July of 2021, I decided to look up, I was doing some research, I was doing some research. I can’t remember why. But I was looking at FDA rules around this. And I started thinking how in the world did they get FDA approval to use this device when they didn’t know how it was supposed to work on black hair? Because there’s an FDA policy, there’s a rule that you cannot get approved, unless you have included diverse populations in your sampling. And so I went and I looked at what evidence do they submit as to whether or not they could get FDA approval? And in their studies, they only included white women. Wow. And so here we have a national policy saying you have to have diverse groups in your clinical trials, but they didn’t. And this is why Black people are sceptical of things like the vaccine because they’re like how do I know that you included me because you never have is 2020 And you still aren’t

Margaret Flood  24:58

I’m I’m shocked by that Nicole

Nicole Tucker-Smith  25:01

Yes, T’was all white women. And so but here’s where it gets worse. So in 2021, they publish the results from the UK study, they had to discontinue the study, because they couldn’t show they couldn’t continue to show proof of efficacy. And all the women were dropping out because they were losing their hair in such massive amounts. Do you know why? Because they made them all wet their hair in this idea, this bizarre idea that it would somehow make it live flat, in spite of the fact they’re looking at it is not working. Well, my best friend also works in a brain lab. And so I asked her, as she runs it not works. She runs the brain that she runs the brain lab. And she’s a doctor. And I asked her, I was like, you know, they told me I have to wet my hair for this conductivity. I feel like that’s bogus. She’s like, No, you do do you have to have a certain level conductivity. But it doesn’t have to be water, it can be hair gel. When I do with black people, I use hair gel. It was that simple. And they are not. But they have now published a study. Instead, their findings say that black people can’t use the cooling cap and expect to get results. That’s their findings.

Margaret Flood  26:09

So instead of there’s so many things there, first of all, you’re going in, in a traumatic time in your life to get cancer treatment and you are trying to educate the people who are meant to know how to use this. Yeah. And then secondly, rather than adopting it or UDL illness, they just decide to marginalise you and say you don’t fit into.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  26:33


Margaret Flood  26:35

My God

Nicole Tucker-Smith  26:36

This is, thats why. I this was like, this is where I so I was using a UDL approach with him, I was like, tell me what your goal is, I need you to understand what your goal is between this device and my body. If the goal is conductivity, it doesn’t need to be wet with water, we can use hair gel, and then my hair will lie down. I know I have lots of years of practice a lie my hair now, black women know how to make their hair lie down. It’s just not the water. But they asked us they didn’t ask us

Margaret Flood  27:07

My goodness. So did you have to just continue with them? Was it just like you’re out of it?

Nicole Tucker-Smith  27:11

Oh, I lost all my hair. I only had I only had bangs. The rest of my head was bald. Yeah, I haven’t shaved my head. Because it fell out in such large clumps. I had to shave my head. I only had these bangs here because that’s the one part of my scalp that wasn’t covered by the rest of my hair.

Margaret Flood  27:30

So as a black woman, you were you were paying a lot of money to be marginalised and told what to do, even though you knew it wasn’t right for you.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  27:40


Margaret Flood  27:43

 Oh my gosh, so many ways we could bring that back to the classroom. That is, that is

Nicole Tucker-Smith  27:47

This is 2020. And there are parallels like that in the educational system. Yeah. Where we the the norm of the, which is dictated by the school, is they have this commitment to fidelity. It has to be this way. The Canon has to be this way. Without recognising the cost.

Margaret Flood  28:09


Nicole Tucker-Smith  28:10

It really is a cost for everybody. It’s even hurting them. It’s gonna hurt their margins, they could have been selling to all these other people. But now they’re saying, Oh, we just can’t sell to you. And I’m sure there are some white women with the care would have benefited too.

Margaret Flood  28:22

Absolutely. And it like it goes past a lack of empathy and even a lack of ethics that like it’s just like this tunnel vision which we get in education as well, this tunnel vision, this is the way it is. And we’re no it is so frightening. And I remember, since you have brought up your your cancer, I remember when we were talking while you were going through treatment, and it was just after COVID had started. And you were telling me that obviously you need to change your your work life balance to get your treatments and you contacted all of the organisations you work for. You said can I do it online? And they were like, no, no, no, this has to be face to face. And I was like two, three months later. They’re all

Nicole Tucker-Smith  29:02

not even it was just like, it was like maybe one month it was so fast after that. Then they’re like, oh, then all of a sudden everybody started calling me. Because they were like, well, we know that you know how to do this virtually because you asked us before. So they’re telling me no, no, we have to do you have to come face to face? I’m like, well, then I guess I can’t do it.

Margaret Flood  29:23

Yeah, so it like it shows first of all, again, that that blind spot. We’re rigid. This is the way we do which we don’t care. First of all, if you have an illness or Second of all, if you can do it in a different, more engaging way or more accessible way. But as soon as it then it impacts them or impacts the status quo, they’re back to the person who they excluded to say come back into the fold and help us.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  29:50

Mmn, they’re like oh, oh, now we know we need help. Come Come help us. And even it’s it’s yeah, it’s it’s I mean, you have to have a certain level of okay, fine. Do you this is what it took, if this is what it took, and even like in the here’s the thing, and when I’m finally when I when I do that, okay, fine, you know, it’s because I’m recognising that we’re all learning. And my purpose is to help the collective world be a better place. And even with words, like, I would say, all the time, but a blind spot to say, Oh, well, that’s a blind spot. And then I had a friend who was like, Well, you know, that’s really ableist language. And I was like, Oh, tell me more. And I was like, well, a blind spots an actual thing. She’s like, Yeah, but if you use it in a pejorative way, then it’s an ableist use of being concept of being blind. And saying that there’s, it’s, it’s centering or elevating site in a way that is not conducive to valuing different ways of knowing and perceiving.

Margaret Flood  31:06

Yeah, I’m just, yeah, it’s complete. Making excuses. It goes it goes back to your second concepts.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  31:15


Margaret Flood  31:16

The excuses we make. I’ve a blind spot.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  31:19

Yeah. But I remember one time I was doing a presentation, I was like, Oh, well, that would be like the blind leading the blind. And then and as soon as I came out of my mouth, I was like, That is a horrible thing to say. How pejorative is that? You know,

Margaret Flood  31:34

And it is like, it’s those norms, it’s so things that are acceptable for us to say, and like, both of us here were so conscious of not marginalising people of being inclusive of trying to walk in other people’s shoes and these phrases come out of our mouths

Nicole Tucker-Smith  31:52

And so when I, when I take a moment and think about that, I say, Okay, I’m gonna have a little bit of, I’m gonna, I need, I need to have cultural humility as well. And so that’s when I’m like, Okay, fine. I’m gonna help you out even though you just told me you wouldn’t accept my compromise.

Margaret Flood  32:10

But it goes back to again, when you were talking about concept number three in the in the presentation. You talked about the here in the presentation, you were talking about the weakness of standardised examinations, but actually the weakness of standardisation general.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  32:26

Period. Yes, yeah. It’s the idea that the goal is that it’s that was the whole concept of like, the goal matters. The goal matters. And we tend to marginalise folks when we focus on goals that without recognising their either intended or unintended consequences, and like so with standardised testing, but really it was with the standardisation a lot that happened over here with No Child Left Behind. But it happens in other countries that have their own version of standardisation, is this idea that these are the things that everybody must know. And we’re going to test them in this rigid way. And when we force that what you can, you can just see the school to prison pipeline happening. And what happens is we incentivize teachers to push out students that either aren’t going to help them get good test scores, because it has real consequences for them. We’ve had schools closed, I showed a picture of a school that closed because of test scores being too low. So they’re incentivised to push kids out, who aren’t going to help their scores. And so those communities are only going to be as equitable as those students who’ve now been pushed out, feel it to be. And so that’s, if we don’t look at who’s most marginalised in this space, rather than asking teachers, how equitable Do you feel the community is? Well, I’m not going to ask you, I’m going to ask who might feel like they’re they they don’t. They’re not part of the group that they don’t belong. And really, the thing is that it’s funny when I work with with educators, and they’ll say things like, we want our students to feel like they belong here. I’m like, we need to remember that schools belong to them. You’re the guest you drive here. Schools belong to the community. Yeah. So this whole idea of we want them to feel like they belong. No, no, you need to you need to act like you belong.

Margaret Flood  34:25

Yeah. And we need to ask ourselves, what are we doing to make them feel undervalued or not belonging in their community? In their face, such as unity? Yeah. And in a space that should be safe for them. And you know, it’s going back to your second concept concept where you, you did talk about the disproportionate discipline referrals, and I’m thinking just because we had a conversation a week or two ago in terms of UDL about minimising threats, and it sounds that for a lot of have us or behaviour policies aren’t about minimising threats, it’s about punishment, or in some cases of, as you’ve just said, getting them out so that the outcomes are better.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  35:13

Hmhm, it mean, so much of it is about removal so that you can ultimately get better testing outcomes,

Margaret Flood  35:22

Which is really scary. And if you were to go into so as a school where young people are I know because you work with with adults as well. And you were to give them advice on changing those negative and dangerous behaviour policies to a policy that minimises trends for their learners. What would your advice be?

Nicole Tucker-Smith  35:44

So my advice is always to first is to so here’s the thing about when you’re trying to move equity work forward, my my, what I one of the things I will say is that context is key. context is key to equity work, it is context is what drives equity work forward. So I say like, pick a bucket, and then figure out what drop in the bucket you’re going to start with. So whether you’re going to focus on curriculum, you’re going to focus on assessment, you’re going to focus on your discipline policies, you’re going to focus on family engagement, maybe you want to focus on climate, maybe you want to focus on the physical environment. But let’s say you’re going to focus on your discipline policy. Alright, so you’ve picked your context. Now look at what are your akwil, you can do a couple of ways. Thinking about your discipline party, before you look at your data. With a diverse room of people. What would we want it to be? What is our vision? How would we what would what would our discipline policy look like when we’re operating as our best selves? Paint that picture first, envision that first. Then go look at your data. And be like, Hmm, where is the gap? Where is the gap? And then you have to do a little bit of digging and a little bit of exploring and like what might be some of the policies. Or actually, let’s back up, what might be some of the practices that are influencing this gap. And then what might be some of the policies that are driving those practices, and then change your policies. And then watch what happens. And if it’s not moving in the right direction, give it some time, and then shift again. And when you’re getting data as to whether or not is working, ask those who may have been most likely to be marginalised in the first place. Don’t ask people who are already comfortable. How do they feel?

Margaret Flood  37:39

And it goes back to what you say then again, about this empathy as choice, and about or our own learning on our own practices being so reflective, and that’s it like we we do that digging, we find that gap. We try something. But what often happens in the school is we try it, it doesn’t work and we say Oh, it didn’t work. We go back to the old way.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  38:00

Right, right. Right.

Margaret Flood  38:02

The reflection

Nicole Tucker-Smith  38:03

 Yeah, iterate. Gotta iterate.

Margaret Flood  38:08

It’s just and I think, again, just for listeners, if you’re not getting how much I loved Nicole’s presentation back then. It was amazing. But you ended up with a quote, you quoted lots of other people. But you said yourself that when educators share their stories, it not only shines light on the speaker, it gives the listener courage to try. And that is that reflective piece and that being able to go okay, well, we tried it. It’s not working. Let’s try something else. In that space environment where everyone is included like that. We’ve asked who’s not in the room? Why aren’t they in the room? And how do we get them into the room?

Nicole Tucker-Smith  38:47

Or can we open the door? Why? Why is the door closed?

Margaret Flood  38:51

I love that.Why is the door closed? Oh,

Nicole Tucker-Smith  38:57

Why are we in the room, Why laughter

Margaret Flood  38:57

 Oh my gosh, like that actually is, the question is why is the door toes? Why are we like in this four walls? That’s not. That’s still in and out? Yeah, it really is. Nicole, I like I know I’ve honed in on this presentation. But I also know that like that was 2020. Over 18 months ago, you have done so much more in terms of bringing equity forward and not just for black people. But in terms of disability, race, like you are we’ve we’ve talked about those seven headings of equity. You’re not You’re not a tunnel vision person. What have you been doing in the last 18 months around that?

Nicole Tucker-Smith  39:43

Yes, so I am one of the co chairs for UDL rising to equity. And so this is a commitment that I made in August of 2020. And we have been working to it’s a community driven process so Jenna gravel and I are The co chairs, but we are working with an advisory council stakeholder groups. We’re also we’re starting to bring in learner perspectives. We are doing intergroup interviews, focus groups, but it’s really with the purpose of taking a long look at where are the UDL guidelines, not living up to their full potential in helping teachers and learners identified barriers to equity. Right. So we, the UDL guidelines currently help identify barriers around perception and in some barriers around engagement, but they don’t consider barriers that are result of how others perceive other identities. So if I am even in even ableism. The UDL guidelines don’t right now prompt us to design to eliminate barriers caused by ableism, or racism, or transphobia, or ageism, or other things, you know, sexual discrimination or sexual orientation, gender discrimination, it doesn’t protect that it doesn’t prompt anyone to question maybe that’s what’s happening here. And if you look at the research, it’s clear that those isms do impact learning environments. I mean, the evidence is there. And the evidence was there, even when the guidelines were being created at first, but it’s about who was in the room, it may not have been as diverse. And this is and this is not something I’m making up. This is the founders of UDL. And I’ve been working with David Rose, because he feels very passionate about this, as well. And if you ask me, some of the barriers that, you know, I’ve seen related to learning, there are a whole lot that I’ve seen do you do, and I’m always careful to say like, barriers that I may face aren’t due to my race. It’s not my barriers aren’t in my race, the barriers may be due to racism. And that is a huge difference. Barriers are not in the person. Barriers in the environment. Right, and the things that are being done the practices that are happening in the environment. And I. CAST asked me if I would consider it and I thought long and hard because I’m very particular about my time now. But I thought it was important, and I feel like UDL has something to really offer the conversation. Now I was clear, I was like, Look, what I don’t like has to do is like Okay, now we know all the things about equity because they don’t you haven’t been there. They’ve been people who’ve been doing the work. But you can say is we recognise that we haven’t included this body of work, this research, we can educate ourselves. And we can offer here’s an approach and design approach that with layered with an equity lens can have a real benefit to all.

Margaret Flood  43:05

Yeah, and I think what you said there about not knowing everything about equity is so important because it is again going back to empathy and understanding. It is we I can’t walk in your shoes. I can just try based on continuing to learn to empathise with the barriers and I love that you said barriers caused by I can empathise with you because of the barriers caused by racism, disability, religious bias, whatever it is to you, because they are being they are having that impact on you. Not on me.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  43:47

Right? Because even if I have a disability the barrier is like if I have a disability even if a temporary disability let’s say I’m on crutches the barriers the stairs, the barriers not my foot. Right, the barriers the stairs, or if even if I have like right now so I am at the point where I can’t really see up close, you know, you get older a camera. thing so in that case, the barrier is the print is small. Yeah. You know, my reading glasses, or I can use the reading the glasses app on my phone. I use that sometimes. But it’s about you know, the interaction and looking at where the barriers are cause there in it first, it may seem as educators to take on that barriers in the environment and not the people. It may seem like we’re taking on a lot of responsibility, but that’s what actually where educators get their agency back. Yeah, if if we’re giving we’re saying all the barriers are in the people. Well then why are you why are you here? Yeah. You know, what are you What are you doing?

Margaret Flood  45:02

And sometimes you also have to when you’re talking about barriers in the environment, you as the teacher needs to recognise you are part of that environment and you can be a barrier.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  45:12

Mm hmm. Yes. The way you use your tongue the way you know, just the way you treat. Learners, you can’t treat all learners the same way, because they’re not one person.

Margaret Flood  45:24

Yeah, that’s just, Nicole, I, we go on tangents all the time. I could stay talking to you for like another hour. But I know you have a very busy schedule. So before we come to the end of our conversation, are there any resources or further independent learning that you would like to share with us today?

Nicole Tucker-Smith  45:45

Well, I will say that in March 2021, I had an article published in educational leadership, and it’s called the illusion of equity PD. And I highly recommend that and then there’s some articles that I cite in that that I recommend as well. Super. Yep. And then recently, I’ve been doing a lot of reading of I love Cultivating Genius by Goldie Mohamad, that book there. And also a big fan of Elena Aguilar, Coaching for equity.

Margaret Flood  46:22

Yeah, you recommend Coaching for equity to me, I think when I first got here, and I started reading those, and it’s brilliant, I tend to just pick it up. I’m not reading those in a linear way and neither and yeah, pick it off. And it is really, really brilliant. And

Nicole Tucker-Smith  46:37

It’s not my top book right now, though. I will say that was cast by Isabella Wilkerson. Okay. That is, I think a must read for every human being on the planet.

Margaret Flood  46:49

Super I’m, when this podcast finally comes out. I will attach all of these and links to it. So I might follow you back on that. Nicole, any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with everyone today?

Nicole Tucker-Smith  47:04

Oh, I should have been prepared for this question. Final words of wisdom. I just, I think that I’m just I think one thing that we’re supposed to learn from this, you know, global pandemic, is that we’re all connected. And that we’re all in this together. Actually, one of my favourite quotes right now is Audrey Lourdes quote. So I’m gonna, I’m gonna use I’m gonna use her quote, what is it that she said? She said, It’s not that again, I don’t want to mess it up. Here it is. Here we go. Whoops. It’s not our differences that divide us. It’s our inability to recognise, accept and celebrate those differences. And I think that’s really key.

Margaret Flood  47:58

I love that. It’s a really lovely that. Oh what a perfect way to end so. On that note, I will say goodbye to everyone listening. Nicole, thank you so much for giving us your time today, everyone at home. Thank you so much for joining myself and Nicole for talking about all things inclusion, and I hope you will all join me again soon. Thanks, Nicole.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  48:22

You’re welcome.

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