Brittany Cabrera, an instructional coach with a history of joyful teaching, examines her discoveries about joy and academic achievement. She discusses how leaders can carry a joyful mindset into their work with teachers that models the relationship for teachers to build with students.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:16 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:43 Joyful coaching: how an instructional leader or coach can bring more joy to teachers and students. I’m pleased today to be joined by Brittany Cabrera. Brittany is an instructional coach at Conroe Independent School District in Texas. I had an opportunity to read an article that Brittany had written titled, “How Important is Joy?” and I dropped her a note after reading that article and I’m excited that she has agreed to join us on the podcast. So welcome Brittany.
Brittany: 01:21 Hi, Steve. Thank you so much. I’m honored. This is awesome.
Steve: 01:25 Great to have you here. How about starting with a a little introduction of yourself? Kind of background in the role you’re in now and how did you make this connection to focus on joy?
Brittany: 01:38 So I’ve been teaching for about 15 years and the last several years I have really, as I’ve developed as a person and done my own personal development, I’ve really started to move away from pushing for data and pushing for those numbers to go up. I had been that teacher that moved kids and made positive birth with kids but the more I started to realize that education is really the business of people and simply pushing for academic growth and achievement really isn’t developing any people. And so as my personal development grew, I kind of shifted as a teacher and started to focus more on the people in my room, myself and my students, and my principal saw that. And the really cool phenomenon was that the data grew anyway. In fact, the data grew even more than it had before. And so I was asked to switch into the role of instructional coach a couple of years ago. So I am in the middle of my second year as an instructional coach.
Steve: 02:46 So you have a hypothesis as to how your focus on joy showed up in increased academic?
Brittany: 03:01 My hypothesis is that when we focus on people and growing people, both ourselves as the adults in the room, and also the little people in our room, they learn so much more about themselves and about how to tackle challenges, problems. So when they’re faced with the standardized tests that we all have to give at the end of the year, that that data is based off of, it’s not a challenge for them. They have the skills and the tools to take it on and they just do. It’s really pretty incredible to see and so joyful – and you’re writing that article about joy, really is pretty funny. It’s a pretty funny story because I had been at a gym night training in October of 2019, and I was reading the book and he asked me about it and asked him to write an article of if noticed connections between the concepts in the book, joyful and instructional coaching. So I did, and I submitted it in November of 2019. So pre COVID, pre-global pandemic, and I never heard anything back. So I just kind of thought that
it didn’t really – it must not have been that great. And then I heard from Jim’s editor a couple of months ago wanting to publish it. And so I went back and re-read it and I was – it just shocked me how applicable the concepts were before COVID, and also in the middle of this global pandemic,
Steve: 04:38 Tell the listeners a little, a little about the book that you read the author in that book in case they want to track it down.
Brittany: 04:49 So the book is “Joyful” by Ingrid Fetell Lee, and it is, she does such a great job of identifying the simplest things in our world that bring us so much joy and she describes the scientific reasoning behind how these things bring us joy. So really simple things that we take for granted like confetti or a polka-dotted pattern and she explains how those things really bring us joy. And it just so connected with what I was already doing in the classroom and what I was feeling as an instructional coach that really keeping things simple, the simplest things are really what brings us the most joy and what makes the most impact for our kids and then also as instructional coaches, it’s so simple, simple tools that we give teachers that really make the biggest impact in their lives. So her entire message of the book is basically to keep things simple and focused on joy and living through love and just so aligns with everything else that I’ve been reading and also just kind of my philosophy of life in general.
Steve: 06:04 So I want to back you up a moment. You mentioned that when this switch occurred for you, you were a classroom teacher and your principal noticed, you got a way of describing what it was that your principal noticed?
Brittany: 06:24 Well, it was really pretty funny. So I had asked to be moved out to the portables for that my – it ended up being my last year in a classroom because the building was just so hectic and busy and crazy and I thought the portables looked so nice and calm. And so I walked in on my first day and it was a cardboard box covered in wood paneling. So it basically looked like camping and I hate camping. I thought, oh my goodness, what have I done? I have asked, I’ve signed up to camp for the next 10 months of my life. This is not what I want to be doing at all. However, I can do anything for 10 months. So I looked around and I thought, okay, how can I change my mindset? Because I knew that if I changed my mindset, it would change everything about that year.
Brittany: 07:14 So I said, my favorite place would be to be sitting on a beach. So I’m going to make this into my beach hut. So very simple things. I recovered a chair with really hideous pink fabric and called it “Felicia, the Flamingo chair,” put it in the corner. And then I put some neon up around the room and the day the kids showed up, I said, welcome to the beach hut. That was it. Our mindset was that we were in the beach hut. So it just kind of became this. It just took on a life of its own. And literally, all I did was throw up some neon and a pink chair and I had a Palm tree in the other corner, an inflatable Palm tree that was leftover from a birthday party. So it wasn’t anything fancy. And I would answer the phone whenever the phone rang. It didn’t matter who it was, if it was my principal or the front office, didn’t matter, I would say “it’s a sunny day in the beach hut!” Or just little things. It just made – it just totally shifted. So the principals started to want to come out to the beach hut to see what was happening.
Steve: 08:19 Very cool. It’s interesting, you used the word mindset a couple of times in the response you were just giving me and the next question that I had jotted down to take back to you was, would you describe this as a mindset that instructional leaders and instructional coaches might look to take on?
Brittany: 08:46 Absolutely. I often say, I really just think our entire education system needs of a mindset shift. Living through love and joy is a mindset shift because for the last, at least 15 years, we’ve been so focused on achievement and growth, and that data has kind of taken on a life of its own. Don’t get me wrong. I love data. I think data has a definite place in education and in everything, however, it’s not our purpose. And so I think the mindset needs to go away from data is our purpose and growing data is our purpose and toward our true purpose as humans, which is to live through love and joy. And when we start to focus on ourselves, developing ourselves as people, developing the people in our room, which is our students, and when leaders have that message that we’re growing and developing people, and that our real purpose is to live through love, it’s an entire mindset shift. It just changes everything. And then the data becomes a really cool tool to help us do this much quicker, rather than this old focus.
Steve: 10:03 I have to tell you the thought that’s been going through my mind as I’ve listened. The message that you send to kids is that they’re more important than the data.
Brittany: 10:22 100%.
Steve: 10:24 And when you take the other direction and the teacher gets so focused on the data, it suggests to the kids that my score might be more important than I am.
Brittany: 10:38 Right. And I mean, I’m a mom as well of two little ones and my daughter is in second grade. I would never want her to think that her score is what makes her. I don’t think any parent would want that. I don’t think any person when you really put it that way, you think of a child in your life. Do you want them to feel that way? I think that that is a game-changer. And that’s when people start to realize, no, if you wouldn’t want your own child to feel that way, then no child should feel that way.
Steve: 11:11 So can we carry that same concept then over to the instructional coach and an instructional leader where the message the teacher is getting is that the teacher is more important than the scores or the program or the fidelity to the design – whatever those things are that coaches sometimes get stuck with. The joy part keeps the message there to the teacher that the teacher is important to you.
Brittany: 11:50 Yes, absolutely. Because I think through past year, I think what we’ve seen is a lot of leaders, a lot of principals and district leaders pushing for joy. Saying things like, “oh, we’re going to choose joy this year,” or “we’re going to choose positivity.” There’s been kind of a push for this. I recently read an article about how in some places, that push has become toxic, even because they’re pushing for positivity and joy and stay happy in a time when people are really, really stressed and dealing with a lot of other things. So they’re pushing for these positive things without really focusing on how those positive things would flow naturally. The place where your joy and your positivity flow naturally is from developing yourself as a person from really knowing who you are, from knowing your purpose, and for having a really strong sense of self. Once you have that strong sense of self, joy and positivity flow naturally. So to push for those things, without focusing on the person, without focusing on helping teachers tap into their real purpose, their real why, and really who they are, it does sort of becoming a toxic situation. We have to be tapping into humans. They been developing people in order for those positive things to flow naturally.
Steve: 13:16 I’m just so glad that we connected Brittany. That’s an awesome message. I’m wondering if there’s one last kind of piece of advice you might want to wrap us up here with for instructional leaders and coaches.
Brittany: 13:36 I think it really comes down to two things for coaches and leaders number one, keeping things simple and connection. And when you think about it, those two things really go hand in hand because the more that we connect with teachers, with the people that we’re working with, the easier it is to keep things simple and to focus on growing that personal side and growing who we are. Asking questions, the more you connect to the easier it is to ask those questions of “why are you here?” “Why are you in this?” Let’s tap into this. And let’s really focus. Let’s shift our focus a little bit. And in the end, when we do that, we’ll notice that the end goal still is achieved and sometimes it’s achieved a lot quicker.
Steve: 14:28 What I’m hearing is, I get the message as a teacher that you’re working for me because of the investment you’re making in knowing me. Very similar to what you carried back to your classroom and the message you gave to kids.
Brittany: 14:46 Exactly. When you talk to teachers, that’s what they want. They want their leaders to know them. They want to connect just like kids want to feel that their teacher knows them. Teachers are no different because again, we’re all humans. It doesn’t matter if you’re short or tall, young or old, you all have the same basic needs. And so teachers need their leaders to connect with them. They need their leaders to know that – or they need to know that their leader finds them important and is important and that they’re important enough to ask those questions of “how are you? How are you doing? How are you dealing with all of this and how are you feeling?” Just all of those connecting questions that honestly are really quite simple, but oftentimes get so overlooked. And that’s exactly what happens with joy and with love. Sometimes they’ve been given this frivolous, froo-froo vibe when actually they’re the most powerful things that we have. And so I think getting back to that, I think it’s time for leaders to realize that love and joy are not just froo-froo fluffy things. They are actually the key to getting us all what we want.
Steve: 16:06 Thank you, Brittany, I will make sure to put the link to your article into the lead-in to this podcast so folks can find it and what’s easiest way that people could connect with you if they have a question for you or would like to take the conversation further?
Brittany: 16:27 I’m on LinkedIn and also mostly on Instagram. I don’t really do much other social media because social media can oftentimes be a very negative place. So on Instagram, I’m BrittanyCabrera21, and you’ll find lots of pictures of my children as well.
Steve: 16:47 All right. Well, thank you. Have a great day.
Brittany: 16:49 Thank you.
Steve: 16:52 Thanks again for listening, you can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.