Podcast: Leading With Empathy and Inclusivity - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Leading With Empathy and Inclusivity

Leading With Empathy and Inclusivity

Listen as Dr. Lorea Martínez, Columbia University Teachers College faculty member, founder of HEART in Mind, and author of “Teaching With the Heart in Mind,” provides guidelines for supporting teachers in building students’ social-emotional learning skills. Identify how developing your own SEL skills supports your leadership and instructional coaching with staff.

Honor Your Emotions

Elect Your Responses

Apply Empathy

Reignite Your Relationships

Transform with Purpose

Read Lorea’s article, “Leading From the Heart” here.

Visit Lorea’s website and find her resources here.

Find Lorea’s YouTube Channel and watch her video, “5 Strategies for Educator Stress” here.

Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes!

Podcast Transcript:

[00:00:01.330] – Steve [Intro]

Welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. As instructional coaches and school leaders, you have a challenge to guide continuous teacher growth that promotes student success. This podcast looks to support you with strategies from our experienced guests and insights that I’ve gathered across many years. I’m thrilled you’re here. Thanks for listening.

[00:00:28.670] – Steve

Leading with empathy and inclusivity. Our podcast guest today is Dr. Lorea Martínez, a faculty member at Columbia University Teachers College, educating aspiring principles’ in emotional intelligence. She is the founder of Heart in Mind, a company dedicated to helping schools and organizations integrate social-emotional learning in their practices, products, and learning communities. She works to guide SEL implementation efforts, including training teachers and leadership teams, and providing guidance to educational technology and media companies to help them integrate SEL in their products. I reached out to Dr. Martínez after reading her ASCD post, Leading from the Heart. Welcome, Lorea.

[00:01:19.840] – Lorea

Thank you, Steve. So glad to be here.

[00:01:22.960] – Steve

I’m wondering, for starters, if you could connect your work with SEL and your book, “Teaching With the Heart in Mind” to the course that you teach for aspiring principles in emotional intelligence.

[00:01:37.060] – Lorea

Yes, it actually has been an interesting journey because when I first started in the SEL field, I thought that I would be mostly helping teachers so they could support students. And as I was getting deep into the work, what I realized is the skills of the adults were very important. So for a period of time, I focused on being able to build the capacity of the teachers so they could also develop those same social-emotional skills that they were trying to teach to their students. But in doing this work, I saw that principals played a very essential role in making sure that SEL was really happening at their schools and they model with their leadership how how to be an effective leader, how to be a good instructional coach. And that’s what brought me to really focus also on principles and leadership. So the course that I teach at Columbia University Teachers College is really focused on building that emotional intelligence of aspiring principles. So these are teachers, coaches that are getting their credential to become school administrators. And I can tell you that they need those skills not only to be effective leaders, but really to manage all the challenges that we are seeing in our educational landscape today.

[00:03:07.600] – Steve

Well, the subtitle on the article that you posted, especially, jumped out at me, and it was part of me reading on and getting in touch with you. And that subtitle said, “for women, especially, leading from the heart is a strength, not a weakness.” Can you explore that statement further for us?

[00:03:29.470] – Lorea

Absolutely. In my experience working in schools, I’ve seen that when women come to a position of leadership, sometimes they feel inclined to follow what I would say are traditional leadership styles, where They are trying to be competent, they are trying to show up as professionals, they want to get things done, but they tend to focus on maybe leadership styles that are more what we would assign to a traditional roles. And women, naturally, tend to value things like collaboration or having meaningful connections with their teachers, with the parents in the community. So I think that when women come to those leadership positions, it’s important to really reflect on what are their values, what’s the leader they want to be to others, and really be sincere and honest with themselves and hold on to those values, because we know that emotional intelligence is such an important component of effective and transformational leadership. So we don’t want women to lose almost like that secret sauce when they are leaders in their schools.

[00:04:42.580] – Steve

So if I got it, there’s the possibility that people come into that leadership with that natural inclination, that natural strength, but somehow get a perceived message that that’s not what it takes to be an effective of leader. And so in effect, they withhold the skillset that they have.

[00:05:05.240] – Lorea

Absolutely. And I started the article sharing a story about one of my former students at Columbia, and she was told by her supervisor, “you are too nice to be a principal.” So she was sitting in this class, we were talking about emotions, and she was struggling with that message because what we were trying to say is, you need to be in touch with your emotions if you want to be an effective leader. And at the same time, she had been told, oh, you are too nice. So we had a very rich and meaningful conversation about what it means to also be in that, have that transition when you are really trying to show up as yourself, but you are almost fighting against a system that has a different expectation from what actually transformational leadership is.

[00:05:59.780] – Steve

That’s as sad as the new teachers who a whole lot of years back were told to make sure they didn’t smile before Christmas. Sent a bunch of new teachers down the wrong path. Your article is built around a heart in mind process, and you use HEART as an acronym for important skills in social and emotional capacity. So I’m wondering if we could take that and walk through it one at a time. So the H in heart stands for honoring your emotions.

[00:06:41.140] – Lorea

Yes. So honoring emotions is the foundation, really, of emotional intelligence. And it means that you are able to name, to interpret, and to communicate your feelings. And in the field of social emotional learning, we try to not categorize emotions as positive or negative, but really we look at emotions as data, as information that our body produces in order to send us signals. Emotions are trying to tell us, well, there’s something here that you need to pay attention to. So honoring your emotions really is to come to those feelings that you experience on a daily basis with an open mind, with a little bit of curiosity and say, oh, I’m experiencing some frustration or I’m getting very disappointed with this particular person. And just to use it as data in order to guide how you are going to approach it, how you are going to make decisions in your life. And I feel like for us adults, this is a skill that is very important, and it’s very difficult because there is a lot of unlearning that we have to do unless you went to a school where SEL was taught explicitly, this is something that we have been learning just by trial and error.

[00:08:06.410] – Lorea

And I can tell you I’ve made a lot of errors in my life. So the idea here is that you are, again, unlearning some of the misconceptions you might have about emotions and then trying to have that open mind.

[00:08:21.560] – Steve

So the misconception is that my emotions get in my way instead of my emotions are important information for me to have.

[00:08:33.170] – Lorea

Exactly. So over time, I think we have different patterns but we may have learned that in order to be effective in our roles in education, we might need to bottle up our emotions. You show up, people don’t know what’s happening to you. And what happens in those situations is that unless you take the time to process your feelings, they will show up. And many times, they show up in ways that you don’t intend and having some negative consequences. So it’s a much healthier approach to say, okay, I have this emotional agility to really understand, identify my emotions, interpret why am I having these feelings, and then just transform and move forward. You don’t have to get stuck on your emotions, but really, you have to use that information to help you make decisions.

[00:09:27.100] – Steve

So the E in heart is elect your responses.

[00:09:33.980] – Lorea

Yes. And that entails pretty much all the coping skills, all your self-management skills. And I want to highlight here that the verb, “elect” is important because we have choices when it comes to our thoughts, our emotions, and our behaviors. And I can tell you that this skill has been almost liberating for or the educators that I work with and the principals, because they realize that with their behaviors, for example, maybe they have had a certain way of going about their lives or executing their roles. But with this skill, we pay a little more attention to how those three things are interconnected. So how our emotions impact our thoughts and our behaviors, it’s really a triangle, and we are trying to figure out, well, are my behaviors really clear or am I functioning on autopilot? So a lot of the reflection here is looking at, are my behavior patterns really helping me in my role, in the things that I’m trying to get done, or are they getting in the way? And then we practice together how to develop new behaviors so you can have more tools in your toolbox in order to go about your life.

[00:10:59.640] – Steve

You’re reminding me in my early work with myself as a teacher and then as a teacher-trainer, the recognition that I’m getting angry about something that’s happening in my classroom. The concept that I have a set of responses I could elect from rather than a spontaneous response is going to tend to get me a lot further.

[00:11:27.450] – Lorea

Absolutely. Emotion, if you separate the word emotion, if you separate the word E and motion, really, emotions put us into action. And this is where our prefrontal cortex needs to come into place and really think about, is that the best way to move forward? Is that the best course of action? And again, this is something that requires practice, but I think that it can be very liberating when we’re bringing into our cognition and our awareness that there are many ways in which we can respond to different situations.

[00:12:06.640] – Steve

The A in heart stands for apply empathy.

[00:12:11.270] – Lorea

Yes. So empathy is that ability to recognize the emotions and the feelings in others. And that’s important because in education, you have probably heard of compassion fatigue or empathy fatigue in our educators. And that’s when educators are really connecting so much with the emotions of their students, or maybe for a principal, with the levels of stress that the teachers are experiencing, that they themselves experience almost like a burnout, like fatigue. And what happens with empathy is that you need to find almost the right balance. When we see that happening, it’s because we are almost taking making the feelings of others on our shoulders. We are really making the feelings of others ours. But a healthier way to approach it is to be there for the other person without – really, you are connecting with that feeling, but you are creating a little bit of a separation between the experience of another person and yourself. And another aspect of empathy is empathy towards oneself. And that’s a concept that is very important in the heart in mind model, because in my experience working for educators for my entire career for almost 20 years, I have observed that self-empathy is a difficult concept for educators.

[00:13:48.770] – Lorea

Educators tend to have such high expectations about their students’ behaviors and their students’ performance, their own work as teachers. They want to make a difference, but when they are in a situation where things are not turning out the way they expected or they make a mistake, they tend to be very hard on themselves. I believe that if we embed our educational system with a little more self-compassion and self-empathy, that can support the well-being of individuals and also of the system itself.

[00:14:26.210] – Steve

The R in HEART stands for reignite your relationships?

[00:14:32.010] – Lorea

Yeah. So this has to do with your networks, how you build and maintain positive relationships in your life. And the relationships can be a source of connection, a source of meaningful support. It’s almost like imagining the village that is supporting the work that you do as an individual. But relationships, there are sometimes you meet people that you connect right away, you have some chemistry, and those relationships feel easy. But there are other times that you have to work a little bit at it in order to maintain or to create that relationship. And that’s why the verb here is to reignite, almost seeing relationships as a fire, where sometimes you have to put a little bit of kindle in the fire in order for things to start burning. So really thinking about relationships not just as a unidirectional, but also as a way that you can cultivate those meaningful relationships in your life.

[00:15:42.040] – Steve

So is it pretty similar to the teacher in the classroom is unlikely to maximize learning without the ability to create a relationship with students? Would you say the same is true then if I’m an instructional coach or an administrator in the building, some teachers are going to be real easy to find those relationships that are going to happen naturally, but there’s other teachers that, in effect, is it fair to say a purposeful plan?

[00:16:18.370] – Lorea

Absolutely. And I think that when you see it that way, things become less personal in the sense that you are not making the other person bad in in your mind, but you are also not blaming yourself. You are just acknowledging that, yes, there are certain relationships that are easier, others that I’m going to have to put a little more effort. And especially in that relationship with students, it’s important to keep that in mind, because in our teaching careers, we’re going to have many students that at first we don’t connect, but it’s finding those moments of connection, being purposeful about how we build those meaningful relationships.

[00:17:03.490] – Steve

Can I push you a little bit to define how you use the word connection there? Tell me a little more about what you mean when you say find those connections.

[00:17:13.020] – Lorea

Yeah. So finding connection to me is finding moments where you can have a conversation with somebody where you have something in common or you are finding points of connection at an emotional level. I’m thinking that you can talk with students about things that are non-school related, for example. What’s their favorite sport, the TV show that they are watching, what they like to do on their spare time, and really being intentional about maybe sharing something about yourself that is important or that connects with what the student is saying. So that’s where I think about that connection, but it’s also how you build trust in your relationships, how you feel like a sense of being in relationship with each other.

[00:18:11.260] – Steve

You triggered for me the word that I frequently use when I’m addressing this with coaches working with teachers or teachers working with students is, “knowing.” If I know people, the connections will likely be found. But if I don’t commit to knowing people, getting to know people, then I can’t find the connection. Am I on track there?

[00:18:39.640] – Lorea

Absolutely. I think that in order to know people, back to our first skill, you have to have some curiosity. And curiosity is a very important emotion in learning, both for the teacher and for the student. When you approach somebody with a sense of curiosity, that means that you are open to what they have to share with you. And that’s a place where maybe you had made some assumptions about this particular person, and then you may be surprised of what you find. And of course, if you’re a high school teacher and you have 100 plus students, it might feel very hard. And at the same time, I can tell you that everything we know from research points to the importance of relationships. Anything that we can do to get to know our students better is going to be a vehicle for students to have meaningful learning in the classroom.

[00:19:44.250] – Steve

I love that you got to the word curiosity. It’s one I use with coaches all the time. If an instructional coach enters the conversation with a teacher with curiosity, they’re on the way. You’ve pushed that understanding for me now that that’s really a foundation of getting to relationships as if I approach meeting the person with curiosity. Cool. T – the last letter at heart is transform with purpose.

[00:20:19.320] – Lorea

Yes. So this is probably my favorite skill in the model, and I think that it brings everything else into context. So transforming with purpose is being able to connect who you are as an individual, your values, the things that are important to you with what happens around you. What are the problems that you see in your local, in your global community that you want to work to solve? So when we are transforming with purpose, that means that we are finding our “why,” we are finding a sense of direction in our life. And I believe two things. One, this is a lifelong process. So even for educators, this is an exercise that I do with my principals, with my teachers, because sometimes we come to education with a certain idea and motivation, but that changes over time. So I think that a way to re-energize in our roles in education is to revisit this sense of purpose, to really be able to put into words, why am I here? What am I trying to do? Why am I spending my hours doing this work? And the second thing is, I feel like this is a skill that is very much lacking in our schools, especially in our secondary classrooms and that’s why we see students so disengaged and demotivated, because because they don’t have a sense of purpose.

[00:21:55.060] – Lorea

That’s something that has not been spoken about, cultivated, addressed. So students don’t see the connections between what they are learning in schools and what they want to do in their lives. Maybe sometimes the promise is when they go to college or when they get to the workplace, they’ll be able to do the thing that they want to do. But we don’t have to wait. I think that students are so smart, and they already know that there are problems. I think that it’s a lot about building their agency and their ability to see themselves as active, as change agents in their communities.

[00:22:43.870] – Steve

I have to tell you, what’s going through my mind is the interconnectedness of what teachers know they need to make happen with their students and principals and coaches and school leaders having to, in effect, model that same thing among the staff. I think a lot of what we’re calling burnout among teachers now is quite similar to you’re saying students being demotivated.

[00:23:16.260] – Lorea

Yes. I have to say that I see the challenges that we have as having two different sources, if you will. One is, at the individual level, we need to continue to cultivate these skills intentionally. We cannot assume that we can move forward with the same skills that we used in the past and expect similar or better results. Because after the pandemic, the challenges we are encountering with the way that the world is today as individuals, we need to continue to cultivate this social emotional skills. So that’s one source. But the other part is how much the context. Our social, cultural, political, what happens in the leadership team in your building, that’s going to impact how you show up in the workplace. And we cannot just ask coaches, principals, educators to continue to do this work as individuals if we don’t look at the conditions that are creating the stress, the burnout out the disengagement. Those two things, both the individual and I would say the context, the organizational aspects, need to work in combination in order to make healthier school environments for everybody.

[00:24:45.960] – Steve

So it’s people coaching the SEL skills of each other within that school environment, both as individuals and collaboratives collaboratively in the way that we work with each other.

[00:25:03.400] – Lorea


[00:25:05.040] – Steve

Well, you’ve given us a lot to reflect on. I will place the link to your article in the podcast lead-in. You want to tell folks a little bit about the best ways that they connect with you and learn more about the work that you’re doing?

[00:25:22.330] – Lorea

Yes, absolutely. They can go check on my website, is loreamartinez.com, and they I’ve been writing and blogging for almost 10 years. I have a ton of SEL related content on website. Of course, they can purchase a copy of “Teaching with the Heart in Mind.” I have an online course to develop adult social-emotional skills that they can check out on my website as well. And big news, today, I launched my YouTube channel. So now people can also find me on on YouTube. Today’s episode was on educator stress, of all things, and videos will be available every two weeks. So that’s another source of pre-content and truly information for educators, principals, and coaches.

[00:26:17.330] – Steve

I will be an early subscriber.

[00:26:19.880] – Lorea

Please do.

[00:26:20.740] – Steve

Excited that I found out about it. Terrific. We’ll post the link to your website in the podcast lead-in to make it easy for folks to find as well. Thank you so much.

[00:26:32.000] – Lorea

Thank you, Steve. It was my pleasure.

[00:26:36.080] – Steve [Outro]

Thanks for listening, folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn at Steve Barkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.

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