S5-E1: The right to read: Lacey Robinson
Susan Lambert: Today I am joined by Lacey Robinson, Chief Executive Officer of UnboundEd. The work of UnboundEd is grounded at the intersection of standards, content, aligned curriculum and equitable instructional practices that are essential for closing the opportunity gap. Lacey brings us a powerful message about the importance of effective instruction to ensure all students can read. If you've ever had the privilege of hearing her speak, you know she brings all of her passion and uses stories to connect to ours. Well, hello, Lacey. Thank you so much for joining us on today's episode.
Lacey Robinson: Good afternoon, Susan. I'm so excited to be here. I feel like I'm sitting in the seat of greatness.
Susan Lambert: Oh, well, you are. I mean, wow, to have you on our podcast for our listeners, they are going to be so excited by the content that you're going to bring to us today. So really, just thank you so much.
Lacey Robinson: Well, thank you. And I always start all my discussions, all my talks, I always have to give credence to the ancestral holders of my land. So I'm in Southern Maryland, and I always want to give homage to them, to the Indigenous land keepers as well as my enslaved African ancestors. I find that when I start a conversation reminding myself of the shoulders that I stand on, it makes me sit up a little bit taller.
Susan Lambert: Oh, I love that. Thank you for doing that and for grounding us really in a discussion that's going to be so important. We always start our podcast, our listeners love to hear your story. So how about you share your story with us?
Lacey Robinson: Oh. So, okay, well, I'm a bit of a storyteller.
Susan Lambert: We love that.
Lacey Robinson: So feel free to start or stop me. So I think my story really begins honestly in what I call one of the most monumental years of my educational pathway, and that year was the year that subsequently my parents got divorced. My mother had actually integrated us into a community in Dayton, Ohio.
Susan Lambert: Ooh.
Lacey Robinson: My sister and I were at the public elementary school and we were one of two families of color, African American families in the entire school. And consequently, because it was a brother and a brother and me and my sister, we were probably, not probably, I know for the first year, the only people of color in the building.
Susan Lambert: Wow.
Lacey Robinson: So I always have to start there because people see integration in movies, they read about it in stories, and to have lived through it, I can tell you that even from kindergarten, from being a five year old, a six year old, all the way up to fourth grade, that integration is not just you physically being there, right? You mentally, spiritually have to ground yourself and your parents have to put armor on you. And that armor is love, care, a reminder of who you are, where you come from, that you too deserve the right as everyone else. And so as we moved through that school, at the end of my first grade year, my mother was very troubled because she recognized that not only was I still grappling with learning my ABCs and having the assigned sound to the letters and the symbols, she was even more concerned that the first grade staff and the principal were about to promote me. She could not reconcile in her mind why you would allow a child to move on to the second grade that barely even had the foundations of reading that you would find at the end of kindergarten.
Susan Lambert: Wow.
Lacey Robinson: And so she marched herself right up to the school by herself. I always say my mother was the original soldier to me, and she really pressed upon the teachers and the principal," I'm sorry, you cannot pass her on. I will hold her back. I refuse to allow her to go on and she is not a reader. It will not happen." And they tried to talk her out of it," Oh, she's such a nice girl. She's so quiet." And my mother's like," Yes, she's quiet because she's intimidated because she can't read and I'm working as hard as I can." And so they took her advice and they held me back. And that whole summer before I started school, she spent the entire summer influencing me and prepping me and saying... Because I would say," Mama, I'm so embarrassed. My friends are going to know I'm in the same classroom." She said," No, baby, no, baby, your friends aren't the ones who are going to give you the tools that you need to succeed and I need you to learn how to read." Now, I only know this as an adult, my mother at the same time was attending the local Happy Hour. She's going to kill me for telling this story. And at the local Happy Hour, she would see, lo and behold, the first grade teaching team.
Susan Lambert: Oh no.
Lacey Robinson: crosstalk come on. We're educators, right? inaudible. She convinced two of the teachers, one of them happened to be my classroom teacher, and another first grade teacher to tutor me after school. And I fell in love. I know their names, Ms. Montgomery and Mrs. Littleton. And I fell in love with them. And I didn't know then, but I know now they taught me the code.
Susan Lambert: Wow.
Lacey Robinson: The phonemic awareness phonics vocabulary, they put it within stories and context. Listen, they rewarded me with McDonald's Happy Meals to ensure that I would come back. And if it wasn't for Mrs. Montgomery and Mrs. Littleton, I know for a fact I would not be where I am today. And absolutely if it wasn't for my mother and her courage, there is no way I would be who I am and have the audacity to do the work that I do now.
Susan Lambert: Wow, that's a powerful story and that really helps me... This is the first time I've heard that story, so thank you for sharing that. It makes a whole lot of sense about why you're doing what you're doing now, that journey for you.
Lacey Robinson: Yes, because I very early on in my career, I didn't want to be a teacher. Again, my mother stepped in. I had dreams of being a Broadway star inaudible or an actress, or at the very least, a weatherwoman or a journalist. I wanted to be on camera. And my mother was like," Sure, sure, sure, that's great, but I need you to get a job that has a pension and I need you to get a job that has benefits." And she saw very early on that I loved to teach. And so she pressed upon me to get into the teaching profession. As a matter of fact, when I attended Florida University, the couple months beforehand, she kept saying," You know you're going to register as an undergrad elementary education on that track, correct?" And I'm like," Uh..."
Susan Lambert: "Yes, ma'am."
Lacey Robinson: "Yes, ma'am." But I saw very early on, even in my undergrad track, even in my observation in classes, I began to see children that were in the same position I was in in 1980 and it was at least a decade later. And it struck me that the floundering in reading was not just a happenstance for me, that it was a plague, a plague that at best, we ignore.
Susan Lambert: Wow. Those are strong words, a plague.
Lacey Robinson: It is.
Susan Lambert: And your work, so for listeners that don't know who you are, you are actually at UnboundEd.
Lacey Robinson: UnboundEd. Yes.
Susan Lambert: Tell us a little bit about what you do there.
Lacey Robinson: Yes. Okay. So UnboundEd actually launched unofficially in 2015. So we were percolating within a partner organization of ours, Achievement Network, ANet. And really, the conception of UnboundEd, really our vision started with John King's team at the state of New York. So that team was curators of the Engage New York curriculum, one of the first OER curriculums that rolled out to support what we then called the Common Core Standards, and that team facilitated the curation of that. Well, along with the curator of the curriculum, they immediately understood that there needed to be a professional learning, here goes that word, plan in order to ensure that the educators in the state of New York would implement the Engage New York curriculum with fidelity, correct?
Susan Lambert: Yep.
Lacey Robinson: Because it's not enough to put the Common Core Standards in front of teachers or standard in front of teachers, it's not enough to put a high quality curriculum, you have to have the supports in a professional learning cycle to ensure that your educators are growing in their knowledge about it. So they launched and they stomped across the state of New York. And then there was a call from the field that they take that work and put it on a national level. So thus launched unofficially in 2015 UnboundEd. It was also our first institute in Washington, D. C. Our first institute held a little over 500 educators. Most of them were not as vast from California. Most of them centered around the Northeast Corridor and around the Southern Corridor, but they all came to Washington, D. C. And we spent five days with our brains sweating around high quality materials and the standards that are needed to ensure that all students are receiving an equitable education. Okay?
Susan Lambert: Great.
Lacey Robinson: I have to pause when I say equity because I want to define it for you.
Susan Lambert: Please.
Lacey Robinson: So when we say equitable education, what we're saying is that we want all children across the United States to have a fair shot in the existing systems of education, of college bound and career. Okay, so I attended the institute in 2015, completely blown away, mind shifting back and forth, brain sweating, and I, as an educator, gobbled it up. 2016 was our original launch. We continued to hold Standards Institutes in Boston and Florida. And in late 2016, I started to get this urge that I wanted to join this motley crew of educators and leaders and curriculum writers and practitioners. And so I came on board, and the leadership at the time I would say very graciously allowed me to come in with the one caveat that I asked. See, at this time, I had had enough experience in the field. I had done enough of my own digging and studying. Some of it was on my own, some of it was also force- fed, that's a whole other story, but I knew to be true that there was no way we could eradicate not only the plague of illiteracy in the United States, but the plague of inequity, not ensuring everyone has a fair shot in the system of education, without us having a thorough understanding of what happens when we have our antennas around diversity, equity, inclusion, and instruction, when those two center pieces come together. So I joined in 2016, we continue. We started doing our own internal development around diversity, equity and inclusion. So what would it take for us to create professional learning experiences for other educators and leaders to understand around what we now call that intersection? And the intersection is when high quality materials meets standards, meets pedagogical content knowledge and the equity that is needed to dismantle the predictability of achievement by race in the United States.
Susan Lambert: And that amazing work that you actually pull together is available for any educator or any system to be able to access.
Lacey Robinson: Yes.
Susan Lambert: Is that right?
Lacey Robinson: Yes. So we have what's now, which was annually, we now do it... Well, prior to the pandemic. We will be starting back though in March, at the end of March. And you can go to UnboundEd.org to look at the dates and the places, but we will now be having three times a year our Standards Institute. I have to tell you the name originated from the standards, but we actually now know that the Standards Institute means something different. It's not just about the standards, it's about the standard of teaching and learning that is essential.
Susan Lambert: Oh, amazing. Amazing. That's great.
Lacey Robinson: It's about us unbounding ourselves from the systems that we know create barriers to ensure that equity in education. I had to do that play on the words.
Susan Lambert: I love it.
Lacey Robinson: I know crosstalk are probably rolling their eyes.
Susan Lambert: Oh, it's just the entertainer in you or something, right?
Lacey Robinson: That's correct. That's correct.
Susan Lambert: And so you begging to get into the organization based on this criteria, you're actually leading the organization now.
Lacey Robinson: I am now.
Susan Lambert: Tell me a little about that.
Lacey Robinson: Yes. So in 2018, I was very graciously asked by the board to lead the organization. I was deeply entrenched in the work of not just Standards Institute, but by that time we had launched and stood up what we now call our Cohort Program. We had started thinking very deeply about how we can engage leaders around math. And I would say the leadership at that time at UnboundEd, they just opened up the door and allowed me along with my other colleagues to situate what that intersection would look like in our five day institute. And so it is truly about when equity meets instruction. And I want to make this really clear because there's a lot of misinformation going on out there, it is really about how we as practitioners and leaders begin to raise our curiosity about what could be barriers that are implicit and explicit, that are at play in our discretionary spaces of instruction, in our policies, practices, and procedures. And barriers, I'm talking about specifically for Brown and Black students and students who have been his historically disenfranchised in our education system, which often always it's usually Brown, Black and students of poverty. And so we come together and focus on instruction, how we can better ourselves as practitioners and leaders to ensure that we can dismantle and eliminate all of those barriers. So we take, I just want to say really quickly-
Susan Lambert: Go ahead.
Lacey Robinson: We take ELA and we take math, we take deep dives into the standards, our pedagogical practices, the high quality materials, and then our beliefs and values, and here's the thing, our beliefs and values that not only we bring into the system, but that we oftentimes carry and don't even recognize that we're carrying,
Susan Lambert: I was going to make a comment about that, that examining ourselves, some introspection, how we sort of navigate as people and then within communities of practitioners and learners. You have a, I'm not sure what it's called, but a DEI toolkit or something like that that's available on your website. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about that? Because I've experienced being involved in a community of learners using some of those resources, but I'd love for you to share with our listeners about that.
Lacey Robinson: Sure. So yes, that is our Anti- Bias Toolkit. I want to be really clear that part of our messaging, we recognize, and we can talk a little bit of about this, that systemic racist and bias is at play. We know that it's at play because we know that it was part of the pool that initiated Brown v. Board of Education. We know that Brown v. Board of Education was a technical move by the federal government to ensure that equity was actually at play in education, but we now understand and know to be true that the adaptive pieces poking at the beliefs, poking at the perceptions that we have about some of our students, predominantly those disenfranchised students, the students who've experienced disenfranchisement, I want to make sure that I emphasize that because we oftentimes use those labels and they just become stamps on who they are. And it's not them, it's the circumstance that they were placed within. And so we created this Anti- Bias Toolkit because when folks attended our institute, we would put them in what we call a container of disequilibrium, what we asked them to grapple with their content knowledge, their curriculum knowledge, the pedagogy, but also to grapple with their deep beliefs and intention around ensuring that equity was at play in every move and aspect of a student's educational track. And so that Anti- Bias Toolkit for now is found on our website, but we have a part two of the toolkit that we are fervently working on to revise, and I can talk a little bit about that later.
Susan Lambert: Yes.
Lacey Robinson: But we put it out there as a tool for educators to be able to have what Glenn Singleton has coined those courageous conversations that are needed to bubble up their beliefs and values.
Susan Lambert: Yeah, that's great. And as a former... Former? I attended a Standards Institute in the past in California and you were talking about these brain sweats and all of the ways that we had to be vulnerable as learners and as educators and it is absolutely true. And for listeners out there that ever get a chance to attend an institute, it is really life changing and you will come away learning and continuing to learn and be curious about what those practices look like. So thank you for that work that you're continuing to all and develop, and now three times a year as opposed to two times a year. And so that's really exciting. I want to make a little tiny bit of a segue because this is Science of Reading: The Podcast. You've been talking a lot about DEI and just highlighting some truths and realities. I'd love for you to just talk a little bit about really specifically how do you see DEI and the science of reading idea really intersecting?
Lacey Robinson: Yes. So I have to take you back then to the beginning of our conversation.
Susan Lambert: Okay.
Lacey Robinson: So that same year that my mother requested that they hold me back in first grade to ensure that I had those foundations of reading, I actually got an opportunity to witness what I now say was a miraculous moment in my life. I spent the summers with my grandparents and my grandmother at the time was around the age of 65. And I didn't know it at the time, but she was learning to read.
Susan Lambert: Wow.
Lacey Robinson: And I would sit next to her as she opened up her Bible. Mind you, now this was a Bible that had some of the beautiful pictures that were depicted in it. And I would watch her read through passages as she began to decode the words, as she began to put together the meaning, the vocabulary, the context of stories that she had heard verbally and might I add had memorized in her lexicon, but for the first time, she was able to read and decode it for herself. And so the teacher in me, the innate teacher in me that my mother saw very early on was sitting next to my grandmother. And when she would get to a word that she didn't know the sound that went with the symbol, I would say with her," Bu, bu. Grandma, no, it's a B. It says bu, bu." And so at that moment felt this, what I now call this tingling, and all educators know what that tingling is.
Susan Lambert: Oh yeah.
Lacey Robinson: It's that moment where you see a human being, a body moving from something that they did not know to something that they're gaining an understanding, to something that they actually can delve deeply into. And to watch my grandmother grow as a reader, I saw her shift from this woman who wasn't just a stay at home mom that ensured lunch was on the table even at the age of 65 for my grandfather and my sister and I, that ensured the dinner was there, that the house was clean, that all those duties she had, I watched her grow as a woman. She made friends and she attended her religious meetings and I watched her confidence shift. And that, I will tell you, was the moment I began to understand that there was this liberation in learning how to read. So if you just give me a moment, I want to take you through what I now believe is this track and why the science of reading is so pertinent. Okay?
Susan Lambert: Yes, please do.
Lacey Robinson: So as I got older, I got bolder and I began to ask questions," Well, Mama, why didn't Grandmother know how to read? I don't want to understand how she..." And my mother explained it, okay? I'm going to start us way back. In 1829, the state of Georgia passed the anti- literacy laws, well before my grandmother was born, and those anti- literacy laws were meant to ensure that the enslaved Africans not only did not learn how to read, but here's the thing that's really interesting, that they never acquired the capability of writing. Because, see, what the colonists understood at the time is that if they learned how to write, they could ensure their freedom, their passage to freedom by writing their own passes. So I want to pause for a second because my colleague, Alice Wiggins, in your season three episode two talked about Scarborough's Rope.
Susan Lambert: Yep.
Lacey Robinson: And she talked about how putting miles on the page, so becoming a better reader becomes a better writer.
Susan Lambert: That's right.
Lacey Robinson: I think it's really interesting that the colonists knew well before Scarborough even existed that if you gave folks the tools to read, that they would then become writers, and that reading and writing would liberate them. Okay, so I digress. In 1829, anti- literacy laws were enacted, right?
Susan Lambert: Yep.
Lacey Robinson: In 1865, just eight months after the conclusion of the Civil War, the us adopted the 13th Amendment, okay? It outlawed slavery. But very shortly after, the Black Codes, what we call the Pig Laws were developed. And I mention these because you're going to see where my grandmother's illiteracy comes up.
Susan Lambert: That's right.
Lacey Robinson: I mention these because the Black Codes literally were meant to mimic the rule of domain that slavery had on what we now are called as African Americans. We were citizenized at that point. Okay? You couldn't go and get a job unless you were told where to work and how to work. You couldn't walk down certain sides of the street. At that time, you couldn't necessarily establish schools unless the whites in that community actually gave you permission to do that. You could be arrested for walking from one side of the street to the other side of the street. Well, these Black Codes actually morphed themselves into our legal system and what we now know are the Jim Crow laws. Okay? In 1918, my grandmother was born in the midst of the enactment of the Jim Crow laws in Douglas, Georgia. She was one of eight. By the time she became of school age, and my mother tells me somewhere around... And I say school age, because in rural Georgia, to have to stay at home and help the family was the rule of law.
Susan Lambert: Right. Right.
Lacey Robinson: But at that time, many African Americans dreamt of their children having a formal education, but what prohibited them were the Jim Crow laws because you couldn't adequately find work, you couldn't adequately economically sustain your family. And so my grandmother being one of eight, her mother had to make a decision. She couldn't afford the shoes for all of their children that was needed in order to walk the distance to school. In addition to that, we call them poll taxes. They were called poll taxes. People think poll taxes were only for voting. Poll taxes were also used during Jim Crow to thwart Blacks, particularly in rural areas, from even walking from the rural area to the city where much of the school houses were built. And so my grandmother had that double negative going on. And so my mother says perhaps third grade was as far as she got, but we don't know. So now my grandmother grows into this young adult. She taught herself how to play the piano. My grandmother actually inaudible on the road in the CCC Camp. By that time, she had a tattoo. She was a very bold and brazen woman, but she carried this shame of not being able to read. 56 years later. Wow, she sat next to her granddaughter who had the same shame of not being able to read, who was now... Anti- literacy laws were demolished, right?
Susan Lambert: Yep.
Lacey Robinson: Black Codes were demolished, right? Our Jim Crow laws were demolished by the time that I was in first and second grade, however, the remnants and perceptions of the intellectual level of a child of color remained. And that's what my mother pushed against. And that's what those two teachers that volunteered to help me understood thoroughly why it was important for them to take one of the four children of color and teach her how to read. Now, I said one of the four. This plays into what we know about reading, right? If I think about what some of our researchers say, that, all right, 60% of us perhaps are hardwired to become readers, we say 60% that regardless sometimes of what's put in front of you, who is teaching you, you will learn to at a moderate level, a moderate level, well, let's talk about what being moderate means. Being moderate doesn't mean you're proficient. Being moderate means you might with the help of tutors, with the help of additional learning, moderate might mean that you learn to move on through your educational track with extended time on assessments, right? Because maybe you moderately read at a slower reading rate, your fluency isn't as strong. 60% of students are moderate readers. Well, the other 40%, right, the other 40% are struggling readers who have to have that foundation, who, by the way, I'm going to take it back, you don't even have to guess, are mostly what?
Susan Lambert: crosstalk
Lacey Robinson: Brown and Black and students of low economic status. They have to have the codes.
Susan Lambert: Yeah.
Lacey Robinson: And what my track has taught me is that if we don't look back and look at the markers that we as these United States, that I'm very proud to be a part of, if we don't look at the markers, they will begin to repeat themselves, not in the ways that they showed up in history, but in the ways that we make decisions about do we allow students to cycle in leveled readers that don't have the foundation of reading? Do we actually extend our educators' learning about the science of reading and what even those hardwired brains actually go through in the adoption of phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, comprehension? What we find is that when we don't acknowledge what we've done historically, we begin to repeat ourselves. We make decisions not based off of the need students, but based off of perceptions that are oftentimes rooted in implicit explicit racism and bias. And I know when I say that, that strikes a nerve for people.
Susan Lambert: Yeah.
Lacey Robinson: Because we're living in a time that we are being led to believe that we cannot recover from tidbits of shame. So I want to say this really quickly.
Susan Lambert: Yeah. Please.
Lacey Robinson: It's important that we acknowledge this. I love what Brené Brown says about shame. Brené Brown says that if shame is put in a Petri dish and if it is to exponentially grow, it needs secrecy, silence, and judgment. But if you take that same amount of shame and you put it in a Petri dish and you douse it with empathy, it won't survive. So you see, we have to know where we came from as a nation. We have to know how some of our laws and ways of being disenfranchised and how that continues to go on. We have to grow empathy around that, not judgment, not shame. So it's important that we look back so that as we look forward, we don't step in the same mess. So the science of reading teaches us that those five components, and I know everybody listening to this knows those five components are essential. And what I began to ask educators is that if the research is there, the science is there, the evidence is there, why do you continue to submit our students to an old operating system, expecting them to be able to bound into a technological age with college career and beyond? The science of reading has taught us what is needed, even for those 60% of students who are hardwired to read. Because we're in a time where being a moderate reader is not going to work.
Susan Lambert: Not good. Yeah. Yeah.
Lacey Robinson: That's where DEI meets the science of reading.
Susan Lambert: I do know that you in our pre- call talked about this idea when we're talking about what it looks like in the classroom, when we're talking about what it looks like at the school level, when we're talking about what it looks like at the district level, you used this phrase called equity at the center of design. And I found that amazing. Talk to me a little bit about what you meant by that when you shared it with me. And I know you've said that phrase over and over and over again, equity at the center of design. What does that mean?
Lacey Robinson: So, remember the definition of equity that we're standing on. Equity is a fair shot in a system. So essentially what we're saying is that as you are sitting and planning, as you are making decisions about curriculum and materials, as you are deciding the very expectations that you hold for your students, where is your equity at the center of that design? Where is your assurance that all of your students despite missing prerequisites, despite social economic status, where will they be receiving their fair shot in your system of reading, in your system of writing, in the materials that you are putting forth to them? Equity has to be at the center of design. When I started in education, I really feel like I really sound like my grandmother when I say that, you know," Way back in the day," but when I started in education, much like many folks, we would talk about equity, and I would say it would be that kumbaya moment." Oh, sure, sure, sure, we treat everyone the same. I see you and I see me." At that point, we also leaned into color blindness, which also cracks me up. Like," I don't see color." Really? Because I see color every morning I wake up and look at myself.
Susan Lambert: Yeah.
Lacey Robinson: And we always talked about equity here and instruction here.
Susan Lambert: Yep.
Lacey Robinson: And then we would come back, go into our classrooms, move through the year, look at the data and say," I just don't understand why we're not making any moves with our students, why we don't see our students of color making progress." Well, if equity is here and instruction is here and you never start to recognize where they are to meet, where they are to be braided in, much like Scarborough's Rope, you will never get at dismantling those barriers that are implicit and explicit that could be causing your students, either through your beliefs, values, actions, policies, practices, and procedures, we're going to have to write that down, beliefs, values, actions, policies, practices, and procedures, if you are not examining it, then you're not ensuring that all your students are immersed in an equitable education.
Susan Lambert: And in the spirit of Brené Brown, who I was actually just reading her book this morning, is leaning into that vulnerability for people to actually... And I mean, I always say particularly for me because I am not a person of color. I'm actually born and raised in a middle class white environment, very privileged. For me to lean into that and to really unpack that and look at my own personal values and actions and thoughts, it can be scary.
Lacey Robinson: Yes. It can be scary and, let's go back to that shame, shame is literally a pebble in your shoe. It's that small.
Susan Lambert: Yeah.
Lacey Robinson: And all it takes is you turning that shame and turning on your empathy to understand that. The historical walk I took us through was not meant to make you feel bad or to feel like you carry the weight of your ancestors' decisions or the decisions of this nation. It is literally to say our history stands in its place as warning signs and directions, and that if you want to ensure that we never go back to anti- literacy laws and Black Codes and Jim Crow and the disenfranchisement of our Indigenous communities, the erasure of our Indigenous communities and our Latinx communities and the cultural pieces that really make up these United States, you have to have that historical perspective. So it's not about guilt or shame or wanting to make you feel bad. It's recognizing that we'll never go back there again, which we as a nation I will say are very good at. We've learned from those historical markers about economics. We've learned from those historical markers about how to galvanize ourselves as a nation during war time. It is imperative that we look back at those historical markers to ensure that the future generations will not have to have this same conversation, will not have to convince people that the reading war is over. I contend there is no war. There's a lot of folks that want to hold on to the artifacts that we now know don't serve us as an educational community.
Susan Lambert: Yeah, that's powerful, and not just talking about that in theory. UnboundEd has really gone on a long way to help give educators some practical tools in their hands, right? I'm recalling right now a podcast I did with Julie Washington, where she talked about that science of reading evidence, the things that we have to do to ensure students learn how to read, it's there. We just need to info implement it. Sometimes kids need more time, but we need to implement it. In terms of turning this towards educators, you have created instructional framework called the GLEAM framework that really helps educators focus then on the needs of the students and how to craft that environment to ensure that equity is at the center of the design. Can you tell us a little bit about this GLEAM instructional framework?
Lacey Robinson: Yes. So I'd say GLEAM was actually born way before we even called it GLEAM. Internally, my meter was turned on to GLEAM when I had the privilege of actually doing my teaching residency at a satellite school of the Marva Collins Preparatory School that was originated in Chicago.
Susan Lambert: Wow.
Lacey Robinson: And I know your listeners heard a little bit about it with your former guest crosstalk and he talked about Marva Collins.
Susan Lambert: He did.
Lacey Robinson: But I got an opportunity to actually do my residency in that school, and here's the first thing I saw right just spot on. First of all, they leaned into what we now know as the science of reading. All of their pre- K and kindergarten students were doused in reading programs that leaned on those five inaudible pillars that are essential. And so consequently, by the time they got to first and second grade, they were reading at or above grade level.
Susan Lambert: Wow.
Lacey Robinson: My residency took place in a second and third grade combined classroom.
Susan Lambert: Okay.
Lacey Robinson: The first day I walked into the room, I had to run out of the room. I busted out in tears. Every single child was holding Animal Farm.
Susan Lambert: Oh my goodness.
Lacey Robinson: A book I had not read until I was in ninth grade. A book however though, if you look at literally the level, it's probably a fifth, sixth grade. There are some vocabulary words that... But they were reading it. And not only were they reading it, the teacher was making associations to what was actually happening in their immediate community and how it could relate to what the characters were going through in Animal Farm.
Susan Lambert: Wow.
Lacey Robinson: And the students were actually having conversations about it. So I say that GLEAM was birth there because first of all, I was in a school that was all students of color. It was all African American students and they were at grade level or above in their reading. They were at grade level in their learning. She took the second and third grade combined standards that were in Ohio at that time, because the school was in Cincinnati, and she was developing their understanding of character using the story of Animal Farm. She was engaging them through rigorous material, right, the vocabulary words, what was actually going on. She actually described Lenin and Stalin and who they were and how they were being played out in the story. So it was rigorous, productive struggle that was happening and she was engaging them because she was allowing them to bring in their local cultural, linguistic, historical context into the story. She was affirming them as learner because they were using their decoding skills, their vocabulary, their background knowledge. They were using their linguistic and cultural reference that they brought in from their community. And so she was affirming them as very proficient readers and writers, right?
Susan Lambert: Yeah.
Lacey Robinson: And it was meaningful, because through the story, she not only took the themes of the story and placed it and related it to what was going on in their lives, but she also assured them," That you getting this book now, which many of you will meet again in high school, I'm actually giving you the tools that you will need to use throughout your educational track and your learning themes that very well you could use later on to change your local and national environments." So GLEAM stands for is it grade level? Is it engaging? Is it affirming? Is it meaningful teaching and learning? And by the way, GLEAM is essential for all students. Regardless of race, ethnicity, or social economic status, all students should be immersed in grade level work and the work of the grade. All students need rigorous, productive struggle and they need an opportunity to not only bring their local, historical, cultural, linguistic aspects, but to be immersed in others because we are a global majority. All students need to be affirmed of their academic identities as well as their intrapersonal identities. And we know that Brown and Black students, the data tells us, not just my anecdotes, intrapersonal, that intrapersonal skills and perceptions and concepts of themselves gets picked away when they don't see authors that look like them, when they don't hear stories of their historical, local, contextual, cultural, linguistic backgrounds, where they cannot center themselves in their own learning. So it's not enough that I have my academic knowledge, my academic identity, I need to also have my intrapersonal identity, which, by the way, does get grown at home. I don't want to take that away from my parents.
Susan Lambert: Right.
Lacey Robinson: But the school plays a role to ensure that it stays at a healthy level. And then last is meaningful. I am using the social and political, I use those two words. It draws people in. It just means I'm aware of what I'm learning through my content, through the context, through the skills, that I can take that to better my world. I cannot speak any further inaudible GLEAM without saying we stand on the shoulders of the mother of culturally relevant teaching, who was Gloria Ladson- Billings. We stand on the shoulders of Zaretta Hammond that put proof point with the brain development and why it's essential for culturally relevant and responsive teaching. We stand on the shoulders of Dr. Beverly Tatum and Alfred Tatum. We stand on their shoulders because they have for well over 30 years been pushing us and our education realm to understand the power of culturally relevant and responsive teaching and learning. And so GLEAM is how we are standing shoulder to shoulder with other educators to ensure that everyone receives an equitable education.
Susan Lambert: That's powerful. Thank you so much for that description, and I want to pull out one thing, although we could probably spend an entire next episode talking about each of those categories, but you mentioned rigorous and productive. Can you unpack that just a little tiny bit? Because I think it's so powerful for all learners.
Lacey Robinson: Yes. And I'm so glad you highlighted that because this'll also give me an opportunity to show how in those discretionary spaces, that implicit and explicit bias may come in. So rigorous is kind of easy for us as educators, right? We know Bloom's taxonomy. We understand that when we move up and down that hierarchy, we can then allow our students to not only contextualize what they're learning, but actually exercise the critical thinking and the skills that are needed to engross themselves in the learning. We know that rigorous also plays out in mathematics. We talk about that three- legged stool all the time at the institute. So we know that rigor is something that we've been saying now for decades.
Susan Lambert: Yeah.
Lacey Robinson: When we say productive struggle, here's where I oftentimes warn educators that we actually love our students intellectually numb, because we think that when students struggle, when they are grappling with either putting on their code of fluency, practicing their phonemic awareness skills, understanding the contextualization of vocabulary words that may have been put out and then put back into a story, comprehending what the author is teaching us, or even productively struggling in the standards that we've placed before them, oftentimes there is this sympathy muscle that kicks in and we want to remove the struggle from the students. Well, I don't know about you, but I have never lost weight or grown a muscle without exercising and that takes sweat.
Susan Lambert: And it's not always fun.
Lacey Robinson: And it's not always fun, but it is, I will tell you this, rewarding.
Susan Lambert: Right.
Lacey Robinson: As a human being, when you allow another human being to showcase who they are and quite possibly what they can become, that's where that tingle that I talked about earlier, it starts to happen. But many times, we have perceptions of our students. We have perceptions that are implicit and explicit. We have perceptions that say," Well, Alicia came into my third grade class missing the prerequisites from second grade for reading. And so I'm going to make the decision to cycle her in first grade books because I don't want her to be embarrassed when she reads aloud. I don't want her to struggle." No, that Alicia will never catch up by being asked to be far behind. And so the productive struggle piece is essential. Here's the other thing I want to say about productive struggle. It is also the moment as a practitioner that you begin to understand what it means to scaffold and what it means to modify. So I will tell you this, Alice Wiggins, who I referred to earlier taught me this-
Susan Lambert: Hi, Alice.
Lacey Robinson: Hi, Alice. And I love this. We call it nerd fighting at UnboundEd. So we had a nerd fight about this. When you scaffold a lesson, you are literally listing the cognitive load out of that lesson so that the student can get to the goal of the lesson. So sometimes the cognitive load is around their disfluency. So that means that I can offer you up a grade level book that you may not be able to fluently read, and I can choose different pedagogical content moves so that you still gain access to the text.
Susan Lambert: Right.
Lacey Robinson: Right?
Susan Lambert: Right.
Lacey Robinson: And I can still get you to pursue the standard-
Susan Lambert: Yep.
Lacey Robinson: And productively struggle as I'm listening that cognitive load. So that's a scaffolding, right?
Susan Lambert: Right.
Lacey Robinson: That's a shared reading. That's a buddy reading. That's a paired reading through headphones, but a modification is we're talking about the theme of characters, and so you don't get Animal Farm, you get Cat in the Hat.
Susan Lambert: Ah, gotcha. That's a powerful example.
Lacey Robinson: And we do it all the time out of love, and notice the word I'm using, sympathy, not empathy for our students.
Susan Lambert: Right.
Lacey Robinson: And so I respectfully charge our community to lean more into the empathy, to lean more into the importance of the rigor and the productive struggle to ensure that, what? Equity is at play in our teaching and learning.
Susan Lambert: That's beautiful. And I know I talk to a lot of educators that say," Oh, my kindergarten kids can't do that." And I'll say," Have you ever tried? Have you ever let them try to achieve that?" And again, it's in the spirit I believe too of love and protection.
Lacey Robinson: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Susan Lambert: That's great. Well, just so you know, listeners, we'll link you in the show notes to the UnboundEd website, which will give you also access to that GLEAM instructional framework that we've been talking about, super helpful information out there. What are some of the new things you're working on there? Let's talk new stuff.
Lacey Robinson: Well, it's so exciting, new, and I also say new gets regenerated all the time at UnboundEd. So we'll be moving into what I believe is our fifth cohort of our EIR- SLA community. So that is our Equity Influencer Residency that's matched up with our System Leader Academy. We bring folks that are in the classrooms, in the schools that are leaders with their system leaders together. They sit shoulder to shoulder for a program year studying that intersection and equity at the center of design-
Susan Lambert: I love that.
Lacey Robinson: And diving into the enactment of GLEAM. We have our MILA program, which is building our principles around their knowledge and our leaders in the buildings around their knowledge about mathematical academic identity.
Susan Lambert: Nice.
Lacey Robinson: So what does it take that a leader needs to know and understand in order to ensure that students are actually developing that math identity? I have been currently working on with our team our book. So every institute we had, every cohort, people come to us all the time and they say," Okay, what's next? How can we take that with us? Oh my gosh, the story that you gave in that keynote." And so we started compiling together the keynotes that I've given along with our frameworks, along with our vision, into a manuscript that we hope to be out in the field next year. I won't give the title away, but I will tell your listeners to stay tuned.
Susan Lambert: We'll have you back so that you can launch it right here on Science of Reading: The Podcast.
Lacey Robinson: I love it. I love it. And then I would say finally, we have been working on a tool of technology that we essentially want to become the North Star for our education community. We want it to be a tool of technology where folks come and understand that equity is at the center of design, that honestly it is about what just good teaching and learning is. And it will be an area or repository of research and articles and podcasts, training, keynotes. It'll be an avenue and access to other partners and the work that they have out in the field. And so I'm really excited about it. I'm not going to give away the name, but I will tell you that we will be moving into the beta phase of it very soon.
Susan Lambert: Awesome.
Lacey Robinson: And we will be actually sitting shoulder to shoulder with some partners and systems so that they can help us implement it and place it out in the field. And I would love to come back and talk to you about it.
Susan Lambert: Of course. Of course. That's really exciting. And I think that's a dream of yours that's coming true. Is that right?
Lacey Robinson: It is. It is. I feel like as an educator, especially in this moment that we're in right now, I learned very early on that the perception that society has about us as being these mythical beings that somehow volunteer their time, service and money to ensure that students across this nation are educated, and while a piece of that is true, we are human. We are professionals and we need just as much support, dedication to the growth of our learning career trajectory as anyone else in their profession.
Susan Lambert: Yeah.
Lacey Robinson: And so I know it's something I always craved as an educator, and so it really is a dream come true, but I want to say that it's going to take us as a nation really understanding what it means and who it should be in education. It takes a revamping of what we believe about the teaching profession so that we can become a nation of learners.
Susan Lambert: Yeah.
Lacey Robinson: Which is really how it all started.
Susan Lambert: Yeah. That's amazing. I'm sitting here listening to you and I just wonder what your first grade self would think at this moment.
Lacey Robinson: My first grade self actually pops out of me all the time, because I remember at the end of that first grade year where it dawned on me that I could actually read. And that same energy, that same confidence that I watched my grandmother grow into, I began to take on myself. And I will tell you this, growing up and integrating a predominantly white school system was hard.
Susan Lambert: I bet.
Lacey Robinson: It was difficult. I had days that I would come home and I couldn't even talk because the tears were coming over me, but the one thing I held to be true was that I could read. And I would lose myself in books. I would wrap myself up in characters and lands and places. And what my mother told me that day she said she was holding me back, that once they gave me those tools, once they taught me how to read, nobody would ever be able to take that away. And I've carried that with me. That's the same flame that I have. That's the same flame that I use as we sit shoulder to shoulder in our educator community. I was very lucky. I met a librarian in my area who was Black. This is why representation matters. When I was in the fifth grade, she invited me to come volunteer at the local library and I never left.
Susan Lambert: Oh, that's awesome.
Lacey Robinson: I worked at that library through 12th grade and I devoured every text, every magazine, every article I could get my hands on. And I will tell you this, I learned to love to read. Not everybody has to love to read.
Susan Lambert: Amen.
Lacey Robinson: Everybody deserves the right to read.
Susan Lambert: Yeah. Wise words. I hesitate to even ask you this because this episode has been just full of wisdom and I'm just really looking forward to going back and listening to it, but what about final thoughts for our listeners? What do you have for them to take away?
Lacey Robinson: It feels like in these days, we have to mine a lot of hope. We have to dig down real deep and look for the glimmers of hope that I know that is there. And what I want to say to our listeners in our educator community, but even at the communities that sit next to the educator communities, is that there is hope there. We're in this moment where we're struggling to figure out what it means to educate our children. We're in this moment where we're trying to figure out, well, what will be the repercussions of what we've had to endure? And I will tell you that we are in a moment that we have an opportunity to plant hope, to water it and watch it grow. And the seeds of hope are in how we reposition who and what it means to be an educator in these United States, what does it take to be an educator in these United States, to ensure that all educators are equipped with the understanding of the science of reading so that when they go out into the field and they meet other philosophical views about reading, they can make the discernment, the true discernment of what their students need in order to be citizens of the world. There is hope out there. People are leaving this profession because they don't feel honored, but there is hope in the water because we have a moment where we can say," Stop. We believe in you. We need you. We can come together as a community and we will not allow these polarizing parts to destroy what we know to be true." I believe in the public school system. I believe in the teachers that stand it up and the leaders that go into it every single day. And I believe that this nation believes in them, but what I really know to be true is that that educator community needs a signal of hope from us as a nation. And with that hope, we can guarantee that the generations to come will be able to face whatever comes their way.
Susan Lambert: Lacey Robinson, it has been such an honor to have you. Your words again are so wise and inspiring, and we look forward to inviting you back to hear more about the work that's happening. Thank you again.
Lacey Robinson: Thank you. Thank you so much, Susan.
Susan Lambert: Thanks for listening and keep your feedback coming. Want to learn more? Be sure to stay connected by subscribing to your favorite podcast app and join our Facebook discussion group, Science of Reading: The Community. Don't forget to register for our new webinar series, The Science of Reading is for Everyone. Over the next few months, experts including Natalie Wexler, Dr. Jan Hasbrouck and Dr. Carolyn Strom will discuss how the science of reading can help all students. Educators like you will talk about their journeys with the science of reading and why making the change is worth it.
In this episode, host Susan Lambert is joined by Lacey Robinson, Chief Executive Officer of UnboundEd. Robinson opens the podcast by telling her personal story of learning to read, discussing those who influenced her, and sharing how literacy empowered her to pursue education reform.
Robinson emphasizes the responsibility that educational practitioners and leaders have to dismantle and eliminate all barriers to education. She helps to define equity and equitable instruction and describes the literacy experiences of Black students, stressing how an understanding of history is essential to moving forward and not repeating past mistakes. Lastly, Robinson outlines what productive struggle should look like in the classroom, encouraging educators to embrace their students’ local, cultural, linguistic, and historical context to enable more rigorous reading opportunities. Listen now.
“Not everybody has to love to read. Everybody deserves the right to read."
— Lacey Robinson
“I would lose myself in books. I would wrap myself up in characters and lands and places. My mother told me that day that once they taught me how to read, nobody would ever be able to take that away.” —Lacey Robinson