The Change Agent

Eileen Murphy

Founder and CEO of ThinkCERCA

The Objective

How Relevance and Rigor in Reading and Writing can make a difference for students.

Show Notes

What is the relationship between literacy and Social-Emotional Learning? Eileen Murphy, Founder and CEO of ThinkCERCA, joins the podcast to discuss how building student engagement and confidence in constructing knowledge can lead to achievement across content areas and help connect students to each other and the world around them.

Host Bio: Dr. Chris Balow is the Chief Academic Officer at SchoolMint.  Dr. Balow has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and served for 33 years as an educator in various roles with focuses on literacy, mental health, and the behavioral and emotional growth of students. He has worked the last 6 years in the educational technology field to promote student success on a larger scale.

Episode 26
Title: Instruction That Closes Gaps
Subtitle: How Relevance and Rigor in Reading and Writing can make a difference for students.

VoiceOver: 

Changegents in K-12 motivating transformation in education is presented by SchoolMint. Featuring in-depth conversations with top educational leaders, we are committed to the advancement of education through research exchange, idea sharing and enlightening discussions. Are you prepared to be a change agent?

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Welcome everybody to the next installment of ChangeAgents in K-12 . And this is your host, Chris Balow. Um, I have a rarity of a guest here today , uh , or rarity in ed tech, where we have a classroom teacher and educator who went on to innovate in amazing ways. And this person is Eileen Murphy. She's the founder and CEO of ThinkCERCA. ThinkCERCA is a web based literacy program for personalized, close reading that scaffolds the development of critical thinking and writing skills for students in grades three through 12, Eileen became passionate about her technology role that she could play in the 21st century as director of curriculum and instruction for more than a hundred high performing schools throughout Chicago public school system. Prior to her administrative role at the district office, Eileen was the founding English department chair at Walter Payton college prep, which was the number one ranked high school in Illinois. And she taught English for 15 years. She is also the author of 360 degrees of text using poetry to teach close reading and powerful writing. ThinkCERCA the company was the recipient of a Gates foundation, literacy courseware challenge grant, and a member of the inaugural class of impact engine Chicago's first social impact investment fund and accelerator. Eileen is also a Pahara Aspen fellow. So Eileen Murphy welcome to ChangeAgents in K-12 .

Eileen Murphy: 

Well, thanks for having me, Chris. I'm excited to be here.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Awesome. Well, you've got some exciting things happening at this company called ThinkCERCA. So tell us why and how did you start this?

Eileen Murphy: 

Well, it was a little crazy, I guess I had such an amazing opportunity early in my career. Um, my first job was at Whitney young high school, which if you've read Michelle Obama's book becoming Michelle Obama , uh, she talked a lot about the school because when I started teaching there, it was at the time ranked number one in Illinois, a really diverse school with just incredible students who went on to do incredible things. There are many more stories like Michelle Obama. And , uh, so as a young teacher, I was surrounded by excellence and had the opportunity then to start a school where again, amazing team of teachers and the students who redesigned and re-imagined things and implemented a plan that really touched a diverse group, probably more in terms of socioeconomic backgrounds and even exposure. Because even though we are a selective enrollment, when we started, we had a very diverse first year group of students that represented a pretty atypical selective enrollment inaugural class. But what we found was instruction closed gaps. And we had a team who is willing to just tinker and figure it out. And so had an entrepreneurial spirit and I was able to bring that to another innovative team within Chicago public schools, who is charged with essentially taking the higher performing schools off the district plate and saying, Hey, how about if you guys experiment with things and figure out what might work and then we'll scale those experiments to the rest of the district. So one of those experiments was the M N w E map growth assessment implementation. And we worked with a group of principals who did an amazing job using the tool and teachers who did an amazing job, creating resources to address the needs that were revealed in differentiating instruction and being data-driven. But there was like kind of a very small group of sort of super humans trying to do that work. And it just seemed very hard for a regular teacher who might have, you know, 150 kids and , um, a lot of, a lot of resource issues within a school and in the community. And , um, so I looked at it and said, okay, we're supposed to roll out at the time. It was common core state standards. How are we going to retool this entire group , um, to be able to do this and to also implement standards that they themselves may not have actually learned as students. And , um, it was really just that need that I saw. And , uh , essentially I thought, wow, my sister was in , in technology at CPS, she was rolling out like tens of thousands of iPads. And I was like, okay, we can fix this problem. We can make classroom instruction doable in a world where personalization and increased rigor is being demanded and we can make equitable access to this instruction a heck of a lot easier to do. So I had no plan or clue or money or network or, you know , anything. I just had an obsession with solving for the, what seemed like a terrible inequity that two miles away from our house in school. There were kids who were literally just never going to get to go to college, may not even finish high school. And there was no reason for, it seemed like a solvable problem.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Wow. Wow. That's amazing. You said something that was, you know, you just sort of said it quickly, but it like, wow. Hit me to my core. Instruction closes gaps. And it , it struck me because, you know, we, there's lots of things out there in terms of what we can do to close gaps, but great. First instruction has to be there, right?

Eileen Murphy: 

Yeah. Well, it's like there was no shortage of textbooks by you name the publisher. We had them all. Um, there was certainly no inequity about the assessments that were being administered to students. What was inequitable was that in some schools you had teachers who were very experienced, well-resourced supported by a great administration who, you know, just figured it out. And other schools, there was a lot of situations where in fact, the school that we built, our first prototype and had 32 kids in a classroom, one monolingual teacher, a very old textbook and in the particular class that we chose to prototype and pressure test, and there were 14 IEPs. And there were new arrivals, not even from one country, but several different countries in the middle of the year. And so those, you know , kind of situations made it just truly untenable to physically do it. And then add to that, that there were people like me who, when I was 22 and started teaching, I was like, Oh my gosh, whoever gave me this job should be fired because I am totally unqualified to do it. And essentially, you know, there's just, it was like people were set up for a lack of success. Not because they were unwilling or, or unwilling to work hard, everyone was working like crazy. It just wasn't working. Cause it wasn't doable.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Right. Right. So your company, you, so you , you described this process where you, you had this, these great ideas. So how did you get your company started?

Eileen Murphy: 

I literally started with like some printer paper and Crayola markers. I kept drawing the screens of what it would look like and because I had no, no money and I had no clue, like what , how you would go about building a technology. So I just kept doing that. And it wasn't until a couple of years later that I read the book, lean startup to find out that I was following the advice and playbook of , of startups, but I was just doing it because that was what I knew how to do. So I would show my screens to various people and then I would build them into like PowerPoints and make handouts. And I just really prototyped everything with real kids and real teachers and real principles . And eventually I found a web development firm that created a beta and that beta platform allowed me to test it for about a year. And , um, basically I kind of took my life savings and put it into that beta test. And it was through , um, you know, just continually applying for grants and things that we built the first version. And then after that, it was through our district partnerships where, you know, principals and district leaders would essentially pay us for that platform and those services. And through that wonderful partnership kept the bar very high in terms of what we delivered, because obviously they would our product, essentially if , if we didn't deliver the value. So it kept us on our toes constantly innovating and optimizing for the users. And that's how we kind of built what is now a company that reaches 42 States. And , um , we also have some global partnerships and , um, and so I credit it with hardcore great principals and district leaders just demanding more and more.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Wow. What a great story and, and something that , that people can, can learn from that anyone with a great idea and can, can bring it to market and be successful. Um, you're , you're a great inspiration Eileen to people know you mentioned some of these districts. So what are some district partners that , that you work with?

Eileen Murphy: 

Um, while we continue to work with Chicago public schools, I mean, we always say we were born and raised here. Um, we work with a lot of the larger urban districts across the country, New York city and LA and , um, Jefferson County, Kentucky , um, who again is sort of like just an incredibly high bar in terms of the instructional leadership at that district in terms of their sophistication about what they're looking for in teacher practice. And so , um, you know, those are some of our large urban district partners. We also work with some really small rural districts like Galesburg , um, where again, just really wonderful instructional leaders who have an expectation that we have to keep the bar high and , and make sure that every student is able to consume complex information. Think about it critically and express their point of view effectively. That's, that's it that's college and career readiness. And whether it's in rural or a suburban district where we tend to work with, I guess, the most innovative and often most highly resourced suburban districts, a lot of times , um, just outside of a Metro area, those seem to be like kind of the three earliest adopters, I would say in many ways of all technology and education , uh , because they're looking for ways to spring forward. And so they tend to innovate from state to state. It's the same pattern, big urbans , um, high, highly resourced, suburban, and then kind of a very innovative rural district leader.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Gotcha. So with this cross section of the country you're working with, what are some of the most pressing issues you see right now , um , with some of your district partners?

Eileen Murphy: 

Well, I would say even pandemic aside , um, you know, obviously that's kind of the most pressing issue for everybody, but, but even before the pandemic, I would say that, you know, the other big pressing issue for everybody is the social and emotional learning needs. Um , and the mental health concerns that people have about young people who are navigating obviously an incredibly , um, unprecedented time. But also I think they're navigating this generation of being digital natives, which seems like all wonderful, but at the same time, the exposure they've had to lots of things on the internet that we probably wouldn't have wanted them exposed to. And the isolation that comes from sort of the social media focused life that kids lead today, there's actually a lot of other issues going on that young people bring with them to school. And so teachers are trying to find ways to address those in the academic work that they're doing. And district leaders are certainly being asked to do that , um , by parents who are concerned with the stress , um, sometimes depression , um , just the shear anxiety that kids are feeling and the isolation that they're feeling.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yes. Well, and, and, you know, I'm a , uh, a school psychologist by , for most of my career. And so I definitely am concerned about some of these issues. I think there , there could be a whole generation of kids that have , um, long-term mental health and adjustment issues. And I was thinking too, that, you know, you mentioned the students, this kind of world of isolation and social media that they've grown into that engagement in the classroom and engaging kids must be a big challenge for our teachers.

Eileen Murphy: 

Yeah. I mean, I think especially if you add that, you know, the zoom experience to them where kids may feel less willing or safe to feel completely networked to their classmates. I mean, there are certainly high school teachers , um, or teachers everywhere who are teaching, cause they've never physically met in person. Um, and kids who are supposed to be pairing and sharing or doing some kind of small group breakout with kids they've never met in person . And so there's all of the regular sort of like teenage and adolescent experiences that are tough. But add to that, that there isn't that proximity and sort of the fringe benefits of going to a class , um, where you make friends and you have positive social interactions as well. So I think having , um, teachers be able to facilitate learning in such a way where you're really building community and creating social interactions that are meaningful and positive, and that also drive the kind of cognitive rigor that is, you know , the hallmark of a great classroom, the challenge of that is greater than ever before. So we're actually innovating around through all of those things at once right now in our product development.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

That's , that's fantastic. And, you know, SEL , I think several years ago was seen as an add-on , but your approach sounds like it's integrated with instruction and it's integrated with students in their cooperative learning and their group work and the relationships . So that, that's fantastic. So with that, how do you see relationship between building kids' literacy skills and SEL ?

Eileen Murphy: 

Well, first of all, like relevant content, of course , um, and pedagogically , uh , culturally relevant pedagogy , um, both of those things are critically important. Um, but it's, you know, for example, you know, we have a lesson called active citizenship, which is meeting all of the needs of the C3 framework in terms of primary sources and, you know, rigorous inquiry and , um, you know, evidence-based reading and writing and discussion and all of those kinds of things. But the stories that we're sharing are real students, real young people who are in the same age group as the kids who are reading those texts and the kinds of activities that we build into those experiences, which by the way, we deliver in a thing called circus slides so that the teacher presentation is already made. So the students can just, you can just jump in, put it on your zoom or put it into the front of your classroom. And that, along with the application of things, circus sort of lead students through this process of close reading collaboration and eventually writing. But throughout those experiences, the kinds of collaboration that we're asking students to do, or the kinds of questions we're asking students to pause and reflect on our combination of, let's say empathizing with character and doing sort of the character analysis, but also relating it back to your personal life. Um, because again, kids like most human beings are social. And when you take out the social as the pandemic has done for many , um , you take out a lot of the motivation and engagement, but when you put the social in there and then you actually support learning, self-awareness learning awareness of others learning responsible, decision-making it , it isn't an add on , and it's not something you do separately. It's kind of the reason why we have schools and why we educate our citizens instead of just kind of certifying them. It's about learning to raise it, you know, raising humans, not just college and career literate people.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yes, exactly. And, you know, it's, it's great because we , we expect to put kids in groups and have them empathize and , and cooperate and do all these things. And it's often out of context, but it sounds like your framework really provides a roadmap for teachers to help teach those SEL skills while they're learning to read and write. Would that be an accurate summary?

Eileen Murphy: 

Yeah. We're, we're aligning everything that we're doing in literacy to the castle framework and also to the teaching tolerance, social justice standards. We have a culturally relevant pedagogy sort of , um, set of, of, of notes in our, in our lessons and supporting videos to help teachers build their, to do that. Um, because again, it's, it's kind of like when you were a little kid and , and your mom said, say, thank you. You wouldn't have learned how to do that. As something that's now probably very automatic to you, if someone wasn't attending to that and really make going out of their way to make sure that you were developing in those ways. And I think that as students, again, live so much of their lives socially , um, in cyberspace where there isn't that adult who's nurturing those important , um, kind of norms, that's the role that our schools are essentially going to play. And we can't put new things on to teacher's plates. We have to make sure that what's going on to their plates is getting the job done in a number of areas that we now know much better about than we did a few years ago.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Right. Wow. Great, great, great advice. Um, let me back up a little bit, Eileen , so your company ThinkCERCA, so CERCA is an acronym for something we should tell people what that is.

Eileen Murphy: 

I always forget is if everyone knows what it is. Um, yeah, it's actually, it stands for claim, evidence, reasoning, counterargument , and audience. And well, first of all, one of the reasons why that was the basis of the company was to be honest, I would walk into , um, some of the schools that I was supposed to be helping , um , in terms of improving instruction. And I would introduce this evidence-based framework and the principals would inevitably lean over and be like, Oh my God, I think even the math teachers are going to do this. Um, it was like one of the few things where everyone looked at it like, yeah, that's actually logical. I get why it would be important for a kid to understand how to make a claim and support it with evidence and explain their reasoning and every subject. And then the idea of there being this civil way of, you know, maybe looking at an alternative viewpoint or disagreeing with somebody, I get that. And then using the language of my discipline. Okay, this makes sense to me, I'll do it. And then what happened was, as people began to see it as a framework for student writing, where they could all share the same words , um, and then in the platform, you can all share the same data. Um, you can look as a team and say, look, we're all telling this kid the same thing. They all have to work on evidence. So why don't we just focus on that in our feedback and then celebrate that success. And if we need parents to jump in, we now have a common language that's understandable in the outside world and not just in our jargon in the industry. And so it made a really nice like kind of way to bring everyone on to the, to the student's literacy team together , um, without disrespecting , um, the fact that people have content to teach in their discipline and that it's their job to make sure that happens. Um , so we couldn't ask people to just move away from literacy. We had to find a literacy framework that works for every discipline in every grade. And then it becomes also a lens. I mean, hear kids now looking at the text and , and basically saying like, what's the circuit here, like at looking at a claim, I'm looking for evidence that an author has in the words that suggest their point of view. So it's also a really good lens for reading. And then , um, we also have , uh, a lot of, as you mentioned, collaboration that we do. And so kids CERCA things out, you know, and it's, it's good civil discussion and debate that's evidence-based. And , um, it means that people actually walk away going, okay. I actually understand a lot more about this topic now because of the other people's point of view, not just because, and I , and I don't have to agree with it or disagree with it. I just know a lot more about it because now I've heard all of these other perspectives.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yes. Yeah, indeed. And, you know, John Hattie's work found that conceptual change programs are one of the most powerful learning tools. And it sounds like with the counter argument and looking at alternative viewpoints, that's really the essence of giving me a new concept of things which drives my learning.

Eileen Murphy: 

Yeah. It, it deepens it and it pretty quickly takes you from a novice and a content area to an expert in the sense that if you measure expertise by one's ability to kind of look at five different mental models of a thing versus only one that you can barely grasp it's it is through that social engagement that , um, you know, literally there's, you know , research out of UCLA that just shows the social parts of our brain are actually much better at learning that than the , uh, analytical parts of our brain. And so it actually just makes for a really good class, the kind where the bell rings and the kids are still talking and you have to kind of kick them out or they go to their next class.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

So , um, what you're talking about is really that ThinkCERCA helps writing across the content areas. So there's writing happening across the board. And, and how would you say that, that, you know, we talk a lot about critical thinking that kids need to learn critical thinking skills that you, you re you really support that it sounds like.

Eileen Murphy: 

Yeah. I mean , um, essentially my, our belief is that you , you can't have rigor without engagement. And so no matter what content area , um, you're trying to increase rigor in you, you have to get kids engaged. And so giving them a question, like how did the , the shot clock change the NBA? And now give me the mathematical argument for that. And , um, you know, hash it out with the people at your table. Those are the kinds of engagements that lead to that deeper critical thinking where the world is not made up of. I , you know , of multiple choice questions. Google does not read lexile for you. Um, you know, you basically have to able to search the internet, find a bunch of complex texts, figure out which ones are legitimate and then synthesize these different and probably perfectly valid points of view into your own point of view. And that's where our tagline comes in, which is too that we spark courageous thinking. We want kids to have confidence, not only in their own knowledge, but their ability to construct knowledge and , um, and then to assert their voice effectively, because it really does matter that, you know , people feel confident because imagine on your team, if you had a bunch of people sitting there with great ideas who are afraid to open their mouth and assert those great ideas, it's not the kind of situation you want to build organizationally. And it's certainly not the kind of situation that makes for the best learning. So that, that framework does give you the chance to build their argument, or is one of our fourth graders on said to me, the reason why who ThinkCERCA is because it helps prove his opinion, give them confidence, you know, and that's really important for learners. Is that feeling of self-advocacy

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yes. And, you know, working in the private sector, you know, we look for people in the term use construct knowledge and who can take disparate pieces of information and create a new ways of thinking about doing things. That's, that's how people really can earn a high income is when they can do that.

Eileen Murphy: 

Yep , absolutely. And just like, cause such huge innovations , um, you know, when you can like kind of see the connections across worlds and disciplines, it's, it's pretty cool. Um, I just had an experience like this within our own team today where, you know, some of the younger people on our team who had worked more in the digital community building space and, you know, their innovations around how they think we can get kids engaged using some of those techniques that we use. And honestly like a beauty product analogy. And it's like, okay, that speaks to that . That's like culturally responsive pedagogy that speaks to linking to the world that kids live in today and making, you know , some of the things that maybe Aristotle was teaching relevant to two students, so we can meet them where they are, you know, and empower them in both worlds.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Wow, great. You know, there seems to be a bi-directional relationship between reading and writing. And so could you describe how writing helps to build reading comprehension skills that they have to both be happening?

Eileen Murphy: 

When I was a teacher, I taught a creative writing class and being in Chicago , um , and actually kind of like near the places people wanted to be in the city. I had the opportunity to have a lot of great writers visit my classroom. And as one of them, Alexander Humanae said writing is reading in reverse. And so when we look at a text and things circa and do the kind of close reading that we ask kids to do, we are essentially , um , they're going to build their own argument or they're going to build a piece of writing, like a narrative that models, these great techniques that they've read about, but you actually have to do a close reading for that to happen. And , um, and that means really appreciating the author's craft the structure, the word choice, you know, everything about it , um, is basically influenced by their close reading. And then, you know, so that means that their writing becomes the, you know, kind of built on the genius of other writers sometimes, but also , um, certainly when it comes to looking at their own writing through the lens of CERCA , um, as they can learn , look at their writing or another person's writing through that same lens of circa, it really does mirror kind of the same stuff you'd be asked on an assessment , um, such as what's the central idea, that's your claim? What are the details that support it? There you go. There's your evidence , um , how to different pieces of the texts relate to one another that's like sat and act in a nutshell.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah, yeah, exactly. I've had the chance to read some of the research by Steve Graham who I know, you know, and, you know, he he's, you know, made the , the assertion many times that students just don't write enough. Would you agree with that?

Eileen Murphy: 

Yeah. Um, you know, one of the unfortunate things about writing for everybody involved is that it's, it's hard, you know, unfortunately only about 24% of American students graduate at a high school level of readiness with writing skills and yeah, it's, it's a really disturbing fact it's actually lower than reading achievement . The really sad thing about that is imagine a world where you can't write an effective email or you lack confidence around writing an effective email, like how disempowering that is from an economic access standpoint. The challenge of course, is that we kind of stack one teacher up against 180 kids in some cases. And in , in those cases, often either students who may have had other non-optimal learning experiences in the past with teachers who are under-resourced in terms of time. And so what we try to do is , um, scaffold the process the way great teachers would, would do and would prepare every lesson if they could, which they probably wouldn't be able to. Um , we try to scaffold that process. We try to leverage the other kids in collaboration and peer review, and some other steps that we encourage and build in to clarify thinking, and also to increase the student's motivation to write . And so it's not just about compliance. I have to hand this in, but it's like, I have a point of view I need to share. And so even if you can't grade every single thing that the kids give to you, and ThinkCERCA the pieces where you do take the time to give feedback. And we have a lot of strategies for sort of low touch, high impact feedback. That is what makes a student plod on. And you know , some of the other tools that we're developing now also involve automating some feedback in a way that's still meaningful because kids still want a human being to have registered their thoughts. Um, but it certainly saves teachers a lot of time and that's really important, but yeah, the more under-resourced our teachers are, the more likely it is that students are not given the opportunity to write and get feedback. And unfortunately, based on everything I just described about reading comprehension and deeper learning experiences, not to mention the practical skill of being able to write effectively, all of those things are lost in those situations. So to make it scalable, we have to make it doable. And that's kind of the goal of ThinkCERCA .

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah, well, it sounds like you've created a tool set that will make it more efficient for teachers and students to write and doing it across the curriculum because you know, what I've observed in the private sector is that powerful writing is essential to, to achieve great economic success and high income. You have to be an effective writer. And it's noted. I think our young people today , um, they're spending a lot of their writing in terms of emojis and, you know. Um, so that that's really important. Um, I also read from Graham , as I recall that the teachers are , are somewhat reluctant to teach writing by and large, even some English teachers, which , which obviously you weren't reluctant because you , you did it, but

Eileen Murphy: 

Yeah, but you know, the challenge is that this is not a new thing. You know, kids not having instruction in writing didn't start this year or when emojis came along, it started, you know, a hundred years ago. Um, because it's so labor intensive , um, you know, kids who went to private schools, kids who went to elite selective enrollment situation . Sure. They all got it, but did everybody else get it? Do you, as a teacher feel like you got it, I can tell you when I graduated from a school that was just kind of, I would say probably everyone would think of it as an average school. Um, I couldn't right . And so when I started teaching at Whitney young, where again, the kids were in selective enrollment, so they were already super high performing kids. Who'd been exposed to all sorts of wonderful learning experiences. I felt like a lot of it , I had self-efficacy issues. And I think when I hear teachers talking about writing, sometimes it sounds like math where people will joke about being bad at it. You know, I don't hear people saying that about reading. I don't hear people saying that about , um , a number of things, but people think of writing as a hard thing it's vulnerable , um, cause it's easy to make about people. And so I think one of the other investments we have to make as a country is making sure that the teachers have courageous thinking about their own writing. So we're actually developing some professional learning experiences around that. Just making sure that you feel confident writing so that when it comes time to give kids feedback, you're not wondering whether you're right or not, which is a big problem for a lot of teachers. And I empathize with it . I have that problem myself.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Have you done any work with colleges and universities around pre-service? So, so teachers actually learn how to teach writing.

Eileen Murphy: 

Um, we have, we used to actually be able to do , uh, they, they shop their , their outside partner accreditation program, but we did have a university partner and we're actually in the process of looking for partners and potentially even Whetstone and , and others who are providing , um, hopefully that the highest quality and , and portable and sort of, you know , um, easy to do on your time kind of experiences. So we work currently with partners at the school district to deliver these. Um, but we are looking for partners to make sure that, you know, colleges , um , can accredidate et cetera as well and are certainly open to college , um , partners who would be interested in doing it.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Well, you mentioned Whetstone and that's an instructional coaching platform and for which is to provide feedback and for teachers to access , um, professional development resources, it seems like , um, instructional coaching would just be a godsend to teachers to help them develop this integrated literacy reading and writing framework.

Eileen Murphy: 

Yeah. And also, like I said, sort of the strategies for making it doable , um, for themselves, you know, sort of , um, you know, a plus one and a personal growth , um, those kinds of things , um, strategies that make it, when you are mismatched in terms of the job you're given, go teach kids how to write . And then, you know, the number of students are given that's a reality in our current industry that yes, we should work toward that change. But in the meantime, we've got kids whose economic and probably academic future , um, depend on us making sure that they have equitable access to writing instruction. And so we view our best to like provide some of those tips that keep kids eager to keep writing for the extra practice, but also give feedback that's targeted and useful , um, to , they can see their improvement , which is the best part for teachers.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah, for sure. Awesome. Well, one final question. Our time's getting short. Um, so with all your work across the country, what do you say to district leaders who are struggling with how to implement some of these equity initiatives?

Eileen Murphy: 

Well I would say that you kind of have to remember the words of Abraham Lincoln, who reminds us that we're not going to keep everybody happy all the time. Right. Um, you know, cause it's political work in a sense, you know, there are people from all sides kind of pushing for various agendas, but at the end of the day as district leaders, we have an opportunity with like 55 million kids in our system today who in the next generation can actually deliver on some of the promises that we've been working toward for hundreds of years. And as a friend who just became a superintendent and I won't mention the district, but it's a large district in California. She said when she learned of students in her district and she's a woman of color , um, and students in her district were posting pictures of a Confederate swag on and social media and everyone sort of wanted, was outraged and wanted to, you know , uh, punished kids, et cetera. You know, she talked about it as you know, I think we should, which is there's going to be these different points of view. And , and they're not all , um, defensible, but these are our kids. And just like kids in your own home, who, for whatever reason, based on what they were exposed to say things that they shouldn't, we're not going to say, sorry, we're taking you out of our house now because you weren't the person we wanted you to be. We're going to say, how can we help you be the person that can respect yourself, respect others, and frankly, leave the world in a better place than you found it at it . If we all, as district leaders can put our own politics aside and really some of the politics that are extreme on various sides. And remember that if we have to respect every kid respect , um , and , and teach every kids who respect themselves and others and leave the world in a better place, there's no other route other than to make sure that we're equipping teachers with true instructional tools that can help us support equity. It's just the way it has to be.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Awesome. Well, I, that's , uh , awesome, excellent advice. And we've come to the end of our time. I lean and I want to thank you for spending time with us. Um, but before you go, you have to , um, participate in our little game called this or that. And so it's very simple. I say two things and you tell me which one you prefer. Um, none of them are embarrassing. Trust me there. Um , and you can explain your rationale if you, which, if you wish, in fact you could provide your evidence. So a dog or cat?

Eileen Murphy: 

Oh, Oh gosh. That's a tough one, but I have a dog right now. I used to have cats . So I'm going to have to go with dog .

Dr. Chris Balow: 

You gonna have to go with dog. Sounds good. Uh, Netflix or YouTube?

Eileen Murphy: 

Netflix. I'm really loving the shows on Netflix these days and the original movies are pretty awesome.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah. There you go. I've been watching a lot of old, old movies from the fifties and sixties, forties, even. So , um , with all the time we have.

Eileen Murphy: 

Right.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

When you're walking, do you prefer listening to music or a podcast?

Eileen Murphy: 

Oh , um, you know what? I take a walk with my husband every morning. So I guess I prefer listening to either him or, or silence. I don't usually listen to podcasts .

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Fair enough. Are you an iOS or Android person?

Eileen Murphy: 

IOS all the way.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Okay. Cake or pie?

Eileen Murphy: 

Cake.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Um , do you like a big party or a small gathering?

Eileen Murphy: 

Hmm . I can go either way. I love parties period.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Okay. All right . Um, so baseball or football?

Eileen Murphy: 

Hmm . Baseball.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Baseball. Okay .

Eileen Murphy: 

I still don't understand how football works.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Okay. Gotcha. Um , so which do you prefer doing the laundry or doing the dishes?

Eileen Murphy: 

Uh, dishes.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Okay. You prefer the dishes . Okay. Um, hamburger or taco?

Eileen Murphy: 

Hamburger.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Okay. Online shopping or shopping in a store?

Eileen Murphy: 

I like them both depends on what I'm shopping for.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

But you got to choose now Eileen. Come on.

Eileen Murphy: 

All right . Well, the experience of shopping itself for the experience of shopping, I prefer to be in the store.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Okay. Sounds good.

Eileen Murphy: 

If I want to get stuff, online.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Good. Um, so do you prefer a TV show or a movie?

Eileen Murphy: 

A movie.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

As an English teacher, TV or book?

Eileen Murphy: 

Oh yeah. Uh, if I had time to, you know what, I've been a big fan of audio books lately , um , because I can do it in between , um, you know, as I'm doing other things like cleaning the house or whatever.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah. Or driving the car or whatever.

Eileen Murphy: 

Yeah.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah, definitely. Well, let's do one more toilet paper over or under?

Eileen Murphy: 

Hmm . Good question. Um, never thought about that one. I have to say, I'm going to go with under.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

You're going to go with under. Okay, good. And I'm not going to ask for your evidence on that, but , Um , I was told by one guest that MIT did a study and they would agree with you that.

Eileen Murphy: 

Interesting.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

From an engineering perspective. So once again, thank to Eileen Murphy, founder and CEO of ThinkCERCA a fantastic literacy platform. Everybody check it out. Thanks again Eileen.

Eileen Murphy: 

Thanks so much, Chris. Great conversation.

VoiceOver: 

Thank you for listening to the ChangeAgents in K12 podcast brought to you by SchoolMint. Find us on all major podcast platforms and make sure to subscribe, so you never miss a show. Have a story to share?We want to hear it. Record a three to five minute audio pitch detailing your experience in working to become a change agent and why educators need to hear from you. Send your audio files to podcast@schoolmint.com . Join the conversation and help us advance towards the bright years ahead. See you next time.

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Season 1

District Spotlight: Evanston/Skokie School District 65 28 District Spotlight: Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Dr. Devon Horton joins the podcast to discuss his district's ability to recruit and retain high-quality teachers. Listen Now District Spotlight:  Caroline County Public Schools 27 District Spotlight: Caroline County Public Schools Dr. Herb Monroe joins the podcast for an inspiring discussion of his personal experiences, the influence of educators, and creating lasting change. Listen Now Instruction That Closes Gaps 26 Instruction That Closes Gaps Eileen Murphy, Founder and CEO of ThinkCERCA, joins the podcast to discuss the relationship between literacy and Social-Emotional Learning. Listen Now District Spotlight: Santa Ana Unified School District 25 District Spotlight: Santa Ana Unified School District Using “strategic foresight” in order to plan for, innovate, and meet the challenges of our new educational environment, such as declining enrollment and social/emotional well-being... Listen Now District Spotlight: Greeley-Evans School District Six 24 District Spotlight: Greeley-Evans School District Six Dr. Pilch discusses challenges and triumphs facing districts and superintendents with valuable advice for future school leaders. Listen Now District Spotlight: Moreno Valley Unified School District 23 District Spotlight: Moreno Valley Unified School District How can districts engage with their community and encourage their students to succeed, regardless of their situation? Dr. Martinrex Kedziora, Superintendent Moreno Valley USD, explains... Listen Now District Spotlight: Seminole County Public Schools 22 District Spotlight: Seminole County Public Schools Guest Dr. Walt Griffin, Superintendent of Seminole County Public Schools, shares how his district’s focus on building relationships, changing the culture, and taking good care... Listen Now District Spotlight: Illinois School District U-46 21 District Spotlight: Illinois School District U-46 In this District Spotlight, Tony Sanders (Superintendent of Illinois School District U-46) describes his professional journey to leading the second largest school district in Illinois.... Listen Now What Makes Us Different 20 What Makes Us Different How can we build a more inclusive system in order to make things better for all? Join guest, Dr. Kenneth Magdaleno, as he discusses his... Listen Now Rising to the Challenge 19 Rising to the Challenge Guest Joe McKown discusses some of the challenges faced in education - including poverty, absenteeism, student behavior, and school climate - and provides data and... Listen Now Brain and Behavior: The Inseparable Link 18 Brain and Behavior: The Inseparable Link With a compelling discussion of trauma and brain science, Dr. Lori Desautels explains how educators can use educational neuroscience to better understand student behavior and... Listen Now Creating Conditions For Powerful Learning: Answering the “Big Questions” 17 Creating Conditions For Powerful Learning: Answering the “Big Questions” How do we define ‘learning’ and how can educators support powerful learning in schools? Guest Will Richardson, former educator for 22 years and co-founder of... Listen Now Connect, Learn, and Grow: An Educator’s Evolution 16 Connect, Learn, and Grow: An Educator's Evolution Guest Dr. Rachelle Dene Poth explains the importance of being a “Connected Educator” and how unconventional teaching can change engagement and outcomes for students. Poth's... Listen Now Marketing Matters 15 Marketing Matters Are you telling your school’s story? Guest Nick LeRoy, Founder and President of Bright Minds Marketing, examines the rise in school choice and its effect... Listen Now Student Agency and the “Big Picture” 14 Student Agency and the “Big Picture” Guest Dr. Elliot Washor, co-founder of Big Picture Learning, joins us to share the impact of his organization and their work to foster learning spaces... Listen Now Social Justice In Education 13 Social Justice In Education Guest Dr. Kate Anderson Foley shares her thoughts on educational social justice, including anecdotes from her personal and professional journey. Hear her thoughts on policy... Listen Now District Spotlight: Minnetonka Public Schools 12 District Spotlight: Minnetonka Public Schools In this District Spotlight, guest Dr. Dennis Peterson (Superintendent of Minnetonka Public Schools) shares lessons learned from his 50+ years of experience, explains the unique... Listen Now Organizational Redesign Through the “Equity Lens” 11 Organizational Redesign Through the “Equity Lens” Guest Dr. Stacy Scott discusses how to make equity work in schools, including what challenges may be faced and the characteristics to promote organization success.... Listen Now Formulating A Positive School Climate 10 Formulating A Positive School Climate What do SEL and School Climate efforts look like in practice and how can we continue to improve? Guest Heather Anderson discusses strategies used in... Listen Now Equity, Excellence, and Engagement: How can we accomplish it all? 9 Equity, Excellence, and Engagement: How can we accomplish it all? Guest Dr. Doug Reeves takes a deep dive into equity, excellence, and student engagement, sharing information on his personal research, common obstacles, best practices, as... Listen Now District Spotlight: Fort Worth Independent School District 8 District Spotlight: Fort Worth Independent School District In this District Spotlight, guest Dr. Kent Scribner, Superintendent of Fort Worth ISD, shares their response to the pandemic. Dr. Scribner also discusses leadership in... Listen Now Moving Forward Together 7 Moving Forward Together With all the recent events, what considerations must schools take into account when it’s time to reopen? Guest Dr. Dennis Carpenter discusses challenges and the... Listen Now School Spotlight: Southwest Allen County Schools 6 School Spotlight: Southwest Allen County Schools In this school spotlight, guest Dr. Phil Downs, Superintendent of SW Allen County Schools, offers thoughtful dialogue on preparations and practices that have been most... Listen Now Becoming Transformational in Education 5 Becoming Transformational in Education How do we define transformation in education and what challenges lay ahead? Guest Gary Soto provides an extensive dialogue on what schools need to focus... Listen Now School Spotlight: Hilliard City Schools 4 School Spotlight: Hilliard City Schools In this school spotlight, guest Dr. John Marschhausen (Superintendent of Hilliard City Schools) shares district information and answers questions related to the pandemic closures. Dr.... Listen Now Post-Pandemic Preparation 3 Post-Pandemic Preparation How has the pandemic affected students and how should schools address these needs when preparing to reopen? Dr. Howie Knoff provides valuable answers to these... Listen Now PBIS & SEL: Conversation and Challenges 2 PBIS & SEL: Conversation and Challenges An in-depth discussion on Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) with guest Dr. Don Kincaid. Key factors to school success and... Listen Now Change is good: Transforming the way we think about “School” 1 Change is good: Transforming the way we think about “School” Guest Dr. Scott McLeod engages in a compelling discussion about how schools can work to transform education in a way that can increase student motivation,... Listen Now