Susan Riley: Welcome to Artworks for Teachers. I’m your host, Susan Riley. I’m an educator, entrepreneur, and arts integration evangelist. Each week we’ll explore how teachers can crack the code of creativity and use it as a hidden advantage in and out of the classroom. You’ll hear from authors. And educators sharing their stories and their strategies for unlocking the power of curiosity and creativity.
Let’s get going. Hey there, friend. I hope you’re having a great day. Today’s podcast features an interview with Kyle Schwartz. Now, if you don’t know Kyle, Kyle is a third grade teacher from Denver, Colorado. She works in a, in a tiny little element. School, neighborhood, elementary school with students that are about 90% of her students identify as title one and speak more than one language at home.
So she’s working with a very diverse population of students and loves it. And I can’t wait for you to hear today’s interview because she is passionate about providing equitable opportunities for her students in a variety of ways, including Upfront and explicit about talking about things like race and culture in her classroom with her students.
And right now in where we are in the state of things in the world, that takes bravery, , in my opinion, for teachers to be able to do. In a way that is supportive and meaningful for the students that you’re working with. And so Kyle’s gonna be sharing a lot about that today in her interview, as well as talking about the movement that she started called, I Wish my teacher knew years ago, she was using this lesson of just asking her students.
To finish the prompt, I wish my teacher knew and it blew up into this viral sensation among educators. So she’s gonna tell the story about how that happened, as well as other things that she’s working on right now. So I can’t wait for you to give this a listen. Let’s go. Hi, Kyle. Welcome, welcome. I’m so glad you’re here.
Hi. Hi. So Kyle, would you, as we start, can you, just for people who don’t know you, can you kind of give a little bit of background about yourself and who you are what you do, and then we’ll kind of, kind of dive into some of the of some interesting components you’ve got going on.
Kyle Schwartz: Yeah. So I guess primarily I’m a teacher.
I’ve taught in Denver and Denver public schools for the last 10 years. Mostly in third, second third and second grade. And then last year I was a reading interventionist and a reading teacher for first, second, and third grade. But what some people may know me from my books or my speaking.
Several years ago, a lesson from my classroom kind of got on and went viral. And from that I was really able to share that lesson where teachers really just ask this simple and beautiful question. What do you wish your teacher. Mm. And from that, you know, kids would answer things like, I wish my teacher knew, I love my family, or I wish my teacher knew.
I wanna go to college. Or some of my students would say, I wish my teacher knew I don’t have pencils at home to do my homework. So it really opened up a lot of conversation in the teacher world. Mm-hmm. Really about the reality that kids are facing when they go to school. So based on that, Was really excited to write a book of the same name.
It was called, I Wish My Teacher Knew how One Question can change everything for our kids. And it really delved into that stuff. What are the realities that kids are facing when they go to school? What’s the research behind it and what are things the actual. Human teachers like myself can do to support kids in their classroom.
And then I also got the chance to write another book focusing on student engagement and empowerment called I Wish for Change. But that’s, that’s me in a nutshell. ,
Susan Riley: again, I keep talking to teachers and I keep saying, Y’all have so much free time, I can just you don’t do anything else other than you know, No, never the case.
So, Where you teach, give, describe where in, in Denver what your, your student population looks like. Like give us a kind of a picture of where you are teaching.
Kyle Schwartz: Yeah, so my school that I’ve taught at the past 10 years is called Dowell Elementary. Mm-hmm and we’re the Dowell owls, which is super cool cause it rhymes.
And I think we’re just like a little gem of a school where, you know, a school, not even a lot of people even in our neighborhood know about us. Cause we’re kind of like tucked away back in the neighborhood. But we’ve got. Like gorgeous little playground and like a big old, like six year old oak tree in our school.
And so it’s just this wonderful little school, regular, original flavor, neighborhood school, , you know? And for, we have a really strong community, but we also do face some challenge. So about 90% of our kids qualify for free and reduced lunch, and that is kind of a proxy for kids that are living below or very near to the poverty line.
Mm-hmm. Between like a third and half of our kids are learning English at school. They’re multilingual learners. They speak mostly Spanish at home. Mm-hmm. What else? Oh, about 20 to 25% of our students actually qualify for special education services. And about 90% of our kids identify Hispanic, Latino, Chicano, mostly with Mexican and Mexican American roots.
So just in a snapshot, that’s our, our little gym of a.
Susan Riley: Nice. So I just, I love getting that perspective because I, I talk with all kinds of different teachers who are teaching in so many different environments, and so when we’re, when we’re hearing from each other, it’s always such a great idea to get the picture of what you are working with every day and what your life looks like.
So that I can relate, or even if it, if it doesn’t relate directly to me, I have a better understanding of where you’re coming from. And
Kyle Schwartz: I think that’s so important. Yeah, I completely agree. Because I think the context of where we’re teaching really is important in talking about you know, what is impacting our school, what can help our schools what our needs are.
Because, you know, not every school is the. But not every school has the same resources and what could be best practice in your school may not work in my school or you know, vice versa. So I agree. I think the context is really important. Yeah. So
Susan Riley: I know, and it sounds, I can definitely tell right now, but I know that you are passionate about providing equitable learning possibilities for all students across the board.
I absolutely. So what are some ways that you do.
Kyle Schwartz: Well I think it is really important to center equity in your classroom, and one way that I do that is I talk about it explicitly with kids. Mm. So like in my classroom, like. We really like are open and we talk about your identity. We talk about race, we talk about racism and bias.
We talk about stereotypes and I think that’s really important. I know it’s kind of a. Scary thing for some teachers, especially white teachers like myself to approach. It’s not something we’re always comfortable with or we have experience with, but it is so important. So really I, you know, I make it apart.
Of like all my lessons and I don’t try to like sugar coat it. I don’t try to like walk around it. We talk about it in really age appropriate ways. Mm-hmm. , but we talk about it really explicitly and I think that’s important. , I, you know After we talked about stereotypes and you know, we did some examples and some worksheets on it.
I remember like for the rest of the year, the kids were like, That’s a stereotype, or, you know, like, Hey, no, you know, and I even I remember we were doing like virtual teaching, you know, back at, during the pandemic , and I remember like a mom said something about, I don’t know, like maybe her son being like a wild boy or crazy like energetic boy.
And her son was even like, Hey, that’s a stereotype . Not all boys are wild and energetic. Some girls are too, some boys. So it was really, it’s really great to see. I think it pays dividends to be explicit about it and to have that openness about equity. and just tackle it head on and not be afraid.
Susan Riley: and I think, I mean, kudos to you because that is something that I know a lot of people, especially right now in the conversation that’s going on in our country, in the world, they are very nervous to approach that conversation with students. Do you find when you do have those open and honest conversations that you learn just as much as you’re.
Kyle Schwartz: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I, I will say like, I wasn’t always so explicit about it, especially when I first started teaching. You know, I always wanted to be equity minded, but I wa you know, I, I didn’t just talk about it with kids, you know, I maybe say like, you know, everybody’s welcome or like, we all should like, like each other for who we are on the inside.
You know, we’re kind of like little. What do you call euphemisms like that to talk about issues of equity with kids. But I found when I got really explicit about it, kids, you know, I really learned a lot about what their experiences are and I just being able to name it for them I think was really powerful.
Mm-hmm. , I remember Really it was right. I remember it was right before we got shut down for the pandemic, like right before , everything happened and we were doing like this kind of self-created unit on race and you know, we had some posters up and we were doing some read aloud books and kids really started sharing their experiences.
And I remember one girl she was saying, You know, once we explained, we talked about racism and we read some books about it, she shared that her So she that it was, she was in her apartment buildings and they were kind of have a balcony and she remembers like someone yelling at her grandmother to like go back to her country and.
She remembers like, she was like scared and so she just ran inside and so she shared that with the class. And so to be able to name that, for her to be like, No, that wasn’t just rudeness, that wasn’t just someone being mean and loud, like that was someone showing like racist behavior. I think that that was really powerful for her and.
You know, unfortunately, it’s like there were a lot of experiences like that that my students had had. And for me that was, I guess I would say it was a surprise because you don’t wanna think that kids have experienced things that blatantly and that explicitly, but I realized yeah, they have and they know it and they like see it.
Mm-hmm. . And it’s important to.
Susan Riley: Mm. Do you feel like the the question of, I wish my teacher knew that prompt and the
Kyle Schwartz: responses that you received from your students,
Susan Riley: do you feel like that has helped you to be more direct and explicit in being able to name it and empower those kinds of conversations?
Kyle Schwartz: You know, I do even things like students would say like, Oh, I wish my teacher spoke my language. And to talk about like, Oh, what does it mean that like you speak another language at home, or What does it mean that your teacher doesn’t speak that language or that no one at your school speaks that language?
So we, that there’s been that kind of like really clear examples, but then there’s also been examples like you know, kids just saying like, what they’re interested in. Like what is really exciting for them, whether it’s like video games or the Denver Broncos or skateboarding you know, all of that really makes up our students culture.
Mm-hmm. . And, you know, I shared before that about 90% of our students are Hispanic, Latino, Chicano. Lots of different names for how people identify in our school, but a lot of that, especially for like white teachers like me mm-hmm. . We kind of have one conception of what it means to be Latino and what that culture is.
Mm-hmm. . But when you actually open it up and you say like, Well, what is something that’s important to you? How do you celebrate at your home? What are the things that you care most about? I think it really, you know, opens your mind up about what is our kids’ culture. Mm-hmm. , you know, and how we can include that in the classroom.
Like I think it’s really important to bring in some of my students, like shared history, especially in Denver. We have this amazing history of the Chicano rights movement, and so we talk about that in our. But also like a part of your culture is like how your whole family comes over and watches the Denver Broncos game and how you’re a little tired cause the game went late last night.
And so to bring that into our class and maybe use those examples in our math problems, or you just use those examples like, Oh, remember those Denver Broncos, they didn’t give up last night and you’re gonna keep going just like them. I think that’s a great. To tap into culture of our students and use it to support them in our classroom
Susan Riley: as well.
Yeah. You make such a great point. And that was actually where I was gonna head next. You kind of, you read my mind because I was wondering, like you, so it’s one thing to, to gather all the information about what, what. Our students wish that we, they, we knew about them, but it’s another thing completely to honor that because that’s what really matters, right?
That’s what matters to them, is the actions that we take. And so I love how you’re bringing that into your classroom and I think, you know, We’re all pressed for time as
Kyle Schwartz: educators, and so we’re constantly
Susan Riley: kind of looking for, for resources and downloads and everything. And I love how you mentioned making that personalized so
Kyle Schwartz: that even just a small thing
Susan Riley: like adding that to your math problems or you know, just small items with naming students within the, the questions that you’re asking or framing a writing prompt around something that you had shared
Kyle Schwartz: in your classroom.
Susan Riley: So helpful that, you know not everything has to be just kind of templated. We can in ensure that we’re representing our students in our classrooms that way. I love that you do that. How else, how else do you bring in what you’ve learned about your students into your classroom and honor them in that way?
Kyle Schwartz: You know, I think another great way, especially if teachers are kind of like, I was at the beginning of my teaching where you really want to like, like we’ve said, bring in that student culture in real authentic ways, but you’re not real sure how, because let’s be honest, our teacher prep programs did not talk about it enough.
I think one way is to bring in like celebrations mm-hmm. and so. You know, I think there’s kind of two ways to do it. One is to do like Cinco de Mayo and kind of bring in those stereotypes of like subres and tacos and have like a taco day for Cinco de Mayo. But another way to do it is to like really dig into that history and have kids learn about Sinco de Mayo and learn.
What it meant in Denver. And you can apply that to like whatever context students in your classroom have. Like what is something people know about your culture? And then let’s dig into it a little bit more. Speaking of celebrations, I think a great way to do it is to. Tap those students and make them leaders.
Mm. So I have for many years now if like celebrated things like Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year, or Tet with students who are Chinese. American or Vietnamese American in my classroom. But I’ve made them the leaders. So I’ve been like, Okay, well would you like to host this party for our class or this lesson for our class?
Mm-hmm. . And if they’re down for it, it’s like, Okay, well what kind worksheet should we do? Or like, what kind of decoration should we do? And you even getting their families involved too. I remember I have a student, Ugh, just one of, you know, those students that just like lives in your heart so much. Yeah. We did this.
Lunar New Year’s celebration. And her mom even sent in some like decorations. And in Vietnam you kind of take branches from trees and you decorate them with like yellow pets, or at least this is her family’s tradition. And so we did that at recess. We like. Ripped off Branchees from some like old bushes and we decorated it in class and she got to lead everyone and they all came up and take a turn.
So I think that’s a great way, bring in your students culture. But I would say make them the leaders. Like make, have them have ownership for it. You know, we also celebrated Ramadan last year with some of my students. I grabbed some of my students and even some of my former students, cuz we really only had a handful of kids that celebrated Ramadan at our, at my school.
So I said, Hey, I wanna do this thing. Do you wanna come? Do you wanna do it with me? So we got some books about Ramadan donated. And the kids typed up and wrote up like a little, a message about what Ramadan is to them. And even we got some like pictures from their mosque and then they decorated little boxes to put the books in and then they got to deliver them to every class.
And that all the pride that they felt like handing over these, like this GI Ramadan gift to every class that was just amazing. . And so I think that is a real great way. Those celebrations is an awesome way to, you know, take, take those first and meaningful steps into including our students’ cultures in really authentic
Susan Riley: ways.
Mm. So nice. Now I kinda wanna shift gears a little bit in talking about the, the what my teacher knew, movement, as you said, it kind of went viral, which was featured on like every major media outlet and all teachers everywhere were doing this. Like, could you ever have anticipated when you started that lesson, like, this is what happens?
Kyle Schwartz: No. And you know, in fact, like the story of it is kind of interesting. So I had been involved in like teacher advocacy for a while and through one of the groups I was working with, with which was the Education Ambassadors Program, they invited me and my vice principal to go to a national conference and present, and what we were presenting on was something completely separate.
We were presenting on like using technology to differentiate for English language learners. completely separate, so we presented on it, but at that conference, One of the keynote speakers, you know, talked about how if you’re not on Twitter, you need to get on Twitter. Educators are having great discussions there.
Like that’s where the conversation is happening. And so I did that and literally like two weeks later, , I found one of these notes. These I wish my teacher new notes that I had saved from my students, cuz I had been doing this lesson for years and never told anyone. So I found that note and I was like, Oh, you know, maybe I could share this.
New Twitter and I get shared with my tens of followers, . So I did. And really like that’s. Exactly how it happened, like as unlikely of a story as it possibly could be. You know, I think teachers really tapped in to this like universal desire to be known and this like specialness, almost like sacredness of this teacher-student relationship.
And so like as soon as one person tried the lesson in their classroom, they shared and then tumble, tumble, tumble. It just kind of blew up eventually a A journalist saw, like teachers talking about this lesson, tried in your classroom, that sort of thing. And so she put up a blog and then that’s how it just went crazy, so.
Mm-hmm. , it really was like, Incredibly organic and incredibly unlikely .
Susan Riley: And so how did it, like, I can’t imagine how it feels to wake up and just see all of these people who are using your lesson and seeing such an impact. So is that what prompted you to write the book?
Kyle Schwartz: Yeah, it, it, So that is crazy to think like a lesson that I really loved, but I had never even shared it with the teacher across the hall to see that like I had something in my classroom that could be so powerful.
Mm-hmm. . And that’s what I really think every teacher has. Like there is something you’re doing. It’s awesome. You might not even recognize it, but if you can share it with others and if we can be more open about what’s happening in our classroom, I think that there’s a lot of power there. Mm-hmm. As far as like it getting shared around the world.
It. Yeah, it was definitely a shock because literally what happened is I got a call on my classroom phone, like during the lesson, you know, and you’re like annoyed, like, Oh, why is this interrupting me? Yeah. And it was my principal like telling me that there were news trucks at our school and like asking me if I had anything to share with her.
So it literally started like that. And I really, it was great for people to actually be talking about what I think is so important about education, which is like, what are kids really facing and what do they need, like, And so kids really got to be a part of that conversation and drive it. And I think my class really.
Like they really understood that role as advocates and they talked about things that they had been experiencing and they knew that like their voice was being heard over and over again. So I, it was really great to just see it spread, but also to see my students voices like amplified and to take and a conversations and education in a direction that I think is like really productive for kids.
Susan Riley: You’re so passionate about this topic, I can just tell you don’t want like this all day. I can definitely tell. I can also tell though, there’s a little nugget there where you were talking about teachers being willing to share, being more open about sharing. And I can tell you’re really passionate about that too.
You kind of cut yourself off and moved in a different direction. But I would love to hear like, what’s your, what’s the story there? Are you feeling like we don’t share enough or that we don. Or we’re scared to share, like I would love to hear your perspective.
Kyle Schwartz: Well, I think, you know, there’s that old joke.
It’s what is a school and it’s, the answer is a collection of classrooms united by a parking lot, . And it kind of speaks to this idea that I didn’t really realize before I went into teaching. Is that like, You know, teaching can be pretty isolating. Like as much as we think like, oh, kids are all over in the school,
Susan Riley: but like you’re really in your
Kyle Schwartz: classroom, like inside your four walls like most of the day, and we’re all like so busy, right?
Like making copies and doing a hundred other things. They’re asking us to do that. We’ve, it’s really hard to have like genuine collaboration that’s not just like a rush for like, Hey, did you do this lesson? Extra copies go, go, go. So I think that there is definitely not enough time in teacher’s day for them to have that like moment where we can really like, be like, be professionals and like share our work and share our pedagogy together.
So I think that’s, you know, really inhibiting some growth in education. But I also think, you know, At least the era that I was like bursted into teaching was so focused on like evaluation and deciding who’s a good teacher and who’s a bad teacher. Yes. And there was this like myth going around that like if kids just had a good teacher, like everything in the world could change for them.
So they just have to have a good teacher. So it really set up this false dichotomy between like good teachers and bad teachers, and. That like you have to decide which one you are you. And there’s only one way to do it, right. And there’s only one way to check off the rubric. So I think that that evaluation, like obsession in teaching I think really hindered things because, you know, it made teachers like scared to take risks.
It made teachers like really wanna fit the mold and fit your little rubrics. And I think really in teaching, Everyone is so like data obsessed. It takes courage to value things that you can’t measure. Mm-hmm. . And it takes courage to like pour into your own pedagogy. The things that we know are so important, like
Susan Riley: community
Kyle Schwartz: building and relationship building.
So I do think that teachers have been You know, there, there’s some structures in place that keep teachers from sharing in what works in their classroom or even what is not working in their classroom. You know, we don’t wanna admit like what we’re struggling with. So I do, I think there, there’s some structures there that I really hope change.
Susan Riley: Mm, I do too. And I think you’re so right that, you know, having, I’ve, I’ve taught a little bit longer, so I’ve been, I was there at the beginning of that era and
Kyle Schwartz: a little bit before.
Susan Riley: So I remember watching that era come in and the whole evaluative component. And, and I remember sitting at a table at a central office meeting where they were actually trying to decide numbers to place on a teacher’s evaluation as to whether or not this teacher was an acceptable teacher.
And I kept thinking, How do I put numbers on people? Like I’m not a good algebra person anyway, like numbers and, and you know, shapes don’t make sense to me, but numbers on people certainly don’t make sense to.
Kyle Schwartz: And I think you’re right. We’ve,
Susan Riley: there’s so much that we need to work on in education and, and that’s certainly a piece of it, but I think, you know, as the more collaborative we can be, the more that it’s about cooperation over competition.
Mm-hmm. , I think the better we can be as educators.
Kyle Schwartz: So
Susan Riley: I appreciate it. Yeah, I agree. Absolutely. So before we go, I wanna honor your time today. Before we go what are you working on next? I know that you’re taking a little hiatus this year, but what are you working
Kyle Schwartz: on this year? Yeah, so I actually I’m taking like a one year.
like leave of absence for my school district. I have the opportunity to write a third book, so I’ve been working on that. Getting some proposals in and some samples in when I was like approached to do the third book, I was just like, Okay. There’s no way I can do it while I’m working full-time.
Cause I wrote the first two while it was like full-time teaching. So after all these pandemic years, I was like, If I do this, I cannot work full-time. So I was really lucky that my school district has given me this like one year unpaid leave of absence to do that. So I’m working on that and I really wanna focus on the things that we’ve talked about today is like how real human teacher can like.
Inject these like values of community and relationship building in their classroom and like, what are some teacher moves that like can honestly be done in a hu a classroom with like human children. You know, , sometimes you read these like articles and you’re like, Okay, no t like that’s not. I’m not gonna give all the kids 14 marbles.
You know? , right? You’re right. No. So that’s what I’m working on. But I’ve also got a few other projects like working with a children’s theater about thinking about some how we can write a children’s play to kind of. Talk about these topics with kids. I’ve been working with hmh Mifflin Car Court and writing some blog for them, talking about how I’ve used their curriculum in my classroom.
So I’ve got a lot of, I’ve got a lot of plates spinning, but I have to tell you, after all these like crazy pandemic years, it is nice to like have a different. Cadence to my day and a different mode to my day for sure.
Susan Riley: Absolutely. Mm-hmm. . So now where can people find you? Like Instagram, Twitter? Are we like blogging?
Where, where can they find you?
Kyle Schwartz: Yes. Okay. Well so on Twitter and Instagram, you could find me at. Kyle M. Schwartz that’s k y l e, , S C H W A R T z. And you can find me there and I’m also this year working on like a website so I can kind of put some of my writings and my thoughts together in some one place, but
TBD on that
Susan Riley: Absolutely, Absolutely. Well, Kyle, it has been such a pleasure. Thank you so much for sharing with us today. I really appreciate. Oh
Kyle Schwartz: my gosh. Thank you so much. Like I, it always just rubble in the opportunity to like nerd out about education with like a fellow education
Susan Riley: nerd, nerds unite. Absolutely . Thanks Kyle.
Kyle Schwartz: All right. Well, thank you so much.
Susan Riley: Thanks for listening to the Artworks for Teachers podcast. This has been a production from the Institute for Arts Integration and Steam. Be sure to tune in each Thursday for new episodes and head over to arts integration.com/artworks to download the accompanying resources.
And if you know another educator who could use creative inspiration, please share this with them. Together we can make a difference in education today.