Dr. Zelda Kitt of The Hope Academy discusses the importance of empowering student voice in our classrooms.

Dr. Zelda Kitt in Classroom Conversations

Dr. Zelda Kitt of The Hope Academy discusses the importance of empowering student voice in our classrooms.

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Ashley Mengwasser: Hi again, this is Classroom Conversations. The platform for Georgia's teachers, presented by the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Public Broadcasting. The content of every episode is by educators, for educators. I assure you that the meat of this dialogue will be very filling. If you're new here, I'm Ashley Mengwasser, not a teacher, a lifelong learner. World needs both types y'all. This week we're establishing the value of a certain sine qua non in the classroom, a classroom essential. It's two words, really. First word is student, second word blank, student blank. What's the second word? You ask. Herein lies a clue. You see there is this animated water dweller. Her daddy is a loving, but overprotective man. She has whosits and whatits galore. You want thingamabobs? She's got 20, she squabbles with a sea witch and ultimately gives up this very thing. Our other blank, her voice. Yes. That's the story of Ariel and the plot of The Little Mermaid and our topic today is student voice, utilizing student voice, particularly when setting up class routines and expectations. This is another valuable step in establishing a positive classroom environment, promoting student voice and allowing students to have some say over what transpires in class, heightens student engagement and it also fosters that good feeling of community. I don't argue with science guys and the research shows that when students are included in the decision making, they're more likely to accept and participate in your school's rules and expectations. Today's guest is a verifiable voice instiller, voice protector and voice projector. She sounds great. Please. Welcome to the podcast Dr. Zelda Kitt, high school ELA teacher of all grades at the Hope Academy in Troup County. Welcome, Dr. Kitt.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Oh, I'm so glad to be here today.

Ashley Mengwasser: How are you doing?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: I'm doing excellent. Excellent.

Ashley Mengwasser: And you have traveled the farthest of any guest we've hosted before. Tell the teachers where you hail from today.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: I actually live in Auburn, Alabama.

Ashley Mengwasser: Alabama. And here she is in her glory. Thanks for coming on this way. Just out of curiosity. What sort of driver are you? Are you the podcast type, the music type or the talk on the phone the whole time type?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: I think I'm much of a blender.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh good.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Yes. I have to listen a little bit. Talk a little bit and then just enjoy the ride.

Ashley Mengwasser: There you go. Variety is the spice of life. You're doing it right. Tell us about your background in education.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Oh wow. So I have 25 years as a public servant and I didn't come through education the traditional route. After spending about 10 years in social services, I decided I wanted to teach, I had fought that idea all my life because most of my relatives are teachers, so I didn't want to follow their path. But teaching was indeed a gift that God had given me. And so I came into the idea of teaching ELA since my major was English and political science. So I started at a middle school.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Yeah. So imagine your first year as a middle school teacher, not having those educational courses, not knowing all of the strategies, not having the cute little toolbox you're given and you're just there. And the best you think to do is to maintain the discipline. So after five years of teaching, I was able to be elevated to administration. I served as an assistant principal, a curriculum assistant.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right to the top pretty quick.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: And then later as a principal and now, after retiring from Alabama, I'm here in Georgia. This is my fourth year. And I'm an ELA teacher.

Ashley Mengwasser: Back to teaching.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Back to teaching.

Ashley Mengwasser: You came full circle; you couldn't escape it.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: And I love it.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love that. I love that you love it, it definitely translates. How about your school? I know that the Hope Academy is unique. Tell us why.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: So, the Hope Academy is an alternative school, and we are very, very, very much focused on trying to find ways to help students. So we get students from the different high schools in our district. So every semester, every week, maybe there's a new student coming in and perhaps a student leaving.

Ashley Mengwasser: Really?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: Is that hard?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: It's challenging. It's challenging, but it makes it even the more interesting.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. Again, variety is the spice of life.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: I love it.

Ashley Mengwasser: Coming in your doors and out your doors and into the world. I can see why student voice is important at your school particularly, we're going to get into that. I want to get to know you personally now, Zelda. We've talked about your professional path. Can we play two truths in a lie, Zelda?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Two truths and a lie.

Ashley Mengwasser: Can you engineer some facts about yourself, one totally fabricated and let detective Ash put on her spectacles here and get to the bottom of it? Hit me with three statements and I'll tell you which one I think is the lie.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Okay. My first certificate I ever earned was that of a swimmer. I met Rosa Parks and I've written a book.

Ashley Mengwasser: These are hard. I think that the swimmer is a truth. Am I right about that?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: No, I cannot swim.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh my gosh. They say trust your gut. I think my intuition might be off. Well, that is so interesting. You met Rosa parks?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: Fascinating. And what was the other one?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: The other one was I authored a book.

Ashley Mengwasser: You authored a book. Tell us about your book.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: So, the very first book I authored is a fictional detective story and I did it because I just thought I could and wasn't sure if I would and I just hung in there and made it work.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh wow. Well on the subject of detectiving, I mean maybe you could teach this girl a thing or two, obviously I need the help. Thank you for bringing your voice to bear today. I know in the entertainment realm, there have been a few movies in our time about the power of voice. I can think of a couple. There's The Great Debaters. The King's Speech is one. Sister Act always comes to mind because Whoopi obviously. Can you think of any others?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Movies that really speak to voice? I think, and here I am drawing a blank. I'm thinking about, I really like The Great Debaters. I think that might be my favorite.

Ashley Mengwasser: Of the examples, yeah.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Of the examples to think of because it is very empowering, yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: It is empowering. And voice being equal to agency in that feeling of empowerment is definitely a theme in the arts. And in the realm of education, here are some quotable educators who have made a powerful stance on student voice. Monte Syrie said, student voice is already there, it's not something we give, it's something we honor. And we do when we listen. What do you think about that?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Absolutely. In fact, I thought, I thought of that myself.

Ashley Mengwasser: Maybe you did, maybe you wrote it in your detective book and Monte here read it. Here's another one that takes that logic. One step further by Adam Fletcher who says, it is not enough to simply listen to student voice, educators have an ethical imperative to do something with students. And that is why meaningful student involvement is vital to school improvement.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Yes. Because that flows in line with student voice brings about outcomes. So it has to be something that's actionable. And relevant. So absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: Can you please help us out by first defining what is meant by student voice?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: So, if I were to give my own definition, I would say student voice is the ability to understand students’ perspective, students’ passions and ultimately their perceived purposes, because that gives way or lends to the ability to really hear them.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love that. And you can leverage that for the benefit of the school, for the benefit of the classroom. How does your school amplify student voice as a practice overall?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: I think one of the number one ways is by actively listening and being able to give time and consideration to the ideas students bring. Providing choices to students, I think is an important element. And the other one is always presenting our dispositions. I think we don't give enough credit to demeanor and dispositions. So when you have a disposition and a demeanor that is welcoming, it makes it easier for students to share their voice because you're-

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, from the teacher's standpoint.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: From the teacher's standpoint, because you're creating an atmosphere that says to that student that your voice is not only heard but is welcomed and is valued.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's invited. And then you get more of that behavior that you want. Since we are beginning a new school year, it's very timely. We're including students in establishing classroom expectations as a proactive strategy in cultivating a true positive classroom environment. How do you utilize student voice when setting up your own classroom expectations in your daily routine in your class?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Okay. So let me talk about year five versus year one.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: So here it is year five, going into year five, I've gained a lot of confidence in what I've practiced and had a chance to experience. So now when I go in, I already have things available to help me facilitate student voice. For an example, I would have expectations about five that I've created and that are very broad and very general to any class community. And I say to my class that these are some things that we want to talk about as a community and then I invite them to evaluate it, to discuss it and to even define it. So we can have common language because year one coming in trying to implement this-

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, this is interesting.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Yeah. So I had the information, but I didn't have necessarily the knowhow and there was some fear in failure. So what I learned in year one was, you can have the directions, but the best thing to have is your authentic self. So instead of trying to remember all the do's and don'ts, that were thrown at you as a new teacher, focus on your purpose and the intended outcome. And when you focus on those two elements, the purpose and the intended outcome, it'll keep you aligned with what to do. That would help you to demystify the beginning of school. And on purpose, I knew I wanted them to know that I was there, present and present, and I wanted them to know that this was a safe place. And so because of that being the purpose, I decided, what can I do for this group of kids to get that outcome? And it came about by me allowing them to be themselves as I was being myself and lead the conversations.

Ashley Mengwasser: Lead the conversations. I love that you keep saying authentic self, authentic self.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: That's so important.

Ashley Mengwasser: Because so often I think we think of the educator playing a role and being in a... It is, it is a responsibility because you're carrying these young minds along with you, but that you're also a human being. And that building a bridge to them can really invite this progress that we're looking for. It's building positive relationships and it's having a trusted adult like you within the school. And that has been shown to decrease negative behavior. Significantly. Schools have used, I know surveys, student leadership teams and other cool creative activities to really gain student feedback. What are some examples of strategies or activities that you've used to elicit student feedback?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: So, things that really worked for me. I always include a simple questionnaire with any pre-test, post-test. Questions such as, did you study? How well prepared, how fair was this test? Because one of the biggest complaints most students have about the educational experience is that teachers tend not to test the way they teach. And I really didn't understand what they meant until we had that open conversation. So give them the opportunity to express what they thought about your assignment, what do they think about your teaching? That means you have to be vulnerable.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. Do you sometimes not like that feedback? I mean, absolutely.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: So, taking the notion of a lifetime learner, you begin to incorporate these kinds of ideas because your goal is to improve. Your goal is to improve.

Ashley Mengwasser: You're exactly right about that. So you have the questionnaire, this sounds like a regular thing in your classroom. Are there any other cool tactics you employ?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Well for high school students, especially, I allow them to take a personality test. Which they find at first they don't want to do it, but when they begin to take it, see it's all about the hook, it's all about the hook. So if you can get them to buy in from the introduction part, the rest will be a whole lot easier. So once they realize that this isn't just applicable to English language arts, this is about me and I need you to know how to teach me. So it's empowering for them to be able to say to me, this is how I learn. So by the time they get to ninth grade, most of them are aware of their preferences, they know whether or not they're auditory learners or they're textile learners, but sometimes they're not able to articulate it. so I empower them by giving them different surveys, questionnaires, and the personality tests, which tells them not only that this is how I learn, but this is how I like to be treated.

Ashley Mengwasser: What valuable information for them and for you.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: I bet that completely multiplies your productivity too.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: It does. It does. So those students who feel like they're not being understood because they're ADHD, and they don't know how to articulate it. And they get frustrated because I've been sitting here for a minute and I'm tired and I need to move because I just left another class. And it's a few minutes before lunch and I'm not hearing anything you're saying.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: So, we have to have tools available, and we need to be able to hear what they're saying, this I want to learn, but I'm bored. So what do you do with that?

Ashley Mengwasser: That knowledge is power for you.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: It is power.

Ashley Mengwasser: And you're, spring boarding it for their benefit. What is the student reaction to this? I'm so curious. What sorts of things do they say when you tell them, "Hey, I want you to use your voice and give your input in this classroom." Is that a paradigm shift?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: It is totally a paradigm shift. I mean, imagine kids coming from different schools, they've had different teachers and different learning experiences. So they come to the Hope Academy, which is an alternative school. They compare it to being in a jail, they don't want to be there. They're wearing uniforms and they're thinking, "Oh my God, I just got to sit through another lesson." And so they get to my class and we're like, "Hey, how are you doing? What did you do? Okay. What are your hobbies? What are your goals? What do you like? Where are my entrepreneurs?" And we just have those conversations and they're thinking, "We can talk?" Like, "Yeah, yeah. I need you to talk."

Ashley Mengwasser: Who are you? Yes.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: I need you to talk. But I think coming in the very beginning and establishing a community is what I call them. We are in community and our community has to have expectations that everybody can agree with and can do.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's beautiful. Establishing a positive classroom environment is a task in and of itself. But in your specific school system, it sounds like you have some unique obstacles. Talk about what some of those obstacles are that your students might face.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: By the time the students come to me, they've already been in trouble. They've either done something that was behaviorally wrong or, well, they're all behavioral issues, but some of them are because I refuse to go to school. And now I'm here at the alternative school, which is a behavior, but it's a different behavior. Some of them have been confrontational, combative and been in different fights and other things. So I realized from day one that my job is not just teaching English language arts. I can't separate the student from the person. I realize I'm here to teach the whole student. So I'm constantly modeling and we do what I call a gradual release.

Ashley Mengwasser: Tell me about that.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: So, the gradual release is empowering them to understand that they are growing and they're that not perfect yet. And so I don't expect perfection, but I do expect growth.

Ashley Mengwasser: Progress.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Progress must be seen. And so one example of that is when I had a student who, when she became angry, she did not know how to articulate her anger. So I noticed the cues, she would shake, rock and she would start moving her head or her face to start to twitch. I would go to her and say, "Do you need a five minutes?" And she looked at me. I said, "In fact, in five minutes, I won't call on you. I'll give you an opportunity to calm down. And if you need more time, let me know." That was the first thing. And I saw-

Ashley Mengwasser: Bet she thought that was wild.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: And she looked different. I mean, she gave me this look like, really? And so the next time when I saw her, because there are times we have what we call restorative circles, when we have something that affects the entire class and we need to talk about it. So the next time I said, "Hey, it's difficult really to man yourself when you're angry. And it took me a while to get there. So why don't we talk about some steps that we can get there and you can let me know when you need that time." She never abused that time with me. She never abused it because that's the fear most teachers would have, but she did not. And when she did, what I saw with her was a growth. One day, she really got up and she just rambled, on with some things that were very disrespectful.

And that was an opportunity for the students to see how I would respond. So here was my response. And honestly, as a person, I was not happy. But as a person who understood that we were working with students and we were molding lives. I took about five minutes or maybe about two minutes. And I said, "Okay. So I need you to quietly collect your things and go and see the counselor. I'll let her know that you're on your way." And so of course she got up and she made a scene and she exited the room. And so now the students are angry because they don't like the way she treated me.

Ashley Mengwasser: You, yeah. I bet they feel protective of you.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Because of the relationship we had. And so I explained to them, "No, we are a community and we are growing together." And when she returned to me, because she came back later and said, "Now I know I was wrong." I said, "But there are some things, I like the fact that when I asked you to leave, you collected your items and you left. Now maybe next time let's not slam the door."

Ashley Mengwasser: Right.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: And she said, "I feel so embarrassed." Because she really felt that she let her community down. So I told her, "When you're ready and if you want to have that conversation, our restorative circle. Let's talk about some strategies. What can we do better?" And her voice became even louder and clearer than mine to her peers. So I was able to leverage that experience to help other students understand number one, you can trust me. I'm not going to be angry with you tomorrow. I'm not going to be retaliatory because students feel that adults would be retaliatory. I'm not trying to get you thrown out of school, but I do notice the growth and I'm going to celebrate your growth while telling you there are ways to improve.

Ashley Mengwasser: And in terms of student voice, you just asked her to talk to you and harness her own empowerment, which it sounds like she did. Do you have another favorite story about a time when students voicing their thoughts positively impacted your classroom environment?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Yes. I remember when I was teaching a particular lesson and I like to walk and talk and interact with the students.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, you're a mover and groover Dr. Kitt.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: I'm a mover and a groover. And so, and I also like to be within proximity of students, so to make sure that you're hearing. So one student I noticed every time I gave a directed that I thought was very clear, he would stop me and he would repeat me verbatim. And at first I thought this is very annoying. You're going to mess it up.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay buddy.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: So, then I looked, and I said, "Hey, are you an auditory learner? Do you learn best? When you say it yourself? Are you clarifying what I said?" And he says, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, that." He said, "I heard you, but I wanted to make sure that I heard you correctly." And that really changed the momentum in my class because some students need us to slow it down. Yeah. Everybody doesn't... The sound, we don't recognize how sound affects people. And so some people can see your lips moving. They hear the distinguishing sounds, but they're not able to put it together right away.

So, he had to repeat, and I had to slow down, which opened up the door for other students to say, "Hey, I need to get up." "I need you to get up and do what sweetie?" "Dr. Kitt, I need to walk." And then three other guys said, "Oh me too, my legs are shaking over here. I'm dying over here." I'm like, "Okay. So what do we need to do?" He said, "Have you ever heard of these things in like little flickers, you can just put them in your hand and you can manipulate them? And we'll still listen, but I need to walk and I just need to move my hands." And I-

Ashley Mengwasser: Fidget.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: A fidget. So I'm thinking 10th, 11th graders want to fidget. So guess what we did, we got some fidgets.

Ashley Mengwasser: They just had this kinetic energy they needed to let out.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: He needed to release that energy. So again, that was student voice and that's me being vulnerable. And to say, "it's okay that you walk around and I know this is an alternative school. So here are the parameters for walking around."

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. We have boundaries. We color within them, but people can ask for what they need to learn better. If that is welcome. What about overall? How do you think utilizing student voice has positively impacted your learning environment? You can give me ground level, 10,000 foot view. Dr. Kitt. Overall, what has been the overall impact for the entire classroom culture?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: I want to say this, out of the four years of serving at the Hope Academy and I see myself as a servant. So after four years, I've not have to break up a fight. I not had to-

Ashley Mengwasser: Never?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Never in my classroom has there been a fight, never. There have been disagreements, but there have not been a fight. And I credit that to the relationships and because students are able to say, "I need five minutes, not a very good day. Can I sit in a different location today?" So I cannot be married to the routines that are convenient for me.

Ashley Mengwasser: Structures for them sometimes.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Yes. Yes, yes. They need structure. They want consistency. But they also want to know that you value me as an individual. And when I know that you do, I can trust you.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's incredible. These conflict resolution skills could really be beneficial to our entire country. We need to escalate you to Washington DC. You're going to go work for them now. Let us know how it goes. Let's move into my favorite portion of every episode, which is those prized pointers, Dr. Kitt. What concrete tips can you give our teachers who are looking to champion student voice to create positive learning environments at their school?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: I would say always be your authentic self. You would be amazed of how creative you are and how brilliant you are as a teacher. So first of all, be your authentic self, whatever that personality looks like because students need that. They tend to love real people and they tend to know real people. The second thing is, we've spent at least at minimum four years, learning how to teach. I say that now that you have your skills find at least three good strategies that are going to engage your students. Think again about your purpose and your outcome. For me, one of the best strategies that I use was affirmation cards, very simple, very inexpensive, just an index card where at the end of the day, and you let them know you're going to do this.

Ashley Mengwasser: You make those yourself?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: I make them myself. And then after about a couple of weeks, I include students in sharing with each other once we've all agreed to the community. Once we agreed to the rules of the community or the expectations rather, then we began to each use those index cards. If a student has been extremely helpful with another student, that student can write down a note, thank you for helping me understand this task. You were great by allowing me to go first, just very simple one sentence affirmations. Students absolutely love them.

Ashley Mengwasser: And they just give them to their classmates.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: They give them... So we can also go a step further and it's what I did. I created a mailbox, it's an idea I got from Capturing Kids' Hearts training. So I just got a paper bag, a brown paper lunch bag, created mailboxes, allowed students to decorate them, write their names on it and put whatever, sign a-

Ashley Mengwasser: Personalize their post box.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Yeah. Personalize it. And they look forward to seeing what was in their mailbox. And it can be something as simple as an index card with a positive note. I always start there. Sometimes when they're really, really, really, really awesome. I would say you rolled today and I may put maybe a Tootsie Roll. It depends on your schools, what they allow you to do. So very small, inexpensive ways to do that.

Ashley Mengwasser: I just had a handful of Tootsie Rolls two weeks ago for the first time in maybe five years. And you forget what a delectable treat that is.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: Good for you, Dr. Kitt. And who doesn't love getting mail?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Yes. Who doesn't love getting positive things?

Ashley Mengwasser: Right. At our age it's Bed Bath & Beyond coupons. But I like more what's going on in your classroom. I'd like some affirmations. What other concrete tips do you have for teachers? I love the mailbox idea.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Think outside the box. I know you've heard that a lot, but here's a story, real quick one. I was struggling trying to get students to write. I love writing. It's a passion.

Ashley Mengwasser: Same, English majors, English majors.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Oh my goodness. Write me forever. So, but there was one particular class that had more guys than girls. And I noticed in this particular class, they were great when it comes to talking about stories and discussions. When it came time to write, they felt defeated before they picked up the pencil. And so we began to discuss, I said, "Let's talk this thing out because if you can say it, you can imagine it, you can say it. If you can say it, you can write it. We'll help you. We'll create a rubric that'll guide you along the way." So finally was like, "Why can't we just do something?" And I thought, what is it that you like to do? And we started a conversation about things they liked, and it became a common thread. They like their grandma's had a garden.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, gardening.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Yes. So I thought, why not do a learning garden? Why don't we attach this to writing? Why don't we do a process? And we write down notes where start off as scientists, and we're going to write down notes, we're going to ask questions. We're going to have a hypothesis about it and we're going to do it. And it started off slow because as is the process of sowing and they became so fond of the idea that, "Can we go outside today? I need to measure, I need to see what the problem is today. We need to come up with a solution."

So, it came up, it started that way. And there was also a task assigned where they had to write notes. And at the end of this project, they had to write a paper, talking about the process, and they had to research what would be required, what soil we had, what was necessary to make the plants grow, all of this. And then I let them do it collaboratively. And not only did they like it, but other classes wanted to do it. And at the end of this, it became a public speech.

Ashley Mengwasser: What did they speak about?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: They talked about the process of growing and what they learned from the process. And at the end, they had this beautifully written paper and it took time to get there. But I was willing to give them the time, weave it into our content, make it something they can do with their hands and something they wanted to do.

Ashley Mengwasser: But you planted seeds of passion, and you got a beautiful, a bloom from your student.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Absolutely. Along with cucumbers and squash-

Ashley Mengwasser: The heck. Yes. So you grew cucumbers, squash.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Cucumber, squash, tomatoes, okra, collard creams, turnip greens-

Ashley Mengwasser: This is Southern, I love it.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: ... Radish, watermelons and cantaloupes are in the garden now.

Ashley Mengwasser: Kudos to you and just the way that you observe them and pick up on those queues and invite these collaborative discussions. Because I just think it's making your learning environment so positive and so affirming for them. And then you get to keep them for how long on average.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: So, we have students who come in just for a semester, some for about four weeks and some will be with us for a year. So it's always rotating and new students coming in and going out. So that's, we never know, who's going to show up. We just have to be prepared every day is a first day.

Ashley Mengwasser: And you are, and I'm confident they're better because of it because they learn to harness their student voice.

Dr. Zelda Kitt: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: Thank you so much, Dr. Kitt. You're incredible. Anything else you want us to know?

Dr. Zelda Kitt: I think the biggest thing to know is before we can teach them, we have to reach them, and they are individuals and there's so much worth in them. We are chartering futures.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's beautiful. Before we teach them, we have to reach them. I think a t-shirt is your next undertaking. It's not as much work as a book. Just something to think about. Thank you, Dr. Kitt. Today, we've learned that a positive classroom environment is a place where student voices not only carry, but carry weight. Thank you for being here, Dr. Zelda Kitt. Bringing hope to the Hope Academy and thank you listening audience. Let's meet again, same time next week. Like Ariel said, you want to be where the people are. We need your voice in this discourse because you are a great teacher. Talk to you on the next episode of Classroom Conversations, bye for now. Funding for Classroom Conversations is made possible through the School Climate Transformation Grant.