Three Antiochian educators discuss their work making education more just—and more effective.
A special panel of three educators convened to discuss the future of education, the interesting and rewarding careers that can be had in the field, and the ways that these Antiochians are pushing forward both pedagogy and institutions. Featuring PhD in Leadership and Change alum Ashley Benson, current EdD student Dani Belvin, and MEd alum Ally Muir.
This episode was recorded on August 9, 2023, via Riverside.fm and released November 29, 2023.
The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University.
- Host: Jasper Nighthawk
- Editor: Johanna Case
- Digital Design: Mira Mead
- Web Content Coordination: Jen Mont
- Work-Study Interns: Carrie Hawthorn, Stefanie Paredes, and Georgia Bermingham.
A special thanks to Karen Hamilton, Amelia Bryan, and Melinda Garland.
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S6E3 – Transcript – Panel on Education Justice
[00:00] Jasper Nighthawk: This is the Seed Field podcast, the show where Antiochians share their knowledge, tell their stories, and come together to win victories for humanity.
[00:32] Jasper: I’m your host, Jasper Nighthawk, and today we are delighted to host a panel discussion about careers at the intersection of education and justice. We have in the studio today two Antioch alumni, Ashley Benson and Ally Muir, and we also have one current student, Dani Belvin. Each of them is doing important and interesting work, and they also are doing work that I see pushing forward the standard methods and approaches of their fields. They’re working to help students from underserved backgrounds to thrive, and generally they’re making education better and more widely available. So usually at the beginning of an episode of this podcast, I’ll give some background about the issue we’re going to talk about and why I think it’s important, and that’s sort of like a wind-up before we actually get into talking. And for this episode, I was thinking about talking through Antioch’s history of educating teachers, which really stretches to our very roots, and also the changing landscape of education in the century and three-quarters since Antioch’s founding. But really what I want to think about today is the future of education and the interesting and rewarding careers that are out there for the taking. And I also want to talk about the ways that our guests are pushing that field forward in their own specific ways, which I think the specific is always the most interesting. So I don’t actually think anybody needs to be convinced about why this topic is important or interesting, and instead I want to just jump right in and get our guests talking. So without further ado, I’m going to bring our first guest on. This is Ashley Benson. So Ashley, you are an alum of Antioch’s PhD in leadership and change, and your current position is Dean of Student Engagement at Luther College, which is a liberal arts college in Iowa. You have a ton of responsibilities in this role, and talking to you before this episode, I was like, wow, you oversee student activities and resident life, student emergencies, which sounds hair-raising, counseling, wellness, student conduct. You have to do some of Title IX and diversity efforts and more, I’m sure. So can you tell me a little bit about your work? Like, what’s exciting about it? And also what brought you to work in student engagement?
[02:22] Ashley Benson: Awesome. Thank you for having me, Jasper. I ended up in higher ed simply by accident. It was a happy, wonderful accident in that I originally went to college to be a high school social studies teacher and then ended up on my mom and dad’s couch. And my mom said, here’s this ed, you’re going to apply for this position, and ultimately ended up doing work in higher ed as an advisor for TRIO student support services programs, working with low-income first-generation college students at Bowling Green State University. And from there, I’ve been in higher ed ever since and have navigated between building my own TRIO program and being involved in the advocacy work associated with first-gen work, my research is on first-gen work, and then also getting into deaning because much of the work that is done in TRIO really is transferable right on over to deaning work. Can you say what TRIO stands for or what that is? Sure. So TRIO is a set of federally funded programs that is geared towards either preparing students to enter into college or helping them to be successful while in college. So there’s the pre-college programs, which is like upper bound, upper bound math, science, veterans upper bound. And then there is the college program, student support services, McNair program. McNair also helps students to get into graduate level programs. So it’s helping them for master’s and Ph.D. level education as well. So, you know, it’s at all levels. It can start at the eighth grade level, seventh, eighth grade level and take you all the way through to graduation of college.
[04:00] Jasper: Yeah. I’m so glad to be able to hear you talking about this, because I think a lot of people who are interested in education maybe are thinking that that just means being a teacher or a professor. And there are so many other ways to impact students and also impact specifically first-generation students or students who otherwise might not have access.
[04:24] Ashley: Absolutely.
[04:25] Jasper: Yeah, I feel like this may be a perfect segue to bring on our second guest, Dani Belvin. And Dani, I see you have recently moved from being a professor into focusing most of your energy, at least into being an administrator, which is kind of a similar move, though, later in your career. So let me just introduce you. You’re currently studying in Antioch’s online doctor of education program. And at the same time, through the miracle of being able to study online, you are an associate dean at Central New Mexico Community College, where you oversee arts, drama and music programs. And your background before that is specifically in devised theater, which maybe we’ll have a chance to talk about. Maybe not. We talked about it before. But yeah, I’m hoping that you can talk in a little more depth about your own career to this point and how your values brought you and intersect with your work.
[05:14] Dani Belvin: Sure. Yeah. Thanks for having me, Jasper. I’m really happy to be here. And part of what you were saying, Ashley, really resonated with me. Your comment about accidentally ending up in higher education. My journey was kind of similar in so far as that I’ve accidentally ended up in administration. I knew that I wanted to teach theater. That was always my goal. And I’ve kind of taught theater at all levels and all sorts of places, right? Everywhere from kindergarten all the way up to higher ed. I’ve taught in schools and community centers and juvenile detention centers all over the place. I did get my MFA with the hopes of teaching in higher ed, which I have been doing for the past 10 years. But about a year ago, this opportunity to step into administration presented itself. And my own background is a theater generalist, meaning that I do a little bit of everything in the world of theater. But I think if I was pressed to say what I am as a theater artist, I would say I’m a stage manager. And it’s really that skill set I feel like very much overlaps with being an administrator, being somebody who is kind of steering the ship, but really leaning on other folks with their own skills and recognizing their strengths and being able to bring and hold space for them to do their best work. And like you, Ashley, I also kind of deal with students mostly in crisis or with issues, and I find that because of my theatrical work, I’m a very even toned person, very able to just hold that space in moments of crisis, which I think is very helpful for the administrator role.
[06:58] Jasper: I love that. Thank you so much for sharing with us, Dani. I had never thought about the connection between theater and administration, but I feel like all leadership actually has an element of the theatrical or like the performative as well.
[07:12] Dani: Absolutely, it does.
[07:15] Jasper: Yeah, well, let me bring on our last panelist. So that’s Ally Muir. Ally, you’re an alum of one of our Master of Education programs, and in that program you specialized in problem-based science, which specifically means teaching science, not through necessarily a textbook chapter, but through something like studying a watershed and raising fish and releasing them and exploring this history of the stream. But today, you’re the science teacher at the New School in Kennebunk, Maine, which is a very small, like 30 students, experimental school, where students and teachers both have a lot of voice in determining what gets studied and how it’s studied. So, Ally, I’m hoping you can tell me what drew you to work at this school and how it kind of builds on your past experiences.
[08:06] Ally Muir: Okay, great. Well, thank you for that introduction. That was spot on, and it was great to hear about each of your work, Ashley and Dani. That was fascinating. So, I work at the New School in Kennebunk, Maine, which is a small democratic high school, and really at the heart of that is student voice and student choice. And so, I suppose it was also a serendipitous accident because I studied geology and Russian in undergrad. Jasper and I were joking about that. We both studied Russian language in undergrad and have ended up in entirely different fields. So, I had an interest in academics and loved learning outside, but really didn’t know what I was going to do with that, that I was going to probably go into academia after taking a year off and found myself doing all sorts of different seasonal work from outdoor environmental science to leading long distance bike tours and backpacking trips with teenagers and slowly through these different experiences found that I really love learning outdoors. I love learning alongside teenagers and that I didn’t like seasonal work, that picking up and moving around the world every three months was really hard. And so, I found an awesome opportunity at Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center in Colorado, which is a residential high school for teenagers who are not thriving in the traditional school. So, there are students from all across the country, Manhattan, New Orleans, Detroit, L.A. And because these students weren’t thriving in a traditional school, we had to approach education differently and that was what really resonated with me. So, we did non-traditional classes that were roughly two hours a day and were completely project-based and relevant to the students’ lives. We would teach classes like the chemistry of cooking or physics of mountain biking where students weren’t sitting in a classroom and reading from a textbook, but they got to get out with the local national park and learn how to telemark ski and learn about winter ecology. And so, that sort of education where I got to learn alongside my students in a non-traditional way really resonated with me. And so, after a year back in public school teaching where I was teaching AP bio, chem, and bio, I was like, I’ve had enough of this. This is exhausting and also just not resonating with students. I could see it in their faces that they weren’t interested in the content. I didn’t feel like I had my heart in it and I could see that they didn’t have their heart in it. And so, I wanted to find a community where I could experiment with more authentic ways of learning. So, that’s what brought me to the new school in Kennebunk.
[10:38] Jasper: Thank you for sharing that background. One of the things that’s interesting in hearing all three of your stories about how you’ve reached your current positions is that I hear that there’s something kind of unexpected and maybe some satisfaction that you couldn’t have plotted out before. So, as we’re speaking towards people who might be considering their own careers in education, I’m wondering, maybe I could start with you, Ashley. What is unexpectedly satisfying about your career?
[11:06] Ashley: Oh, unexpectedly satisfying would be doing the most random things that you would never think a dean would do, such as practicing with the cheerleaders. So, the cheerleading squad kind of reports up through to me, but I also have a cheerleading background from elementary through high school. So, you will randomly catch me as a mode of focus doing cheers at home or in the office just to do something different. So, the coach here found out that that’s a background and that I love it and was like, “Come practice with us.” So, I did, and there was this whole post and the students were just super excited. The cheerleaders love it. So, to have that as a connection with the students, I think is phenomenal. And even just connecting with the athletes on a different level, I was never a college athlete. I aspired to be, but that never happened. But my son is a college football player. And so, what’s interesting is I’ve been able to use his athleticism as a mode of communication with the students that I work with. And so, I’ve built this connection with the football team, for instance, being able to go in and say, “I get it,” from a parenting perspective, from an athletic perspective, and then helping them to be willing to utilize me as a way to navigate issues that they may encounter. And so, it’s broken down this wall that often exists for, in particular, football players, big burly men, not wanting to seek assistance, being at my car in the morning when I get to work, saying, “Can we chat?” So, that has been a joy to watch them break down those walls and be willing to work with me.
[12:55] Dani: I love that, Ashley. I think there’s something really beautiful about that human connection and the humanizing of the administrator. Because my own experience when I was in college was, you know, anyone at the dean level or above felt like so unattainable. Like, I had nothing in common with them. And this is perhaps my own experience, too, as a first-generation student. I didn’t know what they did. I didn’t know why they were there. But the fact that you’re able to build those individual relationships and really just be a human in your role is so beautiful. And I loved that story. Thanks for sharing.
[13:31] Ashley: Thank you, Dani.
[13:32] Ally: The first word that came to my mind when you posed that question to Ashley was “unexpected connections.” So, it’s just funny that you’re both feeling that as well. Because when I think about being a high school teacher, of course, the goal is to build relationships with our students. But I think the unexpected connections that are really satisfying for me in this small environment is getting to know my students’ parents or guardians or grandparents and other community members in our town because of the way our school is structured. Because we have monthly meetings where parents and grandparents and community teachers get to come together and really talk about education. I find that my experience is much wider and deeper, and I’m learning from people in all sorts of different directions, which is very satisfying.
[14:16] Jasper: I love that. I just think about the way that universities are often centers of life in more ways than just like the subjects being taught. And especially, Ashley, on a residential college campus, I work here at Antioch, which is dispersed across the country. But there’s all sorts of student groups doing exciting things, or parents getting involved. Dani, I feel like you were about to say something.
[14:38] Dani: Oh, yeah. No, I was just going to say the relationship is so central in education. And I think people get into education because they’re interested in building those relationships. I think the relationship work is interesting for me just to kind of pivot in a different direction. Perhaps one of the most unexpectedly fulfilling parts of my job is that it pushes me to constantly learn. I am constantly coming up against new situations or new things that are within my purview that I don’t know how to do yet. And so it’s a real exciting challenge for me to be able to learn how to do something new every day in my job. And I think a lot of people who are drawn to education are also kind of these lifelong learners. So I think that that probably is something that could resonate with a lot of listeners as well who might be interested in working in education. Just the idea that your education doesn’t really ever stop. You’re always learning something new.
[15:37] Ashley: Absolutely, Dani. I completely agree with that. I often find myself looking for opportunities to connect with students in their element, whatever that may mean. So sometimes there’ll be some students that are down the hall Friday night, eight o’clock, and they’re playing Dungeons and Dragons. I know nothing about Dungeons and Dragons. I just know that I see these students sitting here in an intense something. They’re focusing on something. And I usually will stop them and just say, what are you doing? You know, are you studying? Are you playing? And then they start telling me about it. And we ended up talking about the movie and they sent me an email with information on how to play Dungeons and Dragons. I still don’t know how. But what was amazing is as a result, that created a relationship with a group of students that I may not have ever developed a relationship with. When some of them graduated this past year, they literally were running up to me, giving me hugs, thanking me for checking in on them and for seeing them. Right. Because this could be a group that’s looked at as the nerds and be unseen. But instead, they felt seen and they could be present and be themselves. When I asked them about the movie, for instance, I’m like, hey, y’all, let’s find a day so we can all go to see the movie together. And they’re like, Dean Benson, you want to go to the movies with us? And I’m like, yes, just the same way I might show up to the party, I will also show up to the movie and learn and make those connections. And it means so much to the students.
[17:05] Jasper: I love that, Ashley, just because I feel like your two examples that you drew out were like connecting with these football players and connecting with like the Dungeons and Dragons nerd. Not to say that there might not be an overlap between those two communities. That gets at something that I wanted to ask all of you about, which is kind of the connection between your values as a human, but also as a member of American society. I’m curious about the way that a career in education can help you go from holding ideals and like dreams to make the world a better place. And to actually like live them out the way that your own values, which maybe were part of what drew you to Antioch and how those have played out in your career.
[17:44] Ashley: Awesome. I’m happy to start. So my values are hugely important to me. You know, the way I was raised was if you don’t know what you stand for, somebody else is going to tell you what you stand for. That’s been drilled into me. And so I spend a lot of time evaluating who I am and what I am about on purpose. And I have no problem with sharing that with my students. So sometimes that means that they’re teaching me and my values and my connections are growing as a result of that. I am a Christian and I value the Bible very much. But what’s interesting is the more I learn about the Bible, the more I learn about God, the more that I’m able to see the importance of meeting people right where they are and loving them for who they are rather than judging them for whatever lifestyle they live. But instead, recognizing that Jesus met people where they are and Jesus loved people for who they are, regardless of how they live their life. That’s what I try to do. I’m not perfect. And sometimes I get it wrong. I’m still learning, for instance, about the queer community. I’m not perfect in knowing it all. But what I am committed to is that learning and being able to admit when I’ve made a mistake so that I can continue to grow and sharing that information when it makes sense to share that information to help others grow.
[19:01] Jasper: I love that.
[19:02] Ally: Wow. Yeah. A lot of what you just said really resonated with me. Valuing people for who they are, like inherently and not trying to change them. I can relate to that. And if you were to ask any of my students, they would say, “We’re the island of misfit toys.” You know, 30 of them ended up at our school because they weren’t feeling accepted for who they were at their previous institution. And so they’ve all kind of ended up here and they’re wildly different. And sometimes when students come to tour the school, they are like, “I don’t know if I would fit in here. I don’t see anybody that looks like me.” And we’re like, “Well, that’s what’s beautiful about this place is that nobody does. We can all be our own unique self. And we can find the cross-cultural differences that actually bind us and have connections to one another. We can learn to love people that are unlike ourselves and to accept them for who they are.” That is just something that’s emphasized daily in my work.
[19:54] Dani: Ally, I love the island of misfit toys, I think as a theater person that resonates with me because I feel like that’s the whole theater world is the island of misfit toys. And certainly as a brown queer person, I am very aware of being different. And as I mentioned before, being first-generation college student and now at the level of completing my doctorate soon and being in administration, I feel like I’m charting unknown territories, unknown to me territories. So I think a big value of mine is how do I hold open the door behind me as I continue to move forward. It goes back to both what you and what Ashley were saying of this idea of meeting people where they are and seeing people for who they are and valuing what each individual person brings to the table rather than the expectation of what a role is supposed to be, rather than creating the box for people to step into. Kind of just leaving things open so that folks can really truly be themselves in the spaces that they’re in.
[20:59] Ashley: I love what you said, Dani, about the door behind you and making sure that it’s open. One of the things that I did for my 40th birthday, I’m quirky, I’m weird, I fit into the island of misfit toys. I decided I wanted to start a scholarship and I wanted to do it because one, of the way I was raised, but two, because I wanted to create opportunities for other students, other people to be able to achieve the dreams that they have for themselves. To know who I am is to know that I am the kid that was bullied, and not in the sense of what it is today where it’s like, “Oh, they made fun of me,” but literally followed home, spit on, booed, had things really seriously done to me and was really, at different points in my time, suicidal, right? And so to go from that to being where I’m at now is part of why I went into education. So how does that play into a scholarship? I wanted to help first-gen students who wanted to go to college. So for my birthday, I created this scholarship fund through the Toledo Public Schools Foundation in Toledo, Ohio. That’s where I went to high school. Each year, my husband and I give money to a scholarship to help first-generation students go to college. What’s also interesting about that is I’m not first-gen. My mother has a degree, but it’s my parents’ stories about being college students that resonated with me in that when I started doing my work with TRIO programs, I would hear similar stories that still connected to what my parents experienced years before. And so I’m like, “Wait a minute. My parents experienced this in the ’70s and ’80s, and yet these students now in the 2000s are still experiencing the same thing.” And so as much as I can do to help to alleviate a problem or create an opportunity, I’m going to do that so that holding the door open so somebody else can walk through it is super important to me.
[22:55] Dani: My cohort in the EdD program, we have collectively been talking about how we could start a scholarship for EdD students coming behind us. So I want to pick your mind about it and figure out the steps.
[23:09] Ashley: Happy to do it. Happy to do it.
[23:11] Ally: Wow, that’s really cool to hear.
[23:12] Jasper: Yeah, that is so beautiful. And Ashley, I just want to take a moment to hold gratitude for you sharing about your experience being bullied. And I’m sorry that that happened to you. I know myself and a lot of listeners feel that we’ve been through similar things.
[23:27] Ashley: Thank you. Thank you. I want to talk a little bit about pursuing an education degree. Dani, you brought up the EdD, the Doctor of Education program. And each of you, I believe, came to Antioch after already having some experience teaching or working in higher education and decided to pursue a master’s or a doctorate. I want to talk a little bit about why you chose to do that at Antioch and how that has impacted your career moving forward. I would actually start with you again, Ashley, on this one, because I know about your dissertation. So you’re in the Ph.D. in Leadership and Change, which is a relatively long program, often takes more than half a decade from beginning to end. And at the end of it, you write a dissertation, which, again, is a long study that ends up being published. So you took as your question for your dissertation, why are students graduating, which obviously is integral to your work in student success. And I really liked when learning about this and reading through it to see the way that you had framed it, not around like what are the barriers that are stopping students from graduating, but instead about what are the factors that are actually helping first generation college students to graduate. So I’m curious if you could talk about this research that you did and what you gained from it and how it’s influenced your career from this point moving forward. Absolutely. Thank you, Jasper. So, oh, Antioch, how much I love thee. Antioch really just challenged my thinking. So even when selecting the program, it was quite interesting that I did this research and knew what type of program I wanted and did everything I could to try and avoid Antioch. But Antioch kept coming back. And then I was like, let me just look at this Antioch. And Antioch was perfect. So Antioch has challenged my way of thinking and processing. For me, I just feel like education can either focus on the positive or it can focus on the negative. And I’d say as of late, what I see is there’s always a focus on the problem, even when you’re having a conversation from a doctoral perspective about research in some way, shape or form. They’re like, what’s the issue that you want to address? Absolutely. We can find an issue in higher ed to address. But at the end of the day, what I do know is that students are graduating. Right. There’s a reason that they’re graduating. I’ve sat in meetings where I’ve heard professionals say, for instance, black people don’t graduate from college. And I’m sitting there like. I have a degree. I have two degrees at that time. So what do you mean? There’s HBCUs graduating thousands of black and brown students every year. What are you talking about? So we make these all encompassing statements about people that harms the profession. And so I think that we were making those same statements about first generation and low income students. So I wanted to change that mindset from that deficit thinking to reAllyzing that one, first gen students do graduate from college and two, there’s a reason. And if we learn those reasons why they graduate from college, then we can take what we’ve learned and implement them in our high schools, in our higher education programs to better prepare our students and help them to navigate the system, the academy, and then ultimately achieve their goal and graduate. Are we perfect in it? No. But is it doable? Absolutely. Yes, there are barriers out there, but there are students who have figured out how to navigate those barriers. What did they do? What was the difference maker? And so one of the things that I was able to learn from that research is that everyone has a hand in it. For instance, during interviews, I had one person tell me one of the people that made the biggest difference for them was the nightly janitor in one of the academic buildings that they would study in with their friends. Each night, that person would check on them. That person would make sure that the space was clean and ready to go. And if they didn’t show up, that person knew who they were and would check in to see if everything was OK with them. And so that made the world of difference in creating the safe space for them to be able to study, for them to be able to relax when they wanted to relax. And so they continue to do that. That had a huge impact on them graduating. And often we don’t tell our janitorial service that they have a hand in somebody’s ability to complete school. We often equate it to it just being faculty when it’s way more than just that. It can literally be the person who checks them out from dining service, which I’ve also seen at a previous institution. There is a gentleman who the seniors will not show up for an event unless he’s the one there checking them out because he makes such a difference in their educational experience. And so I think that’s what’s really important when we’re talking about first gen students.
[28:42] Jasper: And actually, I love in you telling the story. I’m both interested in the subject of your research and what you learned. But I also take from it that you came to this doctoral program, this Ph.D. with a kind of a burning question that you were able to orient your studies around solving. I’m wondering, Dani and Allie, if either of you have had that experience of coming in knowing that you want to learn more about a specific thing.
[29:09] Dani: Yeah, I think I actually entered my program with my dissertation research question pretty fully formed. My dissertation is going to be on the use of devised theater, which Jasper mentioned earlier. Devised theater is theater that is created not from a preexisting script. It’s theater that is created by the group that is performing the piece. So using devised theater in higher education as a means of exploring identity for students from historically and currently marginalized backgrounds. And my own specific interest is really students with intersecting backgrounds. So membership in more than one of these marginalized groups. I knew that that was what I wanted to do my doctoral level work on. And so for a long time, I kind of struggled with is this like a theater program? Is this an education program? Where am I going to go to do this work? And as I was once again to bring back to the values, it was also important to me that it be really an institution that knows and understands social justice sort of values. And so as I was looking into programs, Antioch kept coming up and I was familiar with Antioch because the head of my MFA committee was a graduate from Antioch and she had spoken so highly of Antioch in the past. And it all just kind of fell into place. But yes, I think it was both this drive of this question that I already had coming in, but knowing Antioch’s vision and mission and values were really a big draw to the program for me.
[30:52] Ally: That’s a great question. Looking back, I was pretty new to the field of education when I did decide that I wanted to learn more. I think I had three years as a formal classroom teacher under my belt and I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to learn more about, but I just knew I wanted to learn more. I knew that I hadn’t gotten any sort of formal teacher training and that I wanted to learn how to be a better facilitator, that I was a part of this democratic community and that I wanted to better work with my students to integrate their curiosities, their interests into my curriculum. And I wasn’t necessarily sure how to do that. So looking back, I think I partially just stumbled upon Antioch, but it wasn’t stumbling upon. There was a mirroring of values, kind of like you mentioned, Dani, that a lot of the other programs seemed like coursework that was just checking boxes. It was nine to five teachers who were just kind of checking boxes so that they could get a bump in teacher pay. And the classes, even though I’d only had a couple of years of education or experience under my belt, didn’t really resonate with me, whereas Antioch’s coursework was directly linked to your classroom. So all three practicums were equity studies, curriculum studies, and child-based studies so that I was going to be doing my coursework in my own school and directly integrating my learning.
[32:10] Jasper: I love that, Ally. Thank you each for sharing what drew you to Antioch and your stories there. And I wanted to talk a little bit more broadly about opportunities inside education, both at K-12 levels and in higher education. It feels like there are a number of crises in education, like state governments putting onerous restrictions on public school teachers. Affordability is a massive problem in higher education. Racial disparities have been a problem in this country since forever. And with affirmative action being struck down by the Supreme Court are possibly going to become even worse. I was also thinking of burnout among teachers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the effects of that are ongoing. But Ashley, you talking about not focusing on a deficit framing, but focusing on what is positive, made me think maybe I could put the question forward of what are some of the opportunities that you see in higher education and things that make you hopeful and excited and that you want to see more of as this field continues to evolve?
[33:19] Ashley: Maybe it’s something that I think a lot of folks would disagree with me on, but something that I find very exciting is generative AI and what it’s going to mean for the possibilities in education. I know there is a lot of concern and a lot of fear around plagiarism and those things happening right now, but something that I keep returning to in my mindset is this is going to cause a ripple effect where as educators, we have to really take a step back and determine what is it that we are wanting students to learn in the classroom? What is it that we are wanting them to actually demonstrate and is writing a paper the best way to demonstrate learning? So for me, it feels like a very exciting time. Like we’re on the precipice of more like the work that Allie does of very experiential work and figuring out how to get students away from just the reading, writing, arithmetic type of schooling. I would agree with that. Thank you for that, Dani. Education has the ability to really impact the curious mind. And so I’m excited to see our students be curious. And I’m excited that we have educators that are coming into the industry at all levels who recognize that they are still learners also. And so while you can be an expert in an area, you can also still learn and evolve that expertise. We live in a day and age where technology is at your fingertips, right? I’m a person who likes historical fiction, TV shows, movies, books. And so I often am researching while reading, watching. So I’m mindful that that’s also what students are doing. They’re fact checking. Right. Well, I think that is really important. So it forces us to be on our toes and challenges us to be better as educators. And so I think that is a really great future growth opportunity for us as educators, because that’s just going to continue. AI is going to continue that and allow us to be creative in the way we present education. I really love what Ally was talking about, how the education is set up at the school she teaches at. To do it in unconventional, untraditional ways is absolutely amazing and it helps people to continue to want to learn and see how they fit into it. And I think that’s something that’s possible at all levels of education.
[35:51] Ally: Yeah. Your comment, Dani, about AI and then Ashley, about having information at our fingertips, made me think about my own classroom and how whenever I’m planning a class or thinking about like, what are we going to learn about today? How do we want to learn about it? What do students want to learn about? If I’m planning information or curriculum that they could just Google on their phone, are we really learning how to learn? Am I really facilitating any sort of learning experience? How often do we come up with a question that we’re like, “Oh, Google that.” I do love this idea of the future of education, that there’s an opportunity for students to demonstrate learning in novel, authentic ways because just like my degree in problem-based science or problem-based learning, I think that’s so much more relevant to day-to-day life. Are we just trying to didactically open up students’ brains and stuff information in? Are we trying to teach them how to be involved, responsible citizens of our world? And so how do we do that, right? We need to teach them how to think critically. We need to help them figure out their own personal values and what do they care about and how do they want to make change in the world. And so I think creating curriculum that allows them to figure that out and share or demonstrate those findings in novel ways that aren’t just written and biased towards students with certain experiences in English language arts is really important.
[37:10] Dani: Yeah, and it’s critical pedagogy, right? Like you’re saying, we’re recognizing that each student brings their own thing to the table and they have their whole life experiences that they bring in and they have, like you said, Ashley, they have knowledge that maybe we don’t have. Instructors need to recognize, yes, we don’t know everything and we’re growing along with our students in the classroom. I just love it. It’s like my utopia education dream or classrooms like that.
[37:39] Ashley: That’s amazing. I remember reading the book Utopia back in the day and yes, you are right. What’s interesting is education has been set with this strict sit in the classroom, facing the board, listening to the teacher set up and I think we are starting to challenge that and starting to realize that people can come to a classroom in different ways and that classrooms can look differently. So I remember when I was a teacher, I literally got challenged by the school leader because I would let the students sit wherever they sat. Sit on top of your desk, sit on the floor as long as you’re learning, right? And so she was upset with me because I was doing this and literally pulled me out of the classroom and pulled me in the hallway and was like, your classroom is unorganized. And I’m like, walk in that classroom and ask them questions about what I just taught and I bet you they could tell you. So she did that. And so she was like, oh, wow. But this is still unorganized, right? Like, couldn’t even wrap her head around the fact that doing something different that works for the students as opposed to what works for you can mean something. And so many of those same students that I taught are now adults married with children and I’m still connected with them because it meant that much to them that I looked at their education in a different way.
[39:04] Ally: You just described that industrialized approach to education, right? That like face forward, consume information, learn to be a cog in a machine. And so kind of like you were mentioning, Dani, that isn’t necessarily the world we live in today. We’ve left the mill buildings behind. And so how are we working and supporting our students to become involved members of society? I don’t think it’s going to be learning how to be a cog in a machine. And so we do need to question those ideals and break the idea of students need to sit at a table or take a certain type of notes or raise their hand. And I feel so much gratitude that I work in a small community that allows me to break free of that mold. And it also my husband works in a public elementary school. At the end of the day, we get to kind of talk about our daily experiences. And he works at an incredible place. But there are many rules that he or his colleagues need to abide by that make absolutely no sense. And he’s questioning them and other teachers are questioning them. But it’s hard to change those systems. I have hope that, like Dani mentioned, our changing world is going to force education to shift as well.
[00:00] Ashley: Yes. So that systems thinking, Ally, that you’re talking about, something that just resonated with me literally while you were talking is education, what it was historically. And when I say historically, I don’t mean historically in the sense of what we know it to be. But historically, from back in the day, the beginning of time, we explored and we challenged and we had to go and sift through some things. And it was really hands on learning. And we lost that because somebody had to figure out and challenge and be curious in order to realize that we could create metal or that we could have these different chemical compounds. It wasn’t always a book because the books didn’t exist. Right. And so now we’re going back to that curiosity. And that’s exciting because that means that we get to continue to evolve and challenge the systems thinking, which I think is super important.
[40:13] Jasper: Yeah. Ashley, you said utopia. Hearing you guys talking about these things, which sounds so exciting and hopeful for the future of education. Does put me in the mind that every school has the chance to be an experiment in utopia. Unfortunately, we are running a little short on time because I feel like we could talk till it’s deep in the night. But I have a last question that I want to make sure we get in. Do you have any advice to others who could be people considering becoming teachers or working in education or people who already are in education and are considering returning and getting a degree and continuing their own studies, specifically geared towards people who want to do work that combines a fulfilling career with their own values and what they carry through the world. That’s important to them. And so I think the three of you are great examples of people who are actually out there living their values, impacting students every day. So how do you do it? And what would you say to somebody else? Maybe we could start with you, Ally.
[42:14] Ally: I don’t know that it’s super profound, but for me, know your why. I check in with this constantly. It’s like, why am I here? What brought me to this place in the first point? And knowing that deeply because there are going to be so many moments that rattle you and challenge you. And at least as a K through 12 classroom teacher, I have really hard days, right? We don’t have school counselors. We don’t have a principal. We’re kind of on the ground. And you never know what a student’s going to walk into the room carrying with them. And you’re kind of like a first responder. And so if I know deep down why I’m there, that I value each of these individuals as a person, that I value learning alongside them, that I want to help them figure out who they are and what they want to do and how they want to make change in the world, that it’s a lot easier to come back the next day when I’m exhausted.
[43:03] Ashley: Absolutely. I really like that, Ally. When the question was being formed, I said, know your why. And I think also knowing your values, who you are, is super important because you’re going to encounter a whole bunch of different challenges. But then you’re going to encounter different communities. Right. And sometimes it’s going to challenge what you thought you knew about the world. So being open is also super important and not being afraid to say, I don’t know, so that your curiosity can continue to grow and you can continue to learn. And it teaches ultimately the students that it’s OK to not know and to still be curious. But it also gives that unofficial permission to your colleagues as well, which I think is super important because that imposter syndrome seeps in. And what if they find out? I don’t know. I don’t care if you realize I don’t know. What I want you to realize is that I’m going to figure it out.
[43:52] Ally: So well said.
[43:52] Dani: Yeah. Thanks, Ashley.
[43:59] Jasper: Dani, did you have any advice?
[43:59] Dani: I love both of those offerings, Ashley and Allie. The final piece I would like to contribute is find your people. It’s hard to do any of this work on your own. And so finding your support system, finding your allies, finding the people who you can connect with through this work is very important. I know for me in the EdD program, my cohort has been my biggest champions and we all kind of support each other through the work. And so we can turn to each other on the days when it’s more difficult and be reminded of why we’re there and what we’re doing and the difference that we’re making in the world. And I find that that’s also something I see mirrored in my professional work as well, is finding the people with the shared values, with the shared vision, with that shared why of why we’re showing up and doing the work and being able to help and support each other through it. Absolutely. If in your institution, you don’t have anyone who could be your person in that way, look outside because I think there’s mentors and peers to be had across the world, across the country, outside of your institution. But it’s really important because we can’t ever function truly as an island in and of ourselves.
[45:16] Jasper: That is so beautifully put. Yeah, thank you, Dani. And thank you, Allie and Ashley and all three of you so much for spending this time today.
[45:20] Ally: Thank you for having me.
[45:22] Dani: Thank you, Jasper, for having us.
[45:27] Ashley: You’re welcome. Thank you, Jasper.
[45:40] Jasper: I’d like to thank Ashley Benson, Dani Belvin, and Ally Muir once more coming onto the podcast. If you’re interested in the programs they’ve studied in here at Antioch, we’ll link in our shownotes to the PhD in Leadership and Change, the Doctor of Education, and the Master of Education degree pages.
We post these shownotes on our website, theseedfield.org, where you’ll also find full episode transcripts, prior episodes, and more.
The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University.
Our editor is Johanna Case.
I’m your host, Jasper Nighthawk.
Our digital designer is Mira Mead.
Jen Mont is our web content coordinator.
Carrie Hawthorn, Stefanie Paredes, and Georgia Bermingham are our work-study interns.
A special thanks to Karen Hamilton, Amelia Bryan, and Melinda Garland.
Thank you for spending your time with us today. That’s it for this episode, we hope to see you next time. And don’t forget to plant a seed, sow a cause … and win a victory for humanity. From Antioch University, this has been the Seed Field Podcast