Since last November I've been working on something behind the scenes on the All The Wonders podcast and to be honest, I've been struggling with how to pull this blog post together.
How about we begin anecdotally? All things are rooted in story. Why would this be any different?
I've been working on podcasting with my students each year for the past several years. This probably isn't too difficult to believe, since I'm most these days for hosting a children's book podcast (See: All The Wonders: The Children's Book Podcast, formerly the Let's Get Busy podcast). Whenever I've introduced this unit to students I've incorporated my own podcast into the opening lesson to (1) introduce the concept of podcasting to them and (2) build a personal connection between what I'm teaching and what I do outside of school in hopes they might be similarly inspired to take their work beyond the classroom.
When you visit the podcast homepage you are greeted by the faces of the guests from each of the most recent episodes. This is intentional. Far too often do I feel like the students don't make a meaningful connection with the names printed on the cover of the book because, to most children (and perhaps most adults), they're just names. By putting the faces of authors and illustrators and other guests there my students (and anyone visiting the site) can put a face to a name and may even know who to look for when attending a local book festival or author signing. This is what is showing on the site at the time that I'm drafting this post:
*If you click on the photo you can see how the current roster looks.
In 2015 and 2016 the challenge that was quite literally facing me and my students during our unit introductions was that my podcast guest list did not reflect the diversity of my school and, more specifically, of the class of students sitting before the projector screen. The students saw a collection of exceptional bookmakers, many of whose books were widely circulated in our library. But the students didn't see themselves. Or, rather, as I looked at the screen I did not see my students of color nor the diverse makeup of my class reflected on the faces of the podcast guests I was showing to the class.
I teach at a school where 52% of our student population self-identifies as Black or African American. Further statistics on ethnicity support what a diverse population of students make up our school. And this is not acknowledging the diversity represented outside of ethnicity, such as socioeconomic status, gender identity, and family structure. I'm at a new school this year, but the population is similar to that of my previous school.
What did my students see when they looked on the grid of recent podcast guests shown to them during the unit introduction? Did they see themselves? Did they see faces with similar skin tone to their own? Did they see gender expression similar to themselves? Did these 10 and 11-year-olds each have the opportunity to see a face and think, "That could be me one day"? Because that is something I want them to see. That is something I want them to know is a possibility.
I knew my school make-up in terms of ethnic diversity, but I realized I had no real grasp on the diversity of the podcast guests.
So I left to find out.
By auditing my podcast archives for how ethnic diversity is represented among guests I was able to see things that were hidden in plain sight previously. (NOTE: The ethnicity categories used here were selected because they are the choices reported on the data used in my county.)
PODCAST AUDIT (ACTUAL)
PODCAST AUDIT (PERCENTAGE)
There are a whole lot of 0's on those charts in places that are definitely not 0's at my school. Let me bring this data into something a little easier on the eyes.
PODCAST AUDIT (PERCENTAGE ON BAR GRAPH)
You can probably tell that since auditing in November of 2016 I have made a concerted effort to be more intentional toward how diversity is represented on the podcast. Still, this data shows me that I have not historically made space on the podcast for people of ethnicities and backgrounds different from that of my own. I am reminded of the Diversity in Children's Books 2015 graphic from Sarah Park's website.
Credit: Huyck, David, Sarah Park Dahlen, Molly Beth Griffin. (2016 September 14). Diversity in Children’s Books 2015 infographic. sarahpark.com blog. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/picture-this-reflecting-diversity-in-childrens-book-publishing/
With all of this data in my head I then went to draw comparisons between the podcast audit data and that of my school's population. I took the ethnicity data from my current school (SES) and my previous school (DLES) and I put them against the podcast guests of the previous years.
To give you an idea of what I found, here's a chart comparing the data from the two schools with the podcast statistics of 2017 (January thru August).
CURRENT SCHOOL POPULATIONS vs. PODCAST AUDIT
*Quick note: The text of the boxes got cut off. Please scroll up to "PODCAST AUDIT (PERCENTAGE ON BAR GRAPH)" for full text.
To give you some comparison, here is the same podcast data displayed against statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau's population statistics for 2010 and 2016.
US CENSUS DATA vs. PODCAST AUDIT
The comparative data doesn't appear as disparaging in the chart above, but my goal is not to mirror that of US population statistics, but instead to see the podcast guest list more closely reflect the ethnic diversity of my school's student population.
So, at this point you may be asking yourself why it I'm sharing all of this with you.
I know that what I say and how I represent myself via the podcast, whether in an interview or by the list of guests that appear on iTunes, says something about me, my values, and how I am choosing to use my voice in the children's literature community.
I know that I want my students, my friends, and my colleagues to look at the work I'm doing in and thru the podcast and I want them to see me leaving space for more windows in my life, and perhaps not as many mirrors.
I know that I want authors and illustrators and fellow book bloggers and fellow book lovers to see that this is a space where not only does everyone have a place at the table, but that I am cranking up the volume on those voices who were not previously heard or represented accurately on the podcast.
I know that I want my students to see themselves in the faces of the bookmakers with which I interview each month and I want them to see not just hear that that is the absolute most important choice I want to be making with every single guest or book I consider. Will this guest or this book be a mirror in some way for a student who very much needs to see that mirror in their life?
In order to do this I had to take one crucial step: the first one.
That one first step toward change. Toward recognition and ownership. Toward intentional reflection and growth.
It was a blog post from Lee & Low back in July, 2016 that first got me thinking. In it teacher and blogger Jessica Lifshitz describes how she had students analyze her classroom library to see how diverse it is. I highly recommend you read Part 1 and Part 2 of Jessica's truly thoughtful and exceptional work. It inspired me to start looking at my own podcast and tracking episodes.
PODCAST AUDIT MONTHLY DATA
Jessica's post inspired me to begin a diversity audit of what books I read aloud throughout the year in the library.
It inspired me to audit what books I display or pull for classroom teachers, in consideration for how diversity is represented when possible.
It inspired me to consider how diversity is represented in the Scholastic Book Club flyers that go home with students throughout the grade levels at our school.
It inspired me to consider how diversity is represented at our Scholastic Book Fair.
It. Inspired. Me.
I've definitely felt the growing pains over this past year. Ive felt myself challenged in ways I haven't felt previously. But I've also felt more alive and invigorated and driven than I can ever remember.
I'm on a mission.
And at the heart of that mission are my students.
"Do the best you can until you know better.
Then when you know better, do better."
- Maya Angelou