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Ep. 188: Dr. Morcease Beasley - Leading Education with Executive Function

July 20, 2022 Sucheta Kamath Season 1 Episode 188
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Ep. 188: Dr. Morcease Beasley - Leading Education with Executive Function
Show Notes Transcript

The excitement of a new year also brings new challenges to overcome, especially as we continue to face educational, health, safety and well-being issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. As we gear up, how should we adjust our educational approach so that we can achieve our goals with our schools and communities? How can we keep students motivated and engaged to continue learning, but also, how do we develop patience and understanding throughout the community during this new normal that is weighed down by fear, frustration, and the anxiety of the unknown?

In this episode, Dr. Morcease Beasley, Superintendent, Clayton County Public School, Georgia discusses how educators can make strategic shifts by focusing on self-awareness, self-reflection and Executive Function in general to empower their teachers, staff, parents and students during these uncertain times. Hear how since the start of COVID-19 in 2020, Dr. Beasley has made remarkable efforts to strategically manage the disruption caused by the pandemic by implementing prudent health and safety precautions, bridging the digital divide by improving remote/hybrid learning experiences for students and activating meaningful support of students and faculty alike. Learn how teaching our students to regulate emotions and master skillful deliberation, cognitive flexibility and empathy makes a positive difference in not only their academic outcomes but also in their lives.

About Dr. Morcease Beasley
Nationally known as an innovative leader and instructor, Dr. Morcease Beasley has more than 25 years of dedicated service in instructional and organizational practices and the education of young people. Throughout his career, he has held numerous positions at every level of public school education beginning as a high school Mathematics teacher; assistant principal; high school principal; Executive Director for Curriculum, Instruction, Professional Learning and Federal Programs. He also held the position as Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning; Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and School Leadership. Dr. Beasley is considered a transformational educator and instructional leader with proven success in the supervision of both large urban and suburban school districts.

About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

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 Sucheta Kamath: Thank you everyone for joining us today for this amazing webinar. This is kicking off 2022 with best wishes to all of you. May we all be blessed with better health, amazing opportunities and great community and get a chance to contribute to our communities so that we all can grow together and grow together. And today's topic is Leading with Executive Function. We have a very special guest. And its Dr. Morcease Beasley, a friend, an incredible inspirational speaker and a leader and whose imprint is can be felt in the city of Atlanta and in the state of Georgia. He is the superintendent of fifth largest county in Georgia, Clayton County Public Schools. I'll let him talk a little bit about that as well. But let's start. You already know many of you know some of you know, but just a quick overview. I'm a speech and language pathologist at heart. I've been in practice for 25 years. I've honored to share my experiences about executive function, self-directed learning, learning to think for yourself and higher order critical reasoning skills, on TED stage and at Leadership Atlanta's stage as well. I wear many hats, but one of my newest hats is ed tech entrepreneurship. I have created 100% digital technology, which is a cloud-based curriculum for six to 12th grade students designed to assess, evaluate, personalize and build executive function. I'm also excited to share that I have built an ExQ Teacher Academy, I believe in empowering teachers to teach learning how to learn as part of their learning process. And lastly, I'm inviting all of you to download immediately my podcast, which is we've been in business for last four years, this is my fourth year, and we have been listened to in 110 countries and what a joy it is to be found and reached out by. My guests tend to be neuroscientists, anthropologists, sociologists, social psychologist, and many educators and even I have had Daniel Pink, as well as Maggie Jackson, who are, you know, journalists. So, with that I am delighted to introduce our amazing guest of honor. He's nationally known as an innovative leader and instructor. Dr. Morcease Beasley has more than 25 years of dedicated service in instructional and organizational practices and education of young people. Of course, he is educator at heart because he has held many numerous positions at every level of public school education beginning at high school mathematics teacher, and he has some amazing stories in his book, which I really love, then assistant principal high school principal, Executive Director of Curriculum Instruction, Professional Learning, and Federal Programs, he also held a position as Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning and Deputy Superintendent for curriculum and instruction that goes to show that people when they arrived at the level of superintendent, they didn't go wake up and say, Okay, let me run a whole district obviously. And last, but not the least. He is also an author of a book, which I found very influential, called A Passion for Improving Schools. And he's considered a transformative, transformational educator, instructional leader, and has a proven success in the supervision of both large urban district and suburban school districts. Welcome, Dr. Beasley. How are you today?

Dr. Morcease Beasley: I'm doing well. And thank you for inviting me.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, it is my pleasure, as I I'm saying this to you. One thing I wanted to begin is with setting the stage for what executive function is and why it is critical to talk to the leadership, such as yours. So, for those who are already familiar, this will be just a refresher for those who are keenly interested in understanding the nature and scope of executive function. Here you go. So, when we talk about education in general, or student readiness, and learning success, in particular, the following words often are invariably mentioned, and see for yourself, if this relates to you, and feel free to type what words come to your mind in the chat. When I say student readiness, or learner success. And here are a few things that come to my mind, persistence, resilience, grit, goal setting, help seeking cooperation, contentiousness self-efficacy, and self-regulation. Dr. Beasley what come words come to your mind.

 Dr. Morcease Beasley: I think of learning, managing situations, I think of being responsive, responsive and responsible. Also think of working. How do we work? And how do we complete a task? Those are things that come to mind.

Sucheta Kamath: Brilliant. So, I'll add a few more things to that list, which is self-control, self-discipline, motivation, mindset, effort, you mentioned work and sticking to things, work habits, organization, homework completion, learning strategies, and study skills. These are some of the ranges of things that come to mind when we talk about learner readiness or learning success. So now, what does research say about all this? So, school performance, as all of us can imagine, is a complex phenomenon. And it's shaped by a wide variety of factors intrinsic to the students and in their environments. And collectively, they're called as cognitive skills. In addition to the content knowledge and academic success, student must develop the set of skills which are just listed in a set of behaviors and skills and attitudes, so that their strategic when they approach learning, and these abilities are not only crucial to academic success and performance, but also so that they can actually live a more reflective life. And then they are called non cognitive performances. So, the neuroscientists and educational researchers say that these two sets of factors, which is cognitive factors, and non-cognitive factors, influence student agency and school performance. So, I'm going to talk about mostly about the non-cognitive factors, which is nothing but executive function skills. So what are the non-cognitive factors so, as we think about school performance and student success, it's influenced by a, it's measured by test scores, but it's also measured by grades and the content knowledge and academic skills are the only two things that get measured by test scores, but content knowledge, academic skills, and non-cognitive factors such as grit and effort and continuous commitment to work and goal, directed persistence are all executive function. So, in a nutshell, executive function is the way we manage our thoughts, ideas, emotions, and our actions in order to produce results based on the goals that you create for your and so that your future self-benefits. The trick here is that in order to achieve something that benefits the future self, you need to have a complex and well-formed concept of the future self. And as you can imagine, we don't often talk to children or students about their future selves, we hope for them to kind of do all these things so they can be better. And Middle School schooler we can say, hey, so you can take a piece, a school kid who's graduating from high school, we can say, hey, you will be very prepared to handle career and, and college. But these are non-cognitive, and particularly subject agnostic skills that go into managing self and managing life. So, with that, Dr. Beasley, I wanted, as an educator. And as an educational leader, you've seen the impact of strong executive function skills on student independence and institutional efficacy, adaptive flexibility on its leaders, right. So please tell us a little bit about some of the kinds of executive function challenges your school district has been facing in the last two years, as we continue teaching in the face of global pandemic? And are you seeing issues related to coping with change, or challenge ability to empathize with others and challenges related to focus, organization and planning? So, let's kick off with that question.

Dr. Morcease Beasley: Well, are we are we seeing students challenged? Yes. Needless to say, that, are we seeing parents challenged? Yes, we're seeing educators, we're seeing administrators, superintendents, myself included, included, we are seeing all of us challenged that so many levels, so many levels. However, we also see opportunities. Yes, even as I visit schools and observe and interact with students, I'm seeing students recognize that they've got to be more self-aware, they've got to be more intentional about paying attention, whether virtually, or face to face, that they've got to be very, very dedicated to the instructional process because there are so many things occurring. And the time that they're in school, they're thinking about what's at home and, and virus and you know, even when someone sneezes or coughs in the classroom, that's a moment right there where everybody's tensing up, tensing up, and, and they're thinking about, I wonder what's going in through the air with that sneeze or with that call, you know, and so everyone is having to self-regulate themselves, and this new environment. So yes, we're seeing our students be very, very, very resilient. But at the same time, we do see some students who are having some very challenging moments, if you will, throughout their day throughout their lives, at least in this space in their lives, dealing with the circumstances as they are. Many young people are just processing this day by day. And there are some young people that are just wishing that this entire ordeal was over, it never happened, so that they can get on with their lives and enjoy high school or middle school or elementary school, and the way that they plan to do so. And unfortunately, because they nor I have any control over this situation, we're all having to pull on some skills that, honestly are going to help us navigate through this and at least be happy and find our peace in the middle of a situation that clearly is beyond our control.

Sucheta Kamath: I really appreciate what you're saying about this. One particular thing that you emphasized, which is willing it away, you know, almost I was hearing, it's maybe hoping to see that getting better. But people were saying when this is all over? Well, what if this is going to stay for four years, and God bless. None of that should happen that way. But I think this idea that a roadblock should be instantaneously or eventually removed, but kind of having a way to go around is a way of life. So can you tell us a little bit about this attitude and the cognitive and executive function skill set that go into creating solutions for self as a process, which we don't often teach this as strategically and intentionally all the time. But pandemic has made us aware that they are so crucial, don't you agree?

Dr. Morcease Beasley: I agree, and I and you know if you will allow me, I'll just share an example that I had to engage in executive function just this on this past week. Of course, we made the decision to start virtually Last week, so we could give our staff and opportunity to get tested. So, students were learning virtually. But during that week, we collected data on COVID. Community data and employee data, we collected student voice, feedback, parent voice feedback, employee voice feedback, we collected all of this data, qualitative, quantitative data. And needless to say, the superintendent, once I look at all that data, it's all over the place. Needless to say, I have to make a decision, I have to make a decision that is coherent, that's rational, that's in the best interest of all parties, realizing that my decision not everybody will necessarily agree with, but hopefully they will respect and implement that decision. Well, we made the decision to return face to face. And we communicated that decision to everyone. Well, a part of that communication, I did share with everyone that while we did not create this situation, we must respond to the situation. But in the middle of responding, let's not lose our, our center, we've got to center ourselves and ground ourselves. And those things that we know are important. Keep your peace, remain flexible. Understand the situation is beyond your control. And you can only impact what's in your control. Maintain a peace of mind, maintain calmness, maintain your joy, your emotional well-being and recognize that eventually the situation will change, it may change sooner than we'd like. Or it may be delayed for some time, it just depends. We're not in control of that. But do your part. And be mindful that you've got to build a life beyond the current situation. I know I said a lot to young people, and to families. But I try to encourage them that remember, we're here having school. And no one promised us that we would have school in an ideal environment and ideal situation. Therefore, what can we do to make the best of the situation and continue to position ourselves for hopefully, very productive lives very productive futures. I tried to model that; I do acknowledge that the superintendent is very tired of the situation as well. But I also remind them that the decisions still have to be made, whether I'm tired of the situation, whether I appreciate it or don't like the situation, decisions have to be made. And just like I have to make decisions that impact their lives, they have to make decisions that will impact their lives and potentially the lives of other people. That messaging is so important for people sometimes to just hear consistently, that to me, that's a part of managing myself, managing the situation, and then demonstrating or modeling the behaviors, the attitudes that I think will build resilience, and that will help them get through help us get through the situation. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not perfect in the situation. However, I do recognize my position and my responsibility. And I try to get young people and educators and teachers and principals and others to also recognize their position and responsibility to model those appropriate behaviors. You know, what do we hear that, you know that the true test of a care of your character is not in times of convenience, but in times of inconvenience, and we've all been greatly inconvenience. So now is the time to pull on those skills that will help us navigate this situation until it changes whenever that is.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, you speak the truth. And I mean, one of the things that I really appreciate your emphasis on hope, hope, and effort. So, you're really showing that sometimes we can all feel defeated, and that's where our faith needs to be activated, but recognizing that if I'm in it, you're in it, and that is such a solace. You know, it's not like I was sick with the flu, and you are not it's like COVID If I'm affected at least one member, you know, in your community, in your family or in your household that has been affected and there's genuine that balance between faith and effort, or effort and hope is really very meaningful to me. I was wondering now, in this particular person with this perspective, let's talk a little take a little deep dive on specific factors. So, you know, one of the biggest things, every single thing that I'm reading, whether it's locally, in Atlanta in Georgia, in nationally, that Inc, student engagement has been a great concern for all the educators. And when we talk about engagement, which is one, you know, after face-to-face interactions, versus digital or hybrid situations, the opportunity to tap somebody on their shoulder when they are not paying attention, opportunity to pull somebody and looking into their eyes and say, hey, are you okay? Such a, that has been a real compromise for us and us educators who love to deal with children, or even our colleagues. And so, engagement is this this engagement of not finding value, not finding merit in learning lesson in that moment, or not finding meaning? Because why bother? You know, nothing seems to be working, or finding difficult things, the reason to not engage, and then difficult situation being the reason to not engage. So, tell us a little bit about how does that, that shift to you as a leader? And as you look at all the schools in your district? How does focusing on re engaging kids and I hate the word re engaging, it's assuming that kids are not engaged, but how do we keep them engaged? And how do we kind of show them that what they do matters? And even if it doesn't look like it matters? It does?

Dr. Morcease Beasley: That's a great question. I do think in all honesty, that, first we have to acknowledge that engagement is a challenge in this environment. Yes, unfortunately, we're face to face now. But what I've observed, and others have shared is that even when we return face to face, engagement was such a challenge, because the students had been virtual for so long. So, it's like we had to go back and find and relearn retooled ourselves on how do we engage with one another face to face? How do we how do we use a moment of the instructional period to really check on students to see if they're okay? To help them get to a better emotional place, even before we address content? Sometimes they just need to know you care, before they know what you want to teach them. Yeah, so helping everybody understand that. First of all, we're very, you know, I tell people this all the time, we're spiritual creatures, we you know, we were we have spirits and souls and we live in bodies, at least that's what I believe in, if you're not willing to tap that spirit and soul and to help people to find a good safe place, a happy place, a joyful place, a satisfied place, a thoughtful place, a concern place, a considerate place, a passionate place, and a place of empathy, then you're really not ready to teach content, you're not ready to teach anyone how to solve a math problem, or how to read a book or you're not ready to do any of that until they first know that you as the instructor, you as the parent, you as the community leader, you are actually concerned about their well-being. Yes, because that's who we are first. And remember, it's more about who we are not about what we do. So, let's help children focus in on who they are. And acknowledge that there are some skills, self-awareness, self-management, there, these skills are necessary for students to understand who they are, so that they can appropriately effectively efficiently work on what they'd like to do. And sometimes we put what we want kids to do before who they actually are. And then we wonder why the outcomes a compromise. Well, you didn't get the order, right. You didn't get the order. You got to work on who they are and get in tune with who they are help students to acknowledge their emotions. It's okay to be angry, why you're angry. But now the question is, what are you going to do with that anger in order to keep yourself moving forward and not get stuck? And so, we find ourselves in our school system really embracing those social, emotional mental wellness moments. So, our students Are parents. Now educators how leaders can really create those learning environments where in our students are actually thriving. And notice I said, everybody creates that environment because one student can disrupt the instructional environment if we don't help that student understand who they are and what they're here for. And if we don't help them develop the skills to help manage themselves, manage their situation, and work toward whatever goals that they may have.

Sucheta Kamath: You know, what strikes me in what you're saying, is this working on a particular personal quality of patience. And I feel that and emotional bandwidth, so to speak, and those are two very incredible executive function skills, which is self-control, self-regulation, but also taking the perspective of the other or that flexibility to read the minds of others, which is theory of mine. And when I find that, you know, I think there's a great on a good day, let's say, we can do it on a bad day, we can't. And that individual variability in our ebb and valley of, you know, flow of our own inconsistencies, is something that needs to be addressed. So, we tell kids, so many things that they can be, and they should, and they should cultivate, but sometimes a does don't possess it, or not so much possessive. don't acknowledge the full purpose. And so, I was curious, what are your thoughts about this relationship to personal, not personal failure, but our own lack of patience, or, uh, you know, I think I was present. This December, I had gone to Pennsylvania to present at the I was doing a keynote at the counselors meeting. And one of the things that I kind of was showing sharing some research on patience. And one thing, the discrepancy, that often kids pick up on is, is they feel that the adults around children often use the word, take a minute, think about it, reflect on it, when adults don't actually talk about their own reflection, or don't do it. So, I was just wondering, what are your thoughts about creating a culture of self-reflection, where you actually have a goal to exhibit patience, but then you also have a goal, to talk about your failure in patience, and self-reflect openly without shame or embarrassment.

Dr. Morcease Beasley: I do think it's very important that we are very intentional about developing executive function. First of all, we as staff members, superintendents, leaders, school leaders, educators, parents, and all we need to understand the concept of executive function, we need to know exactly what skills we have, what skills we may need to develop. And then we create very intentionally, opportunities for our students to understand what executive function is, and how to develop that executive function in their lives. So, our approaches is simple. You can't expect students to develop what they're not aware of what they're not informed about. So, help them to understand exactly what executive function is and how it impacts not only their decisions that they have relative to socializing with their friends, it impacts how they respond to teachers to do their homework, it impacts how they respond to their parents, when their parents give them chores to do. It impacts how they respond to an adult, who, who may not necessarily be using very appropriately their executive function or helps. I mean, that's just the reality in our schools, there are times when we as adults, we, we have certain parts of our brains that have gaps as well. But helping students understand that they have to be intentional about developing executive function, developing those skills, using their working memory, how do you use that working memory? Using your, your ability to think about thinking to be flexible in your thinking, how do you do that? How do you develop that self-control? What are some things you do when you start a task in order to actually bring the task to completion and allowing them to talk through and tell us okay, even if a student doesn't complete a task, the question is, have you thought about why you didn't complete that task? And as you provide the wait time, allow students to respond to that and think deeply about that. And then going a little further sharing tools with them, or actions that they can take to help train themselves when they start a task and to complete the task. But the word that I would focus on is we've got to be very intentional about that. And that's one reason we're using. We're focusing on executive function in our school system, we have to be very intentional about developing, making students aware, but also helping them to develop the skills that we know will contribute, impact their quality of life.

Sucheta Kamath: And I'm going to explore that a little bit more with you about the how of the process of, but it just reminded me as we were talking about this, getting in spaces with students and self-reflecting together, you know, today's my son's birthday and happy birthday, Rahil. And, uh, he, he's a young man, now. He's a young adult, and he was working from home. So, we FaceTimed. And immediately, I, I saw in in his zoom, there was, there were three plans, and I said, oh, I can show you how to organize them. And, and he says, really well, didn't you call me to wish, because these were new plants that they brought for the, for his apartment. Anyways, it was so funny for me, for me to realize this temptation to be an influence on young mind is just irresistible to me as a human. And I don't know where the boundary of controlling my son or his outcome versus deep desire to add some value, you know, that can get blurry. And so, this good faith effort to help everybody sometimes means not to help them.

Dr. Morcease Beasley: And it sounds like you need to develop some, some executive function with letting him be a young, a young adult.

Sucheta Kamath: Yes, well, that was the question I have for you, as we think about the gap between our knowledge of what the needs are, are for our children and students, and where we see their potential. And then our method, which can be very heavy in making recommendations or strategy versus allowing some exploration so that there is that self-discovery process. Now, how do you see that worked out for children globally? And how does that in your leadership, or you see facilitated for the teams that you work with?

Dr. Morcease Beasley: I think, globally, even within our school system, we really have to create those instructional environments and wherein we ground, those decisions that they're making, and executive function, those experiences have to be grounded. They've got to be able to work together in teams, they've got to be able to solve problems, think critically, they've got to be able to listen to multiple perspectives, they've got to be able to look at data and analyze the data towards figuring out exactly which path to take, or what solution that they would like to share or implement, and the power that we have in school districts, we have at least 180 days of the year that we can do this with young people. So how do we structure our 180 days that we have to ensure that from one hour of the day to the next hour of the day, that they're consistently getting these opportunities, and just imagine just imagine 180 days, every hour of those 180 days for 12-13 years, getting consistently getting those experiences, just imagine the frontal lobe and how developed it will be. And those skill sets that we know will only tend toward them making better decisions, or living healthier lives, being happier, being more satisfied and feeling better, or even have an improved sense of self-worth, because they're making better decisions. Just imagine the power of using the time that we have not the time that we don't control but just the time that we control. So, the question that I have is how can we build into the time that we have every hour of the day? Experiences activities for our students? It's to actually develop the skills, executive function skills that we know, are critical to the success that they'll experience in their lives, and allow teachers professionals to create those opportunities, every hour of the day, using tools. That's why we're in partnership with you using tools to help us do that. Helping kids be very intentional about developing those skills. And this is I really, if there's a word that I can highlight, it's intentional. Yeah, to be very, very intentional stop assuming and this is, you know, I'm a bit real big on critical thinking. And that may have a lot to do with my math background. But don't assume that critical thinking is developed by osmosis. It is not. It's a skill, it's a skill it has yet it is. It has to be developed. And there's a process for developing one's critical thinking or criticality. In order for our students to develop their critical thinking skills, we've got to immerse them in opportunities that require number one, critical thinking, and that validate whether or not they're actually thinking critically. And so even our assessments, our observations have to provide the feedback that they need towards whether or not they're thinking critically or not. And fortunately, we're living in a time now where there are many tools that can help us do that.

Sucheta Kamath: You know, so I really another idea, kind of like, light bulbs are going in my head as you're talking about, because the ultimate purpose to me of education is that capacity to leave, let children live K to 12, education with self-devise strategic thinking, that means I know who I am, I know what works for me, I know what doesn't work for me. I know who the resources are, I know when to ask help, and when to say thank you, no, thank you. And I know how to develop or devise tools for self that come from exploration of my past experiences and the world around me. And to me, none of these skills are specific content skills, right? This is actually learned through math, but they're not mathematical skills. They are learned through being in Latin, but it's not Latin skills. And this idea that you were just talking about that tools as a tool usage is such a critical part of being an effective human being. And so, I was curious if you can talk a little bit about your district as such, and share a little bit about some, some profile of your district and share with us. How are the kinds of children you serve and the communities that that your part of, or communities’ part of your district? How do these critical thinking skills show up for these kids when they get ready for graduation?

Dr. Morcease Beasley: Clayton County, it's a district here in Georgia, south of Atlanta, where the fifth largest county, in the state, we have about 54,000 students, maybe a little under 54,000. So, it's pretty large. We have about 70% of black students, 20% Hispanic students, 10%, white, Asian, and in some other groups. Our students are expected to accelerate their learning. We have many students who are not necessarily reading or at least starting school on grade level, but our teachers, our staff, instructional staff, they really grow students. But we have some instructional priorities. And I'll just share, and you'll hear executive function embedded in these priorities. Effective questioning. Yes, I love that. teaching students how to ask questions and modeling that for our students. Clearly, allowing students to utilize their literacy strategies to grapple with various levels of text. That's a very important skill for us. Allowing students to, to use the resources that we have, whether they're online resources to help develop those math skills or those literacy skills, or science skills or social studies, skills, or even beyond We provide students, Chromebooks and laptops. And we encourage them to use the tools to engage in their instructional process.

Sucheta Kamath: And talk about problem solving with those tools, right? My zoom was working, and then it stopped, like showing the camera, like even that kind of problem solving, you know, you cannot join the class, because you couldn't get the Zoom to operate like that has taught so many people, so many problem-solving skills, sorry.

Dr. Morcease Beasley: Or what happens if your internet goes out? And you still have some assignments that you need to complete? How do you get those things done?

Sucheta Kamath: Exactly. The non-cognitive skills

Dr. Morcease Beasley: The non-cognitive skills that and basically its life, its life. How do you get to get the challenge done? The challenge overcome, even if there are obstacles that you got to navigate over, around under or whatever? How do you get it done? Our district, of course, our kids are dealing with food insecurity. They're dealing with families or dealing with job employment losses, or changes. Yeah, they're dealing with life. But guess what? As far as I know, you're going to be dealing with life for the rest of your life. Yes. So those are not, don't la those are some significant life events. They're not excuses. To not do they're not excuses to not perform and perform. They're not excuses to not learn. They're not excuses to not better yourself. They're not excuses. Let's figure out a way. And let's figure out how do you have agency and our school system, we tell families, there's no reason for anyone to go hungry. We have food pantries, and every and most schools, we have food giveaway events, we collaborate with partners, if there's something you need, we've communicated that we expect you expect our students, our families to take full advantage of the resources that are communicated to them. Now, do they have to manage their situation? Of course, they do. I can't do that for them. But I can help them by modeling some things that they can take advantage of some resources that are available, share those, offer those to them, and even provide some opportunities for families, to engage in their own social emotional practices, to strengthen the family, help the family to be more cohesive, to help families deal with the stress, etc. We've got all of these opportunities.

Sucheta Kamath: Love it. You know, I think what again, what I'm, I'm hearing you talk about, one is clearly communicating that we are a family. So, nobody's left to fend for themselves alone. Second, I think there is such a recognition of human life experiences. So, you're not leaving anybody alone and saying, what's up with that? It's saying, I understand I may not be in it, but I understand what it is. And you're not alone. I think that's such a powerful way to kind of keep a sense of belonging, which is one of the primary components of student agency. And the third piece that I think is profoundly meaningful, as I listened to you, is, you know, as a leader, you're serving 55,000 children, and comes the family and a probably a huge team that that you are overseeing and partnering with. And I have been my team and I are very fortunate to work with Dr. Simpson and Dr. Dunn, who are brilliant, and incredible leaders who think very carefully about social emotional learning and executive function, and implementation of new ways of doing things. So, one thing that I do kind of comes to my mind as you're addressing some of the food insecurities and also job instabilities and transitions in the communities. How does how is the ongoing pandemic, widening the equity gap in, in your observation, not just in state of Georgia, but within the nation? And can you comment a little bit about how it impacts learners’ capacity to cope and adapt, doing such challenging times, even though I completely understand that once you once we acknowledge I don't have a choice, there's only way to move forward. But there is a significant structural limitations that some communities have to endure more than others. Do you have any observations about that and a commentary?

Dr. Morcease Beasley: Well, I do. I do think that the pandemic has highlighted very clearly the many inequities that exists. But I also think that the pandemic has given us an opportunity. And I do see many communities Clayton County included, working diligently to address those inequities. For example, while we're a majority minority community, our students have access to the internet. And when families don't have the internet, we provide Wi Fi. They have Chromebooks. So, whether it's face to face instruction or learning virtually, they have access to instruction. So, what have we done, we've contributed to the elimination of that inequity, specifically, access to high quality instruction at our community. I've already mentioned what we're doing with food insecurity. What we're doing, we're supporting families, our unemployment rate in the county is one of the lowest in the nation, because we work with our county government to make sure our parents are aware of job opportunities that are available within our county and within our region. So, while the pandemic has highlighted the inequities, it's also given us an opportunity and I see this occurring and communities around the nation. As I talked to my superintendent colleagues, they are also addressing these inequities as well. So, again, there have been challenges. We are seizing the moment and taking full advantage of the opportunities that exists. So, I do see that many of the inequities are starting to be addressed. Do we have a long way to go? Of course, we do. Because it would be great if the inequities in every community were being addressed. As we're addressing...

Sucheta Kamath: All types of inequities, not just...

Dr. Morcease Beasley: Many types. That's correct. Yeah. But I will say that I do think that people who, who have a heart for the community heart for children, heart for people, they are working diligently to identify and address those inequities, you got to be pretty heartless and careless, probably bordering on inhuman, in order to see what we see and not feel compelled to do something about it, and whatever role or capacity or influence or using whatever influence that you may have. So, I do see, again, challenges highlighted, but also being addressed in various ways, of course. But I do see that they are being addressed, at least from the conversations that I'm having with my colleagues from around the nation.

Sucheta Kamath: Thanks, thank you for that. And so, you know, in my work for last 25 years, one of the ways... All my life I have done executive function training, whether it's individually, whether it's in a group setting, my journey began working with people with brain injuries after losing their cognitive proficiency. And my focus particular area, focus always has been academic and professional reentry. So, these are individuals who have suffered something called mild traumatic brain injuries. So, their loss of consciousness was minimal there. They have no walking talking difficulties, but what they have is, they can't find their way out of a paper bag. So, they are disorganized they, they are not able to see the big picture. They're impulsive, they kind of social relationships are impacted. So, my work began there and then eventually started seeing a lot of developing brains, as we know them are less capable when they're younger and develop them through much maturation. But if you take all sixth graders, so definitely an eighth grader is more mature than sixth grader. But if you take all eighth graders, you'll definitely see some eighth graders are more mature than others. And the way executive function plays out in the classroom or when we talk about performance or student success. Those who regulate themselves better tend to stay on task better, they stand, tend to achieve more, but they're also better liked, because they can be dependable. And then those who don't regulate themselves tend to become a little bit of a pain because they are not only not managing self, they don't allow the management of the classroom. You know, there was a gifted researcher who has published this data that says in a gifted classroom where all students are gifted, the teacher is teaching to the 20th seventh percentile functioning student, because anybody who is above that their learning is disrupted by mismanaging children who are mismanaging cells. So, with that the underlying skill set in executive function include skills such as focus, working memory, prospective memory, how do I remind myself to remember to remember, organization planning, critical thinking skills such as problem solving, and mental flexibility or perspective taking, but the crowning glory is self-awareness. So, as I lay this out, what is as an educator who has had hands on experiences in the classrooms, but as you take the area's perspective on looking at various schools, what do you in your opinion, seem to be the strongest, most influential executive function skills amongst the ones I listed and weakest in body of students in the observation?

Dr. Morcease Beasley: Well, I'll tell you the answer to that question has a lot to do with my, my first grandchild, he is almost two years old, I took him I took him to see a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer at the children's puppet theater over the holiday. Yes. And the show lasted about I want to say about an hour and a half. He sat on my knee and watch the show for about an hour and 15 minutes. He's not even two yet. The last 15 minutes of the show, that's when I realized they didn't think about his age group because he got really antsy and decided to be a bit more disruptive. But I was…

Sucheta Kamath: By the way, that's not disruptive. He was like done. For two, that's more than appropriate.

Dr. Morcease Beasley: He was done, that's right. But I was impressed that he was able to pay attention. That's so amazing, for as long as he did, to this puppet show. So, I do think helping kids to pay attention is very important. And I have to do a put a plug in here for early learning, we've got to start very early with helping kids pay attention. engaging them and, and learning becoming self-aware becoming managers of themselves, you got to start on those skill sets very, very early. So, I do believe, and I strongly believe that the sooner we can get kids connected to that instructional experience, early learning pre K, even before then in the home, I do think that it helps to develop the skills that will matter most to them especially, and K-12. And post-secondary education. So, paying attention, and even helping kids organize themselves. I tell my daughter, you know, when he is playing with his toys when he finishes tell him to put them up? Yes, organizing, there's a place for toys not all over the house where if I'm walking and someone's walking down the stairs, they can trip over toward things up. So, organizing, and then planning. How do we plan I tell her even now put them on a schedule. You know, you play so much. Then you work on your colors, and then you work on your numbers and then you work on your alphabet, whatever. But get them acclimated to a schedule. See these are things that you've got to be very intentional about. Now, have I mentioned anything that's not pertinent for a student who needs to be successful in a K-12 Environment? Not at all? Yes, but they start well, before they get you start developing these skills well before they land in a K-12 environment. As a matter of fact, the students in the data bears this out the students who are in environments that intentionally develop those skill sets, those are the students that do better perform at higher levels in the K-12. environment. So, I would just like to encourage us to think about these skills very early. But then be very intentional. There's that intentional word again, about creating opportunities for students to develop these skills as they matriculate through our K-12. Institutions. How do we allow them to develop their attention span? How do we engage them and develop the skill sets to pay attention to plan to organize to prioritize because as you know, I was you know, I shared with you all and I'll share with your audience. I had an in a very important invite to go to an event today, but this was a priority. And so, if i This made a decision to not be here today, then that would have impacted you in a way that you would have had to scramble and figure out who else could I invite other than Dr. Beasley for this event, reminding students that their decisions potentially could impact others and what they have to decide or what they have to do. So, developing these skill sets early, but to answer your question, I hope I answered the question, but self-monitoring? How do you know when you're just, you know, I mean, they're all of us every day, we monitor ourselves, we work hard every day. But at some point, in the day, I say, what I am tired of this. Enough for the day, it is time to cut it short. So self-monitoring ourselves, very important. If I'm reading a book, or figuring out when, how long should I read the book in order to really maximize what I'm getting out of the book? And at some point, do I actually lose interest? Or do I start dozing off monitoring ourselves? And so that's a skill set that we've got to teach our children monitoring? What are the triggers in their lives? Right, you're, you know, you're a psychologist. What are those triggers? What are the good triggers? What are the bad triggers?

Sucheta Kamath: Or even triggers for habits have? So not just emotional triggers, but also a cue in the environment that says, if I put my toothbrush next to my pills, then I need to remember to take vitamins and fresh before after brushing your teeth. Great, great. Yeah, I completely see. Sorry, complete your thoughts. I didn't mean to interrupt.

Dr. Morcease Beasley: No, no, no, but you're right. But again, all of these are examples of, of skills that we need to be developing in our children. You've already mentioned that self-control, oh, my goodness, that is probably you know, my wife and I, we have that conversation all the time, when we listen to the news, and we hear about road rage, or things that people are doing. Immediately, a lack of self-control comes to mind, you know.

Sucheta Kamath: The latest trends of the attacks on flight attendants for all the COVID people precautions, almost as if they're the face of COVID or something. Yes.

Dr. Morcease Beasley: So, so developing that self-control, just because I feel like doing something, it doesn't mean that it's helpful, or healthy or helpful or even legal for me to do, right or moral for me to do. So just having that self-control all of these things. And again, I am, I am nowhere perfect. And I'm still developing all these skills and a whole lot more that I've not mentioned. But it's important that we're intentional about developing these skills and providing our students an opportunity to develop these skills in themselves, through our instructional experiences, and even the co-curricular or extracurricular experiences that we offer on our campuses. That's why I tell parents get your children plugged in to whether it be sports, if they're not athletic, get them plugged in the clubs, working in groups with other kids’ projects, community-based service, learning, all of these things will help them to develop the skill sets that they need. And as you shared moments ago, hopefully they'll be more likeable. Right?

Sucheta Kamath: Yes, yes. Ultimately, the goal is to have a social, you know, social capital, where you become lendable, reliable, and person who is a good to have on your team. So, you are going to get things done. But you're also going to be a peacemaker, a collaborator, a lovable person who's easy to get along. So, for sure, so that basically as we come to an end, and being very mindful, we have last two minutes. What I shouldn't really say one thing, but what would you like to tell our audience if they can take one thing about the value and importance of executive function, particularly the term executive function is still not a household term. But I remind myself, you know, I worked at Mass General Hospital for in 90s, and it was the home of two women who started Orton Gillingham, which was the foundation of dyslexia intervention. And I feel we are where dyslexia used to be, which was not understood, it was not even if you did mirror writing or had difficulty reading and writing it was considered a character flaw. So, we have moved away to understand executive function moved away from dyslexia. So, I'm hoping we will gain that status in the community of learning and life that executive function matters. So, what are some of your closing thoughts about the importance and value of one understanding executive function, but to teaching it intentionally to our children, at a curricular level, not just as a support thing, nice to develop, okay, be good at self-control, but self-control needs to be taught.

Dr. Morcease Beasley: Well, you already mentioned the one word intentional, be intentional about it, even as we are. And that's why we're working with you to, to use the tools that are available to help us develop those. That executive function. We're working with our middle schoolers, but we know that at some point, we'll expand that, but be very intentional, and integrate and infuse it in all content areas. Because the skills are relevant to every content area and beyond the content areas is relevant to life. So, integrate and infuse it in every content area. Ground your instructional framework and executive function grounded in that ground your counseling program and executive function. You talk about helping students with developing the skills that they need to monitor themselves. I find it clearly and I every day I use executive function skills, and you mentioned becoming more aware, even now I'm becoming more aware, there are some things that I that I do that I'm becoming aware that I do an audit to improve my effectiveness, improve my leadership, effectiveness, my efficiency, and improve my likability, you know what people?

Sucheta Kamath: Like you and our team? Yes.

Dr. Morcease Beasley: So, you know, I'm trying to, I'm trying to, you know, I want to be useful to the board to the community, I want to be useful, I want to be perceived as useful. So, I can live out the true me and live out the purpose for my life. And I realized that I can't do that alone, I have to do that in community, right. And communities in which people are growing in their executive function. Those are thriving communities. Absolutely. They're achieving good outcomes and doing good things for children. So, I would just say be intentional integrate and fuse it throughout every aspect of the school, the instructional program, the counseling program. I'm not saying we have the perfect model in Clayton County. But when I think about what we're doing instructionally with social emotional awareness with our executive function pilot, that we have occurring, I just feel good that we are really working on, in my opinion, the aspect of our children, that is the most important component of who they are, that's them who they are as individuals, that even if they decide to go to college or not go to college, go to a technical school or not go to technical school, they will be better people better thinkers, there'll be likeable because we're developing the skills, helping them develop the skills that will lend themselves to better outcomes. And so, I hope that this conversation has encouraged someone to be intentional, integrate and infuse executive function throughout your instructional program, your counseling program, your social emotional awareness initiatives or efforts and allow students to just develop who they are, be the people that they are created, designed to be. Love it.

Sucheta Kamath: Love idea, thank you for ending on such a high note and inspirational message. One thing that I love about what you just said is it's doable. You start again, I think we've started our conversation with hope, and I love that we are ending with hope, hope with intentionality is the way forward. So, thank you everyone for joining us today. I will definitely we will have, we will share Dr. Beasley's contact with you all those of you who have signed up so you will definitely you can get a hold of both of us. And lastly, you know, Dr. Beasley has alluded to some of the our pilot so stay tuned, we will talk more about that intentionally and share with you how to teach executive function to all children strategically, independently and personalized ways. So, every child can develop their own ability to self-monitor, self-control and self-reflect. Thank you, Dr. Beasley, for being up and having this amazing vision for our community and leading the way. Thank you so much for joining.

Dr. Morcease Beasley: Thank you so much. I enjoyed the conversation and I hope something was said to encourage everyone who participated that they can use as soon as they log off of this event.

Sucheta Kamath: Thank you. Bye, everyone. Take care. Thanks