The Brighter Side of Education

Effective Strategies To Better Meet the Black Girl Needs For Success with Expert Dr. Hyacinth Dyer

November 12, 2022 Dr. Lisa R. Hassler Season 1 Episode 5
The Brighter Side of Education
Effective Strategies To Better Meet the Black Girl Needs For Success with Expert Dr. Hyacinth Dyer
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Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, I focus on culture as a variable. Educating the young Black girl is becoming an increasing problem for American educators. The Black girl is characterized as sassy, aggressive, bossy, and disrespectful. Because of these perceptions, they often are subjected to more frequent and harsher disciplinary actions. From kindergarten through their senior year in high school, Black girls are seven times more likely to be suspended than White girls, and four times more likely to be arrested at school. As early as preschool, Black girls accounted for 54% of all girls suspended despite being only 20% of the girls enrolled (Williams, 2019).

Here to discuss the topic of Black girls in the American educational system is Dr. Hyacinth Dwyer. She has examined the experiences of the Black girl in the K-12 public school system in her study, Education and the Black Girl, and determined effective strategies that teachers can use to better meet her needs for success. 

As Evans-Winters and Esposito (2010) explained: 

There is a need for more scholarship in the field of education that looks at the educational experiences and schooling processes of African American girls. Because feminist epistemologies tend to be concerned with the education of White girls and women and raced-based epistemologies tend to be consumed with the educational barriers negatively effecting Black boys, the educational needs of Black girls have fallen through the cracks. 

So here is the call to action: Teachers need to help the Black girl not fall through the cracks of the educational system by embracing culturally relevant instruction as a philosophy and process to establish an inclusive culture. 

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The Black Girl with Expert Dr. Hyacinth Dyer


·       Hyacinth Dyer

·       Lisa Hassler

LH: Welcome to the brighter side of Ed podcast. I am your host. Dr. Lisa Richardson hasler here to enlighten and brighten the classrooms in America through focused conversation on important topics in education. In each episode, I discuss problems we as teachers and parents are facing and what people are doing in their communities to fix it. What are the variables and how do we duplicate it to maximize student outcomes? In this episode, I focus on culture as a variable. Educating the young Black girl is becoming an increasing problem for American educators. The Black girl is characterized as sassy, aggressive, bossy, and disrespectful. Now, because of these perceptions, they often are subjected to more frequent and harsher disciplinary actions. From kindergarten through their senior year in high school, Black girls are seven times more likely to be suspended than White girls and four times more likely to be arrested at school. As early as preschool, Black girls accounted for 54% of all girls suspended, despite being only 20% of the girls enrolled. This came from our guest study. Here to discuss more about the topic of Black girls in American educational system is Dr. Hyacinth Dyer. She has examined the experiences of the Black girl in the K through twelve public school system in her study, Education and the Black Girl, and determined effective strategies that teachers can use to better meet her needs for success. Welcome to the show, Hyacinth.

HD: Good morning, Lisa. How are you?

LH: I'm doing great. How are you? Beautiful Saturday morning.

HD: Yes, it is bright and early.

LH: It is. So just to start us off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to study Black girl experiences?

HD: So, Lisa, my personal experiences as a Black girl in the public education system have led me to know that I must always be true to who I am. The purpose of my study was to examine the experiences of the Black girl in the United States K through twelve public school system. I used the information I gathered to determine effective strategies teachers can use to establish productive educational relationships with the Black girl. During this time, my experiences were based on responses, personal relationships, personal attitudes, and personalities about who I was in the classroom and the learning environment. My experiences in the classroom were not limited to biases and or rich experiences. So as I grew older, I started to develop a sense of intuition of how I needed to be within the classroom environment. Sometimes this was based on how the teacher's attitudes and or beliefs or even actions were toward me and how they talked to me or how they even treated me in the learning environment. The study was really basically learning how the Black female can be better educated in the United States throughout this educational system.

LH: And so how did you conduct this study and what did you find?

HD: So I investigated the Black girl high school graduates perception of their K through twelve education. I also investigated the perceptions of teachers of black girls. And then I was able to find that I actually found that there was a disconnect between the perceptions of the support teachers said they provided black girls and the perceptions of how they were actually treated. Using the data, I discovered that 100% of the teachers felt that they were confident in teaching black girls and provided the classroom environment that supported the emotional and social needs of a black girl. However, the high school graduates disagreed that their classroom experiences met their emotional and social needs. My data also shows that 75% of the graduates felt that their teachers did not meet their individual needs, and 100% of them felt that the teacher did not have inclusive activities that made them feel important. The data showed that only 50% of the graduates felt that they had an opportunity to have their voice heard in the learning environment. All high school graduates in my study identified their academic success was based on family expectations of completing high school.

LH: Like, what was the percentage of the graduate that did not agree with that 75 group?

HD: Yes, 75% of the girls, or the graduates, I should say, did not feel that the teachers did not meet their individual needs.

LH: That's huge.

HD: 100. Yes, that is very huge. And 100% of them felt that teachers did not even have inclusive activities so that they were that they felt that they were a part of an inclusive environment, or if it meant their needs educational, whether it met their needs socially, emotionally, or even just having a voice inside of the learning environment. That was the disconnect between what the teachers felt that they were able to deliver in their instruction and what the girls or the high school, I should say the high school graduates didn't feel that they received.

LH: So now, based off of this, I'm just thinking now we're going back to the beginning of how the problem with the disconnect and how we have that high amount of suspension rates and behavioral problems. Do you feel as though that disconnect? So teachers are thinking, yes, I'm providing this. And then the reality is we do have, regardless of the feelings of one way or another, like the different perceptions of whether or not they were meeting the needs. From the teacher's perspective and from the students perspective, the reality is that there is a high number of suspensions and behavioral referrals. So there is a disconnect, and we can see that based on the infractions. So do you think that's really the big problem as to why we have so many of these suspensions and behavioral problems is because of that disconnect?

HD: I think the disconnect is the problem. However, the disconnect comes from the perception of what teachers feel that the black girl is capable of doing or what they feel that the black girl is allowing herself to do. That is the key here. The disconnect is not so much that it's a disconnect because of communication. I feel that throughout this study, I was able to see it mirror my own personal experiences of perception of what the teacher felt that I was able to do. So we both know that in learning environments, perception teachers perceptions of what their students can do or the perception of what their children bring to the classroom, we actually act upon that. Now, that may be sometimes a personal bias. That may sometimes be something that is unknown. Sometimes that just may be a thought or even something that was told to us prior to us receiving students. Because we both know in learning environments when we receive students, we kind of go get the bike stories from students, and sometimes that may tend to distort our thought process about what our students are capable of. However, for the Black girl, perceptions sometimes diminish her capability or even diminish her ability to be a part in an inclusive environment where she feels included or maybe where even she feels that she can participate or achieve any mastery in these classroom environments. So when we talk about perception of the Black girl, we must first understand the teachers who are in front of them. We must understand the ability and the capability of what the teacher is able to do. And we also must understand what experiences that the teachers bring to teaching Black girls. Because even though we think that we may have an inclusive environment, because as stated before, the study showed that the black girls who are being taught felt that they were not in an inclusive.

LH: Environment, right, they were not. That kind of goes back to there's always the teacher's expectations. Children live up to a teacher's expectations. If you have high bars for your students and you believe, hey, this is my bar, everyone can do it, I believe that you can do that. Children rise to those. They rise to the occasion, they rise to your expectations. And if a teacher comes in with these lower expectations, they're going to meet that low expectation. So I really feel like there's a lot of value to what you're saying, is that we need to be able to have high expectations for all of our students because whether or not we're saying them verbally, they can feel it, and they know what we expect out of them based on yeah. And so that's really important.

HD: That's an important note to take, because as a classroom teacher myself or an educator of Black girls myself, the first thing that I have to recognize that they are not all alike. They all have a commonality, but they have different needs. And I cannot always group them together and say, oh, all of my Black girls in my classroom, they're going to have the same lights, they're going to have the same dislikes, they all have the same attitude, they all have the same personalities. That's what makes Black girls unique. They have different needs that need to be met. And as a Black female myself, and also as a black educator, I must understand that their needs are not the same as my needs. Their needs weren't the same as my needs when I was in their shoes or and when I was in front of the teacher or when the teachers were in front of me. So times have changed. And in the society that we're living in now, the needs of Black girls may have some commonalities, but we need to meet them where they are. And that is what makes an inclusive classroom works. That's what makes an inclusive classroom dynamic. That's what makes an inclusive classroom for the black girl.

LH: Achievable now, you talked a little bit about your experience as being a Black girl in the American educational system and how your experience is not necessarily going to be the experience of students now, but it did shape and impact you to be able to come to this study. Can you tell us a little bit about what were your experiences that led you to want to study the Black girl in American education system?

HD: Well, the first experience was being a black girl myself, right? My experience is a little different than most young girls that I see today. My experience was that I had that particular mother who believed in the fancy bows and the well dressed and the white tennis shoes, and that's the first perception of me, right? So now when you see this little black girl, she's all cute, her hair is done, she has the fancy bows, her socks match her bow. Her socks and her bows match her outfit. She's going to be perceived as this little girl, this cute little girl who's going to come in, who's going to follow directions, who has it all together, who doesn't need anything. She's going to do whatever she's supposed to do, and she's going to perform based on what she looks like today. That may look a little different because of the fact that there are times that we also receive students or even the black girl who may not have that fancy bow, who may not have the fancy socks, who may not have the matching shirt with a matching bow and the cute little backpack and the cute little those things make a difference. However, we must know that although our perception of what we see sometimes distort what we know and what we come to believe, we must know that we have to meet them where they are and we have to make them feel included in the environment. So experiences and perceptions go hand in hand sometimes. And sometimes, depending on what the teacher knows and what she brings or he brings or the educator brings to the environment, it will help determine her path. It will help determine how she is able to, like you said, rise to the standard, rise to that expectation, rise to the occasion, and be able to perform in an environment that accepts her for who she is. Not only who she is, but her voice, her thoughts, her creativity, her ability to express and give her thoughts and be able to understand how that environment will lead to that achievement.

LH: In your study, you talked about how educators often look at black girls differently. Did you want to talk a little bit about that lens?

HD: So according to Watson in 2016, who did the study, he also stated that educators often look at black girls using a deficit lens. They focus on what the girls do not have instead of looking at their strengths. And that's basically what I was talking about in my experience, your perception of who I am and what you see in front of you, sometimes you need to look a little deeper and what they actually mean and how to meet their strengths and their weaknesses, because that expectation is not just about the weaknesses. The expectation is also about how you can strengthen her and how you can strengthen any young, polite girl that comes in your environment and how you can help them achieve academic success and help promote them beyond the classroom. Because at the end of all of this educational journey, this is an educational journey, and this journey is about helping her grow, helping her elevate, helping her achieve success beyond the classroom environment. And it starts with the people who are in front of her every day. And that's the educator. The educator has a responsibility to help her achieve that success. So that lens that we're talking about, it can't be finite. It can't just be single. It can't just be one eye view. It has to be a multi dimensional view of how to reach her, how to help her get to the next level.

LH: It reminds me of that glass half full, glass half empty kind of a thing. It's like how we perceive something. It gives us the mindset of positivity or negativity. And if you're going in with a deficit lens saying, this student doesn't have this or lacks this or doesn't do this, you're looking at it as the glass half empty, a very negative perception versus what are her strengths, what does she have that's great? And then we're meeting her where she is, and we're moving forward to get that high bar of achievement, I expect to be able to pull her up to here because she's already here. So that's looking at the strengths and then having those high goals, that high bar of achievement, I feel like, is going to be the way that teachers need to be coming into the classroom, and hopefully a lot of them are. And I think from your study, it sounds like some of us think that we are and we're really not. So maybe we need to have some reflection on ourselves as a teacher to say am I doing that deficit lens? Do I come into my classroom and look at my students like this and is that hurting them or helping them? And how do I need to change the way I'm walking in? What are my biases and my perceptions?

HD: Absolutely. And it goes back to grouping and the characterizations of how black girls are viewed as aggressive, as disrespectful, as irresponsible, as lazy. When we have had experiences with young black girls and sometimes it's either positive and or negative. And because we may have had a negative experience, we want to continue to have that one lens view to say that they're all that way. Well, sometimes we fall into a grouping of believing that, well, that was the way that I had that previous experience and this is how they're going to be. Or based on their social economic status or based on their reading level or based on just the way that they look. A lot of times that deficit lens is different for each educator and sometimes, like you said before, is it helping or is it harming? And a lot of times when we characterize young black girls based on a perception or a bias, it's harming by defeating the purpose of educating her well.

LH: And that kind of goes back to like when you talk about the research that was showing the high levels of expulsion, the suspension coming out of the classroom even to go talk to the principal because of behavior or even like dress code infractions that were in your thing, which I was surprised by that. And you think about like are we helping or harming the student when we continually take them out of the classroom for behavioral problems? When then what we're doing is in the end taking them away from the lessons and the education that they need to be learning, which is causing them to become more behind because now they're missing the content. And then how do we expect them to have that knowledge when they come back into the classroom. So removing them from the classroom is actually harming them academically, that it's not helping them and it can also be.

HD: Actually harming them emotionally and socially because it leads to isolation, it leads to bitterness, it leads to resentment. And then that's where she starts to sometimes develop a sense of aggressiveness and not necessarily out of a bad way or a good way, but of a survival. She's basically in a survival mode of being defensive. Because like you said about a dress code, sometimes those things are subjective. Those are things that can be helped within the classroom setting. If it's something as simple as if she doesn't have a belt in her pants, that's something that can be fixed within the classroom setting. That can be something, that something as simple as she doesn't have on the right shirt. Something that can be simply fixed by either a suggestion of getting the right color shirt, or you providing that shirt or finding a way to provide her that, or necessarily making a phone call home and making sure that she has the correct shirt on. Whereas if you send her to the office to talk to the principal about something that is beyond her control, she doesn't have any control as far as what she's able to wear. Sometimes because she's a young girl, right, however, it starts to develop a sense of she's done something wrong, something that's beyond her control, she's done something wrong. So she starts to develop this sense of survival within the classroom, and sometimes that leads to those type of characteristic behaviors that looks aggressive, that looks disrespectful, that looks where she's only trying to be a part of a learning environment, right?

LH: And that build up frustration comes out, as we can understand from any child, that feels as though there's something out of their control, but I'm in an environment I can't control, and so it gets very frustrating, and now I'm getting in trouble for it, and I really can't control that part. So it bubbles out in that frustration, which can lead to, like, what you were saying, the sassiness or disrespectfulness and really stems from a frustration of not being in control of your own environment and being listened to. I think that's really important to have teachers have that bond, that connection, and listening to their students and like you said, responding in a way that just seems a little bit more conducive to the learning environment where, okay, here's a problem. Let's fix that problem and move on and not make it as big of a behavioral infraction as it needs to. I mean, you and I have been in positions in the classroom when we know that you can confront a situation or you can be a partner in solving that. And so how you handle your words and your behavior as simple as calling someone out in front of their environment. There was one of your studies when you're saying, like, the teacher had a student call her parents in front of the entire classroom. And those are things that can escalate a situation versus just a simple solution that could have been handled privately with a little bit more tax.

HD: And just think about if you were that student or that young lady in front of your classroom and you did something that you didn't know was completely wrong and your teacher called in front of your classmates, in front of your peers because peer pressure now we're talking about peer pressure. We're talking about that social setting, that social environment where she's trying to acclimate herself to become a part of think about how you now feel when your parents are called in front of the class. And it's not necessarily a need, but it becomes embarrassment. Not only does it become embarrassment, it becomes devastating to who she really is. It starts to define that she is a problem in the classroom because now she's been noticed, she's been recognized as the problem. I had to stop my learning environment. That's the thinking. I had to stop my learning environment to call your parents to get this problem solved right now. Now, you have lost her socially, you have lost her emotionally and you have lost her academically.

LH: So what kind of recommendations do you have for teachers?

HD: So I do think that there are some specific recommendations that teachers can follow. I believe that what I decided that I would recommend after doing this research and after reviewing some of the information, like you said, from the participants in the study, a policy that requires educator caters to participate in professional development opportunities that will provide them with successful strategies that will let black girls be successful in her academic journey. The training will focus on understanding black girl's social and emotional wellbeing, her behavioral response mechanisms, and how to communicate effectively with the Black girl and how to use culturally responsive instruction materials. That's very important though this policy. I also seek to create schools with educators who are competent and committed to embracing culturally relevant instruction as a philosophy and process to establish an inclusive culture where focused on the academic success of the Black girl. I also think I want teachers of Black girls to have an inner sense of understanding the girl power of a black girl. I want the teachers to know that they have the ability to teach a black girl to her potential and beyond what the Black girl ever thought she could be. And that goes back to having that inner relationship and that ability to reach her, to reach her strengths, to promote her and to elevate her beyond her current situation or circumstances so that she can achieve academic success.

LH: Well, bravo. Definitely. I think that that's something that Nate needs to be instilled and that's just good teaching that's not even like it would only benefit the black girl. I think that benefits every student. And so I think we need to be culturally sensitive but also focus on what are the needs of the Black girl because you want to build that connection, because ultimately her success is your success. And so I think we need to understand that we're on the same team here. Where do you see yourself taking this? I had heard that you were talking about a book, maybe a documentary.

HD: Well, right now I'm taking one step at a time, one day at a time, one breath at a time, really. Right. However, I think because of the ever changing society and the things that so global and media is such a big impression of all of us, because there are so many books about Black girls and how they relate and how they're treated and what we want and our goals and our ambitions and our achievements. I think this deserves a visual story now. And I do think that I want to take this in a documentary where it's the voice of the black girl and how she's able to tell this story in real time. So my thought process is to take younger girls and give them the opportunity to express how they're feeling now and compare and contrast that to black women in their professional and educational journey and how that looks as if they're mirroring those same experiences. So that's my thought process. Now, not to say that there won't be a book. I do feel that I will get to writing children's books because that's what I really want to do. I want to write children's book because I think we need more visual AIDS when we talk about cultural instruction. I think that needs to be a part of but it needs to be almost children books for teachers and educators, not necessarily that of children, but children's books that teachers can actually read to kind of get that impression or that intuition of how black girls feel like in real time voice.

LH: And that's something that maybe there can be that bridge that you talk about where there's that disconnect that maybe teachers can be using those books to be more culturally aware and sensitive and bring that culturally sensitive material into the classroom to be more inclusive to the black girl. So that's exciting. Now, a phrase that you've said before, okay, and I got to ask this. What is black girl magic?

HD: So black girl magic is the ability to take no and turn it into yes. It is the power of voice. It is the power of knowing that you can do anything that you set your mind to do that you were told that you could not do. Black girl magic is actually a universal language to say, I can do that too. I like it.

LH: So before we leave, there's one last question. What advice would you give to a parent of a black girl currently struggling in her school environment as a black.

HD: Woman now and as a mother, not necessarily of a black girl, but as a mother, if I had that daughter, I would tell my young black girl self, your voice matter, and you are important. That's what black mothers or parents of young black girls should tell their daughters. They have a voice. It matters. Their expression matters. Their creativity matters. Their imagination matters. Their thoughts matter. Their hearts matters. Because it all starts with knowing on the inside and what you believe in your heart that you can do. We're talking about going back to that black gore magic. When you're being told that you can do something or when you're being told that you have the power to do that, it makes a difference in building her confidence. It makes a difference in building her ability and giving her the inspiration and the courage to try, the courage to express the courage to achieve and the courage to fail, because we all know that everything is not successful. Sometimes you have to fail to be successful at something, not be afraid to fail and get right back up and do it all over again until you meet that success.

LH: I like it. All right. Well, as Evan Winters and Esposito in 2010 explained, I'm taking this from your study, Dr. Dyer. There is a need for more scholarship in the field of education that looks at the educational experiences and schooling processes of African American girls. The education of all children must be an equitable opportunity to ensure that they will be able to achieve their personal best. The black girl is no exception to that promise. The effectiveness of American education relies upon recognizing that her identity is based on who she is, not what educators perceive her to be. Thank you, Dr. Hyacintyre, for joining me today to talk about this important topic of the black girl in education and the steps we need to take to improve our schools. If you have a story about what's working in your schools and you'd like to share, please email me at Dr. Lisa or visit my website at www dot dr. and send me a message. It is the mission of this podcast to shine light on the good and education so that it spreads affecting positive change in schools. So let's keep working together to find solutions that focus on our students'success.