Reframe: Episode 56

No-Nonsense Nurturing with Kristyn Klei Borrero and Noah Borrero

CT3 Kristyn Keli Borrero and Noah Borrero

Today, Kristyn Klei Borrero is the CEO and co-founder of CT3, which is now used by K-12 schools across the country to help teachers quickly connect with young learners. She is also the author of the new book, Every Student, Every Day: A No-Nonsense Nurturer Approach to Reaching All Learners.

Noah Borrero is a full professor of teacher education at the University of San Francisco and an associate with CT3.

Both Kristyn and Noah are also graduates of Miami University, and they joined us here to talk about the work and mission of CT3, how it’s challenging several long-standing educational paradigms, and more.

Read the transcript

James Loy:

This is Reframe, the podcast from the College of Education, Health and Society on the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Kristyn Klei Borrero and her husband, Noah Borrero, want to improve to the way the U.S. public school system works, especially the way it works for students who come from historically marginalized urban and rural communities.

Today, Kristyn Klei Borrero is the CEO and co-founder of CT3, which is now used by K-12 schools across the country to help teachers quickly connect with young learners. She is also the author of the new book, Every Student, Every Day: A No-Nonsense Nurturer Approach to Reaching All Learners.  

Noah Borrero is a full professor of teacher education at the University of San Francisco, and an associate with CT3.

Both Kristyn and Noah are also graduates of Miami University, and they joined us here to talk about the work and mission of CT3, how it’s challenging several long-standing educational paradigms, and more. 

We spoke at Miami University’s Center for Community Engagement in Downtown Cincinnati.

(Music fade) 

So we’re here with Kristyn Klei Borrero and Noah Borrero. Thank you so much for being on the podcast.

Klei Borrero and Noah Borrero:

Thank you.

James Loy:

So I wanted to start off with your thoughts on the big picture of the state of education. What are some of the biggest problems that are in education? What specifically needs to change? I mean, do you think that education is in a state of crisis?

Kristyn Klei Borrero:

So, I think, education is, maybe not in a crisis, but definitely in a crossroads in our country. We’ve made a stance that we want to educate all students. However, we don't look at the education system and the fact that it's been set up to serve all students. And so, we keep replicating dysfunctions that happen in the educational system. And who is challenged by that the most are students. And second by that are teachers. So we have to really look at the system of public education and think about who are we serving and who are we supporting, and we have some essential redesign to do in that. Not just in the systems of education. But also in how we're prepping teachers. And being thoughtful in that space.

I’m sure, Noah, you have more to say on that around education, particularly in the urban environments. 

Noah Borrero:

Yeah. I would say; similarly, I would say that education is in crisis with regard to if we think of our public system of education in this country being under attack by a regime, really, that is pushing for the privatization of public education through standardized measures.

So, everything comes back to the performance on a standards-based test that, to Kristyn's point, is part and parcel of a larger systemic issue that has historically left behind low-income working-class kids of color in this country. And, as we see more of a move towards privatization from those in power, we see those very same historically marginalized students, communities, teachers, schools, being further pushed out.

So, in that sense, I do feel like we're at a crisis of acknowledging that and thinking about what needs to happen to reinvest in our communities and our public schools.

James Loy:

There does seem to be more of a focus or at least an emphasis on thinking about those students from marginalized communities that are being pushed out, or left behind, or the challenges and struggles that they face. So, is that a growing problem? Or, does more need to be done to address the challenges and situations that teachers and students in those communities face?

Kristyn Klei Borrero:

I don't think it's a growing problem. It’s a problem that’s always existed. We're actually paying attention to youth and families and communities now, which is great. That's movement in the right direction, which is bringing a light that needed to be shed in order for us to truly do what we said in this country: that we're going to educate all. And educating all doesn't mean the same.

So, I'm not sure it's new. I think we're just paying attention for the first time in this country, which is great. It's a move in the right direction. But now that we're paying attention, we have to make some real changes in how we address that. So if we have schools that are set up for white middle-class kids, and they're not serving historically marginalized youth. What do we need to do to those systems? What do we need to do in teacher prep programs? What do we need to do in administrator prep programs? What do we need to do at the district office, and in universities, in order to alter the system so that it serves all youth? Whether they be in historically marginalized communities, suburban communities, rural communities, other communities that I'm not thinking of answering, you know, speaking toward right now.

So, we want to make sure that we're questioning the systems that are in place. And not just keep using the same systems that we know don't serve the needs of youth. Or teachers in service of youth.

James Loy:

And when you talk about some of these bigger problems in education, and some of these issues that need to be addressed, you talk about … I’ve heard you talk about how CT3 is taking these issues very seriously. So, what is the mission behind CT3? What is the organization about? And how does it address some of the problems that you feel are pressing in schools today?

Kristyn Klei Borrero:

So, I think what's unique about CT3 is that we're a professional development organization that … we don't pretend, even pretend, like we have all the answers. We're constantly being thoughtful about how we approach educators, and the educational system, through our coaching models. 

We want to make sure that we're serving teachers and leaders, who are in service of youth. And we're constantly thinking about -- with the help of professors like Noah and cultural race theorists, and what have you, pushing in on our work, and being thoughtful about how we do our work in the research that we do at CT3 -- how are we best serving the adults that serve kids?

So whether that be classroom management. Or culturally relevant pedagogy. Or giving feedback in real-time, because now the teacher experiences the success of engaging with youth that might not look like, sound like them. Helping teachers, say, understand the privileges that they bring into the classroom, no matter what their backgrounds, because they've been to college. There's a level of privilege that's there, whether or not they see that. But understanding that privilege. But then, also, how do you carry that forward, and pull off your lenses of your own culture, so that you start engaging in the community in which you serve? What are the questions you can be answering? What are the ways in which you hear and listen to the students that you serve? So they can become, honestly, your cultural competency trainers - if you don't look like or sound like them.

And even if you do look like them, you still have something to learn from them, and with them. Right? So being really thoughtful about how we approach culturally relevant pedagogy and issues of classroom management. And be really thoughtful about inserting questions and dialogue around race and social justice and poverty. That's the elephant in the room in many of our university classrooms, and many of our district offices. And we talk about it. We don't shy away from it. Walk toward issues. Don't walk away from them. So if we're gonna actually make change, we've got to walk toward them, and have uncomfortable conversations, and work to make those conversations so they're more comfortable for the adults, so that they’re of better service of to Kids. 

We do that a lot with our feedback models to teachers, so they feel very well supported. But at the same time, very challenged. Which creates a higher level of job satisfaction, we hope. If you get bored in your job, you're gonna leave it. But if you feel challenged, and reinvested, and you feel success, I'm happy to work hard. I just need to leave the school building every day after 12 or 14 hours of doing my job, and prepping for the next day, feeling good about what I’ve done. Not feeling like I was a failure. So that's what we really try to engage in - is not having all the answers. Just being the supports for folks to engage in the language and the coaching protocols, so that they can really be in better support of youth.

James Loy:

When it comes to coaching, CT3 talks a lot about shifting the paradigm around coaching teachers and leaders in the field of education. You even point out … to the fact that you look to other industries to see how they are doing things differently than education is, to bring some of those strategies into education. So, what is the need to do that? What is lacking in education? Or what is not happening in teacher prep programs currently that necessitates the need to bridge this gap by looking to what other industries are doing with coaching or professional development, to then bring that into education?

Noah Borrero:

I would say education as a field, and certainly teaching as a profession, is, and arguably has always been in the public sector, exceptionally under-resourced. So I think, yes, if we think of the investment in teachers and they're … All the way from their training, and their education, to their professional development and their career trajectories, absolutely, we don't utilize and build on the innovations, the practices, the procedures that we could, and should, and ideally will. I think that, you know, one of the things that's, I think, most heartbreaking in spending so much time with teachers is the lack of supports, resources. But then, the way that that shows up in a larger perspective of teaching, or teaching not necessarily being a hugely rewarded career, both financially and/or the perceptions of folks who think of teachers.

So I think all of those things to me point to, yeah, we need to be relying on looking to building alongside other sectors. It's a tough journey most teachers are spending 180 days a year in classrooms with kids really going after it. And the amount of service or resource or training they get, oftentimes, it's through outside investment or support from an administrator that really cares. It's not embedded in the system. And I think that that's one thing that CT3, I think, really strives to do is invest in teachers. Respect teachers. Acknowledge the amazing craft and hard work that it is. And to, your point, bring in some coaching strategies or protocols or ideas for building out your pedagogy in ways that, hopefully, are going to be more effective for you as teachers. 

Kristyn Klei Borrero:

And for your kids.

In terms of looking at other industries, let's look at coaching in general. So, we have created this paradigm in education over the course of the last 50-60 years, that coaching is only for the new or the struggling. So at CT3, again, we are gonna walk toward that paradigm that is incredibly difficult. Because in other industries, coaching is for the top performers.

So, I don't love them. But I'm gonna use a sports analogy. Serena Williams has the best coaches in the world for her tennis program. And if she were given delayed feedback, she’d fire her coaches. So if they went out there and watched her hit balls and said, I’ll get back to you in a couple of days. She'd fire them. However, in education, we've said: We're going to observe teachers and give them delayed feedback, and then hope and pray that that delayed feedback may or may not … you know, may resonate with them. So the real-time protocols come from, you know, not only sports, or the business sector. But many sectors that operate with urgency. Houston, I have a problem. You get direct feedback, right, from the NASA control station.

If teachers are struggling with something, or if they want to improve something, or if we want to make them more culturally competent or relevant, or engage with their kids in more specific ways, we can't just introduce them to a concept and then hope and pray they go back into their classroom as practitioners and get it. Some will, by the way. They're outliers. We cannot run the education system in this country on outlier teachers. Right? We have to give access to all teachers to improve their practice.

And so, at CT3, we also try to support teachers in coaching's for everyone. Not just those that are new or struggling. In fact, you high-performing teachers, you're going to feel much more invested, and you're going to help us support all the rest of the folks in your mentor role. Because once you experience coaching, and you feel good about this, it becomes an organic experience to get everyone else invested in coaching, and being more culturally critical. More culturally relevant. Thinking about their practice with students every day. And honestly, because we don't compensate teachers in the ways that we should, they better walk out of those buildings every day feeling really honored and proud of the work that they did. And without support, coaching, and feedback, you're leaving that to chance. And so, you know, investing in our teachers with coaching is just saying, yeah we respect you as much as we do Tom Brady.

James Loy:

Kristyn, could you talk about your journey to where you are today? You started off as a classroom teacher, and you became an administrator and a superintendent for an area urban school district. And then, now today, you are the CEO of CT3. So what was that journey like? Was there a point in your career when you thought, I’m having these struggles. I see teachers having these struggles. So I wish there was an organization like CT3 that existed. But there isn’t. So I’m going to create it?

Kristyn Klei Borrero:

Yes. I was lucky as a principal having Noah as a husband who, to be perfectly honest, because he was constantly checking me on my levels of cultural relevancy, right, with the work that he does with cultural race theory. Like, I have a built-in coach at home, which was amazing. Which was really influential of who I was as an educator, and as a principal. And as a principal … he honestly helped me to recognize that when my teachers were struggling, that was something that, as an administrator, I was failing them.

So, you go out, you look for folks that can help to support you. And particularly around classroom management, was the big problem that we were having in the urban school that I was working at, and in California, was the teachers really struggled with the beginning of the year, and setting up classrooms that could become spaces for high-level critical thinking, for both teacher and for the learners. Right? Students. 

Went out there and just, every classroom management model, trying to bring it in. It didn't work for my kids. Didn’t work for my teachers. So, I had this “aha moment” of, well, if I'm going to complain about it, and it's not out there. Then, we've got to fix it. So, teamed up with Lee Canter and started, you know, going into the classrooms of the highest performing teachers that we could find. How we defined high-performing teachers were they had really strong evaluations from the students and families that they served, amongst their principals, and amongst their administrators, as well as their peers, they were looked at being the highest performing teachers. And we also looked at their data. Like, who were showing a year and a half to two years of growth with all of their students?

Because, while I agree that standardized testing isn’t the end-all-be-all, it's the world we currently live in. So, we also have to pay attention to it. And it also meant, if I'm a great teacher, my kid is gonna kick any tests to the curb. Right? Like, I can handle this. Right? So, we want to be able to prepare our kids for any obstacle. Testing can be an obstacle for a lot of youth. Right? Any obstacle that comes their way. We looked at those teachers, and just really started trying to codify the practices, particularly the beginning of the year.

And that's how the no-nonsense nurture model came about. Precise directions. Positive integration. Accountability systems. All in order to support and to build life-altering relationships with youth. And so, originally it was to really support the teachers that I was responsible for. Right? Their professional development. And it caught fire. More and more folks seeing this happen. The real-time teacher coaching coming about. Because cognitive protocols weren't working for classroom management. The coaches that we were training to support teachers, they were just like, “I think the teacher has the will to do this, but in the moment, I just need to be able to support them with: this is how you do it.” Which is where the real-time coaching idea came about.

And so, developing those protocols, it just got a lot of attention. Because it was rapidly improving teacher practice. So, and that was, honestly, out of my impatience as an administrator at this point, you know, I was either a principal or an area superintendent, and I didn't have time for, you know, wait three years to get good for my kids. I needed you to be great by Thanksgiving. I understand you're a first-year teacher. But you got until Thanksgiving to be awesome. Because my babies deserve that. But I had to create systems and ways for them to get good at fast. So I was responsible for that. So that's how it came about.

And CT3 spun off because of the interest in the work, and the need to do the work. So, you know, left my position as a principle, then area superintendent, and with Noah’s support created CT3. Co-founded that in January of 2009. So it's been awesome work. The work is far better now than it was in 2009. Let me be really clear, our associates at CT3 come from all over the country. We have incredibly diverse backgrounds. They're much smarter than I am. And I have really made the work I'm a much stronger body of work. And taking it to the next level. They're the true trailblazers, are the associates that we have at CT3.

James Loy:

You just mentioned a term that I absolutely wanted to bring up next, which was the no-nonsense nurture. It’s even in the title of your new book, which is Every Student, Every Day: A No-Nonsense Nurturer Approach to Reaching All Learners. So what is a no-nonsense nurture, and how does that fit in with your new book?

Kristyn Klei Borrero:

The term is actually something that kids coined when I was coding some of the data from the student interviews of how they would talk about their high-performing teachers. They would talk about, you know, he has incredibly high expectations and is relentless on me doing well. But he really cares about me. And they would give explicit examples on the way the teacher showed care, or, you know, she'll keep me after school ‘till 7 o'clock if I miss my homework because it's really important. But she also shows up with my soccer game.

So you talked about this no-nonsense and nurturing side of their teachers. Like, how they really showed up for them as individuals, and how the teachers cared deeply for them. But also, how the students then cared deeply for their teachers. The students named that term. And it really started off as a classroom management model. But what we really grew to understand was it was more of a philosophy of education that folks developed over time. They saw students always through the assets, and they used the relationships with their students to become more culturally competent and relevant in their classroom.

So they learned just as much from their students, around how to be the best teacher for them as they could ever teach the kids. They didn't see their kids as empty vessels or in need of something. They saw themselves being more facilitators in their spaces. We saw it as an important job to set up their classrooms in a way so that there were clear rules and expectations and roles. So that everyone could be successful. It was really inclusive.

So it's really about how these teachers operate, and their lens, every day, on how they deliver lessons. Or facilitate learning in the classroom. So it's a classroom management model. But it's also really just a philosophy of how loud these teachers operate.

James Loy:

I think, and hopefully, this wraps around back to the beginning a bit, and this also is a question for you, Noah, as well. What are some of the benefits of being a culturally-relevant teacher? I think it is true that there is such an emphasis on testing, and the culture of testing, and teachers are feeling tremendous pressure to succeed on that angle. But why should they also focus on being culturally relevant? Like, what are some of the ways it can really help them, and their students thrive in the classroom? Why is it important to become culturally relevant?

Noah Borrero:

You know, I think the idea of culture, what culture is, how it becomes something that we're aware of or not is very profound in thinking about teaching and learning. You know, there's the classic: a fish doesn't know it lives in water. Right? There's this idea that until we begin to question or interrogate or experience something different about our culture, we assume it to be everyones. Or just the norm. So I think that this idea of examining, interrogating culture as something that we all bring into learning spaces with us, as teachers, as students, as citizens, that we need to think of that as a teaching and learning tool that we have. 

And I think that the relevancy aspect of it, at least for me, then starts to think about how much of our system, our educational system and beyond, is deeply rooted in a cultural assumption of white European traditions that have never been interrogated by, oftentimes, those teachers. So I think it's an idea of looking within first of all, you know, what do I bring culturally into any space? And then, thinking about the vast reserves and vitality of the cultures that students bring with them to school. And that's, to me, where learning and teaching can be very dynamic and fun and alive. Like they sometimes are in those brief moments. But rarely are because we have created, I think, these assumptions about what a school looks like. What a classroom looks like. What curriculum we should read. How is this going to show up on the tests?

So I think we're both victims of and perpetuators of a monolithic look at things like race and gender and heteronormativity in our culture when it comes to schooling.

Kristyn Klei Borrero:

Yes. And I think … think about how personal culture is too. It's the root of who you are. It's the root of your being. So, if you look at it from a research perspective. If you engage with who I am and honor that. I'm interested in what you want to teach me, and help me to engage in, in order to have opportunities in the world, and in additional education choice. Whatever that looks like. So, if you engage with me and what is humanistically what I'm about, you've got me. Like, I'm interested in what you've got to teach, which is why relationships are so important in what we do in education.

I think culture is such an essence of who we are. And that if we don't engage with that, and if we don't connect learning to that, we often lose the learning that could otherwise happen in a classroom. So by connecting, being culturally relevant, making those connections, honoring who kids are, giving them voice and the pedagogy in which we teach, you've got me. I'm with you. I want to do this. Let's go.

James Loy:

Wonderful. And before we are out of time, can you give us a little more insight into what your new book covers and what it’s all about?

Kristyn Klei Borrero:

The book Every Student, Every Day was my attempt … a No-nonsense Nurturer Approach for All Learners - was my attempt to just bring the work that we've been working on at CT3 just to more folks. A book is another way. We have online courses. You obviously have the coaching protocols, that we go into organizations and train their coaches on. But it's really another way to engage in the body of work, and to build credibility for the work, honestly.

Like, what I got coached about was - for ten years, folks said, “Kristen write the book Kristen write the book.” I'm like, I'm not a writer. I don't want to write the book. Like, after my dissertation, I was basically like, I'm done. Like, I'll do some articles and some blogs. But I'm good.

But it really lends credibility to the body of work that we're doing. One of the things that made me nervous about writing the book, honestly, is the online courses I never had a problem writing. Because they can be dynamic. And as we become better in the language in which we're using to educate teachers and support teachers, we go in and change the language and update the language of the online courses. We can update the videos. Books are different. Right? Like, it's forever. So, when you're thinking about culturally relevant pedagogy and being critical around the work that we do in education.

It was also intimidating to put it in writing. Because, in four or five years, I do understand that this body of work might not be as relevant as it is today.

Now, what I will stand by is giving precise directions, narrating students, noticing them for doing positive things in the classroom, having accountability systems, and, certainly, relationships. That's never going out of style. Great pedagogy can be improved upon. But the essence of great pedagogy never goes away. Right? 

So that I will stand by. But some of the critical things that I bring up in the book, they're likely to change and evolve. And I had to get comfortable with putting them down on paper and being, like, okay, yeah, volume one said this. But what about volume four? You know, I just had to give myself the space to say, okay, there might be multiple versions. I might have to update this over time and be okay with that. But it was really to give teachers and educators another way to engage with this body of work. Because, again, people always ask me, “why does it work?” And it's not because I'm smart, or I'm some researcher that sat down and said, “I think that this is what all great teachers should do.”

I went out and studied and watched what great teachers did. I just put it down on paper. Codified it. So that others could have access to that.

So the reason why it works is because that's what your great colleagues do. I just put language to it, and the associates at CT3 put better language to it. You know, like helped to codify it even more. Because, again, they're much smarter than I am. And so, just letting the body of work evolve, and codifying the best practices of our highest performing educators, that's what the body of work is. And it's looking to great teachers to train other great teachers. Because we're practitioners. Apprenticeship models are gonna make us better at what we do. And studying one another is going to really help. So that's what body work really is. It's what great teachers do. Just codifying that practices, so we don't all have to be outliers.

James Loy:

Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for your time and for being on the podcast today.

Kristyn Klei Borrero:

Thank you.

James Loy:

Kristyn Klei Borrero’s new book is called, Every Student, Every Day: A No-Nonsense Nurturer Approach to Reaching All Learners.

She is also the CEO and co-founder of CT3. And you can find more information at CT3education dot com. That’s CT, the number 3, education dot com.

And thank you so much for listening.