In this #coachbetter episode, Kim talks with Dr. Rania Saeb, Assistant Professor at West Coast University & Lecturer at Cal State University San Marcos!

As an experienced international school educator, and now professor, Dr. Saeb has an amazing wealth of experience working towards equity in schools. Her research is focused on the lack of visibility of Arab American students in American schools. This conversation focuses on creating an equitable school experience for all students, beginning with the outcomes of her research, and broadening to how we can apply that learning in context in our individual school environments. We talk about why it’s important that all students are seen and what that looks like, how teachers can get started, and how Dr. Saeb found her voice as a leader in conducting and then sharing the outcomes of her research. If you’re working towards creating a more equitable school environment, or you’re curious about developing your leadership voice, this episode is for you!

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Featured Guest

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Please tell us about your work & your journey to get to this point in your career?

I am a Palestinian American, Muslim woman, mother, wife, educator. My identities allow me to focus in on what’s important to me in terms of the direction of my career & where its going. Started in journalism, then went back to school to be a teacher at AISK. Moved to the US with husband and 3 boys under the age of 12. After having taught in higher ed for about 5 years, got my doctorate in EdLeadership, focused on the cultural identity formation of Arab American youth.

Lived in the US for my childhood. As a student, I was invisible & ashamed of my cultural identity, and I’m very worried that my kids will take that same path.

When you think of your work over time, when and how did it look when you were able to clearly define your vision or your goals? How have you continued to refine your work, your vision, your communication over time?

If listeners are able to get their doctorate, do it. In terms of personal growth, I’ve never grown so much as a human being, as I did during my doctorate. During that time I learned about being an educational leader. How do we take this research on cultural identity and turn it into something that teachers can use in the workplace?

After my Doctorate, I looked for conferences where I could present my work. I wanted other educators to hear what I had to say because I felt like I had to advocate for all Arab American kids (and around the world), and I felt like I had to advocate for marginalized youth around the world, and because I wanted to show other educators that research can lead to changes.

Now I’m starting to do workshops on how teachers can take what I found and apply that in their classrooms. Its’ all about how you disseminate that information & information that isn’t readily available.

When you think about an equitable school experience, where all students are seen, what does that look like? Why is it important?

The participants in my research shared that one of their biggest frustrations is that there is a lot of misinformation out there about Arab Americans and a lack of education about Arab culture. The amazing accomplishments are overlooked and not shared. Decades of Arabs being painted as monsters. Over time there’s been a really negative narrative that’s being told.

Looking at more of asset-based research. How did these students find ways to connect to their Arab self. Community affiliations, religious institutions, or schools with cultural clubs helped students feel a sense of belonging and a platform where they could share who they are as Arabs, and where they could share the richness and positiveness of their culture. Teachers who specifically reached out to parents to ask how they could specifically support their children. It’s about time to stop making kids advocate for themselves, we as leaders have to seek resources from the families and communities. Its our job not theirs

It’s important for schools to think about doing this in the most authentic manner. How are we representing these cultures that represent us beyond just food, and represents the culture today than hundreds of years ago. Highlight accomplishments & where we stand in the world.

Ask students What gives them a sense of pride in who they are? What makes them think their culture is special? Reframing how we see Arabs was extremely important for how we see Arabs, he wanted his peers

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Show Notes continued…

How do teachers get started?

Reflection on cognitive biases. Each of us grows up with a series of biases however, it is our job to look deep into the biases I hold about certain populations. I think we need to have honest conversations in our schools. Forget about the elephant in the room, I’m ok with addressing them as long as I can fix them. What are some of the ways that you are seeing deficits in some populations, and how can you reframe that so you address it, and then seek resources to help educate you on how that’s not the case. 

Starting with bold conversations with yourself, and then conversations as a faculty. Not training to check a box. What are some deep conversations that you are having with your colleagues and the biases that exist in your curriculum and on your school walls. What’s in your classroom that’s creating this invisibility for your students?

Classroom audit + campus audit. Looking at the hallways, the walls.

It’s almost freeing to unburden yourself of all these emotions and now I can get to work.

Growing up, I’m of Palestinian descent. Growing up it was scary for me to say that. It’s makes me so sad for those children that feel like they can’t reveal that part of their identity. When a teacher shares their ethnic identiy, and share things about who they are, they open it up to a classroom that welcomes identity.

Article to reference: “Supporting Arab American Students in the Classroom”

Your leadership focuses on the lack of visibility of Arab American students in American schools. In a broader context, how can we advocate for equity in schools – as leaders, and as teachers or coaches / influential leaders?

With your experience in international schools, what is your impression of equity in those communities (we can also think about how the lack of visibility exists for different students based on different regions of the world, ie: it may be Arab students that are not seen in Asian schools vs Asian students not being seen in schools located in the Middle East)

In terms of your leadership, how did you find your voice as a leader? How can others work towards finding theirs?

Imposter syndrome is real. I dealt with it, I still sort of deal with it, at times, for a very very long time. I would always talk myself down from sharing my voice. When that crack opened in the doorway, that was a glimmer of hope. You just have to believe that someone out there wants to hear your story. I never thought that they would. Educators are sponges, we want to learn more, we get emotionally exhausted, but we love students and all we want to do is better education for the next generation. It’s hard to get out of your way and think, I can make a difference, start with something small. Write an article, and when you see a journal ask for calls, submit it, if you get rejected, so what, eventually someone will say, we want your work. If you don’t try, you never will succeed.

No work that you create will go into your recycle bin. If you don’t get to write a book, write an article, if you don’t get to write an article, present at your own school. There’s always a path, never stop

For listeners who want to speak up and act on these topics, what do you encourage them to do?

On a personal level, as a leader, or an educator, what’s your irritatingly endearing trait – that other people might be frustrated by, but also makes you unique?

I don’t ever stop going. My mind is always going. I don’t know how to rest. I feel like when I do, I’m wasting valuable time.

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