Episode 54 – Sphere of Influence: Jenni Kilmore

Episode 54 - Sphere of Influence: Jenni Kilmore

“[Visualize] a huge blurry picture with this crystal clear center…this picture represents everything that we do in a normal classroom in a normal year. Now we have to think what is the focus and what are we trying to accomplish?”

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Language informs the world for human beings.

This essential point is why I began this podcast, and why I committed myself to a career in language education, training, advocacy, and coaching: language is how we make sense of and move through the world. Language is what it means to be human.

So, when Jenni Kilmore in this episode uses the visualization of a blurry picture with a focused center, and asks what we believe our focus to be, and then points out in a classroom that we need to back up and ask ourselves courageously if we are in fact acting as if that is our key focus, or if that focus is indeed worthy, she may be in the moment speaking about classroom instruction, but she is in fact speaking about our world — always, but especially in these times of undeniable change, upheaval, transformation, even destruction.

We in the world, in every country, in every area of work, service, participation, and leadership need to be asking: What is the clear focus center in this big picture for me, for my business, my organization, my students, my family, my faith community?

And once we define that, be courageous to ask: Are we, am I, planning, working, and engaging others to accomplish that focus?

Because after that, as Jenni notes, the “blurry part can come in and support all that, if you have the time.”

Ah, dear listeners, dear colleagues, dear fellow- travelers on this planet: this insight is directly from language. This insight that if we have no focus, we have no plan, we have no clear path, no clear point. How can pondering over this language insight on the power of focus bring relief and healing to societies wracked by lives and deaths of despair?

When we find the focus, how can keeping our eye, effort, and time on that focus, on that purpose, not getting distracted, not getting muddled, bring about the new processes, systems, and patterns that must happen after a global pandemic changes our world forever?

How must we focus out time? We have less time than we think.

It’s time to find the focus. Time to place to one side the worthy but not essential. We can apply that later, if we have the luxury of time.

But in the classroom of life, the pandemic has changed everything, and we have to step back, find the focus, be courageous to act on what it implies, and work toward the fluency of life that will be needed for hope and prosperity in a shared new global life.

Enjoy the podcast.


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It’s About Language – Episode 54 – Sphere of Influence: Jenni Kilmore

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Transcript

Norah Jones:

And it’s my great pleasure to welcome this week’s guest, Jennifer Kilmore. How are you doing, Jenni?

Jenni Kilmore:

I’m doing really great. Thank you.

Norah Jones:

Excellent. Excellent. Okay. So, I want to make sure that our listeners know, what is your role? What do you do in the language world?

Jenni Kilmore:

I’m a former language teacher, and currently, I am at Carnegie Learning and I am the director of sales enablement for World Languages. So I support…

Norah Jones:

And what does sales enablement do, Jenni?

Jenni Kilmore:

I thought you might ask that.

Norah Jones:

What do they do?

Jenni Kilmore:

I support the people in the field. So our account executives and our accounts teams who are across the country, I support them in trying to understand more about world languages and what districts need, what they’re looking for and how to help districts when they are looking for instructional materials. I do a lot of work with districts too, but that’s my primary responsibility, is to support the field team, and then they pull me into the district conversations.

Norah Jones:

That’s great. Thank you. Okay. Then what is your superpower?

Jenni Kilmore:

Oh gosh.

Norah Jones:

What’s your language superpower?

Jenni Kilmore:

My language superpower, I don’t know. I think my superpower might be connecting with people. I easily can find a way to connect with all different people. And so it’s led me to meet a lot of interesting people and a lot of interesting conversations and then experiences in my life. That’s probably my superpower.

Norah Jones:

Well, that’s fantastic. It sounds like you have collected quite a large number of interesting people around you during your time in the language world and in industry. That’s cool. Let me ask you a question, Jenni then. You have been a teacher, a teacher of what?

Jenni Kilmore:

I taught French. So I taught French for 13 or 14 years, both in the, what I would call brick and mortar classroom and then in the distance education classroom. So it was kind of before distance education was cool, before everyone was doing it. We were doing a different version of it back then. And so that was a really interesting experience. So we did satellite, we did a live satellite feed basically to classrooms across the country to help serve school districts who couldn’t find teachers. It was primarily language teachers, but we did have a lot of different content areas. I’ve taught a little bit of everywhere, but from one location.

Norah Jones:

Let me ask you then, you have a background that sounds like, you’ll correct me if I’m wrong here, sounds like you have a positive, certainly a more accomplished background with the distance or virtual education with which so many people are struggling now, how has that background informed how you see the learning and teaching situation going on now, specifically in languages, but in education in general, and how you portray that to the folks that you work with in the field?

Jenni Kilmore:

Oh, that’s a really good question. I was really fortunate to have this unique experience that when I first heard about, I said to my friend that I met on this particular day at a conference, no doubt, and she told me what she did, and I said, “Well, that is impossible. No one can teach language that way.” And I’m kind of ashamed of my reaction to her. And she said, “Well, then I would like to invite you to come see how I do it.” So I took up on her offer and before the day was over, I was almost begging to come work there. It was so cool. It was so cutting edge to see her sit in a room and then feed out to these classrooms.

Jenni Kilmore:

And so I jumped at the opportunity to go work for that department, and it was really interesting. So we did do things in a little bit of a different way, but it certainly held right at the beginning of the shutdown, immediately my instinct was, “I’ve been here, y’all, I’ve been here, I’ve done this, let me help you think through this process that I know can be overwhelming.” And in my own experience, it took me about a year to shift from that brick and mortar class classroom to a distance delivery.

Jenni Kilmore:

Now, during the pandemic, most teachers have not had the good fortunes that I had of the way of the setup. So we were in full classrooms and not students’ homes. Then when we shifted at one point and we went to a more of a blended model, it still looked different than what it looks like today. But what has served me well is the basic principles of all of those distant situations, even though they’re quite various, the basic principles have always been there. It really helped my conversations with district leadership and with teachers to say like, “Okay, here is what I went through when I made the shift, here’s what I would recommend how you attack your thought process on what you want to deliver, what’s most important to you.”

Jenni Kilmore:

I think it really helped teachers dig deep on what we’re trying to accomplish. And we don’t always have the time to dig deep in your day to day lesson planning and execution of lesson planning, but when you are told, “Okay, boom. Now you’re in a Zoom room and you get maybe 20 minutes twice a week and you can’t give homework.” We saw all kinds of different situations in the shutdown. It made everybody really think about, what are we trying to do here and how do we make the best use of our time together? And I think it’s transformed a lot of what we’re doing now and what we’re seeing.

Norah Jones:

There in lies the phrase I was looking for, why is it we’re doing what we’re doing? When we dig deep, how do we know we’re being consistent in what we are presenting so as to reach our real goals? So, help us to understand what goals indeed you were focused on and how that digging deep made a difference.

Jenni Kilmore:

Yeah. One of the first webinars that we did, the image that kept coming to my mind was a camera. So we talked about focusing that camera, and I wish I could show it to you right now. So I’ll try to paint the picture. It was a beautiful like mountain scene and it was all very blurry. And then you saw the camera lens come into the very center and it became crystal clear, like how when you’re at the eye doctor and they flip all of the … Is it better or worse?

Jenni Kilmore:

And it was this huge blurry picture with this crystal clear center, and that’s where the basis of my conversation came from, was that image of, this picture represents everything that we do in a normal classroom in a normal year. Now we have to think what is that focus and what are we trying to accomplish? And that might look different for a lot of people and what’s important to them, but that’s the first question, is what is in the inside center of that?

Jenni Kilmore:

And then the blurry part, those are things that can come in and support all of that, if you have the time, if you have the right circumstances, whatever that may be. But that’s the first question, is what’s the most important thing to you? And most people all said the same thing. “We want students speaking the language.” Is primarily what you hear. But if you think about then your backward process from there, a lot of times what we’re spending time on isn’t always aligned with what we believe at our core is the most important outcome.

Norah Jones:

Speak more about that, please, because especially not only as a teacher in these various environments, but as a person that is now within the publishing industry. Please speak more about that.

Jenni Kilmore:

Well, I think we’ve got to make sure as teachers and as publishers and as leaders in the profession, that we can help ourselves and help others align what that focus goal is, and what’s actually happening in the classroom. So if the goal is to speak, what classroom activities are you doing? What do those lesson plans look like? And if we’re spending … I know myself personally, I would say, “Yes, I want them talking.” And then I would look back at my lesson plan and we were speaking, what, eight, nine minutes a day? And so I had to really think, Okay.” Particularly in a distance classroom, how am I going to accomplish this if this is my goal, but especially in distance, it’s a lot easier to default to reading and writing, what can I do and how can I take some additional steps?

Jenni Kilmore:

So, I think for the publishing industry and when we’re working with the product team and instructional design, they’re thinking those same things and asking those questions like, “If this is what’s important, how can we give teachers tools to realistically get there so that their defaults become much easier for them because they’re supported?” We default to what is easiest too in a lot of ways when you’re overwhelmed. And I know I taught four different sections, so I had French one through four that you’re planning for, and I always felt like I could only do my best for one level at a time. Like, “Level two you are about to … I’m going to blow your mind with this lesson plan.”

Jenni Kilmore:

So, where instructional design and publishing can come in is they can do that kind of really thoughtful process to help support a default when you need to fall back on something, all those pieces are already there. So it aligns with your goals, it aligns with what’s important to you and your philosophy.

Norah Jones:

Let’s see if I can parse this question properly because there’s so many threads there. I know that in my own teaching career, because of the roles I was able to play in helping some of the newer teachers, I often had six preparations with the two different languages. And I’m resonating with what you say, today is French Tuesday to have a good one. But let’s take a look at, you’re talking about resonating with the teacher’s own skillset, you’re talking about teachers being overwhelmed, and of course, students more than ever, I believe, are feeling in the same way, you want these outcomes.

Norah Jones:

So, there’s a balance, it strikes me here, that I would like you to address about when teachers turn to materials as if they’re prescriptive, first, how they bring their personalities into the class without burning out, so second kind of concept, and then an umbrella on top of all of that is the standards that people are expecting students to reach. So these are three pretty big points there, but I sure would appreciate you taking a look at each of them in turn or blending them together as best you feel.

Jenni Kilmore:

We’re going to need more time, Norah.

Norah Jones:

Well, let’s go for it, girl.

Jenni Kilmore:

Because I could sit here all day and talk about this. You mentioned the standards to reach for the students, but what I thought you were about to say was the standards that we put on ourselves and the standards of the profession and what is perceived as good quality instruction, and then the things that we hide behind and might feel shameful about, even though there’s nothing to be shameful about. So, working in instructional materials, that was a leap for me to come into this world and then not just come here in this world and work in it, but really embrace the efforts and the purpose of publishing companies and instructional materials, instructional designers, and people who do this for a living.

Jenni Kilmore:

What I have found is that when teachers are open to, I don’t know, going beyond themselves in whichever way that may be, that they can really be better supported. So, I might be talking in code. So let me clear up just a little bit. Sometimes, I think, as language teachers we’re expected to do so much on our own. You have the internet, you have all the authentic resources in the world at your fingertips, and we come from the day of going abroad and packing your suitcase full of those authentic resources.

Jenni Kilmore:

And then to teach through the transformation of now it’s on the internet, and now that expectation has shifted where it’s not okay to rely on someone else to do your curriculum planning and your sourcing of information anymore, you’re expected to do it on your own in some ways, or there can be a little bit of a shame of, “Oh my gosh, I used a book or I used something that I bought off of the internet or a textbook, a website.” I think when we embrace what’s available to us, the key there is finding the right materials that align with what you want. So, if you’re trying to balance, and if you need to fall back, you need to default, what if you can default to something that supports your vision, and you’re not defaulting to something that doesn’t support that you just need a filler for the day?

Jenni Kilmore:

What if that filler aligns with the vision and you didn’t have to make it yourself? That is the power of instructional materials in publishing. We’ve come a long way in the industry, there’s been so many changes in the industry as a whole. In the last few years it’s been really exciting to be a part of how we think about what we want to provide teachers and the choices that they have so that we can make them feel like it’s absolutely okay to rely on something other than yourself, and it’s completely in line with your goals and what you’re trying to accomplish in your classroom. Did that make sense?

Norah Jones:

Thank you.

Jenni Kilmore:

Was that clear?

Norah Jones:

Oh, absolutely. That was very clearly said. I do have to resonate with that sense that teachers have potentially had, obviously not everything is monolithic about being shamed for purchasing materials instead of developing from scratch. So that’s very nicely said, and I appreciate how clearly you said it indeed. And when we take a look at that, what we envision, we’ve already mentioned, you’ve already brought up to the forefront about having students talk. Broaden that vision out a little bit more for us, please. What are teachers hoping for students? And from your point of view as well, in your role and in your background, what are you hoping for and envisioning for teachers?

Jenni Kilmore:

I want teachers to feel like they can breathe, is what I mostly hope for them, because I think instructional materials should make you feel that way. It should make you feel like you’re supported, you have freedom to do what you want to do, but you don’t have to create everything yourself. You don’t have to source everything yourself and then do the activities. I created my own curriculum for a long time and I was exhausted doing it. So, being able to fall back and rely on someone else, even if it’s just for the first three steps, or is it for all 10 steps, wherever you fall in between, I want teachers to feel like they can breathe. Like they have reliable resources that truly make a difference in what they’re trying to do.

Jenni Kilmore:

What I hope for students and students talking is, well, I’ll approach it a little bit differently. So, I was an exchange student to France when I was a junior in high school. And I got off of that plane with all of the confidence in the world. I was just a little girl from Arkansas, I started taking French in ninth grade. So I’d had two, three years of French. I mean, I did, I had all of the confidence in the world, and I got off that plane speaking French. I spoke to anyone who would look at me. I was so excited to be there. And then about two days in, I realized that maybe wasn’t as well versed as I thought I was.

Norah Jones:

Indeed.

Jenni Kilmore:

Yeah.

Norah Jones:

I’m feeling it, I’m feeling it.

Jenni Kilmore:

But what my teacher did for me and she … My French teacher, she was such an important part of who I am today and who I was back then. But she had instilled that confidence in me to where I felt like I could take those steps, even if they were wrong. She had created such a safe space in her classroom to where you could learn from, I’m going to say mistakes, but our language makes mistakes when you’re learning, there’s a whole other episode. But she had created that space where she just wanted you to talk, and she had such great feedback and such a great place to do it that I felt so great about what I put out there in the world.

Jenni Kilmore:

And that’s what I want for my students. I wanted them and I still want them to seize those opportunities when they have them. Not all of them are going to get on a plane and go to France, but they find their opportunities in different places, and I want them to take them. I don’t want them to second guess themselves so much that they don’t take that opportunity because it’s not until then that language becomes real outside of the classroom. You can be in the book, you can be within the four walls and it’s still a class. So the moment they make a personal decision to use language that wasn’t instructed by us, they’ve made that step of confidence, and that’s what I want. I want them all to make a personal decision to use it somehow, some way.

Norah Jones:

I am going to, despite the comment that you made about another episode altogether, I’m going to bring back the idea of mistake, but again, I’m going to tie it into something. Mistake making in language itself is indeed a worthy topic, but here’s a little bit of broader one too. Quite a few folks that have been engaged in this podcast series have talked about finding themselves through language, hiding from themselves through language, confronting other folks’ language and judging it.

Norah Jones:

We have, of course, diversity in this culture, whether or not we embrace it, that diversity often, especially linguistically, means I hear you, but you’re making mistakes, mistakes and vocabulary mistake, if you will, in accent, you see that I’m using, I hope everyone can see, even in an audio podcast, that I’m putting air quotes around things like accents and so forth. Talk about that. Talk about the role of openness mistakes with or without air quotes, linguistically, and the impact on clearly had a strong impact on you, but the impact that you continue to see for students and for the roles of education in general.

Jenni Kilmore:

There are so many debates on this, but me personally, I struggled for a long time in my life with making mistakes. I’m kind of a type A personality, the oldest child, and a straight A student. I did not enjoy making mistakes at all. So I would go into total shutdown if I thought I made a mistake and then I would never put myself back out there again. And I know that’s just a portion of people in the world, not everyone is like that, but my experience, like all of us, is what drives me and my reactions to others.

Jenni Kilmore:

So, I was very sensitive to students making mistakes, and then encountering, just in life, English speakers in my life who have come to this country and are trying their best, and I want to be a person who embraces every act of confidence that they act upon in making those air quote mistakes. So to me, particularly in the beginning there really aren’t any, if you’re opening your mouth and you’re using it, I just want to like pull, keep pulling like the magician and the scarf coming out of your sleeve. Like, “Keep talking, just keep talking, just keep talking.”

Jenni Kilmore:

And then I do realize that at some point that has to shift into … All right, nowadays, the most French that I use is writing emails. I don’t do a lot of spoken French anymore. I work at home, I am fairly isolated into the community. So it’s writing and then there are mistakes in writing. So it becomes a little bit different. But in those early stages, I just want to just really encourage every bit of language with really a softness for approaching those mistakes.

Jenni Kilmore:

I will also acknowledge that some of the most critical moments in language learning have been when I did make a mistake and I felt a little bit ashamed, but I never forgot again, and I’m really specifically thinking of a pronoun usage, and I was trying to offer something to someone in France. And I basically said, “Do you want?” And I was corrected very quickly with, “Do you want some of it?” And woo, that stuck with me. But at that point in my life, I had gotten to a place where I could accept a little bit more feedback and criticism. So I was like, “Okay, thanks for sharing, even though my face is bright red, and I’m not loving that.”

Jenni Kilmore:

Now I look back and laugh, because it was so small, but it was a defining moment in my life, this one sentence, would you like some of it? So, I think finding the balance is hard and it’s largely based on personality, who can handle it and who cannot, but just giving everyone permission to make the mistakes, but then agreeing collectively like, “Okay, we’re going to, at some point, have to call it what it is and we’re all going to be okay with that, we’re all going to accept the fact that we make mistakes, and then we’re going to learn from that and take a step forward.” It’s a lot deeper too than just the sentences, but that’s the vulnerability that we need to have in language learning. It’s kind of the same in our just everyday lives.

Norah Jones:

That’s interesting statement there you just made, that’s the kind of the same thing in our everyday lives. In what way have you found your background in language, language education at a model for, or a reflection of the larger life that we’re leading here in this country and potentially around the world?

Jenni Kilmore:

I mean, for me, without languages I don’t know who I would be. I have no idea who I would be, and probably, I would imagine a lot of people feel that same way. It’s shaped all of my experiences. What if I separate my love of language and culture from how it’s influenced my personality, is, I think learning a language has this vulnerability to it that other content areas don’t always have. You really have to put yourself out there. People would absolutely not believe this, the people who know me today, but I used to be quite shy. Now at home, I was always really loud and hamming it up. But when I got around a group of people, I get reserved and shy.

Jenni Kilmore:

So language, if you’re going to talk to someone, you have to make some choices and just really put yourself out there, and then getting on a plane as a teenager and going to a country by myself that I’ve never been to, my parents didn’t know anybody there, this was just a risk for all of us, and then learning from that, I’ve continued to carry that on into my personality, I think, as an adult, a risk taker, because knowing that taking risks there’s a lot of reward, and in being vulnerable and being humble, there comes a lot of reward and a lot of growth.

Jenni Kilmore:

So, I think it’s a parallel track, the way you grow in language and putting yourself out there is also how it’s affected me as a person. Like you got to put yourself out there sometimes, sometimes it’s going to pan out, sometimes it’s not, but there’s always growth.

Norah Jones:

Jenni, do you think when we take a look at our country, the United States here, and we look at the low percentage of folks that are engaged in learning languages, the rapidity with which people will drop languages out of their studies off of advanced diploma lists, do you think that the vulnerability of language that you just described is part of the reason why people are not embracing the language experience?

Jenni Kilmore:

Wow. Wow. I think you might be onto something there. I really do. I think as Americans, it is difficult to embrace language because our country is so big and it’s not so easy to access in very tight spaces. So it’s not always, it’s not a part of everybody’s everyday lives. But I do think it takes a certain type of person to embrace language learning. And our culture is not always a very vulnerable culture, we reward it on the back end after the growth has occurred, but it can be quite a shameful process along the way in putting yourself out there, and it’s not for the faint of heart to do that.

Jenni Kilmore:

So you might really be onto something there. Language learning is a really vulnerable and unique process than a lot of other things that you would take in school, you don’t get shamed publicly. Also, and I hear myself talking to you, I’m like, “Oh, I’ve got some themes about what I try to focus on.” But I think you’re right. I think it’s really hard. And it makes me think sometimes I hear teachers say, “Well, this is too hard for my students.” And my response, like many other teachers, my default response is, “Edit the task not the text, it’s not too hard.” But it does require more vulnerability and more space to be incorrect or it’s really uncomfortable to not understand what’s going on around you.

Jenni Kilmore:

And I mean we’ve all had kids who drop your class the first week of school, and they would say like, “Well, she speaks French all the time. I have no idea what’s going on.” And that’s really uncomfortable. It’s like, “You signed up for French, what did you think we were going to do?” And we ask ourselves that question every day, you go to a conference, every teacher, we’re laughing about like, “Of course, yes. Answer in French. Yes, of course, answer in Spanish.” But I really think people don’t understand that they’re signing up to be really uncomfortable, and we’re a culture that likes to keep people comfortable.

Norah Jones:

Wow. Now there is a statement that’s extremely powerful, and thank you for sharing it so straightforwardly. We don’t like to be uncomfortable, here’s another aspect, if I may tap on that.

Jenni Kilmore:

Please

Norah Jones:

And languages bring in by their very nature diversity, and I am bringing this out as a question for you. In what way do you think currently we in the United States, globally speaking, I mean, largely speaking, interpret diversity as division, and the role here specifically of language and language studies and language educators in addressing that, if in fact, you agree with me that potentially the difference between diversity and division is not clearly seen.

Jenni Kilmore:

That also is a very profound thought. That’s really interesting. I think … Wow. Yeah, I think you’re right. By default, and I’ve said that a lot, so maybe I’m hearing myself too, like, “What are these defaults that we’ve, like habits of mind that you’ve become defaulted to certain behaviors or thoughts, whatever that may be?” But I think largely as language teachers, we embrace diversity, but we also see and interpret the word in a different way than a lot of Americans might interpret that.

Jenni Kilmore:

I mean, we … maybe I’ll speak for myself, but I was drawn to what was different. I was so intrigued by everything that’s different than the life that I know, and I’m just pulled to it in a magnetic type of way where I absolutely cannot resist the urge to learn about what’s different. From where I am and where I grew up, language path was the best way to discover differences and then enlighten the world on how cool it is to be different. I felt like I was enlightening my students, like this is so awesome, you’re not going to believe this. This is what happens in the rest of the world.

Jenni Kilmore:

So I think language teachers interpret diversity in a little bit of a different way. It’s super positive, and we’re curious, and we want to pass that on. I think culturally in America, you’re right, diversity can raise a red flag and that means an opposing opinion or the complete opposite, or it’s an uncomfortable space when there’s diversity. I think language teachers, it’s up to us to just … There’s not an us in and them, it’s both of us together, and let’s focus on how we’re more alike in this diverse world. But to really get rid of the word diverse in a way, like we think it’s great, but I think the power in teaching about it is helping people see the similarities in it.

Norah Jones:

One of the things that I look at you with the eye of is, as we preach to the choir the language and diversity lovers, how indeed do we share the message through, say the work of publishing, the work in the classroom, the work in the organizations, those that are in business that are working with language, even if it’s just English to English, but language in the business, such as to be able to support the vulnerability that you have spoken about.

Norah Jones:

So as to welcome of the diversity that you have spoken about in a way that’s remains feeling safe and possible, what do you think in the case of publishing might be, some of the things that already take place, and what are some of the things that might improve to address that larger take on life that might be hobbling us in the United States with regard to language learning and teaching?

Jenni Kilmore:

I think for publishing, that’s the easy part of the question. So, for publishing there’s soft entry points everywhere, and everyone’s entry point is different. So, I think it starts with like the perspectives in the culture strand, that’s just like a key component to bridging the gap and helping see a different culture or a different language or a different practice or anything. It’s that perspectives, and thinking back on like, “Well, how do I do that? Would someone else think that’s different or funny?” Or I always hated and first year you would always have at least one who would say, “Ah, that’s stupid.” And like, “No, it’s not.” You get so defensive about it.

Jenni Kilmore:

So, instead of just explaining to students why it’s not stupid, helping them work through the process of perspectives from their own perspective to get to those realizations on their own. So in publishing, I think it’s things like that, just the consistent, like the heartbeat of bringing perspectives back to everything we do. So it’s not always language centric, but language, of course, like preaching to the choir, language and culture go hand in hand, you can’t have one without the other. So, for teaching words and phrases, what does that it mean? And then let’s dig into those perspectives.

Jenni Kilmore:

Where it comes in the broader scope of the world, I think it’s just … I don’t know how we influence change on a larger scale. We talk a lot about … I did the ACTFL Leadership Initiative for language learning, the LILL cohort. Some people who are familiar with ACTFL know about LILL, and we talk a lot about our sphere of influence. And I think so as a person or as a publisher, or just who are you and where are you in the world, who and what is your sphere of influence, and that’s the place where you start. And then once you have influenced that first tier, you can think about how can you do the next tier and how can you broaden that sphere?

Jenni Kilmore:

I think it’s figuring out where our sphere is personally, and then also in the publishing world, like our sphere are largely the teachers right now, that’s using the book, but how can we use that to take the step and influence a district and the importance of language learning. And right now, big topic of conversation is giving Spanish speakers their own space and not grouping them in with second language acquisition students. So, a big part of thinking about how we can take our platform, whatever that may be, and influence the next sphere.

Norah Jones:

Tell me about your sphere of influence Jennifer Kilmore? That sounds like a very profound experience. How is it continuing to impact your life?

Jenni Kilmore:

It changes all the time. And when I first did the leadership training, we worked really hard on defining what our sphere was. And I remember there were about 40 people in that room and all of our spheres were very different. Some of us had a national platform for whatever reason, and some were all the way down to maybe just … Not just, not to imply that it’s a scale, but like a department. And so those are largely different spheres. So the whole discussion was, what are you trying to accomplish?

Jenni Kilmore:

So, if that’s influencing the perspective of diversity in America, how are you going to do that with your sphere first? Because if you don’t have the national stage, then you need to start where you can, and that will broaden your sphere every single time. So, the second part of that was the action steps and putting action into place to really commit to something. So my sphere changes were, I’ve dipped into different roles, professionally volunteering with the organizations and then professionally at work, I’ve had a lot of different roles, and then just over the course of my career and then in my personal life.

Jenni Kilmore:

So, it’s hard to say what my sphere is. It could even change day to day. I try to attack this fear in the moment too, and what is my message with who I’m influencing at any moment? I’m not like an Instagram influencer or anything, but I am really fortunate to have conversations with school districts, teachers, leadership across the country because I do work nationally. So I feel very lucky and fortunate to be able to influence, but also learn from the national stage and see similarities. Before that leadership training, I was very caught up in our state organization and why we couldn’t do things because we are small. I’m from Arkansas, our organization is much smaller than Virginia or California, these larger states.

Jenni Kilmore:

So I didn’t feel like we could accomplish as much or these were obstacles because of this, that or the other. And what I learned was, “Oh, well, look at that.” At the end of the day, we almost all have the same obstacles, and how we attack it with our sphere is what is going to change and overcome those obstacles. So I’ve seen that through working in this role at work, also not just in the professional organizations. But people have largely the same challenges coast to coast, and they’re having the same conversation. So being able to beat that drum from one coast to another, can influence some change, I think.

Norah Jones:

Well, and certainly each teacher and each student has their own sphere of influence. Do they not?

Jenni Kilmore:

Right. Absolutely.

Norah Jones:

They focus on that and keep that integrity in front of them. Thank you for sharing that. That’s an extremely powerful image from which to work.

Jenni Kilmore:

And you know if you think-

Norah Jones:

And reframe.

Jenni Kilmore:

Well, if you think about what you just said about our students too, like how can we help them realize what their sphere of influence is? And the conversations that are happening in America right now are some really hard ones. I think it’s great that people are talking about hard stuff at the dinner table or at football practice or in band. These students, they influence one another.

Jenni Kilmore:

So, if our sphere starts with our classroom and we think that we’re limited to those 100 students, the sphere is actually much larger. So that message that we’re putting in front of them and helping students learn how to talk about diversity, learn how to talk about differences, learn how to be uncomfortable, they’re going to take those lessons from our classroom into their spheres, and then you can have a domino effective change from one place.

Norah Jones:

That theme of Americans love to be comfortable and go ahead and rest in discomfort for a moment, learn how to be uncomfortable, I’m just grinning over here thinking about the implications of even something that seems potentially so small, but could have such a powerful impact. Jenni, I’ve got a question for you here as we wrap up today. The listeners, I know have gotten a tremendous amount from the things that you have shared here. What’s the one more thing that you want to make sure that you emphasize or leave with them, make sure that you are not walking away without saying to them today?

Jenni Kilmore:

Well, I didn’t think this is where I would land on the uncomfortableness, but I think when I came in today thinking like, “Hmm, what is the message I want to get across?” It really was about myself and trying to balance humility with confidence. I think that is a lot about being uncomfortable, is about being humble, and then overcoming that is being confident.

Jenni Kilmore:

I think what I would want people to take away from today is, even me sitting here, it’s really easy to talk about America doesn’t like being uncomfortable, but if I take out the other and put my name in there, like Jenni doesn’t like being uncomfortable and Jenni doesn’t like having hard conversations, we can get to that digging deeper a lot faster if we own our own uncomfortableness with being uncomfortable, if we are really upfront with ourselves and then modeling that for our students, I mean, I don’t think you can be vulnerable or you can tell people to do something. Like anything else you have to do it and show it.

Jenni Kilmore:

So to say to students, show them where your own growth and your own learning has been in being uncomfortable, whether it’s with language or other cultures or differences in the world and just saying, “This is what I used to think, or this was my first reaction, and then here’s how I overcame that, and here’s where I am right now.” If they can’t see that in us, we look like almost … Your teacher is your perfect being and they’re all knowing, and they don’t do anything wrong and they need to see the human in us as well, so that they’re okay with being uncomfortable.

Norah Jones:

Phenomenal. And not just for teachers, but managers for the groups, organization leaders, community leaders, for those that look to them, that modeling of vulnerability and of learning and of growth. Jenni Kilmore, it has been a great pleasure having you today. I hope you’ve enjoyed the conversation.

Jenni Kilmore:

I have so much. Thank you so much for having me.

Norah Jones:

Well, thank you. Thank you for sharing. We all wish you the very best in your role and in your spheres of influence, growing as they do each day, and thank you for sharing all of this with us today.

Jenni Kilmore:

Thank y’all for listening.

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