Episode 100 – Brenda Buckley: Why Teach Like a Rebel

It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 100 - Brenda Buckley: Why Teach Like a Rebel

“Be with them, be a ‘we’ not a ‘I’, or ‘you’.

Why “It’s About Language for a broad, global audience?

I go to language because it is the one central and universal human capacity — compulsion, even. It is the human gift that connects us to both our interior selves and to our exterior environment. 

And I often go to language educators, because they have embedded themselves in this truth about human language,  and have spent their careers teaching learners how to communicate both within and to themselves and outward into the world. 

Language educators have made what can be so common among us as to be invisible, visible. They can, in the language we use as Gallup Strengths coaches, take a natural talent, and, by reflection and practice, turn it into a purposefully applied strength for the good of themselves and others.

For this reason and from my decades of experience in teaching, training, and coaching, know that those who are not specialists in language can learn how to help themselves and others through language, by following the insights and methodologies of language educators. 

Here’s a three step insight into language’s impact:

Affirm yourself through accurate, positive language connected to observable behaviors. Learn to do the same for others.

Engage with the human community through language that accurately expresses your own interests in and contributions to the world. Learn to encourage and build up others through language to do the same.

Invite yourself – give yourself permission – to use language to learn new things, meet new people, do new actions, belong to wider and wider circles of humanity, and have increasingly positive and powerful impact on the world. Invite others to find the paths to accomplish those human objectives, too.

Listen to that in action in this podcast with Brenda Buckley

Listen to that in action in my previous episodes with educators.

See that in Brenda’s biography.

Find it in the resources and links Brenda shares with us here.

Enjoy the podcast. 

Click to listen:

Episode 100 | Brenda Buckley | Why Teach Like a Rebel

Scroll down for full transcript.

Thank you for always focusing on the possibilities, opportunities and the power of language and what it can do for us individually - and collectively!

Elizabeth Mack

If you've never done #cliftonstrengths, yourself or with your team, don't wait any longer.  Norah Jones of FLUENCY CONSULTING is the one and only to do it! It's all about your super powers: finding & using them to affect positive change in the world. What's not to love?!

Elizabeth Mack
Founder and CEO / Freestyle Languages


Yes, @NorahLulicJones definitely has the talent of "bringing out" the best in others or allowing them to showcase themselves in the best light! Thank you for directing the spotlight on others who have great stories and talents to share with others. 

Lisa Fore


Your podcasts are exceptionally relevant and applicable, thought-provoking and insightful, easy-to-follow and enjoyable!  

Paul Sandrock
Senior Advisor for Language Learning Initiatives / ACTFL


You have an immense talent to draw the best from your participants. 

Richard Brecht


Norah knows how to LISTEN - she really "hears" the message - and the interview is richer because of it.  New questions come from the hearing. 

Terri Marlow

Want to hear more? Access previous episodes, and get to know the wonderful people I talk with through the It’s About Language page, or by clicking on the Podcast tab above. You can also find this week’s episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

As a certified Gallup Strengths coach, I can provide you or your organization personalized coaching to discover and build on your strengths.

I provide workshops, presentations, and talks that inspire and engage through powerful language insights, and I pair those insights with practical applications for the lives of educators, learners, businesses, and faith-centered organizations. I’d love to share ideas with your organization or group, and develop an event tailored to your objectives.

Click here to start a conversation.



0:00:04.8 Norah Jones: So language is the human phenomenon. We learn about our own identity and we learn about the identity of others around the world through language. When you throw in a rubber chicken, what you have is Brenda Buckley, my guest for today. I had a little excerpt from Brenda, so I caught her in the corridor on the way to her session, ‘Teach Like a Rebel’, at the Northeast conference. I invited her to come back for a full podcast. I wanted to hear more about what she does with American Sign Language, about how she inspires students from underprivileged backgrounds, about her story and the story of how we work to develop mindsets that can change the lives of young people that are challenged in today’s world. I hope you’ll enjoy this podcast and I hope you’ll check out her story, the many resources that she’s shared directly with you on my website, fluency.consulting. Enjoy and profit from the insights that Brenda Buckley brings about the nature of humanity and about encouraging all in a challenging world.

0:01:29.8 Norah Jones: Brenda Buckley, welcome to the conversation today.

0:01:57.2 Brenda Buckley: Thank you for having me.

0:02:00.6 Norah Jones: It’s a lot of fun, and I sure enjoyed our time at the Northeast conference when we met, but I am very excited about sharing your insights, your history, your impact with the listeners today. You have over 15 years of experience in urban education and specializing in American Sign Language. I’d love for you to give us a little background into that. Why you start with that? Why that’s important? What’s that identity? Where you’re coming from with all of that.

0:02:34.6 Brenda Buckley: Alright, so let me give you a little bit. Originally, not the plan. [chuckle] My goal was to work at a school for the deaf teaching art, so I had to know sign language in order to teach at a school for the deaf. And I started there, subbing, but then I had a city school contact me and they were looking for an ASL teacher. So they asked me if I would come in for an interview, and I needed a full-time job. I went in there and I did not know what to expect. It was a very different experience, even with the interview. But over the years, I have really gone to… I’ve really enjoyed and I’m able to do so many different things and bring the students into a whole new world, I guess, even with language and culture and the activities. So I thank the students for allowing me to, one, touch into my inner child again and bring that out and, two, for allowing me to continue to enjoy my job every day. And I think that’s a thing that sometimes can get hard with education, depending on politics and all of those things, but the students are the ones that make it fun. And sometimes I do tell the students, “It’s not about you today, it’s about me.” But that’s just because I like to change it up and get them out.

0:03:49.0 Brenda Buckley: I think a lot of students right now are very focused on saying inside, being on the phone, you know, really into those things instead of getting out and experience it. And then once I can get them out, then the buy-in starts. So once I started seeing these bright eyes and these kids just enjoying and having fun instead of focusing on a cell phone or some kind of device and be into themselves, I really wanted to kind of take on with that and keep going.

0:04:20.1 Norah Jones: Phenomenal, and it really brings them alive, you know. You do a lot of, by definition with ASL, body work.

0:04:27.3 Brenda Buckley: Yes.

0:04:27.7 Norah Jones: And there are so many courses where students are sitting all of the time and brains on sticks, if we overstate it. But the ASL is, by definition, motion. Language in general is a body phenomenon. What is it that led you to ASL and then to, indeed, the teaching of ASL now?

0:04:51.7 Brenda Buckley: I went to school for art.

0:04:53.3 Norah Jones: Okay.

0:04:54.3 Brenda Buckley: And I had to take a language. And they did not have French. I took French for five years before that. I was on the dance team and a bunch of other girls were taking American Sign Language and they were having fun with it. And I thought if I ever needed help, I would have a bunch of people that were already in the course. But because of my… I’m very animated to begin with, and with the dancing, and all the other stuff that I’ve done in the past, growing up, I grabbed on to that course right away. I was just captivated by it. I was still an art major, and I started taking another class and then another class and another class. Then I got close to a minor and I was, “Well, might as well minor in it.” And then I kept going and going, and then my senior year, my advisor said, “If you just double up two classes, you will major in this too.” I was like, “Well, why not?” And then I got to thinking, “Well, what do I do with art and ASL? These are really two weird things, so how can I combine them?” Because I love both, but I couldn’t think of what job would do that, and I started… I really just loved being in the deaf community, I actually felt more free and more alive, and I want to say, myself, in a way because I felt like I was able to express myself better in sign language than I am in English.

0:06:08.7 Brenda Buckley: Because I do have a learning disability, and sometimes I struggle with the English part. So yeah, that was… I just wanted that feeling of feeling part of a group, and I just loved the way I felt when I was signing. So then I went to RIT for deaf education and my goal was, “Okay, I’m going to teach art in a deaf school.” And that’s a little bit harder than you think because there’s not that many deaf schools out there. But yeah, that’s kind of how I got into it, it was all by accident, and it was probably the best accident ever.

0:06:42.8 Norah Jones: You know, it’s interesting how much you have emphasized here something that is so important, the deaf community, having the deaf culture, having the deaf feel about things. And here you are, a hearing person, feeling so comfortable in the deaf community. Talk a little bit about the experience that you have had, again as a hearing person, with what you discovered about the deaf community and about the warmth and the experience that you just alluded to.

0:07:15.5 Brenda Buckley: Well, I went to school in Rochester, and that is one of the largest deaf communities. With school, we were required to go to a deaf community event each… I think, each month. I think it was each month. And that got you out into the community. And they have different events depending on where you are, like for example, here where I live now, every Tuesday they meet at Panera Bread, but it rotates around the city. So it was like the first Tuesday’s in one town, the second Tuesday’s in another, third Tuesday… And Rochester has a lot more events than that because the population is so large of deaf people. There was tons of different things you can do. But that’s their way of coming together and just keeping the love going. And they are very, very used to students coming because they knew the teachers in the community would push the students out into the community and just basically throw them in like, “Alright, you’re going to survive.” Which is where I actually learned the language a lot more than just by sitting in class, was just getting out there. And everybody that goes to those events that is deaf, know that students are going to be showing up and they’re willing to work with them and help them and try to communicate with them. They’ll teach them too.

0:08:34.5 Brenda Buckley: They just don’t give them the words or the whatever. So there are teachers as well, I would say, in the community because they want more people to be able to communicate and utilize the language, especially in an area that has so… The population is so large for deaf people. So I definitely felt in all of those events that it was very welcoming and people were willing to work with you, even if you were struggling and not judge you.

0:09:00.9 Norah Jones: That’s huge, that’s huge. You know, the listeners, are some in education, others in business and industry organizations and a variety of places around the world, and so they may or may not be familiar with the fact that ASL enrollments are growing in the United States. And can you address that? Why the enrollments are growing? What some of the impact of ASL Programs are? And potentially, if you know about what sign language, the various national sign languages are doing around the world, what the experience is there? If you have that background to be able to address that a little bit.

0:09:43.8 Brenda Buckley: I think sign language is growing for many reasons. It’s also not only the fact that it’s a language, it’s also a great form of communication for students with special needs, if they can’t verbally express themselves, which helps with a lot of behavior problems too. So I do teach a communication course as well for special needs students, but it’s important to know that there is a difference between it, teaching American Sign Language and then teaching some signs to help communication, so that’s more of a total communication mode. But I just really think that everyone is seeing it as such a benefit to more than just people who are hard of hearing or deaf. And also our population, we’re starting to recognize deaf culture more. And I say deaf culture, because people that are very involved in deaf culture, they do not see themselves any different than a hearing person, except for the fact that they can’t hear. They don’t feel handicapped, they don’t feel disabled, they feel that they can do anything but hear. And, especially now during COVID, now that we’re starting to see the interpreters around and everyone is starting to recognize, oh my gosh, we have to give communication and provide this for the people in… Especially the US. And we’re recognizing that.

0:11:03.6 Brenda Buckley: And I think that’s awesome. And now people are really… Also, I just think it’s such a beautiful language and people are really fascinated with it because you get to see it happen instead of just listening. You get to watch it, and I always hear my co-workers or students are just so captivated like, “Did you see that woman? Did you see her facial expressions? Did you see her body movement? Did you see everything?” So I think people are really tuned into that too, and they just think it’s just a beautiful language, and there’s just so many opportunities and things that you can do with the language besides communicate with a deaf person.

0:11:37.3 Norah Jones: Now, you just brought up something so important there. The difference between, in this case, American Sign Language and teaching signs to help to have some breakthroughs for students that might need that communication help. Speak more about that please, and your work with students that have some specific educational needs.

0:11:58.6 Brenda Buckley: Absolutely, it started about… Oh my gosh, four years ago. There was a class that… It was for students with autism, it was an autism program, and it was in our building. And I had a teacher who was using some signs with them, the readings. However, they weren’t correct. And she asked me for help and she was really receptive to all of it, she wanted to do it correctly, she wanted to make sure everything was right. Because some of these kids go into homes too, and then you do utilize the communication modes and some of the workers there do as well. But she… Then it just kind of got to the point where I would kind of push in and I pushed in on my own time, my own planning time and helped the kids with some of the signs, with the images and the reading and the listening all together. And the students were really starting to pick it up and they also were starting to recognize by listening to a word and doing the sign, because some of them really needed a visual before they could even recognize the word or listening to it. The visual is what caught them first, and then gradually the auditory part came. The following year, they got rid of my hall duty and then kept me… Pushing in, and then eventually it just became a course that was directly just for that.

0:13:16.2 Brenda Buckley: Because I pushed for that. I pushed for that so hard because I was trying to tell them, “This is not a class where we can teach American Sign Language.” They need to utilize this to communicate, they don’t need to learn deaf history, and they need this specific tool to help them communicate in the future just day-to-day to do daily activities. So some of the language is tough for them, and some of them don’t even speak, some of them are mute. Some of them just can’t form the words and stuff that they want, so that they try to speak with it and add the signs, that’s very helpful. And we also got the speech teacher, she took a course and she utilizes some of the signs with the words too when she’s working with them and putting it all together, and we’ve just seen so much growth, and it’s the best thing to see. All of a sudden it’s like the kid just uses the sign the right way, and I’m like, “How are you today?” And then they sign, good, back. I’m like, “Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh, I haven’t heard anything from you in three months and you got it.” That, to me, is just amazing. This kid has not been able to communicate, and even though I voice, “How are you today?” And he signed back, good, that’s awesome.

0:14:40.6 Norah Jones: What is happening inside a young person? Any person, any age, but here you’re specifically talking about young people. What’s happening in the brain? What’s happening in the spirit?

0:14:55.0 Brenda Buckley: So I have tapped into research like crazy. I honestly don’t know how or why. Oh, I kind of remember now. I did a book study and it was engaging students in poverty, and there were so many things that I was reading, and I said to myself, “Oh, that’s why. Oh, that’s why. Oh, that’s why.” I mean, even to the point where… I’m a volleyball coach and some of the things the girls were doing for volleyball, I’m like, “Oh, that’s why.” I did not realize how much poverty really affects language. But I was picking it up on my own, the book was not saying like, “Oh, this is all about language.” So I had to go in and really dig and learn more. But it was just mind-boggling to me. And there’s seven engagement factors, when I looked into some other books about students learning and poverty. And one is health and nutrition, the other’s vocabulary, ever in energy, your mindset, cognitive capacity, relationships and stress level. All of those things that are normal, they’re a huge thing, stuff that we do every day. Those things, if they don’t have access the correct way, it decreases vocabulary, it decreases our phonological awareness, your syntax, your working memory, and a bunch of different developmental stages.

0:16:17.7 Brenda Buckley: And there is a lot of studies out there that show if you can’t grasp onto the grammar in your native language, you’re going to struggle with grasping onto grammar in a second language. The mind is a huge thing in this, and the one thing that I really went into the most was the working memory and how much the working memory… When I started reading these books, just based on brain development, not necessarily students in poverty, the working memory does a lot with language. So I was thinking, How do I get this working memory to increase for my students? So I was looking at all the different things that you can do to expand your working memory, and a lot was exercise and different things. So I was trying to take, okay, I want to utilize the language, do these activities, get the buy-in for the kids, but also expand their working memory so it opens up, so they’re starting to pull in the language more, but at the same time the kids don’t realize it because we’re just having a blast.

0:17:13.6 Norah Jones: How do you do that? At this particular point, I might return to the chicken, and maybe you want to tell the listeners why I would refer to the chicken. But connect please what you mean, how that happens, what are some of the things that you do in the stories that you can tell us about that?

0:17:36.1 Brenda Buckley: Absolutely. I started… Well, I’ve done all these activities that I’ll explain, but when I changed it to Fun Yay Friday, so we do Fun Yay Friday, and those were when I would do the activities. But I would also inform the students if had snow days or whatever, if something got shifted, I would just be like, “Guys, please bear with me this Friday. We can’t do a Fun Yay Friday.” But they were good about it because we did it so much. And those are when I would introduce the different activities that would get the students moving. And the other thing too with the research is, talking about moving them in different locations or around the building, that kind of helps as well. So the activities that I did, I tried to take them out of the classroom as much as possible, so we had more space and more space to be free and/or be outside as much as we could. And those activities were full group, whole group activities, everybody’s involved and everybody’s moving. Now, with these activities, I don’t necessarily stress… I would say staying in the target language the whole entire time, because the students are having so much fun and laughing and working with each other that I’m building a community as well, and that’s what I need for them to continue to develop the language too, and want to work with each other.

0:19:00.1 Brenda Buckley: So my Fun Yay Fridays are not necessarily 90% target language. I still try to get them to remember and do it, but sometimes it just gets a little crazy and we’re just laughing and having so much fun. But the point of the activity at that time is to open up the working memory, so then we’re developing it so then later when we’re doing more language, they can pull it in. So that is the main purpose, because I know some people are really stressed on being like 90% all the time, but that is not the goal. That’s not the goal of the activity, is the 90% of the target language. The goal of the activity is to open up the working memory to help attain language later. So the chicken activity you’re talking about is one of the famous ones, and I do… In all the presentations, I do for ‘Teach Like a Rebel’, and even if people have already been to my session more than one time, they still want to do it, because I can… Depending on my students, sometimes a new little tweak could happen or a new addition to the game or changing it, and I usually negotiate with the students on that stuff, so those games develop as well, but that chicken one is just so fun.

0:20:07.9 Brenda Buckley: You just have to do a sequence of anything in a language over and over again. And there are two teams competing against each other, and they have to throw this chicken as far as possible, and the other team has to complete the task while the one is chasing the chicken, bringing it back, going over the head, under the legs, over the head, under the legs until they get to the end. And then when that person throws the chicken, the other team now has to run, they have to end a task and run. So if they finish the task, they get a point. But they can do the task more than one time, if that makes sense. So however long it takes the people to get the chicken, if they complete the task twice, then they get two points, so we go up to 10, and it’s just hilarious because no matter what, someone forgets to chase the chicken, someone forgets to go over and under. So all of a sudden, they don’t even know their alphabet or numbers. And I’m talking adults too, because there’s just so much going on, it’s crazy. And when I was doing it with the adults at the last conference, we were doing the alphabet and I was like, “We’re just going to say it out loud in English.” Because we all teach different languages, I’m telling you, nobody could remember the alphabet at all.

0:21:15.1 Brenda Buckley: It was just insane. I just was… And that’s what I’m saying, and that’s when you get to the point where everyone’s laughing and they’re all like a mess and they’re helping each other, but they all just want the points and they want to get the chicken, so… Yeah, sometimes the target language goes out the door, and I start pulling them back and I’m like, “No, no, no.” Signing it to them, “This is where you are. This is where you are. Pay attention.” But I’ll tell you what, it’s a lot of work on my body though too, I’m telling you… I put my Apple watch on and I was like, “Alright, let’s see how many calories we burn just doing this.” Because I’m staying with them trying to keep them to do the task. And the reason why we use the chickens, and this is what I tell anybody, we don’t have to use a chicken. I was just so obsessed, I watched this baseball activity and I got an inspiration to create a game from this baseball to… And it had a chicken in it, and I was just… I was like, “I need a rubber chicken. I need a rubber chicken.” And the best thing about the rubber chicken is when you throw it, it dead stops on the ground. So if you use a ball, it keeps rolling and it’s just so much harder for the other team to go get it. So the chicken just like flaps dead, and it’s just easier and like why not have a rubber chicken, so it’s fun.

0:22:23.8 Norah Jones: Well, besides, rubber chickens are by definition funny, right? When you start out…

0:22:28.4 Brenda Buckley: And you get all these cool ones now too… The ones I was giving out, had rockstar glasses, and… They’re all fancy, one had an old lady wig on it, you could tell the chicken was actually dressed up, and I was like… I just had your original flat chicken, and I had to have my mom find me this chicken that did not have a squeak in it, that’s what I wanted for Christmas in my 30s. Okay, I needed this chicken and she found one, because everything else like has a squeaking in it and I was like, “No way the kids are going to be squeaking that all day. I can’t do that.”

0:23:01.5 Norah Jones: And I’m going to make sure that people recognize that I will be pointing them to my website to make sure that they find out from you, connect up with you and find some of these resources that you’re alluding to. I’ll be referring to that again at the end, but… This is a perfect time when the chicken comes to play. Now, you mentioned there back a while in this particular sequence about community, it strikes me that you’ve ramped it up based not just on your personality, which clearly has a lot of energy, but on your understanding of how… Especially those who have most need of help in learning, react to physicality and community. Am I saying it right?

0:23:44.7 Brenda Buckley: Yes. I was a child in high school that just could not grasp onto anything, and I always just felt left behind. And that was one thing I never wanted any of my students to feel. I didn’t ever want them to feel the way that I felt. That was one big thing. The other thing is the fact, well as a language, everybody knows you have to communicate with somebody else because you can’t just talk to yourself or sign to yourself on a regular basis, you’re not going to get anywhere with that. And it’s important for the students to sign with anybody and everybody as possible, because just like spoken languages where the voices are different and the accents and things like that, it’s the same with sign language, your hand shapes are different, the way you conform it depending on, like I said, the size of your hand, the size of your fingers. Everybody is a little bit different, and I know for me, I always had a hard time understanding old men with short stubby fingers. And I know this sounds funny, but because the way they would make some of the hand shapes, I just couldn’t really see it. Now it’s all easy for me, because I’ve been exposed to so much. But that is a huge thing in my room that I want everyone to be able to sign with each other and not just be used to seeing me or their best friend, John.

0:25:01.2 Brenda Buckley: And it’s a huge difference. So we talk about that. And the other thing was, when I started my first research, it was in a growth mindset, I was honestly just not in a good place. I came out of… I was just diagnosed with a disease, I was coming out of a coach position, like a teacher on assignment. I moved back to my hometown, and I was going back into the classroom. And I wasn’t in the classroom for a long time, and I was terrified. I felt like I was a brand new teacher, again, I’m in a new school district, and I was just lost and I was like, “How can I get these kids to buy in? How can we all have fun?” So I did a lot of search myself and growing myself, in my growth mindset, and then when I was reading so much about it I was like, “My students need this. We’re going to do this together, we’re going to grow together.” And when I started the year off, and I still do this to this day, I start the year off with doing all these growth mindsets, these activities where they’re even forced to see… Just eye contact is so important.

0:26:00.7 Brenda Buckley: So even in a circle where kids are uncomfortable and they’re not making eye contact right away, eventually, the more that you do a circle, they don’t realize that they’re actually starting to respect and get a little bit more comfortable with the people in the circle. Because it is uncomfortable to begin with, because especially with students who are just not used to making eye… Well, in the culture that I work into, they’re not used to eye contact. And sign language is huge eye contact, you really need that. And just by them being in a circle alone, and that’s why I tell anybody, do anything in a circle, even if it’s a reading or whatever, just that little thing they start, they don’t realize that they’re seeing people’s mannerisms, they’re seeing the way their body movement is, they’re seeing the way… And they feel more comfortable, they know who the person is instead of staring at the back of their head all the time in a class, depending on how you are with that. And then I introduced more and more activities, where we’re getting a little bit more vulnerable with each other. I demonstrate it all, and it’s always whole class, that is the huge thing. It is always whole class.

0:27:06.7 Brenda Buckley: And people ask me, “Well, what if these two kids don’t want to do it in the beginning?” I don’t force em, they want to sit on the outside, they can. But I’ll tell you what, eventually they start to creep in because now they want to be a part of it, or there was that one thing that they saw that they really wanted to be a part of, and that how everybody’s just working together, and if they’re making fun of each other, it’s because they’re all doing it in a fun loving way, but not in a bullying way, and I think that that’s a huge, huge thing. All for language. And then once I get that in, then I start introducing more of the crazy stuff, the exercising, the moving around, the getting out and being vulnerable. That’s the biggest thing we talk about too, like vulnerability, you’re going to make mistakes. It’s a language, and I make mistakes all the time. And I always say, “Teacher fail.” every time I do it, because I want them to recognize… Especially moving from school to school or room to room, and I’m bringing stuff in and I was like, “Alright guys, we’re going to do this activity.” And I open up my bag and, “No, we’re not going to do this activity because Buckley left it in the other room. Teacher fail.” And they just see that it’s just a comfortable environment to be in, that they’re not held to this expectation of being perfect. And I don’t grade like that either, I don’t grade, and you need to be perfect.

0:28:26.4 Brenda Buckley: We talk about… I give out tickets, you sign… You did your sign in activity, it’s okay that you made mistakes, you tried to say in the target language, it was quiet the whole time. And we talk about trying to get it across in another way, what if you’re out in with a bunch of deaf people and you can’t think of a sign, how would you communicate? How would you do that? And they get a ticket, and they’re obsessed with these tickets, they get a ticket for every activity. But they love that because that’s like participation, and they have that ticket, they get to hold it, they know that they did what they were supposed to do, but they didn’t have to be perfect, they didn’t have to have every single thing correct. They did not. So they’re willing to try more because they know it’s okay to make mistakes, and I think that’s a huge thing for language.

0:29:15.4 Norah Jones: It sure is. And that’s growth mindset in action. Do you reflect to the students what you’re doing with that at some point, helping them to understand that this is called a growth mindset that they’re developing, or do you just let it sort of evolve behind the scenes.

0:29:35.6 Brenda Buckley: I throw it in there. I don’t purposely… I did try one year, my first year, I was like, “We’re just going to learn growth mindset. We’re going to look at this rubric, we’re going to do this.” I don’t do that anymore, but I do throw it out there, and I do throw in important words like, affirmations, positive affirmations for yourself or… Usually, because the population I’m in, I’ll be like, “Check yourself.” And they know that that means, “Oh wait, how did I respond to myself on that, how did I do that?” And they’re just naturally developing it. But other times I’m like, “That’s not a growth mindset. You need to do da da da… ” I just throw it out there instead of necessarily being like, “This is what it is. This is how you work with it. This is how that… ” The other thing is, if I see a student that’s just really struggling in life, just with more and then the language and everything else, because everything that, like I said, those seven engagement factors have a huge influence on developing language, and if that’s a craziness and disaster out there in that world, and then trying to come into school, it’s going to make it hard.

0:30:41.0 Brenda Buckley: I do pull kids aside and we kind of talk about that, and I have some of the books that you’ll see that I will recommend… I will give them to the students. Some of them are very easy reads, and/or I’ll pull out a couple of sheets and be like, “Hey, just copy it. Why don’t you just read this when you get home.” Because I know they can connect to that specific part, and I think that’s important too. So yeah, that part is a little… We’re not in the language with that part, but if you are not comfortable with yourself, you’re not going to be able to be comfortable in trying to learn another language and utilize it with people… Like native speakers or signers.

0:31:16.8 Norah Jones: Absolutely. Right. And part of what folks will see on your biography as you have been alluding to these things, but I’m going to zero in on your experience in urban education. And you’ve mentioned folks in poverty and so forth, address some of the aspects of what that specialization, those two areas, both urban and poverty, either together, how they differ or however you’d like to approach it, to help people understand what that specialization on your part means in an educational setting.

0:31:55.4 Brenda Buckley: The largest thing is what the students are encountering every single day outside of school, that affects everything that they do when they come into school, and then you don’t even realize it. So the trauma, they’re having a day and they’re going off the rails, but they’re coming at you, coming at another student, don’t like the activity. That I’ve learned is not the issue. The issue is something else. We just got to the point where like, “Okay, something triggered or happened, and now you’re at your breaking point.” But I need to, as a teacher, not be offended when this kid is cussing me out. That does happen in the city schools. And it’s happened a lot, but it’s not really because of me, it’s something else that’s underlying. So that’s why when I do all these activities, I want them to be aware of who they can be inside, how they can control themselves, and then especially that my classroom is a free… When you walk into school, you are in control. Sometimes what happens at home, you can’t be in control. But I want them to be as comfortable as possible. And also I was telling you with all these activities, just feel free and have that kid feeling because some of them didn’t get to experience that either, because they’ve been taking care of their siblings, they have to adult a lot faster. A lot of my students are in poverty than other students in schools, and that’s a big thing.

0:33:27.9 Brenda Buckley: The other thing is dealing with attendance. How do we keep the kids… How do I keep the kids with the language and understanding, with attendance issues. And again, that could be because they have to stay home and take care of somebody. Or they have to work and make more money. Those are huge factors when anybody’s teaching. So the approach is definitely different than what I felt like I went to grad school for, like this is how you teach, here’s your lesson plan, here’s this, here’s that. And that’s why I used to call the session ‘Teach Like a Rebel’, even because when administration or the school district… Sorry, guys. They come out and say, “We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that, we’re going to do this.” And I’m like, “Cool, that’s great. That’s not going to work, that’s not going to… ” Everything… I’m not try to toot my own horn, but everything that I’ve really pushed on and I’ve done, but I also take students, I interview them too. Or survey them or ask them, just all, you like it, we don’t like it. Why don’t we like it? What could we do better? How could we change it? I get their input too, so they can buy in. But the things that they need are not the things that necessarily a district might keep pushing out.

0:34:41.7 Brenda Buckley: That’s not how they’re going to learn, that’s not how they’re going to obtain… I understand education is changing, I do, and we want to try all these things, but if we can’t get to that… We have to start somewhere to get to that level, you can’t just naturally wake up one day and be like, “Alright, we’re here, everyone’s at this level. Okay, great, we’re moving on.” That’s not a thing. And the other reason why it’s called ‘Teach Like a Rebel’, because sometimes I do get in trouble for running in the halls. One time I got in trouble for the kids standing on the desk, but I’ll take it. I’ll totally take it because the kids will remember that and then they remember that part of the language too, which is awesome. And that helps, especially when attendance is so bad, that even when they do something crazy like that, they’ll remember it, and then all of a sudden they’re like anything with the weather, they just remember everything, because we did this crazy thing and they were in there for it. And so even if they miss some stuff and coming back in, they’re still willing to try to pick everything up and keep going, because they know they’re going to probably do something crazy again, and it’s going to be fun.

0:35:45.9 Norah Jones: That emotional component in learning is something that the impact of emotional experience is not just necessarily negative, but plenty of positive, and again, the body is such an important part of the research that you have done and you share with others, you do a lot of sessions, what kind of other professional sharing do you do Brenda?

0:36:07.5 Brenda Buckley: The sessions that I do are, one, ‘Teach Like a Rebel’. I kind of go in the background of why the mind and the activities, I do a lot of building community and mindset, those things… I’ve been putting up a lot of myself on Twitter, so that people can see the activities, especially if they come to a session, they don’t really remember it. We all know going back to the PowerPoint, I’m like, “I don’t get it.” And especially when you’re at a conference all day long, even though I do the activity with you, you might remember how you felt doing that activity, and you want your students to experience it too, but you might not necessarily even remember how to do it even by looking at a piece of paper. So I’ve been really focusing on putting stuff up on Twitter and even sharing some of the students’ experience or some of the things that they do and highlight how far they’ve come with stuff. I just had a student last year, she submitted a… Well she writes her own poems, and we talked about… She was in our ASL level three and we talked about how can we do this in ASL?

0:37:09.0 Brenda Buckley: And then we found a poetry competition in the world languages, in our local area, and she submitted her poetry that she took and she put it into sign language, and she won, she got an incentive for that. And we had a nice award ceremony with a bunch of other students that were different things, but when you take a poem that you write, and then she took it and put it into sign language, it’s like you have that feeling and… You’re expressing yourself in a whole different way than what it was on paper. And then she just got really emotional with it, just… It was like a whole another experience all over again, because the way… I had to get her to understand, you can’t just sign word for word, you have to sign what’s the meaning behind that? What’s the meaning behind that and the poem? Because when you read poetry, there’s something more behind it. What is the main thing? I’m like, “That’s what you have to express and show.” You just can’t be like, “Well, this is a sign. I’m talking about my crown.” And I’m like, “Well, you’re not really talking about a crown, you’re talking about your hijab and how you feel with your hijab on. So you have to express that.” So that is also something that’s really cool to see with the kids.

0:38:23.3 Norah Jones: That is very cool. I just have to say, I remember that the most effective way I got a young man who won the state award for his poetry recitation when I was coaching speech, is by getting him to sing it, to practice it, and so that body… Again, that engagement of the body, that emotion that’s in there. That’s a very moving story about that particular student. Do you have another story that illustrates kind of a transformational experience for a young person?

0:38:58.0 Brenda Buckley: Yeah, so I teach higher ed too as well, and I switched everything up when we were doing… I found a book that was just stories, like deaf people’s stories and the way they felt, and growing up. And we were just doing journals on them on a regular basis, because teaching deaf culture is very hard. It is not white or black. It’s this gray area. Students have so many questions in it, and they don’t understand why it’s not this way or that way, but how come this person’s this and that? And I don’t necessarily always have the right answer because it is a hard… You have to be in the community to really experience and understand it. So I started this book with my higher ed students and the journal prompts were just amazing, and then I, so kindly just threw in this project that wasn’t on the syllabus. [laughter] But it was called the Identity Project, and I wanted them to connect because when I was reading their journals, they were talking about like, “Oh my gosh, I felt this way too.” And they’re all different cultures, they are all from different areas, some of them speak more than one language as well. And they were just relating to it, and I wanted them to do a large project that related to it. So they had all these different choices to do it, but every single student was like, “Yeah, I can’t relate to that fable. I’m not deaf.”

0:40:21.5 Brenda Buckley: And I’m like, “No, you have… You have in your journal.” But I’m like, “Go back to your journal prompts, re-read the stuff that you wrote, read some of the stuff that people wrote back to you.” And then I said to them, “And think of empathy. What is empathy?” And they were starting… The light bulbs are starting to go off, and when I was reading these projects, I was bawling my eyes out. Some of them did so well, and it was crazy because a lot of them started off with, “When I was first told to do this project, I was like, what? I know I’m not deaf, I can’t do this.” But then when they really picked certain things like bicultural, bilingual, being ostracized, so many different things, and there’s so many things that they dove into, was just amazing. So then I decided, “Hey, let’s try it with my high school students.” And with my high school students, it’s a little different because like I said, I have that community, I have them in front of me. Whereas with my higher ed class, I have them on Zoom, so I teach online and we’re still… But it’s not the same, and we can still joke around and whatever.

0:41:25.1 Brenda Buckley: But like I said before, the circle is a very powerful thing, and when we would dive into some of the stories and the students connecting and sharing their stories in front of each other, some of them were just like… Realized so many things about themselves that they didn’t know and the tears and everything that would happen, and then others were consoling each other and experience like, “Oh my gosh, I’ve experienced that too.” And I’m in a very, very diverse school. I think we have like 42 different languages, and some of the stuff that we… Some of the languages are dying and some of them we can’t even find a translator for, for exams. And it was just amazing, and now we’re opening up to seeing more of everyone’s culture. So the whole thing is when we came down to it, and I’m like, “What does this all mean to you guys? What is it that we’re saying?” I’m like, “You’re Arab, you’re Asian, you’re African American, you’re from India.” We went through all these different things and I was like, “You’re human. You’re human. That’s the biggest thing. You are human.” And I was like, “And you need to see that based on everything. What you guys have just shared, you don’t see it in somebody. You don’t look at somebody and see all those things.”

0:42:41.7 Brenda Buckley: But yeah, you guys all can relate to each other more than you think. It doesn’t have to be the same exact story, but it might be the same feeling. So that one right there, I just started that one right after COVID, when we got back into school with my high school students, and that one is staying and I still just… I have to do it a little bit towards the end of the year because we have to be very comfortable with each other to get that same experience. And then I still have them do a project with it too, but it’s a little bit different after we read the stories, because now we’re able to share in front of each other about it. And I know, I teach sign language, but in reality, I think language, it was open up a gate to the world. There are so many cultures and different languages and everything out there for us to accept. So in that moment, I’m not using sign language, but I want them to see. I want them to dive in to culture and languages too because that’s awesome. I don’t want them just to stick with sign language, I want them to see the world.

0:43:41.6 Norah Jones: So humanity, you’ve got them in the middle of humanity. You have co-founded a group for girls that has an identity kind of name too, I Am Me. Tell us more about that aspect and why you began that group.

0:44:01.2 Brenda Buckley: So that was another accident. [laughter] No, I just… It was weird because it started the same in both districts that I was in. The one district, we just had girls group, but then when I got to the one that I’m in now, we actually identified a name and came with more things. It was just a bunch of students who at first were not comfortable going to lunch, and coming in during lunch and sitting, they were from different classes, some of them might have been from the same classes. And then they would work on stuff with sign language or what I used to do before, if you missed a day, you had to come in and sign during lunch, and if there was already a student that was signing or up in a higher level that was just hanging out, I’d be like, “Oh, you guys get to work together. So I can eat my lunch.” [laughter]

0:44:47.0 Brenda Buckley: But it just developed, and it was awesome because it was a bunch of girls that they don’t hang out with each other, they’re not in the same circles. And then we just started having a lunch group, and then more started coming, and then they were like, “We want this to be official.” And I would take them on field trips. We went hiking, we did all the stuff, but they wanted it to be official and recognized. So then we came up with the name, I Am Me, because we’ve always talked about… And I would do a lot of that mindset stuff in lunch too, because they were all over the place and just wanted to chat with each other about… And help each other out that, I Am Me, the same thing that we were talking about. You’re human, you don’t have to be perfect.

0:45:31.6 Brenda Buckley: That’s not a thing, and… But you can still develop and go for a goal just because where you are right now, that doesn’t define you. And that’s the big thing we talked about too, that doesn’t define you. So then they came up with the name. And then we came up with, well, what is it that we do? And then I would ask them, “What is it that we do? Well, how do you feel when we’re together and we’re talking about this stuff? How do you… ” So then they came up that kind of little mission. And then we would go out in the community because they needed to raise money, because they wanted to do things together, like go more hiking, camping and learning those skills. And then I would get them out in the community and actually go into the local businesses, and now I’m teaching them how to speak to people properly. And we talk about code-switching, what it’s like to be in front of somebody in a professional manner compared to when you’re with your friends, and how it’s different.

0:46:22.4 Brenda Buckley: And that was a huge thing for them to learn. And then I was like, “These girls need so much more.” So then I started inviting people in and giving them skills. So now they know how to crochet, and we crocheted and knitted scarves for the homeless. They learned how to make jewelry and actually tomorrow we’re doing a craft show where they’re selling their jewelry, but all that money is going towards three organizations that we’re working with that involves women. So it’s usually domestic violence or women that were incarnated, and our seniors come up with those projects. But we’re having a hard time selling stuff in school, because there’s new rules. So we took it out to the community, which they’ve done before too. So they’re utilizing the things that they’ve learned and the skills and turn around and also learning how to run a business and how to talk to people. And I think that’s really important. So I really try to find different things, I just try to think like, “Why didn’t my grandma teach me when I was younger?” What are the… I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I know how to sow a button.” Like, “Okay guys, we’re going to learn how to sow a button. You don’t have to go out and buy new jeans, we’re just going to sow your button back on.” So those skills too.

0:47:28.7 Brenda Buckley: And with them going out into the community and working with other women, women that are successful, women that have opened their own organizations, seeing that, or just women who have struggled and where they are and what their story is, I think also helps them too. They’re… This is where I live, this is where I’m from. But it’s not going to define me, I’m not going to be this. And when I listen to my seniors tell their stories too, and sometimes I don’t even realize, I just think, “Oh, they’re having fun.” And they’re like, “I Am Me, changed my life.” And I’m like, “What? How so?” Because I’m just like, “Oh, we’re having so much fun. Yeah, life’s great.” But honestly, that’s like my baby, those girls…

0:48:14.4 Brenda Buckley: So I take… And eventually turned into an application process too, is we take in five girls from each grade level, so they come in as freshmen and then they stay with us all the way till we’re seniors. And then my seniors become in charge of everything and they pick the projects, and they pick the activities, and they work with the younger girls. But this group also pushes out stuff for the females in the building and outside of it, for the district as well as the community. So it’s not just like these girls are only together and that’s it, they are just a group of girls that do things for the community, and they’re the ones that are putting it all together, and they love it, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, how did this happen? How did I get all these beauties to just love to volunteer and go out on a Saturday and hang out with Ms. Buckley, giving sandwiches to the homeless.” They think it’s the greatest thing. So it’s awesome to see.

0:49:07.4 Norah Jones: It is awesome to see and it’s so neat that it unfolded in a very organic way with your attentiveness to it. Great that the girls are taking such leadership with that. That’s an inspiring story, and it’s all about the way that we can interact with humans. It’s just great. Brenda, I… Just there’s so many wonderful things that you’re sharing, and I just do have to pull this together, but I when do, I’m going to ask you is… Before we end, do you have something? What do you have to share or to exhort or to invite people to do? The thing that you either want to repeat or bring up brand new that you just haven’t said yet, whatever that definition is for you, so that as we finish up you have the final word.

0:50:00.8 Brenda Buckley: Mindset. Mindset is huge, and some of the things that I push in my sessions, one is that you have more than one mindset. Believe it or not, you have your own mindset, you have your classroom mindset and you have a school mindset, you have multiple mindsets and learn and figure out what those are and where those are, because they’re not the same, they’re not the same. Your mindset as an individual of who you are is not going to be the exact same thing as your mindset in your classroom, so if you want your classroom to be a specific way, let the kids do the work, let the kids bring in. And you… When I say do the work, I mean more of come up with the activities, do the things that they want, but you also need to be a part of it, because you are that community. You’re a part of that community too. And I always say in my class, “This is not me, this is not you. Even though I just told you guys, it’s all about me.” I did say… I do say that, but I’m joking around with the kids, but this is a ‘we’ situation, this is a ‘we’.

0:51:05.7 Brenda Buckley: And when my class gets off, we come back into a family meeting, I call it a family meeting, and I sit down, I’m like, “Alright, we’re off. Something’s wrong here. What is it that ‘we’ can fix?” ‘We’, I always say ‘we’. It’s not what can you fix? It’s ‘we’. And I even might say sometimes it might be… I’m doing this or maybe I’m off my track. And they’ll call me out too. Like the other day, I had a really bad day the day before, and I didn’t realize I was carrying it over into the next day, and they’re like, “Buckley, you’re off. You’re just off. Where are you, what are you doing?” And I’m vulnerable with them, and I know a lot of teachers don’t like to share. And yes, you can limit that share, but I think, especially in my situation in the urban setting, I think sharing is very important because you’re human and they see that you’re human. And I’m telling you, students will be willing to do more because the majority of them just do not like school, they will be willing to do more if they know they can relate to you, and more than just the fact that, “Cool. We’re doing the same language.” And I think that’s very important.

0:52:07.2 Brenda Buckley: So be a human, [chuckle] be okay with making those mistakes in front of them, be okay with telling them that you made a mistake, don’t try to cover it up, and the more vulnerable that you are, the more the students will open up because they’re going to start to see that you’re not perfect and you’re not this… They don’t have to be this specific image, and that’s why a lot of them shut down too, and they just stop doing the work because they’re like… They have their mind set, “I can’t do that, I can’t reach that, like no way.” And just be involved in the activities. I am always involved with the activities and being crazy with them too. And even if you can’t run, I still do crazy stuff with them like cheer them on like, “Yeah, team, whatever they call themselves.” So be with them, be a ‘we’ not a ‘I’, or ‘you’.

0:52:54.1 Norah Jones: Be a ‘we’. There in lies a rebel statement with a purpose. Brenda Buckley, thank you so much for sharing your passion, your experience, and all of the insights that you have and continue to thrive. Thank you for all that you’re doing for young people and for communities that they live in, and then go out to serve. Appreciate you today very much.

0:53:21.9 Brenda Buckley: Thank you for having me and letting me share.

0:53:24.5 Norah Jones: Well, I hope you enjoyed that energetic conversation with Brenda Buckley, and I suspect that the rubber chicken manufacturing industry is going to see an uptick in sales. I hope you’ll go to my website, fluency.consulting to connect up with Brenda, to see her bio and to take a look at the resources that she alluded to during the podcast, and extra ones that she shared with you in the post on my website. And I hope that you’re inspired to continue your work through your language to connect up with the best in yourself and the best in others around the world. Until next time.


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