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Conversations with the Inspiring Liz Kleinrock

Today we’d like to introduce you to Liz Kleinrock.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Liz . So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I never thought I would find a career in education. Growing up in DC, I always figured I would go into political science or international relations, but once I got to college I found that there’s a big difference between watching “West Wing” and taking poli sci classes. During my junior year, I started volunteering with an after-school arts program, as well as visiting a local school every week to tutor elementary students. I fell in love with working with kids, and after graduating, became a volunteer teacher through AmeriCorps.

After spending two years working in Oakland, I moved to LA and earned my M.Ed from UCLA. During this time, I student taught in Watts and was hired as a founding teacher at Citizens of the World Charter School Silver Lake. This is now my 7th year at CWC, and I currently co-teach the 3rd-grade class and also work as our school’s Diversity Coordinator.

Throughout my years in education, my main priority has been to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I believe that everything can and should be taught with a culturally responsive and equity-based lens. I was honored to receive Teaching Tolerance’s 2018 Award for Excellence in Teaching, and I’ve been fortunate to have given my first TED Talk, and have my work featured in media outlets such as The Washington Post, NPR, and CNN.

One of the greatest parts of my work has been to travel around the US and work with schools and districts to develop their own practices of equity and inclusion. It’s been fascinating to see how teachers are working in such different contexts!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I’m not sure it’s possible to have a smooth road when it comes to pursuing your passions. If you had asked me two years ago if I thought I’d be in this position today, I would have said absolutely not. The idea of working for myself, or even building my own website, seemed incredibly intimidating. It’s hard to identify what you want to do when there aren’t many examples of your ideal job.

Over the course of my journey, I’ve met incredible people who are passionate and dedicated to their work and helping others. Having mentors has made the world of difference, and I don’t know what I would do without them to this day! I would say to find people in the line of work you want to do and reach out to build connections. When I was younger, the idea of vulnerability seemed synonymous with weakness. As an adult, I’ve come to understand the power of vulnerability, being honest with yourself, and growing comfortable setting boundaries and saying “no” when needed. You can’t take care of others if you can’t take care of yourself.

What should we know about Teach and Transform? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I’ll always be an educator at heart. I’m proud of my work developing equity and inclusion-based lessons and units of study for young learners, and my ability to break down seemingly abstract, or taboo topics in developmentally digestible ways. For example, in October, I wrote a lesson about consent and respecting boundaries for my 3rd-grade students, which gained international attention for addressing this topic in age-appropriate ways. Lately, my work has begun to transfer over to adult learning as well, and I’ve enjoyed working with teachers and other professionals unpack their identities, identify biases, and create actionable steps to change their communities for the better.

I think what sets my work apart is my understanding that there is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to equity work in different communities. I have no desire to shame people for where they are, but I do believe in questioning WHY people are at certain places on the spectrum of anti-racism and equity. I love building relationships with people in order to understand where they’re at, and what they need to do the work.

Looking back on your childhood, what experiences do you feel played an important role in shaping the person you grew up to be?
I attribute my success to both of my parents and the privilege of my schooling. My parents are big fans of the saying, “Work hard, play hard,” so growing up, work came first. I attended an extremely rigorous prep school, so when I became independent, I already had a lot of practice organizing my work schedule and assignments.

I think I grew up as somewhat of an idealist. I loved the book, “Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney as a child, and fixated on the idea of doing something to make the world more beautiful. As cheesy as it sounds, that’s what has driven my work over the course of my life.

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