Take Notes with Jen Rafferty

Empower every student and teacher: Tailoring education for neurodiversity with Dr. Matt Zakreski

December 21, 2023 Jen Rafferty Season 3 Episode 9
Empower every student and teacher: Tailoring education for neurodiversity with Dr. Matt Zakreski
Take Notes with Jen Rafferty
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Take Notes with Jen Rafferty
Empower every student and teacher: Tailoring education for neurodiversity with Dr. Matt Zakreski
Dec 21, 2023 Season 3 Episode 9
Jen Rafferty

Imagine a world where every child's unique learning style is not just recognized but celebrated.


That world is closer than you think! 


Join us today as we explore neurodiversity in education with Dr. Matt Zakreski, a clinical psychologist and neurodiversity expert. 


In this episode, you’ll discover how we can better teach and support neurodivergent children. Dr. Matt advocates for a shift from a one-size-fits-all approach to a more personalized learning experience.


You’ll also learn about inclusive education and how teachers and parents can work together for all students. We also talked about the importance of authenticity in teaching. 


Grab your headphones and join us in our mission to transform the education system– this chat is full of ideas for anyone wanting to help kids learn in their own way!



Stay empowered,
Jen




Let’s keep the conversation going! Find me at:
Jen Rafferty | Instagram, YouTube, Facebook | Linktree
Instagram: @jenrafferty_
Facebook: Empowered Educator Faculty Room


About Dr. Matt:

Matthew “Dr. Matt” Zakreski, PsyD is a high energy, creative clinical psychologist and professional speaker who utilizes an eclectic approach to meet the specific needs of his neurodivergent clients.  He is proud to serve the Gifted community as a consultant, a professor, an author, and a researcher.  He has spoken over 400 times all over the world about supporting neurodivergent kids.  Dr. Zakreski is a member of Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG), the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), the New Jersey Association for Gifted Children (NJAGC), and Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education (PAGE).  Dr. Zakreski graduated from Widener University’s Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology (IGCP) in 2016.  He is the co-founder of The Neurodiversity Collective: https://www.theneurodiversitycollective.com/ 


Connect with Dr. Matt:

Website: www.theneurodiversitycollective.com

FB: www.facebook.com/drmattzakreski


Show Notes Transcript

Imagine a world where every child's unique learning style is not just recognized but celebrated.


That world is closer than you think! 


Join us today as we explore neurodiversity in education with Dr. Matt Zakreski, a clinical psychologist and neurodiversity expert. 


In this episode, you’ll discover how we can better teach and support neurodivergent children. Dr. Matt advocates for a shift from a one-size-fits-all approach to a more personalized learning experience.


You’ll also learn about inclusive education and how teachers and parents can work together for all students. We also talked about the importance of authenticity in teaching. 


Grab your headphones and join us in our mission to transform the education system– this chat is full of ideas for anyone wanting to help kids learn in their own way!



Stay empowered,
Jen




Let’s keep the conversation going! Find me at:
Jen Rafferty | Instagram, YouTube, Facebook | Linktree
Instagram: @jenrafferty_
Facebook: Empowered Educator Faculty Room


About Dr. Matt:

Matthew “Dr. Matt” Zakreski, PsyD is a high energy, creative clinical psychologist and professional speaker who utilizes an eclectic approach to meet the specific needs of his neurodivergent clients.  He is proud to serve the Gifted community as a consultant, a professor, an author, and a researcher.  He has spoken over 400 times all over the world about supporting neurodivergent kids.  Dr. Zakreski is a member of Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG), the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), the New Jersey Association for Gifted Children (NJAGC), and Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education (PAGE).  Dr. Zakreski graduated from Widener University’s Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology (IGCP) in 2016.  He is the co-founder of The Neurodiversity Collective: https://www.theneurodiversitycollective.com/ 


Connect with Dr. Matt:

Website: www.theneurodiversitycollective.com

FB: www.facebook.com/drmattzakreski


Jen Rafferty  

Merriam Webster's word of the year of 2023 is authentic. This word has a number of meanings including true to one's own personality, spirit or character and is a synonym of real and actual. But all too often, we move far away from our authentic self, whether it's because of fear or insecurity, guilt, maybe societal pressure. But the truth is, the world needs your authentic self. Your uniqueness is your gift. And while I myself am peeling back my own layers every day to become more and more comfortable with my authenticity, I am learning that while it might feel scary and uncomfortable at first, that's actually where my magic is. And that's where yours is, too. And in today's conversation, it was very special and a lot of fun because my guest talks about how we can create safe spaces for all students, particularly our neuro diverse students. By being true to ourselves. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. And as an Empowered Educator, you have a vision for education that goes far beyond our current reality. And if we keep on waiting and waiting for everything around us to change, we will be waiting forever. But the good news is you get to be the change, and it can start right here at Empowered Educator and our next workshop series starts on January 17. So let's start to make that transformational generational change one educator at a time because you deserve so much more. And so to our students, registration for the winter series is now open. So claim your spot at empowerededucator.com/workshops. You are a gift to this world, so act accordingly.



Jen Rafferty  

Are you caught in the whirlwind of overwhelming responsibilities, and does the very thought of Monday morning sent chills down your spine? Well, it's time to toss those feelings out the window. Welcome to season three of the Take Notes podcast. Where you get to make yourself a priority in order to show up as your best self. I'm your host Jen Rafferty, former Music Teacher, Emotional Intelligence Practitioner, mom of two, and founder of Empowered Educator, and I've been where you are. In this season, we're not just talking about surviving, we are diving deep into thriving. Are you ready to take the lead in your life? Well, let's do this. 


Jen Rafferty  

Hello, and welcome back to another fabulous episode of Take Notes. Today, I'm here with Dr. Matt Zakreski, who is a high energy creative clinical psychologist and professional speaker who utilizes an eclectic approach to meet the specific needs of his neurodivergent clients. He is proud to serve the gifted community as a Consultant, a Professor and Author and a Researcher. He has spoken over 400 times all over the world about supporting neurodivergent kids. And he is the co founder of the Neurodiversity Collective. Thank you so much for being here. Dr. Matt.


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

Thank you so much for having me.


Jen Rafferty  

I am so excited to dive into this conversation today. And before we get into the juicy stuff, I want to just paint a picture about, who you are in the landscape of providing really important information about neurodiversity to the education systems?


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

Yeah, for sure. So I grew up as a gifted kid in New Jersey in the 90's. And I was identified in second grade, like a lot of gifted kids are, and it became very clear, even then, they didn't know what to do with me, right? Like, here's more Math Worksheets I'm like, but I've already shown I can do those. So it became this sort of detente of I would finish the work quickly. And I could finish fill the back of the page with all the doodles I wanted to. That was like, my unofficial 504. Right, it was like you're just filling up idle hands what they say, right. So, as my career moved around, I started seeing more and more gifted kids. You know, I got diagnosed with ADHD in high school, which explained a lot. And as I look back over my really, as the sort of perfect segue from your academic career to your professional career, teachers and mentors became their the checkpoints right there the through line. And for every teacher who taught me and they were all wonderful, there's a select few that still stick in my brain after all these years. So when I became a Psychologist, I was like, This is what I want to do, I want to serve this population. And the best way to serve this population is by serving the organizations and entities and communities that serve the kids I serve. And that's why my career has moved from being like a full time therapist, to a part time therapist and full time speaker, trainer, consultant sort of thing. Because that's the biggest bang for the buck. If we take care of the teachers, who take care of our kids, then everybody wins. 


Jen Rafferty  

And you are speaking to the choir, because that is literally why Empowered Educator exists too, we need to take care of the people who take care of our kids. And I was also labeled as a gifted kid in the 90's. And it's really interesting to reflect on that experience. Because then moving into the classroom, as a teacher, particularly where I taught in central New York, I didn't see a lot of differentiation for the kids who could have been classified as gifted. And I know a lot of things have changed politically, right when we were kids tracking was the thing. Now tracking is like a dirty word. We don't say that anymore. But there were no 504 plans for the gifted kids, there were only the 504 plans who needed some extra help. And now even the doodling is not so much something that we encourage. So what are you seeing some of the trends now? And what choices do teachers have in the classroom for making different choices about how they teach these kids? 


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

And I think that's the million dollar question, right? The cool thing about this, and I will own my bias here, right, because this is what I do for a living. But the research overwhelmingly shows that the best practices in gifted education are just the best practices in education full stop, because what do we do with gifted kids? We level set them. If you're a second grader, but you can read a fifth grade level, why am I giving you second grade books? I want to give you fifth grade books, maybe sixth grade books and challenge you a little bit we can apply that to every kid in every classroom in this country. And yes, most of them will probably be in the general cluster of second grade, awesome, super. But we're not defaulting into it right, we are being intentional. And I think intentionality is so important for an effective educational paradigm. Also, a lot of gifted kids, because they're so interest motivated, they get differentiation to their interests, right? If you have a kid who doesn't want to talk at all about architecture, but will build something for you in Minecraft, a lot of gifted teachers will say, Yeah, that's good enough, I can work with that. Why aren't we letting other kids do that? I do this little test, in one of my talks, I find a kid and I'm like, please do these 17 math problems for me. And the kid always looks at me with sort of like a big panic. And I'm like, No, like, trust me, I'm trying to prove a point here. And then I pull out another sheet and like, hey, like, Are you into Pokemon at all? And the kids like, Yeah, yeah, I like Pokemon, yes. I'm like, well, here are some questions about Pokemon. And they keep races through them. And they're grinning. They're having a good time. And afterwards, I'm like, you know what these questions about Pokemon about where the kid goes, I have no idea like, it's math. And there's that light bulb moment of the same kid who doesn't want to do a endless Xeroxed worksheet of 45 problems, would happily answer questions of if Charizard has 300 hit points, and takes 17 damage every time they're attacked, how many hit points before a Charizard gets knocked out. It's still math, right? And even though my bias is to talk about kids, what I have found is setting that stuff up takes a little bit more work for the educator upfront, but it saves you so much effort on the back end, it's like a little bit, a little ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? Do the differentiation stuff be interest based upfront. And then when you know Sally's having trouble being motivated, you reach into your bag of tricks, and you say, Sally, I know these three things motivate you, how can we take this lesson and apply it to one of these three things that you love? And now you've got Sally in forever? You know, Sally's down, right?


Jen Rafferty  

Yeah, forever. And that's part of this, too. We're creating a system within, I think, a very limited paradigm, steeped in tradition. And we don't live in that world anymore, where these educational systems first started to pop up. And we need to be reflective of the world that we live in today. And I think I'm going to take a little bit of what you said, and zoom out a little bit here, because the teachers who are in the classrooms right now are products of our own educational experiences of our own limitations. And so can we talk a little bit about the adults in these spaces and how we can not only navigate the students, but navigate ourselves and our own biases through our own experiences to create exciting, intentional learning environments for us? 


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

Oh, yeah. In one simple, concrete way that things are different, right, was that we were both gifted kids growing up in the 90's, right? Do you remember when email became a thing?


Jen Rafferty  

Totally. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard those email. And I remember it was yes, I do. 


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

It was a seminal moment for our generation. 


Jen Rafferty  

100%  percent. 


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

You at AOL Instant Messenger? I'm assuming? 


Jen Rafferty  

Obviously.


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

I'll bet you right. I bet you still know your password?


Jen Rafferty  

Sure, do. 


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

You know, I mean, the lines of communication to teachers were unidirectional, and minimal for many years. Right? You saw them at parent-teacher conference. And that's probably it. Right? Now, teachers get more emails per day than CEOs. Because you've got 25 kids in your classroom, who have a certain number of grown ups were attached to them, both their parents and also like, mental health professionals, medical professionals, educational professionals, right. So teachers are just inundated with all this stuff, because there are more lines of communication. So the amount that the adults in the building need to be on isn't just seven to three anymore. If it ever was in the first place. Now it's really seven to seven if your luck and we have not bulked up the support paradigms to meet those changing needs in many ways to paraphrase what you said before many ways we're training teachers and sending them out with skills that are outdated for a paradigm that doesn't exist. And we're wondering why teachers are burning out and they're overwhelmed. It's so much harder than it's ever been. And yet, we're sending people out with a sharp stick into the jungle to fight tigers, when you could hop in a helicopter if you wanted to. But let's keep sending them out there with chopsticks. And we need to pivot at a much more macro scale than we have. 


Jen Rafferty  

I agree. And so two things about this, first of all, organizations don't change until people change, which for you and your work, and me and my work, I like to think about this as going in through the back door. Because when we really focus on the macro stuff, it's so big. And often, the efforts are minimal in a way that we don't always see them right away, when they come in through the back door, and we really talk with each individual teacher and each individual educator about okay, here's your stick, here's the helicopter, how do we build that bridge? That's really why I think change starts to happen and how we can create momentum. So my question to you is, then, what's the helicopter Dr. Matt?


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

So to me, the helicopter is not just running around, putting out fires, because it's so easy to do that. I was a school counselor for many years. And the first year, it was all, I had kids running in and out of my office, anytime a kid was upset, they were calling me and down the hall, right? It was great work. But I was exhausted, I lost 20 pounds, I never stopped moving. And over the summer, I was like, this is not sustainable. And we built in a curriculum for Social Emotional Learning. And we also insisted that the parents come to monthly meetings, about social emotional stuff at home, because we needed to partner with the parents, and really working with kids is never easy. But it got easier, right? Because we weren't just dealing with 100 individual kids and their needs, we were dealing with a community of learners. And the adults that tend to their needs have said like, if you need this prep period uses the prep period, I didn't find these kids. But if you can stay because the strategies we're talking about will help you as well, right? The fundamental techniques are really the same, we just put a little different window dressing audit for an eight year old versus an eighteen year old versus a forty-eight year old.


Jen Rafferty  

Yeah, it is all the same stuff. And you need to partner with parents, because unless we're all speaking the same language, we're not moving the needle forward. And that's a really important point that I think is often missed, in a lot of this work that we need to focus on the adults so that we can support kids. Because if we're giving kids tools that we don't necessarily know how to use ourselves, nobody is winning here. We're not being very helpful.


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

Well, when we think about one concrete way that adults in the education system, and adults outside the education system have to be aligned, it's about challenge. When you were a teacher, how many emails did you get from parents? They were like, I think little Johnny's being pushed too hard, or I need you to push Johnny harder. So then you would push Johnny harder. And then their parents would get upset. And you'd get that first email back. Right, this will now John has been pushed too hard. If we understand that acceleration, and level setting is as much a social emotional lesson as it is an academic lesson. Then we align the mental health professionals, the parents, the educators, the admin team, it's like, yes, Sally, who has never been challenged in math ever is going to have to do some algebra. And she's probably going to freak out at first, because this has never been hard for her before. But when we are aligned, and we move in lockstep, she can't find the weakest link. That's like, Oh, I know if I'm like that, I guess you're right. Education is stupid, we'll just put in schooling forever. And it's like, we've got to be aligned in this stuff. And for some reason, the answer to this question is a much longer and different podcast. But for some reason, parents feel very protective of how their kids are challenged in the academic space, right? As opposed to musically or theatrically or spirit and sports, right? They're like yeah, coaches work in you hard, because that's how you're gonna be a good gymnast, right? And we sort of stay out of those spaces. When it comes to teaching. For some reason parents are like, I don't like these books. You're using use different books. Right?


Jen Rafferty  

Oh yeah, oh, we are we can go off on a big tangent about that. But I will say that, just like everything else, the way that we interact with our children, with our own or at school, comes from our own set of biases, beliefs, limitations that we learned along the way for ourselves and often get projected on our kids, which is not fair. But it's not your fault, because we're just human. This is how it works. And we create these challenges and obstacles for our kids that often aren't even theirs. So I'm fully with you with that and I would like to just sidestep a little bit because that I mean, that's so juicy. And that's really a lot of what this is, right? We keep repeating these old paradigms, because these are the limitations that we've grown up with, and we don't know any better. So we need to seek out information like this podcast and other places where we learn more and grow more. So we can be more intentional in our actions for our kids. Because while we're talking about the adults, it's really about the kids because those are going to be the people who are going to lead the way for our next generation. And that's why this work is so important. So I want to talk about authenticity. That's something that you share a lot about, and has kind of been a theme for me personally, over the last few months, too, as I'm going through my own journey and all of this. Can you share a little bit about why that is so important?


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

So if we think about authenticity, let's frame this in terms of macro-culture versus micro-culture, right? The macro-culture is the things that are capital P popular, right? Are you into Taylor Swift at all?


Jen Rafferty  

I'm afraid to say no, but I'm not into Taylor Swift. My daughter is very much into Taylor Swift. Yeah.


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

What was put is the macro-culture, right? I certainly have half dozen songs on my Spotify. She's not in my top 10 favorite artists, but I respect her. She's got game, right? 


Jen Rafferty  

Totally. 


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

Taylor Swift is the macro-culture. Have you ever heard of the band Trampled by Turtles? 


Jen Rafferty  

I haven't. 


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

They are one of my favorite bands, right? They are a small niche sort of like jam-band, countryrock. They're awesome. Big fan of Trampled by Turtles. And the other day I was walking through a warehouse. I was in New Orleans at a conference. And I was logged in and I saw somebody wearing a Trampled by Turtles and I like sprinted across three lanes of highway I was like, chill, Trampled by Turtles because it's obscure. That's a micro-culture, right? So a lot of the lessons that kids get, is that the macro-culture is what is valued and messaged, right? We're supposed to watch the Super Bowl, we're supposed to watch Game of Thrones, right? We're supposed to have Disney plus, and there's good content on all those things, right? By all means, do the thing. There's nothing wrong with engaging in the macro-culture. But if that's as far as your journey goes, then you're missing a fundamental part of yourself, you're not personalizing it. So personalizing it is being willing to explore and find your own music or finding an obscure movie that you like, not just go to the splash page of Disney plus, but be like, Hey, if you follow these eight sub menus, you find some really weird old school Mickey cartoons from the 70s that are like funky, and I love it. Right? That's a place where you can be authentic within broader culture without broader spaces. And that's hard for teachers, especially new teachers, because they're like, You know, there's this sort of, unspoken paradigm of what a teacher looks like, acts like, is shirt and tie, conservative dress and leggings, right? There are pieces to it. But what I always tell teachers when I work with them is think about the pop culture teachers who taught you the most. What did they look like? And people always bring up the big three. Bill Nye the Science Guy, Bill, right, Miss Frizzle? Right? Absolutely. 


Jen Rafferty  

I was there for Halloween, actually, I think favorite teacher.


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

Big props, big props on that. And you could go with a lot of different directions Miss Blessed from the old school Saved by the Bell, Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World. But they all had a look. And they all had a personality, they allowed that to step into the space. Even if you're a more contemporary example, I guess Will Schuester on the surface looked like, sweater vest and button up. But I mean, great singer and dancer and certainly was willing to work with the cup kids. That's what authenticity is. It's not necessarily looking the part, it's making sure that you are the part, right? You find the parts of your personality, that make you light up and you bring that energy to your kid. I mean, the best lesson I would ever teach in social emotional learning, was based on a workshop that I do around cognitive flexibility, right? So we is all about the difference between facts and opinions, and something that gifted kids and other neurodivergent kids can really struggle with. And it's my favorite lesson to do because, I made the intervention that's a part of this. I'm really passionate about it. It's a great lesson, if I can bobble that I could do that every day for the rest of my life. And I'm perfectly competent to teach deep breathing or conflict resolution. But those things are a little bit more stuff I do rather than who I am. And the more we can center who we are in our teaching and whatever professional role you are. That's where we're going most engaged, that's more and most challenged. And that's when we do our best work.


Jen Rafferty  

I agree with everything you just said. So now my follow up questions, I have lots of I'm going to start with this one. First one being, why do you think in your experience and your observations? Is it so hard to connect with yourself, and honor yourself enough to explore who you are, and then create your mark in this world that is uniquely yours, particularly, as somebody who's neurodivergent,


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

I think, because we get so much messaging around, implicitly and explicitly around the macro-culture. That's our brain sort of default to, That's right. That's what we're supposed to do. And there's nothing wrong with that. But to engage more in the things that make us unique, the things that fire us up, you need three things. You need time to explore those things. You need courage to put that out there. And you need systems and environments that support that courage. And if you're honest with yourself, is your life right now, does it look like you have those three things? I am a professional nerd. When I'm in therapy, we're talking deep Star Wars canon, right? You want to talk about some obscure Pokemon, I'm your guy. I do therapeutic Dungeons and Dragons with one of my clients. That's just what we do every week, we just do deep D&D scenes. And when I started my career, I was much more cut and dry. I was much more layers a CBT manual, we're going to be some dog debate for therapy, and it's going to help. And with time and confidence and support systems, I come up with a vibe that is more authentic, and I think more effective. I'm not everybody's cup of tea. If you don't understand any of those references I just made, I'm probably not a great therapist for you. But if you're sitting there, You go like way to say that he just say D&D? And you're like looking around awkwardly, as you're like listening to this podcast, then yeah, because centering the things that make you, you, are the things that other people really vibe on, right? So you've got to have the time to explore those things, right. That's why teachers need more prep periods, they need more professional development, they need more time to grow and reflect and evolve. And we need to tell our teachers, Hey, bring yourself into the classroom, it's an easy thing to say. But we as an admin team, have your back. So if you show up tomorrow, wearing a super funky 70's jumpsuit, because that's how you feel you're going to be your best teacher, then when we get the inevitable away as Mrs. Johnson doing that emails, I'm gonna have your back, right? Because it's hard to be courageous on your own. It's a lot easier to be courageous when a system stands with you.


Jen Rafferty  

Yes. And well, you know, when you're saying that did something to me, because that is truly the world that I see is possible, which is why I get up every morning, do the work that I do and to have these conversations because there's that on the other side of that is freedom. And that that feels so good. It feels so good. And how can we possibly expect our students to learn and feel safe exploring their authentic selves. If we as the adults in these spaces are so closed off to it. It doesn't matter what you tell them, we need to be able to say, Watch me, that's where all the power is.


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

When you think about those teachers, like the leaders in your history. I remember my sophomore in high school English teacher, Miss Brady, and we were doing the obligatory English literature unit, we had just finished Chaucer. And we were talking about whether Chaucer is relevant today. And she's like, You know, I teach these sort of dusty, stuffy English novels. She's like, I go to the grocery store, and I buy those like romance novels, which inevitably have a super jacked guy whose shirt is falling off and like the Buscemi woman next to him, see that's my favorite thing. And she's like, do you want to know how Chaucer shows up in those stories? And she did a lesson on that. And I can remember the vast majority of it, twenty, almost thirty years later. And it takes some courage to talk about those things that make us, us, but I remember like Chaucer has never made more sense to me than it did to looking at it through the lens of these ridiculous dimestore grocery romance novels. But you know what, now I can't see one when I go to the grocery store myself and think Chaucer which is a weird thing, right? Worsen, I was like, Ah, yes, Chaucer.


Jen Rafferty  

But that's the special sauce, that you are this special sauce. And I think that's the thing of everyone realized and found safety and support and those systems, you're 100% correct about those systems that support the special sauce. That's when everything really starts to change. And the other day you posted something on Facebook, which by the way, if you don't follow Dr. Matt on Facebook, make sure you do, because his content is fantastic. You talked about masking. And this is something that I resonated with, because the masking was important to me, because I thought that if I showed up as the person that everyone else thought that I was supposed to be, then that's how I would achieve. That's how I would feel successful. That's where I would get my validation and good job Jens. And what it led me to, was a whole lot of confusion and questioning, which we're also not going to go into right now in this particular podcast. So can you talk about that about masking?


Jen Rafferty  

Masking biases a seat at the table, in the macro-culture in the things that feel safe? Somebody invites you to a Super Bowl party, and you go, like, I don't like football, but I go to a Super Bowl, but it's a yes, I will eat the wings, and I will drink the beer. And I will watch the Super Bowl. And I happen to love wings and beer and football. So let's go, let's do that. When my wife comes to our Super Bowl party, she's in charge of doing the absurd prop bets, right? She's like, Okay, how long is the national anthem going to be? Is going to be two and a half minutes over or under? How many times where they can throw those yellow flags. I'm like, penalty flags, and she's got a yellow ones, right? That's how she engages in it. And that's great. That's a wonderful. Some people only show up for the commercials and the halftime show. Awesome. I just want you here. And I want you to hear and feel free to say that I'm only here for the commercials. And I'm only here to see Rihanna at halftime, right? Because otherwise, you're sitting in a chair miserable, pretending you like a thing, punching two holes in your bucket. One that you're spending a lot of energy pretending to be or do something you don't like. And two, you're miserable, because you're not engaging in things that make you authentically happy, right? As a gifted kid, I got into the center for talented youth summer camp. And it was after sixth grade was the first time I went. And I have a distinct memory of sort of SOC, Yeah, I gotta go to this camp. Is that a college? Boy, you pretty cool. And I remember my friend Steve making me like a nerd protector. He's like, this will protect you from the nerds. I'm like, Yes, thank you for that, I will use it to defend myself from the nerds. And I got there. And I made some like snarky academic reference. And it was like, Yeah, well, that's true. But what about this other thing I like?  


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

And you can trace my evolution from masking to authenticity. Through the five years I attended CTY from a top down way to like, actively loudly counting down the minutes, right? And in high school after freshman year, like I need a whole new group of friends and we're all theater kids. And theater is all about authenticity. Right? What do you guys like or like, I'm gonna nerd gap. And they're like, We don't know what that is. But we're so excited for you. And just thinking about how different that felt than being in the backseat of that car. Having your friend hand you a nerd protector? Yeah, right? And I just realized that leading with the things that make me happy that bring me joy. There is sometimes a cost for being your authentic self, I can't pretend otherwise. There are times that masking is a safe and reasonable thing to do. But find as many situations as you can, and as many people as you can, that you can drop the mask and be like, Yes, on weekends, I put on full 13th century garb and do live action roleplay, right? Or I have never missed a Star Trek convention since 1997. Or I won 16 different forums on Reddit, about Doctor Who. By all means do the damn thing, right? And the more spaces you have for that, the more places you can safely anchor in being your true authentic self. That refuels your tank in a powerful, meaningful, lasting way. And that's the kind of self care that we don't give teachers enough, right? Moments to be real. And ironically, that's what our kids want. I mean survey after survey after survey of students, they want authenticity from their teachers. And because broader systems tend to be conservative, they tend to be scared. Hold on, I'll just wear the shirt and tie and do the lesson plan and don't make waves and have a very boring social media presence or you say, Hey, here's who I am. Here's the space I'm going to take up, and yes, it's not for everybody. But you can go to McDonald's in literally millions of cities all over the world, and McDonald's is basically McDonald's. Whether you're in Topeka, Kansas, Miami, Florida, Toronto, wherever you might be. Or you, go to the cool little bistro that's on the other side of town, and you might love their food, or you might hate it. But you better believe that the cool little bistro that's cooking the things that feel authentic and real to them, is going to have hardcore fans, because people glam onto it, just like radio waves, you can feel that frequency.


Jen Rafferty  

Absolutely can. And you're right, this is exactly what everybody needs. Yeah. And it is right in front of us. But because of, I think the systems, because of our perceived costs and real costs, we shy away from it, which is why this work is so important. So can we shift a little bit in that direction about where can people find their community, their space where the cost seems a little bit less, and the safety seems to be a little bit more? 


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

I love that. So this is what I like to call the day-off test. So I hereby grant you a day off. A day off from school, a day off from responsibilities, right, your lesson plans and sub plans are written, your partner is taking the kids or your parents are taking the kids, you have a whole day to do whatever the heck you want to do. And those are the rules of this imaginary experiment. What would you do? And most adult teachers was asleep yet? Yes. Let's also log an extra nap. Right? But now that we've woken up, what do you want to do. And there's this really interesting thing that happens where you have to peel back the layers, before we get to authenticity, people will like I take a nap, I'd probably have a cup of coffee, I putter around in my garden, that's good. Those are all great things. But those are all parts of the macro-culture. So you got to stick with it. This is like obscure french film that I know is on Amazon Prime that I really want to watch. Okay, so now we're talking about obscure french film, right? Or like, Oh, my gosh, I've been meaning to go see Spider Man Far From Home. So I'm gonna go because I love the MCU, I'm going to do that, right? Or I'm going to read this book, or I'm going to do a painting, or I am going to go to a Slam Poetry Jam in a warehouse in New York. Like, when you have a day off when you have that time and space, and the freedom to explore those things. That's when people provide their own answers to what is my authenticity? Right. And we are so busy, and we are constantly Indiana Jones, sprinting in front of the giant boulder. That's why I do this exercise of give yourself the mental space to say what would I do given the time? And the answers that emerge will tell you what are the things that make you most authentic. And if you don't, if nothing comes up, that's fine. Think about the last time in your life where you felt really connected, connected to people, connected to things. For some people, it's service, for some people it's religion, for some people it's drinking cheap light beer in a basement, right? Think about those places, those people, those activities, because one of the great framing things we talked about in mental health is place and people give you purpose. You can't find your purpose until you find your place an your people, right. But since most of us are seeking purpose, because seeking purpose leads to authenticity. Go back and think about maybe it was, in high school when you were volunteering on the track team. Okay, I guarantee you there's a running club somewhere in your community that you can either run in or help out with, right? It's important to know that our brains like to think in all and nothing right, black and white. And yes, we are adults and we have responsibilities. We have mortgages or rent, or children or jobs and a million other things, right. You may not be able to quit your job as a third grade teacher and join the circus. But you certainly can take juggling classes and see the circus when it's in town. And if we say instead of getting everything I wanted, I understand that every step I take towards that goal is value added. That kind of shift in thinking fuels our tanks and allows us to enter the world with more energy with more enthusiasm, and thus, we feel better, so we do better?


Jen Rafferty  

Yes. And have our kids watch us do that as models of people who prioritize our authenticity. 


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

Absolutely. 


Jen Rafferty  

So as we're closing up this interview, because I would love to talk to you forever. And unfortunately, we cannot. I want to know, and this is a big question. Yeah. What is your dream for the future of education?


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

My dream for the future of education is both very simple and very complicated. My goal for the future of education is to ask kids what they want to learn, and structure education around those goals. So if you have a kid who wants to be an artist, then I want to throw as much art as that kid as I can. And layer through that fundamental skills in reading, writing, and math that they're going to need to understand art and to do art, right? You can't do art without science. You got to learn science to do art. But it's secondary in terms of supporting the broader goal, right? What we do is instead of going to a restaurant ordering what you want to eat, we jam our kids full of bread and wonder why they're not hungry for dessert, right? Let's reframe education along those lines of what do you want to learn? And parents and be like when I was six? I wanted to be marine biologist. Cool. Well, I couldn't have been marine biologist at six. No, you probably can't. There's not a Doogie Howser PhD, Marine Biology. But there's nothing to say that the more we engage in conversations and lessons and pedagogy around the stuff our kids already want to learn and do, that they, worst case scenario, they fall in love with learning. Best case scenario, they're like, Yes, I do want to be a marine biologist, how do I continue to take steps towards that goal. So it's a simple concept of the future. But it's very complicated to implement. But we have to have these conversations now. So we can start changing the systems, so we can educate, and train the professionals who are going to fuel those systems to do this work. 


Jen Rafferty  

And the reason why I asked this question to everybody is because I do believe that the more we say our dreams out loud, the closer we are to actualizing them. So thank you for that. I hope we're one step closer.


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

Yeah, let's manifest this stuff, right? 


Jen Rafferty  

Yes, please. So before we close out, can you share with our listeners how they can get in touch with you and learn more about you and your work?


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

Yeah, the best way to get in touch with me is through our website, name of my practice is the theneurodiversitycollective.com. I have unique last name, Matthew Zakreski. So if you punch my name into Google, a lot of stuff comes up. But you were nice enough to name drop my Facebook page. And we have a lot of fun there. And really, if the things I'm talking about make sense to you, as a professional, as a parent, drop me a line because I can always come to you, I can always come and do a workshop, do a PD, even sit and talk to a bunch of parents or professionals and say, here's what I know, how can I use that knowledge to make your lives easier. And when I do that, everybody wins. So part of the reason that I think you and I get along so well, Jen, is that we have very similar missions, and similar vibes. And if you're sitting there thinking to yourself, I'm not sure if I'm worthy of that, of calling these professionals in, I will tell you you are and it may not feel that way, but you are worthy of that investment, you're in worthy of this time, because the best version of you makes you a better partner, a better parent, and a better professional. And there's nothing more important than showing up as the best version of yourself. 


Jen Rafferty  

Yes, that's it. And I hope that people take you up on it, all of those links are going to be really easy, because they're going to be right in the show notes. So if you're interested, go ahead and click on those right away and get in touch with Dr. Matt. It's been a pleasure to talk with you this morning. Thank you so much. 


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

It really has been so much fun. 


Jen Rafferty  

Good. I'm so glad. And I hope we can do this again soon. So thank you for your time and talents and the work you do in this world. We all appreciate it


Dr. Matt Zakreski  

Right back atcha Jen and yes, I'd love to come back. 


Jen Rafferty  

So fantastic. Thank you. And if you enjoyed today's episode, which I know you did, go ahead and write us five star reviews. Make sure you subscribe so you never miss an episode and share with a friend. And we'll see you next time on Take Notes. 


Jen Rafferty  

Incredible, right? Together, we can revolutionize the face of education. It's all possible. And it's all here for you right now. Let's keep the conversation going at Empowered Educator Faculty Room on Facebook.