The Character Movement

The Teachers’ Lounge Podcast with Brenda Cassellius

Youth Frontiers’ podcast, The Teachers’ Lounge, features conversations about how we can build school communities where our kids can thrive – not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well. In our tenth episode, we had the privilege of talking with Brenda Cassellius – Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education. As a former paraprofessional, teacher, principal and superintendent, Brenda has worked at all levels in education. Brenda brings a lot of insight into student success and what we can do to make our systems better.


Brenda with her students

Episode Highlights:

On what brought her to the field of education:

This is a way for me to pay-it-forward. I have this huge passion to work toward racial justice because I’m biracial. I also want to ensure that kids in poverty have access to all the opportunities that they need to be successful. I think that it’s really access to opportunities and great mentors… that’s missing [for kids] and that’s why we see chronic poverty… I can’t think of a better way to live my life than to strive for racial justice and continue to find ways to eradicate child poverty.

On Minnesota’s ACT scores:

Minnesota seems to be first in the nation in so many indicators, but not for children of color… In education, I can’t, you know, spike the football and be number one on ACT scores for a decade, because there are these huge gaps between our kids of color and white students. We have so much more work to do… We have to really think seriously about the opportunities and the access to preschool, the access to good mentors, the access to housing and the access to good jobs. It’s all connected. It all matters… We can no longer afford, for our shared quality of life, to leave 50 percent of the kids behind.

On her favorite thing about being a middle school teacher:

Relating with the kids. Helping them figure things out and seeing their excitement when they could make their own opinions about things… Watching them be empowered and find their own voice. That was really cool. I just loved being a teacher. It was the greatest thing… I think teachers have a really tough job, but I do think that they get to go home and know that they make a difference every day.

On the importance of non-cognitive skills:

I talk about my camp experience all the time. That was non-academic, but it was so much about learning, self-confidence and navigation. You need those [character-building] skills to really strive and break through the lack of opportunity or the low expectations that are held of you or that you hold of yourself. Youth Frontiers, Voyageur and other types of activities, have great experiences for kids. Sometimes kids just need one experience like that or one adult who believes in them to change their entire life.

To hear the full podcast episode, listen here or on iTunes. To learn more about Brenda and her work within the education field, visit the Minnesota Department of Education website today.

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