Staff Spotlight: Barry Brinkley
Barry Brinkley was an Instructional Coach for Turnaround for Children based in Washington, D.C. for three years. This month, he was named Executive Director of Equity for Guilford County Schools in North Carolina.
THE 180: Congratulations on your new role, Barry. It is bittersweet for Turnaround. You are a much-loved instructional coach but it looks like there are great things on the horizon for you. Tell us about your new role.
BARRY BRINKLEY: As Executive Director of Equity, I will be leading Guilford County Schools’ black male student initiative. It’s the third largest school district in North Carolina, and includes Greensboro and High Point. The district serves about 72,000 students across 127 schools in a mix of urban, suburban and rural areas – so a lot different than Washington, D.C. Guilford County Schools has done a lot of research on the academic gap by race and found black males are performing well below their white counterparts. And it’s not necessarily poverty related. Non-poor male black students are still performing lower than the district’s poor white students. So basically, I’m will be creating and leading programming and strategy to help bridge the gap.
THE 180: What are some of the systems, strategies or practices you want to bring to Guilford County Schools that you learned and taught at Turnaround?
BARRY BRINKLEY: I think doing work around mindsets is really important, given my understanding of the district and challenges it faces. The gap between non-poor black students and poor white students indicates a possible expectations gap. I know this is something the superintendent is really looking for me to hone in on when developing teacher training.
Sense of belonging is another aspect. I have a theory that black male students aren’t performing to high levels because they don’t feel like they belong. Lacking a sense of belonging can impact a student’s motivation. I’m already looking at the Building Blocks for Learning framework and trying to figure out how I can infuse this skill into the district work.
THE 180: What first brought you to Turnaround for Children?
BARRY BRINKLEY: I started as a teacher in Compton, California, teaching the fourth grade with Teach for America. Then I transitioned into a role as the dean of dtudents at a charter school in Washington, D.C. As time passed, I found that I missed being front and center with teachers, school leaders and most importantly, with students Through my TFA network I met Mike Lamb and had a conversation around Turnaround for Children’s impact. I was intrigued and soon after I was in New York City interviewing for a role as an Instructional Coach.
One of the many reasons I came to Turnaround is because I was able integrate my experiences as a teacher and dean of students into the work that I did at Turnaround for Children every day.
THE 180: What about your work with Teach for America, has enhanced your education career, including your work at Turnaround?
BARRY BRINKLEY: Teach for America taught me to be an education advocate. I think one of the biggest misconceptions of the organization is that it was designed to fill a teacher shortage and is then criticized for teachers leaving the field. But it builds advocates and that’s what we need for our teachers. Everything I’ve done with my career goes back to my first year as a TFA corps member. No matter if I’m standing in front of kids or in an office, I keep that experience in mind and how my decisions effect students.
THE 180: Did you always know that you wanted to do this kind of work?
BARRY BRINKLEY: In third grade, I dressed up as a principal for career day. I remember that morning my mom asking me what I wanted to wear, and I said that I wanted to wear my best church sweater and church shoes. I asked my mom to make me a badge that said, “Hello my name is Omar (I used to go by my middle name then) and I’m a principal.” So yeah, I guess you could say that I have always known that I wanted to be in education.
THE 180: What do you think is unique about the way that Turnaround partners with schools?
BARRY BRINKLEY: I think the way Turnaround builds relationships makes the organization unique. It is important that Turnaround staff build relationships with principals and teachers to help push them forward. At times, other Washington, D.C. partners come in, tell you what’s wrong, walk out the door and expect to come back and see things fixed. With Turnaround, we are in the trenches with our schools.
Turnaround school-based staff are also flexible collaborators. There were times where I went into classrooms and I may have been taking notes for observations, and I closed my computer and co-taught a session with a teacher, or worked with a small group of students because that is what was needed in that moment. Or, there were times when we went into a principal meeting, and although we had a set agenda, we saw that the principal clearly had something else on his or her mind and so we switched gears. As partners, at times we have to put our agenda aside to incorporate the voices of our schools.
THE 180: What do you think is the most important thing that students need to succeed?
BARRY BRINKLEY: They need to know that someone cares. If I know that you care about me and that I can put my trust in you, I will trust you to lead and guide me wherever it is that we need to go. Once you have a child’s trust, they are willing to go the extra step, take on challenges and make mistakes in front of you to learn from those mistakes.
THE 180: How do you build trust? Particularly, with someone very distrustful or confrontational?
BARRY BRINKLEY: Consistency. I learned that very early on in my career, that consistency is key. If students see you in that same place every single day, they trust that you are always going be here. The people I have the best relationship with are individuals with whom I was very consistent with.
I remember one of my students, D’Angelo. When we first met, we did not mesh too well, but I kept coming back. He walked in my office the first day of school the following year and said, “You came back”. It was almost as if it was a surprise to him. I replied, “Of course I did. I told you that I would be back”. I think that was the first time that I grasped that it is about consistency.
When D’Angelo went off to college, our relationship shifted. He was used to seeing me every day – Monday through Friday – to only seeing me on holidays. I knew that would to be a hard transition, so we had a conversation so he could understand that I was always going to be there. We remain close to this day.
THE 180: Do you keep in touch with a lot of your students?
BARRY BRINKLEY: I do. I have been to weddings, to family member’s funerals, to hospitals to see births. If my students call and say they need me, I am there. I go from doing college recommendations to doing job references. It is amazing to see how the conversations have shifted over the years as they become adults, from do your homework to here’s how you negotiate your salary. That is something that I hold very dear to me.
THE 180: What has been your favorite part about being at Turnaround?
BARRY BRINKLEY: There are amazing people who work at Turnaround – people who have so much great experience and who continue to do great things in their roles now. I got to work alongside one of my best friends, Jillian, every day. We have known each other for years and we worked together when I was a dean. We also have some great staff members in our schools who don’t get the recognition that they deserve. I have loved seeing the look on their faces when we tell them that they are doing an amazing job.
THE 180: Thanks for all your great work for Turnaround, Barry. We will miss you! Good luck in North Carolina!