Tell Me Something, Troy Boddy
When Troy Boddy was an elementary school teacher, his passion was teaching kids how to read.
“The magic of it all is asking the right questions and building on their strengths,” he says. “You release the responsibility of doing the work to them. When it clicks, there’s no stopping them. You can see their excitement and the power that it gives them.”
Boddy is years past those early teaching days in Prince George’s County. But he is still teaching.
As director of the Equity Initiatives Unit in MCPS, Boddy and his team work to end racial and ethnic disparities in student achievement.
“In a school setting, everyone brings their ‘stuff’ into the building,” he said, referring to personal experiences, opinions and biases. “Adults bring them in and certainly kids bring them in. Only seeing your students through your eyes creates lots of blind spots. Do you understand when a kid struggles? Can you connect with and support a child when they’re not getting it? Do you really believe that all kids can learn?”
Finding Similarities; Celebrating Differences
The thoughts take Boddy back to his beginning days as a first grade teacher at Langley Park-McCormick Elementary School in Hyattsville. Many of his students were low-income and did not speak English as their first language.
“I remember teaching one day and looking out at them and suddenly thinking, ‘Are they getting it? Does anybody even understand me? Am I doing right by them?’” Boddy said. “I got choked up. It was me; it wasn’t the kids.
“We can’t view kids in a deficit way,” he added. “All kids bring their ‘stuff’ to school. We may not know what they bring to class. We have to build on what they bring, even if it’s just a couple letters and sounds. We have to do our best to get them to a point where they’re independent.”
Boddy was born in Silver Spring and is a product of MCPS—he attended Stonegate Elementary School, William H. Farquhar Middle School and graduated from Sherwood High School (where he participated in the celebrated Rock ‘n Roll Revival show all four years). He is the middle child of nine kids. His father was longtime educator Ross Boddy, who started off teaching African American children in a segregated school, later worked as an administrator for MCPS, and after he retired, worked with children and senior citizens at the Montgomery County Department of Recreation. The community recreation center in Sandy Spring is named for him. Boddy’s mother stayed home and kept a tight ship for the children.
Boddy grew up thinking he would become a psychologist or psychiatrist. “That was always something that interested me—how people think, how they learn,” he says. He attended Morehouse College in Atlanta because it is where his idol, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., attended college. Boddy graduated with a degree in psychology.
After college, he worked as a recreational therapist in a group home.
“I worked with teens; it was their last step before incarceration,” he said. “I would take them on activities. It was hard. They had grown up so differently from how I had grown up. I found a pattern where many of these kids had dropped out of school in the 8th grade. I remember one kid who was just brilliant but he hung out with the wrong crowd. I found out a couple years later that he had been shot and killed.”
Boddy started thinking that he could help more kids if he were in a classroom setting. He went back to school, earning a master’s degree in elementary education at the University of Bridgeport (Ct.). He ended up coming back to Maryland and, after nine years teaching in Prince George’s, was ready for a change. He applied for a job as a staff development specialist at MCPS. He arrived at the interview armed with his own projector and a PowerPoint presentation on school improvement. He got the job.
“I got to refine my knowledge on what good professional development is because we trained everyone on everything,” he said. “I have a deep understanding of Baldrige. I cowrote and led trainings on the school improvement process and how leadership teams work. That job really helped me learn the county.”
After getting his administration certification, he spent two years as assistant principal at Oakland Terrace Elementary School before being named principal at Beall Elementary School.
“I inherited a really good school, but we really worked hard to create a community to make sure every kid felt special and every kid learned,” he said of his five years at Beall.
Boddy draws a comparison between his classroom days and his current job, which he took in 2011. When he took the job, the unit had four specialists. Today, there are 12.
“When I first took the job, the first thing I had to find out was: ‘What’s the gap?’” Boddy said. “We had done lots of work, but why weren’t people owning it? People were seeing equity as a lot about getting trained but not so much the application of it.” Boddy and his team set out to write a module for leadership teams to develop an understanding of equity, and how it plays out in schools and helps to improve learning.
“One thing I love about my team is that we have every union represented,” he said. “We have administrators, folks at the teacher level and support professionals, and that’s intentional. I wanted everybody to see themselves in the work. All has to mean all. That is part of how we get there.”
For the first time this year, the unit offered cultural proficiency training for every MCPS employee. And they offer a variety of professional learning opportunities for schools and offices. McDaniel College, which has a partnership with MCPS, offers an equity and excellence in education certificate.
Equity is the work of reflecting on your own life experiences and prejudices, some of which you may not consciously be aware of, and understanding how race and ethnicity can impact teaching and learning, Boddy said. It’s not only being aware of who you are, but also being aware of how others might see you.
Opening the Door to Cultural Proficiency
“Part of cultural awareness is knowing how others view you—the good, the bad and everything in between,” Boddy said. “As a woman, as someone with a disability, as a person of color … We often spend so much brainpower on trying to fit in and having people see you as they see other people. … This work is adaptive; it’s really hard work. The answers are out there. As we reflect, we figure it out.
“It’s not enough to do it by yourself,” he said. “You could be the most culturally proficient teacher out there, but you just have a small group of kids. You’re not transforming anything; you’re not improving teaching and learning for all. As one person, I’ve got to work with my team and my department to push and challenge each other to be reflective, to learn about our kids. Once we know the kids, we can collectively make decisions and teach in a way that they all get it. That is transforming learning for kids.”
Tell Me More
Family: Single, with the greatest 2-year-old niece in the world
What was your first job: I was a dishwasher and waiter at Friends Nursing Home in Sandy Spring. I remember we didn’t have pads to write anything down, so we had to memorize the orders.
What’s the one thing you can’t live without: I’m a news junkie, so not being able to watch MSNBC every night would kill me.
Favorite TV shows: American Horror Story, The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, Scandal
If you could do another job for just one day, what would it be: President of the United States. I would do lots of executive orders.
What do you do when you’re not at work: I paint, mostly watercolors. When I was in elementary school, I was gifted and talented in art. I was the kid who would get all the other kids together to put on a play and we’d make the sets. If we went to a museum for a field trip, I would make displays out of newspapers in my room.
If you could learn to do anything, what would it be: Graphic recording
Three traits that define you: Visionary, knowledgeable about some things, approachable
What’s the first thing you would buy if you hit the lottery: A trip around the world
Best places you’ve ever traveled: Hawaii, South Africa, Turkey
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be: Barack and Michelle Obama