Empowering Students of Color (Part 1 of 8)

Interview with authors Dr. Gail and Rufus Thompson reveals expert strategies.

Posted Jun 29, 2017

Vanessa Carroll, used with permission
Dr. Gail Thompson and Rufus Thompson at EY Awards Gala (June 16, 2017).
Source: Vanessa Carroll, used with permission

On June 12, 2017, I (JR) had the honor of sitting down with Dr. Gail Thompson (GT) and Rufus Thompson (RT) to discuss their book: Yes, You Can!: Advice for Teachers Who Want a Great Start and a Great Finish With Their Students of Color (Thompson & Thompson, 2014). Thompson and Thompson have won numerous awards in the field of education and are tireless advocates for students. Their extensive careers in education – including being teachers themselves – give them each the powerful perspective of both the educator and the researcher.

Their recent book offers too many strategies to fit within a single piece, but in this eight-part interview they offer a sampling that can be used to acquire added insight and start crucial conversations. Additional posts in this series will address additional questions.

Interview Part 1 of 8

(Questions 1-2 of 10)


I’m so excited about this. I know the answer to this first questions, but I just love the answer. Tell me about the title Yes, You Can! and the inspiration behind it.


The night that President Obama won the election, there was a big chant in the crowd (and I think nationwide): Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can! So we decided we needed a title that reflected that enthusiasm and also met the need to serve the underserved populations – primarily children of color – and encouraged them and encouraged teachers by saying “Yes, you can!” You can empower the teachers and you can empower the students so that those underperforming populations can do better in school and in life.


I love that you say it’s also about empowering the teachers, because your approach also helps teachers be successful.

You write about the role that “teaching self-confidence” plays in a teacher’s success with students of color. What are the best ways a teacher can build such self-confidence?


Part of it is through trial and error, and a willingness (especially for new teachers) to learn from mistakes. I go back to my first year of teaching high school when at the end of the year I felt like I had failed badly even though I had taught junior high before (teaching high school was new to me). I had to look at what didn’t go well and learn from those mistakes so that next year when I did my end-of-the-year assessment hopefully I would not have made the same mistakes I made in the past. I always believed that when people feel confident about something (and I use exercise as an example), if they think they’re going to be successful at starting an exercise routine or even a weight loss one, they’re more likely to stick to it. So, with teaching, it’s important for teachers to really believe they can work effectively with the children that a lot of teachers have felt like, “I can’t work with those populations.” So building their own confidence levels up every single day (that’s why we have the affirmations there and the confidence boosters), that is part of it. Learning from mistakes (getting up, dusting yourself off, saying, “What can I learn from that?” so that it doesn’t happen again), and then constantly telling yourself, “I’m making progress in these areas,” is part of it.


What you’ve just said and what you write about fits seamlessly with growth mindset. There’s so much awareness right now in the education field about the importance of growth mindset in schools, and it’s nice that what you are recommending goes along so well with that.

What Next?

In my next post for this column (Part 2), Dr. Thompson and Thompson will answer more questions concerning how teachers can best support students of color.


Thompson, G. L., & Thompson, R. (2014). Yes, you can!: Advice for teachers who want a great start and a great finish with their students of color. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

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