This interview took me home, grounded me and at the same time, it lifted and inspired me. I felt lightened and more spacious for weeks after this conversation with Rona was a powerful reminder of the context of my learning through experience with this person and her incredible energy and hope for the world. My guest Rona Weinstein, is a mentor. She got her graduate training in clinical and community psychology, which took place both at McGill University and at Yale University. She has been a psychology professor at University of California at Berkeley since 1973. This is where I met her kind of what I love about this conversation is that before we began, Ronal took me right back to graduate school by actually quite appropriately assigning me readings and suggesting how I might prepare. I loved it. It took me right back to the space of being her student. Talking with Rana was such a delightful experience I felt stepped back in time to a classroom of yesterday, inspired by her language, her passion, her framing, and her way of being. I'm pretty sure I was regularly met with Rona, as a graduate student, she always seem to want more better, clearer thinking, clearer intervention, she just cared so damn much about the field about the clients about integrity, and, frankly, about me, it's set a high bar and kick my ass. I always had lots of feelings about being her course, her clinic in her midst, and I so appreciate that legacy and model and know that it's not a coincidence that I get crazy pumped about my students and what difference they can make in the world. Thank you Rona. Rona Weinstein is the author of two books, achieving college dreams, how a university charter district partnership created an early college high school and reaching higher the power of expectations in schooling. In 2005, she co founded the school, the California College Preparatory Academy, Cal prep. I
don't know whether I'm allowed to ask you a question at the start of how you came to pick me this particular time for the first or you have some order with this podcast.
Okay, so I love it. Because this is very Rona Weinstein energy, and I completely love it. So so first of all, I started by explaining to Rona, what the podcast is. And that season is focused on my mentors.
Well, I'm, I'm delighted to be remembered to be honored, I remember your time at Berkeley with us very, very well. And I might say a word or two about that. But I also want to say first that I'm touched, that you're at Yale, because Yale is where I got my PhD. Yes. So it's a wonderful link to think back. That was a place of great growth for me. And this is a place that you are facilitating the growth of generations of students at Yale. So it's a lovely connection. What I remember about you, Heidi,
is I'm not sure I'm ready for this, oh, dear.
I don't think it'll embarrass you it actually fits so well with what you've been doing. I remember, I remember your passion. I remember your questions. And I remember that you felt stifled by the organization of the program, and what the program expectations were about. And you wanted to use psychology in a different way. Yes. And you were finding your way to take the tools of what you learned there, but to use it very, very differently in the community, to change community, to give agency to people to be able to create settings that thrive. And I you know, it was never was never sure in those early days, whether someone will reach those goals, because there were ups and downs, you had a dissertation to finish you have all kinds of regulations to follow. So it's particularly gratifying to see in the work that you've been doing that you have have gotten there been the self that you work so hard to become in doing this work. So there's tremendous continuity I see between what you're doing now at a professional level, and what you hope to do during your graduate training. So it's a virtual hug.
Since the podcast is called learning through experience, I asked all of my guests to come to the conversation with a few examples of learning from experience. Rona, of course, jumped right in.
I went to first of all a summer camp starting when I was 10 and I worked at camps till I was 21. And it was an unusual camp. Leonard Cohen was there for one year, the song leader who I remember very well, but it was a non competitive camp. It was cooperative, and it took children with all kinds of special needs. And its focus was on integration and inclusiveness. This camp was a place that all children thrived. And it produced a record number of psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists. But, and I became one, but not so much focused on the individual per se, but the individual in the context of settings. That was my first taste of the importance of the fact that we have agency in creating the kinds of settings in which we work. And then on to McGill. And I had I started graduate school there, and I had a professor who was a feminist at that time, 1968. And I was asked to step down, and give up my fellowship and leave graduate school because I was getting married. And that was one first tastes of the fate of women at that time and the women's movement, but this professor stood up for me, I would have loved to have been at the faculty meeting, where he spoke to his colleagues and said, This is outrageous, he will not stand for it and his name, and sadly, he died. Very young was Sam Rabinovich. His work changed the learning disabilities field in Canada, because he was able to show that these children who struggled with dyslexia reading and math problems were of normal and above intelligence, but he taught the, the assessment seminar. And this, I think, was one of the biggest intellectual changes in my mind, that stirred my work and my approach. So in the class, all the books and all the material, were about standardized tests, and they're given a score and rank ordered.
It's striking to me that you were mentored and sponsored so powerfully early on, because he wasn't the same impact on my life and trajectory. So
our whole society is based on the rank ordering of individuals against one norm, or another. But what he showed us is he did what's not allowed, he changed the conditions. And he asked the question, what are the conditions under which this child can show his or her knowledge and learn? And I remember our outrage, it's not standardized. I still remember my naivete, he said, isn't the point of knowing to know the best conditions under which to encourage the knowledge and shape the learning and growth and he had a clinic for children and I learned the methods of working with kids who are now called differently abled are neurodiverse. But I've never forgotten that lesson. And of course, my work has been focused on expectations, and how they become self fulfilling prophecies. So my road to New Haven was not an easy road. And I had some constraints and obstacles that have stood in my way I had a learning disability dyslexia. And I was told by professors that I did not have the potential to get a PhD. I was simply not smart enough. These have been the messages because I didn't score well on tests, et cetera. So I didn't have the benefit of Professor Rabinovich is a wonderful way of testing using alternative modalities. So, Harvey got into Yale, and I Didn't your husband Harvey. And I remember Sam Rabinovich, I was in the room, calling up their professor, the chair of the psych department and say we have this amazing graduate student at McGill. And because of dual career conditions, she would like to transfer to Yale and the answer was we have so many Yale wives here. We just can't do anything for them. So Sam, encouraged me and this is you talk about the power of individual acts to Change lives to be courageous. Well before his time this is 1968 said, Rona, don't leave from McGill graduate school commute from the US take your exams, keep doing research until you can get into Yale at some point or the next stop. So he provided what Seymour Sarason has called the universe of alternatives. There are many alternatives that things rose, we only think of the dominant frame. But we've got to think of the universe of alternative Jason and he gave me this book called psychology in community settings, a big fat blue book, like candy from cover to cover, and he said, Professor Seymour Saracen wrote this with his students and colleagues, and he's at Yale, go see. And the rest is history. He heard my story. And my tears, that here, I had moved there. And his response was, Well, I'll admit you as an intern, to the Yale psycho educational clinic, and we'll deal with the other stuff later. I said, but I hadn't completed the coursework yet. He said, It didn't matter. He believed in me, and I persisted. And ultimately, when I reapplied to Yale, you know, I got in, and I was able to finish my PhD, but I always think of it as coming through the back door. But at that time, of course, many people did. But again, was a new opportunity given, you know, at each phrase, so that gives you how I got to Yale, and I do want to talk about Seymour's influence and the Yale psycho Ed clinic, but I've got on so you may want to ask me some questions First,
look great, well, well, you know, those are at least two stories of your taking a bit of a different route. And people that are open opening different doorways are creating a different pathway for you to be able to, to walk with such great consequence. Now I hear also the some of the threads of your, what you remember about me, that also tie into your own history and trajectory and this kind of question of, you know, what, what does it take to create the conditions for people to thrive. And then it's not just individuals that can, can can shift and change, actually conditions can shift and change. And of course, that's the energy of community psychology.
So Seymour Sarason at Yale, and those of us in community psychology have worked. A lot of times alone or with fewer, fewer people because it's been, it was a newer field in psychology, and perhaps remained a stepchild in psychology. But he established the Yale psycho educational clinic as a place that would change the treatment of mental health problems. It would look at human behavior in social context, how social settings and societal conditions contributed to the kind of mental health issues that people suffered from and how to work earlier preventively. To strengthen people's own capacities to survive tough situations, and also to learn how to create settings that help people thrive and actually prevent problems. So community psychology, learn from the field of public health and its relationship to medicine is similar to community psychology to clinical psychology. And it looks specifically at people in context. So an example of psychology and community settings. The first day I arrived at this wonderful clinic at 295 Crown Street. He had a group of young faculty members at that time. And I remember he said, we're not the psychologists in the office wearing white coats where patients come to us, we're going out to the community, and we're going to collaborate with the director and the staff of the various settings and find out how knowledge on the ground of what the issues are and psychological methods constructs research might combine in a collaborative way to help prevent some of the problems that are bringing people to the clinic. And again, a mind shift We can test children in different ways, by changing the conditions under which we test to find out what we know, we can work collaboratively in the community and change social settings to help children and adults thrive. So that was a simply powerful year of work. And of course, my dissertation grew out of that, how children are signed to ability based reading groups as early as first grade and how fixed the expectations become for them by teachers. Right now, before
you go into expectations, that's a big topic for you just want to acknowledge the energy in your voice, the sparkle in your eye around the dream of community psychology. And it still to this day, connects for you with you in a way that shows up with the energy and your in your voice. And the way that I hear it. Does that seem seem true?
It does. And I'm, I'm always so happy to talk about it, in part, because the sad reality of this, this approach is that none of the faculty members there got tenure at Yale, there is no Yale psycho Ed clinic anymore. And, in fact, many universities around the country did not rehire the community psychologists that they had at the time. So it's underrepresented in, in this field of, of psychology. That's why I'm delighted to see you take this approach to organizations of which, you know, are a very large part of our society, and to prepare people to think differently about the conditions under which the they thrive, and the community thrives. Yes,
well, you know, I think I'm very much a community psychologist, actually, not in the spirit of clinical intervention in the community. But in this tradition of working at systems level, to be able to create the conditions where individuals may might be able to thrive, I really have more of a mezzo approach with the heart of it is in thinking about individuals as nested in contexts, and the intervention is in context. For me, it's a context of human groups, which are embedded in organizations. And I can feel and hear in my language and way of thinking that some words that you're raising up that are very much showing up in your speech that show up in my classrooms. So I am in the tradition of the community psychologist, in my work and in my thinking, and in my being and in my language. And I can see it and feel it and hear it and know it in the in the company of your words and energy and context. And I find it delightful. So it's really clear and hearing you talk and a reminder to me that schools became your playground education became your your playground, both as a university professor, you're embedded in it in an educational context, but also in looking at primarily K to 12 school environments as a place. Why schools like what why why not community centers or organizations? Why schools?
Well, outside the family, schools have the most impact on the developing child and in Sometimes schools can even counteract the effects of difficulty in the home. And of course, education is an educational achievement is one of the key variables that influences major outcomes for life satisfaction for capacity to support oneself security, for illness, the higher education, the more opportunity to prevent death and to have have healthy outcomes. So education has always been important to influence and strengthen a population. So I just became fascinated as I started early to treat children in a clinical setting as a clinical psychologist. That's where I started Miguel on did that training at Yale as well. I just found myself seeing the difficulties children were happening and wondering what was happening in school, right, and wanting to go outside and observe them. That's when Sam Rabinovich handed me the book psychology and community setting He says you want to spend your time there. And I went, and I discovered really firsthand the, the tyranny of low expectations, the locking children in low performing settings, deciding very early, whether they had ability or not, and then giving them a differentiated education. And so I felt I had to change it. So that it became a passion. And of course, I myself was told, in a number of ways that I didn't have the capacity to learn, I remember in third grade that I sent out, it turns out was an intelligence test and the teacher for gifted class and the teacher said, something like, Gee, I thought you were smarter than I guess you are, is what she said, at the time, and of course, in my research, and it's well intentioned, and I never blame teachers understand that this is what we are taught in our society. This is how we are mostly taught to think about children. It's
part of the tyranny of low expectations that they haven't had even had a chance to think about. They're thinking, this is what they've been taught is rigor. Right?
Right. And we've been taught to select, we've been taught that what we see now tells us something about what someone can be, but it only tells us where they are now, in that moment, under those conditions that we're offering them. So I, you know, both from personal experience, what I observed in my clinical work, I was just drawn out to the schools to try to change it. And in the latter part of my career, we started a school, very exciting school, for first in the family to go to college. But the first effort was to D track. The high school, not the first, but one of it was to work with teachers, to D track a high school and take the kids who were put in non college bound classes, they didn't even know that they're yours. In high school, when not enable them to enter college, their parents didn't know, they didn't know, right, and we put them in honors classes, working with the teachers to help prepare them, to help them with their work. And I was gratified talking about mentoring and whatever that years later, I had an undergraduate and then a PhD student. And she told me that after she was all done, that she was one of those students who had the opportunity to be in that honors class during those years, and she had been the only family member who had that opportunity. And here she was with a PhD. So I think, Oh, that's great. So a lovely example of the outcome,
fulfilling full circle experience. And there's one more thing I played work, I forgot to say this, if it needs it needs to be said, just a memory, and yet another appreciation for who you are. So when I was in graduate school, sometime around my, maybe my fourth year, I had a child, my firstborn, and it was a little overwhelming. As you were, you're such a great mentor about parenting and many other things about wisdom of life and managing a career. And in that spirit, when he was about three months old, and I was busy being overwhelmed by the everything of it all. You called me and you said, What are you doing? I don't know. But it's really hard. And you said, Well, here's what you need to do. You need to get some child care and get to work because what you're doing is important, and you need to continue. And I was so affronted and overwhelmed now big way to do that. But it wasn't what I needed. I needed someone, a woman who understood the overwhelmingness of it all and yet my potential to kind of kick me in the backside and say you can do this and you need to do it. In fact, if you don't do it, now, it's not going to get any easier or better. And there was such compassion and cheerleading and empathy and understanding in that. And I was so mad and frustrated at the time, not necessarily with you per se but with the situation of how much I was was on my plates, but I did basically the next day, get it together and found some childcare and made my way forward. And I don't know without the compassionate understanding that you you offered, which you know, in your company, is also feels like a good kick in the seat of the pants. Get it together was how I heard it. And I needed to hear it and I'm thankful to this day. That same young man has now is now 25 and graduated from university, so thank you.
That is wonderful. Thank you for that. I had not heard that story. I do remember it. I remember the conversation. Yeah. about it. And so I was glad. And of course, you were a typical at that time having a child, there were very few graduate students who had children in the program. And there were many male professors around who didn't look kindly yet to ask. Yes, yeah. And you may have asked me, should I or shouldn't some students have asked me and I've always said, have the baby, when you want to have the baby when when you're ready to have the baby and the rest will follow. But you do need a kick enough to get it up and running again.
There's the there's the dreaming and the planning. And then there's the actual reality and the overwhelm of it all. And it was it was wise guidance. So thank you, Rhonda, for so many things and for this conversation. Today,
you hired me what a pleasure and lovely to be with you again.
Until so. This has been an episode of learning through experience. I'm your host ID Brooks. This podcast is produced through the Yale School of Management. The editor is Miranda Schaefer. Please like and subscribe to learn more through this experience with me and the wisdom of the guests who join me to talk about our learning our way through the experience of life.