How Do You Land on an Asteroid?

One Relationship at a Time

What does landing on an asteroid and reaching students of color have in common? A lot more than you might think. And closing the performance and growth gap for generations of students of color depends on understanding why.

It’s late October 2020. After traveling more than 200 million miles — and then just halfway through its 7-year mission — NASA’s OSIRIS-REX spacecraft briefly bounced on the surface of Asteroid Bennu and grabbed a sample of surface material. And then just as quickly, it moved away from the asteroid and positioned itself for its return journey to Earth. (If you haven’t seen the event, take a peek at the following video.)

Planetary scientists hope that the samples from Bennu will shed light on what our young solar system was like when it formed 4.5 billion years ago. Asteroids like Bennu, which possesses carbon-rich minerals, may have provided the building blocks for life to arise on Earth.

Understanding Asteroid Bennu’s composition is really a key to understanding ourselves.



Which brings us to this week’s podcast episode and guest, Alexs Pate. Like OSIRIS-REX, Alexs is also on a mission to help us understand ourselves. He is the President and CEO of Innocent Technologies and the creator of The Innocent Classroom, a program for K–12 educators that aims to transform U.S. public education and end disparities by closing the relationship gap between educators and students of color. He is the author of The Innocent Classroom: Dismantling Racial Bias to Support Students of Color.

In this episode, Alexs makes the compelling case that students of color routinely enter the atmospheres of our classrooms burdened by stereotypes — “stereotypes that define them as threatening, violent, criminal, poor, and academically disengaged.” As a result, these children are weighed down by guilt. Alexs mission is to teach educators how to free these children of guilt and create the “innocent classroom.”

The key is to see these students – indeed all students – as more than mere passive receptacles of content. The key is to see them as embodying an inherent “good” – energy and purpose that will drive them for the rest of their lives.

Making the effort to discover a child’s “good” is a key to understanding that child. And, I think, it’s a way of understanding ourselves as educators. Reach out to understand, and you begin to build a relationship. Build a relationship, and you begin to close the growth and performance gap.

Because of their accumulated guilt, building that relationship with a student of color can be a long journey in itself, but it’s one worth taking.


Jeff Ikler
Jeff Ikler
The river that runs through my career lives – as teacher, publisher, coach, podcaster and author – is helping individuals acquire knowledge, skills, and self-awareness so they can better achieve their desired results and impact. • As Director of Quetico Leadership and Career Coaching, I work with individuals and leaders to overcome obstacles and make sustained changes in their behavior. • I co-host the podcast “Getting Unstuck – Shift for Impact,” where I bring to light inspirational stories of transformation in the field of education. • I am the co-author of the soon-to-be-published book for school educators, Shifting: How Educational Leaders Can Create a Culture of Change.

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  1. I don’t know the reality of the school in the United States.
    However, a similar situation can occur in Italy for the high number of students who are children of immigrants who now attend Italian schools.
    I believe that the capacity for personal involvement in the educational relationship is a constitutive part of teaching professionalism. The teacher needs both cultural and didactic skills, indispensable to allow the personal achievement of knowledge by the pupils, as well as relational skills, indispensable for interacting correctly with colleagues, parents and pupils and in particular for establishing deep, meaningful and effective educational relationships.
    Teaching is an activity of extraordinary moral depth, one of the highest and most creative in man: the teacher, in fact, does not write on inert matter, but in the soul of his pupils. Therefore, the personal relationship between teacher and pupil, who is not limited to a simple “give” and “receive”.
    The classroom environment should be rich in cultural stimuli, in human relationships, a place where friendships are born and the exchange of ideas is encouraged. When this climate is created, with appropriate personalized interventions, the teacher can enter into a relationship with
    pupils in a balanced and serene way.