Welcome, THICK!

Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom has a new book out and I’m beyond excited to have it in my hands very soon. In THICK she offers us a collection of essays which connect the personal with the political, the theoretical with oh-my-God-that-really-happened real. I can tell you this because while I wait for my own precious copy I am reading as many tweets, excerpts, and early reviews as I can to get ready.

More than a fan of Tressie McMillan Cottom, I am a deep admirer of her writing, her wit, her generosity and leadership. If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll know that I reference her work often. I consider her one of my primary digital mentors who has in ways large and small helped me arrive at a form of digital presence that is meaningful, critical and increasingly bold. Her capacity to apply theoretical frameworks to illuminate the scope and scale of tragedy and treachery of modern American life, particularly for Black women, has given me pause on too many occasions to name. She is a scholar I would stay up all hours to catch an hour’s or even just a few minutes’ worth of her wisdom live.

Knowing that in this new collection of essays she tells us more about herself than ever before, I am eager and also wary of a voyeuristic impulse that occurs in any of us, I suppose, when we have a chance to gain greater access to the people we most admire. I’ve never met Tressie in person. That’s on my bucket list. But I have had the opportunity to be in conversation with her and to benefit from her generosity. Just 3 years ago, she was instrumental in helping me put my publication, Identity, Education and Power on the map by writing a wonderful opening essay.

One of the things that excites me most about Tressie’s new book is seeing how excited she seems to be about having it out in the world. I am happy that she has given us more of her delicious writing and overjoyed that she appears to be more than pleased with the outcome. She has done so much for Black women, so much for me; my greatest wish is for Tressie to be able to truly enjoy and celebrate the fruits of her labor.

Welcome THICK into the world: order it, buy it, read it, share it.

Weight Gain (An SOL Extra)

I hemmed and hawed about sharing this. My dear friend, Maria read it and shared all the connections she was able to make with the post. She convinced me it was worth sharing with more people.

Sherri's Slice of Life Project

Disappointment

I’ve stopped being skinny. I have folds around the middle. I think less of myself and suppose others must think less of me too.

In this new state, I am a disappointment.

Shame

My pants no longer fit comfortably. Some waistbands are tight. Some pairs fit snugly across my behind and cause the waistband to slide down in the back. This is a secret disgrace.

Most people cannot see these developments or at least don’t indicate that they notice. By modern Western standards I am still considered slim.

But that no longer describes how I feel. Or how I see myself.

Instead, there is a private shame. A shadow that casts itself over each view in the full length mirror. A mourning for a long battle finally lost.

Guilt

I nearly left out guilt. It fuels my shame and hunches over the struggle. Guilt is active – it should…

View original post 893 more words

Yes, and

2019 arrived and I didn’t much care. On New Year’s Eve my stomach hurt. I cut out at 11:30pm with no regrets.

We’re on the tail end of a family vacation which has gone remarkably smoothly. Everybody has gotten to do most of the things they wanted to do: speedskate, ski, run, play video and/or board games, sleep in, stay up late, read a lot, watch TV, go for a walk, eat out, eat in, eat chips, drink beer, drink wine, not drink at all, leave a mess, clean it up, snack, snack, snack, and write.

Released from a lot of my regular duties, I experience a bunch of emotions that I’m not all the way prepared for. I find some leftover guilt in my pockets, a curtain of despair in the wind that stalls me on the lake, a crusty strip of resentment I almost trip over while strolling on a wooded path. I take comfort in reading about other people’s sorrows. I’m able to read with a bit more empathy than usual perhaps.

My capacity for easy conversation strikes me as limited. I can say some things that seem to fit and then I hit a wall. I listen and nod but let others carry on from there. At some point I may check out, gently excuse myself to another corner of the room. It’s the holidays so it feels like even that’s okay.

Internally, however, my word machine keeps blowing at full speed. My head swells with waves of words. Sentences on the page before me spawn another set of thoughts that require their own peculiar expression. To an outsider it looks like I’m maybe spaced out or deep in thought. I don’t know. I’ve never asked anyone. It occurs to me that once I’m gone, I will have left a trail of words behind me.

I check into my social media saloon and it feels like a ‘Cheers’ re-run – that place “where everybody knows your name.” Which is of course not true at all, but there are plenty of people I find and can huddle up with. This, too, is a surprising comfort. I stumble into some conversations and get caught up in the richness of the exchange. I feel part of community. I have some things to say and discover much I want to listen to – I do not hit a conversational wall. Word squalls form in my head and the relief is great when I can release some of them into a little blue box of 280 characters or less.

I’m learning to make peace with exercising early and staying inside for a greater part of the day. I am no longer the endurance addict that I once was. I’m still getting over that fact. Part of maintaining a vacation tradition involves noticing changes over time: the steadiness I feel on my skates after a decade of tentative practice, the way my outdoor equipment fits, the way my eyes never tire of the lake + mountain view when I cross the bridge. Yes, and it’s no secret that I am getting older.

Adult development can be a bit of conundrum. We gain experience as we age and may learn from our successes and mistakes but that’s not a given. Wisdom is not free or guaranteed. In middle age I may be enjoying the height of my financial resources and benefit from all sorts of amassed social capital. Yes, and I struggle with keeping myself upright and on task.

Writing assignments I have placed on my docket both intrigue and daunt me. I have reservations about what and how much I can actually achieve. I keep writing nevertheless. Spending time in this somewhat vulnerable and questioning space, feels oddly helpful, neither pressure raising nor reducing. There is fresh air in abundance. Yes, and I am breathing.

2019 one breath at a time.

image © edifiedlistener

 

2018 on edifiedlistener, selected blog posts

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January 2018

I published a book of poems. In German.

February 2018

I visited Cairo and got to spend time with Maha Bali and Paul Prinsloo. I discovered

The care is real,
The warmth is genuine,
The trust is grounded,
The love is what we thought it could be.
Yes.
Yes, it is.

March 2018

I gave a speech at the Vienna #MarchForOurLives demonstration against gun violence featuring thoughts shared by public school students from across the US.

Also, inspired by Tressie McMillan Cottom’s thinking, I reached this conclusion:

Democracy, and what we think we mean by that term, is in danger. And Facebook (along with other platforms) – its fundamental architecture, business model and incentive structure – packs enough of a corrosive effect for its users, unwittingly or not, to dissolve citizens’ trust in democratic institutions or even the desire or need to maintain such political practices.

April 2018

I attended the Education Collaborative of International Schools Physical Education (ECISPE) Conference in Dusseldorf, Germany and returned with many thoughts about professional learning and conference structures.

We are physical educators working to improve our teaching practice by practicing teaching, learning, demonstrating, discussing, and observing. This conference is professionals’ development – the kind we create for ourselves, the kind that sustains us for the long haul, the kind that invites us to question and re-evalute our practices, the kind that makes us leave loving our work, the kind that makes us come back for more year after year, if we can.

May 2018

I used liberation in a blog post for the first time in response to an especially impactful talk by Dr. Danny Martin at a meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Perhaps what I found so refreshing about Dr. Martin’s address was his insistence on centering Black children and their flourishing in his research and practice. His advocacy is fierce, unapologetic and precise. And his bravery in articulating a way forward that does not aim to first assuage white sensibilities came as a little shock to my system but then as a useful corrective to my previous understandings.

June 2018

A thread by Valeria Brown gave me pause. Our Work Is Everywhere We Look is a meditation on Black identity in relationship to whiteness. And my Uncle Thad commented which means a lot.

July 2018

I wrote about how I do fitness now in middle age and I think this post has more likes than any other. Go figure!

And Tricia Ebarvia had me thinking deeply about identity and reading.

August 2018

The Director of my school described it as a PWI (predominantly white institution) at our opening all staff meeting and I nearly fell off my chair.

September 2018

My youngest son is a ski jumper and I wrote about being a spectator-parent.

October 2018

What I Will Fret Over 2018 – new worries layered on top of the usual.

…this morning I have fear and some faith. I have community and back up. I know which side of history I am on. Today I will fret. I will also fight.

November 2018

I had a lot going on. I attended a conference and actively followed another conference on Twitter enough to write about it. And I read some poetry which moved and challenged me. Laura Da’ s Instruments Of The True Measure left an impression I was eager to share.

I hesitate to tell you what I believe I read because I fear I could be wrong. But there are moments where we see with our own eyes the greedy claims of Manifest Destiny.

From “Greenwood Smoke”

To the south, a surveyor

crosses the river

once called simply

after the shape of its bend,

soon to be baptized anew

with an Irish assessor’s surname.  (p.36)

December 2018

I read a book almost in one sitting so I wrote a letter to the author.

 

Thank you for reading my words and thinking alongside me this year. I’m glad you could make it. Let’s see what 2019 holds. More words are nearly a given.

 

 

 

Be The Power And The Point – The Handout

Be The Power And The Point is a workshop I offered at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference in Nashville, TN, Nov. 28-Dec. 1, 2018. It was specifically aimed at and designed for educators of color.

There’s a powerful handout that belongs to the workshop I gave but I’m not sure that everyone who wanted to see it, got it.

So here it is. No excuses for not putting these ideas to good use. See you on the podium, friends!

Be The Power And The Point

Why You Need To Present At Your Next Conference

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Sherri Spelic

American International School Vienna

At NAIS PoCC Nashville 2018

Twitter: @edifiedlistener

INTRODUCTION

I am offering this workshop in the hopes that more educators of color will take up the charge to present at an education conference in the near future. I am working from the following premise:

Educators of color are valuable, important members of the education community in the US and abroad. Offering workshops, speaking at conferences and joining the leadership ranks of national and regional organizations are wonderful opportunities for all educators  and in particular for educators of color to boost our visibility in the field while enhancing our profiles as individuals.

I see the benefits of increasing our conference visibility as follows:

We grow our individual capacities as professionals when we put ourselves ‘out there’ and share what we know.

We grow as members of a larger community. When we connect with fellow educators of color and white accomplices, we can also insure that our subject area organizations recognize and value our contributions.

We improve the whole field of education by showing up, speaking up, demonstrating our brilliance and commitment and building inclusive, forward-thinking organizations. And not only in the area of “Diversity”!

GOALS FOR OUR TIME TOGETHER

When you leave this workshop, I hope that you will…

  • See the need for your presenter presence at conferences that I see
  • Consider how you will contribute your expertise in your field
  • Consider where  and with whom you will share your expertise
  • Write down an intention related to your next steps.

 

AGENDA

Introduction – Defining our purpose

Four Reflection Questions

  • Given your experience, special interests and variety of strengths, what would would be your dream workshop or presentation to offer others?
  • Describe your last public professional learning event. How did you share your knowledge and expertise with colleagues?
  • For your future workshop/presentation/panel, where will you find your audience? Who can support you in your pursuit?
  • What are some barriers to presenting at or attending conferences? What kinds of support would you welcome?

Formulate an intention – Tell us about your next steps, write it down.

Conclusion and celebration

LINK to slideshow

POINTS OF EMPHASIS

  1. Recognize the expertise and value you bring to your field of practice. You have knowledge and experience to contribute that can be beneficial to others.
  2. Be open to collaboration. You don’t have to do any of this alone! Find colleagues, create a panel, have a proposal-writing party, coach each other, partner up!
  3. Consider who can support you throughout the process: team colleagues? Administrators? Online colleagues and friends? Local, regional and national subject area organizations? Resources abound. Tap into them!
  4. Select topics and themes that move you! If diversity and inclusion are not your thing, feel no obligation whatsoever to fill a slot because someone else believes those themes should or might be in your wheelhouse (by default).
  5. During your session planning consider how best to tap into your participants’ expertise and interests. Never feel like you need to be the smartest person in the room. Get your participants talking, sharing and practicing. They will thank you.
  6. If public speaking isn’t your thing or even if it is, another contribution you can make is to become active in local and regional subject area organizations. Use those opportunities to shape conference and other programming priorities. Specifically, it may involve the chance to recommend speakers and presenters.

MY APPROACH

This workshop is designed to be about you and it’s called a workshop because we are all going to work. Rather than pour on a bunch of statistics, case studies and personal stories to illustrate EOC’s underrepresentation in various education spaces, I’ve decided to invest our time in hearing each other.

I do not have any hard and fast rules to tout; no 5, 8 or 12 steps for creating successful workshop proposals. Rather, I have a deep interest in pointing to resources, in serving as a sounding board, in being the voice of confidence when your gremlins get loud. I also have a lot of workshop design and delivery experience which has worked well for me in a variety of contexts. Hit me up (sherspelic@gmail.com), I’ll be happy to share more details.

The major benefit of gathering in conference spaces like this one is physical proximity. We are together, hearing and seeing each other and we need to run with it! So it is my choice to insure that we are in dialogue, rather than me talking at you. At the end of this document, I have a few resources which may be of interest and support as you begin to identify where you may decide to sow your presentation seeds.

CONCLUSION

Decide what’s important to you. Talk to people. Share your ideas. Ask lots of questions. Join forces with your heroes, mentors and supporters. Be nervous and proceed anyway. You have knowledge and experiences that are unique and valuable. Sharing those with the rest of us is an all-round win. Proposal submission deadlines may be months in advance of the event. Don’t let that deter you. Submit a few proposals and see what happens. What you have to say matters. We’re ready to hear your voice.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Upcoming conference database – A bit of a mixed bag but has links to some of the major subject area gatherings
  2. EdCamp.org provides all you need to know about this participatory form of professional learning which can offer excellent entry points for first and seasoned presenters.
  3. National Science Teachers Conferences
  4. National Social Studies Teachers Conference
  5. National Council of Math Teachers
  6. National Council of Teachers of English
  7. National Art Education Association
  8. SHAPE (Health & PE org)
  9. Early Childhood Educators
  10. National Association of Special Education Teachers
  11. NAIS
  12. International Society for Technology in Education
  13. Social media contacts can be excellent sources of info about conferences and how they work.
  14. If you are curious about my work – I have written about workshops and conferences here, here, and here.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I am deeply indebted to three Twitter colleagues and dear friends who shared their experiences with me in preparation for this session. Shout out supreme to Knikole Taylor, Julia Torres, and Marian Dingle! All three are active in their regional and national subject area organizations (Ed tech, Language Arts, and math) and emphasized the leverage they can exercise in shaping the conference agenda in their respective roles. So keep thinking about that, too!

Re-Entry Made Public: How I returned from my conference and let everyone at my institution know it

What’s your school’s custom for folks returning from conferences? What kinds of formal or scheduled opportunities exist for you to share your learning after a major education event? When do you get to share your highlights and/or disappointments with colleagues? At the next faculty or team meeting? Perhaps never?

I think about this when I come back rejuvenated and empowered from a conference. I look different. The kids ask, “where were you?” as if I had abandoned them at bus stop. A few colleagues notice my return with a generous, “welcome back!” It’s nice to know you were missed. And it can also be tough not finding a proper outlet to share your freshly won riches. So here’s what I did: I drafted an e-mail which included links to the blog post I wrote, to the conference website and to the hashtag tweets, as well as some photos from the session I led. I want people to know where I’ve been, what I gained and what I’m bringing back. It was also a chance for me to encourage others to do the same.

Greetings friends,

I returned from the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference (NAISPoCC) on Sunday morning with my head and heart filled to the brim with all sorts of nourishment. Compelling speakers, outstanding workshops and of course, the tremendously affirming fellowship with so many educators of color and white allies made it fully worth the trip. Add to that the remarkable presence of students participating in the parallel Student Diversity Leadership Conference and you have a truly rich and rewarding conference experience. We were just under 4,500 adults and nearly 1700 students.
My workshop, “Be The Power And The Point” was well attended and received. I could not be happier with the results. I’m attaching a few photos to give you an impression of how it went. With this e-mail I also want to encourage more of us to share a bit of our conference experiences when we return. I’m curious to hear what you’ve learned, where you’ve been and what kind of impact it’s having. I’m also sure that I’m not alone in my curiosity.
Glad to be back,
Sherri
The results were positive. Several people expressed gratitude and interest; found it a thoughtful and useful gesture. Adding pictures to the e-mail certainly enhanced interest, by the way.
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I’m pleased to be back and I’m not afraid to set an example I hope others will follow. And in the meantime, here’s a video from NAIS PoCC that captures everything I was so eager to share with my colleagues. Enjoy!

Dear Julie – Thoughts on ‘real american’ by Julie Lythcott-Haims

Dear Julie,

I heard you speak. And then I went to buy your book. The line to have it signed was very long, so I decided I’d be okay without that part.

I read some before going to bed, a little more after waking up. I read during a good portion of my long haul flight back to Central Europe. After I got back to my apartment and caught up with my husband on the phone, I sat in my big chair in the living room and read until I finished the book.

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This is not my normal MO. I read a lot and I often read a couple of books at a time. real american made me change. real american compelled me to take it all in in the most concentrated form I could manage. And yes, you had me at the talk. “Killing me softly”.

I suppose because there are some parallels. We’re about the same age. I also have a couple of degrees from elite institutions. I know all about that OREO dynamic. I lived it throughout my school life and maybe even now, but no one calls it that among adults. Instead I’ve referred to myself as Sister Assimilation which captures my lived Blackness in predominately white spaces. I’m not biracial but my two sons are. I have experienced and enjoy quite a bit of privilege. I’m Black. I’m a heterosexual woman. I have a husband and an ex husband, both of whom are white. I work in education and no surprises here, I write.

I feel you.

When you describe getting ready for and attending the cotillion ball with your older brother –

“In the mirror I see that I’m playing a part in a play and am not sure I know my lines.”

I’m not used to feeling ugly but that night I feel not only ugly but downright homely… It’s like my hair is getting drunk and making a scene and I can’t do a damn thing about it.” p. 73

Of course I am reminded of all the ways I struggled with feminized beauty ideals that were not meant for me to fit anyway, where my hair was just the tip of the iceberg.

You talk about your work as Dean of Students at Stanford Law School and dealing with the parents of a student who committed suicide. You are very pregnant and sitting with 2 or 3 other administrators meeting with this grieving family. When your boss encourages you to consider going home as it is getting late, you tell us this:

“I learned that night that bearing witness to the suffering of another human being is the most sacred work we can do.” p.150

I can’t remember ever having set out this idea of bearing witness and what I want to do with my life. On the other hand, my online handle is edifiedlistener and listening is my calling. Even if I know I don’t do it well or generously all the time, I am aware of its power to heal, to offer respite, to harbor others. I try. again and again and again. In listening to your story, I dare to touch some of the rough parts of my own. Bearing witness can be catching.

Oh and these children – a brown boy and very light skinned girl – both yours. Who will they become? Who will they be allowed to be and in which contexts? Your questions, concerns and guilt speak to me in ways no other author or friend has done so far. My two brown boys and their distinct white daddies populate and punctuate my life with a host of thoughts and emotions. One son is of age and doing his thing in the world. The other is still at home, young and ambitious and athletic. They are 13 years apart these brothers who further identify as Austrians, as Bilinguals.

My blackness is clear to me and them. They see themselves as brown and grasp that there are disparities in experience based on skin color, not as obviously in Austria to our eyes so far, but certainly in the US. But as a parent we have to ask, how much knowledge is enough?

You describe giving our Black sons “The Talk” – listing all the details they need to keep straight when confronted by police.

How not to defend themselves even when they have done nothing wrong. How not to reach into their pockets for anything, not even to turn off their music. Please, baby, remember: do not reach into your pocket to turn off your music.

We teach them this while trying to also teach them to love themselves and not be ashamed of their beautiful black bodies. Of their selves.  p.210

I have so many questions.

Julie, I’m writing this and it feels so easy. Like, I’m fine, let me tell you how wonderful your book is. I am so happy to do it. And yet, there’s a whole other layer to our conversation that was palpable when you spoke to so many of us who were in our own hearts having our “killing me softly” moments because we felt so seen, so crisply articulated. I, as the Black girl who struggled to be Black enough and girl enough at the same time. I, as that fiercely intelligent and well spoken child who was a source of astonishment and dismay when I outpaced my white classmates – particularly in writing. I, as that perfect integrator, friend to all, so as not to be caught fully alone which felt like a constant unspoken social risk. I, as the convenient comfortable black colleague who is so affable, flexible I could never be identified as the Angry Black Woman.

I heard all of that in your voice – all the emotions you carried and laid bare for us. And in that large assembly of school folks of color, I was allowed to feel whole and understood and that I belonged.

There’s a manuscript that’s waiting to be finished. Your talk and your book will help me get it across the finish line. I hear you rooting for me. It’s time for me to share more of my stories. It is time.

Thank you for everything.

Sherri

 

 

Julie Lythcott-Haims, real american: a Memoir, St. Martin’s Griffin. NY, NY. 2017.