Speaking Digital PD

I recently held a workshop entitled: Navigating The Blogosphere and Social Media for Professional Growth. It’s a long title for a few simple ideas. I designed this 90 minute session as an interactive, experience-sharing and question-growing learning event and that’s mostly what it turned out to be according to participant feedback. I’m glad about that.

While part of my aim was to encourage participants to seek out social media opportunities to grow their professional practice and connections, I found that there was more I wanted to say. So often in promoting digital tools in education spaces, we emphasize all the things we can get from them: lesson plans, snappy ideas, old wine in new bottles, new wine in virtual bottles and on and on. There is no doubt much to be had, to be consumed, to be added to our overflowing professional plates.

At the same time, there is a piece that is so often ignored or hardly mentioned: the potency of our contribution. Yes, bloggers will tell you to blog, and that others can benefit from your hearing your story. This is true and frequently shared. The missing piece, however lies not simply adding to the jumble of voices but to take an active part in creating and sustaining community. That means finding ways to acknowledge the voices you respect,  giving credit where it is due, providing feedback and links which may benefit others. I summed up this idea in the slide below: “Go for what you crave, stay to make the space a richer one.” Show up on social media and be an example of positive digital citizenship: be kind, be thoughtful, be you. Make social media spaces better by being a good human.

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The other point I wanted to emphasize with regard to social media use is that only you know (and will find out) what (and how much) is good for you and your aims (recognizing, too, that this will shift and change over time). Resist the pressure to try all platforms or to be everywhere at once. Let those impulses die a quick death. Instead, find the things that you find useful, do those and skip the rest. If Pinterest works for you in your private life, it may be a tremendous resource for your classroom or office needs. On the other hand, if you feel especially comfortable with Facebook, why not seek out like-minded groups there to begin your journey into education conversations in the digital sphere? Start somewhere and go from there.

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If our goal is to encourage and empower colleagues, students, parents, administrators and policy makers to engage in education conversations on various channels, we need to think about how we welcome them into spaces which are new to them but territory to us. In that process we also need to break open our ideas about what PD is and can be. This is as true for us as it is for the systems we inhabit and sustain.

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I don’t consider myself a digital evangelist. I do consider myself an active member of the commons who appreciates and uses digital tools. This distinction matters to me. And that is what I aim to share with colleagues when I find myself speaking digital.

 

People of Color Conference 2016: Some Thoughts on Power

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Identity as the organizing premise.

The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference is over. I’m sad because I was having such a wonderful time in the company of so many thoughtful, engaged colleagues. I’m happy, however, that I had space and time to make connections that matter.

While I was in Atlanta at PoCC I observed the following:

  • The People of Color Conference places identity at the forefront of our conversations. This is uncommon among education conferences in my experience.
  • Because identity is the organizing premise, each individual attendee is called on to  engage on a personal level within this professionally oriented context.
  • As we talk about who we are, how we identify and where we find ourselves, we also come across intersections and overlap – no one is just one thing. Each of us is deliciously complex which can make for exchanges that can be confusing and clarifying for different parties, for different reasons, at different stages.
  • This is a conference where we learn to hold tension, work with and through discomfort, acknowledge judgment when we are unable to suspend it.
  • I witnessed thousands more smiles than frowns.
  • There are many more indy ed Twitter fans out there than I realized. The multiple real-time tweets are the gifts that keep on giving.
  • Hugging was prevalent.
  • The empathy lamp was switched on.
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Many more smiles than frowns. Honored to be with Caroline Blackwell of NAIS and Hazel Symonette of University of Wisconsin-Madison.

To be on the other side of this experience is to have gained a shade more insight on who I am and strive to be. One thing I struggle with, however, is reporting. I’m not a very good reporter. To be able to succinctly describe how moved I was by keynote speakers Bryan Stevenson, Brittney Packnett, Zak Ebrahim, or Richard Blanco might take me a lifetime. To share how bowled over I was by the spoken word poetry of 15 yr old Royce Mann or simply star struck in the presence of Hank Aaron, Congressman John Lewis and Christine King Ferris on the same stage – seems beyond me.

What I know and feel is how these voices and their messages are working inside me daily. In this way, my PoCC experience will not let me rest. Yet. Rather, it is leading me in the direction of “good trouble, necessary trouble” in the words of Congressman Lewis. I’m spending time meditating on power and identity and where these intersect with education. The NAIS People of Color Conference felt like my own personal “Identity, Education and Power” Conference.

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Brittany Packnett was the closing speaker. A godsend.

Brittany Packnett, who is a product of independent schools, told our assembly: “In this room sits POWER. You are either developing leaders, or you are one.” I have been thinking about this ever since. Yes, we – who are the ones we’ve been waiting for- have power. Gathered together in intentional and supportive community, we have power. Sharing our expertise, claiming our seats at the table, unleashing our brilliance – we have power. I thought about titling this post “Power of Color Conference” – because of the power we find in coming together over and through our individual and collective identities.

And we are people working largely in elite spaces. Several independent schools cater to the 1% and even to the top 10%  and 20%- if we educators of color are there, we inevitably need to be aware of and thinking about power – our own and that of others. Knowing that the majority of community members who finance and govern our institutions rarely look like us, and that of those same institutions very few were built to (also) support the intellect and advancement of people of color – this is a necessary and real understanding we ought to have. It does not mean, however, that these schools and academies are not excellent places for us to work, to teach, to coach in or for us to lead. On the contrary, our schools can be extremely open and hopeful places, encouraging and strategically forward-thinking places. And they are, for the most part, predominately white institutions (PWIs).

Ultimately, the People of Color Conference seeks to bridge this divide between the reality of PWIs and the still somewhat tentative and/or limited supply of educators of color on their campuses. Many teachers and staff of color come to the conference as a sort of oasis of fellowship. It can be tiring to stay in the role of the “lonely only”* or to be just one of a handful of folks of color at a PWI. PoCC provides that unusual opportunity to ‘flip the script’ and find (in every sense of the word) ourselves in the majority; to experience power in numbers.

After the fact I feel both restored and stirred up. I spent valuable time in a “seat” of power and the act of “knowing my place” is irretrievably expanded.

As I rise, stride and direct my movement forward, I’m on the lookout for justice – the kind that extends beyond ‘just us.’ Attending PoCC provided that necessary affirmation – I’m not alone. I have supporters and co-collaborators. We have power.

Let’s do the good that needs doing and remember to “fight issues, not people.”

 

*I am grateful to my dear friends in the digital humanities,  Maha Bali and Anne-Marie Perez, author of the article “Lowriding Through the Digital Humanities” for the reference to this term  “lonely only.”

 “Most people, understand that it’s hard being the only woman in a room of 50 to 100 men. For people of color most of us know, it’s just as hard to be the lonely only. That’s how I felt. Alone and painfully self-conscious. When I’m one of the onlys, however kind and welcoming the environment, I experience stress. There’s a fear of asking questions lest I be seen as speaking for my race / culture and somehow reinforcing biases.”

All images by @edifiedlistener.

Dear Members of the Student Diversity Leadership Conference 2016, …

Dear Members of the Student Diversity Leadership Conference 2016,

Hi. We probably haven’t met and have not yet really seen each other here at this combined conference of over 5000 people. I’m an educator attending the NAIS People of Color Conference.
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I’m writing to you because I’m wondering about your experience here in Atlanta. What has your conference meant to you? I wonder what you could tell me about the people you’ve met, the conversations you want to really remember, your best and even most challenging moments. I’m also thinking about how we are connected even without having met or exchanged a few words yet.

Student. Diversity. Leadership. Conference.

I’m particularly curious about those two words in the middle and how you bring them together with the first one in your day-to-day. Diversity leadership – what is your vision for what that can look like? What will you have to do, who will you need to be in order to engage your peers and others in your school and home communities in topics of diversity?

Here’s another thought: as an adult who is a teacher and parent, I’m asking because, honestly, I need some help. I believe that you know things, perceive things, understand things that I do not. Your take on events, on situations is not among the most likely ones that I will hear about, read about and therefore consider. That is a deficit.

And while we at both PoCC and SDLC gather here to take up questions regarding diversity practice, one of our ongoing challenges in every conversation is asking ourselves which perspectives are missing. Your presence here reminds me of my own lack of consideration of voices much younger than mine. What messages do I regularly fail to hear because I am simply not listening? Because it has hardly occurred to me to turn my ear in your direction?

I can fix this though. And I will.

I will also forget, mess up, fail. On multiple occasions. Because we all will in different ways, on varied levels – that belongs to the process of striving to do better, to become better.

I am writing this in the morning before we come together in our affinity groups and regional meetings. This will be my opportunity to practice what I am preaching here. I want to be prepared for your brilliance, accepting of your vulnerability, and rooting for your success. It is vitally important that you are here being you and applying all that that entails to the work we have before us.

Because, oh my, we do have much work ahead of us. I am preparing for your leadership.

Ready. Set. Go.

Thank you for being here and being you. You matter.

Sherri

Blogging Beyond the Classroom – A Talk

Below is the text of the talk I gave at the panel discussion session I participated in at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference 2016. I shared the panel with Marcy Webb (@teachermrw) in person and Christopher Rogers (@justmaybechris), who was not able to join us on site. The full title of our session was “Blogging Beyond the Classroom: Online Engagement for Professional and Personal Growth.”

While planning this short talk, I started out with all kinds of “what” – What I do and where and for whom on which platforms.

It took me some time and a dry run to realize that that is not what I really want to talk about. Rather I want and need to consider the “whys” of my writing, of my online engagement, of being here.
So while I have prepared these remarks for you, they are also words I need to hear myself speak in order to test their truth.

Some truths – here goes.

There are days when I cannot wait to be able to sit down at my laptop and write, write, write.

The more I write, the greater my appreciation for those who write better than I, the larger my confidence that I can become a better, stronger writer.

I write to understand.

When I tweet I join in conversations. When I blog I join in conversation.

I find community in conversation.

What I write about is deeply connected to what I read.

The fact that I am here to talk about something that I choose and love to do blows my mind.

Having a blog means having a space for me to place thoughts and ideas. My blog is a sense-making tool.

Publishing blog posts lets me invite others into my thinking and writing space.

Just because I offer an invitation does not mean that people will come.

By publishing publicly I do not get to choose whom I invite and who shows up.

When I read the work of others and comment thoughtfully, I join a conversation and add value.

My greatest insight so far, “If we want to have audience, then we must first and foremost be audience.”

This is my motivation in my cycles of reading and writing. Reading deeply, widely, consistently leads me to write as a response, as a means of processing. And as my own writing elicits response from others, I listen and think alongside others and we start a new cycle of reading to write, and writing to read.

In other words, my writing – tweeting, blogging, curating, publishing – are forms of call and response, call and response.
I do believe that you can write your way out of ignorance.

When I started my blog, when I began tweeting, I was not aware of these things. I simply began and slowly found my way.

And I’ve had help and support. I have a “digital Godmother” who is Rafranz Davis, an outspoken tech integrationist out of Texas who welcomed me into edu-twitter like no other and made me feel at home. I found men and women in various education circles, both K-12 and higher education who gladly supported my work, and welcomed my commentary. This has made me want to stay and build and most recently, to learn how to resist the ravages of the current political climate.

I didn’t realize the strength or depth of my political views until I began writing publicly.

I did not understand that being in contact and in dialogue with authors whom I admired would matter in the way that it does, both for me and them.

It took some time to appreciate that my voice, my style, my sense of urgency mattered to more than a few people.

Now I can begin to understand that when I write, I am being politically active. I am being culturally active. I am being educationally active. And over time, I walk that arc from being active to becoming an activist.

As I stand before you today I believe that I am in the midst of that process without having landed: Active on the way to becoming an activist.

No piece of my writing is fully done when it is published and finds an audience. It is always imperfect – my best shot at that moment- and I own that.

Once upon a time in grad school, I developed some theories of action for my practice as an education leader. At the top of the list was this: Care must be at the core of everything we do. At the time, although I was thinking about schools and the education communities we build and inhabit, I see now that this particular theory of action underscores all of my public work as a writer, contributor and digital interloper. I show up and speak up because I care. I enter into dialogue and cultivate relationships of support and encouragement to both demonstrate and receive care.

I am proud to be here in this space with all of you and can honestly say that my presence at this conference, on this panel, in this community is about care – our collective and individual care.

I hope that it is helpful.

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Welcome to #NAISPoCC 2016

 I’m in Atlanta, Georgia attending the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference this week. And today I am participating in a panel discussion on blogging and social media. That means I have a presenter sticker on my name tag and am traveling with all the electronic devices that I have at my disposal: my smartphone, an iPad, a laptop – all the markers of tech immersion. And yet because of how I happened to arrive and secure WiFi code for one device in one location and a different code for my devices in another location coupled with a charger handicap for my laptop, I am sitting here trying to write a blog post on the device least comfortable for long form: the smartphone.

This I can and will fix later but the irony is not lost on me.

My alarm is about to go off. I need to get going. But here is how I am going into the day:

  • I am meditating on white supremacy.
  • I’m thinking about the work that I did yesterday with Dr. Eddie Moore and Debbie Irving who led an all day workshop on the topic.
  • I am thinking about what it means to name white supremacy not as the elephant in the room but as the room itself. 
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  • And that’s a critical distinction.
  • For many, even for me, that sounds so harsh, so comprehensive, so uncompromising, unyielding and therefore we don’t like to use it.
  • And yet it reflects my experience, not always as a malicious force but simply as the reality we live in.
  • Seeing it, naming it comes as a surprising relief, because I know what I’m facing, negotiating, working with and around.

This is how I’m going into the day: aware, awake, alive.

Because knowing white supremacy does not stop me, does not keep me from pursuing my aims, my dreams. On the contrary, I am ‘in it to win it’ and the more I know about the terms of engagement the better equipped I am to succeed.

So here I go. Watch me walk.

The world is not always our target audience

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I’ve been thinking about privacy and exposure in the context of this ongoing feel-your-way journey of cultivating a digital presence. On a personal level, this does not seem overly complicated. I make my choices and have to live with the consequences. The degree to which I keep myself informed as to my risks and rights in my personal use and application of particular digital tools and platforms is up to me. I can’t easily hold anyone else accountable for the choices I make on my own behalf.

But that’s the catch. My digital engagements (entanglements, perhaps?) by their very nature almost inevitably involve other people: their work, their images, their responses, our shared interactions. If I take a picture with my phone and share it on social media, it is mine; until of course someone else finds another use for it and can choose to credit the source or not. In  most cases, it seems highly unlikely that I would ever learn of any other use unless I pursued a distinct search. If that same image contains another person, then sharing the photo on social media or other open internet platform should only happen if that person has actively consented. (This is based on my fuzzy understanding of model release and use of public domain images. Which is another way to say, “don’t quote me on any of this.”)

Enter, my work in a school. I happen to work in a resource-rich learning environment which means that I and my colleagues and our students have remarkable access to hard- and software to make the most of our digital skills. In my own PE classes I have an iPad and an iPod touch, reliable and generous bandwidth access, a beamer in one space and stereo systems in both teaching spaces. I use Spotify playlists for my classes and can show short playback videos of kids performing various skills and because I can, I now take several pictures of my kids in action.

What happens with all those pictures and video clips? Some are shared with families individually to celebrate a highlight or to document a specific difficulty. Some become resources for our online curriculum archives – providing useful exemplars of successful skill applications. And still others find space on our PE website. Our school has an opt-out policy with regards to use of student images. Families may inform the school if their child’s or children’s pictures may not be used in any school related media, print or online. Unless such a statement is delivered, consent is assumed and images of students may be used in various media. As policies go, this is not uncommon among schools and districts of various sizes.

Not too long ago, privacy expert in the field of education, Bill Fitzgerald (@funnymonkey) raised this question:

And I’ve been thinking about this ever since. In a highly informative post on student directory information he points out that he does not count a school’s website as belonging to social media as they typically receive far less traffic than social media accounts. So our sharing of student images, while available to “the world,” all those images and accompanying words are really designed for our school community to enjoy: students, families, colleagues, alumni and any other interested parties.

So as I become more comfortable with various video and slideshow making tools and posting these to youtube to then share on our website, I want to be sure that my colleague and I are asking ourselves some critical questions.

  • Which story are we telling?
  • How will our students benefit?
  • How will this grow our teaching, expand our repertoire, and/or contribute to the community?

Not every blog post that we put up needs to be broadcast on Twitter or Facebook. But a single photo sent home to a parent celebrating a recent success can make all kinds of difference. Drawing the line between posting for the sake of being seen posting and posting to inform and include is healthy practice in which many more of us could afford to engage.

For our PE website, the world is not our target audience. We’re not out to prove how great our teaching is or how talented our population – rather it is an opportunity to provide parents and colleagues a window into our day-to-day operations with elementary students. And the process has helped me realize how important it is for students to see themselves! So I have promised myself that once I get a slideshow up and running, our first audience needs to be the kids we are featuring. We owe them that much. And, in fact, so much more.

image via Pixabay.com

In Session

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School’s been in session for almost 10 days. By now I have had a chance to meet just about all of the students in my classes. They are multiple and magnificent. The youngest are at least 4 years old, and the oldest nearly 11. A handful of my students are just beginning to learn English. The vast majority speak another language at home and so far it looks like everyone has found friends.

Every day that I arrive to work something is a little different. Some of my kids are in strings class instead of PE. I’m teaching in the smaller activities room instead of the lower gym. My team colleague is playing tough cop instead of me. (I think it’s safe to say that neither of us qualify as bad cops.) My current Spotify playlists work better for the upper grades than for early childhood.

As I am going through these moments, I am struck by two things: on the one hand, details matter. It matters how students feel received in my class. Does it look like I’ve prepared for them and have been awaiting their arrival? Do my students trust me to know who they are? On the other hand, my big picture goals require massive reinforcement.

How frequently I ask my students at every level:

Is that safe?

Is that kind?

Is that respectful?

Safe, kind, respectful. This is my mantra and one I hope that my students can internalize based on their experiences in our class and our school. Their experiences are the details that matter, both seen and unseen; both planned for and utterly spontaneous. While we can only steer so much as educators, we can tip the scales significantly in favor of safe, kind and respectful environments and opportunities for our students.

Now that school is fully back in session, there is no shortage of chances to prioritize the right details.

 

image CC0 via Pixabay.com