On Reading, Knowing and Not Knowing

I went on a hike recently with my husband and 10 year-old son. The 90 minute uphill trek proved challenging and after 2 hours we were rewarded with spectacular views of the neighboring valley and an expansive alpine meadow. Hiking is not a frequent occupation of ours. Given that, our shared accomplishment of almost 4 hours of walking completed in the space of about 5 1/2 hours let us all feel satisfied and content by the time we returned to our apartment.

The German word for hike is wandern and in my bilingual mind it’s associated with the English notion of wandering: of moving through a space without a particular destination. Of course, on our family hike we had a series of destinations which defined our route. We hiked but did not wander. We walked and celebrated a series of arrivals on our way. We were in it for the experience, the scenery, for time together.

I woke up thinking about reading. I grabbed the collection of essays currently on my nightstand: Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit (Haymarket Books 2014) and opened up to a random page. I landed on a heading titled: “Pimping For The Global North” in the essay “Worlds Collide In A Luxury Suite” from 2011. She describes events, people and organizations I hadn’t previously considered: About the International Monetary Fund and how it’s previous head, Dominique Strauss-Kahn met his downfall after being accused of rape and further abuses of women. Solnit tells me a number of things I do not know; things that are news to me: the origins and purposes of the IMF; about it’s largely harmful effects on the economies of the developing world, particularly in Africa and South America. Not knowing, lacking awareness, being clueless – these were all part of this particular reading experience.

In many ways we may read to learn, to find out what we don’t know. But I didn’t pick up Solnit’s essays because I wanted learn about the IMF. I didn’t go on a hike with my family out of a necessity to get from A to B. Men Explain Things To Me offers a virtual potpourri of insights related to feminism, political activism, social histories of violence against women, and the public presence and absence of women. The not-knowing or ignorance that I bring to Solnit’s writing is not something I need to overcome. Rather it is the portal that allows me to discover “what’s new? what’s relevant? what does this text say to me?”

In “The Pedagogies of Reading and Not Reading,” Jesse Stommel suggests that “Not reading is serious scholarly business.” Realizing that even the most voracious readers among us can only absorb a tiny fraction of all that is available to be read helps me in coming to terms with so much not-knowing. Even as I continue to read widely and travel in so many different lanes of interest, I remain remarkably ignorant. When Jesse explains why he doesn’t police students’ reading, he posits that

[l]earning is a series of constant arrivals. And we should be just as willing to talk about and theorize our non-arrivals.
This is my work, increasingly – to encourage students and other teachers to recognize that there is no genuine turn to a text that doesn’t include both not knowing and not wanting to know as potential outcomes.

The idea that not all reading will hold our attention, spark insight or compel us to even get past a few lines or pages feels important to acknowledge. Jesse reinforces the notion of reading as an act of volition where completing a text is not the goal, rather it’s about locating our unique responses. While I cannot claim to grasp the complex operations of the IMF based on a single essay in which it forms the backdrop for a different narrative, I have a distinct awareness of my not-knowing. From there it’s much easier to determine the status of my curiosity; where it might lead me next.

I am fairly certain my next big read will not be a deep investigation into the politics of the IMF. But I will read more about inequality, about human struggles for justice and as I read I will learn more about myself and the expanse of my unknowns. My reading as a form of wandern; moving through a space to see what I can see. Where what I can see will relate to what I know, don’t know, or think I know and change based on the many different ways I continue to become.

I want to close with some inspired thinking from an English teacher making a strong case for disrupting the canon by replacing or supplementing traditional texts with works by authors from marginalized populations. In her blog post: Disrupting Texts As A Restorative Practice, Tricia Ebarvia refers to the need for teachers to “help students reflect on who they are when they read: what are the identities and experiences that have shaped them? Because it’s these identities that we bring to every single reading experience. Because it’s these identities that are the vehicles for bias and prejudice. Unpack those.

Yes! Who are we when we read? Who do I believe myself to be? Literally and figuratively, what do I know? Because as much as I would like to leave you with this happy image of me scrolling through texts connected loosely by serendipity in the same way that I describe me and my family strolling through the Alps like Maria in The Sound of Music, Tricia Ebarvia’s post reminds me and us that our personal bubbles are neither sterile nor pollution free. The not-knowing person I described reading Solnit’s essays is also someone who holds bias and benefits from privilege. That’s me. I may be ignorant about many things but as Tricia makes clear I cannot afford to hide behind not-knowing my identity as I read, as a reader. Knowing, it turns out, likely has a lot to do with who I am and believe myself to be. Knowing myself in order to learn and be able to see the world becomes the hike of countless arrivals but no end.

Radical Listening? Liberation Speaking.

I spent time over an afternoon and a morning to listen to a talk by a Mathemetics Education scholar, Dr. Danny Martin of The University of Illinois at Chicago. He spoke at the Annual Meeting of National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in April 2018. His talk plus the question and answer portion lasted about one hour. The video was brought to my attention by education journalist, Melinda Anderson, on Twitter.

The title: Taking a Knee in Mathematics Education, already says a lot. Much of Dr. Martin’s research is focused on developing responsive, liberatory mathematics education for African-American children. What struck me about this talk was how deeply it spoke to me although I neither teach math nor work with more than a handful of Black students of various nationalities.

Dr. Martin is absolutely unyielding in his commitment to securing the best mathematics classroom experiences for African-American children.  After providing the historical context for specifically addressing the needs of Black children in American public school systems, he provided specific and yes, painful examples of the ways in which Black children are routinely dehumanized by curricula, assessments, teacher attitudes and school systems rooted in white supremacy. He documents how American public school systems were never designed to support or encourage Black students’ brilliance, drive and achievement and how this specifically plays out in math class at all levels.

There were two particular areas where Dr. Martin confronted me with new perspectives I hadn’t considered fully before: the view of inclusion as insufficient for achieving better outcomes and a vision of Black Liberatory Mathematics as a means to create the forms of math education genuinely designed for Black children’s achievement and advancement in the subject area.

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I grew up in a household where integration was held up as the goal towards which we, Blacks, whites and everybody else should be marching. I moved through my schooling believing that gaining admission, adding to the diversity, getting a seat in the auditorium (if not at the decision-making table) in predominantly white institutions best demonstrated my own and my group’s steady progress towards equity. Given that, to hear Dr. Martin claim that inclusion narratives often prove to be pacifying compromises which keep white supremacist structures firmly in place caused me to sit up and take note.

As he illustrated what successful mathematics education that recognizes and fosters Black brilliance could look and feel like, I was alerted to a vision I had not yet encountered. Dr. Martin described a framework, Black Liberatory Mathematics, which draws on liberatory fantasy in articulating an educational approach that intentionally discards whiteness as the primary reference point and measuring stick.

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When addressing the usual critiques of these ideas, Dr. Martin is clear that his focus will remain on Black children and their learning experiences in public schools and reiterates that more moderate attempts to tweak curricula and adjust assessments become tools to stave off the dismantling of white supremacist structures in education systems. And to this end he emphasizes a need for refusal in and of visibly dehumanizing systems as necessary forms of resistance to be practiced by parents, caregivers, students and teachers.

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. While the term ‘white supremacy’ has become a fairly standard one in my recent conversations, Dr. Martin’s talk reminded me of how much work I still have ahead in terms of seeking liberation, in my classroom as much as in the communities to which I belong.

During the question and answer portion, he asserts that “inclusion is not a counterweight to anti-blackness and white supremacy.” In light of media reports across mainstream and social media the evidence of this reality in various forms is staggering. One teacher asked about how to begin engaging in this work and his response was this: “First, just hear me.” He encouraged the teacher to spend time with the ideas presented and see how they resonate, raise questions, find footing. And then suggested that she really engage in the inner work as asking herself: “Why am I here?” and consider carefully what that means for the students in front of her.

As perhaps the sole Black teacher that many of my students may have in their school careers, I too, must ask myself “Why am I here?” and think about what gifts I bring to my works as well as the biases I may be harboring which keep me from offering students the best that they deserve. My gratitude to Dr. Danny Martin is great for opening my eyes to fresh perspectives for my own practice and the field of education in general. I encourage you to listen to his whole speech. It will not disappoint.

 

Screenshots (c) Spelic

#ECISPE18 Let’s Change the Conference Game

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This backpack is more than the average conference swag. It carries all the right reminders for my learning future.

If you’ve been following me on Twitter and also read this blog, you’ll know that I’m pretty jazzed about my most recent conference experience: Educational Collaborative of International Schools’ Physical Education Conference (ECISPE) 2018 held at the International School of Dusseldorf, Germany. You might be saying, “Enough, already! It was great, you met cool people, went to top sessions, we get it!”

And that could be enough. But of course there’s more. (You have to see the picture in the tweet courtesy of @MrAdamPE)

In my last post I described the collegial nature of the event which thrives thanks to a ‘teachers teaching teachers’ approach to curating workshop offerings. The event is a relatively small one, intimate even, allowing for a little over 100 international PE colleagues to actually get to know each other during those three days. With at least 35  out of 45 workshop offerings provided by teachers attending the conference, nearly half of the delegates were also presenters.

This matters. A lot.

As a structure, ‘Teachers Teaching Teachers’ attracts and sustains participant engagement. We are PE teachers who want and expect to learn from each other throughout the conference.  There’s an unspoken understanding that each of us is expert at something, perhaps several things, and the conference is literally built to facilitate that mutual exchange of expertise.

Think about how that would impact the way you show up in a shared professional space. Imagine what it would feel like to enter a community of your peers, hip to your own awesomeness as you embrace and celebrate theirs. (Thanks, @MelanieG_pl3y) for adding that spice!)

Showing up at this conference meant that I sought out challenge. I headed for the sessions where my knowledge was limited and my experience level novice. Last year it was ice hockey; this year it was judo, soccer goalkeeping and a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout. Believe me, I felt fully challenged in a variety of ways. The point is, I felt encouraged. It felt cool to be brave and also to discover. These are the experiences which generate the deepest and most wide ranging reflections. Not surprisingly, these moments excite and exhilarate me.

Imagine finding yourself in the company of colleagues who welcome both your confidence and your vulnerability. In Dusseldorf it meant that I invested a whole lot more energy connecting with people than in posturing. I engaged as if my learning future depended upon it. When I packed up to head home, I could say that I experienced the conference for all it was worth. And in exchange, my international colleagues encountered me in the fullest version of myself.

I was awesome and so were they and I don’t need to feel embarrassed saying that.

Too often we register for and attend conferences with the intent to receive. We’re primed to be able to articulate the numerous take aways; to be able share what we got out of attending. Being at ECIS PE 2018 reinforced for me the need for a ‘change in perspective’ (the conference theme) in how we understand our roles as participants in professional events. I would like to see us all more actively consider what we bring to the gathering, how we enrich and enliven the space with our presence, words and actions. And live it! Over and over again.

This is how we, as learning professionals (in all the ways that phrase can be understood), will arrive more consistently at the conference experiences we so often crave and unequivocally deserve.

 

image: (c) edifiedlistener

What I would tell you about #ECISPE18

I want to tell you about my last couple of days at a PE conference and it’s late and I imagine sleep would be a good idea about now.

I want to tell you how invigorating these days have been, how busy my mind has been, what a high it is to spend time with people who share the same kind of work and love it. What it’s like to be chatting with someone at the break and then crawling between their legs 30 minutes later in a volleyball drill.

Or what it feels like to meet an old friend whom I first met 13 years ago in Budapest at this conference, and who has taught on 4 continents since and yes, came here to Dusseldorf from Shanghai because she likes this conference better. Joy.

I could describe the apprehension I felt arriving on the first day, hand luggage still in tow, heading into the first session with nary a clue what to expect. And then how that hesitation melted away within minutes of moving gently to music with a roomful of men and women who also work in gyms and pools and on fields with kids.

Maybe I’d share a little bit about having Amanda Stanec walk up to me and give me the warmest welcome ever and how cool it is to be acknowledged and appreciated by someone whose work I sincerely admire.

I would definitely tell you about the morning I spent in a session on judo where I really, really wondered if I made the right choice. But then, Greg, our instructor playfully and gently led us from simple partner games to a couple of technique exercises to sparring. by the end I was twisting, turning, grabbing my partner; pushing, pulling and rolling to defend and attack. I laughed as I struggled to flip my partner, laughed even more when she lifted and flipped me like a hamburger. I learned more about myself in 40 seconds of full on sparring than in hours and hours of school organized professional development.

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And that’s the thing: this whole conference is dedicated to professional development. 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.

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Oh yeah, and maybe I’d tell you about the workshop I led and how well it was received and what great people showed up to share that time with me. But you know it’s late and all and it would take another blog post, but in the meantime here’s a link to a padlet which has some pics and the handout.

I’d tell you what a fantastic time I am having but instead, I think I’ll turn in.

Words Fall Short (Reflections on PoCC17 in Progress)

Words can do a lot. Or, I should say we can do a lot with words. And still they fall short.

Which words would I choose to tell you about my day?

I would start with beauty. Human beauty in so many hues, tones and shades. An unyielding variety on which to feast the eyes that didn’t realized they were starved.

I might continue with brilliance – the kind that comes in a warm smile of greeting, the kind you hear in a voice that is both clear and rich and needs no mic.

But also a brilliance of presence – to hold sway with an audience of thousands through song and movement, in chorus and in the spirit of freedom.

And of wit…to tell the familiar truths in the charm of Disney’s favorite fairy tales and allow us to laugh when our response under different circumstances could just as well be to weep.

I might use bravery – some of my own and really that of others – especially those who invite us to learn with them; who stand at the podium encouraging us to turn and talk, connect and commit.

I’d have to say ready. Ready in the sense of prepared, hungry and waiting for this moment to finally, yes finally, say what needs saying without sugarcoating, or toning it down and be heard, heard, heard. So very ready for exactly that again and again.

Fierce in our love for one another, for this particular space and time together. Fierce in our understanding that even if we do not see eye to eye, we see and acknowledge each other and the sacrifices we have each made to be here.

Responsive. Oh these snaps and praise hands and nods and shout outs – that kind of real responsiveness. Call and response responsiveness like in church. A hug, a touch, a moment, a shared silence – ways of responding we find for each other.

I cannot report well what was said and how it was received. I have just these impressions of

colleagues and kin, folks and friends

some people I’ve never met and may never know

but I saw them and they moved me

each magnificent in the singular, breathtaking as a body.

This is PoCC for me. People of Color Conference. Where I can be

Black (with a capital B), Woman in all the ways I choose; teacher, learner, listener, facilitator, space maker, collaborator, blogger, tweeter, note taker, observer, participant, ally, accomplice, friend, sister, colleague, dancer…

Me.

Preparing for #NAISPoCC 2017

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This year I have a head start. A couple of days to adjust to a 9 hour time difference and some good solid thinking time before the start of the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference. The pre-conference seminars will be in session on Wednesday and the official conference opening will take place on Thursday morning. On the PoCC website and in the conference program there are plenty of tips about how best to get ready for three jam-packed days of workshops, affinity group meetings, informal networking and social events throughout.

Thinking about my own insecurities and question marks heading into this good-sized event that is not like any other education conference I attend, I came up with this alternative list of points to consider.

  • Expect to arrive more than once.  PoCC as an identity-based conference means that beyond managing the usual scheduled sessions and social gatherings, “showing up” takes on a whole new meaning. From one hour to the next, I have found PoCC to be flurry of shifting contexts which means that we can and likely will arrive multiple times in different ways in the course of the next days.

 

  • Consider your why before you jump into the stream. Try asking yourself some of these questions before you start your conference days: What brings you to PoCC (again)? What are you looking forward to? What kind of connections are you eager to make? What kinds of risks do you anticipate for yourself? How do you want to leave the conference? Any chance to reflect in advance can help smooth our transition from fresh arrival to fully engaged contributor.

 

  • Allow space for disorientation and emotionality. PoCC is designed to provide a crucial space for educators of color to look at who we are and explore what that means for our practice. The conference is a rare and precious opportunity to do this in community of various configurations. It also means that we may find ourselves touched in deeper ways than usual, that we see ourselves in a different light or that we share stories we don’t even remember holding. All these things are possible. And it is precisely in these moments that each of us makes the conference our very own. That’s powerful. And it may also be intense or draining or overwhelming at points, hence one final suggestion:

 

  • Carve out some alone time if you need it. Don’t feel that you need to make every session. Do what you can and when the time comes, rest. Walk outside or continue the deep conversation you just started. This is also critical to being at and creating PoCC – taking care of ourselves and each other along the way.

PoCC offers us so much and also demands a great deal of us professionally and personally. Liza Talusan who, like me, will be blogging during the conference captures the spirit of what makes PoCC a key experience for many independent school educators of color. She writes:

At PoCC, I get to be myself.

I get to be in community of other people of color who, too, are tired of making themselves smaller, invisible and palatable for others. I am surrounded by people who wait an entire year for PoCC just to be heard and to be in the majority. I am in the presence of brilliance at PoCC.

For me, attending a conference whose membership numbers more that a couple thousand produces more than a little anxiety. I love people but try as much as possible to avoid crowds; I enjoy talking one-on-one but tend to go silent when so many are gathered together. Even knowing that I am ‘among friends,’ the degree of isolation I can experience when we are all assembled in a large hall often surprises me anew. So as I post these ideas for others, I am also writing them very much for myself.

More than being at PoCC, I look forward to showing up, fully and unapologetically me, and building that crucial community, one connection at a time.

 

If you’re at PoCC and you’d like to chat about blogging, or Physical Education, or teaching abroad or digital privacy/security/surveillance or any other topic under the sun, please come find me. I’ll be presenting a session of building and sustaining community with the fabulous Min Pai on Friday 11:15-12:15  Room 209A. You can also find me on Twitter, @edifiedlistener

image via Pixabay.com CC0

That Time When It Didn’t Work Out

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I had an idea and shared it. The idea became a collaboration. The collaboration became a proposal. The proposal was accepted. The three of us rejoiced and shared the news in our networks. Friends congratulated us, offered us virtual pats on the back. We continued talking, refining our plan. We booked our travel and registered for the event. We were so excited to be sharing the stage, pooling our expertise, involving our audience, setting the world on fire, to be honest.

And then we got word. Not enough people signed up. Get more people and it can still run. We tried this, tried that. Reached out here, reached out there. It did not work. What we had was good but no match for the 14 other pre-conference offerings. We lost out to we don’t know exactly how many others. We only know that our gig is up; meaning cancelled. In the final program, erased, I guess.

That’s not what we planned. That’s not at all what we envisioned. But it is what happened. My colleague reminded me to not take it personally; to understand that big conferences operate this way to attract the maximum number of extra payers with minimal sacrifices. Our session was one such sacrifice, I guess. While I’m trying my best not to take it personally, that doesn’t make it easier to take.

Travel plans were cancelled. Now I will be a party of one instead of a member of the triumphant trio. At this conference we won’t be involving our audience or sharing the stage. We won’t be hearing the excellent keynotes together or wander from one lit reception to the next. No, it won’t be at all the way I had hoped. And I am just getting over that.

There’s no blame to lay. I feel like I was naive and lacked insight into the conference organization process. I’ll know for next time and think carefully about how to invest my energies into this event. Burned once and you learn, right? And to feel burned by an event I actually love and care for, that is especially bitter.

This is just to say

that not all the things I try

work out

the way I want them to

and I can grow to accept

that this is true for everyone

at some point

but it’s also true

that right now

it really just sucks.