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!

Be The Power And The Point – A Recap

I did the thing. I shot my shot, sang my song. And it was glorious! I offered a workshop at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference (NAISPoCC) in Nashville, Tennessee. The title felt clever when I came up with it in the proposal-writing phase. In the execution of the workshop itself the participants gave that title more life and meaning than I imagined possible. They were, in every sense, all power and fully the point.

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My goal was for each participant to leave with an intention to share their experience and expertise with professional peers at a conference or other public learning event.

My premise in addressing educators of color specifically was first to acknowledge the brilliance of the people in the room. We are knowledgeable, have a remarkable wealth of experience, bring distinct and compelling perspectives to every context and in most education conference spaces are typically underrepresented. Once we can lay claim to those realities, then we can proceed to consider which ideas we would most like to champion and cultivate in our professional worlds.

Early on I asked participants to meditate on this central question:

Given your experience, special interests and variety of strengths, what would would be your dream workshop or presentation to offer others?

I encouraged everyone to think broadly – outside and across disciplines, to consider interests outside of school, long term passions and newfound talents. To place my own approach into context, I shared this story:

This fall I was invited through my Twitter direct messages to contribute to a major learning event – not as a keynote speaker or to offer a workshop of a couple of hours – no, I was invited to lead a course. For a whole week! And I could choose the topic! The person who invited me is a friend and mentor and I was overwhelmed with surprise and shock initially. I said yes quickly before my reservations would have a chance to change my mind.

I had to admit to myself that this was not an accident and that it had been several years in the making even if it was never the possibility I would have imagined for myself at the outset. The invitation was the result of having put myself ‘out there’ on Twitter, by blogging. By participating in various forums, online and off. So I will be leading a track on Digital Identity at the Digital Pedagogy Lab next summer. And please note, this is not directly connected to Physical Education.

It felt important to illustrate that we may have talents, strengths, perspectives that are unique that will be valuable to someone else, if we take the opportunities available to share them with others. The point is not that I am authority in the traditional sense. I don’t know all there is to know about the topic. My particular expertise is in the area of facilitation. I have a deep interest and curiosity and given the chance to convene a group with equal interest and curiosity I know that we can construct a series of experiences which will grow our mutual knowledge and individual expertise. That’s what I suggested our knowledge sharing at conferences can be. Claiming expertise is not an all or nothing game.

We worked our way through a series of other questions and I offered a simple graphic organizer to help with the process.

  • 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?

At each section, participants spent time sharing thoughts with a different partner. This meant unlinking the chairs and moving around the room. It meant engaging with a number of fresh minds. It looked like this:

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“It’s called a workshop because we are all going to work.”

When it came time to write down intentions, folks did not hesitate. They did not skimp, waffle or hold back. They brought it! With clarity, precision and all the soul you can put into words on a big colorful sticky note. In another post I will share a full list, but here are some shining examples:

There is no encore after that.

Our success was epic. We were epic.  Look out edu conferences far and wide. We are coming and we’re bringing vision, commitment and beautiful brilliance!

 

 

Workshop slides can be viewed here.

*Images are mine. Please request permission to use elsewhere.

#NAISPoCC18 I’m Ready

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My 5th time: Houston, DC, Atlanta, Anaheim and now Nashville. National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference.

An education conference. A social justice conference. An affinity group space. All of the above.

Consider this, too: There are all these young people around. You know, high schoolers. Teenagers. Here at the conference. Because they have their own thing: Student Diversity Leadership Conference that runs parallel to and, at points, intersects with PoCC. Maybe we don’t talk about this as much as we might but when the kids are right there, hearing the same keynote speeches, seeing the glorious convergence of so many folks of color in one space – well, for me at least, that makes for a totally different vibe. I see their excitement and my own is cranked up a few more notches.

I mentioned to a friend at breakfast that I also looked forward to meeting teachers at all stages of their careers. First year colleagues and seasoned veterans fill these halls and again I feel so enriched just taking in the spectacle of so many members of my professional ilk who are Asian, Latinx, multiracial, Black and Indigenous in one place at one time. Oh, it is glorious. Every. Single. Time.

This conference (PoCC/SDLC)  is substantial. It requires the better part of a convention center for 3000 or more participants per year. And yet folks find each other. There is so much laughter and hugging, exuberance in wall to wall affirmation.

Tomorrow when we assemble bright and early, I will again feel a little apprehensive. A little on the outskirts because I am not traveling with a group. I’m here on my own. But all it takes is that first familiar face, then another. Or, I sit next to someone completely new and our eyes meet during that first keynote and we both know why we’ve come all this way.

When I put myself ‘out there’ with a workshop in the first available session, I will be nervous and anxious that I’ll forget everything I was going to say, blank on all the activities I have planned. And then a few folks will enter the room and maybe a few more and just like that we’ll begin. And my latest PoCC experience will be fully underway.

I am here in the space and entirely ready to be real.

image via Pixabay.com

 

Other People’s Conferences

In my first few years on Twitter it took me some time to get used to all the group pictures being shared from various education conferences. I didn’t know what the hashtags were or what the most popular abbreviations stood for. The more educators I followed, the clearer things became as I learned my way around the edu conference scene.

I attended a couple of big conferences in the US and actually made some of those connections like the ones I had seen on Twitter. Nice and wonderful and also very expensive. Registration fees for major education conferences like the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) or the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) easily run into the hundreds of dollars, to which one must add travel, food and lodging costs if it’s not right in your back yard. Pernille Ripp, a frequent presenter and speaker at education conferences across the US wrote about conferences costs on her blog. So we need to consider that big conferences are literally not for everyone. We should ask ourselves what the consequences of that are and may be.

But that’s not really what I wanted to write about. Rather, I’m excited about a few things: National subject matter conferences abound and in my network I’m pleased to see more and more friends and colleagues taking on presenter and speaker roles. I am also impressed by and immensely grateful for conference attendees who live-tweet keynotes, panels or workshops. Case in point:

And finally, I am thrilled to see new levels of crossover attendance and speaker profiles.

This happens to be the week of the NCTE annual convention in Houston, TX, with around 7000 attendees. A whole bunch of folks I admire are gathered there and many of them are presenting or speaking on multiple occasions! Whether introducing the work of #DisruptTexts or Non- vs. Anti-racist organizations, exploring Latinx identity with students supporting students in crisis and engaging on so many other topics, I was starstruck from afar taking in the presence and nonstop activity of my colleagues.

Before I go on, please let me suggest some folks whose tweets you should check out along with the #NCTE18 hashtag:

@juliaerin80, @triciaebarvia, @nenagerman, @ValeriaBrownEdu, @TheJLV, @DulceFlecha, @MisterMinor,

I should note that I am not an English teacher. My special area is physical education. That said, I will also point out that I teach children from various language backgrounds in English. It is also true that I love books, am an avid reader. I’m a parent raising readers, writers and speakers. What English teachers talk about when they assemble in great numbers speaks to me because we are all tasked with supporting learners and learning. I hope I can be equally attentive when math, science and social studies educators share their collected insights.

It means something to me that a well known math teacher is a featured speaker at this conference of English teachers. I want this kind of crossover to be a bigger part of education’s future. And it doesn’t mean that we need to incur twice the expense to experience such a rich and multi-layered learning future. At least one advantage of networked learning is the possibility to share more widely, more generously, more equitably. That is part of our working present albeit with many miles to go. We do seem headed in the right direction, though.

As #NCTE18 strides towards its closing sessions and calls to action, I hope we can use this example to think about how we as educators, as colleagues benefit from sharing our conference experiences beyond our assumed audiences. How can we expand our communication flexibility to provide for fellow educators who are not on site? And more to the point, how do we build and sustain our curiosity for other people’s conferences? Which is to say sustain curiosity about their struggles and solutions and how they connect with our own. Which is to fundamentally recognize that we are talking about serving the students before us to the best of our ability. Because if we are as vested in professional development as many of us claim we are, how many of our efforts take us outside of our areas of expertise to look for connections, to build new bridges? Show me.

And one more thing, speaking of building bridges. Julia Torres and Lorena German raised money to sponsor the attendance of 24 local educators to attend the conference within 3 days! This is what visionary leadership looks like – it floats an idea and then gets stuff done and makes something better.

There’s a great deal we can learn from a conference experience by following a hashtag and digging deeper into resources and links. As I prepare myself for a large upcoming education conference, I know that I am learning even more by example.

 

I used to think…

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I used to think that I understood children and that therefore I could become a good teacher. Now I see that my understanding of children is only partial, and with regards to individual children, actually illusory. I think I understand them but really I’m just applying rough proxies which don’t work for this child. Or this child. So for some children I need to go back to square one and rethink everything I thought I knew about children and learn some new things about this child and break down my myths about understanding children and becoming a good teacher. I used to think I knew kids and now I see that my purpose is to learn kids, one at a time, always ready for a surprise.

 

I used to think that my strength as a teacher required standing my ground in the classroom; being firm and confident. Now I believe that my strength as a teacher requires being firm and confident in my capacity to be imperfect. I can admit mistakes. I can ask for help. I can do things over. I can apologize and ask how to be better. These things don’t just help me teach more effectively, they allow me to become a better colleague, friend, adult.

 

I used to think that in order to lead, you needed to have a title and get paid more. Now I see that it is possible to lead effectively by example; that people often find it easier to emulate and follow behaviors that they like and appreciate in others. I also see that leadership by example can go either way; it doesn’t have to be positive and constructive. Negative leadership is equally possible. That’s the conundrum. (Although few would admit to liking destructive behaviors, every time that we tolerate and accommodate them, we demonstrate where we really stand.) Given that, I try to set the example I (hope to) observe in others. I envision leadership less as a tower of relative importance and more of a circle of engagement with added facilitation responsibilities. There are no titles or formal recognition in this mode of leadership and it has the potential to have influence in some of the most unlikely places.

 

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I have some thoughts about parent-teacher conferences

As a teacher I enjoy the opportunity to sit with the parents of my individual students and to talk about their accomplishments their challenges and our relationship. There’s a similar structure to each of my conferences and although I teach about 130 students on average I feel like I know each of them well enough to speak to parents and say some things about each child individually.

First of all, I thank parents for coming.

Next, I ask: what have you heard about PE so far?

Whatever the response, the question puts the parents and their child in the spotlight. My task is to listen carefully.

Based on their responses I can begin to share my observations about their child or children with them. Most often I have plenty of good news to share with a few anecdotes of recent wins.

When I have difficulties to share or describe I spend a considerable amount of time providing context. I tell parents about the structure of our class: what the expectations are, where their child shows signs of struggle and I always emphasize the expectation of change over time. It’s vitally important to me that parents understand that each child is working on something; each child faces or will face a challenge of one kind or another. As will their teacher. Process, process, that’s what we’re about.

While it seems that conferences are built up as a sort of reporting structure where teachers prepare a sort of ‘show and tell’ about students and their progress to date, it’s also an opportunity for teachers to learn about families. In my case, parents are often eager to share some information about themselves and their child’s sport enthusiasms and disappointments; previous injuries or wonderings about potential areas of brilliance. In fact, parents often want to know if I perhaps have a hot tip as to which activity might offer their child the greatest joy or opportunity to shine, or both.

In these listening moments, I find all kinds of inspiration. These are the windows which allow me to envision a student more fully and accurately with plenty of light and the proper shading.  This is where the conversation becomes animated and we’re no longer focused on the nuts and bolts of Physical Education but the blossoming of a wonderful young person. I enjoy exploring possibilities with parents by asking about previous sports experiences and learning more about how students see themselves in various physical contexts.

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“So what does your child enjoy doing?”

10 minutes. That’s how long I have to talk with parents about their child in my PE classes. For new parents I often focus on my observations of the child seems to have landed in their new school and how this seems to be playing out in PE. For veteran parents we can talk about new demands in the program and how their child is adjusting. What I love is the back and forth, the element of surprise for either of us at learning something new, the chance to put a concerned parent’s mind at ease about a difficulty.

This round I hosted about 40 conferences over two days. In the spring there will be more students in the mix as student-led versions become the norm. In these bursts of dialogue, I feed my calling to listen and respond with care. Honesty is at the forefront of my mind along with compassion and good will. I want us all – students, parents, teachers – to be successful because of each other.  Conferences are a chance for me to truly “use my words” and lay the foundation for student successes that stretch well beyond the gym and gallop all the way home.

 

image CC0 via Pixabay.