#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

#MarchForOurLives Speech

Vienna, Austria joined more than 800 other cities around the world in holding a solidarity demonstration with The March For Our Lives in Washington, DC on March 24th, 2018. Below is the text of my speech.

 

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Many people will say they fear public speaking more than anything. If we were to ask American school children about the things they most fear, by now it would not surprise us to hear them say they are afraid of being shot. At school. Because school shootings in the United States happen too often to remain abstract.

Thank you to Democrats Abroad Austria for inviting me to speak today. My name is Sherri Spelic. I am an American citizen, an educator, parent, and blogger.

We who live here in Austria enjoy the incredible privilege of relative safety. Gun deaths are rare here and when they happen, they quickly become headline news.

Today I want to share some of my own views along with some words from middle and high school students in the US who have responded to the latest incident of a mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14th of this year. I owe a special thanks to five of my Twitter colleagues who are teachers in public schools in Vermont, Georgia, Colorado, California and Oklahoma who supported my effort to feature student voices above all.

A high school student in Georgia wrote:

… gun control has always been a point of concern and debate for myself and my peers. I was born after the Columbine High School shooting, but I am old enough to vividly remember the day of the Sandy Hook shooting as well as the Parkland shooting.

I recently participated in the Druid Hills High School walkout as part of the national movement here in Atlanta. I surely can’t speak for every single person who participated at my school, but I myself felt a wide mix of emotions…

He goes on to describe apprehension, anger, determination and pride he felt as a result of protesting.

A sixth grade student in Vermont, Tess, writes about the purpose of their school walkout:

Our goal is to raise awareness about gun violence in schools and work to stop this. This isn’t just an excuse to get out of school. We really care, We want to be safe. We deserve to be safe.

It’s time for the adults in power to start listening to students. We walk into schools and we want to know it’s safe…

Listen also to an 8th grader, Orionna, who talks about her history in the shadows of school shootings:

I remember when I heard about the shooting at Sandy Hook. I was 9 and I remembered I cried and cried because those kids would not be home for Christmas with their families. … It’s not right that kids are going to school, scared that they might not go home that night, or that they might lose their best friend, or their siblings.

 

Imagine marking your time in school by the shootings you recall and where you were at the time. That’s exactly what many of these students have: a personal timeline of mass shootings in schools. And instead of enacting stringent gun control laws, we have subjected kids to more frequent lockdown drills while our lawmakers talk about arming teachers.

When Tess says, “We want to be safe. We deserve to be safe.” With our words we as a nation say, “of course, you do!” But kids quickly learn that the adults don’t mean it. The laws do not change. School shootings keep happening. The interests of the gun lobby are placed ahead of children’s immediate safety.

And while we’re on the topic of safety, remember please that our kids, our students, our grandchildren need more than tighter gun regulation to feel safe at school.

Every school needs counselors, special education teachers, English As Additional language teachers.

Test scores will tell you nothing about the wellness of a student body.

Every school needs adequate funding, resources and staffing.

There’s much more to keeping kids safe at school than reducing their risk of being shot at. And I can’t believe I have to say that out loud.

The fact that our legislators are scratching their heads about the connection here blows my mind.

If you’ve been following the Parkland teens closely you will  know that they have, in a remarkably short time, joined forces with young people in Latinx, Black and Native communities who have been combating gun violence for much longer. They are learning how gun violence plays out in poor neighborhoods, in urban areas, on reservations. There are significant differences. Among them the fact that police shootings of unarmed black and brown people likely pose a larger threat to teens of color than the prospect of a mass shooting.

Yesterday in response to the latest police killing in Sacramento, I tweeted: “what about those who are given guns but have NO control?” This is also gun violence affecting our communities that cannot go unaddressed. This, too, is gun violence rooted in toxic masculinity and corrupted power structures.

And the Parkland activists have opened their eyes to it. In an article for Teen Vogue, Emma Gonzales describes the approach they have taken:

“We Stoneman Douglas students may have woken up only recently from our sheltered lives to fight this fight, but we stand in solidarity with those who have struggled before us, and we will fight alongside them moving forward to enact change and make life survivable for all young people.”

These young people are showing us how it’s done. This is how you build bridges.

This is how you create a movement that is both focused and inclusive.

I want to close with some real talk for our legislators from an 8th grader, Harlan, who asks some tough questions:

Why do we keep letting these people murder innocent children when it is our LAWS that allow them to die?

What are you so afraid of, Congress? Why do you never do anything unless it’s hurting you? Or your husband or wife or child? Or are you afraid that the NRA will cut off your cash flow? There’s more to this country than just you! You need to stop being selfish and take action!”

I am hopeful that my own children and grandchildren will look back on this political moment as the one where our young people led us in the fight for safe schools and safe communities. And they won.

Thank you.

 

I delivered this speech at the March For Our Lives demonstration in Vienna, Austria (March 24th, 2018) organized by Democrats Abroad Austria. Student voices included in this piece were taken from speeches and letters forwarded to me by Christie Nold and Marian Dingle. Further thoughts regarding the conversation around gun violence protests in different community contexts provided by Shannon Carey, Jennifer Williams and Julia Torres were invaluable in pulling this speech together.

image (c) Spelic

 

 

 

#TruthInATweet

Thinking about this:

In order to get this one needs to understand a bunch of things: democracy, weak ties, and automated and profitized.

I don’t have the academic will or energy to go through and define and contemplate or unpack these pieces. I’m looking at the whole composition though and I understand that as others have said, written, and shouted from rooftops: 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.

In a nutshell, we are living in dire times. But it will all be captured on the internet. And sold. And sold. And sold again.

I’m very afraid that Tressie is all the way right.

*Cough, cough* Is this mic on?

Once upon a time, I was a runner. I rose each morning filled with thoughts of what my workout commitment was and how everything else fit around that. Work, child care, housekeeping and all the rest were all set up to insure that my running time was secured. I was focused on achievement and I experienced, for my standards, reasonable success. When it came time to shed this blanket identity, I struggled to find a replacement. When I could no longer call myself a runner, I felt somewhat adrift. For a while I became a seeker without a title.

I discovered new interests. I invested in education, became a frequent-flyer at personality seminars and coaching workshops. Within a few years, I arrived a new identity: coach.

*Reached this point in the post, looking for a possible exit*

*Blah, blah, blah, coaching… passionate…blah, blah…*

Part of me hates telling these kinds of stories: I did this, learned that and became this. Introduction, build-up, (there’s rarely a climax), and resolution. The stories make a circuitous path seem like a neat and straight trajectory. Such stories are so incomplete and flattened that they undermine whatever truth remains in them.

*Decides to continue with flawed narrative format anyway.*

The reason I started all this was actually to make sense of where I am now: conflicted, overwhelmed, strung out on identity finding, making, affirming, doing. Without question this inner dialogue turned outward, made public for consumption by strangers, friends and loved ones has a lot to do with it. Since I have chosen a path in social media, in the blogosphere, that has consequences; benefits and costs which I continually weigh.

Sorting myself, my thoughts, my identities in public is a choice that is fraught, fraught, fraught. Knowing that feels like a win, though. So cognizant of this tension between being and performing, telling and dramatizing; seeking and shunning attention at the same time, I’m writing to say, I am tired and I’m still here.

Because while I arrived here (online) as an educator, coach and former runner, what I’ve become is a writer who sometimes struggles to live up to the all the other pieces of me that ultimately are on display. I go to sleep thinking about the read and unread, the writing completed and the writing ahead. I wake up with new ideas and old ones. I walk through my day immersed in composition of one kind or another, forming images that beg to be recorded but for which there are not enough hours in the day. My day is awash in words I want to use and bend to my will.

For now I have stopped denying myself the mantle of writer. Perhaps that will offer some relief. My privilege in this respect stretches far. I can do and be many things at once and few will contest my claims.

(Many, many thanks to @hypervisible for introducing me to my new favorite GIF which I plan to use as often as possible, even incorrectly.)

Me and #BlackPanther

Some topics feel too big, too complex, too unwieldy, just too dang difficult to write about. You may laugh but that’s how I feel when it comes to taking on Black Panther – not even as a movie or particular narrative but as a social phenomenon. More than ‘a thing‘,  Black Panther currently informs my jokes, several social interactions both online and off, my wild imagination and continues to impact my spending choices. (Yes, Disney, take my money!)

The evidence: Here’s what comes up on Twitter in a search for “@edifiedlistener + #BlackPanther”:

https://twitter.com/search?q=%40edifiedlistener%20%2B%20%23BlackPanther&src=typd

I’m writing this based on the assumption that you already know what I’m talking about when I say Black Panther. If that assumption is false, feel free to fix that.

 

I have seen the movie three times so far and I’m ready for the 4th, 5th and 6th times. I am smitten, charmed, enchanted, and awash in this peculiar pop cultural wave. I feel celebratory and buoyed, animated and emotional. Here’s some of what I think is going on:

The whole production is a giant shout-out to Black folks all over the world.

I not only feel addressed, I feel welcomed and embraced to claim that shared identity in a way I have never experienced previously. Before the film I don’t think this was on my radar as a distinct need or desire. My emotional involvement since tells me a different story.

The women in the film are phenomenal and I’m thinking maybe I could be that, too.

Identifying with characters is one of the reasons we can enjoy and participate in fiction at all. The women of Black Panther are exceptional because as one fan so aptly put it:

“I want to take a second to thank the Black women, too, because they were so strong on their own terms and answered to no one but themselves. They weren’t strong because they were angry, they weren’t strong because they were hurt, they were strong because they were strong. And that meant the world to me. Thank you.” (at 4:50 in video)

I could not describe it any better. I have watched this video a couple of times and hearing Black folks like me talk about what the movie has meant for them, I feel both understanding and also understood.

The other piece of relating to these strong women characters is seeing myself as also strong on my own terms. After opening night I was on my way home and had to stop for a moment and shed a few tears. I was shook. I had so much going on inside. It was heavy. We say, “representation matters,” but when it is still so rare and rarely so nuanced and complex, we just don’t realize what a difference it can and does make to individuals, to groups.

Watch this. It may help you see what I’m talking about:

For once, I am part of the in-group.

I’m not much of a movie goer so my range of popular character references tends to be limited. I am also celebrity-recognition challenged. I don’t retain the names of recent or past stars very well either. I did however follow the pre-release hype on Twitter and once I saw the movie I joined the club. I understood the jokes, I could echo the praise, gobble up all the extras.

Black Twitter has always been central to my social media involvement and diving into the #BlackPanther #WakandaForever stream, feels like a new rite of passage. I’m swimming in the stream and the water is just fine. I’m living my blackness a little differently and relating to blackness wherever I find it a little differently. Fiction can grow us if we let it.

I typically hate fight scenes. Seeing powerful women warriors in this movie changed my tune.

It’s not that I’ve become a new fan of cinematic violence. But after over 40 years of watching men fist fight, hold shootouts and the like, I understand why suddenly I could watch some of the battle scenes in Black Panther with protracted interest. It was those women warriors entering the fray with incredible finesse and savvy that caught my interest and held it. That and recognizing how this in no way diminished their femininity. And my favorite character has turned out to be Okoye, T’Challa’s general (it took me 3 viewings to decide). She is fierce, principled and of a distinct physical grace to which I can only aspire.

My 10 y-o and I have a whole new source of shared jokes, plus a wealth of conversation topics to explore.

I was not entirely prepared for the host of thoughts and questions seeing Black Panther with my 10 year old son would spark. But wow! it has been a revelation. We’ve been twice so far and his take-aways are so interesting. On our way home we debated the merits of identifying with Killmonger (his favorite character “Hey, Auntie”). He has also stepped up his humor game:

OK, there I’ve said it. I loved Black Panther and I’m excited to be living in this moment. Many thanks to so many friends and family members I’ve been able to share this ride with. Who knew?

I’m so glad I joined when I did.

#WakandaForever

Five Days in Cairo

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I’ve spent five days in Cairo and I feel nearly speechless
Because I am so full of emotion,
So amazed at my experience,
So humbled by ALL OF IT.

Yes I visited the Pyramids and the Sphinx,
Toured the museum of Egyptian History,
Rode on a camel’s hump
Without tumbling off.

But the joy of seeing the people
I call friends
Is unmatched.
To hug them directly,
To look in their eyes,
To ask all the funny questions,
To share the relief that
No, we were not mistaken:

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.

With love and gratitude to Maha and Paul.

Inclusion again

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I’m thinking about inclusion again. Now that diversity has been shunted as the desirable term to describe the aspiration of drawing people together who reflect the variety of identities and backgrounds which more closely represent society at large, some (myself included) have said what we really need, seek and should be working towards is inclusion. Opening doors, offering invitations, seats at tables, a mic on the stage, a space on the panel –  centering those in prominent public forums from whom we have traditionally, historically heard less. OK, I can get with that.

I read a post in response to the #EngageMOOC: Engagement in a Time of Polarization which is happening for two weeks now in the middle of February.  Kay Oddone argues that we can in our own small and sometimes larger circles, insure that marginalized folks who are at the table experience true inclusion, rather than serving as placeholders for someone’s good intentions.

The rest of the above quote speaks even more to me and my experience: ” …comfortable enough to join in with the conversation that is happening at that table. And knowing, when the talking stops, and the faces turn expectedly, how to share one’s opinion in a way that makes it able to be heard.” (emphasis mine) Those expectant faces, yes. How they turn to you as the one brown face in the room (or the only queer, native, or poor person), hoping that you will grant them both grace and an easy way out of whatever discomfort may have arisen in the conversation.

Putting it succinctly:

Allow me to broadly generalize: It happens all the time.

Kay Oddone’s post reminded me of what is at stake for marginalized folks who come to the table:

We have the power to counter the ticked box form of diversity, we can and need to practice real inclusion wherever we are. For us as educators, we can begin by incorporating more student voice and choice into our practices. We can listen to our young people when they tell us what is working for them and what’s not. We don’t give them voice; we learn to ask and listen and act on what we learn as a result. That’s what inclusion looks like. It’s responsive, open, ready to learn.

We tend to think of engagement in terms of output, as external actions that are readily observable, measurable even in some cases: speeches, reports, demonstrations, coursework. I want us to also recognize the power of staying quiet when someone else finally finds the courage to speak; for stepping aside when a leadership post comes open and nominating the better candidate who might easily be overlooked. Those are forms of behind-the-scenes engagement we need more of.

Maha Bali writes compellingly about the dilemma of reproducing marginalization even in our attempts to be inclusive:

In open online spaces, opening doors is not enough.

In open online spaces, an open door means easy exit just as it means easy entry.

In open online spaces, we are not there on equal footing.

In open online spaces, we are not equally fragile.

It is everyone’s responsibility to listen and care and support marginal voices. Whether or not they wish to speak. Whether or not they wish to be present. Whether or not they like what we do.

It is everyone’s responsibility to recognize their own privilege and to use it with purpose.

I know, I know, we’re working on it. Sometimes it pays off to think small. Think next door, down the hall, at the next meeting. Act large in small spaces. Notice who’s speaking and who isn’t. Practice not knowing and being curious. Be kind. Welcome warmly and mean it.

We can do all those things and still run a meeting on schedule. Let’s try. It’s worth the effort.

image via Pixabay.com CC0