12 Truths And A Poem

Photograph by Alexandra Thompson

On facilitating in an antiracism boom

On being a Black woman educator/facilitator during an antiracism workshop boom

  1. If I’m facilitating a group, my goal is for participants to do the work.
  2. If my goal is to get people to interact in equitable ways, I need to provide structures that ensure the group’s success.
  3. My facilitation tone is deliberately encouraging and invitational.
  4. Listening as a central practice is ALWAYS on the agenda.
  5. I see it as my duty to educate by introducing participants to potentially new voices – scholars, artists, new media.
  6. This keeps my own practice fresh and my curiosity piqued.
  7. When breakout groups are assigned I stay outside and welcome reflection after the fact.
  8. I trust participants to do what they need to do.
  9. That may or may not correspond with the given instructions and I still trust the people and the process.
  10. It is not always a comfortable thing as facilitator to get out of learner’s way but I believe it’s necessary.
  11. Every participant’s outcome is their own. I cannot predict or demand exactly what that outcome will be and what weight it will carry outside the learning space.
  12. Every facilitation event presents a beautiful challenge: leading participants to see, appreciate and embrace whatever work emerges before them as a result of our time together.

I’ve been thinking almost non-stop about facilitation since March. In fact, since Mid-July I have led a 5-day online course, 5 virtual workshops, 1 live workshop, and given 1 keynote talk. My google drive is full of slide decks of varying lengths, reflecting a range of topical objectives. But it’s still me. I’m the same person fumbling with the screen share button, responding to questions in the chat, hanging out while participants delve into breakout room conversations. I still go to work every day walking my kids through the building, out to the field, then back up to the playground.

In my dream world of facilitation, I spend more time in the background than in the spotlight. In most cases I end up doing more talking than I intended and it’s usually in the service of providing adequate context for the steps I’m asking participants to take on their own. I also consider my own energy household – how much do I have to give? With that in mind, I remind myself that I am not the miracle worker, nor does anyone expect that of me. I am not alone in this effort. On the contrary, the participants are there to make their own miracles. I provide processes and touch points as vehicles to those ends. I do not have the answers and I’m deeply interested in responses. Every time I engage with a group these thoughts are on my mind.

As I have recently been called to facilitate specifically in and around the umbrella of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), my mantra has become: I am not the race whisperer. Grounds enough for a poem:

I Am Not The Race Whisperer

Didn’t know I’d be here.

holding forth, expounding on the state

we find ourselves in.

I am not the race whisperer I tell them.

I am not.

Not a diversity practitioner or equity consultant.

I am a writer, a facilitator, an educator.

By now also an accidental speaker.

I prefer a page to a mic;

Feel more comfortable taking aim

in text

rather than raising my voice

to pierce the silence.

I am not the race whisperer I tell them.

Not here to instruct

but to lead you to your own

necessary reflection.

I don’t have your answers.

I do want you and me to

work out better questions

and by better I mean

deeper, more thoughtful

braver, imaginative, more

compassionate questions.

the kind of questions that make us sweat;

that reveal and reckon,

that show us what we don’t know and

exactly how mistaken we were.

Those kinds of questions.

I am not the race whisperer I tell them

I am not.

5 slide decks for reference:

Practice Over Perfection: A Keynote Talk, August 2020

Diversity and Inclusion: Which Questions Are The Right Ones? September 2020

Unpacking Systemic Racism: A Learning Conversation, September 2020

Boundary Work, October 2020

Beyond Armchair Racism: Gearing Up For Action, October 2020

Facilitate This

To facilitate – to make an action or process easier.

In some ways this feels, has long felt like my calling. The thing I am meant to do.

My teaching is a case study in active facilitation. I set the stage for practice. Offer a few instructions and a brief demonstration and the remaining time-space is for doing the thing. Over and over again.

Make it easier. I make it easier to try. To give it a go. Perhaps to keep at it for a bit.

I facilitate groups. Of adults. I set the stage for practice. Participant interactions with each other are usually at the core of my workshops. They should do more talking than me. Everyone should practice lots of listening. I create the conditions for fruitful conversation and exchange to take place. Then I get out of the way.

Getting out of the way is a habit. Especially when working with adults, it feels important to leave them space to engage each other without an audience. Their conversations are their own. When we come together as a whole group we typically reflect on the process, not the content. In some ways I want to stimulate an internal process for each individual. The conversations with others animate and stretch our own thinking.

I get out of the way and participants don’t owe me their enlightenment.

I will continue to wonder if and when I have taken myself too far out of the way. My faith is tested here and will continue to be.

I facilitate. I want to make it easier for each of us to try, to listen, to bear witness, to reflect, to take action. I practice getting out of the way.

And still I am learning.

It’s a process.

Photos via edifiedlistener

Boxes of Thought

furkanvari-gPwbmT04KuY-unsplash
Photo by furkanvari on Unsplash

Reading is so often about searching, whether we realize it or not. An excitement, a secret revealed, a worry, a fulfillment – we don’t always know what it is we’ll get, but when it comes, we know it and recognize it as ours. This is for me. We feel seen, realize we’re not the only ones. Sometimes it’s a comfort. But horror is also a possibility, I suppose.

To read is to be on the lookout. To have your eyes peeled. Reading lets us pretend that we’re ready. At least that. The truth of our inner state is not the point. Words on page after page that mysteriously hold us – in suspense, in awe, in shock. Reading is a magic trick we keep learning and relearning. The same trick that keeps changing and changing every time we perform it. I do it but I don’t always understand exactly how.

To write feels less like a trick, more like a bodily function, sometimes voluntary but not always.

I regret that this format is so boxy. My blog posts show you boxes of thought (paragraphs), neatly stacked which is a very poor and inaccurate semblance of what I would rather express. What I would rather show you today is the chaos of my thinking, the conundrum of too many threads which resist being woven alongside each other.

The platform itself wants to steer me towards greater boxiness with its “block editor” which I continue to reject as long as I can. I want less standardization, not more. And yet, I keep writing here, where whatever I type begins Black against white but once published, lands Black against cornflower blue – a design choice of questionable merit. The typeface is always Black like me, though.

I will now plunge this post into the chaos I intended.

  • Never have I felt a need for a king. But now that the greatest of fictions has left us, I mourn. Wakanda forever.

 

  • Identity has become my latest soapbox, the one folks ask me to speak from of late. I have mixed feelings about this.

 

  • Sometimes I feel a little guilty about how well our school reopening is going so far.

 

  • In a conversation about the link between acknowledging the multiple aspects of one’s own identity and seeing the need for anti-racist action, for a brief shining moment it felt like I had an answer that made sense.

 

  • I hope that folks do not make me out to be wiser than I am. I try to remind myself that I am more parts ignorance than knowledge. I keep reading. I listen.

 

Reading can be such a delightfully private affair, especially offline. No one is tracking my tastes, habits or timing while I read a bound book. I wonder how relevant this will be in the long run.

I am grateful for a lifestyle which affords an incredible access to the printed word in myriad formats. This is my parents’ most enduring legacy. They raised me a reader.

Here’s what I’m reading right now: Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall, In The Country We Love by Diane Guerrero, Überseezungen by Yoko Tawanda, and How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism by Cory Doctorow.

My thoughts are scattered, fragmented. I am used to this state. My young students call me back to attention in a heartbeat. I need them to keep me upright and on task. While I’m away from them I read and write with abandon. It’s a form of balance; the very nature of my both/and.

Weekends are for remembering. I forget so much as I go. I fall apart as the week goes on. I pull myself back together  – re – member – in these few days of rest.*

Yesterday I had no words but lots of feelings. Today I have the morning and an almost clear conscience.

I wish I could make this post into an assortment of baskets for you to rummage through at your leisure. Instead, I and wordpress give you these boxes of thought. Packaged, contained, labeled.

Even our freedoms are full of constraints.

jessica-ruscello--GUyf8ZCTHM-unsplash
Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

*The idea of re-membering was introduced to me by Gregg Levoy in his book, Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life.

 

 

Like A *&%$# Boss

If you’ve read my blog or my tweets before, you’ll know that I use swear words only sparingly. That doesn’t mean I’m not thinking them or using them in more private contexts, I am simply cautious about when and where I write them out or share in other people’s posts for public consumption. But this morning, however, I had an experience that was swear-word worthy, in a good way.

I tweeted this as part of my thread of #delights:

I was feeling so damn confident!

In my late 30’s I lived with a bike messenger for 4 years and he taught me how to ride my bike like I belonged on the road. Once, I shadowed him for a half day and it was certainly one of the best forms of teaching I have ever experienced. We were riding assertively, intentionally with speed, drive and adequate caution. While getting shit done. I live that learning every time I jump on my bike now.

I was thinking of that this morning and how my well of confidence is largely rooted in my body – my body’s ability to perform. In my early thirties I had a phase as a competitive runner. I ran road races and on the track. The 800 ended up being my favorite but my 400 and half marathon best times are objectively the more impressive ones. As a competitor I learned to trust my preparation, to risk more than I thought possible and also to cope with the disappointment when it didn’t work out the way I wanted.* In those countless processes of trials and testing and proving, I enjoyed some great successes. My efforts were rewarded more than a few times. I won some races, picked up my fair share of trophies.

This makes a difference.

I know how to win.

I know how to kick ass

and enjoy doing it.

So now that I’m this older lady and spending time on very different pursuits, I note: the roots of my confidence extend deep into the soil of so many wins. Not only the physical ones, also the intellectual and academic successes along with some professional and personal highlights. It also means that I have learning templates that allow me to grow confidence.

This summer I’ve been doing more inline skating. I’ve got a nice routine that involves about 30 minutes of biking and 50-60 minutes of skating. I LOVE IT! Every time I repeat this exercise, I get a little better, a little stronger, more enduring, more confident! As a middle aged person I chalk this up as a big friggin’ win! It’s something I’m doing for ME! Because I WANT TO! And in those brief shining moments when I can feel the full effect of all that healthy growth and striving and satisfaction and reward – all of that coursing through me while I pedal or push off – well, you better believe I am gonna celebrate LIKE A BOSS!

img_20200717_151512
Glory Days indeed! I was on the poster because I won it in 1999.

So the next time someone wants to disparage you for thinking back to your glory days of whatever, know that they are missing the point. Glory Days remind us of who we really are, what we’re capable of and that we are here to do the thing! Check your confidence roots. How are you feeding and nourishing them? Are they housed in the right soil? Do you require a repotting, replanting, relocation or, in other words, a significant change?

Writing this post felt urgent, probably because that sense of badass confidence tends to be so fleeting.** I don’t usually wake up feeling like this but I do know it’s possible. I’ve learned how to increase the probability that it will show itself again. And again. Getting on my bike often works a charm. It’s a little lesson and extremely effective. Find your confidence roots, friends. Especially my friends who identify as women. Make sure you own some confidence somewhere. And feed it. I’m here to support that.

 

*On this vidcast with Rissa Sorenson-Unruh, I got to talk about the background to this understanding which I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Our general topic is self-care but the elements contributing to growing confidence run throughout our conversation.

**This is simply too true. I could barely get this out before I felt someone actively stealing my joy. (Perhaps not intentionally, but still.)

“Läuferzehnkampf” = Runners’ Decathlon – 4 days of track races: 60 -1500 -400; 100 – 3000 – 800; 200 – 1000 – 5000; 10K

I Worry

I worry.

When I hear the call for help that comes by e-mail looking for a

trainer,

consultant,

someone

who can help us

“have conversations … about these areas.”

I worry.

When I hear the institution is prepared to pay good money

to hear what they already know and continue to pretend not to understand

what is really required for change.

One can always call a task force, form a committee, commission a study

while power remains in trusted hands, there to insure

that the transformation we keep hearing about

does not get out of control, does not go too far,

lest we perish

and our storied bodies turn to salt.

I worry.

When the urgency is so sudden,

the need so dire

since last week, last month

but not since 2014 or 1995 or 1986 or 1968.

When the solutions sought

are thought best to be provided,

imported from elsewhere,

laid upon the institution like bandages

with magical powers.

I worry.

When I hear administrators talk about the need

“to empower students”

and that it’s now, now

“more important than ever”

“to confront the ways”

which were tolerated for decades and centuries with nary a care

about how that looked

to insiders, outsiders or anyone else.

I worry.

When we mistake saying for showing

when answers come before questions

when there is no time for the time it takes

when power relations never enter the room

I worry.

When I worry

I may forget to wish

that we dedicate ourselves to learning as we teach

that we practice having the conversations we need

and get better

while we go deeper.

When I worry

I may forget to remind you

to look around

and consider the resources right where you are.

I bet you they’re there.

When I worry

I may forget to dream

dream

dream

Of what I hope tomorrow

might bring.

 

 

 

 

The Toll

Too much\ too many

enough\ enough\ no end

how things add up\ take their toll\ leave you drained

Not my child/ or my nephew

Not my brother/ or my uncle

Not my niece/ or my cousin

Not my best friend/ or my co-worker

Not my neighbor/ or his son

No one I knew

personally

And yet, all of them

all of them

my people

gone.

 

 

#BlackLivesMattering

#BlackLivesMatter

And #BlackDeath over and over and over

viral

and inescapable

Now makes it possible for you

to wrap your tongue around those

three bold words

and suddenly see the shadows of

400 years worth of distributed brutality

as part

of the problem.

#BlackLivesMattered

I fear the past tense.

It’s a killer.

 

 

No Good Mourning

It’s not a phantom sadness

because I know its name

and where it lives.

I  know the mood that conjures it,

the temporal passages

it favors.

 

No, this is a sadness

that inhabits me by now;

sometimes it stays small

in a pocket,

a piece of lint I needn’t notice.

 

Then other times it covers me

inside, then out

looms like a fog, like smog

that doesn’t lift

easily.

 

Not a phantom sadness

by any means

Rather, a steadfast messenger

always prone to remind me

this life is neither short nor long

but chosen,

chosen.

Dis appointment

Disappointment happens when our expectations are not fulfilled.

From some we will hear that our expectations were in fact

the mistake.

Dis appointment – could easily be mis appointment

In correct

Dis connect

ill timed dispatch

which shall find no repair

or rematch

Dis joint time out of mind

Or mind out of joint

Or simply out of time

Disappointment stings not once but now again

and again

Disappoint me

measure my sag

Put that dent in my swag

Watch me deflate

go flat

step back.

 

I hear you revving up your optimism machine. Ready to aim it in my direction, pump me up with your elixir of cheer. Save yourself the trouble. Let me have my struggle and sway with my slump. There’s value in the valley so I’ve been told. Let me conduct my own investigations here in the dust and dregs.

The disappointment here is not just here

It’s part and parcel of an

enveloping

dismay

Me to the future: so you legit gonna be like that?

And the future’s like: Yup.

To hell in a handbasket

we thought we never knew what that really meant

but Surprise!

Now we will.

We’ll be in the basket

(In fact, we are the basket)

hands waving

careening hellwards,

our expectations

finally spot on.

Disappointment is no longer the word.

It is all that’s left.

Soccer unit inside and out

“Welcome to our soccer unit – highly anticipated for many of you – it’s on!”

(Some of them can hardly contain themselves, can’t wait to launch the ball towards the goal at record speed. Watch this one dribble like a pro, make the cross then execute that heel pass into the net right through the mystified goalie’s legs.

See how they run – chasing down that ball, beating the opponent – so much glory in 5 seconds before the ball is reclaimed by the better dribbler.

Soccer, my least favorite unit to teach. There, I said it. Yet, every year I get a little better at it. I let go of the reins a little more; observe and coach. I take on their input. I spend less time “curbing” their enthusiasm; more time letting them find their way into games they will deem satisfying. The know-it-all-bend-it-like-Beckham-watch-me-I’m-Messi Saturday morning experts can get under my skin if they press me too hard. But now I’m prepared for them: Yes, there will be games throughout the unit but small-sided. No, we’re not playing boys against girls, ever.)

*Students engage in free soccer play around the gym. No one is idle.*

(Why do I resist this unit so deeply? What am I afraid of? I can answer that. I am afraid of failing, of looking foolish, of missing the mark, of being mocked for my lack of visible expertise… Is that enough?

Every time I meet my classes, this fear is lurking beneath the surface – what if they resist my plans? What if they don’t follow the plan? What if they hate what I’ve written on the board? I am steeled for their push back and it almost never comes. Or when it does, it’s perfectly understandable. Like my Pre-K friends who resist anything with too much teacher directed structure. They all run in different directions and in their own way broadcast to me “WE’RE FOUR, WE’RE FOUR, WE’RE FOUR!! Which absolutely makes sense and they are simply demanding that I, too, make some sense.

So when it comes to soccer I am programmed for pushback. “Why can’t we play a game? When are we gonna play a match? This isn’t real soccer…” Feels like I have heard it all but actually, things go fine when I let them lead with their interests and introduce one bit of skill practice, a quick skill oriented activity and then another low stakes game that’s fun and lets players choose their level of active risk. It’s fine, fine, fine.  I’m ok.)

“What? It’s time to go? Are we doing soccer next time, too?”

One final kick into the goal. Smashed it.

Balls in the bag, please. Thank you. Tomorrow’s another day.

Wrong Way Round: A snag in the planning

img_20190621_123602

Struggling to do a thing. Of course I wrote up the proposal months ago. It sounded great. Even now it still sounds great.

When I conceptualize a workshop I constantly remind myself: I offer thought material, practice space and helpful structures for interaction. My purpose is to facilitate conversations, not deliver a lecture.

I promise not to waste people’s time and to be responsive their needs as participants.

This time I’ve felt stuck. I’ve been dragging my heels; avoiding the real work of planning the actual thing.

The workshop title is “Leading By Invitation.” And I think my mistake in planning has been letting myself get hooked on the “leading” part, when the actual game changer lies in the invitation.

Isn’t that funny? Simply by placing Leading at the front of the title, my brain assumes that’s where everything begins: Defining leader and leadership, assessing our affinity for leadership, and other blah, blah. No wonder I’ve been holding off. I’ve been looking at and trying to grab the thing on the wrong end!

Everybody and their cousin has a story to tell about leadership. Who spends time on the art of invitation?

When we talk about invitation we naturally need to talk about our audience – to whom is our invitation addressed? And based on that, what vision and purpose do we share? What urgency brings us together?

Identity enters: Who are we to invite others? We are the door, window and floodgate openers. Which discoveries are we welcoming into our midst? We cannot know in advance. We are the welcomers. We create and hold space; we listen, we organize and coordinate, we encourage.

To invite, we say: come. Welcome. Also become. Come learn, come laugh, come study, come wonder, come and weep; come and feel support.

To create a workshop with other humans, with other educators that sings a melody of invitation as a way to build the things that are needed – this is a gift and a privilege.

We invite others to share the work, share the load and also the joy! A workshop highlighting the power of invitation holds so much promise, offers so many entry points and leading is not the focus. Leading is not the priority. Building, growing, learning in community – these comprise the invitation.

Leading in this case emerges as a capacity to facilitate and mobilize; to coordinate and schedule. Leading in this case develops in dialogue and is shaped significantly by the community from which it arises.

It all makes so much more sense now!

Being stuck was my wiser self trying to call me back to attention.

Why am I inviting folks to come talk about this? Because I have some of the most compelling examples to share! And in doing that I hope to fire up some enthusiasm for folks to see the projects and initiatives they’ve always wanted to start, join, support, build. I’m inviting participants to a celebration of wonderful community ideas, led by living, breathing, working educators that offer avenues for us all to do better and be better.

OK, now I know what I’m doing, where I’m headed, what the thing is going to be. Thanks for listening to me unravel my confusion.

image: Spelic