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

 

When My “Be Best” Means “Be Black”

When I wake up itching to write, that means something. My blogging can feel like the steam escaping a pressure cooker – forceful and insistent. In the process, the contents of the pot are transformed. When I write this way there is a distinct before and after. I change and am changed.

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Striving is a feature, not a bug.

Did you know I am Black? Once upon a time I tweeted that I don’t generally tell people this, I let them figure it out. I say that as someone who has spent the majority of of her school and professional life embedded in predominately white institutions (PWIs) which is to say I have always been aware of difference. Of my difference. But at the same time I have also developed a host of means and methods to negotiate the ways I demonstrate, downplay or highlight that particular difference. It’s a skill. It’s a necessity.

When I was a girl I tagged along with my mother to various meetings of civic and community organizations. I was great at stuffing envelopes and placing stamps. The women (it was almost always only women) talked and I listened, relieved to be busy rather than bored. My mother was an activist but I could not register her that way when I was growing up. She engaged in and also led organizations that advocated for all forms of social justice, many of those connected in one way or another to the Lutheran Church. At the time, I could not see these things as I see them now. I could not see her as I see her now.

In my 50’s I see my mother in myself more clearly than at any other time. It’s ironic. It was when she was in her 50’s that I was perhaps the most captive audience to her movements (in every sense of the word), aged 8 to 18.

I hardly remember her speaking directly about her Blackness or being Black in those very white Midwestern Lutheran spaces. But I remember how well loved she seemed, how warmly we were welcomed to the summer institutes in Valpraiso, Indiana. And I felt like I fit right in with all those justice-loving offspring of so many church families from Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Iowa. I suppose that’s where I got my workshop start.

It’s funny to me that I would tell you about my mother when I thought I wanted to talk about something else. I’ve been struck in the last several days by Black folks writing about being Black in white spaces. This recent essay by in Harper’s speaks about the dilemma of the Black public intellectual under the influence of the white gaze.

The white audience does not seek out black public intellectuals to challenge their worldview; instead they are meant to serve as tour guides through a foreign experience that the white audience wishes to keep at a comfortable distance. White people desire a representative of the community who can provide them with a crash course.

While two recent tweets reiterate and amplify this idea as it plays out in the academy:

Although I make no claim to being a public intellectual, I am a Black woman who writes publicly and shares distinct opinions. I recently had an experience that was somehow an ironic twist on this whole conversation.

I am scheduled to offer a workshop of the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference (#NAISPoCC) in Nashville this week. The title is “Be The Power And The Point – Why You Need To Present At Your Next Conference” and the goal is encourage more educators of color at all stages of their careers to consider presenting at education conferences or join organizations to help plan them. It’s a workshop because participants will be doing the work of examining their areas of expertise and developing an intention going forward. My role is that of facilitator. In order to prepare I opted to offer a test run of my session at my school and shared an invitation only a day in advance.

My international school has only very few faculty and staff of color. And my session is geared specifically to that demographic. Nevertheless I did my level best to deliver the session as intended and I had a remarkable turnout which included the Director, all 3 principals, the Director of Technology, IB Coordinator and 3 faculty members. Of those attending 3 identify as people of color. I was thrilled at the show of support and interest. I have never had that kind of attendance for past workshops. In the end, it was a good choice. I received some useful feedback and lots of praise. I counted it as a very big win.

There was a moment during the session, however, where a question came up about how the message would be different for an audience of color. On the spot, I struggled to generate a satisfactory response. I mentioned a bit about the dimensions of the conference itself and the emotional experience of, for once, being in the beautiful and varied majority. But I couldn’t get to the crux of my purpose. When I read Smith’s essay about Black intellectual labor under the white gaze, my frontal cortex was lighting up with all sorts of recognition. In a later conversation with my colleague I was able to articulate the differences more clearly explaining for instance that as white male with role authority he is accustomed to being given the floor. This is not the case for me as a Black woman. People will not naturally defer to me or my supposed expertise in a racially and/or gender mixed group. I think he got it but it also reminded me of how possible it is to go through the world white, male and clueless about the visible and invisible differences of experience that play out in our daily lives.

My ethical survival revolves on not begrudging my colleague his question. In respecting his curiosity while at the same time granting myself the possibility of offering incomplete and imperfect responses I rebuild my capacity to continue engaging. I am under no obligation to take on the role of ‘race whisperer’ in any context. Yet as a fellow human with a different experience and outlook I aim to listen in pursuit of insight. For both of us.

To resist all this ‘race talk’ would seem a comfortable antidote for me and those like me in similar contexts. The option to try to simply “blend in” is always there, as unrealistic and impossible as ever. Deciding that my version of “Be Best” means “Be Black” and vocal and unapologetic is a renewable after-effect of writing publicly. My journey has been a long and highly circuitous one. I did not follow my mother’s path immediately or fervently. All my recent ‘race talk’ is a late stage development at best. My readings keep bringing me back to history which I at once resent and grudgingly accept.

Near the end of his generous book on how to have race conversations in the classroom, Science Leadership Academy educator, Matt Kay, tells us

Colonialism and antebellum slavery were buoyed by the most intractable ignorance; it took centuries of disruptive conversations to destabilize racism’s most basic tenets. History remembers Douglass, but not the countless teachers, parents, and mentors, both enslaved and free, who kept the toughest conversations alive under the bleakest circumstances. These people had scant encouragement. They could more readily count on cynicism, apathy, or threats from power structures that benefited from their silence. (p. 261, Not Light But Fire, 2018)

Here we are and all of this sounds sounds so familiar, so immediate, so right now. You and I belong to those countless teachers, parents, mentors who in 2018 and beyond must keep those very tough conversations alive and present. I have a platform. If I am not using it to bring others into the spotlight, to draw attention to disparities in experience, to grow our collective understanding of ways forward, then what am I doing?

 

 

*(My 11 y-o came out of his room while I was writing this and I said “Guess what. I’m writing about being Black! Again.” To which he responded: “huh, that’s a surprise.” And yes, he has a firm understanding of sarcasm.)

 

Kay, Matthew R., Not Light, But Fire – How To Lead Meaningful Race Conversations In The Classroom. Stenhouse Publishers, Portsmouth, NH. 2018.

image ©Spelic

Thoughts on *Instruments Of The True Measure*

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My relationship with poems is not as fraught as my relationship with Poetry.

Each poem offers itself, independent of all its potential brethren and I read what I can,

Understand as much as I can and let it be.

Laura Da’ writes poetry which challenges me. In Instruments Of The True Measure I run up against my only rudimentary grasp of US History of the 19th century. It’s a painful encounter – my ignorance colliding with Da’s haunting portraits of specific human suffering and survival of that period.

I read and feel out of my depth. There are so many words I would need to look up: calico, lariat, forelock, sorrel, bandolier, slake, vellum.

As I persist, I begin to make out figures – babies who become boys then young men who find work and traverse the landscape.

I hesitate to tell you what I believe I read because I fear I could be wrong. But there are moments where we see with our own eyes the greedy claims of Manifest Destiny.

From “Greenwood Smoke”

To the south, a surveyor

crosses the river

once called simply

after the shape of its bend,

soon to be baptized anew

with an Irish assessor’s surname.  (p.36)

From “The Coming Men”:

Dig out

the granite corner markers

capped in numbered brass,

 

blaze random

marks in the haggard

stands of hardwoods.

 

Public auction and preemption

scatters two million

Delaware and Shawnee acres.   (p. 56-57)

Da’ who is Eastern Shawnee refers us again and again to the role of measurement in the process of conquest. We consider the tools of the surveyor, the authority of the map maker. She shows us a list of 18 treaties between the US government and the Shawnee between 1786 and 1867 and reminds us:

The gore of the battlefield seeps into the ground and is lost; ink on vellum is its approximation. …

Any treaty is an artifact of unimaginable suffering.  (“Pain Scale Treaties” p.58)

As I read I learn. I am humbled by the weight of history I have been able to shrug off until now. Because it is no longer ‘someone else’s history’. No, my own history is absolutely bound up in those countless transactions designed to benefit only one kind of people. This is where Laura Da leads me – back to my own responsibility and forces me to consider the extent and limitations of my humanity. Alas, I am back to measurement, not with meridians but the low gray lines of my mental horizon.

 

 

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.

 

What’s My Story?

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Helsinki Airport Baggage Claim. Surprise representation.

 

Truth: I’m at a 2-day seminar for women educators interested in leadership. It is being led by a dynamic current head of school who has made it her mission to help stock the pipeline with capable women who belong in international school leadership.

We’re talking about the power of storytelling. Strong stories, told well and with intent create connections. The premise makes sense. Neurological research suggests that our emotional responses to stories feed and change our social brain. Being inspired has physiological consequences.

Our stories matter. How we receive and process stories matter.

And I am stumped. Because I consider exactly this – storytelling – to be an area of weakness. It’s why I never try to retell a joke or describe a supposedly funny thing I did. I’m willing to read fiction but not create it. Even true stories from my life feel odd to relate. To think of a story that is of emotional heft for me that then bears out some truth about my larger message feels like a significant hurdle that shouldn’t be.

Which is why I have taken on the expense of coming here, of taking part, of learning from fresh voices. As I run through my mental files, searching for the story I might need or that might do the job, I keep coming up with a blank. Or with stories I can’t find a connecting thread to. This is the point: facing the challenge of not knowing, of feeling off-base. By tomorrow, something will emerge. And it will be the right thing because it will be what I have at the moment.

From there I can build.

Right this moment I don’t know what my story is. Or which story is mine. Tomorrow I’ll know. I can hardly wait.

What I Will Fret Over, 2018

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A few years ago I wrote a blog post about what I would fret over regarding my two sons and their futures. It’s near the end of 2018 and what I will fret over is some of the same but more and with a different urgency.

At the time I realized:

On my deathbed I will not be wishing I had fret more over my children’s education.

Rather, when that day arrives I may fret about their futures. About whether they know how much I love them. I will hope that they know how rich they have made my life. I will hope that they understand themselves to be capable and extraordinary human beings. I will pray that they have learned to trust others, how to reach out for help, how to care for and love others especially when loving is hard to do. I will fret that we have not had enough time to say all the things that we wanted to say to each other. I will fret over whether their passion for life and learning will be enough to see them through, in and on whatever paths they pursue. It is extremely unlikely that I will fret over how they did or are doing in school.

Today, following the election of an openly fascist president in the largest country in South America, who joins the ranks of world leaders poised to desecrate nature in hopes of power and profit, to punish indigenous populations for existing, to carry out nationalistic policies which openly discriminate and uphold racist divisions. In the midst of these developments, I fret for the future not only of my own children but children across the globe who will grow up knowing perhaps only the unrest, anger and deception that lie at the heart of the rise of unjust regimes.

And I fret over education and how we practice it. While I have found wonderful nurturing communities of educators who are deeply committed to opening minds rather than closing them, I need to remind myself at times that we are not necessarily the majority. The willingness of my allies and accomplices to face their own biases in order to better serve the children in front of them is not the norm. The rigorous pursuit of inquiry, liberation and radical imagination is not the focus of our professional development programs or degree granting institutions. Rather, we insist that new teachers learn to look past inequity and miraculously raise test scores. Education officials may suggest that gun training for teachers is a higher priority that ensuring that all children have adequate access to counseling services in every school. At the ballot box, funding initiatives to guarantee the coverage of school necessities in communities across the US struggle to pass and take effect.

We are living in a time where we have become comfortable with idea of stealing. From our children and grandchildren. With our political choices we are showing them that we are indeed selfish and short sighted, stingy and cruel, poor historians and lazy thinkers. All of our proud speeches about respect, care and critical thinking run smack into the reality of what they can witness on a daily basis – dehumanizing rhetoric, never ending violence against the vulnerable, the hardening of a ruling class that refuses to change itself.

My fretting today is the kind that has me writing at 4 am instead of sleeping. It’s the fretting that is physiological and that rekindles old worries and insecurities. It’s the kind of fretting that these new regimes aim to foster. Because a fearful, disoriented and unsure populace is much easier to manipulate with strong man arguments and false promises. But I am an educator. I’m not a superhero. I am a parent. And at this moment I am fearful.

And I have a little faith. I have two sons who know some things about care, respect and critical thinking. They are avid readers and understand that this matters. They have strong imaginations and dreams about what they want to achieve. In my classes, I work with eager students who have seemingly boundless energy to climb, jump, run and tumble. As they grow, I hope that they also build their strength of character and learn to recognize and counter injustice wherever they find it. Many of them will. Among hundreds of previous students, several have already made that commitment.

So this morning I have fear and some faith. I have community and back up. I know which side of history I am on. Today I will fret. I will also fight.

image via Pixabay.com CC0