Speaker, speaker on the mic

Speaker, speaker on the mic
help me understand you right
What's your point, make it clear
show me that you've earned my ear...

One speaking opportunity, several insights

You may know that I have mixed feelings about public speaking. Now that I have a little more experience, I can safely say that it is still a fraught undertaking in my mind. I enjoy being part of a panel. Facilitating groups I consider to be a fundamental calling. But the singular speaking gig still feels weird and I’m learning how to make it a far less lonely enterprise than it might be.

I was recently privileged to give my first in-person keynote talk at the ECIS (Education Collaborative of International Schools) Physical Education Conference, held at Frankfurt International School. I was last to bat, following three action-packed days of facilitating, dancing, playing, and learning. This was not my first ECIS PE Conference but it was the first in-person gathering in four years. I last attended the event in Düsseldorf in 2018, in Vienna 2017 and a couple of others before that.

Something you need to know: our PE conferences are built for active learning. The teachers-teaching-teachers model is central and we use all sorts of movement spaces to share games, techniques, and approaches over the course of our time together. That means we physically interact with each other, learn from each other; block and outwit each other. There’s laughter and listening, confusion and competition, composition and camaraderie. So giving a talk to the folks who are still with you after those many hours of active engagement feels less daunting; you know who you’re talking to.

Given that, I knew that I wanted my “talk” to feel more like a kind of focused debrief with movement interludes. In January, I already announced that I would zero in on PE teacher identity and came up with the title: “Who We Are Is What We Teach.” What I had to acknowledge was that I could not ask participants to do what I was not willing to do myself. So the talk became surprisingly personal.

I opened with a quick energizer. We did a short body percussion routine which is something I’ve always wanted to do with a group:

Next I asked the group to think about dominant culture of the PE departments in our respective international schools and identify salient characteristics. Surprise, no surprise: white, western, cis and male turned out to be the most widely represented attributes.

We turned our attention to the purpose and value of identity talk; what we gain by articulating layers and intersections of identity:

I used this as a springboard to share a bit of my own story, noting that although I am a Black woman who experiences racism and sexism, on almost all the other dimensions on the power/privilege wheel I am closer to power than not. And in my school context, I enjoy privileges that derive from being on staff for over 25 years, for instance. If nothing else, I hope people leave prepared to look beyond assumed and visible sources of power in considering the role of identity in all sorts of interactions.

How do we talk about our teacher identities and how those have come into being? We need to look back and think about what and who shaped our pathways into teaching and then specifically into Phys Ed. Here’s what I came up with for myself:

This was of course prelude to inviting my audience to think about their own experiences and then share at their tables. As I walked around, I heard folks talk about their parents, siblings, coaches, teachers, teammates -people who were significant in helping them discover who they might become. These conversations created a warm buzz in the room that I actually had time to take in and appreciate.

I chose to wrap-up with some insights I gleaned during my preparation, one of which I dare to call my purpose. I said,

In principle, very little of my writing, teaching, parenting, coaching, – you name it, is done alone or in isolation. I depend on communities and networks and other ways that folks come together to act on my purpose. My purpose is with other people.

Spelic, Who We Are Is What We Teach, ECIS PE 2023

To demonstrate how that plays out for me, I came up with what I call “Relational Standards.” These are phrases/concepts that name my priorities in working/sharing/living well with others.

They are:

  • Loving non-negotiables
  • Mutual responsibility
  • Responsive accountability
  • Collaborative joy x 3

For each idea, I provided an image and elaborated with a few words. Loving non-negotiables connects with my parents and their laser focus on education and independence for me and my siblings. Mutual responsibility shines through my relationships to my two sons but also to the communities to which I belong. “How do we care for each other?” is a question I try to pose in every community context. For responsive accountability I chose a photo of my PE team and explained how we regularly negotiate a range of topics and that our priority must remain: student well being and learning. In order to do that we need to be able to address concerns with equanimity and care.

The final 3 slides show forms of collaborative joy: 1st graders playing with the parachute, a smiling selfie with my CEESA DEIJ co-collaborators, Meredith Klein and Kathy Stetson, and a 30 second clip of my elementary school doing a line dance for Fasching. What I realized is that I get to experience A LOT of collaborative joy: at home, at work, online, in class. There are actually many, many moments of delight and satisfaction I derive simply from teaming up with others. That’s why it shows up 3 times instead of just once. Collaborative joy is often what I’m steering towards without always recognizing it.

In closing, I offered a short recap of the main points and of course, got everyone on their feet to finish up with the line dance!

I could not have asked for a more responsive or generous audience. It mattered that we share a professional identity. It mattered that I was not speaking to a room of strangers. It mattered that movement and conversation were integral to how we spent our time together. It mattered that I shared more of myself than I am usually inclined to do. It mattered that I was able to bring my full self to the task.

Many thanks to the #ECISPE2023 team for inviting me and putting on an excellent conference from beginning to end!