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!

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

Wrong Way Round: A snag in the planning


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