Landing Space, Post-PoCC

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In the past, when I’ve returned to school after my singular experience at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference (NAIS PoCC) I’ve written a blog or e-mail to share with colleagues, to let them them know where I was, what I experienced and how it might be of interest to them. It feels like good practice on a number of levels: modeling a means of sharing professional learning after an event, giving myself a space for recap and reflection, providing conference organizers and attendees with one person’s publicly documented feedback. I may do that again this year but it may take a bit more time.

It’s Sunday. The day after the close of an intense four-day professional and personal learning experience. I have a long day/night of travel ahead and the calls of re-entry are already audible through my inbox. Frankly, I’m exhausted. The 9 hour time difference is about to serve up another punch to my somatic system upon returning home, my sleep patterns have been off since I arrived and I maximized my conference involvement by hearing all the major speakers and attending a workshop in every slot. I am deeply grateful for every conversation, shared smile, knowing nod, sudden laughter. This is that conference where I show greedy tendencies: I show up here and there and there because this special opportunity will not present itself again for another year. I am feeding my educator soul for the long season in between when I am not surrounded by colleagues of color and local conversations on justice become rare and hushed.

As I leave this place and the thousands of impressions I am holding, I feel a sense of lonely release back into the overwhelming whiteness of being. I have chosen these spaces. I am fully accustomed to being the only or one of a few. Non-threatening, amenable, easy to welcome. I don’t harp on my Blackness and that seems to make everyone feel more at ease. I’ve said it before: for white folks, I’m a very comfortable Black friend and colleague to have.

What I’m thinking about now as I head back into my life in progress, is not so much about dramatic change in myself or others. I notice that my attention is desperately looking  for a good, solid place to land. A place to process and sort. A cleansing space for feeling the feels without apology; an interior home base to reassemble the pieces of myself I have given more free reign than usual in these four days. There’s gratitude, joy, concern, curiosity, wistfulness, pride, fear, overwhelm, ambition, purpose and wonder to make sense of. What’s next? Who do I need to lean on? Where can I lay some of these burdens down? Where do I need to pick up some slack? Who am I now and what is different from a week ago?

After visiting with my favorite uncle here in Seattle I’m thinking about family history. How do we account for all the unknowns which, in my case, outnumber and outsize the known? How have my ancestors’ sacrifices manifested in my life and those of my children? What does it mean to know, I mean really know, whence we came? The older I grow, the more cognizant I become of how deep these questions run. And then to understand the impact of growing up in a society that told me time and time again that my past didn’t matter. It is at turns physically painful to recognize how that double-edged sentiment has been applied to deny the legacy of dehumanizing racism while uplifting the doctrine of rugged individualism and exclusive self-responsibility. It is a shock to my system to decide post-50 that I’m ready to battle these demons.

So, attending PoCC means that a lot of my thinking has been stirred up; my emotions are hanging about me, still exposed. I am vulnerable and unprotected. To name that seems important. The conference is identity based, identity grounded, identity moving, identity shaping. That’s the wonderful part and also the risky part. I will take my time before I decide what and when to share with colleagues. I will try to be gentle with myself as I return to the ocean of other folks’ expectations. I will give myself time to process, rest and heal even if it means saying no to some things.

There were so many people at the conference who let me know that I am valued, accomplished, welcomed and loved. I am taking these gifts with me and thank you for sharing your time, care and wisdom with me.

This this.

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I’m at a conference; at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference, held this year in the heart of Seattle’s downtown.

I’m also 9 hours away from home. I’m not sleeping particularly well or let’s say, not enough at the right times. That said, my head and my heart are on fire. I am here for a feast.

I feast my eyes of the multitude of beautiful skin tones, the bounty of hair textures, styles and expressions. I feast my ears on the stories we share with one another as colleagues of color, as parents of black and brown and multiracial children, as aspiring leaders, as conference veterans, as old friends, as trusted allies, as people who need each other and who desperately need all of this.

Which this?

It’s the this I cannot draw well with my words because language falls short.

It’s the this that keeps me writing in my head as I listen and digest; that compels me to look around whatever room I’m in and sigh with a satisfaction that says, “Yes, just this…”

It’s the this that makes me reach out with both hands to shake the hand of someone I’m meeting for the first time. It is me saying, “Thank you for reminding me that I have a place here and a purpose. Thank you for confirming my belonging.”

It’s the this when we open up with each other in ways that defy the logic of individualistic and competitive norms we experience in other contexts. We bring our whole selves to the conversation because, for once, here, we can.

It’s the this in acknowledging each others’ accomplishments and ambitions with encouragement and pride. The way we rally around each other and also hold each other up when we have to contend with our demons.

It’s the this in being accorded a fundamental benefit of the doubt about my competence, my expertise, my positive intent and willingness to learn. It’s in being valued and seen as valuable.

It’s the this of being warmly welcomed and in turn extending that same welcome to others; a deep abiding kindness that permeates this whole space in its incredible mass and complexity of moving parts.

So much of this.

Here for it,

here for me.

Thank you, #NAISPoCC.

Be The Power And The Point – The Handout

Be The Power And The Point is a workshop I offered at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference in Nashville, TN, Nov. 28-Dec. 1, 2018. It was specifically aimed at and designed for educators of color.

There’s a powerful handout that belongs to the workshop I gave but I’m not sure that everyone who wanted to see it, got it.

So here it is. No excuses for not putting these ideas to good use. See you on the podium, friends!

Be The Power And The Point

Why You Need To Present At Your Next Conference

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Sherri Spelic

American International School Vienna

At NAIS PoCC Nashville 2018

Twitter: @edifiedlistener

INTRODUCTION

I am offering this workshop in the hopes that more educators of color will take up the charge to present at an education conference in the near future. I am working from the following premise:

Educators of color are valuable, important members of the education community in the US and abroad. Offering workshops, speaking at conferences and joining the leadership ranks of national and regional organizations are wonderful opportunities for all educators  and in particular for educators of color to boost our visibility in the field while enhancing our profiles as individuals.

I see the benefits of increasing our conference visibility as follows:

We grow our individual capacities as professionals when we put ourselves ‘out there’ and share what we know.

We grow as members of a larger community. When we connect with fellow educators of color and white accomplices, we can also insure that our subject area organizations recognize and value our contributions.

We improve the whole field of education by showing up, speaking up, demonstrating our brilliance and commitment and building inclusive, forward-thinking organizations. And not only in the area of “Diversity”!

GOALS FOR OUR TIME TOGETHER

When you leave this workshop, I hope that you will…

  • See the need for your presenter presence at conferences that I see
  • Consider how you will contribute your expertise in your field
  • Consider where  and with whom you will share your expertise
  • Write down an intention related to your next steps.

 

AGENDA

Introduction – Defining our purpose

Four Reflection Questions

  • Given your experience, special interests and variety of strengths, what would would be your dream workshop or presentation to offer others?
  • 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?

Formulate an intention – Tell us about your next steps, write it down.

Conclusion and celebration

LINK to slideshow

POINTS OF EMPHASIS

  1. Recognize the expertise and value you bring to your field of practice. You have knowledge and experience to contribute that can be beneficial to others.
  2. Be open to collaboration. You don’t have to do any of this alone! Find colleagues, create a panel, have a proposal-writing party, coach each other, partner up!
  3. Consider who can support you throughout the process: team colleagues? Administrators? Online colleagues and friends? Local, regional and national subject area organizations? Resources abound. Tap into them!
  4. Select topics and themes that move you! If diversity and inclusion are not your thing, feel no obligation whatsoever to fill a slot because someone else believes those themes should or might be in your wheelhouse (by default).
  5. During your session planning consider how best to tap into your participants’ expertise and interests. Never feel like you need to be the smartest person in the room. Get your participants talking, sharing and practicing. They will thank you.
  6. If public speaking isn’t your thing or even if it is, another contribution you can make is to become active in local and regional subject area organizations. Use those opportunities to shape conference and other programming priorities. Specifically, it may involve the chance to recommend speakers and presenters.

MY APPROACH

This workshop is designed to be about you and it’s called a workshop because we are all going to work. Rather than pour on a bunch of statistics, case studies and personal stories to illustrate EOC’s underrepresentation in various education spaces, I’ve decided to invest our time in hearing each other.

I do not have any hard and fast rules to tout; no 5, 8 or 12 steps for creating successful workshop proposals. Rather, I have a deep interest in pointing to resources, in serving as a sounding board, in being the voice of confidence when your gremlins get loud. I also have a lot of workshop design and delivery experience which has worked well for me in a variety of contexts. Hit me up (sherspelic@gmail.com), I’ll be happy to share more details.

The major benefit of gathering in conference spaces like this one is physical proximity. We are together, hearing and seeing each other and we need to run with it! So it is my choice to insure that we are in dialogue, rather than me talking at you. At the end of this document, I have a few resources which may be of interest and support as you begin to identify where you may decide to sow your presentation seeds.

CONCLUSION

Decide what’s important to you. Talk to people. Share your ideas. Ask lots of questions. Join forces with your heroes, mentors and supporters. Be nervous and proceed anyway. You have knowledge and experiences that are unique and valuable. Sharing those with the rest of us is an all-round win. Proposal submission deadlines may be months in advance of the event. Don’t let that deter you. Submit a few proposals and see what happens. What you have to say matters. We’re ready to hear your voice.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Upcoming conference database – A bit of a mixed bag but has links to some of the major subject area gatherings
  2. EdCamp.org provides all you need to know about this participatory form of professional learning which can offer excellent entry points for first and seasoned presenters.
  3. National Science Teachers Conferences
  4. National Social Studies Teachers Conference
  5. National Council of Math Teachers
  6. National Council of Teachers of English
  7. National Art Education Association
  8. SHAPE (Health & PE org)
  9. Early Childhood Educators
  10. National Association of Special Education Teachers
  11. NAIS
  12. International Society for Technology in Education
  13. Social media contacts can be excellent sources of info about conferences and how they work.
  14. If you are curious about my work – I have written about workshops and conferences here, here, and here.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I am deeply indebted to three Twitter colleagues and dear friends who shared their experiences with me in preparation for this session. Shout out supreme to Knikole Taylor, Julia Torres, and Marian Dingle! All three are active in their regional and national subject area organizations (Ed tech, Language Arts, and math) and emphasized the leverage they can exercise in shaping the conference agenda in their respective roles. So keep thinking about that, too!

Re-Entry Made Public: How I returned from my conference and let everyone at my institution know it

What’s your school’s custom for folks returning from conferences? What kinds of formal or scheduled opportunities exist for you to share your learning after a major education event? When do you get to share your highlights and/or disappointments with colleagues? At the next faculty or team meeting? Perhaps never?

I think about this when I come back rejuvenated and empowered from a conference. I look different. The kids ask, “where were you?” as if I had abandoned them at bus stop. A few colleagues notice my return with a generous, “welcome back!” It’s nice to know you were missed. And it can also be tough not finding a proper outlet to share your freshly won riches. So here’s what I did: I drafted an e-mail which included links to the blog post I wrote, to the conference website and to the hashtag tweets, as well as some photos from the session I led. I want people to know where I’ve been, what I gained and what I’m bringing back. It was also a chance for me to encourage others to do the same.

Greetings friends,

I returned from the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference (NAISPoCC) on Sunday morning with my head and heart filled to the brim with all sorts of nourishment. Compelling speakers, outstanding workshops and of course, the tremendously affirming fellowship with so many educators of color and white allies made it fully worth the trip. Add to that the remarkable presence of students participating in the parallel Student Diversity Leadership Conference and you have a truly rich and rewarding conference experience. We were just under 4,500 adults and nearly 1700 students.
My workshop, “Be The Power And The Point” was well attended and received. I could not be happier with the results. I’m attaching a few photos to give you an impression of how it went. With this e-mail I also want to encourage more of us to share a bit of our conference experiences when we return. I’m curious to hear what you’ve learned, where you’ve been and what kind of impact it’s having. I’m also sure that I’m not alone in my curiosity.
Glad to be back,
Sherri
The results were positive. Several people expressed gratitude and interest; found it a thoughtful and useful gesture. Adding pictures to the e-mail certainly enhanced interest, by the way.
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I’m pleased to be back and I’m not afraid to set an example I hope others will follow. And in the meantime, here’s a video from NAIS PoCC that captures everything I was so eager to share with my colleagues. Enjoy!

Dear Julie – Thoughts on ‘real american’ by Julie Lythcott-Haims

Dear Julie,

I heard you speak. And then I went to buy your book. The line to have it signed was very long, so I decided I’d be okay without that part.

I read some before going to bed, a little more after waking up. I read during a good portion of my long haul flight back to Central Europe. After I got back to my apartment and caught up with my husband on the phone, I sat in my big chair in the living room and read until I finished the book.

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This is not my normal MO. I read a lot and I often read a couple of books at a time. real american made me change. real american compelled me to take it all in in the most concentrated form I could manage. And yes, you had me at the talk. “Killing me softly”.

I suppose because there are some parallels. We’re about the same age. I also have a couple of degrees from elite institutions. I know all about that OREO dynamic. I lived it throughout my school life and maybe even now, but no one calls it that among adults. Instead I’ve referred to myself as Sister Assimilation which captures my lived Blackness in predominately white spaces. I’m not biracial but my two sons are. I have experienced and enjoy quite a bit of privilege. I’m Black. I’m a heterosexual woman. I have a husband and an ex husband, both of whom are white. I work in education and no surprises here, I write.

I feel you.

When you describe getting ready for and attending the cotillion ball with your older brother –

“In the mirror I see that I’m playing a part in a play and am not sure I know my lines.”

I’m not used to feeling ugly but that night I feel not only ugly but downright homely… It’s like my hair is getting drunk and making a scene and I can’t do a damn thing about it.” p. 73

Of course I am reminded of all the ways I struggled with feminized beauty ideals that were not meant for me to fit anyway, where my hair was just the tip of the iceberg.

You talk about your work as Dean of Students at Stanford Law School and dealing with the parents of a student who committed suicide. You are very pregnant and sitting with 2 or 3 other administrators meeting with this grieving family. When your boss encourages you to consider going home as it is getting late, you tell us this:

“I learned that night that bearing witness to the suffering of another human being is the most sacred work we can do.” p.150

I can’t remember ever having set out this idea of bearing witness and what I want to do with my life. On the other hand, my online handle is edifiedlistener and listening is my calling. Even if I know I don’t do it well or generously all the time, I am aware of its power to heal, to offer respite, to harbor others. I try. again and again and again. In listening to your story, I dare to touch some of the rough parts of my own. Bearing witness can be catching.

Oh and these children – a brown boy and very light skinned girl – both yours. Who will they become? Who will they be allowed to be and in which contexts? Your questions, concerns and guilt speak to me in ways no other author or friend has done so far. My two brown boys and their distinct white daddies populate and punctuate my life with a host of thoughts and emotions. One son is of age and doing his thing in the world. The other is still at home, young and ambitious and athletic. They are 13 years apart these brothers who further identify as Austrians, as Bilinguals.

My blackness is clear to me and them. They see themselves as brown and grasp that there are disparities in experience based on skin color, not as obviously in Austria to our eyes so far, but certainly in the US. But as a parent we have to ask, how much knowledge is enough?

You describe giving our Black sons “The Talk” – listing all the details they need to keep straight when confronted by police.

How not to defend themselves even when they have done nothing wrong. How not to reach into their pockets for anything, not even to turn off their music. Please, baby, remember: do not reach into your pocket to turn off your music.

We teach them this while trying to also teach them to love themselves and not be ashamed of their beautiful black bodies. Of their selves.  p.210

I have so many questions.

Julie, I’m writing this and it feels so easy. Like, I’m fine, let me tell you how wonderful your book is. I am so happy to do it. And yet, there’s a whole other layer to our conversation that was palpable when you spoke to so many of us who were in our own hearts having our “killing me softly” moments because we felt so seen, so crisply articulated. I, as the Black girl who struggled to be Black enough and girl enough at the same time. I, as that fiercely intelligent and well spoken child who was a source of astonishment and dismay when I outpaced my white classmates – particularly in writing. I, as that perfect integrator, friend to all, so as not to be caught fully alone which felt like a constant unspoken social risk. I, as the convenient comfortable black colleague who is so affable, flexible I could never be identified as the Angry Black Woman.

I heard all of that in your voice – all the emotions you carried and laid bare for us. And in that large assembly of school folks of color, I was allowed to feel whole and understood and that I belonged.

There’s a manuscript that’s waiting to be finished. Your talk and your book will help me get it across the finish line. I hear you rooting for me. It’s time for me to share more of my stories. It is time.

Thank you for everything.

Sherri

 

 

Julie Lythcott-Haims, real american: a Memoir, St. Martin’s Griffin. NY, NY. 2017.

 

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