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!

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


Sherri Spelic

American International School Vienna

At NAIS PoCC Nashville 2018

Twitter: @edifiedlistener


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 ensure 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”!


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.


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


  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.


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 ensure 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.


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.


  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.


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!