Caught with a hand in the sugar cookie jar…..

With the actions, words, and activism of some educators of color, diversity and the call for inclusion are beginning to create noticable waves in the ocean of edtech. There are a lot of divers and fishing boat captains in this ocean who are majority white. In the edtech ocean waters, especially close to the surface, you find quite a significant number of the same types of fish swimming in schools together. When you dive deeper you will uncover one of the true jewels of the ocean: a colorful and unique coral reef full of a variety of fish. The funny thing is that most leadership in edtech (divers and ship captains) don’t want to make the effort to dive a little bit deeper in the edtech ocean to find these coral reefs. They choose instead to make easier and more comfortable decisions to remain in the areas of the ocean that are full of schools of similar fish. Instead of using the resources and opportunities they have at their disposal, many intentionally choose to stay in the shallow parts with the monochromatic fish.

In terms of diversity and inclusion, I really would love more white leaders in educational technology to take a pause. We as educators of color have been put on hold for quite some time, so I feel a moment of pause would actually be very beneficial. During that moment of pause just think, are we doing the same things we’ve always done in regards to diversity and inclusion? Are we just giving lip service in regards to diversity and inclusion? Have we done any work or are we actively reaching out to diverse voices and perspectives?  When we receive push back about our choices in regards to diversity, do we feel a little like we’ve been caught? That moment of pause can truly be so clarifying and moving. Reflect on the work you, your board members, selection committees and colleagues have really done. Can you say without a shadow of a doubt that privilege and the skewed lens privilege creates has not tainted your actions?

Unfortunately instead of this needed pause, commonly and recently, I’ve instead seen defensiveness, hurt feelings, and bold denial. News flash: It is okay to call a spade a spade. Today’s awesome article in the Washington Post eloquently alluded to the fact that directly calling out behaviors or words that are not inclusive or even racist is not reason one should feel slighted or insulted.  If your outward actions indicate your complete lack or minimal action steps for inclusion and diversity, why be so upset or offended when it is called out? Yes, you’ve gotten your hand caught in the cookie jar again, grabbing for the same sugar cookies. Instead of blantantly deflecting what you have done, having your feelings hurt, or trying to make excuses, I encourage you to do the following:

  • Listen to the push-back and feedback you are receiving; not with the intent to reply, but grow and reflect.
  • Accept the responsibilty for your delibrate choice to reach in that same sugar cookie jar again and possibly even apologize.
  • Truly commit to take legitimate action steps to not necessarily stop completely reaching in the same sugar cookie jar, but to regularly and consistently diversify the cookie jars you reach for.

The big issue for me with the cookie jar metaphor is this, not that you are reaching for a cookie, quality cookies are awesome. The problem is this, you are purposefully and very delibrately reaching in the same jar for the same types of cookies EVERY SINGLE TIME. Privilege creates and enables this behavior not only in edtech, but in many siutations. Realize that privilege of any kind creates an ugly lens and perspective from which to look through. I’ve noticed when even one person taps or pushes back on that privilege lens, this oftentimes will cause the fragile lens to break, leading to knee jerk negative reactions, deflection, and upset feelings.

Remember diversity is not a bad or dirty word. Many people when they hear the words inclusion or diversity, they feel they will lose something instead of seeing diversity as an opportunity to gain so much more. So instead of being offended when you are called out regarding your lack of diversity and inclusion in edtech spaces, realize what you are contributing to the problem. There are multiple stages in the recovery process and many educational technology leaders are still stuck in the pre-contemplation and contemplation phases. Please humbly reach out for help in this process, recognize this is a problem you can and should fix, and move to action phase of recovery. Seriously, this is 2016 and there is absolutely no excuse not to intentionally make an effort to look for more coral reefs in the edtech ocean.

 

 

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We belong…

I’m going to be honest, I’m not a very confident woman. There are so many times I question what I’m doing, worry about my ability to make things happen, and hate any type of attention, even the positive kind. I am a work in progress and will continue to improve my feelings of adequacy and become more confident. Although my confidence sometimes wavers, I wholeheartedly believe I am so blessed that I must use my abilities to provide opportunities and blessings to others within my pocket of influence. In my old age, I have become more laser focused on trying use my power for good and open doors and opportunities for others. Recently, however, I’ve started to realize in order to open those doors of opportunity, I must crack them open and walk through them first myself.

I don’t see myself being special; I just see myself having more responsibilities than the next man. People look to me to do things for them, to have answers. -Tupac

Over the past 9 weeks, I was fortunate enough to experience several first: be selected to attend Geo Teacher Institute at Google Headquarters, do my first Ignite speech, be selected and attend the hardest PD of my life at Picademy, and officially graduate with my Ed.S degree. I don’t list all of these things to brag, but to reflect on how blessed I am and wealth of opportunities I’ve experienced. I also realize all of these first were opportunities or doors I needed to walk through to make me better not only as an educator and member of the edtech community but as a person.

Just like I fight to bring opportunities for my students, I must fight and show up for opportunities as well. To be honest, it is sometimes difficult to fight for personal/professional opportunities. The desire to continue engaging in this 12 round boxing match of applying for, getting, and feeling like I belong in these new opportunities is exhausting. This fight is unrelenting like a monsoon that doesn’t seem to be letting up against me or my fellow edtechs of color. I’ve continued this fight not only because we need educators of color represented in these edtech spaces but also because when I do, I model to my students and fellow educators that we belong and should be there. 

It is continually frustrating to attend events, institutes, or conferences and see the same faces over and over and over again. Its like a whirling top ride at the carnival that I desperately want to get off because its making me dizzy and nauseous. On the other hand, seeing individuals of color keynoting or being featured speakers at edtech events is like a special ride at the carnival. You know that one unique ride when its working people enjoy it so much and can’t wait to ride it again. Unfortunately, most days and at most conferences that unique carnival ride is covered by a large, dark tarp instead or has a big “Out of Order” sign on it. It is so deflating and disheartening to see that diversity and efforts to diversify edtech spaces are truly lip service. People talk a good game, even have a keynote speaker of color one year, but they are really batting 2-18 in the series or shooting free throw bricks like Shaq. 

I’m tired of this. I truly am. To battle feelings that you don’t belong or are not good enough to be included is exhausting. Having door after door slammed on your toes or chairs at the peverbial table that should be for you being extended instead to your colleagues who don’t look like you and have less experience than you takes an enormous toll. Now imagine battling these things consistently for most of your life….not so fun, huh? 

As an edtech of color, I am now starting to feel no matter how many letters I have behind my name, accolades, or even veteran claasroom experience I might have, I still probably won’t get invited to sit down at the edtech cool table and be included with everyone else. I’m actually staring to become cynical about it now. When I do get offered a chair, it must be a blood moon or solar eclipse because it probably won’t happen again in 50 years, right?  

Ruha Benjamin so fiercely and eloquently spoke to many of these issues at ISTE just a few months ago. And one would think, hey maybe the monsoon is letting up. What Ruha said made sense, resonated with people, and garnered a lot of attention and conversations. Look at that, the rain is letting up some. Just when I thought I saw a ray of sun trying to peak through the clouds, I open other edtech conference flyer. A huge rain drop falls onto the middle of flyer and the rains start pounding me again. 

Unfortunately, this problem I don’t have the clear cut answer to. I’ve looked to my edtech shero Rafranz Davis for answers. She recently wrote a blog expressing her feelings and gave me some answers.  I’ve decided I will just continue to fight the good fight but now boldly ask: When will those who’ve toiled and done this work get a chair to the edtech cool kids table?  Do we need to build our own chairs and pull them up to the table? Will I get offered one of those coveted chairs? There is one thing I’m certain of and confidently believe: I belong at the table and so do a lot of my other brilliant and talented edtechs of color.

Creekland Collaboratory: over 2100 students will be served…….

Well, we have just completed four weeks of school already…wow four weeks. Time flies when you are working hard. The start of a new school year creates the great chance to try new things, do things differently than in previous years, and really make the year one to remember. I am very excited about the potential of this school year not only for me to continue to improve professionally as a technology coordinator, but also because of the awesome possibilities and potential for our school to get better and grow as a whole.

Flashback to the middle of last school year, I had the rather big and crazy idea of bringing a makerspace to my school. My original plan was for the makerspace to be in our media center and it to become an area that students could not only tinker and explore but also learn content in new and engaging ways. As an outside the box thinker and risk taker, I believed a new learning space was something our students deserved and I planned to be relentless in finding a way to make it happen. I boldly proposed my idea to my principal and admin team during a meeting in March, although I truly felt the idea would be shot down for two reasons. The first reason is our school rarely does anything outside of the box and the second reason was my media specialist who at the time was not too thrilled about the idea of a makerspace in the media center and didn’t want any part of it. However, to my surprise, my principal thanked me for boldly deciding to change the way we’ve always done things at Creekland and he wanted me to bring a makerspace to our students. He loved my passion and enthusiasm about this new learning space for our students and even coined our new space to be named the Creekland Collaboratory. I was shocked that my semi-random, pie in the sky idea received backing from my principal. Following that meeting,  a few other events happened including getting a new, supportive media specialist as well as my principal giving me classroom space to use for the makerspace instead. With those two items in place, I now had the official green light to make this vision of a new learning space for all students a reality.

I honestly had no clue on what to do next, where to start, and was a bit terrified. How should the room look? What items should I include? Will my principal like it? Will the kids like it? Will teachers want to use it? Tons of questions and doubtful thoughts tumbled through my mind all summer. Those questions and thoughts continued even as I returned to school with the teachers in August. I put the collaboratory on the back burner as other pressing beginning of the school year items needed to be handled including teacher technology PD, gradebook set up, device resets, and other technology related prep work necessary for the school year. When I finally came up for air after the first two and a half weeks of school, I realized I hadn’t really done anything with our collaboratory. My new media specialist asked how the set up for the collaboratory was coming along, and I responded, “uh, it will be going soon.” I knew I needed to get my butt into gear and make this thing happen. I worked for three days straight asking for input from my new media specialist as well as tossing ideas around in my own head. I continued to move past feelings of uncreativity and self-doubt and did the work with the intent of making a special space for our students to learn. When I finished, it was one of the few times I was truly 100% proud of what created. The collaboratory fulfilled the ideas of my principal and media specialist as well as my vision and thoughts that both had been doing backflips like Simone Biles in my head since late May.

 

This past Friday, I was blessed with the opportunity to open the collaboratory to our first classes. I was super nervous about making this over 5-month vision officially become a reality. I worked with one of our very good ELA teachers and came up with the plan of attack for the first learning opportunity in the collaboratory. I created a Poetry Lab for her students who were studying figurative language and poetry earlier during the week. Students would pair up and not only write their poem (of one to two stanzas and include figurative language) but also give a visual representation of the poem’s theme using creative tools of their choosing. To be honest, I was nervous for a variety of really valid reasons. This was my first attempt at creating a lesson for our collaboratory and my first lesson created ever related to 6th grade ELA. Second, I was worried that being out of the classroom for a year would cause me to lose my touch and ability to relate to students and get them excited about the Poetry Lab. Third, the kids would be so used to being robotic and not feel comfortable learning in a new way through creating, using hands-on activities, messing up and trying again. Again, I had to make the conscious decision to get out of my own head and feelings, extend myself past my own comfort levels, and trust things would go well more than doubt that they would.

Astonished, floored, and amazed would be the only three words that could remotely sum up my experience on Friday. I was in awe with all of the students’ excitement, engagement, creativity, and learning. The bubbly laughter, deep thought, and great dialogue that filled the room for all four class periods brought a huge sense of joy to my spirit. I knew without a shadow of a doubt, this learning opportunity was so needed, wanted, and appreciated by our students. I was so floored that students thanked me for letting them learn poetry this way, they wanted to come back, and even one student said it was the best experience he’s ever had in a classroom. I was so humbled by their kind words and honesty, but unbelievably amazed at how great this collaboratory learning experience was for all of the students, their teacher, and even for me.

 

This collaboratory experience from start to finish has been a microcosm of my experience so far in the edtech world and as a technology coordinator. It was great to learn and be reminded of the following things:

  • See a need that is in the best interest of all students and become relentless and bold in your pursuit of making that need no longer exist.
  • “Do the work. Don’t worry about the naysayers.”-Michelle Obama
  • Meaningful things that help all kids can be hard and don’t always come with fanfare.
  • Overcome your lack of confidence and go out on a limb for kids.
  • When your intent is pure and for all kids, things always work out.
  • Push the envelope, fight doing what is comfortable and find colleagues that are willing to do the same.
  • Provide opportunities for students experience success and do new things whenever you are able.

The Creekland Collaboratory grand opening was a huge success!! I’m so amped for day two with 7th grade math classes coming up soon and for all of the students who will get to learn in this environment tailored for them to be successful and engaged in their own unique ways.

 

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“The Creekland Collaboratory: a purposeful, fun, and safe learning space for all students.” The Collaboratory was established in August 2016 at Creekland Middle School by Shana White. For more information on the Collaboratory check out this website: Collaboratory Website