Why do I cause you discomfort?

Wow, dusting off my blog….it is been more than a hot second but for a legit reason. I needed to mentally take a step back from being a connected educator. To be honest being a connected educator has been great for my growth and also helped me establish really great relationships and close friendships with other educators all over the world. With those connections has also created an oxymoronic feeling of murky transparency that I didn’t like and wanted to be away from. There are people that I feel like I know really well and others I thought I knew, but I’m still surprised by their actions and choices. I guess I feel social media should really allow people to “live their truth” but quite often I’ve noticed instead people don’t really do so. Why is that? I do feel connected educators need to do more internal work. What are you really about? What things in education really matter? Am I letting my bubble skew my understanding of the world around me? Am I really a desultory educator? Do I act like a cat and a laser pointer, always jumping the next catchy buzzword or trend? Many things in education are not fun, innovating, trendy, or glamorous. How are you addressing those things? Those are some of the hard questions I wish connected educators really thought about, worked through internally, and honestly answer.

Equity, inclusion, and advocacy work are examples of those topics that aren’t as glamorous. Equity and inclusion aren’t the flavors of the month although many on EduTwitter are treating them as such. Equity and advocacy work can’t be treated like the Hokey Pokey. You don’t get to put one hand in because you finally hear the music that’s been playing for quite some time. Genuine pursuits for equity and sincere advocacy efforts for marginalized groups last a lot longer than a catchy song and require a lot more effort than shaking all about. Oftentimes, especially in the early stages, the work requires you in the words of Mr. Lamar to: “Sit down, be humble.” The equity and advocacy party has been around a very long time. Don’t arrive, attempt to change the music, invite some of your friends, then bounce shortly there after. Don’t arrive on the scene because it’s now the popular place to be, take selfies, and brag about being there once. Don’t ignore the people who’ve been at the party from the beginning or for a very long time and dismiss/ignore their efforts to continue to keep the party bumpin’. It doesn’t work that way. Genuine advocacy work is long suffering, active, visible, and full of humbling moments. Dismissing the work of and not listening to veteran advocates who have come before is disrespectful, ungrateful, and disingenuous. All connected educators must do better in this, stop ignoring and patronizing those working to improve these educational issues with more than buzzword, hashtags, and gadgets.

I’m still a bit baffled by the idea that people think patronizing, minimizing, erasure of people of color is okay. Black women have dealt with erasure since forever (ever, ever) and I feel maybe people think that’s what makes it okay. It is dehumanizing when someone literally removes or eliminates your brilliance, ideas, thoughts, or words. Doubly troubling is when these same ideas, thoughts, and/or words are used for someone else’s gain, ego stroke, or benefit. I respect the following quote from Truman: “it’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit” but that adage is faulty for this reason. These accomplishments are tainted because they stem from ego-driven elimination of another individual’s value. When you silence, ignore, or co-opt someone else’s message/idea/thought you see them as less, and not as worthy or valuable. Co-opting is new school form of unpleasant piggy backing. Quite often when you co-opt, you’re changing the value of originator to an object, standing on their shoulders so you can be seen, thus demeaning and dehumanizing them.
In my twelve year career as an educator, I’ve seen a lot erasure, disrespect, inequity and dealt with my fair share as well. I find it so peculiar that no matter the variety and wealth of my experiences and abilities, I still can be treated in educational circles at times as an nonentity. Microaggressions, unfair labels, silencing, co-opting all happen consistently and usually because other people are uncomfortable. In this situation, like most others, the why is forefront in my mind, and the what is a byproduct. Why do I get silenced? Why do I experience microaggressions? The question I’ve now instead begun to ask is this: Why am I causing you enough discomfort so you’re acting this way towards me?

“Shana, you’re so direct.”

“Shana, that’s mean because you didn’t agree with me.”

“Shana, because you don’t smile at me all the time, I think you don’t like me.”

“Shana, you won’t help me when I want you to.”

“Shana, you speak up too much and your tone is aggressive.”

Above are just a few of the things that have been said to me by adults (most of them not to my face) but via written format or my favorite, having someone else deliver the message to me. Labels like advocate, determined, skilled, strong-willed, passionate aren’t always used by some people to describe me. Instead its aggressive, mean, disruptive, trouble-maker, or outspoken. Why? Some of us know why. I know a lot of other educators of color (especially black women) will raise their hands about being described by the latter adjectives more often than not. This is another form of disrespect, devaluing, and erasure that at this point in my career I should not be subjected to.

Again, I ask: Why does my existance cause you discomfort? Do you recognize the reason why yet? Again that internal work is necessary here to answer these hard questions.

Am I supposed to be docile and accept things the way they are? Should I never offer pushback or a reminder to pause and listen? Should I never speak up and speak out when people continue to trivialize serious issues? Should I allow myself to be dehumanized so you can feel better about yourself?

Well, news flash, my responses to the above questions will continue to be nope, nope, nope, and nope.

 

 

Scarlet Letters….

Qualifiers…….are right up there for me as one of the top three worse things to hear in conversation (hate-filled statements and lazy excuses are the two others). Although I detest qualifiers in conversations, I am used to hearing them on a regular basis, because I’m a person of color and a woman. Recently, however, I had the opportunity to hear another qualifier used in a conversation with me at work.

Other person: Shana, so we are getting around the time of the year that we talk about next year. What are your plans and ideas? Do you want to stay in your current role or do something else?

Me: I’m not sure. I enjoy educational technology and helping people use technology purposefully, but I miss working with students directly. Luckily with the Collaboratory, I get the opportunity to combine both of my interest working with kids and educational technology.

Other person: Yes, the Collaboratory is amazing. Students are engaged and really enjoying learning. You really took your idea and created an awesome space that is safe for students, they are engaging with technology, and collaboratively learning. “You are such a hard worker, very smart, and the lesson planning and instructional strategies you’ve been able to incorporate across all content areas in the Collaboratory are as good if not better than some instructional coaches who work in our district. And that’s amazing because you were just a health and PE teacher.”

I physically shifted in my chair and a lump gathered in my throat. Wow. That last sentence cut so deep, that I had almost forgotten all of the previous words spoken. This person doesn’t really appreciate me or value my work if he has to use a qualifier to undercut compliments. So really, all you see me as is “just a health and PE teacher.”

I’ve been the technology coordinator in my building for almost two years now. Not to toot my own horn, but I have been successful as a member of the EdTech world during that time frame and been recognized within my district, state, and even nationally. Apparently still with an instructional technology specialist degree, awards, and EdTech certifications, this person cannot see past my two scarlet letters: PE.

I’m a passionate person, but there are two things I have been passionate about for a very long time: working with kids and health and fitness. Physical education seemed like a wonderful and natural meshing of those two deep passions. But why am I still treated like the ugly step-sister because of it? Why am I not seen as the same type of professional as a math or language arts teacher? Why is my ability to effectively educate questioned or seen as less than other educators? Why am I considered not as intelligent or bright as core content area teachers?

I believe in any content area there are bad, good, and great teachers. Yes, there are bad physical education teachers, but there are also bad math, science, and language arts teachers too. Unfortunately, physical educators seem to regularly get a bad rap. As a physical educator, I have been able to make remarkable connections with my students.  I passionately remind my students during the first few days of class if they don’t know how to make their body work at optimal levels there is no way they can be an engineer, chef, architect, or scientist. I always believe my subject is just as important as core content, because I tell students you can’t be a good mathematician if you brain and body are not fueled properly. You cannot invent the next big thing if you are in a hospital bed because of poor health choices.

In addition to the connections in the classroom, I have been able to witness and impact the maturation process and growth of girls I’ve had the opportunity to coach. There is an amazing connection between students and good coaches/physical education teachers. We are older siblings, school parents, mentors, and advocates for our students. Many good physical education teachers and coaches I feel are greatly undervalued, disrespected, and not appreciated by their colleagues and superiors. However, most are so deeply invested in assisting kids, they continue their often thankless work.

Recently, I accepted a position to return to the physical education classroom outside of my current school and district. I’m really excited to return to the classroom and blessed to have the chance to return to my two biggest passions which are fitness and health and impacting kids. I’m also excited to work at a place where my skills and abilities are valued and appreciated. I want to work where being a physical education teacher is not used as a qualifier to devalue me but instead as an amplifier to show gratitude. Although the letters PE are not always valued or respected, I proudly wear those scarlet letters on my chest into my new position.

 

 

 

Solidarity from a cold Saturday and Sunday warmed my heart…..

Solidarity is a word that has been thrown around a lot lately. Not necessarily in edtech, but as it relates to this country and the division and sides/groups/causes that are being selected by individuals. With the climate of this country, definitive lines are being drawn and the unfortunate and blatant ugliness is manifesting itself in bans, bigotry, and bullying behavior. In order to handle the chaotic and corrosive nature of current times, I believe people, especially educators, must ground themselves and solidly stand with a group of like-minded individuals or a cause to combat overwhelming feelings of anxiousness, disappointment, and frustration. To clarify my understanding of the term solidarity, I looked it up recently.

 

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via Google

 

 

When examining the definition for solidarity a few words stand out: “unity of feeling or action” and “mutual support.” The feeling part of this definition kinda threw me off, mainly because feelings can be fleeting. I’ve worked with middle school children most of my career and have a four-year-old at home, so I know first hand that feelings change as often as underwear or the wind blowing. Solidarity, in my opinion, is more than feelings and moves a person and unifies a group to consistent, visible action on behalf of a cause. If one is in solidarity with a group or a cause, their support of that group or cause does not waver like feelings often do. Solidarity is not silent and does not pop-up all of a sudden, it is always consistent, supportive, loving, and empowering. True solidarity includes people who are willing to have your back all day, every day. True solidarity includes people who willingly speak up on behalf of the mutual interest of the group frequently, not just on a whim or because it seems cool to do. People truly “about that life” and in solidarity with a group or cause understand and appreciate doing work that is not always seen and praised, but its impact is always felt. Their unified passion for the cause or movement is always authentic.

My first Educon experience was absolutely amazing. To be surrounded by so many gifted minds for the weekend was really humbling. To also be surrounded by authentic solidarity and love all weekend was so surreal. The solidarity I felt with Educolor members during Educon was so emotional and also mental. It was deeper than feelings as it kept me excited, on my toes, and nervous while it also soothed and nourished my soul. The only real disappointment for the weekend was not being able to see my good friend Rusul and getting to facilitate a session with her. I completely respect her reasons for not attending Educon and Educolor members showered her with extra love and messages during the weekend.

Highlights of my first Educon include:

  1. Meeting many members of the Educolor collective in person for the first time. It was surreal to be face to face with people I have conversed with only online but I respect and have learned from over the last couple years. Our interactions reminded me of the importance of the work and struggle our group members deal with daily. The combination of sharing victories and speedbumps was empowering and rejuvenated my spirit immensely.
  2. Being told by Jose Vilson that he “believes in me.”
  3. Hearing from the amazing students of SLA during the conference. Their confidence, knowledge, and passion were a highlight of many in sessions.
  4. Listening to wisdom shared by Audrey, Bill, Jose, and Gary during their sessions.
  5. Educolor family dinner.
  6. Baby Xio…..enough said.
  7. Co-facilitating my first Educon conversation with the amazing Jose Vilson. Although I was completely freaked out, it was such a wonderful conversation and I was humbled to be a part of it.
  8. Very candid and sometimes comical conversations during meals and walks with Mel, Larissa, Xian, Erin, Gabriel, Annie, and Edwin.
  9. Sunday’s panel with Deb Meier and Renee Moore as panelists…..mics were dropped repeatedly. Knowledge shared was memorable and amazing.
  10. Being able to visit Philly for the first time. A tad too cold for this southern girl, but very cool city.

 

 

More than one word from 2016……

I realized I had been slacking somewhat in writing on my blog. I know most people started the year with their “One Word” that will carry them throughout the year. I’ve seen some great words chosen: growth, relentless, listen, caring, and perseverance to name a few. But because I like to do things differently, I would like to reflect on last year’s highs, lows, and learning experiences with seven words.

  1. Mentors:  One of the many things that 2016 taught me was the value of having a mentor(s). Mentors help guide you through potential trouble spots, offer wisdom for day-to-day and larger decisions, and help celebrate your successes with you. It is truly a Godsend to have found individuals to mentor me in the beginning stages of my edtech leadership journey. If you are an educator and don’t already, please find a mentor. Never underestimate the value of having a quality mentor in your corner who will not allow you to settle for anything less your best.
  2. Educolor: I’m truly blessed, humbled, and grateful to be a member of this collective. Educolor is a group of truly diverse and brilliant individuals desiring and pushing for change in education. They provide me the expertise, encouragement, wisdom, love, support, and empowerment to continue to fight status quo mentalities and practices that plague some educators and schools. Some members I have gotten to know better, than others, but unity in purpose, no matter member location or current position, never wavers for Educolor. I’m grateful for all members of this group who have really put others on notice that change needs and will happen for marginalized groups in education.
  3. Individualism: There were quite a large number of significant celebrity deaths in 2016. Prince, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Gene Wilder, Muhammed Ali, and George Michael to name a few. The significance of their deaths aside from their incredible talent and ability within their respective craft was their unwillingness to conform. For most of these people, individuality was more important and valuable than anything else to them. Currently, we have so many people that would rather be Minions than be a boss and own their lives. Quit piggybacking off the efforts, work, and voice of others and own your voice and what you stand for. Be you. Individualism is what makes humanity beautiful. Be authentic and live your truth. An important lesson many should realize that being like everyone else and following the crowd will have you going aimlessly in circles, likely lead to mediocrity, and also increase the likelihood of electing someone nowhere near capable of running a country. Be you.
  4. Trolls: I wish I was talking about the animated film that my two children thoroughly enjoyed and still love singing the Justin Timberlake song from the soundtrack, but unfortunately I’m not. I’m also not talking about the grumpy old troll under the bridge on Dora the Explorer® even though he was actually tamer and nicer than the ones I had the “pleasure” of hearing from. 2016 was the year that I dealt with a whirlwind of trolls on Twitter. I do not have a problem with people disagreeing with what I have to say, but the appalling, egregious, and toxic nature of the tweets I received last year surprised me. After a number of my tweets that mentioned the need for educators to discuss race, privilege, bias, and social justice in classrooms, I was told I should be jailed, that I was on meth, and that I should be fired and hurt just to name a few. I was astonished by the hate that spewed from eggs and eagles avatars on my timeline. The brilliant educator and activist, Jose Vilson recently wrote a blog post on how he handles trolls. His blog was very empowering and has helped provide clearer perspective and guidance for handling trolls that I know I will likely deal with again in 2017, so I now will be ready for them.
  5. Silence: 2016 was roller coast year of events including the senseless deaths of black males at the hands of police officers, US election shenanigans and nonsense, and clear lines in the sand being drawn in by people in our country. The other thing that stood out as well was the deafening silence from many educators in relation to the numerous -isms that ran wildly, loudly, and rampantly in the US last year. Complicit behavior has no color. Educators must remember it is our responsibility to speak out and many educators chose instead to be safe and say nothing. That is unfortunate and willfully negligent too. Part of our professional practice includes creating spaces in our classrooms and schools that are safe for all students. In order to create that safety, the air must be clear and schools/classrooms must be void of biases, hidden   -isms, and full of humility. I was very disappointed to see a number of educators not use their platform and social media following to discuss such issues. However, I am encouraged and will remain supportive of those educators who started or continued actively to push the dialogue. Solidarity is not passive and requires action. I look forward to hopefully seeing true solidarity from more educators in 2017.
  6. Vision: Establishing a vision my first few years as technology coordinator has been crucial to the success I experienced professionally last year. More important to me than accolades, was the ability to impact the learning culture at my school in 2016. From new PD styles, to STEM camps, to a Collaboratory, there is now a buzz in our building that learning can use technology or not but still be meaningful, enjoyable, and beneficial for all kids. Without the purpose, drive, and an ultimate vision of what could and should be in my building the successes experienced in 2016 would not have been possible. I am blessed at my ability to make a meaningful impact last year.
  7. Family: My immediate family had a wonderful year with successes and growth spiritually, emotionally, and for my little ones physically too. The other amazing thing is that I was able to add to my family through my connections created online. There are a number of people who I know have my back, have encouraged me, and reciprocated unconditional love. I am blessed and grateful to have added these individuals to my family and look forward to continuing to water, nurture, and grow these relationships in 2017.

 

Okay, last word, well actually it’s two words: Hidden Figures. Wow, just wow. Not only is this film superb, it is a true story adapted from the brilliant novel by Margot Lee Shetterly that I’ve started reading recently as well. It is amazing what these women of color accomplished and the success that others were able to experience because of their brilliance. The ability to demonstrate greatness, despite being given very little appreciation and opportunity to shine is remarkable. I am grateful that I was able to see this movie twice with my daughter as well as the opportunity to read the novel with her. This movie and novel both have proven impactful and provided me additional resolve to fight the good fight for marginalized groups as it relates to opportunities in schools and in edtech. If you haven’t seen this movie, please go see it and also go read the novel. They are both a must!

Here’s to a great 2017. I wish all educators success, hope, true purpose, passion, and desire to work tirelessly to equalize the playing field for all students. We all will hopefully use 2017 to improve on our professional practices and intentions and ultimately make things education better for ALL students.

 

On the other side….

The beauty and simplicity of parables that Jesus told I’ve always found remarkable. His ability to use a parable to vividly break down a complex idea into simpler things or to silence his critics was astonishing. Although I enjoy a number of the parables in the Bible, one really has been on my mind lately with the state of affairs in the world.

Luke 10:29-37 (NIV) via Bible Gateway 

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

The parable of the Good Samaritan is equal parts complex and simple. Jesus legitimized the lives all of the members of humanity while condemning the behavior of the self-righteous, non-empathizing ones. It is important to note that using a priest as well as a Levite was purposeful because both were well versed and aware of The Law (i.e. The Ten Commandments), but were willfully refusing to follow the two greatest commandments given by Jesus. It is also interesting to note that both individuals passed on the other side of the road from the beaten man. They both saw a man that needed help, care, and support, but instead exercised their privilege, dismissively choosing to walk by him on the other side of the road putting him and his needs out of sight and out of mind.

This story has parallel applications to the educational setting. During the past year, I’ve noticed larger numbers of “priest” and “Levites” which is unfortunate and problematic for our students and our schools. Priests are those educators who hypocritically talk a good game among groups of people or in public places where they are seen, but in private meetings or where there is no fanfare or applause they blatantly ignore or do not directly address problems/issues regarding race or bias. Levites (experts of the Jewish law) are those educators who fully understand the system and its inequitable nature, but willfully choose not to offer visible support or take action steps for those dehumanized and oppressed by the system.

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Until people of color are embraced and our humanity is equitably recognized all lives really do not matter. This work to improve equity for all starts in our schools. I strongly encourage all educators to stop ignoring racism, inequity, and bias in our schools. Stop walking to the other side of the road because the pain and scars of racism and bias do not directly affect you. Stop working in the comforts of your privilege and willingly ignoring the damage that racism and bigotry can cause and instead speak out. Complicity and complacency both have no color, gender, ethnicity, or religion. Walking to the other side of the road and ignoring your neighbors who are attacked from multiple directions makes you culpable too. Educators if you have not already, please show mercy to your neighbors (students and fellow educators) who are affected by racism, bigotry, and biases. Empathize with them, then speak out and against those individuals and systems which oppress and attack. Until more educators decide to truly become “Good Samaritans” and love our neighbors as themselves, our issues with all the -isms plaguing society will continue to hang over our schools like a cloud. We all have the power and responsibility to empower those around us, to shape our classrooms and schools into a much better place for future generations to succeed and thrive, not just get by and survive.

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Time for the next round…..

I apologize in advance for this post. My feelings and emotions are still a bit of a wreck after this past Tuesday. I honestly had a bad feeling about the election for awhile and even shut down my social media accounts because I just could not read and dialogue about the ugliness anymore.

Last week was rougher than I even anticipated. The last time I felt so disheartened and depressed was when my grandmother passed away during the summer of 2014. This week I barely slept, prayed earnestly while crying, I didn’t eat until yesterday, and even felt no desire to lift weights which is something I always enjoy. When my kids woke up Wednesday morning and asked who won, I had to say Donald Trump did. My son started crying and my daughter said “are you kidding me? Mom, how does a man who clearly says mean things about brown people and Muslims going to be in charge of the US? I don’t understand, you always tell me that good beats evil, how does someone who acts like a bully win?” I told her I don’t know, but God is in control and your dad and I love you. That was really all I could muster up to say. I didn’t want her or my son to know how sad, disheartened, and low I felt too about the election results.

During the drive into school, I recounted in my mind all of the numerous racist, bigoted, sexist incidents I’ve experienced in my lifetime. The first one I remember happened when I was only a six-year-old. As pulled into the school parking lot, I delayed getting out of my car. I had to wipe the tears starting to wail up in my eyes as I remembered all of these hurtful things:

  • “Black people usually don’t test into the gifted program, so I’m surprised you did.”
  • “You’re an Oreo, you know, your black on the outside, but really white on the inside.”
  • “You’re a different kind of black person, you know articulate and smart.”
  • “That’s surprising you got into Wake Forest academically, I figured you got an athletic scholarship”
  • “You’re really smart for a black girl. It’s very rare.”
  • “How do you know all of this technology stuff as a woman?”
  • “What are you mixed with, I know you can’t be just black?”
  • “You think you’re such a good player, don’t you N—–r”

These were just a few of the many incidents I’ve experienced that I recounted in my head. I couldn’t hold back the emotion and wept in my car for several minutes before walking into school. All of those hateful experiences I and countless other marginalized people experience(d) at the hands of white people, was somehow being rewarded. I could not believe that other adults, drank in small sips or big gulps, the Kool-Aid Trump served. Trump’s campaign centered on hateful rhetoric and no real definitive plan or answer on how exactly things would be made “great again” in the US. He belittled, disparaged, scoffed at, and disrespected pretty much any and everyone. How did we get to the point that Americans thought this behavior by anyone, let alone the potential leader of the United States was acceptable and okay?

I finally composed myself enough to walk to my office. The remainder of Wednesday and the rest of this past week, I felt my larynx had been ripped from my throat. I felt and remembered the scene in the original movie Roots, when Kunta Kinte’s spirit was finally broken enough from mistreatment and the beatings to assimilate and take his slave name, Toby. America’s decision to elect a mediocre, unqualified and hate-spewing white man to its highest office deflated me. I felt no matter what I did, accomplished, shared, apparently a lot of people still don’t believe my life or the lives of other marginalized people really matters. No matter what I do, a majority of people will still see me as a     n—-r, and I can’t fix that.

I am very uneasy of the direction that our country will go, but will remain prayerful. I’m grateful for my friends who have given me space during this time of grief, but have also reached out and provided comforting words, hugs, and encouragement. They believe my life has value and that I cannot quit fighting. Although the jolt I received election night was debilitating, I now realize I cannot stay down. I must continue to fight not only for myself but for my two children, as well as all marginalized students’ lives. I must follow the lead of those in Educolor who have brilliantly done this work and resiliently and wisely used curve balls thrown at them as a reason to grab a bigger bat so they can knock the next pitch out of the park.

I also must continue to fight in the bubble of education and edtech against those who throughout this election have remained silent or complicit to the hate that has infiltrated our schools. The silence and complicit behavior in schools have produced graduates who voted for a man who ran on a platform of hate and disrespect. This silence and hate will not be fixed by safety pins but instead by actual action and organized activism by the adults in our buildings. We need educators who care about educating all students as well as a desire to break down inequities within the educational system through positive deviance. Educators must be reminded to keep their privilege in check in order to reverse things in our buildings. All of these things, I’m capable, have been, and will continue to try to do. Although I’m having to ease myself back into this fight after a big sucker punch that has left me woozy, I’m putting gloves back on and will be coming out of my corner when the bell rings.

The Message

When I turned on my phone the other morning I received multiple notifications: one for my good friend’s birthday (who is awesome) and the second one was that my blog has been around on WordPress for exactly one year. Wow, one year really?

This blog has been a huge undertaking for me as a very private introvert, but has provided others a window into my world, my brain and my life over the past year. There have been so many changes for me mostly professionally and seeing my growth over the past year has been mind blowing. There has not been a time in my professional life until recently where I felt like what I said mattered or that people listened to me. I was chillin’ and quite comfy on my island. Even though my island was comfortable for the most part, my spirit was still restless. During most of those ten years it felt “like a jungle sometimes” and I regularly was going under. This blog (which I would not have started unless suggested to do so by Rafranz), has really allowed me the freedom to carve a space where my thoughts and words matter and are heard. Instead of those feelings of restlessness or mental gymnastics often felt on my island, I write as a form of release (along with powerlifting, which helps too). Blogging and this means of verbal expression has helped calm me as the crazy world of edtech and inequality in schools seems to always push me “close to the edge.” Although I have this blog, keeping my head/emotions in check and keeping things close to the vest is essential to the space I’m currently working in. Despite the prohibitive nature of my current workspace, I feel I have always navigated this edtech blogosphere authentically and earnestly, although there is still always more work to be done.

As I’m finishing his book, Jose said “I don’t see myself as the only one who has this voice.” This statement so powerful and humble was one of the many from This is Not a Test that has rang true to me. There are so many more competent, wise, hard working educators who have come before me that still actively work and speak out against the system. I’m honored to work along side and support from behind some of them in my own way. I’m also continuing to connect with, support, encourage, and cheer for these determined activists in our schools and communities. Their commitment and unrelenting drive to bring change to our schools and districts is inspiring and motivating. It reminds me that whatever I can do, even small acts, can play a role in flipping the script on business as usual mindsets in school. I am glad that I have begun using my blog as a means to share my voice as well as a provide messages of solidarity and support for those educators/activists who “are about that life.” Right now my only question is why didn’t I do this sooner? 

My message isn’t always pretty or fancy and includes moments of struggle and frustration but the message won’t waver. It will always remain a light that can’t be completely hidden or covered. This message is one of continued fight through actions and words against status quo, no matter how uncomfortable it makes people feel. It is through the constant living and preaching of this message by myself and countless others that those tip toeing around will begin to step their game up and do better for all kids. I know I’ve stepped on a few toes already, but I also know I’ve helped some of these same people recognize what they bring to the table in schools is not enough and should be better. I know my little dent or pocket of influence might not mean much to some right now and that’s okay.  My purpose and intent will always remain true which makes the dent matter. I hope by this time next year when I’m celebrating year two of my blog, the dent is bigger and more toes have felt the sole of my shoe only because more changes are being made. I commit to remain steadfast with the intent to take one step at a time delivering the message, following the blueprint and footsteps of those great educational leaders who keep blazing the trail and have shown me the way. So to them I give a salute and say, “keep on moving, don’t stop, no…..”

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.

 

 

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