Four St. Anne's faculty members attended the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference (PoCC) last December. It was PoCC's 30th anniversary, and the first time St. Anne's faculty had attended. Nearly 6,000 educators and students came together in Anaheim, California, to explore the theme: Voices for Equity and Justice Now and in Every Generation: Lead, Learn, Rededicate, and Deliver.
The People of Color Conference is the flagship of the National Association of Independent Schools' commitment to equity and justice in teaching and learning. The mission of the conference is to provide a safe space for leadership and professional development and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. Attendees gather annually "to lead our industry forward, learn from each other's experiences, rededicate ourselves to the mission of PoCC, and deliver on that call."
Beth Bell, Mabel Lee, Amy Shepherd, and Valerie White found the experience incredibly meaningful, motivating, and helpful. They shared some of their thoughts on the conference at a recent faculty meeting. Middle School Spanish Teacher Mabel Lee chose to write down her reflections.
Thoughts and Reflections on the PoCC Conference from Mabel Lee:
When I left Delaware for the conference, I wasn't sure if going would be worth all the trouble. I came back feeling like a slightly different person, with a more re-defined purpose in education, as if everything had suddenly come into focus.
When I sat in on workshops outlining curriculums on cultural competency for middle school, I thought about how we could be educating our students on combating stereotypes and fully exploring their own identities during an age when vulnerability, integrity, and honesty towards oneself are great challenges and great necessities.
When I watched Katherine Dinh, chair of the board of NAIS, smile kindly on stage and talk about how parents in her school came to her and said appreciatively, "I didn't even know people who looked like you existed in your position," I felt a surge of admiration, happiness, and hope.
When I listened to Elder Don, a Native American leader, recount to us the story about the gifts of forgiveness, unity, healing, and hope, I felt a powerful awe and reverence. When he presented to us a hoop made out of a hundred eagle feathers and proceeded to bless us, an audience of 6,000, with the power of the four gifts, the tears spilled freely down all of our cheeks.
When I listened to the songs that the Wildwood School elementary students wrote and recorded to promote care of the environment, the people in the world, and animals, I thought how fortunate we are to guide our children down this future path, and how much work there still is to do to to help them reach their potential for good on this planet.
When I sat in on a workshop about implementing culturally relevant material into the Spanish classroom, I came away with so many ideas for my own curriculum and how to involve my students in critical thinking about what a better world can look like, with their actions and ideas.
When I attended my affinity group session, saw the faces around me, and listened to each person's experience, I felt fearless and resolved to share my own story. I was outspoken and spoke about the insecurities surrounding my identity and my career. I came away feeling reaffirmed, ignited, and whole. I grasped the bigger picture of our commonalities, woven together by the varied and disparate threads of our diverse experiences as communities, as individuals.
When I saw so many educators in the same room that looked like me, I felt surprised by this completely new experience, uncomfortable at first, then empowered.
When I listened to the joys, challenges, barriers, and hopes of different groups, I laughed, I empathized, I acknowledged, and I agreed.
When I participated in an "agree/disagree" spectrum activity in a workshop about viewing the inner self, I realized that our kids need to see how their experiences and opinions are not just binary nor black, white, and gray, but rather on a continuum and going in different individual dimensions. We need to see ourselves, and if we do not understand our role in the problem, it is difficult to be part of the solution.
When I heard people of color stand up in workshops to state how this conference has recharged them, given them a haven, and offered them a space for learning and conversation every year, I understood how important connectedness, community, and common goals are.
When I connected with a fellow teacher from Pennsylvania and shared my teaching experience with her, I felt fortunate to teach at a school that embraces diversity and all religions.
When I experienced the abundance of possibilities, hope, and movement towards a more just world for us, our students, our communities, our citizens, I saw my place in the world more clearly than I ever did before. I felt more confident and resolved than I ever did before to help make this change.
St. Anne's is incorporating the knowledge gained at PoCC into our school community. Please look for more news in the weeks to come, when we will begin to plan for affinity groups for interested participants and working to develop and deepen our commitment to equity, social justice, and inclusion.