Promising Practices Reflection
When I found out we needed to attend the Promising Practices conference my first thought was “Yes! I’m going to attend a conference where I can learn applications that I can bring into my future classroom!” I had very high expectations for this conference, especially because of the name: PROMISING PRACTICES! I made sure I choice workshops that I could relate to and thought would be great assets to my toolbox.
So the morning of the conference came. I experienced what many of you described either in class or your blog posts: I walked in expecting someone to check my ticket but instead they just pointed me to the nametag tables. I was very happy to see the titles of my workshops on my nametag because I wasn’t 100% sure of which ones I chose. One thing that irked me was the guy at my nametag table. He just pointed to the conference brochure and didn’t say anything. I looked at him and asked if I could take one. He huffed and said yup. My excitement level had diminished just a little. I found our class and could see what Jocelyn describes in her blog post: a bounded group. I saw this throughout the whole day. I found myself talking to different classmates more than I ever did in class. A lot of us shared our likes and dislikes of the workshops we had attended thus far during the lunch and we all gave each other insight. Like Jocelyn said, this was our way of building a stronger foundation for our class.
During the panel discussion, one phrase seemed to dominate the discussion: “Rhode Island College and this conference are all about diversity!” However this phrase was contradicted throughout the panel discussion as well as in the workshops I attended. First big contradiction of the phrase: The panel was comprised of privileged and powerful people. There was only one person of color on the panel but he was still in a privileged and powerful position. I saw numerous Johnson moments during this discussion- especially when you could actually hear the “privilege” in the words the members spoke. I’m not sure if this was intentional. As I listened to the members talk I pictured Johnson saying “Your privilege is showing!” Now I want you to know I am not trying to diminish the accomplishments of the panel members. Part of me saw the superintendent of Providence schools or the female Presidents of RIC and JWU and thought “Hey, you never know…someday that could be me.” I just wished that every time certain members spoke I didn’t hear “privilege and power” in the words they spoke.
We all discussed the Mayor’s words in class. A lot of us shared our disgust and uproar as he said that “The socioeconomic background of the parents should not affect the student’s future.” This phrase really bothered me because I can personally relate to it. I believe a lot of us can. I won't go into a long explanation but instead simply say...I'm in college and I am feeling the effects (negative, by the way) of the socioeconomic background of my parents. And boy has it effected my education! So, no, I cannot agree with the Mayor’s quote.
Quotes similar to the Mayor’s were thrown around during the discussion. “The number of beds needed in prison is estimated by the third grade reading literacy.” “Zip code cannot dictate the quality of education!” “All of our kids can achieve but there needs to be additional support.” All of these statements ended with a period. That’s it. The phrase was said and the new topic was introduced. In elementary school we learn to ask “Where?” “When?” “Why?” “How?” None of these questions were answered for any of the phrases. Like Mr. Bogad said in class: The statement’s wording is in such a way that no one needs to TALK ABOUT the solution. Johnson would refer this as not being able to just say it! I decided to reread Johnson after the conference and one phrase stuck out at me: “Understanding how to bring dominant groups into the conversation and the solution is the biggest challenge we face.” AMEN to you Johnson! So, here we have people of power and privilege, giving us problems but no solutions. And when asked how to create a solution they tiptoed around the answer straight into an irrelevant topic. So my question is...where were the lessons I was hoping to learn during this panel discussion? My guess...hidden behind the politics of it all.
My first workshop was called “Summer Learning and Service Learning.” There were three presenters from Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance (RIASPA)/United Way at this workshop. This workshop was a discussion about who RIASPA is and what they do. They also talked about what Service Learning is. Several great examples were shared that several different schools had completed during summer learning/service learning. A lot of interesting points were brought up during the workshop but two great points really stuck with me:
- Service Learning is taking the best of the school and the best of community and combining them in a way that “sneaks in learning.”
- Service Learning and Summer Learning should continue on past the summer. Whatever project you are working on should be brought into the community as a lasting year-round investment.
I chose the next two workshops for one main reason…they were about bullying. During 90% of my school years I was bullied on a daily basis. It was a struggle for me because I did not have a safe space I could turn to. The teachers did nothing about it and I was left feeling alone. I chose these two workshops because I wanted to learn how to turn my classroom into a Bully-Free Zone and help those students who are being bullied. I want to be the teacher that they can turn to if they are being bullied and I want my classroom to be a safe space for ALL of my students. I really thought these two workshops would help me add more tools into my Gerri August Safe Space drawer in my toolbox. I was ready to apply everything I learned in these workshops to August's article.
The first workshop on bullying was titled “Engaging Students in Anti-Bullying Efforts.” The presenters were a Vice Principal and a Teacher from Barrington Middle School. To be blunt I was very disappointed with this workshop. The workshop was entirely about the program they have at Barrington Middle School. There were some great ideas but how do I implement them? What do I do in different situations? I had many more questions about the program but time did not allow for them to be answered. What really bothered me was that they brought up different scenarios that they had faced in the school. One, in particular, was about a girl who wanted to commit suicide. They asked us what we thought we should do. Of course all of us were silent, waiting to hear from them the whole story and the actions they took. Well, none of that ever came into discussion. I’m not sure if it was because of the “survey girl” flapping her arms at the back of the classroom or if we were pressed for time but I know I left the workshop wondering WHAT DO I DO???
The last workshop was my favorite part of the whole conference! It was a two-part conference called “Creating Caring and Committed Anti-Bullying Classes” & “Trans*Action : Tools for a Transgender Ally.” Gerri August truly shined during this workshop. Before I begin I have one complaint to make about the workshop. The survey girl disrupted the workshop 15 minutes before it was supposed to end so she could administer her surveys. She threw everything out of whack and the last presenter didn’t get to really talk that much. The workshop discussed many of the things we talked about in class during the Gerri August discussion. The presenter for the Trans*Action had a great, informative, well-organized presentation. He discussed the different terminology used for the LGBTQQ community as well as the struggles people face. He made on good point which puts everything into perspective: People are always using the terms sex and gender simultaneously. However, they mean two very different things. The way he described it was brilliant: “Sex is between the legs and Gender is between the ears.” This added further understanding into his discussion. The second half of the workshop was put on by a professor at RIC. This is the part that got cut off. She was describing how schools (even colleges) do not cater to the needs of transgender people. She used RIC as a perfect example: If you still have the brochure we all received at the breakfast portion of the conference do me a favor and turn it over. On the back you should find a map of the campus. Count how many buildings are listed on the Map Legend: 20. Now count the buildings that have a little cross next to their name: 5. Those buildings have gender neutral bathrooms in them. On all of the RIC campus there are only 5 buildings that cater to the needs of all students. Sad, isn’t it? The presenter said that is was a great struggle to even get those 5 bathrooms on campus. Gerri August would not be happy about this at all. August tells us to create safe spaces for our students. How are our students feeling safe if they have to walk to an entirely different building to use the restroom? Because the workshop was cut short we all received a packet of information and a copy of the powerpoint presentation. The packet of information included a long list of books that describe the variety of families in the world today.
While most of the day was a disappointment, I believe I walked away with some great lessons and great material to add to my toolbox.