What a year it has been! At the beginning of last summer, there were black squares and new policies in place in organizations around the world calling for critical thought and change in the area of anti-Black racism. Some chose to read books, others chose to act with their students, some never moved beyond the black squares. For me, this has been a year of reflection and connection with those in and out of education spaces who are seeking to bring about change.
My Blackness isn’t something that I can remove in order to fit into spaces that weren’t made for me. As such, this year has been a personal journey in learning how to better navigate. In this post, I share some of the experiences that helped me along and I hope that other Black women in education can find them of benefit in both their personal and professional lives.
Let’s face it, connecting online has been fraught with challenges. We each have our own stories that we can share about miscommunications or experiences that were less than ideal either while learning or teaching online this past year. The last thing that I felt like doing was more of it! And yet, I signed up for more professional learning this year. Through ETFO, I noticed a number of programs for my own learning and committed to using these opportunities to make some great connections online with other like-minded educators.
One ETFO program that I joined was Code Black. The program started in January and concluded in May. During this time there were sessions and online learning that prompted us to explore our leadership skills while developing new skills. One particular session that has stayed with me beyond the day was our second session. This session resonated with me because I had the opportunity to hear from incredible speakers who shared their experiences and I saw similarities within my own experience. Far too often, as Black women, we gaslight ourselves when we face experiences that are unbelievable. We talk ourselves out of believing what is actually happening and what we are experiencing because many of them are unfathomable. It was in this program that I had the opportunity to truly get to know an incredible educator, Tracy Halliday.
With any learning, I feel there must come action. As a part of this program, we had to come up with an action plan for an area in education where we would like to see change. Of course being Black women, Tracy and I wanted to work on creating an Affinity Space for Black educators who identify as women. We spent time together dreaming and visioning and I have to say that it was such a pleasure connecting with her to do this work. Although we have yet to meet in person, it was through this online connection that our idea came to life.
While the pandemic has brought barriers to the way in which we connect, I’m so grateful for the technology that allowed the two of us to come up with this much-needed space.
Many Black women have found that minimal effort is made to wholly include and/or value our voices and experiences. Often isolated and required to be silent about the injustices that we see and experience – for fear of reprisal – many internalize the daily struggle that it is to be a Black woman. As a result, our overall health and well-being have been impacted in a variety of negative ways. Knowing this, Tracy and I wondered:
“What if there was a space where we as Black women could voice our experiences and ideas for change within education and actually be heard? What would change for Black women? What would change for education as a whole?”
While we know that affinity spaces aren’t new, we hope that this space can help to support change based on the commonalities in our experiences and the needs of those within the group. Excited about the idea and knowing the power of connections that can be had online, we crossed panels and reached out to another incredible educator – judy mckeown – who we both admire and have learned so much from. She joined us for our first Affinity Space and it was JOY! Space to: speak, be heard, laugh, dream, challenge each other, and grow. That hour alone fueled me with so much energy and was a clear demonstration to me that as Black women, we need these safe spaces to just be.
It’s summer and once again, which for me, is a time to reflect on what the next year will bring. This summer, I’m taking the time to dream big about the changes and impact that I will have inside and outside of the world of education. As I dream, I’m making sure that I take care of myself and fuel my days with things that bring me joy. I hope that you have a safe and restful summer. Please take care!
ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.
ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.