Posted in Personal, Reading, Texas, writing

#TCTELA20 – Top Five Takeaways

A little over a week ago, I was settling into a hotel room in Frisco, TX prepping for a weekend of being “on.” The Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts hosted their annual conference at the Frisco Convention Center, and I have the privilege of being a part of leadership this year (I am the Teacher Development Section Chair). This was my third TCTELA conference to attend, but my first to attend as a “leader” of sorts. I joined the board in September, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

Before I start reflecting on this year’s experiences, I’d like to take a second and talk about what TCTELA has done for me as a whole, in both my career and my person. About 4 years ago, I began to gain a sense of restlessness in my work. I was a high school teacher who LOVED students but wanted an opportunity to stretch my legs and grow. I’d seen TCTELA mentioned in a tweet or two, and saw a link for proposals. I took a shot in the dark and submitted a proposal for a session on digital writing tools, and was approved for a roundtable. My principal paid for my registration to attend the conference that year (Galveston 2018) as long as I paid for my travel, food and hotel. My family came with me and we got an Air BNB to make a weekend of it. I knew approximately ZERO people there. However, the overall electric buzz that filled the halls, rooms, and sessions gave me the sense that I was not just Caty Dearing, English teacher, one of many within my district. It was my first sense of the larger community of ELAR professionals across the state and even the nation, and that my school district was but a small cog in the larger wheel of this work. I started following the organizational leadership on Twitter and came back to my classroom inspired and re-energized to teach and teach well.

That summer I left teaching to serve at one of the 20 regional service centers in Texas as a secondary literacy content coach/consultant. Talk about a huge leap—and feeling like a fish out of water! I shifted my Twitter account to be mostly educational (goodbye, Bachelor recap posts!) and started gaining the confidence to dialogue with the literacy leaders I so admired. By the time TCTELA 2019 arrived, I’d been accepted to another roundtable and had developed Twitter relationships with several of the attendees and board members. I had the courage to introduce myself to several of these people, and ask to get plugged in. Again, each session felt like chugging a Gatorade in the desert; I returned to my cubicle with a sense of purpose and a few new connections in the work.

In September, I had the opportunity to dive into the behind-the-scenes work of TCTELA. As a section chair, I have the privilege to facilitate discussions across the state with coordinators, coaches, principals, professors, all seeking ways to support other teacher developers. I knew it would be a great opportunity to develop more leadership skills, but after reflecting on TCTELA 2020, it has become so much more than that…which leads me to my top five takeaways from this weekend.

5. Getting my professional cup filled by incredible, dynamic speakers.

Clint Smith, author of Counting Descent

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I’ve taken a bit of a break from the edu-conversations. I’m extremely passionate about a lot of things, things that are hard, things that hurt, things that feel big and heavy and immovable. Sometimes (and this speaks to my privilege) it just feels like too much, and I have to step back. Laurie Halse Anderson spoke about rape culture and consent with such boldness, and Clint Smith talked about the single story narrative of history we often experience, and how to challenge and question this. By the end of the weekend, I really felt more energized and focused to dive back into those difficult conversations as an active participant, not a bystander.

4. An invigorated sense of purpose and interest in the Teacher Development section

All of our section hangout work!

Coming on in September, the few active members of the section and I decided to start from scratch. We consistently had about 5-6 people that would show up on our monthly Zooms, contribute ideas, and share their expertise. I remember the feeling of pride we felt when we released that first newsletter in December!

At the conference, we each had tables for our sections. Every time I passed our table, I saw a section member talking to others and handing out buttons. We had a full table at our Sunday “Coffee and Conversations,” everyone excitedly talking about all of the ways we can address leader burnout and other heavy issues. I’m pumped to take that enthusiasm into the new year, and I think that by TCTELA 2021 our section will have created/shared a wealth of new resources! It was truly so much fun and warmed my heart to share space with so many COOL people.

3. Rebekah O’Dell’s session on teachers as writers

This session gets its own bullet point, because it tapped into a part of myself that’s been dormant for a really long time. In my last post, I talked a lot about the crippling fear I’ve been experiencing every time I try to write. Rebekah approached this idea of teacher-writers from a different angle, providing ideas and options to just start the process. I found myself excited about several ideas, where before I’d found myself drowning in a sea of “I have nothing new to offer here.” I’ve been able to set aside time to write/journal in small chunks. Hey, this blog post is proof of that! I’m excited to see what I’ve written by 2021, even if it’s all writing that’s just for me.

2. Friendships, friendships, friendships

As I said at the beginning of this post, my entrance into the TCTELA world was one of a stranger in a sea of strangers that had developed into professional connections, mostly via Twitter. This weekend I was able to spend actual face-to-face time with the teachers, coaches, coordinators, and professors that I’ve only ever Zoomed and tweeted with. We spend each night down in the lobby, laughing and brainstorming over wine and hummus. It’s amazing how this conference brings people together, and I’m entering the 2020 year with a cadre of people who care very deeply about this work, and about me, and that feels pretty cool.

  1. A newfound sense of confidence in myself as a literacy leader (bye bye imposter syndrome)

Something unlocked in me this weekend. I’ve lived most of my adult life fearing the concept of leadership, and considered myself more of a follower. Every time I encountered a promotion or an opportunity to lead, I chalked it up to “right place right time” or a really great interview. Over the past few months, I’ve been feeling a sense of pride in the work that I’m doing at the service center and a desire for MORE. I’m fairly certain that the other four takeaways listed contributed to this, but I truly had a “come-to-Jesus” moment with myself. I am a literacy leader, and that has nothing to do with a board position or a job.

I have contributions to make to this work.

I can confidently introduce myself to people in the field that I look up to without worrying if I’m good enough, smart enough, etc.

I can write things that might help other people.

I can confidently volunteer my thoughts, ideas, and concerns without apologizing first.

What I hope other conference attendees gained from this past weekend is a similar understanding. Cornelius Minor said in a presentation I attended last year (and this is paraphrased based on my memory), “If you’re waiting for someone to give you permission to lead this work, you will always be waiting.”

Your voice matters. You have something to contribute to this community. You are valuable to the ELAR collective, not because of position or job, but because you dedicate your time and heart to students, and that is important, and people need to hear what you have to say. I’m dedicating myself to this mantra, and would love to support you as well!

Let’s be bold, brave, and unapologetic together.

Posted in Equity, Leadership, Personal, Professional Learning

Moving from the Safe Space to the Brave Space

Selfie with Cornelius Minor at our literacy conference…an educator who inspires me so much!

Last week, we hosted a literacy conference at work. Incredible educators such as Cornelius Minor, Lester Laminack, Pam Allyn and Dr. Lindsey Moses were all there sharing their work with 450+ teachers in Texas. Every time I get a chance to learn from the “best” in the field, I simultaneously feel inspired/full and slightly insecure. You see, one of my lofty goals in life is to be a writer. I’m a researcher and a voracious reader, and I can play school like no one’s business. However, when it comes to actually putting pen to paper, I withdraw.

One of my colleagues put a term to this passivity last week. In a moment of inspiration/word vomit, I shared how I was feeling about my own inadequacies. “Oh, you have imposter syndrome,” she said. She later explained that imposter syndrome is this feeling of inadequacy, the instinct that there is someone better/smarter/more well-equipped than you to accomplish a thing. When I go to write, or collect my thoughts, I often think about the incredible scholars publishing text and speaking all over the world on the subjects I’m passionate about, and I withdraw my voice every time. Why would I write about text access when Donalyn Miller already does it so beautifully? Why engage in written conversation around LGBTQ+ literature and student support when I’m straight, and there are queer educators already elbows deep into the work? Why write my queries about privilege and race when, as a white woman, I’m almost certain to make a misstep? I constantly try to convince myself that my voice isn’t a necessary part of the conversation, although this sentiment is the polar opposite of what I would teach my students. I recognize this “imposter syndrome” as an unhealthy thought/insecurity. But what next?

Earlier in the day, I’d been chatting with a group of literary educators and we’d been talking about the terror of using our voice and putting our thoughts out there for the world. “We just need a safe space,” I’d stated. Brian, a work friend who was working in close proximity to us, whirled his chair around. “You gotta get out of your safe space,” he said to us. I was confused–don’t we all need a safe space to test the more risky thoughts in our heads? “You have to move from the safe space to the brave space, or you’ll never accomplish change,” he stated.

This phrase has been running on repeat in my head all week. What does it mean to move towards the “brave space”? When I truly reflect on my research and teaching, I find that I indeed tend to play it safe. In my attempts to address my privilege and biases, I often discuss these with close friends that I know will correct me out of love if I am wrong or misinformed. When attempting to establish myself as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, I hold back from having conversations with specific audiences because I don’t want to deal with the conservative backlash. My heart demands radical thoughts and radical change, but I’ve been paralyzed, self-imposing voicelessness onto the words in my brain and heart.

This blog is proof of it. I started this page in October to battle the hypocrisy I noticed in my practiced. Here would be an online space to use my voice, to explore new ideas, to speak my truth! The last time I’ve written anything? October.

One thing is for sure…the brave space is a space where I want to live. What does this mean for me? I’m going to, as Brene Brown says, “rumble with vulnerability.” I am going to be my authentic self, and I am going to write about my thoughts and wonderings even if I am the only one who sees them. I’m going to take risks. I’m going to start brainstorming projects and seeing them through. I’m going to work on/through getting in my own way, because ultimately, I care about students and I care about my fellow educators. I’m proud to do the work that I do, and I believe in the future of education.

Raise a glass to living in the brave space. Deep breaths, everyone!