Gathering: The new soul caffeine

It always takes someone to be the facilitator of gathering. Facilitating isn’t for everyone, but gathering is a must. Especially for women. Especially for women who seek change, opportunity, equity, and access. Especially for women in education. Gathering is an opportunity but today it might just be our responsibility.

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When we set out to build SheLeadsEdu we did so with one thing in mind: women are better when they are connected to other women. There is no magic place or space to gather, especially during the time of Covid. However, there is a certain magic in gathering, and that magic is hard to recreate by oneself or in silos. That magic is best achieved when there is conversation, learning, opportunity, and engagement.

When women gather and support one another they persevere and stick with it, when in reality it would be so easy to just bail.

When I hear from other women too many of them feel isolated, discouraged, or disconnected from the K12 organizations where they spend their days. They are often forward thinking, mission driven, strategic thinkers who know that being “stronger together” is more than a catch phrase or hashtag. They seek discussions where they can be honest without judgement and encouraged without conflict. These women are doing incredible things for kids, for teachers, and for their greater communities. These women are seeking affirmation for wanting to contribute something that they can be proud of.

Sadly, the stories of their frustration may paint a picture that our K12 systems are far too comfortable with the status quo and gatekeeping innovation.

It is estimated that 123,000 educators will leave the field each year. An additional 146,000 (estimated) will move within K12 education each year. Our attrition issues in education are two fold: (1) keep them in education and (2) move them into different roles.

Too many women leave because they aren’t empowered to achieve all they can.“Working women are twice as likely as their male counterparts to run the household, three times more likely to manage their children’s schedules, and eight times more likely to require time off to care for a sick child. They’re also three times as likely to volunteer for school or community activities.” ~ Liz Elting

For too long we have thought that only one school district or one school can provide all that women in education need. Not the case. Now more than ever we see women learning from other women, connecting with one another, supporting individual or collaborative work, innovating together, and collaborating across school, district, state, and even national boundaries. When we talk to women that want to connect but just don’t know how their message is clear.

“I need someone to serve as the gatherer so that I can find this network of women to support me.”

But these women do have a place to find their people. They have a gathering with which to connect, and a community through which they can find comfort, encouragement, and inspiration. They have a place to laugh, talk a little shit, figure things out, brainstorm, dream, and even cry.

Enter SheLeadsEdu, where a group of women have committed to being the gatherers for women in education.

SheLeadsEdu is not about leaders, or special teachers, or special sub-segments of females in education. Rather, SheLeadsEdu is about all women who work in, support, interact with, or otherwise advocate for K12 education. SheLeads is founded on the premise that we cannot learn from just those that we live with, we can’t always survive when we feel alone in our thinking or perspective, we can’t just exist without feeling empowered and/or connected.

Gathering today is not just about networking, and there is a key difference. Networking has for a long time been about exchanging information. But gathering (especially gathering SheLeadsEdu style) is about finding people to talk with, dream with, and enact change with. This is not simply, “Hi I’m Jody and I can…” this is about the heartfelt struggle that every woman in education feels and experiences through their own shoes, in their role, and in their own community (albeit a classroom, an office, a boardroom, an exhibit hall, a university, or something else). It is also about leveling the playing field so that anyone can have access to awesome women.

It shouldn’t be so hard for women in education to connect with those they admire and draw inspiration from. At the same time, it shouldn’t be so hard for women to inspire one another, or earn their place at the podium.

Right now we have women throughout various sectors of education experiencing fear, anger, disbelief, frustration, and so much more. Some of it is driven by Covid, some of it is driven by politics, some of it is driven by the passing of an icon. Regardless, women in education have a unique view of the world (as teachers, leaders, connectors, community members, parents, etc.).

It’s time to learn from those views, not just by knowing their names but knowing their faces and hearing their voices.

SheLeadsEdu is the gathering place where many women have their soul fueled and their spirits lifted. Through my eyes SheLeadsEdu is soul caffeine, that helps us connect, support, uplift, feel affirmed, learn, and so much more.

These next few months are going to be even harder than the last six. Don’t feel like you have to manage the feelings and frustrations and inspirations in silence.

Gather with us, give your soul the cup of coffee it needs.

I can just about promise that if you are a female in education who is seeking change, opportunity, equity, and access you will find your people.

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Jody is a founding hellraiser at SheLeadsEdu among other roles in education. Follow her work at jodybritten.com.

Written by

fierce mom, constant learner, writer, speaker, researcher, thinker, designer, gadget queen, advocate for learning that matters & public ed, lead with my actions

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