For Us, By Us: 3 Reasons Why Teachers of Color Need Their Own Professional Development Spaces
Throughout my years of teaching, I have attended many professional development sessions — some good, some not so good, and some great. This week’s Hidden Heroes: Building a Diverse Education Workforce Summit far exceeded my expectations, mostly because it was the exact opposite of my previous experiences. Not only was it a great professional development, but it was one where educators of color created it, specifically for other educators of color. Here are my reasons as to why teachers of color need more of their own professional development spaces.
- We need to feel connected — seen, not invisible. Since only 18% of the nation’s teaching force is composed of teachers of color, it is highly likely that most professional development spaces mirror this statistic. Too often, I have found myself sitting in professional development sessions where I was either 1) the only person of color in the room or 2) one of few people of color in the room. Unfortunately, in situations like this, I am guilty of putting up a guard and proceeding in caution, as I know, this is not a “safe” space. Navigating in those spaces is tricky as I’m overly mindful of my demeanor, how my voice is both received and heard (if at all) and aware of how easily a person of color can become invisible in white spaces even though we very much stand out. And because of all of this, very little connections are made because of the simple fact, I don’t look like most of the people in the room.
- We need to be able to be our unapologetic selves…period. While attending the Hidden Heroes Summit, there wasn’t a single time where myself or the people I traveled with felt like we couldn’t be ourselves. This was obvious not only with my group but with the different groups in the room. The 70 educators and representatives from The Education Trust quickly became family, mostly because we knew that each person in that room shared our same experiences. I cannot tell you the power that lies in that — to be able to be in the same space with people and know, even feel that they too know what it feels like to feel threatened in white spaces. It was beyond obvious that we all had our guards down and our true personalities were on display. The camaraderie in the room was electric as laughter filled the space and with each turn, you were met with smiles. And for once, instead of retreating to my room at the end of the session, I wanted nothing more than to be around the people that I was brought into the space to connect with — to show them more of who I was while experiencing more of who they were.
- We need to see people who look like us in advanced roles, especially those related to education policy. At the Summit, each participant was provided with a roster of those present. The main detail that stood out the most to me was that the majority of the room held a doctoral degree AND had already made a space for themselves in education policy. And by making this space — they, in turn, had made/are making an impact. As an aspiring education advocate and someone extremely interested in policy, it was empowering to know that spaces exist, mostly because of the people in the room that broke down the barriers to be in the space. Much like students of color need to see teachers of color (and as the research suggests, ALL students need this) educators of color need to see the same thing, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Two days later and I am still energized by the Summit and the work ahead of us as we work to change the disparities in the nation’s teaching force. I hope that other educators of color are afforded the opportunity to attend a Hidden Heroes Summit, but most importantly as Dr. Ashley Griffin, Director of P-12 Research at The Education Trust, charged the group, I hope that they — “make sure that they are not a Black body at the table to create the illusion of diversity, but that they are actually at the table to be a part of the conversation and solution to the problem.”