Growing up in a community where I could count the number of people of colour at my high school, I didn’t celebrate my racial background but kept it as a separate part of me. I always felt awkward inviting friends over to my house because my home was different from theirs. Different smells? Probably dinner being prepared in the kitchen. Different sounds? Probably my mom talking loudly in Teochow (my native tongue) to an auntie on the phone. Different house rules? Yes, we take our shoes off at the door. Growing up this way, with my race and cultural identity subdued, I fell into the same routine at my workplace, as a teacher not incorporating the full me into my classroom or with my colleagues.
This past summer, I spend a week with some of the most amazing educators at the Google Innovator Academy in Washington DC, having some of the best conversations about identity, race, power, and privilege. When I arrived back at my school, I wondered why I wasn’t having those rich conversations here in Canada? Understanding that the landscape here in Canada is different than in the US, I didn’t know how to start until inspiration came in the form of a tweet.
This fall, Jennie Magiera (Chief Program Officer EdTechTeam) and the Chicagoland Google Educator Group hosted a networking event bringing educators of colour together (Click for previous post). Inspired by this work, I reached out to Jennie for all the details and started the work in my community by reaching out to other awesome educators of colour in my network (Left to right in photo: Mahfuza Rahman, Iniyal Inparajah Hryhorczuk, Jason Trinh, Amit Mehrotra, Arianna Lambert, Jason To, Nicole James) Together we formed a group called the Racialized Educators for Action & Leadership (#RE4AL), where our mission was to build community among educators of colour in Canada and to catalyze conversation into action.
With the help of EdTechTeam Canada, we brought 30 educators of colour together where we were hosted by Les McBeth from Future Design School in downtown Toronto. We started the night by creating our six-word story, six words that represent our identity and shared that within our small groups. We moved into an open flow activity where conversations prompts were found on the walls where educators could leave a post-it with their thoughts or engage with another educator in dialogue. We asked:
- How do you define your identity as an educator?
- What are some actionable ways we can invite racialized educators to this group?
- What kind of events would you like to attend in the future?
- What are some root causes that lead to the lack of diverse representation in educational spaces?
- How do you incorporate your identity into the classroom/school with your students/colleagues?
- What is your next move after today?
The positive energy in the room was maintained throughout the event and the conversations were inspiring! Many of the attendees left eager to continue the conversation and to begin to define what the challenges racialized educators face in Canada. Although a small step, we all agreed that making time to talk and build community is an important first step.
This is only the beginning as we begin to go through the shared stories and numerous post-its to identify the barriers and pain points that face the community. For our the next meeting, we will continue to grow the community and start the process of catalyzing all the conversations into an actionable outcome. We ended the night with a photo to document the start of something new, a fresh perspective and initiative to amplify all our voices. Here, among these new friends, I was able to embrace my racial identity among educators, brought it to the forefront and easily shared my six-word story: First Generation with Education, Unlimited Potential.
High School Teacher
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Google Certified Innovator
Akila Venkatesh says
What a great way to take action on such an important element of identity and flourishing. The critical thought that results in such conversations can definitely have a positive impact in the classroom and beyond. I look forward to more!