I had the pleasure of participating in the Our Voice Academy (OVA) as part of cohort 2 presented by EdTechTeam. Cohort 2 was comprised of 20 amazing educators from all over the world. I am writing this reflection to capture my thoughts and unpack my experience. Hopefully, Our Voice Academy will continue, so educators of color can gather to share their experiences.
Our Voice Academy allowed for a safe space where people of color could come together and share authentic experiences with one another. I have to give a big shot out to Brian Smith for nominating me. I truly cherish the friendship and camaraderie we’ve developed. I want to also give a shout out to all of the participating men of color that shared the space. It is very rare that I get to share impactful spaces with men of color at this level. I was so empowered and connected to the group on so many levels.
Whenever I work in an education setting I do a quick check to see how many black men are present. When looking around the room during our #OVAcademy experience, there were people who looked like me and had similar experiences that I had. I didn’t realize how important that was for me. I’ve gone through my professional experience just living with the fact that I was the only black male in the room. Jay Z said it best when he said he only spots a few “black men” the higher up he goes. I’ve experienced that as I look to work in more leadership spaces. The educational spaces that are most influential have very few if any, black males lending their voices to the conversations.
That’s why I feel like the kind of space that was created by #OVAcademy is so important. I was able to lend my authentic voice and my experiences to important conversations. I didn’t feel like I was the token black guy or that I had to make sure to represent the entire black community with my presence. It was quite liberating and empowering.
In the work that I do with schools, I focus on positive success experiences because those experiences build self-efficacy (the belief that you can achieve a specific task). Also, to increase self-efficacy, one must see peers succeed in what you’re trying to accomplish. The connections we made allow us to build a peer mentor group and seeing us all succeed was important and built efficacy. Desiree (@educatoralexander) was first to perform her keynote and all of the subsequent speakers were so important in building our individual self-efficacy. We also received lots of encouragement from the coaches as we finished our speeches which also contributed to our efficacy.
I believe the biggest takeaway for me was the connections. On our first night, many of us connected by going to Karaoke and singing the Chicago night away. That singing experience was the glue that held us together because we sang throughout the spaces we shared with one another for the entire weekend. We had a practice keynote session and a session where our 5-minuted keynote synopsis was recorded. It was pretty stressful because everyone wanted to put their best foot forward. Because my tribe in the room was giving me positive energy, I felt really calm. In future spaces, I know I will not have the same safe space, however, this was a great start to build our individual confidence.
I have 19+ other educators as part of my tribe that can amplify my voice and vice-versa. 19+ other people in my tribe that I can turn to for encouragement and be a critical friend. When I connect with these individuals THEY WILL GET IT with very little explanation. That’s what a tribe is all about right? We can talk about our challenges and they get it. I believe it is so important in today’s climate that people of color band together and move as a unit to impact change in our communities. I believe we also need to be able to uplift one another so that we can be present in influential places and lend our collective voices to the challenges that face our communities and our profession.
It’s not just enough for one of us to make it and spread the good word across all education spaces. We need all of us to break down the doors and tell our stories. Who can better tell a diverse story than a person of color? I was so inspired by everyone’s story. We all had powerful stories and now we have the confidence and the platform to share our stories. We know that we are all connected in telling this story and our stories need to be shared.
I want to give a quick plug for #passthescopeEDU on twitter because the experience I’ve gained by being a part of this community has been very impactful to me as I continue this journey of developing my voice. In giving my speech I was very comfortable because of our experience with passthescope. Also, I would not have met some of the awesome educators I call friends now without this experience. #Passthescopeedu takes place the third Thursday of the month and it is open to all educators willing to share their stories (if you are interested hit me up on twitter @toutoulentoya). #passthescopeedu has allowed me to find my voice and #OVAcademy has taken that voice to a new level.
These two experiences have been some of the best experiences (dare I say PD) I’ve had in my education career. These kinds of experiences are what shifts the trajectory of one’s career. Knowing what the possibilities are and stepping into the path of those possibilities is such a powerful thing.
What’s next for me? Well, I am really passionate about working with educators around STEAM integration and makerspaces and am looking to expand my work with STEAM and makerspaces. I’ve seen how both integrating STEAM and makerspaces can shift the culture of a school from the principal to the students. I also see how empowering these success experiences can be for students. Our cohort is so dope, not only do we have a soundtrack for our #OVAcademy experience (OVAcademy on Spotify) but we are in the works of putting together a group podcast and future reunions. There are so many heavy hitters in this group and I see great things on the horizon.
The sky is the limit and I hope we can continue to uplift one another. I am going to refine my keynote and look to give it very soon. Albert was my critical friend during the 4 days of #OVAcademy and he’s waiting for my book so looks like I have some writing to do.
I want anyone reading this to think about how important your voice is in the spaces you represent. I want people to read this blog and imagine how they can feel empowered and share their stories for others. Often times, we feel that we don’t have a meaningful story to tell when we do. Someone is going through the exact same experience you are going through. So find ways to share your experience and develop your own tribe of folks to support in your journey. I am pretty sure you have an experience that other people are dying to hear.