No matter how much experience I’ve had creating presentation proposals for professional conferences, my anxiety and uncertainty create giant waves that, in some instances, have pummeled my confidence. I gasp for air while drowning in deadlines. I try to keep my eyes on the horizon, uncertain if my ideas align with the other presenters’ visions. It’s easy to fall into patterns, to study the tides, to rely on what’s comfortable– even if the pattern’s nature, the tide’s timing are both, ironically, uncomfortable.
My experience co-creating proposals for the NCTE annual conference felt different this time around. My inner tensions eased; my colleagues’ openness, reliability, and encouragement provided me with a sense of comfort, a floating familiarity that I typically found in spaces beyond my daily teaching environment.
In the past, I’ve relied on collaborations outside of my school building, district, and state to bridge my professional learning and classroom practice. Those collaborations have been and continue to be uplifting and tremendously rewarding, but there was a time when they rarely intersected with my daily professional interactions. It’s refreshing to finally be back in a place where colleagues and I support one another with actionable steps to disrupt the out-dated, exclusionary dominant narrative in education. These educators move conversations beyond talking points and manifest them in their classrooms. They present ideas for and with one another, and they work towards building spaces where culturally relevant educational dreams can come to fruition for students and educators alike. They do not fear hard work. They do not fear failure. They collaborate fairly and honestly. They respect new perspectives and ideas. It’s exciting to be included in such earnest collaborations in my daily workplace, especially since I’m new to my current teaching placement. I forgot how welcoming it can be; they helped me remember. We met first thing in the morning– at seven a.m. , several days a week over the course of a few weeks– to reflect on our professional learning experiences. We worked together to design a sincere, accessible presentation to share with other educators who seek to move their professional study to professional practice.
Our collective work is not an official “PLC”, at least not in the traditional sense. We were not required to meet. We were not presented with a “what’s hot now in education” topic to discuss and then forget in the midst of our daily routines. Our process was organic. One person had an idea for a presentation. She asked others if they were interested in collaborating. We who share professional interests, namely action-based work, answered the call. We asked, “What can we do?” We worked together. We wrote. We read our writing aloud. We read each other’s writing. We co-created a presentation that reflected our individual and shared professional experiences. We edited. We revised. We clicked submit. We celebrated and reflected on the steps we took and continue to take to support our students and one another. We continue to move forward, to do our best, together, as we engage in this work.
The past few weeks gifted me a new perspective. I am lucky to work with colleagues who can and do generously share their professional experiences with others. There is no competition. The work they do–the work we do– can help other educators take the leap of faith from study to practice. We hope to inspire others to cultivate and manifest their educational dreams. I look forward to furthering this collaborative work, and to learning how to confidently stand beyond the breakers, to stand where personal and professional tides meet.
Holly Spinelli is an English teacher at Monroe-Woodbury High School in Central Valley, New York, and an adjunct instructor of English at S.U.N.Y. Orange County Community College in Middletown, New York. She is an active member of the National Council of Teachers of English’s Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English, and a New York State English Council board member.