Teachers find community at People of Color Conference

Zachary Kurtz, Staff Writer

Last week, a group of 11 teachers attended this year’s annual National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference (PoCC). The conference took place over the course of five days and included seminars, a master class, affinity spaces, and over a hundred different workshops on topics relevant to people of color teaching in independent schools. 

The conference features a different theme each year to help guide its workshops and conversations. The theme for this year was “Reckoning with Impacts, Rolling with Just Intent.” “They talk about the theme a lot, and it lives throughout the conference,” Head of Middle Division (MD) Javaid Khan said.

At the conference, there were six workshop blocks and twenty workshops to choose from during each block, Khan said. They are presented by educators from all over the country who submitted proposals for their workshops in the spring, he said.

While the conference is typically held in a different city each year, it took place online due to COVID restrictions. It was held on a virtual event platform called Hubilo, which allowed each participant to create their own schedule and attend the events they were most interested in, Associate Director of the Office for Identity, Culture and Institutional Equity (ICIE)  Bri’ana Odom said. The event worked well online and the NAIS did a wonderful job with the resources that they had, she said. The 2022 conference will be held in person in San Antonio, Texas.

There are some benefits to being online such as having the ability to rewatch recordings of the workshops, Odom said. “Even now I’m thinking, I want to go back to this workshop because I just need to refresh my memory on what it was about.”

The remote option also opened up the conference to many more people than in previous years, Khan said. This increased accessibility begs the question of whether there will be a remote aspect of future PoCCs to continue allowing people from all over the country to attend, he said.

The conference hosted around 7,500 educators and took place alongside the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, also hosted by the NAIS.

According to the NAIS, PoCC’s mission is “to provide a safe space for leadership, professional development, and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools.”

Khan first attended the PoCC in 1996, he said. “The purpose of the conference when they designed it was to create an affinity space for educators of color to gather.” At that time, few educators of color worked in independent schools, so the PoCC was a unique opportunity for educators of color to be in community together, he said.

Khan has attended the conference fourteen times and keeps going back because of the familial feeling, he said. He has established a network of hundreds of people that he met through the conference, and even if he is not in contact with these people on a regular basis, he knows that they will all gather at the PoCC come each December, he said.

ICIE Program Associate Jaquan Shaw attended his first PoCC this year, and found the conference to be an appreciable way to connect with educators from around the country, he said. “It creates a community and creates space for like minded individuals to have a moment to reflect on their experiences within the private schools.”

The conference was a time for ICIE Director Christine Moloney to absorb new information about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at independent schools, she said. “The work around DEI is changing and updating minute by minute, so this is a chance for ICIE to be in fellowship with people who are also doing this work and to go spend three straight days in workshops on our specialty,” Moloney said. “It’s also professional development for ICIE and allows us to do the best job that we can at the school.”

This year, Khan got the chance to present a workshop with two of his former colleagues, he said. “We did a workshop on restorative practices as it relates to discipline when there are racial implications, when there’s been a racial transgression, and how we approach that.” The workshop was very popular as it garnered over 700 attendees, while the average workshop is viewed by around 70-100 people, Khan said. 

MD World Languages Teacher Rebeca Bataller found Khan’s workshop to be especially useful, she said. It was very inclusive and discussed how teachers should be mindful of the psychological changes that adolescents are going through and they should try to include the students as much as possible and consider their voices when a problem arises, Bataller said.

One of Odom’s favorite aspects of the conference was the self-identified affinity spaces that the conference offered, she said. “It’s really nice to be able to fellowship with people based on our identities.”

Odom appreciated that the majority of the presenters began their workshops with a land acknowledgement, she said. “Some educators even took that further to say, ‘it’s not enough to do a land acknowledgement. How do we make this an authentic thing and an authentic practice to acknowledge the indigenous people whose land we are occupying?’”

Since the conference, Odom has continued to think about land acknowledgements and making them a staple at the school, she said. “We obviously have begun to do that and I feel it’s been done in the past, but I wonder how we can make that a more meaningful practice and make it more consistent.”

The conference ended with Club PoCC, a dance party DJed by Khan – aka DJ Van Vader – who has a background as a professional DJ. Even though everyone was at home dancing by themselves, no one wanted to leave and it was a moment he won’t forget, Khan said.

Khan also appreciates the school’s commitment towards allowing teachers to attend the PoCC, he said. “We are really fortunate of the generosity of the school to do this as a priority because to send that many people to PoCC is very expensive, but I think it speaks to why our faculty population has continued to diversify with the numbers that it has.”