ISTE 2017 - Growing the Cilantro, Part 2

I have a framed quote on my desk at work that says, "Be who you needed when you were younger." As a child, I was regularly told that I was different but that difference wasn't always seen as an asset. Many assumptions were made about me and my family. These assumptions didn't stop just because I became an adult. Being judged by my outward appearance is something I noticed as a child and I continue to notice that every single day, because it happens every single day. And now that I am an educator, I make it my daily goal to be who I needed when I was younger. I want to be an advocate and a voice for those whose voices are not regularly heard.

In the spring of 2016, I was happily surprised to receive an email from ISTE asking me to serve on the Technical Working Group (TWG) that would refresh the Standards for Educators. We worked on them all year and reported twice to the ISTE offices in Washington, D.C. Of the 12 people in the TWG, 4 were people of color: Amanda Armstrong, Trina Davis, Sarah Thomas, and me. That mattered to me. It showed me that ISTE was looking for people from diverse backgrounds to bring different voices to the work of refreshing the standards. Pictured below are Sarah Thomas, Amanda Armstrong, and me (R to L) in Washington, D.C. in February 2017.

In the spring of 2017, I was again happily surprised to receive another email from ISTE - this time inviting me to do the Ignite speech before the Tuesday morning keynote. I did not submit a proposal. I was told that if I accepted their kind invitation, I would do this Ignite speech on the big keynote stage and not on the stage where the other Ignite speeches would be held. After speaking to Sarah Thomas, I discovered she had also been invited to do an Ignite speech - hers would before the opening keynote. That mattered to me. It showed me that ISTE was looking for people of color to share their experiences with implementing the new Standards for Educators. And the best part was that we were allowed to tell our story in any way we wanted. The ISTE conference team only offered tips and suggestions.

As mentioned in my previous post, I chose to tell a story about my parents in my Ignite speech because they served as my strongest and most vocal advocates. My goal was to encourage educators to be advocates. I rehearsed that speech 63 times (no joke, and thanks to my hubby for listening to it all 63 times) and each time, I thought about how ISTE was being an advocate, too. Including people of color in the Educator Standards refresh and the Ignite speeches showed me just a few ways in which they are "growing the cilantro." They want to amplify our voices and our stories.

I didn't just see it in those few examples. It also showed at the conference PLN Networking Fair. It showed in the individuals selected to do the 3 keynote speeches. It showed in the awards. It showed in student panels and student presenters. It showed in the ISTE Board of Directors. It showed in the #passthescopeedu livestreams. It showed in the restrooms:

It showed at the ISTE Board-CEO luncheon during a speech by ISTE CEO, Richard Culatta, titled "Bringing Equity to Education through Technology." It showed in my many conversations with other people of color who attended ISTE 2017. It's clear the focus of ISTE is one of inclusion and diversity. ISTE felt VERY different to me this year - in the best way possible. And I'm talking about the ISTE organization as a whole, not just the conference. It is a refreshing change and I hope more educational organizations follow in ISTE's footsteps.

I was very surprised by a blog post that stated the exact opposite about ISTE 2017. That blog post stated that ISTE 2017 was not very diverse. I asked the blog author if she attended any of the heavily advertised events (like the keynotes) and she said she "missed them." It's strange that someone would make claims about diversity at an event without talking to any people of color who actually lived it. The blog has been edited and reposted several times but in one instance, she referred to people of color as "non-white." As if being white is the standard and I am not that. I would not refer to others as "non-Latino" or "non-Black" but she classified me and others like me as "not what she is." Has she been describing students in that way, too?

That blog post is continuously edited and changed after getting feedback from people of color and that's backwards. Why not talk to people of color before writing? That is why having diversity in your organization and listening to those voices is crucial. The perspective of being a minority should come from minorities; otherwise, you're making assumptions and only amplifying your own perspective.

As I type this, I can sense some shifting in chairs. I do understand that bringing up diversity is uncomfortable. However, if we are going to be collaborative advocates so that we can narrow the digital divide, we must talk about uncomfortable topics. The digital divide is something I've written about before and it's an incredibly complex issue. The factors contributing to the digital divide are equally complex such as race, sexism, different abilities, socioeconomic status, and languages just to name a few. And unless we have those uncomfortable conversations, we won't ever come to any viable solutions because decisions will be made based on assumptions.

In an effort to be who I needed when I was younger, I'll keep advocating for those whose voices might not be heard. I will seek out their voices and listen to their stories. I will begin those uncomfortable conversations because getting uncomfortable means we're growing. And I want that cilantro to grow.

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© 2017 Clara J. Alaniz
 

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