Fall Forum (November 2013 #2)

Fall Forum 2013 Continues to Develop Community and Reenergize Educators

Many associate November with harvest.  The harvest is considered a time to gather and reap the benefits of our earth’s bounty.  This past weekend, The Coalition of Essential Schools’ Annual Fall Forum concluded here in San Francisco – and it proved to be a harvest as more than 400 amazing educators from across our country – and beyond – gathered and shared the riches of their wisdom and experiences with each other over three days – for the benefit of students and public education across our globe.

The weekend started with a pre-conference day in which more than 100 educators visited 8 bay area schools and participated in various full day workshops.  The school visits continued to be a highlight in which educators were able to realize they were not alone in their ideas and ideals for students and were able to see many of these enacted in other schools and contexts.  Additionally, one of the pre-conference workshops included a student leadership forum in which students from across San Francisco met and mixed with students from across and outside of California to deepen their understanding of advocating for themselves and others.  They then collaborated to develop workshops – facilitated the very next day – to Fall Forum participants in areas they would best serve to advocate for some of our least reached students.  The topics included how to build trusting relationships across diverse experiences. That same evening, Lisa Villareal from the San Francisco Foundation kicked off the formal conference with an amazing and moving message of hope for our students when we re-envision our schools as their previously conceived “community school” design.

On Saturday, our day started with the impassioned witness of San Francisco Superintendent Richard Carranza and the ever-informative presentation of Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond.  The one—two punch they provided became the backdrop of the entire conference and served as an example of how a conference not only can, but also should address both practice and policy in service of transforming our system – and our student experiences.  The tone of their courageous stances carried throughout the weekend as students discussed observing teachers and providing constructive feedback, and as colleagues discussed the difficult work and continuous work it took to develop as allies across racial difference.  The culmination of everyone’s commitment occurred on Sunday when all the participants formed equity-centered professional learning communities in various rooms and provided critical friendship to a brave colleague who volunteered a dilemma or unfinished work from a conference-related learning.

As we closed, members of this year’s forum referenced those within this newly formed community who influenced them.  One brave teacher, quoting Superintendent Carranza, proudly committed a willingness to risk being fired in order to do right by his students.  Another, thanked SF-CESS Coach and Comedian Dr. Micia Mosely, whose humor on Saturday night somehow allowed her to recognize and feel her “whiteness” for the first time in her life.  Yet another made new meaning of her work and charge in recalling Dr. Darling-Hammond’smessage that when given an impossible task, we will sabotage the situation – and thus we must work together to make what is impossible to any one of us, possible because of all of us.

All in all, the participants of this year’s Fall Forum demonstrated and reflected the reason I have chosen to attend for the past 22 years.  I left with a re-energized sense of commitment and a renewed awareness that when we gather together, we collectively can provide a bounty for our youth that is unimaginable when we work alone.  The feelings – the hope of participants mirrored the powerful message of hope that Lisa Villareal started us with – together we must and we can do that which we cannot do alone.

May we all have a bountiful year in service of our youth and of democracy!

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