Comprehensible Midwest!

Rachelle and I are posing here with Grant Boulanger, co-founder of the conference

On Saturday, Rachelle and I presented at the inaugural Comprehensible Midwest (CIMW) conference, once in the morning and a double session in the afternoon. Our presentation was a repeat of the one we did last July at NTPRS in Reno: “Creating Diversity-Positive Characters in your TPRS/CI Stories.” I was really impressed with the organization of this conference. I’ve been to a lot of conferences in my time and have done a good bit of event organizing myself, and it’s hard to believe that it was organized so quickly or that this was the first time the conference had happened. Everything was beautifully set up, from the emails we received before hand to the fully hyperlinked schedule to the logo to the t-shirts many of the organizers were wearing. In addition, every participant received two coupons for free books, one from TPRS Publishing and the other from TPRS Books, and we were also offered free online goodies from Fluency Fast.

I was deeply honored to have been asked to be part of the first-ever CIMW conference, and for our session to speak directly to core elements of the mission, which is as follows:

The Comprehensible Midwest Conference empowers teachers to create joyful, effective and equitable language acquisition through instruction based on comprehensible input. As a collaborative community, we safely support teachers to connect with each other and to teach in ways that respond to students’ cultural and linguistic identities.

Our guiding principle in offering this session (and in the work we do as teachers) is that Students deserve to see positive representations of themselves and those they love… both as they are now and as they could be in the future.

We can’t know what a student (or any human) is walking into the room with or as. Who is this person now? What is he struggling with? What are the different pieces of her identity? Who will she be in the future? Who is in the student’s circle of care—that is, who is important in his life? Our classroom needs to create space. When our students walk into the room, they need to know that all humans will be honored and upheld.

This means that we must be attentive to our own bias as we work to create a safe space for every one of our students to learn and grow and become. As Rachelle said on Saturday, when we walk into a situation, the question to ask rather than “do I have bias?” is “what is my bias?” This is the deep work of justice that begins in each one of us.

Although the numbers in our sessions were small, the feedback was excellent and there was a depth to the sharing that I found powerful. People were grateful to have a space in which to explore these questions and to have clear and practical steps to take to improve their practice. One woman, a committed diversity-positive educator herself, thanked us for our presentation and explained that she had not been expecting to learn a lot that was new, since she has long been engaged in this work—but she learned a lot. I know I have learned and grown daily in the collaboration I have had with Rachelle over the past seven years, and working on this presentation/workshop has pushed me forward as well.

In the evening we went to a celebration party at Haiyun’s house (one of the organizers), and I found myself having a depth of conversation there that is rare at parties.

I’m still glowing from being in Milwaukee—and feeling awake, enlivened, and grateful.

If you’re a language teacher in the DC area and you’re eager to participate in one of our diversity workshops, consider signing up for our 6-part job-embedded professional development series on “Teaching With Comprehensible Input: The Why, What, and How” — we will not only be giving a more in-depth version of this workshop, but we will be weaving this diversity-positive approach into the entire series.


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