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.

YES!

I’ve been back from Cameroon for as long as I was in there—two and a half weeks. In that time, I’ve been wondering: What is the role of this blog? What do I have to say?

My blog title was (and is) “Changing (My) Life with French”… which is in great part the work I’m doing with Aumazo… but not only that.

So, today, I’m going to dip my toe in just a little bit and attempt to discover what this blog needs to become.

The theme of this time has been the universe saying YES. Here are a few highlights of my life since my return:

  1. People have been flocking to my independent French classes! I’ve got homeschool students and then also other kids and adults, some even via Facetime. I have a deep sense of rightness. And a good bit of income as well. YES!
  2. Rachelle Adams (see her website here), my dear friend and colleague who left Barrie at the same time as I did, and I have been invited to re-present our presentation from NTRPS at the CIMW (Comprehensible MidWest) conference this coming weekend: “Building Diversity-Positive Characters in TPRS/CI Stories.” YES!
  3. Rachelle and I are offering a 6-session monthly professional development series entitled “Teaching with Comprehensible Input: The Why, What, and How” based on Michelle Kindt’s series in Hershey, PA by the same name. (See description here.) We’ve been looking for a place to hold it, and suddenly we’re getting a YES from a local charter school (soon to be named!). YES!
  4. I get to schedule yoga during the day during my work week. That’s a definite YES! And I’m working for Willow Street Yoga Center in exchange for the yoga. Even more YES.
  5. The work in Cameroon continues to be impactful and enriching. We are scheduling biweekly Skype conversations with the teachers. The (now 33!) girls are working hard and are begging for more. (I’ll post Jacqueline’s report for Global Giving in my next post.) YES!
  6. And now for the most astonishing thing–yet another moment to give me goosebumps about the work I’m doing with Aumazo. A few days after I got home, I walked across the street to talk with Jeanne. She works as a nanny for my neighbors. Since she’s a French speaker, my husband and I had both briefly spoken with her before and had learned that she was from Cameroon, so I was looking forward to letting her know that I’d been in her country. It turns out that she is not only from Cameroon, but she is from Bafang! She grew up and spent most of her life right where I was staying. She went to school at the Collège Saint Paul. What a small world! YES! Today, I went over to the house to show her pictures from my time in Bafang and Bankondji and I brought my friend Hortense, who is also Cameroonian (from Bafoussam). What a joy. 
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    Surrounded by the warmth of Cameroonian women! Hortense is on the left, and Jeanne is on the right.

    (Hortense’s husband Michel, a lawyer who does civil rights work in Cameroon, treated us to a wonderful meal in Yaoundé on our last day in Cameroon. I first heard about Michel and Hortense in a sermon at my church a few years ago, and have been fortunate enough to become their friend.) 

YES!