Contributed by Cesar Reyes
In the cool afternoon, Dan Alpert, Program Director at Corwin Press, and I stood near the entrance to the Los Angeles Convention Center beneath the ASCD banner draped high overhead. Looking up towards the steps as throngs of educators worked their way up the stairs, I felt overwhelmed with excitement in anticipation of my first educational convention. I realized that I was in the company of so many who voluntarily took time from their work, schools, classrooms, students with the like-minded hopes of bringing back to their community a new knowledge that could be implemented or shared with colleagues. Armed with our pens, notebooks, and schedule of our “top pick” sessions Dan asked with an excited smile, “Are you ready?”, and I could only answer with a wide grin that said, “Boy, am I ever!”
I had the privilege of attending Principal Baruti Kafele’s session on the Transforming the Black Male Achievement Crisis. Having grown up in a town known for its penitentiary, and having attended a high school that some labeled “ghetto,” I found myself inspired by his presentation. Although focused mainly on the black struggling male student, I knew from my own experience that Principal Kafele’s words captured the plight of all students of color who struggle in a system that cares little to understand their culture or marks them, without cause, as less than they are. Kafele discussed how, through the implementation of empower programs, he successfully taught these young men what it means to succeed. To reframe their narratives by beginning not with their enslavement in the colonial period but instead beginning with the excellence of an African heritage that has mathematicians, artists, architects, and rulers. To ask them the deepening question of what it means to not only be a man today, but how would they teach their sons to be men. And he emphasized that when we put structures in place that permits these boys to succeed, we will have the pleasure of watching them soar.
I also had the honor to meet in-person with authors whom I have worked with since I joined Corwin last August. The first two were Gail and Rufus Thompson. Gail is the acclaimed author of such books as Through Ebony Eyes and The Power of One: How You Can Help or Harm African American Students. I worked with Gail and her husband, Rufus, on the much-anticipated Yes, You Can! Advice for Teachers Who Want a Great Start and Great Finish with Their Students of Color, which will be published by Corwin in late May. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Gail’s session on The Winning Formula for Working Effectively with Black Students, and to say that Gail has the ability to captivate a crowd would be an understatement. She is a consummate story-teller with the ability to weave intricate anecdotes that kept her audience, quite literally, on their toes. She first told the story of a young woman, who narrowly escaped with her children from an abusive spouse, only later to be maimed by a burglar who took her beauty. Then to describe the plight of this woman’s children who were diminished by a school system that failed to believe in their ability to succeed. She went on to describe how two of the children were later murdered, after falling into drugs and terrible circumstances, and how the third, Gail (gasps escaped mouths at the revelation that she was the third child), only succeeded due to one teacher. Thompson affirmed that this teacher’s kindness, patience, and strong belief that all can succeed helped Gail to escape the fate of her brothers, and reinforced that teachers really do have the strength to change lives.
The last session of my last day I was happy to have been with Jennifer Abrams, author of the books Having Hard Conversations and The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicate, Collaborate, and Create Community. After sitting through many workshops during the course of the day, Jennifer’s session on Being Generationally Savvy was just the right pick-me-up. With her customary wit and down-to-earth delivery, she discussed generational differences between co-workers, and the laughter along with affirming head nods was abundant. The crowd ranged from 67 at the oldest and I, at 23, bringing up the close. I smiled as I heard about the (accurate) Millenial attributes of optimism, achievement, confidence, sociability, morality, and street smarts. As well, I found myself gaining new knowledge: I discovered that Millennials tend to have assumed entitlement and wish for immediate promotion (something I wasn’t willing to accept immediately but have been prone to in certain situations). Jennifer’s presentation also had me think warmly of my co-workers at Corwin and the attributes they bring to the table with their generational differences. Although Jennifer stated that this was not a set-in-stone list of characteristics, as there will always be those within generations that do not abide by certain rules (Xers I’m looking at you), her list shows typically what occurs within these generations. By the end of the day, I felt enriched by a new self-awareness and reflected on all of the sessions that I was able to attend and will never forget.
How was your ASCD experience? Tell us in the comments below!
Cesar Reyes is an Editorial Assistant at Corwin Press who works with Senior Acquisitions Editor Jessica Allan and Program Director Dan Alpert on their respective lists. He received his B.A. from the University of California, Davis, and while there served as an Editorial Assistant for Writing on the Edge, a journal focusing on teacher stories, which helped him to discover his passion for academic publishing. When he is not reading or writing, Cesar’s hobbies include hiking the trails of Ventura County, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and the arts.