School leader signing name on poster for School Leaders of Color Conference

Liberating Learning in Our Schools: TFA's School Leaders of Color Conference

Teach For America's fifth annual School Leaders of Color Conference is just a few hours away. Here's a preview on what to expect in Houston.
Thursday, February 9, 2017

This Friday and Saturday, over 400 school leaders of color from across the nation will convene in Houston for Teach For America’s School Leaders of Color (SLOC) Conference.

Now in its fifth year, presented by The Collective, Teach For America’s National Alumni of Color Association, in partnership with TFA’s School Leadership Team and Teach For America–Houston, the event unites school and school system leaders of color for a culturally relevant professional development and networking experience, but for some Teach For America alumni, the SLOC Conference means much more.

“It’s rare to be in the same building with so many school leaders of color, so to see so many people who look like me and the people I serve is inspiring,” says Niloy Gangopadhyay (Bay Area ‘02), executive director and co-founder of Success Preparatory Academy in New Orleans.

“There’s a common bond with someone who might be 11 or 12 years behind me in the corps,” Gangopadhyay adds. “The fellowship is there first and foremost. There are also great sessions, and the networking opportunities allow us to keep learning from one another and share this expertise and experience.”

The SLOC Conference has also allowed Gangopadhyay to reflect on what he missed out on during his nascent days as a school leader.

“When I was coming up in Teach For America as an alum, I wasn’t necessarily prepared to make that jump to be a leader without a mentor,” he says. “I learned that being a part of someone’s career journey, even if it’s for a short period of time, can be really powerful.” As a result, events like the SLOC Conference have aimed to cultivate a system of mentorship over the past few years.

"It’s rare to be in the same building with so many school leaders of color, so to see so many people who look like me and the people I serve is inspiring." —Niloy Gangopadhyay (Bay Area '02)

This year’s theme is “Disruptive Leadership: Challenging Oppressive Systems, Liberating Learning in Our Schools.” Attendees will explore Paolo Freire’s definition of praxis—a cycle of reflection followed by action.

“I feel like this conference not only fuels me and re-energizes me as far as the work we do, but also it gives you things to take with you and readily apply to your school on Monday and weeks, months, and years to come,” says Gangopadhyay, who will be part of a panel for a session on emerging leaders.

With education constantly evolving, the SLOC Conference will also facilitate discussions about pressing issues facing the field today.

“In the environment we’re in right now, people are worried about their students and themselves. They wonder how the institution of education is changing,” Gangopadhyay says. “It’s not necessarily about political alignment, but the feeling that people have. So how do we approach this feeling and do what’s best to keep our students moving forward?

“Second, we have a crisis with underrepresentation in our school systems with people of color. There was a shortage to begin with. We have more people of color in TFA than we’ve ever had before, but I'm not sure that the numbers are growing in the school leadership department. That's the challenge we face and embrace.”

Follow the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at #SLOC2017.

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