2: Our core pedagogy

pedagogy [pe-də-ˌgō-jē]

n. the function of the work of a teacher, teaching; the art, science, or profession of teaching, education, instructional methods

In our quest to center women of color pedagogically, we sought out models that disrupt the traditional “expert-learner” dynamic by trusting, valuing, and integrating their wisdom into a reciprocal process of teaching and learning. This meant building and maintaining spaces that could hold complexity, bring WOC into solidarity, and instill a practice of reflection (thinking about ideas, information and experiences) and reflexive thinking (about one’s self).

In other words, pedagogy needed to be present everywhere - in our stories, our bodies, our communities. When designing our programs (as you can read about in Section 4), we sought out a developmental framework that could flexibly contain our ethos and be applied to varied topics and activities. Vertical Development, a model coined by the Center for Creative Leadership, became the heart of our pedagogy.

Working specifically with Women of Color organizers, we also wanted to create opportunities for leaning into models of organizing that align with the liberatory vision we foresaw participants carrying into their communities. We sought to achieve this by blending the constructive tools of traditional organizing with space for deep emotional and spiritual healing, not as an aside or marginally, but as an integral to advancing local, state, and national policy change.

Liberation is realized by ending both systemic oppression (from the external extractive political economic system) and from personal suffering (the internal response to external conditions we face). Therefore a structural analysis must act in tandem with self-inquiry.
- Social Justice Leadership

The design and content of our programs is therefore rooted in a Transformative Organizing framework that took us beyond transactional organizing, and is the other pedagogical thread you will see running through this guide.

Vertical Development

WoC leaders, we know, grapple with issues affecting their lives, families and community while organizing to solve them in an environment where movement building is increasingly multi-faceted and globalized. Presently and in the future, their work requires a sharp political analysis and the ability to maneuver through volatile and unpredictable situations. It has been shown that leaders operating at higher levels of development will perform better in complex environments such as these. By complementing traditional training or “horizontal development” (focused on developing new skills, abilities, and behaviors), we believe a “vertical development” approach offers a pedagogical framework that gives WoC an important advantage in strengthening their minds’ and bodies’ ability to identify, wrestle with, and push through complex challenges.

We incorporate a vertical development framework into session design and facilitation to move participants through three points of ever evolving awareness: 1) Awaken, 2) Unlearn + Discern, 3) Advance.

Awaken (the what): Participants become aware that there are different ways of making sense of the world (diverse worldviews) and that doing things in new ways is possible.

    • This phase often uses intentional provocation and normalization of “heat” experiences to generate breakthrough thinking. Facilitators are advised to 1) carefully and responsibly introduce “heat” and 2) employ a trauma-informed approach to help center participants and offer healing.

Unlearn + Discern: Participants’ old assumptions are analyzed and challenged, while new ones are experimented with as new possibilities for one’s day-to-day work and life.

    • Colliding perspectives (the who) are generated from the diverse insights within a cohort and exposure to readings, guest speakers and site visits.

    • Elevated sense making (the why + how) is generated by opportunities for direct experiences and by analysis and reflection.

Advance: After practice and effort, a person develops more complex ideas that start to dominate previous, less nuanced ones and they build new leadership logics. Even when we attain deep insights and strong leadership capacities, we can grow further.

    • Active experimentation (the how) is generated by application and demonstration of one’s increased effectiveness.

From Analogy to Practice

Imagine you’re at the entrance of a crowded party where there are food stations throughout the room. One is almost right in front of you and its food looks fine. You see people walking by, though, with snack plates that look amazing! You know you’ll have to muddle through the crowd in order to find those treats and decide it’s worth the effort to venture in. Along the way, you chat up folks who direct you to a shrimp cocktail table and arrive across the room at a glorious buffet with contacts and information you would not have gathered had you not muddled through the crowd.

Vertical development complements traditional “horizontal development” by strengthening the mind and body’s ability to identify, wrestle with, and push through complex challenges, building a leader’s confidence and commitment to figuratively muddle through a crowded room for better options.

I organized with an organization that worked with clergy to pass legislation, but I wanted grassroots leaders —like the tamale lady down the street —to have a say in our demands. I was told to make sure the clergy was at a meeting and not spend time on grassroots folks. Knowing it would be hard, I honed into my vision and muddled through to come up with a hybrid approach. I got the clergy AND five grassroots leaders to attend. The clergy took the lead but the others gained a deeper political education while contributing. Our demands were ultimately met.

By the last Power 50 session, our visions had grown. We could imagine reparations in our lifetime knowing we could have the vision first, then muddle toward solutions. Vertical Development helped me lead in a different way.

Arleen Vargas, Power 50

Transformative Organizing

Evaluator and core team member, Zuri Tau, summarizes Transformative Organizing in this way,

Similar to more transactional organizing, transformative organizing teaches political education, mobilization, and strategic power building as methods to address injustice. It differs from transactional organizing, however, in its emphasis on long-term vision, self-awareness, naming and addressing oppression that is replicated in our strategies, and the healing of personal suffering. Transformative Organizing is an outgrowth of community organizers’ dissatisfaction with the short term wins, political setbacks, and the struggles of organizers to maintain balance and fruitful relationships within their personal and professional lives.

You will see throughout the guide that content and outcomes for our programs are rooted in the principles and practices of Transformative Organizing:

  • Begins with self-awareness in recognizing habitual behaviors that influence how we show up and create positive impact.

Practices: Acting from center using somatic practices, mindfulness, healing justice frameworks

  • Requires the intentional practice of new ways of being.

Practices: Sustaining one’s high performance including achieving short-term goals while attending to personal and organizational well-being to advance long-haul needs

  • Requires envisioning the kind of society we seek in the long-term that traverses the personal, organizational, movement or field, and societal

Practices: Deepening ideology including clear vision, purpose and worldview Supporting other leaders to identify and practice their authentic centering practices

  • Requires ideological, strategic, and mass-based organizing

Practices: Deepening one’s ideology to develop a clear vision, purpose and worldview; Building power strategically including developing the leadership of WoC with a long-term, non-transactional orientation

How to Incorporate this Pedagogy

In addition to the vertical development and transformative organizing frameworks, our pedagogy borrows from a number of sources that harmonize with our work and have demonstrated results. Although our team had knowledge of organizing, structural racism, patriarchy, leadership development, and trauma-informed methods, we continually steeped ourselves in new materials and research, exchanging information with each other and frequently reviewing it together. To get the most from this guide we advise you to work similarly and that your team also simultaneously position themselves as informed teachers and learners, responsive facilitators and engaged participants.

How to Use this Guide

In this guide are suggestions ranging from how to assemble a superpower team, to creating a program from scratch or tweaking your program, to outlining a year-long flow inclusive of different gatherings. Wherever possible, illustrations are used to make tangible what we did and why. There are links to content sessions and accompanying handouts, such as:

  • How Structural Racism is Internalized and Disorganizes Us

  • What Happens When We become “The Man”

  • Our Ancestor Stories

  • Yes, Girl, Yes! Practicing Strategic Imagination

We additionally took into account individual preferences during in-person gatherings. Some of us are avid note takers and diarists, others are doodlers or poets, and so throughout this guide are writing and drawing pages for creative expression and recentering.

The structure of this guide loosely follows our planning and facilitation process. It opens with a version of our “Diversity Welcome” (Akwaaba! Bienvenidos!), followed by an introduction that lays out the roots and rationale for WoC programming, which brings us to this section on our core pedagogy. The guide now proceeds as follows:

3: Assembling Our Ride or Die - A description of the knowledge, skillsets and dispositions on our team (our superpowers), our roles and our preparation process

4: Envisioning & Design - Includes a design guide template for creating or tweaking programs, description of our programs and the desired outcomes, and our evaluation approach

5: Wireframes & Session - A description of our process for laying out a comprehensive plan for a gathering such as a retreat or mini-intensive. Also includes links to individual workshop outlines

6: Creating a Liberated Zone - A detailed how-to for creating an intentional and brave space for learning, growing and dreaming

7: Leaning into Generative Conflict - Strategies for using conflict to strengthen group solidarity

8: Embodying New Habits - A set of between gathering practices for deepening impact and staying connected

Accompanying Journaling Prompts & Coloring Pages:

Journaling Prompt: The phases of Vertical Development offer a great opportunity for some movement! Use your body to make a shape or a motion that represents: Awake! Unlearn & Discern! Advance! - Then jot down any feelings or ideas that were evoked.

Coloring Page: Black Lives Matter