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Meet the Dr. Kara Taylor and India Cruse-Griffin: Breakout Session Leaders for the Indiana Educators of Color Networking Conference

Dr. Kara Taylor is a professor at IUPUI. She will be leading the “Story of Self” breakout session at the Indiana Educators of Color Networking Conference.

What made you choose a career in education?

My mom was a teacher, so growing up I witnessed her teaching. I honestly didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher until I got to college and began doing a lot of volunteer work. I started volunteering during my undergraduate career in Chicago Public Schools. I really had a passion for children. From there, I went into being an assistant director of an upward bound program working with at risk high school students. I worked with advocacy to get these students into college. I wished that I had that advocacy for myself, which led me to pursue my master’s degree in elementary education. Ever since, I’ve been a teacher, curriculum designer and literacy coach and formed my research focus and passion for healing spaces for oppressed students of color.

Can you talk about how your practice of yoga connects with your day-to-day work?

I’m big on healing. I believe that a huge part of schooling that we don’t acknowledge is that students and teachers need social and emotional healing. When I was in schools, I carried the stories and traumas of my students along with mine. I was looking for a way to negotiate that with myself, so I started doing yoga. I did yoga for my own personal practice from 2012 to 2017 and then I took a break. I stopped teaching in 2018 and became a professor at IUPUI. Due to moving to a new place where I didn’t have family and didn’t know many people, I felt lost and I needed a place to heal and deal with my stuff, so I started yoga at Santosha School of Yoga in Nora Plaza. I soon began teaching there and I began to question how yoga and healing spaces can be used through literacy for teachers and students to heal from trauma and systematic oppression in schools. I also wondered how teachers and students can they heal from day-to-day life through self-regulation and critical reflection over their ideals and experiences with racism, classism, sexism and ableism. So, my journey with yoga carries over into my practice. In my practice, we talk about breathing and the commonalities between teaching and yoga. We are always evolving to be greater. We have a flow of teaching that fits who we are as people. I believe that how I teach yoga is who I am as a person. How I teach is who I am as a person. I want my students to find out who they are and who they want to be.

What are some ways that you prioritize self-care?

I’m a creative writer. I like to write non-fiction, critical reflections of my life and poetry. My husband and I love to read and discuss books. I’m a professional body builder. I volunteer in schools to stay grounded. Aside from those things, I do know how to unwind. My favorite show to watch is The Office. I go to therapy every week so that I can stay grounded and have a sounding board for myself. I’m always out in the community. I play the piano, I dance…I just also do all things related to the arts.

What book would you recommend to someone who is interested in racial and social justice work?

My go to book is Pose, Wobble, Flow: A Culturally Proactive Approach to Literacy Instruction. It probably sounds very boring, but it’s not. It explores becoming a critical literacy teacher through yoga, but you don’t have to know yoga to read it. It shares the idea that we’re always learning and changing. I use it in my classes because it talks a lot about the critical notion of breaking the stereotypes about how we learn in schools. It talks about systematic oppression and creating safe spaces for our students in a new way.

I would also recommend, Is Everyone Really Equal? as an introduction to key concepts in social justice education. I always have my students read the first chapter together because it addresses what stops us from engaging in the work of being equitable and critical.

What do you hope attendees will take away from your conference session?

I want them to have a moment and hang out with themselves and do the inner of reflecting on their identity and the capacities of their identities. I want them to be able to identify what they lean into and what they may neglect. I think that’s important. I want them to walk out with strategies and tools to explore themselves that they can carry into the classroom or in their day-to-day lives.

India Cruse Griffin is a professional artist and art teacher. She’s been a professional artist for 26 years and a teacher for 38 years. She will be leading the "Art Therapy" breakout session at the Indiana Educators of Color Networking Conference.

What led you to becoming an art teacher?

I knew that I wanted to teach, but I didn’t know what I wanted to teach. I used to be an athlete, so I thought I wanted to be a gym teacher, but I decided to do something that I was passionate about. I knew that I could help students appreciate and understand art. I really like to connect with my students, so we spend a lot of time talking about my art, their art, famous art, and how we can see the world differently. I base a lot of me being a teacher on the role models I had when I was young.

What’s your medium?

I’m a mixed media collage artist. They’ve been coining my work here lately as painted college. I take different types of materials, whether its magazines or newspapers, I put them together pretty much in the same college method and then paint on the work, which gives it a different look and depth. So, I’m a mixed media collage painter.

What are some things that you do when you’re not teaching or painting to ground yourself?

It used to be easy for me to take care of my mental health, because I would pour into my students and then I would come home and have time to work on my own work. My children were young when I went back into being a professional artist and I’d wait until I did all the mom things and put them to bed, and I would paint until 12 or 1 in the morning, and it never seemed to faze me because art was my healer. It kept me grounded. Lately, students and school have been a lot more challenging. The roles that teachers have are far bigger than they used to be. So, I tend to mediate when I get home after work and then I try to still do something that I like. I have to take the time out now to give my brain a break. I love listening to the sound of rain, the ocean or classical music. I like to spend time after school doing that and then I spend the rest of the afternoon with my family. A while ago, I decided not to bring my work and not as many of problems home. If we can’t get it done during the day, we can’t continue to keep pouring out into our jobs in the evening. You start to lose yourself and your mental health, and you start to lose your family. In the last few years, I’ve said, “if it’s not done at 3:30, I will pick it up again at 7:45” and I had to focus and make sure that I did that.

What are you most looking forward to for the Indiana Educators of Color Networking Conference?

There are issues that only teachers of color can understand. I really think this will be a great opportunity for educators of color to come together and share experience, uplift one another, share successes, share failures…and see one another in a supportive community. I’m looking forward to having a chance to meet other educators of color. It’s going to be a great two days.

What do you hope participants will gain from your session?

Any art that you do is going to be therapy for you. It helps your mental health…it helps you release and be creative. No one has to like it. I want people to understand that when you come and do art, it does not have to be amazing. It can be anyway you want as long as you’re releasing and enjoying. Through talking to the committee on what I would teach, we decided that we will do vision boards. I must laugh because I’ve never done my own personal vision board because I believe that every piece of art that I do is a vision board. But I’m going to talk about vision boards, how they work and how they can bring healing to yourself. If they don’t want to create a vision board, they can create a collage or painting that will make them feel good. I think that’s what art is – something that brings you joy.