Reflections on the NAIS People of Color Conference: Implications for Women of Color Leaders

Co-Written by: Lori Cohen, Bright Morning Associate;  Juna Kim McDaid director of K-12 academics and English teacher at The Potomac School in McLean, VA; Shoba Farrell is a teacher and administrator at San Francisco University High School; Tamisha Williams is the Dean of Adult Equity & Inclusion at Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco, California

Feminism isn’t an employment agency for women; it’s an alternative way of ordering the social space, in which women are the prototype rather than men. It is based on collaboration rather than competition. As a youngster, I still remember my feeling of joy that one could look at the earth differently. That’s feminism; everything is differently oriented. Seeing the same world with different eyes. — Ursula Franklin

In early December, we had the opportunity to present a workshop at the NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC) entitled, “It’s Your Time: Aspiring Women Administrators of Color.” PoCC encompasses so much for so many people, and this year, it was an opportunity for the four of us to reconnect and present content that feels most pressing for aspiring women of color administrators. When people ask us how long we have known one another, they often are surprised when they find out our journey together began only three years ago. Our partnership not only has sustained us, but has allowed us the opportunity to create nurturing spaces for aspiring women of color leaders.

Our Story

Juna and Shoba: While attending a workshop, the two of us gravitated towards each other because of how close our schools were. Soon, we found ourselves in a role-playing scenario where we practiced coaching skills; before we knew it, we were having a real coaching conversation. We found immediate respect for each other and knew that our partnership could be invaluable to our personal and professional journeys. We began meeting for lunch supported and challenged each other in ways that didn’t feel possible with our colleagues at our respective schools. 

Shoba: A few weeks later, a fellow math teacher at a neighboring school got in touch to introduce me to a colleague of his. “I think you two will really hit it off,” he said. I immediately thought of my emerging relationship with Juna and knew that adding Lori would create something dynamic and powerful to our group. 

Lori: Shoba and I were fast friends, and we often shared our successes and challenges at our sites and in our lives. When I met Juna and Shoba for coffee, it was easy conversation and a natural bond from the beginning. The three of us were forming community that was supportive and generative, and I could feel we were developing the firmament for a thriving collaboration and a deep friendship. Not too long after we had started meeting and chatting together, Tamisha had reached out to me to talk about professional development and ways to get connected to the local community (she was new to the region). Our conversation was generative and our values were closely aligned; by the end of our time together, I knew she needed to meet Shoba and Juna as well. 

Tamisha: My meeting with Lori was energizing. I already appreciated her insight and perspective from her writing and was excited to find her even more resourceful and thoughtful in person. It was refreshing to discuss professional development ideas, share trends in our work, and exchange creative visions for ways to engage faculty members in reflection and learning. Being in a department of one, in a new role, at a new school, and in a new region, I was seeking community as a source of support, inspiration, and counsel. 

What we all found was much more than we imagined: a cohort of dynamic women who were open, vulnerable, and generous with their time and stories, a support system, a cheering section, and a catalyst for our collective growth and personal development.

Our Workshop—”It’s Your Time: Aspiring Women Administrators of Color”

So many times conversations in education center around women in leadership or people of color in leadership, and oftentimes, women of color in leadership are overlooked. This intersection poses a unique challenge that should be turned into conversations about how being a woman of color can be an asset to a school community. And for the four of us, we saw an opportunity to create a workshop geared towards women of color on a leadership path—to center their needs, values, and aspirations. 

This year’s PoCC presentation was our third iteration of this workshop for aspiring women of color administrators, and we will continue to do this as long as the need is there. The purpose of the workshop is to offer women of color a space to reflect on their core values, devise their “one-minute message,” visualize their futures, and network with one another so they can cultivate supportive communities that allow them to sustain careers in independent schools. 

When we first offered the workshop in 2017, we were shocked when the 40 packets we printed out disappeared in a blink, and then 150+ more attendees filled the room. There was energy, joy, and a whole lot of thank you’s from the women who attended. We knew then that we would continue to try to lift other women of color into leadership. In 2019, we did so with another room full of 200+ women of color, all of whom were eager to network with us and each other to make it to the decision-making table. The beauty of our workshop is that it’s a place where the four of us can be ourselves as we offer space for reflection, practical guidance, and time for connection among women of color. We also created space for women of color to be themselves: to amplify their authenticity and feel empowered in their wholeness. 

Our Workshop in the Context of PoCC

The People of Color Conference’s mission states that it is 

…designed for people of color as it relates to their roles in independent schools. Its programming should include offerings that support people of color as they pursue strategies for success and leadership. Its focus should be on providing a sanctuary and networking opportunity for people of color and allies in independent schools as we build and sustain inclusive school communities.  

The women who attend our workshop are hungry to dismantle systems of inequality, inequity, and privilege but are stuck, oftentimes alone or with just a few others, in schools that overlook and undervalue them. Like our team, they are able to coach each other, share resources, reflect on challenges, and become whole and ready for the next step in their leadership journey. Our hope is that they form small communities within our workshop, drawing from one another as they begin their transformation. And as facilitators (three of us who identify as women of color and one of us who identifies as a white woman), we have created the kind of sanctuary the conference mission calls for.

Takeaways from this Year’s PoCC

This conference feeds people in myriad ways, from the dynamic keynote speakers to the sessions that offer connection and inspiration. From our vantage point and work together, these are the takeaways from this year’s conference:

  • Our power comes from connection. We are up against systems of oppression, and we must maximize our power by coming together, sharing wisdom, learning from each other, and holding ourselves accountable to our dreams.
  • We need more white people to be allies, especially those in positions of power. We call upon the partnership of leaders who are willing to engage in self-examination around the systems of whiteness and oppression that reside in themselves and in our school systems, and who will strive to dismantle and remake those systems to support women of color as they pursue and attain positions of leadership. 
  • We need more women of color in independent school leadership. Independent schools were founded on principles of segregation, and while they have worked hard to remake their identities in service of diversity, equity, and inclusion, the overlay of whiteness and patriarchy are pervasive. Thus, we need communities that offer more opportunities to recruit, support, and retain women of color in positions of power.
  • We can heal and restore in community. In order to continue showing up in the ways that empower others and threaten oppression, our bodies, mind, spirit, and heart need rest and recharging. The intergenerational traumas we have experienced need to be metabolized, and that process happens in community: among those we love, those who lift us up, and those who center and ground us. Just as our work shouldn’t be done in isolation, our collective healing requires community.

At the end of our workshop, a flood of aspiring women of color leaders approached us and expressed gratitude for our time together. One participant shared,  “Thank you for making space for us. We need this.” We wholeheartedly agree.


Juna Kim McDaid is the director of K-12 academics and English teacher at The Potomac School in McLean, VA. For more than 20 years as an educator, she has taught English and worked as an administrator in public and independent schools on both the east and west coasts. She is committed to the important work of mentoring and sponsoring talented educators and leading professional development opportunities on a local and national level. 

Shoba Farrell is a teacher and administrator at San Francisco University High School. Over the past 20 years, she has worked with K-12 students and teachers across a variety of California institutions, including independent and charter schools. Shoba has spent her career devoted to the zones in which equity, education, and emotional wellbeing overlap. She has led workshops on leadership, education, culture and program design and has served as a leadership coach to executives within the for- and non-profit sectors.

Tamisha Williams is the Dean of Adult Equity & Inclusion at Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco, California. She works with staff, faculty, parents, trustees, and administrators in creating an integrated program to further the school’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Tamisha’s artistic and counseling background informs her recognition of the power of storytelling and her belief that movement and art are integral to healing. Tamisha currently serves on the People of Color in Independent Schools (POCIS) Board of Directors where she helps to coordinate networking and professional development opportunities for Northern California Bay Area educators and school communities.