The following is a re-posting of a blog post written by our Lower School Humanities Specialist & Advisor, Rebecca Chan.
Let’s face it, social justice work in the classroom isn’t easy—but it is worth it. This topic has kept me up at night for years, and I want to pass on some things I’ve learned to new teachers, as well as everyone out here trying to be better. My contexts have varied from Middle to High School, including public, private, and alternative programs, spanning from an alternative school where some of my students had just gotten out of Juvenile Hall (many of whom are the most kind and polite students I have ever taught), to public schools located on gang territory and receiving Title 1 funding, to affluent, college prep schools in the heart of the Silicon Valley in California. As well as, you know, your average pandemic-style, distance-learning situation. In all contexts, I strive to make my classroom a place where all students feel safe, cared for, and protected. I hope these strategies help you to do the same. Here are five ways to prepare an inclusive, anti-racist classroom. The key here is to set students up to engage in empathetic ways by doing the research and making your convictions as an inclusive, anti-racist teacher clear!
Hit the books.
Knowledge is power! There are so many great resources out there. Here are a few:
The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn't, and Why This one is really good if you have a novel that uses the word (like our ever-required To Kill a Mockingbird), and want a framework to handle it.
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? I found this book great for creating more context to help me build and my understanding of racial identity and how I can help my students develop positive ones.
The New Jim Crow This one is really helpful in helping students and yourself understand and articulate how racial disparities still exist.
Incorporate curriculum that emphasizes social justice.
For example, Facing History is an organization that has a ton of free resources and lesson plans.
You can also make sure that you are incorporating Social Justice Standards for grades K-12!
Also, PLEASE call out the textbooks and novels when they perpetuate stereotypes, racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ableism, or anything else that is unacceptable!
Appreciate the cultures of your students, and share yours with them too!
Ask questions, do activities to get to know their cultures. I know that family isn’t an easy topic for many students, so exploring culture has more to do with their “way of life” and they can identify themselves however they like. One of my professors, Stephen Drouin, did research on this AWESOME, cultural Assemblage Project. The activity allows students to share their cultural identities through a collection of physical objects that represent who they are. Even grad students love to “show and tell!” I would recommend creating one for yourself and modeling what this looks like. This will demonstrate to them that it’s important to you, and therefore, you expect them to take it seriously.
Respect your students’ ways of speaking!
This is a part of decolonizing education. The way your students speak English may be different from what you’re used to. They might speak in ebonics (Black English) or in a thick accent. Language is extremely personal, and we need to have attitudes of understanding and acceptance of our students as people. That doesn’t mean you can’t correct a student. Just make sure you are doing it in a respectful, humanizing way (easy, right?). I personally choose not to correct ebonics when it is spoken, because I prefer to evaluate speaking skills based on participation and content. Though you might not mean it this way, insisting on your language shows them you value theirs less. This includes how much they talk, how loud/quietly they talk, and even the words that schools deem “inappropriate.” The topic of language in the classroom warrants a whole new article. For now, be intentional and explain yourself when you correct kids. If you ask a kid to “speak up” keep in mind that speaking might be discouraged in their home. If you have to hush a student, remember this could be the norm in their home. Give kids grace as they learn. When it comes to swear words, one way to invite kids to change how they speak without insulting their language is by teaching them about code switching. In this, you can emphasize that their language isn’t inferior, but YOU want them to speak a certain way for specific reasons.
Spotlight diverse heroes, movements, and examples of hope and inspiration.
Okay, I WISH I had recognized the power and importance of this one more! I’d been so focused on the importance of exposing oppression that I was taken aback when the mood of my classroom darkened as a result. This really showed me why it’s so important to talk about inspiring champions for social justice, people who have resisted and risen, change that has been made, and the possibilities to be and do more. If I could go back, I’d incorporate both heroes who have become icons like MLK, but also figures that they are familiar with, like Michelle Obama. This is also a great opportunity to let your kids research and share about their own heroes. They might surprise you with what they come up with. It’s so important to give them hope and role models of strength, resilience, and courage. Some of our students are just beginning to realize that the world is harsh, and they need to be reminded of the fact that there is still hope and love and joy. This is important for nurturing their souls so that they can embrace the world, enjoy life and have the courage to fight for change for the future.
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