Anti-Racist Teaching and Justice

“Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice.
Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s tough to think about the damage done during the last presidency. I remember in 2017 being devastated at the election results and then deciding to choose optimism.

That didn’t last long. Watching people I love, and people I don’t know, live in fear, anxiety, and pessimism is heart-wrenching and exhausting. What Trump impacted on our country hit us hard in education; we teach developing humans who watch and listen and sometimes question. We teach everyone who walks through our door, and for the last year, we did it during a pandemic that didn’t have to happen.

Mostly, the kids I taught struggled with understanding why there was so much hate, injustice, and blatant cruelty in America. To kids, it’s much more obvious in some ways – they learn right from wrong, they learn to be kind and share, and when they don’t see that reflected in their world it’s hard to comprehend. And extremely hard to explain to them – especially from one side of a computer screen, not able to look them in the eyes, give them a hug or high five, and reassure them that they and their family will be ok. That people really ARE good at heart.

And now again with a new president, a female woman of color for our vice-president, and a cabinet that looks more like MY America, I am once again optimistic. I feel a bit lighter. A bit more hopeful that we can be better than we ever have been. That we can begin to break down the systemic racism in our country. That we can all be anti-racist.

I’m not naive – I know what we are seeing in the news really IS our America. It’s not the America I want to live in, but it is where we are now. We have work to do – hard work – and educators can – and should – be huge players. Education IS political. We need to teach our children about racism, show them how it has shaped our country, and expose them to how it impacts our world today. We need to confront it, not conform to it. We need to challenge our young thinkers to make sense of what they see and experience and create opportunities for kids to make change happen – one small step at a time.

Are you an anti-racist teacher?

Not sure where to start, or how to keep going? I’ve been thinking that sharing some simple strategies and lessons that have worked in my classroom might just help “implement the demands of justice”. Here you go!

Start with books

Read alouds: My 7th graders LOVE to be read to, both during face to face learning, and even more during the distance learning we’ve been in. I use a combination of picture books and chapter books. I start my back to school read alouds with picture books – I focus on diversity of voice and the themes of empathy and inclusion. Here’s a link to get you started: Back to school read aloud picture book list.

I’ve typically followed the Global Read Aloud suggestions for chapter books in the last few years – last year we loved The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman, and this year’s choice, Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park was a perfect fit alongside the backdrop of the pandemic and racial justice issues in the U.S. Check out my Wakelet collection to help you build your classroom stack.

Another strategy is to try First Chapter Friday selections – I choose books from all genres with a focus on writers telling stories of marginalized groups in society. I’ve found that using clips of the author reading their work, when available, adds impact – when my students see people that look like them reading their stories, they are inspired to read – and WRITE!

And of course, offering choice – getting kids to learn to love reading means allowing them to have access to a diverse classroom library and agency over what and how they read – any genre, any format. Audio books and graphic novels ARE READING!

Use this link for Pernille Ripp’s Favorite Reads of 2020 – she’s always inspiring and spot on with her recommendations.

Build and maintain positive relationships

Kids need to be able to feel safe and trust that they can express themselves in order to do anti-racist teaching and learning. It starts by listening to your students – what are they passionate about? What’s at the top of their mind?

Ask for reflection and feedback – always. It’s one way kids know you care about them. And be SURE to act on their responses so they feel heard. I love to use this SEL check in form with my students – it’s their ‘do now’ at the start of class and gives me a quick glimpse at how they are, and who needs a deeper check-in.

Teach Empathy and Justice

My first unit of the year is always about empathy. This All Are Welcome HyperDoc allows students to gently understand the concept of empathy and explore how they see it in the world around them. The application of their learning in a collaborative picture book cements the validity of their perspectives while at the same time elevates picture book status in their eyes!

Lisa Highfill offered some Anti-Racist HyperDocs – take a look at Nadia Razi’s  lessons as well as two live shows recorded by the HyperDoc girls on the topic of justice and anti-racist teaching:

Keep learning

Teachers need to be active learners. The world is changing – we cannot rely on outdated textbooks and teaching strategies. Just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it’s right for right now.

Do your research. Read CURRENT information on anti-racist teaching pedagogy. Read books – biographies, memoirs, non-fiction, poetry, and fiction written by BIPOC. The following are a few resources I find helpful:

http://www.overshopping.com

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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