Make These Positive Changes Before Wrapping up the School Year
There’s no denying this past year has been one with many challenges - at home - on the job - and in our communities.
It’s also been a year where many are reminded of the unjust racial disparities that exist in our Nation.
The many events that have happened serve as a reminder that - as educators - we need to work on creating classrooms that encourage discussion, observation, and investigation into our history and society. And also draw out the potential that exists for change.
With this school year coming to an end - now is a good time to reflect:
Have I done enough to address racism in the classroom?
What are changes I can do now to begin creating an anti-racist classroom?
No matter what grade level you teach, it is never too early to begin talking about race.
Adults sometimes worry that talking about race can promote racial bias. But in reality - not talking about it reinforces racism and leads to children drawing their own assumption based on what they see. In fact, studies have shown that having conversations with 5-7 year olds about interracial friendships can have a big positive impact in changing their attitudes about race.1
So even though the end of the year is here, it’s not too late to start having these conversations in your classroom - or continue to have them - with your kiddos.
Ways to Begin in Your Classroom
It’s important to acknowledge that - historically - our education system was founded on racist practices that included silencing disenfranchised voices.2 Focusing only on the curriculum designed for you would be a disservice to all of your students.
When thinking about how you want to create your classroom community next year and how you want to close out this year - a good place to start is with these 3 things:
Self Awareness is a Must
Before we can have open dialogues in the classroom - we must first look at ourselves. No one wants to believe they are biased but even the most well meaning teachers can have beliefs and stereotypes that affect their students. Take the time to reflect on what implicit biases you may be holding?
Implicit bias by definition is an unconscious stereotype that influences your actions and beliefs.3 This unconscious bias can play a part in widening the achievement gap. Stop and ask yourself:
Who do I call on the most?
Who is disciplined the most?
Who receives the most positive reinforcement?
Whose parents do you call more often?
Do I have high expectations for ALL students?
Taking the time to really dig into your practices and your unconscious biases will help you to reevaluate your practices and make positive change.
Expand Your Library And Do Something
Having a diverse classroom library and reading books of different cultures and viewpoints is vital to having a culturally responsive classroom environment. It’s not only BIPOC children that need to see themselves represented in history and literature - but white students as well. Exposure to different perspectives is necessary to grow in thinking.4
Incorporate books into your library and your daily read alouds that support conversations about race and racism.5 Books are a wonderful opportunity to really examine and create awareness - and empathy!
Then encourage them to do something. Taking action through performance tasks helps enhance their learning by bringing it into the real world. Learning for Justice has a grade-level specific list of student tasks that give students the opportunity to show their anti-bias awareness in an authentic real world context.6
Talk and Listen
When we don’t openly talk about racism with children - we are perpetuating prejudicing and inadvertently sending the message that something is wrong with people of other races.7 Students need to be taught how to have open dialogue and talking about race is no different. Teaching Tolerance’s Let’s Talk guide shares awesome strategies on how to address difficult conversations.8
Create opportunities where students can discuss one-on-one or in small groups. Empower students to share their thoughts and questions freely in a whole class discussion. And validate their voices.
Allow every student voice to be heard. For that to happen you need to consider the situations during class where students may be silenced. Learning styles, method of communication, and overall comfort and ease can impact their level of participation.
Provide a variety of mediums and outlets for students to express themselves. Journaling is a great option for those students who prefer writing. Or use technology like Flipgrid for students to privately record a video response and interact with their peers through online responses.
Think outside the box - and consider all your students - to amplify their voices.
The Time is Now
Educators are in the unique position to impact the outcome of our future with what happens in their classroom. Teachers have the space and opportunity for students to explore their voice, examine our society, and promote the possibility of change.
Working to build an anti-racist classroom is a positive and necessary stepping stone to move us towards change. Talk about race with your students. Allow all voices to be heard. Introduce literature and picture books into your class that will bring self awareness and empathy.
And most importantly - check your own implicit biases. Self-awareness and active change will help in creating a classroom culture where everyone is learning and growing.
Be on the lookout for our free - Human Kind versus Racism - webinar coming soon.
1They’re not too young to talk about race.
2 Teaching Tolerance: All Students Need Anti-Racism Education
3 How to promote diversity in the classroom: Recognize and Challenge Implicit Bias
4Teaching Tolerance: All Students Need Anti-Racism Education
5 The Conscious Kid
6 Student Tasks - Do Something
7 How to Be an Antiracist Educator
8 Let’s Talk: Discussing Race, Racism, and Other Difficult Topics with Students