How are you doing? Like many of you in the United States, I feel heartbroken and confused about the events of the last week.
I want to open up a conversation about how we, as educators, can be part of the solution.
How can we create inclusive, anti-racist classroom environments?
This is such a big, important question that I feel completely unqualified to answer.
But, I think it’s important that we try, even when it’s uncomfortable.
So, I would like to offer three ideas that could be a starting place:
1. Read diverse books to your students.
I am going to be vulnerable here. Yesterday, I looked at my toddler’s bookshelf. Do you know what I found? 99% of his books feature white protagonists.
Although this was unintentional, it sends a message about whose stories deserve to be heard and whose do not.
I feel ashamed that I did not make it a priority to purchase diverse books. We are a white family that lives in a predominately white community. Therefore, by not reading diverse books, I am missing an important opportunity to teach my son about other people, races, and cultures. (In case you are wondering, I have since ordered him many diverse books.)
If you teach in a predominately white area, diverse books will help your students develop tolerance and understanding for others. They will also open up important conversations about race and culture. Well-written diverse books both emphasize our beautiful differences as well as our similarities.
If you teach in a diverse area, it is important that your students see themselves represented in literature. This is one way we can show students that they matter. Diverse books validate our students’ life experiences and identities.
There are SO many online resources for finding diverse books. Seriously, try googling “diverse books” and your grade level and you will find great resources.
Here are a few resources that I found:
- List of diverse books for elementary students
- List of diverse books for middle school students
- List of diverse books that support conversations about race, racism, and resistance
- @diversereads (Instagram account)
2. Teach hard history.
Not all history is fun to talk about. My all-time favorite quote about history sums it up perfectly:
“American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” –James Baldwin
What do we do when we get to the “terrible” history? For example, how do we talk to our students about slavery? How do we teach about the Trail of Tears?
We may feel uncomfortable and wonder how to teach these topics in an age-appropriate way. However, the worst thing we can do is skip over difficult conversations.
Our students deserve a truthful, age-appropriate account of the past.
When it comes to teaching hard history, my favorite resources is Teaching Tolerance. I highly recommend downloading their frameworks for teaching about American Slavery. Unfortunately, some things we think we know about slavery may be wrong. It is our responsibility to teach the truth.
These frameworks identify essential knowledge that students need to know and explain how to teach them. I rely on these frameworks when writing lessons about slavery.
Click to download the framework which fits your grade level:
In addition, if you are a podcast listener, I highly recommend the Teaching Hard History podcast.
3. Self-reflect and Grow.
I saved the most difficult tip for last: reflect on your own beliefs about race. Talking about race is difficult and uncomfortable. It is so much easier to pretend that we all have the same life experiences. However, it is dangerous to be “colorblind.”
Over the last week, I have done my best to listen to the experiences of Black Americans. I have learned so much about privilege, bias, and race as a social construct. However, I still have so much to learn.
I humbly encourage you to reflect on your own beliefs and opinions about racial identity and the race of others. You may discover some biases that you did not know you had. Discovering those biases is just the first step of the journey. The next step is to get to work.
Here are some tools to help:
- Test Yourself for Hidden Bias (from Teaching Tolerance)
- Teaching Teachers to Reflect on Race (article from the National Education Association)
- Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi (I’m reading this book right now)
I would love to hear your thoughts.
Please comment and tell me your ideas for creating inclusive, anti-racist classroom environments.
Stay safe and healthy,
Note: This was originally sent as an email to the teachers on my email list on June 2, 2020.