I have so much on my heart right now that I have to share. Because even in the middle of civil unrest and turmoil and pain and loss and destruction, I see so much beauty and hope. And, I see an incredible opportunity for educators to create positive change.
Let me explain.
What’s happening right now in our country is an UPRISING in every sense of the word. We are witnessing a historic rebellion against injustice.
The events of the past week are something we won’t go back from…this is a time of reckoning. It is shaping who we are as Americans. An unprecedented number of white people are deeply moved by racial injustice and being accountable for it and standing in solidarity with Black people. The outpouring of love, concern, and solidarity for Black people right now is like nothing I’ve ever seen.
Stay focused on that love and the beautiful, peaceful acts we see that are inspiring. Don’t get distracted by the folks who are out of order: the energy to persevere comes from all of the positivity that’s emerging. Think big picture and long term. Keep your eye on the end goal of racial equality and racial healing.
And to be clear, the healing comes from justice, not from kindness alone. It is not enough to be nice to everyone. We have wrongs in our country that have never been righted. That has to happen and we’re seeing that right now. Dr. King taught us that “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” If what we want is lasting peace and unity, then we can never give up on working toward justice.
Don’t focus on the pain and discomfort we are experiencing now in order to get there–know that it will pay off. Transformational change rarely happens without resistance, struggle, and sacrifice. This is part of the process of getting us to where we’re trying to go as a nation, and it’s going to be worth it.
We have a unique opportunity right now: there is tremendous mobilization, awareness, energy, and support for these issues throughout the country and beyond.
So do not lose hope. Do not allow yourself to sink into helplessness and despair.
Instead, take action. Question norms, disrupt systems, and shift the balance of power to create TRUE peace. Use your voice for racial justice and push for positive change.
There is something incredibly powerful, specific, and important that you have the power to do, and I’m going to share it with you now.
We all know that discrimination is wrong and murder is wrong, and getting stuck in that space is where some of those helpless feelings come from. As in, “I’m not killing anyone, and I don’t know anyone who would condone that. So what am I supposed to do to stop it?”
But we can’t be that simplistic in our thinking. The harm of racism is not always as clear and overt as it was with George Floyd. We can’t only speak up about the blatantly terrible acts. White supremacy is insidious. As the saying goes, it’s not like a shark in the water: it IS the water. We’re surrounded by it all the time.
As educators, some of our most important work can come from digging more deeply to uncover the discrimination that’s embedded in our institutions and policies. The inequities in our schools were created by design. Broken systems are functioning exactly as they were intended.
Over time, our schools have evolved to be more equitable, but it didn’t happen on it’s own. It happened because people like you and me have fought to make them better.
Teachers, parents, kids, and other community members have advocated for equality and helped make incredible progress toward ensuring EVERY child receives the same high-quality education and has their full identity recognized and valued.
And this work isn’t done.
I’m going to share two things you can do to make a difference: one for educators who are just waking up to the importance of this work and one for those who are ready for more.
If you’re just waking up to the importance of this work…
I encourage you to get two books, purchasing from a Black-owned or independent book-seller if possible. I’m not saying these are the best, perfect, or only books to start with, but Google will give you a zillion articles with a zillion recommendation, and I don’t want you to be so overwhelmed that you never take action. These two, I know have been personally helpful.
Read the books this summer, and reflect on how you will change your classroom practices in the fall. You can use the discussion guide questions to help: those are designed for teachers by ClearTheAir, founded by the incredible Val Brown.
- White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (discussion guide)
- How to Be Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi (discussion guide)
If you run into specific questions about them or the book chats, feel free to ask me so that Val isn’t overwhelmed with new folks who want to learn more.
I’ve compiled more anti-bias and anti-racism resources here, including books, podcasts, and Black educators + others doing this work so you can follow on social media.)
If you’re ready to enact more change…
I encourage you to get together virtually or in-person with a teacher friend. Together, commit to uncovering and rooting out discriminatory practices in your classroom, school, and district.
That sounds fancy and complicated and maybe more than you feel like taking on, but it does not have to be. In fact, there are free “equity audit” checklists that you can use to help. Begin by going down the lists at that link, and reflecting on what is and isn’t in place.
You might choose a few key elements to examine for bias, such as:
- Dress codes
- Discipline and suspension policies
- Gifted and advanced course placement
- School-to-prison pipeline
- Response to student behavior
- Grading policies
- Classroom management
- Instructional approaches
- Curriculum materials (use resources here, here and here)
Don’t get overwhelmed by this.
Remember that you’re not responsible for trying to fix all the problems single-handedly.
The goal is to be able to recognize and interrupt patterns of racism that are embedded in the way we do school.
Remember when Jenn Binis was on the podcast, back in episode 153? She taught us about the history of the teaching profession and why teachers being overworked and underpaid is actually a feature of how our school function, not a bug. It’s by design. And she taught us how to look for harmful patterns and interrupt them. Don’t let racist or sexist or otherwise biased policies and procedures continue without interruption. Call attention to them. Name them. Question them.
So when you’re uncovering the bias in your own classroom or school, you might start with a single aspect (just one unit of study, for example, or just the suspension policies at your school.) And then, tackle more over time. Work with your colleague to follow 3 steps:
1. Research and identify discriminatory practices.
Your school or district may already have done an equity audit. Check first to see if one exists so you can find the weak points. If there are any educators–particularly Black educators or other educators of color–who have already begun this work, follow their lead.
Be careful not to ask them to do work for you, but it’s important to defer to folks who have been speaking up about this already. You lending your voice to what they’ve been saying will be more powerful than trying to create a whole separate movement. Seek out their work and stand in solidarity with them.
2 Decide how to make adjustments to the way your classroom operates.
This is where your personal responsibility comes in. Think about how you are interacting with students and the classroom environment you create. Consider the rules you make and how you enforce school policies. What can you do to create change?
3. Create a plan for approaching school leadership with suggestions and solutions.
See if you can identify a handful of things that need to be changed at the systemic level and offer up some best practices to your school leaders. Administrators need your support and solutions in this area even if they are not asking for them.
This is not simple or easy work, of course; but it’s worth it. It’s ONE way you can make a powerful difference as a teacher committed to anti-racism.
It needs to be done now. Black folks and other people of color can’t wait for a more opportune and convenient time. And I believe we have a unique opportunity right now because there is more widespread awareness and support for anti-discrimination measures than I can ever recall before.
Folks are paying attention. They care. They’re speaking out. And that means school and district leaders are going to be more concerned with equity measures than ever before. They will be better equipped to do that work when teachers are there alongside them. Administrators need your input and support with this right now, even if they’re not asking for it.
So if you’re not sure what you can really do to make a difference right now, this is is. This is how to make an impact within your sphere of influence as a teacher.
Remember, you don’t have to fix everything all at once, all alone: focus on recognizing and interrupting harmful patterns.
This moment in time is also ideal for rooting out racism because of effects of the pandemic on education. School policies/procedures this fall are going to be different than ever before. We can’t uphold the status quo and do things how they’ve always been done, even if we wanted to.
Think about how quickly our lives changed back in March, and how substantially they’ve changed since then. We can leverage this opportunity to create bigger transformations in how we do school, and experience those transformations faster than would otherwise be possible.
This is our moment, my friends. There is so much pain and heartache right now, but I believe that tremendous good will come from it, because of folks like us who leverage the heightened public awareness to move toward racial equality and healing.
We are not helpless. You and I have the power to reimagine schools, and shape a world that is better for our students.
Let’s show kids that Black lives matter.
Rise up, and work for justice.