The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky sparked protests across the United States and around the globe, as people united across race and ethnicity to stand up for Black lives in the wake of state violence.
All of us have learning and unlearning to do to dismantle the stranglehold white supremacy has on our institutions. As leaders in the classroom and the community, teachers at every level have been called to do their part to make their school community welcoming, inclusive, and anti-racist. Why aren’t the first two enough? Because racism and white supremacy are deeply ingrained in our schools, our legal system, housing, medical care, and environmental policy. As much as we want it to, love and positive thinking can’t undo that. Only deliberate steps to educate and change policy and practice are going to have the impact we need. So let’s start there.
Earlier this summer, I wrote a piece for Teach. Learn. Grow., the NWEA education blog, about the books educators should consider adding to their personal reading syllabus. Today, I want to share some ideas and resources you can use in your classroom.
The Empathy Lab
Poetry and literature can help students make connections to the new concepts and the world around them. As we foster an anti-racist school community, understanding and making considerations for others is central, but it’s a skill that must be practiced. The Empathy Lab is a UK-based non-profit working to “build children’s empathy, literacy and social activism through a systematic use of high-quality literature.” The organization publishes annual Read for Empathy book collections grouped by age that celebrate and highlight different cultures and lived experiences. Here’s the list for students ages four to 11, and the list for students 11 to 16.
Let’s Talk! Facilitating Critical Conversations with Students
As much as we want to do better for our students and communities, some of these issues—police violence, mass incarceration, white privilege—can be really difficult to talk about. This free, downloadable guide from Teaching Tolerance provides easy-to-implement strategies you can use to facilitate conversations with your students.
Connect with established organizations in your community
No one expects you to be an expert on issues of racial justice. Acknowledge where your gaps are and work to fill them by connecting with established groups in your community. This may look like building relationships with community partners like the NAACP or the Urban League. It may mean networking with leaders within traditionally underrepresented communities to learn more about the history of the neighborhoods your school serves. A lot of this work tends to happen around Black History Month, but it needs to happen throughout the year to make lasting connections.
A video primer for anti-racist white educators
Terry Jess and Luke Michener, two white, male teachers in Washington, took it upon themselves to acknowledge their gaps and learn more about white supremacy, racial inequality, and how they can better serve students in their classrooms. The result is a collection of YouTube videos, including a 10-part series specifically for other white educators navigating these issues.
Resources from Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action
Curated by D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice, this is a comprehensive collection of readings, teaching guides, posters, lesson plans, and films divided by grade level that celebrate different cultures, ethnicities, and gender identities. There are even resources in Spanish and Arabic. This is a deep treasure trove of materials and ideas. Consider sharing with your grade-level team and exploring together so you don’t miss anything.
We can all do our part to build an anti-racist school community, one that specifically supports the health, safety, and education of Black students. It starts with each of us, and if anyone has the power to get the job done, it’s educators.
Erin Ryan joined NWEA as senior writer in 2018. A former teacher and student of education policy, she enjoys sharing stories and new ideas to support student learning.