The racial justice movement ignited in communities across the country has propelled teachers to think about ways to better support students of color (now identified as Black, Indigenous and People of Color [BIPOC]). For these students, returning to a classroom that is emotionally safe may be just as important as returning to one that is physically safe. No doubt as educators begin prepping for the first weeks of school, they are asking important questions like, “How do my students of color experience school? How can I support not only their academic needs, but also their emotional, physical and mental health? How can I be an ally in the fight for racial justice?”
If you are hesitant or unsure about how to dive into this tough topic, we get it, but silence isn’t an option. Lean into the uncomfortable and start somewhere! There will be missteps, but as you learn and grow you’ll gain the confidence needed to engage in conversations around race and inequality in the classroom. The 3 guidelines that follow will leave you better equipped to support your BIPOC students in the Fall.
1. Know Yourself.
When you have done the hard work to examine your own racial identity you are better prepared to understand and help students examine their own. Get to know yourself by reflecting on your racial socialization. Identify the messages you’ve received and beliefs you’ve held over the years. Root out the blind spots and biases that all of us inevitably have, then make a commitment to share your insights with students.
Learn More: Teaching Teachers to Reflect on Race
- Who, Me Biased? | Great series of 6 short videos to help spark awareness and conversation around bias with your secondary students.
- Teaching First-Graders About Microaggressions | This article offers strategies for discussing identity-based putdowns, or microaggressions, with young students.
2. Know Your Students.
Cultivating authentic connections with your students and the communities in which they live should always be a focus as you begin a new school year. Before engaging students in academic endeavors, first get to know them, going beyond generalities and stereotypes to cultivate deep, trusting connections. This is what teaching is really about, so have fun with it!
Learn More: Care and Push: Building Relationships with Students
- A Focused Practice for Relationship Building | This daily 5-minute strategy will help you build capacity to notice, understand and connect with students.
- Connecting with Student Communities using Community Walks | To gain a better understanding of the community that students come from, teachers can engage in a community walk.
3. Be an Ally.
“Being an ally means recognizing oppression broadly and standing in solidarity with anyone who experiences oppression—whether or not the ally also belongs to a targeted group.”
— Carrie Gaffney, Teaching Tolerance
Once you have a clear understanding of your own identity and how some identities are disadvantaged, you can then leverage the privilege and power you hold to engage further with the school community. Teacher allies should proactively listen and—whenever possible—empower students to lead the action.
Learn More: Anatomy of an Ally