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Today's One Thing for Teachers and Leaders: Starting Conversations About Racial Injustice in Schools

Malika Jeremy blog

Malika Ali, Jeremy Jones

Highlander Institute, The Learning Accelerator

The civil unrest stemming from the deaths of George Floyd and far too many other Black lives has educators contemplating how to start conversations about racial injustice in America. With support from the Highlander Institute, The Learning Accelerator (TLA) has pulled together resources and tools from other experts to address a big question facing teachers and leaders today: How do we as educators begin to make sense of recent events and foster dialogue so our students can do the same?

Educators hold powerful positions of influence – we have the ongoing opportunity to confront and address racism and systemic injustice in our schools and our communities. The considerations listed below, along with the resources from expert organizations we’ve curated, are possible starting points for educators and their school teams to engage with the complex – and necessary – work of learning about issues of race.

  • First, reflect and look inward. Educators can start with deep introspection around their own identities, privilege, and power based on broader systems and history. Concurrently examining histories and perspectives about systemic racism, its effects in schools, and its manifestations in broader societal issues allows educators to gain important insights.
  • Next, create safe spaces for dialogue. Educators can create time and space for students to learn about and discuss issues of racial injustice in society.
  • Learn about the history of anti-Blackness and racism. Educators can engage students in learning about systems of racial injustice in order to help them become engaged, anti-racist citizens.

Reflection

One starting point for educators is the examination of their own identities and belief systems through exploration, reflection, and critical self-analysis. Beginning with a solid understanding of your identity can further your comprehension of your own beliefs and foster greater acceptance of those who are different from you. By doing this deep, introspective work, we are better able to make sense of our backgrounds and our privileged positions relative to society, which helps us engage students and families in new, authentic ways. Using a journal to explore your own thoughts and feelings on the following resources can help you work toward clarity around your views and the expression of your beliefs.

Resources to explore:

Creating Safe Spaces and Starting a Dialogue

Conversations about racial inequality and injustice should be happening in every school in America. They should take place often – not just when traumatic events escalate these discussions to the forefront. It is important to remember that in many communities, racial injustice is front-and-center on a daily basis. The Role of Critical Consciousness in Helping Students Dismantle Systems of Oppression can help teachers and school leaders to expand their awareness around talking with students about these issues.

Resources to explore:

Malika Ali from The Highlander Institute has developed a five-step approach to begin addressing recent events with students, starting with the condemnation of racist police brutality and ending with a plan for the future. There is no perfect way to kick off these conversations, but it is important to have them. Here are some additional supports, ideas, and resources to leverage when helping students process events of police brutality and systemic racism:

Learn About the History of Anti-Blackness and Racism

After educators have created space for students to have these discussions, it’s important to understand the history to contextualize recent events. Where teachers and school leaders can influence curriculum adoption, they should advocate for instructional materials that incorporate more voices, perspectives, and backgrounds. Where they cannot impact these decisions, teachers and school leaders can work together to supplement standard instructional materials with Open Educational Resources (OER) that help our students learn about the history of anti-blackness and police violence in America. These resources are openly licensed and support classroom educators and school leaders with materials that they can implement in their own practice.

Resources to explore:

The work of dismantling systems and structures of racial injustice is difficult and trying work. It can be uncomfortable and exhausting – but it is also necessary and ongoing. This work should not be isolated to specific times of year, or viewed as something to check off of a to-do list or a one-time initiative to complete. Instead, as educators, we have the responsibility, opportunity, privilege to lead our students in conversations about racial injustice and to model the kinds of honesty and vulnerability required to effect change. Our students are looking to us for guidance and support, and our communities are watching how we respond to incidents of injustice. We are empowered to use our positions of influence to ensure our classrooms and schools are anti-racist places.

These additional resources can support you on your path to become an anti-racist, multicultural educator:

We hope Today’s One Thing has been a helpful resource, and we are here for continued support. Please reach out to jeremy.jones@learningaccelerator.org with your thoughts and questions.

We would like to thank Malika Ali, Director of Pedagogy at the Highlander Institute for lending her insights, expertise, resources, and support to this piece. This installment of Today’s One Thing was also supported by Stephen Pham, TLA’s Director of Organizational Learning and DEI team lead.

Malika Ali and Jeremy Jones

Malika Ali, Jeremy Jones

Highlander Institute, The Learning Accelerator

As the Director of Pedagogy at the Highlander Institute, Malika Ali is passionate about working to develop educators to be change agents of instructional and systemic equity and to nurture students’ cognitive development through culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogy. As a daughter of strong and brilliant Eritrean refugees, Malika has spent her life critiquing the systems that perpetuate educational inequity, and she is proud to be a part of the struggle to ensure that all children have access to, and can take advantage of, an empowering education.

Jeremy Jones is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator, where he brings insight to TLA's schools and systems strategy work. Jeremy has spent 15 years working alongside students and families in schools across the country to close the academic achievement gap.