Strategies to combat racism: Considerations for teachers
Monday, July 27, 2020
In case you hadn’t noticed, our nation is divided, and I’m not talking about politics here. I am talking about one of the most fundamental ideals that our country was founded on: That all were created equal.
As debates surge around the nation on how we as a society can finally put an end to racism, we need to be mindful that many of our children are set to return to their schools (in some capacity) this fall and need our guidance as adults to help them make sense of their world and this very important issue that we are all facing.
In this recent Ed Week Teacher article, educator Malcolm Gillard shared the emotions he felt in the days and weeks following the loss of George Floyd. He wrote, “I imagined Floyd as a young child—no different from a child I teach—crying out for help.” Gillard raised these three questions that he, as a black male teacher, thinks about each time he sees an act such as this:
- How do I move forward, interact, and answer questions surrounding this killing with white people in my workplace?
- How do I explain the injustices in the Black community to my students?
- How can I be transparent about the reality of racism without receiving pushback from the school community?
Gillard went on to write, “The death of George Floyd—and the subsequent protests—have affected the way I need to communicate with white people. I need white people to understand that George Floyd, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Jamar Clark, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Rayshard Brooks, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and so many others died because of the color of their skin.”
Gillard wrote about the day one of his young students asked him honestly if he was afraid to die at the hands of a white police officer, and Gillard held an impromptu class discussion on the topic that he later had to explain to his principal when a white parent called to complain. Gillard was left to conclude this: “It struck me that white people often just don’t get it; they will never understand the experiences of a person of color. Their view of our society is transparently different. For me, this only increases the urgency of having all our students understand the struggle that Black communities face each and every day.
Gillard’s solution is this: “I believe the key to building awareness of anti-Black racism is an authentic discussion among administrators, teachers, and staff about their personal experiences with racism. Educating our entire school community about racism in all its forms is vital to the health of our education system.” Gillard went on to suggest that all educators and school staff should participate in mandatory training on racial bias and racial inequity so that they can best understand how social and systemic racism impact people of color.
Here are some ways school leaders can implement such training in their schools:
- Educators can tackle racism by using this new virtual reality training series, as reported by Getting Smart’s Tom Vander Ark. Participants are immersed in situations involving harassment, racial discrimination, and gender inequality and then provided tools to discuss and reflect.
- The group Building Antiracist White Educators (BARWE), out of Philadelphia, works to distribute a monthly Reading & Inquiry Series intended for white educators to use with their peers to develop anti-racist identities and practices. They have a host of resources available on their website.
- In this recent Education Dive article, author Natalie Gross talked about the Pleasantville (New York) School District’s decision to require all staff to read these two books this coming school year to help staff understand the importance of the work that needs to be done to eliminate racism in the schools. The books are “How to Be an Anti-Racist” and “White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.” Pleasantville Superintendent Mary Fox-Alter was quoted in the article as saying this: “You know, we as educators constantly say we’re lifelong learners, and this was an area that we challenged ourselves to grow and to understand.”
- In this recent District Administration article, author Matt Zalaznick writes about how educators can be part of dismantling systemic racism. Zalaznick provides several strategies for how both teachers and school administrators can develop long-lasting and healthy anti-racist environments and cultures in their classrooms and schools.
Our students are our future. Do we want them to grow up in a world where racism is still a very real issue? They deserve better. As educators, we can start them on the path to building a better tomorrow.
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