Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

How to Have Constructive Conversations About Race

By Riana Elyse Anderson — February 16, 2022 2 min read
How can I have constructive conversations about race?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

How do I talk about race in the classroom?

With Kamala Harris, we elected our first African American, Asian American, and woman vice president.

Being the first to do something is monumental and can inspire children with the same identity to tell themselves: If she did it, so can I.

But it can also lead to the misconception that all barriers have fallen and we now live in a “colorblind” society. Some may believe that the history of racism and discrimination toward people of color no longer matters.

Research shows that egalitarianism—aiming for a world where people “don’t see color"—may seem entirely positive, but there are unintended consequences. For example, focusing only on a child’s character, without discussing their racial identity and society’s perception and treatment of that identity, is actually related to lower well-being and higher anxiety and depression outcomes.

So how do we discuss this concept in all its complexity: that children of color regularly face racism and discrimination and can still persevere? That white children may unwittingly commit racist acts if they are not aware of what it means to be racist?

Having constructive conversations about race is a skill—one that you can develop with practice. Resources compiled by Embrace Race and RESilience, for example, suggest how to broach the topic with kids.

But first, it’s important to take the time to unpack your own socialization and beliefs. Thinking about where you grew up, how you were taught about race as a child, and your experiences with discrimination can help you evaluate your own point of view. Then you can open yourself to hear the perspective of the young people in your life without putting your baggage on their shoulders. A frank discussion of identities—race and culture and context, in all their complexity—is healthy for you, children, and society at large.

Don’t assume that kids don’t pay attention to race. Although they may need a little help to understand and communicate those feelings, young children are able to see race and reflect on their personal feelings and experiences about it.

Do talk to young people about where they see advances for issues of race—and where there’s still work to be done. Ask open-ended questions like, “Why do you think that happened?” and “How does that make you feel?” especially when discussing the news and in the course of everyday activities, like walking in the hallways. And listen. Feeling heard will help them gain confidence to achieve their own goals and work toward building a truly equitable society—one where a notable first will not be the last.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
Strategies for Incorporating SEL into Curriculum
Empower students to thrive. Learn how to integrate powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies into the classroom.
Content provided by Be GLAD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being What the Research Says How Teacher Stress Management Is Crucial for Handling Student Mental Health
A Chicago program helps teachers learn how to manage their own stress in classes with more easily triggered students.
4 min read
Notes from students expressing support and sharing coping strategies paper a wall, as members of the Miami Arts Studio mental health club raise awareness on World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, 2023, at Miami Arts Studio, a public 6th-12th grade magnet school, in Miami.
Notes from students express support and share coping strategies at Miami Arts Studio, a public magnet school for grades 6-12, on Oct. 10, 2023. Studies find teachers need training to navigate their own stress while managing classes with high-need students.
Rebecca Blackwell/AP
Student Well-Being By Some Measures, Students' Well-Being Has Been Stable for a Decade, Study Shows
A Stanford report examined high school students’ well-being, sense of belonging, and engagement over more than a decade.
5 min read
Tired schoolboy fell asleep on a class at elementary school.
Student Well-Being Opinion What Should Students Do Over the Summer?
Educators share tips for keeping kids off their screens and mentally engaged over the long break.
3 min read
Young girl reads a book with cat in the garden. Summer holidays illustration.
Student Well-Being Opinion What's Behind the Explosion in Student Absenteeism?
Kids aren’t returning to school after COVID. What are the implications for policy and practice?
8 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty