After a hopefully restful break, many of us dove into 2016 with both feet. As the sun rises on a new semester, there is always an opportunity to come back refreshed and excited to try new things.
Like many, I believe New Year’s resolutions are most useful when we make specific, manageable goals. I think setting an intention for the year is nice, but we can also push in more tangible ways by setting up small, concrete goals that can lead to big leaps in our practice.
I loved Rebecca Mieliwocki’s piece “The Radicality of the Small Move,” because it not only celebrated the importance of succeeding in these smaller goals but also shared how they can lead to larger movements. Peter DeWitt also shared 9 new strategies to consider adding to our practice this year.
All this to say: the Work-- dismantling systems of oppression internally and externally at the individual and systemic level-- takes actual, on-the-ground work. It’s easy to claim we are interested in “social justice” without actually putting those words into practice.
I mostly write about the Work in a more abstract scale on this blog, but here are three tangible, manageable goals to help take some small, important steps in our classrooms:
1. Create lesson plans dedicated specifically to an issue of systemic oppression (and maybe even ways to solve it). While we should work to try and integrate these issues as much as possible in the classroom, it’s also important to create dedicated space for social justice discussions with our students.
This doesn’t mean we can’t integrate it into our content, though. This week, I’m preparing to read Omnivore’s Dilemma: Young Reader’s Edition with my students. I normally discuss food deserts briefly with my students, but this year I decided to dig deeper into the systemic issues that cause food deserts: city planning, lack of access to jobs and health services, and the cyclical nature of obesity and poverty.
The discussion was rich and my kids shared some great insights about what it meant for our community. Beyond that, it tied in with a number of Common Core standards about critical analysis and non-fiction texts. It was a pre-reading activity with a social justice lens. It felt good. At the end of the unit, I also have students create a podcast about a social issue they think is important, which had great results last year.
2. Invite or hear from at least one community member in your classroom. I’m notorious for assuming that people are too busy or it would be too inconvenient for them to talk to my students. Then, I realized, if I don’t ask, or encourage my students to ask on behalf of our class, who will?
It’s essential to create space for community members to bring valuable, relevant knowledge to our kids. Whether it’s reading local poetry, having a parent or grandparent discuss the history of our community, or inviting a local business owner to discuss the economy, these visits help enforce the idea that the communities we teach in are already rich with important, valuable knowledge. We only need look for it.
3. Talk less, smile more: create at least one lesson or one routine that allows students to have more power or responsibility in the room. When I took the photo above, I realized that the majority of the time the board is filled with my handwriting, and not students’. That is a problem.
If I’m committed to deconstructing hierarchies in my classroom, that means abdicating some of the assumed power in the room. That sounds big and academic, but even little actions, like asking kids to do more of the writing and explaining, are small ways we can begin to take down some of the internalized assumptions we have about how a classroom should run.
Instead of talking so much (something I always run the risk of), we can spend more time listening with joy as our students tell us what they think. I’m making it a point to ask students to do all the writing and explaining on the board from now on, so they realize the entire room is theirs.
The end of the year gave us time to reflect on what we could do better. The new year allows us to push forward and always ask the question: what can I do to do better for my students? How can I work with my community to give my students better than what we have now?
As long as we make that question the center of our practice, I believe we will find ourselves on the path towards equity (no matter how much winding and navigational help some of us need). I’m excited to meet you there.
The opinions expressed in The Intersection: Culture and Race in Schools 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.