Voices in Education

Are We Showing up as the Antiracist Educators We Set Out to Be?

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We are about a month or so into the new school year. Now what? Take a moment to reflect. Celebrate every child who has logged onto Zoom, turned on their mic, shared out, and been in community with you because you made it safe to do so. Recognize the families that have peeked into live lessons and reached out to you. Show yourself some love and gratitude for just being present. Now onto the tougher questions: Are you showing up as the actively antiracist educator you set out to be a few months ago? Have you begun to turn your learning and unlearning into action? Are you ready to stand in partnership and in solidarity with your students? 

I know many of us are still getting used to teaching online, finding ways to shift best practices to virtual spaces, and learning to meet our students’ academic needs. For many of us, this is the most important priority. However, it is important to recognize that we can both teach to a high standard online and fight for racial justice.

Here are some tips for how to do both. 

Tip #1: Do Everything With Love 
Professor Sonia Nieto writes in Understanding Student Achievement and School Culture: “Solidarity and empathy can also be described as love, although love is not a word that one hears very often when discussing teaching. Within the context of schools, love means that teachers have genuine respect, high expectations, and great admiration for their students. Solidarity means remembering what it was like to be a child, and forming a community of learners. The combination of empathy and solidarity is demonstrated in numerous ways, including valuing students’ families, understanding what life is like for children of diverse backgrounds, and anticipating the various worlds they encounter.” To this I ask you: what are you doing differently this year? Are your current routines, rituals, and structures rooted in love? 

Consider these questions:

  • What have you done to build and foster community online?
  • How are you prioritizing joy? Laughter?
  • How are you prioritizing healing?
  • How are you prioritizing connection?
  • How are you checking in with students authentically as a group and/or individually?
  • How are you providing options to engage and express?
  • Do you take an inquiry stance when students do not meet expectations?
  • What are your students’ communication and feedback preferences?
  • What activities and opportunities do students have to express themselves?
  • How are you centering students and amplifying student voices?

Tip #2: Do Not Be Afraid to Slow Down
Holding space is about slowing down and being in the present moment -- things we all deserve but often are not afforded in a culture that prioritizes urgency and production. To many of us, it is more challenging to give ourselves a break than it is to engage in the actual work. This is not new to our experiences as teachers either. The feelings that arise around pacing, moving forward, and covering content is also shaped by false urgency that stems from capitalist, dominant culture. It has also found its way into our students’ lives when it comes to what they think is important: work completion and due dates. This is why holding space is such a simple yet powerful act. Holding space shows our students they are loved and supported especially when we cannot be physically together. It shows them that they are more than the work they produce. 

What does holding space look like or sound like? It can look like students drawing or journaling independently while in community with others. It can sound like addressing current events, discussing tough topics, and asking questions. It can also sound like students talking with one another and imagining a new world. There is no one way to do it as long as you do it with purpose and without judgement. 

Tip #3: Have Fun With Your Students 
One of the hardest things to replicate online is the joy factor of teaching: the smiles, the laughter, the personalities of our young people -- the human connection. The good news is that there are still ways that students can be themselves and show us themselves. For example, students can:

  • Co-lead Morning Meeting, brain breaks, games, or segments of a live lesson.
  • Shout each other out on interactive and multimedia whiteboards like Padlet or Jamboard.
  • Create mini-presentations and collages on Google Slides.
  • Respond to journal prompts or check-in questions through short stories, poetry, or art. 
  • Use images, memes, and/or GIFs to express their moods. 
  • Record audio messages. 
  • Make a playlist for you to play during independent practice of live lessons.
  • Send pictures of their work, their pets, their family members, their hobbies, etc.

Tip #4: Learn From Current Events 
So you have decided you want to discuss a current event after doing your research and gaining more understanding. Here is a framework you can use to determine what might feel most natural. 

Ask yourself, is there opportunity to:

  • Address this as a whole group and have a discussion during Advisory or during class? If so, what are the implications for what you bring into the learning space? Are your practices trauma-informed? How do students know it’s safe for them to share out? What are all the ways students can express themselves online? How are you protecting the space so harm is not done within the community? If harm is done, what plans do you have to restore? 
  • Practice critical thinking? If so, how might you model this through a think-aloud? How will you create space for students to question the information presented, voice and investigate their concerns, and interrogate power structures that exist?
  • Journal or respond to it asynchronously? If so, how might you support all students in meaningful engagement? How are you planning to give meaningful feedback and/or correct misconceptions?
  • Imagine and get creative? When we talk with students about current events, it is important we give them space to imagine and tools for building. 
  • Connect it to previous or current learning? Is there alignment with what you’re already teaching? If so, what might you do to help students form these connections independently and make learning “sticky”?
  • Connect to future learning and build new knowledge? Is this topic something you can create a mini-unit around?

Now, there is also a chance that none of these may feel natural. I recommend checking in with teammates to see if they have made a plan already or if they’d like to collaborate. 

Tip #5: Take That Break
My last offering is to rest and take breaks to nourish yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Do what heals you and fuels you so that you can show up the next day and the day after that. We have been conditioned to work without boundaries and it’s important to know when to check in with yourself. In a day of Zoom and looking over assignments, how often do you talk to yourself nicely? How often do you ask yourself: What do I need right now? When was the last time I got up from my desk? When did I last eat? How often do you tell yourself: Drink some water. Take a mental break. It’s okay to take a nap. Walk away for a moment. Stretch. I’m not going to feel bad about this. I need this. 

I wish you all good health and hope these tips serve you well. Good luck!

Terry Kawi

Terry Kawi ELA Teacher and Instructional Coach Instagram: ms_kawi

Terry Kawi is a middle school ELA teacher and instructional coach. Terry is a 6-8 ELA teacher in the Bay Area and previously taught in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a bachelor of art’s degree in history from UC Davis and master’s degree in teaching secondary English from USC. Terry is entering her eighth year of teaching and continues to prioritize building relationships and empower students through reading and discourse. Outside of teaching, Terry enjoys reading nonfiction, listening to music, and staying active.

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