Voices in Education

Supporting One Another After Crisis

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We often bring current events into the classroom. Before doing so, it is crucial to research, learn, and process information, so you are clear on what you want to discuss and what you want students to take away from your time together. The events that transpired at the U.S. Capitol were a display of both white privilege and white supremacy. As educators fighting to help dismantle oppressive systems and uproot racist ideologies from our country’s systems and values, we must be able to name and talk about them with our students and each other. We have a lot to hold and process regularly. I know you are exhausted and tired of planning for those day afters. You are not alone. 

In my previous blog posts, I have offered strategies for supporting students, building and sustaining community, and making instructional choices that center our students. I have also provided reflection prompts for engaging in critical inquiry. Here are ways we can support one another before we hold space and conversations with students, especially after moments of crisis.

The following ideas are inspired by the practices that live in my school’s adult culture and community. My principal has done a phenomenal job of holding space and cultivating an adult community in which we feel safe, supported, and loved as human beings. It is in the ways she hears and sees us, practices awareness of self and others, and acknowledges the need for radical self-care. I hope that these ideas empower you in some way so that we continue to show up for our young people, our families, and each other.

Talk It Out 
Push each other’s thinking and share how you feel, what is coming up, and how you plan to respond to students' questions and comments. Remember to always start with norms for the space. It helps to co-write them. During your conversations, consider the language you and your teammates plan to use when holding conversations, and be mindful of how you address and frame topics to avoid anything harmful and triggering. Words matter, and what you place emphasis on (or choose not to say at all) will speak volumes. Who is an adult you trust, and have you reached out to them? If not, will you? If you do not have an adult to talk with and be thought partners within your immediate school site, how might you network or find a community that can support you in this critical thinking and practice? 

Reject Urgency and a Do It All Mindset 
Make peace with the idea that you can hold space for students and teammates the day after an event and continue to hold space during the weeks and months after. Learning about race, racism, racial justice, and talking about related issues should extend beyond the day after. Talking, listening fully, and sharing without fear and judgment are basic yet essential aspects we need to value more. How can we prioritize holding discussions with students and with each other? How can we rethink and evaluate our curriculum and how we interact with one another?

Go First 
Teaching is going first. As teachers, we model, think aloud and demonstrate different things for students. For example, when we teach a new skill, we model how to do it and ask students to pay attention to what they see and hear. When we read a text, we think aloud to reveal our metacognition. When we ask students to share, we share first to model risk-taking and vulnerability. In our classroom learning communities, our students uphold agreements that call for them to be open to difficult and sometimes uncomfortable conversations, engage with peers, support their peers, and hold their peers accountable. I wonder how often we model this. Remember that our students learn by watching, observing, and are always listening (to what we say and don’t say). Do you ever find yourself avoiding uncomfortable situations or dodging interactions? Why and with whom?

Tell The Truth 
Let us call it what it is. We must call it what it is. Whether we are talking about racism, white supremacy, white nationalism, insurrection, and so on, it is furtive we call it what it is. Many educators may hesitate because they are not sure how to frame issues for their students, they fear push back, or “getting it wrong.” That is why research and talking it out (processing) is so necessary. Preparation is key, and our students deserve the truth. We cannot allow our students to grow up thinking and believing that events such as the ones led by white nationalists at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday are atypical to the country they live. What fears might you have about “telling the truth” and sharing topics of race and racism?

Try It Out 
There is no formula or script for how to hold difficult conversations with students. It will never be easy or fun, but we will become more comfortable, and feel less scary. One idea is to practice (individually or with teammates). Practice grounding and setting norms for a safe space. Practice using language and responding to possible questions and misconceptions. Is there a teammate you trust that you can practice with and be thought partners? If you are not comfortable talking to a teammate, are you genuinely comfortable bringing this conversation to your classroom?  

Be Honest With What You Need and Have Compassion for Others 
We all process information and have different life experiences. You do not owe anyone your story and should not need to explain yourself. With that said, it is still imperative to be honest with what you need to show up for students on or after a devastating and potentially retraumatizing day. On the flip side, perhaps you are quick to process, support your teammates by being compassionate and understanding. Avoid drawing comparisons and holding grievances. Not all teachers feel comfortable sharing with school leaders and administrators. I hope that you can be honest with yourself and find teammates and educator friends who are supportive. Do you feel comfortable opening up with your supervisor or admin? Is there a teammate you trust? What do you need from your school leaders?

Quick Reflection Prompts for School Leaders: 

  • How do you hold space and check in with teammates?
  • Would you say that your team feels comfortable sharing with you?
  • How do you let your teachers know that you stand in solidarity with them?
  • How might you respond to parents or teammates that push back against a teacher’s actions, statements, and instructional choices? 
  • How do you cultivate a staff culture that centers and honors the voices and experiences of Black, Indigenous, and educators of color?

To have meaningful conversations with students and continue to show up day after day, we must go first.

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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