Recent national events regarding the murder of George Floyd and the string of protests that followed have left educators' hearts across our nation fragile and broken. When will this end for our kids? How can we better protect them? What can we learn? How can we improve? The number of opinions and resources circulating on social media can be overwhelming. Many feel paralyzed not only by grief, but by information overload, too.
As a school leader, we often talk in my weekly Friday Focus about simply putting one foot in front of the other and "doing the next right thing." Here are five rather simplistic ways that educators can start to become more culturally responsive in preparation for the new year ahead.
1. Read ONE book
Or listen to ONE podcast. Or watch ONE culturally relevant movie or documentary (free right now with Amazon Prime). The next best thing we can do for our students is to strive to understand vocabulary necessary to talk about race, racism and anti-racism in our nation today. Fortunately, with a click of the button, we can instantly take the next step in becoming more educated and aware of our own perspectives and biases.
*Disclaimer: Some of this work will be HARD. It will be emotionally grueling. You will reflect and learn things about your own perceptions and biases that you did not know before. Dig in and do the work, but allow ample time for processing the work that you do. My best advice for getting through this step is to find a tight circle on the same mission as you and lean into this new learning together. You will be thankful that you did.
2. Know your learner
Know your learner. As educators, we get pretty good at this as the year naturally progresses. As we think about kicking off the 2020-2021 school year, however, there are a lot of variables that remain unknown. Will there be a return to in-person learning in the fall? Will some or even all of our students remain digital learners throughout the year? As we navigate these uncharted waters, we may need to rethink typical first week activities that allow us to get to know our students in more personal ways.
This, however, is not advice for how to do that. Although we can most certainly brainstorm digital icebreakers and surveys at a later date, today our focus is, again, on doing the next right thing. The next right thing for us has to be attainable in the environment in which we are currently living and working. Thus, what can we do TODAY to get to know our learners better?
Fortunately, most schools or districts have information management systems, such as PowerSchool, that house student information. When you get your class list, the next right thing you can do is complete a class profile. I know. This doesn't sound riveting; however, the analysis of student demographic data will tell you a lot of preliminary information about WHO you are about to teach this year.
Data to look for includes:
Your goal is to walk away with a portrait of your classroom. If this seems overwhelming, at a minimum, complete the first bullet for the sake of this new learning. You have to know the identified ethnicity of your students in order to proceed forward with the work we are about to do.
3. Do The Math
I know. Groan. I promise, this won't be bad. You are simply going to use the data you compiled from Step 2 and you are going to calculate the percentage of your students that fall into various demographics.
Let me walk you through a quick scenario:
In my first hour Algebra I class, I have 22 students. Their demographic breakdown looks like this:
To calculate my percentages, I simply take 14 divided by 22, 5 divided by 22, etc. So, my percentages are as follow:
That's it! Today's work is done! You NEED these percentages for the work that is coming, folks. Do the simple math and you will thank yourself later. ***Don't worry about simple rounding or being off just a bit. That will not impact the work we are about to do.
4. Assess your curriculum
This is where it gets good, folks! And remember, we are simply doing the next right thing. This is NOT a curricular overhaul. You do NOT have to rewrite your entire curriculum map (although I have to be honest, you may be inspired to do so eventually). We are starting today with ONE UNIT. Just pick ONE. Probably the first one, but you do you, boo!
Now, assess the number of resources, texts, scenarios, etc. that comprise various demographics in your curriculum. For example, in ELA, this is pretty straight forward. What number of texts taught represent a White perspective? Black perspective? Hispanic? Asian? American Indian? To take this a step farther, what percentage of texts are from a male perspective? Female?
If you teach a subject where primary and supplemental texts are used less frequently, consider the key players you discuss within your core curriculum. For example, if you only teach Gregor Mendel in a genetics unit, that represents one singular perspective. Write those percentages down.
Remember, just one unit. If you are super ambitious, maybe two. Wink, wink.
5. Swap stale material for culturally responsive resources
Alright. You've hung in there on the journey. You have read a book, listened to a podcast or watched a movie. You have started to explore anti-racism and what it means to advocate for equality in your classroom. You have assessed your student demographics and analyzed how those demographics are (or are not) represented in your current curriculum. Now, it's time to make a change.
Remember that ONE unit you assessed? Let's start with that. Compare the demographics of your class to the resources and materials you are using to teach that class. Where is there misalignment? For example, using the genetics scenario above, if I have a class of just 75% Caucasian students, then I am missing an opportunity to connect with a fourth of my students by not introducing other geneticists who have made an impact on our world. This is where you consider cutting some of the information on Gregor Mendel and introducing other diverse contributors to the field. One unit. One resource at a time.
The journey towards becoming a more culturally responsive educator can seem overwhelming. Remember, your job is to simply do the next right thing for your kids. Read one book. Listen to one podcast. Analyze the demographics of one class. Change one resource. You've got this, and your kids will feel like you've got them, too!
Linger a Little Longer:
1. What is one next step you can commit to today?
2. If you have completed Step 1, share a resource with us! What is something you have read, listened to, or watched that you love?
3. Which step feels the most overwhelming to you? What is a way you can break that step into tinier, more manageable pieces to support your continued journey forward?