It’s that time of year again: a bit of a summer break and then onto planning for next year! Maybe you’ve been thinking about ways to revamp your curriculum or enhance student engagement. Either way, here are three things you can do now to help get next year off to a great start—and keep it going.
Free to educators, Teaching Tolerance is published three times a year—print editions in the fall and spring and an online-only edition in the summer—and offers the latest in social justice and anti-bias education. Rich with feature stories, lesson ideas, book and film recommendations and more, each magazine offers a plethora of resources you can translate into your practice. If you haven’t already, subscribe now, and then you’ll get each Fall and Spring issue delivered directly to your mailbox. Meanwhile, check out the Summer 2015 issue, which features a video feature on youth activism, a spoken-word Story Corner and a printable poster to help you support students who don’t conform to society’s binary gender norms.
Not your average curriculum, Perspectives for a Diverse America is a full K-12, literacy-based, anti-bias curriculum built on backward planning principles—and the notion that you can teach social emotional skills, use content relevant to your students’ experiences and maintain rigor simultaneously. The searchable Perspectives anthology currently houses nearly 300 diverse readings and is steadily growing. It also contains over 150 tasks and strategies that you can use to customize learning plans that speak to the students in your classroom. Perspectives can help you rethink your approach to social justice education and, like all other TT materials, it’s completely free. All you have to do is sign up!
As detailed in our report Teaching the Movement 2014: The State of Civil Rights Education in the United States, most states’ standards for teaching about civil rights history are woefully inadequate. We know you strive to do great work on this front in your classroom, though. That’s why we created Civil Rights Done Right, a tool organized into five steps for curriculum improvement. Each step identifies specific suggestions and procedures for building robust, meaningful lessons that cultivate a deeper understanding of civil rights history. The tool is an editable PDF so your revamped lessons can be downloaded, printed and shared—year round.
Many educators want to teach about religious and nonreligious diversity, but introducing content about belief systems into curricula may seem scary or dangerous. Some teachers worry that families will object to the content and that these objections will isolate or marginalize students. This was one concern we heard from our audience recently when Teaching Tolerance teamed up with the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding to provide the webinar Religious Diversity in the Classroom: Applications for Middle Level Educators (the fourth in a free five-part webinar series on religious diversity in the classroom).
Because communicating with families about controversial subjects is clearly of concern to educators, we decided to offer some try-tomorrow practices to make teaching about religious diversity less daunting.
Ask families and students.
Make it a goal to get to know your students’ home lives. A questionnaire or survey can serve as a collaborative and respectful way to start a relationship between your classroom and students’ homes. To get started, create separate questions for family members and students.
Sample questions to ask family members:
- Who are your student’s family members?
- What are some important dates or events for your family?
- What traditions or customs does your family practice?
- What are some typical weekly routines in your household?
- What do you want to know about what your student will learn in my class?
Sample questions to ask students:
- Who’s in your family?
- What’s your favorite thing to do with your family?
- What’s your favorite family meal?
- What’s your favorite holiday and how do you celebrate it?
- What’s the most relaxed time of day for your family? What goes on then?
- What’s the most hectic time of day for your family? What goes on then?
You can revisit the completed questionnaires or surveys partway through the year, or conduct a mid-year questionnaire or survey as a way for families to update previously shared information. Mid-year questionnaires and surveys allow families that arrive later in the year to share their narratives.
Think about additional opportunities for incorporating questionnaires and surveys. Perhaps you will ask questions on specific content prior to a unit that will address belief systems. Invite families to share their wisdom and knowledge, and include it in what you are doing. Listen and assure them that you hear their concerns.
Note: Because language plays a crucial role in families’ lives, communicate with parents in their home languages as much as possible. However, asking students to translate for their parents can put them in an awkward position, especially if relaying difficult or complicated information. Provide a translator whenever possible.
Even when the best intentions are involved and you have done all the prep work, families may still object to the inclusion of content on diverse belief systems. Here are some suggestions for building inclusiveness and respect into your communication with families in those moments.
- Assume good intentions and approach all families or guardians as partners who want the best for the child.
- Share with families or guardians your learning goals and materials for including discussions about diverse belief systems.
- Invite families or guardians to share information about family cultures and traditions.
- Recognize and respect different family traditions. View linguistic, cultural and family diversity as strengths.
Reflect on the role your identity and background may play in shaping relationships with families. Bring a sense of cultural humility to all interactions.
Connect to content.
Teaching about religious and nonreligious beliefs fits in well with the content-rich, text-based, critical approach to education that the Common Core State Standards envision. Content-rich texts on diverse belief systems ground students’ reading, writing and speaking in specific textual evidence while building knowledge and academic vocabulary. Share with concerned families that their student is actively seeking to understand other perspectives and cultures through effective communication with people of varied backgrounds, and team up with families to meet the needs of all students.
Additional strategies for engaging families can be found in the Family and Community Engagement section in Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education.
Wicht is the senior manager of teaching and learning for Teaching Tolerance.
BRIGHT: Writer Thomas Maffai shares his concern that, in the age of technology, the "belief in the value of classroom learning built on human connection appears to be slipping."
Edutopia: Some beliefs about educating English language learners are outdated or just flat-out wrong. Edutopia debunks five of the most common myths.
Futures Without Violence: A new report offers recommendations to educators on how to effectively recognize and respond to the needs of children who are exposed to violence and trauma.
The Guardian: This collection of stories sheds much-needed light on the experiences of undocumented children whose parents relocated from Mexico to the United States.
Indian Country: When a 10-year-old Wukchumni boy raised questions about an offensive song celebrating Spanish Missions, he sparked a series of events that changed his California school district’s curriculum.
The José Vilson: When a respected colleague was fired, this blogger regretted not expressing more appreciation for her, and resolved to thank his colleagues on a regular basis.
NEA Today: TT blogger Chad Donohue explains that he walked out of school "as a show of solidarity for all educators who are committed to improving the lives and outlooks of young people."
Newsweek: In the same week that the president of the Boy Scouts highlighted the need to end the organizational ban on gay adult leaders, the Girl Scouts faced criticism for its policy of inclusion for transgender girls.
Salon: Author Robin DiAngelo examines racial illiteracy among white people—and how it "poisons" the national conversation around race.
If you come across a current article or blog you think other educators should read, please send it to email@example.com, and put "What We’re Reading This Week" in the subject line.
Today, the president of the Boy Scouts of America, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, told his organization, “We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. The status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained.” Translation? The Boy Scouts’ blanket ban on gay adult leaders needs to come to an end.
Gates’ remarks are welcome but long overdue. Some local Boy Scouts councils have already openly criticized and defied their organization’s ban on gay adult leaders. (The organization decided in 2013 that youth cannot be denied membership based on their sexual orientation.)
So, did the Boy Scouts take a step—at least in words—towards LGBT inclusivity today? The answer can be found in Gates’ prepared remarks, which the Boy Scouts released earlier today. “[E]vents during the past year have confronted us with urgent challenges I did not foresee and which we cannot ignore. … Nor can we ignore the social, political and juridical changes taking place in our country—changes taking place at a pace over this past year no one anticipated.” Gates detailed which events he meant: regional debates over laws to protect people against employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation and the impending U.S. Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.
Again—translation? We may not like it, but the times are changing, and we must change with them.
Gates also explained that if the Boy Scouts waits any longer to change its leadership policy, legal action against them is likely. “… [I]f we wait for the courts to act, we could end up with a broad ruling that could forbid any kind of membership standard, including our foundational belief in our duty to God and our focus on serving the specific needs of boys,” he said. “Waiting for the courts is a gamble with huge stakes.”
Pushing the Boy Scouts to leave behind their discriminatory past is certainly a step in the right direction—but we’re not there yet. As educators across the United States know, the “specific needs” of boys (and all children for that matter) include welcoming and safe environments. And not providing identity safety, specifically in the form of LGBT inclusivity, is also a gamble at the expense of all adults, youth and families associated with the Boy Scouts.
And the national leadership of the Boy Scouts does not, in fact, seem to be headed toward blanket acceptance of gay adult leaders. Rather, as Gates shared in his remarks, the Boy Scouts will let local sponsoring organizations—many of which are churches—determine revisions to membership standards.
Teaching Tolerance applauds any change that leads to greater inclusively, but applying these changes on an ad hoc basis still leaves LGBT members—youth and adult—relegated to the margins.
Lindberg is a writer and associate editor for Teaching Tolerance.
Last summer, TT introduced the five recipients of the Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching to our community. These awardees—Christopher Avery, Amy Vatne Bintliff, Christopher Hoeh, Barrie Moorman and Michelle Nicola—are exemplary anti-bias educators. As part of their two-year tenure with us, they engaged in five conversations, facilitated by TT’s Teaching and Learning Specialist June C. Christian, with leading education researchers in the United States. Aimed at bridging the gap between research and practice, these dialogues offer insights with an eye toward solutions.
We recorded the conversations through the Google Hangout platform, hoping that other educators in our community will draw inspiration from them.
What makes an effective anti-bias educator? Watch and listen as this conversation with four education experts—Kevin Kumashiro, Howard Stevenson, Sonia Nieto and Peggy McIntosh—seeks to answer this question and many more.
If you could ask Howard Stevenson any question related to your professional practice, what would it be? Here’s what the awardees came up with: How do you effectively discuss racial stress at the district level? How does one envision school communities in which parents and teachers share some of the same language when talking about race? What steps can one take to effectively support students of color who feel isolated—beyond affinity groups? Hear Stevenson’s inspiring answers to these tough questions.
Kevin Kumashiro fielded some tough questions from the awardees: How can educators play a role in reframing the national conversation around race and equity? How and by which professional development standards can educators dive into social justice work? Kumashiro’s answers will propel you to rethink the very question posed, all while offering practical advice.
Are you interested in learning about how to sustain courageous conversations around race? And how conversations about race can lead to more equitable outcomes in the classroom and serve as a bridge to collective action? This conversation between Sonia Nieto and the awardees is a great starting point.
In their conversation with Peggy McIntosh, the awardees reflected on, among other topics, the significant influence of McIntosh’s essay “The Invisible Knapsack” on their professional practice, what they witness as a backlash among many white educators around the concept of privilege, and phases of curricular revision with regard to race. There’s something for everyone in this conversation
We hope you enjoy “hanging out” with these anti-bias education experts!