Thursday / April 25

5 Tips for Bringing Radical Love Into Your Classroom

Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind. – Toni Morrison, Paradise (1998)

When you think of a classroom, does love come to your mind? Classrooms are typically associated with obedience and mastery of learning objectives before they are associated with love, and certainly not radical love.

My earliest memories of school were loving in nature.  I attribute this love of school and learning to my Kindergarten teacher, Ms. Pellot, a Black woman with brown skin, a warm smile, and a short Jherri curl. I did not have the language as a 5-year old to describe the significance Ms. Pellot had in my life as a young Black girl growing up in Brooklyn, New York. I also did not realize that she would be one of the few Black teachers I would have throughout my education. Seeing teachers who look like you can have a profound impact on your sense of feeling loved in school. We have a nationwide teaching force that continues to dwindle due to burnout and that lacks racial diversity. According to recent data by the Pew Research Center in 2021, “white teachers make up 79% of the nation’s public school teachers and they account for that share or greater of educators in 37 states.” A pressing question to consider (especially in public schools) is, “How can we cultivate an antiracist approach to teaching and learning that starts with radical love and implements social justice ways of knowing, being and becoming?”

In my upcoming book, Start with Radical Love: Antiracist Pedagogy for Social Justice Educators (Corwin, 2024), I explore the connections among radical love, antiracism, and social justice in education. I define radical love as the ability to love ourselves and others fully by unlearning our biases and opening our hearts. A radical love approach in education allows us to teach and learn in a way that is liberating, while allowing us to take off our masks and be our full, authentic selves. Along with radical love, I use a Social Justice Education (SJE) framework I developed, which entails three important components: cultural competence, Critical Race Theory (CRT), and student visibility:

  • Cultural competence requires having a clear understanding of the different ways people come to see and understand the world based on their cultural ways of knowing, which can be connected to race, religion, language, identity etc.
  • CRT was developed by Black and Brown legal scholars in the ‘70s and ‘80s to draw attention to the systemic impact of racism within the law.
  • Student visibility is part of a student-centered approach to teaching and learning that honors students at the heart of every lesson as a way to keep them engaged and excited about their education.

Considering each of these components is vital for the implementation of an SJE framework into your classroom. When put into practice, students will feel loved on a daily basis and you will create room for critical thinking and exploration that is rooted in an antiracist approach to unlearning biases that emerge from social conditioning and white supremacy. An antiracist approach to teaching embodies CRT because it makes space for questioning systemic racial and social inequities while problem-solving ways to create a more inclusive and socially just world for all of us.

Here are 5 helpful tips for implementing radical love in the social justice classroom: 

  • Center student voices: Honoring who your students are requires seeing the value in having them bring their unique selves to the classroom through their language practices, identities, and cultural practices.
  • Embrace your authenticity: Be who you are in front of your students to model vulnerability and radical honesty. When students see that you are not committed to always being the “master” in the room, but an honest and ethical leader instead, they will bring their full selves to the classroom as well. This strengthens the overall teaching and learning process.
  • Check your biases: We all have biases. Being a social justice educator that models radical love requires acknowledging them while actively unlearning them by determining where they come from (often from our upbringing and societal norms). When we check our biases, we make room for more inclusivity in our classrooms by creating a culture of safety among our students as opposed to a culture of fear.
  • Share the space: Allow students to truly share the space by giving them opportunities to decorate the classroom and bring in some of their favorite items and photos. This will highlight your classroom as a truly collaborative space that belongs to both teachers and students.
  • Daily affirmations: Remind students that they are loved through daily affirmations in the form of quotes, memes, and verbal reminders in the classroom. This centers the culture in the classroom as one of love and emotional support.

Classrooms can become more human and heart-centered spaces if we start with radical love and lead with social justice.

Written by

Dr. Crystal Belle has been an educator for over 16 years and has worked in k-12 schools in Brooklyn, New York, as an English Teacher, in higher education at the University of Houston-Downtown and Rutgers University-Newark as a Professor and Director of Education, and in the nonprofit sector as a Director of curriculum partnerships at EL Education. Her work is grounded in Critical Race Theory (CRT), Social Justice Education, radical love, and self-care. Also an entrepreneur, Dr. Belle is the founder and Principal consultant of Self Love Life 101, an online coaching business that supports individuals and organizations to implement radical self-care through Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion frameworks.

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