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#CorwinTalks: Strategies for Antiracist Educators

Five Commitments for Antiracist Educators
By Sonja Cherry-Paul
 

Here’s the truth. Our good intentions as educators do not necessarily amount to teaching that is antiracist. Antiracist teaching is a commitment to iterative, messy, necessary work toward the goal of equity, justice, and liberation that requires personal and professional actions by educators.

Do The work BEFORE the Work 

It is critical to confront our own biases and racist ideas to prevent causing harm to our students. This involves reflecting on our own racial identities and interrogating what we’ve come to understand about racial groups and how we’ve acquired this knowledge.

Protect BIPOC Students 

Cultivate antiracist classrooms by taking actions to minimize harm toward BIPOC students. Establish agreements and protocols where safe, productive conversations that are intersectional can occur. Avoid causing racial trauma with violent images and misguided, dehumanizing activities do not belong in the classroom.

Affirm BIPOC Identities  

Historically curriculum and teaching has not made BIPOC students feel welcomed, valued, or loved at school. This continues today when curriculum includes Black and Brown communities in limited ways or erases them altogether.  Instead, teach in ways that center the humanity and brilliance of BIPOC.

Raise Awareness 

Acknowledge that racism exists and help students understand that racism is more than isolated acts of hate; that it functions systemically.  Discuss issues and experiences in students’ local context as well as those spotlighted nationally to help them recognize racism in various forms and in all institutions. Books can be used as tools that help students acquire racial literacy.

Keep Hope at the Core 

Help students maintain hope in an antiracist future. This includes looking across movements for human liberation and recognizing solidarity as a constant. While “there is no such thing as antiracist fairy dust we can sprinkle that can magically transform society,” (Cherry-Paul, 20224) we each can utilize our powers of ongoing commitment and action toward love and liberation for all humanity. 

Three Guidelines for Antiracist Educators
By Tricia Ebarvia  

No matter where you might be on your antiracist journey as an educator, I’ve found three important guidelines to be invaluable reminders in doing this work: 

  • Stay vigilant (of yourself) and persistent in the work. Being an antiracist educator is exactly that — it’s about being. Being an antiracist educator isn’t about getting to a destination. No one “arrives.” Instead, being an antiracist educator is a constant state of becoming, doing, messing up, reflecting, repairing, trying again, and persisting and insisting that the right to a high-quality, compassionate, and humane education is guaranteed for all students, especially for students of color who have been most and too often harmed in our schools.
     
  • Slow down before acting. We are most susceptible to racial bias when we are in a state of stress. Unfortunately, any given school day presents many stressful moments, for both students and teachers, and we don’t always show up as our best selves in those moments. A few years ago, teachers at my school created a series of questions to serve as reminders for checking their own biases before acting in ways that might do more harm than good. For example, before correcting or calling out a student about their behavior, we can ask ourselves if other students are engaging in the same behavior. Are we consistently reprimanding or rewarding certain students? Do we have all the information we need before jumping to (possibly incorrect and biased) conclusions?   

And perhaps most important —

  • Fix systems, not kids. Unfortunately, when issues or problems occur—whether it’s academics or behavioral—too often we look at the individual student (or their family) as the cause of the problem. We might be tempted to shift the blame onto them and away from ourselves or the school: It’s true that individual students are responsible for their part in learning, but this education and school is a shared responsibility. Instead of focusing solely on what might be “wrong” with students or families, we should ask ourselves what’s wrong with the system—the policies, practices, school culture, or structural issues within the school—that may be barriers to learning. 

Develop Cultural Competency to Interrupt Discrimination
By Edward Fergus
 

Social psychology research on replacing our cultural segregation identifies the cross-cultural skills required to feel comfortable in new environments. Some examples of cross-cultural skills include reflecting and seeking feedback on intercultural encounters, developing reliable information sources on cultures, learning about cultures, engaging in disciplined self-presentation (i.e., paying attention to how one’s cultural presentations are layered with Whiteness), coping with cultural surprises, taking perspectives of others, and understanding oneself in cultural contexts (Rasmussen & Sieck, 2015). These types of skills are valuable for developing cross-cultural competency. However, it cannot be overemphasized how this competency requires a nurturing environment. In other words, we need to understand how to develop these skills when we may live in a segregated neighborhood, work in a segregated school environment, remain surrounded by other individuals not keen on developing cross-cultural skills, or work for district or school leadership sporadic in prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion.  

I explore this topic more in chapter 5 of Desegregating Ourselves, including through the domain of cultural learning. This domain refers to a person’s ability to gather new cultural knowledge and put it to use within social interactions and work-related tasks. The gathering process involves relying on credible sources and maintaining an understanding of self within that exploration. That means, if interested in learning about cowboy culture, preparing yourself to visit a cowboy ranch to learn about their cultural customs and ask questions steeped in curiosity rather than stereotype. Instead of asking “Is it true that . . . ,” say, “I’m interested in learning more about . . .” In schools, cultural learning skills among educators involve understanding that adding a new volume of “culturally diverse” books requires the educator to maintain cultural knowledge regarding the topic or theme. For example, reading The Hate U Give (Thomas, 2017) requires cultural knowledge about policing and its history within Black communities. 

The work of antiracist ideology development requires having skills that support the minimizing of racists actions and systems. Desegregating Ourselves is a self-exploration that encourages the interruption of cultural habits that cause discrimination. 

Written by

Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul is an educator with more than 20 years of classroom experience who has written several books that support reading and writing instruction and has adapted the #1NYT Best Seller, Stamped (For Kids). Sonja leads professional development for schools and organizations in equity and antiracism.   

Tricia Ebarvia is a lifelong educator, author, speaker, and literacy consultant. Since 2021, Tricia has served as the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at a Pre-K to 8 independent Quaker school in Philadelphia. Tricia’s deep belief in education as a vehicle for social change and justice undergirds and informs all her practice. 

Dr. Edward Fergus is Professor of Urban Education at Rutgers University – Newark, with a distinguished career marked by his extensive scholarship on educational policy and outcomes, particularly focusing on Black and Latino boys’ academic and social engagement, disproportionality in special education and suspensions, and school climate conditions. He has published over four dozen articles, book chapters, evaluation reports, and five influential books. His latest release is Desegregating Ourselves: Challenging the Biases that Perpetuate Inequities in Schools 

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