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4 Tips for Talking About Race In School

06/26/2020

With COVID-19 causing school closures and with distance learning being the norm, it can be difficult for teachers to have open and honest conversations with their students about race in school.

In fact, many U.S. school teachers are uncomfortable talking about race and racism, especially racism against Black Americans. According to USA Today, Black teachers, who are more likely to discuss race, make up only about 7% of America’s teachers.

We compiled a few tips from experts across the U.S. for teachers to start talking about race in school.

1. Don’t avoid talking about current events.

For many students of color, exposure to racism and discrimination begins in school. However, many teachers feel it’s inappropriate to talk about race and racism in school, perhaps because they feel unequipped with the necessary knowledge, training, or tools to broach the topic.

Of course, not all students are prepared to have high-school level discussions about race. In a recent education advice column in Slate, one teacher recommended broaching the subject with elementary-aged school children by making sure that they first “understand the meaning of words such as racismjusticepower, and protest. The first step for elementary students is building an understanding of the words and terms we use when talking about race and oppression.”

For older students, EdWeek’s “15 Classroom Resources for Discussing Racism, Policing, and Protest included a Google Drive link filled with resources for teachers of all grade levels on anti-racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. Colored in Colorado compiled a list of recommended lesson plans for teachers to talk about race and current events in their classroom. And the New York Times also has sample lesson plans for talking about race.

Conversations surrounding race and the Black experience can prepare young people for the world they are inheriting and living in – and, in many cases, students are talking about them outside of class anyway, with their parents or with their peers. Having these conversations in the classroom can establish these conversations in your students’ minds as important and relevant.

2. Build a diverse classroom library with protagonists who look like your students. 

In a blog post for Embrace Race, founders of the Diverse BookFinder collection gave advice on how to choose “good” picture books for children that feature a diverse set of characters. The authors recommend choosing books that not only will be compelling to your particular classroom, but also ones that come from a diverse set of authors.

We realize that building a physical library for your students may be illogical while schools are closed, but you can still recommend books to your students’ parents to add to their own home libraries. The New York Times has compiled a few recommended children’s books – some of which are free of charge.

3. Check in with your administrators and ask for support.

School administrators play a primary role in setting the tone for your school. They also can hold staff accountable to providing an equitable education to all students.

Administrative support to encourage racial discourse can have a huge effect on teachers’ work environment and willingness to talk about race in the classroom. In a 2009 article from Teaching Tolerance, a professor at the University of South Carolina’s College of Education suggests that initially, “principals [can] break the ice by telling groups, especially diverse groups, from the start that the discussion will be hard, but that having these talks is a commitment the school needs to make. Then principals [then] need to follow up with action.”

EdWeek also included six suggestions for superintendents looking to make a difference, and how to continue having conversations with teachers and their community.

4. Educate yourself and donate to worthy causes.

Reading articles and books written by a diverse set of authors can help you empathize and understand different points of views, regardless of race.

WBUR compiled a list of books for allies looking to develop a more comprehensive view of race. Or, if you have the means and can donate to worthy causes dedicated to Black lives and communities of color, consider a few worthy organizations.

Have anything to add? Let us know how your teachers are talking about race in school on Twitter at @ImperoUS. Or, visit Impero online.

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