Blog, Seed the Way LLC
I recently heard a teacher say that the reason she doesn't talk about race with her students is because she didn't want to make a big deal of something they didn't really notice in the first place. We’re fooling ourselves if we think kids don’t see race, and we’re really missing something if we think they aren’t making their own meaning of the racist incidents they witness and comments they hear.
This year as we head back to school it’s even more important to foster a sincere sense of value and respect for our students of color. Yes, all lives matter. We know that. But it is incumbent upon all of us who work with children to communicate through words, actions, beliefs, responses to misbehavior, and expectations for success, that Black Lives Matter. Unfortunately, the historical and modern day persecution of Black people makes this necessary to differentiate. It’s sad that it needs to be said at all, and devastating that it needs to be defended all the time.
Educators often feel like we can’t possibly combat the systems of oppression that inhibit our students’ ability to succeed. Whether it’s generational poverty, parents suffering from substance abuse or incarceration, homelessness, trauma, food insecurity, or health challenges, we find ourselves surrendering to the factors over which we have no control. But what CAN we do? In the largest ever study of the impact on student learning, educational researcher John Hattie complied over 800 meta-analyses and measured the effect-size of different aspects of schooling. At the top of his list of what makes the most significant impact on a child’s success in school is the teacher’s estimation of their ability to achieve (Hattie, 2012). So, back to the question at hand. What can we do? How do we communicate to each and every child that we believe in their ability to succeed? We believe in their inherent worth? We trust them? We recognize their innocence? We honor and respect them? We value their lives because they matter just as much as every other child? More challenging - how do we communicate these beliefs through our daily actions?
We live in a country that has failed abysmally to affirm the identities and value the lives of Black people. This failure is historical, current, pervasive, and dehumanizing to us all. If we hope to combat the negative messages about what it means to be Black in America, it is imperative that those of us who work with children communicate these core beliefs through our daily interactions with children. No teacher is entitled to the unearned trust of the children in our care; rather, we need to invest our time and energy in building relationships with each and every student. This could be as simple as learning how to pronounce a student’s name correctly, ensuring we’re using the gender pronouns with which they self-identify, finding out who their significant family members are and how to most effectively communicate with them, learning what each child values, loves, fears, and hopes, and finding out what each child needs from us in order to feel safe, welcome, and respected at school.
As we walk back into our classrooms this week, we carry with us our proverbial backpacks full of privilege. We must be mindful that many of our students, particularly our students of color, carry with them the impossibly heavy weight of this summer’s spate of murders. Of course we care about all of our students, however, it is incumbent upon us to take special care of our Black children whose burden has always been, and will always be, heavier than the rest. As teachers, we need to unapologetically proclaim that Black Lives Matter.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. London: Routledge.