We are all witnessing a powerful period in history. We recognize that we are experiencing the outcomes of 400+ years of systemic racism. As a response, students, families and teachers are actively engaging in ways to address racism in their communities. People are working together to make their voices heard and naming the realities of their lived experiences.
Black and Latinx youth experience racism and it directly impacts their learning experience. Amongst those advocating for change are teachers and administrators who recognize how systemic racism can prohibit academic achievement. These educators are exploring ways to build antiracist classroom environments.
Antiracism is an awareness of race and racism that incites action toward eradicating racist policies, attitudes, and beliefs. Remember, antiracism work is a process and we must be committed to doing this work over time.
As teachers are preparing to start a new school year, there is so much opportunity to change the ways we set up our classrooms. The structure of school this year may be a hybrid learning experience or in some cases completely virtual. This will be new territory for teachers, but it does create space for building classrooms that welcome and serve all students equitably.
To change student learning, teachers can start with building antiracist classroom environments. Intentionally using inclusive language and truly diversifying resources allows for a teacher to not just say they value their students but orient themselves toward action.
5 Ways to Build an Antiracist Classroom Environments
Teachers, do your homework
As you are thinking strategically about ways to change your classroom environment, first think about yourself. Take time to read and define what it means to be antiracist. Antiracism isn’t a label, it is an action orientation toward understanding the relationship between race and racism and challenging the way it works in our systems. This work starts with positioning yourself to understand the way our country operates and how our systems engage with different groups of people. This work is not about blaming or shaming but unlearning the ways we have been socialized.
Encourage student voices
There are situations where we stifle student voices. As the adults in the room we expect to be heard and listened to. This should be the same for all students. Student voices should be a critical part of the classroom space (virtually or in-person) and it should be a place for them to express themselves. If you implement reflections, group discussions or other opportunities for students to critically think and share their thoughts, that encourages student engagement. Ultimately students become confident in their perspectives and learn to value different ideas from others. A classroom environment that encourages student voice welcomes a diversity of thought.
Re-evaluate the curriculum
There are so many narratives about our history that are not thoroughly studied or left out altogether. Textbooks and reading materials often lack a diversity in characters and ideas. We limit our learning about other racial and ethnic groups to heritage history months when we should be exploring this across the curriculum throughout the year. As a teacher we can engage families as a way to inform classroom activities. In this we will be able to share perspectives from all of the student identities. Push yourself to identify reading materials and media that is representative of all of your students and encourage students to see these differences.
Be intentional about equity
Equality is defined as treating all students the same or giving students access to the same opportunities. Equity is about seeing students as individuals with varying ideas, needs and supports. Teachers can focus on providing fair treatment and providing targeted supports that are necessary for each student to be most successful. Teachers who are intentional about equity in their classroom are able to uncover how systems may negatively impact some groups and as a result actively work against those findings.
Encourage critical thinking
Antiracism is a practice that includes many moving parts. As teachers, you have the opportunity to be bold about what is happening in the world and support your students as they process the relevance of it in the classroom. For some teachers this might include creating more space for students to process world events across subject matters and engage in critical thinking around possible solutions. Teachers, use your time to call on students to engage and challenge other perspectives as a way to give them space to imagine a different future.
Work on changing mindsets about what diversity means and how inclusion can be made possible in your school. At this moment, we must go beyond calendaring holidays and really engage students with different backgrounds and validate their lived experiences and personal narratives. We have arrived at a critical moment in history for our students and teachers. Together we can imagine a more equitable and diverse future for us all. This starts with teaching tolerance and building antiracist classroom environments.