Educators spend a tremendous amount of time participating in professional development sessions that are required to continue professional learning and to remain certified to teach.
I have been an educator for over 25 years and have lived in four different states. I have worked in traditional public school districts and been a part of two start up charter schools. My work in education has been inside schools and classrooms, as well as district offices on senior leadership teams. I have participated and led countless professional development sessions focused on improving the quality of teaching and learning in K-12 classrooms.
Some of these professional development sessions have helped me improve my educational practices by focusing on a specific set of skills that I could leverage to improve educational outcomes for the children that I served. While others helped me think more deeply about how I managed my classroom and school to create a more safe, inclusive, learning environment for my students and families.
Very few PD sessions challenged my core beliefs and mental models about my students, their families and their abilities. No session I participated in ever addressed the impact of my internalized white supremacy on my ability to reach all children effectively, or taught me how to be an anti-racist educator.
Unfortunately, we often make assumptions that all educators understand their own internalized biases and stereotypes, and that all educators hold the same beliefs about the abilities of all children and efficacy of their families.
→ Read about How to Achieve Equity in Education
What Anti-Racist Teachers Do Differently
I recently read an article in the Atlantic about what anti-racist teachers do differently. The author, Pirette McKamey, perfectly summarized something that I’ve personally held as a belief and noticed about my successful colleagues:
Anti-racist teachers “view the success of black students as central to the success of their own teaching.”
McKamey goes on to say that “teachers who do not value black students will shift the discussion away from their own practice when they see that black students are not succeeding in their classes.” To be a successful teacher of Black and Brown students we must investigate our mental models and core beliefs because they influence our daily actions, practices, and classroom policies.
As McKamey so eloquently stated, if we are able to decouple the success or lack of success of some students from ourselves, it is easy then to explain away why some children are just not successful and absolve ourselves of responsibility.
Educators Need Partners & Professional Development for Anti Racist Teaching
I, as most educators, have participated in conversations about a child who is having behavioral or academic trouble in my classroom. I’ve had conversations that identify the child, family, lack of support, or living situation of the child as the problem. And although these are real issues that are relevant to how we serve children, rarely, if ever, do we discuss how our school’s policies, practices, and daily interactions that are centered in a dominant culture that does not embrace them could be damaging or isolating to a child. And very rarely do we hold ourselves, as educators, accountable for the success of the child.
Developing an anti-racist lens must be the foundation of all of the professional development that we participate in order to properly serve Black and Brown children. And unfortunately this is the work, in all my years of professional development as an educator, that was never addressed.
Our belief systems are not the only things that are important in an anti-racist classroom. Things like shifting teaching pedagogy, representation in curriculum materials, de-centering whiteness, valuing and empowering the thoughts and ideas of black students, building students’ critical consciousness and ability to denounce racism are all additional requirements of an anti-racist teacher.
We must also truly value and partner with families and communities, draw upon the rich experiences and relationships of those connected to our children, and build cross-sector relationships when needed. However, those things will never occur if our core beliefs do not align with the idea that our success is reliant on the success of all of our students, but specifically our Black and Brown students.
Advancing Equity in Education
That is why the work of becoming an anti-racist teacher is not only important, it is critical. That is why a colleague and I are partnering with Kickboard to develop a curriculum specifically for teachers on how to be anti-racist educators. Unless we all actively work against the current systems that produce our current disparities, we are supporting racism, by default.
There is a tribe in the continent of Africa, The Massai tribe of Kenya and Tanzania, that can be traced back hundreds of years. One of the things that I love about the people is how they greet one another. “How are the children?” is still the traditional greeting of the people. This greeting exemplifies the value that they place on the well-being of their children. Until we value the success of all children in this same way, we will continue to repeat the same disparities that currently exist. We hold the power, we can make the changes necessary. It begins with our beliefs.