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Creating Connection Across Divides

These are challenging times in our country—a time when there is much division, polarization, and heartache in our communities. Wherever we are at this time, as educators we can continue to remember what our commitment is to young people—and how we can make a difference by creating environments where all students are served and where are all students are given the opportunity to thrive. This may seem simple and even trite—but it is challenging and complex work.

In the last few years, our work in school communities around equity and diversity has been incredibly powerful and moving. In these workshops, we invite teachers and staff from diverse backgrounds, from all walks of life, to come together to share their own stories and to learn more about systemic oppression. We are continually touched by the power of story—as story humanizes us all, reveals our commonalities and essential differences, and supports us to meet each other without our ideologies and biases in the way. When we sit across from another person and hear their truth and reality, our eyes are opened to the experience of what it is to walk through the world in their skin. And, these stories, these texts become a part of our teaching and learning. As we unpack our own stories, we see how what we have lived and experienced influences how we teach and how we see and understand our students—and ultimately how we can more skillfully and compassionately engage young learners.

We recognize that it takes courage to share stories and have difficult conversations about oppression and inequality—knowing we will inevitably bring different opinions, perspectives, and biases to the table. And yet, we also live in a time where there are ever more blatant expressions of hate, intolerance, and racism in our schools—and where teachers and leaders are being asked to both look at their own practice and to create skillful interventions.

This month, we invite you to consider the following tips and to consider reading the following articles to inform your own self-reflection—and how you might engage these critical issues more deeply in teaching and learning environments.

Tips for Self Inquiry around Cultural Responsiveness

Developing our own capacity for cultural responsiveness gives us the foundation to cultivate this with our students. Taking a deep look at our own worldviews and beliefs and biases allows us to see when we might be hindering inclusivity in our classroom. Below are some reflection questions to support this inner work:

  • What did we learn from our families and communities about our culture and cultures different from our own?
  • What messages do society and the media give us about race, class, culture, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation?
  • Which of those messages do we believe, and how does that affect our behavior?
  • What aspects of difference scare us or trigger us, and why?
  • How might our bias or worldview impact how we engage or don’t engage certain students and who and how we tend to “discipline”?

Self-inquiry can be an important first step, as it raises our awareness about ourselves and about our own perspectives and worldview. The next steps along this path call us to have the courage and discipline to act on this awareness—to speak up, take risks, and reach out even when we are uncomfortable.

Activities for Using Personal Storytelling

  • As part of a unit, invite students to write stories about their cultural background and to share those in class with one another.
  • Initiate a council or community circle in which students share one important tradition from their family or community.
  • Invite one student to volunteer to share at the beginning of class each Friday about a song, poem, book, or movie that connects to a class theme or topic.
  • If developmentally appropriate, read Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman and have a discussion about the gifts of culture and different cultures coming together. Or read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and have students write their own versions, using the vignettes about family, community, and culture as prototypes. Both of these books can be directly connected to activities inviting personal storytelling from students.

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