The country is hurting. Saturday, August 2nd, we watched in horror as a terrorist killed multiple people in El Paso, Texas. On Sunday morning, we awoke to more bloodshed – this time in Dayton, Ohio. As an educator, I have been thinking about the impact of all of this on our students as they prepare to start school in the coming weeks and as some of them have already started school. It is understandable to be angry, to mourn, to grieve, and to have a call to action on how we can stop these senseless acts of violence and hate crimes. I want to challenge educators to build a sense of unity and love in their classrooms across this nation.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Many of the issues facing the nation are going to take legislative measures to address, but we have the power to inject love into our curriculum this school year, as we teach in these perilous times.
a. Allow your students to have courageous conversations
September 11, 2001, I was a soldier in the United States Army. For the days and weeks after these atrocities that occurred, we learned more and more about the victims, and we had the time to process the pain. Give your students opportunities to have conversations about the pain and fear they may have about these recent crimes. Knowledge is a powerful tool we can use to heal and allowing our students to heal is a very important step to unifying our classrooms.
b. Expose your students to multiple perspectives
The lack of knowledge of others creates an environment where they can begin to fear the unknown, which leads to bigotry and racism. We have a responsibility to show students the beauty of humanity in prose, in history, in their experiences. I challenge you to take students on field trips that allow them to learn about the rich history of other people who live in this country. There are many sites that are often free in every state across our nation. I encourage you to have your students read books from women and diverse authors that allow them to empathize and experience the opportunity to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. This NNSTOY Social Justice Booklist provides a comprehensive list of books from PK-12 and is a great resource to use to build your classroom library this school year.
c. Create opportunities for service projects
There are a lot of ways to connect with the communities that surround our schools. Service projects allow our students to learn social activism, which underscores the idea that we are better together. Pearson Education published a report recently that stated our students are not going to have the necessary employability skills by 2030. Having students use design thinking to address an issue in their community is a great way to ensure that they are equipped with new skills by the time they leave school. Being in the service of others can remind us that we are only great when we are together. Allow students to research ways to give back this year and watch the unity emerge.
d. Make your classroom a safe place
When we think about safety, our minds instantly go to physical security. When we make our classroom a safe place, we make it safe to take risks, safe to be who we are, safe from bullying, safe from name calling, safe from putdowns, safe from mean-spiritedness, safe to love, and safe in every sense of the word. Implementing social and emotional learning into every facet of our pedagogy will ensure that these things occur in our classrooms this year.
There are many other things that we can do to create unified classrooms this school year. Our students are our future, and we have an opportunity to be agents of change in the face of hate in our country. We have that power.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
– Barack Obama