As I enter into my eighth year of teaching in the wake of three mass shootings, my priorities and mission are as clear as they’ve ever been. We desperately need to help students love and understand themselves and others. We cannot do this with trite lessons about being kind and treating people how you would like to be treated. We need to help students do the real work of understanding their own identities, and learning how to stand up for what is right.
All of our students need to spend time reflecting on their identities and how they move through the world in the body they are in. Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum writes about the psychological development of racial identity, specifically, in her groundbreaking book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? I highly recommend starting here in order to learn about why it is so important to understand how racial identity affects our students–all of our students. White students tend to be stunted in their racial identity development because they are not often prompted to reflect upon it, explicitly or implicitly.
It can be overwhelming to try to plan lessons that address our students’ intersectional identities on our own. In fact, I don’t recommend doing that. Teaching Tolerance is an excellent resource for professional development, lesson plans and strategies that “help teachers and schools educate children and youth to be active participants in a diverse democracy.” A project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, they have free, high-quality resources that bring truth and authenticity into your classroom.
Teaching Tolerance has developed a set of Social Justice Standards for students at every grade level that I think are incredibly powerful. As soon as I read through the 6-8 grade standards, I knew they needed to be a focus in my classroom this year. I start school next week, so I can’t tell you exactly how we will use them yet, but I will write more about it as the year progresses. For now, they are posted in my room, and I plan to focus on one of the four domains (Identity, Diversity, Justice and Action) per quarter in both my 6th grade History and my 8th grade English classes.
I formatted them so that they were easy to post on a bulletin board, and I made versions for each grade level. Take them for free and post them in your classroom. Then please go to the Teaching Tolerance website and view the free PD modules that accompany each domain. As much as I hope that teachers all over the country use these standards, I also hope that they are doing the personal work of learning about their own identities, privilege and responsibility when it comes to anti-racist work in schools. The resources are there; we just need to invest the time and effort into educating ourselves and living out the standards in our own lives authentically.
So without further ado, the bulletin board versions are linked below for you. Use them, be creative with them, and I’d love to hear about the successes and challenges you have along the way. You can tag me on Instagram at @toocoolformiddleschool and I’ll be sure to see it. Thank you for doing the difficult, important work that you do. I hope this makes it just a little bit more accessible.