Before you begin:
- Reflect on your knowledge of the history and impact of systemic racism. Think about the negative experiences that communities of color have had with social systems such as law enforcement, child protective services, mental and physical healthcare providers, and school systems—even yours.
- Take the time to learn more about the historical and current impact of racism (see below for websites and books).
- Understand that these negative experiences can result in significant distrust in the system and could be very distressing for some students.
Create a supportive and brave environment.
- Talk to students about the need for both safety and trust so that everyone can share their views and listen respectfully to others, even when there are disagreements.
- Encourage curiosity and an openness to learn from others’ perspectives.
- Before starting a discussion, give students options with clear directions for managing difficult emotions and responses during these discussions. Options include giving students permission to leave the room or to have a buddy to rely on for debriefing, processing, or support.
- Validate differences in how students talk about and experience emotions.
- Some students experience complex trauma and may have difficulty identifying, expressing, and managing emotions. Others might remain silent and that is also okay.
- Check in with students during the discussion to make sure that students feel safe.
- Make time to transition back to class. It can be hard to go back to learning activities after these discussions. Build in a break for students before returning to activities.
Be aware of when a student or family needs more support.
- Find out whether a counselor or other supports are available at your school.
- Talk to your leadership about mental health resources outside of your school.
Model and support being open and honest when you talk with students.
- It is okay to not always know the answer. You can model this to your students by saying “I don’t know” or “I will have to look into that for you”.
- Offer students positive ways to cope with their feelings after having these difficult conversations. Examples include art activities, social action (e.g., signing a co-written letter to a local political leader), relaxation strategies, listening to music, and taking a walk outside.
Help your students and colleagues understand the negative impacts of systemic racism and racial trauma—throughout history and up to present day.
- Use real-life cultural references that students can relate to and understand.
- Give students and colleagues opportunities to share their own cultural stories and experiences.
Empower students to be leaders.
- Keep the child’s age and grade level in mind and choose age-appropriate leadership activities.
- Help students be more engaged in their communities, including grassroots organizations.
- Organize dialogues, small gatherings, or school events to discuss antiracism and to advocate for equity and inclusion.
- Encourage students to create messages of equity and organize events to address inclusion on school grounds and in the community.
Take care of yourself and the feelings you may experience after discussing racism and racial trauma with your students.
- Seek out allies and supports as you start these discussions in your classroom.
- Consult with school counselors, mental health professionals, other teachers, and school administration about ways you and your colleagues can get more support.
- Start a group of allies or “buddies” and keep each other focused on using trauma-informed and culturally responsive language at school.
- Hold each other accountable for speaking up, stepping in, and advocating for change when confronted with racism at your school or in the community.
Resources for learning more:
- Talk to your school administrator and district leadership about your school’s resources for addressing racism and racial trauma.
- The National Child Traumatic Stress Network guide has more information for educators.
- Teaching Tolerance also has helpful classroom guides and resources.
- “Racism without Racists: Colorblind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States” (Eduardo Bonilla-Silva)
- “How to be an Anti-Racist” (Ibram X. Kendi) o “Me and White Supremacy” (Layla F Saad)
- “Warmth of Other Suns” (Isabel Wilkerson)
- “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” (Michelle Alexander)
- “Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together at the Cafeteria” (Beverly Tatum)
- “Just Mercy,” tells the story of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), founded by Bryan Stevenson, and Walter McMillian, a Black man who was sentenced to die for the murder of a young white woman that he did not commit.
- “13th” is a Netflix series on the history of race and the US criminal justice system.
- “Whose Streets”, an account of the Ferguson uprising, inspired by the activists and community who protested after the killing of 18 year-old Michael Brown, which sparked a global movement.