Some steps you can take to ensure the books you choose for your classroom do not harm your students.
As an anti-racist educator, one of our fundamental goals is to help students develop a lens of compassion and empathy for others. Compassion and empathy can be developed through the sharing of stories that offer windows into the lived experiences of others. For students whose lives are mirrored in these stories, the educator must mindfully validate their experience, while avoiding causing further harm.
One of the greatest challenges of anti-racist teaching through a trauma-informed lens is ensuring the education of students with privilege is not at the emotional and mental expense of racialized students. Addressing horrific historical truths and acknowledging continued systemic racism can be intimidating for non-racialized teachers who are at the start of their anti-racism journey; this can also be overwhelming and potentially re-traumatizing for those who have experienced racism their entire lives. These important stories must be honoured and shared, while also respecting their potential re-traumatizing effects.
Getting to know your students so you can reflect their stories, backgrounds, histories, and culture in your teaching is key. Before you select and read a diverse book to your class, from our Diverse Book Basket or one of your own choosing, or before you make it available for your students to read, please consider the following questions.
Things to Consider before you choose a book or resource:
Have you developed strong relationships with your students?
Connecting with your students and developing sincere relationships based on wanting to know them, their stories and their hopes for the future is imperative for establishing the trust needed to feel safe while learning. Without strong relationships, your students will likely not engage with the material in a way that is meaningful to them and may cause more harm than good.
Do you know the cultural backgrounds of the students you will be reading to? Their lived experiences? Have you connected with the families? The community?
Understanding the spectrum of possible lived experiences of your students - from the refugee experience, to a lifetime of facing systemic racism, to the various forms of guilt or ignorance experienced by those privileged based on race - is important for addressing their various perspectives and understanding how the book may be received.
Have you pre-read the book? How does this story frame the community the students come from?
Diverse books may contain stereotypes, problematic or challenging moments, and in some cases, racial slurs. If you choose to read a book with this type of content, you will need to be prepared to unpack this with your students and address any questions they have. Pre-reading the book gives you the opportunity to process the content for yourself in a space away from your students and to show up for them in a confident and emotionally stable way. PLEASE NOTE: Reading out a racial slur in class, even if it is written in a book written by a BIPOC author can be very traumatizing and send messages to non-racialized students that the use of this slur is acceptable. DO NOT DO THIS.
If you are sharing stories that refer to traumatic historical or present-day truths, are you also including stories in your classroom of joy, inspiration, and resistance from this same culture?
While acknowledging and remembering the various forms of devastation a group of people have suffered, it is advisable to also celebrate the hopeful stories that serve to enlighten the future and uplift the victims of racial injustice. Just focusing on trauma and hardship creates a one-dimensional understanding and serves to further perpetuate biases and stereotypes.
Are you informing families of themes you will be covering in class, and allowing them time to ask questions or express concerns?
Not causing harm to the children trusted to our care is at the forefront of a trauma-informed educator. To ensure wrap-around support for students, informing home of potentially traumatic subject matter being discussed in class is non-negotiable. Education is about listening to and learning from others. By communicating with home ahead of time, we are given the opportunity to both learn from the stories of those in our educational community, and to extend and exchange knowledge within our society.
Have the students been provided resources that they may access if they feel triggered, uncomfortable or overwhelmed by the stories and information being shared?
Are there available counsellors or support staff with whom the students have a trusting, safe relationship? Is there a physical space students can excuse themselves to whenever they feel emotionally overwhelmed? Has mental health education been taught, including coping strategies, self-advocacy, boundary-setting, self-care, recognizing visceral emotional responses? It is important to be prepared with a plan ahead of time so you are not caught off guard if and when the need for self-care or community-care arises for your students.
Despite your good intentions, at some point, something you read, say, or do will have a negative impact on students. When this happens, be gentle with yourself, but also take responsibility for the harm you may have caused. Being accountable for our actions models to our students how to deal with negative experiences and how to repair harm caused in relationships. This also normalizes that making mistakes is part of the learning and unlearning process.
Pursuing an anti-racist, trauma-informed approach to teaching is more valuable for our students than allowing a fear of failure to silence these voices and stories by omitting them from your classroom. Not surprisingly, this approach will also have positive impacts on your own personal antiracism journey. Please reach out if you require support along the way
Moms Against Racism Education Advocacy Team
MORE HELPFUL REMINDERS FOR ANTI-RACIST EDUCATORS
Bring up anti-racism and equity in your school staff meetings and organize meetings with other colleagues in your school who are committed to anti-racism/decolonizing practices
Follow anti-racist educators on social media and join online anti-racist education groups
Include diverse representations and stories throughout the whole year, don’t just teach it during the months or days that are dedicated to their history (Example: Don’t just teach about Black stories during Black History Month)
Remember intersectionality matters. As we plan anti-racist lessons and discussions it is important to recognize that the social constructs of race, gender, sexuality, class, able-bodiedness, etc don’t exist in isolation and that all these identities determine a person’s power and privilege in a given environment
Pretend you know it all. Learn with your students. Admit your mistakes and apologize when you say the wrong thing
Read aloud books that use racial slurs or that solely focus on the pain/trauma of BIPOC communities. Read diverse books that include strength, resilience, and joy!
Rush lessons on culturally and racially important topics
Plan lessons about BIPOC experiences or history without input from BIPOC educators
Use “What you did over the summer” or “Family Tree” projects that could alienate some students
Do this work alone! Connect with the village of other educators and community members who are doing this work
Forget to acknowledge whose land you are living and working on. For resources on how to do a land acknowledgement in a meaningful way see resource below
SOME ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:
Cordova-Cobo, Diana, in consultation with Victor Cobo III. “Anti-racist Trauma-informed Teaching”.
The Public Good. Columbia University. June 2020. https://sites.google.com/tc.columbia.edu/traumainformedteaching/home#h.zf7k0h71uivz
The First Nations, Métis, Inuit Education Association of Ontario, “Pedagogical Considerations for Teaching About Residential Schools” https://www.uwindsor.ca/ctl/sites/uwindsor.ca.ctl/files/pedagogical-considerations-for-teaching-about-residential-schools.pdf
Anti-Racist Educator Reads Podcast - A broadcast for educators who understand that we need to be talking about race and racism in schools now. (Canadian)
“Back-to-School Reminders for Educators: Antiracism Edition”, MAR Education Advocacy Team, Sept 8, 2021,
“Beyond Territorial Acknowledgements” By: apihtawikosisan Law. Language. Culture Blog, September 23, 2016
MAR Diverse Book Lists
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