Last night I watched the states turn red across the map and I was overwhelmed by feelings of uncertainty. I received call after call, message after message of friends calling me in tears. I, like many others, was stunned. In the face of that disbelief come true, I began to wonder: what will school look like tomorrow? What are we supposed to say? What am I supposed to say to friends calling me in tears?
As we enter our classrooms, today and in the coming weeks, we must recognize that many students feel unsafe and vulnerable in their own country and classrooms, and that this fear is not conducive to living nor learning. As educators we are supposed to remain “neutral,” but we need not remain silent in that neutrality. It is crucial we do speak, that we make space for conversations, and that we listen.
But how do we do this? Where do we start? What do we say, and how do we say it?
While I don’t have the answers, I recognize that no one has the answers – only ideas. It is with this in mind I share with you two resources to support you in the coming weeks:
- Ali Michael’s article on the Huffington Post titled What do we tell the children?
“Teach them, third, how to be responsible members of a civic society. Teach them how to engage in discussion—not for the sake of winning, but for the sake of understanding and being understood. Students need to learn…to question taken-for-granted assumptions, to see their own biases, to take feedback, to challenge one another. We need to teach students how to disagree—with love and respect. These skills will be priceless in the coming months and years as we work to build a democratic society that protects the rights of all people ― regardless of the cooperation or resistance those efforts face from the executive branch.”
- Some guidance from Teaching Tolerance’s post The Day After:
- Begin within. Prepare yourself first to engage in difficult conversations surrounding the various topics—racism, civil rights, immigration and so forth—that the election has raised. Then develop a game plan to do so with students. The distinct life experiences, cultures, languages and backgrounds represented in your classroom can lead to high-stakes conversations that are uncomfortable at times. Work to draw a connection between the diversity of our country and the diversity in your classroom.
- Get back to instruction. This is not to imply that you have pushed instruction aside, but the election season has taken its toll on us all. So think of this as a time to press “reset.” Try new instructional strategies. Talk to a fellow educator about a lesson that works well in their class. Use a new read aloud or app. Step outside of your box and go for that project or unit you always wanted to try. Focusing on delivering new, exciting instructional content to your kids is a way to reinvigorate the classroom and yourself.
- Strengthen your classroom community. Think about the go-to strategies for building a classroom community. Choose some activities in which students build relationships and understanding with each other. For example, play a collaborative game together or break out a classic morning meeting book. These types of activities can help transcend politics and breathe life into a divided classroom.
- Create space for reflection. As adults, we have our hopes for what this next presidency will accomplish. We have specific issues that are personal and close to us. The same is true for your students. Share with them your thoughts, and allow them to share theirs with you and their classmates. Students are often more apt to put these types of thoughts down on paper, so consider a related journaling activity.
- Discuss what respect means. In a recent Teaching Tolerance survey, teachers mentioned over 500 times that respect is the number one rule in their classrooms. Think about spending some time breaking down the essence of respect with students. What is it? Who gets it and why give it? Find ways to encourage students to pay respect to the democratic process and the office of the presidency itself, regardless of who occupies the executive seat. Emphasize that using a critical lens and holding our elected officials accountable is not the same as being disrespectful or uncivil.
- Look—and plan—ahead. New presidential administrations tout goals for their “first 100 days” in office. There is a great deal of strategic planning involved. How about the next 100 days in your classroom? What will you focus on? What standards will you cover? What accomplishments await your students at the end? Consider involving students in 100-day plans of their own (for example, class projects or individualized plans to reach a reading level or similar achievement).
- Talk about losing with grace. One candidate will lose this election, and countless people will have poured their time, energy and hopes into that person’s campaign. Take the opportunity to talk with your students about what happens when you try really hard for something—and you don’t get it. This could be in sports, academics, personal relationships or something else. Remind them that we all lose and confront failure, but it’s how we recover that matters.
Wishes of strength in the coming weeks,