When we set out to do antiracist and antibias work, a common question is, how do I make time for it in my classroom?
Today on the podcast we’re listening to an excerpt from the audiobook Start Here, Start now: A Guide to Antibias and Antiracist Work in your School Community.
Author Liz Kleinrock dedicates chapter 2 of her book to making time for Antiracist and Antibias work, which she refers to as ABAR work. As Liz explains, the answer is more within reach than many of us might think if we’re new to this work.
Here is Liz Kleinrock reading from chapter two of her book, start Here, Start Now…
Read along with Liz below...
ABAR work with their students but feel there is no time in an already packed schedule. Some share stories of being written up for failing to post the daily standards on the board. Others say they feel anxious from being monitored by administrators who walk into classrooms to see if everyone is teaching the same lesson at the same time. One teacher shared, “At my first school, I taught along with six other teachers on my team. If we didn’t give a unit test all in the same day, an administrator would visit our room and we would get reprimanded. It would also be noted that we were ‘uncooperative,’ or ‘weren’t being a team player.’ Strict pacing was a huge challenge. I could recognize that students needed more time on a topic but if my class averages were low, I’d be questioned if I taught the material. Creativity was stifled because people felt like those activities would take too many class periods.” States either have their own standards or utilize Common Core State Standards. Some even have requirements of how many minutes should be spent teaching certain subjects each day.
I certainly don’t want to speak for other teachers regarding pacing and scripted curricula. For many people, especially those who are new to teaching, designated lessons and agendas can help provide structure. However, when teachers are handed boxes of curriculum and a prescribed schedule with little room for flexibility or creativity, it can be challenging to determine when and how to incorporate subjects that don’t fit into traditional subject blocks. It’s demoralizing to feel like you don’t have time to address ABAR work in your classroom, but there are ways to weave it into your mandated curriculum.
First and foremost, effective and meaningful ABAR work is neither an add-on to your curriculum nor a separate block on your agenda. If you walk into my classroom, you will not see “9:30–10:00 a.m.: Social Justice Time” written on the whiteboard schedule. Many teachers view ABAR work as an either/or option, as if they have to decide between science and social justice and can only teach one. When ABAR is truly part of your teaching philosophy and practice, it becomes a lens through which you can teach any and all subjects.
Dr. Sara Kersey (she/her) of UCLA’s Teacher Education Program re-counted working with novice teachers who were trying to integrate social justice topics but felt stifled by curriculum requirements. “It’s vitally important to have strong knowledge of the standards because you can’t adapt any curriculum until you know what the students are going to be held accountable to standards-wise” (2019). If sticking to the standards is a priority, get to know the standards at the grade level you teach, as well as the previous and upcoming grades.
Standards-aligned instruction can be interpreted in many ways. If your school requires that you visibly display the lesson plan standards, you need to know them well enough to explain how students will master them. For example, the California fourth-grade social studies standards focus heavily on state history, including immigration, Indigenous peoples, missions, and the Gold Rush. If you were to enter my class-room, you might see my students reading accounts of Chinese railroad workers, women, and formerly enslaved African Americans during the Gold Rush; writing comparative essays about immigration issues in the past and present; or reflecting on the impact of climate change on California’s agricultural production and what we can do to combat the drought in our everyday lives.
If an administrator were to enter my classroom and saw my students working on any of these assignments, I would immediately be able to identify which standards were being addressed, and how students were independently practicing these skills. I could either show them a chart like the one in Figure 2–1 or I could explain what standards we are working on and how my students will meet those standards.
Becoming familiar with the standards and curriculum of your school or district allows you to plan backward and ahead. It also helps you identify areas to supplement or replace or that might require additional student resources. Ask yourself: Are certain standards and curricular units emphasized more than others? How can you organize your time to focus on the concepts your students need to explore the most? In Figure 2–2, I show you how I might think through curriculum requirements. I identify the subjects I have to teach and what I have to teach within each subject and consider the content with an ABAR lens.
You can start with one subject or work across subjects, as I did. It’s also helpful to fill out the planner with a grade team or a PLC.
You can also organize ABAR work across multiple subjects under a common theme. When I was a second-grade teacher, one of my earliest units focused on gender stereotyping and representation. I based this unit on conflicts that cropped up between students making generalizations such as “Girls can’t do that . . . ” or “Boys aren’t supposed to. . . . ” After becoming thoroughly exasperated with the constant stereotyping in my class, I wanted to figure out a way to blend social–emotional learning with our academic subjects. Additionally, as my own awareness developed, I recognized the importance of including and elevating nonbinary and trans people, who had been left out by male–female stereotyping. How could I use the theme of gender stereotyping as a way to synthesize our math, reading, and writing lessons, and open our discussions up to the real world? Concepts taught in isolation are far less likely to stick, and I couldn’t put every subject on hold in order to solve social problems.
Building a culture of trust and respect in the classroom is imperative if we want students to be open, honest, and communicative. Teachers must take the time to understand their students—who they are, and where they’re coming from.
Brené Brown reminds us, “Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.” If I’m asking my students to share themselves and be vulnerable with me and their peers in the classroom, it’s important that I lead by example. I’ll often open the school year by sharing my own identity during community-building activities, and discussing my experience as a student. I tell my students about a math teacher who made me cry in class and convinced me I was a terrible math student. I tell them that my grades in middle and high school were far from perfect, and that grades are only one measurement of under-standing and academic success. I’m also honest with them when I’ve experienced a loss in my life, or sometimes when I’m having an off day. One of the most powerful classroom conversations I had was when I told students that I would be taking a mental health day. It allowed a few students to feel comfortable talking about their own emotions and experiences with therapy. We cannot expect or demand our students to share who they are if we are not willing to do the same.
Present students with correct terminology and help them understand the meaning of the word by making connections to prior knowledge and asking questions. In my second-grade class, starting with language was important, especially since a handful of my students were emerging bilinguals. I presented them with the term stereotype. To help them understand the meaning of the word, I asked, “How are teachers often shown in movies or TV shows?” My students were highly amused and enjoyed listing descriptions like “Teachers are strict,” “They wag their fingers at you and tell you to be quiet,” and “They’re old and mean and look like someone’s grandma.” Afterward, I asked my class if their preschool, kindergarten, or first-grade teachers fit these descriptions. Nearly every student disagreed. From this discussion, we built our understanding of stereotypes as a widely held but overly simple idea of a person or group. Stereotypes can sometimes seem complimentary (one student added, “People who wear glasses are smart!”) but don’t leave room for individual experiences or identities. They also can be used as a tool for gatekeeping. We ended this initial lesson by sharing perceived stereotypes of children. My students were hyperaware of how adults often unfairly perceived them to be loud, unruly, unintelligent, and dirty.
Since Halloween was approaching and my students were swap-ping ideas about their favorite costumes and characters, this felt like an opportune moment to apply our understanding of stereotypes to a real-world situation. We collected toy and costume catalogues and distributed them to groups of students. Their instructions were simple: Cut and sort the toys and costumes based on gender stereotypes. (In recent years, I’ve added more inclusive language around gender to this activity, but students are still able to recognize the amount of toy and clothing marketing directed toward children that exists along a gender binary.) The students and I observed their sorting. We looked for patterns, generated questions, debated the potential impact on children who receive these gendered messages, and created a chart. One student shared that she wanted to be the Karate Kid for Halloween, but when her family went shopping for a costume, the outfit in the “Girls” section came in only one color: bright pink. When she ventured into the “Boys” aisle, her brother teased her for wearing a “boy costume.”
Over the next few days, my students began volunteering more examples of gender stereotypes they noticed outside of school. One boy talked about being teased for being “girly” because he colored his nails with a marker. A girl vented about a movie she had watched where the main female character kept making irresponsible choices and repeatedly needed to be saved by a boy. Our upcoming reading unit focused on fairy and folk tales, during which the kids reveled in pointing out problematic gender roles. We talked about how the main female character in most fairy tales did not have any female friends, and relationships between female characters were strained due to jealousy over physical appearance or romantic interests. We also discussed how the male characters were presented as hypermasculine, athletic, and unemotional, which led to a deeply personal community circle where the boys in class shared their feelings about the pressure to adhere to similar expectations from peers or family members. We made a chart about expectations for men. Throughout this unit, we simultaneously hit ELA standards about plot, cause and effect, and character analysis, all while developing a critical lens for gender stereotyping.
Our work around gender also helped enhance our persuasive writing unit and mathematics application. My students were able to apply the skills from the curriculum—stating their opinions, using evidence, and providing suggestions—but directed their writing to companies that manufactured and sold toys and kids’ clothing. We also pulled price comparisons for the same products marketed toward men and toward women and calculated how much more women were expected to pay for items such as bike helmets, deodorant, and haircuts of similar length. (We had a separate lesson on the “pink tax” and gender pay disparities.)
The unit culminated with a discussion about what is being done in the world to dispel gender stereotypes. We identified steps we could take in our own lives. My students generated ideas about how to respond on the playground if someone made a stereotypical remark. We talked about ways that we pushed back against gender norms. We also read books that countered gender stereotypes, and analyzed commercials and marketing campaigns that strived to break away from stereotypes in favor of inclusion. Ultimately we met the goal to develop students’ social consciousness while still making sure we handled our academic business.
Even when teachers have evidence that students are walking away from class with a more developed critical lens, lesson reflection is a necessary step that is often overlooked or forgotten in the daily classroom bustle. I have now taught the unit on gender stereotyping for many years, and each year it looks a little different. Some of the changes are based on my own learning and unlearning, such as making sure I was being inclusive of nonbinary and trans students and wasn’t reinforcing the gender binary. Other changes took place simply because each year I have a new class of students with different backgrounds, needs, and questions. Veteran educators can risk falling into the comfortable routine of repeating the same lessons and using the same materials every year, but teachers must pay attention to how language and ABAR ideas are evolving in our society. This does not mean that lessons have to be completely rewritten every year, but we do need to audit them to see what needs to be updated based on current events and the learners in our classroom.
Return to your ABAR curriculum and standards planner and ask yourself how things went and what changes you need to make. You'll find a blank template for this form in the online resources.
Even though feedback is a large part of a teacher’s practice, receiving feedback about our own teaching can be hard to hear. Most educators choose this career path because of a deep-seated passion, and when our identities are tied too closely to our work, feedback feels personal. I like to view feedback as a gift, and my friend and colleague shea martin (they/them) taught me the importance of viewing accountability as an act of love. If I love my students, it’s my responsibility to ask for their feedback, reflect on it, and adapt my practice. About every other month, I ask my students to evaluate our class-room culture and my teaching by filling out a form. I joke with my classes that while the principal is my employer, I actually work for my students. I enjoy recording their input in graphs and charts so we can discuss the patterns we see as a class and share honestly about our experiences.
ABAR practices are new initiatives for many teachers and schools, but there are resources out there from organizations and educators who have written about and shared their practices. For example, educators Tricia Ebarvia (she/her), Lorena Germán (she/her), Dr. Kimberly Parker (she/her), and Julia Torres (she/her) built #DisruptTexts “to challenge the traditional canon in order to create a more inclusive, representative, and equitable language arts curriculum.” Their website and social media community provide a space for educators to listen, learn, and share successful practices. Additionally, founders of #THEBOOKCHAT Scott Bayer (he/him) and Joel Garza (he/him) created a resource to help teachers identify ways to create more culturally inclusive curricula. As most teachers are not able to completely abandon their curriculum or required texts (however problematic they may be), Bayer and Garza suggested pairing or supplementing traditional texts with more recent and inclusive titles. For example, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which centers a white savior narrative, might be paired with Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, which explores his experience as a Black lawyer fighting against systemic racism in the criminal justice system.
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Liz Kleinrock (she/her) is an antibias antiracist educator and consultant based in Washington, DC. A transracial adoptee, Liz was born in South Korea and grew up in DC before attending Washington University in St. Louis, MO. After graduating, Liz moved to Oakland, California, where she served as an AmeriCorps teacher with Girls Inc. and Super Stars Literacy for two years. Following her service, Liz moved to Los Angeles and earned her M.Ed from UCLA's Teacher Education Program. After a year student teaching a 5th grade class in Watts, Liz joined the founding faculty of a startup school in East Hollywood where she spent seven years teaching 1st through 4th grades.
In addition to classroom teaching, Liz also works as an antibias antiracist facilitator for schools, organizations, and companies across the country. Her work has gained national recognition through a documentary short produced by Fluid Film, and media outlets such as CNN, The Washington Post, NPR, and BBC. In 2018, Liz received Teaching Tolerance's 2018 Award for Excellence in Teaching, and currently serves on the Teaching Tolerance Advisory Board. Liz is proud to share her 2019 TED Talk from "Education Everywhere" on building foundations of equity with young learners, and is the author of Start Here, Start Now: A Guide to AntiBias and AntiRacist Work in Your School Community with Heinemann Publishing.
She currently resides in Washington DC with her two bunnies, and teaches middle school.