I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Specific Ways I Will Be an Ally

I've been writing this blog post all summer. It was going to be titled "Specific Ways I Will Be Anti-Racist in School This Year" until I quickly realized I need to be this way ALL THE TIME. EVERYWHERE. Writing it for all to see will not only hold me accountable, but I hope it will help you, reader, with tools you can use alongside me, as an ally to our children and peers of color. I do not have all the answers. What I have here is a beginning.

From today-years-old, I pledge to do the following:

When I hear something from a peer that doesn't sit right with me, I will stop whatever I'm doing.
I will say calmly, "I'm uncomfortable with something that was said."

If I hear it in the classroom, I will stop whatever we're doing.
I will say calmly, "I just felt something shift in the room. I wonder if anyone else felt it."

I may follow up with any of the following:
  • Who else was uncomfortable?
  • Why do you think I am (or "we are") uncomfortable?
  • I don't find that funny.
  • We don't use hurtful words in our school.
  • I'm surprised to hear you say that.
  • That statement was racist. Why do you think it would be racist?
  • What do you mean by that?
  • Tell me more.
  • What point are you trying to make by saying that?
  • Did you mean for that statement to be hurtful?
  • Using that word (or those words) doesn't help others feel safe or accepted here.
  • I'm having a "yeah, but" moment - can you help me work through it?
  • I need time to process. Let's come back to that in a moment.
  • Do these words unsettle you? I have some resources if you're willing to learn more and be more comfortable talking about it in the near future.
  • We wake up each morning and want to do what's right for our students. Let's focus on the impact those words could have on all of our students.
  • Let's confront challenges together, even when they're uncomfortable.
Besides using the language above...
  • I will have these phrases ready (literally in my pocket).
  • If someone else speaks up before me, I will echo their message with support.
  • I will ask students how they want to feel in our class. We will curate their answers and make a plan as to how we can accomplish this. I will share my responses with students (above), so they have tools for helping our classroom be all we want it to be.
  • I will provide students phrases to use when they feel prejudice against them, such as, "I don't feel good when you say that" or "I don't feel respected right now."
  • When I provide book talks, I will add descriptions of the authors. For example, I may say, "The author of this book, ____ is a cisgendered Black American woman." Calling out the authors will let students know that anyone can become a writer, let students know that I support writers of all races, genders, etc., and it will help me make sure my classroom library becomes even more diverse. 
  • When students are in partners or groups, I will ask them to first find out a difference they have with each other, and then something they have in common.
  • I will post a message that says, "Black Lives Matter." I want my students of color to know they matter to me just as much as everyone else. I want them to know our class (in-person and virtual) is a safe space. (Thank you for pointing that out in a webinar on Aug. 6, 2020, Dr. Tron Young.)
  • I will create a space of curiosity - where we all have room to learn from multiple sources, especially each other's stories.
  • I hope to have an activity or writing prompt where I can ask students, "Share your earliest memory of race" or "When where you first instructed about race" or "When did being your race first impact you" or "How has being your race impact you?" (I'd love help with wording this one.)
  • I will work towards finding a way students can change the skin tone of their "reactions" via Zoom, so we see our differences in color in multiple ways.
  • I will use Rudine Sims Bishop's idea of "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors."
  • When we are discussing ideas for school, I will inquire as to which perspectives we're missing.
  • I will continue to read (voraciously) and share perspectives of BIPOC.
If I do not speak up against biases or prejudices, it means I condone it.
I will make mistakes.
I will work towards being comfortable - with being uncomfortable.
I will renew my pledge to be an ally and to be anti-racist each and every day.
I will continue to strive to be a better person and better educator.

Resources I've used to help me with what I plan to say or do:
Would you like to join me in this pledge? Put your name in the comments below, along with your Twitter handle, and I'll connect with you once a month to see how we're doing and where we can use more guidance.

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