This post was written by Lorena Germán (chair), Nawal Qarooni, and Richard Gorham, members of the NCTE Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English.
Prompted by the COVID pandemic, many schools and districts around the US are prioritizing social and emotional learning (SEL) efforts this year. While we applaud this effort, without proper preparation and intention, we see potential pitfalls. Educators might not have experience with embedding antiracist SEL learning in discussion, or might not feel entirely comfortable facilitating discussion around topics they themselves have trouble unpacking. Careful attention needs to be paid to the relationship between SEL and antiracism. Without antiracism, SEL can be “white supremacy with a hug,” as fellow scholar Dena Simmons shares in this article.
Literacy educators have a particular opportunity, and responsibility, to embed antiracist practices in SEL education. Recently, NCTE’s Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English published a Quick-Reference Guide (QRG) titled “Antibias and Antiracist Teaching: The Time Is Always Now” in which the committee wrote specifically about this intersection. A portion of that QRG articulates four ways that educators can build community between themselves and students. Included are sentence stems, ideas, and strategies to consider when doing that work in your own classrooms. Four tips suggested include:
- Allowing students to pronounce their own names while also including gender pronouns at the start of the year and during introductions.
- Offering sentence starters and question openings that are inclusive and respectful as a way to promote antiracist practice.
- Celebrating differences because they offer opportunities for growth so students can unlearn racist and biased behaviors.
- Setting personal and community expectations early on so that students can practice meeting them.
There are more tips and ideas not included in this QRG, but the committee believes these are grounding and baseline critical practices. Readers can also explore other resources the committee has created, which are free and available to all via NCTE’s website. Additionally, we recommend the following: While it is important and critical to adopt inclusive language (pronouns, etc.), it’s important to go beyond this because otherwise, discussion and learning experiences might be reduced to the transactional. Students might feel that you are only asking this so you can extract from them what you want, versus actually wanting to know them, learn alongside them, and treat them with respect. Therefore, you can ask yourself: How does this classroom language seek to include all voices? Who is silenced by this dialogue? Who is uplifted? We also invite you to adopt a “people first” construction. For example, you can use the phrasing of people who were enslaved instead of slaves, or people with disabilities instead of disabled people. This language makes it clear that history is based on conditions from the past; that Brown and Black people are not their forced histories. Lastly, we encourage you to explicitly discuss the background of authors. For example, when introducing James Baldwin, include that he was a Black man, openly gay, who expressed his views as such.
As educators, we should be striving to build quality classroom spaces that are inclusive and antiracist. It is our job to make sure that students understand that they are both welcomed and belong in schools, regardless of what the history of our country has been; regardless of even their own experiences in past years. Our classrooms can be spaces for healthy understanding of antiracist social-emotional learning.
Lorena Germán is Chair of NCTE’s Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English. She published The Anti Racist Teacher: Reading Instruction Workbook, and Textured Teaching: A Framework for Culturally Sustaining Practices. She’s also co-founder of #DisruptTexts and Academic Director at Multicultural Classroom. She’s been a member of NCTE since 2011 and lives in Tampa, Florida.
Nawal Qarooni is an educator, literacy coach, and writer who supports a holistic literacy model of instruction in schools. She and her team of coaches at NQC Literacy work alongside teachers and school leaders to grow a love of reading and composition in ways that exalt the whole child, their cultural capital, and their intrinsic curiosities. Her first book about family and caregiver literacy will be published in 2023.
Richard Gorham has taught English at Lawrence (MA) High School for more than twenty years. He serves on the Advisory Board of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network, and on NCTE’s Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English.
It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.