Teacher in class posing withs students writing tests behind her

How Do I Extend Black History Beyond February?

“What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.” Carter G. Woodson.

Learning about Black history is bigger than the month of February. Why? Because Black history is our collective history and should be treated as such.

Now more than ever it is imperative that we create spaces in our classrooms to promote the voices of all people. This inclusive mindset that informs both my teaching practice and curriculum choices was not always easy but it was necessary.

This is a CALL TO ACTION.

So what are you waiting for? Here are three strategies to get you started:

  1. Include authentic voices

I am lucky to have taught a variety of courses in the humanities and social sciences, but the one question I kept asking myself was “how am I going to present diverse perspectives in respectful and representative ways?” Learning history can give us context, but hearing the stories can give us insight. When we infuse our classrooms with stories of lived experiences, not only are we amplifying the voices of those most impacted by social injustices, but we are also engaging in culturally responsive pedagogy (more on that later!).

Our students need to feel as if they are represented in what they are learning, that they are important. We need to create conditions of learning that empower student choice of topics and #OwnVoice books. Why not let the students lead their own discovery? We should be cultivating spaces where students have the support to tell their own stories and discuss the lived experiences that most resonate with them. It is within this choice that we leave room for development of identity and sense of self. “Learning experiences are designed to be relevant and authentic, enabling students to see themselves in the daily learning of the classroom” (Capacity Building).

More specifically, we can use oral histories and digital storytelling to introduce students to unique perspectives on historical events; these stories compel us to “try to see the past through the eyes of someone else – coming to an understanding of ‘their truths’” (Steven High). This is especially important as our textbooks often lack the diversity of voices and perpetuate the dominant narratives of experience. We also can’t forget about podcasts! They are widely available and can serve as an excellent way to showcase diverse narratives and perspectives.

  1. Teach more than the victimization and struggles – Promote the triumphs, the change makers, and the revolutionaries

“But don’t you need to know the history to understand what is going on now?” Of course, but the victimization and struggle narrative should not be the dominant story. It can set the stage, but it is not the play. When too much of the discussion is taken up by a sort of ‘guilt-ridden’ perspective we lose sight of the more important topics and issues that need to be identified and amplified. We need to focus on the contributions, influences and impacts racialized communities have made. Highlight the resilience of communities and the significant contributions individuals have made, explain the stories of rights violations that led to activism. Students need to see themselves represented positively in the curriculum.

What we choose to teach can influence how students view themselves and the world.

Now read that again.

What we choose to teach can influence how students view themselves and the world.

We have an important role to play.

  1. Be a culturally responsive teacher

I believe that the fundamental trait of a culturally responsive teacher is one that fosters an equity mindset in both themselves and students. Richard Milner explains the importance of this mindset, “Equity means developing environments and systems in ways that provide students with what they need based on careful and systematic attention to the particulars of their situation…”. This coupled with a socio-cultural perspective, high expectations, focus on making a difference, and deep knowledge of students are essential characteristics of a culturally responsive teacher.

Zaretta Hammond and Gloria Ladson-Billings expand on this mindset and explain that culturally responsive teaching is an approach to pedagogy that focuses on creating confident independent learners. It is centred around uniting student experiences with what is being taught in the classroom. But how does this approach that centres culture create classrooms that address the needs of all learners? Let’s see.

If I were to ask you, “how well do you know your students?” how would you respond? Do you know them academically or personally? Do you know anything about their culture or lived experiences? Knowing the intricate details or having a deep understanding of cultural values are not necessary, you just need to know the basics and be willing to listen. And I mean really listen – you need to show respect for what students have to say. You’ll be surprised by what you will learn.

In her book Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain, Hammond highlights the work of cultural psychologist Geert Hofstede to explain how the use of the spectrum of collectivist or individualist can be applied to teaching (Here and here you can find more info on this.) If you can identify where your classroom cultural preferences are, your approach to teaching and learning will be dictated by this. Collectivist cultures value collaborative work, discussion, and relationships, whereas individualistic cultures prefer a more self-oriented and competitive approach to learning. These characteristics inform how you structure your lessons, what values you promote, and how you interpret student behaviours. A collectivist approach to pedagogy emphasises a classroom that is built on belonging, harmony and that education is learning how to do. Think about creating tasks that honour a student’s cultural perspective, do you provide choice of learning within the lesson? Do you place importance on the learning process or just the product? These important questions should be at the forefront of your assessment planning.

Even if you applied only one of these strategies to your practice, you are working towards best serving all of your students. To conclude as we started with the words of Carter G. Woodson, “Real education means to inspire people to live more abundantly, to learn to begin with life as they find it and make it better,” (The Mis-Education of the Negro).

CRT Resources

Ontario Ministry of Education Capacity Building Series

Preparing for Cultural Diversity

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