Now what? Moving from anti-racist reading to anti-racist action.

Recently I’ve been reading along with the Anti-Racist Educator Reads book club on VoicEd. At the end of every Anti-Racist Educator broadcast, host Colinda Clyne always asks her audience to think about how they will turn their knowledge into action by asking  Now what? As a white educator, I’ve been reading and listening to many great resources provided by BIPOC educators, but this reading and listening must translate into my practice and how I live my life in order for it to actually result in activism. I read a lot and as widely as possible; sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking that my reading is activism but without action, it’s not.  So, this post is my attempt to fully answer the “now what” question and hold myself accountable. I also thought that posting this would allow me to learn from any comments and suggestions that the post might receive. So … now what? Here are my first 6 commitments to action. 

#1 Cite BIPOC educators 

One thing I hope you will notice throughout this post (and my other posts) is that I will cite the educators who sparked these ideas in me because it’s important to cite their work. It’s also something I noticed immediately about the BIPOC educators that I follow. Awhile ago, I tweeted at @TchKimPossible thanking her for a fantastic book recommendation, and she replied crediting @triciaebarvia for the find. This might seem like a small thing, but it is not because it’s not something I have experienced before.  

Education can be competitive, and people are constantly trying to prove their innovation which seems to require that they remove the sources from which their ideas sprang. One of the panelists on #4BigQuestions (sign up for it if you can!), Pamala Agawa tweeted this, and it really made me think about my responses during interviews. 

She also pushed this a little further and connected it to how we act with our students. 

I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve come up with a single “new” idea, but I like to build on the ideas others share so I’m going to credit them here, when I work with teachers and students, and definitely in job interviews.  

#2- Read education resources written by BIPOC educators 

I have a lot of books about reading and writing, but very few are written by BIPOC educators. This has caused quite a gap in my instruction. Once based on a book about reading from a white educator, I recommended that another teacher cut a lot of the context work before reading a class novel to let students discover context on their own. The idea was that we wanted to avoid shaping their interpretations. While reading without a lot of context is something that many readers do when reading independently, it is not advisable if using a novel as a whole class novel- especially one that speaks to trauma of members of the BIPOC community. I was completely wrong here, and I know that this is because I was thinking through my whiteness and because of the lack of diversity in my professional development on reading. The equity consultant who has become an important colleague in my life advised the opposite of cutting context- lots of context work AND work to connect racism in other parts of the world to racism in Canada.  

 I’m also committing to buying resources written by BIPOC educators for my department. For anyone else who sees the abundance of professional reading written by white educators on their shelves, these are some of the texts and resources that I started with and will prioritize on my purchasing list for my department. 

Not Light, but Fire by Matthew R. Kay– this book is the best guide I’ve ever read on classroom discussions.  I buy it for all my student teachers. Kay also offers online learning so watch for that too! 

Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain by Zaretta Hammond- love this book because it is for all educators, not just English teachers! Hammond goes through the science behind culturally responsive teaching. 

Being the Change by Sara K. Ahmed– the lessons in this book have heavily influnced how I now structure my courses. The lessons are usable immediately which is something I love. All language teachers could use this book in their collection. 

#DisruptTexts– follow this hashtag on Twitter to explode your learning about text selection and disrupting the canon. You can also click on their website and see their past conversations about text disruption. 

#ClearTheAir- this hashtag often has local branches. The leaders offer book clubs that will challenge your practice and thinking. Through this chat I’ve read We Want to Do More than Survive by Bettina L. Love and Troublemakers by Carla Shalaby. Both of these books should stand on their own in this list, but I put them with #ClearTheAir because I wouldn’t have found them without these edcuators who offer their time to guide readers. 

You may notice that these are all American resources. This is where I started but I soon realized that there was a real gap in my knowledge about how racism was operating in Canada. I could see obvious similarities, but I wanted to know the specifics. For this I would recommend these resources: 

Anti-Racist Educator Reads- this podcast is the reason I’m writing this post. Through this book club I’ve read, The Skin We’re In by Desmond ColeUnsettling Canada by Arthur Manuel,  Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard, and we are currently reading Decolonizing Education by Marie Battiste. These books explode the myth of “Canada the good,” and the host and panelists help their audience see the action that is required to disrupt and dismantle racist systems in Canada. If you are overwhelmed with where to start, start here! 

This last one is a webinar. 4 Big Questions is what its name implies. The four sessions cover four different (and very complex) questions about racial justice in education. When I signed up for this one, I was delighted at how they have built in equity into their payment structure for the webinar. I’m hoping I can fund this learning through my department budget or request help from my employer or union. This webinar is worth every minute and way more than the cost of entry. 

On my read next list are literacy resources by Sonja Cherry-Paul : Breathing New Life into Book Clubs, Flip Your Writing Workshop, and Teaching Interpretation. I’m also very interest in Linguistic Justice by April Baker-Bell as I try to understand what anti-racist writing instruction looks like.  

#3 – Do the work required to teach diverse texts. Bringing diverse texts into the classroom cannot consist of simply buying the texts, throwing out the canon, and hoping for the best. I must actively do the work to teach these books in a way that is anti-racist. This requires a lot of work and thinking about what might happen during class discussions. This work has also led me to choose book clubs over a single class novel. As a former ardent defender of the class novel, I can see now that a book club allows students to choose the content they want to engage with, and reduce the number of people within a discussion which can increase the depth of discussion and hopefully allow for potentially uncomfortable discussions to happen in a safer space than a whole class discussion. Tricia Ebarvia has explored this at length in her article Why Diverse Texts are Not Enough. I keep this article on hand whenever someone asks me for a diverse book list and send the article with any list I might send. 

I’m also conscious that some of my text selections only cover trauma experienced by BIPOC characters. Books that explore joy and relationships of BIPOC characters are essential to the diverse reading list.  My thinking through this is constantly evolving, but I’ve let myself be guided by my students. For example, a Black student signed up for the Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison book club (one choice out of 6), but once we were shut down in March, and George Floyd was murdered, she told me that she just couldn’t read it right now. No problem- she found something else that she felt comfortable reading. I was fortunate that this student was brave enough to tell me how she was feeling. But how many haven’t felt comfortable over the 15 years of my career? How can I make sure my selections are good for all my students taking into consideration where they are at right now? This will be an evolving process for me, and I’d love to hear the thoughts of others. This is my best thinking, right now. 

#4 Take correction as a gift. During a 4 Big Questions webinar Kike Ojo- Thompson, the founder of KOJO INSTITUTE: Equity, Anti-Racism & Organizational Change Consultants, explained that there is a lot at stake when BIPOC educators offer correction to their white colleagues. She also suggested that as we work towards being anti-racist, we hold our knowledge lightly. She shared that her own thinking is constantly evolving, and we should expect that too. I’m forever grateful to the educators who have offered me correction. I wouldn’t say I took it well initially and I need to acknowledge that and do better, but I’ve grown closer to those who have offered the correction, and I now see correction as an invaluable to my thinking and my actions.  

#5 Ask questions of leadership. This last commitment will be the one I need to be held accountable for by fellow educators. I need to ask questions of our leadership. Here’s just a few questions I’ve been thinking about: 

• How can summer school be more equitable and inclusive?  

• When can we expect mandatory anti-racist training that moves beyond one-off sessions? 

• How can we make study hall (were students take their remote classes at school) a welcoming space for students who need it? I get the sense that they will be “encouraged” to learn from home in the afternoon, but students who need the space practically or emotionally need to be embraced when they stay. How will we make this happen? 

• A year or so ago the ministry announced more funding to teach the NBE3U/C course. I’ve wanted to run this course at my school, but I want to know about the funding of resources for this course. Will there be money to bring in members of the Indigenous community to share their knowledge? Are there resources written by Indigenous educators for this course? Why aren’t we hiring more Indigenous educators to teach in our schools for all courses, and especially this one? Will there be the anti-racist training needed for educators to teach this course? If I taught this course, would there be an Indigenous educator who could be paid to mentor me and other teachers of the course? I’m wondering what support the ministry will offer to help us do this right, because it is important vital work. 

What are some of the questions you want to ask your educator leaders? I would love more suggestions. 

#6 Actively nurture relationships with the families of my students. I’m going to be really honest here. When I first started teaching, I was terrified of parents. I’m still working through that fear, but actively seeking relationships with the parents of my students has helped me see parents as partners in my work. I often call to see if they have any advice about how I can make the course more accessible or interesting for their child and they have often provided the advice that helped me reach their student in a way that would have been impossible without their help.  

Part of this shift in my thinking has come from having a child with really specific learning needs. The amount of advocacy work it has taken just to get him basic accommodations has been frustrating and revealing. He has two parents who know the system, but we still failed to get what he needed and ended up using our financial privilege to buy it all ourselves. How many families are not in this position? Teachers need to work in partnerships with families. For me, this starts with me reaching out and asking, “what can you tell me that will help me provide the best instruction for your student?” 

I have many more commitments to make, and I recognize these as a very small start. How will I change how I spend my money or my volunteer time to reflect anti-racist actions? How will I nurture the relationships with those who have been vital to my continued growth and not simply use them for their knowledge? How will I raise my children to grow into anti-racist adults? How will I help to create change within the systems I operate? These are all questions I’m working through, and if people are interested, I’ll write more. I started with these six actions because they are directly related to the young people I interact with every day, and I can tell you that as I’ve changed by thinking and behaviour I can feel a shifting in my classroom, and I’m loving it.