Following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25, people all over the world have taken to the streets for Black Lives Matter protests demanding racial justice and an end to state-sanctioned violence against Black people. Many young people have participated in such protests or marches in recent months, and many others have seen them on TV or social media. PW spoke with teachers across the country about whether and how they plan to discuss racism and the protests with their students, and asked them to share any resources they have found illuminating or helpful in their preparation.

Bianca Spurlock
Upper and Middle School Librarian
St. Catherine’s School
Richmond, Va.

In the classroom or library:

One of the first things my library did during my first year was to reevaluate our collection and policies so that we are adding more authentic voices and diverse books. That is always my top priority every year. The next is getting those books circulated among students and faculty—getting them added into the curriculum and not just sitting on display on my shelves. This year our efforts are showing fruit, in that we have so many up-to-date resources people are clamoring for right now.

As far as teaching [about racism], it’s not difficult for me to broach, as it is a constant in my life and career. But I do realize that my students and fellow faculty might come from a different perspective, and sometimes it ebbs and flows depending on the climate. When addressing this topic, I usually start [my students] on a journey of self-reflection, then empathy, and finally planned action or change. I also promote positive mirrors for my students of color. It can be damaging to African American students to only see themselves in moments of struggle and inequality.

Some of my students, especially students of color, have no choice but to learn from an early age what these things [racism, Black Lives Matter, civil rights struggles] are. I think an effective way to teach this as a curriculum is an immersion in the topic. Be clear about definitions, such as racism versus prejudice or privilege versus affirmative action. This is more than a lesson; this is a societal wound that keeps reopening for many people. Students must be able to unpack and process what they learn. Then they must live it. Sometimes, it has to be a cycle and not just a one-off lesson. Discussion is always key.

For example, I worked very closely with a teacher last year whose class read Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. We focused her lessons on creating a background on the featured historical characters in the book. We had the students follow a racial injustice timeline. We had them read A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson. They also reviewed age-appropriate articles on Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice. In another lesson, I challenged my eighth-grade students to review and select potential replacements for To Kill a Mockingbird, based on themes within the book, by considering more than 100 selected modern titles. The teacher gave them journal prompts and they reviewed three books they selected. They were a part of the process—identifying the problem, self-reflecting, and then creating an actionable plan.

Helpful resources:

I think every librarian and educator should take Project Ready, a collaborative and free diversity and equity professional development curriculum from UNC and IMLS. While it’s geared to librarians, there’s so much information that any educator should use.

I’m reimagining my library skills curriculum using Teaching Tolerance resources and the Democratic Knowledge Project’s “10 Questions for Young Changemakers” as a foundation for research prompts. The 10 questions teach students how to create action plans and to be advocates for social change.

There are a lot of anti-racism book lists out there, but books like Stamped (both the original and the remix) and How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, This Book Is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewel, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, and So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo can help you start.

I follow a lot of anti-racism educators on Twitter and Instagram: @BARWE215 (Building Anti-Racist White Educators, Philadelphia), @TeachandTransform (ABAR-Anti-Bias and Anti-Racist educator Liz Kleinrock), @labfourseven (founded by Sharon Michaels, aiming to make antiracism the norm in all K-12 schools], @theconciouskid [parenting and education through a critical race lens), @NMAAHC [National Museum of African American History and Culture]. For diverse book titles, I follow @weneeddiversebooks and @leeandlow (Lee & Low Books).

And of course, something I poured a lot of energy into with my dynamic Emerging Leader Group from 2019 is AASL’s Developing Inclusive Learners and Citizens Activity Guide. It’s been a blueprint for so many of my lessons.

Student reaction:

My students are learning. They will go through their cycles of unpacking behaviors and thoughts and hopefully be able to be leaders in creating change so that this conversation can be progressive and not regressive. I try my best to engage them in a thoughtful but potent way. They ask questions and I do not shame them about where they are in their journey. I just ask them to reflect using the tools around them. They will go through this for the rest of their lives. I do the same with most adults; I just decide to walk along with them where they start.

Paige Somoza
Consulting Teacher
Boise (Idaho) School District

I have been educating myself about all of these topics within the last couple of years, and especially this summer. I have strived to teach classes with a multiperspective view and have worked on addressing my own implicit biases. I read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo this summer and have joined a book club with a diverse group of women where we read books about these issues. Our book for August is How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. I feel as though I have to truly educate myself in order to talk about these issues with students.

I have been lucky enough to participate in the PBS Virtual Professional Learning Series with other PBS Digital Innovators. This spring we had the opportunity to talk about cultural responsiveness with the creative producer of Molly of Denali, Princess Johnson. In past years, I have not dived deeply into these complicated issues because they are difficult to discuss. However, through this conversation I came to the realization that, although these issues are uncomfortable, they are essential conversations that we need to have to move forward as a country.

To start having this conversation with students, I think that one of the most important things we can do is cultivate a culture of community at the beginning of the school year. All students need to feel safe in order to address these historic issues. Team-building activities and class time spent getting to know one another will build empathy skills that students will need as the school year progresses. We also need our students to be aware of their implicit biases before we even start these conversations. Harvard’s Project Implicit is a great way for teachers and students to become aware of their biases. It is also important to provide a multiperspective view of historical events. Primary and secondary sources should be diverse and also represent those who have been disenfranchised.

Corey Hall
Curriculum Specialist
STEM Education Works

In the classroom or library:

I will not be in the library this school year, as my position was downsized. However, I plan to continue blogging and Instagramming about books I read that address these topics [race, racism, civil rights, police brutality]. I hope to continue the conversation with my former students and followers.

My approach has always been to integrate important topics into what I’m teaching. Because of my position as a middle school librarian, I didn’t have “classes.” I had time during book exchange, or I traveled to classes, or I set up mobile carts in the cafeteria. I highlighted a variety of books from different authors of color as well as nonfiction books that highlight important events in history. Often I would pair books, such as Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes and Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case by Chris Crow.

Helpful resources:

Teaching Tolerance has resources that address all kinds of issues related to equity and diversity. Books include The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, and Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Also, the Opposing Viewpoints database, Mother Jones magazine, and ProPublica are helpful and effective resources I’ve used with students.

Student reaction:

I tended to focus on LGBTQ+ issues because I was a faculty advisor for the GSA. I asked members for book recommendations as I was ordering. At least on that front, the kids felt supported and like they were heard.

Beth Raff
Library Media Specialist
Mt. Tabor Elementary School
Parsippany, N.J.

In the classroom or library:

I work with elementary students, and I will be infusing social justice issues into my teaching this fall. I will certainly be sharing books that are diverse and encourage multiple perspectives. Teaching Tolerance has social justice standards that I will be looking into.

Helpful resources:

Over the summer, I participated in a professional development session led by an administrator to discuss The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore. New Kid by Jerry Craft, the Newbery winner, is a great graphic novel to discuss microaggressions.

My professional organization, New Jersey Association of School Librarians, has an EDI [Equity, Diversity, Inclusion] resource page that is quite useful. The Brown Bookshelf’s website is a great resource, too. BrainPop has some new resources appropriate for elementary students, as well. And Booksource offers an inclusive library checklist.

Karen Compton
7th Grade English Teacher
GEMS Dubai American Academy
Al Barsha, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

In the classroom or library:

Last May my school was an international school in Singapore. There was only one student in the school who was African American and two who were African. There were only a handful of Caucasian American students. So, while it is an incredibly important issue, I wasn’t sure how to create an awareness in my students about something that was so far removed from them. Instead, I used the [Black Lives Matter] movement to tie back to a previous unit on slam poetry. We had explored the use of performance poetry to bring about awareness for social justice. One of the poems, “Letter to Your Flag” [by Royalty, aka Ronald Vinson] generated discussions about Colin Kaepernick and police brutality. Many of the students had continued to think about the impact that poem had on them. As a result, they saw the connection between the poem and the events that were unfolding in May.

Moving forward, my next school is an American school [in Dubai], and I expect there to be more students with experience of the situation. I am in talks with my teaching partner about how we can best address these prevailing issues in our English classes.

I don’t know that I am in a position to “teach” students about race, racism, and civil rights, as much as I have a responsibility to bring about awareness. The difference being that it can be difficult to teach about things not experienced. I am fully aware of the white privilege that has been afforded to me, but I have only recently moved to a country where my race was not the majority.

Helpful resources:

I hope to have students explore these topics through picture books, poetry, news articles, and advertisements. I plan to use the book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. I would like to have students explore the various Black authors mentioned in the book, and to incorporate media (videos, audio recordings, etc.) to further impress upon them the need for open dialogue and attention to the matter. It would also work well as a lesson on “change” in society—the need for it versus the resistance. Perhaps an analysis of why people are so emotionally involved on both sides could allow for a deeper understanding.

I also put together several Wakelet resources (via, a platform that allows users to curate and organize multimedia content to save and share).

Erin Ruggiero
English Teacher
Moon Area High School
Moon Township, Pa.

I think that many teachers have begun the work on a personal level. I have taken this summer to educate myself more deeply and broadly about inequity and racism and am applying that to how I teach and interact with others. I have also been talking with coworkers about revisiting our curriculum to be sure that an authentic and diverse collection of voices make up the literature and nonfiction selections that we use in the classroom. There is definitely more to be done when we return, and it will not happen overnight, but I know that safety, equity, and success is something that I want for all of my students.

Jhenelle Robinson
Campus Librarian
Lehman Educational Campus
Bronx, N.Y.
Member of AASL Emerging Leaders Team A

In the classroom or library:

One of the schools I service had a series of three workshops for our students. They were optional to attend but highly encouraged for the students and staff to participate in. During these workshops we decided to break it into different time frames. We tried to give a brief overview and history of Black people in the Americas during and post slavery, what it has been like in contemporary times, and pretty much what happened in the recent uprisings regarding race relations in America. The workshops usually ran for an hour, leaving options toward the end for students to comment or ask questions. I worked collaboratively with my fellow campus librarian and with the guidance counseling team and some [members of the] administration. We made sure that the materials that we covered were age-appropriate for high schoolers but didn’t sugarcoat the vital information that has been, for lack of a better word, whitewashed throughout history. It was properly sourced with a multitude of resources, and we are very proud of the end result. We’ve gotten great responses from our students, fellow faculty members, and the administration.

We plan to continue to have the conversation. This is not just a one-off or a trendy topic. Our principal has made it a new tenet and a new mission for our school community that race relations and Black Lives Matter will be addressed with our students, considering the fact that we serve predominantly Black, Caribbean, and Latino communities that are disproportionately affected by police brutality.

We determined that it is just as important that we encourage dialogue among our students; we encourage openness, we encourage knowledge. But from my understanding, and from what I’ve observed, our students are very astute, very informed, and very sensitive, because, again, the images that they see of the people who are the victims of police brutality look like them—they look like their parents, like their cousins, like members of their faith communities. So this is very relevant and necessary to address with our students, especially with much sensitivity.

Helpful resources:

My co-librarian and I have been approached by our administration to collaborate with our humanities, English, and history departments to develop and execute an anti-racism curriculum. We’ve been creating it throughout the summer and into the beginning of the school year so that we can launch it with our incoming freshmen.

As we worked on it, there were so many books that we referred to. Definitely Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. It’s been a really powerful tool that we hope to incorporate into our curriculum. Also, there are a few YA titles that we would like to include, especially in ELA [English language arts], including The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

I’ve also incorporated the AASL Developing Inclusive Learners and Citizens toolkit that I developed with my fellow ALA Emerging Leaders on Team A. It was met with a lot of enthusiasm from our administration. They were impressed and happy to know that, through helping to create that publication, I’ve had previous experience dealing with diversity and equity issues in a school setting.

I’m pursuing a master’s degree in educational policy with a concentration in diversity and equity. These two factors [my master’s studies and Emerging Leaders work] have definitely been helpful in creating the language and the materials that I’ve contributed towards this ongoing project. We have created Prezis [presentation tools], videos, and libguides in order to assist our students in navigating so much material. Especially in this age of misinformation and disinformation, it’s been very important.

I have personally reached out to Bianca [Spurlock] of our [Emerging Leaders] group. She and I have grown close in solidarity. Not only as school librarians, but Black school librarians. I think it’s a unique experience that I believe a lot of people are empathetic to, but they just can never understand how it is to navigate spaces, especially librarianship, that are predominantly white.

I think that many teachers have begun the work on a personal level. I have taken this summer to educate myself more deeply and broadly about inequity and racism and am applying that to how I teach and interact with others. I have also been talking with coworkers about revisiting our curriculum to be sure that an authentic and diverse collection of voices make up the literature and nonfiction selections that we use in the classroom. There is definitely more to be done when we return, and it will not happen overnight, but I know that safety, equity, and success is something that I want for all of my students.

Breen Reardon
English Teacher
Sycamore High School
Synnovation Lab
Cincinnati, Ohio

In the classroom:

I’ve been thinking a lot about these topics, but I don’t have a ton of set plans for how to approach them. The first thing I know I will do is to have students write about their thoughts and experiences with these matters. I like to see where their heads and hearts are before we get too far into any topic. One thing I know I will find—based on past experiences with March for Our Lives—is that today’s high school students are much more engaged in political, social, and cultural debates than I ever was at their age. They care about these topics, and I am fully confident that many of my students will have participated in some of these demonstrations. I also know that I will find voices on every side of this issue, so discussions can be fraught, but I also believe that a classroom can be one of the best places to discuss important and sometimes divisive subjects like these.

Helpful resources:

In English classes, we often broach the subject of race through reading that we do—both fiction and nonfiction. Many of these readings are included in anthologies. We have also taught novels and short stories that allow us to talk about race and racism. We read some Toni Morrison (the short story “Recitatif” always provokes a lot of discussion) and Zora Neale Hurston, poetry by Langston Hughes (“Harlem” is particularly apt right now), and others. One visual text we’ve used is the TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; it’s a compelling talk.

Greg Cole
History Teacher
Sycamore High School
Synnovation Lab
Cincinnati, Ohio

In the classroom:

We’re entering year three of what we call the Synnovation Lab. The purpose of the program is to increase project-based learning and personalization in a school setting. We operate on a mastery-based system instead of an accumulated point total or test scores, which most research will tell you is not a great indicator of success. Our phrase is that we want to equip and empower students for life. We’re not focusing just on the content, but on the type of person they are and what skills they have.

I’ll be teaching American history this year, and one of the shifts I was going to make anyway was to go from a timeline approach to history to doing a thematic approach. Looking at the themes of American history, our course starts at Reconstruction and comes up to the modern day. Thematically I wanted to find some questions that were authentic but that still mattered today. Those questions have changed over the summer. One key question is: how do we empathize and understand other people’s stories? I think a secondary question is how to have your voice heard. My goal is to make the unit coincide and end with the election. Voting is one way, protest is another way—what are the different ways in which you can amplify your voice?

Some alumni put together a march through our district, and it was very peaceful and they had a great turnout even though it rained the whole time. I think that it’s great for our students to see. The question of why your voice matters also comes up in how people feel about voting in our community. Do I put a sign in my yard or don’t I? Do I show up to the protest or don’t I? Do I express my opinions on Facebook or don’t I? Those are all really important questions that I hope our students unravel.

And I’m sure educators have told you that anytime you talk about race or gender, it’s really hard to get a class discussion going. Nobody wants to say the wrong thing. Either they’re afraid of offending or sounding defensive. My goal is to break them down into more manageable groups just to have those conversations. It’s super difficult, but if we don’t teach them how to talk about it, how to engage in those conversations, it’s not going to get better.

Helpful resources:

I’ve got several books on my reading list this month: An African American and Latinx History of the United States by Paul Ortiz, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi, and Fault Lines in the Constitution by Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson.

And one book that I like in education is 9 Billion Schools: Why the World Needs Personalized, Lifelong Learning for All by Lauren Della Bella and Dick Thomas. It’s not just about making sure 14-year-olds can learn, but asking “How can we help 34-year-olds learn?” Our students are not going to remember the facts, and that’s why I think that a thematic approach, focusing on how to create good citizens and voters and great 26-year-olds, will matter. And I hope I can bring just enough context to let them see the struggle, that the world you experience today did not come free, and that we’re going to need to apply this in the future.

Equity Efforts in the Field

Administrators and faculty in the Moon Area School District, which educates nearly 3,900 K–12 students and is located about 15 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, had already been working toward making their campus communities more inclusive when the protests following the killing of George Floyd heightened their commitment to that mission.

“The discussion on diversity has been happening at our school for some time,” says Barry Balaski, superintendent of the Moon Area School District. “But what we realized is that most of this was coming from the student perspective and didn’t have enough support from the adults. Last year, I reached out to several outside groups that I thought might be able to give us some assistance since we didn’t have a diverse population of employees. Once I moved to the superintendent’s job, high school assistant principal Brendan Hathaway took over.”

Hathaway recalls that, back in January, he and a faculty member “started a conversation with our students of color, and what they told us is that they want to be better represented. They want their culture, their race, their ethnicity to feel more included in what we do here. So we started to look at ways we could better support our students.” Early efforts involved reaching out to Robert Morris University, which is nearby. “We contacted some of their clubs and organizations, for instance the National Council of Negro Women, the Collegiate 100, to see if there were any opportunities for collaboration.”

RMU faculty and staff were enthusiastic about teaming up, and things were off to a good start, according to Hathaway. “But when we saw what happened in the larger society this summer, it highlighted the need for us to do something for our students on an even larger scale,” he says. Hathaway contacted Michael Hauser, former Moon Area High School principal and a current school board member; through their discussions, Hathaway notes, “We saw an opportunity to make more of an impact districtwide.” This work will be spearheaded by a new diversity and inclusion steering committee of diverse stakeholders—parents, former students, and consultants. Key players on the consulting front include Michael Quigley, assistant professor of organizational leadership, educational equity, culturally competent leadership, and nonprofit leadership at RMU, and Dan Taylor, executive president of the African American Chamber of Commerce for Western Pennsylvania. “With all of these stakeholders on board, we’ve started discussing what we can do better as a school district to improve communication between stakeholders and to give all students here a more rewarding experience.”

Having the steering committee, Hathaway says, ensures that “instead of just administrators making decisions, we bring in students, parents, and community members to look at all facets of what we do as a district. So, right now, everything’s on the table.”

Balaski believes that is right in line with the intended mission of the committee. “If we do not place diversity in the forefront of educating students, then we have only sought to understand the problems we face instead of making true change,” he says. “We also want to make an effort to look at our hiring practices in order to have a staff that is more representative of our student body.”

Though there is still some uncertainty about what the new school year will look like, Hathaway says that “one of our goals is to meet before the start of school to make sure that, no matter how we come back to school, the steering committee has a plan in place to continue its work. It’s an important initiative that we’re not going to put on the back burner just because of the unknowns.”

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