by Jonathan Osler
Exploring injustice and inequality with your students is an important part of the journey to addressing harm done to people and communities. And, many of these topics have the potential to be triggering for students and educators as well - especially lessons that address violence and racism. Below are some practices that can support you before, during, and after engaging in these activities:
Preparing Yourself & Your Students
Prepare yourself for the emotional impact of 'holding space'.
As you prepare to facilitate lessons addressing injustice, consider talking with a trusted friend or journaling to reflect on how you feel about the topic. What memories and emotions does this topic stir up for you? How will you care for yourself before/after engaging with students in this difficult content? What questions do you have about this topic that you might want to research or explore before teaching the lesson? How will you respond if students make inappropriate comments, or cry, or want to leave the classroom, or seem indifferent, or try to challenge the idea that these are problems worth addressing?
Develop and/or review agreements about how students should act/behave when they are upset.
Students should know in advance what is expected of them as your class engages with these issues. How should they ask questions and make comments in ways that don’t cause harm for others? Can they leave the room if they get upset? Can they “check out” for a bit within the classroom? What does it look like to care for each other in these moments? What options do students have for self-care?
Harness and cultivate compassion.
Compassion is an important element of preparing for and facilitating these lessons. This includes having compassion for students who may experience a range of emotions as well as helping your students extend this compassion towards each other. It may include compassion for students who have been personally impacted by an issue you're exploring, as well as compassion for students who are impacted because their friends, family members, or ancestors have harmed others.
Look for ways to integrate mindfulness into your lessons. For example, periodically stop and have students slow down, close their eyes, breathe, and notice what is/isn’t present in their thoughts, bodies, and feelings - while you do the same. You can help students with this practice by modeling it for them. Even a 1-minute moment can help people get re-centered after a hard moment.
Give trusted colleagues a heads up
You may want to alert your colleagues and/or school counselors that you’ll be exploring intense topics with students. Perhaps a counselor can join the class as you conduct the lesson, or at least be available if needed?
Check in with students after class
After the class/lessons are completed, continue checking in with students. It may take time for them to process their feelings and notice emotions that are coming up. New questions, concerns and memories might arise; making space for students to continue asking and expressing these thoughts is helpful.
Considering The Role of Race
The role of identity, and in particular racial identity (both yours, and your students') will impact everyone's experience of engaging in these lessons. It's important to reflect (before, during, and afterwards) on how race is influencing everyones relationship to the content and to each other. Look for opportunities to build community, trust, and compassion through vulnerability, acts of caring, and active listening.
I welcome your feedback, suggestions, and resources about this topic. Please drop your thoughts into the comments below.
Special thanks to Crystal McCreary and Julia Kingsdale for sharing their wisdom that inspired this post.