4 Ways to Honor Black Communities at School

4 ways to honor Black communities at school

Given how quickly February flies by each year, I am eager to share resources and suggestions on how schools can uplift stories of Black communities within the remaining 11 months of every year. In compiling this list article, I adopted the approach of the RIDES Systemic Improvement Map, with a close lens on the interplay between culture, leadership, and what happens in classrooms.

1. Notice how we prioritize content in curriculum.
Across all subjects, teachers need to prioritize presenting full stories of Black leaders throughout history beyond our shortest month of the year. Moreover, are these stories nuanced in challenging our notions of either internalized racial inferiority or internalized racial superiority? How do we define what is “American” history or “American” literature, and whose voices are relegated as “other”? This goes beyond teachers of English, history, and other humanities subjects. As we guide students to think critically in STEM subjects, how can educators pose questions that interrogate positions of researchers and perceptions of who holds true knowledge?

Black Lives Matter at School Week has been popular and is an interesting first step for schools to provide lessons and action plans that engage students and teachers in conversations about the humanity of Black people. In addition to supporting Black students with their positive racial identity development, thoughtfully facilitated lessons are beneficial for non-Black students and educators to unpack internalized anti-Blackness. Numerous resources from Teaching Tolerance to UCLA’s publications for public school professionals bring substance to how we can continue to build diverse and relevant curriculum beyond the scope of a designated month or week. 

2. Pursue equitable behavior management
In my experience and throughout many studies, we see that Black students are disproportionately subject to exclusionary discipline in schools, often receiving harsher punishments compared with White students with similar infractions. Examine the racial demographics of your school's current behavior system. Take note of patterns and use that data to actively change your school's culture. That may mean adopting more restorative rather than punitive approaches and engaging in intensive development among colleagues. Some of the best intentioned teachers have inflicted trauma upon countless Black students in the name of “zero tolerance” policies.

3. Confront disparities in academic outcomes
Efforts to reform school curriculum and culture to dismantle systemic racism in schools need to also be paired alongside shifting the racial disparity in academic outcomes. For example, Rochester City School District in western New York has made a concerted effort within the past few school years to commit the district’s educators to active participation in the “Black Lives Matter at School Week.” Yet, recent data shows that less than half of students from RCSD graduate high school, and fewer than one third pass the New York State Regents Exam in four core subjects. RCSD is just one of many urban majority-Black school districts across the country. Last month’s Virtual Community Webinar with Zaretta Hammond emphasized the urgency to pair rigor and literacy with racial justice. As educators, we must walk the walk when we proclaim, “Black Lives Matter.” Through rigorous coursework and quality instruction, Black students can survive and thrive with core literacy and numeracy skills necessary for higher education and career success. This webinar’s video recording is currently available for streaming. 

4. Seek out more than 4 things
While many list articles are often a bit tongue-in-cheek, I implore communities of education professionals to look beyond the quick and simple fixes to ensure quality education and overdue justice to Black communities within and surrounding schools. Happy Black History Month!