In the fall, I was fortunate enough to take the Additional Qualifications course Anti-Black Racism to Change Pedagogy and Practice, Part 1. In one of our reflections, we were asked to think about a six word teaching philosophy. Mine was: All bring knowledge. All can learn.
I based those words on what I believed to be recognizing all students and their ways of knowing and being. I always felt that I wanted to acknowledge who students are, their learning styles, the things they liked/disliked that helped to make up their identities. My goal was to know each student personally, especially to help them feel like a part of the classroom community.
Now through the lens of dismantling anti-Black racism, I consider the biases that I have brought to the classroom and the learning community. I acknowledged colour and racial identities; probably a much easier task as a racialized woman myself. However, I also think about how I considered representing racial identities in the classroom. Often, I considered teaching and learning around racial identities as a way to acknowledge injustices happening to equity deserving identities and the systems of oppression that surrounded them.
Teaching to dismantle anti-Black racism requires learning about Black identity and the understanding that Black identity is vast and varied. Black identity was erased so intentionally throughout history, including the loss of language, traditions, and even families. Black children deserve autonomy over their identities and that my role is in creating space that affirms their identities (even when fluidly evolving) and sustains their identities (even in the face of oppressive forces).
Thinking back to the factors that influence affirming spaces, I am reminded of the importance of acceptance and genuine care. To create a space that is Black affirming, we need to acknowledge and accept different identities with unconditional love and joy. In schools, this can sometimes be complicated for Black students as often educators are seen as the symbol of a larger system of oppression. However, educators can always offer radical and unconditional love to students by continuing to be present, honour student voices, and student experiences and by creating conditions allowing them to explore, share, and develop their own identities. Our own work, as educators, comes with building our own understanding of the systems of oppression that influence each of us and also engage in dismantling our own actions and belief systems that uphold them.
Revisiting my original teaching philosophy “All bring knowledge. All can learn.” I realize that I want to revise my words into actions as a reminder to myself to be an intentional anti-racist educator. Including verbs to create a call to action while centering students and understanding that they bring a myriad of experiences and perspectives, I revised my philosophy to: Know students. Affirm students. Sustain students.
This spring, ETFO will be offering part one of the three part series Addressing Anti-Black Racism to Change Pedagogy and Practice. For educators who are wishing to build and extend their knowledge of how to dismantle discrimination and encourage transformational change, I highly recommend this course offering. You will have opportunity to learn about intersectional Black identities, historical constructions of Black identity, and the space to reflect on how our actions as educators can create culturally sustaining educational spaces.