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10 Things Schools Can Do for Black Students

We now have a Medium channel to spread the work of Being Black at School where this piece lives. I'm republishing it here as well as a resource for schools.


10 Things Schools Can Do Today

1. Suspend lessons that may trigger students

If you’re doing a forensic lesson in a high school science class that involves a physical body as part of your teaching then today is a good day to take a beat. Or, if the lesson in history class is about protests that this country has held before (like that Boston Tea Party) and teachers are not making that connection to civic disobedience and the protests for Black Lives Matter then it’s probably time to reassess how we’re using critical thinking and promoting individual thoughts and beliefs in the classroom. Not every lesson is for every day. Teachers may not be comfortable with the discussions that ensue.

2. Use your Emotional Health Triage systems

Many schools are equipped with social workers and psychologists and teams of professionals who work toward emotional health. We employ these in the system when crises happen such as the death of a student, violence in the community, or a state of emergency. These teams need to mobilize NOW as a response to Black students who both empathize and feel deeply about the world around them and the ones who are experiencing crushing depression and anxiety around the state-sanctioned violence they see and hear about.

3. Respond with ACTION

Black students (specifically women) at American University this week have been attacked with bananas and many students are dissatisfied with the response from their school. In order to create safe spaces, schools should respond with conduct charges, investigations, and pro-active statements to their communities about how they will deal with violent acts. Instead, students are pressuring school leaders to do something more than empty town hall meetings. Systems need to respond first and not put the onus on violated students to force it.

4. Create Safe Spaces

Students, today especially, may be in need of a space in which they can express themselves. Provide art materials and journals and safe adults to them when you notice them acting out no matter what their developmental age is. Many young students aren’t prepared to put into words what they’re feeling so provide soft items (like pipe cleaners and squishy balls) for them to use as a calming device.

5. Practice Radical Empathy

Oftentimes, Black students are not allowed the space to emotionally express what’s happening. If you notice them acting out in new ways stop what you’re asking them to do and see if they need to be escorted by a loving adult to one of the safe spaces mentioned above. Suspend judgment and lessons on which they cannot concentrate today. In fact, take their emotional temperature on a regular and consistent basis. All schools can work toward this for Black students that they regularly send to discipline offices instead of caring for emotional needs.

6. Engage Family Participation

A really easy phone call to make to parents raising Black children is to simply ask, “Is your child particularly affected by the events they see in the news of violence?” This is two-fold: one, schools can acknowledge that this is a lived truth and two, they can open a conversation and allow parents of Black children to LEAD in how to care for their children. This is good practice no matter the news cycle. Invite parents raising these children who know them best to participate in the creation of safe spaces. Often, this is all parents want to do in the first place.

7. Study Cultural Competency in a whole staff setting.

Teachers, support staff, and administrators can all work toward this by putting it at the top of every agenda especially when working with populations that aren’t reflected in the adults in a building. Unpack your invisible knapsack. Revisit implicit bias in your pedagogy. Create teams for restorative justice. This work can be done in team settings as well. Use this for your next faculty meeting focus. It’s already too late.

8. Call for help, not police or SROs

Schools are tasked with caring for children with professional adults who have training and knowledge in areas of child development. Police and SROs should not be called in to deal with a difficult child who happens to be Black. You are re-traumatizing a child when you do that with the absence of their parent present. Use social workers, psychologists, administrators, and caring adults who understand the work of anti-racism in systems. Reach out to organizations who do this work if your school is woefully lacking in this. Never ever threaten a Black child by telling them you’re going to call the police on them.

9. Be mindful of White Savior Complex responses in systems

Language and semantics matter every day, but it’s important to be mindful of how schools are responding today for students feeling disenfranchised and ignored. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, we are now a minority-majority education system, with 51% of our students (25.9 million) being of color. As of 2007–2008, 83 percent of teachers in U.S. public schools are white. Recognizing this disparity is crucial to understanding how much work needs to occur in systems that can create inherently racist policies and ignored responses to the emotional health of Black children. Our goal at Being Black at School is to identify this first in order to change it.

10. Empower Black Students

Give them space for leadership. I have not given up hope that this generation is prepared for things which my own generation was not. Young activists are out there. Students care about their education and also of their well-being and they are out here doing the work. While you’re at it, empower your Black colleagues today as well. Don’t rely on them to do the emotional lifting and do not demand anything from them. Ask Black teachers, administrators, and students what THEY need today and then get to work.


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Reader Comments (2)

Hi there! This is a great post, and I just found a fantastic article that would answer many of these needs:
Teaching students meditation, yoga, and other holistic practices are showing amazing results, and in Baltimore schools, no less! I love this article and I really hope this idea can catch on because it deals directly with helping students to recognize and process their feelings, emotions and reactions to situations, and lessens punitive "punishments" that are useless wastes of everyone's time.

September 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

Great post!

December 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterElisa Thomas

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