Margin Notes

Being the Change Week 2


This is Week 2 of #CyberPD and we are reading and sharing our thinking about Chapters 3 and 4 of Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension by Sara K. Ahmed.  You can read last week’s post here.

Chapter 3 focuses on Being Candid and we are reminded that “candor requires a self-awareness and sincerity that isn’t always easy and doesn’t always feel good in the moment (p. 42).”  As in the previous chapters, the lessons, Seeing Our Own Bias, Understanding Microaggressions, and Refusing to Let Others’ Biases Define Us, set the stage for honest dialogue and reflection.  Because this can be emotional and challenging work, Sara offers strategies from her own experiences:

  • Share personal stories.
  • Pause and be present.
  • Honor each student’s identity.
  • Unpack terms in context.
  • Try this work yourself first.

I’ve been reflecting on the inquiry-based nature of this work.  When we start with the lived experiences of participants, both teacher and students, we are able to identify, name, and understand our experiences as a community of learners.  When Sara begins a lesson by asking, “Has anyone heard or seen this word before?” she is sending the message that the audience has important ideas to share and that she values their contributions to the learning.  This is a small but powerful shift away from centering the voice of an “expert” in the dialogue by defining the term for the group.

Chapter 4 is about Becoming Better Informed.  Our students come to us with news: “any topic, event, feelings, or pieces of information that they have on their mind and will most likely carry with them all day (p. 76).” Ahmed references Peter Johnston and the dialogic classroom “where there are lots of open questions and extended exchanges among students,” and where “kids are valued as the constructors of knowledge (p. 77).” When we honor students’ news and give time for them to share and discuss, we are creating opportunities for them to consider multiple perspectives and enhance their understanding.  The two lessons in this chapter, Understanding How Our Identity Affects Us and Moving Beyond Our Initial Thinking invite students to think about their news and how it relates to their identity and then create a plan of action for further investigation.

One line that stood out for me in this chapter is “But we do have to be very mindful of regulating our bias and checking our personal crusader capes at the door so as not to bring only the issues we care about to the front of the room (p. 87).” This makes me think of how often we select reading materials to build students’ knowledge about current events/issues or select prompts to start discussions that will invite students to think deeply and critically about the world around them.  It is important to recognize that when we always select the topics for discussion, no matter how well-intentioned we may be, we are communicating that our issues are the ones worthy of our classroom time.  When we encourage students to share what is in their news and to develop inquiry plans about these topics, we are centering students’ voices rather than our own.

Here are three big ideas from Chapters 3 and 4 that I am committing to thinking more deeply about:

  • “When kids are empowered to announce to the world who they are, it is far less likely that someone else will do it for them. So often in school, kids are being told who they are by the language adults use to describe them, by data, or by their own peers.  The world assigns or questions our identity constantly, whether explicitly or implicitly: images and headlines tell us who is dangerous and whom we should fear.  Ads and social media tell us we aren’t fit enough, thin enough, youthful enough, wealthy enough, white enough (see bleaching and whitening products) (p. 63).”
  • “If promoting agency and voice in kids is our goal, we need to remember to ask and hear what is in their news. Most times, that news points straight back to their identity.  So, asking them what is in their news sends the message that we will mentor them in reading more, writing through, and speaking up and out for topics and issues that matter to them, first (p. 87).”
  • “Identity plays a role in our thinking. Just as we ask kids to look for character changes in stories we read, we want kids to see how their understanding of the world can grow as they grapple with news and different perspectives.  Investigating our questions and feelings and taking action will change us.  Taking time to read, listen, talk, and react will yield a more informed citizenry (p. 90).”


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