Culturally Responsive Teaching with Anti-Racist Curricular Themes

Staff at New Liberty believe in the mantra, “Reach before you teach.” With each student we encounter, we seek to apply and deepen our awareness of the socio-political context of the classroom and the systemic and internalized biases that may be at play.  As trust builds between staff and students, so does our ability to leverage that connection to raise expectations on students.  

We are committed to creating units, lessons, and assessment tasks that are culturally congruent with students’ backgrounds, which at times means centering storytelling, gamifying, collective tasks, and oral displays of understanding.7 We are continuing to develop our school-wide anti-racist curricular themes, which will give learners repeated exposure to key standards as they look at race and equity issues through lenses of literature, history, mathematics, science, and arts.  NLIS thematic curriculum will also prioritize next generation research, problem-solving, project-management and presentation skills.  At present the primary model for cross-curricular instruction is via a biannual 3-4 week “symposium” structure, in which teachers from all subjects collaborate on a thematic unit, culminating with projects and presentations that weave together what students learned.

NLIS believes strongly in the value of building community not only at the classroom and whole-school level, but also among cross-sections of the school as evidenced by weekly Race Matters discussions, weekly gender affinity group meetings, and an advisory system with daily check-ins and weekly activities geared towards fostering relationships that connect students to the school and to each other.

Starting in July of 2020, two staff members and a group of students began having weekly opt-in meetings to discuss race. Called Race Matters Conversations, these discussions have led to students feeling more confident in their leadership abilities and have taught students how to begin to take steps towards social justice change.   While we acknowledge that there is massive amounts of work to be done in this area, we already see an impact being made with our students and our staff.  We see students developing ways to speak about a subject that has challenged our country for hundreds of years.  Students report that they wish schools had been talking about this for all the years in which they have attended school, and as suggested by NLIS Panorama Survey results, they appreciate the efforts we are making in this area:

Fall 2020 Panorama Survey QuestionPercent of NLIS students who responded favorably
How often do students learn about, discuss, and confront issues of race, ethnicity, and culture in school?71% 
How often do teachers encourage you to learn about people from different races, ethnicities, or cultures?87%
How confident are you that students at your school can have honest conversations with each other about race?73%
When there are major news events related to race, how often do adults at your school talk about them with students?80%
How well does your school help students speak out against racism?80%

Our staff strive to foster open, courageous communication with students when it comes to painful historical and current conditions in society. We plan to embed the Learning for Justice “Social Justice Standards” into our work with students across disciplines, and we are also planning a partnership with a K-8 school in the district.  We are developing this plan now and hope that some of our students will act as mentors for middle grade students who want to discuss race as “book buddies” with younger students, reading books together that focus on social justice themes.  Our students are eager to discuss issues of race, but ultimately also want to find ways of acting on their insights and making a positive impact in the larger community.