This week on TeachLab, host Justin Reich is joined in a live webinar by members of the Youth in Front team. They answer questions and share reflections and resources that they believe can help educators process this moment themselves and with their students. “So I've been doing a 10 minute election update every day...but again, really thinking about dosage and trying to just think about what is the right amount to not sort of overwhelm you or drown you in this, but also to make sure you feel like you have space to engage. And if it takes more than 10 minutes, then we take more than 10 minutes. But trying to just plan in doses, as opposed to entire lessons about the election or the electoral college, which is how I would have taught it in person. In person, there would have been a whole voting unit and we would have gone through every element of it. I didn't feel like that was the right move in this context, and so I didn't. So I've done these sort of 10 minute doses.” - Neema Avashia
This week on TeachLab, host Justin Reich is joined in a live webinar by members of the Youth in Front team. They answer questions and share reflections and resources that we believe can help educators process this moment themselves and with their students.
“So I've been doing a 10 minute election update every day...but again, really thinking about dosage and trying to just think about what is the right amount to not sort of overwhelm you or drown you in this, but also to make sure you feel like you have space to engage. And if it takes more than 10 minutes, then we take more than 10 minutes. But trying to just plan in doses, as opposed to entire lessons about the election or the electoral college, which is how I would have taught it in person. In person, there would have been a whole voting unit and we would have gone through every element of it. I didn't feel like that was the right move in this context, and so I didn't. So I've done these sort of 10 minute doses.” - Neema Avashia
In this episode we’ll talk about:
Neema Avashia from Boston Public Schools
Kevin Dua from the Cambridge Public Schools
Joshua S Littenberg-Tobias from the MIT Teaching Systems Lab
Sara O'Brien from Youth In Front
Resources and Links
Watch the full webinar
Check out Conversations Across Differences with Meira Levinson
Check out Teaching Challenging Issues in Uncertain Times: Strategies for Online and Hybrid Teaching
Check out Youth in Front: Understanding and Supporting Student-led Activism
Check out Justin Reich’s new book!
Produced by Aimee Corrigan
Recorded and mixed by Garrett Beazley
Justin Reich: From the home studios of the Teaching Systems Lab at MIT, this is TeachLab. A podcast about the art and craft of teaching. I'm Justin Reich. This year I'm joined by a whole group of folks, Kevin Dua, an educator from the Cambridge Public Schools, Neema Avashia, a middle school civics teacher in the Boston Public Schools, Sara O'Brien, a curriculum writer and middle and high school English teacher, and Josh Littenberg-Tobias, a researcher here at MIT's Teaching Systems Lab.
As part of a live webinar we were talking about teaching and learning in the days after the 2020 presidential election, the challenges of holding civic discussions, controversial discussions at a time of extreme polarization in our country. We shared some resources and reflections, some strategies to help educators process this moment themselves and with their students. I hope you'll enjoy the conversation.
Justin Reich: Well it's 4:00, so why don't we get going? If folks can introduce themselves in the chat, that would be great. Please let us know who you are and where you're from and how you got connected to this meeting or some other point of connection that you have, the kind of work you do, those kinds of things.
I'm sure we'll have more folks who join us and watch afterwards online, but we've got a small crew here today. So folks on the attendee list ever want to chat, please use the Zoom function to raise your hand and we can give you the mic and go from there. But great to see some familiar names from discussion forums and other connections that we've had in the past. So nice to see you all here.
Our goal today is to have a discussion supporting students in the aftermath of the 2020 election with Youth in Front. Lots of us are trying to figure out, how do we navigate conversations about the election? My own kids are in school right now and certainly the dominant theme in our small rural Vermont town, sort of leaning Biden, but evenly split, mostly white, is just the total absence of academic conversation about the election compared to previous years.
In normal years there's a Scholastic Magazine that presents a little bit of the background of each of the candidates, and then you have a mock election, and you have people talk about the issues and things like that. And so much of that is muted in my community this year. I imagine that's one theme that's cutting across lots of communities that are out there. So I think we just want to talk with each other about teaching and learning in this moment. What can we do to keep the election, and all the topics that surround it, in our conversations, and how do we do our best to navigate those challenging conversations?
We'll do that by talking about some resources that we have available to help folks with this, talking with some great teachers who are our advisors and guides in doing this work. So why don't we go around and do some introductions, and then we'll just kind of dive in.
My name is Justin Reich, I'm a former high school history teacher, and I run a lab at MIT called The Teaching Systems Lab, where we try to think about how teachers learn, how they learn online, and how they learn difficult, challenging skills through practice. And I'll just go around the people that I see. Neema, can we get you to introduce yourself next?
Neema Avashia: Sure. Hi everybody. My name is Neema Avashia. I'm an eighth grade civics teacher at the McCormack Middle School in Dorchester, which is a neighborhood of Boston. And I've been teaching there for 18 years.
Justin Reich: Great. Thanks for joining us, Neema. Kevin.
Kevin Dua: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Kevin Dua. I go by he and his pronouns. I am a history teacher in the Cambridge Public Schools, and I've been a teacher for history for eight to nine years now.
Justin Reich: Great. Josh.
Josh Littenberg-Tobias:Hey, everyone. I am Josh Littenburg-Tobias. I am a researcher at MIT. I work with Justin and I'm working on a new online course called Teaching Challenging Issues In Uncertain Times. So I'll be happy to talk about that a little bit more today, which will hopefully provide some strategies for talking about these issues in an online environment.
Justin Reich: A very timely topic. And Sara.
Sara O’Brien: Hi, everyone. I'm Sara O'Brien. I'm a curriculum writer for the Online Supporting Student Activism Course with Youth in Front.I'm also a middle school and high school English teacher. I've been teaching for 10 years. Although, this year I am home with my second grader doing remote school. So if you have any questions about Fundations or second grade math, I know everything.
Justin Reich: You're on it. You're on it. Good. If folks who are here live, please feel free to introduce yourself in the chat, but otherwise let's go ahead and dive right in. So Neema in your class, what does the election and the aftermath look like with your middle school students in Boston?
Neema Avashia: I've been teaching civics for a long time and I've taught a lot of presidential elections. I had a lot of dread coming up on this election. And I think a lot of it was related to 2016 because in 2016, when I was teaching the electoral college and we were looking at the polling data, the message that kids were getting again and again, was that Hillary Clinton was going to win. And then she didn't. And the thing that was mostdifficult for me about that election night was thinking about the fact I was going to go in and face kids in the morning and have been irresponsible, in a way, not prepared them for that outcome.
In the weeks leading up to this election, a lot of my students from 2016 who were in eighth grade then, and our seniors now were reaching out to me and I felt like we were all kind of collectively remembering and recalling the trauma of that election. And it was really making it hard for me to think about how to responsibly teach an election whose outcome that could go, who knows which way. Again, the polling data... Who the heck knows what's going to happen? Will he even admit that he lost? We don't know.
I really struggled with, what is the right way to teach an election whose outcome could go any which way? And I ended up deciding to not spend as much time on it as I normally would. And we did talk about the electoral map. We talked about how to watch, what to look for, but I didn't spend as much time digging into the beliefs of the candidates or their platforms or things that I might have in previous years, also because I felt like for so many of my students, this wasn't a situation where they were going to experience it as evaluating two candidates and trying to decide which of them they aligned with more in terms of their values.
My young people are majority black and Latino students, a lot of them were already kind of coming in with an opinion. And so I did less. And I don't know if that was the right thing to do, but I also was just really mindful that this is an online setting, we are still just getting to know each other, and I wasn't sure how much weight I could put into the online space responsibly and sort of know that and feel confident that I'd be able to hold what resulted.
Because what resulted in 2016 the day after the election was kids in my room in restorative justice circles crying and talking about how their identities were threatened and how their identities were being basically mocked and demeaned and disparaged by the person who had just been elected.
I felt unsure of how that would translate into online space. So I don't feel like I have a magic answer, but I'll just own that I feel like this was really hard and I'm not sure I made the right decision.
Justin Reich: At least I think the decision you made aligned with lots of other folks that are out there. The story you're telling sounds resonant to me. In the days since the election, have you sort of ramped up? I mean, we're now in this kind of... It's not necessarily uncharted territory. I mean, things are proceeding constitutionally and legislatively the way that they're supposed to. And then in terms of norms, they're being shattered, but we're sort of used to that too. And so is there more that you've done to sort of say, by the way, there's actually a legal process that exists after November 3rd and here's how it goes to the electoral college and things like that?
Neema Avashia: Yeah, so I've been doing a 10 minute election update every day. Just in the first few days after the election was like, all right, let's look at the map. Let's talk about what do we see on the electoral map now. We watched Kamala Harris's speech that she gave on Saturday night. That was our Monday 10 minute election update.
So yes, I'm doing 10 minutes a day, but again, really thinking about dosage and trying to just think about what is the right amount to not sort of overwhelm you or drown you in this, but also to make sure you feel like you have space to engage. And if it takes more than 10 minutes, then we take more than 10 minutes. But trying to just plan in doses, as opposed to entire lessons about the election or the electoral college, which is how I would have taught it in person. In person, there would have been a whole voting unit and we would have gone through every element of it. I didn't feel like that was the right move in this context, and so I didn't. So I've done these sort of 10 minute doses.
Justin Reich: One more follow-up and then I want to hear from Kevin, but do you have a sort of end date for those 10 minutes in mind? Are you like, 10 minutes through December 14, through January 20th until it feels like it's done? Or are you just sort of playing it by ear day by day?
Neema Avashia: I think it'll be 10 minutes for as long as it needs to be until there's clarity, which hopefully is January 20th. But again, who knows? Actually after that point, it might become a lot more than 10 minutes if we don't have a clear [crosstalk] we're going to be teaching all new things.
Justin Reich: Good. That's super helpful, Neema. I mean, just as per usual, some great concrete... Hearing you talk about the parameters that are shaping your decision and how you've settled into something with a routine, enormously, enormously helpful.
Kevin, what does this look like for you or for other people in the Cambridge Public Schools or for the educators that you've been talking with and working with?
Kevin Dua: It's been a deep reflection on how much I have changed. I would say personally, professionally, just as an educator, someone who's deeply rooted in history and critical thinking. Similar to what Neema said about just reflecting about 2016, I feel in the last four years, I've been prepping for election day 2020 and afterwards, since 2016. I feel that when I came into my classroom November four years ago, there was a lot of sadness from students and colleagues as well. And they expressed it with, the words, folks had tears. And for me, I did not cry, and that's not minimizing what other people shared. I felt the sadness,and at that time already, I wrapped my mind that not only was it feasible that Donald Trump would win, but that it seemed likely just how history works, especially following the election of the first black president, Barack Obama. And so I remember just recapping, explaining what the electoral college was.
Some of the seats that were won back in 2016. Students were just asking questions about just trying to understand the branches of government and what it meant, what this ripple effect could mean once Trump was elected. And so again, had discussions, I believe a Socratic seminar that took place. And I just remember since then feeling that I did ... it was just neutral on surface level that I felt was not right to do the moment I did it. And fast forward, there was definitely this feeling amongst colleagues and friends in other districts, and those students that I had back in 2016, four years later, who reached out to me who are juniors or seniors in college, it was as we were all having the same experience as to, will this be a repeat? And what took place on Saturday for a lot of individuals, there was the sense of relief.
Those individuals that were on the same page, this relief that something right took place. But on the flip side, it was like the preparation, the lead-up to last Tuesday and last Saturday it was, we have all these resources ready. If individuals need to debrief or reflect. Similar to what 2016 had, those were available. Many of my friends were saying that that was something that their schools were implementing. But this week, the followup, whether it's with former students, colleagues, friends in other district, it was, "Yeah. We're just doing work." And there was a sense of, for many individuals that a victory was won. The sense of like victory was won and then we can go back to normalcy. Even though for any history teacher normalcy was inequitable inequality to begin with.
And so we're on that right now, as an educator. It's trying to center this idea that there wasn't a pause or an ending. It's ongoing in terms of just the impact of this election, the impact of politics, the impact of society. And whether it's updating with news clips, whether it's just assigning readings, what I've tried to do, or what I'm trying to do is be very intentional in underscoring what this means, not just for the millions of individuals that wanted President Trump to be reelected, but also the millions of individuals that did not. And for those individuals who felt that once it was confirmed, that he lost, that the work is done. And that is something that I feel that I have improved since 2016 and want to make sure that we put into context exactly how this is all still intertwined. How there's so much work rooted, not just what happened this past weekend, but just the overall history that is the United States of America.
Justin Reich: Yeah. That resonates quite a bit with me, this notion that we have an election hinging on, in some respects still an extraordinarily small part of the electorate. Very easy to imagine results, shifting in either direction. And to some extent, the election of the president and the House and the Senate is of enormous consequence. But at the same time, just changing those things, it doesn't change the vastly growing consumer debt that people experience. It doesn't change the experiences of systemic racism and the way the white people continue to struggle to process their role in systemic racism. It doesn't change a whole bunch of things. And in fact, from a policy point of view, for months, it doesn't change anything at all.
And so here you have a moment which just has this sort of surge of energy behind it. Even some of the historic-ness of it feels sort of squashed. Having a woman in the White House is amazing, is an amazing step forward for the United States. And it just kind of feels like very easy to imagine other elections in which that would have been just such a central part of the story of what happened. But instead, seeing these patterns continue.
Let's talk about student activism specifically then. Part of what I may be hear in your comment, Kevin, but tell me if I'm hearing it wrong, is something like a little bit of a release valve on the pressures for student activism. The sense of like, "Oh, all right, well, there's probably stuff to protest and work on, but this election isn't going to trigger sort of a lot of activity on that respect." But certainly, an ongoing issue in the Democratic party is the tremendous electoral success in recruiting black and Latino voters.
And then ongoing disappointments from those groups that they're not well-represented in, in policy or in another ideas. Some of which seems to be like a fruitful place for, or the kinds of conditions under which student activism swells. So I don't know, what are you hearing from students? What are you hearing from the youth activists in your community about how they're thinking about the intersection between this particular electoral outcome and their goals and their plans over the next couple of weeks or couple of months?
Kevin Dua: The sense that I'm getting is that it's somewhat of three different mindsets, four. There's one of individuals who are stuck. I think wanting a clear example of, "Oh, this is happening. The house is on fire, so I'm going to go to the house." And the house being on fire, would've been the re-election of Donald Trump. So for many individuals, they needed that. They don't have that. So it's more of, we're just waiting until January. There are individuals who, the energy from activists is the sense of urgency in anger. And it's this idea that they feel that we should keep the momentum that took place earlier this summer. After the murder of George Floyd, on top of the ongoing impact from Breonna Taylor earlier this year. For these activists, it's like, "Okay, we were able to dance on the street for two minutes." Now, they want individuals to continue to push, but there's a sense that they feel like they don't know where to go.
There's a third mindset of activists, where they're waiting for the lead of teachers and how teachers are responding to this. Whether it's going to be a lesson plan, or we're going to plan to go out into the streets, or we're going to go to ... and then there's a force, where individuals who are Trump supporters, they're looking as, do they fit in? Are they, "Allowed." To be activists and fight for investigation to voter fraud? Are they allowed in these spaces that they're in? Are they allowed to do that?
And so you have again, these four different mindsets of this energy. And the common denominator that I'm seeing is that there's this onus on us as educators and the role we play in how each of those mindsets are able to process what's going on. And that tension of politics and social justice activism, and supporting what to do, that is all relevant in terms of young people feeling that they have the tools, yet may feel like are they allowed to pick it up or not? So, yeah, there's a lot of tug and pull that I have gathered over the last week or so.
Justin Reich: Yeah, that's great. That it's a moment in which, as things are changing, people are trying to refine themselves. And part of what they're doing is looking to their teachers to help figure out what those local norms are going to be. How does that change your practice? Or how would you recommend to others that they take that into account? What do you feel like you're doing for that Trump supporting student or those other students who are looking to you for guidance?
Kevin Dua: It's honestly setting an environment where the context of this election and the context of, again, human rights, social justice, systemic harms that is embedded in this country and what a re-election of Trump would have done, and what the election of Biden's slash Harris may present an opportunity. And contextualizing for that student who may feel that their president was robbed. And being able to set that contact without being naive, that that individual ... and again, there's all these difficulties through virtual, but that individual connected to their family. Maybe another teacher that may feel the same way. Maybe administration that helps support that. But there is this moment, and it's a moment that has always been there in education, but it feels like we're going to define this as, there's a moment that I think the being intentional in how we not just frame individuals may have opinions that may go against human rights, but also how we are able to articulate with the evidence, and that explicitness is so important that we can't shy away from. And so, yeah, if there is a student that is a Trump supporter who feels sad, it will be to... If I have the energy for them to say, for them to share how they feel, but also to then contextualize from them exactly what do they notice or not what Trump represented, what the reaction represented, and how that impacts.
And again, I know that's difficult for so many individuals to do, but not doing that, honestly, sets up this environment for individual to feel complacent and comfortable, because of this moment, which can then easily lead to another Trump in 2024. And so, there's definitely a sense of that straightforwardness with historical context for that student who may feel that the information they're getting is valid, and as our job as a history teacher, is to in many ways underscore how history has shown that it's challenging, yet history has a blueprint on how we should not repeat ourselves.
Justin Reich: Neema, what in that resonates with you, especially this idea, maybe you're hearing some young people speaking in the backgroundthere. What in this resonates with you particularly about this idea of the expectations for teachers as tone setters, and way setters in an unsteady moment?
Neema Avashia: I think that something I have spent a lot of time thinking about, is what are the limitations of electoral politics? So, when it comes to the lived experiences of my students, kids were asking very quickly, is this going to change anything for me? What concretely do you see being different? And, the answers to those questions were like, "No. In some ways, no. In lots of ways, no." I was like, "The thing that concretely will be different, is probably there won't be someone saying egregiously offensive things about your identity or my identity on the daily. That will feel different. But from a policy perspective, if you're an undocumented student, the Obama administration's actions towards undocumented students were nothing to be proud of.When you look at issues around incarceration in our country, you can track them right back to Joe Biden and criminal justice work that he did when he was in the Senate."
So, in the ways that policy comes down on kids, there is no sense of guarantee that things are going to change in ways that are going to improve their existence, or their family's existence looking at history as our guide. So, the thing I've been trying to talk with kids about is, it's that Tip O'Neill idea, that all politics ultimately is local. And so, what does our activism look like locally? How do we take care of each other in our school, in our district, in our city? What is the work we are doing here around intersectionality, around supporting people and seeing their full identities, around holding up those identities and making space for those identities? And how do we make that the basis of our work?
Because the presidential election happens once every four years, you can put all kinds of energy and hope and stakes into it, but ultimately, it happens once every four years. And you can't know that the result of that is actually going to yield some positive benefit on your life. But, if you engage in local activism and local politics, there are actually changes that you can make, that you will see the results of. Because, you will see shifts in your city budget, you will see changes that happen around who your elected representatives are, what communities they represent.
I think that's where I really feel kids were going. The other thing that's really inspiring in this is that young people have spent the last six months, seven months of this pandemic, eight months, online a lot. And that means that their awareness of social issues is incredibly high. I would actually say higher in some ways than any group of students I've taught previously, because while there's a lot of dancing that happens on TikTok, there is also a lot of activism on TikTok. There's also misinformation on TikTok, but they're being exposed to all of it.
Justin Reich: The activism, the dancing and the misinformation can all be in the same video.
Neema Avashia: That's exactly right. They're parsing a lot. And they're engaging in that conversation or dialogue with each other around like, "All right, what's real here? What's fake here? What... And sometimes they're wrong, and sometimes they're right, but their exposure level is really high.
So, when I have young people asking me, "How is a black trans woman's life going to be different because Joe Biden was elected?" Part of me is like, I don't think any other... That questionwouldn't have even been asked ten years ago, or eight years ago, or potentially six years ago, or potentially three years ago, by an eighth grader in a middle school in Boston. I don't know that that question would have been asked.
So, I think we're at an interesting moment where young people's awareness is very, very high. And, if we're in a position to help them see how that awareness can shape their local context, and what the avenues are for engagement in their local context, there is a lot of power there in away that a once every four years presidential election, I'm not sure they're going to feel that same level of efficacy, or agency really live itself out in that context.
Justin Reich: And that seems very, very wise to me. And it also seems like wise advice that can operate in a lot of different contexts. I could imagine being a teacher working in schools, very divided between political parties saying, "All right, how do we think about these conversations and our advocacy, locally?" And there may be ways to shift the conversation, get people engaged. And I think it's also just right to continue to remind folks that the nationalizing of our politics doesn't change everything that you just said, about the tremendous important of localities, municipalities, school districts, states, in our actual lives.
And I asked the question that it would be great to hear from both of you, Neema and Kevin, about which is how transparent are you with your own political views, as you're discussing these issues with your students? Kevin, the question is directed to you. So, we'll start with you. But, it'd be good to hear from you, Neema, too.
Kevin Dua: Well one, thank you so much for sharing that. I'vebeen teaching for eight to nine years. Short answer, yes, teachers should. Long answer, eight to nine year teacher, even during my grad school experience, maybe the early part of my career, even as a history teacher, I'm being advised to not share my viewpoints.
So, in many ways, having the core in my classroommay hint at what I'm doing where I'm leaning, but I remember that I didn't necessarily say that I was voting for President Obama over Mitt Romney, back in 2012. And over time, I realized that that was wrong. And the reason why it was wrong is because what was being asked of me, whether other colleagues were doing it, or just from what I've seen across the country, that by doing this, by sharing your personal political beliefs, is the sense of you're indoctrinating students.
And even just look at the word indoctrinating, that's not the case. And for me, what I present in the classroom, in my curriculum, my personal political beliefs, I am presenting the values and belief, and asking and showing students how to critically challenge that, if and when they can, which is the opposite of indoctrinating, which is just presenting something and don't let it be challenged.
And what I've seen over time, is that those individuals that so many of us say we need to support, our black and brown students, and to validate their agency within a community that wasn't created for them, and [inaudible] the history of this country, that silence, that being mum about your personal political belief, they notice. And there've been so many times where students early on in my career, they will look at me and say, "Why didn't you speak up for me? Why did you feel that someone's opinion of me was as valid as my literal existence, my humanity?"
And when those moments happen, whether it was an indigenous person, whether it was an African-American, whether it was an undocumented immigrant in my class, whether there was a lesbian in my class, these individual notice that, "It's cool that Mr. Dua has these posters, and he has the Socratic seminar, but there's also the sense of he's holding back. And as an individual that we are looking up to, we're learning from, does that mean that we should hold back in our identity, and how we are learning and processing?"
And for me, that transparency for them in my instruction, was needed. Because again, I would not want this sense of a student to walk away from my instruction, not just me saying it and them running with it, but me saying it, us discussing, us unpacking, I wouldn't want them to not even have that opportunity to think, "Does my teacher, as an educator, and as a human being, does this person value who I am, not just as a student, but also as an equal, as a person, as well?"
And again, I know it's challenging for individuals for their own identity, but for me it is something that for the last several years, I realize it was needed in order to articulate that defending the humanity, just like our students defending their humanity, should not be something that they compromise.
And again, that calls into students wanting to ask questions, or parents... If that calls into what makes history educators awesome, and yes I'm biased saying that, is that we look at the blueprint that is presented to us, and we can contextualize as to why and how this is all relevant and helpful in a true sense of education.
Justin Reich: Neema, do you have anything to add to that or perspectives from your classroom?
Neema Avashia: Yeah, I think I would just say that I think in healthy democratic spaces, people are... Their identities are full, their identities are complete, and they bring their full identities into those spaces, a space where people can't bring their full selves, whatever their full selves includes, isn't a healthy, democratic space.
And my goal as a teacher, is you create a healthy democratic space in my classroom, where people can evaluate their ideas, and have conversations with each other, and see what other perspectives people have, and weigh and be in the process of the discourse and dialogue that, to be totally honest, is completely absent in our country, writ large right now, but that we're still fighting every day to create in our classrooms.
And if I'm trying to create that space, I have to come into that space authentically myself, and that doesn't mean that I lead,and I'm like, "I'm just going to tell you before we even start the conversation who I'm voting for." It doesn't mean I'm doing that, but it does mean that my values, my beliefs are part of that conversation.
I think that there is a really heavy assumption that the silence and "neutrality" that pervaded a lot of educational spaces for our long time, there's a sense that that was objective, and it wasn'tobjective. It was, to use a big grad school word, it was hegemonic. There was an agenda, there was a dictating opinion, that was driving the silence. And so, I went to school in a town where we had a school named after Stonewall Jackson. That school's still named Stonewall Jackson, today.
There's an agenda behind that. It's a silent agenda. No one's talking about it, but there's an agenda there. So, to act like being transparent about your beliefs, is bringing an agenda, ignores the fact that all of that silence also has its own agenda.
Justin Reich: There's some great research from a woman who's now the Dean of the School of Education, University of Wisconsin, Diana Hess, who in part has done survey research with students on this. It would be interesting, it was done about a decade ago, maybe more, and it'd be interesting to have updated. But in that survey research, Diana has found that students believe very strongly in teacher rights of expression. They overwhelmingly plead, the teachers should be able to express their views. And then, as often times shows up in survey research and it's hard to know exactly what to do with, people are quite sure as individuals on average that their beliefs are not shaped by teachers, and they're concerned that their peers' beliefs are shaped by teachers. So not quite sure exactly what to do with that.
But Kevin, I think you give a compelling argument for the case of the fullness of self. And then, Neema, I think you give a really useful sort of tactical detail, which is getting around to the fullness of self doesn't mean that that's the thing you have to start with. Your lesson, doesn't have to begin with a positionality statement. You can give a lot of space for people. You can wait for students to ask you. There's a lot of different ways of getting into that.
Well, I want to bring in Sara and Josh, and both invite you to add anything that you have to the conversation. But Sara, I know that one of the things that you've been enormously helpful in doing on the Youth in Front team is just kind of keeping track of the news, keeping track of resources that are being developed, keeping track of conversations that are happening in other places, examples of student activism. Are there things that you've seen in the last two weeks or that you've been keeping track of that you feel like more of us should know about or are some good examples are helpful ideas that you've seen bubbling up for navigating these times?
Sara O’Brien: Yeah, I've definitely been trying to keep track of some of the resources, and trying to send them out to Youth in Front participants. I actually was just reading an article with our very own Mira Levinson today with Harvard Graduate School of Education's Usable Knowledge. UsableKnowledge is a great resource that HCSC puts out on a lot of different topics, but Mira had a great interview about a lot of these topics. It's called Conversations Across Differences. And this idea that both Neema and Kevin have been talking about of making space for students, starting with thinking about yourself and your own reflections, which both, oh thanks Justin for popping that in, starting thinking about yourself, where are you coming from, and how much do you feel you can take on with students, which is an important thing. That was another, I think it was Facing History. The first step that they had for post-election was self care. Just thinking about sort of where am I and what can I handle in terms of talking to students?
And then another thing I thought was helpful, particularly as we were talking about classroom, is trying to ground these conversations in specific texts. I'm an English teacher, so that always is something I love. And of course, we have history teachers here, but just thinking there's so many sources of information out there right now, people are looking at different places and some of them are more reliable than others. So trying to ground conversations in these specific texts, so looking at a specific news source together. And that, I think, can be a helpful place for teachers to get into that kind of a brave space, is something we talk about in the course, and we're talking about here and it's academically grounded. So finding a way to sort of ground in a common text that people are looking at, I think can be a helpful, concrete tool.
Justin Reich: That's great. Thank you, Sara. So then another resource that we've been working on in the lab, Josh, you've been taking the lead on a course about teaching controversial issues with opportunities to practice controversial issues. Do you want to talk a little bit about this and share some resources with the group?
Justin Reich: And let me just say, while Josh is talking, if there are other folks who are here who have questions or have comments that they want us to weigh in on, please feel free to put them in the chat.
Josh Littenberg-Tobias:Sure. Thanks, Justin. So a couple of years ago, I started working with an undergrad and now a grad student on developing resources for teachers on teaching of controversial or challenging topics with students. So especially in the aftermath of Trump's election in 2016, we heard from a lot of teachers that how do I talk about these issues with students. And teaching systems that we've developed, tools called practice spaces, which are simulations of classroom situations that allow you to sort of practice and reflect on, give assistance in teaching. So we developed a simulation called discussion leader, which kind of puts you in the role of a teacher and then you interact with your students. And it's really a way to think about, okay, what would happen if a student said something that was racist or xenophobic? How would I respond to that? What happens if I have an interaction with students where one student was clearly violating classroom norms?
So we had developed that and sort of working on this for a couple of years now, and then the COVID-19 pandemic happen. And all of a sudden, everyone was going online and had to think about how to have these discussions online. And so, over the summer we talked to a number of experts, including Kevin, about how should teachers approach these situations? How should they think about how to have these conversations online? I was thinking, you have the election coming up, you have the protest around racial equity and systemic racism. You have conversations about the pandemic and COVID-19, so what's the best way for teachers to talk about these with students if they're going to see them in a Zoom room and they have never met them in person?
I know one thing that came up in all the conversations was the importance of relationships with students, that you have to establish relationships first, that you can't sort of start the class, the first thing, say, "Okay, now we're going to talk about the election, everyone". So that's super important. And of course, we talked about some strategies for doing that. We also provide some ideas about how to use technology effectively. There's a lot of limitations with using phonology things like Zoom, but there are also ways that you can integrate technology. And that can actually be really effective and productive for having conversations, particularly for students who may not be comfortable speaking.
I know my wife as a high school teacher and a lot of our students, their internet connection is slow. They don't feel comfortable on camera. So with technology, you can sort of have other ways for students to participate that's not necessarily speaking on camera. So I encourage you to check out the course. We have built a practice case that's about teaching controversial issues online. And so, we can call it breakout rooms. So you actually kind of go to different Zoom, breakout rooms and see what's happening in those conversations. And we also designed a lesson plan to use with students where you can sort of have them kind of practice engaging in conversations in a simulation. So I'll put the link in the chat, but I definitely encourage you to check out that course.
Justin Reich: Terrific. Great. Well, thanks so much for sharing that, Josh. I hope that'll be a super helpful resource for folks. So this has been a great conversation. Some really concrete resources. Some great big picture thinking about how to address our stance as teachers. And then, of course, I appreciate everybody's humility and saying, there's nobody who's an expert in this moment. We don't know how to teach during a pandemic. We don't know how to teach during a constitutional crisis. We don't know how to teach when those things are happening at the same time, so we just do the best we can with each of those things.
My parting words to folks would be to continue to talk with your colleagues, listen to your colleagues and find communities of practice that can help you think through these issues, because there are no experts here and there are no straightforward guidelines. And then I think we should also just all be gentle with ourselves too, that we make the best decisions that we can every day, and if we get some things wrong, we forgive ourselves and we go back to class the next day and say, "Hey, I don't think that went right. Let's try it again and try it a different way." Neema, do you have any parting thoughts or final things you want to reflect on and leave in folks' minds?
Neema Avashia: No. I think one other thing that I was thinking that has been a really inspiring and powerful thing to teach about has been grassroots organizing that has happened around getting out to vote. So that is another place where I think there's a lot of opportunity to teach about the voter outreach work that happened in Georgia, that happened in Pennsylvania, really looking at the organizers and organizations doing that work. And so, as we think about how we help students see all of the work that happens for the four years leading up to a presidential election, that's another space where I think there is a lot of teaching that can happen, that can really inform how young people see themselves as activists in the world.
Justin Reich: That's great. Kevin?
Kevin Dua: What has also been inspiring me has been seeing how youth and some of my colleagues wanting to just reflect on this idea of returning the climate back to its original self. And that's been a combination of looking at primary sources from indigenous peoples, looking at the history of reparations, and trying to see how have efforts, how has stories in the past, how do they align with what is happening today or what is not happening today? And similar to what Neema said, just looking at various grassroots that are doing that type of work to essentially go back to the sense of given what it deserves/what is earned to individuals, to communities. And so, it's always inspiring to see folks read, read and annotate and dive into it and ask questions, not just amongst themselves, but two other groups who are committed to this type of work. So that has been... It feels like as an educator, as a history educator, job is being fulfilled.
Justin Reich: That's great. Well, Neema, Kevin, Sara, Josh, thanks so much for joining us. Folks in the chat, feel free to look at all the links there for a bunch of resources from us, from Facing History. To all of those of you who joined us, thanks for being with us. For those of you who are watching or listening afterwards, thanks so much. Enjoy the rest of Veteran's Day. Thank a veteran advocate for veterans healthcare and get some good rest and we'll get back in it with students tomorrow on Thursday. All right. Thanks everybody. Really wonderful having you all here.
Neema Avashia: Bye. Thank you.
Justin Reich: I'm Justin Reich. Thanks for listening to TeachLab. I hope you enjoyed our conversation. Be sure to subscribe to TeachLab to get future episodes, and if you look at the show notes you'll find a recording of the full webinar and links to the two online courses that we discussed about supporting youth activism as teachers and about facilitating controversial discussions at a time of online learning. This episode of TeachLab was produced by Aimee Corrigan and was recorded and sound mixed by Garrett Beazley. Stay safe. Until next time