On the afternoon of last Wednesday’s attempted insurrection at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Twitter was a refuge. While living and working in pandemic-related isolation, educators scrolled frenetically through their feeds to confirm again and again—among a chorus of verified accounts—the most obvious of our conclusions: This attack was an act of white supremacy.
The Twitterverse of educators, in particular, echoed inescapably with calls to action. “How are you teaching this tomorrow?” a dozen or so influencers asked, and then another and another and another, until [pullquote]we had convinced ourselves that Thursday would be the most courageous day of our teaching careers.[/pullquote] We would speak in hard terms (“sedition,” we’ll say); we would draw hard lines (“because that is racism,” we’ll assert); and we would dole out hard truths (“The election was not rigged”—duh).
Now, almost a week later, I want to ask a follow-up question: “Is this what ‘courage’ really looks like and sounds like in the classroom?”
I’d argue that boldly stating the truth in a room full of children is not courageous; further still, I’d argue that it’s instructionally counterproductive.
To be clear, instances exist, for sure, demanding that teachers immediately correct a student’s ignorance—particularly when any other student’s safety or self-worth is at risk. But when composing a lesson about current events, we can’t cavalierly proclaim ourselves the arbiters of truth (as counterintuitive as that sounds). Every student is a product of their socialization—because of their parents’ beliefs, their media consumption, etc.—and each of them deserves our empathy.
And empathy is, above all else, the ability to listen to the wrong ideas compassionately.
That’s right: listen. [pullquote]No child deserves to feel victimized for having been raised in a silo of propaganda or misinformation.[/pullquote] As human beings, we forget this in our outrage; as educators, we can’t afford to. The dissonance we create between lessons taught at school and falsehoods sustained at home can be distressing for children, and for that dissonance to translate into deeper learning, we need to honor our responsibility to protect our students from feelings of shame or alienation—regardless of their circumstances.
Dialogic instruction—that is teaching and learning through classroom conversation—will be our most vital tool in 2021. Within a dialogic instructional model, the teacher is the facilitator of the student-centered discussion. They ensure equity of voice and a meaningful trajectory of the conversation. Students’ differences (say, in their understanding of voter fraud, the Black Lives Matter Movement, etc.) are seen as resources for learning rather than problems to solve. In other words, we start with our differences, and we ask, “[pullquote position="right"]What can our differences teach us about ourselves, each other and the world around us?[/pullquote]”
Dialogic instruction requires intention and vision. Here are three ways to prepare yourself for a more dialogic approach in 2021:
This year, students deserve more than our outrage. They deserve our emotional regulation and our intentional instruction. As educators, we need to meet this historic moment with passion and with best practices.
If you’re interested in implementing a dialogic teaching tool, click here for a glimpse at the Context/License/Privilege Protocol. This facilitation method was published in the English Journal’s May 2019 issue, Vol. 108.
Tate Henderson Aldrich is an educator, writer and advocate. He is the 2017 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year and a National Council of Teachers of English author. This includes the publication of his facilitation method, “The Context/License/Privilege Protocol: Students’ Identities and Relevant Conversations”—a dialogic tool that promotes equitable classroom discussions. Currently, Tate works at the University of Arkansas. Tate’s passions include promoting trauma-informed instructional practices and advocating for children’s rights.
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