Regardless of one’s political affiliation, next week will be challenging and filled with different emotions in all schools. As a school leader I know that students and staff will have different individual needs next week and probably different needs on different days. These needs might range from processing feelings and thoughts through conversations to using our work as a distraction. In my message to staff last week I expressed the importance of taking care of oneself so that they can take care of students.
Furthermore, I also shared the importance that we not ignore the racism, sexism, and homophobia present during this election season. Because these topics are intertwined with politics, I can understand the tendency to avoid these topics this week. But to take a colorblind approach means that you are going to ignore the impact that this election will have on different groups of students. Regardless of our political affiliation, if we are student centered, then we need take deliberate action to make sure that students have the space to get what they need next week at school, whether it is to process or to continue on with a normal day. This means, instead of taking a cookie-cutter approach to the election and the results we need to be flexible and respond based on what students need. Actually, the Universal Design for Learning approach, allows us to start with the needs of all of our students.
The different students that we need to support are:
- Students who love politics
- Students who will demonstrate anger or sadness to the results
- Students who come to school for safety
- Students who come to school to get away from the hate and racism at home
- Students who are activists
Additionally, we cannot escape the culturally responsive lens when considering how to support these different types of students. With this, we need to understand why students (and adults for that matter) are triggered by comments that are made in this political environment.
Some actions to consider when taking a culturally responsive lens in school this week
- Remind students of your classroom agreements (or norms) and school community values
- Mock elections can be a safe way for students to learn about their civic duty and to express their political viewpoints. Make sure that votes are secret and safe. Make sure that responses to the results are civil.
- Safe spaces for vulnerable populations. There has been very charged language towards people of color. To ignore this is to be supporting racist ideas. For students who need a safe space next week make sure a trusted adult is available to support students, allow them to process, and discuss their needs.
- When the election is discussed in a class, such as Social Studies or Civics class, acknowledge the feelings in the room. Check-in with students before going into your content. Take a human approach to the results.
- Listen to your students. Some students are going to want normalcy and other students will want to discuss the results. Have options for students. At the secondary level, imagine what it would be like for a student to have to discuss the election for 5-8 blocks the entire day…it will be exhausting.
- Don’t ignore emotions. One of the reasons students of color are more likely to feel disconnected from their school than white students is because we ignore their feelings. Check-in with students individually, ask them how they are doing, and acknowledge their feelings. Padlet or Jamboard could be a great way to ask students to share their feelings. Jamboard allows students to share anonymously, but remind them to be respectful with their comments. Telling a student “it is perfectly ok to be upset in my classroom, how can I support you?”, goes a long way.
- Continue to remind students about school community values. Remind them of the resources available to them, such as counselors.
There is no escaping that we are in a divisive time and the fight on school structures during COVID has only increased the tension that we see in our schools. However, this is also a time to be proud. Based on early voting patterns, we may see the highest percentage of Americans voting this year demonstrating that more people are engaged. This engagement goes to our students as well. Their activism and engagement in the political process has only been inspiring.
Teaching Tolerance–“What will you do Wednesday”