5 Social Justice Focused Ideas to Keep in Mind When Responding to the Violence and Crisis

Jan 22, 2021

Watching the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol today was deeply upsetting and a lot for all of us to understand and process. I write this with my fingers trembling and my brain spinning. But as educators, when we are faced with events like this, we know that our job is to support our students while we deal with our own emotions. Not knowing how this event will play out, as a principal I am processing how to support my school community tomorrow and the next few days. As leaders committed to social justice, antiracism, and equity we need to focus on making sure that we establish the goal to provide a space that is psychologically and emotionally safe for ALL students. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind.

1. Ignoring this event is normalizing the event. Currently, students are learning about these events on social media. They will have questions and opinions. Whether it’s an announcement, optional student and/or faculty meetings, or classroom discussions this event should be discussed. This was not politics. This was an attack on our country.

2. Naming the differences in this event is important. We need to get comfortable calling this an attempted insurrection and riot. This was not a protest. We should not compare this event to other protests of this year or previous years.

3. We need to name the race of the people who invaded the U.S. Capitol. We should get comfortable naming that the intruders were white and they were treated differently by authorities than if they were BIPOC invading the U.S. Capitol. We cannot explain this truth away. Whiteness is a culture and we need to identify this term and learn about it. We need to understand the privilege they benefitted from.

4.  We need to take care of the adults. This event impacts all staff. We need to give language for staff to be able to tell students that they are not ready to talk about what happened. One possible sentence–“I know we are trying to make sense of what happened, I’m not ready to facilitate a discussion about it today. If you need to process it the school has set up a forum for the community.” We also sometimes offer our counselors as a resource for students. Let’s make sure our counselors have the space to attend to their needs.

5.  Discussions need to be focused on learning and understanding. As stated before, we need to ensure the psychological and emotional safety for all. Therefore, discussions need to have a structure with clear guidelines/norms and questions. Giving students space to ask questions (even if we can’t answer the questions) is a great strategy as is asking students how they are processing the events is great. Leading a debate provides a great risk of not meeting our goal of psychological and emotional safety. Educators who do not have experience processing crises, particularly crises layered with race and racism, need support.

This blog was originally posted at henryjturner.com.

Henry Turner is the principal of Newton North High School in Newton, MA.  He speaks and writes regularly about leadership, social justice, and tech in education.  The education news site K12 Dive named Henry the 2020 K-12 Principal of the Year.  You can connect with him on twitter at @turnerhj.

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