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Courageous Conversations

Teacher: Calla Freeman
School: Curley K-8 School/BPS

The Challenge:
Even as veterans in early childhood teaching, none of us felt prepared to explicitly teach young children about race and power structures that exist in our society. There is no curriculum to provide teachers with shared language and resources to directly address racism and oppression with Boston’s youngest learners.

Our own lack of training and curriculum has the greatest impact on our students of color, they are already underperforming and at times singled out by their peers. We wanted to empower our students to have the courage to have serious conversations about race and oppression.

What did your team do about it?:
We created a curriculum which addresses forms of discrimination and gives students the language to understand and discuss these topics. While creating this curriculum, we examined our own biases and comfortability facilitating difficult conversations that explicitly name forms of discrimination. We consulted others taking part in similar work as a sounding board, as well as to learn from the work they have already begun. We created definitions of important terms in child friendly language. We also adapted a lesson plan template to use when writing lesson plans on topics of discrimination. Using books from our current curriculum along with ones we researched and chose to support topics of discrimination, we created 40 lesson plans centered on having courageous conversations about these topics.


Impact on Students:
By engaging in courageous conversations about race and discrimination through the lens of children’s books, our students have been learning how to understand and discuss these topics. Students have felt safe and comfortable to share experiences when they have felt marginalized, such as when one student said “[child’s name] said I can’t wear nail polish because I’m a boy. But I was wearing nail polish.” Our students have the language to state that this is not fair and it is a gender stereotype. They are empowered to speak up when they hear things like this, rather than being a bystander.

Teacher Leadership and School Community:
This project has helped us become braver educators who feel better equipped and more confident to facilitate difficult conversations with young students. It has helped us become more aware of our own implicit biases and more thoughtful and critical consumers of curriculum resources.

We have not had a chance to gauge how this will affect our school’s professional culture since we have not had the opportunity to share and discuss them with others in our school community yet. We look forward to seeing this in the year to come.

What’s Next?

Our next phase of work is to implement the full curriculum starting in the beginning of next year. We plan to collect data on students throughout the year as we are implementing the curriculum. We also plan to revise our work next year as needed through ongoing reflection. We plan to watch each other implement lessons and give feedback to each other. We plan to share our work with other grade levels in our school. We also hope to share our lessons with the early childhood department in BPS and have them included in the Focus on K2 curriculum available to teachers across the district.

Helping Others:

Before beginning our work, we chose two texts to read and discuss as a group to help us shift our own mindsets and realize some of our own inherent biases. The books we used as resources were White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and Waking up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debbie Irving. We also visited the Bowman School in Lexington to learn about the curriculum they had created. We partnered with Wee the People as consultants who helped us gain a lot of insight in the beginning. We further consulted with Liz Phipps Soeiro who is a librarian that has published an article on audits and creates classroom libraries that foster critical consciousness.