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Ethnic Studies Now

Teacher: Amrita Dani
School: Boston Adult Technical Academy

The Challenge:
Our project on Ethnic Studies addressed the challenge of bringing Ethnic Studies to Boston. Particularly, students of color might experience a disconnect from school, because the content of school is completely disconnected from their own lives, experiences, and histories, and because school often reproduces the same inequalities in broader society. Ethnic Studies holds a lot of promise for improving the self-confidence and future success of students of color, by teaching them their histories through their own personal stories and the stories of their family, as well as by aiding them in developing strong analysis of the systems of oppression in our society.

What did your team do about it?:
We ran a one day institute in the fall, to build on our work from last year and think about a district-wide approach to Ethnic Studies. We also ran a professional learning community in the spring with a small group of teachers. We leveraged our existing network to recruit participants, run the PD with Acosta Educational Partnerships for the fall, and recruit a teacher-leader to run the PLC. We also used the Ethnic Studies curriculum developed by teachers through the Social Studies Department. In the PLC, we developed some strategies, particularly around facilitated listening, that can be used in classrooms. COVID presented the largest challenge, as we had to figure out how to adapt a teaching framework built on relationships and shared human experience to the digital world. We did, by utilizing breakout rooms and reflective writing time, and because we were able to meet in person for some sessions before the shutdown began.

Impact on Students:
We were not able to collect data on impacts for students, as for most teachers, COVID forced us to focus on maintaining relationships and experimenting with online platforms in a way that was not conducive to a deep Ethnic Studies experience. However, multiple teacher who attended the PD and PLC explained how they planned to incorporate the Ethnic Studies framework in how they approached students learning stories of the past from family members, students writing and analyzing their own experiences in relation to oppression, and students sharing and listening to each other. Particularly, from the Ethnic Studies PLC, the teachers were excited to also practice telling their own stories in a way that can highlight key concepts in Ethnic Studies, as well as playing with strategies such as co-counseling, Theatre of the Oppressed, and praxis.

Teacher Leadership and School Community:
This work contributed to our district’s professional culture by cultivating and building a stronger Ethnic Studies movement in the district. Particularly, as Ethnic Studies becomes more of a buzzword in the district, even being mentioned in the superintendent’s strategic plan, the teachers involved in this grant will be positioned to advocate even more strongly that Ethnic Studies is done slowly, and done well in this district. This work has helped us grow and expand our network of interested teachers, and it has taught us that Ethnic Studies will only work if it is taught by practitioners who have had a chance to both do their own self-reflection and get immersed in the strategies that allow students to build meaningful connections with each other and be vulnerable as they explore heavy historical topics. Without this thoughtful approach, Ethnic Studies might be implemented in ways that actually hurt students.

What’s Next?
Next, we are hoping to work with the district to pilot an Ethnic Studies course in a few high schools, with a heavy emphasis on coaching provided by a seasoned teacher-leader, building on our model from this year. We hope that by going slowly and focusing on coaching around both pedagogy and curriculum, the first year of Ethnic Studies in the district will produce many positive outcomes for students, and will be able to be expanded. We feel that there is a lot more to develop in terms of Ethnic Studies pedagogy, particularly, as well as tailoring curriculum to our students at different schools, so we are very hopeful that the Academic Department of BPS will partner with us to take this approach to Ethnic Studies in the district.

Helping Others:
We don’t have a particular tool, but we strongly advise people to go slowly and take time to build strong relationships with each other as you get into the work…it is impossible to build something like Ethnic Studies without spending a lot of time with other people (our PLC for example, started off being scheduled for 10 hours and ended up being closer to 20, because people wanted more!). These strengthened relationships enabled us to actually get deeper into self-reflection, critical analysis, healing, and social action than we would have otherwise. Link to rest of photos: