Building a Community of Upstanders With the ABF

Having laid the groundwork for why her school mixes it up in the first of a three-part series, this Mix Model School coordinator explains how TT’s Anti-bias Framework plays a central role.

Editor’s note: Susan Gelber Cannon is a teacher and Mix It Up coordinator at The Episcopal Academy—a three-time Mix Model School. She originally published a post about why and how her school mixes it up on her blog, Think, Care, Act: Teaching for a Peaceful Future. TT is sharing her post as a series of three blogs. (Reposted with permission.) This is the second post in the series; find the first one here.

My colleague Heather Dupont and I are Middle School Student Council advisors. We have nurtured Mix It Up Day (MIUDAY) efforts over the years, striving for more subtly engaging and critically thoughtful practices to promote understanding and respect among all in our community. For six years, our Student Council’s MIUDAY goals remained the same, to help members of our community learn: “(a) How it feels to be treated as ‘different’ for many reasons (race, religion, size, ability, economics, etc.) and (b) How it feels to interact with new people. We want to build a welcoming and inclusive community!” 

At times student planners get so eagerly involved in detailing activities, they forget to root their planning in their goals. Our seventh year, using a “backward design” approach to ground this year’s Student Council members as they framed the purposes of the day, we introduced them to Teaching Tolerance’s Anti-bias Framework. Inspired by the social justice education goals identified by Louise Derman-Sparks, Teaching Tolerance introduces the framework’s four domains as follows:

  • Identity: Students will understand the multiple facets of their identities, know where those traits come from, and feel comfortable being themselves in a diversity of settings.
  • Diversity: Students will recognize the diversity of people in the world, be able to identify differences and commonalities, express interest in the lived experiences of others and develop genuine connections with others.
  • Justice: Students will be aware of bias and injustice, both individual and systemic, will understand the short and long-term impact of injustice, and will know about those who have fought for more fairness and justice in our world.
  • Action: Students will feel confident that they can make a difference in society and will commit to taking action against bias and injustice even when it is not popular or easy.

At a planning meeting in November, months before MIUDAY, our student leaders read the “Anchor Standards and Domains” section of the document. We asked them to vote by actually standing up for specific goals for our day. They chose by consensus the following goals from each of the four domains (see parenthetical codes below). At a later meeting, they worked on breaking down the somewhat academic language into understandable, memorable, student-friendly words to add to our prior goals, and to encourage our community to become a welcoming one of upstanders rather than bystanders

  • Identity: Be who you are (I.1).  
  • Justice: Recognize and break stereotypes (J.14)! 
  • Diversity: Express comfort with people who are similar and different (D.6).
  • Action: Take action. Addressing their peers in a student assembly, student leaders exhorted, “Rather than watch, stand up. Rather than be afraid, speak up” (A.20).

Rooting their introductory announcements in their goals, Student Council introduced the (now) annual diversity-themed slogan contest in January, and the results were meaningful. Advisories chose creative ways to express their desires for our community to become a welcoming and inclusive one of upstanders. Student Council and several faculty allies evaluated the slogans. Without announcing a winner, we hung the slogan posters in the halls during the months preceding MIUDAY. The winning advisory’s slogan would grace our T-shirts and the surprise would be unveiled on Mix It Up Day in March.

Stay tuned for the next blog in the series, “Building a Community of Upstanders: Planning.”

Cannon teaches English, history, Model UN and debate at The Episcopal Academy, in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.

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