Empowering Teachers to Become Activists

After noticing tension within their school community, teachers, students and staff planned a one-day workshop for local educators called “Understanding the Muslim American Experience: Leadership Training.”
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Educators noticed tension within the school community between Muslim and non-Muslim teachers, students and staff. They wanted to help teachers to tackle this problem effectively, so they collaborated to create a professional development training that empowers teachers to address social justice needs in their school buildings. They planned a one-day workshop for local educators called “Understanding the Muslim American Experience: Leadership Training.” 

Level: Middle School 


Grade Level: 6-8, but could be adapted for both K-5 and 9-12


Location: North Kingstown, Rhode Island


  • Ensure educators are fully aware of the scope of social justice issues at their school (in this case, anti-Muslim biases in students and staff)
  • Give educators resources to address the social justice issue
  • Have educators and staff collaborate on an action plan to immediately address the problems



  • Teachers will feel better prepared to teach about Islam
  • Teachers will be better prepared to interact with Muslim students
  • Teachers will be empowered to speak up when instances of anti-Muslim bullying or bias arise



Interested? Here's how you can do this project in your classroom.

  1. Identify the Needs
    Map your building. Where do you see a weakness? What change do you want to make happen? What social justice issues are unaddressed? Create surveys, chat with colleagues, assess student concerns and determine the focus.
  2. Establish Objectives and Goals
    Create a measurable objective that will drive planning, guide partnerships and steer the search for funding sources. For example:
    Educators will leave the professional development session with more resources to teach students about Islam.
    Educators will leave with discussion strategies to help combat anti-Muslim bullying and bias.
  3. Form a Partnership
    Don’t go it alone. Find local experts and educators who are versed in your topic. Ask them to collaborate or even speak at your workshop. For example, the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding proved to be an excellent partner when planning for a workshop on “Understanding the Muslim American Experience: Leadership Training.”
  4. Search out a Funding Source
    Finding a funding source can be the biggest challenge.  Knowing the objective will guide the search.  Sometimes it is a matter of searching the web, looking local or looking for like-minded organizations. Consider applying for one of our Teaching Tolerance educator grants. The NEA Foundation also awards grants to educators. Consider securing funding for substitute teacher pay to allow teachers to attend professional development during working hours.
  5. Schedule Everything
    Map out a timeline to guide the planning of the session. Inform administrators, make a marketing schedule, secure a site to host the session. Plan out the professional development session from start to finish, including set up/tear down, breaks, activities and workshop evaluation.
  6. Arrange for Technology
    Whether your PD is happening at your school site or somewhere off campus, be sure to inspect the site for technology limitations and attributes. What technology will you incorporate into the workshop?  What new tool will the attendees walk away with? Flipgrid works well as a documentation tool and Padlet can serve as a collaboration tool.
  7. Advertise your Event
    Public relations is very important for a successful event. Toot your own horn about the great idea you managed to fund and plan. Create a flyer with all the details and post it on relevant listserves. Let the local newspapers know you are hosting a public speaker or teaching an important lesson that was funded by your efforts. Post pictures of your work on social media. 
  8. Use Evaluation Tools
    Document your results. Consider using pre- and post-session surveys. Google Forms are easy to make and use (and they automatically organize data into a spreadsheet for you). Plan for a “lessons learned” session towards the end of your workshop or as a follow up to measure the impact of your efforts and whether you met your goals. 
  9. Follow Up
    Send follow-up communication. Maintain relationships with outside speakers, collaborators and organizations to keep the conversation going. Continue to get feedback from colleagues about how they are using what they learned in the session. Plan another (maybe shorter) session, share resources and measure the impact on students. 
Add to an Existing Learning Plan
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