A look at the headlines reminds us of the sobering fact that our society grapples with injustice and inequality on a daily basis. We make attempts to raise critical conversations through social media, in the workplace and in our classrooms, and even in our homes—often to limited avail. Our society is divided and polarized, which limits our ability to forge ahead with systemic change and bring about justice and equity for all.
In the midst of this reality, we cannot lose sight of the children in our classrooms, teachers in our school districts and families in our communities who experience oppression every day. They cannot wait for an equity-focused and socially conscious society—we must act now. A commitment to this objective does not look alike for everyone, but here are some guideposts that help me shape my own. Some of these may resonate with you.
- Seek to understand the history of oppression. For educators, it is especially important to understand this history within the context of our educational system and society and, when possible, raise questions to help ourselves and others understand connections between existing practices and historical methods of denying people full equality. Analyze history and ask how we might be repeating cycles of oppression through repackaged methods, policies or actions.
- Look for opportunities to change the course of history in small, positive ways. Sometimes all it takes is a smile, affirmation or a simple greeting to change someone’s day and open up a meaningful conversation.
- Recognize that each individual can serve as the authority of only his or her own experience. The way we perceive things greatly influences our reality. Therefore, practice empathy and active listening when engaged in conversations about others’ experiences.
- Understand that all human beings are cultural beings. Be honest about your culture and background, especially with regard to how it has shaped and continues to shape your worldview. Consider how your actions and words convey your message, including how they can be misinterpreted when understood through the lens of others’ experiences.
- Practice a commitment to human dignity and empowerment. A dedication to understanding human experiences—and empowering those around us—helps ensure that all of our community members are heard.
- Be yourself. Have fun, laugh and connect with others. Express your best self, enjoy learning about others and establish meaningful relationships with people whose experiences may be different from your own.
Our lives involve many twists and turns and, yes, the inevitable bumps in the road. Yet, staying focused on raising awareness, building bridges and the very guideposts that give us strength is crucial. What are your guideposts? How do they inform your commitment to bringing equity to your school and broader community?
Berg is a mentor to new educators in Madison, Wisconsin.