What Administrators Can Do To Support Educators in Teaching Honest History

Tool 29: Proactively communicate your support for teaching honest history.

Tool 30: Create or join a PLC of administrators who support teaching honest histories.

Tool 31: Support teachers through affinity groups.

Tool 32: Support students by honoring their identities.

School and district leaders often act as gatekeepers for whether educators can teach honest histories in their classrooms. Educators have shared with us that their administrators are either very supportive of teaching honest histories or more resistant for fear of “rocking the boat” or because of pressure from school boards to keep teaching histories in traditional, whitewashed ways. Administrators can support educators in advocating for teaching more comprehensive and accurate histories using the following tools.

Tool 29: Proactively communicate your support for teaching honest history.

By simply communicating support for teaching honest histories, administrators can uplift and validate educators. In faculty meetings, administrators may point out the importance of teaching honest history or discuss ways the school community has already enhanced efforts to do this work.

Additionally, administrators may oversee school newsletters and social media accounts that highlight the work teachers and students have done in their classrooms around honest histories. These serve as positive spaces to broadcast to the wider community the work being done in schools, showing why teaching honest history is important.

Administrators also play an essential role in communicating with (and clarifying information for) parents, caregivers and families about the importance of honest history and support for educators.

Tool 30: Create or join a PLC of administrators who support teaching honest histories.

“This is the really difficult moment that we’re in, so we’re really calling for our school district leaders and school districts to just be bold in how they plan to ensure that every child who steps into a classroom is going to feel safe and affirmed—because that’s what’s needed to be able to learn.” —Ian Siljestrom, Equality Florida’s Safe & Healthy Schools Project

From “Building a Just Future” by Dorothee Benz, Ph.D.

Organizations like ASCD have many resources and opportunities for school leaders to engage in work around teaching honest histories. Administrators may also choose to create a PLC with other administrators in their school and district to discuss promising practices around teaching honest history as well as how to support their teachers in this work. Refer to the section of this guide on “Engaging Colleagues” for more information on PLCs.

Tool 31: Support teachers through affinity groups.

By encouraging the teaching of honest histories, administrators can help teachers feel supported in their work. Administrators may also choose to create, listen to and engage with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) councils where educators can brainstorm pedagogy and promising practices around inclusive education.

Administrators may also support educators by creating affinity groups. According to the Great Schools Partnership, an affinity group is a group of people sharing a common trait, such as race, gender or religion, “who gather with the intention of finding connection, support, and inspiration.” Affinity groups provide a space for attendees to have conversations with others who share their identities. Administrators can help set up these groups by conducting a survey to explore which teachers want to start a group and which identities they want to organize around. The interested educators can then set up meetings as they desire.

Actively supporting teachers builds trust and a positive school culture that is conducive to having difficult conversations around honest histories.

Tool 32: Support students by honoring their identities.

Showing students that administrators support the teaching and learning of honest histories in your school acknowledges that you value all students and actively wish to honor and uplift their identities. Encourage symbols of equity and allyship in classrooms and throughout the school to create physical reminders that school should be a safe and affirming space for all students.

At the most human level, administrators should get to know their students, ensuring that all students’ identities are reflected in the school. This can be accomplished through curriculum efforts, elective class choices and extracurricular activities. Examples include creating or supporting a Black Student Union (BSU) or a Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club or offering elective courses on Asian American Pacific Islander history, Holocaust and genocide studies, or African American history.

“Despite the political attacks, it is important to recognize that LGBTQ+ students have legal rights that no school is allowed to impinge upon. Foremost among these when it comes to GSAs [Gender and Sexuality Alliance clubs] is the Equal Access Act of 1984, which protects public secondary school students who want to form a noncurricular club, including GSAs.”

From “A Refuge for LGBTQ+ Young People” by Dorothee Benz, Ph.D.

Administrators can also establish affinity groups for students and create student-led DEI councils so students can influence policies and practices in the school community. Even if there appear to be legal restrictions on explicitly discussing specific identities, you can uphold the values of celebrating difference and making your school environment safer for all students.

For more tools around cultivating an inclusive school culture and climate, see Learning for Justice’s Critical Practices for Social Justice Education resource guide. Find strategies for preventing and navigating bias- or hate-related incidents in the LFJ guide Responding to Hate and Bias at School.

Administrators are encouraged to read other sections of this publication for further guidance and information on engaging families and communities.