Ask Learning For Justice

Advice From the Experts

TT answers your tough questions! This time, how to talk about Black Lives Matter in your classroom and how to protect LGBT students.

Student artwork and work on the wall of a classroom, centered on the topic of Black Lives Matter
Photography by Todd Bigelow

Q: I’m an elementary teacher and would like to put up a small Black Lives Matter poster in my classroom. Have other elementary teachers done this? Is it appropriate for a public school setting?

Within an emotionally supportive and respectful classroom community, elementary students can have developmentally appropriate, restorative conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement. Karen Schreiner, a second-grade teacher and Teaching Tolerance Award winner, designed a unit to help her Oakland, California, students understand the movement. Now, her classroom walls feature a related timeline and student artwork.

Teachers can begin by providing context to promote a discussion about Black Lives Matter. Prepare younger students by reviewing vocabulary and definitions first. What is a protest and what is its purpose? When and why did the movement start? How does Black Lives Matter relate to the civil rights movement?

Then educators can have students craft their own messages related to the Black Lives Matter movement. Discuss the range of students’ messages, and post the messages around the room, allowing all voices to be heard. An activity like this allows students to process their own thoughts and find support in taking purposeful action.

Before planning a lesson related to Black Lives Matter, check with your administration, or review school or district policies. Or, like Schreiner, notify families and give them a chance to offer input and resources. With this support, educators can initiate meaningful discussions about the movement with students.

>> Learn more about the Black Lives Matter movement in our two webinars: Let's Talk! Discussing Black Lives Matter with Students and Let's Talk! Teaching Black Lives Matter (coming January 31).


Q: How do my school and I respond if a student’s parents do not support their gender identification or expression?

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits gender- and sex-based discrimination in federally funded schools. That means it protects students’ gender identification and expression, even if parents do not approve of it. Ultimately, educators’ responsibility is to act in their students’ best interests and to create an environment in which all students feel safe to learn. A key component of students’ safety is whether they can express their full identities at school.

Teachers should use students’ preferred pronouns, which is one way to make them feel safe. Ask students to specify their preferred pronouns in a survey and tell them your own. Avoid gender-specific phrases like “boys and girls”; try “scholars” or “thinkers” instead.

If a student’s family does not support the child’s gender identification, arrange to have a conversation with them and the school’s counselor. We also suggest that you consult Gender Spectrum’s Gender Inclusive Schools Toolkit, which helps students and adults plan how they will communicate about gender. You can also tell the student that they can speak with the school’s counselor or psychologist without parental consent.

You or the counselor can try to bridge the conflict by using mindfulness techniques. A Teaching Tolerance Advisory Board member points out that recognizing different perspectives is the first step toward compassion. Check on your student and encourage them as they work with their family to find understanding.

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