Teaching the 2020 Election: What Will You Do on Wednesday?

As Election Day approaches, educators should prepare to support students no matter the result.
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No matter what happens on Election Day, next Wednesday will likely not be a routine morning anywhere in the United States, including at school. The consequences of the presidential election—or the uncertainties surrounding a contested result—will echo through our communities. Students won’t be immune to that. And neither will educators.

In 2016, too many schools met such a moment with stunned or scared silence—and that lack of preparedness led to harm. Fears went unacknowledged. Questions went unaddressed. And, in many cases, the opportunity for a courageous recommitment to the values of inclusion went by the wayside.

We cannot know, four years later, how this election will unfold. But we can refuse to be shocked. We can refuse to be silent. And we can prepare to create an environment that best serves the students in our care.

Here are four steps educators can take, starting this week, to feel more prepared come Wednesday morning.

Re-establish the values of your inclusive classroom.

Regardless of Tuesday’s election result, students will show up with a spectrum of emotions, understanding, questions and concerns. Wherever your students are, there will be a clear need to reset, reflect and remind students of the values you share.

You can prepare some of that work this week. Revisit the classroom contract or discussion norms you’ve built alongside your students. Reaffirm the values inherent in those commitments—such as respecting each other’s identities—and review them as a class. Remind students that when they show up on Wednesday, those agreements to one another won’t have changed.

If you haven’t yet done that collaborative, norm-setting work, take some time to do it now. These questions from our toolkit for the story “I Start the Year With Nothing” can give you ideas for creating norms that center student agency. The Classroom Culture section of our Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education guide offers strategies for fostering social emotional safety and constructive dialogue, including classroom contracts. And page 12 of our Let’s Talk! guide also includes examples of helpful community agreements.

And remember: This isn’t just about how your students feel in your class. Many students could wake up on Wednesday less sure where they fit within their country, their community or their school. But you can be proactive in sending messages of affirmation and welcome now. Recommit to each student, explicitly, that you value their learning and their lived experience—and consider actions you can take in the coming days, weeks and months to make that clear.

Reflect on your identities, positionality and feelings.

Before you facilitate what could be a difficult conversation or face a potentially tense class on Wednesday, remember the importance of checking in on yourself. Depending on your identities and values, election results (or lack thereof) will affect you differently than they will affect others.

For everyone, but particularly for BIPOC educators, self-care is an important practice for sustaining this work through stressful times. This TT webinar offers strategies and tools for helping you find the self-care practices that work for you—especially in times like these.

Self-reflection is also important in preparing for discussions on Wednesday and the days to follow. Our Let’s Talk! guide includes practices and questions you can go through to consider your positionality, gauge your comfort levels, figure out what might cause you hesitation and determine what you need to move ahead with those critical conversations. 

This reflection work is a necessary reminder that your whole self enters the classroom space. And for that reason, it’s OK to think ahead about when it might be appropriate to shift out of neutral, acknowledge your subjectivity with students and draw clear “red lines” that the discussion will not cross.

Reaffirm our responsibility to engage these issues.

We know that on Wednesday, there will be educators and administrators who champion silence, saying schools aren’t the place for politics. This is untrue—and poor pedagogy. Our students are affected by—and participants in—this diverse democracy. They deserve opportunities to talk about how the election affects them. 

We hope you will be ready and will give yourself permission to abandon your core content plans if the need arises. If you’re lesson planning for the week ahead, you can build in flexibility, time for debriefs and an understanding that Wednesday might not be a great day for focused or prolonged work.

Planning to discuss the election results can also include practicing how to model inclusive, respectful conversations. For educators worried about students making offensive or derogatory statements, our Speak Up at School guide offers four simple and concrete methods for interrupting to redirect toward more constructive dialogue. The guide also includes a section on preparing yourself for such moments.

Our Let’s Talk! guide explicitly lays out recommendations for facilitating critical conversations, including steps you can take before any discussion occurs. This includes tips as fundamental as how to arrange your classroom, as well as considerations for setting goals, providing context upfront and being mindful of your students’ identities and how they will enter the space.

Have plans in place if things go wrong or students need support.

In 2016, we saw immediate consequences of the election results. In schools across the country, President Trump’s rhetoric emboldened more students to commit acts of bullying, harassment, vandalism and intimidation. Schools saw increased anxiety and decreased attendance among those who felt most threatened by proposed policies, including Black students and students with undocumented family members.

No matter the result of this election, educators—and school leaders, especially—should be better prepared to ensure safe school climates for all students. Be ready to recognize and respond (in non-punitive ways) to signs of distress, such as students not showing up in the days following the election or families disengaging from communications. And be ready to prevent hateful behavior in your school, or at least respond constructively if it happens.

Our guide Responding to Hate and Bias at School can help you consider ways to ensure your school climate makes students and their families feel valued. Much of this is proactive work and can’t be completed in a few days, but there are things to consider ahead of Tuesday’s election. School leaders can take time now to assess their school climate, set expectations, reaffirm values and quickly denounce any hateful rhetoric or actions that occur as the election unfolds. The guide offers important steps to keep in mind if tensions should escalate, regardless of the election result.

Why this matters.

We don’t know what will happen on November 3. But we do know that on November 4, educators and students alike will awake to a critical moment. Much will be determined by how we collectively meet that moment—including in schools.

If educators value relationships, culturally sustaining practices and creating an inclusive learning environment, the moment calls for courage and conversation.

Even in the face of the unpredictable, we can be prepared.

About the Author

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