Support Your Classroom Conversation on Race by Connecting Virtually to Diverse Voices

  • Andre Daughty reflects on student awareness of world events, the importance of discussing racial diversity in the classroom, and how to have a classroom conversation on race.

  • To embrace diversity, educators must engage in self-reflection to promote readiness to change how it looks to serve students and the community.

  • School leaders should actively engage in creating a more diverse school setting to drive cultural awareness among students.

  • One new idea to consider: Find a virtual speaker from outside your school community

As students become more aware of diversity around the world and racial injustice continues to headline through social media, students will undoubtedly begin turning to educators for answers. 

How does a school leader prepare educators and school environments to facilitate cultural awareness for students? 

The best way to foster a learning environment that promotes cultural awareness and drives conversations around racial equality is to start from inside your school, according to Andre Daughty. 

As a professional development leader for several organizations across the United States, Andre is committed to motivating educators and school leaders to shift their mindset to improve education. Before becoming an advocate for change, Andre was an elementary school teacher, where his passion for raising awareness of today’s generation began.   

In this interview, Andre offers advice on how school leaders can prepare educators for a classroom conversation on race and racial injustice while creating more diverse environments to raise cultural awareness among classrooms. 

Andre was interviewed for the professional learning website PLTogether. You can watch part-2 of the 4-part series of the interview above, and we have shared some of the highlights below.

Preparing for the classroom conversation on race with students in America

The topic of race is quickly becoming a trend in conversations among students this school year. Andre said students spend 80 to 90 percent of their day on social media, and they see racial inequalities happening. Whether it be from George Floyd to Brianna Taylor, they have heard the stories and seen the videos circulating the internet.  

“[Students] have questions. They want to know about race in America,” Andre said. 

The reality is that students are discovering truths around racial injustice through their own resources and will turn to educators to ask questions. Andre warns that school leaders, administrators, and teachers must be ready for this conversation. 

“We can no longer run away from that classroom conversation on race. [Lean] in. It might be a little scary. It might be a rough conversation, but you have to have those conversations,” said Andre. 

Preparing schools and educators will take more than a single professional development course. It requires a shift in mindset and being open to developing a school culture with a focus on the values of diversity. 

“Always start internal work first. Internal work helps the external later on. What are we doing with some of the biases that we may or may not have?” Andre said. 

Andre stressed that to grow and develop the values that will allow educators to reimagine what it looks like to serve students and serve the community is crucial for growth. It always starts with inner-self work first. 

Driving change to instill values of diversity across school cultures

When Andre arrives to speak to educators for PD or through his webinars, he often wonders if he will be the only person of color in the room. 

“How many people of color are in the audience? Is this truly diverse and open for all? That’s some of the inner-work that districts and schools really need to tackle,” said Andre. 

Andre urges school leaders to really look at their staff to determine the presence of diverse ethnicities that their students see within their school. Does everyone look the same? Are the only people of color custodians or cafeteria staff? If so, Andre said, that needs to be improved upon internally before reaching out externally. 

“Diversity needs to happen in school, regardless of race or communities. The more diverse you are inside of that school, the better your school’s cultural awareness happens,” stated Andre. 

diversify your classroom conversations on race with virtual visitors

Reaching out to increase diversity in schools

Creating a more diverse school setting allows students to explore cultures and ethnicities that instill values around differences. 

During the interview, Andre mentioned a school in Oklahoma that recognized that more diversity was needed in their school. They went as far as Spain to find teachers to provide that exposure for them. 

“Imagine being a black student in that class, and now you’re learning from a teacher from Spain?” said Andre. 

Although bringing in staff can’t happen overnight, there are other ways that schools can foster those values within their school. 

After creating a school culture that supports diversity internally, Andre encourages school leaders to search for individuals externally to bring in to lead a classroom conversation on race in the community and ultimately create even more exposure for staff and students. 

School leaders have begun collaborating with others to immerse themselves in different cultural settings. Principals from schools with concentrated races are teaming up to expose themselves to new worlds and new cultures to enhance their own awareness of diversity to allow them to better support it in their school. 

“Assess what you value…If you know that [race in America] is a deficit…then you will assess that, and you will work and base upon that,” Andre stated. 

The pandemic and the rise of using video conferencing has made connecting virtually with someone outside your community a less unusual experience.

Much like assessing math and reading scores, diversity should be evaluated and valued continuously within schools to support students. 

Andre encourages educators to look online, find individuals on Facebook to talk to your students, or teach your teachers how to have a classroom conversation on race. Instead of bringing someone in for professional development that looks like you, get someone who doesn’t look like you who can bring diverse thoughts to the conversation. 

By reaching out to others, either down the road or in a completely different community, you can bring different perspectives into your school and help foster a culturally diverse learning environment for students. 

Like what your reading? Read our related Lounge Talk interview with Ayodele Harrison on creating safe spaces for black male educators to lead.

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