Fort Worth Independent School District teachers shared how they will continue their mission of equity during a time of virtual learning in a Facebook Live Thursday with the district's Division of Equity and Excellence.
Teachers and employees took part in the hour-long conversation "Culturally Relevant Teaching Practices in the Virtual Classroom" which also fielded questions from the Facebook Live audience.
The educators' overall message was that learning about their students’ backgrounds and their communities helps build relationships in the classroom and helps engage students in lessons.
Math teacher Thomas Mayfield mentioned that food is a common topic that kids love. He said to learn if students have a custom around food at home, for example, to help connect a personal story in a math lesson about measurements.
“The TEK [required lesson] is still taught, but how you teach it is up to the teacher,” he said.
The teachers said they feel support from their administrators in discussing topics that may have been avoided in the past. Chief of Equity and Excellence Sherry Breed said every campus has a racial equity committee on campus. The division was established in February 2016.
The division's mission is to ensure equity in all practices and organizational levels by providing professional development to understand the impact of institutionalized racism, the district said.
English language arts teacher Ale Checka said now “they push us to be brave."
“We are encouraged to have discussions and have those discussions with students,” art teacher Edwin Harris said. "That has changed the culture on our campus in the last three years.”
He said it has improved relationships between parents, teachers and students.
Harris mentioned a time when they "invited students to share their first experience with racism and their most recent experience of racism."
"Those moments have been very powerful in terms of culture on our campus," Harris said.
Checka discussed how students want to make a change. She said she taught a summer class this year on social studies, which looked at the news of the racial protests. There were many changes across the country following George Floyd's death, from Confederate statues being removed to policy changes at police departments.
"We could be responsive to what was happening in the moment," Checka said. "How to carry this thought the whole school year, in terms of equity, is how we have the conversations around homework and school work. .. I know some students don't have printers at home."
It's about being flexible and knowing your students' home situation, such as if multiple siblings are sharing the same hotspot, then they may not be able to edit an intensive video, she said.
“I'm not going to picture every kid having a quiet mini classroom,” Checka said.
Mayfield said teachers will have to focus more on checking in with students and having conversations with them. He said he will implement a “care card” at the end of each day where a student leaves a card for another student as a point of encouragement.
Teachers will also need to understand students’ experiences from the past few months.
“You have to work with what they bring and some kids are not going to bring anything because they’ve been empty for four months,” Harris said. “We’re going to greet those kids again and get them to engage with us and make something happen.”
Teachers learn from their own cultural history as well as learning from the history of the subject, such as the first person of color in that field or a story about trailblazers in that subject, whether it be coding, math or science.
Harris said he shows his art students different graphic styles and plays different music from all cultures to help students when they are creating in the studio.
“I think when you look at this from the perspective that we have the opportunity to engage and validate everyone’s culture,” Harris said. “That’s the biggest opportunity we have.”