Teaching for Social Justice

As we turn our hearts and minds to social justice, who do Children First teachers aspire to be?

Teachers are self-reflective, self-aware, and self-compassionate – responsible to and for ourselves

    We know and watch ourselves – our internalized culture, our conditioning, and our personalities – with ruthless honesty and relentless self-compassion. We attend to our own healing and keep clear boundaries. We slow down when we are reactive or anxious. We take care of ourselves so that we have the capacity to lean into uncertainty and continue to grow.

Teachers are learning, unlearning and co-learning

    We are active learners – re-educating ourselves about history and systems of race, colonialism, oppression and resistance. We seek out and integrate accurate information and appropriate language. We watch for patterns and make connections. We lean into complexity, knowing that it’s not our job to “not confuse” the children – but to acknowledge and name what is happening in the confusing world they already live in so that they can air their confusion. Being in the confusion WITH the children may well stir up their curiosity; generate questions and lead to important conversations at school and at home. As Grace Aldrich has reminded us, “Uncertainty holds all potential. We can learn to relax into uncertainty and the more relaxed we are in uncertainty the more potentials are available to us.”

Teachers see – with clarity, generosity and appreciation – each child in the fullness of their evolving identity.

    We bring warmth, curiosity, openness and honesty to the exploration and naming of identity. We recognize that identity is always evolving, and bring fresh eyes, ready for a different child every day. We see and name diversity as a gift to the community, and acknowledge difference without flinching or judgment.

Teachers are truth-tellers

    We believe that people who love each other tell each other the truth. We tell the truth to the best of our ability, in age-appropriate language that is effective in helping children navigate the world they are in. When we’re not sure of the truth, we keep our promise to think, learn, and circle back. We agree with Jill McFarlane: “There is no age at which it’s appropriate to lie to children.” And with Emma Redden: ““Children live in the exact same world we do. The problem is in the conditions, not in the conversation about the conditions.” Knowledge is empowering.

Teachers are true companions

    We will be there with the children, willing to look at what’s true, so that they are not left alone with confusion, hurt, and social uncertainty that may arise in relationships, or with their growing awareness that they live in conditions of structural violence. “This is hard to hear, I know. I feel that, too. And I will always be here to keep you company and to love you when you are having feelings about it.” As Gabor Mate reminds us, “Children are not traumatized because they are hurt – they‘re traumatized when they’re left alone in the hurt.”

Teachers are Proactive

    We will not sit back and wait for children to articulate their questions, or for an obvious social justice issue to arise, but take proactive steps to interrupt the normal indoctrination into patriarchal white supremacy culture – otherwise, what is already happening will appear natural to the children. We know that a messy and imperfect interruption is better than no interruption.

Teachers deliver social justice content THROUGH the process

    We offer experiences that mirror the joyful and inclusive world we want to create. As we learn to trust ourselves, our inner knowing and authority, and the intelligence of our bodies, we are more able to loan the children confidence in themselves. We share nourishing practices that support reflection, self –regulation and co-regulation. We show tenderness – “What are you feeling?” and “How can I help?” and “You will never be excluded / ostracized / thrown out because you are learning and making mistakes.” We nurture the group – the community – in which we are living and learning as a vital and powerful entity with its own identity, purpose and value. As Grace Aldrich teaches us, “Sustainable and durable community does conflict well and allows for variation.”

Teachers focus on building enduring skills, dispositions and capacities – in themselves and in children – that are necessary for engagement with social justice

    We understand that the development of skills and dispositions undergirds – and is more important than – any particular content we share. We are building capacity for a “durable” and caring community…

    • open-hearted and open-minded curiosity
    • respect and consent (asking first)
    • empathy – awareness that you are one kind of “real” person and that other people are “real” too
    • speaking up and listening
    • leaning into and navigating conflict – healthy discourse and active peace-making
    • a habit of seeking connection rather than competing to have more and to win
    • a playful comfort with uncertainty, and a willingness to revise your own theories, habits and practices
    • the ability to imagine a world you would like to live in