Most teachers, when they enter the field, profess their love for students right off with statements such as, “I love working with children” or “I love all children.” Their dedication and passion are often evident, but true love in education must go deeper so that every child feels seen, heard, and valued. Only then can every teacher shape the lives of the next generation. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of revolutionary love (Wynter-Hoyte et al., 2022) and how it can make our classroom communities more joyous and inclusive. Here are a few things you can do to engage in loving pedagogies.
1) Examine Beliefs
First, engage in deep introspection. As teachers, we bring our own beliefs and experiences to the classroom, which can shape our initial teacher identities. Many of us were educated in a system that prioritized Eurocentric perspectives and failed to affirm diverse races, languages, and cultures. Your perception of students is influenced by the social messages you receive from your immediate circle and society at large. Hence, while you are learning about your students’ identities, you must reflect on your own.
As my co-authors and I share in our book, Revolutionary Love, many children of color and their families experience trauma and discomfort in schools across the country every day. So I urge you, on their behalf, to use the four entry points I share in this blog to help us stay the course. We are on the cusp of something new. This work is about a deliberate or renewed commitment to honoring the humanity, intelligence, ethnic and racial identities, and linguistic practices of our students.
By examining our beliefs, we can challenge the biases and assumptions that may unknowingly influence our teaching practices. For example, earlier in my career, I noticed that families were not present for traditional manifestations of engagement; however, they outwardly showcased their support by attending family nights, sending in meals, and encouraging their children to just give their homework a try. I learned to appreciate these forms of engagement and moved to learn more about what really mattered to the families in my classrooms. You might find that your students are being cared for by people other than a mom or dad, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends. Your support can extend beyond the walls of the school to include other essential places in your students’ lives. Engage with your students in communities that are important to them. For instance, you might:
- Attend their places of worship for events such as First Communions.
- Go to sporting events and dance recitals.
- Shop in the stores in your students’ neighborhoods.
- Visit your students’ homes.
- Meet families at the public library or community center to help them fill out nonacademic forms.
Using a more asset-based lens helped me to create stronger bonds with families.
2) Get to Know Students…More
Revolutionary love requires us to fully understand and appreciate our students' unique backgrounds, experiences, and needs. Building authentic relationships with our students allows us to create a safe and inclusive learning environment. By actively seeking to know more about our students, we can celebrate their diversity and create opportunities for their voices to be heard within the curriculum. Additionally, you can use pose questions such as:
- What are some of your favorite things to do with your family and friends?
- Name someone you know who is a good reader or storyteller. What makes that person a good reader or storyteller?
- What do you love about your community?
- What language(s) are spoken in your home?
For instance, when a child responds to the question about language on the student inventory, a teacher who embraces revolutionary love will use that response and validate the speaker’s home language (e.g., AAL, MxAL, ME).
Download your own Culturally Inclusive Reading Inventory for Students survey.
3) Know Your Curriculum
To create or reimagine a curriculum that effectively connects with students’ identities, language, and cultural heritage, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of the expected learning outcomes. As a teacher-educator and consultant, I encourage teachers to thoroughly examine their standards, delving into what knowledge students are expected to acquire and at what level of proficiency. This process also involves recognizing the narratives that are often overlooked, particularly of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous peoples. It is important to intentionally redesign lessons, incorporating the brilliance of cultural figures who have made significant contributions to areas such as mathematics, literature, sciences, and the collective knowledge of humanity. For instance, when collaborating with a fifth-grade teacher on an argumentative writing unit that focused on environmental changes needed in their local community, both the teacher and I encouraged students to explore local experts who were actively advocating for change in their immediate context. By doing so, we not only honor and celebrate the richness of diverse cultures but also provide students with diverse role models and perspectives that can inspire and empower them.
4) Re-Envision Curriculum and Practices
Once we have gained a deep understanding of our beliefs and students, it is essential to critically evaluate our curriculum and teaching practices. Revolutionary love challenges us to confront the inadequacies present in traditional educational materials and methodologies. We must actively work to dismantle biased systems and replace them with a curriculum that affirms and empowers our students. This may involve re-envisioning lessons, incorporating diverse perspectives, and co-creating curriculum alongside our students to ensure it reflects their lived experiences. For example, when one teacher noticed that her students were visibly excited about different hairstyles and cuts, she reimagined a narrative writing unit that allowed students to create hair stories. Instead of using the recommended texts, she selected culturally relevant mentor texts such as Crown: An Ode to a Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and Bippity Bop Barbershop by Natasha Anastashia Tarpley and decided to focus on hair moments recounted in them. Although she changed the topics she talked about, she continued to have high expectations for her students, and she met the standards required by the mandated curriculum.