Anti-Racist Resources | September 1, 2020

Centering Justice, Equity, and Anti-Racism During Remote Learning

By Detra Price-Dennis, Associate Professor of Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

As teachers and families are making plans to return to school this fall, there is a lot of uncertainty in the air. COVID-19 ushered sweeping changes into K-12 schools this spring, prompting educators to expand their instructional strategies to engage in emergency remote learning. As I talk with educators around the world each week, there is a collective feeling of anxiety, frustration, and exhaustion about how to do what feels impossible with so many unknown factors. Many educators have spent weeks attending Zoom webinars focused on online teaching to help them think about how they can create impactful learning experiences for their students. Unfortunately, most of these webinars did little to connect culturally responsive, anti-racist, and equity-oriented approaches to teaching with online learning. Consequentlymany K-12 educators have unanswered questions about developing curricula that centers digital tools as a means to mediate, disrupt, and reframe ineffective instructional strategies that can further harm culturally and linguistically diverse students.  

Given the racial trauma families and teachers are experiencing in our country, we can no longer afford to separate conversations in education into two camps: one that only talks about equity and anti-racism and another that only talks about technology or online learning. At this moment, we need to merge these conversations to more fully understand how teachers can move between face-to-face and online instruction while accounting for the convergence of social equality issues in digital spaces that many teachers and students are now expected to navigate. 

This type of shift requires us to reimagine education in ways that center justice, equity, and anti-racism. If we want to meet the challenges of this moment, we need to conceptualize learning and design curriculum that is grounded in supporting marginalized individuals with a clear intentionality of leaving oppressive practices behind. To begin this process, I offer three guiding principles with some questions educators should consider while planning for remote learning: 

Co-Construct and Sustain Authentic Relationships with Students and Families 

  • What will you do to learn about your students if you are teaching online? 
  • How will you work with students to learn about each other and create a communal learning environment?  
  • How will you incorporate what you learn about your students in the curriculum?
  • How will you build trust with families as you Zoom into their home each day? 
  • How will your curriculum honor the cultural and linguistic practices, as well as community-based knowledge students bring to school? 

Examine Social Issues in Our Society 

  • How will you connect what is happening in your community and in our country with the curriculum? 
  • How will the issues that impact students and their families (such as racism) be part of your curriculum? 
  • How will you support students who have questions about systemic inequalities in our society? 
  • How will the curriculum you develop provide options for “making good trouble”? 

Leverage Digital Tools for Production

  • How will you engage students in media-making with digital toolto show what they are learning? 
  • How will your students create artifacts to share what they are learning with a variety of audiences? 
  • How will you introduce digital tools to help students process what they are learning and give feedback to each other? 
  • How will you use digital tools to foster collaborative learning and problem-solving?

COVID-19 has forced us to redesign and restructure our learning ecosystem. But, honestly, we knew pre-COVID that our educational system did not work for many children. Right now, we have a chance to think about and imagine what could be possible if we create learning communities that build on the brilliance children bring with them by positioning teachers as having the capacity to honor students’ lived experiences, home languages, literacies, and cultural practices. While the preceding questions should only serve as a starting place, they demonstrate a commitment to equity and justice that our children need at this time. 

Dr. Detra Price-Dennis is an Associate Professor of Education in the Department of Mathematics, Science, and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University, in the Communications, Media, Learning Technologies, and Design program. Detra serves as Co-Director of the Reimagining Education Online Advanced Certificate Program and is the founding director of #JustLit – a media based project that seeks to provide multimodal resources about literature, media, and social change in education. Her scholarship draws on ethnographic and sociocultural lenses to examine the intersections of literacy education, technology, and curriculum development as a means to identify and amplify equity-oriented pedagogies in K-8 classrooms. She sits on the board of directors for the Literacy Research Association and is the Chair of the National Council of Teachers of English Assembly for Research.  Her professional background includes work as an elementary school teacher, an administrator of a graduate teacher education program, and an Assistant Professor of Literacy Studies.