*Or sit-in, make art, write letters, or otherwise make their beautiful voices heard.
I used to believe that my students were too young to understand or process the injustices and problems in the world. After several years of learning about and exploring complex topics together, I see now that my students understand—and are so eager to know—much more than I gave them credit for. It is often my own fear of the messiness of it all—of not having all of the answers, of how families might respond, of saying the “wrong” thing—that holds me back.
My role as their teacher involves more than conveying subject-matter content and skills based on the CCSS. I want my students to make nuanced observations about themselves and the world around them, to be equipped to think critically, and to have the skills to take action aligned with their values and beliefs.
The March 14th Walkout is an opportunity for us to practice all of that, take action in the name of love and justice, encourage peaceful problem-solving, and assert the right of all students and staff to be safe at school.
There are so many ways PK-5 students and educators can engage in this movement together. They’ll vary based on the prior knowledge of each class, the culture of each school, and the willingness of each educator and their colleagues.
If you want to participate but aren’t sure how, here are some ideas [READ MORE LINK HERE IN ELECTRONIC ADVOCATE].
Be mindful of and responsive to your own feelings and needs related to traumatic events. Process them as best as you can in advance of your work with students. This is not to say that you can’t be honest and real with them, but children’s own emotional responses are often shaped by those of their caregivers. You’ll need to be prepared and able to offer them comfort and reassurance.
Organizing Your Community
Large scale actions take careful thought and coordination. Know your rights as well as the rights of your students. Engage in conversations with everyone who will be involved, affected, or able to support.
This can include your families, colleagues, building administration, District and union leadership. Solicit the input, concerns, questions, and participation of your community. Ensure that families are included at every step in the process, have a voice in planning, and feel welcome to attend the day’s activities. These conversations should inform your next steps. I’ve found that clear communication and a well-articulated plan go a long way towards allaying people’s fears and overcoming resistance. You’ll also need to consider plans for students who do not wish to participate.
Preparing Your Students
Every classroom and school community is unique, but why not start with what you already do every day—figure out how to connect this new content to what your students already know and understand. Unfortunately, our nation has a long and tragic history of white men using guns to commit acts of violence against other people. Your students may already be familiar with some examples. For instance, in my Kindergarten classroom, I plan to refer back to our conversations about the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Lincoln, which emerged from student questions about their lives and deaths.
Perhaps you’ve already offered an explanation, albeit a general one, for Lock Down Drills. Look for ways to scaffold your student’s understanding.
Even if you choose not to refer to Parkland or other mass shootings specifically, you can develop a general statement appropriate to your learners to help them put the movement into context. For instance, “There are many kids (and adults) who believe it should be MUCH more difficult for people to get weapons so they can hurt people,” or “Many people in our country die from gun violence and there are people working together to try to prevent that from happening.”
You know your students, so use that knowledge to anticipate possible responses and craft what you will say in advance of the discussion. Be sure to build in space for students to ask questions and share their own developing understandings.
There’s a chance the conversation might go in a direction you’re not prepared for. Remember that you can acknowledge a question or belief posited by a student and agree to circle back to it. This will give you the opportunity to reflect or consult with colleagues in order to offer a thoughtful response without the pressure of answering off-the-cuff.
If your students are not already familiar with examples of non-violent direct action, now is a great time to introduce them. There are many great picture books to help serve as a guide for these conversations and I’ve listed a few that I use in my classroom at the end. You might also use the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child (specifically Articles 6 and 12) as a basis for your action.
If you have classroom agreements that are consistent with the goals of the movement, tie those in, too! My students decided that we should “solve problems with words," a peaceful method to respond to pain and conflict, so we’ll discuss how to encourage others to honor that agreement on a larger scale.
Planning Your Action
Now it’s time for a gradual release of responsibility. Once students understand the context, give them the opportunity to decide what your collective action might look like. There are many forms this action could take.
Will materials need to be prepared in advance, or will participation be the act of creation itself?
- Make art, posters or signs for a march;
- Take a group or individual photograph with a message to be shared that conveys their thoughts about peace and conflict resolution;
- Write chants;
- Create cards for survivors;
- Write/draw messages to elected officials to tell them how they feel about participating in Lockdown Drills;
- Have a class conversation about what it means to feel safe;
Perhaps you and your colleagues will organize your school to participate in a large action together:
- A march and rally on your campus featuring reflections or poems read by students;
- Joining hands around your school as a sign of solidarity and strength;
- A read-aloud, or the observation of a moment of silence;
Regardless of the path you take, I believe it's incredibly important that students of all ages (and the adults who raise and teach them) have the opportunity to join the student-led movements underway. We can, and should, support one another by sharing ideas, resources and strategies on a path - in community with our students and their families - for positive action and change.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson
The Little Book of Little Activists with an Introduction by Bob Bland
A is for Action: The ABCs of Taking Action by Jeff Hoffart and Tosca Killoran
We March by Shane W. Evans
Continue the conversation
How do you, your class, and/or your school community plan to participate? Share your suggestions and questions in the PAT Discussion Group/comments below.