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Social Justice For Young Learners

by Shanimarie Ogilvie
July 27th 2021

Do you want to teach social justice but get overwhelmed just thinking about it? Well, on this episode Shelby of Little Justice Leaders breaks down teaching about social justice and gives some concr... More

we have to think about the structure of our schools in our classrooms. So what policies and practices do we have in place that are either rooted in social justice or going against social justice? Because really at the end of the day, you're either working towards social justice or you're working against it? Welcome to the teachers impact podcast or better yet known as the tip where teachers can come to master their craft, use their voice and enhance student learning. Here's my interview with Shelvey creates high Shelby. I'm so happy you're here on the podcast today. I'm so happy that you reached out so we can learn a little bit more about, you know, your thoughts on social justice and a little bit about your company and um some practical tips that you might have for teachers and so if you want to just go ahead and introduce yourself to us please. Absolutely, I'm so excited to be here and chat with you. Talk about all things social justice and education.

Um My name is Shelby Kratz. I am the founder of Little Justice Leaders uh subscription box that helps educators integrate social justice into their curriculum with kids. Um And I'm also a PhD candidate at U. C. L. A uh working on my degree in education um and I've spent about a decade now working in various roles in education. So I really um you know, I love working with teachers and I'm excited to talk about social justice education today. Wonderful. Wonderful. So you have a very, very background in education? Very yes. So what experiences made you believe in social justice and social justice teaching, and what made you wanted to start your company? Like, what were some of the things of the catalyst for that? Yeah, absolutely. So, around the time of the 2016 election, I was spending a lot of times in schools working on my research, and I had just been working um in the school for a few years before that.

So I was hearing a lot from teachers and for parents that they didn't quite know how to talk to their students with their kids about what was going on in the media and the news at that time. It was a lot of xenophobia, a lot of racism, sexism, misogyny coming up in the and the news all over the media and, you know, these parents and teachers were just like, I have no idea how to purchase with, you know, let's say a kindergartner or a third grader. Um, and so a lot of what I heard was, okay, so I'm just not going to talk about it at all. Um, and so that was really, yeah, that's that's a little concerning for me because we know that young people are hearing these messages. Um, and when, you know, we're not helping to um break down any confusion, any fear around those things. And it just kind of builds up anxiety and misinformation and misunderstanding for young people? So, for me, I thought about, well, how could I help, you know, parents and teachers be able to break this down into an age appropriate way because I've been working in education and specifically social justice focused education for so long.

Um, you know, I kind of had felt like I could help bring some of those, you know, more tangible ideas of how to do this. And so I thought, you know, it was actually a couple of years later, but it was kind of that building upon, you know, a lot of other um ideas I was having throughout the time that I was working in schools and during research. And finally I thought, you know what, this could be a subscription because there are just so many topics to cover. Um, it certainly couldn't be a one time type of program or anything like that. So I thought, you know, every month we could cover something different. There are so many topics. And so that's what I did. And I started it in, I think our first box went out in August of 2018, wow, that's that's great. So you definitely found something that was lacking. And I think, yeah, teachers are definitely, if they're not afraid to talk about it, they just don't want to talk about it. Right? And still, I'm glad you, you know, you took the initiative to really Foster that environment if you could just tell me like maybe one specific experience in education that you had like, is it mostly from your research or?

Yeah, so um my background education is varied. I started out in non profit after school programming. So I was working with girls in the after school program and that is where I really started my career in education. So I got to do direct work with girls and then eventually was working kind of with administrators too, um manage and oversee the programs. Um And then I moved into a school counselling role where I was working with middle school students and their families um to think about kind of their long term plans and ideas for the future. So that's kind of my role um at a charter school in Los Angeles. And then that's when I went back to school to get my PhD and since then it's been I've been working with schools through my research. Um So yeah, so for like kind of specific examples of times when I was like oh this is needed, we need to start talking about this. I in the after school program I worked on, we kind of touched on social justice topics and I saw the girls, those were middle school girls and I just saw how they truly opened up and wanted to talk about these things right?

They were talking they were you know, learning a lot of topics in school that they didn't feel like we're relevant to their lives, but then when we got into issues of justice, like for example misogyny that they felt like was truly impacting them and gave them, you know, the vocabulary to talk about that and the space and activities in ways that made it eight appropriate. Um they really felt linked and connected to the topics because they're like, wow, this is something that actually pertains to my life and so seeing the way they just like, opened up. Um not only do I believe that it's like so important from a content perspective, right? We need young people to know about these things, but also for their own development to be able to talk about it, to be able to put into words what they're experiencing is so empowering um and it truly shifts like the power back to them to say like this is my world view that gives them kind of the frame of mind and understanding to be able to, like I said, just, just talk about what the art experiencing, so it's so important from that perspective as well, wow, thank you.

I love the fact that you brought up um culturally relevant um making the making social justice relevant to the girls that you are working with because it's so important to their identity. Right? Absolutely. Um so so how would you define culturally relevant education or teaching? Yeah, absolutely. So this is one of those terms just like social justice, it's very hard to define because it is so like fluid and moving, but for me, I when I think about, you know, culturally relevant education or culturally relevant teaching, I'm thinking of teaching that first and foremost, centers the students and truly centers their experiences, their identities, who they are, what they want, what they're hoping to learn, because that's really, you know, we can only move to be culturally relevant if we're rooted in, you know, who who are who are the teachers and learners in this space. Um co creating a learning environment. So kind of letting down the walls of I'm the teacher and you're the student and more of, okay, we're all here to learn from each other.

We're all teachers were all learners, um and we're co creating an experience for ourselves. So that as an educator means like really having to be humble and and stop thinking of yourself as an expert and really start realizing like I have just as much learned from my students as they have to learn from me, it's gonna look different and it's just going to be a, you know, a process that we, that we iterate and go through. Um and then of course, last but not least like really responding to their identities and their needs. Um so that means sometimes you have to throw out the plan for the day if something else more important and more relevant and more urgent comes up in their lives in their experience in the news that it's like, okay, this needs to be addressed. We can't just go on with this math lesson and pretend that other thing didn't happen that is so relevant to your life. So I think it's really about like being prepared to be real and the raw and not always planned um what you're gonna do because things happen in the moment and you have to respond to it. And so I think that's a big part of being culturally relevant um as well.

Yeah. Wonderful. Yeah. I'm not sure if you had the same experience, but I remember when I was in middle school slash upper elementary, like things would happen in the world and I'm just learning about it now. Like, wait a minute, why don't we talk about that in school? Like that would have been so like, such a rich experience for me to student for the other students. So I just think it's, we need to really talk about these things and discuss these things because I can't just sweep it under the rug because we have adults that girl and they don't know really what happened. They don't know their history. So I'm glad you talked about that. So like we talked about culturally relevant education. So I know you're you're mostly focused on social justice and it's what are some of your thoughts about that? I know it's a big topic, but if you could just kind of like, break it down in a mini way for the audience. Yeah, absolutely. So, um obviously I think teaching about social justice is really important, so that's kind of our whole thing um which, you know, can can happen on so many levels.

We focus right now, we have to focus on the curriculum level, so that is providing teachers with the actual material to have this conversation face to face with a young person and to break it down in a way that makes sense for their age. Um Obviously you have to think about, you know, child development, age appropriateness to be able to make sure that um what we're presenting is not, you know, harmful or otherwise, like, you know, causing harm for the students because they're not ready or we're presenting in a way that's um not appropriate for their age or that kind of thing. So it's really important to be mindful of those kinds of things, but truly students understand young people understand so much more than we give them credit for. Um and they already know so much more than we give them credit for, which is like the truth, they truly pick up things so much faster than um we might as adults, especially because we may have grown up being caught another thing. And so then when we learn something that might be hard for us to process. Um but for young people, sometimes they're just like, oh, okay, like that's fine because, you know, they just they don't have this entrenched world view that we all have as adults.

Um So I think that's like, you know, something really important to think about when you're educating young people on social justice is like, they might get it faster than you get it and that's okay, take the time to educate yourself to and like, let your help yourself understand, do the research you need to do to the mind set work that you need to do to really understand something new, but also like, it might not be as hard for your students as it was for you. Um but then like kind of at the level beyond curriculum because curriculum, I think it's super important, we need to like introduce young people to the topic, but it's also like, we have to think about the structure of our schools in our classrooms, so what policies and practices do we have in place that are either rooted in social justice or going against social justice, because really at the end of the day, you're either working towards social justice or you're working against it. So you? Re thinking like your policies on discipline on grading on um kind of all this learning strategies that you're using in the classroom, you're teaching and learning expectations, um all all of your expectations of students, what are they rooted in?

Where did they come from? Why do you think students should or should not behave in a certain way. And so really interrogating your own thoughts, your policies or practices and kind of coming at it with fresh eyes because that is truly, you know, how we build social justice schools, not just social justice curriculum. So I think both of those pieces are really important. Yeah, that's great. That's one of the things um I've talked about here in the podcast, that self examination, right? So like where you stand and how your what are the lens that you're looking at things for? Also from like the systemic perspective, like how are the systems in place aiding social justice or going against it? So, I think that's really that's really important for me and I would just like to just your perspective on it. Yeah. You know, so culturally relevant teaching and social justice, like, how do you think they're similar or they're different as sometimes I feel like it's a blurred line. So if you could just give me your thoughts and Yeah, absolutely, it's definitely a blurred line.

Um and I think that's a good thing because I think if you are, for example, wanting to practice culturally relevant teaching, you should also be incorporating social justice and if you want to be a teacher for social justice, you better be thinking about how to do it in a culturally relevant way. Right? So, like, I hope I like to encourage teachers to really link these concepts in their mind because both are so important. There are I see some distinct, you know, aspects of each of them, everyone thinks about this differently. And sometimes like there's truly just not great um clear boundaries, but so for me, like social justice is really thinking um sometimes outside of the classroom right, it certainly is impacting you inside the classroom as well and in your lives, but like thinking beyond the four walls into the world, like what are the systemic um you know, challenges facing different people throughout the world and our environment, and how do those impact me, my community and the world, right? Really thinking that way. Um with culturally relevant teaching, I think of it really more focused on the students of like how do we respond to our students needs in the moment right now, um and respond to their identity.

So it's very much about like creating the space in the classroom where social justice, sometimes it's more about like looking at the issues outside of the classroom and then um kind of examining examining them critically inside the classroom, but again, like that definition is so blurry and I really do believe if you're practicing one of these practices, you should be trying to incorporate both of them because they are so important. That's yeah, so what are some tips, what are some practical tips you have for teachers on teaching social justice and what are some things that you have in your subscription box that you feel like would really benefit teachers. Absolutely, so a couple of practical tips that I think are really important. First and foremost I say, just start talking about it, Like just start bringing up issues of justice, right, racism, sexism, homophobia, LGBT Q Plus issues, religious diversity, environmental sustainability. Just start to bring this up, right? You can do that just by like integrating it into a lesson if you're not fully prepared to do a lesson on a topic yet, but just like really start to try to notice, you know, whether that's if you're reading books and you realize you make an observation to your class that you know, most of the character lead characters in the books that we've read our men most of the lead characters in the book that we've read our white people and just making that observation, opening that conversation um, can lead to really dip deep and rich, meaningful conversations with your students.

So like just slowly just start bringing it up, start talking about it so important. Um it's scary and you probably will make mistakes we all have, I promise it's okay, like you just move past that you learn to do better because that's what we have to do for our students. Um another thing I would say, be mindful of, you know, like the students and how they're responding to it of course, like when you start talking about it learning from them and, you know, iterating and recognizing that you're not the expert on every topic. Um, the students come with a ton of expertise on these topics and a lot of lived experience depending on what you're talking about. So, you know, just just keep having those conversations. Um a third kind of practical tip, I know a big fear is like, what are the parents going to say? Right? Especially if you live in a more conservative area where parents might be super upset that you're talking about this? Um so one way that I like try to frame it, if you do have those concerns that the parents in your area are going to have a problem um really framing it around this is compassion, like I'm teaching them not what to think, but I'm teaching them to respect all people, right?

And very few parents have a lot of argument against that when you say like, I'm not teaching them for example to support a specific political policy or a politician specifically um or any any kind of like political or social issue even, but rather I'm teaching them to have respect for all peoples experiences even that are different from themselves, right? So, you know, I'll get the question for example, um like I'll get messages like, are your box is gonna teach my kids that they should be gay? Well, no, because right? Because like um no, absolutely not. But it is going to teach them to respect um LGBTQ folks that they meet, right? Um and do not want your kids to respect everyone you meet. And very few parents are gonna say like no, I don't want my kids to respect it, right? So like really just being sure to like um focus the curriculum and focus how you're talking about it on that, that piece of like respect compassion for all people um you know, respecting differences even if we um you know, are different from those people.

So that's kind of one way to approach it that um parents tend to and you know, it doesn't always work. It might be a fight sometimes, so ready yourself for that. Um but that is the work, but but that really can soften it um for folks to say okay, like you know, you're not um you're not teaching them what to think, but rather like to respect people and most parents want to teach their kids that um Anyway, and then so yeah, in regards to the boxes and what's in them um every month the box comes with all of the resources that you need to talk about a specific topic. So for example are box that's going out this week actually is going to be on food justice. So we're talking about everything from um the way that, you know, the impacts of food production on the environment, uh to farm workers rights, all the way to um hunger and young people who don't have enough food or enough healthy food eat and food desert. So we're kind of covering the whole fan of food justice.

Um it's going to include tips on how to bring this up for with kids and activity for hands on activity to do with the kids while you're talking about it, so that they're, you know, physically engaged in something while you're having the conversation. Um a whole bunch of information for the adults to learn a little bit about it before they try to jump into teaching it. And and this is and then also like we always do activist art just for fun. So like a sticker, a poster of magnets, something fun that you can put up in your classroom to remember the topics that you learned about. Um last month our topic was pronouns for Pride month, so we're talking about your pronouns matter. Um you know, what does this, what does all this talk about pronouns and what does it mean? What are my pronouns? I'm so going through all of that process and practicing using different pronouns than what we're used to using the singular they um all of those types of things. So every single box is gonna have like everything you need to cover that one topic. Um and with activities, worksheets, lesson plans, all of that fun stuff to go along with it. So it's definitely a great resource.

I think I'm biased a great resource if you aren't sure where to start. We know that teachers, you know, you might be like truly an expert on, let's say, um anti racism, but you don't know a lot about environmental sustainability, right? Or something like that. Maybe you're an advocate for disability rights, but you're not really well versed in the LGBTQ plus community. So you, you know, we try to give a diverse topics so that, you know, we recognize that you're not an expert on everything and then kind of a fun byproduct that we hear from all of our teachers and parents and myself as I'm curating the boxes to is like even the adults are learning so much from it. So it's, you know, it's fun for adults too because you get to learn about topics that you might not have been an expert in um in the first place. And then um of course, like the, not everyone is able to access the boxes just because you know, the price. So we also give away a ton of free content on our instagram or instagram is at little Justice Leaders and we try to give away lots and lots of free information um so that everyone can have access to, you know, tips, ideas, activities, resources, all of the things that you need to get started right away with social justice in your classroom, wow, thank you.

Those are some great tips and definitely someone that I could use, especially with the parents. Yeah, those are yeah, yeah, but I like how you put it what parent doesn't want there kids to respect everybody. So I think that's yeah, those are some really great practical tips and I think that I like about your box that you said you cover all different types of social justice because I know about anti racism, but obviously I'm not versed in like environmental or disability, so I think that's great. So we'll all learn something. So I think that's that's wonderful and actually learned something in this conversation. Yeah, because I didn't think I wasn't thinking like wow, it's not just so many different types of social justice because you talked about, you know, the food justice and all the other types of social justice. So yeah, that's wonderful. It was so good talking to you shall be um is there anything else you'd like to add? No, I'm so grateful that you had me and I hope you all check out like I said, our instagrams at little Justice Leaders so much free content.

Um and then if you did want to check out the boxes. Our website is little Justice leaders dot com. All right, thank you everyone and we'll hear more from Shelby. Hopefully soon as our company grows. Thank you. Thank you. Hi. So these are the takeaways from Shelvey's episode number one was that if parents have a concern? The one thing we as teachers can let them know is that you're teaching students how to respect people of all races, cultures and backgrounds. The second take away I got from this is that teachers just need to start talking about social justice issues and ideas. For example, if you're reading books, if in the curriculum where you notice something that is out of the ordinary, something that that doesn't fit, you can start talking about it with your students. The third take away I got from this episode was that culturally relevant teaching and social justice go hand in hand.

So I hope you enjoyed this episode as much as I did and I learned as much as I learned. Thank you so much for listening. Don't forget to check out the website. Teachers impact on net Teachers from 0 to 10 years of experience. If you want to have your classroom more manageable, then you need to download the classroom management letter template. This is a letter you need to send to your parents so that you can have them on board and that you can have your classroom more manageable. Please see the link in the description box and a last but not least if you found this content helpful, please share a favorite and rate on your favorite podcast app. It helps to show to grow, reach more teachers and have an impact on a student learning. You can email me at teachers impact education at gmail dot com or follow me on instagram at teachers impact of podcasts and our twitter is at Shani Marie.

Oh happy learning and growing. Mhm. Yeah, mm hmm. Okay. Oh. Mhm. Okay. Yeah.

Social Justice For Young Learners
Social Justice For Young Learners
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