Light Bulb Moments: Community

by | 05.18.16

Rusul Alrubail is the co-founder of The Writing Project, an essay writing platform for students. She is also a writer on education, teaching and learning. Rusul is a former English composition and literature professor. Connect with her on Twitter @RusulAlrubail.

Have you ever walked into a room full of people and you were the only one that looked visibly different? If you haven’t, chances are you’re lucky, maybe even privileged to not have ever been in this position, but I encourage you to read on and walk in my shoes for a bit. If you have, I know how you feel.

Rusul Alrubail

Years and years ago, as a muslim student of color, life was tough. My struggle wasn’t because no one looked like me, my struggle was that many students looked like me, but none of my teachers did. Why does that matter? Research suggests that we are biologically wired to empathize with people who look like us. Teachers could not understand what it was like being me, a former child refugee, now struggling to learn english and make friends.

Fast forward years later, I am one of the very few muslim women who work at my college, and the only one in the department of English and Liberal Studies. All this, combined with being a new young teacher, led me to feel very isolated, in a profession where I needed collegial support the most to retain my enthusiasm and positivity for students. Of course, my colleagues were wonderful, but this wasn’t about them being good human beings or not, this was about my wanting to relate to someone on the same level of experience, mindset, and background.

So I tell my students this: “We discuss social justice and equity in the classroom to help raise awareness that these issues directly touch our lives, and if we don’t speak up for ourselves, then who will?” My students all agree and in fact voice this same sentiment to me in so many ways. Some of them are international students, some of them are English Language learners, many of them are students of color, some of them are white students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, some of them hope to make a difference. They are my students, and I love them all, and I care about issues that touch them on a daily basis.

We are all impacted by equity and social justice issues, some of us are more impacted than others. Teaching about these issues helps raise awareness, and allows students to think critically about their stance on such topics. Teaching about equity and social justice issues though also makes our teaching and our pedagogy relevant.
And since those issues were near and dear to my heart, it was a great surprise to me that they weren’t discussed at all when I became a connected educator on Twitter. Twitter was and still is a great way to connect and learn from many educators globally, but the lack of discussion of equity and social justice created that same feeling of walking into that staff room and felt like I didn’t belong.

One day, I saw tweet inviting us to join a chat focused on racial and social justice in education. I was very excited and added it to my calendar. That evening, when I joined #EduColor’s first chat and I also discovered the importance of joining affinity groups in education.

Joining the chat led to my invite to join #EduColor movement as a member and most recently, a steering committee member. #EduColor is a movement that focuses on issues of race, culture and ethnicity in education. We advocate for equity for students and teachers of colour and other marginalized individuals whose voices rarely get heard. As a result of joining #EduColor, I feel supported, empowered and driven to continue to advocate for issues I truly feel passionate about. Probably the biggest benefits of joining #EduColor is building close relationships with educators who have had the same struggles I’ve experienced. Their support and constant wisdom truly does empower an educator in the classroom.

Here are a few tips on how get started with teaching about Equity & Social Justice issues:

  1. Create a safe space: Make sure that you have created a safe and friendly learning environment in your classroom. This means that relationship building with each student is key, knowing them, understanding where they come from helps to pave our way to being more empathetic.
  2. Choose a great text: whether informational, short story, or poem that contains a social justice/equity theme and frame your lesson plan around unpacking this theme through inquiry, questioning, and reflections. Here are a few examples of literature to teach social justice.
  3. Do a fun research assignment with students about a social justice/equity topic they’re interested in or feel passionate about and have them share their findings with the class.
  4. Leverage available resources: Don’t let anything stand in your way. Leverage everything that is available to you to accomplish your goal. There are countless online resources that provide you with strategies and lesson plan ideas on how to integrate social justice and equity in your classroom. Start with Teaching Tolerance, they have lesson plans by grade level/subject area.
  5. Check out #EduColor Resources: Join us online to get more support from other educators, parents and the community. Check the hashtag, there are countless of ideas and articles that are shared daily, as well as our website’s resource list.

Having a space where I can discuss issues pertaining to social justice and equity is really important. It helps to strengthen my digital presence, not only as an educator, but also as a muslim woman of colour in an online space where people of colour’s voices are often unheard and marginalized. Thus, by focusing on marginalized issues we are in turn amplifying them and giving them attention they deserve to create and influence change in our own footprints, digitally or in real life.

Rusul Alrubail is the co-founder of The Writing Project, an essay writing platform for students. She is also a writer on education, teaching and learning. Rusul is a former English composition and literature professor. Her current work focuses on teacher development and training, equity and English language learners. Connect with her on Twitter @RusulAlrubail.

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