Developing critical consciousness during virtual learning
Equity Corner by Tracie Noriega
October 5, 2020
By the time you read this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across the nation are in the midst of virtual learning. Districts are providing professional development for teachers; support for families with access to meals, devices, and hotspots; and teachers are planning with their teams, and meeting virtually with their students.  Currently, the state of families is varied. Some parents are able to support or provide the online learning, while another family is struggling with providing the basic needs. Our teachers are in different situations as well. Some are tech savvy, already practicing “flipped classrooms.” Others are novices who still prefer a paper copy of the weekly bulletin. Our teachers may also have their own family situations to balance. Understanding that conditions vary, how can we, as educators, be responsive to the needs of our students, their families, and our teachers?  As a second-generation Filipina American, I am the daughter of immigrants who took a leap of faith by coming to this country. What my parents didn’t realize was the bias and racism that their children would encounter in their school experience; that their children would not be represented in the curriculum; their children’s last name would be shortened out of convenience, thus shaming us and making us feel insignificant. Despite the early trauma and full of gratitude for my high school teachers that supported me through a tough time, I decided to pursue liberal studies as my major.  Dr. Murai and Dr. Maeda, professors at CSU Sacramento, introduced me to ethnic studies. It was through my first Asian American studies class that I learned my people’s history and accomplishments. I finally saw myself in what I was learning. I had words that explained my school and family’s immigrant experience. I now had a foundation for who I wanted to be as an educator. I knew that as a teacher, my classroom would be a second home, inclusive, safe, and healing. As a principal, I worked to build and nurture relationships with students, their families, and my staff. We all worked hand-in-hand to make our school the place we all felt respected and accepted. As a district administrator, working to create those conditions of healing and community is ongoing. So, in this unprecedented time where our students are not in our classrooms, but on the other side of a screen, how can we be responsive to the needs of our students, their families, as well as our teachers? I offer using the “Guiding Values and Principles of Ethnic Studies Teaching” as a model for our work moving forward. Rooted in humanization and critical consciousness, they include the values of love, respect, hope, solidarity, and the celebration of community cultural wealth. Along with each guiding value and principle are questions to reflect on as we make decisions for our school communities: “Cultivate empathy, community actualization, cultural perpetuity, self-worth, self-determination, and the holistic well-being of all participants, especially Native People/s and people of color.”  Who is your school community? What do we know about their current situations? How are we supporting? How are we ensuring that virtual learning strategies are also humanizing pedagogical strategies? “Celebrate and honor Native People/s of the land and communities of color by providing a space to share their stories of struggle and resistance, along with their intellectual and cultural wealth.” How can our online curriculum include the collection of stories from our students, families, and staff? How can we celebrate these stories, lift them up as the human experience, and validate each one? “Center and place high value on pre-colonial, ancestral, indigenous, diasporic, familial, and marginalized knowledge.” How can our online curriculum include having students research their family stories, thus strengthening intergenerational relationships and validating the narratives that may not be written in a textbook? “Critique empire, white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.” “Challenge imperialist/colonial hegemonic beliefs and practices on ideological, institutional, interpersonal, and internalized levels.” Do we believe that all students can learn relevant concepts and express their learning with higher order academic language? If so, are we providing them the experiences, supporting them to achieve, and treating them as young intellectuals? Are we analyzing our systems, whether at the state, county, district, school, and classroom level to see if we are perpetuating inequities and practices that will continue to marginalize?  “Connect ourselves to past and contemporary resistance movements that struggle for social justice on global and local levels to ensure a truer democracy.” How are we asking students to analyze current events and outcomes of policies? Who continues to be marginalized? Which communities are suffering the most and why? Who is benefiting and not benefiting from financial relief supports? “Conceptualize, imagine, and build new possibilities for post-imperial life that promote collective narratives of transformative resistance, critical hope, and radical healing.” How can our online pedagogy and curriculum ensure that students’, families’ and teachers’ health and well-being are prioritized? How are we helping to create conditions of hope and healing by our communication and decision-making processes? Who are we involving when we make decisions that affect others? In this shift from being in a school building to virtual learning, we’ve lost the human connection so vital to relationships. For some students, school is their safe place, but for others, school is trauma inducing. At the core, ethnic studies considers, “Who are we? Where are we from? What are our stories? Where are we going? What will our relationships to each other be? Who decides?” (Cuauhtin, 2019). As educators, the “Guiding Values and Principles of Ethnic Studies” can support how we respond to the needs of our students, families, and teachers. If we consider the questions posed, we can help to create the conditions that allow students to see themselves in what they are learning, and to feel valued, respected, and loved.  Maya Angelou said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” This time, this moment provides us an opportunity to make change, a change for social justice, that truly supports ALL students, not just some. What change will you help to make? Tracie Noriega is assistant superintendent of Educational Services, San Lorenzo Unified School District and the representative to the ACSA State Equity Committee for Region 6. Noriega is also president of FAEAC, the Filipino American Educators Association of California. 
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