BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Thinking of Windows and Mirrors
Last month was Black History Month. Among the activities and lessons that took place across the school, the 5th Grade Advisory Group let us observe their class where they unpacked many topics, facilitated interesting conversations and reflections. The focus on Black History Month during the Grade 5 advisory unit was created and guided by the collaboration of Grade 5 teachers Ms. Serenity and Ms. Jill.
This interview features Advisory and EAL teacher Ms. Miriam who in her class connected the concept of “windows and mirrors” with Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech: “The Danger of a Single Story”.
What have you been working on today?
“The theme that holds our Grade 5 advisory group together is Identity. We explore not just who we are, but what shapes we are, who we are in a setting, who we are as 5th Graders, who we are when we get home…
We also think about why we think the way we do. We thought a lot about bias, and how to have difficult conversations about bias. It’s been really nice to connect all the bits together. It always goes back to the windows and mirrors in stories. For mirrors, the risk is that if we only look at ourselves, then we may only have a narrow perspective of the world, but deeper knowledge about ourselves and our heritage. In contrast, we use windows to see the world through and are exposed to more diverse and broad stories, perspectives and experiences.”
What else have you been working on?
“We talked to the students about why we have bias. We did exercises like researching toys for girls and for boys, and noticed that we’re always being sent messages; for example, pink for girls and blue for boys.
As an EAL teacher, my goal is to always have the window and mirrors present in the classroom. Every day we’re talking about linguistic diversity and how that's important to celebrate - so we are talking about our differences, how it’s so exciting to find out about other people and how it's actually our job to do that.”
What challenges do you face as a teacher during Black History Month?
“For me, the challenge is that it's more than just a month. Having Black History Month is nice because it gives us a focus to just look at that aspect, but our challenge in Grade 5 - and beyond - is to make sure that it’s more than just a month.
A few years ago in Grade 5, we decided that we wanted to make sure we’re representing not only who comes to our school, but also celebrating groups that in the past have not been in history. I’m the EAL teacher so every day we’re talking about linguistic diversity and how that's important to celebrate - so we are talking about our differences and that it’s exciting to find out about other people and how it’s our job to do that.”
How do you feel when you see the students discover the dangers of a single story?
“As a teacher, it’s really nice to see the students make this discovery. It’s really important to present it in a way in which students can access the concept through their own experiences so they’re able to see their own biases, and therefore reflect on them.
I can think of an example that happened recently. Someone said “Make sure to take your dirty clothes to your mom!” and a student went: “That’s biased! Your dad can do the laundry too!”. And they’re absolutely right!
It’s a really nice way of learning about ourselves and how we fit into the world. Bias is something we don't realize we have but we all do.”
What do you think is important to have when teaching these topics and ideas?
“Advisory is a very safe space. You have to feel that this is a safe space for you to share, ask questions, make mistakes and correct other people’s mistakes. It’s creating that climate when people feel okay with sharing and clarifying what they think. So if we start with students at the stage where they're at, they can find a lot of these connections in their lives anyway.”