Turning protests into teachable moments

Whether you follow football or not, you’ve no doubt heard about the controversy surrounding certain NFL players kneeling to protest police brutality during pre-game National Anthem ceremonies.

If you’re as rabid a fan as I am, you saw more than one player take a knee during the Star-Bangled Banner ahead of yesterday’s games.

As the debate over these protests continues on social media and in front of water coolers (Read: heroic activism vs. affront to military and service heroes), institutions and organizations across the country, including schools, are forced to consider what happens when the controversy reaches their doors.

The NBA and the NBA players’ associations, for instance, recently sponsored talks about how to deal with protests during the upcoming basketball season, according to recent reports.

Recent police shootings in Charlotte and Tulsa will likely stoke the fires of protests even higher.

As educators think about how to address the issues in schools, the focus will be on how to balance teachable moments with respect for teachers’ and students’ personal beliefs and opinions, writes Education Week’s Evie Blad in her Rules for Engagement blog.

Whatever choices you make, giving students a way to vent and express themselves is vital, she says. Here’s a few of her suggestions for how to do that.

Taking advantage of a teachable moment
If you do encounter protests in your classrooms or at school sporting events, discipline might be the knee-jerk reaction. But think before you act.

In Naples, Fla., recently, a high school principal threatened to kick students out of football games if they refused to stand and be quiet during the National Anthem. A video he created about the policy ignited a firestorm in the local community, per the Miami Herald.

Hard-line policies seem like an easy solution for a lot of schools. But they aren’t always the smartest approach, Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, tells Blad.

“Schools talk such a great game about wanting to produce civically engaged students,” he explains “This is something schools should be embracing as a teaching opportunity.”

Discussions about race, patriotism, and crime prevention are never easy. Each of these topics is sensitive, and requires a certain tact. But what better place than schools to start a conversation about acceptance and understanding?

“At a time when schools are increasingly advocating for student voice and calling on students to think critically about current events,” writes Blad, “educators could use these conversations as a chance to help students grow and learn.”

Starting the conversation
Whether your school district has faced protests around these or other issues or not, there’s no rule that says you have to wait for a headline to have a teachable moment.

Blad suggests confronting the issue head-on in the classroom, and in the broader school community.

She offers these suggestions for how to kick-off a dialogue in your schools:

  • Assign essays for students to express whether they agree or disagree with athletes’ protests.
  • Stage student debates over the issues surrounding the protests.
  • Conduct community-wide discussions on race and justice in America. This can include both students and community members.

Also, give students a safe place to privately express their thoughts and opinions. Online forums and inboxes work well. So, too, do one-on-one meetings.

Don’t wait for controversy or protest to erupt in your district. Take the opportunity to lead the conversation about these and other critical issues.

What steps do you take to manage and teach around student protests in your schools? Tell us in the comments.

Want to start a meaningful dialogue with students? Here’s one way to encourage thoughtful and productive conversations around sensitive issues.

Author: Todd Kominiak

Todd Kominiak is Managing Editor of TrustED.

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