Social Justice is in the Small Things

“Social justice is not just joining marches and protesting. It’s all the small ways we treat each other.”

-Mary Ehrenworth

We’re mid-session the first day of the Teacher’s College Institute.  Teachers are crowded around tables in the library of the American School of Barcelona, simultaneously nervous, excited, captivated and jet-lagged.  Mary Ehrenworth, the instructor, has drawn us in with her stories, modeled specific areas of the workshop, and now, she tells us to get into writing partners.

There is a flurry of commotion as teachers look across their tables to pair up.  Before Mary even finishes uttering the words, my table mates and I have done the math.  There are six of us.  Three pairs of two.  We make look at each other, making a visual contract: a pair on either end and a pair in the middle.  I’m in the pair in the middle.

We finish, looking up at Mary.  We are pleased with ourselves for having made our pairs so quickly.  However, Mary quickly shatters our feeling of self-importance.

“Whenever you give students talk time, it is important to give them feedback on their work,¨Mary says. ¨So here’s feedback on yours: Social justice is not just joining marches and protesting. It’s all the small ways we treat each other.  How many of you looked beyond you and your partner to help others at your table?  How many of you looked beyond your table to see if other people needed partners?  This is where we have room to grow.”

That’s when it hit me.  In my reflections from this past year, I felt that I developed a strong relationship with most of my students.  However, in the last few weeks of school, I realized that they had not developed strong relationships with each other.

A collaborative mindset, is what Mary called it.  ¨Sink or swim together¨ are the words Prof. Gloria Ladson-Billings writes in Dream Keepers.  Building trust between students and developing a sense-of-self as a classroom is how I’m thinking about it as I am reflecting and planning for this upcoming year.

I moved to Barcelona two days ago. I will be starting at the American School of Barcelona in fall, as an eighth grade Humanities and English Language Learner (ELL) teacher.  For now, I moved here early to attend the first International Teacher’s College Writing Institute.

I showed up on Saturday full of hopes and fears and dreams, and a keen awareness that I currently do not speak Spanish. Upon my arrival, my soon-to-be roommate,  who I did not know before moving here, cleared her schedule to welcome me.   She is from Tunsia, and has been studying here in Barcelona since April.  While she is new to the city herself, she took time to show me the neighborhood, taught me how to rent locks and carts at the grocery store, and helped me navigate the tram.  She ate with me, laughed with me, and shared her story with me.

Social justice is in the small things.

How will I foster a sense of social justice in my classroom this year?  How will we include the student who is ostracized, the one everyone prefers not to work with?  How will we push each other to grow?  How can we realized that the greatest form of respect in school is building up each other’s learning?

I’ll start with Mary’s words: “We don’t leave anybody behind.¨

Every students deserves to be here.  They deserve to belong, and they deserve to fit in.

2 thoughts on “Social Justice is in the Small Things

  1. Mary Reindorp

    Wow! What a powerful lesson for the opening day of Writing Institute. It’s so empowering to have the teacher invite each participant to be more aware of what they can do to build community. I resonate with your reflection that in your previous classes, you had a strong relationship with each student, and, to be sure students are supported and empowered to carry the most important aspects of what they valued and learned from you to groups in their future, they need strong relationships with each other. I had one or two students in my classes last year with this gift for being aware of others, and it seemed like magic to me that they were so confident and kind. Thank you for sharing that this quality can be taught!


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