Taking Way More Than 21 Seconds

This morning, I started my day off as I always do, reading Doug Peterson‘s daily blog post. In today’s post, Doug shares the 21 second pause that Justin Trudeau took when he was asked to comment on Trump’s response to U.S. protests.

As an educator, I can applaud and learn something from Trudeau’s wait time. Pausing is something that I continue to work on, in both our school classroom and our virtual one. Doug takes this pause even further with his challenge in the final paragraph of his post.

Now comes the uncomfortable part for me. Like really uncomfortable. Maybe even more uncomfortable than any other blog post that I’ve written before. I’ve been pausing for way more than 21 seconds these past few days as I try to think about what I can do, in a school setting (and a virtual one at that), to address the topic of anti-black racism with our group of young learners.

After our online class today, my teaching partner, Paula, and I spent a lot of time talking about what we could do.

Our conversation made me realize some things.

Not all kids can see themselves in our classroom. This isn’t intentional, but this doesn’t make it any more right. We have an overflowing supply cupboard with hundreds of books inside, but I can probably count on one hand, the number of books that truly represent people of colour. This is not okay. I need to look more closely at the book lists that have been shared through Twitter, and see what other books we can add to our library, read with our students, and talk about together, so that all children and families can truly see themselves in our room. 

Just like with our books, we need to look at our toys. What about our dolls? Kindergarten children make sense of their world through dramatic play, but do we have toys that mimic their world world? Their reality?

Our inquiries do not reflect all of our lived experiences. Paula and I have had the pleasure of teaching together for the past four years. While topics of interest always vary, in the past four years, kids have often communicated their thinking and feelings through The Arts. We have looked closely at different artists, including Kandinsky and Van Gogh. Our kids can talk about these artists, and make connections to their own artwork. But what about Black artists? What about Indigenous artists? While we briefly touched on Norval Morrisseau this year, is that enough? Our discussion today made both of us pause and realize that there is a lot more that we can do to bring different cultural influences and backgrounds into our classroom. 

We don’t always name differences. During our online Mother’s Day meeting, a child shared her artwork with us. She started to talk about the colours that she used, and reflected on the shade of brown that she chose for her mom. She said, “it’s too dark.” While she addressed skin colour with the class, we never took the conversation further. Should we have? Was that the opportunity to notice and name differences? To acknowledge race? 

At the end of our conversation today, we were both left wondering, what can we do, and where do we begin? Now what I’m about to say next is spoken, I know, from a position of privilege, but I want to be honest here, so I think that I need to say this up front: I’m scared. Right now, in the midst of the Coronavirus, we are all teaching from home. In our daily online meetings, we don’t just have our students, but also parents and siblings. We welcome this family atmosphere, but it makes teaching these more difficult topics, even more challenging. 

  • What if we make a mistake?
  • What if people interpret our message differently?
  • What if there’s a concern that our kids are too young to deal with “grown up topics?”
  • How “grown up” do we need to be and should we be?

In the classroom, Paula and I would let the children take the lead. I think about this conversation that happened back in February, when children began to wonder if boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls. We try to only go as deep as the children are going, and attempt to eliminate some of the stereotypes that have already developed, even at the age of four. Early this afternoon, I connected this thinking to an article that was shared with me about Teaching Young Children About Race. I really like the suggestions at the bottom of this article. 

Could this be our starting point? This made me think more about an idea that Paula mentioned. She talked about an Instagram story (she couldn’t remember the person who shared it, so I apologize here for not attributing it correctly), where an educator shared that we should no longer be covering up differences. Pretending they don’t exist. Maybe we need to start with “celebrating different.” This sounds like a good possible big idea for next week. Maybe then, we can also work on building schema in an age appropriate way. For while we want to take the lead of the child, children need background knowledge before they can ask questions and wonder aloud. This is an overarching idea that is sure to last more than a week, but we need to begin somewhere. While these conversations might not always be easy,  I think that Paula and I are both determined to do better than we’ve done before. 

Thinking back to Doug’s challenge, here’s what I can do.

  • Teach children to recognize and understand differences,
  • to see race,
  • to challenge stereotypes, 
  • to speak up,
  • and to be kind.

Tomorrow Paula and I start our planning for next week. We’re inspired, but we’re unsure. Do you have a suggestion? What else should we consider? Thanks to Doug Peterson and Justin Trudeau for inspiring a much needed, much longer, additional pause here, and the push to figure out where we might go next.


4 thoughts on “Taking Way More Than 21 Seconds

  1. Hi Aviva,
    Thank you for writing this very reflective post.
    You asked for suggestions and other things to consider.
    When I took my Kindergarten Part 1 AQ this winter, my instructors, Kenisha Bynoe and Gail Bedeau, were incredible in the way they demonstrated how every aspect of the kindergarten program can be examined and executed (poor choice of words; I apologize) with an anti-bias approach. Follow them on Twitter. My friend Ashley Clarke is teaching kindergarten right now and took the AQ with me. She has done such great things. Look at what she’s done because it’s not an “equity lesson” but embedded in all she does. A new follow for me (whose name I have forgotten) is a kindergarten teacher who has talked about things like protesting with the class. I trust that you and Paula will go forward sensitively and with great forethought.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Diana, and for sharing these suggestions here. It’s like you were in our heads today as Paula and I were planning this morning. We both spoke about not wanting to make a conversation on racism a one-off discussion or activity. We want to reconsider our whole approach, and how we can use an anti-bias approach in all that we do. You’re making me think of a few tweets that I read and retweeted this morning around expectations in the Kindergarten Document that talk about bias, prejudice, and speaking up. I will definitely have to take a closer look at what these educators are doing with their classes. A great advocate on parent engagement also emailed me some wonderful suggestions to consider on how to authentically engage families in these discussions. So much to consider, and I so appreciate all those individuals (including you) who are speaking up and sharing what they’re learning and doing!


  2. What if we make a mistake?
    What if people interpret our message differently?
    What if there’s a concern that our kids are too young to deal with “grown up topics?”
    How “grown up” do we need to be and should we be?

    Aviva, such great questions. I think too often we let our fear of getting it wrong or making it worse become our reason for inaction. It feels safer. That’s privilege and not anti-racist, isn’t it? I recently read, Is Everyone Really Equal? What a great learning experience for me. To be forced to examine my bias, my privilege in ways I never even knew existed was uncomfortable and philosophically transformational. Unlearning is a big step for us all to make this world a better place for everyone.
    Thanks for always having something important and thought provoking to share with your followers.

    • Thanks Terri! So incredibly well said. You have me thinking more, especially around the questions I posed, and the distinction between privilege versus anti-racism. An uncomfortable thought, but very true I think. I need to check out the book you mentioned here. The more I read, think, and converse with others, the more I realize how much unlearning I also have to do.


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