Teaching for Black Lives End-of-Year Reflections

For the fourth year, the Zinn Education Project sponsored more than 100 Teaching for Black Lives study groups. In addition to discussing chapters and articles from Teaching for Black Lives and Rethinking Schools, educators attended monthly online classes and curriculum workshops, adapted people’s history lessons, and more.

We received feedback from more than 198 study group participants from the 2023–2024 Teaching for Black Lives cohort. In the end-of-year survey, more than 89 percent of participants said the study group deepened their understanding of how to incorporate anti-racism into their curriculum and/or practices; 86 percent said the study group help them continue to do anti-racist teaching despite anti-history legislation designed to limit discussions of structural racism; and 85 percent said the study group provided a community to help sustain them during one of the toughest periods for educators.

Below are members’ comments and quotes about their study group experience.

What are some of the actions your study group took this year? What work are you most proud of?

It helped me become more active in my union, fighting legislation that hurts students. — Orlando, Florida

We co-designed and delivered a three–part professional development on the 13 principles from Black Lives Matter at School that any teacher in our district could take. — Providence, Rhode Island

Brooklyn T4BL Study Group Members

We are beginning to build our base of anti-racist activists who will support our schools direction toward teaching, supporting, and living social activism and cultural diversity to our students. Our #TeachTruth Day of Action is one way we are starting to get back on track.  — Brooklyn, New York

We created a lending library at our school for our staff who might be interested in learning a little bit about Teaching for Black Lives and related literature. — Puyallup, Washington

Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action discussion in San Juan, Puerto Rico

We held events for the university community with participation from students, administrators, and professors. We have given the opportunity to critically think and express the community’s thoughts about topics that are silenced on the island. We even produced an Academic Senate resolution to add transverse themes about racism and women’s rights in the curriculum. Our group of collaborators have moved from being isolated and quiet to being participative and with a powerful voice. Teaching for Black Lives has empowered us to change the way we teach, and to teach the truth. — San Juan, Puerto Rico

We created an affinity space for Black students to be affirmed, empowered, and celebrated. A place where they felt safe to be their authentic selves! — Raleigh, North Carolina

We surveyed students from Kindergarten to 12th-grade on their experiences in school, asking them questions about the representation they see in their curriculum, the opportunities they have to learn about Black history, and whether they feel they have a voice in their school communities. We took those voices and wrote a collective letter to Dr. Lester W. Young on the New York State Board of Regents. — New York City, New York

Our book study group, composed of students and educators, worked toward supporting the students’ vision for a youth unity summit to bring together students and clubs from across the county to learn, support, and network with each other. We were so proud to host this event with the amazing keynote speaker, Tiffany Jewell, bestselling author of This Book Is Anti-Racist. Students also had the opportunity to listen to Eden Strachan, author and founder of Black Girls Don’t Get Love, and engage in breakout sessions led by Teaching for Black Lives group members, UMOJA, and Social Justice Coalition student leaders and advisors.  — Camillus, New York

Our admin team took a deep dive into our discipline data and completely restructured our restorative practices system, including hiring an Intervention Specialist and changing our SRC teacher (traditionally an in-school suspension room) to a teacher who is trained in restorative justice and known for forming close relationships with students. This teacher is being supported through curriculum and training to take SRC from a punishment approach to a restorative justice platform that works closely with our Intervention Specialist, counseling team, and student psych services. — Madera, California

Elk Grove T4BL Study Group Members and Edward Harris Jr. Middle School Educators

We participated in Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action! Loved that! We incorporated lessons for students to get involved in and got a large group of teachers to buy and wear a Black Lives Matter at School shirt in our school’s color. I am looking forward to expanding our activities next year! — Elk Grove, California

We had difficult conversations around Palestine and Israel. I believe some of our discussions helped other groups members recognize bias while they led me to take further risks in the creation of many lessons which engaged students to connect global events to their own lives. Students voiced interest in actions through student activism. — Wheaton, Maryland

I am most proud of going to the Board of Education and speaking about how more teachers of color need to be hired.  — Ellicott City, Maryland

We created a Curated Learning Journey List to share across our district, as a tool for other educators to extend their own learning at their own pace, in their own time. — Somerville, Massachusetts

Under the direction of the Students Advocating for Gender Equity (SAGE) club advisors Andrea Wilson-Harvey and Laura Steibetz, students organized and worked on a social justice conference for 150 students from two high schools. Attendees participated in student-led workshops that discussed and used activism projects dedicated to understanding racism, gender equity & women’s rights, LGBTQ+ issues, environmental racism, voters’ rights, anti-racism, disability rights, political activism, and intellectual freedom. We ended our day with two speakers who discussed women’s history on the mainland and discovered that some “washer women” worked in the Lower Merion township. Students were encouraged to speak up and vote in the next election. — Rosemont, Pennsylvania

We created a zine based on the group’s collective interpretations of the Teaching for Black Lives readings. We printed 100 copies and left them around the College of Education. All the copies were picked up so we plan to print some more for Fall 2024. — Greensboro, North Carolina

I was most proud of a student’s comment after I implemented a “Black Mathematician of the Day” in February. She said, “You know, you’re the only teacher who’s mentioned Black History month and you’re my math teacher. That says something, you know?” — Rosemont, Pennsylvania

Student Leadership Summit on Belonging in Charleston, South Carolina

We organized a Student Leadership Summit on Belonging. More than 60 students from grades 8 through 12 and from five different schools attended. Students explored the questions: What does it mean to belong? How can we cultivate it in our unique school communities? And, most importantly, how do we nurture our own sense of belonging? Also, a teacher from last year taught a Charleston block project to study the city and uncover truths. — Charleston, South Carolina

Our 5th-grade classes focused intently on Black Lives Matter at School 13 principles and then students created artifacts that showcased their deep connection to the principles, for a “Celebrating Black Lives” Museum. I am most proud of the way students turned their ideas and understanding into poetry, sculptures, paintings, recipes, music videos, and skits. This project brought joy to our classroom after complex, yet necessary, conversations about each principle. — Brooklyn, New York

Hayward Students and T4BL Study Group Members

We added an intention this year to share Black-affirming educational experiences beyond the month of February. We created a collective identity statement that helped to drive the implementation of various activities that center Blackness in our classrooms. One activity asked students to design a t-shirt logo for the study group. On Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, we kicked off Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action and shared messages of remembrance, advocated for social justice, and supported organizations working toward equality as we proudly represented one way we are pushing for change by wearing our HUSD Teaching for Black Lives T-shirts/Hoodies to keep building awareness about why we need this group. Now we have more support to address anti-Blackness in our district. — Hayward, California

We interviewed students in grades K–12 about what is needed first hand to improve our schools. We wrote to the state education department to report first hand the voices of the youth, families, educators and community partners who are experiencing and witness the miseducation taking place — the disappointment, frustration, heaviness, invisibility, and disregard to our collective rights. Having access to the book Teaching for Black Lives, the magazine Rethinking Schools, attending monthly Teaching the Black Freedom Struggle classes and participating in monthly check-in meetings provides a wealth of support. We never imagined that our participation would take us to these heights as activists. — New York City, New York

Members of the study group started and coordinated Black history events, in addition to a Ruby Bridges Walk to School day. I’m proud of the space we created for each other to grow. I’m also proud that the group brought in so many other teachers at our school to participate in honoring and celebrating Black history.  — San Leandro, California

Our program offers Waldorf teacher education and we are in the process of developing 12 Teaching for Black Lives curricular areas in our three-year program. We are also offering a weeklong intensive called “Teaching for Black Lives in Waldorf Schools” this summer! — Milwaukee, Wisconsin

What is the biggest benefit of participating in a Teaching for Black Lives study group?

Being part of a cohort of educators who are actively doing this work and engaging in the disruption of white supremacist teaching practices that perpetuate systemic neglect of our Black and Brown students is ESSENTIAL and NECESSARY to sustain you today. This work can be alienating, othering and exhausting. Having peers who you trust, and who are willing to try and fail, and try again helps all of us be more vulnerable and accountable at the same time. — Catherine Anderson, Providence, Rhode Island

I’ve learned so much more about the accurate and hidden history of Black Americans and how our systems negatively impact them to this day. Learning from the lens of Black Americans has further increased my understanding, as well as my passion toward creating change for more equitable systems.   — Teri McAllister, Everett, Washington

Everything in the book Teaching for Black Lives is relevant and I feel all educators should be required to read it because it causes a shift in your view of the impact we have every day with our students. It has changed me, and the way I approach every subject I teach in my classroom. I appreciate the opportunity to be part of the Teaching for Black Lives Movement! — Laurie Benway, San Leandro, California

I am not a teacher, but am an involved parent and this was such a great study group. I’m raising anti-racist kids and it helped me understand the teacher’s perspective, especially the Black teacher’s perspective. — Kristen Angus, Centreville, Virginia

The Teaching for Black Lives study group provided me with a constant source of optimism, connection, and community during a particularly difficult year for education in Florida. Our facilitators showed up with joy and responded to current events within our state, nationally, and globally. I appreciated the opportunities to make connections between active anti-racism in the context of our schools and larger patterns on a national and global scale. Having a space to process current events, analyze our readings, and share ideas and support to push me in my teaching practice was an incredibly valuable experience. — AnnElise Acosta, Miami, Florida

It is hard to narrow it down to one thing: 1. The book is amazing — so well-organized, carefully curated, and absolutely engaging; 2. The online classes provided classroom-ready material that I was able to put to use in the classroom immediately; 3. The gatherings left me feeling connected to a vast network of educators across the country with similar goals and lots of ideas for how to move forward. — Amy Clarke Moore, Longmont, Colorado

The biggest benefit in participating in the Teaching for Black Lives study group was the opening of my eyes and my heart to the lives of others. The group allowed for uncomfortable conversations that would otherwise be avoided. It sparked a fire in me to stand up for others’ rights. It also helped me understand and accept my white privilege. It helped me to release the guilt that I had been carrying, which in turn, helped me not to shy away from the great work that needs to be done. — Theresa Radline, Blairstown, New Jersey

Coordinating a Teaching for Black Lives study group was a wonderful way to connect with other teachers who we may not have otherwise been able to connect with. There was so much comfort in knowing there were other like-minded people teaching in our school. Often, on the day after a meeting, I would get multiple emails about how attendees left the meeting feeling better than when they went in. Our conversations were almost therapeutic. — Kristin Crouch, Rensselaer, New York

Teaching for Black Lives was great and a good dialogue starter. We had students in our group and let them lead the discussion and where they wanted this effort to go. We had hoped to help them become better advocates for the things they wanted to see changed at their school. — Bina Lefkovitz, Sacramento, California

Our group has been together now for three years. Most of the teachers have between one and four years of teaching. All of our members are teachers of color and we are spread across our city, as many of us are the only teachers of color in our school. Our group provides support, community, solidarity, and love for each other. This has been one of the most powerful induction support efforts I’ve ever been part of. — Jehanne Beaton, Minneapolis, Minnesota