Month 4: The Power of Being an Ally
What is an Ally?
An ally is a learner and an advocate, but more importantly an individual who takes action to support a group that they themselves are not a member of. In a community, district, and society committed to diversity and equity, allies are working to use their voices to help neighbors who have different experiences and struggles. Anyone has the potential to be an ally. Being an ally is a commitment to listen, learn, and respond to issues face by members of different communities, especially historically oppressed group(s). The first step is to take the roadblocks other groups are experiencing seriously, even when we are not experiencing the same setbacks firshand.
You don't wake up one day and instantly become a great ally. Being an ally is hard work. Many of those who want to be allies are scared of making missteps that get them labeled as "-ist" or "-ic" (racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic, etc.). But as an ally, you are also affected by a system of oppression. This means that as an ally, there is much to unlearn and learn - mistakes are expected.
- Do be open to listening
- Do be aware of your implicit biases
- Do your research to learn more about the history of the struggle in which you are participating
- Do the inner work to figure out a way to acknowledge how you participate in oppressive systems
- Do the outer work and figure our how to change the oppressive systems
- Do amplify (online and when physically present) the voices of those without your privilege
- Do learn how to listen and accept criticism with grace, even if it's uncomfortable
- Do not expect to be taught or shown. Take it upon yourself to use the tools around you to learn and answer your questions
- Do not compare your struggles
- Do not behave as though you know best
- Do not take credit for the labor of those who are marginalized and did the work before you stepped into the picture
- Do not assume that every member of an underinvested group feels oppressed
Did You Know?
In 2021-2022, District 86's Washington Junior High School as well as Singleton Elementary School formed student alliances by modeling the Anti-Defamation League, No Place for hate initiative. The No Place for Hate peer-led club works to stand against hate of all kinds and make schools welcoming to students and staff of many backgrounds. Other schools in the District are also exploring this initiative and are looking to earn official designation in the future. This is what allyship is all about.
Several junior high schools in the District also have groups that work to advocate for and support students who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community through the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) or Pride Club.
Resources for Learning
The following resources will help you explore how powerful allyship can be in our community. No matter our role: community stakeholder, employee, teacher, principal, social worker, student, building support staff, secretary, parent, guardian, or neighbor - each of us can make a difference by helping and supporting the lives of others, as well as committing to stand up against hatred and harm.
Staff Corner - The Impact of Educational Professionals:
Building an alliance is the reason for the relationship between a teacher and a student. Students need a balance of both care and push from their teachers - care let's them know that you respect and dignify them and want them to succeed, no matter who they are or how similar or different they are to you. It also lets them know you're an ally; their struggles are real and valid struggles to you. Push gives them the motivation to take their learning to the next level - and that is what we are in the business of; empowering students through a quality education that addresses cognitive redlining (Hammond 88-99). We all intuitively know this as passionate educators, but how often do we actually check in with ourselves to see how well we are maintaining that balance?
Activities for Consideration:
1. The following resource from Zaretta Hamond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Divers Students, will jumpstart your reflection. Of the four types of teachers described in this handout, which type do you notice you most gravitate towards, and what would you have to do to shift to become a Warm Demander? Warm Demanders are considered successful teachers and allies (Hammond, 99).
Resource on Warm Demanders: Read ASCD's article on The Teacher as Warm Demander
2. A helpful way to think of a student-teacher alliance is to model it off of therapeutic relationship models. Just as with a counselor and client, teachers can crate the same kind of alliance with students. Zaretta Hammond writes that it should include:
- "A shared understanding and agreement to tackle a specific goal,
- A shared understanding and agreement about the tasks necessary to reach the goal along with confidence that these activities will lead to progress.
- A relational bond based on mutual trust that creates an emotional connection, and sense of safety for the student in order to do the hard work necessary to reach the goal" (Hammond, p. 93).
This alliance is both professional and warm. It is both out of love and concern for children and is built on mutual trust and respect. Children need to know we will champion them and fight for them both as human beings and academically - I am sure you are familiar with the famous Ted Talk by Rita Pierson, Every Kid Needs a Champion.
In what ways are you an ally to your students and their families? Engage in a conversation with the surrounding community and families to build an understanding of what is needed to support the children in your school community.
3. This may be an important time to note an ally isn't someone who pities or has low expectations for a race or class or marginalized group. That may cause harm and contribute to learned helplessness in the classroom, even though sometimes a teacher's sympathy is coming from a good and kind place. Instead, an ally is an advocate and supporter who shamelessly believes in their students' success and will stand up for them. Allies know that their neighbors, students, and friends of different backgrounds are powerful and capable; they help elevate all groups' voices and experiences and challenge their students with the bar set high.
Assess the climate in your school. Consider keeping track of how many negative and deficit comments are made regarding students and families versus positive and affirming comments, not as a punitive action, but as a way to honestly assess the messages being sent to students. You could track this data and review it periodically with the whole staff to improve culture.
Professional Learning Course Recommendation: ELN's Anti-Bias Education (2022-2023) - 1 Hr PD Credit.
Recommended Reading: In I Wish My Teacher Knew by Kyle Schwartz, you will be reminded as to why kids need allies.