Weaving Social Justice into the Classroom

Diverse students interacting with an electronic map

The term “social justice” is subject to various definitions and interpretations. Its broadest possible definition is that of a society that grants no special privileges, nor subjects to oppression, any particular group based on race, ethnicity, class, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. Social justice is an idealistic concept that transcends political ideologies and movements, and is instead based on an inherent faith that humanity is, at its core, good. If you’re an aspiring teacher, you’ll have the opportunity to weave the anti-discrimination, anti-bias concepts of social justice into your classroom environment.

Teach Students that They Matter

By the time students reach middle school, they’re often experimenting with pushing the boundaries of the rules. Because children have little authority, some of them can become disillusioned over time. As an educator for social justice, you can empower your students to have faith in themselves, to make good choices and to actively strive to effect positive change. So how exactly can this be accomplished? Start small. Children and teens have a well-developed sense of intuition. They instinctively know when an adult is disengaged or insincere. Teach your students that each of them matters by taking the time to get to know each of them. Show them that their voice matters by actively listening to them and they will respond in kind.

Make Lesson Plans Relevant

Relevancy is key in education, particularly in middle and high school. At some point, practically every teacher will hear a student say, “But we’ll never use this in real life!” No matter what subject you’re teaching, you can link lesson plans to real-world issues, either past or present. Social justice concepts enter the lesson plan when you bring in multiple perspectives from various countries and cultures.

Give Authentic Assignments

Homework is boring for students. Plenty of teachers view it as a necessary evil, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Aim to include authentic assignments in your calendar. Choose ones that teach your students that they really can positively influence the world around them, and that their voices really do matter. For example, you could ask your students to write letters to professionals in fields they’re interested in. Some students might want to write to a zookeeper, for instance, while others might write to social workers, authors or rocket scientists. Students are accustomed to non-interactive schoolwork. The act of corresponding with an adult they admire can introduce students to new perspectives.

Encourage Empathy and Compassion

Teachers are role models for their students. Show your students that empathy and compassion are admirable qualities that should be actively cultivated. You could ask your students to take a look around their homes, school and community and try to identify obstacles that they could address. For instance, your students might notice that not all of their classmates are able to buy new shoes and clothes. They could start a clothing drive for their classmates in order to promote human dignity and kindness.

Aspiring teachers at Grand Canyon University’s College of Education study the principles of cultural competence in our Social Justice for Educators course. We invite you to explore our available degree programs, including our Bachelor of Arts in History for Secondary Education and our Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education. Look for the Request More Information button on our website to start your journey.

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