OER Socratic Circles to Engage in Racial Equity Discourse in the Classroom – Digital Promise

OER Socratic Circles to Engage in Racial Equity Discourse in the Classroom

Project Overview

Today’s student body is more racially diverse and more politically-engaged than previous generations. Teachers need support to effectively integrate racial justice into teaching and learning to connect with this increasingly diverse student body and engage all students in race consciousness. Educational institutions need the cultural competency to ensure the needs of students of color are accounted for in teaching and learning. The Reynoldsburg City Schools (RCS) district team saw an opportunity to support their teachers and students and was selected to lead a project to build Open Educational Resources (OER) to support teachers in discussing racial equity and social justice in the classroom. The district had many initiatives in place focusing on increasing equity in the district including an Equity Symposium, African American History and Literature classes at the middle school and high school, and multicultural programming. The RCS team wanted to scale the work by building a district-wide approach to addressing issues of equity in the classroom.

With support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Digital Promise worked deeply with RCS and their community to create an open, scalable professional development model and set of classroom practices, tools, and resources designed to build teacher capacity and competency for engaging students in racial equity and social justice discourse.

Teachers who are equipped to guide racial justice discourse can make the classroom a place where all students feel seen, heard, and valued — centered in day-to-day instruction and student engagement. By employing our Inclusive Innovation process, teams of students, teachers, parents, community members, and researchers can understand and address the needs and challenges of facilitating racial and social justice discourse in the classroom by creating OER resources that are scalable and adaptable for educators across the country.

District/Community Context

Reynoldsburg City Schools map

Reynoldsburg City Schools logo

Reynoldsburg City Schools

  • Mission: Empowering leaders who impact the NOW and innovate the FUTURE.
  • Location: Reynoldsburg, OH
  • Size: 7,238 students

Student Demographics

Reynoldsburg Student Voices

“I wanted to be involved to have the opportunity to create change around systemic racism within education. I wanted students to have more opportunities to be exposed to culturally relevant curriculum and teachers to feel comfortable having conversations around racial equity with students.” – Schyvonne Ross, Co-Lead

The Reynoldsburg Co-Design Team

Name
Role
Organization

Meredith Lawson-Rowe

Community co-lead

City Council Representative

Lisa Floyd-Jefferson

District co-lead

Instructional Coach

Schyvonne Ross

District co-lead

Assistant Principal

Vernita Johnson

Teacher

Teacher at Baldwin Middle School

Nicholas Keith

Teacher

Teacher at Baldwin Middle School

Lyric Kurland

Student

Student at Baldwin Middle School

Aditi Pyakurel

Student

Student at Baldwin Middle School

Dwayne Marshall

Student

Student at Baldwin Middle School

Dante Samba-Richardson

Student

Student at Baldwin Middle School

Bill Early

Community Member

Police Officer

Terizabeth Marshall

Parent

Parent of student at at Baldwin Middle School

Name

Meredith Lawson-Rowe

Role

Community co-lead

Organization

City Council Representative

Name

Lisa Floyd-Jefferson

Role

District co-lead

Organization

Instructional Coach

Name

Schyvonne Ross

Role

District co-lead

Organization

Assistant Principal

Name

Vernita Johnson

Role

Teacher

Organization

Teacher at Baldwin Middle School

Name

Nicholas Keith

Role

Teacher

Organization

Teacher at Baldwin Middle School

Name

Lyric Kurland

Role

Student

Organization

Student at Baldwin Middle School

Name

Aditi Pyakurel

Role

Student

Organization

Student at Baldwin Middle School

Name

Dwayne Marshall

Role

Student

Organization

Student at Baldwin Middle School

Name

Dante Samba-Richardson

Role

Student

Organization

Student at Baldwin Middle School

Name

Bill Early

Role

Community Member

Organization

Police Officer

Name

Terizabeth Marshall

Role

Parent

Organization

Parent of student at at Baldwin Middle School

Inclusive Innovation in Action

This journey map offers a visual overview of the Inclusive Innovation process for this project. The project story follows below.

Socratic Circles to Support Racial Equity and Social Justice Classroom Discourse

Inclusive Innovation resulted in eighth grade students collaborating with teachers to facilitate a community Socratic Circle to discuss racial disparities in district leadership positions.

Reynoldsburg educators reflect on the Inclusive Innovation process

Connect and Commit

Reynoldsburg City Schools recruited a core team to lead the work which included an Assistant Principal, Instructional Coach, a City Council member as community co-lead, two teachers, four students, one parent, and two community members. During the first phase of the Inclusive Innovation process, Connect and Commit, the team focused on building relationships and trust. Teams evaluated the community cultural wealth they could draw upon in addressing their challenges and developed a community charter in which they agreed upon a common set of values, goals, and agreements for communication and collaboration. Some of their visions included:

  • Students who struggle in school will be able to get support they need
  • All students will have a voice in our community and give our community ideas on how to make change
  • All students will be able to make people feel included
  • Secondary students will be able to understand their role in history in order to teach the next generation

In the process, the team also learned more about the role of race and racism in education and how to address power dynamics within the team. This exploration was foundational to the trust building and inclusion of everyone’s voice in the research and development of the solution. Bringing the diverse voices of the team, from middle school students to a police officer to a council woman, into the room to build a commitment for racial equity in the district changed the ways in which the team was able to design a solution by expanding the view of what is needed and prioritizing student agency and parent experience. The team focused on the topic of racial equity discourse in the classroom, which they defined as intentional conversations about race and equity designed to increase understanding of racism, identity, dynamics of power and privilege, historical context, and social justice issues at interpersonal, institutional, and/or systemic levels.

Inquire and Investigate

In order to deeply explore the challenge, the core team, including students, teachers, community members, and district leaders, analyzed focus group data to identify themes and root causes.

Challenge Statement

Teachers and students struggle to engage in meaningful racial equity and social justice discourse due to lack of comprehensive and inclusive curriculum.

Based on the team’s research, they identified three outcomes for the project:

  • Teachers and students will facilitate discussions of race supported by community, families, and district administration.
  • Teachers will know how to understand students’ perspectives on racial equity and navigate conversations on different points of view.
  • Teachers will develop classroom cultures that support conversations about equity.

“The process was empowering. It was really amazing to develop the ideas together and see our ideas come to light.” – RCS Student

Design and Development

Students, teachers, community members, and staff members ideated and created three different solution ideas that addressed their priority problem. Their ideas included:

  • Make a Difference Project: Students would research and design a community-based project that would create change.
  • Student Curriculum Advisory: Student curriculum advisory that would work with the district and teachers to incorporate ways for students to learn about each other and their cultures and experiences.
  • Community Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Events: Students would lead community events that support community members and district staff in discussing issues of racial equity.
  • Developing an Equity Tool for Discussions in the Classroom: The team would create a tool and professional development that teachers could use to support conversations in their classroom.

After coming up with these ideas, the team hosted focus groups with students, teachers, and district leaders. These participants informed their top solution which is the Community Socratic Circle, which combined the Community Events solution idea with the Equity Tool solution.

Students, teachers, and community members participate in a community Socratic Circle.

Students, teachers, and community members participate in a community Socratic Circle.

“When we started this project, we wanted to incorporate classwide discussions about racial inequities so everyone would have an understanding. The biggest solution was making teachers feel comfortable. It is about the students, but it is about the teachers knowing the topics, feeling comfortable working with students, and accepting feedback.” – RCS Student

Solutions

Reynoldsburg educators describe the solutions created by the Inclusive Innovation team

Classroom Socratic Circles

Socratic Circles are learner-centered group discussions in which participants learn from each other with discussion centered around a text or essential questions. Teachers are often the facilitators in socratic seminars, but as teachers introduce seminars to students and practice this activity, students can be scaffolded into the role of co-facilitator and eventually facilitator with time. Learning for Justice explicitly links Socratic Circles to anti-bias pedagogy.

The team chose Socratic Circles around racial equity and social justice as a solution because they allow students to participate at their levels of comfort. At times in the conversation they may be in an observer role, a facilitator role, or a speaking role. Students can freely move between these roles as they feel comfortable throughout the discussion. Specifically, the team wanted teachers to have the necessary training, knowledge, and skills to implement structured conversations around racial equity in a way that was safe for students. Leveraging the Socratic Circle model in the classroom supported their goals.

Community Socratic Circles

A community Socratic circle on race and equity is a helpful way to hear various perspectives from the community. The team built this solution with the hope that by engaging community members, students, and school staff in Socratic Circles they would build broader support for discourse about racial equity and social justice in the district. Various community members are included to build the connection from school to home and increase a broader range of support for students and educators. The goal of the Reynoldsburg team was to have these conversations facilitated by students and teachers. Before students moved into the facilitator role in a community seminar, it was crucial that they participated in at least three classroom Socratic Circles. By having them take the facilitator role and engage in much of the preparation process for facilitating difficult discussions, students increased their self-awareness around their own identities, stretched their discussion and facilitation skills, grew in their knowledge of race and equity work, and built their criticality in regards to anti-racism. The team utilized graphs as the central point of the community Socratic Circle to ensure that the conversation was accessible to all participants. Another strategy they used is an article or video depending on the goals of the facilitators.

The guidebook served as a playbook for the implementation of Socratic Circles both in the classroom and the community. The guidebook identifies the steps and resources to build a strong classroom culture to prepare educators to have the conversations. It also provides materials that are student facing to provide scaffolding to support youth in speaking to peers and others about racial equity in the classroom.

Socratic Circle Guidebook cover
Socratic Circle Guidebook

Teacher Professional Development

The teacher professional development resources include 6 learning modules, an accompanying facilitators guide for Modules 1 & 2, and a companion notebook where teachers can capture key ideas and reflect on their learning. The learning modules support teachers in reflecting on their own identity and biases as well as learning about racism in the educational system and providing specific support for teachers implementing conversations about race and equity in their classroom. All of the modules can be completed asynchronously, but it is recommended that Modules 1 and 2 be delivered by a facilitator working with a group of teachers.

Module 1 provides an introduction to Socratic Circles as well as an overview of the historical context and lasting impacts of race and racism in American schools.

Given the breadth and depth of content, it is recommended that facilitators plan to complete the module during two in-person sessions with teachers.

Module 2 focuses on creating a safe space for difficult conversations and is designed to be completed during on in-person session.

The facilitator guide provides guidance on leading these 3 in-person sessions and mirrors the content in the notes sections of the slide decks.

Modules 3-6 are currently in development and will be published in March 2024.

Reynoldsburg educators reflect on the value of using Socratic Circles

“I really enjoyed the professional development because during my educational career I didn’t get exposed to this type of information. I learned about my biases and about how to become a better educator. They help you think about who you are as a person and how to have these conversations with your students.” – Brienne Schulinger, 8th grade Math teacher

The modules align to a microcredential titled, “Promoting Racial Literacy through Classroom Discussion.” By the end of the professional development series, participants will be well-equipped to implement Socratic circles in their classrooms to address race, racism, and other social justice issues. They will have gained valuable insights and skills for creating safe and inclusive learning environments, facilitating meaningful discussions, and supporting student growth. Additionally, educators will be empowered to advocate for equity and social justice within their schools and communities.

Center for Inclusive Innovation Micro-credential
Micro-credential
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