Social Justice and Systems Thinking

“Good Morning, Scholars,” is how you might hear Danielle Robinson greet her second grade students on any given day of learning at Brown Street Academy in Milwaukee Public Schools.  Teaching social justice in the elementary classroom is not an abstract construct to Ms. Robinson, it is part and parcel of the teaching that she does each and every day.  So it was with great enthusiasm that I listened to her share her perspectives in the webinar she conducted for the Waters Foundation entitled, “Social Justice and Systems Thinking.” You can listen to the archived webinar here.

Danielle uses the habits and tools of systems thinking to integrate social justice topics into her teaching, and she does so in a way that allows her to meet the standards and the needs of her students at the same time. “We don’t have to ignore important topics because of testing and the need to teach standards,” Danielle said. Her meaningful lessons take into account her students’ experiences and generate powerful evidence of student learning. There is a lot of talk these days about personalizing instruction, but one of the things that really impressed me as I listened to Danielle talk about her teaching is her awareness of the needs and interests of her students.  “My students have to see themselves in what they are doing,” she stated.  By focusing on authentic, meaningful concepts, Danielle is able to integrate the standards in lessons that allow her students to be problem solvers and critical thinkers.

robinson-icebergA fundamental part of Danielle’s success is her belief that her students are capable problem solvers and critical thinkers.  Further, she teaches her students that fundamental change can only come with a change in belief.  When her students examine real issues, like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or finding ways to beautify their neighborhood, they examine the feelings and beliefs of others and look for how those beliefs impact the situation.  Danielle uses an iceberg model to help her students organize their thinking around these critical issues.

There have been many things written about social justice.  However, in her webinar Danielle shared how to make a significant difference in creating equitable opportunities for students while at the same time teaching in a way that all students can achieve high standards.  The use of systems thinking concepts provides a common vocabulary and a set of tools to help students make their thinking visible. Danielle created a successful recipe for high student achievement with three basic ingredients: build a strong sense of classroom community, make school relevant, and give students opportunities to communicate their thinking. The result of that recipe is a high-achieving classroom for all learners.

See additional details and register for the upcoming webinar “Using Systems Tools to Analyze Non-Fiction Text.”

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