Talking to our class about the Black Lives Matter movement

Posted: 9th June 2020

As I sat down to begin my marking, I was disturbed by chants outside my classroom – ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’. For the next few minutes I observed a group of grade 4 children reenacting the tragic assault and murder of George Floyd. 

These children come from a IB school (International Baccalaureate). The fundamental ethos of all IB schools involves ‘striving to develop students who will build a better world through intercultural understanding and respect’. This is something I am confident we as a school are doing very well at. 

Our multicultural cohort of children were shocked and surprised that treatment like this happens in the world today and I soon realised by what I observed outside the classroom that the children really wanted to talk about it and delve into what happened and why it happened. I have been having open honest discussions with the children in my class and have given them the opportunity to ask lots of questions. 

Broaching sensitive subjects and addressing traumatic world events may seem overwhelming. During my earlier years as a teacher, I know I lacked confidence in many things; talking about world events and sensitive issues was one of them. I was worried about maybe upsetting the children, saying the wrong thing or even receiving complaints from the parents. Here are my 5 top tips/advice for teachers who may be experiencing similar feelings at the moment. 

1. Let the children know the facts.

Your class may have only heard snippets in the playground or adults talking about such events. Give the children in your class access to clear and honest explanations of what is happening. By doing this, you are letting the children know that it is ok to talk about scary or tricky subjects. Try reading or watching reputable news sources together. Make sure you have previewed what you share with them first. Kids news is a great website that explains world news to children in an honest and open way. Here is a link to an article ‘why are so many people protesting across the world?’

2. Let your class know that they are safe.

At the end of the conversation, you want the children to understand that events like this do happen around the world, but also that they are safe. Emphasise your schools inclusive ethos and reassure them that everyone strives to continually develop an intercultural understanding and respect for everybody within school and in the wider community. 

3. Tailor your conversation/explanations to their age. 

The ability of a child in nursery to understand the word will be very different to a child in year  6. You will also have children of the same age with different temperaments and sensitivities. You might want to talk about what is happening individually or in small groups so you can tailor your conversation to their needs and level. 

4. Allow time for lots of questions. 

Hearing small snippets in the playground or over hearing adult discussions, contributes to children having misunderstandings about world events. It might be possible that children could make up the parts that they do not know. Encouraging them to ask lots of questions will allow space for a truthful and open explanation that can correct any misconceptions the children might have. 

5. Be truthful. 

Children will ask the trickiest of questions. It might be tempting to avoid questions or bending the truth. Being truthful will give the children an understanding about the prejudices in the world today. Today’s children are our future and we need to start preparing them now to make a difference tomorrow. We want them to be confident in questioning something that they feel is not right, not to go along with it just because someone told them to. 

If you do not know the answer to questions right away it is okay to not know, you can go away and find the answer and get back to them. 

Finally, I would like to express the importance of being confident in what you as a professional are doing. During your time as a teacher, you will have the odd parent complaint about conversations that happen within your classroom. Simply thank them for their concern, and that in line with the school’s ethos you are promoting a deep respect and intercultural understanding and that involves understanding related world events. The children in your class are our future. Change is possible and we can help our children understand the paramount importance of why such change is needed.

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