In June and July 2020, Chatham University’s Eden Hall K-12 Program piloted Growing White Teacher Advocates. This study group for K-12 in-service educators, administrators, and out-of-school-time educators was a learning community, caucus group, mindfulness-based experiential gardening program and book group, all in one. Educators met four times over twelve total hours as they read, discussed and embodied Leah Penniman’s book Farming While Black. We talked deeply about the history and current state of racism in the food system, education system and society at large. We dug into whiteness and why it’s important to talk about racism with white students. We planned personal action steps to integrate positive white teacher-advocate practices into teaching and daily life.
As we discussed the book and what it means for white educator teaching practices, the ten participating educators also worked on the agroecology garden at Chatham’s Eden Hall Campus to help build new growing beds. This “work and talk” space allowed educators to be in a mindful, meditative, body-centric space as we dug deep into racial justice topics and their connection to sustainability and food systems. It was wonderful to be able to have an in-person program with social distancing and tool sanitation practices in the middle of so much virtual life this summer.
All program fees were donated or are in the process of being donated to local Black Indigenous Person of Color (BIPOC) led businesses and organizations. The participants chose where to send their individual fees. Organizations that have received or are receiving these program fee donations include: Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh, Sankofa Village Community Garden, Oasis Farm and Fishery Bible Center Church, The Citizen Science Lab, and Pittsburgh Village Project.
Here are a few of the action steps mentioned directly by the program participants:
- “Be part of the committee at my school formed to support our Diversity Director.”
- “Meet with our AP Coordinator and principal about getting more black students into AP courses and supporting them in those courses.”
- “Continuing to advocate for the removal of police from schools via OnePA.”
- “Push for anti-racist training for our faculty. Include BIPOC students and community members in planning next steps.”
- “Work on an evaluative system to hold all teachers accountable to anti-racist, anti-bias, cross-culturally responsible teaching in their classrooms. Draw together an advisory council of community stakeholders and teachers and students for a listening session of improvements.”
- “Explicitly predicate my teaching on anti-oppression from the outset”
- “Explore land acknowledgements.”
- “[Race and racism will be] the key objective in all my lessons.”
- “Time must be made in every teaching day to talk about race so that my students become comfortable talking about it and building a vocabulary to talk about it.”
- “Small issues that come up in class are not small and need to be addressed immediately.”
- “We need to help our colleagues with this effort, sometimes as much as we need to help our students.”
- “I plan to do some reflecting on how my curriculum and grading practices can be more equitable. I plan to teach more specifically about anti-racist leaders (both black and white) in my history classes, and about how social movements develop and grow.”
- “The topic of race and racism requires schools to hire teachers who are specialists/trained with a deep understanding of the issues so that a sustained focus is happening for the school community.”
- “[I will be] an advocate for black students, especially when it comes to taking more advanced courses and also when it comes to disciplinary practices.”
- “I need to find more co-conspirators on our school board, alumni group families and together find a strategic, methodical way to dismantle the systemic ways oppressing our our Black and Brown students and staff.”
We were so deep into the program that we didn’t get any pictures of the participants, but here’s a picture of program co-facilitator Madeline Hennessey, Chatham Bachelor of Sustainability student and trained Intergroup Dialogue Facilitator, in front of the garden beds we built together. Check back in with us for future versions of this program. We plan to run it again as a white caucus group and also for an interracial group of participants.
Written by Kelly Henderson, Co-Facilitator for Growing White Teacher Advocates