During January and February, many educators across the country celebrate and honor the experiences of Black and African American people and the role their experiences represent. Moreover, the countless contributions, rich histories, struggles, triumphs, and brave voices of Black and African American people should not only be acknowledged and celebrated on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and during Black History Month but should be an integral component of school curricula all year round.
Microsoft spoke with two educators on the vanguard of inclusive education to listen to their perspectives: Felisa Ford is a Digital Learning Specialist with Atlanta Public Schools, Co-Creator of Minecraft Good Trouble, and a 2022 Time Innovative Educator and Dr. Natasha Rachell is the Director of Instructional Technology for Atlanta Public Schools and is a Co-Creator of Minecraft Good Trouble. Together, they share resources that ensure the integration of Black history and experiences throughout all curriculum and ways that educators can create more socially aware classrooms.
Felisa Ford, Digital Learning Specialist and Co-Creator of Lessons in Good Trouble
Lessons in Good Trouble was developed in partnership with three educators from the U.S. with over 60 years of experience between them: Felisa Ford, Natasha Rachell, Ken Shelton, and Stephen Reid. This material also relied on support from Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center that provides free resources to support social justice and anti-bias education in K–12 schools.
Where to begin?
“If an educator is simply intentional about having representation in the classroom of other voices, beyond what's provided in that curriculum or that content, I think that that's a great start,” says Felisa Ford. “And there are numerous resources to help get you going. If you're focusing on African American inventors, for instance, you can visit the Smithsonian or the National Museum of African American History and Culture. And there are many other histories and resources to focus on as well. You have the National Museum of the American Indian for instance. These destinations are like virtual field trips because they offer resources that can bring this content to life.”
Dr. Natasha Rachell, Director of Instructional Technology and Co-Creator of Lessons in Good Trouble
Dr. Rachell agrees that educators need to have the willingness to think outside of the box to provide their students with a different perspective than what they are normally accustomed to.
“There has to be a willingness from the educator to get outside of the four walls of their classrooms, and even outside of the four walls of their community,” Dr. Rachell explains. “One of the things we kept in mind when creating the Good Trouble lessons is that we want the teacher in rural Oklahoma, for example—where every student in their classroom may look just like them—to explore, learn, and grow.”
Learning with students
Inclusive education programs establish pathways toward a more equitable world. Taking that first step in this curricular journey can be a challenge for many educators, though, as some may feel they need to be “experts” to do social justice, justice. But educators don’t have to have all the answers: all they need is to acknowledge that this path is important.
“There's nothing wrong with being vulnerable with your students and saying, ‘Hey, we're going to learn this together,’” Dr. Rachell says. “That brings another human level to the content. And I think students appreciate that.”
Minecraft Good Trouble: US Civil Rights Lesson
Moving forward by looking back
History can often seem like a chain of momentous events that bear little resemblance to a student’s experiences. But another aspect of an inclusive curriculum—one expressed in the Good Trouble lessons—is that history is comprised of the heroic acts of ordinary citizens doing things that, in the moment, may not have seemed extraordinary but would have a significant impact for years to come.
“We want students to understand that there may be something that you're doing or something a family member is doing in your community that is impacting others in a positive way,” says Ford. “It's not always about the big picture: sometimes it's something right in front of your face that you may take for granted.”
Once students are engaged and can either see themselves in the curriculum or have their perspectives shift and widen, then things really get interesting! This engagement can manifest itself as priceless conversations on antiracism, social justice, and inclusivity. These age- and grade-appropriate conversations help social justice issues continue well past January and February allowing educators and students to explore issues and movements from a variety of perspectives.
“Having teachers extend what is identified in the curriculum and bringing in extension activities is a way for us to move black history beyond February, because our contributions were more than just a month-full of contributions,” Ford explains. “We have contributed to every aspect of society, and that goes for any group. Meaningful conversations and dialogue are how we learn and grow: not by running away from the content and putting our heads in the sand. But if we realize how smart our students are—how smart, how brave—we’ll see that they're willing to have these conversations.”
Integrating inclusivity into how educators look at their curriculum can show students that Black history is American history, something worthy of study throughout the year. It appeals, acknowledges, and honors the humanity of students which creates a space for their questions, voices and contributions.
The time is always right
“This quote keeps coming to mind, appropriately enough, from Dr. King,” says Dr. Rachell. “‘The time is always right to do what is right.’ Whether you're looking for something in your community or simply talking about these issues outside of this month or two, the time is always right to do what is right. There's always a time and a place to learn about these issues and to have those age-appropriate conversations with your students. After all, we can't move forward until we recognize and understand where we've been.”
A mixture of dedication, courage, curiosity, and proven resources such as the ones below can help educators to deepen and extend antiracism and social justice learning. Start small and don’t be afraid of big conversations: they only prove that students are engaged!
1. Be intentional about intersectionality and representation of other voices beyond what is provided in the curriculum or content. A great way to begin is using The King Center Timeline, created in collaboration between Microsoft and The King Center that consists of the first, unique collection of documents, pictures, and videos that demonstrate Mrs. Coretta Scott King’s commitment to nonviolent social change. This digital resource pays homage to Mrs. Coretta Scott King, the architect of the King legacy, reflecting more than 50 years of unwavering dedication to community, cultural, and socio-economic progress rooted in the methodology and philosophy of nonviolent social change espoused by her husband, Dr. King.
- Good Trouble: U.S. Civil Rights
- Good Trouble: Black Lives Matter
- Who is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?
- The “I” in Identity
3. Explore educational resources and virtual field trip opportunities.
- The Smithsonian Institution
- National Museum of Africa American History and Culture
- National Museum of the American Indian
4. Explore cross-curricular approaches in bringing other voices into the curriculum in ELA, Science, Social Studies, and Math.
5. Facilitate and encourage age-appropriate conversations about inclusion, social justice, and antibias. Frame conversations around what happened, why, and what we can do going forward.