Blogbook -- Twelve Habits of Antiracist Teachers

Entry 22

There is a lot more to say about each of these habits. They form an antiracist orientation to one’s life, teaching, students, curriculum, practices, school, discipline -- everything. That’s what’s needed today since we cannot expect schools and colleges to fix the racist and White supremacist problems of society institutionally. Institutions don’t dismantle themselves. The good news is: We can orient ourselves compassionately against such a society and its institutions in order to dismantle racist structures, practices, and the like. Then we get to remaking things anew. 

In my own practices and research, as well as discussions with teachers, and observations of classrooms (primarily in secondary spaces), I’ve found the following twelve habits embodied by most antiracist teachers. I’ve grouped them into three categories for convenience. I do not claim that this is a definitive list of habits, nor that I’ve adequately described the parameters of each. It’s my best attempt at this moment, a place a teacher might start reorienting themselves. 

I’ll describe each habit and offer a few key questions to help teachers consider their own orientations along each habit. 

    - Compassionate Politics With People - 

Habit 1 - Attending to Intersectional Subjectivities

The teacher explicitly pays attention to the intersectional subjectivities in the classroom, and the way those subject positions, and people, affect learning and processes of learning. This often starts with the teacher’s own identity. The teacher understands that it is important for students to reflect upon their own intersectional subject positions as political ones, especially since language and identity intersect and affect each other. These reflections implicate students and teachers in their literacies, habits of language, ways of learning, and the classroom space, and calls attention to the structural or social in the individual, without forgetting the individual situated in the structural. Lessons and activities often lead students through practices and materials that value and use the student’s material conditions and language histories to make sense of themselves, their practices, languages, and learnings. This is not just a consideration of what individual students can do given their circumstances, but how those circumstances have been created outside of their control by other people, structures, and histories. The teacher makes explicit the politics that go along with students’ embodied subject positions, histories, and language habits, and shows how those things are valued or devalued in conventional racist systems, such as the school itself. 

Key questions: How am I made by the status quo structures, policies, practices, languages, literatures, behaviors, training, and people around me? What are my relations to that racist discourse? What salient social dimensions of myself engage or affirm racist discourse and what social dimensions resist or create tension with racist discourse? How might I teach from an embodied understanding of my relations to racist discourse? How might my students learn from their relations to racist discourse? 

Habit 2 - Attending to Racial Politics of Language and Its Judgement

The teacher calls attention to the racial politics of language and its judgement, which includes the politics (or power relations) that regulate or mediate the teacher’s own assessments and evaluations of students’ languaging. Language lessons and activities are historically and politically framed, highlighting the difference in power, authority, and value among different racialized language groups and language habits. In their own assessments and evaluations, the teacher also calls attention to the teacher’s own position of power and authority, offering where the teacher’s language habits and expectations come from, who they have tended to benefit, and why. Calling attention to these racial and other politics lead to more critical orientations by students about language standards, their own habits of language, and how their language is judged differently among different people, places, and contexts. 

Key questions: How is my own language and ways of judging language racialized in my history, education, and experience? What do those politics mean for my students who do not share the same racialized habits of language and judgement? How can I call attention to these racial politics of my language and judgements in my classroom and on my students’ literacy performances? How do I not use my own habits of language and judgement as the governing politics in my classroom that awards grades, favors, and opportunities, or punishes students?  

Habit 3 - Deep Attending

The teacher deeply attends to everyone in the classroom, which includes taking into account the embodied ways students and teachers do (or don’t do) work and learn. This includes mindfully and compassionately calling attention to the emotional aspects of students and the teacher themselves, as an integral part of their reading, writing, discussions, and other work together. This may mean that it takes longer to read or discuss a text. Deeply attending takes time. The teacher and their lessons value most time on task and embrace the various ways each person has limitations and affordances because of their bodies, homes, languages, learning contexts, and histories. Deeply attending to everyone usually means approaching the whole, complex, and embodied student as more than a student but a human in the world. 

Key questions: How do I expect my students to do the work I ask of them? What assumptions do I hold about doing that work? How can my students and I negotiate together our expectations for how the labors of the course will be done and not simply what will be done? How might I help students, and myself as teacher, notice the way we work, both as we do that work and after the fact? How do we account for the different ways we all will be able to, or not be able to, do the work asked of us? 

Habit 4 - Compassion

Hindu god Hanuman
The teacher forms agreements with students about compassion, what it is and how it is enacted and noticed in the classroom. Everyday the teacher and students highlight compassion practices and behaviors, practices that help everyone cultivate compassion as actions taken. “Suffering with” others is understood as integral to healthy and meaningful learning experiences. If learning languages are social activities, then practicing compassion as “suffering with” is vital to those activities. The teacher looks for ways to do compassion together and notice this fact with students. Additionally, teacher and students assume that to language with others is an act of giving and sharing, which means language is a communal act of compassionate learning together, even as paradoxically it can be a form of violence. 

Key questions: What do I and my students understand “compassion” means? What does it look like in a classroom like ours? What compassion practices or behaviors can students craft and practice together that seem most important to them? How do all of our activities and work engage students in self-consciously compassionate ways? 

Habit 5 - Collaborative Processes and Negotiation

The teacher uses collaborative processes and negotiation with students to build everything in and around the classroom and to determine students’ learning in equitable and fair ways. Students and teacher create together all activities, lessons, assignments, and assessments. Fairness is understood as a product of community participation, an outcome of processes of negotiation and agreement made among people, even if there is not complete consensus. Fair collaborative processes are not about how individuals can get the most out of an arrangement. They are about how individuals collaboratively negotiate in community in order to produce the most good for everyone within the boundaries of established or explicit ethical guidelines. In antiracist classrooms, these guidelines must include what it means to build racial equity (as opposed to blunt, ahistorical “equality,” or treating everyone the same), which takes into account historical and systemic racial and other inequalities and injustices. These are habits that assume a humble stance toward what is best for each student and their learning in the classroom, as well as what is possible. 

Key questions: How are my class policies, lessons, assignments, assessments, and grading practices fair, that is, how are they collaborative processes of negotiation that account for all students' voices in the room? To help us negotiate fair policies, lessons, assignments, assessments, and grading practices, how have we made explicit ethical guidelines, which include premises about racial and other salient inequities that are important to those in the course? In our activities, lessons, and notions of fairness, how have we accounted for historical racial injustices in schools and society that help make students, the teacher, and their differences in languaging? 

    - Purposes, Goals, and Outcomes - 

Habit 6 - Antiracist Purposes and Goals

The teacher crafts antiracist purposes and goals for what they do, what students do, and how teaching and learning are accomplished in the classroom. While activities and assignments may have purposes that ask students to engage with dominant, White English language practices, standards, and literature, the goals are never to simply mimic those standards or appreciate the literature as universally good or preferred. The goals are to understand such practices, standards, and literatures as historically and politically created by particular groups of (usually elite White) people, and to draw out who those practices, standards, and literatures have tended to benefit when circulated or promoted in schools and society. This habit focuses on goals that center the politics of language and its judgement in ways that talk back to, or counter, the status quo and the systems in place. It’s larger purposes are to provide all students with flexible and critical strategies for learning, reflection, and communication, and to disrupt the ways racist discourse can create preferable systemically-constructed consciousness and alienation from one’s life, as well as unfair racial outcomes in the world. 

Key questions: What antiracist purposes and goals can I create for all my students’ and my own work? How can I help students and myself come to flexible practices that offer us knowledge about dominant habits of White language and critical orientations to those habits? How can our classroom help us all see, feel, and experience the ways racist discourse produces false ideas about ourselves and our world or a sense of alienation that may be difficult for any of us to fully realize? 

Habit 7 - Measuring Success by Antiracist Outcomes

The teacher measures success by the antiracist outcomes of a class, lesson, or activity, which often means measuring how equitable lessons, activities, and classes turn out to be along a number of social dimensions in students (gender, race, where they live, etc.). This may include how students produce critical reflections or insights on dominant habits of White language and learning outcomes, as well as critical insights on other nondominant habits of language. It may also be measured in grade distributions, and course failure rates, or in the ways that various students cultivate antiracist orientations themselves, ones that strive not just to excel or succeed in the present school system but to look for ways that their learning and work build better learning systems for others around and after them. This measure of success often is one understood through social benefits and outcomes, not individual ones. This habit understands and acts on the fact that the measures of racism and White supremacy are in the consequences or products that systems produce, and resists simply placing all the blame on individuals for their seeming failures. 

Key questions: How do I measure my students’ and my own successful antiracist outcomes in ways that account for systemic racial inequality that is already baked into our schools and society? How are the ways I measure success or effectiveness in my course taking into account larger social impact in the community (or the classroom at large)? How do I resist measuring learning by only individual benefit? How might I measure learning communally? How are my measures for antiracist success not just asking BIPOC students to mimic dominant White literacy outcomes? 

Habit 8 - Engagement in Compassionate Conflict and Difference 

The teacher is continually interested in compassionate conflict and difference of opinion or in perspectives, and strives to racially frame such conflict in the classroom in respectful and compassionate ways without employing stereotyping. The point of the conflict is understood not to produce a winner or correct position. It is to understand the political landscape of difference and intersectional subject positions of students, authors, and the teacher in the room. Conflict is understood as a brave and antiracist orientation to each other. It is a way to help everyone remain focused on racism and demonstrate care and concern for others around them by being willing to be uncomfortable and offer different perspectives on contentious topics for the benefit of everyone. Compassionate conflict is explicitly framed to create discomfort in order to facilitate learning and growth. 

Key questions: How do I encourage students and myself to voice our differences in respectful and compassionate ways? How are the goals and methods of activities, such as assessments, about opening up conflict as meaningful engagements? How do we continually talk about conflict as important to learning, and engage in conflict as healthy learning in communities of caring and compassion? 

    - Curricula and Materials - 

Habit 9 - Incorporating Materials from BIPOC Voices

The teacher carefully incorporates materials, literatures, and writings from BIPOC scholars and writers throughout their curriculum in order to shore up the historical absence of such voices, perspectives, and literatures. BIPOC authors and language practices are not an add on or extra lesson but are integral and necessary to understanding and learning about everything, such as Shakespeare, or a set of dominant English language expectations (standards) set by a school, department, or district. This orientation compels teachers to frame dominant standards, narratives, ideas, histories, and literatures next to perspectives of BIPOC authors, voices, writings, and experiences in order to show the ways all those languages, literatures, and standards are necessary to have any of them. It may even flip scripts, showing the ways dominant standards, narratives, ideas, histories, literatures, and their explanations and justifications, typically assume only a racially White set of norms, standards, and perspectives, yet they are reactions to other standards, narratives, ideas, histories, and literatures. 

Key questions: What BIPOC writers, authors, and perspectives am I using in all my lessons, activities, and discussions about language? How do I use them as a counter to dominant White writers, authors, and perspectives? What am I calling attention to in their use, and how might such details or aspects also reinforce dominant habits of language? In what ways can I frame our dominant White curriculum as a set of reactions to BIPOC authors, voices, writings, and experiences?  

Habit 10 - Resisting Hierarchical Logics 

The teacher resists hierarchical logics as a way to organize the classroom, materials, ideas, assessments, students, and their language performances, while also calling attention to the ways schooling and learning have used such hierarchies to determine value and worth in languages and people. This means the teacher addresses the ways their assessments and grading practices participate in racist and White supremacist hierarchical logics. These logics unfairly categorize language performances and students, usually along tacit racialized lines, and usually using racial surrogates, such as proficient in a dominant White English language. The teacher shows and analyzes with students how the world and our ways of explaining things are already made and arranged hierarchically by people. Through these discussions, teacher and students resist such hierarchical making of things, ideas, people, and languages because the practice unnecessarily and unfairly creates racial privilege and oppression. 

Key questions: How exactly have I organized my classroom, lessons, assignments, readings, and grading in ways that may use hierarchical logics? How might I call attention to these logics with students, and find alternative ways of organizing the class and its materials? How do I already grade in ways that use hierarchical logics and systems, and what alternatives can I employ (e.g., ungrading, labor-based grading contracts, etc.)? 

Habit 11 - Incorporating Racial Theories and Histories

The teacher incorporates racial theories and histories into all their lessons and activities with students in order to provide concepts and frames that aid in understanding literatures and languages as racialized, political, and historical. The most common theories are the various Critical Race Theories, racial formation theory, Whiteness studies, Marxian theory, and decolonial theories. This orientation views literatures and languages as dialectical aspects of groups of people in the world and history who have relations to other groups and their literatures and languages. It assumes that language makes people as people make language in material conditions that vary across times, places, and communities. The teacher has a carefully thought out philosophy or theory of race and racism that is used in most lessons, readings, and discussions, such as racism as racist discourse. 

Key questions: What theory of race and racism do I operate from and what are its main premises and ideas? Where exactly do I get my premises and ideas from? How does my theory help explain racism and White supremacy in the world, both as material conditions and outcomes and as language and ideas? How do I use my theory of race and racism to teach, design assignments, read texts, assess student writing, and lead discussions with students? 

Habit 12 - Focusing on Diverse Ways of Laboring

The teacher focuses on diverse ways of laboring in order to define the effectiveness and efficacy of assignments and lessons, or the work students should do. The teacher resists the use of predefined learning outcomes whenever possible. Outcomes tend to be explained as a specific product or a predefined quality of a product that comes from dominant habits of White language. Designing and understanding the classroom and its learning in terms of labor means that the teacher and students see singular, universal standards for what they are, that is, historically created expectations imposed on everyone from an elite White racial group, whose outcomes tend to be racist and White supremacist. This orientation to labor does not mean that judgements of quality are not considered or offered in the classroom. It means that how a student produces something is often more important than how a teacher judges the quality of what that student produces, since the first is mostly about the student and their limitations and affordances, and the second is mostly about the teacher and their limitations and affordances in assessing things. Focusing more on labor helps teachers and students focus on students’ limitations and affordances, thus on their learning, not primarily teachers’ views of that learning, even though both are required in a learning setting. 

Key questions: How do I focus attention on the labor of reading, writing, and other work assigned to students and deemphasize some universal, elite White standard of quality? How am I defining the effectiveness of assignments and work by measures of the labor that students accomplish? How is students’ labor or work acknowledged and valued in the classroom and in grading processes?  


This blogbook is offered for free in order to engage language and literacy teachers of all levels in antiracist work and dialogue. The hope is that it will help raise enough money to do more substantial and ongoing antiracist work by funding the Asao and Kelly Inoue Antiracist Teaching Endowment, housed at Oregon State University. Read more about the endowment on my endowment page. Please consider donating as much as you can to the endowment. Thank you for your help and engagement.