Black Teacher Collaborative: An Educational Framework to Advance Racial Justice

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(Photo courtesy of the Black Teacher Collaborative)

Since the start of this pandemic, Black Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, bearing the health, economic and emotional brunt of this crisis—and Black students are no exception. But, years before COVID-19 was even a thought, Black Teacher Collaborative (BTC) was already empowering Black students with the necessary strategies to productively process racial disparities. The key? A unique pedagogy for Black teachers.

Since 2018, BTC’s Teaching Fellowship has trained Black teachers to leverage shared racial identity learning environments to drive academic success, encourage positive socio-emotional development and build strong racial identity in Black students. This approach is rooted in BTC’s Shared Racial Identity Learning Environments (SRILE) Pedagogy, a unique framework designed with a set of cultural-based teaching philosophies specific to Black teachers teaching Black students. As COVID-19 continues to shape and reshape the 2020-2021 school year, Black teachers in BTC’s Teaching Fellowship have applied the SRILE Pedgaogye to support Black students’ as they learn from their specific lived experiences of the pandemic and historic events of the past year.

Get an insider’s look at the key benefits of SRILE pedagogy—and its particular relevance during this historical moment—by checking out my conversation with BTC below.

Tell me a bit about why your approach to diversity in the classroom focuses on serving with Black teachers? What makes the Black Teach Collaborative’s Fellowship program different from other programs and pedagogies that include a racial identity lens?

The Black Teacher Collaborative (BTC) Fellowship is unique in that it focuses specifically on the Black/African-American racial identity. It moves beyond affirming a child’s cultural/racial identity, and recognizes the unique pedagogy coming out of the African American cultural experience—a pedagogy grounded in the collective needs and interests of Black people. In Black cultural experiences, education has always been seen as a vehicle to achieve freedom, liberation, and collective advancement.  Here at BTC, our mission is to integrate this pedagogy into the American public school system.

At BTC, we focus on Black teachers' service to Black children because we believe that Black teachers' and students' shared cultural backgrounds and racial identities serve as the best environment for this educational approach.  Our SRILE framework, a Black liberatory educational framework, does this by transmitting a legacy of competence, bringing forth a Black child's identity, and transmitting the acquired immunities that have been learned by earlier generations and their exposure to psychological, social, environmental and political traumas. To learn more about this “legacy of competence,” read Dr. Naim Akbar’s seminal work, Know Thyself.

Can you share three key benefits have you seen come from classrooms taught with BTC's SRILE Pedagogy? How, if at all, do metrics change depending on the method of learning taking place ( i.e., in-person learning vs. distance learning)?

From our work, we are seeing the positive impact BTC’s SRILE Pedagogy has on Black teachers, including decreased reliance on punitive measures to address behavior concerns and increased investment in student growth and development. The benefits are clear for students as well, with heightened levels of student engagement in classroom discussion.

We are still learning and adjusting to this new learning environment, and have not yet made any adjustments to our metrics. We do anticipate, however, modifying our framework as schools reevaluate their strategies in response to new, hybrid learning environments. For now, the delivery of our framework is entirely online, and we are emphasizing relationship-building for the teachers in our fellowship because we recognize that establishing trust creates space for vulnerability, an essential component for reflection and growth. In addition, we are providing our fellows with additional strategies and tools to build relationships with students in virtual learning environments. 

What makes Srile pedagogy relevant, and how has that shifted this year, if at all, in response to COVID-19 and racial unrest?

The brutality of institutionalized racism and white supremacist terror has always illustrated Black childhood, and there is no question that current injustices such as widespread police brutality and COVID-related economic and health crises have created an unprecedented convergence of traumas for this generation of Black children. Black children stand as traumatized onlookers, seeing themselves in the faces of the children of the families victimized by police brutality. They see their grandparents and other family members in the statistics representing the disproportionate number of Black people who are infected by and dying from COVID-19.

This current barrage of traumas will inevitably impact our students and influence how they engage in the learning environment. The Black teaching tradition includes the transmission of resilience, the spirit of perseverance, that have allowed Black teachers to teach through the murder of Emmit Till, the murder of four Black girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church, the murders of our most significant leaders and the resistance protest that accompanied each atrocity. In each of those moments, Black teachers helped Black school-age children process and make meaning of those moments without surrendering to hopelessness.

 Today, the SRILE Pedagogical Framework helps teachers in Black classrooms gain the skills and strategies to continue this tradition in supporting our students in learning to leverage their power, genius and beauty to create change. Our teachers help students contextualize and critically examine this monumental moment in our history by recognizing and understanding racism, through knowledge of the history of Black resistance and methods to achieve and advance freedom, liberation and equity.

Read how other organizations are tackling racial equity in the school system here.


Rachel Sacks is a Communications Associate at Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.