03/02/2015
My Voice My Community
Challenging Conversations Around a Charged Topic

And a Teacher’s Role as Facilitator, Not Authority

Spurred by both national news and events much closer to their own Kensington neighborhood, Jaimie Stevenson’s 7th graders at Stetson Middle School have chosen a charged topic. The students are researching the history and current state of aggressive policing, and its connections to violence and the justice system.

Emotions often run high as the students express their fear of (and anger towards) police due to incidents of brutality and perceived police impunity. But they also recognize that the police can provide protection, safety and justice in communities impacted by violence and crime.

This is not an easy path to negotiate, and Jaimie is glad to have Need in Deed tools and staff to help. As she says, “Now I have a flexible framework for facilitating student-led inquiry, which has led my students and me into challenging conversations with tools in hand … Don’t get me wrong, with our topic, things get heated. But we enter the conversation, dig around in it, and exit the conversation without major spoken or unspoken scars.”

Jaimie sees her role in the project as “facilitator, rather than authority.” Together, she and her students have watched the film “Selma,” spoken with reporter Daniel Denvir, and plan to meet with representatives from the criminal justice system. The students’ “topic has informed everything from the way we spend spare time in class (catching up on the news), to the sequence of essential questions I developed for a seemingly unrelated novel we’re reading, … [to] individual identity … and individual actorship in challenging events.”

Jaimie implements a variety of teaching strategies in her classroom – including Socratic Seminar and ideas adapted from Facing History and Ourselves and Reading Like a Historian. She finds support from her program manager, her fellow NID and TAG teachers, and the NID framework itself, which requires less adaptation than other tools.

She says “it is incredibly valuable to me to have the institutional support of NID as I raise questions that make us vulnerable … NID is making the risk of talking about race, privilege, power and very specifically, police brutality and police impunity, safer for my students and me.”