By Ali Michael, Ph.D.
Director of P-12 Consulting and Professional Development
Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, University of Pennsylvania
As part of The Philadelphia School’s efforts to enhance equity in their classrooms and teacher cultural competency, I was asked to participate in a pilot program which partnered me with the preschool and kindergarten teachers to observe their classrooms and support their questions about race. For the past four months, I have had the pleasure and the honor of sitting in all of TPS’s preschool and kindergarten classrooms, as well as in the garden, to watch the full power of TPS’s model of progressive education unfold.
TPS is a special place, where children with two dads speak proudly about their families, and, unbeknownst to them, the teachers have prepared fertile ground so that their peers don’t balk or question or taunt—they simply understand that all families are different, and difference is good. Teachers at TPS support boys and girls to break out of gender stereotypes, to be powerful and gentle, nurturing, and assertive in their own rights. They are working now to understand how to support the positive racial identity development of each child, to counter racial stereotypes in media and literature, and to recognize how their own cultures shape their classrooms and their biases. They also recognize the value of dialogue for understanding each child, as well as the importance of building a community shaped by all of the cultures of the children and families who are in it.
I have worked with thousands of teachers, and, while there is still work to do, I want to attest to the transformative path that teachers at TPS are walking towards regarding racial proficiency and racial equity in their classrooms. I look forward to continuing my work with the 6th grade team, which will begin this month and end mid-May.