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PAWLP Anti-Bias/Social Justice Study Group: Our Story By Janice Ewing

How We Got Started

            On the third Saturday of each month, a group of PAWLP TCs and friends meet, now via Zoom, for our social justice study group. This group grew out of an interest and need that emerged during our Saturday Continuity sessions, which also take place once a month.  Our Continuity sessions have the broad goals of carving out a time and space to share questions or concerns about our teaching and related inquiries, writing or presentations in progress, or other collegial sharing. The guiding principles that undergird our sessions are based on the NWP’s (nwp.org) overall philosophy of teachers teaching teachers, and more specifically the NWP Social Practices of Write, Go Public with our Practice, Learn/Engage the Profession, Collaborate/Respond, Lead, and Advocate. We are also guided by our PAWLP mission and vision statements, and the Teaching Tolerance (tolerance.org) standards of Identity Diversity, Justice, and Action, which we intentionally integrate into all our practices.

            Although issues of advocacy and social justice were interwoven through our work together, some of us felt the need for more focused exploration of these topics. One of our participants, Tricia Ebarvia, suggested that we start a group that would be specifically dedicated to the issues of advocacy and social justice, with the goal of educating ourselves more deeply, individually and together, and working to transform our learning into action in our schools and communities.

What We Do

            We decided to use a study group format to give us specific texts to serve as a focal point for our work. We started with So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.  Since then, we’ve read several other books, including The Racial Healing Handbook by Annaliese A. Singh, How to Be an AntiRacist by Ibram X. Kendi and the graphic memoir Good Talk by Mira Jacob. We are currently reading Gholdy Mohammad’s Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy. Through our reading, reflection, and discussion we have explored our own identities as well as school and community cultures, and looked at racism through historical lenses and case studies; our inquiry framework had guided us to identify specific goals to pursue in our anti-bias/social justice work. Most of our reading has been of shared texts, but we have also taken time to explore individually-selected books, articles, poetry, and art and share our takeaways with the group. We also maintain a Google doc where participants post additional resources in a variety of media and formats, as well as inquiry questions that these texts have raised or amplified.

Where We Are Now

            Many of our Saturday morning meetings have started with a shared acknowledgement of a recent tragedy or trauma, in our local community or beyond. We also acknowledge the ongoing traumas and challenges that we live amidst, which are not always as startling, but always present and corrosive. When we turn our focus to our study and our ongoing work, there is progress and growth to acknowledge as well, and always, the strength that we find in a shared community. This week, we will meet on Thursday evening. This is a session that Liz Mathews, our facilitator, and Pauline Schmidt, our PAWLP director, have set up to provide a space to reflect and respond together about the recent tragic killing of Walter Wallace, Jr. in Philadelphia, and the aftermath of the election, whatever that will be at that timeWith our texts as a focal point, we share the insights and experiences we’re gaining on our inquiry journeys. We share struggles and evolving questions. Then, we each strive in our own ways to bring our learning to action in our families, schools, and communities. This is ongoing work.

            Our regular meetings continue to be held on the third Saturday of each month, but we’re leaving space in November for participation in the NCTE (ncte.org) conference and related NWP events, so our next regular meeting will be on Saturday, December 19th. Our meeting dates and agendas are posted at PAWLP.org. In future posts, we’re looking forward to hearing perspectives from other participants in our group. Questions or thoughts are welcome in the comments section below.

Janice Ewing is a 2004 fellow of the PA Writing and Literature Project and currently serves on the advisory board. She is also an active member of the Keystone State Literacy Association, the KSLA Delaware Valley Reading Council and other professional organizations. She and Dr. Mary Buckelew are the authors of Action Research for English Language Arts Teachers: Invitation to Inquiry (Routledge, 2019).

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